There's a story here at Cresthaven Academy. About a door. A door that will take you to another world. They call it the door to Wrong-where. I have heard plenty of tales of current and past classmates who looked for the door never to find it. About others who mysteriously vanished without a trace just when they were on the verge of greatness. Everyone always wondered what happened to those that found it. Maybe they died? Or simply disappeared? How did the door choose who to reveal itself to and why did they go through it knowing they'd more than likely never return? All those stories and I've never heard of someone coming back before. Until now. I came back from the other side.
It all started when my parents insisted I transfer to Cresthaven Academy. I had been having problems at yet another school and they thought it best I finished up here. This school has quite the reputation of turning kids around that were headed down a dark path. "Whatever that means." I thought as I stared at the bright, glossy brochure I was handed at the train station.
"Alice. Honey. I know you mean well, but well. You unnerve people. This school can help you be... more normal. Wait, that's not what I meant to say." She gives a big sigh and looks at her hands.
"Isn't it, Mom? I know you love me. You all love me, but you don't understand... No one understands. I have such a hard time... I know... But..." I stopped. We'd had this conversation so many times before and I didn't have the strength to fight them again on it. I looked at the cover of the brochure and then at them all in turn. My father, his sandy hair beginning to gray at the sides, his kind grey eyes that only want the best for me. My mother, her long honey hair tied in a low ponytail even as the wind tries to whip it free, her brown eyes laced with worry for her only daughter. And my little brother. His ginger hair poking out at odd angles from his beanie as he glares at me, his hazel eyes flashing with an annoyance of being out of bed this early on a Saturday, even though he got coffee. "I promise to try," I say as I tuck a curl of raven hair behind my ear. I place the pamphlet in my bag and pull out the scarf I brought meaning to put it on.
"Alice. I'm sorry." My mom grabs my hands fiercely, her eyes overflowing with tears now. "I don't know what else to do here. We are responsible for you until your 21. Since they changed the laws and... I know it's only 2 more years, but we have to get through it. You understand me? This is your last chance. We've tried everything else and I don't want to see you..." She sniffles. She can't even say the word.
They really hadn't tried everything but I was the child, I couldn't tell her what to do. I had no say in anything in my life until that magical day when I turned 21 and the whole world would open up to me. Then it would be easier to hide. If I could only make it there. I hated disappointing her. "I understand mom, I will make it work. I promise. I don't want to be terminated either." I said the awful word stronger so she would be sure to hear it.
She touches my forehead with hers and kisses my hands. "I love you, Alice. Be strong. You can do this."
Then it was my father's turn. He sees me shivering and helps me wrap the scarf around my neck. "I always loved this scarf. I'm glad Grandma gave it to you. I only wish she could have stayed around longer. Maybe then you wouldn't have had it so hard. You always seemed to understand each other." He cups his hand to my face as a small tear falls down my cheek. Dad wipes it away. I nod, no more words needed to be said. "Take care, honey. I love you." He kisses me on the forehead and gives me a squeeze.
Then it was Hunter's turn. "I'll walk you to your seat?" He looks back at my parents and they nod, both too upset to argue. He grabs my small suitcase I'm allowed to take on board and heads toward the train. "Come on, weirdo!" He calls back to me. I follow him to my compartment. I have the whole place to myself. It's small but cozy. Just the way I like it. I can even close the doors if I want. He pushes my suitcase inside. "There's something unsettling about you, Alice. Everyone can see it, even if they don't know what it is. I don't even know what it is. All I know is you're my sister and I love you."
I look up into his eyes, I still can't believe how much taller he is than me, even at fourteen. "You love me?" I tease him.
He rolls his eyes. "Yeah. I said it. I love you." He frowns and takes a sip of coffee. His frown deepens. I'm sure it has gone cold on him.
"I love you too, loser." I give him a huge hug. "Now gimme your coffee," I say. He hands it over and I take off my gloves to hold the paper cup. I close my eyes and after a few seconds hand it back to him.
