The moment I took my first step into the Great Hall, I felt myself shrink. The ballroom-like space extended around me and made me feel small in its vastness. The decor was unique and vibrant, the walls rich with history and the people inside absolutely oblivious to their surroundings.
I, however, could simply stare as I followed my Aunt along the long lines of tables and people with colorful trays passing us by, all occasionally glancing my way, all saying hello to their Principal.
“The lines are longer than you’re used to back home but the food is much better here,” she explained and pointed at the line the students formed on the other side of the room. It was triple times longer, she was right about that. Yet the room was already full as it was. This school really had a lot of students enrolled, I realized.
As we made our way there, people’s stares became less incognito and more in the open. I could almost hear their whispering even if I didn’t want to.
There was nothing malicious in the way they looked at me. It was simply curiosity if nothing else. But I heard them.
“A new girl?”
“How long do you think she’ll last?”
“I heard she’s Lilith’s new roommate. Lord have mercy on her.”
“Lilith will make her life a living hell.”
“I feel bad for that girl.”
A shiver ran down my spine and I couldn’t bring myself to ask my aunt who they were talking about. Who was this Lilith Arwen and was it true we were to be roommates? If so, what had happened to her previous one?
Aunt Jessica filled me in as we stood in line together, waiting to get lunch.
“Here, you’ll be having breakfast, lunch and dinner. The Great Hall is open all hours and you’re free to hang out, play board games or study with friends whenever you want. You are required to attend all classes, no skipping school,” she said that part rather quickly as if knowing I would never dare.
I nodded to let her know I was listening when my eyes suddenly slid to the door. In walked a blonde-headed girl with the most glorious eyebrows I’ve ever seen. She took each step with a scary load of confidence; ignoring that the moment everyone saw her step foot in the Great Hall, they all went quiet.
The girl marched in, brushing past the gaping people and joined the line. If it were good or bad luck that my Aunt and I were the last ones was yet to be determined. She stopped right in front of me and I made sure to get my shit together - not to stare like some sort of a creep. The rest of the school seemed to recover as well. I absently took out my phone and pretended to be busy.
My Aunt, however, had other plans. She greeted the girl with a warm, wide grin.
“Lilith, darling, you always make quite an entrance,” she laughed softly.
That was Lilith? Shit.
“Hard to resist,” Lilith shrugs passively in response to my aunt. Her words oozed with a British accent and I couldn’t tell whether it was real. I heard from my Aunt that Voice studies was a class here, dedicated to master your voice and accents.
“Who’s the new girl?” Lilith spoke, nudging her head at me. I looked up from my phone and sent her a look, sending her telepathic signals to change the tone of her voice. I also took a moment to fully take her in.
She wore black ripped jeans and a fancy, patterned blouse that sure looked expensive. We were about the same height, but I thought I might be a bit taller than her. Her blonde hair fell below her shoulders and it was clear it wasn’t dyed. But the glimmer in her bright blue eyes was one that promised trouble if I didn’t clear out of her way.
My Aunt’s smile faded a little as she realized neither of us might like each other. Something about Lilith just rubbed me the wrong way. She reminded me of a meaner version of Diana and Addie, my two former best friends. As if she thought the world belonged to her. All she had to do was take it.
Maybe I was being unfair. I didn’t even know the girl after all.
“Lilith, I’d like you to meet my niece. Astrid, this is Lilith. You two are coincidentally new roommates,” my Aunt introduced the two of us. She gave Lilith one of her warning looks.
As she did, aunt Jessica’s secretary approached her and asked for her time. “I’ll let you get to know each other. Astrid, here’s your key. Lilith, be nice.”
She walked away and let both of us stand there awkwardly, staring at each other. The line finally moved forward and we both snapped out of our uncomfortable silence.
“Since you’re my new roommate, I have some ground rules. Don’t bring your friends to our room. I’m not interested in being involved in any school drama so if you get caught up, don’t expect me to listen to you whine. You can be up after lights out but if you make any noise, I’ll make sure they find you another room. If you take my stuff or if I find you borrow any of my clothes, I will burn everything you have brought with you. Don’t mess with me and we’ll be fine. Understood?”
