"Jenna, if you're not ready to go, I'm going to have to hurt you."
Jenna Wilson looked up to see her mother standing in her bedroom doorway. "Now, Mom. This is the last time you'll see me till Thanksgiving. Do you really want to say that?"
Her mom reached over and messed up her hair. "I'm gonna miss you so much, Jenna. Give me a hug."
Jenna obliged. She was fourteen and heading off to boarding school, after all. It was the least she could do.
"Get your bag," Mrs. Wilson said. "We'll miss our flight."
"More diet soda, ma'am?"
"Yes, please." Jenna handed her small glass cup to the flight attendant. After the woman left, she turned to her mom with a grin. "I should fly more often! These ladies treat me like a princess."
Mrs. Wilson raised her eyebrows. "Don't get used to it. Trust me, you won't get treated like a princess at Hewlett."
Jenna rolled her eyes. "I bet not. Reading that rulebook...I'm scared."
"It's not that bad, as long as you stay in line." Mrs. Wilson paused. "And you stay in line pretty well. You're a good girl."
"I really should fly more often. You're much nicer when you know you're not going to see me for three months."
"Don't say that. It's scary."
Their plane landed in Dubuque, Iowa. Jenna stepped into the airport, collected her luggage, and headed outside. Mrs. Wilson hailed a taxi.
Jenna peered out into the midday sun. "This is such an unfamiliar place."
"All I can say is, I'm glad you're not getting your education in Delaware," Mrs. Wilson told her. "The education is so bad."
"I've done all right so far," Jenna protested. "And it's not, like, last."
"Bottom ten, honey."
"I don't care! I love Delaware."
"You'll love Iowa, too."
The cab driver pulled into a parallel parking spot in front of a tall brick building. Across the top were written the words JAMES HEWLETT PREPARATORY SCHOOL. In smaller letters underneath were the words EST. 1900. Mrs. Wilson turned to Jenna and said excitedly, "Well, this is it!"
Stepping out of the car, Jenna took her bags from the driver and walked slowly up the steps of the school. She pushed open the heavy wooden door and stepped inside.
It was beautiful, so colorful as to be almost gaudy, so impressive as to be almost fake. The floor was a swirl of white marble, rising up into pillars. A grand, sweeping staircase in the same marble, even the railing, rose up behind it, splitting into two parts. On the wall above the staircase was a crest reading JAMES HEWLETT PREPARATORY SCHOOL, PRAEMIUM EX VERITAS. To the right side of the foyer was a desk. A prim woman in a suit sat behind it.
"Hello, welcome to Hewlett Prep," she chirped. "How may I help you?"
"I'm signing in Jenna Wilson, freshman class," Mrs. Wilson answered.
"And from where is Miss Wilson joining us?" asked the woman as she began to flip through papers.
"Millbrook, Delaware," Jenna answered, suddenly very glad that she was wearing a skirt.
"Aha. Found your file." Jenna's eighth grade school photo beamed up at them from a sheet of paper. "If you'll just sign here, Mrs. Wilson, she'll be all set to go."
One scribbled signature later, Jenna was a member of the Hewlett community.
"You're in Dorm 67," the woman commented. "Amanda is your dorm mother. I'll page her." She pressed a button. "Amanda Hoffer to the front desk, Amanda Hoffer to the front desk." She beamed at the pair of them. "Mrs. Wilson, you can leave anytime you like."
"Good luck, honey," Mrs. Wilson told Jenna. "I'll call you when I get back, okay?"
"I miss you already."
"I miss you, too."
They hugged, and Jenna watched her mother walk away to begin the longest absence either of them had ever experienced in fourteen years. She didn't deny to herself that she was scared.
A girl in tight khakis and a blue sweater with the sleeves rolled up walked in with a jangle of keys. "Hey, what do you need?"
"Amanda, this is Jenna," the lady answered.
"Hey! Welcome to Hewlett," Amanda said with a big smile. "I'm Amanda Hoffer, your dorm mother. I know I don't look like a mother, but trust me, I have the priviliges of one." She laughed. "I can issue demerits."
"Jenna, Amanda will watch over you and the other girls in dorms 60 to 69," the woman said. "She's right out of college and here as a sort of internship for a teaching job."
"Cool," Jenna said. "Nice to meet you, Amanda."
