We left the Academy as quickly as we arrived, where we were then divided into a group of girls and a group of boys. The boys were led away to the left with Mr Palmer, and we led over to the right by Miss Anderson. It soon became clear that the two smaller buildings were dormitory halls. Upon arrival she handed out our timetables and then left us to find our rooms. We travelled as a group, with the odd few filtering off as we moved up the building, eagerly searching for the place we were expected to call home. When we reached the fifth floor, I dragged Faith to the side.
“This one’s ours,” I said, indicating the door.
“Do you want to do it?” she asked.
“I… no,” I admitted. “You should do it.”
She reached out, sliding her key into the lock and rotating her wrist slowly. There was a sharp click before the door swung inwards, revealing our dormitory. It was an oddly round room with four beds and another door directly opposite us. In the centre was a sofa, three beanbags, some cushions, and a large table made of glass. It couldn’t have contrasted the expensive, vintage feel of the reception more. This was a modern, sleek room with a white oak floor, which was half hidden by a jade rug.
“Wow,” Faith breathed.
We entered the room and quietly closed the door behind us. I felt uneasy as I walked across the floor, as if being too heavy-footed would make me fall through into the room below. I chose the bed closest to the window, a personal preference, and took a glance at my timetable. There was a sudden creak of Faith’s bed to my left as she leapt onto it and kicked off her shoes.
“This timetable is strange,” I said. “I don’t understand why I have blank bits.”
Faith laughed. “You can tell that you went to a posh school.”
“What do you mean?” I said, put-out.
“Daddy paid for your education,” she sneered. “You wouldn’t have got free periods.”
“So it’s personal time?” I replied.
“Well, not exactly. I used them a lot to catch up on work,” she explained.
I went back to studying my timetable. Breakfast started at nine in the morning, and lasted for half an hour. Then came two periods, each an hour long, and then lunch for an hour and a half. Two more periods followed, then a half an hour break, and then two more periods before dinner. It was a bit daunting; I’d never had to do so much in one day before and I wasn’t sure if I could handle it.
Standing up from the bed, I made my way over to the other door. I peered inside to see the bathroom, fully equipped with a toilet, sink, bath, and shower unit. It was spotlessly clean and illuminated with spotlights embedded into the ceiling, making every surface glimmer. Faith appeared from nowhere, gasping loudly as she leaned over my shoulder.
“We have an on-suite,” she cried.
“There are two spare beds,” I reminded her, “so we’ll be sharing this, I guess.”
“They look untouched,” Faith said.
I threw my gaze back over to the beds, and she was right. They were pristine. There was nothing to suggest that they had ever been accommodated. No personal items sat on the bedside cabinets, no shoes were tucked under the bed, and no creases were left in the sheets. The wardrobes between the beds were empty. There wasn’t even any bottles of shampoo tucked away in the bathroom. Why were there four beds when only two of us had been given keys to this room?
Suddenly, there was a knock at the door. I flinched away at the sound and went back to the safety of my bed, sitting bolt upright with my feet flat on the floor. Faith, who clearly lacked my reservations, went to open the door. She came back in, accompanied by a timid-looking girl. Her olive eyes were bloodshot from crying, and even from across the room, I could see that she was trembling.
I leapt to my feet. “Are you alright?”
Stupid question, Allegra.
“Is there anything we can do?” Faith tried.
The girl shook her head, keeping her eyes fixed on the floor. She took a scrunched up tissue and dabbed at her nose, before returning it to her pocket. She sniffled as she allowed herself to stare around the room. No one spoke as she chose a bed and sat down on the edge, continuing to look miserable. Faith gave me a confused look, but said nothing. Instead, she hung her denim jacket up in the wardrobe and then returned to her own bed.
Minutes must’ve passed before I broke the silence. “Excuse me?”
The girl looked up warily. “Y-yes.”
“I’m Allegra, and this is Faith,” I said as softly as I could. “What’s your name?”
“Eden,” she mumbled.
I looked at her properly for the first time. She had wild red hair that barely reached her shoulders, pale skin, and cheeks studded with freckles. She was also short for her age, much unlike myself, and had a small gap between her two front teeth. If it wasn’t for the deep red surrounding her eyes, she would probably look quite cute.
