Rehearsal ended three hours later, leaving Sharon dewed with sweat as the formation fell apart and she straggled with her fellow band-mates to the bleachers and a chance to sit and put themselves back together before heading home for the night.

She was reaching for her clarinet case when a positively hellish growl had her freezing where she stood.

"Majorettes stay on the field!"

Half curious, half frightened, she turned slowly around to see Brenda Johnson, red-faced and furious, glaring at the nine majorettes of the marching band, all of whom were doing the next thing to cowering in fear.

"What in the hell did you think that was?!" she demanded, her voice going pure Southern in her fury. "We have our first contest in a week. At this point I wouldn't take y'all to perform at the County Fair! That was the most pathetic, useless display of twirling I've ever seen in my life! Y'all are the most useless lot I've ever – "

"That is enough!" Hardly aware of what she was doing, Sharon stormed onto the field, shoving herself between the twirlers and their furious captain. "Brenda Johnson, that is not the way you speak to a group you are trying to lead! Name-calling? Insults? What do you expect that to do, improve their performance?!"

Brenda glared. "Raydor, this is none of your –"

"Shut up," ordered Sharon crisply, and was gratified when Brenda fell silent, absolutely stunned.

Whirling, she turned on the other nine girls, all of whom had begun to back slowly off the field. "Stay where you are," she snarled. "Whatever her methods, Brenda's right. That was abysmal. The number of times I had to get out of the way because one of you couldn't hit your marks properly is astounding and, frankly, horrifying. I don't know what that was, but I do know that it had better be fixed. I, at least, have some pride in this band. You ought to, as well. I suggest you clean it up, because next time I won't stop her."

Turning on her heel, she stalked back to the bleachers, aware of Brenda's astounded eyes on her the whole time.

She ducked her head when she reached her things, hiding her face behind auburn hair long since escaped from its tidy braid, but she couldn't help but hear Brenda's barked directives.

"Rehearsal on Saturday," she heard the blonde say crisply. "Nine a.m. sharp. Bring lunch, we're not leaving until we get this routine somewhere close to acceptable." A chorus of protests broke out, only to suddenly be silenced by what she could only assume was Brenda's glare. "If you'd not decided to fall apart today, this wouldn't be necessary. Is there anyone who doesn't have a ride?"

A grumbled murmur in the negative was the general response.

"Good," said Brenda crisply. "Thank you. Thank you so much. Now get off my field."

As the girls turned to go, Sharon heard Brenda call, much more quietly, "Irene. Kendall. Bethany. Ainsley."

Sharon held her breath.

"You were superb today," Brenda said, and Sharon nearly collapsed in surprise. "You have been consistently superb all year, in fact. I'm sorry to drag you in for extra practice you clearly do not need, but we need the full squad to practice this routine right."

"It's all right," said a tiny brunette sophomore – Kendall, Sharon thought vaguely. "Thank you, cap'n. It – it makes a difference, hearing that."

"You're welcome." If Sharon didn't know better, she'd have sworn Brenda was shuffling her feet. "Dismissed."

Brenda closed her eyes as the girls fled. She was utterly drained, wanting nothing more than to sink into her bed and not move for a week.

Fall break, she reminded herself wearily. Just hold on till fall break.

The bleachers were nearly empty; only Sharon Raydor was left, still packing her things. Her shoulders were slumped, her hair loose and flyaway.

She looked ashamed. Ashamed, and afraid.

Brenda took a deep breath.

"I'm sorry," blurted Sharon, not looking around. "Johnson, I – I have no excuses."

"No," Brenda said quietly. Now, drained of the worst of her anger, she could see the sense in what Sharon had done, even if the normally perfectly composed girl's actions had absolutely shocked her. "Thank you, Raydor – Sharon," she amended. Somehow, it seemed right.

Sharon turned to look at her, astonishment written all over her face.

"You were right," Brenda continued. "I was out of control. Thank you."

"You were right, too," Sharon admitted. "It was…"

"Pathetic?" suggested Brenda, a smile beginning to bloom on her face.

"I was thinking 'fucking terrible'," Sharon said shyly.

They looked at each other, then collapsed into helpless laughter, cackling hysterically, as all the tension of the past few hours dissipated into nothing.

"Oh, God," gasped Brenda, wiping tears from her eyes. "I really needed that."

"I could tell," offered Sharon. "I know it's been worrying you for awhile."

"Yeah." Brenda sank onto the bleachers, resting her forehead in her hands. "Today was just the last straw." She paused. "Since we're here anyway, I meant to ask – we're done with our research, wouldn't you say?"

Sharon nodded. "I know I've got everything I need."

"So do I. I was thinking – do you want to meet up this weekend? You could come over, we could start outlining the actual debate."

"Oh! Yes. Half an hour at a time isn't really enough, I don't think. Much better to have a couple hours to get it done properly." Sharon bit her lip. "Only – why don't you come over to mine instead? My mother's out of town this weekend, so we'd be guaranteed quiet."

Brenda stared at her for a long minute, abruptly floored by just how much her life had changed in the space of six weeks. She was alone on the bleachers with Sharon Raydor, who two months ago she would have sworn up and down she hated as much as the other girl hated her. But today, somehow, she was actually enjoying herself, in a way she couldn't remember doing – well, ever.

And the idea of escaping all the bustle and noise to sit down in quiet and spend a couple of hours working out the debate with Sharon sounded, right now, like something close to heaven.

After all, thought Brenda a little bitterly, I'm not really known for my interpersonal skills. As today showed very well. Aside from Fritzy and Irene, and maybe the boys, who have I got, really? Maybe – maybe she and I are just difficult enough that we can handle each other.

"Brenda?" asked Sharon gently, and she shook herself free from her musings.

"Yeah." Looking at the redhead in front of her, Brenda felt a rare, true smile blossom on her face. "That sounds great, Sharon. That sounds – that sounds perfect."