The Queen’s eyes flickered over the swirling, icy rivers and white-blanketed forests of Winterland…all encased in her crystal viewing glass. A kemonomimi leapt into sight. Its rabbit ears perked up, testing for any sound of danger before it broke out into the permafrost field at a flat-out run. The Snow Queen curled her lips. She raised a slender finger, ready to crush the creature’s efforts with a flick of her wrist.
All of a sudden, she jolted from her throne.
The Queen narrowed her eyes at a new face emerging inside the sphere. The sprites swarmed her like a tempest; the chignon of her beautiful hair came loose, the strands whipping in a relentless wind.
It couldn’t be…not her.
I jolted in my own seat, dropping the Chemistry textbook that concealed my Winterland graphic novel as someone flounced past my shoulder. My eyes wandered away from my laptop, where I had spent the last half hour of lunch working on my Winterland fanfiction, to Olivia –aka resident Ice Queen of Charles Dodgson High.
Flipping her ombre locks behind her, Olivia waltzed across the library and sidled up to Andrew Lewis. I rolled my eyes as she peered at Mr. Popular-Jock through her mascara coated lashes and dangled a glittery card.
“So, I’ll see you there?” she asked, her voice rising so I could hear every word.
Of course, Olivia’s infamous holiday ball. Every year, snow or no snow, December 23rd rolled around, and everyone who was anyone would receive their snazzy invitation to the party of the year. Not that I knew any of that first hand. I hadn’t been invited in the past, and I certainly didn’t expect an invite to this one. But what happened next was something I couldn’t have predicted, even with a crystal globe.
Andrew winced. He retracted his hand from Olivia and ran his fingers through his hair without it seeming like a desperate attempt to avoid her touch. “Wish I could, Olivia, but I have a, er, commitment that evening.”
Olivia narrowed her eyes. “What commitment could you possibly have on a Saturday night?”
“I already made plans with a few of my friends to go to this event.” He shifted in his seat and offered her an apologetic shrug. “I really am sorry, but I can’t cancel on them, Olivia.”
For a split second, I could’ve sworn Olivia’s ice-blue eyes turned glassy. But before I could tell for sure, one of the librarians shushed the pair and headed into the printing room. Olivia turned away from Andrew, her face hidden through her curtained hair as she silently tucked the invite into her purse.
Unable to eavesdrop anymore, I returned my attention to my laptop screen, picking up where I’d left off. I had more important things to do than fret over some only slightly amazing Christmas party. Like uploading my Winterland fanfiction by midnight tonight. I had a slew of readers subscribed to it, waiting for the finale to go live tonight. One would be unwise to disappoint the fangirls.
I pushed my glasses against my nose bridge and began to type away like a tempest when, without warning, the Winterland manga next to me disappeared from sight.
“Hey there, Hogwarts. What do we have here?”
Slowly, I turned my head up to see Olivia holding my manga captive. I mustered some bravado in my voice. “Forgot you don’t know how to read?”
“Very funny, Alice.” Olivia flipped through the graphic novel and curled her lip in distaste. “You have got to be kidding me. Aren’t you a little too old for Pokémon?”
My cheeks burned. “It’s…not Pokémon. It’s called Winterland.”
“Whatever, same thing.” Olivia crinkled her nose as she flipped through more pages. “Why do they all look bug-eyed?”
“Because it’s anime.” I tried to contain the indignation in my tone. “It’s a style of Japanese animation. The printed form is called manga, a type of graphi–”
“Spare me the explanation, Professor Wapanese.”
“Bismuth-technetium-hydrogen,” I whispered under my breath.
Olivia raised a brow. “What’s that?”
“Nothing,” I said innocently.
“Thought so.” Olivia tilted the graphic novel, displaying it to anyone who could see – which, of course, was everyone. A wave of giggling traversed the library. Olivia took in the image of a kemonomimi – a half-rabbit, half-human character. “Honestly, Alice, I don’t understand the appeal of this unless you’re a ten year old boy.” Her eyes drifted from the manga to my laptop screen. A shadow of a smile touched her lips. My stomach dropped. She wouldn’t.
“I see now…you’re writing some kind of story.”
I slunk down in my seat, my face aflame. What happened next unraveled in slow motion. Students gathered around as Olivia made a spectacle of my fanfiction –and butchered the Japanese names. Everyone laughed along to the flux of her cruel, satirical tone. Olivia mouth moved, but the words didn’t connect.
I wanted to melt. I scanned the crowds in desperation and glimpsed a familiar face holding a stack of books–Deanna Kitlyn, a punctual, gap-toothed bookworm who happened to be my best friend. She chewed her bottom lip as she helplessly watched my humiliation. And then, just when I thought things couldn’t get worse, I noticed Andrew staring at my laptop screen, his brows slanted into two hard lines. He caught my eye with an odd look. I veered away from his scrutiny and slunk further in my seat.
A glorious bell pierced the air. The librarian emerged from the printing room, and at once, the students began to disperse. Olivia joined the whispering crowd, but just before she left the library, she turned over her shoulder. Her mouth inched upwards, her cheekbones sharp as glass. She mouthed a single word to me, a word that made me choke back a gasp.