Behind the head table were seven very tall and skinny windows to shed light on the room and its dark color scheme, with its deep red that matched the uniforms and its navy blue molding, though the white granite floors lent some light too. And another source helping shed light was the ceiling, which was also thirty feet high. The ceiling was white except for where it was vaulted around the two elongated chandeliers that hung over each table. In the vaulted areas the ceiling was red, gold, and white, the colors making the room look so brilliant I almost couldn’t take my eyes off of it.
We all marveled at it for a few minutes and then Buddy said, “This place is awesome.”
“Yeah, how did they do all this?” I asked in awe as we slid onto the benches and I put my hand on the cold and perfectly smooth granite tabletop.
“Well, most of it was already like this because before they made it into an academy they lived here, but a lot of remodeling and adding-on had to be done to make it the way it is now.” said Morgan, sliding in beside me so I was in between him and Buddy while Johnny sat across from Buddy.
“So,” Mickey said as she slid in beside Johnny and in front of me, “I see you’ve already met the neighbors.”
“You’re neighbors?” I said, surprised.
“I told you we knew each other; that our parents worked together.” Johnny said, looking at me in confusion.
“Yeah, but you didn’t say you lived next to each other.” I said.
“Well, we are. We’ve practically known each other our whole lives. Haven’t we Mick?” Buddy said, glancing at Mickey with a smile. She shot him a look and he nudged me, saying, “She hates when I call her that. She thinks it makes her sound like a guy.”
“It does.” she said annoyance.
“So does Mickey. You think that song’s about a girl?” he said and she glared at him, which only made him laugh.
“Anyway,” she said, turning her eyes back on me and regaining her smile. “I just wanted to warn you of one thing about him.” She nodded at Johnny.
“What?” Johnny and I said in unison, but just as Mickey opened her mouth to answer, the loud buzz of voices quickly faded. We all turned to see a handsome man standing at the ornately carved podium, looking out at us. He looked to be in his mid to late thirties, was tall with broad shoulders, and had wavy dark brown hair almost to his shoulders. I hadn’t expected him to look so young, despite Mom telling me she went to school with him, and I especially hadn’t expected a man who looked like this to be running a school, especially one like this.
The room was now completely silent and waiting for him to speak. His eyes swept from our table all the way to the 3rdClass Peepers, and then he smiled warmly and said, “My name is John Atlas, and I’m proud to welcome you to Atlas Academy of Special Talents. This is an academy unlike any other. I’d like to say thank you to our newest 1stClass Novices for making the decision to embark on this journey with us. Whatever your expectations of us are, I only hope we fulfill and exceed them.” His deep voice was warm and inviting, and as he spoke his eyes kept sweeping the crowd like he was looking for something, or someone.
Then his eyes finally found me, because somehow I knew they would, and a broad smile broke across his face. He looked overjoyed to see me, but he kept speaking, finally taking his eyes off me and returning to the rest of the student body. “As you all know, it’s tradition to allow you to speak in your native tongue for today, but for the rest of the school year you’ll be relying on these plaques,” he waved his hand towards it looked like the door, but then I saw six bright gold plaques stationed before every table, and at the moment they were all on ‘Native’, “to show you what to speak.”
Then he dropped his hand and continued. “And to our returning students, I hope you enjoyed your summer but still kept in good practice with your training because as you know, there are no reviews. 3rdClass Proficients,” he said, now looking at the table closest to him. “You have a big year ahead of you. We’ve taught you everything we can, and now all that’s left is to see what you learned. Mr. Black has already briefed you on your assignments, and even though you’ll be with trained professionals, that doesn’t mean you can take this lightly. These missions are dangerous and the people on your team will expect you to know what you’re doing and they won’t give you the easy parts. Students have died on these missions, but if you can make it through this alive, you have a good chance of making it in the real world. I wish you all the best of luck. You may eat.”
On his last words he snapped his fingers and twelve doors that lined the wall on our left suddenly opened. Long lines of servers, dressed in the academy’s blood red with black pants, filed out on each side of us since there were two doors to every table. They were each carrying something different, the first few setting out our silverware and dinnerware, then condiment trays and a basket of rolls and breadsticks were placed every few spots, and then the food servers came by. They asked each of us if we wanted what they were serving before they moved passed, and then we were finally all set up.
Then when the final server passed our group, Morgan said, “So, what was that all about?”
“What?” I asked.
“Why did Mr. Atlas look at you like that?” he looked at me in slight confusion and curiosity.
“Yeah, I saw that.” Johnny chimed in. “What was up with that?”
Everyone looked at me for an answer and I took a roll, buttering it as I said, “I don’t know. He was probably just happy I finally came.”
“What do you mean, ‘finally’?” Buddy asked before taking a bite of his pasta.
“Oh, well he’s been calling my parents since last year to make sure I was coming.” I said, shrugging like it was no big deal.
“Whoa.” said Johnny.
“Really?” asked Mickey.
“Was she thinking of not letting you come?” Buddy added after swallowing.
“Was it because you almost got kidnapped?” Morgan’s words hung in the air for a moment as they all grew silent, maybe scared they’d crossed the line. Then suddenly I felt wind sweep past my head and Morgan give a cry of, “Ow! Hey!”
I looked at him, saw he was looking at Buddy, and then turned to see Buddy giving him a look. “Sorry about him, he may be considered a genius when it comes to academics, but he doesn’t have any tact.”
“No, it’s okay.” I said hurriedly as Buddy gave Morgan another look. “I knew it would come up eventually.” They grew silent again, probably wondering if I was about to spill the beans, and after fidgeting with my fingers for a minute, I did. “My mom wasn’t sure I’d want to go when I started seventh grade because I didn’t show the desired potential needed to be here, but after the attack, I changed.” They remained quiet as I spoke, like they were soaking up every word. “Before the attack I hadn’t been the sports type, but afterwards I dove into all the sports I could and even got a personal trainer because I wanted to be as strong as possible so I’d be ready if it ever happened again. After that they told me about Atlas, and here I am.”
I glanced up at them for a second and then started twisting my pasta around my fork while they remained silent for a second, I guess not knowing what to do now. Then Buddy put an arm around my shoulders and said, “Well, we’re glad you’re here with us.” I looked up into his warm smile and was so happy I thought I was going to burst into tears as I looked around and saw them all smile and nod.
“Thanks, guys, this means a lot.” I said. We were quiet for a minute, and then remembering what Atlas said, I asked, “So, why was Atlas telling the 3rdClass Peepers all that stuff?”