I went straight to my room. From what I'd overheard we were meant to arrive around seven in the evening tonight but it was now after ten. It was late because our train had been delayed en route by three hours. There were other bedrooms on my floor but none of them were attached and I didn't have a roommate, thankfully.
When I woke up I had a bad moment of not knowing where I was exactly. I remembered fast enough but I cried for a few minutes before I got out of bed and got dressed. Someone had tried to set up my room almost exactly as it had been back home. Some things were different, though. There was a mahogany armoire instead of a closet. My clothes were in it, along with bath towels. There was a window across from the door with decorative, diagonal grid in the window panes like something out of a fairytale. My pale green bean bag chair was set up in the corner. A bookcase that matched the armoire was next to it and the books were alphabetized, which was not how I organized them.
Sebastian sat me down on a stool in front of a television in his bedroom. The room was done with mahogany wood and wine colored upholstery on spice brown carpet. The enormous four-poster bed was behind a fireplace in the dead center of the room. Above the gas fireplace was a television built into a cabinet. He gave me a cheese stick and yogurt for breakfast. There wasn't any coffee, though.
"I'm going to turn on a movie I picked up in the UK on my last trip there," he told me, "I thought some of the younger children might enjoy it."
Sebastian sat me down in a chair and turned on a movie with a princess whose kingdom was being invaded by goblins who lived underground. It was a pretty good movie. He worked on unknotting my hair while the movie played. It took a long time. My hair was very curly but I'd always had my mother to care for it. On the screen the princess was fighting the goblins by singing.
"You know," Sebastian said, eventually, "My mother, your grandmother, had hair like this, too. I keep my hair so short. If I grew it out it would be unmanageable. I'm hoping that we don't have to cut your hair. It looks like you prefer it long. The knots at the bottom, close to your neck, are especially difficult."
I started to cry. I didn't want to cut my hair. He handed me one of those cloth napkins I had only ever seen people use in old movies.
"Celeste, I'm so sorry," he told me quietly, "I know you must have loved your mother very much. Elizabeth was a wonderful woman. The loss of a mother is a profound one at any age."
He paused. It occurred to me he probably didn't think hiding me was all that wonderful.
"I know this must be hard for you," he sighed, "I'm going to do the best that I can to take care of you. I'm going to be here when you're ready to talk about yourself, your mother, what you're going through, or anything else."
It took hours to untangle and unknot my hair. By the time he was done I was down to sniffling into the white napkin. I hugged him awkwardly when he finished undoing the knots.
"Braid before bed," I whispered, not looking at him.
"I can learn to do that," he said. His voice was a little shaky.
"Do you want to go downstairs for lunch?" he asked me. I nodded.
It was snowing in earnest outside from what I saw through the windows. The headmaster's rooms were on the third floor but I was on the second floor. The kitchen and dining room were on the first floor. We passed a grandfather clock downstairs that I hadn't noticed the night before. In the dining room there were Irish pub style tables and booth seating. There was also a tall counter with bar stools. There were already a couple of students sitting at the table. Tom was there and two people I hadn't met.
"Celeste, this is Heinrich Zyndrunas," Sebastian indicated a boy with hair so black it showed blue in the light. He looked up and his eyes were very blue. He had thin lips and a widow's peak. He wasn't that much older than I was, as far as I could tell. His skin was a pale beige with cool undertones.
"Call me Rick." He had an accent when he spoke. I remembered that he was the language learner. He was wearing a shirt with gibberish on it: HeghmeH jaj QaQ 'oH DaHjaj'e'.
"This is John Lewis."
"Hey," the teenager said, flicking his eyes up to me briefly. He was obviously a heteroclite, with his adaptation written on his skin. He was covered in a black rosette pattern over a tawny background. His pinprick tight pupils were set into pale gold eyes. The color and the markings made me think of dry grass plains and leopards. His ears were very wide and very round.
I waved at John but he had already looked back down.
"John," Sebastian said, "I know you're very excited because you just got the new Game Boy, but do you need to play it at the table?"
John looked up from the semi-transparent purple Game Boy in his hands.
"No, I guess not," he said, and then he got up and left the table. Rick laughed. I covered my mouth with my hand so Sebastian wouldn't see me smiling.
"What's for lunch?" Sebastian asked, shaking his head.
