Canada is not known for our military advantage, but just because we don't have a huge army or nuclear missile factory does not mean we are sitting ducks.
Welcome to Maplewood Academy - a school for overachieving youngsters... on the outside...
"Did you remember to bring tampons?"
Her mom looked around as she said it, as if making sure no one was listening, but Andy felt the burning eyes of soon-to-be classmates and their parents staring from every direction.
She felt her cheeks flaming red, but defiantly picked up her suitcases, and with a sarcastic smile, replied "Yes, Mother. I also remembered my toothbrush."
It was a crisp September day, and they were standing in the parking lot of a gas station on the edge of the city, saying their goodbyes. In front of them roared an old school bus that had been painted gray and smelled of diesel: the bus that would take the to Maplewood Academy, a boarding school for talented, overachieving students. As far as Andy was concerned, the sooner she could get away from her well-meaning but humiliating mother, the better.
Her mother, not usually one to pick up on sarcasm, smiled. "Oh good..." She hesitated a moment, then swept her daughter into a tearful hug. "I can't believe my baby girl is going to high school. Oh, you're going to have so much fun!" She drew back but kept her hands on Andy's shoulders, her blue eyes wide and serious.
"Don't do drugs, call me every week, and email at least every other day. I want to know everything that you're doing. Eat your vegetables-"
Andy snorted at this, but her mom took no notice.
"- do your homework. And if you meet a boy, always say no. And if you say yes, and decide to... you know-"
"- please be safe. I trust you. I love you... oh my god I'm going to miss you Andy!" She wrapped her arms tightly around her daughter, forcing the air out of her lungs. Andy dropped a suitcase and patted her back awkwardly, breathing in the familiar smells of herbal shampoo and cheap perfume.
Around them, students were lugging heavy bags and tastefully waving goodbye to their parents. Andy sighed and tried to pry her mom's hands from her neck. "I'll be fine mom. And I'll email you all the time, I promise."
She heard someone clear his throat behind her. Andy looked around to see that all the students had boarded the bus, and the driver was looking at her expectantly. "I'll see you at Christmas," she said and gave her mom a peck on the cheek before picking up her suitcases and helping the driver shove them into the compartment beneath the bus.
Andy took a breath and climbed the steps into the bus, her mom calling out "Love you!" in the background. She observed the interior of the bus in surprise: the inside was much nicer and modern-looking than the exterior had led her to believe. The passengers stared at her or looked out the windows, but no one spoke. The bus driver climbed up behind her and put his hand on her shoulder. "Find a seat, Andy."
Andy walked half-way down the aisle and found an empty spot beside a red-headed boy, all the while wondering how the bus driver knew her name.
"Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen and welcome aboard the Maplewood Bus. Our departure will begin shortly. The trip to Maplewood Academy will take roughly three hours, and some snacks will be served at the half-way point. There are screens in front of you for entertainment purposes and the restroom is at the back of the bus. Please do not push the red button in the bathroom. For takeoff, we insist that you keep your seatbelt on until the seatbelt sign is no longer lit and please make sure your seats are in the full upright position..."
"My name's Marcus." The redheaded boy whispered.
"Andy," Andy replied with a small smile.
"My brother Robert went to Maplewood. When I was little, he told me that he was learning how to be a spy..."
In any other situation, Andy would have smiled, chuckled even. But something was fishy about this bus. "What did he mean by takeoff?" she asked nervously.
"Ever since then I knew I wanted to come here."
The driver had finished his speech and had taken his seat up front, pressing and flicking various buttons and switches. Passengers were murmuring anxiously now. Marcus found a strange-looking seatbelt attached to his seat and helped Andy secure hers. It strapped an X across her chest, holding her secure. Other passengers watched and did the same.
A girl up front raised her hand. The driver turned around. "Question?"
"Yes. Where exactly is Maplewood Academy? The website didn't actually say anywhere, and my parents want to know so they can visit."
The bus driver grinned. Andy looked across Marcus out the window and noticed she couldn't see through it anymore. Instead she saw her own wide-eyed face reflected against the darkened pane.
"That, my dear, is classified. Any other questions?" He looked around expectantly.
No one raised their hand. He resumed flipping switches and pushing levers. The bus began to hum beneath Andy's feet.
"Is this really happening?" Andy gripped her armrests tightly.
"I think so." He looked like he was going to be sick.
The passengers were dead silent now.
"Any last words? Marcus asked.