So there we were, all five of us, barreling down the road in the pitch-black dark, early on a Saturday morning. We were headed for the Allbright Academy, a school we'd never heard of till the week before, but which we hoped to attend in the fall.
Sounds crazy, I know. Looking back, I can't believe we ever thought it was a good idea. I guess we were just so dazzled by Martha Evergood's phone call that we simply lost our wits. (And yeah, I do mean that Martha Evergood, the first woman to be secretary of state and a genuine hero to every female on the planet.)
Dr. Evergood had been the guest speaker at a junior leadership conference that my sister, Zoë, went to in D.C. At the closing banquet they were seated at the same table, and Zoë proceeded to charm the socks off her, something Zoë has a natural tendency to do. Now, Dr. Evergood happened to be on the board of directors of the Allbright Academy, and Zoë struck her as a perfect candidate for the school. So Dr. Evergood picked up the phone and called their admissions people, urging them to get Zoë out there for testing ASAP.
The very next day the director of admissions called Mom and invited Zoë to apply. Apparently the invitation alone was a big deal. Allbright didn't let just anybody come out there to take the test—only very special students. And Mom shouldn't worry about expenses, either, he said. If Zoë was accepted, she would be on full scholarship!
Mom was really blown away by this, and clearly didn't know quite how to respond to it. Her end of the conversation started out kind of like this:
"Oh . . . um . . . well . . . really? . . . Gosh!" Finally she got herself together and explained to the admissions guy that Zoë had a twin brother, J. D., as well as a big sister, Franny. (That's me, of course.) Mom doubted that Zoë would be willing to go to Allbright if she had to go without us.
No problem, the man said. We could come take the test too.
We were still deep in amazement over that call when the phone rang again. This time it was Dr. Evergood, herself, in person. Mom actually held her hand over her heart as she stood there listening to this very famous lady talk about how remarkable Zoë was and how Mom and Dad really ought to send her to this very special school. Allbright, Dr. Evergood explained, had been founded by two Nobel Prizewinning scientists for the specific purpose of developing the gifts of kids like Zoë, kids with special talents who would grow up to be our country's next generation of leaders.
"Please consider Allbright very seriously," Dr. Evergood said. "I think your daughter has enormous potential. She deserves the best education possible."
Really, after a sales pitch like that, how could we say no?
Now, I don't want you to think, from what I said earlier about losing our wits, that my family is totally nuts. I mean, yes, we were completely starstruck over Dr. Evergood's call. And, yes, we did make what seems like a pretty impulsive decision. But we did give the matter some thought first.
Mom and Dad said we were awfully young to be going to boarding school, especially the twins. And we had always been public school people. But this was clearly an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and though they would miss us terribly, we could go if we wanted to. It was up to us.
We weren't sure we were ready to go to boarding school either. And besides, we had moved a lot over the years, because of Dad's job, and we were sick of changing schools. Under normal circumstances, we would have turned down Allbright's offer on the spot, no matter how many Nobel Prize winners had founded it.
But these weren't normal circumstances. It was almost as though fate had arranged for us to go to the Allbright Academy so we could discover the things that we did, and save the country from disaster. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Let me just say that, only the week before, we had learned that the twins' school would be closing the following year, to be remodeled and turned into a high school. Zoë and J. D. would be going someplace new anyway. Then, the year after that, they would be moving a second time, to middle school. At least at Allbright they could stay in one place till it was time for them to go to college.
My situation was different. H. L. Mencken Middle School was brand-new and I would be staying there for three years. Unfortunately, my best (and I have to be honest here—only) friend, Beamer, would not. He was transferring to a special magnet program for the arts. So in a way, I'd be starting over again too, at least socially.
So those turned out to be the tipping points. Since Allbright was supposed to be so fantastic, why not start over there? Or at the very least, we ought to drive out to the school and check the place out.
The campus of the Allbright Academy is in a quiet, woodsy corner of Maryland, a two-and-a-half-hour drive from our house in Baltimore. Since we were supposed to be there by eight, we'd left home around five fifteen. That meant that we'd had to set our alarms for four fifteen, to allow time for all of us to shower, pack, and eat breakfast. Naturally, the twins and I went back to sleep as soon as we hit the road. We pulled into the visitors' parking lot a little before eight. I had been dreaming that my above-mentioned friend, Beamer, was trapped on the roof of a school, which in my dream I knew to be the Allbright Academy, and which was on fire. I was frantic to save him. Then the engine stopped and I woke up.
Excerpted from The Mysterious Case of the Allbright Academy by Diane Stanley Copyright © 2008 by Diane Stanley. Excerpted by permission.
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