Haley Waters Preparatory School; all 500 acres of it had been my home ever since I was seven years old. I was a late bloomer, never quite mastering my reading skill in kindergarten. I could write my name but that was the extent of the things I could write. My parents were never a part of my life all that much. The job of raising me was left to the nanny, an elderly woman who was too old to be running around looking for an antisocial little girl who had decided to hide herself instead of trying to read the book she was supposed to. As a result of months of evading her during reading time, she quit, leaving me with nobody to care for me. Thus, I was shipped off to boarding school.
It’s really not as bad as it sounds. Of course, at first I was terrified. I had never even spent a night away from home before and there I was, sharing a room with another little girl in a place which was an hour away from home, to the least. It was a definite change in environment. In my house, there was nothing but silence, unless of course the nanny was looking for me. At Haley Waters Preparatory, it was anything but that. Wherever I went, it was as loud as day; the dormitory corridors, the cafeteria, the classrooms, the bathrooms, even the field.
I spent many a night crying in my bed, wondering what I could have possibly done that was so bad except hide from the nanny, to be shipped off to school at a place that wasn’t my home. It had to be how I couldn’t read and write properly. I knew that my parents could not begin to understand what was wrong with me when my deceased twin brother had been perfectly normal in all senses of the word.
“Helena, take that book from the table. I bought it for you. I want you to read it out loud to me, Helena.” My mom had said. She had just returned from a business trip to New York and had come home bearing nothing but books that she fully intended to make me read if it was the last thing she did. I had stood there, shivering in my shoes, knowing very well that she knew that I couldn’t read. In the end, she had let out a long sigh and left the room with me in it.
“Mommy and I are sending you away to school, Helena. It’s a good school and we have faith that they will teach you everything you need to learn. By the end of the year, they’ll have you reading and writing like every other seven year old girl and boy.” My dad had said in the car on the way to the school. I was seated in between both my parents. My mother’s gaze was fixed on the trees we were passing outside the window. My dad, who had been flipping through a pile of papers had taken a little pause to clarify that no, I wasn’t being punished. I was only being taught.
I do not remember much of my first day at Haley Waters except that the school building was huge. It took such a long time to get there, it seemed, but when the car pulled to a stop, I very reluctantly followed my parents out of the car. My bags were taken out and placed at the foot of the front steps leading into what I now know as the office building. We were ushered in by a middle aged man who happened to be waiting for us to arrive. We were taken into a room and asked to sit down where tea had been served for my parents and a juice box for me.
Mr Matthews, the principle, had a lengthy conversation with my parents about the merits of the school and everything they could offer me. Of course, my parents already knew that. Both my parents had been previous students and it was only natural that William and I followed in their footsteps. Everything would have worked out perfectly, if only William hadn’t died of cancer the year before. Now, instead of starting out at school with my twin brother, I was left to do it all on my own with only my memory of him.
“We’ll be here to pick you up over Christmas break, Helena. If you need anything, just give daddy or me a call and we’ll see what we can do for you.” My mother said, giving me a kiss on my forehead as I hugged her waist, trying to cling to her coat. I didn’t want to be left behind by them. William had already gone and now they were leaving me too.
While I had been in the office with Mr Matthews and my parents, my luggage had been taken up to my room. In its place stood a tall woman who was dressed in a grey pants suit. She smiled at me and introduced herself as Miss Lewis, my dormitory guardian. My room was room 202, right next to hers, room 201. I would, apparently be sharing my room with a girl named Mikayla Summers. I said nothing.
Miss Lewis helped me unpack my bags. She told me about the school and its world class academic standards, fantastic teachers, friendly students, good food –especially the macaroni- and everything else she could possibly think of. I listened to her go on and on about everything, not being the slightest bit intrigued or delighted. I just wanted to go home to my room and my bed and William.
Mikayla Summers arrived that evening, just after four. She was red-rimmed around the eyes and looked as if she was about to burst into tears again when Miss Lewis walked her into the room. I sat up on my bed and watched as she perched on the edge of hers. I just sat there looking at her as Miss Lewis helped her unpack as she did with me, repeating the same old stories as if she had memorized a script. Mikayla wasn’t paying attention to her. Instead, she just sat there on her bed staring at the floor as if hoping it would open up and dispose her back home where she wanted to be.
Once we were alone in the room, I braved myself and walked up to her. “Hello Mikayla, my name is Helena. Don’t worry, I want to go home too but maybe we can be friends and then we won’t miss our homes so much.” I said, sticking my hand out to her like I had seen my dad so frequently do after introducing himself to someone he had never met before. Mikayla looked at me with her big brown eyes for a moment, and then she hesitantly took my hand and shook it.
“Miss Lewis said that the mac and cheese is very nice. Was she lying?” Mikayla said softly. I sat down on the bed next to her and smiled. I didn’t know if the mac and cheese was nice. I myself had only been there for about two hours but told Mikayla that I heard it was delicious too and that we must have it when we go down for dinner later.
The macaroni and cheese seemed to have broken the ice. Mikayla wiped her hands across her eyes, drying them completely and then pushed herself onto the centre of the bed where her backpack lay. She looked at me for a moment and her eyes were inviting me to join her, and so I did.
“My mommy bought me a Ken doll for my Barbie before we came here. Do you want to see it?” Mikayla asked, perking up and she produced two dolls from inside her bag. I shrugged. Dolls weren’t much of my thing but I didn’t have the heart to tell her so and neither did I have anything else to offer. And so, Mikayla and I spent the next hour and a half playing with her dolls on her bed, laughing and giggling away. That, I believe, was the start to our beautiful friendship.