He takes another sip and smiles. "Thanks. Have a safe trip. Alright?" I nod and he turns to leave "And please, Alice. Please try. I don't know what I would do without my big sister always refilling and reheating my coffee for me. Doing small miracles like that." He gives me a wink. I shake my head. He pulls me in and kisses the top of my head. "Seriously. I don't want you dead, alright?"
"I promise, Hunter. Maximum effort here." I say with a determined nod. He gives a little wave as he returns down the aisle to the platform. I open the window and wave to my parents. "I love you! I'll call when I get there." They both nod and the train blows a long warning horn.
The outside doors close and I settle in my seat, pulling out the brochure again. I better at least have a look at it if I'm going there to live. I'm several pages in when a conductor comes to collect my ticket. The final check before it leaves. "Off to Cresthaven, I see?" He comments as he eyes the pamphlet on my tiny table with apprehension.
"So, it seems," I reply with a sigh.
"I best not have any trouble with you then?" He queries trying to be friendly but also showing he won't tolerate it.
"No, sir. I've brought a book to read." I tell him. He gives a curt nod and continues onward.
Awesome. Already getting grief before I'm even there. I better be on my best behavior. No accidents can happen. That's what got me into this trouble in the first place. I was on my fifth chance. If I messed this up, that was it. Finito, the end, no more chances, done, I'd be terminated, killed. I really didn't want to die. I expected I had a greater purpose if I could only make it until I was 21, I'd find it. It's not my fault this world is so intolerable about people with skills. I always joked and said I possessed magic, but magic was a thing of fairy tales, of stories like Harry Potter. It didn't really exist. But then how could you explain the things I did? Like Hunter's coffee, or how I could make things appear and disappear at will. How animals always seemed to find me when they were hurt and I seemed to be able to understand how they were hurt. I could heal them with my knowledge about plants and herbs, even though I never studied it. I just knew what things went together. I'd occasionally make things happen just by thinking about it. I didn't try to pursue any of it. It just happened! I was pretty good at hiding it.
There were a few times I wasn't and those were the times I got in trouble. The first was when I accidentally cursed Samuel McMannis with some kind of weird skin thing. I felt awful and was able to fix it with my knowledge of plants. But people never trusted me after that and I switched schools. I did well for a few years there, then I broke the star football player's leg. He was awful to me, always picking on me and I told him to fall down the stairs, so he did. Broke his leg in 3 places and never could walk right again. Strike 2. Of course, I switched schools then. Well technically, by that point I had graduated from high school as most used to know it. With the new laws in place, everyone was required to go to college for another 4 years. So, the third strike was freshman year of university in science class. I made all the frogs come back to life and start hopping around. Scared the crap out of everyone, myself included. The incidences seemed to manifest stronger each time. I was frightened by it but also intrigued. We lived in a pretty secluded area so I was able to push myself to see what I could do in secret. My parents trusted me, or maybe they were afraid to; they left me to my own devices.
I switched universities, this time leaving my hometown for the first time. Which leads to the most recent strike, that happened a few months ago. I was so mad at Henrietta, this popular cheerleader. She was such a bitch so I said I wish she knew what it felt like to be me. Maybe then she'd understand and leave me alone and we swapped places! I became her for a couple of days and she became me! I couldn't believe it when I woke up in her room. It was reminiscent of that old movie, Freaky Friday only it was a Tuesday morning in a dorm room instead. We were forced to be each other! We lived in the same residence hall and found each other easily enough when we figured out what had happened. I quite enjoyed it. Being part of the crowd, accepted, liked. But I could also see how exhausting it was for her. I was glad to get my own body back when the spell had run its course and we came to an understanding. Or so I thought. Turns out she hated it and tried to forget it ever happened. However, I was there every day to remind her. She secretly began spreading lies about me and one was so heinous, they had to take action. That's how I ended up on the train to Cresthaven. An old institution of higher learning that survived the transition to the new world with all its new laws and rules in place. Out of the best schools in what was left of the United States, the only other ones to remain were Yale and Stanford. Cresthaven had a great reputation even though it was small and located near a lake in upstate New York. It would take me a day and a half to get there from Charlotte, NC. "Probably best for a weirdo like me." I sarcastically thought as I glanced at the gothic architecture of the small and noble school. It was really beautiful, hidden in the forest near the lake. Secluded to refrain its inhabitants from getting into trouble. "Ah, but they don't know me. I can make trouble anywhere, even without trying." I thought.
