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       In the Company of Crazies, p.1

           Nora Raleigh Baskin
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In the Company of Crazies

  Table of Contents


  In the Company of Crazies

  For my dad

  Part One

  Mountain Laurel, the middle of nowhere and nothing.

  Going to Mountain Laurel was my choice. That’s what they told me. They. The collective they. My therapist. My school counselor. The entire middle-school guidance department. My dad. And my mom, who was the one who found this place to begin with. The only one who didn’t want me to go was my little sister, Cecily. But Cecily was eight and what did she know?

  Part Two

  I had been at Mountain Laurel three weeks. I thought my parents should ask for their money back since I was probably the only kid here who wasn’t state funded. From what I could tell, Tommy’s dad (who showed up Sunday evenings in a rusted-out Honda and threw his son and his cigarette butt out of the car with approximately the same amount of concern) wasn’t paying the big bucks for Mountain Laurel’s fine education that my parents were.

  Part Three

  Mountain Laurel.

  In the Company of Crazies

  By Nora Raleigh Baskin

  Copyright 2016 by Nora Raleigh Baskin

  Cover Copyright 2016 by Untreed Reads Publishing

  Cover Design by Ginny Glass

  The author is hereby established as the sole holder of the copyright. Either the publisher (Untreed Reads) or author may enforce copyrights to the fullest extent.

  Previously published in print, 2006.

  This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the publisher or author, except in the case of a reviewer, who may quote brief passages embodied in critical articles or in a review. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

  This is a work of fiction. The characters, dialogue and events in this book are wholly fictional, and any resemblance to companies and actual persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

  In the Company of Crazies

  Nora Raleigh Baskin

  Illustrated by Henry P. Raleigh

  For my dad

  Part One

  Mountain Laurel, the middle of nowhere and nothing.

  One of the teachers here, Karen, says I am supposed to write in this journal every day. That’s about all they have to do here and half of them don’t even do if.

  What do I have to say? And if I did, why would I want someone to read if? I have nothing to say.

  All I have to say is—nothing.

  Going to Mountain Laurel was my choice. That’s what they told me. They. The collective they. My therapist. My school counselor. The entire middle-school guidance department. My dad. And my mom, who was the one who found this place to begin with. The only one who didn’t want me to go was my little sister, Cecily. But Cecily was eight and what did she know?

  I agreed to go.

  They needed to hear that.

  They needed to believe that it had been my choice. But by the time everyone came to the conclusion that boarding school would be the best solution for all of us, it was the middle of October and most places had, at least, a year waiting list. And exactly whose fault that was became just another matter for a huge debate. A brawl, really. Whose fault was it that we had waited so long, hadn’t read the signs, didn’t seek professional help until it was nearly too late? It made for some real good fights between my mom and dad. Some real doozies. But by that time, I was used to them fighting about me. Fighting about my grades (dropping by the minute), my friends (or lack thereof), shoplifting (getting caught shoplifting), my skipping school (a lot).

  No, by this time I was practically a war veteran. They could have paraded me through the streets on Memorial Day.

  Their fighting didn’t even faze me at all.

  But Cecily hated it. She would hide under her bed because that’s where our dog, Morgan, went as soon as he sensed someone’s voice getting too loud, too angry. And that’s where he stayed until it got quiet again. Dogs are funny like that. They can just feel it coming. Cecily was just following Morgan.

  “Everybody knows these schools fill up way in advance.” (My mother.)

  “Everybody? Who is everybody? Who is everybody?” (My father.) “And what’s your goddamn point anyway? I really can’t see your point.”

  But Mountain Laurel hadn’t filled up. They were accepting girls for the first time and the changeover had created a spot.

  An opening.

  I needed an opening. (And Cecily needed to come out from under her bed.) I needed an out. I needed an escape. So I went.

  So I guess it was my decision after all.

  * * *

  Mountain Laurel was a farm, or at least it must have been at one time. When my dad first drove into the place, I thought we had made a mistake. There was a huge barn. There was a little beach and a pond, and behind that was a hill and pine trees all lined up like they had been planted that way. The house looked like an old farmhouse, white with reddish brown shutters on almost all the windows and a front porch piled with split firewood. A big white husky dog sat watching us. There were those Adirondack chairs scattered on the front lawn, lots of them in a semicircle, like people had just been sitting there a minute ago, talking.

  The whole place was laid out like a mini-colonial village. Like an old-fashioned Amish community. Like something from another time. My dad and I both sat in the car for a while, just looking out, wondering if we were in the right place.

  “The sign said Mountain Laurel,” I said to my dad.

  “It did, didn’t it?” he said, nodding. But neither one of us moved.

  * * *

  Mountain Laurel.

  When I don’t feel like writing, which is all the time, Karen says I can just draw. I can doodle something instead.

  Which is what I’m going do.

  * * *

  If wasn’t just the shoplifting that got me sent away, but funny it would turn out to be the Mountain Laurel School for Alternative Education. Because when my mother searched Mountain Laurel on the Internet and found out that it had once been categorized as a school for “emotionally disturbed adolescent boys” she was a little hesitant, to put it mildly.

