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There was a reason Pepper separated herself from the general populace of Alderbrook High, blending seamlessly into the hallowed halls as if they were a second home. People were scary. She wasn’t sure if it was the way she was brought up or a side-effect of her insecurities or if her brother dropped her on her head as a baby or what, but for as long as she could remember she’s always kept herself at a safe distance, never allowing her star to shine too bright in fear of the collective backlash she’d receive.

As such, Pepper could only stare in horror as Tito confronted her, mouth literally hanging agape as he laid into her, stern but friendly tone all but lost on a girl who may as well have been looking into the mouth of a starving bear.

Tito chastised her for being a desperate mess, instantly causing the girl to physically retract into herself, tightening her arms around herself and averting her gaze to the dusty street. Pepper couldn’t bear to look the taller boy in the eye, he’d be able to see the shame glinting in her own and she wasn’t sure she could handle seeing the judgment in his.

He didn’t even know her name.

Was she the biggest loser on the planet or what?

Sighing dejectedly, Pepper apologized, “I’m s-sorry,” she began, still fixated on the ground, “I was just frustrated, my bag…” Glancing quickly at her daypack, still held hostage by the lantern, she continued “They put it up there and I couldn’t get it down and I just really don’t want to be here. Although, I guess nobody really wants to be here, huh?” She trailed off towards the end, allowing her voice to dissipate into the breeze.

Before either of the two could make a move to retrieve Pepper’s bag, a familiar, albeit loud, voice called out to them. Finally taking her gaze off the ground, Pepper searched for the source, scanning the grim surroundings and finding it a couple yards away from the duo, belonging to none other than Patrick Reynolds, a bubbly member of Theatre. While they exchanged pleasantries every once in awhile, Pepper never really sat down and talked to him back in Alderbrook.

Truth be told, he made her nervous, much like the female theatre member flanking him. Loud noises were never really her thing, be it loud cars or thunder or people—they made her flinch and start blinking like a crackhead, leading only to more shame about her social inabilities.

It was always nice to see familiar faces, though, and while Patrick, Ramona and Benny Lightfield weren’t the friend she was praying would find her soon, it was nice having them around. Almost like she was back in Alderbrook, just injecting some normalcy into an otherwise hopeless situation.

Tito didn’t share her mindset, however, and immediately began grilling the group on their intentions, backing up far too close to Pepper for comfort, leading her to backup as well, nearly into the wall of a nearby home.

Unfortunately for Tito, Ramona wasn’t going to back down like Pepper had and went into one of her renowned tangents—very loudly at that. She’d tried to interject, softly tried to tell Ramona that she was fine and she just wanted her bag, but the louder girl drowned out her delicate voice. Squeezing her eyes shut and clamping her hands over her cheeks, Pepper tried to control the mounting anxiety. It was getting too loud for her, loud enough to wake the dead and making her feel all too exposed in the little town.

She felt like everything was watching her, closing in around her to get a look at the scene and she didn’t like. Thank God for Benny Lightfield doing what she wished she could, she owed him one, that was for sure.

“I-I’m fine,” She whispered lightly at his claim that they were ‘harshing her vibes’, which wasn’t as true as she wished it was, evident by her crouched frame and tightly shut eyes, “I just want my bag…”

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I Can Hear the Bells · The Streets
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