Summary: Boarding school is all about survival of the fittest, as Ricky well knows. But is she taking it too far? And what's this business about a secret society? There is more to learn in boarding school than just biology.
Note: There is a bit of swearing in this. Nothing serious, but it is there.
Queen of the Castle
There are two reasons why I am currently squashed in a damp, nasty smelling toilet for the next hour and a half with three other girls:
One:Christina refused to go to study
Two:Mrs Jenkins is on the prowl for girls doing exactly what we are.
However, five minutes of this is enough to send any one crazy, least of all Christina, whose expression is nearing the dangerous PMS zone. The only person not noticing the tension is Carla, who is usually blissfully unaware of everything happening in the world, with the small exception of herself.
That leaves Zoe and me to keep swapping glances (and avoiding Christina's glares), and trying to ignore the persistent dripping of a tap that some fool didn't turn off properly. For probably the thousandth time I reread the clutter decorating the cubicle wall, and even though I have it memorised, I snigger at the complaints of a girl being too lose with her affections, and roll my eyes at a blue pen's claim of David Taylor being s spunk.
I straighten up rigidly as I hear the unmistakable clunk of a high heel entering the bathroom. The students in this school aren't allowed to wear any footwear other than sensible lace up black leather shoes in summer, and boots in winter. High heels are something reserved for teachers to prance around in, warning kids of their arrival two minutes before they actually get there. Besides, anyone who doesn't drag their feet in this school are suspected of either being on drugs, or doing something they're not supposed to.
Christina peeks under the door, and quickly leans back.
"Mrs Jenkins?" I breathe.
Christina nods, her sleek brown ponytail bobbing up and down. We hear the footsteps stop outside our stall with slow deliberation, and a small, wrinkled face pokes itself under the door, bringing with it the smell of detention. Too bad if someone was actually using this toilet.
"Well, girls," sneers the ugly, shrivelled face of Mrs Jenkins. "Enjoying yourselves, I hope?"
The only movement comes form Carla nodding her head. With a sigh I stand up and open the door. Mrs Jenkins straightens herself up stiffly with the half smirk that she always uses when getting student in trouble. I wince as she lets loose her full fledged smile to display us with her discoloured, crooked teeth, and I almost expect her to start circling around us.
"First students to see the principal this year." She walks away, signalling for us to follow. "Why doesn't that surprise me?"
The word on the streets is that our school is a mental institution. That mainly comes from it's towering, gothic style buildings, and how it's situated on top of a hill, hidden by the dense forest that covers the mountains surrounding our city. Add a few bats, a mad scientist, and what do you get? A haunted, monster-producing mansion, ever surveying the innocents below. It's quite frightening to know that our school, in a sense, is exactly that.
Mind you, the mental institution thing isn't too far off, either.
All these rumours flying around about our school (we like to assume that people have nothing better to do than talk about our education facility) aren't helped by the fact that it's one of those aloof, better-than-the-rest schools that so many people love to hate, and even more aren't aware still exists. Also, being an old, posh place, traditions carry on with no thought of the practicality of the modern age. So, we have unnecessarily extreme discipline to keep us obnoxious adolescents in line, making it horribly strict, and basically, all in all, unappealing to attend.
Our principal, Lord Hillsforth, once one of our deputies, jumped at the chance to be the head of the school when everyone heard that old Sister Clare had been driven to retirement. Lord Hillsforth bandy-abouts his title like we're all unaware he's inherited a lordship, speaks like a Pom, even though everyone knows for a fact he isn't, and doesn't know any of our names, so has taken to calling us "Miss", or "You!"
When we reached his office I uncomfortably smoothed my annoying dark brown hair, and tried not to cough at the smell of newly laid carpet. I glanced at the recently refurnished office. Everything was beige! The carpet, the bare walls, the couches . . .
"Sterile," mouthed Christina.
We all nodded. Old sister Clare liked to pretend that she cared about us girls, so every inch of the walls, in her time, was covered in students staring down at you in their ugly black uniforms, or splattered in mud and sweat during a sport or camp happy snap. I looked back at the now plain beige walls and shuddered.
I stared down at my faded black leather shoes, and thought about rolling down my knee socks to see how Lord Hillsforth would take it.
