Second part of my story following the lives of Evadne, Edgar and family.
Part 1 and the two prequels, Long Road Home and A Second Chance can be found in my stories.
Hope you enjoy!
Ste Therese's House Characters:
Future, SwitzerlandSchool Name:
Domestic, Drama, Family, Friendship, Humour, Romance, School Story
Josie's Quintette Universe
06 Nov 2017 Updated:
16 Nov 2017
1. Chapter 1 by Josie
2. Chapter 2 by Josie
3. Chapter 3 by Josie
4. Chapter 4 by Josie
5. Chapter 5 by Josie
6. Chapter 6 by Josie
7. Chapter 7 by Josie
8. Chapter 8 by Josie
9. Chapter 9 by Josie
10. Chapter 10 by Josie
11. Chapter 11 by Josie
Evadne returned to the terrace, a steaming cup of coffee in one hand and a plate of Guilia’s mouthwatering biscotti in another. She’d only had lunch a couple of hours ago, but she could always make room for her cook’s delicious biscuits, especially when they were warm out of the oven.
Pulling back her chair, she sat down at the table again, popped a biscotti in her mouth and picked up the 1955 album. She opened it to the first page, smoothing back the tracing paper. Seeing the first photograph, she started laughing, almost choking on her coffee, and turned her head to look fondly at the big, wooden wendy house standing near the long hedge that hid the view down to the tennis court. She had completely forgotten what that house had started out as…
“DAD, CAN WE GO NOW?”
Edgar stopped hammering and turned to face his son. “Did you say something?”
Ned put his hands on his hips and shook his head in despair. “I’ve been shouting at you for the last five minutes!”
“Sorry, I couldn’t hear you over the hammer. What did you want?”
“Can we go and get the boat now? You promised we could pick it up today and it’s already two o’clock.”
Edgar looked at his watch and frowned. “I don’t know, Ned. I promised Evvy I’d listen out for Henry while she got some sleep. You know he’s been playing up for the last two nights.”
“He’s already screamed twice and she’s had to get up - you can’t hear anything out here with all that banging. She said your babysitting skills were ‘about as good as mudguards on a tortoise’!” Edgar winced and his son grinned back at him. “So can we go?”
“Okay, I’ll go and talk to her.” Putting his hammer down in front of the kennel that he was building, he got to his feet. “You go and get the ropes from the basement and put them in the boot of the car – they should have plenty, but you never know.”
As Ned ran off to do his bidding, Edgar surveyed the kennel quickly. There wasn’t much left to do now – just the last of the roof to fasten on and a quick lick of paint to apply to the front and that would be everything done. He had plenty of time to go and collect the boat and still get it all finished before dinner. Satisfied with his work, he made his way across the lawn, in through the side door, and upstairs to go and find his wife. She had been in bed since they had eaten lunch, an hour and a half previously, trying to catch up on some sleep as Henry’s incessant crying had kept her up for the two previous nights and she was feeling dead on her feet. As Edgar had slept through most of the din, she had told him in no uncertain terms that he was on Henry-watch this afternoon, but if his son was to be believed, he was not doing a very good job.
He opened the bedroom door as quietly as he could, poking his head inside to check up on her, and was relieved to see her lying in bed, her back towards him. He was just about to tiptoe out again when she suddenly spoke.
“You may as well come in – I’m wide awake anyhow.” Edgar gave her guilty smile as she sat up and glared at him. “Fat lot of use you are as a babysitter! You haven’t heard him once over that racket you were making out there!”
“I know, I’m sorry. I just wanted to get the kennel out of the way this afternoon,” he replied, walking across to sit down on the edge of the bed. “You did ask me to get it finished, after all.”
Evadne rolled her eyes. “Put it all on me, why don’t you! You’re the one who started the thing instead of getting a professional to do it! Have you finished it then?”
“Almost. No more than an hour’s work to do, I’d say. Ned wants to go and pick up the boat though.”
Edgar nodded. “I did promise them we’d go and fetch it today. Would you mind dreadfully if we went? We’ll be back by four at the latest.”
“I suppose not.” She heaved a sigh of resignation. “I’m not gonna get any sleep today anyway, at this rate.”
“Well Guilia and the girls’ll still be here. Maybe they can listen out for him?”
“Maybe.” She didn’t sound entirely convinced. “Go on then, be off with you. Are you taking the Mercedes?”
Edgar shook his head and grinned. “I was thinking your Renault might be more suited to the job, seeing as it’s already got a few dents here and there.”
“Excuse me!” his wife replied indignantly, hitting him on the arm. “They’re not dents, they’re marks of character!”
“Whatever you say!" Pecking her on the cheek, he got to his feet. “Right, I’ll see you in a couple of hours tops. I’ll ask Guilia to keep an ear open for Henry - you try and get some rest.”
“Should have more success with you not here!” she muttered loudly, as she wriggled back under the covers, and chuckling, Edgar left the room, pulling the door closed behind him.
Half an hour later, Thea, Marcia and their friend Ann Bown were playing in the back garden when through the open window of the nursery, they heard Henry start crying again. They could hear Guilia in the kitchen, singing loudly and banging pots and pans around, clearly oblivious to the noise that the baby was making, and mindful of her sleeping stepmother, Thea decided to take matters into her own hands. Running in through the open French doors, closely followed by the other two, she managed to reach Henry's bedroom before her stepmother awoke. Making her way over to the crib, she bent down and picked her little brother up in her arms.
She rocked him back and forth, cradling him gently against her shoulder, but it seemed to make little difference. His yells died down but he continued to wimper, and Thea, who of all the family was the one who generally had the most calming influence on the baby boy, looked at the other two confused.
“Why won’t he stop crying? He’ll wake Mummy soon!”
“Let me try.” Marcia held out her arms, but Thea shook her head and backed away.
“No, you might drop him,” she replied somewhat officiously and, it has to be said, unfairly as Marcia was extremely careful with her brother, whatever she may be like with everything else.
Unsurprisingly, Marcia was more than a little offended. “I won’t drop him!”
Before Thea could retort, Ann decided to step in and quell the argument that was clearly brewing. “Maybe he needs changing?”
This seemed to make sense. Forgetting her quarrel with her sister, Thea walked him across to the dresser that doubled as a changing table, stood on a stool that Ann pulled up, and laid him gently down on the towels spread out on the top. Then jumping off the stool, she bent and opened the bottom draw to pull out a nappy, only to find it empty.
“Marcia, go and get a nappy from the laundry,” she ordered, turning to face her sister.
Fed up with being bossed about, Marcia pulled a face at her. “Get it yourself!”
“I have to stay here with Henry!”
“No you don’t, Ann and me can stay here!”
Thea rolled her eyes. “Fine, watch him then, but don’t touch things – Mummy showed me how to do the changing.”
“She showed me too!” Marcia retorted, sticking her tongue out at her sister’s retreating back. Then walking over to the dresser, she climbed up on the stool and began to undo the pins on her brother’s nappy.
Ann watched her, a little concerned. “Shouldn’t we wait for Thea like she said?”
Marcia shook her head vigorously. “She thinks she knows everything! I’ve watched Mummy loads of times, it’s easy.” Ignoring the dubious look her friends was giving her, Marcia laid the pins to one side and pulled off the nappy, screwing her nose up at the stench. “Here, take this,” she said, hnding it to a horrified Ann, who took it gingerly, holding it out at arms length.
“It smells horrid!”
“That’s ‘cause it’s a number two,” Marcia friend replied knowingly. “Put it in that bag on the floor and we’ll take it downstairs when we’re finished,” then grabbing a flannel, she rinsed it under the nearby sink, and began to wipe her brother clean. That done, she picked up the talcum powder, turned it upside down and shook it hard, sending a cloud up in the air and causing herself to cough.
“Isn’t that too much?” Ann asked, regarding her sceptically.
Marcia shook her head. “Mummy always uses lots,” she replied, dusting herself down, as the front of her red pinafore was now speckled with white. “It stops rashes or something.” Then turning back to her brother, she placed the talc back on the dresser and surveyed him proudly. “See, told you it was easy – we just need the clean nappy now! That’ll show Thea for being a know-all.”
As if to prove her wrong, Henry suddenly decided that he was not quite done and sent up a graceful golden arc of pee, hitting his sister square on the forehead. She shrieked and toppled backwards off the stool, landing on her backside on the rug, as Thea returned with the clean nappy, just in time to see what happened. She and Ann stared at each other for a split second, and then both dissolved into fits of giggles.
Maria got to her feet and glared at the pair of them. “Shhh you ninnies, you’ll wake Mummy!” she hissed, reaching for a towel to wipe her face.
“Too late, Mommy’s already awake,” came a new voice from the doorway, and the three of them swing round to face Evadne. “What’s going on?” she asked, surveying the scene.
Marcia glanced at her brother, who was now gurgling happily on top of the dresser, waving his legs in the air, and then looked back at her stepmother with wide eyes. “Henry started crying so we tried to change his nappy, but then he sprayed me!” she responded honestly.
“So I can see,” Evadne replied, trying hard not to laugh. “Why didn’t you wake me?”
“’Cause Daddy said you needed to sleep,” Thea put in, trying to stifle her giggles, “and we’ve watched you lots of times, so we thought we’d do it ourselves.”
“Well that’s very kind of you, but you should still have woken me or gotten Guilia to help you,” Evvy replied sternly. “You’re too young to do this on your own, and now you know what happens when you don’t know what you’re doing.” She looked Marcia up and down, a smile twitching at the edge of her lips. “You’re not to try changing him again without either me or Daddy here, understand?” All three nodded earnestly. “Right, Marcia, go and put that pinafore in the laundry and then go and run yourself a bath. I’ll come and help you wash your hair in a few minutes. And you two take that dirty diaper down to the trash," she added, turning to Thea and Ann, "and then go back outside and play.”
Marcia departed to do as she was told, Thea and Ann following behind, still giggling, and Evadne sighed and turned her attention to her son. By the time she had him cleaned and dressed, he was wide awake, and deciding to give sleep up as a bad job, she gathered a few of his things, put him in his basket and made her way downstairs.
And so, when Edgar returned an hour later, he found his wife and eldest daughter settled on a rug in the garden, Henry lying next to them in his basket, sucking on one of his toys. As it happened, he needn’t have worried which car he took to collect the boat, for the previous owners offered to sail it round to the Watsons’ jetty free of charge. Ned had clamoured to go with them, with the excuse of showing them which was the right house and as Edgar appeared in the garden, he saw the boat just coming in to moor.
“Boat’s here if you’re interested,” he called out with a grin, and Thea instantly jumped to her feet and ran off towards the lake have a look.
Edgar followed her down to the water and they stood on the jetty as they watched it approach. “Where are your sister and Ann?”
“Taken Scrabble for a walk,” Thea replied, staring open mouthed at the family’s newest acquisition. She had been imagining a small two-man dinghy, not the sizeable yacht that Edgar had decided would fit the bill. ‘Daddy, it’s really big – look at it next to the rowing boat!”
Edgar smiled. “Well there are lots of us to fit on if we want to go out all together. Good job we’ve got a big boathouse, eh?”
Thea nodded as the boat pulled alongside the jetty and Ned jumped off, a wide grin lighting up his face. “Dad, it’s so cool! It’s got a little room in there and everything! And they let me hold the ropes for a bit too – sailing’s so much fun! Can we go out in it now? Please?”
“Can we, Daddy?”
Their faces fell as Edgar shook his head. “Not today, Mummy’s too tired to take us out and I wouldn't have the foggiest idea where to start. There’s no point in grouching,” he added sternly, as they both began to complain, “I’m not changing my mind. If your mother agrees and the weather holds, we can go out tomorrow. There are plenty of other things to keep you occupied for now - why don’t you go and play tennis or something,” then ignoring what else they had to say, he turned to thank the previous owners and offer them a lift home.
They declined, stating that it was only a mile or so and they fancied the walk, so Edgar saw them out and then returned to join his wife. She looked up with a smile as he sat down next to her on the rug.
“I gather from the noise that the boat was a hit?”
“Something like that!” he replied with a grin. “I rather think I’ve volunteered you to take everyone out tomorrow though.”
“That’s fine – just so long as it’s not today. I don’t think my mind’s quite right just now!”
“How are you feeling?” he asked, a little concerned at the dark shadows below her eyes.
“Tired, but I'll be okay. Oh Edgar, you’ll never guess what happened to Marcia,” she said with a giggle, and recounted the story of Marcia’s attempt to change Henry, causing her husband to guffaw loudly.
“She never learns, does she? Sorry they woke you though. Do you want to go up and get some sleep now I’m home?”
Evadne shook her head. “It’s the weekend, I’d rather spend my day with you and then sleep tonight - providing this young man does so as well, of course,” she added, leaning over and glancing at her son.
Edgar smiled and shifted position so that his back was against the trunk of the large tree under which they were sitting. “Well why don’t you get some rest here now,” he said, patting his lap. “I’m not going anywhere else this afternoon, so I can watch him while you have a bit of a nap, at least.”
Evadne returned his smile and curled up on her side, her head resting on his legs. It didn’t take long for her to start drifting off in the peace and quiet of the late afternoon, where the only sounds were the birds singing, the quiet hum of activity on the lake and the odd distant yell from the tennis court where Ned and Thea were now playing. Edgar gazed around him for a while, soaking up the rare moment of tranquility and gently stroking his wife’s hair, and then for want of anything else to do, he picked up her copy of ‘Tender is the Night’ from where she had left it on the rug, and began to read.
He had just finished chapter three when there was a shout from the terrace and Scrabble came haring out of the french doors, closely followed by Marcia and Ann. As her friend followed the puppy down towards the lake, trying her best to catch him, Marcia came to a halt in front of her parents.
“Shhh!” Edgar hastily brought a finger to his lips and pointed to his now-slumbering wife and son.
His daughter stared at him for a second, and then continued in a whisper. “Daddy, Scrabble’s just piddled on Millicent Mary again!”
