One week ago, my parents drove onto the campus of the Charles and Rachael Hartfield Preparatory School for Young Men and Women. Despite months of protesting that I did not want to leave my public school friends, they forced me here. I spent the entire summer hating the idea of attending a boarding school.
I thought that if I went to boarding school, I would miss my family. But then, I met my roommate. I've never had a sister before, but in one week, Sarah and I have become as close as sisters. Having that bond has helped make living here a little easier.
I knew that if I went to boarding school, I would miss my friends from home. But then, I made a few friends. I may not know the names of everyone in any of my classes, but I do know the names of everyone at my overcrowded lunch table.
I was really worried that I would lose my best friends when I started boarding school. But then, I made a new best friend. I hate to admit it, but Walter has become an even better friend than my friends from home ever were. He helps me not only with my homework, but also with what everyone around me is saying. And unlike even the rest of my guy friends, I feel completely comfortable around him.
One of the things I really disliked about going to boarding school was the mandatory sports requirement. I am not an athlete. But then, I joined the dance class. I have been dancing for eleven years and although I quit ballet several years ago, tap dancing is as natural to me as walking or running. Yesterday's ballet class turned out to be a lot of fun and I am looking forward to today's tap class.
My parents sent me here because they believed Hartfield would provide me with more of an academic challenge than my previous school and they were right. From the moment I stepped on campus, I have felt overwhelmed with the coursework. But then, I thought about the conversations I have been having with my teachers in my classes. Although the work is hard, I am enjoying the challenge. I just hope I can keep up with it all.
Melinda closed her writing journal with a sigh. She knew she would have to pick one of her entries to read to her English class in a few minutes, but she still wasn't sure the one she had scribbled during her morning free period that day was the best one. She was concerned about how her classmates would react to her most intimate thoughts and she really didn't think she was ready for everyone to know she had resisted the idea of attending Hartfield. Especially since, after only one week, this school had become her home. She also wasn't sure she was ready to admit to her classmates just how hard she was struggling to keep up with them.
Melinda reread the other journal entries she had written that week. Although they were only required to write three, Melinda had found inspiration to write almost daily. As the last few students straggled into the class, she decided to share the story she had typed out for her writing portfolio.
Mr. Johnson greeted the class as he came into the room, shutting the door behind him and sitting at the head of the conference table beside Melinda.
"Okay, everyone. Happy Friday. Let's start with our vocabulary quiz."
Everyone cleared the table in front of them as Mr. Johnson passed out a single sheet of paper to each student. Ten words were written on each side, with room to write the definition. Melinda tried her hardest, but she had struggled all week to memorize the words and was pretty sure she missed a few of the definitions.
Melinda was one of the last students to turn in a quiz paper, which Mr. Johnson placed in a neat stack in front of him. While Melinda waited for the last few students, she watched the boy directly across from her, whose name she still could not remember even after a full week of classes. Sarah would probably know his name, Melinda thought, remembering that her roommate had been challenged by their friend Larry to learn the name of every student in the third form. Sarah had accepted this challenge gleefully, and Melinda knew she had dutifully learned the names of all of her classmates this past week, intending to spend the upcoming week learning those of students with whom she did not share any classes.
When the last test had been added to the pile, Mr. Johnson explained the rules for sharing the journal entries and called on Melinda to go first.
"Oh. Um, okay." Melinda picked up her typed entry and began reading in a very quiet voice. "Everyone has their own Thinking Place. A place to sit and simply, well, think."
Melinda never looked up as she read her submission, which was only about a page long. When she was done, Mr. Johnson thanked her politely but offered no feedback as he gestured for Sarah, who was sitting beside Melinda, to read next.
As each of her classmates read one of their journal entries in turn, Melinda began to feel increasingly more self-conscious about her own writing. Some of her classmates had composed creative poems, some rhyming, others not, all of which required the listeners to think about what they were hearing, while others had penned humorous short stories. All of them had typed more than one page.
By the time Mr. Johnson dismissed the class, Melinda had decided that her entry had been too short and poorly written. Looking back, it sounded as if it had been written by a third grader.
Even though it was a bright September afternoon in Northeastern Connecticut, Melinda was in no particular hurry for the class to end. While her friends back home in her New Haven suburb were probably already celebrating their weekend, Melinda's first week of school was far from over, as she still had a full set of classes tomorrow. To make matters worse, she could not even start her mountain of homework immediately, since after English, she would need to run back to her dorm, change into her leotard, then head over to the Arts Center for her dance class.
