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Marie sat at one of the many picnic tables at the war memorial park not far from her house. The grandest war memorial park surrounded the S.E.A. skyscraper, but she preferred this park. It was quieter, not as crowded. There was one statue of President Arnold in his younger years, striking a noble pose. Kids were playing around a plaque dedicated to the lives lost over forty years ago. A kid was hanging off the arm of the statue before his mom scolded him, going on about the respect one should give to memorials. She ushered him towards the picnic tables on the far side of the park to finish their lunch and her lecture.

A limo turned and drove down the street. Sophie's parents must have forced her to take it. She hated drawing attention to how rich her parents were. The limo rolled to a stop and Sophie already had the door open and rushed toward Marie before the driver's door cracked open. Sophie slid into the seat across from Marie.

"I can't wait a second longer! Did we make it to the same high school?"

Marie sniffed. "Not likely. You don't look terror-stricken."

With a giggle, Sophie combed her shoulder-length brown hair with her fingers. "It can't be too bad. Where are you going?"

"Presley High."

One of Sophie's signature loud laughs, snort and all, escaped her. "No, seriously. Where are you going?"

Marie didn't answer and instead gave her a look. Sophie's mirth withered. "But didn't you faceplant it during the dance portion of the test last year?"

The painful memory threatened to push its way back up, but she shoved it back down and added another thick layer of concrete over it. "The administers want to see if mediocre students can raise their grades by attending a more prestigious high school."

"Huh." Sophie tapped her fingers against her chin. "That'd be interesting if it worked."

"I don't even know if they teach science and math! All the website talked about is how colleges draft more marching band members from Presley High over any other high school."

Sophie patted Marie's hand. "I gain comfort knowing I, your BFF, won't get replaced. You have nothing in common with singing, dancing Presley people."

Marie eased her hand away from Sophie's fake attempt at comfort. "Maybe I'll replace you with someone who consoles my fears instead of rubbing it in my face."

The thought was ridiculous, of course. Marie would rather replace the sun than her best friend, and Sophie knew it.

"Have you sung about your feelings yet? Or have you bottled them up like usual?" Sophie asked.

"It's not bottling them up. It's making sure my chip doesn't activate," Marie said.

Sophie shrugged. "Sounds the same to me."

Being keen on science, Marie experimented lots with the chip in the back of her head throughout her life. It was the one downside of living in Musical Land. If her emotions came too quickly or became too heightened, she'd have to sing and dance about them. Every citizen of Musical Land, since the time they were three years old, had chips implanted in the back of their head in order to keep the peace. It was a lot easier to root out the evil people if you forced everyone to sing about their feelings, good or bad.

"What school did you get?" Marie wanted to change the subject.

"Marley High."

Marie was impressed. "Wow! Marley High is a great school."

Sophie gave her a barest hint of a grin. "Oh I'm fine with it, but my parents are livid. They assumed their precious little girl would be attending Presley or Lennon or Mercury. They even called the administrators to get them to change schools, but they didn't cave. Now I wish they did. We might have attended Presley together."

A trickle of compassion went through Marie. Sophie often ranted about her parents, and Marie listened with a patient ear. Being some of the most powerful members of the S.E.A., Sophie's parents didn't understand her love of math, and they often butted heads about it. The Germain's were eager to use their fortune to further their daughter's education, to the point where she had a private tutor from the S.E.A. It only lasted a month, because Sophie wanted a math tutor and not an arts tutor. Any requests Sophie made for math books was swiftly shut down. Sophie ended up hiding some math books in Marie's room for whenever they got together.

"You might have ended up in Lennon, though. We'd be fierce rivals and wouldn't be able to talk to each other," Marie said.

Sophie's grin turned roguish. "It wouldn't have stopped me." The grin slid off her face as she sighed. "This is it. My best friend is going to a different high school than I am."

As the truth settled on Marie, a lump came to her throat. "Presley High might not give me any best friends, but you can't make another best friend either, okay?"

"I wouldn't dream of it." Sophie clutched Marie's arm. "We can't fall off the face of each other's planets, okay?"

Marie nodded. "You'll hear everything about my first day. I need someone other than my dad to talk to."

"I'm here whenever!" A light brightened in Sophie's eyes. "Maybe we should have a slumber party at the end of our first week of high school next month?"

"Please! Let's do it!"

"Done!"

***

Marie held onto the handrail above her as the metro sped on its way. She and her dad had consulted the map before getting on, and even then Marie constantly glanced from where they were to Allemande Station, the stop they needed to get off at. Presley High was a short walk from there. It had been five days since her chat with Sophie, and Marie had thought about it a lot. When they became friends in elementary school, they were inseparable. Going to different schools wasn't going to change their friendship. It couldn't.

The announcer had a sing-song voice as she announced the arrival of Samba Station. Her dad stood beside Marie, giving her a comforting smile that he obviously didn't believe. They were on their way to talk to the principal to get more information. Marie still expected them to reveal it was a grand practical joke as soon as she sauntered inside. She wouldn't mind. She wouldn't even be embarrassed if it meant she didn't have to attend Presley High.

Marie stared ahead as the city rolled by before slowing down to a halt.

