Arjay’s first day at East Ridge had been all right, considering the circumstances. He couldn’t believe that his parents had actually gone through with something this big. It just wasn’t fair that Arjay had to leave home, where all his friends were, when it was José and Calvin who needed this new place.
All day, both of them had practically just rubbed in the fact that Arjay had to be here, too. For one, they weren’t complaining nearly enough. José complained about everything at home, but he had hardly said a word against this place so far, even though it was clearly just a prison for boys their age. Calvin even seemed to like the place, with how little he had complained. Everyone they had met had gotten the impression that Calvin was some goody-two-shoes, though Arjay knew he was far from it.
Arjay stared out his window at the cars in the parking lot as the sun went down. Occasionally, someone would come out of the building and drive away or someone would drive into the parking lot and walk into the building, but considering how empty the parking lot was, Arjay figured that most of the staff had left during dinner, leaving only a night shift of security guards.
When watching the parking lot got boring, Arjay picked up his orientation packet again and studied the map of East Ridge, as well as the page with the diagram of flags that flew outside the cabins, which he had wondered about when they had walked through them. After he had absorbed that information the best he could, Arjay turned to the daily schedules and tried to read it, but he only got through a few lines before he threw the packet across the room. Why had so many of his siblings come out normal when Arjay got stuck with Mom’s stupid disease? Every time letters started flipping around and turning backwards, Arjay wanted to lose it. He’d never figure out how to read through anything without stopping, at this point. He sighed and put his head down on his desk, wishing that he had his phone or his DS or his Xbox. This place was so damn boring.
The next morning, Arjay woke to a clanging alarm coming over the speakers. He groaned and pulled his pillow over his head.
He woke up again to a pounding at his door. Arjay rolled out of bed, rubbing his eyes, and was greeted at the door by Mr. Chance, looking like a big red tomato, about to burst.
“What?” Arjay asked, scratching his arm.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Mr. Chance yelled. “You’re supposed to be dressed and running out to block by now!”
“How was I supposed to know?” Arjay asked.
“Can’t you read?” Mr. Chance asked, gesturing frantically to the orientation packet on the floor in Arjay’s room.
Arjay gritted his teeth and turned to rummage through all the clothes he had gotten yesterday. “This one?” he asked, holding up a white t-shirt.
“Yes, and the black shorts,” Mr. Chance said. “Now move it.”
Arjay sighed and got changed as fast as he could before following Mr. Chance outside. Arjay watched as big crowds of boys headed somewhere in the grass, but Mr. Chance led him to Arjay’s school building. “I thought you said I was supposed to be standing on some block or something.”
Mr. Chance stared at him like he was stupid. “Well, you slept through attendance, so now you’re meeting your brother in the gym for your fitness tests.”
“You mean my brothers?”
“No,” Mr. Chance snapped. “I mean your brother. Once I drag the other one out of bed, I’ll be taking him to his own gym to do his fitness tests.” Mr. Chance led Arjay through another door, where Calvin was waiting with another man in the same clothes as Mr. Chance. “Listen to Mr. Lakes,” Mr. Chance told Arjay before leaving.
Arjay rolled his eyes at Calvin, who smirked. The other man, Mr. Lakes, made them do a push up and two different sit up tests while he took notes on his clipboard. By the time he let them go to breakfast, Arjay was starving.
“How’d you know to be over here?” Arjay asked as they walked into the mess hall and left Mr. Lakes behind, out in the cold. “I didn’t even have time to put on the sweatsuit with Mr. Chance breathing down my neck.”
Calvin sighed, stuffing his hands in the sweatshirt pocket. “I didn’t know to be over at the school, but I read the weekend schedule in the orientation packet, and it said that workouts were really soon after wake up. So when that alarm went off, I got dressed and opened by door, and Mr. Chance came down the hall and asked me why I was the only one ready.”
“What’d you say?”
“I said that you and José probably hadn’t read the packet.”
“You really threw us under the bus like that?” Arjay asked incredulously.
Calvin rolled his eyes as they joined the food line. “It’s not like he wasn’t going to find out.”
Arjay shivered through breakfast, despite the fact that it was pretty warm in the mess hall.