Melinda followed her roommate out of the classroom, placing her journal and her typed entry on the piles in front of Mr. Johnson as she passed. As she and Sarah marched down the four flights of stairs of the humanities building, Sarah chattered about everyone's journal entries. She continued to analyze what everyone had shared as they walked along the drive, past the third-form boys' dormitory, Stanton, all the way to the second floor of Woodward, the third-form girls' dormitory.
Melinda threw her bag on the bed, deciding she would wait until after her dance class to prepare it with everything she would need to complete that evening's homework. She did not have very long to change her clothes and get down to the Arts Center, especially if she wanted time to stretch before class began. She sighed as she removed her outfit from her closet. "I need more leotards."
"Can you buy them online?" Sarah asked.
Melinda made a face. "I could, but I'd rather try them on. Plus, I want them for Monday's class, and I don't know that I'd get them in time."
"Ooh. We should go to Ollie's."
"Who's Ollie?" Melinda pulled a pair of shorts and a tee shirt over her last clean leotard.
Sarah giggled. "It's a sporting goods store in the middle of town. When I was there this summer, I thought I saw some ice-skating outfits. Isn't that the same thing?"
Melinda rocked her head back and forth. "Close enough. I'll take a look."
"I'll go with you. I wanna buy a new field hockey stick. I've outgrown my old one and the school ones are…ick." Sarah stuck out her tongue to emphasize her point.
Melinda said a quick goodbye to her roommate as she grabbed her dance bag and walked briskly across campus to the Arts Center. She was one of the first students to arrive in the dark studio commonly referred to as the Black Box. She removed her street clothes, put on her tap shoes, and began stretching as she waited for the rest of the class to arrive.
Her teacher entered the room, clapping her hands for attention. She was short and muscular, and looked only a few years older than Melinda. Her long, black hair complemented her copper-colored skin and was tied into a sleek tail, dangling halfway down her back, which was bare except for the thick strap of fabric that connected her black leotard from the band around her neck to her waist, where her skirt flowed gracefully. Her black tights reached only halfway down her shins, permitting her to wear black no-show socks with her black tap flats, which clicked rhythmically with each step.
The instructor greeted the class in a pleasant, yet no-nonsense, tone as she moved towards the middle of theater, glancing inquisitively at the black floor, the black ceiling, and the four black walls, one of which was covered with six-foot high mirrors.
"Good Afternoon. Please join me in the center before we begin." She sat gracefully on the floor, with Melinda and her nine classmates sitting beside her to form a circle.
"My name is Miss Serena, and this is my fourth year teaching at the Hartford Ballet, although it is my first time teaching this course. As we stretch, I would like you all to introduce yourselves. Please tell me your names, how long you have been dancing, and if you have taken this course before."
Miss Serena straddled her legs and began stretching on her right side, the class following her lead as she told them how long she had been dancing and teaching. When she began stretching to her left, she nodded to the girl sitting on that side, indicating it was her turn. Slowly, the students introduced themselves, and Melinda recognized a girl named Bella who loved on her floor as well as two girls from her ballet class, sixth-former Charlotte and third-former Natalie, who was a day student.
Melinda was surprised at how confident she felt. Yesterday, when Madám Cherí had the class introduce themselves, Melinda had found that everyone had danced ballet for at least five years and she and Natalie had been the only new students to the class. In fact, in nearly every class this week, Melinda had felt inferior to her classmates, wondering if perhaps she was not talented or smart enough to attend a school as challenging as Hartfield. But halfway through warmups, Melinda realized that tap class was different. For the first time all week, she felt she was finally in a situation where she would succeed.
When it was time to perform movements across the floor, Melinda noticed Natalie struggling in the corner to get her steps correct before performing it for Miss Serena.
"Would you like some help?" Melinda offered, feeling a burst of confidence from performing the previous combination flawlessly.
"Oh, please? I know in my head what I'm supposed to do, but I know I'm not doing it right."
"Lemme see." Melinda stepped back and observed Natalie's motions, spotting the problem almost immediately. She smiled as she heard her previous dance teacher yelling her most common phrase.
"You need to get your heels off the floor," Melinda echoed the voice in her head. "It gives you more…balance, I guess. I'm not sure, but I know it works better. Watch me. See, this is what you're doing." Melinda performed the combination slowly, so Natalie could observe her mistake, then repeated it without letting her heels touch the floor as she moved, saying "and this is what you need to do."
Natalie watched intently, but when she attempted to copy Melinda's movements, she again stumbled.
"Slow down. You don't need to do it so quickly at first. Do it slow and get the feel for it, then slowly work your way up to speed. Here, I'll go across the floor with you and we can do it slowly together."
