Alaska stood in the kitchen doorway and stared in confusion at the scene in front of her. Faith was a regular Susie Q. Homemaker as she moved around the kitchen in her apron, making breakfast and preparing lunches while Juneau and her father ate a hearty meal at the table. Both were dressed for the day. Roger wore a dark business suit while Juneau diligently adhered to the school's new student uniform policy. Looking down, she saw that she was in her school uniform as well.
How curious, she thought as her father glanced up from the newspaper and spotted her. He offered her a shy smile, but she didn't return it. Scratching her head, she wondered if she was still dreaming. She didn't recall getting out of bed earlier or dressing for the day. The last thing she remembered was waking up exhausted and sore to the sound of her alarm clock. A pain had throbbed in her head while her muscles ached with every movement when she rolled over and reached out to turn off the shrieking noise. Making up her mind to go to school, she had inched her way to the edge of the mattress and fought to pull herself into an upright position. Releasing a deep breath when she was finally sitting up, she cradled her head in her hands as nausea tickled her stomach. Not only was her head pounding, but the world around her was… off.
Even though she knew she was wide awake, she felt like she was sitting in a dream. Perhaps the weirdest thing was that nothing had seemed familiar. It was as if her room was something she hadn't seen before. She knew it was her bedroom, but it had just looked different. Everything had felt different, and now she was standing downstairs.
How did I get down here, she asked herself as her father rose.
"Are you okay?" Roger asked, moving to her.
"Uh, yeah. I think so. I'm just… I'm not completely awake yet," she replied, deciding not to think of earlier as an issue. She still felt sick, so that was probably the source of it all.
Closing the distance between them, she wrapped her arms around him and held tight. "Good morning, Dad."
"Good morning, pumpkin," Roger said against her hair, hugging her back. "Didn't sleep well?"
"No, but you don't look like you did either," she replied as she held on to him a moment longer. "I'm sorry about my behavior. I know I can be hard to deal with at times."
"It's all right, darling. I'm still trying to figure out how to deal with everything. It sickens me so much. You don't make me sick," he added quickly when she flinched. "What that bastard did to you sickens me, and your mother thrusting you under a microscope angers me. There shouldn't be articles in the paper dissecting the events of that day, reporting to the world about that house fire and the inability of the investigators to determine the actual events of that day.
"You're still a minor, for Christ's sake. What about your rights? Why am I the only one trying to protect you?"
"You're not alone in this, Roger," Faith said quietly from her place in the kitchen. "I care about Alaska and want to protect her. I know I've only been in your lives for the last seven years, in this home for the past three, but I want to protect her from all of this just as much as you do."
"I care about how this affects her as well," Juneau piped in.
"You know what's affecting me right now? This uniform," she said, moving to take her seat at the table. "Whose idiotic idea was this? Doesn't the school care about how this going to affect the students' learning abilities?"
"Wouldn't this eliminate unnecessary distractions and allow for an easier learning environment?" Juneau asked around a mouthful of oatmeal.
Alaska glared at him. "What is wrong with you? They're taking away your constitutional rights. Don't you care about your freedom of expression, Juneau?" she demanded, snatching his spoon from his hand. "They're trying to turn us into drones. This is the United States of America, brother dear. We don't respond well to communism."
"Calm down, Alaska, and give your brother his spoon back," Roger said as he sat a bowl of yogurt and fruit in front of her. "This isn't about stealing your rights. It's about protecting the students."
"From what? Poor fashion choices?" Alaska shook her head. "There is no reason for this madness."
"Last year, there was an emergency PTA meeting to discuss the overabundance of sexual activity occurring on school property. It was determined through school records that there were at least fifty incidents of students who were caught engaging in inappropriate behaviors on campus," Roger explained. "Something needed to be done. Short of separating the classes by gender, it seemed like eliminating all forms of non-uniformed dress attire that could entice members of the opposite sex would be a good idea."
"Uniforms aren't going to stop hormones. If someone is attractive, it doesn't matter what he or she is wearing. People are going to notice them," Alaska replied, folding her arms. "I reject this forced conformity."
"And I don't care for the possibility that one of my children could be having sex on school grounds," Roger returned, pushing his coffee away. He had never had "the talk" with either of his children, and he wasn't sure he wanted to bring it up now.
"Ugh, Dad, come on!" Alaska complained as Juneau ducked his head. She reached for her breakfast and plucked a grape out of the yogurt. "I would never have sex at school. That's just gross."
"But you are… you know… having sex? With people?" Roger asked, tugging at his tie.
"No, Dad, I'm getting it on with animals. What kind of person do you think I am?" Alaska returned angrily.
"That's not—you know I didn't—of course you don't—all I want to know is—Faith, help me out here!"
"Your father wants you to be careful, Alaska. That's all he trying to say," Faith said, gathering the ingredients for a welcome-to-the-neighborhood cake. "Be responsible and protect yourself from pregnancy and STDs. Abstinence is always the best policy, and what we'd both prefer, but you're old enough to know whether or not you're mature enough to handle a sex life."
