Claire stares at the full-length mirror for the hundredth time, gazing at her reflection with such fierce concentration. The dim, white light of the girls' washroom highlights her moon-like pale complexion, magnifying every pore. Her well-groomed, blonde hair flows past her shoulders, and her azure-blue eyes, that are usually so distant from reality, are twinkling in rare satisfaction at her pristine appearance.
She turns around swiftly, examining her fresh uniform that is neatly ironed. Unlike most of the students in her class, Claire admires the school's dress code with its black blazer, navy and pleated skirt, royal-purple tie and polished, black pumps. St. Warren's Catholic School is well-known for its 'No Excuses' policy and students who defy the dress code will automatically be sent home to make suitable changes that meet the school's requirements. Even if it is a miniscule error, such as wearing the wrong shoes or brands that are deemed inappropriate, the school will discipline the students as it demands workplace perfection.
The school bell rings, snapping Claire out of her self-absorbed trance. It is the first day back from summer break and it is the beginning of Year Eleven - the most significant year that Claire has been waiting for anxiously. Teachers have warned the students that this is a stressful time because, soon, they will be facing their GCSE exams - something that the school has been emphasizing from the moment she joined. These exam results will follow her for life and predetermine the fate of her future careers. Butterflies form in the pit of her stomach just thinking about it.
She hurries to her classroom, knowing that the school does not tolerate tardiness and will punish students, even if they are one minute late to their lesson. Entering her spacious form room, the blonde girl examines her surroundings. She notices a cluster of students engaged in casual chattering and, surprisingly, there is no teacher in sight. The display boards on the walls are completely stripped, like colorful rectangles waiting to be plastered with this year's exemplary work pieces. Being an A-star student, Claire cannot wait to have her work decorating the classroom.
"Hey Claire Bear," says the all-too-familiar voice the girl dreaded to hear so early in the morning. Not only did his distinctly chirpy voice annoy her, but the stench of his body odor really intensifies her dislike for James Robertson. He is the opposite of her with his chubby frame, dark shaggy hair, and his disheveled uniform conveying an overall messy appearance. His puffy cheeks were glowing pink in excitement to see her.
"I really missed you, Gummy Claire. Did you miss me too?" He asks, as he pokes her arm with his plump finger. It is no surprise to everyone, including Claire, that the underachieving James has a big crush on the school's golden girl.
Claire heaves a sigh of annoyance.
"No, I did not," she replies flatly, moving away from his unwanted touch. Initially, she had tried to be nice to James, knowing that he was taunted by his peers for his poor hygiene and unusual mannerisms. However, he mistakenly interpreted her kindness for love, and he pestered her with his constant romantic advances. As a result, Claire has become cold towards him in the hopes of pushing him away.
James merely giggles in response, his playful smile reaching his radiant green eyes. "You're so funny, Clary."
"Hah, she's funny-looking, you mean," another voice chips in. Claire grits her teeth, detesting the high-pitched voice that belongs to Courtney Davis. While she speaks in such a child-like manner, appearing to sound innocuous, her words were most certainly not and she was far from innocent.
Courtney's circle of friends burst out laughing at her snide remark. Self-consciously, Claire strokes her golden hair like it's a comfort blanket, trying her best to ignore the judgemental girls and keep her ladylike composure.
There aren't many people in this school that Claire heartily liked - apart from her only best friend, Stephanie Greene. She shares Claire's nature, wanting to achieve high in school and her serious face is usually buried within a book. According to Stephanie, Courtney used to attend her primary school, but ever since she transitioned to secondary school, Courtney has changed from a pleasant girl to what Claire considers an 'obnoxious airhead'.
Claire sighs softly. She wishes Stephanie was here in her form room, but unfortunately, she is in a different block, far away from this main building.
"Yo, where's the teacher at?" Jack Wolverton, best known as the school's troublemaker, yells above the noisy classroom, voicing the question that had been bothering Claire's mind. Then he adds, "if she ain't coming, we should just leave."
Just then, the classroom door swings open and a gust of wind chills Claire's spine. A small, stout woman in her mid-thirties walks in. Click, clack, with each step of her high heels smacking the wooden floorboard. There is an air of authority and confidence in her purposeful stride. The woman has noticeably sharp facial features, accentuated by her dark-brown, almost black, hair scraped back into a high, tight bun. Wearing a professional suit with a sparkling cross necklace, she is the perfect example of what Claire imagines a strict Catholic teacher to look like.
The woman reaches her desk and slams her big, black bag down with a heavy thud! Claire jumps in surprise by the unexpected weight of the noise, wondering what was in the bag to have possibly caused that. It was an effective sound that captured the students' attention - and so the teacher begins to speak.
"Good morning, class. I apologize for being late. Traffic was particularly bad today, but I can assure you that it won't happen again. I am your new form tutor and General Studies teacher, Miss Gay."
Immediately, there is low murmuring from the class.
"Miss Gay? Did I hear that right?"
"It's not fair that teachers can be late and get away with it."
"She looks scary."
As soon as the chattering occurred, it quickly died out when the students noticed the teacher's dirt-brown eyes boring into everyone slowly. Claire sucked in her breath, feeling intimidated by the teacher's intense, penetrating gaze, as if she had lasers for eyes that could disintegrate anyone to ashes in that moment. Silence lingers in the tensed atmosphere, as the whole class stare back at the teacher with uneasiness.
Finally, the teacher speaks up again.
"I have assigned you all with a seating plan for the rest of this year."
The entire class groans, including Claire. Last year, she was perfectly content sitting on her own in the back of the room, hidden and tucked away into the corner. For the introverted Claire, having a seating partner meant engaging in meaningless conversation for the sake of social conventions or fulfilling the teacher's commands. There is nobody in this class that Claire would like to particularly sit next to, nor put in so much effort for.
"Stop grumbling!" The teacher booms. "In the real world, you'll be expected to work with a range of people that you may not even like - so this is preparation for that."
Opening her bag and getting her wooden clipboard out, the teacher swings her arm straight forward. Claire flinches, momentarily thinking that she would throw the clipboard at the students. Instead, the teacher was pointing to the back of the classroom with the object.
"Line up at the back, everyone! Now."
Just a quick warning to my readers. This story is based on a couple of true events that have been manipulated into this tale. It will contain dark and controversial themes, so if you are sensitive to this kind of material, please do not read further. Thank you.