Nasty paced in the lobby. She crossed the length of the lobby in three quick, angry strides before having to turn back around. Morning light crept in through the front doors, forcing Nasty to shield her eyes on the return half of her journey through the foyer.
A dim shape blocked the sun off Nasty below her waist. Nasty peered through the sunlight, trying to make out who drove the newly arrived car. With a snort of frustration, she left the apartment. Shit, it's cold. Damn uniform's not fucking warm enough for this weather. A blast of cold wind ruffled Nasty's coat.
The passenger door opened. "Quick, get in," Rusty said.
Nasty jumped into the car, slamming the door shut. "What idiot decided to make us wear mini-skirts in winter?" She wrapped her coat around her legs.
"I'll try turning up the heat. That's why I'm late, sorry." A fan roared to life, blowing air across Nasty's feet. "Any better?"
"Thanks." Nasty dug her hands deep into her coat pocket.
"Thanks again for supper last night. Too bad your father couldn't have gotten home. I wanted to meet him, too."
"He got stuck at the office."
"Sounds likes he's always busy."
Nasty shrugged. "An emergency came up."
"I see." Rusty turned the stereo on. "Do you mind? I want to hear the traffic report."
"Go ahead." Nasty closed her eyes and leaned back on the headrest. Too damned early. Mornings were never this difficult. What's going on? She glanced at Rusty. Don't go there, Natasha. If you start thinking everyone you meet is responsible for that fucking coffin, then you'll go crazy. You're supposed to be Jessica. Try getting along with people, even if they annoy you. Rusty's reaching out. Be friendly, damnit.
"Tired?" Rusty asked.
"Huh? Oh, a little." Nasty forced her eyes open. "Not sleeping well lately, I guess."
"Here, this will help." Rusty pushed a CD into the stereo, then adjusted the volume.
Nasty's ears perked up. "Ozzy?"
"You don't mind?"
"Mind? I-- I love his music." Too damned close there, Natasha. Your collection's in New York, if Mom hasn't tossed it out yet.
"I've got other songs on the CD, too, not just him. I'll burn you a copy. Have you thought about what clubs you want to join?"
"Not yet. Too many to choose from." I'll be gone before it becomes a problem. So much for a normal life, Natasha, always leaving. It's not fair to Rusty, either. Nasty blinked. When the hell did I start caring about others?
The rest of the drive to Fieldson, the girls listened to the CD. Rusty parked as close to the main building as she could. Snow gusted over the car. "Ready?" Rusty asked.
"No, but it never stopped me before." Nasty got out of the car and dashed to the entrance. She heard Rusty keeping up with her her as the fierce wind cut through their coats. Inside, the two girls made their way through the gathering crowd to their lockers. As Nasty hung up her coat, she saw a brown blur fall then heard wood clattering. She bent down to retrieve her wayward pencil.
"Um, Jess, your skirt?"
Nasty grabbed her pencil. "What about--" Shit! She stood and leaned with her back against the lockers. "Fuck."
"I hate this fucking uniform." Nasty tried stretching the back of her skirt down to her knees.
"You're going to rip something, Jess. Here, let me fix your hem." Rusty untwisted the fabric. "Not comfortable in a skirt like this, are you?"
"How could you tell?"
"Didn't you wear skirts at your old school?"
"Not this short, and we had the option to wear pants."
"I can see you taking that choice." Rusty gave one last tug to Nasty's skirt. "There. How's that?"
Nasty craned her neck around to see her friend's handiwork. "Thanks."
Rusty checked her watch. "I better get going. Marianne gets antsy if anyone's late for a yearbook meeting."
"Alright." Nasty grabbed her books for the morning, then slipped into her homeroom. The smells of oils and acrylics, clay and soap assaulted Nasty's nose. She noticed completed projects on walls and shelves. Not bad, I guess, she mused as she examined a clay sculpture.
"Fashion club meeting's cancelled."
Nasty looked away from the the artwork. "Um, I'm not here for--"
The older woman continued, "Cynthia should have told you yesterday. Or was it Emily who was supposed to tell you? I can't keep them straight, it's so hard to tell them apart." She finally eyed Nasty. "Though you would make a good model for my students. Well proportioned, maybe a little heavy in the bust line, not that it's a bad thing if you're looking for a husband. Fabulous muscle tone. Do you work out?"
Nasty tried to keep herself from blushing. "Yes, er, when I can, but what does this--"
"Wonderful. You might not become a fashion model, dear, too much weight on your hips to be accepted in New York, but you could make extra money through college posing for painters. How do you feel about posing nude?"
"I'm not part of the fashion club!"
"You're not? Then why are you here?"
"I'm Jessica Hathaway," Nasty explained. "The new student?"
"New student?" The woman went to her desk and shuffled through stacks of paper. "I know I saw something about a new student. Are you sure you're her? You look a little old to be just starting."
"I just moved here. I'm new to the school." I'm never complaining about Tia or Sewer's cheerleaders even again.
"Jessica, you said? Found it, the rascally sheet. Memos always disappear in this room. Never understood it myself. It's like this room is the Bermuda Triangle of office communication. So, Jessica Hathaway. You did say that was your name?"
"That's such a lovely name. Mine is Nora Funke."
