We were sitting in a crowded restaurant eating dinner.
“Did you get full?” my dad asked as I put my fork down. He was always asking things like that.
“Good,” he said. He leaned forward and added, “Now, do you want to tell us what you remember?”
That was when I realized those weren’t my parents.
“Where are my parents?” I asked.
“We will get to that when the time comes,” the woman I previously thought was my mother said. “Just tell us what you remember.”
“I-” My voice failed. My brain was firing into overdrive trying to figure out who they were and when they replaced my parents. But I couldn’t come up with anything.
The man cleared his throat, snapping me back to the situation at hand. “Well? What do you remember?”
I looked between them for a moment. They didn’t even look remotely like my parents. My dad had my same straight black hair. This man was brunette and had put on a little weight as he climbed in years. The woman had a round face and dirty blond hair, not at all like the long face and curly brown hair my mom had. I looked like a perfect mix of my parents – dad’s hair and mom’s face – but I looked nothing like either of these people.
“I-I don’t remember anything,” I stuttered, my throat dry and closed.
Smiles spread over both their faces. “Good,” he said. “What’s going to happen now is you are going to get in the car with us just like we really are a family. If you try to run or cause a scene, we will have no problem blowing up this entire restaurant, everyone included. Are we clear?”
I nodded slowly.
“Great.” He signed the bill. “Let’s go, son.”
How I managed to stay calm as I walked out of there and into the backseat of their black four-door sedan, I have no idea. But I did and they didn’t explode the restaurant.
A little ways outside of town, they pulled over.
“Put this on.” The woman turned around and threw a very cliché looking burlap sack at me.
“What do you want with me?” I asked.
“Put the sack on first,” the man barked.
I shrank back a little and did as he said. He immediately started driving again.
I was still trying to figure things out. It had just been a regular day.
I had woken up around six and gone to my soccer workout like I did every Saturday morning during the off season. When I came home, my mom was up – and it was definitely my mother – and she made me a protein smoothie. While we sat at the kitchen table, we talked about soccer and how the team for the year was shaping up. I told her I was worried about the new kid and she said she was worried about my knees.
Over a year ago, we had had a scare that I had torn my ACL. Thankfully I hadn’t and things were just badly messed up, but I wasn’t supposed to go as hard with soccer as I had before. My mom was constantly worried that I was going to actually tear them sometime because slowing down was not my thing.
Don’t get me wrong, I was by no means a soccer star. I just played on my high school team, and did extra workouts with some of the guys. We were all pretty average, but we always got bonus points for effort.
My dad came in as I was washing up dishes – it was definitely my dad. He had had an early morning conference call that morning with overseas business partners. He gave my mom a kiss and patted me on the back.
“How was soccer this morning, bud?” he asked.
“It was just a workout, dad,” I reminded him. “We ran into Coach though and he said we were doing really well and he wants us to play in this little scrimmage match next tomorrow. It doesn’t really mean anything but he knows how much work we are putting into this.”
“Honey, that’s great!” my mom exclaimed.
“I’m proud of you, son,” my dad told me, a beaming smile on his face. “You’ve been working really hard. You deserve this. In fact, let’s go out for dinner tonight. You can take a break from your crazy sport diet for one night, can’t you?”
After that I went up to my room to work on some homework. Maybe my parents could’ve gotten swapped out then, but when I came back downstairs for lunch they were still definitely my parents. I spent the afternoon watching a baseball game on TV with my dad before we left for dinner.
Since it was a Saturday evening, the restaurant was busy. We waited for about half an hour before being seated. I know for a fact the people I sat down across from were my parents. No one left to go to the bathroom or anything the whole meal, but then those other people were there.
“Where are my parents?” I asked as we drove.
“They’re fine,” I was told.
“What did you do to them? How did you get into the restaurant? Where are they?”
“Why did they pick this one?” the lady asked her accomplice in hushed tones. “He asks so many questions.”
“They said he was important,” he answered. “I don’t question them.”
“I’m not important,” I protested. “There is literally nothing important about me. I am so beyond average that I’m having a hard time finding college scholarships I qualify for because I’m so incredibly average.”
“Well the good news is you won’t need scholarships anymore because college is out the window,” he told me.
