The Miles Between

Mary E. Pearson

Henry Holt and Co.

Chapter 1

            I was seven the first time I was sent away.  This raised eyebrows, even among my parent’s globe trotting friends, and I was brought back home in short order.  Rumors are embarrassing, you know? A nanny was employed, but that only partially solved their problem.  I was still in the house.  I was seen and heard.  At eight years old it seemed reasonable to send me off again.  And they did.

            They never kept me at any one place for long.  The counselors are bothersome and have too many requests.  Like asking that my parents visit at least once.  Or that I return home for holidays.  When rumblings begin, I know I will be shuttled off somewhere new once again.  I don’t allow myself to get too settled or attached.  There is no point.

            I came to Hedgebrook when I was fifteen.  That was almost two years ago.  It is by far the most beautiful of the boarding schools I have attended.  I commend Mother and Father.  Rolling green hills hem in the red brick mansion that serves as the school.  Many of the dorm rooms still have bars on the windows, due to its previous use as a mental hospital, but they don’t interfere overly much with the view from my room.  I can see pasture after pasture, white fences that bend and hide with the hills, two red barns, and a farmhouse that is so far away I can only guess that the color might be blue.

            Today is October nineteenth, the exact same date I was sent away when I was seven.  I pay attention to dates, numbers, and circumstance.  Obsessively some say.  I prefer to think of it as careful observation, finding the pattern to coincidence. Can there be such a thing as a pattern to coincidence?  It would seem to defy the very definition.  But many things are not what they seem to be.

            Take Hedgebrook for instance.  Hedges are abundant here.  They separate gardens, stables, and fields.  Some are large and loose, and move in the wind like sheets billowing on a line.  Others are small and tight, like nervous turtles hunched in their shells.  And others in the distance, naturally sprung up along brooks and in the dips of hills, are really a mixed batch of trees and shrubs, actual forests if you could get through them, but hedges by default.

            And then there are the brooks.  There are four within a short stroll of Hedgebrook.  They all tie together somewhere I’m sure, or maybe they all started out together once and were separated by an unforeseen knoll, but they thread around Hedgebrook like thin shoelaces so there is always some babbling within earshot.

            But it is only coincidence, for it is not the hedges or the brooks for which Hedgebrook is named but for Argus Hedgebrook who built the first home here in 1702.  Not a tremendous coincidence.  Some would say none at all.  But still, I think about it and wonder, like I wonder about today.         

            I snap my sheet as I have done every morning since I have been here. Schedules are the lifeblood of Hedgebrook.  Failure to follow the prescribed routine has consequences, and I am resigned to that, because really, Hedgebrook is a place I can sink into.  I wouldn’t say I love it, but I can feel invisible which is not such a bad thing to be. It fits around me comfortably, like my gray chenille robe. But mind you, I am not attached to Hedgebrook.  I wouldn’t be so foolish as that.

            My Aunt Edie visits every three months.  It is not easy for her.  As rich as my parents are, she is poor.  Not destitute poor, but traveling is a luxury for her.  She tried to get custody of me when I was ten, but I suppose she couldn’t out-muscle my parents’ lawyers.  Nothing came of it. But every time she visited she would tell me she loved me, and every time I would ask why my parents wouldn’t let me live at home, and every time she would turn away and wipe at her eyes.  I don’t ask her anymore.  I enjoy her visits and I don’t like to see her cry.  Crying is something I avoid watching and doing.  Nothing comes of it either. I learned that when I was seven.

            The breakfast bell rings and I hear shuffling in the hall outside my door.

            “Breakfast, Des,” Mira says, briefly poking her head in the door, before she hurries on.

            Like I don’t know. 

            Mira’s daily reminder drove me mad at first.  I punched her on my fourth day here. Impulsive, yes, but I hadn’t quite settled in yet.   I thought it would stop her, but the next day, there she was again, announcing breakfast, and I realized that perhaps she couldn’t help herself. Well certainly she couldn’t if.  Even her swollen lip was not a deterrent.  And she didn’t tell anyone how she got it either, so I tolerate her daily intrusion, thinking of it as a newspaper smacking my door. I’ve even added to the routine with my daily response.                  

            “On my way, Mira.”  It’s a small thing to offer for one who doesn’t cry over split lips.

            I tuck the sheet beneath the mattress, and quickly tuck in the blankets as well, neatly folding the corners, the way Aunt Edie showed me years ago.  She comes after classes today for a two day visit.  Mrs.Wicket, knows that Aunt Edie is low on funds, so she allows her to stay in an empty room over the old carriage house.  It is against the rules, but Mrs. Wicket likes Aunt Edie, and I suppose she likes me, though I have no idea why. I make a quick phone call to the front office to remind them of my aunt’s pending arrival and then comb my short black locks with my fingers and a sprinkling of water from the glass by my bedside. 

            Before I leave for breakfast I take a last look at my calendar.  My days are bunching up.  I have never been anywhere this long.  I know the news will come soon.  Where will they send me next?  But it is best not to think about it, because that means I would care, and I don’t.  I rip October 19th from the pad and crumple it into the trash.  It feels almost illegal to dispense with a day that hasn’t yet played out.  I smile at the thought of being able to so easily control my destiny.