Untitled - Chapter One
Nation Orias didn’t lead a life meant for the big screen. It could never be admired by millions or scrutinized by harsh critics. He existed and lived his life day by day not because someone dreamed him up in their head or mapped out each of his personality traits with nothing but a computer keyboard. He liked to think that if that was the case, the person behind the screen would be a bit more creative.
He was but a human. He made mistakes everywhere he went, and sometimes he fixed them, and sometimes he couldn’t. The type of mistake this was, well that was still to be determined. It could either be worthy of redemption of condemnation.
In every superhero comic and movie Nation had ever seen, he couldn’t recall a time where he didn’t root for the hero. Because that’s what you’re meant to do. Root for the good guys. But in real life, things were never so black and white.
As much as he tried, Nation couldn’t confidently say he was evil, not that others would agree, but if his life were truly a story, he’d be the villain. And just as surely as he knew that he knew that his roommate Morris Hunter was the hero. Keagan Lambert, the guy from Psychology in the Contemporary World 103, was the quirky sidekick. Nation’s second cousin’s best friend, Alana Fernández, was the beautiful love interest. Completely by default, Morgan Sun was the wise old guy (even though he was only two years older than Nation and was only still in high school because of weird Chinese school to American school transfer rules that existed because his English was particularly dreadful).
And Nation Orias was the big, bad villain.
The series of events that lead to this revelation started with his first step off the plane in New York City. The big apple. The best city to chase the American dream. And Nation’s place of residence for the next year and possibly beyond. He stood still, taking in the duty-free stores, the frantic families running to catch their flight, the people sleeping on torn cushion seats because their flight was delayed and they couldn’t be bothered to find a hotel, the flight attendants in their pristine uniforms and tightly pulled back hair, and the unlucky third, forth, and fifth wheels who got stuck attending a mass pile of their friend’s suitcases. It wasn’t all that different from any other major airport in the world, but somehow it felt different.
Not even ten seconds had passed since Nation stopped walking when someone who clearly didn’t see the charm of the John F. Kennedy International Airport in a jacket covered in what could really only be manure, shoved him and his suitcase to the side with a snarky, “Watch it, kid. You’re not in Kansas anymore.”
The Dorothy joke wasn’t lost on Nation, and while St. Catherines, Ontario was nothing like Kansas; New York City may as well have been the land of Oz.
The rudeness of Manure Jacket did little to deter Nation as he said a quick, “I’m sorry” before picking himself up from the floor with one hand gripping the handle of his suitcase. He tilted his gaze up towards the first overhanging sign with an arrow and a little taxi symbol beside it and walked in the direction it pointed; he did the same with the next sign, and the next one, until he was out the door and weaving his way past a stream of bodies to the end of the taxi line.
As expected, New York in late August wasn’t too different from what Nation was used to. The sunlight peeking through the parting clouds bounced off the windows of each yellow cab. It was finally cool enough to be comfortable. A check of his phone told him it was 68 degrees Fahrenheit, which was a system he hadn’t quite managed to familiarize himself with quite yet. 20 degrees Celsius, now that he understood.
It was still a bit warm for his new black leather jacket, but he broke it out anyway and was only slightly regretting it. He’d bought it only a week before to retire the orange zip up hoody he wore nine out of ten days last year. There was no guarantee that people would want to talk to a guy pretending to be confident in a fake leather jacket more than a mess of a guy slouching in an orange hoody, but the one thing he knew for sure about boarding school was that he was excited to be around people who didn’t know him, and his jacket was part of his rebirth.
Once he was in the backseat of a cab, his suitcase was in the trunk, and he’d done a quick scan of the car and failed to find any obvious signs that his driver was a murderer, he leaned back against the leather cushions and put his headphones on for the ride.
Acrine Preparatory School was a little less than an hour from the airport and Nation spent the entire time looking out the window at the passing city scene. His parents had insisted on joining him at least for moving day and they stammered out surprised protests when Nation refused. But, with the barest amount of insistence, they stopped pushing him, just like he knew they would.
He suspected that most parents would be there today, but if his mom were there she’d be talking loudly to the cab driver and giving away more personal information than most safe people were comfortable with, and if his dad were there he’d be squished right up next to Nation pointing at random buildings outside the window saying things like Hey, buddy, look at that, isn’t that neat? I think I read about it once!. Needless to say, Nation wouldn’t be able to reach the level of freedom and introspection he desired.
His headphones came off the moment tall iron gates and full, dark trees surrounded the looming castle walls of his new school came into view. It wasn’t until now that he heard his cab driver humming along to Disney’s Aladdin which was a sign that he 1. was still probably not a murderer, and 2. would have gotten along splendidly with Nation’s mom.
He couldn’t help but gawk at how every tree and patch of grass was greener and more vibrant than the last, and how the surface of every bench and column was polished enough to see his own reflection staring back at him. The students who made their way down the winding path to their respective residence buildings with their parents could have been images of students taken right out of the many brochures that sat on his desk back at home. They stood tall, with their heads held high like the future senators and celebrities they were sure to be.
Nation suddenly felt very out of place, but he remembered the confidence he promised himself he’d have this time around and tried to lift his chin up too.
It wasn’t that his last school had been bad. His father’s job as a biology professor and his mother’s job as a family physician assured him private school from day one. But a prestigious school in a town with a population less than 150,000 was much different than a prestigious school in Manhattan.
It was one building with three floors and a usually dirty skylight connected to one residence block housing fifty international students. In the front was a field full of weeds with a small track and a subpar play structure for the younger grade levels. The programs were less than basic, the teachers lacked qualification, and the cafeteria food was cardboard they called pizza and mystery meat they called chicken. Nation spent twelve years of his life there and he was more than ready to give up his forest green blazer and slacks for the blood red ones of Acrine Prep.