Everyone has their own Thinking Place: a place to sit and simply, well, think. Unlike most people, however, my Thinking Place is unique because it exists solely in my imagination, making it extremely precious to me. My Thinking Place cannot be invaded by anyone else, allowing me to spend as much time as I need to contemplate whatever needs pondering.
There are two entrances to my Thinking Place, depending on which relaxation method I select to enter. I can take a long staircase, then push through a tall bush to enter, or I can ride a very slow elevator that "dings" as I delve deeper into my subconscious, the doors opening directly into my sanctuary.
It is very difficult to describe my Thinking Place, because it changes slightly with every visit. Upon entering, I find myself in a large clearing in a gentle forest, the water pounding down the waterfall providing the most vibrant sound. A river winds from the waterfall past my Thinking Place, disappearing among the verdant grass and trees. During my meditation, I occasionally hear the quiet rustling of the wind whispering through the trees or the distant call of a small woodland creature, which never enters my sacred ground.
I like to visit my Thinking Place as often as I am able, though it has been difficult finding the time this term. Sometimes, I attempt to visit right before for the evening, but lately, the elevator doors open only long enough for me to espy my Thinking Place before abruptly closing and whisking me either back to reality or directly into dreamland. Other times, as I am descending the staircase, a sudden noise behind me forces me to abruptly turn and race back up the stairs, denying me even that quick glimpse. My one comfort has been that, since my Thinking Place exists solely in my head, I remain able to continue to visit, even though I now live here at Hartfield.
The final week of classes went quickly for Melinda. Most of her teachers only mentioned the finals in passing, suggesting a list of topics they should study. She was relieved that Pat had been correct when every one of her teachers suggested they bring one index card of notes.
On Wednesday, her Latin teacher held a review session in class, where Melinda was able to ask all the questions on her list. She got the impression she was the only one who had begun studying, and Mr. Henderson dismissed them when no one had any additional questions, advising them to use the extra time to prepare for their final.
Thursday, Melinda's physics teacher used their double lab period for a similar study session, and once again Melinda felt that none of her classmates were preparing for their finals. A few other students did ask questions, but they were usually requesting clarification on Mr. Wilson's answer to one of Melinda's questions.
Melinda's friends began to spend more time in the library, Sarah and Larry electing to study with Walter and Melinda. Pat was a constant presence as well, and although everyone was annoyed with his adamancy that they take fifteen minute breaks every hour, Melinda did notice that they were a lot less stressed about exams than the rest of their friends.
Monday morning, Melinda and her friends made sure to eat breakfast before their exams. Many students used the time to cram in some last minute studying, but Melinda had decided that if she did not know it by now, she would not know it for the test.
"You know," Melinda remarked as she finished her orange juice. "I don't think I've ever been to the TRAC."
Jade sent her a qizzical look. "Really? Not even the locker room?"
"No. Oh, wait," Melinda smiled. "I did go to the locker room to use the bathroom during a field hockey game, I think."
"We've worked in there on rainy days," Sarah remarked. "Not that we've had a lot of those. When you walk into the main entrance, there's a large practice court. It's not really for basketball, although I saw some basketball markings on the floor."
Patrick helped her. "The volleyball team practices there. I think one of the JV basketballs might, too. It's really just a multipurpose court. There's the suspended track that goes around the room."
"Is that where are exams are going to be?" Walter asked.
Pat nodded. "They set up desks in rows on the court. The teachers walk up and down proctoring the exam."
"What's proctoring?" Melinda asked.
"A proctor is someone who monitors a test. In this case, the teachers are walking up and down to answer any questions you might have and make sure no one is cheating." He glanced at his watch. "Everyone ready?"
Walking towards the TRAC, Melinda started looking around in all directions. Pat squeezed her hand a little tighter. "You alright?"
"Yeah. It's weird. It just reminded me of…Remember that scene in last season of Neogenesis when everyone started swarming towards the beacon of light? They just stopped what they were doing, like they were in some sort of trance? Look around. The entire school is migrating towards the TRAC. Half of them even look hypnotized. It's weird."
Pat looked around. "Okay. I did not need that before my exam, thank you very much."
Melinda giggled. "Are you nervous?"
Pat nodded. "Exams don't usually bother me, and I feel like I studied enough. But, I missed a lot of the class discussions. English and history are the two classes I'm most worried about."
Melinda squeezed his hand. "You'll be fine. If not, then you'll just have to repeat your fifth-form year."
