The Simms came home Sunday night. They told me the responsibilities I would have as their ward. They explained that I would be a representative of Peyton Empire. I reminded them that I'd be leaving at the end of the quarter. They said I could be active until then and we'll figure out from there.
"How do you feel about that, Lizzie?" Belle asks.
"Oh, I'm fine with that. I wish you asked me about the whole thing but of course I'll fulfill my responsibilities."
"It was the best time to announce it." Delilah says.
"You could have asked me if I wanted to. You had weeks to ask. You could have asked me that day since the media didn’t know you were making an announcement. I'll fulfill my responsibilities but I would have said no."
"But it's so good for you." Caleb says.
I look at him for a long moment.
"You're not getting it. I'm not looking to make a huge social difference. I want to take care of my family and live the best life I can. And frankly Caleb, I'm upset with you for telling me what to do as well."
"I know. You were just giving me advice. But I wasn't looking for any."
"I think we all should get some sleep. Lizzie has school in the morning. I apologize on behalf of all of us for hurting you." Arthur says, looking me in the eye. "Now, I'm not sure why that seemed like a good idea."
"I'll be okay. And I will be a good role model to students."
"Sleep tight, Lizzie. I really am sorry." he says, walking me to the door.
"Good night." I say, waving.
Am I going to get kicked out? I guess they can't kick Jenn and I out because that wouldn't look good. They're in the wrong. But I was rude.
Belle and Delilah apologized the next morning.
Caleb picked me up school and bought me ice cream. He apologized for talking down to me. And explained that he has a hard time communicating when he's passionate about something.
So the Simms and I are okay.
Caleb is passionate about me not dating Finn, though. But I can deal with that because it's none of his business. And I don't think it's going to happen.
----- ----- -----
"Lizzie?" Mr. Lawrence asks.
“Yes.” I say with a start.
“Can you please come up to the board and solve the problem?”
I solve it and walk back to my seat.
“Impressive, Ms. Gent.”
I zone back out.
“How did you understand that formula?” Anne asks.
“Mr. Lawrence has been trying to teach it for three days now.” Another girl says.
“I’ve known it for a while. I read math textbooks.”
The two girls’ eyes widen.
“Why?” Anne asks.
“I get bored.” I shrug.
“Well, you’re a SOS so I guess we shouldn’t be surprised by your intelligence."
I know she doesn’t mean anything by SOS but I’m still not comfortable.
“I’m not that smart. I’ve just always been ahead.” I pause. “Where’s Finn?”
“Don’t you remember him asking to be excused?”
“Mr. Lawrence dismissed him early so he could turn in his homework he forgot.”
“Ok. Thanks. I’ve got to go. See you tomorrow.”
“Bye, Lizzie.” They both say.
I turn and almost walk into Mr. Lawrence.
“I’m sorry, excuse me.”
“It’s my fault, Ms. Gent. I shouldn’t have been standing here.”
“Well, have a nice…”
“Ms. Gent, will you walk to the teachers’ wing with me?”
I look around for Finn.
I text Finn that I’ll meet him at the car.
“Ms. Gent, how do you like the Academy?”
That question surprises me. I mean, it’s school but it’s also home no matter what state I’m in.
“I love the Academy. I love learning.” I say.
“That’s good. I’ve noticed you’ve been a little distracted this week. Did I actually manage to teach you the formula?”
I feel embarrassed that a teacher is pointing out my lack of attention. I feel bad that I didn’t learn it from him. He’s an unsure teacher and I’m not helping.
“I’m sorry. I learned it last summer when I read the book for this course.”
“Do you need to take this class, Ms. Gent?”
I stare at him.
“What is your goal for the future? What career are you preparing for? Or are you trying to be an accomplished young woman?”
An accomplished young woman was the school’s goal in 1635. I don’t want to become someone’s trophy wife.
“I don’t have a particular career in mind, Mr. Lawrence. I’m taking this class because it was recommended to give me my four classes for the year.”
“I’ve looked at your test scores, Ms. Gent. You got 85% on the senior test in tenth grade. You could take Latin, Math, and English out of your class schedule.”
“Then I wouldn’t have enough classes. I’m used to intense schooling. It’s nice to relax. My best friend just got 98% on the senior test as an eleventh grader. My score isn’t significant.”
