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.
First, she wondered if this was a real proposal or a cruel joke. It sounded straight from a gumshoe mystery, like the ones she had skimmed at the public library since the school’s library had no fascinating fiction. Library day came once a month and it was Miranda’s favorite outing, though she and the other pupils were never allowed to check out any books. But Miss Trindle was mandated by the town of Lesterville to take her students to the library once a month, so she did to keep from being audited.
Next, the letter was very vague. What was the special test and what special program? What were her special skills? How did this interested party know about her? Despite all these misgivings, Miranda felt…well, special.
She feared though there was no possible way Miss Trindle would ever grant her permission to go into town alone to the woman’s restroom in the bus station. The only people at the boarding school allowed to go into town alone were the staff, and even they could go only every other Sunday. Feeling slightly deflated, Miranda licked the envelope and did her best to reseal it. She emerged from her hiding spot behind the drape and sat back down at the writing desk. Opening the top drawer, she laid the envelope atop the mess of papers and closed the drawer.
Her thoughts stayed with her letter as she joined the other students and filed into the dining hall. She stood behind her seat, eyes cast down at her chipped plate bearing a single slice of bread, a wedge of pale cheddar cheese, and five green grapes.
“Don’t,” she muttered automatically as someone passing yanked her hair.
“Anderson, Grant!” called Miss Trindle from the head of the table. She held up a small envelope and set it on the table. “Laraby, Rebecca! And…Knight, Miranda!”
Everyone turned to look at her.
“She never gets mail,” uttered one of the nine year-old girls down the table.
“It’s a miracle!” piped up a ten year-old boy across from her.
Miranda rolled her eyes and rose to get her letter from Miss Trindle. Back at her seat, she opened the envelope again, unfolded the letter, and reread it.
She listened to the soft whispers of lunch time conversation. She tasted her dry bread and waxy cheese. She felt another tug on her hair. She dreaded reporting to the kitchen next to wash dishes; this week the twelve year-old girls were on kitchen duty.
But she felt something new: slight warmth and tingling of anticipation that spread through her.
Miranda shot her hand up.
“What is it?” Miss Trindle snapped as expected.
“I need you to read my letter please.”
For the second time that day the entire student body gaped at her in shock. She was starting to enjoy this.
“Bring it here then.”
Miranda scurried up to Miss Trindle and handed her the letter. She watched the old woman’s frowning face drop even farther. The headmistress crumpled up the letter.
Without looking at the girl, Miss Trindle growled, “No!”
Miranda finished the rest of the day in a kind of stupor. She washed dishes. She pricked her finger in needle-point class. She spent free time under her bed drawing more details on the map of the school she had been working on for the past month. She choked down the over-salted lentil soup at dinner. She waited in line for the communal bathroom and ignored Rebecca Laraby’s cruel remarks about all the girls: how Kate was gaining weight and Sarah’s nose looked like a vegetable and how Hailey was going to be transferred up north for making out with Collin.
Then as Miranda settled on her squeaky cot and tucked the ratty blanket around her thin frame, a second unexpected thing happened that day.
Miss Trindle appeared in the doorway of the girls’ dorm room.
“Miranda Knight! A word. Now!”
Miranda swallowed, and scrambled off her cot. She joined her headmistress in the narrow corridor.
“You will go into town tomorrow after classes by yourself and follow the directions precisely.” She smashed a crinkled paper into Miranda’s palm. “You are to return by dinner time and not a second later, do you understand?” She folded her arms over her sagging chest. “Mark my words, there is clearly some mistake. You have no special skills. You are just an orphan.” With a parting scowl, she spun around and marched off. “Get to bed!”
When Miranda entered the dorm room, she found Rebecca and her posse of girls standing with their arms crossed and their faces twisted. She ignored them and got into bed.
“How come you get to go into town tomorrow by yourself?” questioned Rebecca, her usual bruise color bleeding with a swampy green as her jealousy set in.
“Yeah, no one gets to go out,” Sophia, a girl with a blotchy red birthmark on her neck, jumped in.
“Not even the teachers,” chimed in Gracie as she scratched the eczema on her elbows.
“None of your business.” Miranda lay down, but instantly bolted up. “My pillow! It’s soaked!”
Rebecca snickered as she and the other girls scooted onto the creaky cots.
Miranda tossed her flat, wet pillow to the floor. Normally, a mean prank like that would have squeezed a tear from her after the lights were cut. But she had something to bolster her. She had no idea what lay ahead for her tomorrow, but it had to be better than etiquette class, hair-yanking, and soupy oatmeal. She hugged the letter close.
And she dared to feel special.