It was with a slight reluctance that Abigail boarded the train later that afternoon at Armiford station. The weekend had certainly given her food for thought, and she spent the journey gazing out of the window at the passing countryside allowing the thoughts to run freely around her head. Her encounters over the weekend had now begun to fill in some of the blanks in her mind and she was beginning to build a clearer picture of the mother she had never known. She glanced idly at the books she had brought back from Jo’s with her. She had decided that, after all, Cecily Holds the Fort hadn’t been too bad on a second read; it was certainly different from anything she had ever read before but now it was different in a nice way. Maybe it had been a bit old fashioned but she suddenly realised that it was that she liked; it was a way of escaping the real world and entering into somewhere where she felt safe, as though no one could ever hurt her. It was a world of happy endings, where the good would always triumph over the bad and everything would work out. Her thoughts turned to her own school. She knew that she was happy enough there but the stories she’d heard over the course of the weekend had made her think long and hard about some of the prejudices and intolerances which existed amongst her peers and made some people’s school experience far from pleasant. She picked up the top book on the pile, Nancy meets a Nazi, which Jo had told her was loosely based on her own experiences at the hands of the Nazis when the school had been in the Tyrol. Abigail was only too glad that she had never had to live through anything like that.
Robert stood impatiently on York station his eyes flickering to the platform clock every few seconds willing it on that little bit faster. He wasn’t sure exactly how he was going to explain what he’d done but all he knew was that he wanted the train to arrive so he could get it over and done with. He heard the announcement to warn him of the train arriving and peered precariously over the platform edge to see if there were any sign of it. On seeing nothing he resumed his pacing of the platform not noticing the curious stares of other passengers awaiting the train. He eventually picked up on the sound of the approaching engine and heaved a sigh as the train pulled into the platform. His eyes anxiously scanned the descending crowds for his daughter hoping that she had managed to make all her connections without any problems. He was so involved in staring wildly about the crowd that he didn’t notice Abigail until she practically bowled him over in her enthusiasm to see him.
“Good weekend?” he asked giving her a hug.
“Lovely,” she replied enthusiastically. “It’s been really nice.”
Robert took her bags from her and they made their way over the bridge and out of the station to the car park with Abigail chattering away about the weekends events. He loaded up the boot and the climbed into the front of the car.
“Abby,” he said as he started the engine. “I’ve got something I need to talk to you about.”
“What?” asked Abigail half nervous, half curious as Robert reversed out of the parking space.
“I’m afraid it’s something you probably aren’t going to like, but it’s not definite as yet.”
“We’re not moving are we?”
“No, nothing like that, well not quite anyway.”
“What do you mean?”
“Abby, you see, it’s like this…”
“Dad, will you just tell me please? All this beating about the bush over it isn’t helping.”
Robert took a deep breath. “I entered you for the Chalet School.”
“You did WHAT?” exclaimed Abigail.
“It’s not definite, the Head has only accepted you provisionally so if you don’t want to go then you don’t have to.”
“What on earth possessed you to do that?”
“I have no idea Abby, I truly don’t. I wish I could explain why but I just don’t know what came over me. You don’t have to go.”
Abigail stared blankly out of the window unsure what to say. “Dad, I can’t believe you just went and did that.”
“I’m sorry, it’s all I can say.”
Abigail paused again, the silence was awkward. “Well, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad,” she conceded.
“Is that a yes or a no?”
“That’s an I don’t know. You have to admit dad, this is all a bit out of the blue. After all you always insisted that you’d never send me to a boarding school, let alone an all girls one.”
“I know, I know,” replied Robert exasperatedly.
“But on the other hand, I’ve heard so much about there this weekend and it doesn’t seem all bad to be perfectly honest.”
“What are you saying Abby?”
“I’m not sure, but I think I might quite like to give it a whirl. That’s not a definite decision dad, I’d like a couple of days to mull it over if that’s okay.”
“So long as you reach a decision by Friday.”
“I think I will do.”
“Are you angry with me?”
Abigail shook her head. “I just wish you’d discussed it with me first rather than haring off and doing things off your own bat though! You’re such a typical know all doctor at times!”
Robert laughed. “Comes with the job territory I’m afraid.”
Abigail glanced anxiously over the top of her book at the clock on the wall of the living room. Her father was late, but he hadn’t said he was going to be. She knew that if she'd still been out with her friends she wouldn't have known and therefore wouldn't be worrying. But she'd come home after having had enough of the boys teasing about the Chalet School. It was Wednesday and she hadn't quite reached a decision yet, she was leaning in a definite direction but just needed that final push. She sighed and glanced down at her book again not really seeing the words that swarmed on the page in front of her. Hearing the familiar crunch of tyres on the gravel of the drive she breathed a sigh of relief, laid her copy of Werner of the Alps on the coffee table and got up to go and greet her father, only he wasn't alone. She didn't recognise the dark woman with the slight limp, but something about her appealed to Abigail.
“Why don’t I… I mean, why don’t you…” stammered Abigail, unsure what to do.
“How about we sort ourselves some drinks,” suggested Naomi putting her own nerves to one side and attempting to hide them. “Is there any water in the kettle?” She turned to Abigail. “Are you okay?”
“Yes, I… I don’t mean to sound rude, but your hair wasn’t that colour at the funeral, was it?”
Naomi laughed. “You’re not being rude, and no it wasn’t. I just thought it was time for a change.”
“Oh right,” mumbled Abigail flushing furiously. “Um, there should be some water in the kettle.” She crossed the kitchen to hunt out a mug and glass from the dresser. “Do you want tea or coffee?” she asked opening the fridge to find the milk.
