Friday, September 15
One week ago, my parents drove onto the campus of the Charles and Rachael Hartfield Preparatory School for Young Men and Women. Despite months of protesting that I did not want to leave my public school friends, they forced me here. I spent the entire summer hating the idea of attending a boarding school.
I thought being away from home would make me miss my family. Then, I met my roommate. I have never had a sister before, but in one week, Sarah and I have become as close as sisters. Having that bond has helped make living here a little easier.
I knew that attending a new school would mean missing my friends from home. Then, I made a few friends. While I may not know the names of everyone in my classes, I do know those of all the people at my overcrowded lunch table.
I was really worried that I would lose my best friends when I started Hartfield. Then, I met Walter. As strange as it may sound, he understands me better than my friends from home ever did. Not only does he help me with my homework, he also explains what everyone around me is saying.
One of the things I really dreaded about my new school was the mandatory sports requirement. I am not an athlete. Then, I joined the dance class. I have been dancing for eleven years and, although I quit ballet when I was ten, tap dancing is as natural to me as walking or running. Yesterday’s ballet class turned out to be a lot of fun and I am looking forward to tap today.
My parents sent me here because they believed Hartfield would provide me with more of an academic challenge than my previous school and I am starting to believe that they may have been right. From the moment I stepped on campus, I have felt overwhelmed with the coursework. Then, I thought about the conversations we have been having in all of my classes. Although the work is hard, I am enjoying the challenge. I just hope I can keep up with it all.
I looked around the classroom as I closed my writing journal Friday afternoon. In a few minutes, I would have to pick one of the entries to read to my English class, but I still wasn’t sure which one. I had typed out an entry I had written Sunday morning, but I was starting to think that maybe the one I had written during this morning’s free period might be a little better.
But, how would my classmates react to my most intimate thoughts? Did I want them to know I was struggling to keep up with them? Was I really ready for them to know that I hadn’t wanted to attend Hartfield? Could they understand that despite my initial resistance, this place was truly my home?
I quickly re-read everything else I had written that week. As the last few students straggled into the room, I decided this newest entry wasn’t ready to be read aloud. I would just stick to the one I had typed out.
Mr. Johnson entered the room, shutting the door behind him and sitting at the head of the conference table beside me.
“Happy Friday! Put your things aside. We’ll start with our vocabulary quiz.”
We all put our books on the floor as Mr. Johnson passed out a single sheet of paper to each of us. I looked at it with wide eyes. I had been expecting a spelling test like my eighth grade teacher had given us last year. She would always tell us the word and give us a sentence while we wrote the word on our paper.
Mr. Johnson had done the opposite. The words were already written on the paper. We had to write the definition and put it in a sentence. I looked at the first word. Florid. That had something to do with flowers, right? I tried to think of the example sentence I had read in the book, but nothing came to mind. With a sigh, I wrote floral, relating to flowers. The woman wore a florid dress to the party.
Out of the twenty words on the page, I struggled to remember the definitions for at least half of them. I wasn’t very confident in my sentences, either. The only consolation I had was that I now knew what to expect. I would study harder for next week’s quiz.
As my classmates turned in their quiz papers, Mr. Johnson placed them neat stack before him. I was one of the last to pass it over. When the final one had been added to the pile, Mr. Johnson explained the rules for sharing the journal entries. Then, he turned to me.
“Why don’t you go first, Melinda.”
I struggled to find my voice. “Oh. Um, okay.” I didn’t bother with my journal, reading from my typed page. “Everyone has their own Thinking Place. A place to sit and simply, well, think.”
My eyes never left my page. When I was done, Mr. Johnson offered no feedback.
“Thank you, Melinda. Sarah?”
As I listened to each of my classmates, I began to feel increasingly more self-conscious about my own submission. Some of my classmates had composed creative poems—some rhyming, others not—all of which required the rest of us to think about what they were saying. Others had penned humorous short stories using words I didn’t understand. All of them had typed more than one page.
By the time Mr. Johnson dismissed the class, I decided my entry had been too short and poorly written. Looking back, it sounded as if it had been written by a third grader. I would have to try harder next week.
Unfortunately, I had no idea how.
Despite the fact that I have been dancing for over a decade, I was a little apprehensive when I stepped into the Black Box studio that afternoon. The dark walls and ceiling made the room feel a little gloomy. Plus, I didn’t know anyone there.
Two girls were standing beside the other entrance to the room, but I didn’t recognize them. I wished my roommate were with me. Sarah was so much more outgoing than me. She would have marched right up to them and introduced herself.
Not having that confidence, I plopped my bag in the corner and sat beside it. I stripped off the sundress I had thrown over my leotard and strapped my tap shoes to my feet before straddling my leg to begin stretching.
“Can I join you?”
I looked up. A new girl had entered the room. She looked vaguely familiar. I shrugged. “Yeah, sure.”
She gave a sigh of relief as she sat facing me. “Oh, good. I hate not knowing anyone. You’re Melinda, right?”
I nodded, closing my legs and reaching for my toes. “Yeah. I’m sorry. I forgot your name.”
“Natalie. We had ballet together yesterday.”
I opened back into a straddle and grabbed my ankle, lowering my nose to my knee as I thought back to yesterday’s class. She and I were the only two students who were new to the class.
I nodded as I sat up. “Yeah. I remember you. You danced really well yesterday.”
Natalie began her stretches with a shrug. “I’ve been doing ballet for like, five years. I was really excited that I could take it as my sport this term.”
“Yeah. I felt the same way. I’ve been dancing since I was two, but I quit ballet a few years ago. I had the worst teacher in the studio.”
“So why’d you pick it? If you don’t mind me asking.”
I lowered my nose to the opposite knee. “I thought it would be fun. It was, but it was sooo hard.”
