indy had secrets. Secrets she would share with no one; not now, not ever. They weren’t little secrets either. No. They were great big secrets with dark hidden recesses like the hardest-to-reach parts of a room, like the floor underneath the couch, way back by the wall where the dust bunnies hide; parts that never see the light of day; parts unreachable for inspection, unable to be cleaned.
     Mindy had problems too. Problems with many complexities to them. Complexities that might even warrant medical attention if she were to share them, which, like her secrets, she wasn’t planning to, at least not any time soon.
During the pretty lady’s talk, Mindy’s secrets and problems danced through her head. Mindy pictured them doing a samba.

The pretty lady had come to talk about problems. Mindy didn’t have the problems that the pretty lady had come to discuss, but she still had problems of her own. She had her own problems, and secrets too, and she wasn’t going to be having anyone talk to her about them either.
     The pretty lady was very pretty and also very friendly, but Mindy was inclined to think of her more as being pretty than as being friendly. There was something about the pretty lady’s friendliness that Mindy didn’t quite believe, didn’t really trust, whereas her prettiness was evident and clear, like a truth that you could touch with your fingertip or hold in the warm, fleshy inside of your hand.

Several preparations preceded the pretty lady’s appearance, several acts intended to underscore its importance. These preparations made Mindy a little suspicious. Or not really suspicious, but skeptical and maybe also a wee bit concerned.
     One of these things was vacuuming.
     The vacuuming that preceded the pretty lady’s appearance was full of violent, gnawing sounds—sounds that echoed and blasted their way through the halls. The vacuuming woke Mindy from a dream she was having, something about bees laying eggs in her ears. Mindy wasn’t even sure if bees actually laid eggs, but she was sure about the vacuuming, which was going on downstairs and filling her ears with its violent gnawing. Being woken so suddenly filled Mindy with dread—with the sense that she was in danger or that danger was coming soon. It also told her that Mrs. Bell was still here, which was not at all normal since Saturday was one of her only days off. Everyone knew it was one of her only days off because if you ever left your sandwich on the floor of the TV room—like because you were on the hall phone with your dad who never called—someone reminded you that Mrs. Bell wasn’t always around to clean up, as if you actually thought that in the first place.
     Another specific act that preceded the pretty lady’s appearance was the canceling of morning study hours. Mindy could not recall study hours ever having been cancelled before. Normally if you needed to get out of a class or study hour—as Mindy had needed to on a number of occasions—you had to go see the scary nurse. The scary nurse’s office smelled like ammonia and alcohol and if you wanted to get out of something you’d have to go there to her office and explain that you were sick. You’d have to explain that you were actually really sick, or maybe that you had very bad cramps. Then you had to hope that the scary nurse would believe you. You had to hope that she either believed you or was bothered enough by your sniveling to give you what you wanted just to get rid of you because you were always in there with this or that complaint and she had had enough of you already. If either of these things happened, if she either believed you or wanted to get rid of you, then she would give you a pass written out on a small slip of paper—a tiny slip of paper roughly the color of baby aspirin.
     Now, the scary nurse’s handwriting was impossible to read and also very small. This meant that as you walked back across campus to the headmistress’s office, all the while examining the little slip of pink paper in your hand, you wouldn’t be able to read what the scary nurse had written. You would have the little pink slip but it would do you no good.
     The scary nurse’s sentences looked like scratchy graphs, like the scratchy graphs made by lie detectors on television police shows. This scratchy-graphness made Mindy start to wonder if maybe the small, unreadable letters weren’t really some kind of code. Mindy wondered if maybe it weren’t really some unusual kind of code—a code the scary nurse used to talk with the headmistress and the teachers too—but when she got the courage up to finally share this rare idea, she found herself facing a swiftly closed door. When she approached fat Miriam who also lived on her floor, Miriam just looked at her funny and then closed her bedroom door. When Miriam’s stringy-haired roommate got wind of the theory herself, she told Mindy that she’d never heard something so stupid in all her life; the scary nurse didn’t need any code to talk to those people; she could far more easily pick up the phone.
     The third preparation that preceded the pretty lady’s appearance came after the vacuuming but before the canceling. The third preparation was an elaborate buffet of snacks. These weren’t just any old regular snacks, either, but the kind of snacks served only a few times a year: during headmistress teas or on parents weekend or when someone like the fire marshal came to talk about fire safety or someone like the police chief came to talk about not taking drugs. In a certain way, this made the snacks seem less like a special, fancy treat for them than it did a special, fancy treat for whoever was doing the visiting—a realization which felt like a not-so-nice surprise since they were the ones who were here all the time, they were the ones who really deserved special treats, not these other people who just came in from whoknowswhere.
     It was from this line of thinking that Mindy felt herself grow angry.
     Mindy was getting angry about these varied preparations—who was this pretty lady anyway?—but when, during breakfast, she looked at the faces of the girls around her, she saw that she was the only one who was feeling this way at all. The other girls at the table very clearly noticed nothing; they just went about their morning meal like nothing in particular was going on: chomping down on big spoonfuls of rainbow-colored sugar cereal, washing down piece after piece of buttered toast with glasses of pulpy fruit juice, letting crumbs build up at the edges of their mouth and neglecting the crusty bits of sleep clinging to the corners of their eyes.

