"Let me demonstrate my knowledge of chemistry and its effects on the human body."
"If anything happens to Laura, the Headmistress will have your hide, Cait."
"And you used me the moment you saw me. You don't care about me!"
"Look, Laura, tell me where the drugs are. I can get rid of them for you."
The New Girl
Chapter 6 - Rock Bottom
Laura woke up in a tangle with a blanket, still wearing the clothes she had on the day before. She stretched and rolled out of bed. Caitlin looked over from the room's dining table. "About time." The redhead picked up her bowl and took it over to the sink to rinse it out.
"What time is it?" Laura looked around for a clock.
"Quarter to eight." Caitlin finished washing her bowl and put it away.
"You're up early." Laura looked over at the other beds. Autumn remained curled up under her covers. Skye, however, stirred.
"We should keep it down."
A voice from the grave rumbled in Skye's bed. "Too late."
Caitlin held a finger to her lips. "Go get changed," she said, her voice lowered. "I'm taking you to the school's doctor."
"School's doctor?" Laura matched Caitlin's volume. She rolled out of bed. "I'm not sick."
"It's for a drug test."
"I'm not going."
"Yes, you are." Caitlin caught herself and lowered her voice. "I need to know if you're addicted to anything."
"Because of last night?"
Skye groaned. "Guys, really? Now?"
"Sorry Skye. Laura, it's for your health."
Laura straightened her green skirt. "Oh, bull, Caitlin."
Caitlin blinked. "Bull?"
"You're angry because I did something you didn't want me doing."
Skye flipped over in her bed. "Guys!" She pulled the pillows over her head.
"Keep it down, Laura." Caitlin glanced at the tall girl. "Skye's not a morning person."
"Sucks to be her, then."
Caitlin walked over to Laura's side, reaching out for the new girl's elbow. "Come along."
Laura stepped away. "No."
Autumn pushed herself up on one arm. Bleary, she blinked the sleep from her eyes. "What's going on?"
"I've got a hangover and you idiots won't shut up." Skye pushed aside her pillows and blankets. "All of you, get out!" She held her head in her hands.
"Shouldn't Skye see the school doctor, too?" Laura asked. "She got drunk last night!"
Caitlin reached again for Laura. "It's different."
Skye got out of bed, pulling herself to her full height. "Everyone! Out! Now!" She took a step towards her bickering roommates. "You, too, Autumn!"
"Me?" Autumn let herself fall back down on her bed. "You woke me up."
In the hallway, Laura glared at Caitlin. Autumn gathered her blankets, wrapping herself in them to hide her pink baby doll nightwear. "Thanks a lot, you two. I was having this wonderful dream. I was with--"
"I don't need to know, Autumn." Caitlin shook her head. "Ever." The red-haired girl turned to Laura. "You, with me."
"No." Laura pointed at the dorm. "Why does Skye get to get drunk while I'm assumed to be some druggie?"
Autumn appraised Laura. "What sort of drugs?"
Without looking at the Asian girl, Caitlin said, "Not important, Autumn. Laura, it's different."
Laura rolled her eyes. "How is it different?"
"Skye and the team do this twice a year," Autumn said. "They score some cheap booze, find a spot where they won't be found, usually in the woods or a distant part of an empty field. In the fall, they do it to bond. In the spring, it's to celebrate or commiserate how the year went." Autumn walked in between her arguing roommates. "Caitlin, have you ever thought about explaining things? It'd have let me remain in bed asleep." She kept walking towards the stairwell. "Now, if I'm not needed anymore, I'm off to find a quiet place to sleep. If I get busted for being out of uniform, I'm dragging you two down with me."
Caitlin stared at the door closing behind Autumn. Movement out of the corner of her eye caught her attention. "Not so fast, Laura."
"I need to go wash up and do something about my clothes. All of mine are in with the scary person with a hangover."
"You shouldn't have been yelling." Caitlin reached out to grab Laura. "Now, come along."
"I am not going, Caitlin." Laura leaned against the wall. "I'm not an addict. I know better than that. You never get hooked on your own wares, ever. Bad for business."
"Great, you're a drug dealer."
"Hardly." Laura pushed away from the wall. "Drug dealers don't get offers to turn over Crown's evidence to avoid being charged and tried like an adult." She looked down the hall. "The way I'm being treated here, maybe I should have taken my chances."
