Disclaimer: Still and always belonging to Jon.

A/N: This is-flinches and takes a deep breath to steady self-the first chapter to what will hopefully have a few. Hopefully. It's been awhile since I've tried a chapter fic (the last one I did hit chapter 30 or so and then I couldn't write anymore. I swear that there are still Phantom of the Opera fans out for my blood on that one.), but the idea hit me and I think—think—I should be able to do well with it. And, if writer's block hits again, I suppose I could always ask y'all for ideas, eh? grin

Nov. 18th

Joanne Jefferson was going to be sick.

She could handle a lot, she knew. She had to, to spend so much time with her admittedly-uptight parents and their friends. But this was too much.

"A boarding school?" she hissed to herself. "A fucking boarding school?"

Sure, her last school hadn't been as ideal as her parents had first expected. Private thought it had been—of course; her mother would pass out if Joanne even mentioned the words "public school"—the place had been full to the brim with what her mother called "unseemly types" In other words, partiers, alcohol fiends, and surprising number of pyromaniacs.

Joanne wondered what her mother's reaction would be if she knew Joanne herself owned a Zippo lighter. It only took a moment of thought for her to realize she didn't want to know.

"I don't understand their obsession," Joanne muttered, speaking once again to herself. She was alone, slumped at the rear of the long bus, a backpack resting on her lap for warmth as the November wind whipped through the jammed-open window. The ride had lasted three and a half hours thus far, and she was going slightly crazy with mixed boredom and anger. Over the past four years—her entire high school career, as it was-she'd switched schools nine times, all due to her mother's fanatical wish that her only daughter not be subjected to "UTs."

Out of all those changeovers, this was the first boarding school. Joanne supposed she should feel lucky that it took this long for her mother to wear down her father on the issue enough to actually boot the seventeen-year-old from the house.

The bus driver suddenly turned his head. Joanne frowned, pulling herself from her thoughts and focusing on him. This was the first time since she'd boarded the vehicle that the old man had bothered to even look her way.

He called something in his hoarse voice, but she didn't catch it. Leaning forward and wondering if she should have chosen a seat closer to the front of the bus, she replied, "What was that?"

His wrinkled face scrunching up with effort, he bellowed, "Almost there!"

"Oh. Thanks." Awkward, she thought. Should I try to continue this conversation? The old guy couldn't be any happier about making this trip than she was. Before she could think of something especially simulating to say, however, he had swiveled back around and fixed his doubtlessly-failing eyes back on the road.

Her only chance at conversation lost, Joanne sighed and leaned back again.

This is going to be a long year…

"Here we are!"

This woman was far too happy. That was the first thing Joanne noticed. Short and stocky, with hair that was—of all colors—green, she hadn't stopped smiling since taking Joanne from the bus. If she had to copy the expression for much longer, Joanne thought her face might split apart.

"Um, Ms.—"

"Dolores!" the woman interrupted her cheerily. "Call me Dolores, dear!"

That was another thing. She seemed to speak only in exclamatory statements. Joanne wanted to beat her head against a wall.

"Right," she said finally, bracing herself against that smile. "I was just curious about my stuff—"

"Already in there!" Beaming, Dolores rapped her knuckles on the door they had stopped at. "All you've got to worry about now is your—"

The door swung open. A pair of sleepy green eyes peered out from beneath curls so voluminous, Joanne instinctively thought it was a wig. Dolores clapped her hands together brightly and one of the eyes winked close in an unmistakable wince.

"Yeah?" the girl asked dully, leaning her weight heavily against the doorframe as if too tired to stand on her own.

"Maureen!" Dolores shrilled, reaching out and jostling the girl's shoulder in what Joanne took to be a far-too-familiar fashion. The girl flinched again and raised a hand to her forehead.

"Yeah?" she repeated tonelessly. Nervous, Joanne shifted behind Dolores as best she could; the girl's eyes tracked her progress for only a few seconds before returning her glare to this offending creature before her.

"I'd like you to meet your new roommate!" Dolores announced to the world, apparently oblivious to the death glare she was on the receiving end of. Reaching around to grasp Joanne's shoulders, she shoved the darker girl forward. Like a sacrifice, Joanne found herself thinking wildly, to some kind of tiger goddess.

Please don't eat me.

The girl looked her "offering" over, her eyes clearing a bit. "Roommate?" she repeated, a tiny smirk pulling at the left corner of her lips. "Huh."

"Huh"? That's it? Does that mean I pass inspection and get to keep all my limbs?

Either way, Dolores didn't seem to care. With one more bright smile and a "Take care of yourself, honey!" (which, Joanne noted, could have been aimed at either girl), she turned and flounced away.

