The academy introducti.., p.9
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       Introductions, p.9

           C. L. Stone
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I dreamed of my old school with people I didn’t know who had turned into zombies. They chased me. The doors were locked. I was trapped.

  The phone woke me that morning. I had forgotten to put it back into the attic. I was in bed with it, and it had slipped to between my stomach and the sheets. I felt it vibrating and it tickled me out of sleep. In my dream, it was a zombie biting.

  Silas: “I’m sorry if I made you mad.”

  It took me a moment to remember what he was talking about.

  Sang: “I’m not mad.”

  Now that I had slept, what I felt before with him seemed stupid. It was wrong of me to get angry with him when from what I remembered of the conversation, he was trying to be nice.

  Sang: “Forgive me for being a meanie?”

  Silas: “You’re not mean, Sang.”

  I smiled, my heart fluttered and flipped around in my chest.

  Sang: “You’re too nice to me.”

  Silas: “Ditto.”

  I took my time in the bathroom later. I showered, shaved my body, dried off, used a blow dryer on my hair and dug out a barrette to pull back locks of hair from my eyes without using the clip. It was Gabriel’s suggestion. I wasn’t sure why there was such an emphasis on what to wear. It was just registration.

  I put on my blue skirt, modest white blouse, and sandals. I had a notebook and a pencil with me; Kota’s list was tucked into the notebook, along with the paper that I had filled out for registration. We were supposed to bring it to be approved and entered into a computer.

  There was a tall mirror hanging on the inside of my bedroom closet. I checked myself out in my reflection. Dirty blond hair. Green eyes. Light skin. Decent clothes. Average across the board.

  Marie opened my bedroom door, letting it swing until the knob hit the wall. “Hey,” she said. “Let’s go.” She was wearing jeans and a t-shirt with sneakers. She had heavy makeup on her face; her eyes looked darker with the eyeliner around them. She picked up makeup leftovers from her friends at her old school and only wore it on rare occasions to save what she could. “You look like you’re new to school,” she said.

  “I am new.”

  “Yeah, but you look it. And that notebook makes you look like a nerd.”

  I shrugged. I didn’t want to say something about what I thought of her makeup. Sometime in the past few years, we had grown distant. We saw each other. We worked alongside each other. We had argued a lot, too. Mostly our arguments focused on who would do which chores. Eventually it became a general need to simply exist without getting involved in what the other one was doing. The feeling around her was what I imagined a co-worker would feel. Friendly sometimes, but we were just as happy not talking to each other. Why hadn’t we bonded like I read of other siblings doing in books? It struck me as odd, but I could only guess we were simply different from each other. Something happened between us I couldn’t explain, and we were now so far apart from each other it felt impossible to become what I imagined real sisters were like.

  “Get going,” she said and she walked out to rush down the stairs.

  My dad was waiting for us out in the car. I rarely saw my father unless there was a school event or it was a Sunday. Any other day, he worked and although he made it in time for dinner, I usually skipped dinner. He was tall, lanky and most of the time he was cheery around the family. He had curly dark hair and high cheekbones. When he was around my mother, his posture sagged more and he looked tired.

  “Hurry up,” he called to us. He waved his big hand at us. “You’re going to end up in all the leftover classes.”

  Marie got in the front passenger side of the small, five-year-old sedan. I climbed into the back. I locked my seat belt in, even though my dad and sister didn’t. We rode in silence in the car.

  The lot at the school was already full. I wasn’t sure we would find a parking space, but there were people pulling into part of the lawn. My dad found a spot near the back.

  “Remember where we’re parked,” he said. “If we have to split up, just come back here.”

