The Mysterious Case of the Allbright Academy

BOOK: The Mysterious Case of the Allbright Academy
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Diane Stanley
The Mysterious Case of the Allbright Academy

For my practically perfect children,
Catherine, Tamara, and John

Contents

1

So there we were, all five of us, barreling down…

2

Allbright did its testing in October. Acceptance (or rejection) letters…

3

New-student orientation began on a Monday, and the returning students…

4

After Dr. Gallow's rousing speech we were divided into groups by…

5

It was eleven thirty by the time the introductions were…

6

“All right,” said Ms. Lollyheart. “Will everyone please give me your…

7

I opened my envelope and removed the single sheet of…

8

Wednesday night, after the robot show was over, I slipped…

9

Thanksgiving rolled around and the family was all together again,…

10

Every weekday afternoon at three we met at the gym…

11

By the end of January the weather was warm again.

12

February 27 arrived and we had our meeting. But it…

13

We had now accomplished two important things.

14

I realized, sitting there in the dark on the floor…

15

“Beamer?” I said. I was in my room with the…

16

Dr. Linnaeus Planck is not listed in the phone book. Famous people…

17

The nurse from the evening before was still there. Apparently…

18

Beamer took the laptop from Dr. Planck and we all stood…

19

“Well, that was a total bust,” Cal said as we…

20

On Tuesday afternoon, during math class, there was a gentle…

21

Board meetings were held on Saturday mornings at ten in…

22

The school was shut down, but the board members stayed…

 

S
o there we were, all five of us, barreling down the road in the pitch-black dark, early on a Saturday morning. We were headed for the Allbright Academy, a school we'd never heard of till the week before, but which we hoped to attend in the fall.

Sounds crazy, I know. Looking back, I can't believe we ever thought it was a good idea. I guess we were just so dazzled by Martha Evergood's phone call that we simply lost our wits. (And yeah, I do mean
that
Martha Evergood, the first woman to be secretary of state and a genuine hero to every female on the planet.)

Dr. Evergood had been the guest speaker at a junior leadership conference that my sister, Zoë, went to in D.C. At the closing banquet they were seated at the same table, and Zoë proceeded to charm the socks off her, something Zoë has a natural tendency to do. Now, Dr. Evergood happened to be on the board of directors of the Allbright Academy, and Zoë struck her as a perfect candidate for the school. So Dr. Evergood picked up the phone and called their admissions people, urging them to get Zoë out there for testing ASAP.

The very next day the director of admissions called Mom and invited Zoë to apply. Apparently the invitation alone was a big deal. Allbright didn't let just
anybody
come out there to take the test—only very special students. And Mom shouldn't worry about expenses, either, he said. If Zoë was accepted, she would be on full scholarship!

Mom was really blown away by this, and clearly didn't know quite how to respond to it. Her end of the conversation started out kind of like this: “Oh…um…well…really?…Gosh!” Finally she got herself together and explained to the admissions guy that Zoë had a twin brother, J. D., as well as a big sister, Franny. (That's me, of course.) Mom doubted that Zoë would be willing to go to Allbright if she had to go without us.

No problem, the man said. We could come take the test too.

We were still deep in amazement over that call when the phone rang again. This time it was Dr. Evergood, herself, in person. Mom actually held her hand over her heart as she stood there listening to this very famous lady talk about how remarkable Zoë was and how Mom and Dad really ought to send her to this very special school. Allbright, Dr. Evergood explained, had been founded by two Nobel Prize–winning scientists for the specific purpose of developing the gifts of kids like Zoë, kids with special talents who would grow up to be our country's next generation of leaders.

“Please consider Allbright very seriously,” Dr. Evergood said. “I think your daughter has enormous potential. She deserves the best education possible.”

Really, after a sales pitch like that, how could we say no?

Now, I don't want you to think, from what I said earlier about losing our wits, that my family is totally nuts. I mean, yes, we were completely starstruck over Dr. Evergood's call. And, yes, we did make what seems like a pretty impulsive decision. But we did give the matter some thought first.

Mom and Dad said we were awfully young to be
going to boarding school, especially the twins. And we had always been public school people. But this was clearly an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and though they would miss us terribly, we could go if we wanted to. It was up to us.

We weren't sure we were ready to go to boarding school either. And besides, we had moved a lot over the years, because of Dad's job, and we were sick of changing schools. Under normal circumstances, we would have turned down Allbright's offer on the spot, no matter how many Nobel Prize winners had founded it.