“What’s going on?” I started to lift the sack off my head.
The car lurched forward as he braked suddenly. “DON’T YOU DARE!” he roared. “That sack is to remain on your head or we will throw you in the trunk!”
I put my hands back in my lap and the car started forward again. “What’s going on?”
There was a moment of silence where I imagined my kidnappers exchanging looks. “What do you think about conspiracy theories, kid?” the man finally asked.
“I think they’re just theories,” I said. “I really don’t think the government has the time to run around orchestrating elaborate plots and then covering them up.”
“You’re right. The government doesn’t have time for that.”
“What do you mean?” I really didn’t see how this related to me being kidnapped.
“Look around you, kid. Everything’s a conspiracy.”
“That’s enough,” the woman scolded.
I wanted to look around to see what he meant, but there was still that damn sack over my head. Instead we spent the next twenty minutes in silence.
Eventually, the car slowed down and turned right onto what felt like a gravel road. We parked.
“Leave the sack on,” the man grumbled. He roughly helped me out of the back of the car and helped me walk, his arm gripping my bicep.
“Step,” the lady said. I lifted my foot up but not high enough and still stumbled. “Nobody ever gets that step,” she muttered.
I was standing on hard floor. Through the sack I could see a change of light that indicated I was now inside. A door closed behind me.
Coming from my right, I heard footsteps echo. They were coming towards us.
“And you must be Aiden,” a male voice said. He sounded young. “You’re right on time.”
The sack was pulled off my head and I was blinded by the sudden rush of florescent light.
My eyes took their time adjusting. Slowly three people came into focus – the two that kidnapped me and the third that spoke my name. He looked young, probably only a couple years older than me, and handsome. I have no problem admitting he was a good looking guy. He had darker skin like a Hawaiian native and dark hair that fell over his forehead and the tops of his ears. There was a mix of power, loneliness, and comfort in his deep brown eyes.
I must’ve just been staring at him because a small smile appeared on his face. “Aiden? I’m Noah.” He extended his hand. I shook it.
“What’s going on? Where am I?”
“Ah. You see, I can’t really tell you. No one can. You’ve been chosen, Aiden.”
“For what? Can you please just tell me what’s going on?” I was starting to get angry, and I thought it was completely understandable why. I didn’t know where my parents were or how those imposters got there and then I was kidnapped and brought to a strange location. In the grand scheme of things, I wasn’t having that great of a day.
“Walk with me,” Noah commanded. He spun on his heels, leaving me to decide if I was following. “Thank you, you two,” he said over his shoulder at my kidnappers. “Your work here is done. Report back in the morning. Coming, Aiden?”
I bit my tongue to keep from swearing and caught up with Noah.
Noah gestured around him. We were walking through a blank hallway. “Welcome to your new home.”
“What?” I sounded like an idiot, but I just did not comprehend anything.
“Like I said, you were chosen.”
“For what? Will you please just tell me what is going on?”
He remained calm and stoic. “If you would let me finish, I will. Everything will be explained.”
“So get to it then!”
Noah looked at me out of the corner of his eyes. “First thing is you’re going to need an attitude adjustment. If you expect to succeed here, remarks like that will not be tolerated.” There was a harsh edge to his words.
The hallway ended and we were in a large room. “This,” Noah said with an air of grandeur, “is your new home.”
“It looks like a school cafeteria,” I said. The walls and floor were white and there were round tables with chairs around them filling the room. On the far wall was a service window that led to a kitchen.
“Well, not this room exactly,” he amended, but this whole place is your new home. The people you meet here will be your new family.”
“Your parents are fine. Their lives have been altered so they don’t know you ever existed.”
I wasn’t really a violent person, but right then my hands clenched into fists and I swung at this Noah guy.
He stopped my fist with his hand, his intense eyes burrowing into mine. “Don’t you dare,” he said in a low voice.
We remained in that tense position for a couple seconds before I lowered my fist and we both relaxed.
“Like I was saying,” Noah continued, although his voice was a little tenser, “this is your home now. This is where you will eat all of your meals, with the exception of those while you are on assignments.”
I had a strong urge to ask what assignments were but I kept my mouth shut for once.