“These eggs don’t taste like eggs,” José complained, flicking some off his fork and onto the floor.
Arjay agreed. The eggs were watery and strangely rubbery.
“At least the yogurt is good,” Calvin said, taking a bite of his.
Arjay rolled his eyes at José, who snickered behind his hand. They started flicking eggs at Calvin, who reached over and flipped Arjay’s tray off the table and onto the ground.
“What was that for?’ Arjay groaned. He had hardly had a chance to eat anything.
Calvin shrugged, smirking.
When Mr. Chance came to get them and saw the mess on the floor, he shouted, “What is the meaning of this?”
“Calvin did it,” Arjay said, pointing at his brother.
Mr. Chance glared at Calvin, who said “Sorry.”
“You will clean this up,” Mr. Chance said, checking the bottom of his shoe. He motioned for Calvin to follow him.
When they were out of earshot, Arjay looked at José, and they busted out laughing.
After showering and changing back into his outfit from the day before, Mr. Chance made Arjay clean his room before he brought him out into the hallway with his brothers. “It’s recreation time right now. You can go do laundry or make some friends outside, but stay out of trouble, you hear?”
Arjay and his brothers nodded.
“There are clocks in here, as you know, and at each of the baseball fields. Lunch is from 11:30 to 12:30, and if you miss it, you miss it. Afterwards, there’s more rec time. You can still go have fun, but I suggest that you keep an eye on the clock so that you can take advantage of your status as new students and shower right after dinner, before the other boys are allowed to shower. Do you understand me?”
“Yeah,” Arjay and his brothers said.
“I’ll see you boys at 9:30 to check you into your rooms. Don’t be late.”
Arjay nodded, eager to get away from Mr. Chance and his brothers.
“Get out of my sight.”
José took off running and Mr. Chance yelled at him, telling him not to run until he got outside, but Calvin walked alongside Arjay. “What’re you going to do?”
“Nothing with you,” Arjay said.
“Whatever,” Calvin said.
Arjay ditched him when they got outside and walked down to the baseball fields, where there were things happening on both diamonds. The bleachers were full, so Arjay leaned against the side of some of them and watched two groups of boys go through drills. As far as he could tell, the two teams were called the Jaguars and the Panthers and it seemed like they were warming up for a game.
Warm ups were pretty boring and it was cold even with a jacket on, so Arjay rubbed his arms, trying to warm himself up, wondering why so many guys came out to watch this crap. By the time the game actually started, Arjay’s legs were tired of standing. He looked up at the bleachers and spotted a small empty spot where we thought he could fit if he tired near the top. He shoved his hands into his pockets and walked up the steps in the middle of the bleachers. He kept his eyes down until he had to look up and slide past all the other guys in the row with the open spot.
“Dude, what the fuck?” someone said angrily.
“Couldn’t have done this before the game started?”
“What an idiot.”
Finally, Arjay got to the empty spot and squished between the edge of the bleachers and the guy next to him. The guy scowled and scooted over an inch. “That was extremely dumb.”
“Maybe it was ballsy,” Arjay said, flashing him a smile.
“Nah,” the guy said, the corner of his mouth twitching. “It was just dumb.”
Neither of them said anything more until the bottom of the inning.
“Do you know anyone out there?” Arjay asked.
The guy shrugged. “Not really. One guy hosted me in his cabin back when I was a newbie.”
“Nice,” Arjay said, wanting to ask more questions about what it meant to be ‘hosted,’ but he didn’t want anyone else asking him if he could read like Mr. Chance had. “It’s only my second day here.”
“Yeah?” the guy said, glancing at him. “So you’re friendless, huh?”
“You’re what, fifteen?”
“Sixteen,” Arjay said.
“Oh, cool. Me too. You a junior?”
“Damn. Well, welcome to East Ridge and all that shit.”
“So what’s your name, newbie?”
“I’m Bayley, but everyone calls me Grinch.”
Arjay laughed. “You a Christmas hater?”
Grinch laughed. “I don’t understand why more people aren’t.”
“Probably because of the presents?”
“Presents delivered by a made up, fat-ass child molester in a red jumpsuit.”
