"Excuse me for not coming from a war zone!"
"A booby trap."
"Juliana, one of the missing. I thought you could use her for info."
The Great Jennifer Round-Up
Chapter 7 - New Threat
Laura returned to her dorm, marching straight in. "Thanks, everyone, for leaving me there." She stormed to her bed, then stopped dead when she saw the young auburn-haired girl sitting in it. "What's this?"
"This is Juliana," Caitlin said. She walked up behind Laura. "She's been very helpful so far. However, she hasn't answered the important questions."
"I don't know!" the young girl cried. "I didn't recognize her!"
"We need to know if you're telling the truth." Caitlin knelt down beside the girl. "Laura here just spent a sleepless night in your dorm room and really needs her sleep. She gets mean if she doesn't get enough sleep."
Laura rolled her eyes. "I'll use yours, Caitlin."
Caitlin ignored her roommate. "Laura is good with chemistry. I'm sure she can make something to loosen your tongue." Juliana blanched. "Laura, how are you at making scopolamine?" The redhead patted the Jennifer's shoulder.
"Scopolamine? Sodium thiopental works far better, if you can find it. Amobarbital is good, too." Laura looked down at the scared girl. "When did you last drink coffee or cola?"
Juliana squirmed on the bed. "I told you everything I know! Some girl, your age, in an Academy uniform, approached me and others with a deal. I said yes. Me and the other girls were taken to an old barn, given our stuff, then told to sneak back and start a riot."
Caitlin went nose to nose with the girl. "Did you hear any names? Did you see anyone else?"
"Just ours." Tears formed in Juliana's eyes. "No one else's. The girl who paid us talked to some other girls, but I never saw any of their faces."
Laura knelt down. "Maybe not their faces, but any other part?"
Juliana snuffled. "I don't know. A sleeve, maybe. But it couldn't have been. It was green."
Caitlin stood back up. "Green."
Juliana nodded. "Doesn't make sense. I thought it was a trick of the light."
Laura got to her feet. "What is it, Caitlin?"
"Juliana, go back to your dorm. Now." Caitlin waited for the young girl to sprint away. "This isn't good."
Laura felt the blankets that Juliana had sat on. "Could be worse. You didn't make her wet herself."
"Now is not the time for humour, Laura. We have a crisis. Someone is using our uniform to turn our Jennifers against us."
Autumn and Skye returned, each carrying several boxes. "Cait, cafeteria's been raided already," Skye said as she set down her load. "Almost no coffee left."
"They didn't get the energy drinks, though." Autumn set down her boxes. "Also got some pastries that aren't too old."
Laura threw herself into her bed. "You're not having a victory party here."
Caitlin sat down on the bed near her new roommate's feet. "Of course not. It's a planning meeting." She patted Laura's leg. "There's no time to sleep. Classes start in three hours. And good job with the bluff."
"I have been rudely awakened two mornings in a row." Laura glared at the redhead. "I was left in the tender mercies of girls who are barely housebroken. So, no, Caitlin, I am sleeping. And I wasn't bluffing."
Caitlin stood up and walked over to Skye. "Are you saying that you could make a truth serum?"
"I have no reason to lie about it."
"Skye, can you do the honours?"
"Touch me, Skye, and I will toss you out of here so fast you'll wonder what happened."
Autumn knelt down beside Laura. "You'll miss English. What are we supposed to tell Mr. Baker?"
Laura pulled the covers over her body. "That I was up late trying to figure out a rhyme for purple for his assignment." She flipped over, showing her back to Autumn. "Can I please sleep?"
"Guys, we do owe it to her." Skye stepped between Laura and Caitlin. "Autumn, leave her."
"Thank you." Laura waited until she heard her three roommates leave, the door shutting behind them, then closed her eyes.
A knocking at the door filtered through Laura's deep sleep, rousing the girl. She stretched, trying to figure out of the knocking was real or a dream. A second round of knocks confirmed her that someone was indeed at the door. Laura threw off her blankets and walked over to answer the knocking.
