Grandma Jeri passed away soon after I found out that my mother (Glenna Fields) had not abandoned me, but had instead been kidnapped. Once again, I found myself alone and without a home. This time, though, I wasn’t the only one having to move.
Grandma and Grandpa had adopted a lot of kids, most of whom were still pretty young, so my Aunt Micki took us all in. It must have been hard for her to go from being a family of three to a family of nine. Jenna, Homa, Paulo, Moses, and Fiona and me all moved in with them. Jenna was old enough to move out on her own, but she is not capable of caring for herself. She was the last of Grandma and Grandpa’s true children and was born with several mental handicaps. Mostly she acts just like a child and she forgets things, which is why she can’t live on her own.
I want to say that the transition from our home with Grandma to Aunt Micki’s was easy, but it wasn’t. It was mostly my fault. I was going through a lot of stuff at the time and I took it out on everyone else. Micki’s daughter Nickia was always bugging me to play with her. I was always yelling at her to leave me alone. And then there was Paulo. He spent all of his afternoons at the gym and never seemed to be around when chores needed to be done. And then there was Moses—I really didn’t have a reason for why I put that booby trap in Moses’ shower. I guess I thought it would be funny, and it was, but I really shouldn’t have done it. I felt pretty bad after.
Besides Jenna, who got along with everyone, my only real friend was Homa, but when she graduated, I felt more alone than ever, especially when she told me that she had decided to enroll in culinary college. She wanted to be a celebrated chef.
Although I wouldn’t graduate for another two years, I was envious that Homa was getting to do something exciting like go to culinary school. I wanted to get out, too. So that’s why I started to look into boarding schools. Keenan was in a fancy prep school for geniuses which I could never get into, but there were other options.
The school I eventually settled on was St. Katherine’s School for Young Ladies, a small girls’ school in Elmira City. What drew me to it was the beautiful grounds and the fact that it was so far away from Twinbrook. I needed a complete change of scene, I thought. Micki and her husband didn’t try to talk me out of my decisions, so I knew that my leaving was easing the burden on their household.
I was met at the airport in Elmira City by Ms. Vansant, the Head Mistress of St. Katherine’s, and two of the other students.
“Welcome to Elmira,” Ms. Vansant greeted me warmly, and I knew I would like her right away. The two girls waited to be introduced, but then the dark-haired one, Kimber, started asking me questions and making comments about the city and the other girls at the school. The other girl, Veronica, asked me to call her ‘Roni’, but then said very little. I don’t know if she was just shy or if she just couldn’t get a word in around Kimber’s steady chatter.
I was even more impressed with the school when I finally arrived. It was much larger than it looked in the brochures.
“Girls, you show Lila to her room and I’ll go see about some lunch,” Ms. Vansant patted me on the back as I was gawking at the grand foyer. “Just get settled in Lila, and I’ll find you a sandwich or something. Are you a vegetarian?”
I managed a quick, “No, ma’am,” as Kimber grabbed my hand and said, “All the rooms are upstairs. Come on!”
But we didn’t make it upstairs before one of the other students came in from some side room. “Oh, it’s the new girl,” she said when she saw me. She looked me over and didn’t seem impressed. “I’m Marcella.”
I told her it was nice to meet her. I didn’t like her, but I’d been raised to try to reserve judgment until I got to know a person. I got the impression that Roni didn’t like Marcella either, but Kimber seemed not to notice the other girl’s rudeness. She started in explaining everything about me that I had told her on the way over.
Kimber ended with, “…and her grandmother was Jeri Fields! Can you believe it?” Marcella just looked bored. Truthfully, I was glad that she and Roni didn’t seem to be impressed with my connection to Grandma Jeri. It wasn’t like I was famous or that she’d ever lived the life of someone glamorous.
I met the rest of the in-residence students after lunch. It was an odd experience for me. Although I’d moved around often, I’d never actually left Twinbrook. It was strange to have so many people asking me questions and trying to get to know me. There were six other students besides myself.
Besides Roni and Kimber, there was Geneva Milton who was a pretty, stylish girl. She was the only one who defied the school’s dress code and wore earrings. She also wore her school jacket because she said that the white shirts were too dull. Sherene Collins, was the only girl in shorts, and her hair was dyed flame red with bright yellow tips. Marcella’s last name was Shellhorne, which I thought was odd since she looked Latina, but she said she was adopted. Maybe that was why she was so hostile. And the last girl was Kendra Murphy. I didn’t get a good sense of what she was like because she seemed as shy as Roni and didn’t say much.
For the most part, I liked the other girls at St. Katherine’s, but I couldn’t get past Marcella’s nasty attitude. Glenna, my mom, always told me not to let people bully me, so I decided to confront Marcella that first day before she could get any worse.
All the other girls were heading up to bed, but before I went up to Marcella and said, “Hey, I’m sorry we seem to have gotten off on the wrong foot. I hope I didn’t say anything to make you not like me.” I wanted to get right in her face, but I wanted to at least try being nice.
“You’re such a little goody-two-shoes, aren’t you? I don’t like little blond bitches who think they are too good for everyone else.”
I sputtered a little at the unfairness of her accusation. I didn’t know how to respond to her baseless accusation.
