Mrs. Horn brought Rina in after the first bell, and the room fell silent. Her ears pointed up like spikes, and her orchid-colored hair was tied behind them in a half-ponytail. She wore a green cloak over a silky, calf-length dress with little medals strung around the waist. She jingled with every move.
Rina surveyed the room as Mrs. Horn wrote "Welcome, Rina!" on the board.
The second bell rang.
Mrs. Horn adjusted her glasses and faced the class with a weak grin. "All right, kids, the big day's here. I'd like you to meet your new classmate, Miss Rina Algruent. Rina, why don't you tell us a little about yourself?"
"That's Lady Rina."
Rina planted her hands on her hips. "You will address me as Lady Rina." Her accent was like French crossed with Russian. "That goes for all of you as well. I am Lady Czarina Algruent, daughter of Duke Graive Algruent of Frangont, of the Realm of Faerie. You will show me the proper respect at all times, or suffer the consequences."
Normally, when someone acted up like that, Mrs. Horn would grit her teeth, and so she did here. "Ri--Lady Rina, that's not the kind of tone I want in my class."
Rina turned with a hot glare that startled Mrs. Horn. Mrs. Horn tried to laugh it off. "Well, you still have time to adjust, don't you? Go ahead and put away your things, and take your seat. Jeremy, do you mind if she sits behind you?"
I seized up. Just my luck I'd sit in front of the only empty desk. "Sure, I guess so."
Rina jingled down the aisle, past all the gawking faces, to the lockers in the back of the room. She opened the one on the far end, unfastened her cloak, and hung it up. I looked at my friend, Martin, in the next row, and shrugged. Rina returned and sat down.
I thought I'd be polite, and offer her a handshake. I got only a cold stare. I could only wonder if this was some kind of prank. Even Mrs. Horn didn't seem to know. The wobble in her voice gave away the stress.
A lot of kids snuck glances at Rina. I looked a few times, myself. I began to suspect she was cosplaying. It's not hard to find ears or hair color like that.
Rina settled that once and for all in the middle of first period. We were going through some math problems, when someone shrieked from the back. Everyone turned to look.
Martin stood in the aisle, his hands over his nose. He was pudgy and quiet, and never acted up like this. He backed away from Rina, up to the lockers, and lowered his hands. A daffodil hung on his nose.
"Help!" he cried. People started to laugh.
Mrs. Horn dropped her book. "What is going on here?"
"Please, help." Martin tugged at the flower. "Ahh, it hurts! It won't come off! It's growing on my nose!"
Mrs. Horn ran to the back as kids kept laughing and I gaped in horror. Rina was the only one who ignored him. Her hand glowed like a stove eye.
"What happened?" Mrs. Horn said.
"That fat pooka touched my ear," Rina said. "That is what happened."
I wanted to slap her for calling him fat.
Rina spun and pointed at Martin. "I swear if you touch me again, I will do far worse."
"Okay, I'm sorry," Martin cried. "Please, just get rid of it!"
"Hmph." Rina snapped her fingers, and the flower fell off. The laughter stopped. A red dot marked Martin's nose. He picked up the flower and paced back to his desk.
"Rina, I--" Mrs. Horn struggled for words. "I'm not sure what just happened, but it wasn't the right thing to do. Perhaps you should go to the Mr. Tennant's office."
"Will you make me?" Rina's hand still glowed.
Mrs. Horn stood still, as if her brain suffered a system crash. She sighed, fixed her glasses, and walked back to the board. "Okay, class. Turn your Math books to page 98."
I'd never seen any teacher so beaten. Mrs. Horn started to teach as if on autopilot, and we sat as if watching a bad TV show. Martin and I looked at each other. He was crying, and still holding the flower. I felt powerless, and hated it.
The next time I looked at Rina, she was smiling.
I couldn't concentrate after that. Nobody could, not with Rina Algruent there.
PE had never come as such a relief before. It meant an hour not having to sit in front of Rina, and it let me hang out with my friends from Ms. Ivory's class. There was Gregg, my friend since first grade, who was about my height, and had a bowl cut and a gap in his teeth. We trade video games with each other every week. There was also Art, who was taller, with black hair and olive skin.
They saw Rina the first time on the way to the gym. "That's the new girl?" Art said. "Look at those ears. They aren't real, are they?"
"Trust me," I said, "it's all real. Just ask Martin."
Martin still had the spot on his nose, and moisture in his eyes. He took the flower from his pocket. "She made this grow on my nose."
"No way," Gregg said. "She really did that? Are you okay?"
Martin sniffed. "I'm fine, now."
"How can our new kid be an elf? I thought she'd be European or something."
Art looked over his shoulder, and lowered his voice. "Maybe she replaced the real new girl." We looked, too, in case Rina heard us.
Luckily, she wasn't too close. I looked again, this time for Zoe Carmichael, who was also in Ms. Ivory's class. She had her blond hair in a ponytail, and I thought she looked nice. She spoke to Rina, which set me on edge as we entered the gym.
"I noticed she didn't have a gym bag," Art said. "I guess she'll sit out this time."
We went into the locker room and changed. Ms. Ivory's class had gotten a good look at Rina, and thought she was attractive. Soon my class piped up to tell them what she did to Martin. Martin even showed off the flower. When he drew back, I patted him on the shoulder. He didn't need this kind of attention.
We went out to shoot hoops before Coach Wilkins arrived. I noticed only a few girls were out on the court, including Zoe. She kept checking the locker room door. Loud noises echoed from inside.
Art called Zoe over. "What's going on?"
Goosebumps sprouted all over me. Art could get way too casual with girls.
"They're trying to get Rina to change," Zoe said. "I even let her borrow some of my clothes, just to be friendly, but she wouldn't do it. Then her hands started glowing, and all the showers came on, and that's when I ran out."