I sighed. “Are you always so demanding or are you just trying to scare me away?”
“Excuse me?” She asked.
“I get it. I’m new and I’m in your personal space. You need to draw boundaries, show authority over me. But I also know your type. You push people around, make them bend to your will and don’t care about anyone but yourself. Usually, people like you would try to make friends with everybody because the only way to show how much you’re worth is through endless seas of faceless, shallow friendships. But since you’re not trying to make friends with me and rather intimidate me, I’m guessing it’s that you don’t need friends, right? You’re too good for that. So spare me. I don’t need to be friends with people who don’t think about anyone but themselves.”
My rant was personal and cold. I was describing my old friends and as I spoke, the wounds on my heart slowly ripped open one by one, blood dripping out slowly but steadily. Pain filled my voice and that pain was the only thing that made me strong enough to stand up against yet another bully in my life.
Not here, I told myself. I would not let anyone treat me that way ever again.
However brave my outburst had seemed, my anxiety took over me and the desire to be liked. I knew I blew it with Lilith. She would make my life a living hell now. I could see it on her face as I spoke. The anger, the astonishment flashing in her eyes.
My heart beat fast and my hands became clammy. I may have just made my very first enemy here. And I didn’t choose my battle wisely. She was clearly very popular, respected and feared.
“Anything else you’d like to add?” She asked and raised one of her glorious eyebrows.
“Yes, there actually is. I really wanted us to be friends but if you don’t think that’s going to happen then let me know so that I can walk away right now,” I told her boldly and kept the eye contact.
The whole room seemed to wait for her answer. Even I was wondering if this was about to turn into something I would end up regretting.
Lilith stared at me for a moment and bit her lip as if she were thinking about what to do to me. “You look so innocent but I guess you skip the bark and go straight for the bite.”
She ran a hand through her hair and sighed.
“I guess I waited long enough to meet someone who’s not afraid of me. Yes,” she then said to herself. “I think we’ll get along just fine.”
“Good, I’d like that,” I told her and we moved up the line. We were almost ready to grab our lunch now.
“You know,” she started. “Your Aunt told me you were coming and you’re nothing like I had expected. I figured since she’s so bubbly that you’d be too.”
“And I heard people whisper about you as if you’re the Devil incarnated yet I hadn’t expected to actually see one,” I replied.
She smirked and then went to check out the food options with me. She helped me decide what was good here and what I should stay away from. I didn’t expect us to sit at the same table together. We weren’t friends after all.
But when she invited me to join her, I felt grateful to her. Walking away and sitting on my own would be really uncomfortable and awkward. I had never been the new girl before. Is this what everybody feels on their first day? Absolutely terrified?
She led me to a table on the outside veranda/space-thingy I didn’t even know how to call here. Everything had been that much bigger, that much more impressive than it was back home.
We sat down and I awkwardly followed, not saying a word to her as I eyed the foor in front.
“Why are you here?” Lilith asked and I immediately looked up, panicking in my mind that I wasn’t supposed to follow her to the table. But then she quickly clarified. “It’s the middle of the year, your parents haven’t moved across the globe and you don’t just send your daughter to our school as punishment. You send her to a boot camp or something. So, what brought you here so suddenly?”
“I honestly don’t know. I don’t usually pick up and leave. But I really needed a change and I had enough of people treating me like a puppet,” I told her.
“When people push, you push back. You don’t just leave,” Lilith replied to me. “Besides, you had no problem doing it to me.”
“That’s different. It’s easier to stand up to someone you don’t know. It makes it less personal and less messy anyway.”
Lilith shrugged and didn’t bother to reply. Instead, she pulled out her phone.
“What’s your last name? I want to add you on social medias,” she told me.
“Bailey. Astrid Bailey,” I said and sighed. A few days ago, that name made me feel ashamed. To be Astrid Bailey, the girl everybody liked to laugh at.
She typed it in and froze at what displayed before her. “Oh,” she could barely hide her surprise.
“What? What is it?” I asked.
I stood up and changed my seat. I slid into the one next to her and tried to take a look at her phone.
