Normally the last place I would want to be at 8 AM on a Saturday morning was at school, but here I was. The cafeteria was not as stuffy and stale as usual. The smell of yesterday’s tacos was still lingering, but at least it was a less nauseating smell. It took a back seat to the hope that could be felt in the air; it was almost tangible. There were fewer tables than normal, and they were all pushed along the periphery of the square-shaped cafeteria. The college reps sat against the wall so that the students could gather on the other side of the tables.It was the annual college fair, and Principal Mayner had talked it up so much that I was actually kind of excited to be there. James Adams High School had not only received the highest test scores in the state this year, but we also had a state championship football team. That kind of prestige brought in lots of interest from the surrounding universities and colleges. My parents and in turn I had always assumed I would go to Boise State like both of my parents did, but now the idea of not following in their footsteps, seemed rather appealing.
I didn’t notice that my best friend Jenna had come up beside me and she startled me when she said, “I still can’t believe you dragged me here on a Saturday morning. What’s the point anyway?”
“Hey we can’t all be Harvard bound.” I laughed nervously, trying to make the mood lighter. “Plus, you owe me. I am still having nightmares about the periodic table after studying for that test with you for fifty million hours.”
“Ya, ya.” Jenna snapped back.
Jenna had been my best friend as long as I could remember. We became friends because even way back in kindergarten I was the only one who could put up with her annoying and competitive ways. It’s not like people were knocking down my door to be my friend and most of the time Jenna was okay as long as you knew how to deal with her. She couldn’t be all bad since she was the only person there for me while the rest of the student body didn’t even seem to notice that I existed.
“Well, that definitely looks like the school for you,” snarked Jenna as she pointed to a booth surrounded by football players and cheerleaders.
“Oh you know me so well,” I said as I smiled a huge fake grin at her.
“They must be giving out free food,” Jenna said, laughing.
“Or free shoes.” I laughed with her.
Jenna and I spent the next hour walking around the cafeteria collecting the free pens, folders, and pamphlets each school was handing out.
“So what happened to Boise?” Jenna asked.
“I don’t know,” I replied. “It just seems so safe. I know that sounds weird, but I mean look at you. You’re going to a school super far away, that’s like the best in the world.”
“Well, we can’t all be as great as I am.” Jenna joked.
“Ha ha,” I joked back. “I just wanted to see if there was another road out there for me to take. But judging by today, I guess there isn’t.”
“Well there is one booth left.” Jenna said, looking at the booth that had been surrounded earlier by the jocks and cheerleaders. “I guess they ran out of the free food and shoes.”
“Might as well.” I said as I walked grudgingly towards the booth, fully expecting to be disappointed.
“Well I at least know why the cheerleaders were hanging out here-- Yummm,” whispered Jenna as we approached the booth.
Sitting at the booth were two guys approximately our age. The first had beach blonde hair and piercing blue eyes, the same color as the ocean on a sunny and clear day. The second guy was even better looking than the first with chocolate hair and a sun-kissed tan skin, but the same dazzling blue eyes.
“How’z it? I’m Rhys and this is Jesse,” the first guy said as he flashed a gorgeous smile. When he smiled I felt like there was a force that pulled me in closer to him, a force that demanded I not only pay attention to what he said but also follow his every command. “You ladies interested in Vega Preparatory Academy?”
“Yeah we are,” Jenna said, dragging her words to add emphasis. “I’m Jenna and this is Mia,” she said, pushing me forward. Jenna must have felt the same force from Rhys’s smile. I had never before seen her attempt to flirt and I had to admit, she was almost good at it.
“Nice to meet you,” I said as I nervously stuck out my hand. The moment I saw my hand out in front of me I regretted my decision. What kind of eighteen year-old shakes another eighteen year-old’s hand?
Rhys looked at my hand for a split second and then warmly reached out his own to shake mine. Jesse looked at me for a second longer and then finally shook my hand too. When he took my hand into his I felt a tingling spread from my fingers to the rest of my body. I pulled my hand away from Jesse quickly and looked down at the ground. Had he felt that too?
“Where are you guys from? ‘Cause your accent is so cool.” Jenna gushed, giving me time to think about what had just happened. I had never felt that kind of sensation when I had touched a boy before. Granted I hadn’t touched many boys, but that couldn’t be normal. I finally looked up when Rhys began to speak.
