Episode 033

Melinda’s Story

The very first time I stepped onto the Hartfield campus, I had been mesmerized by the rows of flags displayed on either side of the sidewalk leading to the Art Center from the parking lot across the street. After orientation, the flags had disappeared.

Friday morning, as we walked to the Arts Center for our first period classes, Sarah and I were excited to see they were back. One side of the sidewalk contained flags of the various states represented by each of the students. The other side was the various countries. We both knew the flags were only there for the parents that would be arriving tonight.

I turned to Sarah as we entered the gallery. “So, when are your parents coming?”

“Tomorrow morning. We’re meeting here. Crystal was really bummed she couldn’t stay over tonight.”

“I’m excited she’s coming. Tell her I’ll sit with her for your game.”

Sarah raised her eyebrows. “Aren’t you going to be with your parents?”

I shrugged. “I kind of don’t want them to come. It’s hard to explain, but school is my world and they’re just not a part of this world. It’s gonna be weird for them to be here.”

“Oh, I get it. I felt like that my first year at boarding school. Still do, really.” Waving, she headed towards the stairwell to her music class.

I headed up the concrete spiral staircase in the middle of the gallery. How were my parents going to fit in the art loft with all the other parents? There was barely enough room for me and my classmates at the counter. Maybe our families would sit in the center of the loft and we could draw them instead of a fruit bowl.

Giggling, I took my usual seat, removing my notebook from my portfolio and staring out the wall of glass to the courtyard below.

I had mixed feeling about my family visiting. Sure, it was going to be great to see them. But, they were going to be attending all my classes. Would they compare me to my classmates? Would they see how hard I was working to keep up? Would they change their minds about sending me here?

I heard Mr. Rockwell enter the room. Looking around, I was surprised to see the rest of my classmates had entered while I was daydreaming. I turned to see what we would be drawing today. My eyes focused on the back of the room. The empty back of the room!

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one to notice the complete lack of clutter. One of my classmates pointed a long, pale arm across the room, her wry voice echoing in the hollow space.  “What happened to all the junk?”

Mr. Rockwell smiled. “I thought it might be nice to make some room for your parents tomorrow. Apparently, Ruby has yet to adjust to the change as well.” He gestured to his small pug, the dog that followed him everywhere. She was running up and down the empty space, yipping at the vastness.

“The room looks so much bigger,” observed a sixth-form boy whose name I could never remember. Jack? Jake? Tom?

“Yes, and that brings us to today’s assignment. I would like you to draw the small object I will place on the other side of the room. You are to draw it from your current seats.”

The other side of the room held a counter identical to where we were sitting. Mr. Rockwell placed a small pyramidal prism near the middle. It was clear, but not enough to refract any light. It looked like some sort of paperweight by itself didn’t seem all that special.

But, the fact that it was alone, so small in such a large space, is what made it special. It was also full of straight lines. I could draw straight lines.

I dug through my backpack for the ruler I used for math and physics. Closing one eye, I measured the opposite side of the room. The counter was about the length of my ruler and the paperweight was around the five-inch mark.

Since my book was exactly twice as long, I decided to double my measurements. I drew a line about one third of the way up my page. I turned back to the paperweight. I couldn’t get a good measurement on how wide the prism was.

What if I turned the ruler around? It was about two centimeters wide and almost as tall at its center.

I made the markings on my page, using the ruler to make the straight lines. Once I had a basic outline, I used my finger to smudge the pencil into shadows. Then, I filled in some of the other shadows from the room. There was a bulb out on the left side, making it darker the right.

By the end of class, I had created a reasonable depiction of the opposite side of the loft. It was definitely my best work of the semester. Mr. Rockwell liked, too. He asked me to sign it and submit it to him. Although I had heard him make this request to my classmates, this was the first time he had ever asked me to submit anything signed. I was proud, but I would never be able to do that again.

Placing my lunch tray on the table, I looked across at my roommate, who was whispering quietly with Larry, as usual.

“Hey, are you guys doing anything with your parents tomorrow? Like all going out or something?”

They both looked at me with wide eyes. I tried not to laugh. Obviously, neither of them had thought about introducing the other to their parents.

Sarah turned to Larry. “Um . . .”

He turned red. “I wasn’t really . . .”

They began a very quiet discussion as Walter joined the table. He gestured in their direction. “That looks intense. Did they have a fight?”

I giggled. “All I did was ask if they were going out with their parents tomorrow. What about you? Is your family coming?”

