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Author's note: Please give me any advice you have! Perhaps anything you think will make the story better. All advice will be greatly appreciated. Just to let you know, I started this on a whim, and I know it needs a lot of work! This is just a rough, rough, rough draft! :)
Life can take you into some pretty strange places, no matter where you’re from or what your history is. Two years ago I was just a normal teenager, 14 years old to be exact, who was living an almost nonexistent life. Outside of my little Mississippi community, very people knew my name or had ever heard of me. But that’s all changed. And even though I’ll always be a small town girl, I’m never going back.
“All systems go! Prepare for jump!” The pilot crackles over the radio. I glance out the helicopter door just to remind myself how high we are, then I turn to see four pairs of eyes looking back at me, “Alright! Let’s review our assigunments! Rilen! Are all trackers and monitors in place? Do we need to run any more tech checks?” The red headed girl sitting at a nearby computer shakes her head, “We’re good to go!” I turn to the brunette next to me, “Sadie, go over the plan once more!” Sadie smiles and then points at the fold down map, “Once we jump from the helicopter, Brooke and myself will go straight to looking for the cabin! Eli, you take our right flank and Dayton, you take the left! Rilen, you try to stay between them and alert us if you think we’re being followed! Once we reach the cabin, the three of us girls will locate the bomb and deactivate it. Boys, each of you take watch at one of the doors, I don’t care who takes front and who takes back! We good?” Everyone nods, and as if right on cue, the radio exclaims, “This is it! Go go go!” I reach my hand back and make absolutely sure that my parachute’s on. No matter how many times I do this, I’m always worried I’ll have a blonde moment and forget my parachute. At least I’d only make that mistake once!
I switch my radio on, and everyone else does the same. Being group leader, I always get to take the plunge first, but it really doesn’t bother me. Free falling thousands of feet may sound terrifying to most, but I find it relaxing and beautiful. I can see thousands of miles below me, all the green of the trees and the sparkling of water, and I remember that what I’m doing is to protect it all. As I nose dive and gain rapid speed, an exhilarated scream escapes from my lips, and I hear Rilen laugh through her radio. Her laugh always reminds me that just because we’re in some of the most serious business in the entire world, we still need to enjoy our young lives. We float and do flips until my altitude meter begins to go off and starts beeping with each gaining foot we get closer to the ground. At just the right moment, I yell to my counterparts, “Eject!” And like a musical choir, I hear all five of our parachutes open and catch the wind. Eli and Dayton fall just a little faster than us other three, but that’s the entire plan. They hit the ground rolling and escape from their parachutes with no trouble. They shed their packs and stand with their guns ready. Only their overwhelming amount of practice has them looking so perfect. But before I can think much longer, the three of us girls hit the ground and do the exact same move. Rilen lacks a gun, but she doesn’t really have any need for it. Her job is strictly technical, though she can take just about any of us in hand-to-hand combat.
I whisper into my radio, “Can everybody hear me?” I look each one in the face to make sure that all the radios are functioning. It’s not a very complicated piece of equipment, but it’s our life line, our only way to communicate with each other across long distances. We take off through the woods that we landed in, and all five of us are on alert. Our mission has to be completed by a certain time, and when I look at my watch, I realize we have thirteen minutes. I look to one side, and Sadie is about 50 feet away from me. On my other side I can’t even see Dayton, which I know means Sadie can’t see Eli, “We only have 13 minutes guys, so keep a sharp eye for any sign of the cabin. Make sure it doesn’t slip between our lines.” I hear Rilen add in, “Based on my measurements, the cabin SHOULD be due North-West, but that’s sort of a rough estimate.” I glance back, and Rilen is right on my heels. “Well keep using your gadgets and surely you’ll pick up something. “We have to find that cabin before another team does!” Rilen nods and pulls out some little square with a 3 foot long antennae. I don’t know what it is, nor do I care. I’m not the tech coordinator.
A few minutes later and we still have no trace of the cabin. I hear the call of an owl through the radio; that’s our signal for danger. Everyone freezes and hits the ground, we work so well together now that it seems like we’re one person. Almost immediately afterwards, the Black team comes through the brush. They run up on us so gracefully, they look like Artemis’s hunters. Their tech chick, Katie, whines out, “I know I detected movement over here!” Their leader, Tyla, who I don’t like very much, silences her with a hand, and looks around. the Black team is gender strict, meaning that their not coed; in other words, all members of the Black team are girls. Tyla creeps towards us, and I prepare myself to pounce. I know in my mind that Dayton and Eli have circled around behind them, and Sadie and Rilen have spread out to their sides, so now we’ve completely encircled our victims. Perfectly on cue, a loud twig snaps behind them, and the entire Black team whirls around. I fly at Tyla, and Sadie and Rilen follow me. The element of surprise makes the battle quick and way too easy. We each disarm somebody without much force, though I can’t help but fulfill the urge to give Tyla a black eye. Let’s just say her face “accidentally” got slammed into a tree root. Sadie pulls out ropes from her backpack and we force all of the Black team to sit in a circle with their backs facing inwards. They don’t struggle much because they know they’ve lost, though Tyla can’t help but run her mouth a little. As we knot all of their arms and legs, and then rope them to each other, she growls, “When Will finds us I’m telling him exactly what way you go! You won’t beat Will! He’s such a better leader than you and me will ever think about being!” I smile and put my back pack back on, “Well you can think about what a horrible leader I am while you sit here in the dirt and wait for somebody to come rescue you!” As we turn to leave, Eli can’t help himself, and yells back to our captives, “Yellow Team Rocks Dude!”
Sadie frantically yells over the radio, “Brooke! How much time do we have?” I glance at my watch, “Exactly 4 minutes and 45 seconds. We pick up our speed, and then like music to my eyes, I see a glimpse of the little wooden shack through some trees. “The Cabin!” I point towards it, and we make a mad, but orderly, dash towards it. The boys take their positions, and Sadie and I clear all the rooms for danger. We holster our weapons and then join Rilen in looking for the bomb. We check the kitchen first, then the bedroom, but in the end we find it in the bathroom. It’s a good thing we’re trained to leave no stone unturned in our searches, because we find it in the top of the toilet tank lid. Rilen sets to work, and me and Sadie check to make sure there isn’t a surprise bomb hidden somewhere. That happened one time, and it was definitely NOT a good day! We don’t find anything out of the ordinary, and we go back to watch Rilen. Her fingers move so fast on the complex wires. It amazes me how easily she finds such things. I look at my watch, 23 seconds. I start to sweat, “Rilen, you almost done?” She sighs, “You want it done or do you want it done right?” I can feel my breathing pick up, “Actually I just want it done quick! And by quick I mean in like, 10 seconds!” I watch the red numbers decrease, and just when I feel like my heart is going to stop, the number freezes on two. Rilen had managed to deactivate the bomb only two seconds before it was set to go off. We are some of the luckiest son of a guns you will ever meet. I pat Rilen on the back, “Good work!” And we all head outside, knowing one of the trainers will be out there waiting for us. I don’t know where they manage to hide and monitor us, but I guess that’s one of the things the CIA excels at. Oh, did I not mention that? Yeah, my name is Brooke Denali, I’m 16, and I’m in the CIA.
