School was just as bad as Stephanie imagined it.

New Bruntum Preparatory Academy had advertised a “wholesome learning environment” and “friendly atmosphere” in its brochure.  It was the sort of place that rich parents would entrust their little darlings to.  By all rights, Stephanie should have fit right in, but there was, of course, the not insignificant fact that she’d been expelled from her last school.  Even though it wasn’t her fault.

“Just be yourself,” her mother had suggested before pushing her and her brother out the door.  Which would have been great advice. . .

. . . except for the fact that everyone was completely ignoring her.

Stephanie sank down in her chair as Ms. Delaney finished calling roll.  It was just a half hour into the first day, and already the other students were treating her coldly.  To tell the truth, she had expected some pointed glares, some snide comments, anything but this complete silence.  It was worse than anything else they could have done.  And maybe that’s why they do it, Stephanie realized.  Though I can’t think of a reason why. . . .

“Stephanie Blake?” Ms. Delaney called.

“Yes?”

“This is your first year here, right?”  Ms. Delaney looked at her speculatively over her glasses.  “You’ll need a guide. . . .  Is there anyone who’d like to volunteer?”

Alicia looked at herself in the mirror, reaching up to tug the bow in her hair straight and fluff her hair. She could see nothing wrong with her appearance, but she still lingered, not wanting to have to go outside and face reality.

The door opened, and her mother came in.

“Alicia? Have you finished changing?” she asked.

“Yes, mor.” Alicia said, managing a smile.

Her mother smiled.

“You look adorable in that uniform, Ali.” she said, taking her daughters hands and twirling her around the room. Alicia’s smile flickered, just for a moment before it came back again, but her mother saw and stopped.

“Oh, Ali. Are you still unsure? Do you still have doubts?”

Alicia hadn’t meant to say anything, but suddenly all of her worries and fears poured out.

“What if they don’t like me? What if they tease me for being so small? What if–” she swallowed. “What if it’s like what Marlin says it is?”

“Marlin?” her mother searched her face questioningly. “What has Marlin been saying?

“He-” Alicia started, but a few tears escaped, and she couldn’t finish. “He-”

“Shh, min alskling. I understand, and so does your far.” her mother said soothingly, pulling her daughter into a hug. “We think that this will be a good experience for you, but if it is not, you don’t have to finish the term. I’m sure Monsieur Benoit would be more that happy to continue tutoring you.”

“Really?” Alicia asked, rubbing her eyes with one hand.

“Really.” her mother said firmly.

“O-okay, mor. I’ll try it.”

“That’s my girl. Now, go to the bathroom and wash your face, alright?”

“Alright.” Alicia said, a small smile on her face.

Her mother smiled and left the room, and Alicia took another long look in the mirror. She took in the sight of a small girl wearing a private school uniform. She remembered the surprised look on the tailor’s face as her parents ordered a sixth grade uniform, extra extra small. She remembered the kind look on the headmasters face as he offered her and her parents a cookie. She was just starting to relax when she remembered the spiteful look on Marlin’s face as he sneered; “I heard that you’re starting school this year. Not just any school either, you had to choose a ritzy private school. Well, I’m sure that your school isn’t much different than my school, and trust me; you wouldn’t last very long in my school.”

She shivered. Trust Marlin to ruin school for her before she even started.

~

Mor: Danish for ‘Mother’. Far: Danish for ‘Father’. Min alskling: Swedish for ‘My darling’.