The Teaching Assistant, Part Twenty

Author’s Note: Similar to “The Road Trip,” this is a story that’s gradually being released for free. However, there are 25 parts available on my Patreon for those impatient readers. :slight_smile:


It all started with a bored teenage girl.

Eighteen year old Ashley Roberts was one of the most popular girls at Westridge Academy. Normally, a hot, rich girl would be content with not working a day in her life, but Ashley wasn’t your average spoiled brat. There was a method to everything she did, including the hours spent working in the main office as an assistant.

It wasn’t about the money; the pennies she made for sitting at the front desk for a few hours every week were nothing compared to the allowance her parents wired to the private high school every month for her to treat herself and to pay the poorer scholarship girls to do her homework. Not that her parents knew the latter.

But money isn’t everything. The assistant position gave Ashley access. All kinds of access. Being in the main office let her suck up to teachers and administrators with none of her peers around to catch her in the act. When no one was looking over her shoulder, she could peruse the files of any student she wanted to check out. And, on those rare instances when she felt bold enough and knew she could get away with it, Ashley could go into the system and change students’ grades. Never a lot; nothing noticeable. But if a girl was irritating her, Ashley could change an A to an A- or a B+ to a B. Worst case scenario, one of those girls would notice an error or two and appeal their grade to get it fixed. If they kept copies of their previous semesters’ grades, of course. Without proof, they’d just look like girls trying to boost their GPA. For the most part, Ashley assumed that her little edits would go unnoticed. It was more for personal satisfaction and petty revenge, as flaunting her exploits would get her into some serious trouble.

There were protocols that were supposed to prevent such abuse, of course, but administrators were busy. Ashley wasn’t supposed to be at the desk without supervision, and technically the rule was to log a student worker out of the computer’s main account whenever there wasn’t an adult present in the office. No one had time for that. Ashley worked there all the time, and always with a polite smile and a helpful attitude. Micromanaging her was too much of a hassle, especially since it would mean constantly pulling her away from the computer whenever anyone had to deliver a copy, grab a signature, or take a quick meeting. Ashley was good at her job. She kept everyone’s schedules up to date, she filed paperwork like a pro, and, after a few weeks of working there, no one batted an eye when she was the only one manning the office.

Ashley was quite happy with the arrangement. Her friends bought the excuse that she worked over lunch every few days as a punishment for whatever trouble she was causing that week. The administrators trusted her enough to leave her alone, and knew nothing about her antics outside of classroom hours. It was perfect; the lies to her girlfriends gave her a rebellious reputation and the lies to the adults kept her in good standing at the school.

Most importantly, her admin-like powers just added onto what being rich and popular already granted her.

It was ideal.

Like most things, however, the job eventually grew monotonous. Her grades got a small upward boost, her enemies’ grades took a minor hit, and there was nothing else she could really get away with while still avoiding any suspicion.

Until the inspiration that struck her in the form of a little blonde haired target.


Amelia Martin nervously sat in her car, counting down the minutes.

She had aimed to be early, but not this early. Her interview was at 12:45 PM, and she pulled into the parking lot just before 12:20. After triple checking her hair and outfit in the mirror, all she could do was draft verbal answers in her mind. Strengths and weaknesses, why she wanted the job, etc. Fresh out of college, the still twenty-two year old really, really wanted this. Westridge Academy was the most prestigious school in the state; an all girls’ academy that groomed teenagers for Ivy League colleges and for later success in life as well. Amelia figured it was worth a shot. Worst case scenario, she could say that she tried, before looking at other private schools. Failing those, she’d get into tutoring or something, as public schools did not appeal to her at all in this day and age.

This wasn’t a full teaching job, but it was a good stepping stone. It was somewhere between a TA position and an internship. Grading papers, leading review sessions, and observing classes would all be part of the teaching side of things, but she would also be responsible for a bit of clerical work around the office. Other young women might have scoffed at the idea of starting their adult life without being a ‘real teacher’ right away, but Amelia knew better. This position offered nearly twice the salary of what she could get as a teacher anywhere else, and that number would only go up once she put in her time and proved herself as someone who could lead a classroom by herself.

After killing almost ten minutes in the car, she finally stepped out just before 12:30. Fifteen minutes early, give or take. Anything more would seem too much, and anything less seemed unprofessional for a school that had such a strong reputation.

She gave herself one last look in the car window, then walked towards the private school’s main office. Everything about her image was carefully crafted. Amelia was short and petite, and her mentors had warned her about the challenges that came with being small in the career path she had chosen. Gaining respect from teenagers was difficult enough for any young adult, and more so when it came to students who were taller than her.

Amelia’s first and last growth spurt was in middle school. She was one of the first in her class to get curves, but that excitement didn’t last for very long. Year after year, her peers developed more and more in both the height and chest department, and she found herself stuck with pretty much just enough curves to identify her as a girl. As a woman, now. She had accepted it, but it didn’t prevent that self conscious feeling from creeping in every now and then when someone assumed she was younger than she was. Liquor stores would excessively check her ID, people would often assume she was still in high school whenever she wore anything too casual, etc. Amelia figured she might appreciate her youthful features when she was older, but it was a huge pain at her current age.

For that reason, she went through plenty of lengths to subvert her immature features. Three inch heels, for height. She was always tempted to do more, but it was important to find a balance between comfort and image. Push-up bras with a bit of padding most days, save for when she was at the gym. Her long, blonde hair was always straightened and then gently curled at the ends for a mature, attractive look. Finally, tactical make-up to hide the few freckles that came with her fair skin, and whatever subtle tricks with eyeshadow and other additions here and there that completed the day’s image.

Normally that was it, but her interview called for a classy outfit as well. Hopefully the modest black skirt and white blouse combo would paint her in a mature and professional light. Amelia wanted this job so badly. She kept telling herself it was only to say that she tried, as the open position aligned so well with graduation and subsequent job hunt, and she could only imagine what kind of competition she might be dealing with. But still. Any other school in the state would be a step down from the impressive campus she had taken in during her drive.

It was easy enough to find where she had to go. The signage in the administration building was intuitive; no surprise there. However, Amelia hadn’t expected the main office to be so empty. As she let the heavy wooden door close behind her, the only face to be found was that of a dark haired student sitting behind the front desk. “Can I help you?” the girl asked, already looking her way after the door opening caught her attention.

“Umm,” Amelia hesitated. She had expected someone on staff, not some girl that was clearly a student here. The plaid green tie over the white button-down was the same as what Amelia had seen on the website during her prep research, as was the dark blazer sitting on the back of the girl’s desk chair. Though Amelia couldn’t confirm it from where she was standing, she assumed the girl also had the plaid skirt that matched the tie underneath. “I’m here for an interview with Mrs. Thompson.”

“Student teacher, I’m assuming?” the girl asked. She looked Amelia up and down without being particularly subtle about it, “You don’t look like the IT type. What’s your name?”

Rude. Or maybe ‘blunt’ would be the better word. But Amelia knew better than to let it get to her. One of the challenges of working at an expensive private school would be dealing with judgmental rich girls. “Amelia. Amelia Martin,” she said.

“Ashley. Ashley Roberts. Nice to meet you,” the girl said, her lips pursed in a small smile as she turned her attention to the computer at her desk. After a few moments of typing and clicking, Ashley glanced back up, “Sorry, Ms. Martin. Did nobody call you? Or email you?”

“Umm, no. I don’t think so,” Amelia said. Her heart dropped at the notion that somebody else might have already swiped the job up. And, insult to injury, she already dressed up, made the drive, and psyched herself up for an interview. So much for Westridge Academy being the best, at least in the communication department. “What is it?” Best to rip the bandaid off.

“Mrs. Thompson had a family emergency come up,” Ashley said, “All of her appointments today were cancelled. You should have gotten a call.”

She was lying.

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Man what a bitch

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In case anyone needs some more stuff to read while hiding away from their family this weekend. XD

–Lady Lucia


Amelia frowned a bit as she processed what she was being told. It was better than the job no longer being available, but also an enormous waste of her time. Though that was being selfish. An emergency is an emergency, and maybe there was a voicemail waiting on her phone or something. “So, what now?” Amelia asked, “How long will Mrs. Thompson be out? Should I call to reschedule?”

“I can take care of that for you.” Ashley clicked a few times and pulled up a screen as Amelia stood awkwardly in the middle of the office. In limbo, as she had originally expected to either be greeted here, or to be sent to the administrator’s office. “How does Friday afternoon work for you? Mrs. Thompson should be back by then.”

“That works.” Amelia knew that for sure, as she wasn’t currently working. She dedicated the few weeks following graduation to looking for jobs, for the express purpose of not having conflicts with interviews. “What time?”

“Hmm, never mind. She only has a 5:30 PM slot that day. Traffic will be horrible. How about Monday morning instead?”

“No, 5:30 is fine.” Amelia quickly said. What if the other slots were other interviewees? It would be better to be seen on Friday, just in case someone else stood out and she didn’t have a fair chance to compete before her interview turned into more of a formality. “Let’s stick with Friday.”

“Yes, Ms. Martin.” Ashley nodded. She finished with the computer, then picked up a small packet of papers from nearby, “If you want to speed things along, you can fill this out and fax it back to the office. Someone will get everything processed before you arrive.”

Amelia finally crossed the second half of the room and took the stapled sheets from Ashley. Just a quick skim caused a bit of confusion, though the girl seated at the desk didn’t look like she was amused or trying to pull some kind of prank. It was a Student Registration form. Like any form, it started out asking for her name and other basic information, but then it went on with sections about high school, middle school, GPA, and more.

“Wrong form, Ashley.” Amelia turned it so the seated girl could see the bold words at the top of the page.

Without missing a beat, Ashley responded. “No, that’s the one we use. Westridge doesn’t hire frequently enough to have a separate form for that. Just cross off ‘Student’ and put ‘Applicant’ at the top or something. And ignore everything asking about your current grade and GPA. Just fill in whatever you can. We obviously don’t need you to attach report cards or transcripts either.”

The immature giggle at the end of Ashley’s explanation put Amelia back at ease, as well as the constant ‘Ms. Martin’ references. Initially, she had expected the blunt girl to be the type to call a prospective teacher by her first name, but apparently that wasn’t the case. And, as she glanced through the packet, it made sense. General information was always important, and letting them know about allergies and such wasn’t a bad idea even as a new hire.

“What about the schools?” Amelia asked, seeing the two big grids with boxes for classes and grades for high school and middle school. She could alway substitute university in one of them, but figured it couldn’t hurt to confirm with the girl who worked at the desk.

“Stick with the form as best as you’re able. Just put the name of your old schools in those boxes, and don’t worry about the classes. College and anything else can go on the back or wherever you can find space. And obviously don’t worry about parent or guardian. Either way, I wouldn’t overthink it. The office can clarify whatever they need to on Friday, but they do prefer having as much history as possible on the form.”

Ashley’s words made sense. Having multiple forms asking for the same information did seem a bit wasteful and unnecessary, and the point she made at the end drove it home. It was Westridge Academy. The kind of school that cared about details; if not between forms, then what was written on those forms. The names of her previous schools would give some insight into where she was raised, which may or may not come up in Friday’s interview. Amelia’s initial doubt was easily washed away.

“Got it,” Amelia said, “Friday, at 5:30 PM?”

“Mm hmm,” Ashley nodded, “I don’t think I’m working then, but someone will be here to greet you.”

“Sounds good.” Amelia didn’t particularly care which student was working the front desk at the time. She was more concerned with the interview itself, and Mrs. Thompson was the one she needed to impress. Not some student handling things in the main office. “Well, have a good week, Ashley. I’m sure I’ll see you around if I get the job.”

“Maybe. Oh, you should fax the form at noon tomorrow,” Ashley said, with a wink, “That’ll put you at the top of the pile.”

Amelia couldn’t help but give a small smile in response. She had definitely misjudged the girl at the desk. The cancelled appointment was still a nuisance and a waste of her time, but perhaps this would all work out for the better. Now she was familiar with the school’s layout, and had a few more days to prepare for potential interview answers, she would hopefully be more at ease when she returned in a few days.

“Thank you, Ashley,” Amelia said, “Anything else I should know?”

“Nope! Good luck on Friday.”

With another ‘thank you,’ Amelia turned and left the office, registration form in hand. Just a few more days, and she’d have her shot at being a student teacher at Westridge. Though this development meant she’d have to miss another day at work, it would all be worth it when she could drop the minimum wage job that was only a placeholder anyway. The money at the prestigious academy was much more alluring, as were the possibilities that came with it.

Lost in thoughts on the way out the office door, Amelia failed to notice the devious smirk on Ashley’s face.


“Hey, Amelia!”

Once again, Ashley was working the front desk. Amelia was surprised, for a number of reasons. Wasn’t the girl a student? And didn’t she say she wasn’t working today? Then again, Amelia had only been here at lunchtime and now 5:30 on a Friday. Neither of those times would conflict with classes, and perhaps Ashley was able to get her studying done during whatever down time she had in the office. As for the latter question, there was no sense dwelling on it. The girl could have easily just mixed up her schedule.

“Hey, Ashley.” Amelia gave her a nod. Realizing a second too late that she probably shouldn’t be so casual with a student that could potentially be in one of her future classes, Amelia corrected herself with a belated, “Perhaps Ms. Martin, next time?” Hopefully it would be as easy as the other day, where Ashley simply adjusted to a more respectful approach. Amelia was fresh out of college, and guessed her first few years as a teacher would be spent demanding respect thanks to both her age and her youthful appearance.

“Ms. Martin,” Ashley said, without hesitation, “If you’re ready, Mrs. Thompson can see you now. All the way down the hall, hang a right, and she’s the last door on the left. Sorry again for the mix-up a few days ago.”

“It’s no problem,” Amelia said, “Did the office get all my information?”

“Probably? I don’t work here every day, so I wasn’t the one who got it. If you want, I can pull up your file?”

