Authors: Teresa Toten
I tried blushing. It usually worked.
“Thank you, ma’am.”
Draper nodded before striding into her office, which contained the all-important registrar’s computer. That’s where I was headed tomorrow. I had to get here by 6:30 a.m. Everything I needed to know would be in that computer. Somebody at Waverly could use a roommate to fill her existential void. Hopefully, that somebody was Olivia Sumner. I could see it straight ahead. The good life. A clear path to the prize.
Nothing gets in my way.
The near-comatose computer was taking forever to sputter to life. I knew that Miss Shwepper and Mrs. Colson were attached to their museum pieces, patiently waiting for the whole digital fad to blow over, but what was Draper doing with this behemoth? The entire front office looked like it was being prepped for a 1993 Microsoft commercial.
Okay, okay, come to Mama. Come on. All right! Waverly student records…Finally!
The script rolled in on lazy paragraphs, but there they were. The student records were organized alphabetically according to graduating year. What would mine contain? No time.
I hadn’t even turned the lights on for fear that Mr. Jefferson might come to check. Every creak in the old oak floors caused my stomach to pitch. I typed in “Olivia Michelle Sumner” and held my breath while the screen took its customary three to five years to load. Who works like this? With this? Loading, loading…
It was a standard bare-bones registration, but it also had a one-page report appended.
STUDENT RECORDS PROFILE
SOCIAL WORK REPORT
Olivia Michelle Sumner
2 September 1997
The Waverly School
Mr. Geoffrey Sumner
Mrs. Elizabeth Sumner
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PRESENT AT MEETING:
Dr. Virginia Kruger,
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Dr. Russell Tamblyn,
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Mr. Geoffrey Sumner
Student spent ten weeks as an inpatient and six as an outpatient at Houston Medical.
ASSESSMENT OF CURRENT FUNCTIONING:
The presenting psychological issues are fully resolved as per the readmittance policy and according to Houston’s assessment documents, provided by Dr. Tamblyn.
SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS:
Dr. Tamblyn and Mr. Sumner requested that the student’s Readmittance and Assessment Summary remain sealed. All applications for the release of confidential information would as of this date be denied. Dr. Armstrong concurred and assured Mr. Sumner that Ms. Goodlace, Head of School, also concurred.
Dr. E. Armstrong 4 September
Sealed? What was sealed? That had to be good. Hmm, mother deceased…I got lost in that one until I realized it was 6:46 and I had to start the laborious process of logging out. Okay, so there was good stuff there, although I didn’t know what exactly. Olivia was hospitalized? Why? I mean, that in itself wasn’t remarkable. Anorexia and substance abuse were the go-to issues at private schools, but anxiety disorders and depression were fast closing in on the top spots. Was it one of those? Something else?
I was safely lugging out boxes of file folders to presort when I heard Ms. Goodlace’s unmistakable footsteps. I didn’t have to turn around. The head of school had a solid, serious footfall like the seriously solid person she was. All she wore day in and day out were two-inch Stuart Weitzman pumps that had to be older than I was. But the thing was, they were different each day. I notice things like that. Goodlace must have stockpiled like a hundred pairs when they were in vogue fifty years ago and had them in heavy rotation ever since. It was early for her. Draper wasn’t even here yet.
“Good morning, Kate. My, you’re in early.”
“I could say the same about you, ma’am.”
“Touché.” She almost smiled, but she looked too preoccupied to see it through. “Our much-heralded director of advancement is finally arriving, and I want to get a jump on my notes for our meeting at nine. Our board, and certainly this office, is”—she cleared her throat—“greatly anticipating his arrival.”
“Well, fund-raising is the lifeblood of a school like this. I learned that at all my other schools.”
“Did you? Yes, yes, it is.” She paused. “And I am sure Mr. Redkin will be a tremendous asset. So you know why
here. Why are
here so early?”
“There’s a lot to do, even in the presort. The file cabinets are a bit of a mess. Actually, the files are kind of unbelievable.” I glared at the boxes for effect.
“Kate, you’re the Waverly Scholar, not the Waverly slave.” She joined me in box glaring. “I can’t have people concerned about your welfare, after all.”
“I think we both know that no one would be all that concerned, ma’am.”
“Not true, Kate. Not true,” she said as she walked away. “I would be concerned.”
Goodlace was as decent as these types come, so who knows, maybe she did give a fart. But it wasn’t enough. I knew from before. I needed way more to get through the year, to get to where I was going. I needed an Olivia to care.
“Yes, ma’am. Thank you, ma’am,” I said to her back.