He stopped abruptly, as though sensing my thoughts, and eyed us four critically. "Names?"
"Christina Wode," Christina tossed over carelessly, propping her elbow up on the back of the chair.
"Address me as sir, or Lord Hillsforth."
"Yep," Christina clipped. "Sorry."
We all remained silent, waiting for Christina to either cave, or for Lord Hillsforth to yell. Neither of them acted, however. Zoë piped up just as things were getting awkward.
"Zoë Devans, sir."
"Carla Michutto, sir."
"Rick-" I stopped myself before I gave out my nickname. Lord Hillsforth raised his eyebrows, but I still didn't say anything. I have the greatest misfortune of being called Fredericka Garnsworthy. My parents are the meanest people around, you see.
"Er . . . I'm Fredericka Garnsworthy, sir."
"Are you sure?" he snapped, obviously trying to hide his double take.
"Of course I'm sure!" Oops. That came out a bit ruder than I intended.
His piercing gaze lingered on me suspiciously before he moved on.
"Being the second week of the school year," he said, " Maybe you aren't aware of the new rules in place, ladies."
I murmured faintly, not knowing if it would be impertinent to sit here not saying a word, or lippy to reply. Christina examined her nails, and Carla stared at the ceiling.
"Not really, sir," said Zoe, her voice husky
"Even so," he said. "No where in the previous list of rules do I see the allowance of girls wagging classes whenever they feel like it."
We all stayed silent, not looking at him.
"I will give you one warning, ladies, and beware, next time any one of you are caught wagging, she will receive four strokes of the cane."
I scowled at my knees.
"Each one of you will copy out a list of school rules from your diaries and hand them in to me first thing tomorrow morning. If they aren't here, I will send you to be caned."
I had expected as much, and so was contented with shooting him a brief dark look. Christina and Carla, however, huffed noisily.
"Sir," Christina protested loudly. "There has to be over two hundred rules listed-"
"And you'll copy down every one of them twice if you talk back again."
Carla clicked her tongue, and flicked her auburn hair back over her shoulder, while Christina glared openly at Lord Hillsforth. I exchanged a knowing look with Zoe. Christina always put on drama queen performances like this, as though to prove how much she didn't care about getting in trouble. She'd be complaining about this episode for weeks to come, though.
"Go to your class and apologise to your teacher."
We filed out of his office sombrely, not daring to meet each other's eyes, but once we were in the hallway we all burst into laughter. The whole situation suddenly seemed hilarious. My eyes watered as I doubled up, giggling uncontrollably, and I had to cross my legs to stop any accidents that were likely to happen. Hushing each other so we wouldn't be found laughing at Lord Hillsforth behind his back, we dulled our roaring to a quiet wheezing.
"C'mon," passed Zoe, tears of laughter rolling down her face, and plucking at my sleeve. "He'll hear us."
We walked towards our classroom, gulping down lungfulls of air.
"Ahh," sighed Christina, wiping her eyes. "Quality entertainment. Where are your books?"
"Outside the toilets, I answered, loosening my tie, which I had tightened when we went to see the principal.
"Same," said Zoe, and Carla nodded.
Christina grinned widely, her straight, white teeth seeming brighter than usual in the dark of the hall. "Back we go, then."
Being in an all girls school does strange things to a person. I know that the parents want us to concentrate on our work without the distraction of the opposite sex, but I honestly think it makes things worse. Can you imagine what it's like to be surrounded by four hundred frustrated girls, all talking and acting without one single self-conscious thought? The pace is a mad house. At least with boys around, there would be a certain social code to up hold, but without them, all hell brakes loose. Girls developing weird obsessions with Orlando Bloom posters, girls tackling each other in mad flurries of stacks on games, girls laughing and shouting over vulgar conversations that would make the toughest medieval sailor cringe, and girls unwanted ham and cheese sandwiches being shoved down the back of some poor unsuspecting person's uniform.
