“I love you, baby. Be careful, but have fun!” And with those final words, a quiet click disconnected the last phone call they’d share for a long, long time.
Feeling disheartened, Alex turned to look out the car window again, noticing that there were many more trees surrounding them now than before. It was clear evidence of just how easily a few hours of driving had transported her from her most recent home in Cannon Beach, Oregon, to somewhere on the outskirts of Mount Hood National Forest. The change in scenery from the rocky coastline to the thickening woodland was startling, and Alex couldn’t help but feel like she was already a long way from her comfort zone.
“Miss? We’re here,” her driver finally said.
They’d stopped in a private driveway barricaded by two massive, wrought-iron security gates. A sign woven into the steelwork spelled out the words: ‘International Exchange Academy’.
The driver spoke quietly through the intercom and a moment later the gates opened without so much as a creak. They moved slowly up the narrow, tree-lined path until they reached the academy itself.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Alex muttered at the view out the window.