It looked as if the contents of Olivia’s closet had barfed on her bed. Five maroon school jackets—ranging from extremely fitted to boyfriend-style and from sparkly new to charmingly distressed—wrestled with eleven crisply laundered white shirts that hailed from Barneys rather than the school tuck shop. Struggling under that pile were four short to very short gray flannel kilts with mandatory silver kilt pins from Tiffany’s, as well as a rat’s nest of maroon-and-gray-striped school ties. There was a small mountain of tights in various hues and textures, all unopened and likely to remain that way. A senior wouldn’t be caught dead in tights in the middle of a blizzard, let alone on a fall day. Seniors wore kneesocks with the elastic appropriately stretched out, making it imperative to keep yanking them up. There were uniforms within uniforms—always had been and always would be.
Olivia scrunched up one of the pristine shirts and sat on it for good measure as she slipped on her baggy kneesocks. Those steps complete, she tucked the freshly wrinkled shirt into her second-shortest skirt and reached for her most fitted jacket. It was her third pass at the complete outfit and it was the correct one, the right blend of caring and not giving a damn.
This is how the routine had always played out. After a full thirty-five minutes under a searing shower, she would sort through and discard the contents of her closet with an ever-increasing burden of urgency. With a choice finally made, Olivia would race back into her bathroom suite to begin the thirty-seven-minute routine of hair and makeup, emerging dewy and seemingly fresh-faced. With moments to spare, she’d gulp down her morning meds with the green smoothie that Anka had whipped up. Breakfast over, the housekeeper would shuffle to Olivia’s room to begin the process of re-engorging the closet, while Olivia shoved her feet into one-size-too-small, just-so-scuffed Doc Martens and grabbed her black Prada backpack. She was “perfect.” Not that it mattered. It’s just the way things were done.
Before she left, Olivia always called out: “Okay, I’m off. Later, Anka! You have a great day!” And Anka, buried deep in the walk-in closet, always called back: “Good luck, Miss Olivia. God blessing you all za day.” Neither heard the other’s actual words, but both were certain that they had been wished a day of miracles.
Waverly was a handsome old stone mansion just up the street on Fifth. Olivia always used that walking time to prepare herself. This year, she even prayed a couple of times. That was new. Prayer was not any part of the cognitive behavioral therapy that had been doled out at the Houston hospital last year, but it was big with her roommate, Jackie, who was in for near-crippling OCD and cutting. Jackie maintained that it helped the “traps” in her head, and besides, what could it hurt? Concluding that the logic was sound, Olivia took up occasional praying with indifferent enthusiasm.
She glided through the heavily carved Waverly doors, past her locker and straight to Ms. Hornbeck’s AP English. Olivia nodded, smiled and “heyed” at all the correct girls. She even feigned interest when Madison Benner panted hysterically about the dreamy new director of advancement. “Wait ’til you see him! OH, MY GOD! And I mean it. No one that hot has walked through these halls in a hundred years!”
“So I keep hearing. Can’t wait to get a peek!” Olivia delivered this with dripping envy, which she was sure was the emotion called for. A small victory, but worth noting.
She steeled herself for AP English and Sylvia Plath. Olivia didn’t “get” Plath, but she knew she should and that just made the abstruseness of her poetry all the more galling. They were going to dissect “Lady Lazarus.” She could speak to it analytically, but that was never enough for Hornbeck, who wanted her students to engage with the material on some gut-wrenching emotional level.
Olivia would have to hire help, and soon.
“Fasten your seat belt for another mental car wreck.”
It was the scholarship kid, new from out west or somewhere. Olivia had already noticed how the other seniors had been weighing, judging and, in the end, vying for her. The girl started rummaging in her bag—last year’s Chloé, but still a Chloé. She was supposed to be some kind of genius, noticeable even in a school choking on them.
“You think? If it is, it’s beyond my mental capacity,” said Olivia. “Me and Plath are an epic nonstarter.”
The scholarship kid had excellent hair. A Bergdorf Blonde, like most of the school, but it was styled all loose and beachy-like—a bit messy, a bit stiff. Superb. Olivia got annoyed all over again about Plath.
The scholarship kid rolled her eyes in sympathy. She was pretty even in the eye rolling.
“Plath is a way easy ride for me. Maybe you have to be crazy to really get her.”
She knew how to wear her blazer too. Secondhand maybe, but boyfriend-style. The girls were still milling about the seats near the back of the small lecture room.
“My name is Olivia.”
“I know.” The scholarship girl smiled. “I remember from our first class. You’re kind of noticeable.” She turned toward Olivia. “I’m Kate.”
“So, Kate…poetry—Plath, you really get her?”
“Sure.” Kate shrugged. “I did my entrance essay on Plath, and apparently it was enough to get me into this place. It’s physics that’s going to get me tossed out.”
And right then, Olivia, who had not made an impulsive decision since her return to Waverly, decided it was time to do just that. There was no weighing and measuring of outcomes, no deliberating about implications and consequences. “Physics?” she said. “Physics is a breeze. I have a feeling we can work something out.”
Olivia sat and patted the seat next to her.