  I fell behind them as we headed toward the side door of the school. It looked about the same size as my old school. Gabriel had been right about it being ugly. The building was two stories, brown, drab, no windows except for a handful along the second floor. The grounds were flat, with only a handful of trees along the border. Square hedges grew along the outside walls between sets of doors. The hedges looked like they needed to be watered three months ago. There was a football practice area off to the left, a baseball diamond and some tennis courts beyond it. Each was well worn with holes in the mesh guards, and the benches looked warped. Beyond that, I could see the trailers Kota had talked about. The number of them amazed me. I counted at least thirty and they extended out from the school. I wondered how anyone managed to get from one of those trailers to classes inside on time.

  “I don’t want a class in a trailer,” Marie said. For the moment, I agreed with her on that point.

  The entryway was crowded. The off-white tiles inside the doors were cracked and uneven. Students coming and going made it difficult to navigate, and many of them stopped to talk to each other without concern of who they might be blocking. Most of the parents looked tired and were leaning up against the walls and out of the way.

  It took five minutes just to get through the side door. I scanned the crowd for one of the guys. I wondered if they expected me to come in through another door.

  From what Kota described of how dangerous the school was, I tried to make myself small and uninteresting. None of the other students seemed particularly interested in us. Most were concerned with either getting in line or finding old school friends to talk to. I couldn’t imagine a fight breaking out when so many teachers and parents were standing right there.

  Once we were in the main hallway, the crowd thinned out a little. There were tables lined up near a large glass window that overlooked the central, open-air courtyard. There was one large staircase in the middle of the hallway with parents sitting on the first few steps. Further down the hall, there was a line of vending machines and along the opposite wall was a trophy case. I didn’t see any classrooms.

  “We’ll have to split up,” my dad said. “The tables are divided by grade level.”

  “I’ll be fine,” I said. “There’s my table. You go with Marie.”

  “He can go with you,” she said. Her eyes were on a group of girls crowding around her grade table.

  “Fill out your form and come back,” Dad said to me. “I’ll have to approve and sign it.”

  I nodded to him. The line to my table was long. I moved to the end of it to wait my turn. I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned around.

  “Hey!” Luke called into my opposite ear, scaring me.

  I smiled, happy to be found. “You made it.”

  “I saw you come in. I thought it would be pretty awkward if I just walked up to you.”

  “I didn’t even see you.”

  “I’m pretty good at stalking girls.” He pulled out his cell phone and tapped something in. “We’ve been waiting for you. I’m letting them know you’re here.”

  Within moments they all appeared. North was in his black clothes, although his shirt was collared, a Gucci logo on the front pocket. Silas had a white collared shirt. Kota wore a white shirt with a green tie. Nathan, Gabriel and Victor wore slacks and different colored Ralph Lauren and Hilfiger polo shirts. To me, they were all dressed a lot nicer than most of the students, who wore ripped jeans, baggy t-shirts and sneakers. I realized Marie was right to wear what she had. She fit in better than I did with the other students. I was glad the guys were there. I didn’t feel so out of place with them around.

  “It’s about time,” Victor said to me, frowning. “I’ve been here for hours.”

  “I’m sorry,” I said. My cheeks heated and I pressed a finger to my lower lip. “Did you all have to wait for me?”

  Glances were exchanged. Had it not occurred to them that I’m just one girl? They didn
t have to wait. I felt bad enough that any of them were hanging around for me. How much trouble could I get in to today?

  “Don’t worry about it,” Victor said, stuffing his hands into his pockets and shrugging. “We don’t have anything better to do today, anyway. I was just tired of standing at the door.”

  With the boys standing around me, the line was a little crowded. Kota started talking about something with Luke and the others, but over the noise of the crowd, I couldn’t hear very well. My eyes shifted to the other students. There was a group of girls not too far away looking at us. One of them glanced my way, her face looking angry and it confused me. I turned away, assuming the look wasn’t meant for me. Still, it was intimidating.

  “Did you all sign up already?” I asked.

  Collective nods. “We won’t have schedules until we get them in the mail on Monday. We start Tuesday,” Kota said.

  “It’s all a big pain in the ass,” Nathan said and then grumbled something under his breath that I couldn’t understand.

