“Who can tell me how to spell ‘furthest’?”
The blue Elephante teacher pointed her eyes at one of her young students, and the girl who had been thus called on began to recite the letters of the word as she’d learned from the spelling book. “F-U-R...”
Sitting in her place in a corner of the room, Rose listened absently while her classmate answered Miss Matthews’s question. Rose was supposed to be taking note of how the word was spelled, but she already knew it, so the yellow Xweetok focused her thoughts elsewhere.
Furthest. The furthest thing from Rose’s mind just a few months ago had been the idea of sitting in a school classroom listening to a teacher go on about spelling. She’d known that she’d have to go to Neoschool someday, because her older sister spent all her mornings there; but it had seemed like a dream place that didn’t really exist. Indeed, for a while it didn’t, and many thought it never would. The day Neoschool had opened its doors to the public had caused a great fuss across Neopia as owners scrambled to buy out the School Supplies shop, but Rose had remained blissfully ignorant until the day she had finally had to go.
Furthest. What rhymed with furthest? Rose scribbled some possible words in the margin of her notebook. This was how she passed much of her time at school. She had always been fond of making up poems, and her notebooks were full of unfinished rhymes, written quickly in her tiny script.
Furthest from our Neopian cares
Are the faeries mounting their cloud stairs
In a magic land of the sky
I’ll visit when I learn to fly...
“Very good. Rose, could you spell ‘mountain’?”
Startled, the yellow Xweetok jerked her head up from the verse she had just scribbled in her notebook. She met Miss Matthews’s expectant eyes and realized her large ears hadn’t quite caught the word she was supposed to spell. She flushed and looked down at her notebook again. “I--um... what was it?”
“‘Mountain’,” the teacher repeated, sounding impatient. Miss Matthews was used to Rose’s daydreaming during class, but that didn’t mean she was pleased with it.
“Oh, um--” Rose’s eyes were still on her notebook. ...mounting their cloud stairs. “M-O-U-N-T-I-N-G, mounting.”
There was a pause, and then someone in the back of the classroom let out a sharp laugh. Rose recognized the harsh sound of Elsie’s voice, and she cringed, shrinking down in her chair.
“No, Rose,” Miss Matthews said. “Who can tell us how to spell ‘mountain’ correctly?”
Elsie answered without raising her hand. The red Kyrii spelled off in a bored voice, “M-O-U-N-T-A-I-N, mountain.”
Elsie didn’t wait to hear the teacher’s praise; she had already turned in her chair to talk to the girl sitting behind her. “Did you hear that? She can’t even spell ‘mountain’!”
Rose bent low over her notebook, annoyed with herself. The Xweetok stared at the blue lines on the notebook paper until the bell rang.
As she was leaving the classroom, Elsie ran up behind her and grabbed her paw. “Hey, Rose, can I ask you something?”
“Yeah,” Rose mumbled.
“Why don’t you ever know anything?”
Rose didn’t know how to answer, so she just pulled away and left the classroom.
* * * * *
During lunch break, pets from all over the school came together and wandered noisily through the cafeteria with their friends from other classes, but Rose could always be found in the same place. As soon as the bell rang every day, the Xweetok always scrambled up into the high branches of her favorite tree on the schoolyard and amused herself by expanding on the poems she’d started during classes.
Rose had already forgotten about the spelling class incident by the time she was comfortably seated in her tree; she was too busy trying to put to words the magical activities that faeries engaged in once they’d mounted their cloud stairs to those shining palaces in the sky.
Beneath her, Elsie and a few other pets came walking by under the tree. The red Kyrii stopped and put her hands on her hips, glaring up into the tangle of branches at the yellow Xweetok stretched out among them. “You’re in that tree again?” she shouted.
Rose looked down and grimaced. “Yes. I always am..”
“Yeah! You always are!” The Kyrii’s face twisted in disdain. “Tell me something. Do you ever do anything except write in that notebook?”
