Chapter Two: Maimie
I would have remembered everything that happened at the Fall Fantastic that night anyway — every moment, every detail — because that was the night that I danced with Greer Nelson. Greer looked even more handsome than usual in his black jacket and bow tie. He smelled so debonair, too. He smelled clean and sophisticated, like someone who was refined. Greer Nelson was refined, with his curly hair and a better than normal dimpled smile. He wasn’t like the other boys I knew who slicked back their hair and thought they were Elvis. Really, Greer could have been a television star, he was that handsome.
No one really had a date for Fall Fantastic. Tradition said that we always invited the boys from Xavier – their homecoming was a week away and this was sort of our salute to them before the big game. So, no one had a formal date except of course the girls who had steady boyfriends from Xavier. Everybody just danced with the boys they knew, but of course the boys did the picking.
Slow, slow, quick, quick. One foot after the other. My green heels, with their little bow clips, clicking on the floor as I followed his lead. Glide, glide, saunter, saunter. Swing, sway, look cool. There was the fact that stood all on its own – a prom queen in its very own corner – that before everything else that happened later night I danced with Greer Nelson.
OK, you know what else? I had a great dress. That must be said, even if that meant I was boasting. However big of a braggart it made me, I didn’t care. I had a great dress that I made myself. It was possibly even the best hand sewn dress in the history of the Fall Fantastic and was green taffeta with lace cap sleeves. It was quite Fall and it was quite Fantastic!
So was Cecelia Hall. Every table around the dance floor had its own jack-o’-lantern and there were candles on the Great Room mantel. Garlands of silk flowers hung from the back of each chair and on the terrace, paper lanterns and tiny Christmas lights were strung across the awning frame. We got to dance beneath these glittering lights and beneath a sky of full of stars and a yellow moon. Oh, it was so beautiful.
You know the first thing they told you when you visited the Villa was that Cecelia Hall was haunted. Well, the first thing Sister Superior told you was that Villa Innocenica was a serious institution of learning that has been educating the young women of Baltimore for one hundred years, and that many, many famous and important women had attended this school. They told you that it was a privilege to attend the Villa, but that we were in fact worthy of this honor. There was something special about us, some unique quality that maybe we didn’t even know in ourselves just yet, but it was our mission, our call from God, to discover what that blessed trait was during our four years in this beautiful place of learning.
I didn’t usually fall for that sort of stuff. But there I was, more than two years ago, a little freshman in a crowd of newcomers. We were so nervous, all of us in our new uniforms, and our hands so sweaty, our stomach churning with nerves. We had to stand up for a benediction in front of the whole school, and that’s when the business of being told about our specialness started. And those words, well, they had sort of an effect. We barely made it out of chapel, we were such a wreck, and we staggered to our first classes of our high school career. We were emotional messes of pride and worry, and wondering if we were going to be the first person to fail out of our class. That was when the older girls started to whisper to us the rumor that Cecelia Hall was haunted. By the end of the day, all of us had heard the story.
“See,” I told Greer as we danced on the terrace. “before Villa Innocencia was a school, Cecelia Hall was a someone’s house. Some steel baron who had gone to England and seen all the castles and wanted one of his own right here in Baltimore.”
He nodded. “It’s so gray and creepy.”
It was. It had a round center tower that looks like it needed a drawbridge and moat, it was so forbidding. There were other little turrets and big, beveled windows with twinkling glass frames and a giant wooden door that was as dark as a tree trunk and about as big as a garage door. That was the front door! I could just imagine a butler opening it when it was a castle. It was all very Tower of London.
“No one’s told you the story of the ghost?”
“Really? But what did you talk about with the other girls when you danced? Oh, wait,” I teased him, “Maybe you didn’t talk?”
“They didn’t tell me ghost stories. That’s for sure.”
So I told him. The tale went like this: The steel baron’s daughter was wronged by another girl, an artistic rivals who had taken a painting of Cecelia’s and passed it off as her own so that she could get into art school. Cecelia, that was the name of the daughter, died of influenza shortly after, unknown and unable to fulfill her artistic potential.
“Cecelia’s ghost will haunt any of the students who wrong one of their Villa Innocencia sisters,” I said. “She will creep out from the crevices with her hand over her broken heart to frighten us into doing the right thing and being good girls. Sort of the Golden Rule Ghost, I guess. So the moral of the story was to be true to our sisters, to be a good Villa girl in our intentions and our actions.”
“And you’re sure that every word of it’s true.”
“Of course. Villa Innocencia girls don’t make up stories.”
“If you say so.”
It was getting chilly on the terrace, and some of the girls and their dates left the terrace to continue dancing inside. But I didn’t want to break the mood.
“Let’s stay outside,” I said to Greer. There were goose bumps on my arms and my teeth started to chatter – just a little bit, not enough for him to hear. But if we went inside, I knew he would find someone else to dance with.
“OK, Mary Evangeline.” He pulled me closer and we danced like that for a few minutes.
If a chaperone had been out there, we would have been told to step away from each other. But there was just us. That’s when he bent down to kiss me.
“Don’t worry,” he whispered. “No one can see us.” He kissed me again.
Then the spell was broken.
“Mary Evangeline.” That wasn’t Greer’s voice. “Mary Evangleine.” I knew that voice.
Suddenly Greer Nelson pulled away from me so quickly, I tripped forward and almost fell on the patio. That’s when I saw Sister Superior.
“Mary Evangeline,” she said. “You’re going to have to come with me.”
Next chapter: Tommy interrupts the dance.