"Okay ladies, I'd like to see your preliminary sketches of your nude study," Ms Funke said. She looked at Cynthia. "You're first, Mary-Elizabeth."
The girl pointed at Stormie. "That's Mary-Elizabeth. I'm Cynthia."
Ms Funke peered closer. "Oh." She turned to Stormie. "I'd like to see your work, Mary-Elizabeth." Stormie grumbled as she brought her sketchpad toe Funke's desk.
Oh, please, don't call on me, Nasty prayed. She took her pencil and paper out of her backpack. The class murmured as friends started chatting. Nasty laid her head on the table. Maybe Funke will forget I exist.
Rusty nudged the redhead with her elbow. "Wake up, Jess."
"I'm not asleep," Nasty groused.
"How much did you get done?"
"Enough, I hope."
"May I see?"
Nasty felt her cheeks redden. "I -- it's not that good."
"Jess, I helped you learn how to draw last night. I'm not expecting Rembrandt from you." Rusty shook her head. "I still don't know how you got all this way without taking an art class before now."
"It always conflicted with something else I wanted."
"Like what, not wanting to take art?"
Nasty nodded. "I took drafting once, though."
"Did you at least take my advice?"
"I tried. The human body isn't the same as a house."
Rusty smiled. "At least you tried." She looked up. "Oh, Ms Funke." Nasty raised her head.
"Hello, Jane." Funke turned her attention to Nasty. "I think you're a little late, miss. I asked for the models to come here Monday."
"Models?" Nasty blinked. /What is she talking -- oh, crap. She still thinks I'm here to pose for the class./ "I'm not a model."
Funke placed her hands on her hips. "Just who are you?"
"This is the new student, Jessica Hathaway," Rusty said. "She started here on Monday."
"I see," Funke said. "Well, then, dear, I'd like to see your work."
Nasty's eyes widened. "Now?"
"You're not working on your homework, so I assume the rough work is done."
Fuck! Resigned, Nasty pulled her homework out of her bag and followed Funke to her desk. I am so screwed. Funke's going to call Anne and the entire job's going to be blown. She slid her scratchpad in front of the art teacher.
Funke opened the pad and looked at Nasty's sketch. From time to time, the woman glanced at Nasty, then back at the drawing. Nasty shifted on her feet. Beads of sweat formed on her forehead. Funke closed the pad and returned it to the girl. "Very good likeness," the teacher said. "Interesting pose. Go ahead and start painting."
"Why, of course, dear," Funke said. "This is your major project for the semester. I thought you knew. Are you ill? You're very pale."
"I . . ." Major project? "I need to go to the washroom. Can Rusty -- Jane -- help me there?"
"Do go ahead, dear."
Nasty half-ran back to her seat and grabbed Rusty by the arm. "We need to talk," Nasty growled, dragging her fellow redhead out the door.
"Jess, whoa, slow down." Rusty struggled to keep up with the upset young woman. She managed to pull her arm back. "Jess!"
Inside the washroom, Nasty spun on her heel. "Why didn't you tell me about the major project?"
"What are you talking about?"
"The fucking painting!" Nasty paced in front of the sinks. "You could have fucking told me."
Rusty staggered away from Nasty's vehemence. "I didn't know. Jess, calm down."
"Calm down?" Nasty roared. "I don't like surprises!"
"Would you calm the fuck down already? Did Funke tell you that the nude study was our major project?"
Rusty closed her eyes. "Shit." She shook her head. "I am so sorry, Jess."
"What now? I can't paint."
"There's more, Jess." Rusty held her breath, waiting for Nasty's reaction.
In a cold tone, Nasty said, "More?"
"Every semester, the major project becomes an exhibit that parents and students are invited to."
"What?" Nasty threw her hands into the air. "I should never have taken your suggestion."
"I am not letting everyone see me like that, not even in a painting."
Nasty slammed her hand on the counter. "Forget it. It's bad enough you talked me into using myself as a model."
"Trust me, Jess, if I'd known. I'd have suggested something else. I think I know how to help."
"What could you--" Nasty bit off the rest of her comment when she heard a knock at the door.
"Am I interrupting anything?" Cynthia asked as she entered.
