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Learn Me Right

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Do you have the time to listen to me whine about nothing and everything all at once?

I am one of those melodramatic fools neurotic to the bone no doubt about it

Green Day, “Basket Case”

---

Elphaba Thropp trudged down the overcrowded hallway, slipping between packs of loud, overexcited teenagers. She stared dully at the row of navy lockers on her left side, counting silently until she reached the number printed on the card she had just picked up from the office. She glanced down the hall, knowing that a certain blonde would eventually show up nearby, the name Upland being obnoxiously close to Thropp in their class roster, but for now it appeared to be safe. Elphaba tugged her locker open and dropped her bag, kneeling down to begin unloading her books.

“Morning, Elphie.”

She looked up, unnecessarily.

“Hullo, Boq. Why are you so cheerful?”

He leaned against the locker beside hers, smiling a little. “I’m guessing I’ve been awake longer.”

“Did you roll out of bed twenty minutes ago?”

“I’ve been here since six-thirty.”

Elphaba made a face. “You band kids are weird.”

“Oh come on, it’s the first day back. You’re not even a little bit excited?”

“Well.” She met his eyes and gave him a half-smile. “It’s better than being stuck at home all the time.”

“That’s the spirit. What’s your schedule?”

She dug a folded paper out of her bag and handed it up to him, then went back to organizing her books.

“We’ve got bio and environmental science together,” Boq said, reading the page. “And lunch and study hall.”

“Have you talked to Crope and Tibbett?”

“I don’t have any classes with them, but they’re also in second lunch with us. And study hall, though of course they’ll spend most of it in the auditorium. They might be in your lit class? I’m not sure.”

Elphaba held her hand out, and Boq folded the schedule and placed it neatly in her palm. “Guess I’ll find out.”

“I saw you have history first. Starting your day with Nikidik. Fun.”

“At least I won’t have to pay attention,” said Elphaba, shoving her history book into her bag.

“Two classes with Dillamond, though. Are you excited?”

At this, she paused and looked up again, grinning. The first bell rang, a five minute warning.

“And where are you off to?” Elphaba asked.

“Literature.”

“With Morrible? Oz, you have it even worse than me.”

“At least she doesn’t hate me as much.”

“You’re just not trying hard enough.”

Boq rolled his eyes. “I’ll see you in bio. Think we’ll be lab partners?”

“I guess we’ll find out.” Elphaba fastened her bag and pushed herself to her feet. “Good luck with the old carp.”

“Thanks. Try not to get in a fight with Nikidik.”

Elphaba grinned. “Aw. Why not?”

“No fighting until at least week two.”

“But Boq.”

The hallway was starting to clear. Boq rolled his eyes again, smiling, and gave a little wave as he started away, leaving Elphaba to sling her bag over her shoulder and head in the opposite direction.

-

Not even an hour later, Elphaba’s mood had dropped. Boq walked into Dillamond’s classroom and took the seat beside her, at the end of the first row.

“You look annoyed,” Boq said, dropping his bag. “Was the old grump really that bad?”

She looked up at him. “It’s not that.”

“No?”

A giggle came from the back of the classroom. Elphaba slumped further into her seat. “Does that answer your question?”

Boq glanced over his shoulder, then turned back to roll his eyes at her. “Right. Glinda Upland. Your sworn enemy.”

“Stop being dramatic.”

“I’m not the one being dramatic.”

“She just had to be in this class.”

“Come on. She’s not that bad.”

“She’s a shallow, spoiled snob,” Elphaba muttered. “You’re just forgiving because you’ve had a crush on her since middle school.”

“Oh, shut up.” His cheeks were turning pink, but he ignored Elphaba’s smirk. “Either way, you’re too harsh. It’s not like she goes around beating people up for their lunch money.”

“So? She doesn’t have to be a bully. She and all her friends—they’re not good people. So I don’t like them.”

“You barely even know her.”

Elphaba rolled her eyes. “It’s a small school. We’re juniors. Trust me, I know enough.”

“If you say so, Elphie.”

“Ugh. The return of Elphie.”

“Don’t lie. We all know you secretly like it.”

“Whatever. So how was Morrible?”

“About the same as you’d expect.” Boq twirled his pen between his fingers. “Hey, is he late?”

