"...Bag, phone, map of campus... Yes dad, I'm sure I have everything I need." Maria Jackson listed for about the five hundredth time, by her count.
It was her first day at the prestigious boarding school, Bannerman Prep, and her dad was even more nervous than she was. Which didn't take much, given that Maria wasn't nervous at all. Apparently, changing schools three times in as many years desensitises you to the traumas of starting a new school. This would not come as a surprise to most people, but to Maria's dad, Alan, this was very shocking and, in fact, room for yet more worry about the state of his daughter. In his mind, the fact that she didn't seem to mind changing schools (again) , was Very Bad and A Portent of Bad Things To Come.
"Are you sure you want to do this? There's that small school in town, and you could go there during the day and come back at night. I could leave earlier in the morning and get time off in the afternoons to come and see you after dinner. You could let yourself in, and you'd probably enjoy the chance to get some homework done without your old man interfering." Maria fixed a patient smile on her face and pulled her bag out of the car boot. Though she was old enough to drive and did in fact have her own car (a present from her mother and her new boyfriend, as a "Congratulations for starting your new school, sweetie! We'd love to be there, you know we would, but Ivan's busy with work, you know how it is...", her dad had insisted on driving her to the school because, quote unquote, "Well, it's not as if you're allowed to keep it on campus anyway, right? And besides, it's traditional for the parent to drop off the teenager at their fancy new school. Haven't you ever seen an American high school movie?"
Honestly. Maria loved her dad, but he was a bit weird sometimes. Though that was the job of all teenagers, really; to call their parents weird.
"Yes, dad. You're obsessed with them. Remember?" He laughed.
"Just remember, Maria, you have to make an enemy of the popular girls by being too wholesome and refusing to bitch about people, and you have to end up dating either the school heartthrob (who's also on the football team) or the cute geeky guy who everyone secretly wants to date. Excuse me?"
This last bit was directed to a passing teenage girl who was wearing the school uniform. Maria realised what he was doing and tried to stop him, but it was too late. "Excuse me!" He called again, seemingly oblivious to Maria's frantic signals to stop. Finally he got the girl's attention. Continuing to ignore Maria, he called out cheerfully, "Excuse me, my daughter-" At this he grabbed Maria and pulled her in front of him, where she promptly turned red and tried to disappear. "My daughter, Maria, is new today, and she needs some help finding her way around. Could you, maybe...?" The girl hesitated, though she was clearly in a hurry.
"Sorry, but I'm really very busy. I have things to do, you know..." With that she turned and ran off, not looking back. Alan and Maria looked at each other. "Well," Alan said. "That was a bit rude, wasn't it? I wonder what her problem is." By this point, Maria just wanted to be gone. "Yes, dad, but it was fine, she's probably just busy. And anyway, I can find my own way. I've been here before, remember? For orientation day? You know- a whole day, dedicated to learning how to find your way around? You may have heard of this."
"Right. Yes. We don't want you to be late."
He held out his arms for a hug. Maria clung to him; now that the time was here, she wasn't sure she wanted to leave either. But she kind of had to leave soon or she never would. She pulled away from the hug with a (fake) lighthearted laugh. "Well, I should go now. Can you pop the boot for me?"
Ten minutes and a few swear words later, Maria was standing with her suitcase, overnight bag and backpack, all of which were filled with an assortment of clothes and schoolbooks in no particular order. She hugged her dad quickly, said she loved him one more time, pretended not to see the tears forming in his eyes and turned to leave.
"Maria?" She turned back to Alan. "Yeah dad?"
"Just... Take care of yourself, alright? And remember, you can always ring me if you need me." Maria smiled. "I know, dad. Don't worry, I know."
"Maria Jackson. J-A-C-K-S-O-N. I was told I would get a room number and a timetable?"
She had been in the surprisingly bland reception of the otherwise almost palatial building for over ten minutes now, trying to wrangle a room key out of the apparently stone office lady at the counter.
"Do you have a note signed by your head of house?"
Maria looked at her incredulously. "I just got here? I haven't had time to-" She was interrupted by a girls voice saying,
"Are you Maria Jackson?" Maria spun around, desperately hoping it was someone coming to save her from this tedious hell. Her apparent knight in shining... school uniform, was a girl about her age, with dark skin and hair. The girls uniform tie was crooked and her hair was in a high ponytail. She stalked up to the counter, incidentally bringing Maria's attention to her incredibly long legs.
"Hey, Miss, Dad just sent me to help the new girl find her way around." The office lady levelled a glare at the other girl that would have burned a hole through anyone else, but the other girl (and Maria really needed to find out her name) barely blinked. The two had a silent showdown for what seemed like several hours, before the receptionist finally caved and handed over an information pack and two keys on a lanyard. The girl snatched them up and gestured to Maria to leave. Maria followed her out, glancing back to see the receptionist had already gone back to typing on the computer.