The Headmistress stood out in the hall, a package folded over her arms. "Good morning, Laura."
"I can explain."
"I'm sure you can explain why you're still in your dorm during morning classes, but it appears that you needed the sleep." The Headmistress flicked her eyes down at Laura's rumpled skirt. "You didn't even change for bed."
Laura's cheeks flushed. "Sorry, Headmistress."
"Here." The Headmistress passed the package over to Laura. "One of your uniforms has arrived. The rest should be in later this week. As of this moment, anytime you are out of your dorm room, you are to be wearing this uniform. No exception."
Laura took a step back from the doorway. "Understood, Headmistress."
"Good." The Headmistress smiled. "Perhaps you should put it on and get to class. You do have to catch up on them."
The Headmistress turned to leave. "Oh, and Laura? Please tell Caitlin that my day book goes back into the upper left drawer."
Laura nodded. "I will, Headmistress." She watched as the Headmistress walked to the stairwell, only closing the door to her dorm after Ms Stone was out of sight.
Retreating further inside, Laura laid out her uniform on her bed. For a moment, Laura considered falling back in bed and letting the morning disappear into dreamland. The idea fled when Laura saw the time; the morning all but disappeared already while she slept. Laura gathered her new uniform and disappeared into the bathroom.
She re-emerged from the bathroom, adjusting the uniform's grey skirt with her right hand while carrying the red blazer with her left. Laura looked up as the door opened to let her roommates in. She tossed her blazer on her bed as she ran to the middle of the room. "Hi!"
Autumn glared at her. "Now you're cheerful."
Laura twirled, letting her skirt flare. "Well?"
Skye smiled. "Looking good, Laura." She yawned. "I need a nap."
"Not yet," Caitlin said. "I was hoping you were awake, Laura. The uniform is going to help with what I have to ask."
Laura sat at the table. "I'm not going back to the Jennifers' dorm, Caitlin."
"No, not there." The redhead waved her hand in dismissal. "There's a coffee shop in town, Neutral Grounds. It's a place where rival schools can meet without fighting. We need you to go there tonight."
"Why not Autumn?"
Autumn fell into her bed. "Because I'm too tired. Some of us went to class this morning."
Caitlin sat down across from Laura. "Verity sends one of her people there each week. It's a way to clear the air. However, she chooses who she sends randomly. She could send Sarah, who no one really has a problem with, or she could send Caroline, who has a running feud with Autumn that could break out into a fight. Schools that get into fights at Neutral Grounds get banned."
"I won't start a fight, Caitlin. I'll finish it if she starts one."
"My point." The redhead leaned in closer to Laura. "You're new. There's no history between you and Verity's people."
Laura slumped in her chair. "Except Mackenzie."
"Mackenzie can behave when necessary." Caitlin reached out to pat Laura's hand. "It's important that we get a message to Verity. Someone wearing an Academy uniform lured the girls off campus and may have been working with a girl wearing a St. Dymphna uniform. The kidnapping of the Jennifers may have been a test run for something worse." The red-haired girl sighed. "As much as Verity and I dislike each other, she's the best person to get this news."
"I'll need twenty dollars, for coffee."
Caitlin reached into her blazer pocket. She passed over a ten and two fives to Laura. "Bring back receipts. And you should go get lunch in the cafeteria."
Laura eyed the redhead with suspicion. "Why?"
"The rest of us are taking naps," Autumn answered. "Oh, and you have to see Mr. Baker before class." An evil smile appeared on the Asian girl's face. "He has concerns about your attempt to rhyme purple in a sonnet."
The rest of the day passed at a snail's pace for Laura. Few of her classes were full, and her fellow students lacked energy, despite tall mugs of coffee in hand. The end of the school day came as a relief to Laura's classmates. For Laura, it meant a start on homework and dinner in the Academy's cafeteria. The students who showed up for what passed as lasagne and Caesar salad dragged their feet. Laura found a spot away from the Jennifers, trying to give space to the younger girls. She did wave back to Kristie; no need to be rude.
