A/N: As a reminder, a much-revised and improved version of this story, Madrugada: Revisited, can be found under my profile. (story ID: 2527052, or /s/2527052/1/Madrugada_Revisited)
Chapter 1: Grey Morning
Grey dawn pierced the curtains. A new town, a new life. The dreary light hit her eyes, waking her. Aleda glared blearily at her alarm clock, cursing it for being so close to 6 o'clock. No time now for another dream, have to get up. Have to get ready and go to the new school with new people in this new, dismal town.
She should be waking to a warm dawn, light streaming in through her window. She should look outside and see the sun glittering off the harbor in the distance, and the city below just starting to come to life. She should be getting ready to see all of her friends at school again, though she had seen many of them during the summer. Just one more year and she would have been finished. Was that too much to ask? One last year to spend at home.
Instead she was here. Here in this grey little town. And she had to get to school.
She showered mechanically, toweled off, dried her hair. Get dressed. Too cold for the brightly-colored blouses in her closet. Still August, yet already the breezes made her shiver. It was too damp here. No good for skirts, either. Jeans would have to do. White blouse, just a bit of lace down the front, next to the buttons. Dark brown tailored jacket, and some boots to match. She didn't even know if that's what people wore here. It would do.
Go downstairs, eat something. It would be several hours before lunch. Mom sat at the dining room table, reading the paper. Aleda mumbled a sleepy good morning before turning to find the cereal. Barely a week they'd been here, not long enough to be used to the layout. Not long enough.
She stared at her cereal for a few minutes. She couldn't remember what to do with it. Then, she remembered, but made no move to eat it. If she put off breakfast maybe she could put off school. It was a nice thought, anyway. The hands on the wall kept moving, though, so she finally ate her corn flakes.
Dish in the sink; back upstairs. Time enough to put on a few pieces of jewelry and brush her hair. Damp it may be, but not damp enough to make her hair frizz. She didn't bother with a hair tie. Still tired enough to stare vacantly into the mirror for several long seconds. She finally looked at the clock. Nearly 6:40—time to go. She grabbed her backpack and lunch money.
The chilly air immediately hit her when she left her house, making her hate her new neighborhood just a bit more. She pulled the jacket a little tighter. No matter that the other people she saw on the street wore short-sleeves.
Just a few minutes' walking, and the high school loomed in front of her. Steeling herself, she joined the dozens of other students flowing in through the rows of wide doors. She consulted the paper she clutched in her hand. Locker number 142 and homeroom in D106. She looked around. All she saw were students and hallways. Hallways leading to hallways and branching off into more hallways. She chose one at random and checked the numbers next to the doors. E100, E102… wrong hallway, then.
Turn around, try again. Ah, better. D100… D102… D104… Finally, D106! A quick look at the lockers next to the room located her locker, and she stuffed in her lunch and jacket unceremoniously. She looked back at the door and swallowed nervously. Just do it. She took a deep breath and walked through the door. Almost half of the seats were already filled, and she quickly slipped into a seat near the back.
Her entrance did not go unnoticed. This was a small town, and the people here had known each other their whole lives. A few boys smiled. The girls inspected her suspiciously. A few glares. Aleda looked away, instead turning her attention to the desk in front of her.
"Hi," a voice whispered. One row over, her eyes met a handsome smile. "I'm Nate, what's your name?"
"Aleda," she said, shy.
"You're new in town, right? I'd recognize somebody as pretty as you."
Aleda blushed and nodded, but the teacher began taking role before she could reply.
"Here!" answered the boy next to her. Nate Burns, then. She smiled to herself. Finally the teacher called her name.
"Here!" she called.
"So, what kind of name is Solana?" Nate whispered to her.
"Spanish," she replied. "My father is from Andalusia. I grew up there."
"Do you miss it?"
"Yeah. For one, it's a lot warmer than here."
Nate chuckled. "Yeah, I guess Delaware has to be a bit of a let-down after Southern Spain. When'd you move?"
"About a week ago."
"Something you'd like to share with us, Miss Solana?" the teacher demanded.
Her blush fled, leaving pale cheeks. "N-no, ma'am."