Edgar heaved a sigh and rolled his eyes. For reasons unbeknownst to them all, Scrabble had recently decided that he could no longer tolerate Millicent Mary, and had taken to either barking viciously at her or cocking his leg on her at varying intervals. They had tried everything to deter him, with no success - Marcia was convinced that he was jealous of their original ‘pet' - and it was this that had prompted Edgar to begin building the kennel in the first place, as the girls were insistent that the dog would get cold if just left outside with no shelter, especially overnight.
“Right, that’s it." Gently lifting Evadne’s head, he slipped his legs out from under her, being careful not to wake her, and got to his feet. “Marcia, go and get some soapy water and clean it up, will you. Then you and Ann can come and help me finish painting the kennel. I’ve had about enough of this,” and striding across the lawn to far side of the terrace, he picked up his hammer and got back to work.
Evadne awoke a couple of hours later to see everyone crowded around the kennel hooting with laughter. Smiling to herself, she got to her feet, lifting her son out of his basket as the noise had woken him as well, and made her way across to join them.
“You finished then?” she asked her husband as she approached him.
Edgar looked round with a grin. “Certainly have! She’s in already, and very happy about it if Marcia’s to be believed,” he added with a wink.
At that moment the children moved aside, giving her a clear view of the owner ensconced in her new abode. Evadne burst out laughing. “I still can’t believe you’ve spent the last two weekends building a kennel for Millicent Mary,” she chuckled.
“The things we do for our children, eh?” he replied, raising an eyebrow, and then he started laughing as Scrabble sat down at his feet, tail wagging and what looked like a wide grin on his face. “Not to mention our pets!”
“So one last time, what are the rules?”
“Water is not for messing about on, and always do what Mummy says.”
Edgar smiled and nodded at his two daughters, who beamed back at him, standing very proud and upright in their brand new lifejackets.
“Excellent. Ned, I didn’t hear you say anything just then. Come on, what are the rules?”
Ned rolled his eyes. “Water’s not for messing about on, and always do whatever Evvy says,” he recited mechanically. “Can we go now?”
“Don’t take that attitude with me, young man! Safety’s important – if you can’t take it seriously then…”
“Okay,” Evadne interrupted hurriedly, seeing her husband was on the verge of giving them all yet another lecture on the subject, “I think we all understand it’s important, Edgar. Shall we get on, or we’ll still be standing here when it gets dark,” and holding out her hand, she helped Thea and Marcia aboard the boat before climbing on herself. “Come on, Ned, get a shove on. Edgar, we’ll be back in about an hour, and then I’ll take you out, okay?”
Grunting an acknowledgement, Edgar untied the boat from the jetty, tossing the rope to Ned and using his foot to push the craft a small distance away. Evadne started the engine and they pulled out onto the open water, Thea sitting at the rear chatting to her stepmother, and Ned and Marcia up front, arguing over which of them got to hoist the jib. Thea looked back and gave her father a cheerful wave. Edgar returned it and then went to join his youngest son, who was fast asleep in his basket in the shade.
It was now their second day as boat owners, and today Evadne was giving them all their first lesson in how to sail. Once they were well away from the shore, she showed the three children how to hoist the mainsail, and her husband watched on as for the next hour she showed them basic tacking and jibing and let each of them have a turn themselves. When they finally returned to the jetty, all three had flushed cheeks and beaming smiles, and leaving Evvy to tie the boat up, they jumped off and ran over to their father, all talking at once.
“Daddy, did you see? I sailed all the way past Onkel Anton’s and turned it round, but it was a bit heavy and Mummy had to help…”
“…I tacked and everything, Daddy, and Mummy showed me how to jibe too, but I got it wrong…”
“…I went right down to the Di Giovanni’s, Dad, past their house to the park. Evvy said I was best by a mile…”
“…No she didn’t!” Marcia put in indignantly and Thea stopped, mouth open, and stared at her brother.
“Don’t tell fibs, Ned, she didn’t say that.”
“She did too – she said I was the best.”
“No, you said you were best and Mummy said that's only ‘cause you’re bigger than us so you can hold the ropes better, so there!” Marcia pointed out, sticking her tongue out at her brother. “Doesn’t make you the best, it just makes you older!”
Ned opened his mouth to retort but, seeing the makings of a full-scale row between his children, decided to intervene before his son could speak.
“Well I was watching you from here, and you all looked just as good as each other,” he put in quickly, as his wife finished tying up the boat and came across the grass to join them. “Isn’t that right, dear?”
Evadne raised her eyebrows questioningly. “Isn’t what right?”
“That they were all as good as each other out there.”
“I’d say so.” She grinned at each of them in turn. “Very impressive for a first go. We’ll make sailors off you all in no time! You ready then?” she added, turning to her husband.
Edgar nodded. “Right'o, you three, keep an eye on Henry please, and no arguing or it’s bread and water for dinner and then straight to bed! And can one of you go and feed Scrabble? It’s almost his food time.” Then as Thea ran off to do as he asked, he turned and followed his wife back down to the boat.
“Okay, hold it, hold it…and tack. Edgar, I said tack! Edgar! EDGAR!”
Letting go of the jib sheet, Evadne jumped to the back of the boat and flung out a hand, pulling the rudder hard towards her and causing her husband to yell and let go of the mainsail. The boat turned slowly, drifting and bobbing gently on the lake's small waves, the boom swaying to and fro.
Edgar glared at her indignantly. “What did you do that for?”
“I told you to tack!”
“I was going to!”
“When? You were about to hit someone!”
“No I wasn’t, I…” He fell silent as a small dinghy sailed passed them, dangerously close, the irate occupants haranguing them in French.
Evadne apologised profusely to the people in the other boat, and then turned back to her husband in despair. “Right, either you stop being an ass and pay attention to me, or we’re going back in now!”
“There’s no need to talk to me like I’m an idiot, I know what I’m doing!”
“No, you don’t! We’ve been out twenty minutes and that’s the second collision we’ve almost had, you’ve been hit by the boom twice and we nearly capsized a minute ago, all because you won’t listen! Maybe you should've paid more attention to the lectures you gave the kids - Marcia did better than this and she’s nine!”
“Well I’d have tacked sooner if you’d told me there was a boat there! And I’d be perfectly capable of doing this if you weren’t shouting at me every ten seconds – how am I supposed to concentrate with you nagging at me like an old mother hen!” he replied huffily.
Evadne stared at him, open-mouthed. “You arrogant pig!" she eventually cried, outraged at his cheek. "I’m not nagging you, I’m attempting to teach you, and you’re not even trying to concentrate! You think just because I’ve told you something once, you’re an expert.” Edgar glared back at her, unrepentant, and she reached out to grab the rudder. “I’ve had my fill of this for today, we’re heading back.”
“I can turn the boat around on my own, thank you,” he snapped, pulling the rudder away from her and causing the craft to sway dangerously.
Evadne sighed and gave him a withering look. “Edgar, stop being so stupid – you’re gonna have us over in a minute. Just let me take us in!” she pleaded, reaching for the rudder again.
Acting more like a petulant child than a thirty-eight-year-old adult, Edgar snatched the rudder back towards him again and in doing so, brought about his undoing. The boom swung around violently, before he had time to duck, and hit him square on the chin, catching him off-balance and tipping him into the water. Thankfully he kept hold of the main sheet so the boat didn’t drift away from him, for rather than rush to aide, his wife stared at him for a split-second and then collapsed in the bottom of the boat in fits of laughter.
Edgar spluttered, lifting his spare hand to wipe water out of his eyes, swam towards the boat and hauled himself up so that his head and chest were over the rear. “You could at least stop howling like a hyena and help me back in,” he exclaimed indignantly, as he caught sight of her.
Evadne sat up straight and tried to get a grip on herself, wiping tears of mirth from her eyes. “I’m…I’m sorry…oh that was too…”
She went off into peals of laughter again. Edgar finished hauling himself up the small steps that hung over the back of the boat, and then sat himself on the wooden seat, a large puddle of water rapidly forming at his feet. “I’m glad you think it’s so funny – I could have drowned!”
“Oh stop being such a baby!” she retorted, still giggling, as she pulled herself up so she faced him from the opposite side of the boat. “You’re wearing a life-vest – you’re hardly going to drown! Anyhow, it’s serves you right – it’ll teach you not to listen to me,” and leaving him to brood over his misfortune, she lowered the mainsail, started the engine, and steered them back to the jetty.
From their vantage point on the shore, the three children had seen the entire episode unfold, and greeted their parents with hoots of laughter as they docked the boat and came ashore.
“I can’t believe you fell out! How clumsy can you be?” Ned shouted at his father, causing his sisters to dissolve into giggles once more.
Edgar squelched his way towards them, an injured look on his face. “Why do my family find my misfortune so funny? It could have happened to any of you!”
“No it couldn’t,” Evadne put in with a grin, “they actually listened to what they were told! And to think you were worried about them having accidents!”
Edgar glared at her for a moment, and then deciding not to rise to the bait, he stalked off towards the house stating, “I’m going to have a bath!”, leaving the rest of them to pack the boat up without him.
With the boat was safely stowed back in the boat house for the night, Evadne took Henry up to the nursery to feed and bathe him, and once she had settled him in his cot, she made her way along the landing to the master bedroom, where she found her husband, bathed and changed, sitting on the edge of the bed pulling on a clean pair of socks.
He looked up as she entered the room. “I suppose you’ve come to rib me some more.”
“That depends." She grinned and walked over to sit next to him. "Do you admit that I was right and you were wrong?”
He shot to give an indignant glare. “Fine – you were right and I was wrong.”
“And do you agree that next time you get in the boat, you’ll listen to everything I tell you?”
“Next time I get in the boat, I’ll listen to everything you tell me.”
“And you’re sorry you acted like a complete ass?”
“I’m sorry I acted like a complete ass,” he muttered through gritted teeth.
Evadne's eyes twinkled with mischief. “And you admit that I’m always right, and you promise to do everything I ever tell you from now on and wait on me hand and foot?”
‘Now you’re pushing it!”
“Come on, you have to admit it and agree or I’ll never let you live down today."
“You’ll never let me live it down anyway!”
“Right you’ve asked for it!” and sitting up, he grabbed her, pinned her down on the bed and began to tickle her sides.
Evvy shrieked and tried to wriggle out of his grasp. “No…ow, Edgar…stop it…okay, okay I won’t make you admit it.” He relented and she lifted a hand to brush some hair out of her eyes. “You’re a big bully, Edgar Watson – they were unfair tactics.”
Edgar grinned down at her. “Unfair, maybe, but you have to admit they were effective!” Evadne laughed and rolled her eyes, and he stooped down to peck her on the lips. “I really am sorry though – I should have paid more attention to what you were telling me," he added, having the grace to look a little sheepish, "I really was a bit of an ass, wasn't I?”
“You can say that again!” she retorted, just as Thea’s voice rang out, calling her stepmother to the phone. Edgar sat up, letting her get to her feet, and she walked across to the door, before turning back to face him with a grin. “I forgive you this time, but do it again and I’ll push you overboard myself and leave you in the middle of the lake to swim home!” and she quickly ran out of the room to take her phone call, leaving him to splutter out his indignant response to thin air.
In case anyone's wondering why fibroids seem so much more serious here than they often do now (not that they're not serious now, if that makes sense!), from what I could find out when researching, knowledge about how to treat them and the effect they had on fertility was a far greyer area in the 50's than it is today (hysterectomy was a common treatment then), and it seems to have been presumed that infertility would result from them in more cases than not.
“Charles says he’s been going over the books and Richardson - the new man - seems to have a good grip on the company. He says he’ll go into more detail when they come out in a couple of weeks, but it’s all looking very good - your father certainly knew what he was doing appointing him by all accounts though.”
“Well Poppa had a good business brain, I guess.”
“Very true.” Edgar skimmed through the rest of the letter from his brother-in-law, and then taking a sip of his cocoa, he looked up from his correspondence just in time to catch his wife wince and surreptitiously clutch her stomach. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing much,” she replied through gritted teeth as she felt more pain in her abdomen. “Just cramps again – women’s things. Nothing you’ll want to hear about,” she added with a grin.
Rather than return her smile, Edgar stared back at her, concern showing on his face. It was now the first week of August, and he and Evadne were sitting in the snug, catching up on each other’s day and spending some quiet time together before heading off to bed. For the past few days he’d noticed that she hadn’t seemed too well, and after watching her closely of late, it was beginning to worry him.
“Evvy, you’ve been like this for over a week now. I didn’t think this was normal when you…well…you know. You were never this bad before Henry came along.”
Evadne shrugged, trying hard to hide another twinge of pain. “Maybe things change after having a baby?”
Edgar remained unconvinced. “Well I think you need to go and see Dr. Schreiber. At the very least, he might be able to give you something for the pains.”
“I’m not making a fuss for a few cramps,” she retorted impatiently, returning her attention to the magazine she was reading. “It’ll go away soon enough.”
Her husband was not put off so easily however. “Yes, and then it might just return again next month too. Come on, Evvy, you’re so tired as well – and I know it’s not just Henry, because he’s sleeping through most nights now.” She opened her mouth to protest again, but he preempted her. “Please go and see the doctor – to humour me, if for no other reason.”
She rolled her eyes, but not being in the mood for an argument, decided to give in. “Fine, I’ll go tomorrow. But I want it noted I’m only going to please you, not because I think I need to!”
“That’s absolutely fine – I don’t care why you go, just so long as you do. I don’t want you…”
“Edgar, you have your way, okay?” she interrupted wearily. “Now can we talk of something else, please – what else does Charles have to say?”
The following morning, after the family had eaten breakfast and her husband had disappeared off to work, Evadne left the children in Monique’s charge, and set off into the city to fulfill her husband’s request.
She had not been entirely honest with him the previous evening. The cramps and excessive bleeding that she had been experiencing for the past ten days were beginning to concern her a little as well, and she felt as if all her energy was gradually draining away. She had had similar problems the month before, and had just put it down to changes in her body after having the baby, but this month it seemed far worse. Not wanting to deal with it, however, she had been pushing her worries to the back of her mind and hoping that it would all go away. Now Edgar had forced her to face up to it, and she was not sure whether to be annoyed or grateful.