Pat feigned a look of fear, then flashed his winning smile. They entered the TRAC with the rest of the school, standing in the back for a moment to get their bearings. Pat had described the room fairly well, right down to the hundreds of desks, but it was still intimidating to be in such a large examination hall.
In Melinda's middle school, all the desks were the combination kind with the table attached to the plastic seat by a metal arm, but she had only encountered a few of these in her Latin class. Most of her classrooms had tables of some sort.
The court, however, was now full of combination desks, all facing the opposite side of the room where several folding tables stood with stacks of papers. The last chair of every row had a sheet of paper taped to the back.
"Johnson, EN100. That's us, right Sarah?" Melinda looked to her roommate as she pointed to one of the center rows.
"Yup. I guess we go find a seat?"
"We've got a few minutes," Larry said. "Help me find my teacher."
Melinda's classmates trickled away to find their assigned rows as Melinda examined the desks in front of her. To the left of Melinda's row was Johnson, EN 200. To the right was Price, EN 300. Melinda turned to Pat.
"Is your row right next to me?"
He grinned. "It looks that way. Wanna sit together?"
Melinda smiled and they walked down the aisle between their rows finding two vacant seats about halfway down. There was an empty seat in front of Melinda, on which she placed her backpack to save it for Sarah. Meanwhile, Walter sat behind her and took out his notes for some last minute cramming.
Pat placed his bag on his seat, then sat on Melinda's desk, playing with her hair. "If I finish first, do you want me to wait for you?"
Melinda considered. "Why don't you go straight to lunch. That way you can spend the rest of your day studying for tomorrow's exams."
"Yeah. If I don't see you at lunch, I'll text you after my math exam. Maybe we can take a quick study break together."
Melinda was pretty sure Pat wanted to kiss her just then, but a teacher in the front of the room spoke into a microphone announcing that all students should take their seats.
Pat traced his hand along Melinda's cheek before sitting in his seat and removing his things from his bag. Sarah rushed down the aisle, whispering "Oh, good! You saved me a seat!" when she found Melinda's bag.
Mr. Johnson walked between his two rows of students, passing out the fourth form exams on his way up the aisle and the third form exams on his way back down. He placed a stapled packet face down on each desk, walked back to the folding table and returned up the aisle giving each student a long, wide strip of paper and two small blue books.
Other teachers were similarly passing out their tests while one of the deans Melinda recognized, but could not name, continued to speak into the microphone.
"You will have three hours to complete this test. When you are finished, please review your work before turning it in. If you feel you have thoroughly answered each question, you may raise your hand and your teacher will collect it from you."
The dean glanced around the room as he continued. "No one will be allowed out of their seats to use the bathroom or sharpen pencils. If your teacher dismisses you, please exit the TRAC quietly. No one is permitted to wait in this room while the exam is in progress."
Sally and Mr. Birkenhead had already reviewed these rules with the students at their last form meeting, so Melinda was not surprised when the dean did not ask if anyone had any questions. As the teachers continued to pass out exams, Melinda looked at the materials in front of her. She recognized the small blue examination booklets. Although she had never used them for a test before, her sixth grade teacher had been fond of using them for vocabulary journals. She also recognized the bubble answer sheet from the standardized tests she had taken in middle school.
"Is everyone ready?" the dean asked. Melinda looked up, prepared to answer, when she realized that the dean had been asking the teachers, not the students. When they all nodded in the affirmative, he turned back to the students. "You may turn over your exams and begin."
Melinda turned over her test and read the directions for part one, which was a multiple choice vocabulary section. She had to read each definition and select the correct vocabulary word. Because she had been adding them to her vocabulary notebook each week and using them in her journal entries, most of the words were very familiar to her. She had been expecting to write each definition, as she had been doing on her weekly vocabulary quizzes. She had worried that, while she understood each word, she often had trouble writing its meaning. However, as she read each definition, she was easily able to think of the correct word before even reading the multiple choice selections.
Melinda checked her watch when she finished part one, realizing it had only taken her half an hour to complete it. That gave her plenty of time to work on her essays.
For the second part of the exam, she was instructed to select her favorite Greek myth and retell it in her own words. Melinda smiled and glanced at Pat as she thought about the story of Apollo and Daphne. She could not recall ever discussing the myth in class, although she did remember reading it on her own. However, she had reread it last week when Pat mentioned it to her, and all the details were still fresh in her mind.
Although the story was short, Melinda tried to use her vocabulary words and personal reflections to embellish her story, and she ended up filling most of her blue book, which had only a handful of very wide-lined pages. As instructed, Melinda made sure she wrote her name, class, and Part 2 on the front of the booklet before moving on to the final part of the exam.
