Hartfield Chronicles

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Episode 17

Melinda’s Story

Sunday morning, Walter and I managed to arrive at church just in time for Mass. At home, my parents made us go every few weeks. Like at home, I was so bored that I nearly fell asleep during the homily.

To keep myself awake, I made a mental list of things I could ask Mike that might spark a conversation. Unfortunately, by the time we had to stand to pray, the only thing I could think of was to ask Mike about his home.

After the service, I found Deacon Bob standing near the entrance.

“Hi, Deacon Bob. You wanted us to check in?”

He nodded. “Can you please remind me of your name?”

“Melinda. Melinda Luzzelli.”

He smiled. “Ah, yes. You’re the only one from your class here today.” He looked around. “And, are your parents with you?”

I shook my head. “No. I’m a Hartfield student. I came with a friend of mine.” I pointed to Walter, who was impatiently standing a few feet away, looking uncomfortable surrounded by senior citizens. I turned back to Deacon Bob. “Um, I sent you my homework yesterday. Did you get it?”

“Yes. I reviewed it briefly last night. I was very pleased with your answers. They showed an insight not usually found in first year students. I look forward to our discussion on Wednesday.”

“Um, thanks.” After receiving such unpleasant marks yesterday, I was a little taken aback to learn someone found my thoughts insightful. I gave a small wave. “I’ll see you Wednesday.”

Walter and I headed back to campus. As we walked into the rear entrance of the dining hall, I turned to him. “So, what are your plans for today?”

“Well, I was thinking about doing some homework to catch up to you, but that idea left about as quickly as it entered. Maybe watch football at the MAC. Probably just stream something in my room.”

“Anything in particular? Lemme guess. Football?”

“Yeah, probably. It’s something Dad and I watch together, especially when we’re traveling. It reminds me of him when he’s away.”

“Oh. Does your dad travel a lot?” It occurred to me that although I considered Walter one of my best friends, I knew very little about him. Other than the fact that he seemed to know everything about everything, of course.

“Huh? Oh, um . . . kinda. Hey, I’m gonna get a waffle.”

I didn’t miss Walter’s obvious attempt to change the subject. He didn’t wait for a response before wandering away towards the servery, where a woman was making Belgium waffles on demand beside the woman preparing eggs to order. I ignored his evasiveness and settled for a quick bowl of cereal and a glass of juice. I had nearly finished my breakfast by the time Walter joined me. In addition to his waffle, he had a plate full of eggs and sausage as well as glasses of juice and water.

We ate in silence. Walter looked uncomfortable, but I had no idea what I should say to put him at ease. While I waited for him to finish his food, I looked around the room anxiously.

“Wha’s wong?” Walter had been speaking with his mouth full for so long, I was beginning to grow fluent and had no trouble understanding the question.

“Nothing. I’m just thinking about what I should wear and other stuff like that.” I sighed and looked at Walter. “I was looking for Sarah ’cuz I could use her advice right now. She’s probably still in our room.”

Walter smiled. “Go. Trust me, you don’t want my advice. I would tell you to skip the date and just swear off boys until you’re twenty.”

I smiled, uncertain whether Walter was serious, but he took a small bite of his breakfast and continued, talking with a little less food in his mouth. “I mean it. Go find Sarah. I’ll be in the library after supper. Come find me. Bring your math homework.”

I took his advice and headed back to my dorm. Sarah had been sleeping when I had left for church. Now, however, she was awake and typing away on her computer. As soon as she saw me, she closed her laptop and smiled at me.

“Oh, hey. I was wondering if you’d be back before you met up with Mike.”

“Yeah. I’m not sure what I should wear.” I opened my closet to stare at my options.

“Lemme see . . .” Sarah wrinkled her nose at me for a moment. “You’re probably a little overdressed. I like that skirt, though. You have a purple shirt with like, a little frilly thing.” Sarah gestured towards her neck to indicate the collar of a shirt.

I knew the shirt she meant. Was it clean? I rummaged around my closet a moment. There it was. I held it in front of me. “This one?”

“Yeah! That one! So, what time’s the movie?”

I shrugged as I changed my shirt. “I forgot. We’re taking the 11:30 shuttle and having lunch.” Sitting on the edge of my bed, I made faces in my closet mirror. Should I wear my hair up or down?

“Do you think he’ll kiss you?”

