Alienated - current draft of Chapter 2

Serenity High was billed as an 'alternative' high school. It was really more of an inpatient psychiatric facility. The school's founder had recognized a niche market when he saw one.
            Having someone psychiatrically committed was surprisingly difficult these days. There were laws about these things. People, even minors, had an inconvenient number of rights under the law. If a person was threatening to be a danger to themselves or others, a hospital could only hold them for seventy-two hours. Bad behavior could end in arrest and prosecution by the court system, (again, there were laws about these things), but conscientious parents were eager to avoid that outcome. Good parents did not want their kids to have a criminal record. Some parents were also very worried about the stigma of mental illness.
            This made Serenity High an appealing option; parents found it fit nicely into a vague gray area. Sure, it was pricier, many private schools that were more prestigious cost less, but Serenity managed to avoid the technicality of being a mental hospital; it had the legal leeway to treat children as if they were in a juvenile detention center without actually being one. Parents could tell their friends that their children were simply away at a private school. (Parents often spend a shocking amount of time worrying what to tell their friends.)
            Nate's father did not care about what anyone thought, he was just happy to find a school that would take his son. He thought Serenity sounded perfect. Nate thought it sounded perfectly awful. However, his dad threatened to send him to a wilderness program when he complained, and Nate decided he would not rather walk across a desert for nine months.
            It was the first day of school. Nate was sitting docilely in the car. He had a large black duffle bag on his lap. Nate would not be coming home every night; he would be living at Serenity. He thought his dad looked pleased to be getting rid of him. Nate picked at his bag gloomily.
            The car ride was long but felt short. Too soon, they had arrived at the school and Nate had to get out of the car. It looked more like an office building than a school. His dad came inside with him.
            There was a woman at a desk. Nate's Dad spoke to her while Nate stared at the walls. There didn't seem to be any windows, which was weird, especially since it looked like the building had windows from the outside. Extra drywall had been plastered over the windows on the inside.
            Nate trailed his fingertips along a wall. The paint was dimpled and the wall felt cold. He turned his hand over and dragged his short fingernails against the bumps, making an audible scraping noise.
            His Dad shushed him, coming back over and directing Nate to some chairs. They sat. They waited. Shortly, a woman came out to meet them.
            Nate hated her immediately. She introduced herself as Ms. Dunn. She was attractive, not in a flashy way, but a plain sort of attractive, if there was such a thing-- shiny hair, white teeth, physically healthy and in shape. Her clothes and accessories were a collage of bland colors-- tan, off white, pale yellow. Her skirt was ecru. She liked to buy multiple items of clothing in almost identical shades and owned the same skirt in eggshell, ivory, light gray, and beige. She wore sensible shoes-- not sneakers, not heels, but tasteful and coordinated flats.
            She chatted with his father, keeping a mechanical smile locked in place that didn't reach her eyes. She was obsequious. Sycophantic. Fawning. Nate wanted to throw up on her. But then he remembered that he had had cornflakes for breakfast, and he reflected that cornflake vomit would probably match her outfit. This annoyed him for some reason and he didn't want to throw up on her anymore.
            He understood that most people smiled for the sake of politeness, but Ms. Dunn's fakeness was ratcheted up to such an obvious degree that it surpassed professional politeness. His Dad seemed to be lapping it up though. They were apparently enjoying their fake smile contest with each other.
            "Today will be a little unorthodox," Ms. Dunn was explaining, "Since it's the first day. We'll all be getting to know each other! We'll have a longer group therapy session, and we'll be going over the school rules and expectations and so forth. But after today, this will be Nate's daily schedule."
            She handed a sheet of paper to Nate's father, who glanced over it and then handed it on to Nate.

6am: Wake up and get ready for the day!