“It’s nice to meet you, Eden,” I said. “Why are you so late?”
“Yeah,” Faith added. “Not to be rude or anything, but what happened to you? Everyone’s been here for over an hour now.”
Eden looked afraid for a moment, before letting out a heavy sigh.
“My dad is a Black and my mum is a Green,” she said. “They wanted me to join the police force, just like dad. There was someone at dad’s work who said they’d alter the paperwork, supply me with some black contact lenses, and make it look like I’d be Sorted.”
“The Sorters would have caught you out,” Faith said.
“That’s why they didn’t let me go to the Sorting, but the Reds have a list. They know if you’re sixteen and Unsorted,” Eden replied. “The mayor knows our family, but couldn’t see me in the crowd. He didn’t call out my name. Instead, he sent people to my house and I was Sorted at home. Mum screamed and screamed at them but they still brought me here.”
“Why didn’t she want you to be a Green?” I asked.
“She tried to teach me things when I was younger; I’m not a fast learner,” Eden confessed. “She said I wouldn’t handle the Academy, and that bad things happen to people who can’t handle their colour.”
I found myself leaning forward, curious. “What bad things?”
“She wouldn’t tell me,” Eden said, shaking her head.
I studied her carefully for a moment. My father was the reason she was in this mess. He had torn her so ruthlessly from her family. Eden claimed that he had recognised her, but I didn’t know her at all. There was a police officer on patrol around the town centre, usually close to the mayor’s building. However, I’d never gotten the impression that he was on speaking-terms with my father, and especially not to the extent that he’d recognise Eden’s absence from a crowd.
As the room fell back into silence, my eyes searched for a clock. I glanced down at my timetable, and then back at the time shown on the wall above the bathroom door. If this was a normal day, I’d be in fifth period. Miss Anderson had told us to be in the reception fifteen minutes before dinner so that she could show us the way, but that left me with more than an hour to waste. I took another look at the dormitory, desperately searching for something to do. Then an idea struck.
“How about we have a look around?” I suggested. “There’s nothing to do here, and I’m pretty sure no one will mind if we familiarise ourselves with the place.”
Eden looked unsure, but Faith was enthusiastic.
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure there was a bookcase downstairs,” Faith said.
“Fine,” Eden muttered begrudgingly.
She washed her face before we left. Fortunately, the cold water seemed to wash some of the sadness from her eyes, along with some of the redness. She’d stopped shaking, but she continued to sniff as we headed back downstairs.
Apart from the ground floor, each level looked the same. All of the doors were the same light wood with numbers engraved into them in italicised writing. The floors were carpeted in the jade colour of the rug in our room, and the bannisters were white oak with glass panelling. Everything about the dormitory hall seemed to blend in perfectly together, like it had been plucked straight out of a showroom. At the bottom was a bookcase, just like Faith had said, and a board smothered in notices. There was everything from safety protocols to after-class clubs.
“Oh look, they have a movie night,” Faith said, pointing out a purple sheet of paper. “And there’s an on-site pool for synchronised swimming.”
Eden gave her an exasperated look, and I struggled to contain my laugh.
“I’d rather be set on fire,” she moaned.
“Well, the water would really help with that,” Faith giggled, nudging her with an elbow. When she didn’t smile, Faith’s expression became a frown. “Oh, come on. We’ve got to try some new things; I didn’t have half of these opportunities back at home.”
“I’d rather be back at home without the opportunities,” Eden retorted.
I watched as Faith’s cheeks flushed pink. She may have adapted quickly to the Academy quite well, but Eden clearly needed more time, and bringing up home wasn’t helping.
“Sorry,” Faith said. “I just… I don’t know. I like it here. It’s new and exciting. I was so scared at first but there’s no point being all shy, not when you can make a fresh start.”
As much as I was unsure about the Academy, I knew in my heart that Faith was right. We did have the chance to start over now, and that in itself was a good feeling. I wasn’t going to be the quiet daughter of the mayor anymore. His shadow wasn’t there for me to hide in. Glancing over the array of notices, I picked out one and focused on it, trying to appear interested.
“Actually,” I said. “Martial arts sounds like fun.”
Faith turned to smile at me, but Eden looked more alone than ever.