"Now, Jenna, are you the one from Delaware?" Amanda asked as they started to walk up the stairs.
"Yes, that's me," Jenna said, surprised.
"Cool. I grew up here in Iowa. I have cousins in Dover, which is why I asked."
"Cool. What does 'praemium ex veritas' mean?"
Amanda stopped and peered at the mural. "Reward out of truth, literally."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
She shrugged. "I'm sure Principal Moore will tell you tonight at the assembly."
"Yes, the back-to-school assembly!" Amanda glanced at Jenna. "A sort of welcome for the students, y'know? Kinda gets you in the swing of things. In the mood for school."
"Oh." Jenna mulled this over as she followed Amanda down the hallway. "Um...where's my dorm?" They had passed many doors already, but Jenna hadn't seen any number higher than 30.
Amanda stopped at a door and turned a key. "Going up!"
They climbed three flights of iron stairs. "Your room will have a number 67 on it," Amanda panted, "and it's on the sixth floor, so it's easy to remember."
"Okay," Jenna said. "Um...how many dorms are there?"
"One hundred and fifty of each grade," Amanda replied, pushing open the green door into a hall. "Which equals three hundred students per grade, which equals a total of twelve hundred. We're not a very big school, you see."
"I guess not."
They stopped in front of a door labeled 67. "Home, sweet home!" Amanda said cheerfully as she opened it.
Two wooden four-poster beds were placed in opposite corners. Next to each was a small nightstand, and a closet on the opposite wall. The beds were decked out in red and gold sheets--the Hewlett colors. The one closer to the door was already occupied.
"All right, I'll leave you two to socialize!" Amanda closed the door behind her.
The small girl on the bed looked up. She had dark brown hair and amber eyes in a heart-shaped face. She stood and offered Jenna her hand. "I'm Gabby--Gabrielle Jara."
"Jenna. Jenna Wilson." They shook hands. "Um...do you know what we're supposed to wear to the assembly?"
"Yes," Gabby answered. "My sister's a junior here. She said to come in dress clothes. But it looks like you're already in dress clothes."
Jenna glanced down at her brown peasant skirt. "Yeah. Who do you have for homeroom?"
"Mrs. Taylor." Gabby plopped back down onto her bed. "Same as you. She teaches freshman history. I heard she's fun."
Gabby looked up at her. "So, are you gonna unpack or what?"
"Right." Jenna opened up her bags and started putting her clothes away. When she finished, she sat down on her bed. Her surroundings were so unfamiliar; it all felt so new. There was a hushed feeling to it, the way Jenna had felt on her first day of kindergarten; like she wasn't really living this, it was all a dream. It was a feeling she wanted to immerse herself in. It wasn't scary.
"Are you taking any honors classes?" Gabby asked, tuning a page in her book.
"One--literature," Jenna replied. "I'm from Delaware, which has pretty bad education. The SAT scores are in the bottom ten in the whole country."
"Really? I'm from here. My parents are from Colombia." She closed her book and leaned forward. "They sent my sister here just to see how she liked it, and she loved it, so all of the kids in my family are going here."
"How many kids are in your family."
Gabby winced. "Promise not to act surprised?"
"Seven." She waited for Jenna's reaction. "I know, big Latin family--"
"That's not weird," Jenna exclaimed. "That's cool! I only have one brother."
"Oh. So you don't think I'm weird?"
"No," Jenna snorted.
"Wow. You're, like, the first person to react like that," Gabby said. "Everyone is either like, Wow! or like, Geez! That kind of thing. I don't know why people can't accept families of all sizes as normal."
"Yeah. I agree. Even though I've never gotten that."
"Are you taking any honors classes?" Jenna asked.
"Science, math, and of course, Spanish," Gabby answered. "So maybe we'll have English and history together."
"That would be cool."
"Yeah," Gabby agreed. "Yeah, it would."
Orange afternoon sunlight poured through every Western window at 6:30 that night, as the school headed down to assembly. Jenna and Gabby managed to snag seats next to each other and waited for the rest of the students to file in.
A gray-haired man wearing a suit walked up to the podium. "May I have your attention please." His voice was deep and commanding, although he looked friendly. The auditorium quieted down.