"In that case, if you're done interrupting me, I have your class schedules here. If you'll just take yours and keep passing, thanks. Classes are fifty-five minutes long, lunch is twenty-five. I suggest you all buy an assignment book, the bookstore has several…"
It was too much, those first few minutes. Listening to the teacher drone about school policy and fire plans. Too many glances snuck back at her, too many memories of her last cherished summer in Andalusia, too many thoughts competing for her attention. Finally, finally, the teacher was finished. Still a few minutes left until the bell rang, until she had to find her first class.
Make the most of it. She turned to Nate.
"So, what classes do you have?" she asked him. He grinned at her, then held out his schedule for comparison.
"Physics, English, Geometry, Drama, Spanish, Lunch, U.S. History, and Chorus. You?"
"History, English, Chemistry, Drawing, Lunch, Pre-Calc, French, and Chorus." Her face lit up. "Looks like we have two classes together," she said, showing him her schedule.
He smiled. "English and Chorus. You sing?" he asked.
"A little," she admitted. "I used to sing in the church choir back home. I mean Spain."
"What kind of church?"
She grinned goofily at him. "It's Spain — Catholic."
"Ah, a Catholic girl. This just keeps getting better and better," he said, returning her grin.
"We-ell… sort of." Hesitation. "Mom was raised atheist. Papá was baptized Catholic, but only because of his grandmother. We went to Mass mainly for her sake. It's just one of those things," she said, turning slightly red. "Sorry, didn't mean to go way into my family's history on you."
Nate chuckled. "No problem. I find it fascinating," he said, looking her square in the eye. Aleda fought a second blush. While she paused, trying to think of something to say to that, the bell rang. The other kids in the classroom immediately jumped out of their seats and bolted. Aleda grinned to herself. It was like watching a Pavlovian experiment gone horribly out of control.
"Well, I guess I have to go find…" She consulted her schedule. "E205 now. See you in English class?"
He smiled at her, grabbing his backpack. "You can count on it."
Remembering her previous mistake, Aleda quickly found E Hall and headed for the far end. E118… E120… Oh, crap. No more hallway. She looked around frantically, spotting a stairway. She dashed up without hesitation. The number of students in the hallway was rapidly diminishing. She looked at the nearest door and groaned. E220. Class would be on the other end of the hall. She was going to have to learn the layout of the building, soon.
Fortunately, she found E205 before the bell rang again and ducked into the classroom, trying to look nonchalant as the teacher glanced at her disinterestedly. She was the last one in, and had to take the last seat open, right in front. Figured. She sat down.
History. She found no patience for history. No patience for the endless lists of names and dates of kings and wars, nations rising and falling and what difference did it make? Historians never recorded the truly important events. Historians never knew.
Even worse was the fact that she hadn't learned American History at all, growing up in Europe. She had only a vague notion that it had somehow started on July 4th and could recognize the national flag when shown. What did she care about the exact dates of wars and court cases? It just all seemed so very useless. After all, the sort of jobs that she would likely have in her life would hardly require her to know those kinds of facts.
"Here are your syllabi," the teacher announced. She stomped from her desk to the first row of students. The syllabi were a stack of stapled papers. Grading policy? Course schedule? Daily assignments? There were certainly enough pages in each packet to include all of them.
Either she was thorough or she was anal. Aleda suspected the latter. "These need to be signed and returned to me absolutely no later than Friday, and will count as a homework grade." Aleda groaned. Not one of those.
The teacher passed out a stack of the syllabi to each row. Take one, pass the rest back.
"As you can see," the teacher continued, "My name is Ms. Tyler. We will have six quizzes and two tests. The quizzes are worth 30 of your grade; the tests are worth 15 each. You will also have two papers, each worth 10 of…"
The trees outside were really quite pretty. Aleda wondered if they would turn red and gold in a few months. That would be especially pretty. Delicate flakes of flame drifting down from dead branches, dark with autumn rain. She hoped it would be soon.
Goodness knew it was cold enough already.
If this weather kept up, she would have to buy a whole new set of clothes. She had expected weather like what she was used to in August. She could wear her late-fall clothes now, but when it got to be midwinter, she was clearly going to need some serious insulation. Hopefully Mom would find a job soon, so they could afford it.
