It wasn’t like I was exactly delighted about changing schools. Not initially, at least. The idea of going to a new school just because they had complained about supernaturals being rowdy and my mere presence there was somehow supposed to contain it?
“Mom,” I begged, “it’s not like I can actually do anything! My magic is so weak, if they misbehave, I can’t stop them. It’s all pointless.”
Mom set her hand on my shoulder and gave me a gentle but firm look. “You shouldn’t need to actually intervene, baby, we don’t want you to – you’re not even 13 yet, how much magic you have doesn’t really play into it. You’re still just a kid, we don’t want you to have to solve all the problems yourself, but your presence there might actually make people behave better. They shouldn’t want to bother you, and even besides your magic, there’s your family’s standing. We’re respected, I’m on the council – no one would be stupid enough to bother you. But if it does come down to it, bluff – they don’t know you’re a late bloomer, so they’ll assume you have the regular amount of magic for a fairy your age.”
I wasn’t expecting the kids at this new school to attack me or anything like that, I just cringed at the idea of my presence somehow being expected to make the other supernaturals behave. It made me feel like I had a responsibility even if technically I didn’t or that I was some kind of snitch. It just felt like a lot of pressure for not-quite-yet-13-year-old, minimally magic me.
Sorrel pointed out the bright side as he drove me to school for the first day. “Look at it this way – at least you get to go to school away from all the cousins.”
That was definitely an upside. No cousins, no constant comparison to their magic levels. Our regular school was almost all supernaturals, which meant a lot of people who knew my family and had certain expectations of me that I couldn’t fulfill. This new school was mostly humans, which meant…I might actually be free of some of that.
“Yeah,” I admitted a little more cheerfully. “That does sound better.”
“And it might just be for a while, anyway. The whole goal is to make them stop behaving so carelessly and possibly getting caught by humans, right? Besides, if you’re miserable, Mom won’t be able to put up with it and she’ll transfer you back. And if you end up liking it, well,” he shrugged, “you’ve got several years you could spend there.”
I tried to think of it that way as we pulled into the school parking lot and I hopped out, trying to ignore the looks from the high school kids – mostly girls – who seemed to be deeply interested in the college aged guy who dropped me off. I sighed a little to myself and headed off in the direction of my locker.
Mom, Dad, and I had already been here last week to finalize registration, see where my locker was, locate all my classrooms, all that fun stuff. I might be the new kid, but at least I already knew my way around.
This school was a little different from most because the junior high was in with the high school. Students aged 11 to 19 – approximately – all tossed together, hopefully without turning into an awful mess. That said, most of the junior high classes were over in Buildings One and Two, while the high school classes were mostly in Two, Three, and Four, so it wasn’t like the students always overlapped. Just…mostly. All four buildings were situated evenly around a courtyard where the students gathered for lunch and hanging out – if they didn’t go to the cafeteria in Building Three – so even if junior high students avoided high school students otherwise, they probably ate lunch around them.
The school wasn’t as pretty as the one I had been in nor, from my understanding, were the academics as strong. They were decent, though, and maybe that meant I wouldn’t have to spend as much time studying, anyway. I did miss getting to see all the plants everywhere, inside and out, that my old school had, versus boring brick and linoleum here, but…maybe I could get used to it. It couldn’t be that bad, could it?
By lunchtime, I wasn’t sure. I’d been approached by several of the students, which initially seemed good – they were friendly, I could make new friends here, right? Then I realized that most of the students approaching me were girls and they seemed to be more interested in how I looked than in who I was.
I was pan, so it wasn’t like I had anything against girls. Or guys. Or whatever. I just had something against people who judged me only off my looks. Or off my family. Or off my magic level. I guess…I actually had something against a lot of people.
Tired of all the unwanted attention and realizing that I might be doomed to being a popular kid, I snuck off to eat my lunch in quiet, text my friends back home, and wonder to myself whether I’d made any real friends here. I felt kind of lonely, despite all the attention I’d been getting, because I still hadn’t made any actual friends. Just met a bunch of people surface-level interested in me. Okay, it was only Day 1, maybe it would get better, though. Maybe I just needed to give it a longer chance.
I was sitting behind Building Two, eating my sandwich, when I noticed there was someone else back there, sitting under a tree, reading one of his textbooks. The moment I laid my eyes on him, I felt my breath catch. Even from here, I could see he was beautiful, in kind of an ethereal way. Dark hair, almost black; strong features that somehow also seemed soft and gentle; graceful movements with his hands every time he turned a page. I couldn’t tell how tall he was, but I was guessing he was a year or two older than me, and I was really curious about his eyes. Something told me I needed to see them, so without really thinking this through, I got up and headed in his direction.