Of course, there is also that catty behaviour girls spin out as well. Girls can manage to be bitchy wherever they go, even without trying, and when there is no guy to fight over, things go to a bigger, even more ridiculous scale. Playing hockey against the girl who groaned when the only seat left was next to you, or who keeps stealing your highlighter pens (and won't give them back), or who pointed out that you had a giant pimple in the middle of your forehead becomes the dirtiest, most violent, and cunning war of wills in all of history.
And you know what the strangest thing is? We all shake hands at the end, apologising profusely for that scratch down the cheek with our sweetest smile, while secretly gloating over the damage we caused.
Collapsing on my bed with Christina, Carla and Zoe, I slipped off my shoes with a groan and rubbed my feet. Zoe and I had been caught talking during assembly, and had been made to stand for a good half an hour. My eye twitched at the thought of Mrs Jenkins waffling on about the importance of rule abiding.
"Do you know what's for dinner tonight?" mumbled Carla at my side, not directing her question to anyone in particular, resting her feet on Zoe, who had been force to lie on the floor as we took up all the bed space.
Christina shrugged. "Something good, I hope."
Food seems to preoccupy most of our thought here, and we all shamelessly fight tooth and nail to get the best and most food possible. Forget money, the real stakes for bets and bribes are dealt in iceblocks and chocolate bars. I was about to suggest that we finish our homework (as we didn't go to study), when in walked my roommate.
This year, I really struck out on who I got to live with. There is generally three to a room in year ten, and my other roommate, besides Zoe, is Michaela. Michaela is as nerdy (and yet somehow manages to stay frustratingly dense) and annoying as they come. I try to be patient, but sometimes I can't help taking a jab at her, which, sine she has no sense of humour, makes her a tad hostile and unbearable to live with.
Zoe and I dubbed Michaela 'Mousie', because of her short and runty frame, her quivering nose, and huge brown eyes. Her voice was high pitched and penetrating. We both had been at each other's throats since year eight camp. Granted, I did steal the bunk she was going to take, but she was the one who threw my clothes in the lake.
Mousie thumped her bag onto the floor and strode over with her hands on her hips.
"It's your turn to clean the bathroom, Ricky," she yelped, almost tredding on Zoe.
Zoe quickly moved, glaring at her. "Watch out!"
Mousie ignored her. "I had to clean up last week, when you should have done it!"
"Yeah, I know," I snapped, sitting up to frown at her. "You've only reminded me, like, three times every day this week."
"You and Zoe left all this gross black hair die rubbish in there last night, too!" she persisted, her huge eyes widening angrily.
"Actually," said Zoe conversationally, brushing her fringe back. "It's Loreal Moonlight Black, and it's not rubbish."
Christina gave a loud laugh, and Carla gave her famous bob-the-head so-there look.
"Yes," said Mousie. "It is."
"Wow, that was a sophisticated argument," I drawled, glad we were ganging up on her, the little mouse. "You are just too quick for me."
"Yeah, I know," she said, her face beginning to turn pink. "Anyone is too quick for you, Ricky."
I was starting to get seriously annoyed. Why didn't she just admit defeat before this got ugly? If she thought I was going to drop everything immediately, just to obey her commands, then she had another thing coming. So I did what I always do when I get angry. I resorted to long words.
"Tell me, were you born with some sort of mental dysfunction that makes you take everything literally," I said, spurred on by my friend's giggling. "Or have you just not encountered sarcasm yet?"
Christina dissolved into laughter, and Carla and Zoe turned to Mousie for her reaction with grins on their faces. Mousie wrenched her glare form me, and rounded on Christina and Carla.
"Get lost!" she said. "You're always sitting in here!"
"So?" demanded Carla. I winced. She was never the brightest crayon in the box.
Christina smirked. "No live show in our room, Mousie."
"Don't call me that!" she demanded, her eyes narrowing. She would have looked dangerous if she hadn't been so tiny.
I forced out a laugh, even though it was the last thing I felt like doing, knowing it would incense her.
"Why don't you shut up and clean the bathroom like you're supposed to?" she said loudly.
Christina took a deep breath from her sniggering to choke out, "Why don't you disappear and cry over that mess you call a face?"
OK, that seemed unnecessarily cruel, but it got the point across. Mousie's eyes filled with tears and she stomped angrily from the room.
"I'll do it later," I called after her, hoping to ease the blow. "That might have been too far, Chris."
