THE WELCOME WAGON
Sydney peered out the window as the car pulled into a parking spot. The place seemed harmless enough. There were little buildings spread about here and there, and lots of open areas. There were totem poles all around, too many to count. It looked sort of like a camp, except nicer.
"Look, I know this is the last thing you want to do, but you can't just stay in the car forever," Sydney's mother, Gwen was saying from the driver's seat.
"Sorry." Sydney opened the door and climbed out of the car. She went around to the back to get her luggage. By the time she made it back to the front of the car, there were two people there to greet her. One was an older man, probably in his late twenties or early thirties. He had tan skin and dark hair with a muscular build. At first look, his face was harsh-looking, with all of its sharp edges, but then he smiled, and every part of him seemed softer.
The other person was a boy, probably around Sydney's age, seventeen. He was tall and wiry, with brown hair combed to the side and bangs falling in his face. He smiled too, and it made Sydney feel like less of a stranger.
"Welcome to Ledger School for Deficient Teenagers," the boy said.
"Oh, the teenagers here are only slightly deficient," the older one said with a smile. "Seriously, though, welcome to Ledger Boarding School in New York. I'm Walker." Walker shook hands with Gwen and Sydney.
"That's just the technical name," the boy persisted. "It's really known as the Ledger School for Deficient Teenagers around here. So, what's your malfunction?"
Sydney didn't know how to respond. Luckily, Walker talked for her. "Never mind him," he said. "This is Fin. He's going to show you the ropes around here while I get things settled with your mom."
"Don't worry about answering my question, we'll get it out of you sooner or later," Fin promised.
"Hey, Fin, play nice," Walker warned. "Sorry about him."
Walker and Fin helped Sydney with her luggage. Together, the four of them walked towards one of the buildings on campus. It was a small building with a wooden sign in the front that said "Administration."
"This is the administration building," Walker said needlessly. "Your mom and I are going to go sort things out while you get settled in. All right?"
"Sure, whatever," Sydney said with a shrug.
Walker and Gwen went into the administration building, and Sydney and Fin picked up the luggage once more. Sydney followed Fin to their next destination, wherever that was.
"I'll show you to your dorm first, so we can drop off this luggage."
Fin led Sydney to what looked like a group of town homes. He led her to the building farthest away. "This is Phoenix House," said Fin. "This is where you'll be staying. The dorm right next to this one is called Sphinx House. That's also a girl's dorm. Then there's Griffin House over there. I'm in that dorm. And that last one over there is Centaur House, the other boy's dorm. Got it?"
Sydney shrugged. "Yeah, sure. Got it."
"Okay. Then let's go." Fin led Sydney into the building through a side door. They entered into a sunlit hallway and walked into a large common area.
"This is the common room," said Fin. "All the dorms have one. Anyone's allowed in here. Then there are two wings for each dorm. You'll be in Fox Wing. Your residential counselor should be here to meet us any second. She'll give you your key and show you to your dorm. I'm not allowed into the wings. Do you have any questions so far?"
Sydney shook her head. She wished she could just go into her room and curl up on her bed. She didn't want to deal with any of it.
"Oh, here she comes," Fin said, nodding to the entrance.
Sydney turned to see a very masculine-looking woman heading their way. She was tall and muscular, with her hair cut short and no make up on. She was wearing baggy jeans and a big T-shirt.
"Hi, I'm Melissa," the counselor said with a smile when she reached them. "I'm going to be your RC."
"Sydney." Sydney shook hands with Melissa.
"I'll wait here while you get settled," Fin said. "Then I'll show you around some more."
Sydney followed Melissa through a door at one end of the common room, which led to the middle of a long hallway. Both ends of the hallway had a staircase.
"There are twelve rooms in each wing," said Melissa. "Six on each floor. You're going to be on the bottom floor, room 3." Melissa led Sydney to the right. Room 3 was the first door they reached. "Go ahead and drop off your luggage, take a look around. But don't stay too long, you still have the rest of the tour, and you don't want to keep Fin waiting. I'll be back in a few minutes to go through your things."
