Our totally awesome volunteers did an amazing job of staking out the school over the past couple of days. You guys ROCK! Unfortunately, nothing turned up that led us directly to our mystery mama. So after our watchdogs reported back, Nia, Hal, and I felt confident that our stow-away didn't sneak in any of the openings...except perhaps by the bleachers. Our mystery girl must have slipped through the cracks (literally) when dem_94 caught her catnap and another stint at the bleachers was called to order. (Sorry dem_94 - it's soooo OK that you fell asleep - I would have, too, at that hour.)
So we each took shifts after school once the field cleared out from practice (those boys run A LOT) and parked ourselves underneath the bleachers directly outside the vent. 4 PM - nothing. 5 PM - nada. 6 PM - zilch. 7:12 PM - We were all there, bringing food to Hal and changing the guard.
We were writing notes (we weren't talking because we were afraid of scaring myster-i-na away), debating if we should pack it in or keep going. I voted stay. Hal voted fly. Nia was responding with the tie-breaker when her pencil froze. Her eyes darted sideways to the vent on her left. The grate was moving. It. Was. Moving. We all stood up, tip-toed quiet as mice, and stood on either side of the opening. Out came a hand. Out came another hand. Then, as we saw the arms coming out of the vent reach to grab the top of the opening to pull herself out, the three of us looked at each other. And froze. We saw what the girl was wearing: a navy blue hoodie with small yellow stars and the words “Ad astra per aspera” written in baby blue ink on the back. "To the stars through difficulty." It was Amanda's. We locked eyes with each other, not easy to do with three sets of eyeballs. Time seemed to stand still. I think we were all so dumbfounded that we almost didn't notice the girl had actually gotten all the way OUT and was starting to creep away. The blue hooded girl was gracefully slipping past. What if she were. . . .
Hal had the peace of mind to grab her hoodie as she crawled in front of us. He pulled it back and exposed her face. We all gasped.
It was not Amanda. Not at all but instead one Maggie Chatham, another ninth-grader. We were pretty deflated and plopped down on the ground. Maggie plopped too. She was obviously terrified (can you blame her?) so we explained what we were doing. Hal and Nia had no idea who she was, but I had a class with her in junior high and I remembered her as being nice enough, but a little goofy. Maggie told us that she had been coming to the secret room for the last couple of months as her special hideout, her home away from home, after Amanda showed her the room and how to get around through the vent system. As the fourth of eight kids in her family, she never had any privacy so Amanda bestowed upon her this little haven. Amanda had quoted Virginia Wolfe and called it "A Room of One's Own." She and Amanda only hung out in there twice, but Maggie said she kept coming back - partially because she loved the space to herself and partially because she was hoping to find Amanda again.
Every now and then Maggie said things would have been moved in the room, or there would be little random gifts, like the single flower we found last time or a wishbone charm or a collection of tiny sea shells. She said she just knows this is Amanda leaving her tokens. But when she found out that someone had been snooping around in the secret room (i.e. uh, US, with muddy boots apparently, oops, not very sleuthy) she plastered over the door and sent that warning note because she wanted Amanda to be able to still use this as her refuge.
So, we did not find Amanda, but we did at least solve the mystery of the secret room. And now Maggie totally wants to join the search, although she is a little sad that her room is exposed.