“Hi,” I told him when I approached, suddenly realizing this was probably a little weird for me to do. “My name’s Ren. I’m, uh, new here. 7th grade, I’ll be 13 in December.”
Something odd happened when I came near him, I noticed. He froze a little, hesitated, and took a long time to answer me – without looking up.
“Riven,” he said at last. “I’m a freshman, err, 9th grade.”
I wasn’t sure if it would be rude to sit with him, but I found myself inexplicably determined to make friends with him, so I sat down a few feet away and plucked at a bit of grass. “Do you like it here? Anything special I should know about the school?”
Now that I could see him closer, I noticed some more details. His clothes looked thin, which might just be because it was the end of summer, but…they didn’t look like that. It looked more like he was wearing hand-me-downs, but like they’d been worn a lot before now, and I noticed his backpack and shoes, similarly, looked quite worn. That was fine and all, I didn’t care if he was poor, but what bothered me a bit was the way he looked thinner than he probably should be. And he was still not looking at me.
“It’s, um, nice, I guess. I’m not really in any of the clubs or anything so I wouldn’t know.” He seemed uncomfortable, which made me unhappy. I didn’t want him to be uncomfortable with me, but I didn’t know how to fix it. He was human, so I couldn’t just run around talking about supernatural stuff, but I wasn’t an expert on what humans did like to talk about.
I tilted my head to one side and tried to come up with some topic he might appreciate. “What are you studying?”
He flipped the cover closed and I read it upside-down.
“History? Ugg, I hate history classes.”
“I actually like them,” he admitted quietly. “But it’s fine if people don’t.”
So he liked history. Well, one fact to store away. I pulled my lunch out of my bag to resume eating, then paused when I saw he didn’t have any food.
This was lunch hour, so had he already eaten? I didn’t see signs of that. Or…given that he apparently came from a low income family, could he not afford to eat at the cafeteria? Was that why he was out here, away from the other students, so they wouldn’t notice while he didn’t eat with them?
I made a split-second decision and placed an apple down in front of him. “Do you want it? My mom packed too much food and I’m tired of apples.” An apple wasn’t the most nutritious of foods, but I didn’t know if it would be insulting to offer more. I didn’t know enough about humans in general, apparently I needed to learn more. Oh, and that was a lie – of course I never got tired of apples. “By the time I finish this,” I motioned to my sandwich, “I’ll be full, and it seems a shame to let the apple go to waste.”
He hesitated for a long moment, then tentatively reached out and accepted it. “Thank you.”
If my guess about him not having anything else to eat for lunch was correct, I wondered if there was some way I could fix that. Could I bring lunch for him in the future? Would Mom be willing to make two lunches for me?
“Do you have hobbies you like to do?” I asked as I finished my sandwich, pleased to see him munching on the apple. “I like, uh, gardening, I guess. It’s a family thing, we grow flowers and stuff.”
This seemed to make him curious and I could almost see a question start to rise before he strangled it back down. “No, I – no, I don’t, not really.”
I wondered what he’d almost asked and whether I could get him to actually ask it. “Do you like flowers? What’s your favorite flower?”
His face went blank. “Um, I don’t know. I don’t know much about flowers.”
“Oh.” I deflated a bit, then perked up as I remembered my phone, which I pulled out and opened up to show him some pictures of flowers from our backyard. “Okay, these are some of our roses, and some begonias, and lilies,” I started rattling off flower names as I flipped through the pictures. To my relief, he seemed genuinely interested and looked at my phone intently while I showed him the pictures.
I heard the warning bell rang and hesitated, looking at him a little shyly. “I guess that’s our cue to leave, but, um, could I maybe have your number? I’d like to hang out again if that’s okay.”
He seemed a little nonplussed, then shook himself off a bit as he started to shove his things into his backpack. “I, uh, that’s nice, but I don’t, um, have a phone.”
It was my turn to stare at him blankly. “You don’t have a phone? Is that really a thing?” He was a teenager, for crying out loud! What teenager didn’t have a phone?
Ah, wait, one who couldn’t afford one, maybe. Given the state of his clothes, maybe phones were just too expensive?
I blushed abruptly, hoping I hadn’t offended him. “Sorry, sorry, that was rude of me – it’s fine if you don’t have one, just harder to talk after school and stuff, I guess. Will you be here tomorrow? Can I see you then? Or are you free between classes and we could hang out sometime?”
He blinked a little. “Oh, uh, yeah, I’ll probably be here. I suppose tomorrow I could bring my schedule so we could see if we have any overlapping free periods?”
I agreed enthusiastically, waving as we parted ways, fairly pleased overall with our interactions – except that I still hadn’t seen his eyes.
Tomorrow, I promised myself. Tomorrow I’d figure out a way to make him look at me.