The pretty lady was introduced just after the coming week’s announcements, which Mindy missed because she was still occupied upstairs. Mindy didn’t mind this though. Mindy would happily admit that she hated being rushed and sometimes that meant missing things or at least arriving late.
     In order not to be rushed, you had to bend certain rules. Sometimes rules were good, if they protected you or your property, like the rules about not going through people’s drawers or not looking under their bed where they kept their private things. Sometimes though, rules needed to be ignored—like the rules about not being late for meetings or not being late for class—particularly for matters that related to the protection of you or your personal privacy.
     Privacy was very important to Mindy.
     Everyone on Mindy’s floor shared one big bathroom, which Mindy really hated for how it impinged on her private zones. Mindy hated how the set up called for being especially speedy—she hated having to be speedy moving through her shower and sink routines—speedy and also hasty. Mindy hated having to share with so many other random girls and hated having to rush through her special cleaning routines. It was for this reason that Mindy tried to linger, that she tried on purpose to be last in line. She tried to be last in line in order to secure the needed time.
     It wasn’t just the sharing and the rushing that Mindy didn’t like, it was also the excess of noise and how it crowded up her mind. The other girls were noisy. Not only were they noisy but they were also a good bit messy and more than a little dirty and all this made Mindy really need to be in there by herself. Mindy liked to keep herself very very clean and so, understandably, liked to take her time in the shower and with her routines. She liked baths a lot too but there was no bathtub here and even if there were Mindy wouldn’t have used it. (Mindy wouldn’t even go into the shower room without her shower shoes on so she definitely wouldn’t have used a bathtub if they had one, which they didn’t.) Scalding showers were her favorite, especially if she were feeling blue, due to her problems. And her secrets. Her problems and her secrets weighed upon her like pelts of fur; they weighed on her and sometimes only scalding water seemed to help. Sometimes scrubbing her skin with a big, hard, bristled brush under scalding water helped. Sometimes that helped make things better, especially when she could be in there alone, in the stall furthest from the door and closest to the window and she could go through her shower routine slowly, counting the tiny wall tiles as she scrubbed.

So Mindy missed the coming week’s announcements but she didn’t really care; she didn’t even mind the scolding looks she got for coming in late. She may have missed next week’s announcements and the handing out of dorm awards, but she had made it down in time for the pretty lady’s introduction.
     Despite her reservations and suspicions, Mindy found herself interested to find out what the pretty lady had to say.
     Usually all these meetings—usually they were all the same. They were almost always all the same but Mindy felt like she was the only one who cared. Just like how she was the only one who noticed all the special preparations. Being the only person to notice things made Mindy feel pretty lonely but she could share these feelings of loneliness with no one but Mr. Boo; Mr. Boo who she kept hidden in a shoe box, way underneath her bed.
     Mindy used to share these feelings with her feelings journal too, but she found that if she missed one day’s entry she often missed two, and then eventually ten, and then going back and filling in the gaps was overwhelming and just too much work, and so she was forced to bury the evidence in the dining hall’s massive trash.
     It’s true that this was a meeting like all the ones before and that Mindy had come in late because she was busy being alone; she was busy being alone in the bathroom upstairs which was in the end more important to her than being on time for every single thing. But as much as most meetings were really all very much the same, this meeting was at least a little different because the pretty lady had come. As the introduction introduced, the pretty lady was here today and she would be talking to the group of them—talking about problems.

