“Benjica, come outside and plaaaay with me!” Jared whined as if he were a young child.
He ran strong fingers through his blonde hair and slumped into the chair beside Benjica’s desk.
Her heart raced as it always did when he was near. She didn’t have to turn to look at him. She had memorized the lines of his strong jaw and wide smile. His tanned skin, smooth and masculine, haunted her thoughts daily. She took a breath to steady her resolve.
“No,” Benjica replied in her typical soft voice. “I have to study for the test.”
Jared gave her his most disapproving scowl. “Your name hasn’t even been pulled yet.” His protest was cut short by the look of guilt on his best friend’s face. “What? And you didn’t tell me? Benjica…why?”
“I couldn’t bear to spend the last of our time together here with you sulking… and I know you. You would have sulked around and made life miserable and then neither of us would have gotten any of our studies in… or any outside time in for that matter.”
She gave him her best ‘forgive me’ smile, and even though it was a forced smile, it was beautiful to him. He could remember the first time he saw her. She was three years old and had just been brought to the Facility for preschoolers. Her dark hair clung to her round rosy cheeks and her brown skin glistened against the white dress she wore. Jared was mesmerized at the tender age of four. Benjica had been surrounded by doting caretakers who seemed to want to do nothing else but play with her. Her laughter filled the room with joy. If it were in her nature, she could have been the spoiled brat who cried and instantly got her way. But she rarely cried… even now. Jared wondered if her heart was breaking the way his was, and then he glimpsed into her deep brown eyes and saw her agony as well.
“When do you test out?” His voice cracked with fear.
“The day after tomorrow.” Her answer was almost a whisper as she hung her head. “I was going to tell you tonight after dinner,” she headed off his accusing question before he could even form it on his lips.
“The day after tomorrow! We’re usually given a couple of weeks’ notice to prepare for the test… and for leaving.”
“I know,” Benjica’s throat tightened.
The thought of leaving Jared tormented her. She felt safe with him. It was more than that. She had vague memories of being held by her mother as a baby… of feeling loved. Jared made her feel warm and wanted, like the feelings she had when she allowed herself to sink into those memories.
He breathed deeply, took her hand,and in a very unlike Jared manner, he simply asked, “How can I help my best friend study so that she may fulfill her dreams and be accepted into Society?”
His smile indicated to her that he truly meant it. She blinked back a tear. This was how Jared said he loved her, and she knew he truly did. She pushed back the thoughts once again of how she would have to manage without him… and how he without her. They sat at her desk and started pouring over the computer screen reciting the answers to random questions that could be on the test until the buzzer sounded for dinner.
Benjica and Jared walked to the cafeteria side by side down the long white sterile corridor holding hands until they were in range of the first camera. Caretakers monitored activity through the use of these cameras and any act of intimate physical contact was strictly prohibited. They both wore the standard Facility issue white jumper as did the other students in the cafeteria.
Benjica took her place in the food line while Jared went to find where their friends were sitting. The line moved quickly as unidentifiable mounds of various colored food was plopped on each tray.
“Water or tea?” the food attendant asked.
There was never any other choice. Benjica chose the water as the tea was usually bitter. She carried her tray to a table on the far side of the room where Jared was motioning to her.
“So, what’s on the menu today?” he asked in a joking tone.
“Hmmm, it looks like purple mush with a sprig of green,” Benjica replied only half joking. The food might have been nourishing, but it was not very palatable.
“Sit here.” Sara patted the empty spot on the metal bench next to her. “You can get a better look at the TV from here.”
Television was not allowed in the individual rooms. It was on in the cafeteria on two screens, but the noise almost always drowned out the audio. Benjica didn’t care about having a view of the TV, but she didn’t want to hurt her friend’s feelings, so she sat and waited for Jared to get his meal before eating.
“Hey, look.” Tanisha, one of the identical twins sitting across from Sara pointed to the television screen.
“Oh my gosh,” Karmisha, her twin, gasped, staring at the program.
It was a commercial asking for donations to feed the starving children of The Continent. Benjica didn’t like these kinds of commercials. The scenes usually depicted filthy looking children living in conditions in sharp contrast to the sterile white walls of the Facility.
“Isn’t that Harold?” Jared asked as he rejoined the group, dinner in hand. “I thought he tested out about six months ago.”
The group murmured their agreement. Harold had not been a close friend, but he was pleasant to be around and they had all known him.
“He looks horrible.” Benjica shoved her tray away, unable to eat after seeing the grim footage.