“I know who you are, Lila Fields,” she continued. “Sure you’re Jeri Field’s grand daughter, but your mother was a murderer. I read the newspaper story all about it.”
“She killed a vampire! One who took her captive.” I was outraged. It wasn’t fair to call what my mom did murder. It was self-defense.
“Murder’s murder,” Marcella sneered, as she pushed past me to go to her room. I had to take two deep breaths and count to ten before I followed.
I shared my room with Roni, who told me to just ignore Marcella when I came upstairs fuming. “Marci’s always that mean. She has low self-esteem. That’s why she lashes out at everyone. Sherene is the only one who likes her, but that’s because they’re roommates.”
Eventually I calmed down and was able to go to sleep. The next day, Roni and I headed to class. I resolved to follow her advice and ignore Marci. Once Ms. Vansant started teaching, it was pretty easy to do that. I really enjoyed my first day at St. Katherine’s. Maybe at this school I’d be able to get my grades above the C’s I had in Twinbrook. My grades had really slipped when Sunny was murdered and Glenna disappeared. If Grandma Jeri hadn’t made me, I would have gone to school at all. I just hadn’t cared.
St. Katherine’s wasn’t all academics. We also got free time to play games and we were able to use the massive pool whenever we wanted, not just for gym class. And sometimes, in the evenings, Ms. Vansant would take us up to the ballroom where she taught us how to dance. For an older lady, she really knew how to dance!
I settled right into the St. Katherine’s routine, but that didn’t mean that I lost contact with everyone back home in Twinbrook. I made sure to call or IM Homa and Jenna to let them know how I was doing. I also called Keenan a lot. Now that we were both away at boarding school, we really didn’t even get to see each other on holidays. The other girls at St. Katherine’s thought that Keenan was my boyfriend. It was difficult to explain to them that he was more like my brother. I had as much trouble explaining how Moses and Paulo were my uncles and not my brothers.
“You need to invite them all to the annual St. Katherine’s Cotillion,” Kimber gushed at me when I got off the phone with my family one night. “You know more boys than all of us. We never have enough show up. You have to invite them!”
Turns out the Cotillion was a dance that Ms. Vansant sponsored every year. It was a bit like a cross between a prom and a debutant party. It was sort of old fashioned, but it was a tradition at the school.
Kimber never let up about me inviting my uncles and Keenan. When we were playing Gnubb on the lawn, she kept interrupting me mid toss. When we went to the Bistro for a field trip, she even coerced Kendra into pestering me. Kendra who is so shy that she probably wouldn’t know how to talk to a boy made me promise that I would at least consider it.
I finally gave in. “Alright, alright. You guys win. I’ll ask Ms. Vansant if it’s ok, and I’ll send them all invitations to the Cotillion.”
Ms. Vansant let me know that I could invite whomever I wanted to the dance as long as they were members of my family. I had to explain once again about Keenan being like a brother. Ms. V remembered the terrible situation with my mother and his sister and I think she agreed to invite him out of pity. I didn’t care. I was just glad to be able to see him again.
The day I invited him, I was surprised that my assessment of Kendra’s ability to talk to boys was dead wrong. She had a visitor. His name was Ares, and he was a friend of her family’s. It turned out that she had asked him to the dance as well.
I really didn’t know what to expect from the Cotillion. Kimber had led me to believe that there weren’t going to be many boys there, but that wasn’t true. Ms. V had invited several young men from the community. I guess it was a pretty big deal to get an invitation.
It was sort of funny, though. Kimber had begged and begged me to invite my uncles, but in the end she spent most of her time dancing with a local boy named Alex Underwood. Kendra and Paulo talked about the environment all night. She sort of ignored her guest, Ares. Unfortunate for him, he was accosted by Marci, who kept him from the dancing most of the night.
Uncle Moses got shy Roni to dance with him, and from the looks she gave him afterwards, I wondered if there was some attraction there. Most of the girls mingled with all the boys, dancing or talking to them. I was surprised to see that Geneva spent most of her time with a blond boy in a horrid blue tux. I wondered if she was giving him fashion advice.
I made sure that I danced with both of my uncles at least once. They wanted to know if I was happy at St. Katherine’s, so I assured them that I was. Keenan wanted to make sure I was ok as well.
“I don’t know why everyone is so worried about me,” I said. “It’s been a year. My grades are doing better and I really like it here. The girls are nice. I like Elmira City.”
“Just wanted to make sure Lil. You weren’t doing so hot after your grandma died. You had a tough couple of months.”
“It was hard, Kee, but I’m a survivor. You know that.”
“I know.” Surviving was what Keenan and I had in common. We’d both had pretty terrible losses in our lives, but we were managing to keep going despite them. I looked him over.
“You’re looking pretty good for a total nerd,” I laughed. “I guess they must have you doing something other than Calculus and Physics at that fancy prep school you’re going to.”
“We have Physical Education, too.” He looked pained.
“Good. If they didn’t make you take PE, you’d stay buried in your books.”
“Nothing’s wrong with studying Lil.”
“No, but you have to have fun, too. Come on. This is a dance, right. Let’s see if you have any good moves.”
“I hate dancing.”
“Get over it.” I started moving to the music and he reluctantly joined me. He didn’t do too badly…for a geeky nerd boy.