Unlike most girls my age, I have always been an early riser. Even on the weekends, I was usually awake a little after dawn. So, waking up on Saturday morning was not a big deal.
Getting ready for my first day of school was.
Figuring my teachers wouldn’t assign any homework on the first day, especially since it was the weekend, I walked into my first period class armed with a notebook and pencil. I had thrown my assignment pad into my bag in case I needed to remind myself to buy pencils or something.
So, I was a little surprised when my first period art teacher mentioned we had homework. Unfortunately, I hadn’t been paying him much attention and had no idea what it was. We were supposed to draw something. But, what was it?
Mr. Rockwell dismissed the class. Some of my classmates stopped to pet his hyperactive pug, Ruby. I waited until they had all made their way out of the loft before approaching my teacher. He was a very tall man with a very powerful voice. Standing beside him was very intimidating.
“Um, Mr., um, Rockwell?”
“Yes, Melinda, right?”
“Yeah. I mean, well, I just had a quick question. I heard you say something about homework, but I sort of missed what the actual assignment was. I know we’re drawing something, but, well, what are we drawing?”
Mr. Rockwell sent me a warm smile. “That’s the assignment. I want you to draw me something. Anything you would like. It can be a still life or it can come from your imagination. You can use pencil or the oil crayons. It’s entirely up to you.”
“Oh. Okay. Well, thanks.” I grabbed by backpack and the paper portfolio with all the supplies he had handed us at the beginning of class. As I headed down the spiral staircase, I thought about what I could draw.
I was not an artist. I had trouble with stick figures. I supposed I could do something abstract, a bunch of swirls on the paper. I was looking forward to playing with the oil crayons Mr. Rockwell had given us. But, I wasn’t that creative. I always liked pictures that looked realistic. I just had no idea how to draw them.
With a sigh, I made my way out of the building to the science center. Despite having spent several orientation meetings here, I had never truly explored the building. After finding my classroom, I decided to go for a walk. On the second floor, I discovered a room that reminded me of an aquarium. A large round window looked out into the corridor while the other side of the room contained a wall of windows. I settled myself into one of the overstuffed black leather chairs in the center of the room and took out my assignment pad.
It was Saturday. And the first day of classes. I wasn’t supposed to be writing in it. But, I made sure to write my art homework. I copied my schedule into the front cover while I was at it. As I did so, I thought more about what I could draw. By the time the period was over, I still had no ideas.
Physics was even worse than art. Not only did Mr. Wilson give us homework, he gave us a sheet of paper he called a *syllabus*. I had no idea what he meant, but I made sure to write the word into my assignment pad so I could put it in my vocabulary journal later. The syllabus included the homework assignments for the entire term, so I made sure to copy tonight’s assignment into my pad before closing it.
Twenty pages. He wanted us to read the first twenty pages of our textbook. By Monday. I loved to read, but textbooks were difficult. There was no story. Just a lot of information that usually made little sense. I tried not to groan too loudly as I put away the papers and began copying the information Mr. Wilson was writing on the board.
After class, I decided to use my free period to find my next class. I nearly crashed into my roommate who was entering the science center as I was leaving. Sarah sent me a warm smile.
“Hey! How’s your morning going?”
“Ugh. Who gives homework on the first day?”
“I know, right? Where you heading?”
I shrugged. “I’m free. I wanted to find my Latin class.”
“I’m free, too. I’ll go with you. I was just there.” As I followed Sarah up the hill towards the language building, she explained to me how the building was like a maze. And the room numbers made absolutely no sense. It took us nearly half the period to find my classroom. Eventually, we were able to return to the fishbowl lounge.
I sank into a chair opposite Sarah. “So. How have your classes been?”
Sarah shrugged. “My music class sounds like it’s going to be a lot of fun. German, not so much. My teacher spent half the class speaking in German before she realized none of us could understand her. How about you? And what is that thing?”
I rolled my eyes. “So, my art teacher gave us this huge sketch pad.” I pulled it out to show her. It was bigger than my laptop. I also pulled out the oil crayons. “We got these, too. I have the pleasure of carrying this thing around with me all day.”
Sarah frowned. “Maybe you can stop by the dorm between classes.”
I shrugged. “Maybe. I don’t have any more free periods today, though.”
“Yeah. Me either. I’ve got physics, math, then English.”
“I have Latin, math, and English.”
“Hey. Wouldn’t it be cool if we had the same classes.”
I pulled out my schedule, passing it to Sarah. She compared it to her own. “Hey, we do!” She returned the paper to me. “That’s so cool. Okay. So, I’ll wait for you in the hallway just outside this room and we can go to math together.”