“His eyes… they’re like… hollow,” Sara commented as if to say ‘How weird’.
“That must be just someone that looks like him.” Caleb reasoned.
“Well, to lighten the subject,” Jared patted Benjica on the back. “Our Benjica is up for testing in two days.”
“Congratulations!” Truman, a muscular youth with black almost shaven hair and deep brown skin clapped loudly. “You won’t have a bit of trouble with that test. We all know that you are the smartest one in our whole test grade.”
It was almost true. Benjica was very smart, but Karmisha and Tanisha were truly the smartest. They were identical twins of mixed Oriental and African descent with only the length of their smooth black hair to tell them apart.
“You will do fine,” said Caleb, the short red haired boy that finished out their group of friends.
Caleb wore glasses and appeared to be as round as he was tall. He had been bullied when he first got to this Facility. Karmisha had taken up for him. Where Karmisha was there was Tanisha, and where Tanisha was, Truman was usually not far behind. And being Truman’s best pal, there was Jared, and then of course Benjica. Caleb had the backing of the entire group from that day on.
“So, that means that we all agree that tomorrow, your last day here with us, you will spend with us on the beach, not crammed in your books,” Jared said in a commanding voice.
“Besides,” smirked Sara, the gossip of the group. “I heard one of the Caretakers tell Jimicohl, remember him… the short kid that could barely get through Foreign Languages?” She paused for effect and to wait for the giggles to end as they each pulled up a mental image of the poor kid who struggled so hard with his studies and acted the part of class clown to cover up for his inadequacies. “He was crying, so I started to go see what was wrong.” Sara continued her story in her dramatic fashion. “Then I saw Caretaker Jonah come up to him and I swear he said it didn’t matter… that the written part of the test wasn’t the deciding factor!”
They each gave her their ‘Yeah Right!’ looks simultaneously. EVERYONE knew how important the tests were. They studied for these tests daily. This was the fourth and final Facility. In order to go to the next level you had to test out. When you tested out of this level you were ready for life in Society with its beautiful cities and opulent lifestyles.
“You WILL do great!” The twins both hugged her at the same time.
Benjica loved her friends dearly. They were her family and she would miss them terribly. She felt guilty for not telling them sooner, but no one mentioned it. She silently thanked them for that. They made their plans for the next day and left the cafeteria at the last buzzer signifying it was time to return to their individual quarters and prepare for bed.
The Facility was on a small island with pristine sandy beaches and clear blue water on one side and a small mountain culminating in cliffs on the other. Palm trees surrounded the brick building that housed the Facility and a path led through the trees to the beach. Their group attended morning classes as usual, and then met at their lunch break. They ate quickly and exited the cafeteria separately.
Truman was the first to sneak past the guards. He was practiced at this. He quite often would sneak out at night to watch the waves and the sunset. Sometimes he would take a girl with him. Sometimes that girl was Tanisha. If he were a one girl guy, she would be that girl. But he had never known permanency and wasn’t going to let himself fall for a girl just before testing out and leaving.
Once Truman was outside and to the tree line, he climbed the first palm tree. When the guard was out of sight he motioned for the next to come. Benjica bent over slightly as she made a dash for the tree past Truman’s and slid behind it. Jared didn’t wait for the next signal and almost got caught when a guard in his stiff white tufted jacket, silver stun-gun holstered on his hip, doubled back. Jared plastered himself against the hot brick wall and held his breath. The guard turned and headed around the corner of the building and Jared wasted no time in making it one tree past Benjica. Caleb, being the cautious one, waited for Truman’s signal and crouched as he waddled to a small bush, pausing as if it would hide him from sight. Sara giggled at Caleb and started out when Truman urged him on. Tanisha and Karmisha were small and quick. They darted past Sara and then past Caleb and disappeared into the vegetation before Sara and Caleb made it to Truman who was scurrying down the tree.
Feeling the exuberance of freedom, Jared grabbed Benjica’s hand and swung it playfully.
“I betcha I can beat you to the water,” he teased.
Benjica knew that he could without even trying. He was strong and fast. She looked at him and smiled uncontrollably. Tall with broad shoulders and sandy blond hair, Jared was the most handsome boy she had ever known. His eyes were kind, and the touch of his golden skin was gentle and caring. He was protective of her too. Once, Jared had put himself in jeopardy of being expelled to defend Benjica’s honor. He had put one of the boys in the infirmary and scared the others enough that Benjica was not bothered again. To face the possibility of being kicked out for her sake, that was loyalty.
She kissed his cheek and started running before giggling out, “You’re on!”
