The Many Lessons of Janey Forthright

a YA novel

One: The Exhibition at Freemont Hall

 

           The south stairway at Ketcham Hall has these huge, circular windows at every landing. They have to be five feet wide and the sills two feet deep. At each landing you can look out and see the whole Freemont High campus, several of the surrounding towns and, on a clear day, straight through to Boston. I assume the whole campus, surrounding towns and—with a telescope—Boston can see straight through the windows to the landings at Ketcham Hall, too, if they wanted to.

           Truth is, nobody takes the south stairs in Ketcham Hall, especially not to the sixth floor. The battery of elevators at both entrances takes everyone where they need to go much, much faster, and if you’re really in the mood to walk, there are stairways right near the elevators.

           So you can understand why I was surprised when Janey asked me to meet her on the landing of the south stairway of Ketcham Hall. I shouldn’t have been, really. Janey’s been at Freemont all four years here and she knows every nook and cranny of the place. She also knows every place that people are and are not likely to be at any given hour of the day. That’s how she introduced me to the freight elevator at Barton Hall, the basement of the music building and the never-used glass-blowing furnace room in the industrial arts department.

           But the south stairway, that was unexpected.

           I should have taken the elevator to the top, shot over to the south corner, and walked the stairs down. But to be honest, I wasn’t sure which floor Janey said to meet her on, so I went right to the stairway and started climbing.

           That’s really the first time I noticed those windows. I also noticed each one of the first three had been repaired with unpainted spackle on its wide sill. I thought that was strange, since the building was new and the rest of the stairway was pristine and perfect. When I stopped to catch my breath between the third and fourth floors, that’s when I realized how far you could see out those massive windows. It was actually kind of pretty to observe the grids of streets, offset and sometimes obscured by the abundant green of trees. New England looked quiet from there, and it seemed a shame no one took these stairs, because they were missing something special.

           I kept climbing, thinking of the earth below, wondering if the next landing would expose another panoramic view, and amazed at how heavy my legs felt, when I heard her voice.

           “Why, hello, sailor. About time you got here.”

           Like I said before, it shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did. She was sitting in the window. Okay, lying there, on her back, her head halfway up the curve at one end, her legs partially up the other curve. It had to be at least a little uncomfortable.

           Oh, and, of course, she was naked.


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