“And…here we are!”
Chiara sank a little into the tattered seat of the borrowed truck, sucking in her lips. She knew. She had seen the Globe Academy before, on that fateful errand. Even the high brick walls screamed exclusive, edged with an electric fence up top. The only way in or out was through the huge, black iron front gate, hung with the selective school’s title along with a list of dedications. Newhall, Hilton, Vaughan, Truitt. Dozens of kids, tiny preschoolers to high schoolers walking arm in arm were filtering through, in their uniforms for the first time after their weekend. Chiara looked back at Gregory where he sat beaming behind the wheel.
“You’re going to go straight home, right? You have the night shift at the garage tonight…”
“Yes, yes, yes.”
“So the lottery station is out of the question.”
His smile faded ever so slightly and he lightly pounded a hand against the wheel. “Oh, come on, the Truitts did it! Why can’t I?”
Chiara reached over to pat his shoulder. “Cause you’re not a Truitt, Dad. You’re just a Dalton. I’m serious, though. I will check with Jerry if I have to.”
“He wouldn’t tell on me.”
“Would, too. He owes me for fixing his tire pressure gauge.”
Gregory slowly leaned his forehead to lean against the wheel. “Why...are you so good at everything? I feel like half the Burroughs owe you something or other!”
She smiled a little. “And I’d like to keep it that way. Go home, get some sleep, and don’t tell anyone about me or the school or the uniform or anything.”
“Fine.” He lifted his head and directed a wink in her direction. “Can I mention how unusually beautiful you looked today?”
Chiara rose an eyebrow, but could not help the tiny, suppressed glow that warmed the pit of her stomach, as it would to any girl who was just complimented for her looks. She knew she looked unusually fetching, though it was uncomfortable to begin with. Trini at the drugstore had gone all out; all natural face mask, hair removal, hand cleansing, plucked and threaded her darker eyebrows, pulled her wild tangle of wavy blonde hair into a fashionable messy bun, then the makeup. She had been coated with a foundation that matched her even, sun-tanned complexion and dusted with a fair blush that blended tastefully into her temples. Mascara surrounded her large hazel eyes, revealing the hidden colors that most did not care to see. She had drawn the line at the heavy eye shadow and cherry red lip gloss, establishing that her face was starting to feel heavy. It was somewhat fun, though.
The uniform, on the other hand, was ridiculous. The maroon, yellow, and black plaid skirt was too short for any realistic function, brushing her mid-thigh with the tulle petticoat and itching her bare legs horrifically. The black stockings stretched all the way up to her knee; the black flats were no good for running; the maroon and yellow blazer was impossibly starchy. Her mom had ironed the white blouse to sharp creased perfection and tied the maroon and yellow plaid necktie for her.
Why make girls wear neckties? That didn’t even make sense.
She patted her dad’s cheek. “You can keep thinking that, if you want to. I’ll see you tonight”
He sighed in satisfaction. “We’ll miss you, Cheech. But have fun!”
Chiara chuckled softly, sliding out of the car and pulling her backpack from the backseat. “Not likely.”
She swung her ancient, brown leather backpack over her shoulder. She drew in a long breath and joined the flood of irritating rich kids as they made their way into the school for the wealthy.
Instantly, it was a nightmare. The last time she had been here, she had been wearing her favorite beat up jeans and flannel over-shirt, thinking only about delivering the next package so her family could eat again. Then, she had learned what really happened behind the school’s electrified wall. Now she was a part of it. Her family had relied on the income of all three working members. Back then, work had been more important than school, and the public Burroughs high school did not come chasing after her to finish her homework. How would the Daltons cope now with only two sparse incomes and a part time job? She thought of Grant, wanting the leftovers of the rich school’s meals. That was unfair. He was literally eating the scraps of their table.
This school was willing to make people jump off of roofs and let twelve year olds starve in the Burroughs.
What was she doing here?
She slowly looked down at the campus map in her hand. It would have been nice to have had it when looking for the Humanities building. Now she knew where that was. Flocks of girls were heading in the general direction of tall, granite and glass buildings, but there was a good handful of them. The kids surrounding her, preschool through high school, seemed completely occupied with each other and barely noticed her. She was glad for that, but it was rather inconvenient for obtaining directions. Reluctantly, she followed the winding, cobblestoned paths marked on the map. The broad paths were lined with immense oak trees, wound all the way with strings of white lights that sparkled even in the day time. A classical piece of music, performed by an orchestra of string and wind and percussion instruments, emanated from hidden speakers everywhere, just as she remembered.
This was not a school. This was a castle.
Chiara’s head craned up as she came to a stop in front of the marked Home building. Her mouth opened just a little. It was one of the most elegant things she had ever seen, fashioned of speckled granite, polished steel, and stainless glass, reflecting the rising sun like a jewel. Streams of girls and boys were hopping up the stairs to the double doors, completely unphased by the sheer beauty of the building. Chiara shook herself. She probably should not be, either. Shifting her backpack over her shoulders, she marched up the stairs and reached the doors as another girl shouldered her way inside, violently shoving Chiara’s chest.
