Community Stories. Get Inspired, Get Underlined

Discovering Me (Book 1 of Discovering Me Series)

By @ess1223

Little Games - The Colourist

{Isabella}

I had trouble sleeping the night before my first day of school. The people I had met upon arrival were more than nice to me, but I didn’t know what to expect from everyone else. I woke up bright and early to shower. Elle was in our shared bathroom, completely dressed, and brushing her teeth.

“Morning.” She paused to smile over at me.

She was bright-eyed and upbeat. I was far from on her level, struggling to keep my eyes open. I did notice what she had done to her uniform, though. She was wearing the black and white striped jumper with a short-sleeved peter pan-collared shirt. She put a sparkly bib necklace beneath the collar instead of a tie. She wore opaque red tights beneath her dress and paired them with black heels.

“Morning person?” I guessed.

 She nodded. “5 AM, every day. I feel like I’m more productive. Are you?”

I shook my head. “I used to, but I can’t push myself to do it anymore. I had trouble sleeping, so I thought I’d get an early start.”

“Saying this isn’t going to do much of anything, but you’ll be fine. We’ll look out for you.”

“Who’s ‘we’?”

“Me, Sam, Mom, Ry, Finn, Nicky, and Miles. Everyone does have their little cliques established. That’s intimidating to walk into, so for now or permanently, you’re more than welcome to be a part of ours.”

 “Why are you being so nice to me?” I tucked my hair behind my ear.

“I’ve always been a people person. I’m nice until you give me a reason to be mean.” She shrugged.

I smiled. “Thanks.”

She rinsed her mouth out and rose to her feet. “No problem, Babydoll.” She deposited her toothbrush into its holder. She went below the sink and removed a roll of paper towels and cleaning solution. She quickly tidied up.

“If Sami finds these, you tell her they are biodegradable and using a sponge or rag isn’t as sanitary.” She held up the roll of paper towels.

“I feel like you’ve had that fight before.” I replied as she returned her cleaning supplies to their home.

“We have and do. You are now armed with the knowledge to end it victoriously.”

I nodded in understanding.

“I’ll let you have the bathroom. I don’t care about nudity and personal space, but you might and that’s fine. I’ll be in my room if you need anything.” She left me alone in our bathroom, exiting through the door that led to her bedroom.

After using the restroom, I took a shower. My ankle was throbbing when I got out. I sat down on the toilet seat cover in my bathrobe as I brushed my teeth. I checked it out, frowning at the light purple bruising that was more noticeable after time had passed. I limped to the sink to rinse my mouth out. I slowly continued into my room when I was done. I sat down on my bed and wrapped my ankle with the ace bandage the nurse had given me. I stifled my pain and hobbled to my dresser to put on my undergarments. I towel dried my hair as I removed what I wanted to wear from my closet. I kept it simple – a white shirt, black shorts, and a red cardigan. I put on a pair of ballet flats to give my ankle room to heal. I brushed my hair up into a ponytail before packing up my backpack. There was a knock on my door minutes later.

“It’s open!” I called out.

Morgan walked in timidly. “Good morning. Ready for breakfast?”

I looked up from the arranging that I was doing within my backpack.

She was wearing a short sleeved white polo and a black and white plaid a-line skirt. The red knee high socks she was wearing supplied our third uniform color. She had a white ribbon tied around her head and knotted into a bow to use as a headband. Her black ballet flats rounded it all out.

“Yeah, um, do you know where I can get ice?” I zipped up my backpack.

“Yes, downstairs in the kitchen. I’ll go get you some. I’ll be right back.” She turned around and left the room.

I removed my phone from my pocket and called Audrey. It rang for a long time. I was bracing myself for her voicemail.

“Hello?” Her voice was raspy when she answered.

“I did I wake you up?”

“We’re three hours behind you in California, but it’s fine. How was your first night?”

“I had trouble sleeping, but I’d attribute that to first day nerves. My roommates are really nice.”

“I’m happy to hear that, Honey. Have you eaten?”

“I did last night. We ordered a pizza. Well, pizzas, actually. Morgan’s allergic to gluten and had to get a special one. We’re going to breakfast in the dining hall as soon as I get ice for my ankle.” 