Rusty met the newcomer. "Yes, Cynthia?"
"Funke wants to see your prelim," the twin said. "Well, June's, but close enough."
"Lovely," Rusty muttered. She looked over to Nasty. "Think about it, Jess." She left the washroom.
Cynthia watched the angry young woman as she ran water. "What?" Nasty snarled.
"Someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed," the newcomer purred.
What now? Nasty closed her eyes. "Bad day."
Cynthia smiled. "Then you have to be at the football game tomorrow."
Finally! Nasty splashed closed water in her face to hide her reaction. "Your surprise still on? Care to let me in on it?"
"I don't know, Jessica. Which would be more enjoyable, having you help or seeing your face when I pull this off."
"Up to you." Nasty shut off the water. I hate these games. Why can't she just say what she's planning?
"You have to be at the game, Jess. It's the perfect place to be seen with the right crowd."
Nasty turned to Cynthia. "The right crowd?"
"Of course, dear." Cynthia smiled. "You want to be seen with the up and comers. Not necessarily with Em or I. It'd look a little odd, suddenly jumping over the pack after your first week. You understand, don't you?"
Anne wouldn't like it if I smacked this bitch here. Nasty nodded. "I think I do." What I wouldn't give to be with Rennie right now. She'd be able to cut Cynthia down on the spot.
"We should go back before that dreary Ms Funke forgets we even exist." Cynthia walked towards the door. "So, Jess, care to show me your study?"
Yeah, right. "Not right now."
Cynthia took on a hurt expression. "Why not?"
Nasty grinned. "It'll be a surprise."
As soon as the bell signalled lunch, Nasty dashed out of the classroom, her books askew under her arms. At her locker, she shoved her things on the shelf, avoiding crushing her lunch. I have to call Anne. She has to believe me now.
Rusty arrived beside Nasty. "Jessica, we need to talk." Cold anger laced her words.
Nasty closed her eyes. Not now. "Look, Rusty--"
Nasty felt Rusty's gaze boring through her. "I yelled at you."
"Yes, you did."
Turning to face Rusty, Nasty said, "I'm sorry. I--" Shut up, Giuliano.
Rusty put a hand on her hip. "Why? I thought we were getting along."
"I've had a bad week. That stupid art project was the last straw."
"Jess, I can help get you out of it."
"You can help me drop the class?"
Rusty smiled. "Too late for that. I do have a way for you to cover yourself, though."
"Will Jessica Hathaway please report to the office," interrupted the PA system. "Jessica Hathaway, please report to the office."
What now? "Come by my place later tonight," Nasty said. "I'll make dinner again and you can tell me your idea."
"I'll call. Go ahead with the office."
Nasty closed her locker and ran down the hall. She took the stairs two at a time. Fellow students scattered out of her way, not wanting to be trampled. At the bottom of the stairs, Nasty burst through the doors. As she oriented herself, one of the twins stepped in front of her. "Jessica."
Which one is this, Cynthia or Emily? "Can it wait? I'm going to the office."
"No." The girl folded her arms. "I know what Cynthia is doing. I want to know why you."
"I don't know. Can I go?"
"My sister obviously saw something in you. Don't know what." Emily regarded Nasty. "Then again, she's always been the dreamer, leaving it to me to do the work. So typical of her."
"Are we done?" Temper, Giuliano. There might something you can use against these twits.
"A lot of work. Unless she's looking for someone who doesn't kiss up to her. I wonder what she's planning." Emily looked into Nasty's eyes. "Whatever it is, if it involves me, Cyn won't be rid of me that easily. I think I shall have a word with her." Emily walked past Nasty.
Bitch. Nasty closed her eyes. The office. What the hell do they want? I need to call Anne. With a sigh, she resumed her course.
She arrived at the office to see a middle-aged man waiting. He stood up, saying, "Jessica, honey."
"Dad, what are you doing here?" Nasty asked. He better be from the Foundation.
"You forgot this." He handed a package to Nasty.
The receptionist looked up. "Mr. Hathaway, Miss Hathaway, the vice-principal would like see you. Please follow me."
The hell? Nasty followed the receptionist into a conference room. She sat at the table. Her "father" took the chair beside her.