The teacher droned on.
"Your first homework assignment is on the syllabus. You are to read Chapter 1 and do the response questions on page 43."
Find page 43. Found. This would not be fun. Page 43 had thirty questions on it.
"This is due on Wednesday."
So much for after-school activities.
"Questions? No? Then, if you'll all turn to page 11…"
The pink eraser on her desk had Aleda's full, rapt attention. She twirled it idly, hardly noticing Ms. Tyler explaining the finer points of whatever era they had started. Pre-Revolution something, probably. It's not like the country had a whole lot of history yet. No reason to bother listening.
Ms. Tyler paused, writing something on the board. Check to make sure. Aleda glanced up briefly, then checked her textbook. Same as the very next subheading. Honestly, why bother? Should have asked to be home schooled. Only a year left, anyways. She was sure she could pass the exams, although she had yet to see how difficult her classes at this school would be. Her next twirl was too hard; the eraser flew from her desk, skidding to a stop several desks over. Too far to reach.
Aleda stared at her now-idle hands for a moment. Might as well do something useful. Homework on page 43. She looked at the first question and recognized a word-for-word sentence from the text with one word blank.
Maybe she'd have time for after-school activities after all.
Eternities later, the bell rang. Aleda scooped up the eraser from where it had fallen. She checked her schedule again. English with Mrs. Van Leeuwenhoek in room A 105. Oh, this would be fun. Down the steps and through the halls, try not to trip on any freshmen. A Hall turned out to be perpendicular to E Hall, so it wasn't quite as far as she had originally feared. She found the room with plenty of time to spare.
The room was bright. Must have an eastern exposure. Sunlight danced in the glass of the windows, and a cheerful old lady sat at the teacher's desk. The teacher smiled in greeting and Aleda smiled back. Her desk was littered with books and knicknacks—a far cry from Ms. Tyler's empty desk. Aleda even saw some pictures of small children. Surely a woman who liked children would make a better teacher than one who apparently disliked everybody.
The walls were covered as well. Instead of flat, off-white paint, there were posters hanging all around the room. In the front of the classroom, an illustrated timeline of Shakespeare's works hung above the blackboard and in the back were assorted humorous quotes. They looked like Shakespeare as well, from what Aleda could remember. The wall nearest the hallway sported several student-made posters, and the other wall was nothing but glowing windows.
Looked like English class would be better than History.
Nate was already in the room, sitting near the windows. No seats open near him, already filled with his friends. He sat near the back corner. The two boys in front of him were turned around in their seats, looking at the third, who was telling some story. He gestured something that Aleda couldn't quite make out and the other three boys laughed wildly.
She smiled at Nate and found a seat as close to him as she could—on the far side of the boy sitting next to him. He grinned at her in return, then looked back at the boy who had been telling the story. There was no way she would be able to join their conversation at this point. Have to make sure to get there earlier the next day. She contented herself with pulling out a fresh notebook and writing "English" on the front in a decorative script.
A few minutes later, the bell rang again.
"Good morning!" the cheerful old lady said after the bell had rung. "I'm Mrs. Van Leeuwenhoek, but feel free to call me Mrs. Van. I've got your syllabi for you. Here, pass these back. I know you're all used to this, but make sure you have these signed and returned to me as soon as possible. These have your reading list on them, the first book we're reading is Dracula, by Bram Stoker."
Mrs. Van pulled out a stack of books. "Do try to keep these intact. Make sure you write your name inside the cover. Write your homeroom, too—if you lose them it'll be easier to get them back to you." She passed out a stack of books to each row.
Aleda looked at the book in her hand. Must not laugh. Don't want to have to explain. Remember, it's just entertainment. Papá would have a fit when he found out.
The book itself was worn, but intact. Fortunately it was a hardback, so it would have a better chance of surviving years of abuse by the students. Her inside cover showed a list of names that had been scribbled in, then crossed out. She added her name to the bottom.
