I knew a lot about her even if we never spoke. I knew she came from one of the most influential fairy families. I knew her mom was a leading member of the city’s supernatural council. I knew her dad, who was one of the oldest and most powerful fairies in existence, ran a clinic for nymphs, dryads, and any supernaturals who wanted non-traditional care, and I knew she wanted to help him. I knew she had two brothers, one older, one younger than her.
More importantly, I knew she lit up every room she entered. I knew she could lift people’s spirits with a smile. I knew she was outgoing and friendly and felt like a breath of fresh air every time she entered the room. I knew she loved berry-flavored foods. I knew she loved sunflowers.
But I also knew she was sometimes lonely.
She’d attracted my attention from the first day of med school, her light, airy presence making the classroom feel less oppressive. I’d been worried about this whole thing – for some reason I always ended up popular at school and had to pretend I’m okay with the attention I got, even if I hated it. I fake smile, I nod, I say polite things, and then I escape where I can find some quiet corner to calm my shaking.
I’m actually incredibly shy. I can pretend, can put on the mask, but only because I’ve been forced to every day of school. I was worried it would be the same in med school, scared to face more years of this fakeness and solitude, where despite being surrounded by people, no one ever really saw me.
But somehow, that first day of med school, while I was having a quiet internal panic attack over the number of people approaching me, her very presence seemed to give me a sense of calm and let me breathe for a moment. She didn’t speak to me, though she did give me a smile, same as she gave to everyone else, and that was enough. That was enough to get through the day.
I’d started trying to observe her, trying to learn more about her, and trying to come up with a plan to meet her. For some reason, I was sure she was a person who, if we talked, might actually give me the chance to open up slowly and might be willing to see the real me.
But we never talked. I watched her, but I could never come up with a reason to speak with her. We took classes together, even had a project together on occasion, but every time I came close to her I got tongue-tied and unable to say anything more than my typical mask allowed. Fake smile, be polite, be agreeable, but don’t really say anything.
I was frustrated with myself, loathing my inability to actually just talk to her, and finally resigned myself to the reality that we would never be friends. I could still appreciate her presence, though – it helped me get through my entire day. I made a secret promise with myself that I would try to get at least one class with her every semester just to make sure I saw her regularly and got to breathe in her fresh air.
The only contact I really ever had with her was one day during our first year. I’d noticed earlier in the day that she seemed stressed, quieter than usual. I spotted her later alone, looking like she was really having a bad day. She unknowingly helped me through each day, so I was desperate to help her in some way, but it wasn’t like I could just come up and ask her if she wanted to talk or something. The only thing I could think of was a sunflower. I couldn’t make any of the berry foods she liked, but I could grow a sunflower and give it to her.
Well, not give it directly. I was too shy for that and wasn’t sure what she would think of me if I did that. So instead I just tried to casually drop it on her books while I walked by. Maybe she wouldn’t even notice who left it there. Hopefully she wouldn’t have seen my shaking fingers.
I didn’t look back, afraid I would see her watching me, but in class later I noticed her bright smile was back – and she was carrying the sunflower with her.
Years of med school slowly passed, and while I was never able to figure out how to approach her, I did keep my promise to myself that I would take a class with her in it each semester.
Up until our very last semester. Somehow, something had gone wrong and I thought I’d gotten in a class with her but she wasn’t in a single one of my classes. I nearly freaked out. Not only would I miss out on the breath of fresh air she brought with her, this was our last semester. This was my last chance to even pretend I might have a chance to approach her. I couldn’t let this opportunity go by – I had to come up with a way to get into a class with her.
A bit of detective work – aka following her around as sneakily as I could – and I figured out she had one of the same classes I was taking, just at a different time. It took some finessing of my schedule to make it work and some begging at the registrar’s office, but I finally managed to switch my classes around just so I could be in her class.
As I reached the classroom for the first class session after transferring, I took a deep breath and reminded myself that this was my very last chance. After graduation, I’d probably never see her again. If ever it was the time to be brave, it was now.
I opened the door, gave my polite fake smile to the students that greeted me, and tried not to look too obvious while I scanned the room, looking for her.
She had a seat open next to her, and the board said this was seat assignment day.
Would it be too daring to sit next to her? Too obvious? We’d never spoken. But…this was my last chance. If ever I was to try to befriend her, it had to be now.
