Did he really just say that to the sun? Nuria asks herself, the heat in her cheeks flaring up. When Professor Reddic looks down at her, his jocund grin makes her turn away out of embarrassment. Maybe I shouldn’t be walking right next to him? What if that was meant to be private?
“Having second thoughts?” Professor Reddic whispers.
While avoiding eye contact, Nuria replies, “No.”
“I’d understand you better if you stayed honest. As my only volunteer student, you’d be alone most nights. Surely you’d miss your friends.”
Nuria faces the rest of their procession. Neth leads their march while addressing the reporters. Most cameras follow him too, but a couple join the more curious students in watching the phoenix and her brand-new professor. Nuria reciprocates the gazes to Rum, Shuri, and Tyra, giving the first two reassuring nods, but yet another glare to the latter. She looks Reddic in the face and says, “I’m all in, just like I said before. You’ll have a class this year.”
Reddic breaks out with hearty laughter. “And what an interesting year it’ll be.”
Nuria looks forward once more, using her peripheral to observe her new professor. He looks pleased with the outcome, even though nobody else followed the phoenix’s lead and volunteered after she did. He betrays nothing to the contrary and in fact, his confidence grows the closer they get to the luggage carts in the corner of the courtyard.
“Here is where our students have one final chance to select their class for the year,” Neth says. “Professor Reddic, perhaps you’d like one more opportunity to explain your class’s mission?”
Nuria swiftly takes the chance to mine for gold within Reddic’s reaction, hoping his confidence is due to some brilliant strategy. Maybe he’ll persuade Rum this time.
Reddic shakes his head with a smirk. “No, thank you, sir.”
“Very well,” Neth says before addressing the student body. “If you’ve made up your mind, come and stand beside where your belongings rest. If any others wish to join the Ibri class, grab your bags, and gather around Professor Reddic.”
Nuria hangs back while the majority of her peers follow Neth’s instructions. Her mood sours more and more as more and more students stay beside their suitcases. She’s flummoxed by Reddic’s unwavering positivity in response to the same. How does his smile never falter? I thought it did before, but maybe I was wrong.
“You should go and grab your bags,” he tells the phoenix. “I still have one more presentation for you, after all.”
“And what would that be?”
“The house tour, of course.”
Nuria nervously scratches at her wings. The ornate trunk and its owner are still adjacent to her bags.
“Shall I retrieve them for you?” Reddic offers.
“No. I can handle it. Be right back.”
Nuria takes a swift, deep breath before advancing to clear her mind and expression of all vestiges of anger, lest the cameras gleam the animosity between her and Tyra. When Tyra smiles at her in response to her soft countenance, Nuria fights even harder to keep it up. Don’t you smile at me, the phoenix thinks. As she bends down to grab her suitcase, she voices the thought.
“Sorry, got to go,” Nuria cuts her off hastily, swinging her backpack over one shoulder after her wings refuse to cooperate. She makes it back to Reddic’s side just as Neth and Stark do.
“Okay, everyone, you’ve all made your decisions. No matter the class, I know that each one of our professors have a many great lessons prepared. You’re all dismissed from my charge and shall follow your professors to your respective houses. As for our media guests, if you’d please follow me one more time.”
Neth leads the way for the reporters, Stark bringing up the rear. Nuria starts to march alongside Reddic as they did before when a hand on her shoulder puts her nerves on high alert. She slowly comes face to face with her brother.
“I don’t want you to be mad later, so I’m sorry for not joining with you,” he says.
Nuria smiles wanly and shakes her head. “It’s okay. I joined on a whim myself.”
“I’ll explain later. See you for dinner?”
“Deal. See you later!” Rum says before racing to catch up with his class.
Nuria does the same and runs smack into Reddic.
“Where’s the fire?”
“Oh,” she says with a flush, “I thought you’d gone on ahead.”
“Nah,” he replies as he resumes his march, making certain Nuria’s in step with him. “It wouldn’t do much good to leave my only student behind on day one.”
“Thanks, I guess.”
