Alicia stood outside the principal’s door, fidgeting and feeling faint with worry. Kiva had given her a quick smile and then run back to the cafeteria to finish lunch. Not that it would have helped much if she had stayed, for Alicia was too deep in her thoughts for something like that to matter.

Did I do something wrong? she thought frantically. Am I in trouble? I-I don’t think I broke any rules. . . did I break any rules?

She pulled out her student handbook and flipped to the rules page, scanning them.

No, not according to this. . .

A movement caught her eye, and she glanced at the two girls approaching and edged over slightly to give them more room, all without really seeing them.

What if I did something awful without realizing it? she fretted. What if I get expelled?!? What if–

Her thoughts were interrupted when the principal’s secretary opened the door.

“Alicia Engla?”

“Y-yes, ma’am?” she said.

“Principal Delaney will see you now.”

Alicia gulped, giving her blouse a tug to straighten it, and walked through the door with a growing sense of doom.

Alicia, Mask 3.

March 17, 2013

Alicia looked at what was left of her spaghetti, wincing as the noise in the cafeteria went up another notch. Kids shouted over each other to be heard, and the noise was beginning to give her a headache.

“The cafeteria is one of my favorite places in the school,” Kiva said cheerily, raising her voice to be heard over the din. Her gung-ho attitude hadn’t faded as they walked to the cafeteria–on the contrary, she seemed to get even more bubbly and excited, listing random facts, criticisms, and comments about whatever part of the school that they were in at that time. “It has such a cheerful color scheme, and the food is always really good! Have you decided what dessert you want? I recommend the apple pie. Or the chocolate cake, if you don’t feel like apple pie. Both of them are delicious!”

Suddenly Alicia couldn’t take it anymore. She had to get away from all the noise and bustle of the cafeteria. Putting on a smile that she didn’t feel, she stood up.

“Alicia?” Kiva said questioningly.

“I’ll be right back,” she replied. Then she turned and ran out of the cafeteria.

~

Alicia stared at herself in the mirror, gripping the edge of the sink tightly as she leaned closer to her reflection. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, calming herself down. Someone knocked on the door of the bathroom.

“Are you okay?” Kiva asked, her voice slightly muffled by the door.

“Yes, I’m fine,” Alicia called, the fake smile appearing on her face again. She inspected it in the mirror. For a fake smile, it looked very real–in fact, if Alicia had seen that smile on another girl, she would have thought that that girl was having an amazing time, and not that she was hiding her feelings. It’s like I’m wearing a mask, Alicia thought.

“Well, don’t take too long, okay? Apparently Principal Delaney wants to talk to you–and he doesn’t like to be kept waiting.”

Stephanie: Strike Four

December 3, 2012

Stephanie blinked, staring at Aurelia over her lasagna.  “Lunch is. . . good,” she said, trying to remember all of the questions.  Except the school one.  That one she was trying to forget. “I can tell that it’s prepared by professionals.  And I’ve met the principal.  He. . . .”  Hates me, she finished in her mind.  Wants to believe the evidence, can’t because it’s untrue.  Wants to expel me, can’t because of the laws.

“He’s interesting,” she said, and bit her lip, partially because she was trying to keep the other words in and partially because she was confused.

Why was Aurelia asking all of these questions?  Was it just because she was her guide?  Well, if it was, it was totally unnecessary.

Completely.

Except for the fact that she’d take a pity vote right now.

Alicia: Mask 2

September 19, 2012

Alicia swallowed nervously. She had been in class for a couple of hours now. The teacher explained things well, and the work itself wasn’t too hard. . .

But everyone was staring at her. Some were only stealing glances at her out of the corners of their eyes, but others were outright staring at her, watching her every movement.

Needless to say, it was starting to freak her out.

It doesn’t help that I’m a head-and-a-half shorter than everyone else, Alicia thought, glancing quickly at the boy sitting next to her. She had to look far up, just to meet his gaze. He was staring at her, but he looked away hastily when his eyes met hers.

She had always known that she was small, but being among kids her own age and having them tower above her really drove the point home. Alicia gave a small sigh. Well, she thought, noting down what the teacher said in her notebook, I hope my neck doesn’t get cramped from looking up all the time.

The bell rang, and Alicia flinched. It was so loud!

“Lunchtime.” the teacher said. “Before you all go. . . Alicia Engla?”

Alicia looked up at the teacher.

“Yes, Ma’am?” she asked, trying to ignore the whispers that flew around the room.

“You’re new, correct?”

Alicia nodded. “Yes, Ma’am.”

“Then you’ll require a guide. Who would like to show Alicia around the campus?”

Instantly, at least half the class raised their hands. Alicia leaned against the back of her seat, her eyes wide. Nobody had mentioned having a guide. . . and so many people volunteered. . .

“My, my.” the teacher said, amused. “You can’t all show Alicia around. Let’s see. . . Kiva, you can be Alicia’s guide. Dismissed.”

There was a couple of ‘aww‘s, but for the most part the volunteers took the news good-naturedly. Kiva, a slender girl with fair skin, brown hair and laughing brown eyes, came over to Alicia’s seat.

“Hello!” she said, holding out a hand to help Alicia up. “I’m Kiva. I’ve studied at New Bruntum Preparatory Academy since kindergarten. You’re Alicia, right?”

Alicia took the offered hand and stood up.

“Yes, I am Alicia. It’s very nice to meet you, Kiva.”

Kiva smiled, gesturing towards the door.

“It’s nice to meet you, too. Are you hungry?”

Alicia nodded.

“So am I. Since it’s the first day, the chefs like to make an exceptionally good meal.” Kiva said with a smile. “So, our first stop in your grand tour of the school will be the cafeteria! Let’s go!

Alicia shook her head slightly as she followed Kiva out of the classroom. Kiva seems like a sweet girl, she thought. Maybe school won’t be so bad after all?

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’.

Stephanie: Strike 1

May 8, 2012

Stephanie Blake put down her fork, feeling queasy.  This was it: The first day of her new school life.

The prospect wasn’t appealing.

She knew that thousands of other students transferred to a new school for their junior year–it wasn’t a groundbreaking procedure.  Still, she doubted that those other students transferred to a school halfway across the city, with enough baggage that even the librarians looked askance at them when they walked through the door.

Hence, her nerves.

“It will be fine, cherie,” her mother said.  “It’s just a new school, no?”

“Yes, Maman,” Stephanie said.  She picked up her fork again and poked at her pancakes, remembering the accusing stare of the principal, as if he couldn’t imagine why someone like her would dare to enroll in his school.

Stephanie sighed.  She didn’t think that it would be a very good day.