“Your ankle?”

“Um….yeah, well…I sorta sprained it.” I admitted sheepishly.

“What?! How?!” She was wide awake then.

“A boy hit me with his skateboard. It’s not a big deal. Calm down. Think of Blurry the Baby.”

 “Isabella.” She stated sternly.

“Audrena.” I replied in the same tone.

 “How bad is it? Have you seen a doctor?”

“We have a nurse practitioner on campus. I visited her shortly after it happened. It’s a little swollen and bruised, but I’ve done worse.”

“Send me a picture of it.”

“No, it’s wrapped and my shoes are on.”

“Do it later.”

“Fine, I thought I’d call you before I left. Sorry for waking you.”

“It’s okay, Sweetie. I’m happy to hear from you. We’re getting on the bus and going to Las Vegas in a few hours. We have packing to do.”

“Be careful. I love you. Tell everyone I said ‘hello’.”

“I will. Have a good first day. Bye.”

I silenced my phone and slid it into my pocket. I eased myself up to my feet and put on my backpack. I made my way to our shared living room. Elle was seated in the armchair, diligently texting on her phone.

She looked up at me. “You look cute.” She smiled.

“Really? I didn’t know what to put on.” I sat down on the arm of the couch.

“You’re keeping it simple. It’s hard to go wrong with that.”

“I’m dying.” Sami groaned as she shuffled out of her room.

I turned my head to her direction. Instead of a collared shirt, she was wearing a white Henley shirt with a red tie loosely hanging from her neck. She wore black fishnets beneath her black pleated skirt and paired it with combat boots. She had on a military green, distressed cargo jacket with utility pockets; the sleeves and hood were black, making it appear to be a vest over a hoodie. Her hood was up and aviator sunglasses shielded her eyes from view.

“Did you dye your hair? I could’ve sworn you were blonde when we met.” I ogled her crimson red bangs. 

“I dye it a lot, usually on a whim. At 3 AM this morning, I thought ‘why not?’” She collapsed on the couch.

“Usually vibrant colors?”

“Yeah. I’ve gone lavender, blue, bright red, orange, pink, green, yellow, and blonde. I’m sure I’m forgetting some.” She yawned as she rested her head on a pillow.

“What’s your natural hair color?” 

“Blonde. That’s why I usually keep it bleached during the summer. My parents love the colors, my grandparents hate them. I avoid hearing them gripe when I can.”

“It looks awesome.” I complimented with a smile.

“Thanks.”

“Were you nocturnal this summer?” Elle asked her.

“You know it.”

“I will be avoiding you for the next couple of weeks, then. Best you do the same, Iz. She gets mean when she’s sleepy and hungry.”

“Speaking of which, where’s Mom?”

“Downstairs, getting me ice. My ankle’s bothering me.” I replied.

“I’ll hit Milo for you.” Sami snuggled further into the couch.

“He broke up with the wicked witch yesterday.” Elle informed her.

“Sweet. I’ll make one of his hits a high five.” She kept herself committed to resting.

“Got the ice. Great, Sams, you’re up. Don’t get mad. I had to wrap her bag of ice in paper towels. It’s bad to apply ice directly to skin.” Morgan explained as she walked in.

“I’m too tired to care.” She grumbled.

Morgan handed me my ice.

“Thank you.” I smiled at her.

“You’re welcome. Are all of you ready to go?” She asked.

We all put on our backpacks and headed to our door. The four of us made our way to the dining hall centrically located on campus. I stayed near the back of the pack, slowed down by my ankle and anxious to see their dynamics within the school. Elle was Ms. Popularity, greeted by most, checked out by many, and positively responded to by all. Morgan spent most of her time catering to me, helping me stay off my ankle by supporting me with one of her arms. Sami’s intimidation factor was unexpected. She was barely five feet tall and build like a bean pole, but for whatever reason, everyone, boys and girls alike, cowered away from her in fear, almost too scared to talk to Elle. Almost being the operative word. It made me all the more curious about how they became friends. They couldn’t be more different.