“No, it’s fine. I should get to my interview.”

“Good luck! I think you’ll be a great fit here.”

“Thanks, Ashley,” Amelia smiled, “Have a good weekend.”

Amelia had done everything she was told. In the name of being thorough, she filled out every single line on the registration form, complete with the extra information added on the back. If the interview went well, then everything else could be expedited. And, while the cancelled appointment had been a nuisance as she begrudgingly drove back home the other day, maybe it was a blessing in disguise. The extra time allowed her to fine tune her canned interview answers, as walking the confident/arrogant line could be quite difficult when talking about yourself. At this point, Amelia was more sure that she could put a more genuine spin on the ways she was prepared to talk herself up for the position.

The directions were easy enough to follow. The first hall ended in a fork, and the second led to a dead end. Impossible to get lost, and the office on the end was one of the only rooms with a light on. It was late afternoon on a Friday, which made sense that most teachers and administrators were already gone. Maybe this time slot was a mistake after all? Her interviewer might be burnt out after a long day; a long week depending on what the family emergency was. But it was too late to change things now.

Amelia’s knock was met with a muffled “Come in!” through the door.


That was the first description that crossed Amelia’s mind when she laid her eyes on Mrs. Thompson. The brunette woman looked to be around the same age as Amelia herself. She wore a pencil skirt and blouse, and looked more like a teacher than an administrator. Like most women, she was taller and more endowed than the petite interviewee lingering in the doorway. “Amelia Martin?” she asked.

“Yes, ma’am,” Amelia nodded. Inwardly cursing at her southern roots coming out, she took a step into the room. For whatever reason, she had assumed an older woman would be the one interviewing her. It had thrown her enough to steal away whatever greeting she’d normally use.

Gesturing to the chair across the desk, Mrs. Thompson sat back down. “Please, come in. And close the door behind you.”

Amelia did as instructed. She quietly collected herself, once again having the thought that this could be another blessing. A younger woman might be more inclined to hire her, as gaining the trust of someone twice her age would be more difficult in comparison. “How are you doing?” Amelia asked. Small talk first, right? Breaking the ice.

“Doing well, thanks. Please, have a seat.”

The interview was smooth, for the most part.

Amelia had prepared well. After the brief awkwardness that tends to come with not only meeting someone new, but being in an unfamiliar environment, the conversation felt more natural. She touched on her strengths and weaknesses, the easiest question to have prepared answers for. The tricky part was what came next, when she had to explain how her lack of experience might impact her performance at such a prestigious school. Amelia answered as best as she was able, with the logic of how teachers who had been at the job for a while might already be stuck in their ways. She, however, was fresh out of college, and ready to be molded by the academy teachers themselves. The questions bounced back and forth between personal history and different iterations of why she might be a good fit for Westridge. All in all, the interview was a blur, despite how focused Amelia remained.

Mrs. Thompson was impossible to read. The young woman’s face was just friendly enough to not be cold, but otherwise remained neutral as she jotted down a thing or two along the way. By the end, Amelia had absolutely no idea how she stood. While the conversation itself felt natural, there was the self doubt that came with such challenging questions, as well as the knowledge that she was surely up against other candidates. The anticipation was going to be the longest weekend of her life.

“There is one more thing, Amelia,” Mrs. Thompson said.

“Yes, what is it?” Amelia asked.

“What is your availability like next week? Would you be able to audit classes for a full school day? Ideally, we like candidates to do so for a full week, but I know that’s not realistic for everyone.”

This time, Amelia managed to avoid an ‘umm’ that would normally follow a question she wasn’t prepared for. She audited one or two classes in college, but that was with peers. But it was a reasonable enough request. If she was going to work here, it would be good to have a sense of how classes were run before she started. “Of course,” Amelia nodded, “I’d be happy to observe for a day. I think that’s a really good idea.”

“Great. Does Monday work for you? You included your measurements on the form, yes?”

“My measurements?”

“Yes,” Mrs. Thompson said. Setting Amelia’s file aside, she continued with something the blonde interviewee was not at all expecting. “We’ll have a student uniform ready for you on Monday.”

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A student uniform?

Why on earth couldn’t she just wear her normal clothes to observe a few classes?
That’s exactly what Amelia asked, of course, but Mrs. Thompson was quick to explain. For starters, it would be less disruptive and less distracting if there was simply another uniformed girl in the room. Having a guest in the classroom impacted the dynamic of the room enough, so it would be better for the students if Amelia could blend into the background more easily.

Additionally, it would be a good opportunity for her to experience what it’s like being one of the students; to empathize, as Mrs. Thompson put it. Since Amelia’s entire educational background was public schools and then a larger university, this was a good way for her to feel what it’s like to attend a smaller boarding school in comparison. On Monday morning, she’d change into the Westridge uniform, be given the official tour and take a standard aptitude test in the morning, and then sit in on a few different classes in the afternoon.

The process seemed a bit excessive, but who was Amelia to judge? The way Mrs. Thompson presented everything was straightforward and logical, and Amelia’s lack of experience in private schools made it difficult for her to argue against any of it. While she’d rather just be offered the job and avoid all the extra hassle, it sounded like this was an important part of the hiring process. The small blonde took some solace in the fact that she was being asked to come right back on Monday. That was a good sign, right? The school wouldn’t go through all that unless she was a serious contender for the position.

Amelia had indeed put her measurements on the registration form. Though she was told to treat it more like an application than anything else, it hadn’t stopped the young woman from overachieving in an attempt to suck up to the school. It would send the message that she was thorough, even when she didn’t necessarily have to be. In truth, Amelia was only here for the money and the résumé boost. Everything else was a lower priority, as she would much rather be teaching at the undergrad level or higher. Teaching spoiled rich girls didn’t particularly appeal to her.

“Thank you, Ms. Martin,” Mrs. Thompson said, once they got through the details of what Amelia’s audit would look like, “And again, apologies for the mix-up earlier this week. I’ll personally make sure the office communicates the necessary details before Monday morning.”

Good. The last thing Amelia wanted was for even more of her time to be wasted. The sooner she could knock out this hiring process, the sooner she could take the job and stop worrying about overselling herself and stressing about the competition. “Thank you, Mrs. Thompson,” Amelia said, “I’ll see you on Monday.”


For the third time in under a week, Amelia was stepping out of her car and onto one of the Westridge Academy parking lots. Her weekend had been far less stressful than her previous week, complete with a shopping spree and two late nights of drinking with her girlfriends. Once her nerves had settled after the interview, she realized something on the way home–Monday didn’t really matter.

All she had to do was show up, put on a stupid outfit, and audit a few classes. Compared to an interview, that was nothing. It’s not like she had to take notes or constantly be the best version of herself. In her mind, Amelia pretty much just had to smile and shake a few hands throughout the day, get a sense of how things operated at the school, and perhaps give some feedback during a follow-up interview. Easy. With her interview prep out of the way, she could let loose a little bit now that the difficult part was done.

She was smart enough to not drink on Sunday evening, but not even a full night’s rest was enough for her to recover from Friday and Saturday. Amelia was the definition of a lightweight. The petite girl never developed much of a tolerance, which usually led to irresponsible decisions over the weekend. Cutting herself off after one drink and only having water would always be the smart choice, but the recent college grad still found herself succumbing to peer pressure when she was out with the girls.

The crisp morning air helped wake her up, though Amelia hardly appreciated that benefit as she frowned and shivered at the outside temperature. The last two campus visits had spoiled her, as the sun had been up both times. Now it was early, and overcast, and she just wanted to crawl back into bed and get a few more hours of sleep. Putting together her usual mature appearance meant waking up way earlier than she normally had to for her waitress job. Mrs. Thompson could have warned her that it was going to be a 7 AM call time, though it made sense in retrospect. This was a school, after all; middle school and high school classes would obviously start in the morning.

Just as Amelia reached the edge of the parking lot, heading once again towards the administration building, she heard her name.

“Ms. Martin. Amelia!”

She looked towards the source of the voice, and saw the same dark haired office girl standing by one of the building’s side doors. Ashley? That sounded right, though she couldn’t remember for sure. The girl had the full schoolgirl uniform this time around, unlike the last few instances where her blazer hung over the back of her chair. The familiar skirt/tie combo in green plaid that Amelia had seen on the website, and that she was bracing herself to sport as well.

“Umm, yes?” Amelia replied. She paused for a moment, not sure if Ashley was just saying ‘hello’ or if she actually needed something.

“This way,” Ashley said. She beckoned towards the side door, “The front door isn’t unlocked yet.”

Amelia believed the girl, of course, because she had no reason not to. Her lack of teaching experience, lack of familiarity with private schools, and desperation for the lucrative assistant position kept her nice and blind to all the irregularities that had been thrown at her. A canceled meeting with no warning, a ‘general’ registration form, a schoolgirl outfit just for her, and now a student leading the way instead of an administrator being the one to greet her.

She had no idea she was falling right into a trap set up by Ashley herself.

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The schoolgirl fantasy might be alluring to some, but Amelia felt the complete opposite as she looked herself over in the mirror. She hadn’t expected to change into the Westridge uniform right away, but that’s the first thing Ashley had taken her to do. The handicap bathroom gave her privacy, which she was grateful for; changing in a bathroom always felt a little dirty, but having a private room was a lot better than wrestling with clothes in a tight stall.

It had been simple enough to remove her classy outfit, but putting on the uniform wasn’t quite as simple. The green plaid skirt had a stubborn zipper in the back, the white blouse was a bit too snug in the chest, and Amelia hadn’t ever tied a tie before. She wanted to leave the bathroom with the whole outfit intact, as asking for help from a student didn’t particularly appeal to her. Instead, she watched a tutorial online and mostly figured it out after a few tries.

The girl staring back at her in the mirror did NOT look like an adult. Even with perfectly done hair and make-up, she looked more like a high school senior than a recent college graduate. Her padded bra was offset by the blouse and blazer flattening things back out, as the petite girl usually paired her enhanced bras with the perfect tops to give herself a more mature image. Chest or no chest, it was more that she was dressed like all the other teenagers who had been sent off to boarding school here.

How was this a good idea? Surely some high schoolers could handle a few classes with a differently dressed woman in the room. And, while empathizing with them by going through the same process sounded logical when Mrs. Thompson explained it, Amelia was only now thinking of a major flaw in the administrator’s plan–earning respect was going to be a lot more difficult after all the students saw her dressed like this.

Unfortunately, Amelia didn’t make the rules. And she was desperate for the job. Maybe she was overthinking things. If every applicant did this, then it should simply be part of the students’ culture at this point. She was just being self conscious about her size, and had to put her ego and her usually maturity-focused attire aside for a day.

She fiddled with the tie and blazer one more time, then stepped out of the private bathroom. Hopefully Ashley wouldn’t judge her for taking so long. Or, more importantly, she hoped that her dawdling wouldn’t make her late for the first thing on the morning’s schedule.

“Millie! You look so cute!” Ashley exclaimed, the moment Amelia stepped back into the hallway.

Millie . . .?

Amelia had never, EVER been called that. Not once in her entire life. She had gotten her fair share of ‘Amy’ over the years, which she was fine with, but ‘Amelia’ was definitely her preference. It was more mature, sophisticated; especially ever since she started college. Her full name was yet another way to counteract the way that puberty had absolutely screwed her over.

But ‘Millie?’ It wasn’t just immature. The awful name sounded like what you’d name some freckled farm girl. Not that there was anything wrong with growing up out in the country, but that just wasn’t at all an image Amelia had of herself. And to be called that by a high school girl, of all people? Ugh.

“It’s Amelia.” She responded in as flat a tone as she could manage without sounding bitchy at the same time. After all, Ashley had been nothing but helpful so far. Still, the young, dark haired girl was a student. Authority was important, especially when Amelia was still fairly young herself. And at an all girls’ school, showing you disliked something was a surefire way for that thing to be used against you, even as an adult. With that in mind, she added, “Or Amy, I guess.”

A preferred nickname was better than a cringeworthy one. And a casual response was a better approach than an offended reaction.

“Amy is nice,” Ashley said, “Anyway, come on. We’ll have to find you some shoes at the Lost and Found, and then it’s time for your aptitude test.”

Wait, what? “Ashley, my shoes are fine.” Amelia said. She had checked on the school’s site the other day. Black heels adhered to the dress code as much as flats did, and she obviously preferred the former for the extra few inches of height.

“No, they’re not. You’re auditing middle school classes, Amy. Westridge only allows girls in 9th grade and up to wear heels.”

“It doesn’t matter. I’m just here for the day.” It didn’t occur to Amelia that she might be sitting in on the younger grades’ classes, but her schoolgirl get-up was enough of a price to pay for the job. Wearing some girl’s used shoes and demoting herself to a more immature appearance was yet another sacrifice she hadn’t prepared for.

Ashley just shrugged. “I was told to treat you like any other student on her first day here. That means flats, Amy; not heels. But if it’s really a problem, I guess we can go check with the office.”

A trip upstairs would delay them further, and possibly make Amelia look bad if she complained about something that was objectively pretty trivial. It also only dawned on her after three uses of ‘Amy’ that Ashley was exclusively using her first name. “It’s Ms. Martin,” she said, correcting the girl. Better late than never.

“What did I just say?” Ashley gave her a curious look, “I’m not supposed to give you any special treatment. This is your first day at Westridge, you’re more or less a student, and your name is Amy.” With a smile and a friendly wink, Amy conceded at the end. “Don’t worry. If you end up teaching here, I’ll call you Ms. Martin as much as you want.”

Had Mrs. Thompson told her about this? Now that it had been a few days, the interview was more of a blur. Amelia knew that she was auditing classes, complete with a student uniform, but what about the rest? Being treated like a student was a lot different than dressing like one, though it did line up with empathy the administrator had mentioned. Maybe she had misheard, or misremembered; maybe Mrs. Thompson had left out a detail or two, considering it was the end of the day on Friday and her mind could have been elsewhere.