"I'm Martin," the man said after the receptionist left to get the vice-principal. "Anne sent me." He offered his hand.
"Hi." Nasty only looked at the hand. "Is this an emergency?"
"There's a note explaining everything inside," Martin said. "My turn. Why would the VP want to see us?"
Nasty shrugged. "I'm not a mind reader."
The door opened and a mature woman entered. Martin stood up, again offering his hand. The woman shook it. "I'm Helen Meechum. Pleased to meet you, Mr. Hathaway."
"Nice to meet you, too," Martin said.
Meechum smiled at Nasty. "Hello, Jessica." She sat across from Nasty and Martin. "Please have a seat." She waited until Martin sat down again. "The office received a report about Jessica's language yesterday. Now, the school's regulations completely forbid the use of foul language; however, a first offence isn't enough to ask you to find a new school. It is an indication of a problem lurking beneath the surface."
Martin nodded. "I see."
"I want Jessica to start counselling. Whatever happens during the sessions can remain confidential. I just want to know that Jessica is going to them."
Martin turned to Nasty. "Jessica?"
"Whatever." Nasty shrugged. I'm gone anyway after the football game.
"Jessica, this should concern you," Meechum said. "Swearing won't get you far in a professional career. Was there anything bothering you yesterday?"
Meechum met Nasty's gaze. "Surely you had a reason for your language yesterday."
"I had a bad day, that's all."
"Just bad." What does it matter?
"Jessica, I do have a point. Your temper got the best of you. Counselling will help."
Nasty sighed. "It wasn't any one thing. Just a bunch of stuff."
"Jessica also got to be late last night," Martin added. "Between the move and the new school, she hasn't been sleeping well this week."
Meechum nodded. "This will just be a warning. I still want Jessica to start counselling. She can use the school's or one of your choosing, Mr. Hathaway."
Martin nodded. "I'll make sure she goes."
The vice-principal stood up. "Thanks for your time." She left the room.
"I'll have to tell Anne what happened," Martin said. "Jessica, what happened yesterday?"
Nasty stretched in her chair. "It was just a bad day, that's all. Haven't you had one? Anyway, Anne's already aware."
"Okay." Martin got up. "We'll have to act like father and daughter out there."
"How do you normally say goodbye to your father?"
Nasty blinked. "What?"
"Did you hug him, kiss him, something else?"
How the fuck would I know? "Um sure, whatever you feel comfortable with."
You're asking the wrong person. "We have to keep up appearances."
Nasty stood up. "Ready." She followed Martin back to the main office.
"We'll talk later tonight, honey." Martin kissed Nasty on the cheek. "Anything else that you want to tell Mom?"
"I need to be at the football game this weekend," Nasty said. "The big event's happening there."
Nasty hefted the package. "Actually, Dad, I'm not feeling well."
Get the hint already. "Sick to my stomach. Mom usually lets me rest at home until I'm better." Nasty shook the package.
"I'll take you home. Wait for me outside."
Nasty left the office, happy to get away. I should've thought of this sooner. I can get the hell out of here and --
"Jessica!" Christine ran up to Nasty. "I've been looking for you."
Oh, what now? "You found me."
"Somei and I have been working on the fight scene. We can show you after school."
The end of this mission can't come soon enough. "That's . . . that's great." Nasty forced a smile on her face. "I'm not feeling well. I'm about to go home."
Concern appeared on Christine's expression. "Oh, what's wrong?"
"Upset stomach. Don't worry about it."
"Are you sure?"
Nasty nodded. "I just need to rest."
The door to the office opened. Martin stepped out, saying, "Ready, Jessica?"
"Yeah, Dad. Just need my coat."
"I'll be at the car." Martin indicated Christine. "Is this one of your friends?"
Christine extended her hand to Martin. "Christine. Hi."
Martin shook Christine's hand. "Hello."
"Jess, can I call you later?"
"Yeah, sure," Nasty said. As she left, she heard Christine tell Martin about the drama club. Only a few more minutes, then I'll be away from this hellhole. She climbed back upstairs. I wonder how Mom's doing. Has she even noticed that I'm gone? Nasty stopped at her locker. She blinked back a tear. She probably held a party once she realized I'm not there.