She looked over at Juneau who was doing his best to become invisible. "That also goes for you, Juneau."
Alaska snorted, casting a sly glance at her brother. "I don't think you have to worry about him getting his cherry popped."
"Hey!" Juneau protested.
Roger dropped his head in his hands. "I don't want to hear this."
"I'm not a virgin. I lost my virginity in eighth grade."
"Atta boy, slugger!"
"Leave him alone and eat your breakfast," Roger ordered, taking his plate and mug into the kitchen. He placed them in the sink and kissed his wife before ruffling his son's hair and tugging on his daughter's haphazard ponytail. "School starts in an hour, so quit moaning over the new dress code. It is what it is. Deal with it.
"Oh, and Juneau is taking you to school." She spluttered protests. "Don't make me worry about you, sweetheart."
"If you don't want to worry about me, then maybe I should stay home."
He kissed her forehead. "Nice try, Alaska. You can come home if you get sick, but you look okay to me right now. Have a great day!"
"Fat chance!" Alaska called after him.
Juneau smiled at her. "Ready to go?"
"Now?" He nodded. "School doesn't start for an hour."
"It doesn't hurt to be there on time, and it'll take at least twenty minutes to get there."
"So, then, we can leave in half an hour and still be there on time."
"But, if we leave in thirty minutes, we'll get there with only ten minutes left to spare."
"Yeah, that's the point." She pushed away from the table. "I'm going to lay down for a bit. Come get me in twenty minutes."
"But… Alaska, please!"
She ignored his pleas and went upstairs to her room. Jogging after her, Klaus slipped inside before she could close the door on him. She scooped him up before he could start whining and dropped him on the foot of the bed, sliding under the covers after she did so.
She felt like she was standing in a dream again. Closing her eyes, she ignored Klaus when he moved next to her. She couldn't summon the energy to push him away. Her breath whooshed through her lips before she dropped out of consciousness.
"I can't believe we're going to be late," Juneau whined, trying not to look at the dashboard clock. He applied more pressure to the gas pedal. "School starts in ten minutes, Alaska, and we're not even halfway there yet."
"Calm down," Alaska mumbled, leaning against the door with her eyes closed. She didn't understand how she could still be so tired and sore. The achiness from earlier only seemed to have worsened while she napped. "You take yourself way too seriously."
"I don't take myself too seriously. I want to succeed in the future, and there's nothing wrong with that," he said, defending himself as she yawned and snuggled into a more comfortable position. "And I can't calm down! This—I just—for the past thirteen years I have maintained perfect attendance with relative ease. But now, thanks to you, I'm going to be late." He slapped his hand against the steering wheel when he braked at a stop sign. "This is all your fault." He leaned toward her and shouted, "All your fault!"
"Well, at least you don't have any cavities. You still have that going for you," Alaska said sleepily.
Juneau choked back a scream. "This is not a joke!"
"I never said it was," Alaska replied.
"Just because you would rather squander your future than see yourself succeed to the best of your abilities—"
"You should really be a guidance counselor when you're older. No one would want to be sent to your office to deal with your sanctimonious bullshit," Alaska told him, sitting up straight. She turned to glare at him. "You should've left me at home if it was such a big deal to wake me up."
"Dad told you to go to school."
"I'm sure Faith could've explained to him that I wasn't feeling too well."
"He wanted you to go, so I'm making sure you get there."
"You are such a brownnoser. Tell me something, Juneau, do ever get tired of it?" she asked, snagging his wrist before he could switch on the radio. "Oh, wait, I forgot that you like ass now. It's not a problem for you at all."
"You are such a callous bitch! Do you know that, Alaska? It's no wonder Blair won't talk to you anymore," he snapped, wrenching his arm free as she flinched. He ignored the posted speed limit and drove faster. "She probably got fed up with all your bullshit and figured out she needed to dump your ass before you dragged her down to your subhuman level. She's better off without you.
"And it's no wonder no one wants to date you. You're a cancerous tumor that no one wants to deal with. You're not worth the trouble."
"Jeez, Juneau, tell me how you really feel."
"I should leave you on the side of the road and let you walk from here."
Unbuckling her seatbelt, she reached for her schoolbag. "Pull over then."
"Don't be stupid."
"I'm always stupid. It's part of miserable charm."
Ignoring her, he drove faster. Neither spoke another word until he pulled into the designated student parking area with three minutes to spare before the first bell.
"Look, Alaska, I'm sorry for what I said about Blair. I'm sure she's just really busy adjusting to life away from home. She probably misses you like crazy," Juneau said before she could hop out and walk away. He placed a halting hand on her arm when she shouldered her schoolbag again. "Isn't there something you want to say to me?"
Her blank eyes met his expectant ones. "Like what?"
"Are you serious? How about for being hateful and disrespectful toward me?"
"Is that what I was being?" He nodded. "Well, that's your opinion, and you're entitled to it. I don't feel like I said anything inappropriate. Now release my arm before I hurt you."
She dug her nails into the back of his hand when he didn't remove it from her forearm. "Don't worry about giving me a ride home," she told him, ignoring his wounded expression as he rubbed his hand. "I'll find my own way home."