“Watch it!” she burst, spinning to face the newcomer. Chiara rubbed her bruised chest a little, stepping forward again to hold the door open. She gestured inside.
The girl’s mouth dropped open and her eyes flicked up and down Chiara’s figure. Chiara rolled her eyes, continuing to stand as the other young people made their ways inside. She knew it was coming sooner or later.
“Well, you’re rude, aren’t you?” the girl demanded. She tossed long, luxuriously shiny black hair over her shoulder. “Don’t you know who I am?”
Chiara’s eyebrows shot up and she barely caught the disbelieving scoff bubbling at her lips.
“No? Sorry if I’m not all up to date, but -”
“Oh wow, you’re really ignorant!” She blew upwards at her perfectly shaped bangs. “I’m Felicity Reacher!”
Chiara slowly nodded, pursing her lips. “Gotcha. Congratulations.” She looked inside. “Okay, if you’re not going to go in, I’m kinda cold, so-”
“You’re new. You’re so new or you would have completely understood! Reacher! My dad owns the EP production company!”
“Yeah, I know, Reacher For the Stars! I know who your dad is, okay? Now are you going in or not?”
She stood rigidly for another two seconds before flipping her hair once more and marching inside. Chiara ducked her head to her chest and laughed.
She had a feeling it would only get so much worse.
She made her way up to the second floor and slowly walked down the hall. The school was so selective that they did not need to worry about locker size. They were all enormous, practically the sizes of the walk-in closets every one of the snobs probably had. Chiara was glad of that. If she had to come here every day of the week, at least she did not have to be that close to another pompous purse who was offended at anyone who did not recognize her for her daddy’s accomplishments. The building, however, was undeniably gorgeous. Silver grey marble that clicked deliciously beneath shoes, mirrored walls that reflected the light of the small chandeliers hanging from the high ceiling every two yards. There was a lobby before the hall with an enormous window wall, a glass coffee table, and maroon leather couches complete with cupholders and massage options.
She found locker 214 and frowned a little. Embossed into the bronze door marker was her name in calligraphy, bold and rich as if she was one of them. Chiara Dalton. Shaking her head a little, she twisted the cold metal handle. The locker seemed specifically designed to her needs, with a top shelf obviously meant to be a bookcase, as it was already neatly packed with her semester’s textbooks, a section cut off with a hanger rack, and a mini cabinet already stocked with perfumes, lotions, and mints. It was even deep enough for a bike rack. She made a mental note to bring her bike the next day. Then she would not have to have her dad pick her up and waste precious gas.
A sheaf of stapled papers waited dangling on the inside of the door over the full sized mirror, a gold sticker with her name on it sticked it shut. Chiara tore it off and unfolded them, scanning the professional letter.
‘Welcome, Chiara Dalton.
We are happy to receive you at the Globe Academy and hope it and its many faculties meet your pleasure. You are encouraged not to hesitate to ask for assistance should you find yourself unsatisfied with anything the Globe Academy provides. Following is your class schedule, a map of the campus, and a directory to our additional faculties that may add to your enjoyment of your stay.
Thank you for choosing the Globe Academy.
President May Newhall’
Chiara felt her eyes narrow, watching her dense black lashes brush against each other. So one of the Collective families owned the school now. That was news to her. It also made her self-proclaimed mission to stay out of the limelight a little harder. May Newhall, the matriarch of the Newhall family and mother to one of the Collectives here at school, had condoned a commoner’s entrance to the Globe. She was willing to bet a lot of the kids would not be willing to let that sit untouched.
The question was how badly did she want to be here. Was it worth it to try and get a Collective card? Probably not, considering that these students obviously did not stop at hallway harassment when it came to obeying the word of the high and mighty Collective. But how far was too far in letting them get away with this kind of thing? She pursed her lips. Getting hurt was not a part of the plan, but neither was letting others get hurt now or later. For as long as she could remember, she had been the fighter. The Burroughs had never been famous for upkeeping the laws of the land, instead favoring ways they could climb higher up the caste rope. Chiara had always tried to be there for the less fortunate. With the fiery temper of her past, it had made her a lot of enemies, but a lot of friends, too.
Maybe she could do the same thing at the Globe.
Maybe Chiara the fighter was back.
She glanced down at her class schedule, then at the clock on the wall opposite the locker wall. She had an orientation for advanced chemistry in fifteen minutes. She would need all that time just to find the building. Chiara loosened her necktie and ran from the building.
Indoor maps were a little easier to follow, due to the room numbers, and she found the chemistry lecture hall in the Natural Science building without much trouble. Chiara slipped inside, shutting the door gently behind her. Levels of long desks and soft, reclining chairs ran up the tiers facing the stage and speaking podium. Behind it, an enormous projector screen covered the wall. Chiara pursed her lips in approval. If she could design a lecture hall, it would not have looked very different from this. As more teens filtered through, they grabbed the thick textbooks from the desk underneath the stage. She nodded to herself and took her own copy, studying the cover. She could not remember the last time she had studied chemistry, much less advanced chemistry. She shrugged Somehow, she would learn to cope.
