Tea at the café
As Elphaba walked swiftly across the courtyard with an armload of books, she spotted the new kid wandering across the lawn. He seemed unsure what to do with himself. She watched him as she mused silently to herself. A prince from the Vinkus? She knew little about the land beyond Shiz and Quadling Country, and also what she remembered of life in Munchkinland. As she watched him, he seemed to look in her direction, and the sun glanced off his hair. She looked away and did not look back again.
• • • • •
"Finally," Boq said as Elphaba dropped a load of books on the café table and sat down.
"Sorry," she replied, obviously lost in thought.
"What have you got for us today?" he asked her with a questioning glance.
She seemed not to have taken notice. "Well, the way Dr. Nikidik prattles on so, I don't suppose we will be discussing Animals anytime soon in his class. Is there any way you can get me one more book from the library?" her tone was steady, and yet she seemed uncertain.
"Elphie?" he said gently. "Are you alright?" He touched her lightly on the arm, but she drew it back and settled it instead on her lap.
"Fine," she grimaced. "Just… Boq, can you?"
"Yes, of course," he answered, more worried than ever.
"Well, I need to know about the--"
At that moment, someone came clambering through the door. It was the new kid, Fiyero, or something. Elphaba directed her gaze towards the door and stopped mid-sentence.
Boq gave her a questioning look, but she just shrugged and returned to her tea. Even after Fiyero had left a few minutes later, she would not pursue the conversation again. Something seemed to have knocked a stone in Elphaba's brain, and when an avalanche began, nobody could stop it.
After a few minutes of quiet, Elphaba got up to leave. He said goodnight and she waved to him distractedly over her shoulder. He sat for a couple of moments, lost in thought. Then he too got up and left.
The next morning, Boq walked into Dr. Nikidik's class and scanned the room for Elphaba. As usual, she sat near the back with her head in a book. The rest of the class, however, seemed slightly excited about something. They were huddled together in small groups, speaking quietly.
"What is it?" Boq asked Shenshen and Pfanee, who were seated in the front row.
"We're getting to see baby Animals today!" Shenshen squealed in an out-of-breath way.
"I see," Boq said quietly, and slumped off to the back of the room to join Elphaba.
As he sat down, he noticed that Elphaba looked rather still. The way she was sitting, she did not seem to be reading at all. She was listening. She glanced at him while he observed her and he raised his eyebrows. "In a minute," she said, waving him off.
Dr. Nikidik then proceeded to the front of the classroom and then students fell silent. "Today we will be discussing the difference between Animals and animals," he began, and Elphaba leaned slightly forward in her seat, eyes squinted in concentration.
"As an example, why don't we use… a Goat?" he said lightly.
Elphaba frowned slightly. "Why, I never…"
"What!" Boq said, exasperated.
"Shh!" she hissed back.
Doctor Nikidik then began by bringing two (A)nimals to the front of the room. One, he claimed to be a Goat, and the other, a goat. "Now," he asked, "Who can tell me which is which?"
Nobody answered. In face, nobody made a sound. It seemed as if the class was holding its breath, waiting for someone to be so brave as to speak. They could all detect the political message implied, though nobody (besides perhaps Elphaba) knew what had caused it.
Somehow, in waiting, Boq had failed to see Elphaba slide from the seat beside him. It was only when he turned to see what her reaction was to all of this that he noticed her gliding down the stairs to the front of the room. He groaned inwardly- was she always asking for trouble?
The class watched in awe as the green girl, who hardly spoke, walked towards Dr. Nikidik in silence. She paced around the (A)nimals and eyed them observantly.
"Neither of these is an Animal," she said quietly and quite plainly.
Dr. Nikidik gazed at her in a quiet way over his glasses. "If you could please go sit back down, Miss Elphaba."
Her face flushed a darker shade of green as she turned to return to her seat. He saw her mouth something, but was unsure as to what it was. As she sat back down, Boq stared at her, quite bewildered. He had no idea what was going on. He became even more confused when he saw the look on her face. She was quite obviously pleased about something.
"They're not animals," she whispered excitedly. "Doctor Nikidik didn't bring Goats. He's on our side after all."
She then returned her focus to the lesson. She smiled throughout the rest of the class. Somehow, he couldn't help but smile too.