The long essay section required Melinda to write an essay about Odyssey. Mr. Johnson had given them the topic in advance and suggested they write their outline on their index card. Melinda had written very small and was able to cram some quotes from the book onto her card as well. She had organized her card well and once she started writing, she had no trouble finding the words to express what she wanted to say. When she reached the last page of her blue book, she raised her hand, continuing to write so as not to lose her train of thought. A moment later, Mr. Johnson squatted beside her, speaking in a whisper.
"I need another blue book." She pointed to the one in which she was writing. "I filled this one."
Melinda must not have been the only student with this problem, since Mr. Johnson had several of the booklets in his hand and was able to immediately give her one. As she opened her new one to begin her next paragraph, she saw Mr. Johnson hand another booklet to a fourth form boy a little ways in front of her.
Melinda's hand hurt from all the writing, but when she finished her essay, she glanced at her watch. She still had nearly an hour left of the exam! She went back to the first page and examined her answers to each vocabulary word, making sure she had selected the answer she thought best fit. She then re-read her story about Apollo and Daphne, correcting some mistakes as she went, such as writing "he" instead of "she" or forgetting her punctuation. Finally, she edited her essay, exchanging some words to enhance her vocabulary and again, fixing her punctuation. She also made sure to make a note on the back cover of the first book that her essay was continued in the second book.
Assembling all the materials in a pile on the corner of her desk, Melinda raised her hand as she read through the extra credit assignment. If the students chose, they could turn in their test and take out the writing journal Mr. Johnson told them to bring. They must choose one of the first five entries they wrote, even if it was not one they had presented in class, and rewrite it, using their increased knowledge of grammar and vocabulary.
Mr. Johnson again appeared beside her. "Yes, Melinda?"
"I'm done with my test. I'm ready to do the extra credit."
"Excellent." He took her exam and handed her another blue book. "Please label it Extra Credit when you write your name and class on the cover."
Melinda withdrew her writing journal from her backpack and opened it to the first entries. She found the first one she had read to her class and remembered it well. She had written it in the journal first, then typed it, making no changes when she did so. As she reread it, she could hardly believe how immature it sounded. She forced herself to read the entire thing through once, then she read it a second time, mentally editing it and writing the revised version in her blue book.
Melinda read through her journal entry twice, making additional changes, before she was completely satisfied. She again raised her hand and told Mr. Johnson she was finished.
"Have a great Thanksgiving," he whispered with a smile as he collected her journal and blue book and brought it to the front of the room.
Melinda was one of the first people to leave the exam and as she exited into the cold November air, she wondered if she had done something wrong? Did she not write a long enough story or a long enough essay? Worse, did she forget an entire part of the exam?
"Daphne! Wait up!" Melinda turned to see Pat calling from behind as she was about to cross the creek. Melinda smiled at him as he jogged closer, swinging his arm around her shoulder when he reached her.
"How'd it go?"
"Well, I thought it was really easy, but now I'm wondering if I did something wrong because I finished so quickly."
"Tell me about it. What'd you have to do?"
"Well, the first part was multiple choice. I was given the definition and had to select the right vocabulary word."
"I had that, too. I think I did pretty well, thank you Weddas. How'd you do?"
"I read each definition and then thought of the word before I looked for the answer. And it was always one of the choices, so I think I did really well. But, maybe I didn't."
"I'm sure you did fine. What else did you have to do?"
Melinda smiled. "I had to pick my favorite myth and summarize it. Wanna guess which one I picked?"
He smiled. "I don't think I need to, Daphne. What else?"
"I had the timed essay Mr. Johnson had told us about. I wrote my outline on the notecard."
"Yeah, I saw you doing that the other day. I still can't believe you managed to cram all that onto your card."
"It was so easy to write it out because I had already done the outline. Last night, I used the notecard to think about how I wanted to say what I wanted to say. So, when I was writing, it just all spewed out. I needed another blue book."
"We had a timed essay to compare two of the novels we read. We got to pick the novels and a thesis. I wrote a couple of outlines out the past few days, but I just didn't like them. I didn't figure something out until last night, when I just wrote an entire essay. Then, I turned that into an outline, made the font impossibly small, printed it out, and taped it to an index card."
"You did not!"
Pat pulled the card out of his pocket to show her. He had been telling the truth, although the font was not too terribly small. He did need to place some of his lines sideways in order to fit everything on the card, though.
