When we left Stone Gap, the mist was still curling around the houses. There was the general store, the gas station, the Methodist Church, the Baptist Church, the library. The high school where I was not going to go, because I was going to Miss Lavender’s. I remember that morning very clearly. I was almost thirteen.
Martha Harrington, who had been my guardian and my family’s lawyer for many years, was driving me in her old Volkswagen. She was a former hippie who had moved to Randolph, the closest large town, to practice law in the 1960s, when Randolph had never seen a female lawyer. She was retired now, but she still did our legal work, although that consisted mostly in administering my parents’ will and making sure that the house where we had both lived since my parents had died was kept up. So she was sort of the housekeeper and groundskeeper as well.
“Are you sure you have everything you need?” she asked.
“I guess so. I have no idea what I need,” I told her.
“For Boston? Warm coat, boots, scarf, gloves. It’s not going to get cold for a couple of months, but then! Just wait.” Martha had gone to law school up there. She told me she still dreamed, sometimes, of the cold.
I would get my books and school supplies up there. I had an allowance of sorts, from the estate. (Such a grand term! It really just meant that there was a Graves family trust, and four times a year I got some money from it. Not a lot, but enough for Stone Gap. Hopefully enough for Miss Lavender’s.)
“Do I really have to room with a Gaunt? She’s going to be a snob.”
“Sweetie, freshman room assignments are made by Mrs. Moth. But you are going to have a fellow Southerner. One of your roommates is from North Carolina. Her name is Matilda Tillinghast.”
“A Gaunt and a Tillinghast! It’s going be to completely ghastly,” I said.
“Very funny. Can you check and make sure you have your ticket?”
I caught my train in Richmond. And then it was twelve hours – twelve hours! – through Washington and New York and finally into the train station in Boston. By then I had won fifty dollars in a poker game in the dining car, and I had the telephone numbers of a cute sophomore from Groton and a boy who said if I ever needed anything in Boston, a motorcycle or computer equipment or cell phones, to just call him.
I got out at the station and splurged on a cab. It was almost dark, and I was too tired to figure out the subway system.
I got out at the common, paid the driver with part of my poker winnings, saw an ice cream shop and bought myself some ice cream (heath bar crunch with extra heath bar topping) because I didn’t know what school food would be like, and made a note to self: ice cream shop, right by the common. I assumed I would be able to sneak out to get ice cream. I had been very good at sneaking out of school in Stone Gap.
And then, I went to the address on the admission letter and said to the cat that was lounging on a doorstep, “Hecate Lane, please.”
“Follow me,” she said. “There hasn’t been a Graves at Miss Lavender’s for a long time.”
“My Mom went here,” I said.
She stopped in the middle of the lane, turned back, and said, “You must be Thea. My condolences,” then walked on.
I followed her, tears prickling my eyes. I hadn’t expected that. In Stone Gap, we had been the eccentric Graveses. I had been Thea Weirdo Graves. Here, we – I – would be something else.
That was clear to me as soon as the door opened. I knew who it was immediately – everyone knows about Hyacinth. “Hi, Thea. Can you go right into Mrs. Moth’s office? It’s late and I want to get you some dinner, and then have you meet your roomates. Everyone’s here except Matilda Tillinghast, who’s arriving tomorrow.”
And as soon as the office door opened. “Thea Graves. I’m so glad you decided to enroll. Your mother was one of my favorite pupils.” So this was Mrs. Moth. She didn’t look particularly scary. For who she is, you know. And then she said, “I like Rancatore’s too, but no sneaking out for ice cream, please. Freshmen need permission to leave campus. Besides, if you try to leave, you may not end up where you intended. Wait until after you’ve had Transportation to try the front gate.”
So much for that. Whatever the middle school teachers had told me, I disbelieved on principle. But you can’t exactly disbelieve Mrs. Moth.
Dinner was better than I expected, some sort of soup with meatballs in it. And then Hyacinth took me upstairs. Let’s just say Emma Gaunt was not exactly what I expected. I mean, my cat at home is snobbier than she is. And Mouse was awesome. Can you imagine? I was definitely not going to be the room weirdo. (I mean that in the best way, of course. But Mouse is weird. I mean, how can you not be, when your Dad is an evil warlock and your mother is a sort of tree?)