"Thank you. Students of James Hewlett Preparatory School, welcome. We look forward to this coming school year, hoping that it will be a time of friendship, learning, and of course preparation for your coming lives. Our school motto, Praemium ex Veritas, is one that has resonated in the hearts of our students for over one hundred years. Translated literally, it reads 'reward out of truth.' To our founding father, James Hewlett, this meant that from the truth of knowledge and education comes the reward of a world that has been bettered, if only by three hundred students at a time. I hope you will all experience the reward that comes from the education of four years at Hewlett. I trust you have all read the rulebook, and know what is expected of you. Now, a few years from each of our teachers."
Sixty mini-speeches later, Principal Moore rose again. "And now, for you upperclassmen, this is the part of the assembly you look forward to most. Allow me to introduce to you the James Hewlett freshman class! Anthony Anderson!" A boy stood. "Mary Lebrun!"
"Is he seriously going to call out the names of every student in the freshman class?" Jenna whispered.
"Christopher Thomas! Jenna Wilson!"
Jenna rose hurriedly and then sat back down. Gabby giggled.
"Joseph Lemos! Andrea Jackson!"
After the assembly, Jenna and Gabby went to the cafeteria for dinner. They sat at a long table next to a girl with a blonde bob. She turned to them. "Hey. I'm Becky Mahone."
"Jenna Wilson," Jenna answered with a quick smile. "Hey, the food looks good."
"It had better be," Becky answered. "We're going to be eating it almost every day for the next four years." She took a bite of spaghetti. "I think it's from a can, but not bad. You know, I've lived in Iowa my entire life, and I don't recognize anyone here. Not even boys."
"Same here," Gabby answered. "I guess that's kind of good, since we can meet new people."
"I guess," Becky shrugged.
"I'm from Delaware," Jenna offered.
"Really?" Jenna nodded. "Well, that's not the farthest away I've met yet."
"What's the farthest away?" Gabby asked curiously.
Becky cocked her fork to the boys' table. "Wilhelm Marcano, Austria."
"Yep. Didn't you read in the brochure? Hewlett is a 'global community.'" Becky put air quotes around "global community." "Students representing 13 countries."
"That's neat. So we have, like, foreign kids in our classes. That's really cool!" Jenna said.
"Don't get your hopes too high. Three of those countries are the United States, Canada, and Great Britain," Becky told her flatly. "Hey, try the garlic bread."
Jenna took a bite. "Yum. But that's still cool."
"I'm the student from Canada," a soft voice said. Jenna craned her neck to see around Gabby and found a girl with bushy auburn hair. "Danielle White," she introduced. "From Vancouver."
"Hi, I'm Jenna," Jenna replied. "Do you like the States?"
She shrugged. "I haven't noticed any difference, to tell you the truth. Except the accent." She winced. "How do you learn to live with that awful American accent?"
"It's only some people in the Midwest," Jenna answered. "I don't have it. Becky does, though."
"Oh." Danielle poked at her spaghetti. "Do you have any brothers or sisters?"
"One brother, Gabe," Jenna answered. "Do you?"
"No, I'm an only child." Danielle poked her spaghetti again.
The intercom beeped, a signal that it was coming on. "Dinner is over in ten minutes, dinner is over in ten minutes," said a woman's bored voice. "Please return to your dormitories as soon as you have been dismissed."
"Where's your dormitory, Becky?" asked Gabby.
"60," Becky answered.
"Great, that's on our floor!" Jenna cried. "We're number 67. Danielle?"
"Oh." Gabby sounded disappointed. "Well, at least we can get close to you."
As they stood up, Becky whispered, "I don't like that Danielle much."
Gabby shrugged. "She seemed nice to me."
"Jenna?" Becky looked at her expectantly.
Jenna didn't answer. She shrugged, too. Becky said quickly, "Well, there's my roommate. Shelby! Wait!" She ran after a dark-haired girl, grabbing her arm when she reached her.
"Let's go," Gabby said, tugging Jenna.
They climbed up the stairs and finally reached the dorm. Gabby pushed a lock into the keyhole and opened it. Happy to be back among the familiar, Jenna flung herself on her bed.
"That was the worst spaghetti I've ever tasted," she said, spread-eagled on her bed.
"Yeah, it was."
Gabby and Jenna looked at each other. Jenna started laughing first, a silent giggle, then soon both of them were laughing in the middle of the floor.