They sprinted to the water’s edge and playfully splashed each other, laughing as if they had no cares. Truman, Karmisha, and Tanisha caught up with them joining in on the fun. Truman, showing off as usual, picked up both of the petite twins and carried them in to the water in an attempt to dunk them. Karmisha wiggled away giggling. Tanisha put her arms around Truman’s neck and held on.
“There is no way I’m going under unless you do too.” Her voice held a challenge, and Truman was never one to back away from a challenge. He made several attempts to unlock her hold without hurting her. Finally he decided that it was worth going under to dunk her and under they went.
Gasping for air as they emerged from the salty water, Tanisha let go to wipe the water from her eyes before opening them. Truman held on to her, his dark skin contrasted strikingly with hers. She looked deeply into his hazel eyes.
“Are you studying me like one of your books?” He teased.
“I am. I want to memorize every part of your eyes, your lips…” she put her lips to his. Karmisha interrupted with a playful splash and the moment was gone.
Sara and Caleb lagged behind. She kicked the water as hard as she could and sent the water splashing.
“That’s not fair,” Caleb protested. “Your legs are like twice as long as mine!”
He turned his next splash attempt towards Sara and kicked as hard as he could. She jumped out of the spray’s reach and retaliated. Sara, tall and long legged, did have the advantage over Caleb, who was barely five foot and six inches tall. They were both overweight and took solace with each other’s company when feeling inadequate around the ‘dream team’. Sara was not unattractive, but neither was she a natural beauty. She had mastered the art of being a social butterfly, however. There was not a group of students at the Facility that Sara did not know and speak with, not a Caretaker either for that matter. Today she had her medium length strawberry blond hair pulled back in a ponytail letting the natural curls that fell loose bounce around her round face.
Caleb looked as if he had the facial hair of a forty year old. He had given up on daily shaving as he always had the proverbial five o’clock shadow cover his face by three pm. Unless a Caretaker happened to remind him of it, he let it go. Today, he had the making of a short beard.
“Take that!” Sara kicked up enough spray to spot Caleb’s glasses.
“Enough!” Caleb tried to wipe his glasses but only managed to smear the saltwater. “When I get to Society and start making money I’m going to get a surgery to repair this vision and throw away these stupid glasses.”
“We’ll have a party to celebrate!” Sara danced around in a circle. “We will put your glasses on the floor and take turns stomping on them.”
“You’d celebrate anything.” Caleb put his smeared glasses back on and gave the water a good kick in Sara’s direction sending her squealing with glee as they caught up with the rest of the group.
After a couple of hours in and out of the water, they hiked up the mountain. Weaving around the green tropical trees, sidestepping flowers, they made their way to a large rock that jutted out. Benjica laid back on the cool rock and stared into the clear sky.
“Let’s stay out tonight and watch the sunset.” Benjica suggested.
“No way,” Caleb protested. “We will already be in enough trouble for skipping classes without adding missing an evening meal to it.”
“But sometimes I look at this island and I think about Society. Those cities could never compare to sandy beaches and the beautiful sunsets off the cliffs with nothing but the water on the horizon.”
“I don’t know,” Sara chimed in, “I like to dream about skyscrapers and all the people to perform in front of.”
“Perform? I thought you were going to be a reporter.” Truman challenged her.
“Reporting is performing.” Sara flipped her hair and posed briefly. “Come on, let’s go. We have a surprise planned for you at dinner.”
Truman nudged Sara to keep quiet but she just grinned at him. She loved being the one to tell secrets. The rest of the group knew it too, but she wouldn’t be left out… and she was quite fun to be around, so they loved her in spite of it.
They sat in silence, knowing their world was about to change.
“I love you guys. Thank you for coming here with me.” Benjica took a deep breath as if to soak in the smells of the moment. “I guess we had better get back.”
“Okay.” Jared stood and held a hand out to Benjica. “Our Cinderella doesn’t want to turn into a pumpkin.” Benjica took his helping hand and they led the group back to the building the fastest route they knew. Getting in was easier than getting out had been, but they were running late and had to run in between cameras down the hall to change before dinner.
“Make it fast!” Jared squeezed Bejica’s hand lightly before letting go. “Meet you back here in five.”
“Man, you know it will be ten minutes before these fine ladies are ready!” Truman chided him.
“Compromise,” Sara yelled back towards the boys as they ran to their rooms. “Seven!”
Benjica made it back in six minutes flat. Her hair was brushed tidily under a headband. She had changed back into one of the standard white jumpers as did they all. Sun kissed cheeks were the only sign of their outing.