The rest of the class had already finished their combination and Miss Serena was signaling that it was Natalie and Melinda's turn. They moved slowly across the floor, both performing the combination flawlessly, then repeated the combination in the opposite direction slightly faster, at Miss Serena's suggestion. On their third pass, they were able to complete the combination at normal speed and Melinda could see that Natalie was delighted that she had finally mastered it.
At the end of class, while the students were struggling to maneuver the ballet barre back into the closet in the back of the room, Melinda could hear Natalie debating with herself whether she should simply put on her street clothes now or trek to the athletic center across campus in order to take a shower.
"Why don't you come back to the dorm with me?" Melinda threw her shirt and skirt over her leotard and exchanged her tap shoes for her sneakers. "You can use the showers and change. You're welcome to join me and my friends for dinner, if you want."
Natalie contorted her face in thought as she contemplated Melinda's invitation.
"Yeah, I think that'll work," she finally decided. "Thanks!"
Bella approached with her bag over her shoulder. "Can I walk with you girls?"
Melinda smiled warmly. "Of course. You want to join us for dinner?"
"That sounds great. Thanks."
The girls headed upstairs and out of the building, crossing through the courtyard. Melinda was trying to think of how to start a conversation when Bella turned to Natalie.
"So, do you live nearby?"
Natalie nodded. "The next town over. I have to stay on campus until seven. That's my when my brother can pick me up. He works at a pizza place in the center of town."
"He doesn't go to school here?"
Natalie shook her head. "He wasn't interested in private school. But, I really wanted to come here."
"You're lucky. My older sister is a senior. She wants nothing to do with me, though. How about you, Melinda? Are you an only child?"
"No. I have a brother. Except, he's younger than me."
"Do you live far away?"
"Just outside New Haven. It's almost two hours away from here."
"That's not too bad. I live just outside Pittsburg. It's not quite far enough away to fly here, but it's a pain to drive."
When they arrived at Woodward, Melinda led Natalie to her room, where she grabbed her shower basket and a change of clothes. Natalie, whose toiletries were packed in her gym bag, followed Melinda to the shower room at the end of the hall.
The girls returned to Melinda's room about an hour before Melinda was due to meet her friends for supper. Melinda had been planning on doing some homework after dance, but she decided that she probably wouldn't fall too far behind if she tried making a new friend instead. As Melinda was moving her backpack from her bed to her desk chair, she realized that Natalie was only carrying a small gym bag.
"I know this is a stupid question, but where are your books?"
Natalie plopped onto Melinda's bed with a smile. "My schedule is so awesome. Algebra, break, history, English. Then, I leave those books in my Stanton locker."
"I thought Stanton was the boys dorm."
"It is, but the third form day student lounge is down in the basement. That's where we have our lockers."
"I feel like I should have known that."
"So then, after lunch, I go to my Arts Center locker."
"You have two lockers?"
Natalie nodded. "The one in the Arts Center is for my violin, but it also can hold my books for History of Dance and French. And my gym bag for dance. After dinner, I'll get my stuff from both my lockers and my brother picks me up at the Arts Center. In the morning, he drops me off there so I can re-stash my stuff."
"That's really cool. I wonder if I could get one of those lockers. I would love to leave my art portfolio there so I don't have to carry it all over campus."
Natalie responded slowly. "Well, they're supposed to be for instruments."
"I could get it for my flute. Would it hold that thing?" Melinda pointed to the large brown paper suitcase that contained a large sketchbook and some oil crayons.
Natalie examined Melinda's portfolio from her position on the bed. "There's a couple of different size lockers. There are the really big ones in the basement, near our dance class. Those are for cellos and stuff. My locker's up on the fourth floor near the practice rooms. Yeah, I think it would hold it. I know the locker can hold a guitar, since I saw someone shoving one in this afternoon. They don't look big, but they're deep. Yeah, I bet you could fit that thing in there."
"Who do I ask for one?"
"Just go to the box office. I think they're open tomorrow morning. Tell the lady behind the desk that you would like a music locker and she'll assign one for you."
When Melinda glanced at the clock, she noticed her bag on her desk chair and remembered that she had not unpacked it after her last class. She did not want to be rude to Natalie, but she had intended to bring her bag to supper and she needed to make sure she had everything she needed to complete tomorrow's assignments.
Melinda tried to be as nonchalant as she could. "Hey. Do you mind if I pack my backpack? I was planning on studying in the library after dinner, but I need to make sure I have everything."
"Oh, by all means, go ahead. I'm intruding on your space." Natalie looked slightly uncomfortable.
