Greetings, Noveltiers! I’m putting in a few extra writing hours today so I can finish my book before November. Here’s an excerpt, my favorite chapter so far – enjoy!
“Dad?” I poked my head into the study. “Have you seen my Elite jacket?”
He did not look up from his book. “Kitchen chair.”
I strode into the kitchen and found the jacket, pressed, smooth.
I poked my head back in. “Did you iron this?”
He still did not look up. “I figured you’d be pressed for time.”
“Oh.” I looked down at the jacket over my arm, the pink embroidered along the edges of the sleeves and the collar and the Elite symbol on the left breast pocket. “Um. Thanks.”
He did not look up.
“Did you, uh … did you want to come? To the ceremony?”
He turned a page. “I’m sorry, Lia,” he said, the same way he’d said it a thousand times before, still not meaning it.
The Premier convention center was never empty, or that’s what was easiest to believe, at least. It was rare for Academy functions to take place outside of official academic hours, but because this annual ceremony required the presence of not only professors and academics, but former graduates and family support as well, school administration had no choice but to hold the ceremony on a Friday evening.
I preferred weaving through large crowds over one-on-one dialogue, so the moment I ascended the convention center’s outer steps and flowed into the front hall with other patrons, I felt the tension in my shoulders dissolve.
“Patron?” One of the guards at the door asked.
“Inductee,” I answered.
“Pin?” I lifted the collar of my jacket so he could see it. “I’ll need to keep that.”
I unclipped the pin and handed it to him, wordlessly.
“Proceed,” he said, and I obeyed.
The crowd only grew thicker as I made my way further into the hall. It was a miracle I found Clarice, or, rather, that she found me.
She looked better with pink accents than I probably did.
“There are so many old people here,” she commented, looking around.
I frowned. “You mean alumni?”
“I’ll take your jackets,” one of our student advisors said as she approached us, holding out a hand to each of us. Reluctantly, I handed over my jacket, and she slipped away without saying another word to either of us.
“Hey, I gotta go find my brother,” Clarice said. “So … see you up there.”
Suddenly I found myself standing completely alone, despite the crowd of people around me. Looking around, I spied all sorts of faces I recognized, but I never met their wandering eyes. Hanna and Aron walked in, arm in arm. Richard and Troin walked in together, then went their separate ways to mingle with their respective cohorts.
I didn’t realize who I was looking for until I’d confirmed, at least for the time being, he wasn’t anywhere in the hall.
“Hey Lucas,” I said as he approached me, nodding. He was just a little taller than me; I was tall compared to many of our classmates, and he probably hadn’t even finished growing yet, I guessed. Before I could strike up more conversation, he held a slightly wilted ranunculus flower, pink to match the accents on my jacket, which I no longer had.
“Thanks,” I said, looking around, watching other Elites give penders the same flower. Guys gave to girls; girls gave to guys; guys gave to guys and girls gave to girls. It was supposed to be a symbol of unity and invitation. “Really. Thanks. I have no idea what I’m doing.”
“Let’s go, inductees,” Headmistress Galloway said as she weaved through the group. Passing Lucas and I, she touched my arm. “Ready?”
I wasn’t. But she didn’t need to know that. Even though she probably already did without me having to point it out to her.
We sat in a line, a perfectly straight row of chairs across the stage. The lights were dimmed enough so we could not be seen easily from the audience, from which hundreds of conversations still floated toward our buzzing figures. We were all dressed black on bottom, grey on top, just as instructed, though the styles of our tops were allowed to vary.
As soon as the lights brightened we would look to spectators as one body of exceptional people, all alike, with small slivers of differences to remind them we all had something different to contribute to our world.
The beginning of the ceremony came too soon. Just before the lights over the audience dimmed and those over our heads came to life, I tried searching the audience one more time, just in case my father had changed his mind and decided to come after all.
The headmistress’s voice, amplified, interrupted my final scope of the crowd.
“Welcome all,” she said, her words echoing. “We are so grateful you could make it out tonight. We have a worthwhile endeavor planned for you. First allow me to welcome the head of our Elite Alumni association, Professor Ronn Antigua.”
I found it difficult to pay attention to the stream of speeches that followed. When I wasn’t scouting out the audience and the auditorium entrances, I was watching Clarice. Her ability and apparent willingness to give uninterrupted attention to the speakers pacing back and forth across the stage was impressive. It was like she closed off the rest of her mind and narrowed her focus to fit only that one auditory cue at one time.
“Thank you, doctor,” Headmistress Galloway said suddenly, tearing me away from the daydream I had accidentally fallen prey to at some point during Dr. Flynn’s speech. “Would our current Elites please stand.”
They sat in a row of chairs in front of the stage. They were supposed to face the audience first, then turn around and face Headmistress Galloway. There seemed to be a lot fewer of them than I had originally thought.