Laura pulled out her math textbook to read as she ate. Some of the work she understood. Some of it, though, confused her, even on a second and a third read-through. With a sigh of resignation, Laura closed the text.
"I know someone who could help there," Caitlin said.
Laura snapped her head up. "I didn't see you sit down."
"The ladies were wondering where you were."
"I didn't want to wake anyone up. Skye gets mean when doesn't get enough sleep."
Caitlin laughed. "So do you, Laura."
Laura blushed. "I overreacted."
"You shouldn't wait much longer. Safest time to get to the gates is when the Jennifers are eating." Caitlin nodded her head towards the clump of younger girls on the other side of the cafeteria. "I'll have a cab called for you." The red-haired girl slid an envelope over to Laura. "This should be enough to get you there and back, including tip."
"Cabs come out here?"
"Not to the door. No driver's that desperate. But we can get them out here, at least for the seniors."
Laura slipped the envelope into her pack. "Thanks."
"You remember what you need to tell Verity's people?"
"Yes, Caitlin." Laura exaggererated the patience in her tone. "Someone in an Academy uniform and someone in a St. Dymphna uniform stole our Jennifers."
"Close enough." Caitlin brushed a stray red lock of hair back behind her ear. "Don't be as sarcastic at Neutral Grounds as you are here."
Laura forced herself to smile. "I'll try."
Caitlin checked her watch. "You should get going. The cab should be here in twenty minutes, and it's at least ten minutes to walk to the gate."
"Must be nice to be so sure of yourself." Laura gulped down the remains of her meal. "Can you take my books back to the room?"
"Of course." Caitlin gathered Laura's texts. "Good luck, Laura."
"Thanks." Laura stood up. She put on her new blazer. "Is it always this chaotic here?"
Caitlin got up. "No, not usually. Normally, there's more happening."
Laura darted out the cafeteria and maintained a quick walk, not quite running, through the hallways to the main door. Outside, the sun was starting to set, giving the sky a pink tinge. Laura picked up her pace. Coming in, she hadn't noticed any features. Granted, Laura had other problems on her mind when she first arrived. The laneway curved in a lazy arc. Laura wished there was a shortcut, then changed her mind. The unmown grass could hide just about anything, especially with the calibre of her fellow students. Unconsciously, she moved to the centre of the laneway and ran faster.
The gate loomed ahead. Laura added a burst of speed to reach it. When she got to the gate, she stopped to catch her breath. The gate remained closed, though. Still panting, Laura looked for a way through or around it. The driver who brought her had only stepped in front of a camera. Laura wasn't sure if she wanted to be seen leaving. She looked for the hole in the stone wall she and her roommates used over the weekend. The hole was hidden, camouflaged by brush, but Laura found it. She squeezed through just as a taxi pulled to a stop in front of the gates.
The cab ride to Neutral Grounds took twenty minutes. Laura tried to pay attention to the roads the cab driver used, in case she needed to find her own way back. At the coffee shop, Laura opened the envelope Caitlin had given her. Inside, two small wads of cash were wrapped with their own elastics. Laura passed one of the wads to the driver. He smiled, but the moment Laura was out of the cab, he gunned the engine to speed away.
Laura fixed her skirt and blazer, then entered the coffee shop. The decor was a mix of country inn and neon throwback. Students milled around; some wore uniforms, others had school jackets. Laura couldn't place any of the crests. She shook her head, once again wondering what she had gotten mixed up in, then joined the line to place an order. The baristas were efficient, getting the orders made and out to students.
The barista at the cash was a tall and muscular man. Laura took a step back. "Um, hi, er, a cappucino? Please?" The cashier told her the amount, took her money, and gave her change. Laura backed away, not wanting to trigger the barista's chase instinct. She picked up her drink at the end of the bar, then looked for a seat.
