A/N: I do expect negative reactions to the setting. This is just a test to see if you all are interested in this kind of story, if you are uncomfortable with Catholicism, you don't have to read. I myself had to do a lot of research on the subject but am no expert, so if I made any errors, feel free to correct me.

~~{~}~~

"Black"

~~{~}~~

"Incorrigible," the black-clad woman repeated monotonously, interrupting the gently rhythmic tapping of a half-worn and dirtied eraser against the flat yet damaged surface of a desk. She went on after an irritated sigh, which was a direct response to the obnoxious and disrespectful beat playing across the table in the otherwise quiet room, "It means beyond help, correction, or improvement. It is derived from the—excuse me, but do you care to cease that racket and make me believe for a moment that you have been listening?"

"Hmm?" The girl who tapped her pencil seemed to catch the shift in tone and glanced back over at her professor rather than the much more interesting sunny day outside the classroom window. "Who, me?"

"Who else could possibly succeed so constantly at interrupting my class?" her pious professor asked rhetorically, and a couple of other students sniggered under concealing hands. "Now, considering you must be an expert on the subject, do you care to remind the class what the word incorrigible means?" "What, you mean like my grades?" she cracked a joke, which caused several more giggles to squeeze through the silence.

"Among other things." Placing her hands on her midnight-draped hips, the older woman glared down at the still bobbing end of the girl's pencil, which clacked against the wood with each twitch of her fingers. "I will not ask you again: stop that exasperating clamour at once."

"That doesn't sound like a question, Sister. And I happen to enjoy my exasperating clamour, thank you." She playfully spun the pencil over her thumb before returning to the tapping, galvanizing some other hushed voices to murmur about.

"There is no third warning," the nun's voice dropped as she strode away from the desk, her habit's veil swinging as she turned so abruptly. Mere seconds later, she had made it back over to her own bureau and reached into the second drawer on the right. While the rest of the class gasped and gulped at what they knew that meant, her one particularly rebellious student plastered a false look of apathy across her ivory features. With the click of her tongue and a roll of her eyes, she continued on with the clatter on the desk, her daring lips curling deviously into a hook at one sarcastic end.

Her professor stood menacingly over her once more, glowering unspoken threats as she held the object in her brittle, thin hands. As the beat played on tauntingly between them, the young girl's audacious, sapphire eyes flashed up to her superior's. A moment of conflicted silence dragged as the tension grew increasingly mounted, and as the clicking of the pencil prattled on, the professor turned the object in her fingers over. She looked down at the girl's hand dully and aimed, pinning the hard, edged wooden cane between her malicious thumb and fingers. Ready to strike, the nun reared back and raised her hand to the girl.

"Skylar," Instead of a harsh baton of corporal punishment, a soft and unfamiliar hand dropped over the disobedient girl's own, pausing the tapping of the pencil on the desk. Skylar was surprised by the action, but more surprised as she realized who had done it, and the strange girl's low and husky voice went on to add, "Please."

The two girls hardly knew each other, so the touch was odd and unfounded, but still it sparked some involuntary reaction from the both of them that caused their eyes to clash between them. Skylar Lasky recognized the other girl, of course, having gone to school alongside her for years, but the two were never really close. Her bedazzled speckled cheeks were distinct, if her enchanting gorgeous green eyes and subtly accented voice were not. Swallowing her pride, Skylar flipped her inappropriately (and often administration condemned) hair and fondled a sly grin with her cheeks.

"Pssh, it was just a little harmless fun." She flicked her wrist and tossed the other girl's protective intercession off of her thankfully spared hand. "You know me, always pranking and pissing people off."

"Watch your mouth." The nun scolded her with a raise of the old warped cane in the air, and her student effectively went silent. Satisfied enough with the situation, she turned back to the chalkboard, which was still scrawled with several vocabulary words, including incorrigible, and spoke up, "Now then, shall we continue with the lesson?"

She hardly got through writing two more words across the board before the bell rang, and judging from the sunlight, that signalled the end of the school day. Over the shuffling of books and the clacking of buckles, the school teacher left her next vocabulary word unfinished and turned back around to face and address the class.

"All right then, we'll finish up tomorrow. But you are responsible for remembering these words for next class, no excuses!" she called over the chatter and conditioned gathering and putting away of supplies. "We have mass first thing in the morning tomorrow, don't be late, it's Ash Wednesday!"

