Chatoyant College: Book 5
Clare K. R. Miller
It’s time for the students’ families to visit and see how their children are getting along at their new school. But it’s the girls who learn much more than they bargained for.
Dawn’s parents bring along her Aunt Pru, who attended Chatoyant College herself. She has a surprise for Dawn—but Dawn is a lot less happy to hear it than she hoped. Corrie gets a visit from her mom and grandmother, but wasn’t there a father in the picture at some point? Edie’s parents bring her bubbe, and they’re all delighted to meet Leila, who is gracious and perfect… but maybe a little bit too perfect.
The secrets get deeper with every day that passes, and one of them may be in more danger than anyone could have thought.
Parents’ Weekend (Chatoyant College, Book 5)
by Clare K. R. Miller
Text Copyright © 2017 Clare K. R. Miller
Shareable under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
Cover image by Clare K. R. Miller
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, events, and locations are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons or events, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.
This file is licensed for private individual entertainment only. The book contained herein constitutes a copyrighted work and may not be reproduced, stored in or introduced into an information retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means (electrical, mechanical, photographic, audio recording, or otherwise) for any reason (excepting the uses permitted to the licensee by copyright law under terms of fair use) without the specific written permission of the author.
Chapter 1: Plans
Friday, October 3
Dawn had really hoped to spend the afternoon outside that day, but unfortunately, it seemed the nice weather was over for the year, and autumn had begun in earnest. Except for a brief period of sun when she’d gotten up this morning, it had been raining steadily all day. And it wasn’t the blustery, soaking rain they’d been having last month… it was a gray, persistent drizzle that was somehow more depressing.
So after finishing classes and work, Dawn had made it mostly dry back to her dorm, and now she was laying facedown on her bed, with Rico, Naomi, Corrie, and Edie all arranged around the room. They were ostensibly working on homework, but Dawn, at least, was finding it difficult to concentrate, and she suspected the others were as well. She knew she wouldn’t have much time this weekend to work, but the reason for that was the same reason she was distracted.
Finally, she propped herself up on her elbows and looked around the room. Edie and Naomi were both gazing out the window at the rain. Rico was frowning at his book. Corrie, who was on the floor with her laptop, had a glazed look and was clicking her touchpad in a way that suggested the repetitive motion of Solitaire. None of them seemed to be concentrating very hard. So she brought up what was distracting them. “So,” she said into the quiet room. “Are everyone else’s parents coming for Parents’ Weekend?”
Immediately everyone turned to her, their expressions brightening. Corrie, unsurprisingly, was the first to answer. “My mom and grandma are coming!” she said with an excited smile. “Just for Saturday, but it’s great that they could both get the afternoon off. Well, my grandma wasn’t scheduled for that night.”
“Your grandmother still works?” asked Naomi.
Corrie nodded. “She’s not that old. She just turned sixty-one, actually. She works at a diner. What about you, Naomi?”
“My dad’s coming, actually.” Naomi tugged on one of her dreadlocks. “I haven’t seen him in forever. I just hope he’s not bringing my stepmom.”
Dawn could tell that wasn’t a subject that needed further discussion. “My parents and Aunt Pru are all coming,” she said. “I think Aunt Pru is more excited to come back to Chatoyant than I am to see her. She misses it here. She moved back to Canada to be close to Dad and my uncles—or to be close to us kids, I think—but I think she might move down here soon.”
“What does she do for a living?” Corrie asked.
“Oh, she’s an artist. All kinds of things. Painting, sculpture. So she can do that from anywhere.” Dawn poked Rico with her toe. “Any of your family coming?”
He looked up and grinned at her. “Yeah, my mom’s coming. You’ll get to meet her. Be warned, she’ll probably complain about me dating a white girl, but she’ll do it in Spanish so you don’t have to listen.”
“Oh good, I look forward to that,” said Dawn. She rolled her eyes and pointed at Edie. “You haven’t said anything. Don’t tell me your family isn’t coming.”
Edie shook her head quickly. “Actually, both my parents and my grandmother are coming. I was just waiting for everyone else to talk first.”
“Hey, that’s cool,” said Corrie. “Both our grandmothers are coming. Maybe they’ll get along.”
Edie grinned. “Maybe! I think my grandmother is a lot older than yours, though. My mom has two older sisters. I only get to see my grandma on holidays usually, so I’m really looking forward to seeing her.”
“I’m kind of jealous,” Dawn said. “My grandmothers both live in Florida. I never get to see them. They won’t fly up for Christmas and my family can’t afford to fly down every year.”
“Oh, that’s sad,” said Corrie. “I can’t imagine living away from my grandmother. Then again, she couldn’t retire to some nice place, either.”
“Didn’t your grandma help raise you?” Edie said. “I think you’re closer to her than a lot of people are to their grandparents.”
“That’s true,” Corrie said with a nod. “I forget that most people didn’t grow up with their grandparents always there.”
“Doesn’t anyone have grandfathers?” Naomi asked. “All four of my grandparents are still alive, but they’re not coming. I’m sure I’ll see them at Thanksgiving and Christmas and all that, though.”
Corrie laughed. “We are just talking about grandmothers, aren’t we? Actually, my grandmother and grandfather divorced when my mom was like fifteen. I’ve never met him. Mom and Grandmom both say it’s better that way.”
There was something Corrie was obviously not mentioning—the other side of her family. But fathers had come up in conversation several times since Dawn had known Corrie, and she’d always avoided saying anything. Dawn certainly wouldn’t press her. Wherever Corrie’s father was, he obviously wasn’t coming to Parents’ Weekend.
