"Alright class, have a seat," Miss Orchid instructed, waving a tan, twiggy arm.
"Where?" one ogre asked.
The teacher smiled, "Anywhere you like! The glory of art is in the creativity behind it. So, be creative!"
Sable and Kallima pushed through the crowd to sit on a piano bench. Sable joked that it was not creative, exactly, but comfortable. Kallima forced a chuckle as she tried to adjust her legs so she could take notes. Miss Orchid cleared her throat and began handing out papers, her fuchsia hair bouncing with every step.
"Wow, lots of freshmen this term!" she said. "I'm Miss Orchid, and this is Art Appreciation. We're going to look at all sorts of art this term: sculptures, paintings, plays, and symphonies. If we have time, we'll look into some folk stories and songs to learn about their cultural influences."
"Miss Orchid?" a pale boy asked raising his hand. "My sister said that there was a section on 'Deus Mech Operata,' but I don't see it. Will we still get to read it?"
"On your own time, perhaps," Miss Orchid smiled sadly. "I will provide copies to you all, but we won't be discussing it in class."
This reveal met a chorus of disapproving voices. The dryad held up her hands to silence her class.
"It was a difficult decision," she called over them, "but, with present company, I thought that it might be... in poor taste. Part of appreciating art is accepting other opinions and cultures."
Kallima raised her own hand, "Ma'am? Is this about me?"
The teacher folded her hands together and said, "Miss Satudotter, 'Deus Mech Operata" contains very harsh criticism of the Mortal Realm and other aspects that I think you would find offensive. I have replaced it with a more appropriate play that will stimulate conversation and increase interest in the dramatic arts without inciting a riot."
"I've already seen it," Kallima said. "It wasn't that insulting. I actually liked, well, most of it."
Orchid's eyes widened then she said, "I will speak with you after class. If you're sure you'll be alright, I'll have no reason to keep it off the syllabus."
Kallima nodded and tried to ignore the whispers around her. The name "Satu" rose in the room like a fog as Miss Orchid called for the class to quiet down again.
"Regardless," she shushed them, "we will start the course with music. Raise your hand if you can sing."
Most of the class raised their hands. Sable hesitated until Kallima elbowed her. The gargoyle blushed, hardened, and added herself to the silent census. The teacher then had the students who did not play instruments lower their hands. Sable dropped her head but kept her hand in the air, though low. Only four others joined her. Miss Orchid smiled and individually inquired as to what each person knew. Jeremy and John could both play pan pipes, but John also knew the cello. A satyr named Suzy had some training on the flute, and Caleb possessed skill with a viola.
"And Sable? What do you play?"
Sable covered her cheeks and mumbled unintelligibly.
"I'm sorry?" Orchid asked.
Kallima elbowed the girl again, making her whimper. The cornered gargoyle grew rigid as she raised her voice just loud enough for everyone to hear.
"Horn, piano, flute, and violin."
"Oh, you play four instruments?"
"Y-yeah. I'm, like, a music jack," the girl muttered as she twirled a bit of her hair.
"I see," Orchid smiled. "Well, all five of you are welcome to perform a piece next Friday. Would anyone like to withdraw?"
Sable's solitary hand shot up, and Miss Orchid frowned at the gesture.
"Are you certain, Sable? I'm sure everyone would love to hear you."
"She's lying," Caleb said. "She can't play anything."
"Caleb!" Orchid scolded.
"I don't want to," Sable murmured shakily.
"That's just fine, Sable. No one," she said, specifically to Caleb, "is going to judge you for a little stage fright. Now, after the music course..."
Sable hid behind her hair for the rest of the class. Kallima used her notebook to ask if the girl would stay while she spoke to the teacher. Sable nodded before retreating into her quiet solitude again.
"For tomorrow, please bring the name of your favorite piece of music, and we'll take a vote to see what's most popular. You're free to listen to the recordings in the cabinet if you'd like," Orchid instructed. "Class dismissed."
Students left the room in a dense wave, forcing themselves through the door until only Sable, Kallima, and the teacher remained. Miss Orchid sighed, rubbed her temples, and lowered herself to her knees in front of the two girls. Her yellow eyes glinted sadly as she set one hand on Sable's.
"I'm not going to make you do anything, Sable, but I am hurt that you won't play for us. Is something wrong?"
"No, Ma'am," the grey girl said.
"Are you really a jack?"
"And you can sing?"
Sable nodded, and Kallima backed her up.
"I brought songs from the Mortal Realm for her, and she picked them like that," she said, snapping her fingers. "She has a good ear."
"I'm not that good," Sable said. "I just like music."
"Would you like a private class?" Miss Orchid offered. "You can improve without the extra eyes, learn more instruments, more songs..."
"My uncle won't, like, pay for private classes."
"Sable," the teacher said, "I don't want you to waste such talent. I'm willing to meet with you for two hours each week, after Sunday dinner, at no charge. Please?"
Sable glanced at Kallima, who smiled, then nodded consent.
