“Welcome,” the same woman who dad talked to when we came to North Vale’s head office greeted, her smile still eerie. She looked at me and grinned, showing me her perfect white teeth, “I’m so happy to see you again, Isaiah.”
Are you really? I sarcastically asked myself. Nevertheless, I gave her a strained grin before dropping it almost too immediately.
“I’m sorry, we’re late…traffic is—”
The woman shook her head. “Oh no, it’s fine, Mr. Montenegro. We still have ten minutes before the exams start. Besides, I know how traffic works,” she said, her eyes twinkling while staring at dad. He only laughed in response, agreeing with her.
She walked around the reception table, leaving the three women who were working behind their computers. “Please follow me, I’ll lead you to the hall.”
Dad and I did what we were told and walked behind the woman. The corridors of North Vale’s office were tall and wide, covered in soft beige carpets. There were numerous rooms with glass walls, and I saw desks and chairs inside which I assumed were conference offices. We were led to the farthest area of the office and were greeted by another spacious hallway that was brightly lit.
“Sir,” the woman said as she opened one of the many doors to let dad inside. I saw a couple of people sitting in what seemed like a lobby, with couches, tables, vending and coffee machine placed inside. I almost shivered when the cold air coming from the room gusted over us. “You can wait here while your son takes the examination.”
“Alright.” Dad looked at me, his gaze quietly warning me. “Do your best, Isaiah.”
Oh, if only I could say I’d never do my best in North Vale. But I loved and respected my dad. If this was what he wanted, then I’d gladly do it for him. “Yes, dad,” I said.
I watched him go inside, quickly finding people he could talk to while waiting for me to finish the damn exam.
The woman closed the door and turned to me. “Let’s go?” she asked a little bit enthusiastically.
She’s chirpy but not in a good way. Her excitement almost resembled that of a serial killer that baited her victims into her trap.
“Okay,” I said, trying not to hide my dejected tone. I followed the woman to another room. Before pushing it open, she looked at me, her smile still present on her face. “I hope you’ll pass your entrance exam, Isaiah. North Vale will be so happy to have you.”
I could only stare at her in horror. She sounded like a damn robot, and it didn’t help that her eyes looked dead. “Oh, and one more thing, Isaiah,” she said, stopping me to get in the room. “We will know if you try and fail the exam on purpose.”
“We have studied everyone’s transcript of records,” she said, her creepy grin never leaving her face.
“And who the hell gave you permission to get that?” I asked. I didn’t care if I sounded rude just now, she’s blatantly threatening me.
“The Torres-Shao can do anything they want,” she said. Her voice was low, it was as if there’s another person in front of me. “We believe your father is in dire need of help for fixing your…behavior. And we are the perfect institution that can help.”
“Alright, alright, I’ll do my best,” I said, rolling my eyes at her. “You sound like the Mafia,” I commented.
The woman only smiled. “Good luck.”
There were ten students inside the room, scattered around as they sat behind each desk. I looked around, choosing what seat to take. When I found the spot—the one nearest to the door just in case I could still bail out of this shitty situation, I walked to it and put my things down.
I turned around to observe who were the miserable students who were definitely forced to attend North Vale—either because they had f*cked-up parents, or that they had good parents, like mine. My father only wanted what’s best for me, as he always says like it’s a mantra, and as a loving child that I am, I had no choice but to go along with his wishes.
Even if it meant I couldn’t see Liam again.
I really wanted to forget how useless I was back when that asshole took Liam away from me. I knew his name very well. Liam talked about his childhood friend, Paolo a couple of times when we were at the restaurant, and I didn’t like whatever relationship they had with each other. To witness him dragging Liam like he was a toddler infuriated me.
I never imagined I’d be this protective over someone I just met. Liam was just…damn, he’s different. Even if we had only talked for a couple of minutes back at that restaurant, it felt as if I’d known him for years. Everything he said piqued my interest and I don’t think I would ever be bored if I’m with him. Just…his whole existence excites me, it’s weird.
I rubbed my face and heaved a sigh. Two days had passed since I last saw him. God, who would have thought I’d be missing him this much. His voice was like chocolate—so sweet and tempting, I could listen to him all day.
