Disclaimer: It's not my sandbox. I own nada.
Rating: NC-17 (drug use, sex, language)
Chapter I: Incomparable Them
"Doing what rich people do is easy."
St. Olaf's Academy was the second most prestigious boarding school in the country and the outright the best co-educational boarding school. Anyone who was lucky enough to grace the hallowed halls would certainly be in competition for any number of Ivy League colleges.
Settled against a small lake in rural Massachusetts, the ivy-covered bricked and wrought iron buildings were nearly were dark and forbidding, while the manicured lawns, stone paths, and perfectly shaped bushes welcomed with just a hint or arrogance and the almost tangible aroma of money.
The students passing by were all blue-blooded, genetically gifted people; not just in intellect but in physicality. There were no genetic defects here; no bad hair cuts or skin marred with pimples. There were no Target-brand labels, no second hand sneakers, not a single wrinkle in their designer label clothing. Their jewelry was real and glittered even in the unusual, overcast weather. Thousands of dollars literally hung off the bones of slender, perfectly curved bodies; dollars that would be tossed into the back of a closet or shipped off to a goodwill store within the year, replaced with new couture.
And then there was me, standing outside the gates to paradise, looking woefully worse for the wear. I tugged at my over-starched, button-up shirt, wanting to feel sophisticated, wanting to fit in. But my poor grassroots stood out like a mustard stain against a silk tie, blue-collar might as well been tattooed on every pore of my skin. It seeped from me, like some sort of odor they all could smell that reeked with "not one of us."
And I was not one of Them. My almost waist-length, light brown hair was like coarse hay after a rain. I swear I could almost smell the mold coming off of me. My second hand, off-brand tennis shoes were recently clean, but I could still see the deadening of the white they once must have been.
At least during the week we would all wear uniforms, but there was no way for me to hide what I was on the weekends. The truth would come out.
I had carefully stacked my two suitcases in the middle of my room, not wanting my roommate (a Miss Jessica Stanley) to feel like I had swept in there and taken over the place by choosing a bed and a desk and a closet first. I ventured outside into the cloudy but warm day. I tied my knit sweater around my waist and began to explore my new home for the next three years.
Everyone walked in either pairs or groups, arms slung around each other as they reminisced over summers probably spent at some gigantic summer mansion on some very privatized lake resort. As they passed me, they split like the red sea, almost like I didn't exist except for as some pothole in their path. They glittered and shone. They dazzled and effortlessly charmed and intimidated. They looked right through the plain, naïve girl from a poor, small town as if I were invisible to Their jaded, bright eyes. They were the elite, and I would never be.
"Hey! New girl!"
My head snapped up. Maybe I was not so invisible after all.
"Yes?" I cringed at the sound of my unsophisticated twanging tones sounding so redneck next to the pealing bell tones of the supermodel pretty blonde girl in front of me.
"You're in Whitlock, right?"
The name of my dorm had me nodding automatically. "Yeah, I mean yes, room 302." Perhaps this would be my new roommate?
The girl nearly blinded me with her smile.
"Excellent! I'm so glad I caught up with you. Listen, I live in 307 and I was wondering if you would mind switching me. Jess and I are best friends and we lived together all last year, Dean Patricia must have been taking some cruel enjoyment in messing with our arrangement or something, I sear she has it out for me." Her brown eyes rolled in her head like mad. "So would you mind…"
I smiled meekly, knowing my face was deflating, nodding ever so slightly.
"Oh my god, you're the best. Thanks so much."
"Sure. I'm-" But my words died in my throat as the blonde scampered as best she could in the tiny little pink miniskirt she was wearing over to her group of friends. I could overhear her telling them that I had agreed. They cheered and moved on, leaving me behind.
"Man, that was brutal." A lingering male drawl came from behind me, sending goosebumps down my neck. No voice could make four words sound so slow and sexy but a southern one. I turned on heel, seeking out some sort of familiarity amongst this strange new world.
I nearly gasped at the gorgeous man who was standing there in a pair of caramel colored Abercrombie's and a dark blue button up, rolled at the sleeves, exposing honey-colored, sun-kissed forearms that were defined with sleek muscle. I don't know why those forearms were the first thing I saw, perhaps because he was so much taller than me, but when I did glance up at his face I froze like a statue.
His hair was a light brown with highlighted blonde tips, cut short but curling at the edges as it framed a strong jaw and chocolate eyes. His bone structure was square; his lips a tad too thin, but quirked up to expose perfect teeth. He wasn't very broad except in the shoulders, but he was a man solidly built.
