The girls stretched to their feet with muffled groans and rubbed their aching backs and numb legs. Miranda hopped off the window seat and followed behind as her class exited the library.
In the entry hall they passed a class of twelve year-old boys leaving the parlor and heading upstairs.
“Miranda got a special letter,” announced Rebecca Laraby, a girl with stringy black hair. She tended to be a bruise-color most of the time, which Miranda could not quite peg; basically, it was a yucky, mean color.
“From who?” asked Grant, whose dark hair grew like an ornery weed.
“That’s what we’d all like to know.” Rebecca spun around and got right in Miranda’s face. “You said you were an orphan. You don’t know anybody. Did you make it all up?”
“I am not a liar,” Miranda said, meeting Rebecca’s muddy brown eyes.
“Well, then it must be a mistake.” Rebecca crossed her arms. “Orphans don’t get mail and no one outside this school even knows you exist.”
“Ow!” Miranda moaned as someone behind her yanked her hair. “Cut it out!”
“Go to class immediately!” Miss Trindle bellowed “Or I’ll banish the whole lot of you to the barn for manure mucking.”
The pack of boys stampeded upstairs, and the flock of girls scuttled into the parlor across the hall. Miss Trindle bustled away down the hallway to the kitchen, no doubt for a cup of tea and a biscuit that the hungry children craved.
Miranda stepped out from the shadows beneath the staircase. She tiptoed back to the library and softly closed the door behind her. The mantel clocked chimed dully—only eleven o’clock. Lunch was not for another hour. A whole sixty minutes. Three thousand six hundred seconds—too long to wait. Miranda could not wait that long for her letter, the only letter she had ever received.
She sat down at Miss Trindle’s writing desk. From her faded black skirt pocket she whipped out a small tin box with a peeling label: Wintergreen Mints. She had salvaged the tin box out of the garbage when she had been assigned trash duty for requesting a new toothbrush. She lifted the lid off the tin box and found three tiny tools. Well, she called them tools, but they were in fact a bobby pin discovered in the crack between her dorm room floorboards, a metal wire straightened from a paper clip, and a small seam ripper snatched from Miss Klein’s sewing basket. Miranda chose the wire and the seam ripper and poked them into the little keyhole in the desk’s top drawer.
She glanced at the mantel clock. She had only a few minutes before Miss Trindle returned to teach etiquette to the eight year-old girls, poor things.
Carefully, she picked the lock.
Miranda placed her tools back in the tin box, and stuffed the box into her skirt pocket. She pulled open the drawer. Her brown eyes lit upon a single long white envelope. The envelope bore no name or address, but she knew it was hers.
“Tardiness is one of the deadly sins!” Miss Trindle’s gravelly voice echoed from the hall.
Miranda snatched up the letter and stuffed it under her gray blouse. She closed the desk drawer and leaped up.
The door knob turned.
Miranda hid behind the heavy drape drawn away from the window seat.
Miss Trindle, followed by a troop of little girls, entered the parlor. Miranda stood very still and took shallow breaths. And for the rest of the hour, she listened to the exact same lecture on posture, which was mind-numbingly worse the second time around. Her muscles ached from standing so still for so long. Finally, the mantel clock announced lunch time. The girls, followed by Miss Trindle, rushed out of the room (in as lady-like manner as possible to please their headmistress). Miranda felt both relieved and upset that Miss Trindle had forgotten to grab her letter out of the desk drawer. When the library was clear, Miranda sank to the floor behind the drape. She sat atop a stack of books she had hidden there the night before.
Sometimes at night when she could not fall asleep because of the hunger, she would sneak into the kitchen, grab a slice of crusty bread, and hide out in the library. While she ate her snack, she would read. The boarding school’s library was a poor one, its shelves half-filled with outdated encyclopedias missing a few volumes and dusty classics missing their endings. But she didn’t care. Not only was she starving for food, she was starving for knowledge. When her eyes would grow weary, she would hide a few books behind the drape for the next night.
Miranda sat on the encyclopedia volumes L, T, and D, and carefully opened the envelope, trying her best not to tear it. She slipped out a single sheet of paper with neat black type.
This letter is to inform you that you have qualified to take a special test for a special program due to your special skills. Obtain permission from your headmistress to go to Lesterville tomorrow afternoon alone. Find the woman’s restroom in the bus station and occupy the third stall. Your test will be hidden inside the toilet paper roll. More instructions to follow. Good luck!
An Interested Party
Miranda read the letter again. And again. A storm of emotions and questions berated her. She could not remember ever feeling so much at one time before.