Chapter One: Princely Princess
Thom's car was full of junk.
There were empty CD cases, receipts, t-shirts, a pair of faded black rubber thongs, several McDonalds takeaway bags, magazines, a stained green tie, two unopened tissue boxes, old detention slips, and two bottles of coke in the backseat. Al knew that if she opened the glove compartment; pens, a creased sci-fi novel, a pocket dictionary, empty chip packets and half a deck of cards would readily fall into her lap.
For all the contents inside his car, Thom was ironically missing a pair of sunglasses, an air freshener and the essential collection of coins. Disgusted and annoyed, she waited for her twin. Thom may have been the smartest student in Corus High, but he lacked any sense of punctuality or organisation. Among other things. His red hair was currently dyed too blonde, and clashed horribly with his darker eyebrows and violet eyes.
As he made his way to the car, a large drop of strawberry jam from his toast fell onto his new white shirt. Al snorted as she watched her brother smudge it with his pinkie, effectively making it worse, before he shoved the rest of his breakfast into his mouth.
Getting in behind the wheel, he started the engine. Sensing her irritation, he shrugged in apology. "Sorry, sis. My shampoo ran out and I had to run upstairs to get a new bottle from your bathroom."
Al was glad she wasn't in the house to see that. "You should set your alarm and buy your own stock of shampoo."
He grinned, "My alarm doesn't work and you're there anyway. Besides, you don't use flowery shampoo, so we can share. We're family!" He just about whistled the last part as he narrowly missed crushing the side view mirror of their neighbour's flashy convertible.
"Whatever." Al hissed, grabbing onto her seat. Thom was a reckless driver, but he managed to escape unscathed every time. The same applied to his friends. Speeding tickets, skid marks and close calls in running over pedestrians were regular occurrences. A stranger might have taken Thom for a studious nerd, but what they didn't know was that he was a regular member of the upper circle of their school's social scene. It was a shame that his sister stayed away from his friends—but both Trebond siblings knew it was a perfectly good and reasonable arrangement.
Thom, because he didn't want any embarrassment or any complications. And Al, because she wanted her hymen and all her brain cells intact. She may not wear skirts, but at least she still had her dignity. Her fellow female peers were reduced to desperate giggling idiots each time Thom's friends walked by. It was expected, typical and thus extremely pathetic.
Thom had once thought the same, and Al was left to wonder why Thom had chosen to join the enemy. But looking at his carefree and slightly wild nature, she knew that popularity was the main benefit for him, as well as what Thom insisted were "good, loyal friends despite what you think, Al." Al didn't believe that last one, but at least his elevated status eliminated any chances of the bullying Thom had suffered up until the end of junior high.
She couldn't help it if she was the sportier twin. At least Thom got the brains of the family, so he never had to worry about failing a test. The big world was interested in what prestigious university one attended, how much money one made—and hence could give. Unfortunately, they didn't give a damn if one were the reigning State Swimming Champion for the past four consecutive years.
Whenever Al used this tactic to cheer up her brother, she somehow ended up being the depressed one. While Thom brightened to the point of gloating, Al would fire back that at least she wouldn't drown in a flood or at the beach. And so the cycle would begin again.
Al could have taken a more lovingly and sisterly approach to motivate Thom. But Alanna Marie Trebond did not do emotions any more than she did dresses, make-up or shopping. She figured there were enough girly girls around her everyday to fill in that quota. As long as people let her be and engaged her in intelligent conversation from time to time, then she was a happy chappie with a tight and willing control over her pet temper. Less disaster for others, less detention for herself. All in all, it promised an equilibrium made of win.
They passed through four sets of traffic lights and ten roundabouts before they made it to school. Al's irritation levels went up as they encountered traffic they wouldn't have if Thom hadn't woken up forty minutes late. Thankfully there were no major dramas, and the lines of cars moved quickly after a short while. Al's sour mood lightened once they pulled into one of the last remaining parking spots, and realised they had some five minutes to spare before the first bell.
Making sure she had no crumbs or stains on her clothes—she never knew when it came to Thom's car—she grabbed her backpack and strode into school. She left Thom behind, knowing he had to find a pen and spare paper in his junkyard of a car to use for class. She hoped he remembered to lock the doors before leaving, but wasn't too worried since no one in their right mind would even think, let alone want, to nick that dumpster.
Once she entered the hallways, she sighed. The crowds of students were painfully not moving and she had to push her way through in order to reach Doug's locker. A freshman girl accidentally bumped into her on the way, and the girl gave Al a dirty haughty look. No doubt the pretty thing was appraising Al based on her get up. Used to this kind of meeting, Al summoned up her best wicked smirk before the freshman was off with a squeaky huff.
