White shirted attendants swept by and gathered up tests and booklets with a silent efficiency. Daniel peered around his surroundings for the first time, he was sitting in between two boys while two girls and a boy were within close proximity to him on the other side of the table.
The boy on his left was wearing a white shirt that showed clear sweat marks on the armpits. He was what some would call husky, and what other people would more disparagingly call fat. His eyes were little indents in the puffy expanse of his face. His blond hair was cropped short and his hands were currently running through it causing small drops of sweat to plunge from their prison to the ground around him.. A faint smile was stretching his wide lips slightly apart revealing a peak at a set of white teeth.
The boy on his right was wearing a T-shirt that looked a few sizes too small, even on his skinny frame. A metal studded belt went through a pair of slim genes and long brown hair was hiding one of his eyes. His other eye was mascaraed and as such the prominent black eyelashes caught Daniels attention. He had five Lance Armstrong Live Strong bracelets adorning his wrists, all in different colors. Whether he actually supported the fight against cancer five times more than the average person, or whether he just liked the way the bracelets looked was anyone's guess. His fingers drummed the table to a beat that no one else could hear.
Directly across from him sat a girl with long, curly, dirty brown hair and tan skin interrupted by pinkish cheeks. The girl had scattered outbreaks of acne on her face, but was otherwise pretty good looking. She was talking casually with the girl seated next to her. She was wearing a light blue shirt with a deep V that revealed a long, deep, line of exposed cleavage. There was some sort of writing on the shirt put the lettering was thrown all of its scale by the disproportional size between her chest and stomach. He tore his gaze away knowing first hand that getting caught staring by a busty girl before you'd even talked to her would probably lead to your name getting put on her personal creep list.
Both the kids flanking the girl were of African descent, a fact Daniel was personally glad to see as his former school had been 99 white. The girl she was chatting with had short black hair streaked with lines of red that framed a broad face. She was laughing as she talked and her hands accentuated her talking with different gestures and motions. Large circular sunglasses were sitting on top of her head the stems tucked behind her ears and off her ears hung big hooped earrings. A chap stick was clutched in one of her hands and Daniel saw he liberally apply it to her lips once and then cap and uncap while the other person was talking.
Willing his eyes above the neckline of the girl in the middle he studied the boy to her right. He had headphones with one half of them rested on his ear while the other half rested on the other side of his neck. The music player rested half in and half out of a pocket of a hoodie. A white New York Yankees hat was tilted askew on his head and the gold sticker of purchase was still on the bill. He nodded his head slightly as he talked to the kid next to him. His eyes looked kind of sleepy, like they were only half open, but he seemed to be sticking with the conversation well enough. He had a tattoo that Daniel couldn't quite make out on the bottom of his wrist.
He wondered if other people were likewise staring and sizing him up. He wondered if he was being assessed positively or negatively, if they were appraising him as 'some Ohio douche bag.' He wondered what they were serving for dinner when he remembered, oh yeah, chicken.
A plate full of food got set down in front of him from over his left shoulder, and in addition to chicken it was also filled with a serving of mashed potatoes, summer squash, and green beans. Baskets filled with rolls got placed in the center of tables, and neat bundles of napkin wrapped silverware were set at everyone's place.
The plate given to the girl with the earrings had a iceberg lettuce salad in place of the chicken. She looked sheepishly at the looks she got and said, "Vegetarian, you know? Love those greens." She took a bit of the crunchy lettuce and bit down on it with relish.
This seemed to give the end of the table Daniel was on free reign to begin so all of them took their first bite. They each bit into different sizes and types of food. The heavy set kid took a bite of chicken so big Daniel didn't believe it would fit into his mouth, but indeed it did and was swallowed after a few chews. He had cut the piece using only his fork leaving his knife unused on his napkin. The kid in the Yankees hat took a smaller bite of the chicken and bit half of it off of his fork swallowing that piece before bitting the second piece off. Apparently there was an inverse equation between size and manners he thought. The girl with the acne speared a handful of green beans with her fork and bit the beans in short chopping bites until she reached the midway point and turned her fork around before similarly polishing off the other half.