"Thank you. Now, Kallima, when did you see 'Deus Mech Operata?'"
"My... ex... Gabe took me last term," Kallima told her. "He thought I'd find it, er, interesting, he said."
Orchid gaped, "That is- That's a level of tact I've never seen before, and I've dated some real creeps."
"It was fine from a storytelling aspect. The acting was beautiful, and the writing was compelling. I loved the music. It's the misconceptions of the Mortal Realm that bother me, and I can explain the reality if we do a scene study."
"Angelou's character didn't bother you at all?"
"No. Why would it?"
Orchid sighed and rubbed her forehead, "Kallima..."
"Let me tell you a story, Kali," she began. "Around fifteen years ago, one of King Titanus' favorite servants disappeared. Several people said that she went to the Mortal Realm, but no one knew why. King Titanus sent some scouts to retrieve her, but they returned with nothing. Not one word on her location, her fate, or her motives. She simply vanished. Then, about two years ago, she reappeared. Right there."
She pointed towards the fairy circle in front of the school. Kallima bit her lip and trembled with new understanding.
"She wanted to talk to Headmaster Locke," Orchid said. "She needed her child enrolled for the fall after. A child no one knew existed."
"Me," Kallima breathed.
"Yes. But in the thirteen years between, Satu's fate was speculative. Someone was bound to take advantage of it and fabricate a story that would make them money."
"That's all it is, though. A fabrication. A story," Kallima said, more to herself than the teacher. "I'll be all right, promise."
"Are you sure?" Orchid asked sternly, one finger up almost scolding the girl for giving her answer so little thought.
Kallima grinned slightly, "I'm certain. Besides, they all seemed pretty miffed that you took it off the syllabus. I bet half of them took the class just to read it."
"Alright. I'll let everyone know. You two have a nice day," the teacher said gently.
Kallima and Sable returned the salutation and left. Sable rubbed her neck when the taller girl asked what a jack was.
"It's hard to describe," she said. "It's, like, when you can just do something without explanation. Shay's family let me, like, stay the night when I was five, back... But they had a piano, and I just started playing it."
"Oh, like a prodigy!"
Kallima pulled out her key, but Sable grabbed her wrist, blushing.
"You, uh, you don't, like, need to unlock it," she mumbled as she twirled her hair.
"Why don't I need to unlock it?"
"It- it's the seventeenth."
Kallima sighed, "Oh, Say..."
"We wanted to surprise you," the gargoyle said, "and I've spoiled it."
"No, you didn't!"
"Yes, I did. I've ruined, like, everything. I always do."
Kallima turned away and opened the door. Three happy faces yelled "surprise" to her, and she put on her most shocked expression. Acacia presented her with a bright yellow cake decorated in orange flowers and a ring of tall, red candles. Kallima quickly blew out all but one, causing Shay to joke that meant her true love was somewhere in the building. She extinguished the final flame with her fingers. Ignatius opened a pocket knife and began dividing the treat up, offering the first piece to the birthday girl.
"Really, you guys," Kallima giggled, taking the cake, "you didn't have to do all this!"
"You got us Christmas gifts," Ignatius said weakly. "It's the least we could do."
"Besides, it's not like it was a lot of work," Acacia added. "My mom made the cake. She works at a sweet shop, and she loves this stuff. Sent raspberry scones, too, no citrus added. Happy birthday."
"I wanted to re-gift the phoenix," Shay said, "but Case wouldn't let me."
Kallima shoved Ignatius' shoulder gently and said, "Make sure you cut those a bit bigger for you and Sable, okay?"
"But- it's for you," Sable whimpered.
"And I can do what I want with it. Shay's right; you're too small."
"Come on, Say, you and I could use it," Ignatius said.
"It's good, though," Kallima told Acacia, worried she had insulted the dryad. "I just-"
"No, no, it's fine," the dark girl agreed. "They need it."
"It is good," Shay agreed. "I got you this, Kali."
He passed the dream fae a box tied with blue ribbon. Kallima thanked him with a grin and opened it. Inside, she found a cloudy sphere that she recognized to be a recorder. Pulling it out revealed a wooden stand beneath it labeled "Triponi Orchestra: Greston, 1990." Sable cooed when Kallima set it on her desk.
"Triponi is one of the best groups, like, in Evendial," the musician said. "Their strings section is exquisite."
"Thanks, Shay. I'll listen to that later."
"Here," Ignatius broke in, passing the fiery-haired teen a heavy paper package.
Kallima ripped the paper off and tried to keep her smile when she saw the contents.
"Oh, a book! Brilliant... 'Subconscious Energy and How to Harness It,'" she read. "Sounds like... fun."
Ignatius smirked and passed her another book, saying, "Maybe this one would be better?"
"'Dream Fae: First-Hand Accounts of Power.' Huh."
"It has biographies of some of the strongest dream fae in history," he explained, "and I guess that a lot of them felt pretty lonely and outcast until they got the hang of it."
