Chapter Nine

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            The fight was only the beginning of life at Franklin.

            I was beginning to realize it had been but a glimpse into what the school was really like; the term ‘rowdy’ didn’t seem to cover it. Arguments would break out between groups of students in the hallway between classes, angry outbursts squeezed into the five minutes we were allotted to move between classrooms. Everywhere I went, somebody was shouting, whether it was a rebellious kid telling teachers where to shove it, or just somebody asserting their aggression after being pushed past in the hall.

            When I stood at the front of my homeroom class, after the teacher insisted I introduce myself, I felt as if I were a lion tamer, edging my way into a cage with thirty of the sleeping beasts. Any sudden movement, and they’d wake up to pounce.

            I managed to keep my introduction limited to my name and a lame sentence about being new to Sherwood, escaping to my seat before the metaphorical lions had a chance to do anything but stare on, uninterested.

            I braved the hallways more times than I had strength for, each time getting pushed against a wall or nearby locker as some loping senior barged past. Things didn’t improve much inside the classroom; it took no more than two lessons to realize what I’d been afraid of all along.

            Though I’d done my best to keep up with schoolwork between training sessions, the gaps in my knowledge were far wider than I’d anticipated. In fact, in the past fifteen years, they appeared to have grown into one giant abyss, leaving me teetering at the crumbling edge and wondering how on earth I was supposed to leap across.

            I was way behind even the worst students, barely able to keep up with the pace of the teachers’ spiels, though they all talked much slower than Kim. English, at least, was bearable; I could muddle my way through the likes of Macbeth and Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, both of which I’d skimmed over before. Provided I rambled on for long enough, I could usually conjure up a point that proved valid.

            The same, however, didn’t stand for geography. I’d never heard of half the geographical terms all the other students were reeling off, and as easily as if it were their mother tongue. I’d assumed I would be okay; I could name just about any town in any state in the entire country, after all. The poster on Aunt Shelby’s wall had taught me well in that respect, but this class resembled nothing of the geography I’d built up in my head. While the girl next to me delivered a lengthy answer about the formation of some fluvial landform, I ducked my head, staring at my blank notebook and wondering how on earth I was supposed to get through this.

            The worst of it all came in overhearing two kids gossiping in the back of chemistry. It wasn’t like I’d been paying much attention anyway, but my ears had pricked up at the mention of a particular word: one I just couldn’t ignore.

            “You didn’t hear about it?” one girl was saying, her voice hushed. “It was all over the local paper, even on TV.”

            “No, what happened?”

            “You know the circus that was in town the other week? It completely burned down,” she said. “The police said they found gasoline; they’d obviously done it on purpose. Some kind of a publicity stunt, I guess. It was terrible. People almost died.”

            “They did it on purpose?”

            “Apparently. Guess it went too far, or something. I’m sure they didn’t mean to injure themselves as well as the crowd.” She didn’t even make any attempt to lower her voice, though I was sure her next statement warranted this kind of action. “If you ask me, it all worked out in the end. That traveling freak show got what they deserved. Nobody asked them to shack up here.”

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