When we walked into the dining hall, we put our bags into wooden cubbies. When we went into the food line, I only selected a granola bar, an apple, and a juice box for breakfast. There were plenty of heavier options, but I was worried about my ability to metabolize them with my nerves.

“Are you sure you don’t want to get anything else? Lunch is further away than you think.” Morgan eyed my tray.

“A big breakfast would upset my stomach.” I avoided looking at her.

“Good call on the light breakfast then. It would be no fun to be sick and injured on your first full day.” She offered me a sweet smile.

We walked into the crowded lunch room as a group. I was overwhelmed by the sea of people actively engaging in conversation as they enjoyed their meals.

 “Come on, Babydoll. Most of the ones we sit with don’t bite. We’re about to feed Sami, so the odds of her doing it are slim to none.” Elle looped her arm through mine and led me away from the doorway.

“Heard that.” Sami snapped.

“You were supposed to.” Ellen replied in a singsong voice.

I giggled. They took me over to a table in the far corner with who I recognized to be Ryan, Nick, Finn, and Milo, already sitting there.

“Happy first day, ladies.” Ryan looked up from his meal with a smooth smirk.

He didn’t bother pretending he was wearing a collared shirt in the manner Sami did, putting on a tie and covering up with a jacket. He boldly wore a white V-neck. Finn was wearing a red and black flannel shirt with a white graphic t-shirt underneath. Nick’s collared shirt was buttoned up to the top and his tie was securely in place; his lightly wrinkled black hoodie led me to believe his mom packed everything for him and he put it on without complaint. Milo had on a simple white polo. His variation came in the form of a black and white hat turned to the back.

“You better be wearing your contacts.” I told Milo as I sat down in the empty seat across from him.

I propped my leg up on the empty chair beside me and situated my ice on top of my ankle.

“I am. Dad came into my bathroom and watched me put them in.” He replied.

“Dad?” I asked with an eyebrow raised.

Milo nodded to Nick.

“Sorry for yesterday.” He told me with a kind smile.

“You weren’t even there. You shouldn’t be the one apologizing.” I told him sincerely. I looked over at Milo pointedly.

“You told me to stop saying ‘sorry’. I am following orders here.” He held up his hands.

Sami put her tray down in the empty space beside Milo to sit next to Finn. She swiftly swatted him on the back of the head without warning, causing his hat to come off.

“The hell, Sam?” He cried, rubbing the back of his head before putting his hat back on.

She kept a blasé expression as she settled down in her seat. “Your one warning. Oh, and congratulations. I heard the broomstick-riding brat was finally hit with a house.”

Finn smirked and held up his hand. She hit it without looking up from her plate.

Milo rolled his eyes and looked to Elle incredulously.

“How’d you all become friends? Detention? This is very Breakfast Club.” I asked no one in particular.

“John Hughes fan?” Nick’s face lit up.

“Who?” I looked around.

“The 80’s movies mastermind. He wrote and directed that movie. Nicky’s a movie buff. That’s why he’s my favorite.” Elle answered, winking at him.

He blushed and looked down at his tray.

“He’s shy and you’re you. Don’t give him a heart attack.” Ryan joked as he rubbed his back.

She turned to me. “Nick’s in the music department, but he took film appreciation our freshman year with Ry and me. He’s really into film soundtracks.”

“He saved my grade.” Ryan chimed in.

“Because the idiot was too busy checking out the teacher to take notes.” Elle told me.

“Ms. Petrolia has a great rack. I won’t deny that I paid her due respect when she leaned down.” He shrugged.

“Nick was my study buddy because we were the two most interested in the class. Ry needed help and crashed our study sessions. He somehow talked us into being friends with him.” She concluded.

“Watson and I have been partners in crime since freshie orientation. We met Mom and Dad later that year. They enjoyed acting as our consciences enough to agree to room with us our sophomore year.” Sami explained.

“They’d be in prison, otherwise.” Morgan added.

“Says more about you than us.” Finn smirked.

Sami snickered.

“Anna and I roomed with them last year, needing a music and art major to live with. We decided to stay together this year.” Ellen contributed.

“And you?” I asked Milo.