7am: Breakfast
8am: Language Arts - Ms. Dunn
9am: Science - Ms. Dunn
10am: History- Mrs. Wheeler
11am: Group therapy- Ms. Dunn
12pm: Lunch
1pm: Math - Mr. Fuller
2pm: Chemistry - Ms. Dunn
3pm: Arts and Crafts - Mrs. Wheeler
4pm: Yoga - Mrs. Wheeler
5pm: Group therapy- Mrs. Wheeler
6pm: Dinner
7-9pm: Free time
9:30: Lights out!

            Ms. Dunn rattled off the schedule from memory, which annoyed Nate since he was perfectly capable of reading the sheet of paper. She explained that, like all students, Nate would start in Tier 1, which was the highest level of lockdown. If he "progressed" to Tier 2, he would be given more privileges.
            Tier 1 students were not allowed outside. Regular gym class was a privilege that could be earned in Tier 2. For the present, Yoga would fulfill Nate's daily physical activity requirements.
            Ms. Dunn was fond of the term "natural consequences," she kept using it but it never made very much sense when she plugged it into the conversation.
            "There are several other 11th grade students starting the semester with Nate." She said. "The group dynamic is part of what makes Serenity so special. The students learn to support each other. Natural consequences are very important! Supporting others is a key milestone, it's integral in moving up to Tier 2."
            His father nodded at her robotically, his eyes starting to glaze over. Having overwhelmed him with fake cheer and real bullshit, Ms. Dunn showed him to the door.
            Nate shrugged in goodbye. His Dad made his own awkward shrug of goodbye in return. They did not hug or say they would miss each other.
            Ms. Dunn became notably more curt after his father left, which suited Nate; he could deal with straightforward rudeness better than artificial kindness.
            She introduced Carl, a large sullen looking man. Carl seemed to be a sort of security guard or orderly. He was wearing scrubs. The two of them went through Nate's bag and confiscated things. They took his shoelaces away.
            Nate thought the Tier system was a joke. Starting everyone out in higher lockdown and moving them along if they agreed to be good little girls and boys... Nate thought it sounded like a mind game. He didn't want to play. He hadn't yet done anything to warrant losing his shoelaces, so why should he jump through hoops and then feel grateful to earn them back? They just wanted to prove to Nate that he was powerless, and he resented it. He resolved to make zero effort to move up to Tier 2.
            Ms. Dunn checked her watch; she had more parents to meet.
            Carl escorted Nate to a classroom. There was another stoic Carl sitting in the room, presumably to keep order. (His name wasn't actually Carl, but it might as well have been.) The first Carl went back to Ms. Dunn.
            A large round table dominated the room, ringed by twelve chairs. More than half of the chairs were already filled. No one was talking. Nate sat down and joined the silence. After a while, Carl delivered another student.
            Nate dragged his shoe slowly across the linoleum, back and forth, back and forth, always just shy of making a loud squeak. He focused on keeping the sound contained to a slow scratchy scrape. He was unaware of how he looked and how much anger he was visibly radiating.
            The girl next to him cryptically whispered, "Angry like fists, waiting, waiting."
            Startled, Nate angled in his chair to face her. She looked down at the table nervously. She tucked her light brown hair back behind her ears over and over again.
            "Um, are you talking to me?" Nate asked.
            The girl, whose name was Brooke, gave a noncommittal shrug. "Crossing the line. Towing the line. Crossing the line? Or towing the line? Towing. Slowing. Towed by a tip toe. Tow tag." she whispered to the air between them, her eyes following the drag of Nate's shoe.
            Nate stilled his foot. The girl seemed weird but harmless; there was something childlike about her. She chewed on the left side of her bottom lip.
            "Mostly I'm told I'm crossing the line." he admitted.
            The girl flicked a glance at him that indicated she thought he was an idiot.
            "Of course you are. You're here. We're here. Line crossers. Most especially I think, especially, that one." Brooke whispered.
            She said the last words with such awe and fear that Nate glanced up expecting to see a mean looking guy, someone covered in tattoos and dripping with intimidation. But to his surprise, Brooke was staring at a girl. In fact, a very pretty girl, Nate noticed with some interest.
