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The Academy by Katie Sise (1)

I’M READING VOGUE ONE NIGHT in my bedroom when there’s a knock on the door, four hard ones in rapid succession: the code knock that means Emergency!OpenThisDoorRightNow!

I shut my magazine. It was upsetting me, anyway. I can’t get on board with this whole new trend of wearing athletic sneakers with dresses, and I’m speaking not only as a fashion person but as a human. The Vogue editors almost never lead me astray, but right there in a glossy spread was a bazillion-dollar Givenchy tee and skirt paired with Nike Jordan high-tops. Who wants to look like a tourist? Or a mom?

I can’t even.

I open the door to see my little sister, Ella. She’s super lovable, and almost five years younger than me, so there’s no weird competition between us, and only the rare fight.

“They know,” she says.

Know what?

I’m keeping three (and a half) huge secrets, and if my parents find out any of them, I’m dead.

Secret Number One: I threw a parent-free, rustic-glam mega party on New Year’s Eve in our barn while my mom, dad, and little sister were visiting our relatives in Vail.

Most of my intentions were so pure: Help my high school ring in the new year! Inspire style and optimism among my peers! But my parents are vehemently against parentless parties. And though I didn’t technically serve any alcohol, people totally brought booze in water bottles. (Celiac Gary Rapazzo brought gluten-free vodka in a squirt gun.) And that is très against my parents’ rules.

Secret Number One Point Five: At said party, I kissed the love of my life, Josh Archester, while his girlfriend (not me!) was ten yards away drinking Diet Coke.

Kissing him was wrong, I know that, but I’ve been in love with Josh ever since he transferred into our school as a freshman last year. He made everybody laugh and feel good, and nothing ever seemed to make him nervous. I couldn’t stop trying to catch his glance at school, but I’d always break away as soon as he looked back, knowing my cheeks were flushed and giving me away.

Two months ago Josh started dating Lia Powers—the most vile girl in my entire school! Lia’s as beautiful as she is cruel, so beautiful that it doesn’t seem to bother anyone that she frequently wears denim jackets with corduroys. (Denim on top is meant to evoke a mood, not a lifestyle.) But beauty outweighs style and kindness for too many teenagers—maybe even for adults. Not for me. Style + kindness = beauty.

But of course no one gets that here, which is why I committed Secreto Número Dos.

Secret Number Two: I applied to the American Fashion Academy in New York City, even though my parents explicitly told me not to.

AFA is like a prep school for fashionistas. It’s basically my dream. I could finish all the credits I’d need for a regular, dull high school diploma, but with hours of extra classes for fashion writing, design, and history—all the stuff I really care about. Plus there’d be tons of potential fashion mentors who could help me achieve my goals:

* Become a great fashion blogger while still in my teens!

* Parlay that into a fashion assistant job in my early twenties!

* Emerge as a notable fashion editor by my midtwenties!

* Be a fashion director at a major magazine by age thirty!

My AFA application included fashion essays and clips from my style blog, FreshFrankie (thirty thousand unique page views per month, thank you very much). Unfortunately the application also included my transcript, and my grades have been super crappy this year.

Still. AFA is looking for talent, a discerning eye, and discipline. I have those things in spades, I really do. And the thing is, I keep messing up here in Mount Pleasant—my teachers have been calling my parents and complaining that I’m distractible and prone to daydreaming. But maybe I wouldn’t be so distracted by fashion magazines and blogs if I actually studied fashion at school.

My parents don’t even know the worst of everything I’ve done, and trust me, they would kill me if they found out my final secret (Secret Number Three: I don’t even want to talk about it!), because they’ve told me again and again that I’m on thin ice and last straws and all that. The end for me is so near—I can feel it in my bones—and now I’m staring at my little sister standing in my doorway and wondering just how bad my current parent-child situation is.

Frankie,” my little sister says, “Mom and Dad know you applied to AFA.”

I gasp. My parents know about secret number two! My heart skips at least four beats—almost enough to kill me.