"Jess, you okay?"
Control, Giuliano. Nasty turned to face Rusty. "Just feeling sick. My dad dropped by, so I'm getting him to take me home."
"I hope you feel better soon, Jess."
"Drop by after class. I should be okay then."
"It's just an upset stomach. Please come over."
Rusty smiled. "Alright."
Nasty threw her coat on and grabbed her backpack. "See you." She ran back downstairs to the lobby where she saw Martin and Christine still talking. The girl waved. Great, she's still there, Nasty grumbled. She stopped beside Martin. "Ready, Dad."
"Okay, Jess. Nice meeting you, Chris."
"Bye, Mr. Hathaway. See you tonight, Jess." Christine ran off.
Nasty arched an eyebrow. "What is she talking about?"
Martin started walking to the doors. "Your friend was telling me you're in the drama club."
"I'm just doing lighting." Nasty held the door open. "And I'm just in it because of Anne."
Nasty waited until she got into Martin's car before asking, "What did she mean, 'See you tonight'?"
"I invited her for dinner. Have to keep up your cover."
"And you and Anne are going to be there?"
"Of course. Do you need any groceries?"
"I'll check when we get there."
Nasty sat back on the couch, curling her legs underneath her. She picked up the VCR's remote. There had better be something on this. She pressed play. The TV flickered with static from the cassette before the recorded image appeared. Cinder and Ember, again wearing their provocative costumes, waved. "Oh, please," Nasty sneered.
"Hi, Mayor. It's me, Cinder." The woman blew a kiss at the camera.
"And Ember." The twin wriggled her hips. Nasty mimed retching.
"You were a naughty boy, Mayor," Cinder said. "You didn't give us our money."
"You didn't even leave us a note. We're hurt." Ember pouted.
/Get over yourself, wench,/ Nasty thought. She dropped the remote and rubbed her hand on her jeans.
"You probably even told that mean ol' Eagle about us, too," Cinder whined.
"I see he has a brand new Peregrine. I didn't know he liked girls, too."
"We simply must meet her."
Just show yourselves. Nasty clenched her fist.
"We must," Ember agreed. "She looks hot."
"But not as hot as us." Cinder sent gout of flame into the air.
Ugh. Get to the point already.
The twin villains giggled. "Anyway, Mayor," Cinder began.
"We never got our money."
"And we weren't joking about that."
"We were reasonable."
"We would have held up our part of the deal."
"But you never got back to us."
"So we have to punish you." Cinder waggled her finger at the camera. "Naughty, naughty, Mayor."
"You had a chance. Rochester only has you to blame for what happens."
What are you two planning? Nasty picked up the remote.
"Ember and I will be waiting for you tomorrow."
"Maybe we'll call you," Ember said, "maybe we won't."
"We're even looking forward to seeing Eagle again."
"And that delicious Peregrine, too."
Nasty stabbed the stop button. Fuck this. I need to start dinner. She heard a key in the door. "Hello?" she called.
"Jess, you're here," Anne said as she stepped in the front hall. "How are things?"
Nasty shrugged. "Happy the week's over. I'm about to start the lasagne."
Anne took off her coat. "You don't have to make dinner."
"You and Martin are here to maintain my cover. You're doing enough for me as it is."
"If you say so. Have you watched the tape yet?"
Nasty nodded. "Just finished."
"What do you think?"
"I want to hunt them down and smack them. Are they always that annoying?"
"Don't underestimate them, Jess. Eagle's had problems with them before."
"They natter at him constantly?"
"I'll get their files for you to read," Anne said. "Be careful around them." The phone rang. Anne picked it up. "Hello? Sure, come on up."
"Was that Rusty?" Nasty asked.
"Oh, f--" Nasty cute off the obscenity. "Sorry, Anne."
Anne smiled. "Keep working on it, Jess."
"I completely forgot about her. Rusty's coming over to help with that --" Nasty fumbled for a replacement word "-- stupid art assignment."
"Is there enough sauce for everyone if we include Rusty?"
"I'll handle it. Go be with your friend. Remember that we're still looking for Cinder and Ember."