I smiled. “Sounds good to me.”
After a very boring form meeting, in which I learned more vocabulary words to add to my journal, I made my way to my Latin class. After a round of introductions, Mr. Henderson handed us each a syllabus. I copied the first assignment into my pad. I had to read the first story in my textbook and answer the questions.
When Mr. Davidson passed out a syllabus in geometry, I was no longer surprised. I wasn’t too worried about the fact that I had to read the first chapter and complete the twenty problems. Math had never been very difficult for me. I was just frustrated that it was more work.
English was probably my most difficult subject that day. Mr. Johnson used several words that confused me, and went into a lot of detail about our assignments. We would be having weekly vocabulary quizzes. We would be having daily discussions about the books we would be reading this term. And we had to keep a writing journal. We were only required to write three entries a week, but Mr. Johnson encouraged us to write something daily. Then, he passed around the syllabus. We had to read an entire story by Monday. I just hoped it would be short.
By the time class was over, I was feeling very overwhelmed. I glanced at my assignment pad before throwing it back in my backpack. I hadn’t believed that any of my teachers would actually assign me any work today. Instead, each of them had, and it all sounded hard. As I followed Sarah out of the building, I felt a sense of dread.
My workload was just going to get harder as the school year went on. Would I be able to keep up?
After a quick lunch, I laid on my bed, closing my eyes for a second while I considered which assignment I should tackle first.
When my roommate’s quiet voice woke me, I realized I had slept through the entire afternoon.
“Oh, Mom. I better go…I love you, too…Bye.” Sarah looked at me as she ended her call. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you.”
I yawned and stretched. “No, it’s fine. What time is it?”
Sarah smiled. “Dinnertime.”
Walking to the dining hall, I realized I was in a much better mood than I had been all day. For a little while, I was going to just forget about my massive amount of homework. It would still be there when I came back.
I wandered around the servery in a fog. There were so many choices, I had no idea what I wanted. Finally, I decided on the sloppy joe sandwich. One of the boys from my orientation group came alongside me.
“Ooh. That looks good. I think I’ll try one.”
I passed Walter the spoon with raised eyebrows. “Um, where are you going to put it?”
His tray already contained a bowl of soup, a small salad, and some sort of deli sandwich. He glanced at my nearly empty tray.
“Do you think maybe you can carry something for me?”
I shrugged. “I guess so.”
He smiled brightly. “Thanks.” He moved his salad and sandwich to my tray before scooping the meat mixture into some rolls. I didn’t wait for him. I went to the beverage island to fill a glass with water before going in search of my roommate.
Sarah was sitting with some girls from our dorm at the same table where we had been eating most of our meals. She raised her eyebrows when I placed my tray near her.
I rolled my eyes. “It’s not mine.”
Walter placed his tray on the table, then came to stand behind me. Reaching over my head, he grabbed the salad with one hand and the sandwich in the other. “Thanks.”
I sent him an incredulous look as he returned to his seat. “I could have passed that to you.”
He shrugged, biting into his sandwich as some of the guys from his floor joined us. Larry placed his tray near Sarah and glanced around the table.
“So, how was everyone’s first day?”
I groaned. “Okay. It’s a Saturday. Why did they give us homework?”
Caroline nodded. “Not to mention, it’s the first day of school.”
“And, it’s a Saturday.”
Walter shoved a forkful of salad into his mouth before pointing at me with his fork. “Ya se dah uh weh we.”
I rolled my eyes. “What?”
We all looked at him expectantly, waiting for him to swallow. “I said, *you said that already*.”
Larry shook his head. “I’m not surprised, but it feels like there’s a lot of it.”
Sarah nodded. “Yeah. But, I don’t think the teachers would give us anything that was too hard to do. I’m sure we’ll finish it no problem. So, who wants to go to the dance tonight?”
I shrugged. “We didn’t really do dances at my old school.”
Larry shook his head. “This isn’t a school dance. They had MAC dances while we were here over the summer.” He pointed between himself and Sarah. “They use the stage in the MAC and there’s a DJ in the corner. The MAC Attack stays open til like eleven.”
Sarah smiled at him. “Well, I’m definitely in. You’re coming to, Melinda.”
I raised my eyebrows. “Do I have a choice?”
“No. Not really.”
I knew by her smile she was joking. But, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to go. After all, what else was I going to do? Tackle the massive amount of homework waiting for me in my dorm?
