WILLIAM BALDWIN PRUIT III looked out the window over the Avenue Secrétan, wondering why he’d been called to the Headmaster’s office; another three months and the school year would be over. It was already nearing the end of March; what could he have done now? His brain worked feverishly to figure out what he could have done. He always did his work, and though he didn’t particularly like Ms. Schnabel, his math teacher, he’d never been rude to her. He could hear voices inside; he recognized the clipped, German-accented French exclamations placed strategically amongst the heavily accented English. It made William laugh inside his head every time he heard Monsieur Gamache try to speak English. The Headmaster had obviously never been to America; neither had he spent much time in England, if his accent were any indication. But to whom did the other voice belong? The accent was somewhat unfamiliar—American, maybe? Canadian? Most of William’s classmates were not European by birth; the majority came from rich American or Canadian families, like himself. He couldn’t really make out what the problem was, and he was trying very hard to hear what could have gotten him in trouble again.
William knew he wasn’t a bad student, but he always seemed to be worthy of close scrutiny by the school’s Headmaster and psychologist. Concerned, they’d say over and over again. William was not in trouble, but they were concerned by his self-imposed isolation. You don’t seem interested in anything other than your books and horses. You don’t seem to be making many friends, and you’ve been here how long? It wasn’t that he didn’t try, but William was small for his age. It was one of the reasons he liked being on the horses; they made him feel big and grown-up. Besides, the other students seemed to be interested only in trying to break curfew or raid the kitchen after hours. I’m not unhappy, William would counter, but to no avail. William got the distinct impression that the two old men found him odd and uncooperative.
He’d been at the boarding school most of his life, certainly long enough to remember never having lived anywhere else. The house that his parents called home was in Toronto—Rosedale, to be precise—but he couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen it—or them, for that matter. They were faithful parents when it came to sending for him so he could spend a week with them in Prague or Montpellier or Salamanca or wherever they happened to be vacationing, but he’d not seen them now for almost three months. Not unusual given that he had classes to attend, but odd that he’d not heard from them, in any form, for such a long stretch. Perhaps they were tired of his questions, asking if he could go here, see that. How could they be tired of that? William wondered. They usually send me off somewhere with the driver.
William was checking his jacket and tie for the fourth time when the outer door opened, and he saw Monsieur Gamache standing in the doorway, his face solemn, his eyes downcast before finding William’s big blue eyes and forcing a smile.
“Guillaume, viens, viens.”
William stifled a laugh at the sound of his name in French, a sound he always found funny.
“Oui, monsieur.” William buttoned his jacket and grabbed his little messenger bag, stood straight and walked into the office.
“Hello, William,” the other man, the American-sounding man, said as he offered his hand. “My name is Kevin Boyd and I’m a lawyer.” William saw Mr. Boyd offer a small smile and add, “Perhaps you call them ‘solicitors’ here, like they do in England?”
“No, sir; I’m Canadian,” William pointed out as he shook the offered hand and then sat. “I call them ‘lawyers’ too.”
“Eh bien, Guillaume,” William noticed the look that Mr. Boyd gave to the Headmaster at those words. “Je m’excuse, Monsieur Boyd.” The Headmaster settled in his chair and began again, looking directly at William. “We are as well expecting Monsieur Kleinfelter, but we will commence without him, non?”
William shrugged and sank further in his chair. No use keeping up the charade since the psychologist was also coming. He had done something again, something to deserve another lecture on being social and inclusive in his dealings with his classmates. But what? He tried desperately to think of what he’d done now—or not done—but could not think fast enough. He didn’t like this feeling; it made him all fluttery in his stomach, sitting in this office, both of the older men being so nice to him. It made him nervous.
“William,” Mr. Boyd started, “I represent your parents.” He shifted uncomfortably and continued. “Yesterday, I’m afraid—”
“Oh, non, comment ça?” Monsieur Kleinfelter rushed through the door, files clutched to his chest as he closed the door behind him. “Vous n’êtes pas capable d’attendre?”
“We just have begun, Hércule,” the Headmaster admonished, “and please to speak the English in front of our guest today, Hércule.”
William noticed Mr. Boyd’s cheeks turn pink as he watched the psychologist settle into the chair between them. And William knew. It wasn’t something he’d done, but something that had been done to him. Again. Like the time some of the upper-class boys had hidden the school’s flag in his room. William had been given toilets to clean as punishment. William had not complained, had never complained. It was his life. Just as his life now meant his parents would never be coming back.
“They’re dead, aren’t they?” William’s voice was resolute but quiet, very quiet, his eyes worrying a crease in his tie. He thought he sounded whiny, as if he were one of his classmates, always complaining about how, without the French Revolution, he would be Prince so-and-so right at that moment.
“Yes, William. I’m so very sorry.” Mr. Boyd’s hand touched his shoulder softly. William didn’t say anything, but it made him uncomfortable to be touched like that. He’d not had a lot of physical affection. “I’m here to tell you and to make sure that you arrive in Canada safely.”
“Why Canada, sir?” William blinked, trying to get his mind around the idea. He thought he should be crying now or something. Wasn’t that what children his age should do when their parents died?
“Your parents’ will is quite specific about what should happen to you—who should take care of you if something happened to them before your eighteenth birthday.”