So I summoned up every bit of courage I had, drifted over to where she sat, and took the seat next to her.
My heart was pounding and I didn’t dare look at her, afraid she’d tell me to move. She seemed frustrated, almost, and I was worried I had offended her. Maybe this wasn’t a good idea. Maybe I was being too forward.
But before I got a chance to get up and move, several students surrounded me, asking about my day, smiling, flirting – the normal stuff. I tried to be polite but I was hypersensitive to her presence, wishing that they would just leave me alone so I could try to talk to her.
And then the professor was there, sending everyone to their seats, and it was too late to move. I didn’t know if I was glad or scared of that.
I didn’t end up saying a word to her, didn’t even look in her direction the entire class. I was too nervous to. At the end of the period, I found us parting ways without ever having even said hi to her.
I groaned to myself. This was going awful. But this was my last chance, I couldn’t give up now. I had the rest of the semester to keep trying. Maybe I could at least manage to say hi to her. That was my first goal. Then…ask how she was? I somehow forgot how normal conversations went.
This was going to be a disaster.
I found myself both anticipating and dreading seeing her again the next time class gathered. I was early, hoping I could work up the courage I needed just to greet her, but was surprised to see she was early, too. Well, so much for that idea. Now my nerves were in overdrive and I hadn’t even sat down yet.
I took my seat and tried to sort of give her a polite nod while I did. Then I focused on opening up my textbook and preparing to take notes.
“Kade, right? I’m Honey. I don’t know if we’ve ever been properly introduced.”
I tried not to completely freeze up when I realized she was talking to me, her blue eyes fixed on my face. When I turned to give her a smile, hoping my panic wasn’t showing, she gave me one first.
“Since we’re going to be sitting next to each other all semester, we might as well be friendly,” she told me. “Unless you’d rather just focus on your studies, I know your grades are important to you.”
Right, uh, grades, sure, those were things.
I needed to answer her. How to speak again? I cleared my throat. “Um, hi, yes, it’s fine to talk.” That sounded a lot less smooth than I’d have wanted. I normally was so much better at the polite fake thing but for some reason I found it harder to make my mask work properly with her.
“So,” she rested her head on her hand, her elbow leaning on her desk as she looked at me with those bright blue eyes that made me feel like I was almost flying through the sky, “why med school? You want to work at the hospital? Be a family doctor? What’s the plan?”
This was a normal question, I could answer this. “Research, actually.” I hesitated, then for some reason the truth spilled out. “My dad got sick with a rare disease and no one was able to help him. I wanted to change that for someone else.”
Her eyes got soft. “I’m sorry about that.”
Fairies don’t get sick easily, but Dad had been one of the few. He caught a rare disease that no one could figure out how to fix in time. Maybe if it had been slow, we’d have had enough time to stop it, but it progressed too fast and there were no answers in time. I’d decided one day there in the hospital while I watched him dying that I would do everything I could to make sure this disease was identified and prevented so no one else had to watch their loved one die like my mom and I did.
“Thank you.” Then I remembered I should probably ask the question back, even if I knew the answer. “And you? Why med school?”
“My dad runs a clinic, I plan to help him.” She started playing with one of her blondish-auburn ringlets. “My brothers are into their own things, which is fine, and Dad wouldn’t have made any of us help him, but I always liked the idea of helping people, specifically in the clinic. I used to hang out in the clinic when I was a kid for hours, watching Dad, talking to the patients – probably annoying them, but they were nice to me since I was their doctor’s kid.” She tugged on the ringlet, a complicated expression appearing on her face. “Plus, some people just aren’t okay with regular doctors. I want to make sure people like that have a safe place to go.”
She had to be discrete, like I did, since the school had humans in it that might overhear us, but I was pretty sure she meant some supernaturals weren’t okay with human medicine and doctors. That was particularly true of dryads, for instance, who were almost more plant than human anyway and probably couldn’t be treated by your average doctor.
“I just want some people to know that there’s a friendly face who will always help them,” she said finally, “regardless of what or who they are and what kind of situation they’re in.”
I thought that was very kind of her but I didn’t know how to exactly express that. “It seems like a good cause,” I finally managed.
We fell silent and didn’t say anything more before class started, but I was elated nonetheless. Not only had I kind of managed to say hi to her, we’d actually had a conversation. Maybe not a particularly special one – one most people had their first year, to be honest – but still. It was progress.