It was the last evening of her first term at the Chalet School and, sitting in a chair in Nancy Wilmot's bedroom, Kathie Ferrars was feeling dejected, self-conscious, and miserably jealous of Sharlie Andrews. Certain that she'd made a complete idiot of herself, Kathie wasn't sure whether the situation was made better or worse by the fact that Nancy seemed sublimely unaware of her feelings.
It was the present, Kathie decided, that had set everything off on the wrong track. She'd bought it in Solothurn, when everything had seemed to be going so well. She'd been thrilled at the invitation to spend a weekend away from school with Nancy, despite knowing that she'd only been asked because something unexpected had come up for Nancy's original companion. (She'd never actually heard just who that companion would have been - at the time, she'd assumed it would be Peggy Burnett, or possibly Biddy O'Ryan, both close friends of Nancy's, but the evidence of her own eyes at the present moment was suggesting that maybe Sharlie would have been the one to bet on.)
Kathie hadn't been offended at being a last-minute substitution. After all, whatever the reason for the invitation, she would be spending a whole weekend alone with Nancy, well away from school and colleagues, and you never could tell what might happen.
Kathie's numerous daydreams notwithstanding, nothing of significance had actually happened, but Kathie had nevertheless felt that she and Nancy had grown markedly closer. So when she'd seen, in the window of a shop in Solothurn, what was unquestionably the perfect present for Nancy, she hadn't hesitated to make an excuse to slip away for five minutes to purchase it. Unfortunately, actually giving it to Nancy seemed somehow fraught with difficulties.
Initially, she'd thought to offer it at the end of their Solothurn weekend as a token of thanks for the invitation. She had, however, been somewhat concerned that Nancy might take it the wrong way (or, more accurately, the right way) and Kathie hadn't been entirely sure she was ready to face up to the fact that Nancy might not be interested in women or, even if she were, might not necessarily be interested in Kathie. In the end, Kathie had hesitated so long that their return to school and the cheerful bustle of the staffroom had perforce put her plans on hold.
This hadn't worried her unduly - after all, Christmas was on the horizon, and those extra few weeks might give her the opportunity to gauge a bit more closely just what Nancy's feelings on the matter might be. And even if, as had turned out to be the case, Nancy hadn't given her any clues, well, the present could simply be read as a Christmas gift, if Nancy wasn't quite the woman Kathie had desperately been hoping she was. Unfortunately, Biddy O'Ryan had then put a spoke in the wheel, helpfully informing Kathie that the Chalet School staff simply didn't exchange Christmas gifts.
"Sure, there's too many of us to be doing that. You'd have your entire term's salary spent in no time. A Christmas card is all anyone will be wanting from ye, so don't be going to any trouble now."
"But- I mean, doesn't anyone give presents?" Kathie asked disconsolately, seeing her beautifully-laid plan disappearing on her.
"Only those of us who are old friends," Biddy had replied casually. "Peggy and Nancy and I always get something for each other - only trifles, mind. We're none of us wealthy enough to stretch to anything extravagant, and we all have other people to buy gifts for. Nancy has five brothers, a sister, and a growing collection of nieces and nephews, the poor love," Biddy had said with sympathy. "But don't you be thinking anyone will be expecting you to be bringing gifts. Sure 'twould be most unfair to be expecting you to buy presents for people you hardly know at all yet."
Of course, Kathie had mused, as she reviewed Biddy's advice, Nancy didn't know that she'd been informed of this no-gifts tradition. And, Kathie had thought, if asked, she could always claim to have simply bought a token gift for those people who had particularly helped her during her first term. However, conscious that she had no corresponding gifts for Rosalind Moore, Sharlie Andrews, or Biddy herself (each of whom had, in point of fact, offered her more help than Nancy had done, loath though Kathie was to admit it), she had decided that her only option was to catch Nancy alone, preferably right at the end of term when there would be less chance of her having time to mention the gift to any of their colleagues.
So, late on the final night of term, Kathie had slipped the carefully-wrapped present into her dressing gown pocket, and crept out into the corridor to hover indecisively in front of Nancy's door.
That was where Sharlie Andrews had stepped in and completely ruined Kathie's evening.