Greenwich Country Day School
Twenty years ago
"Just take it, Jane."
Jane Whitcomb grabbed the backpack. "You're still coming, right?"
"I told you this morning. Yes."
"Okay." Jane watched her friend head down the sidewalk until a horn beeped. Straightening her jacket, she squared her shoulders and turned toward a Mercedes-Benz. Her mother was staring out of the driver's-side window, her eyebrows clenched.
Jane hustled across the street, the rogue backpack with the contraband making too much noise, as far as she was concerned. She hopped in the backseat and stashed the thing at her feet. The car started rolling before she got the door shut.
"Your father is coming home this evening."
"What?" Jane pushed her glasses up on her nose. "When?"
"Tonight. So I'm afraid the - "
"No! You promised!"
Her mother looked over her shoulder. "I beg your pardon, young lady."
Jane teared up. "You promised me for my thirteenth birthday. Katie and Lucy are supposed to - "
"I've already called their mothers."
Jane fell back against the seat.
Her mother's eyes lifted to the rearview mirror. "Take that expression off your face, thank you. Do you think you're more important than your father? Do you?"
"Of course not. He's god."
The Mercedes swerved to the shoulder with a lurch and the brakes squealed. Her mother twisted around, lifted her hand, and held the pose, her arm trembling.
Jane shrank back in horror.
After a moment of suspended violence, her mother turned away, smoothing her perfectly smooth hair with a palm that was steady as boiling water. "You... you will not be joining us for dinner this evening. And your cake will be disposed of."
The car started moving again.
Jane wiped her cheeks and looked down at the backpack. She had never had a sleepover before. Had begged for months.
Ruined. It was all ruined now.
They were silent the whole ride home, and when the Mercedes was in the garage Jane's mother got out of the car and walked into the house without looking back.
"You know where to go," was all she said.
Jane stayed in the car, trying to collect herself. Then she picked up the backpack and her books and dragged herself in through the kitchen. Richard, the cook, was bent over the trash bin pushing a cake with white icing and red and yellow flowers off a plate.
She didn't say anything to Richard because her throat was tight as a fist. Richard didn't say anything to her because he didn't like her. He didn't like anyone but Hannah.
As Jane went out the butler's door into the dining room, she didn't want to run into her younger sister and prayed Hannah was in bed. She'd been sick this morning. Probably because she'd had a book report due.
On the way to the staircase, Jane saw her mother in the living room.
The couch cushions. Again.
Her mother was still in her pale blue wool coat with her silk scarf in her hand, and no doubt she was going to stay dressed like that until she was satisfied with the way the cushions looked. Which might be a while. The standard against which the things were measured was the same as the hair standard: total smoothness.
Jane headed up to her room. Her only hope at this point was that her father would arrive after dinner. That way, although he would still find out she was grounded, at least he wouldn't have to look at her empty seat. Like her mother, he hated anything out of order, and Jane not at the table was big-time out of order.
The length of the lecture she'd get from him would be longer that way, because it would have to include both how she'd let the family down with her absence at the meal as well as the fact that she'd been rude to her mother.
Upstairs, Jane's buttercup yellow bedroom was like everything else in the house: smooth as hair and couch cushions and the way people talked. Nothing out of place. Everything in the kind of frozen perfection you saw in house magazines.
The only thing that didn't fit was Hannah.
The rogue backpack went into the closet, on top of the rows of penny loafers and Mary Janes; then Jane changed out of her school uniform into a Lanz flannel nightgown. There was no reason to put real clothes on. She was going nowhere.
She took her stack of books to her white desk. She had English homework to do. Algebra. French.
She glanced over at her bedside table. Arabian Nights waited for her.
She couldn't think of a better way to spend her punishment, but homework came first. Had to. Otherwise she would feel too guilty.
Two hours later she was on her bed with Nights in her lap when the door opened and Hannah's head poked in. Her curly red hair was another deviation. The rest of them were blonds. "I brought food."
Jane sat up, worried for her younger sister. "You'll get in trouble."
"No, I won't." Hannah slipped in, a little basket with a gingham napkin, a sandwich, an apple, and a cookie in her hand. "Richard gave this to me so I'd have a snack tonight."
"What about you?"
"I'm not hungry. Here."
"Thanks, Han." Jane took the basket as Hannah sat on the foot of the bed.
"So what didja do?"
Jane shook her head and bit into the roast beef sandwich. "I got upset with Mom."
" 'Cuz you couldn't have your party?"
"Well... I gots something to cheer you up." Hannah slid a folded piece of construction paper onto the duvet. "Happy birthday!"
Jane looked at the card and blinked fast a couple of times. "Thanks... Han."
"Don't be sad, I'm here. Look at your card! I made it for you."
On the front, drawn in her sister's messy hand, were two stick figures. One had straight blond hair and the word Jane written under it. The other had curly red hair and the name Hannah at its feet. They were holding hands and had big smiles on their circle faces.
Just as Jane went to open the card, a pair of headlights swept the front of the house and started coming up the driveway.
"Papa's home," Jane hissed. "You better get out of here."
Hannah didn't seem as concerned as she'd usually be, probably because she didn't feel good. Or maybe she was distracted by... well, whatever Hannah got distracted by. She was mostly in her daydreams, which was probably why she was happy all the time.
"Go, Han, seriously."
"Okay. But I'm really sorry that your party got quitted." Hannah shuffled over to the door.
"Hey, Han? I like my card."
"You didn't look inside."
"Don't have to. I like it because you made it for me."
Hannah's face split into one of her daisy smiles, the kind that reminded Jane of sunny days. "It's about you and me."
As the door shut, Jane heard her parents' voices drift up from the foyer. In a rush she ate Hannah's snack, shoved the basket into the folds of the drapes next to the bed, and went to the stack of her schoolbooks. She took Dickens's The Pickwick Papers back with her to the bed. She figured if she was working on school stuff when her father came in, it would buy her some brownie points.
Her parents came upstairs an hour later and she tensed, expecting her father to knock. He didn't.
Which was weird. He was, in his controlling way, as reliable as a clock, and there was a strange comfort in his predictability, even though she didn't like dealing with him.
She put Pickwick aside, turned the light out, and tucked her legs under her frilly duvet. Beneath the canopy of her bed she couldn't sleep, and eventually she heard the grandfather clock at the head of the stairs chime twelve times.
Slipping from bed, she went to the closet, got out the rogue knapsack, and unzipped it. The Ouija board fell out, flipping open and landing faceup on the floor. She grabbed it with a wince, as if it might have broken or something, then got the pointer thingy.
She and her friends had been looking forward to playing the game because they all wanted to know who they were going to marry. Jane liked a boy named Victor Browne, who was in her math class. The two of them had been talking a little lately, and she really thought they could be a couple. Trouble was, she wasn't sure what he felt for her. Maybe he just liked her because she gave him answers.
Jane laid out the board on her bed, rested her hands on the pointer, and took a deep breath. "What is the name of the boy I'm going to marry?"
She didn't expect the thing to move. And it didn't.