Authors: Concetta Kennedy
All three went out the front door, walked the few yards to the wrought iron bench near the frozen pond, and sat down to don their skates. It was a breathtaking sight the way Mr. McGeeny had not only put overhead lights all around the area, but he had sporadically placed red, green, and blue reflectors to mark the pond. He had also hooked up a stereo nearby, so that when they skated, they would have beautiful music.
Garden Irene was the first on the pond. Already she had forgotten about the incident at supper, and her thoughts were on sliding and spinning to the sound of the tunes. “The Blue Danube Waltz” was one of their favorite melodies. In fact, Garden Irene loved it so much, that she had her dad play it over and over until her mom and he suggested that maybe a different waltz might be a good idea.
They'd hold hands for a while, and then glide around in a line holding on to the waist of the one in front. Then they'd take turns being leader, going wherever they wished on the half-mile-long pond. Mr. McGeeny then got silly, and pretended to be at a ball, and wanted to dance with one of the beautiful “Ladies in Waiting.”
First, he danced with Mrs. McGeeny. After doing his proper bow, he ushered her to the frozen dance floor. Midway through the song, Mrs. McGeeny stepped back and he went to Garden Irene. He gave his gallant bow, and she returned a polite curtsy.
“Oh, I would be delighted,” she said with a giggle.
He smiled and led her to the dance floor of the frozen pond.
They finished the dance together, and by that time Mrs. McGeeny had joined them, and they laughed, and curtsied and laughed some more until Mr. McGeeny suddenly realized the time. “Oh my gosh, it's already 8 p.m., and Garden Irene must have homework.”
“Yes, Daddy, I do have some math. And could you please help me?”
Mrs. McGeeny said with a smile, “While you two are working on math, I'll fix us a snack.”
They removed their skates, tied them together, and flung them over their shoulders to take inside. Garden Irene was warmed by the love she shared with her mom and dad.
She was a miniature of her mother, yet she had her dad's eyes and wit. Her mom was a tall, slender lady with black shoulder-length hair. She wore a hint of make-up to enhance her nearly perfect features. Her teeth were straight and white, which shone often through her quick, radiant smile. And although she had a sense of humor, she wasn't the joker that Mr. McGeeny posed to be. If his girls were down, he made it his business to cheer them up. With his handsome looks and debonair mannerisms, he always won them over.
It was half-past eleven and Garden Irene still could not sleep. She kept thinking about what she had told the class about living in an underground castle, and what she would say to the class when they asked her to tell them more about this enchanting idea.
She had vowed to tell no more, so what was she to do? Garden Irene wished she had a best friend, because if she did, she'd ask her what to do.
Even though all the girls were very nice to Garden, they seemed distant and didn't want to let an outsider into their little group. Peter Pranston seemed to be the only one who took time to talk to her right from the first day of school.
Peter was honest and forthright. If he felt something, he said it. That didn't mean Peter was unkind, although it came across that way sometimes. He was always asking a lot of questions, and gave his opinion whether anyone asked for it or not.
Garden Irene suddenly remembered what happened on the second day of school when she had begun after moving in to Frostburg. Peter had told her about it later. He said that he overheard several girls talking about her, so he made it his business to put in his two cents. He remarked to them about how smart and pretty Garden Irene was, and how everyone should want to be her friend and make her feel part of the class.
The look on the girls' faces after hearing Peter's comments was one of surprise. They knew it took a lot to be under Peter's admiration and graces, so the discussion turned to becoming Garden Irene's good friend. If Peter liked her, then she must be someone special.
Peter wasn't the type of friend Garden Irene had in mind when she found herself daydreaming about a best friend. But when she thought about it, he was the only person she was able to talk to without worrying about all the things every new kid worries about at school.
Peter had dark brown hair, was a little taller than Garden Irene, and was a very sharp dresser. Everyone in the sixth grade liked Peter, and respected the friendship he shared with her. In fact, together they could have been models for a clothing catalog.
Peter was the first to greet Garden Irene at school the next day. He was always one of the first kids at school because he was a walker. His mom and dad both worked, so rather than stay home alone for part of an hour, he meandered to school, and oftentimes arrived about the same time as Mrs. Fitzpatrick did. On this particular day, he chose to wait outside instead of following Mrs. Fitzpatrick into the school. It was late September, so it wasn't too cold.
She often told him she always enjoyed his company and was actually disappointed if he wasn't waiting for her. Peter was like a cup of coffee to her, Mrs. Fitzpatrick had once said. He rather liked that he gave her the uplift she needed to start her day.