Walter glanced at Larry and Sarah, but they were so absorbed in their own little world that they were oblivious. He still spoke slowly, as if choosing his words carefully.

“My brother’s done with all his work stuff. He’s moving in tonight. I’m trying to convince my parents to shadow him tomorrow, check in with his teachers and stuff, since it’s his first day back.”

“They’re both coming? I thought they didn’t usually do that?”

Walter shook his head in obvious annoyance. “They don’t. But, my sister is really annoyed with my mother and has been taking good care of herself just to get Mom out of her hair. Mom is leaving her alone this weekend, sort of like probation.”

“That’s good, right?”

Walter shrugged. “I have no idea. You know what happened the last time she was alone.”

I nodded. During the summer, Meghan had moved into her own apartment. Last month, she mismanaged her diabetes to the point where she was unconscious. After spending several days in the hospital, her mother decided to move into the apartment to teach her how to better care for herself.

I sent Walter a reassuring smile. “I’m sure she’ll be fine. What about Ava?”

“What about her?” Walter looked around nervously. I had to bite back a giggle. I rolled my eyes.

“She’s got class right now. I meant, are you going out with her family? Or introducing her to yours.”

“I’m not crazy. No. No one’s meeting my family. I’m not ready. Besides, there’s going to be so much commotion surrounding my brother. His roommate doesn’t even know he’s coming back. It’s going to be insane enough that he magically shows up in class tomorrow. Add my parents to that room? Complete chaos. I want nothing to do with any of that.”

“Does your family know about Ava?”

“Only that I’m seeing a girl named Ava. I may have mentioned she’s in my math class.”

“Are you going out with her family tonight? Or tomorrow?”

Walter shook his head. “I just met her. I don’t want to meet her parents yet. I think I’m just going to hide out in my room. If I’m lucky, I will be able to convince my parents not to stay for my game. This is my world away from my parents. I don’t like the idea of them invading.”

I laughed loudly enough to interrupt Sarah and Larry’s conversation. It took me a minute before I could explain.

“Sorry. It’s just that I said the exactly same thing to Sarah this morning.”

Sarah sent me a confused look. “What? About you not wanting your parents to come?”

When I nodded, Larry mirrored my action. “Yeah, I like my parents visiting because I miss them, and I’m super excited to see Kenzie. But, I don’t want them shadowing me around. It’s gonna be weird.”

I nodded across the table. “You guys are both going home, right?” When Sarah and Larry both nodded, I turned to Walter. “You?”

“Nope. My parents are going away for the weekend, so I’m staying on campus. You?”

“Ditto. My brother has a tournament Sunday and I didn’t see the point of going home just to sit around by myself. I’d rather hang out here.”

When I arrived in the greenroom for tap that afternoon, Brody handed me a costume.

“I was told to give this to you. Try it on and Livvy will pin it if it needs any alterations. She did the rest of us on Wednesday. Madam Cheri says it should fit, though, since she took your measurements.”

That had been so embarrassing. My ballet teacher had pulled me aside while the class performed their warmups last week so she could wrap a measuring tape around me in a gazillion different directions.

I took the hanger form Brody and examined the costume. It was a gingerbread brown dress with a large ruffle collar and three large, round, white buttons down the front. The bottom of the dress flared out with a white zig-zag sewn near the bottom hem and a fluffy white petticoat underneath.

After stripping into my leotard, I unzipped the back and stepped into it. Livvy helped me with the zipper, then stepped back to examine me.

“Those tan tights are the right color. It looks like it fits. Do the first combination. Make sure it moves okay.”

I was tap dancing in stockinged feet on a carpet, but it was enough movement for Brody and Livvy to agree with me that the costume didn’t need any alterations. I returned it to the hanger and Brody took it to keep at the school with the rest of the costumes until the dress rehearsal.

Class went very smoothly and by the time Mr. Pablo decided we were done, we had managed to run through the entire performance twice without any mistakes. Mr. Pablo had us sit on the edge of the stage as he critiqued us individually.

“Melinda. You need to relax. Make each move flow a little more naturally. You look like you’re thinking about which move comes next.”

That’s because I was. But, I nodded with a smile. I understood what he wanted me to do. I just wasn’t sure if it was possible.

“I think I’m hallucinating!” My friend Xandra squeezed between Jade and Dre at our overcrowded dinner table that night. “You guys will NEVER guess who I saw walking around campus this afternoon.” She tried to pause for emphasis, but her excitement must have gotten the better of her. She didn’t really give us a chance to guess. “Kara McGregor. With Adam Evans, from CAVEmen!”

