Table of Contents
“Zephyr!” Mercedes points straight at me, her eyes wild.
I am freaking out. I’ll have to make a run for it. Get away. Hide in the subway like a rat. But what if I get caught? Where will they take me? What will they do to me?
“What about her? ” Ari demands.
“The ELPH camera! ” Mercedes yells.
At the mention of the word “elf ” I spring to my fingers and toes in a runner’s stance. When I hear the word “camera” I scan the room for recording devices, then locate the doors, planning my escape, praying I can outrun whatever surveillance they’ll use to track me so I can get home in time to warn my family. We’ll have to flee. This is terrible. My mom and dad were right. This was too much for me to handle. I should’ve never thought I could be normal. Now I’ve ruined everything. Just as I push into my feet to take off, I slip on a paper napkin and wind up sprawled on the floor like a squashed bug.
Ari grabs my arm and pulls me up. “Perfect!” he yells. He looks deeply into my eyes. “Zephyr,” he says urgently. I squint, turn my head away, afraid of what he’ll say. “Do you have an agent?”
I open one eye and peek at both Ari and Mercedes, who are inches from my nose. “Huh?” I ask, trying desperately to figure a way out of this mess. This is the time when knowing how to lie would come in handy. Or being able to cast a backward timespell. But since I can’t do either, I’m stuck.
other books you may enjoy
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 345 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.
Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4P 2Y3
(a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)
Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
Penguin Ireland, 25 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd)
Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia
(a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd)
Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park,
New Delhi - 110 017, India
Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0632, New Zealand
(a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.)
Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue,
Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa
Registered Offices: Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
Published by Speak, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2009
Copyright © Heather Swain, 2009 All rights reserved
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA
Me, my elf, and I / by Heather Swain.
Summary: Zephyr, a fifteen-year-old elf, moves with her family from
their home in the Michigan forests, determined to adjust to living in
Brooklyn among humans so that she can attend the Brooklyn Academy of
Performing Arts High School.
eISBN : 978-1-101-03285-5
[1. Elves—Fiction. 2. Identity—Fiction. 3. Self-actualization (Psychology)—Fiction.
4. Interpersonal relations—Fiction. 5. Conduct of life—Fiction. 6. High schools—Fiction.
7. Schools—Fiction. 8. Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)—Fiction.] I. Title.
The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume
any responsibility for author or third-party Web sites or their content.
Many thanks to Jennifer Bonnell, Kristin Gilson,
and their fabulous team at Puffin/Speak,
plus Stephanie Kip Rostan and
Monika Verma for all their help.
4 LJ + Em. BFF. Thnx.
“ARE YOU LOST ? ”
The man is big. Bigger than any other man I’ve ever seen in my life and for a moment I can’t say anything. My grandmother, back in Alverland, would call this man an ogre, even though he’s the only person out of all the people rushing past me in this subway station nice enough to notice that I’m completely confused.
Everyone else just jostles on by, jabbing me with elbows and banging me with overstuffed shoulder bags. I feel as if I’m caught in the middle of a moose stampede during a forest fire. (Only instead of being surrounded by burning trees, I’m in a smelly underground passage with dirty walls covered by advertisement posters for a million things I’ve never heard of.) I hug my bag to my chest and nod without making a sound. The man leans down closer to me. It’s not just that he’s tall. I’m used to tall people. Everyone in my family is tall. He’s also wide, soft, pillowy. I think of sinking into my grandparents’ large goose-feather bed with my brothers and sisters and cousins surrounding me, anticipating my grandmother telling us a tale about giants and ogres.
The man’s skin is dark, too, and I’m captivated. Everyone in Alverland is fair. Our hair is light and straight and our eyes are almost always green. Drake, my father, who’s been out of Alverland more than anyone else, told us that there are many kinds of erdlers (that’s what we call people who aren’t from Alverland) and you can judge them based only on their actions, not on how they look. So I know I shouldn’t stare at this guy. Or any of the people rushing past me. Especially because I know how it feels to be different.