I bit my lip. It’s frustrating. I wanted to see Liam so badly, but I failed to get his number. I was having too much fun talking to him. I wouldn’t mind if we talk for like…hours about anything. No matter how petty it’d be, as long as it’s Liam, I’m always going to be into it.
But because I was stupid and let that Paolo take him away, I never got the chance to ask his number. Damn it, that should have been the first thing I did after I met him again. Luck had sided me, and I wasted it. I’m an idiot.
I snapped out of my thoughts when the guy just two desks away from me spoke, garnering my attention. I eyed him with a raised eyebrow, a tad bit annoyed that he’s talking to me. I was busy thinking about Liam.
“What are you?” he asked, his smile mischievous. “Orphan or delinquent?”
I only stared at him with dead eyes. “What?” I asked, confused with his question.
“You can’t go to North Vale if you’re not either of the two,” the guy said, his eyes wide and eager.
“I don’t know. Delinquent,” I said. It wasn’t a lie anyway. I’m not an orphan, obviously. Thought the delinquent part, that’s debatable. It’s not like I go around town and pick up fights. I only mess with idiots, those people who think they’re above everyone else.
“Oh, I’m an orphan,” the guy said, leaning closer. I could hear him just fine, there were only eleven people in the room and they’re not even talking. “I was chosen to go through North Vale’s entrance exam.”
“Chosen?” I asked.
Now, I’m curious. Didn’t the government team up with North Vale to help lessen the street children roaming around. They’re usually what the syndicate use to get more money and it’s disgusting that they could do something as monstrous as that. I remembered watching a documentary about it before where scumbags could force children to work for them by begging in the street or much worse, steal from people.
It’s always been a problem of the country and I knew for a fact that it’d never be solved. The government received tons of money from those crime organizations just to turn a blind eye.
“Yes, I’m from Merciful Angels orphanage,” he informed. “Every month, people will choose who can go to North Vale and get a proper education.”
“Wait, so not everyone goes to North Vale?” I asked.
The kid only laughed. “Of course, not. Only the smartest kids can go, like me!” he boasted.
I narrowed my eyes at him. Well, wasn’t that suspicious?
We were interrupted when a man dressed in a white dress shirt and khaki pants entered the room. He was holding papers in his hands, his eyes stern. His domineering aura vanished when he pulled an annoying fake smile. “Good afternoon, kids,” he said, putting the piles of papers on the table. “I will be in charge of your entrance exams, my name’s Philip Montero.”
I looked at him intently. This man’s probably just around his twenties, he looked extremely young to be a teacher. But then again, there’s a lot of that in my school. Maybe he was a fresh graduate.
“I’ve been administering North Vale’s entrance exams for six years,” he said, and it immediately invalidated my thoughts about this man. So, he’s not a fresh graduate. How old did he even become a teacher? “The test is fairly easy. Just answer it using your common sense and you’ll pass it with perfect scores.”
He started handing out the test papers. “If you did manage to pass this, you’ll be attending three seminars before North Vale picks you up from your homes.”
“Wait, we’ll get picked up?” I asked. I didn’t care if I sounded like an idiot right now, I’m just…surprised.
“Yes, Mr. Montenegro,” Mr. Montero said, snickering at me. “North Vale knows how to treat their students right. And besides, you kids are not juvies. You’ll be taken care of the school, don’t you worry.”
Why did that sound like a lie? Maybe because I didn’t like North Vale’s reputation. But hey, if dad believed this weird institution would help me change my delinquent ways, who am I to question him.
Mr. Montero came back in front and gave us a big smile. “Don’t fail North Vale now, kids. You can do it.”
The exam did last for an hour. The questions were more of a psychology test rather than common sense like the teacher said. I recalled the questions regarding what the student will do if they see an injustice happening in front of them—the choices were weird as well, but I followed my guts and answered the right thing.
It was…really strange. It’s like a cult or something, it’s scary.
After the exams, all the students were allowed to have an hour to take a break. Food was provided for the parents as well. We’re all gathered in the cafeteria, and just like the rest of their offices, it was big and…boring.
