As she heads down the hallway to homeroom, five minutes ahead of schedule, Spencer knows it's going to be a good senior year. She's going to chemistry early so she can sit at her favorite seat, the one at the table in the front row and closest to the window. It gets a nice breeze, it faces the teacher so she doesn't have to keep turning around to see the notes on the board, and she knows for a fact that Mr. Brennan always puts the best equipment at that station.
She's sat in that seat through Environmental Science, AP Biology, and physics, aced every quiz and exam that came her way, and had people practically beg her to let them be her lab partner because they knew she preferred to do everything herself and they could just write their name next to hers on whatever they turned in.
Her bag is loaded with new notebooks, pens, and the brightest highlighters Staples had to offer, and of course, the monstrous chemistry textbook. She cracked it open last night before bed and skimmed chapter one to make sure she had a solid foundation, just in case they got through discussing the syllabus early and jumped into the first lesson.
She's ready, dammit.
Spencer glances at her watch one last time (four minutes until the first bell rings) as she turns the corner into the science wing. There's a few students still trying to get everything into their lockers and some others just hanging around talking, but none of them look even the least bit interested in going to class yet; that seat is all hers.
She arrives at room 552 and strides right through the doorway, and she's so focused on the fact that she's the first one here that it takes her a few seconds to realize she's not. One student has already arrived, a blonde girl wearing a plaid shirt and jeans, and she has her textbook open in front of her on the desk.
And she's sitting at Spencer's seat.
Spencer stops abruptly, her feet frozen to the tile floor, and after a moment the girl looks up.
"Hi," she says, managing to sound shy but confident at the same time. "Um, this is AP chemistry, right?"
Spencer stares at her. "Yeah…"
She lets out a breath of relief. "Okay, good. I'm new here so I just wanted to make sure I had the right classroom."
Spencer hasn't moved; she's still trying to wrap her head around the fact that a new student is sitting in her favorite seat, her lucky seat.
"I'm Quinn, by the way," the girl continues, giving her a small smile.
"Spencer," she mutters in reply.
Quinn nods and her eyes dip back down to the pages on the table for a moment before looking up again and arching her eyebrow. "Are you gonna sit down? Or are we supposed to wait for assigned seats or something?"
Spencer finally snaps out of it. "No, uh. I just haven't quite woken up yet," she mumbles, pouting just a little as she takes the other seat at the table, across from Quinn. She sets her bag down on the side and pulls out her notebook and a pen. "Trying to make sense of everything?" she guesses as Quinn turns the page.
She laughs softly. "It's pretty easy, actually. I'm really good at math." She shrugs. "And I just like to read."
Another student walks in and takes a seat toward the back of the classroom.
"Wow," Spencer manages through a weak smile. She's not sure how she feels about having an equal.
"If you need help with any of the material I'd be happy to study with you," Quinn offers, giving her a kind smile, and Spencer grits her teeth.
"Thanks for the offer," she says as calmly as possible, "but I think I'll be fine."
She watches as Quinn goes back to reading; her expression remains completely neutral, never confused, and at one point she nibbles her bottom lip but it seems to be in concentration rather than frustration.
Several more students arrive and the room is filled with post-summer vacation chatter, but Quinn might as well be sitting in an empty library.
"So," Spencer says as she opens her notebook to the first page and writes the date in the top right corner. "You just moved here?"
Quinn doesn't look up. "Yeah. About a month ago."
"Where are you from?"
Spencer hesitates; she has no idea where that is.
"It's in Ohio," Quinn adds, though her eyes are still on the textbook, and Spencer kind of hates that Quinn probably thinks she's stupid.
"Oh." She wants to say something intelligent to balance out the conversation but Mr. Brennan walks in and calls for everyone's attention, and the fact that she has to turn around to look at him reminds her how not okay this seating arrangement is.
"For those of you who have had me before, I know I usually let you pick a lab partner each week," he begins as he walks around the room and hands out the syllabus. "But I thought that since you guys are older and wiser now, you could handle a committed relationship this year." He pauses dramatically and Spencer doesn't like where this is going. "The person you're sitting with right now will be your lab partner for the whole year," he announces, and as the students who sat with their friends exchange excited glances, Spencer sits frozen and horrified.
"Mr. Brennan?" she calls out as he passes their table, and he hands her the syllabus with a warm smile.
"Spencer Hastings! It's a pleasure to have you again." He eyes her suspiciously. "Now, be honest—how much of the textbook have you skimmed already?"
