She was sitting in the principal's office tapping her foot. Her handler Jason gave her a look and she stopped. She was slouched into the chair with her legs crossed, but she still looked regal, as though her rich kid lifestyle hadn't been fully drained out of her.
"Well, at least you act the part," Jason said, his eyes full of judgement.
She rolled her eyes. "I've been in six different schools in two years, was shot, and almost kidnapped twice. You can't tell me you wouldn't be tired and pissed off."
Jason sighed, "I'm sorry, kid."
Her voice softened a little. "At least I have the perfect name for this."
"Yeah," he chuckled.
The principal stepped into the office and closed the large wooden door behind him. His name was Principal Garbertcher but that was a mouthful so the students, she had learned from eavesdropping through the office door, called him PG, which she thought wasn't all that creative. He walked like a member of royalty might, his nose in the air and his ass cheeks clenched tight. He sat in the big leather office chair behind the desk and set a manilla folder on the desk. "Her grades are exceptional, she would certainly do well here, but I must say, this is very… very unorthodox," he said while rifling through the contents of the folder.
"I understand, sir, but she is a key witness in an incredibly important case. The director himself has sent this request," Jason said. "We wouldn't be here if it wasn't a last resort."
The older man looked up. "You're speaking of the FBI director Harry Moon?"
"Yes," Jason said. He leaned forward. "How can I convey to you just how important this girl is to our case? Several cases, if we're being honest. You would be doing your country an immense honor. I'd say the school might even get an honorary FBI Shield of Bravery."
At the mention of a medal, the president looked up with a kind of greed that only pretentious academic people have. The principal looked at the girl slumped into the stiff-backed armchair in front of him. He sighed the kind of sigh that indicated a tiredness that came from dealing with teenagers for decades. "Well, she will certainly fit in as far as attitude," he said in the same judgmental tone Jason had used. He looked at another paper in the file. "Most of her academic background is also quite good. The last few schools she came from are not up to par with East Shore, however."
She smiled venomously. "I went to those public schools out of necessity. I've been going to the best schools in the country since I was in diapers. Honestly, I'm deigning to attend this school."
The principal did not look happy. "Did your previous academic institutions teach you to be so impolite to your superiors or does it come naturally?"
The grin she gave was genuine this time. "That wasn't half bad."
"After thirty years as an educator, I've learned to hold my own," he said with a weary smile. He turned his head to Jason again. "I believe we can make this work. However, if she steps out of line, she will be dismissed just like any other student." He waited for Jason to nod affirmation before he gave the girl a withering look. "You will report to the equips room and get your uniform, gym uniform, textbooks, class schedule-" she rolled her eyes at his British pronunciation of schedule "- and key to your dorm room."
"I'm still not quite down with that," she said, giving Jason side eyes.
He nodded. "I know, but it'll be less suspicious if you're actually here on campus. We've arranged your schedule with your free period as your first period so that your roommate leaves first in the morning. Hopefully that will help. We had the movers bring all your boxes. They'll be in your room when you're done with uniforms," Jason said.
"Yeah, my four boxes," she said, her tone sarcastic but suddenly quiet.
Jason gave her the same look he'd been giving her for two years: pity. She hated it.
"Principal Garbertcher and I will finish up here, why don't you go get your stuff?" Jason said.
She stood and swung her backpack on. "Okay, point me in the right direction," she said.
The principal handed her a fancy, glossy papered, trifold map of the grounds. He pointed to a building under a red dot with the number seven on it. "That is the equips building. See that you don't get lost."
She crushed the map in her fist. "I won't." She dropped the map on the floor and marched out. However, on the way out of the reception area, she swiped another map.
She stopped in an arched tunnel outside the office building that looked into a grassy square set in the middle of two buildings and a third that was built in the shape of an L. It was beautiful and felt more to her like home than she'd felt in a long time. The wrought iron benches set around the square and under trees reminded her of Fairview Academy, her old high school, before all the shit went down.
Shaking her thoughts away, she looked at the map, memorized the way, then shoved the map into her back pocket. She walked quickly, with purpose, dodging other students already in uniform, most in some form of disarray. Shirt tails hung out, sleeves were rolled up, ties hung loose. She knew she wouldn't be able to afford that kind of casualty. Maybe sleeves rolled up, but that would look ridiculous with a collar buttoned to the neck and a tie so tight she could just loop the other end of it over a tree branch. She had nothing to live for. Her family was dead, she was being hunted by murdering gangsters, and the only thing she'd cared about, her eleven year old dog she'd had since grade school, had died during one of the moves, all the excitement being too much for her already frail heart. And hers was the only picture of her family she was allowed to carry with her.