  “You’ll have to watch your language,” Kota warned. “School might not have started yet, but the rules still apply.”

  Nathan rolled his eyes, but didn’t argue the point.

  “We’ll get out of this line. We’re too big of a group,” Kota said. “Who’s staying with her?”

  They all said “me” at once. I laughed, but when they looked at me as if they didn’t understand why I was laughing, I stopped short.

  “Victor and Silas, you stay here. North and Luke, go tail her sister. Just keep your distance. I don’t want to scare her. The rest of us will head out to that courtyard. Sang, when you’re done, we’ll meet out there and then take a tour together.”

  They were going to keep an eye on my sister, too? I blushed, not having thought of that. Again I admired the way Kota took charge of the group. Nothing was argued over. When Kota made a decision, they simply fell in line.

  Victor and Silas stayed by my side while the rest disappeared into the crowd.

  “What classes were you getting again?” Victor asked.

  I pulled out the paper that Kota had prepared for me and showed it to him.

  “You’re missing one, you know,” he said. “You have to pick seven.”

  I felt my heart flipping into a panic. “I thought the paper said six.”

  “You have to pick one more just in case a class got filled up.”

  I blew out a breath, feeling like grumbling.

  “Don’t sweat it,” Silas said, smoothing fingers through his dark hair, brushing away the locks that fell into his eyes. “Just pick an art class.”

  I hesitated, unsure of what to pick. My mind went blank as to what other classes there could be.

  “What about a music class?” Victor offered.

  “Would you be in that one?” I asked.

  He frowned. “Probably not. I’ve got an advanced piano class to take.” He wrapped a hand around his opposite arm, rubbing at it. “Yeah, maybe not a music class. No one else takes one.”

  “I guess the winner is art,” I said. “I don’t think I can take anything else. I mean, the interesting stuff is reserved for higher grade students.”

  “What would you want?” Silas asked. “I mean, if there wasn’t a grade restriction.”

  “Hm, maybe a language? Or a writing class? I’m not sure. I wish I’d looked more at the book.” I looked at my paper where, before I had met Kota, Japanese and a few other classes had been scribbled in. I had crossed them out to put in Kota’s suggestions. My paper already looked like a mess. I supposed it didn’t matter. If I ended up in an art class with Gabriel, that wouldn’t be bad.

  The line was moving. I was going to be next.

  “Don’t worry about it too much,” Silas said, putting a hand on my shoulder. His face tilted to look down at me. “Just fill up with prerequisites. You’ve got time to learn the stuff you want.”

  I nodded. It was all I could do. I shared a small smile with him.

  “You’re up,” Victor said. He quickly reached for my hand, and gave it a gentle squeeze. “We’ll stand by, out of the way.”

  My eyes slid to see if my sister or my father were around and had noticed the guys touching me and Victor holding my hand. No one around seemed to notice.

  It took twenty minutes working with a school counselor to line up my classes. I showed her my list and she tried to tell me three AP classes were too many. I insisted it was fine, but she wouldn’t listen. She gave me AP English and AP Geometry. After that, she wrote down gym class, the typing class, without asking me, and the general biology class, and then wrote down American history.

  “I think I prefer world history,” I told her.

  “World history is an AP class. You can only have two.”

  I frowned. This wasn’t the lineup I really wanted. I felt uncomfortable that she changed things and that I couldn’t confirm with Kota.

  She asked if I had alternate choices. I suggested art and she said the art class was already full. I tried to look over the catalog but she got annoyed with me quickly. She wrote in choir and wood shop.

  “It won’t matter,” she said. “You will probably get in your first choices.” She handed me the paper with her signature on it. “Go get your parents to sign this. Take it to room 103. It’s down the hall and to the left.”

  The table was surrounded by other students all grumbling that I was taking too long. My cheeks felt hot. Did she have to be so short with me? I scanned for Victor and Silas. I saw Silas’s tall frame over the other students. He stood across the hall.

