We all made our way to the last row at the back of the auditorium, followed closely by the rest of the fourth-years that were filling the chairs behind the already seated third-years.
I flopped down on one of the aisle seats, propping my feet up on the back of a chair in front of mine to make sure no wise ass would try to steal Jess's usual spot between me and Emilia. At least that was how it was supposed to be, but there was an exchange of looks between the twins and after one of their weird telepathic conversations, which involved a lot of frowning from Arielle’s part, Aaron asked to switch seats.
Emilia agreed with a knowing quirk in her mouth that made the boy squirm, eyes shifting to his feet. His reaction was just so funny, I had to snort, which he didn’t seem to take so well. He sank down in his seat with a scowl on his face, cheeks almost glowing under the dimming lights.
There was no sign of Jess, but we were all pretty sure she’d show up. She’d yet to miss an assembly in the last three years; no reason to believe this was going to be any different just because a pompous jerk asked her out.
Though if I were her, I’d skip the whole event. It was always the same thing every year. Always the same speech and message: behave, study hard, train harder, use your powers responsibly, learn to control yourselves. Every fourth year student could probably recite it by now.
We were the farthest from the stage lights, so this time we had even less reason to pay attention.
While the school staff finished the preparations and waited for the crowd of students to settle down, Arielle took out a few pieces of fruit she’d sneaked from the table and started munching on them, keeping the cherries, Jess’s favorite, on her lap.
She and Emilia would muffle a giggle every time one of the monitors, most of them fourth-year students like us, glanced at our row, forcing Arielle to hide the fruit or create a tinny portal where she could keep it until the coast was clear. They almost burst out laughing once or twice, the people in front of us turning their heads around to send them glares whenever they got too loud.
Watching them was making me hungry so I turned to Aaron, who was... thinking, I guess. Didn’t take a genius to figure out what about. He was clutching the arm rest like it was his only life-line, fidgeting in his seat while flickering his eyes to the doors every second or so.
His nervousness was contagious and I’d rather be hungry than tense, so I turned my eyes to the girls. They were sitting close now, talking to each other in excited whispers that I couldn’t possibly pick up from where I was unless I had super-hearing like that third-year guy, Rowan or something.
Since it was clear that Aaron was also in his own little world, I had no one to talk to. Huffing, I leaned back on my chair, taking out my earphones, a present I’d gotten form Emilia last year, and drowning out everyone’s chatter with the sound of guitars blasting in my ears.
I must’ve dosed off for a bit, because next thing I knew, Aaron had taken off one of my earbuds and was hissing my name.
“What?!” I shouted back at him, earning myself a collective shush from the people in the front row and even one of the monitors.
Frowning, Aaron pointed to something over my shoulder. “Jessie wants to sit.”
Just like he said, Jess was standing behind me, just staring and waiting for me to move. Surprised and a little disoriented, I lowered my feet to let her pass and take her seat between me and Aaron.
“You’re just in time, Jessie. The headmistress is about to make her speech,” Emilia whispered, leaning over Aaron to pass the cherries to her friend, a warm smile tugging at her lips.
“Now, if I may have everyone’s attention...” Miss Kilin’s voice filled the whole auditorium, snapping my attention from the others. Everyone else went silent, eyes locked on to the familiar figure on the stage.
The headmistress' eyes swept across the room, as if trying to engrave every new and old face into her memory. She looked older somehow, more tired than usual.
“I won’t welcome you or explain the rules and workings of this school to you, since that has already been covered by the rest of the school staff and would only serve to bore everyone here, including myself, to death.” A few chuckles and loud murmurs of assent sounded from both students and teachers alike. “So I will get to the point and I want everyone to listen very carefully to this.”
“The school staff has debated long and hard about whether we should tell you this, but I am of the opinion that something of this nature should not be kept from you.”
I could feel everyone tense around me, murmurs echoing around the room. Miss Kilin made a brief pause, waiting for the room to quiet down. She took a deep breath, then, and only then, she spoke, voice ringing clearly over the microphone:
“One of this school’s students has been murdered.”