Free to a Good Home, Book 2 of the Heartbeat Series

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41. New Duds

41. New Duds

Maia spied herself in the dressing room mirror. She had buttoned the blouse and tucked it into her skirt that she zipped up in the back. Still too loose, she held it up by the waistband and pushed the curtain aside to show Joey, who was waiting for her on the other side.

“Joey, look,” said Maia, pinching almost two inches on the waistband to show him.

“Do you have anything smaller, Sister?” asked Joey, winking at Maia.

“I have lower school skirts.”

“I will have the skirts altered. Let’s see this blouse,” he said, adjusting it so that it sat correctly on her shoulders. He gently pressed her shoulders to relax and saw how the blouse fell over the shoulder instead of the seam on top of it.

“Sister, I think we need a smaller size in the blouses. Could we try an extra small?”

The elderly nun handed him a pastel blue blouse with an oxford collar on a hanger. Maia felt the fabric and crinkled her nose. Unlike the blouse she had on, this fabric was coarser to the touch.

“Okay, listen, just try it on to see if the size fits. They have two other fabric choices for blouses.”

Maia gave him a slight smile and he winked at her again. The sister handed her a lower school skirt to try on for size.
“We might be able to get a skirt in her size, depending on what size she is,” explained the other nun.

Maia took both into the dressing room to try on and shut the drape. Spying the stool inside, she removed the skirt and sat on it while unbuttoning the blouse. She was feeling winded and leaned her head on the wall as she caught her breath.

“You okay, Maia?” asked Joey, as Maia finished buttoning the blouse slowly.

“Yes, just a second.”

Maia grabbed the jetpack and walked back out to show him how well the new blouse and skirt fit.

“That is much better,” said the nun. “I checked the catalog, and we can order it in that size for the upper school skirt. They will be in next week, while school is out, but I will call you to pick up at the rectory.”

“That is awesome, thank you so much, Sister Theresa,” said Joey.

“She will need three burgundy plaid.”

“The blouse fits nicely,” said the nun.

“What other fabric choices come in that size?” asked Joey as Maia smiled at him.

The portly nun sauntered over to the wall where the rack of folded shirts was stacked by size and gender. Joey opened the back flap of the plastic sleeved shirts so Maia could feel the fabric. She handed him the ones that she approved of and he held them for her as she perused them. When they were done, she had two pale yellow and three white oxford shirts that she liked. They had a mixture of long and short sleeves, which pleased Maia who hated dealing with cuff buttons.

“Okay, now onto cardigans,” he said, as he handed the blouses to the nun.

Maia had to try on three sweaters to find one that fit her and ended up with a girl’s extra-large instead of a woman’s size small.
She spied the girl mannequin with the blazer jacket.

“Excuse me, Sister Theresa, but do I need a jacket like that?”

The sister smiled at her. “Not until you are a senior, Maia. And only then you have to be in leadership or on the dean’s list.”

Maia nodded and smiled as Joey had her feel the cardigan. Maia didn’t like how scratchy the white one was, but the navy was very soft, and the burgundy was tolerable. As she tried it on over the blouse and skirt, Maia looked in the mirror and sighed. She had come a long way from t-shirts and jeans.

She had completely tuned out Joey’s chatter at the nun while staring at herself. Had it really come to this? Parochial school and uniforms? She lost the life of her dreams for the other life of her dreams and right now, Maia didn’t know how to reconcile either of them. Tired, Maia sighed and waited patiently for Joey.

“Socks? There are three in a pack and we have them in blue, burgundy and white.” Maia said nothing and deferred it to Joey. The thought of knee socks made her gag in her throat a little and she covered her mouth and cleared her throat, signaling to Joey that she was nearly done with this.

“Let’s do a package of each.”

“Shoes?” asked the nun, pointing to the display to Maia’s right.
Joey stepped over to them with Maia still clad in the sweater, blouse, and lower school skirt.

