I hardly slept that night, tucked into an unfamiliar bed in a room that didn't feel like mine. The whole night I couldn't help but feel homesick. Even though I was in my so-called home, it didn't feel right. The move from Portland, Maine to Cambridge, England was very unexpected, causing my heart to break as I kissed my childhood, my home goodbye. It would never feel like home here. My heart would always belong to Maine.
I remembered walking the streets of Portland, confident in my surroundings and ability to navigate throughout the structure of my childhood. The sweet smell of The Old Port waterfront filled my nose, creating a sense of familiarity. Every day, those smells would fill the air, our home just minutes from the beautiful body of water. I could still hear the splashing of the water as boats cut through the rising and falling waves. The buildings that held the homes of families just like mine rested all around. Each three-story building side by side. The simplicity of the brown brick that built each home gave character to the town, creating a vintage but comforting feel.
My earliest memories showcase Maine's beauty, spending all seventeen years living in the same house. In the blink of an eye, I now lived in the definition of unfamiliar. Everywhere I looked, I was filled with uncertainty as new surroundings clouded my sight. Who knew things would only get more confusing from there.
My first day at my new school was anything but ordinary. The stress of meeting a whole new group of people frightened me greatly. I wanted to make a good first impression, because that would shape how people saw me for the rest of the year. I couldn’t mess this up.
I still remember my first day of sophomore year, not knowing that it would be the last first day at my old school in Maine. Now here I was, in the middle of my junior year, moved across the country to another school, completely lost. Afraid of what was to come.
I took the bus to school and awkwardly walked to the back of the bus, watching as eyes glued to me as I passed by. As I sat down, the uncomfortable seat sticking to my sweaty thighs, the only person I had to talk to was myself. I watched as the bus pulled away from my "home", my parents waving excitedly as they both headed off to work. That simple wave gave me hope that today might not be as bad as I think.
My dad now worked as a teacher at the University of Cambridge while my mom worked at Royal Papworth Hospital as an orthopedic surgeon. I have always looked up to both of my parents. However, it was because of my dad that we had to move. The University of Cambridge heard about my father's “astounding” teaching abilities, and about his time at the University of Maine, and offered him an irresistible job offer to move and work at one of the most prestigious schools in England. That is what my parents told me. Apparently "starting fresh" was what we needed, which I definitely disagreed with, but I didn't have the energy to argue. It was too late.
My dad always kept his job a secret. Well, at least from me. He never really talked about it or his experiences at his job, which to me was very strange. Whenever that topic was brought about, he would always divert the conversation to something else, avoiding my curiosity. I guess my mom knew more than I did, because she didn't question why he would change the subject. I always felt like they were hiding something from me, but I knew asking them would do no good.
As a result of his secrecy, my father and I didn't have the best relationship. He had this mysteriousness about him that I couldn’t quite figure out. I always tried desperately to learn more about my father, but it was to no avail. I always received the same vague answers. Nothing significant.
Laughter roared through the whole bus, causing me to snap out of my intense thinking. Other conversations blurred through my ears, a few glances came my way as people noticed me sitting alone. The back of the bus was only occupied by myself. My head rested on the window, daydreaming of Maine. The bus then came to a stop, the brakes hissing as the doors flung open and kids began filing out, conversations continuing. I grabbed my bag and quickly stepped off the bus, the breeze pushing my hair and cooling my body as I looked around. The Netherhall School. Quite an interesting name.
I was completely lost. I held a wrinkled piece of paper in my shaking hands, my schedule for the school year imprinted in black ink. I followed a huge crowd of students, the same ones that were on the bus with me. The entrance doors flung open, revealing a long hallway of lockers and doors leading to different classrooms.
Pushes and shoves jolted me all around as people created their own path down the crowded hallway. My first class of the day was history. That is, if I was able to find it.
After many wrong turns, I soon realized almost everyone had left the hallway and had filed into the classrooms, leaving me isolated in a lost daze. Panic filled my body as my heart beat out of my chest. The bell rang, signaling classes were starting, meaning I was late.
I felt a burning sensation clog my nose, tears filling my eyes as I missed home more than ever. I had never felt so alone. As I stood in the middle of the empty hall, silence piercing my ears, I saw bathrooms located to my right, both men's and women's. I concluded that this location was the only option. I began to walk towards the door when suddenly, the sound of an opening door filled the hall, breaking the deafening silence.