Noah began walking. I followed. “It will take some time, but you will soon become familiar with our facility. It is not that complex. Down that hallway is classrooms, and this hallway on the other side is cadaver labs.” He pointed first to his left then to his right. “Starting tomorrow you will begin your lessons. You have a lot of catching up to do since I doubt your measly public education was sufficient. Your schedule will be on your bed when we get to your dorm. You will have classes in history, technology, stealth and invisibility, weaponry, and basic medicine.”
I couldn’t have come up with a smartass comment if I tried. All my brain power was trying to figure out what I had been forced into.
Noah turned a corner and suddenly all the white walls were grey. Closed doors lined either wall, but we didn’t stop at any of them. “Your team will show you what each of these is. We don’t need to spend time on it now. Keep walking, Aiden.”
We turned down another hallway and the walls were back to white. I was too busy thinking about all the things that could be behind those doors – including things like pools full of electric eels and torture chambers – that I didn’t notice Noah had stopped. He was standing in front of a closed door that said “GIRLS.”
“This is the girls’ dorm.”
“I kinda figured that one out,” I said, although I was still terrified of the possibility of a torture chamber so I don’t know where I got the balls to do so.
Noah didn’t find me funny. “One of the biggest rules here is that opposite genders are not permitted in the dorms no matter what the circumstance. If you go in here or bring a girl into your dorm, for whatever reason, there will be consequences and they will be harsh. Am I understood?”
I nodded. I had only had one real girlfriend before and my mom was also pretty strict about girls in my room, but nothing like that. She just had an open door policy. Here they probably threw you in with the electric eels they were hiding behind one of those doors if you even touched the other gender’s door.
Noah stared me down for a moment before we continued walking. “And down here is the boys’ dorm.” We turned a corner – probably so it was as far away from the girls as possible – and stopped in front of a door labeled, “BOYS.” I noticed it didn’t share one wall with any that touched the girls’ dorm. It was on a different side of the building.
He opened the door and we walked into the room. That’s literally all it was – one room. There was a door right next to the entrance that led to the bathroom. There were two rows of beds that went down each wall, probably about fifty total, with a nightstand on one side and a long but short dresser at the foot. Some bed areas had personal items like books displayed and others looked like they had never been touched, but all were neatly made with blue sheets.
“If boys have blue sheets, do girls have pink?” I asked.
“You are never to find that out,” was all Noah would say.
He walked down to one of the uninhabited beds. On the nightstand was a folded piece of paper with my name on it. I assumed it was my schedule.
“This is where you will sleep,” Noah said. “How much time you spend in here during the day is up to you, as long as it is during your free time and you don’t have other commitments. Your schedule is there.” He pointed to the piece of paper. “Follow it exactly. In this dresser you will find your clothes.”
I opened one of the drawers. “These . . . these are my clothes,” I said in disbelief.
“Yes. They were procured from your house and brought here, along with your basic necessities such as toothbrush, toothpaste, hairbrush, shower items, etc. Now, it has been a long day so I suggest you go to bed so you are well rested for tomorrow.”
“Wait,” I said quickly before he could walk away. “You never told me what this place is. What the hell am I doing here?”
Noah paused for a moment. “We deal with conspiracies. Sometimes we have to create the event, others we just lay the groundwork for the different theories to arise. In a sense, we are like the illuminati, but less overrated.”
“I still don’t understand.”
A childish smile spread over his face. “Did you know there are some people that believe the holocaust didn’t happen?”
“What? You – what?”
“We create history, Aiden. Everything you have learned, that is all because of us.”
My head felt like it was about to explode. “But there’s nothing happening right now to create conspiracies around.”
Noah’s laugh echoed through the empty room. “Today’s events are for tomorrow’s conspiracies.”
“Then how old is this place?”
“We have been around for about twenty years,” Noah said.
My face contorted, trying to find words for every question I had. “Conspiracy theories go back so much farther than 20 years, though. How-?”
“Time travel,” Noah said as if it was obvious. “All of this will be explained to you in time. For now you need to go to sleep.” He started walking away but remembered something. He came back and handed me a small glass bottle. “Drink this.”
I eyed it suspiciously. I had already been kidnapped today; I didn’t want to get drugged too.
“It will help you sleep.” He forced it into my hand.
I tentatively drank it. It tasted like peppermint.
