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It's not an understatement to say my first day passes by in a whirr of clichés

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It's not an understatement to say my first day passes by in a whirr of clichés. The trite, enthusiastic morning message on the PA system, the inedible lunch, the unwelcome pop quiz sprung by my first-period teacher: all are as far from England as I can get.

Even the lessons are wildly different, which comes as an unwelcome shock. Classes are enormous - at least thirty people compared to the 16 I'm used to - all facing the front on tiny, single desks. At MillFallows, I'm used to group tables and spaces where I can collaborate. I'm used to questioning the teachers, even challenging them to stand out in a sea of raised hands. I'm quick to learn that the attitude is different here. Apathetic students in the back row disrupt the lessons, and raising my hand singles me out. Which bodes poorly for a girl who's spent her life in the front row.

Even in my favourite lesson, I falter. It doesn't help that I come face to face with Presley and James as soon as I enter the English room. She glares at me with blatant dislike, even though she's won James, who stares at his shoes until I've passed him. Dislike grows to loathing when I'm called upon to correct her mistake.

At least in some of my other AP classes, I feel at home. There, people want to learn, and I don't feel judged when answering a question. It helps I'm ahead and shine. Concentrating on acing my classes helps me to feel centred when the day is a blur around me.

When I exit the cool building at 3 pm, the strength of the sun surprises me. Unlike MillFallows, where I finished at 5.45 pm after an hour of supervised prep, I have the entire afternoon ahead of me. At home, it would have been a luxury - an afternoon spent lounging by the lake or playing tennis. My heart aches at the thought and I send a text to Lissie. It's been a week since I've spoken to anyone at home and my old life is slipping away the longer I'm here.

Without warning, an arm links through mine. It's the girl from homeroom. She has skin the colour of burnished copper, masses of golden curls and a smile that splits her face in two. The sundress she was wearing has changed to a blue cheerleading uniform, which is in stark contrast to her crazy mop of hair and lopsided smile.

'Ok, so I've been telling Elodie here all about your big Whittingham entrance. Not that she hadn't heard. I mean, everyone is talking about it. When I saw y'all together at lunch, I had to point you out. Heck, that boy is so cute, of course I was watching him. Anyway, I thought she deserved a first-hand account.'

Cricket has a strong accent, and the words raced over her pink lips in a tumble. It's hard to keep up and as my ear adjusts, I stand shellshocked. I'm yet to share a word with her and here she is acting as though we're childhood friends. A pretty, pale girl with straight fair hair smiles at me in introduction and shakes her head as if to say sorry for Cricket's enthusiasm.

'Oh my! Anna Beth will just die,' continues Cricket. 'She's had a crush on Finch since, like, Second Grade. Not that I can blame her. That boy is delicious.' She bites her lip with a look of guilty pleasure. I giggled at this and then blush at the thought. 'Of course, Elodie's always been too sensible for him.'

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