Dad finished eating and looked up at me. “Do you think you’ll pass, Isaiah?” he asked.
“Sure,” I said. There were no wrong answers, anyway, not unless you chose what a psychopath would if they take this exam.
He smiled at me, proudly. “You’re smart, after all. I’m glad you take after your mom.”
I felt a pang in my chest. I quickly forced a smile. I didn’t want dad to see my scowl after he mentioned mom. “Thanks, dad.”
“You’ll do well in North Vale. Besides, you’re strong. You’ve always been strong,” he continued, smiling distantly.
I laughed, dryly. “Yeah.” I’m too strong that it became a problem for my dad. If only I knew how to control my anger, I wouldn’t be in this situation.
Why am I so easy to be riled up? Even back when I was with Liam, I was more than ready to fight Paolo. He hit Liam and that was unforgivable.
I clenched the fork. Damn, why am I acting this protective over a guy I barely even talk. I just have this maternal instinct over him. I’m sure Liam’s not weak. He just oozes danger even if he acts defenseless and all.
If only I could have another chance to unravel Liam, damn it. At a time like this, I couldn’t help but be angry.
To dad, to myself, to those scums that I needed to teach a lesson…
I want to see Liam.
It only took them an hour to finish grading everyone’s tests. Dad already befriended three of the parents that enrolled their children to North Vale, and while they were talking about random stuff about their life, I was busy thinking about Liam.
If I pass this test, I had no choice but to be imprisoned in North Vale.
I don’t know what kind of life was waiting for me there.
I wouldn’t be able to see or contact my family…Stephanie…I didn’t have that many friends, but I doubt I’d ever had one in a school like North Vale.
Looking around the other students who’d enter the same school, they all looked different. There were three girls, and the tallest of them appeared to be in bruises. I could see the bandages hidden under the long sleeve of her blouse. The woman sat beside her was her mother. Although she looked sophisticated—with her dress tightly clinging on her petite body, I couldn’t help but wonder why she wanted her daughter to enter a school like North Vale.
Was she a delinquent as well?
The girl looked at me and I quickly averted my gaze off.
Mr. Montero walked through the doorway. Everyone kept quiet, their attention focused on the man.
“Congratulations, everyone, you all passed,” he announced. The receptionist woman stood behind him, and when she noticed me looking at her, she smiled.
The parents were obviously happy. Dad turned to me and patted my shoulder. “Good job, son.”
Only an idiot would fail that exam.
“The seminar will start tomorrow,” Mr. Montero informed. “It’ll only take three hours,” he said. “Attending the seminar will ensure your admittance in North Vale. We’re looking forward to seeing you again.”
He turned his back on us, and the receptionist woman took over. She told us about the fees, and that the parents of children who needed behavioral fixing would have to pay for the tuition and stuff like that. Dad was more than willing to give them his money just to make a better man out of me. Meanwhile, the orphans who were chosen to enter the school didn’t need to worry about money. The government’s funding for them anyway.
Out of all the ten kids I was with, six of them were from the orphanage. The others had to attend school because of their parents’ wishes.
North Vale was a weird school for sure.
Stephanie held my hands and squeezed it tight. Her face scrunched as she tried hard not to cry. “Don’t…forget to call me if you have a chance, understand?”
I chuckled, pulling her for a hug. “I will, I promise.”
Sam stood next to Stephanie. She’s sulking, obviously. This was the last day we’re going to see each other. After the painfully long hours of seminars that only talked about the ridiculous rules North Vale had, it’s finally time for me to face my verdict.
I kept telling myself that this was for me—that everything dad was doing for my sake.
But staring at Stephanie and Sam’s face, I couldn’t stop myself from thinking that this wasn’t fair. All I do was save people from those scumbags. Why did I have to suffer the consequence when I’m the one on the right.
I looked back at dad and he was smiling at me. “I’ll come and visit you as often as I can,” he said.
I rolled my eyes like. “Like a prisoner, huh? Thanks, Dad,” I said as sarcastic as I could.