Al Trebond never apologised unless it was for a worthy reason. She might have been a tomboy, but she was still part of Corus High's social hierarchy, and even new pretty faces still had to learn the dos and don'ts.
She purposely slammed into the locker next to Doug's, but when he didn't so much as blink in surprise, she raised an impressed eyebrow. "You're getting better."
Pointedly looking at her, he dropped his bag into the locker. "I've known you for too long, Al. Your dramatics don't faze me at all anymore."
"Really, now," she said, while staring at his new buzz. She'd known Douglass Veldine since she was ten years old, and never had his long dark hair ever been moved from its same combed-back position.
"Yep. Hey, I got this for you." He handed her a nice black leather belt, and her attention was momentarily diverted. The belt had a large square buckle covered in glittering silver thingies. He laughed once he saw the look on her face. "I know the diamond buckle isn't your style, but you were complaining about needing something a little loud but practical. I saw this in a store in Sydney, and thought you might like it."
"I do. Thanks, Doug. Just give me a few weeks to settle with the sparkle." He laughed again, and she put the belt in her backpack. Doug and his family usually went to Australia during the summer for a month to visit his mother's family. As his best friend, she usually always received a souvenir. Years ago, he brought her back a stuffed koala, only to learn that Alanna Trebond did not find stuffed animals or koalas 'cute'. The next year, they both bonded over the pocket knife he gifted her with, and from then on, they had been best friends.
"So what's with the hair, Veldine?" Al asked him. "Now your dandruff is gonna shower down like snow flakes."
"I don't have dandruff, you douche." Doug replied, unfazed by her teasing. "I thought it was about time for a new look."
"You don't look any different. You're still the same asshole," she assured him and patted his prickly head. "Yep, still the same! Only less hair. Does that mean you're less of a total ass?"
"Ha ha. So funny!" He mocked, and punched her in the shoulder at the same time that the bell rang. Wincing slightly, she gave him the finger as he shut his locker and they made their way to homeroom.
Greeting their peers, they chose seats near the back of the room. Sacherell Wellam was tall, blonde, and green-eyed and had saved two seats for Doug and her. Zach, as he preferred to be called, shook his finger when Al took the seat on his right. "There go my hopes! I thought you might have had a sudden epiphany during the summer and would rock up at school looking like a princess."
"In your dreams," Al said while she watched in amusement as their homeroom teacher walked into the room, looked down into his coffee mug, and walked back out. Mr Olau couldn't go through the morning without his caffeine. She was glad that he would be their homeroom teacher this year. She turned to Zach. "I'd do that as much as you want to be called Sacherell, Sacherell."
He cringed. "No thanks, princess. I'll stick to Zach."
"You're just in need of some drama," Doug informed Zach.
"As if I don't have enough of that at home." Zach sighed. He was referring to his living arrangements with the Naxens. Mr Naxen was the Vice Principal, and his son Gary was one of the most popular seniors. Zach was a family friend whose parents were often overseas more than they were home, and as a result he had picked up on Gary's love for flair, attention and drama. "But Al is a constant source of entertainment. So much potential, Al."
"And you waste yours being such a gossip." Al shot back, ignoring the two boys' smirks.
Mr Olau wondered back into the classroom at some point in the next fifteen minutes. He reminded them of general administrative policies, and warned them not to be late nor to skip classes so he didn't have to worry about the paperwork involved.
Towards the end, he asked Zach and another two guys to help him put up posters and a gigantic wall map of the world. Al was unfortunately missing the height needed to accomplish such a task. Some of the girls helped put spare textbooks on the empty shelves. Mr Olau was almost as disorganised as Thom, but he was the best history teacher in the entire school. He was also the only one who could beat Thom in chess.
"Let's hope this year will be a whole lot more interesting," she told Doug wistfully. Her friend sighed in agreement. Famous last words, Trebond. Famous last words.
Most of the day went by pretty quickly after that. First day of classes were usually pretty laid-back, and teachers just went over rules and introduced the topic that would be covered under the syllabus. Her usual first set of periods were replaced by a school assembly that welcomed them all to a new school year, yada yada. There were quite a few new staff and teachers joining them, but Al paid no attention.
She spent the time staring at her new belt and its shiny buckle, and figuring out when the hell she'd be able to wear it. She texted her manager back to say that she couldn't fill in because there was volleyball tryouts after school, and Thom had yet another commitment he had to attend because he was some sort of genius or whatever. Her car was nonexistent, and she hated catching the bus. She couldn't rely on her father to pick her up and drive her to work either.
Lunch and the last part of the day were unexciting. It only got interesting during volleyball tryouts, wherein Al was amazed at the number of unqualified girls who showed up. Josaine Isles, a blonde junior who had transferred from some private school halfway through last semester mocked Al's short stature and suggested that Al should have tried out for the boys' team. Al had been one of the first people to befriend Josaine—a feat in itself since Al had only few female friends, and even fewer ones with Josaine's loveliness (blech). But as soon as the other girl latched onto Thom's group of friends, she ditched Al and the rest of them to promote short skirts and brainless babble.