Before Natalie could respond, another girl bounced over to us. She sat between us, turning to me first. “Hi. I’m Bella. I think you live on my floor.”
I nodded. “Yeah. I’m Melinda.”
“You’re the one trying to learn everyone’s name, right?”
I giggled. “No. That’s my roommate. A friend of ours dared her to do it.”
Natalie shook her head. “I could never do that. I can’t even remember the name of everyone in our ballet class yesterday. And there were only, what? Eight of us?”
Bella turned to her. “Well, I’m Bella. Nice to meet you. You don’t live on our floor, do you?”
Natalie shook her head. “Nah. I’m a day student. I—”
I never found out what Natalie was going to say next. She was interrupted by someone clapping her hand for attention. Standing in the center of the room was a woman a little taller than my five-foot-nothing.
“Good afternoon. It’s lovely to see so many new faces this year. My name is Miss Serena. Please join me in the center to stretch.”
The ten of us formed a large circle in the center of the room. Sitting on the floor, we introduced ourselves as we followed Miss Serena’s movements. Other than Bella and Natalie, I didn’t know anyone in the room. Although we were not the only students new to the class, we were the only third formers.
When the introductions were over, Miss Serena got to her feet. “I would appreciate it if you could stretch like that before each class, please.” She pointed to the four tallest girls in the class. “You, you, you, and you. Please come help me with the barres.”
The girls followed her to the back of the room, where Miss Serena unlocked a door that was painted as black as the wall. I only knew it was there because Madam Cheri had done the same thing in our ballet class yesterday.
The girls moved the two portable barres to the center of the floor, setting them a distance apart. Ideally, we should have all been able to hold the barre and look at ourselves in the mirror. But, Bella got in front of me and she was too tall for me to see myself.
I didn’t mind. I preferred to dance with my eyes closed anyway. When we were all settled, Miss Serena started the music, standing in front of the mirror as she showed us the steps to perform.
She started easy. Toe taps to the front, side, back and side again. In a single beat of music, we spun around to face the back wall. I was the only student who was able to begin their toe taps on the opposite foot with the music. Everyone else came in around beat two or three.
We continued spinning, changing our steps every time we faced the mirror, until the end of the song. I was surprised to see a couple of students didn’t know the more basic steps, such as shuffles and flaps. Others knew them but still struggled.
For the first time all week, I felt the glimmer of confidence that had been sorely missing ever since I arrived at Hartfield. My whole life, school had been easy for me. I had spent most of this week wondering if maybe I wasn’t talented or smart enough to attend a school as challenging as Hartfield. When we had to select our sports, I thought dance would be easy, since I had been doing it most of my life. But, ballet had been so incredibly difficult yesterday, with Madam Cheri calling out moves I hadn’t heard in years.
But, today, there was something about tap class that was different. Miss Serena had comments on everyone else’s form or tempo. But, her only comments to me were notes of praise. By the time we were ready to perform combinations across the floor, I felt I might finally be in a situation where I could succeed.
Unfortunately, that confidence didn’t last very long.
“Great job, everyone,” Miss Serena praised at the end of class. “Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you Monday.”
I sighed as I made my way to my bag. My weekend wouldn’t start until after classes tomorrow. After yet another long night of homework assignments. We had only been in school a week and I already felt like I was falling behind.
“So, are you heading home now?”
Bella’s voice broke me out of my trance. She was looking at Natalie as we all changed back into our street clothes. Natalie shook her head.
“Nah. I have to wait for my brother to get off work before he can pick me up. I was gonna head over to the TRAC for a shower.”
I raised my eyebrows at her. “Why would you shower on the track? Isn’t there a locker room somewhere?”
I was less than thrilled when both girls started giggling. At least Natalie explained why. “Not like the running track. The athletic center. The Theodore Rodgers Athletic Center. T-R-A-C. TRAC.”
“I should have known that, huh?” I could feel my cheeks grow warm, but the girls either didn’t notice or were just too polite to tease me.
Natalie sent me a warm smile as we made our way up the stairs. “It’s okay. I didn’t know either. My brother had to tell me. And, he doesn’t even go here.”
“He doesn’t?” Bella held open the door, letting us exit into the courtyard before her.
Natalie shook her head. “Nope. He didn’t want to go to private school. He’s a junior at Ashton High.”
“Where’s that?” I grew up on the Connecticut shoreline, but the towns here in the northeastern corner of the state were a bit fuzzy for me.
Natalie pointed in the vague direction of the science center. “Next town over.”
I shrugged. “Well, since you have to wait for him, you should come shower in our dorm. You can have dinner with me and my friends, if you want.”
“Oh, that sounds great.”
As Natalie followed us to the dorm, I turned to Bella. I didn’t want her to think I was excluding her or anything. “You can join us, too.”
Bella looked relieved. “I would love that. I’ve been sitting with my sister. She’s a sixth former and all she and her friends are talking about are which colleges they’re all applying to.”
Natalie rolled her eyes. “Ugh. I am so glad we don’t have to think about that for a few years. I mean, I have a few schools in mind, but the whole application thing? So not looking forward to it.”
I nodded. “Yeah, me neither.” In truth, I had no idea what to say. This wasn’t the first time someone had mentioned colleges this week. Why was everyone worried about it? We were only freshman, just starting our high school journeys. Was I really supposed to know where I want to go to college four years from now?
Unfortunately, as we crossed the road, Bella changed the conversation to an even more distressing topic. “Did you guys have vocabulary quizzes today, too?”
Natalie nodded. “Yeah. I thought it was going to be much harder.”
“I know. Right?”
I made a non-committal sound, letting the girls continue comparing some of their other classes all the way back to the dorms.
Pat’s story will begin in March