"Did you have an extra credit?" Melinda asked. "We got to rewrite one of our journal entries."
"That's cool. Our extra credit was to make a venn diagram comparing two characters from two novels, not the ones we used in our essay. Since I didn't have notes on that one, I'm not sure I did a great job on it."
They ascended the large stairs in front of the dining hall and Pat held the door for Melinda. "Wanna have lunch with me?" she offered. "Or are you meeting Frank and Chloe?"
"I'll catch up with them at dinner. I know you have another exam after lunch, but can we spend some time alone together? Even if it's just me watching you study?"
Melinda smiled. "I have math this afternoon, and there's not really much I can do to study for it. I want to review my theorems, but that won't take too long."
Pat paused in front of the servery. "Can we have lunch alone?"
"I don't mind. But, can we? I mean, won't people just sit with us?"
"I have an idea. Get your tray and everything and meet me at the salad bar."
Melinda explored the servery before deciding on baked potato soup and a cheese sandwich, balancing her meal with a small salad. She grabbed a couple of glasses of water and returned to the salad bar.
Pat led the way to the far right corner of the room, through a small unmarked door. They went up a flight of stairs to a small room. Inside was a single dining hall table and a window that looked out towards the humanities building. Across from the window was a door identical to the one they had just entered.
Melinda looked around as she set her tray beside Pat. "What is this place?"
"My area of refuge. There's a long history to this room," Pat said, biting into his turkey club grinder. "You know the dining hall was always the dining hall, right?"
"What else would it be?"
"Well, some of the dorms used to be classrooms and the admissions office used to be the infirmary. Anyway, this was always the dining hall. This used to be the faculty dining room. That door there leads to the balcony. You've seen the balcony, right?"
It took Melinda a moment, but she remembered that there was a balcony about where they were sitting. She had become so used to its presence that she had forgotten all about it.
"Yeah. Why is it there?"
"No clue. Anyway, my mother was already really well-known by the time she attended Hartfield and meal times were especially difficult for her because everyone would be staring at her or asking for her autograph. Pop-Pop is on the board of trustees and when she told him how hard a time she was having adjusting, he spoke to some of his fellow trustees. Someone remembered this room, well, it became her safe haven. She would eat meals here for a while, 'til things calmed down."
"And she told you about it?"
Pat shook his head. "Meghan had a hard time adjusting, too. Her third form year, House Arrest had just been released and she had a hard time trying to figure out who wanted to be Meghan Evan's friend and who wanted to be near Meghan McGregor."
"So, your mom told her about this room."
"My third form year started out almost as rough as Meghan's. I told you, it was easier for me to hang out with her. Her friends didn't care how famous I was. They teased me about being a third former." Pat smiled at the memory.
"Is that why you call Walter third former?"
Pat nodded. "Meghan got annoyed that I was always hanging around, so she showed me this room. Told me to try bringing a friend or two here when I was feeling overwhelmed."
"And today? Are you feeling overwhelmed today? Or did you just want privacy?"
"You haven't noticed, have you?" Pat asked as he reached out to play with a stray hair on Melinda's head.
"Everyone's staring at you when you're with me. Your friends are trying not to, but mostly everyone else is."
Melinda considered. "No, I hadn't noticed."
Pat pulled her close. "You're awesome." His voice was just above a whisper as he leaned in to kiss her.
Melinda thought her heart actually stopped beating as Pat gently moved his hand slowly up and down her back and a warmth tingled from head to toe. When they finally pulled apart, Pat rested his forehead against Melinda's with his eyes closed.
"What was that?" Melinda asked.
"I have no idea. How long until your next exam?"
The word exam brought Melinda back to her senses. She sat up and checked the time, calculating she had about an hour before she had to return to the TRAC.
"Why don't we get some fresh air," Pat suggested. "I can quiz you."
"I think I just want to read them through on my own. But, you can sit with me," she smiled.
Melinda found her math exam to be no more difficult than any of her tests had been so far that year. At dinner, her friends obsessed over their upcoming exams, complaining about how difficult their first two had been, but she was feeling strangely confident.
She turned to Walter as they were settling themselves in their study room later that evening. "Walter? Am I not giving these exams enough of my attention? Should I have been studying instead of having lunch with Pat?"
"I was wondering where you disappeared to. No, I think you studied the right way. You've been studying for a week, not starting the night before. The people who are most stressed are those who haven't been preparing and are trying to cram it all in now."
Melinda sighed. "I guess you're right. Are you worried?"
Walter considered a moment. "Not really."