Matt didn’t see Jane for the rest of the week. He didn’t know if she was avoiding him or if she was busy training and to be honest, if it wasn’t for the fact that she was walking around with his secret in her head, he wouldn’t have cared – but the continued liability she and her pride posed meant he had to, somewhat ruefully, keep tabs on her. At least, that’s how it was initially. By the time the weekend came round, Matt’s anger at Jane over the whole psychic situation had burned out and he began to view her continued absence as something of a shame.
While it might have been a stretch to say he enjoyed Jane’s company, she was at least vaguely interesting to be around – and, as the days dragged by, Matt realised with some annoyance that somehow, unintentionally, the girl had managed to invoke in him a sense of begrudging loyalty. Perhaps it was their shared secret or simply that, out of all the strangers here, he’d known her first; maybe it was finder’s sympathy, like one might feel if they had been walking along one day and come across a particularly lost and stupid goat. Realistically, Matt knew he should ignore her and concentrate on getting expelled, but since his day-to-day life at Morningstar was completely devoid of structure, the (perhaps boredom-induced) loyalty just sort of… lingered.
Although Matt was now determined to get kicked out of the Academy, the best method for this proved elusive. He tried showing up late to class; then drunk to class; then not showing up to class at all; then not showing up to all his classes. Nothing worked. There were no warning letters, no penalties, no strikes or suspensions – all he got were ad hoc meetings with Daniel Winters and Hillary Cross who encouraged him, in alternating levels of hostility, to be more studious. Sure, whispers were now going round that Matt was some kind of rogue maverick clairvoyant who kicked ass, saw the future and played by nobody’s rules – but that wasn’t actually helpful because Matt didn’t want people to think he was cool, he wanted to be expelled.
Another problem was that without classes, Matt simply had nothing to do. He had no homework, no assignments, no chores, no job to work at, no family to care for, no retarded friends to protect. Even his twice-daily mental exercises (and thank God for those) no longer served as time-sinks since Matt had started doing them during his daily meditation with Selwyn (which he continued so as not to appear intentionally delinquent), figuring that if he was going to be sitting doing nothing with his eyes closed anyway, he may as well make the most of it. So that had killed two birds with one stone, but now his metaphorical life-bush was overflowing with time-worms and he had no task-birds left to eat them all. Even playing video games with Ed, who was fast becoming his main companion, got old after a while – and besides, the genius actually had work he was supposed to be doing. There were only so many hours in a day and so many days in a week that Matt could spend eating, gaming, browsing the Internet or watching other Acolytes do things before he started to lose his mind.
On the upside, Matt’s shenanigans in the Grand Hall with the “Psy-Block” had worked about as well as he could’ve hoped. While there was still the odd malcontent who liked to grumble that Matt had cheated Natalia, most Acolytes seemed to appreciate the humour of his victory, and suddenly Matt found himself not only known but liked. He was hailed in the corridors, chatted with in the hall and invited to watch the various training exercises open for viewing, all of which Matt seized upon to pass his vast swathes of free time. Wally in particular soon became something of a friendly acquaintance, regularly inviting Matt to join him and the other Seniors at their table (which Matt understood was some kind of unofficial honour) and staying to chat and exchange stories long after everyone else had gone.
A perpetually relaxed and easy-going guy, Walter Cykes, the Legion’s ‘second best psychic’, was as different from his first psychic ‘superior’ as his unruly curls and never-ending parade of Hawaiian shirts was to Natalia’s over-groomed locks and Milan-fashion-week collection. Wally was a happy, laughing daydreamer who didn’t seem all that interested in training, or really doing much other than lounging around and shooting the breeze. The fact that he was even at the Academy, let alone their ‘second best psychic’, was to Matt a continual source of surprise.
“Eh, I do what I do,” Wally replied disinterestedly whenever Matt broached the subject. Slowly, Matt began to suspect that the red-haired psychic might be something of a prodigy, harbouring phenomenal natural power – which would have been disconcerting had the short freckly ginger been anybody else, but as it was it just made Wally’s nonchalance even more endearing.
Wally’s company, and Matt’s presence at the Seniors table, also brought him into repeated contact with Giselle; something Mat had initially been excited about, but which had quickly developed into a slightly disheartening realisation. Based off their first few interactions – where Giselle had smiled at him, laughed at his jokes and touched his arm occasionally with her flawless, delicate hands – Matt had thought that maybe the gorgeous speedster girl had a thing for him. But that notion quickly dissipated once Matt realised that Giselle wasn’t being especially nice to him, but was just especially nice. She was always laughing, always smiling, hugging girls and complimenting boys – an irrepressible ray of light and optimism universally beloved and blindly crushed on (by conservative estimates) by at least two-thirds of the Acolytes.