At the front of the classroom, Mrs. Van continued. "Since many of you probably have not read this book yet, we'll spend the rest of the class going over some basic literary techniques and vocabulary. I apologize to everyone who learned this last year, but I know it's hard to remember all of this over the summer."
This earned her some chuckles from around the room. Aleda ducked her head to hide a blush. Teacher had to review for the new girl, who had no idea what was going on.
Aleda sighed. She scribbled a heading and the date and glanced up to see the words Mrs. Van had written on the chalkboard, only to have a mild heart attack. She couldn't pronounce these words, let alone remember what they meant! Juxtapo-what?!
The girl behind her must have seen her jump a bit. "Crazy words, huh? No worries, you'll get used to them. Or you'll go crazy. But most of us here are so hey! Good times."
Aleda looked around at her and smiled nervously. "Chill," the girl insisted. "Mrs. Van's awesome. Like, times ten. Just ask her if you need some help." Aleda finally relaxed a bit
"Thanks," she whispered back to the girl. "I'm Aleda, by the way."
"Mara. Howdy. New girl, right?"
"Yeah, we just moved."
"That's a hell of a move. You an army brat or something?"
"Nah, Mom's idea. She grew up around here."
"Ah… she was homesick, then?"
"Something like that."
Aleda turned back to the board, not wanting to get caught whispering on her first day. She also had to scramble to catch up with all the words Mrs. Van was writing on the board. She was able to scribble definitions for some of them. The rest she would just have to look up when she got home. The worst words were those that described figurative language. She may have been raised by an American mother, but some things just weren't part of normal vocabulary! Nobody else in the class seemed too concerned about writing it all down. They must remember it from the year before. Aleda felt foolish scribbling all the notes down as fast as she could. No matter. It was more important that she catch up to the rest of the class.
Once Mrs. Van had finished explaining the vocabulary, she passed out a poem to the class.
"This is the first part of 'The Lady of Shalott' by Alfred Tennyson. Take a couple minutes to read it, and then we'll discuss it. I want you to pay particular attention to the imagery Tennyson uses, and try to find as many examples of the literary techniques we've just discussed as you can."
Aleda skimmed the printout in front of her. It was a pretty enough poem, not as cryptic as some she had seen. She looked back up at the list of techniques on the board. Now for the fun part. To her surprise, she was able to locate a few of the simpler techniques, even if she still couldn't quite figure out how to pronounce the words.
English class passed quickly. Far too quickly. Chemistry was next, and she was somewhat apprehensive. Science was fun and everything, but chemistry meant math. If there was one thing Aleda despised worse than history, it was math. She checked her schedule for the room number. Oh, this was lovely. Chemistry was in room D303, on the third floor. One more reason that English class would never last long enough.
Aleda looked back. It was Mara. She waited for her to catch up. "So what've you got next?" Mara asked, still stuffing the rest of her books into her bag.
"Chemistry," Aleda answered glumly. "Up in room D303."
"Holy crap, seriously? Me too! Hey, what's with the face, you don't like chemistry?
"Never had it, actually. But chemistry means math, and I hate math."
"Oh, don't worry, it's not so bad. And we've got Ms. Logan, she's got to be the awesomest teacher ever. After Mrs. Van, obviously. But you can't really compare anyone to Mrs. Van. Although I hear we get to set things on fire in Ms. Logan's class, so that might even it up."
"Wait, fire?" Aleda asked. She stared after the girl who had already taken off down the hall. "Oh, for—wait up!"
She ran to catch up, almost losing Mara in the stairwell. "C'mon, this way!" she said, barely slowing down for Aleda. "It's easier to go upstairs here, then go over to D Hall. C connects them on all three floors. You'd better hurry up," she added, "D303 is down at the other end of the building."
"How do you manage?" Aleda panted, trying to keep up with the crazy girl.
"You get used to it. They really don't give us enough time between periods, do they?"
"Not nearly!" she agreed. They reached the classroom.
"I should warn you," Mara said as they sat down, "Ms. Logan's a bit off, if you know what I mean."
"Not really. Off?"
Mara just chuckled. "You'll see."
Aleda turned in her seat to see the rest of the classroom. Unlike the others she had been in, this room extended a ways at the back, leaving room for a dozen or so black lab tables. Those would be the fire-setting tables, then.
