Also by extreme_fj0rd
Samantha's alarm clock beeped in her ear, and the pink Flotsam sat up in bed, yawning. Automatically she looked over at the calendar hanging on her wall. The first day without a red X on it was Monday, the first Monday in the Month of Gathering. It was the first day of school, too.
"First day of school!" The Flotsam slithered out of bed ungracefully and out into the hall, nearly knocking over a coat rack. "First day of school, first day of school!"
She got ready quickly and went in search of her owner.
"It's the first day of school!"
"Yes, yes. I know." Samantha's owner smiled. "Just let me get ready, and I'll walk you over."
"Okay!" Samantha smiled. She couldn't wait to be at school.
It wasn't long before they were on their way. They walked together, chatting happily. Although most wouldn't call the way Samantha moved "walking". Instead she pulled herself up with her fins and then flopped forward. It was ungraceful and tiring, but Samantha didn't mind.
Samantha didn't mind much. She hadn't minded when her owner had decided to move to Brightvale, Samantha loved seeing new places. She also hadn't minded when her owner told her that there wouldn't be any other Flotsams in her new class. Samantha was interested to find out more about the other types of pets, because there hadn't been any land pets in her school in Maraqua.
Samantha could have done a flip right there, because she was so happy. But she couldn't because this was land, not water. Instead she continued flopping.
As they got closer to the school, there were other pets and owners walking towards it. Most were with their owners like Samantha was, but a few older pets were walking alone. Samantha couldn't imagine going to school without her owner.
She dragged herself forward excitedly, looking around at the other students and trying to guess who would end up being her friend. There were a few pets who she thought looked nice enough. Samantha hoped they would be in her class.
"Are you all right from here?"
The Flotsam looked up and found they were just outside the school gates. She hadn't realized they were that close. She had been concentrating on moving along.
"I'll be fine," she told her owner. "See you later!"
The other pets in the school yard were standing in little groups. Friends from previous school years had found each other and were talking together.
Samantha reached the school yard and stopped, wondering who to approach. There was a group of girls admiring themselves with mirrors and applying beauty products. Not them.
Next to the vain girls was a group of Poogles talking about their latest running times and which one of them was most likely to be the next member of the Poogle Races. Samantha wouldn't fit in with them at all.
Before she could find out any more, the school bell rang and Samantha headed inside. As all the pets walked toward the door, some snickered and whispered, pointing at Samantha. She kept dragging herself forward, ignoring the other pets. They probably just realized that she was new.
Inside the school building, Samantha stopped to look around. A pair of Kacheeks almost tripped over her tail, and ran away giggling. The school wasn't much, but it looked like the best place in Neopia to Samantha. She couldn't imagine anything better than a place to go and learn things and make new friends.
She remembered her owner saying that her classroom was number 121. Samantha looked up at the nearest door and read off the number, which was 101.
The Flotsam moved on along the hall, checking the numbered doors every once in a while to make sure she hadn't passed her classroom. Other students kept almost stepping on her, and then mumbling apologies and grinning. They must be embarrassed that they almost stepped on me, Samantha thought, and kept dragging herself along.
She found room number 121 after a few more minutes and looked up at the doorknob, which was too high for her to reach. A Ruki ran past her the next moment and flung the door open, dashing inside. Samantha threw herself forward to catch the door, and just barely managed to get into the classroom before it closed.
Here she was, Samantha thought, moving away from the door so no one else would accidentally step on her. She looked around to see what sort of a classroom it was.
In front of Samantha were rows of desks that faced the chalkboard and the large teacher's desk. Behind the desk a red Lenny stood examining a sheet of paper.
She looks nice, thought Samantha, I bet she'll make a great teacher.
Around the room were educational posters in bright colors. Towards the back of the room were bookshelves with novels, text books, biographies, dictionaries, and encyclopedias. Samantha couldn't wait to see what was inside some of those.
As Samantha looked around, the thing she noticed the most were pets. Young pets like herself were consistently filling the room. Some of them looked lost, although most had found a friend to talk with. Samantha wondered, again, who she would be talking to in a week.
"Welcome." The Lenny's voice commanded attention even though it was kind. "Everyone please find a seat." Samantha pulled herself to the front of the classroom. By the time she had got there everyone else had found somewhere to sit. Using large amounts of energy the Flotsam pulled herself into the seat.
People were whispering. There was a giggle or two. But now that everyone was seated, the Lenny said,
"I am Ms. Miller and I will be your teacher this year. I hope to have a lot of fun with this class, and if you cooperate, we will."
Everyone nodded their agreement.
"First, we'll go over class rules," the Lenny said, "and then I'll show you where everything is in the classroom so you know where supplies are for projects and things. Does that sound good?"
A few pets nodded. Most just stared at Ms. Miller.
"All right. First rule of class..."
* * *
Samantha slid down from her chair at lunchtime and fell heavily on the floor. She struggled to get back up.
"Look at that," one of her classmates, a red Lupe, said to her friend. "She can't even walk right. Why is she here?"