Elphaba looked at her watch. “Not quite. But you know him.”

“Brilliant at everything but keeping a schedule?”

“And returning grades.”

“And keeping his office organized.”

“And remembering things.”

“And—”

“Good morning, class.”

Elphaba and Boq exchanged grins as Dr. Dillamond clopped into the room. The room went quiet as he dropped his bag at his desk and pulled out a couple stacks of paper.

“Let’s see, second period…yes, here we go. I trust you are all relieved to be back in school?” he asked, winking at them. “Don’t worry, today will be easy. Miss Elphaba, if you could take one of these and pass it along.”

Elphaba took the stack of papers he handed her, pulled one off the top, and handed it to Boq. Dillamond returned to the front of the room. “We’ll read over this syllabus together, see if you have any questions. I will also be going over lab procedures today, and you will get your lab partners—” Boq and Elphaba looked at each other again, but Dillamond continued, “—which I have already assigned. Yes, yes, I know,” he said as the class grumbled. “I’m so mean. Now, does everyone have a syllabus? Extras in the back? Go on and pass them up, thank you. Okay. First off, obviously, this is Biology II. If you are in the wrong class, now is the time to awkwardly pack your bags and hurry off to the correct classroom. No one? Excellent. As you can see, my free period is at the end of the day. I also run a study hall next hour, in case you ever have questions or just feel like skipping your next class to stay and chat. That’s a joke. Don’t do that. Or at least, don’t make a habit out of it. Now, most of you I’ve had in class before, but at the bottom of this first page is my grading scale…”

They moved quickly through the syllabus, the whole room rustling as pages were turned and chairs squeaked under bored, fidgety students. Dillamond moved on to lab procedure, then talked about a few of the assignments they would do this year. Finally—Elphaba felt the entire classroom sit up just a little—he pulled out the list of lab partners. Most people seemed happy with their choices. Boq’s name was read, and Elphaba held her breath, but he was placed with some other band kid in the class. He smiled, then gave Elphaba an apologetic look. She shrugged, looking forward again as her name was called.

“Miss Thropp—” Dillamond’s eyes met hers for a beat, then turned dutifully back to his paper. “You’ll be with Miss Upland.”

A ripple ran through the classroom—amusement, disbelief, one student even snorted—and it was a struggle for Elphaba to keep her composure. In the opposite corner of the room, she saw Glinda turn. Elphaba refused to acknowledge her, instead keeping her eyes on Dillamond as he read through the last of the names. When the bell rang at the end of the hour, she busied herself with her things. Once again, she saw Glinda looking at her, but she was quickly lost to the rush of students leaving the room. Elphaba waited for the room to clear out, then went over to Dillamond’s desk.

 “Good morning, Elphaba,” Dillamond said calmly as she approached. “How has your first day been so far?”

“Great until about three minutes ago.” Elphaba crossed her arms over her chest. “Why put me with her? Why couldn’t you have put me with Boq or something?”

“You and Boq as partners would simply be unfair to the rest of the class.” His eyes twinkled as he looked up at her. Elphaba bristled.

“Literally anyone else, then. You know that she’s—”

“A human being, a young girl, your fellow student? Surely you of all people aren’t being judgmental.”

“She’s been awful since our freshman year! She’s a spoiled brat, she’s stuck up, she’s—”

“Miss Elphaba.” Dillamond’s voice was sharp. “You know my rule: don’t talk bad about someone unless they are there to defend themselves.”

Elphaba clenched her jaw. “Fine. Just…tell me why. Please.”

“Maybe I just closed my eyes and pointed at names. Does there need to be a particular reason?”

“With you? Always.”

Dillamond chuckled. “It is good to see you again, my dear. How was your summer?”

“Pretty good. You’re really not going to tell me?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” But his eyes were still dancing. “Now I suggest you run along. Your next teacher will be after you if you’re late on your first day.”

“It’s only Morrible,” she muttered.

“All the more reason to go. It’s far too early in the year to be picking fights with her.”

“Funny. Boq said pretty much the same thing this morning.”

“He’s a smart one.”

“Yet you won’t let us be lab partners.”

Dillamond chuckled. “Perhaps I want to broaden your horizons a bit. Now go.”

