"Let me guess, he gave you the 'Louis is an uncontrollable rebel' speech again?" Louis gave a yawn, covering his mouth as his mum placed bacon and eggs in front of him, "Or he said I'd amount to nothing and to not get your hopes up".
"No. He told me he's given you enough chances and this called for drastic punishment", she said, keeping her eyes on her son. "What do you have to say about it?"
Louis huffed out a breath.
"It's hardly a punishment worthy task. We were just having a bit of fun!"
That made Jay glare at him.
"Spray painting your Principal's car is not a joke, Louis. It's the first week of the school year and a bunch of teenagers decided to give his car a makeover! And you even dragged poor Liam into it!"
"Liam didn't mind standing guard though he did a pathetic job of it", Louis muttered, thinking back to how their Principal had wandered around the corner just as Louis and Stan were putting on the finishing touches, Liam standing behind him with a 'I'm so sorry!' look on his face.
Louis took a bite of his breakfast as he added, "I don't get why he's so mad about it. If you'd seen that car before we were done with it! He should be paying us for doing all of human kind a service…"
"I cannot believe you have the audacity to tell me your Principal should thank you for painting his car neon pink!"
"Bubblegum pink", Louis couldn't stop himself from smirking. "That's what it said on the can. We thought it'd suit his complexion".
"Louis Tomlinson! This is not a laughing matter! I have never been more disappointed in you and…"
Louis sighed as his mum spoke, nodding in all the right places, pulling off the 'repentant' face to perfection, if he did say so himself. He wasn't the best drama student for nothing!
"Pack your bags", she said at last, "I'm dropping you and Liam off tomorrow".
"Dropping us off where?" Louis asked, feeling as if he had missed something important.
"Your new boarding school. It's called Stanford Institute. Your Principal recommended it. Said it was the perfect place for spirited young men", Jay ran a hand through her hair, obviously finding this to be an acceptable enough reason.
"Mum!" Louis jumped up, eyes wide. He had heard of Stanford in the way children heard of the evil queen's castle in Snow White- too far away for it to be of any significance to them. "You can't be serious about sending me there! Stan's cousin used to go there and he told us they used metal chains to whip them if they stepped a toe out of line! Metal chains!"
Jay gave him a fondly exasperated look.
"Oh, don't be ridiculous, Boo! I've looked through all the brochures Karen gave me. They do no such things! In fact, it's one of the highest academic institutions in…"
"Liam's mum gave you brochures?" Louis narrowed his eyes at his mother, who was suddenly very immersed in studying the depths of her tea. "I thought you said the Principal recommended this place?"
"Well…he did. Technically. He said that there wasn't much the school could do for you and that your troublemaking was a sign of boredom…"
"Boredom!" Louis scoffed, "Anyone would be bored with the classes we have to sit through!"
"Exactly!" Jay nodded as if pleased with the answer. "See? You need to go to a school that will push you, give you more opportunities than this town ever could".
She was starting to sound an awful lot like Liam and Louis narrowed his eyes further, knowing somehow that his friend was behind this.
"So Karen had a look at this place and she came back with brochures from Stanford Institution. We both agreed that you two would be better off there for your final year of high school".
She beamed as if that settled the matter.
"Ah, no. Sorry, let's just back up a bit here. Liam's practically a kid genius! I can understand him wanting to go to a private boarding school but I'm fine here, thanks".
"Louis! You know that you're an equally bright…"
She ignored his mutter of, "Not really".
"…and extremely talented person. Your Principal agrees that you would thrive in a school that could challenge you in the way Stanford can. I know it's a bit far from home and your sisters and I are going to miss you terribly but this is what's best for your future…"
"You're wasting your time", Louis pointed out but Jay just gave him a glare, changing her tone to the same one she used to use when Louis snuck an extra cookie from the snack jar before dinner.
"…and you are going to pack your bags tonight, young man so I can drive you and Liam down to Stanford tomorrow. You will be staying there for the remainder of the school year and that is non-negotiable! Why can't you be excited about it? Liam is!"
