Neovision Superstar: Part Two
The rest of the morning continued well enough, with occasional comments being whispered behind me. I always snapped and turned to face the voices, but no one would ever meet my glare.
At lunch, I sat in the cafeteria with Cassy, who was politely ignoring all of the incredulous looks being thrown at me. “So... how do you like Ms. Vanderbalk?” she started.
I shrugged. “Well enough. Got the class silent, that’s for sure.”
Opening up my bag lunch, I was greeted with the standard peanut butter and jelly sandwich with another apple. The rest of the students usually used their money to buy food from the tables lined across the wide lunchroom, but I was content with my sandwich... even if Cassy’s pizza smelled delicious.
There were five long tables that covered the floor of the school, and they were usually divided by grade or age. Since it was the first day, however, many of the younger siblings sat with their brother or sisters. Usually it was packed, but I noted in my head, amused, that the seats next to both Cassy and me were empty.
An absence of noise was also noticeable. It was rare to hear one’s thoughts in the lunchroom most days, but today only dulled conversations reached me. Most of the groups were huddled together, sometimes looking at me.
“Why do they find it so strange?” I asked. “It’s not like it’s anything bad.”
“Maybe they think that being different is bad,” said Cassy. “A lot of people do.”
I thought over her words, which were correct. It wasn’t until I heard a soft cough behind me did I break my concentration.
It was the green Kougra who had commented on my not being painted earlier in class. She gave me a weak smile. “Can I sit down?” she asked softly.
“You’d better not,” I remarked. “You’ll be marked as hanging around the ‘zany Zafara’.”
“I’m sorry!” she said, putting her tray of food next to me. “I really am! It’s just- I felt terrible for what I said and wanted to apologize. My family just moved here, and I really want to meet new friends.”
“Even if they’re not painted?” Cassy wryly commented.
She looked to the ground, and I took the chance to shoot a pointed glare at Cassy. She shrugged it off.
“Do you want me to go?” she whispered, still looking at the ground. “I will if you ask me.”
I stood. “Look, I’m sorry too. It’s really annoying having everyone doubt you, and it’s causing me to go snappish on everyone. I just want people to accept that I want to get on Neovision.”
She nodded. “Back where I came from, everyone on my street was painted but me, because my parents didn’t want me to be. All of my friends laughed and said I couldn’t be someone important because of that.”
Cassy gave an unladylike snort. “Friends? Not friends, exactly then.”
I turned back to the Kougra. “So really, we have almost the identical situation.”
She gave a weak smile. “So can I sit down?”
I translated what she was asking in my head: she wanted to know if we could be friends.
I gave her a wide grin, and Cassy also smiled. The Kougra brightened immediately, sitting on my left.
“So I’m Michelle, by the way. You didn’t appear to be listening to the roll call after your... speech.”
I took a bite of my sandwich, and noted that the amount of whispers had increased since Michelle joined our group. “You’re right. Anyways, I’m Hillary, and this is Cassy.”
Cassy gave Michelle a quick glace, and returned to her pizza. “She doesn’t talk much around food,” I added.
Before Cassy could retaliate, Luke came striding in the lunchroom with a pack of various Neopets behind him.
“Hey, look who it is!” he shouted. The lunchroom fell silent, silent enough to hear my heart speeding up. “Neovision star, eh? And look! She has a new friend!”
He crossed the lunchroom, and came face-to-face with me.
“Excuse me,” I commented with a normal voice, “I do believe that you’re ruining a few people’s lunches, including mine.”
“You call this a lunch?” shouted one of his cronies, and held up the rest of my sandwich.
“Drop it!” yelled Michelle.
She didn’t answer. Instead, she punched the Skeith square on the nose.
Cassy let out a roar of laughter, finally realizing that Michelle was on our side. She was silenced when the Skeith, previously doubled-over in laughter, lunged at her. The rest of Luke’s friends started infringing on our space. They looked like they were about to jump on me when:
“What is going on in here?” bellowed a voice.
It was Ms. Vanderbalk, quickly coming to size up the situation. “Were you two fighting?” she asked Cassy and the Skeith, who was on top of her.
“No!” said Cassy, voice wheezing from being crushed by his weight. “He just tripped and landed on me.”
“Yeah...” the Skeith added slowly, “Trip... yeah! I tripped and landed on her.”
Ms. Vanderbalk wasn’t convinced. “And your paw?” she asked to Michelle, who was shaking it out from the impact on the Skeith.
“Carpal tunnel syndrome,” she answered with a small smile. “Just got to shake it out now and then.”
She turned to Luke, and then me. I nearly melted under her glower.
“The lunch monitors told me a fight had broken out. Luckily, I was right outside of the hall.”
“Apparently they were wrong, Ms. Vanderbalk,” said Luke earnestly, meeting her gaze.
“I should hope so,” she said icily, and exited the lunchroom.
“Later,” Luke snarled after she had vanished from view, and hauled the Skeith off of Cassy, who let out a sigh of relief. They went to the opposite side of the room.
Cassy got off the floor, and back into her seat. “You can have a slice of pizza if you want. I wouldn’t eat that sandwich if I were you.”
I shook my head, and Michelle sat down, shaking. “I don’t have an appetite anymore.”
“Neither do I,” she stated, still shaking her paw.
“That was ‘mazing!” said Cassy through a mouthful of pizza, turning to Michelle. “You nailed him right on the nose! And I had my doubts about you.” She shook her head.
“I took self-defense lessons a few years ago. Glad to know I remember.” She smiled. The lunch bell ran, meaning class would start in ten minutes. There was a clatter of noise as everyone stood up, trying to get out of the two double-doors on opposite sides of the room.
“So what do we have now?” I asked, having yet to memorize the timetable.