  I pointed to my paper in the air and then pointed to where I could see my dad. He nodded to me and then pointed to his own eyes: he’d be watching.

  I darted my way past the other students. I found my dad standing by the staircase.

  “Marie’s done,” he said. “She went to the band room to see where it was.”

  I imagined North and Luke were following her. I wonder if she noticed. “I just need you to sign this.” I handed him the paper.

  “You already crumpled it,” he said. “Two advanced classes?” he looked at me. “Is that okay with you?”

  I shrugged. “It’s fine. It’s all stuff I have to take anyway.” My heart was throbbing. I tried to shake it off. Maybe I was going to get in over my head with too many AP classes. There was nothing to do about it now.

  He took a pen from his pocket and scrawled his name at the bottom. “Where do you take this?”

  “There’s a classroom down the hall I think.”

  “Get to it. Are you going to tour the building?”

  I nodded.

  “I’m going to wait in the car. I’ve got some phone calls to make. Try to keep it short. Find your sister when you’re done and head out to the car.”

  I nodded and watched him go. When was the last time we talked? Before we moved? Even now, when we had time to talk, he walked off to make phone calls. I thought I should be disappointed or sad but I wasn’t. I was empty. Strangers in a strange family.

  I weaved my way again through the throng of students congregating and talking about classes. I was trying to find my way back to Silas and Victor so they could walk with me.

  At some point, I was pushed as some students were goofing around. I ended up pressed up against a man in a brown, corduroy suit. He turned around to look at me. He wore glasses, had brown hair, a bristle mustache and watery eyes. He wore a light brown pair of slacks and an oddly colored orange plaid tie.

  “No need to push,” he said. His name tag was pinned to the breast of his coat. Vice Principal Mr. McCoy.

  “I’m so sorry,” I said. I swept my eyes down. “I didn’t mean to. It’s just crowded in here.”

  He grumbled. “Kids in a hurry to get into school and the moment you’re in, you’re doing anything to get out again.” He backed himself off and then looked me over. His eyes hovered over the blouse I was wearing and then smoothed down over my waist and to my legs. “You also wear skirts that are
too short,” he said. “What’s your name?”

  My eyes widened. I wanted to glance around for Silas but Mr. McCoy stood right in front of me, his arms crossing. He wasn’t about to let me escape. “I’m Sang.”

  “Last name?”


  “Hm,” he said. “Hippies with their names. What kind of mother names her kid Song?”

  I bit my lip, too afraid to correct him. My heart thundered. School hadn’t started yet and I was already in trouble!

  “Your skirt is too short. You’re going to have to go home and change. We can’t allow students to walk around like this.”

  My mouth fell open. “I’m almost done,” I suggested. “I’ll just turn this in and I can...”

  “I don’t think so.” He reached for the sheet of paper in my hands, ripping it from me. He looked at my list of classes. “Choir and typing. How typical.”

  I bowed my head again, my eyes glassing over with tears. Why was he doing this to me?

  “I’ll keep this. You tell your parents your clothes aren’t appropriate. Go home and change and then come back.”

  “Mr. McCoy,” called a voice. We both turned to where the speaker had called from.

  A man approached with sandy blond hair, the gentle curls cut to the middle of his ears. His eyes were a dazzling green and his face was just as kind as his voice. He was a head taller than me with tapered shoulders and a trim body. He had a heart shaped face and appeared young. Maybe 19? It surprised me. I wondered if he was a senior or a recent graduate who stopped by to help with registration day. His wore khaki pants, a white shirt and a green tie, Gucci loafers.

  “I was just looking for you, Mr. McCoy.” He turned to me, looking down at my face. He used his forefinger to push away a lock of hair that fell in his eyes. “I’m sorry. Am I interrupting?”

  “No,” Mr. McCoy said. “She’s going home to change before she’s allowed to register.”

  I felt my lip trembling. How humiliating.

  The man raised an eyebrow at me, looking me over. “And what appears to be the problem?”