Skylar Lasky scoffed and bounced her eyebrows as she slung her backpack over one shoulder, leaving the thing to sag as it may with the strap pulled out so loose. As she passed the chalkboard, she noticed the beginnings of the word her teacher had temporarily abandoned to talk to the class. There, scrawled in all capital and straight-edged letters, was the word HOMO. Her lip twitched as she read it, and her step paused in the flow of her classmates. Several of them bumped into her but kept walking on as she stared at the word, and the longer she looked, the stranger it seemed to her. There it was staring her right back in the face, almost glaring at her with the accusative nature and similarly derogatory connotation. Fortunately, her stalling was cut short. The nun went back to her writings and began to add on to the word, changing it from an often detested noun to a particularly fitting adjective: homogeneous. Skylar clicked her tongue again, shaking her head in contempt as she realized just how homogeneous a uniform-obliged all-girl's school could be. She carried on through the sea of similarly dressed girls, all of which prattled on about this or that, and walked past her without a second thought, even if she had been what their condescending little yammering was about.

In the crowd, Skylar could not help but pick out that girl who had stood up for her. With her long hair tied back and swaying bright blonde, an odd contrast to the mundane colourless shades the uniforms were drowned in, she was always easy to spot. With her done-up black blazer, pressed collar, tightly knotted tie, ironed black skirt and grey knee-highs, she was always impeccably dressed; matched only by Tara Sparks, the infamous class pet who even wore her tie in the boarding rooms.

"Hey," came out of Skylar's mouth before she could even register it. Suddenly her feet took off from beneath her, and she found herself racing to the girl's side, naming her, "Alice, wait up."

"Yea'?" Alice noticed her name being called and turned to face the girl, adjusting the strap on her old leather book-bag. "Oh, Skylar. You need somethin'?"

"No... what? You think that's all I would care to talk to you about?" Skylar spoke up defensively, slouching and shoving her free hand into the pocket in her slacks as she held her backpack strap with the other.

"It's all y'ever do talk t' me about," Alice chuckled lightly as she fell into step beside the aggressive young girl. "I'm kinda your go-to pencil loaner, y'know."

"Well, yeah, sorry about that," Skylar grumbled as she looked away, feeling somehow awkward or shy in the girl's presence, though neither of those things were very like her at all. "I just wanted to say... like, thanks or something. It was valiant of you—the whole stepping in for me thing, not the pencil business. But, I suppose that too."

"Don't mention it," she humbly accepted the gratitude as she kept going along the halls, passing one or two of the nuns on her way towards the boarding housing. "For a second there I thought you liked gettin' smacked."

"I sure get my fair share," Skylar mused in a hum, recalling all the several bruises and the tenderness of the tops of her hands from similar hits.

"An' then some," the blonde added with a charming smile, and Skylar could not help but fondly return it. She did have a wonderful smile, that girl. "An' what's with that crazy head o' hair on you? I've always wanted t' ask."

"What, you like it?" Skylar reached up and tousled her artificially-colored red and very short mop of hair, feeling proud that she had attracted the girl's attention. So pleased she was in fact, that she answered, "This place is monochrome enough, what with the women in black and the girls in white, I just thought I'd liven it up a bit. You know?"

"Y'do that in more ways than one, gettin' into trouble all th' time like that." Alice reminded her, but the way she looked over at her held no sense of discrimination at all. In fact, she seemed amused by it, but had to wonder, "Why do y'do that, any who?"

"I don't know, it's amusing or something." Skylar shrugged passively, and had to fix her backpack again as it slipped to an uncomfortable part of her shoulder as the two went down the cracked concrete steps into the yard.

"Or somethin'?" Alice repeated sceptically, her eyes narrowing in sceptical accusation or as a wince to the sudden sunlight lathering Skylar's scruffy white dress shirt. There was indeed something juvenile and jocular about the way Skylar's uniform always hung too loose and was left un-tucked, her dark slacks bunching up at the ankles and fraying beneath the heels of her masculine, unpolished shoes.

"Look, I'm just usually in a bad mood lately. I feel restless or angry or... I don't know, like, stuffed-up. I can't really explain it." she prattled on before she realized it, but managed to catch herself and flash a cheeky grin. With a huff of a snicker, she rolled her eyes and confessed, "Jeez, here I am spilling my guts to a total stranger."

"We ain't strangers, I've sat beside you for years, 'member?" Alice reminded her casually, swinging in front of her as if trying to make her remember her face.