"Of course he is!" Louis muttered because Liam Payne had the ability to be excited about anything and everything. He was a glass half full kind of guy even when it was, in reality, three quarters empty. Louis remembered one time when Liam had gotten food poisoning and had still found a way to smile about it.
Louis, personally, had not seen any bright side to puking in the toilet every twenty minutes!
"So that's it then? I don't get a say in it at all?" Louis finally asked, playing his last card. The guilt card.
Jay sighed at that and her voice sounded drained when she said, "It's for your own good, Boo. Just give it a go, yeah?"
"It's fucking bullshit is what it is!" he shouted because if he didn't get angry, he knew he would start to cry. And that just couldn't be allowed to happen. What if Lottie or Fizzy walked in and saw him crying like a baby? They'd never let him live it down!
Jay didn't correct his language or stop him from walking out of the kitchen and into his room. She didn't say a word as she heard the slam of his bedroom door. It was only after she was certain he couldn't hear her that she picked up her phone and dialled a familiar number.
"Karen? We'll see you and Liam bright and early tomorrow!" She smiled into the phone as Karen squealed back, talking about how much brighter their kids' futures would be with an education from Stanford. It really was one of the best in the country!
And so, to Louis' great dissatisfaction, despite him refusing to leave his room the whole day and barely eating anything, he found himself bundled into the car the next morning, large suitcase in tow.
His bad mood only got worse when they pulled up at Liam's to see him practically bouncing on his feet, the very picture of uncontainable joy. It was sickening, Louis thought, how someone could be so bright and chirpy at such an ungodly hour!
"Tommo!" Liam beamed at him as he got in the car, making Louis groan and slip the hood over his head.
Not to be deterred, Liam began prodding his arm with his hand.
"Come on, mate! How can you sleep at a time like this?"
"Payne, it's six fucking thirty in the morning!" Louis grumbled but Liam's enthusiasm only seemed to grow at that.
"I know! Can you believe it? We're going to Stanford! Finally! Only took my mum three years to convince!"
That made Louis look up, the glare on his face directed at his best friend.
"You're the reason I have to go to this stupid place?"
"Stupid?" Liam seemed affronted. "It's got the highest academics in the country, Louis! That's not to be taken lightly! They have a vigorous study schedule, I've heard. Imagine how much better our final grades will be at the end of the year! We could get into any university we wanted!"
"Too early in the morning to think about studies!" Louis mumbled but Liam was chattering away beside him as fast as the speed of sound could carry and Louis finally gave up as the last remnants of sleep slipped away from his desperate hold.
"So then", he finally asked more out of boredom than anything else, "Where exactly is this place?"
"You didn't read the brochures? Of course you didn't read the brochures! I don't know why I bother honestly…" Liam began before answering Louis' question in the most long-winded way possible.
In the end, Louis had figured out it was somewhere near the coast and quite a journey away from his small hometown.
The further away they got, the more excited Liam became and the quieter Louis ended up. It got to the point where even Jay, who was blasting The Beatles on her speaker, noticed.
"You're unusually quiet, Boo. Everything okay?" she asked.
No, Louis wanted to say. Nothing is okay. I don't know why I'm in this car. I don't want to go to this bloody school.
What he finally said though was, "Yeah. Just a bit tired".
Liam looked over at him with a grin and said, "Let's hope our first stop on the school tour is the cafeteria then. Get you pumped up on caffeine!"
Louis grunted but didn't add anything further. In all honesty, he doubted even an entire room of caffeine could get him pumped up about this place.
"You could at least pretend to laugh. I put a lot of effort into my jokes, you know!" Liam pouted and Louis had to give a small smile. He stopped the moment he realised what he was doing.
Louis was not happy, damn it! And no one was going to make him pretend otherwise!
Sad face, keep the sad face strong, Louis chanted to himself in his head.
"Alright, Tommo. We may as well get this over with since you're going to act like a miserable prick the whole day if we don't", Liam sighed, turning to face his friend and lowering his voice so Jay wouldn't hear. "Tell me. What's wrong?"
Louis raised his eyebrows at him.
"What's wrong? Let's start with the fact we're going to a school which has a reputation for taking on rebellious teenagers- undoubtedly the only reason i got in. I'm probably going to get murdered in there. Not that anyone would miss me if that did happen", he muttered.
