New girls, they are so braggy, always begging you to look. What they bring, they bring still pricetagged: kidskin belts and slouchy boots, lavish jeans stacked flat—everything the latest thing. It is so pointless, all of it a waste. What we wear are uniforms. No boys are here, besides.
Eloise Sheen, she has something gold to show. She is the worst one yet, here for weeks and flaunting still.
“No touchy,” she tells us. “Feast with your eyes.”
She bends over unbuttoned, says for us to see what her father put through the post. She does not say for us to see her sucks, but her sucks are there in her shirt, low and swinging, stealing the show. A necklace is her point.
“From overseas,” she says, and don’t we know it.
Eloise Sheen is half French and she never lets you forget it. She fingernails free every foreign stamp. She re-licks, leaves plants and flags and prime ministers smeary, spit-stuck to the mirror all of us share. The new girls, their guilty parents still send gifts.
“The rage,” she says and shows us. “The fashion.”
It is a fish the size of a real live goldfish. Orange gems serve as scales, and a gold braid slides around where eyes should be. Someone says “ick” and then all of us looking down Eloise Sheen’s shirt say “ick” or make faces like “ick.”
Eloise Sheen gets pink and says, “In France, fish are the richest things going.” That is just the kind of thing these new girls always say.
So Tanner says, “That’s not gold, that’s plated.” She’s right—you can spot a fake by the way it spins. Then Pepper says, “Stinking plate of fish,” and holds her nose and everybody laughs except Eloise Sheen, who buttons up her sucks and drops the fish back down.
Eloise Sheen is trembly, rubber-chinned. It looks like she is getting her guts together to go tattle, so all of us put our arms around her quick and say “Group hug!” like that, to keep whatever is about to happen from happening.
Eloise Sheen has the homesick shits. There is the powder room and there is the can. You can guess which one is for making snake pits, but Eloise Sheen, she thinks she is an exception. The powder room is the only place in this place with a real lock that locks, not those hook-and-eye shows anybody can bust through or flip up with a slipped-in pinky.
It is after the first bell and all of us are still sitting on our bunks, waiting to get at the mirror.
“Shake a leg, Stinkbomb, ” Skylar says to the powder room door. “Push it out.”
“Turn on the radio,” Eloise Sheen bosses from inside. “Sing something,” she says.
“My toothbrush is in there,” McKenna whines.
We do not want to do what Eloise Sheen asks, but we also do not want to hear her mess, so we sing the song about Osprey House, our house, the best house here. It is the song where Osprey defeats Eagle and Kestral, only we change Kestral’s name to Worst-ral in the song. We sing through our ponytails so we can smell our shampoo instead of smelling Eloise Sheen. We have not come up with an insult for Eagle House yet.
The second bell rings and we can forget about getting ready for our day. All of us in Room B have the same schedule. Our day is assembly, class, lunch, class, study hall, bonus. Bonus is horses or swimming, but Eloise Sheen, she has a note. She sits on a post and reads the paper, twists her stupid fish.
Skylar picks Misty, a horse she says her mother used to ride when she was an Osprey. Tanner says for Skylar to have at it. She says in horse years Misty is the living dead. Tanner gets Pippen, the filly we all fight over. I ride asthmatic Raven. Raven is a mare, not a gelding like everybody says.
Lazy Miss Moss leaves the paddock for a cigarette. She says she has something stuck in her eye. We are supposed to keep working on lead changes, but instead we get worked up about the townie who was STABBED TO DEATH at the mall. Eloise Sheen, now perky, waves us over with the headline.
“When father hears about this,” Eloise Sheen says, “it’s bon voyage for me.”
The girl in the picture is black and white and smiling, our age exactly. The person who did the stabbing was the last person you would think, just an old man in the food court, gone crazy in an instant.
“And that, ladies, is why I only shop in boutiques,” Skylar says. Pepper laughs so all of us laugh.
Eloise Sheen flips to the jump.
“Lung, lung, heart,” she says, scanning. “Swiss Army knife.”
“Congratulations—you can read,” McKenna says, trotting off on Riley, who nobody wants. Riley has a rash under his saddle. McKenna is a baby, a bottom bunker. Tonight Pepper will make crazy old man sounds and poke her in the dark.
