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Just Live Forever
It wasn’t a school; it was a prison.
The place was like a long, black box, sleek and shiny, like metal, but old and with wear and tear. People milled around the front yard, an expanse of dying, yellow grass and decaying picnic tables. The people ignored the barbed wire gate surrounding the yard and the four watch towers standing up around the yard, one in each quarter of the lot.
My mom’s hand was clammy on my shoulder, and for once, I didn’t nudge her off. I wanted to stay with her. I wanted to stay in Florida, where we didn’t have to wear big, fluffy coats during fall, and snow boots that had too-heavy soles. I looked up, but she wasn’t looking at me. “Just one year, okay hon?”
Her eyes were rimmed with red and her nose pink with cold. Her beret was cocked sloppily on her head, leaning ever so slightly to the right side. I tried to remember the moment, but it was over too soon.
A pudgy old man, wearing a thick winter coat and hat with a big pompom on top came bounding over. He moved like a bowling ball; fat, round, and with zero control of his direction. He wobbled to the right, then to the left, then right again, in a comical fashion. I tried not to laugh, but it was hard to conceal my smile.
Finally making it over, I discovered something else: I was at least a foot taller than him. He grinned, despite my expression of dismay. Holding out a chubby hand, he announced, “I am Mr. Jenkins, superintendent of JLF! And you must be Jamie, correct?!”
I took his hand gingerly, and shook. He wobbled uncertainly as another gust of wind blew in, then straightened himself. “Oh, goodness! I assure you that normally we do not experience this kind of weather! Oh well, where are your bags?”
I looked at my mom for help, but she had suddenly found the boots we had gotten only hours before extremely interesting. “Um… I don’t have any bags.”
A brief expression of confusion clouded Mr. Jenkin’s face, but when he realized what I was talking about, he straightened up, and grinned. “Oh, well… Okay, then. We’ll give you some spare clothes and a room. You can ask for your room card at the front desk.” Then, he just stood there, smiling blatantly.
I looked at him for a moment, then realizing that he would be of no help, walked up the sidewalk, stiffly. The gate doors opened without me touching them and swept me inside, before closing behind me again. I looked up at one of the watchtowers. They could document every one of my moves here. There was no escape.
I found the front desk, quickly, and told the lady behind the desk my name. “Jamie Sinnow.”
The lady behind the desk, a girl a little older than me, smiled and gave me a key. She had an unmemorable face, the only thing that made her a little different was her tan skin, that was too dark for her to be born with it, but too light for it to be fake. “Second door on the right,” she instructed, then went back to doing the daily Sudoku puzzle on her newspaper.
I smiled, grabbed the key, and made it only three steps before someone stepped in my way. “Who’s the new loser?” the girl asked. Her face was so close up in mine, that I thought she was talking to me. I could see her too-bleached teeth, and heavily applied make-up, way too close for my liking. She seemed to ignore the cold of the lobby, which frankly was even more freezing than the weather outside, by wearing shorts and a tank top. Her blond hair was spread out around her shoulders.
“Jamie Sinnow,” a voice behind her said. The girl backed up enough for me to see two others behind her, one was African American, with pretty, chocolatey eyes, and curly black hair and the other was white, paler than is healthy, and had piercing blue eyes and straight, brown hair. They were all dressed the same; in baby blue tank tops and neon green shorts that hurt my eyes.
The lead girl started to advance on me, and she was already too close for my liking. “What are you in for?” She sneered evilly, her overglossed lips glinting in the fluorescent light.
“None of your business,” someone interrupted behind them. The girls parted to let in another girl, one with big blue eyes and straight blonde hair. I thought she was going to fight me, too, but instead she stood next to me. “You guys are such idiots. Buh-bye.” She waved her hand in a mock baby expression. Surprisingly, the girls listened to her. They turned on their flip flops, and walked away.
I looked at the girl next to me. Looking at her up close made me realized that she was nothing like those other girls. Her blond hair was knotted and unbrushed. Her blue eyes had no overapplied mascara or eyeshadow. She had one little pimple on her nose. She wasn’t even wearing the mandatory tank top and neon green shorts. Instead, she wore a ratty hoodie and jeans. In a way, she was prettier than the other girls. “I’m Elsie,” she introduced. She held out her hand for a handshake.
I shook her hand. “I’m-”
“-Jamie, I know,” she finished. “I heard what they said.”