My morose leanings were interrupted by a tinkling bell. The trolley was coming through with snacks and beverages. "Anything from the trolley, dear?" The nice old woman asked me.
"Do you have any pasties?" I asked.
"Pumpkin, both sweet and savory." She told me.
"I'll take one of each and some black tea if you have it," I reply pulling out my change to check it.
She nods and pulls a plate out from the bottom tier to put them on. "What's a lovely thing like you on this train for? You're not bound for Cresthaven are you?" She spies the pamphlet and sighs, seemingly disappointed. "Good luck to you then. I've heard strange things about that place."
"Like what?" I press her gently. "I'd like as much information as possible. The brochure here makes everything look happy-go-lucky, but it's not really like that is it?"
She eyes me up and down. I look normal enough or hope I do. I'm wearing traveling clothes, a brown woolen pea coat, green and blue tartan scarf, and brown boots. Long navy skirt over brown stockings and long-sleeved cream ruffled blouse. "Yah look innocent enough, but I can see a twinkle in your eye. I'll tell you a secret about the door they don't like to talk about. It's called the door to Wrong-where. The school likes to keep that out of the pamphlet!" It was the first time I heard about the door, but definitely not the last.
The trolley lady gave me a lot to think about on the long journey north. I read my book in entirety, wrote in my journal, watched the scenery change, and of course dozed off and on. I had some strange dreams. But then again, I usually did before starting at a new place. I hoped I'd make at least one friend there. I never saw the trolley lady again so it was probably a good thing I was able to refill my tea at will. I made it last the whole way there.
Sunday morning, just before lunch I arrived at Sacandaga station. The last stop on the train. I was informed a carriage would meet me and a few other students to take us the rest of the way to the university. I hadn't known there were other students and thought I was taking the train all the way there. It makes sense we'd take a carriage though, being so remote.
I got off the train with my things and waited on the platform for further instructions. Three others milled about and I figured they were also bound for the school. A tall, lanky gentleman who wore a shabby brown corduroy suit and another more athletic, jock type who wore a leather jacket. 1 was trying too hard, the other not enough. Also, a rather large woman sat on the bench holding onto a book for dear life. My companions for the next few hours. They sized me up and I, them.
The porter directed the four of us to a small area in front of the station while he brought over our luggage in turn. I had the least amount of stuff out of all. It made me laugh. I didn't want to ask them why they were going to Cresthaven so I asked about where they were from instead. The jock type was not interested in idle chitchat and answered gruffly, "Name's Enzo. From Detroit." Then he promptly pulls out a cigarette from the tray in his back pocket. I'd be steering clear of him.
I move away from his smoke cloud to the women. "What are you reading, Francine from Baltimore?" I asked once introductions were made. She showed me the book. A well-worn copy of Jane Austen's, Sense and Sensibility. "I prefer Bronte myself. But I did like Emma." She seemed to shut down after that. Maybe she was affronted I didn't like Austen? Either way, I can see we weren't going to be friends.
I adjust the bag over my shoulder and moved to the last of the group, the man in the shabby suit. He was staring wistfully off into the distance to where the train tracks curved. His arms were crossed and he seemed in low spirits. Something I could relate to. "Lucky us, huh? Off to glamorous Cresthaven Academy. It's a far cry from Charlotte for me, that's for sure." I commented holding my strap tightly.
