This is a six-part story set in the Transition period between the Old and the New Earth – the time we’re just about to move into.
Teri’s friends usually met up on the benches behind the rhododendrons, because the younger girls weren’t allowed in that part of the grounds, and they could gossip there with some degree of privacy. As Teri approached, they were talking about the new girl, Caroline Trent.
‘She’s excused games? Why?’ demanded Julia.
‘Some medical condition, apparently,’ replied Pip.
‘Oh, that’s great. We’ve all got medical conditions, haven’t we? I mean, I’ve got hives, Fran’s got dandruff, and Arabella’s got something unmentionable under her armpits. But do they get us off games? They do not. I think it’s all very suspect.’
‘Jules, you always think everything’s suspect,’ said Fran.
‘Only because it so often is,’ said Julia.
‘Well, I think it’s weird that she should transfer over here at the beginning of her final year,’ said Arabella. ‘Don’t you think that’s weird? I mean, how’s she going to catch up?’
‘Haven’t you heard?’ said Pip. ‘She’s a genius. She’s already got four A levels and two S levels under her belt.’
‘Really?’ said Arabella. ‘My God. Stunningly beautiful and a genius. It doesn’t seem fair.’
‘So why isn’t she at Uni already?’ asked Kat.
‘Maybe she wanted to broaden her education before she specialises,’ said Pip. ‘She took Sciences last year; now she’s taking Arts.’
‘But why Trackway School?’ said Kat. ‘It’s hardly got the best reputation for the Arts.’
‘Of all the schools, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine,’ said Julia.
‘Well, I don’t think she’s beautiful,’ said Fran.
There was a barrage of disagreement.
‘Come off it, Fran,’ said Kat, ‘She’s gorgeous.’
‘She’s too thin.’
‘You’re just jealous!’
‘No, I mean it. She’s too thin and her arms and legs are abnormally long. But you don’t notice it because she looks like a fashion drawing.’
‘She’s still beautiful, though,’ insisted Kat.
‘Absolutely. Despite the frumpy clothes and the flat shoes,’ said Arabella, the fashion victim. ‘What colour would you say her hair is, Pip?’
‘The coolest, palest gold,’ said Pip. ‘With touches of taupe.’
‘”Touches of taupe,”‘ said Arabella. ‘I love it.’
‘And her eyes, my dear,’ cried Julia. ‘They’re immense!’
‘And violet,’ said Arabella.
‘Nonsense,’ said Fran. ‘Nobody’s eyes are violet.’
‘And she’s got beautiful skin,’ continued Arabella. ‘And amazing bone structure.’
‘You’re not saying anything, Teri,’ observed Pip. ‘What do you think of her?’
‘I like her,’ said Teri, and immediately wished she hadn’t.
‘Oh really, Teri!’ protested Julia. ‘How can you say you like her? You don’t know her yet! You can’t like people for being brilliant or beautiful. You can only like them if they’re funny or kind or give you chocolate or something.’
‘You’re being all intuitive, aren’t you, Teri?’ said Pip, always ready to help out.
‘Yeah, that’s right,’ said Teri, relieved. ‘I’m being all intuitive. I intuitively sense that she’s a very nice person. And I intuitively predict that you will all come to like her too, and be forced to admit that my intuition was spot on.’
But the truth was that Teri was falling in love with Caroline. She’d nearly given herself away, and would have to be more careful in future. Not that she was ashamed of being gay, but she’d only just realised that she was gay, and needed time to get used to it. Plus, she didn’t like to be the focus of attention or stand out from the crowd. But most importantly of all, she didn’t want her friends suddenly going all weird on her – flinching if she brushed against them or whispering about her behind her back or excluding her from their conversations.
She hoped there was nothing in her appearance to give her away. She wore her hair short and spiky, but that didn’t mean anything.
‘Well,’ continued Julia, ‘I intuitively predict that she’ll get a double first at University…’
‘Or a triple first,’ said Arabella.
‘… If there is such a thing,’ conceded Julia. ‘And then be head-hunted by something like the Diplomatic Service, and thereafter spend all her time in exotic places mingling with rich, famous and powerful people.’
‘And marry one of them,’ suggested Kat.
‘Naturally,’ agreed Julia, ‘and have houses all over the world.’
‘And commute between them by yacht and private jet,’ added Pip.
‘And we’ll all hate her,’ said Fran.
‘Which will prove Teri’s intuition to be a complete dud,’ said Julia.
‘You mark my words,’ said Teri. ‘That’s all I’m saying.’
Teri, Fran and Julia had a new teacher for English Lit, filling in for Marge Forbes while she was on maternity leave. His name was Tom Price, and he was darkly handsome with winning ways.
‘So Jane Austen’s Emma thinks she knows what’s best for other people,’ he said. ‘Now, is it unusual for someone to think they know what’s best for other people? Come on you people – let me hear you! Is it unusual?’
‘No!’ chorused the class, laughing.
‘It’s not unusual in your own personal experience?’
‘No!’ they agreed, with feeling.
‘Right. Which means you should be able to give me an example from your own life. And I don’t mean the times when you were the victim of interfering Emmas. I mean the times when you were the perpetrator. Times when you thought you knew what was best for someone, and got it wrong. I’ve got a bar of chocolate for the first convincing true confession… Yes, you. What’s your name?’
