“Looks like a lot of people are already here,” Mom called from the front seat of what used to be my car. I surrendered my keys this morning. Dad said they planned to sell it. My six-year-old brother, Andy, wouldn’t be needing it for years, and by the time he did, he’d be headed to where I was now: The Academie.

Five years ago I started high school. Life was normal. I worked hard at school and made Honor Roll. Got a job, saved for college, and picked the best school I could find. Mostly, all I wanted was to get away.

And I did. But not for long.

Two years ago things got nuts. Tommy Bacher of Oakfield, Massachusetts brought a 9mm firearm to school. In a matter of minutes, he took out his Spanish class along with half a cafeteria of students in study hall. Then he took off running. Hours later they found him under the stadium bleachers with a bullet in his head and a note that read: “I hate you all.”

“Tommy’s Crusade”—as the media dubbed it— set off a series of violent outbreaks. Two weeks later, fifteen-year-old Sarah Branstein broke into her step-father’s gun cabinet, loaded his 12-gauge shotgun, and sat waiting for her parents to come home. Her mom was the first unlucky victim, picked off with groceries in her hand and Sarah’s four-year-old half sister, Emma, trailing behind. Sarah’s mom took two shots to the abdomen and lay bleeding to death till her husband came home. When Mr. Branstein walked in, he purportedly found little Emma crying over her mother and Sarah still armed and waiting. She took several shots at her step-father, killing him instantly, before calling the police to tell them what she had done.

Countless similar events followed, creating a media frenzy and widespread panic. I think this was the beginning of the changes to come. Shortly after, I overheard teachers talking about policy adjustments to deal not only with teenage violence but also dropping test scores and general student apathy. I remember Mrs. White saying something about us not being able to solve basic equations and Mr. Moffet claimed we weren’t  prepared to take care of ourselves, let alone hold down a job.

Our country’s solution? The Academie: a nationwide compulsory boarding school program designed to replace our current high schools. At least, that was at first. In its first year, two things happened: student success increased, and violent crimes outside The Academie failed to decrease. The result: even though I’d already graduated, I was being sent back to high school—imprisoned more like it. Me and every other adult under age 23.

“Should be nice to see all your old friends again.” Mom turned in her seat to smile at me, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the world outside my window. I was starting to lose it. I’d already told her a dozen times that I didn’t care about seeing anyone from high school again. She wasn’t listening.

As huge supporters of The Academie, my parents ignored anything I said against it. I guess they believed I’d jump on board with it all once I was part of it—like my sixteen-year-old brother, Matt, had done.

I was certain they were wrong.

When Dad stopped the car, I started to feel really sick. He and Mom exited gaily, and Mom opened my door as Dad went to the trunk to grab my things.

“Come on, Allie,” Mom sang from the doorway.

I sat there, paralyzed. It felt as though they’d brought me to the threshold to hell. I can’t do it. I can’t go back in there. Especially now…like this.

“Come on, Allie,” Mom repeated. Her tone was now impatient.

I couldn’t move.

“Alathea Rose! You get out of that car this instant!”

Does she know I’m nineteen?

Does she know this is still my car?

“Allie,” Dad said, now standing beside her, “What kind of an example are you setting for your brother?”

I felt Andy shift uncomfortably beside me.

I wanted to move to comfort him, but instead, I just sat there, trying to make sense of it all. Was this really happening?

“Fine!” Mom snapped. “I’ll go get an officer and they can get you out!”

She knew that would do it for me. There was no way I was going to let them make a spectacle of me. I grabbed the trash bag she kept in the car to keep her vehicle tidy and pulled myself from the car.

“What’s that for?” Mom asked, motioning to the bag.

“I’m taking it for when I vomit.”

She rolled her eyes.

Dad had set the small bag of personal items The Academie allowed me to have on the ground. My stomach churned as I grabbed them up. It all seemed so final. And somehow, they were okay with it. We should have been hugging, but I was having trouble even looking at them.

A gentle hand pulled my sleeve. I turned to find Andy, his little boy eyes filling with tears. I set the bag back on the ground and bent down so we could be eye-level. “It’s going to be okay,” I said, rubbing his head.

He put his arms tightly around my neck, and I felt his body shake as the tears heaved through him. That’s when I lost it. It’s going to be okay, I told myself.

We stayed like that for I don’t know how long. I wanted it to last forever. It was what I needed: his soft little body safe in my arms where all the meanness of the world could never touch us.

“The kids are lining up, Allie,” Mom said impatiently.

Kids, I thought. She was part of the problem.

My head ached and my face felt puffy as I stood again and attempted to wipe the tears away.

Mom swooped in and gave me a hug, and Dad followed her lead. Their hugs were hurried, stiff and uncomfortable, but in their defense, they had never been the cuddly type.

“Could you at least take care of the flowers Bryan gave me?” I asked Mom.

“They are cut flowers, Allie. They won’t last another week.”

“You could dry them out.”

“Honey, they aren’t going to be any good.”

My body felt heavy. It was an effort to pick up my small bag.

“Say hello to Matthew,” Mom said. My eyes were on the ground, but I could hear the smile in her tone. It cut through me, deepening my anger and sorrow. How could they have become part of something I so despised so much?

I took one glance back at Andy, wishing I could run back to that hug, or better: grab him up and run us both away from here. He gave me a little wave, and tears welled in my own eyes as I waved back.

Then I turned, took a deep breath and one last look around at the outside world, and walked toward my future home.

 


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