"Hey," said Christina, holding her hands up in surrender. "I just had the guts to say what you were all thinking."
"You were thinking about how ugly she was?" Carla asked.
"Besides," Christina went on defensively, ignoring Carla. "You're telling me she wasn't annoying you? You complain about her all the time."
"I got you what you wanted, didn't I?"
"Then shut up."
I sat back tensely, quailing at the thought of getting into an argument with Christina.
"Listen," she continued, putting irritated emphasis on her words. "Stop worrying about it. She'll have forgotten it by, like, the morning." She huffed loudly, flipping her brown hair back. "God, you stress too much."
"I'm not stressing," I cried, gesticulating wildly with my hands, thinking how ridiculous it was that I was fighting over someone's mean remark to Michaela.
"Then calm down!" Christina shouted back.
I gave a heavy, sharp sigh as I stood up. "Whatever."
"My God," said Christina in disbelief. "I was defending you!"
"Yeah!" joined in Carla loudly. "What's your problem, she was defending you!"
"What are you?" I yelled at Carla. "Her bloody summary or something?"
Zoe was staring hard at the floor. I lifted my hands to my head, sweeping back any stray hair.
"I'm sorry," I began gruffly. "It's just-"
"Christina's on your side," uttered Carla harshly.
"Jim-out, Carla," said Zoe, still staring at her feet. Her voice was dangerously quiet.
Carla glanced at her, seemingly wracking her brain for a retort. "Why don't you jim-out?"
Christina crossed her arms, and stared into the air with great unconcern. "Mousie was asking for it. I answered." Carla slid closer to her and slid her arm around her shoulders. "If you're too gutless to do, like, anything," said Christina, "Then that's your issue."
I could feel fury burning in my stomach, and tears starting to form in my eyes. I strode to the door, and flung it open. "You're a real bitch, you know that?"
Christina stared at me levelly, but didn't say anything.
I slammed the door, and had to refrain myself from opening it again to slam it harder.
The library was busy, as usual, but I knew I could find a quiet spot in between the non-fiction bookshelves, where only seniors and a few panicked students roamed near the end of term. I sat down heavily, letting my bag drop to the carpeted floor, and started copying the rules from my diary. My hands were still shaking, and I felt like one good 'Boo!" would finish my off, but I welcomed the distraction. Any activity other than seeing Christina's calm face was fine by me.
Nearly an hour later, I felt someone crouch down beside me. I stared into Zoe's face. "Hi." I dropped my pen and stretched out my cramped hand. "Done yours yet?" I gestured down to my list of rules.
"Yeah," she said, absently pulling a poetry book off the shelf. "Just finished."
There was a weighty pause, and I looked at her in alarm.
"What?" I said.
"Nothing," she said hurriedly. "Just, Carla was bitching on Chris's behalf."
"Great," I said bitterly. "Grapevine in progress already?"
"I thought you should know."
"What she doing?" I said. "Telling everyone bizarre rumours about me? Wouldn't have thought she'd have the intelligence."
"Everyone's on your side."
The hollow in my stomach warmed somewhat. "Thanks," I muttered quietly.
The bell clanged through the library, and I could hear the usual stampede of girls rushing for the doors.
Zoe grinned at me. "Dinner!"
We stood up to join the throng heading towards the dining room. We started preening ourselves, pulling at our starched collars, and smoothing our pinafores, and I redid my ugly brown hair in an attempt to make it sit in an organised manner. No such luck. It determinedly frizzed out, wild ringlets spilling down my back, and making the poor person behind me sneeze. I tugged at it with a growl and viciously tried to squeeze it flat. That didn't work either, and I ended up with a whole lot of hair in my hands.
Zoe stared at the hair in my hands. "Gross. Anyway, I better get in the kitchen. I have to serve tonight."
I watched her disappear, and joined the line for the dining room.
I felt decidedly petulant at the thought of facing the gossiping herds when I sat down at one of the solid oak tables, the smell of dinner making my stomach try to digest itself. I groaned and rubbed my stomach. The plumpish year eight that sat on my right smirked and folded her hands in her lap. I thought about making a quip about her weight, but thought better of it. There had been enough yelling today.
