13. For Better or Worse

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                     *          *          *

       September 5th

       Agent R. Harris becomes more acquainted with the Cherubim. Agent K. Masters gives instructions to all agents involved in the operation. Agent A. Peterson and Agent R. Harris take action together as planned.

       13: For Better or Worse

       Date: September 5th

At Smile Academy it's a tradition to start every year off with a photoshoot. You don't ask why you're leaving the premises on the first day of school. You don't ask when they had the time to set everything up. You don't ask how they plan to find you in the huge mall that you're inside of.

       You don't ask any questions whatsoever.

       You smile and pose for the camera.

       Everyone at Smile knows this and has accepted it.

       That's everyone except the Cherubim. And since I was officially initiated into the group yesterday when I joined their Facebook page, that also includes me.

       But I would have never agreed to their terms anyway.

       "You want me to do what?" I demand, crossing my arms.

       "It's not just you," the photographer in front of me tries to reason. I roll my eyes, turning my head impolitely to stare out at the stores that surround me. "Everyone has to do it."

       Susan, standing on my left, looks up from her phone to give the photographer a look. "Um, no. I am not stepping in front of that camera dressed in polyester underwear from some brand that no one's ever heard of, and there is no way I would let you take a picture of me half naked and plaster it on the walls all over the Plaza." She drops her phone into her purse, her expression hard. "And neither would they," she adds, pointing at me, Natalia, Leah, and Maria.

       "What we're going to do," Natalia speaks up, "is go get ourselves some lattes and maybe buy a donut if we're feeling like eating sweets today."

       Leah, who stands on my right, purses her lips. "I don't think I'm feeling sweets," she says, turning to Maria. "You?"

       Instead of playing along Maria blinks at Leah confusedly. "I don't get it . . . why don't we just do the photoshoot?" We all turn to stare at her. "What?" she asks.

       In the corner of my eye I see Natalia sigh and shake her head.

       “Okay, look, Mr.—” I pause to glance at the blue nametag on his white button-down shirt. “—Kinkle," I finish. Adjusting my bag over my shoulder, I ignore him when he corrects me for the mis-pronunciation of his name.

       “We're a part of something in Smile Academy that your brain doesn't have the ability to understand, called the Cherubim. And the Cherubim, well, we don't do lingerie photoshoots in the middle of Whitehaven Plaza. So no, we will not be joining the rest of the school at the moment. If we get in trouble for it, which we won't, we'll figure it out on our own. Just leave us alone."

       Without glancing back at the three girls I swivel around and walk into the Dunkin' Donuts behind me. As soon as I push open the clear doors that lead into the store, the smell of coffee bursts into my nose.

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