Aster was sitting at her desk, staring down at her notebook. She couldn't quite make herself pay attention as the teacher went over a review. Her thoughts were stuck on her aunt. It had been so sudden, without any warning or explanation. She just disappeared. Everyone hoped she would simply come back from wherever she had gone, but that seemed less and less likely with each day. Something must have happened, but there wasn't anything they could do about it. There wasn't anything she could do about it, except try to help Lily through it. She couldn't imagine how hard it had to be, or how her cousin was handling it. She wasn't really sure how to help, really, but she wasn't going to let that stop her from trying.
Eventually Aster managed to bring her focus back to English class, in time to catch the tail end. She didn't feel like she had missed much, but it wasn't a habit she wanted to get into. The bell rang, she put her notebook in her bookbag, stood up, and filed out of the classroom with everyone else. A somewhat familiar voice spoke her name, and Aster turned her head to look at Holly.
"I couldn't help but notice you looked like something's been really bothering you lately. If it was what I said—"
"It's not what you said."
Aster sighed. Of course that's what would be on her mind. What did she say to it? She hadn't forgotten or dismissed the way their last conversation ended, but it really just didn't matter much now. She didn't want Holly to think she wasn't still put off by it. But if she had been concerned about it then it wasn't likely she thought she had done nothing wrong.
"Oh, I'm glad to hear that, then. I do still want to apologize."
"And I'm also sorry that there's apparently something else bugging you instead."
"Condolences accepted, too. Is it really that obvious, though?"
"Probably not. I don't think I would have noticed if I hadn't been trying to look for signs if I'd totally blown making your acquaintance."
"I guess that makes sense. Although, you didn't have to watch and wait like that. You could have just asked. Well, asked earlier."
"I could have, but I wasn't sure how large a nerve I'd struck."
"Well, I'm not exactly over it. But I'm not angry at you or anything. We should talk more, but right now I really should get to my next class. Bye."
"Alright. See you, Aster."
Aster hurried off, and just managed to beat the bell. Her thoughts started to wander again, but she managed to rein them back in and pay proper attention. Having a lesson to focus on was helpful. The class was mostly uneventful, but reasonably interesting. That's all she could really ask for. The rest of the school day was more of the same, but she managed to keep her concentration on the rest of her classes.
Her mind started wandering again on the bus ride home. She was looking out the window at the familiar scenery, but not taking any of it in. She took out her phone, and looked at her texts with Lily. She wanted to be there for her cousin, but was worried she was being obnoxious or a drain. She didn't know if it would be better to talk about what had happened or instead help her keep her mind off of it, but that much she could leave to Lily's initiative.
She certainly wasn't going to come out with her secret like she had been planning. That really did not matter at the moment, and it would just be so insensitive. 'I'm sorry about your mother. Anyways, I have superpowers!' Even thinking about it was missing the point. Her phone vibrated, and she checked again to see a new text.
'Aster, I need to ask you something important.
Okay, I should say it's not actually important.'
'Well, in that case, I'll treat the matter with all due mock-respect. What's the matter?'
'How do you manage to enjoy school?'
'Oh. That's not as silly as I was expecting.
I'm also not sure how to answer. I just enjoy it.'
'Yeah, sorry. This isn't a silly question. More of a stupid one.'
'I wouldn't say it's stupid. I'm just bad at putting this sort of thing into words. But I'll try.'
'Thanks. Take your time, we're both on buses here.'
'I suppose it's primarily that I like learning. Finding things out is entertaining and engaging.'
'I know what you mean. I don't disagree. But so much of school isn't even learning. I find it hard to care.'
'That's fair. I think a lot of people feel that way. I don't mind homework and studying much, usually. It can be fun, or maybe satisfying. And when it isn't, I just do it early to get it out of the way.'
'That makes sense. I find it hard to care about that stuff. Maybe I should follow your strategy, instead of procrastinating.'
'I think it's worth a try.'
'Yeah. Thank you.'
'Of course. I'm glad it could help.
And right now if you're having extra trouble caring about it, that makes a lot of sense. You could probably talk about that with your teachers, or something.'
'Yeah, probably. But it's not a big problem. Obviously it isn't, now that I actually have to deal with a big problem. But I'm still doing alright in school, so it doesn't matter.'
'If you're sure.'
Aster felt like she should have had something better to say in that last message. She wanted to encourage Lily to make better use of options to make things easier on herself, but that wasn't really her place. Besides, she didn't actually know how much hassle it would be for her cousin or how much the results would actually help. Things had to be harder on Lily than she was letting show. She couldn't help but be impressed, but also found it worrying.
She managed to notice the school bus coming up to her house, and got off at her stop. She checked her phone as she walked to her door, but there hadn't been a reply.
'Is there anything else you would like to talk about?'
'Not just this second. I'm probably going to start on some homework when I get to my grandparents'. I'll talk to you later.'
She wasn't entirely sure how to feel about the conversation, afterwards. It had probably been a good thing, but she wasn't entirely sure. Not that vaguely worrying about that served any useful purpose or would help her to better handle a future conversation.
She stepped inside, and saw her parents in the kitchen. She shucked off her shoes, and walked over to them, smiling.