            She had shimmery blond hair that curved in attractive waves around her face, beautiful skin, and wide green eyes. She did not particularly look like a rebel. She was sitting up straight in her chair with her ankles demurely crossed, a picture of crossed ankles not crossed lines. The poised picture that she made contrasted sharply with the people sitting near her. The girl to her right was slouched down in her seat, her arms defensively crossed tight to her chest. (Crossed arms were more in line with line crossing than ankles.) The boy to her left was leaning back aggressively with a look of challenge on his face, as if daring someone to cross him.
            Nate scanned the faces of all the students in the room. There were now nine students besides him. Everyone looked like they either wanted to fight or they wanted to avoid a fight. Fight or flight! That is, everyone besides the blond who looked like she was sitting down for tea and crumpets or something.
            Nate made a short scoffing noise. He looked at Brooke. "Her?" he asked skeptically, "Seriously? She doesn't look very scary. I'm not really getting the vibe of line-crosser extraordinaire."
            Brooke flicked out another little look of scorn towards him. She opened her mouth to say something, then seemed to think the better of it. She huffed her breath out.
            "You are angry." She pointed out.
            Nate did not quite know how to respond to that.
            "You are angry." Brooke repeated, pointing a finger at him and speaking very slowly, as if she thought he was incompetent.
            "Me, I'm scrambled, afraid." she continued, "But her," she whispered, skittering her eyes over to the blond, "She is not angry or afraid."
            Nate rolled his eyes, "Yeah, calm and happy people are sooo terrifying."
            Brooke huffed all her breath out again. "You are stupid. I'm bored of you."
            She promptly lay her left cheek down on the table, facing away from Nate. She put her hands over her ears. This was not so easy to accomplish while lying on the table but she squirmed her left arm around so that her shoulder was beneath the table and her fingers could still reach up and cover the opening to her eardrum.
            Nate was embarrassed to admit that her dismissal hurt. He ground his loose shoe across the linoleum in a loud screech and tried not to care.
            Carl brought in one final student, shortly followed by Ms. Dunn. Another woman joined them. The Carls then retreated to the hallway.
            Bored, Nate dragged another slow scream from the floor.
            "Please refrain from doing that!" the new woman chirped in an annoyingly bright voice.
            The new woman was Mrs. Wheeler. She and Ms. Dunn started to explain a lot of boring things regarding rules and disciplinary actions.
            Nate stretched his arm out on the table and lay his head down on it. He stared at the back of Brooke's head. She had messy hair for a girl- it reminded Nate of Einstein.
            Ms. Dunn told them to stop lying on the table. Brooke jerked up and glared at him. She was mad at Nate because Ms. Dunn had been ignoring the fact that she was lying on the table until Nate started doing it too.
            "Your fault!" Brooke hissed.
            The blond snickered; she wasn't the only one. Embarrassed, Nate sat up and tried to look nonchalant, but he failed and looked self-conscious instead.
            After talking about rules for an hour, Ms. Dunn left and Mrs. Wheeler stayed.
            "Now! We're going to get to know each other!" Mrs. Wheeler said, sounding disproportionately cheerful about it. "We'll go around the room and introduce ourselves! But, we don't just want to know what your name is, we all want to know who you really are! I want you to think about that. Who are you? I'm going to pass this paper around, take a sheet of paper and be creative! Write down your name, but make it into a picture!"
            "Who. Are. You? Said the caterpillar to Alice. Who are you? Who are you?" mumbled Brooke.
            The main problem with Mrs. Wheeler was that she was an idiot. She was a mediocre teacher who fancied herself a qualified therapist. She was an annoyingly earnest person who meant well, but had absolutely no idea how to help others. Never having been capable of great depths of emotion herself, she was unable to imagine them, and thus, she was completely unqualified to understand what any of the teenagers in her classroom were going through.
