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Ch. 3.1 Questions

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Mama sent Lacey and Ella to school with a hug and a kiss, like nothing had happened.

Now that Ella was six, Lacey had the extra burden of bringing her to school on time. Which was not going to happen today. Ella pumped her legs to keep up. She was dressed in a blue coat that used to be Lacey’s. Ella was Mama’s real daughter. Happy and golden-haired.

“I hate Devan too!” Ella said, between breaths, a determined scowl on her face. “I’m sorry you don’t get your cake. I hope your birthday is happy anyway.” She beamed up at Lacey.

Lacey walked a little faster.

 Ella puffed along in silence for a while and then said, “Lacey, will you be a baker like Mama when you grow up?”

Lacey lurched to a stop, and spun around. “Why is everyone suddenly talking about growing up? Today is just another day, I am one day older than I was yesterday. It’s not like I am suddenly different.”

Ella opened and closed her mouth a few times.

Lacey laughed at her. “You look like a dumb fish who decided to try out walking on land.”

“I am not a dumb fish!”

Lacey turned and started walking again, not bothering to check if her sister was keeping up. At the schoolhouse, however, she stopped and held the door open, waiting for her sister. Ella was dragging her feet and jutting her lower lip.

“Careful a bumble-bee doesn’t come along and sting that,” Lacey said, mimicking Mama.

Ella sucked in her lip. “You’re a dumb fish!” she said, and ran inside.

Lacey let the door swing closed. Baking was not the future she wanted. Sometime punching the dough made her feel better. But she didn’t plan on spending her life cooped up indoors, chained to the ovens like Mama.

***

 Lacey slipped quietly into the classroom but relaxed when she saw Ms. Tona’s arched eyebrows were currently aimed at her sister. Ella had foolishly run inside without thinking about the consequences of being late—and being caught at it. Now Ella stood in front of the class stumbling through an impromptu speech about how being on time related to each one of the Five Virtues: Daring, Responsibility, Giving, Respect, and Grace. Lacey snickered silently.

Lacey had already violated the Virtues in a hundred ways today, so she did her best to be “daring” and made her way to her seat. Just ignore Devan, she repeated to herself, like a mantra.

The children of the village, age six to sixteen, were arranged in eleven rows of wooden desks—from youngest in the front to oldest in the back. Lacey’s desk had already been moved to the eighth and she squeezed behind the others in her new row to get to it.

Sedro, the cheese maker’s son, grinned in welcome. Callah flicked an invisible piece of lint from her embroidered dress. Callah’s father, the tailor, was Mama’s cousin, but he had always been stiff toward Lacey, and Callah had never been her friend.

Lacey was about to sit down when she noticed the empty desk in the row behind her, Devan’s desk. 

Had he been sent away as a punishment? Impossible. Ms. Tona had no concept of fairness or fault. If she had given Devan some terrible punishment for this morning, then she would have doled an equal misery to Lacey.

“Lacey?” The schoolmistress’ voice was directly beside her.

Lacey whipped her head around and plunked down into her seat. “Yes, Ms. Tona?”

The schoolmistress arched her brow, giving Lacey her you’re-not-fooling-me look. She pushed a folded piece of paper toward Lacey across the desktop, and walked back to the front of the room.

Lacey used one finger to lift the flap of paper, as if it was a rabbit snare set to spring. Ms. Tona’s familiar hand flowed in black ink across the white paper, and ended with a flourish:

“Extra question on today’s assignment—For Tardiness:
What was the purpose of the Founders?”

Lacey blew out a sigh and the paper skidded across the desk. She slapped her hand down to keep it from getting away, then shrunk in her seat as the noise brought a disdainful glance from Callah.

The first five questions of her row’s assignment were written on the slate board in front of the class. They were easy questions. Her tardiness assignment was a bigger challenge; Ms. Tona did not accept a few quick sentences for punishment assignments.

Still, it was a light punishment, and it was for being late, not for what happened this morning.

Lacey couldn’t help wondering if there was more coming. She didn’t turn around again, but sound echoed oddly in the empty space behind her, and her ears were riveted. It was impossible to concentrate on the assignment questions. The biggest question on her mind was: Where is Devan?

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