I remember attending the end-of-year party as a yearling, and then years went by when I didn't. Of course I didn't, the party is only for yearlings, graduating students, and faculty. The remarkable thing is for two years running, I was barely aware the party even happened. One year I heard noises from downstairs when I was doing my homework in my room and guessed that the party was in progress. I have no idea how it was planned and set up without my noticing. The next year I didn't notice it at all, although there were several events in the Great Hall that I didn't attend and I assume one of them was it.
How can things be kept secret in a community of less than two hundred people, all of whom live and entertain in the same building? Especially as no one ever said it was secret the year I attended? It's one of the magics of this place that I still have not plumbed.
This year, as October and the school year drew to a close, I again did not notice the party, either. No preparation, no invitation, nothing. Was there going to be no party? I was disappointed.
But then, yesterday, I went upstairs to go to dinner in my dorm and I met Eddie coming down.
"Are you coming?" he asked.
"To the party," he said.
It took me a few seconds to figure out what he meant. Then I turned around and hurried down the stairs after him. And, sure enough, though the Great Hall had been empty when I'd passed through it less than a minute earlier, some twenty people had arrived, with more coming in. They were clearly setting up for a party.
"How do you know about these things when I don't?" I asked Eddie.
"Well, now you do know," he said.
"I have a talent for making things happen," he said. "And let's leave it at that." He was involved in making the Beltane play happen, after all. I shrugged and followed him into the party. We helped set up trays of food and drink and pushed the couches closer together to leave more room for dancing.
There were finally maybe forty or fifty people in attendance, not quite all the yearlings or graduates, but most of us, and all of the masters except Joe (the head of the Janitors) and Karen. There was less music this time, but more musicians--less a band than a series of people playing a couple of songs when the mood struck them. There was more food and perhaps less alcohol. There was a Mexican-style Day of the Dead altar opposite the rather withered and aged Thankyou Doll from Mabon still sitting in state above the fireplace.
But otherwise the party seemed much the same.
Even Kayla and Aidan were there, just like they were four years ago. Kayla has been part of the yearling group this year, since she'll be graduating with some of them. But four years ago, she was a twelve-year-old. She was a kid. And Aidan was a baby. Now, Aidan is a small child. He's three and a half, which is a much more mature age than I used to think it was. And Kayla is...not a woman, but a teenager. It makes a big difference.
So, we mingled and danced and chatted and ate. Yearlings came up to me and my fellow graduating students and asked us questions, just like I asked questions four years ago.
And as the party drew to a close, just like last year, a few people stayed longer than everybody else and sat together on the couches around the wood stove--lit for the first time that night. I joined the group, at least in part, because I wanted to see what these people would say. Some of them I actually hadn't ever really talked to before.
Kit and Charlie both stayed, though I caught them looking at each other with wary suspicion. Allen stayed, as did Malachi. I haven't talked much about Malachi, but he works in the office, alongside Sharon. He's the comptroller and quartermaster--the quartermaster on a ship is in charge of supplies, and that's what Malachi does. He orders pencils and notebooks and cleaning supplies and everything else and keeps it all within budget. I hardly know him.
Steve Bees and Eddie both stayed, as did Jutta and Raven G. and Joanna. Nora the yearling stayed, as did Kari and Chrystal, also both yearlings. We sat around, mostly drinking cocoa or cider, though a few people had brandy.
Joanna sat on my lap in one of the big, comfy, winged chairs. Other people noticed.
"So, uh, are you two an item now?" asked Raven. She did not sound so much disapproving as confused. It's true that Joanna and I don't make an obvious match. We don't really fit together, the way some couples do.
"Not exactly," I said, because we aren't exactly a couple.
"We're just sleeping together," Joanna asserted, "we're not actually dating." The others nodded, accepting the explanation, and I turned red. It's not exactly that I mind the others knowing what we're doing and why, but it's not something that I really want to talk about casually, either. Joanna and I haven't discussed how to talk about our relationship with others yet, and obviously we should have.
"It's weird being here as a graduating student," I said, to change the subject. "Last time I attended this party, I was a yearling."
"Imagine how it is for me," said Jutta. "I'm here twice."
Four years ago Arthur, who was, like Jutta, a one-hit wonder, said almost exactly the same thing.
"Do you wish you had more time here?" asked Allen, and they talked about time and coming and going and belonging for a while. The masters must have nearly the same conversations every year. All of us, all us students, think of ourselves as so unusual, so unique, and yet we're so predictable.
I watched the conversation play out, noticing body language and vocal tone, how the talk flowed from one person to the next, and I noticed something odd. Nora was sitting, not on a couch, though there was room, but literally at Charlie's feet. They did not speak to each other nor look at each other, nor had I been aware of any particular connection between them before. He isn't one of her masters. She mostly works with Joy. And yet her sitting with him could not be a coincidence. The way she had folded her legs under herself, the way she held her arms, echoed his posture. He laid his hand on her shoulder at one point, just for a few minutes. He doesn't normally touch anyone. I've never seen him give anyone a hug.
I felt a spike of weird jealousy and also something like guilt. Usually it's me, consciously or unconsciously mimicking him, and here I was with a girl on my lap. Woman, excuse me. I had thought his reassurance to me on Samhain that it's ok for me not to be celibate as he is, had been silly, an example of him expecting me to have a problem that of course I wouldn't have. But at that moment I needed the reassurance. I felt like I was letting him down, choosing something superficial and hormone-addled over the deeper truths, the truer dedication he had taught me.
"How come you're all here?" asked Steve, addressing the masters in the room. "It's after Samhain. I thought you all had to turn into pumpkins, or something?"
"We don't have to do anything," asserted Charlie.
"How do you know we're not all pumpkins together?" asked Allen.
"I think they came out of pumpkinitude for the night because this party was a lot easier to schedule after most of the other students have gone away," said Eddie, and Charlie pointed at him and said "ding!ding!ding!ding!"
"Wait, what?" said Kari.
"Haven't you noticed?" said Chrystal. "Most of the students who aren't yearlings or graduators have moved out. And more are going."
"Hey, that's true," said Kari, and I envied her her discovery of this place, her place at the beginning of the process.
"I wish I could head out," said Steve, "I just have a few things I've got to finish up here first. No offense, it's not like I want to get away from any of you people...It's just that I...."
"You have a girlfriend," said Joanna, in her teasing way.
"Yes, I have a girlfriend," he asserted with proud dignity.
He's actually had this girlfriend for a while now. She knows about us and some of us have met her on her short visits to campus. He often spends weekends away, and talks to her from campus on a cell phone, something very few of us actually do. It feels like cell phones ought to be against the rules or something, but they're not.
"Why don't you bring her up for a few days?" suggested Raven. "Let her get to know the school a little better."
"I wanted to," said Steve, "but we couldn't get it arranged before the school year ended. I guess I've lost my chance, now."
"Why?" asked Charlie. "Bring her over now anyway. After all, we haven't all turned into pumpkins.