The lady at the artists’ colony had told me, just before slamming the door in my face, that Vermont Academy was the “next house.” I looked up that way but didn’t see a next house.

I sighed, climbed back on the Vespa and headed north. Almost immediately the next house came into view – it had been hidden behind a row of tall pine trees.

When I got there the sign out front read, “VERMONT ACADEMY,” a good sign, so to speak.

I sat on the Vespa and studied the place. The house had started out its life as an ordinary Vermont farmhouse, although maybe a bit bigger than average. It was two-and-a-half stories high, with gable windows on the third floor looking only out to the south. Over time the place had been added on to and added on to until it seemed to ramble on forever.

On the south side of the house there was a very large side yard, running all the way to the row of pine trees that had blocked my view of the place. On the north side was a gravel and dirt parking lot with three cars parked in it plus a twenty-passenger van. The main entrance seemed to be off the parking lot, so I parked and went up to the door.

Since the main door was standing open I knocked on the screen door. That didn’t rouse anyone, nor did my second or third knocks. I pulled the screen door open, stuck my head inside and called out, “Anybody home?” Quiet as a tomb.

I stepped inside the hallway and saw, down to the left, a room that had a small sign near the top of the door reading: “OFFICE.”

I went down there and looked in but the place was empty. Well, empty of human beings. Otherwise it was crammed full of over-sized and mismatched office furniture. A massive steel desk dominated the room and behind it was a battered and scratched walnut credenza. Old-fashioned yellow wooden file cabinets sat against one wall.

I sat down to wait in one of the guest chairs – a repurposed kitchen chair – but the wait wasn’t long. Soon I heard footsteps coming down the hall and a guy humming to himself. I stood up and moved to the door to greet him.

Unfortunately, while I knew the guy was coming, he didn’t know I was there. When I stepped into the hallway he shrieked and jumped back. I had my hand held out to shake his but he stared at it in horror, like it might hold a .44 Magnum.

I said, “I didn’t mean to startle you – I’m here for the job interview!”

The guy blinked at me for a moment, then said, “The wha… Oh! The interview! Right, of course!” He bustled into the office and sat behind the desk, then promptly popped back up and held out his hand. “Rich Bolotin,” he said, “Welcome! Welcome! I’m sure I have your resume here somewhere…”

“Actually, I didn’t have time to send it ahead, Mr. Bolotin, but I…”

“Call me Rich.”

“Uh, sure. But I brought a copy with me.” I yanked it out of my back pocket, where I’d folded it up many times, and spread it out on the desk. I noticed it had sweat stains on it.

“Ah, yes,” the guy said, pulling it delicately toward himself with the eraser end of a pencil. “Perfect, excellent.”

He couldn’t have been talking about my resume, since there was nothing perfect or excellent about it. I mean, when you’re nineteen, what’s on your resume?

He pushed the resume aside as being of no further interest and said, “So, how much do you know about VA?”

“VA?” I said blankly.

“Yes, VA. Oh – well, Vermont Academy, but we never call it that, it’s just VA.”

“I see. Actually, I don’t know anything about it. Your help wanted ad wasn’t very specific.”

“Ah, well, then.” He settled back in his squeaky chair, laced his fingers across his belly, and said, “Let me give you the nickel tour of VA!”

The “nickel tour” took forty-six minutes, I timed it. I won’t bore you with the long version, but will just give you the nickel tour of the nickel tour.

I learned very quickly that Vermont Academy – excuse me, VA – wasn’t, in fact, a stuffy New England prep school. It was, in fact, a halfway house for retarded juvenile delinquents.

Needless to say, I wanted to run screaming from the room. Instead, I sat quietly, listening to Call-Me-Rich droning on and meanwhile putting together a really good excuse for why I needed to leave immediately after he finished blabbing.

I learned that VA was the brainchild of a guy named Dr. Sam Levin, who Rich seemed to think was the second coming of Einstein. Dr. Levin had put his brilliant ideas into practice by launching the first halfway house, in Brookline, Massachusetts, somewhere near Boston.

“The results,” said Rich, “were spectacular. I was Sam’s grad student at the time and he asked me to open this place.” He smiled proudly. “And there you have it. What do you think?”

“Wow,” I said, “that’s one heck of a story!” I glanced at my watch, then blurted, “Oh dear, I had no idea what time it is! I’m so sorry but…”

“Damn!” he said, “where is my brain! I should have given you a tour while we were talking, but now I have to be in Rutland!”

“Totally not necessary,” I said. “I’m actually in a big…”

“There must be somebody who can show you around. Where’s that staffing chart?”

I stood up to make a run for it, saying, “Seriously, I’ve got another interview and…”

“Oh,” he said, “here’s Meg now.”

I barely glanced in the direction he was looking, towards the door, opening my mouth to protest some more – but my brain called those words back. Instead, I returned my gaze slowly to the door and stared in astonishment.

There in the doorway, leaning against the frame with her arms crossed in front of her and an amused expression on her face, stood The Most Perfect Girl in the World.

Next up: VA, Part 4

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