"This will never work," says Julia, surveying the queue of dark haired girls waiting in various modes of repose along the wall. "I hope you know that."
"You lack imagination," Lara replies. "Just look at that one, third from the end."
Julia tugs at a strand of black hair, escaped from her messy bun, and tucks it behind her ear as she scans. "Sex Pistols tee? Tacky."
"You have to look past the clothes, to the girl herself." Lara adopts a calculating expression.
"Pretty pervy, Lara."
"That's not what I mean, and you know it." A smile tugs at the corner of her mouth.
"Whatever. I'll see you back at the lounge. After this blows up in your face."
Lara watches Jules walk away and turns her attention back to the girls. It's a better turnout than she had expected to get when she posted the advertisement. The door to Study Room 203 is closed, faint light leaking through beneath it. Key in hand, she unlocks it, and finds that everything is as she left it that morning.
The room is small, oak paneled, lit by a few scattered table lamps that cast the corners into shadow. There is a large window, but the velvet curtains are drawn across it, and only a sliver of daylight sneaks through where the panels were hastily tugged together. The only pieces of furniture in the room are a desk, a bookcase, and an imposing wingback chair. Lara has arranged the desk and the chair so that they are the focus of the room, but far enough towards the wall that a large swatch of parquet is left in front of it. Drawing from her passing knowledge of feng shui, Lara placed them so as not to have her back towards the door. It may not be her office, but she damn well wants every bit of good fortune she can get today.
After a moment of arranging various pens and pencils on the desk in front of her, she calls in the first girl.
Lara crosses her legs, uncrosses them, crosses them again. The movement displaces her short plaid skirt, but she doesn't adjust it. Apart from that, her uniform is crisp and clean, although cut a bit on the small side. She props her chin up in her hand, her poise beginning to slip away in the over-warm room.
"To the left. Good. And to the right?" She wrinkles her nose. "No, not quite. Thank you, though. Next?"
Another girl strides forward.
"Name?" asks Lara.
"Bethany Nelson," says the girl, putting a hand on her hip. Lara consults her clipboard, running her pencil down the length of the paper fastened to it.
"Ah, yes! Here you are. First, the interview. What is the capital of Kyrgyzstan?"
Bethany freezes. "Um."
Bethany steps aside, shoulders slumping, as a third girl, remarkably similar in appearance, takes her place before Lara.
"Bishkek. The capital of Kyrgyzstan is Bishkek," says the new girl. Lara sits up and leans forward.
"Very good. What was Hamlet's fatal flaw?"
The new girl pauses, biting her lip, then answers, "Indecision."
Lara could have clapped her hands with joy. "Excellent! I would have also accepted 'idealism,' but your answer is the most widely accepted. Can I have your name?"
"Well, Ellie, you seem to have paid attention in class. That's good. Will you turn for me?"
Ellie complies, holding her arms out and spinning in a slow circle. Her glossy brown hair fans out around her shoulders. Lara eyes her critically, and then stops her with a word. A tense moment passes as they stare at one another. Then, Lara lobs a neon green tennis ball at the other girl, who nimbly snatches it from the air. Ellie's hand moves so quickly as to become a blur.
"Superlative reflexes. Ellie, I am quite impressed. Your nose is on the large side, so it wouldn't be a perfect match, but then again, it's not my best known feature. A bit of padding in the chest area and I doubt anyone would be able to tell the difference." Ellie pulls her chin in and looks down. "A little contouring makeup and we can make this work."
"The advertisement said that you'd be paying a thousand pounds for--"
"Replacing me. Right. It won't be a perfect match, of course, but I think it'll be close enough from a distance. And in these lecture halls, that's all that matters. There might be a surprise quiz in Physics. The professor does that sometimes...."
Ellie gives Lara a lopsided grin, but her eyes dart around, seemingly looking for the nearest exit.
"I'll double your fee," says Lara, sensing the sudden change in atmosphere. "Two thousand pounds."
This offer elicits a full, toothy smile from Ellie, crinkling the corners of her brown eyes.
"When do I start?" asks Ellie.