“I know. I’m not asking for special treatment,” Amelia said. Deciding to save face in front of her guide for the morning, not wanting to look bad in front of a future student, she just went along with it, “If it’s policy, then I can change shoes.”

Ashley just nodded, with a faint smile. “Good girl.”

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While accepting the full dress code seemed like the mature thing to do in the moment, Amelia regretted her decision a few minutes later.

It didn’t fully dawn on her until Ashley was handing her a pair of slightly worn black flats she had fished out from the Lost and Found. It wasn’t the fact that they were another girl’s shoes, though that certainly didn’t help. Instead, it was the matter of losing one of her most valued enhancements. Wearing heels and padded bras were the two biggest ways Amelia made up for the way she was totally screwed in the height and curves department. Changing into flats would drop her three full inches, all the way down to her natural height of five feet. Technically, she was a quarter of an inch taller than being five exactly, but that hardly made a difference.

Unfortunately, it was too late to back out. As a future teacher, Amelia knew it was better to stick to her word. There was also that casual use of ‘good girl’ that Ashley used on her, but the dark haired girl had already mentioned that she wasn’t supposed to give Amelia any special treatment. Was that a phrase they used around here? Hopefully it was an Ashley quirk, as Amelia didn’t like the idea of having to say it to anyone. It was awkward enough being called that.

Reluctantly, Amelia sat herself down on a nearby bench and undid the straps of her heels while keeping her legs and skirt positioned properly the whole time. Setting aside her expensive shoes, Amelia began putting on one of the flats that Ashley had found for her. It was tighter than she expected, even though Amelia’s feet were as small as the rest of her. She still put in the effort; she shoved her foot into the black shoe, only barely able to pull the heel over her ankle.

“Are there any others in there?” Amelia asked, wincing a little bit as she moved her foot around. The faded leather was beyond snug, and the back of the single flat was digging into the back of her foot too. “This is definitely too small.”

“Sorry, Amy. Not too many girls lose their shoes,” Ashley said, “Here, put the other one on. You’re going to be late for your aptitude test if you get hung up on every little thing this morning.”


“No buts. Come on, they’ll feel better after you walk around in them for a bit.”

“Okay . . .” Amelia muttered. She had already come so far for this job. It would suck if Ashley’s point came to pass, as being late for one thing would potentially cause her to be late to everything throughout the day.

Knowing what to expect this time, Amelia worked her other foot into the tight flat. Surprise, surprise, it was just as tight and uncomfortable as the first one. Listening to Ashley’s advice, Amelia stood up to take a few steps in the too-small shoes. The first thing she noticed, however, was not how bad the shoes felt. Instead, Amelia had to deal with the reality of how SHORT she was.

She couldn’t remember the last time she actually displayed her true height in public. Working out was the one time Amelia had to wear regular shoes, and her self consciousness about her size had led her to exercise alone for years now. Because of her social footwear, Amelia gradually built up a fantasy of how tall she was in comparison to friends and strangers alike. At least, that’s how it felt when standing next to Ashley and having that fantasy crumble. She had already been a few inches shorter than the academy student to begin with, but now the girl had at least half a foot on her!

Thankfully, Ashley didn’t seem like the teasing type. Ever the cordial front desk worker and now first day guide, Ashley was nothing but polite and friendly. “Perfect, Amy. You’ll fit in so much better with those on,” she said. Not batting an eye at their size difference, Ashley bent over and picked up the abandoned heels by the straps, “I can hold onto these for you. Oh, and I’ll also have to confiscate your phone and your purse.”

Wait, what?

Amelia was still coming to grips with how small she suddenly was, as well as how the flats actually made her feel more off balance than slim heels did thanks to the way they tightly hugged and dug into her feet. And now Ashley was going to take her stuff.

The taller girl must have sensed her trepidation, or maybe just saw it written all over her face. “Relax, Amy,” Ashley said, with a light giggle, “You can have them back right after your test. I doubt you’d try to cheat, but it’s pretty standard procedure to restrict outside resources.”

“Oh,” Amelia said. She let out a breath she had been unintentionally holding for a few seconds after hearing the explanation. It made sense, though she still didn’t like the idea of handing a high school girl so many personal possessions. Her phone would be locked, of course, but her wallet was less protected. “I don’t really have anything in my purse. You can check, if you want.”

“Sorry, Ames,” Ashley said, “Rules are rules. But your things are in good hands, I promise. They’ll be locked away in the office. Oh, it’s almost time! Come on, this way.”

Once again rendered speechless by the student’s logic, Amelia found herself following her down another hallway. No, walking around in the flats didn’t help. Plus the shoes were already visibly broken in, so it’s not like time would help the fit. Not that she was planning on wearing them for any longer than necessary. As usual, she was in unfamiliar territory, and could hardly keep up with all the rules and regulations that Mrs. Thompson hadn’t taken the time to thoroughly explain.

“Okay, Amy!” Ashley exclaimed. She stopped just outside a closed door halfway down a hall that Amelia didn’t recognize in the slightest. At this point, she was so turned around from being led here and there. For once, she was grateful to be treated like a new student, as it meant no one was expecting her to know where to go.

With her lips pursed in the same small smile as when they first met, Ashley extended her hand to gesture that Amelia needed to hand over her things. “Ready for your test?

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Amelia didn’t like it, but it’s like Ashley said: Rules are rules.

She retrieved her phone from where she had stashed it in her blazer pocket earlier, and added it to the collection of things in her purse. Zipping it up for a sense of security, despite how easy it would be for someone to just open it back up if they wanted to, Amelia reluctantly held out her purse for Ashley to take. “I can have it back right afterwards?”

“Umm, maybe?” Ashley replied. She took the small leather bag and placed it over her own shoulder. “Depends on how quickly you finish your test.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, you’ll have a meeting about your results, and then you’ll be sent to class. I don’t know if you’ll have time to collect your things, but you’re welcome to ask the counselor afterwards.”

The morning had barely begun, and Amelia already had so many surprises to deal with. She had braced herself for the student uniform, though the schoolgirl looking back at her in the bathroom mirror had been embarrassing nonetheless. But it was only just dawning on her that she had no idea what the day’s schedule was supposed to look like. Mrs. Thompson hadn’t mentioned any of these steps during Friday’s meeting, but she very well could have assumed that Amelia already knew the routine. Maybe it was on the website somewhere, as Amelia had mentioned that she had perused the school’s site.

Still, it would be nice to know what else was in store for her. Apparently there was a counselor meeting after the aptitude test. Was that it, or was there more than simply observing a few classes? Amelia was pretty detail oriented; the only reason she hadn’t asked for a schedule yet is because she had assumed one was going to be provided for her. After all, Westridge Academy had such a stunning reputation.

“Ashley, can I get a physical copy of my itinerary?” Amelia asked.

Ashley just patted the top of her head. “Relax, Millie. You’re in good hands. Now, it’s time for your aptitude test.”

Before Amelia could find the words for either the patronizing gesture or the awful nickname she already rejected once, the dark haired teenager opened the door beside them. “Mrs. Lewis? Our newest student is here!”

The room beyond was a spacious lecture hall; definitely too big for a single girl to be taking a test, though Amelia was technically ‘transferring’ in this little fantasy. The room probably had plenty of testing uses for full grades of girls, as she knew the school had more periodic testing than simply once at the beginning of the semester. For now, however, it would just be her.

“Come in, come in!” A middle aged woman greeted them at the door. “Thank you, Ashley. I can take it from here.” She beckoned for Amelia to enter.

“Good luck, Millie!” Ashley said, with a smile, “I’ll see you around.”

“It’s-” At two consecutive uses of ‘Millie,’ Amelia was about to get on the girl’s case. However, Ashley closed the door before Amelia could complete the thought. “. . . Amelia,” she muttered.

“Alright, Millie,” Mrs. Lewis said, “You can sit anywhere you like. I’d love to chat, but we’re already a little behind schedule. The sooner we can get you started, the better.”

That was the exact problem with nicknames. It doesn’t take much for them to stick. Thanks to Ashley’s farewell, which was probably intentional teasing, a potential colleague had taken to the gross name as well.

“I actually prefer Amelia,” she said, trying to be cordial. This time, she didn’t even offer ‘Amy’ as an option. The private school uniform and her lack of heels already obliterated a good amount of visual maturity; the least she could do was hold onto a more proper name.

“Oh, really? I thought I saw otherwise earlier,” Mrs. Lewis replied, “Amelia, then. Please take a seat.”

Saw it where?

Amelia didn’t give it too much thought. At a boarding school for teenagers, plenty of girls probably had nicknames and alternative versions of their names. It would be easy enough for someone in education to lean towards shorter names, especially after Ashley literally just called her by one.

She wasn’t too picky about where to sit. With the whole lecture hall to herself, Amelia simply found a chair near the end that was notably far away from one of the above vents. Even with a blazer on, she tended to get cold easily and didn’t know how long the aptitude test was supposed to last. An itinerary would have been nice.

A few seconds later, Mrs. Lewis placed a packet and a scan sheet for her answers. “See?” she said, tapping the sticker that was sitting at the top-right of the packet. Right there, in bold letters, read MILLIE ROBERTS. “But if you prefer ‘Amelia,’ just let the office know.”

Wait, what?

Despite her distaste for ‘Millie,’ that’s not the main problem that Amelia noticed. “Umm, my last name is ‘Martin,’” she said, “Not ‘Roberts.’”

Maybe it was just some general last name used for non-student aptitude tests, like the form she filled out for the office. After all, she also wasn’t in 7th Grade, which was listed underneath her name on the sticker.

“Separated parents?” Mrs. Lewis mused. She didn’t linger on the idea for very long. “It’s fine, Amelia. We know who you are; you’re the only new student here today. If there are any issues with your paperwork, we’ll get it sorted out. Now, are you ready to begin?”

Amelia didn’t particularly like the way she was being spoken to, but what could she do? If the point was to treat her like a student on her first day, then everyone had hit the nail on the head so far. Both Ashley and Mrs. Lewis dismissed all of her problems so casually. Still, the last few minutes created a faint nagging at the back of her head. She just couldn’t place it.

For now, the aptitude test was now and clerical questions would have to be later.

“I’m ready,” Amelia said.

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The test itself sounded fairly standard, save for one surprise.

Mrs. Lewis briefly explained how there were five sections to complete. Mathematics, Reading, Science, History, and Religion. Amelia must have been more transparent than she normally considered herself, as the woman immediately assured her to not stress about the non-academic one. Not every new arrival had a Christian upbringing, and the religion section of the test shouldn’t be any more stressful than the rest. There’s no passing or failing, after all, as the aptitude test is merely designed to highlight each student’s strengths and weaknesses.

Even when she was given the explanation, Amelia was taken aback at how a fifth of the test was on something like that. She knew from her research that Westridge had daily chapel and a handful of basic religion classes. It was an old fashioned school, and a private one at that; public schools would never get away with that. But to make it part of the placement process? Odd. Hopefully her poor results would dissuade the administration from putting her in charge of any of those classes. Amelia went to church here and there growing up, but that was about it. Save for Christmas and Easter, religion hadn’t been part of her life at all since she left for undergrad.

She didn’t have much time to dwell on those thoughts, as it was time for her test to begin. Each section would be timed, as Mrs. Lewis explained, but this would be a little different than if it was a whole grade being tested. Since Amelia was on her own, she was permitted to finish a section early if she wished. However, that would not grant her additional time on other sections. And, in proper teacher fashion, Mrs. Lewis also told her to be sure that she was finished before asking for an early end. There’s no shame in using extra time to review answers. The best students often do just that.

“Got it,” Amelia said.

This was all so extra. She understood the concept of empathizing with the students that Mrs. Thompson had presented to her, but did she really have to go through all this? The schoolgirl uniform made her constantly fidget in discomfort, and occasionally blush when she caught a glimpse of the plaid skirt and remembered all over again that she was no longer wearing the classy outfit she arrived in. More than anything, she wished she could take off the tight flats for the duration of the test, but that wouldn’t look particularly professional.

And how much time was this test wasting? She would much prefer to be observing the first class of the day, or meeting (and sucking up to) other staff and administration. Instead, she was going step by step through a new student’s first day, save for perhaps the way she changed after arriving on campus instead of showing up in uniform like the average girl would. Rules were rules, as Ashley reminded her, and this was apparently the price to pay in order to earn a job at the prestigious school. She would suck it up, and forever be grateful that she didn’t attend a boarding school herself growing up. Wearing the same outfit every day? It would be awful.

“Alright,” Mrs. Lewis said, “Good luck, Amelia. You may turn to section one, and your time begins now.”

Amelia did as she was instructed. The first section was MATHEMATICS, as noted by the bold section header at the top of the page. Underneath, in smaller text, noted once again that this was for 7th grade, and had a duration of twenty minutes.

At first, she didn’t expect to take nearly that long to knock out what she assumed would be simple equations. Amelia had always been decent with numbers, at least at the pre-university levels. However, the difficulty of the aptitude test hit her fairly quickly. What seemed like easy questions ended up almost tricking her a few times with how deceptive the multiple choice options were. After noticing the tricky pattern, she made sure to pay careful attention before committing to each answer.

And those were the easy questions.

The further Amelia got into the math section, the more vividly she remembered her own middle school years. It wasn’t just triangles and equations. A good portion of her 7th grade classes involved graphs, and it had been nearly ten years since she had solved such problems. Even as an Education Major, it’s not like she was relearning stuff like that during her undergrad years.

She tried her best to work things out on the scratch paper provided, but ultimately ended up making a few educated guesses as Mrs. Lewis called out how much time remained every few minutes. And, while Amelia felt a bit self conscious about the fact that she wasn’t ace-ing the test like she thought she would, she reminded herself that this was supposed to be about strengths and weaknesses. Making the aptitude test too easy wouldn’t be conducive to placing students in the appropriate classes. Still, it would be nice to have an impressive score, as she assumed that taking the test in full wasn’t just a formality; the administration would probably see her score and take that into account in terms of the hiring process.