I didn’t even bother seeing his reaction. I already turned my back against him and walked to the van. A man dressed in casual clothing and black shades waited for me. Like what Mr. Montero said, we’ll be picked up by North Vale. He took my luggage and put it in the vehicle.
I looked back at Stephanie and Sam for the last time and waved a hand at them. “I’ll miss you.”
Sam suddenly cried and dashed to me to give me a tight hug. “I’ll miss you, Isaiah!” she sobbed, rubbing her face against my chest.
“I know. I’ll miss you much more,” I said. I kissed her on the forehead before pushing her off me. “Take care of dad for me, okay? And remember to behave.”
Amidst the heavy tears flowing from her eyes, she did her best to nod. “I-I will!”
Stephanie held Sam’s hand and watched me get in the car. I continued waving at them, my gaze pasted on them even after the vehicle started to drove away from my house.
I felt bad for saying those words to dad but I’m angry and I wanted him to know that I am angry.
Nevertheless, the dread weighs my heart and I slumped back on the seat, dejected.
Once I enter North Vale, there’s no coming back.
I didn’t even notice I had fallen asleep. I checked my phone, and it was ten in the evening. I remembered leaving my place at around four in the afternoon and yet we’re still not there.
I looked at the driver. He was focused on the road while the man sitting beside him was busy with his phone. They haven’t exchanged a word ever since I got in the car. They’re like robots, like that woman at the reception.
The AM station buzzing on the radio kept me occupied. It was the late-night news, and they were talking about another senseless topic about the government’s incompetence. I had never been that interested in politics, but listening to people ramble about how they could help the country recover from its relentless corruption when it’s so obvious that they’re the problem themselves—ah, it’s entertaining indeed.
“Hey,” I called out, getting the attention of the man sitting on the passenger’s seat next to the driver, “how long until we arrive, sir?”
He didn’t answer.
That was rude.
“Hey, did you hear me, I said—”
“Keep quiet and behave,” was what he said, his voice dead and deep.
“Geez, I’m just asking you what time we’ll get there,” I complained, rolling my eyes at him. He’s still preoccupied with whatever shit he was doing on his phone, I’d rather not bother him and waste my saliva.
Peeking out the window, it was totally black outside. Only the lights from the vehicle illuminated the bumpy road we’re currently driving at. I could see endless trees on each side, and it scared me that a monster would come up at any moment and knock down the car.
I turned away from the window to calm my nerves. I’m already anxious about coming to North Vale, I didn’t need to scare myself thinking about monsters and ghosts. There’s no such thing as that.
Another hour filled in silence, the car stopped. I looked around and was surprised to see what seemed like a gigantic metal gate in front of us. It was too dark to look around, but I could see a tall wall, perfectly hidden by the trees that surrounded the place.
All of a sudden, a man’s face appeared behind my side of the window, making me scream. “Jesus, what the—?!”
The man narrowed his eyes at me. He was holding a flashlight right under his face, he looked like a god damn apparition. He knocked on the window, signaling the driver to get in.
“Relax, kid. They’re just checking who you are,” one of the two men in front said, his tone mocking.
My heart was beating out of my chest, f*ck. The car drove for another ten minutes, and finally, finally, after the long hours of driving, we arrived in North Vale.
The door opened automatically, and I dragged my body to get out. My body was sore from sitting for hours! We only stopped twice to pee in gasoline stations and even then, they guarded me as if I’m going to escape.
“Here,” the man said, chucking my belongings to me. Fortunately, I caught my luggage before it could hit the floor. “Go to the senior high dormitory, someone’s going to talk to you there.”
The man got in the car. “Wait! How the hell will I know where the dorm is?!” I asked, glaring at him.
Before he could close the door, he smirked at me. “What? You don’t know how to read? There are signs on how to get there.”
I was left in the middle of the field, hopelessly watching the damn van drove away.
“Motherf*cker,” I grumbled. “I knew it. This f*cking school is trash.”
My shoulders dropped as I looked around the place, snapping my head from left to right only to see nothing but grass and trees. From a distance, I could spot a building, but I wasn’t sure if it was the dorm.
The bastard did say there were signs. I walked to the right, carrying my bags.
Ah, f*ck. So much for my first day.
I already hate this place.
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