A young sleek green Zafara strode gracefully along the sidewalk of Neopia Central. She watched as owners hustled in and out of shops with their pets in tow. A cool breeze wafted about her, causing the billowing white dress she wore to play around her legs. Miss Mirian’s hazel eyes softened as she saw a poor looking Aisha pull something out from behind her back and show her little Lupe brother a backpack for neoschool. Their owner’s smile wavered and her eyes glistened with tears as the Lupe jumped up and down giddily. He was going to school and the Aisha had obviously sacrificed her chance. The owner bent down and hugged her eldest pet. The three of them turned and began walking away.
Mirian sighed and continued walking. She straightened the wide brown leather belt that encircled her waist and stepped off the sidewalk to head into the woods. Dead autumn leaves crunched under her bare footpaws and the cool air blew gently again. Autumn was here.
Rowdy pets clambered into their classroom with a rush as the bell rang loudly throughout the neoschool’s halls. The tall serene Zafara teacher sat silently at her desk as she watched them.
Mirian, though young for a teacher, had quickly gained respect among teachers and students alike. The pets entering her class had already been in neoschool for seven years, though maybe not in the same school for all that time, and Mirian knew most of them from her three years of teaching. A few new faces stood out to her and she counted only four out of her fifteen students.
They all settled into their desks and stared forward at their teacher expectantly.
“Good morning, everyone,” she said softly in her low voice, her eyes scanning over every face.
“Good morning, Miss Mirian,” they replied simultaneously, though not perfectly.
“All right, since today is the first day of neoschool, we will go around room stating your name so that everyone may be able to know his or her classmate. As you who are new have realized, my name is Miss Mirian. I will be your home room teacher and you may feel free to ask questions as long as you raise your paw or hand or whatever appendage you have-” Many paws shot up into the air. “- as long as they go with what we are talking about.” They lowered disappointedly at her last comment that had been tinted with the hint of a smile.
“We will go around the classroom and each student will stand and give your name and hobby; then we will go to the next victim.” Chuckles rippled through the group and Mirian smiled her odd, wry half-smile.
“If you are new, I will assign someone to show you around if you wish.” She paused and pointed to a prissy looking white Cybunny on the front row.
“Stand up, say your name and hobby, then sit down,” she repeated.
The Cybunny stood. “My name is Anita, and I collect usukis,” she stated in a proud disdainful way.
Mirian nodded and kept silent. She turned to the next student, a purple, shy Cybunny. She was smaller and looked more ragged than Anita. She swallowed and stood up nervously. “M-my name’s Chrysa_2290, I’m Anita’s adopted sister, an’ I like to draw,” she mumbled shakily as she avoided her teachers gaze. Mirian flashed her warm charming smile, one she used very rarely.
“That’s really neat,” she said, causing the little Cybunny’s ears to perk up. “You’ll have to show me sometime. Do you mind being called Chrysa?” She nodded. Mirian made an effort not to have favorites in her class yet she also wanted her students to feel accepted by their teacher, even if they were snobby.
Mirian sighed mentally as Anita sniffed condescendingly but she ignored it and continued on to the next pet.
It went on for a while until the final student’s, a small shadow Lupe who had been sitting in his desk at the back of the room silently, turn came. Mirian had noted that he had not spoken, laughed, or even smiled the entire time.
The Zafara nodded to him and he stood up.
“My name’s Naronder and I don’t have a hobby,” he said in a quiet, steely voice before immediately sitting down. Mirian cocked an eyebrow.
“No hobby? You’re sure there’s nothing you enjoy doing?” she inquired curiously. Naronder nodded silently.
“Okay,” she continued. “Do you mind being called Naron?” The small Lupe looked up.
“Only by my friends,” he stated emotionlessly, his pale blue eyes locked with his teacher’s hazel ones. Shocked silence drifted through the room.
“Very well,” Mirian murmured softly, her orbs unwaveringly staring back at the student’s. “Everyone, get out your history books,” she ordered in the same tone.
Mirian strode out of her classroom. School had been out for a couple hours but she had been checking some work. Well, half the time anyways. The little shadow Lupe had been and still was on her mind. It troubled her to see someone so young act as he had. Naronder seemed to be very intelligent. He had correctly answered any question she gave him and had made a good score on the class’ first quiz, yet there was some kind of look in his eyes that she couldn’t explain. Mirian had made no attempt to embarrass him or put him in the spotlight as the other teachers would. She had treated him no different than any of the other students.
With a frustrated sigh, she grabbed her bags and headed towards the exit, passing an old blue Lenny who was the janitor. He looked up and smiled.
“Why, hello Miz Mirian,” he greeted her. Mirian nodded and smiled politely.
“Good evening, Mr. Toran,” she replied. Mr. Toran stopped and leaned on his broom.
“I hear you got that new Lupe kid all the teachers are complainin’ ‘bout,” he continued.
“I guess I did,” she responded. The Lenny winked at her.
“I bet you’ll get ‘im straightened out like y’ do the others.” He grinned. Mirian forced a smile.