Arjay laughed, leaning forward and pressing his hands into his knees. “Who said Santa is a child molester?”
“I did,” Grinch said. “’Cause he is.”
“If you say so, man.”
They talked for the rest of the game, and Grinch even helped Arjay learn some of the players’ names so that he wouldn’t sound so ignorant. When lunch came around, they walked to the mess hall together.
“I guess I have to go sit in the corner now,” Arjay said, wishing that he could sit with Grinch.
“Yeah, being a newbie sucks. See you later.”
When the bell rang the next morning, Arjay wanted to cry. Instead, he threw his pillow across the room and rolled out of bed. He had been smart enough the night before to put on his workout clothes and his sweats since his room was cold and he knew that he didn’t move very quickly in the morning. His stomach rumbled as he opened the door and stepped out of his room. Mr. Chance came down the hall a minute later, followed by Calvin. “Go to the same gym as yesterday after attendance block,” Mr. Chance said before hurrying away, mumbling to himself.
“José obviously didn’t get up again,” Calvin said as he and Arjay walked out to the black top.
“Good for him,” Arjay said.
“If he doesn’t start trying, Mom and Dad aren’t going to let him come home until he graduates and East Ridge kicks him out.”
Arjay laughed. “You know that Mom could never go that long without seeing her wittle José.”
“She’ll see him once a month.”
“You know what I mean.”
When they got outside, Calvin began walking away.
“Aren’t we going to the gym?” Arjay asked.
“Attendance block,” Calvin said, as if that were obvious. “Your number was written on the cover of your orientation packet.”
Arjay looked down at the numbers on the asphalt and sighed. He had never seen a number. Calvin ditched him, leaving Arjay standing at the front of the block, where boys were beginning to gather, staring at him. He pushed through the crowd and decided to stand behind everyone.
Unfortunately, that plan led to one of the men dressed like Mr. Chance approaching him after a whistle blew and the rest of the boys went quiet. “Aren’t you supposed to be standing on a number?”
“I don’t know my number,” Arjay admitted.
The man sighed and looked at his clipboard. “Name?”
Arjay told him, and the man escorted him to the number 321 and told him to stand up straight. Arjay sighed and stared at the back of the guy’s head in front of him.
Once they were allowed to move away from their numbers, Arjay headed to the gym where a new man, Mr. Thomas, led Arjay and Calvin through a pacer test. Though Arjay had beat Calvin’s scores on the tests the day before, Calvin got fifty two on the pacer while Arjay stopped at thirty nine, his stomach growling and cramping angrily. He leaned against the wall, holding his abdomen and squeezing his eyes shut.
“Next test,” Mr. Thomas said when Calvin stopped. Arjay groaned in protest as he stood up and followed Calvin and Mr. Thomas to a pull up bar. Since Calvin had done better on the pacer, Mr. Thomas made Arjay go first. With his stomach hurting like it was, Arjay thought it was a miracle that he managed to do two. When it was Calvin’s turn, he only managed one and Mr. Thomas shook his head as he wrote down their pathetic scores.
“Can we go to breakfast now?” Arjay asked, his voice pitching up into a whine. It didn’t matter though, because he deserved to whine after being tortured two mornings in a row.
Mr. Thomas looked at his watch. “Go ahead.”
Arjay led the charge to breakfast gratefully, and when he got his food he ate it quickly, not complaining once.
After they ate, Arjay went back to his room and got dressed into his school uniform. When Mr. Chance came to inspect it, he took so long to approve how Arjay had tied his tie and buttoned the shirt and folded the collar and belted his pants that Arjay was late to class.
“Late on your first day, Mr. Nichols,” his teacher said disapprovingly, his mouth turned down at the corners.
“It wasn’t my fault,” Arjay protested.
“So they all say. Sit and stop disrupting my class.”
Arjay looked out at the sea of desks, where the other boys watched him, some laughing. There were a few empty seats, so Arjay asked, “Where?”
“Can you not follow simple instructions?” the teacher asked. “Sit.”
Arjay chose a seat in the back row and slumped into his chair. This school was already managing to be worse than his old one, and it had only been a couple minutes.
