After what seemed an eternity, Major Dimpled stopped babbling and we were dismissed. Ruby and I stood along with the rest of the auditorium, and given the fact that we were in the back, it quickly became clear we wouldn’t be going anywhere for a while.

“So, that was enlightening,” Ruby said sarcastically. Her eyes were still swollen and her face blotchy from crying, but the tears seemed to have subsided for now.

“I zoned out. Anything interesting?”

“Not really. Did you hear the part about the student survey?”

“No. What?”

“Supposedly, 98% of students claim to love The Academie and think it’s one of the best things that’s happened to them.” She rolled her eyes.

“You’re kidding?” I shook my head. “That can’t be true.” I thought they must be lying, but then I thought about my friends back at college. Several actually looked forward to joining The Academie. And the one time I’d visited my brother, Matt, his loyalties were too obvious. Traitor.

“Yeah, I don’t think I’ll be among that 98%,” Ruby said as she stood. “It looks like the crowd is clearing. I guess we better head to Medical.”

“Oh no! Is that next?” I pulled out my itinerary again.

10:00 a.m. Health Evaluation—Medical Bay

I had forgotten all about it. I’d seen it on the schedule when it arrived in the mail and lashed out at my parents about it.

“I don’t understand why we have to go through this when I just had an exam and a bunch of shots a year ago to start college. Why can’t The Academie just look over those records?”

“Tell me about it,” Ruby said. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been to the doctor in the last nine months. Tell me those records aren’t current.” She shook her head.

“How are they going to get all of us through there now anyway?” I asked. “There must be fifteen hundred people here.”

As if on cue, Major Dimpled was back at the podium. “There are a lot of you to get through the medical bay and a long line has already formed as a result. I encourage you to take a seat here, and we will let you know when the line has shortened.”

Ruby and I looked at each other, annoyed, and sat back down.

“So, how long ago did you graduate?” I asked.

“Two years ago.”

“You?”

“A year ago.”

“College?”

“Yeah. Westfield, down by Dayton,” I said.

“Oh, right. Yeah, a friend of mine thought about going there. I went to Brandon University. That’s where I met my daughter’s father. I was planning to go back to school after the baby was born. My mom said she’d watch Charlotte. But then, well, you know, we found out about the new Academie age guidelines.”

I wanted to ask if her daughter’s father was here too, but judging by the fact that she was sitting alone when I met her, I was guessing that’d be a ‘no.’

“I was going to transfer to Brandon, actually,” I said. “I had my acceptance and everything. Then I found out that I had to come here instead.”

“Sounds like you were almost as thrilled as I was.” Her eyebrows rose with a half smile.

“Oh yeah, thrilled. I thought I had it bad though; I’m so sorry for you.”

“She was a surprise; you know, Charlotte. At first I panicked. Here I was, with over half my college education still ahead of me and a baby on the way. It wasn’t the way I’d planned things.

“Oh, and the father freaked when I told him. That was it. It was over. He didn’t want to have anything to do with me—let alone her. I couldn’t believe it.

“At first I was so upset; I felt so alone. And then, as she continued to grow and the due date got closer, I felt different. And I knew somehow that it all was going to be okay, that I’d figure something out—a way to raise her and finish college to create a future for both of us.”

I smiled. I’d always thought I was a strong person, but listening to her, I wondered if I really was. She seemed to exude a strength I could only hope that others saw in me.

“Of course, it helped that my parents were really supportive. My dad was pretty quiet about it at first, and I thought maybe he was really disappointed in me. But my mom, she was concerned, but she was so happy to know that she had a grandchild on the way. It may have helped that Derek—the father—was such a jerk. I think Mom felt bad for me and that made her want to help me even more. She said she’d be there to help with whatever I needed. And she was. And now, she’s out there, taking care of my little girl.” Her eyes refilled, and I knew that soon the silent tears would be drifting down her cheeks again.

I didn’t know what to say except, “I hate this place.”

She managed a small smile that seemed to say, ‘thank you.’

“So how do they all seem to be okay with it?” I asked, looking at the droves of people waiting to be herded off to the medical bay.

“I really don’t know,” she answered, looking around. She pulled out another tissue and wiped a stray tear. “So, why do you hate it so much?”

It was a valid question. Her reason was obvious, but mine couldn’t be. “Well, what’s not to hate? Having my rights taken away, being sent back to this hell-hole I never thought I’d have to step foot in again, being stuck here until I’m twenty-two? I thought graduating meant I was done with high school.” I sighed before adding, “Oh yeah, and they brainwashed my younger brother.”

It was the first time I’d said or even thought it, but as I did, I knew it was how I really felt. The Academie took my wonderful, perfect brother and messed with his head so he didn’t care about anything he used to anymore. He certainly didn’t seem to care about me.

“What do you mean?”

“I came to visit him—months ago already, but it wasn’t that long after he’d been here, and he was a totally different person.” Disgust filled me as I realized the truth: “He was a jerk.”

“Wow. So I guess you’re not excited to see him now then, huh?”

“No. Well—I don’t know. I miss him, but I don’t want to see him like that again.” I was surprised at my own words—not just the revelation they brought me but because I was opening up so much with someone I’d just met. But I felt comfortable with Ruby. Somehow, I felt safe telling her things.

I thought about telling her about Bryan, but it was too complicated to explain, and something I certainly didn’t want to share with all of these people around. If anyone found out, he and his parents could be serious trouble.

Major Dimpled interrupted over the loud speaker again. “The line seems to have died down, so you are welcome to proceed to the medical bay at this time.”

 

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Print ISBN-10: 146369282X
ISBN-13: 978-1463692827

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ASIN: B005CF7NAI