Elphaba huffed, but she shouldered her bag and left the room. The halls were starting to empty, but she found two familiar faces lingering outside Morrible’s classroom.

“Elphie!” Crope said, his face lighting up. He and Tibbett grinned as she approached. “Please tell us you’re in this lit class.”

“I am,” she said, stopping to stand with them a few feet away from the door. “Any particular reason why you’re waiting to go inside?”

“We’re putting off seeing the old carp for as long as possible,” said Tibbett. “But with you here, I’m guessing it’ll be a much better experience.”

“How’s your day been?” asked Crope.

Elphaba made a face. “Great, until I found out who my lab partner was.”

Both boys looked excited. “Do tell.”

“I’ll give you a hint: blonde, bubbly, and oh so popular!”

“Hey! She was in our math class!” Tibbett smirked at Elphaba’s annoyed huff.

“Pretty ironic,” said Crope, placating. “Any idea why Dillamond did it?”

“No. I’m sure there’s something, but he wouldn’t tell me.”

“So I guess now isn’t the time to tell you that the previously discussed blonde beauty is in this class, too?”

Elphaba groaned. “You’re kidding.”

Crope shook his head. “She walked in a couple minutes ago. But hey, it might not be that bad. Like Tibbs said, she was in our math class, and she wasn’t bad.”

“And no matter what, you’ll have us.” Tibbett threw an arm around her shoulders. “Shall we? The bell’s gonna ring any second, and Morrible would love an excuse to give you detention.”

So, reluctantly, Elphaba walked with them into the classroom. Sure enough, Glinda was there, sitting once again at the back of the room. Her notebook was out, to Elphaba’s surprise, but she was doodling in it, not paying attention to anything else. At the front of the room, Morrible was already writing on the board, but she paused to scowl at Elphaba as she took her seat. Elphaba grinned toothily back at her, then pulled out her own notebook.

The rest of the hour was spent half-listening to Morrible’s explanation of grading policy, class expectations, and the types of things they would be reading throughout the year. Elphaba read through the list of authors on the syllabus, then raised her hand.

Morrible eyed her warily. “Yes, Miss Elphaba?”

“I’m sorry, ma’am, I just can’t help but notice that all these works were written by Gillikinese, and most of them were men. Shouldn’t we be studying something, I don’t know, a little more diverse?”

“Many of these works have been part of the literary canon for centuries. They are the basis of literature.”

“Sure, classics are important. But if that’s all we read, our perspectives get to be pretty narrow. And what do you mean, the basis of literature? What about the great poets of the Vinkus, or the ancient fables and lore that originate in Quadling Country? And what about Munchkinland sermons? The earliest known essays are believed to be the works of early Munchkinlander Unionists. And—”

“Enough, Miss Elphaba,” snapped Morrible. “You’ve made your point. But seeing as I’m the one with a masters in education and literature, we will be studying the things that I see fit to study. Now, are there any other questions, or can I move on?”

The class shifted, most of them obviously not caring one way or the other. Elphaba sat back in her seat, crossing her arms over her chest, but Crope muttered something under his breath, and Tibbett had to cover his mouth to stifle his giggle, and she found herself smirking as Morrible went on.

Her good mood lasted throughout the rest of the class. Morrible gave them a reading assignment, looking directly at Elphaba while she did so, as if daring her to object. But Elphaba just stared back, and the bell rang before anything else could happen.

“Yep,” Tibbett said happily as he stood and picked up his bag. “It’s going to be a good year.”

Elphaba almost agreed.

“Hey…Elphaba?”

Almost.

The class was rushing out the door past her, but Elphaba half-turned. Glinda was there, looking just as unsure as she had sounded. Elphaba stared at her, speechless.

Glinda shuffled her feet. “I, uh…”

“Elphie, come on!” Crope called from the doorway. “Boq is saving us seats at lunch.”

Elphaba turned and followed him out of the room, not looking back once.

“What was that about?” asked Crope.

“No idea,” she muttered. “Did she look scared to you?”

“Just a little.” Tibbett nudged her. “Hey, maybe she’s afraid you’ll blow her up in biology.”

“Tempting.” They reached the cafeteria, already overflowing with students, but Boq had his stuff scattered over one end of a table and waved them over.