The scholarship students came out through the swinging doors of the kitchen, white coats flapping around their knees, and I caught sight of Zoe holding a heavy tray of steaming food. She made a beeline for my table, ignoring her assigned one, much to the unhappy protests its occupants hollered, and started dishing out casserole at the far end of the table, looking pointedly at me. She waltzed up, and dumped a whole lot of beef casserole and various slightly burnt vegetables into my bowl, before mumbling, "Got it five minutes ago," and discretely dropping a torn note into my lap.
It took my entire self-resolve not to open the note straight away. I was all too aware of the plumpish year eight's quick eyes.
When everyone had food in front of them, and the servers had returned, there was a monstrous scraping of chairs as everyone forced themselves to their feet and waited for Lord Hillsforth to start Grace. My head bowed, I took this opportunity to open the note as everyone muttered to themselves, their hands clasped together.
R – sorry bout before – meet at the back toilets while everyone is at dinner – luv u – Chris.
I crushed the piece of paper in my fist as an enthusiastic "Amen" echoed throughout the dining hall.
"You may sit," boomed out Lord Hillsforth, and the noise level immediately escalated, cutlery banging against plates, and people hollering conversations down tables. I feverishly wondered how I was going to get out of dinner unnoticed, thinking how with every minute that passed, Christina would be getting madder and madder at me for not showing up.
I snuck a sidelong glance at those around me, making sure they weren't watching, and then slammed my elbow down hard on the edge of my bowl. It was sent flying in the air, and crashed spectacularly on the floor. My top half was completely splattered with beef casserole. A stinging silence rang across the room as I stood up, my face red, and mumbled incoherently while pointing at the door. I ran out amidst roaring laughter, whistling and applause.
I sprinted all the way to the back toilets, stumbling a few times in the dark, and reached them puffing. I wrenched the door open, and was greeted by the stench of cigarette smoke and Christina's tear stained face.
"I just got covered in beef casserole in front of the entire school for you, so this better be good," I wheezed, waving a hand in front of my face to clear the air of smoke.
Christina smiled heroically through her wet lashes, and flicked off the end of her ciggie. "I thought you weren't coming."
"Yeah, sorry," I said, walking over to the sink and splashing water over my front and face, and scrubbing off gravy stains. Gees, Dad would kill me if he saw this. "I didn't get your note 'til after I sat down to dinner."
Christina nodded, then her face crumpled up as she started to cry. I rushed over, feeling awkward. I gave her a hug. "Are you OK?"
I mentally slapped myself for asking such a stupid question. What sort of answer was I expecting? Sure, Ricky, I'm just dandy, just let me finish dancing about before I give you the details?
She shook her head. I jumped up onto the puddled basin, wringing out my dress, and patted the bit of bench beside me.
"C'mon, what's the matter? Is it our fight? 'Cos, if it is, then I'm really sorry," I babbled, figuring if I talked for long enough she would stop crying. "I know, I was way out of line, I was an absolute idiot. You shouldn't listen to me, you know that. No one else does." I forced a smile onto my face. My cheeks protested against the unnatural movement.
Christina sniffled, drew in some smoke, and huffed it out in one slow breath. I jumped down and rolled out a few metres of toilet paper, and handed it to her. I coughed pathetically as I walked back to the smoky area.
"I can't believe we fought over Mousie!" I said. "How stupid can I possibly get?" I smiled for real, bringing the immediate relief that only a real smile can.
Christina choked out a laugh. "Look," she said, her voice all congested with crying. "I, like, hate fighting with you – I thought we were having, you know, fun, like, just mucking about. I didn't realise you were taking it so seriously."
"That's because I'm seriously deranged," I muttered, grabbing her by the shoulders. "I can't believe we were fighting over Mousie!" I repeated. "My God, Mousie! I really don't like that girl. She has me miserable without even trying. And you."
"And everyone who is sane enough to realise she is a bloody hoe," spat Christina viciously.
"You were right," I said, shaking my head, getting really worked up. "She was asking for it. Who does she think she is? Why should I care if you put her in her damn place once in a while? Bloody hell, good on you, she deserves it!"
