The next morning, Emily wakes me up with a hot mug of herbal tea at half past seven. There's music playing downstairs, a pretty tune mostly consisting of voice. The smell of toast burning tickles my nose, contrasting to the sweet scents of everything else.
"Oops," Emily puts the mug on the bedside table and hurries out the room. "Get dressed, Cassandra, you'll need to leave the house by quarter past eight."
Lucky for me, I haven't received school clothes yet so it is up to me to 'make a good impression'. After a quick shower, where I use Emily's apple shampoo and try to avoid the ferns that, believe it or not, are congregating in the bathrooms, too, I put on my most neutral clothes: A black off the shoulder sweater and jeans. I clip the sides of my hair back but leave most of it curling around my shoulders in the waves that, apparently, all the women in my family have. I dust a layer of powder foundation across my skin, contouring my cheekbones with bronzer. I try to hold back on the amount of eye makeup, but considering I have not been told specifically that makeup is not allowed at this school, I let myself go a little bit.
"You look nice, dear," Emily strokes my hair as I walk past her in the kitchen. She is trying to rescue the toast, but the black mess looks completely inedible. "I tried to make toast but…" She trails off.
"That's okay," I smile, washing my now-empty mug in the sink. Jasper rubs against my ankles, meowing at me. "Hey Jasper," I remark, bending down to scratch his back.
When I stand again, Emily turns to me and presses a few coins into my hand. "There's a co-op on the way to the school, get yourself something healthy, okay?" She looks slightly guilty about burning my breakfast.
"Of course," I beam, giving her my most trustworthy smile.
"You can also come back at lunchtime if you want, I won't be here but there's a key underneath the pot outside," She explains, considering for a moment. "You know what; I'll go get you that key. There are too many pots out there; you'll be looking all day." She meanders around stacks of books and pretty things that are stacked in the hallway.
I pick my black backpack up from off the floor. It is a design from Forever 21, black with white crosses on. I hope that it looks cool rather than religious or lame. It is pretty light, considering I only have a pencil case and an iPad in there.
I meet Emily by the door, dodging a wind chime and some hanging tinted glass. She hands me the key, a little brass thing with a ribbon tied to it. "I'll see you at half three then," She says, pulling me into a hug. This time I am prepared and wrap my arms around her.
Just as I am closing the red wooden gate behind me, Ash appears from her house next door.
"Hey!" She exclaims, making me jump. "Are you going to Oakbridge High?" Her black leather boots hit the ground hard as she jogs up to me. Today her hair is up in a messy bun again, and she wears a school uniform. The skirt reaches mid-thigh, and her crystal white blouse opens, lower than regulation I am sure, to reveal a couple of necklaces sporting charm pendants. She pulls her bag strap higher up on her shoulder, her back resting around her hip. The words read "Curiosity Killed The Cat". I make a mental note to not ask this girl too many questions.
"Yeah," I reply, "Year eleven." We begin to walk along the street together.
"Oh, neat," She nods and we begin to walk down a hill. I can see streets and streets of houses in front of us. "I'm lower sixth."
I thought she had looked older than me. I'm surprised it is only by one year.
"So where are you from, mysterious girl who's just moved in next to me?" She looks at me, studying me. I feel self-conscious suddenly.
"Oh, near London," I wave my hand, vaguely, not wanting to give too much away about myself. I have not thought about this new school much, but I am sure that I do not want anyone to find out who my parents are – or rather my father, also known as Andrew Jamison, the most influential businessman of Southern England, owner of various brands, airport terminals and the Jamison trains. "Emily is my mother's sister." I state, trying not to flinch at the word mother.
"That's cool, I didn't know Emily had any family," She explains. Birds chirp in the neighbours' gardens and families begin leaving their houses around us.
"I've gotta go to the shop to get something to eat," I tell her, "You can just carry on if you want…?" I try not to sound rude by either asking her to wait or telling her to leave.
"Nah, that's okay I'll just wait outside for you," She leans up against the wall of the shop as we get to it, popping a piece of gum into her mouth before wrapping her arms around herself. Weather forecasts say that it is a Warm October, but it is still below ten degrees each day. "Well, be quick!"
I pay for an Actimel yoghurt drink and a to-go packet of digestive biscuits, putting the change in my pocket for another day.
When I get outside Ash is talking to another blonde girl. Their hair is their only similarity. The other girl is wearing all her uniform at regulation style, even if her skirt is even shorter than Ash's. She holds a tan leather handbag over one shoulder. I notice a pair of hair straighteners sticking out. She sees me looking.
"What?" she demands, "You can never be too prepared." she shakes her hair out of her tanned face, evaluating me with her eyes. Who does everyone do that around here? She nods, seeming satisfied. "I'm Miami Fawkes. Call me Mia." She extends a hand, daintily, which I shake. "And you are…?"
"Oh, Cassandra," I smile, realising I probably look like a complete tool, and that this girl is probably the queen bee of the school or something: at least, she sure acts like it.
"You're a quiet one," she takes a step towards me, towering over my five foot two. I notice that she is wearing heels. "Like a mouse." She giggles, touching my hair. I feel slightly uncomfortable.
"We'd better get going," she sings, strutting away. We both follow her. Ash laughs, casually.
"She's lovely, don't worry," Ash whispers to me, winking.
I smile and laugh, shortly, as I hurry to keep up.