Well, to be exact, I’m not really IN the CIA. Not yet, anyway. I’m a trainee for the all new Junior Division. The CIA got the bright idea to train a whole bunch of kids under 18 for missions they think adults need help with. Or it may be just for us to do missions the adults don’t want to bore themselves with, I haven’t really made up my mind on what I think our purpose is. Anyway, two years ago, the CIA got this great idea. They explored high schools across the country until they found twenty 14 year old's that they thought were right for the job. They took us from our homes (most of us are from dysfunctional families so it was easy to ask us to leave), and brought us to the Washington D.C. area to put us on a fast track of advanced education and training. And just to clarify the selcection process, we weren’t just randomly chosen. Each of us has certain qualities that made the CIA want us. The really smart tech nerds were the easiest to find. All the CIA had to do was look at what kids were winning all the science fairs to find them. People like me were easy to find too, we excelled in sports and academics and were leaders in different things, which meant we were in newspapers and on the internet. I was in a big magazine spread about future Mississippi politicians who were going to help the little rotten hole of a state in the future. It talked about my goals for law school, and even mentioned how I had a screwed up family, though not quite in those exact words. I might as well have been handed to the CIA on a silver platter. It’s the kids like Dayton who I have no clue how they found. He’s a really shy kid, who, though he’s buff and smart now, wasn’t really that outstanding in his original school. He was chosen for his acute senses mostly, and the CIA just worked with him on the rest. I’m almost positive they found Eli in a Marine recruiting office, probably on an annoyance list since he was so young and so determined to join the Marine Corps as a 14 year old and he harassed every recruiter in his city. Sadie’s a mystery to me too, I don’t know how they zeroed in on the ones who are the strategists. The CIA doesn’t share a lot of secrets, so I bet nobody will ever find out for sure! But in the Junior Division, there are 4 teams, and each team has 5 people on it. There’s my team, the Yellow Team, then the all girl team: the Black Team, the all boy team: The Orange Team, and then the team I hate more than anything: the Purple Team. (The Purple Team is Co-Ed, like my team, and they’re our biggest rivals/competition) Each team has a group leader, tech coordinator, mission coordinator, a head of security, and a surveillance manager. On Team Yellow, I’m the Leader, Rilen is the Tech Guru, Sadie is our mission coordinator and pretty much my right arm, Eli is our head of security, and Dayton is our surveillance manager. Our jobs are pretty self explanatory, but there may be some blondes like me reading this, so let me help you out! I’m in charge. I call the shots, and I guide everyone else in my team to make sure we run smoothly. Rilen takes care of anything that has to plug in. Sadie is the queen of strategy. If we need a way to get into and out of a heavily guarded, top-secret government facility, Sadie can find us a way. Eli’s in charge of protecting all of us from any danger, and Dayton’s job is pretty similar, except he’s more like the eyes and ears of our group. He focuses more on what’s happening around us rather than the mission. When it's said and done, we all pitch in in every area, but we take our main jobs seriously, and we have those assignments because we excel in that aspect. It’s been a crazy two years, but I wouldn’t trade them for anything. I’m faster, stronger, and smarter now than I’ve ever been in my entire life. We wake up at 5:00 every morning, go for our morning run at 6. When we get back, we shower and get ready for breakfast which is at 7:30. Afterwards, starting at 8, we have our regular schooling until 12. Then after lunch we have our CIA related schooling until 2. And then the real fun starts! From 2:30 to 3:15 we have our “combat class,” which is karate and kick boxing and stuff. Then we work out from 3:30 to 5 (lift weights and run). Then we do field training from 5 to 7. That’s where we do stuff like jump out of helicopters and disarm bombs. And at 7:30 we have our dinner. Then afterwards we’re free to do anything, which is usually homework, until lights out at 9:30. The weekends are just as hectic, but we don’t do academic work. Saturdays are all physical. There’s a reason I can run a mile in under 5 minutes. We work out from 8-6, only stopping for meals. Much of that time is spent working individually at our “cover sports.” Which is how we’ll infiltrate and keep unnoticed. There’s no reason to not be good at what we do, and that’s part of what keeps people trusting us. My cover is cheerleading and gymnastics. I chose those not only because they’re similar and working at one will usually help the other, but also because I was a gymnast when I was younger. Basketball, soccer, tennis, football, and baseball/softball are much more common among the others. That and dance, which is only the wienies on the Black Team, but hey, I’m not judging. I guess if they want to spend hours on end prancing on their toes, that's their choice. I have several backup sports because I was a versatile athlete in my old life. Tennis, basketball, softball, and of course, cross country and track all are on my list. But back to the routine at Junior Division, after we’ve spent all our Saturday working out, we report to the camp physician and he accesses that we’re in perfect physical condition. These people are health freaks. Try to sneak a can of Dr. Pepper and you’ll be running 14 miles the next day. And if you can’t sense the tone, I’m usually the one getting caught. Then after our check ups, we get to have a whole hour of kid time. They don’t want us to go completely insane I guess. We usually watch television or get on the computer, though none of us are allowed Facebook or Myspace, and our internet exploring is strictly monitored. One slip of a name and we could be in serious danger if we ever go on a real mission. Then we have dinner, and afterwards they usually put a movie on the big screen for us to watch. And that my friends is when the romance starts. There just so happens to be ten boys and ten girls here in the Junior Division. And part of the CIA’s requirements were that you can’t be ugly. People have to automatically like us when we step into a room. When the movie comes on, the couples split off, and the ones not already in a couple switch into flirt mode. Though we try to avoid dating within teams, I have a strong feeling that Sadie and Eli like each other. I think they’d be super cute together. Sadie is tall for a girl, almost 5’ 10”. Her brown hair comes into a curly pony tail that is just long enough to show the perfect ringlets. She has little swooped bangs that are always falling into her slightly freckled face and covering her brown eyes. Anytime we have an important mock mission, I bust out the hairspray and bobby pins and we use everything we have to try and keep them pinned back, though it's usually in vain. Eli is about the same height,maybe a little taller, and has medium toned skin. He’s got bulging muscles and a gorgeous head of auburn hair that accent his almond shaped, hazel eyes. On the other side of my team is Rilen, who is about 4’ 8” with long red hair that she always has pulled back into twin braids. It sometimes makes me want to call her Anne of Greene Gables. She’s fair complected with tons of freckles, but her bright green eyes are so radiant that they probably could put the sun out of business. Dayton is very unusual, but still attractive in a kind of forbidden way. He almost never talks, but we would trust him with our lives. He has dark brown, almost black, hair that’s always kept short, and deeply tan skin. I think he has some Native American heritage, but I’m not sure. He has mismatched eyes: one blue and one green. Many people assume that he’s blind, but he actually has eyes like a hawk. He’s a little taller than Eli, but has all the muscles. I fall into the middle of the group. I’m about 5’2”, I have very long straight blonde hair, and my eyes are random. It depends on what I am wearing as to what color they will be, sometimes they can be bright blue or green, and later the same day they can even be so light that they look gray. People are always looking deep into my eyes, as if to solve the mystery of their color. There’s 15 other’s in the division who are equally beautiful too, but don’t worry, I’ll tell you all about them soon enough! To finish up our schedule, Sundays are the best. We get to leave the base and go into D.C., I usually go to church, and then grab a bite to eat and pick up anything I may want for the rest of the week. (Often a couple Dr. Peppers and Snickers) Once we get back, we have usually 3 hours of working out, an hour at the shooting field with guns and bows, and then we get to have a little free time before and after dinner. All in all, we keep to our routine. For all those people who think Boot Camp is hard, they haven’t seen Junior Division.