While he waited for Garden Irene, Peter recalled the chat he had had with Mrs. Fitzpatrick just before walking home the day before when Garden had made her castle statement.
“Mrs. Fitzpatrick, what's your take on Garden Irene's underground castle? I mean, do you think it could be possible?” asked Peter.
“Well, I'm not sure, Peter. I've never heard of such a thing around here, but I guess we have surprises every so often in our lives, and this is one for me. Guess we'll have to wait and get more information from Garden Irene herself,” said Mrs. Fitzpatrick.
Peter snapped out of his daydreaming when Garden Irene's bus finally arrived. It wasn't late; it was just that Peter had been waiting for so long that it seemed like an eternity before it got to Frostburg Middle School's parking lot.
Garden Irene looked worried to Peter. It didn't take him long to join her so he could get to the bottom of not only the serious look she wore, but also about this castle thing.
“Garden, wait up!” Peter had been leaning against the huge pine tree that had recently been trimmed from the bottom up to expose a good bit of its trunk. After trimming, it had become an official leaning post. Before the trimming, the evergreen branches prevented not only a perfect view of the oncoming buses, but there was no place to lean or hang out.
“Oh! Hi, Peter!” said Garden Irene. “Are you just getting to school now? Boy, you're late, aren't you?”
“No, Garden Irene, I've been waiting for you,” he answered.
Now Garden Irene's worried look became even more apparent. She knew that of all the kids she'd have to face in class, Peter's interrogation about her outburst from the day before would be far worse and more thorough than anyone else's.
“Garden, what's with this crazy castle story? You know and I know that you live in that dinky house at the bottom of Pleasant Street.”
“Peter, how do you know where I live?” she quickly asked.
“Why? Is it supposed to be a secret?” he retorted.
“No. But I just wondered how you knew, seeing as you don't even ride the bus,” she answered.
“Well, in case you didn't know it, Garden Irene, my father cleans the building that your father works in, and one day when we were taking a ride, my father happened to show me where his boss lives. He told me that a girl named Garden Irene was his boss's daughter. You're the only Garden Irene I've ever met, so that's how I knew. Actually, my father was a little surprised that your house is smaller than ours. Why did you say that you lived in an underground castle?”
Garden Irene now realized that she was definitely going to have to explain something to Peter. Just what, or how, she was not sure yet.
“Tell me,” he continued, “did you think that you'd get a lot of new friends or something if you could make them think that you lived in a luxurious place? I'd say that's pretty dishonest, Garden Irene.”
“Peter . . .” she began with some hesitation, “I'm not supposed to talk about this to anyone.”
“Well, what do you hope to gain by doing that?” he retorted. “You know that everyone's going to pounce on you when you get in the door, don't you?”
She stopped in her tracks. “Guess I better not even go in there then, huh?”
“What are you going to do? Stay away from school from now on, Garden Irene?”
“I'll see you, Peter. I'm walking home.”
“Are you crazy?” He couldn't believe his ears. “They'll find out that you went home, because everyone already saw you on the bus.”
“Well, I'll tell them that I got sick after I got here.”
“Garden Irene, I wouldn't do that if I were you. You're supposed to confirm it with Miss Hadley.”
“The nurse?” She glanced to the school and then back at Peter. “Why would I have to confirm it with her if I got sick before I even went inside?”
“Well, that's true,” he said, “but I don't know if I'd chance it if I were you.”
Garden Irene knew she had to think fast because it was nearly time for the first bell, which meant that all the kids could go inside the school. She made up her mind that she was not going inside. Besides, it was Friday, and she would have three days to figure out what to do.
“See you, Peter,” Garden Irene said quietly as she began to run out the back parking lot of the school. That meant she'd have to go all the way around the block before she could start heading home. If she didn't go around, the crossing guard, Mr. Lenox, would surely wonder why she was leaving.
Garden Irene ran as fast as her little feet could possibly carry her, and when she reached Sunset Street, she knew she was safe to walk at a normal pace. Just as she rounded the corner onto Sunset and could no longer see the school, she heard footsteps hasten toward her. She still kept walking at a steady clip, but didn't dare turn to see who was approaching her.
Several possible characters ran through her mind. Peter could have rushed inside and told Mrs. Fitzpatrick, and it could be her. Or, he might have decided to go right to the top and tell Mr. Ivy, the principal, except Mr. Ivy probably couldn't run that fast because he was so heavyset.
