Even for an all-girls boarding school, the first day of classes feels normal. I wake up a little before my alarm, anxiety roiling in my gut. No way can I go back to sleep. Waking up early turns out to be an unexpected blessing, though, as a knock sounds at the door. I glance over to the other bed, but Charlie isn’t there.
I yawn and manage to roll out of bed. When I answer the door, a security guard informs me that I have two visitors, but I’m not expecting anyone.
To my surprise, two movers, both men, stand in the hallway. The security guard supervises as they haul two giant trunks into the dorm room, setting them down at the foot of Charlie’s bed.
“Here you go, Miss Masters,” one of them says to me.
With Charlie missing, it looks like I’m living in this room alone. I kind of feel like I am. I’m not so sure that Charlie unpacking will change that.
“I’m not her,” I say. “I don’t know where she is.”
The first mover grunts. “We need someone to sign for this. Do you think you can do that?”
I shrug. “Yeah, I’ll do it.”
The second mover passes me a tablet, and I scrawl my signature on the screen. He hands the tablet to his colleague and nods to the trunks. “Clothes and everything. Mr. and Mrs. Masters said if she’s missing anything, just let them know.”
That must mean they’re not coming to help her move in. As awful as she is to me, I feel a pang of pity. I may not be on the best terms with my parents right now, but at least they cared enough to make sure I’m settled.
The first mover nods. “Well, have a nice day.”
“You, too,” I answer.
Without another word, they shuffle off, talking loudly down the hall. The security nods and escorts them out.
Once they’re gone and I’ve closed the door behind them, I look over at the giant trunks—large, ornate, and ancient-looking—and wonder what to do. Charlie isn’t here to unpack them herself, and I wouldn’t dream of helping. She’d probably kill me for it.
The movers also brought an easel, a plastic storage tub labeled PAINTS AND ART SUPPLIES, and a bucket full of paintbrushes. Charlie’s an artist? Now the Monet makes more sense.
I finish my routine without touching her stuff, somewhat surprised when she doesn’t show up. My uniform is stiff and scratchy, but it doesn’t look too hideous. The Livingston standard is a red-and-gold pleated skirt, white dress shirt, red tie, and tan blazer with the Livingston crest emblazoned on the chest. As far as uniforms go, it could be so much worse. Still, my knee-high red socks and low-heeled shoes make me feel like a Catholic schoolgirl.
I sit alone at breakfast, fighting the urge to dump my tray and crawl back to my dorm room. I nurse my glass of orange juice like it’s something stronger and push my scrambled eggs around my plate with my fork.
I knew it would be hard for me to make friends here, but so far, I haven’t met a single person who isn’t in a clique. After my weird encounter with Charlie and the other girls in the bathroom, I’m less sure that was a fluke and surer that it’s par for the course. My mom thinks opening up is the key to getting closer to people, but how can I open up to anyone if I can’t get them to look at me, let alone maintain a conversation?
Not far away, Charlie, June, Billie, and Ronnie all sit together, eating and laughing. Some girls in hijabs sit at the table closest to me, also laughing. A squeal of delight cuts through the air, and I turn to see a group of black girls reenact a story. Nearby, more girls trade food items with each other.
I would give anything to know what that inclusion feels like.
After halfheartedly pushing my eggs around on my plate until my phone reminds me it’s time for class, I dump the content of my tray in the trash and sling my bag over my shoulder. Charlie and her gang are still seated, still laughing. I don’t want to bother them.
Classes are predictably boring. Thankfully, because this isn’t a movie, none of the teachers single me out for an introduction as a transfer student. None of the students pay me much attention either. I’m getting used to being ignored.
By the time my English class rolls around, I’m beyond grateful to see two familiar faces—Ronnie and Billie. Unlike June, however, they don’t seem keen on making me feel included. They don’t even acknowledge me as I slide into the desk adjacent to Ronnie’s.
“Hey,” I try.
“Hello,” Billie says.