For some reason my gaze fell onto Hanna, who stood in perfect sync with the rest of her fellow Elites. Her half smile, so rehearsed and generic, gave her the exact look I knew she wanted to portray in that moment: poised; professional; powerful.
“Allow me to introduce our newly elected student liaison, Ms. Hanna Bracket.”
She acted as though she had not expected to be called to the center of the stage. She slipped past those in her line of motion and climbed the steps up to stage level with an eagerness I hardly remembered her possessing previously. She took the microphone from the headmistress, thanked her, and faced her audience with so much confidence it made me want to throw something.
“Fellow Elites. Faculty. Parents. Friends.” There was an eerie calmness coating her words. “We gather together this evening to recognize the academics that have earned their place among the most accomplished chapter of the Elite Society. Those who have gone above and beyond the core requirements mandated by the region’s department of learning. Thos who have proven they belong among the greatest of the great.”
Unlike the previous speeches, I hung onto every word my former best friend spoke. Unlike everyone else in the room, except maybe Aron, I knew she had practiced her speech forty times or more before the moment she had to give it. She was the highest epitome of perfectionism. I also knew she probably hadn’t been the one to write the words she now spoke.
It went on. And on. And on.
“Tonight we, as one unified body of Academic Elites, old and new, will make the same vow many of you made when you were first inducted into our circle: to achieve the highest possible level of selfless wisdom and intellectual advancement. Through hard work and dedication, we will all achieve greatness. Say it with me: perfectio pertinaciae. ‘Perfection through determination.’ Thank you.”
Have you ever noticed how different applause sounds depending on who it’s for? When it’s for you, it seems soft. It washes over you, and you just breathe it in like air. When it’s for someone else, it’s deafening.
Headmisstress Galloway took Hanna’s place in front of the microphone.
“It is tradition,” the headmistress said, smiling politely, “that each inductee be formally presented with his or her jacket by a previously selected alumni member of the society. Parents, instructors, mentors, career coordinators have joined us on stage tonight to honor and welcome the newest members of the Elite. Friends, colleagues, please stand.”
Everyone in the audience stood. So did we, on the stage, in our perfectly formed line. Many figures came forward, toward the stage, the friends, family, mentors who had taken the time out of their busy lives to come and welcome the newest of the Academic Elites into their group. One by one they climbed the steps in front of the stage and stood beside their companions.
I stood alone.
Headmistress’s secretary appeared beside me, holding my jacket, smiling like she was honored to present it to me. She didn’t even know me.
“When I call your designated inductee’s name,” Headmistress Galloway instructed, “you will bestow upon them their respective jackets. Wearing these jackets is an honor and a privilege,” she said to us. “Treat them well. Wallace Avery Young.”
She called off our names in reverse alphabetical order.
“Thomas Chang Valentine. Leanne Felicia Shaw.”
Every time she called a name, someone else got a jacket.
My palms were sweating.
After a few more names, and a few more jackets slipped onto shoulders, Headmistress Galloway handed the microphone off to her secretary, now standing beside her, and crossed the stage, holding the jacket from her secretary and moving to stand behind me.
“You don’t have to …” I tried turning my head without moving the rest of me.
“Who else would?”
“Clarice Arielle Odyssey,” said the temporary MC, and her brother helped her into her jacket next to me, both of them smiling. “Ollia Eleanor Mandel.”
I stretched out my arms, and Headmistress fitted the jacket over me without hesitation. It fit perfectly, better than I had expected it to. It was warm, somehow, and sent chills from my head down to my toes.
It was finally happening. I was finally getting what I wanted.
The rest of the names were called, the rest of the jackets presented. We all stood as perfectly still as we could, but it wasn’t easy. We were itching to step down from the spotlight by the time Headmistress Galloway returned to the far end of the stage and took the microphone back. It was hard to soak in all the extra attention when we had been taught to live and breathe as equals.
“On behalf of the Elite Society of Exceptional Scholars, and the Premier Academy of Academic Excellence and Professional Development, we welcome you. May your lives be forever filled with knowledge, and may you gain wisdom that far surpasses mine.”
Applause, hundreds upon hundreds of hands rewarding us for a job well done. It was almost too much to take in all at once. But we did. Secretly, we had all dreamed of this day. Every single one of us. And it was already almost over.
“Hold your chins up high, Elites,” Headmistress Galloway said, just loud enough for only us to hear. “Your futures are out there waiting for you.”
Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.
Meg is a twenty-something workaholic with a passion for writing, coffee and health. In addition to her status as an aspiring novelist, Meg is the managing editor at College Lifestyles magazine, a guest contributor with Lifehack and a guest blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine. She is a seven-time NaNoWriMo winner and has also written for Teen Ink and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter.