The first day of school. A troubling time for many a colt or filly, finding out who had moved away, who was still around, who was to be in their class and who would part ways. There was the matter of supplies: paper, pencils, pens, folders, notebooks, rulers, protractors... the list seemed designed so that for the first few weeks there'd always be some poor soul who'd have to tell the teacher what they'd forgotten while the rest of class withdrew their required item from stuffed saddlebags. Students showed off new shoes, saddlebags and lunchbags, gossiped about which teacher gave the most homework and which one showed movies, and complained at the ever growing size of their textbooks.
One filly was doing none of these things, because she was busy sitting in the headmaster's office. Her mother, an ice-blue earth pony with lilac eyes, sat beside her, looking over papers she had just signed before handing them across to a bulky gray unicorn with a beard like a billy goat's. The filly had been staring at his beard for the last five minutes straight.
"Everything's in order then. Little Octavia is quite excited to start at the Academy." The filly looked up at her name, staring at her mother quietly with pale purple eyes that matched her mother's own. The look on her face was decidedly not one of excitement, but the headmaster just nodded slowly.
"If you give these to my secretary, she'll get you the filly's homeroom. We welcome you to the Canterlot Royal Academy of Arts." he handed several papers to the filly's mother, who took them with a quiet smile.
"Come along Octavia, remember your things." the mare said before gripping the papers carefully in her mouth, freeing her hooves to walk. The filly took a moment to prepare herself and jumped off the chair, landing with a thump. She wiggled into the tiny saddlebags slumped against the chair leg and hurried after her mother. As they exited the headmaster's office, they crossed a mare with half-moon glasses and a white unicorn filly. The mare had a stern expression and bags under her eyes; the filly was grinning widely. As Octavia and her mother passed the filly leaned over.
"New record." she whispered. Octavia's eyes widened, trying to make sense of the filly's words. She did a double take, trying to watch as the mare, a teacher no doubt, and the filly entered the headmaster's office. She jumped as she heard a sigh that was loud even through the door.
Her mother meanwhile had reached the secretary's desk, which was placed in the main waiting room as to have her act as the gatekeeper to the headmaster. Octavia kept glancing back towards the closed door, curious at the filly's words, until her mother called for her. They exited the office out into a long, busy hallway, students figuring out locker combinations and making plans for after a day that hadn't yet begun. Octavia shadowed her mother, practically under her hooves. She glanced out at the students as they passed; everypony seemed bigger than her, and there were few earth ponies around, making her feel an outsider. At least she wasn't a pegasus; she saw two for the entire walk down the hall, which took several minutes as her mother stopped to check the occasional door number. Octavia nearly bumped into her mother's legs, distracted by her future classmates, when they finally stopped.
"Here we are Octavia. One-oh-six, Mrs. Reed. You be a good girl now." her mother turned and bent down. Octavia opened her mouth to protest, but stopped herself as her mother kissed her on the forehead.
"Come straight home afterwards, alright? And be good." with that, her mother turned and walked away. Octavia sat down, her eyes filling her head. She looked around helplessly. One pony nearby was snickering - was it at her? She accidentally made eye contact with another and glanced away quickly, seeing him roll his eyes. She decided to just enter the room; surely it would be safer than out in the hall.
Only three bored-looking students were in the classroom, scattered amongst several rows of desks. A pale yellow mare with her gray mane in a bun looked up from her book as Octavia entered. She said nothing, but Octavia remembered a paper given to her back in the headmaster's office. She paused, fished it out of a saddlebag without taking them off, and approached the teacher's desk from the side. The old mare glanced up again, blinking at the sight of the little filly with a note in her mouth. She was an earth pony herself, and reached down to grasp the note with the crook of her hoof.
"Oh, a new student. Well, take a seat then, we'll do introductions later." she waved Octavia away. The filly turned, scanning the rows, trying to figure out where would be the safest to sit. A corner perhaps, somewhere near the back?
"Any seat now." Octavia jumped, turning to see the teacher watching her from over her book. She hurried away, embarrassed, and grabbed the nearest seat in the front row. Luckily, it wasn't near anypony right now.