She blushes. "Just the first chapter. But I wanted to ask you, um…" She glances at Quinn, who's looking at the list of assignments. "Wouldn't it make more sense to let us choose our lab partners? I mean, since we're seniors I think we're mature enough to make that decision ourselves."
Mr. Brennan just laughs. "It's good to have you back, Spencer. And honestly, you've got nothing to worry about." He lowers his voice and leans in a little. "From what I can tell from Quinn's entrance exam, she's a brainiac like you. You might actually get to work with someone this year instead of letting everyone else mooch off of your… very impressive work ethic."
She opens her mouth to object but he looks to Quinn. "What about you, Quinn? Are you cool being paired with another smarty-pants?" She smiles. "Not a problem."
He turns back to Spencer. "You guys are a match made in heaven, I promise." He pats the table twice and goes back to the board then writes "AP CHEMISTRY" in big, messy capital letters. "Those of you who have had me before also know that my handwriting is utterly abhorrent, so anyone who's not used to it—bear with me."
There's a few chuckles around the room but Spencer can't even bring herself to crack a smile.
This is not how she wanted to start her senior year.
"I know how much you guys always let your brains rot over the summer, so I'm going to start off easy. Let's play Guess That Equation!" He says it like he's a game show host and his enthusiasm gets Spencer's adrenalin going; games are a competition, and competitions have a winner, and she's very, very good at winning.
Mr. Brennan holds up a piece of chalk. "First equation," he announces in a deep voice, and he gets really close to the board and begins writing it down.
Spencer stares intently at the board and wonders if Quinn is doing the same, but she doesn't turn around to look.
He steps away from the board and Spencer's pulse is hammering in her veins as she reads the equation.
"The speed of light," she blurts the second it clicks in her brain, but her voice isn't the only one she hears. She glances over her shoulder and sees that Quinn's eyes are just as intense and her lips are parted slightly, like she's just spoken.
"Round one goes to Quinn and Spencer!"
She hates that he says Quinn's name first.
"Next equation…" he says, taking a moment to scrawl it on the board before he steps away again.
They answer simultaneously again and Spencer sees a few people exchange glances. Her cheeks burn red.
"Well, I guess we know who didn't completely boycott their academics over the last three months," Mr. Brennan jokes. "Here's another."
Ten seconds later he reveals the next equation and both girls immediately answer "Avogadro's number."
He throws out his hands. "Come on, people. Are you really going to let them have all the glory?" He's met with blank stares and Spencer notices Quinn trying to hide a smirk. "This is AP chemistry. You're not supposed to be brain-dead once you step through that door."
Someone yawns and Mr. Brennan rolls his eyes. "All right, fine. You guys can balance equations for the rest of the period." He passes out a double-sided worksheet, goes back to his desk, and takes a long sip from his travel mug.
Spencer turns away, back to the table, and Quinn is already writing her name at the top.
"So," Quinn says, flipping to the periodic table at the beginning of the textbook. "Do you want to work together, or…?"
Spencer smiles as sweetly as possible. "No thanks."
Quinn shrugs and begins to work on the first problem, and it makes Spencer's blood boil when she notices the girl is using a pen instead of a pencil.
She glares down at her freshly sharpened Ticonderoga and stuffs it back into her bag in exchange for a blue BIC. They work in silence for a while, Spencer trying not to make any mistakes so she won't have to scribble anything out while she simultaneously watches Quinn to see if she messes up at all.
A few minutes later Spencer is neck-deep in an equation and suddenly Quinn gets up and heads to Mr. Brennan's desk, taking her sheet with her, and Spencer smirks. She strains to hear what Quinn is asking him—if it's a stupid question, if Spencer knows the answer—but then she goes rigid.
"Excellent job, Quinn. It's good to see that your old school taught you well. You can do whatever you want for the rest of class, any and all law-breaking activities excluded."
"Thank you, Mr. Brennan," she says in a classic kiss-ass tone that Spencer could hear from a mile away, and when she comes back to the table there's a big red check-plus at the top of the paper.
Spencer clenches her jaw and tries to concentrate on the equation, but her eyes keep lifting from the page to watch Quinn, who's now digging through her bag for something. She pulls out a book, one with a worn spine and page corners that have been folded and refolded, and Spencer manages to get a glimpse of the front cover: The Great Gatsby.
"Are you reading that for American Lit?" she asks, trying to sound uninterested.
"No. Just for fun." She flips the pages until she finds the place where she left off, held by a red bookmark that says WMHS in white block letters. "This is my third time through."
It occurs to Spencer that she'd probably get along great with Aria, but she pushes the thought away. "So you're an English nerd, too?"
