Sunday morning, I was awakened by a deafening noise. In my dreamlike state, I thought an ambulance was driving through the hallway. Sarah beat me to the door. When she opened it, the noise grew even louder. I looked out beside her. Half our floor was peeking out of their rooms.
Our prefect, Adrienne, was shouting over the noise. When I heard the words fire drill, I realized what was going on. I quickly ducked back into my room, slipping on my shower shoes so I wouldn’t have to go outside barefoot. Sarah followed suit and we both made our way outside.
We huddled together on the field with some of the other girls on our floor. Most of my classmates were still in their pajamas and most were still barefoot. No one made much noise. The only conversations I heard were girls threatening that this better be a real emergency because they were so tired.
After a moment, our advisors emerged from the building. Our dean, Sally, smiled at all of us.
“That wasn’t so bad for your first fire drill.”
Clarissa, our other advisor, nodded. “There’s still plenty of room for improvement, however.”
I tuned out the rest of the lecture. Something about monthly drills and improving our evacuation times. I could see most of the girls around me were also zoning out. Eventually, we were allowed to return to our rooms.
I was awake. It was late enough that there was no possibility of me falling back asleep, especially after spending ten minutes in the crisp morning air. I turned to my roommate as we entered the room.
“You going back to sleep?”
“Nah. I’m wide awake.”
I looked around. “We should clean the room.”
“Oh! Good idea.”
It took us less than ten minutes to make our beds and straighten our desks. After sweeping the floor, we flopped onto our beds.
“Okay. Now what?” Sarah asked me.
My grumbling stomach gave us the answer.
It was still relatively early for a Sunday morning, but the dining hall wasn’t nearly as abandoned as I had expected it to be. I was in the mood for pancakes. After piling a few on my plate and drowning them in syrup, I grabbed a glass of orange juice before looking for Sarah.
She was waiting for a freshly made waffle. “You go ahead. I’ll join you.”
With a shrug, I headed towards our usual table. In the smaller section, I could see several teachers dining with their families. Some toddlers were running around, playing a game that required a lot of running and laughing.
I had nearly reached my table when I heard someone calling my name. I looked all around, finally seeing someone waving to me from the other side of the columns separating the two sections of the dining hall. I walked into the other room to join Larry and Walter. I shook my head at their overloaded trays as I sat across from them.
Walter shoveled a forkful of eggs into his mouth. “You’re up early.”
I shrugged. “We had a fire drill this morning. Sarah and I decided we couldn’t go back to sleep, so we decided on food.”
Larry nodded as Sarah joined them at the table. “Yeah, us too. Couldn’t go back to sleep. I was going to go for a run, but Walter here mentioned breakfast and my stomach won out.”
Sarah pointed to Larry’s tray. “You might need to go running after a breakfast like that.”
Larry examined his plate with a puzzled expression. “What’s wrong with my breakfast?”
I couldn’t help but laugh. Sarah smiled. “So, what are your plans for our one-day weekend?”
“Hum-bock.” Walter’s mouth was so full, he looked like a squirrel gathering nuts for the winter. We all stared at him, waiting for him to swallow and take a sip of his juice before translating for us.
“Homework. I have a lot of homework to do. I figure I’ll start it now and try to get at least half done by lunchtime.” He shoved a smaller forkful of food into his mouth. “Then, I’ll go to the MAC after lunch and catch the game before finishing work.”
Larry shook his head. “Well, I’m not wasting a Sunday. I’m going to go down to the MAC and see if I can’t get some cartoons.”
I wanted to laugh at his joke, but he wasn’t kidding. I raised my eyebrows at him. “Aren’t you a little old for cartoons?”
He smiled. “You’re never too old for cartoons. Wanna come?”
“I think I’ll get a head start on my homework.”
Sarah bounced in her chair enthusiastically. “I’ll go! I haven’t watched morning cartoons in a while. It sounds like fun.”
The two of them got into such an intense discussion about their favorite animated shows, they didn’t even seem to notice Walter and I weren’t part of the conversation. The longer they talked, the more uncomfortable I grew. I wanted to say something to Walter, but I had no idea what. The only thing I could think of was homework.
“So, do you have a lot of homework? I mean, I know you said you had a lot. But is it a lot because it’s hard or because it’s just, well, a lot?”
I could feel my cheeks growing warm. The question was so incredibly lame. He was probably laughing at me on the inside.
He sent an odd, thoughtful glance in my direction as he took a long drink from one of his several juice glasses. What was with that look? Was he wondering why I had asked that question? Was he trying to figure out if I was serious? I wondered if he was going to even answer the question. The longer he took to respond, the more I wondered if he would just completely ignore me.
Eventually, he put down his juice. “You know, I never really thought about that. It just felt like a lot of homework. But, if you think about it, I guess the amount isn’t really all that bad. Let’s see. My physics teacher just wants us to read a chapter. That sounds like a lot, but when you figure at least half of that chapter is pictures, which I just ignore, and some side stories, which I also ignore, it’s probably only like ten pages of actual reading, so that’s not so bad.”