"Oh what, you suddenly know all about me because you held my hand or something?" Skylar teased with a smirk, raising one eyebrow.

"Naw," the blonde girl brushed the idea away, shifting and walking beside the girl again. With a pleasant little smile of her own, one which Skylar realized she had always found endearingly charming, she went on, "I'm sure you're a lot more than those chewed-up nails and that bored expression you like t' try on."

Skylar reflected the smile as the two met gazes, and with a hint of a dare, Skylar replied, "Wouldn't you like to know?"

"As a matter o' fact—" Alice started to go on, but someone else interrupted her.

"Alice, there you are," it was an equally distinct voice, and the rest of the girl came into sight as she rounded the corner by the boarding houses. Alice looked over at her casually, recognizing her by tone alone as she continued, "Lolly-gagging more than usual I take it."

"Ahh sorry Em, I was talkin' to Skylar," Alice explained bashfully.

"To whom?" Emily wondered as she peered beside her friend to notice the bright-headed girl beside her. Anyone could recognize that pixie-cut hair and curmudgeon expression she favoured when something bothered her; which right now was Emily interrupting her and Alice's conversation. "Oh, Skylar. You're in my history class, aren't you?"

"You tell me," Skylar passively responded, avoiding eye contact adamantly as if it would hint for her to leave.

"Regardless, Alice, you promised to meet me in the art room to help me move the props to the theatre, don't tell me you forgot?" Emily reminded her with a questioning tone and a shift of her hip, which made her unacceptably short skirt ruffle a bit.

"I was on m' way, I swear," Alice grinned awkwardly, clearly lying.

"Yes well, you do seem a bit distracted," the well-spoken young lady eyed Alice's new companion dubiously, noticing her somewhat dishevelled appearance. "Skylar dear, do you mind terribly if I steal her away for a spell?"

"Well I imagine that would be her decision rather than mine," Skylar grumbled in a particularly sarcastic and flavourful tone. Her raspy voice went on, "But do know, you will have to duel me for her."

Emily seemed somewhat taken aback by the comment, but responded just as promptly, "In that case, you may keep the little belle."

"She's kiddin' Em, I'll come along peaceful like," Alice accepted her request and took a step away from Skylar, though reluctantly. "It was nice talkin' t' you, Sky."

"Yep, I am quite the conversationalist." Skylar flipped her hair intentionally over-zealously. After a short and adorable little chuckle, Alice waved and called back, "You're funny, Sky!"

Skylar stood there another few seconds longer, an entranced smile melting over her features like crawling candle wax as she spoke aloud her pleased realization, "She thinks I'm funny."

After gawking there like a lunatic, Skylar managed to get a hold of herself, realizing that potentially wooing a stranger was nothing to add to one's resume. She shook her head and looked around, noticing that she was just outside the boarding room building. With a downtrodden sigh, she remembered why she had been in a bad mood, though Alice had temporarily taken that away from her with her distracting charm. She made her way up the stairs to her own room, knowing the way well enough she didn't even have to look up from the tops of her black-dress-shoe-covered toes.

Her room was the last room on the left, in the West wing; which was no surprise considering she was an upper fifth form student, the second year of high school. There were countless rooms, the students being assigned by their year in school. Skylar had been stuck in their elementary school just across campus from first to fourth form as well, so she knew the ropes well by now. She knew them well enough to not get kicked out yet, anyway.

As she made it to her door, she was stalled in front of it. The dull and monotone colour of the white painted wood was a bit daunting in its simplicity, the reflective nature of blankness or silence always striking her to look in upon herself. Still, she had to look in upon her room, as she felt like nothing more than taking a nap. As the door swung open, she noticed her room-mate already sitting on her bed, unpacking her things. Skylar closed the door behind her without a word, and was perfectly content to leave that silence in the air. For once though, her room-mate was not.

"Oh, um, hello Skylar," her room-mate peeped up, glancing shyly through her long bangs as Skylar moseyed across the room.

"How goes it, Fiona," did not sound much like a question, but Skylar hardly cared enough to put the necessary raised-tone emphasis on the end that would make it sound so.

"Fine," she meekly replied, even though a response was not necessary. Fiona watched as her room-mate flung her backpack onto the ground and flopped face-down onto her own bed, groaning into her covers irritably as she snuggled against it. "Um, are you okay?"

"I'm going to take a nap," came her reticent words, muffled by the thin uniform blanket every bed in the institution was slapped with.