Seats were filling up fast and she dropped into one in the front row. This would allow opportunity to prove herself one of these days, and professors never looked at the front row.
“You have got to be kidding me!”
She closed her eyes briefly. As if she had not been irritated enough that morning.
Felicity Reacher stopped in front of her, snapping a hand to her hip and swinging her weight to one side. This time, two other girls followed suit, all flipping majestically thick hair and pursing glossy lips. Chiara let her eyes skip between each of the three teens, raising her eyebrows again.
“Should I know your dads, too?”
Felicity’s jaw dropped and she rolled her eyes long and hard with a heavy scoff. “You continue to shock me with your rudeness!”
Chiara threw her arms open helplessly. “Okay, what do you want me to do? I’m looking not to offend people and I wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to address a princess the wrong way!”
One of the other girls braced her hands on her hips, narrowing her eyes. “Everybody here would know how to address a princess. I’m Miranda Grey, and this is Sophia Brendel. My parents are the top movie producers in Hollywood. Who are your parents?”
Chiara cocked her head, leaning her head on her palm with her elbow on the desk. She gestured helplessly with the other hand.
“Gregory and Angela Dalton.”
The last girl shook her head, perfect curls bouncing around her temples. “I don’t recognize the name. What do they own?”
Despite herself, Chiara chuckled a little. “Not much, aside from a lot of debt in lottery tickets!”
There was a long silence, then, as one, they released a scoff. Felicity took a whole step backwards.
“You’re not even an Up, are you?” she breathed. Her face contorted into true disgust. “Wow, you’re from the Burrough Downs, aren’t you?”
Chiara winked, not bothering to add a smile. “Bravo.”
“What is happening?” Miranda turned to the rows of desks behind Chiara, cupping her hands around her mouth. “Guys, we have a Downs kid among us!”
There was instant silence. Chiara twisted in her seat. All eyes were fixed on her. She turned forward again, opening her textbook to the first page.
“Wow, we’re going over natural ionic bonds already? Way to kick off the semester with a bang.”
Felicity opened her mouth again, but the professor, a tall skinny man in an impeccably brushed suit, hopped up onto the stage, spreading out note-taking materials on the podium. The three girls as one humphed and spun back to their desks up the tiers. Chiara released a sharp breath of relief, not actually reading the introduction to advanced chemistry. She knew this was not as bad as it could get, but it was so annoying. These were the people who made her somewhat grateful to be poor from a poor family living in the Burrough Downs. They were raised to disdain those who did not have everything they did and hold themselves at a higher caliber in everything.
Chiara was determined to show them up in something, however. She would prove that she could be better at something than an elite from the Burrough Ups.
Perhaps these classes were her chances.
“Good morning, class,” the professor droned into the fixed microphone, clicking a pen open. “And welcome to advanced chemistry. I trust you all had a good winter break. I know I did. First order of business,” He adjusted his glasses and looked up at the class. “I must introduce our newest addition to the Globe Academy.” He bowed his head a little. “Chiara Dalton, we are pleased to have you with us.”
None of the eyes had left her. Chiara bit her lip and nodded a little in acknowledgement. She felt a hand go up somewhere behind her, felt her ears burn.
“Yes, Miss Reacher?”
Chiara dropped her head.
“She’s a commoner from the Burrough Downs.”
A wave of mutterings washed over the class. Professor Creft’s response was swift and sharp.
“Do you wish to establish a point, Miss Reacher?”
“She doesn’t belong here! I mean, obviously she’s not-”
“She is a student personally invited by our gracious president and is to be treated as such. Is that understood?”
Again, there was a silence and Chiara finally went so far as to squeeze her hands into fists, focusing on every fingernail biting a little into her palms. Those fake, glued on fingernails from the drugstore that glimmered elegant silver. The things she had done for this stupid school.
A whispered agreement ran through the classroom. The fog of animosity was intense. Chiara slowly turned a glossy, advanced chemistry page. Professor Creft cleared his throat.
“Good. Everyone turn to page forty, please. If you all read through the syllabus, you’ll be familiar with the fact that we are starting where we left off at Structural Isomers. I hope you remember the basics, because we do not have the time this semester to be going over stuff you should already know.”
Chiara crumpled inside. Naturally. She knew nothing about advanced chemistry or Structural Isomers. She wondered if the president, May Newhall, the Collective, had any idea the classes would be like this. Of course she did. She was put there to fail. To make a fool out of the commoner.
Professor Creft starting writing nonsense notes on his podium, projected onto the screen behind the stage. Chiara clenched her jaw, flipped her pencil around her fingers and rapidly started copying down notes.
She would show them what a commoner could do.