Chapter 4: Foreign exchange

A week has passed, and Tom is getting used to the new way of things. The quarter-angel boy is still a bit overwhelming, although Ben really does his best to not take up too much space. Of course he knows the answer to every question. Of course he knows more than the teachers on every subject. But he doesn't show off, he does not answer unless asked, he watches the teacher with quiet dignity even though he doesn't need to. He is attending school, after all, so tries to be a good student without making the others look bad. Somehow he manages it. But just as the class is starting to settle into some kind of normalcy, they come to school on Monday and this happens.

"Class, I know this is a lot in such a short time. But we are getting another new student in our class, beginning today. Her family just moved to Sugar Hills, and the Board of Education has decided that she should join our class. Please welcome our new student, Elizabeth Katharina Eleanore Von den Hoyenburgh!"

The door is opened, and a girl steps in. She is slim, tan, and dressed in something that cannot possibly be meant to be school clothes. In fact, the dress looks like something out of a fairy tale. There is a stunned silence. She moves with a fluid grace, self-assured and clearly unfazed by attention. She turns to the class and her eyes immediately seeks out something. It is not hard to guess what. A moment later, when she sees him, her eyes grow wider for the first time. Tom knows that reaction. Even when people have seen Ben on IV and in the papers, they cannot possibly be prepared for the real thing. Although it seems that the other students never had quite that epiphany he had. They were still impressed, though. Who wouldn't be?

There are still a few free desks, and Elizabeth Katharina Eleanore is placed by the window. If she has any shorter name, she has not mentioned it. She glides over to her desk and sits down with royal dignity. Clearly this is no random middle class girl. So, her family just moved here? She doesn't at all look like the type of people who just move here.

It does not surprise Tom when, as soon as the bell rings for the first break, the new girl immediately walks over to Ben. "Mr. Starborn, I presume?" she says and curtsies. She looks every bit like a princess ... or rather an actress playing a princess. "I have heard so much about you! I hope we can become great friends." She has a very well modulated voices, probably she is a good singer as well.

Ben smiles the same smile he normally gives to anyone. "My friendship is free" he replies immediately, as if he had waited for this. "And it must be freely accepted."

The girl frowns momentarily, as if this was not at all what she expected to hear. Then the perfect smile is back on her face and stays there as she curtsies again and returns to her place.

In the lunch break, Tom and Ben and Andrea and Jonas converge on their favorite spot. After the first couple chaotic days, the three of them had found a nice and peaceful place and Ben had trailed along with Tom, who seems to have got the role of anchor in Ben's new world of high school. Most of the students are too much in awe to try to really befriend him after the first introduction, but Tom doesn't really have much choice. Quarter-angel or no, the guy is unfamiliar with high school life and needs people to hang out with. He is, after all, ¾ human as well.

"What's with that new girl?" muses Jonas. "She looks really out of place here."

"Did you see that silk dress?" asks Andrea. "It must have cost more than the rest of the clothes in the classroom put together!"

"So that was silk?" Tom is no expert on clothes, certainly not girls' clothes.

"Oh yes. Wildly expensive and certainly made by professional seamstresses."

"Wow. What's a girl like that doing in a place like this?" Tom can't resist the phrase.

"I think she did not come by her own free will" says Ben slowly.

"Huh?" "What?"

"Someone has instructed her. She was told what to do, what to say. Even to the point of coming here in the first place. There was a shadow of ... enforcement ... no, not quite that, but similar. Obligation. As if she owed it to someone."

Tom does not dispute it. He has no idea how Ben can just know things, but he probably would not understand even if the other explained. It's probably a Visitor thing.

But after school, as he walks the long road up the hillside, something catches his eye. He turns and looks. There, one of the houses at the very edge of town. Large cars are parked nearby, and the place is swarming with people. Most of them seem to be construction workers, and they have already excavated most of the lot and put down foundations. Now they are raising the skeleton of a much grander house, a villa the like of which Sugar Hills has not seen before. There must be well over a hundred workers there, swarming like ants, working at a frantic pace.

"Yeah, I heard it too!" Trine is excited. "I heard this billionaire had bought the Jensen's house and now they are replacing it with a real luxury castle! There's supposed to be lots of swimming pools and someone said there would be palm trees. Can you imagine, palms in Norway?! That's so crazy!"

"This smells fishy. Do you know what I think?"

"It's about Benjamin!"

"Exactly. I think she is here to try to sink her claws in him."

"That's awful!"

"It won't work though. He cannot be impressed by expensive stuff."

"Of course not!"

"Or by fine titles and long impressive names."

"Not at all!"

"You know what she's called? Elizabeth Katharina Eleanore Von den Hoyenburgh!"

"Ha ha ha! That's so ridiculous! Von den Hoyenburgh!"

"If they think a rich, pretty girl will impress him..."

"She's pretty??"

"Oh yes. Like a movie star. She's slim, tan, long dark tresses, expert makeup, the whole thing. Alright curves too."

"Cosmetic surgery no doubt."

"If so, it's well done. Looks very natural. It could be she's just born pretty. It happens to some people."

"That's not fair! People should not be both rich and pretty!"

"Actually it makes perfect sense, because rich people marry pretty people."

"That sucks!"

"Well, Ben was not impressed. He seemed to pity her."

"He did?"

"Oh yeah. He went like this: She doesn't really want this, she just has to do it."

"Then her heart is not in it."

"She'll still try to do whatever it takes to get him."

"She's not gonna make it, right?"

"Absolutely not. But what's it to you anyway? It's not like ... oh, forget it."

"I am just thinking about what is best for the world. We can't have rich greedy bastards corrupting the world's future."

"Uh huh. Well, sooner or later she'll give up on him."

"What? What are you thinking? You pervert! First 13 year old girls and now this! You would want to take advantage of a heartbroken girl? Besides, you're so not in her league. Farm boy!"

Girls. Just when you think you understand them...