Caitlin wrapped an arm around Laura's shoulders. "That's why you're here?"
Laura nodded. "Witness protection. I'm not the dealer or the kingpin. Just the designer."
"And that purple stuff last night?"
"One of my own designs. Euphoric, with the only side effect being needing to sleep when it wears off. Non-addictive. Great for taking the edge off a bad day, not so great for keeping a customer base."
Caitlin gave Laura a squeeze. "Just a bad day yesterday?"
Laura pulled away to face the redhead. "I got whisked away from my home by two guys who never said one word and brought to a school where the students are crazy, scary, or arrogant. What do you call it?"
"A bad day, yes. And Cassandra can be a little much, even in small doses."
"Yeah, 'Cassandra'." Laura turned to leave. "I'm not going to the school doctor. I'm going to find someplace where I can sit and try to figure out what's going on." She left with a quick pace.
Caitlin watched her new roommate leave. Her eyes narrowed as she processed Laura's potential.
For the second time in as many days, Laura realized that she stormed off without having a clue of where anything was. The hallway had a few other of her fellow students, girls of all ages as young as thirteen, by Laura's best guess, to eighteen. Laura pulled off to the wall, getting out of people's way, to take stock of where she was. The unadorned industrial grey wall didn't help at all. Sighing, Laura stepped out to stop a girl coming up behind her. "Excuse me."
"Sure." The other girl, dark-skinned, her hair done up in dreads, kept walking.
Laura stared at the girl's back. She dashed to catch up. "Excuse me."
"Okay, you're excused." The girl never broke stride.
"I need your help."
The girl stopped short, forcing Laura to dodge her. "Okay. What's it worth to you?" She peered a little closer at Laura.
"I just need to know where the library is."
"You need to get back to whatever group you came with." The girl grabbed a bit of Laura's skirt. "You stand out like a sore thumb."
"I'm new here. My uniform's not in yet." Laura snatched her skirt back. "No one's given me the grand tour yet. I just need to go to the library."
"Oh. That's what that smoke from the road was yesterday."
"My twenty-four hours aren't up yet."
"Okay, okay." The girl pointed to the main stairs. "Go down to the first floor, hang a right. It'll be marked. Watch out for wandering Jennifers. They should be heading to the auditorium but some of them stray."
"Thanks, um." Laura let her voice trail off.
The girl beamed. "Sasha." She offered her hand.
"Hi. Laura." The new girl shook Sasha's hand. "Thanks. I don't suppose there's a map in the library?"
Sasha shrugged. "Could be. I don't get there often. Anyway, I need to get going. Good luck getting to the library."
"Thanks." Laura returned the girl's smile.
"You'll need it."
Laura's smile vanished. She watched Sasha continue her journey down the hall before making her way to the stairs. The lower she descended, the more girls she saw, though the stairs never got crowded. At the bottom, Laura looked both ways, to be sure that Sasha hadn't gotten her left and right mixed up. She saw what was left of the sign for the library, 'ARY'. Counting getting accurate directions a good thing, Laura walked to the library entrance.
Inside, the library was deserted. No one was on duty at the check-out desk. The lights were off, though the morning sun through dirty windows gave Laura a way to find her way around, past tables and chairs. The shelves of books became a maze, leading Laura deeper into the library. Maybe, just maybe, if she could get so thoroughly lost here, no one would find her and she'd be safe.
All hopes of being hidden fell to pieces when she heard Autumn groan, "Oh, come on!"
Laura spun to see her Asian roommate leaning up against a shelving unit. "I didn't know you were here, Autumn."
"No, of course not. You just had to be the one person who would actually go to the library early Saturday morning." Autumn pushed away from the bookshelf and disappeared into the stacks.
Laura hurried to keep up. "Where else am I supposed to go? No one's shown me around. And what are you doing here?"
Autumn stopped at her pile of blankets. She crouched down, keeping her back to Laura. "I'm here because no one else comes here. No one except you." She gathered the blankets.
"I tried be quiet when I came in." Laura narrowed her eyes. "Wait, I was quiet. It's a library. You weren't asleep."
"No kidding. And I heard the door opening."
"So why are you bitching at me if you weren't sleeping?"