Arriving at the International Medical Centre, she made her way through to the reception, explained to the receptionist why she was there, and then took her place among the other patients in the waiting room. Twenty minutes later, she was reading a copy of French Vogue, studying the key pieces for the upcoming winter season, when the receptionist spoke.
“Lady Watson, Dr. Schreiber will see you now.”
Two days later Evvy was once again sitting in the snug with Edgar, following their usual evening routine – her reading, him going through his day’s correspondence and both catching up with each other’s news. Pretending to be concentrating on her book, Evadne surreptitiously watched her husband as he read through a letter that the masthead told her came from the girls’ school.
Edgar smiled as he finished and folded it up, returning it to its envelope. “Just some information on the middle school, now that Thea’s moving up there,” he said, standing up from his chair and handing it to his wife. Sitting down again, he heaved a sigh. “I can’t believe she’s eleven in a few months time – even Marcia’s nine and a half now. Where have the years gone?”
Evadne didn’t reply. Instead she watched him for a few more moments, and then shifted position on the window seat, tucking her legs underneath her. “Edgar, I need to talk to you.”
Her tone of voice made him look up sharply, and placing the letter he had just opened onto the table next to him, he regarded her with mild alarm. “What’s happened?”
Staring down at her hands, Evadne picked at her nails briefly. Then taking a deep breath, she raised her eyes to look him in the face. “I didn’t tell you the truth on Tuesday – after I’d been to the docs I mean.” Edgar stared at her, his eyes widening, and she swallowed hard before she continued. “He didn’t tell me everything was fine. He set up an appointment at the hospital. I…I went in today – they did these tests and…”
Her voice trailed off and there was silence as Edgar took in what she had just said - his mind racing, imagining all manner of things. He knew he should ask her what else the doctor had told her, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to know. His stomach was churning - it felt like Madeleine all over again. Eventually, swallowing hard, he pulled himself together enough to ask, “Wh…what tests?”
She bit her bottom lip and shook her head. “I’m not sure. He said something’s wrong, but he’s not sure what it is. It could be nothing much, or it could be…” She couldn’t bring herself to say the words, but he knew exactly what she meant. Seeing him battling hard with his emotions, she added, “I have to go back to Dr. Schreiber’s on Wednesday to get the results. Will you come with me?”
He nodded, blinking furiously, his eyes suspiciously bright. Getting up from his armchair he walked across to the window, sat down next to her and wordlessly took her in his arms. Evadne buried her face in his chest, and they clung together in silence for a long while. Eventually, pulling back a little, Edgar brought his hands up to either side of her face, staring down into her bright, blue eyes.
“We’ll get through this, Evvy. Whatever it is, we’ll get through it together, I promise you.”
The next few days dragged by, and it felt like an eternity to both of them before Wednesday finally came around. All weekend they had been putting on a cheerful face for the sake of the children, anxious not to worry or upset them in any way, and the strain had been exhausting. Now they just wanted to know either way.
When they arrived at the medical centre, the receptionist asked them to take a seat, and she disappeared into the doctor's office. Two minutes later she returned.
“Lady Watson, go straight on through,” she said with a smile. As Edgar got to his feet as well, the receptionist shook her head. “Sorry, but your husband will have to remain out here.”
Evadne turned to look up at Edgar. “But I want him to come in with me!”
“Sorry - it’s medical centre policy,” the receptionist replied apologetically. “They’re sticklers for confidentiality I’m afraid.”
Evvy opened her mouth to argue the point, but realising they were unlikely to change their minds, and not wanting to delay things any further, Edgar squeezed her hand and said quickly, “It’s okay, darling, I’ll wait out here.”
“Go on, it’ll be fine,” and bending down, he pecked her on the cheek and pushed her gently towards the doctor’s door.
She glanced back at him nervously as she knocked, and he flashed her a heartening smile. Then as the doctor called ‘Come in” and she disappeared through the door, closing it behind her, he sat back down in his chair, heaved a sigh and stared up at the ceiling, waiting for her return.
It was half an hour before she reemerged, her face grave and her eyes a little bright. Edgar jumped up to talk to her, but she shook her head at him and walked straight across to the receptionist to make an appointment for the following Monday. Then taking hold of her husband’s hand, she led him outside towards the car.
“Let’s just get in first, Edgar, then I’ll tell you, okay?”
He nodded, a feeling of dread in the pit of his stomach. Fumbling in his pockets for his keys, he eventually found them and unlocked her car door for her. She climbed in and he shut it behind her, before hurrying round to the driver’s side and climbing in himself.
Turning to face her, he asked, “So? What did he say?” She didn’t reply at first, and his expression fell. “It’s not…?”
She shook her head. “It’s not that, don’t worry. It’s something called fibroids apparently”
She shrugged her shoulders, still not looking him in the eye. “They grow inside me – I’ll show you all the information he gave me when we get home.”
“But are they…I mean could you…?”
Shaking her head again, she gave him a slight smile. “They may have to operate, but I’ll be fine.”
An intense feeling of relief flooded through Edgar’s body and, reaching out, he pulled her towards him and enveloped her in a tight hug. “Thank you, God,” he muttered into her hair as he clung to her. "Thank you."
Hugging him back, Evadne screwed up her eyes and bit her lips, trying desperately to keep her tears at bay. After a couple of minutes, Edgar pulled back and looked down at her, lifting his hand to gently stroke her cheek. “Hey, come on, darling, it’s okay,” he said, noticing the tears glistening in her eyes. “Everything’s going to be alright.”
She swallowed hard as she stared back up at him, her eyes threatening to overflow. “That’s just it, it won’t be.”
“What do you mean?” he asked, thoroughly confused. “You just said you’ll be okay – won’t you?”
She nodded. “I will be, it’s just…” She paused and took a deep breath, trying to steady her voice. “They may have to operate because they’re so big apparently, and because of where they are. Edgar, Dr. Schreiber thinks I should probably have a hysterectomy. And even if I decide not to, he says I…I probably won’t be able to have any more children.” As she finally said it out loud, tears escaped from her eyes and ran down her cheeks. “We won’t be able to have our two,” and she dissolved into noisy sobs as Edgar took her in his arms again.
Gradually Evadne’s storm of tears began to subside, and as she pulled her head back and lifted her hand to scrub her eyes, Edgar took his handkerchief out of his pocket and handed it to her. He watched her closely as she dried her tears, occasionally gulping for air as she tried to control her sobs. Eventually, she turned her eyes upwards to look at him, and seeing him gazing tenderly back at her, she gave him a slight smile.
Smiling back at her tenderly, Edgar raised a hand to the nape of her neck. “You’ve nothing to be sorry for, sweetheart.”
The mixture of love and sorrow in his eyes was almost too much to bear, and Evvy averted her gaze as her tears threatened to return. She was still shaking from the shock of the news and the intensity of her outburst, and had to take several deep breaths to bring herself back under control.
“I…I think I knew,” she said quietly, blinking hard and looking sideways out of the rear window. “I had a notion it was…that something was wrong.” She gulped down the lump that was rising in her throat and stared down at her lap. ‘Everything seemed too good – something had to happen.”
“Evvy, don’t think like that!”
“But it always does.” She raised her eyes, still glistening with tears, to his face. “Why us, Edgar?”
Edgar shook his head. He didn’t have an answer. Instead he reached forward to kiss her forehead, and then turned to put the keys in the ignition.
Evadne stared at him as he started the engine. “I can’t go home yet.”
“I know. But we need to get you away from here.”
He reversed the car out of the parking space and they drove off in silence, Edgar still trying to take in the news, and Evadne fighting a constant battle to stop her tears resurfacing. The day was overcast, but she took her sunglasses out of her bag and put them on, attempting to hide her red, puffy eyes.
Ten minutes later, Edgar pulled the car up in the delegates’ car park outside the Palais des Nations, choosing the most secluded parking space he could find. As he turned off the engine, Evadne stared up at the imposing building, and then turned to look at him.
“Why are we here?”
“I need to let my secretary know I won’t be in today.” He paused for a second and studied her face. “Do you want to use the cloakrooms to freshen up?”
She shook her head. “I don’t want to see anyone – not yet.”
“Okay.” He kissed her forehead again. “I’ll be back as fast as I can.”
She watched as he walked up the pathway to the side door and as he disappeared through it, she sat back in her seat and closed her eyes. Dr. Schreiber’s words were running round and round in her head. Her initial reaction had been the same as her husband’s – intense relief that it was not anything life-threatening. For once, fortune seemed to be smiling on them. Her mind had wandered as he had explained what fibroids were, and how they would be able to treat them. She had nodded and smiled as he told her that an operation would be necessary, imagining how pleased Edgar would be when she gave him the news that she was going to be okay, and then she had come crashing back down to earth as Dr. Schreiber had dropped his bombshell.
Edgar was as good as his word, and returned to the car ten minutes later, his arms full of papers. Opening the rear door, he threw them in the back, not caring where they landed, slammed the door shut, and climbed back into the driver’s seat.
Evadne glanced behind her. “What are they?” she asked wearily, looking at the papers that were scattered everywhere.
“Work. I’ll look at them tomorrow.” Starting the engine, he pulled out of the parking space and began to drive out of the grounds. Turning right onto the main road, he reached out to squeeze her hand. “Let’s go to our view.”
Evvy gave him a shadow of a smile, squeezing his fingers in return, and they fell silent again.
Edgar drove out of the city, heading through the suburbs on the main road leading up into the Rhone-Alps. After half an hour, he turned onto a smaller road, and then down a shaded track before coming to a halt when it became too narrow for the car to go any further. Climbing out, they walked in silence, hand-in-hand, down a muddy pathway, apparently heading deeper into the dense pine forest. Then all of a sudden, the trees thinned out, and they emerged onto narrow, sloping plain. It was a spot they had discovered, quite by accident, when they were still on their honeymoon and had just moved to the city. They had been out exploring the surrounding area, trying to get to know their new home, and had decided to go into the forest to investigate. Emerging onto the small plain, they had been instantly enchanted as a magnificent view across the lake and the city opened out before them. It had immediately become their special place, their secret, their retreat from the pressures of everyday life where they could spend some time alone.
Evadne released her hand from her husband’s grasp and walked a little way down the slope. The clouds were lying low on the mountains on the far side of the lake, and in the distance she could see the rain falling heavily on Nyon and further round towards Lausanne. “It even looks beautiful on a day like this, doesn’t it?” she said, coming to a halt and gazing down at the city below.
Edgar watched her for a moment, and then made his way down to where she was standing. “It certainly does.”
Feeling his hands on her shoulders, she leant back into him. “All this on our doorstep - I guess people think we’re real lucky.” Turning around, she stared up at him, her eyes welling up again. “I’m sorry, Edgar.”
“The bad stuff – it follows me around.” Her jaw shook as she spoke, and Edgar lifted a hand to cup the side of her head. “Now I’ve brought it on you too.”
Shaking his head, Edgar pulled her towards him and rested his cheek on her hair. “Stop that nonsense now. You’ve brought nothing to me but love and happiness, Evvy. Do you have any idea how lonely I was before I met you - despite the children, despite my friends?”
“But…” Edgar raised a hand to her lips to silence her, but Evadne pushed it away. “Don’t, Edgar, please.” Pulling away from him, she folded her arms across her chest and looked down at the grass. “When we go to church, I don’t ask Him for much, you know. Just that He looks after you all and keeps you safe. And what happens? Pops and Veronica die.” She paused for a moment, then looked up, anger flashing in her eyes. “Two children, Edgar – that’s all I asked. Not broods like Joey and Jack, just the two. But He couldn’t let that happen, could He? He had to wreck it like He wrecks everything else!” Her voice was raised and tears started to flow down her cheeks again. “We’re good people, aren’t we? Why do these things keep happening to us? Why can’t He just leave us alone to be happy?”
Edgar reached out for her but she backed further down the hill, turning her back on him and looking down at the lake. Then lifting her eyes to the sky, she shouted, “Why can’t you just leave us alone? You hear me? LEAVE MY FAMILY ALONE!”
Hurrying towards his wife, Edgar grabbed her and wrapped his arms around her, refusing to let go as she struggled against him.
“Get off of me, Edgar! Just leave me be.”
“No! Not until you calm down.” He tightened his grip around her, holding her lower arms to stop her fighting back.
Suddenly, she ceased struggling and collapsed against him, sobbing once more. Edgar turned her around and held her tightly, stroking her hair and murmuring comforting words until she finally ran out of tears. Then lowering himself onto the grass, he pulled her down with him and held her close, cradling her in his arms. She sniffed and wiped the back of her hand across her eyes.
“I just want us to be happy.”
Edgar pulled his head back and gazed down at her. “I am happy, Evvy. You and the children - you make me very, very happy.” She looked up at him, and he lifted his hands to either side of her face. “Do you know what I asked Him at church on Sunday, and every day since you had those tests?” She shook her head. “I asked him to let me keep you, for you to be alright. I thought I was going to lose you.” His voice choked a little as he spoke and he swallowed hard to clear his throat. “Evvy, I don’t know why this has happened – why any of the bad things have happened. But I do know that you’re going to be alright, that I get to keep you, and I am more thankful for that than I can say.”
Evadne was quiet for a moment as she took this in. Then she shook her head and closed her eyes. “I just wanted one more, Edgar.”
Edgar wrapped his arms around her again, rocking her very gently and kissing the top of her head. “So did I, darling, and I hate that this has happened too, but it’ll be alright. I promised we’d get through whatever it was together, remember? And that’s just what we’ll do. However long it takes us, we’ll get through it, okay?”
She nodded and lifted a hand, placing it over one of his. They relapsed into silence, Evadne staring down at the grass, Edgar looking out across the lake, both momentarily lost in their own thoughts. After a while, Edgar released her and got to his feet, holding out his hand to pull her up.