“So, how was literature?” he asked as they all sat down, and Crope told him about Elphaba’s argument with Morrible. A couple minutes later, Glinda walked into the cafeteria. She was standing straight, her head tilted slightly up and her hair falling perfectly over her shoulders. She went over to her usual group of friends, smiling winningly at anyone who waved at her as she passed.

Elphaba realized she was staring and quickly returned her attention to her own table.

“Oh, and Glinda talked to Elphaba,” said Tibbett.

Boq nearly choked on his milk. “What?”

“Tried,” said Elphaba. “She tried to speak to me. Barely said more than my name. It’s not a big deal.”

“Was she… I mean, she wasn’t trying anything, was she?”

“She looked scared,” Crope said. “Or nervous?”

“I’d say nervous.” Tibbett elbowed Elphaba. “Maybe you should hear her out.”

“No thanks,” she said, pushing herself up from the table. “I’m gonna get food, instead.”

“But the line’s so long,” Crope groaned. Tibbett perked up.

“Hey, we’re juniors. We can leave campus for lunch.” He grabbed Crope’s arm. “Wanna go get pizza?”

Boq poked at his own food. “If you do that now, you’ll never eat in the cafeteria again. You’ll be broke by the second month.”

“He’s right,” said Crope. He turned to Tibbett. “So, gas station pizza or the real stuff from downtown?”

“Gas station. I don’t feel like driving.”

“Sweet. Bye Boq!”

Boq looked up at Elphaba, who had returned with her tray. “Please don’t leave me.”

“No worries. I can settle for disgusting cafeteria meals.” She sat down and cracked open her milk carton. “What do you have the rest of the day?”

“Dillamond’s science elective, then history.”

“Study hall in the library, right?”

“Yep. Crope and Tibbs are in there, too.”

Elphaba gave a short laugh. “Are they, though? Will we ever actually see them?”

“Now? Yes. After rehearsals start next week? No, never.”

She nodded. “Sounds about right.”

“Was Nikidik bad?”

“Nah, you don’t do much.”

“Oz, I love syllabus days. You think Dillamond will do something next hour?”

Elphaba shrugged, but she smiled a little. “We’re going early to get seats in the front, just so you know.”

“You nerd.”

“You are not wrong.”

“Good thing we don’t have lab partners in this one, huh?”

She made a face. “Do you think he’ll let us switch? I know you’re just dying for a chance to work with the beautiful Glinda Upland.”

“Oh, shut up. No. He definitely wouldn’t.”

“Hm. What are the odds of me convincing her not to show up to class all year?”

“I don’t think Dillamond would buy that, either.”

“It’s worth a shot.”

Boq rolled his eyes. “You’re overreacting.”

“Am I though?”

“Yes. Now let’s go. Front row seats, right?”

Elphaba grinned and stood, taking her tray with her. “Don’t sound so exasperated. I know you’re just as excited as I am.”

They walked to the front of the cafeteria to dump their trays. Elphaba couldn’t help but glance at Glinda as she passed her table, but if Glinda noticed her, she gave no reaction.

-

Elphaba felt better about the rest of the day. She left Dillamond’s classroom in high spirits, and her good mood lasted through the next two hours. Her last class, math, was full of studentss she barely knew, and she was perfectly fine with it. While the teacher, a young Boar named Mrs. Lenx, went over the syllabus and their first lesson, Elphaba flipped through the textbook and worked on that night’s assignment. By the time the bell rang and she made her way to the library for her study hall, she had nothing to do but sit with the boys and enjoy her latest book.

Boq came in shortly after her and dropped his bag on the table. “I’m bored,” he announced, sitting beside her. “I have nothing to do.”

“Cool,” Elphaba said, not looking up. “Go grab a book or something.”

“Any suggestions?”

Elphaba shrugged. “Go ask Oatsie.”

“Are you kidding? She scares me.”

“Still?” She looked at him, amused. “She’s harmless.”

“That’s because she adores you.”

“Elphie, Elphie!” Tibbett bounced into the library, Crope at his heels. “You’ll never guess who we saw walking into the art room after lunch.”

“The Kumbric witch,” Elphaba said flatly. She glanced up. “No? The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The forgotten Ozma. Morrible’s long lost son.”

