3. September 25th

On the way to the library, Miranda heard more than saw a scuffle down the hall from the study room she frequented. Turning the corner, she met up with...it was a Patty...Atkinson, a senior. She was trying to push a seventh grader into her locker, a bare white-knuckled grip hanging onto the door. The girl, her face pale, was whimpering in terror. Miranda watched for a moment, and decided it was worth her time, since she'd rather not be penalized for not stopping Patty from reducing the girl to a bloody smear. She was knew from Candace that Patty Atkinson had a habit of bullying people who were smarter than her. Which was pretty much everyone.

"Patty," Miranda said patiently, "what are you doing?"

Patty looked up, her brown eyes blazing in fury. "This smug little brat was in the cafeteria, and she said that the cashier gave me less change than I deserved. And I checked and double-checked, and it was exact change! And this brat made me look like a fool in front of everyone by saying I couldn't count the change correctly, and everybody laughed." Patty reared back on the girl, and tried to slam the locker door on her fingers, but Miranda grabbed it before the small girl, crying, could suffer dislocated fingers as well as bruises.

"What's your name?" asked Miranda.

The seventh grader's eyes widened, and she stared at her would-be savior. She seemed to recognize Miranda, and gulped in a voice with nervousness and deference, "I—I'm Jasmine Lee." Her eyes were puffed up, almost hard to see now.

"What happened, Jasmine?" Miranda asked kindly.

Jasmine swallowed, wiping at the tears on her face. "I was walking with my friends, and I saw her," she pointed at Patty, who scowled, "not getting any change at the cashier. I just wanted to help; I swear!"

"Are you implying that I can't count?" snapped Patty. "I know how much I was owed!"

"Hold on," Miranda said, sighing inwardly. "What were you buying at the cafeteria?"

"A lox and cream cheese bagel with a carton of milk," Patty said.

Miranda did the math. "The bagel would have been three-fifty then, and the milk, fifty cents? How much did you give her, Patty?"

"Exact change, five dollars."

The red-haired girl felt the urge to grab the locker door out of Patty's hand and slam it against her own head. "Um...it's not. Three-fifty plus fifty cents is only four dollars."

"What?" Patty's head snapped up, and her eyes wide. "Are you telling me that the cashier gypped me? Why I oughta pound her to—" With that threat lingering in the air, Patty turned back, and ran back down the hall towards the cafeteria, mad as a purchaser of snake oil.

While Miranda wryly remarked, "That Patty. Attention span of a cat," Jasmine's knees buckled. She looked down at Jasmine, grimacing. "Do get up. They don't bother to mop that much near the library."

Hurriedly, she got to her feet, and Miranda winced at the sight of green plaid covered with a thick coat of dust, which made it look even worse than it usually did. "Thanks," said Jasmine breathlessly. "You saved me."

"No problem," Miranda shrugged, and nearly had a heart attack when the girl grabbed her arm.

"I've heard of you," the girl continued in that same breathless tone of voice. "You're Miranda Etchel! The girls in my class talk about you all the time."

The red-haired girl carefully pried her arm loose. "Good things, I hope," her tone dry, but almost expectant.

"Always," Jasmine breathed. "Thanks so much."

"You're welcome." Miranda turned, heading to the bathroom; she'd have to wash her arm in the bathroom before heading to the study room. The seventh grader called out a goodbye, and Miranda gave her half-wave of farewell stiffly.

A little while later in the library, Miranda was hard at work rereading and rereading "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud," until it felt like the text had embedded itself in her brain. She heard the door open with a faint creak, and careful Mary Janes padded in. A voice asked, "How's the poetry analysis coming along?"

Miranda did not bother even to look up from her fractured note-taking, recognizing the voice. "Not well, Nikki."

"How'd you know it was me?" was the grumpy reply.

"Your gait," Miranda said, still not looking up.


"The way you walk," Miranda said, glancing up at last. She was sick of dancing with daffodils; she never was one much for sentiment. "I was always much better with literature than this poetry junk." With a disgusted grumble, she pushed aside the open book of poems, and the paperback snapped shut. She rubbed at her eyes and let out a breath. She stared up at the friendly, freckled face, pigtails trailing down her back. "And you?"

"As well as anyone can be. I was always a lousy student, you know this," Nikki said deferentially. She was looking around at the room, askance. "I don't know why you always pick this room, Miranda; it's dusty and it brings back bad memories."