"Again?" Fiona squeaked in a concerned tone, tilting her head across the room at her friend's sorry state.

"I'm tired, get off of my shoulders," she sighed dully, and though the words were rough her voice was calm.

"Sky, is something bothering you?" At the lack of response, Fiona went on softly, "You're very moody lately."

"What's it to you? Maybe I'm on my rag or something." Skylar growled louder, curling up and turning her back to face Fiona. She was never good at talking about serious issues, especially when she had to look at someone while doing it.

"I don't think so," she pressed on, and after another groan from the red-haired girl, she got something more.

"I'm just angry, is all." Skylar started off slowly, her voice snagged on her teeth like she didn't want to spit it out. "This damn place is suffocating, with all its rules and restrictions and bullocks."

"Well, if you don't mind my asking... what exactly are you angry about?" Fiona asked carefully, leaning closer off her bed to try and attract the girl's absent attention.

"Lots of stuff, I don't know," Skylar grumbled, twirling little circles on her bed with a restless finger out of sight.

"You don't know?" Fiona repeated in a curious tone, narrowing her eyes at how flimsy of an excuse that seemed to be.

"I'm just—what's with the bleeding third degree here, Fiona? Jeez, I don't want to talk." Skylar blew up aggressively, barking over her shoulder before curling back up to herself. Her eyes closed back up as the silence weighed heavily, tiring her more. As the mood settled back down, Fiona felt safe to speak.

"Well, I think that, um," she tested the waters, and hearing no interruption, she went on, "That you're depressed. You're upset and you don't know why, you sleep all day and stay up all night doing nothing."

"It's not nothing, it's thinking." Skylar corrected her simply, nuzzling against the cool blanket.

"Thinking about what?" Fiona wanted to know, tugging at the hem of her oversized uniform sweater nervously.

"Stuff," she vaguely murmured. "I'm not depressed, Fiona. I'm just trying to sort a few things out, okay?"

"Like what?" another annoying question, and Skylar bit her lip to keep from groaning in frustration.

"Like who I—!?" Skylar stopped herself there, taking a deep breath in. "Look, this place teaches us a lot of things, and it feels like everything they approve of or don't approve of... it's all black and white, you know? And sometimes... sometimes it just seems like... the black stuff? It's all over my hands, in my head, between my..." She silenced herself abruptly, shaking her head and moaning some grouchy wails. "Nevermind, I'm blabbering."

"No, you're," Fiona wanted to hear her keep going, but she could tell that was all she would get from the way the girl's voice dropped back down in tone. "J-Just being honest."

"Don't tell anyone about this, okay?" Skylar asked, glancing back at her friend pleadingly. "I get enough negative attention."

"I know," Fiona agreed, standing up to bring some of her notes over to the small desk in the corner she often worked on. Glancing back over her shoulder, Fiona noticed the young girl shift a bit on her bed, curling up tighter in her little reclusive ball. The two had known each other for a long time, and shared a room for a good portion of it, so Fiona knew when something was up. Unfortunately, she also knew how obstinate Skylar Lasky could be. As she sat down to start her homework, Fiona remembered what day it was.

"D-Don't sleep too long, Skylar. It's Shrove Tuesday, we're having pancakes tonight in the mess hall, you don't want to miss that," Fiona reminded her room-mate casually, and heard a small forced snicker from the girl's throat.

"Excuse me as I leap for joy," Skylar sarcastically murmured. "I won't be able to after they fatten us up with all those starchy batter buns."

"I hear they have home-made syrup again this year," Fiona added with a sweet voice, not quite catching Skylar's usual bitterness.

"Eureka!" Skylar interjected with false enthusiasm before rolling back into her ball and closing up her eyes. She hissed a little laugh as she thought about what Fiona said, and whispered to herself, "Shrove Tuesday, huh?"

~~{~}~~{}~~{~}~~

Skylar Lasky had been dragged along in the Catholic religion since she was admitted to the school, and she didn't hesitate to admit she found some objective appeal in it. But she was always uncertain about it personally, and increasingly so. As she crossed her arms and held herself, she thought over the reason for such a holiday as Shrove Tuesday. She had been taught of it very well, and knew it to be the last day before the Lenten season. Still, the name of the holiday itself was interesting to her. She remembered, as her arms slid apart so that her hands could touch each other and unevenly entwine, that the holiday's name had been derived from a word meaning confession.