Nasty warily shook her teacher's offered hand. "Hi. I was wondering if there was any homework I should catch up on."
"Have you ever painted a still life?"
"At my old school, yes. I think I left it there, though."
"If you can get anything from your last teacher sent here, I'll give you credit for it. No sense rushing through projects, is there?" Funke checked the time. "I have to go meet a couple of people. You just find a seat. Feel free to create." She flounced out of the room.
Nasty sat on the closest stool. She resisted the urge to bang her head on the worktable. This is going to be a long class. Okay, they've done still lifes. Bo-ring. I wonder if Funke will accept metal scultpures. If this place actually had auto mechanics, I could quickly come up with something using scraps. Nasty smiled to herself. Maybe Fieldson doesn't have auto mechanics, but I know Peregrine wouldn't mind me doing a little art on her time.
The class slowly gathered in the room, talking in groups. Rusty joined Nasty, dropping her backpack to the floor with a thud. "If Marianne or anyone else asks you to check names, say no. I can't believe what she did to me. Right at the end of the meeting, she wants me to go through the entire enrollment here and make sure there's no one missing. And she asks this so that there's no time to ask if I can pick up the lists later, she has them with her. Wench. So, how was your morning?"
"Not as bad as yours. Met the teacher." Nasty shook her head. "I don't think she'll remember me when she gets back."
"She'll remember your work, that's all that matters. She keeps mixing me up with Angie over there." Rusty pointed out the blonde twin with short hair. "Can you believe that?"
"After what she said to me, yes."
"Don't worry about her, whatever she wanted. Oh, look, the Royal Couple. That's odd. Wonder what they're bickering over?"
Nasty watched as Cynthia and Emily entered the room. The red-haired twins were arguing in hushed angry tones. Their entourage orbitted them, unsure of what to make of the dissention. Their nails probably clash. Nasty ignored the entrance, and focused her attention on Funke's return. In her wake, a young couple followed. Nasty leaned forward in her seat. Who the hell are they? There's no way guys who kidnapped me could've found me, not this soon. Christ, I don't even know where I am, so how could they?
"Good morning, class," Funke said. "Any last permission slips to come in?"
Permission slips? Rusty would have said something about a field trip. Several girls handed Funke green sheets of paper. What would an art class need permission slips for?
Funke finished reading over her list. "Angela, Jessica, Sarah, Cynthia, and Christine, I don't have your slips. I'm afraid I'll have to ask you to leave."
"I completely forgot, Jess," Rusty said. "I should have said something last night."
"Angela, you have to leave."
"I'm Jane, Mrs. Funke. Angie's at the door. Jess, I'll see you in Calculus?"
Nasty picked up her backpack and joined the other girls at the door. Mrs. Funke escorted them into the hall. "I'm really sorry girls, but without your parents permission, I can't let you join the class today. I do expect a nude study from each of you. You can use the library, but a photo isn't like the real thing."
Nude study? Does this mean that those two aren't chasing me but were just the models? Nasty felt herself blush. Way to go, Natasha. Paranoid much?
"Jessica, right?" Cynthia said. "Can I talk to you?"
Nasty suppressed her first instinct to say no. Instead, she nodded and followed Cynthia into the library and to the shelves in the back. "We better get a few books, in case Funke checks up on us," the twin explained. She pulled out several books, more for their covers than their subjects. Dropping the books on a table, Cynthia sat, inviting Nasty to join her.
"Can you believe her?" Cynthia said. "I'm surprised she wasn't caught."
"Caught? You mean Funke?"
"My sister. Emily forged her permission slip. I told the little slut someone would notice, but no, she let her hormones decide for her." Cynthia crossed her legs. "I hope people realize that she's desperate and not me."
You just wanted to bitch to me about your sister? "They will, I guess."
"As long as they don't confuse her for me. Ever have that happen to you?"
Cynthia assessed Nasty. "You're different from everyone else here."
"Different?" Nasty raised an eyebrow. Great. I'm not good at this. I told Anne that.
"I've watched you in class. Everyone else, they try to either fit in or stand out. You, you ignore what's going on, the cliques, the backstabbing, the fawning."
"I don't see you or your sister complaining."
Nasty felt no warmth from Cynthia's smile. "That just wouldn't do, especially in front of one's yes-men. There is an image that has to be protected."
"That's what I mean about you. Blunt. I like that, in certain situations. I could use a person like that."
Oh, I'm sure you could. If you weren't one of those pyro twins, I'd walk away right now. "And what would a person like that get out of it?"
Cynthia leaned across the table and patted Nasty's hand. "I'm sure there's something. She'd take care of her club requirement and she'd get a little help with, shall we say, social wants?"
"And what do you get out of this?"
"Someone in the drama club with an honest opinion. Possibly more after that. Interested?"
"Drama club? You want me on stage?"
Cynthia trilled a laugh. "Don't be silly. I already have a cast. Besides, you'll get a better view of the play from, say, the lighting."
Nasty sized up Cynthia. You couldn't find someone to do the grunt work, could you? That's why you want me. Still, if I can get closer to her before Thursday, I can find out what she and her sister are plotting. "You said help. If I want to be left alone, can you make sure of it?"
"If that's what you really want."
[End Issue 24]
Next: On the trail of Cinder and Ember