Chapter 1

Homecoming at Thorndike Academy was different than at other high schools. There were no pep rallies. There was no football game either, as Thorndike’s brief experiment with a school football team ended in 1952.

There was no rival school brought in for a competitive celebration. After all, who could rival Thorndike? Located in Potomac, Maryland, Thorndike Academy was the wealthiest high school in the nation by far. Children of congressmen, senators, judges, lobbyists, and corporate bigwigs made up the student body. Annual tuition was well in excess of six figures, and the endowment was larger than the Gross National Product of many countries.

There was a Homecoming dance at Thorndike, but it wasn’t in a gym. The Homecoming dance was held in the mansion belonging to Renata Sullivan, chair of the school’s Board of Regents. Renata’s mansion, located on a fifty-acre plot west of town, housed a ballroom suitable for an affair as prestigious and important as Homecoming.

Like other Homecoming dances, the event at Thorndike was a formal affair, with the guys in tuxes and the girls in gowns. But there was no DJ. Renata wouldn’t dream of allowing bumping and grinding to teenage jungle beats or other such nonsense inside her mansion. In Renata’s mansion, the dancing was just as formal as the attire, having been codified over the years into rules and routines all students were expected to know. Minuets, waltzes, cotillions – all the great formal dances of the Victorian Age, all of them set to live music, with a small chamber orchestra on the stage playing the tunes – these were the dances Renata liked to have played in her mansion. And the students didn’t dare show up to Homecoming without learning all the dances first. Stepping onto the floor for a minuet and not knowing how to do it was a terrible insult to the school, the students, and the hostess, and the last thing anyone wanted to do was insult Renata Sullivan.

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