            Wheeler was like a two year old insistent on helping Mommy to make dinner. She had a misguided desire to help that was... precious. Wheeler had a college degree, she even had a few years of experience, but she was absolutely devoid of instinct and capacity. Granted, she could be quite helpful sometimes, but it was always purely by accident. She failed to see that patronizingly talking to teenagers might not be the best way to get off on the right foot with them.
            "I want you to spend the next twenty minutes drawing a picture of your name. Remember to really think about who you are!" Mrs. Wheeler instructed.
            Nate was just pleased that she was going to stop talking for twenty minutes. Nate stared down at his paper for a moment. Then he wrote his name in twelve swift angry strokes: NATE. He had picked up the pen each time a new direction was called for, breaking each letter down into vertical, diagonal, or horizontal slashes.
            He stared at the paper again, not knowing what to draw next. He slashed his pen down in another vertical line, squaring the capital E in his name into the shape of a blank domino. He slashed again, and a diagonal line attached the top of the N to the bottom of the A. He kept drawing straight lines, obscuring the original four letters, until the center of his paper was filled with tiny boxes and triangles.
            He was not aware of it, but he had continued to draw lines in the pattern of his name: vertical, diagonal, vertical, reverse diagonal, diagonal, horizontal, vertical, horizontal, vertical, horizontal, horizontal, horizontal. If he had not picked up his pen and moved the paper each time, he would have written out his own name over and over again in a long string- NATE, NATE, NATE, NATE, NATE.
            After twenty minutes, Mrs. Wheeler interrupted his doodling trance. "Nathan? How about you go first."
            "It's Nate." He corrected. "Not Nathan. Not Nathaniel. Just Nate. That's what it says on my birth certificate, Nate."
            Wheeler kept her smile plastered in place. "Mmm hmm" she said noncommittally, "Please hold your picture up for the class."
            Nate shrugged and held his labyrinth of angry lines up for display.
            "Mmm." said Wheeler. "What can you tell us about it?"
            Nate shrugged again. "I dunno. I wrote my name, then I just drew more lines."
            Wheeler nodded gravely as if this meant something very important. She often did this when she had no idea what to say.
            "Alright then. Ian? Would you like to go next?" Wheeler prompted.
            Nate turned to look at Ian, a short and blocky kid whose body reminded Nate of a bulldog. Ian's paper was crammed with ink. Nate couldn't make out what all of the drawings were. The name "Ian!" was drawn exploding out of a cannon. Nate could also identify a person juggling and what looked like it might be a lion.
            "I'm Ian," said Ian, speaking very fast. "The picture of my name is exploding with stuff because it's like me and I am exploding with stuff, like in my head there is always so much that doesn't have time to get to my mouth, and also because I have so many things wrong with me, like every time I go to a doctor, they give me more pills and alphabet soup, like ADHD and ODD, you know? And I'm also bipolar and schizophrenic and a bunch of other things, but not the cool kind of schizophrenic, like where you get to think you're God or the TV is sending you secret messages, but that's maybe because they keep me on so much medication, and so that's why I'm Ian like a circus and so this is a picture of a circus with me exploding out of a cannon."
            Ian stopped to take a breath and Wheeler jumped in and cut him off. "Ok. Thank-you Ian. Next?"
            "Oh. Ok." Ian breathed out, feeling awkward and deflated. He had a lot more to say. He folded back in on himself and looked toward the boy on his left.
            "I'm Diego." The boy said. "I play drums." Diego's drawing had turned the O at the end of his name into a drum.
            The next person in the circle was the slouching girl.
            "I'm Mia." She said defensively.
            Mia had drawn her name in big poufy letters with a large heart dotting the I.
            "I couldn't really draw my name properly," she complained, "since you didn't give us proper art supplies for this exercise." She scowled at the teacher accusingly. "So you'll just have to imagine that "Mia" is drawn in bubblegum pink, and that's because I'm just SO sweet I make people want to vomit."
