The wood came away from the block in chips and slivers as Leif set to work with his hammer and chisel. He’d never sculpted before he entered The Academy, and whilst painting was still the area he loved the most, he was really enjoying sculpting. He wondered whether one day he would sculpt something that could be on display in one of the community centres. He’d already been told that one of his paintings had been sent to the Council Chambers – an honour usually reserved for the best artists in the community, and he was still only a student.
He and Jennifer spent a lot of their recreation time in the art rooms planning what they would work on when they graduated. They’d been told there were lots of opportunities in Beachside and Forest Glade for community artists and there was a strong likelihood that is where they would be stationed. They were both so excited about the opportunities ahead of them. He hoped their families would be able to visit and see them at work – Leif knew they would be so proud at how the two of them had used their time in the academy. He knew his parents would adore Jennifer – so would his brother and sister. He wondered what Jennifer’s family were like, whether she had brothers and sisters, or cousins, whether her mum and dad were married… and he couldn’t wait to find out.
Katja and Ollie had been told there were opportunities in Forest Glade for them as well. They hoped that if they were assigned there, then some of their friends would join them. Ando and Nita were likely to be assigned to Riverside, Stefan and Anjali to The Glens, Nicol and Petr to The Bay. But most others were still unassigned, and Forest Glade was the kind of place they could imagine there being openings for Jacques and Irina or Stacia and Kumar, and they knew it was an option for Jennifer and Leif as well.
Katja could see it now – the opportunity to cultivate lush gardens and shape beautiful landscapes.
They were beginning to discuss what their name would be when they got married – something that represented their twin desires for beauty and innovation. Their current favourites included Light, Newman and Gardener – although Katja was less keen on this as it didn’t encompass Ollie’s talents and dreams as much as hers.
Jacques wished he could be as confident about his future as some of the others were. Ando, Ethan, Leif, Jamal, Ollie – they all seemed to have found something special with their partners. They all seemed so certain. But he and Irina – he didn’t really understand it, but he trusted her. It had taken some time for him to acquiesce, to realise that there was a reason why she was so keen for them to be an item. She must have known he was gay – although he never talked about it in here, everyone he’d known before he came saw it in him without him needing to say. He must just be one of those guys that had a ‘vibe’. And Irina… well, she was a best friend to him, but there had never really been any frisson between them. It was a partnership borne of necessity and they both had a shared, implicit understanding that they were together because it was safer to be so. For months he wondered what she was getting out of the arrangement – it benefited him – he could see that. All that was ever said regarding their futures was that they would be married to a member of the opposite sex. The few students that weren’t yet in pairs were being encouraged to find a partner, and he’d seen the troubled looks that the staff gave to certain students, students he suspected were also gay.
It had only been when he caught Irina staring at Natascha in the swimming pool for a little longer than was usual that he realised why she had been so keen on being his partner. It didn’t mean he knew what would happen to them, or whether they would be safe – but he knew they were each other’s best hope.
Jamal. When did it happen? When did she stop being the independent one, the self-sufficient one? Their friends had teased them about it for a while, and she’d resisted. She couldn’t even remember when her feelings changed – but as they were paired up on projects more often and as everyone else started forming couples, they’d just, well, fallen into it – and it had felt so natural, so right.
They were eighteen. Graduation was only a few months away, and plans were being put in place for everyone. Surnames were being discussed, roles and assignments were under consideration.
She had planned to go to university – perhaps that didn’t matter now, not since they’d had training and education at such a high standard. But she wasn’t even sure they would offer her the chance. Everything that was talked about was their futures in Beacon, their duties as citizens, and whilst it all sounded great – really great in some respects, she wanted to have a choice. She wanted to decide where she lived, what she did and whether she was married.
She was eighteen. This was all happening so fast. Too fast.
Keisha looked at Jamal – she loved him, she couldn’t imagine her life without him… but she didn’t want to be his wife – at least not for several years.
And she didn’t know if she could even say that to him… or to anyone.
It still hurt. No matter how long Ethan had been with Liana, no matter how much they seemed to like each other.
For a time, it seemed as though the Academy staff might try to separate them, but perhaps Niamh had simply been deceiving herself, reading what she wanted to into the situation.
Since Irina and Jacques had become a couple – which she still didn’t understand – and Sara had finally stopped pestering her to be with him, she and Alexandre had been paired up more and more.
There were very few members of B-block not in couples now and no-one else she considered a prospect. With graduation on the horizon, the staff were increasingly encouraging people into suitable partnerships.
She knew that on paper, Alexandre was a good match. He had similar interests to her – although his sport was swimming primarily and he’d recently developed a particular interest in coaching which might secure him a job at the Academy – which was not exactly where she wanted to be stationed. He wasn’t ugly. He was sweet.
But she didn’t love him… she wasn’t even really attracted to him. She liked him as a friend, but he deserved someone who would love him back. And so, she sometimes allowed herself to think, did she.
It had been a very interesting day for Sara. If what she’d heard today was true, then it would change everything. It would change everything for her… for all of them.
As she reflected on what she’d heard, she saw Niamh walking through the corridor, looking somewhat downhearted. She’d probably been with that Alexandre boy again. Such a poor match – for both him and Niamh. But maybe that wouldn’t
matter for much longer…
‘Niamh. Come here.’
‘Is everything OK?’
‘Yes, it’s fine. Thank you.’
‘You and Alexandre, are things… are you getting on OK.’
‘Yes thank you. We’re fine. Things are good.’
‘Listen, Niamh. I need to tell you something. I need you to know that everything will work out OK.’
‘Yes, I know’.
‘No, I mean it’.
Suddenly she couldn’t contain it. The love she felt for this girl and the anticipation tingling within her that someday soon that love might be able to be reciprocated swelled up and without thinking, she reached out.
She took the girl’s hand into her own and the rush she felt reminded her of the first girl she kissed, Elisa… the summer that she was sixteen, just weeks before she was brought into the Academy. It had been almost five years since she’d touched another girl, and the soft warmth of Niamh’s hand had shocked her. She gripped Niamh’s hand tightly and willed herself to believe it was being grabbed back.
‘Trust me Niamh. You can have everything you want. Soon. Just hold on.’
‘Sara. Come with me. Now.’