"You're not intruding," Melinda assured her. "You're keeping me company and saving me from doing something boring like reading my physics book."
Natalie smiled as Melinda emptied her backpack, placing each item on her desk in the order she used it today. Then she opened her assignment pad and stared at her list.
After her art class that morning, Melinda had sat in the Arts Center lounge with Sarah, who had just finished a music class, and created a shading scale from 1 to 8 using her pencil. She was then supposed to choose something simple to draw using that shading scale, so she had attempted to illustrate one of the sculptures hanging on the wall into her sketchbook. Although Sarah had praised her attempt, Melinda was extremely dissatisfied with her work and disappointed that she had not had enough time to attempt an additional drawing. However, since she had completed the assignment, she decided to spend her study hours focusing on the remainder that evening's homework.
She grabbed her physics, Latin, and geometry notebooks, as well as her physics and Latin textbooks. She knew Walter would bring a geometry textbook for them to share. While Melinda was packing, Bella knocked on the open door and started comparing her classes as she sat with Natalie on the bed.
A short time later, Sarah returned from field hockey practice, having already showered and changed into her regular clothes at the athletic center. She greeted Natalie and Bella brightly.
Melinda consulted her assignment pad one last time, then made sure she had her calculator, pencil case, assignment pad and vocabulary journal before zipping her bag closed.
"Okay," she said, hefting the heavy load onto her shoulders. "Who's ready to eat?"
After depositing her bag at her usual table, Melinda wandered the servery exploring her dinner options before settling on a hot entrée.
Melinda's mouth watered as she watched the server place two stuffed shells on a plate and drizzle them with warm marinara sauce. After grabbing a couple of glasses of water from the beverage island in the center of the servery, she led her new friends to her usual table.
"Hey, everyone. This is Natalie and Bella. They're in my dance classes. This is everyone." Melinda pointed to everyone around the table in turn. Some of her friends waved, while others already recognized one or both of the girls from classes they shared. By the time she was done introducing all twelve people around the table, her pasta had grown cold and was not very appetizing.
As it had every night that week, the conversation quickly focused on everyone sharing stories about significant events of their days. Soon, however, they had finished discussing Jessi's pop quiz in math and Forrest's inability to remember a single definition on his English vocabulary quiz, and the conversation turned to the upcoming weekend.
While she listened to her friends discuss their various sports competitions being held the following day, Melinda picked up a lilac-colored sheet of paper entitled The Daily Docket, which was sitting in the center of the table, propped upright by the salt and pepper shakers. This paper magically appeared on the tables each morning, a different color each day, and listed the schedule of events for that day. Melinda was pleased to see it contained the complete sports schedule, including the times and locations for each event, providing her with a visual representation of the conversation around her.
"I want to see your games," Melinda said to no one in particular. "Everyone's games. I think it would be fun."
"Me too," Jade agreed, hints of her native China echoing in her voice. "I want to watch football. I have only seen it on television and I don't understand it."
After a brief discussion, it was decided that anyone doing an intramural sport would act as cheerleaders as they attended everyone else's games. Melinda organized the schedule in her head and relayed the plan to the table. Everyone loved her idea, although neither Natalie nor Forrest would be able to join the party.
Natalie gave a mournful sigh. "My parents are picking me up as soon as I'm done with classes. My grandparents are celebrating their fiftieth anniversary and we have to drive up to Worcester. I wish I could stay with you guys. It sounds like so much more fun."
"I can't go, either," said Forrest. "All the soccer teams are going to Tremont tomorrow."
"Where's that?" asked Natalie.
Forrest shrugged. "Dunno. Somewhere in Rhode Island. According to a fourth former, it takes like half an hour to get there. But, our coach is making everyone watch the varsity game so we probably won't be back until close to dinnertime."
"Anything special going on at night?" Jade gently took the lilac paper Melinda had returned to the center of the table. "Nope," she decided after a quick glance.
Smaller conversations erupted around the table as everyone began generating ideas about how to end their Saturday. Sarah was debating with Larry sitting beside her whether they should commandeer a television in the Macmillan Activities Center and make Saturday a movie night. Bella and Walter were discussing various board games they liked to play in their spare time. Melinda was half-listening as Natalie told Forrest about her family engagement the next day, when Natalie grew excited.
"Maybe I can ask my Great-Grandmother to knit me some new legwarmers. Hey, you want a pair?"
It took Melinda a moment to realize Natalie had asked her a question and another moment to process the information in her head, since Natalie's question gave Melinda the feeling she had forgotten something. After taking a long drink of her water, during which time she was able to sort her thoughts, Melinda was able to reply to Natalie.