Autumn stood up and faced her new roommate. "I tried. But, since I had to be on alert, so much for getting back to sleep, and I had such a great dream going on. Really great. Now I need to take the edge off, which is difficult when someone walks in and destroys the mood."
"Take the edge off?" Laura blinked. "Oh. Oh!" She blushed. "Sorry."
Autumn let out a deep breath. "Never mind. But since you're here, I can use your help."
"Remember the first rule?" Autumn looked down at her pink baby doll nightie. "Does this look even close to being a uniform? Your fight with Caitlin got me tossed out without a change of clothes."
"My fight? Caitlin was bossing me around."
Autumn picked up her blanket. "That pretty much sums up Caitlin. Get used to it."
"'Get used to it'? Like you?"
"You don't have to yell at me. And, yes, like me. Like Skye. Like everyone else in our year. We've all been through Hurricane Caitlin several times. And we've all figured out how to deal with it, even Cassie."
"Then tell me. Autumn, I'm new. I haven't been here for years to know this place inside and out. I don't have places to stash things I want to keep private." Laura slumped against a bookshelf. "I'm lost here." A tear fell down her cheek.
"Oh, great, you're crying." Autumn dropped her blankets as she walked to be beside Laura. "Look, Laura, the Academy isn't for girls who can't handle themselves. Each and every one of us here, from the Jennifers to us seniors, have to cut out our own slice. If you can't do that, you're never going to make it here. And would you stop crying?"
"I can't!" Laura sobbed. She pulled her knees to her chest.
Autumn knelt down. "Great," she muttered. "Laura, this isn't helping." With hesitation, Autumn reached out to pat the crying girl's shoulder. "Laura, look." She sighed. "What will it take to get you to stop crying?"
"I don't know."
"You don't know." Autumn pulled Laura into an awkward hug. "Laura, someone is going to hear us and then a teacher will get involved and we'll both be in trouble." Autumn gave the forlorn girl a quick squeeze. "I need your help to get back to our room, but you need to stop crying."
Laura snuffled. "You need my help. You need the help of the new girl who has no idea where anything is to get back to your room."
"Our room, Laura. Our room. And, yes, I need your help. I need someone to keep an eye out for teachers and the Headmistress so I don't get caught out of uniform.' Autumn fingered the lace of her scant nightie. "And there's not much further out of uniform I can get than this."
Laura shook with silent laughter. "Okay." She sniffled, then used an arm to wipe her eyes. "You'll have to tell me where I'm going."
"And I want a tour once you're dressed. I'm tired of getting lost."
"Fine, sure, yes. Can we get going?"
Laura got to her feet with Autumn's help. "Promise."
"I promise." Autumn gathered her blankets, wrapping them around her to hide her lack of uniform. "Let's go."
Laura peeked out the library's door. She waited for a passel of girls to run by and disappear into a change room, then signalled Autumn to follow. "Hurry!" Laura darted to the main stairs.
Autumn ran on tiptoes to catch up. "No, too busy." She pointed further down the hall. "That's closer to our dorm."
"Past the main doors?" Laura looked back at the change room. "What about the girls in there?"
"They're probably going for a swim." Autumn looked around. "The longer we stay here, the more likely I'm going to be seen."
"Okay, okay." The two girls ran down the hallway, past the main doors. Laura paused to look outside. The field passing for a front lawn caught the morning sun, adding a golden glow to the overgrown fountain. Laura's reverie was broken when Autumn tugged on her arm.
The two girls reached the side staircase. Both were breathing heavier from the running. Laura opened the door and stuck her head inside. She heard footsteps higher up, but going still higher, followed by giggling. Laura signalled Autumn, then ran up the stairs, taking them two at a time.
"Third floor," Autumn whispered. She rushed to keep up with her roommate.
At the third floor landing, Laura stopped to catch her breath. Autumn joined her, blanket trailing. "Our dorm is just on the other side. Go out, open our door, then give me space to run in. Got it?"
Laura nodded. "Got it." She looked through the small window in the door. "It's clear. Ready?"
Laura dashed out, getting to her new dorm in several strides. She tried the door handle and found it unlocked. As she opened the door, she heard her neighbour's open. Laura flashed a worried look back at Autumn.
"Lorelei, you're awake!" Cassie flowed out of her dorm room, her long grey skirt swirling. "Fawna or Flora is still asleep, poor thing."
