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Bookworm

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“We’re here,” Franky’s case worker announced in a sing-song voice that made her want to punch the woman in the throat. She resisted the urge, and clenched her fist instead. They both exited the car and stood in front of the massive brick building with the stone insignia, ‘Lawrenceville Academy’.

“Home sweet home,” Franky muttered as she shrugged her worn yellow backpack over one shoulder. Miss Susan, as she’d like to be called, fetched her suitcase with the broken wheel from the boot of the car.

“Listen, Francesca. I worked really hard to get out of doing time in Juvenile Corrections,” Susan said softly as she tried to roll Franky’s small suitcase towards her. It was sad to think all of her belongings fit inside it.

“I know,” Franky nodded. “Thank you,” she whispered.

“This is a golden opportunity for you. A fresh start. A chance to use that brain of yours for good,” Susan smiled softly.

“I know,” Franky repeated again, trying to hide the annoyance in her voice. She had scanned the brochures toting an annual price in five figures. It was practically chump change to most of the student’s parents. To Franky, it was a ticket out.

“Just please don’t stuff this up,” the case worker begged. Franky felt guilty. Sure, she was annoying as fuck, but Miss Susan had seen her through the last five homes in three years. Now here she was again breaking her neck for her after Franky had been charged with assault of her foster brother, the fucking creep. Franky was looking at six months to a year for her charge, but somehow she’d found a private school with a scholarship program for kids like Franky. Franky had never given much effort in school, but still managed to sail by in all her courses with ease. She’d passed the entrance exams with flying colors and secured a seat at the most prestigious boarding school in the country. If she didn’t stuff it up, that is. The conditions were very clear, one false move and she was gone. Her fancy uniform would be exchanged for prison trackies faster than she could say, ‘You’re fucked’.

Out of the large wooden doors walked who Franky assumed to be the Headmistress.

“You must be Francesca Doyle?” The petite woman read from Franky’s application folder in her hands. She was dressed plainly in an all black uniform buttoned all the way up to her neck.

“Yes it is,” Susan touched Franky’s shoulders in an awkward hug. Franky did her best to smile and make a good first impression.

“My name is Governor Bennet,” the woman extended her hand.

“It's nice to meet you.” Franky turned the charm up high, determined to make this work.

She had two years until she aged out. She knew if she worked hard enough, she could get a good scholarship to Uni and break the cycle for good. She wanted so much more than what the world had mapped out for her since birth.

“If you both would follow me, we can finish your enrollment processing. Headmistress Ferguson will be joining us later.” Interesting, Franky thought. So Governor Bennet was second in charge. The suited woman led the way in through the large double doors. The interior was deep rich wood tones and red carpet all the way through. A large staircase set in the middle of the room spiral upwards towards the classrooms. The main floor was divided into several lounge areas where various students were reading or talking with friends. All of them wore the same red blazers with the same crest embroidered on the lapel. Most of the students were too occupied to pay them much mind as they walked towards the admissions office. Franky followed closely behind, feeling like an animal on parade. She caught the eye of a petite blonde resting comfortably on the arm of a chair.

“Sit properly, Ms. Novak,” Governor Bennet instructed as they passed. The young girl rolled her eyes and sunk back into the seat of the chair. Franky smiled softly as their eyes met.

“So we have received your test results and medical history,” Governor Bennet retrieved Franky’s portfolio from the filing cabinet in the corner of the small room. She motioned for the two of them to sit. Franky shrugged off her backpack and set it on top of her suitcase before sitting down across from the Governor. “We do need a copy of your birth certificate and transcripts.”

“Yes, of course,” Susan nodded as she fetched the required items from her bag. Franky’s eyes wandered across the paintings on the walls. All were photographs of what she believed to be the school’s students all filed into bleachers in front of the brick building. She watched as the photographs went from fuzzy black and white to technicolor. The size of the class increased as time went on.

“Is that alright, Francesca?” She roused back to the present when she heard her name called again.

“I’m sorry,” she blushed, having been caught in a daydream.

“I said here is a copy of your class schedule. Unfortunately some of your credits will not transfer, we don’t accept grades below a C average,” Governor Bennet passed the transcript back across the table with her lips pursed.

“Francesca had a bit of trouble at her last school,” Susan attempted to explain her poor grades.

“Well hopefully that trouble did not follow you here. Thankfully your placement exams qualify you in grade 11 classes.”

“Yeah, great,” Franky picked up her schedule and glanced over it quickly. Seemed pretty standard; Math, science, history… advanced placement English language? “I think there’s been a mistake. I can’t write for sh-” Franky began only to get an elbow in the ribs by Susan. “Sorry, I mean, I’m not sure I should place that high in English.” Franky had never gotten above a C in English. She hated most of her former teachers. All of them nosy cows trying to get her to open up with pen and paper.

