New School, New You
I was lying in bed, trying to fall asleep, facing the dark black ceiling. I gazed out my window at the starry night above. I tried not to cry.
New Neoschools were always hard for me. I never fit in. It wasn’t that I looked different; in fact, I’m just a red Ixi, nothing fantastic. It was that I acted different. I expressed my feelings in a different way from my classmates. It was embarrassing when I cried in class, or laughed so hard a snort came out. I didn’t want to be this way. But I couldn’t help it.
Tomorrow was the first day of my new Neoschool. I hated switching in the middle of the semester because I didn’t know anyone there. I didn’t know what those unspoken rules of this new school were, like “Don’t sit with popular people on your first day,” or “Don’t attempt to make eye contact with anyone, because they won’t look.” They varied every time. And every time I broke those rules in the most horrific way possible and got laughed out of school. I was a failure – everywhere.
The next morning my mom Samantha had to wake me up at seven because my new school was very far away. It was a boarding school, so I was extra nervous this time because if something happened, I couldn’t rush home into Samantha’s arms. I would have to stay there until the weekend and endure my classmates’ rejection.
Samantha accompanied me to the principal’s office to sign in, but then I was on my own. I sobbed as she said goodbye. She told me not to worry and that she was only a Neomail away. But I was sure this school was too stuffy to allow that kind of frivolity.
The ceilings were high and on them hung multiple chandeliers. Everywhere there was deep red carpeting, even in the bathrooms. My hooves sank into the warm, deep fabric. As I walked to my first class, I wondered, What am I doing here? I don’t belong here. This is a disaster. I want to go home. I want Samantha to come back.
Even though I was used to new schools by now, each one was more terrible than the last, as everyone formed cliques and left me out. Nobody wanted to be my friend. They had friends already and they were happy.
I stepped up to the classroom door and peeked into the window. Classes hadn’t started yet, and it looked like seating was free before the teacher came in. The girls were on one side of the room and the boys were on the other. The boys were in one big group, but the girls were separated into little clusters.
I sat down next to the smallest group of girls. I had learned in all my years at new schools that it was best to start small. There were three girls in that group: a blue Acara, a purple Poogle, and a cloud Gnorbu. The Poogle and the Gnorbu didn’t give me a second glance, but the Acara smiled and held out her paw. “Hey, I’m Maddie,” she said. “You’re new, right? I was new last year. It’s hard in the beginning, but you’ll get used to it. I’ll ask Miranda if you can sit next to me. I’ll show you around. You’ll be an old pro here in no time.”
I had a million questions in my head for this chatty Acara, but the only one that made it out of my mouth was, “Who’s Miranda?”
Maddie laughed. “Our teacher.” She laughed again at the shocked expression on my face. “I know what you’re thinking. Yes, we’re allowed to call Miranda, Miranda. She’s awesome.”
“But this school looks so... how can I say this politely... uptight,” I protested. “Are you allowed to call every teacher by their first name?”
This Acara was strange, but she seemed friendly. I decided to trust her for now.
“No,” she said. “Miranda’s really loose with us. Oh, look – here she comes!” That cheerful Acara grabbed my hand and pulled me towards the door just as it swung open. Suddenly, I was face-to-face with the strangest-looking teacher I’d ever seen.
Well, I shouldn’t say face-to-face; Miranda was a disco Kacheek and much shorter than Maddie and me. She greeted us with a jolly grin and trotted over to the desk. Slapping the desk didn’t get anyone’s attention, so instead she just shouted, “GUYS!”
Everyone stopped talking. They all seemed to take one look at Miranda and dash to their seats. All the while, Maddie was jumping up and down, repeating our teacher’s name over and over again.
When everyone had taken his or her seat, Miranda turned towards Maddie. “What’s wrong?”
Then she noticed me. She smiled and I suddenly could see why Maddie had described Miranda as “awesome;” when she smiled, I couldn’t help it: I smiled too. “Hey,” she said. “What’s up?”
“Uh, nothing,” I mumbled. “I, um, I’m new and, um, Maddie just wanted to ask you something –”
“Miranda, can she sit next to me, PLEASSSSEEEEEEEE,” Maddie begged. “She’s really nice and she won’t talk to me in class unless it’s an emergency! PLEASE! She needs someone to guide her through her first day here!”
Miranda chuckled. She took off her green-tinted sunglasses and placed them carefully on her desk. “Sure. Benjamin?”
A green Ogrin looked up. “Yeah?”
Maddie turned to me and whispered, “Yes!”
“Could you please give Eva your seat?” Miranda nodded at me. “She’s new and Maddie specially requested that they sit together.”
As Benjamin emptied his desk and moved to an empty one in the back row, I realized that I hadn’t told anyone my name, yet Miranda knew what it was. This struck me as a little odd; usually teachers didn’t know my name before I told them. I pointed this out to Maddie when we sat down.
“There’s a great communication system here,” Maddie whispered. “The principal probably Neomailed Miranda or something before school and told her she had a new student named Eva.”
I sat back and smiled. Then I thought of something good to say to Maddie, maybe something that would let her know how much I was enjoying her company. I said in a hushed voice, “Is there anything bad at this school?”
But before Maddie could say anything in reply, Miranda said, “Eva and Maddie! I wouldn’t like to have to separate you after you asked so politely to be together.”
“Sorry, Miranda,” Maddie and I apologized. Suddenly, I felt very homesick. I’d learned that every time I got scolded at school, for some reason I would miss Samantha and our Neohome and all my friends who lived nearby. I almost started to cry, but I didn’t because I quickly blinked up at the ceiling. I had learned recently that this helped the tears stay in your eyes and not end up on your cheeks.
At lunchtime, Maddie answered my question. We sat together at a deserted table, drinking our chocolate milk and munching on our tchea fruits.
Maddie said, in between mouthfuls of tchea, “There are some really annoying people, like Kelly and Bobbie Jean, the rejects. But then there’s another kind of annoying – the popular people kind of annoying. For that, you should really steer clear of Danielle. She’s evil in Uni form.”
I nodded. “You know, Maddie, you’ve been a real help today. I don’t know what I would have done without you.”
Suddenly, she grabbed my hand. “EVA!” she shouted. “We forgot to make our vows of friendship!”
“What?” I said, confused.
“Here.” Maddie ripped off the stems of our tcheas. She gave me hers and kept mine. “Repeat after me.
“I solemnly swear to be a loyal friend of Eva the red Ixi as long as the sun shall come up each day.”
I raised my eyebrows, but Maddie shoved my shoulder. “Come on, do it! You know you want to.”
I sighed. “Okay, okay. I swear to –”
I started over. “I solemnly swear to be a loyal friend of Maddie the blue Acara as long as the sun shall come up each day.”
“Now come on. We need to cast our stems at the sun.”
We rushed out into the open courtyard of the school and thrust our tchea stems into the wind. Then we giggled and hugged and raced each other back to the lunchroom.