"Stop it," she murmured to herself. She knew this was not the kind of thoughts her parents would have approved of.
At least her mother wouldn't have. Her father…she didn't know her father any more. After learning about his involvement in embezzlement, drug deals, and who knows what else, she hadn't been able to see the father she thought she knew any more. She hadn't understood him, still didn't. And when he had found out what she knew, he had been violent and paranoid. That's what ultimately killed her family, she thought. He had gotten sloppy, let something slip. If she had been able to figure it out, it was only a matter of time before law enforcement did. And his employers were ruthless. They killed her family in an 'armed robbery,' but really it was an execution. She had just happened to stray from her routine. Gone to get ice cream with some friends. When she got home there had been FBI agents everywhere. They hadn't notice her as she went into the house. She still had god-awful dreams about it. Her parents laying face down on the living room floor, blood pooled under them. Her brother, her innocent brother, laying right next to them. The pretty spray pattern of blood on the walls and carpets and furniture and everywhere. She remembered walking up to him, her brother, his body, and touching the soft hair at the back of his neck, her fingers so close to the bullet hole. She was quickly hauled out by FBI agents and placed into protective custody. She never saw her family again, not even for a funeral. Her family was cremated, which was what her parents had wanted but it meant she had nowhere to find them, no stable place to go to when she needed to grieve. She hadn't even been allowed to have their ashes. They were probably in some FBI evidence room in jars waiting to be processed. She was alone now and having no grave to visit somehow made it so much worse. She knew she had to— "Uffh!"
She hit something and then the sidewalk met the back of her head. Thankfully her backpack spared her from worse, but her head still hurt. "Fuck," she murmured.
"Hey, my bad. Here."
A hand grabbed her arm near her elbow and pulled her to her feet.
She put a hand to the back of her head. "Yeah."
"Looking for equips?"
"Want me to show you?"
She finally looked at the person she'd impacted with. He was tall, six foot something, black hair that was short on the sides and longer on top, super soft brown eyes, broad but sharp nose, full lips, medium build, darker skin than hers but not African American, more of a red-based tan. She couldn't guess his ethnicity. Her assessment was reflexive, noting and memorizing in case she needed to identify him later. Two years of running and hiding made sure she knew of every possible threat and boys…boys were threats.
She shook her head, hand still pressed into the short hair at the back of her skull. "I got it," she said, already past him down the sidewalk.
"Nice to meet you," he said sarcastically, a bit offended that the new kid had just rudely brushed past him, no introduction or anything.
"Yo, Hal," a voice called out. "Who was that?" Alec came up behind him. His voice was weird because of the lollipop stuck in one cheek.
"New kid," Hal said.
Hal put his hands in his pockets. "Didn't catch it."
"Shame. Come on," he said, jerking his chin in the direction he began walking.
Hal stood there a moment longer looking back at the strange new kid. He had a gut feeling that there was something weird about him.
Joanna trudged up the stairs into the equips building and went to the front desk. She looked at the young woman, couldn't have been more than her late twenties, at the desk and stared blankly until the woman looked up from her computer.
"Oh," she said when she did look up, eyes wide. "I'm sorry, uh, what can I do for you?"
She hesitated a moment. This was her fourth name and though she was able to keep at least part of her real first name, she'd been allowed to come up with a new last name and she'd picked a good one. She grinned a little as she said, "Jo Powers, new kid. Need my shi- er, stuff."
"Language," the woman said, her tone one that seemed like she said it often. "Jo Powers, Jo Powers, Jo Powers," she mumbled as she typed. "Oh yeah, here's you. Come on into the uniform closet, we'll find some clothes to fit you." She walked around the desk and lead the way to a big room filled with racks of shirts, vests, sweaters, blazers, pants, even shoes.
Joanna looked up around her at the clothes and sighed. She was going to look like such a nerd. "I'm an XL," she said. The baggier her clothes were, the less noticeable her different parts would be.
"Oh no, we go by measurements here," she said, grabbing a rolled up measuring tape and unfurling it like it was a whip. "Lift your arms up."
Joanna did not want to do that and said so.
"I can't give you the right clothes without measurements," she said patiently.
"We can take it from here," Jason said, PG right behind him. "This is kind of a special case."
The young woman looked confused and suspicious. "Are you su—"
PG interrupted, "Yes, Ms. Delaco, you can go."