“Where are you trying to go?” he asks.
It’s bad enough that I took the wrong subway three times. I mean, how was I supposed to know? I’d never even ridden a bus before today. But now that I’m finally at the right station, I can’t find my way outside. I unclutch the piece of paper wadded in my fist and show it to him. I clear my throat and try out my voice. “The Brooklyn Academy of Performing Arts High School,” I tell him, but the words come out tiny, as if I’m six years old. Great, my first time alone in Brooklyn and I can’t even talk like a regular fifteen-year-old girl. How will I ever make it through a day of high school?
He takes the paper from me and studies it with a frown. “Never heard of it,” he mumbles, and I think he’ll walk away, leaving me stranded forever. I wonder if I give up now, could I find my way back to our house near the park? Tell my mom and dad that they were right. I’m not ready for a regular school. I should let them teach me at home like they wanted to in the first place.
Then the man looks up and nods. “But I do know this street, Fulton Avenue. Come on. I’m walking that way. I’ll show you.” He takes off and I hesitate. Everyone back in Alverland warned us not to talk to strangers, never to go with people we don’t know, and to keep to ourselves. But this guy has my paper with the school’s address on it. So I force my legs to move and I skitter after him, weaving through the rushing people in this dingy underground passage.
He leads me to a stairway and I can see sunlight again, although the air doesn’t smell any cleaner up there than it does down here. I press my sleeve over my nose and mouth to keep from gagging on the car fumes. He takes the steps two at a time and I run to keep up with him. He glances over his shoulder and smiles kindly at me.
“New to the city? ” he yells over the roaring traffic. I see him chuckle.
“Yeah,” I yell back, defeated. “First day of high school.”
“Sheez.” He shakes his head. “Rough start. But it’ll get better.” He points to a street packed with cars, trucks, motorcycles, blue-and-white buses, and bicycles. A flood of people spill out of the underground stairways. Like ants on a mission, scurrying over rocks, past sticks, through gullies just to get their crumbs, the people keep moving along the crammed sidewalks, across the streets, and into the hulking buildings surrounding us. He and I join this throng and I realize that his size is a plus because at least I won’t lose sight of him. On the opposite corner he stops and points. “This is Fulton Avenue. The address says four thirty-six, which has to be down this way on the left side. If you get lost, ask somebody. New Yorkers aren’t rude. They’re just in a hurry, but somebody’ll always help you if you ask.” He hands me my piece of paper and walks off into the crowd.
“Thank you!” I yell after him. “Thank you for helping me!” I wave my paper over my head as he disappears beneath the shadows of skyscrapers. Then I’m alone again in the middle of hundreds of people. For a moment I consider zapping everyone around me with a hex, maybe some kind of skin pox or limping disease of the knees so that they’ll all fall down moaning and I can step over them, one by one, as if walking on rocks across a stream to find my way to school. But of course I don’t. First of all, I’m not really old enough to hex an entire crowd of moving people, and secondly, my mother warned me, No magic in Brooklyn!
I finally find the school, but I’m late, of course, even though I left my house hours earlier. In Alverland, nothing is more than a ten-minute walk away, so spending this much time getting anyplace seems absurd. Standing in the middle of the empty hallway I wonder why I insisted, fought, begged, bartered, made promises, and endlessly cajoled my parents into letting me attend public high school in a new place. Am I out of my mind? Did somebody put the donkey hex of stupidity on me? I thought this was going to be easy. All I’d have to do is dress like an erdler and I’d fit right in. As if I could waltz into this school, playing my lute, and everything would be fine. Obviously I’m an idiot.
I’m about to turn around and head out the big green doors of the school. Back into the chaotic, smelly street, where I’ll probably wander around lost for years before I find my way to the subway, let alone all the way home. I’m about to chuck it all, tell my parents they were right, and hole up for the rest of my existence in my new cramped bedroom at the top of the stairs in our house, when someone says, “Why are you out of class?”