I'm back! After what, two years? xD I think I'm back to stay, though. Anyway, here's chapter 4!

"Fuuuuck, Nic," Alex groaned, leaning against Nicole's Beetle's passenger-side door. "Tell me you don't do this every night. This cannot be your life."

They were standing (well, slumping in Alex's case) in the school parking lot. It was Wednesday morning. Morning being the key, disgusting word.

Nicole shot the other girl a thousand watt smile. She glanced at her reflection in the car window, adjusted her short blonde hair. "You know it, babe. Can little ickle Alex not keep up?"

Alex groaned and started shuffling towards the front doors. Nicole rolled her eyes and all but dragged Alex forward.

"Need coffee," Alex muttered, holding the door open for Nic, who waltzed into the building and regarded it with a grimace.

"Poor baby. Maybe I should just put you down for a nap. Who knew you were such a lightweight?" Nicole put her hands on Alex's shoulders, taking in the slight bags under her eyes and frowning. "Here. Put your hair up," she said, handing Alex a ponytail holder.

"Seriously, though, Nic," Alex mumbled, obeying and mechanically putting her hair up. "We stayed up all night watching those dumbass movies. How can you not require sleep?"

"I will have you know Breakfast at Tiffany's is one of the few cinematic works of art. Only a dumbass herself would consider it anything less than gold." Nicole sniffed disdainfully, then out of the corner of her eye she caught sight of something.

"Hey, there's Dan and Lindsay." And without further remarks, she took hold of Alex's wrist and dragged the smaller and unwilling girl to the other side of the main hallway, by a bulletin board where most of the Journalism Club, not just the two aforementioned members, were located.

"Hey, partner." Dan greeted Nicole with his customary smirk. Lindsay, to his right, rolled her eyes and glanced at Alex, who was busy staring at the floor with the utmost concentration.

"And hello, beautiful. Don't you have a radiant glow this morning," he said, raking his eyes over Alex. She shot him a half-hearted glower that was made up in full by Lindsay's own withering look.

"Shuddup." Was all Alex could come up with. Dan's smirk grew wider, but he oh-so-graciously refrained from further comment.

Lily snorted, standing off to the side next to Adam. Adam jerked his thumb at a poster hanging in between them all.

"Did you see this yet?"

Alex and Nicole read the poster that even first thing in the morning had graffiti penciled on it (in the form of certain male anatomy):

Attention all members of the Journalism Club!

An important meeting will be held afterschool today,

With exciting news! And free cookies!

Nicole rolled her eyes, scoffing. "Oh, hell no. No. Not a-fucking-gain."

Lily's eyes flashed behind her cherry red glasses. "Oh, trust us, we're just as excited to be stuck in closed quarters with you too, Queen Wannabe."

Nicole practically growled, and Alex closed her eyes, rubbing her temples. Another fight was brewing. Just what her aching head needed.

"It will be close quarters with your fat ass in the room -"

"Both of you, shut the fuck up." This time it was Lindsay who interrupted. The girls' mouths immediately snapped shut, not expecting the outburst. "It's not even eight o'clock yet, god."

Lindsay's green eyes were dark with frustration. They slid off Alex to flick between Lily and Nicole.

Lily recovered first. "Jesus, someone got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning."

Alex, eyes still closed, cut in. "At least someone got to actually sleep last night."

Lindsay's eyebrows quirked at that. She looked questioningly at Alex, who of course didn't see, then glanced at Nicole, who was still reeling at getting called out by the highest rung of the social ladder she was so desperate to climb.

"I don't even want to know," Lily remarked, shaking her head.

"Sleep is for wusses," Dan said, a devious glint in his eyes. "You have to build up your stamina. I can teach you if you want." He waggled his eyebrows playfully. "I've been told it's one of my many best qualities."

Alex rolled her eyes and turned and walked away without a word. The group watched her silently a moment, five sets of incredulous eyes glued to the girl's back.

"She's just…leaving." Adam said, watching her with an air of confused fascination. "Damn, Dan the Man. You're losing your touch."

Dan looked miffed at the nickname coming from Adam, tightening his hands into fists. Lindsay just laughed.

"She's just tired, that's all," Nicole supplied apologetically, gazing after the retreating blonde with a frown. Dan relaxed back into his easygoing stance, nodding.

"Your charm must be really weak if that's all it takes to break the spell. I thought you were supposed to be the school god or something?" Lily said flippantly, examining her nails. "C'mon Adam, let's make like a Japanese dude and fucking go."*

Everyone except Adam (and Dan, who was almost seething at this point) scrunched their faces in confusion at that last statement. He shuffled his feet, looking hesitant to leave so suddenly, but Lily latched onto his arm and hauled him away.

