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Dustin slunk away and returned to his own table, leaving Braedon alone with the little kids.
Spencer Crowley stood at the entrance to the dining hall, tall, thin and menacing.
Braden hated him.
So did most of the other kids, but only a few were willing to admit it openly. There were consequences for failing to love Spencer Crowley.
Every evening after supper, Crowley made an appearance at the dining hall. His purpose, thinly veiled, was to remind his charges that he was the boss. Braden didn’t know why they needed a nightly reminder. Crowley never let them forget that they were under his thumb.
The routine was the same every night, seven days a week.
Crowley would step into the room and there was instant silence. Fearful silence. This was a man who could decide their futures and they knew it.
Spencer Crowley walked through the dining hall, in between the tables. As he passed, the other kids sat straight—slouching was not permitted—and looked straight ahead. No one smiled. No one breathed. As Braden watched, he could see each child stiffen as their master drew closer. He could almost see them sweating.
As Crowley passed by each kid, there was a visible relaxation. Their personal moments of tension had passed. Crowley had ignored them.
That was the best you could hope for in this world. For Spencer Crowley to ignore you.
As Crowley drew near to his table, Braedon, too, sat straight up and looked ahead. He dared not attract the man’s attention. Today of all days, he could not draw the man’s wrath. He could not risk discovery.
Halfway past the table, Crowley stopped.
The little boy to Braedon’s left sat with his hands in his lap, as they were all supposed to.
Out of the corner of his eye, Braedon could see his hands trembling.
Crowley looked down at them.
Braedon held his breath and looked forward. The cigarette lighter Dustin had given him felt like a lead weight in his sweaty hand. If Crowley caught him, he was dead.
Does Spencer Crowley:
- Catch Braedon with the cigarette lighter?
- Turn his attention to the trembling little boy beside Braedon?
- Continue up to the front of the room for his evening lecture?
The choice that gets the most votes will decide the next step in the story.
READERS DECIDED: It was a tie. In a tie, I get to make the choice. I decided to go with #3