“That’s where your scores placed you,”

“Why not give it a shot and see?” Susan smiled. Franky nodded, afraid to say anymore. Before Governor Bennet could continue, the door suddenly opened loudly behind them. Startled, Franky jumped and dropped her enrollment folder on the floor in front of her. It was funny how triggers worked. One moment she was fine, and the next even the slightest of sounds could send her jumping out of her skin. She scrambled quickly to pick up all the tiny brochures about programs and clubs and cram them back into the red folder.

“Forgive me for my tardiness. Governor Bennet, thank you for starting without me. There was a situation in one of the dormitories.” Once Franky had finally stuffed all the papers back, she glanced up to see the stoic face of her new Headmistress. Her dark hair was pulled back smoothly into a bun at the base of her neck. Franky silently wondered how much hairspray it took to get it to stay that way.

“Should I go help?” Governor Bennet reached for her keys and walkie talkie beside her.

“No, no, it’s all settled now. This must be Francesca Doyle.” The stoic figure’s dark eyes

finally landed on Franky, sitting uncomfortably in her hand me down jeans that were too short for her tall figure and faded green sweatshirt that had seen much better days. She suddenly felt that nagging feeling of fear at the base of her spine. She hadn’t felt it there since…

“You must be Headmistress Ferguson,” Ripped from her memories, Susan pulled Franky to stand beside her and discretely elbowed her until Franky remembered to extend her hand. Franky smiled politely as she held out her hand to shake the stone faced woman’s. Silently Franky watched as she inspected Franky’s extended hand which she declined to shake. Instead she reached out and placed a large palm over Franky’s boney shoulder and gave it what was meant to be a reassuring squeeze. Franky’s green eyes met hers in a silent exchange.

“Welcome to Lawrenceville Academy, Francesca.” Ferguson smiled through tight lips.

“Happy to be here,” Franky smiled back.

 

It felt like ages had passed sitting in the uncomfortable office chairs while the two women went through the extremely detailed entrance procedures. Franky somehow felt like she was being booked into Juvie after all. What was next, a strip search?

“One last matter to discuss,” the Headmistress spoke. Thank fucking Jesus, Franky thought to herself. She felt stifled in the stale air of the room and she desperately had to pee. Another folder was opened in front of her and Susan. “A work study placement,”

“Right, of course,” Susan nodded. Franky eyed her, confused.

“One of the conditions of your enrollment in our program is on the basis that you will be spending fifteen to twenty hours a week working towards bettering our campus.” A job? Franky could have scoffed out loud. She had done far worse things than some sweeping floors for much less rewards. Franky nodded silently instead.

“The students could always use some help in the culinary program,” Governor Bennet offered. “What about a preparatory position in the mornings before classes?” Cutting some veggies in the mornings was her punishment? Seriously? Before she could open her mouth to accept the position, Ferguson quickly intervened.

“I somehow don’t think a position in the kitchen would be...appropriate for Ms. Doyle. We wouldn’t want to risk any injuries, now would we?” she cocked an eyebrow.

Silence fell upon the group of women. So the Headmistress she knew the full reason that Franky was there begging at her door for sanctuary. Touché, Ferguson. Something about this woman gave Franky the fucking creeps.

“What about the library? We could always use someone to do some reshelving in the evening after classes. We can’t harm anyone with books now can we?” There was that condescending smile once more.

“I’d love to,” Franky answered quietly pushing her anger back down.

“It’s settled then. We can arrange a schedule later with the librarian.” She pushed the paperwork closer to Franky to sign.

“Well, that’s it. You’re officially enrolled.” Governor Bennet extended her hand with a smile. Franky shook it gently.

“Welcome. I will leave you to do the tour, Governor,” the Headmistress rose to leave without another glance towards Franky or Susan.

“If you need anything, you can call my cell number alright?” Susan whispered at the top of the stone steps during their goodbye . Franky nodded silently. These moments always felt so weird no matter how many times that they’d encountered them. “I mean it,”

“I know.”

“You’re a smart kid, Franky. No fucking up, alright?” The case worker held out her pinkie which Franky quickly wrapped around her own in a silent swear that she would try her best.

“No fucking up,” Franky swallowed back the emotion that was threatening to escape. She cleared her throat quickly.

“I’ll check in soon, alright? But if you need anything-”

“Call, I know,” Franky nodded. Susan pulled her into a hug even though she knew Franky wasn’t big on physical affection.

“I’ll miss you, kid.” She whispered honestly. She saw so much of herself in Franky. She prayed silently that this would be the fresh start that this unlucky kid needed.

“Miss you, too. Thank you for this,” Franky replied honestly. She quickly swiped the corners of her eyes of any half-shed tears.

“No fucking up,” Susan smiled again as she walked down the steps towards her car, leaving Franky alone once more. Franky watched as she drove away and waved. She then turned around and gazed at the building once more. She met Governor Bennet back at the doors with a bright smile and determination inside of her.

No fucking up, Doyle.