I followed Mom down the hall and into the kitchen to fill up my plate as everything unfolded in my mind. What if I didn’t get in? What if they took one look at me and then pulled my parents aside to say, “Look, you two were some of our favorite students, and we appreciate everything you’ve done for this school, but it saddens me to have to say this to you. Your daughter is nothing like you. She doesn’t have what it takes to be here.” That would crush my parents! I pictured their faces after they were told that and it made my heart shrivel a little.
“Rylee?” I started, blinked, and then looked up at Mom. She was looking at me with concern and asked, “What’s wrong?”
We were sitting at the dining table and I realized I’d just been holding my fork above my food and staring out into space, and by the look on Mom’s face I’d say my expression hadn’t been pleasant. They both looked at me, waiting for me to answer, but I just looked down and sighed. “Are you sad about leaving your friends?” Dad asked.
Oddly, I wasn’t. I had been at first, but then I got so excited about starting Atlas that the sadness was driven permanently out. “No,” I said, “It’s about Atlas.” I looked up at them and saw exactly what I’d expected. They thought I’d changed my mind about going again.
“What’s wrong? Are you nervous, sweetie?” Mom asked.
“No,” I said and hesitated to continue. It was so hard for me to say this, but I didn’t want them to be surprised later on when they found out I was unfit for their miraculous school. I took a deep breath, looked back up at them, and said, “I don’t think I’m special enough to go there.”
To my surprise, they both smiled and shared a look. “Rylee trust me, you’re more than worthy of going there.” Dad squeezed my hand from across the table.
“Listen to the genius honey, he’s always right.” she said, taking a small bite of her food.
I looked down, unsure. “What makes you think you’re not special enough?” he asked, giving me a tender look.
“Well, I was reading my history book about all those agents, and I’m nothing like them. I could never do what they did. I’ve never done anything spy-ish and I’ve never really been the sneaky type. My grades aren’t exceptional and the only things I’m good at is sports. I’m nothing like you, and I just wanted to tell you this so you’re not too surprised when they reject me.” It all came spilling out of me, and when I was done I looked at them for a reaction.
Dad set his fork down and rested his hands on either side of his plate, giving me the odd feeling that I was either going to get in trouble, a lecture, or both. “First of all, the agents in that book are fully trained and have years of experience under their belts, so stop selling yourself short before you even begin. You’ll learn a lot during your six years at Atlas, and just because you don’t have talent in a certain area doesn’t mean you’re at a disadvantage to the rest of the kids going there. Not every kid there has extraordinary talents, and most of them didn’t even know they had this life as an option, just like you.” he said, looking at me lovingly.
“And you’re right,” Mom piped in, “you’re not like us. You’re you, and that’s what we want. You areveryspecial, to us and to the school.”
“Yeah, but they’re only interested in me because they think I’m going to be like you.” I said, nodding in her direction.
“No, they’re interested in you for your ability to turn a bad experience into fuel to better yourself.” she said, her eyes stern at first and then softening as we all knew what she was talking about. “You turned a negative into a positive. You coped well, and quickly, with an unexpected event and came out of it strong. Those are some of the abilities that are at the core of what Atlas is about.” I looked up at her with surprise and renewed hope in my eyes as she said this.
“You need to be strong because your life is going to be hard, full of loss, and a lot of it will be spent alone with no one to talk to because you’ll be dealing with classified information.” he said, looking straight in my eyes with a sure and loving expression.
Mom reached across the table and took my hand. “You are so special, and so important to the school that the headmaster himself called for you.” She nodded and a soft smile lifted her lips when my eyes widened.
“Yeah, we went to school with John.” Dad said as Mom leaned back and started eating again. “But a few years ago his dad passed away and he had to take over. And don’t think this is just a favor for a friend.” He added the last part quickly at seeing the look on my face, thinking exactly that. “We might be friends with him, but he’s very serious about his job and wouldn’t risk it by letting in a kid of friend if they didn’t make the cut. But lucky for us, you do.” He smiled at me and my excitement returned.
“He started calling us last year actually, to make sure we were going to send you in, and we weren’t sure then, but he said he didn’t care when we changed our minds. He would get you in no matter what.” she said, smiling too.
“Wow.” I said, still shocked. “I can’t believe it.”
“Why not?” he asked. “You’re a legacy, and not only that, you’re the kid of the most famous and most decorated female agent in twenty years.”
“She’s your kid too.” Mom reminded him, smirking.
“She doesn’t take after me.” he said, smiling back and then looking back at me. “It’s in your blood. There’s no way you couldn’t make it there.”
“Thanks.” I said, smiling happily. “I feel better now.”
“Good, now let’s eat before the food gets cold.” he said, and with that, we resumed eating and talking about the school some more.
“So, are there any rules there I should know about? Can I call you only on the weekends or something?”Yeah, a month before you go is a nice time to think of this.I thought, kicking myself for not asking sooner.
“Actually, Atlas blocks all cell phone signals as soon as you get on campus so you’d better just leave your phone here. But on the upside of that, we get to send coded messages back and forth. Won’t that be fun?” she said, looking excited. “I haven’t done coded messages in years.”
“Anything else?” I asked, not really happy about the no-phone rule and wondering how long it would take me to learn coded messages.
“Not really.” she said, wrinkling her nose like she was trying to remember. “Oh, except that you might want to be careful of the scientists there.”
“Yeah, very careful.” Dad said, chuckling and shaking his head.
“Why?” I asked, looking between them.
“Because they’ll try out their experiments out on you if you’re not careful.” she said.
“Or try to use youasone of their experiments.” he added, smiling as if at a memory.
“Oh.” I said, kind of curious and scared to hear what happened to the kids they’d known.
That night as I was getting ready for bed I paused in front of the bathroom mirror, examining myself. Looking at me and Mom now, it looked like the only thing I got from her was my diamond face shape and my long caramel colored hair, but look at pictures of when she was thirteen, and we could’ve been twins. Well, except for my eyes. I had Dad’s brilliant green mixed with her Caribbean blue.
“Night sweetie, have sweet dreams.” Mom said as she came to say goodnight just as I was climbing into bed. “Here’s some money for some more clothes and any other things if you need them.”
“This is a lot of money.” I said, glancing between her and the cash. It was at least two hundred dollars, if not more. And I knew we were loaded even if we didn’t show it, but still, a teenager carrying around a huge wad of cash like this wasn’t really the safest thing, even at a spy school.
“Their things are on the expensive side because of what they’re made of, but it’s also for whatever you might need later on. I love you, and have sweet dreams.”
“Okay. Thanks, Mom. I love you too.” I hugged her and after she left I put the money in my wallet and crashed in bed, asleep before my head hit the pillow.