If Amelia didn’t do well on a test literally designed for middle schoolers, that would no doubt reflect poorly on her.

Only a minute or so after she finished filling in the answer bubble for the last question, Mrs. Lewis called, “time.” Amelia had been doing a quick scan of the problems she had been less sure about, and couldn’t believe how little extra time she ended up having. If this woman proctoring the test talked about her later, how would it look? Potentially good, if she was viewed as the kind of girl who spent all her time working instead of rushing through. Or potentially bad, if she took so long and still ended up with a good chunk of wrong answers.

Amelia wasn’t normally the anxious type, but she could already feel the self-doubt creeping in.

And there were still four sections to go.

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The aptitude test only got worse and worse for Amelia.

English seemed easy at first, as most of it was reading comprehension. The answers were painfully obvious, as all you had to do was pull them from the long excerpt on the previous page. However, it ended up being very much like the section of the ACT that ‘tricked’ her in the same way back in high school. While she didn’t doubt any of her answers for a few pages, reading and re-reading drained a lot more time than she expected. When Mrs. Lewis called out that there were only five minutes remaining, Amelia quietly panicked when she realized she had only made it about halfway. The last few pages of the test ended up being rushed; she skimmed and made a few educated guesses, ultimately having to blindly choose a handful of answers at the one minute mark.

Science and History were both difficult in a different way. Since the test was designed for thirteen year olds, a lot of the questions were based on information that would be more easily retained from someone who actually took middle classes more recently. For Amelia, it had been nearly ten years. A few science facts and historical names still stuck out to her, but the vast majority of the third and fourth sections of the aptitude test felt like total guesswork.

And, of course, Religion. The last portion of the test was by far Amelia’s worst. Even with the knowledge that this was all for the sake of the Westridge student experience, and the fact that Mrs. Lewis had also said to not worry too much about the final section, Amelia still felt herself tense up at just how frequently she was wildly guessing at the questions. With a ‘subject’ she barely spent any time in throughout her life, there wasn’t a lot of room for educated guesses; multiple choice or not.

Frowning at the completed scan sheet, Amelia flipped the test back to the first page as “time” was called. Maybe it was the self-doubt from the last few sections, but she seriously wasn’t sure if she would break a B average as a whole. Not ideal for a girl who was still in the interview process to be a teacher.

“Okay, Amelia. Right this way.” Mrs. Lewis came over to collect the testing materials, then led Amelia towards a door at the opposite end of the room.

The next room looked to be a simple waiting area. One door led to what looked like an office, and the other to one of the hallways. Amelia was told to stay there for a few minutes while her results were collected, and then she’d see where she was placed.

Left in solitude in the small room, Amelia sat down and fidgeted with her skirt. This was quite the process. She definitely felt like a new student, with all the awkward first steps that came with a first day. At the moment, nervously waiting to see how she did on the aptitude test designed for girls years her junior. Those scan sheets were designed to be graded quickly, so she knew it wouldn’t be too long.

It was only a few minutes, but it felt like hours in the cold and quiet room. If this was for a doctor’s appointment or something similar, Amelia would be idly scrolling on her phone in the interim. However, Ashley took everything before the testing began, which meant all of her personal things were in the main office somewhere.

Finally, Mrs. Lewis returned to summon her. “Amelia? This way, please.”

“Of course,” Amelia nodded. Standing up, she also realized her only real interaction of the day had been with Ashley so far. Part of Amelia’s plan for the day had been to build a rapport with the faculty and administration, which would actually be more difficult than she initially thought. Between the long testing period and her coming class observations, there wouldn’t be a lot of one-on-one time. “So, what brought you to Westridge?” she asked. Better to make a personal connection than worry about her test and how well she fared compared to other candidates.

“Well, I didn’t exactly transfer here, like you,” she chuckled, after a beat of silence following the question, “If you’re really curious, I can tell you about it some time. Long story short, it was a change in my career path.”

“I didn’t-” Amelia began, but trailed off. This was the middle of a semester, so technically she would be a transfer student in this little roleplay. But surely they could talk freely when there weren’t other students around, right? Hell, Amelia also assumed she would be introduced as the observer she was when it was time for class. If everyone kept speaking to her like a new student, per Ashley’s words, then that would undermine her future authority even more than the current outfit would.

“Didn’t what, Amelia? Proper girls speak clearly, yes?”

“Umm, yes? I’m just not sure how this is all supposed to go. I never received an itinerary, and Mrs. Thompson didn’t say anything about being treated like a new student.”

Up until now, Amelia had been reluctantly going through the motions. Putting on the schoolgirl uniform Ashley gave her, turning over her possessions, taking the full aptitude test that a new student would take, and now being lightly criticized by an adult rather than the teasing remarks the dark haired guide had made earlier. Her tired mind hadn’t offered much resistance at this point, and her inexperience with private schools paved the way for her compliance so far.

At some point, however, enough was enough. She was an adult, and would much prefer to speak to the other adults at Westridge as herself. Especially if no one else was around. How was she ever going to be taken seriously if everyone kept pushing this empathy/experience thing of walking through the first day as a new student?

Mrs. Lewis’s next words brought back that nagging feeling that Amelia felt when she saw the front page of the test.

“Mrs. Thompson?” she asked, “Why would you have spoken with her?”

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Was that supposed to be a joke?

Westridge Academy might have a few more specialized positions than the average public school, including the kind of role Amelia was pursuing, but she still couldn’t fathom how the woman who just administered her test didn’t know who had been in charge of the interview process to begin with. Unless they rotated who spoke with potential candidates? Either way, she was taken aback by Mrs. Lewis’s tone.

“She was the one who interviewed me.” Amelia said.

Mrs. Lewis looked confused. “Interviewed you for what, dear? We don’t do interviews; just applications.”

“That’s ridiculous. I was literally called-” she began. Cutting herself off, as the patronizing ‘dear’ had a delayed registration in her mind, Amelia shifted gears. It was getting a bit frustrating having every conversation revolve around her ‘first day experience.’ How could she talk to anyone if they were going to keep pretending she wasn’t an adult? She had taken a day off of work for this, and had submitted herself to dressing up like a schoolgirl for the sake of authenticity. But if she couldn’t talk to the teachers or administration as herself, what was even the point? “Mrs. Lewis, no one else is here,” she said, “Can we please just speak normally for a second?”

“Have we not been speaking normally this whole time? Amelia, we really don’t have time for this. Ms. Song is a busy woman.”

“I understand that. It’s just, no one informed me about any of this. Is it really necessary for me to be treated like this all day? Do I at least get a break over lunch, or something?”

“All the girls get a break over lunch. And you’re not being treated any differently than the rest of the students, I promise.”

“That’s not-” It was the exact opposite of what Amelia meant, “I’m just asking when I’ll get a chance to be myself.”

“You shouldn’t ever be afraid to be yourself, Amelia. Don’t worry about fitting in, if that’s what you’re worried about. We’ve had plenty of transfer students before.”


“I know. You have a lot of questions. There will be time for that, but we really do need to stay on schedule. If you’ll follow me.”

This was all for the job. All for the job. All for the job. Amelia had to mentally repeat the motivation to herself a few times as she let Mrs. Lewis lead the way. No matter, grabbing a public school job would be a piece of cake if this didn’t work out. With teachers dropping like flies these days, there would be plenty of desperate schools out there that would pick her up in a heartbeat. And, since Amelia viewed teaching as a stepping stone anyway, she was going into this profession with her eyes wide open. But this was THE school for her. Hands down the best option in terms of future career opportunities, which meant that putting up with a little extra bullshit was still worth it.

Her tediously small size had often led to people accidentally talking down to her when they didn’t realize she was already in high school or, more recently, in college. But this stupid roleplay was intentional, which made it different. While Amelia didn’t plan on leaning into it, she could at least bite her tongue in terms of her distaste.

The next stop of the morning was the office of one Melinda Song. According to the title just underneath the sign by her door, she was a Student Advisor. One of several, if Amelia recalled from the academy’s website. From what she understood about the position, it was a cross between high school counselor and college advisor. Was this who had her test results? If so, Amelia was anxious to see how well she did. And, more importantly, how it affected her chances of being hired.

“Ms. Song? Are you ready for her?” Mrs. Lewis asked. She stuck her head into the room, but only long enough to get that confirmation.

Amelia couldn’t see around the corner, but could easily hear her response. “Yes, of course. You may send her in.”

Mrs. Lewis stepped aside and gestured for her to do just that. Determined to check off yet another item of the morning’s list that Amelia dearly wished she had a copy of, she didn’t hesitate in the slightest. Stepping through the threshold, she was surprised to see just how tidy the room was. It was a total contrast to Mrs. Thompson’s room, with stacks of papers and organized clutter here and there; a style that was reminiscent of most of Amelia’s college professors. Not here. Aside from the nameplate and a desktop monitor, the only thing sitting on Ms. Song’s desk was what looked to be Amelia’s placement test as well as her application packet.

Ms. Song appeared to be younger than Mrs. Lewis, but older than Mrs. Thompson. Late twenties, perhaps early thirties, though it was more difficult to tell for sure on a half Asian woman. Maybe she was a staff member that Amelia would hit it off with when she was hired. It wasn’t that big of an age gap; she would just have to show Ms. Song that she was more mature than her twenty-two year old self might be perceived as a recent graduate.

“Good morning, Millie,” Ms. Song said. She gestured to the two chairs sitting opposite her desk. Her tone was friendly, yet formal at the same time. “Please, have a seat. We have a lot to discuss.”

There it was again. ‘Millie.’ Awful, and cringeworthy, and absolutely not something she wanted to keep correcting all day. Maybe it worked on other girls, but not for her. “Morning,” Amelia said. She internally reprimanded herself for the flicker of attitude. It wasn’t Ms. Song’s fault; the test on her desk was labeled incorrectly. “I actually prefer Amelia.”

Ms. Song just nodded. “Amelia, then.”

Then she gestured once more to the empty seat.

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Amelia hesitantly sat down across the desk from Ms. Song.

Despite this being part of the unorthodox interview process, Amelia still felt a little bit like a girl being sent to the principal’s office. The schoolgirl outfit didn’t help. It wasn’t a familiar feeling, as she had always been an upstanding girl; a straight-A student. The only time she went to the office in high school was to drop off a form every now and then, and she actually struggled to remember whether or not she had ever even stepped foot into the principal’s office back then.

She wasn’t actually in trouble. And yet, she found herself shifting in her seat in general discomfort. The borrowed flats were too tight, the blazer felt a little tight now that she was seated, and the room was too warm.

“Please stop fidgeting,” Ms. Song said.

“Sorry,” Amelia replied. If she wasn’t self conscious before in the embarrassing outfit and unfamiliar environment, the blunt demand of the Student Advisor did the trick. It was so unexpected, Amelia had muttered her apology without even thinking. Now hyper focused on her posture, not wanting to start things off on the wrong foot, she sat up straight and kept her eyes trained on the woman behind the desk. “I’m just not used to the uniform; that’s all.”

“Understood. Although you should know that excuses are frowned upon here. Proper young ladies take responsibility for themselves, rather than placing the blame elsewhere. Was it the uniform’s fault, or was it your own?”

“. . . It was my own fault.”

“Good answer. Now then, shall we take a look at your file?”

God, these poor girls. In her younger days, Amelia had often fantasized about places like this. Though she hadn’t been a rebellious high schooler in the slightest, she still dealt with the usual angst that most teenagers did. A boarding school with no parents around sounded amazing. All the freedoms of college, but earlier than that. Granted, most of those daydreams consisted of an institution like PCA, a school on a show she used to watch. Teenage life in dorms, but still with whatever outfits you wanted to wear and a beautiful, sunny campus.

Westridge was definitely not that. While the campus was impressive, she would have preferred a modern look instead of the old, stone buildings that made up the school grounds. The uniforms, of course, were a bummer. And, from what she had experienced so far, the teachers and administration were a lot more strict than Amelia’s public school faculty were. Not unkind, but definitely too serious for her liking. Including Ms. Song, who started things off by criticizing her and tacking on a patronizing question at the end.

Thankfully, Amelia would only have to suffer through this kind of treatment for another few hours. Being on the giving end would also be weird, of course, but it was far better than receiving what she had dealt with so far. Even Ashley, another student, talked down to her. Amelia was certainly empathizing with the other students, as Mrs. Thompson had first suggested, but in a lot more ways than simply going through the motions of a first day’s schedule.

“Sure,” Amelia said. That’s all she could say. Before, the plan was to mention how she didn’t get a lot of sleep, or that she hadn’t taken a history class in years. Something to give her a little padding in case the weaker sections of the aptitude test ended up being a problem. But now that Ms. Song just made a point that excuses weren’t well received here, that no longer felt like a safe move.

The advisor pulled a small stack of papers out of a manila folder on her desk. “You should know, Ms. Roberts, that Westridge Academy is more academically strenuous than the average public school. So please, take no offense when I lay out the classes you’ll be starting in.”

Ms. Roberts?

It was one thing seeing the fake name on the aptitude test, but something else entirely to be addressed in such a way.

“Umm, is this part of-”

“Amelia. Proper girls do not interrupt others. May I continue?”

It was definitely a rhetorical question. Feeling smaller than ever, Amelia gave a quiet, meek nod.

“Now then,” Ms. Song began, “It seems as if you were passing all your classes before, but only just. Your test results suggest that you’re not ready for the majority of the 7th grade classes we offer here. There were a number of weaknesses highlighted by your aptitude test, and it’s important that we address those before allowing you to join the other girls in your grade.”