"Uh oh," I said.
Rina burst out, her dress damp and jingling, and everyone in the gym stopped. I heard screams and what sounded like rainfall from the girls' locker room. Some girls ran out soaking wet and chased after her, but she had too much of a head start. Zoe glared. "Don't tell me she set off the sprinklers, too."
Rina ran around and waved her glowing hands and whooped like a siren. A draft blew through and chilled the gym, down to freezing. Everybody shivered, especially the girls who'd gotten wet. My friends and Zoe and I all puffed huge clouds with each breath.
Rina didn't seem to feel a thing. She leapt catlike to the top of the bleachers and shouted. "This is what you get for making me wear those pauper's clothes!" She sat and laughed at us from there.
We couldn't play like this. Most of the class shambled back to the locker rooms, myself included. I wore my regular clothes over my gym clothes, just to make sure I stayed warm.
Some of the boys counted themselves lucky. Others made gross comments about the girls getting wet.
Hardly anyone could believe it was real. Many were asking, "What are we going to do?"
I just wanted to go home, where hopefully reality still worked.
When we came out, Coach Wilkins stood on the court, shivering. "Sorry, kids," she said. "Looks like everything's broken in here, so I don't think we can have class today."
So we went back to our room for a study hall while she went to help the girls. Which meant I had to sit in front of Rina again. The girls came back with their hair damp and crinkled, and glowered at her. I decided to lay low, keep quiet, and stay out of her way.
Rina sat alone during lunch, and looked quite happy about it. The cafeteria had never been so quiet.
My friends and I rushed outside for recess. I think we all hoped it could take our minds off this situation. Art had a tennis ball with him, so we took turns tossing it against the gym. It was fun for a while, at least until I spotted Zoe coming outside, and missed the ball. It bounced right past me, and I ran after it. It rolled to a stop, and I reached out, but a hand scooped it from under me. Rina had the ball.
She turned it in her hand. "Do you want this back?"
My stomach launched into my throat. "Um, yes, uh, please, Lady Rina."
She tipped her head to look past me. "Will you let me throw it at the wall?"
I looked back to my friends, who stood still as photographs. Some help they were. "I guess so, Lady Rina." I grinned back at her, and suddenly knew how Mrs. Horn felt.
Rina tossed the ball up and down, up and down. My instinct screamed for me to run.
She smiled, gripped the ball, and stepped around me. "Thank you."
She drew her arm back and threw.
The gym wall burst in a cloud of dust rubble. When it cleared, scraps of the ball drifted down from a three-foot dent in the wall. Rina cackled. "Have fun with your little ball." And she ran off, while my friends and I stared.
I was so shocked I didn't notice Zoe Carmichael next to me. "I saw the whole thing," she said. "Are you okay?"
Our eyes met for a second. I turned aside. "I'm fine, I think."
Gregg grabbed me by the arm. "Let's go! You wanna be here when a teacher shows up?"
"Crap, you're right." I looked at Zoe. "See you later." And we ran.
The rest of the day, whenever I looked at Rina, all I saw was a full, satisfied sneer. Who cared if she was an elf? She was the most rotten person I had ever met.
I told my mom about Rina while I helped her chop vegetables. She didn't believe me.
"An elf? Like one of Santa's elves?"
"No, more like Middle Earth elves." I felt stupid just saying it.
She stopped chopping. "You know that's just a story, right?"
"Yeah, it's just... hard to tell now. Please, Mom, you have to believe me. She's a total bully. She froze the gym and made a flower grow on Martin's nose." Now I just disgusted myself. "I don't know what to do."
She smirked. "I get it. The pressures of school have finally gotten to you, and you've snapped. My stir-fry ought to fix that."
"Look, elf or not, this won't stop until someone stands up to her. Maybe if you had a ring of power."
I groaned. "Am I done now?"
"Yeah, you're done. Just be a few more minutes." Mom scraped the veggies into the pan, and I left the kitchen to watch TV. The phone rang. Mom couldn't answer, so I got it.
"Hi, Jeremy," Mrs. Horn said. "Are you all right?"
"Mrs. Horn? I guess I'm okay. You wanna talk to my mom?"
"Not just yet. I wanted to talk to you first." Her voice was thin and drawn out. "I'm very sorry. I know Rina took everybody by surprise, she did me, too. I didn't even find out she was an elf until I met her this morning."
"Oh. Well, okay." I'd never been called by a teacher before. "How'd this happen, anyway?"
"The way Mr. Tennant explained it to me, there's this exchange program between the federal government and the Realm of Faerie. We get some of their kids and they get some of ours. It's the first time our worlds have contacted each other in three hundred years. We just happened to be in one of the pilot districts."
"So it's not just our school?"
"That's right. Half the county schools have elves now, and we got Rina. They kept it secret because they wanted to roll it out slowly, so we can adjust."
"How do you expect us to adjust? I'm afraid to even breathe around her."
"I understand, really I do, but I'm not in the best position, either. It's bad enough I've been kept in the dark about this. I don't know a thing about her culture, and Lord knows I don't want to offend somebody and cause an incident. I was supposed to get something to suppress her magic, but Mr. Tennant can't find it."
"I know. Please bear with us. You kids deserve to know the truth. That's why I've been calling everybody."
"Oh, wow. Sorry, Mrs. Horn."
"It's okay. I'll see you tomorrow."
"Before you go," I said, "can you tell my mom about this? She doesn't believe me."
"Sure. Put her on."
I went to the kitchen and passed the phone to my mom.
A few minutes later she emerged and laid the phone on the hook.
"Dinner's almost ready," she said. The scent of her stir-fry drifted out behind her. "Sorry I poked fun."
"I don't blame you," I said. "I don't know if I believe it, either."