  Well, forget for a minute that I wasn’t a boy—I was an adolescent, I’m often accused of being too emotional and my parents are completely disturbed. So put it all together and you have a perfect match. But did it really matter at that point anyway?

  “I don’t know,” my mother said. “It was a boys’ school.”

  “So what?” I remember telling my mother.

  I remember telling her that but not thinking about it. It was almost an instinct by then. I had developed a bunch of phrases, all more or less guaranteed to end any conversation.

  I don’t care.

  Shut up.

  You’re annoying me.

  So what?

  Eventually, my mother convinced herself that it was their old website and the school wasn’t like that anymore. After all, they were accepting girls now. They had changed their name. Their brochure claimed superior education (she latched on to that one big-time) and they had an immediate opening. Besides, like I said, it wasn’t just the shoplifting. I think ultimately it was that phone message I left on the attendance secretary’s answering machine.

  I used to be real
good at deepening my voice just a bit and very seriously saying something like, “Mia Singer, grade seven, will be absent today. She has an orthodontist appointment.”

  Or a sore throat.

  Or a family emergency.

  But that day, for some reason, I said something completely different. I said, “Mia Singer won’t be able to come to school today because she’s dead.”

  The shoplifting was just the icing on the cake.

  * * *

  “It doesn’t look like a school,” my dad said.

  I looked out the window. “I think that’s the point.”

  We were far enough north to notice that the trees here had already begun to transform. The late-morning sun filtered down through the big red leaves onto the tops of the buildings and set them on fire. We were late. We were supposed to have gotten here first thing in the morning. Eight a.m. Breakfast and cleanup would be done and the first class began at 8:15, my dad had been told. But it had been more than an hour’s drive and had taken a little longer to leave the house than we had planned. It took my mother a long time to say good-bye and, when it came right down to it, she couldn’t. Cecily was under the bed again.

  To the right of the farmhouse was a long, flat rectangle building, one story, with windows all along the side and two big black doors. The path through the grass from the house to the two black doors was worn down to dirt.

  And then suddenly someone came out of the rectangle building. A little someone.

  “You’re here!”

  My dad must have recognized the woman. He opened his car door without saying anything to me.

  “Yes, we’re here. Sorry we’re late,” he began.

  I didn’t like this woman right away and I changed my mind immediately about coming here. In fact, this didn’t seem like a good idea at all. I thought I’d be much better off at my regular school. I’d go back. I’d stay there. I’d buckle down and get serious. After all, that was the guidance counselor’s original suggestion. When did I agree to this? I certainly hadn’t. Not this.

  What was I thinking? I wasn’t thinking.

  I felt the tears burning inside my face. I felt that really sharp, deep pain that sticks you right in your throat.

  I heard the word no shouting inside my brain, but nothing came out.

  My dad walked around and opened my door. He never opens the door for me, but when he did I got out of the car, because I didn’t know what else to do.

  “This is Mia,” he said to the woman.

  I couldn’t look up. I knew I would cry.

  “Hello, Mia. It’s nice to meet you,” she said. “I am Gretchen.”

  The woman had a foreign accent, German or Russian or French or something, and it made me feel even farther from home. She was shorter than me. I decided I was never going to like anything about her.

  “At Mountain Laurel, when someone speaks to you, it’s polite to respond,” she said.

  No, I would always hate everything about her.

  I turned to my dad, but he wasn’t looking at me. There are those certain times when doing what you’re told seems like your only choice, and this seemed like one of those times.

  “Hello,” I mumbled.

  I started listening to what she was saying about schedules, phone calls, and getting picked up, but I noticed faces at the window behind her. Boys, about five or six of them, all pushed up to the glass, watching. One face was long, with pimples and light-colored hair on top. Next to him was a dark-haired boy with a round face. And there was a big boy with nearly a man’s face, but there was something odd about his expression, alert but confused. Next to him was a skinny face, his eyes darting around, his lips talking. There was a boy with a baby face and blond, blond hair.

  There were more faces that moved to and from the window so quickly, I couldn’t see them all.

  “Those are the boys. The other students here,” Gretchen said when she noticed me watching. “You’ll meet them soon enough. Come. Let’s get your things.”

  My dad took my suitcase out of the trunk and started to carry it toward the house, but Gretchen stopped him.

  “She can do that, Mr. Singer. It’s time for you to say good-bye,” she said. “It’s almost time for period two. We are already behind schedule. I will call you tonight as I told you I would.”

  This time my father looked at me. He can’t do this, I thought. He’s not going to just leave. Just because this midget Nazi told him to.

  “It will be fine, Mia. I’ll talk to you soon,” my dad said. “I love you.”

  He stepped toward me like he wanted to hug, but I turned away. I didn’t say anything. He couldn’t have it both ways. He couldn’t. I could make sure he felt bad the whole way home, but as he drove away I knew I was going to feel worse than he would.

