The postman came to the house as if it were any ordinary day -- as if the fool had no idea how important a morning it was.
Bryony sat at the foot of the stairs, watching her mother converse with the plump yellow Chia. At that moment, she hated them both. Especially her mother, a pink Zafara, who should have known better than to stand around talking.
Today was the day she found out, and her stomach was curled up tight like a symol in danger. She had already dry heaved her way through breakfast, and, so near to knowing, she could not believe the two pets were sabotaging her!
She coughed pointedly, and her mother seemed to notice the not-so-subtle hint.
"Oh," she squeaked, and took the pile of letters of the postman. "Bryony is finding out if she got into Brightvale University today!"
"Wow, good luck, little Bryony!"
Bryony did not dignify the condescending adjective with a response.
"Well, better not keep the madam waiting," her mother said, winking as if her daughter couldn't see her. "See you later, Khan!"
Khan waved, and Bryony's mother shut the door.
"Let's go into the living room to read it, Briarbush."
This was her mother's petname for her, and Bryony had to resist sticking her tongue out. She was too old to do that now, just like she was too old to be given stupid nicknames, affectionate or not. After all, if the letter said what she hoped it would, she would be a university student, and they certainly did not stick their tongues out at their mothers.
"Well, I'm going to Brightvale University this September!" the white Kacheek told her friends. "Are any of you going to Brightvale University to study after Neoschool?"
Her three friends - a striped Aisha, a rainbow Wocky, and a blue Ixi - exchanged looks before turning back to Bryony, whose face was currently occupied by a smug grin.
"No," whispered the Ixi sadly, just loud enough for the group to hear over the roar of other students in the canteen. "My parents can't afford to send me to Brightvale U."
"So where are you going?" Bryony asked without skipping a beat,though it was obvious she already knew the answer. "Which university will you be going to?"
"...I can't afford to go to any, Bryony," Sally said, still in the Ixi's usual hushed tones. "You know my family can't afford that. I'll be going to work at the Gardening Centre with my mum when we finish next month."
"Oh... well," Bryony turned to the striped Aisha without giving Sally's predicament much thought. "What about you, Keisha? What will you be doing after Neoschool?"
The Aisha grimaced, shifting in her wheelchair that had been tucked into the lunch table.
"I'm not sure yet," she admitted, eyes down. "I've applied for Faerieland Academy... but I don't think my grades will be good enough."
Two of her friends turned and began to coo about the fact that she never knew, she was so clever! Besides, Mrs. Leo, their English teacher, had hinted that the Academy was more lenient than they appeared.
Sally and their other friend continued to reassure her, until Bryony broke in again.
"Yeah, yeah, we'll see," she snarled. "I just hope you won't be too disappointed next week when you get the letter."
"Don't be mean, Bryony!" Leanne, the Wocky, gasped. "You never know what will happen on results day! You don't even know if you really got in."
"Huh, you're only saying that because you know you have to repeat the year, Leanne," Bryony said, pouting.
At that moment, the bell rang, and the young Neopets collected up their trays to dump at the doors on their way to some of their last few classes before leaving for university. Bryony parted ways with the group at the stairwell to go to her Sports class, while the other three pets had the same Literature lesson that period.
"I wish Bryony would stop rubbing Brightvale in our faces," Leanne declared unhappily. "She's too old to be bragging like this, and it just isn't nice."
The other two nodded sadly.
"I want to be happy for her," Sally said, pushing Keisha's wheelchair down the hallway. "But she's making it so difficult."
They all murmured in agreement as they entered their classroom, where their peers waited at empty desks.
"Well, darling, what does it say?" Bryony's mum asked eagerly, trying to look over the Kacheek's shoulder, but her daughter was elbowing her out of the way.
There had been a long silence since Bryony had opened the letter. Her mother was starting to fret, rubbing her hands together. Bryony ignored the tutting and sighing going on behind her, and let her emotions have free reign for a few minutes. She had so many of them, she didn't know which to express first.
Her mother repeated her question.
"What, do you think I'm not good enough to get in?" Bryony replied, angry at the constant fussing.
The Zafara fumbled over her words, not looking at her daughter, hoping as always that whatever she said wouldn't result in a fight.
"No, Briarbush, not at all! You know what I meant... you just haven't said anything!"
"I got in, okay," her daughter said, flooding her mother with relief.
"Oh, congratulations!" she beamed. "Congratulations, darling, that's amazing! I'm so proud of you!"
"Yeah, thanks," Bryony said, but really she was already thinking about what the girls at school would say about her news. They'd be so jealous, but Bryony had already practiced a humble delivery a thousand times, as well as her sweetest smile, for when she confirmed she was definitely going to Brightvale University, the best higher education institute in all of Neopia.
"Come on, Briar, we'll go out to dinner to celebrate!"
"Can I invite dad?" Bryony asked quietly, not looking at the Zafara.
Her mother didn't reply, instead walking into the hallway muttering about where she had put her handbag. Bryony sighed.
On the entire walk to school, Bryony repeated over and over in her head what she would say to her friends, and to anyone who asked, about her acceptance letter. She'd even packed it into her schoolbag to prove it to any pet who tried to contest it. She couldn't wait to see how impressed all her teachers would be, and the look on Leanne's face.
But when she got to school, she couldn't find any of her friends outside waiting for her, where they should have been. She looked around, by the bike shed and outside the science block, and eventually found them gathered around Keisha in the common room. Bryony straightened out her school shirt - which she could not wait to be out of - and strode up to them, ready to swing her backpack down and pull the letter out.
"Hey guys, guess what?"
None of the girls replied at first, but Sally finally acknowledged her presence with sad eyes.
"Keisha didn't get into Faerieland Academy, Bryony," she said.
"Yeah, but guess what?" Bryony persisted, not interested in the Aisha. "I got in!"
She looked around at their faces, but none of them looked happy for her. None of them even looked jealous! They continued asking if Keisha, who looked like she had been crying, the fur under her eyes matted from tears, was okay and rubbing her arms.
"It's alright," Leanne was saying. "Maybe you could retake the year with me and go next year! It would be nice to have some company for the year."
Bryony rolled her eyes.
"That's not comforting, Leanne," she said in a bored voice. "No one wants to be a failure like you."
Leanne whipped her head around. "If you have nothing nice to say, Bryony, go away!"
"But guys, I got in! Aren't you happy for me?" she asked again, ignoring the Wocky's remark.
It was Sally who spoke up this time, surprising even Bryony with the snarl in her voice.
"Nobody cares what you got, Bryony. You've been nothing but horrible about this since the day you applied, and we're all tired! We didn't mind the boasting before, but this is too much," the smallest of the group of friends said, louder than any of them had ever heard her. "If you're here to rub it in our faces, we don't want to hear it!"
The Kacheek looked around at her friend's faces again. Now they all just looked annoyed, even angry at her, Leanne's lip curled in disgust, and Keisha looking like she might cry again. Bryony huffed.
"Fine, whatever, I know you're all just jealous," she said, putting her backpack on again, and walking away from them. Even she knew what she had just said was a lie.
What they thought didn't matter anyway, Bryony told herself. It wasn't like she planned on keeping in touch with any of them after Neoschool ended - after all, she planned on making much cooler friends at the university.
She looked around the common room, wondering who she should go tell, and who would be most impressed by her news, pointedly ignoring the sobbing she could hear in the corner of the room, as well as the small ache coming from somewhere inside her.