By the time lunch came around, Arjay had fallen asleep in two of his classes and he had been given detention not only by both of those teachers, but by a third because the teacher claimed that he had talked back.
“I seriously didn’t even do anything wrong,” Arjay told Calvin at lunch. “She said ‘Take out your books’ and I said ‘I don’t have one,’ so she said ‘Then maybe you should get one’ and I said ‘Maybe I would know where to get one if you told me’ and she gave me a detention. Can you believe it?”
“It does seem a little harsh,” Calvin agreed, stabbing his fork into his meatloaf.
“Did you get detention?” Arjay plugged his nose as he took a bite of his lentils.
“No,” Calvin said. “I think I fell asleep for a couple minutes in history, though. The teacher turned out the lights so we could see the slideshow better, and I think that’s really what saved me. I woke up before he noticed.”
“Lucky,” Arjay said. “I really hate this place.”
Calvin shrugged. “I don’t think it’ll be as bad once we make friends. The classes here are different, but math is definitely behind what I was in at home so it’s super easy right now.”
“You haven’t made friends?”
“No. Have you?”
“Yeah,” Arjay said. It wasn’t really a lie, and it felt good to one up Calvin. “His name is… uh… Well, people call him Grinch. He taught me stuff about baseball.”
Calvin laughed. “You’re even more friendless than me.”
“Am not,” Arjay said, flicking a lentil at him.
“You definitely are,” Calvin said, flicking a piece of his meatloaf at Arjay. “No one is called ‘Grinch.’”
Despite his attempts to convince his teachers to give him detention all at the same time, Arjay ended up with four separate detention times by the end of the day, the fourth from falling asleep in his last class of the day.
All of the East Ridge boys were inside for afternoon workouts, but instead of joining everyone else, Mr. Thomas made Calvin and Arjay run stairs and do push ups, sit ups, and burpees in between, as if the stairs weren’t enough. After about ten minutes, Arjay nearly lost his lunch and Mr. Thomas still yelled at him until he got up from the floor and started moving again. When they finished that workout, not even Calvin could stop complaining. “And we can’t even shower until tonight,” he groaned, wiping sweat off his forehead.
“At least you don’t have detention.” Arjay said. He and Calvin went back to their own separate rooms, where Arjay changed into his rec clothes and pulled his detention slips out of his school bag. He had one today, one Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. The one for today told him to go downstairs to the storeroom and meet Linda. Arjay did, and Linda busied him by making him unpack boxes of clothes, toiletries, and school supplies that he then had to organize onto her shelves.
By the time he was finished, it was nearly dinner time so Arjay headed to the mess hall for another disgusting meal. He ate as quickly as he could, ignoring his brothers, then went to his room and flopped down on his bed to take a well-deserved nap.
Arjay awoke to someone knocking on his door. He got up and answered it, rubbing his eyes.
“I’m glad to see that you’re already here,” Mr. Chance said, looking around Arjay to inspect his room. “If you keep leaving your uniform on the floor, you and I are going to have a talk. You may even end up seeing a detention because of it.”
“Okay, sure,” Arjay said, scratching his neck. Mr. Chance made him clean up his room, then told him, “You have ten minutes to go to the bathroom before I shut you in for the night.”
“What?” Arjay said, looking up at the clock. It was 9:43, which meant he had slept through showers.
“You’re wasting valuable time,” Mr. Chance said, tapping his watch. Arjay grabbed his toothbrush and his workout clothes and sprinted to the bathroom, where he used paper towels to give himself the best bath he could.
Arjay’s first week continued much the same as his first day had gone, though he never missed showers again. However, he got so many detentions that they not only spilled into his second week at East Ridge, but also his third.
Saturday morning, Mr. Chance took Arjay and Calvin to Headmaster Dawson’s office.
“What’d we even do?” Arjay complained, rubbing his lower back. It hurt from detention the day before, where he had been forced to do all sorts of exercises with the weights and machines that he had learned to use throughout the week.
“It’s just to assign us a cabin for next week,” Calvin the Know-It-All said.