His eyes were travelling over me as well, assessing every inch. I blushed and shifted slightly away, uncomfortable with how close he was.
"So you're the new sophomore." He mused in that perfect, slow drawl. I stared at the ground. "Got a bit of that southern belle sweetness in you, dontcha?" He grinned at me and I dared to look at him. He leaned in and I inhaled deeply. "Well anytime you want a taste of home, angel-face, you just let me know. I'll have you bent over my—"
I jerked away with a dismayed, horrified sound, blinking back tears of embarrassment. The man just chuckled and tipped an imaginary hat towards me before sauntering off. I turned on heel, walking away from the male laughter I could hear coming from his buddies. So stupid.
Tears were threatening, and so I walked as far away from the central quad as possible, not paying any attention to where I was going. By the time I stopped, well away from any laughter or prying eyes, I was on the farthest corner of the south end of campus, in front of a solitary three story building with the words Eliza Kelly carved in stone over the curved double doors. The music hall, named after some heiress who had graduated from St. Olaf's in the 30's and became a famous opera singer before catching her husband fooling around with the pool boy and slitting her throat. My tour guide had told me that when I visited last spring.
It was a sad looking building, and perfect for a solitary cry. I had no interest in choir or band, but the sound-proof practice rooms would be of great use to me.
I wouldn't let Them see me cry, wouldn't allow myself to be seen as weak and a doormat. I had studied for years to come to this school, skipped grades in elementary school, read high school booklists, memorized my timetable through the sixteens, and scrapped every leftover penny and dime together in a ceramic turtle to pay for room and board. I had begged my mother, who was always so disappointed in me, to let me have this chance if I was lucky enough to get a scholarship. I had been crushed last year when I hadn't been selected, that the money had gone to some other girl who probably didn't want or need it as badly as I did.
When the news came in April that the girl would not be returning to St. Olaf's, I was elated. It might have been a year later than expected, but I was going. I hadn't even thought to wonder why the other girl would leave such a place. I now had a fairly good guess.
But I wasn't leaving. They might be glamorous and bright and ten trillion times better than I was, but this was my shot, and I wouldn't leave. Cry, yes. Leave? Not over my dead body.
And so I trudged to the third floor, where a long corridor of practice rooms awaited. I tried the first two, both locked. I sniffled and pushed at the ornate doorknob on the third. It pushed open.
I heard a belated gasp of surprise as I barged in, but it was too late. My tears were falling, making my vision swim, a shimmer of gold and black swirling through the tears.
I blinked furiously and the gold became long, flaxen waves of hair, the kind I had always wanted as a child. The black became a baby grand piano with the lid down, just sitting there in its' majesty, waiting on someone with the skill to play it.
But the golden-haired goddess was not playing it. Instead she was sprawled out on top of the piano, clothes askew, twitching and shivering in a tight ball. Her head had risen when I barreled through the door, hair falling in her face.
She was wearing the school-mandated uniform of white dress shirt, navy tie with the St. Olaf emblem, and navy and green plaid skirt. Her fingers were clenches tight in the study material of her skirt, her tie was yanked at and crumpled, and her once perfectly pressed shirt was horribly wrinkled and damp with sweat. That odor of sweat filled the tiny room, even though she was shivering.
I gaped at the fallen angel.
"Get. Out." The words were grounded out from beneath clenched, chattering teeth. She couldn't even hold her head up long enough to look at me as she collapsed back onto the piano.
"S-sorry." I turned to leave, bringing the door shut behind me. Clumsily, in my panic, my foot stayed in the doorway, causing the door to bounce back open loudly.
A low groan came from the slumped over girl. "Don't go."
I was positive I had misheard her. "What?" I asked softly.
"I need. H-help." She let out a low whimper of pain, trying to lift her trembling body up. I rushed to her, grabbing her shoulder and she shifted onto her back, her damp, messy blonde tresses floating around her like a magnificent, dirty halo.
Her face was as exquisite as the rest of her, even under the circumstances. Dark, plump lips were cracked and bitten, and the lightest blue eyes I had ever seen stared back at me, surrounded by red veins. There were swollen circles from crying under her eyes, but her long lashes were still attention-grabbing. Her cheekbones were high and her nose haughty, she was the epitome of what I imagined a future housewife to a billionaire looked like. She was a trophy, but a trophy in a great deal of pain.