Sydney nodded. Melissa left and Sydney unlocked the door to her new room and stepped inside. The room was somewhat neat, with just a few things here and there. IT was very symmetrical. There were two beds, two desks, and two wardrobes, all mirroring each other. There was a table in between the desks on the back wall, sticking out into the center of the room. There was a small refrigerator on top of it, against the wall. The lamp was by the door, on Sydney's right. On Sydney's left was another door, presumably to the room wasn't too big or too small, and the windows let in a lot of light.
Sydney's new roommate was not there, and Sydney was glad for that. She dragged her luggage to the center of the room. Then she went up to the bare bed. She slowly laid down on it and curled up into a ball. She felt for the first time in a long time that she could really breathe. She lay there for several minutes, just breathing. In and out. In and out. Then she reluctantly got up to rejoin Fin.
The next hour was spent with Fin showing Sydney around the rest of campus. She saw the school building, which was the biggest building on campus. Fin also showed her the mess hall, the storage building, and the small cabins where some of the counselors and faculty stayed, including Walker. Then Fin led her back to the administration building to meet with Walker.
"This is where I leave you," said Fin. "I'll meet you in the Phoenix commons at six to take you to dinner. Don't be late." And with that Fin left, leaving Sydney alone at the administration building. She went inside just was Walker was coming outside, and they met at the door.
"Your mom left a while ago," said Walker. "I tried to get her to stay, take the tour. But she wasn't interested. Sorry."
"That's okay. I don't care."
"I need to go over the rules with you, if you want to come take a walk with me."
"A lot of it is common sense. No violence, no sex, no drugs, no harsh language. We speak our emotions but we don't put other people down. Ledger is supposed to be a place where everyone can just feel whatever they feel. You don't have to hide here. You're among friends. Whatever you say to me in private stays between us unless I suspect harm to yourself or harm against others. I also have to report any illegal activity. Is that understood?"
Sydney nodded. None of it was really an issue. She didn't plan to do a lot of talking.
"We have group therapy three times of week and one on one therapy twice a week. There are also group activities that take place regularly, and you have regularly scheduled classes. Everyone here contributes into keeping Ledger running. So you'll be cooking, cleaning, mowing the lawn, scrubbing toilets. We all do our part. Is that understood?"
Sydney just nodded again. She wished people would stop asking her if she understood. It wasn't rocket science.
"Okay, the last thing I need to tell you is that your actions have consequences. If you break the rules, if you don't do your part, you will be punished. There are different levels of punishments. You could get extra chores, extra therapy, different types of restrictions, or shuns."
"That means you have no communication with anyone, extra chores, and lots of reflection time."
Not being allowed to talk to anyone sounded just fine to Sydney.
"Okay, that about covers it," said Walker. They had arrived at the Phoenix House. "Just know that all of the counselors are here if you need us. If you ever need to talk to me, I'll listen. Okay?"
"Alright then. Melissa should be done going through your items. Go get settled in and Fin will take you to the mess hall for dinner."
Sydney nodded one last time. Walker headed towards the faculty cabins and Sydney went to Phoenix House. She went into her room and began to unpack her clothes into the empty wardrobe. Then she set up her desk and bed. The process took a little over an hour. Just as she finished, the door opened and a girl walked in. She was a little short and very pretty, gorgeous in all the typical ways, and she was skinny. She had blond hair and blue eyes. It was a contrast to Sydney's dark brown hair and eyes. Plus, Sydney was a little taller, and pretty in a more unique way, where all of her features managed to work together, despite the fact that they weren't normally considered attractive.
"Hey," the girl greeted. She dropped the books she was holding on her desk. "Wow, you don't waste any time do you?"
"I didn't have anything else to do."
"Well, I'm Brooke."
"I'm Sydney." They shook hands.
"Welcome to Ledger. You've probably heard that a lot today though, huh?"
Sydney nodded with a half-smile.
"Well, dinner is in like…five minutes. So, do you wanna go with me?"
"Um, I'm supposed to go with Fin." She was glad at least, to be invited.
"Oh, yeah. Well, you'll probably end up eating with me then anyway. I'm in your group with Fin. We usually eat together. But I must warn you, the people here aren't exactly the friendliest. Actually, I shouldn't say that. Its more that they're very…straightforward."
"That's fine," Sydney said. "I like that."
"Okay, then, I guess I'll see you in a little bit."
"Come on, now, you have to tell us why you're here," Fin said to Sydney.