“Coffee is fine, the Chalet School used to serve up the best coffee going,” she said reminiscently as Abigail poured herself a glass of milk. “Have you reached a decision on that front yet?”
“Sorry?” replied Abigail, a note of shock in her voice causing her to spill the milk over the work top. She reached quickly for the tea towel to try and mop it up. “Did dad…?”
“Yes, I’m sorry I brought it up.”
“Don’t be,” muttered Abigail, putting the tea towel away and switching the kettle on. “He didn’t tell me you were coming so I don’t know what he would have told you.”
“Do you mind me being here?”
“No, of course not, it’s always nice to meet more people who knew her. It’s like making a collage, or a jigsaw, or something. And besides I’ve heard so much about you.”
“You have?” asked Naomi, slightly shocked and blushing a vivid shade of red. “I suppose, then, that you’ve heard what an ass I was when I first started at the Chalet School then?”
“I wouldn’t say you were an ass,” replied Abigail reaching for the coffee pot. “From what Auntie Jo’s told me, you had good reason to be one.”
The slightly stunned ensuing silence between them was broken as the kettle clicked to say it was boiled. Brought back to reality Abigail made up Naomi’s coffee and then suggested that they go through and talk in the living room.
They settled down in the living room, Abigail curled in the corner of the settee, knees under her chin, Naomi sitting in the rocking chair by the window stirring her coffee thoughtfully.
“What did you think of the Chalet School?” Abigail asked suddenly.
“I think I would have liked it more had I not been such an ass to begin with, I really didn’t make life very easy for myself. But I was so bitter about everything that had happened o me I couldn’t see the error of my ways. Your mother helped me a lot to come to terms with what had happened. She managed to get through to me where no one else ever had before during the half term trip to St Moritz.”
“That was the one with the avalanche wasn’t it?”
“How did you….”
“She never told me much though, dad didn’t like people talking to me about her. It never really bothered me, and then she died and suddenly everyone wanted to talk about her. I’m glad really, but I just wish… I’d had the chance to know her properly, to find out for myself. I don’t mind everybody talking about her, I like it, I suppose it’s the next best thing to knowing her myself.”
“She was… special, your mother. I wish we’d stayed in better contact as time went by, but it just got too difficult. She was never in one place long enough to pin down and I have enough on my plate with my work at the Royal Ballet.”
“You wanted to be a dancer didn’t you? Auntie Jo said.”
“I did, it was all I ever wanted to do until the fire that robbed me of my parents robbed me of my one true dream. After all the surgery and everything, when I felt strong enough to work it was Mary-Lou who pushed me in the direction of working for them. She helped me to learn to dream again, you should never give up on your dreams. I wasted too many years being bitter over not being able to dance, and I shouldn’t have.”
“But you had reason to,” said Abigail thoughtfully. “I honestly don’t know how I would have managed if I’d been in your shoes, badly probably.”
“I was managing badly,” replied Naomi with a smile. “Until I went to the Chalet School and met your mother. It’s a wonderful place to go if you decide to do so.”
“Do you think I should? I’ve only heard such wonderful things about her that I can’t help but think that I’ve got an awful lot to live up to. I know people say we’re alike, but that could be a good or a bad thing. Didn’t she have any bad points?”
Naomi laughed. “Bossy, forever sticking her nose in, a little too full of herself on occasion. But once you got past that, she really was something special.”
“I suppose it’s nice to know that she had her faults,” smiled Abigail. “Everybody’s been painting this picture of perfection of her and…” She broke off as the telephone rang. “I’ll be right back,” she said leaping up to go and answer it.
Naomi watched Abigail vanish from the room and sighed to herself. It was easy to see the comparisons between mother and daughter, not only in their physical appearances. She’d noticed Abigail’s way of thinking things over, of digging below the surface, and the way that things sometimes slipped out without quite meaning them to. She heard Abigail giggle on the phone and address the person on the other end as ‘Auntie Vi’. Viola Lucy of course, Naomi thought to herself, Mary-Lou’s best friend at school. There was a silence before she heard Abigail calling to her father to answer the phone.
“Sorry about that,” said Abigail with a grin as she re-entered and settled back on the sofa. “Only Auntie Vi for dad, honestly those two are always on the phone nattering away these days. She seems to be good for him though. Anyway, why don’t you tell me more about the Chalet School?”
They spent an enjoyable hour or so with Naomi recounting some of the exploits from her sole term at the school. Abigail listened enraptured at the half term trip to St Moritz, giggled at the Middles’ lost property trick and felt an empathy as Naomi tried to explain how she’d overcome her deep rooted problems. Neither had noticed the passing of time until Robert poked his head around the door to say that dinner was ready. They shared an enjoyable dinner together. Listening to Naomi’s laughter, Abigail struggled to reconcile her with the girl she had been when she’d arrived at the Chalet School, but every now and again something would flicker across Naomi’s eyes which would point her in the right direction. Abigail excused herself from after dinner conversation around ten to go to bed. At her request Robert followed her up a short while later to say goodnight.
“Dad,” she said when he poked his head around her door. “I think I’ve reached a decision.”
Robert crossed the room and perched on her bed as he had done so often “Go ahead then.”
“I’d quite like to go to the Chalet School, you can phone Miss Wilmot and tell her so.”
Robert reached out to stroke his daughter’s hair. “Are you sure?” he asked.
“Quite sure dad, it seems I’ve got a lot to live up to, but I want to.”