Ronnie takes a brush out of her purse and runs it through her hair without saying a word. She digs out an eyeshadow palette and a rainbow-handled makeup brush.
Billie takes out her notebook, turns to a new page, and scribbles something across the top of it. Hand-lettering, it looks like. Fancy penmanship stuff. I bet she keeps a bullet journal.
“Have you had this teacher before?” I ask.
“Yeah,” Ronnie says. She doesn’t elaborate.
“Not me,” Billie says. “Doesn’t matter. Heard he’s easy, anyway. Also, it’s English, which we all happen to speak.”
This is probably the most they’ve ever spoken to me, and I’m not sure how to keep them talking. In my earlier classes, I didn’t dare try to even speak to anyone. My nerves got the best of me. Plus, I was too busy making sure I was in the right classroom. This school is too big.
I lean forward in my seat. “I like your glasses, Billie.”
She flicks her gaze toward me. “Are you certain?”
She presses her lips together. “You’re settled in with Charlie then?”
The change in topic pricks my ears. “She say something bad?”
“Not in so many words.”
I look to Ronnie, hoping for some kind of tell. She pulls old receipts and tubes of lipstick out of her purse.
“Charlie’s nice,” I say, and then feel like a giant idiot. Charlie isn’t nice. Anyone can see that, surely even her friends.
Billie quirks an eyebrow. “Is she though?”
“I… no, I guess not.”
I swear to God she smiles. “Haven’t lived with her long and you already get the gist. She’s a right terror. You’re in our thoughts.”
“I’d rather live outside than bunk with her,” says Ronnie. “You’re stronger than I am.”
“Well, so far so good.” I mirror Billie’s smile, hoping I look more comfortable than I feel.
The teacher, a man named Mr. Preston, enters the room and calls us to attention. I spend all of class trying not to look too eager, either to impress the teacher or for friendship, even though I’m starving for both. Once class ends, Billie and Ronnie get up. I start to follow them out when the teacher pulls me aside.
Billie and Ronnie either don’t notice, or they don’t care. I’m not sure which is worse.
“Uh… Rosemary, is it?” Mr. Preston begins. I can already tell from his tone of voice that this won’t be a fun conversation.
“Rose,” I say.
He falters, then forgoes my first name altogether. “Miss Abbott, I wanted to let you know… well, given what happened at your last school…”
Wait, he knows about that? My face catches fire. “If it’s all the same to you, I’d rather not discuss that.”
“I’m sure you wouldn’t. I just wanted you to know, I’m happily married. And, if you want to make a good grade in this class, you’ll have to work hard, like everyone else. Any… extra credit will be announced in advance and will be open to everyone. During school hours.”
My whole body burns. “Excuse me?”
“I won’t repeat myself. Do you understand?”
All I want is for the ground to open up and eat me. “Y-yes, sir.”
“Excellent. Have a good rest of your day.”
How can I do that, though, when my teacher insinuated that what happened with Nathan is my fault? That I’m a predatory temptress who lured someone saintly off the straight and narrow?
The rest of my day follows a similar pattern. I have no classes with the other girls, save Charlie in my history class. Relief washes over me when I realize that none of them see the way the teachers here treat me. If it’s any consolation, at least none of the faculty single me out during class.
I’m having a tough time wrapping my head around the idea that news of what happened has traveled over here. Sure, what happened in Salem was local news, but I didn’t think it made it all the way out here. Clearly, I was wrong.
Maybe the faculty have all seen my file.
After my classes, I head back to my dorm room. I pray Charlie isn’t there, but even if she is, it’s not like she’ll talk to me.
Meyer Hall sits sad and empty. Most of the other students must be out in classes, at the library, or hanging with their friends. I get on the elevator and head up to my floor without running into anyone else. While I fish my keys out of my purse, I consider calling my parents. It’s been less than two days, and while they’re not exactly thrilled to speak to me, at least it might be nice to hear a familiar voice.
