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Victor filled out the papers for the free meals and left. Mae spent the morning huddled with a counselor doing placement tests at a corner desk in a windowless room. She was glad to have this work, away from the green house. Her mind was addled; shocked from the travel and the father and his dreadful companion. The tests kept her from bemoaning her predicament. At least Omar seemed nice and perhaps the sisters would love her. If not them, who?

At noon she was walked to the cafeteria and given a card to swipe at the end of the lunch line. So much food and nothing to pay. This was the America they had gossiped about.

The counselor placed her at a table with some other eighth graders. She told them, "Girls, this is Princess Mae. She's a new student. I'm hoping you will make her feel welcome and show her the ropes."

The counselor introduced the girls by name. Princess listened closely and color-coded the names with the faces. The two black girls were Melea and Kenya, while the mixed-ones, with skin like hers, were Sofia and Martina. Yasmin was the girl with the head scarf and Emily was the white girl.

Each pushed enough to make some space for her at the table. The counselor continued, "Which of you girls are in Spectrum?" Kenya, Yasmin and and Martina put up their hands. "You have math after lunch, right? Princess Mae will be in your group. Can you guys take her under your wing and see she gets there? Mr. Robinson is expecting her."

Then she said kindly to Princess before leaving, "So, you think you're okay and ready to jump in? Martina will help you if you have any questions. My door is always open if you need anything."

Martina said to Princess Mae, "So what's with the Princess? You some kind of royal tribal girl or what?"

Princess Mae said quietly, trying not to be defensive, "No. It's just my name."

"That's weird," Melea said.

"Don't you even start," Martina warned Melea.  She was loud and sat forward and seemed to be always looking for a fight.   She told Princess, "Melea's got a sister named Neveah and a brother named Tre Kell.  She ain't got no business callin' out anyone else's weird-ass name."

"Where you from, Princess Mae?" Emily asked.

"The Philippines."

"Where's that?" Kenya asked.

Martina said, "You're so stupid, Kenya. The Philippines. It's like in Asia. Like Japan and China and dumb-ass places like that." Martina liked to generously sprinkle ass in her conversation.

"Well, she doesn't look Chinese," Kenya said.

Yasmin said, to clarify, "It's actually in the Pacific. It's an island nation, near Indonesia. Right, Princess Mae?"

Martina stepped in, "Whatever. It's over there near all them dumb-ass Asian countries."

Mae had been on edge since leaving Muntinlupa and even before then; for weeks and months. A whispy pod on fickle winds, she had lost all control of her life. But now the wind had tempered and she had fallen to the ground; rooting in this harsh environment among alien vines and grasses. At this table, lost and lonely no more, but just among girls; common in body and wonder.

And she did observe them with wonder. So different in carriage and rind; how she sought their protection. They welcomed her graciously, as surely she would have, had they been blown to a lunch table in Mutinlupa. They were blessed saviors provided by providence and she needed them more than they could ever know. This and the warmth of cafeteria food coating her innards; quenching the yearnings of perpetual hunger.

In the afternoon, more than one of her classmates snickered when she was introduced. Some boys teased in the hall. Bowing and saying, "Your highness."

When Martina saw it, she told one boy, "You know what, Terrell? You're just a big dummy. Why don't you get your dumb ass somewhere that ain't here?"

Some teacher in the hall cautioned, "Language..."

"He was being stupid to Princess, Mr. Reed. You're always telling us to us our words. I'm using my words."

"Use some different words," he told her, not really mad.

Despite the teasing, Mae was content with the day. She had new people – nice people – in her life again. She had books to bring home and homework to do; a purpose until she could escape the green house again. Her new friends scattered at the bell and Mae was left alone to walk home. Winter nights come fast when you can see Canada across the lake. Dusk was calling as she remembered the way home. She thought of her life in the Philippines and found herself blotting tears with her sleeve.

"Hey, your highness," she heard as she walked.

She didn't turn around, but did as her father had said. Keep walking and stay in plain sight.

"Hey, Princess. Slow down," the voice said again.

She kept walking and she could hear heavy lumbering footsteps coming up quickly.

"Princess Mae." The words came from right beside her now. It was Terrell, from before.

He was a big kid. Over a foot and a half taller and twice as wide. He had a fleshy face with puffy high brows and tight square-cut African hair. Overweight and awkward, he walked with a shuffle. His clothes were baggy and wrinkled. He told her, "I'm just messin' with ya, Princess. I didn't mean nothing."

"It wasn't very nice, you know. I'm new here," she told him.

"You're not crying, are ya?"

"I'm not crying about you, that's for sure."

"Awgghh, I didn't mean nothin'.  I was just teasing."  Terrell said all breathy, still huffing from catching up.

Mae kept walking and Terrell shuffled along beside her. She didn't tell him, but his enormous size, cheery cheeks and puffy smile made her feel safe.

"What street you live on?" he asked.

"Hmmm, I'm not sure," she said.

Terrell laughed, "How ya gonna get there if you don't know where you live?"

"I didn't say I didn't know where I lived. I just don't know the name of the street. I know how to get there."

He walked along with her, bragging mostly about how his brother played on the high school football team and about how he was going to play, too.  He pointed out places and people he knew along the way and he bragged about how much bigger he was than her. When Mae got to her house, she asked him, "Do you live around here?"

"Me? No, I live the other way. Up the other side of Niagara Street."

Princess looked at him truly amazed, "Well, what are you doing then?"

"I'm walking you home. Ain't nobody ever walked you home before?"

"No. Not here anyways," she said and skipped up the porch steps, leaving him on the street.

"Anyways, I wanted to see your palace. See you tomorrow, your highness," he laughed and shuffled back the other way.

Before she could reach the door, Omar had opened up. He had been watching, anticipating her arrival. He asked her, "Who was that kid?"

"Terrell.  He's in my class," Mae said, suddenly feeling better again.

"You best be careful around the brothers," Omar cautioned.

Sarah and Mary were sitting with tablets in front of the television and they both jumped up when Mae came through the door. 

"You're in big trouble," Mary said with a certain lording that could only come from Jinky.

"Yeah, Princess, you're in big trouble," Sarah added, just because.

Mae had no idea what they were talking about.

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