Raven walked slightly behind the guard to the side, so he could see her. The guard’s face looked grim and Raven wondered what she had done or if this had to do with her Awakening. She tugged at the edge of her yellow shirt.
“Where are we going?” Raven managed to ask.
“Principal Kase,” the guard said in a clipped tone.
“Oh,” Raven said. She wanted to ask more, but the guard didn’t seem like he wanted to talk. She kept quiet as the guard led her back to Principal Kase’s office. After her first visit, she wasn’t exactly thrilled to be there again.
The halls she was led down were different from what Raven remembered. She frowned in confusion. They stopped outside a door where the guard knocked once and then stepped inside. Inside, Principal Kase sat at her desk, filling out paperwork. She looked up at the guard and nodded once, before focusing back on her work. The guard left, leaving Raven standing awkwardly in the middle of the room.
Surprisingly, the office they arrived at was different from the one she had first met Principal Kase. This one was just as large but had a more personal touch. Old records decorated the room and pictures of jazz musicians hung on the wall. There were no pictures of family or friends, just a collection of different musical items. In one corner of the room, a record player spun and a soothing jazz song played.
“Are you settling in well?” Principal Kase asked.
Raven was startled by the question. She had gotten the distinct impression from the principal earlier that she didn’t care what Raven thought. “Yes, Principal Kase.”
“Good,” the woman said, writing something on a paper, before sliding it away and finally looking at Raven.
Principal Kase’s nose scrunched up as if she was looking at something distasteful. She sighed and steepled her fingers together. “Ms. Delias, have you read the pamphlet you were provided?”
Raven panicked. She wondered if she had managed to break a rule she wasn’t aware of. “N-no, I haven’t, Principal Kase.”
“I see,” the woman said, her eyes narrowing. Then she leaned back in her chair, folding her arms as she eyed Raven. “I suggest you do, but for now I will make it very clear about one rule that you would do well to remember.”
Raven nodded. “Yes, Principal Kase.”
“Here at East Cronos Institute, we take great pride in our relationship with the Magic Defense Enforcement. They make sure our school provides a second chance for students with potential that have gone on the wrong path in their lives.” Principal Kase tugged lightly at the cuffs of her blouse, smoothing out the wrinkles.
Raven watched, not sure what the principal was getting at with her speech. She made sure to keep her expression a careful blank.
“As such we are afforded a certain amount of leeway in our actions to help provide a better foundation for our misguided youth. Sometimes are methods may appear harsh, but they are necessary. Do you understand?”
Raven didn’t, but she nodded anyway. “Yes, Principal Kase.”
“Good. During the reeducation we put a level of trust in our students we expect them to honor. Part of that trust is to maintain the privacy of our students and faculty so they may flourish without the negative attention of the public eye.” Principal Kase’s hard purple eyes met Raven’s own.
Raven waited for her to continue, but it was clear the woman was expecting something else. Raven went over the principal’s words again. Principal Kase wanted Raven to keep quiet about the other students, which Raven could understand. From what everyone has said about sponsors, the students were an investment. Gossiping about someone’s criminal record would be frowned on.
“I understand, Principal Kase.”
The principal gave her a searching look, before sighing. She stood up. “Good. We want to continue to make East Cronos Institute a safe place for you and the people around you.”
There was something about the way Principal Kase said that, which didn’t sit well with Raven. It felt almost threatening. Raven frowned, trying to figure out what she was missing about this conversation.
“Follow me. Your parents received special permission to see you outside of our normal hours. They have brought you some things from home.” She walked towards the door.
Raven blinked. Her parents were here? Then it finally dawned on her what was happening. Principal Kase was warning her. If she told her parents about the questionable things they did at ECI, she and her parents could be in trouble. She sucked in a startled breath.
Principal Kase’s cold eyes turned to her and then she smiled. “Don’t dawdle.”
Raven hurried and followed after the woman, her mind reeling. She had never been threatened before, but she was pretty sure that’s what Principal Kase was doing. She felt a mixture of anger, dread, and helplessness. She was scared of saying something wrong by mistake. Raven forced herself to stay calm. Before she knew it, they stopped in front of a door to the office Raven now recognized as the one she had originally met Principal Kase in. The woman must use it as a lounge. Before they went inside, Principal Kase turned to her. Reaching out she gripped Raven’s shoulder, her nails digging in.
“Remember what I said,” the principal said.
This time Principal Kase didn’t correct her for not saying the whole, ‘Yes, Principal Kase.’ The woman gave Raven’s shoulder one more painful squeeze before dropping her hand and opening the door.
