Tamie was the first one to see him enter the hall the orphanage used as a cafeteria. Damian’s group was being as loud as usual, captivated by some heroic retelling of a fight against some Bunker rats while the younger children at her table were too busy arguing with each other.
A boy who was at most fifteen, and held a plate filled with the diner of the day, stood at the door. His clothes were in perfect condition and fit him well. She wondered for a second why he kept his eye closed, but such injuries were common in this region.
Physically, he was nothing special and seemed to be part human. No, what immediately caught Tamie’s eye was his hair.
It was lustrous and thick, and it was so long that it formed a ball of curls visible from the front even though it was tied back. Curls of a profound dark, that made Tamie wonder if they had ever been under the scorching sun of the desert. She felt a pang of envy as her hand unconsciously moved to her own short hair. Why let it be that long? Didn’t it bother him in fights?
Maybe he isn’t a fighter, she thought with hope.
Since he clearly had some human in him, there was a chance he had inherited the useless trait. Like she had.
He stood at the door, and she saw his eyes quickly scan the room, darting first from the other entrances, then to the people that were too busy eating and talking to notice him.
“Holy shit, guys look!” someone said.
Well, now they had.
There were expletives and exclamations from the boys and girls and some gasps of excitements from the youngest.
Newcomers always offered some much needed novelty to their boring daily lives. From the corner of her eye, she even saw Damian unfold his muscled arms with an intense expression on his face.
That made her a bit more interested in the new face.
“Hi,” the newcomer said with an even voice. “I’m Edward and I’ll be living here for a little while. Nice to meet you all.”
He then proceeded to walk toward an empty table as if it was the most natural thing in the world and sat down.
From their restlessness Tamie could sense that the people from the “cool” club were interested in the new guy, but she knew their egos wouldn’t allow them to make the first move.
Sure, they usually invited the newbies to sit at their table, acting like welcoming seniors, but the act only lasted until they figured out their attributes. If they were fighters, they were allowed to stay. If not, they were promptly chased away.
Her thoughts were interrupted by the little pup pulling on her sleeve.
“Tam,” Pito said, with the most adorable face and tail wiggle he could muster. “Can we go say hi?”
“Please Tam!” his little sister Pita said from the other side of the table. “We won’t bother him!” The other kids offered their support by furiously nodding at her.
She was almost defeated by the cuteness but managed to present a serious face when she lifted a finger and said “You can go say hi, but only after you’ve finished your plate. And don’t go choking on it because you ate too fast.”
On most days, she would probably have said no, but this Edward looked inoffensive enough. And if Tamie was to be totally honest with herself, she was feeling a bit curious too.
The kids devoured their food and ran to the newcomer as she was unlocking the wheels of her chair, Pito and his sister Pam leading the march. Tamie couldn’t help but smile when Pito abruptly asked him “Are you a boy or a girl?” and was pleasantly surprised to see him laugh at the question and ask the little boy what he thought.
“If he can be that patient with children”, she thought to herself as she moved toward them, “He probably really isn’t a fighter.”
However, before she could reach him, two figures swiftly walked past her and faced the newcomer. Omidilio and Merle, from Damian’s table.
Merle was a tall and muscled girl, stronger even than most of the boys thanks to her strength based class; and the confidence she exuded proved she was aware of it.
Omidilio, on the other hand, was the type of guys most women hated before they even got to know them: sneaky and just all-around unpleasant.
But just like Merle he had something that put him above Tamie and so many other people across the land: a fighting class.
Wearing a smile Tamie knew was fake, Omidilio sat weirdly close to the stranger, and Merle just stood in front of him, arms folded in front of her.
Why are they trying to intimidate him so obviously? She wondered.
Edward, however, didn’t notice as he was unfazed by the two older fighters now at his side and kept humoring the children who were now comfortable enough to try to touch his hair.
“Are you a prince on a quest? How is it to live in a castle?” asked one of the bunny sisters with stars in her eyes.
The boy laughed, “No, I’m not a prince, and never even saw a castle. However…” he made a suspenseful pause and leaned forward with a secretive look, “don’t tell anyone but I’m on a quest.”
The children gasped, except Pito who showed a doubtful expression.
Seems like he is the only one old enough to realize that not just anyone receives a quest, Tamie thought. Well that, or he is jealous of the attention the newbie is getting from the girls.
Ormidilio, who did not seem to appreciate that his presence had still not been acknowledged, put an arm around Edward’s shoulders.
“Hey newbie,” he said with his nasal voice. “How about you pay your seniors some attention, uh?”
The newbie in question slowly turned his head in Ormidilio’s direction. He was smirking as if he had just heard something very funny.
“Sure,” he said. “How can I help you?”
“Glad you asked,” the older boy said. “We orphans have to stick together, you see? There’s a lot of people outside who think they can take advantage of us because we don’t have parents. So those who can defend the less fortunate of us are expected to make themselves known.”
Tamie felt her face heating up and kept looking down at her hands. When he had mentioned the “less fortunate”, that bastard Omidilio had waved at her and the children, ruining the first time the newcomer ever saw her.
If first impressions really lasted forever, she would always be just the cripple in a wheelchair in his eyes.
She wouldn’t have stayed to hear the rest of his spiel was she not feeling frozen with shame and choking on bitterness.
“Seeing your appearance,” he continued, “We are wondering if you could tell us about your numbers?”
“Numbers? What do you mean?” Edward asked with a tilted head.
“.. Are you making fun of me, boy?”
The grip on Edward’s shoulder suddenly looked a lot less friendly.
“Listen, I do not care which brothel you crawled out from before getting picked up by the mistress. I want to know your attributes, starting with the highest. Now.”
“What happened to defending and sticking together?” Edward nonchalantly asked.
“The thing is,” Ormidilio spat, “you ain’t one of us.”