"Damn straight!" Christina cried, jumping off the basin, grinning from ear to ear, her cigarette flying about the place as she waved her hands. "I mean, she should be flattered that we want to sit in her room! She should be thanking us!"
"Yeah! She should be happy we even consider hanging round where she might show up!"
"You girls are making an awful lot of racket."
The world froze as Christina and I stared up at Lord Hillsforth, his face furious, his voice sending shivers down my spine. A cold breeze whipped in through the open door, and I glimpsed the dark outline of trees outside.
"Oh shit." Christina sighed.
"You can't be in here!" I blurted out. "What if we had been undressed!"
Lord Hillsforth stared at us through narrowed eyes, completely disregarding my outburst. "Let me get this right." He pointed to Christina. "Christina Wode."
Christina rolled her eyes and gave a brief nod. His gaze turned to me.
"And Fredericka Garnsworthy."
A tampon machine was in my peripheral vision. My mind was going a mile a minute, and a plan was beginning to form. I side-glanced at Christina, trying to convey to her to play along.
"Actually, I prefer Ricky."
He looked miffed at my boldness when I was so obviously about to be caned.
I smiled at him. The good thing about males is that one mention of periods, and they run off screaming. I clasped my hands together, and rocked confidently onto the balls of my feet. "Sir, I realise we should be at dinner at the moment-"
"Yes. I am missing what looked like a rather nice dessert to find one Miss Wode, and one Miss Garnsworthy."
"I appreciate that, sir . . ."
Christina snickered. I ignored her smoothly.
"However, my friend here was a bit upset after having . . . an accident."
He hesitated slightly before giving his reply. "Accident?"
"Yeah, of the female kind, and she was in no condition to attend dinner. I, being the loyal friend I am, am helping her cope."
He frowned, his expression darkening. "By smoking?"
Aah. Minor hiccup.
"Oh, er, yeah." I pulled a face. "You know, stressful time, and all that . . ." I faded out, and hung my head to stare dismally at my feet. This really wasn't going as I had hoped.
"This tale is a pathetic excuse for a cover story, Miss Garnsworthy, if by accident you're-"
"It's true!" Christina cut in. "I've been crying, see?" She pointed to her eyes. "I was so embarrassed. You should have seen the mess-"
"Enough, Miss Wode!"
For a second I though I saw him blanche. Hehehe.
He reached into his pocket, and I clamped my eyes shut, thinking he was going to give us blue cards. "I wasn't born yesterday, despite what you may think. Everyone saw that you left part way during the dinner, Fredericka. Miss Wode wasn't even signed in on the attendance sheet. Obviously, what you're telling me is bogas."
I opened my eyes, noticing he wasn't forcing a card into my hands. I sighed as I realised he had just put his hands into his pockets for the sake of doing so.
"You notice things like that?" Christina asked bluntly. I cringed.
"Considering my profession, you would hope so," he announced sternly. "Meanwhile, I find you to skulking back here when you should be at dinner, stinking of cigarettes. And at your age! You're what, fifteen?"
"Fourteen," answered Christina pertly.
"Fifteen in a couple of months," I whispered, rubbing the bridge of my nose.
"You are aware these are contraband, and I cannot believe you would be stupid enough as to damage your health like this!" he paused. "You have already received a cross against attendance, I assume?" he asked, referring to our blue books.
A blue book was a small book (amazingly, blue in colour) divided up into five sections for attendance, attitude, uniform, homework, and other. Once someone got six crosses, they would be sent to a teacher called Mr Rogers on a Friday afternoon to be caned. However, there were occasions when someone threw a tantrum (or something of the kind), which resulted in an immediate caning aka a blue card.
Christina was busy glaring at him impertinently, so I scrounged up my voice to answer for both of us.
"Yes, sir. Against attendance and attitude."
I pulled the already crumpled book from my pocket, my chest filling with dread. We had only got them last week. Christina practically threw hers at him, and I tried to be as nonchalant as her, but was betrayed by a faltering in my mouth. I pressed my lips together, pushed back a stray curl, and shoved my blue book at him.
Next chapter: A secret society called the Black Alliance is explained; Ricky ends up in the hospital, and is almost expelled . . .