“Schoolwork, sometimes,” Rose said.
Elsie’s face darkened; obviously that answer wasn’t any better. “That’s why you don’t have any friends, you know! You never do anything, and you never know anything. You don’t even know anybody here. You’re so stupid. Can you even name one friend you have?”
“Why do you care who my friends are?”
“I don’t. Because I know you don’t have any. You’re best friends with your notebook.” Elsie let out that high, sharp laugh again, and the girls around her laughed as well.
“At least it’s a good friend,” Rose murmured to herself, and bent lovingly over her poetry.
* * * * *
“I can’t believe Mrs. Owen expects us to do this!” The front door slammed loudly.
Rose looked up from where she was sitting at the kitchen table just in time to see her older sister storm into the house and throw her backpack on the floor. The red Ixi was shaking her head in consternation. “She’s so obsessed with making us learn to love language. She can’t understand that some of us just don’t think writing is as great as she does.” Having been speaking to the air up to this point, Cora now turned to Rose for lack of anyone else to talk to. “So there’s a writing contest going on. And all of the other teachers are entering just a few of their best students. Not Mrs. Owen! She decided that everybody in her class was going to have to enter. We didn’t even get to vote. And it’s not like we studied how to write poems in class. Why did she spend so much time teaching us to write essays if she was going to spring this on us?”
Poems. Rose’s large ears had caught a key word amidst her sister’s complaints, and could now hear nothing else. The Xweetok looked up at Cora with eyes brightened by excitement. “Did you say there’s a contest? For poems?”
“Yeah, for everyone who’s taking the language courses. As if we don’t have enough homework already,” the Ixi grumbled.
Rose let out a wistful sigh. “I wish I could take a language course. The closest thing I have is spelling.”
“Enjoy it while you can. You’ll have to take it next year, when you’re old enough.”
“I’m old enough now!” Rose burst out. “I already know how to spell. Except my teacher doesn’t know that,” she added sadly.
Cora wasn’t listening; she was digging through her backpack for a notebook and a pen. “They could have at least given us guidelines. We’re supposed to come up with everything ourselves. It can be a poem about anything, they said. How am I supposed to know what to write about?” she grumbled in frustration.
“A poem about anything would be easy for me,” Rose said with a smile, thinking of all the scribbled verses in the margins of her notebooks. “I wouldn’t even have to write a new one. All I’d have to do is choose.”
* * * * *
“I finally finished it!” Cora’s expression was ridiculously triumphant as she held up a sheet of paper with a few paragraphs scrawled on it. Rose sat at the kitchen table and watched as the Ixi folded the paper and thrust it into her backpack. “I had to stay up past my bedtime, but I don’t have to worry about that stupid poem anymore! Tomorrow I’ll give it to Mrs. Owen and... Say,” she said, suddenly noticing Rose. “It’s past your bedtime, too. What are you doing up?”
“Oh, I... I wanted to wait for you to finish your poem before I went to bed. I’m curious to read it. I’ve never read any of your poetry before.”
Cora scowled. “You can’t read it. It’s embarrassing. I’m a terrible poet and I hope I never have to write something like that again. I’m going to bed now, and don’t dig it out of my bag and look at it,” she warned.
“I won’t look at it,” Rose said.
The Xweetok waited until her sister was out of the room before opening the Ixi’s backpack and pulling out the folded paper with the poem on it. Hastily she shoved a piece of notebook paper inside, and folded the poem over it. She put the paper back into Cora’s backpack and headed upstairs to bed.
* * * * *
At lunch break a week later, Rose was hurrying towards her favorite tree as always, glad to done with the morning’s classes. As she approached, she stopped short; Elsie was waiting at the base of the tree.
She would have turned around and gone somewhere else, but this tree was where she had been going at lunchtime ever since school had began; she felt it would disappoint the tree if she broke her appointment. Maybe she could run right past Elsie and up into the tree before the Kyrii noticed.