Mindy noticed the pretty lady was remarkably clean. She was remarkably clean, and clearly very fresh, and probably smelled like something pink and powdery and new.
     Also, the pretty lady really was very pretty. Mindy thought so, but she could tell by the way the others were listening to her—really listening instead of passing notes or cracking jokes from the back row where they wouldn’t be heard or rolling their eyes like they did whenever anyone said anything stupid—that they thought so too.
     The pretty lady had brown shiny hair that covered her head in a glassy helmet and a smooth, creamy complexion without a single pore. But this was not much of a surprise, the way the pretty lady looked. Mindy had figured that the lady would be pretty, not to mention trim and smiley and even a little bouncy because otherwise, what good would it do? No one wanted to hear about problems from someone with problems. That’s why Mindy couldn’t ask any questions. Because she had problems and secrets and even if she didn’t share them, people could tell that she did and if she asked about them then they’d finally know for sure and then they’d pass notes and crack jokes behind her back.
     People like Laura Calhoun could ask questions because it was clear she wasn’t asking for herself, or, if she was, she carried her problems so well that they were no longer problems but pluses. Big pluses lined up in a column. One for being pretty. One for being thin. One for eating her dinner. One for skipping lunch. One for her suede boots. Another for Tommy Grady who she let get down her pants. She might have problems, that Laura, but she turned them into pluses. That was what Mindy decided she’d do; Mindy decided she would do that too, but for now she would have to be content to bide her time.

Before she finally started, the pretty lady said she would be available afterwards. She said that after her talk, she would be available for more questions—private questions in the common room which Mindy knew was also the smoking room if it was after-hours, or, if it was really late, the she-knew-what room. But it was just the common room now and next to the common room was the uncomfortable room with its overstuffed couches covered in stiff floral fabric and the housemother’s hanging ferns that the girls liked to water with beer and cigarette butts.
     The fancy snacks were arrayed in a fancy snack buffet: neatly dressed-up tables set out under the hanging ferns. The snacks were laid out on sparkling silver trays and the trays were lined with doilies that looked like snowflakes captured mid-flight.
     The doilies looked crisp and lacy, like snowflakes captured mid-flight, but the dressed-up table linens were thick and overly stuffy.
     The tables of the snack buffet were covered in a thick, stiff linen that reminded Mindy of her sheets and t-shirts and underthings when they came back from the wash. When things returned from the wash they were shiny and also flattened from the weight of a steamroller-sized iron that someone must have used on everything all at once. A big steamroller of an iron mashed your things with everyone else’s, and the whole cycle made your clothes and sheets smell like slightly burnt cotton, a smell which made you wish that you could still have your mother do your laundry instead.
     But Mindy tried hard to ignore how the table linen and the pretty lady and everything else made her feel; she tried to concentrate on getting excited about getting herself a fancy snack.
     When she was able, Mindy intended to head for the fancy snacks—to get some before they were gone. She pictured herself examining them and carefully weighing all her options. She imagined selecting a few snacks from each of the silver trays and then stuffing them in her sweater pocket to savor sometime later, upstairs with Mr. Boo.
     And everyone else? Everyone else would be ignoring the fancy snacks, making Mindy’s rush for them seem silly. Everyone else would be too busy to even think about the snacks, too busy sipping from tiny porcelain tea cups and smiling at the pretty lady. Everyone else would have forgotten about the snacks and be focused on the pretty lady. They would be circled around her, nodding and smiling and sharing: Laura Calhoun and her roommate Cheryl-Lynne, and the headmistress and the scary nurse, and everyone else too. Everyone that is, except Mindy.
     Mindy would not be circled around anybody. She would not be smiling or nodding. She would not be meeting with the lady, no matter how pretty, whether she was available afterwards or not. Mindy wouldn’t be talking and wouldn’t be listening but she might very well be planning—planning how to turn her problems into pluses. Sure, she had no experience with such things, but she could learn. She could watch the other girls and learn. Learn how to turn those problems right around. Mindy was pretty sure this was possible, if she could be patient. If she could be patient she might persevere. As for her secrets, Mindy wasn’t so sure.