“Good work Team Yellow!” Coach Herrington bellows into his bullhorn. “You win today’s challenge! Which means you are all free of clean up duty tonight after dinner!” I smile, even though it’s a totally lame prize, the real prize is the honor of winning and getting to laugh at all the ones who have to wash dishes. Coach Herrington turns off his bullhorn, “And now, we must hurry back to the base. There’s been a call from Washington and we all have to be there to hear what’s going on.” I nod to my team and we jump on board Coach’s truck. Coach is former CIA man himself. His gray hair and charming face may look like a nice grandpa, but don’t let it fool you. He can take any of us young, vibrant, spring chickens as he calls us, down in a heartbeat. He’s one of our main combat and field trainers. However, he isn’t the best driver in the world, and I start to worry we’re going to hit a tree before he can find the main road. Our base is only a few miles away, and it’s in the middle of nowhere, but we have heavy security surrounding our miles of land. From the outside, it might look like a summer camp. We don’t have tons buildings, because there’s only 20 of us kids. But I have my own gymnastics training gym, even though a back room in it is used for the dance studio. And there’s a basketball gym and soccer, softball, and baseball fields. There’s a tennis court, a stable, a pool, and even a track that runs through the entire campus. We have our weight room and combat room in the same building. Then there’s the cafeteria which we use as the meeting room, our library, and then there is our school building. We also have a driving arena where we perfect our driving skills. And on opposite ends of the campus are the dorms, boys on one side and girls on the other. We have a pretty nice set up with the dorms. We each have our own room and bathroom, not to mention the closet space isn’t too shabby. We get to decorate our rooms however we want to, and it’s really like just having your own apartment. Downstairs is a dorm-wide living room where the TV and computers are. We really do have a great home here, it’s much better than I could have ever hoped for with where I’m from. As Coach approaches the Cafeteria, we all leap from the bed of the truck and run inside. We learned how to exit a moving vehicle the first week after our arrival, and since then, none of us are really patient enough to wait for the vehicle to stop. Plus the excitement of a call from Washington gives us a little adrenaline flow. Washington rarely calls us, and if they do it’s just to make sure nobody’s dead yet. I was kind of starting to wonder if they’d forgotten about us and all the hard work we’re doing. We’re the first ones here, thankfully, and I see Ms. Underworth sitting at her head table. She’s a snooty little lady, and not to mention the head of our operation. I wonder if she was ever a field agent or always just a desk jockey. I find it hard to imagine Ms. Underworth disarming bombs and taking down terrorists. But I guess that’s not really any of my business. A few minutes later, the Purple Team comes in. I hate them. Well, I think I do anyway. This place has screwed with my head so much, it’s hard to know what a healthy love or hate is! It’s kind of hard to despise a guy who is completely gorgeous, but the Purple leader, Will Strong, makes it just a little easier. He’s one of the hottest guys you will ever meet. He’s over 6 feet tall, with thick black hair. His bright blue eyes can haunt you forever if you just take a moment to look into them. He may seem nice, but I can’t exactly tell if he’s trying to win me over because he likes me, or if he just finds it easier to be the best if the other leaders are always swooning after him. I just get this strange danger vibe from him. The rest of team Purple I am pretty certain about. They’re all sneaky and mean, and I wouldn’t trust any of them to hold my pencil. Like I’ve said before, they’re the other Co-Ed team, but they have 3 boys and 2 girls instead of the other way around, like us. All in all, they’re our toughest competition. After them, Team Orange makes its entrance. They are the all boy team, and the hottest team too, if I might add. Their leader, Mason, is as beautiful as Will, just in a total opposite way. Mason is short, only about 5’5”, and he’s from Hawaii, a total island hunk. His first language is some sort of native tribal tongue, and even though he always uses English and is perfectly understandable, sometimes he’ll get mad and start rambling in his true language, which only makes him seem cuter. He has gorgeous brown eyes, and a beautiful smile, but everybody here has a perfect smile, did I mention we all had to get braces immediately after arriving here? Like I said, they're a little obsessive with the perfection here. But anyway, I do know, that if I were to ever date any of these guys, I’d pick one of the two guy leaders, even though every guy here is hot. I just feel like I need to get with somebody on my level, even though that sounds kind of bad. The last group to enter the Cafeteria was Team Black. They look worse for the wear, and are covered in dirt and leaves from their time tied up. Their leader, Tyla, who is by the way Asian American, is not looking overly excited to have to come immediately here. That black eye I gave her is a beauty, and I know she just wants to cover it up so bad! She gives me what she probably means to be a dirty look, and then continues with her team to their table. They don’t look too happy, probably because they were the only group to be captured and humiliated. But hey, it’s part of the game. Either learn to defend yourself or spend a while tied up in the middle of a forest. Once everybody is seated, Ms. Underworth stands up and turns on the large big screen TV. The video phone is hooked into it, which means we are all about to talk to Washington. Ms. Underworth clears her throat, “The leaders in Washington requested me to call them back when we were all together, and now I must remind you to be polite and on your best behavior.” I roll my eyes, she acts like we’re juvenile delinquents, and not the most disciplined group of teenagers in the world. She punches in a complex system of numbers and I just want to laugh, the CIA is so paranoid! It takes about 15 minutes to get past all the security interferences in their headquarters before we finally reach the person we want. I’m pretty surprised to realize that we are talking to the head of the CIA himself. Mr. Lumphreyn. Mr. Lumphreyn never makes calls or does any of his own work, so this really must be a big deal! I feel my heart flutter, and we wait expectantly for him to talk. Mr. Lumphreyn smiles, though it seems a little forced to me, like he’s trying to cover up that he’s really freaked out, and says, “Well well well my Junior Division! I hear you’ve excelled in your training for the past years. It seems we are ready for you to join us here in Washington and start your real work. Your department has finished construction on its new housing facility, and we know you’ll absolutely love it. I know you will serve your country to the best of your abilities. God Bless America!” And with that, the video goes black. We sit there in silence for what seems like forever. It takes that long for it to sink in. But then we’re jumping around and dancing on the tables and I’m sure I saw a few kisses exchanged, but eventually Ms. Underworth comes to her senses and regains order. She studders around for words, “Hmm. Um. Well. It seems that. Um. You will all be departing from our little establishment here. So. Yes. Very Well. Continue on with your day. I will find the rest of the. Ah. Details out. We will discuss it at dinner.” I barely hear her. I’m walking on air. My dreams have come true, I’m definitely not a nobody any more.