Maybe the crossing guard had spotted her anyway and decided to investigate where she was going. But he wasn't supposed to leave the crossing, especially at that hour, so it couldn't be him.
By the time the thoughts of all these people went through Garden Irene's head, she heard, “Garden, wait up, you dummy!”
She then realized that it was Peter. The one who said she shouldn't leave; the one who figured she'd get into major trouble if she went home. Now she had an even bigger problem: How was she going to get rid of Peter?
Garden Irene kept walking as if she hadn't heard Peter's call.
“Garden, you jerk! Wait up!”
There was no use. Garden Irene finally stopped and resigned herself to the fact that Peter was coming with her and had no plans to return to school.
When Peter finally caught up to her, she said in a very irritated voice, “Peter, what are you doing? After the lecture you gave me about leaving, I can't believe you're doing this.”
“Well, I am, so get used to it,” Peter panted in a voice that sounded as though he was gasping for air. “Why didn't you stop when I yelled for you?”
“Well, because I didn't know what to do. I didn't think you should come, that's why. As a matter of fact,” she decided, “you can't come.”
Without further ado, Garden Irene picked up speed again, walking quickly and looking as if she'd rather run. Trying not to look conspicuous, she maintained her fast-paced walk.
“Why can't I come?” asked Peter, matching her pace.
“Because you aren't invited, that's why,” she snapped back.
“Look, if you can't tell your friends about this, then who can you tell?”
“Peter, I'm not telling anyone.”
“Garden Irene, how do you plan on explaining this craziness to the whole class if you can't even tell me?” he asked as they reached another street. “I mean, I am your friend, aren't I?”
“Peter, I already told you that I'm not telling anyone,” she said, speedily walking on. “Not you. Not the class. Not Mrs. Fitzpatrick. Not anyone!”
“Look, McGeeny. You've got to tell somebody. You must have wanted your big secret out or you wouldn't have said it in the first place.”
Garden Irene realized that Peter was hurt to think she wouldn't confide in him. After all, he was risking his neck, too, when he decided to skip school and follow her.
She laid some heavy thoughts down on the files of her memory bank, and chose the only reasonable solution: tell Peter the truth.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick was a little uneasy when she arrived at school and realized that for the first time that year, Peter was absent. And to her, and the class's, disappointment, Garden Irene was not in school either. They were all ready to pounce on her with questions, like cheetahs on their prey; only now, they would have to save them for when Garden Irene returned.
“I had so many questions I wanted to ask Garden Irene,” said Gloria Eaton. “But I'll probably forget them by Monday.”
In unison, everyone said, “Yeah,” in a disappointed tone.
Once the morning was well underway and Mrs. Fitzpatrick had covered reading and math, she passed out the assigned classroom work. She then added the weekend homework, along with extra credit work should the classwork be completed. In the meantime, she chose to utilize the aide's services and requested Mrs. Buzzy to stay with the class while they worked on these assignments, and then Mrs. Fitzpatrick scooted down the hall to the teachers' room to call Mrs. McGeeny.
She had very carefully worded her letter to Mr. and Mrs. McGeeny the day before so as not to be too prodding or overreacting, but she desperately needed her questions answered.
Dear Mr. and Mrs. McGeeny,
I have thoroughly enjoyed Garden Irene in my classroom this year. She is an asset to the class and is a hard worker. Because you missed our Open House due to having a previous engagement, I thought it would be nice for us to meet. If it suits your schedule I would like to stop by your home to introduce myself next Monday after school, say about 5 p.m.
Please let me know if this would be convenient.
In the teachers' room, Mrs. Fitzpatrick very carefully dialed the phone number for the McGeeny residence. At the same time, she was going over and over in her mind what she would say to Mrs. McGeeny when she answered the phone.
The phone began to ring at the McGeeny home. Mrs. Fitzpatrick let her mind fantasize about the vastness of this possible castle where they supposedly lived. She imagined the ringing of the phone echoing all through the enormous rooms and hallways, breaking the silence if no one was home. But then she snapped out of her daydream when she realized, after letting the phone ring at least ten times, that no one was home.
Now she was puzzled. She had assumed that Garden Irene was home sick, and that Mrs. McGeeny would answer after the first couple of rings.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick found herself back in the classroom a good fifteen minutes or so sooner than she expected. Friday was the only day Mrs. Buzzy, the aide, came to the room, so oftentimes Mrs. Fitzpatrick could get extra things done for the following week or run a few errands within the school. At this moment, Mrs. Fitzpatrick was at a total loss for what to do; she was so preoccupied with her thoughts of Garden Irene.