Octavia sat quietly, unsure if she should get out supplies, which supplies, what if she was in somepony's desk, what if there was a quiz - they didn't give quizzes on the first day, did they? What if there had been homework over the summer? As she fretted over the million different things that were about to go wrong (if she dropped a pencil, did she fetch it, or get another? What if she dropped all her pencils? What if she dropped her pencil case?) she failed to notice as the classroom filled up, colts and fillies surrounding her, only a couple seats still spare by the time the teacher cleared her throat, putting down her book.
"Good morning class." she began, stepping in front of the blackboard. "Most of you know me as Mrs. Reed. Starting tomorrow, when I say 'good morning class', I expect to hear 'good morning Mrs. Reed' back from all of you. Now, as some of you may have noticed, we have a new student this year." Octavia froze, realizing that applied to her.
"Come then." The teacher gestured at her. Octavia got off her stool, pausing to make sure Mrs. Reed was in fact waiting on her. At least being in the front meant that she only had a short walk to suffer. She turned around when she reached the teacher, instinctively sticking close to the old mare's legs.
"Go on. Your name, filly, start with that." Mrs. Reed told her, terse but not impatient. Octavia opened her mouth, but instead of words, a sharp squeak erupted from the filly. A couple of her classmates began to snicker, making Octavia try to hide behind her teacher's legs. Her teacher unfortunately stepped away.
"Well. Take a seat then." the teacher gave up. Octavia was glad to get back to her desk, despite the filly barely hiding her giggling to her right. She tried to make herself smaller, as if she hunched over enough she would become invisible.
"Now that that's over-" the teacher didn't get any further before the door swung open hard enough to slam against the wall. As Octavia (and half the class, including the teacher) recovered from her heart attack she saw the unicorn filly from earlier enter the class, still smiling like she was queen of the world. She even gave a flick of her wild blue hair as she surveyed the classroom.
"Hey Missus Reed, long time no see!" she greeted, throwing up a hoof in greeting. The look on the teacher's face was a mix of fear and indignation.
"Hello Vinyl. Getting an early start are we?"
"Heh, you know me teach. Always the go-getter." the filly headed for the desks. "Jim says hi."
"Ahem." the teacher cleared her throat as Vinyl passed the first row of desks. "Front row if you please."
"Eh?" Vinyl turned around, sincerely confused. "C'mon te- Missus Reed, you know me. Not really a front row kind of gal..."
"Precisely." the teacher responded. Vinyl began to look nervous, and scanned the front row. That brought a smile to her face, though she tried to hide it.
"Willow, since you seem to be having a hard time controlling yourself, why don't you move to the back of the class where you can compose yourself in peace." Mrs. Reed addressed the filly to Octavia's right, who still hadn't stopped snickering, though it was probably at least as much at Vinyl now as at Octavia. She looked up, surprised to be addressed, and sullenly removed herself, now finding herself the subject of a few other students' (very quiet) amusement. Octavia watched Vinyl give the teacher one last pleading look, blue eyes filling her head to a nearly disturbing extent.
"Vinyl, there isn't an adult in this building who hasn't seen that look a hundred times over. Now stop disturbing the class or you can march right back to Ji- to the headmaster's office." Mrs. Reed seemed particularly steamed that she had nearly slipped and referred to the headmaster so informally. Vinyl sighed and slunk towards the seat that had been vacated for her. The teacher waited until the filly had her rump firmly in the seat before turning her attention to the rest of the class.
"Now, unless anypony has any distractions to make you all even later to lunch?" The class was silent, so with a nod she turned her attention to the board. Somepony from the back immediately threw a crumpled paper ball at the back of Vinyl's head. The unicorn responded by turning around and sticking her tongue out in the general direction of the ball's source.
"Vinyl." Mrs. Reed cautioned, not even turning around. Vinyl opened her mouth, already pointing a hoof, but stopped, seemed to reconsider, and folded her forelegs in front of her, pouting for all to see. Mrs. Reed picked up a piece of chalk in her mouth and began to write.