It was little wonder, Matt realised, as he watched her blur around the Hall one morning with a plate in each hand. Giselle had everything: looks, talent, intelligence, success, great clothes. Of course she was nice to everyone; she’d never been treated any differently. What a terrible quality, he mused sarcastically – although it did ironically make it almost impossible to tell if she genuinely liked someone, either romantically or otherwise.
This paradox seemed particularly lost on James Conrad, who Matt quickly figured out was something of the big man on campus, in several senses of the term. James, according to the gossip‑loving Wally, had been amorously pursuing Giselle Pixus to no avail for years, and, it seemed, without ever taking the hint. Not that James himself was lacking in feminine attention – any man who spent several hours a day lifting impossibly heavy weights would always have admirers. And he wasn’t a complete meat-headed gorilla either, Matt came to realise – the strongman had a brain between his ears, and it functioned, although perhaps not as exceptionally as every other muscle in his body. Matt still bore him some lingering resentment over him hospitalising Jane, but the longer he observed the black colossus in action, the less he thought that his violence in the arena was necessarily indicative of his true personality. James, he learned, was an only child, and pushed hard by his parents from early on – a recipe which, combined with good genetics and raw talent, meant he had pretty much always been destined to star in either the Legion or the Olympics. He wasn’t a bad person, Matt thought, just someone with a lot of gifts who’d spent their entire life being very gifted.
But all his new friends had their own lives and as much as Matt enjoyed spending time with them in the end it wasn’t enough. So Matt increasingly found himself – once he’d prepared for the next fortnight’s clairvoyancy test – wandering aimlessly through Morningstar’s grounds and the surrounding countryside.
“I need a hobby,” he complained to Ed one night over Super Smash Brothers and bowls of spaghetti Bolognese. He pressed clumsily at the jump button with his left hand while his right operated the fork – the fact that Ed was going to carry their partnership both pre-determined and completely beyond Matt’s control.
“You could start doing peoples’ futures again,” Ed suggested without looking over. He called down a well-timed Thunder and blasted both level 9 enemies off the screen.
“Nah,” replied Matt. He slurped a particularly saucy string of spaghetti before guiding the subject away from his ‘clairvoyancy’. “I was thinking like woodwork.”
“Yeah man, make a cool chair or something.”
Ed’s polite silence told him all he needed to know about that idea.
“I’m just spit-balling,” Matt grumbled. He looked over at the genius. “What do you do in your spare time?”
“Uh… play games?” said Ed, doing exactly that.
“Well alright, what do you do when you’re not playing games then.”
“I have… projects,” Ed confessed reluctantly. Up until now he had been very coy about discussing his work. Matt had never pressed him on it, but it did pique his curiosity.
“Anything cool? Anything I can help with?” asked Matt, trying not to sound too desperate.
Ed shifted uncomfortably, obviously reluctant to give an outright ‘no’. “I don’t know, it’s all kind of… you know, sitting in front of a computer… you don’t really want to…” He trailed off.
“Come on man, there must be something.”
“Well… I mean… do you know much about gene sequencing?”
“I probably know how to spell it?”
Ed grimaced. “Sorry.”
Matt sighed. “It’s alright,” he conceded, “I get it. Genius stuff.”
“Genius stuff,” Ed confirmed, his eyes back on the screen.
The highlight of Matt’s weeks were the calls from his family – hearing Sarah talk about her day, listening to his parents worry about him, having Jonas begrudgingly forced to share more than monosyllabic grunts. After about the first week though these calls started to drop in frequency; the novelty of him being away obviously starting to wear off, especially considering he never had any news. His Northridge friends too were becoming more sporadic in their communications. For the first few days they’d texted frequently, but as their lives began filling with assessments and exams and drama he was no longer a part of, their replies began to shorten and slow. Matt couldn’t really blame them – it must have been pretty boring repeatedly hearing how he was sitting around essentially twiddling his thumbs.
Maybe I should take up substance abuse, Matt thought half-heartedly, laying on his bed that Friday night, shooting aimlessly in Bubble Spinner. He’d heard good things about drug addiction. Well not good things, but definitely things. It sounded like a very involving hobby that could definitely get you expelled. He sighed as his game ended not even remotely close to his high score.
God he needed a drink. He flicked idly over to Taylor’s latest update on the house-party eighteenth happening on Saturday that was supposedly going to be wild – a message Matt had been thus far too bummed at his own lack of parties to respond to. As far as college dorms went, this place was ridiculously tame. Nobody partied at the Academy.
Suddenly, alone in his room, Matt’s eyes widened and he sat bolt upright.
Wait a minute, he thought, that was it – nobody partied at the Academy.
Nobody partied at the Academy yet.
Bio: Born and raised in Newcastle, Australia, Ben is a lifelong writer currently studying his Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Technology Sydney. An avid fan of the weird and wonderful, he has wanted to be a writer since he was five years old (before which he wanted to be a dinosaur).