Samantha didn't hear the comment, being too busy getting up again. She picked up her lunchbag and began the process of dragging herself toward the door.
"Get out of my way, slowpoke." A fire Grundo raced past her, knocking her out of his path. Samantha stared after him. How could he be so mean?
Well, one mean student in a class was probably to be expected, Samantha thought, moving slowly toward the door again. There been a bully in her class at school in Maraqua, too.
"Freak," a Kacheek muttered, walking past her. Someone else laughed.
Samantha frowned. It didn't seem fair they were singling her out, and no one else. She reached the door and paused to wait for someone to open it for her. The Aisha walking up threw it open, and it hit Samantha squarely in the head. The Flotsam gasped, rubbing her head.
"That hurt!" she cried, but the Aisha just walked out. Samantha flung herself forward to catch the door before it closed and dragged herself out desperately. If she wanted to have any time for eating lunch, she had to move more quickly, even if it was harder.
Samantha was just halfway through the door when it opened again. She braced herself for an impact. This just wasn't fair. Her head still hurt, and she was going as fast as she could.
But no impact came. The Flotsam got through the doorway and turned around. Behind her was a yellow Lutari. He had been holding the door open while waiting patiently for her to go through the door. Samantha smiled and murmured a thanks.
"Hey, you have a bruise on your forehead. Did you get hurt?" he asked.
"Oh, I'm fine," Samantha lied. "I just, sort of, bumped into the door." She was determined to be fine. School was a great place of learning, and Samantha wasn't going to let a couple mean kids ruin this for her.
"It doesn't look fine. Let's just have the nurse look at it." Samantha agreed, and they started down the hall. "I'm Ty, by the way," the Lutari said with a smile.
Samantha introduced herself, but concentrated on moving forward. She was already late for lunch, if she wanted to eat anything at all she would need to get this nurse trip over as fast as possible.
Ty had no trouble walking, his four legs were perfect for walking on land and his large paws and long tail would work in water to move him forward efficiently. Lucky, thought Samantha as her stomach scraped against the tile floor.
"This is it," said Ty. The nurse, a portly Xweetok, bustled over and prescribed some ice to the bruise.
"Ty, will you be a dear," she said, "and get the two of you some lunch and you can eat it here with the ice." Ty nodded and hurried off.
"Thank you," Samantha said to the nurse. The Xweetok smiled.
"It's my job, dearie," she said. She didn't ask questions. Samantha liked that. She sat quietly with the ice on her forehead and waited for the Lutari to come back with their lunches.
"I'm back," Ty announced, pushing through the door. He was balancing two trays of lunch carefully, one on each front paw, and he still was able to close the door with his tail. Samantha watched enviously.
"Here you go," the Lutari said, giving her one of the trays.
"Thank you." She picked up the fork awkwardly and dug in. Despite the fork sliding from her flipper with every other bite, the food tasted wonderful.
They ate in silence. Once the Xweetok nurse went out, to get herself food, and then she came back to eat with them.
The bell for class rang, and Samantha put her empty lunch tray in the garbage. She slid down from her perch and started to drag herself toward the door, lowering her head to push the door open with it.
She never hit it. She just kept going. The Flotsam looked over as she dragged herself out the door, and saw Ty holding it open for her. He waved cheerfully to the nurse.
"See you later!" he said. He followed Samantha all the way back to their classroom, walking behind her so no one would step on her tail, and holding the other door open, too.
They were back in the classroom on time--early, even, Samantha thought. She smiled at Ty gratefully.
"Why is she still here?" a Kacheek girl asked her friend, walking past with her nose in the air. "Honestly. I don't even know why they let her go to school with us."
A Skeith pushed past her then looked back. "Why don't you have feet? Wow, you don't even have hands! Even mutants have limbs."
Thankfully class started soon enough, although once again Samantha was the last one into her chair. As she listened intently to Ms. Miller teach, she could forget about the other pets that had been so mean. The history and government of Tyrannia, on which Ms. Miller was teaching, fascinated her.
However, once the day was over she was quickly reminded as the other pets started talking.
"I was watching her walk and it is so funny." The Kougra that was talking did a flopping impression of Samantha. The Flotsam did her best to ignore them as she pulled herself out of the classroom.
She didn't have to wait for someone to open the door for her. The door was already being held open. As Samantha pulled herself out into the crowded hallway, she saw that Ty was holding the door open for her.
"I thought I'd make sure you got out okay," he said. Samantha thanked him multiple times as they began to walk down the hallway, him walking behind her again.
A Grundo whispered and pointed to his friend as he passed by. Someone Samantha couldn't see said, "That thing has a friend?"
When they got out to the front door of the school, Ty opened it and Samantha could see her owner waiting for her.
"My owner is over there, I'll be fine from here. Thanks again for helping me," the pink Flotsam said.
"Oh, it was nothing. It's not fair for you to get stepped on."
Samantha headed toward her owner. When she got there, her owner asked, "So how was school?"
"It was fine," Samantha said. It wasn't that much of a lie, was it? Sure, her tail ached a little where people had stepped on it that morning, but the Lutari had protected her in the afternoon. Things would get better as they got used to seeing her around school, she thought optimistically. "My teacher is really nice," she added. "And I made a friend!"
