"Up until I was sixteen, I've always been home educated. My parents liked to…I dunno…wrap me in their own form of protective bubblewrap, I guess .I suppose it comes from my mom; she was attacked once, when she was younger. A whole gang of girls and guys randomly jumped her on her way to school and just kept hitting her. She started having panic attacks, and as a result, had to drop out of junior high. Until she was seventeen, she was home schooled too. When she finally managed to make it into her last senior year and met my dad; that was her turning point in life. They've been together ever since. Now, mom is a successful businesswoman, who recently got a promotion, right here in Illinois, which means they've decided to mainstream school me at sixteen...And that brings me to North Shore High."

I stared round the classroom, feeling completely vulnerable.

Spotting an empty seat, I grabbed it and tried to hold my head high and look confident. As I felt twenty pairs of eyes boring into me, confident was the last thing I felt.

The girl on the desk next to me leaned over. "Hey!" She whispered, "So you're the new girl? Everyone's talking about you!"

"Um...yeah, that's me." I grinned shyly.

"I'm Vanessa, but you can call me Ness... Or Nessa, I don't mind." She introduced.

"I'm Zoe." I smiled back, settling my bag on my desk.

There was a sudden slamming of the door. Everyone sat up straight, facing the front.

"Welcome back, everyone. I trust you all had a good summer?" The homeroom tutor addressed us all.

There were a few mumbles and sighs in reply. "Or not..." Nessa muttered.

"Now I'm sure you're aware of our new student by now?" The young woman looked right at me. I shifted uncomfortably in my seat, hiding behind my fringe.

"This is Zoe Hooper, everyone." There was a whole chorus of welcomes, which surprised me. "I'm Ms. Sanders, and I'm your homeroom tutor for the remaining two years of High School!"

The boy on the other side of me waited until Ms. Sanders had turned her back, before cupping his mouth with his hands and whispering: "She might seem strict, but she's the most fun teacher in the world; we could get away with almost anything!"

I nodded shyly and smiled.

Ness rolled her eyes. "Hmm yeah Carson, like when she caught you and Courtney that one time?" She smiled sweetly. "If I remember, you got excluded for three weeks!"

The boy turned crimson and scratched his short dark hair, distractedly, and looked away.

The bell rang for the first lesson, and everyone filed out of the classroom. Looking at my timetable, I frowned.

"What do you have now?" Ness asked, looking over my shoulder.

"Double Biology with Mr Kowalski." I replied.

"Oooh, you're with me! I'll take you there!" Ness grinned excitedly, and grabbed my arm, leading me through the crowded hallways.

My heart was pounding as the other students stared at me or looked me up and down disapprovingly.

Ness seemed to notice; "Just ignore them. It's pure jealousy!" she muttered in my ear. "You'll get used to it soon, I did."

I didn't have the guts to tell her I'd been home-tutored up until now…

"Good morning class, please take a seat." Mr Kowalski called as everyone filed into the room.

I took the spare seat beside Ness.

"Ah, you must be Miss Hooper?" The teacher turned around and spotted me. I fidgeted, looking embarrassed.

"Zoe," I replied quietly.

"Well, welcome Zoe!" He smiled, handing me a brand new exercise book, "I try to make my lessons as fun as possible, so I hope you enjoy them!"

We spent the lesson labelling the names of groups of animals. Some of the mistakes people made had the class in fits. When the bell rang for first break, everyone groaned.

"I cannot believe Carson Wellor thinks a group of horses was a 'flock'!" Nessa shook her head, laughing. As we trooped into the cafeteria, we spotted Carson throwing a football at someone. The guy it narrowly missed turned around. "Hey, Wellor! Watch it!" He hurled the ball back across the canteen, hitting Carson on the side of the head.

Ness's eyes went wide, and her mouth made a perfect 'o' of dismay, before laughing and collecting her food from the vending machine.

"So, this Carson seems to be everywhere we go." I point out, "does he fancy you?"

Ness looked at me like I was crazy. "Uh…no!" She scoffed. "I'm not interested in a tool like him! No, Carson Weller is ultimately 'hot', ultimately a jock, ultimately popular, and ultimately…He's dating Courtney Carlisle!"

I frowned. "Who's that?"

At that moment, the cafeteria fell silent as three girls swanned in and stood by the entrance, hands on hips, smirking and scanning the hall critically. The blonde girl at the front shook her hair, and her eyes fell on me for a moment and she seemed to be staring right at me.

I looked away, and she led the other two girls towards Carson and his friends. She lunged at him, kissing him passionately.

"Ugh," Ness grimaced, "That's Courtney Carlisle! Ultimate bitch."

I nodded. She definitely looked it! The look she had given me sent a chill of what felt like fear down my spine.

Courtney was wearing a pink tight-fitting Juicy Couture top, and a black thigh-skimming pleated skirt. On her feet, she wore ridiculously high pink wedge heels.

There was a brunette girl with her, with what looked like an Italian tan, wearing a white vest top with a pink flower corsage, and a matching pink skirt and pink heels.

The redhead with them wore a light blue three-quarter sleeved top, and a black skirt with black platform heels.

They looked intimidatingly beautiful, and I suddenly felt even more vulnerable.

Ness followed my gaze. "The brunette girl is Erin Auditore. She's part Italian; apparently she's like, a distant relative of some assassin from the medieval era." Ness snorted disbelievingly as she said this, "And the redhead is Tara Bell. She claims to have slept with a college student last year, when she was a junior. Each one of those three sluts are majorly rich!"

"You seem to know a lot about them." I comment, taking a bite of my chocolate bar.

"I used to be one of them." Ness replied, matter-of-factly.

My eyes widen.

"Yep, back in the day when they were all nice…er!" She huffed.

"So…what happened?" I press.

"I wasn't pretty or rich enough." Nessa screwed up her empty chip packet. "Or enough of a backstabbing bitch." She rose to her feet and waited for me to finish my food, before linking arms with me and walking through the hallways.

We arrived at the girls' bathrooms, and once we were done, Ness stood at the mirrors, rummaging through her bag, before pulling out what looked like a pencil case. She revealed a bottle of foundation and started applying it, before moving on to her mascara. She handed me the case.

"Want to borrow some?"

I took the case and started applying the makeup like I'd seen Ness do. Glancing into the mirror, I thought I'd done a pretty good job. She seemed to think so too, as she grinned and said "You look awesome!"

The bell rang then. Ness linked arms with me and led me through the corridors to next lesson.