• Sara looked around, trying to find her marks in these altogether new surroundings.

    She was so used to going from school to school by now that the class she was in right now, and which she'd entered for the first time a minute ago, seemed somehow familiar. The desks and chairs spread more or less evenly around the room, the wall decorated with cheap educational posters, the shelves at the back of the class, the white board at the front... All schools were basically the same, she'd discovered a while ago. Same environments, same curriculum... Same rules.

    The rules she was thinking about weren't the kind of rules you found in the papers the teachers gave you at the beginning of the year. Those were often disrespected. The aforementioned rules were the ones that weren't written anywhere, but somehow it seemed everybody knew and obeyed them. You could see their mark everywhere, from the way the tanned, outrageously made-up girls in the middle of the room stood upright, their head held high, giggling and talking loudly, to the way book-holding, whispering students had formed a small cluster in one corner of the room, which Sara identified immediatly as the "nerd corner." She'd seen it in every school since seventh grade.

    She stood close to the door, her backpack held tight in her thin hands. She looked around, unsure as ever as to what to do now she had entered the class. She wondered if she should go sit right now in one of the chairs, or if it would be preferable for her to wait until class started. She shook her head, making her blonde hair fly everywhere around it like a golden halo; when the long strands of hair fell back down, they hid her face quite well. She tried taking a few deep breaths, and locked her teeth to prevent them from chattering.

    When she raised her head again, her eyes were wide, but inexpressive, and her mouth was closed so tightly that it was actually a straight line.

    The bell rung. Sara looked around, trying to figure out which seats were taken and which ones weren't. Apparently, the seats at the back of the class were reserved for the kids she'd seen laughing loudly and illustrating whatever it was they were talking about with exuberant gestures. In short, for the popular kids. That was no surprise. She knew the rules, and she hadn't even been in the room for three minutes.

    Sara turned her steady gaze to the front of the class, where a bunch of kids were chatting quietly. She didn't want to go in the front, because she knew sitting there would increase her chances of getting interrogated by the teacher.

    Finally she found a seat that didn't seem to be taken. It was right in the middle row, and set close to the window. She sighed in relief and went to sit there.

    The teacher entered the room. She was a young woman, dressed in a strict business suit and holding a generic leather suitcase. Her black hair was pulled back in a tight, low ponytail. A typical teacher in a typical school. Who looked at Sara as soon as she came in, and seemed to realize there was an extra student today. Her eyes widened. Sara's heart started thumping loudly in her chest. Could they hear it? She threw an imploring look to the teacher, who was shuffling through a stack of pages she'd taken out of her now-open case, which she had set on her desk.

    She probably found what she was looking for, because she straightened up, put the papers down and cleared her throat, waiting for the noise level in the room to die down. The chatter stopped almost immediatly. A strict teacher, Sara thought. She could handle that.

    "Listen up, everyone. We have a knew student today. Her name is Sara Wells. I would like everyone to welcome her warmly, and..." The monotonous sound of the teacher's voice was drowned in the feeling of alleviation Sara was experiencing. The teacher -who was named Ms. Fidges, according to the schedule paper she was holding in her left hand- hadn't asked her to go to the front of the class to present herself. What a relief.


    By lunch time, Sara had gotten herself lost three times in the maze-like school hallways. She hadn't seen anyone who looked like they were going to help her if she asked, so she'd just walked until she found the right room. Teachers always forgave her, as it was her first day of school.

    When she came in the cafeteria, she looked around for a table to sit at. She realized that all tables were used, and a sharp pang of fear -not anxiety, just plain, ice-cold fear- shot through her. She tightened her grip on her tray and started chewing nervously on her lower lip. She didn't know what to do.

    Finally, a group of girls saw her and waved her over to their table. She smiled, and put her tray down next to a brown-haired girl with a huge grin, which was showing an assorted pair of braces. In front of her sat another girl. This one had funky pink glasses. Sara remembered her from her history class: Her name was Kailee.

    "So, you're Sara, right? The new girl? Kailee told me, like, everything she knew about you." The girl seating next to her seemed like the constantly excited type. Sara smiled in response.

    "Don't listen to her, Sara," Kailee said in a sweet tone. "I just told her you were in my history class and your name was Sara. By the way, this is Emily. Across from her is Meggan." An African-American girl with gorgeous, braided black hair waved at her. Sara, not knowing what to do, responded again by a tight smile. Tight, because her teeth were once again chattering, and she didn't want those girls to think she was a freak. So she locked her teeth and clamped her knees together. She was glad she was sitting, because all the trembling would have been noticed, had she been standing up.