“My AFA letter came?” I blurt, my mind racing. Please, God of Fashion and All Things Right: let me be accepted! And please, God of Parents: let them allow me to go!

I fly past Ella and tear down our steep, creaking stairs. We live in an old farmhouse in Westchester County just outside of New York City. Everything in it creaks, but sort of on purpose, like for the sake of charm. We live what my parents call the high life, and it is beautiful here with the stone walls and rolling acres of green grass—even if the ducks in our pond are so mean. Don’t even try to give them bread unless it’s organic, or you like being bitten by mean ducks. But just because I get to spend my formative childhood years in the idyllic countryside doesn’t mean I can’t make different plans for my future (fashion academy! New York City!).

Pardon me while I repeat what my personal hero, Diana Vreeland, said about that:

There’s only one very good life and that’s the life you know you want and you make it yourself!

DV believed you could make your life as incredible as your wildest dreams. I really think she’s right. I could make my life all about fashion and New York City starting now—no matter what my parents want.

I’m reminding myself of all this when I get to the kitchen with Ella hot on my high heels. She nearly crashes into me when I stop dead in front of my father. He’s standing in the middle of the kitchen, his eyes roving over the letter. The logo looks a little different from what I remember—almost like a gross green and brown combination rather than the pop of magenta I could’ve sworn I saw on their website.

My mother looks from my father to me. It’s her turn to make dinner, so she’s chopping tomatoes we grew in our garden. It’s like Little House on the Prairie for wealthy people out here. We don’t even own a microwave!

I know I’ve got to make my case to them now; they have to know how important going to AFA is for me. “I need a change; I need to be better,” I start, trying to imagine what Tavi Gevinson and my other fashion role models would say to their parents. “My creativity is getting stilted here: the purple flowers; the white churches; the grain-free granola bars.”

My parents are staring at me like they have no idea what I’m talking about, per usual. I shut my eyes so I don’t roll them. Originality is everything, so eye rolling is out until I turn thirty.

“An elite fashion program in an urban setting will broaden my horizons,” I say, as steadily as I can. I’m nervous about leaving them to go to AFA, but this is how it has to be. “And it will teach me discipline, which you always say I need. And I already checked with school; my credits can count for the rest of sophomore year and I can transfer back any time you guys want.”

My mom pops a raw green bean into her mouth. A wisp of her dirty-blonde hair falls from her ponytail. Ella and I have my dad’s dark blue eyes, but we’re white-blonde just like my mom was when she was younger. My hair is cut into a super-chic lob right now. (Lob = long bob. Google it.) I was working a temporary gold stain at the ends, but my parents made me wash it out for our Christmas pictures. Which made no sense, because the gold was so festive.

“Sweetie, what are you talking about?” my mom asks. She slow-motion chews her green bean like an ad for mindfulness. She’s so Zen sometimes it’s infuriating—it’s all the yoga she does, and probably the probiotic smoothies, too. My dad’s scratching his bald head, and he’s definitely not smiling.

“I got into American Fashion Academy,” I say. I try to get a closer look at the brochure my dad’s holding. “Isn’t that what we’re talking about?” My parents glance at each other, exchanging a look that never means anything good. My dad passes the paperwork he’s holding into my hand, and I realize the AFA logo I thought I saw actually reads AMA. This isn’t an acceptance letter for American Fashion Academy, it’s enrollment information for Albany Military Academy.

“Wait, what? Grandpa Frank’s old school?” I ask, my eyes darting from my mom to my dad. Grandpa Francis is who I’m named after, and Albany Military Academy is the elite military high school he went to eight thousand years ago. The Academy is the whole reason my family lives in New York State. Grandpa Frank was raised on a farm in Nebraska but moved across the country to Albany to attend the Academy, and then went on to West Point, and then went on to be some VIP military person I never met because he dropped dead of a heart attack the day after my parents’ wedding. They had to cancel their honeymoon and everything.