  A lot worse.

  Mountain Laurel.

  Karen says is you don’t want anyone, mainly her, to react what you’ve written in your journal, you just fold that page over. Which is really stupid, because as soon as you fold over the page, you’re going to look like you’re hiding something. So then you probably are.

  * * *

  The very first time I ever shoplifted, if really was because I wanted something. Believe it or not, it was a bottle of perfume. It was more than a year ago. I was only twelve. I didn’t even wear perfume. I still don’t wear perfume. It makes me sneeze and besides, it’s not like me at all. I’m more like the Nike-wearing, ponytail-and-hooded-sweatshirt type.

  I was at the mall with my best friend, Marcella. It was our first trip to the mall by ourselves. Well, by ourselves with two cell phones and explicit directions. My mother told me to call home every hour on the hour. At the top of every half hour, we had to call Marcella’s mother.

  I had fifty dollars in my wallet. I knew Marcella had more.

  At first we just walked around, poking into stores and walking around some more. I had been to the mall millions of times with my mom, but somehow it seemed like there was more stuff there that day. There was anything I wanted. Anything within fifty dollars, that is, minus tax. Minus lunch.

  “I’m hungry; are you?” Marcella said after about an hour of window-shopping and our first two phone calls.

  “Not really.” But just thinking about eating made me hungry when only a second ago I wasn’t. “But I’ll go with you,” I said. My stomach growled.

  By the time we found the food court, I was starving. I think if she had gotten Chinese food or something, I probably would have shared with her. But Marcella got a slice of pizza and a soda. I got a drink of water and, as it was, that cost me twenty-five cents for the Styrofoam cup.

  “It’s okay. I told you I wasn’t hungry,” I insisted for the second time. I was already down to $49.75.

  I saw the bottle of perfume at one of those kiosk cart things in the middle of the mall. There was just one girl sitting there on a stool, looking really bored. She had all sorts of stuff on her cart, mostly hair accessories—headbands and barrettes. There were long hair extensions in all colors, natural and unnatural, hanging from the top shelf. And on the far end, away from the girl on her stool, were bottles of perfume.

  Marcella was trying on a crocheted hat and looking at herself in the little mirror that was propped up between the hair combs and the glitter powder. I wasn’t about to waste my money on something junky, so I wandered around the four sides of the cart while Marcella tried to make up her mind.

  The silver and blue cylinder-shaped bottle caught my eye. I had seen the advertisements for that perfume on TV lots of times. In the TV commercial this young woman, kind of an older teenage girl, is walking down the street in Paris with her hair swinging from side to side.

  I don’t even think I wanted the perfume until I saw it sitting there. Then all I could think of was the girl in the commercial, the music, and everyone looking at her thinking she was so beautiful and confident.

  The price for all the perfumes in that section was masking-taped to the shelf: $24.99.

t’s not like I’m so dumb. I didn’t think I’d be transported to the streets of France and my hair would suddenly go from dark and wavy to blond and straight and swing from side to side behind me. There was just something that made me want that perfume.

  Twenty-four ninety-nine was more than I was willing to spend, especially for something I didn’t need. I knew other girls who stole things. I was in the pharmacy once, the one right in town, and I watched Chrissy Babcock drop a 3 Musketeers bar into her coat pocket.

  When she got outside, all her friends circled around her, laughing and cheering.

  It seemed so easy. And nobody got hurt.

  Marcella must still have been looking at herself in the mirror. I could tell by her voice coming from the other side of the cart that she really liked the hat. The girl on the stool seemed to agree, although she hadn’t budged off her perch. I took the silver bottle and held it in my hands.

  I just wanted it. I wanted something. Something I couldn’t have. So I let it slip right out of my hand and gently into my pocket, where it quietly remained for the rest of my time in the mall, all the way home in the car with Marcella’s mom, and all the way up to my room. I felt excited. And scared. And sick. All at the same time.

  I never opened the perfume bottle, never broke the plastic seal. I didn’t dare put it out on my shelf, where it might have looked pretty at least, because someone might have seen it.

  I didn’t want to use it because I don’t like perfume but also because then I’d use it up. I hid it in a plastic bag, in a shoe box in the back of my closet.

  I still have it.


  * * *

  “Everyone, I’d like you to meet Mia,” Gretchen said, like it was a big announcement, and even though I figured she would do something like that, I sunk down in my seat. We were all sitting at this really long table, in the dining room.

  I had spent most of the day with Karen, who was one of the teachers at Mountain Laurel. I mean, I guess she was a teacher. She was an adult anyway. First, Karen showed me around the farmhouse, Gretchen’s house. She pointed out the bathroom and Gretchen’s office; both were locked. She explained that all the teachers had a key for the bathroom. She took me outside and into the long classroom building where I had first seen all the faces and then across the way to the nursery school. That’s where my room was, on a renovated floor above the nursery school. When (if?) other girls joined the school, we would share this room. It was big enough. There were three empty beds.

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