"Hey guys, girls!" A shrill voice broke out to their left. Mandy and Trisha glided up next to Nicole, faces aglow with bright, fawning smiles beamed directly at Dan and Lindsay.

"Why hello, ladies," Dan greeted, switching on his grin. The new girls practically melted into a giggling girly goop. Lindsay greeted them with a half-hearted twitch of a smile. Nicole just rolled her eyes, unnoticed and unhappy at the fact.

"Hey Nic, I saw Alex trump off," Trisha said, her auburn eyebrows knitting together in confusion. "Why is she wearing your shirt?"

Lindsay coughed suddenly, and Dan's grin just changed into a devilish smirk. He seemed to be doing mental arithmetic – No sleep + sleeping at someone else's house + wearing someone else's clothes…

Nicole sighed. She was surrounded by idiots, some of them hormonal, she thought as she regarded Dan. "She didn't go home last night," she replied coldly with an air of finality.

"Why? …Okay then," Trisha seemed to catch on to the change of mood. "Totally so not important."

"So what did you do last night, Dan?" Mandy asked, shooting him a completely un-coy look through her mascara-heavy lashes.

"Nothing quite as fun, I'm sure." Dan wiggled his eyebrows, enjoying the effect he had on these two fan girls. They twittered under his attention.

Nicole rolled her eyes and glanced to the side to see if Lindsay was half as exasperated as she was, to see whether it'd be socially acceptable to tell the more popular boy off. But the other girl was gone.

There must be crazy floating around in the air today, Nicole thought, turning on her heel and sashaying down the hallway towards her first block class. It was all that damn club's fault. Maybe she should just skip school. Preventative measures for the preservation of her unfairly tested sanity.

Somehow she thinks this nuthouse school wouldn't buy it.

The day dragged on like it'd been shot. Alex thought if anyone was merciful, they'd shoot it again and end everyone's misery.

No such luck. Somehow it wasn't surprising, really.

Alex felt like screaming.

"Ms. Campbell, may I have a pass to go to the nurse's office?" She asked suddenly, her hand shooting into the air after she'd started talking. Dammit, that wasn't right… Oh well, too late now, she reasoned tiredly.

Her Social Studies teacher blinked behind her horn-rimmed glasses. "Of course, dear. To be honest, you look like you could use it."

Alex gave her a tightlipped smile before taking the pink pass.

She breathed easier when she got out into the hall, and she wandered the halls absently. Though her head was pounding, she didn't really want to go to the nurse. Maybe she'd just get some fresh air.

She slipped out the side door, noting that someone had propped it open with a rock. So she wasn't the only one escaping the dreary academic existence. The thought cheered her.

The door opened to the school's courtyard, which Alex had to admit was charmingly landscaped for a dinky little high school garden. A brick path circled around a puddle – a pond, Alex corrected herself, though the difference was slight to none – and brightly colored flowers traced the path. Trees loomed overhead, breaking up the sunlight into a mosaic of golden light.

Alex ambled over to the pond, plopping unceremoniously to sit beneath a large birch. The warm breeze stirred her hair about, almost magically massaging her temples and relieving her headache. She hummed happily.

"You didn't lock the door behind you, right?" A feminine, disembodied voice called out, startling Alex.

"Holy fuck!" She jumped to her feet, glancing around. Her heart was racing, pounding in her ears. "Where the hell are you?"

"Sorry. Up here." Alex looked, and up in the tree was Kate, smirking down at her. "You're a little jumpy, aren't you?"

Alex ignored that comment, crossing her arms defensively. "What the fuck are you doing up a tree in the middle of class?"

Kate looked down at her as if her question was unbelievably stupid. "Skipping, obviously."

Alex rolled her eyes, a grin threatening to break through the corners of her lips.

Kate waved a sketchbook. "I'm drawing."

Alex snorted. "A worthy replacement of education if I ever heard one. Are you going to stay up there?" Her neck was getting sore looking up at the caramel-colored girl.

"I was planning to, yeah," Kate replied, going back to her drawing.

Alex watched her a moment, watching the muscles in her thin hands shift as she worked. Curiosity ate at her, and she regarded the tree. The other girl was just a few branches up…

"Oh, what the hell." And with that, Alex began a rather inelegant scramble up the tree. She almost fell back to the earth numerous times, but Kate held out a hand and Alex managed to perch herself safely on a thick branch. "Jesus, that's harder than it looks."