Kallima raised a skeptical brow.
"I was worried you might feel... isolated. I mean, we don't know what it's like to be you. There's no one here to teach you who you are. I know you've said that you already know, but... You're fifteen!" The spiky-haired senior said. "You're too young! You lived in the Mortal Realm your whole life. There's no one like you, Kali. You should feel alone."
"So to make me feel less lonely, you're going to tell me how lonely I should be?"
"I don't get it," Ignatius admitted. "How are you so..."
"Secure. How are you so secure?"
Kallima hesitated, then said, "Mum told me once that there was nothing I couldn't do if I wanted, that I was just who I was made to be. So I guess I never worried over it."
Sable set her plate of yellow and orange mush on her desk and retreated to her closet. Kallima chattered with Shay, laughed with Acacia, and teased Ignatius until the senior stood up.
"We should get dinner," he voiced. "Cake's great and all, but it only does so much."
Acacia said, "But Sable hasn't-"
"Sable isn't going to," Shay cut her off. "I'm sorry, Kali."
"I wasn't expecting anything. It's enough that you all care, you know?" the redhead said. "You all go ahead. I'm going to wait for her."
Shay pushed Acacia from the room as Ignatius took Kallima's hand and brought it to his lips. The girl bit her lip and blushed furiously.
"In a moment, daughter of Satu," he promised.
"All right, now you're just being odd."
Kallima tugged her hand back. Ignatius smirked and left, closing the door behind him. The dream fae pushed her fingers through her hair with a huff. Sable, she noted, continued to hide away in her closet, so she opened the door to peek her head inside. The tiny gargoyle curled up in the far corner with her beacon in her lap, face hidden by a black curtain of hair.
"Balling it up isn't going to help."
"Well, I still have to live with you, so, yes, it is my problem."
Kallima sighed and wedged herself between the gargoyle and the wall, putting an arm around the girl.
"Not bloody likely," she told her roommate. "Just tell me what's wrong."
"A lot of things, okay? Like, what you said about your mom. What Iggy said about being lonely. The recording."
"The recording bothers you?"
Sable said, "Shay knows I like them. He knows how much I want to see them. You, like, said he cares about me, but he doesn't. He resents me, just like Gavin does."
"He doesn't resent you."
"No one loves me, Kali."
"I- I don't..."
"Like, if Mom loved me, she wouldn't be dead."
"What the hell, Say?" Kallima gasped. "Oh, no. Nonononono. Come here."
The tall fae hefted Sable to her feet and forced her out of the closet. Kallima plucked the girl's beacon from her and shook it.
"Oi, Madelyn? Your kid needs you."
"Stop it," Sable said, snatching the ball away. "You'll break it."
"Get her out here. You need to talk to her."
Sable nodded and whispered to the orb, "Mama, please..."
The pink ghost formed in front of the girls, stretched her feathered wings, and tucked her light hair behind her ears. Kallima put her hands on Sable's shoulders.
"Your daughter here," she said, "thinks that you don't love her."
The silent form's mouth fell open. She covered her quivering lip as her eyes watered. Sable dipped her face, and the specter tried to place a hand on the girl's head. The teen shivered when it passed through her hair and touched her skin. Tears spilled down the woman's cheeks.
"If you loved me, you wouldn't have, like, done it," Sable said. "You would have stayed."
The image placed a hand on the back of her head in confusion. Then she shook her head. Sable scoffed.
"What do you mean, you didn't do it?" she asked. "You were in the lake, Mama. Like, the neighbors pulled you out."
"Did someone kill you?" Kallima asked.
The figure clasped the sides of her head as though focusing too hard on something she could not recall before nodding.
"No! Dad died, and you went crazy. You threw yourself in the lake because you, like, couldn't look at me without seeing him! Gavin told me!" Sable screamed.
"Is that true? Did Sable hurt to look at?"
The specter turned to Kallima, stared her in the eye, then mouthed something.
"Never," Kallima read, "It isn't you, Say. Look here."
The redhead grabbed Sable's chin and forced her to look at the ghostly mother.
"Madelyn, would you change any part of this sweet girl if you could?" the tall teen inquired.
The ethereal woman held up one finger, and Sable quivered.
"Only one thing?" she asked. "But- I'm not, like, smart or strong or fast. I'm not even pretty! I'm just like a stupid brick."
Madelyn's form gaped at Sable's words then placed a hand on each cheek, her intangible light sinking into her child's skin once again. Then she faded from sight. Sable huffed and lobbed the beacon onto her bed. Kallima reprimanded her carelessness with the orb, surprised that the girl who guarded it so closely suddenly stopped caring.
"It doesn't make sense," the gargoyle said.
"I think she wants you to smile," Kallima said, lying a little because she wanted the girl to relax. "No parent wants to see their kid so sad."
Sable hummed softly in thought. Kallima nudged her shoulder.
"Come on, Say. Let's go eat. You didn't even touch your cake."