Daniel himself had a habit of starting with the food he disliked the most. That meant the squishy, juicy, disgustingly sweet and yet salty squash. It was like eating applesauce that had gone horribly horribly wrong. He scooped a small bite onto his spoon and gingerly placed it into his mouth. His first bite caused it to explode in a mouthful of juice, he suppressed the urge to shudder. The consistency was semi-liquid for the most part but there were also strands of unmashed squash laying in wait. Daniel grabbed a glass of water he hadn't noticed and took a big sip. It drowned out most of the taste and in this manner he got through the vegetable after two refills of water.
Daniel made a face after finally finishing the last bite and a couple of the kids around him chuckled. "I uh, don't really like squash. At all." He muttered scraping the teeth of his fork self consciously against his plate.
"Whatever, that's cool man." said the blond kid next to him, "But you don't have to eat all that stuff you know. It's not like, they've got a chef back there who'll chase after you with a butcher's knife or something. It probably comes out of a can or freezer." He took a bite of squash and chewed and swallowed. "Yeah, that's not great, but it's all right. Try the chicken though, surprisingly tasty."
"Phfff, yeah right. I've tasted better stuff from McDonald's, and I'm not even sure they use real chicken." Said the curly haired girl.
"It has to be real chicken," said the boy wearing the Yankee's cap, "It doesn't always look the greatest but what else would it be?"
"From what I've heard it's part corn, part lard, and part tears for hippy organic farmers. It's the tears that give it that special something." She retorted.
The group chuckled and went back to eating their food. They continued to converse throughout the meal though it didn't touch certain subjects- the auditions that were looming the next day, the test they just took, or the possibility any of them wouldn't be there. They did talk a lot about their respective backgrounds, they were mostly from around the Eastern and Midwest regions but the vegetarian was from Colorado and the kid with the live strong bracelets volunteered in one of his few comments that he'd met a girl from Louisiana.
They didn't bother with names, the flow of the conversation not requiring them and no one caring enough to go through the arduous task of having to remember so many new titles. Maybe people weren't really shy at all, they simply couldn't be bothered with remembering so much information about random people.
At the end of the dinner their meals were whisked away to parts unknown by the mechanical crew. Conversations continued until the headmaster stood up and banged a spoon on a spare glass, the sharp clinking reverberating throughout the hall.
When he was satisfied he'd received everyone's attention he began, "Normally this is the part where I would brief you on the events of tomorrow's auditions, but first I have a special surprise announcement for you all." Excited chatter started before the teachers shushed them and he continued, "Well no, maybe that's not entirely correct, to be more precise I have an announcement for one of you. Would a uh," He checked a slip of paper handed to him by a small Asian woman, "Jason Chen please stand up."
Heads whirled as though each one of them had been accused and they were desperately trying to blame someone else with their gaze. After a couple of seconds a lanky self assured boy stood up and adjusted the cuffs on his button up shirt. His hair was gelled into short spikes and he didn't seem to mind being called out, as though this was something that happened to him all the time. The headmaster called him to the front table and the kid walked the hall confidently. Daniel wondered what the kid had won after only being there a day.
The headmaster cleared one of the benches of teachers and stood up on it holding out his hand for Jason to join him. Now that the two were above the rest of the crowd in both height and influence Marris put his hand on the young man's shoulder in a grandfatherly manner, the fingers loosely dangling. "Now young Jason here has done something very extraordinary. I've only recently been informed of his achievements on the test all of you just took. I'm sure many of you did well and I wouldn't normally take someone out of the crowd like this but his score is particularity noteworthy. You see Jason strung together the highest recorded score we have seen since the introduction of the current format. I don't think it would overstep the decorum to give this young man a round of applause." Marris started and shortly the whole hall joined in. The boy showed no signs of embarrassment, he simply beamed and drank it in, holding his head high and even adding in fake little performance bows.