“Geography,” mumbled Cassy with pizza still shoved in her mouth. She swallowed. “New system. Same teacher, same room, different subject. We don’t have to switch now.”
“That’s good. All of my stuff is still in the room,” I said. Going to my locker- only four away from Luke’s, I recalled- was not on my list of priorities.
The second half of school was better than the first. Geography was a subject nearly everyone found difficult –how can we memorize the latitude and longitude of Mystery Island? I say leave it a mystery- and had to concentrate on it harder than most subjects.
After jotting down notes of the avalanches in Terror Mountain, another bell rang, causing me to jump. Others were also startled.
“Just the evening bell!” said Ms. Vanderbalk. “Please put away your things. Mathematics is next.”
I heard Michelle ahead of me stifle a groan, while I perked up. Math was a subject that was actually fun. I loved the thrill of it when the numbers and symbols seemed to come together and form a coherent equation.
Luke was apparently not pleased with this transition.
“Ms. Vanderbalk? Why do we have to do math? It’s not like we’ll be using long division anytime soon out of Neoschool.” He said this all in a very aloof manner.
She rounded on him. “Mr. Abencorth, you will use mathematics every day of your life, especially as a doctor. Maybe not long division, but what about multiplication and algebra? Others may use it, but not you. Do you think yourself above the rest of the class?”
“No, Ms. Vanderbalk! My apologies, Ms. Vanderbalk! But it just seems like school is a waste of time sometimes.” The last thing Luke looked liked was sorry, instead he just seemed mildly surprised at her reaction.
“So where do you think we’d be without school?” asked Michelle loudly.
“Yeah, we wouldn’t have houses or anything!” added Cassy. “Math built them as much as bricks and wood!”
“Girls, silence!” snapped Ms. Vanderbalk. “Do not talk while I am talking. Mr. Abencorth, you will use information from school in your life, guaranteed. Please, class, no more interruptions. Today we will review what you learned last year...”
The rest of the class was review, as promised, but it still kept my attention. It was only when the bell rang, symbolizing the end of school, did I realize how fast the time had gone by.
“Ms. Benk? May I see you, please?” It was Ms. Vanderbalk. Instantaneously, my heart sped up. The first day, and I had to stay after class? Cassy and Michelle exited the class last, not wanting to leave me to face the teacher alone.
The class was empty, and Ms. Vanderbalk stared at me through her glasses. She was sitting behind her desk, me in front of it.
“Ms. Benk,” she said. “Please, have a seat.”
I took a chair from behind Jan’s desk, which was in the front row. I sat directly in front of her.
“Today was very interesting,” Ms. Vanderbalk continued. “I see that you and Mr. Luke Abencorth don’t particularly get along.”
I nodded, not understanding what she meant.
“Ms. Benk, you are the worst liar I have ever met, and you didn’t even lie.”
My brow furrowed. “Pardon?”
“You wish to be famous on Neovision. I noticed that Mr. Abencorth didn’t believe that to be a notable ambition. I also know that you have two very good friends, Ms. Cassy Hanwood and Michelle Cormick.”
I nodded. “Yes, I do. Excuse me, Ms. Vanderbalk, but why am I here?”
She gave me a whisper of a smile. “I know that Ms. Cormick punched Tom, the Skeith. I also know that he tackled Ms. Hanwood. Furthermore, they both rebuked Mr. Abencorth today after he foolishly said that we would never use math in life.”
“I don’t understand,” I said, twisting my paws in my lap.
She sighed, and took off her glasses. “Your friends are fighting for what you believe in. Isn’t it time you do, too?”
“What?” I asked, confused.
“They both risked getting caught fighting, lying, and talking in class. You, however, don’t stand up for yourself. That is your greatest weakness. If you want something, go and get it. Don’t let anyone stand in your way if you want something. So many people give up their dreams and ambitions... but the ones who don’t, those are the ones to be reckoned with.”
She paused. I thought she would continue, but didn’t. “I see,” I said to break the silence.
“I hope you do. Now, go and talk to your friends. Thank them, then go home and think about what I said.”
I stood. “Thank you, Ms. Vanderbalk.”
She actually smiled. “Anytime, Hillary. I don’t like it when students put others down. Try not to resort to fighting or name calling, but... do what you must to stand up for what you believe is right.”
Ms. Vanderbalk turned back to her papers, shuffling them. A teacher said it was all right to fight? Well, not exactly. It was all right – it was necessary- to stand up for what one believes in.
I put the chair back, picked up my books, and walked out of the class.
“So?” asked Michele. “What was that about?”
The three of us walked to the end of the hall, opening the doors and smelling the fresh air. I paused, my back supporting the door open.
“Thanks, guys,” I said. “For sticking up for me today. I should have stuck up for myself, too. Next time I will.”
They paused, agape. “Did Hillary just say something that sounded like an apology?” asked Cassy.
Michelle blankly nodded. “I think she did.”
“All right!” I said, throwing my hands up. “It’s an apology. Cassy, I’ve told you sorry thousand of times. Michelle, you haven’t known me for a day.”
“But those were never real apologies!” retorted Cassy.
“And I can already tell you’re not the apology type of person,” Michelle added.
I groaned. “Something tells me I won’t live this down for a while.”
We walked together across the street, filled with merchants trying to make it home as quickly as possible. At the corner we waved to Michelle, who turned down another street.
Cassy and I both cut through the forest, and she turned at the very edge.
“So I’ll see you tomorrow!” I called. She turned and waved.
Arriving in front of my one-story house, I sighed. My first day had been mediocre, but not terrible. I had a new friend, a teacher on my side. But then again, I also had somebody who would not live until I died of embarrassment practically following me.
I forced on a wide grin, opened the low gate, and went to greet my mother.
To be continued...