After eating dinner that night her friends offered what little they had to give as going away gifts. Material things were not to be had, so memories shared, poetry, and songs were the cherished gifts. Sara recited a brief history of the group of friends, who came when and who had left already. She bowed exaggeratedly as the group clapped when she finished.
Caleb presented Benjica with a drawing he had done in pencil of her and Jared on the beach. She clutched it to her.
“This is so lifelike, Caleb. I am always amazed at what you can do with just paper and pencil. Thank you. I will cherish it forever.”
Tanisha and Karmisha sang a silly nursery rhyme song inserting each of the friend’s names strategically as the group howled with laughter. Truman gave his impression of a news anchor in his rendition of their lives as the rich and famous in ten years’ time. As the evening wound down, the tone turned somber. Jared kneeled in front of Benica as he recited a poem he had composed for her.
I’ve heard it said that eyes
are the mirror to the soul.
Your eyes beckon me to follow
and willingly I go.
I will awaken to a nightmare,
because you will be gone.
And daily I will live like this
yet for you I ‘ll be strong.
The thought of you ignites me
as the fire lights within.
My heart will wake from slumber
when it is with you once again.
Benjica’s tears were uncontrollable as they silently traced her rounded lips. Jared had never kissed those lips, although he had dreamed of it. Fear of destroying their friendship maybe, he didn’t know why at this moment that he had never done so. He bent down to her and gently wiped her tears with his lips forgetting for a moment about the cameras and the life around them… and the impending separation. Benjica let herself feel everything Jared was saying with the soft touch of his moist lips. The room spun and disappeared for a split second before reality slammed back in.
“Guys! That was so… beyond!” Tanisha squealed.
Sensing that the caretaker monitors were closing in, Truman put his arms around his friends and roared.
“Man! Am I going to miss you two. Jared won’t be Jared as we know him without you, Benjica.”
“At least it won’t be for long,” Jared gazed into Benjica’s sad eyes. “We will all be testing out soon and when we do, we will find each other.”
Sara held her arms out wide as she proclaimed. “And live out our lives in luxury. Goodbye Facility, hello Society!”
Benjica had exhausted herself hoping it would help her sleep. Her plan only half worked. She awoke at four am from a nightmare where she was being pulled by Jared and her friends on one side and the haunting hands of Harold’s sickly body on the other trying to pull her in to the Continent and certain death. Harold turned into a ghostly image of her mother and she woke drenched in sweat. She spent the early morning hours that she should have been asleep writing a letter to Jared. She didn’t even try to hold back her tears as she put down on paper her feelings for him along with the promise that they would be together again. She ended the letter writing what her lips could never say, and kissed those three words to seal it in her heart.
The morning alarm sounded to Benjica like a hateful reminder that she must leave alone and lonely. She got dressed, brushed her teeth and hair, and looked around the room for anything that belonged to her that she might have forgotten to pack. The room didn’t look much different than it did before she packed, she mused. There was her little bed, two chairs, and a small desk, just like the day she came.
Caretaker Jonah arrived to escort her to her final test. She sighed in relief at the sight of the trusted Caretaker, knowing she could entrust him with her letter for Jared.
“Certainly, I’ll make sure Jared gets this. I am going to miss you, Benjica. You have certainly brightened these stark halls with your warm smile.”
All of the caretakers were friendly, but most had a way of staying somewhat distanced from the students. Caretaker Jonah was different. He had not allowed himself to become jaded and indifferent like so many of the veteran caretakers had. He seemed to allow himself to have feelings for them.
“It must be hard for you to watch over us and then watch us each leave.”
“Sometimes it truly is.” His smile seemed to fade for a second. “Come now.” He escorted her down the stark cold hall to the testing room.
Benjica was instructed to set her Facility issued suitcase with her modest belongings in a locker. The testing room was the standard white walls, floors, and ceiling like the rest of the Facility. There was a computer and a pad of blank paper on a desk against one wall. The air smelled a bit like disinfectant and the room was chilly.
“Here, dear,” an elderly female caretaker that Benjica had seen a few times guided her to a seat. The caretaker, dressed in white from head to toe as all caretakers were, put on a pair of medical gloves and picked up a needle.
“We must take a little blood sample to go with the test.”
Benjica was used to this, but she asked once again.
“Why do we always have to give blood samples?”
“Sit here and hold this,” the caretaker said dryly as she handed Benjica a small rubber ball. “Make a fist please.”