She left hesitantly and Jason closed the door behind her. "Alright, kid. Let's find you some stuff. You got that weird vest thing we got you?"
Joanna set her backpack on the floor and pulled out a synthetic looking tank top that would compress her boobs into a somewhat boy-shaped chest. She pulled off her sweater and then the plaid shirt underneath. She was left in a thin tank top and was going to keep going until Jason coughed.
"Dude," he said, pointing a thumb at PG, whose face was turned away and red.
"He can leave," she said.
The principal made a disgruntled noise and said, "Fine, I will leave you to it. Come notify me when you've collected everything." He exited quickly.
She took off her tank top, her black bra nothing Jason hadn't seen before.
"You are way too comfortable around me, you know that?" he said.
She shrugged. "There's no point in being modest at this point. Besides, you can't see my nipples and that's all they blur out in movies. Well, actually, turn around, I can't wear a bra under this thing." Jason turned away as she unhooked her bra and struggled into the incredibly tight compression top. Once it was on, she turned to face Jason. She lifted her arms a bit. "Well?"
He turned back, looked it over, and nodded. "You look pretty flat to me. Or at least more pec-like and less boob-ish."
She went to a rack with white collared shirts hung. She pulled off a shirt and realized that none of the sizes were normal, it was all inches. She guessed a size, tried one on, and turned to Jason.
"A little bigger. Even with your boobs locked up, you still look curvy," he said.
Joanna sighed. She wasn't really fat, but she did have wide hips, thick thighs, and a big ass. Paired with a small waist, she was anything but masculine looking. Her dressing continued like that, her choosing and turning to Jason for approval. He approved and vetoed until she had enough uniform pieces to last her at least a week. She had seven collared shirts, three pull over sweaters, a vest, two ties, two blazers, a black leather belt, dress shoes, preppy everyday shoes, and two sets of gym clothes and athletic shoes.
"Are you sure I can't opt out of gym? You know that's not going to go well," Joanna said, pulling off the gray t-shirt with blue lettering on it.
Jason shook his head. "Sorry, kid. Rules are rules. The principal is a hard-ass. At least it's not till next semester. Maybe by then the case will be in trial."
"Doubt it," Joanna sighed. She shrugged on her long plaid shirt and pulled her sweater on over that, the cuffs of the plaid sleeves rolled up and the collar pulled out over the sweater's, the tails of the plaid shirt hanging out the bottom. She pulled her straight-legged jeans on over her long, tight bike shorts, tight to try and contain her girl thighs and ass, and put her high-tops on. "Let's get on with it."
Hal watched from his open door when the new kid he had run into moved in across the hall with the gay kid Frank. No one wanted to room with Frank. They all liked him, but no one wanted to be stuck in a room with him at night. For one he was gay, and that made some of the white privilege straight boys uncomfortable, but mostly he had the loudest snore in the building. If he turned off his noise maker and held real still, Hal could hear him all the way across the hall behind two doors. He chuckled. "Poor kid," he said.
"New kid. Moving in with Frank."
His roommate Davis laughed. "Poor little shit."
"We should say hi, introduce ourselves," Hal said quietly. He was still annoyed that he had brushed past him but he was curious.
Davis laughed again.
Hal looked over. "I'm serious."
His roommate looked angrily uncomfortable. "No, you know I don't like new people."
"Fine, I'll go by myself," he said, getting up.
Hal crossed the hall and was going to knock when a tall guy wearing shoulder holsters with sharp gray guns in them came out. They looked at each other for a moment.
"I was just coming over to see who the new kid was," Hal said finally. "I'm Halian Locklear." He held out his hand.
The man shook it. "Jason Bond."
"My real name? Yes," he said.
Hal smirked. "Do you ever do the thing?"
The man chuckled. "No."
"You definitely should at least once in your life," Hal said.
"Maybe one day," the man said with a grin.
He and Hal looked at each other for another beat. Then Hal asked, "Are you a cop? Detective?"
Jason nodded. "Something like that."
"Is he a murderer?" Hal asked, joking, but he waited for the answer.
"No," Jason said, but didn't offer another explanation.
When he realized the cop dude wasn't going to say more, Hal said, "Is it cool if I go in?"
The man tilted his head towards the door. "Yeah, go for it."
Jason watched the young man knock on the cracked door and go in. He shook his head. As he walked away, he murmured, "Have fun, Jo."
Hal poked his head into the room and saw the new kid hanging up his uniform stuff in the unoccupied closet. "Hey."
The kid turned quickly, his stance defensive and defiant. The kid seemed to realize that Hal was not a threat and straightened up. "Oh, hey." He put another shirt onto a hanger. "Sorry about running into you earlier."