“Morrible has a long lost son?” Boq asked.

“Not that I know of,” said Elphaba, picking up her book again. Crope grabbed it and pushed it flat against the table.

“All wrong. It was one Miss Glinda Upland.”

Elphaba raised an eyebrow. “And this concerns me because…?”

Because she’s taking art as an elective!”

“So?”

“It is kinda weird,” Boq mused. “Isn’t her family all…rich and powerful and stuff? They’ve been pressuring her into business for years.”

Elphaba stared at him.

“What?” he demanded, cheeks reddening. “She’s a cheerleader, I’m in band. You hear things about each other. And it’s not exactly a secret.”

“He’s right,” Tibbett said. “Glinda’s been a future accountant or CEO or whatever since she was born.”

“I know, but how does one elective change that? She’s probably just looking for a blow-off class.” Elphaba propped her book up once more, but before it could recapture her attention, Glinda herself walked into the library. Without meaning to, Elphaba watched her sit down at a table and dig through her bag.

Crope tapped his fingers against the table. “Stop staring, guys. It’s creepy.”

Tibbett giggled and started pulling out his math book, while Boq blushed and rose to look through the fiction section. Elphaba busied herself with her book again, but the next time she looked up, Glinda had a sketchbook on the table in front of her, and she was hunched over it, her brow furrowed.

“See?” Tibbett said, noticing Elphaba’s gaze. “Art elective.”

Elphaba narrowed her eyes at him, then returned to her book one last time. “It still doesn’t mean anything.”

She was a little worried that Glinda would see her and try to talk to her again. The room was only half-full, and most people were talking enough to not pay attention to anyone else. But once again, Glinda didn’t acknowledge her. When the final bell rang, releasing them for the day, she already had her bag packed and was out the door in seconds.

“Hey, Elphie, when do you get out of practice?”

“Hm?” She shook herself, then turned to look at Boq. “4:30. Why? Need a ride?”

“Yes, please.” He shouldered his own bag. “If you can wait around a few extra minutes. Dad dropped me off this morning, but he needs the truck on the farm during the day. Bye guys, see you tomorrow.” They parted ways with Crope and Tibbett, who headed down the hall toward the front entrance.

“How late is your practice?”

“4:30, but we’ve got to pack up and make sure everything’s in order in the band room.”

They paused as the hallway split. “That’s no problem,” Elphaba said. “Meet you here?”

“See you then.” Boq headed toward the band room while Elphaba went to the locker rooms to change into her running shorts and tank top. The volleyball girls were starting to filter in, so Elphaba stuffed her bag beneath a bench and hurried outside to stretch with the rest of the cross country team.

A few of her teammates nodded or smiled at her, and a couple of the girls chatted with her about their first days. The boys’ team was doing more bragging than stretching, flexing their muscles and pulling ridiculous poses for the girls to giggle at.

“Do they really think flirting will get them anywhere?” one girl whispered to Elphaba. “I mean, look at Reg. I’ve seen him puke at the end of a race. He’s got no chance.”

Elphaba smirked. Reg saw and, blushing furiously, went back to stretching.

“Alright,” said Coach Burq. “Short route today, since it’s so hot. And boys, no underwear runs, I don’t care how excited you are to be back in school.” The boys all groaned dramatically. A few wiggled their eyebrows at the girls. Coach went on, “I’ll be a few minutes behind you all. When everyone’s back, we’ll go through uniforms, okay?”

They took off. Elphaba soon found herself at the front of the group, setting a steady pace. They headed down the road behind the school, running toward the even brick houses and dead-end streets on the north of town.

Elphaba’s teammates slowly started falling behind, one-by-one until there was only a few of them left at the front, including Reg and the girl who had talked to Elphaba. This could be the year, she thought, thinking of the second place medal that was tucked safely into her desk drawer at home. The wind picked up, chilling her skin nicely, and she found herself falling into the steady, peaceful rhythm of feet against the pavement and heavy, even inhale-exhales.

She was still in the front cluster when they arrived back at the school. Everyone went inside the lobby to stretch, desperate to get out of the afternoon sun. As their coach came in and started giving announcements, they could hear the muffled sound of the band practicing, probably marching around the other side of the building.