"On this day, we take the time to examine ourselves critically and clearly. On this day, we consider those things that we have done wrong, are doing wrong, and will do wrong, and what amendments we can make to improve our lives and ourselves," the older man's voice echoed through the silent mess hall, reverberating inside of Skylar's listening ears.

Her eyes cracked open once more as she looked at her clasped hands, which were folded much more neatly atop the cheap cloth of the mess hall table. Her expression remained stoic and focused, hearing the words press their blind and inadvertent accusations against her sinful flesh. A frown tugged at her lips, but still she remained quiet and let the man speak to her school before their meal, feeling no better rested after attempting to nap earlier.

"Today, we ask God for his aid, so that he may help us transcend our shortcomings, our temptations, and our mortal sins," he wound down, taking a long breath in as Skylar thought over those condescending words. "Amen."

"Amen!" the hall repeated, the word slipping habitually off the tongues of devoted followers. All those followers, except Skylar.

The clattering of utensils brought her back to reality, and she raised her head at last. The rest of the students around her feasted on their pancakes, snatching up gravy bowls of syrup and lathering their plates. She herself scooped up a pancake with a fork, placing it on her plate despite the harsh stab wounds left by the prongs of her silverware. Drizzling some syrup onto the cake, she noticed it seep into the wounds and likely bleed through, and somehow, the slick, invasive moisture of it seemed interesting to her. Interesting, that is, until she heard something that seemed to demand attention.

"I heard her parents pulled her out and have to home-school her," a whisper spread across the table, and Skylar perked up to hear such a rumour. "No, she got kicked out!" someone else called out, but a few more girls quickly hushed her down. As a nun passed, they were silent, but eventually carried right back along, "They don't let you do that kind of stuff in this school, they don't want a bad influence like that dirty slapper being around the rest of us."

"Oh enough with the goody-two-shoes act, I bet you're jealous because she got laid," another snotty voice broke in, and a couple of snickers accompanied it.

"Laid, yeah. But pregnant? No way." Skylar twitched as she heard the reason, and her hand froze with a fork full of soggy pancake hanging above her plate.

"She was pregnant? Tosh!" a few gasps asked and hissed aloud, while nervous gazes were exchanged.

"Yeah, that's why they kicked her out!" the second girl told them with certainty.

"They can do that?" the question was raised, and Skylar waited to hear the answer patiently.

As she expected, it went something along the lines of, "Why not? It's a boarding school, they own us here."

With a frown, Skylar continued to stare at her food as it slipped off the utensil and split apart due to the saturated moisture of it. It made her uneasy, hearing stories like that. If something like a simple mistake could end in awful consequences, she really did have no chance living with the weight that sat upon her chest. To shut her often stupidly loud mouth, she crammed the sopping pancake between her lips, feeling herself salivate at the sweetness that similarly tantalized her. However, there would be times, like Ash Wednesday, when she would not have the luxury of food to keep her silent.

But silence was necessary as she and her peers lined up to receive their ashes that very next day during mass. She felt particularly uncomfortable, herded like sheep up to the alter like that. She could hear the uttered words of the man who stood before them, dipping his fat thumb into a shallow dish filled with some ash mix.

"Remember that thou art dust," Skylar raised her head and felt the priest's fingers touch her own bare forehead, finally reaching the front of the line of followers that stretched up between the pews. "And to dust thou shalt return."

Skylar glanced up as she felt the older man's thumb dragging across her forehead, the slightly damp and scratchy feeling of ashes lining her in a particular shape. She knew what the symbol signified, and swallowed hard as she recalled. It was the sign of the cross, a clear and boisterous indicator of her branding as a Catholic. She swallowed hard as the purpose of the mark rang clear with the priest's words.

"Repent, and believe the Gospel," he told her, and he stared right into her anxious and uneasy eyes as if knowing what was on the tip of her tongue. Ash Wednesday was a particularly morbid day in the Catholic church, as it served both to remind one of their mortality and call one to confess their sins and seek repentance. As a particularly self-aware individual, Skylar knew well what her transgressions were, but as she stood before this man being marked as one who should repent, she realized that she felt no obligation to.

As she turned past the priest and rounded the pews once more, she felt a rough hit against her shoulder which stalled her a step. She glanced over at the source of the familiarly unwelcome bump to see a classmate of hers, one she was never particularly fond of. The girl, Saria Lander, had often picked on Skylar for her brash and obnoxious attitude, which usually didn't bother her, but today she was feeling less than tolerant. Skylar clicked her tongue at the annoyingly overdone-up ginger and blonde hair that tousled over the girl's prim and proper posture.