I love the feeling I have every time I flip through the air. It catches my breath for me and doesn’t give it back until my feet are on the ground. Gymnastics is my release. My stress reliever, in a way. It may seem strange to you that almost immediately after I heard our news, I found myself in my gym. But I needed some time to think. Since it’s Friday, Ms. Underworth had told us we could choose any activity until dinner, as long as we’re working, she doesn’t care. So while everyone else is in the weight room or playing a pickup game of basketball, I’m slipping on my leotard and stretching. I decide to go to bars first, because that’s what I need the most work on. It’s a shame I can’t be dropping my name internationally, because I could be a great Olympic or world team gymnast. I run through several bar routines I stole from You Tube. I have a coach who comes in once a week, Jessica, but she just makes sure my technique is correct and everything. And she only comes on Saturday, so for today, I’m on my own. I give all my focus to my legs, my toes, and my hands. Perfection is my only choice. But just because I’m focusing on my actions doesn’t mean my mind can’t wander a little and think about the news. Why the sudden announcement? It’s at such a weird time. Surely if there had been any prior consultation, Ms. Underworth would have given us a heads up. She seemed more surprised than any of us. As I start working release moves, fear creeps into my mind. What if something’s happened? What if we’re not ready? Will we be sent on life threatening missions? We’re still just kids! Rilen hasn’t even had her 16 birthday yet; it’s next week! We were planning a huge party for her! Well, a huge party for about 25 people. My mind drifts off a few hundred miles to my little hometown in Mississippi. I wonder if my mom ever worries about me, or has any idea what I do. She never calls me, and I never write her. I wonder if the CIA paid her off to not communicate with me. It makes it tougher to be homesick or miss anything about our old lives. But knowing that cold hearted woman, she probably couldn’t care less about me. Before I know it, my mind is completely off the gymnastics I’m doing, and my body is going totally by instinct. But my entire mind set is shattered when I hear a voice, “Wow. That’s impressive.” My head whirls to see who snuck up on me, and it throws my entire body off balance. My hand slips and my face bangs into the bar. Flat on my back, I hit the mat hard. Hard enough to wind me completely. I feel blood trickling down my face and I realize the source is my lip. At least I didn’t knock any teeth out. I look up at the ceiling trying to take deep breaths through my mouth, the smell of blood makes me nauseous. In the pain, I’ve totally forgotten that somebody is with me, until I see the face of the last person I’d expected over me. Will. THE Will. He looks at my face with a worried expression that makes me feel a little smug. He cares about me! Enough for him to be scared I’m hurt! He grabs a nearby towel, and holds it to my face as he supports my head. I want to complain and tell him that that’s my sweat towel, but I’m kind of lost for words! He holds me there for a minute, “You alright?” I nod, but don’t say anything. It’s kind of strange for him to be in here, and I don't know whether to be flattered or annoyed. The silence is apparently uncomfortable for him, and he clears his throat awkwardly. I sit up and wipe the rest of my face off with the towel. “What are you doing here Will?” He smiles that irresistible smile, “Can’t a guy come and associate with a fellow leader?” I glance at him, those eyes inviting me to trust him, but I’m still cautious. “Only if he has a certain favor to ask of that fellow leader. What do you want Will?” Will opens his mouth in mock shock, “I’m offended! I just wanted to come in and see how you were doing in your training is all.” I grab my water bottle and take a drink. “So you’re not here to see if I know anything about the announcement?” Will looks at me with intrigue, like he’s wondering how I can read him so easily, what can I say? I know people. He nods, “That might have been in my intentions as well, seeing as how you're everybody's favorite.” I make my way across the gym to the beam, and he follows. I mount the beam with a punch front. The same mount seen at some of the olympics. I can’t say I don’t want to impress Will, what normal teenage girl wouldn’t? I reply, “Well you’re out of luck. I know absolutely nothing. Only what we heard this afternoon.” Will rubbed his chin, “So Coach Herrington didn’t mention anything about it on your way back to base? Oh and congratulations by the way with winning the mission. I think it’ll do my team some good to actually clean for once.” I know he’s trying to get a rise out of me, but I’m not giving him the satisfaction. I shake my head as I continue with my routine, “I don’t think anybody knew about it until Mr. Lumphreyn told us on the video phone. Ms. Underworth looked like she was going to pass out.” I dismount, and can’t help but feel a teensy bit pleased when I hear Will give a little noise to show he’s impressed. I walk right towards him and look deep into his eyes, yeah, I want to pass out, “Let me know when you come here for a reason other than information.” And I run my shoulder into his, not too roughly, and head to my locker room. Without looking back, I call out, “See you at dinner!” And I know he’s watching me walk away, and hopefully, eating his heart out.