“I’m from Australia,” Rhys said, “and Jesse’s from New Zealand.”
Jesse stepped forward, interrupting the conversation. He stood like a soldier called to attention. When he began to speak his voice squeaked like he was nervous, but he continued on all business. “Vega Preparatory Academy, or VPA, is a small university, but don’t be fooled by its size. We give an education even better than Harvard, Yale or any of those Ivy League schools.”
“Um, better then Harvard?” Jenna said incredulously. “Then how come I have NEVER heard of you? Last I checked VPA wasn’t even on the top 100 best colleges in the US, much less the first.”
I could tell that Jenna was trying to stay in control of the volume of her voice, but by the time she finished her tiny tirade her voice has escalated enough that the people at the booths near us were turning around to see what the commotion was about.
Rhys stepped back in, smile in place. “I think what Jesse was meaning to say is that VPA gives an education that rivals with any Ivy League school. Most of our graduates stay in house to work for Vega Corporation after university. And most people haven’t heard of us because we are such a small school. Our entering classes are usually around thirty people.”
Rhys’s charismatic and charming way with people made him even more attractive than he initially was.
“Oh, well that makes sense,” Jenna smiled back at Rhys.
“So are either of you in the top five percent of your class?” Jesse asked.
“We both are, thank you.” Jenna snapped, obviously offended, as she stepped toward Jesse.
“But I am already going to that better known school you talked about earlier. You know, Harvard?” she continued arrogantly.
I pulled Jenna back by her shirt as I stepped forward to grab a pamphlet and free pen. “Your school looks great. Thanks,” I said, trying not to blush of embarrassment as I ushered Jenna away from the booth.
“Can you believe that guy?” Jenna asked furiously.
Jesse was kind of short with us, but I didn’t like it when Jenna would jump to conclusions about people. Besides in this situation Jenna didn’t ever give Jesse the chance to finish a thought.
“I think he just wanted to promote his school, you know?” I tried to explain rationally.
“Okay, it is one thing to promote your school, but completely another to put down all of the greatest schools in the nation. I mean, even if I wasn’t going to Harvard I would be just as pissed.” Jenna said, calming down a little.
“Mm hmm,” I replied, knowing full well that Jenna would have definitely been less upset if she were not going to Harvard.
“Remember how you shook their hands?” Jenna said, beginning to laugh.
“What?” I asked, feeling stupid. I knew it was a dumb thing to do, but I wasn’t about to let Jenna know that. “We shook all of the other college reps’ hands.”
“Yeah, but they were all like fifty years old,” Jenna said, between bursts of laughter.
“I gotta go to the bathroom,” I said, now annoyed.
I wanted to be annoyed at Jenna but really I was annoyed with myself for doing something so stupid. Leave it to me to meet the best looking guys in the world and do something so uncool.
“I’ll wait for you outside,” Jenna said, walking towards the exit and still laughing at me.
I went to the bathroom, threw down my stuff next to the sink, and waited until I couldn’t hear Jenna’s snickering anymore. I looked in the mirror and twirled my shoulder-length brown hair around my finger. It was the one physical attribute that I actually liked about myself. People would always compliment me on how it would glisten, and had tints of red and gold in the sun.
I picked up all of the junk I had been given that day and the VPA pamphlet fell out onto the floor. As I picked it up, I flipped through it quickly. It was located in Colorado. If I did want to go away to school Colorado was still pretty close to Idaho, but far enough away so that I could be independent. As I continued to look at the pamphlet, I noticed there was something weird. There were pictures of people all over the pamphlet, but they were all either outside on a lawn or looked like they were professional portraits taken with fake backgrounds. There wasn’t a single picture of a building, classroom, or dorm room anywhere. That seemed strange but I didn’t give it much thought as I stuck the pamphlet back in with the rest of my stuff and walked out of the bathroom.
“Mia,” I jumped as I heard a voice from behind me. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.”
I turned around to see Rhys pushing himself off of the wall by the bathroom door that he was leaning against. Was he standing there waiting for me? No, it must just be a coincidence, right?
“Oh, hey, Rhys,” I said with slight hesitation.