“Ryan and Finn scared away their fourth roommate. When I transferred in, they had a spare room. I was tossed into the mix at random, but quickly learned to adapt to the craziness and learned to love it.”

“Ollie was never a good fit. He couldn’t take a prank.” Sami shrugged.

“You glued him to a chair.” Morgan broke down slowly.

“Miles laughed it off and retaliated when we did it to him.” She gestured to him.

“What’d he do?” I asked.

“Poured some of Elle’s glitter in our beds. We were coated every day for the rest of the year. I wanted to hate him. I really did, but I sprouted mad respect instead.” Sami answered.

“Way to be good sports.” I giggled.

“Classes, what have we got, girls?” Ryan asked us.

“Pre-calculus, AP chemistry, English 11 honors French IV, and junior actors’ block all afternoon.” Elle rattled off.

“We’ve got chem and English together.” Finn told her.

“I have pre-calculus first period too.” I looked over at her.

“Miles and I do too.” Ryan told me.

“I’ve got algebra II, biology II, normal people English, Spanish III, and music all afternoon.” Sami announced.

“I’ll be in biology and English with you. If you need help with Spanish, I can help. I’m fluent.” I replied.

“Good luck. She can’t roll her R’s. She sounds like she’s gargling.” Finn teased.

She nudged him with her elbow. He yanked down her hood and ruffled her hair. She swatted him away. She ran a hand through her hair to fix it.

“What other classes are you in?” Milo asked me.

“French III and dance.”

“We are five for seven.”

“Are um, are you okay? With your break up and everything?” I asked him gently as Morgan explained her schedule for the table.

He shifted his eyes to his breakfast. “I feel stupid for letting it go on for as long as it did. I sort of knew what she was like all along, I guess I hoped it would turn out to be a massive front or something. I am happy it is over.” He pushed his eggs around with his fork.

“When you find a new girl that’s worthy of your attention, don’t hit her with your skateboard. Literally breaking something shouldn’t be how you break the ice.” I teased lightly.

He looked up at me, fighting off a smile. “Sage advice. How is your ankle feeling?”

“Sore and stiff. I’m one step closer to attacking you.”

“Are you going to limp and make me feel bad about myself?”

 “I’ll try to disguise my injury to ease your pain.” I played along.

“Do not make me carry you again. I will do it.” He warned jokingly.

“That’s not the kind of first impression I want to make. You’ve been a free man for less than 24 hours. I’m pretty anxious to meet her. She’s a dancer, right?”

He nodded. “She is –“He looked over his shoulder. He shifted his attention back to our table abruptly.

“Do you see the girl glaring at me from two tables away?” He nodded over his shoulder.

I looked. Her golden blonde hair cascaded down her shoulders. I couldn’t find a single blemish on her sun-kissed skin. Her pouty lips were glossed a light pink color. Her baby blue eyes were to die for, but the way she was looking at him made me fearful that she’d breathe fire at any moment.

“You can injure me for her, but not stay in a relationship? Care to explain?” I returned my eyes to his.

“She hates my friends, has a problem with the majority of the things I do, and did not call on my birthday. I could not deal with listening to her complain about one more thing as I ended it. I did not mean to hit you. That was an accident.”

“Ah, well, I got a free piggyback ride and tour guide out of the predicament. I guess I’ll finally let you off the hook.” I brought the straw of my juice box to my lips.

“Thank you.” He tried his best not to smile as he returned his attention to his food.

After we all finished eating, most of us headed to the math and science building. Elle and I sat side by side. Ryan and Milo sat in the seats behind us. I propped my foot up on my backpack and situated my ice on top of it. I rested my hand beneath my chin and silently watched as Elle symmetrically arranged her notebook and pens on her desk. I noticed that all of her supplies were labeled with a label maker.

“Staying organized helps me keep everything together.” She sheepishly explained.

“I’m not judging; envious, actually. It’s hard for me to stay focused on academics, much to my father’s chagrin. Being organized supposed to help with that. I’ve never really known how to sort myself out in that way.”

“I can help if you want. I sorta live for it.”

“I might just have to take you up on that.”