"Sheesh, mate! It's a school not a high security prison!" Liam exclaimed and Louis had to fight not to laugh at that one. Why was Liam trying to make it so bloody hard to stay sad?
"If you're really lucky", Liam whispered conspiratorially, "The Principal here might need her car to be renovated too. Just make sure you've got all the exits covered this time, yeah?"
"Novice mistake", Louis whispered back and despite being annoyed, he couldn't stop the grin from spreading on his face. "I'll know for next time at least!"
Jay heard that last part for she gave him a glare in the mirror.
"There won't be a next time, Louis Tomlinson".
"Of course not, Mum!" Louis smiled back before winking at Liam, who chuckled behind his hand. Because God forbid if he appeared to be rude in front of an adult!
Then again, Louis thought, maybe he should take some tips from Liam. Everyone loved him- parents, teachers, old ladies. Even terrifying cats (Louis still had no idea why Mr.Twinkles, the menace of a cat that lived across the street from him, was happy to cuddle with Liam when he'd rather gouge Louis' eyes out than let him near him!).
Louis had no doubt that within a week, every student, staff and pet at Stanford's would be devoted to Liam. He was just that friendly a guy! He hardly ever broke the rules as well, unlike Louis and he still felt a bit guilty for their car prank, the only one in which he had managed to convince Liam to stand guard and also the only one where he had been caught red-handed.
Liam didn't seem to mind too much though, especially not now that he was getting the chance to go to a better school.
It was just after twelve thirty that they arrived at their new school.
"Alright boys. Here we are", Jay said as they pulled up outside a large, grey…castle? It certainly looked big enough to be one. Louis found himself wishing Phoebe and Daisy, his youngest sisters, were here to see this. They'd love it! The thought was followed quickly by a pang of homesickness that Louis brushed aside. His mum hadn't even left yet and he was already homesick! That just wouldn't do!
"It was built in the 1800's", Liam, the human encyclopaedia, was saying as he pointed towards the large building. Liam was just full of fun little facts like that!
But even Louis had to admit that it was beautiful and not at all like what he had been expecting. Then again, he had been expecting something straight out of a horror novel, complete with hanging skeletons in the windows. Stanford's large windows faced the front drive and glinted in the sunlight, devoid of any skeletal remains. There were three towers,both wide and tall, rising up on either sides of the building. Louis got out of the car to hear the sound of waves crashing against rocks somewhere nearby.
He looked over at Liam with questioning eyes and was immediately graced with an answer.
"Stanford overlooks the Atlantic Ocean", he pointed towards where the large brick wall that surrounded the place obscured Louis' view of what he supposed was the ocean. "In summer, they let us go down to the beach and swim or surf. I can't wait!"
Louis ran a hand through his already tousled hair, breathing in the fresh scent of the ocean breeze. This was the place he was going to be staying in for the next eight months. He wasn't sure how he felt about it yet.
"You must be Mr. Louis Tomlinson and Mr. Liam Payne!" an enthusiastic voice said from the now open doorway of the castle. A woman with blonde hair curled into a bun stood there, her bright pink lipsticked smile making Louis feel immediately ill at ease with her presence. She looked rather like a bat to Louis with her pointed face and bright eyes. The kind of bat that would suck your blood…or was that only a thing in supernatural novels?
"I'm Martha", she said, walking up to shake hands with Jay. Then she turned to the boys. "But you'll both learn to know me as Madame Grey, the Headmistress of this fine institution. Let's go to my office, shall we? So we can discuss the conditions of your stay. It's especially a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Payne", she added.
Louis suspected Liam's astounding grades had something to do with that. Increase the reputation of the school and all.
She led them into the castle and Louis was amazed by how welcoming the inside was. The corridors were carpeted and there were bright lamps on the stone walls that seemed to be permanently turned on. Nothing like the prison he had imagined it to be!
The woman called Martha who resembled a bat (Louis didn't have to call her Madame Grey in his own thoughts!) kept up a steady stream of chatter with Jay, steadily ignoring the boys who trailed behind her.