"It's all good," he said. "I'm Halian. Locklear. I go by Hal."
"Jo Powers," said the new kid, his back to Hal.
He didn't seem to be in a talkative mood, but Hal was curious. He came further into the room and leaned on the desk that was obviously Frank's from the rainbow sticker on the laptop sitting there. Frank wasn't flamboyant really, but he showed his pride. He watched the new kid unpack for a bit. "You a freshman? Sophomore? You look really young."
"Senior." He glanced over his shoulder at Hal. "I've got girly features, I know."
He shrugged. "Is what it is."
"That and your voice being kinda high—"
Jo sighed, "Yeah, yeah, I'm a short, girly nerd. I get it."
"You're not that short. Definitely not as short as Frank," Hal said.
The new kid turned to face him fully. "I'm five eight. How short is he?"
Hal grinned. "Five five. Apparently it's a good thing in the gay bars."
"Yeah, hope you don't have a problem with that 'cause he's also your new roommate," Hal said, ready to come to Frank's defense if Jo was a homophobe.
Something that looked almost like relief crossed over the new kid's face. "Oh, no I don't mind. Be kind of nice to have someone who also knows what it's like to be treated differently."
Hal felt a twinge of pity for this kid. He looked like he couldn't, or maybe just didn't, grow a beard, had girly features, had a pretty high voice for a guy, kid probably got teased a lot in other schools. Maybe that's why he was here so late in high school, he had to move to get away from bullies.
"Why are you here?" he asked.
Jo turned around with a suspicious glare. "Excuse me?"
"I just mean it's like senior year, why come to a boarding school now?" he said.
Jo's anger deflated. "Oh. Had to move. Figured this was an opportunity to go somewhere with, like, an actual curriculum," he chuckled.
Hal grinned. "I gotcha."
"Hey Hal, what's up?" Frank walked in with a fast food bag in his hand. Then he saw Jo. "Ooh, they actually gave me a roommate?"
Jo turned around and came a little closer, but not really close enough to shake hands or whatever. "Jo Powers. New kid, senior."
"Yeah, I know you're new. It's a school of barely two hundred guys, it's hard not to know everyone," Frank said as he sat down on his desk beside Hal who was still leaning there. Frank swung his legs a little. "Fries?" he murmured to Hal, offering the bag. Hal grabbed a handful and ate. "So, new kid," Frank said around a mouthful of burger. "What's your deal?"
Jo looked up from putting away his street clothes in the dresser. "Deal?"
"You straight? Gay? Bi?" he asked. "Ooh, pan?"
Jo paused in his packing. "That's… well honestly? No idea."
Frank leaned back on one hand. "Alriiiiiight, fresh meat ready for pounding," he said, making a jerking off motion at Hal.
"God, Frank," Hal laughed. "Don't scare him."
Frank made a don't-sass-me face and sighed. "I've been waiting for someone to spice things up," he said, giving Jo a gaudy wink.
Joanna laughed, a genuine laugh, something she hadn't done in a long time. She was going to like Frank, she could tell. He was not what she had expected when Hal had said she was getting a gay roommate. He was dressed fashionably, but not any more flamboyant than any rich straight guy would be. His hair was probably the gayest thing about him, being mussy up with product. Maybe she could confide in him. She knew soon or later someone would find out and she would rather it be a gay guy. If someone found out, she would need that person to be an ally and not tell on her. She could feel that Frank would be a good ally. The fact that he wasn't attracted to girls was just kind of an added bonus.
"So where's the 'rents?" Frank asked. "No one helping you unpack?"
"Nah, my parents are dead."
The silence after that statement was palpable.
Joanna glanced at them. "Sorry. Didn't mean to blurt it out like that… I'm sorry."
"Yeah, that was a little heavy," Frank murmured.
Joanna glanced at them, chagrinned. "Sorry."
"Don't be," Hal said.
After another moment of silence, Frank shoved off the desk and came toward her with a paper-wrapped burger in his hand. "I think I'm gonna like you, new kid," he said as he handed him the burger. "Frank Stronghold, at your service."
"Thanks," Joanna said. She unwrapped the burger and took a huge bite.
She sighed. If she was going to be stuck at an all boys school with a bunch of preppy teenage boys, she was glad she had met Frank.
"Oh!" Frank went to his desk and pulled something out of a drawer. He walked back to Joanna. "You'll need these."
Joanna looked at the little plastic package in her hand. It was a pair of earplugs.