When we reached the office, M.K. put her hand on the doorknob, but turned to face me before opening it. “You’ll need a hall pass before you go back,” she sniped. She opened the door and after I walked inside, closed it behind me. Friendly girl.
Foley’s office looked the same as it had a few days ago, except that she wasn’t in the room this time. Her heavy oak desk was empty of stuff—no pencil cups, no flowers, no lamp—but for the royal blue folder that lay in the exact middle, its edges parallel with the edges of the desk, as if placed just so.
I walked closer. Holding my bag back with a hand, I leaned forward to take a closer look. LILY PARKER was typed in neat letters across the folder’s tab.
A folder bearing my name in an otherwise empty room. It practically begged to be opened.
I glanced behind me. When I was sure I was alone, I reached out a hand to open it, but snatched it back when a grinding scrape echoed through the room.
I stood straight again as the bookshelf on one side of Foley’s office began to pivot forward. Foley, tall and trim, every hair in place, navy suit perfectly tailored, stepped through the opening, then pushed the bookshelf back into place.
“Can I ask what’s behind the hidden door?”
“You could ask,” she said, walking around the massive desk, “but that does not mean I’d provide an answer to you, Ms. Parker.” Elegantly, she lowered herself into the chair, glanced at the folder for a moment, then lifted her gaze, regarding me with an arched brow.
I responded with what I hoped was a bland and completely innocent smile. Sure, I’d wanted to look, but it’s not like I’d actually had time to do anything.
Apparently satisfied, she lowered her gaze again and, with a single finger, flipped open the folder. “Have a seat,” she said without looking up.
I dropped into the chair in front of her desk and piled my stuff—books and bag—on my lap.
“You’ve been here three days,” Foley said, linking her fingers together on top of her desk. “I have asked you here to inquire as to how you’ve settled in.” She looked at me expectantly. I guessed that was my cue.
“Things are fine.”
“Mmm-hmm. And your relationships with your classmates? Are you integrating well into the St. Sophia’s community? Into Ms. Green’s suite?
Interesting, I thought, that it was “Ms. Green’s suite,” and not Amie’s or Lesley’s suite. But my answer was the same regardless. “Yes. Scout and I get along pretty well.”
“And Ms. Cherry? Ms. Barnaby?”
“Sure,” I said, thinking a vague answer would at least save my having to answer questions about the brat pack’s attitude toward newcomers.
Foley nodded. “I encourage you to expand your circle of classmates, to meet as many of the girls in your class as you can, and to make as many connections as possible. For better or worse, your success will be measured not only by what you can learn, by what you can be tested on, but on whom you know.”
“Sure,” I dutifully said again.
“And your classes? How are your academics progressing?”
I was only in the fourth day of my St. Sophia’s education—three and a half pop-quiz- and final-exam-free days behind me—so there wasn’t much to gauge “progressing” against. So I stuck to my plan of giving teenagerly vague answers; being a teenager, I figured I was entitled. “They’re fine.”
She made a sound of half interest, then glanced down at the folder again. “Once you’ve settled into your academic schedule, you’ll have an opportunity to experience our extracurricular activities and, given your interest in the arts, our art studio.” Foley flipped the folder closed, then crossed her hands upon it, sealing its secrets inside. “Lily, I’m going to speak frankly.”
I lifted my eyebrows invitationally.
“Given the nature of your arrival here and of your previous tenure in public school, I was not entirely confident you would find the fit at St. Sophia’s to be . . . comfortable.”
I arched an eyebrow. “Comfortable,” I repeated, in a tone as flat and dry as I could make it.
“Yes,” Foley unapologetically repeated. “Comfortable. You arrived here not by choice, but because of the wishes of your parents, and despite your having no other connections to Chicago. I can only imagine how difficult it is for you to be here in light of your current separation from your parents. But I am acquainted with Mark and Susan, and we truly believe in their research.”
That stopped me cold. “You know my parents?”
There was a hitch in her expression, a hitch that was quickly covered by the look of arrogant blandness she usually wore. “You were unaware that I was acquainted with your parents?”
All I could do was nod. The only thing my parents told me about St. Sophia’s was that it was an excellent school with great academics, blah blah blah. The fact that my parents knew Foley—yeah. They’d kind of forgotten to mention that.
“I must admit,” Foley said, “I’m surprised.”
That made two of us, I thought.
“St. Sophia’s is an excellent institution, without doubt. But you are far from home and your connections in Sagamore. I’d assumed, frankly, that your parents chose St. Sophia’s on the basis of our relationship.”
She wasn’t just acquainted with my parents—they had a relationship? “How do you know my parents?”
“Well . . . ,” she said, drawing out her one-word response while she traced her fingers along the edges of the folder. The move seemed odd for her—too coy. I figured she was stalling for time. After a long, quiet moment, she glanced up at me. “We had a professional connection,” she finally said. “Similar research interests.”
I frowned. “Research interests? In philosophy?”
“Philosophy,” she flatly repeated.
I nodded, but something in her tone made my stomach drop. “Philosophy,” I said again, as if repeating it would answer the question in her voice. “Are you sure you knew my parents?”
“I am well acquainted with your parents, Ms. Parker. We’re professional colleagues of a sort.” There was caution in her tone, as if she were treading around something, something she wasn’t sure she wanted to tell me.
I dropped my gaze to the gleaming yellow of my boots. I needed a minute to process all this—the fact that Foley had known my parents, that they’d known her, and that maybe—just maybe—their decision to send me here hadn’t just been an academic choice.