“I’ll try my best. Good night Mr. Toran.”
“G’ night.” He waved a wing in farewell and turned back to the floors. Mirian strode away. She couldn’t believe the teachers were already talking about the new student. Narrowing her eyes, she pushed through the door with her heavy bag of books and headed towards her home.
Unlocking the door of her neohome, Mirian bent down to pick her bags back up and used her tail to open the door. She was greeted by the meow of a white kadoatie as she walked to the kitchen and set her things on the table.
“Hello to you too, Tera.” She smiled at her petpet. The kadoatie rubbed against her legs and purred happily. She leapt lightly onto the table and sat, patiently waiting for her food. Opening a cabinet, Mirian grabbed a bowl for herself and Tera’s dish.
A few minutes later Mirian sat at the table contentedly munching on a piece of bread that she was dipping into a bowl of soup while Tera purred happily away with her white tail curled around herself and her face in her dish. Mirian stood up as the teapot on the stove whistled loudly. Walking over to it, she picked the kettle up by the handle that she held with a potholder. She immediately stopped as Tera rubbed affectionately against the Zafara’s legs again.
“Tera!” Mirian exclaimed followed by a relieved sigh. “You almost made me drop this!”
Tera mewed, abashedly lowering her head. Mirian grabbed a mug with her left hand and set it on the table before pouring some of the water into it. Setting the pot back on the stove, she bent down and patted Tera’s head.
“It’s okay, Tera. No harm done, see?” Mirian spread her arms out and the kadoatie sniffed her before rubbing against her legs again. The Zafara laughed softly.
Mirian sat quietly in the teacher’s lounge where a meeting was taking place on a Saturday two weeks later. She listened as her fellow teachers presented the principal with a few complaints.
A young yellow Poogle, Naya, spoke up. She had started working around the time Mirian had.
“I would like to discuss that student, Naronder,” she stated. A few grumbles and groans issued from the others. The principle, an older blue Tonu, looked around curiously.
“Who are you talking about? He couldn’t be that bad since I haven’t seen him sent to my office,” he mused, halfway to himself. Mrs. Vidia, a graying purple Gelertess, snorted.
“Please.” She grimaced. “That child is nothing but trouble.”
“Trouble,” Mirian echoed softly, her voice floating gently yet drawing everyone’s attention. “How is he trouble?” Miss Naya laughed but it faded when she realized Mirian was serious.
“You’re kidding, right? Well,” she paused, unable to think of anything to say that the Lupe had done wrong. “He- he’s just plain hateful! He has no respect for the authority of us as his teachers and elders.”
“Oh, I believe he has respect for our authority, perhaps not us ourselves though,” Mirian thought aloud.
“Then I’d like to see him actually reply to me without some snappy remark,” Mrs. Vidia sniffed. Mirian lowered her eyes. She knew that was a lie.
Standing up, the Zafara grabbed her bag and exited, leaving the teachers as they continued to speak about Naronder.
On Monday, Mirian sat outside, watching the young neopets as they waited for the school to open.
Unable to sleep, she had come far earlier than usual and readied everything for the new day.
Mirian directed her attention to a group of pets who stood at the corner of the building. She recognized them as the infamous bullies. A sigh slipped out from between her lips. Many times she wondered what it took to get a punishment on them. It wouldn’t be that hard considering the fact that they constantly did something that broke a rule or two of the school.
Mirian nearly groaned. Maybe she should consider retirement.
She sat up straight with a jump as Naronder walked past them. One, a large red Kougra, stepped out in front of him. The shadow Lupe looked tiny against him but he stared up defiantly. Mirian could barely hear anything over a whisper as the Kougra spoke to him. Nonetheless, she didn’t like the looks of it.
The Kougra said something then his group laughed as he smirked. They silenced as Naronder replied. The gang behind the Kougra looked as though they were trying to smother giggles as their leader’s face paled before turning a searing scarlet. Naronder walked away, his expression no different than it had been the first day Mirian saw him.
That evening, Mirian sat at her table, checking over essay papers. As she came to Naronder’s, she paused. Faintly, she could make out the erased remains of a thought written down by the Lupe.
‘Everyone hates me,’ it said, ‘but I give them a reason to.’
Mirian sighed and buried her face in her paws before wearily rubbing her eyes. The lack of much needed sleep was making her mind bleary and this wasn’t helping. Grasping a cup of way to hot tea, she held it, merely for the warmth it gave. She loosened her grip as the mug nearly burnt her paws. In her exhausted state, she had left the water on far too long.
Mirian was about to set her boiling tea down when Tera leapt up into the table, knocking against her paw. The Zafara gasped in shock as the contents spilled onto her lap. Tears filled her eyes as a searing, fiery pain shot through her legs.
Pushing her chair back, she slid to the floor. Tera approached her curiously and worriedly. Mirian looked at her through the tears.
“Tera,” she whispered, her voice tight with pain. “Tera, go get Mrs. Hailey next door.”
The kadoatie took off, slipping out her petpet door as Mirian writhed on the ground, biting her lip and trying to keep from crying out.