Once out of the reception area, the girl stopped walking and turned to Maria.
"Right. Sorry about that; Mrs Brown has a tendency to drag things on for way longer than they need to be, for no reason other than she hates kids. My name is Rani, by the way. Rani Chandler. My dad is the Principal, so the receptionists are all paranoid that I'll tell on them if they make trouble."
Maria blinked, trying to take in this flood of information.
"Thanks, then. I'm Maria, but I guess you know that already."
The girl-Rani-grinned. "Yeah, I do. Let's check what room you're in. You're in Grade Eleven, like me, so you're in Bannerman Block."
At Maria's confused look, she chuckled and elaborated. "Because this is a primary school as well as a high school, the wings are all weird. Basically, the primary school kids get the new building that looks like a cross between a school and a hotel, while the high school kids (us) get the old building. Which is good, in that we get our own bathrooms, but it's really drafty in winter. Grades 7 & 8 are in A Wing, 9 & 10 are in B Wing, and 11 & 12 are in Bannerman Wing, which is on the floor above everyone else, cos we can be trusted to be so far away from the teachers. Apparently." Maria grinned weakly. She was incredibly confused, and she hadn't even found her room yet. Rani must have noticed her confusion, because she stopped talking and hugged Maria. "Sorry. I know this can be a little confusing for someone who's not used to all of this. It does make sense, I promise. It just takes a little while. That's why they suggest you arrive a couple of days before term starts; help you settle in, etcetera. Anyway, room number." She checked the key, handing it theatrically to Maria as she did so. "And your room number is-"
She stopped, mid-sentence, still holding the key. Maria looked at her, confused. "So," She prompted awkwardly, "The room number is...?"
Rani blinked, then looked at her, looking like she was waking up from a dream. "Oh! Yes the room is number is 13. It's just that..." She trailed off again. Maria sighed. It had been a long day, and she honestly just wanted to get to her room, put her stuff down, and go to sleep. "It's just that... What?"
"Oh, nothing. It's just that your roommate..."
Maria sighed again, expecting another pause, but this time Rani continued unprompted.
"...Is a bit odd." Maria waited, expecting a bit more information. Seeing this information wasn't forthcoming, she decided to change the subject.
"So... Where's your room?"
Rani blinked at her again, clearly noticing the subject change. "Um. I'm across the hall from you. Number 14. My roommate is a girl called Kelsey Hooper. She's alright, but we're not really friends."
Before Maria has a chance to say anything, Rani keeps talking. "But anyway, we should get you to your room."
Ten minutes and two flights of stairs later, Maria is standing outside of her new room.
"And here it is. 13 Bannerman Wing. Your home-away-from home. Here's your key-"
She draped the lanyard over Maria's neck.
"Aaaaand here's your info." She placed the information pack on top of Maria's suitcase, resting against the suitcase handle. "Don't forget, I'm here if you need anything. Breakfast goes from seven to ten tomorrow, so I'll probably see you there." And with that, she was gone, striding off down the corridor, presumably to help some other confused newbie.
Well. Maria thought. She was...odd. For someone who stood around talking to me for almost twenty minutes, she sure left quickly. I wonder what that was about?
Rationalising it away as Rani having a lot of work to do, she opened the information pack. The top sheet inside it was a sheet with details about the room, with a photo of the layout and a short description of it. She looked further down the page and, sure enough, there was the word Roommate followed by a name. Maria looked at the name, trying to imagine what kind of person it belonged to. Sarah Jane Smith. Would she be... friendly? Unlikely, given what Rani had said. What did weird mean, anyway? Rude? A Hippie? A Satanist? What?
Well, she thought. Only one way to find out. She opened the door slowly, looking around as she did so. There didn't seem to be anyone there, which she found a little odd. Where else would her new roommate be? She walked further into the room, still looking around cautiously. There were two single beds, one on each side of the room. Only one half of the room looked lived in, with things on the bedside table and pictures on the wall. The bookshelf above the bed was full too, with textbooks and a couple of novels. The most interesting thing, though was what was on the wall. Rather than posters of boy bands or paintings of the ocean or whatever, what was on the wall was what looked like a bunch of... newspaper clippings? Maria put her suitcase next to the other bed, and her overnight bag and backpack on the bed, before going over to get a closer look. On closer inspection, most of the articles were about governments keeping the existence of aliens secret, or about strange deaths or disappearances in the area. She was just reading an article about how a shady government organisation called U.N.I.T was hiding the existence of aliens with the help of a humanoid alien called the Doctor. It was actually really interesting.
"What are you doing?" Maria jumped what felt like three metres in the air. Shit. Her new roommate would choose now, when she was leaning over her bed staring at the wall like some complete weirdo, to walk in on her. Absolutely typical. She shot back to her own bed like she'd been shot out of a cannon, before turning and looking at the girl- her new roommate, Sarah Jane Smith.