Chapter 2: An Early Morning
Saturday, October 4
The alarm, its usually gentle beep seeming to shriek in Dawn’s brain, dragged her up out of sleep. She groaned softly and moved her arm around, looking for the alarm, but it was too late to go back to sleep. She was awake enough to remember what day it was. It was the first day of Parents’ Weekend, and her parents and Aunt Pru would be here soon. They had refused to consider coming later in the day, insisting that they wanted to take Dawn out for breakfast (though where they were taking her, she didn’t know), and seeming oblivious to the fact that for college students like her, breakfast was no earlier than ten o’clock.
It was definitely too early. The sun didn’t even seem to be all the way up yet, though the lack of light might have been due more to the fact that she couldn’t quite open her eyes all the way. She quickly grabbed her towel and her shower basket, grateful that at least the bathroom was empty at this hour of the morning. The shower woke her up further, and she felt almost alert by the time Dawn returned to her darkened room. She only felt a small pang of jealousy towards Naomi, who was visible only as a vague lump under her blanket.
Dawn opened the window before getting dressed to find out what the weather was like. She was hit by a chilly blast of air and closed it again quickly, rubbing her nose. Cool, then, windy, and damp. It didn’t seem to be raining like it had been yesterday, but that might be only a momentary break in the clouds. She picked out a pair of jeans, a long-sleeved shirt, and a jacket and scarf. The combination of a deadline and the cold made her dress quickly.
Finally, she hurried down the stairs—trying not to make too much noise—and headed outside. She was supposed to meet her parents and aunt at the gates to the college.
The first person she saw, to her surprise, was Corrie, running and then walking up to the door of the dorm. Dawn held it for her. “Dawn!” Corrie exclaimed when she saw her. “What are you doing up this early? I’m not used to seeing anyone else except Byron at this time of morning.”
Dawn couldn’t suppress a yawn, and smiled wryly when she was done. “My parents and Aunt Pru insisted on taking me out to breakfast. They’ll be here any minute.”
Corrie grinned. “Well, have fun. I’ll see you later, I guess—I’d ask to come along but right now I need a shower more than anything.”
Dawn mimed being disgusted by Corrie’s smell, then waved her inside, smiling. “I’m sure they’ll want to meet you guys. See you later.”
The sun was definitely just rising above the trees as Dawn walked toward the iron gates of the school. The air smelled like damp and rot, probably from all those fallen, wet leaves around. At least there wasn’t any frost yet. It wouldn’t be long until there was, though.
Dawn was about to take a seat on one of the benches by the gate, but thought better of it when she realized that there were still puddles on them from the rain yesterday. She looked up at the sky, concerned, but it didn’t seem to be threatening more rain.
It was so quiet this early in the morning. There were sounds of cars driving on the highway, and of people starting to get up and let dogs and cats out in the town, but they were distant and faint. The only real noise was the perfectly natural sound of a bird in a nearby tree that was either very pleased with itself or trying to attract a mate.
She didn’t have to listen for long, though. After a few moments there were voices and the sound of shoes against pavement. Then her parents and aunt rounded the corner. Dawn broke into a grin and walked quickly over to hug them. They happily greeted each other. Dawn suddenly felt relaxed in a way she hadn’t even noticed before—if she’d been tense, she hadn’t realized it.
“So what’s the plan?” she said when her parents had made sure she was all in one piece. “You said you wanted to have breakfast…”
Her mom nodded. “Well, last night we looked around the little town we’re staying in—” she gestured to the town across from the college—”but the only place we saw that looked like it would serve breakfast is a diner. Is that okay? We can drive around some more and look for a different place if you want.”
Dawn’s stomach felt hollow. Getting up at such an early hour disagreed with her in more than one way. And just the mention of breakfast at a diner, bringing to mind fresh eggs and hot pancakes, made her salivate a little. “If no one else objects, that’s perfectly fine with me.”
“Okay, let’s go!” said her dad.
Chapter 3: Breakfast
They walked to the car, parked in the visitors’ parking lot, and then drove for about five minutes. If Dawn had been going there with her friends, they wouldn’t have bothered to drive, but she didn’t complain. Anyway, she was sitting in the back seat with her aunt, and there was absolutely nothing unpleasant about that.
The diner was a small, slightly dingy-looking place, at least from the outside, and there were two other cars in the parking lot. Inside, Dawn was relieved to see that it looked cleaner and in better shape, and some delicious food smells were in the air. The blue-and-white tiled floors were sparkling, and the waitress was cheerful and friendly as she led them to their table, asking where they were from and delighted to hear that Dawn was a student at the college. “Here’s your menus,” she said, handing them out as they took their seats in the booth. “If there’s something special you want, feel free to ask. We ain’t real busy and Glenda—she’s the chef—gets bored.”
Dawn nodded thanks and opened the menu to the breakfast section. Her eyes were immediately drawn to the list of egg-and-pancake combinations. “Ooh, there’s different kinds of pancakes,” she said out loud. “Should I get blueberry or chocolate chip pancakes?”
“Whatever you want, dear,” her dad said.
“That depends on what you’re going to get with them,” said Aunt Pru, bending over to look at Dawn’s menu. Her greying hair tickled Dawn’s cheek.
“Scrambled eggs,” said Dawn, pointing to the menu where it was listed. “And hash browns.”
“Still not getting sausage for breakfast, huh?” said her dad.
Dawn nodded, smiling slightly. “Still a vegetarian.”
Pru straightened up. “Well, I think blueberry pancakes go better with those than chocolate chip. I’m thinking I might get chocolate chip pancakes myself, though…”
“I might have to steal some, then!” said Dawn with a grin.
