Things didn't have to make sense. They could just be. And scientists could discover ways of describing and utilizing those odd occurrences, even when they couldn't explain them. Winnie longed to do more than just read about these scientists and do dumbed-down versions of their experiments. She wanted to do more than work with Father, where they were doing authentic research, but research in which she would never really have a say. Winnie wanted to be a scientist herself. Attending Barnard could be the first step.
And Barnard didn't just mean education.
Barnard meant freedom—freedom wrapped in a package that Father might just accept.
So yes, Winnie wanted to go to Barnard. Was "want" even a strong enough word?
But she understood that life was a series of equal and opposite reactions. To want wildly was to risk wild disappointment.
Winnie had to approach this desire the same way she approached everything: with caution.
"It's too soon," she repeated.
"Fine. I'll ask someone else. Miss Grafton would jump at this opportunity."
Oh, Henrietta certainly would! Winnie felt sick with jealousy for a moment, which she knew had been Mr. Claremont's intent.
"She would be an excellent choice," Winnie said evenly, proud she was able to keep the envy out of her voice.
There was a fine line between caution and cowardice.
Sometimes, Winnie didn't know which side she was on.
Mr. Claremont let out an irritated huff. "Fine." He waved his hand at her. "That's all."
Winnie stepped back, but before she turned to go, she paused. "I do appreciate you thinking of me," she said.
His face softened, but before he could say anything more, Winnie hurried from the classroom, eyes stinging.
• • •
DORA WAS WAITING FOR HER WHEN SHE GOT TO HER LOCKER, TAPPING HER FOOT playfully in put-on irritation at having to wait.
"Sorry!" Winnie said. "Mr. Claremont kept me after."
"I heard! To shower you with praise?"
"Something like that."
Dora frowned. "Anything wrong? Sally thought—"
"No, no, everything's fine."
Winnie loaded up the books she needed to take home that evening and put on her coat, then the two girls headed toward the exit.
At school dances and parties, Dora was always surrounded by her whole gaggle of friends, but after school it was almost always just the two of them. Winnie preferred it that way, but she'd never say so. It was just a wordless little agreement they'd reached, and in exchange, Winnie put up with the chaotic slumber parties and other social outings where she faded into the background, lonely in the crowd.
Dora threw the school doors open. "Bus?" she asked. "Or walk?"
"Let's walk," Winnie said. "It's so pretty out."
They set off down the sunny street. The air was full of that special fall scent, sharp but warm, and seemed to thrum with possibility. The city was as loud as ever, but beneath the bleat of traffic and the chatter of pedestrians, Winnie seemed to hear something else: the voice of the season itself, offering her a taste of its signature alchemy. It's fall! Fall! the wind tantalized in her chilly ear. Everything is changing, and so can you!
If only it were that easy. If only she could be made flashy and fantastic by the same magic that set the maple leaves ablaze! But no. Winnie was small and dark and plain as a sparrow, and imagined she always would be. Winnie was a girl who had just rejected an offer for the one thing she wanted most.
Well . . . second most.