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“A sleuth is judged by how cunning they can be in their weakest moments.” The words that I had been fed since I could walk were the only thing running through my mind as I set down my vintage Louis Vuitton suitcase on the gleaming dark maple floorboards of my suite. The room was just how I had left it before the summer holidays. Thick maroon velvet curtains hung in front of the full wall stained glass window. Dust flew from the creases of the fabric as I pushed it aside to look out over the grounds. Perfectly manicured, not a single leaf or rose bush out of place. A few of the early arrival students were littered around the garden and the courtyard, others were just making their way across the wooden bridge in the horse drawn carriages. If there was one thing I knew about the Drew Preparatory School is that everything was done on a grand scale, no matter what. So instead of arriving to school in our parent’s station wagons every semester, we were dropped off outside of the forest under the stone archway, where we were picked up by a horse drawn carriage.
“Ms. Woodward,” a voice called from the doorway. I whipped around to find a young boy, looked to be just over eighteen standing in the doorway holding my trunk. “Where would you like me to put your trunk?” His voice was starting to shake a little, he was not a scrawny boy by any meaning of the word but the weight of my trunk was starting to bear down on him.
“Over there will be fine,” I said gesturing towards the foot of my antique four poster bed. He staggered over to the foot of the bed, setting down the trunk with a loud thud. He wiped the sweat from his brow and looked at me with a joking smile on his face
“What do you have in that trunk Ms. Woodward? A load of bricks?” His eyes sparkled as he said this.
“May I ask your name?”
“Joseph Anthony, Ms. Woodward. Pleases to meet you.” He stretched out his hand to shake, but I simply crossed my arms over my chest and stood there.
“Well Mr. Anthony, I would appreciate it if you didn’t joke. In that trunk is in fact all of the artifacts I uncovered over the summer holidays while at an excavation site in Egypt with my father.” I usually wouldn’t be so rude to the help, and Joseph had no way of knowing what was in that trunk, but he should learn that it is better for the help around Drew Preparatory School to do things and not ask any questions.
Joseph’s face went ashen as I spoke, “I’m sorry Ms. Woodward, I didn’t mean anything by it.”
“It’s fine, Joseph, but there are a few things you should learn about Drew Preparatory, people bring a lot of strange things in here, and it is customary to not ask many questions. This is a school based around the idea of uncovering secrets, but usually that is left to the students and not the help.”
“Thank you for letting me know Ms. Woodward, is there anything I can help you with?”
“No thank you Joseph you may go.” My mother would have been so proud, I was sounding more and more like the prim, proper and stuck up princess she wanted me to be, every day. And I was not going to let that happen, Joseph was already half way down the corridor when I called after him. “I didn’t mean to be so rude, Joseph, my name is Adrienne, call me Addy.”
“Well it was a pleasure to meet you Addy.” The corners of his lips turned up ever so slightly as he waved and continued walking down the corridor to go help the other students settle in. Some of which could be even ruder than I had been. I would have to find some way to make it up to him, at least he knew now though. The school’s pride and joy came from having the students and the students alone asking questions. It simply wouldn’t do to have the help poking it’s nose in where it didn’t belong.
I turned back towards my trunk, pulling my necklace off over my head and using the tiny skeleton key to unlock the latches. The heavy lid made a groaning noise as I lifted it up and leaned it against the bed. Inside nestled on top of my piles of clothing were indeed artifacts from my father’s excavation that summer. Anything the museum curators decided wasn’t necessary for the exhibit the Archaeologists got to keep for themselves. There was a piece of a stone wall covered in hieroglyphs, and a small stone statue of a sphinx. I was surprised that the museum hadn’t wanted these pieces, although the sphinx had to be pieced back together it was almost complete, it only had a few holes. It was one of my best pieces yet, and I knew exactly where I wanted to put it. Cradling it in my arms I walked over to the antique bureau next to my bed and placed it on top. The piece of hieroglyphs was going to go right next to it. I stepped back to see if the setup was satisfactory when I heard a loud crash from the hallway, some muffled noises, and then the unmistakable shout of one of my best friends Tess Worthington.
Sprinting from my room I saw the catastrophe first hand. Tess was lying face first on the Persian hallway runner with at least five suitcases strewn all over the corridor, and her fire engine red hair in a fan around her head. She sat up and brushed off her now slightly rug burned knees, fixing her askew glasses and pushing herself to her feet. “Adrienne Woodward,” she said placing her hands on her hips in a mock you-are-in-so-much-trouble-way “come over here and give your best friend a hug.” I flew down the hallway toward my best friend at warp speed tackling her with a hug and sending her crashing to the carpet.