"Gotta love Missus Reed." Vinyl whispered to Octavia. "Can't talk and write at the same time, still the toughest teacher around." she grinned, but Octavia just blinked. She wasn't supposed to talk during class, right? But it'd be rude to say nothing... Octavia tried to open her mouth, but Vinyl had already turned her attention back to the board, placing her head in her hooves and watching the teacher with dull eyes. Octavia closed her mouth slowly, glad she hadn't been forced into talking.
"Now, get out your notebooks, and we'll start with an essay about your summer." Mrs. Reed told the class. There was a uniform ruffling of paper as fillies and colts reached into their saddlebags.
"Psst." Octavia looked up from ruffling through her saddlebags. It was Vinyl. "Hey, can I borrow a pencil?" she said with a sheepish smile. Octavia wordlessly took out a second, letting out a surprised peep as the pencil was surrounded in a blue glow, floating towards Vinyl. Octavia tried not to blush; she hadn't been around many unicorns before, and it caught her off guard. She recovered by drawing out her own pencil and a loose leaf sheet of paper. As she drew upright, she heard again,
"Psst." she looked over to find Vinyl smiling at her again, ducking her head slightly in guilt. Octavia didn't have to be told, and reached down, taking out an extra piece of paper that Vinyl immediately took from her. Octavia gripped her pencil between her teeth; she knew she wasn't supposed to chew her pencils, her mother had told her as much, but she really wanted the relief of gnawing on something, and couldn't help but work it around before looking to the board for instruction. She began to write, having a hard time keeping the pencil steady. She looked to her left and right for some clue of what was expected of her. Vinyl was tapping her chin in thought, and when inspiration seemed to strike she began to scribble furiously, guiding the pencil magically. Octavia glanced down to see a doodle of an airplane, or perhaps it was a grilled cheese sandwich, taking shape on the unicorn's page. Octavia decided to look elsewhere for ideas.
Eventually she got a few paragraphs out, sure it was inadequate, afraid she'd fail on her first day. The only thing she could think to write about was her family moving from Saddle, how long the carriage rides were, touring Canterlot for the first time and finding her new home, which was a lot smaller, with more noise around - her parents assured her she'd grow to love it, so Octavia was sure it was better, somehow. She didn't even get to fill the page before the teacher told them to put their pencils down. She came around to gather papers, Vinyl's one of the first.
"I appreciate you giving me a break from reading, Vinyl." the teacher quipped dryly, "But I'm noticing a distinct lack of essay in your essay."
"It's all there." Vinyl replied, throwing her hooves behind her head. "You said we had to tell what we did with our summer. You never said we had to use words."
"Silly me." the teacher replied. "You think I'd learn my lesson after you turned your last paper into origami. Dear goodness, is that Princess Celestia?"
Vinyl looked back at her paper. "No, that's a pile of pudding shaped like Princess Celestia. We had to use it to distract the princess-eating dinosaurs."
"Naturally." the teacher sighed. "Today's going to be a long day."
Mrs. Reed's prediction proved correct, at least for Octavia. She always waited, as her parents told her, however long she was told to, but was nonetheless getting quite antsy to leave her seat by the time lunch rolled around. They were told to grab their lunchboxes or bags and then guided by the teacher towards the playground, where lunch was held while the weather lasted. The school was shaped like a horseshoe, surrounding a green field with a couple trees, several small wooden tables and benches, a swingset and soccer goalposts. Octavia carried her brown paper bag towards a corner of a table under the shade; apparently the grades ate lunch at different times, as only her class and a couple others had been let out, and there was more than enough room among the tables for Octavia to find somewhere quiet.
"Hey!" Octavia glanced in the direction of the call, surprised to find it had been directed at her. Vinyl was approaching, pencil hovering ahead of her, a paper bag of her own on her back.
"C'mon, my rep's not that bad is it? I was gonna give this back." she floated the pencil over to Octavia, who just blinked.
