The entire classroom turned their attention toward the new student. They weren’t quite sure what to make of her theatrical introduction. Did high school sophomores really talk like that in other parts of the world? Mr. Wolfe frowned at their stupefied faces.
“Nature is from overseas. She’ll need some time to adjust, so try helping her out.” He noticed a particular group in the back corner by the entrance. “Dahl!”
“Yes, sir,” Leif answered quickly.
“You guys are a pretty diverse bunch. Show Nature around Ambrose. I know you won’t try to sucker her into anything stupid.” Mr. Wolfe motioned a hand for a free desk in front of Leif. “Take that seat, Nature. Since we’re starting a new semester, don’t worry about make-up work. Kay and Dahl are pretty good tutors, if you need any help catching up.”
“Thank you again, Mr. Wolfe,” Flora beamed back with genuine gratitude. Before heading for her seat, she added, “Forgive one last comment, but may I say how much I enjoy your name? It emphasizes your role as a leader of the pack.”
The teacher stared back at her, perplexed. That was unexpected. Her manners mixed with those comments made him feel as awkward as the class.
“Um… sure,” he said, motioning for her seat again.
“Wow,” Jake said under his breath at the dumbfounded look on their stiff teacher’s face. “Wolfe looks stumped!”
Flora smiled, blissfully. Walking down the aisle toward the empty desk, she curtsied in Leif’s direction. He smiled, restraining the urge to laugh.
“You don’t have to curtsy every time you meet someone, but thank you for the courtesy,” the young man sighed with a handsome smile. Touching his chest to bow slightly at his desk, he offered his own introduction. “I’m Leif Dahl. I’m pleased to meet you, Flora Nature.”
“Oh my,” Flora gasped suddenly, “did you say your name was Leif?”
“Yes. I know it isn’t very common.”
“As in Leif Erikson?”
“Yes, actually,” he replied, tilting his head with surprise. “My mother named me after him.”
“Forgive me, but I couldn’t help noticing your strong, Norse name, a beloved valley you might say.”
Leif gaped back at Flora. Only his friends were aware of his heritage, and they often joked about it. He never expected someone else to know about his family name. A sly grin sprouted at the corner of his lip.
“All right, class, back to Algebra II.”
Class moved forward from that point without further incident. Flora was quiet. She appeared to be absorbing everything around her, and she still looked overjoyed as ever. Jaime found herself glancing at the new girl periodically throughout the class. Something about her just nagged her curiosity, but she didn’t know what it could be.
“I expect your homework in my box at the start of next class, as usual. You’re dismissed.”
Mr. Wolfe headed out of the portable as soon as he finished his statement. In the next second, the bell rang a formal dismissal. The students began to pack up their binders and textbooks to head for the next class.
“Hello, Flora,” Chelsea stood up to extend a hand across the next row toward the new student, “I’m Chelsea Kay. I was curious if you’d let me look at your schedule. I’d be happy to help you find where you need to go next. Block scheduling can be confusing sometimes.”
“Oh, would you? You’re so kind, Chelsea,” Flora said with relief. Pulling a neatly folded piece of paper from her coat pocket, she handed it over with a smile. “A locksmith of the sea, eh?”
“I’m sorry?” Chelsea blinked back at the girl, confused where the comment came from.
“Your name! Chelsea means ‘of the sea’, especially near the town of Chelsea, and Kay was a locksmith’s name!”
“Oh, I never knew that,” Chelsea laughed lightly at the news. She’d never heard what her name meant before, and she liked the sound of it. “You know a lot about name meanings, don’t you, Flora?”
“Actually, my uncle is a historian of sorts.” Flora shrugged with a giggle. “He says that knowing the origin of things helps you appreciate them more. I used to spend hours in his library with him and my cousins.”
“That’s amazing!” Chelsea’s eyes sparkled as she listened to Flora talk about her family. “You must be so close to your folks. They sound interesting. I’d love to hear more about them.”
“Really? I’m a little sad to be away from them right now, but I know that they’re never ever truly far away from me.”
“I really hope we become good friends, Flora! I think we have a lot in common!”
The girls gripped each other’s hands, excitedly. From their bright, pearly smiles, it was clear a friendship had just blossomed. Flora looked positively ecstatic!
