Come Tumbling Down (Wayward Children, #5)
ELEANOR WEST WAS FOND of saying—inasmuch as she was fond of saying anything predictable, sensible, or more than once—that her school had no graduates, only students who found somewhere else to do their learning for a time. Once a wayward child, always a wayward child. The school’s doors would always be open; the lost and the lonely would always be welcome, whenever they wanted to come home.
When children were given into her keeping, the teachers she employed taught them about math and literature and science, according to the state’s curriculum, and Eleanor herself taught them other, equally important things. She taught them how to lie and dissemble, and how to recognize the difference between the two. She taught them how to pick a lock and how to break a window, and any number of other skills that could be useful to someone who might, at any moment, need to drop everything and run for an impossible door, an impossible future, an impossible dream.
And really, that was her true gift to them: she taught them how to keep hoping in the face of a world that told them their memories were delusions, their lived experiences were lies, and their dreams were never going to come true. Perhaps that was her secret for engendering loyalty in a student body that was otherwise disinclined to trust adults, listen to them, or answer when they called. She believed.
For people like her students—people like Eleanor herself—belief was the rarest gift of all.
The parents of those students called her many things, when they were asked. “Kind,” or “considerate,” or “eccentric, in a way that makes sense for someone who works with children.” Not many people asked. The children Eleanor sought for her school were, by and large, the sort whose parents wanted them swept away as quickly and quietly as possible. They had already disappeared once, only to come back … changed. So let them disappear again, this time with the proper paperwork in place. Let them go and hope that if they happened to come home a second time, they’d come back the way they’d been, and not the way that they’d become.
Hope is a vicious beast. It sinks in its claws and it doesn’t let go. But Eleanor loved all her children, however wild they became, and most of them—the ones who were still capable of loving anyone in the strange, cruel world where they’d been born, where they feared they’d eventually die—loved her. At Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, they could let themselves breathe. They could be protected, for a time.
No solicitation. No visitors.