The next morning, a shrill ring ran through the hallway, echoing around every corner, coming extra-loudly from the box in Jenna and Gabby's room. Jenna jolted upright.
"I'm guessing that's the alarm," Gabby said in a muffled, sleepy voice. Jenna glanced at the clock and groaned: six o' clock, on the dot.
"I'll get in the shower," Gabby told her. "You shower at night, right?"
"Yeah." Jenna rubbed her eyes. "Ugh. I'm really not a morning person."
Gabby laughed, pulling clothes out of her bedside stand. "I am." She shut the door behind her and the shower water started a moment later. Jenna finally managed to pull herself out of bed, get some clothes, and lock herself in the closet. When she emerged, she was wearing low-rise jeans and a tight T-shirt with the logo of some fictional ski resort emblazoned on it. She brushed her hair and fixed it up in a messy bun until Gabby opened the door of the bathroom. "You can come in and fix yourself up if you want."
Gabby looked fabulous, bright-eyed and fresh, even though she hadn't even blowdried her hair yet. Clad in tan corduroys and a bra, she plugged in the dryer and began to attack her hair. It dried from black to the color of coffee with no cream, turning light brown in some places. Gabby pulled on a layered shirt over her head as Jenna scrubbed at her teeth, attempting to get a stubborn stain from last night's spaghetti off her canine. Finally, both girls were ready, as the bell rang. The bored voice said, "Seven o' clock, time for breakfast."
"Shall we go?" asked Gabby, who had wrestled her hair into two braids and tied a bandanna over her head.
"Extremely," Jenna answered, raising her eyebrows. "Did you have to ask?"
"Let's go." Gabby led the way to the cafeteria.
As Jenna had expected, Becky waved them over enthusiastically. "Jenna! Gabby!" she cried, inviting them to sit beside her, which they did. Beside her was a fair-skinned girl with hair approximately the color of espresso and golden brown eyes. She watched them sit down and cracked a smile.
"Hi," she said. "I'm Diana. Diana McGuinness."
"Nice to meet you," Jenna nodded.
"Diana sleeps in the room next to me," Becky told them. "Shelby and I and her roommate and her had a little party last night."
"How'd you manage that?" asked Gabby, wide-eyed.
"Because," Diana said, "In '65, some naughty teenage girls made passages to the room next to theirs. If you pull the bathroom mirror out you can get to room 66, and the passage into yours from room 68 is in the back of the closet. Only the sixth floor's got it."
"How do you know?" Jenna asked curiously.
"My mom was the one who started it," answered Diana with a little laugh. "She told me before I came."
"Oh. That's cool," said Jenna.
"Yeah, we've got to find out who the people in the rooms next to us are," Gabby said excitedly.
"High school's gonna be so much fun," Becky sighed. "Get some French toast, it's awesome."
When the intercom let them know that lunch was over, the girls consulted their schedules. "Homeroom first, then Becky and I have math," Gabby read.
"Really? Me too! Mr. Martin?"
"Yeah! That's awesome!"
"I have science first," Jenna said, unable to keep regret from her voice. "Mrs. Merrifield."
"Don't worry about it." Diana shrugged. "It should be fine." In a low voice, she added, "The four of us all have English together, just wait."
Gabby and Jenna tramped off to homeroom. Mrs. Taylor was a tall, willowy woman with a horsey face and cropped, graying blonde hair. They snagged seats next to each other at the front of the classroom, Jenna situated in front of a poster that read POSITIVE PEOPLE DON'T PUT OTHERS DOWN.
"Welcome to my homeroom, boys and girls," began the teacher in a heavy Midwest accent. "My name is Mrs. Taylor, and I'll have the pleasure of teaching all of you history. I've been teaching at Hewlett for about sixteen years, and I want to establish a few rules before we begin."
She turned and began to write on the whiteboard. Her handwriting was eerily neat, completely legible, and almost girlish. "First of all--respect." She wrote RESPECT in all capitals and underlined it twice. "No student in my classroom will be left out, no one will be made to feel uncomfortable, and no one will be disrespected. This is a no-brainer; your teachers have been feeding you this one since kindergarten. But I expect it to be strictly followed." She peered around the class as though daring someone to disagree with her.