“Sweetheart,” my dad says, “we’ve enrolled you in Albany Military Academy for this semester. You leave Monday.”

White-hot panic surges through me. “What?!” I yelp. Monday is in two days, and I wasn’t planning on going anywhere except maybe to the Jonathan Adler store because they’re having a sale on lacquered tissue box covers. “You can’t be serious,” I say.

“We’re lucky enough that the Academy has waived the interview process and allowed you to transfer in midyear, all because of Grandpa Frank’s legacy,” my mom says.

“Lucky?” I repeat. “Is this some kind of sick joke? Like how you used to make us wear matching outfits?”

I turn to my sister, like maybe she can save me, but she’s staring at her skinny feet. I look back to my parents. This has to be a fake-out. Like an act to make me realize how serious they are. My mother takes a breath, and I see it in her eyes—her Zen exterior is about to crack. She’s about to cry and take it all back.

“We know about the party you threw,” she says instead. “Without parents, and with alcohol, Frankie.”

My father makes a grunting noise that sounds like an irritated pig. “You begged us to stay home, and we let you because we made the mistake of trusting you! Do you have any idea what could have happened here with that many kids drinking? You could have ruined your life! Not to mention ours!” He’s a softy, my father. But not right now.

My grip tightens on the Albany Military Academy paperwork. This is all starting to feel like an after-school TV special about wayward teens. But my parents can’t seriously be sending me to military school. They don’t even like weapons.

My dad clears his throat, and that’s the moment I realize he found out Secret Number Three, the worst one, the one I would take back if I could. If there’s one thing my parents want me to be, it’s a good person, and trust me, I wasn’t that when I did this.

“Dr. Benson called,” he says.

I swallow.

“He’s accusing you of cheating on a test,” my father says. He pauses a beat and my heart cracks open. “Did you do it, Frankie?”

It was so, so stupid and wrong, and it made me feel sick, like a faker and a liar, two things I really, really don’t want to be. Things just got out of control so fast. One minute I was on top of my AP Chem homework and the next minute I was blogging about the Row’s fall line, and the minute after that I was so far behind, it was like I missed some vital chemical concept and couldn’t understand anything that followed. And all the after-school help periods fell right during the live-streaming of New York Fashion Week, so of course I couldn’t go. Then one thing led to another and Mark Hadwell’s test was right there on his desk. He even slid it over closer to me and gave me this sly smile like he knew I’d cheat. And I did.

I nod, my tears coming faster, and then I make myself say the words. “I did it, I cheated in chem.” I sink even lower when I hear my sister’s sharp intake of breath. “I swear to God I won’t ever do it again, because I know it’s wrong, and please, please don’t send me away!”

Tears spill over my lashes. I watch my parents’ faces go slack, almost like they’re more sad than mad. I’ve told them so many lies this year, and maybe I deserve all this, but it still feels terrible that they want me gone.

“This isn’t a punishment,” my mother says, and that’s when I realize she’s crying, too, and then she cries a little harder and can’t finish what she’s trying to tell me.

“You have big dreams,” my dad says, “and you’re whip smart: you got into the AP classes in the first place. And I know you think you don’t need good grades because you want to work in fashion, but the truth is, your grades open doors for your future whether that’s in fashion or somewhere else, and we aren’t going to let you throw that away. The Academy isn’t a reform school; it’s a top-notch military academy. It’s a chance to start over and learn the discipline you’ll need to accomplish all the things you want to do with your life.”

“But I could learn that at AFA, I could—”

My dad turns and grabs a manila envelope I didn’t notice was sitting next to the cutting board. “You got in to your fashion school,” he says, and my heart starts beating so fast I can hardly speak.

“I did?” I manage. If he’s trying to break my heart twice, it’s working.

“I’m sorry to disappoint you,” he says, “but you’re not going. You’re going to the military academy.” He shakes his head back and forth like a Ping-Pong ball. “And that’s final.”

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