They didn't see any other kids around as they made their way up a flight of stairs to Martha's office. Her very large, luxuriously furnished office. She offered tea to Jay and offered her the a visitor's seat then offered Liam the same courtesy, leaving Louis to stand.
"We can share!" the ever generous Liam immediately said but Louis shook his head and placed a friendly hand on his shoulder.
"Not a problem! I wanted to stand anyway". He already hated this place and, more specifically, the woman that sat at the desk sipping tea from a delicate china cup.
"I can promise you, Mrs. Tomlinson that you will hardly recognise the boys by the end of their stay. There's not a bad nut in the country Stanford hasn't been able to change for the better!", Martha said to Jay with the sickeningly sweet smile only one with true evil in her heart could produce. Louis thought he had the right to be dramatic, all things considering!
"Oh, please call me Jay. I don't think either of them are really…bad nuts", Jay said a little uncertainly, glancing at Louis. "Bringing them here was more so they could have better opportunities than what their old school could offer them, you know?"
"Of course!" Martha's tone immediately changed to pacifying. "I can personally guarantee you that Stanford offers only the very best to its students. We have some of the best and most experienced staff in the country, quality…"
"You can drop the act", Louis said casually, "She's already paid the fees".
"Louis!" Jay scolded lightly and Liam gave him a disapproving frown but it was worth it to see Martha's forced smile slip a bit.
"Sorry", his mum apologised on his behalf because Louis sure as hell wasn't going to! "He's a bit of a joker at times".
Martha gave an obviously fake laugh, her eyes hard as they turned to Louis.
"I'm sure he'll learn to contain himself within the first few weeks. We have an allocated time for everything at Stanford, including entertainment and jokes".
Louis' jaw actually fell open when she pushed a piece of paper across to him.
"This is your daily schedule", Martha explained before turning back to Jay and Liam, leaving Louis to stare at the ten minute block each afternoon labelled 'Entertainment'. What in actual hell was this insanity?
"They have normal classes-English, maths, science and so on- every weekday. Attendance is taken in each class and any unnecessary tardiness will result in detention".
Liam had sat forward, obviously interested in the stuff she was spewing so Louis tried to pay attention too. Knowing Liam, he'd give him a pop quiz on it later.
"Every Friday afternoon for two hours, you will have an Elective of your choice. The Electives are supervised by our Prefects so no teachers will be present but if any rules are broken, have no doubt that we will hear about it. Our Prefects are a very responsible bunch".
If Louis had been thinking about breaking any rules, he pushed that thought to the back of his mind.
Martha was still talking so he brought his attention back to the subject at hand.
"You have what we call 'clean up' on Saturday mornings. It's compulsory for all students unless you get a medical certificate from our resident doctor in the medical wing. You'll be expected to do small tasks such as sweeping and gardening during clean-up. Some students find it to be quite enjoyable!"
Louis was quite certain he would not be one of those students.
"Once a fortnight, we have a bus take students into town for any shopping or other things you might wish to do. However, these trips are meant to be a treat so if you receive any detention prior to the trip, you will not be allowed to go. As you've probably understood by now, we take great pride in our scholars' behaviour and attitude. Your behaviour is what decides how pleasant or unpleasant your Stanford experience will be! You know what they say. I am the master of my fate…"
"I am the captain of my soul!" Liam immediately chimed in, earning a soft-eyed smile from Martha.
"I'll tell you about your lodgings as well", she said, tapping on her computer's keyboard with sharp, red-polished nails. "The rooms are in the other two towers. They're set out in Blocks from A to F and each block has forty rooms and each room houses two students. Now, I'm sure I don't need to tell you this…"
She looked at Liam with another smile, "But just to cover the bases, I'll tell you anyway".
Her eyes turned to Louis, obviously letting him know the message was for his sake.
"At no time are you allowed to leave your Block and wander into any of the others. Not that you'll be in your dormitories much. Generally just for bed and afternoon naps".
"I haven't had an afternoon nap since I was in kindergarten", Louis thought and realised a second too late, he had spoken out loud.