"I bet you've got an awful lot to repent for, Lasky, what with all the trouble you start," the girl noted with a snide tone, her sharp eyes passing over Skylar's as she glanced down from the height of her pompous stride.

"Says the kettle." Skylar muttered grouchily as she twitched an eyebrow irritably. Her slumped shoulders served to make her feel even shorter and smaller than usual, as if the towering chapel arched roof didn't do a good enough job of belittling her.

"I'm just saying, you should take the opportunity to confess, perhaps amend your ill manner." the girl continued, swaying her hair over a shoulder with a toss of her head as they turned to get back to their seats.

"Don't encourage her, she's gobby enough already," another voice chimed in and made a remark at Skylar's expense, which brought another growl from the lithe girl's throat.

"Oh belt up, both of you," Skylar spat back, slamming her fingers into the pockets of her slacks so hard she almost ripped the seams.

"It's not our fault you love making enemies, don't get me started on those silly pranks of yours," the first girl whispered as they passed a nun, sliding down the pews towards their seats as assigned by their home-room class. "It was your fault we ate asparagus and cheese all week last week, and the broken washing machines were murderous for our outfits."

"A bleeding tragedy, Lander," Skylar murmured sarcastically as she plopped back down in her spot, roughly kicking down the kneeler out from under the bench ahead of her.

"I'm just saying," and Skylar rolled her eyes at the repeated use of those three words, as Saria often said them when she entirely meant to offend someone. "It's about time you contemplated your sins, Ash Wednesday is the perfect time to publicly confess and repent, remember."

"Sounds like you just want me to embarrass myself," Skylar grumbled back as her knees hit the kneeler and her hands clasped together, her elbows on the back of the bench in front of her.

"Goodness, no," Saria denied in a hoity-toity tone as she knelt just down from Skylar. "I'm just trying to help you through a tough time."

"Tough time," Skylar repeated as she huffed a laugh and closed her eyes. "You have no idea."

"What, are you going to play me some sob story?" she asked dully, smirking as she heard Skylar sucking on her teeth in annoyance.

"Like you'd care," Skylar responded, clenching her eyes tighter closed to try and forget about the antagonism that prattled on beside her.

"Oh, so what is it, then? Did your parents not send you cookies for Lent?" Saria's whining voice asked obnoxiously, and Skylar twitched at the trivial accusation. "Or maybe they've finally listened to Headmistress Celder and pulled you out of school? Just like Rose, that girl who got pregnant. In fact, you have been acting rather odd lately yourself. You went home over Christmas break, didn't you? You wouldn't have gone and got yourself knocked up too, would you?"

"No," was all Skylar could say, feeling her body begin to heat up at the accusations as her forearms tensed and shook with rising rage.

"Well, I for one pray for you, Skylar Lasky," Saria told her proudly, sitting up straight and rustling her hair over her shoulders.

"What a saint," she hissed sarcastically, her knees creasing her dark slacks.

"I do, I pray for you." Skylar's eyes cracked open and she glared at Saria incredulously as she continued to go on, "I pray for all you downtrodden people. All the immoral, all the whores or the abashed or the sinners, all the troublemakers. I pray for the self-loathing, the disabled, the misled, oh, and I pray for the gay—"

"I don't need you to pray for me," Skylar cut in suddenly, and Saria noticed the abrupt change of subject. "There's nothing wrong with me."

"Pardon me?" Saria peered over at the smaller girl, whose sweating palms made the prayerful position of her hands quite uncomfortable. "Oh Skylar, the hardest part is accepting that you have done wrong, that you need help."

"I don't need any help," Skylar growled through her teeth, and the more uneasy she got, the more she noticed the curious stares and eavesdropping of the girls around her, who leaned nearer or peeked over.

"You seem to be getting agitated. Did I say something wrong?" Saria smirked at the reaction, hoping that Skylar would storm out or get herself expelled somehow so that she might eat something besides asparagus.

"Yeah, you did. You said that people... that people like me, we should be prayed for." Skylar's voice began to raise as she felt her words spilling out, her cheeks brushed with a dry fluster. "Well I don't need your damned sympathy, okay? There's nothing wrong with us downtrodden people... nothing wrong with me."