“Welcome to Just Live Forever. Or JLF, if you want to be exact.”
“Doesn’t it stand for Juvenile Living Facilities?”
“Whatever. Tomato, tamoto.”
“Thanks for standing up for me.”
Elsie smiled, but it seemed forced. “No one stood up for me,” she answered quietly, then brightening up, she added, “But, seriously, next time, I might not be there. You need to be able to face them.”
I squinted. “They bullied you, too?”
She laughed. “No. I was here longer than them. Three years ago, they were you, and I was them. It was… Before here.”
I squinted, but didn’t ask for any more information. “Why don’t they like me?” I asked, tentatively.
Elsie laughed. Suddenly, she seemed to realize that I was serious. “You don't know?”
Elsie hesitated. "Well, it might seem unfair..."
"Okay. What is it?!"
"It's because you're black."
“Shh.” Elsie clamped a hand on my mouth. A couple of the kids in the lobby turned to stare at me, but Elsie quickly covered for me. “Sorry. She found out where she was.” A couple of kids nodded, sympathetically and looked away. A few others lingered, but eventually turned back to their conversation. A couple made some faces, but eventually, no one was paying attention. “Look, that’s how their little brains are made to work. You can't make a big deal out of it."
"-Stupid, I know. But look, you can't let them get to you. They're idiots. Nothing more, maybe something less."
I steadied my breathing. "I'm gonna go up to her and punch her in her fat mouth."
"Don't. Trust me, you don't wanna do that."
"Trust me, I really do."
“In your head, It sounds like a good idea, but she can take you in a fact. She will demolish you.” Elsie was dead serious.
“Fine. Just a year.”
Elsie smiled. “I’m getting out at the end of the year, too… I know you probably don’t wanna talk about it, but what are you in for?”
I looked at Elsie, sideways, and she looked so innocent. But I knew I couldn’t trust her. If I couldn’t even trust Jared…
She took the hint. We walked in silence to my room.
As soon as we reached Room 36, I knew I was in for trouble. All over the door, there were stupid sign up sheets and paper hearts. It reeked of perfume and not even the sweet kind. Somberly, I inserted the key into the lock and twisted. Elsie was a few feet back, staring repoachfully at the pink hearts. Her nose was crumpled in distaste.
I opened the door and nearly had a heart attack: the three girls who had tormented me downstairs were sitting on the bed and chatting animately. It was foggy with perfume. I nearly fainted from the fumes. More pink hearts were all around the room, plastered on doors, walls, and the spare bed had been turned into a makeshift table. Music blared through the room ominously.
As I walked in, the girls dropped their lipsticks, and stared at me. “Are you the new cleaning lady?” The lead girl asked.
"Um... No. This is my room," I answered.
The lead girl wrinkled her nose. "There's gotta be some mistake. I requested for ZERO roommates. I guess they thought that you were nobody." Her cohorts laughed uncontrollably, even though it wasn't funny.
"Oh shut up, Chelsea," Elsie interrupted, "The administrator puts rooms according to brain power, not people. She probably thought that this room was empty, just like your head." Elsie left, not giving Chelsea enough time to figure out what she had said. When she got it, she turned to me. "Ok, weirdo, you get that side of the room-" she pointed to the second bed covered with makeup and tissues and the dresser that didn't have any paper hearts on it “-And I get this half.” She pointed to the bed where she was sitting with her friends. To be honest, it wasn’t exactly a half, but more a three quarters.
“Whatever.” I walked in and dropped the bag Mr. Jenkins had given me, full of clothes. I opened the dresser so I could jam everything in, but as I opened the top drawer, about 300 bottles of nail polish rolled out. I opened the next drawer, and thirty cases of eyeshadow stared up at me innocently, as well as forty different kinds of mascara.
“Um… Chelsea… This drawer is full… Of makeup.”
Chelsea laughed with her friends. “Oh. Sorry.” She laughed and I could tell that she wasn't sorry at all.
I grabbed the bag of clothes and stormed out. I would rather live in the hallway than live with Chelsea and her goons. Elsie was already standing there, looking at her watch. “Wow. Five minutes. I thought you would last two.”
I laughed. However terrifying Chelsea would be, I knew that I at least had one friend here. She took my bag for me, and slung her arm on my shoulder.
She laughed as we walked down the hallway, hands on each other’s shoulders.
To be Continued in Part 2