“But- umm, I-” Amelia stuttered out. She did a lot better than ‘barely passing’ her old classes, especially if Ms. Song was looking at her pre-college information. And what was she supposed to do if she couldn’t observe the right classes? Once again, she was desperate for someone to just drop the act and be straight with her.

Ms. Song apparently wasn’t the one who would be doing that for her. “There’s no need to be embarrassed, Amelia. This is common. More than half the girls here had to go through some degree of make-up material before they could fully attend their classes. Now, I’m going to go through my recommendations for you. Listen carefully, and let me know if there are any points you’d like to address. The proper response here is ‘Yes, Ms. Song.’”

It was so unfair. At this rate, Amelia was seriously considering whether or not she should just bail and go teach somewhere else. The uniform had been enough of a pill to swallow, especially due to how self conscious she was about her petite size. But she had NOT signed up to be treated this way by everyone for a whole morning. No one had told her. She didn’t care if the surprise made it more authentic; it was humiliating.

At the same time, she was in too deep. The uniform was on. The test was done. Backing out now would mean she had gone through this awkward experience for nothing. So, she pushed on and tried to see the light at the end of the tunnel. A well-paid teaching position with benefits, and the best possible stepping stone for her future.

Biting her tongue and glancing away, Amelia muttered, “Yes, Ms. Song.”

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For reasons unknown to her, Amelia once again found herself in a uniquely patronizing situation. She was being made to speak like any given Westridge student would, and no one but Ashley had treated her like the adult she was since Amelia stepped onto campus.

No one had warned her about any of this. And, aside from the frustrating way that Amelia had to endure being a ‘7th grader,’ apparently Ms. Song wasn’t even using Amelia’s correct grades. As a straight-A student all the way through the end of high school, she couldn’t even fathom how someone could maintain barely passing grades in middle school. Showing up to school every day pretty much guaranteed decent grades, even for slackers. Which she wasn’t.

“It looks like Mathematics and Reading were your two strongest sections,” Ms. Song said. Or, in other words, the exact results Amelia had expected. “Science and History, however, will require some catch-up work on your part. For the next week, we’ll put you through our remedial course in those subjects. I strongly suggest that you make an active effort in the evenings to both review and look ahead when possible. You’ll be tested again on Friday with the potential to join your classmates on Monday if you’ve improved.”

“Umm,” was all Amelia could get out. Her observations were only a one day commitment, and she wanted to ask if there were any blurred lines between her real self and her student self. Was she expected to brush up on these materials on her own time? That was fine if she got the job, but hearing it straight would make things a lot easier to wrap her head around.

She never got the chance to clarify, because Ms. Song moved right on. “Please don’t interrupt, Millie. As for Mathematics and English, your teachers will be given your results to see what things need a little work this week. Additionally, passing your second test on Friday doesn’t automatically advance you. To parallel your classes, one of our high school girls will be assigned to tutor you until you’re fully brought up to speed with the rest of your classmates. Are you following so far?”

Amelia nodded.

This kind of learning is what set Westridge Academy apart from the average public school. Back when she was in school, the tiers were something like Gifted, Advanced, and General. Amelia was at the highest level, though it didn’t make her feel particularly special when she was a tween. When there were 100+ peers in the same classes, it just felt like a normal school routine. Once students were placed, however, they tended to stay in those levels. The school didn’t seem to make much of an effort to push the less intelligent kids towards the next ‘tier’ of classes within the same grade, even if hard work could easily end up bypassing natural talent. A lot of other public schools seemed to have the same issue.

Not at Westridge. The private school only offered a singular level of classes for each grade. Sink or swim. And, for girls that were having trouble swimming, the school used methods like this. Temporary remedial classes, emphasis on ‘temporary,’ and tutors. So, instead of a student getting stuck in a lower level class for a whole year and maybe advancing down the line, Westridge opted for a structure that gave attention to each individual student’s needs and maintained excellence across the board because of it.

This was all in line with the research that Amelia did before her interview, and it seemed like the school wasted no time on such things. The moment a girl arrived, they got right down to business with the aptitude test and the subsequent placement. Although Amelia was reluctant playing along, made easy by the fact that Ms. Song was particularly strict, it was still annoying that she once again had to suffer through the use of ‘Millie.’ Again. Except if it was plastered all over the files sitting on the desk in front of her, then it made sense that Ms. Song would screw up despite Amelia’s earlier correction.

Continuing, Ms. Song explained beyond academics, “As for behavior, I’m aware that you and your former school did not always see eye to eye. Now, Millie, your first day here has the potential to be a clean slate for you. However, we have a few things on your file that have been noted, and I sincerely hope that none of that will follow you here. Teachers are to be treated with respect, as are prefects. That is the most important point I wish to make. Will you have any issues with that?”

Amelia shook her head. “Of course not.”

She was beginning to understand. Rather than working off the impressive form she had faxed to the office, she was being treated as if she was one of the more difficult arrivals. Because while Westridge was home to a lot of girls that were there for a strong academic foundation and a better chance at getting into the good universities, there were also a number of students that were sent there for more disciplinary reasons. When the freedoms of a public school served to enable more troublesome adolescents, the parents that could afford it would ship their kid off to Westridge for an attitude adjustment. It’s not that the school was harsh by any means, but it was definitely more strict across the board.

Then she was to experience a difficult girl’s first day, rather than how her past self might have been received? It still didn’t explain ‘Millie.’ Maybe that was an attempt to needle her. Or, more likely, Ashley thought it would be funny.

“Try that again for me. Will you have any issues with that, Millie?”

Oh. Right.

It took Amelia a moment to figure out what Ms. Song meant. But then, lightly blushing at the absurdity of it, she said, “No, Ms. Song.”

It was going to be a long day.

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Part Thirteen

Though Ms. Song had more or less wrapped up the overview of what Amelia’s first week of academics would look like, it still took another ten minutes for the meeting to conclude.

By the end of it, Amelia suspected that the purpose of the extra time was mostly to condition her to have the kind of proper manners expected of the academy’s students. The amount of times she had to politely reply “Yes, Ms. Song” or “No, Ms. Song” to a pointed question was getting a little frustrating. Amelia was a grown ass woman, yet she was being treated like a young teenager by everyone she encountered so far.

It was Sunk Cost Fallacy at its finest. She had already made it so far in the meeting with Ms. Song, and blowing up in exasperation would only serve to make her look bad. Teachers were supposed to be able to play it cool, even when their students made a point to needle them, disrupt class, show blatant disrespect, and so on. Amelia could see how this could be another test, in a roundabout way. If she could survive such a patronizing ordeal while keeping it together, then surely she could do the same around difficult academy girls.

“Finally, there’s a matter of selecting an extracurricular class,” Ms. Song said, “Your cousin suggested our Visual Arts program for you. You’re more the artistic type, yes?”

Well, not necessarily. Back before university, Amelia just made a point to take a few artsy classes to pad her otherwise academic application. So her perfect grades were being ignored, but this part of her form was being taken at face value? Go figure. Out of a habit that was already beginning to form, she was about to reply with ‘No, Ms. Song,’ followed by a brief explanation as to where her actual non-academic interests lay. Just before Amelia spoke, however, she registered something else. “My cousin?”

“Yes, Millie. Is Visual Arts suitable for you, or would you rather discuss other options?”

“Umm . . .” she trailed off.

Her cousin? Thinking back to the last page of her registration form, Amelia eliminated that possibility immediately. She hadn’t spoken to her overly controlling parents in years, and her extended family wasn’t much better. The two names she put down for her ‘Emergency Contacts’ were friends from university that she knew lived in the city. There were definitely no relatives she would have listed anywhere, which meant that this was just another part of the act?

Either way, she was determined to get this charade over with sooner rather than later. Once she was officially hired on as a teacher, she could peruse all the extracurricular options available to the girls. Going through them with an overly strict advisor, while dressed as a schoolgirl? No, thanks. “Visual Arts sounds great, Ms. Song,” she said. Anything to progress things and get this all over with. At the end of the day, it’s not like her selection would matter.

Amelia had to awkwardly sit in silence as the woman sorted things out with the files on her desk. A few things were marked on the physical copies, and subsequently entered on the computer right afterwards. Trying to be patient, and still assuming that every part of her day was a test in one way or another, Amelia did her best to sit still and avoid fidgeting. Normally that would be an easier task, but the unfamiliar outfit made it difficult to avoid fussing with her clothes. The biggest temptation was to bend over and make an attempt to adjust the tight flats, but she decided to wait until she had either had some privacy or at least a moment where no one’s eyes were on her.

After what felt like an eternity, but was really only a few minutes based on the wall clock off to her left, Ms. Song finished things off with an emphatic tap of the Return key, followed by a single hit of Amelia’s physical files on the desk to straighten them out. Now could she break character? At least for a moment, so Amelia could have a chance to breathe?

“You’re all set, Millie. While the main office sorts out your schedule, you’ll be given a brief tour of the campus. Ashley volunteered to show you around, and I’m sure she’d be willing to help with your luggage.”

So much for breathing.

“My luggage?”

“Ah, are your things being shipped?”

“What things?” Amelia asked. For a moment, she was totally lost. Parroting Ms. Song’s words back in question form, it finally clicked into place when the woman gave her a peculiar look. Right. It was a boarding school. And, if Amelia was supposed to be a new student, then she would be staying in one of the Westridge dorms. “Oh, umm, right. Sorry, Ms. Song. Yes, my luggage is still on the way.”

“Well, as long as you have enough for a few days. The office should have all the tracking info, and will keep you informed as to when the remainder of your possessions will arrive. Now, before you get started on your tour, do you have any more questions for me? I’ll be your advisor for the duration of your intermediate education here, and will be checking in with you over the next few weeks as you make the transition from your old school.”

As badly as Amelia wanted to ask if they could just speak candidly for a moment, she just wanted to move on to the rest of her day. So, with a small shake of her head, she said, “No, Ms. Song. Thank you for your time.”

“You’re quite welcome, Millie. Do you need an escort back to the main doors, or can you find your way there?”

“I can find my way,” Amelia said. Tired of pushing for her real name, she at least wanted her future colleague to know that she didn’t need help with directions. In truth, the numerous turns made her skeptical about whether or not she’d be able to make it back to the front of the building on her first try, but she’d rather backtrack once or twice than need a babysitter.

“Very well. Ashley will have been paged by now, so you should get going. Welcome to Westridge, and I wish you excellence in your endeavors here.”

“Thank you, Ms. Song.”

With an awkward nod, Amelia left the office.

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Part Fourteen

Letting out a small sigh as the door closed behind her, Amelia walked in what she hoped was the right direction. She had admittedly lost her bearings after the multiple stops she made with Ashley earlier, followed by the walk from the testing room to Ms. Song’s office. But, if it meant having a moment to herself, then she would prefer roaming down the hall and making a few educated guesses about the upcoming turns.

Most of all, she wanted to take off the flats from the Lost & Found. Her feet could really use a breather from the slightly too tight footwear. However, there wasn’t a bench or a chair to be found nearby, and there wasn’t really any time for a break even if she wanted to take one. Ashley was meeting her back at the lobby, and there was already a good chance Amelia was going to waste time with a wrong turn or two.

At least Ms. Song wasn’t around to get on her case any longer. As Amelia made her way to the end of the first hall and took a left, she used the temporary solitude as an opportunity to fidget with the unfamiliar uniform. Sitting still for so long would have been a lot easier in her normal outfit. She adjusted the blazer, tucked the dress shirt a little farther into the plaid green skirt, and straightened the tie that probably didn’t actually need straightening. The last thing Amelia needed was for the office girl with the unfair curves to remark on any imperfections in the already demeaning outfit.

As expected, Amelia ended up taking a few wrong turns along the way. Thankfully, no one was around to watch her double back a few times to try another hallway. The building was only so big, thankfully. Before too long, she found her way back to the lobby. Not quickly enough, apparently, as the familiar dark haired student was already waiting for her.

Ashley was off to the side, leaning against the wall and texting. She glanced up from the screen when she caught Amelia’s movements in her peripherals, or perhaps the faint clack of the flats. “Hey, Millie,” she said. Pushing off the wall and tucking her phone into her blazer pocket, she smiled. “Took you long enough.”

It was one thing for Amelia to bite her tongue in Ms. Song’s stern presence, but the prospective teaching assistant’s patience was growing thin. She would begrudgingly play this game around the other adults, but not with one of the students. “It’s Amelia.” Flat tone, and no concessions of ‘Amy’ or ‘Ames’ like before. The girl really shouldn’t have been using her first name to begin with, even if they met in the office instead of a classroom. But it was too late to insist on ‘Ms. Martin.’ For now.

“Sorry, Millie,” Ashley shrugged, “That’s what all your documents say. If you want to change your preferences, there’s a form you can fill out. But later, okay? We’re already behind schedule.”

Wait, what?

Amelia hadn’t expected the girl to echo the awful nickname after the correction, but the explanation threw her even more. It didn’t sound like Ashley was kidding, but since when did names work like that? Normally, it’s the reverse. Someone gets called by their full name, and then expresses the nickname they go by. But not only was Amelia dealing with the pervasive roleplay she had been thrust into since putting on the Westridge uniform, but her inexperience with private schools pushed back against whatever doubts she had in regards to Ashley’s response.

Which reminded Amelia of her internal question from earlier. “That’s not what I put on the form,” she said. Maybe a student would be more keen to break character than an administrator, or at least more willing to be honest about what was going on with her ‘first day experience.’

“Huh, really?” Ashley asked, “Could be a filing error. Do you know who was working when you faxed your stuff in?”

Of course not. The whole point of faxing is that it’s done over a machine. “No,” Amelia simply replied. No need to take her frustrations out on a teenager. “Don’t you?”

Ashley just shrugged. “No idea. When did you fax it? Actually, never mind. I’m not that familiar with the schedule. I just know when I work.”

“Okay, but you can still call me ‘Amelia.’ The files don’t really matter; I’m just here for the day anyway.”