Benjica complied as a vile of blood was drawn. She then turned to the computer monitor and pressed START. The exam was not as difficult as she anticipated. There were the standard math, science, and language questions with a few psychological indicators thrown in now and then. The whole test lasted only an hour. She felt more than confident that she had aced it.
The look on the Caretaker’s face as she read the results spit out by the computer said otherwise.
“I’m so sorry dear,” was all Benjica heard.
“What? There must be a mistake! Check again!” Benjica demanded. “Check again!”
It came out as a shriek, a cry for help as she frantically searched for an escape from the guards that had stepped in with their white jackets and small silver stun guns. Her last thoughts were of Jared as she felt the sting and she was out immediately.
Jared read the letter Caretaker Jonah had given him from Benjica one more time before he folded it neatly and put it away. She had been gone six months now. He thought about the wondrous things she might be doing at a university studying to be a doctor or scientist. He daydreamed about finding her and taking her in his arms and repeating those three words back to her. He wanted to be alone with his thoughts, but Caleb found him.
“We’ve been looking for you.” Caleb pushed his glasses back in place.
“Who’s ’we’?” Jared knew the ‘we’ would be Caleb and the twins. Sara and Truman had already tested out.
“You know what I mean. It’s just that our little group of friends is slowly being torn apart and I miss it. You always have your nose in your studies… and you’re scheduled to test in a week. What will I do when you’re gone?”
“You’ll still have the twins.”
“Nooo! Didn’t you hear? They got their tests scheduled today. Two weeks. Both of them!”
“At least they’ll be leaving at the same time.”
“Well, almost. I think the tests are two hours apart. That’s about how long they can stand to be away from each other.”
Caleb said it jokingly, but there was some truth to it. Karmisha and Tanisha had been separated once when they were much younger. It had been hard on them. They knew there would be a day when they would be required to live on their own, but it didn’t feel right when they were apart from each other.
On his last day at the Facility, Jared and Caleb played chess in the commons area. As competitive as they were, they knew the winner would play one of the twins…and lose. Chess was their game. Tanisha and Karmisha had a way of looking at the chess board as if it was alive and they could see where the pieces wanted to go. They were equally as good at other strategic games. Caleb teased that they should pursue careers in the military instead of medicine with their talent.
Caleb won. For a brief moment he was proud and full of himself…until Karmisha took her turn and check-mated him in three moves. She was modest as always. Caleb didn’t care. Getting beat by the beautiful Karmisha was, after all, the highlight of his day. He leaned closer to her and smiled.
“Two out of three?” He asked.
He had no way of knowing that she was as smitten with the short, red-head as he was with her. In his eyes, she had everything going for her. She should be with someone like Truman who takes the world with both hands because she deserved no less. In her eyes, Caleb was a diamond in the rough. What he lacked in physical grace, he made up for in sensitivity. He was an artist in temperament as well as in talent. Caleb’s talent did not stop with the sketches and paintings, mostly of the twin with long hair, but he also had a way with words. When he opened up to Karmisha, which was rare as they were hardly alone, he painted pictures with those words that touched her soul. She put her hand on top of his as he reached for the fallen chess king piece.
“Let Jared and Tanisha play.” She stood and moved away from the chess table, gently pulling Caleb with her. “Where do you hope go to study art?” She asked as they took a seat to the side.
“I was hoping for somewhere a little less tropical,” he replied. “Not cold, just not somewhere where people run around in next to nothing showing off their six pack abs.” He looked down at his less than chiseled self and made a funny face.
“I know what you mean. I get tired of comparing myself with tanned curves bouncing on the beach.”
“What! Those girls could never compare to you.” Caleb hesitated and then decided to go on. He might not get another chance. “You not only have the beauty but also the brains to back it up. When those bimbos out there have lost their curves and have wrinkles from years of careless sunning, what will they have left? You will still be beautiful and probably own the plastic surgery practice they come to for help.” His voice was light hearted but soft as he continued. “Your hair is so smooth…may I?” He stroked her sleek black hair and let his fingers run through it as if memorizing its texture. “Where would you like to go in Society?”
“I want the mid-west I think. Seasons…I want to see a winter turn into spring, and summer into fall. It’s like life. Every year you can be reminded that life, like the seasons, is a cycle. A time to live, a time to die. I want to be a surgeon that makes a difference in life or death…and I know that even the best can’t save everyone. So, it will make it easier to lose a patient if I am reminded that life is not meant to go on forever.” Her voice trailed off. She didn’t want to turn the moment into something morbid. She quickly changed the subject. “Where do you think Benjica, Sara, and Truman are?”