“What do you think Maia?” asked Joey, as they scanned the display.

“I can’t wear my Chucks?”

Joey shook his head. “Sorry, no, but these little loafers are cute.”
Maia nodded, and just wanted to be done and back in Paul’s Land Rover. She had homework to do and wanted the solitude of her room, instead of the dusty bookstore’s uniform room. It was too hot in here, too many people in a small space, her neck itched, wondering how many other people had tried on this same blouse and skirt. She wanted a shower immediately instead of waiting for tonight.

“What size shoes do you wear?” asked the nun of Maia.

“A six I think.”

The nun went into the backroom to get Maia a pair of loafers and brought back a brown pair and a black pair in the six. Maia sat on the little stool and put the brown pair on over her little ped socks from her Chuck’s. She tried them on and stood up to look at herself in the mirror. Her whole countenance fell seeing herself fully for the first time. From head-to-toe, she was a catholic schoolgirl, and Maia’s eyes met Joey’s in the reflection.
He stepped behind her and bent down to whisper to her. “What’s wrong?”

“I don’t recognize myself. I wore jeans, t-shirts, and sneakers to school.”

“A word about undergarments,” said the nun to Joey, handing him a uniform information packet. “She needs to wear a bra. Its only proper and school policy.”

Maia blinked back tears. “I’m going to change,” she said to Joey. “Excuse me, Sister.”

The nun nodded at her and Maia pulled the drape from the other side of the dressing room and let tears drip down her cheeks as she slowly undressed and hung the clothes back on all of their hangers. When she came out, she had them all on their hangers and in her hand to the nun’s surprise, with the shoes tucked under her arm.

“Thank you, Maia, that was sweet of you,” said the elderly nun.

“You are welcome, Sister Theresa. I appreciate all of your help today.”

Joey beamed at her manners and winked at Maia again.

“Here’s your school supplies list,” he said, handing it to her. “I need to finish up with Sister Theresa. Do you want to start without me?”

Maia looked it over. “Where’s Paulie?”

“Being Paulie. He’s probably in the music wing. He brought his checkbook, so it will take him a while.”

“Why?”

“He finds something that needs fixed, or if the band, choir, or whatever needs something. He loves the kids too. Why don’t you find the supplies listed and whatever workbooks you need, and I will be right there, unless you want to wait.”

“There are little baskets on the wall over there, Maia,” said Sister Theresa, pointing them out to her. Maia thanked her again and carried her jet pack into the bookstore.

She began to gather the composition books and workbooks, including the RCIA book and the state history workbook. Maia set the basket down and paged through it. Seeing how elementary it was, she realized that she would have this done sooner than they expected she would, that’s for sure. Maia sighed and put it in the basket. Finding the mallets and music books for the percussion class, Maia put them in her basket as well as the novel for the Renaissance class, The Agony and the Ecstasy by Oliver Stone. It seemed familiar to her. As she read the opening paragraph of the first chapter, Joey caught up to her.

“How’s it going?”

“I need help finding a few more classes. French and Italian 2 and Home Ec. Will you help me find them?”

“Sure,” he replied, looking over her basket against the list in her hand. “It says I need a sewing kit and knitting needles and yarn.”

“Okay, we will get those at the craft store. Is the workbook here?”

“I don’t know, I didn’t get that far.”

“What’s that book?”

“Art history. Some novel. Oliver Stone? As if that’s going to be accurate,” she said, putting it in the basket.

“It’s pretty close. I read that one. It’s a great book, Maia.”

“Good to know.”

Joey helped her find the rest and carried the basket for her. Maia set the jetpack between her legs at the register that a student was working as a cashier.

“Hi Mr. Cravens,” said the young man whose face was peppered with acne.

“Hi, Martin. This is Maia,” he said to him. “Maia, this is Martin. His family sits in front of us at Mass on Sundays.”

“Nice to meet you,” she replied with a smile. When he returned the smile, she saw the mouth full of braces.