Walking the rest of the way over, the dark haired girl placed a hand on Amelia’s shoulder and looked down into her eyes. When they were face to face, the height difference was a lot more dramatic. Per the student handbook, high school girls were permitted to wear heels, but flats were required for the younger students. Amelia had only skimmed the handbook per Mrs. Thompson’s suggestion; the only reason she remembered this detail is because Ashley pressured her to fully follow the school’s dress code earlier.

There was a reason Amelia normally wore heels. When barefoot, she stood a fraction of an inch taller than five feet. Even with the advantage tactical footwear gave, she still fell on the shorter side. The most she ever had was an extra two or three inches, as the physical cost of wearing anything more than that outweighed the height benefits. With the borrowed flats, however, the petite blonde was back to her small stature. Ashley, on the other hand, was wearing what looked like one-inch heels. Amelia had already mentally dealt with their height disparity earlier, but it seemed worse now that she actually had to look so far up to meet the girl’s eyes.

“Have you ever tried going by ‘Millie?’ Like, really tried?”

“Of course not,” Amelia said, “I like my full name just how it is.”

“So you haven’t tried?” Ashley asked.

Sighing, Amelia answered in the proper way Ms. Song had enforced earlier. “No, Ashley. I’ve never tried going by ‘Millie.’”

Softly smiling, Ashley said, “Maybe you should.”

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Part Fifteen

Amelia wasn’t prepared in the slightest to handle the logic Ashley was using.

Normally, when you tell someone you prefer a certain name, that’s the end of it. They might slip up once or twice afterwards, but eventually it’s familiar enough that they’ll always get it right. This was quite the exception. Not only was Amelia’s name incorrectly filed in the office, apparently, but now Ashley was actively working against her attempts to correct it. Not maliciously; at least, not on the surface. Instead, she approached things in a similar manner to when a parent pushes vegetables on a child.

“How can you say you don’t like something if you’ve never tried it?” Ashley asked, “I mean, I tried ‘Ash’ for like a month one time, and it really grew on me.”

“That’s not the same,” Amelia said. She had already gone through a short ‘Amy’ phase, which was more or less the same as the way Ashley shortened her own name. But Millie? Not great. Although it’s not like she could deny the dark haired girl’s point. Over the course of her meeting with Ms. Song, Amelia had already gone from subtly grimacing every time she was called ‘Millie’ to not batting an eye at it by the end. Maybe it was an acquired taste. Or maybe she was just going numb to it, which is distinctly different than growing to like something.

Either way, she’d have to deal with it for a little while longer. Ashley seemed fixated on the idea now that they were talking about it. “Let’s walk and talk, Millie,” she said. Taking Amelia’s hand, she gave a small tug towards the double doors. “And you can tell me all about why trying new things is so scary.”

What . . .?

Amelia was both caught off guard and a little insulted by the girl’s casual words. It wasn’t like that! She considered herself a fairly adventurous person. To have a total stranger imply the opposite, even if it was in a teasingly patronizing way, put her at a loss for words for a moment. It was also a second problem to face; girls talked, and it would be better if Ashley liked her. Positive gossip meant a good reputation on the first day of class. Negative gossip, however, was twice as powerful.

More than anything, Amelia wanted the former. Not to be a ‘cool teacher’ or anything like that. She just hoped to avoid the uphill battle that would come with a bunch of girls not respecting her from day one. But what could she say? It’s not like Amelia could talk about all the bars and clubs she went to on the weekends. What kinds of ‘new things’ would be relatable and impressive to an eighteen year old?

With all the thoughts sparked from Ashley’s nonchalant yet offensive question, Amelia didn’t have the mental capacity to deal with her hand being taken. Reluctantly walking forward from how the hand cupped around hers led forward, Amelia tried to tackle both the ‘Millie’ thing as well as the conversation it was leading towards. “I’m not scared of anything, Ash,” she said. Despite the schoolgirl outfit, Amelia was still an adult and a future teacher. Confidence was a little more difficult to grasp, however, after doing so poorly on a test and going through such a demeaning meeting afterwards.

“Oh?” Ashley replied.

She pushed one of the doors open and tugged at Amelia’s arm again to guide her through. The autumn air was noticeably colder with only a skirt to protect her legs, although the blazer helped. The mid-morning sun shone down onto an empty quad; all the other girls must be in class, which meant that she wouldn’t have to be seen by dozens of students. Not yet, at least. Amelia assumed she would have to walk from class to class like everyone else that afternoon. Not only for the ‘first day experience,’ but also because only observing one teacher didn’t make as much sense as observing several.

“Mm hmm,” Amelia nodded. She was just now registering that they were holding hands. Lightly blushing at the fact that she would definitely look like the younger girl from afar compared to Ashley’s mature height and figure, Amelia resisted the urge to pull her hand free. Now that she had allowed it to begin with, there was less of an opportunity to voice that it didn’t feel super appropriate. Amelia was a future academy teacher, and Ashley was a student. Not wanting to add yet another layer of potentially complicated conversation about what should be simple topics, however, Amelia let her hand remain where it was.

She was so distracted by everything Ashley was throwing at her that she didn’t pause for even a second to think that being escorted around like this would make her appear more like a lost little lamb of a new student, rather than a slightly younger girl walking side by side with the office assistant who probably did tours like this all the time with new students.

“Well, if you’re not scared of anything,” Ashley said, pausing their walk only a few steps from the administration building with a squeeze of Amelia’s hand. “Then prove it. Go by ‘Millie’ for the rest of the day. You can handle that, right?”

“Umm. Well . . .” Amelia trailed off. It wasn’t quite as simple as that. If a college friend had dared her to do something similar, especially if they were out where no one knew her, it would be different. But she was supposed to be an authority figure at Westridge, and her current attire was already screwing with her image. Adding an embarrassing name to the mix would only make things worse.

Squeezing her hand again, Ashley just smiled. “Come on, Millie. What’s the harm? Everyone’s going to be calling you Ms. Martin anyway, right?”

She had a point there. But, still. “I don’t know, Ashley.”

“Just try it. Be brave! Tell me that your name is Millie.”

Swallowing hard, and crumbling to peer pressure and a need to prove herself after being treated more like a tween than an adult all morning, Amelia reluctantly gave it a try.

“My name is Millie . . .”

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Part Sixteen


Somehow, Ashley had pressured Amelia to temporarily accept the nickname. It had been done so casually, so effortlessly; which made pushing back nearly impossible. After dealing with Ms. Song’s constant scrutiny earlier, Amelia was a little disarmed by the time she met Ashley for the tour. With so many other reasons to already feel self conscious, she couldn’t bring herself to argue about something so trivial.

The conversation ended as easily as it began. With a chipper attitude, Ashley had exclaimed, “Cute! Okay, Millie. Ready for the tour?”

Amelia distinctly remembered Ms. Song using the word ‘brief.’ However, the circuitous route Ashley took her on felt like the complete opposite. Maybe it was the uncomfortable flats, or the schoolgirl uniform, or the constant use of the new nickname, but time seemed to drag on and on as they walked nearly the entire campus. Without her phone, it was difficult to get a sense of how long she had been there. Changing, then the aptitude test, then the advisor meeting, and now this. When was she going to get to observe classes?

Westridge Academy was a boarding school, but it reminded Amelia a lot of her experience at university. A smaller campus, sure, but that was the only notable difference. Two big dorm buildings; one for girls grades six through eight, the other for girls grades nine through twelve. Amelia knew they used ‘intermediate’ for the middle school aged girls, but only because Ms. Song referenced it earlier. She couldn’t remember the phrase for high schoolers, but it was probably just as unnecessarily posh.

A few academic buildings, a library, a modest gym alongside a variety of outdoor sports areas. It would have been much simpler for Ashley to gesture to most of those things from the top of the large hill that the campus was on. Instead, they walked everything. Amelia’s feet were killing her by the time they made it back to the quad. Just when she thought it was over, Ashley led on.

To the intermediate students’ dorm building, where they ascended two stairwells. “You’ll be in a suite with nine other girls,” Ashley said. She took Amelia’s hand and tugged her down the hallway; the gesture was just as difficult to shake as the new nickname. Throughout the tour, the dark haired girl had held her hand and let go just frequently enough where it would feel awkward to bring up an issue with it now. “That’s four doubles and two singles. And lucky you, Millie! I was told that you’d be getting one of the singles.”

At this point, Amelia wasn’t surprised. More of the role, more of the act everyone managed to keep up despite her real age. An hour or two ago, she would have questioned the implication that she was being given a room. That was then, however, and this was now. “A single sounds lovely,” Amelia said. Just because she was being treated like a teenager didn’t mean she was going to talk like one.

“Trust me, it will be nice to have some privacy at night. It’s the only time you can really be yourself, you know?” Ashley winked. Then she opened the door to the common room. At the end of the room was a table with a handful of chairs, no doubt meant for studying. And, in one corner, there was a sofa and loveseat, as well as a small coffee table. Other than that, six closed doors surrounded the room. The area wasn’t particularly extravagant; it was just enough for a group of girls to study and hang out before curfew.

As Amelia walked over to her door, hand in hand with Ashley, she was reminded of a detail she had put out of her mind earlier. Similar to the name pairing on the aptitude test, the private dorm room door was already labeled for ‘MILLIE ROBERTS.’ Before, Amelia had been too distracted by the new setting and the impending test. Now that she was with Ashley again, she flashed back to her first day in the office. “Roberts? Like you?”

“You remembered!” Ashley exclaimed. She gave Amelia’s hand a squeeze. “I’m flattered. And here I was, thinking I was just another student to you.”

“But-” Amelia hesitated. She hadn’t been prepared for the enthusiastic response. It also wasn’t the thing she wanted to focus on. “But, it’s ‘Martin’” Hopefully the girl would pick up the uptick at the end of that thought.

“Yeah, but ‘Millie Martin’ would sound silly, don’t you think? Relax! I thought it would be fun to make you my cousin for the day. My little cousin, that is.”

“Wait, you did this? You changed my name?”

“Technically, the office did. I just suggested it after I learned that I’d be your tour guide. If anything, blame Mrs. Thompson!”

“Yeah, but you-”

“Are you saying you don’t like my last name, Millie?”

It was such a typical girl tactic. The question was obviously a trap, but this new development sparked Amelia to pause and act more like the adult she was. She wasn’t about to fall victim to some eighteen year old’s logic. “I’m saying I like my last name better,” she finally replied. Avoiding the yes/no trap, and focusing more on what she actually cared about, “And I should have been involved in this conversation, Ashley.”

Ashley didn’t seem bothered by the fact that Amelia deflected. She just shrugged and said, “That’s not how this works, Millie. You’re an intermediate student here. Thirteen year olds don’t get to make decisions. You are thirteen, aren’t you?”

’NO. I’m twenty-two!!’ Amelia wanted to scream the correction.

But she couldn’t. Ashley worked at the main office, which means that she would have more interactions with the administration than your average student. This tour could even be a sneaky part of her interview process. While Amelia doubted that Ashley was directly involved with the evaluation, it would be easy for someone on the staff to ask the dark haired girl to at least report her observations afterwards.

Like so many times before, the sunk cost fallacy was real. She had already put on the schoolgirl outfit. Taken the aptitude test. Gone through a patronizing advisor meeting. And now this–learning that she was apparently supposed to be Ashley’s younger cousin for the day. This was all for the job. And, if she could suck it up for a single day, then there would possibly be a chance to reprimand Ashley later on for sticking her nose where it didn’t belong.

So, swallowing her pride, Amelia agreed with the lie. “Thirteen and a half, actually.” It was meant to come across as a little sarcastic, to show how none of this bothered her. Instead, she ended up blushing when the delivery of the words sounded more petulant than playfully snarky.

“Mm hmm. And you’re my little cousin?” Ashley asked.

“Of course, Ashley,” Amelia replied, “Your cousin, Millie.”

And that was that. Ashley gushed over how cute she was for a moment, then showed Amelia the private bedroom. Like the common room, it wasn’t anything special. Just a twin bed and a small dorm room desk. It was completely empty, save for a small stack of linens sitting on the end of the bed. Ashley explained how the school would supply anything that Millie needed until her luggage arrived. Sleepwear, toiletries, spare notebooks, etc.

While Amelia knew this was all pretend, it was still interesting to hear about what Westridge offered. Although it wasn’t surprising. The academy was comprised of so many students from wealthy families. A new student meant more tuition money coming in, so dropping a few dollars on hospitality was a drop in the bucket.

At long last, Ashley began wrapping up the tour. Hand in hand yet again, they left the dorms and walked towards the academic building.

Amelia hadn’t heard a bell, but the previous hour of classes had clearly concluded. A few small groups of girls scurried across the quad in the opposite direction that she and Ashley were walking, probably to stop by their rooms before the next round of classes. That was nothing compared to the sheer volume of girls walking the halls in the academic building itself. There were no lockers in the old stone building, but the area still had the same energy as a public school in terms of the brief chaos that happened between every class. The main difference, of course, being that every single girl was wearing the same outfit.

“This way, Millie!” Ashley tugged her to the right, guiding her through the crowd.

Amelia expected to be taken to a classroom, in order to start her first observation, but Ashley had other plans. They took a detour to a study room off one of the side hallways, where a familiar brunette was waiting for them just around the corner. “Hey, Claire!” Ashley exclaimed.

Claire, or ‘Mrs. Thompson,’ was lounging on a nearby sofa. Instead of administrative clothes, however, she was dressed the same as all the other academy students.

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Part Seventeen

For the most part, Ashley was the calculating type.

Being popular wasn’t just about being the richest girl, or the prettiest girl, or even the most confident girl at school. While Ashley was rich and pretty and popular, she was also self aware and realistic. It would be foolishly vain to believe that she outclassed the other Westridge girls in any of those categories. Almost every student at the boarding school had some degree of wealth, which meant the other two qualities weren’t far behind. At least, for the families like hers that put pressure on appearances and social interactions.