Quinn shrugs. "I'm kind of an everything nerd."
"Well, aren't you special," Spencer mutters under her breath, but Quinn is already engrossed in her book. She takes a deep breath and goes back to the worksheet, which she totally would've finished by now if Quinn hadn't been distracting her.
What a bitch.
As soon as the bell rings Spencer bolts from the room, stuffing her worksheet haphazardly into her bag so the stupid red check mark with no plus-sign beside it will stop taunting her. She made one tiny mistake on the last equation because she couldn't see the clock without turning around, and when she can't see what time it is she feels rushed, and the fact that she had to turn around every time she wanted to check made her feel even more rushed and kept breaking her concentration.
So really, it's all Quinn's fault, because she took Spencer's favorite seat.
Spencer is one of the first to get to AP Language and Composition and Mrs. Montgomery greets her with a smile.
"Spencer! How's your first day going so far?"
"Fine," she says with forced enthusiasm. "How about yours?"
Ella laughs. "Well, I'm on my third cup of coffee, so right now I'm wonderful. But we'll have to see what happens when the caffeine wears off," she jokes.
Spencer smiles and then heads for a desk in the back while she waits for Aria to show up. She hopes for the sake of her sanity that the girl isn't in the bathroom texting Ezra or something, because she has no idea how long it's going to take her to blow off all this steam about Quinn and she needs to get as much of it out of her system as she can before class starts. If Quinn manages to mess with Spencer's academics without even being in the room, she might as well just quit school.
Aria arrives and says a quick hello to her mom before she spots Spencer, and her expression is suddenly serious.
"You're sitting in the back row," she says as she takes the adjacent desk. "That means there's drama. How is there already drama? It's not even ten a.m. yet."
Spencer takes her notebook out of her bag. "It's just this new girl."
Aria arches an eyebrow. "A new girl? Spence, it's the first day of school; everyone's new."
"No, new as in she just moved to Rosewood."
"Oh." She shrugs. "What about her?"
Spencer rolls her eyes. "Everything. First she took my favorite seat—"
"She took your favorite seat," Aria repeats, giving her a look.
"—and she acted like she thinks I'm an idiot, which is actually really idiotic on her part because I wouldn't be in AP Chemistry if I was an idiot—"
"—and then she knew all the right answers to everything—"
"—and then we did these worksheets and she used pen so I had to use pen—"
"—and she finished first and then she got all literary and then I messed up because she was rushing me—"
Aria blinks. "Okay, you lost me."
Spencer groans in frustration. "She thinks she's Miss Perfect. She thinks she's smarter than me. She thinks she can just walk into this school and take an AP class and say she's the best—"
"I really doubt that's what—"
"She's not," Spencer finishes, slapping her pencil against the desk and folding her arms.
Aria's still looking at her funny. "Spence, calm down. She's trying to get good grades, just like any other senior. She just happens to be freakishly smart like you." Aria frowns. "Actually, that is kind of scary, now that I think about it."
Spencer rests her elbows on her desk and massages her temples. "And I have to start off the day dealing with all of this crap. I can't imagine anything worse."
Aria opens her mouth to reply but then her eyes focus on something behind Spencer. "She looks lost," she murmurs, then cocks her head to the side. "Wait… that's not her, is it?"
Spencer whips around and sees Quinn slowly walking into the room, studying the wrinkled piece of paper in her hand before approaching Mrs. Montgomery.
"You've got to be freaking kidding me," Spencer breathes as they exchange a few words and Quinn turns to take a seat. Their eyes meet for a millisecond and the corner of Quinn's mouth quirks just a little, and then she sits in a desk in the second row.
"She would sit in the front," Spencer grumbles, and Aria gives her a look.
"Good morning, everyone!" Mrs. Montgomery calls out, perching on the front of her desk. "I hope you're all ready for an exciting senior year. This is an AP level class so we're going to move pretty fast, and you're going to have to read a lot. You think you can handle it?" she finishes with a smile and there's a murmur of agreement around the room.
"Now, let's assume you all did your summer reading like you were supposed to. Does anyone have a favorite piece or author they'd like to talk about? Prose, poetry, anything."
There's a long moment of everyone glancing around to see if anyone's brave enough to be the first to volunteer.
Quinn raises her hand.
"Of course she raised her hand first," Spencer grumbles under her breath.
"You could've raised your hand first," Aria whispers back.
"I love all of E. E. Cummings's work," Quinn says when Mrs. Montgomery points to her. "The way he ignores the established rules of punctuation and poetic structure to create a language that's entirely his own… As an artist, he was truly free."