"All right. Next--responsibility." She wrote responsibility in all lowercase letters, and Jenna half-expected her to dot her i's with little hearts. "All of you have a great deal of responsibility at Hewlett. You are responsible for your behavior. You are responsible for your homework. All of the teachers here expect it to be completed and turned in legibly and on-time. This is another rule that I expect to be strictly followed." She glared at a tall boy with a mop of hair as though he had been irresponsible by failing to cut his hair above the ears.
"And finally--friendship." She wrote friendship beneath responsibility. "Friends are the most important people in your lives at this point in time. Make them, respect them, love them, keep them. Cliques are natural, but should not be so extreme that the people in them are rude to others. Friendship is very important at Hewlett." Instead of looking stern, she beamed at the class. "Now, let's call roll."
She walked to her desk in the corner and pulled out a grading sheet, opened it up, and called, "Garrett Allen!"
It was awhile before she got to Wilson--in fact, it was the last name in the class--so Jenna read her schedule carefully. Science, history, math, English, lunch, literature, study hall, and gym: she felt dazzled by how exhausting the day was going to be. Especially since she had woken up at six for the first time since fifth grade.
As the bell rang, Gabby swung her bag over her shoulder. "I'll see you in English," she whispered. "And study hall."
"Good luck," Jenna whispered back.
"Thanks, you too."
Jenna pulled out a thick, heavy textbook from her dark green locker and almost slammed her door into the boy whose locker neighbored hers. "Oh, sorry!" she gasped out before running to the science classroom.
She was immediately greeted by the poster SCIENCE MAKES THE WORLD GO ROUND and a short, small teacher who had already written on the board:
Mrs. Patricia Merrifield
Welcome to Freshman Science
pp. 5-7 define vocabulary in notebook and begin reading Section 1-1
Jenna heard a boy next to her utter an offensive word describing Mrs. Merrifield and sulkily opened his book. She peered over his shoulder to discover that his name was Devin Merry.
"I agree," she whispered.
He glanced up at her. "What?"
Jenna repeated the word. "I agree."
"I've already got talkers, I see," boomed Mrs. Merrifield. "You'd better get to work or you'll be doing extra homework."
Jenna carefully copied a complicated definition of photosynthesis that didn't seem to be at all related to the definition as she had learned it in fourth grade. The formula illustrated in the textbook glossary practically dizzied her. She watched Devin write down every word in surprisingly neat handwriting, and he finished before she did.
The blonde girl on Devin's other side seemed to be taking advantage of his work, though how exactly she was able to cheat off his vocabulary was beyond Jenna. She finally closed up her book and began to read. The tiny font and complicated language were all Greek to her. She peered enviously at Devin, scanning the second page and seeming to understand it all.
When the bell finally rang, Jenna spoke to Devin again. "Did you understand a word of that?"
He met her eyes. His were blue. "Yeah," he said. "It's pretty simple."
"Why aren't you in honors?"
"Because I'm stupid," Devin answered. "Um, I've gotta get to lit."
"Okay," Jenna said. "See you around."
"I guess." Devin left the room without giving her so much as a second glance. Jenna was undeterred. She was a freshman now. She was going to get her first boyfriend this year, even if it wasn't Devin. She gathered up her thick textbook and stepped into the sunlit hall.
She turned to see Becky's blonde figure pushing through to get to her. After pushing aside a tall, shaggy-haired sophomore, she reached Jenna. "Hey," she said, panting. "Are you going to history?"
"Yes," Jenna replied, eyeing Becky's books cautiously.
"Me too!" she squealed. "Let's walk there together."
They stuck close to avoid being separated, and Becky asked, "So, any cute guys yet?"
"I have a feeling you wouldn't have asked me that if you hadn't seen some yourself," Jenna grinned. "So, you first."
"Okay," said Becky sheepishly. "Well, there's an extremely cute guy that sits in front of me, which is totally cool. So I talked to him a little, and his name is Ronald, and he's totally cute!"
"Whoa. Ronald?" Jenna couldn't help an incredulous snort. "As in Ronald McDonald?"
"Yes, his name is Ronald," Becky defended. "So what? He's totally gorgeous. You've gotta see him." Her tone changed. "So," she continued sweetly, "how about you?"
