I froze like a small, scared animal. It was stupid. I was stupid. I should have just ignored Annalisse and kept walking straight into the bathroom, but somewhere on the way to my legs, my brain signals took a wrong turn.
I finally turned around. All the princesses were staring at me. Aoide and Tuilleries’s expressions showed some hint of pity. But Annalisse and Neigy? They just eyed me up and down, grinning cruelly.
Of course it was Queen Mean herself, Annalisse, who spoke first.
“I mean, what is that? What passes for fashion in Wee Town?”
I had to force myself to answer. The words came out small and frightened.
“I was just going to change,” I said, pointing lamely to the bathroom.
Next it was Neigy’s turn, “I guess they don’t have bathrooms at the Settlement.”
Aoide seemed genuinely concerned, saying “My goodness, you don’t think she does all her business in there, do you?”
“We have bathrooms!” I said, though that was partly a lie. I had a bathroom. Other fairies just had a wash basin for cleaning off mud or sticky substances. That was about it. But I wasn’t about to go into the details of fairy hygiene with a pack of hostile princesses.
Then Queen Mean herself spoke up, “So why didn’t you change at home? I mean, look at you.”
Hot anger flushed through me, bringing my frozen limbs back to life. I took a step closer to them to show I wasn’t intimidated.
“We don’t all have servants to pick out our clothes.”
“Please! You think a servant picked this out?” Annalisse gestured to her robin’s egg blue dress. Like all the the other prinnies’ outfits, it had an undeniable casual elegance that infuriated me.
“Well, we can’t all ask Mommy and Daddy to pay for everything.” I said, narrowing my gaze as I added, “Those of us who have a mommy and daddy.”
Yeah, that got her. Annalisse’s face turned crimson-purple. Everyone knew about her dad, who had left, and her mom, who just up and disappeared one day.
Annalisse stepped closer, hand raised and ready to slap me across the face.
It probably wasn’t the smartest idea to pick a fight with the school’s alpha bitch on the first day, but I was too angry to care. They thought they knew so much about me. They didn’t even know how much damage a pissed-off fairy could do to a designer outfit.
A tall figure stepped between us.
“Okay, we’ve all said some things we’ll regret later,” the figure said, and I realized I was staring at Redwood’s back. His clothes had somehow become even more tattered over the summer, if that was possible. At least he didn’t have that ridiculous patchwork coat on.
Annalisse started to protest, but Redwood cut her off, “I’m sure no one wants to spend their first day of school in the principal’s office, right?”
Annalisse didn’t answer. She just craned her neck around to shoot me an icy glare. I gladly returned it.
CLANG! The bell rang out from the tower above us and resonated through the walls of the building. It was a signal to everyone to stop messing around. Everyone around us started shutting their lockers and hurrying to class.
Annalisse gave Redwood a nasty look and said, “You would be on her side.”
“Me? I’m not on anyone’s side,” Redwood protested.
“Please! The weird kid who lives in the Enchanted Forest and the half-fairy freak? You two are made for each other!”
I felt my cheeks burn at Queen Mean’s comment. I knew Redwood would notice me blushing when he turned around...
Except he didn’t turn around. He just kept staring as Annalisse walked away with her pack of princesses following behind like a bunch of skinny, color-cordinated sheep. It was like he’d forgotten I was even there.
I punched him on the arm as hard as I could.
“Ow!” He rubbed where I’d hit him as he – finally! – turned to face me.
“Why aren’t you on my side?” I asked. “I’m your friend, remember?!”
“I didn’t know you wanted defending.”
“I don’t!” I shouted.
I turned and kicked open the bathroom door, storming inside and letting it slam shut behind me.
Since the dress was enchanted, it was immune to rips and tearing. Good, I thought, I could take out my anger on it as I yanked it off and threw it against the wall.
Sure, I was pissed, but not at the princesses, at myself. For agreeing to wear this stupid dress, for freezing when I heard Annalisse call me out, but most of all for the warm tingling in my stomach when I thought Redwood had been protecting me. It was stupid. Of course he wasn’t about to take my side against the prettiest girl in school.
Why would he?