“THE NEW RECRUIT is a timely story, exploring how, without love and support from those around them, our disenfranchised youth can be so easily misguided.”
The New Recruit (Release Date: July 1, 2017)
When sixteen-year-old Judith meets Cain, she has no idea what she’s getting herself into. Cain is the most beautiful human being Judith has ever seen, but he hides a dangerous secret. When Jo-Jo, Cain’s surrogate father, offers her a job, she accepts, unaware she’s been recruited as a pawn in Jo-Jo’s ecoterrorist plot.
Sixteen year old Judith Abraham feels like an outsider. She has just transferred to a new school, has only one friend, and suffers from social anxiety, but when recruiter Cain Barrett offers her a job, her whole life changes. Things are great at first, but the more she learns about Cain’s world of climate crusaders, the more she questions his motives behind singling her out. Will Judith find a way out before it’s too late?
THE NEW RECRUIT is the first book of a trilogy (followed by Indoctrination) by author Elise Abram, winner of the 2015 A Woman’s Write competition for I WAS, AM, WILL BE ALICE. THE NEW RECRUIT is a young adult contemporary romance for the new millennium. In a time when jobs are scarce, politics are unstable, and the future is uncertain, millennials are ripe for recruitment by cults, groups offering a stable world view in exchange for total devotion. THE NEW RECRUIT is meant to be a cautionary tale exploring how, without love and support from those around them, our disenfranchised youth can be so easily misguided.
If I had to pick a moment, that single, deciding moment when everything went south, it would have to have been when my father told me he’d lost his job.
Dad had a job at a food distribution plant, picking and shipping customer orders. Kind of middle management. It paid good, but it didn’t pay well. We’d been comfortable since Mom had died because they’d had this insurance policy that paid off the mortgage in the case of one of their deaths. Dad said he had connections, that one of the suppliers he knew wanted to hire him, but that didn’t pan out. The world, it seemed, was in a recession. Businesses were failing everywhere. Stores were closing down all over the place, which meant that even the suppliers who had wanted to steal him away from his boss when he had one could no longer afford to hire him.
After a few weeks, Dad got a retail job making barely more than minimum. Though his biggest expense was his car, we needed it to get around, and so we had to find other ways to tighten our belts. Dad swore he’d do his best to make sure our lifestyle wouldn’t change, and though he’d never admit it, it was a promise he couldn’t keep.
The first major change came when I couldn’t make my tuition the following semester. Mom and Dad were big proponents of parochial Jewish school. They’d both been raised in the public system. They’d grown up celebrating the major religious holidays—Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year), Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), Passover, and (more fun than religious) Chanukah—and both had done a stint at after school Hebrew school, but none of them was particularly Jewish. Because they’d felt unprepared to teach me themselves, they’d decided, long before I was born, to send me to parochial school so I’d know what it meant to be Jewish.
I hated it. Dad and I enjoyed pork roast, ribs, and cheeseburgers at home, and celebrated birthdays at Mandarin (all you can eat Chinese), a fact I had to hide from my friends and classmates. I had to wear this ugly uniform at school—a skirt that went practically to my ankles, and my elbows had to be covered, even when the weather was thirty-plus degrees outside. I hated it, but I knew how much it mattered to them and so I didn’t complain. Maybe if I’d known how much it cost, I might have persuaded them to let me go public sooner.
Dad had a meeting with my principal and they offered to subsidize my tuition. When Dad said he still couldn’t afford it, the principal suggested he take out a mortgage on his house. But when I caught my noble father sitting at the kitchen table one night, crunching numbers with his calculator, actually considering the consequences of a mortgage, I put my foot down. He looked up at me (I swear I saw tears in his eyes) and smiled, though whether out of relief or pride, I couldn’t tell.
When second semester began, I was registered at the local high school. My first day was scary. I was alone. I’d known the girls at Jewish school since I was in kindergarten, but there?
My dad had wanted to walk me in, but I decided that was uncool—I didn’t want to start my first day as the Daddy’s Girl—and decided to go it alone. I stepped into the foyer of the school and it felt like stepping into a shopping mall, with its vaulted ceiling and green glass skylights. There were trees, actual trees, growing up from grates in the tiled floor. Further down the hall were banks of lockers. Much to my surprise, there was no dress code—boys and girls wore pants, skinny jeans, or baggy sweats. No one wore kippas, but quite a few girls wore hijabs. My school, my previous school, had been populated by a homogeneous lot, and because of the uniforms, everyone had dressed the same, with the boys wearing pants and kippas, and the girls wearing skirts and sleeves.
This was definitely going to take some getting used to.
I looked down at my own clothes, an A-line, mid-calf skirt and baggy sweatshirt; I definitely needed to rethink my wardrobe.
“You look lost,” a girl said to me.
I looked up and forced a smile. “I’m new.”
She smiled back. Her hair was dyed ombre, something we weren’t allowed to do at my old school. “Do you have a locker?”