"Did you? That's great, Samantha! I'm so happy for you!" Her owner hugged her, and they started away from the school, Samantha dragging herself along. The other students must have just been surprised, she told herself. It would get better, maybe even by tomorrow.
* * *
It didn't. Over the next two weeks, the array of taunts got wider, if anything. Ty remained her one friend, and they usually spent the lunch hour in the nurse's office, eating and sometimes talking. He held doors for her and walked behind her protectively in the halls to make sure no one stepped on her.
He didn't say anything about the taunts, but Samantha was certain he heard them. It would've been hard not to.
One day, after the bell rang for lunch, Samantha half fell and half slid out of her chair and looked for Ty. He was right next to her, and smiled at her shyly before darting off to open the door for her. Samantha went out, with Ty following carefully to make sure the door didn't fall shut on her tail.
They started down the hallway together. Usually, by the time they got out of the classroom, everyone was at lunch and they could walk side by side. But this time there were a few pets standing in the hall, the ones who had been taunting Samantha the most. They were obviously waiting for them. Samantha hesitated, but Ty kept going, so the Flotsam did too.
"Hey fish, what are you doing here?" yelled one of the bullies as Samantha and Ty walked past.
"Are you lost or what? Because it's pretty obvious you're useless at everything," said another.
Samantha kept her head down and tried not to cry. Ty glanced over at her. Seeing her expression, he turned around and said, "You know what, I'm tired of you!"
"Ty, you don't have to..."
The Lutari ignored her. "Every day when she walks through the hall you have something negative to say. No one deserves that, so just be quiet!"
"'If you don't have anything nice to say don't say anything at all,'" taunted one of the bullies. "If you think you are my mother, you're wrong."
"And why should we feel guilty about just pointing out the obvious. It's true, this thing is incapable of movement."
"That's not true," said Ty.
One of the bullies laughed, "Prove it."
"All right." The Lutari looked stubborn. He didn't know how he could prove it, but he knew he had to somehow. He looked around and saw a sign on the wall with an arrow pointing down the hallway. It said, “Pool This Way”.
"Samantha," Ty said, turning back to her, "do you think you could make it as far as the pool?"
Samantha looked at the sign and then at Ty. She didn't know how far the pool was, but she nodded anyway. She wasn't sure what the Lutari had in mind, but she didn't really have a choice now.
They started off along the hall, the bullies trailing behind them and muffling giggles as Samantha dragged herself along. They had to go past the cafeteria to follow the signs for the pool. The doors were open and the bullies poked their heads in, beckoning for their friends to come and laughing.
The other students noticed them, too, and by the time they got to the pool there was a whole crowd of them following Samantha and Ty. The Lutari helped her with the stairs down to the pool door, and then ran ahead to open the door for her. Samantha was flushing fiercely by this time. Ty was still smiling and optimistic, but then he always was.
What if they got to the pool and everyone still laughed at Samantha? And then everyone would say she needed a little Lutari to stand up for her, and even then she couldn't prove herself.
Samantha swallowed and dragged herself through the door onto the tiled pool-side floor. The others followed.
Ty smiled at Samantha. "Well? Go on in," he said.
The Flotsam hesitated. But the pool was right there. She inched forward and dipped a flipper in. It felt different than the clear sea water she was used to, but it was still water. The taunters giggled about her evident fear to go in, and Samantha looked around.
"You can do it," Ty said, patting her shoulder. Samantha smiled back at him and slipped into the pool.
Swimming a circle around the pool, Samantha was in a state of pure bliss. She loved the feeling of water rushing past her. She was powerful, and she was fast. But best of all she was at home; the water was where she belonged.
The pink Flotsam sprinted around the pool a couple times, then seeing that the crowd was not impressed, she swam to the bottom of the pool, and then swam as fast as she could straight up into the air, did a flip, then managed a perfect, splashless landing in the water.
Samantha didn't stop there, though; she skipped across the water, did twirls in midair, swam the corkscrew, did back flips, and sprinted some more. By the end she had forgotten that the crowd was there.
She went over to the edge of the pool, somewhat embarrassed for getting so carried away. The crowd was silent. Looks of awe and jealousy were mixed on their faces. Samantha smiled.
"How do you do that?" asked one onlooker.
"It's just natural," said Samantha. "You can all walk really well, and I can swim really well."
"Do you think you could teach me how to swim? I would never tease you again," asked a Kacheek who had been one of the original bullies.
"I guess I could do that," said Samantha.
Immediately a chorus of voices cried that they also wanted to learn.
"Wow, I might need help with all this," said Samantha. "Ty, do you think you could help me teach some of these pets how to swim?"
"Of course," he agreed cheerfully.
As they set up dates and times for groups of ten students, Samantha glanced over at Ty. He was the one who had made it all possible, of course. Without him she wouldn't have been able to show the bullies that they were wrong.
"Thank you," the Flotsam said, "so much, for standing up for me."
He smiled back at her.