“So, who was that young man?”
“My brother. We’ve had some bad arguments recently, and he wanted to make sure we didn’t get into another one,” Nuria explains.
“Was that a smart move? I was an only child, so sibling politics are lost on me.”
Nuria chuckles. “It was smart. Actually he- wait a second.” She reaches behind her back to scratch at her wings again.
“What’s going on back there?”
“I’m…not quite…sure,” Nuria groans as her itchiness grows. “My wings…never…usually…do this!” She nearly falls forward when her wings abruptly sink into her skin. Reddic steadies her with a firm grip on her shoulder. “Thank you.”
“Not a problem,” he says. “Your wings, that is. Avinians around your age often deal with some kind of power control issue. In time, it’ll subside.”
“I hope so,” Nuria mumbles, tired of powers putting her in embarrassing positions.
“Ah, here we are,” Reddic cheers.
They come upon a three-story cabin built into an expansion in the campus’s northwestern corner, the onyx gate on the perimeter pushed back to make a small alcove. A small shed resides in the alcove, built into the onyx gate. Nuria mouths “Wow” as she and Reddic bypass the reporters, though he pivots to address them.
“Welcome, one and all, to Ibri House! This magnificent building is dedicated to all the Ibri studying here at Four Hearts Academy! Inside, I will show you all the amenities I have prepared for them to enjoy. However, once the tour begins, I will only respond to questions coming from my one and only pupil, Nuria.”
Reddic pushes the double doors open, the word “Ibri” engraved in the silver-coated wood, “Ib” in the left door, and “ri” in the right. Nuria enters first and marvels at the room before her, her head on as much of a swivel as Neth and Stark’s. As Reddic captions the details of the room for the reporters, Nuria follows with her eyes. The seating options in the lounge and fireplace cozy, separated by a few steps, are silver, from the couch to the loveseats. The peach pillows in the lounge match the walls and hardwood floor. To the far left are a fully outfitted kitchen and two pairs of washing and drying machines side-by-side. The couch and loveseats in the lounge surround a circular table. The fireplace built into the northern wall is comprised of silver bricks, the chairs around it arranged in a semicircle.
“So, as you can see, I’ve prepared a true home environment for my class. The fireplace is for more casual get-togethers, which is only a hop and a skip from the lounge, where I encourage my student to do her homework.” He winks at Nuria before falling silent, and the young lady catches on that he’s awaiting questions after the media posse.
Nuria can feel the impatient stares aimed at her back, but decides to take her time going over the room a second time. The moment her question comes to mind she vocalizes it. The murmurs from the media posse tell her she’s not giving them what they want. “Shouldn’t the washer and dryer be in the basement?”
“Normally, yes, but some of the lesson plans I have in store will require the use of your powers, and there’s less risk of visitors getting hurt if we conduct them in the basement. Come,” Reddic says.
Nuria drops her suitcase by one of the couches, then follows behind him with a sudden jolt of excitement. A set of parallel staircases meet on the eastern wall, and Nuria races ahead of Reddic to the basement. Unlike the first floor, the space is divided into two rooms. The one closest to the stairs is a classroom with the same walls and floor as the room above. Six desks face a blackboard, opposite a bookshelf with six copies of each textbook it contains, from topics like botany and vocabulary. Behind a glass wall is another room, and Nuria presses her hands and face against the glass to see a large, spherical exercise mat in the middle of a dusty, earthen floor. The walls beyond the glass wall are exposed brick barriers, a pair of windows in the high corners to allow sunlight to pour inside.
“Now, this is cool!”
“Glad you approve,” Reddic says as he joins her at the glass. “Would you like to go inside?” He gestures to the glass door connecting the two rooms.
“Not right now,” Nuria says as she sneaks a dirty look at the reporters.
