In the days that followed I stepped through every minute in an elsewhere state of mind. “Watch it!” the sophomore and junior girls huffed when I bumped them heedlessly in the hall. Senior girls didn’t huff, they just pushed back.
“Ms. Groschenko,” a faraway voice said, “could you please rejoin us here on the planet?”
I looked up from the notebook in which I had doodled, quite unconsciously, a person with oddly oversized feet. Everyone in English Lit was staring at me. I shrugged my shoulders at the teacher, not sure what she expected.
“When I am lecturing I expect the full attention of my students. Is that clear, Anastasia?” Mrs. Crandall peered at me through her narrow black-framed eyeglasses. Her eyebrows stood out prominently over the top of them, giving the effect of a pair of phony Groucho big nose glasses with bushy eyebrows attached.
I thought she was done with me, so I resumed doodling.
“I SAID ‘IS THAT CLEAR?’” She folded her skinny arms across her chest, with the blood-red talons of her fingers clutching at her sleeves.
“Crystal, Mrs. Crandall.” I spoke up loud. No way Sheila Crandall was going to intimidate me. No way she was getting my full attention, either.
At the end of class I ripped the sheet of paper out of my binder and wadded it up and tossed it in the trash can on my way out.
Halfway through Mr. Atkinson’s math class a girl with clothes as raggedy as mine came in with a note. Another scholarship girl, I realized, working in the office.
“Anastasia,” said Mr. Atkinson, “you’re wanted by the principal.”
“What?” I sat up straight. “Why?”
“The note doesn’t specify. Do give my regards to Principal Chumwith, won’t you?”
“Sure.” I gathered my books together and followed the messenger out of the room.
“What’s Chummy want with me?” I asked her in the hall.
She looked at my face a moment, then surveyed my patched jeans and threadbare sweater. “You on scholarship?”
“Yeah, what about it?” Maybe Chummy figured I wasn’t earning my keep. “She want me to deliver her summonses too?”
The girl did a 360, checking for ears in the hallway. “I don’t know what she wants, but agree to anything she says. Trust me on this. She’s kind of scary.”
“What’s your name?” I asked the girl.
“Marjorie,” she said, “Marjorie Morgenstern.”
“Isn’t that the name of…” I began.
“Yeah,” she rolled her eyes. “I was named after a lame author’s-fantasy character from a 1950’s novel. Could’ve been worse, I guess. They could’ve named me Marsha Zelenko.”
“Do you have…”
“Parents? Hell no. They saddled me with this ridiculous name and left me to run errands for Chummy to pay my way while they went gallivanting off into the sunrise.” Marjorie reached for the knob of the office door.
“Don’t you mean sunset?”
“Huh?” she stopped without turning the knob.
“Riding off into the sunset… right?”
“No,” she laughed. “Sunrise. They went east.”
Marjorie turned the knob and gave me a shove into a dark paneled room. A woman with mouse-colored hair sat at a metal desk with papers piled precariously close to the edge. The nameplate in front read SANDY COPES.
“Hello dear. What can I do for you?” Ms. Copes asked as I stumbled through the door.
“Um, I’m here to see Ms. Chumwith.”
“Do you have an appointment?” she gestured at the candy bowl on the corner of the desk. “Help yourself.”
I took a chocolate kiss. “I got a note to come see her.”
“Well, I’m afraid she’s busy now. Very busy. School Board visiting. Mayor too. Much ado, you know.” She winked at me. “Come back next Thursday.”
“But…” I protested.
“At 12:30, dear. Thursday. Have a wonderful day!” Ms. Copes shooed me away.
As I turned to leave, the door to the inner office opened.
“Is that the Groschenko girl?” a voice boomed across the room.
I turned around slowly, my heart suddenly thudding in my chest. Stella Chumwith filled the doorframe, her shoulders straining at the fabric of her tailored jacket. The lipstick she wore—redder than red—stood out garishly against her pale face. She stood with her hands planted on her meaty hips. “Come in here, Anastasia,” she said. “Now.”