"Abstract painting. Pff. I bet a baby Kougra could paint better than him. Or even I could, at the very least," a stocky Krawk murmured into her sleeves, her voice sounding as slumped over as she was over her desk.
Alas, the girl had forgotten Lupes had excellent hearing. The teacher at the front of the classroom turned towards the class, his face reddening slightly from the insult.
"You think so, but can you do this?" Mr. Lupid said, masterfully sketching all sorts of short lines and curves until a perfect likeness of the rude Krawk materialized on the page.
A flurry of gasps erupted in all directions as the students marveled at Mr. Lupid's nearly wordless rebuttal. The gasps turned to giggles, and a few bold ones pointed at the Krawk, knowing that she couldn't tease them or bully them under the supervision of their new favorite teacher.
"Just because one decides to paint abstractly does not mean they cannot create fine art. By the same token, you cannot simply pick up a pencil and expect to draw wonders right away. We must all start at the beginning, with the basics. If you'd like to learn to draw like me, then all you have to do is listen." Mr. Lupid smiled and continued the lecture.
The Krawk slumped even further over her desk to obscure the name "Anya" she'd carved into the wood. Listen. Right. As though teachers listened to students. The only way to get someone else to listen is by force... well, after showing me up like that, I'll make sure he won't force me. Anya's face burned with purpose.
I'll make sure of it.
After about ten minutes into the lecture, Anya found out that it was much harder not to listen. After Mr. Lupid had not punished her but embarrassed her, his voice sounded a lot more... authoritative. It didn't have ferocity in it like Anya's voice, but it had a strangely gentle quality of firmness to it. To make matters even more difficult, she was running out of things to do and was quickly getting bored.
Anya thought. Any attempts to disrupt the lesson would probably result in further humiliation on her end. This teacher was cleverer than her other teachers, that much she could tell right away. Whenever Anya tormented a student, the teachers would deal with it by sending her to the free-time room known as detention, or sent her straight home... or so the teachers had thought.
If she wrote her stories during the lecture, it would look like she was taking notes. Actually taking notes during the lecture wouldn't do at all. That would make her look like a student who wanted to try her best to jump through Neoschool's many figurative hoops. Doodling during class would further that appearance.
No, the best thing to do would be to stare at Mr. Lupid and just let her thoughts wander. Anya sneered at him, her eyebrows creasing together, the tuft on her head rising and stiffening. Slowly, slowly, however, they uncreased, and her eyes became filled with rapt attention. It seemed as though the harder she tried not to listen about color theory and working with textiles, paint and clay later in the semester, the more she was practically forced to allow the knowledge to enter her brain. And so the Krawk stayed, mesmerized by her unorthodox teacher.
"Now then, your assignment for next week is as follows: create an abstract painting with aesthetic asymmetry. You should have no problem with this based on what I've told you. You're all dismissed," he nodded, turning to the blackboard to wipe it.
Anya scooped up her bag and strode out of the classroom, her robe trailing behind her, refusing to give her classmates a chance to ridicule her.
At home, the Krawk finished her schoolwork, not bothering to check it over. Homework was a trivial thing in the life of a Neopet, and she had plenty of more important things to write about than that. She didn't know how, but entire universes were able to fit into her head, and the Krawk knew that she might lose them eventually if she didn't capture them on paper first. No, her task had to be completely uninterrupted, lest, like dreams upon waking, they fled from her mind forever—
"Anya, dinner's ready!"
"I'm not coming down yet!" the exasperated Krawk screeched into the hallway, slamming her bedroom door. Anya muttered to herself, trying to recall the perfect name for a character that was just in her head a few seconds ago. Growling, she pouted and smoothed her robes. The only things that brought her any feeling of pleasure in life was writing her tales and picking on smaller Neopets. The latter wouldn't really hurt them, anyway. It was all in good fun, and nothing more.
But constantly having her fun spoiled by adults, and of course, that Mr. Lupid... Anya was going to have to do something about that. Not something that would send her to the principal's office again, oh no. Something insidious. Something that would help her figure out why she was so drawn to the Lupe and yet repelled by him.
Anya slammed down her pencil, shattering the precious lead inside.
Yes. She would treat Mr. Lupid's homework just like any other homework. She'd scrawl whatever she had to, draw for only a few minutes, and stuff it into her bag. Or worse. That would show him.
Anya pushed her writing papers aside and thrust the pencil tip onto the paper, dragging it along, not caring how she nearly tore it. She lifted an eager brush dripping with blue paint, and slapped it across the paper with a thwack. The paper itself seemed to cry in pain as Anya continued to deliver her brutal treatment...
Mr. Lupid sighed. "Anya, is it?" The Krawk nodded, unable to help feeling small under his wistful gaze. "Keep trying," he said, finally, putting the crumpled and stained streak of art on his desk, where it waited to be graded along with the rest of her classmates's work.