“Do you mean that?”
“I’ve made my first friend at school! Thank you so much, Chelsea!” As the two squealed with joy, Jake, Jaime, and Leif just stood by their desks, staring.
“So what class do you have next?” Jaime asked, flatly.
“Oh… right.” Chelsea opened up the schedule to take a look. “It looks like… Wait a minute.”
“What’s wrong, Chels?” Jake asked with curiosity.
“I don’t believe it,” she answered, glancing up at Flora. “It’s the same schedule as Jaime’s.”
“What?!” Leif and Jake balked in unison.
As the trio poured over the paper, Flora glanced at Jaime. She was just staring at the frenzy with a bored expression. The new student tilted her head, curiously.
“Then it’s English,” Jaime muttered as she walked up the aisle past Chelsea and Jake. She didn’t wait for them to leave with her. Flora’s gaze followed the standoffish youth with wonder, smiling sweetly.
“I’m so glad to have someone I know in my classes. Perhaps we can help one another?”
Jaime paused at the door. Glancing back at the newcomer, her black eyes stared back innocently. Her friends watched silently with surprise.
“Yeah. Sure.” As she finally left the portable, the rest of them hurried to grab their gear and run.
“Oh, boy,” Leif said with a whistle.
“I guess we should catch up to Jaime, Flora,” Jake said as he held his binder and book against his chest. Dragging his backpack behind him, he glanced toward her way on his way to the door. “I’m Jake Johnson, by the way. No need to tell me about my name. I already know it means I’m the son of John.”
“His name is actually Jacob,” Chelsea whispered as she shouldered her bag. “What does that mean?”
“Jacob? I believe it means ‘seizing the heel’.”
“All right, ladies,” Leif said, shooing the two up the row. “We only get five minutes to get to class. Come along now.”
After the final bell rang to release students, teenagers poured out of the school to go about the rest of their day. Some headed for the fields for sports clubs, and other clubs took over the emptied classrooms. For the five new friends, they exited the front doors, still chatting away about school with Flora.
“That wasn’t so bad for a first day back from break,” Leif said, looking at his friends. “We even made a new, interesting friend in our first class of the day!”
“Easily for you to say,” Jake grunted, rolling his eyes. “I completely forgot we had that paper due in Geography. Last block sucked.”
“You blew it off when Mrs. Head asked for it though,” he retorted. Raising an eyebrow, Leif stared at the other boy skeptically.
“What was I going to do about it? I can’t make it up. Dad’ll just grill me about it later, so why stress when I know the drill?”
Leif fell silent as he listened to the defeat in Jake’s voice. As little as he seemed to care, the words told a familiar story. The taller youth looked away, trying not to look as concerned as he felt for his friend.
“I suppose you have a point…”
Chelsea turned the focus on Flora, suddenly. Linking arms with the new girl, her giddy laugh diffused the tension of the last topic. Flora smiled at her, wondering what she was so excited about.
“We did make a new friend, and I say we can’t let this go uncelebrated! Who wants to go to the park?”
“What’s in the park?” Flora asked innocently. Her gleaming eyes seemed thrilled to visit a park right now.
“Lake Pierre.” Leif answered with a smile, “It’s called the treasure of Moonshine.”
“I thought moonshine was a sort of liquor,” she said with confusion. “How is it related to a lake?”
“Moonshine got its name for being a smuggling town along the old train route during prohibition,” Jake answered in a factual tone. “The lake has been an attraction since before that though.”
“My aunt says that it was named by the tribes in the area for how it catches light from a full moon. It was a ritual site, I guess.” The group nodded in agreement with Jaime’s explanation, but Flora seemed particularly interested in the new information.
“Does your aunt work with a local reservation, Jaime?”
“Kinda,” the stoic teen answered without looking back Flora. “She works with healers a lot. She says she feels close to our roots that way, but there’s some kind of research about the tribes that used to live here that she's helping.”
“Jaime’s Aunt Kristen is a holistic herbalist,” Chelsea explained on Jaime’s behalf. “She follows hearth traditions to help people around town with remedies, too.”