Jenna thought of Devin, but decided that the smart kid with an attitude problem was something she would keep to herself. "Only one," she said instead. "This guy who has the locker next to me. I almost closed my door on him, though."
Becky laughed. "Great. That was smoooooooooth, Jenna."
They arrived at the door of the history classroom, which they had vacated less than an hour before. Mrs. Taylor instructed them to join the line of kids arranged on the left side of the room. They were happy to, Jenna sitting on the windowsill as they waited for the bell to ring.
"Begin second period, begin second period." Ding, dong, ding, dong.
"All right," said Mrs. Taylor. "Those who have not arrived yet will just have to stay with me after classes." She gave the students her customary glare. "As for the rest of you, we will set up our assigned seats. Veronica Thompson." She lay a manicured finger on the first desk with a click. The seat's new occupant walked forward, and Jenna recognized the girl who sat on Devin's other side. She shook her corn-colored hair and put her pink sequined bag on the ground next to her. Mrs. Taylor moved to the next seat. "Jenna Wilson."
Jenna made her way over to the desk, placing her own bag on the ground and setting her books on her desk. Veronica turned to her with a huge smile. "Oh my God, we were in science together!" she said. "I, like, thought I wasn't going to have any of the same people in my classes."
Jenna smiled back. "Me neither."
"This is so cool. We can be friends!"
"Yeah, that would be great." Jenna tried to put some enthusiasm in her voice so that she wouldn't seem unfriendly. This was the most instantly perky girl she'd ever met. She was still trying to decide if she liked it or not.
Becky was seated in the far left corner, on the opposite side of the room from Jenna. Mrs. Taylor smiled at all of them. "For those of you who aren't in my homeroom--and I think I only see three or four familiar faces--my name is Mrs. Taylor. Now, if you are in my homeroom, this is gonna be boring, but as for the rest of you..." She launched into her spiel about responsibility and Hewlett.
"Today," she continued on once she had finished, "I believe we are going to get to know each other. Please separate yourselves into five groups of six."
"Wanna be in my group?" asked Veronica, cocking her head so as to appear irresistable.
"Sure. But so does my friend Becky." Jenna beckoned the girl over to them.
"Great. I'll get the other three." Veronica turned. "Alex! Ariel! Jules!"
Three girls joined them, all looking directly at Veronica.
"Jenna, Becky, this is Alex Messick--" another blonde with sad-looking blue eyes-- "Ariel Garcia--" a Hispanic with a dark ponytail-- "and Julie Messner"--a brunette with the most enormous hazel eyes Jenna had ever seen. "Guys, this is Jenna Wilson and Becky..."
"Mahone," Becky finished.
"Right. So, this is our group." Veronica gave a big grin.
"I'm going to be passing out discussion sheets, and I want all of you to answer the questions on them. Finish as much as you can, please." Mrs. Taylor put a sheet on Veronica's desk. Alex took it.
"What school did you attend before coming to Hewlett?" she read in a lazy Southern accent.
"I'll start," Veronica said. "I attended Abraham Lincoln Junior High in Mount Prospect, Illinois. Jenna?"
"Millbrook School in Millbrook, Delaware," Jenna answered, shocked to discover that her regular voice had disappeared and been replaced by a high, squeaky one.
Becky needed no prompting. "Dubuque Northwest Junior High."
"La Escuela de Santa Maria la Virgen in Venezuela," Ariel said in a heavy accent.
"Does that beat Wilhelm Marcano?" Jenna asked Becky.
"I think it does."
"Ulysses S. Grant Academy in Raleigh, North Carolina," Alex finished, as though Jenna and Becky had not spoken. "Next question: Do you have any brothers and/or sisters? If so, how many and what?"
"I'm an only child," Veronica chirped.
"I have a brother," Jenna offered.
The rest of the class passed in this way, with Veronica's friends pointedly ignoring Becky and Jenna, until finally, the bell rang. "End second period, end second period."
"I can't believe those girls were so rude," Becky whispered.
"Yeah, and Veronica seemed so nice," Jenna said wistfully.
Becky snorted. "Don't get sucked in. She's just gonna stab you in the back. That's the way it is with all girls like that."
"She was just being friendly."
"She was recruiting! Don't let it fool you. Just wait. Veronica Thompson is not good news."
"If you say so," Jenna said, but wasn't sure if she believed it.