Normally, our dinners aren’t an overly exciting ordeal. We have great food, even though there’s never an ounce of sugar or fat that might make us “unhealthy.” Like I’ve mentioned before, sodas are never allowed. The only thing we can drink besides water is milk, orange juice, or herbal tea. We sometimes get lemonade as a treat, but it’s always sweetened with Splenda. As I sit at my team’s table enjoying my salad, I notice Sadie and Eli sitting just a little closer than they normally do. I don’t know if I should allow them to date or if I should tell Sadie a relationship isn’t the best idea. I may sound like a bossy brat, but I’m the group leader. And we’re very close knit. We can’t have a piece of our group closer than the rest. We have to be able to trust each other with our lives! Plus, if things didn’t work out for them, they probably wouldn’t be able to be around each other. That would destroy our group completely. I think I’ll just play it by ear. Maybe they’ll decide on their own that this is not a great idea. Back to the Cafeteria, our dinners aren’t usually exciting, but tonight is obviously different thanks to the news. Ms. Underworth has promised to tell us all the details, and I can’t wait to hear what’s going on, why we’re leaving, and most importantly, when we’re getting out of this place! I wonder if Will’s looking at me, but I can’t just turn around and look. So I resort to my wing woman: Rilen. I elbow her and lean in to whisper to her, “Do me a favor and glance around to see if anybody is looking over this way.” I try to appear interested in my food, I don’t want anybody to notice Rilen and mine’s little conversation. She leans into me and shields her face to appear oblivious to anything. (We’re masters of secretive contact.) “Anybody in particular I need to look at?” I smile, “Just look at all the tables.” Rilen takes her plate and stands up. She takes a split second to look around, it’s so fast only I could know that it’s longer than she normally would take. She bends over, though she doesn’t have to go far cause she’s really a midget, and whispers into my ear. “There’s two. Tell me who you’re crushing on and I’ll tell you who’s looking at you!” I should have know Rilen would resort to blackmail. She sure is a sneaky little elf. I roll my eyes. “Will came to see me today.” Rilen laughs, “Come on, we can talk while we throw our trays away!” I follow her lead, her words always mean something. In this case, her words have a second meaning: she’s trying to warn me that people are starting to notice us whispering and are beginning to eavesdrop. I get up and can’t resist the urge to glance around the Cafeteria. As my eyes scan they room, they meet with another pair that is staring straight at me. Those haunting blue eyes are boring holes in me, and, flustered, I turn and follow Rilen. She’s waiting on me, and I know she notices my newly flushed face. “So, which one has you blushing so bad?” I bite my lip and I know my face has to be blood red. But then I snap to my senses, “Wait a minute! There were two? Who’s the other one?” Rilen smiles, “Okay I’ll give you a hint!” She puts her tray down and gives me the most serious face she can. And then, without taking her eyes off my face, she starts to hula dance. In the middle of the Cafeteria. Immediately I know who she’s talking about. “MASON???” I squeal a little louder than I mean to, and I can tell by Rilen’s hysterical laughter that everyone must be staring at me. I turn and my fears are realized. I start turning wheels in my head, “Mason...Did so great today! Go Team Orange! Whoo!” I turn back to Rilen, and I might as well hear crickets accompanying the awkward silence. I mouth to Rilen, “Help!!!” And she nods, enjoying my misery, and steps between me and the rest of the Cafeteria, “Alright! Nothing to see here! Go back to your food people!” Rilen turns back to me, and chuckles, “So, who you gonna go for?” I still can’t really breathe, I get embarrassed very easily. But I manage to exhale, “I don’t know. Probably neither. I really need to focus on whatever may happen once we’re in Washington. There must be some huge need for us and I can’t let my emotions distract me.” Rilen rolls her eyes, “All you ever do is focus on work, let them emotions go! I want to see what crazy Brooke is like! I bet she’s a freak!” I try to hold back laughter, but I can feel my face growing red. “Rilen!!!” But then I notice somebody coming towards us. And Rilen notices the change in my expression, “Which one’s coming to make his move?” I glance down at her, “Not the one I expected for sure.” Rilen takes the chance and escapes back to our table, watching every move I make. I see her elbow Sadie and point at me as I’m about to pass out. I can’t even get his name out in my mind. He’s so gorgeous. I’m praying he won’t ask me a question that takes thinking because I can’t even get my mind to compute that he’s walking over towards me. Mason. Island hunk Mason! It only takes a second after Rilen leaves for him to get there, but it seems like ages. I’m praying this won’t be a total disaster, I’m not the best at talking to hot guys. He smiles that amazing smile, “I guess your friend noticed me looking at you.” I nod, we’re almost the same height, so our eyes are just about even. I try not to stare into them for a very long time, but they’re such a beautiful chocolate, I can’t resist. He seems uncomfortable, “Look, I’ve been wanting to ask you this for a while. But don’t you think we should you know, hang out more?” I nod, but then think I should probably say something, “Yeah!” He seems pleased with my answer, but then glances side to side, “I think everyone is starting to notice you have yet to sit down.” He chuckles, apparently my humiliation is amusing to him. I look around and see that over half of the others are trying to sneak peeks at us and figure out what’s going on. (We’re a nosy bunch if you haven’t noticed) I look back to Mason, “Yeah, I’ll talk to you later. I’m sure the rest of the day will be hectic, but if we get some free time, I’ll be in my gym. Company’s always welcome.” He nods, and I start walking back to my table, I really think I may die. And of course when I sit down, Rilen and Sadie start hammering me for answers. But luckily, Ms. Underworth stands up and pretty much yells, “Alright listen up! I’ve been on the phone with Washington all day and there’s a lot of stuff for me to cover with you.”
She clears her throat like she’s about to tell a story or something, then looks down at the piece of paper she has to guide her. “First thing on the list, you may want to know why the sudden call up. Well, if somebody could dim the lights for me, I’ll show you on the video screen.” Almost instantly, the lights are off, and Ms. Underworth is fumbling with the screen’s remote. When she finds the power button, a large map of the world pops up. She continues, “Ten years ago, the CIA had almost 500 field agents. Not counting the other 1,000 who ran the corporation and took care of everything for the field agents, that’s like your tech and security coordinators if your confused. However, all of you are familiar with the recent increase in national and international crisis's with the War on Terror and the rising number of people trying to find out all the secrets of our country. But what you don’t know is the devastating toll this rise in cases has had on the CIA. Our count of agents has dropped to just 98 field agents and 400 behind them. There isn’t enough training going on to replace the agents as fast as they’re going. And the threats are only growing. Is everybody with me up to this point?” Somebody behind me yells out, “What’s happening? Are they all dying?” Ms. Underworth frowns, “I’m not authorized to tell you what’s fully going on, but I would like to reassure you, that though more are being lost due to death in a mission, that is not the majority of the problem.” I glance at my team, this is already not sounding good. Ms. Underworth goes on, “Turn your attention to the screen.” A lot of red dots appear on the screen, and she starts explaining where all the major amounts of fraud and bogus garbage and stuff are going on. But that is the last thing on my mind, what’s happening in the CIA? Where are all agents going that is causing them to die? Though, she did say they’re not ALL dying. She did use the word “going” once. Perhaps they’re not choosing to leave. I don’t know, but I do know something really strange is going on. I realize I’ve totally tuned out to Ms. Underworth and start to pay attention again, she’s moving on to something else now, “While the nature of your assignments is not totally sound, I do know that you will be given a wide range, and some assignments may be large enough that teams are combined. However, as we have mentioned before, the entire team does not usually go on a mission. For most basic missions, only the group leader will be the field agent. And if there is a large amount of danger involved, the security may tag along for safety purposes. But there may be cases in which everyone goes. I really don’t know. I do know though, that you are ordered to pack everything up tomorrow and you will leave Sunday and get settled in. Then you will begin work Tuesday.” Somebody lets out a long whistle, this is such a shock! I figured we’d have at least a week to prepare! This threat must be bigger than I thought. The lights come back on, and Ms. Underworth smiles, “Well, if there are no more questions, you are free to have some more athletic free time. But do remember that just because the words free and time are used, you are expected to be doing something contributive to your athleticism. So no going to the dorms or playing around campus. Get to work people.” And I take that for meeting adjourned. I start to stand up and Sadie puts her hand on my shoulder, “What’s wrong Brooke? You look upset.” Our eyes meet and I can feel my hands shake, “Sadie, what’s the difference in us and adults? She said that more agents are dying than usual! They’re pretty much sending us into a death trap the way I look at it.” Sadie shook her head, “We don’t know that! They may just use us for the basic missions to free up the experienced agents for larger jobs.” I look at the ground, “I don’t know. I don’t know anything about what we’re getting ourselves into. And it totally freaks me out.”