“It is significant. My advice to you and your friend is not to let your talents go to waste.”
“I’ll keep that in mind, Mr. Lawrence.” I say, as we turn the corner.
And I see Finn.
How is it he’s so attractive? I’ve known him forever and yet I’m drawn to him. It’s not fair.
“Eliza!” He says, smiling.
“Well, this is my stop. Ms. Gent, Mr. Campbell, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Finn holds the door open for him.
“What are you doing here?” I ask.
“I had to drop off my homework and get more for my other two classes. What are you doing here?”
Finn sounds upset. He was literally just smiling. Am I meant to understand him?
“Mr. Lawrence wanted to talk to me. I told you I’d meet you at the car.”
“Did you get my response?”
I check it.
Spirant Iustum: Stay at the classroom. I’ll be back soon.
“No. I didn’t.”
“Eliza, you can’t leave the building you’re in without me.”
“Excuse me?” I ask, annoyed.
“Someone could break into the school and hurt you.”
“What about Jenn?”
“Jennifer isn't the target. And she knows self-defense.”
“Fine. I can’t even go to the next building over, though? I’ve been trained in self-defense too. By you.”
“I know. But it's too much of a risk. I’m not just doing my job.”
I nod and get in the backseat.
Jenn opens my door.
“Hi Lizzie.” She says confused.
“You can have the front, Jenn. My bags don’t fit and I don’t feel like opening the trunk.”
“How was school?” I ask.
“It was good. Nicole, Mandy, and Elinor are really fun. Lizzie, you shouldn’t bring two bags to school. Messanger and tote bags are bad enough without carrying them both.”
“It evens me out.”
I'm not in the mood to repeat this conversation.
“How was your day?”
“Mr. Lawrence told me I didn’t need three of my classes.”
“I’d have so much more work to do at home.” Finn says.
“I’d help you with all of it.”
Not that he needs it.
“I’ll drop all the classes if you’ll make me lunch.” Finn says, smiling at me through the rearview mirror.
“No. You’d die from Lizzie’s weird concoctions.”
“I like her food.” Finn says, still looking at me.
“There’d be no one to take me home.”
“Right. We need to keep you safe.”
I glare at that and Finn stops smiling.
Jennifer talks the rest of the way home.
“Are you going to check the house?” She asks.
“No. Belle stayed home today. It’s good.” Fin replies.
I suppose that means there’s a guard in the house. I don’t like the extra security.
“Bye, Finn.” Jennifer says, running into the house.
Finn grabs my bags and walks up the steps.
“That’s not part of your job description.” I say, reaching for a bag.
“Eliza.” Finn says, exasperated.
Finn puts my bags in the house.
“Eliza, I need you to be safe. It’s dangerous at the Academy because the most influential people’s children go there. That’s why I taught you some self-defense before. However, it’s even more dangerous now that you’re the Simms’ ward. I’m speaking as your friend, not bodyguard. I need you to be safe. I will do anything in my power to ensure that, even if you feel restricted.”
I hug him.
“I don’t feel restricted. I felt like a burden. But I understand now.”
“Good.” He says, pulling away. “Well, I have to go.”
He walks to the car. And awkwardly waves.
Why do we keep going in a circle of happy, angry, and awkward?
“Would you like a snack, Lizzie?” Belle asks.
“No. Is it okay if I’m excused from dinner?”
Belle sits at the desk.
“Are you feeling alright?”
“I have a migraine but it will pass.”
This is my third one since the benefit.
“I’m sorry. Arthur and I got a lot of those as teens. I think it’s hereditary.”
“That’s too bad.” I say, confused.
“Sorry. That doesn’t fit the conversation. Are you sure you don’t want anything? Water? Tea?”
“I’m sure. Thanks.”
“I’ll let you rest.”
She turns so quick, my brain hurts registering it.
If I don’t ask her now, I might never.
“How do you deal with bodyguards? Isn’t it annoying or weird having someone who is paid to keep you company and protect you?”
“Well, bodyguards aren’t for company.” She states. “Oh, is this about Finn?”
“Kind of. Is that bad?”