Mrs. Montgomery smiles. "Excellent observations. I'm an E. E. Cummings fan, myself."
Quinn blushes slightly. "He's one of my favorites."
Spencer rolls her eyes. "Suck-up," she mutters, but then she freezes when Mrs. Montgomery looks her way.
"Spencer? Do you have something you'd like to share?"
A few people turn to look at her, including Quinn, and her blood boils. "No, um. I just… agree with Quinn. E. E. Cummings is great." She almost doesn't get the words out because that smirk on Quinn's face is killing her.
Mrs. Montgomery nods. "Fair enough. Anyone else?" She's met with silence and she throws out her hands in surrender. "Well, since it's the first day and you guys are obviously not awake, I guess we can be boring and go over the syllabus. Everyone pull out your sheet and let me know if you have any questions."
Spencer glances at the schedule; they're supposed to read "The Yellow Wallpaper" for tomorrow's class.
"So as you can see, your midterm paper is a huge part of your grade and I encourage you all to start brainstorming a topic right away. It can be about anything that relates to an author or a literary piece that we discuss in class—literally, anything, so be creative."
Spencer thinks she might write an essay explaining why E. E. Cummings is the worst poet of all time and ask Quinn to peer edit it for her.
She half-expects Quinn to follow her to AP Calculus, and she breathes a sigh of relief when the bell rings and she still hasn't shown up. Calculus is Spencer's favorite subject; she likes that it's all about solving things, that there's always a solution to even the most complicated problem. She likes that it's concrete, that you're either wrong or right (she's usually right).
She has a free period after that and she gets a pass to the library so she can get a head start on "The Yellow Wallpaper." She finds a table tucked away in the corner and pulls out her anthology, and she's a few pages in when she hears footsteps come around the corner and then stop abruptly. Spencer looks up to find Quinn standing in front of her. "What are you doing here?" she blurts before she can stop herself, and Quinn cocks an eyebrow.
"I just came up here for my free period. I didn't know anyone was back here."
"Yeah, well, I am."
Quinn peers at her for a moment. "Why do you hate me?"
Spencer lowers her eyes back to the book. "I don't hate you."
She scoffs. "Okay, then why do you glare daggers at me every time I breathe?"
"I don't know what you're talking about."
Something in Quinn's expression shifts. "Then you won't mind if I join you?" she asks, her tone challenging.
Spencer stiffens but keeps her face neutral. "Not at all."
Quinn takes the seat across from her and Spencer keeps her eyes determinedly on the reading as Quinn opens a notebook and begins to write. Spencer tries to focus on what she's reading but her gaze keeps lifting to follow Quinn's pen as it travels along the paper. She's kind of dying to know what it is she's writing—notes for class? An assignment? A journal entry
"How's the story?" Quinn asks suddenly, smirking but not looking up, and Spencer forces her eyes back to her book.
"Good," she says and turns the page, even though she hasn't finished reading the one she was on. She reads the same paragraph a few times and then glances at Quinn's notebook for a moment before quickly looking away again. She tries as hard as she can so absorb the words in front of her but nothing sticks, and she grits her teeth in frustration. She's never had a problem like this before, never had issues focusing, and she doesn't understand why it's happening to her now.
A voice in the back of her head whispers that the only new factor here is Quinn, but she ignores it.
"So," Spencer continues, keeping her eyes on her homework, "What other classes are you taking?"
Quinn laughs softly. "Want to make sure you're not stuck in anything else with me?"
Spencer shrugs. "Just curious."
She pulls her schedule out of her pocket. "After this I have AP Stats, French, lunch, then AP World History." She smirks and raises an eyebrow. "See yourself filing any restraining orders?"
Spencer tries not to look too relieved. "No. We have the same lunch but that's it."
Quinn nods and goes back to her notes and Spencer turns the page again. She still hasn't made any progress with actual reading.
They spend the rest of the period in silence, and when the bell rings Quinn has filled the entire page with notes and Spencer has only legitimately read a few paragraphs. She closes her book with a sigh as they both pack up their stuff.
Quinn pushes in her chair and starts walking toward the door, but then she stops. "See you at lunch?" she calls over her shoulder.
Spencer swallows. "See you at lunch," she replies and then stares after Quinn's retreating form. Just before she disappears around the corner she looks back, and Spencer busies herself with hanging her messenger bag on her shoulder. When she looks up again Quinn is gone, but Spencer can still see the smirk on her face.
She hates that smirk.