Once the food had arrived and Dawn had taken a few bites of her sweet, juicy pancakes, she felt a little more up for conversation. She reached over with her fork to Aunt Pru’s plate, took a piece of chocolate chip pancake, and asked, “So are you looking forward to being back at your old college?”
“It might sound weird, but I actually am,” said Pru with a laugh. She reached over and took some of Dawn’s blueberry pancakes. “I kind of miss it. When I left school I thought I’d just miss the people, but I actually miss the place itself too. Have they changed anything since I was there?”
While Dawn told her aunt about the newest dorm, Hickory, which was wheelchair-accessible and she was fairly confident hadn’t existed in her aunt’s time, she wondered what Pru knew about the college’s secrets. She knew her aunt had been an art major with a magic minor, but not if she had ever encountered any faeries—or other supernatural creatures, which, after meeting the mermaids Troy and Link, Dawn now knew existed. If Pru had met them, Dawn wouldn’t blame her for not sharing the information, but now she wanted to know. Any more information she could get would undoubtedly be helpful.
“It sounds like they’re really expanding their horizons,” said Pru when Dawn was finished. “When I went there they would never have allowed girls and boys to live together in the same dorm.”
Dawn laughed. “You probably had curfews, and weren’t allowed to use the same staircase as the boys, right?”
Pru rolled her eyes. “I’ll have you know we were very emancipated and modern. For the seventies.”
“Speaking of boys,” said her mom in a falsely coy voice, and Dawn experienced a sinking feeling in her stomach. Her mom continued, “Are we going to get to meet that boyfriend of yours?”
“Of course,” said Dawn, breathing a small sigh of relief that no one had said anything against Rico yet. Of course, they also hadn’t met him. Then again, there had been all kinds of criticism of the guys she’d dated in high school, whether or not they’d met him. “His mom is coming, too, so you might get to meet her,” she added.
“Oh, that would be lovely,” said her mom, sounding much more confident.
“And your friends?” asked her dad after swallowing a bite of sausage. “We’ll get to meet all of them, right?”
“I hope so,” said Dawn. She lifted the cup of tea she’d ordered and took a careful, tiny sip of it. It was still too hot to drink comfortably, so she set it down again. “They’ll be busy with their families too, but you should at least get to meet Naomi, Corrie, and Edie.”
“That will be great,” said Pru.
Chapter 4: Uncomfortable Questions
Once they’d had their breakfast—Dawn felt much better and more alert—they drove back to campus and Dawn took them on a little tour. She pointed out her dorm, but since she expected most of her friends were still sleeping, told them she’d take them up later. The campus was more awake now, and they passed many other groups of parents and students as they followed the paths around campus.
“What’s this?” said Aunt Pru suddenly as they walked up the east side. She stopped, pointing at a stone statue, the shape and size of a man but with no recognizable features. “It looks like those other statues of girls, but sort of abstract.”
Dawn bit her lip, wondering what to say. She couldn’t explain the truth, of course. Even if there was a chance that Pru knew about the faeries, her parents definitely didn’t. The other statues that Pru referred to were real students who had been turned to stone, and the new one was the faerie who had turned them to stone, stopped by Professor Lal after he had tried to make Edie another one of his statues.
Well, she didn’t really have to say anything, did she? “I don’t know,” she said. “It was already here. Some art project, I guess?”
“Hmm,” said her aunt, pursing her lips. Dawn tried not to squirm. She should have known she couldn’t lie to Aunt Pru. She never had been able to. Maybe that was a magic skill.
Thankfully, instead of asking more questions, she started walking again and changed the subject. “How about the woods? Ever go for a walk in them? I have some fond memories of that, too.”
“Aunt Pru!” Dawn didn’t have to pretend to be horrified at the idea. Of course, she knew how dangerous it could be. “It’s against the rules. I don’t break the rules. Weren’t the woods off-limits when you went here, too?”
Pru laughed and put her arm around Dawn’s shoulders. For a moment Dawn was overwhelmed with her aunt’s familiar smell—the scents of clay, turpentine, and paint always seemed to cling to her. “Oh, that’s just the administration covering their asses.”
“Prudence!” said her dad, sounding shocked.
Pru rolled her eyes. “Richard, Dawn is at college now. She’s an adult. You can’t tell me what language to use around her!”
Dawn grinned sheepishly at her dad. “I’ve heard it all before, Dad. You can’t protect me.”
“I would hope there are still some things I can protect my only daughter from!” Suddenly a series of almost-musical beeps sounded from his pocket. He pulled out his phone, looked at it, and sighed. “It’s the office. Sorry, Dawn, I’ve got to take this. I’ll head back to the car.” He waved, at the same time flipping open the phone, putting it to his ear, and walking quickly away.
Her mother watched him go with a sigh. “He’ll be gone for a while.”
“It’s okay,” said Dawn. “At least you got him to come.” She was used to her dad being distracted by work all the time. Actually, both of her parents brought their work home with them—her dad was a lawyer and her mom was a teacher. There was a reason Dawn was an only child. “Want to come and meet my friends now? They’re probably all awake.”
“Sure,” said her mom. They turned around and walked back toward Gilkey.
She brought them to her own room first, where Naomi, thankfully, was awake and dressed—or as dressed as she ever got. Actually, considering there was no paint on her clothes, she was a lot more dressed up than normal. She was at her computer, but turned around and stood up when Dawn came in. “Hi!”
“This is my roommate, Naomi,” Dawn explained. “Naomi, this is my mom, and this is my Aunt Pru. Aunt Pru, Naomi is an art major, so you might get along.”