But these weren't normal circumstances. It was almost as though fate had arranged for us to go to the Allbright Academy so we could discover the things that we did, and save the country from disaster. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Let me just say that, only the week before, we had learned that the twins' school would be closing the following year, to be remodeled and turned into a high school. Zoë and J. D. would be going someplace new anyway. Then, the year after that, they would be moving a second time, to middle school. At least at Allbright they could stay in one place till it was time for them to go to college.

My situation was different. H. L. Mencken Middle School was brand-new and I would be staying there for three years. Unfortunately, my best
(and I have to be honest here—only) friend, Beamer, would not. He was transferring to a special magnet program for the arts. So in a way, I'd be starting over again too, at least socially.

So those turned out to be the tipping points. Since Allbright was supposed to be so fantastic, why not start over there? Or at the very least, we ought to drive out to the school and check the place out.

The campus of the Allbright Academy is in a quiet, woodsy corner of Maryland, a two-and-a-half-hour drive from our house in Baltimore. Since we were supposed to be there by eight, we'd left home around five fifteen. That meant that we'd had to set our alarms for four fifteen, to allow time for all of us to shower, pack, and eat breakfast. Naturally, the twins and I went back to sleep as soon as we hit the road.

We pulled into the visitors' parking lot a little before eight. I had been dreaming that my abovementioned friend, Beamer, was trapped on the roof of a school, which in my dream I knew to be the Allbright Academy, and which was on fire. I was frantic to save him. Then the engine stopped and I woke up.

Mom and Dad got out of the car. Wordlessly, Zoë and J. D. and I did the same. For about a minute we stood there in the parking lot, gaping speechlessly at the sight that lay before us.

I guess we were all expecting pretty much the same thing—a cluster of one-story redbrick flat-roofed buildings surrounded by playgrounds and parking lots. Since it was a boarding school, there would also be a couple of two-story redbrick dorms.

Instead, we were greeted by this unbelievably picturesque scene of broad lawns with trees and bushes and flowerbeds, with little paths winding through it, and a pretty big lake in the middle. Even this early in the spring, with the trees still bare, it was gorgeous.

The buildings
were
redbrick, but that's where the similarity ended. These looked historic, like maybe Thomas Jefferson had personally designed them. They had ivy growing up the walls and the roofs were shingled in slate. (I know this because Dad told us. He said slate was the top of the line, and very, very expensive.) As if the campus wasn't gorgeous enough already, it was set against the Blue Ridge Mountains, bathed in the warm pink glow of dawn.

“Yowza!” Dad said. “It's…it's…” Apparently struck speechless, he simply shook his head.

Mom removed the keys from his hand and opened the trunk so we could get our suitcases out. Zoë, J. D., and I would be spending Saturday night at the school, since their admissions testing took the better part of two days. I guess they wanted to make really, really sure we were smart enough to go there.

Rolling our bags behind us, we headed in silence toward the admissions building. There, waiting for us, was Allison, an Allbright senior who would be giving us a tour of the campus. It was mid-March, but it was cold that early in the morning, so she was bundled up in a white parka and ice-blue scarf. Shiny blonde hair cascaded out from under her matching ice-blue cap. She looked like she had stepped right out of a J. Crew catalog.

“Welcome to Allbright!” Allison said, displaying a set of perfect white teeth in an absolutely dazzling smile. I wondered whether her parents had spent a fortune on dentistry, or if she'd just hit the genetic jackpot. Understand: These were not just the usual straight teeth you get after putting up with years of braces—these were Hollywood teeth. Toothpaste-model teeth. I was weak with admiration.

“Is everybody warm enough?” Allison asked. “
Great!
Then let's get started. There's a lot to see and we need to get you back to admissions before nine.”

We followed as she led us around the far side of the admissions building and down a gentle slope. “This is the living part of the campus,” she explained, gesturing toward a cluster of large, elegant three-story buildings. “Each student is assigned to one of the cottages. That's where we live and eat our meals for the whole time we're at Allbright.”

“Excuse me,” Mom said. “Did you say
cottages
?”

“I know.” Allison treated us to another stunning smile. “They don't look much like cottages, do they? I guess someone decided it sounded cozier than calling them dorms—but that's what they really are.”

We were heading straight for one cottage in particular; probably the one where Allison lived.

“This looks more like a college than a prep school,” Dad said.

