Chapter 1: Bad Habits

I climbed out of the back seat of my dad’s new Volkswagen. I adjusted the elastic in my long, semi-unruly, almost impossible curly hair. I hitched up my impossibly baggy jeans over my slender hips and inconspicuously checked the inside pocket of my flannel shirt to be sure my nearly full package of Marlboros were still there.

My parents had some weird fascination with trying to get me to quit smoking; something about smoking causing cancer. Personally, I thought all their worrying was a lot more unhealthy than my select bad habits.

I couldn’t help but gape at the huge, stone building before me. It was by far the largest thing I’d ever seen in my entire life. I secretly hoped they had at least an elevator to get to the top floors.

It resembled more of an old castle than a high school campus. A set of massive, looming stone stairs curved upward to a set of three stone archways.

I was still staring in disbelief when I felt my dad’s hand on my shoulder “Don’t worry son,” he assured, “I’m sure it can’t be as bad as it looks.”

Just as the words were out of his mouth, a pair of insanely beautiful girls came down the stairs wearing what I assumed to be the school’s uniform; a fitted navy blue sweater with some kind of crest on the right breast and a navy blue plaid skirt, short enough to make your head spin. One was blonde, and the other brunette, though I was hardly looking so high.

As they approached, they leaned together whispering to each other.

They giggled; sweet little high pitched laughs and passed by me.

I turned to watch them go, mesmerized by the flutter of their short skirts and the way their knee highs clung to their calves.
I gulped. I was in way over my head.

I turned back to see my father grin at me, “Surely there will be something that will make being here worth your while…” his comment was filled with hidden meaning and inflection.

I rolled my eyes and glanced at my mom who was now standing in front of the car and waiting.

“Pop the trunk, dad, and I’ll get my stuff.” I said, moving toward the back of the vehicle.

I had packed very little, only the necessities; a few favorite books, journals and CDs as well as the bare essentials of my wardrobe. I would only need a few favorite pieces of casual clothing, since I would be wearing the uniform most of the time.
My mother had packed an entire suitcase full of socks and underwear, which would probably last me for ten years as opposed to eight months in this place.

“We’ll come back for it, son.” was all dad said before motioning toward the stone staircase and moving up a few.

I found this odd, but went with it.

I followed, but mom quickly moved an arm through mine. “Isaac, honey, I know this is scary for you, and you’ve been through a lot this year. You can call any time you need to, you know your brothers are going to miss you. I know your father is being really strict about this, but try it, and if this doesn’t work out, you can come home any time you want.” She smiled warmly.
I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. This was far too typical of my mother. She was like a mom out of a black and white sitcom from the sixties.

Sometimes she was far too maternal.

“Somehow I don’t think dad is going to go along with that.” I rolled my eyes and moved ahead of her.

My dad had stopped at the top of the stairs, waiting for my mom and I to catch up. He was glancing between my mother and myself.

I met my dad first at the top of the stairs. The ground at the top of the stairs was more intricate stone work. I stepped beneath the row of stone arches, shaded beneath a further stone.

Wind whistled around the corner of the building, catching a handful of discarded fall leaves and whipping them through the stone tunnel.

“Which way?” Mom asked.

“This way.” Dad pointed.

I followed, stealing glances in the thick paned windows. I couldn’t see in, and that freaked me out.

Two more students filtered out between two large heavy wooden doors. A guy wearing pants that actually fit him, a blue knit sweater—almost identical to the ones the girls before had been wearing. Though not nearly as sexy. He had a high collared white shirt underneath and a navy blue tie knotted around his neck.

I gulped. I couldn’t see myself wearing something as ridiculously geeky as that uniform. The girl with this guy was wearing the girl’s uniform, but her skirt wasn’t hitched quite so high. It was modest and not nearly as sexy.

I followed the direction that the two students had gone in. They disappeared down another arched staircase, and across a perfectly manicured lawn. Every single blade of grass seemed to be in place. A man in overalls was raking leaves into a pile, and further beyond this great expanse of lawn were a series of identical grey stone buildings, all of which towered up amongst the changing leaves.

My parents were suddenly both ahead of me, holding open the heavy wooden doors. I sighed and followed them inside.

We stepped into a long dark hall. The floors were a dark wood, waxed heavily until they gleamed. I stayed a step behind them both to study my surroundings. My eyes narrowed.

The walls were an identical shade of wood paneling. On the left side of the hall there was a giant blue crest. Below it in fancy cursive writing read “Pine Crest Academy”. Above that were some fancy words written in a language I couldn’t understand, probably Latin.

“God, this is like a fucking funeral home.” I muttered under my breath.