“Oh yeah?” Pru grinned at Naomi. “I was an art major here about thirty years ago. Is Adele still teaching?”
Naomi’s eyes widened and she grinned. “Yeah! Wow, has she really been here all this time? She’s so old!”
Pru laughed. “I never thought she would be described as old! I guess that’s what happens when time passes.”
They talked for several more minutes—mostly Pru and Naomi discussing the art department—then decided to go next door and see if Corrie and Edie were in. Dawn knocked, and Edie came to open the door. As she walked in, greeting them and starting to introduce her mom and aunt, she saw that there was someone unfamiliar in the room. Someone with bright red hair.
Chapter 5: Nerves
Edie took an extra-long shower that morning and dressed very carefully—mostly in the new clothes she’d bought with Dawn and Corrie’s input at the beginning of the semester. She didn’t want to impress her parents and grandmother, exactly, but she did want to let them see that she was still taking care of herself. And she had to admit that she was nervous. She and Leila had agreed that her family should meet her girlfriend, and she’d discussed it further with Corrie, but she still didn’t know what they would say. They had come to accept her sexuality, but what if it seemed different to them now that she was actually dating someone?
Her nerves did calm slightly when a knock came at her door and she opened it to find Leila on the other side. “Hi!” she said happily, unable (and not really wanting) to suppress her relief and happiness. She gave Leila a quick hug in the doorway, then held the door so she could come in.
“Am I early?” Leila asked, looking around and then elegantly taking a seat on Edie’s desk chair.
“My family’s not here yet,” said Edie, following her over. At the moment she was a little distracted. She touched Leila’s hair hesitantly. It was loosed from its customary bun, and it hung perfectly straight from the top of her head, covering her ears and falling down past the seat of the chair. “I’ve never seen your hair down before!”
Leila turned to her and smiled. “Do you like it?”
“It’s beautiful,” said Edie fervently. It made an even more striking contrast than usual with her black jeans and black shirt. Since Leila continued to smile and didn’t object, she stroked her hair more boldly. It was silky soft, but she could feel each individual strand, like threads in a coarse cloth.
“Quit being so mushy, you guys,” said Corrie. She grinned to show she was teasing. “But your hair does look great, Leila.”
“Thank you,” Leila said. “I did hope to give a good impression for your family, Edith.”
Edie was slightly astonished. Was Leila actually feeling the same nerves she was? “I’m sure they’ll love you,” she assured her girlfriend, though she didn’t feel the confidence she tried to put into her voice.
A moment later there was a knock on the door. Her heart leaping into her throat, Edie hurried to the door and opened it. Again, though, she felt a momentary sense of relief; outside the door was not her family, but Dawn and two older women. “Oh, come on in!” she said, opening the door wider.
“Thanks!” said Dawn. “This is my mom, and my Aunt Pru. I’m sure I’ve mentioned her—she used to go here.”
“I remember,” said Edie. “Nice to meet you.”
Leila stood up, her hair barely moving but shining as it did. Edie hurried back over to her. “You haven’t met my friend Dawn yet, have you? Dawn, this is Leila.” She blushed a little as she introduced her, not quite wanting to say “this is my girlfriend” in front of Dawn’s family. She knew it was silly, but she felt tongue-tied anyway.
“Oh, I should have guessed!” cried Dawn. “It’s so good to finally meet you. I hope you’re taking good care of our Edie.”
Leila smiled and put her hand on Edie’s shoulder. “I do try.”
“Is your family coming for Parents’ Weekend?” Dawn asked.
Leila shook her head, laughing a little. “No, they gave up on that a long time ago. I don’t believe Parents’ Weekend is very popular except among freshmen, who need the reassurance. Of course, their families need the reassurance as well.”
Dawn’s aunt and mother were talking to Corrie—possibly about their little reading club, from what bits of the conversation Edie could hear—but her aunt kept glancing over at them, looking a little confused. Edie walked over to them, hoping Leila and Dawn would follow so they could all have a conversation together. It was too small of a room to try to hold multiple subjects. “We’re reading the fourth chapter this week,” Corrie was saying as she approached.
“Oh, are you talking about the club?” asked Dawn, who had in fact followed Edie.
Corrie nodded. “You know, we still haven’t formalized anything. We should really get on that.”
“After this weekend,” Edie said.
“Of course,” said Corrie. She looked up at the clock on the wall. “My mom and grandmother should be here pretty soon, I think.”
“Oh yeah…” Edie looked up too. “I wonder if my parents can even get in. Maybe I should go outside to wait for them.”
“Oh, that’s a good idea,” said Corrie.
“We should find Rico,” said Dawn, looking at her mom and aunt.
Edie looked around for Leila and found that she had sat back down and was examining her fingernails. She walked over to her. “I’m going to go downstairs and wait for my family outside,” Edie said. “Will you come with me?”
Leila looked up quickly. “Of course.”
Chapter 6: Edith and Edie
Thankfully, Edie didn’t have to wait too long. Shortly after they went outside, her parents and grandmother came around the corner of another building, looking around. They were obviously lost. Edie waved at them. “Mom!” she called. Her mom looked up, saw her, and pointed for the benefit of her dad and grandmother. They started walking towards them. Edie walked quickly to meet them partway.
She hugged all three of them happily. Nervous as she might be to talk with them, she was glad to see them. They represented most of what she liked about home, so it was like having a piece of the comfort of home without having to run into any of her classmates from high school. “Hi!” she said. “You made it okay? I hope you didn’t get lost.”
“Not until we got here. We weren’t sure which dorm was yours.” Her mom held her at arm’s length. “Oh, let me look at you. Have you lost weight?”