Joanne had the strangest urge to run after her, screaming, "Take me with you!"

Instead, she turned and, with an intense sense of foreboding, looked at the girl known as "Maureen".

The young woman was still leaning against the door, looking her up and down as if her initial assessment hadn't been enough. Feeling rather like a piece of meat—or cannon fodder—Joanne tried to smile.

"Hi," she began. "I'm Jo—"

Before she could finish, a hand shot out and grabbed her by the collar of her button-down, hauling her forcefully into the room and slamming the door behind her. Dazed, Joanne staggered against a tall tree-shaped lamp.

"Sorry," Maureen muttered, sounding anything but.

Joanne felt her nerves shatter somewhat as she watched the other girl turn away and rifle through the trunk at the foot of the bed on the left. This is what I'll be living with for almost eight months?

Unwilling to try speech again, Joanne assumed the bed on the right half of the room—the bare one with all the suitcases strewn across it—was her own, and went to it. She immediately busied her hands with unpacking pairs of pressed jeans and slacks, clean undergarments, and shirts, praying that when she turned around, her roommate would be someone new—someone considerably less frightening.

"Hey."

Damn. Same voice. Joanne glanced over her shoulder to be certain; sure enough, there was Maureen, perched almost tipsily on the lid of Joanne's trunk.

"What'd you say your name was?" Maureen asked, looking like she almost cared. Trying not to frown—she'd been told in the past she was too serious-looking—Joanne told her, watching as the girl nodded to herself, then winced again and probed her skull with splayed fingers.

"Got a headache?" Joanne asked after a second, hoping the question would sound polite and not intrusive. Maureen made a grunting noise.

"Hangover," she replied, without any apparent qualms about it. Joanne shrank back from her slightly. Mom's going to be thrilled.

Not that I'll be writing to her anytime soon…

She realized Maureen had picked up one of her traveling bags and was peering curiously inside. "I don't suppose you've got any aspirin in here."

"Little blue bag," Joanne answered, pointing at her First-Aid kit. Maureen's eyes lit up; swiping for it, she headed off toward a doorway Joanne hadn't noticed before—the bathroom, she assumed.

A moment later, the girl reappeared, running a hand across the back of her neck. She tossed the medical kit back onto the bed and flopped down beside it, fixing a stare on Joanne, who tried to ignore her.

"Where're you from?" Maureen finally demanded, when her eyeballs failed to capture her new roommate's attention. Joanne shot her an uneasy glance, wondering exactly how much danger she'd be in of getting stalked by this girl if she gave such information out. Finally, she gave in, half-afraid Maureen would jump and sit on her if she didn't.

"New York," she replied tightly. Maureen brightened even further.

"Me too!" she cried happily. Joanne sighed. The chance of stalkage just increased.

"Got any siblings?" Maureen went on, not noticing Joanne's tight demeanor. The newer girl shook her head and Maureen flashed a grin. "Me either. Can't imagine it, can you? Having to share your life with some little cretin? Hell, it was bad enough having to give shit to Mark and Roger growing up."

"Who?"

Maureen waved a dismissive hand. "Just some guys I grew up with."

"Are they here too?" Joanne looked around as if expecting two boys to come tumbling out of the closet. Maureen laughed.

"No, silly. This is an all-girl's school."

"Oh." Joanne shrugged. "My mother didn't tell me that."

"Ahh…" Eyes glowing, Maureen shifted to a sitting position. "So you're one of those."

Joanne lifted an eyebrow, dropping a stack of folded shirts into her open trunk. "One of what, exactly?" she asked testily.

Maureen continued to grin that infuriating grin. "One of the kids who don't ask questions when Mommy and Daddy finally get annoyed and ship them off."

Joanne ground her teeth together. "That's not what happ—"

"Sure." Still smiling, Maureen shook her head. Joanne scowled at the sheer arrogance coating that voice. Is she over her hangover already, or is she always this ridiculously-frustrating?

"And how would you know?" she snapped, surprising herself. Maureen, to her credit, didn't jump at all. She only got up from the bed and walked slowly toward her roommate, offering her what she apparently thought was a friendly little punch on the shoulder. Wincing, Joanne rubbed the spot where she'd been hit. She watched Maureen's back as the other girl disappeared through their room's door, curious. Was this girl going to just leave her to fend for her—

The head poked back into the room, eyebrows raised expectantly. "Well? Do you want the tour or not?"

As the only other alternative appeared to be to gape after the curly-haired menace that she'd so randomly been paired with, Joanne mutely allowed her legs to carry her after Maureen's retreating form.