“I know Caleb told you what he thinks. He apologizes for that. But we’ve already apologized for everything that day.” She sits down. “I’m neutral. My opinion doesn’t matter. If you want him replaced, Stephan can go to school with you.”
“No.” I say too loud and wince.
“I don’t want that. I was just thinking about bodyguards and wondering why I was so stressed about it.”
“One of my siblings had the hardest time with it. They would rather stay home than be guarded.”
“Was that Delilah or Caleb?”
I think Arthur would be fine with it.
“She used to hide when it was time to leave.”
Belle stares at me with wide eyes.
“Yes. Sorry I was picturing it. I was in my own world.”
“No problem. I do it all the time.”
“Is there anything else you want?”
“No. I’m good. Sorry again about dinner.”
“It’s okay. Jennifer will keep us entertained. I hope you feel better.”
I hear Belle sigh as she walks out.
----- ----- -----
“I don’t understand.”
“What’s not to understand? I’m using you as a test subject.” Arthur says.
“But why? I’m not interesting.”
Arthur looks at me.
“First off, Lizzie, yes you are. Second, you don’t have to be interesting to be a test subject. You have to be human. Third, it doesn’t matter. You promised me the day because you didn’t dance with me at the benefit.”
“And five minutes is equal to 8 or more hours. What are we doing for that long anyway?”
“We’re testing a course. It’s called Childhood. We’re going to do all the things people miss about childhood.”
“But I don’t understand. Why would people come here more than once? If it’s a business venture how is it supposed to survive?”
“This will be the only location in the world. There are 7 billion people in the world. Even if 50 people come a day, it will take more than 350,000 years for everyone to come once. Shall we?”
“I guess there’s a reason they call you the mastermind.”
“Ha. They call me that because I’m the oldest. Delilah’s the number girl.”
“Has she always been that way?”
“No. She maintained the minimum at school. She didn’t use to care about the company.”
“So did she really wake up one day focused like they say?”
“Yeah. She asked to start working so she could be considered mature.”
“But she was barely 20. What made her want to start working in college?”
“Wow, you really did your research on us?”
“Wouldn’t you look up the people you were going to stay with?” He nods. “So why did she change her opinion?”
“Uh, just something happened. She was called a slacker all through school. She took two years off and traveled. She came home and announced her decision. Watch your step.” He says, offering his arm.
I take it even though I don’t need the support. It’s just a branch. I think he’s trying to change the subject.
“So where do you want to start?” I ask.
“No. No. Do you think I’m going to kidnap you for a day and then tell you what to do? We walked through the grounds to see where you want to start.”
“Let’s start with arts & crafts and see where that takes us.”
----- ----- -----
“Okay, what inspired you to create this?”
We wore our handmade jewelry along with our dress up costumes to the sing-along movie theater. We’re currently sitting in the fort we built.
“I’ve been thinking of a girl I used to know. These are all things she couldn’t do.”
“Even the playground?” I ask surprised.
I thought every child went to the playground at least once.
“No. Well not as much as she would have liked to.”
“Oh. Why not? Was she sick?”
His mother died from cancer like mine so he might have visited the pediatric ward.
“No. She just didn’t leave her house much. She didn’t have any friends.” He says, staring off.
“That’s so sad. She must have been a lonely child.”
“How is she now?”
"I'm not sure. I hope to get to know her again."
I nod and read Jenn's text.
Jenn: Are you okay? I thought I heard you come in the room early this morning. Where were you last night?
Me: I went for a walk.
I did go for a walk around 1 am. Then I went to sleep in the ballroom in the yard. I woke myself up at 5, crying.
Jenn: Okay. Have a good day with Arthur. I have plans with Elinor.
Me: Have a good day as well.
Good thing Jenn's a heavy slepper. She believes me. She hasn't cried these last 3 weeks.
"So what do you want to do, Lizzie?"
"Like next in this course or in my life?"
"I was asking about the course but you can answer both if you'd like."
"Well the course only has the playground and toys left and I don't feel like doing either of those so I'll answer about my life."
"I don't know what I'm going to do. I'm applying to Northwestern in November. We'll see if I get in."
"You don't need to wait on conformation. Being that you are an SOS and Peyton ward, you'll be accepted to any school. You could even go to Harvard."
"Isn't that nepotism?" I ask, skeptical.