Nasty nodded. "I know." She walked to the entryway and opened the door. Down the hall, the elevator doors opened. Hearing two voices, Nasty peeked into the hall. Christine and Rusty waved. Of course they'd come together. "Hi guys."
"Hi, Jess," Rusty said. "Does Chris know what we're up to tonight?"
"Right, that." Nasty took a deep breath. "Christine, Rusty's here to help me with my art project. Rusty, Chris is here to work on the play the Drama Club's putting on."
"The art project?" Christine said. "Oh, the nude study. You're painting Rusty?"
Nasty blushed. "No!"
"Not exactly, Chris," Rusty said. "We can still do the work, Jess."
Nasty moved aside to let her friends in. "Dinner won't be long."
"Hi, girls," Anne said from the kitchen door.
"Hi, Mrs. Hathaway," Rusty said.
"Mom, this is Christine. We'll be in my room."
Nasty led Christine and Rusty to her room. She sat on the corner of her bed. "Where do we start?"
"Up to you." Rusty sat at Nasty's desk.
"Can I see your art homework?" Christine asked. "Funke said that I had to redo my rough sketch."
"Um . . .." Nasty's cheeks reddened. "Well--"
"Here." Rusty pulled her sketchpad from her backpack. She flipped to a page with a sketch of Monday's nude model. "It's a start."
Christine took the pad from Rusty. "Wow! Nice work. I wish Dad had let me stay in class. I had to raid Simone's father's stash. Just let me say, 'Ew!'"
"Still needs some work," Rusty said. "The model was a little stiff."
"The guy or the girl?" Christine giggled. "Can I see your sketch, Jess?"
"I don't know,' Nasty stammered.
"Please, Jess? Funke looked like she loved it."
Nasty shot a pleading glance at Rusty before answering, "It's really personal."
"It's just homework, Jess," Christine said. "How personal can it get?"
"Chris--" Rusty began.
"It's me, okay?" Nasty interrupted.
"What?" Christine exclaimed
Nasty closed her eyes. "I'm my model."
Christine's eyes widened. "Wow, Jess, I'm impressed. I could never do that."
"It's not that easy, trust me."
"It was my idea," Rusty said. "I'm sorry, Jess, for putting you through all this."
"I can see why Funke would go gaga," Christine said. "You don't have to show me."
"We still need to work on it, Jess," Rusty said.
"I know Rusty. I . . . it's the pose. I'm not standing like that if everyone and her parents will see it."
"I think I can fix that. Let me see the sketch again?"
"Here." Nasty retrieved her sketchbook and handed it to Rusty. "Go ahead and look, Chris. Everyone's going to see me like that eventually."
Flipping through the book, Rusty found Nasty's assignment. "Okay, Jess, shift a bit." She handed a textbook to Nasty. "Hold this like it was your sketchpad." Rusty adjusted Nasty's posture. "Look in the mirror."
Christine peered over Rusty's shoulder at the drawing. "This is well done, Jess." She glanced at Nasty. "Did you learn to draw like this at your old school?"
"Rusty helped." Nasty shifted, trying to get comfortable.
"Chris isn't kidding about your talent, Jess," Rusty said. She adjusted Nasty's shoulders a bit more. "Okay, hold your arm like you're sketching. How's that?"
"The sketchpad won't be big enough."
Christine looked at the drawing again. "This seems fine to me."
"Those aren't your tits out there for everyone to see."
"Jess, it's a nude study," Rusty said. "Even changing the pose, something has to show. Besides, it'll just be one breast if this works out. Nothing else."
Nasty sighed. "I guess." She caught Christine's gaze mid-gaze. "What?"
"Huh?" Christine asked.
"Just what are you starting at?"
Christine took the sketchpad from Rusty. "It's just that your breasts aren't that big."
Rusty retrieved the sketchpad. Shrugging, she said, "Possibly."
"I should know my own body."
"Jess, it's not a big deal," Christine said.
Nasty glowered. "Just how do you know the size of my breasts?"
"We have Phys. Ed. Together, Jess," Christine explained. "Hard not to notice everyone else in the showers after class."
"You looked?" Rusty asked.
"Wouldn't you be curious?" Christine turned to Nasty. "Jess, surely you've compared yourself to other girls in your classes."
