"Break it up already," Nasty said. She shook her head at the sight of Somei and Christine trying to wrestle. "Have either of you ever fought?"
The two girls separated from each other. "Does kindergarten count?" Somei asked.
"No," Nasty snapped. Of course they don't know. Pampered bitches wouldn't know what a real smack feels like.
Christine raised her hand. "I'm in marital arts."
"Why would I joke about that?"
"You're not showing it."
Christine shrugged. "I don't want to hurt Somei."
"You're not supposed to hurt her. Just make it look real."
Do I have to think of everything? "Just show me what you can do."
Christine backed up a step. "I don't know, Jess. We're not supposed to use our skills dangerously."
Nasty cocked her fist. "Do it." She stepped toward the tall girl. Christine grabbed Nasty's arm. Falling, she threw the redhead over her. Nasty landed on her back. She gasped for air. Christine and Somei knelt beside her.
"Jess, are you okay?" Somei asked.
"Oh, God, I'm so sorry, Jess." Christine held her hand out to Nasty.
"I'm fine," Nasty gasped. She pushed herself up. "I'm fine."
"I didn't mean--"
"Christine, shut up!" Nasty got to her feet. She adjusted her skirt. "I'm not hurt."
Christine backed away a few steps. "I'm really sorry," she mumbled.
"Jess, maybe we should get you to the nurse's office," Somei suggested. She reached for Nasty's hand.
Nasty jerked back her arm. "No nurse." She inhaled deeply. "Fine. Christine, you know martial arts. Can you think of a way to use it to not hurt Somei?"
"I think so."
"Good. You two go figure it out and tell me what you have tomorrow morning."
Somei and Christine exchanged glances, then left. Nasty looked around the practice room. Satisfied no one else was with her, she rubbed her back. If I ever have to fight her, I sucker punch her. Damn it, how did such a wimp learn to do that? Nasty shook her head. Anne's expecting me. She's supposed to have more info on the bozos I stopped last night. The Peregrine-cycle needs repairs, too. She sighed. Another long day.
"Jess, there you are," Rusty said as she entered the practice room. "I was wondering where you were. Miss Funke's looking for you."
Nasty picked up her backpack. "What for?"
"The nude study. She's wondering how far you've gotten."
"Oh, that." Nasty felt her cheeks grow warm.
Rusty put a hand on her hip. "Well?"
"I've been . . . busy." Nasty walked to the door.
"Jess, your skirt."
"My skirt?" Nasty craned her neck to check behind her. The back of her skirt had folded under itself. "Fuck! I hate this fucking uniform!"
"Let me get it." Rusty walked behind Nasty. "Don't sweat the skirt. It takes some time to get used to it. They want us to learn poise, to be ladylike." She adjusted the skirt. "This is getting to be a habit."
Nasty stepped away and turned sharply. "Is it fixed?"
"Nothing showing that shouldn't." Rusty smiled. "So, the art homework?"
"What about it?"
"I can help."
Nasty raised an eyebrow. "How?"
Rusty twirled, her skirt flaring. "I could pose for you."
"What?" Nasty took two steps backward. She didn't just say that, did she? What the fuck goes on at this school?
"Unless you have someone else to be your model. It's one of Funke's quirks, Jess. She wants a live model, not someone from a nudie magazine."
"Oh. I wasn't thinking of . . . of doing that." Nasty fidgeted. Can we move on to something else?
"Funke's expecting the rough sketch tomorrow. You can't just not do the work. What are you going to do, use yourself as the model?"
"No!" Nasty snapped. "Are you out of your fucking mind?"
"I didn't think so. Jess, I can help you, seriously. What are you doing right now?"
"I --" What the fuck do I tell her now? "I . . . I have to meet Mom at work. I don't know if she'll let me do this assignment."
Rusty patted Nasty's shoulders. "I'll talk to her. Let's go."
Damn it! I gotta get rid of her. "I better call Mom, let her know we're coming."
"I'll go warm up the car. Meet you out front!" Rusty dashed off.
Nasty slumped against the wall. Fuck, fuck, fuck! There's got to be a way out of this. She adjusted her backpack. Flicking off the lights, she left the room. "Fuck!"
Down the hall, a door opened. Nasty groaned as she heard footsteps behind her. Detention. Great. Let's just make my life even worse. She turned around, a resigned look on her face. "I can explain."
"Come into my classroom," the teacher said. She waited until Nasty passed before falling in behind. Once in the room, she closed the door. "How long have you been coming to this school?"
