Author's note: Welcome to The Guard! I'm looking forward to taking Meredith & co. through a marching season, so thanks to dutchesscourtney for letting me try her characters on for size, and also for all the encouragement she's given me so far. By the way, if you haven't read her fics (The Line, Keeping In Line, A Fine Line, and The Line Up) you are missing out. Seriously. Also, I know this chapter is smaller than what you're used to if you HAVE read dutchesscourtney's work, but be patient with me. I'm working my way up.

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The Guard

"Welcome, ladies, to your last practice before tryouts."

Meredith swallowed her last bite of chocolate bar hurriedly and wiped her hands on her black shorts. As she looked around, she noticed the the Guard girls from the past year sitting over to the side, talking in hushed tones as Christina addressed all of the potential Guard members for the coming year.

Some respect they show her. They act like they've already got their spots sewn up for next year.

Well, don't they? Who's going to take their place... you?

I might.

Come on. Every girl over there has been doing this for at least a year. Before tryout meetings started two weeks ago, the most you'd ever done was mess around with a practice flag when you thought nobody was looking.

But I've learned a lot, and I can find my place in formations with my eyes closed.

Meredith Price, upcoming junior, knew the road ahead of her was a tough one if she planned on getting one of the two spots on the Guard that would be left open by graduating seniors at the end of the year. There was only room for fifteen girls total in the elite corps, and thirteen of them were coming back. It was easy to see why; Brookwood's Guard was widely recognized as being innovative and fresh with their routines and visual effects. It was a prestige thing. As an added bonus, all the auxiliaries were blessed with figure-flattering uniforms while the rest of the band suffered through marching season covered head to toe in stuffy polyester. As a flute player, Meredith had had quite enough of that.

At the first meeting, twenty-three new girls had shown up, ready to practice. Two hours later every last one of them was exhausted, tired of perfecting drop spins, speed spins, and windmills. Only nineteen showed up to the second meeting, where they'd started working on the basic aerial. Four speed spins, toss on five, catch on seven, tuck into a left slam on eight. Meredith had gone home that afternoon with bruises all over her forearms from missed catches, but still practiced another hour in her backyard that night. At the third meeting, thirteen were present, all still nursing bruises and sore muscles. That was the practice in which they were actually taught the tryout routine, choreographed by the Guard instructor. Amy was fast-paced, a bit impatient, and expected perfection. Meredith silently concurred when she overheard one of thecurrent Guard members call Amy a bitch behind her back, but wouldn't dare voice that herself. Besides, the Guard member in question was Dana, a snotty gossip who fit the name rather well herself, in Meredith's opinion.

Can't get caught agreeing with Dana. Meredith almost laughed to herself, thinking about it.

"...So I expect all of you to get your routines clean and ready to go, because this is your last chance before tryouts tomorrow. As always, if you need assistance you can always come to me or either of the girls trying out for next year's captain."

Christina motioned to two upcoming seniors, a short blonde named Joy and a brunette just taller than Meredith named Charlotte. Mere had already taken a liking to Joy's demeanor and leadership, so she made a beeline for her as soon as Christina released them to warm up. Joy saw Meredith coming and shot her a smile, then spoke before Meredith could even open her mouth.

"Yes, I know you're nervous, so yes I'll humor you and watch you go through the routine."

Meredith couldn't help but laugh. Thank goodness Joy was around to take the weight off!

As she lined up three deep with the rest of the girls to go through the routine, she noticed Dana watching her carefully. All the nerves Joy had pushed away came back with major force, and Meredith had to grit her teeth to hold her concentration for the first sixteen counts or so. Then something happened, as it always did; Meredith lost herself in the movement of the flag and its large sweeps as she made it dance in the air. She let go of the pressure she knew she'd have to deal with at tryouts and just felt the music. It was a piece she loved from Pirates of the Caribbean; forceful and intense. This is exactly why she wanted to be on the Guard. This was it! Who cared what anyone else thought or wanted for her?

She pulled her flag down into a dramatic right slam, head tossed back, left foot extended to the side with pointed toes just as the music ended. End of the routine, end of the music, end of the escape. Slowly, Meredith lifted her head up again and looked over to Joy for approval. With a smile and a wink from the blonde, she got just that, but realized that she didn't really need it after all.

I can SO do this. I'm ready for tomorrow. I know it looked good because it FELT good

It might feel good to everybody else too, Mere. Don't get ahead of yourself.

Okay, fine. It's not like I was leaving practice early or something, I just got excited there for a minute.

She kept going over the routine again and again for the last hour of practice, loving the music and the swishing sound of the flag. She twirled, dipped, and tossed to the counts, then to the music, and to the counts again. After a quick reminder from Christina to show up fifteen minutes early for tryouts in full practice uniform, she rolled up her pink silk, grabbed her things, and headed for the door with a "See you tomorrow!" for Joy. Her enthusiasm was tempered, but she felt physically and mentally prepared for tryouts, no matter what came to pass. She couldn't wait to get home and call Bronwyn and Megan, her two closest friends in the world. She'd wait to call her boyfriend, Ben, after she got all her excited jitters out. He supported her, but didn't really get the thrill of the Guard and probably wouldn't want to spend an hour or so listening to herbabble about it.

Thoughts of her friends and her boyfriend distracted her just enough so that she didn't notice Dana leaning against the table by one of the practice rooms, arms crossed, shooting daggers at Meredith's back as she breezed through the door.