The table erupted.


“No way!”

“I wonder why they’re here.”

“Isn’t it obvious?” Dre looked around the table. I knew she was a huge CAVEmen fan. Had she figured out Walter’s secret? “They’re married. Like, to each other. I bet Meghan and Patrick McGregor go here.”

Xandra shook her head. “No way. Wouldn’t we have seen them by now?”

From my seat, I could see the rear entrance to the dining hall. Walter’s brother had just entered with his parents. It took them quite a while to cross the room to the servery. People were surrounding them. It didn’t look like people were asking for autographs, but they certainly seemed surprised to see Pat.

I pointed my fork in their direction. “Um, I’m going to take a wild guess here, but I think Patrick McGregor is a student.”

I looked away quickly before making eye contact. I had met him once before. He probably didn’t remember me. But, if he saw me, he might see his brother.

While everyone was watching the celebrities, no one noticed Walter mouth a silent thank you in my direction before gathering his plates onto his tray. He excused himself, mumbling something about meeting up with his parents. I watched him take the long way, through the smaller section of the dining hall, to get to the dishroom. By the time he emerged, his family had entered the servery. Walter snuck out the back door before they noticed him.

Walter was a few minutes late to the library that evening. As soon as he came in, I understood why. His parents were right behind him.

I nervously got to my feet. How was I supposed to greet them? Should I shake their hands? Should I treat them like the famous celebrities they were?

Walter shut the door, sending me an apologetic smile as he crossed to the table. No, I needed to remember these were Walter’s parents. He gestured to me. “Mom, Dad. This is Melinda. Melinda, these are my parents.”

I was still in too much shock to speak. “Um . . .” I glared at him.

He laughed, easing the tension in the room. “I’m sorry. I forgot. What you said about the advanced warning.”

Walter’s mother extended her hand. “It’s nice to meet you. Kara Evans.”

This was Walter’s mother. I just had forget that she was Kara McGregor. “Um, you too.” My voice was so quiet, I wasn’t sure she could hear me. “I mean, it’s nice to meet you, too.”

“Walter’s told us a lot about you.” Adam Evans extended his hand. No. He was Walter’s father, I reminded myself as I shook it.

“Um . . .”

“Oh, just sit down already.” Walter gave a sigh of frustration before turning to his parents. “See, this is why I didn’t want you to come here. How is she supposed to help me with my math homework if she’s too starstruck to talk?”

“I don’t help you. You just copy my answers.”

Mr. Evans sat in one of the comfy chairs with a laugh. “Man, this place hasn’t changed much. I think we studied in this same room, Kara.”

Mrs. Evans sat across from him. “No. Our study room had a fireplace. But, these may be the same chairs.” She wiggled a little in her seat as she leaned back, folding her legs under her.

“Are you two going to stay here the entire study hours?” Walter’s less-than-amused tone was nearly a whine. “Because we aren’t going to be able to concentrate if you’re talking. I promise, we’ll do our homework. We don’t need chaperones.”

Mr. Evan sighed. “Walter, we’ve been through this. We’ve barely seen you the past two months. We’d like to spend some time near you, even if you won’t talk to us.”

I could tell from his voice that this was probably not the first time this topic had been discussed. But, something was still confusing me.

“Um, I don’t want to be rude, but I thought parents were kicked off campus at study hours.”

Mrs. Evans spoke in an affected tone. “Well, normal parents are, but we’re not normal parents.”

Walter glared at his mother, who giggled at her own joke before continuing in her normal voice. “Oh, I know. That came out completely wrong. I was trying to be funny, but it made me sound like a diva. And I promise I’m not. Lemme try again. We’re not normal parents. Our son missed the first, what’s it been? Six weeks?”

When her husband nodded, she continued. “He’s missed the first six weeks of classes. We’re meeting with most of his teachers tomorrow, but the Prices thought it would be easier to meet with them this evening. He’s got both of them this term. They asked us to wait until the break so they could get their kids to bed first. But, don’t mind us. Really. I’m just going to close my eyes and take a little nap in this truly wonderful chair while you do your math homework.”

I was shocked when she did just that. I glanced at Walter. He shrugged, digging through his bag for his books. I returned to my seat and opened my math book.

I got through three problems before curiosity got the better of me. I risked a glance at Walter’s parents. They were both playing on their phones.