"Maybe not now, but when you were younger." Christine withered under the glares from Nasty and Rusty. "Didn't either of you compare your, um, development with other girls?"
"Why?" Rusty asked.
"Okay, maybe not you, Rusty. You've always been confident about your looks. What about you, Jess? Haven't you checked out your classmates, even just a peek just once? Ever?"
"Once, maybe," Nasty answered. "Back in Grade Eight, I think." She shook her head. Why am I telling her this?
"Just how many times did you peek?"
Christine shrugged. "Once or twice the first day you were here. That's it."
"Not that you have anything to be ashamed of."
"Can we talk about something else other than my breasts?"
Rusty covered her mouth with her hand, hiding her laughter. "How about the drama club?"
"What about it?" Christine asked.
"We have the fight to work out," Nasty reminded. Not enough space to hold a second thought, huh?
"Fight?" Rusty said.
Christine nodded. "We're updating the Scottish Play, and Cynthia changed the sword fight into a rumble."
"Which really should be a knife fight," Nasty said. "If Cynthia wanted accuracy, the play would've been over in the first act with one family killing the other in a drive-by."
Christine gaped. "Did you witness one, Jess?"
Nasty shook her head. Her parents sheltered her too much.
"New York isn't that dangerous, Chris," Rusty answered.
"It's not safe, either. Some neighbourhoods are just waiting for an excuse to fight." Nasty let herself smile. Then there's the jerks I beat up. No excuse needed.
"Anyway, back to the fight. What's the problem?"
Christine shrugged. "We suck."
"You and Somei just don't look like you want to kill each other," Nasty said.
"I don't want to hurt her, Jess."
"Aha!" Rusty exclaimed. "I see the problem. Chris, you're supposed to be acting. You don't have to hurt Somei. You and she have to make it look like you are."
"Huh? Rusty, I don't get it."
"I'll show you. Jess, stand over here, beside me. Chris, sit on the bed." Rusty manoeuvred Nasty as Christine settled on the bed. "Jess, I want you to throw a punch, but aim half a foot to the right."
:"Your right or mine?"
"Yours. Chris, just watch. Whenever you're ready, Jess."
Nasty nodded. She cocked her fist and launched it where Rusty said. Rusty's head jerked back. The girl fell. Christine stood up, crying, "Jess!"
Rusty got back to her feet. "I'm okay, Chris. Jess never touched me."
"I get it," Nasty said. "I should have seen it."
"How did you know about that, Rusty?" Christine asked.
"I've done plays before. Remember, Chris, back in Grade Nine?"
Christine nodded. "We had bit parts back then."
"Yeah, but I watched everyone. Went to other plays, even worked on some over the summers. Cynthia should've known how to manage the fight."
"Jess, how many plays have you been in, not including the class plays everyone gets stuck with in Grade One?"
"This is my first."
"And Cynthia's, apparently."
"She seems to know what she's doing," Christine said.
Rusty grimaced. "Just don't tell her I helped, okay?"
Yeah, why not? Nasty thought. She sat back down at her desk.
"I don't trust her," Rusty said. "She came in at the beginning of the school year acting like she and her sister owned the place. They're even building up an inner circle."
"I noticed that. Maybe that's how things worked at their old school?"
Nasty shrugged. Never noticed that at Sewer.
"I think there's more to it, Chris."
"You remember Petra, though?" Christine turned to Nasty. "A couple of years ago, this one girl, Petra, though she was the Queen of Fieldson."
"Only because she aced all her classes, was dating Lincoln's head boy, and became the president of the student council. Didn't help that everyone treated her like royalty. No one did that with Cynthia, though. She just started here like that."
"What about Emily?" Nasty asked.
"Just as bad. Watch out for them, Jess. They've set their sights on you for some reason."
"You want me to stay away from them?"
"Up to you, really. If I were you, I'd take full advantage of them while you can."
A knock came from the door. "Girls, dinner's ready," Anne announced.
"Be right there," Nasty called back. She stood up, letting her friends out of the room before her. /I'm positive Cynthia and Emily are who I'm looking for./
[End Issue 27]
Next: The big surprise.