“Come here, I want to show you something.” He led her a little further down the grass, and then pointed down towards the suburb where they lived. “That’s our house, just there. You can see Guilia’s car in the forecourt.” Evadne nodded, he lips turning up in a slight smile. “There are four rather wonderful children in there, waiting for their parents to come home so they can drive us to distraction. Shall we go and see them?”
Evvy gazed down the mountainside at their home, nestled among the trees of their leafy neighbourhood, her heart still feeling very heavy. Turning to her husband, she lifted a hand to his face and reached up to peck him on the cheek. At that moment she felt a spot of water of her forearm, and looking up at the sky, saw the dark clouds gathered up above.
Edgar followed her gaze skyward.“Come on - let’s make a dash for it before we get drenched,” and slipping his arm through hers, he led her back up the grass towards the car.
Three days later, Evadne was still trying to come to terms with the doctor’s diagnosis when Charles, Sarah and their two boys arrived to spend a week in Geneva. Concerned about his wife’s state of mind, Edgar had been keen to cancel or postpone the arrangements, but Evadne had persuaded him otherwise, hoping that the presence of her stepbrother and his family would help to take her mind off things a little.
So they duly arrived Saturday lunchtime, as planned, and by the time the evening came around Edgar could see that his wife had been absolutely right.
The afternoon had been a riotous affair. This was the first time the Watson children had really got to know their two step-cousins – the days running up to Arthur and Veronica’s funerals had been too upsetting for them to really play together – and they were discovering two new friends after their own hearts. The eldest, Peter, was a year older than Ned, and as obsessed with motor cars as his younger cousin was with planes. The two of them wiled away a happy afternoon talking about engines and building models in Ned’s basement workshop.
In James, meanwhile, Marcia found a willing partner-in-crime and the pair of them spent the afternoon devising ways to wind up their elder brothers over the coming week. They spent the afternoon causing havoc until Edgar had eventually snapped and sent the pair of them upstairs to play quietly, under threat of being banned from all excursions if they didn’t behave themselves – a threat that seemed to be effective, for a few hours at least.
The mischief-making had amused Evadne no-end, though she made sure not to let Marcia and James know that, and it had certainly taken her mind off her problems. Although she was still subdued, the hilarity of the afternoon had brought some colour back to her cheeks again and her eyes, though still sad, were beginning to regain some of their usual shine.
The majority of the household were now sleeping soundly after the excitement of the day. Edgar was propped up against the headboard, his legs under the covers and his back resting on one of his pillows, watching his wife as she got changed for bed. “You were right, you know. Them visiting has done you the world of good.”
Evadne pulled her nightdress on, smoothed it down, and then turned to her vanity and began pulling out her hairpins. “Did I just hear that right?” she asked, watching him in the mirror, a feigned look of surprise on her face. “Did you admit you were wrong?”
She wore a mischievous grin as she began to brush out her blonde curls, and after the turmoil of the last few days, the sight of it warmed Edgar’s heart. “I don’t remember saying that!” he retorted, returning her smile. “I believe I just said that you were right.”
“Adds up to the same thing in my book!”
“And what book’s that, may I ask?”
Evvy put her brush down on the dressing table and turned to face him. “The book that says that your wife has undeniable strokes of genius and you should recognise them more often!”
As her husband chuckled at her response, she walked across to the bed, pulling back the sheets and climbing in between them. Edgar turned to face her, slipping an arm around her shoulders, and she leaned in towards him and kissed him gently on the lips.
“What was that for?” he asked, smiling tenderly at her as she pulled back again and wrapped her arms around his neck.
“Because I love you.” Bringing a hand down to rest on his chest, she paused for a moment and then gave him a tentative smile. “I know I’m not so great right now, but I’ll learn to live with this, Edgar, I promise you.”
Edgar entwined his fingers with hers. “Just remember you don’t have to do it alone, okay?”
“I know. D’you want to know something?”
Pulling her legs up underneat her, she shuffled round a little so that she was curled up tightly in the crook of his arm. “When I was a kid, I used to try and imagine what my husband would be like one day.”
“And do I fit the criteria?”
Evadne frowned. “Promise me you won’t ever let on how mushy I’m about to be?”
“Not even to Mike and Corney?” he asked with an innocent air.
Evadne looked horrified. “Especially not to Mike and Corney!”
“You spoilsport!” he chuckled, then as she hit him on the chest he relented. “Alright I promise. It’s worth it to hear you be mushy anyway.”
“Okay, well,” she blushed a little and gazed up at him from underneath her eyelashes, “you’re a thousand times more wonderful than anything I ever dreamt up.” She smiled as she looked up into his soft, green eyes. “I’m not really sure I deserve you.”
He held her gaze for a moment, a little amused but very touched, and then releasing her fingers, he brought his hand up to cup the side of her face and replied softly, “Yes, you do.” He kissed her and grinned. “And you’re right, that was mushy!”
“I warned you!” she returned his kiss, before pulling out of his arms. “Now, stop talking to me, " she ordered, wriggling down under the covers and turning her back on him. "I need to sleep a while before Henry decides to wake. He’s napped far too long today for my liking and I just know he’s going to start screaming the house down around three a.m.”
Chuckling, Edgar reached across her to turn off her bedside light. Then switching off his own, he snuggled down next to her, draping his arm around her, and they both fell silent as they drifted off to sleep.
Overnight, the rain that had been teeming down for the past few days inally ceased, and the followig morning dawned bright and sunny. Mindful that the children had been cooped up inside for long enough, Evadne ordered them outside to play as soon as breakfast was over.
“…and take Scrabble with you too,” she shouted at Marcia’s retreating back, as she, Thea and James ran out of the room. “He’s had next to no exercise these past few days and he’s going haywire.” She sat back and took a sip of her coffee. “Hopefully a few hours outside’ll calm them down a bit,” she added with a frown. “I know I was always at my worst when I was stuck inside for days on end.”
“And how terrifying that worst must have been!” Edgar put in with a wink.
Charles chuckled as his stepsister pulled a face at her husband and threw her napkin across the table at him. “Were you really that bad?”
“You’d best believe it!” she returned proudly, as Ned came running into the room.
“Dad, did you make up your mind about Mr. Schulstad yet?” he asked his father eagerly. “I want to write to him.”
Edgar frowned. “Hmmm…I’m not sure.”
“Oh Dad, pleeeeeaaaase!”
The pleading look on his son’s face made Edgar laugh and he relented. “Alright – Evvy and I have talked it over and decided you can go. I’ll write to Mr. Stevenson to let him know, and you can take the letter back with you. But you make sure you behave yourself, or it’ll be the last time we let someone take you on unscheduled exeat. And don’t forget Harry has to get permission from his own parents – I can only give permission for you.”
“I know – I’ll write and tell him now! Thanks, Dad, you’re the best!” and turning on his heel he charged out of the room again at top speed.
Edgar watched him go. “I do wish Mr. Schulstad hadn’t mentioned the flying thing,” he said with a grimace at his wife. “He’ll do no work until it comes round, you know.”
Evadne shook her head. “Give him some credit, Edgar. I think he learnt his lesson last year, don’t you?”
“I hope so,” he replied, looking far from convinced.
“Who’s Mr. Schulstad?” Sarah asked.
“Someone we met on the plane a couple of years ago on the way to Boston,” Evadne replied, draining her coffee cup and wiping her mouth on her napkin. “He and Ned took rather a shine to each other – he’s crazy about airplanes too - and he writes to him regularly. He’s visiting England in October and he wants to take Ned and his friend Harry out for a day’s flying. Now,” she added, scraping her chair back and getting to her feet, “I’m gonna go get Henry and make the most of this sunshine. Anyone joining me?”
“I will in a while,” her husband replied, “I’ve just got some correspondence to catch up on first.”
“And I need to take a bath,” Sarah added, glaring at her husband. “Someone managed to take an absolute age in the bathroom this morning!”
“Well I’ll join you,” Charles responded, ignoring his wife and getting to his feet. “Shall I save you a sunlounger or chair?”
“Sunlounger I think,” Evvy replied with a grin and left the room to go and get her son.
Fifteen minutes later she made her way out onto the terrace, carrying Henry with one arm and a heap of his blankets and toys with the other.
Charles got to his feet and held out his arms for the little boy. “Here, let me take him,” he said, lifting his nephew from her arms. Sitting down again, he held the baby above his head and pulled faces at him, causing him to smile and gurgle. “He really is adorable, isn’t he?”
Evadne settled herself on the lounger next to her stepbrother and smiled across at her son, who was now holding tight to his uncle’s finger and trying to put it in his mouth. “Well I think so.”
Reaching out a hand, she ran it through the little boy’s fair curls. Charles caught the wistful look on her face as she did so and he looked at her curiously. “Evvy, I realise I’m being awfully nosy, but is something wrong? You don’t quite seem yourself.”
Evadne smiled and shook her head. “Everything’s fine,” she said holding her hands out for her son and avoiding her stepbrother’s eyes.
Charles raised an eyebrow as he handed Henry over and then sat up and gave her a stern look. “Now listen here you,” he began seriously, “I’ve waited a long time for the opportunity to play big brother, so don’t you go depriving me of it now!” She smiled and he caught her eye. “I’m perfectly capable of protecting my little sister,” he added, “blood-related or not.”
Evadne chuckled and sat back, making Henry comfortable in her lap. Then after a brief pause, she poured out everything that had happened over the past couple of weeks. The sympathy grew in Charles’ eyes as she talked, and when she’d finished, she heaved a sigh and gave him a weary smile. “Sorry - nobody for you to take to task, I’m afraid.” She ran a hand across her son’s hair and bent to kiss him on the forehead. “The thing is, I know I’m so lucky to have this little one, and the other three, but I still feel cheated somehow. It’s pretty selfish of me, I guess, but I can’t help it. Edgar’s been so wonderful but I still feel so empty about it.”
Charles watched her as she gazed lovingly at her son. “What are you going to do? About the operation, I mean?”
“Edgar and I talked it through, and I’m not going to have the hysterectomy – not yet, anyhow,” she replied, looking up at him and shrugging her shoulders. “We’ll see how it goes and reassess in a year, unless something happens in the meantime. There's always a chance I might…well, you never know, I guess,” she added, smiling thinly at her stepbrother.
Charles nodded and returned her smile. “Very true.” Reaching out, he squeezed her shoulder, then let his hand drop back to his side. “I’m very proud of you, you know - for not giving up I mean. And it’s a good job too,” he added with a grin, “no sister of mine should roll over and take these things lying down!”
Evadne laughed. “I do like having a big brother - I think I’ll keep you!”
“You may think differently when I start beating you up and pulling your hair!” he replied, a twinkle in his eye. “Isn’t that what elder brothers do?”
“You do that and I’ll set my husband on you!” she retorted, still laughing. “He’s bigger than you, remember?”
At that moment, Thea came running out onto the terrace, giggling so much she was holding her sides. “Mummy…Uncle Charles…you have to come and see!” she cried, and then ran off again.
Raising an eyebrow at Charles, Evadne got to her feet and hitched Henry up on her hip. “Now what, I wonder?”
“I’m not even going to hazard a guess!” Charles replied as he stood up and the pair of them followed Thea in through the house.
Meeting Sarah in the hallway, the three of them emerged into the forecourt to be greeted by the sight of their children gathered under the flat roof above the corner of the dining room. It formed a balcony outside Thea’s bedroom window, though the children were forbidden from going out there at present unless there were adults with them. Looking up, she saw her husband on top of it, standing somewhat awkwardly in front of the railing that ran around the edge. His face was bright red and he was shouting at his son.
“I mean it, Ned. Get the ladder back now, or I won’t be responsible for what I do to you!” Ned’s response was to double up with laughter and Edgar was about to shout again when he caught sight of his wife. “Evvy, talk some sense into the stupid boy, will you?”
Rather than do as he asked, Evadne cocked her head to one side and regarded him sceptically. “What are you doing?”
“James threw a ball up here so I climbed up to get it for them, and our idiot son decided it would be funny to remove the ladder leaving me stranded!” he responded indignantly, his voice sounding oddly high-pitched.
“That’s not really why you’re stuck though!” Ned called up, and as all five children started to giggle again, Thea grabbed her stepmother’s arm to get her attention.
“Daddy’s got his shorts stuck on the railing,” she managed to say through her giggles, and Evadne spluttered and stared up at her husband in disbelief.
“Are you a little trapped there, baby?” she called up, an innocent look on her face, and Edgar glared back down at her.
“I’m glad you all think this is so funny! I’m actually in pain while you’re all there laughing like village idiots!”
“I’m not sure we’re the village idiots,” Evvy replied with a grin, and then without waiting to hear his response, she handed Henry to Thea and headed in through the front door.
“Evvy!” Edgar bellowed after her, but she failed to reappear. “Evadne, get back here and help me now! EVADNE!”
“Did you holler?”
Hearing her voice behind him, he twisted sharply, suppressing a yell of pain as the railing dug into his backside. “How did you get here?” he asked as she walked across to stand next to him.
“Through Thea’s window – how do you think?” Edgar gaped at her, peering round her at the open french door and if it were possible, turned even more scarlet. She smiled at him sweetly. “I guess you didn’t think of that then? May have been a little easier than climbing over the railing, ladder or no ladder.”
Edgar opened and closed his mouth a few times, as the watchers down below doubled up with laughter again. Regaining his power of speech, he disregarded her comments and muttered, so only she could hear him, “Just help me off here before I damage myself permanently. You, at least, should care about that!”
Evadne grinned “Okay, hold still.” She tried a few times to pull the trapped material from the railing, to no avail – it was stuck fast. “Wait here a second,’ and she disappeared back through the french doors. Remerging a minute later, Thea’s scissors in hand, she bent down ready to cut him free.
“You’ll damage my shorts!” he exclaimed and she looked up at him, eyebrows raised.
“Well it’s this or leave you trapped here all day – which would you rather?”
