by Amy

She hears her own shoes clattering against the hard linoleum floors. It's odd. She didn't have uniforms at her old school.

Of course, she isn't living with a psychopath now, so everything kind of balances out.

Gretchen Ross. Her name is Gretchen Ross. She's a completely normal teenage girl named Gretchen Ross.

The girl she took the name from looked like Nancy Drew. Long strawberry-blonde hair, deep blue eyes, the sweetest smile in the world. But time makes her nothing but memories.

And now the name. Gretchen Ross the Second, so to speak.

She steps into the classroom and hesitantly shuts the door behind her.

"May we help you?" the teacher asks.

Gretchen-Gretchen-Gretchen-My-Name-is-Gretchen says something stupid about being placed in the wrong English class.

"You look like you belong here."

If Gretchen were brattier, she might have looked at the teacher's tank top and long skirt and said "and you look like a hippie". But because she is not, and is in fact the perfect picture of sweetness and light, she just watches the teacher's glasses swinging from a long chain.

Her new English teacher has long auburn hair, a slightly subversive smile, and a look in her eyes that makes Gretchen wish that her gaydar were stronger. The teacher is really pretty- another good thing about the new school.

Almost as good as not living near her stepfather.

"Um. Where do I sit?" she asks nervously;.

"Sit next to the boy you think is the cutest."

Gretchen-No-Really feels her cheeks blossom bright red. The rest of the class starts giggling. They know all about her, don't they? They see right through her. She might be wearing just a hint of her mother's perfume, but they just smell Other-Gretchen's scent mingled iwth her own. She's carrying a brand-new backpack, but they can still see the I Kiss Girls sticker she used to keep stuck on the front pocket. She knows in her heart that she can't pass for Gretchen Ross, All-American Straight Chick.

Not even the real Gretchen could, and she'd lived as charmed a life as anyone. Her stepfather hadn't even stabbed her mother once.

"Quiet!" the teacher snaps at the class. Then her face relaxes into a smile. "Let her choose."

Choose how? Every kid in the class looks the same. Same stupid unifroms, same stupid haircuts, same stupid boys. She hasn't pretended to like boys- not like THAT, at least- since junior high. It feels so dumb.

She looks around desperately. All the boys leer at her, just dying to get into her short little Catholic schoolgirl skirt.

She's not even that cute. Not nearly as cute as, say, the original Gretchen Ross. Whenever her stepdad bordered on homicidal, I'm-Gretchen-Now had gone to Then-Gretchen's house, and they'd lie in her twin bed together, cuddling and comforting and gently kissing until Not-Yet-Gretchen could finally doze off in her arms.

But now is not the time for reminiscing. Perhaps later. Perhaps never.

She stares for a long time at one boy. He's geeky, gangly. His features seem exaggerated; he barely seems awake.

He reminds her of the real Gretchen's older brother.

"Joanie, get up."

The girl gives Now-Gretchen a dirty look as she moves her books. Gretchen tries to smile as she slips into her new seat.


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