"Tonight. I have a plane waiting for me at... no, I shouldn't say too much. All you'll have to do is spend the night in my room and attend my morning classes. You won't have a thing to worry about." From beneath her chair, Lara retrieves a large leather satchel. "Half of the money now, the other half when I return. In the bag you'll find the cash, my room key, and my schedule. I've also written instructions, along with my contact information in the event of an emergency. In regards to that, I assure you that if you needlessly call me, you will receive five hundred pounds when I next see you, instead of the full thousand." Lara produces a piece of paper. "Now, this is just a formality, really. The family solicitor drafted it for me, and I assured you, it is legally binding. If you'll just sign here--" Lara indicates a line with her pen, "--and here, we'll be in business."
Lara hands Ellie her pen. Ellie studies the document for a moment, her eyes flickering back and forth. Then, with a shrug, she raises the pen and scrawls her name.
"Thanks!" Lara gathers her things and shoves them in a small black backpack. "I've got to get going, then. One last thing before I do--"
She's interrupted by the opening of the door. "Ms. Croft!" a voice exclaims. A tall, thin woman with graying hair and a furrowed brow enters the room.
Lara curses beneath her breath. "Mrs. Murray!" she says, raising her voice and inflecting it with an artificial cheeriness. "Hello!"
"What is going on?" Murray glances from Lara to Ellie and back again. "Are you holding auditions?"
"This is no way to get out of detention!"
"Actually, I thought it was quite a novel idea."
"Lara Croft, the theft of the school yacht carries with it very strict penalties! Your parents agreed, and this does nothing but strengthen the school's case against you!"
"Detention?" asks Ellie, bemused. "I thought I was attending classes!"
"You might have noticed that the schedule included 'study hall.' I don't actually have study hall. There's this whole mess about veritable house arrest, and me not being allowed to take a trip I've had planned for weeks."
"You should have thought of that when you stole the yacht!" Murray interjects.
"I wasn't supposed to get caught!" protests Lara.
"Instead of three weeks of detention, you can double it. I'll see you tomorrow."
Lara huffs as Murray leaves, closing the door loudly behind her.
"Well, so much for that plan. It was a really good one, too."
"Sorry," says Ellie. "Where were you going?"
"To see my favorite band. They're breaking up and giving a farewell concert in Sweden tonight. Truly a once in a lifetime opportunity."
"You don't seem too upset that you're stuck here."
"Oh, I'm not. I'm still going, you see. I'll just have to devise a plan more diabolical than this one."
"What will that be?"
"I'm going to sneak out the window and apologize later. Well, thank you for your time, Ellie. Keep the money in the bag -- I promised you the job and it fell through. Do you suppose you'll be available for some work in a few months?"
Ellie shrugs. "I suppose so. Depends on the job."
"I'd just ask you to attend some society functions in my place. I don't normally mind them, but I have a term paper due around that time and I'd really rather work on that."
"You mean I'd be wearing an expensive dress and eating fancy hor d'oeuvres and meeting rich young men?" Ellie's eyes practically glitter.
"Yes. Terribly dull, apart from the food. The food's usually excellent. I'll keep your number, then, and contact you soon."
Ellie leaves. Lara soon follows, taking a moment to throw back the drapes and look out at the courtyard below. The sun is just peaking over the administration building to the east. Plenty of time, she thinks.
"Bad luck," Julia says, pulling down her headphones, when Lara returns to their room that night. "You shouldn't have held the interviews at the school, you know."
"But it was so convenient!" exclaims Lara. She toes off her shoes and her socks, then throws open the closet, revealing a wardrobe without much variety: blouses, skirts, cardigans, blazers, all in the school colors. A couple of more casual items lurk in the back. She pulls one of these out and begins changing on the spot.
When Lara turns around, adjusting the hem of her top, Julia lowers her book to critically inspect her. "You look ridiculous," she concludes.
"I think it suits me," Lara replies, holding out her arms. She is dressed entirely in form-fitting black, from her black turtleneck to her black athletic pants. To complete the look, Lara tucks her hair into a black watch cap. She shoulders her backpack (also black), grins, and lifts open the window. As she straddles the sill, she glances back at Julia.
"Have fun," Julia says with a sigh.
"I intend to. See you tomorrow night." Lara disappears over the edge, then pops back up, her face framed by the window. "You'll turn in my history paper, right?"
Without looking away from her book, Julia lifts a sheaf of papers from her bedside table. The byline reads Lara Croft. Lara beams and is gone.
NOTICE: This story is a work of fiction. Lara Croft, her likeness, and the Tomb Raider games are all copyright of EIDOS Interactive. There is no challenge to these copyrights intended by this story, as it is a
non-sanctioned, unofficial work of the author's own.