“Oh, come on!” I groaned, throwing a punch at the seat in front of me. My cab had gotten stuck behind a bus ten minutes outside of London and the asshole driver had refused to pass it. We had just come to a screeching halt for the hundredth time that afternoon. “What the hell, man? How much fucking longer do I have to put up with this?” I cursed. I was overreacting, but in my defense, I was frustrated and sleep-deprived and not exactly in a forgiving mood.
The cab driver let me go on like that for a minute before saying, “I don’t mean to interrupt, sir, but this happens to be your stop.” I looked up at him, still pretty damn aggravated, “Unless you don’t intend to visit Wellington’s School for Boys,” he said with the same condescending air that every Brit I had met so far used.
I whipped my head to the right and saw that WELLINGTON’S was printed in bold, spiraling letters on the iron gates that we had so suddenly parked in front of.
I turned back to the driver, feeling like a complete idiot. “Yes, actually I do,” I grumbled, knowing I looked like an ass.
“Shall I drive you in then?”
I muttered something that he must have taken as a ‘yes.’ I wasn’t looking forward to spending more time in the cab, but I had just seen a pretty suspicious looking kid step out of the bus and walk towards the gates. I decided I would rather not take the walk to the school with him, so I let the cab driver follow the boy up the path.
We drove up the road leading to the school, past the strange looking kid and a big blond guy who looked like he could probably rip my head off, and I thought about how far I was from home.
London was a far cry from my perpetually boring life in Wisconsin. I had applied to Wellington’s on a whim, thinking traveling to war-ravaged Europe would be just the adventure I was looking for. No one was more surprised than me when I got an actual acceptance letter.
I was a little too eager to get out of the cab and stepped out the door, tripping on my own feet, before the car could stop moving. I tried to blow it off, but not before the guy watching me from the courtyard saw. I trudged to the trunk, brushing my hair from my eyes, and grabbed my luggage as he, to my annoyance, came over to me.
The kid was about my age. He was pretty dark, though his skin did not match his massive green eyes or his British accent in any way. Probably Spanish or Italian or something, I thought. There was something off about his face, like it was softer than the average guy or something. He introduced himself as Gabe Moretti, made the thousandth comment about my accent I had gotten since arriving in England, and stood in awkward silence until we were joined by the next guy, the hulking, scary-looking blond I had seen earlier.
I let Gabe talk to him; if his appearance wasn’t enough to ward me off, his German introduction was plenty. His name was Erich (pronounced with a ridiculous flem sound on the second syllable that I knew I would never be able to pronounce) and he seriously looked like he had walked off a Hitler Youth poster. Just like the boys we always saw on the news, marching past that little mustached bastard. I’m not kidding, right down to the haircut. I would never say it, at the risk of having my limbs torn from my body and eaten, but I couldn’t help but feel like I was dealing with the kind of vicious, blood-thirsty German we read about back in America. I had literally never met anyone who didn’t live within a three state radius of Wisconsin, and I was terrified.
From what we had all read in our letters, we knew we had one more roommate, and luckily we didn’t have long to wait. The shady looking guy who had gotten off the bus in front of me came up the path a minute later.
“Hi,” he said, not addressing any one of us in particular. He had the weirdest accent yet. “Sorry I’m late. Herschel Abrahamson,” he introduced himself, keeping his eyes down as he held out a hand. The guy was shorter than me and stocky, with olive skin, harsh cheekbones, and deep-set, watery brown eyes. He wasn’t bad looking (as long as you didn’t look too long at the heavy ledge of his brow over his eyes, which made him look like he was concentrating unnervingly hard on you) but seemed a little rough to be entering an exclusive prep school. His thick brown hair was overgrown, his clothes were rumpled and it looked like it had been a while since he had shaved. It was his name that tipped me off, though.
The rest of us gave him an odd look, obviously wondering how a Jewish boy who was obviously not exactly British had gotten there. “Hersch,” he tried again, pushing his crooked, rectangular glasses up his nose, when none of us answered, “Hersch Abrahamson.”
We all nodded and looked in different directions. It was one fucker of an uncomfortable situation. Already, none of us liked any of the others. I was worried by Herschel, who seemed to have so much going on in his head that he couldn’t be bothered to pay attention to anything else; confused by Gabe, who had a quality that made me uneasy and I felt like I should have recognized; and more than a little scared of Erich, who didn’t seem to like anyone or anything. We were saved by our uncomfortable moment by the annoying-looking prefect who came to greet us.
“Everyone here?” he asked, sounding bored as he our names off a sheet of paper. “Abrahamson, Amery, Banhart, and Moretti?” He looked at us like we were the biggest group of misfits he had ever seen, which, in retrospect, we probably were. When none of us responded, he must have assumed we were all in the right place. “All right,” he clapped his hands together with a falsely-excited air that failed to make any of us more comfortable, “welcome to Wellington’s!”
The four of us followed him across the grounds. The area was dominated by the huge main building, built from tan brick probably fifty years ago, which the prefect pointed out as holding the dining hall, library, and classes. There were two separate dorms buildings, made of matching brick, on each the side and a scattering of even smaller, unspecified structure behind them. The tension didn’t exactly ease when we realized that we were not being led towards either of the dorms, but around the back of the main building.
“Unfortunately for you,” the prefect said, “there were no dormitory rooms left by the time we got your confirmations. In fact, it’s rather rare for Wellington’s to take on new students for a single term. But the headmaster had something set up.”
We followed him around the side of the building to a door that clearly, to all of our horror, led to the basement. He led us down the stairs, through the door and into a dimly lit concrete hall. There was a flight of stairs at the end of the corridor and a single door on the right-hand side of the hall. The handle was broken, which we should have seen as a sign of the environment where we would be spending the next four months. I don’t know what I expected to see on the other side of that door, but I know that disappointment was one of the first unanimous feelings the four of us shared.
Our dorm had clearly once been a boiler room, a conclusion I drew based on the fact that the boiler was still there - a huge, ugly thing that took up a good fourth of the room. The floor was concrete and covered by a thin yellow rug that clashed with the color of the red brick walls. There were two sets of bunks that sat opposite each other against the far wall, a writing desk in between them and an old wooden tub in the corner that apparently no one had bothered to move.
The prefect made no attempt to explain anything more, but was apparently so dismayed by our new home that he wanted to get the hell out. “Breakfast is tomorrow at seven, classes at eight. Your uniforms are on the beds, schedules are on the desk anddon’tbe late,” he ordered as he made his way out the door.
The four of us looked at each other without saying anything. We claimed our beds without a word, meaning Erich picked the left top bunk and no one was about to argue with him. I ended up on the opposite top, sharing the set with Herschel.
The uniforms were lousy: tan trousers, white button-up shirt, a blue sweater-vest with the school crest embroidered on it, and red and blue striped tie, plus a hat that made me look like I ought to be delivering newspapers. Great, just perfect. I was going to look like a heelandbe trapped with three jerks all term. No one made any attempt to communicate, though we were trapped within three feet of each other. I groaned and flopped back on my bed, looking up at the ceiling and trying to block out my roommates.
“Verdammt!” the German word came from the other top bunk.
“Cazzo!” Italian, from a little ways away.
“Cholera!” Polish, from the bed underneath me.
I didn’t speak any of those languages, but the general meaning was pretty clear and echoed them in the only way I knew how.