The fireplace, even not lit, beckoned Laura. She found a plush chair to the side and pulled it closer. Laura sat in silence, sipping her cappucino, imaging a fire crackling in the fireplace, providing extra warmth on a cold winter's night. She curled up in the chair, drawing her legs in underneath her.
Laura looked up at hearing the familiar voice. "Hi, Mackenzie."
"Nice uniform. Suits you." The tiny St. Dymphna girl pulled a chair of her own over.
Mackenzie leaned so she could see Laura eye to eye. "Something wrong?"
Laura shrugged. "Not sure."
"Whatever the problem is, you can tell me. It won't leave the coffee shop." The tiny girl got comfortable in her chair. "No fighting is allowed here. See the baristas?" Mackenzie pointed out each one. All looked fit and capable of removing students without breaking a sweat. "They have no problems tossing anyone out. So, what's wrong?"
Laura looked over at Mackenzie, the tiny girl wearing the forest green blazer and plaid skirt of St. Dymphna Collegiate. "Where do I start? I got sent to a new school in a new city, made a nice girl angry with me, and got caught up in a riot. I just want to hide for the rest of the week."
Mackenzie raised an eyebrow. "If this girl is nice, she'll forgive you." She took a sip from her mug.
"I don't know. I deceived her. She reacted badly."
"Maybe she'd forgive you if you apologized to her."
"Would the apology be accepted?"
"You won't know until you try."
Laura set down her mug. "Mackenzie, I didn't mean to deceive you. I'm so sorry."
Mackenzie reached over to rub Laura's arm. "I know. I got angry because I thought you were different."
"What does that mean?"
"That came out wrong." Mackenzie took off her glasses to clean them. "Laura, I said things I didn't mean. I felt betrayed, but I had no reason for it. I should have asked you what school you were going to." The tiny girl sighed. She put her glasses back on. "It's all in the past."
"I'm still sorry, Mackenzie."
"Thanks." Mackenzie patted Laura's hand. "What brings you out here? And don't say a cab."
"Caitlin sent me." Seeing the tiny girl's face clouding with anger, Laura added, "She has information for Verity and thought I'd be the best person to bring it. I don't know why, other than Autumn and Caroline hate each other too much to risk them meeting."
Mackenzie's tone turned flat. "I see. What's the message?" She brought her hand back to her own lap.
"Something happened over the weekend at the Academy. The people behind it were wearing our school uniforms, yours and mine. Caitlin doesn't think it was anyone from our school or yours."
"I see. I think. Is she sure?"
"I don't think she'd send me if she wasn't."
"I'll let Verity know."
Laura closed her eyes. "I was hoping to see you here."
Mackenzie lowered her glasses. "You were?"
"I was." Laura's eyes met the tiny girl's. "I felt terrible about what I did to you. You were the first person I really talked to here."
Laura gave Mackenzie a warm smile. "Really."
"What about your new roommates?"
"You've seen them. I trust Caitlin only when it benefits Caitlin."
Mackenzie laughed. "True. But how do you know that you can trust me?"
"I don't know." Laura shrugged. "Maybe I can't, but I feel like I can, you know?"
"Yeah, I know." The tiny girl stood up from her chair and stood in front of Laura. "Get up. Up up up!"
Puzzled, Laura got to her feet. Mackenzie pulled her into a close hug, one Laura returned. "Thanks."
"Much. Can you hug away my English assignment?"
Mackenzie pulled Laura down with her into Laura's chair. "Depends. What's the assignment?"
"Sonnets. I'm supposed to write one but I'm better with chemistry."
"I'll help. I'm decent enough in English and no one's going to notice that I'm writing your poems." Mackenzie snaked her arm around Laura's shoulders.
Laura leaned closer to the tiny girl. "Thanks. I owe you big time."
"Don't worry about it. You know, if we weren't at rival schools, we could do our homework together more often."
"Once I get a computer, I can chat with you online. Maybe we can meet here a few times."
Mackenzie kissed Laura's cheek. "I was hoping you'd say that."