 We made small talk among ourselves until the teacher entered the room. I tried to pay attention and make mental notes of all the dates he mentioned. There was an odd hissing sound and I felt a paper ball hit the back of my arm a half hour into class.

I picked it up off the ground subtly and open it in my lap.

“We have to do this the old-fashioned way because I do not have your number yet. friends need to stay connected, even if you are really mean to me.”

I turned in my seat to see Milo seated in the row behind me, innocently staring off into space with a small smirk.

“Who said we’re friends? And how am I mean to you? You’re the one who ran me down.” 

I folded up the piece of paper and discretely handed it back a row as I kept my eyes on the teacher.

“We did, yesterday. You would not let me say sorry and had Sam hit me. That is mean.”

I thought to myself for a moment.

“If I get mauled by your ex-girlfriend, Elle will inform everyone it was your fault. 555- 210 – 3203” I handed it back and rested my hand beneath my chin.

Ellen looked at me with a wide grin.

“It’s not like that.” I whispered.

“I ship it.”

“Take that back right now.” I pleaded.

“Nu huh.” She shook her head.

My phone vibrated in my pocket and put it in my lap to view my text.

“I had to be sure this was a real number. You should really pay attention in class more. It is only the first day.

I fought back a smile and rolled my eyes.

“Right back at cha, Buddy.”

Milo and Ryan showed me to biology. Sami was seated alone at the lab bench in the far left corner. Her hood was down and her sunglasses removed by then. She was looking out the window as she tapped her pencil to a beat.

“Is it alright if I sit with you?” I asked hopefully once I had limped up to her.

“What?” Sami removed a headphone from her ear. I didn’t realize she was wearing them when I first walked up because I was too entranced by her bright hair.

“Is it alright if I sit with you?” I repeated.

“Go for it.” She gestured to the seat beside her.

“I couldn’t even tell you were wearing headphones.” I attempted to make small talk.

“That’s the whole point. I don’t mind getting into trouble, but listening to music in class is a petty reason for detention.”

I nodded in understanding.

“Collins would do it too. He sorta has it out for me.” She continued.

Ryan chuckled. “That’s an understatement. He once gave her 79.5% on an essay, making it very clear he didn’t want to give her a B.” 

“Dude’s hardcore passive-aggressive. He needs to move past his beef with me and remove the stick from his ass.”

“What did you do?” I laughed.

Someone has been releasing the frogs he collects for dissection back into the wild for the past two years. He believes it’s the same person who vocally protests the dissections taking place. It’s probable, but the culprit still hasn’t been identified.” 

“It is freezing in here.” Milo stopped folding the paper football he was working on to rub his arms.

Ry removed a sweatshirt from his backpack. “They love blasting the a/c when school starts. There are very few places you can get away with not wearing a jacket.”

“And you couldn’t have mentioned that earlier?” He looked over at him.

“That’s an Elle job. If she weren’t busy with Iz last night, I’m sure she would’ve screened a PowerPoint.” He shrugged.

“Did she tell you?” Milo looked to me.

I shook my head. “I know I get cold easily. I make a habit of wearing sweaters and things because of it.”

There was an audible vibration. He looked over his shoulder to ensure the teacher wasn’t looking before removing his phone from his pocket.

“She is telling people I dumped her because I showed up to her suite and she was not wearing makeup. That is complete – I could barely see her face when I did!” He cried in outrage in a hushed tone.

“Elle?” Ryan asked simply in response.

“She is keeping an ear out for me.” He started texting a reply.

“I’d offer to knock some sense into her for you, but she’d just tell everyone I was trying to feel her up. She’s so freaking hot. I can’t keep my eyes and hands to myself.” Sami spat sarcastically.

“I would not have gotten with her if I knew what she was really like.”

“She’s good at getting what she wants.” Ryan doodled in his notebook as he leaned into his hand.

“Put the phone away, Mr. De Luca.” Mr. Collins walked into the room with a brief case.

He reluctantly obliged, rolling his eyes.

“You got in trouble.” I sang teasingly.

He picked up the paper he had folded before he started texting and flicked it at me. I shielded my face.

“Be careful. We won’t be cool if you poke my eye out.” I picked it up off the table and threw it at him.