"Three days." Nasty looked around the room. On the desk sat a nameplate - C. Stornel. "It's been a --"
"Three days," Stornel repeated. "And did you swear like a sailor at your previous school?"
Stornel regarded Nasty for several moments. "Well? Do you have an explanation for your language?"
Nasty stared at the floor. "It's been a long day and I didn't sleep well last night. It won't happen again."
"You're right it won't happen again. What is your name?"
"Jessica," Nasty replied. "Jessica Hathaway."
"Well, Miss Hathaway, I'm going to let the headmistress know what happened here today. I'm sure she'll want to talk to you. You may go and think about what happened." Stornel returned to her marking."
Nasty left the classroom. Fuck you, bitch! She stormed upstairs to her locker. Rusty's probably wondering if I ditched her. Fuck this and fuck this school. I can't wait until I find Cinder and Ember. They are going to pay for what I'm going through. Nasty slammed her locker shut. Grabbing her gear and throwing her coat on, she dashed to the front lobby and outside.
Rusty waited in her car, its engine idling. She opened the door for Nasty. "What happened, Jess? I was beginning to wonder if you'd hurt yourself."
That'd be a way out of this mess. Nasty jumped into the car. "Ran into a teacher."
Rusty raised an eyebrow, but didn't press for more information. Instead, she asked, "Where does your mom work?" She pulled away from the school.
Nasty gave the redhead the address for the Foundation. "I really should call Mom and let her know we're coming."
"Here." Rusty handed her cell phone to Nasty.
"Thanks." After a few moments of examining, Nasty figured out how to dial. "Anne Hathaway, please, extension 191." She waited as she was transferred. "Mom, it's me," she said when Anne answered. "I'm with Rusty right now. She's driving me over." Nasty glanced at Rusty. "Not really, Mom. Maybe when I get there. What am I supposed to do?" A blare of horns interrupted. Nasty looked up as Rusty swerved. "Sorry, Mom. Traffic. Rusty's driving. Yes, we're safe. I don't know, maybe ten minutes? Okay, I'll tell her. Bye, Mom." Nasty hung up and returned the phone to Rusty.
"Nah. Mom's meeting us at the reception." Nasty leaned back in her seat. "Mind if I put some tunes on?"
"Chris, I'm getting sick of this hotel room," LaShawna complained. "Let's just get the bitch and go home. The three of us can take care of her."
Chris looked up from his newspaper. "Thirteen is working for the American Eagle. The Coordinator told us to avoid trouble. Unless you've figured out how to get Thirteen without alerting him, Eagle counts as trouble."
Kevin stepped out of the bathroom, fully dressed but his hair still damp. "Thirteen the type to stay in costume?" he asked.
LaShawna shrugged. "Who cares?"
"We catch her in her civvies, it might slow Eagle down," Kevin explained. "Thirteen has to sleep, eat, whatever. She'll be vulnerable then, if we can find her."
Chris set his paper down. "Our pigeons almost had her. LaShawna, listen to what I taped off the police band last night. You'll find it interesting."
"After supper," LaShawna said. "I want out of here."
"Keep in touch."
Nasty led Rusty into the Foundation's lobby. Anne waved to them. Returning the wave, Nasty walked over. "Hi, Mom. You remember Rusty?"
Anne shook Rusty's hand. "Hello, again."
"Jess, you never said that your mom worked for the American Eagle," Rusty said.
"I--" Nasty started. Damn it.
Anne smiled. "I handle some sensitive things here. Jess normally doesn't talk about what I do. Isn't that right, Jess?"
"Um, yeah." Thanks, Anne. "You wanted me to drop by."
"Right." Anne nodded. "I'll call Micki." She walked to the reception desk.
Nasty tried to smile. "This shouldn't take long."
Anne returned with Micki in tow. She introduced her assistant to Rusty. "Micki will show you around. Jess, come with me."
As Nasty followed Anne, she saw Micki giving her a dirty look. Fuck you, too. Inside the elevator, Nasty waited until she was alone with Anne before speaking. "I'm sorry, Anne."
"We'll discuss this in my office."
Shit. Nasty remained silent for until she entered Anne's office. She remained standing even when the older woman sat at her desk.
"Jessica," Anne began, "just what is going on?"
"She insisted on coming. I couldn't tell her that I worked here too, could I?"
"At least you called." Anne rearranged papers on her desk. "Jess--"
"I know, Anne. I'm supposed to prove who Cinder and Ember are, not bring in strays. And I have the Peregrine-cycle to fix."