He coughed and reached out his hand, all friendly. "Charlotte huh? That's in North Carolina, right?" I nodded and shook his hand. "Wow! That's a long way away. I don't think I want to know why you were sent all the way up here." He says with a little smile but continues to hold my hand. "I'm Topher from Boston, by the way."
"Alice," I told him. "If I told you why I was sent here, I'd have to kill you." I tease him and he drops my hand, a little frightened. I laugh a little. "Haven't you ever heard that before?" Topher quickly shakes his head. "It's from old spy movies. My father and I liked to watch them and I always wanted to use it. I guess now was not the appropriate time."
He blushes, "It was bold of you is all. I'm not used to that with the women I've met in Boston." He tells me and mumbles some more. "Or used to any women really. I wish I hadn't been so sheltered. Damn you, mother." He breathes out through clenched teeth. I bite my lip; I don't know what to say. "Um, so you seem like quite the lady. What's the South like? I've read stories of course, but with transportation being the way it is, it's harder to travel anymore. I still can't believe there used to be things like airplanes and computers. My grandfather told me stories, but I found them hard to believe. I can't believe we still have the moving pictures." Topher tells me.
"Yeah!" My eyes sparkle with excitement. Someone else who has heard of these things. It was becoming rarer to find people who had heard the tales of the old world. "My grandmother was the one who told me I miss her so much." I unexpectedly find myself tearing up. I brush them away.
"Hey, I know we just met, but I feel like you could use a hug. Would that be weird?" Topher asks. I shake my head no. "My grandfather passed too. I felt like he was the only one who ever understood me." He says as he squishes himself against me.
It feels a little like a hug from Hunter. I miss him already, the jerk. A fresh wave of sadness hits me and I lean into Topher. I sniffle and say softly. "Same with me."
"Hey, are you okay?" Topher asks suddenly when he tries to end the hug and I don't want to let him go.
I realize how inappropriate this is, hugging someone for so long that I just met and I suddenly break away, ashamed. That is not what proper ladies do. We have to keep up those damn appearances. "Yes, sorry. I'm fine." I say brusquely and try to wipe away my tears.
He hands me a handkerchief. "Hey, I know things are rough right now. You probably miss your family, being so far away. Let's keep an eye out for each other, alright? We'll get through this. It's only 2 more years to go, right?"
I give another sniffle, he's the same age as me. I never would have guessed because he reminds me so much of Hunter, he even has the same hazel eyes, although his hair is very blond, not ginger. "Yeah. 2 more to go." I spy the carriage arriving and dry my tears. I have to look presentable. We wander towards the others.
3 men get out of the carriage. 2 porters and probably a professor. He wears a broad hat. "Hello everyone." He calls, his voice loud and strong. "I'm Professor Pemberley. I have the pleasure of teaching English at Cresthaven and am here to collect you. Roll call if you please. There should be one more of you." He checks his sheet. "Enzo Razor, Detroit." He nods and stomps out his cigarette. "Francine Brock from Baltimore." She raises her hand. "Topher Pierce from Boston?" He gives a nod. "That would make you, Alice Honeyfleur from Charlotte." I nod as well. "That means we are missing a Ryland Thorn from Cincinnati. I'll have to sort that out when we get back." By the time he had finished the bags had all been placed on the carriage. The 6 horses pawed at the ground eager to be back on the road. Mr. Pemberley opened the door for us. "If you wait here, we can be on our way soon." Enzo hops in and settles lazily into the corner. Topher, being a gentleman helps both us ladies into the vehicle, then gets in himself, sitting next to me. Mr. Pemberley would sit along the far wall facing us all. I'd never seen a three-sided carriage before, but I liked the design.