I shook my head.
Another head shake.
“You should probably start at the office. Do you know where that is?”
I shook my head again.
She smiled, something warm and friendly; I’d have to find her again later and see if we could be friends. “Come with me.” We turned right and walked down a narrow corridor. “I’m Jem, by the way. My mom loved that cartoon growing up.” I must’ve looked at her weird sideways because she said, “Jem and the Holograms?” She gasped. “Oh! You should totally come over and see that movie with me some time. My dad? He’s like this techno-geek? He has the entire basement wired like a movie theatre. I have the movie on Blu-ray.” She paused. “Okay, so my mom has the movie on Blu-ray, but she’ll let us watch it if we want.”
I was thrilled. Here I was, not ten minutes into my public high school career, and I already had a friend and future plans. Okay, so they weren’t exactly firmed-up plans, but I was ready to take whatever I could get. The mom thing freaked me out a bit. Moms were hard to swallow, seeing as I didn’t have one anymore, and being around them only made me want mine even more. I decided that Jem’s mom would be the type to stay in the shadows, calling down to see if we wanted snacks and then making Jem go up to get them, rather than coming down into the basement to serve us herself.
“I didn’t catch your name,” Jem said.
“Judith,” I told her.
“Nice to meet you, Judy.”
“Not Judy; Judith. Judy reminds me of that Jewish kids’ singing duo, Judy and David.”
Jem’s look grew stern. “You got something against Jews, Judith?”
I felt my eyes grow wide with surprise, A: that she’d straight up ask something like that, and B: as if me and my parochial school style clothes didn’t tip her off that I was a Jew. “No,” I said. I let out a short, snorty guffaw. “God, no. It’s just that my cousin was addicted to them when she was young, and I’ve listened to enough of their music to last several lifetimes.”
“I myself have a younger sister who still worships Judy and David,” she said, kind of formal-toned. “So, good answer.” She opened the office door for me and said, “You may pass.”
Okay—so my new friend was kind of weird, but she seemed like fun, too. She took good care of me, introducing me to the office secretary who issued me a locker and then sent us to Guidance where I got my schedule.
We compared notes and discovered we had a common lunch and the same period three English class. We made arrangements to meet for lunch, and Jem walked me to my first class.
The rest of the first day went smoothly, I guess. All classes were kind of awkward, seeing as I knew no one, spoke to no one, and no one spoke to me. Jem introduced me to her friends at lunch and in period three English, and I recognized a few girls from my earlier classes. I left school feeling kind of good about the day. I had even higher hopes that the next day would exceed that day’s experiences.
Dad was still at work when I got home, but he’d left a meatloaf in the fridge with instructions for me to put it into the oven. Dad is like the Ground Meat King. He can do a million and two dishes with it, everything from chili to shepherd’s pie, to this awesome dish he calls “deconstructed cabbage rolls”. His meatloaf rocks. He has about ten different ways to make it, and he’s adding to his repertoire all the time. That night he’d prepared what he calls his Sweet-and-Sour Meatloaf. He makes it with this sauce of molasses and soy and enough garlic to drop a vampire at fifty feet. I love the way it smells when it cooks, knowing that it will taste even better.
With dinner in the oven, I decided to check out my wardrobe. I pulled everything from my closet and drawers and divided everything into three piles like they do on those hoarding shows on television: keep, trash, and donate. I don’t own a lot of clothes, seeing as I had to wear an ugly uniform most of the time, so it didn’t take long, but at the end of it, my trash pile held a few single socks and some holey underwear; my donate pile had everything from my uniforms to the skirt I’d worn that day; and my keep pile was made up of exactly three pairs of jeans, one pair of leggings, two sweats, a few sweatshirts and sweaters, and some t-shirts. Depression sunk in. I needed clothes—badly—but didn’t have the money to buy any. I had about five hundred dollars in my savings account, the aggregate sum of almost a decade of birthday and Chanukah gifts, but Dad insisted I save that for post-secondary school. I could ask Dad, and knowing he didn’t like to say no to his little girl, I’m sure he’d oblige with the cash, but I didn’t want to take advantage.
I decided I needed to get a job, so the next day after school, I made a bee-line for the mall. Lots of places were asking for extra help, but they all wanted me to apply online, so I went home and filled out as many digital applications as I could find.
I didn’t hold out much hope, as my only experience was volunteering at school during their Chanukah toy drive, or at the local food bank over the summer, but I got a call from a clothing store the next day. The manager conducted a phone interview with me and asked me to come in the very next day for a face-to-face interview.
We met in the Food Court at the mall and talked for almost half-an-hour about my volunteer and school experience, as well as why I wanted to work at their store. “My mom died a few years back,” I said, garnering her sympathy. “It’s just been my dad and me ever since, and Dad got laid off a few months ago,” I said.
The manager’s face went blank, as if I’d caught her even further off guard than when I’d played the Dead Mom Card, and she had no idea how to react, let alone what to say.