“I envision Benjica at a university with a research lab, somewhere very sophisticated. Sara,” he paused. “I bet she makes it into broadcasting school…behind the scenes if not in front of the camera. I don’t know about Truman. He could do anything!”
“Tanisha said he thought about the military. You know they had a thing going.” Karma whispered, not wanting her sister to know she was telling a secret.
“I know. I saw them out a few times after hours. If it were me sneaking around, I’d get caught!”
“Me too!” They laughed loud enough to catch Jared and Tanisha’s attention. “So, who won?”
“Who do you think?” Jared answered with a frown.
Tanisha just laughed. She thought about letting Jared win as a going away present, but he would know she had let him win and wouldn’t like it, so she didn’t.
Lights out came too early for the friends. They hugged and said their sad goodbyes.
Jared awoke with anticipation. He had packed his few possessions the night before. The knock came as expected, and he was ushered to the test site. His blood was drawn, his test was easy, and he was on his way to Society.
Jared ducked his head to avoid the wind from the helicopter blades as he boarded the craft. From the air he could see the island in its entirety. He watched until it became a pin dot in the distance and then settled himself to take in his immediate surroundings. The helicopter was small with only two rear seats. The other was empty. The flight took just over an hour. Jared was deposited on a roof top landing pad with a marked walkway to a single entrance with the word Welcome on the door. The door opened automatically as Jared approached. Inside he was met by university scouts eager to win his signing.
“Wow, I didn’t expect to be so popular right off the bat!” Jared looked around to see if there were other students, but saw none.
A middle aged woman wearing a tailored dress suit cut through the crowd with her hand extended.
“Welcome, Jared. I am Counselor Miday. I will be guiding you through your decision process. Rest assured, you don’t have to make a decision today. But as high as your aptitude scores were, you can see there are a lot of interested universities represented here.”
Most adults that Jared knew were caretakers. Most caretakers were not this happy. Counselor Midday’s smile was wide and genuine.
“Nice to meet you, Counselor.”
Jared accepted her handshake and allowed her to guide him to a plush sofa with an expensive looking table in front of it. He set his suitcase down and slid it under the table with his foot.
“Can I ask where a former classmate of mine was signed? I would really like to be at least in the same vicinity.”
“I am so sorry. We are not allowed to give out information on students. You could be an unwanted suitor for all we know….privacy laws and such being what they are… it would take a judiciary act to get that kind of information!”
She kept her voice lighthearted but the underlying tone said she meant every word. The next two hours were spent acquiring information from the universities and narrowing down his options.
“Since we don’t want you get lost your first day in Society, we have arranged for you to spend the night here.” Counselor Miday stood up as if to leave. Jared looked around for a pull- out bed. Seeing his confusion, she laughed. “I didn’t mean here in this office! Heavens no! The rest of the building is a hotel of sorts, for housing students during their interim time. There is a restaurant on the first floor, and I’m sure these fine universities will pick up your tab there. There is even a dance club to relax and meet other students and have a little interaction, if you aren’t worn out from your exciting day that is! You have been assigned to room 1022. Simply press your index finger to the lock sensor. It has been programmed to your bio. Elevators are in the hall. This is penthouse suite B. I expect you to return tomorrow at 9am and we will start narrowing down your options.”
Jared thanked Counselor Miday and nodded to the university representatives. He picked up his suitcase and headed towards the elevators. Riding in silence to the 10th floor, he tried to take it all in. The elevator was fully mirrored and ran silently with only a faint “ding” to announce the selected floor. He stepped out onto plush carpet and looked around in amazement. The facilities where he had spent his childhood were sterile with slick white tile and clean bright walls. This hotel was a sharp contrast to that. The carpet, soft beneath his feet, was a cobalt blue with a fleur de leis pattern bordering the edges. There was no clacking sound when he walked, like the noise his shoes made on the tile Facility floors. The walls were embossed with matching fleur de leis designs on the top and a rich wood wainscoting below. Chandeliers lit the hallway with warm light dancing from the crystal drops. Jared had never seen anything like it.
“Something isn’t it?”
A voice interrupted his thoughts. He turned to see a young man about 18 years of age and close to seven foot tall standing outside a nearby doorway.
“That’s an understatement.” Jared answered.
“Mandel.” The young man simply said.
“Jared.” He answered.
“A few of us are going down to dinner in half an hour if you want to join us?”
“Sure. I’m in 1022. Let me know when you head down. Thanks, man.”