Nest Of Vipers
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Next: Tranquilicis
Tests. Classes. Homework. Parties. WooHoo. Money. Fame. Fights. Drugs. Murder? The College life is not so easy, especially when it seems around every corner lurks some kind of iniquitous character. The teens that once battled in bands are now young adults on paths to discover and become who they are meant to be, that is if they can at least pass all their midterms. What kind of costs, risks, stakes, and compromises must they make to achieve their ambitions in Kashmire?

Chapter 1: A Quick Study

"How did you do on your midterms?"

Franz Schoulsburg's eyes didn't move from the page of the book he was currently reading, yet he still responded, "I don't have midterms like you do. We do modules."

He was addressing his nosy twin sister who had come barging into the bakery that afternoon, giddy about something or other. He could tell by her inflection she really didn't care how he did but needed a way to engage him in dialogue. She was the most exhausting person on the planet.

Franz liked the atmosphere of his mother's bakery. It was quiet, had delicious treats, and most afternoons he could go for long stretches of reading his books between having to ring up customers. That is, unless Fauna waltzed in and ruined it.

"Well, what the fudge is a module?"

He had explained to her about every other semester what it was and didn't have the energy to do so again. It wasn't his fault that she had the recollection of a goldfish. He sighed, knowing what would get her to change topics, and get on with conversation, "How did you do?"

Her face lit up and she began babbling out a long-winded tale of how she forgot to study last weekend because she went to a place and did a thing, something happened and so on...

Franz tuned her out and picked back up where he had left off in his book. She loved to talk about herself so she'd be chattering for a while. As long as he threw in some 'yeahs' and 'hmms' every so often in response, she'd be satisfied that he was paying adequate attention.

The door jingled, signaling a customer had entered. He looked up to see who would be coming in on a Tuesday afternoon, the most dead of times for the business.

A well-dressed woman in heels walked through the entryway; she was holding a briefcase and looking around the bakery with appraisal. Fauna didn't seem to notice or care as she kept on blabbering about something related to her midterms. The new customer approached the upper bakery section where they stood.

"May I help you?" Franz put his book down and gave her his attention. This move left Fauna a bit miffed for being interrupted. She turned a displeased eye on the woman.

"I'm looking for the owner of this establishment," the woman answered.

That wasn't the usual request. He assumed she wanted a muffin or something.

"And you are?" He narrowed his eyes slightly. He decided he didn't like the way she was smiling at them; it seemed rather fake and forced.

"Shelby Barnett," she pulled a business card from the side of her briefcase and handed it to him, "Now where can I find the owner?"

"She's working," Franz pocketed the card while nodding toward the lower floor where through a set of windows they could see his mother in the kitchen, mixing cake batter. Ms. Barnett's smile grew wider and she seemed to expect Franz to make an introduction. After a moment, he led her down to the kitchen entrance. He knew his mother didn't like to be bothered when she was baking. Just like he didn't like being bothered while reading. Or at all.

"Mom. Someone here to see you," he shouldered the door open and tilted his head in the direction of the sales floor.

She gave him a reactionary look of annoyance for the interruption but it soon turned into curiosity. She gave a nod and wiped her hands, which were covered in flour, on her apron. He turned to the business woman, "She'll be out in a sec."

He resumed his position near the cash register, ready to take up his book and start reading again. Fauna had decided to sit down and eat a chocolate croissant. He gave her a subtle glare; she wasn't supposed to take baked goods and eat them in front of customers even though none were really there at the moment.

His mother had stepped outside the kitchen and shook hands with the woman. They sat down at one of the tables. Despite his desire to get on with reading, he couldn't help but to strain his hearing to try and listen to what they were talking about. His pocket vibrated, startling him slightly, and caused him to lose focus on eavesdropping. He didn't get calls that often but dug through his pocket and pulled out his phone to look at the caller ID. It was his best friend.

"Hey," he answered.

"Heya! Are you coming to the library today?" Alanna Thackery's jovial voice questioned through the receiver. He was momentarily confused by her query until she clarified, "You said you were going to help me study, remember?"

Franz cursed in his mind; he had forgotten that he had mentioned to Alanna that he could help her study for her midterm but he had told his mother he could also help out at the bakery the same afternoon.

"Yeah, I'll be there in about fifteen minutes," he said while eyeing his mother. She was preoccupied and wouldn't miss him for awhile. "See you then."

"Was that your girlfriend?" Fauna questioned while wiggling her eyebrows up and down rapidly. She looked stupid; she had a spot of chocolate on her face and he didn't bother to tell her since she was just trying to be annoying now. He had told her--what seemed a million times now--that he never liked Alanna more than a friend.

He ignored her insinuation and said, "Watch the register, I'll be back in a bit."