A few minutes later, Walter gave an exasperated sigh. “I can’t concentrate. What’d’ya get for number one?”

Melinda’s Journal

Saturday, October 21

Parents’ Weekend has finally come.

It gives us a break from the humdrum.

What will my parents say,

When they come here today

And I answer my teachers with “um?”

I am scared that they will come to learn

My most deepest and darkest concern:

That the work is too tough

I am not smart enough

And so home again I must return.

I will work hard to argue my case,

In a manner that they can embrace:

I belong at Hartfield!

This fact I will not yield!

Please don’t force me back to my birthplace!

Pat’s Story

The movie finished filming in the middle of October. After Wednesday night’s wrap party, Dad and I headed back to Connecticut, getting to the house around lunchtime on Thursday. Mom came home from Meghan’s a couple of hours later.

Last month, my sister had ended up in a coma as a result of mismanaging her diabetes. When she was released from the hospital, Mom had moved into her New York City apartment until she could better care for herself.

Somehow, Meghan had convinced Mom she was responsible enough that Mom could leave her alone for a few nights. Begrudgingly, Mom decided to join me for Parents’ Weekend.

After I told Mom all about filming my first movie without her, I went to my room to call my brother.

“Guess what. I’m coming back tomorrow afternoon. And, Meghan’s convinced Mom to come to campus with me and Dad for Parents’ Weekend.”

Walter’s face went ghostly white. “What? You’re kidding, right?”

“What’s wrong? I thought you’d be happy to see us.”

Walter sighed. “I already told you. No one here knows who I am. They think I’m just Walter Evans. When you come, they’ll start treating me differently.”

“You introduced us to Melinda.”

Walter ignored me. “But, Mom and Dad never both come to campus at the same time!”

“They want to check in with my teachers. Do you know how embarrassing that’s gonna be?”

Walter relaxed slightly. “Actually, that might work. Can they shadow you around? Then, maybe people won’t associate them with me.”

I shrugged. “They’re gonna wanna see you Walter. They were so focused on Meghan last month. They haven’t spent much time with you since you started school.”

“We can go out for dinner or something. Someplace in town. Wait. When are you moving in? Like, what time?”

“I was going to wait until after classes. But, I know Mom and Dad are scheduling conferences, so I’m not exactly sure.”

“Does anyone know you’re coming?”

I thought about my conversation with my roommate the other day. “I told Frank that I would  be coming back sometime this weekend and to make sure there was room for me in the dorm before he left. But, I didn’t tell him I’m coming tomorrow. I wanted to surprise everyone. Sneak onto campus tomorrow night. I like your dinner idea. Then I can avoid the dining hall. Just start showing up for classes Saturday.”

“Oh, your teachers are going to love that. I can hear it now.” Walter put on his announcer voice. “We’re supposed to be discussing Newton’s third law of motion today, but unfortunately, I can’t teach because of all you screaming fans. Please make three separate lines and they will sign your autographs in an orderly fashion.” Despite his obvious annoyance, Walter was smiling.

“Hey, that one was pretty good.”

“Thanks. I’m gonna add it to my repertoire.”

“So, do you do your voices for your girlfriend?”

Walter shook his head. “Nah. I haven’t told anyone about the voice acting yet. Not even Melinda or Larry. I’m still just trying to pass as normal.”

“Yeah? How’s that going?”

Walter replied with a rude hand gesture. “Hey. Wait. Are we going home with Mom and Dad Saturday? I wanted to stay on campus.”

I shook my head. “Nah. They’re taking a long weekend somewhere. I didn’t pay attention to the details. We’re staying on campus. Unless you want to go to New York with Meghan.”

Walter smiled. “Weddas Weekend.”

“Sick. I’m in.”

“Hey. I gotta go. I wanna grab dinner before study hours.”

We disconnected and I went to find Dad to convince him it would be beneficial for him and Mom to follow Walter around on Saturday.

Friday afternoon was a whirlwind. Mom, Dad and I arrived on campus as most people were finishing their sports practices. I checked in with my advisor and got my room key.

I was sharing a triple with my two best friends: Frank and Zach. Zach was doing a term abroad in Spain, so Frank and I were supposed to be sharing with an exchange student this term. However, when I told Frank I was returning to campus, he explained that Daan had been expelled after violating several school rules. He left for Amsterdam the day before I returned.