Math with a different teacher than Gabby and Becky--one by the name of Mr. Martinez, to be exact--was what Jenna suspected to be the easiest math class she would take all year. She noticed the cute boy whose locker was next to hers sat in the front row, but didn't find out his name.
Finally, English--the blessed period where Jenna, Gabby, Becky, and Diana all had a class together. Diana was the first one to talk when they sat down together.
"I met the HOTTEST guy, I swear," she said. "His name is Erik Moller and he's in my math class."
"Awesome!" Becky looked very interested. "Is he nice?"
"Yeah, he's really nice." Diana's eyes got huge. "He was talking to me the whole time."
"Did you turn on the charm?" asked Gabby with a knowing look.
"A little bit," Diana replied mischievously.
"Boys and girls, settle down," said a voice from the front of the classroom.
"And speaking of hot..." Jenna whispered.
Their teacher, Mr. Moritz, appeared to be in his late twenties, with black hair combed over to the side and dark eyes. He smiled warmly at them, and Jenna couldn't help but notice how cute he looked.
"My name is Mr. Moritz," he said. "Today we will be unlocking the secrets of the English language and learning a little about why certain words are words--for example, why a school is called a school." He turned and began writing on the board.
Gerunds, Participles, Infinitives
Verb Cases, Moods, and Voices
Syntax of prepositional phrases
"These are the things I expect you have learned in junior high, and we will begin today by reviewing them." He turned and wrote a simple sentence on the board. Running by the pool is not allowed.
"Who can tell me the gerund?"
After English was lunch. The four girls all sat together, and on Jenna's other side was a girl she had never seen before, who introduced herself as Kathleen Robinson. Becky, the cafeteria food connoisseur, informed them that the sub sandwiches were delicious.
Jenna bit into one. "Mm, you're right," she said.
"Becky's always right," Diana reminded her.
Literature with Mr. Nalley, gym with "Coach" Clark, and finally--the day was over. It had been the scariest day Jenna had ever had for a long time. And yet, she thought as she put her books in her locker for the last time, it had been fun.
A knock sounded on the door as Gabby was flipping through a Seventeen magazine and Jenna was listening to music. Gabby stood up and opened the door. A small girl with red hair and braces and another girl with blonde hair and brown eyes were waiting.
"Hi," said the redhead. "We're your neighbors. We wanted just wanted to meet you. I'm Meghan Nissen and this is Abby Lewis."
"Nice to meet you," said Gabby with a smile. "I'm Gabby Jara and my roommate is Jenna Wilson."
Hearing her name, Jenna looked up, noticing the girls for the first time. She took off her headphones and stood up.
"Hey!" she said. "I'm Jenna."
"I'm Meghan and this is Abby," Meghan repeated with a smile. "We're your neighbors."
"Cool," said Jenna. "Come on in; let's talk."
Abby closed the door behind her. Jenna invited the girls to sit on her bed.
"Do you like Hewlett so far?" asked Meghan.
"Yeah, it's really cool," Jenna answered. "We both have Mrs. Taylor."
"Oh, we've got Mr. Nalley," Meghan told them with a glance at Abby. "He's really cool. I had him for literature this afternoon."
"Were you in my class?"
Meghan tilted her head as though she was trying to think. "Uh, yeah, I think I was."
"That's great!" Gabby exclaimed. "You guys are so lucky."
"Are you going to decorate your room?" Abby asked, speaking for the first time.
Gabby and Jenna looked around. The bare hardwood floor and white walls were definitely boring. "Probably." Gabby watched Jenna to see her reaction. "We definitely need floor cushions or posters or something."
"Throws!" Jenna cried.
Meghan laughed. "Yeah, Abby and I already put our creative forces together. We met over the summer and requested a room together, so we started planning way ahead of time. Ours looks pretty cool, if I do say so myself."
"What are the decorating rules?" Jenna asked, directing the question at Abby this time.
"No painting, changing the bedspreads, nothing permanent, no tv or computer other than a laptop, and nothing offensive," the girl answered, flipping back her hair. "But you can have refrigerators, which is awesome. We've got a pretty cool one."
"You know what our friend Becky told us?" Gabby said, opening her eyes wide.
"What?" Meghan and Abby leaned in closer, like Gabby was telling a secret.
"If you pull out the bathroom mirror, you can get into the closet of the dorm next to you."