“I need this job to help out, to try to make ends meet.” I hoped I sounded responsible and sincere. Not wanting to destroy any credibility I might have built with the manager thus far, I decided not to add that working in a clothing store would also help me build my much-needed wardrobe, now that I no longer had to wear that gross-looking uniform, and given the 30% discount they offered their employees.
We talked a bit more and then ended the interview with, “We’ll be in touch,” before she said goodbye.
I sat at the table, playing the interview over in my head—what I’d said, what I shouldn’t have
said, what I didn’t say but should have…
After the self-debrief, I decided I’d done quite well and deserved a reward, so I went to Tim Hortons, bought an Oreo Ice Capp and a Red Velvet Cookie, and took another seat.
That’s when he approached me. “This seat taken?” he asked.
Thinking he meant he wanted to take the spare chair at the table to use elsewhere, I said,
“No,” but much to my surprise, he sat down across from me instead.
He took a sip from the coffee cup he’d been carrying. “Looking for a job?” he asked. His eyes were a striking turquoise, the colour you need to wear contacts to achieve.
“I saw your interview.”
“Oh,” I said. I took a careful sip of my Ice Capp, letting it melt in my mouth before swallowing to stave off brain freeze.
“How did it go?”
“Okay, I guess.”
“Not much of a talker, are you?”
“You mean the interview?”
“I mean now.”
“Oh.” Dad always said I’d have the guys flirting with me any day now. I wondered if this was the day.
“My card,” he said. He handed me a business card, which I thought was weird. I mean, how many teenage guys carried business cards with them? Unless he was older than he looked, like those actors who played teenagers long into their twenties.
I read the card. “Cain Barrett. Recruiting.” I looked up into those blue-green eyes and felt I was drowning. “Who do you recruit?”
“People.” I took offense to his evasiveness. He was the stranger approaching me—shouldn’t I be the evasive one?
“Like who? For what?”
“For…things,” he said matter-of-factly, as if I should already know.
I laughed, probably out of discomfort rather than amusement. What was on his agenda? Was his aim to flirt? Pick me up? Hire me for a job? Something more sinister?
“Things?” I asked.
“I work for a non-profit. We mostly raise money for the less fortunate—you know: selling flowers, silent auctions, organizing craft shows, stuff like that.” He smiled and my creep-dar went up a notch.
“You were watching me?” I asked, remembering what had led to the conversation. He’d said he’d seen my interview, but he didn’t approach me until after I’d bought my Ice Capp. That meant he’d been following me. And while the remote possibility that he’d just happened to be in the Food Court sitting near us, happened to be near enough to overhear our conversation, and then happened to see me again after I’d bought my drink was possible, I don’t believe in coincidence.
“Well, when you put it that way—”
“Well, how would you put it?” Besides stalking, I mean.
He chuckled nervously and smiled, and I remembered why I was still talking to him. He was cute. It had to be the dimples. And the spiky hair. And the eyes, definitely the eyes. “I saw a damsel in distress and thought I’d help out. You know, be your knight in shining armor.”
“And how do you propose to do that, Sir Cain?” Did that score too high on the flirtation scale? Did I mention I used to go to a religious school where the boys and girls were separated and like oil and vinegar, couldn’t ever mix?
“Why, by coming to your rescue, Princess…?”
He made it sound like a question, so I said, “Judith.”
“At your service, Princess Judith.”
I remembered what he’d said before I’d introduced myself, and I cocked my head and squinched my eyebrows together. “Rescue? Why, whatever do you mean, squire?”
He chuckled again. It was an amazing sound, the sound of Cain’s laugh. Equally amazing was the mellowing effect it had on me, making me believe he and I could be friends. More than friends, if we chose. “Keep the card. Think about my non-profit, about me. Call me if you’re interested.” Then he did this amazing thing: he took a step back and bowed with a flourish. “Later, my fair lady.”
“Wasn’t there a movie with that name?”
“Would you prefer Dame Judith?”
“Isn’t that taken, too?”
He looked at me, grinned, and winked. I liked this banter and the giddiness I felt. My first flirtation. Judging by his reaction, I seemed to be doing okay with it. “I think that’s Dame Edna,” he said. “You know, that cross-dresser with the purple hair?”
“I was thinking more along the lines of Dame Judy Dench.”
He smiled again, brought his palm to his mouth, made a kissing noise, and blew the kiss to me. “Till we meet again,” he said.
I watched as he walked away, the words, “Count on it,” sticking in my throat.
About the Author
Elise Abram is high school teacher of English and Computer Studies, former archaeologist, editor, publisher, award winning author, avid reader of literary and science fiction, and student of the human condition. Everything she does, watches, reads and hears is fodder for her writing. She is passionate about writing and language, cooking, and ABC’s Once Upon A Time. In her spare time she experiments with paleo cookery, knits badly, and writes. She also bakes. Most of the time it doesn’t burn. Her family doesn’t seem to mind.