"Oh, right. No horn. My bad." Vinyl realized. She glanced to the table Octavia had been heading towards. She sat herself down without a word, leaving just enough space for a filly between her and the table edge. Octavia paused, but figured it wouldn't be very nice of her to run and hide in the classroom like she kind of wanted to do. Instead she forced herself to take the seat clearly intended for her. She dropped her bag on the table, and glanced to the pencil Vinyl had placed between them.
"...thanks." she said, her voice just a whisper. Vinyl smiled.
"Hey, thank you." she replied as she opened up her bag. "You switch in from somewhere? Or, oh hey, you just move here?"
"Yeah..." Octavia replied, trying to be polite. She opened up her own bag, removing a red apple.
"Sweet! Oh man, and third grade's going to be so much fun. They finally let us touch the instruments!" Vinyl said excitedly. "You pick a track yet? Do new students get to? Man, what would you do if you didn't pick a track, huh? I guess it'd be like second grade, but who wants to relive that, y'know?"
"I..." Octavia wasn't sure which question to answer first, if she was supposed to answer them all or only the last, or what.
"Don't talk much, do you?" Vinyl asked. That, Octavia could answer with a quick shake of her head, the irony of her silence lost on both fillies.
"S'cool. Hey, whatcha got for lunch?" Vinyl asked. Octavia just glanced at her apple.
"Oh." Vinyl rubbed the back of her neck. "Hehe. I'm starting with the classics - peanut butter and marshmallow!" she unwrapped a sliced sandwich, the crusts taken off, from which oozed a strange brown-and-white paste. Octavia blinked.
"What's a marsh-mallow?" she asked. Vinyl dropped the sandwich just before taking a bite. She turned to Octavia, who immediately shrunk away. She had done something wrong.
"You don't know what marshmallows are?" Vinyl asked. Octavia reluctantly shook her head. Frowning, Vinyl lifted half her sandwich and levitated it in front of Octavia.
"Eat this. Now." she said, not exactly stern but very insistent. Octavia took the sandwich in her hooves, and brought it close enough to smell. Mostly it smelled like peanut butter, which she got with her apples sometimes. But there was something sweet about it too. Noticing Vinyl still watching her, Octavia took a bite.
A few moments later, Vinyl trotted towards the play area, eyes skyward. A certain gray filly bounded about, hopping from spot to spot, circling Vinyl as she walked.
"Boy that was a great sandwich I like marshmallows I wonder if clouds taste like that we could ask a pegasus why aren't there any pegasuseseses....pegas....I liked your drawings but I don't know that's how to do an essay but I've never written an essay before and school's so big and so scary but mom says I have to if I want to be good at music and I guess I want to be good at music because that's what mom and dad do and wow the sky is so big!" with that Octavia flopped onto her back, staring up at the sky. Vinyl turned back around and walked up to her, placing her head in Octavia's field of view. The earth pony filly was panting hard.
"So you liked the sandwich?"
"Has anypony really been far even as decided to use even go want to do look more like?" Octavia asked in response. Vinyl blinked.
"Not really." she replied, barely missing a beat. Octavia stared at her, panting, and eventually the unicorn filly extended her hoof. Octavia grasped it, getting up onto her hooves again, and immediately felt her cheeks warm.
"Sorry I ate your sandwich." she said, head still buzzing but sense reasserting itself.
"Eh? Hey, I gave it to you, didn't I? You're a weird kid... hey, I don't know your name!"
"Oh, sorry!" Octavia couldn't believe it - how many times had her parents told her to greet somepony, how necessary it was to open with that? She cleared her throat and extended her hoof, still shifting from side to side with that sudden ansy feeling the sandwich had given her.
"I am Octavia Elizabeth-Christalina Vitula, pleased to meet you."
Vinyl just stared at her, and then slowly a grin began to spread across her face. As her lips drew back as far as they could go a snicker escaped between her teeth, and then another, and then the dam burst. Octavia just watched, completely at a loss as Vinyl burst out in laughter, falling to the ground and flailing her front hooves as giggles overcame her body. She was soon on her back, clutching her sides.