The red-haired girl raised a brow at this. "What do you mean?"

Nikki awkwardly laughed. "Never mind that. Any luck finding a date to the dance?"

"Relax, we've got...seven and a half months left, Nikki?" laughed Miranda. "Get your mind back on track."

"Like you aren't hoping to meet someone special there."

"Too true," she replied, hand under her chin, gazing speculatively at the ceiling.

"It might help your chances if your red hair was real."

"Oh, you," said Miranda, tossing the thin book at Nikki.

Nikki laughed as she caught it neatly, and the other girl joined in, but they fell silent, as if the quiet atmosphere of the study room absorbed their noisy chatter.

"You know, I was chatting with Sandra the other day," said Nikki, sitting down in a chair across from Miranda, shoving aside a heavy stack of books, coughing at the plume of dust that rose up as a result.

"Oh?" asked Miranda distractedly, having trying to get her book back. Fingers were snapped twice right next to keep her away. "Geez, Nikki, any louder and you'll wake up the zombies that lived in the graveyard that was bulldozed to extend the library."

"Don't believe in zombies," said the freckled girl unrepentantly. "Sandra had an idea of how to ruin Carole."

This got Miranda's attention. "I'm listening." She dropped her pencil and looked at her attentively.

Nikki was glowing, practically jumping out of her seat in eagerness. "Sandra suggested this: love."

The red-haired girl snorted. "As if anyone would be around Carole any longer than necessary! Can you imagine being in 'chaste and concordant wedlock' with her? Hah!"

"Hear me out, Miranda. Here's my addendum: she'll fall in love...with us."

Miranda backed out of her chair so quickly, she knocked it over. It went skittering to the ground, making a racket against the hardwood floor. "What? Have you gone mental?"

The freckled girl held up a hand and she silenced herself. "Hold on. We could be her secret admirers. Like sending her gifts—you know, chocolates and flowers and stuff."

Miranda slowly put her chair back upright, sitting down with a thump. "You know..." she swallowed uncertainly a few times. "That might be crazy enough to work."

As Miranda thought rapidly about how best to plan this out, as Nikki rushed forward heedlessly, breathlessly. "Just think of it, we'll ply her with gifts and candy until she's so soft she's unrecognizable. We'll build up her hopes, and then she'll be so crushed when she finds out the truth..." Brown eyes gleamed with excitement, as Nikki took out a sheet of paper, and began to rapidly scribble down ideas.

"Wait, hold it," Miranda interrupted, her thoughts stumbling upon the flaw in the plan. "While it's brilliant, this plan of yours, and we know what we want to do, just how are we going to execute it?"

Nikki stared blankly at the other girl, her pencil stopping in mid-scribble, "I don't get it. What's the problem?"

The other girl rubbed at her eyes again. "You may be my good friend—"

"Your very best!" was the eager response.

"—but listen, is delivering a dozen roses every week at her dorm really going to melt Carole to butter?" At Nikki's dawning realization, she added, "My point exactly-she's so heartless she'd just throw them in the dumpster, how expensive they are be damned. There has to be a way of cutting her to the core. Look at how thin that girl is, she's thinner than Candace when she's actually on one of her diets." Nikki snickered. Then it hit Miranda, and a wicked smile lit up her face, and she stood. "I've got it!"

Nikki stood with her and demanded, "What is it?" At the utter delight that was spreading over Miranda's fair features, she literally hopped in excitement like a child. "Tell me!"

Miranda looked at her, the superior sneer twisting her fair face. "While Carole's pretty much good at everything, her strengths lie in language and writing, to which I've been of the unfortunate receiving end." She barked out a cruel laugh, her own fingers snapping, eyes bright. "No more. We'll beat her at her own game."

Nikki stared, "What—"

"Letters. The sweetest, kindest, most endearing love letters she has ever seen," Miranda's voice was sickeningly sweet, "This way, instead of merely capturing her heart, we can find out all about her, those secrets that she carries, what lies beneath. We'll know everything, and expose her to the world. After gaining her trust, of course."

Nikki was shaking her head in admiration. "Now we've really got a plan," she said excitedly, "but who's going to write these letters?"

Miranda smiled coldly, "Gather up the gang." She shoved her copy of Wordsworth's poetry into her bag, "We've got to put our heads together on this one."

And...I'm back. Problem is the Internet is being rather testy. Eh. Well, enjoy.