Edgar glared at her for a moment and then shook his head. “Fine, just watch where you cut.”
After much snippng, and much wincing on Edgar’s part, she finally freed him and he climbed back over the railing, the redness finally disappearing from his cheeks. “Thank you,” he said to his wife, his voice back to normal again, then leaning over the railing he glared at his son. “You thank your lucky stars for your stepmother, young man!”
“Oh leave him alone,” Evvy put in, throwing the ball down for the children and then grabbing her husband’s arm and towing him towards the window. “It’s as much your fault as it is his – if you’d used your brain, this wouldn’t have happened. And you’re still intact – just!” she added with a grin. Edgar stared at her, indignant, and she slipped her arms round his waist. “Oh come along, smile! You’ve cheered me up, anyhow, so something good came out of this!”
Edgar looked down at her and pouted. “It hurt.”
Trying hard not to laugh again, Evadne reached up and pecked him on the cheek. “I know, baby. How about you go put some different shorts on and I’ll make you a nice cup of tea to make it better!” she said in a motherly voice.
“Are you enjoying patronising me?”
“What do you think?” she replied with a grin. Edgar rolled his eyes, and she patted him on the backside and pushed him towards the open window. “Go on, go get changed and I’ll make the tea. If you’re lucky I’ll even throw in some of Guilia’s cookies,” and still chuckling, she followed him back inside.
The two girls kissed their stepmother goodbye and waved as she drove off, then made their way down the path towards the school gates. As they approached them, Marcia glanced at her sister out of the corner of her eye and her face took on a sad expression.
“Are you excited about being a Middle?”
Thea grinned. “Yes – it feels really grown up though. But then I am eleven in two months, so I am grown up really.”
“Well I don’t think I like it now you’re a Middle,” Marcia replied, staring down at the pavement and pouting. “I won’t get to see you nearly so much.”
“Yes you will. You see me all the time at home,” Thea replied, giving her a puzzled look, “and we never saw each other in class anyway.”
“I know, but it’s not the same,” Marcia continued, still pulling a sulky face. “You’re in a different playground and everything. What if I need to talk to you at break? It’s not fair.”
Thea watched her for a second, then put an arm around her younger sister’s shoulders. “Don’t be such a ninny! You’ll be fine without me – you still have Ann and all your other friends. And I’ll only be in the Middle’s playground if you want to talk, or we can talk after school.” She looked up at her – Marcia had shot up over the summer and was now an inch or so taller than Thea – and gave her a sisterly smile. “Anyway it’s only for a year, then you’ll be a Middle too!”
Marcia returned her smile, looking a little consoled. “Daddy said he can’t believe you’re a Middle now ‘cause you still seem too young, but I think it’s ‘cause he wants to pretend he’s not old! Ooo – there’s Ann! Ann!” and forgetting her woes, she ran off towards her friend.
Thea laughed and turned in the opposite direction towards her new playground. Today was her first day in the Middle School and truth be told, she was feeling very excited and very grown up. She had a small, tight-knit group of friends now, and her best friend Kate was due to join her at the school today too. Walking into the Middle’s playground, she instantly spotted Kate waving to her from the far gate and ran across to meet her.
Kate greeted her with a wide smile, almost jumping up and down in her excitement. “I can’t believe I’m here! This is so much better than the other smelly old school. And there’s no Franny here!”
Thea laughed as Kate said goodbye to her mother, Mrs Cranston feeling better about leaving her daughter now she was in her friend’s charge. Taking Kate by the arm, Thea said, “Come and see Celine and Lucy. You remember them from my birthday, don’t you?” Kate nodded and Thea towed her across the playground to her friends.
The bell rang ten minutes later, and as they filed into their new classroom, all nineteen children chattering at the tops of their voices, Thea pulled Kate towards two seats near the window. “Come and grab the desk next to me – we sit two people together her.” She ran forward just in time to claim the last two window desks, and as Kate took her seat, Thea threw herself on two more desks across the aisle and waved at her other friends.
“Lucy, quick – I’ve saved your places!”
Lucy and Celine came to claim their new seats, and Thea returned to her own. “Our teacher’s called Miss Engel. Ann’s brother had her before he went to England and says she’s really nice.” Then turning to fully face her friend, she gave her a beaming grin. “I’m so glad you’re here – it’s going to be so fun!”
At that moment, the classroom door opened and the aforementioned Miss Engel appeared. The class jumped to their feet. “Good Morning everyone! I’m Miss Engel, and I’m your teacher this year.”
“Good Morning Miss Engel,” nineteen voices chorused back.
The teacher looked around at them all and smiled. “Sit down, all of you. Now,” she said, taking her seat behind her desk and pulling a thin, hard-backed book from her bag. "Let’s start by taking the register, shall we? Then I can try and familiarise myself with your names.” She opened the book and picked up a pen. “Timothy Adams?”
“Here!” a small, American voice answered.
Miss Engel made her way through the register, the pupils answering to their names with the required ‘Here’. Thea was paying little attention, knowing her name would be the last on the list, and was staring around her, taking in her new domain with enthusiastic eyes.
Miss Engel had just reached the letter ‘G’, when the door opened and Mademoiselle Pattieu, the school secretary, came into the room.
“One more for your class, Miss Engel,” she said with a smile, pulling her small charge forward. “This is Francesca Harford.”
Kate, who had been gazing out of the window, sat up sharply, almost overturning her desk, and looked round at her friend in horror. Thea was staring at the new girl, her mouth wide-open and her face as white as a sheet.
Mr. Jones shut his register and looked around his new class. “Excellent - all present and correct! Right, let’s get down to business, shall we? Appointments first, I think. As you all know, now that you’re the top junior class, the Class Captain this year will also be head of the Junior School.” A hum of whispers went around the room, and he held his hand up for silence. “Class Second will be Suzette Schumann. Well done, Suzette” A smatter of claps sounded at this and Suzette, a small, dark, Swiss girl, who was hail-fellow-well-met with almost everyone, beamed at the news. Mr. Jones held his hand up for silence again. “And I'm very pleased to announce that Class Captain will be Ann Bown!”
A loud squeal sounded from the back of the room and, as the rest of the class applauded, Marcia threw her arms around her friend’s neck. “I knew it!”
Mr. Jones laughed. “Well somebody’s pleased, anyway. Calm down, Marcia, there’s plenty of time for that at break.” Ann was staring at her teacher in shock, and he gave her a warm smile. “Congratulations, Ann, I’m sure you’ll do very well. Now for the rest of the appointments. Stationary Monitor – Carl Haasen, Flowers – Linda…”
As he continued, Marcia turned to her friend and hissed, “I knew it would be you! Everyone likes you, even the teachers!”
Ann stared back at her, still stunned by her appointment. “I thought it would be you.”
Marcia shook her head. “I get in too much trouble." She paused and gave Ann a wide grin. “It’ll be so good! It’s almost like being head girl!”
Her voice squeaked in her excitement and Mr. Jones stopped mid-announcement and glared at her. “Talking, Marcia? Care to share it with the class?”
Marcia went bright red and mumbled something incoherent, and Mr. Jones did his best to suppress a grin.
“Here's an idea. Let’s see if you can manage to get the first day of term out of the way without getting in trouble, shall we? Start the year off with a new record – you never know, it might be fun,” and as Marcia went even redder and Ann tried hard not to giggle, Mr. Jones turned back to the rest of the class.
“I don’t believe it! That’s so unfair!”
Tearing his eyes away from a notice from the new Games Monitor regarding house rugby trials, Ned looked round at his best friend, who was busy poring over the new study lists, and raised his eyebrows. “What’s so unfair?”
“This!” Harry pointed to the board in front of him. “Stevenson’s split us up!”
“What?” Ned hurried across to join his friend. “He can’t do that!”
“Well he has – see for yourself! You’re in with Burgess…”
“That’s okay – Burgess is a good egg.”
“Well it’s alright for you then, isn’t it!” Harry retorted, with not-a-little sarcasm, as his friend pushed next to him to have a look. “Look who I’m with!”
“Piers Lloyd-Kitchen? Who’s he when he’s at home?”
“How’m I ‘sposed to know! Some ass of a new boy, probably, if his ghastly name’s anything to go by!”
“He might not be. Why don’t you give him a chance?” Ned grinned as Harry glared at him. “Anyway, our studies are next door to each other, so it’s not so bad.”
“Alright for you to say!”
“Stop sulking, you big moke!” Ned retorted.
“Oh get lost!” and as Ned laughed at the outraged expression on his friend’s face, Harry pushed past him and stormed up the stairs towards his new room.
Miss Engel nodded at the secretary as that lady withdrew from the class, and then turned to her new pupil. “Welcome to the class, Francesca,” she said with a smile. “Now, let’s find you somewhere to sit, shall we?”
“Please, Miss,” Franny replied in a sweet, girlish voice that made Miss Engel raise her eyebrows. “I already know Kate Cranston – could I sit with her?”
Miss Engel’s sharp eyes caught the expression on both Kate and Thea’s faces, and she shook her head. “No, I don’t think so. Kate’s new herself, so we’ll leave her where she is. Now let’s see - Lucy is it?” The owner of the name nodded. “Can you move to this spare desk up at the front here, please, and Francesca, you can take Lucy’s place next to…Celine?” Celine smiled and acknowledged her name. “Celine, you can show her the ropes for the first week or so. Now, let’s get started, shall we? Marc Leconte? Will you go along to the stationary cupboard, please – take, let’s see, Timothy Adams with you – and here’s the list…”
As Miss Engel continued giving her orders, Franny walked down the classroom to take her seat, flashing Thea a nasty smile and staring at her intently. Thea dropped her eyes to stare down at her desk, her earlier happiness evaporating completely. Truth be told, she was trying very hard not to cry. Oblivious to her friend’s discomfort, Celine smiled at the new girl as that young lady took the empty seat beside her.
“Hello, I’m Celine, and those are my friends Thea, Kate and that is Lucy,” the Swiss girl hissed in her almost flawless English, pointing down the class at her friend who had been moved.
“I’m Franny,” Franny replied, with a sickly sweet grin. “I already know Thea and Kate, we were at our last school together – before Thea had to leave, of course,” she added spitefully, with a sideways glance.
Hearing every word of this exchange from her seat across the aisle, Thea continued to stare down at her desk, trying her best to ignore it. Kate glared at the newcomer, who simply smiled at back her. Thoroughly confused – Thea had never mentioned having to leave her old school – Celine was about to ask Franny what she was talking about when Miss Engel called for silence, so her questions had to wait.
They were kept fully occupied for the next hour and half, as Miss Engel got to know them and went through various new rules and regulations that were part of their new status in the middle school, so it wasn’t until break that Thea found herself face to face with her old nemesis. She hurried out of the classroom as soon as the bell went, not waiting for Kate and making straight for her locker, eager to avoid Franny if she possibly could. She had just finished unpacking her bag and was about to head outside when she heard the familiar, malicious voice.
“Bet you didn’t expect to see me here?” Thea closed her locker, keeping her back to Franny, and turned to walk away. Not to be discourated, Franny grabbed hold of Thea’s arm. “When Daddy said I could change schools, I told him I just had to come here, ‘specially as I knew you and Kate were here.” Her eyes narrowed and her stare bored into the side of Thea’s face. “You got me in trouble and made me lose my friends, Thea Watson, and now I can pay you back.”
Hearing the voices of her approaching classmates, Thea wrenched her arm out of Franny’s grasp and made her way quickly towards the playground. Kate saw her go, and ignoring the school rule of no running in the corridor, she sprinted after her friend, catching up with her just as she stepped outside.
“Thea, wait!” Kate tried to catch Thea’s arm, but that young lady pulled it away.
“Leave me alone.”
“Thea, you have to ignore her! I’ll tell Celine and Lucy how mean and nasty she is, and then they’ll tell everyone else and it’ll be okay, you’ll see.”
Thea shook her head. “No it won’t,” she replied in a quiet voice, and then turning she started to walk away. “I want to be on my own.” Thea began to pick up speed as Kate tried to follow her, and seeing that her friend meant what she said, Kate stopped and watched her go.
“Thea! Thea, over here! You’ll never guess?”
Ignoring the attempts to get her attention, Thea continued on her path to the opposite side of the playground, her head bowed. Disgruntled, Marcia pulled a face as she watched her go.
“What’s wrong with her?” Ann shrugged her shoulders and looking around her, Marcia suddenly spotted Kate. “Kate! Over here, quick!”
Kate looked up as Marcia shouted, and made her way across to the gate between the two playgrounds. “What?”
“Ann’s been made Head of Juniors! I knew she would be!” Marcia announced proudly, and then before Kate had a chance to reply or congratulate Ann, she added, “What’s wrong with Thea?”
Glancing back towards the door that led into the Middle School, Kate caught sight of Franny coming out into the playground with Lucy and Celine. “That,” she replied, pointing towards them.
Marcia turned in the direction of Kate’s hand and her eyes widened. “What’s that pig Franny doing here? Did you know?”
Kate shook her head. “She never said she was coming here,” she responded, looking around her to see where Thea had got to. “I didn’t know 'til she came to class this morning.”
Marcia glanced across to where her sister was sitting alone on a bank of grass on the far side of the yard, and then stared back at Franny. At that exact moment, Franny happened to look up, and spotting Marcia, she waved, a nasty sneer on her face. Marcia’s temper began to rise.
“I’m telling her she can’t be here!” she stated, jumping down from the gate. “C’mon Ann.”
Ann stared at her as if she had gone mad. “You can’t stop her being here!”
“Well I’ll tell her she’s to leave my sister alone then!” and she stepped back and pulled open the gate.
Ann caught the back of her cardigan and held her back. “No you can’t ‘cause you’re not allowed in the Middles’ playground,” she said, sounding very officious. “You’ll get in trouble and you know what Mr. Jones said.”
“So? It’s Thea – I have to!” Marcia retorted, trying to pull her cardigan free. “Let go!”