"Octa...Christalina....what? Haha!" she wiped her eyes, eventually wearing herself out. She looked back up to find that Octavia wasn't standing there with an extended hoof anymore. The filly had taken a seat, staring at Scratch with the widest purple eyes in the world, tears yet unshed building in them. Her lower lip trembled with an internal earthquake.
"H-hey... you okay?" Vinyl asked. Octavia inhaled with gasping breaths.
"Hey, um...I didn't mean-" Vinyl made the mistake of reaching out and trying to touch Octavia. That burst the filly's bubble, and with a high pitched wail she began to cry, nearly bowling over the unicorn filly.
"H-hey, I...I..." Vinyl tried, but Octavia dashed away from her, heaving and sobbing. Vinyl saw the teacher coming over and gulped.
Vinyl stared at her hooves, waiting for the headmaster to speak. She had gotten all her excusing out of the way when Mrs. Reed had dragged her over here (and none too gently, either - the nape of her neck still stung!) and couldn't think of anything else to say. Her bag of tricks didn't have anything to deal with this situation. Why had the girl gone and cried like that? It wasn't any fun if they actually cried...
"Not really your style, is it Vinyl?" the headmaster said, bringing his hooves together over his desk. Vinyl just glanced up at him, going back to admiring the upholstery on the big chair.
"Well? Anything to say for yourself?"
"I'm sorry Mister Sharp." Vinyl muttered, not looking up. She missed the rare sight of the old stallion's thick eyebrows nearly shooting up off his face.
"That's it? Just this morning you tried to convince me that the reason you glued a teacher's chair to the ceiling was because it was infected with chair-and-teacher eating termites. The janitorial department sends their regards by the way, this will mark the third out of three years you've expanded their budget."
"That didn't make anypony cry." Vinyl explained.
"What about last year, with Belle Blues and the lobsters?"
"...that didn't make anypony who isn't a dumb gum-hair-sticker stupidface cry." Vinyl clarified.
"Hmm. The show of remorse is so refreshing I almost feel like letting you go. However, that wouldn't send a good message to anypony now, would it?" the headmaster paused, studying the filly before him. "Well, Vinyl? What should I do?"
"..." Vinyl lowered her head. "Send me home?"
"I could. I think I have a better solution. You will be staying after school today to help the janitors with the chores they won't have time to do because of your earlier mess - like erasing all the blackboards. In the meantime, I expect you on your best behavior, and I mean that Vinyl."
"Yeah. You got it Mister Sharp." Vinyl dangled her front hooves over the edge of the chair, slinking off of it slowly and turning away. The headmaster just watched her go, face expressionless. Only when she left did he reach over and bite his hoof, and again, trying to be sure he was actually awake for this.
Outside, Vinyl found Mrs. Reed waiting for her. And hiding behind her back leg, sniffling occasionally, Octavia peered out at her.
"So sorry to see you go Vinyl, it's been quite the experience." Mrs. Reed began, shaking her head sadly.
"I got detention." Vinyl told her. The teacher startled, giving her a deep scowl.
"Oh. Hmph, one day, you'll finally push-"
"Missus Reed?" Vinyl looked up. The teacher blinked, not expecting to see Vinyl so morose, so downtrodden. "Can I say sorry to Oh...Ohk... to her?"
"Hmm." Mrs. Reed raised an eyebrow, and turned to Octavia, hiding by her ankles. "I suppose that's up to her now, isn't it?" she stepped away slightly. Vinyl just waited, or perhaps was too afraid to try and approach Octavia. The gray filly hesitated, watching Vinyl, and scooted forward. Vinyl took that as a sign to speak.
"I'm sorry I made you cry." she said. "I didn't mean to..."
"I..." Octavia glanced away. "I'm sorry I got you in trouble."
Vinyl smiled. "Hey, no prob. It's what I do. Just, uh... could you say your name again? I kinda...forgot."
Octavia bit her lip, then nodded. She inhaled deeply, paused, and seemed to think better of it.
"Octavia." she said. Vinyl smiled.
"Vinyl." she said, holding out a hoof. "But you can call me Scratch."