"Still?" Laura felt like a deer caught in headlights. "I guess she must have been really tired."
"Must be." Cassie regarded Laura's outfit. "Lorelei, dear, just because your uniform isn't in yet, it doesn't mean you have to wear the same clothes from yesterday. It looks like you slept in them." The blonde girl twirled her finger, indicating that Laura should turn around. "Not a bad combination. You don't read fashion magazines, do you?"
"Fashion? No, not really. But--"
"I'll loan you some of mine." Cassie leaned in closer. "However, if you want to fit in a little better here, wear something red. Just a splash if you don't have a red blouse. It's one of the Academy's colours."
"Thanks." Laura looked around. "I should, you know, get in. I need to unpack."
"I won't keep you. We'll do something about your hair another time." Cassie turned with a flourish and glided to the main stairwell.
Laura waited a few minutes, ignoring Autumn's increasing frantic pounding of the stairwell's metal door. Confident that no one else was about to appear, Laura opened the door to her dorm, then stepped aside. Autumn ran by, blankets dragging on the ground. Laura kicked the bed covers inside, then ducked into the dorm. Remembering Skye, the new girl closed the door quietly.
"What was that all about?" Autumn hissed.
"Cassie's worse than Caitlin." Laura looked over at Skye's bed. "Sh."
"I can hear you," Skye grumbled.
Laura walked over to her suitcases. "I've got something for your headache."
Skye rolled over in bed. "Two girls leaving?"
Autumn grabbed Laura's wrist. "Isn't that what got us tossed out already?"
Laura rolled her eyes. "It's an ibuprofen-acetaminophen mix, well within regular doses of each, with added caffeine to speed delivery. There's nothing in it that you wouldn't find over the counter, just a little more than normal." She took her wrist back from Autumn. "Nothing illegal. Just take it with water. Lots of water." Laura opened one suitcase and took out an unmarked pill bottle. "Here." She tossed the bottle on to Skye's bed.
Skye felt around for the bottle, keeping her eyes closed. Her massive hand wrapped around the bottle. She opened the lid and pulled out two off-white pills. Skye swallowed both at once. "Ugh!" She bolted upright. "Laura, these are awful."
Autumn filled a glass with water and gave it to her tall roommate. "Here."
Laura returned to her suitcase and started setting out a change of clothes. "That's why I told you to take them with water. I never bothered with the taste."
"No kidding." Skye sat up. "Gym socks taste better." She swung her bare legs over the edge of her mattress. "How fast do your pills work?"
"Ten, maybe fifteen minutes. Drink the water. It'll help."
Skye downed the glass of water in one long drink. She grimaced. "Oh, yeah, Laura, that really helped with the taste."
"Teaches you to throw us out." Autumn grabbed her uniform. "I'm taking a shower." She flounced into the bathroom.
Laura gathered her clothes and sat on her bed. "I'm sorry for waking you this morning, for what it's worth."
Skye waved away the apology. "You're new. You had no way of knowing."
"I would if people would just tell me."
"Could you tell people how to get through a typical day in your old life, whatever it was?"
Laura fell back in her bed. "Of course."
"Even the little details you take for granted?" Skye stood up. She staggered for a moment before she regained her balance. "Yes, someone should have prepared you for Cait. You got dropped in without warning. Some of that is on Headmistress Stone. We should have shown you around more. Cait, well," Skye shrugged, "she should've stopped being herself for an hour." The tall girl walked over to her dresser. "Even if you had all that, you'd still be lost, Laura. The Academy is unique. If you had been a Jennifer, you'd have figured it out and carved a niche of your own. Now? It must be like learning to swim after being dropped in the ocean."
"So I have to carve my own island out of the ocean?" Laura propped herself up. "Build a sandcastle out of nothing?"
Skey set aside her clothes for the day. "You don't have nothing." She turned to face Laura. "You have everything you need. You have you, and all you have to do is figure out who you want you to be. No one else can do that." Skye walked over to the bathroom door and knocked. "Care to leave some hot water for the rest of us?" she called.
Laura flipped over on to her stomach. She ignored Skye pacing at the bathroom. Instead, one thought kept going through her head, What if I don't know who I want to be?
"Helping? Helping Verity?"
"How big a blast did you want?"
"Where's Caitlin and Skye?"
"What do you think, Laura? Are you an Unruly Girl?"