"Well, you'll just have to get used to it again then, won't you?" Martha replied, shortly before turning to Jay again. "Each block has a Matron who checks they're keeping their beds and things clean and ordered. We have a medical wing as well so don't worry about them falling ill".
She laughed as if this were a personal joke before picking up a pen and paper from her top drawer.
"I'll just write down which dormitory block you're both in and then you can go up and find it. You'll have to say goodbye here, Jay. The dormitories are only for staff and students".
Jay nodded and Louis could see the tell tale signs that she was going to cry.
"I'll be fine, Mum. We both will", he told her as she pulled him into a hug. He was going to miss her. A lot. And the girls. He'd miss them the most!
"I know, I know", Jay sniffled but managed a smile. "Just follow the rules, both of you. And no more pulling pranks, alright? I want you home as soon as possible".
Louis nodded, forcing himself to smile and ignoring the lump in his throat.
Jay pulled Liam into a hug too, pressing a kiss to both their foreheads before she stepped back.
Her phone buzzed for attention and she looked down.
"It's your mum, Liam", she smiled at him, "Wants to know if you're settled in".
"Tell her not to worry too much", Liam answered with a smile, "I'll give her a call sometime today".
"Telephone hours for family and friends are written near the front door. If you're caught using your phones at any other time, you will get punished", Martha said from her place at the desk. Louis wanted to throw something at her face. They had allocated times for calls too? What was next? Toilet timetables?
"I'll take note of the times then", Jay said, giving Louis one last hug. "And I'll pass them onto Karen as well, Liam. Be good, boys. Liam, try and keep Louis in line, will you?"
"Hey!" Louis said at the same time Liam said, "I'll try my best!"
Louis and Liam waved as Jay walked out. They turned back when they heard Martha clearing her throat, rather impatiently.
"Your block and room numbers", she said, holding out two pieces of paper that they took. "Give those to your Matron and she'll give you your clothes and other things".
"Clothes?" Louis asked.
"Yes", Martha was smiling again and Louis had a bad feeling about it. "While at this institution, we expect all students to be equals so you are assigned a uniform. Also, all luxury items will be removed from your bags. Your Matron will tell you more about what is allowed and what isn't. Here's a map of the Institute. The black areas are out of bounds to students and you will be punished if you're found in any of them. Now, off you go. I have other matters to attend to".
She dismissed them curtly and turned back to the computer, the very picture of concentration. Probably playing Solitaire on it, Louis thought.
They left the office quietly, both feeling apprehensive. There sure were a lot of ways they could get punished in this place! Keeping the rules had never really been Louis' forte but he had promised himself that he would really try this time. He would be good.
A horrible thought struck him as they walked.
What if the Matron was worse than Martha? Louis wasn't sure he'd be able to survive eight months if that was the case!
"This is going to be so much fun! We're on the same block, right?" Liam asked suddenly and Louis felt a stab of fear enter his heart. He had simply assumed Liam and him would be rooming together but remembering the smile Martha wore, he wasn't so sure anymore.
"I'm Block A. Room 24".
Louis looked down at his paper and felt his heart clench. "Block A but Room 37. We're not even next to each other!"
Liam's face was as despondent as Louis' as they followed the map down identical looking corridors and found the long, winding stone staircase that led to the dorms. Every ten steps, there would be a door to the right or left with a sign above it announcing the Block. The first door they came across said Block F and Louis shared a look with Liam. They kept climbing, only stopping when they got to the last door, at the very top of the tower.
"Just our luck", Louis panted, trying to catch his breath. "We get given the Block that requires the most exercise to get to! We better have a bloody amazing view or I'm asking for my money back!"
Liam laughed at that and clapped Louis on the shoulder.
"Good to see you've gotten your sense of humour back", he grinned.
"Yeah, yeah", Louis grumbled but he was smiling. "Let's just see the place we'll be spending the rest of high school in".
He placed his hand on the handle but Liam stopped him.
"This is the first time we're walking into Stanford's rooms. Doesn't it almost feel sacred?"
Louis rolled his eyes but relented when Liam said, "Let's open it together".
"Fine", Louis answered and they put their hands on the handle, opening it as one.