When I was finished, Noah said, “You were identified as a flight risk. We have to make sure you don’t try to run away tonight.”
“I tried to run away once, but I was six,” I said, my speech slightly slowed as the drug started to affect me. I sat down on the bed.
“You’re thinking to literally.” Noah started walking away.
“Wait,” I said when he got to the doorway. “I have a soccer game tomorrow. I have to go to it. They’re counting on me.”
“You don’t play soccer anymore, Aiden.”
“Hey. Wake up.”
My eyes shot open and I remembered where I was. I was lying on top of my sheets and still wearing my clothes from yesterday.
There was a boy standing next to my bed. He was kind of shorter with curly blond hair and dark rimmed glasses. He smiled crookedly. “You’re the new kid, Aiden. I’m Easton. You’re on my team.”
“Team?” I sat up, rubbing my eyes. All around me, other boys were making their beds and getting dressed.
“Yeah. I’ll explain it all over breakfast. Get up and get dressed.”
Easton and I walked to the cafeteria room Noah had shown me the other day. It was a good thing he was with me because I don’t think I could’ve found it on my own.
“Sleep well last night?” he asked with a smile.
I grumbled. “They gave me something to knock me out because apparently I am a ‘flight risk.’”
Easton just laughed and nodded. He led me through the food line (which reminded me an awful lot of my high school) and then we sat down at a round table. Within seconds, another boy and a girl joined us.
“Oh cool. Are you Aiden? They told us you would be coming today.” the boy asked, shoving some eggs into this mouth. He had wavy brown hair that went down to his chin and green eyes. He was slouching over his tray but I think he was tall. “I’m Shawn.”
“Please ignore him. Table manners were never stressed in his previous life,” the girl told me. “I’m Jo. It’s short for Josephine.”
To say she was beautiful would be leaving a lot of things out. Her dark skin made her eyes look extremely white. Her dark hair fell in loose curls over her shoulder and down her back. I had thought Noah’s eyes were dark, but Jo’s were even darker.
Easton nudged me. “Stop staring,” he whispered. “You’re not allowed to get romantically involved with your teammates here.”
Jo laughed and I felt the blood rush to my cheeks. “So,” I said, trying to change the subject. “We’re a team?”
“Yep! You’re stuck with us!” Shawn smiled at me, a piece of toast hanging out of his mouth.
Easton shot him a glance warning him to behave himself. I already liked him the most. “They explained to you what we are?”
“Barely,” I told him. “It was right before they knocked me out.”
“Ah, flight risk,” Jo said. “You’ll be fun.”
I wanted to ask her what she meant, but Easton started talking before I got the chance. “We work together on things. We travel together and always do assignments together, because they’re complex things and generally can’t be done alone. We look out for each other, train together, eat together, and basically do everything as if we are a family. It’s just what it sounds like – we are a team.”
“Yeah, okay, but I want to go home.” I knew it sounded childish before I said it, but it was true. I was here against my will, being forced to assimilate into this bizarre new life that had time travel (which I still wasn’t totally sold on) and I was literally kidnapped into it.
Jo placed a hand on my arm. “We know; we understand, but it’s not possible. They choose people very carefully for this and if they picked you, it means you’re important.”
“Important to history,” Shawn said. “The fact that you’re here means that your life has historical significance – more than just the carrying-on-your-bloodline type that everyone has. You’re special.”
I crossed my arms and looked at all of them. “Yeah, okay, let’s go with that for a moment. If my life is so special and important, couldn’t I still be all great and historical while continuing my life instead of being in this fucking place?”
They exchanged a look. My language was probably a bit alarming; it flares up when I’m angry.
“If you were important out there, you would’ve been left out there,” Easton told me. I could tell he was trying to be as gentle as possible.
“What if I don’t want to be here? I don’t want to be important. Do I get any say in this?” I felt like I was close to crying, but I held it in because that would be an awful first impression to make. I didn’t want them to think I was a baby. It was looking like there was a good chance I would have to accept they were my team.
“I’m sorry, but no.” Jo’s face looked like it was painful for her to deliver this news. “When you have the power of time travel, you know who the important ones are. You kind of do have to be here. What would you be doing if you weren’t here?”