Seven more minutes passed before Aleda was able to find out what Mara had meant about Ms. Logan. Just as she was beginning to wonder if they really had a teacher, a distracted woman came through the door, almost spilling the piles of paper she was clutching. She managed to make it to the front desk, setting the paper down with a triumphant grin.
"Sorry class! Had to make copies of this handout. Silly copier jammed up. Machines, huh?" She smiled cheerfully at the class. "Anyhow, I'm Ms. Logan, I'm your chemistry teacher."
Grabbing the stack of papers yet again, she started handing them out to the class. "Yes, pass those back, thanks. Right, so, these packets have your first few homework assignments. Don't worry! You don't have to do them all at once, I'll tell you which. Um. Syllabus should also be in there." Fortunately, most of the other students had already figured out to take one of each, despite them being mixed together.
Aleda raised her eyebrow at Mara, who just winked back. "Like I said," she whispered. "A bit off." Aleda just looked at her packet in bafflement.
At the front of the room, Ms. Logan continued rambling about the papers. "Syllabus is pretty standard. Homework, quizzes, a couple tests, and don't cheat. I'm sure you've read plenty, just get that signed and have it back to me as soon as possible." She paused, looking around the room to make sure everybody had gotten a copy. "Okay, you can go ahead and put those away. Today we're just going to go over some basic stuff, elements, mostly. Oh! I nearly forgot." She rushed back to her desk. "Here's a printout of the periodic table. Sorry about the quality, it's a bit dark."
"I don't get it," Aleda whispered to Mara a few minutes later.
"This whole system. I mean, look. They've got abbreviations for each element, but the abbreviations don't have anything to do with the names. What's the point?"
"They have to keep the abbreviations standard… I think they're all from the Latin names."
Aleda pondered the chart for a moment. "Ah. Well. It's a shame I don't know Latin. I guess Spanish will have to be close enough."
Mara grinned. "See? You'll manage. You worry too much!"
Aleda rolled her eyes. "Yeah, yeah. You try starting school in a new country, see how you like it."
"You mean you've never been to America before?"
Aleda shook her head. "Nope. Never been out of Spain before."
"I'm… confused. You've got an American accent. Hell, you could have grown up around here!"
"Mom's from here originally, and she spoke English to me as much as Dad spoke Spanish."
"Ah, bilingual! Lucky. Spanish class should be a snap for you."
"Actually… I'm not taking Spanish. I'm taking French."
Mara stared at her in disbelief. "Not taking Spanish? But that would be such an easy A!"
Aleda shrugged. "Yeah, well, I want to learn French too," she said.
Mara shook her head. "Crazy," she muttered, and turned her attention back to Ms. Logan, who had finally finished her tangent on the perils of going to movies with her family.
No fire-setting that day, unfortunately. Several more handouts, though. Those would have been useful for setting fires, at any rate. Stuff them into a folder. Make sure to write down what problems were due the next day.
The bell for the next class rang as Aleda was trying to scribble the assignment into her notebook. Mara jumped with the rest of the class. "See you later, Leda! I'm off to Spanish."
Aleda threw her notebook into her backpack and grabbed her schedule again. Drawing was next, over in the Art Wing. On the other side of the building. She whimpered and dashed off, nearly flattening a pair of freshmen in the stairwell. She felt like an idiot, tearing around the hallways. Whatever. As long as she got to class on time.
By the time Aleda got to Chorus she was sure she was going to have to kill at least one of the teachers in that school. Possibly maim. Her major problem was going to be stashing the bodies, but that could be dealt with later. For now she was going to have to avoid sharp, heavy, or otherwise dangerous objects. Good thing she didn't have claws. There would have been at least two teachers never to see another dawn.
Drawing had been fun. Drawing had been lovely. In drawing class, she got to sit in a large room with the oddest ends she'd ever seen sitting on every flat surface and sketch to her heart's content while the teacher made some points about reflected light and secondary shadows. Drawing, in short, had ended far too soon.
As if it wasn't enough that she already loathed math with a fiery passion that put the sun to shame. At least she tried. It could be much worse, she could just not even care. She could just sit in the back of the classroom and talk to the nice girl with the pink hair all period.