"As long as you know what you're supposed to be doing. Any progress?"
Nasty shook her head. "I can't get close to Cynthia or Emily. Emily keeps several girls around her that I can't get through and Cynthia has me working so hard with the play that I don't have time to talk to her."
"Jess, sit, please." Anne waited until Nasty flopped into a chair. "We don't have much time left. Are you having any problems you want to tell me?"
Nasty stared at Anne's desk. How about I have no idea how to fit in and I miss home and I've had a bad day and I don't know what the fuck I'm doing.
Time to come clean. Nasty sighed. "I don't fit in, Anne, and the entire school knows it. I don't know how to get closer."
Anne pushed away from her desk. "What did you do in your old school. Surely you had friends there."
"It . . . it was different."
"How? Jessica, the mayor's not setting off the fireworks tonight. We need to know if you've found Cinder and Ember. Lives are at stake."
Nasty leaned forward. "I know, Anne. It's just -- Believe it or not, I wasn't part of the in-crowd at school."
Anne sighed. "What about Rusty? She's your friend."
"She made the effort, not me."
"Get Rusty to help you. Invite her for dinner. Here." Anne took her wallet out of her purse. She pulled out twenty dollars and handed it to Nasty. "Order dinner in. Tell her I'm working late then meeting your father. Just get that information."
"I'll try." Nasty stood up.
"Jess, wait." Anne walked over and joined the redhead. "I appreciate what you're doing. The deadline is making people crazy. Do your best; that's all I ask."
"I know. I'll call Micki and let her know that you're on your way down. You can make up for the motorcycle next week."
Nasty waited until Anne finished her phone call, then followed the woman back to the lobby. Rusty waited with a dour Micki. Game face, Giuliano. The day ain't over yet. Let's see what Micki's done to Rusty.
"Jess, can you believe this building?" Rusty said. "Micki suggested that some of us girls should take the tour."
Micki nodded. "Maybe we'll get to see Peregrine," she added.
Nasty forced herself to smile. Bite me, bitch. "That'd be great. Mom?"
Anne shrugged. "Just tell me who you're bringing and Micki can arrange things for us."
"Thanks, Mrs. Hathaway."
"Do you need me for anything else, Mom?"
"That's all for now, Jess," Anne said. "I'll see you later."
Nasty led Rusty back to the parking lot. Once back inside Rusty's car, Nasty asked, "Have any plans for this evening?"
Rusty started the car. "What's up?"
"I was thinking about the art assignment." Nasty stared at the glove compartment "I . . . I need help with it."
"No problem, Jess. I'll call my mom from your place."
Micki marched into Anne's office, several files in her arms. "I can't believe you let her leave."
Anne sat at her desk. "Let who leave?"
"Jessica or whatever her name is." Micki slid the files across the desk. "She was supposed to fix Peregrine's bike, not to mention bringing that girl to the Foundation."
"Peregrine won't need her motorcycle tonight," Anne said. "Don't worry about Jessica. She's working on another project right now."
"You pay me to worry."
Anne picked up the folders. "What's this?"
"Me worrying. I checked on Jessica's background. That's not her real name."
"I assumed that. Won't be a first for a Peregrine. Anything that could compromise the Foundation?"
"Want her real name?" Micki asked. Anne shook her head. "Alright," the aide continued. "'Jessica' had had several run-ins with the law, with an assault charge as the most serious. She was at a private school, starting in the winter. There's paperwork in the school system transferring her to an out of town campus; however, the new school doesn't exist."
"What about her family?"
"Single mother. No missing persons report."
Anne sighed. "Poor girl." She picked up the files and returned them them to Micki, unopened. "Good work, as usual. Now destroy the files."
Nasty walked out of her bedroom, happy to be in a t-shirt and jeans. She padded on bare feet back to the living room. "I feel so much better," she announced. "Want anything to drink, Rusty?"
"Maybe later," the redhead answered. "When are your parents returning?"
"Late. They're going for dinner together. Speaking of which, any preferences? I could make something or we could order out."
"Don't trouble yourself, Jess."
"It's no trouble," Nasty said. "The sauce won't take long to warm up, and I have everything else I need."
"All right," Rusty agreed. "I'll go get us dessert."
Nasty retrieved the money Anne gave her. "Here. Mom said it was for supper."
"Want anything in particular?"
Rusty slipped her coat and boots on and left. Nasty let out a sigh of relief. Relax, girl. She's gone, even if it's just to go to the store. Just put the sauce on and then collapse.
[End Issue 26]
Next: Naked ambition.