"Excellent!" Ms. Boucher complimented with a clap of her hands as the board was taken away.
"Take this time to get acquainted with the school layout. Classes will be starting tomorrow morning, and punctuality will count for your grade."
She and the other teachers congregated and left the gymnasium, seemingly congratulating one another one a job well done. If it wasn't for their proper dress and broad-brimmed hats, they would have looked like any clique to me.
When they were gone, the kids I knew to be my classmates were unsurely looking at one another with awkward smiles and breaking the line we were placed in.
"Crap," I thought, "I already forgot half of their numbers."
"That ain't no way to introduce yourself to your classmates." The guy with the pompadour dreads spoke up, his voice breaking the thick silence. "How about we introduce ourselves the right way?"
"What's the right way?" the guy with the orange leather jacket asked. Ten was his number, that I knew.
"Y'know, like people!" said Pompadour Dreads, "What'd y'all like to do? Where're you from? How's the family?"
The Braces Princess said, "Why don't you start since you seem so eager about it?" with a shrug.
With that, Pompadour Dreads started. "Well, I've got an affinity for vinyl records. My pops got me into them when he gave me his Ray Charles collection for my sixteenth birthday," he declared.
"Aw, that's so nice!" admired the girl with black lipstick. Six, wasn't she? Yes, because the guy that looked like her was Seven.
"Did he get you a record player, too?" asked Nine, who I remembered for tripping when he brushed past Ten.
"We share it," answered Pompadour Dreads, "I mean, we live in the same house, so why not?"
"It's nice to have something of your own, though," said the purple-haired girl, "I, personally, didn't like the idea of sharing a computer with my old man. That's why I built myself one. That was my little Christmas present from me to me."
Again, her petite chest puffed out in pride.
"Quite an admirable feat," commented the soft-spoken guy with a loose afro, "I'm sure you were happy with the results."
Purple Girl grinned. "Ah, it was nothing."
"I think I've reached that age where my family just gets me makeup and perfume," I joked, "When their little girl outgrows toys, parents always move onto cosmetics."
"And for guys, we get wristwatches and cologne," chimed in Seven, "Maybe a video game if we have a console."
There seemed to be an isolated group that refused to contribute to the conversation, I noticed. The Braces Princess, Serious Guy, Athletic Girl, and The Ghost.
"How about you guys?" I inquired, "Did you get any presents with a story behind it?"
There was an awkward pause as all of our attention went to the quartet, who seemed reluctant to answer.
"Uhm…" Athletic Girl's soft voice was barely audible. Once I directed my attention to her instead of the group as a whole, she looked down, twiddling her fingers. "My brother gets me seashells from the ocean, sometimes…"
"I outgrew presents," admitted Serious Guy, living up to the name I'd given him.
"Once you get old enough to buy your own things, the celebrations, alone, are all you need," said The Braces Princess, almost with a bit of pride.
At that, Athletic Girl seemed to shrink in shame.
"I don't remember getting anything special," said The Ghost.
"Well maybe our families will send us gifts while we're here," said Nine, "I mean, they won't see us for years, right?"
"Right, and I'm sure we'll get to go home for the holidays," said Six.
Serious Guy spoke up again. "If no one minds me, I'm going to take a look around the school and rest in my dorm," he said, already preparing to walk out before any of us could answer.
"Alright, see you 'round," replied Pompadour Dreads.
"I can't see myself resting for quite a while from now," said the guy with the loose afro, "What with the adrenaline shot just earlier."
"I know, right? Was that really necessary?" whined Purple Girl.
"If it'll keep me from dozing off in class, I can't complain," said The Ghost.
The Braces Queen rolled her eyes at that.
"Still, injecting minors with drugs doesn't seem all that ethical," said the guy with the loose afro.
"Well, in the end, is it really any different from chugging coffee and energy drinks?" challenged The Ghost.
"I wouldn't put caffeine and sugar on par with adrenaline shots," said Ten.
The Ghost shrugged. "A drug is a drug."
Most of us jumped when the sound of a bell rang all around us. In that huge gymnasium, the echo was almost deafening. It rang six times, but with that reverb, I could have been wrong.