"You could call it an advantage or perk. Some may call it nepotism that my siblings and I had our choice as well. But in reality anyone who has good test scores from Alden Academy will get into a school and if needed receive a scholarship."
"I guess. I'd just feel weird riding on my title."
"Well, then use your talents."
"That's what Mr. Lawrence told me. But I'll just get any degree I can use."
I don't mention what I told Mr. Lawrence about my talents. I think Arthur will tell me not to be so humble or something.
"Edwin Lawrence? He's a nice kid." I laugh. "What?"
"It's simply funny that you called my teacher a kid."
"He was Caleb's roommate and in Delilah's grade. To me, he's a kid. To him, you're a kid. We've come full circle."
"Basically, you're old."
"Yes. I was born a while before you. Let's call me old even though I'm still in my thirties."
I frown and look apologetic.
"Not that face. Alright you're forgiven." He laughs and suddenly stops.
"Caleb lived on campus?"
Not the most subtle change of subject but I am curious. And Arthur seems uncomfortable.
"Yeah, for senior year. But anyway as Ed said you should use your talents and get a job you like."
"I'll think about it. That's why I was asking about Delilah. She's always rushing around but tells me to enjoy myself. She makes sure I have plans every day. Not that I mind, I just don't mind being at home either. I wonder if she's living vicarious though me. Does she like her job?"
Arthur thinks about it.
"Working was an abrupt change for her. And it had only been two years since our mom died. She stopped hanging out with her friends and tried to settle into work. She does like her job. It is demanding to be so involved with her share of the company. Delilah’s projects are doing the best out of all of us. But she lost connection with her friends. She can't call them up when she has time so she works through her off time. If you want to prove you don't need plans, why don't you show her what you like to do?"
"You sure? I feel like she doesn't like me."
"Lizzie, don't think that. She likes you. She just doesn't want to overwhelm you and like I said she doesn't take a break."
"Alright. I'll invite her to hang out."
"Well. The course is over. What did you think?"
"You promised at least 8 hours. It took 6. I want my money back."
"You didn't pay any money."
"It's a figure of speech."
"We didn't go to the playground or the toy section. Also there's a lot more movies. There's even old cartoons."
"You shouldn't encourage your patrons to watch more than two movies in a row. No one needs that much TV at one time. And they left their house to do things, not watch TV. While the adult sized playground is a good idea, parents don't miss the atmosphere of playgrounds because they still go with their kids. The toy room has a lot of advertised toys. It's cool to be able to use them without buying them but most adults will become disinterested quickly."
"So what do you suggest?"
"The toys need to be from the past. People want the toys from their childood mixed modern toys. Companies need to provide a selection of safe old toys. And you need to add more stops to the course. Do you remember rainy day games in school? Games you would play in the classroom?"
"Yes. Like Dots and such."
"Yeah, you could put that in with the toys or the cafe."
"Cafe? What cafe?"
"You can't have a 8 hour course and only feed people moive food once. If you don't want people leaving and possibly not coming back, you have to add a cafeteria. A cafeteria that serves finger foods, low tea and possibly high tea, cereal, and shaped food along with an adult menu would fit the theme."
"Why would people buy cereal at a cafe?"
"While they're doing things from childhood, they'll remember cereal that they forgot about. Sometimes you just want a bowl of your favorite cereal but then you forget to buy it. Or you do buy it but by the third bowl your craving is gone."
"Okay so desk games and cereal?"
"Wait what are the two things every child wants to do? Well every girl wants to do the second one."
"What?" Arthur asks confused.
"What's the age-old thing parents yell at their children for doing? It damages the house and gives mom a lot of work."
"Drawing on walks?" Arthur questions.
"Exactly. All the hallways should be a part of the course. 'Draw where you want, no one will care.' And last but not least, a crazy make up section but away from the dress up section so clothes don't get ruined."
"My sisters used to do that."
"I always wanted to."
I don't know why but it's a dream. Too bad I have to be the leader of my dorm. And no one else has initated it yet.
"Lizzie, I'm impressed. You can have a job at Peyton today if you'd like."
"Thanks, Arthur. But no thank you. Not until I get my degree at least."
"Alright. I'll accept that for now. Let's get changed so we can leave."