“I’m guessing nobody knew you’re leaving?” She asked and showed me the comments on my profile and the ones that showed up if she searched for my name. Something specific caught my eye so I tapped on it and ended up regretting it immediately.
My old school’s website opened and I recognized the forum. A new topic was started and its title was my name. The Astrid Bailey Rumor Mill.
“What the hell is this?” Lilith asked as we read through the comments together.
what-is-love commented: did you hear? she left xD
tooqlforsql commented: I heard she got pregnant and bailed
quinn.the.queen commented: I heard her parents kicked her out for being such a loser
what-is-love commented: hahaha too true!
phoenixabermath commented: she’s in new york. connor let it slip in his argument with matt. never seen the two of them so riled up against each other. yikes.
kalea commented: who cares! She’s gone and Kai is totally single! Yum :P
I stopped reading halfway through the comments. The rest of them were mostly speculations as to why I left or them expressing how happy they were about it. Knowing what everybody thought left a sour taste in my mouth.
I hadn’t done anything to earn their hate. I always kept to myself and never tried to get in anybody’s way. I guess I was just the unfortunate victim of a bandwagon hate. Because it was cool to hate someone everybody hated anyway.
Lilith kept reading the comments but I stopped myself. I stood up again and sat down across from her as I was sitting before. Reflecting on their words would only cause me harm. I couldn’t think about it. Not now. Not now.
If I did, I’d cry. There was no use. It wouldn’t get me anywhere. I couldn’t make people like me.
I tried to cheer myself up but I failed. Lilith saw the pained expression on my face and called out my name.
“Hey, people here are nothing like that. We’re a family. We support each other no matter what,” she attempted to make me feel better but it wasn’t working. I gave her a half-assed nod but it was see-through. “I don’t know what happened but you did the right thing by leaving. You don’t need those kinds of people in your life.”
“I know,” I stated and hoped to shake off the feeling of sorrow washing over me like a flood.
“I’ll tell you what, eat your food and I’ll introduce you to some people here,” Lilith offered a distraction but it was one I really didn’t want right now.
“I’m actually quite tired and would appreciate it if you could just show me to our room so I could get settled in. It’s been a long day already.”
She understood and agreed. After lunch, we both dumped our trays and I followed her down a set of hallways.
We climbed some stairs, took some shortcuts and passed people by. Finally, after what felt like hours, we finally arrived to our room.
“We’re here. Room 222,” she pointed and handed me the key to do the honors.
“Two is my lucky number. This must be a sign, I guess,” I hinted and turned the key in the lock.
“Triple luck,” she smiled wickedly and I opened the door.
It. Was. Beautiful.
The room was spacious, bright and it made me feel at home for some reason. Wow. I hadn’t expected it to be this big.
One bed was on the left and the other one was on the right. A staircase in the corner led to the upper floor where I could see a bathroom and closets. Directly in front of us was a doorway that led to a balcony with the most breathtaking view I had ever seen.
“You’re lucky your aunt is the Principal. You either have to be crazy rich or have contacts on the inside to get this room. It’s the best one they offer.”
“It’s incredible.” I could feel my breath be taken away over and over again.
“The right side is yours. There’s the bathroom, that’s your closet and here’s your desk. Stay on your side and don’t go through my things, got it?”
There was nothing mean in her tone. Nothing even close to the way she spoke before.
“Of course,” I agreed and headed over to my side where two humble suitcases and a bag with my school supplies waited for me. My stuff still hadn’t arrived.
I decided to unpack and finally settle in. In the evening, both Lilith and I went to dinner at a later hour to avoid the line and a crowd staring at me.
I told her a few general things about me - where I was from, my birthday, favorite color, first pet, etc. And she mostly listened, not really telling me anything about her. I assumed she was a really private person.
I could understand that.
We tried to fill the awkward silence even as we walked together to my aunt’s office to get my schedule. They told me how they did things around here. About the classes and private lessons.
“You still have to catch up on a lot of things but consider tomorrow to be your assessment day. We’ll go on from there,” aunt Jessica told me and I felt myself nod through the exhaustion. I got so much information today that my head was starting to ache.
Eventually, Lilith and I returned to our room and got ready for bed.
By lights out, I was already fast asleep.