"Excellent, most of you." His yellow eyes swiveled briefly to Anya, but she caught his expression, and it lingered in her mind, unlike the name for one of her characters she had thought of the week before. He seemed truly hurt by her actions, the way his facial hairs drooped. Genuine disappointment often filled Anya with pride, but not this time. She surprised herself by flushing and lowering her head, unable to look Mr. Lupid in the eye.
The Krawk was utterly confused by this. Maybe if she asked him... "Mr. Lupid...? " she asked tentatively, raising her hand.
The Lupe folded his arms and looked at Anya again, the picture of disappointment still lingering on his face. "Yes?" he replied, curious.
Anya opened her mouth, trying to find something to say. If it had been any other teacher, she would have made a snarky comment about their behavior or the way they treated the students, but she lifted her head to meet Mr. Lupid's eyes and found that she could not. His yellow eyes, though full of pain from her beaten-up assignment, were so receptive, so attentive, that they seemed to be only meant for her. Anya blinked and shook her head, closing her mouth. What had she wanted to tell him? "Nothing," she said finally, turning away and placing her head on her desk.
Mr. Lupid only nodded and continued the lecture, but the Krawk noticed that he glanced her way every so often. Anya didn't know what to make of it.
And so it went. Week after week, she slaughtered her given assignment, more determined than ever to ruin the image of her teacher, but there were two important things Anya failed to notice:
One was that Mr. Lupid noticed progress underneath the marks and splatters and scribbles she'd etched onto her papers and canvases just screaming to be put out of their misery. You see, when one becomes in tune with their art and the art of others, he gains the ability to see and hear things in the work no average Neopet would notice. Mr. Lupid noticed, all right, and he noticed understanding. Improvement. Pain. Denial.
Mr. Lupid scratched his furry head and sighed. He would have to have a serious talk with Anya before she started her final project. If she didn't show her improvement with the final project, there would be no evidence he could use to justify passing her this semester...
The second, which was far worse for Anya, was that other students noticed her lack of progress in art class. The Krawk's classmates knew that she often failed or barely passed her other subjects except for English, but art? Art class was their safe zone, where they were protected from her bullying. When they were safe, they grew cocky.
"Hey, Anya." Boris, a baby Kacheek waved smugly at the Krawk, almost taunting her with his greeting. You can't get me in here, his pose and pudgy countenance told her. He was so wrapped up in relishing the lack of teasing, that he tripped on his way back to his easel and dropped his notebook. The Krawk wasted no time in rushing to his side, a devious grin forming on her face. Mr. Lupid had only just stepped out of the classroom, his bushy tail disappearing from view.
"Let me help you with that," Anya purred, snatching the notebook and holding it high above his head. "Hm, this could use a new paint job." Anya teasingly held a brush closer and closer to the front of the notebook, cackling.
"But wait! This was given to me by an old friend! He wouldn't like it if it got paint on it!" Boris protested, jumping to try and retrieve the notebook that was just out of his reach. Jolts of pleasure coursed through her as she laughed. This was what it meant to truly be alive!
Someone cleared his throat.
Anya glanced to the side and felt the color drain from her face as she became face-to-face with the teacher himself. He didn't say anything, he didn't point out the door... he just stared at her with those large yellow eyes.
Anya nodded slowly, unable to speak, completely trapped by Mr. Lupid's stare. Without tearing her eyes from his, she lowered her arm and handed Boris the notebook. Mr. Lupid nodded and strode to the front of the room, where he made a few announcements on the next week's projects. No one else seemed to pay attention to what he was saying as they murmured and giggled to one another. The school bully stopped because Mr. Lupid had given her "the stare!" They couldn't possibly sit still for a lecture!
A red-faced Anya ignored the whispers and the crumpled notes of gossip as she sat rigid. As though nothing had happened, she continued painting a not-so-delicate portrait of a Sillie Daisy.
It glanced at the paper once more and stuck its tongue out at her, disgusted with her work. Anya growled and held the paint brush to its face, as though she could paint her troubles away. Part of her brain, albeit unwillingly, was gnawing away at itself with worry. The worry itself wasn't about what others thought of her; she could handle her silly classmates and could verbally beat them back anytime.
No. She was worried about... disappointing... the... teacher she... hated?
Anya threw the brush across her portrait, coating the half-formed Sillie Daisy in black ink. Her brush was black. Her mind was of the blackest void. No universes would take shape in there while her thoughts tangled themselves in knots. She didn't care. She would never care about what others thought of her. She didn't care what Mr. Lupid thought about her, and she didn't care about what she truly felt for Mr. Lupid. She could just cover everything in paint and no one would see. Not even she would see anything.
Anya felt a furry paw on her shoulder. The Krawk, spent from the burst of angry energy, turned around, and instantly felt sick at the sight of Mr. Lupid's pained expression. Her eyes narrowed again, but her racing heart definitely feared the lack and void of approval no amount of paint would cover. "We need to talk," he said finally.
The Krawk sighed and lay on her bed, her mind too muddled to put into words. She knew, like the sailors in some of her stories, that the only way to get through a thick fog was to sit it out and remain alert. So she did.
