Part Two: Chapter Four

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Max, Jordan, and Mary sit on lab stools in the living room, caught in a heated debate about what Atlas should wear to the party that night.

“Normal kids don’t wear suits to parties anymore,” Mary yells over the other two, “they just wear jeans.”

“But these aren’t normal kids,” Max argues. “These are the school elite. They have all the coolest clothes and newest, most expensive fashions, and they wear them everywhere, including dorm parties.”

“So what do you think he should wear? An Armani suit?”

“Guys, why can’t he just wear the clothes he likes?” Jordan chimes in, and Max and Mary roll their eyes and go back to their argument. It doesn’t help his case that he’s wearing lime green swim trunks with an over-sized wool sweater.

From the hallway, Atlas clears his throat. “I’m already dressed.” He motions to the fitted jeans, green polo shirt, and leather loafers.  

“But how do you know that’s the right thing to wear?” Mary asks. “What if you don’t fit in?”

“I texted Esperanza and asked her. Girls love that kind of stuff.”

“The boy’s a genius,” Max says reverently.

“Touché,” Mary says with a tip of an imaginary pirate hat.

Mary gets a bottle of expensive champagne from the fridge, then tucks it into a small gym bag that Atlas slings over his shoulder.

 “Remember, no drinking,” Mary says.

“I know, I know. If I get caught, they’ll check my ID. Alcohol tastes like nail polish anyway, so don’t worry, I won’t be tempted.”

“Good man. Always serve the ladies first. Ask for champagne flukes—they won’t have them, which will immediately make them look more sophisticated than you. Make sure they all see the bottle.”

“Aye aye. Can you not talk in my ear the whole time so I can concentrate for once?”

“Fine. You probably have my voice in your head anyway.”

As he leaves the apartment, he puts the mic in his ear and double checks that his mini-taser is still strapped to his chest. They haven’t given him a laser gun yet—Mary promises she’ll teach him how to shoot on Saturday—but the taser will provide at least some self-defense if anything goes awry. Bernie waits by the door, and when he sees Atlas leave the building, he scurries around the perimeter of the car to open Atlas’s door.

Though it’s a Monday night, the first night of the semester and the time when most people should be studying, students clog the sidewalks in anxious droves. Girls teeter on catwalk heels and check their phones, which blink off and on in waves like lighthouse signals. Outside of Esperanza’s dorm building, a group of hipsters smoke on the wooden benches and stand, like self-conscious statues, with their too-thin profiles outlined in the building’s lights.

“This is it,” Atlas tells Bernie, who jolts the car to a stop. “Thanks. I’ll call when I’m done.”

Luckily, Esperanza happens to be standing near the door of the building and sees him pull up. He notes her pink sequined tank top, accompanied by ample cleavage, and leather mini-skirt. If he ever has children, he vows to never let them out of the house in an outfit like this one. 

“You have a driver?” she says enviously as she stares after Bernie's retreating license plate. “How’d you get your parents to let you bring him to school?”

“I didn’t have to,” Atlas says as he follows her up the stairs to the third floor. “They’re dead.”

Esperanza stops on the landing and turns, her eyes sympathetic and slightly teary. Atlas wishes he had delayed dropping the parent bomb until after the left the stairwell, since it smells like a combination of dried beer and urine, and now he’s stewing in it.

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