Morning, 23rd Intas, 2719 | The Stacks
LLate, late, late. Madeleine was already late, but she dawdled a little more, looking out across the manicured lawn towards the front gate. Two students walked past her, both laughing, the full skirts of their uniforms swishing gently across the path. Madeleine shifted out of their way, watching them go, and turned her attention back to the cluster of older students at the front gates. She half-held her breath as the two girls made their way across the lawn, clasping hands and giggling at one another before splitting up to go with their respective escorts.
They made it look so easy!
Madeleine huffed. If only she could see from here who had her name. She recognized three of the ninth form students standing there, two boys and one girl, friends of her siblings who’d come to their home during the break before the term started. Madeleine’s cheeks burned to think about it. She’d only asked if she could go with them into Vienda for the day – from the way they had laughed, you would have thought it was the world’s funniest joke! There wasn’t anything funny about it, though, not in the slightest.
And worse, one of them had been – really very handsome, but he had looked at her, right at her. He hadn’t even laughed, he had done this thing with his face where his lip sort of lifted at the side, and revealed a slight flash of white teeth. A sneer. Madeleine had read about sneers in books, naturally, but she’d never seen one so picturesque in real life, and she’d never thought to see it directed at her.
More of the ninth and tenth formers were trickling out, their charges with them. Madeleine was almost holding her breath; her hands gripped the sides of her long green skirt, twitching it slightly. Maybe if she waited long enough, all three of the twins’ friends would leave, and she’d be able to – then, surely she could –
Madeleine checked the small card they’d given her at the school’s reception. Lilanee Kuleda. None of them had been named Lilanee, had they? It wasn’t exactly like she’d been given an introduction! Madeleine shivered. The girl had laughed the hardest of all of them. Madeleine still wasn’t sure what had been so funny; she’d been dressed properly, in her nicest school uniform, freshly pressed, and she had tried so hard with her hair, brushing it out and wearing it loose around her face. She had been sure it would look nice that way.
Well, she hadn’t tried that again. Madeleine reached up to run her fingers along the ridges of the french braid neatly set against her scalp, then pulled her hand away, guiltily. It was windy enough; the last thing she needed was for little wisps of thick hair to come flying loose and ruin the entire thing. She’d even put on a headband to hold it all in place, once she’d looked out the window and seen how windy it was.
The ninth form girl and one of the boys left with their two students; Madeleine couldn’t really hear them laughing, but she could see it. Only one left, but it ws the handsome boy, the sneering one. Madeleine clasped her hands to her satchel, gripping the strap slung across her chest. She could do this, she promised herself. Slowly – slowly – she took a step forward across the lawn. The wind snatched at her hair, and, suddenly, two loose strands were flying straight across her face, one practically in her eyes. Madeleine held utterly still, as if maybe if she didn’t move, somehow, time would rewind and her braid would be properly done once more.
As if taunting her, a third strand wiggled its way loose, curling across her neck. Madeleine could have sworn the ninth former boy was looking over at her and laughing. Anger burned in her chest, and Madeleine dropped the satchel against her chest, lifted her hands, and unwove the braid with shaking fingers. Her hair streamed wildly about, flapping in the wind, but she lifted her chin, squared her shoulders, and marched across the lawn, barely able to see through the thick reddish brown strands.
Madeleine came to an abrupt stop in front of the remaining few ninth formers, skirts fluttering loudly against her legs. There were three girls left, and Madeleine turned to them. Two had a card with someone else’s name on it; the other didn’t. Fine. Madeleine took a deep breath, turned towards the girl without the card, and shoved what she could of her hair behind her ears.
"Lilanee Kuleda?" Madeleine asked, and her voice trembled as she did it. "I’m – Madeleine. Madeleine Gosselin."