"I suppose it's up to you, to say that in the face of God, Lasky," Saria played innocent, sighing distastefully as she pretended to get back to her pious prayer.

"Maybe I will," Skylar flashed a serious glare at the girl, though she ignored the move completely.

"Confession is the first step to repentance," Saria coyly teased, her slender fingers drumming over her folded hands.

"You want to hear a confession, Lander? Is that it?" Skylar suddenly barked loudly, attracting even more attention than before. She noticed it right away, standing up suddenly and glancing around at the judgemental and critical expressions on the faces of the devoted followers around her, on their knees and whispering their shame to their fingers. With a deep breath, she went on despite the drowned-out protests of the nuns near her, "Do you all want to hear a bleeding confession?!"

"Skylar Lasky, sit down right now!" a woman in black called out, reached down the pews and gesturing though there was no way she could reach the girl with all the people kneeling in the way.

"No Sister. See, Ash Wednesday is a time for public confession, isn't that right?!" Skylar's voice broke louder and cracked at the height of her vocal range. Several others silently agreed, but everyone seemed nervous in the presence of her outburst. "And if anyone here needs to repent, it's me. Right? Right?"

"Wow, she's really off her trolley," Saria whispered loud enough to hear, and Skylar resisted the urge to knock her off the kneeler.

"You all think I'm just some troublemaker, don't you? Just some little tramp who likes screwing around?" Skylar asked loudly, turning and looking around the church as her eyes stung and her chest swelled up. "I wear your stupid dichotomous blacks and whites, done up tight around my neck like a repressive little noose, but I can't just stand here in your drone lines like a damn machine!"

"Lasky! Sit down and be quiet, you're in the house of God!" another nun spoke up, and several others shifted to see what the commotion was all about.

"Well if he truly loves all his children, he'll accept whatever it is I have to say." Skylar stomped her foot loudly, shaking the kneeler. "God knows I've tried to be what you want me to be, but really, what was I so bleeding afraid of?"

"This is a little melodramatic, don't you think?" Saria said in a diminutive tone, acting bored by the display. "You're not going to go full Monty and on about how you never get any love or friendship, and so you have to act out, is that it?"

"No," Skylar Lasky growled, stepping back up onto the bench she once sat on and looking to the stained-glass face of Jesus Christ which hung above the altar at the far end of the church. Her fingers slid under the hem of her sleeve cuff and she grabbed it tightly, bringing the white shirt to her face and scraping it over her forehead hard enough to grind the ashes off her flesh and leave them along the pure white threads.

"You can all condemn me or pray for me or cast me to hell, but that won't change a damn thing. That won't change the fact," her trembling words solidified as she came to terms with the announcement, "I'm gay. Yeah, I'm gay!" She shouted twice, the second time raising her hands and slapping herself on the trousers.

"I'm gay, and I don't care what closed-minded tripe you have to say about that."

The silence that hung in her wake was mortifying, but all at once she decided she wouldn't stand for it. She took off down the bench in a full sprint, clearing the pew in a matter of seconds before leaping into the aisle and turning on a dime to face the old wooden doors at the entrance. Besides the sound of a bible or two dropping and the shuffling of Catholics crossing themselves silly, her clacking dress shoes stamped down the aisle between the grinding and incredulous glares and stares of her peers. As she passed one particular pew, an individual stood up, grasping the back of a bench and watching Skylar leave it all behind her.

Though she said nothing, Alice swallowed hard and found her eyes caught in the scruffy and lopsided rear collar of Skylar's dress shirt. It made sense to but her and one other girl, who was wound up in a horrified little ball near the other side of the church, why Skylar had been quite so wound up the previous day. Skylar gripped the old handles on the church and shoved them roughly open, letting the pure white light of the sun cascade into the dim shadows of the church.

"Cheers," was her final word, trading in her dark denial for blatant honesty despite her better judgement.

"Heavens, a sign of the times. What world do we live in?" the priest cried out with a shake of his head as several of the nuns gathered around him and went to stop the murmurings and confusion throughout the church. "Her lack of moral sensibility is appalling."

"It's a test, for all of us," one of the nuns spoke up loudly, commanding the attention of all the inhabitants of the church. "To consider how we as Catholics should respond to the intrusion of the homosexuals in our lives. Father, what should we do?"

Raising his head slowly and taking in a deep breath, he recited as accurately as he could recall, "We look to the word of the Lord. If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death. Their bloodguiltiness is upon them. Leviticus, 20:13."