I’ve been here all night. Well, all night and some morning. The last time I looked at the clock, it was 4:30. I should go and get some sleep, but I’ll have to be up in a few minutes anyway, so I just lay down on the trampoline. I’ve been thinking about pretty much just death since Mason left. He stayed with me until about midnight, but then he said he needed some sleep, so that left me all alone to think about the end of life. I fully believe I’ll go to Heaven when I die, but I’m so young and there’s so much I want to do in my life, that death creeps me out. I’ve been wondering if it would hurt, how long I’d suffer if it did, and how would I handle watching somebody else die. Death is definitely a pretty depressing subject, but after dinner, I couldn’t help thinking about all the agents. But it’s almost 5, and I’ll be expected to start packing and carry on with the normal activities of the day, so I’d better start walking to my dorm. The morning is beautiful, and I want nothing more than to go for a run through the woods, right this second. But things aren’t that free and leisurely here at Junior Division. I’m staring a life of orders and danger right in the face with death stamped all over it, and I can’t get out of it. I really don’t want out of it anyway, I was made for this. And it’s so much better than what I would be getting if I was still in Mississippi. There, death is a big deal. We’d have funeral arrangements that would last three or four days. I remember when my brother died, I don’t think about that a lot. Everyone in my town sent us food and said they were sorry, and all I wanted to do was scream, “No your not! You don’t care! You’re happy he’s gone!” I couldn’t though. I just had to stand there and let them be hypocrites. That was less than two weeks before my dad left, and less than a month before the CIA came and got me. It was when my mom started drinking and my world fell apart. Nobody here knows anything about my home. They just know I hate it because I never go home for Christmas or Thanksgiving. I spend those weeks here with the staff. Usually I’d celebrate with Coach Herrington and his family. They’re a nice group, but it always made me hurt because I knew that my family would never be together like that again. There’s always people who scream at their parents and tell them how much they hate them. But I was never like that. I always obeyed and tried to please them, but still, my entire world crumbled and fell apart. The dorm looms in front of me in the dawn light. The sun hasn’t come up over the horizon, but it looks like its just waiting for the clouds to scoot over and make room. I go in the big doors and tip toe upstairs. My room is close to the stairs, and I sneak in with ease. I don’t know that I’d get in trouble or anything, but I would be the root of a lot of rumors. Everybody would try to think of a guy I’d been with all night and it’d just be a disaster. But no sooner do I shut the door than I hear the morning trumpet ring through the halls. (It’s on an intercom, not an actual person playing!) And so another day, a Saturday actually, begins.
I never noticed that all our dorms are exactly alike. Everyone covered their walls with posters of the certain actors and singers they like, and everyone’s tastes are different. Different colored bed accessories and lamps hid the pale offset of the walls. But with all the cute pieces of my room gone, this drab room just makes me feel depressed. I hold my zebra print blanket in my hands and bury my face in it. I really do think I’ll miss this place. I sigh and grab one of my suitcases and start carrying it downstairs. Today’s Sunday; we leave today. All yesterday was spent packing and cleaning, only pausing to eat and go for an afternoon run. I ran with Mason for most of the time, but he got tired and couldn’t really keep up his pace to hang with me, and so we were separated. But I did talk to him afterwards while we were cleaning the dining hall. He was so sweet! He kept trying to help me out and make sure I was okay. It made me feel like a princess! I throw my suitcase on top of the big pile that is just waiting to be loaded on a trailer, and head back up to my room to grab my other bags. I pass Rilen on the staircase, struggling under the massive size of her bags. They’re bigger than her entire body, and I grab one of the handles before she falls down the stairs, “Thanks Brooke!” She smiles and gets better grips on the other bags. “You talked to Mason today?” I shake my head. “Nope. You’re the first person I’ve seen this morning. I just finished packing up my bed and trying to memorize this place.” Rilen laughs, “You’re such a sentimental! I can’t wait to get out of this joint! We gone take D.C. by STORM!” She lowers her the pitch in her voice and puts extra emphasis in her last word. You haven’t met anybody funny until you meet Rilen. She’s like a little hysterical leprechaun, or elf, or oompaloompa. I give her the other bag I was holding for her, and run back up the stairs. I grab the rest of my bags and take one last glance before I shut and lock the door for good. I go down one last time and set the rest of my bags on the pile. Then I start pulling all my key chains off my room key's ring. There’s a ton on there, I always have been a big key chain nut. I stick them in my purse, hopefully I’ll have another key to use them with. The trailer comes shortly after I get downstairs, and I see that all the boys’s stuff is already in there. We chunk our bags in one by one, not really caring how they land inside. Mixed emotions are sort of weighing in my head. I don’t know whether to be upset that my whole life is about to change, or to be excited that there’s going to be a big adventure for me. Nobody around me is really talking, but I bet once we’re on the bus, I’ll wish I was deaf because the noise will be insane. The big yellow bus rolls into sight past the gym and I can already hear the boys yelling and acting crazy. Oh boy am I thrilled to ride that thing for the next hour and a half.
D.C. is the most beautiful city in the country to me. The national monuments with their Greek style columns just seem like the prettiest buildings. The subway amazes me with it’s precise measurements and advanced technology. I mean, it’s a train under your feet! I’m from a town that may as well be Midevil when it comes to technology. We got Tivo ten years after the rest of the world. There’s only two things I don’t like about city life: the fact that the crowded streets seem so impersonal, nobody says hey to other people when they pass by; and the polluted air makes me feel sick. I’m used to wide open skies that have no taste of taxi fumes and all the factories and garbage. That’s why I loved the training facility so much; it had beautiful nature all around it.
