~*~Chapter One~*~

I glanced into the mirror and decided that I looked like ten kinds of a fool. The knee socks were itchy, the skirt was too short, wearing a tie felt like asphyxiation and the sleeves of the shirt were too long for me. I sighed, regretting this decision already. I hadn't worn a skirt since I'd been a little girl and I hadn't liked it then either. I hastily wound my long hair into an untidy knot at the back of my neck before jamming a bunch of metal hair pins in to hold it. I grabbed my school bag and left my room.

Since mom and dad were both downstairs, I slipped into Alex's room. Not a thing had been touched. I sat down on his bed and ran my fingers over his Spiderman comforter. Above his bed hung a picture he'd drawn of me and him for his 'Person You Love Most In The World' Friday afternoon drawing project. We were both eating ice cream in his tree house and my hair was purple since he'd traded his black crayon for a silver one from his best friend Peter who lived down the street. Peter, who would still come to the door asking to play with Alex because he didn't really understand that death was forever.

"I miss you Chief," I said softly, using his favorite nickname. "I'll be thinking about you today."

I went downstairs and left my schoolbag by the doorway. In the kitchen, mom stood beside the stove, waiting for her tea to boil. She gazed out the window, at the tree house in the backyard, her eyes vacant. Dad was at the table, the morning paper spread out before him. Beside him, his breakfast was untouched. As I entered, they both looked up.

A pinched smile that looked painful instead of cheerful worked across mom's pallid face. "You look all grown up now." She turned back to her tea, as if she couldn't bear to look at me any longer.

Dad said nothing. He just went back to reading his paper.

I drank a glass of milk before making a cheese, peanut butter and lettuce sandwich. I shoved it into a bag with a Juice Pack and an apple. "I'm going now," I said, putting my glass into the sink.

Mom nodded and dad nodded and neither said a word. I put my lunch into my school bag, took out my bus pass and put on a pair of black, clunky construction-style shoes since they were the only black shoes I had. It didn't matter since I figured no one would pay much attention to me.

The bus stop was a five minute walk and I only had to wait a few minutes before the number 18 came along. The bus was crowded with early morning office-goers and noisy school kids. I managed to get a seat beside a fat, blond woman. The trip would take at least twenty minutes or so, being as Arlington Academe was across the city in the wealthy South end. I dug out Dante's Paradise and began to read. I though about Alex and I imagined that he was watching me from one of the Heavens or from the Celestial Rose itself. The latter was unlikely but I liked the image all the same.

I had only been to Arlington once to register and both Mrs. Cherrybrooke and my mom had been with me then. The school was a large, brick building that sprawled across an expanse of tree-dotted, rolling hills that were flanked by woods on then one side and a meandering brook on the other. At one point, the Academe had been a devout Catholic institution so that statues of Saints and paintings depicting Biblical scenes weren't uncommon. Because Arlington was the number one Private School in Canada, there were lavish dormitories situated on the west side, an extensive Government-approved historical library, renowned music and art wings as well as a completely new gymnasium and sports facility. On the one hand I supposed I was lucky to be given a chance to attend such a prestigious school...on the other hand I couldn't bring myself to give two shits.

The school was a lot different when filled with milling, uniformed students. It didn't seem quite so imposing. The welcoming lectures for the lower grades, 7-9, had just finished and the one for 10-12 would be soon starting. I followed a crowd of loud kids into the auditorium and found a seat near the back. In front of me, a couple of girls compared tans while beside me a bunch of jock-type boys talked about how much sex they'd had over the summer. I hugged my schoolbag and sighed. I was surrounded by shallow idiots. This was a great start to what would no doubt be a stupid year.

The Principal, Vice Principal and Guidance Counselor all gave long, boring speeches about upholding the school's honor, decorum and academic standards. The talks lasted a good forty minutes before we were finally dismissed. Schedules had already been mailed home the previous week and so everyone headed off to their homerooms, something I hadn't had in my old high school. I found the room with relative ease, noting that my homeroom teacher was also my English Lit. teacher. The room was bright and sunny and a large window afforded a clear view of the campus and the city in the distance. I sat in the back, beside the window and stared outside.

I wanted to go home very badly then. I wondered if this was how pets felt, living in a cage and wishing to be free. I could see a few people hovering by the steps of the Math corridor, smoking and laughing. They looked happy. I decided that I hated them as much as I hated this school.

"Avery?"

The sound of my name, here in this setting, startled me, rather badly I'll admit. My head snapped towards the voice and I half expected a teacher to be pointing at me, about to shriek that I didn't belong here, I was too poor and not good enough. Instead of a teacher though, a tall, attractive boy with brown hair was looking down at me.

"What?" I narrowed my eyes. "How did you know my name?"