Tera scratched on her owner’s neighbor’s door, mewing loudly. But apparently, not loud enough. Tera stopped and looked around, remembering her owner’s face as she had spilt the burning liquid. The kadoatie eyed the darkness around, fear and anxiety hitting her. She turned back to the door and did what her species did best.
“What in Neopia?” a muffled voice rang out from behind the barrier. A blue Gelert opened the door and looked down to see his neighbor’s petpet. He didn’t turn as his wife, an orange Gelertess approached.
“What is it, Derav?” Mrs. Hailey questioned. She peered over his shoulder and eyed Tera who continued to mew.
“Isn’t that Mirian’s kad?” she inquired. Derav nodded then blinked in surprise as Tera bit the hem of his pant leg and began tugging.
“I think she wants us to follow her,” he said slowly. Hailey pulled her coat on and grabbed his arm.
“Then what are we waiting for?”
The couple followed Tera to Mirian’s door then stopped as she scratched it, looking up at them urgently. Derav jiggled the handle only to find it locked. He stepped back.
“Now what?” he inquired to no one in particular as he scratched his head. Hailey pulled a pin out of her pocket and stuck it in the keyhole, moving it around expertly. She opened the door and Derav eyed her.
“When did you learn to do that?” he asked. Hailey flashed a charming smile.
“Dear, when you forget your keys as often as I do, you learn to do what you can,” his wife replied.
As they stepped into the house, Hailey gasped.
“Oh, Miss Mirian! What happened?”
Mirian stood feebly, supported by crutches in front of the principal. The Tonu furrowed his brow.
“You should take a couple days off, Miss Mirian,” he suggested concernedly. Mirian lowered her eyes, giving that thought a moment before making up her mind. She winced as she shifted her position slightly.
“No thank you, sir,” she replied. “I’d rather not leave anyone else to the students in my class,” she said, her mind fixed on one pet in particular. The principal nodded hesitantly in agreement.
“All right class,” Mirian started off as she hobbled around to stand in front of her desk a couple hours later. “As you can very well see, I will be moving about a little slower today. I have second degree burns on my legs because my kadoatie spilled some hot tea on me, so, bear with me. We will get through this if everyone cooperates.”
Everyone nodded slowly, allowing the information to sink in. Mirian returned to her seat and sat down gratefully.
The day crawled by slowly, reminding Mirian of a slorg as it tried to reach a certain destination. Yet unlike the petpet, she did not have its patience. When the students were finally dismissed, Mirian sat at her desk, not raising her hazel eyes as she arranged all her papers and books, placing them into her bag with slight difficulty. When all the chatter and sound of pets’ footsteps disappeared, the Zafara teacher paused, sensing someone still in the room. She looked up.
To her surprise, a small shadow Lupe stood at her desk.
“May I help you?” she inquired quietly. Naronder shook his head.
“Would you like me to carry your stuff?” he asked in return, his voice no different than ever yet quieter than usual, if possible. Mirian eyed him before nodding slowly.
“Yes, if you don’t mind. Thank you.”
Naronder shouldered her bag despite his own on the opposite side and held a few other books in his paws. Mirian pulled herself to her footpaws weakly, still staring at her student.
When Mirian opened her door the next day, she stopped in shock as she found herself facing Naronder. He took her bags again in silence and waited for her to leave.
“Thank you,” she said softly, furrowing her brow. “…again.” Naronder nodded.
They walked in silence with the shadow Lupe patiently keeping his teacher’s pace. Minutes passed and the cool autumn wind blew about briskly, hissing through the brightly colored leaves. Mirian nearly jumped as Naronder broke the silence that reigned like a heavy fog.
“What degree burns did you say they are?” he inquired suddenly.
“Second,” Mirian answered. “They are second degree.” Naronder avoided her eyes.
“Mine were third,” he whispered. Mirian stopped and turned to her student. He ceased walking as well and raised his chin, running a paw along his throat. Scars were clearly visible underneath his black fur. They disappeared under his shirt.
“I was born to an owner and older brother. My brother had found a fire faerie and was shaking her around in her bottle. I got mad at him and took it away. When I let her go, she didn’t know it was me and was very angry. She burst into flames and it burned me. My owner abandoned me saying I was ‘cruel to my sibling’ and ‘had medical problems that needed expensive attention.’ When Dieko, my owner now, found me, he adopted me and let me choose what paint brush I wanted after he took me to the Healing Faerie. Since she could only heal me and not make the scars go away, I chose shadow, because it partially hid them.”
As Naronder fell silent once again, Mirian felt at a loss for words.
“Naronder, I’m sorry—I never knew—I never saw,” she whispered softly. Naronder turned away.
“Sometimes it’s all anyone ever sees,” he replied. The Lupe’s muscles tensed as Mirian placed her paw on his scrawny shoulder.
“I never saw them, Naronder,” she said quietly. He looked up at her, his usually icy blue eyes tinted with warmth as he gazed at his teacher.
“You can call me Naron.” He smiled.