"Are you Elizabeth Collins?" A tall, scrawny woman whom I assumed was the teacher asked, her black heels clicking as she stepped out the door. Her round glasses rested on the tip of her nose, her white poofy hair falling from her scalp. Her long, navy blue skirt fell way past her knees, her white blouse wrinkled as she moved. Stern, hazel eyes staring into my soul like lasers, burning my retinas. Her stern expression showcased utter disgust. My throat closed, not allowing me to speak as her gaze continued waiting for some sort of response. "Well?" Her rude tone snapped me out of my frozen state.
"Yes, that's me," I pathetically replied, feeling as small as an ant as she towered over me, her gaze never breaking.
"You're late for class. I'll give you an excuse today since it's your first day, but this is the only exception," the slight tone of understanding peaked through the nasty undertones of her nasally voice. She motioned for me to come into the classroom. My feet felt stuck to the ground like they were glued in place. I finally managed to unstick my feet and slowly saunter into the room.
As I walked in, the white board hung on the wall to my right with colorful posters plastered all around, and to my left were dozens of eyes staring at me. I felt my temperature rise as the other students followed me with their gaze as I stood next to the teacher. She stood proudly behind her podium in the front of the class, her back arched and her permanent frown plastered across her wrinkled face. "Today we have a new student joining us for the remainder of the school year. Now, please be respectful and listen to her as she introduces herself."
Silence. I assumed that this was the part I was supposed to speak, as the blank stares of the students waited impatiently, slumped in their chairs.
"My name is Elizabeth Collins," I began hesitantly as my audiences' expressions remained the same, untouched by the irrelevance of my presence. "I'm from Maine and I just moved here a month ago." Not knowing what else to say, I looked over at the teacher, hoping I would be able to sit down with the rest of the class to avert the attention away from me. She stared at me, her furrowed brows creasing as she analyzed me.
"Very well then. There is an open seat in the back row." She waved her hand gesturing toward the vacant seat as she began to walk away from me to her desk. I quickly darted to the back of the room. The students looked back as I sped by awkwardly plopping into my seat.
My whole body was shaking from the shock of all the attention. I placed my bag at my side next to my feet. My navy blue skirt wrinkled uncomfortably as I tried to situate myself as I sat down. My white blouse, tight in all the wrong places, made me feel extremely uncomfortable.
"All right class, today we are going to be starting a project all about the history of the royal family."
Disappointment roared from the mouths of my peers around me, eyes rolling and loud huffing of exasperated breath filled the air.
"Can't we do something else besides always focusing on the royal family?" One of the students in the front row pleaded, her irritated tone echoing.
"Of course not! You all need to know about this. We must respect the royal family in this country, do I make myself clear?" Her anger built up as it looked like steam was spewing out her ears, her face looking even meaner than before.
"Yes Ms. Arthur," the class sang through sarcastic lips.
"I mean it! If I catch anyone disrespecting the royal family in ANY WAY, you are receiving a failing grade for this project AND are being sent to the dean's office."
Silence filled the room as terrified expressions stared back at the angry teacher.
"Anyway, the project will be an individual project so it must be your OWN WORK. You need to pick one member from the current royal family, do research about their lives, as well as go back in their family tree and explore the royal families from the past. I have made a rubric and instruction guide to help illustrate what I expect each of you to include." The rubric proceeded to be swiftly passed down each row. "Now I want you to get started on your project now, so NO TALKING." her voice echoed as she raised the volume to emphasize the importance of keeping to ourselves as we worked.
I sat in my seat feeling very overwhelmed. What have I missed? It's my first day here and I already have a major project to do on a subject I know nothing about? I became very anxious, unsure of what to do. I then proceeded to pull my laptop out of my backpack and begin researching.
We didn't get a lot of time to start our projects before the bell rang aggressively, causing everyone to stir as each person headed their separate ways. I felt completely alone as everyone filed out the door, acting as if I were invisible. As I was putting my laptop safely back in it's temporary home inside my backpack, I heard someone say my name.
"Hey, you're Elizabeth, right?" Her strawberry blonde hair cascaded down a little past her shoulders bouncing as she walked towards me. Freckles kissed her face. Her crystal blue eyes looked as if it were a straight view to the ocean. Her stunning appearance and the way her outfit actually looked stylish made me feel confused as to why she was talking to me in the first place. Her eyes smiled as her kindness peeked through. A smile as bright and warm as the sun. Her soft accent added a special touch to her silvery voice.