Mr. Chance stopped at Headmaster Dawson’s office and knocked. The headmaster answered seconds later, ushering Calvin and Arjay into his office.
“You can both stand, since I only have one chair right now,” Headmaster Dawson said, just as Arjay was about to sit down.
“I just want to relax,” Arjay said, holding his back as he straightened up and squeezing his eyes shut so that he didn’t cry. His body had never been so sore and tired all at once.
“I believe that, according to Mr. Chance, you may have met one of the boys you’ll be living with this week. He and his bunkmates should be here any minute, now.”
Calvin nodded and Arjay shifted his weight between his feet, trying to find a way to stand that didn’t hurt. Finally, there was a knock on the door.
“Open it, please,” Headmaster Dawson said, looking at Calvin. Calvin did as he asked and five boys, including the one who had shown Arjay and Calvin around a week before, walked in.
“Introduce yourselves,” the headmaster said, smiling.
“I’m Corey,” the tour guide said, smiling.
“Allen,” the next guy, who had curly brown hair and freckles, said.
“Brycen,” the skinny blond one said.
“Griffon,” the next guy, who also had curly brown hair, said.
“Peyton,” the last one, who had wavy dark brown hair said.
“I’m Calvin,” Calvin said before looking at Arjay expectantly.
“Arjay,” he said.
“These boys should be able to show you the ropes over the next week,” Headmaster Dawson said, smiling. “They’re seasoned East Ridge students, so they can show you how to get everywhere in time and give you some tips on how to stay awake in class.”
Arjay nodded dutifully, hoping that the other boys would assume that the headmaster was making a jab at Calvin.
“Ready to go?” Corey asked. Calvin smiled and nodded, and Arjay shrugged. Corey led them and his bunkmates out of the office. “We can help you guys carry you stuff to the cabin.”
“I can get my own stuff,” Arjay said, not wanting them to smell his clothes. He hadn’t done laundry all week because he kept forgetting.
“All right,” Corey said, shrugging.
While the other guys followed Calvin to his room, Arjay stuffed all of his stuff into his bags and slung them over his shoulders, allowing him to carry his uniform and his sweatshirt in his hands. He hurried down the hall to meet his new bunkmates outside Calvin’s room, and then Corey and Allen led them to the cabin.
No one talked on the way, and when they finally arrived at one of the better-kempt cabins, Arjay was about ready to keel over. Once he stepped in the cabin, Arjay dropped all of his stuff to the ground and looked around. “Well I’m glad this place doesn’t look like a warzone.”
Two of the boys, whose names Arjay couldn’t remember, laughed while the other boys helped Calvin set his things down on one of the empty beds.
“We try to stay civil,” the boy with the darkest hair said.
“I think the secret to our success is being the one of the only uni-racial cabins in East Ridge,” the blond one, whose stuck-up name was on the tip of Arjay’s tongue, said.
“Well, no longer,” Arjay said, crossing his arms.
The boy with the dark hair squinted at Arjay, then turned and looked Calvin up and down.
Corey came up behind the blond guy and cleared his throat. “Hey, don’t listen to Brycen,” he told Arjay. “There’s no pride in white supremacy, obviously. It’s just a joke.”
Brycen smiled at Corey and when the dark-haired guy and Corey walked away, Brycen asked, “So what kind of brown are you?”
Arjay scowled at his phrasing. “We’re Cuban.” Not that Arjay knew anything about being Cuban, since his Dad and his Dad’s parents had grown up in Florida and his mom’s whole side of the family was white.
“But only like, six percent or something, right? You should just say that you’re white.”
“We’re a quarter Cuban. Not that it’s any of your business, anyway.”
Brycen scowled. “No need to be a jerk about it, God. I was just asking a simple question.”
“No, you were being a dick,” Arjay spat. He turned away, picked up his bags, and dumped them onto the nearest empty bunk. He looked above it, pleased to find that the bunk above it was also empty.
“There’s a reason that no one wants the bunk by the door,” Brycen said, smirking and walking across the cabin, where all of the other guys were gathered around Calvin.
“Why does Cal get all the help?” Arjay mumbled. He plopped down on his mattress and rested his head on his uniform. His back needed a break.