"That's really sweet of you, but I have never been able to wear leg warmers. I don't know why, but I've always found them uncomfortable."
"Oh, I understand. But my Great-Grandma makes them really well. She loves knitting. It gives her something to do all day in the nursing home."
"Wait," Forrest interrupted. "If your grandparents are celebrating their fiftieth anniversary, how old is your great-grandmother?"
Natalie smiled. "Ninety-seven years young."
Natalie and Forrest continued discussing Natalie's family as Melinda turned to Sarah and voiced the question Natalie's inquiry had inspired.
"What about Ollie's?"
"Who's Ollie?" Jade asked.
Sarah smiled. "Ollie's is this awesome sporting goods store in the center of town. Melinda needs something for dance and I wanna look at the field hockey sticks."
"Ooh!" exclaimed Dre. "I need a bathing suit. Mr. Dawson was really annoyed that I wore a bikini to lifeguarding, but it was the only bathing suit I brought to school! I ordered one online, but I could use another one."
"I need a new mouthguard," added Xandra. "The one I have just doesn't seem to fit right."
Over the next quarter hour, it seemed as if nearly everyone needed some sports equipment, with the final verdict being that at the conclusion of the varsity football game, the group would walk to Ollie's. When everyone finished their shopping, they would have dinner at one of the local restaurants, where Forrest would join them if he returned in time.
When Natalie excused herself to meet her ride, everyone took that as a cue that dinner was over. After depositing their trays and dirty dishes in the dishroom, Melinda and Walter headed out the main entrance towards the library in the adjacent building.
They silently crossed the large two-storied Quiet Study room, passing through a small corridor into the modern section of the main library and trudging up a flight of stairs before settling in their usual room. Through the windows, they could espy their dormitories across the street. Melinda looked longingly at the two very comfortable wingback leather chairs nestled in the corner before emptying the contents of her bag onto the study table. She sat in one of the four straight-backed chairs and Walter sat across from her.
Melinda found herself in a comfortable study mode and became very irked when the library flicked its lights just after nine to indicate it would be closing shortly. Her foul mood persisted as she and Walter packed their belongings into their backpacks and returned to their dorms, where her mood turned even more sour as the din on the baseball fields increased with each step.
There were five dormitories and a handful of senior houses surrounding a baseball field, which a majority of students believed to be the ideal location to spend the forty-five-minute break between the two mandatory evening study hours. When Melinda arrived at the entrance to her dorm, she realized she had lost Walter, although she was not sure if he had left when they passed his dormitory or when they had reached the baseball field. She felt guilty for permitting her irritation to make her act rudely towards her friend.
As Melinda entered her empty room, she realized she could attempt to socialize and continue her homework at the same time. She deposited her backpack on her bed, grabbed her art portfolio, and returned to the Common Room, where she caught sight of Sarah and Bella sitting in a corner talking with Larry and his roommate, Andy.
Melinda greeted her friends and tried to follow their conversation as she removed her sketchbook and drawing pencil from her bag, deciding to make another attempt at her shading assignment. Listening to her friends discuss their favorite music, she scanned the room searching for something to draw, settling on a bottle of soda that sat abandoned on the coffee table in front of her.
Melinda first sketched a rough outline of the bottle, then lightly marked the logo and other key features of the bottle before she began observing the light and shadows attempting to draw with the shading scale she had made earlier. After about ten minutes, her drawing was beginning to look a lot better than her last attempt. Without warning, Larry grabbed the bottle, took a sip, and held it in his lap instead of returning it to the table.
Melinda glared at Larry. "Hey!"
"What?" He sent her a confused look and started bouncing the foot that was resting on his opposite knee. He took another swig from the bottle as he waited for Melinda to explain her outburst.
Melinda realized that her shout had come out a little louder and a lot ruder than she had intended. She sighed and softened her tone. "I was using that. I didn't mean to yell at you. You just caught me off-guard. I didn't realize anyone was still drinking it." Melinda hoped her apologetic smile would convey her sincerity.
It must have, since Larry returned her smile. "Oh. I saw you drawing, but it didn't really click. There you go!" With a flourish, Larry returned the bottle to the table, turning it slightly until he thought it was in the exact position Melinda had been using. When he turned away from her to continue his conversation with Sarah, Melinda adjusted the bottle to the correct orientation and completed her drawing. She even had ten minutes to just sit and chat with her friends before Kate, the first floor prefect, starting kicking out the boys and sending the girls up to their rooms for the second study hours.