It just wasn't fair. She was tired, she was distracted, and she was in a relatively new country. So maybe she hadn't listened as carefully as she should have. But she'd read every word of those directions, and could she be blamed for following them to the letter? It wasn't her fault that there were different directions on the handout than what the teacher had said.
And it really wasn't fair to call her up after they'd turned in the assignment and lecture her on following directions and making a good impression and Aleda just kept fantasizing about large two-by-fours with long rusty nails in them. Finally she got sick of being lectured at and let out a torrent of apologetic Spanish. That shut her up, although that stupid teacher couldn't resist one parting shot about learning English now that she was in America.
It's just never enough.
French had been slightly better. At least in French class, Aleda wasn't the only one the teacher hated. No, in this class, the teacher hated everybody. The teacher for her French class was also the Latin teacher for the school. He loathed French. Unfortunately for him, there were barely enough students for one Latin class. He got stuck teaching a few French classes to take up the slack.
After the first rant about French being "corrupted Latin for idiots", he handed out a stack of vocabulary lists and intimidatingly thick textbooks.
Then the ever-friendly Mr. Bergher decided that he ought to give the students a few reasons to hate him as much as he hated French. In a foreign language class, this meant that each student had to stand up and introduce him or herself in French while staring anxiously at the phrase list he'd handed out.
After a while, Aleda couldn't stand anymore. Her head hurt. Their butchered pronunciation gave her a headache. She set her head down on her desk. Don't listen, tune them out. They couldn't annoy her if she couldn't hear them.
She jumped halfway out of her skin when the teacher yelled at her for sleeping in class and demand she give an extra sentence in her introduction.
Aleda glared at him. She didn't need this. She was European. Europeans learned other European languages by default. She had learned plenty of simple sentences growing up in Andalusia. Especially how to introduce herself.
"Je m'appelle Aleda. Je suis d'Espagne. J'ai dix-sept ans et j'aime la musique et je sais pas pourquois je suis ici."
She sat back down at her seat, glaring at the desk and praying he didn't decide to make an example out of her. One more round of uncalled-for discipline and she'd either go psycho-killer or run out of the room in tears, and she had a very strong suspicion it would be the latter. Mr. Bergher just stared at her, mumbled "Neither do I" under his breath, and went on to the next student.
So it was that by the time she got to Chorus, Aleda was ready to murder somebody. Of course, that inclination was balanced by the strong instinct to hide under a chair and cry out her frustration. Her mind compromised by freezing up entirely, causing her to miss Nate calling her name twice. Finally he reached out and put his hand on her arm.
"Who sa whatcha-!" Aleda spun around. "Oh, geez, Nate, don't do that to me!"
"Hey there. Rough first day?"
She dropped into the nearest chair. "I think I miss Spain."
Nate smiled sympathetically at her. "I can imagine. Must be tough, having to adjust to a whole different country and a whole different school at the same time. I've only ever had to adjust to a new school."
"Really? I though everybody here went to the same schools growing up."
"We moved here from Massachusetts when I was twelve. I had to start eighth grade not knowing anybody."
Aleda nodded. "I can relate."
"Well, hey, look at the bright side," he said. "Last period, the day's almost over."
"Very, very true. How's the chorus teacher, anyway?"
"Oh, she's nice. Runs the school musicals, too. Hey, are you any good? You should try out!"
"Oh, I don't know, I'm not that good. What's the musical?"
"This year it's 'The Music Man'. Tryouts are usually about the second month of school. I think I'm going to try for Harold Hill."
She stared at him blankly.
"Harold Hill? Male lead? Come on, tell me you've seen 'The Music Man'," he insisted. She maintained her blank gaze.
"I've… I've seen 'Carmen'?"
"What, like Carmen Sandiego?"
She frowned at him, puzzled. "'Carmen'. It's a musical piece, like you said. You've never heard of it? Mom says it's pretty famous."
Nate shrugged. Clearly they weren't speaking the same language. The Chorus teacher walked in at that moment anyway, and Nate had to find a place among the other tenors.