We spent the whole 90-minute class period going over the syllabus and classroom expectations. Each time Mr. Collins described one of our dissection projects, he shifted his eyes to Sami in discomfort. She deviously smirked and made note of the date in her notebook. Because of block scheduling, we only had two classes that morning. We went to lunch after it.

“How was biology?” Elle looped her arm through mine when she spotted me on the path to the dining hall.

“Fun. Sami seems like she’s plotting something.”

“She always is. If she breaks out her black hat, alert Morgan immediately. It means a fight is about to ensue and we all need to get our stories straight.”

 “This is starting to sound like a gang, not a group.” I giggled.

“But the fun kind. We have prank wars, PowerPoints, and parties. We’re like the epitome of youth.” She retorted lightly.

“PowerPoints are youthful?” I looked over at her with a smile.

“They are when the color scheme and fonts are on point.”

I laughed.

My bag of ice was a slosh of ice water by the end of second period. I threw it out and my ankle was aching by the time we reached the dining hall. Elle must’ve noticed me limping more than I had been. She made me tell her what I wanted and had me sit down at the table we’d be eating at.

“Aren’t you hungry?” Morgan asked as she sat down at our table with a boy I didn’t recognize.

“Yeah, Elle’s getting my lunch. My ankle’s bothering me.”

She nodded in understanding. “This is my boyfriend Lucas.” She introduced as she sat down.

“Hey.” He greeted in an unenthused monotone as he sat down beside her.

“What department are you in?” I attempted to engage him anyway.

“Music.”

“Oh, what instrument?” I gave him my full attention, offering him a warm smile.

“Trombone.” He deadpanned, giving me nothing to work with.

Deeming him as a lost cause, I shifted my attention to Morgan. “How has your first day been going?” I asked.

“Well, but I really feel like I should be in that biology class with you. I know Sami’s going to give Collins a run for his money in it. I let Elle talk me into AP chem – more work, less fun.”

I smiled. “I do get the impression that we’re going to have a good time in there, but little miss sunshine needs a buddy too.” I replied.

“I picked up what you asked for and got a bag of ice from one of the kitchen staff members.” Elle arrived at our table with two trays, one in either hand.

“Thank you so much.” I accepted mine from her.

“Not a problem, Babydoll.” She settled into the seat beside me. I put my leg on the empty seats beside me and chilled my ankle with my fresh bag of ice.

“The boys and Sami will probably be late. There’s a long line at the taco bar and they are all committed to waiting on a diehard level.” Elle informed us as she aligned all the items on her tray.

“She’s a vegetarian.” Morgan looked up from her lettuce wrap.

“She’s replacing the meat with black beans.” Elle removed a bottle of hand sanitizer from her purse.

“I didn’t know she was a vegetarian. She was really cool about the pepperoni pizza we ordered yesterday.” I thought aloud.

“She’s not the type that makes you feel bad about your eating habits. She doesn’t brag about how many years she’s been doing it, coming off as self-important. She explains her choice when asked. She upholds it in low-maintenance ways, like scraping the pepperoni off of the pizza you had last night.” Morgan explained.

Lucas tore his eyes away from his meal and looked over at her. “It’s harder to keep up with all the things you can’t eat.”

“Gluten is everywhere. Like this summer, when I visited relatives in Japan, it was really hard for me to dine out. Soy sauce is such a staple and most of it contains gluten. My dad’s Jewish, so pork’s been sniped out of my diet too.”

“And as you’re saying all this, I’m eating a salad with shredded ham.” I replied.

“My life, not yours. Eat your food.” She reassured with a smile.

“How did you get out of line so—“ Elle started to ask as Ryan and Milo practically ran to our table, cautiously looking over their shoulders.

“I’m not above flirting with freshman girls to cut in line.” Ryan explained as he sauntered to an empty seat.

“You too?” Elle looked over at Milo.

“No, I reaped the fruit of his labors.” He made his way over to the row of empty seats beside me.

“Don’t sit on me! My leg’s there!” I cried, worried he’d sit down.

“We will figure this out.” He placed his tray down on the table.