He had a point. I nodded as he continued. “My math teacher wants us to do twenty problems. Again, not too many, but it looked hard, so I just don’t want to do it. What else? English. We have to read a Greek myth. I don’t think it’s that long, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it will feel like I’m reading 100 pages before I’m done with it. Latin, we only have to translate a few lines, so that’ll be easy.”
I sent him a confused look. “You’re in Latin, too?”
He nodded. “Yeah, first year. I’m in your class. You were kind of daydreaming when I came in, so I’m not surprised you didn’t notice. I was going to say hi, but Mr. Henderson followed me into the room, so I didn’t get a chance.”
I couldn’t believe I had ignored one of the few people I actually knew yesterday. I sent him an apologetic smile. “I’m sorry. I was in a fog yesterday. By Latin, I was so overwhelmed with the rest of my day that I really didn’t have much of an idea of what was going on.”
“It’s okay. I had physics, math, and English before Latin. By the time Mr. Henderson assigned that homework, I thought I would scream. I mean, seriously, homework on the FIRST day of school? And a Saturday, at that?”
I smiled. That was exactly how I had felt about the situation. We spent a few minutes comparing our classes and realized that we had the same English and math teachers. We also had the same physics assignment, even though we had different teachers. And of course, we were in Latin together.
Walter laughed. “Wasn’t it funny when Mr. Henderson sat down? I mean, I saw him walking over to the desk, and I was thinking to myself, How is this gargantuan man going to fit in such a tiny desk? And then, he was able to do it!”
I closed my eyes with a sigh. We hadn’t even been at Hartfield a week, and I was already frustrated that everyone used words I didn’t understand. At the risk of Walter thinking me ignorant, I frowned at him.
“What does gargantuan mean?”
He sent me a warm smile. “Um…giant. Tremendous. Henderson’s so tall, it’s the perfect word to describe him.”
I nodded. He was right. Mr. Henderson was easily the tallest person I had ever met. I finished the last few bites of my pancakes before changing the subject. “You know, I have never felt so overwhelmed with homework before. I mean, school has always been so easy.”
“I was just thinking that!” Walter had finally finished his massive breakfast and was giving me his full attention. “I used to help my friends at our homeschool co-op with their homework, since they had trouble with it. We used to hang out at the library after classes.” Walter stopped suddenly, as if he had spoken without thinking.
Since his face was turning the color of a tomato, I guessed he was embarrassed to admit he spent his free time at the library. I smiled at him.
“You know, I used to volunteer at my local library. I had spent so much time there, that the librarian offered me a job one day. I re-shelved books in the children’s section. I didn’t get paid for it, but for some reason, I didn’t care. It was fun. And when I was done, I would go upstairs to the adult library and read in one of the reading nooks until my mom picked me up.”
Walter smiled. “See, that’s the great thing about this school. In my old school, I probably would have been beaten up if people found out I spent free time in the library. Here, though, everyone is so cerebral that things like that are normal.”
I raised my eyebrows at the unknown word. “Cerebral? Does that mean smart or something?”
Walter nodded as Larry and Sarah stood. Sarah turned to me.
“We’re heading over to the MAC. You sure you don’t want to come?”
I nodded. “Positive.”
Larry turned to Walter. “Bro? We’re gonna try to find DragonWorld.”
Walter shook his head. “Definitely not.”
I wasn’t positive, but he looked like he was turning red again. I decided not to mention it as I watched Larry and Sarah head into the dish room to deposit their trays. I wanted to follow them. I was anxious to at least look at my homework. But, I didn’t want to just leave Walter sitting alone at the table. An awkward silence fell between us. Finally, Walter broke it.
“I guess I better get started on that homework if I want to catch the game later.” He stood slowly, as if he were uncertain whether he should leave me sitting alone.
I immediately got to my feet, tray in hand. “I was just thinking that.” I led the way to the dish room. “Well, that I wanted to start my homework. No, not start it. Just, look at it. I don’t want to do it. I just want to look at it, so I feel less worried about it.”
Walter smiled. “Yeah, that’s what I’m feeling. I don’t want to actually do it. I just want it to be done so I can worry about something else.”
As Walter followed me back towards the dorm, we made small talk about our homework. We guessed about how much time it might take and how easy or hard it might actually be. As we neared Stanton, Walter turned to me.
“Look, since we have similar homework tonight, you wanna study together in the library? Might make it a little less painful.” He must have seen my hesitation, because he quickly continued. “I just don’t want to study alone. I have this fear that if I go back to my room I’ll fall asleep or play video games or something and not get anything done. It’ll only be until lunchtime. After lunch, I’m going to watch the game, remember?”
I sighed. “Yeah. That’s probably not a bad idea.”
“Great. I’ll meet you here in a few minutes.”
Sunday, September 10
When I was in the seventh grade, my English teacher handed us each a composition notebook and told us to keep a vocabulary journal for the year. We were to write down all the new words we encountered, defining them in our own words so we could learn them.
Only a few of my classmates completed the assignment through the end of the year. I was the only person I knew who had continued it through eighth grade.
When I found out I would be attending Hartfield, I started a new journal. And it is filling up quickly. It took me two years to fill my last journal. At the rate I’m going, this one may not make it to the end of the term.
Pat’s story will begin in March.