"So if you pull out your mirror you end up in our closet?"
Gabby nodded and smirked. "Yup."
"Oh my gosh, that's awesome!" Meghan cried. "Let's go try it."
The girls crowded into the bathroom and Jenna carefully moved the mirror. Indeed, behind it was a hole.
"How did they do that?" Abby wondered, her eyes huge. "And get the mirror to still stay up?"
"My question is how it's been a secret for forty years," Gabby added. "Come on, let's try it."
Meghan climbed in and dropped lightly down to the floor. Jenna followed her, then Gabby, and finally Abby. The door opened into a very cool dorm room.
A sleek gray mini-refrigerator stood in the corner next to a stereo. In the middle of the room was a dark gray metal coffee table surrounded by brightly colored floor cushions. A banana chair rested next to an electric guitar. One bed was decorated with leopard-print pillows, the other with the same vivid pink, purple, and green as the floor cushions. A desk in the same gray metal as the coffee table was propped up against the wall by the colorful bed, and a laptop rested upon it. The lights were off and the blinds drawn, so the room was illuminated by a little natural light and some very cool lamps.
"Wow, your room is amazing," Gabby complimented.
"Thanks," Meghan beamed, sitting cross-legged in front of the coffee table. "They really need to update their furniture. We covered up the trunks with a spare sheet and hid them in the corner."
Jenna craned her neck and saw a white cloth lump behind the leopard-print bed.
"Do you guys want anything?" Meghan asked, playing hostess. "Pop, water, lemonade...?"
"Oh, we're fine, thanks," Jenna insisted.
"Toss me a bottle of water," Abby asked, plopping down on the leopard-print bed, which Jenna assumed was hers.
Meghan opened the refrigerator and threw some Aquafina at Abby, who caught it neatly. For herself, she took a bottle of Crystal Light and set it on top of a blue wooden coaster.
"They banned tvs and computers," Meghan said, "but by allowing laptops they basically let us have both. I brought almost every DVD I own--and that includes the first few seasons of One Tree Hill," she giggled.
"That's incredible," said Jenna.
"So, where are you guys from?" Abby inquired.
"I'm from Farley," Gabby said. "It's not too far from here, but it's still a ways from home."
"What about you, Jenna?"
"Delaware, actually," Jenna admitted.
"Wow, that's a long way," Meghan said. "Is it a big difference here?"
Jenna thought. "More land-oriented than sea-oriented," she said. "And the accent of course."
"Oh. That's cool. I'm from Hazel Green, Wisconsin," Meghan said. "Which is pretty close to here. I never knew in my whole life that Dubuque was so close to the border."
"I know!" Jenna exclaimed. "I thought it was farther south and more inside Iowa."
"Totally." Meghan grinned at her; she had said the word as a joke.
"I'm from Chicago," Abby stuck in. "So I'm kind of far from home, but it's a short airplane flight."
"Yeah, that's cool," Gabby said. "I went to the Windy City once. I went to Navy Pier."
"That's a fun place to go," Abby agreed.
The girls talked for quite awhile. Jenna discovered that she had two classes with Meghan and one with Abby. When it reached four thirty, Jenna stood. "I think we'd better go," she said. "We don't want to overstay our welcome."
"Okay, if you guys want to leave," said Meghan, a little regretfully. "But you're welcome back anytime. Well, almost anytime." She giggled. "If it's nighttime, just knock on the wall next to the mirror."
"Okay, we'll do that," Gabby said. "Thanks so much. It was great meeting you."
"You too!" Meghan waved. "See ya at dinner!"
They climbed back through the hole and replaced the mirror.
"That was fun," Jenna said. "They're nice--especially Meghan."
"Yeah." Gabby closed the bathroom door. "And our room looks so boring now!"
Jenna laughed. "Gabby?"
"Have you noticed that ever since we became roommates we've started acting like a team?"
Gabby furrowed her brow. "How so?"
"It's like we're one person because we share a room. We'll be down later. We'll see you tomorrow. We'll decorate our room. We work in perfect harmony."
"Yeah, I guess you're right," Gabby mused. "Is there a problem with that?"
"No, I think it's really cool," Jenna said.
"Good." Gabby threw a pillow at her. "Cause you're stuck with me for the next four years."