“You headed home?” Rhys asked as he stood amazingly close to me and looked at me intently with his big, blue eyes.
I felt so bad that while I got to survey such beauty, he had to look at me.
“Yeah,” I said, flustered and unsure of what else to say.
“Looks like you’ve got some good information there,” he said, looking down at my stack of pamphlets.
“Yeah, I guess,” I said still nervous.
Wow Mia, you are quite the conversationalist today.
“So, have you decided where you want to go to university yet?” Rhys asked as he pushed his gorgeous blonde hair out of his eyes.
“Um I always thought I would go to Boise State like my parents did ‘cause they met there so they always wanted me to go there, plus it’s close to home so I can see my sisters all the time,” I said allin one breath.
Way to tell him your whole life story Mia.
“You have sisters?” Rhys inquired.
“Yeah, I’m the oldest of four.”
“Are they all as cute as you are?” Rhys asked genuinely.
“Um,” I could already feel myself blushing. “They are definitely cuter than I am.”
“Well that’s pretty hard to believe,” Rhys said with a wink.
I couldn’t tell if he was being serious or making fun of me. It seemed like he was serious but the more likely option was that he was making fun of me. Either way the conversation made me uncomfortable.
After he took a breath, he continued, “So have you thought about Vega Prep at all?”
“Uh yeah,” I said, relieved that he had changed the subject.
It wasn’t technically a lie. I had just looked at the pamphlet in the bathroom.
“I know Jesse can come on a little strong, but VPA is really a great school. We all become like a family because the school is so small,” Rhys promoted.
“Uh, that reminds me. I had a question. About your school. The pamphlet is interesting, but how come it’s so different from other schools’ pamphlets? Like it seems,” I paused. I wanted to get my point across without offending him, “Well, I don’t know, different.”
“VPA is different. If you are looking for the normal university experience Vega isn’t for you. But you seem like you may be looking for a change of pace,” Rhys said hopefully. He was looking at me as if he were studying my reaction.
“Different could be really good,” I said, now quite interested in the school. One thing I knew I wanted in life was to become something more than I was, and if VPA was different, maybe it would give me what I wanted. Plus there were at least two hot boys there. Even if one was slightly uptight.
“I have a small confession,” said Rhys, smiling. “I knew who you were. I mean, before you even came up to our booth.”
“What?” I asked. I was definitely confused.
“We have a couple of students picked out before we come to every school. Students that would thrive and fit into our dynamic at Vega,” Rhys answered. “You have really good test scores and great grades. Plus the extra-curricula’s we look for.”
His answer to my question made me even more confused than before.
“Jenna has better grades and test scores than I do. Are you thinking about her?” I asked, realizing that this must have been a case of mistaken identity.
“No, Mia,” Rhys said as he looked directly into my eyes. “We came for you. At Vega we have different criteria for what we look for in our students than the other schools do. I just wanted you to know, as soon as you decide to come, you are in.”
“Like after I apply, I should probably get in?” I tried to clarify.
“No, you are in the school. You are right for us and we are right for you,” Rhys said with so much conviction that he had me convinced.
“I guess I’ll get back to you?” I asked, still not sure of the conversation that had just taken place.
“Sounds good to me,” Rhys said through his beautiful smile.
As I walked toward the door of the cafeteria to join Jenna outside, I felt different. Instead of my usual feelings of being invisible and treated like an outsider, I felt confident. When I neared the door I noticed a big group of cheerleaders gathered together whispering, looking at me. And then it dawned on me; they were talking about me. It probably wasn’t anything good judging from the looks on their faces, but I had to admit, after being ignored for so long, it felt good to be talked about.
“Holy crap, Mia, I’ve been waiting for an eternity.” Jenna huffed.
“Calm down,” I said, voicing my new found confidence.
Jenna looked slightly surprised at the remark, but fell right back into her complaining.
“Seriously, did you take like the longest crap ever?” Jenna added.
“Nope,” I said giddily. “Rhys stopped me and asked if I would consider VPA.”
“Nuh uh!” Jenna exclaimed, unable to keep the jealousy from creeping into her voice.
“So are you really thinking about it? What are Nancy and Yuuki going to think?”
Ugh. I hadn’t remembered my parents in all of this. They wouldn’t be happy that all of a sudden I wanted to move to Colorado to go to a school that neither of them had ever heard of.