Kate snickered. They sat in silence for a minute, the scratch of Kate's pencil the only sound in their ears. Alex peered over her shoulder at the drawing. A stylistic landscape, almost perfectly recreated on the page, greeted her eyes. Somehow that surprised her.

"Did you see the notice?" Alex asked.

Kate nodded without looking up. "Can I ask you a question, Alex?"

Alex felt her mouth go dry. "Uh. Does that count?"

Kate was quiet. "Yeah, I guess it does. I already know the answer anyway."

Alex blinked. "Okay. Um…" She didn't know what to say.

Kate's gaze slid over to her. "You look like shit. You okay?"

"Y-yeah." Alex was growing more baffled by the minute. "I sort of feel like shit though."

"Hmm." Kate looked at her, tapping her pencil on her lips. Alex swallowed loudly. "Chill out up here for a second. I'm a pro at forging signatures on passes anyway, don't worry about it."

Alex grinned at the other girl, who didn't notice, staring at her sketch. "Thanks. I will."

"No problem." Kate answered absently.


Mandy's face fell. "What do you mean, no? You even know her."

Nicole, Mandy, Trisha, and Alex were all sitting at their ordinary lunch table, much to Alex's satisfaction and everyone else's disappointment. Mandy and Trisha eyed the "popular" table covetously, not even hiding their desperate eagerness to cling to the coattails of the more socially fortunate.

It made Alex sick. Well, the sleep deprivation probably helped with the queasy feeling, but still. Gross.

"I mean no. I do not want to sit over there. And once again, I do not know her." And you guys are pathetic, she added in her head, shooting Nicole a look. The other blonde curled her lips upwards in a sarcastic agreement, though she glanced at the other table longingly as well.

First rule of ambition: don't show anyone how much you want something. Nicole sighed.

"We've known them for all of one day and you think that gives us a first-class ticket to the upper echelon? Patience, girls. This is the tricky part, we can't afford any false steps," Nicole told them, blue eyes calculating as they rested on Dan from across the way.

Alex put her head in her hands. The scariest part, to her, was that she couldn't even tell if Nicole was being sarcastic or not.

"They're staring at us, Man," at their table, Clay leaned over and whispered to Dan, eyes on the girls. "Why are they staring at us like that?"

Dan grinned. "Why wouldn't they be staring at us, being the hunky football players that we are?" He turned on his seat and sent the girls a wave. From across the cafeteria, he could see them liquefy into hot messes. He smirked.

"Except her," Clay said as if Dan hadn't spoken, eyes landing and lingering on Alex. He turned to Lindsay, who was sitting across from him. "What's her name again?"

Lindsay glanced at the blonde, then narrowed her eyes at Clay. "Alex," she said slowly.

"Alex," Clay said, dragging a hand through his choppy red hair. "Huh."

"You are soooo cute, you and your little crush," Dan mocked, pitching his voice higher, girlier. "Do you want them to come sit by us?"

"First of all, I just asked her name, dude. I don't even like blondes." Clay huffed. He hunched into his seat. With a glance back at the other table, he added, "And secondly… Yeah, why not?"

Dan grinned triumphantly. He waved his hand at Nicole, motioning her over.

"Dan," Lindsay hissed, glancing between him and the other table. "Leave them alone. If they'd wanted to sit with us, they would've." She tucked her hair behind her ear, twirling it along one of her fingers.

Dan dismissed her with a wave of his hand. "I'm just being neighborly, Linds." He returned his attention back to Nicole. "C'mon, come sit by us!"

"Oh my god," Mandy said, suddenly flustered. "He's so hot, I can't believe it. Let's go." She practically tripped over her own feet as she stood up.

"Oh my god," Alex said with a groan. She stayed sitting as everyone else got up.

"What is wrong with you? It's Dan," Trisha said, wide-eyed and disbelieving. "How can you not be dying right now?"

Alex rolled her eyes. With how frequently she'd done that lately, she was surprised her eyes didn't get stuck up there. "Because I'm actually alive. You know, with a fully functioning brain and everything."

"Alex," Nicole snapped, trying to suppress her grin from the other blonde's quip. "Don't be rude. Let's go."

Alex stood, much to everyone's surprise. "Actually, I've got some work to do. I think I'm going to go to the library for a bit."

Nicole sighed. "Alex…" She couldn't tell if her friend was just being stubborn, or if there was something deeper to her mood.