He carefully pulled out the chair and lifted my leg gently. He sat down and placed my leg on his lap. I needed to shift my hips a touch, but I was able to get comfortable easily enough.

“I could manage a plus one; I couldn’t swing a party of five. I upped my chances of success by grabbing with one with an accent. Sami and Finnegan are pissy that we ditched them and Nicky in the name of tacos.” Ryan made himself comfortable in his seat beside Lucas and across from Elle.

“That is why you would not stop nudging me until I said ‘hello’?” Milo remarked with surprise.

“Yup. They giggled and we gained access to nacho cheese, guacamole, and salsa. Worth it.”

“I feel cheap. No more pimping me out for faster food.” Milo pouted lightly.

Elle shook her head at Ryan. “You disgust me. I want to smear your food onto your shirt, but you won’t change it to pick with me, and I wouldn’t be able to look at it for the duration of our acting classes.”

“Glad we’re on the same page.” He loaded up one of his tortilla chips with guacamole and popped it into his mouth.

I laughed hysterically.

We enjoyed roughly ten minutes of a relatively relaxed atmosphere. That ended when Sami charged to our table.

“YOU CHEATING BASTARDS!” She slammed her tray down at the head of the table.

“That is slanderous, Samilla! We did no such thing!” He retorted overdramatically to mess with her.

She grabbed the fabric of his shirt and yanked him forward, leaning down to get into his face. “Cut me in or watch your back, Stephens!” She growled.

She shoved him back into his seat and picked up her tray to sit down next to Morgan.

“Miles, you’re out!” Ry smoothed out the wrinkles she created in his shirt.

“It’s a taco.” Morgan reminded her.

“Exactly.” She locked her eyes on Milo and glared at him as she sat down.

He swallowed hard. I laughed at her ability to intimidate two boys who were at least a foot taller than her.

“Uncool.” Finn stated simply when he finally arrived with Nick. It was a far more passive entrance than the one Sami made.

“It’s been handled, Watson. I got us an in.” She told him between bites.

“Sweet.” He sat down in the seat across from her. Nick took the seat beside him.

They had to rush to finish in time to head back to their suite to pick up their supplies for our afternoon classes. I went back to my room and unwrapped my ankle. I snapped a picture and sent it to Aud. I rebandaged. I was unsure of where the dance building was. Milo met me outside of my dorm to show me.

I felt self-conscious as I hobbled into the studio and he went to the dressing room. Students were already on the floor warming up. I felt out of place still in my uniform, like I didn’t belong. I tried not to let their curious stares get to me as I made my way to the instructor.

“Hi, um — I’m Isabella Hales. I sprained my ankle. I have a note from the nurse.” I removed it from the pocket of my shorts and offered it to her.

“Do you get hurt lot?” She gave me a once over.

I shook my head. “No, this was — “

“My fault. I hit her with my skateboard.” Milo interrupted, popping up beside me.

“This true?” She turned to me for verification.

I nodded. “I was fine when I arrived yesterday. He came flying out of nowhere and now I’m hurt.”

“Say you’re sorry.” She instructed.

“I have already –“

“Say sorry.” She insisted.

“I’m sorry, Izzie.” 

“For….” She coaxed.

I refrained from laughing by nibbling on my bottom lip.

“Hitting you with my skateboard and spraining your ankle.” He recited.

“Now hug. I want no hostility in my class. Bad for choreography.” She requested lastly.

“She’s not mad –“

“Hug!”

I reluctantly hugged him and pulled away as quickly as possible.

“No more break my dancers.” She told Milo in her thick Russian accent before shooing him away.

“Have a seat. Get well soon. I want to see what you can do.” She pointed to the bench in the front of the room.

I sat down on the bench and propped up my ankle. I put my ice on it and adjusted it for maximum comfort.

“Isabelle, right?” Anna sat down beside me. A bright smile was painted on her stunning face. She was far more cheerful than the caricature I had been getting to know through others all day.

“Isabella. Call me Izzie.” I offered her my hand.

“Anna.” She shook it with a firm, confident grip.