At 4:30 Elphaba was in the hallway outside the band room, standing directly beneath an air vent. She could see a few of the older band members—Boq included—moving through the room, straightening chairs and putting up music stands.

“You look gross,” Boq said when he came out a few minutes later.

“Running does that to you.”

“I’ll never understand you cross country people.”

“Hey, it’s better than those ridiculous marching uniforms.”

He made a face. “We have to sort them tomorrow morning. It’s going to be hell.”

They exited through the back doors, squinting in the sunlight. Elphaba’s tiny, dusty, baby blue pickup was a couple rows back, baking in the heat. Boq waited while Elphaba keyed in and unlocked his door from the inside.

“Have I mentioned that I love your stupid truck?” he asked as he climbed in. “Because I love it.”

“It’s a piece of shit.” She sounded proud as she cranked down her window. Boq tried to do the same, but it stuck halfway down.

“Oh, you’ve got to be kidding. It’s too hot for this.”

Elphaba cackled and started the truck. “Like I said. Piece of shit.”

Boq sat up as tall as he could and raised his face above the window, trying to catch some breeze as they drove out of the parking lot. “How was practice?”

“Good.”

“Think you’ll get first this year?”

Elphaba snorted. “It’s the beginning of the season. How should I know?”

“Fair enough. Nessa’s still here, right?”

“Mhm. Until this weekend.”

“How’s everyone handling it?”

Elphaba turned onto the highway, shifting gears as they sped up. “Nessa is excited, Nanny is complaining, but you can tell she’s also excited, and Shell couldn’t care less.”

“And Frex?”

“Oddly quiet.”

“Maybe it hasn’t hit him yet.”

“Probably.”

Boq looked over at her. “And what about you?”

“I’m waiting for his freak out.”

“That’s not what I meant. How are you handling it?”

She shrugged. “I’ll be glad once the packing’s done.”

“That’s not really an answer.”

“Did you seriously expect one?” She looked at him, grinning toothily.

Boq sighed. “I suppose not. It doesn’t matter. I’ll know even if you don’t tell me.”

“Oh? Can you read minds now?”

“Nope. You’re just not as secretive as you always think.”

She made a face out the windshield, and Boq laughed.

“Sorry to disappoint you.”

“Whatever. You just have an advantage because you’ve known my family forever.”

“You’re not wrong. By the way, my mom wants Nessa’s school address.”

“Oh my god, is your mother going to send her care packages?”

“That’s what she says, but I’m pretty sure it’s just so she can keep gossiping with Nanny.”

They turned off the highway, and the pavement turned quickly to gravel.

“I’ll get it to her,” Elphaba said. “Nanny will love it. She keeps grumbling about having nothing to do.”

“But secretly she’s excited?” Boq asked, smiling.

“Oh yeah. I’ve seen pictures of the dorm room. They’ll be living in luxury. Not to mention that she’s just super proud.”

“I still think this school sounds weird.”

“It definitely is.” Elphaba made a face again, turning down the narrow, winding road that was Boq’s driveway. “They’re all about religion and refinement. Not a fan.”

“I still can’t believe Frex wanted you to go there.”

“Ha. Yeah. But that was ages ago, before I was a total lost cause.”

They came up on an old white farmhouse, and Boq unbuckled and grabbed his bag.

“Thanks for the lift.”

“What else am I going to do, make you walk? You’d pass out on the side of the highway and we’d never see you again.”

He grinned at her and hopped out of the truck. “See you tomorrow, Elphie.”

She fluttered her fingers at him, idled in the driveway until he was through the door, then reversed and turned back toward the road.

Elphaba didn’t live far from Boq. In a couple minutes she was in her own driveway. The Thropp house was only a little older than Boq’s, but it was also bigger with better upkeep. At the beginning of the driveway, bolted to a small boulder surrounded by flowers, was a bronze plaque that read, “Historic Manor of the Thropp Family.”

Elphaba usually ignored it.

She carefully pulled her truck off the gravel and into the patch of dirt that served as her parking spot, then lifted the center console and slid across the seats to get to the passenger window. She pulled at the stuck crank, then reached up and jiggled the window itself. With some effort, it pulled loose and jerked down. Elphaba cranked it back up, then scooted back and did the same to her side.