“I am so glad you are back! You have no idea how much I missed you! The summer holidays were so boring without you, you have no idea, I spent the entire summer on an excavation site with my father, and there is only so much dust and dead things I can take!” We both burst out laughing, she knew I loved the excavations sites almost as much as my dad did, I was just happy to be back at Drew. It was our home away from home, had been ever since last year, our freshman year.
“You know you loved it, are Sabrina and Ronny back yet?” Sabrina and Veronica, Ronny for short, were our other best friends. Tess and I had been together since we were kids, but we met Ronny and Sabrina last year and all of us were instant friends, partially due to the fact that we all shared a suite.
“I haven’t seen them yet, but I half expect Sabrina to come sashaying off some private jet, fashionably late as usual.” Tess just rolled her eyes and laughed, we both knew that it was true. Sabrina was drop dead gorgeous and always had the I-look-like-I-just-stepped-off-a-runway-even-though-I-just-crawled-out-of-bed look about her. “As for Ronny, she will probably go visit Dr.Coolidge down in the labs before she comes to visit us. Sometimes I think the amount of time they spend together is a little unhealthy…”
“Tell me about it, he is like ancient. Gross.” We both spiraled into another fit of uncontrollable giggles. We were back, I was with my best friend, in the place I loved more than anywhere else in the world, starting our Sophmore year at Drew Preparatory.
Picking up the luggage strewn all of the corridor we stumbled back to our room letting the luggage cascade onto her bed. “Well, I am going to let you deal with all of this” I gestured to her luggage mountain.
“Alright I will see you down at the welcome dinner?” She wasn’t even looking at me when she asked, she was already sifting through the clothes, and photo albums and trinkets in her suitcase.
“Yeah, I will save you guys seats.” She made a faint grunting noise as I turned on my heel down the dark paneled corridor towards the spiral staircase. Everything at Drew was old, dark, and full of mystery. The dark paneled corridors the heavy curtains that covered all of the windows. The forest the ran around the perimeter of the schools grounds and the mountains that lay outside of that.
The staircase let out groans under the weight of my steps. There are so many different staircases at Drew that all lead different places, you can never really count on one leading you to where you think it will. It was because of this that the Freshman were constantly getting lost during the first month of school. You would hear an announcement almost every other morning to “please find Ryan Darling he might be locked in the broom closet for all we know.” At least the teachers were good humored about it, occasionally if you walked into class late because you got lost or got locked in somewhere they would make a joke, or get the entire class to pull a prank on you and then turn it into a lesson.
As I strolled down the brightly polished and waxed floors of the main corridor, the grandfather clock that had stood there since the school was built back in the early 1800s, it was the Clearwater school for boys back then, chimed 5 o’clock. The welcome dinner started at precisely 5:30 on the dot each year, and if you were late you were subjected to an unfortunate essay about the importance of being on time in the sleuthing business, due the next morning.
As I walked down the main corridor towards the main doors and out toward the garden I started to think about what this year was going to be like. After all it was Sophmore year and everyone at Drew knows that the coursework from Freshman year to Sophmore year intensified quite a bit. And you still had no free periods. My kitten heel riding boots made click clacking noises against the cobblestone pathway into the garden. The garden was my absolute favorite place to be on the grounds in September through November. I loved the way the leaves changed colors on all of the trees and the crunching sounds they made against the cobblestone when you stepped on them. I stuffed my hands into the pockets of my brown Donna Karan jacket, as I walked over to the wooden swing.
The swing was something we convinced the headmaster to put in last year in the early fall not long after school started. It was just a wooden plank with rope tied to the branches of one of the oldest trees on the grounds, and it was big enough to seat two people. I sat down on the left hand side of the swing, the side I always claimed when with my friends and let the light early fall breeze move me back and forth. I closed my eyes and tilted my head up toward the sky feeling the warmth of the sun’s rays on my face. I could feel someone walking up behind me and when I opened my eyes to look around I found none other than Grayson Smith sitting down on the swing beside me.
“Grayson! Your back!” The excitement in my voice was bubbling over as I hugged him. Grayson and I had met last year. His best friends Foster Covington, Everett Lions, and Ackley Clearwater had all bonded with us girls last year during the late winter and early spring semesters. I had fallen for Grayson with his leather jacket, and his slightly shaggy brown hair last year. And on the last day before the summer holidays at the Aestas dance, kissed me out on the wooden rope swing in the garden. And then he left for Austria the next morning. I hadn’t seen him until now. And I could still feel the heat surging through my body like it was just yesterday that we kissed.
“Hey Addy,” I loved the way my name sounded when he said it, in his british accent. “How was your summer holiday?”