“I would be preparing for my soccer game, which is very important to me. My team is counting on me to be there.”
“Well, you won’t be fulfilling your potential by playing soccer,” she said. “It’s not what you’re meant to be doing.
“This is bullshit!” I said a little too loudly, slamming my fist on the table and making the trays airborne for a moment. The surrounding tables looked over. They started whispering things, but I didn’t care. I didn’t intend on being there much longer.
Easton glanced down at his watch. “C’mon, hulk. Let’s go to class.”
I took an odd amount of comfort in finding out I had all my classes with my team. It meant I didn’t have to try to talk to anyone because they understood how pissed I was.
Our first class was history. Easton got a book from the teacher for me and a list of what I need to do to get caught up. I sat down behind Jo and only looked at her hair for the entire class.
I think they were going over the Civil Rights Movement and JFK, but I couldn’t care less. He was assassinated and that helped speed up the movement. It happened. It’s not like we could go back and un-kill the president.
Shawn leaned over to me in the middle of class. “Hey,” he whispered. Jo tried to shush him, but he swatted her away. “Are you understanding this?”
I shook my head. I had had a thing against helping slackers in high school, and Shawn definitely looked like he would do anything he could to copy my papers.
“I’ll help you later,” he told me. “And, hey-” I looked at him “-you’ll be fine here. Trust me.” He gave me a quick wink before sitting back upright in his seat.
I stared at him for a moment, mouth slightly open, before I realized what I was doing and went back to staring at Jo’s hair.
As soon as it was over, I wanted to be out of there, but as I was halfway out the door, my plan fell through since I didn’t know what I was doing next. I had to wait for the rest of my team.
Shawn put his arm around my shoulders. “Just slow down. We’ve got all the time we need. And if we run out, we can go back and get more.”
I pushed his arm off. “I’m trying to get through this day so I can leave tonight.”
All of my team stopped walking and looked at me horrified. “What?” Easton asked.
“You heard me. I don’t want to be here – I am a hostage here. This is illegal, what they’re doing and I’m leaving.” I would’ve followed that with a dramatic walk away, but I still didn’t know where I was going. If Noah had covered where the classrooms were in this place, I didn’t remember.
“You-you can’t,” Easton said slowly, his eyes still wide. “You can’t leave. No one has ever tried to leave.”
“Yeah, well, there’s always a first time.”
Jo’s voice was barely audible. “They’ll find you. You’ll never make it. They’ll find you and punish you for it.”
“How can that be worse than what they’re already doing to me?”
Someone cleared their throat behind me. I turned and saw Noah standing there, his hands behind his back. “Aiden,” he said.
I held my ground.
“I was just checking in to see how your day is going,” he said.
“Fine,” I snapped. “It’s just dandy being taken and then forced into this place where no one gives you answers.” I folded my arms and stared him down.
Shawn tried to come to my rescue. He stepped up next to me. “We were just headed to the cadaver lab.” He grabbed my arm and tried to pull me away.
Noah stopped him. “You three go ahead. I will escort Aiden to his next class.” He continued to look at me while he spoke.
“You’ll have a spot next to us,” Jo squeaked as my team shuffled past us.
“Walk with me,” Noah said, walking in the opposite direction of them.
I had no choice but to follow.
“I never finished explaining the rules here.” I noticed that other people seemed to be clearing a path for us to walk, but he didn’t seem to care. “You understand the rules about the dorms; do not go in the other gender’s room.”
“You were very clear on that,” I muttered.
Noah ignored me. “You will support your team always. They are your family and they are who you do everything with. When you are on assignments, you are all equally responsible for what happens and the safety of everyone involved.”
“What if I don’t like my team?” I really thought my team was fine; I just felt like being as big of an asshole as I could be.
“You will like your team,” he told me definitively. “Next, you will pay attention and try in all of your courses. They are highly relevant to what you will be doing. Not everyone is assigned to the Holocaust, but everyone needs to know about it. History is a touchy thing. You must know everything you can about it if you are going to mess with it.
“Also, unless you are going on assignment, you are not permitted to leave this building.” I could tell he was trying to brush this one off like the rest of the rules, but he had heard me talking to my team. “If you do, you will not succeed. The elevator up requires a passcode that very few people know. Just one wrong attempt will set off alarms. You will then be found and dealt with accordingly. Am I clear?”