“Stupid truck,” she said fondly, grabbing her bag from the back and stepping out.

All appeared to be calm as she walked into her house. Elphaba dropped her bag in her room, thinking. Shell might be on the bus still. Frex, if he was here, would be in the study upstairs.

No one had heard her come in. Elphaba debated quietly closing the door and staying in her room. She doubted she could get away with it though. Instead, she went down the hall to Nessa’s room.

“Hell and Oz. Did you get hit by a tornado?”

“Watch your mouth,” Nanny said cheerfully, tossing clothes out of the closet and toward the bed. “And come start folding.”

Elphaba did as she was told, stooping to pick up the piles of garments that covered the floor. “We need to work on your aim, Nanny.”

“Good afternoon, Fabala,” said Nessa. “The sass isn’t necessary.”

“Just trying to make a boring job more fun,” said Elphaba. She sat on the bed next to Nessa. “How much do you have left to do?”

“After the closet, all my clothes will be packed.” Nessa looked around the room. “After that, I’ll just need to go through my bookshelf. Nanny and I are going to town tomorrow to buy a few things, too.”

“Sounds like you’re getting close.”

“Don’t you think it.” Nanny’s voice was muffled. She reemerged from the closet, her arms full of dresses. “As soon as you think it, you’ll remember ten other things you have to do.”

Elphaba rolled her eyes and stuck the pile of pants she had folded into an open suitcase on the floor. “Is Frex here?”

Nessa narrowed her eyes. “Dad went to the hospital to pray with the Valeson family before Dema’s surgery.”

“How was your first day, Fabala?” Nanny asked.

“Fine. Nothing eventful happened.”

“Yeah, right,” said Nessa. “With you, something eventful is always happening.”

“I had a perfectly average first day of junior year, thank you very much.”

Nessa eyed her for a long moment, then shrugged her shoulders. “If you say so. Will someone get me a pillow? My back is starting to hurt, and I want to lean back.”

“Don’t slouch,” Nanny chided as Elphaba propped a couple of pillows between Nessa and the wall.

“Oh, hush, Nanny. I’ll get enough of that at the academy.”

“‘The academy?’” Elphaba snorted. “You sound so pretentious.”

“That’s what it’s called,” Nessa said. “The Emerald Academy for Young Ladies.”

“Also known as The Academy for Rich, Privileged Girls to Become Even More Rich and Privileged.”

“It’s a tradition,” Nessa snapped. She tipped to the side, but Elphaba caught her and set her back against the pillows. “The Thropp women have attended the academy for centuries.”

“Yeah, we also ruled Munchkinland for centuries, but you don’t see that happening anymore.”

Nessa opened her mouth to argue, but Nanny clicked her tongue, cutting them both off. “Less bickering, more packing, if you please.”

Nessa slumped against her pillows, scowling. Elphaba snapped a shirt at her, then folded it and tossed it into a suitcase.

“Lighten up, Nessie. A couple more days and you won’t have to deal with me anymore.”

“Oh, so morbid,” Nanny said, carefully folding Nessa’s socks. “We’ll be back for holidays, before you even know it. Besides, little Miss Nessarose here already says she’ll miss you like crazy.”

“Nanny!” Nessa blushed, but Elphaba just grinned and kissed the side of her forehead.

“No worries, little Miss Nessarose. I’m sure I’ll miss you, too. Once or twice.”

They heard the front door open, accompanied by the thump of a bookbag hitting the floor. “Hey, is anyone home?”

“Nessa’s room,” Elphaba called. Shell came bounding in, grinning wide.

“Guys, middle school is so cool. My locker is right next to Mikau’s, and I have, like, four classes with Daffi.”

“Boq’s little sister?” asked Nessa. Shell nodded, his ears turning red as he did so. 

“Did you sit by her in any of these, like, four classes?” Elphaba asked, smirking.

“Well, no. I sat by the guys.”

“Did you by chance say hi?”

“No…” Shell shuffled his feet. “So, Nessa, how’s the packing?”

“I’m going to wash up,” said Elphaba. “Hang in there, Shell.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

But Elphaba just stood and left, ruffling Shell’s hair as she went by him.

“Shell, dearie,” she heard Nanny say as she walked down the hall. “Come help me fold these shirts.”