“I dunno. Maybe.”

“Do you want him to?”

Definitely down. I turned Sarah with a sigh. “Honestly, I haven’t thought about it. I just want to spend some time with him. Get to know him. We’ll see what happens.”

But, what if he did try to kiss me? Would I know what to do? Would he still want to hang out with me afterward?

***

The shuttle pulled to a stop between two city buses at a row of bus stops in front of the mall. I let Mike disembark first. He waited for me by the door, taking my hand and leading me into the building.

“So, have you been here before?”

“Yeah. My roommate and I were here last weekend with her sister.”

Mike responded so quickly, I wasn’t sure he was even waiting for my response. “There’s not much here. It’s pretty small, but I guess it’s better than nothing.”

I had thought it was pretty big. It was certainly larger than the mall close to home that I usually go to. How big was the one near Mike that he thought this one was small? I didn’t get a chance to ask him. He changed the subject too quickly.

“Whaddaya wanna do for lunch? I was thinking the food court. It’s near the theater.”

“Yeah, that sounds good.” I followed Mike to the food court, listening to him describe some of his favorite mall Chinese food. I pointed to Golden Chopsticks.

“We could eat there.”

Mike made a face. “I doubt it’s as good as the one at home. But, you go ahead. I think I’m in the mood for a steak sandwich.” He pointed to Sam’s Steakery.

“Oh! I love that place! They make awesome fries.”

I followed him to Sam’s. “I’m not sure what I want, yet. Why don’t you order first.” That wasn’t really true. I wanted him to order first to make sure we were still paying for our own meals. But there were a lot of options. By the time it was my turn, I decided to try the Wicked Good Wrap, a spinach wrap with grilled chicken, peppers, and onions, as well as cheese, tomatoes, and lettuce. Since I wanted a lot of my favorite fries, I decided to order the large combo, even if I couldn’t finish the soda before the movie.

While we were waiting for our food, I scanned the food court for a place to sit. It was somewhat crowded, but there was a nice table for two overlooking the center court area below. I turned around to tell Mike about it. And nearly bumped into Eliot.

“Oh. Hi! What’re you doing here?”

Eliot gestured to the man and woman standing beside him. “My aunt and uncle—and my parents—agreed to let me get a new phone. We came here to pick one out. Oh, Aunt Cathy? Uncle Chris? This is Melinda.”

I gave a small wave in their direction. Aunt Cathy smiled. “Eliot’s told us a lot about you. You attend Hartfield?”

I nodded. “Yeah. It’s a lot of work, but I really enjoy it.”

Aunt Cathy looked around. “How did you get to the mall?”

“Oh. There’s a shuttle. A friend and I are going to watch a movie. We just stopped here for lunch.”

The cashier hollered from counter. “EIGHTEEN! NINETEEN!”

Mike turned to me. “That’s us.”

I nodded. “I’m coming. One sec.” I turned back to Eliot, surprised to see his fists clenched by his side. I was curious what could have caused the sudden burst of anger, but I didn’t want to call him out in front of his guardians. I gestured behind me. “I better go. I’ll see you Wednesday?”

“Yeah. Wednesday.”

I could feel Eliot’s eyes on me as I retrieved my tray. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see him watching me as I led Mike to the table I had scouted. By the time I sat down, Eliot had disappeared into the crowd.

Mike seemed unfazed. I don’t think he even realized I had been talking to Eliot. He certainly hadn’t seen Eliot watching us. He was too busy drowning his fries in ketchup.

I closed my eyes to enjoy the first bite of my fries in bliss. They were as good as I remembered. I opened my eyes to eat a few more. By the time I picked up my sandwich, I realized an uncomfortable silence had fallen between me and Mike.

I wanted to say something, but I had completely forgotten the questions I had thought of earlier today. No, wait. There had only been one question. But, it was a good one. What was it?

I tried to picture myself in the church. I had been bored. The priest was talking about forgiveness.

Nope. My mind was blank. Thinking about church reminded me of Walter. Thinking of Walter made me think about football. Even though I already knew the answer, I figured that was a safe topic.

“So? How was your game yesterday?” I took a small bite of my wrap. It was indeed Wicked Good.

He made a sour face. “Ugh. It was horrible. I really wish they let third-formers play varsity. I mean, I get why some of the guys are on the JV team. But, still. There’s a few of us who should be on varsity.”