            She ended by baring her teeth in a fake smile.
            My, thought Nate, that Mia certainly seems... charming.
            In truth, after enduring the super-fake fakeness of Ms. Dunn, the aggressively super-fake fakeness of Mia seemed like a reasonable attitude of counter attack.
            Nate then tried to look casual and uninterested as the class finally turned their attention to the pretty blond.
            The blond smiled. "Hi. My name is Alexia" she said.
            Her name, Alexia, was legible in large letters. Each of the large letters was an intricate lattice of smaller chains of "Alexia," each chain carefully printed into increasingly twisting vines, each tiny name building up into larger and larger shapes of "Alexia," culminating in a final effect that looked unbelievably complicated and intimidating.
            "I decided to build my name out of my name, like Nate did, but with a different chaos differential." She said.
            Nate felt a little shock as she said his name. He was not sure if he had just been insulted or simply acknowledged.
            He frowned uncertainly.
            She smiled serenely.
            Brooke gave Nate a pointed look that meant, "Do you see what I mean yet?"
            Nate returned her look with an eyebrow shrug that meant, "Ok fine, you may have a point. She's complicated and possibly dangerous. Happy?"
            The next boy did not introduce himself. "This is gay. So I didn't do it." he said.
            With the flat of his palm he slid the paper off the table and it swished onto the floor. The sound seemed very loud.
            Wheeler hesitated for a moment then fell back on her solemn nod, like this was very revealing behavior and she knew exactly what it meant, which of course was not the case.
            "Class, this is Jaden." she said.
            Jaden shrugged and stared defiantly back at the teacher.
            The next boy was named Matt. He had written his name on the paper and then crumpled it up into a ball, which he had been fiddling around with since. He slowly smoothed out the paper and showed it to the class.
            "Matt." he said.
            Then he crumpled the paper back up into a ball and kept on playing with it.
            Next was a delicately boned girl with straight black hair and thin white scars on her wrists. She had drawn a bird with notes of music around its head to indicate that it was singing. A cartoon speech bubble was coming out of the bird's mouth that said: Sophia!
            "My name's Sophia." she mumbled shyly. "I like music. It's cool you play drums" she said, her eyes darting toward Diego.
            Diego nodded at her. She blushed and ducked her head.
            On Sophia's left was a large boy with a slightly crooked nose. Nate wondered if it had been broken. The boy held up his drawing. He had drawn a large stick figure holding a gun that was standing over another stick figure. The second figure had been shot and was apparently dead- this was indicated by a large pool of blood leaking out of its head; it also had Xs in place of eyes.
            The stick figure with the gun was labeled, "Parker." The dead stick figure was labeled, "Some dude not named Parker."
            Jaden looked suitability impressed. "Hey Parker." He said.
            Parker looked at him coolly, then gave Jaden a short nod.
            "Alright, next!" chirped Wheeler, deciding to completely ignore the content of Parker's picture.
            A boy with curly dark brown hair and an unfortunate nose held up his paper. It said, "Andrew: is hilarious. (But bad at art.)" He had framed this with little zigzags and stars.
            Andrew pointed to his name. "This is actually a typo." he said seriously. "My name is Parker, I'm just a terrible speller. I am definitely NOT some dude not named Parker."
            Brooke laughed.
            "See!" Andrew said. "Evidence that I am in fact hilarious."
            Brooke was the last person to go. It was obvious she was the only one of them who could actually draw. Her paper did not have any words on it. She had drawn a stunningly accurate sketch of a large bridge. However, instead of stretching across a correspondingly substantial body of water (such as the East River), the bridge was only spanning a tiny trickling thread of water.
            "Me." Brooke huffed.
            Alexia leaned forward curiously. "Brooke?" She guessed. "Like a babbling brook under the Brooklyn Bridge?"
            Brooke was delighted. Her whole face lit up.
            "Yes! Babbling Brooklyn Bridged." She said.