Ashley, however, was unique in the fact that she went the extra mile to stay on top. Studying other girls; going so far as to take notes to review later. Avoiding confrontations; it was easier to carefully gossip here and there to gradually take another girl down, but in a way where it wouldn’t be traced back to her. And finally, surrounding herself with classmates she considered potential threats. Instead of waiting for them to become a problem, Ashley opted to keep them close and let them enjoy the taste of popularity while believing that it was Ashley herself who made it possible.

Most importantly, she made herself trustworthy. In the movies, the top dog is always some bitch who berates and demeans the other girls to keep them in line. Ashley chose the opposite approach for real life. Aside from a casual backhanded compliment every now and then, the dark haired girl gave off a more approachable aura. Similar to the way she was eventually left alone in the front office via trust, she also gradually became the assumed secret keeper, advisor, and protector to her friends. It put her in a position where everyone relied on her, but also knew that crossing her would result in too much fallout if it ever came to that.

Enter Millie.

The blonde college grad was a fucking twig, and fairly short even with the assistance of heels. Not only that, but she also looked like a lost lamb when crossing through the threshold of the office’s door. Certainly not the kind of young woman who could control a room full of entitled teenage girls. In fact, if the little blonde wasn’t all dressed up for an interview, she wouldn’t look that different from most of the other academy girls.

Ashley decided to go for it. It was a lot more impulsive than her usual mode of operation, especially since an administrator could walk in at any moment. But as Ashley lied through her teeth, she realized that it actually wasn’t that risky. Worst case scenario, she could play it off as a joke. Or a mistake in the system, depending on the adult. Ashley had worked in the office long enough to trust herself to think on her feet. Thankfully, it never came to that, and she convinced Amelia to leave and come back another day.

In other words, to give Ashley time to prepare. It was an absolutely crazy idea, one that she wasn’t sure that she could pull off. But if it worked . . .

The paperwork was easy. Thanks to Ashley’s ‘helpful’ tip, the faxed registration form arrived when everyone in the office was having lunch and she was once again the only one in the room. The paper version submitted by Amelia would never make it to the school’s records. Its only purpose was to give Ashley the information she needed.

Opening an electronic version on the computer in front of her, the dark haired girl smirked to herself and began transferring all the relevant details. It had taken her quite some time to decide on a suitable grade for little Millie. Could the young adult pass for a middle school girl? She was the right size, but there was still an air of maturity that would make it a hard sell. Ultimately, Ashley decided to go for it. If the school uniform could be involved, that would surely offset any adult mannerisms.

Amelia would be thirteen years old. Old enough to have a bit of boob, but young enough to not be taken seriously in the slightest. And, just for fun, she would be called ‘Millie.’ The perfect name for a transfer girl on scholarship. And the perfect name to add to the image that Ashley was aiming for.

Ashley only shared her scheme with one other person–Claire. The tall brunette was easily the best choice. Just like Millie would look years younger when dressed like a schoolgirl, Claire could pull off a more mature look when wearing the right combination of clothes and make-up. Not only that, but Claire could keep a secret and had a great poker face. Between Ashley’s excessive editing of the registration form and Claire’s fake interview, all the pieces would be in place for Millie to spend a full day at Westridge Academy as a new student without even realizing it.

And it actually worked.

By setting the interview at 5:30 on a Friday–thirty minutes after the work day in which most administrators left early, and a good two hours after the last class of the day–no one was around to notice that Claire was borrowing an office at the end of the hall. Posing as Mrs. Thompson, after Ashley switched the names on the office doors, Claire convinced the unsuspecting applicant to come back and spend a day as a new student in full uniform.

Just for good measure, Ashley changed the girl’s last name to ‘Roberts.’ Setting it up so they were cousins meant that it would be easier for her to get out of a few classes in order to show her dear younger relative around the campus. After all, changing schools in the middle of the year is quite a big transition. Having a familiar face on the first day would help Millie feel more comfortable. And, since it was Ashley’s home turf, it was all too easy to confiscate the small blonde’s possessions before her aptitude test.

Once all was said and done, Millie looked so CUTE. Honestly, once Millie swapped out her heels for a pair of used flats, she probably could have physically passed for a twelve year old. However, thirteen was still the right call, as the girl’s hair and make-up were just enough to give her a slightly older look.

Next, came the biggest wild card of the day. Ashley passed off her ‘little cousin’ to Mrs. Lewis. Aside from introducing Millie as a new student, there wasn’t anything else she could do. Ashley just headed to class, touched base with Claire, and prayed. Between the aptitude test and the advisor meeting, little Millie would be alone with two separate adults.

The good news was, Ashley had added plenty of negative things to Millie’s registration form when she transferred the physical version to the computer. Rather than the straight-A student that the petite blonde really was when she was younger, the newly thirteen year old Millie was now a straight-B student. And a B student at a public school is basically a C student at Westridge. On top of that, she was oh so troublesome. A handful of detentions, issues with authority; ‘compulsive liar’ was on the list as well, to undermine any adult truths that the new transfer student might be tempted to tell if she figured out the game Ashley was playing.

After dropping Millie off for her test, Ashley could barely concentrate as she sat in the back row with Claire and another friend of theirs. First, Mrs. Lewis would oversee the aptitude test. Then, Ms. Song would put together a schedule for the girl based on both the test and the falsified registration form Ashley has submitted to the school’s system. Unfortunately, Ashley had a different advisor, so she couldn’t do any foundational work as Millie’s ‘older cousin’ before the meeting on Monday. Even though she spoke to Ms. Song every now and then in the front office, Ashley didn’t know whether or not Millie would even go for the ‘first day experience’ idea until after Claire’s Friday meeting.

So many questions. How well did Millie do on the aptitude test? Was Ms. Song able to define all the expectations of a proper Westridge student without Millie catching on? If the little blonde did figure out what was happening, would she be able to slam on the brakes? All the phone numbers on the registration form had been changed, and Ashley had hidden away the phone and wallet that would more easily be able to prove Amelia’s real age. But if Ms. Song indulged the girl and let her use an office phone with a memorized number, this whole thing was over.

Finally, after the longest history class of her life, Ashley was called down to the main office. To give Millie a tour of the campus, as originally planned. Or to face the music, if her not fully calculated idea failed.

Ashley shot Claire a confident wink, to assert that she wasn’t nervous in the slightest, and then went to see how everything played out in her absence.

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Part Eighteen

Ashley was nervous.

Not because she was worried about getting in trouble. This whole thing was a prank at the end of the day, elaborate as it was. But if she was caught, the rest of her senior year would be more of an inconvenience. The wrist slap of a punishment would probably involve taking away her hours in the office and the perks that only Ashley knew came with it. That was really her only worry, other than the annoyance of putting on an apologetic show.

Thankfully, it seemed like things had worked out. The little blonde was still dressed like a schoolgirl, and had a bit of a lost look on her face. Cute. Ashley would be more than happy to lead the way, but only after asserting that ‘Millie’ was a better name for her. Maybe Millie would have stood up for herself if she was dressed in her normal clothes and standing at the front of a classroom, but she had no such defenses at the moment. Not only was Ms. Song a force to be reckoned with, but Ashley herself had a way of getting what she wanted. Dealing with both women back to back would be difficult to handle.

Sure enough, Millie caved, and that was that.

Ashley proceeded to lead an unnecessarily long tour of the campus with the intention of slightly tiring the girl out. Every little bit helped, and physical exhaustion tended to pair well with the mental stress that Millie would no doubt be dealing with soon. That, and it gave Ashley a chance to drop the nickname dozens of times along the way. The fact that Millie had actually been assigned a dorm was amusing, too, considering the school hadn’t yet received a down payment for room and board. Normally the office waited until they had the check in hand, to avoid potential financial complications down the line, but perhaps the mid-semester ‘transfer’ had caused that particular step in the process to be overlooked.

No matter. Ashley wasn’t intending for Millie to stay the night, although giving the student teacher a curfew designed for thirteen year old girls was a fun thought. For the moment, it was just a matter of making this feel more real and official. That way, the reveal would be all the more delicious. Uniform, aptitude test, class schedule, dorm. For all intents and purposes, it would seem like Millie was set up to be an actual Westridge student. By the time Ashley sent her home later that day, there was no way she’d ever return. If anything, she was helping the school by filtering out a gullible pushover from the pool of applicants.

There really wasn’t an end goal to the dark haired, dark souled girl’s plan. It was mostly an impulsively inspired exercise meant to flex her creative and manipulative muscles. And, as she walked schoolgirl Millie around campus, Ashley couldn’t help but appreciate the results of her little experiment. Now it was time for the next wild card. There was no telling how the young woman would react to learning the truth.

While it would be fun to keep Millie in the dark for as long as possible, Ashley really wanted to be present for the realization. Partially because she was both excited and curious to see the look on the girl’s face, to see the first words that sprang to mind, to witness how a girl straight out of college handled the fact that everyone at the school but Ashley actually believed that she was thirteen without question. But from a more pragmatic standpoint, Ashley also wanted to be there to control what came next. If she and Claire weren’t present, then there was nothing stopping Milllie from storming across campus and telling her story to the office. Even though Millie was a compulsive liar, at least according to her online registration form, it would still only take one phone call to sort things out if an administrator indulged her. It would be best if Ashley could intercept that line of thinking before it fully formed into a proper idea.

So, with her ‘younger cousin’ in tow, Ashley met Claire in their usual study room between classes, and mentally prepared for any number of ways this would go.

Time seemed to stand still as Amelia took in the sight before her.

The brunette on the sofa totally clashed with the former image Amelia had of her. It wasn’t just because of the student uniform; her posture was more relaxed, her hair was up in a casual ponytail, and even the smile on her face contrasted the stern expression she wore behind the desk during their interview.

This wasn’t one of those situations where Claire might have been Mrs. Thompson’s daughter, or a girl who bore a striking resemblance to the young woman. Amelia was really good with faces, and this was definitely the same person. So, what was going on? Why on earth would Mrs. Thompson be dressed like that? Unless . . . Ever so slowly, things began clicking into place. The late interview. The ‘first day experience.’

“You-” Amelia hesitated. She didn’t know what to say, and her mind was still racing as she connected all the dots. Fragmented memories of the last few hours, all of which were mortifying in hindsight if her suspicions about what was going on were true. “You set me up?!” Settling on more of a question than an accusation, she wondered just how many people were in on this. Now that she had been given the answer to a puzzle she hadn’t realized needed solving, it was easy to see how Claire could have passed as an adult with the proper outfit and make-over. But Ms. Song? The half-asian features might have given her some youthful features, but Amelia knew without a shadow of a doubt that the advisor was an adult. Same with Mrs. Lewis, whose age was a lot more obvious at first glance.

Either those two women actually believed that she was supposed to be a transfer student, which was absurd, or they were somehow involved. Did she get the job, and this was nothing more than an elaborate first day prank? No, that didn’t make sense. Technically, Amelia hadn’t interviewed with anyone. Before today, she had only met with Ashley and Claire. Was this a psychology experiment or something, done at her expense? Westridge was known for its academic excellence, so they probably offered a psych class. But Amelia was a candidate for a student teacher position! If someone approved what Ashley no doubt suggested, what did that mean for her real interview process?

Claire was the first one to speak, breaking Amelia out of her thoughts. “Millie, proper girls don’t raise their voices. And that’s no way to speak to your older cousin.”

“She’s not my cousin!!” Amelia snapped. Belatedly realizing she was still holding Ashley’s hand, she immediately yanked free from the casual grip and took a step back. Even though Claire was the one who replied, Amelia turned her attention to the girl who she had spent the most time with throughout this charade. “Ashley, what the fuck is going on?”

“Careful, Millie.” Ashley didn’t seem intimidated in the slightest. Her voice was calm and quiet in comparison, and she gestured towards the brunette. “Claire is a prefect here. She can write you up for just about anything, and I already count two infractions. Treating girls with disrespect, and swearing. Now, I suggest you apologize before you make it worse.”

Apologize? In what universe did it make sense for Amelia to apologize for anything, when she was the victim here? “No.” She dropped her voice and tried to keep it as flat as possible despite the way her heart was pounding and her head was spinning. How could she have been so stupid?! Putting on a fucking student uniform and letting everyone treat her as such? While Ashley was obviously to blame, Amelia was the one who let it all happen without pushing her unanswered questions. “One of you, explain. Now.” She was still the adult. And as badly as she wanted to just demand her things back–her clothes, in particular–it would be easier to handle a conversation like that once she had the full picture. Was this a test, a prank, an experiment; something in between, or completely different?

Ashley just sighed. “You always were the difficult little cousin, Millie. Such a brat. Honestly, it’s not that difficult to behave. Apologize first, okay? Then we can talk.”

Amelia parted her lips, jaw slightly dropped at the audacity. Collecting herself in what she hoped was a timely manner, she said, “Ashley-”

“Now, Millie. Apologize.”

“But, you can’t-”

“It’s fine,” Claire said. She sat up and pulled out a binder from her backpack that was resting against the sofa, “Maybe a few official infractions is what she needs. I’m sure the office would love to hear all about how poorly little Millie is doing on her first day . . .”

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Part Nineteen

The threat shouldn’t have affected Amelia as much as it did.

It’s not like she actually went to school here. This was just . . . well, she didn’t actually know what it was, because neither of the girls before her were explaining. Regardless, she was an adult. A young woman who shouldn’t be intimidated by a couple of eighteen year old girls. And yet, Amelia had always been a perfect student. She got the best grades and she certainly wasn’t the type to cause trouble. Which is why her ‘good girl’ nature kicked in almost reflexively.

“Wait!” Amelia exclaimed. Her voice was a little more shrill than she expected. “Wait,” she echoed, at a more controlled level the second time around, “Please. Just, slow down.” Remembering what Ashley said about an apology being necessary before moving forward, Amelia tacked on an awkward, “I’m sorry.”

