Chapter 9

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Dorn High was like one big locker I'd been crammed in by a bully I like to refer to as Life. It was a dank and crowded place, smelling like a mix of Chelsea's socks after a long soccer practice and the bleach I'd covered every surface of my house's bathrooms with before I used them. The worst thing about it, though, was that people had eyes and they were all using those eyes to stare at me.

I knew this would happen. Usually I liked being proven correct, but not in this case. People stared and nobody came up to talk to me. I wasn't sure if that was a good or a bad thing. I walked up the wide concrete walkway from where my mom dropped me off, heading to the main doors. Just like Jack had said, there were no stairs. The whole building was one level, low to the ground like it was an abscess on the earth, clinging to it and infecting it with teenage social terror. The campus sprawled out on either side of me. According to signs on the walls, if I walked through the building's main corridor, it would lead me out past a student parking lot and onto a track and football field.

I kept my eyes focused ahead and slightly down as I pushed through the glass doors. The chatter of students was like white noise. I didn't want to pick out any conversations, didn't want to know what they were saying on the offhand chance that they were saying something about me. I didn't have new clothes like most of the other kids. Mom and Dad hadn't even brought up the idea of shopping. I'm pretty sure on a scale of one to Mazzeria, my clothing needs were someplace around negative twenty. The restaurant was only a few days from its grand opening. Becca offering to drop me off rather than having me walk the five blocks to campus was a minor miracle.

I stopped outside the school office, paper in hand. It showed my class schedule, but I had no idea where any of those classes were. Not wanting to face reality, I'd skipped orientation night for new students and my parents, conveniently, had skipped remembering that orientation night was a thing that existed. Now the anxiety leading up to that night three days ago had caught up to me and compounded my regular first day in a new place anxiety. I swayed and caught myself against the wall.

Don't puke, don't puke, don't puke.

"Whoa, there, Mazie! You all right? You look like you're going to hurl."

I looked up just enough to see Kayla standing in front of me, adorned in the spoils of yesterday's shopping trip: tight, stylishly ripped jeans and a breezy rose-colored blouse.

"Please don't say the word hurl."

She crossed her arms like she might scold me but ended up laughing instead. "I said to myself this morning, 'Kayla, Mazie is going to be an absolute mess, like hold her hair back while she anoints the toilet thrown kind of mess. And here you are, the same shade of green as the moss growing on my roof."

I stumbled over to her and whispered, "I don't like it here."

"You haven't been here long enough to know if you like it or not."

"I knew before I arrived."

"Which is your problem. You're filled to the brim with preconceived notions."

"So, what are you saying? Dorn High really isn't that bad?"

"Oh no." She shook her head. "It's bad. But you make it worse because of your negativity. You come into a situation like everything's predetermined and there's nothing you can do about it."

"You sound like Jack. And my parents."

"We're only trying to help. Unlike them, though, I'm actually capable of helping. Do you even know where you are or how to get to homeroom?"

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