“What period is your art history class?” asked Martin.

“Fifth,” she said, since she had already memorized her schedule.
“Awesome,” he replied. “I’m in that class. I can share notes if you need them.”

Maia didn’t need them, but she smiled in return. “That would be great, thanks so much.”

Joey beamed at her.

Martin reached for a pen and a free bookmark. “Here’s my cell. Text me to remind me and I will photocopy them on our printer.”

“Wow, thanks,” she replied, taking it from him. As he finished tallying up the rest, Maia asked about the Met trip.

“We are super stoked about it. You will like our teacher, Mr. Fabiano. He’s cool and chill. Just don’t fall asleep during slides. He will like roast you for a week.”

Maia smirked. She took her cell phone out of her jacket pocket and texted Martin.

His phone buzzed. “That’s me,” said Maia.

“Cool,” he replied. “See you on Sunday?” he asked.

“Of course,” she answered, as Joey picked up the shopping bag and handed the lighter one from the uniform shop to her. “See you then.”

Joey called Mack who met him at the door and took the bags from them as Maia took in the surroundings of the school. It smelled like a school. That familiar dust and the smell of old fried food permeated the hallways. The halls were quiet except for an occasional student passing by with a familiar hall pass in hand.

“Where’s the bathroom?” she asked Joey as he returned.

“I’m not certain,” he said. “I don’t come in here often.” Maia walked from the foyer into the main hallway and saw the bathroom sign.

“I’ll be right back,” she said, leaving him as he called Paul, who said he was on his way.

As she washed her hands, another girl exited the stall and smiled at Maia in the mirror.

“Hi,” she said to Maia, as she turned on the tap to her sink. The girl, a blonde with glasses that sit crooked on her nose and whose wavy hair was all over the place, washed her hands. Maia returned the greeting as she dried her hands.

“Are you new here?”

“Yes, I start after winter break.”

“Awesome, I’m Mattie.”

“Great to meet you,” she said with a smile.

“What grade are you in?”

“I’m a sophomore.”

“Me too,” she said.

“Are you in IB?”

“Yes. It’s a lot of work, but it's great if you like school.”

“I’m excited to check it out. I won’t start IB classes formally until next year, but I’m taking the 2’s tests for French and Italian this May.”

“Wow, that’s a lot of work.”

“I’m fluent in both, so I will be fine, but I still have all the coursework to complete.”

“My sister is in French 2. I can introduce you,” she said, as Maia and Mattie exited the bathroom.

“That would be great,” said Maia.

“What Mass do you go to on Sunday?” Maia looked to Paul for an answer.

“We go to the ten o’clock,” said Paul.

“We do too. Okay, we will find you after Mass,” said Mattie. “See you on Sunday, Maia.”

“Byes,” she replied.

“Making friends already?” asked Joey, elated.

“Her sister is in French 2,” explained Maia.

“How are you doing?” asked Paul, taking the jetpack.

“I’m tired,” she replied, “and I need to get organized. I have a lot of work to do.”

Paul took them to lunch at a local café where he was approached by a couple of fans who expressed their pleasure at seeing Maia, who wiped her face with her napkin and looked to Joey for support.

When they dispersed, Maia resumed what she was telling them. “I need to chart this all out. I have a lot of work to do and need to prioritize to get it all done. Could we stop for some poster board and pens on the way home?”

“Whatever you need,” said Paul, with a smile. “What do you think of St. Nick’s so far?”

“I think it’s okay,” she replied. While Maia ate her cheeseburger, Joey recounted meeting Martin in the bookstore, and how they had to order her skirts. She tuned them out as she plotted how to organize herself to get the work due completed before she started school. They both noticed how quiet she was and how quickly she finished the cheeseburger and fries. Maia was drinking her coke while checking her phone. Martin had texted her already. He said there was a test before the break, and he had the study guide that she had already received today. They had to do it for homework, and in-class they filled out more with the test prep period. He would bring a copy of it to her on Sunday. She thanked him and put down her phone smiling.