“A little bit, I think. I have to climb five flights of stairs several times a day.”
“You look wonderful, Edith,” said her dad. He tugged gently on one of her curls. “You’re letting your hair get long.”
Edie laughed, feeling a little embarrassed. “I just haven’t had time to get it cut.”
“Well, I think it looks lovely,” said her grandmother. “I miss having long hair.” She patted at her own short white hair, carefully coiffed in perfect curls. “And are these your friends?” she added, looking over Edie’s shoulder.
Edie’s stomach twisted slightly as she turned. She tried not to show her nervousness, steeling her hands to keep them from shaking. “This is my roommate, Corrie. And… this is Leila.” They knew who Leila was.
“Oh!” said her mom. “I’m so glad to meet the both of you.”
Her dad reached forward to shake Corrie’s hand. “Me too. Edith seems much happier here than she was in high school.”
“Aren’t we all?” said Corrie with a laugh.
“Well, I don’t think everyone has the good luck to end up with a roommate who’s also her best friend!” said her dad.
“That’s true,” said Edie. “I was really lucky. And, of course, I wouldn’t have met Leila without Corrie.”
“No need to be shy, dear,” said Edie’s mom, beckoning. Edie turned slightly and realized that Leila was still hanging back a bit. “We all know who you are. We might have been uncomfortable with Edith’s, um, choices at first, but we’re all fine now.” She ended her sentence with a pointed glance at Edie’s grandmother. They must have been discussing this in the car. Edie felt the knot in her stomach untwist a little. She could be fairly confident that none of them would say anything unpleasant.
Leila stepped forward to shake hands with both Edie’s parents, smiling her always-radiant smile. “Well, I am very pleased to meet you. You have obviously raised Edith very well. She is a very sweet girl.”
Edie’s dad laughed. “I don’t know if we can take all the credit for that, but thank you!”
“Do you want me to show you around campus?” Edie suggested.
“That would be lovely,” said her grandmother.
“I’ll wait here for my family to show up,” said Corrie. “See you later, Edie.” She walked back to the door of Gilkey as Edie, Leila, and her family started up the path.
“She calls you Edie?” asked her mom as soon as they were out of earshot.
“Oh… yeah, a lot of my friends here do, actually.” Edie had almost forgotten that it was a relatively recent nickname, only given to her by Corrie at the beginning of the school year, barely a month ago. She’d gotten used to thinking of herself as Edie, except when she was with Leila. Well, this wasn’t much of a stretch. She might have to get used to it all over again when she went home for break, though.
“A lot of your friends?” asked her dad. “Like who?”
She repressed a flash of irritation at the partially-concealed surprise in his voice. He had every right to be surprised that she had multiple friends. She was still surprised sometimes when she thought about it. “Well, Corrie, of course. And Dawn—I know I’ve told you about her. And her roommate, Naomi, and Annie, and Roe, and Lorelei, the RA…” She trailed off, feeling shy about her litany of friends. She often felt like they were mostly Corrie’s friends, anyway. “But Leila prefers Edith,” she finished.
“It is quite an elegant name,” said Leila.
“This is the theater building, where Leila spends most of her time,” Edie said, since they’d just reached it.
“Art classes are held there, too,” Leila pointed out.
“What year are you in, Leila?” asked Edie’s grandmother.
“Oh, I’m a senior. Which means, hopefully, that I will get all the good parts in plays this year.”
Edie took her time showing her family around campus—thankfully, it was a nice day. Oddly, as the tour went on, her grandmother and Leila seemed to talk more and more. She would never have imagined the two of them would find anything to talk about. In fact, they were mostly talking about mundane things, like daily college life, what Edie had to look forward to in the next few years of school, and cooking, but they seemed to enjoy it a lot.
Since they had discussed having lunch in the north field, where a special lunch with a performance by the school’s jazz ensemble was being held, Edie ended the tour there.
Chapter 7: Clovers & Flowers
Corrie passed the time waiting for her mother and grandmother to arrive by hunting for four-leaf clovers along the edges of the path that led between the gates and Gilkey. She wasn’t planning on picking any—the one she had might have been torn and a little squashed, but it still worked—but it was a way to amuse herself. She quickly found one in each of the first three patches she looked in, so when she reached a fourth, she crouched down beside it and decided to look carefully through it and see how many four-leafs she could find in the entire patch.
When she was satisfied that she had checked the entire patch, she had found three of them. She sat back on her heels and contemplated the patch. Professor Lal had explained that the profusion of four-leaf clovers on the campus was a result of all the magic in use there. But scientifically, four-leaf clovers were mutations, weren’t they? (Corrie might not be enjoying her biology class, but she intended to pass it, and that did involve learning a little.) They might be magically useful, but she didn’t think they could be inherently magical. Could the magic also be causing mutations in the other plants in the area?
Well, if there were mutations in the grass or trees, she hadn’t noticed them. Maybe in the spring she would see what kind of flowers turned up, and if the clover flowers were normal.
She stood up, brushed her hands off on her jeans, and walked toward the gates again. People were going in and out, but none of them, so far, seemed to be her family. She leaned on the open gate, looking at the iron that comprised it. Was it designed to keep faeries out, or perhaps in? That was another question she would have to remember for her magic professor. Professor Lal didn’t seem to like to answer questions specifically about faeries, but it couldn’t hurt to ask.