  “Her skirt is too short.”

  His lips pursed. “I believe the rule book states that a skirt must be as long as a lady’s fingertips when she has her hands pressed to her sides.” He motioned to me with a finger. “Miss, would you put your hands to your sides, please?” His tone was so gentle. I wanted to do anything he suggested.

  I snapped straight as a rod. My hands pressed neatly to my thighs. I might have scrunched my elbows a little, but even so, my skirt was at least an inch and a half longer than my longest finger.

  “It appears she’s within regulation,” he said.

  “I don’t think it is appropriate for her to wear it,” Mr. McCoy said. His teeth were clenched together.

  “Maybe not, but that’s not our judgment to make,” the man said. He turned to Mr. McCoy. “Is that her registration?”

  “Yes, but...”

  “I don’t see why we have to put the counselors through twice the work. They have enough to do today.”

  “You know you can’t just walk in and take over how I handle these students, Dr. Green. She’s not one of your boys.” Mr. McCoy barked at him, his fists clenched to his sides.

  A doctor? I blinked, disbelieving someone so young had a doctorate.

  “I believe we were brought in to assist in any way we can. I think we have enough to worry about with kids who have actually broken the rules than one girl who hasn’t.” He reached for the paper Mr. McCoy was crumpling in his hands and handed it to me. His green eyes washed over my face, soothing and cheerful. He put a gentle hand on my arm. “I’ll show you where to turn that in. You were just heading that way, weren’t you?”

  I nodded, trying not to look at Mr. McCoy. My heart thundered in my chest both from being so scared and from Dr. Green’s hand on me. I wondered for a quick moment if the situation could get any worse. Mr. McCoy would probably remember this.

  Dr. Green guided me down the hallway. I was worried the boys would wonder where I had gone or if I’d ditched them. I couldn’t simply walk away and look for them.

  “I should apologize for Mr. McCoy’s behavior,” Dr. Green said, his hand still gently on the back of my arm. “I think he means well.”

  “He’s pretty intimidating,” I said.

  He laughed, his voice smooth and light. “I think that, too. But usually intimidating people feel the same way about us. I think a psychologist would say... well, something boring to young students, I’m sure.”

  “Something about the worst we see in others is what we actually see in ourselves?”

  He smiled, his eyes lighting up. “Well said.”

  “I hope it doesn’t mean Mr. McCoy dislikes my skirt because he doesn’t look good in skirts.”

  Dr. Green’s head rocked back, his hand going to his forehead and he laughed loud enough to attract attention from other students. “Now every time I see him, I’ll be thinking of him in a skirt.”

  I smiled. I would, too.

  We stopped outside of room 103. The students had thinned out around us. Dr. Green turned to me at the door. He reached out, surprising me, and touched the collar of my shirt. He buttoned it up to the top and then smoothed down the fabric of the collar. “And so you know,” he said. “If you wear a short skirt, you should keep your top modest. As a lady, it will make you look more elegant.”

  His eyes were gentle and he looked up. I knew I was blushing. His smile was so casual and confident. I felt like an idiot near him.

  “Shall we go in?” he asked. He held open the door for me.

  “Thank you,” I said. “I don’t mean to keep you.”

  “It’s fine,” he said. “I was headed in this direction anyway.

  The room was an inner office. There were orange cloth covered chairs, all occupied, and a long orange counter at the far side of the room. There were two secretaries on the other side of the counter who were busy with students.

  “Why don’t you come with me?” Dr. Green said. “I’ll let you cut through this line.”

  I swallowed, swinging my gaze around, hoping the other students in the room didn’t hear. It felt wrong to skip the line. Dr. Green went to a door on the other side of the room, then turned and waited for me. I didn’t have much choice, I guess. He was so nice to me. There was no reason for me to turn down his offer.

  Silas and Victor will be mad, I thought. There was no way they could follow me now.

  Mr. Blackbourne

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