“At the beginning of the program you will each receive a hundred credits,” they tell us. “Your credits may be spent in the program’s store. From the beginning of the program your credits will be added to or deducted from based on your actions. There are different levels, the higher your level, the more privileges you will have. Levels are not to be shared with each other. The level you are on will only count for twenty percent of the score. Eighty percent of your score will be based on your change and improvement. Here are your beginner’s packets, call the number on the back if you have any questions.”
The meeting ends and the other girls aroundme nervously push back their chairs. The woman in the gray suit hands each of us our packets as we shuffle out the door.
When we step outside, the girl in the black leather jacket with piercings running up and down her ears leans against the brick wall. She pulls a cigarette out of her pocket and flicks her lighter under it before settling back.
A mousy girl with drab brown hair who never looks anyone in the eyes shrinks back as Cigarette Girl blows smoke in her face.
I glance away. I can see why she’s in this competition. The opposite of Cigarette Girl would be a clean cut churchy type. Her parents were probably relieved to find this program.
They told us that this isn’t a competition. But that’s a lie. A competition is where someone wins in theend. In this case, the one who wins is the one who changes the most.
I knowwhat our parents were thinking. Send us away for three monthes, locked up tight in a building. They’re thinking that maybe, just maybe the shy ones will become outgoing. The rebels will be tamed. The disappointments will become less disappointing.
They’re sending us away because they don’t want the children they raised.
They’re sending in for replacements.
We pull up to the building. It’s tall. And gray. The guides usher everyone out of the white vans. Twenty five of us total. Something wrong with all of us. At least that’s what this program is implying.
They gather us into a circle before they proceed to guide us into the ominous structured. The sun is blocked out by the solid, silvery mass.
The doors open in front of us, and a wave of cold air rushes over us as, one by one, we file in. The sound of the door clicking echoes down the halls.
Right in front of us is a wall. A wall with two glass doors and a window. A fancy Open sign flashes at us. Through the window we see a lone figure bent over the counter.
A woman, probably in her thirties, with dark bown hair piled into a bun at the back of her head.
They lead us to the right and the hallway opens out into a large room.
“Thisis the common room,” the man in the gray suit says, sweeping his arm out and turning to face us. I recognize the soft gray couches and the flatscreen TV from the pamplet. It seems like everything here is either gray or whaite.
The man in the gray suit is still talking.
“-will be from six a.m. to eleven p.m., no earlier, no later.”
He turns and continues down another hall that leads further to the right.
I look back. The other guides are trailing behind, eyes squinted suspiciously, as though they expect one of us to breakaway and run at any moment.