She looked up again and finally saw her mom and grandma approaching. Breaking into a grin, she pushed away from the iron gate and jogged toward them. Her grandmother, more than half a foot shorter than Corrie, laughed as her granddaughter swept her up off her feet in a hug. Corrie laughed too, put her grandmother down gently, and turned to give a more decorous hug to her (admittedly taller and heavier) mother. “I’m so glad you made it! Was traffic bad?”
“Worse than I expected,” her mom admitted. “Should have left earlier. How are you?”
“I’m great,” said Corrie. She really meant it—her mom might nag, but she missed seeing her. “What do you want to do first? I could show you around campus, or there’s that outdoor lunch I told you about.”
“Much as I’d love to see your school—and you’ll have to show me your dorm—I’m starving,” her mom said. “What about you, Mom?”
“I could eat,” said Corrie’s grandma. “Especially if it’s something I haven’t had to prepare myself.”
Corrie laughed. “Well, come on then.” She led them along the paths to the north end of campus, where folding chairs and tables were set up on the grass, with the jazz ensemble playing next to the gym building. It was pretty crowded already—more than half the tables had people sitting around them, and there was a fairly long line along the back, which was evidently where the food was being served. They joined the end of the line. Corrie sniffed the air, smelling fried things, though she couldn’t decide exactly what was available, and certainly couldn’t see it.
“So are you enjoying your classes, Corrie?” her grandma asked as they inched forward in line.
“Most of them,” Corrie replied. “I admit, the biology class is really boring and not easy.”
“But you love flowers!”
“Alas, it’s not that much about flowers. There is some, I guess, but the focus mostly seems to be on how everything relates to humans, which I guess is to make it interesting to the rest of the class.”
“Good thing you’re getting it over with then, huh?” asked her mom.
Corrie shrugged. “I guess so. If I’d known what it was going to be like I might have put it off until the last, and then my senior year wouldn’t be as fun as it should be.”
“Are there any other requirements you’re getting over with this semester?” asked her grandma.
“History and English, but I’ll probably take other classes in those areas. And of course I’m taking the introduction to magic class this semester so I can decide whether I want that to be my major.”
“And how is that class going?” asked her mom.
Corrie had already told her mom some of the things she’d done in magic class, but she took this opportunity (since they were still slowly shuffling toward the food) to explain it in further detail to her mom and grandma. She left out that her teacher was a faerie, but they seemed to find it interesting anyway.
Chapter 8: Stories
They were nearly to the table where the food was being served when Corrie caught up to yesterday’s class, the second one in a series on the symbolism of Tarot cards. Professor Lal hadn’t explained how they were used magically yet, only hinting that there were uses other than divination, but they were interesting to learn about. “I remember being interested in the Tarot when I was your age,” her grandma said thoughtfully. “I didn’t realize it was still around, or as old as you say it is. I might start looking into it again.”
“You could do readings for your customers at the diner,” Corrie suggested.
“Ooh, I think it’s a bit too greasy there to want to put cards down! I suppose that’s all my fault—I could just clean the counters more often.”
“So you’re not doing anything with herbs and candles like we do at home?” her mom asked.
“We aren’t doing anything at all yet, remember? It’s all theory for now.” Corrie tried to picture the syllabus. The second half of the semester was coming closer every day, and Professor Lal had said that was when they would start to actually do magic. “I don’t know if we’re going to do anything like that at all. I know there’s something on the syllabus about working with the four elements, so that might be similar. The magic we learn at school does seem to be more… hmm… systematic.”
“I expect most magic, even from other pagans, is more systematic than ours!” said her mom with a laugh.
Corrie grinned. “True!” She had encountered magic that was more similar to her family’s magic, but it was associated with people she didn’t like to think about, the Circle of the Goddess club. Interesting magic wasn’t worth it if you had to work with sexist, bigoted people like them. And she had to admit to herself that even they had seemed more systematic than her family, with their preplanned chants.
When they finally had some food—for Corrie, it was fried chicken and corn on the cob, even though it was a little late in the year for that combination—they looked around for a table. Thankfully, it didn’t take as long to find one of those as it had to get the food. They picked one near the edge of the group so they wouldn’t be surrounded by noise. It was still pretty noisy, but only from one side, and the forest seemed to absorb the sound to some extent. Corrie had looked around to see if any of her friends were there with their families, but if they were, she couldn’t see them in the crowd.
The three of them continued to talk, though Corrie turned the conversation away from herself and toward what her mom and grandma were up to. It might have been the weekend for them to find out about her, but she missed them and wanted to hear about their lives. Besides, her grandma was a great storyteller.
As the laughter faded away following one of her grandma’s stories about the fraught love life of one of the other chefs at the diner where she worked, Corrie heard her name being called. It was faint, but not too many other names sounded like hers. She twisted around in her chair, corn in one hand, trying to find the source of the sound. Finally she spotted Edie, walking towards them from the end of the buffet line. She waved enthusiastically.
When Edie came close enough to sit down, she saw that she was still with Leila and her family. Edie sat down on the other side of Corrie’s mom, and Corrie made the introductions as quickly as she could.
“Quite a crowd, isn’t it?” commented Edie’s mom.
“I suppose we all want to come out and see what our newly-minted college students are up to,” said Corrie’s grandma, who was sitting next to her.
“True!” laughed Edie’s dad. “I’m surprised there are so many, though—it’s a small school. I guess a lot are like us and bring the whole family.”
“I feel bad for the people in the jazz ensemble,” said Edie’s grandmother. “They’re busy playing and can’t spend time with their family.”
“I doubt very many of them are freshmen,” said Corrie. “Our friend Annie is a musician—she plays the oboe in the school orchestra. She said there’s only two other freshmen in the orchestra, and that’s a much bigger group than the jazz ensemble.” She took a quick sideways glance at Edie to see if she had any reaction to Annie being mentioned, but she was busy in a conversation with Leila.