"I cooked today," Rick told him, "I made a Latvian green soup. My mother gave me the recipe. It has sorrel, spinach, and potatoes. There is also cheese and rye bread."
I glanced at Sebastian but he didn't seem surprised by this information.
"Ah," Sebastian said, "I may have forgotten to tell you, part of the responsibilities of living here include taking shifts for chores. Students and faculty all pick chores they would prefer and those chores can be traded between students."
"As long as the work gets done," Rick added, "No one really cares who does it."
"On Thursdays and Fridays we have a cook who prepares all of the meals," Sebastian added.
I watched Sebastian serve himself some of the green soup from the large pot on the stove and I did what he did. I sat down and tasted it. I made a face. It had an odd sour taste to it.
"It's better with sour cream," Rick told me as he passed me a plastic tub. I wasn't a huge fan of sour cream but I figured I'd try it. The cream took away the sour taste. I'd never had anything like it before.
I have to tell mom, I thought. The soup seemed to turn to ash in my mouth.
I ate more of the soup out of a sense of obligation to eat something. I pushed myself to eat a piece of bread with a bit of a cheese that was new to me. After lunch I went back to my room. I laid in my bed and pulled out the notebook Sebastian had given to me. I held the pencil over the page but nothing came to me. Instead, I turned on the clock radio on my bedside table. It was black with a wood grain looking top. I liked about five stations but I left the dial on my radio set to 96.5 for alternative rock. I listened to music for a little while but there was a soft knock at my door. I my door was had tawny golden skin like a burnished bronze statue. She had solid umber brown eyes and deep brown, curly hair. I opened the door wider and then I sat at my desk to put on my shoes. I wondered what work he had to catch up on. I envisioned a line of kids sitting in the hall that had been sent to the headmaster and had been waiting all this time to be lectured.
"The school covers sixty acres of land. We have our own tennis court, baseball field, and lake. The old horse stables were converted into an art studio a few years ago." Ms. Rodriguez didn't pause during the tour with the expectation that I would respond, which was a relief. "We still offer a horse riding camp in the summer. The new stables were built further away from the main buildings."
The school was large, with a lot of places and not too many people, but eventually I followed Ms. Rodriguez into the Art Studio that had once been stables.
A teenage boy sat at one of the marble top wood tables. He had burnished brown hair in disheveled waves. He wore a jacket that was blue black denim with multiple patches, several pins, and he'd marked it up with some kind of white marker or paint. Rick was sitting on an overstuffed couch in the small seating area, tapping away on a bulky beige colored laptop computer. Cubbyholes were stocked and labeled with different types of art supplies. There was even a platform with a dozen or so easels set up near the largest windows. He was bent over a sketch of dark greens and blues. I looked over his shoulder and saw seaweed in the picture. I could smell rubbing alcohol.
"Oi," he pulled back and looked annoyed, "I'm working here, mate."
I took two large steps back, holding up my hands in apology. I glanced around but Ms. Rodriguez was at the top of the stairs, waiting for me. I hadn't noticed her go up. The boy didn't look much older than me. His skin was a like antique black sea glass, the darkest olive green. His eyes were like whiskey or the amber of the sunrise after a forest fire. Delicate lines curved down from the front of his ears and across his cheeks. He wasn't tall but he was fairly muscular. He wore his hair long, with bangs. He had light brown, wavy hair and it shined like a new penny where the light hit. He was the most interesting boy I'd ever seen. I realized I was staring and I ducked my head to stare at my shoes.
"Sorry, half-pint, I didn't mean to scare you," he said and I glanced up quickly. His head was tilted slightly to the side. His reddish gold eyes looked at me with concern. I kept looking at my sneakers but I shrugged my shoulders.
"She's the new student, the Headmaster's daughter," Rick supplied from the couch, "She's only ten and she doesn't talk. Celeste, Gill. Gill, Celeste."
"Nice to meet you," Gill held out his hand as he spoke. His fingernails were painted burgundy. I held out my hand and glanced up when he took it. Gill shook my hand briefly, flashing a grin at me, his teeth appearing very white in contrast with his skin.
As soon as we dropped hands I went quickly up the stairs to the top where Ms. Rodriguez was waiting for me. At the top of the stairs I looked back down and gave a little wave. He and Rick exchanged a look and he went back to his color pencils and cotton swabs.