“What are you Cheshire catting about?” asked Paul.

“Martin has the study guide for the test I have to take when school starts. He’s going to bring it to me on Sunday at Mass.”

When Maia got home, Paul and Joey carried her bags upstairs with her as she carried her pack of four small posterboards and the bag of school supplies. “You need to take your meds, you know,” said Joey. Maia nodded and went downstairs to do so while Joey put her socks and sweaters away. He set aside the blouses to go down to be laundered and put her shoes in the closet.

“What do you think?” Paul asked, looking at the books stacked on the desk with the bag of school supplies.

“I think she will be just fine. She’s bored and loves school.”

“How did she do with the uniforms?”

“It was hard, but she knows that if she wants to go to St. Nick’s, then she needs to wear the uniform. I’m going to have Elly sew slips into the skirts. There is no way she will tolerate sitting on that material all day.”

“Did she sit in it there?” Paul asked.

“No, I wish I had thought of that,” he said on the way down the staircase with Paul.

Joey talked with Elly about the skirts and slips while Paul made coffee for him and Maia, who was nibbling on a pop tart. Paul looked at her strangely. “Are you still hungry?”

“Yes,” she replied. “For Pop Tarts. I haven’t had one in a couple of months,” she said, getting the half-and-half out of the fridge.
Paul put hers in a glass Starbucks mug with a lid when she finished mixing it, so she didn’t spill it on her way up the staircase. Maia grabbed an extra packet of Pop Tarts and left them to chat.

At her room desk, Maia opened a notebook and began writing lists of assignments from the syllabi to the notebook pages. Knowing she had to break this down into daily pieces if she was going to complete this on time, Maia had to plan it all out. With the poster board, Maia drew a grid for the number of days she had until school started, and using both sides of the different posterboards and pens that she had chosen for each class, she began to write the assignments on each day, breaking up projects and papers among them. She had to include the French and Italian into the grid as well. Maia was looking them over when Paul found her.

“What’s all this?”

“How to eat an elephant.”

“Say what?” he asked with a laugh.

“Don’t you know how to eat an elephant, Paulie?”

“Can’t say that I do. How do you eat an elephant, Maia?”

“One bite at a time. You see, it’s all broken down into days, what I have to do.”

“That’s a lot, Maia. Are you sure you don’t want to wait until Fall?”

Maia laughed. “No, I don’t want to wait. That’s only half of the work I must do in two weeks,” she said, flipping the cards over. Paul ran his hands through his hair.

“Are you sure?” he asked. “You’re still not one hundred percent, you know?”

“I’m like eighty-five percent,” she replied. “I’ll be better, I promise. Did you need something?”

“I heard from the Piano School at Winston.”

“Oh yeah?”

“They want you to apply and audition.”

“Okay. When?”

“Next week? You won’t formally start until April, though.”

“Sure. How’s that work?”

“They give you a sight-read piece and you have to do scales and perform one piece. Can’t be under three minutes or over five minutes and needs to show your skillset. If you don’t play one that’s on their list, then I need to purchase the actual scores for distribution to the panel. You need to think about what piece you want to do so I can order it.”

“Let’s do the Toca Alla,” she said.

“Maia, they are going to be watching the score. You have to make sure every note is right on the money.”

Maia eyed him incredulously. Of course, their eyes were going to be on the score. How else would they adjudicate it? “Okay, so what do you want to do?”

“Let’s go to the music store and pick out a piece before you get too busy with all of this.”

Maia nodded. “I have to add an audition into this as well.”

“We have to pick up the piano school application packet at Winston also.”

“We are going out?”

“We are.”

“All righty then,” she said with a sigh. “This will wait. Let’s pick up the packet and check out their pieces first.”

“Maia, is this going to be too much?” asked Paul, as they descended the staircase.

“I don’t know, I never ate two elephants before.”

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