“Oh, is the orchestra playing this weekend?” Corrie’s mom asked. “We should go see that if one of your friends is in it.”
“I’m not sure,” Corrie said. “If we find Annie later we can ask her about it.”
Chapter 9: Overnight
“They seem to have a lot of activities for us to do,” said Edie’s dad. “Are they afraid we’ll get bored?”
“I think it’s a combination of things,” Corrie said. “Part of it is that the school wants to show off. That’s what the musical performances are for. And I guess they want to make sure you have stuff to do all day so you don’t get bored staying here all weekend. But they also don’t want to make us entertain you in our tiny dorm rooms! We can barely fit three people in them when we want to study!”
That got a few laughs (though she hoped they all realized it was an exaggeration—the only family so far that had seen a room was Dawn’s, so they knew it wasn’t too difficult to fit six or more). “Speaking of staying here all weekend,” her mom said, “we’re actually not. Sorry to disappoint you.”
“Oh, that’s okay,” Corrie said. “I didn’t think you would be.” Since they hadn’t specified how long they would be staying, she had hoped they might spend the night, but she hid her disappointment. It had never been particularly likely.
“You’re staying all weekend, aren’t you?” said Edie, looking at her parents. She seemed to have drifted out of her conversation with Leila—in fact, Leila was now talking animatedly with Edie’s grandmother. Now that was a strange pairing.
“We certainly are,” said Edie’s mom. “We have a room at a hotel a couple of towns over.”
“We should have paid attention to the school’s literature that they sent us about Parents’ Weekend at the beginning of the semester,” said her dad.
“Why, what did it say?” Corrie’s grandma asked.
“It said to make sure we made a hotel reservation as early as possible if we were planning to spend the night,” he explained with a sheepish smile. Corrie could see that Edie had gotten her smile from him—and, unfortunately, her nose too. “We waited until a couple of weeks ago, and the hotel in this town was completely booked up. We had to go online and figure out where the other hotels in the area were.”
“Well, I might wish we could stay longer, but at least we didn’t have to worry about that,” said Corrie’s grandma. “I know where I’m sleeping tonight.”
Corrie leaned back in her chair so she could talk to Edie around her mother. “The adults seem to be having a good time.”
Edie grinned. “Well, this is their weekend, isn’t it? Oh, I don’t want to forget, I have a few books that I can give back to your mom, unless you want to hang onto them for the club.”
Corrie nodded. “We can go back to our room after lunch and look over them.”
And that was what they did, when everyone had finished eating: first they put their paper plates in the trash and their forks and knives, which Corrie had assumed were plastic, in the bin marked “flatware” (a few lines of text on the bin explained that the flatware was made of corn and was biodegradable), and then they set off back south through the campus, heading for Gilkey. On the way, Corrie put her hands casually into her pockets and encountered her four-leaf clover. She carefully pulled it out to show her mom and grandmother. They would probably be interested in it even if she left out the information about it breaking illusions. But before she could go very far with it, Edie and Leila walked past holding hands. They had to squeeze past Corrie to get around her on the path, and the clover was crushed and then torn.
“Oh no!” Corrie cried involuntarily, looking at the clover in her hand. It now only had three leaves, one of which was torn in half.
Edie and Leila stopped and turned. “Are you okay?” Edie asked. “What happened?”
Everyone had now stopped and were looking at Corrie, and she felt a little embarrassed to have reacted so strongly. She hoped she wasn’t blushing. “It’s okay,” she said, holding up the clover. “I wanted to show you this four-leaf clover I found,” she said to her mom and grandmother, “but it’s a three-leaf clover now, I guess. It was already sort of torn. Oh, look.” She noticed a spot of green on Leila’s black sleeve, reached over, and picked it off. “There’s the extra leaf.”
“I’m sorry,” said Leila. “I certainly did not mean to break it. Is it a good luck charm?”
“I guess.” Corrie grinned to show she really wasn’t upset and tossed the bits of greenery to the ground beside the path. “It’s really not a big deal. They grow all over campus. Professor Lal says it’s because there’s so much magic here. I’ll find another.”
“Really?” Leila shrugged and smiled, a bit coldly, Corrie thought. “I am glad not to have done any permanent damage, then.” She turned, along with Edie, and started walking along the path again.
Chapter 10: Good-Luck Charm
“Are four-leaf clovers the only thing that’s more common here?” Corrie’s mom asked as they all started walking again.
“I think so,” said Corrie. “I was just thinking about that earlier, as a matter of fact. I wonder if there will be weird flowers in the spring.” She kept one eye on the edge of the path as she walked. It made her faintly anxious to be without the one thing that she knew could allow her to see through faerie glamour, especially since Dawn wasn’t there. It probably wasn’t important to look for faeries today, but she wanted a new one nonetheless.
Before long she’d spotted one, and she crouched down to pick it up. “See?” she said, holding it up for her mom and grandma and at the same time looking around. But all she could see right now was the group she was walking with. There was nothing unusual about any of them, from Edie’s parents behind her to Leila leading the way. It would have been funny, she thought, if any of their family members had turned out to be a faerie. She didn’t know what she would have done about it, though.
Her mom took the clover gently and looked at it. “That’s really interesting. I’ve never seen a four-leaf clover before, really, except the laminated ones they sell in bookmarks and stuff.”
“I could find you another one to take home,” Corrie offered. “Or you could probably find one yourself.”
“I think I will look for one,” her mom said, handing it back. “I could use a good-luck charm.”