            They took a break for lunch, which was in a room with another large round table; the school was very keen on round tables.
            Brooke's attitude toward Alexia had completely changed. She had been frightened of her, acted like she was potentially the most dangerous person in the school. Nevertheless, as soon as Alexia had decoded Brooke's picture and guessed her name, Brooke treated Alexia like her best friend. They chatted all through lunch.
            The rest of the students were still feeling each other out. There were a few whispered conversations, but almost everyone stayed slightly guarded. They all bonded a little bit over their mutual dislike of the teachers, but no one volunteered much personal information besides Ian. Ian dominated the lunch conversation.
            The food was served on real plates but with plastic silverware. Nate thought this was stupid because it did not prevent violence; it only challenged him to be more creative. It would be easy to smash a plate and stab someone with a sharp shard. Unfortunately, the smashing of a plate was a lot more noticeable than slipping a metal utensil up his sleeve, not that Nate had access to a metal utensil. Fortunately, Nate did not have a pressing need to stab anyone at the moment.
            Nate figured the school didn't really care about violence, they just wanted to cover their own butt. Giving kids knives, well, that was a lawsuit just waiting to happen. Nate could understand that, but being denied items like shoelaces and butter knives just made him want and obsess about them all the more. People were acting like he was some kind of ninja-spy with the ability to hang himself or garrote others in seconds with shoelaces. It made him think that the people who came up with these rules watched way too much TV. But it also made him reassess himself. Could I really be that guy? He wondered.
            During lunch he evaluated all the objects he had access to and their possible use as makeshift weapons. Nate tucked his napkin up into his sleeve. (It did not occur to him to put it in the pocket of his jeans, which really would have been much easier.)
            Nate shuffled-sluffed to his assigned room, his shoes made floppy by their lack of laces. He had finished eating with time to spare and he wanted to make use of every minute before he had to be back in the classroom.
            He sat down on the bed and unfolded his papery thin napkin into a large square.  Nate then rolled it up like a long cord, rubbing it back and forth between his hands and making it twist tight. He threaded the napkin-cord through the top two eyelets of his sneakers, twisted that off into a knot, and then looped it back through the next two eyelets. (It wasn't quite strong enough to lace his shoes exactly like shoelaces, so he was forced to proceed in this altered manner.)
            Nate felt pleased. It wasn't pretty but it was functional. He was successfully able to secure his shoes so they stayed much tighter to his feet. Nate reflected on the awesomeness of napkins for a brief moment. He danced a few steps.
            Of course, even this tiny sense of power and accomplishment was quickly taken away. Ms. Dunn told Nate to remove his shoelaces as soon as he walked into class.
            "They aren't shoelaces, it's just a napkin." Nate protested.
            "I don't care. Take them off." Ms. Dunn said.
            "I can't possibly strangle anyone with them!" Nate argued.
            "You can take them off or I can call Carl in here and he can take them off for you." Ms. Dunn said.
            Nate stared at her with loathing.
            The rest of the class watched with interest.
            Ms. Dunn called Carl into the room. He forcibly removed Nate's shoes. Nate considered kicking him but decided against it. He had been unpleasantly surprised to learn- during the long droning explanation of the rules- that they could shut him in solitary confinement whenever they felt like it. He did not want to spend the hours in solitary that kicking Carl would cost. Besides, Carl was just the big stupid muscle; the person Nate really wanted to kick was Ms. Dunn.
            Nate hissed, "Wow, I am learning so much already! Seems like you are trying to teach me that I will always lose unless I have more power than the person who is screwing me over. What a great lesson. It kinda sounds like the exact opposite of what you should teach someone you DON'T want to shoot people, but thanks for the validation. All I'm learning so far is that the thinking that got me in here is 100% right."
            Ms. Dunn ignored him. Carl finished tearing out the last shreds of napkin-shoelaces and let Nate's shoes drop to the floor. They thunked down with a loud echoing noise.
            "Rage and fight. Nate is right." Brooke whispered in a singsong voice.
