Fitting in by Standing Out

Jenna followed the deputy head down the echoing, locker-lined corridor of yet another new school. Her parents said they were likely to be here for a while, so she needed to make a bit of an effort to fit in. Like that was easy.

The woman in front of her opened a door and looked back with what she no doubt intended to be an encouraging smile. Jenna smiled back and followed her through, into the classroom.

She looked around as the deputy head brought the teacher standing in front of the board up to speed. At least it was a whiteboard, might even have limited smartboard capabilities, the last place was still on blackboards and chalk. It was just as well she didn’t rely on these places for her education. They were simply somewhere to pass the time and make the family look ‘normal’.

Her scan of the room’s occupants gave her the usual mix of apathetics, antagonists, alphas and academics. They were all looking at her, and they all looked at her like she was a welcome distraction.

The deputy head left, and the teacher beckoned her forward with a theatrically weary sigh. “Alright, our latest interruption, new student. Perhaps you’d like to introduce yourself.”

Crap, she never knew the best approach for this, especially since this looked to be a teacher who was just phoning it in to a disengaged class. She needed to blend in, to fit. She gave an awkward-seeming smile and fiddled with the folder they’d given her in the office.

“Um, hi. My name’s Jenna and my family just moved here from Upstate New York.”

The teacher rolled his eyes. “And?”

She didn’t have to fake this bewilderment. “And?”

“Favourite colour, star sign, your future career. All that stuff that’s apparently so important it takes up more class time than the lesson.”

She raised a brow. This guy had issues. “Wisteria, Scorpio Dragon, it hasn’t been invented yet. What subject is this again?”

The class shifted. All of a sudden, she was interesting. She’d have to deflect that but for now, she stayed where she was, looking politely inquisitive.

The teacher replied. “English Literature. There’s a spare desk at the back.”

“Thank you.”

Jenna wound her way through the desks, hesitantly making eye contact and giving small, sightly anxious smiles to anyone who seemed receptive.

The desk was tucked into the back corner furthest from the windows and was further hemmed in by two large, belligerent-looking boys, lounging back in their too-small seats and smirking at her. She gave the pair a cool once-over and then very obviously dismissed them.

One smirked, the other scowled. She checked the seat, removed the thumbtack, sat, and looked attentive.

The teacher wasn’t finished with her apparently. “Since the rest of the class can’t be bothered to share their opinions, and probably haven’t read the book. Jenna, perhaps you’d like to share your thoughts on Jane Eyre.”

Fine, she’d go for academic. It’d be funny given the seating arrangement if nothing else. “Hated it. Jane is a colourless, tedious paragon with acute martyr syndrome who seems to think a backbone would be a bad idea and Rochester is a two-timing, sexist, cradle-snatching pig.”

The teacher blinked. The students snickered. He replied. “It may interest you to know that many scholars see the relationship between Jane and Rochester as the epitome of romance.”

“I take it they’re middle-aged men with tweed jackets and an undeclared mid-life crisis.”

He scowled. She propped her chin on her fist and looked blandly back at him. He retreated, turning to the rest of the class.

“Would anyone else like to contribute their valuable thoughts?”

It seemed she’d given a bit of confidence to a couple of her new classmates, one boy at the front, next to the window said. “It would be better with zombies.”

A blonde girl in the middle of the room exclaimed. “Like they did with Pride and Prejudice! That was awesome.”

The Asian girl next to her was already checking her phone. “Looks like there is one, but it’s only a short story. Not full length.”

A tall, blond boy with his chair tipped back against the wall, snorted. “Just as well. There’s only enough actual story in the original for about ten pages.”

The teacher rallied. “And you know that through reading it Jason?”

“I know that by starting to read it, getting bored stupid and looking up the plot online.” The boy who was apparently called Jason replied.

Someone she couldn’t see piped up. “Why can’t we read GOOD books?”

The class erupted in a chorus of ‘yeah’s.

The teacher barked a laugh. “Because you lot wouldn’t know a good book if it jumped up and hit you in the face.”

Jenna murmured to herself. “Charming.”

The large boy who’d smirked murmured back. “Oh, you’ve got him on a good day. The only reason he’s here is because he’s the Principal’s nephew and he can’t get work anywhere else on account of being an arrogant, lazy, incompetent asshole.”

The class had given up on being a class by this stage and had split into conversational groups. The teacher scowled for a minute, then threw his hands up and stalked to his desk, where he dropped dramatically into his chair and pulled out a book to read. Jenna squinted at it.

“What’s so interesting about our loser teacher?”

“I’m just wondering what book he’s choosing to read. Doesn’t look like Jane Eyre.”

Her two neighbours looked at each other and grinned, then ran a lightning-fast round of rock-paper-scissors. The winner casually ambled up to the front of the class, then darted forward, grabbing the book and holding it out of the teacher’s reach.

“Cover says it’s Shakespeare. Inside says it’s the latest Wilbur Smith. Tell me Mr Tailor, what do you think makes a good book?”

Jenna rearranged her expression to shocked and astounded just in time. Mr Tailor’s gaze landed on her, judged her as uninvolved, and moved on.

He grabbed the book back as the boy lowered it and growled. “Yet another trip to the Principal’s office Gregory. Well done.”

The boy shrugged, smirked and sauntered out of the room.

The girl who’d liked zombies turned. “Hey new girl. You’re fun. What are your other classes?”

Jenna blinked. “I’m not sure. It’s all been a bit of a blur.”

She looked into her folder, then read out the units in the timetable stapled to the front cover. The girl grinned. “Brilliant, you’re with me and FeiFei for most classes, and can report back from the battle field on the others.”

Jason groaned. “Oh great, the dynamic duo just became the Three Musketeers. This place isn’t going to know what hit it.”

Jenna blinked. This was not what she had been expecting but, hey, if she was going to fit in by standing out, then she was going to go for it and have a bit of fun in the process.

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