"Nic," Alex cut her off, voice suddenly soft, flat. "Go. You and I both know you want to. I really do have shit to do."

Nicole hesitated, fixing Alex with calculating blue eyes. Alex fidgeted under her gaze.

"I'll catch up to you in Lit. Go get 'em, tiger," she said, and she walked away.

Nicole watched her go. "There really is crazy in this fucking air," she muttered before joining Mandy and Trisha at the cool kids' table.

"Hey, partner," Dan greeted with a smile that Nicole returned in full. "Just you three?"

"Yeah, Alex had to go," Nicole replied simply, sitting between him and Clay.

"Too bad," Clay muttered, and Lindsay frowned, staring absent-mindedly at the cafeteria doors.

Room 115 was disturbingly silent. Approaching the doorway, Mr. Bynes had the sinking feeling that none of the kids had shown up to his meeting. He sighed, pushing the door open despondently.

His eyebrows rose in surprise. All eight kids were, in fact, seated in the room. His gaze passed over each in turn (checking them for injuries, though his rational mind wouldn't admit that to anyone – hey, this quiet was abnormal from what he'd witnessed from the group so far).

Chad was leaning against the opposite wall, wiping his glasses on his shirt. Adam and Lily were sitting apart from the rest, Adam looking as ruffled as his sandy hair, Lily's arms crossed over her large chest as she glared at a random spot on the wall. Dan and Nicole were wearing an eerily similar smirk which disappeared the second Mr. Bynes walked in. Lindsay was sitting next to Dan, her chin cupped in her hand, elbows on the table, watching Kate. Across the table, Kate and Alex were seated next to each other, the hints of a smile tugging at Alex's lips as Kate sketched something in a little pocket-sized sketchbook (which Mr. Bynes refrained from looking at – he didn't want to know, really).

Silence stretched out for a long moment. Mr. Bynes cleared his throat awkwardly. "Hello all. I'm glad you all saw my note."

Nicole snorted and offered a wide fake smile. "And we are all just so glad to drop everything we were doing to be here, especially with these lovely hors d'oeuvres." She waved a manicured hand towards the package of Oreos, untouched, sitting on one of the tables.

"Which were very kind of you to get, Mr. Bynes," Chad put in with a glare at the blonde. She shrugged.

A bead of sweat trickled down the back of Mr. Bynes' neck. "Thank you, Chad," he said, sending the boy a grateful look. Chad just nodded, offering a small, commiserating smile.

"Right. Well, I'm sure you're all curious as to why I called you here." Both Lily and Nicole's mouths snapped open, so he rushed on. "I have exciting news for the Ledger. The paper," he added when he received some blank looks. "This is one of the largest staff we've had in the few years we've been up and running. Because of our numbers, we have the potential to do more. So, I'm pleased to announce, this year the Ledger will be kick-starting the year with a big promotional push."

His exciting announcement fell on a less-than-enthusiastic crowd.

"A…promotion?" Lily was the first to speak. "Do you really think that will actually get kids to read the Ledger? Half the kids don't know what to do with a piece of paper unless it involves folding it up into a paper airplane."

"With all due respect, sir, I have to agree with Lily," Lindsay chimed in. "People just don't read this thing. Any advertising we'd do would just fall on deaf ears."

Dan and Nicole nodded. Mr. Bynes' hopeful gaze swept around the room. Alex looked up, and their eyes locked. She sighed.

"I think it's a good idea." She ignored the huffs and glares of everyone else, staring down at her feet. "The only way to break a stigma is if you fight it, right?"

There was a beat of silence. "A what?" Dan's whisper almost echoed in the now-quiet room.

Alex chuckled, and then Lily, Chad, and Adam joined in. Mr. Bynes smiled.

"We might have a longer road ahead of us than I originally thought." That earned some grins. "I completely agree, Alex. Now is finally the time to break through said stigma. I know you all didn't choose to be in this club, with the exception of Chad," he amended. Chad stared down at his shoes. "But looking around this room, I have a feeling that you all might end up producing a hell of a paper."

Kate quirked a brow at that, smirking. Nicole just scoffed, a sentiment that seemed to be shared by some others in the room.

"There's just one thing. I talked to Principal Halman, and she agreed, that what with the fact that we can do this new push and that since this is taking the place of detention…" He closed his eyes at the next part, dreading the reaction to the bomb he was about to drop. "We need to meet more often. Mandatory club meetings will now be held every other day for the next month or so."

As always, reviews are appreciated, now more than ever. Also, by the by, I'm looking for a beta if anyone's interested. PM me :)