‘Felicity Winton, sir.’
‘And what was your interference?’
‘Well, I thought Sue would suit a really short haircut, and I persuaded her to have it done. But it looks awful because it turns out her head is flat at the back. We hadn’t noticed that before.’
‘Okay, where’s Sue?… There you are. Give us a twirl, Sue, we want to see you in profile. That’s the way. My goodness, I’ve never seen such a flat occiput in my life. It’s positively concave! Good one. Here you are, Felicity – chocolate bar!… Next?…Yes, the girl in pink. What’s your name?’
‘Shirley Banner, sir. I thought Gemma should go out with this guy. So I got her interested, then I asked him on her behalf. And guess what? He turned out to be gay.’
‘So where’s the victim? Put your hand up! Ah, the buxom brunette with the very red face. Never mind darling, better luck next time. Next?… Yes, the girl in blue glasses. What’s your name?’
‘Helen Field. I made my friend try whisky and she threw up on my best dress.’
‘Instant karma! Okay, so we all do it, don’t we? It’s just that Emma is a particularly blatant example.’
‘Oh, he’s hilarious!’ said Julia afterwards. ‘Great fun. I hope we can have him till the end of the year.’
‘I thought he was rather unkind, actually,’ said Teri, ‘Embarrassing Sue and Gemma like that. And getting their friends to drop them in it, by bribing them with chocolate.’
‘Chocolate!’ said Kat. ‘He gave them chocolate?’
‘He gave Felicity chocolate, anyway.’
‘Are teachers allowed to do that?’ said Pip. ‘Give out chocolate in class?’
‘Well, I’m pretty sure they’re not allowed to call their students “darling”,’ said Fran. ‘Or “buxom” for that matter.’
‘He didn’t!’ said Kat.
‘That’s not on,’ said Pip.
‘You want my opinion?’ continued Fran. ‘I think there’s something nasty about him. Something slimy and sick and weird.’
‘Oh really!’ protested Julia. ‘You do talk rubbish sometimes, Fran.’
Fran tapped the side of her nose. ‘As Teri would say, “You mark my words”!’
Teri was off sick for a week with sinusitis. At the first History class after her return, Miss Sanderson asked for a volunteer to catch her up on what she’d missed, and Caroline raised her hand. Teri flushed with pleasure and embarrassment, but thankfully nobody seemed to notice or care.
After class – which was the last of the day – Caroline invited Teri back to her home, so they could go through the material in comfort. It was in easy walking distance, but walking beside her was a mixed blessing because of all the attention from the boys of the nearby school. What a drag never to be able to walk in peace without being watched all the time, Teri thought.
‘Don’t you get fed up with it?’ she said out loud, without meaning to.
‘Fed up with what?’ replied Caroline.
‘All the attention from boys – their eyes following your every move. Doesn’t it wear you down? It would, me.’
‘Oh, you get used to it. I don’t notice it, half the time.’
This made Teri like her even more – the fact that Caroline was neither falsely modest about being admired, nor particularly interested in it.
‘Do you date?’ she asked her, greatly daring. ‘None of my business, I know – I just wondered.’
‘No, I don’t. The truth is, I don’t really like boys that way, if you know what I mean,’ said Caroline, bestowing a flashing smile on Teri. ‘Though I’d prefer it if you kept that to yourself.’
‘Of course,’ Teri managed to say, and then had to give all her attention to putting one foot in front of the other, breathing in and out, and doing all the other things that normally took care of themselves but were suddenly not working properly any more. Her head was wobbling, her feet were getting in each other’s way, and she had no idea what she usually did with her hands when she was walking along.
‘Oh dear, have I shocked you?’ asked Caroline. ‘I have, haven’t I?’
‘No – really.’ said Teri. ‘No, honestly you haven’t.’
‘Sure I’m sure.’
‘Good. Because I’d like us to be friends. I haven’t made any friends here yet, but I’ve been watching you, and I can tell that you’re a kind person. And quite interesting, too. Am I being too direct? I can be like that. I don’t mean to give offence.’
‘I’m not the least bit offended. Quite the opposite. I’d be glad if you thought I was the slightest bit interesting. Because you are off the top of the scale as far as intelligence is concerned.’
‘Oh, I wouldn’t say that. Intellectually I’m up there, but that’s not the same thing as being intelligent or interesting, is it? A lot of intellectuals can be very boring to talk to. I think it’s over-rated, the intellect.’
‘Well, you’re not boring to talk to, anyway. Quite the opposite.’ Teri knew she was repeating herself, but at least she was managing to speak. And her body seemed to be remembering how to walk, at last.
Caroline’s mother turned out to be a dumpy little lady with a warm smile. She was expecting Teri and made her welcome. She served them with tea and scones before they got down to work in Caroline’s bedroom.
‘She’s not my natural mother,’ said Caroline as soon as the door was closed.
‘I did wonder,’ said Teri. ‘I mean, she looks nothing like you.’
‘I know. They’re my foster parents.’
‘Really? Since when?’
‘Since I was two weeks old.’
Part 2 soon
© Sue J Davis 2016
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