~~Tate eventually walks out of the booth, smiling. He struts over to me and I raise an eyebrow at him.
“It went well then?” I ask and he nods.
“83!” he announces boastfully and I smile.
“Well done,” I reply but he sees through my fake enthusiasm.
“I’d say the same to you but…”
“…I got the worst score I’ve ever had,” I finish and he shakes his head.
“And whose fault is that?” he points out. I shrug at him, not feeling guilty. Apart from my brother, Tate is the only person I’m close with. He’s been my best friend since the first day in the education sector when we stood next to each other in the line. Back then he was a couple of centimetres shorter than I was with buck teeth and a face of freckles. Now he’s grown into himself and towers above me. His teeth are perfectly straight and his freckles gone, now he’s the guy most girls want to be matched with at the end of the education sector. There have been times where I’ve considered being matched with Tate and I’m sure he’s thought about the same thing as well. I don’t like the idea of some other girl with him but at the same time I don’t know if I see him in that way either. I asked Jason about it once and he told me it was highly unlikely we’d be matched so there was no point worrying about it. You’re mostly matched with someone who has the same score as you after the final exam you take at the end of year 13. Me and Tate have always had different scores, him in the 70’s and me in the 80’s. Now we’ve swapped and he’s the higher achiever.
Your score at the end of year 13 doesn’t just determine you match, it also decides what career path you take. People with a score in the 90’s go into the government, people in the 80’s normally have medical positons the 70’s leads to teaching, the 60’s is normally guards and if you manage to just about to make it and have a score of 50 and above you can work go into retail or secretarial work. 49 and below means labour work or unemployment for some. I used to want to be a doctor, the thought of making people better appealed to me but now I look around at people and all I can think is why should I? I know it’s cruel and unfair but I blame anyone who conforms to the system for the death of my brother. I don’t blame them for his murder but for his death in society, for forgetting about him.
“For a moment I was a little worried,” Tate says after a nervous laugh and I raise my eyebrow at him.
“What? That I’d be neighbours with your parents?” I joke but a flash of annoyance appears on his face for a moment. He quickly hides it with a strained smile.
“Yeah.” I feel a little guilty at my comment, Tate hates the fact that his parents are rejects. Like all reject children he was put into the care centre until he was 11 and moved to the education centre. I’m lucky because even though my parents were never around I had Jason to bring me up and care for me. Tate never had parents, he was one of many children. I’m the only family he has really and I was close to leaving him.
“I’m sorry,” I say and he shrugs, letting it go.
“Its fine, now are we getting something to eat or what?” I laugh a little and quicken my pace to keep up with him as we walk over to the food hall.
As we sit amongst our usual crowd I play with my food while everyone else talks excitedly about their scores. Most of them went up and the few that went down only went down a few points. I’ve gone from being one of the top to one of the bottom. I’ve always been friends with the higher achievers because they’ve always been in my classes. Evie announces proudly that she got 92, we used to have friendly competitions in our classes and I usually came out on top. Now the whole table stares at her in amazement, to achieve a score above 90 is rare, only a couple of students from each year group do it.
“That’s amazing!” Scarlet exclaims and Evie smiles smugly.
“What did you get Lila?” Betty asks and they table look over at me in curiosity. I expect most of them are a little surprised to see I’m still here. I glare at Betty for a moment, of course it would be her, she’s always had it in for me. Jealous of my friendship with Tate and the fact my score has always been higher than hers. I can imagine how smug she’ll be when she finds out my score.
“She doesn’t have to say,” Tate says and I nod gratefully at him.
“Everyone else has,” Betty says, raising her eyebrows expectantly at me. I narrow my eyes at her. I could lie but they’d probably fine out then I’d look stupid.
“64,” I announce and there’s a silence for a moment. Betty catches my eyes but she doesn’t look as pleased as I thought she’d be. “What?” she scoffs and I frown at her. “No way, you can’t have managed that,” she finishes and now I understand her confusion.
“Leave her alone she’s had a tough few months,” Tate says and Betty glares at me, shaking her head.
“They must really like you,” Faye says admiringly and I shrug, choosing to look at my food rather than all the eyes on me around the table.
“Or her parents are really rich,” Betty spits and I frown. That can’t be true, but then I think about my mother and how the thought of her daughter being put in rehab would disgust her. She was angry enough that Jason became a guard. Bribery sounds exactly like the thing she would do.