She didn't turn when he called after her and made her way over to the football field. She found her friends waiting under the bleachers. Siobhan spotted her first and bounded over for a hug, but Alaska sidestepped the redhead.
"We didn't expect to see you today," Siobhan said, trying to hide her embarrassment at the snub. "How are you feeling? You look great."
"I look like shit," Alaska corrected.
"What? Nonsense, Alaska. You look amazing, even in these dumpy uniforms," Siobhan assured her.
Alaska rolled her eyes at the sycophancy. "Yeah, sure, Siobhan. Whatever you say."
"Thirsty?" Bill asked, pulling soda bottle out of his bag. She caught the daring glint in his eyes.
"What's in it?" she asked before taking a sip. She winced at the taste of mixed soda and hard liquor.
"Come on now, Alaska. Be smart about this. Plausible deniability," Siobhan said, drinking from her own bottle. "If anyone asks me where I got mine, if I happen to get caught, I'll tell them a cute guy gave it to me."
"Will you do me a favor?" Alaska asked Siobhan with a sweet smile.
Ember stepped forward and moved in front of Siobhan, who wasn't picking up on Alaska's warning signs. Alaska was like a wild animal that had been in a zoo so long that people forgot she wasn't domesticated. Ember had noticed this the first time she met the fair-haired rebel in middle school, but that wildness hadn't scared her, nor did it make her want to tame Alaska.
She stood her ground when Alaska's predatory gaze turned on her. She and Tony had decided to act natural around Alaska but pull her back from the edge when she needed it. "So, am I the only one who thinks this new dress code sucks?"
"Ugh! Don't even get me started on this," Mike said, tugging at his tie. "I can't believe my mom helped lead the charge for it. Thinking about it makes me want to strangle myself with the atrocity hanging around my neck."
"Can I help?" Tony asked with a smile before jumping on Mike. The two fell to the ground as the bell rang and grappled for control. Mike was bigger by all means, but Tony was scrappy and strong.
"Someone should do something about the uniform situation," Bike said as Ember cheered on her boyfriend. Siobhan rolled her eyes at the mess of limbs on the ground, stepping out of the way as they rolled in her direction.
"You guys are such losers," she told him.
"So what are you going to do about it?" Bill asked, moving to stand next to Alaska. She took a long drink and watched Tony put Mike in a chokehold. "You are going to do something about this, right? I mean, you have to. Someone has to show these bastards they can't do this to us."
"I'm with Bill on this," Mike managed as his face turned red. With great effort, he stood and tried to flip Tony off his back.
"I'm with Bill and Mike. Oof!" Tony said, landing on the ground. The warning bell echoed across campus as he continued, "How can they, in good conscience, teach us about civil liberties when they continually strip ours away? What kind of American freedom and spirit is that?"
Alaska didn't speak until they were inside the school building, ready to break off and head to their respective first period classrooms. "I think I'm going to go to Target at lunch. You can join me if you want. I'll need one of your cars."
"We can use mine," Tony offered since his vehicle held the most people.
"Good," Alaska said before turning away.
"But, Alaska, wait," Siobhan called as the boys walked off. She jogged after the green-eyed girl when she didn't turn around. "I don't have the same lunch period as you."
"And your point is what?"
"I can't skip. I could miss something important."
"You don't have to come," Ember interjected from Alaska's other side. She didn't understand why Siobhan was so blind to the unchecked aggravation Alaska was aiming her. "I'm thinking of hanging out here so no one gets suspicious. It might look weird if we're all mysteriously MIA during the same period."
"Good thinking, Ember," Alaska said, smiling up at her. "You, Tony, and Siobhan stay here while Mike, Bill, and I gather supplies. I'll text the plan to you while I'm at the store."
"What is the plan exactly?" Siobhan asked as the tardy bell rang. She didn't mind missing the couple of minutes of first period since her teacher designated the first ten minutes of class to be spent on bell work.
"It involves air mattresses," Alaska said as they reached her first period classroom. "That's all I'm telling you right now."
"Come on now, Siobhan. Be smart about this. Plausible deniability," Alaska interrupted with a sweet smile before breezing into class.
She kept her face blank when everyone's eyes turned to her and loud whispers filled the room. Glancing at her teacher, she waited for him to scold her over about tardiness, but he averted his gaze and told her to find a seat somewhere. She held her head high as she walked to the back of the room to sit at a desk in the corner.
Catching one of her classmates watching her with undisguised interested, she glared at the unfamiliar punk girl with strawberry hair. The glacial stare worked as several people, Punk Strawberry Shortcake included, shied away from it and gave their attention back to the teacher as he cleared his throat and pointed to the blackboard.
Halfway through the period, a teacher's assistant arrived to escort her to the guidance counselor's office. She stared back at the other senior defiantly and stayed in her seat. She went through counseling as a small child and had no desire to endure any more of it. In any case, given what she was planning during homeroom, she was headed for the office before the end of the day. She would visit with the guidance counselor then, but not a moment before.