Raven stepped inside and was immediately washed over with warmth at the sight of her family. The anxiety was still there, but seeing their concerned faces pushed the other emotions away. Even though she had seen them this morning it felt more like days had gone by.
Her mother immediately strode to her side, her heels clicking against the floor in determination. Her blue eyes searched over Raven for anything out of place, then she was tugging Raven in, holding her tight. The soft scent of her mother’s jasmine perfume wafted into Raven’s nose. It reminded her of home and comfort.
Behind her, she heard the soft sound of a door shutting. When she looked back, she noticed Principal Kase had left them alone.
Her mother pulled away from Raven, her expression hard, but her eyes filled with worry. “Are you okay? Nothing bad has happened to you?”
Raven shook her head. “No, I’m fine. I think I even made some friends.”
Instead of easing her mother’s worry, that seem to make it worse. Her mother glanced at her father.
Her father let out a sigh, and then put down a box had been carrying. He walked over to Raven and scooped her up in his arms like she was a toddler instead of a teenager.
“Hey!” Raven said with a laugh.
Her father spun her around like he used to do when she was a kid. She was a little surprised her father still could. He was a thin man, not bulky with muscles, but his frame hid wiry muscles.
Raven gently hit her dad’s chest and pouted. “Put me down. I’m not a kid.”
Her father finally put her back down and ruffled her hair. “I don’t know. You still look like a kid to me.”
She rolled her eyes. “I’m not.”
Her father rubbed his chin. His fingers ran over his trimmed goatee. “I suppose you’ve gotten a little older, but you’re still my baby girl.”
Raven shook her head. “You’re hopeless.”
“Now you sound like your mother,” her dad said.
Her mother elbowed her father. “I hope you mean she sounds as intelligent and confident as her mother. ”
“Exactly that,” her father said, holding his hands out in surrender.
“You always were a smart man,” her mother said and then turned to Raven, taking her hands and pulling her closer. “Honey, come and talk with me for a moment.”
“Delores,” her father said.
“It’s fine, Frank,” her mother said.
Raven looked between her parents but followed her mother to a cushioned bench. The two sat down, while her mother rubbed Raven’s hand nervously.
“Honey, you need to be careful,” her mother said.
Raven nodded slowly, a little confused about what was going on. A chair scraped the floor as her father joined them. Her parents shared another worried look.
“We’ve been working with people at the MDE and the Access Facility to get you released from here.”
“That’s great!” Raven said. A rush of hope went through her for the first time since she awakened.
Her father patted her shoulder. “It’s an uphill battle, but we’re determined to win it.”
Her mother nodded in agreement. “But we need you to be careful while you’re in here and that includes who you become friends with.”
Raven frowned. “What?”
“They’re criminals and you’re not,” her father said, straightforward.
“The ones I’ve met are good people,” Raven argued back, thinking about Ethan and Lisa.
“We’re not saying they’re not,” her mother said, squeezing Raven’s hand. “We just don’t want things going badly for you because of a mistake. You understand, right?”
She understood her parents had a point. Though she didn’t think Ethan or Lisa were bad people she didn’t know much about them. Still, she didn’t want to avoid them because of their past.
“I’ll be careful,” Raven agreed, though she silently made a promise not to judge them. She knew a lot of the students had sponsors, so they were trying to move forward in their lives.
“That’s all we’re asking,” her mother said.
Her father nodded. “Sometimes a person might seem like a friend when they’re actually trying to use you,” he said bitterly.
Raven blinked at her father in surprise. His response was too raw to not be personal. She wanted to ask what happened, but from his expression, she knew this was a conversation that would have to wait.
For the next 20 minutes, Raven talked with her family about what was happening around them. They steered the conversation away from Raven’s Awakening and instead focused on things at home and the stuff they brought her. Once it had been around forty minutes, a guard came in to escort Raven away.
She hugged her parents tightly and, with one last wave, headed back to her room. Since she didn’t have a perk to wander around after hours, the guard took her all the way to the dorm entrance and escorted her inside. Back in the dorm halls, Raven let out a deep sigh. The dorms were mostly empty, with a few girls rushing around to do last minute stuff before curfew. The tears Raven had barely held back stung her eyes. Seeing her parents felt like home and that made her even more aware of her situation.
I could go home now.
The thought of what Tick Tock had said earlier rushed to her mind. She shook it away. All that would lead to was the MDE coming after her and her family. No, right now, she would be patient and wait. And in the end, if she had to, she would call Tick Tock and see if what he said was the truth.
Determination filled Raven. For now, she would keep her head down and move forward. Just three more months and she would be free. The decision filled her with relief, and for the first time since everything fell into chaos, Raven felt hope. It was a start.