“You’ve made friends with people that don’t like me very much. I don’t want their statements to shape your opinion of me. Elle used to be my best friend and she stopped talking to me without giving an explanation. I told Milo I loved him this summer. He dumped me as soon as we got back to school. I’m not the heartless one.” She looked into my eyes with an angelic expression.

 “What’s that got to do with me?”

“I’m trying to warn you as a friend. They will hurt you if you get close to them.”

“They’ve been nothing but nice to me.” 

“You can do better, sweetie. I promise.” She placed her hand on my shoulder.

“What’s so bad about them?”

“Ryan’s a womanizer. Elle appoints herself president of everything, but she’s not queen bee material; she’s driving herself crazy trying to prove the world wrong. The peeping tomboy can’t keep her eyes or hands to herself. The tall kid that follows her around only speaks in sarcasm. Nick and Morgan are too parent-like to have fun around. And Milo, don’t even get me started.” She rolled her eyes.

“I’ll take my chances.”

“He’s already got you in his trap. Not that I blame you, he’s totally gorgeous and that body — ugh, but he has so many problems. He’s always moping around about something, never willing to explain. There was only so much I could do before I had to get away from him. You know, for my sanity.”

“He dumped you.”

Her eyes shot to mine, narrowed. “On second thought, good luck. I hope you get swept up in their massive front and fall flat on your ass like I did. Difference is, I had friends to fall back on. You won’t.” She returned to where her friends were stretching.

I tucked my bangs behind my ear and crossed my arms. Milo sat down on the floor in front of me after exiting the boys’ dressing room in his workout clothes.

“Are you coming over here to wreck more havoc on me?” I teased.

“Nope. Just stretching.” He replied innocently, leaning to one side of his leg.

“Right here?”

“Mates warm up together. It is a thing. If you lean into your leg, it will look like you’re stretching too.” He answered playfully.

“Not smart on your part. Your ex-girlfriend has given me an official warning. I sense the mauling is near. After class, I’m going to start prepping my will to ensure Elle carries out my wishes.” I rested my back against the mirror.

I caught her glaring at me. Instead of looking away, I pointed to myself, made a heart with my hands, and pointed to her. She scoffed, rolled her eyes before diverting her attention.

“You do not seem fazed.” He chuckled.

“I haven’t done anything. It’s so high school, you know? You’re a person, not property.”

“That is where we are. You can honestly say you are immune to all of it?”

“I want to go to prom. I want to make lasting memories with friends. At the same time, I recognize that some things won’t matter in the scheme of things. Why fixate on it now?”

“You will just enjoy juice boxes instead.” He teased.

“Yes, actually, and applesauce. I love that too.”

“What else do you like?”

“The movie ‘Fame‘. It’s my favorite. They 80’s version, not the terrible remake that dared to claim the same name. I like to read. Oh, and baby animals: puppies, kittens, lambs, piglets — you name it, I think the baby version of it is amazing. If I was able to meet a baby penguin, I’d name it Mittens and love it forever. “

He fought off a smile. “Mittens?”

“It works on two levels. They are both fuzzy and thrive in cold climates.”

He chuckled and shook his head. “You have really thought this out. You are very strange in an interesting sort of way.” 

“Aww, thank you. I take that as a compliment. Normal would be an insult.” I placed my hand on my chest.

 “Really?”

I nodded. “That means it’s already been played out. Innovation’s really in right now. I like to stay current.” I joked.

He chuckled. “And this is you, all the time?”

“Who else would I be?”

“We all put on shows for others. It is easy to give the audience what they want.”

“I closed down my suggestion box this summer. Everyone’s stuck with all this, all the time.” I gestured to myself.

“And if they cannot handle it?”

“Their loss. There’s nothing wrong with me.” 

“Except for your ankle.”

“Which will be as good as new in no time.” I snapped my fingers and pointed to him.

I watched conditioning taking place, longing to be on the floor with them. I did a little stretching when my ankle was nice and numb. I was careful not to exhort myself, worsening my injury. When the day concluded and I settled into my suite for the night, I crawled into bed and pulled out my phone.

“How was your first day?” Audrey asked upon answering.

“Amazing.” I smiled uncontrollably. 

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