Mr. Lupid had told her about the final project: a painting that was to utilize all of the skills he'd taught during the semester. During the talk, Anya had been held captive by the same yellow eyes that had held her hostage in his class. They shifted, they closed, they practically leaked with enthusiasm and care for her. Anya shook her head. Why did his eyes plague her so?
"Furthermore, the painting must represent something that has changed your life."
Almost without her thinking about it, Anya slowly rose from her bed and pulled out a thick piece of paper from her required art supplies pile. She could envision them already: Mr. Lupid's eyes etched carefully onto the paper, tilted ever so slightly to knock the symmetry just off balance, the contrast between his pupils and his fur, every present detail of his deep brown irises that she for some reason, had no trouble remembering...
The Krawk set to painting, practically caressing the page with paint strokes. While painting, her mind was completely at ease, which made her ruff stick out in surprise. When Anya was writing her little stories, her mind was constantly racing with thoughts she'd tried to capture before they slipped away from her.
Painting was nothing like writing, she thought. Painting allowed her complete control and, at the same time, allowed her mind to drift to places she'd never even tried to think of before. Anya gasped as she saw her thoughts fluttering around the room, touching everything in their path. She didn't try to reach out and take hold of them this time, but just stared at them as Mr. Lupid's great yellow eyes slowly took form on the page.
Those eyes staring back at her—and by her own hand too...! Anya gasped and stumbled back, pausing. She realized what she felt for her teacher. It was more than a struggle, it was less than a struggle, in some ways, even, it wasn't much of a struggle at all.
It was... respect.
The way he'd sketched her the first day of class, she'd felt a small swell of wonder in the midst of her angry, silent retort. The way he didn't escort her to the principal but had simply stared at her to make her drop the notebook she was holding above Boris's head...
It had to be respect.
Anya looked at her picture lovingly and beamed. Mr. Lupid was sure to be pleased.
The classroom buzzed with activity as one by one, final projects were tacked onto a corkboard. Vivid images from dreams and depictions of events were all over the board, and the students pointed at each one, simply bursting with comments like "That's mine! It was when I lost a tooth!" or "How in Neopia did you do that with colored pencil?"
Only Anya stayed quiet, mechanically etching a pair of eyes on her desk. As class went on, her heart continued to sink. There was no way she could tell anyone that her close-up of Mr. Lupid was hers. As far as they knew, she hated him as much as she seemed to hate her classmates.
Even so, the portrait of Mr. Lupid's eyes was the one that attracted the most attention, and was the one that generated the most silence when the students asked themselves, "Whose is this?"
An especially loud "Whose is this?" attracted the attention of another teacher. The Pteri glared and stuck her head in the room, her steely voice silencing everybody for several seconds. "You mean, 'to whom does this belong?'!"
The Pteri went on her way.
"But it has to mean something!" a Grape Chia cried. "Are they moons?"
"No way, man, the blue around them is too light to be the night sky. They're eyes, definitely." A red Aisha nodded knowingly, her ears bobbing up and down.
"But who painted this?"
Mr. Lupid practically dashed into the classroom, his eyes positively gleaming. "I'm back! Have I got a surprise for you kids today!" He dumped large, multicolored lumps of clay onto his desk and turned around to see the corkboard. "Were the final projects due already?" he muttered, glancing at the calendar, and back at expectant, eager students. Anya continued to stare at her own desk.
Mr. Lupid's eyes traveled from piece to piece until they settled on a mirror image. He chuckled. "Each and every one of you has done a fantastic job, and you have all come far since we've begun. I'm proud of every single..." He stared straight at Anya, who, at that moment, lifted her head to meet his gaze. "One of you." Mr. Lupid grinned again and began passing out the different colored lumps of clay. "The painting with the eyes on it speaks especially of learning experiences. As for today's assignment, since it is the last day of class, you are free to do what you wish with the clay. Impress me." Mr. Lupid puffed out his chest and folded his arms, then dropped the whole façade, laughing, as he began taking down the pictures to grade them.
Feeling happier in class than she'd ever known, Anya beamed and began sculpting, not knowing what the end result would be, not caring about how everyone could see just how lost in the assignment she was. She was free.
Anya stopped and looked at her lump. It resembled a sickly Acko, but that wasn't what worried her. Quietly, she stood up and glided to Mr. Lupid's desk. Something needed to be fixed.
"Mr. Lupid?" she asked timidly.
"Yes, Anya?" The Lupe glanced upward, busily writing an A on the back of the closeup of his face. "You've done well. You can move on, you know. You're ready to go on to a more advanced art class."
Anya shook her head. "No, I think I can do better. Can I..."
She faltered and shook her head again to clear it. Apparently respect for a teacher could strip one of words, she thought.
"Can I take your class again next semester?"
Mr. Lupid brightened and wagged his tail. Anya could have sworn she could feel an embrace coming from his eyes themselves.
"Of course you can!"