A time so far away in time, yet always on the surface of Amelia’s memory.
She was only 13 and trying hard. Trying hard to fit in at a girl’s New England private school that didn’t usually let in people like her, people from mill fishing towns. Already she stood out. Here she was staying at the school through the Thanksgiving holiday because she couldn’t afford to go home. Sure there were a number of other girls doing the same. But, not because they didn’t have the money. Hell, there was more than enough money in the lives of these young women.
The family of Laurel Miranda had so much money that when she was sent from 90210 to this Western Massachusetts prep school, her parents transported her horses with her. Laurel’s father was a power player in the telecommunications world. Shipping and stabling a few horses for his daughter’s pleasure was nothing. But, actually seeing her and spending time with her over the holidays, now that was a bit much to ask.
So, when Laurel came towards Amelia on the lacrosse field…yes, lacrosse…Amelia knew she shouldn’t underestimate her. Laurel’s chance to release her frustration could mean a point in her favor, and against that of Amelia’s team.
Ouch!!! ABM!!! These bodies slam together. Sticks cross like lances.
Ten girls, 13 to 15 years of age, mud-stained uniforms, scowls to outmatch Wayne Gretsky.
“Ger her! Don’t let Amelia get inside!” shouts one teenager.
“I’m trying!,” huffs a second.
A third opponent, running and breathing hard, gasps out “Catch her. She’s just a sophomore.”
The amused coach, Ms. Burns, pipes in from off-field. “Girls, remember. Northfield Academy was founded on religion, not homicide.”
The 13-year-old Amelia makes a sudden break, pigtails flying. Or so she thinks. Oomph!! Laurel, Amelia’s roommate, plows Amelia into the ground. Laurel smiles her regrets…and sweeps the ball away.
Amelia fall to the ground. Clutches her stomach. Sudden agony. She looks surprised. The impact wasn’t that bad.
Suddenly, her vision clouds. The surrounding sounds disintegrate to a mesh of whispers. She feels something malevolent lurking. She strains to see. And still, a shrouded world. Oddly, she feels no fear. Just an overwhelming sadness.
A teammates’ admonishment brings her back.
“Amelia, get up!!!”
Clarity returns. Its as if time passed for her and no one else. She nervously laughs it off and charges after Laurel.
“Ok, Roomie, I’m warning you. I’m gonna’ sweep your feet,” laughs Amelia. They’re the best of friends.
"You can’t do that!!! Against the rules,” says Laurel indignantly.
“That’s why I’m telling you first. Perpetuating, girl,” says Amelia as she makes her move, trying to trip up Laurel. Laurel dodges the first attempt. Not the second. No such luck.
Laurel’s a lame duck in the mud. Amelia races back to her goal as her teammates hold off opposing forces. Amelia dashes back to assist Laurel. Laurel sits laughing in the mud. Amelia pulls her up. Laurel surrepticiously drops some mud down Amelia’s back and givers her a friendly pat on the back. Amelia jumps.
“Aaah!!!” she cries.
Ms Burns looks up. “Is something wrong, girls?”
“Nothing. Nothing at all,” says Amelia with a bright, false smile. “Watch your back, roomie.”
But, it’s Amelia who’s watching her back, wondering if her imagination was playing tricks. Or was it something or someone else?
By the evening, Amelia has passed off the incident as something from her imagination. Nothing to interfare with the fun of making hot cross buns with the other girls.
“Staying at school for Thanksgiving was the best decision,” laughs Laurel.
”Me too,” says Amelia. “Finally learning to cook.” The other girls look at her strange. “You don’t cook at home,” says one.
Amelia tells the truth without thinking. “Uh uh. My mom will cook turkey her way, which I love. But, if I ask her how to cook something, my daddy puts in his two cents. Then, they start fighting. And I never get to cook. Last Thanksgiving, my parents got so mad, dad threw the turkey in the dumpster.”
She looks up to see faces more shocked than she’d expected. Not at her story, but at her unusual expressiveness. She plays it off.
“Boy, that was one fowl Thanksgiving,” says Amelia. The other girls still aren’t sure how to react. Amelia flashes her most convincing smile. “A joke, girls. Come on.”
The other girls chill. But, Laurel’s concerned look says she knows otherwise.
“What time is it?” asks Amelia.
“Why?” asks Laurel.
“Girl, would you just tell me the time fore I give you five across the eyes,” laughs Amelia.
Laurel adapts a long-suffering “how long oh Lord” look.”
“About eight-thirty,’ says Laurel.
“I gotta call home before it gets too late,” says Amelia.
Amelia walks through the old-mansion-turned down house. Through the windows she psses…spacious grounds and turn of the century mansions. Tall, Methuselah trees. And in the distance, the Connecticut River, and the dim lights of 18th Century road lanterns. If any setting could bespeak tradition, wealth and family values, Northfield Academy for Girls would be it.
Taking two steps at a time, she jaunts up to the second floor hallway payphone. It was a vintage antique payphone. All mahogany with stained glass windows. Amelia felt positively elegant whenever she used it even though waiting for the heavy ringed dial to wind back after each number took a patience users of 90s technology were unaccustomed.
To Amelia, the sound engendered a contentedness within her. Rather it always did in the past. Not tonight.
She dials. The squeaker voice of an operator pierces her ear.
“Yes,” says Amelia. “This is a collect call from Amelia Chatman.”
She waits, blowing air on the window, drawing faces in it. Muffled voices drift over the line.
“Mom? Daddy?” Amelia’s tentative, wondering why someone would pick up the phone and not speak. Finally her mother breaks through in chilly tones.
“Amelia, is that you?”
“Mom, What’s wrong?”
“Who called you? Who told you to call” She could almost see her mother’s glaring eyes sweeping the room for a culprit.
“I told you not to call her. She doesn’t need to come home.”
Now, Amelia is freaking. The weirdness of the lacrosse field comes back to her. Is this what that meant? Did she ignore the warning that might have prepared her for this.
“Mom nobody called me. What’s wrong?”
Only silence. Amelia hears someone crying in the background. The crying generates an anxiety and fear in Amelia. Why doesn’t her mother simply tell her, she asks. Whenever it comes to Ruby, nothing was easy.
“Mom!!! Where’s daddy? I want to talk to Daddy,” insists Amelia. “I want to talk to daddy.”
But her mother had pulled rank and had had enough.
“Your brother’s dead,” Ruby says flatly. “The funeral’s tomorrow. But, you don’t have to come. We can…”
Ruby’s voice fades. Amelia stands in shock. The world, her world, fled.