“You know the usual, hot, a lot of dirt and dead things, but I loved it all the same, there is just something about uncovering secrets and objects that were lost so long ago.” His smile widened as I said this. He told me all the time last year that Drew was where I belonged, that he could feel it in his bones that I was meant for the life of a sleuth. “How was your summer? Did you enjoy vacationing with your parents in Austria?”
“I did, but I must admit that dear old Mum and Dad are a bit stuffy when it comes to formal events, and that was the entire summer. One society event after the other, the only sleep I got was in the town car between events.” Grayson’s parents are both members of the House of Lords in the British Parliament. So society functions were a good portion of their lives, which unfortunately included their ever dutiful son Grayson.
The grounds grew silent as neither of us were talking, all you could hear was the faintest chirping of birds and the occasional splash of a frog entering the pond. I stood up and turned around to face Grayson, “we should probably get going, the welcome dinner is going to start soon and we don’t want to be late unless you want to write an essay on the first day back.” I started walking away down the path and was pulled back by Grayson’s warm callused hand. I was spun around until I was just inches away from Grayson looking up into his ice blue eyes.
“You know, I don’t think I ever got a proper hello,” there was a teasing air to his voice coming through his thick British accent. I could feel the heat between us growing hotter, and some unseen attraction pulling us closer but then I remembered that day back in June. How he kissed me and left. He never even called, wrote, texted. Nothing. And now he was back and was expecting to pick things up back where we left off.
“We should go.” My voice was shaking and cold. His was searching and full of bewilderment. The garden’s leaves that had looked so alive and full of color moments ago now appeared to be dead and wilting.
The Grande Hall was full of candlelight. The waiters waited dutifully against the walls with their hands clasped behind their backs. The dark cherry wood of the tables and chairs gleamed as though they had just been waxed, and the silverware shone as though it had just been polished. Crystal chandeliers nearly as old as the school itself hung gracefully above. Our teachers sat at their own table near the full wall paned window.
Grayson and I wove our way through the crowd of students and their grumbling bellies toward the long rectangular table that our friends had claimed last year as our own. There, Sabrina, Ronny, Everett, Foster, and Ackley, all sat waiting for us. Catching up about how their summer had been and staring at the stark white envelopes with red wax seals and our names written on them in calligraphy that sat in front of each of our places. This was one of the longest standing traditions at Drew Preparatory. At the welcome dinner each year, the staff placed a white envelope sealed with wax at your seat at the table. Inside that envelope was your schedule for the semester.
The day after the welcome dinner was spent gathering text books for each of the classes indicated on the schedule. And making any changes that were necessary, but in a school that was based around finding out every detail about someone, there were rarely any mistakes.
“Grayson! Addy! Oh my gosh how are you guys? How was your summer?” Sabrina was talking so fast and squeezing us so tightly that I could get enough air to my lungs in order to reply.
“Sabrina down girl!” Everett said joking “Give them a moment to breathe, and say hello to the rest of us. Everyone started laughing, good old Everett, always being the funny, nice, friend that everyone adored. It wasn’t until Sabrina moved that I saw Ronny standing patiently waiting for her hug. She was so quiet, small, with her strawberry blonde long ringlets and adorable rectangular framed glasses.
“Ronny!” I squealed, going over to my friend and giving her a hug, every time I hugged her I always felt like I couldn’t hug he very hard because she might break. Everyone at the table went back to their pleasantries, as Grayson and I sat down in front of our cards. Our cards that just so happened to be right next to each other. Usually my friends conversations would have interested me but today, when I should have been the most excited to talk to them at the welcome dinner, all I could think about was Grayson. And how confusing it was that he didn’t feel the same way about us.
The chatter around the Grande Hall ceased as headmaster Clearwater stepped up in front of the teacher’s table and cleared his throat. “Good evening young sleuths and welcome to Drew Preparatory School, here at Drew Preparatory School a sleuth is judged by how cunning they can be in their weakest moments. Which is exactly why, the 50th annual mystery project.” The entire room went up in clapping, shouts, and talk about what the subject of the mystery hunt might be this year.
The mystery hunt was a tradition that Drew had been doing, as headmaster Clearwater said, for the past 50 years. The teachers put together the mystery, then each student was given an official information packet and clues were planted all over the grounds of the school. You had until the Christmas holidays to solve the mystery, on top of all of your classes.
“Now you may all open the envelopes in front of your seats, inside will be instructions on where to find your information packet as well as your class schedule.” The entire room was filled with the sounds of tearing paper as all of the eager students opened their envelopes to see their schedule and where they were going to be able to start the mystery projects. Every year the faculty chose a different place on the grounds to tell them where to get their information packets, the envelopes was their best idea yet. The students were already to excited to see their schedules that getting the directions too was like winning the lottery.