She transferred to our school in the middle of the school year. She introduced herself as Karen, and I picked up from her accent that she was a foreigner. Also, for some reason, I was immediately drawn to her, from the very moment I saw her. She was beautiful, but there was more to it. I felt as if I had been charmed, or maybe in a sort of trance.
“Karen, please, won’t you seat next to Isabelle over there?”
My heart beat faster when I heard the teacher announce my name, and I could feel my chest tighten when she looked into my eyes. We said hi to each other once she sat down on the chair next to me, but that was all. We didn’t speak any more to each other that day, or on the following days. Still, I followed her with my eyes sometimes, paying attention to her voice, her clothes, her smile, and all sorts of other details. In truth I wanted to walk up to her and talk to her, maybe even become her friend. But I was never too brave, and even something as simple as making friends with the new girl scared me a little.
Gradually, I began learning more about her. She was originally from the Coast of Marble, a country far to the East. Her mother was a witch, and they had to leave their home country because of the witch hunts in that region. The fact that she was a foreigner really showed, sometimes: beside her accent, she had habits which were somewhat odd for me, like keeping her pens in a separate case from her pencils, and wearing a colorful scarf even though the climate wasn’t cold enough for that.
“Do you think she has a boyfriend?” one of my friends, Elise, asked one day.
“Who?” said another friend, Jessica.
“The new girl,” said Elise.
“I don’t think so,” Jessica replied. “She’s only been here for what, two months? And she’s never mentioned anyone back in the Coast either. Why d’ you ask?”
“I heard foreigners were popular with the boys,” Elise explained. “But I guess she’s not too pretty to begin with, so there’s that.”
“Excuse me?” I said, suddenly joining in on the conversation. “You think Karen’s not pretty?”
“Um, not really,” said Elise. “I mean, she’s okay, but she isn’t a beauty or anything.”
I was shocked to hear that. To me, it was clear that Karen was the prettiest girl in class, if not in the whole school. And I honestly believed that everyone thought the same about her.
“Elise is right,” said Jessica. “Her face is too long, and her facial features are a bit asymmetrical. Plus she’s tall. Not really the type of girl that boys go after.”
Well that was outright absurd! Jess and Elise were both obviously wrong. And any guy who didn’t think Karen was beautiful was probably in need of glasses. How come?!
But even if I thought that, and even if I had suddenly the urge to explain to everyone and anyone just how beautiful the new girl was, I found myself too embarrassed to actually come out and say it. Why should I be embarrassed, though? Was it because my opinion on the matter seemed to contradict my friends’? I still had no idea how anyone could possibly not notice Karen’s beauty.
“I think she’s really pretty,” is what I managed to say.
“Go out with her, then,” joked Ursula, another friend of ours. Jess and Elise both chuckled, and I felt my cheeks burn all the way to the tips of my ears.
“Don’t make strange jokes like that,” I complained.
“Seriously, though,” said Ursula, “Isn’t she a witch? I heard they do it with women all the time. It’s part of their rituals.”
“Eww, that’s weird,” said Jessica, looking a little put off.
“You should watch out, Belle,” Ursula told me, “or she’ll cast a spell on you.”
I was looking at Karen, who stood with a group of friends on the other side of the room. Just as Ursula said that, I saw her turn and, for a moment, our eyes met. I averted my eyes, still feeling the heat in my flushed face.
We didn’t talk about Karen anymore for a while. I wasn’t consciously avoiding her, before, but now I think I started to do it, just a little. It was kinda hard, considering she sat beside me in class, but I could always pretend to be studying or reading some book, just so I’d avoid conversation. I didn’t know why I was doing that. I mean, Karen looked like a really fun person, always laughing and chatting with several friends. And surely the rumors about her and about witches weren’t really true, were they? I had no reason to avoid her. Maybe I was scared that if I got too close, she really would cast a spell on me?
Ursula went on to mock me even more when, a week later, we were told to pair up with the person sitting next to us for a history project. “Watch out for the perv witch, Belle,” I heard more than once. Still, Karen smiled at me when the teacher announced the project, and I awkwardly smiled back.
That day, after class, I heard her call me for what was probably the first time.
“Isabelle? Hey, Isabelle! Wait!”
I had just packed my stuff and was on my way to the school gates when I heard the call. I turned around to look, and found out that Karen was running across the school yard toward me.
“I’m glad you’re still here,” she said, panting a little. She looked dazzling as usual. I hadn’t been paying much attention to her lately, but now that I was watching her again, I found that I hadn’t been wrong: she really was beautiful. How could Elise and the others not notice that? Maybe they were jealous, right?
As if to prove me right, Karen smiled to me once she stopped by my side, and she turned even more impossibly beautiful then. I even felt my chest tighten for a moment. So that’s the effect gorgeous people have on commoners like myself, huh?
“What’s up?” I asked.
“The history project,” she explained. Even her accent was cute. Screw what the girls think, I’d totally date her if I was a guy, myself. “So,” she continued, “I was wondering if you’re free to do that right now.”
“Isn’t that just for next week?” I asked, surprised. Was Karen the type to get things done ahead of time, rather than doing them last minute like the rest of us? How diligent.
“I’ll be kinda busy next week,” she informed me. “It would really help me out if we could get it done this week.”
“Sure,” I said, “I don’t mind.”
“Great,” she grinned. “Should we go to the library?”
I nodded, and started walking beside her back into the school building.
“Cute,” I heard her say, as we walked.
“Come again?” I asked.
“Your bangs,” she explained, “they’re really cute. It suits you.”
I felt my face begin to grow hot again, and decide to change the topic of conversation less I really began to blush at her remark.
“What theme should we pick?” I asked. “For the project, I mean.”
“I have some suggestions,” she said, smiling a little. “But I wanna hear you first. Got any favorites?”
“For history?” I said. “Not particularly. Anything, but the civil war. I missed that class.”
“What about the Eastern Spring?” she asked, expectantly.
“It’s okay, I guess,” I told her. Of course, Karen was from the East, it only made sense that she’d pick a theme involving her home country. “I don’t know much about that, though,” I told her, “so you’ll have to teach me.”
“Sure!” she said, excitedly. “I’d love to.”