She gave another miffed look. It wasn't like she had plans for the afternoon anyway and she was done with midterms. She could use a little responsibility. He saw himself out, briefly hearing the term 'eyesore' as he passed his mother and Shelby Barnett.

After a short bus ride to Scandalica City, Franz arrived in front of the public library. He'd always liked the old building, and hiding away in it when he was younger--picking his way through the science fiction section. It was also the midpoint between Isla Del Kashmire, where he attended community college and Sim State University, where Alanna went to school.

He entered the library and made his way through the stacks to find Alanna at a table with a pile of school books. She was deeply concentrated on studying already. He pulled out the chair of the table across from her and the movement caused her to jump; her surprise immediately turned to a smile when she saw it was him.

She shot up at once and hugged him. He felt himself smile and returned the embrace with one arm. They hadn't been able to hang out since the summer, being at different campuses and schoolwork taking up most of their time. Or in Franz s case, working as well.

Alanna was an ambitious biology student and Franz found it increasingly harder to fit into her schedule. He didn't want to think himself desperate for company since he'd never been that way before, but it was evident when he jumped on the opportunity to help her study just so he could see her again.

"How are you?" she asked and pulled back to look him over with a warm smile.

He shrugged while taking a seat, "Done with my module."

Modules were what the hands-on community college classes comprised of. They'd work half a semester on a project and it was due when regular college midterms occurred. Franz's focus was in culinary arts. He knew someday he'd have to take over the bakery, or at least have to co-own it with Fauna, so decided the best use of his higher education was to advance his cooking skills. He could already make a mean plate of crepes.

"You passed?"

He only nodded.

She seemed thrilled for him with her bright eyes and wide smile; he had missed that infinite optimism she seemed to exude.

"So what do you need help studying?"


He raised one eyebrow and she chuckled at his dubious expression which caused a librarian nearby to shush her.

"Well, in a sense. My midterm is on enzymes, specifically ones found in the body. I made flashcards and I need you to tell me if I identify the enzyme types correctly based on their names and models," she said in a quieter voice and dug through a backpack, handing him a stack of index cards. She may as well have been speaking a different language but he gave her a slight nod; his task seemed simple enough.

He held up a card, and she recited the term she had written on the back of it that he could only see. He nodded in affirmation. He did this for the next, and the next, and the next. She didn't get any of them wrong. She was going to ace her midterm.

Since they had become friends, Franz's outlook on the world had improved significantly. He was still miles more cynical than Alanna, but she had taught him there were reasons to smile, how to look for the best in people, and that he could enjoy life outside the confines of his books. She was a truly inspiring individual and he valued her friendship very much.

"Stereospecific," she said after a moment of studying the card he currently held up. He nodded yet again and placed the card behind the last.

He wished they could take a break and actually talk about something other than school, maybe exchange book recommendations or reviews--although he was sure if she had time for leisurely reading considering her rigorous study schedule. In the past few years since they had become close friends, she would usually text him about every new book she'd fallen in love with. He hadn't gotten any of those kinds of texts since the semester had started.

"Chemoselective," she answered yet another enzyme type correctly.

He flipped another card over for her to view. He might have been interested in the subject if he understood what it was. Enzymes weren't something he sought out knowledge of and Alanna was already three semesters in on the subject. She wanted to be a doctor, to help people.

He felt himself smile again, thinking that she was well on her way to achieving that goal.

His pocket buzzed for the second time that afternoon. He held up a finger to indicate a pause to the study and looked at his phone. He'd gotten a text from his sister.

Fauna: Mom wants you back @ the bakery

He frowned, it hadn't even been a half hour yet. He thought it would take longer for his mother to notice his absence.

"Oh, you dropped something," Alanna said leaning down, reaching outward until she grabbed a piece of paper from the floor. It was that woman's business card from earlier. Alanna looked at it curiously before handing it back to him. "What are you doing with the Cosgrove Collective?"

He studied the card, now reading what he hadn't bothered to before.

Shelby Barnett, Head of Development
The Cosgrove Collective.

He knotted his brows, "What is it?"

"It's a business firm. I know that Le Theater is owned by them but they also recently bought the Top of the World restaurant chain."

"How do you know?"

She gave a shrug, "Acquisitions and mergers are reported in the newspaper. I read it last week in the business section. Though it seems no one reads the paper anymo--"

Franz bolted upright suddenly, startling Alanna for the second time that day, "I'm sorry, I have to go. Now."

His mind was so preoccupied that he didn't even bid her farewell before he was making his way out of the library and back toward the bus stop. He had just realized that what he had heard spoken on his way out of the bakery wasn't 'eyesore.'

It was 'buy the store.'

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