In the town of Sugar Hills, people are going about their business. Most are at work, or school for the youngsters. Some are out shopping. Pensioners sit on the benches in the park in the early autumn that is really still late summer, or if less adventurous they nurse a cup of coffee in the local café.
At a street corner, a woman looks briefly at her ring. It is not a wedding band; it is thin and silvery, with a small enameled plate bearing a simple symbol. She glances only briefly before she moves on. Nobody is likely to notice that here and there in the town, several others have the same type of ring. Otherwise, they may look different. This woman looks like a businesswoman with a bit expensive tastes. Nothing to draw attention, really, but she is certainly better dressed than most who are out and about in this town right now. This, and being a little shorter than usual, are the only things that stand out. But it may be too much.
She knew that Norway was a rich country, and that gender equality had come even further here than in most of the world. This businesswoman disguise seemed perfect. And with these fashionable sunglasses, nobody is likely to notice her slanted eyes. Even so, she is worried that she may attract too much attention. She does not let that worry show, though. She moves on with the dedicated steps of someone who knows her role in the world. Although the role she is playing is not her true role in the world.
In another age and another place she might have been called a ninja. Now, she is just a businesswoman, but her business is not quite like ordinary business. Like the others on her team, she is in Sugar Hills to ensure the safety and success of the Young Lady. If they fail, their lives are forfeit. She is bound by honor and duty to complete the task assigned to her, by any means necessary. She is not doing it alone, but each of them has their own task at any given time. And none of them intend to fail. Ever. For a member of their guild, failure is not an option.
"OK, this is just plain weird." The lunch club has convened again in its usual spot, and Tom is bringing up the great event of the day. "This is the second time in less than a week that a rich and pretty girl from another country transfers to our class."
"Smart too" adds Jonas. "She speaks English really well for someone from the opposite side of the planet."
"I don't like this at all" says Andrea. "They are not here to study, but to get close to Ben."
"I suppose that can't be helped." Ben doesn't seem too worried. "Since good things are supposed to happen around us Starborn, it makes sense that some people want to be near us. Although I don't think any special things have happened at this school except Roger not needing glasses anymore."
"Well, he was nearsighted as a mole" says Jonas.
"There are certainly more. I know of one girl in the B class, she always have horrible menstrual cramps, but the last time the pain disappeared as soon as she came close to the school. Just like that."
"She didn't say anything to me about it." Ben sounds mildly surprised.
"Ben! Girls don't talk to boys about their menses!"
"They don't? I didn't know."
"I don't know what's more disturbing, the fact that you don't know or that I'm talking about it."
"But you weren't talking about your menstruation, you were talking about another girl's."
"But even so. I guess it's because, well, you seem so innocent. Not like you would have any dirty thoughts even if we talk about things like that."
"Dirty? I know some old religions claim that menstruating women are ritually unclean, but it is a natural biologic function. Inconvenient, sure, and painful for some, but I would never refer to it as dirty."
"I think you just confirmed my theory. But to blend in with us humans, I still think you shouldn't bring the topic up unless someone specifically mentions it to you."
"Well" comments Tom, "it's not like Ben is a traditional healer, what with the laying on of hands and stuff."
"YOU, on the other hand, are NOT immune to dirty thoughts! Eww! I shouldn't even have brought it up with you two around."
"What?" Jonas sounds hurt. "I haven't said a word."
"As if I don't know you! But it can't be helped, I have to have you two around since I can't be alone with Ben."
"You can't be alone with me? Why not?"
"It is one of the things you just don't do. A boy is not supposed to be alone with a girl unless they are family or childhood friends or something."
"This is another unwritten rule, like don't talk about menstruations?"
"Yes, exactly the same sort."
"OK. It's a good thing I came to this school, I am learning a lot."
"That's why we all come here" says Jonas blandly. "To learn about girls."
The two new girls, Elizabeth Katharina Eleanore Von den Hoyenburgh and Takikawa Aiko, don't seem to bond all that well despite them both being transfer students from private schools abroad. They are also both obviously from very rich families, as evident from their clothes and the cars in which they arrive at school. Yet the looks they give each other are both cold and wary. Even more confusing however are the looks they give Ben, and they look that way often. Looks of admiration, of course – how could anyone not admire him? - but also nervousness. Tom is reminded of what Ben said: They are driven by obligation. He wishes he could simply tell them that this is a pointless way to approach Ben. But it would not matter, and it's not his place to tell people what Ben thinks anyway.
Trine would definitely have told them anyway. Trine would, in fact, definitely have told them off. Of this, Tom has no doubt.
"Another one! Will they just continue to pour in until the whole school is full of rich little bitches from all over the world?"
"Quite possibly. Jonas told me that house prices in Sugar Hills have doubled since school started. Everyone is hoping for some rich family trying to buy their way in."
"Not for the people who own the houses. I understand the Jensens and the Bergs got a small fortune for their homes, even though the houses were torn down as soon as they were out of them."
"They're destroying our town!"
"Now you see it too."
"But it's not the Starborns' fault! It's the rich bitches!"
"I'm not sure they even wanted to come here. I think they do it for their family. Or at least Ben said ..."
"You have talked with him? You call him Ben?"
"Well, uhm, you see, he has requested that people call him Ben. So we should respect his wish, right?"
"Squeee! That's so cute! Ben..."
"Actually he didn't request the whole world to say that, just his classmates. He ..."
"Don't shout. My ears hurt."
"You said he was in the parallel class, didn't you? You were lying again?"
"Well, I didn't technically lie."
"I said we were in the same wing."
"You didn't say you were in the same classroom!"
"I didn't say we were not, either."
"You were so lying! Why? Why did you do this to me?"
"Well, what would you have done if you knew I was in his class?"
"I would have had you ask him to sign a picture or something."
"See? He doesn't like that kind of thing. He does not want to be a celebrity. He is in this school just to make friends and learn to live with people."
"Well, I would like to be his friend too."
"Millions of girls all over the world would love to be his friend."
"But millions of girls don't have a brother in his class!"
"Still, what makes you so special? You are just an ordinary girl, not smart or pretty or anything."
"You're not exactly Robert Redford yourself. Or Einstein. Are you his friend?"
"Well, I guess I am."
"See? Why can you be his friend and not I?"
"Trine, you are underage."
"You are a boy!"
"Yeah, but I don't want to be more than friends."
"Well, I want to be friends too."
"Girls can't be friend with famous boys. Then they become girlfriends. You are too young to be a girlfriend."
"Why can't he decide that? Why you?"
"Because I go to his class because it is my class. You don't go to his class so you have no reason to meet him."
"Well, you could invite him home once. Jonas and Kristian have been out and in of this house as long as I can remember."
"Trine, you don't just invite Starborn or kings or presidents home to jump in the hay."
"You said he did not want to be famous, he wanted to have friends. Friends visit friends."
would faint if he came home with me anyway."
"That's beside the point."
it's not. Friends don't faint when they see friends. Friends don't
go 'squeee!' over friends. Friends don't have pictures of friends
all over their bedroom. Friends don't fall in love with
"Of course he will never love me. I'm not a total idiot. But I still want to be his friend. I still want to be as close to him as I can. Not because I am fantastic, I know I'm not. Because he is."
"You don't even know him!"
"That's what I want you to change!"
"If wishes were horses, we would all drown in horse manure. I just can't do it, OK?"