The sound echoed off the walls, and even though I was sure both of my parents had heard me, neither corrected my language.

Although my dad shot me a menacing and unimpressed glare.

We moved further down the hall until at last we came to the end. There was a tiny little old lady seated behind a large desk.

“Hello, welcome to Pine Crest Academy.” She smiled casually. “How can I assist you today?”

“I’m here to enroll my son, Isaac Hanson. We have an appointment with the dean…” Dad began lightly.

I rolled my eyes. Dean? What happened to the word principal? Or was this just fancy prep school slang?

“Okay. I can certainly check into that for you. I’ll be right back, please feel free to have seat.” The secretary stood and moved out from behind the desk. She disappeared behind another heavy wooden door.

Neither of my parents made a move to sit, and I was considering removing one of the certificates on the wall, rolling it and smoking it. Ancient parchment must have had some thing good to inhale in it. If not, maybe the dust would get me high.

The secretary emerged. “He’s on a conference call right now; he’ll be with you shortly. If you’d just like to go through that door there and wait in his private waiting room, he’ll be right with you.”

I stood staring at the door while my dad held it open. He let my mom in first.

“Why didn’t you just put me in prison, dad?” I muttered under my breath.

“This isn’t prison, son. This is a five star hotel compared to prison.” He countered.

“This place is a fucking joke.” I plopped down on an arm chair.

“Isaac, please. Just try this. I think this is exactly what you need right now.” My mom leaned toward me and placed her hand on mine.

I pulled my hand free, deliberately leaning as far away from her as I could in the chair. “You mean this is the last chance for me. This is you guys trying out what life back home would be like without me fucking up your perfect family, so you’re shipping me out here in the middle of butt-fuck nowhere with a bunch of super geniuses because that’s almost worse than jail, isn’t it? Stick me in a high school where not only will I be a social outcast, but there’s no way in hell I’ll be able to keep up. So I’ll be expelled or forced to drop out, then you’ll have no other option than to throw my ass to the streets.” I folded my arms over my chest.

“Don’t talk to your mother that way.” My father scolded. “We are not getting rid of you in any means. We are doing the best we can. We are sending you to a place where hopefully you can settle down and get everything back in order.”

I rolled my eyes. “Whatever.” I glanced around. There was a large bay window which occupied most of the west wall. The remaining walls were comprised of bookshelves. Two walls were covered with glass and held more awards, ribbons and certificates than I could count.

I sighed, deciding I wanted to be as far away from my parents as I could manage. I got up and crossed to the window. I peered out across the manicured lawn. Now it was spotted with students. The largest of which had about six students sitting in a circle, all with textbooks open on their laps. In their free time, these people studied? I shook my head.

I glanced past to two guys throwing a football back and forth. Beyond that, a guy and a girl were curled up together beneath a tree with leaves that were already changing to a brilliant shade of red.

She was curled in his arms. The sight made me want to gag.

These people were not like me. I would never fit in with anyone here.

I scanned the faces of the people in the yard, but none of them were like me. They all appeared happy and normal. I was going to stick out like a sore thumb.

Even further, on the other side of the lawn were more towering buildings that looked almost like apartment buildings or ancient forms of condos than high school dorm.

Beyond everything else, all I could see were trees. They must have been ancient; they loomed over everything like fierce protectors. These same trees created a near perfect circle around the perfect lawns, the students and all of the buildings. We were all completely sheltered. And for me there was no escape. It was miles to the next town, even if I knew how to get there, I wouldn’t be able to make it into town.

I sighed. This place was hell on earth. I didn’t even need to start classes to know that.

The door on the north wall opened suddenly, ad a tall, slim figure emerged. A clean shaven man with hair graying at the temples stood before us. He was wearing a red knit sweater with the school’s crest on the right breast pocket. He had black slacks neatly pressed covering his legs.

With one finger he pushed his glasses up onto his nose. He extended his right hand to my dad automatically. “Hello Mr. and Mrs. Hanson, I’m the dean. My name is Proffessor Phillip Firestone.”

“Walker.” My dad said lightly. “And my wife Diana.”

The dean shook my mother’s hand and advanced toward me.

“And you must be Isaac.” He extended a hand to me. “Welcome to Pine Crest Academy. I’m sure you’ll fit in quite well here.”

I resisted the urge to scoff.

“If you don’t mind.” He said to me, “I’d like to speak to your parents first, and then I’ll speak to you alone.”

I nodded, shrugging indifferently. My parents had already given me numerous ‘talks’. There was nothing this guy could say to me to make me change my mind about this school, my life, or my habits.