They had just sat down with their food, joining four other people for dinner. Fin and Sydney hadn't talked much on the way to the cafeteria, not including Fin trying to get information out of her.
"Its true," said another boy. He had tanned skin and dark hair, with brown eyes. He was kind of cute, and he had a nice smile. "All we do here is talk and talk and talk. It gets kind of sickening after awhile, really…."
"That's only because you do all the talking," said one of the girls. She was somewhat buff, but pretty. She had brown hair and brown eyes, like Sydney. She had a harder look about her though. She didn't look like someone Sydney wouldn't want to mess with. "Welcome to Ledger, Sydney. I suppose Fin has already told you what the nickname of the school is?"
"Ledger School for Deficient Teenagers," said Sydney. "Yeah, I've heard."
"Look, would it help if we introduced ourselves, gave you our labels, so that you can then share with us?"
Sydney shrugged. "It wouldn't hurt."
Fin stood up. "Well, hello, everyone, my name is Fin Burry and I have a problem."
"Hello, Fin," everyone at the table responded in unison. Sydney couldn't help but smile at these antics.
"I'm a drug addict, but I've been clean for four months."
Everyone around the table clapped in approval. Fin sat down, and Brooke was the next to stand up. "Hello, everyone. My name is Brooke Mitchell and I am bulimic and anorexic and a cutter."
Everyone clapped for her as well, and the boy that had spoken earlier about all of the talking stood up. "Hello, everyone. My name is Alec Martinez and I have problems with authority, and the law."
There was more clapping, and the girl who had welcomed Sydney stood up next. "My name is Jenna McAllen, and I am excessively violent."
"Ain't that the truth?" Fin said as everyone clapped. Jenna gave him a dirty look. Everyone turned their eyes to the last boy at the table, who was slouched back in his chair with an unwelcoming look on his face. He had blond hair, spiked into a faux hawk. He had strong, handsome features, and was built like an athlete. Sydney was immediately attracted to him.
"Well, Jeisson, let's hear it," said Brooke.
"I don't have to tell you guys anything," Jeisson said in a rough tone. He got out of his seat and began to walk away.
"Sorry about him," said Brooke. "He's a little rough around the edges. Plus, he's new, so he's not used to this whole opening up thing. He only got here two weeks ago."
"How long have you all been here?" Sydney asked, curious. This seemed like quite an interesting group of people, and she found herself wanting to know more about them. She knew how people saw her, labeled her, judged her when they heard about her actions. She didn't want to do that to these people. She wanted to know who they really were.
"Seven months," said Fin.
"Almost a year," said Jenna.
"Two months," Alec said.
"Five months," said Brooke.
"How do you guys all know each other?"
"We're all in the same group," said Fin. "The Larks. Yeah, I know, it sucks. I opted for the Hawks, but it was already taken. But don't think you can keep changing the subject. You have to tell us why you're here."
"How about you guys tell me how you got here first," said Sydney. "I mean, what happened exactly to get you sent here?"
"You're very demanding," said Fin. "Well, I overdosed, which is a very rare occurrence for me, since I'm usually very careful. Anyway, after that my parents decided to send me here."
"My mom discovered my cutting," said Brooke. "She sent me here right away."
"I beat up this kid with a baseball bat," said Jenna, without a hint of guilt. "My foster parents thought it would be best if I got some help. So I found myself here, in this lovely place."
"I was arrested for robbery," said Alec. "My parents thought it was time I made a change in my life. They didn't like where I was headed."
"Now its your turn," said Fin.
"I'm a habitual runaway. That's the term they used for me anyway. I ran away this time and stayed away for almost a month, and my mom wanted to put me somewhere where I couldn't run away. So here I am." That was all the information Sydney was ready to give at that moment.
"So now you see the reason for the nickname," said Fin. "There really is no other way to describe this school. It is just a place for deficient teenagers. Look around you at all these kids, eating, talking. They all have some kind of problem. None of us are scar free."
"Even though some of us like to pretend we are," said Jenna, with a glance at Brooke.
"But don't worry, you're going to like it here, I'm sure," said Brooke, ignoring Jenna's look.
"She's lying to you," said Alec. "You're going to hate it."
Sydney looked around the cafeteria at all the kids eating. She thought about what Fin said, no one was scar free. And for the first time in her life, she didn't feel so alone.