“Um, can we maybe keep this from Nancy and Yuuki for now? I mean, it is just an option right? I may not even get in,” I lied. I didn’t know why I wasn’t telling Jenna I was already in the school. I guess it seemed too weird to say out loud.
“I don’t know, Mia, you know me and Yuuki are tight,” joked Jenna.
“Shut up,” I said, surprised that my newfound confidence had taken over again.
The diner was relatively small. There were six booths and there were twelve stools at the lunch counter that backed onto the kitchen. Uncle Don, as always, was in the kitchen stirring up something delicious. Everything in the diner had a sixties feel to it. I don’t know if the feeling was kept on purpose or if the diner had not been remodeled since then, but either way it felt homey. As I walked through the diner I saw most of our “regulars” sitting at their normal booths. There was one woman who I didn’t recognize sitting at the counter. Granted I only saw a mass of black hair since she had her head down.
“You’re late, Mia,” Uncle Don whispered as I came behind the counter. He seemed annoyed with me. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the woman flip her long mass of hair to the other side of her head. As her hair flipped out of her face, I realized that she was one of the most beautiful women I had ever seen. Everything about her oozed movie star, but I didn’t recognize her from any movie I had seen. Her straight, jet black hair fell down her back to about her elbows. She had the Pilates look about her, thin but still toned. Her skin was unusually light for how dark her hair was. Her bright green eyes looked dull and bored with the situation before her. Her lips were thin and tightly drawn and all of the features on her face were hardened, like she had been angry for a long time. I looked away quickly when I realized I had been staring.
“Sorry, Uncle Don,” I said as I kissed his cheek. “I told you I had that college fair this morning.”
“Well don’t go again,” Uncle Don whispered, not sounding annoyed anymore, just sad.
I knew that the last thing Uncle Don wanted was for me to go away to school. He would be one of the people I would miss most. Part of me wanted to get as far away as I possibly could, and part of me never wanted to leave.
“I don’t know what the diner would do without you, Mia.” Uncle Don said.
“Mia, don’t leave us!” One of our regulars, Joe, yelled over from his seat.
“You know the diner will be fine,” I said as I smiled at Uncle Don. “Plus, I am only ever here on Saturday mornings anyway. You’ll hardly even realize I left.”
“You’re wrong, sweet girl. But don’t worry this old man has seen many a pretty lady come and go in his day,” Uncle Don said as he walked to the kitchen.
I started wiping the counter. I would have to get one of my sisters to work here when I left. It would be great for Uncle Don and nice for any of my sisters. I loved working here, being a part of something that had such a legacy. Between Uncle Don and the regulars, I had learned more than I ever had at school. I loved to hear the tidbits of animated conversation as people talked about the good old days. A tornado could have blown through here and none of them would have even stopped talking, I thought smiling. I wiped the counter as close as I could to the woman without bothering her, when she suddenly reached out for my arm. I tried to pull it back before she could grab it, but she was too fast.
She looked up at me as she squeezed my arm.
“Ow,” I mumbled.
She didn’t loosen her grip.
“Don’t go to Vega Prep,” she said dangerously.
“What?” I was completely perplexed. How in the heck did she know that I was even thinking about the school?
“Just don’t go, or I promise, bad things will begin to happen.”
The mystery woman let go of my arm and quickly glided out the door.
I realized I hadn’t breathed for like the last minute. I let out my breath and rubbed my arm. The funny part was I wasn’t really scared. It had felt too much like I had been watching a movie. The mystery woman was way too beautiful to be a real bad guy. I jumped as I heard Uncle Don’s voice behind me.
“Oh that strange woman finally left. She has been sitting here for days, ordering cups of coffee she would never drink. She would be waiting outside for me every day when I opened, and would sit on that same stool ‘til closing,” he said, pointing to where she had been sitting.
“Seemed like she was waiting for something,” he continued.
“Or someone,” I said under my breath.
“What was that, Mia?” Uncle Don asked kindly.
“Uh, yeah, that is super strange,” I said quietly.
So the woman was waiting here, for me, for days, to tell me not to go to Vega Prep. That was already weird. What was even weirder, I hadn’t even heard of Vega Prep until this morning.