A few moments later the professor returns and crawls inside. "Looks like we're all set. Let's get going." He knocks on the side of the carriage and with a lurch, we are on our way. "I know you must all be a little curious as to how things are going to be run at this Academy. It is true it was a reformatory before the great change. We adapted to higher learnings but kept our morals. Looks like it was a good thing with the lot of you. I know you have all been sent here because of various disciplinary problems. The headmaster and psychologist will be evaluating you once we reach the school, so we know what exactly what we are dealing with. Each of you is different and we know that. You will have your main courses together and during the evaluation, we'll help you decide your area of study. I expect some of you may be spending a lot of time together." He gives Topher and I and extra-long stare before continuing. "The rules are simple. Follow them. They are there to keep your noses clean so you can learn and make it through the last four years before turning 21. That is all. I know you have read through the brochure, so you have some kind of idea about what's to come. You will get the handbook when you meet the headmaster outlaying everything for you. Until then, I expect nothing but your best behavior. Got it?" Everyone nods. He gives a curt nod back. "Until we reach the Acadamy I am going to take a nap." He pulls hit hat over his eyes and within minutes is softly snoring.
"So much for talking to him." Topher comments. I shrug. We both stare out the windows for a bit wondering how things are going to go. Hoping and praying we don't mess it up. The others ignore us as we chat a little bit about some of the stories our grandparents told us. I ask Topher about Boston and tell him a little about Charlotte. He seems like a really nice guy. I think we could even be friends if I don't frighten him off with my talents, as I've come to call them. Topher offers me a bit of cookie his mother sent him with and I accept, breakfast on the train forgotten already. "I hope we get lunch when we arrive. I'm always hungry." He whines.
"Me too," I say. The road became a bit rocky when we catch sight of the lake. There's a well-traveled path around it and I fall into Topher. "Sorry," I say embarrassed. It doesn't even seem to faze him, even though I put my hand somewhere I shouldn't. It makes me wonder about him. I'm not boasting, but even though people are distrustful of me they often have commented I'm pleasant to look at. He doesn't even flinch. I want to ask him, but know it's not proper of me in this atmosphere.
We go around the lake and make a turn off into the forest. It winds its way through the thick trees that are at the peak of autumn until we come in sight of another much smaller lake and the gates to Cresthaven Acadamy. A giant stone lion and unicorn greet us, covered in moss and vines, scattered red and gold leaves at their feet. On top of the gates is the school crest. A shield held by the lion and the unicorn, with a sword in a stone diagonally cut across it. The lion holds the stone. There's a globe on the lower half of the shield closest to the unicorn and stacked books on top. The words scientia sit potentia are underneath and hard to make out, the metal is so worn with age. "Indeed, knowledge is power." I think to myself remembering the Latin translation from the brochure. We crest a small hill to see the buildings reveal themselves through the foliage. Up close the school looks powerful and mysterious as if I've stepped back in time to the medieval age. I can imagine how it must look in spring when all the plants are lush and green. It really is a beautiful place and that calms me somewhat. I always did love being around nature. We head towards the main building and I catch another glimpse of the smaller lake. I bet there is a room that overlooks that. I felt more and more like I was starting school at Hogwarts. I stifle a giggle.
At this time the professor wakes up. "Almost there are we?" He looks out the window suppressing a yawn as we come to a stop in front of the grand doors of the clock tower. "Oh, yes. We're here. I'll take you to the Noshery for lunch. Help yourselves to whatever you like. The headmaster will collect you in an hour." He says getting out of the carriage and checking his watch. He stretches a bit as we all get out. "I'll point out the lavatories on the way in. Follow me."
We enter the building. I expect it to be dark. It's not. There are torch lamps everywhere giving the place a warm glow as it bounces off the wood and stone. We walk through the main foyer around the grand staircase, down a hall to the right and arrive at the cafeteria. There's a sign that reads Noshery and I smile at that. Mr. Pemberley leaves us then.