Miss Moss is back, telling Eloise Sheen she is in contempt of the headmistress.
“Don’t you think we should know if a killer is on the loose?” Eloise Sheen says.
“Too sick to ride, too sick to read,” Miss Moss says. Miss Moss confiscates the newspaper. “They caught him,” she says to us. “No cause for alarm—your parents agree.”
It is everywhere outside of here that is not safe. When Miss Moss turns her back, Elosie Sheen blows her a kiss and shimmies her massive sucks.
“Less laughing,” Miss Moss says to us. “More cantering.”
The girls in Osprey Room B want a sexy story. It is moonlit, lights out.
“Not you, Pepper,” Skylar says. We have heard the story about Pepper and the lawnboy, Paulie Zinc, one too many times. It is PG-13 at best and Pepper is a liar, besides.
“What about you, Bazongas?” Tanner says to Eloise Sheen. “Ever put those bazongas to good use?”
Tanner is bent backwards at the knees, hanging over Eloise Sheen like a blonde bat, blood rushing to her scalp. New girls get the bad bunks, the bottom ones, where someone is always using your bed as a place to sit or else stepping all over you.
Eloise Sheen says Frenchmen are crazy for redheads. She says on the streets they stop to stare, ask her to pose for pictures.
“In Paris,” she says, “it’s a fulltime job for my father to keep them off me.”
“Sure,” Pepper says. “Right.”
“This one guy came up to us in the park,” Eloise Sheen says. “He asked me to marry him, said it was love at first sight. All of this in French, of course—très sexy. But he got handsy then and there. My father went berserk.”
Eloise Sheen says her father has ways of killing a man one-handed. “He’s secret service,” she boasts. “That’s all I need to say. He knows the head yank and Russian omelet and the hook-to-jaw—”
“Sex?” Tanner says. “Where’s the sex?”
Eloise Sheen stops talking so loud.
“The sexy guy was handsy,” she says. “Got a handful.”
Eloise Sheen chinks her fish along its chain. She is not so braggy now.
Tanner sighs and swings herself back up. “Somebody else go,” she says.
Nobody says anything and then McKenna says, “I’m sleepy. Let’s sleep.” McKenna does not have a story. Neither do I.
Then Skylar sits up and does her best Pepper impression: “It’s the story of a boy and a girl. It’s the story of a lawn.”
Later, when all of us are supposed to be sleeping, I hear Eloise Sheen next to me, quaking in her bunk. She is close enough that I could touch her if I wanted. It is true I am also in a bad bunk, a bottom bunk, but patience is part of being an Osprey, everyone says so.
Bonus is swimming. Miss Drown lets us call her Miss Drown. She wears a polka dotted one-piece with a little skirt built in. Tanner says this is because Miss Drown does not want anybody seeing her business district. Ospreys wear yellow suits. When we get wet you can see everybody’s sucks, even if they are very small.
All of us, including the teachers, have had it up to here with Eloise Sheen’s routine. When she is not shitting, she is sulking, or else crying in the bathtub, fully clothed. She is casting Room B in a very bad light. Miss Drown says note or not, Eloise Sheen has to take the swim test, safety first.
“The fish stays on,” says Eloise Sheen. Skylar says, “Don’t come crying to us when your neck goes green.”
We line up on the dock. The pool is really a roped-off part of the lake. The first question of the test is jumping in and letting the water go over our heads. The water gets colder and blacker the deeper we go.
The next question is to swim the perimeter while Miss Drown bobs in the middle, barking out the strokes. We do the side, the breast, the trudgen and the crawl.
“Nice work, ladies!” Miss Drown says.
Everybody passes, flying colors, even Eloise Sheen.
“You’ve turned out to be quite the swimmer,” Miss Drown says to her.
“Fat floats,” is what Pepper says, loud enough for all of us.
It is tough to tell tears apart from lake water, and Eloise Sheen sinks under fast, besides.
Miss Drown says, “Ladies!” and Pepper stops smiling so we stop smiling, too.
All of us are waiting to see where Eloise Sheen will pop up but when she does she is gone from the roped-off pool, out in the open where Miss Drown says there are underwater trees waiting to tangle and clutch.
