"What are your thoughts about college?" Portia asked her.

"Well ...ah ...I'm kind of thinking about being a lawyer. But you know, I'm better at math."

"So you'll be a lawyer who's good at math. Maybe you can prosecute white-collar financial cases."

She frowned. "Or, like, accounting or something."

"Well, I'm actually one of those people who thinks it's better not to have too clear an idea when you go to college. Lightning strikes, you know." "Yeah," Joanne said uncertainly, but her classmates were crowding her aside. The orange blanket baby wanted her to know that his lacrosse team made the regionals last year. Hunter from the couch wanted to give her a manila envelope containing, he said, his recent op-ed piece in the Deerfield student paper on the anti-intellectualism endemic at the school. Portia looked at her watch and noted gratefully that she was nearly out of time.

"Mr. Roden?" She looked around for him. He was standing with two ponytailed girls in front of the fireplace. She tapped her watch and he nodded, moving off instantly, probably leaving the girls in the middle of their angst-ridden declaration.

"Time to go?" he said, reaching her. "Listen, this was great."

"Oh, I love coming here," she said heartily. "The kids are so articulate."

"Yes, they certainly are. They're happy kids. It's a happy campus."

"Yes," she agreed, because it seemed like the appropriate response. She made eye contact with her orange blanket applicant, and Joanne, and told the director's daughter that she was looking forward to her application. Then they were outside in the bright midday sun.

"I remember this smell of burning leaves," she said as he walked her to the parking lot. "I think all of New England burns leaves the same week."

"It's a decree!" Roden said. Like her, he was killing time. "So where are you off to now?"

"Oh, Keene. I'm crossing the border."

"Public school?" he asked. There was an edge of hopefulness. It was bad enough that she should bestow her favors on any other school but Deerfield. He did not, in particular, wish to share her with his students' most direct competitors: applicants from Northfield Mount Hermon, Groton, St. Paul's.

"No. It's a new school, actually. I think they've only been going a couple of years. Outside of Keene. Wait a minute."

They were beside her rental car now. She opened up the passenger door and put her satchel on the seat. Then she leaned down and hunted out the downloaded directions. "Quest School. Do you know it?"

"Never heard of it," he said with notable relief. "Experimental? Sounds experimental."

"I actually don't know anything about it. It's a first visit for us. And we haven't had any applications so far."

"Ah." He seemed even more relieved to hear this. "Well, good to know what's out there."


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