As a result, Frank had a triple to himself. And he had taken up every inch of it. He had claimed the lower bunk, but a lot of his stuff had ended up on the top one as well. The single bed and its neighboring desk were the only two bare surfaces. I assumed they used to be Daan’s and Frank had not yet had a chance to overtake them.

I threw my stuff on the bed and put my computer on the desk. I would unpack during study hours. It only took a couple of trips to bring everything to my room. If I forgot something, I could grab it when we went home for break next month.

Mom and Dad wanted to eat in the dining hall. There was no convincing them otherwise. So, I texted Walter a warning and followed my parents across campus.

I had not cut my hair in several months because I wanted it long for the last two movies I filmed. I had noticed the added benefit that the long hair made me a little less recognizable. It at least made people do a double take, during which time I was usually able to avoid the crazy fans.

However, Mom’s bright red hair stuck out like a sore thumb. Standing beside her, no one had any trouble recognizing me and Dad. A lot of people stopped us as we walked along the path. Some were classmates wanting to welcome me back. Some were fans who wanted autographs. Thankfully, it was getting dark, so many people just walked right by us.

Until we entered the back door of the dining hall. People had no trouble seeing us inside. While thankfully there were not a lot of screaming fans, there were  a lot of people stopping us to say hi. There was a lot more head turning and pointing. I saw Walter sitting with a group of people, his friend Melinda pointing at me with a fork. I tried to catch her eye, but she looked away.

It took a long time to get our food and find a place to eat. When we did finally sit down, Walter had left his table. The coward. We found him waiting for us on the bench outside the back door. After big hugs all around, Dad drove us to town for ice cream. We could have walked, but it was cold. I was still adjusting to the autumn air after spending so much time in Hawaii.

Walter appeared to be in a good mood for once. He pointed at me with his spoon between bites of ice cream. “So, is it weird being back?”

“Sorta. I’m still jet lagged. And I’m freezing. I still feel like I’m visiting. Tomorrow’ll be better. Going to classes and everything.”

“We need to speak with the Prices,” Mom said. “They asked us to come by after they put their kids to bed tonight.” She turned to Walter. “So, we would like to spend first study hours with you.”

Walter replied before he had a chance to shovel more ice cream into his mouth. “You can’t. You have to leave campus before then.”

Dad’s voice was a little more stern than I was used to. “You mother just explained it to you. We have permission to stay until the break, when we can meet with the Prices. So, we’re joining you. It’s not a request.”

“I usually study in the library with one of my friends.”

“Oh, I would love to meet your friend,” Mom replied.

Walter brooded until it was time to return to campus. I said goodnight to my family and went off to my dorm. Frank was there and we had a chance to chat before study hours began.

I was still behind in some of my classes, so I spent study hours trying to catch up on the novel I was reading for English class. Unfortunately, it put me to sleep. Frank didn’t think to wake me after break, so I slept until morning.

I overslept and missed running with Walter before breakfast. I only managed to sneak it in because I had no first period class. I met up with my parents in the science center before my biology class.

Third form parent’s weekend was usually overcrowded with parents. By fifth form year, it was less busy. Only half my class had parents visiting, but some of my classmates had not realized I was even in the class. It was not quite the bedlam Walter had predicted, but people definitely were having trouble paying attention to the teacher during class.

After bio, my parents stopped to speak with my teacher for a few minutes, then we went downstairs to my physics class. We were the first ones in the room and while we were waiting for the rest of the class, my mother mentioned they had met Walter’s friend last night.

“What’d you think of her?” I asked.

“It was unnerving. She treated us like normal people. Walter’s really lucky to have a friend like that.”

“Yo! Pat!” Jelani greeted me as he walked into the room. We bumped fists as Mr. Peters entered.

“Pat. Glad to have you back. Mr. and Mrs. Evans, good to see you again.”

I was the only junior taking AP physics and figured my parents would be the only ones visiting the class. In fact, Jelani was the only orphan, and he explained that was because his parents were with his fourth-form sister at the moment.

Bethany smiled as she sat beside me. “Hey. You’re back. Good. You can start taking your own notes.”

“Mom, Dad? This is Bethany. She’s the one who was sending me the lab data so I could keep up in class.”

Bethany waved in their direction. “Yeah, I met you guys last year. I was in Meghan’s math class.”

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but I didn’t expect to see so many sixth form parents.”

“My parents wanted to check in with my college counselor. Their coming to our form meeting, actually.”

“Your parents?”

Bethany rolled her eyes. “No, the college counselors,” she whispered as Peters started the class.