“Sorry for what?” Ashley asked.

Good question. Racking her brain for the details of the recent conversation, Amelia guessed, “Sorry for being difficult. Now, can we-”

“Ah, ah. ‘I’m sorry for being a difficult little brat. Like always.’ A real apology, Millie.”

She was tempted to slap the girl for her insolence, or storm away to set things right at the front office. Instead, she repeated the apology that had been dictated for her. As frustrated as she was about all this–embarrassed, too–there were just too many questions. She needed a better grasp on what was going on, which meant she had to suck it up and play nice. “I’m sorry for being a difficult little brat. Like always.” A light blush accompanied the words.

“Good girl,” Ashley said, “Although it’s more proper to address people by their name. Since we’re cousins and all, I can cut you some slack. However, Claire is a prefect. For girls in her position, the correct title is Miss Claire. It shows respect, but also fosters more familiarity than you would have with a teacher or advisor. Do you understand, Millie?”

“Yes, Ashley,” Amelia said. It hadn’t gone unnoticed that her ‘cousin’ rounded off the brief lesson by giving an example. A sign of respect, allegedly, though it didn’t feel that way amidst her current predicament. Still, she had swallowed her pride this far. To ensure that wasn’t for nothing, she made a point to turn towards the taller girl. “And Miss Claire.”

Claire nodded. “Good girl.”

It was the third time the patronizing phrase had been used in a matter of minutes. With each iteration, it took more of a conscious effort to keep from glowering. Even if an elder said that, Amelia would have had a negative reaction despite how it was technically praise. To hear it from two teenagers, however, made it that much worse. And yet, she couldn’t chew them out for it. Not yet. She wanted to demand for the explanation she was promised, but was worried that repeating herself so quickly would just add to the immature light they were painting her in.

Thankfully, neither of the girls dragged things out. “Why don’t you sit, Millie?” Ashley said. She gestured to the space next to Claire. “We only have a few minutes, so we’re going to have to make this quick.”

Without so much as an ‘okay’ or any other verbal assent, Amelia simply walked over and delicately sat herself down. She fidgeted with the skirt almost immediately, still not used to the unfamiliar uniform she was wearing. Standing was fine, but there was a little bit too much thigh from the way the plaid skirt rode up a bit every time she sat. She had put a comfortable distance between herself and the brunette, but that effort was instantly undone when the girl scooted closer.

Ashley joined them on the sofa, although her landing wasn’t nearly as delicate as Amelia’s. She haphazardly tossed her shoulder bag onto a nearby armchair and then plopped herself down on the end of the sofa. Speaking of too much thigh . . . But Ashley didn’t seem to care. One of the perks of being an attractive girl, apparently. Overconfidence and/or shamelessness. At least, that’s the way Amelia viewed it from her own teenage years and other girls she knew back then.

“Sit still, Millie. Claire’s going to do your hair while we talk, okay?”

For a split second, Amelia assumed that Ashley was commenting on the fidgeting in a similar manner to the way Ms. Song did. So far, there seemed to be a consistency when it came to girls being ‘proper’ at Westridge, whether it was an administrator or a fellow student. Not that Amelia was a student. Instead, this was about something else. “My- my hair?” she nervously asked. There were a lot of things Amelia was self conscious about–her height, her distinct lack of curves, her youthful facial features–but she loved her hair. It was her favorite physical quality, one of the blessings she counted against all the other ways puberty had screwed her over. The gentle curl she added at the ends of her golden locks made her that much prettier and more mature-looking. Wearing her hair down was the best for her image, which meant anything Claire did would be counter-productive to that daily goal of looking her age.

“Mm hmm.” Ashley smiled. She leaned forward and placed a hand on Amelia’s bare leg, and looked right into her eyes. “You are a good girl, aren’t you?”

“I-” Amelia’s voice caught in her throat. She was instantly overwhelmed, especially since she had already been distracted at the thought of her precious hair being messed up with whatever style Claire had in mind. But now? There was the hand, the direct eye contact, the demeaning trap of a question. Amelia knew in the back of her mind that she should leap off the sofa and put her foot down to pretty much all of this, but she couldn’t find the strength. Instead, the only act of rebellion she could muster was with her words. “My hair is fine how it is . . .”

“You didn’t answer my question, Millie.” Ashley’s smile faded a bit, and her eyes narrowed, “Are you a good girl?”

Amelia was reminded of Ms. Song and her no-nonsense attitude. Even though Ashley looked nothing like the young woman, her judgmental look was enough to spark memories of the recent meeting and how small Amelia had felt by the end. “Yes, Ashley,” she mumbled. Her cheeks turned crimson.

“And a good Westridge girl would trust a prefect to know best, right? Answer quickly. Remember, we don’t have a lot of time!”


“Is that a question?”

“N-no. It’s just . . .” Amelia trailed off. Why was it so difficult to speak her mind?! ‘You can’t treat me like this.’ ‘I’m an adult!’ ‘Tell me what’s going on, right now.’ But she couldn’t turn those thoughts into words. Some combination of the uniform, the setting, and the idle threat of getting into trouble was causing her to freeze. Despite not really being a student, Amelia subconsciously hated the thought of anyone seeing her as imperfect. Her high grades and her good attitude had always been enough for a good reputation and an overall lack of negativity in her life.

Ultimately, this left her wholly unprepared for any kind of confrontation.

Ashley removed her hand and sat back, crossing her arms. “It’s just /what,/ Millie?”

“I don’t know . . .” she muttered. Judgment, time pressure, and a desperate need to get the truth that was being dangled over her head. In a matter of minutes, she had fallen from ‘frustrated applicant’ to ‘meek schoolgirl.’ Not that Amelia viewed herself as the latter, but she certainly wasn’t doing a lot to combat the image in her current state.

Ashley, on the other hand, was reveling in the transformation she had pulled off in less than half a day. Discounting the prep, of course. “Need some help, Millie?” she gently asked, “You can nod. Remember, we’re running out of time.”

Without even thinking about it, Amelia gave a small nod.

“Good girl. Okay, all you need to do is give some permission. No one has made you do anything, right? This is the same. You need to ask Claire, alright? Nod again.”

Amelia nodded. There was a lot to unpack in that first question, but she couldn’t dwell on it. She needed an explanation, and there was only so much time to get it. Still feeling small, she waited for the directions that would get her what she needed.

With a supportive smile, Ashley said, “Please, Miss Claire, will you do my hair for me?”

She hesitated. “And then, you’ll explain?”

“Of course. Is there anything you want to ask Claire for, Millie?”

Taking a deep breath, Amelia grasped whatever courage she could find. She wasn’t sure when it happened, but at some point there became a need to seek validation from these two girls. She had no idea why; she was just flustered and confused.

Sighing, she said, “Miss Claire, umm . . . Do my hair? Please?”

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Part 20

“Happily!” Claire chirped.

The girl was quite the juxtaposition, at least to Amelia. ‘Mrs. Thompson’ had a similar air of authority as the prefect position Claire had. However, she was also still an eighteen year old student. Behind that posturing, she had some teenage energy as well. The subtle enjoyment of Amelia’s dumbstruck expression when they had come face to face, as well as the enthusiastic tone just now.

Amelia winced as she felt the girl’s fingertips running through her hair for the first time. She opened her mouth to say something, but Ashley beat her to the punch.

“Hush, Millie. You do want to hear everything, right?”

She nodded, still blushing at how many times she had shyly bobbed her head in affirmation instead of speaking up.

“Then sit still and be quiet, okay? Class starts soon, and we’d hate for you to be late and earn yourself an infraction.”

“But I’m not-” ‘actually a student.’ Amelia only made it halfway through before realizing she was about to cause the very problem the dark haired girl was talking about. More circling, more time wasting; a bigger delay before learning what exactly was going on. So, against her better judgment, she cut herself off and replaced her partial response with a, “Yes, Ashley.”

“Good girl. Try to work on your posture, too.”

“And don’t fidget,” Claire added, “It’s distracting.”

“Sorry . . .” Amelia mumbled. The apology slipped out so naturally. She didn’t even think she was fidgeting, aside from the way she fiddled with her skirt a minute ago, but now she doubted herself. Sitting up properly, feeling more like a student than ever, she managed to keep perfectly still as Claire ran her fingers through her blonde hair a second time. Amelia hadn’t heard the word ‘posture’ in years.

Ashley remained quiet for a moment. The lingering silence made Amelia feel self conscious all over again, and she immediately put a little extra effort into sitting up straight and not flinching in the slightest as Claire began separating her pretty hair into a number of strands. And, to top it all off, Amelia pressed her lips together and didn’t say a word. Quiet, and still. Therefore, not judged or the cause of more stalling on Ashley’s end.

“Let’s start simple,” Ashley finally said. Brushing back her own hair, she met Amelia’s eyes with an amused smile, “Claire and I are the only ones here that know your real age.”

‘What?’ Amelia’s eyes widened slightly. Her jaw also dropped a little, undoing her recent efforts of trying to keep her lips sealed. She was kidding, right? There was no way two separate administrators had mistaken her as a teenager. At least, not one this young. She had seen herself in the mirror after changing into the boarding school uniform and, while it definitely shaved a few years off her life, there was no way it had stolen a decade. Of course, that was before she had traded her heels for flats, and she had also been looking at herself as an adult. With unbiased eyes . . . still, thirteen years old? Not a chance.

“Mm hmm,” she affirmed, “Mrs. Lewis and Ms. Song were totally fooled. Honestly, Millie, you aren’t much of a grown-up without your fancy clothes. It’s all about perspective, right? If you look like a student, and people think you’re supposed to be one, they’ll believe it without much thought. And, as far as Westridge Academy is concerned, you’re a troublesome little transfer student.”

So this was an elaborate prank? That had been one of her initial thoughts after seeing Claire, but Amelia had dismissed it pretty quickly. Although her fleeting vision had been something where the school was on board, rather than it being two students masterminding the whole thing. Of course, now that it was being explained, she had her doubts. After all, Amelia was still in denial about the fact that she could pass a seventh grader with no one batting an eye. This could still be a psychological experiment, and Ashley could be lying to spark a reaction. There was no way two students could pull something like this off without any administrators being involved.

“Ashley-” Amelia began. She didn’t make it very far.

“Millie, you promised you would be quiet.”

Typical. Ashley and Claire might have been eighteen, but they were still teenagers. And that was such a teenage thing to do–turning silent agreement into a ‘promise.’ Amelia pursed her lips in annoyance, but went quiet again. She would hear the girl out, even if she didn’t fully believe what she was being told.

“Good girl,” Ashley said, echoing the patronizing phrase. And then she explained.

It wasn’t the full story, but Amelia didn’t need to know that. For the most part, Ashley glossed over the finer details and stuck to the highlight reel. Fake interview, edited registration form, student uniform. After that, it was simply a matter of passing her off to Mrs. Lewis and letting the school handle things from there.

The more Amelia heard, the more she actually believed that it was the truth. If this was some experiment or school sanctioned prank, then surely the dark haired girl would mess up the explanation or break character at some point. Additionally, all of this validated the nagging feeling in the back of her mind that she hadn’t been able to place earlier. How dressing up like a schoolgirl was a little extreme for a ‘first day experience,’ and how neither of the adults she had met addressed her as an applicant for even a second before keeping the charade going. If it wasn’t a charade at all, then Amelia had made a horrible mistake by playing along and breathing life into Ashley’s lies.

By the end of the story, Amelia’s hair was pulled back and tied up into a simple braid. Not a horrible style, but it also took away the golden locks that had been previously been worn down for a more mature look. Luckily, the make-up still hid her freckles, but her face was more youthful without the proper framing. “Well, congrats. It worked,” she said. Mostly convinced at this point, it was a conscious effort to not slap Ashley. Or, on the other extreme, to sink down into the sofa and be mortified about the first impression she made with two potential colleagues who currently thought she was thirteen years old. “Now, you’ve had your fun. How about giving me back my things so I can clear this up?”

Despite how she felt, Amelia decided to play nice. It would be so embarrassing to go back to the office and explain everything. Difficult, too. She didn’t have any of her friends’ numbers memorized, and certainly wasn’t about to call her parents for help after so many years of cutting herself off from them. Without her cell phone and the contacts within, who could even verify her identity? If she really looked like a student, then no one was going to treat her like an adult until she had some proof. Which was a problem when her phone and purse had been confiscated.

Ashley must have been counting on that, because she didn’t seem particularly amenable to the request. “Hmm, not yet. You haven’t been a very good Westridge girl so far. If you want to be an adult, Millie, you have to show us that you can at least handle being a proper little student first.”

What? That didn’t make any sense. “Ashley, I’m serious,” Amelia frowned, “Look, I promise you won’t get in trouble or anything. Okay?”

“I’m being serious, too. Are you saying you can’t handle intermediate classes?”

“Of course I can, but that doesn’t mean-”

“And are you a bad student?”

“No! I’m not a student at all.” She was quick to clarify, but it didn’t make much difference.

“I mean in general, Millie. Are you a good student, or a bad student?” Ashley asked. Her voice was calm, and just assertive enough.

Still not in a great position without her possessions, Amelia reluctantly answered the either/or question. “I’m a good student. But-”

“Then prove it.” The same tactic the dark haired girl had used when saying that going by ‘Millie’ shouldn’t be that difficult. An annoying yet effective challenge that could often bait someone into doing something that they otherwise would prefer not to do. And, for a girl who was clearly the self conscious type, and who thoroughly lacked the backbone required to be a teacher, it would probably only take another little push or two. “Show us that you’re a good student. Make it through the day without getting in trouble. Easy, right?”

Amelia hesitated. She had already signed up to be there for the day anyway. And even though she had nothing to prove to these two girls, the peer pressure was taking effect. “And then you’ll give me back my things?”

“Details, Millie,” Ashley waved her off, “Are you going to be a good little student, or not?”

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