“Crystal,” I said through gritted teeth.
Noah smiled. “Perfect. You are here for life. That is how long you are expected to be of service to us.”
I couldn’t help thinking about how much this was sounding like a slave system.
“I hope this has helped you.” Noah stopped in front of a door. “Here is your classroom. Your team is waiting for you inside. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask them or me if I am around. I will be checking up on you again tonight.” He produced a folded paper from his pocket. “Please give this to Easton.”
I took it. He watched me walk into the classroom.
My team was standing around a silver autopsy table wearing lab coats. I traded Easton the paper for mine.
“What was that about?” Shawn asked.
“Noah just wanted to explain the rest of the rules to me,” I said bitterly.
“It’s not good when Noah wants to talk to you,” Jo told me. Her brown eyes were still wide.
“No, it’s really not good,” she stressed. “He’s pretty high up here. Since no one ever sees the people actually in charge, he’s the closest thing we have to a leader.”
“You don’t know who’s in charge?” I looked at my entire team and they all shrugged. “You’re all just taking orders from something you don’t even know is there?”
“Well, yeah,” Shawn said. “What choice do we have?”
“Every choice!” I was starting to get outraged again.
“I don’t think you really understand things,” Easton said. He had a very real-done-with-your-bullshit tone. “There are no choices here. You don’t choose to come, you don’t choose your assignments, you don’t choose your team, and you especially do not choose to not know who is in charge. You just have to trust that your life will end up being better and more meaningful by you being here. Yeah, that’s a huge amount of trust to be placing in something you don’t even get to know, but like I said, what choice do you have?”
If that didn’t shut me up, a dead cat being placed on our autopsy table to begin class did. We put on gloves and followed the teacher as she showed us how to dissect it and study the organs. Easton was tense for the whole hour. His shoulders didn’t relax once.
Jo seemed to be keenly aware of group feelings. She kept glancing nervously between us. I was waiting for her to say something, but she didn’t.
Meanwhile Shawn continued blissfully dissecting our cat. He may have been unaware of the continued tension, but I think he was just choosing to ignore it. It was the one choice he had.
I tried my best to focus on the cat at hand, but since I didn’t really want to be there, it didn’t really work. I was trying to think of how I could escape now that Noah said the elevator required a special code. Maybe he was just lying about that. He didn’t put in a code when we went down.
Unless you only had to enter it to go up. Maybe they figured no one would be able to break it – or wouldn’t be stupid enough to try. No matter what, I was pretty sure all my hopes of leaving were crushed.
When that class ended, I was expecting Noah to be waiting outside. Thankfully he wasn’t. Easton didn’t talk to us as we walked to the next class, him a couple steps in front of all of us.
Since we weren’t talking, I looked at the people we passed. Most of them looked like they were high school age, but some were younger. I saw one kid walking in front of us who looked like she could be in sixth grade. I felt really sorry for her.
It was one thing to be ripped from your family when it is your senior year and you’re preparing to leave for college, but it’s another when you’re that young.
She didn’t look scared though. She laughed with her friends – who I’m assuming were also her team, and all of them were older than her – and just looked like she belonged. And the more I looked at her, the more I became worried that that was going to be me.
Like, if I didn’t get the chance to leave, would I just assimilate and forget about my life before? I know I probably wouldn’t ever forget it, but that didn’t mean it would take more and more work to remember it. The details would start to blur and fade until they were gone and one day I wouldn’t be able to remember what my mom looked like or how my dad yelled at the TV during sports games. I would forget how to play soccer and my teammates and what it was like to be so focused on the ball that everything, including the wind, rain, and snow, no longer mattered. I wouldn’t remember the crowded hallways of high school or running to catch the bus in the morning because my mom needed the car for work. All of these things that were such a part of my life would slowly start to slip away and there would be nothing I could do about it.
Frankly, that terrified me. I didn’t want to forget all that, but I knew it would happen if I had to stay here. Everything I was would disappear piece by piece until I was just another one of their soldiers.
Jo placed a hand on my arm. I unclenched my jaw and relaxed my fists.
“What were you thinking about?” she asked quietly.