“Do you want to look at it, Grandma?” Corrie asked.
Her grandma shook her head. “I saw it. And I’ve got all the luck I need right here.”
Corrie grinned, stuck the clover back in her pocket, and continued walking back toward Gilkey.
The families followed them up to the fifth floor, though by the fourth, Corrie’s grandma was going slowly. Corrie stayed back to walk with her, but she refused any assistance. “I’ll make it. This fine, ugly, railing will help me.” She patted the railing. Corrie giggled. Her grandma continued, “I just forget I’m old sometimes. Why isn’t there an elevator in this building?”
“Well, it’s really old,” said Corrie, patiently matching her steps to her grandma’s slow ones. “Maybe it was built before elevators were common.”
Her grandma sighed. “I’m glad I wasn’t built until after elevators were common.” Corrie just laughed.
The hallway was crowded and noisy. Apparently a lot of people’s families were up here. Corrie was delighted to spot Annie, with a woman who must have been her mother, coming out of her room. “Annie!” she called. Annie turned, grinned, and waved at her.
They made their way through the hallway until they had reached each other. “This is my mom,” Annie introduced. “Mom, this is my friend Corrie.”
“Nice to meet you,” said Annie’s mom.
“This is my grandma, and Grandma, this is my friend Annie, who I just mentioned.”
“You were talking about me?” Annie smiled, but didn’t seem sure whether she wanted to be pleased or embarrassed.
Corrie nodded. “We were just wondering—isn’t there an orchestra performance tonight?”
“Oh, yeah, there is!” Annie grinned with real enthusiasm now. “It’s at seven, in the Kelleher Auditorium—that’s the big one in the administration building.”
“I think we’ll be there, then,” said Corrie, turning to her grandma, who agreed with a nod and a smile.
“We were just going to get lunch,” Annie said. “See you later, Corrie.”
“See you.” Corrie continued making her way through the hall, her grandmother just behind her. Thankfully, when they got inside her room, though Edie, her family, Leila, and Corrie’s mom were all there, it was much less noisy. Corrie’s grandma immediately sat down on Corrie’s bed with a sigh.
Corrie related the information about the concert to the rest of the group, and they agreed that they should go. “But what should we do until then?” her mom asked.
“I still haven’t given you a campus tour, but I think you should rest a little. At least Grandma should!”
“I know just how she feels,” said Edie’s grandmother.
“I had better get going,” said Leila. “It was lovely to meet you all.”
“Oh, you too, Leila,” said Edie’s grandmother. The others echoed the sentiment.
Leila gave Edie a quick kiss on the cheek. Corrie watched her go, fingering her clover.
Chapter 11: Missing Lunch
Dawn and her mom and aunt spent quite some time in Rico’s room, chatting with him and Duncan (until Duncan’s family arrived). To Dawn’s relief and pleasure, her mom seemed to like Rico well enough. She wished her dad was there too, but hopefully he would get a chance to meet Rico before the weekend was over. Her mom kept checking her phone to see if her dad had called, but whatever the business call had been, it was evidently long and important.
“So when is your family coming?” Dawn finally asked Rico, resting her hand lightly on his. She wanted to lean fully against him, but suspected that her mother would disapprove of that.
“Oh, not until much later,” he said. “They’re busy, you know. I’m supposed to meet them at the front gate at five-thirty.”
“Why don’t you come to lunch with us, then?” her mom asked. She looked at Dawn for approval. “I don’t know about you, but I’m starving.”
“I thought you wanted to wait for Dad,” Dawn said, though she, too, was quite hungry.
Her mom sighed. “Well, I guess he’s really busy. When we get outside I’ll try to call him. But if he’s too busy to call or answer his phone, I guess he’s too busy to eat.”
“We can get some extra food for him,” Aunt Pru said. She stood up and stretched. “It’s a buffet-style thing, right?”
Dawn started to say that actually, there were different food stations, some of which were prepared in front of you, but then she remembered that there was a special lunch event. The information about Parents’ Weekend had, indeed, said that it was buffet-style. “Yeah. Want to come?” she asked Rico.
He nodded. “I may as well.” They stood up, Dawn slipped her shoes back on, and off they went.
Her mom dialed as soon as they’d gotten out of the building, and held the phone to her ear as they walked up towards the field at the north of campus. They were nearly there when she finally closed it and shook her head. “No answer.”
“Oh well,” said Aunt Pru with a shrug. “His loss.”
There were enough people in line that they couldn’t see any of the food at the table as they approached, but they didn’t have to wait too long, thankfully. They’d already wasted enough time. Dawn’s stomach was growling and she felt a little lightheaded. When they reached the food, she grabbed a roll and started to eat it right away, hoping to quell her hunger enough that she could eat at a reasonable pace.
They were fairly quiet through lunch—most of them were focused on eating. Apparently they’d arrived just in time, too, because only a few minutes after they sat down, the workers serving and refilling the dishes started to pack it all up. “I guess Dad is missing the food entirely,” Dawn said.
“Until dinner, at least,” her mom agreed.
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It’s time for the students’ families to visit and see how their children are getting along at their new school. But it’s the girls who learn much more than they bargained for. Dawn’s parents bring along her Aunt Pru, who attended Chatoyant College herself. She has a surprise for Dawn—but Dawn is a lot less happy to hear it than she hoped. Corrie gets a visit from her mom and grandmother, but wasn’t there a father in the picture at some point? Edie’s parents bring her bubbe, and they’re all delighted to meet Leila, who is gracious and perfect… but maybe a little bit too perfect. The secrets get deeper with every day that passes, and one of them may be in more danger than anyone could have thought.