Seeing the makings of a full-scale argument, Kate decided to intervene. “Don’t, Marcia, please. It’ll cause a fuss and Thea’ll hate it.” Marcia opened her mouth to argue back but Kate was too quick for her. “I’ll tell Lucy and Celine how horrid she is, I promise, and then she won’t be able to be nasty to Thea.”
Marcia succeeded in freeing her clothing from Ann’s grasp and glared at her two friends. “Well I’ll wish for her to disappear or get hit by lightening or eaten by a giant spider then – I can do that!” she said absurdly and stalked off, not in the least consoled by Kate’s promises.
Ann rolled her eyes and turned to follow in her wake, and Kate set off to go and see if she could get Lucy and Celine alone.
When the bell sounded, signifying the end of lessons for the day, Marcia tore out of the classroom, threw her belongings haphazardly into her locker and then ran outside and across the playground to where Evadne was waiting.
“Mummy, guess what…” she cried, coming to a halt in front of her stepmother and gasping for breath. “Thea’s…Franny…” She began choking from dashing around too fast and Evadne bent down, a little concerned.
“Calm down, Marcia, take a deep breath.” Marcia did as she was told, and soon began to breath properly again. Once she was satisfied the young girl was back to normal, Evadne stood up. “Now, what’s this about Franny?”
“She’s here!” Marcia stared up at her stepmother, her large green eyes open to their widest extent, a look of dismay on her face. “Ann was made Head of Juniors and I went to tell Thea at break, only she wouldn’t talk to me, and then I told Kate and asked her why and she showed me Franny was there! I wanted to tell her to go away but Ann and Kate wouldn’t let me. Mummy, Thea’s really sad about it and went off on her own and everything. It’s not fair.”
Evadne stared at her in shock. “What do you mean she’s here? At the school?”
Marcia nodded but before Evadne could say any more, Thea herself appeared at the school gates, a sullen look on her pretty face. As she approached them, Evvy reached out to her and pulled her into a hug.
“Let’s get you home, shall we?”
Thea glanced at her sister, realising that young lady must have broken the news to their stepmother. Nodding, she slipped her arms around Evadne’s waist. Evvy kissed the top of the smooth, brown locks and led her towards the car.
Later that evening, Thea was getting ready for bed when there was a knock at her bedroom door and it opened to reveal Marcia’s worried face. She had rushed to get changed so that she could speak to her sister before lights out, and her nightdress was on inside out, her fair curls wild and bushy, as if she had been given an electric shock.
“Thea, are you alright?”
“I’m fine.” Thea turned her back on her sister, finished brushing her hair and bent down to close her bottom draw.
Marcia watched her for a moment and then shook her head vigorously, causing her hair to bounce around wildly. “No you’re not, I know you’re not. It’s not fair that she’s at our school – I hate her!”
Saying nothing in reply, Thea made her way towards the bed and climbed between the covers. Marcia stared at her.
“Why won’t you say anything?”
There was silence for a moment, while Thea thought about this, and then she shook her head. “You’d better go to bed, Marcia, Mummy’ll be up soon for light’s out and you’ll be in trouble.”
“I don’t care, I’m not going to bed yet.” Moving up the bed towards her sister, Marcia reached out and grabbed her arm. “Franny’s a horrid pig and I’m not going to let her be nasty to you! I’ll tell Mr. Jones what she did and he’ll tell all the teachers and then they’ll make her Daddy take her away! It’ll serve her right too.”
“Oh no you won’t.” They looked up at the sound of their stepmother’s voice, and Evadne gave Marcia a stern look. “What are you doing in here, young lady? I thought you were supposed to be getting ready for bed.”
Marcia turned innocent eyes on her stepmother. “I was, but I wanted to see if Thea was alright.”
“Well now you’ve seen, so how about you go back to your own room and get into bed. I’ll be along to turn the light off in a minute.”
Marcia jumped down and ran off to do as she was told, and Evadne took her place on the edge of Thea’s bed, taking one of her stepdaughter's small, slim hands in her own. “How are you feeling, sweetheart?”
“I’m okay.” Thea stared down at her lap for a moment and then lifted her eyes to her stepmother’s face. “Are you going to tell Daddy?”
Evadne nodded. “Yes, Thea, he needs to know.”
“But he’ll tell Miss Engel, and then everyone’ll know and I don’t want them too,” came the pleading reply, and Evvy raised her hand to Thea’s shoulder.
“No they won’t, I promise you. We’ll have to tell Miss Engel, and she may have to tell the Headmaster, but nobody else will find out, okay? I’ll have a word with Marcia in a minute and ask her to keep quiet too.”
Thea nodded, and her eyes suddenly filled with tears. “It’s not fair, Mummy. Why did she have to come to my school?”
“I don’t know, sweetie, I really don’t.” Evadne reached out and hugged her, stroking her hair as she sobbed. After a couple of minutes, Thea pulled back and scrubbed her eyes, and Evvy looked at her, concerned. “Are you okay to go to sleep?”
Thea nodded. “I’ll be alright. I’m tired.”
“Okay, well you snuggle down then, and maybe it won’t seem so bad tomorrow.” Thea wriggled down beneath the covers and Evadne kissed her goodnight. “We’ll make this okay, Thea.”
Thea smiled thinly and kissed her stepmother on the cheek, then turning onto her side, she closed her eyes. Evadne watched her for a few seconds, and then getting to her feet, she left the room.
It was gone eleven, and Evadne had just got into bed herself when Edgar finally arrived home. He was chairing a big project, and had consequently been working very long hours for the past few days. Making his way upstairs, he went to kiss his sleeping daughters and young son goodnight before making his way to bed. As he entered the bedroom, Evadne put her book down on her nightstand and smiled.
“I was wondering how late you were going to be! Did you get much done?”
Edgar bent down to kiss her and then made his way to the adjoining dressing room and began to get changed. “Quite a bit, actually. One more late night should do it, I think, then I’ll be back to more normal hours. I am sorry about this, darling, I really can’t help it.”
Evvy watched him as took off his suit and tie. “I know, it’s okay. Listen, Edgar, I’ve something to tell you.”
“Sounds serious,” he replied, frowning as he put his suit on its hanger and hung it on the rail. “What’s up?”
“It’s Thea. Franny Harford turned up at their school today – turns out she’s a new pupil this year.”
“She’s what?” came the muffled response, as Edgar got his shirt stuck while pulling it off over his head. He wrestled with it for a few seconds, cursing as he did so, and finally managing to extract himself, he threw it over a nearby chair. “Damn thing!”
“Well if you’d undo all the buttons and take it off like a normal human being, then that wouldn’t happen!”
Edgar dismissed her insult with a wave of his hand, and making his way back into the bedroom, he pulled his pyjamas from underneath his pillow. “Are you serious about Franny Harford?”
Evadne nodded. “Thea’s trying to be brave, but she’s real upset, Edgar. From what Marcia told me after school, I think Franny may have already started needling at her again. I’m not sure what to do. We’ll have to tell her teacher about last time, of course. I was thinking I should do that tomorrow, first thing?”
“Absolutely! Try and nip it in the bud now,” he replied, tying his pyjama bottoms at the waist and then climbing into bed. “That damn child – why can’t she just leave Thea alone?”
He rested his head back against the headboard, looking upset, and Evadne moved across to cuddle up against him, her head on his shoulder. “I promised her we’d make it okay. We will be able to, won’t we?”
Edgar looked down at her, his hand stroking her fair curls. “We will if I have anything to do with it,” he said quietly, his mouth drawn into a straight line. Then turning off the light, he slid down between the sheets and took his wife in his arms, holding her closely as he stared up into the darkness, making a silent pledge to help his daughter in any way he could.
Evadne got to her feet and held out her hand. “I appreciate you giving me your time, Miss Engel. I can’t tell you what a difference it makes to know that her teacher is sympathetic to it all this time around.”
Getting to her feet and shaking Evadne’s proffered hand, Regina Engel smiled. “You’re welcome, Lady Watson. If there’s one thing I won’t tolerate in my classroom, it’s that sort of spiteful behaviour.” She paused for a moment and considered the open, friendly, sophisticated woman in front of her. She could not imagine this lady being indiscrete or betraying a confidence, and taking a deep breath, she decided to say what she had been wanting to ever since the interview had begun. “I was unlucky enough to be in Thea’s position when I was her age, and the staff of the school I was at did nothing – they refused to believe I was telling the truth. One of the reasons I teach at this school is because they don’t allow anyone to get away with this sort of nastiness, and so far we’ve been remarkably free of it. I intend to keep it that way.”
Evadne returned her smile, feeling overwhelming relief. “Thank you,” she replied, her voice a little shaky, "sincerely, from both my husband and myself. I dread what it might do to Thea if she had to go through all that again." Then, as the bell went for the start of morning lessons, she said her goodbyes, and turned and left the classroom.
Making her way back outside, she passed through the gate to the Junior playground, where she had left Thea playing with Marcia and Ann. The two younger girls had already made their way inside to their own classroom, and Thea was now sitting on the grass verge, awaiting her stepmother's return and looking a little anxious. Evadne made her way across to her.
“Come on young lady, get a shove on or you'll be late for class,” she said briskly, smiling and holding out a hand. Thea allowed herself to be pulled to her feet, but she still looked a little unsure of herself and Evvy pulled her into a brief hug. “It’ll be okay, sweetie. Go on, you run off and get to your classroom before I get in a row with Miss Engel for making you late! I’m too old to be in trouble at school!”
Thea smiled nervously, and ran off through the gate towards the Middle School building. Evadne watched her go, before heaving a sigh, she turned and made her way back to her car.
The first half of morning lessons passed without incident and by the time break came around, Thea was beginning to feel a little more relaxed. Despite sitting across the aisle from her, Franny had paid her no attention whatsoever and Thea was begining to feel hopeful that this time maybe it really would be alright.
As her classmated filed out of the form room for their twenty minutes outside, Thea had one or two questions she wanted to ask her teacher about the book they had started reading. Miss Engel answered her queries pleasantly, and then sent her off to join her friends and Thea headed off feeling much better about life. They had just begun reading Moonfleet, a book she had read before and enjoyed immensely, and she thought to herself that literature lessons this term were going to be fun.
Stepping out into the fresh air, she spotted her chief group of friends on the far side of the school grounds, sitting on the grass and chatting amongst themselves. She was halfway across the playground towards them when she felt a tap on her shoulder and turned around to find herself looking at Franny.
Thea stared at her, her deep brown eyes searching the other girl’s face. She had decided that morning that she was going to do her best not to let the other girl upset her, so taking a deep breath, she asked, ‘What do you want, Franny? I’m in a hurry.”
Francesca looked her up and down. “Is it true your stepmother had a new baby?”
“Yes, that’s right,” Thea replied, a little confused, wondering why Franny had brought this up. “He’s called Henry and he’s really sweet.”
Franny’s smile had a nasty edge to it. “That’s good. I s'pose your stepmother will probably love it more than you, ‘cause you and Marcia aren’t her real children, are you? I heard my Mum say that’s what my aunt did when she had her real baby. She didn’t need her stepchildren anymore.”
Thea could not believe her ears and she could feel her hackles rising as Franny insulted her family. “No she won’t!” she shot back, her voice raised, her eyes flashing. “Mummy’s not like that! How dare you say she is!”
“Course she is,” Franny sneered, enjoying the reaction she was getting. “Your Dad probably loves it more too.”
“Don’t talk about Daddy like that!” Thea shouted. People were turning to stare at them now.
“Your Dad really thinks he’s someone, doesn’t he?” Franny continued. “Mr. Anthony told my Dad everything about how he pushed his way into Mr. Anthony’s office and ordered him about…”
“Daddy doesn’t think that!”
“…You Watsons think you’re all so important, but I’ll show you you’re not! I’ll…”
The next second, Franny stumbled backwards, landing on the concrete playground with a thump. Thea was standing over her yelling. “Don’t you ever say things like that about my family! I hate you, Franny Harford! I HATE you!”
The sound of her teacher’s voice brought Thea to her senses, and she spun round to face Miss Engel, still shaking and a little scared at what she had done. Franny took advantage of the silence.
“I didn’t do anything. She pushed me, Miss Engel,” she cried, crocodile-tears springing to her eyes. “Everyone saw her do it!”
Miss Engel stared down at her, contempt written all over her face. “Get up please, Francesca,” she said, her voice quiet, “and do stop crying. Are you hurt?”
Franny had been about to launch into more self-pity but something in Miss Engel’s voice stopped her. She remained silent and shook her head.
“Right, then go inside and clean your hands and face, please.” Franny had dirt smeared across her cheeks where she had rubbed away her tears. “Go on, hurry up, we don't have all day,” she added as Franny stared at her. Seeing nothing else for it, Franny did as she was told, and Miss Engel turned to Thea. “Thea, come with me, please. The rest of you return to whatever you were doing. You still have ten minutes break time and there’s nothing left to see here,” and leaving them to do her bidding, she turned and led Thea back towards the school.
“Take a seat.” Miss Engel waved her hand towards the chair she had pulled up in front of her desk, and then sat down in her own.
Thea timidly did as she was told and stared down at her lap. It was beginning to dawn on her just what she had done. She had never lost her temper like that, even during her fiercest arguments with Marcia and Ned, and she had certainly never pushed someone before. Truth be told, she had scared herself a little and was feeling thoroughly ashamed.
Miss Engel watched her for a few moments, considering carefully what she was going to say before she spoke. “Now, how about you tell me what just happened out there?” There was silence as Thea continued to stare at her lap. “Thea, I’d like an answer, please. I know Francesca said something that upset you. What was it?” Thea mumbled something in return. “What was that? I didn’t quite catch it.”
“She said horrid things about Mummy and Daddy,” Thea repeated reluctantly, still staring at her fingers.
“What horrid things?” Thea shook her head and remained silent. “Thea, if you don’t tell me, then I can’t do anything about it, can I? You’re an intelligent, likeable girl who’s fitted in very well at this school so far, and you’ve certainly shown no signs of a temper. I’m well aware that you would not have reacted like that for nothing.”