“Well I got 83,” Tate says to divert the attention from me. It certainly works on Betty because she squeals in excitement. “That’s only one below me!” she points out and he gives her a flat smile. He dislikes her almost as much as I do. As the conversation moves on the only person who’s left watching me is Evie. She’s frowning a little at me when I catch her eyes. She looks away, joining a conversation with Faye and Rob but I can still feel her eyes on me every now and then.
When I arrive back to my room I’m greeted with 3 new notifications on my board. The first reminding me of our assembly tomorrow, I feel tiered just thinking about it. The second is about my timetable and my eyes run over my classes. I’m in the 3rd sets for most things now which means I won’t be in classes with my friends who will probably all be in the top sets. I’ll no longer be on the honour roll where they give you extra work to make your score better. It’s my own fault I know and I can always move up I suppose. I don’t know if I want to though. I open the 3rd message and frown, it’s addressed from the head master.
‘Please come to my office at 9:00 tomorrow morning instead of assembly’
I close it as I wonder what it could mean. Its rare people get called to his office, I’ve only met him once and that was on my first day. I’ve seen him around the sector as he makes various speeches and runs some assemblies but other than that he’s mostly detached from the students in the sector. I’m about to slump down on my bed when I get a message from Tate asking if I want to join him and the others in the social space. I decline and walk over to my book shelf to choose something to read. Tate sends me another message:
I thought we’d agree you weren’t going to exclude yourself anymore
A small smile tugs at my lips as I remember our agreement over the summer. He’d come to stay at my house instead of going back to the care centre, helping me get through the darker period of mourning my brother, not giving up on me like everyone else did when I isolated myself. By the end of the summer he’d got me to agree that when we came back I’d try my best to integrate back in with everyone. Today’s the first day back and I haven’t done a good job so far.
I sigh and send my reply
Sorry, not tonight but I will tomorrow.
I sit down on my bed and look around the small room I’ve had since I first arrived in year 7. II think about what would have happened if I was rejected today. They’d have wiped any evidence of me living here away, erase my existence. They’d have probably fixed the dent in my wardrobe where Tate fell and hit his head in year 8 when he’d been showing me his karate skills, he quit after that. I brush my hand over it fondly and lean my head against the wall as I pick my phone up.
I find Jason’s name in the contacts list and click it, waiting as it rings, like I always do, then his familiar voicemail comes on.
“Hey you’ve reached Jason you know what to do.”
I don’t like to think of the pitying person who keeps his voicemail box clear and his phone charged so I can continue this ritual.
“Hey Jase, so I got my score today and … I know you won’t be proud of me but I got 64….” I pause for a moment waiting for a reply I know won’t come. “…I know I’ve let you down and I’m sorry but I can’t keep up the charade anymore. I’d fed up of the system Jase, where does it lead? All I’ll do is work until I die, leaving behind children who will do exactly the same….” I hesitate as I think about what I’m saying and who could be listening then I hang up and drop my phone on my bed, running a hand through my hair. I know I shouldn’t phone him, that I should move on and accept he’s gone. That’s what my parents told me but something inside me holds onto the belief that he isn’t gone. Even though it goes against everything that’s been said to me I can’t help but hope that it isn’t true.
I stand up and walk over the shelf where I pick my toiletries up and walk to the bathroom ready to wash the day’s events away. I stand in the hot steamy mist as water drips down my face and try to wipe away my thoughts. I step out and wrap a towel around me, staring at myself in the foggy mirror. My ash blonde hair sticks to my face and my blue eyes glow under the harsh lighting in the bathroom. I’m the only one in here as everyone else is probably in the social space or at least hanging out in other people’s rooms. I take my time, towel drying my hair, running the small towel through the long wavy strands that tumble down my back.
The silence is interrupted when the door swings open and Evie walks in. She catches my eyes and smiles. I nod at her as she walks over to one of the stalls then turns to face me.
“I’m sorry I haven’t spoken to you all summer Li I…” She doesn’t know what words to say but I just shrug.
“Don’t worry about it, I was a pain in the ass at the end of last year, you had a right to be angry.”
“You had a reason for it though and I… I guess I cared more about my grades than helping you and I just feel like such a bitch…”
“Seriously it’s fine,” I tell her. It isn’t her fault that the society teaches everyone to put themselves before everyone else. Compassion holds you back, distracts you from what’s important. She nods then walks into the stall, she’d obviously waited for an opportunity to get that off her conscience. I gather my things and slide out of the bathroom then wonder back to my room. I quickly pull on a t-shirt and shorts to sleep in then climb under the duvet. I’d survived the day, I just have the rest of my life to go.