The crackle of a speaker preceded a male voice that sounded much too close to the microphone.
"Attention students, the third mealtime is being prepared and served. Report to the cafeteria."
An equally rushed, clumsy click ended the announcement.
The word "meal" sent a pang down to my stomach. I didn't realize just how painfully hungry I was until the mention of food was brought up. The last time I remember eating was the morning of graduation. Mom's frenchtoast and eggs...
"Oh crap! We don't even know where that is," Nine gasped.
"Can't be that hard, right?" coolly said Seven, "C'mon, let's just walk around a bit to find it. There's probably signs to help."
We ended up doing exactly that, continuing to get to know each other along the way. Though, my mind wandered a bit as I took notice of our surroundings.
For a school only holding three teachers and twelve students, the place seems needlessly big.
There's so many lockers lining the hallway. Will we need them? Why not just keep our stuff in our dorms? Will we use all of these classrooms? Will we really have to leave our dorms just to use the bathrooms? Did that clock just...blink?
I craned my head as I slowed my step, staring at the clock on the wall between two rows of lockers.
What did I just see? There was no way a clock could blink, so what did it do that looked like blinking to me?
"Whatcha looking at, One?"
Pompadour Dreads' voice, followed by the quieting of the others pulled me out of my daze just enough to answer him.
"Huh? Oh, something with this clock," I said, pointing up at it, "I thought I saw something weird about it, but…"
Pompadour Dreads walked back to where I stood to get a better look at the clock. A few of the others did, too.
Nine asked, "Did one of the hands, like, move backward or twitch funny?"
"I don't know. It was from the corner of my eye."
Up ahead, I heard The Braces Queen say, "I don't think we'll get extra credit points for reporting a broken clock to the teachers."
She was right, but more importantly, I was starving. So we abandoned the clock without hesitation, some of them laughing it off. Though, I found it harder to laugh.
The school lunch wasn't much of an upgrade from what we were given back in public school. Regardless, I didn't let a single scrap of the beef patty they passed for salisbury steak go to waste, nor the oddly textured mashed potatoes with watery gravy. Though, I did pass on the milk once I noticed how warm it was.
We continued talking over lunch, reconnecting with Serious Guy, who had gotten there earlier than us. Though he still wasn't in much of a mood to talk, I did end up finding out his number was Eight after a failed attempt to call out to him, but not without Two-The Braces Queen-giving me a little crap about it.
"You'd think the Math Optimum would be a pro at memorizing numbers." She was clearly joking, but I didn't find it very funny.
Twelve was The Ghost. Eleven was the shy Athletic Girl. Five was the guy with the loose afro. Four was Purple Girl. And Three was Pompadour Dreads.
When we showed up to the cafeteria, the lunch ladies weren't there. We thought about waiting, but once Eight told us that nothing stopped him from getting his own dinner, we went along.
Like the rest of the school, the cafeteria was normal-sized for the average school, meaning it felt huge in comparison to the small population. We wound up sitting at the end of a long row of tables, but even then, we only filled up about a fifth of the space.
"Are the lunch ladies ever gonna come out?" Six asked, looking over her shoulder curiously.
Seven suggested, "Maybe they decided not to after they saw we already got our stuff."
"I haven't even seen the teachers around here," I said as I looked around, "You'd think with all of this space, they'd eat in here, too."
"Ah, you know teachers don't wanna talk around a bunch of kids," waved off Three, "They're probably chilling in the teachers' lounge somewhere."
"Yeah, but wouldn't they have to come here anyway to get their food?" I asked, "It's not like anyone's going home to make their own meals any time soon. Eight, did you see any of them when you came in?"
"No," he answered simply, "I didn't even run into them in the hallways."
The sound of metal scraping made my hair stand on end, but then I followed everyone's gaze and saw the steel entry doors where we got our food coming down. They were slow and automatic, just like the garage doors in my neighborhood.
This is one of the rare times I write in first-person, so that's why it's not as descriptive as my other works. One is incapable of picking up on everyone's tone, facial expression, and mood. Even then, she's not as receptive to those kinds of details. She's more objective than other protagonists I've written.