Chapter 2: We're Not in Middle School Anymore, or The Homecoming Question

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Elise had no idea how anyone was getting all this homework done. It wasn't just pages and pages of reading, or endless math problems. It was research, writing, and being prepared every single day for every class, because unlike her middle school, there weren't rows and rows of other students who could get called on for answers besides her. She was on the spot every day in every class, just as every other girl was, and it was unnerving to say the least.

"I can't imagine hiding behind anyone else. Why would you want to?"

Audrey had listened to Elise at the end of the day during the third week of school as they packed up books and notebooks from their lockers. She had been at St. Cat's since she was six, and claimed that they had been doing PowerPoint presentations in second grade about presidential wives. They were used to being in the spotlight, and had never considered that it might be undesirable.

"Aren't you nervous at all?"

Elise had a million questions, but tried to keep them at a minimum. Audrey had been patient with her, but Elise could see sometimes that she was getting annoyed, so she knew when to stop. She had met everyone else in the freshman class and most of the other girls at the high school, along with a lot of the middle schoolers, who shared the same building, but there was something about Audrey, the way she had stood up to Meadow that first day, that led Elise to believe that she could trust her.

"Why would I be nervous? Why would anyone be nervous?"

It was a good question, one that had Elise thinking on her bike ride home. She lived close to the school, so it was easier to bike there and avoid the traffic, but she knew her mother had saved money to buy her a car once she passed her driver's exam next year, and it would sort of be an insult to her mom to continue to bike then. Most of the older girls had cars, and one day at lunch she and the other girls she was sitting with overheard Meadow talk about a baby blue Mercedes that sat in her family's five car garage, just waiting for her to turn sixteen. Audrey had rolled her eyes, and Natalie, another longtime student at St. Cat's, had leaned in closer to tell Elise and another new girl, Joslyn, what she thought of Meadow.

"Her mother named her after the daughter in The Sopranos. Seriously. The woman never goes out in anything but stiletto heels and spandex. She looks like a hooker, and . . ."

"Natalie. Did I hear what I thought I just heard?"

Natalie's eyes grew wide and she sat back, her excited expression replaced by abject fear. There were teachers everywhere, Elise had found, and they paid attention. If there was a rule, it wasn't meant to be broken, and rarely was, except by new students who still had to learn the hard way.

"I'm not sure, but I'm sorry if I said something offensive."

Nat didn't turn to look at her accuser, but everyone else at the table had their eyes on Ms. Dacha, the English teacher and yearbook advisor. She was more approachable than some of the other teachers, but Elise wasn't in her class this year so she didn't know her very well. The woman nodded, but Nat didn't see it. She was staring at Elise, frozen as she waited for the teacher's verdict.

"Very well. Please remember that we don't condone gossip or negative talk here. You know better, Natalie."

Natalie kept very still until Audrey waved a hand at her.

"She's gone. Way to be dramatic, Nat."

"Like I want a detention. No one has had a detention in our cohort. Ever."

The lingo was growing on Elise, but sometimes she felt like she was so far behind. The cohort was their grade, and all the girls in it, but especially those who had been together since first grade. Apparently no one had violated any rules since day one, or at least, they hadn't been caught, which was some trick. On Elise's first day, a girl's phone rang during geometry, and when she giggled, the teacher, an older man with a carefully tended beard, sent her to the office. No one laughed with or at her, and when she returned, she looked as if she had been crying. Elise hadn't heard a phone ring at school since.

"So Homecoming. You have a date?"

Elise almost spit out her cranberry juice. Was Natalie asking her?

Even quiet Courtney, who was busy doing something with her hands underneath the table, seemed surprised, although she didn't look up. Was she playing with a phone?

"Little early for that, isn't it?"

Audrey frowned at Natalie. One of Elise's friends from middle school had asked her what she would 'do' about boys once she was at St. Cat's, but it wasn't as if she was locked away and never got out in the world. Boys were everywhere. In the neighborhood, at church, and sometimes, waiting just outside of the St. Cat's parking lot for their girlfriends. Not having them in school meant that no one was having fights over boys or trying to show off for them, which Elise never understood or liked anyway.

"I don't have anyone. I mean, a boyfriend. So, no, I don't have anyone in mind."

"Super High School Level Spinster."

Courtney huffed out a little laugh as she spoke, but Elise had no idea what she meant.

"Another year, another round of mutual killing."

Elise sat up straight. What?

Audrey shook her head and offered her a half-smile.

"Courtney only plays one game. There's more than one version of it, but still. She's been playing Danganronpa since she was in diapers."

"Not true! Fifth grade."

Joslyn suddenly perked up.

"Hey, my brother plays that. It's totally messed up."

Courtney glanced up at Joslyn.

"In the very best way," she said, smirking.

"You've never been caught?" Elise frowned, thinking of the rule about electronic devices during the school day, which included game consoles as well as phones.

"I keep the sound off and have my purse underneath it, so I can drop it in if anyone sneaks up on me. I only play it at lunch, never in class. That would be impossible."

Natalie started collecting her trash and stood up.

"Just don't let Lord Voldemort catch you. Speak of the devil now."

Lord Voldemort?

A man with a crookedly placed tie and a shaggy-looking sweater looked out over the tables from his position by the glass doors along the wall, then began walking towards them.

"Oh, man. Why did you have to mention him? My sister said he spent half an hour yesterday talking about how he worked on political campaigns in college. Like anyone cares."

Elise narrowed her eyes. None of the freshmen had him this year, since he taught government and AP American history, along with Economics. He didn't look like the Harry Potter villain, but he must have earned the nickname somehow.

Courtney dropped her game into her purse and rolled her eyes at Elise, making a bored face as she did. Elise had to cover her mouth to smother her laugh as the teacher approached the table.

"Glad to see that you've been welcoming the new students. Keep up the good work."

He nodded like he was satisfied with what he had said, and turned away. Courtney stared at the ceiling, Audrey shook her head with a frown, and Natalie slumped where she stood.

"He wouldn't know good work if it jumped up and bit him. See ya, kiddos."

She waved and walked away, leaving Elise wondering about Homecoming, Lord Voldemort, and people who named their children after TV show characters. Whenever her mother asked her how school was each day, she didn't even know where to begin, and today wouldn't be any different.

"Boys might seem like an afterthought here, Elise, but the St. Patrick's boys come around now and again, so you'll be sure to get some attention, whether you want it or not."

St. Pat's was the only all boys school in the tri-county area, just as St. Cat's was the only all girls. Still, it was an hour away, so why would those boys come out to St. Cat's? Didn't they have girls in their town?

She must have looked confused because Audrey laughed as she stood up, following Natalie's example.

"We'll get you up to speed, don't worry."

Joslyn caught Elise's eye and shrugged. They were both in it for the long haul, and had no idea what would come next.

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