The sinking feeling in my stomach renewed itself. The ancient stone building looked the same as I remembered, but the sixteen-foot barbed-wire prison fences around the perimeter and guard shack by the drive reminded me that this was no longer Grant High School: Home of the Angry Bees.

A line had formed at the school entrance, and I looked ahead to see what the hold-up was. But given my size, I couldn’t see anything.

“What are we waiting for?” I asked the girl ahead of me.

She turned and I could see I wasn’t the only one who’d been taking this hard. Her eyes were swollen and her voice was tight as she answered. “I think they’re collecting papers.”

I started to rummage in my bag. Weeks ago I’d been given extensive paperwork to complete and was told to bring a copy of my social security card and birth certificate.

The girl in front of me sniffed. I wanted to say something, but I kept quiet. Sometimes you just need to be alone to cry.

I watched as she tried to wipe the tears away, and I reached into my bag again, rummaging about until I came upon a pack of tissues. “Here,” I said, holding them out to her.

“Thanks,” she answered, accepting the pack. She wiped her face and blew her nose. “Sorry…I’m just…”

“No, it’s fine. Really, I understand.”

“I have a daughter, Charlotte,” she answered.

“Oh,” I said, surprised.

“How old is she?” It seemed like a nice enough way to make conversation. Apparently, it was not the right thing to say.

Tears started down her cheeks. “Five days.”

Five days?”

She brushed a red curl from her face.

I was still shaking my head in disbelief. Then I realized my mouth was open. “I can’t believe that. Couldn’t they give you some sort of a waiver?”

She shook her head. “I asked. I even provided research—proof of why it was better for Charlotte if I stayed with her for at least the first few weeks.” She wiped an eye. “I was denied. If they make exceptions for one, they’ll have to make exceptions for all,” she said in a mocking tone.

“They’re bastards,” I said as the line moved forward.

She appeared as relieved as I was to find someone who was not an Academie supporter. They were surprisingly rare. “I’m Ruby,” she said, trying to pull herself together.

“Allie,” I replied.

I stuck my hand into my pocket and pulled out the itinerary I’d crammed into it this morning. I smoothed the paper just enough to see where we were headed.

9:00 a.m. New Student Orientation—Gymnasium

As we reached the door, we were met by Academie personnel in full military regalia. Welcome home, I thought.

“Papers,” one officer said, as two others relieved us of our personal affects. There was no doubt that our bags would be searched before being taken who knows where. My picture of Bryan is as good as gone…

Reluctantly, I followed the mass of people heading for the gymnasium. Ruby walked alongside me. We moved along slowly, as others quickly bustled by.

As I expected, the gymnasium was packed. How The Academie planned to join my class of about five hundred as well as the two classes above mine with the current enrollment of high school students was beyond me. They claimed they had it under control.

Groups were scattered here and there throughout the bleachers. People seemed to have found each other and reformed their old cliques. It should have felt like a reunion, but all I could think was: I thought this part of my life was over.

“I’m thinking about a seat up there,” I told Ruby as I pointed to the top left side of the bleachers.

She nodded. “I’ll follow you.”

We climbed to the top and sat down. A man of medium stature, dimpled skin, and graying hair cleared his throat at the podium, and I reluctantly turned to listen.

“Welcome, new students.” Not him again. I recognized the guy from my brother, Matt’s orientation. He’d frustrated me then by not giving out any useful information. “As you may already know, I am Major Robert Gray of Academie facility #214.” He paused and looked around. “Life here will probably be very different for you than how you have come to know it so far

I can’t listen to this. How am I going to survive the next three years? How will I keep from going insane?

I glanced around the room. A few familiar faces caught my eye. There were a surprising number I didn’t recognize. Then again, there were a surprising number I didn’t recognize at graduation.

I glanced to the doors. The ones on the far side—which used to lead outside—had been closed off. I turned to look back at where we’d come in. Armed guards lined the gym entry.

No escape.


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

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