"Arrived at Allemande Station! Arrived at Allemande Station!" the voice said, way too cheerful. Marie and her dad stepped off the metro and quietly headed toward Presley, passing another small war memorial park. A hobo sleeping on a bench caught her eye. Life on the street must have aged him. He looked old enough to have fought in the war himself, but she knew that couldn't be possible. War Veterans never became hobos. They were responsible for curbing the mad scientists from destroying the world, and therefore the reason Musical Land was such a peaceful city. She regarded the ragged man until she realized she was staring and turned away, catching up with her dad.

"How are you feeling?" her dad asked.

"Fine. Yeah, I'm fine," came her speedy response.

Her dad shot her a glance. "You know you can talk to me about anything, right?"

"I know." She said it to appease him. The truth was, it was difficult to communicate with her dad. Science was an easy topic for them, and she loved discussing possible theories and concepts with him. Anything on a more personal level, like the possibility of being bully fodder at a new school, she would have talked to her mom about. Now she kept those things to herself.

He should have talked about this at the station. A decade ago the S.E.A. programmed the chip to not activate if you were in a station or on the metro. There were too many complaints about people being late for work because they were dragged into being back up dancers on someone's nervous song about job interviews or whatever else people sing about on a metro line. Marie was relieved. Any place where she didn't have to sing and dance was a safe place for her.

The closer they got to Presley High, the more Marie felt self conscious about her clothes. They were walking through the rich part of the city, down immaculate streets and past shops that sold clothes and accessories more expensive than the rent on their apartment. Even the beautiful sunny weather seemed somehow more refined than the sun they get in the poorer part of the city.

"There it is," her dad said.

Presley High came into view. The six-story brick high school stood impressively among the much taller buildings. The people who built Presley High took their time to make it a work of art. The rich red brick contrasted beautifully against the white lining of the windows. It was well taken care of, not one crumbling brick on the whole building.

The cortisol from her adrenal glands kicked in, screaming at her to run. Instead she folded her arms and walked with faltered steps next to her dad. She slipped farther behind him the closer they got to the intimidating school. When they got to the intricately designed double doors, she hid behind her dad's back. He mumbled something before taking her arm and lead her through. Marie took a few tentative steps, her tennis shoes squeaking through the dim, empty hall.

"Where do we —" Marie began.

Music filled the room at the same rate panic inflated Marie's soul. A staff member bounded out of an empty room next to them. Marie squealed and leapt behind her dad.

"Welcome!" he sang.

The next door swung open and a woman popped out. "Welcome!"

Two more doors opened, and two more people burst from the room. "Welcome!"

"Welcome!"

"WELCOME!" the four staff members sang at the top of their lungs. "TO PRESLEY HIGH!"

Music swelled in earnest as the adults did a cha cha-like dance into the halls. Marie groaned and shut her eyes. The chip in the back of her head translated the music and informed her this song was for the main office staff to sing. She allowed herself to breathe until it began feeding her suggested cha cha moves to dance along with the staff. She had no choice but to move as gracefully as possible toward the staff members. The chip then instructed her to dance in the general direction of the woman who held her arms out to her.

"Felicitations to you, young miss,

"On coming here to Presley High!"

Another staff member joined the woman and continued the verse.

"We hope you find some joy and bliss,

"As we become your best allies!"

A secretary came up to her, clasping her hand around Marie's wrist.

"Presley boasts of many things,

"Like Marching Band, and Drama too!

"If primitive the art you bring,

"You'll leave a master through and through!"

The first gentleman she saw placed what looked like a notebook in her hands.

"Here is your planner. Use it wisely!

"It will help you plan your day.

"On the back, see if you're wily,

"You'll find a map to help your way."

The four adults seized Marie and lifted her in the air. Marie tried not to scream out of panic. She didn't like being thrust into the air by strangers.

"Felicitations to you, young miss,

"On coming here to Presley High,

"We hope you find some joy and bliss,

"As we become your best allies!"

They set her down and Marie ignored the suggested dance steps as she anchored herself against a locker and soothed her overactive heart. One of the staff members loaded her dad down with a stack of papers and he groaned from the surprise weight.

"More papers for your chaperone,

"We need signatures there and there,

"It's something we will not postpone,

"But it won't take long we swear!"

A pen was thrust into her dad's hand and he tried to read through the papers while still acting present in the song. Two staff members grabbed her dad's elbows and the other two grabbed Marie's as they pushed them through the doors of the main office.

"Our Principal would like to speak,

"He may intimidate you,

"We promise he's quite meek,

"He wants to felicitate you!"

The doors burst open as the music made a trumpeting sound. The principal waltzed out of his office, smiling at Marie. He had buzzed brown hair and brown eyes.

"Felicitations to you, young miss,

"On coming here to Presley High,

"I hope you find some joy and bliss,

"As I become your best ally."

The song ended with a fanfare. Her dad kept trying to get Marie to go toward the principal, but she kept sliding behind him, using him as a shield.

"Welcome!" The principal said with his arms wide open. "I am Mr. Machiavelli. You must be Marie Curie!"

Marie extended her hand to the principal, keeping herself halfway hidden behind her dad.

"Both of you, come to my office and have a seat! Let me tell you more about Presley High, and answer any of your questions."

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Ellen Taylor

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