Miss Drown paddles off after Eloise Sheen, but Eloise Sheen has her beat. It is a chase in slow motion, Miss Drown and Eloise Sheen just heads on the water, Miss Drown shouting, “Please, let’s please turn back.”
When Eloise Sheen is safe on the shore in a fluffy white robe, Miss Drown walks down the dock to give us our talk. We are pruney, still paddling.
“A written apology,” she tells us, “stat.” All of us are looking out over the water or up at the sky so we do not have to look back at shivering Eloise Sheen or at Miss Drown’s disappointed face.
Miss Drown says we are making Eloise Sheen worse.
“I’ve seen it before,” she tells us. “Not pretty.”
She says if we do not let Eloise Sheen into the fold she will become one of those people who spend their days in bed, afraid of showers and jobs and things most people are not afraid of.
We have parents who are bankers and painters and District Attorneys—McKenna’s mom plays a detective on TV. In their time off they are parents who ski and stand on sandbars feeding stingrays, parents who bring clean water to potbellied, fly-speckled orphans. They send us letters, postcards mostly. Since the fish, Eloise Sheen’s mail has started to look like ours.
Eloise Sheen does not know the trick and I am not going to be the one to tell her. The trick is if you can beat it past Eagle and Kestral, run past the commons and the lake and the paddocks and up into the woods, up to the rocks where the snakes and the snake eggs are, down into the blackberry field where Pepper got her sucks sucked by the lawnboy, Paulie Zinc—if you can make it past all of that without crying, then you have made it. And if you can’t make it, then so what—there is nobody around to see you shattered.
Raven breaks free and winds up dead, tangled in barbed wire. The loudspeaker news comes through in study hall. Tanner says, “At least it wasn’t Pippen,” and everybody agrees that Raven is the second best death choice after Misty, who will be dead soon enough.
I think there is a kind of coincidence, how funny that there could be two Ravens at one school, one who is brushed and blanketed in her stall, and this one, this new, dead horse I’ve never even seen. Then I am shaking my head, shaking out the news. I am on my back under the table, looking at the rainbow underside where everybody puts their bubblegum. It is easy enough to tell an Eagle is to blame—they had horses last—but the headmistress has not included that fact in her announcement. I am railing, raving about vengeance.
“Get up,” Pepper says, sharp. “What are you, having a seizure?”
And I think maybe I am, but how would I know? This is something like a sneeze, a thing you can’t stop from coming. What I know is that everybody is embarrassed, shushing me and pulling me up off the floor.
Then I am running fast, out of study hall and into the commons. I want to get past all of it, but I know I’ll never make it. Nobody is chasing me, besides. I run to Osprey House, to Room B.
There is nobody I would like to see, least of all Eloise Sheen, but guess who is there, sitting on her bunk when I open the door? It smells like she has been in there all day, missing home.
I climb up top, flop onto Tanner’s bunk.
“Watch yourself,” Eloise Sheen says, because I have shaken her and stepped on her hand on my way up.
Maybe it is because of Eloise Sheen, but up on Tanner’s bed, I cannot get myself to cry. Raven in barbed wire—impossible.
“Everybody really hates you a lot,” I say to Eloise Sheen.
There is a sound that I think is Eloise Sheen rattling her stupid fish, but then I realize it is the sound of paper. Eloise Sheen is holding up a letter, waving it between the bars of my bunk—Tanner’s bunk that I am borrowing. I think it is a dumb French letter from her dumb French father.
“Not interested,” I say, but she keeps waving the paper and I see that there is a part she has circled.
“We are sorry,” the circled part says. “We like you. Kittredge King is a weirdo.” Kittredge King is me. Eloise Sheen, full of pride, lets me hold the letter. It is signed by everybody.
From what I could tell the letter made very little difference to Eloise Sheen. I heard her later, crying in French. She had herself holed up in the bath.
Horses was cancelled, of course. It was fine art, time for smocks and wet clay and quiet. Every girl at Osprey House was crafting except for Eloise Sheen who was bawling and me who was on one knee, waterglassing the powder room door.
She sounded facedown. The language barrier and the barrier barrier kept me from getting to the heart of it, but crying is crying is crying. Still, Eloise Sheen, she had done something to undo the acoustics. What came through sounded soft—you got the impression she had something safe stowed with her in the tub.