I've never seen so much food in my life. Even at other universities. There was usually 1 or 2 items to choose from, a soup and salad bar and cereal. That's it. Here there is anything you could ever want, much of it I've never even seen before. I'm impressed and looking forward to trying things out, but I don't want to get sick my first day so I stick with what I know. Fried chicken, collard greens, hush puppies, sweet tea, and I top it off with some pecan pie. It makes me miss home a little less. I wander to the tables near the large glass windows and find they do indeed look out over the lake. I take a seat and Topher joins me after a few minutes. "Is it alright if I sit with you?" I nod. "Oh good. I meant what I said at the station, we should keep an eye out for each other. I'm not entirely sure what kinds of unsavory characters we are going to meet here. I don't want trouble and having a friend can help with that."
I give him a large smile. "I couldn't agree more. Now, what on earth did you get?" I ask eyeing his tray. Some clam chowder, a hot dog, baked beans, lobster roll, cannoli and Boston creme pie grace his plate. Guess he was missing home too. We share both our meals; he'd never heard of hush puppies or collard greens before. We have both started on our desserts when I ask him something that's been on my mind since I got here. "Hey Topher, have you ever heard of Harry Potter?"
"Of course! I loved those books as a kid. I can't believe they managed to survive all these years." He comments.
"Neither can I. I mean it's about magic! I know more than most what it means to talk about such nonsense. But that's all I can think about since I got here. I feel like I'm starting at Hogwarts." I give a giggle. "Did you ever wonder what house you belonged in?"
"Of course! I always fancied myself a Gryffindor. I mean who doesn't? But in all honesty, I'd probably,"
"Be in Hufflepuff!" I interrupt him.
"Yeah. I'd be a proud Hufflepuff." He smiles. "How did you know where I'd be? Is there some kind of test? I'd love to take it!" His eyes light up at the thought.
"I wish. I heard back when there was the internet you could enroll at Hogwarts and be sorted and everything. The author made it possible. I'm just guessing, but I kind of have this thing about knowing what house people belong in. Which if you think about it, is funny because so many people don't read such frivolous things anymore. Must be my inner child." I giggle again.
Topher chuckles and nods. "I have a feeling you don't have any problem getting in touch with that inner child and it may have a teensy bit to do with why you're here. Am I right?"
I stuff the last bite of pecan pie in my mouth so I don't have to answer that and notice a tall dark-haired gentleman enter my line of vision. He goes and leans up against one of the windows staring out over the lake. He's wearing a navy tuxedo jacket, khaki pants, brown oxfords and seems quite broody. He steals a glance in my direction and when our eyes connect, I feel a rush of fear and danger. Who is that guy? He takes an apple out of his pocket and shines it on his jacket before taking a large bite.
I hear someone clear their throat. Topher and I turn toward the sound to find the headmaster and his assistant. "Looks like everyone made it safely here. Come, gather." He motions to our table while he eyes us up and down. Francine and Enzo appear and the gentleman from the window comes over as well. He must be the one missing from the train, Ryland Thorn. Everyone sits down near us. "I am Headmaster Calloway and welcome to Cresthaven Acadamy. As you know classes have been in session here at Cresthaven for six weeks already. That's not too much time, so you should all be able to catch up without much difficulty. Depending on the situation, you may be given a tutor though. That will be assessed in the meeting. This is my assistant Robert Pickles." He nods at us. "I am going to have you wait here while we take you back one by one for your initial meetings before you are taken up to your dormitories. Francine and Enzo, if you would come with me. Mr. Pickles will stay with the rest of you." With a swoop of his robe, he is off with those 2 in tow.
I give Topher a nudge and a shrug. He does the same. Mr. Pickles comes over to me. "I am told you need to phone your parents and let them know you have arrived? Charlotte is an awfully long way to travel." I give him a nod and stand up. "Follow me please." He leaves the Noshery, locking the door behind him. Was it locked the whole time we were eating? I don't know and now I feel a bit out of place and nervous. I was feeling fine before thanks to Topher. Now I'm not so sure. Mr. Pickles takes me back down the hallway we came to the backside of the grand staircase. Built into them are 3 phone booths that are also locked. He unlocks one for me. "Phone privileges must be earned." He says by way of explanation. I am seriously thinking about what I've gotten myself into coming here. It feels every bit like the reformatory it was and not like a proper university. I guess with things being the way they are now they had to adapt somehow. This was one way they could stay relevant.
