“Adkins, Christina. Teacher,” Commander Henry Knave screeches. Standing at a menacing 5’4”, he always stands on a footstool to assign our places. He’s the one who decides where we go and what we do, so our lives and futures lie in his tiny, gloved hands. His voice is an octave higher than any prepubescent boy’s, and his receding hairline is even higher than that.
“Aide, Kiza. Nurse.”
“Aliment, Thom. Cook.” I’m staring at Commander Knave and watching his every move as if doing so could change our fates.
“Stop doing that, you’re driving me crazy! It’s like an earthquake,” Clarissa whispers to me, breaking my concentration on Knave. I’d been shaking my leg up and down. Nervous habit.
“And how would you know what an earthquake’s like?” I said, laughing. Her mouth breaks into a smile, revealing her straight, white teeth.
“Shut up.” She takes my hand in hers. “And calm down. Everything is going to be okay.”
“Armor, Andrew. Guard.”
“Of course,” Clarissa says under her breath. “He’s only been vying for that job since he was what? Ten?”
“At least. Have you ever seen him in the gym? He lifts things twice my weight.” Clarissa keeps me grounded at assemblies. We’re all herded in the auditorium like cattle and forced to sit in alphabetical order. Clarissa’s been by my side since we were five years old. The first time we met, our age bloc banded together to take a mandatory photo. She scooted next to me, turned, and looked straight at me. As our teacher took the picture, she said, “We’re going to be best friends.” Our group photo hangs on the wall of our classroom, and everyone in the picture is staring blankly ahead. Except for us. Two little girls, heads turned away from the camera smiling at each other. It’s quite evocative of our relationship, really. Conspiratorial now. Conspiratorial then.