Secrets and Friends
Chapter 4: The Secret Place
The next chapter begins Friday morning, as the first week of school draws to a close. Heather is in the middle of an “arithmetic relay,” which sounds absolutely horrid.
Heather looked at the problem and ran to the front of the classroom. She picked up the chalk and began writing on the blackboard. Quickly, she solved the multiplication problem, but it was no use–her team was losing.
“Correct,” Mrs. Hughes said, checking Heather’s work. She handed Heather the next card. Heather dashed back and handed it to the next girl in line.
My god, that sounds worse than a spelling bee.
We are told that Heather usually loves these things, which doesn’t do much to endear me to the character, but that’s personal so I’m letting it slide. Today, however, she hates it because she still hasn’t managed to make any friends. Sounds familiar, so far.
She had soon figured out that May Evans and Ethel Reynolds were the two most popular girls. The rest of the girls spent most of their time just following them around. Everyone, except Laura. She kept to herself.
How big is this school? Let’s be generous and say it’s got 30 students. There are 2 rooms in this schoolhouse, and we’re only dealing with one room, so let’s say that there’s about 15 students per classroom. That’s still much bigger than a lot of modern SDA schools, but set that aside.
In such schools, there is no such thing as popular or unpopular. Everybody knows everybody. I suppose I could be even more generous and assume that by “popular” the author actually means “girls with the most friends.” Fair enough, I suppose.
This chapter, though, does get one thing right: Adventist schools, especially the smaller ones, are extremely clicky. If you didn’t go to the school with the other children since like, kindergarten, it’s really hard to fit in and make friends.
Anyway, Heather whines more as she trudges back to her seat, and Mrs. Hughes screams. “Oh my!” Mrs. Hughes said loudly and put her hands over her mouth. A large brown toad hopped on top of her stack of books and then down to the floor. “Ribbit,” it said.
Of course, if this happened to me, I’d just turn it into a teaching moment. But I don’t know if a school like this would have an Australian Amphibian Guide book, and there was definitely no internet.
Anyway, everyone in the class laughs, and the poor toad leaps out the window. Mrs. Hughes recovers her composure, and before she can react, May Evens gets her attention.
May Evans bounced up and down on the bench next to Heather. “Mrs. Hughes?” She called out.
“Yes, Miss Evans,” Mrs. Hughes answered.
May stood up and lifted her nose in the air. “I saw James and Nathan at your desk earlier. They seemed to be up to some mischief.”
I find this most unrealistic. A tattle tale like this would not be one of the well liked girls who everyone followed. Why not create a random girl named, I dunno, Jane, and have her be the snitch? It would give us the impression that there are more than 7 people in the entire classroom.
Mrs. Hughes dismisses everyone except James and Nathan. Heather overhears May Evans telling Ethel what a troublemaker her brother is and flips the fuck out. She’s ready to retort when Mrs. Hughes asks her to wait outside for her brother. So Heather basically has to stay at the school waiting for Mrs. Hughes to be done with her brother.
We get more of Heather’s whining about her brother, and then she thinks about how strange it is for fall to be in March. The seasons being flip flopped really confuses her.
Heather sits beneath a tree to wait and people watches for a while. It’s not very interesting and kind of a pointless scene. Finally, James and Nathan come out and find her. James apologizes for getting Nathan into trouble, and Nathan tells him that that’s ok, it was his idea, after all. Heather is really pissed off.
“What were you thinking, Nate?” She asked Angrily.
Nathan began walking toward the creek. “Don’t worry about it,” he said. “It was only an innocent little prank.” He shoved his hands into his dusty black pants. “I want my new friends to know that I am a fun sort of guy.”
Oh my god who talks like this?
Setting that aside, Nathan is right. He put a frog in the teacher’s desk and it startled her. Honestly, the toad was probably more scared than she was, and while I don’t condone using animals for pranks, ultimately no one was harmed. I kind of think everyone’s making a big deal over nothing.
Heather tells Nathan that the prank wasn’t funny, and that now everyone thinks he’s a trouble maker.
“You could follow my lead,” Nathan said looking down at her with his cool blue eyes. “Then maybe you would have some friends.”
Yanno, Nathan’s kind of got a point. Heather probably shouldn’t copy her brother, but she could loosen up a little.
In any case, Heather bursts into tears, calls her brother the meanest boy that ever lived, and runs to the rowboat. She’s so whiny and dramatic.
When she and Nathan get home, aunt Rachel tells them their mother is resting. Then Heather kinda sorta tattles. I get that she doesn’t tell Aunt Rachel outright what happened, but it’s still tattling.
Heather sat up straight. “Nathan can tell you about his day, too,” she said glaring over at her brother.
“What happened now,” Aunt Rachel asked with a sigh.
Nathan flashed Heather an ugly look.
I am supposed to like the protagonist, right?
“You can tell me now, and I’ll tell your father for you. Or you can wait and tell him yourself,” Aunt Rachel said.
She sends Heather outside. Heather wanders around for a while outside the hotel.
Just then, someone opened a little door on the side of the hotel. I’ve never noticed that door before, Heather thought.
Heather finally gets curious and opens the door.
Inside was a steep set of stairs leading to a narrow hallway. Heather listened. She couldn’t hear anyone, so she dashed inside and down the steps. Just as she stepped into the hallway, she heard a voice. Quickly she ran to the other end of the hall and around corner….Heather blinked her eyes to adjust to the darkness. Bunched up in one corner was a soft pink quilt. A simple shelf hung on the wall, and on the shelf was a cup with 3 purple flowers in it. Carefully, Heather poked her head around the corner. No one seemed to be coming.
Heather and I both know that this corner has to belong to somebody, but Heather doesn’t care. She takes down the quilt and sort of folds it into a chair. And then she whines and cries some more. Really, I get that moving to another country and not having any friends is a big deal, but oh my GOD the whining in this chapter!
I will give the author credit. This is one of the most realistic prayers I’ve read in an SDA work of fiction.
Oh dear Jesus, she prayed silently, I don’t want to be in Australia anymore. I want to go home. She sobbed and sobbed. Please, can’t father sell his books somewhere else? Do you really have a plan for us here?
Heather cries some more, then hears voices. Quickly she rolls up the quilt, puts it back where she found it, and leaves. She discovers she feels better, and thanks Jesus for listening.
In one sense, I don’t have an issue with Heather crying. Crying is a natural way to relieve stress, and moving to another country and having to try and make friends are very stressful things. What I do have an issue is that she seems to wine about everything.
Yanno, I’ve been reading ahead, and I was going to say that Heather doesn’t have any flaws. She’s a perfect little goody-two-shoes that nobody would like in real life. Then I came back and read this chapter and remembered all the whining.
Heather has flaws, they’re just flaws that I can’t stand in a character.