We arrive at the CIA headquarters almost two hours after leaving the camp. I’m ready to pull the hair out of my head. I sat by Mason, which was great of course, but we had to stay slouched in our seat to avoid being hit by spit wads, paper balls, and I don’t know what else. I guess our relationship is the topic of everyone’s conversations now a days. We mostly talked about each other. What we like, what we don’t like, the usual. We did talk about Mason’s family, but he didn’t ask about mine. I think everybody realizes that’s a sensitive subject with me. But anyway, Mason has four younger sisters, and his dad was raising the five of them alone. His mom had died just a year after the last girl was born. Mason’s 16, and they’re 3, 5, 6, and 10. So Mason had to help out a lot. This CIA thing got him out of working like a dog to help his dad put food on their table every day. Most of the other teens in Junior Division have stories like that. But back to the present, the headquarters have the highest security system known in the world. We drive through two stations that check out the bus and then we all have to pile off and the check each of us individually. I hate to imagine what they’re doing to our bags in the trailer. We have to take off our jackets and shoes, then they search our purses and backpacks. These people are majorly OCD. I hope I don’t have to do this every day! Once we’re through all the security issues, Ms. Underworth, who drove our bus, leads us to a little shed building. One by one we march inside, and the worst thing ever happens. We get ID’s made. I hate taking pictures; they have a way of catching you in the most undesireable of situations. I sit in a chair and barely smile because I don’t want to look like a dork. These ID’s go with us every day, we have to wear them around our necks. I move down the line and some desk woman gives me a form to feel out with my information to go on my ID. The usual are on there: height, weight, gender, full name, social security number, position. The finished product looks better than any driver’s permit normal person get issued. It’s bright blue, and in bold yellow letters across the top is Junior Division. I smile, we’re the first of our kind! It kind of makes me feel all special! It’s pretty hectic, and we’re actually being quiet. Once everybody has their ID’s, we’re given a quick little tour around the entire base. There are buildings for each department/division, and there is a road that they’re all gravitated towards. The road gives you access to every building very quickly. There’s also a Cafeteria and a little park. I know that somewhere around here is a shooting range, but I bet it’s further away from the main base to prevent somebody from accidentally getting shot. I think we’re going to the main building, but I’m soon proven wrong when Ms. Underworth leads us right past it. Mason eases up in the line and starts walking next to me, “So what do you think so far? Overwhelmed yet?” I shake my head, “I don’t know! We really haven’t seen anything cool so far!” He smiles back at me, we’re past that awkward phase, but I don’t see any sign of him asking me out officially. However, things can change pretty quick. I feel my heart stop when Mason lays his arm across my shoulders. His body is extremely close to mine, and I feel so safe that I bet twenty tons of brick could fall on me and I wouldn’t even get a scratch! He looks at me, probably trying to assess my reaction to his little pick up move. “What do you say we meet up a little later tonight. You know. We’ll probably have a lot of things to.. hmm.. discuss. You know, about everything we see today!” I feel mesmerized at his lips, and when he let out that little sigh I think my heart exploded. I manage to get out a few mumbled words, I’m really not sure of what I’m saying. It must have been okay though because before I know it, I have plans to meet Mason in the park at eleven tonight. We don’t get to talk about anything else, because by this time, we’re standing in front of a huge building that looks newer than all the rest. And at the crown of the roof, is Junior Division etched in the stone. We take the stairs by twos, they’re really small. And I count them in my head. (There’s 76 if you’re wondering) The huge revolving glass doors move with the slightest push, and I gasp at my new home.
Imagine the most beautiful fairy tale ball room. Then multiply all that glory by every palace in the world, and add to that every majestic piece of ancient history, then you might, just might, get the picture of what the new Junior Division home looks like. The ceiling is far above us, and a dome. And in front of us is a stair case that extends so high, we can't see what is at the top of it. A woman approaches us from down a stair case, though none of us notice her arrival; we’re too intrigued by our surroundings. But her ringing voice soon grasps our attention, “Welcome my junior agents! Welcome to The Playground!” Snickers ring through the group, and somebody yells out, “What the heck? We’re not babies!” The woman smiles, I bet it’s the only emotion she ever shows, “Ah, but to the senior agents, you are young! But come come! My name is Ms. Langley and I am your new head.” Everyone glances at Ms. Underworth, who I swear has tears in her eyes, she wipes them away and exclaims, “Well, this is where I leave you then! Take care, each one of you and do good.” Sadie asks, “But Ms. Underworth, why do you have to leave JD?” Ms. Underworth smiles, “Oh, I’m still going to be working in the Junior Division, but my place is at camp! We have to prepare to train the next generation of junior agents. Once you’re too old and graduate to the regular agency, they’ll replace you. This division is just going to grow and grow! But so long for now. I’m sure I’ll see you soon.” And with that, she waltzes out the door and trots down the stairs. We turn our attention back to the indoor staircase that Ms. Langley is standing on. It spreads across the entire entrance lobby and though it’s not as high as the outdoor stairs, there’s still a lot of steps there. Ms. Langley motions for us to follow, and very tentatively, we do. At the top I feel like my eyes may pop out of my head. Spread in front of us is a huge room. It’s an array of colors, but I do quickly take notice that our four team colors dominate everything else. Ms. Langley leads us down a tile pathway that I soon realize divides this main room into four sections. It cuts like a cross through this perfectly square room. In the center, where both paths meet is an intersection that goes in four ways. I go back to noticing the four sections that the path divides into. Each one has computers and places to sit and look like mini offices. And they’re all color coordinated. Ms. Langley points to each one, and says, “I hope you all like your team corners!” Everyone goes nuts, and takes off to their color. My team’s corner is in the far left, and next to Orange and Purple, and diagonal to Black. We spend several minutes checking everything out. There’s a desk for each person, equipped with a computer. There’s a sofa and table plus a couple bean bags. And everything is our team color! Even the carpet! Ms. Langley calls out, “Okay my little agents! Come along! We have much more to see!” We follow her to the right between the black and purple corners into a huge gym. There’s every type of exercise equipment a person can imagine. She leads us into to the back and opens the door to reveal an enormous outdoor arena with a covered roof. It’s an obstacle course! I want to explore every inch of this huge place, but Ms. Langley leads us back out the door and through the gym, across the main room and to the other side. Through that door is a huge Rec Room with every kind of entertainment known to man. Huge flat screen TV’s are all over the walls and each one is hooked up to satellite and some sort of video game system. The boys find this room to be the best, of course. Back in the main room, Ms. Langley leads us to the back now into a real adult looking conference room. She points to all the seats, which are also team color coordinated. The table which they are around is circular, and brown, which is a neutral color for us all. She talks about everything we’ll do in here: mission assignments and stuff like that. And the last thing she shows us is our living quarters. Out a back door of the conference room is a semi circle of little houses. Well, they’re really like apartments, but they look like houses. There’s twenty, of course, they want us to have our privacy. I can’t believe my ears when Ms. Langley exclaims, “Here are shopping cards! Go out and buy whatever furniture you want for your house! There’s five thousand on each card!” I feel like my heart may stop. I’ve never had that much money right at my fingertips, it’s unreal! She leads us around and shows us the name plates that mark what house belongs to what person. As we pass each house, its owner goes inside to check everything out! The first five are Team Black, then the next five are Team Purple, and then it’s my team. (Team Orange is at the far end.) My house is between Dayton and Rilen, which of course means Rilen will always be over at my house! I open the door and I hold my breath longer than I ever knew was possible for humans! The first room I find myself in is obviously the living room. To the left I see a kitchen area fully equipped with all-new appliances. It’s bare right now, but with some cute furniture, I know I can make it work. In the back of the living room is a door, which leads to the bedroom. My room has a walk in closet and right next to my room is the bathroom which has great fixtures in it. I can’t wait to make my house look all cute and girly! I don’t get to think much about what I want to do to each room, because I hear Ms. Langley’s voice ringing outside, “Come come! You can explore in depth later! Right now Mr. Lumphreyn wants to brief you in the meeting room.” So I run outside and realize I’m one of the last ones. We make our way back into the main building and Ms. Langley directs each of us into our seats around the brown table. As soon as we’re all quiet, Mr. Lumphreyn comes in and starts talking about rules and standards the CIA holds, the golden goal of an agent, and some other stuff that I’m guessing he routinely tells new agents. But right now my mind is on my new house and my date with Mason tonight.