Reddic’s hearty laugh returns. “Yes, their presence is a bother. Then, allow me to speed this up and get them out of here. For both our sakes,” he whispers. “This is where my tutelage will occur. I have textbooks on the core subjects of language, science, math, and history. The area behind this glass wall is for more physically taxing assignments. The glass itself has tensile strength enough to withstand a car crashing into it to provide maximum safety for students observing. The student residences up on the second floor are quite nice, but perhaps you’d like a closer look at the exercise room, first.”
Nuria peels away from the cameramen as they move in to film the exercise room. She hears Neth call for Reddic, but before she can commit to listen in, the reporters swarm her and all hand her index cards.
“Can you ask him this for me?” one asks.
“And mine as well,” asks another.
“Do ask mine first?”
“Remember that I asked first.”
“I asked more politely.”
Nuria hesitantly accepts the index cards. “I’ll see what I can do.” She skims through the cards and few of the questions give her cause for concern, such as “How do you intend to deliver a fulfilling learning environment with one student?”, “Why didn’t you give this tour prior to your volunteer call?”, “How do you plan to enrich one student’s life when that’s the sum total you could entice properly?” The questions hammer it into Nuria how alone she’ll be this year. By the time her hands flare-up, she decides to let them burn, the index cards turning to ash in the process. She tucks her flaming hands under her arms, setting her own shirt ablaze as she races past the startled professor and reporters, Neth, and Stark. She ignores their calls as she races to the second floor.
She barges into the room with a female gender symbol on the front and charges straight to the restroom at the very back. She shakes her hands free of flames, then dumps her burning shirt into the sink and rinses it free of all embers. Her tears fall into the sink to aid the faucet in dousing her shirt. It takes time to dry her eyes.
Get a grip, Nuria. It’s day one. You don’t have time for this. She pulls her damp shirt from the sink. Two gaping burn holes have eaten into the armpits of the shirt. Another first day, another ruined shirt.
A rapping at the bathroom door alarms Nuria briefly. “Are you okay?” Reddic asks gently. “If it was because of the reporters, I sent them off with Headmaster Neth and the officer.”
Nuria tries to sniffle quietly. “It wasn’t them.”
There’s a pause, then he asks again, “Are you okay?”
Nuria pulls the damp shirt over her head. My inner phoenix trusts him. I should, too. She steps out into the bedroom and finds Reddic leaning against the nearest bed to her left, her suitcase next to him. She goes and sits on the edge of the bed opposite him. She expects to see disappointment and judgment in his eyes when she raises her head, but he only shows the same jocund smirk. She gets the feeling he’ll wait as long as it takes for her to confess, and what’s crazy to the phoenix is that she wants to.
“I do have second thoughts,” she says. She expects him to press or to gloat, but he stays silent. “I don’t think this class won’t be worth it or anything like that. It’s just…there are some people I’ll miss being around.”
“Someone else. Someone I thought was my friend.”
“Ah, now I understand your power situation. You’re heartbroken.”
“Pretty much,” Nuria says casually, then blinks. She looks into Reddic’s face and his smile puzzles her. Is his constant smile getting to me?
“You know, I have the feeling things will resolve themselves.”
“What makes you so sure?”
“Because friends don’t always have to see eye to eye on everything. Take my best friends, for example. All of them urged me not to teach here when I first told them my goals. Now, they still have their reservations, but they support me regardless. In time, this person you thought of as a friend will come through for you.”
“Do your friends communicate their feelings honestly?”
“In brutal fashion, too,” Reddic says with a laugh. “Sometimes, it’s necessary.”
“I see.” Nuria lowers her head to reflect.
“Anyhoo, I think it’ll do you good to change into a dry shirt. Here, I brought your suitcase.” Reddic stands and extends the handle.
“No need. I know I lost control before, but check this out.” Nuria inhales slow and deep several times, regulating the heat throughout her body to gather just beneath the surface of her skin. As she exhales, waves of heat transfer from her body to her shirt, and the surge chases away all the excess moisture, the resulting condensation rising off her person. She flaps the now dry hem of her shirt. “See what I mean?”
Reddic’s hearty laugh does for her mood what she just did for her shirt. “Guess we won’t be needing those dryers after all.”