Chapter One

I knew something was terribly wrong the minute after the bell for AP English had rung.

It was the first class I had in my new school, and I was glad that it was English. Although no subject was a challenge for me, English was my strength, so I had that comfort walking into the unfamiliar classroom. The school, the town, the teachers, the students might change, but at least the English language was a constant, right? I reassured myself as I sat down as unobtrusively as possible in a desk in the middle of the room.

I tried to look busy as the rest of the students filtered in and filled in the desks surrounding me. Ducking my head low as I emptied the meager contents of my backpack onto the desktop, I tried to watch them without appearing to be doing so. Despite the fact that it was the first hour on a Monday, most of the students appeared to be wide awake and ready to start a new day. This was unusual to me, at my school, only half of the class would show up on a Monday morning, and half of that half would spend first hour in a sleepy stupor. Writing this seemingly strange behavior off to the fact that this was an AP class, I continued my observations of my new peers.

I was cut short, however, by the ringing of the final bell. Students took their desks and pulled notebooks and pens out of their backpacks as the teacher, who had been hidden behind a wooden desk piled high with books and papers, stood up and folded his arms across his chest, waiting for the noise to die down so he could begin class.

Anticipation rose in my stomach in the form of nervous butterflies as I waited for the lesson to begin. I had no idea what to expect, and the man standing before the class gave me no indication of what kind of class this was going to be. The smirk on his face was inscrutable, I couldn't tell if it was from amusement or derision.

I tried once again to quell my nerves and quiet my brain. This was English, my best subject, and it's not like the curriculum could be that different on the opposite side of the country. Feeling slightly more reassured, I sat back in my desk, a bit more at ease.

And that's when things started to go horribly, horribly wrong.

"The bell has rung, which means the deadline for your character sketches has come and gone. No stapling pages, no last corrections, no quick labeling of your paper. If I see anyone making any last minute touches, your paper is automatically late, and you will lose 25 percent of your final grade. Please pass them all to the front of the classroom, face down," the teacher delivered this whole speech in a calm, no-nonsense voice. It sounded practiced, familiar, as if he had given it many times before.

I felt the person behind me brush the collected papers against my arm, and I numbly passed them to the girl sitting ahead of me. The teacher walked across the front row, picking up all of the papers, and continuing right on to the next topic of discussion.

"Remember to keep caught up in Les Miserables. I want a character analysis of the protagonst by Wednesday, and we will have a class discussion on the book that day. Your grammar assignment is written on the board, as well as on the Assignment List, do not forget to do those every day. There will be a unit test on case on Thursday."

It was slightly surreal, as if my sudden appearance in the class wasn't unusual to anyone besides me. It wasn't that I wanted the whole class to stop so I could introduce myself, it was just that no one even acknowledged that I was there, not even the teacher. I didn't even know his name. Class just kept going, at an apparent speed of one hundred miles per hour, no time for the new girl to catch up.

Looking at my neighbors, I saw a boy pull out a paper labeled Assignment List at the top, writing a note in the margin. Trying not to be obvious, I strained my eyes to see what this apparently all-important list was. It looked like every days' lesson plan was on the list. I needed to find one of those.

Turning next to my left, I saw the girl sitting across the aisle from me pull a book out of the middle of a stack of books, The Odyssey, Five Tragedies of William Shakespeare, and Anna Karenina among them. Were they reading all of those books at the same time? My head was beginning to spin as I felt hours of homework accumulating.

As I was making these observations, the teacher whose name I still didn't know continued to talk in his calm, almost monotonous voice, although since I hadn't been listening to what he had been saying, I had no clue what he was talking about now. When was he going to stop, so I could talk to him without an entire class as an audience and maybe actually figure out what was expected of me?

A little bit of a panic was working itself throughout my body as he continued to talk about some reading he had assigned on Friday, asking the class for their opinions on the writing style and encouraging them to start a discussion. It didn't seem like it was ever going to end, and as I listened to some of the responses from the students, I grew even more concerned. These kids obviously knew what they were talking about. They were comparing the writing with other authors, two students verbally sparring over whether or not the style was too similar to Virginia Woolf's to credit the author's originality, eventually drawing the rest of the class into the debate.

I sank low into my seat, trying to evade any sort of attention, although I felt invisible for the most part, as my appearance had not even made a ripple in the daily routine of the advanced English class. They obviously had more pressing issues than the new girl. My only solace now was that class couldn't last forever, and soon enough I would be out of here, and I could breathe again.

After forty-five excruciatingly slow minutes in which the class continued on at turbo speed without taking any notice of me, the bell rang, and I sprang up from my seat, ready to get out of there. And that was when they finally noticed me.

I sensed that I did something wrong when I felt approximately thirty pairs of eyes on me. Realizing that I was the only one standing, I sank awkwardly back down to my chair, trying to keep my cheeks from betraying me by showing my embarrassment at how the whole morning had gone.

The teacher however, asked me to stand back up. Trying not to show my embarrassment, panic, and overall feeling of being overwhelmed, I stood up again, feeling all of their stares on me. Swallowing hard, but determined not to look overcome, I looked evenly at the teacher.

"Excuse us for not making you feel welcome earlier, Miss Kinsley. Our days are so busy that we rarely have time for such luxuries," he said, still in that voice that I was coming to detest. His voice had barely any inflection in it, so his words held no warmth, making him sound condescending.

I shifted awkwardly, not knowing how to respond to that.

"But while we have a couple minutes between classes, let's get to know one another, shall we?" I couldn't quite believe that he really wanted to get to know me, and the barely concealed groans of the students sitting around me told me that they didn't want to get to know me either. "Where are you coming to us from?"