When the applause died, the headmaster reached behind them and picked a small single sheet of paper and held it crooked so neither the crowd nor Jason could see it. "I've quickly prepared a small certificate of your accomplishments and we'll make sure to present you with something more permanent by the time the year ends. Here you are." He presented the certificate to a brightly smiling Jason face down, before flipping it over with a flourish.
The smile on Jason's face disappeared and the color on his face drained. The smile on Marris's face however, remained, though the gentle hand on the boy's shoulder had turned into a steely grip holding him in place. "Oh, but Jason, don't you want to read the nice note aloud?" He didn't move. The boy's collected Asian features had melted into a rigid mask of disbelief. "No? Really? Well that'ss perfectly allright, it's quite an honor why don't I just read it aloud for you." He tugged the note harshly from Jason's fingers who briefly struggled to keep hold of the paper before relenting.
Marris cleared his throat dramatically, "Dear Jason, we know. GET OUT." A thoughtful smile sat on his lips. "Know what, I'm sure many of your peers are wondering. Well let me clear it up for them. You see, this young man has been both remarkable clever and remarkably stupid. He cheated on that test. He cheated remarkably well mind you, he really did score the highest result ever. Unfortunately he failed the extra credit section entitled 'Properly disposing of the evidence.' This little go getter, through methods I neither know nor really care about managed to attain a list of answers. Through what was no doubt many nights of diligent studying, perhaps that part is worth a round of applause, through previous knowledge and a modicum of intelligence he answered nearly every question correctly. Unfortunately he choose to dispose of this list in a wastebasket located in this very building. In the nearest bathroom to his living quarters actually. Oh sure, he hid it underneath a layer of toilet paper and it's possible that at many schools he wouldn't have been found out. But, alas for him, we do things differently here." He grabbed Jason's hand and lead him off the bench and down the hall, the boy's body moved stiffly, with none of its former confidence as it was almost dragged along. Marris continued talking as they walked and the rooms gaze followed the pair. "Oh Jason, the best part of this ordeal is, I'm not simply going to kick you out of here immediately with no refund and no return ticket home, I'm also going to contact every other school or college you apply to and blackball you. If my influence is the art and academic world means anything, and I assure you it does, you life isn't going to be real easy any more now," The headmaster yanked the door open and wrenched the boy through by his elbow. "Get-the-fuck-out!" He slammed the door. To the nearest attendant he delegated instructions to have the boy's things collected and have both of them off of the school premises by the time the meal was over. He would be given cab fare to the train station on a charge that would be billed to his parents and from there the headmaster "didn't give a damn."
On his return Marris brushed his hands together and loudly said "I've always hated taking out the trash." He was the only one who laughed.
He returned to the teacher's table and sat facing the students, "I'm sorry I had to dispense with those unpleasantries in front of all of you but I've found public demonstrations are often the best for those sorts of things. I'm sure many of you are going, ah what's the modern vernacular, oh yes, WTF or uh, OMFG right now but I'll have to request that you focus on other things right now. Such as your futures here. Oh, I know you've been trying to avoid talk of it, but over the next two days we will have you all trimmed down to the best. And in only a short while longer the second years will return for their final year at the academy. They will probably have their own ideas of initiation for you lucky survivors. Tomorrow after you awake from dreams of sugar plums dancing in your heads you will notice on the door a slip of paper with your name, a room number, a date and a time of day. If you miss your audition time there's no guarantee you'll get another one, so it's in your best interest to be prompt. Once you show up to your audition I can give you very little information as to the going ons as they will be up to your instructor's discretion. However, until your audition time you are free to wander the school and the grounds, familiarize yourself with them and meet new people. Tonight's curfew is at 11:00." There were groans of disappointment, Marris just smiled, "Get a good rest and good luck to you all." He slid around in his seat and said nothing further. Seeing no reason to stick around the kids began to empty out of the hall. Jason Chen was nowhere to be seen. It would probably be a good idea to not cross headmaster Marris.
Author's notes: Yeah, sorry again for the wait. I got working on another story and battled through some writers block on this one. Hope you like it.
BNM: Yeah filler probably isn't being too harsh in identifying that chapter. I'm not quite sure what you'll make of this one with that said, but I hope it's more to your liking!