    She ate her lunch quickly, answering all the questions asked to her by nods or headshakes or yeahs or nos. Fifteen minutes later -which was her very last limit- she stood up and tried another smile.

    "Uh... I've got to go... to see a teacher..."

    "Alright!" said Emily, with another big grin. "Do you want us to come with you?"

    "Um... No, thanks... Bye..."

    "Bye! See you in Art! You have Art with me, right?"

    Sara had already left.


    She closed the stall door behind her and slumped up against it. She let out a long sigh and, suddenly, she found herself crying. Tears were trailing down her cheeks like cold fingers lightly caressing her, and tickling her chin and soaking her blue t-shirt. Her shoulders were shaking with the force of her violent, but silent sobs as she tried to restrain herself the best she could. She could not think rationally. Her mind was clouded by the blind panic she always tried to hide in a corner of her mind when she was around other people. She couldn't... she just couldn't...

    "Hello? Is there someone in there?"

    Oh no. Oh God, no!

    Sara dried her face the best she could, tried to clam herself down at least a little, and opened the door.

    There stood a girl with dyed-black spiky hair and piercings and heavy combat boots and dark purple lipstick. She was quite short, but she probably was a senior. She looked concerned.

    "Are you alright?"

    Sara panicked. Had this girl heard?... Oh please, please please please PLEASE tell me she hasn't heard anything.

    "Uh, yeah, I'm alright." she replied.

    Then she left the bathroom without even looking back.


    As soon as classes were done, Sara picked up her backpack and practically ran out the door. Some people gave her weird looks, as if they were trying to figure her out, but already she was outside.

    Two minutes later she was on her bike, pedaling furiously to get home as soon as possible. Houses were passing her by at lightning speed, and she almost missed her own when she rushed past it. But then, she'd only lived there for a couple of weeks. And she knew she probably wouldn't stay for more than one month or two. So why bother?

    She took her keys out, opened the front door. The hall smelled like apples and firewood, and it was unfamiliar and she didn't like it. She swept past the unopened boxes that still filled the room, and went directly upstairs. She knew no one would be home. Her parents were both working, one as a business manager and the other as a pediatrician. Her brother had left for college two years ago.

    So there she was, alone in her own half-empty unfamiliar house, and a twinge of pain pierced her heart. She tried to chase it away before it did any damage, but it was too late. Her breaths became sharp and short, she chocked a little, and knowing no one was home, she allowed herself to let a small sob out. Her eyes were blinded by tears she refused to let go of. She dried them and, in a gesture that somehow seemed as valiant as the image of a knight in a shiny armor confronting a dragon, she started again climbing the stairs she'd stopped halfway through.

    The door to her room was right at the top of the stairs. She opened it and went inside, closing it back when she was in. She dropped her backpack on her desk, herself on her bed and her tears on her pillow.


    It was seven o'clock when her parents came back home for work. She had made dinner and was waiting for them with a [fake!] smile on her face.

    "Hello, honey. How was your first day of school?" asked her mother, kissing her forehead. "Did you make any friends?"

    "Yeah, I did. It was great, the school is very nice," Sara replied [fake!] casually.

    "Good," said her father, who was already sitting down in his chair. "Sara, you really shouldn't have made dinner. It's my, and your mom's, job."

    "It's alright." Sara contradicted [fake!] in a cheerful tone.

    During the rest of dinner, her parents discussed politics and economy and all the things that people her age know to be the most boring things on the planet. She didn't listen. She ate as quickly as she could and excused herself, pretending she had homework.



    Sara often laughed. Sometimes she faked it, sometimes she didn't.

    She did it when someone told her a joke, even if it wasn't funny. If she didn't, it would hurt their feelings, or they would think she didn't have a sense of humor.

    She laughed when she was embarassed by her family in front of other people. So they would think she didn't care.

    Most of those times, she was screaming and kicking and sobbing inside. But she never would do that in front of other people. She only did it in the confines of her room, or in the confines of her head.

    And then she laughed when she was alone and didn't know what to do about herself. Maybe laughing would give her the courage the coward she was lacked, she thought. It was better than crying, but the two, in her head, went hand in hand.
    Sara was lying on her bed, looking up at the ceiling. It was long past midnight, and the only source of light was coming from her alarm clock's tiny red numbers.

    Memories of the past day flashed in and out of her mind, and all peacefulness was lost again. The horrible, painful feeling of neverending dread overcame her again, and there she was, trying to find her breath, choking and crying and sobbing, and her pillow was getting wet, and then...

    The terrible, desperate dread continued on and on and on. The crying stopped. As brutally as they had started, her eyes stopped sprawling tears, and once again she found herself staring at the ceiling, trying to breathe normally.

    She couldn't.

    She was breathless.