"Colorado," I answered simply, trying to make my answer short and clipped, both for my own benefit and for the benefit of everyone else who was apparently confined to this room. This whole interview was all formality and really had no purpose, and I didn't want it to last any longer than it had to.

"Were you taking an AP English course in Colorado then?"

"Yes." What kind of questions were these? Of course I had taken AP in my old school, why else would I be enrolled in the course here? Feeling slightly exasperated, I waited for the next question.

"How many years have you taken an AP English class?"

This question seemed strange to me. How many years could you take an AP class? Wasn't it just a senior class? "Uh, I guess only one year. Well, half of a year..."

"Hmm.." he said, that smirk that he had at the beginning of class returning. I had a feeling now that it was definitely a smirk of derision. I was beginning to feel flustered again. I had obviously said the wrong answer, judging by the snicker I heard from a girl in the far left corner of the room.

"What were you doing in your AP class when you unfortunately had to leave it?"

"Well, we were reading A Raisin in the Sun."

"...Is that all? Were you doing any grammar work? Writing assignments?"

"No, we were just reading the book, and doing a study guide on it." I wasn't sure why, but the words 'study guide' didn't seem to really fit into this class. If possible, I felt even less intelligent than everyone else in the room.

"I see. And before that, what were you doing?"

"Well, we read Hamlet, and read some short stories from Renaissance. The class was a little bit more... literature based." What I actually meant was that the class was a little bit more laidback.

"Hmm. Well, understand, Miss Kinsley, that this is the AP English class for the most advanced of students. Most, if not all, of the students of this class have taken AP classes since at least their sophomore year. And in this class, we have a standing grammar assignment, which must be completed every night, with tests on the various grammar skills every two weeks or so. We also read, on average, two different novels or dramas a week, with different writing assignments on them, usually focusing on literary devices. There are usually two papers due every week. There is also a supplemental literature reading nightly, which we spend class time discussing together. This obviously a much heavier workload than you are accustomed to, and if you find it too overwhelming, I suggest you change your schedule."

That smirk was definitely derisive. Turning to address the rest of the class, he said, "Class dismissed," and the students stood up around me, pushing towards the door to get to their next class, while I stood in a state of shock, kids elbowing past me as I numbly gathered my books.

The rest of my day continued much the same. The Advanced Science teacher was appalled when I told her that I hadn't taken an Anatomy class; I was sure that they were speaking in a different language in Calculus; and in Spanish the class was using a completely unfamiliar verb form.

I was immensely relieved when the bell rang for lunch. The curriculum couldn't change for lunch hour. Bad government food in Colorado was the same as bad government food in New Jersey.

After getting a meat patty (I was a little disgusted by the fact that they didn't even try to distinguish what kind of meat it was), with a vegetable medley, and some shapeless pears, I turned to the noisy lunchroom to try to find a place to sit and eat my completely unappetizing meal. That cliche of the new kid feeling self-conscious at lunch at their new school isn't so trite when it becomes a reality. I found a small, open table in the back corner of the room and tried to eat my lunch as quickly as possible.

The second half of my day resumed with a history class. At least I hadn't been an idiot and signed up for an advanced class. Even in my old school, I was behind in credits for history, despite the fact that I actually sort of liked the subject.

Looking around at the kids who were taking the class with me, they seemed both familiar and unfamiliar. I hadn't seen any of them so far today, most of the advanced classes had the same students in them so at least I had humiliated myself in front of the same people every hour, and they had more or less gotten used to it. But the kids in this history class seemed a bit more typical to me, a bit more like what I was used to. A group of disinterested boys sat in the back right corner, slouched back in their desks. There was a clique of made-up girls giggling with one another closer to the front. A few scattered students slept, their heads resting on their folded arms. The general mood of the room was indifferent, but indifference had never felt so welcoming before.

The bell rang and a young woman brushed into the room two seconds later. I guessed she was the teacher, although her aura of disorganization would have led me to assume otherwise.

"Okay, be quiet, class," she said, with surprising authority. She was small and skinny, and obviously a new teacher, but she had gained respect from these students, judging by how they listened to her. I watched, my interest piqued by this interaction. "So, where did we leave off? Somewhere in Germany in World War One, correct?"

"You are forgetting something, Miss Anderson. Or rather, someone," a smirking voice sounded from the back of the room.

I had a sinking feeling that I was that someone, so I turned to find the source of the voice. Was it so much to ask that for one class I didn't have to make a spectacle of myself? In the far left corner of the room, a boy leaned back casually in his chair as he gave me a smirk. But strangely, when my eyes locked with the boys' I felt comforted. The smirk would have seemed condescending from anyone else, but his eyes seemed warm and friendly and the corners of his mouth twitched playfully. I was completely unprepared for such a reaction to someone I had already determined to dislike for singling me out, and this reaction distracted me from preparing myself for the awkward introduction that was sure to follow.

"You are one to lecture me on manners, Mr. Donahue," the teacher said sarcastically, but with a good natured smile. This playful comaraderie gave me some insight to why she was such a respected teacher, but as my mind was still whirling from my unusual response to the boy in the corner, I missed it.

"But, for once, I do stand corrected. And from Seth, ironically enough," she said with a rueful smile, as she turned to look at me. "And I'm sure that you've been through enough of these little 'Introduce Yourself' things for the day, so just tell me your name so I know what to call you. As for me, Miss Anderson will do."

"Okay, well, I'm Katherine Kinsley. Kate, preferably."

"Does that satisfy you, Seth?" Miss Anderson asked, turning to the boy in the corner.

I looked over at my shoulder to see him smirk at her unabashedly, but seeing me looking at him, he turned to me instead and said "For now," with a challenging smile and sparkling eyes. Rather than being embarrassed by this, as I normally would have been, I surprised myself by returning the smile.