I call up my parents, Hunter is the one who answers. He's excited to hear from me and wants to know everything. "There's not much to tell. I've only been here for an hour. I don't even have a place to stay yet. I have to be evaluated first." I inform him.
"Wow, Alice. This place is hardcore. Do you think you are going to survive? You are a delicate flower, you know. You bottle it up inside until you can't stand it and explode, causing some weird mishap. You can't do that. I need my big sister." Hunter says a little mournfully.
"I made a friend," I say changing the subject. I know he's right, but I don't want to talk about it with my baby brother. "I think he's going to help me out a lot while I'm here."
"Ooooh! A boy!" He teases. "What's his name? Are you going to marry him?!"
"You are the worst!" I sigh. "Where's Mom and Dad?"
"They're in the garden. I'll go get them, hold on." He says and I hear the scratching noises of him putting the phone on our wooden counters.
I speak with my parents and let them know I've arrived. Everything that was said at the train station is reiterated. I have to try really hard, it's my last chance, so on and so forth, etc. Etc. Etc. Mr. Pickles raps on the door indicating my time is up. It's only been about 15 minutes. We say our goodbyes with the promise I'll call again when I'm allowed. He leads me back to the Noshery and lets me in. I notice Topher is nowhere to be found.
"You must be Ryland?" I say finding my seat at the table near the windows again. I think this is going to be my spot. He saunters over from his own spot at the window sizing me up the entire time.
"So you're Alice from Charlotte huh? You must of really messed up to be sent all the way up here from down South." He sneers at me, his earthen eyes piercing into me.
"That's none of your business why I'm here. In fact, I could question why you weren't on the train this morning." I say curtly, my defenses rising.
"I got here some other way." He says dismissively. I wander over to the window near him. It is breathtaking the way the sun makes the water sparkle. I feel uneasy though. "I can't wait to see you in the school uniforms," Ryland comments, in a somewhat perverse way. It's then I notice the tuxedo jacket has the school crest emblazoned on the left breast.
"I hadn't realized we were required to wear uniforms. Why were we allowed to bring our own things then?" I comment, keeping my cool, or trying to. This guy's attitude was getting on my nerves and I'd only just met him. I would try to give him the benefit of the doubt.
He shrugs. "Dunno. I bet you brought heaps of fancy, expensive things. You seem like that type of girl."
"You don't know anything about me, Ryland Thorn. It's best not to make snap judgments of people before you get to know them. But from the comments I'm getting, I doubt I want to get to know you." I cross my arms and move away to another window for some space. I still feel out of place. I have all day, but the uneasiness is fading now that I'm not standing so near to him. How is Ryland doing that? I watch him out of the corner of my eye. He continues to sneak peeks at me, for the next hour as we wait for our turn.
I'm just about to say something when Mr. Pickles returns. "Mr. Thorn. Let's get to the bottom of why you were not on the train this morning, shall we?" Even though Ryland towers over Mr. Pickles, he is the one that looks small.
I make a mental note not to get on Mr. Pickles's bad side. He seems to possess immeasurable power and I don't want to trifle with that. It's nice to have a moment to myself in my new surroundings. I continue staring out the window, watching the sun's rays catch the water and sparkle. I see a family of bunnies hop down to the edge for a drink and across the lake some deer doing the same. "It's lovely isn't it." A voice says. I hadn't realized Headmaster Calloway had come up behind me and he startles me.
"Yes. It really is. I'm actually relieved," I find myself saying. "Nature has always had a calming effect on me, so to be surrounded by so much of it, I think will do me good."
"Duly Noted. Did you not have nature in many of your other schools?" He asks, genuinely interested.