Then again, if I call them now, it will feel like giving up. Like I’m a scared little girl who still needs her mommy and daddy. I’m not sure I’m ready to give up yet.
When I open the door to my room, Charlie is sitting on her bed. Ronnie, Billie, and June are sitting on mine. Their heads all snap up as they notice me. It might be my imagination, but I swear they all frown.
Ronnie snatches something out of Billie’s hand and holds it to her chest, hidden from me. “What is your roommate doing back here?”
“I don’t know. I thought she was in classes all day.” Charlie shoots me a look, like it’s somehow my fault that she hasn’t memorized my schedule. “Rose, do you mind? We’re in the middle of something.”
It’s the first time she’s gotten my name right, let alone tried to display any semblance of manners toward me, but anger heats my blood. “It’s my room, too. I’m staying.”
Charlie’s eyes narrow. “It’ll just take a second.”
Is she serious? Are they all so self-absorbed they think I’m not offended? This is my room as much as hers. She has no right to kick me out.
I square my shoulders. “I’m taking a nap.”
Ronnie mutters something under her breath. Billie titters. I probably don’t want to know what she said, especially as June won’t look at me or her—or anyone, for that matter. Ronnie is still holding whatever it is tight against her blazer, hidden from sight. What could it be?
I keep my eyes locked on Charlie’s, daring her to try again. Maybe it’s not wise to cross her but they’ve all treated me like shit so far and I just want to crawl under the covers and forget about the day.
Charlie blinks. Ronnie looks to her for guidance, as do the others.
“Fine,” Charlie spits. “Guess we’ll go somewhere else.”
She gestures toward the other girls. Ronnie rolls her eyes, tucks the object she’s been holding into her purse, and heads for the door. June and Billie follow. June shoots me a look so warm, it could almost be sympathetic. Even her sunflower earrings seem to smile at me. Charlie gets up from the bed and glares.
I try my best to ignore her, but she’s not leaving until she says her piece. “What is it?”
From the open doorway, Billie laughs again. Charlie shoots her a look, then returns her attention to me. “You need to work on your attitude.”
Jesus. “You’re the one with the attitude here.”
She clenches her jaw, but she doesn’t say anything else. Instead, she grabs her purse and keys and heads out into the hallway. When the door slams behind her, it rattles the hinges.
I sink down on my bed and flop onto my back, staring up at the ceiling once more. Maybe I’ll never find my place here.
I roll onto my side and stare at Charlie’s bed. It’s unmade, the comforter rumpled from where Charlie sat on it. Her belongings haven’t moved since the movers brought them this morning. Maybe she’s not unpacked yet as some form of protest. Though I don’t know her well, I can see her doing that.
Maybe she hates her parents as much as she hates me.
Keys jangle in the lock, and I sit bolt upright. Charlie rushes in, flushed and anxious. Speak of the devil.
“My phone.” She grabs it from her nightstand, pausing to look at the unpacked trunks. “You didn’t touch them, did you?”
If I weren’t so tired, I’d be offended. “Why would I do that?”
“Why would you touch my vial?” Charlie counters.
I bristle but don’t take the bait. I’m too tired to start any more fights with her. One of us needs to be the bigger person.
Charlie checks her latest-model phone, frowns down at something on the screen, and types something out. She mutters a curse. “Gods, I hate boys. They’re so stupid sometimes.”
Surely, she’s talking to herself, right? She can’t possibly be trying to strike up a conversation with me.
I don’t respond. After a second, her gaze flashes toward me, like she’s only just registered she said something to me, someone she hates.
“I’m sorry about your vial,” I say. “I didn’t mean—”
“Charlie!” Billie shouts from the hall.
“I’ll buy you a new one,” I continue.
“Don’t worry about it.” Charlie tucks the phone into her pocket and heads for the door. “Thank you.”
Once the door closes, I lie back on the bed. Despite the shitty day I’ve had, I feel a tinge of hope. Maybe Charlie and her friends will come around. If not, I can reach out to other girls, right?