He blinked, looking surprised. "We met in the cemetery yesterday, remember? I'm Markus French."

"Oh." Silently I cursed Mrs. Cherrybrooke. The last thing I wanted was to make buddies with some dumbass rich boy.

The boy wasn't daunted by my abrupt response. "So who were you visiting yesterday?"

Anger was quick to boil at his words. Had Mrs. Cherrybrooke deemed him too young and innocent to know what her precious Ralph had done to my brother?

Or did this guy know and just wanted to hear me say it? I scowled, wanting nothing more than to smash his smug face in. "None of your fucking business," I snapped, inwardly gloating at the astonished look that spread across his face. He was probably the type of rich jackass that no one ever dared to contradict and so, because he was too friggin' stupid to know that he was surrounded by sycophantic leeches, he always got his way.

I don't know what he would have said in return to me because a gaggle of blond girls entered then and made a beeline for the back of the room. They saddled up to him in a cloud of perfume and began gushing. I rolled my eyes and hated this school some more.

"Oh my god I haven't seen you all summer Markus," one girl cooed.

"Like I know!" another girl chimed in. "I only just got back from Tahiti yesterday morning."

Talks of exotic vacations bubbled up. Markus, before allowing himself to be lead away, caught my eye. "See you around, Avery."

I ignored him and instead busied myself with taking out my binder and pencil. One very pretty girl with long, pale hair and thick, black eyelashes gave me a dirty glare as she went by.

"What a goddamn freak," she told the girl next to her.

"I hate this place," I muttered, knowing that that was going to become my mantra.

The teacher, a Mr. Jarrell, arrived a few minutes after the bell rang. He was very young, only about twenty-four or twenty-five. He took roll call and then began to outline what material we would be covering this term. Most of it I'd already read since I was an avid reader so I tuned out and began daydreaming.

I only had one daydream these days and it involved me murdering Ralph Cherrybrooke. Sometimes the violence of my fantasies surprised me but I felt more than justified. Plus I listen to a lot of death and gore metal so what could anyone expect? The idea of murder didn't horrify me and that was enough for me to know how far gone I'd sunk. In my daydreams, I'd somehow force my way into Ralph's cell and slay his feeble body. In my mind, he'd been subjected to all the prison atrocities that are known and so he wasn't able to resist me slashing this throat or strangling him or whatever my mood dictated. It wasn't any less than what he merited anyhow. And then it wouldn't matter what happened to me afterwards because that wasn't the important part...Alex was. He deserved to be remembered and to be served justice. Everything else was insignificant.

The morning dragged by sluggishly. I daydreamed and doodled a lot. It didn't take long for me to realize that my class was made up of mostly teenybopping, spoiled assgoblins. It seemed that everyone was obsessed with bragging, relationships or themselves. It was all so shallow and pointless and it became quite obvious that I wasn't going to fit in at all. Unlike my old high school, I was stuck taking all my core subjects with the same group of idiots. Only my elective subjects would be with different people who'd also chosen to take what I had but I didn't have any of those until tomorrow.

When lunch finally rolled around, I was so tired that I ended up on the upper floor of the library. I found a cubicle in the back and slept for the entire hour. The afternoon dragged by as slowly as the morning had and once again, I read more Dante than I paid attention. By the time Global History, the last class of the day came to pass, I was ready to kill someone...preferably the annoying, giggling bips who constantly flirted and cooed with all the attractive boys of the class.

Instead of individual tables, the History classroom was furnished with tables for two and I found myself sitting in the back next to a skinny boy with spiky, red dyed hair. I had noticed him throughout the day, not only because of his vivid hair coloring but because he was the only other person who sat completely alone in every class. I wonder if he thought two loners would cancel each other out.

After the usual introductory spiel and roll call, the teacher began to write notes upon the board. As I copied, I noticed that the punky guy beside me kept sneaking looks at me. This went on for a good fifteen minutes or so and when the teacher paused to hand out papers, I was pissed enough to confront him. "What the hell is your problem?"

He started and flushed, so that his face matched his hair. He hastily looked away while gesturing to my copy of Paradise. "I was just kinda surprised to see someone else reading Dante. He was a cool guy."

Of all the things I expected him to say, it certainly wasn't that. I was more surprised than I ought to be, which made sense since I hadn't anticipated anyone to actually be nice to me. I was awkward in my answer.

"I read a lot ," I muttered lamely.

He didn't seem to notice. "Not a lot of people around here are too into reading, in case you haven't noticed. This is your first year here, isn't it? I haven't seen you before."

I nodded, fidgeting with my pen.

"I'm Brent Hardy," he said and smiled.

"Avery Marks."

And in that way I suppose I made a tentative friend.