"Not like this. There were gardens and greenhouses. Not wild, as it's supposed to be." I think I may have said too much and clamp my mouth shut.
He nods and we continue to watch the bunnies until they leave. "Alright. Now that the Hoppers have left for the afternoon, let's go see about your evaluation, shall we?" He sees the look of confusion on my face. "The cooks named the family The Hoppers, they have been around as long as the school has been here. There's a whole host of them. Clover, Ivy, Daffodil. They all have plant names and we keep a running tally of them. We feed them in the winter, provide a safe space for them to live. They are wild, make no mistake, but pretty trusting of us. Perhaps we could have taking care of the bunnies as part of your curriculum?"
"I would like that, Headmaster, if you would allow it," I say. He nods and hurries off down the hallway with me rushing to stay behind him.
It takes us another 10 minutes before we reach the psychologist's office upstairs. We did not use the grand staircase so I'm utterly lost. I hope they have maps. The name on the door reads B. Winthrop, LP. I follow Headmaster Calloway through the door and stand, waiting for instructions. "This is Beverly Winthrop, a licensed psychologist and will be evaluating you while you are here. If you would please sit on the couch over there." He motions to a lush velvety purple thing more meant for sleeping than sitting. I hear them talking quietly and the psychologist makes some notes in her notebook. "I hope you have an insightful session. Good luck." The headmaster says as he slides past me and gives my shoulder a squeeze.
"Good afternoon, Alice." Ms. Winthrop says. "You can call me Beverly. I actually prefer it. I have gone over your file and see that you get good grades and generally don't cause a fuss in your classes. Honestly, if it weren't for those few little incidents you wouldn't need to be here. That is what I am here to discuss with you. To find out what happened and why your parents think you deserve to be here." She smiles warmly and I instantly like her, but I don't know her and am always fearful of talking about myself. "For the record, I don't think you belong here but I never have a say in it. Once you're here you stay until such time as you reach 21. I don't make the rules and I have to follow them, even if I don't particularly like them. I can be your friend and ally here if you let me. I know it takes trust though so we will work on that. I'll let you take the lead today. Tell me about yourself."
I wring my hands together. "I don't know what to say, Ms. Winthrop, sorry Beverly. I keep to myself. People find me... oh what's the word my family used? Unnerving and unsettling. I don't know why. I look normal enough it had been said. Yes, my green eyes stand out. They are very rare I've been told, especially with my raven hair. But that's not a reason to fear someone right?" I glance in Beverly's direction and see her hanging on my every word. She gives a nod of encouragement to continue. I lick my lips and stare at my hands thinking about what else to say. Beverly waits patiently for me to continue. Finally, I do. "I think people are scared of me because of the things that happen around me sometimes."
I look to her to see how she reacts. She has a mask on, I can't read her. "What sorts of things happen around you that might cause people to fear you. As I said, I read about the 4 incidences, but that was only 4 times. What other strange things happen around you?" She asked this time I hear some genuine curiosity in her voice.
I bite my lip, nervous. "I'm not sure I should say. It might make you frightened of me too. I don't want that. I can tell that you are a good person and I like you. I'd like it if we could be friends, I know I'm going to need some here. I fear if I tell you more about the strange things that happen, you won't want to be my friend." I say honestly.
"That is a very plausible reason not to say anything. Let me respond by saying, you can't get rid of me. I am assigned to be your counselor and the only way you would have to work with someone else is if I feel my life is threatened. I have a sense about you. You are not a violent or dangerous person. If you tell me, I may be able to help you control these urges, powers or accidents. Whatever you want to call them. But I can't help you if you don't let me in." She leans back into her own cushy chair to show she is open.
I feel that about her. It is nice that someone wants to help me rather than just hand me off to someone else to deal with. "That is a very good point, Beverly. Maybe I could share a few tidbits today?"
"By all means. I'm ready to listen." She says with a bright smile.