While I ate my wrap and savored my fries, Mike told me about Saturday’s game. In his version, he was the hero who scored a touchdown as a result of his innate talent, while his teammates were clueless morons who only scored by dumb luck. I had finished my wrap and made a decent dent in my fries by the time he was done.

“I should have stayed at my old school. I would have made varsity there. I was on the middle school team with all of them and I am way better than some of the guys who did make it.”

“Why didn’t you? Stay at your old school? I mean why did you come here?”

As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I regretted asking the question. What if he asked the same in return? Now that I felt completely at home at Hartfield, I didn’t like to admit that my parents had enrolled me against my will. It didn’t matter, though. He didn’t ask about me. He went into another long story about choosing to attend Hartfield. I didn’t really understand what he was saying, but it sounded like his local high school had a horrible academic program and he had applied to Hartfield seeking more academic challenge.

“I just didn’t expect it to be so—what’s the word?” Mike finished the final bites of his meal, staring at me as he searched for the word he wanted.

I thought about my own experiences and the expectations I had prior to stepping onto campus. “Different? Difficult?”

Mike sighed. “I just can’t decide if I was more overlooked at my old school or here. I thought things would be better. This is supposed to be one of the best boarding schools in the nation. I thought the workload would be more challenging. That the teachers and coaches would recognize my abilities. But, no. It’s the same as my old school. The work is too easy and the teachers play favorites and ignore me.” Mike checked his watch. “We better get going. I want to get some popcorn before the movie.”

How could he be hungry? I had eaten so much that the idea of popcorn was almost revolting. But, when we got to the theater, I decided to order some popcorn just in case I changed my mind during the movie. Even the smallest size was pretty big.

The movie was pretty good. It was an action-comedy about a woman whose family thinks she is a mere housewife when, in reality, she is a secret agent. When her children are kidnapped, she is forced to reveal her true identity to her husband and they rescue their children together.

Even though I enjoyed it, I had a lot of trouble concentrating. My mind kept wandering to Mike’s comment that the workload was too easy. Wasn’t he saying the opposite the other day, that he was struggling to understand what everyone was saying? Or had I misunderstood his meaning? Was he lying to me? Or was there a way that both of these seemingly contradictory statements could be true?


Melinda’s Journal

Sunday, September 24

Hi.
How are you?
Where are you from?
What sport do you do?
What classes are you taking?
What teachers do you have?

Over the past three weeks, I have lost track of how many times I have had this conversation, and I know I have overheard it just as often. Yet, no matter how many times I witness this dialogue, I feel as if I am still encountering new people every day.

There are over two hundred students in my class, and I cannot figure out if I am supposed to introduce myself to each one. I don’t know whether I even want to befriend all of them. During my time at Hartfield, I have met some truly wonderful people and made some fantastic new friends. I have formed relationships that will last a long time and not be ephemeral. I have also met some nice and friendly people I would love to get to know better.

But, although we have been here for barely three weeks, I have already encountered some people that I want little to do with. Some of their attitudes are sour and noxious. Some are so cerebral that I cannot understand a word they say and I query if they are being obfuscate in order to make me feel inferior.

And then, there are the people I thought I knew very well, but it turns out I don’t know the first thing about them. I’m tentative and a little scared to learn more about my friends. What if I find out something I don’t like? Will it ruin a fantastic friendship?

Meeting new people is hard. I met new people when I started kindergarten, then again when I skipped to the second grade. After that, I was with the same classmates until we graduated eighth grade last year. Although new students joined us when we transferred to the middle school, I did not really try to make many new friends. There were some new acquaintances, sure, but I never grew close to any of them.

And now, here I am, forced to make not only new friends, but a new family. While I’m not about to reveal my deepest, darkest secrets to everyone I meet, I do not really see how I can truly form a solid relationship without doing just that. And, how do I know if my first impressions are even accurate? Perhaps someone I think is being snobby and standoffish is actually just shy and quiet and waiting for me to reach out to her as much as I am waiting for her to reach out to me?

When I was six, I shared my crayons with Brittany and she became my best friend. Somehow, I have managed to become close to my Hartfield classmates without having to share much more than my math book. However, some days, I wonder whether life would be easier if I had a box of crayons.


Pat’s Story

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Stay tuned. Episode 18 will be released on Friday, March 5.

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