Her words were greeted with yet more silence and Miss Engel heaved a sigh. Generally she would punish a student for blatantly refusing to answer her like this – dumb insolence, they called it in the armed forces - she remembered her father telling her so. But from her own childhood experience, she knew that the reason Thea was reluctant to speak was her fear of how much worse Franny might get if she thought that Thea had told tales on her.
Deciding not to push the matter further, she sat back in her chair. “Very well. If you don’t want to tell me, I can’t force you.” She paused for a moment, and when she spoke again, her voice took on a more officious tone. “Now, I’m afraid I can’t let what you did go unnoticed, either. However much someone provokes you, you should never react like that, regardless of how hurtful their comments are.” When she still drew no response, she added, “Thea, look at me, please.”
Thea lifted her head to stare at her teacher, her deep, brown eyes unnaturally bright. One look at her face told Miss Engel how sorry the young girl was, and she softened her voice.
“Violence never solves an argument, Thea, it only makes it worse, even if it’s only something like pushing. And apart from anything else, you’ve landed yourself in trouble for nothing, haven’t you? It’s very important you try and keep hold of your temper when someone's deliberately needling you. Do you understand?” Thea nodded and swallowed hard. “I would like you to write a three-hundred word essay, to be given to me in the morning, on why it’s not right to do what you did.” She paused for a second, and then added, “More importantly, you’re to tell your parents what happened when you get home this evening. I’m going to trust you to do that, so please don’t let me down. I haven’t met your father but from what I’ve seen of your mother, I don’t think she’s going to be very impressed, is she?”
Biting her lips and blinking hard to keep her tears at bay, Thea shook her head. She could imagine exactly what her parents would have to say on the matter when she told them, and how ashamed her father would be.
Seeing her obvious discomfort, Miss Engel decided to take pity on her. “Right, we’ll leave it at that, shall we? The bell will be ringing for the end of break at any moment, so why don't you go and take your seat.”
As if to prove her right, the bell rang just as she finished speaking, and Thea got up to walk back to her desk.
“Thea?” She stopped and turned back round to face her teacher again. “Remember, if you ever need to tell me anything – and I mean anything - you can come and find me whenever you like. Sometimes it helps to talk things through.”
Thea stared at her for a moment, and then nodding, she continued on her way to her seat. The next second, the classroom door flew open and the rest of Upper Two filed in, all chattering at the tops of their voices.
Kate sat down and turned to face her friend with an urgent whisper. “What happened? We saw Miss Engel take you off and Franny looking all dirty. Did you really push her like everyone’s saying? I bet it served her right, if you did!”
Seeing Franny walking towards them down the aisle, Thea shook her head. “I’ll tell you at lunch,” she replied in a subdued voice.
As Franny approached them, she shot Thea a smile laced with spite. Taking her seat, she turned her back on Thea and Kate to talk to Celine. To Franny’s surprise, the Swiss girl pointedly turned her head away and began to speak to the Marc Leconte, who was sitting just across the aisle. Franny, who had been expecting sympathy for what had happened, stared at Celine in shock. Before she could say anything, however, Miss Engel held up her hand and gave a slight cough, and the class fell silent.
“Get your books out and settle down, please. Herr Fleisicher will be along shortly for German and I don’t want him to find you squawking like a flock of seagulls!” A small chuckle went round the room at this simile and Miss Engel smiled. “Francesca?”
Franny looked up in surprise as Miss Engel got to her feet.
“I’d like you to swap places with Lucy, please. Jean-Luc can look after you for the next two weeks while you find your feet.” Franny opened her mouth to argue, but Miss Engel pre-empted her. “No discussion, thank you, I’ll be back at the end of morning lessons and we’ll talk about it then.”
Realising that she had no choice but to move, Franny collected her belongings together and got to her feet, glaring at Thea as she made her way to the front of the class and sat down next to Jean-Luc, who was looking far from impressed. It had not taken long for gossip about what had happened at break to go around the playground, and Franny was the last person he wanted to be stuck with looking after, even if it was only for two weeks. Miss Engel waited until both Franny and Lucy were seated in their new places, and then satisfied that all was well for now, she gathered up her papers and left the room.
When the bell rang for lunch, Upper Two began packing up their bags, chattering loudly as Herr Fleisicher tried in vain to get them to listen to the homework he was setting. Giving it up as a bad job, he wrote it on the blackboard, hoping they would copy it down when they noticed it, and left the room. The pupils began filing out of the classroom to get their lunch. Franny dawdled at the front, waiting for Thea and Kate to pass her before she made a move. There were one or two things she wanted to say to them. Eventually they decided to leave, and Franny was just about to follow when Miss Engel entered the classroom, stopping her in her tracks.
“A quick word please, Francesca,” she said, closing the door behind Thea and Kate, and making her way over to her desk.
Franny gaped at her. “But…my lunch…”
“Your lunch can wait,” Miss Engel replied firmly, inwardly astonished at the cheek of this child. “I’d like to have a quick word with you about what happened at break. Take a seat, please.”
Franny did as she was told, beginning to feel a little apprehensive. Surely Miss Engel had not overheard what she’d said? She knew her teacher had not appeared until Thea pushed her - she had seen her come out of the door herself. Perhaps Thea had sneaked? If that was the case, Franny thought, she’d be very sorry she ever opened her mouth.
Miss Engel gave a slight cough, drawing the young girl’s attention back to her. “Now,” she began briskly, her voice sounding very matter-of-fact, “I don’t know what went on this morning, and I don’t want you to tell me,” she added hurriedly as Franny opened her mouth. “But I do want you to know that spiteful, bullying behaviour will not be tolerated in this class or this school.”
“But she pushed me!” Franny exclaimed, sounding aggrieved.
“I’m well aware that Thea pushed you, Francesca, and she has been punished for it appropriately. But you know as well as I do that that was not all there was to it. Jean-Luc will be looking after you from now on instead of Celine, and I would advise that you steer well clear of Thea and her friends, unless they invite you to join them. I want you to be aware,” she continued as Franny tried to speak again, “that I will be keeping a very close eye on you from now on, so you will do well to heed my words. Now, you can run along and get your lunch,” and without waiting for Franny to do as she was told, Miss Engel got to her feet and walked back out of the room.
Thea sat in her bedroom, pen in hand, staring out of the window at the empty forecourt. She was supposed to be doing her homework but she couldn’t concentrate, no matter how hard she tried. She was waiting for her father’s car to turn into the drive. Her stepmother had said she was expecting him home by seven-thirty at the latest, and the nearer it got to that time, the more nervous she felt.
She had finished her essay, at least, so that was one thing off her mind. Not wanting to face Evadne, knowing that she would realise instantly that something was wrong, Thea had headed straight upstairs the minute Ann’s mother had dropped them off, shouting that she wanted to get on with her homework before dinner. Then she’d made an immediate start on the essay, determined to get that part of her punishment out of the way.
The afternoon at school had passed by in relative calm. Franny had thrown her a few vicious looks but had otherwise kept her distance, and to Thea’s great surprise, her classmates appeared to be on her side. It was such a contrast with what had happened at her old school that she scarcely believed it, and kept waiting for someone to turn around and say something nasty. But of course, nobody did, and by the end of the day, she was beginning to feel that maybe, just maybe, this time everything would be alright. First, though, she had to face her parents.
Her stomach flipped as she heard a car approaching along the top road, but it carried on past the house and out of sight. Heaving a sigh, she sucked hard on the end of her pen, trying to calm herself down. A sudden knock at the door interrupted her reverie, and she turned around as Marcia came into the room.
“Thea, can you help me with my maths?” Marcia asked, a pleading look in her large green eyes as she crossed the room and flopped onto the edge of the bed. “I don’t understand!”
Welcoming the distraction, Thea smiled and walked across to her, taking her sister’s book from her hands. “You never understand maths,” she said, sitting back down at her desk with a grin. Then opening the book and seeing all the scribbles and doodles over the page, she frowned. “You haven’t even tried – you’ve just been drawing pictures!”
“I have tried!” Marcia retorted indignantly, getting to her feet and walking over to her sister’s desk. “See, I’ve tried there!”
“That’s not trying, that’s writing down the question!”
“Well it’s hard!” Marcia muttered, sticking out her tongue. “Anyway, I’m not clever like you and Ned. Daddy says it’s ‘cause I’m good at art.”
“No he didn’t, he said it’s a good job you’re good at art! Anyway, you’re are clever – you’d understand it if you tried to.”
“No, I wouldn’t, it’s a stupid subject. Pleeeeaaaaaaase will you help me?” Marcia begged, fluttering her eyelashes.
Thea laughed. “Fine, I’ll help you,” and turning back to her desk, she picked up a pen and a spare bit of paper. “Come over here then, so I can show you what to do.”
Marcia, who had been rather hoping that Thea would just do the hated maths for her, got reluctantly off the bed and pulled the vanity stool up next to her sister, dragging her feet as she did so. She watched, only half-listening to what she was being told, her mind on something else entirely. After five minutes, she gave up all pretence that she was listening and sat up straight.
“Thea, is it true?”
Thea, who had been in the middle of explaining the principles of long division, looked up in surprise. “Is what true?”
“That you had a fight with Franny?”
Thea turned bright red and stared intently at Marcia’s exercise book. “How do you know that?”
“Everyone knows,” Marcia replied complacently, chewing the end of her pencil. “Did you really slap her like they’re saying?”
“Course I didn’t!” Thea looked up, horrified. “Are they saying that?”
Marcia nodded. “I didn’t believe it though, I knew you wouldn’t slap her. You’re too nice – I told people so! What really happened?”
Thea shot her sister a grateful smile and then told her the truth of her argument with Franny. When she had finished, Marcia gaped at her, apparently lost for words.
“She…she really said that about Mummy and Daddy?” she exclaimed at last. Thea nodded and Marcia began to bristle up with anger. “I’ll show her tomorrow…!”
“No, Marcia, don’t.”
“But it’s not true!”
“I know it isn’t,” Thea shook her head wearily, “but you’ll get in trouble as well and that's just silly.”
Marcia stared at her for a second before replying. “What did Miss Engel say?”
Thea swallowed hard. “I have to write an essay…”
“But that’s okay – you’re good at that!”
“...and I have to tell Mummy and Daddy that I pushed her.”
“Oh!” Marcia gulped. “Daddy’s going to be cross!”
“I know.” Thea stared down at her desk and bit her lips. Just thinking about it made her want to cry.
Pulling her legs up underneath her, Marcia sat up on her knees and leaned forward, putting her arms around her sister’s neck. “Please don’t be sad,” she said, hugging her sister tight. She hated seeing her upset.
At that moment, they heard the sound of tires on gravel, and standing to look down at the forecourt, they saw their father’s car grind to a halt. Thea turned to leave and Marcia grabbed her sister’s arm. “I’m coming with you – I’ll tell them that it serves Franny right!”
Thea shook her head. “S’okay. I need to go on my own,” and giving Marcia a small smile, she made her way out of the room.
“Hello? Anyone home?”
The sitting room door flew open and Evadne appeared, an amused expression on her face. “Where were you expecting us to be?”
Edgar grinned. “Here ready to wait on me hand and foot, of course,” he responded, throwing his briefcase on the floor by the dresser and hanging up his coat. “I was just making sure!” Evadne laughed and he put his arms around her, bending to give her a kiss. “So how was your day?”
“Oh you know,” she replied, reaching up to brush some imaginary dirt from his collar, “chatted to Henry about world politics and the latest catwalk fashions, he gurgled insightfully back and sucked on his rattle. Scrabble ate a couple of Ned’s old shoes. Nothing out of the usual!” She grinned as Edgar chuckled. “ I hope you’re hungry because dinner’s ready. We’ve been waiting for you and we’re all famished – I’d wager Marcia’s ready to eat her right arm by now!”
“Well in that case I’d better go and get changed, hadn’t I? We can’t be doing with a one-armed daughter – what would the neighbours say!” Evvy laughed again, and he pecked her on the cheek and released her. “Where are the girls?”
“Upstairs doing their homework. Give them a shout to wash up and come down, will you?”
“Will do. I won’t be long,” and he turned to head towards the stairs.
Pausing with one foot on the bottom stair, Edgar looked up at Thea with a smile. “Hello sweetheart, how’s my favourite ten year old?” Then catching the look on her face, he added, “How was school?”
Thea swallowed hard and shook her head. “Can I talk to you and Mummy, please?
Edgar shot his wife a quizzical look, but she simply shrugged, as much in the dark as he was. “Of course you can. We’ll do it after dinner, shall we?”
“Can we do it now please?”
Edgar looked back at his wife, who walked across to join him at the bottom of the stairs. “Yes, sweetie, if you like,” she replied, holding out her hand. “Why don’t you come down,” and as Thea made her way down the stairs, Evvy nudged her husband in the direction of the sitting room.
Thea directed her parents to the nearest sofa and perched herself in front of them on the coffee table, staring down at her feet. When she had not said anything after a full minute, Evadne reached forward and put her hand on the young girl’s knee.
“Thea, what’s wrong? Has something happened at school?” Thea nodded but remained silent, and Evadne tried again. “Is it to do with Franny?”
Thea nodded again. “I…” Her voice choked and she swallowed hard to bring it back under control. “Miss Engel said I have to tell you what I did.”
She relapsed into silence and Edgar stared at her, a frown furrowing his brow. “What did you do?”
“I pushed her.”
Edgar’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. “You pushed Miss Engel?” he asked, incredulously.
“No, I pushed Franny.”
“What do you mean, you pushed Franny?” Edgar asked, confused. “Why?”
“She said things.”
“Horrid things about you and Mummy, and I got cross and pushed her and she fell over.” Her voice was beginning to break as she spoke, and she brushed the back of her hand across her eyes. “Miss Engel saw me and told me off and said I had to write an essay and tell you what I did. I’m sorry, Daddy, I didn’t mean to do it, I just got so cross ” and unable to keep her tears at bay any longer, she put her head in her hands and began to cry.