“But who, sir?” William sputtered a little, clenching his fist at this revelation. Surely there was enough money so that he could finish out his schooling and then make his own way. “I mean, I want to stay here.”
“And nothing would make me happier.” Monsieur Gamache smiled. “But your parents are wishing for you to go back to Canada to live with the relatives who—”
“I have no relatives,” William interrupted. “No grandparents, no parents, no aunts, no uncles—”
“Your mother had a cousin, has a cousin, in Alberta.” Mr. Boyd’s hand had left William’s shoulder. William wanted it back all of a sudden. “Have you ever heard of the artist Jerry McKenzie?”
William shook his head. He could feel that he wasn’t going to win this battle either. He wasn’t in trouble this time; it was worse than being in trouble—worse because now, he would have to leave the school, the only place that had ever felt like home.
“He’s becoming very well-known all over the world.” Mr. Boyd shifted in his chair and ran a hand over his thinning hair. William liked that he didn’t try to hide that, his thinning hair. Not like Monsieur Kleinfelter, who wore the most horrendous toupees. Honestly, who would believe that the fringe around your ears is completely grey, but every other hair on your head is still black? “He lives on a ranch, with horses—well, two horses. It backs onto the Rocky Mountains near Banff, a touristy-kind of place with lakes and—”
“I want to stay here.” There, William had stated it clearly—no possibility of adding to the confusion.
“Mais, c’est impossible,” Monsieur Kleinfelter sputtered. “Ce n’est pas une question de ce que tu veux, Guillaume—”
William could only think of Frau Zimmerman. The other kids teased him about hanging around with the cafeteria worker, but William adored her, like a grandmother—or at least what he thought having a grandmother would be like, since he’d never known one of his own. Frau Zimmerman would make a special-sized Sachertorte for him on his birthday, wish him fun on his special day, tell him how special he was, how he’d grow up to do great things.
“I’m sure,” Mr. Boyd said as he stared at the psychologist with those deep blue eyes, “that what Monsieur Kleinfelter is trying to say is that this is a legal issue.” William dropped his eyes to his lap, knowing what was coming next. “I’m very sorry, William, but you’re only ten years old.” Mr. Boyd’s hand returned to William’s shoulder. “Your parents were quite specific about who should—”
“Yes, sir.” William did not look up.
“Un peu plus de politesse, Guillaume!” William did not look at Monsieur Gamache, did not wish to see disappointment in his eyes again.
“Please, please, Monsieur Gamache, it’s not a problem.” Mr. Boyd squeezed William’s shoulder a little. “Ça ne fait rien?” William looked up to see Mr. Boyd smiling. He looked intently at William and smiled. “Did I say that right?”
William nodded and flashed a brief, resigned smile back at Mr. Boyd. After Mr. Boyd took his hand back, William retrieved his bag from the floor, straightened his jacket once again, and stood. Looking at Mr. Boyd, he asked, “May I say goodbye to Frau Zimmerman?”
Mr. Boyd looked inquisitively at Monsieur Gamache, who explained about William’s connection to the school’s cook. “Of course,” Mr. Boyd answered, a sad smile on his face. “I think we have plenty of time.” Mr. Boyd stood up and held out his hand to the small boy. He’s so small for ten, the lawyer thought, thinking of his two girls and how much bigger they seemed at the same age. “Anyone else you want to say goodbye to, William?” The lawyer felt a twinge of sadness at William shaking his head and felt homesick for his two girls.
Mr. Boyd let William lead him to the kitchen, where he saw a short, stout woman fussing over a counter dusted with flour, hands kneading bread dough. “Frau Zimmerman?”
William tugged on Mr. Boyd’s hand. “She doesn’t speak English, sir.” Letting go of the lawyer’s hand, William walked over and spoke the woman’s name, waiting for her to turn around.
The lawyer, already homesick for Toronto and his family, watched as the woman’s concentration transformed into a broad smile as she patted a stool beside the counter. He saw William just shake his head, eyes downcast; then, the woman got to her knees, lifting William’s chin to study his face. Tears were running down William’s face when she kissed his forehead, saying things that the lawyer didn’t understand. He noticed the woman’s brow furrow and turn towards him when William began speaking and pointing in his direction. He saw William nod several times when Frau Zimmerman spoke to him, running her hands over the boy’s cheeks and hair. No wonder he’s so small, so frightened, the lawyer thought. This has been his home.
Within the hour, William was sitting beside Mr. Boyd in a first-class seat on a plane bound for Alberta, Canada.
“Frau Zimmerman seemed very nice,” Mr. Boyd offered and watched William nod and shrug. “Did you learn German from her?”
“And in school.” William’s voice was soft, sad.
“Do you like speaking German or French better?”
William shrugged. For William, it wasn’t a question of which language he liked better; he liked them both, but for different reasons. He didn’t want to tell the man that the reason he liked German so much was that it was always spoken by someone who kissed him, made him feel special, wanted. He thought that if he told Mr. Boyd this, he’d seem like a baby, and Frau Zimmerman had told him that he had to be a big boy and not cause problems for anyone. Just like you’ve always been with me, William remembered her saying before she hugged him. He’d tried not to cry when she said goodbye, but he hadn’t been able to stop from himself once he realized he’d be gone for his next birthday, and he didn’t know where.