It made Al's day when she accidentally spiked the ball straight onto an oblivious Josaine's powdered nose. That effectively shut the other girl up, and made sure that her nose wouldn't be perpetually stuck in the air for the next week. It took very little and simple things to make Alanna Trebond happy.
Putting someone in their place was one of them.
She was looking for Thom's car when she heard two girls giggling in a playful way. It grated on Al's ears as much as the small raindrops splashed on her skin. That meant only one thing. Either Gary Naxen or Raoul Goldenlake was in the near vicinity. Al wouldn't be surprised if the weather wanted to announce their royal presence. Desperate to find a distraction and save herself from hearing the ensuing flirtation, she picked up as soon as Thom rang her mobile.
"Where the heck are you?" Al demanded.
"Calm down, Al. I finished up my after-school tutoring, but Dad called me to pick him up from the airport. I'm still on the way. You're going to have to catch the bus."
A tick developed on her left brow. "And you felt it only necessary to tell me this after I called to find out where you are? Didn't you see the clouds and think that maybe your kid sister might be caught out in the rain with no ride home?"
"Sorry." Her twin whimpered. "And 'kid' sister? We're only three minutes apart. But Dad—"
"Don't worry about it. I'll find a way home by myself." She gritted her teeth when the two girls' giggling turned into painful screeches.
"Awesome , sis! I'll call you when I get to the airport to make sure you're still ali—" Al shut her phone, only to flip it open again and dialed.
"Hello?" The voice on the other end was groggy, and Al knew her cousin had just woken up.
"George! You're still asleep? It's nearly five!"
She heard some shuffling as he yawned. "Be thoughtful 'Lanna. I work late, you know that."
"Fine. Can you do me a favour?" She waved goodbye to a few of her friends as they exited the parking lot.
"Can you pick me up from school? Thom's on his way to the airport to pick up Dad, and God knows what time the bus will get here."
"Gimme one good reason why. I should go back to sleep and be wide awake for work tonight."
The rain was falling heavily now and she had no umbrella. Besides, when did it rain during summer? She growled. "Because Cooper, I could tell Tay that you, oh preppy college student, have a crush on her too."
She bared her teeth even though he couldn't see her. "You know I would."
"You're a pain in the ass, 'Lanna. I'll be there in ten."
"Make it eight, Cooper." And he hung up as soon as water soaked her baseball cap. She was about to turn to run back into the building when a huge bright orange umbrella fell over her in a shadow. Surprised, she found Jon Conte standing next to her. Random, was her first immediate thought. Awkward, was the next.
But it explained the giggling bimbos who left a few minutes ago. Heaven forbid a hair be out of place when in The God's presence.
At her confused look, he gestured towards the doors leading back into school. It was pretty far from the lot where she was standing. "Thought you might need the umbrella."
She considered saying no, but she nodded and deliberately chose to keep her mouth shut. They walked the distance easily an arm's length apart, but that was fine with her. The umbrella was big enough and Jon Conte was a person she liked to keep her space from. But she wasn't stupid enough to decline his offer of dryness.
When they reached the doors and some shelter, she glanced at him quickly. "Thanks."
"No worries." He was just as clipped as she was.
He shook out the umbrella before leaving it open to dry on the ground. She waited for him to leave, but he surprised her again when he chose to sit against the opposite wall, a safe distance away. He had been to her house twice before, but both times she had locked herself in her room and let Thom entertain his friends.
She supposed it was a bit rude, but that was life. She wasn't there to entertain the school's elite. Jon Conte may have been the King of Corus High, but she bowed down to no one. Not even him. This probably explained their relationship. They neither disliked nor liked one another. Jon Conte didn't scare of enamour her.
But he did mystify her in an odd way. Those clear ocean blue eyes made her feel violated.
They spent the next few minutes in silence. They hadn't really spoken to each other in their whole school life except for the occasional nod of greeting during social events outside of school that both their fathers attended. So when George's shiny bronze Eclipse rolled into the parking lot at 5.05, Al was only too glad to escape.
"Your carriage has arrived, princess." George drawled as his window slid down. Al snorted, knowing that her Vans, cargo pants, checkered shirt and cap only emphasised her tomboyish preferences. As she made her way to the passenger seat, she missed George's salute to Jon Conte.
"More like a pumpkin." She amended, unimpressed. She put on her seatbelt, having learnt the lesson that George and Thom shared the same love for fast, berserk driving. "And you're the lowly footman." At least she could find the seatbelt in George's car.