No luck. “Hey, Rose!” Elsie yelled, her grating screech carrying across the schoolyard.
Rose winced and went on walking slowly.
The Kyrii darted forward and grabbed Rose’s paw, pulling her towards the tree. “Come on, let’s go climb trees and have fun writing poems all day!” she said in sarcastic excitement. She felt Rose resisting her grasp and exclaimed, “What’s wrong--don’t you want to? Don’t you want to sit in a tree and talk to your friend the notebook?” All at once her face contorted; the Kyrii shoved Rose up against the trunk of the tree, pressing her fur flat against the bark. “Don’t you want to?” she hissed, glaring into the Xweetok’s eyes. “Isn’t that so much more fun than actually doing something with yourself for once? Isn’t it so much more fun to be useless and stupid? Don’t you like it?”
Rose stared back openmouthed. “It’s not useless. Let go of me!”
Elsie pulled back at once, her face suddenly filling with sarcastic sweetness. “Yeah, come on, Rose! Let’s go climb this tree! It’s your friend too, right? Introduce me!”
Rose longed to dart up into the safety of the branches, knowing the Kyrii could not climb well enough to follow her. For some reason, she found herself instead searching the playground for some sort of help--and was astonished to see not one, but two teachers walking straight towards her, accompanied by her sister. What were Miss Matthews and Mrs. Owen doing on the schoolyard? And why was Cora with them?
Rose turned to say something to Elsie, but discovered that the Kyrii had vanished. The yellow Xweetok stood alone when the teachers approached her. She turned to them curiously.
“Rose, your sister said we might find you here,” Mrs. Owen said.
“You can always find me here,” Rose said. She looked up at the red Pteri with respect; this was Mrs. Owen who had such a love for language that Cora often complained about her, the teacher of the class that Rose so wanted to be a part of. The red Pteri’s pointed face was a bit intimidating, perhaps, but Rose saw kindness in those narrowed eyes.
“Rose, there’s something you never got back.” Mrs. Owen reached into her purse and drew out a small sheet of notebook paper. Written on it in red pen were the words “Well done”. “I really enjoyed your poem.”
Rose stared up at Mrs. Owen, her bright eyes shining. “Really?” she whispered.
“Of course. I’m sorry we couldn’t enter it in the contest, but only the ones taking language courses could enter. Your poem would surely have won. It was worlds better than a lot of the stuff my own class turned in.” Mrs. Owen sighed. Beside her, Cora looked at the ground and muttered something about not being a poet and it being unfair for her to be expected to impersonate one.
“I knew it wouldn’t get into the contest. I just wanted someone to read it,” Rose said eagerly. “My class never writes poems. We only have spelling quizzes...”
“You’ll just have to enter the next contest,” Mrs. Owen said briskly.
Rose stared in surprise. “What? But I...”
“Miss Matthews has agreed to allow you to skip her class and take mine instead,” Mrs. Owen said. “You may be younger than my other students, but I think you’re ready for it.” The Pteri smiled.
Rose glanced to Miss Matthews. The Elephante smiled resignedly. “All you ever do in my class is daydream, anyway. Maybe Mrs. Owen will have better luck with you.”
Rose could hardly believe it. “Thank you,” she whispered.
Mrs. Owen smiled. “Remember, then. Tomorrow, second period, in my classroom. Sharp!”
Rose almost danced away.
Elsie appeared from some corner of the schoolyard and inched up to her, looking nervous. “What was that all about?”
“I’m going to be in Mrs. Owen’s class!” Rose sang. As she said it, she was glad for the fact that Elsie wouldn’t be there with her.
“What? Why?” Elsie wrinkled her nose.
“Mrs. Owen liked my poem!”
“Oh,” Elsie said, curling her lip in disdain. “Mrs. Owen’s really old and dumb, huh? But I guess you’ll like that. You’re probably already friends with her, right?”
Rose grinned. “I think I already am.”