            Andrew and Ian also made quiet mutters of solidarity.
            The school part of the day ended early, and without having to endure a yoga class. Nate was thankful; he didn't particularly want to look stupid in front of Alexia, or anyone else. He'd never done yoga but he was afraid that it was going to make him look silly.
            Dinner consisted of chicken tacos, an apple, and tater tots. The circular table did not allow for much escape from anyone and Nate already wanted to escape from Ian. He didn't dislike Ian, but a mute button would have been nice. The kid never stopped talking. Sometimes a guy just wants to be able to eat his tater tots in peace.
            Nate sat between Ian and Andrew. Parker, Matt and Jaden sat clumped together and so did Sophia, Diego, and Mia. Brooke and Alexia were whispering together.
            Nate reflected on how the groupings were shaping up. It was almost funny that everyone had drifted into groups in the first place. Bunches of loners, he thought.
            Ian was giving Nate a run down of absolutely everything that happened earlier in the day, as if Nate hadn't just lived through it. Nate stole Ian's napkin.
            "So why did you end up here?" Ian asked Nate.
            "Fighting." Nate said.
            "Andrew?" Ian asked.
            "I'm incorrigible." Andrew said. "Chronically. It's very serious."
            "I'm here because my parents are not autistic." Brooke volunteered.
            Nate supposed that meant that she was autistic.
            "Mia?" Ian asked.
            "Look jerk, I already had to answer enough questions today. And since we all have to sit together in group therapy every freaking day, I suggest you shut the hell up before you really annoy me." Mia snapped.
            "Mia culpa, mea culpa!" Brooke whispered nervously.
            "My parents were worried I'd try to kill myself again." Sophia said.
            This ought to have been an awkward thing to say, but somehow it wasn't. Her matter of fact statement diffused the sudden tension created by Mia. Sophia patted Mia's hand, and, shockingly, Mia grinned at her.
            Ian looked over at Parker, Jaden, and Matt. They did not offer any information and Ian was not quite brave enough to ask directly. Parker stared back at Ian. He stabbed down with his plastic fork. The fork broke as it impacted a taco; bits of plastic tines skittered across the table.
            Brooke nervously lapsed into a skipping litany of TV advertisements and other seemingly random words cobbled together.
            She whispered, "Parkay? Par-ker. Parkay? Mmmm... I can't believe it's not butter! Parkkay? M'kay? M'kay? Par-kurr, purr, Parker, barker, breaker one nine, parker barker stark raving mad!"
            "Alexia, what about you?" Ian asked.
            Alexia was hanging on to every word of Brooke's nonsense and seemed to be greatly amused by it.
            Parker continued to grind his fork down to a nub, snapping the tines off entirely.
            "Swimming in forks when what you need is a spoon." Brooke whispered.
            "Hmm?" Alexia asked distractedly.
            "Why did your parents send you here?" asked Ian.
            "Oh. They didn't" Alexia said, popping a tater tot into her mouth.
            "Er, ok... so how did you get here then?" asked Ian.
            "Sort of like a spaceship." Alexia said.
            If Andrew had said it, it would have been funny. When Alexia said it, it wasn't. Ian gave her a token laugh anyway.
            "Oh, I see. So you're saying you are an alien." Ian said with mock-seriousness, waiting for the joke to develop.
            It didn't.
            "Correct. This is not my planet of origin." Alexia confirmed.
            For Nate, the penny dropped horrifically. (Or perhaps it was the other shoe. Either way, the knowledge smacked into Nate's head like a size thirteen penny-loafer of disappointment.)
            Alexia wasn't kidding about being an alien. She was perfectly calm and serious. Nate could tell that she wasn't lying and messing with them, at least, not intentionally.
            Obviously, Alexia was completely delusional.
            Nate thought it was very unfair. Why does the most interesting and attractive girl have to be the seriously crazy one??
            Dinner ended awkwardly.

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