“So how was it?” Rilen pokes my arm. She’s been over at my house for most of the morning and just hasn’t gotten around to asking how my date with Mason was last night. I’ve been dying to tell her, but I wanted to add to her torment and not seem overly excited. I smile, “It was just perfect and totally awesome!” We move my new couch to the opposite side of the living room, we’ve been unpacking and arranging all my new furniture. Yesterday I helped Rilen with her stuff and she’s helping me with mine today. She drops her end of the couch and leans on the arm rest, “Oooh, am I sensing a little lip action happened?” My cheeks start feeling flustered and I nod. Rilen shrieks, “Oh my gosh! Tell me EVERYTHING! I want each little miniscule detail!” I take her back to the previous night, how I snuck outside and through the main building, across the road and into the park. How he was waiting for me and how we sat on a bench and talked for what seemed like hours. And then when he finally said he needed to go, he kissed me gently on my lips and then headed back off to the houses. In my head, it seemed like the most romantic night of my life. Rilen stares at me with her jaw hanging, “You are so lucky!” I smile and pick up an end table, “Come on! We’re nowhere near done!” Tomorrow we start our work as full time agents, taking assignments and spending our days in the super cool main building. I really don’t want the first assignment because I want to enjoy the gym, rec room, and obstacle course. But I really bet that it’ll come down to us or Team Purple since we’re the best two, and I would hate for them to beat us out for something. But I push that out of my mind; right now I just need to get my new home fixed up! As I set my end table down, Rilen sits on the couch and moves a box towards her to go through it. I don’t realize that it is my personal box until she has already opened it and lifts out a picture. The two smiling faces that look up her are extremely similar in appearance, and one of them is me. She looks at it for a second, realizing she’s never seen it before, and asks, “Who is this?” I sit beside her and take the picture from her hands, its frame shedding dust on my fingers. I grudgingly answer, “My brother.” She senses the hesitation in my voice, but her curiosity keeps her from becoming silent. “I didn’t know you had a brother.” I put the picture back in the box, “I don’t anymore.” She stays still for a minute, but says, “I didn’t know. I’m sorry.” I shake my head, “It’s okay.” She glances at the now closed box, probably wondering what other secrets of mine it might conceal, “What was his name?” I quickly reply, “Brayden.” Rilen nods, and I’m sure she’s thinking about how he looks so much like me, and so happy, “How did he die?” My mind flashes back to day it happened, a memory that often haunts my dreams, “Shot.” She frowns, but accepts the finality in my tone, and doesn’t say anything else about it. But now that it has been mentioned, that day, the worse one of my life, fills my thoughts. I was thirteen, Brayden was nineteen. Our father had left about two years before, and Mom had started drinking. Brayden was the only person who cared about me, as my mom spent most of her time in a bottle. Bills were impossible for her to pay, and Brayden was working a full time job. In high school, he had been valedictorian, the pitcher for baseball, and the quarterback for football. However, he had to abandon any hope of college to make sure I had food to eat and clothes to wear. It killed me that I was such a burden, and I often thought about running away just to relieve him of me. But one day, that summer of my thirteenth year, Brayden didn’t come home on time. I went outside to escape one of my mother’s rages, and perched myself high in a tree that I always climbed when I needed a place to hide. I heard the sound of a car coming up our gravel driveway, and to my shock, it was the Sheriff’s truck, not Brayden’s. I didn’t reveal my hiding spot, and instead remained hidden in the branches. However, I heard every word the Sheriff told my mother. He told her how he was sorry, but that Brayden had been shot. Right outside the Sheriff’s department. The Sheriff had heard his dying words, first, the request to make sure I was okay, and second, Brayden’s confession that he had been delivering illegal substances to make some extra money. Apparently, Brayden had decided he could do it no longer, and had been on the way to turn himself in, and to report the man he was working for. Unfortunately, Brayden’s boss had gotten wind of his plan, and sent a bullet into Brayden’s back before he could report him. Brayden died before he could share the man’s name, and so his murderer was unknown. It took a minute to sink in, but when it did, my head started to spin, and I fell out of the tree. I don’t remember anything else about that day, and I went through the next week with almost no crying, but instead with a numb feeling. You see, when my father left, I bawled everyday, and I eventually built up a defense to tears, and visible emotion. But my own demonstration of grief was interrupted by pure fury the day of his funeral. I hadn’t realized what everyone was saying about my brother and his death until I heard some old gossip say to her friend, “That’s one more of those junkies off our streets. You know they found the weed on his body! Anybody carrying it just has to be using it!” To state my reaction to their words plainly, I threw my plate of food in the back of her thinning gray hair. I can’t prove it, but as long as I live, I will never believe that Brayden was involved in that stuff. There is no way that my amazing brother, who lectured me about avoiding drink and drugs of any kind, ever smoked that junk. Rilen snaps me back from my dream land when she asks me, “So where do you want this chair?” I bring myself to the present and secure my past deep into my mind, in another attempt to forget it all.