I looked at her. She also looked young. But she also looked old, like she had been forced to grow up too quickly. “Just . . . things.” I suddenly felt like it was my burden to carry and I didn’t want to trouble her with it.
I did a shitty job of hiding it, though.
“You know I’m your team. You can talk to me,” she said.
“Yeah, well, I’m having a little trouble accepting this whole ‘new family team’ thing.”
“I know you are. Nobody accepts this straight away – they would be crazy to do so. It’s a lot to take in. We are trying to take it slow and let you process, but you can’t just shut us out. No matter what, we are here to help you. Just let us know what we can do.”
“Can you help me get out of here?” I asked.
We reached our next classroom. I think all of the classrooms were in only two different hallways and those hallways were right across from each other.
Jo just looked at me for a moment. “I can’t do that. You can’t do that. You’ll screw up history if you aren’t here.”
I threw my arms up. “Someone else can do it then. There are so many people here. We can’t all be that crucial to history.”
“We all are.” Jo never lost her gentle tone, even through all my remarks. “Some are destined to do really great things, but others are there to help them. Some people do really great here. The rest of us are just here to make sure they succeed.” She jabbed her finger into my chest. “You are one of the ones that’s going to be great.” She took her seat behind Easton.
“You can’t argue with her, man,” Shawn said with a shrug, also sitting in a desk.
I wanted to have comeback, but everything I could think of sounded either childish or very self-hating. I had already basically thrown two temper tantrums today. I may have been angry and upset, but I still had an ego and I did not want to come across as immature and needy.
I sat in the empty desk in front of Shawn, which put me sitting next to Easton. I glanced over at him. He wasn’t tense anymore, but he still didn’t look too happy. A rush of guilt rushed over me.
I leaned over. “Hey,” I said kinda quietly.
He didn’t look at me right away, as if he was debating if he even should acknowledge me. Thankfully he chose to.
“I’m sorry.” It was a really weak apology, and I wasn’t sure how much I meant it, but it worked for right now.
Easton relaxed a little more. “I understand. I reacted about the same way when I got here. I really can’t hold you to what you say when you’re upset.”
I exhaled a little, relieved we could clear that up. I didn’t want to leave them on bad terms.
This next class was on technology. We had to build microchips, which I still struggle to see how it was relevant to anything. Within two minutes, I was so lost and confused. I had to turn around and ask Shawn for help.
Somehow, he was already mostly done. I just stared at it, dumbfounded.
Jo leaned over. “Oh yeah, Shawn’s a bit of a tech wiz. Don’t compare yourself to him; it’ll only make you feel bad about yourself.”
“Can . . . can you show me how you did that?”
Shawn shrugged. “Sure.” He started disassembling his microchip.
“No! Stop! You don’t need to do that-”
“It’s fine. It won’t take me long to put back together.”
I heard Easton laugh to himself but he continued slowly working on his microchip.
Step by step, Shawn helped me put tiny pieces together with pliers and wires. Several times he got so annoyed at my inability to do it that he just did it for me. I didn’t mind though. At the end, the teacher walked around and observed how we did.
“Nice job,” he told me. “Hopefully next time you can do more of it yourself without the help of your team.”
“Isn’t that the point of a team, though, to help you?” I asked.
He looked down his nose at me. “What do you mean?”
Easton shot me a horrified look like talking to teachers was something I wasn’t allowed to do.
I ignored him. “The point is not that each team member is excellent at everything; it is that each brings something different to the table and they can utilize each other’s skills.” I slowly became aware that the entire class had stopped and was looking at me. “If Shawn is the ‘tech guy’ of our team, it doesn’t really matter then if I can perfectly build a microchip. I will excel at something that isn’t his strong point. Our strengths build off of the other’s weakness. That’s what makes a strong and well-functioning team.”
The teacher smiled. “Excellently put, Mr. Aiden. You will do well here.” He continued walking around the class.
“Good job, you passed,” Shawn whispered.
“Was that a test?”
“Yep, and you gave the perfect answer.”
I should’ve been proud but I was angry. The teacher knew how to target me and what would make me give him that response. I had always been a big team player because of soccer. Somehow he must’ve known that.
I chewed on the inside of my lip and waited for the class to be over.