Woodward and Stanton, the dormitories for the third form girls and boys, were two of the buildings that bordered a softball field, along with some upper form dorms and a handful of senior houses. A little before the dance, Sarah and I, along with a bunch of other girls from our little group, found the boys waiting for us on the field. We walked as a clump towards the MacMillan Activities Center.
As we crossed the intersection of the two main roads that cut through campus, Walter shook his head beside me. “It’s like we’re a gaggle.”
I had no idea what he meant. Thankfully, neither did the girl beside me.
She sent him a confused look. “What’s a gaggle?”
“You know. It’s a group of geese. Like a flock. It’s another word for it. There’s so many of us, we’re like a legion, or a gaggle.”
I smiled at him. “It’s a funny word. But, I like it. And, it fits. We’re a gaggle of third-formers.” I definitely wasn’t going to forget that new word.
As soon as we entered the building, we were hit with a wall of sound. The combination of loud music and people screaming over that music was too loud for me to hear anything. The stage was only a platform, a hardwood floor a step above the rest of the room. It was flooded with people. I recognized a number of them as fellow third-formers. Not that I knew any of them by name. They were dancing in large groups. Our own gaggle did the same.
With the exception of a quick water break or two, we stayed on the dance floor most of the night. The music was a constant stream of bass. I couldn’t make out individual songs, although I got the impression some of my classmates did. Despite the deafening noise, I had a lot of fun dancing with my friends. A little after eleven, the lights in the room turned on full blast. The music slowly died and the DJ said something I couldn’t understand.
My friends and I had somehow made our way to the corner of the dance floor that was furthest away from the main entrance. Instead of fighting her way to the exit, Sarah sat on the floor right where she was. With a shrug, I joined her. So did most of our group.
“That was so much fun,” Jade exclaimed. “So much better than my last school.”
I nodded. “I know. My old school, we had dances for each grade. Like only the sixth grade could go to the sixth grade dance.”
Walter frowned. “That doesn’t sound very fun.”
I shook my head. “Oh, it gets better. So, the first one was at like, the end of September or something. Only like a quarter of my class even went. We spent most of the time standing on the side of the room. And the music was nothing like this.”
“Nope. Mostly like pop stuff you hear on the radio. Although the DJ did throw in some line dances that almost no one did. I mean, I think we even did the Hokey Pokey.”
Walter raised his eyebrows. “Sounds really lame.”
I nodded. “Yeah. Pretty much. There was one slow song, and only one couple danced to it. So then, a couple months later, they decided to try again. The night was cut short when someone decided to set off a stink bomb.”
Some of the people around me laughed, but Jade gasped. “Oh no! What happened?”
“We had to evacuate the gym. We called our parents from the cafeteria and they picked us up early. After that, some of the other grades had dances, but we never did.”
Sarah jerked her head towards the exit. “Looks like the line died down.”
I followed the group back towards the dorm. It was close to curfew, so no one lingered on the field. We headed straight to our rooms to get ready for bed.
As I drifted off to sleep, I thought about my first day of school. It was nothing like what I had been expecting. Although it had ended well, one thought kept creeping into my mind.
How was I ever going to tackle all that homework?
Sunday, September 10
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 does not exist except in my imagination. This makes my Thinking Place special, because it cannot be invaded by anyone else, so I can spend as much time as I need to work out whatever needs working out.
There are two entrances to my Thinking Place. Depending on the relaxation method being used to get there, I can take a long staircase or a very slow elevator that “dings” as I go deeper into the region near my Thinking Place. At the end of the staircase, I must push through a tall bush to enter the Thinking Place, while the elevator doors open straight into it.
It is very difficult to describe my Thinking Place, because it changes slightly upon every visit. It is a large clearing in the woods, near a river and a waterfall. The grass and trees are all very green. There are many sounds in my Thinking Place. The loudest is the rushing water from the waterfall and the river. However, there are also small animals, such as crickets and frogs, that make noise on occasion, although they are never seen. On rare occasions, there may also be birds or small woodland creatures, but there are never any dangerous animals like bears or bugs that I don’t like.
I visit my Thinking Place as often as I can, but it can be very difficult to find. Although it is completely surrounded by a dense wooded area, that is not what I mean by “find”. It is difficult to find the time to go to my Thinking Place. Sometimes, I try to visit just before bed, but when the elevator doors open, I have only enough time to look at my Thinking Place before the doors shut and the elevator whisks me back to reality or dreamland almost instantaneously. Other times, I am descending the staircase when a noise behind me forces me to turn and run back up the stairs, denying me even that glimpse of my Thinking Place. However, the fact that my Thinking Place exists solely in my head has allowed me to continue to visit it, even though I now live here at Hartfield.
Pat’s story will begin in March.