"Yes it's nice to meet you," I smiled politely, nerves shocking my entire body as my social anxiety kicked into full gear.
"My name is Amelia Burton. You seem pretty cool. Wanna sit at my table at lunch today?"
"Yeah sure," I replied excitedly, "and you can call me Lizzie if you want to. That's what all my friends call me.”
"Lizzie, what a cool nickname! What is your next class?" I quickly grabbed my schedule from on top of my desk, analyzing it carefully.
"I believe I have English next..."
"No way, so do I!" she interrupted, supposedly excited to spend her next class with the lonely new girl that nobody else wanted to hangout with. I couldn't help but feel her pity, however, I didn't want to lose the only friend I had. We gathered our things and walked out of the classroom.
The rest of the day actually wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. I ate lunch with Amelia and her group of friends, who were also very friendly and welcoming, I had all of my other classes with Amelia, and after school we took the bus home together. I actually had someone to sit by on the way back. I never thought that would happen. We started to get to know each other and we ended up having a lot of things in common.
When the bus reached my house, I waved goodbye to my new friend, thanked the bus driver, and walked on my new driveway towards my home. I couldn't wait to share just how great my day was with my parents.
I walked in the entrance, walked up the flight of stairs to the second floor, and eventually found the right door. Realizing I forgot my key in the stress of the morning, I knocked and waited patiently. My mom cheerfully opened the door, embracing me in a hug.
"How was your first day, honey!"
"It wasn’t that bad," I began, explaining all of the exciting aspects of the day.
"I'm happy to hear you've made a friend," my mom's happy expression helped distract me from the fact that my dad wasn't home yet from work. He was never home when I got home.
After the conversation ceased, I headed to my room to work on my project on the royal family. I didn’t expect to find what I did.
I began by choosing Prince William as the main focus for my project. I sat at my desk, studiously searching for information. It was extremely difficult to find an accurate family tree of the royal family. I searched through many different websites, and ended up finding unhelpful information not related to the project's criteria. However, there was one website I clicked on that seemed different from the others. It looked extremely fancy, Classified displayed across the screen in bold, the background blue.
FBI ~ International Operations
Holy crap! How did I even come across this website? Pushing all questions aside, I proceeded to hit the continue button located below the title, only to be stopped by the required password box now displayed. So much for that.
I decided to give it a go, not expecting to type the correct password. I tried everything. As a final attempt to access the site, I typed in my last name "Collins" and to my surprise, it was correct.
I scrolled through the website, finding different classified articles about the royal family secrets, dark pasts, and hidden mysteries. I was stunned. I then saw a section labeled "Family Tree".
Bingo! I clicked on the section and analyzed the fancy tree thoroughly. As I looked more closely, I saw something that caught my eye.
This didn't make any sense. How could this be? Does mom know?
Underneath Princess Anne and Timothy Laurence lay my father's name! In all of the other family trees I analyzed, they did not include my father on them. Millions of questions swirled through my head. I began putting all of the pieces together. The reason why we even moved here in the first place. Why my parents wanted us to "start fresh". I now specifically remembered a certain moment from my childhood that helped make sense of this new discovery.
In our old house, my dad always worked in his office after coming home. It was late one night, I was 10 years old and I couldn't fall asleep. I quickly searched for my parents, finding my mom fast asleep, but my dad was nowhere to be found. An instant wave of panic washed over me as I searched for him. His office was right next to their bedroom, so as I walked out of the room, I heard his voice echo from the enclosed space. Except his voice wasn't how it usually sounded. An english accent flowed through his words as he spoke on the phone, speaking as if to an old friend. I pressed my ear against the door carefully, trying to piece together the muffled words the walls concealed so well.
"I promise we are going to come home soon. I just haven't gotten the chance yet...I know I have to tell her eventually, I just don't feel like she's old enough to handle all of this right now. We don't want people finding out....Yes, it was great talking to you, William, talk to you soon..."
I don't know what would happen if my parents found out I knew. All I knew was that things were going to be very different now moving forward. As I proceeded to keep searching, a knock pounded on my door.
“Open this door right now!”
Before I could move, my door was pushed in. Men in black suits crowded my room.
“You’re coming with us,” they moved swiftly towards my direction, as I sat there absolutely terrified.
Completely frozen. What have I done?