“I’m sure you’d like her, Flora,” Leif chimed in. “She has all kinds of knowledge, like your uncle. My mom and her are pretty close, too.”
“So are we going to the lake or what?” Jake’s heavy sigh caught the group’s attention as he threw his hands behind his head. “Anywhere but home, please…”
“I have nowhere to be,” Leif answered first. “What about you, Flora?”
“I would love to see Lake Pierre!” Flora pulled Chelsea closer on her arm. “Will we all be going then?”
“I think Jaime’s leading the way for us,” Chelsea laughed, seeing the stoic youth already ahead of them. “Onward, ho!”
Everyone hurried up to catch up to Jaime’s pace. They chatted away about how Flora enjoyed her first day. Jaime remained quiet, staring blankly ahead the whole walk. Flora managed to continue her conversations, but she couldn’t help watching the silent teen. Something about her felt familiar, and she wanted to get to know her better. If only she would talk…
The park wasn’t too long of a walk from Ambrose High through the woods. It didn’t take Flora long to realize why the town loved the lake. Lake Pierre was a huge body surrounded by sand and smooth stones. A river trickled through it that ran into the rest of town, flushing fresh, clear water into the lake. Just like Jaime had said, it looked like one big looking glass on the surface, reflecting the clear winter sky.
Leif and Chelsea continued to talk about Moonshine sights and places they enjoyed visiting. Jake had taken up some rocks to skip across the surface of the lake, trying to forget his worries about home for a while longer. Jaime kept to herself somewhere between them, snacking on some homemade trail mix.
“Moonshine sounds incredible,” Flora said, excitably. “I’m so glad I chose to live here!”
“Chose?” Leif asked with a perplexed expression. “You mean you got to pick where you moved?”
“Why yes! My uncle told me to pick a place that he would approve of, so I picked Moonshine, South Dakota!”
“Hold up!” The punk youth spun around after her answer. “Of all the places in the world, you picked Moonshine? Why?! It’s not exciting at all! You could've picked a million other places!”
“Well, it might be compared to where she used to live,” Chelsea offered in response to his outburst. “Where are you from, Flora? You never told us.”
“Where?” Flora’s expression fell at the question. Staring back at Chelsea as if she had stepped on a landmine, she stammered to come up with an answer. “Well… uh…”
Suddenly, rain fell from the once clear sky. As the teens looked up in surprise, Flora rooted herself, staring at the ground in shame. Jaime observed her rigid stance, wondering why she was tongue-tied after being so talkative.
“What the?” Leif gawked at the sky. “It wasn’t supposed to rain today!”
“The shelter's just up ahead!” Jake called to the group, waving them to follow him. “Come on!”
“We can wait out the rain there,” Chelsea called over the heavy shower.
The three ran on ahead, but Flora stood where she was, head hung low. Jaime continued to watch her. Why was she just standing there? It was just under freezing, and her peacoat didn’t look as weather-resistant as their coats. Taking a single step toward her, she reached a hand out toward Flora just before the new girl ran off into the nearby field.
“Flora...?” Instead of following her friends, Jaime dropped her snack, running after the girl. Something was wrong. She had been happy all day until they mentioned where she was from. Why would that upset her?
It was hard to see clearly through the downpour, but Jaime managed to follow Flora for a good distance. The girl suddenly stopped, reaching her hands toward the sky. Jaime stared blankly at the scene before her. What was happening here?
“I’m sorry,” Flora called upward. “Please don’t cry. I would never be ashamed of you, Rain.”
As if in response to her words, the shower let up. Jaime looked around them, eyes wide with awe. A blob of water started to solidify in front of Flora. The form of a young-looking man dressed in a white long-sleeved, button-up, tanned-hide vest, blue jeans and work boots looked down at Flora. His crystal blue eyes looked heartbroken at the girl, as if she had wounded him deeply. They matched the pendent dangling around his neck. Flora took both of his hands in hers, giving them a squeeze.
“Why did you leave then?” he asked, sadly. “Why did you try to hide us from them?”
“Oh, Rain,” Flora said softly.
“Who’s your boyfriend?” Jaime asked flatly. She pointed at them with a dripping wet finger. The man yelped at the voice, making a fresh shower fall from the sky.