As he exited the school grounds, Al turned to see that Jon Conte had disappeared. She discarded him from her mind just like she always did. The King of Corus High was a scarily smart, handsome devil. It was just too bad Al didn't give a damn.
She had better things to spend her time on.
Such as her father's impending return. She fiddled with the radio, until she found a station that agreed with her.
"Your dad's back, huh?" George said with sympathy.
"Yeah. Daddy's back, at last."
"What? Two, three weeks this time?"
Al shrugged. "It doesn't really matter. He'll be gone before the end of the week, anyway."
"Maybe he'll stay longer this time." George was only trying to be comforting. Al didn't take that for granting.
She looked out the window, and touched her hat unconsciously as an orange car drove past. "I doubt it."
"Want some grub? My treat," he asked a few seconds later as they approached Jo's Diner. She didn't bother answering since he was already easing his beloved Eclipse into a parking spot. She would have preferred to have taken a shower before eating, but George was the driver and who was she to complain?
As she got out of the car, she spied a familiar girl dressed in what was probably designer white jeans and a really sparkly black top that stung Al's retinas. The girl was with her friends, but only a blind man would miss the obvious fact that the girl's raven hair and perfect face marked her as the most beautiful girl in the entire diner.
Smirking, she shoved her hands in her pockets and taunted her cousin, "Oh I see. Has your sudden gracious offer to feed me for free have anything to do with a certain high school girl known as Tay?"
He glared as he tucked his shirt into his jeans. "I have no idea what you're talking about, princess."
"Say what you want, Georgie-boy. But you never offer to treat me out for anything. Excuse me if I find this somewhat extraordinary! I thought you had to sleep some more so you could," she lifted her fingers in quotation marks, "'be wide awake for work tonight'?"
"You better shut up or I'll leave you here without a ride home."
"Ha! So it is because of Tay." Al pretended to busy herself by pretending to inspect her colourless stubbed nails. "You are both so pathetic. Pining for each other, yet too scared to do anything about it. Love is pathetic."
"It's not love," George said softly, and Al knew George wanted to add a not yet anyway.
"It is," she cemented.
He quirked an eyebrow at her. "And how would you know? I thought you didn't have time for useless hormone-driven romance?"
She floundered. At his patronising chuckle, she decided to glare instead. "Just get me food."
"Aye! Anything for you, dear pri—"
She shot him a dirty look. "Stop calling me princess."
He looked affronted. "How did you know I was going to call you that? For all you know, I might have been calling you Prince."
They spent half an hour at the diner, and Al was reduced to being a spectator of the George-and-Tay-sneaking-secret-glances-at-each-other-because-they-were-both-pansies/in-love-fest. Thom called her like he said he would, only to tell her that their father wanted her dressed and prepared to go out for dinner by seven.
After George and her finished their meal, they made their way to Al's house, where George dropped her off and wished her a happy family dinner.
Resigned, she trudged upstairs and took a quick shower. She shaved her legs, scrubbed her skin raw to a shine and brushed her teeth. She threw on a pair of black skinny leg jeans and a plain dark red blouse that she reserved for rare occasions like this. She didn't bother with any makeup, nail polish or perfume. Jamming her feet into a pair of black shoes, she pulled her long and wet bright red hair high into a ponytail. She looked at her collection of baseball caps with longing.
She made a face at the mirror once she saw her reflection. This was the most feminine she'd ever looked, and it was making her uncomfortable. Moving away, she saw that she had a little under an hour to spare and fixed her things for tomorrow. Putting her books and pens into her backpack, she took out the belt Doug had given her and hung it on a hook behind her bedroom door. Turning off all the lights upstairs, she went down and put in a DVD as she waited.
Her phone vibrated, and she automatically reached for it just as Sam Whitwicky's dog Mojo peed on Ironhide. The text was from Thom.
Nearly home. Get Dad's best bottle of wine ready.
She thought they were going out for dinner. She texted back.
A minute later her phone buzzed again.
Going over someone else's place to eat. You better be ready.
Rolling her eyes, she walked out of the room and stood in front of her father's vast collection of wine bottles and came to a blank. She didn't know anything about wine. Her father would have to do it himself. The closest she came to alcohol was vodka, spirits and alco-pops. But he didn't need to know that, and besides… she was underage. Wine also didn't hold much appeal for her even though it was served at every social function she attended with her family, so she never bothered to educate herself on spotting the difference between the good ones and the crap ones… if people even did that.
She flipped open her phone and asked Thom whose house they were visiting. She was about to go back into the living room and turn off the TV and DVD player when he replied back. Al knew that if her brother had been there in front of her, he would have stuttered his answer nervously.
Dinner at the Contes'.
She grimaced. Great.
Author's Note: Acknowledgments go to .14karatgold. of whom is the superwoman behind the shaping and cultivation of Corus High and American high school politics.