“Well, yes. It was a college, once upon a time. Sort of a finishing school for girls. But it closed in the early seventies and Allbright bought the land and the buildings. The setting's gorgeous, isn't it? Great views! There are even hiking trails up in the hills over there. It's one of our PE options.”

“What, hiking?” I asked. “You're kidding!”

“No, it's true. You can take all kinds of cool things—hiking or tennis or golf or swimming or mountain biking. We only do lifetime sports here, on the theory that people rarely play football or soccer after they leave school. We want to promote a healthy lifestyle for now and in the future.”

Mom and Dad exchanged smiles of approval.

“Allbright was founded by scientists, as I'm sure you know. So they gave a lot of thought to health issues—wholesome food and plenty of exercise. Everyone here is extremely fit.”

I studied the few Allbright students who were out and about that early in the morning, and saw that Allison was right. They were fit, every single one of them—fit and absolutely gorgeous. Not a single one was overweight or suffering from acne or cursed with bad hair. They had perfect posture. It was like being at cheerleading camp!

“This way,” Allison said, leading us up a flight of flagstone steps to one of the cottages. There was a wooden sign over the entrance with incised lettering painted in gold. It said P
RIMROSE
C
OTTAGE
. Allison smiled as she turned the knob on the big arched door. “Welcome to Primrose,” she said, “my home away from home.”

The front hall opened onto a large, beautiful room filled with couches and cozy armchairs. “This is our common room,” Allison explained. “That's ‘common' as in ‘shared,' not ‘common' as in ‘falling below ordinary standards.'” Another smile. “It's our living room.”

And no, it most definitely did
not
“fall below ordinary standards.” Mom was positively bug-eyed, pointing out the carved oak paneling, the oriental rugs on the hardwood floors, the leaded glass in the windows, and the genuine, gold-framed art on the walls. Even the ceiling was decorated with fancy plaster designs. It was, without a doubt, the prettiest room I'd ever seen.

Even more astonishing was how clean and orderly everything was—and fifty or sixty kids lived there? Where were the sneaker marks on the upholstery? The coats and backpacks on the floor? The Coke cans and pizza boxes?

We saw none of these things, only three neat piles of newspapers on a big round table (the
Washington Post,
the
New York Times
, and the
Wall Street Journal,
in case you're wondering) and a handful of well-scrubbed teenagers reading them. They sat in chairs the way grown-ups do, without slouching and with both feet on the floor.

“Hi, Allison!” said a girl who looked to be about my age, lowering her copy of the
Post.
“Hi, visiting family!” she added, squinting her eyes in a cute way when she smiled. Like Allison, she was perky and adorable. We gave her a friendly wave, but there was no time for introductions. We had to keep moving.

“Down this hall is the dining room,” Allison said, ushering us into a cavernous space with tall windows that looked like the room where the Knights of the Round Table used to eat on special occasions—except for the fact that the Primrose tables weren't round (they were long and narrow). And, of course, there was the buffet station at one end. But these minor factors aside, King Arthur would have felt right at home in the Primrose dining hall.

Breakfast was in full swing. Remarkably, everyone was eating (and apparently enjoying) what I can only describe as health food: oatmeal, whole wheat toast, grapefruit, yogurt, that kind of thing. No Froot Loops or Count Chocula to be seen anywhere.

“The food here is totally awesome,” Allison said. “And very healthy. You'd be surprised how fast you lose your craving for junk food.”

Mom and Dad exchanged more happy smiles.

Then we were on the move again, back to the common room and down a hall. Allison opened a door to reveal a sunny classroom full of desks.

“Study hall,” she said. “It's required for grades six and seven, just to get them in the swing of things, but lots of eighth and ninth graders come, too. It's a good place to go if you really want to focus and get your work done. Plus, there are always teachers available to help with any questions or problems you might have. This is the girls' study hall. There's another one in the boys' wing.”

Next door was a computer lab. We had just enough time to admire the huge collection of computers and printers and scanners before Allison herded us back toward the common room and up a flight of stairs.

“Everyone has a private room, but they're arranged in suites,” she said. “Four rooms sharing a bathroom. A few of the seniors' suites have sitting
rooms too, with fireplaces. They're awesome—something to hope for. I didn't get one, alas.” She punctuated this with a pretend look of dismay, then smiled to show that she didn't really mind missing out on that fireplace. “And all the rooms have incredible closet space. My sister goes to Princeton now, and she never stops reminding me to
appreciate the closets
! It's like her mantra.”

BOOK: The Mysterious Case of the Allbright Academy
4.05Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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