I knew, intuitively, that this was not a girl who asked for help easily. She was not someone who admitted to having any flaws or weaknesses, much less ones that would cripple her like this. She wouldn't have asked me to stay if she wasn't desperate—and scared. And even if under different circumstances, she would make my self-confidence nonexistent and make fun of my JC Penney clothing, I was not so cold-hearted to make her suffer alone.
"Are you sick? I could fetch the nurse."
She shook her head vehemently. "Not sick."
I took her in bloodshot eyes and her tiny, tiny pupils. I exhaled loudly. "Are you-are you on something?"
Her eyes closed tightly. "Not anymore."
I swallowed roughly. Sure, I knew kids did weed and drank. But actual drugs that couldn't be grown on the roof of some run-down apartment building? I was in way over my head.
"How can I—what can I do?"
She shook her head at me again. Nothing. Nothing but sit here and wait it out with her.
"How long have you been here?" She would have been in her uniform for the official welcoming banquet I had missed last night.
"What time is it?"
"Since since 7. There was a party in Edtin."
Edtin was the grubbier half to West Ealing Lakes, the upper crust of rural living in Massachusetts. The public school was in Edtin if I remember correctly. I had been driven through both this morning after taking the red-eye.
"You're freezing. Here." I unwound my white knit sweater from my waist and draped it over her. She clutched at it, though we both know it wasn't doing any good. She nodded a thank you to me.
"We need to get to your room."
"They would see." Her use of the incomparable "They" was not reverent like mine; instead it was filled with venom and scorn.
"You can't lay on a piano all day. How did you get in here in the first place?"
She had a key to the music hall?
"I'm guessing you don't come in here to practice your arias." I said dryly. I could just imagine how beneficial it was to have access to a soundproof room anytime you wanted. She choked on a laugh.
"Sister Anch-chilla is blind as a bat. Kids I know stole her keys. They made copies."
The infamous They again. "Are you a They?"
She swallowed roughly and licked at her lips. "Not. Anymore."
I frowned. Was she expelled from them because she was using? Or had they kicked out for another reason? Or just possibly, could that distain in her voice earlier mean she had been the one to remove herself from Their presence?
I sat there, watching her struggle, watching her fight, for two hours. Neither of us spoke, neither made a sound. I watched from the piano bench and slowly the shaking quieted and the cold sweat on her brow disappeared. As she raised herself to a sitting position I offered my assistance in helping her to the hardwood floors and she clutched my hand tightly, gratefully. We eased into the hallway, her breathing tight and tired as she handed me the key I hadn't noticed in her fist, the notches in the key breaking the skin of her palm. I dutifully locked the door and handed the key back. Of her own will she took my hand and we walked to the giant staircase. She slung an arm around my shoulders and we painstakingly maneuvered through three flights of stairs. She groaned in relief as we exited the building into the fresh air. Belatedly she tugged at her ruined shirt and grimaced.
"Why were you at a party in your school uniform anyway?"
"I wasn't. The party came to me." Her voice was hard.
"I'm heading to Whitlock." It was a statement obviously disguised as a request for help in that direction. I hid a smile in the face of her pride.
"Me too." I murmured as we walked off the path, hoping to avoid people. Her hand still clutched mine.
"You're not a freshman?" She was surprised; it was a look that didn't sit well on her face.
"Thank god. What room are you in?"
"Um…307 I guess." Now that I had been walked all over like a doormat.
She nodded mutely. We reached Whitlock Hall after a healthy walk and made our way into the elevator with only a few witnesses to our plight. She didn't stop to talk to any of them, though they were looking curiously at us. I didn't blame them. Even rumpled and sick, she was beautiful. I was now sweaty too, and still just as plain and out of place.
She finally released my hand to press the buttons for three and five, the top floor where you could pay for your own private suite. Of course she lived on fifth.
We rode in silence until the doors opened on my floor. I didn't look at her as a exited the tiny elevator, so obviously built well after the original building.
"Thanks." I turned at her voice, surprised. I hadn't been expecting her to even acknowledge me ever again. "Seriously. I wouldn't have blamed you if you had gone running out of there and well…I'd probably still be up there shaking. I just—thank you." Her eyes were solemn and humbled. I had humbled the golden goddess. I was speechless. I just nodded and turned back to the long hallway of hell awaiting me.
My ears were waiting for the doors of the elevator to ding shut. They didn't. I turned back around to find her standing in the doorway of the elevator a hand extended into the hallway, towards me.
"I'm Rosalie." Of course she was. She was destined for beauty.
I retread my steps and took her hand, noting how the French tips were now mangled and bitten. Another flaw on what should have been perfection. My own small fingers wove into her longer ones.