Edgar exchanged astonished glances with his wife, and then reaching out, he took hold of his daughter’s arms. “Oh sweetheart, come here.”
Now Thea had started crying, she didn’t seem to be able to stop and she looked up at him, tears pouring down her face. Rather than the anger and disappointment that she had been expecting, there was nothing but worry and love in her father’s eyes, and she moved across the small gap between them, sitting down in his lap. Edgar held her tightly until the storm of tears subsided, and then taking his handkerchief from his pocket, he handed it to her.
Thea pulled her head back and scrubbed her eyes. “I’m really sorry, Daddy." She gulped down another sob that was threatening to rise in her throat. "I didn’t mean to do it, I really didn’t. I couldn’t help it.”
Edgar ran a hand over her smooth, brown locks. “I’m sure you didn’t mean it, sweetheart, don’t worry. What did Miss Engel say about it?”
Thea took a deep breath. “She said it was wrong to be violent and to push anyone, even if they prov…provoke me, ‘cause then it makes me just like them. Daddy, what does provoke mean?”
“It means saying things or doing things to make you angry or upset.” Edgar glanced at his wife, who was watching them intently, and then lifted Thea’s chin so that she looked him in the eyes. “Do you understand why Miss Engel said that?”
Thea nodded and scrubbed her eyes with the handkerchief again. “I know it was wrong, but she’s so horrid and said really nasty things about Mummy, and it made me so angry. I won’t do it again, I promise.”
“I believe you won't, sweetheart. Did Miss Engel say anything else?”
“She said I could talk to her if I needed to, and she asked me what Franny said and she couldn’t help me if I didn’t tell her, but I didn’t want to say. I think she told Franny off though ‘cause she moved her in class.”
Edgar looked across at Evadne in relief. At least their daughter appeared to be getting the support she needed. Evvy gave him a slight smile, and leaned forward to grasp Thea’s leg.
“Thea, what did Franny say to you?” Thea screwed up her eyes and shook her head. “Come on sweetie, tell us, please. It’s okay, I won’t mind.”
Thea looked imploringly at her father, but he nodded his head in agreement with his wife. Seeing nothing else for it, she took a deep breath. “She…she said…Mummy, it’s horrid.”
Evadne squeezed her knee. “It’s okay, Thea, really.”
“She said that you…that you didn’t love me and Marcia anymore now you had Henry instead.” Tears welled up in Thea’s eyes again as Evadne stared at her in shock. “I’m sorry. Mummy, I didn’t want to say.”
Evadne’s face was white with anger, and Edgar grasped her arm firmly and shot her a warning glance. "Thea, you know it’s not true, don’t you?” he said, looking at his daughter anxiously.
“I know, I told her so, but then she said you thought it too and that you really think you’re someone and that we all do too, and that she’d show us that we weren’t.”
“But you know Mummy still loves you very much - and so do I?”
“Yes, Daddy, I know.”
“Alright then.” Leaning forward, he kissed her on the cheek, and then pushed her up off his lap. He could see that his wife was catatonic with rage and was dying to let rip, and he wasn’t sure that having Thea in the room when she did so was such a good idea. “Have you written your essay?”
Thea nodded. “I did it first when I got home.”
Edgar smiled. “Good girl. Well why don’t you run off and wash your face and hands, and call Marcia for dinner. Mummy or I will read your essay afterwards if you like.”
Thea hesitated for a second. “Daddy, aren’t you cross with me?”
Edgar shook his head. “No, Thea, we’re not cross with you. I think Miss Engel said all that needed to be said, and I believe that you won’t ever do it again. Now go on, run along.”
Unable to believe her luck, Thea turned on her heel and left the room as quickly as she could, before her father could change his mind. The second the door was shut, just as Edgar had been expecting, Evadne exploded.
“How dare she! That little…”
“Evvy, calm down!” Edgar turned to his wife to try and placate her, but she was having none of it.
“No, Edgar, I won’t calm down! That stuck-up, good-for-nothing, spoilt, little louse! How dare she tell my children I don’t love them! I’ll…I’ll…”
“I’ll go see her parents and…”
“Oh no you won’t!
“Don’t you tell me I won’t, you can’t stop me!”
Edgar grabbed hold of her forearms to prevent her getting up from the sofa, and held onto her tightly, despite her struggling to free herself. “Evvy, will you please calm down. I know you’re upset, and I don’t blame you, but you going and shouting at the Harfords is not going to help Thea. You’ll just make things ten times worse.”
“But she told her I don’t love them!”
“I know she did, darling, but Thea knows it’s not true. I’m sure Miss Engel’s got things under control, and we shouldn’t interfere unless we’re needed.”
Evadne stared at him in stony silence, and it was a minute before she spoke again. “But what if she does think it’s true, Edgar?” Her voice was quieter now, and he could see tears starting to well up in her eyes. “What if she really thinks I don’t love them anymore.”
“You heard her - she doesn’t think that, Evvy.” Edgar put a hand on her shoulder and leaned forward to kiss her head.
Evadne looked back at him, anger still bubbling inside her, but she knew that he was right. Her going to talk to the Harfords would do nobody any good. Nodding, she got to her feet. “I need to go talk to her. Guilia’s left dinner in the oven to keep warm – can you serve it up?” and leaving him to do as she asked, she left the room and made her way upstairs.
She knocked on Thea’s door and opened it tentatively, poking her head round and forcing a smile on her face.
“Can I come in?”
Thea was standing at the wash basin, drying her hands and face. On hearing her stepmother’s voice, she looked up in surprise and nodded. Evvy made her way across to the bed and sat down on the edge, giving her daughter an anxious look.
“Thea, I need to talk to you. I…”
“Mummy, I know it’s not true.”
“Are you sure?“ Evadne reached out to her, and as Thea came to stand in front of her, she took hold of her hand. “You’re not just saying that? Because I love you very much, Thea, all of you. It’s so important you know that.”
“I do know that, so do Ned and Marcia. That’s why I was so cross with Franny. She can’t say things like that about you, it’s not fair!” Thea smiled, feeling much better now she had spoken to her parents, and put her arms around her stepmother’s neck. “I love you too, Mummy.”
“So do I!”
Evadne and Thea both jumped at the sound of Marcia’s voice, and looked up to see her standing in the doorway. Despite herself, Evvy smiled.
“Have you been eavesdropping, young lady?”
Marcia opened her eyes wide and vigorously shook her head. “No! The door was open and I heard when I was going downstairs.” She bounded over to the bed, jumping up next to her stepmother and throwing her arms around her. “I love you too, Mummy, and Franny’s a big, fat pig with a curly tail for being so nasty about you!”
The other two stared at each other for a second and then started to laugh. Evadne opened her arms wide. “Come here, both of you,” and collecting them into her, she hugged them very tightly. “Maybe if we all imagine hard enough, she’ll turn into just what Marcia said.”
The two girls giggled.
“What’s going on here?” They all looked round at the sound of Edgar’s voice. “I don’t know,” he continued, his eyes twinkling. “I slave over setting the dinner out and you don’t even come down to eat it when I call. I’m just not appreciated in this house, am I? Maybe I should just feed dinner to the dog.”
Evadne laughed and shook her head, and Marcia jumped down from the bed again, grabbing Thea’s arm. “Race you!”
The pair of them tore out of the room at top speed, knocking something over on the landing as they went, which landed on the polished floor with an almighty crash. Evadne grimaced. “Do you think that was expensive?”
Edgar chuckled and held his hand out to her as she walked towards him. “Probably a priceless heirloom! You feeling better now?”
Evadne nodded. “I’m still angry.”
“But I won’t go talk to them, I promise.”
“Good good.” Edgar bent to kiss her. “She’ll get her comeuppance, you know. Those sort of children always do eventually.”
Evadne slipped her arm around his waist as they walked down the landing towards the bookend and books that the two girls had knocked onto the floor. “Marcia said she was a big, fat pig with a curly tail, and I told them if we wished hard enough, she may turn into one!”
Edgar laughed. “Well, I didn’t quite mean that kind of comeuppance but you never know, it might work. Leave that, they can clear it all up after dinner,” he added, as Evadne bent down to retrieve the bookend. “We may love them, but they can still pick up after themselves!”
“That’s it, I’m moving out to live in the rec. room!”
Burgess looked up in surprise as Harry threw his bag across the study and flopped down on Ned’s bed, a black look on his face.
Ned turned from his desk and grinned at his friend. “Why’s that?”
“You know why! If I have to spend another day sharing a room with that pompous dung-headed twerp I’ll…I’ll…”
“You’ll what?” Ned asked innocently, as his friend’s face slowly turned purple with rage.
“I’ll smother him in his sleep, that’s what!”
Burgess laughed. “No you won’t, don’t be an ass!”
“That’s all you know!” Harry glared at his friends. They were now two weeks into the term, and he was in no doubt that his initial assessment on seeing the new boy’s name had been entirely correct. “It’s alright for you two to laugh, you don’t have to live with him! ‘Oh has your house only got five bedrooms? You poor chap, how the devil do you cope?’ ‘Faaaather drives the new Bentley, don’t you know. We find other cars are just soooo parochial.’ ‘You mean you don’t know the Humpty-Pinkington-Smythes? Well of course Mumsie and Father are soooo well connected blah blah blah blah blah!’ I don’t care if his dratted Mumsie and Father know the Queen and Prince Philip – he’s still the world’s biggest nosebleed!” Ned and Burgess had both dissolved into fits of laughter at Harry’s impressions of his roommate, and he crossed his arms across his chest, a heavy scowl on his face. “Oh shut up both of you! It’s not funny! Stop howling and tell me what I’m supposed to do about His Highness Lloyd-Saucepan”
Seeing the disgruntled look on his friend’s face, Ned did his best to pull himself together and sat up, wiping away tears of mirth. “Sorry. Only you’ve got him just right!”
“Well so would you if you had to listen to his boring voice all day long!”
“I don’t see what you can do, though,” Burgess put in, still chuckling. “Can’t you just try and ignore the twerp?”
“I’d like to see you try! It’s not just his stupid boasting, I could ignore that, but he seems to think I’m his butler. He keeps trying to order me to do things – he asked me to hang up his clothes last night!”
Ned gaped in amazement. “What did you say?”
“Told him to go and boil his head.”
“The maggot! I don’t believe it!”
Burgess didn’t look so surprised. “I’d believe it. He thinks he’s Lord High-and-Mighty – he slammed the door in my face going into the common room the other day. We’re all just dirt as far as he’s concerned.”
“He’s not been like that to me.”
“That’s ‘cause your Dad’s a Sir.”
Ned looked incredulous. “Tosh!”
“Not it’s not,” Harry replied, shaking his head. “That’s how he works. Your father’s a Sir so he licks your boots, our fathers aren’t so he treats us like his servants.”
“What difference does it make who my Dad is?”
“Every difference to a worm like him. Just ‘cause you're oblivious to who your father is, doesn’t mean everyone else is!”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“That he’s a rotten little snob, that’s what,” Burgess responded. “He needs taking down a few pegs if you ask me.”
Before the other two could reply, there was a knock at the door and it opened to reveal Piers himself. Without waiting to be invited, he strode into the room and plonked himself down on Ned’s bed, almost sitting on Harry, whose presence he appeared to miss entirely. He was a striking-looking boy, brown haired and blue-eyed, with high-cheekboned features and an arrogant air about him.
Ned glared at him. “Please, come in, why don’t you? Have a seat on my bed.”
His voice dripped with sarcasm but Piers seemed utterly oblivious. “Thanks. I’m glad I’ve caught you, Watson. I’m trying out for Torpids tomorrow - as a wing, you know. I cut quite a dash, I can tell you. I gather you know Cameron rather well? I was wondering if you might put a good word in for me? Us being form-mates and all,” he added, with what he clearly thought was a matey grin.
Ned looked horrified. House rugby trials had been postponed for the last two weeks, due to the new captain, Cameron, falling ill the day after they returned. With rowing also postponed, and only the school rugby team to keep him occupied out of hours, Ned had been bemoaning the lack of sport he had been able to do, much to his classmates chagrin, and both they and he were eagerly looking forward to trials taking place this weekend – him for obvious reasons, and them purely because it would shut him up. Now Ned could see his fun about to be spoilt by the presence of Piers, and he was less-than-impressed.
“I’d like to see what Cameron would say if I tried!” he retorted indignantly. “You’ll have to turn up and try out, like everyone else.”
“Ah, don’t want to agree in front of these two fellows,” Piers replied with a wink. “I get you.”
“No, I don’t want to agree at all!” Ned replied incredulously, wondering just how stupid this boy could be. “How much of an idiot d’you think I am?”
But Piers wasn’t listening. He had hauled himself to his feet and was staring down at Harry with disdain. “I’ve been looking for you, Pepperell. When you’ve got a moment, my Sunday shoes could do with a shine, if you don’t mind. I’m sure you can fit them in when you do your own. Handy having these chaps to help us out, isn’t it?” he said, looking at Ned and inclining his head towards Burgess. Then turning on his heel, he walked out of the door, shutting it loudly behind him.
“Not on your life, you pompous ass!” Harry shouted after him. Turning back to the other two, "See, I told you!"
Burgess shook his head as if he was trying to take it all in. “Is he real?”
Harry nodded and slumped back against the wall, sinking further into his dark mood, and Ned got to his feet and walked across to the bed, sitting down next to his friend. “That’s it, we have to do something. He can’t treat you like that, and I’ll just die if he makes the team!”
“Why don’t you stick your foot out and trip him up a few times,” Burgess replied with a grin.
“Oh I will, don’t worry! Doesn’t help Pepperell though, does it? We need to come up with a plan to take the stuck-up toad down a few thousand pegs, and then some.”
At that moment the bell rang for lights out and Harry got to his feet. “Well you better think of it quickly, before I really do end up smothering him!” He picked up his bag from next to Ned's desk and dragged his feet across to the door. “It’d be worth the row just to be rid of him!”
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