So many days I stood on the beach at the water’s edge willing the gently lapping waves to stop before they reached the toes of my shoes. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t and I would have to run back quickly to avoid getting wet. It was there that I went to find my peace, staring out at that vast, empty sea I knew that there were more powerful forces in life that I could not control, and that I would never be able to control. It was on one of those days that I met Megan, to whom I owe so much. The beach was empty that afternoon, I stood at the water’s edge mulling things over and had been so lost in my thoughts I only noticed her sitting at the top of the beach huddled up in a black hooded sweater and jeans. I was struck for a moment that I shouldn’t interfere, but I couldn’t help myself, I was fifteen years old again and wanting to help. As I approached her the look of sadness on her face told me I was doing the right thing. She was unresponsive at first but I’d never yet allow that kind of thing to bother me. Eventually I realised that I had seen her around the village a few times and knew that she went to the nearby High School. Her mother had died a couple of weeks previously, as soon as she mentioned the name I remembered reading it in the local paper. As I sat listening to Megan my thoughts kept turning to Abigail, the daughter I had left behind so I could continue to follow my dreams. I’d often thought about Abigail but talking to Megan it hit me suddenly that once I was gone Abigail would have no memories of me to share as Megan was doing now. I realised in those few moments everything that I had missed out on, at the time I’d thought I was doing the right thing but now I wasn’t so sure.
Vi laid down Mary-Lou’s papers having read the final words. She wondered about Megan briefly and where she would be now, how she would be coping. But then her thoughts turned back to Abigail. She wasn’t sure how reading this would affect her. Vi left the living room and rang the one number she knew would be able to help her.
Naomi left the following morning with Robert as he went to work. Abigail stood half asleep in her pyjamas waving them off from the living room window. She glanced at her watch as the car disappeared from sight, it was still only eight o’clock, far too early to be up. Giving a half sigh, she curled up in the corner of the settee and switched the television on, wondering what to do with herself for the rest of the day. Having made the decision the previous evening to go to the Chalet School she wasn’t sure that she wanted to spend the day with the boys, they wouldn’t understand. She gazed at the screen not really seeing anything beyond the flickering movements on it, ordinarily she would be engrossed in the breakfast news but this morning she just couldn’t concentrate on the stories flashing before her eyes. The morning’s paper landed with a thud on the mat and she went to collect it to read over breakfast, but as with the news she found herself gazing meaninglessly at the pages of the Guardian, watching the words swim before her eyes not taking any of it in. Playing with her cornflakes she realised that once term started things would never be the same again.
“Okay then, thank you for letting me know, I’ll be in touch,” and with those words Nancy Wilmot laid the receiver back onto its cradle with a clatter.
“Anyone exciting?” asked Kathie Ferrars as she entered Nancy’s study, her arms piled high with text books and correspondence. “The post’s just come.”
Nancy groaned and rolled her eyes. “Wonderful,” she said with a hint of sarcasm.
“So who was on the phone then?”
“Oh?” asked Kathie raising an eyebrow as she piled everything precariously on to Nancy’s desk.
“Oh Kathie must you,” said Nancy as she reached out to grab hold of the books to prevent them from toppling over.
“Sorry,” muttered Kathie looking guilty. “What did he want anyway?”
“Apparently Abigail’s decided that she’d like to take up her place here,” replied Nancy as she sat down, cautiously eyeing the pile of text books.
“Oh right,” said Kathie as she pulled a chair across to Nancy’s desk.
“Apparently it was all her own decision. She’ll be in the third form with Vi Warrington’s daughter.”
“Yes, apparently Abigail and Livia have already met and spent some time together this summer.”
“Well at least she’ll know somebody then. Who else is in that form? Is it Anya Martin, Jinny MacDonald and that crowd?”
Nancy reached across her desk and pulled out the sheaf of form lists. “Yes, and going on their end of last term results, I think they’ll all be going into the A division again, even Livia managed to scrape the necessary grades. Obviously I don’t know anything about Abigail’s standard of work, but I’d like to think that if she’s anything like Mary-Lou she’ll easily be able to cope with the A division. That, of course, would be good news for Joanna Williamson since her form position puts her in only just in A, but she’s really not quite up to the standard there. Kathie, are you listening to me?”
Kathie looked up from staring at the floor whilst idly chewing the ends of her hair. “Sorry?” she asked. “No, I wasn’t I’m afraid. I was just thinking.”
“Careful,” warned Nancy with a smile.
Kathie pulled a face. “Hush. It was a serious think.”
Nancy raised her eyebrows. “Care to share?”
“It was just about Abigail, and Mary-Lou of course, and me,” Kathie coloured a little.
“Well, it’s just, you know how when I first started teaching here I had a few run ins with Mary-Lou and we didn’t exactly see eye to eye,” Kathie broke off and twisted her fingers nervously. “Well what if…”
“What if you find yourself feeling the same way about Abigail?” finished Nancy.
Jo Maynard hung up the phone and rejoined her husband at breakfast. She prodded the now somewhat soggy cornflakes thoughtfully before pushing them to one side.
“Who on earth was on the phone at this ungodly hour of the morning?” asked Jack glancing up from his newspaper.
“Hmm? Sorry, what did you say?”
Jack shook his head and gave a despairing half sigh. “I was just wondering who was on the phone.”
“Vi Lucy, Warrington,” replied Jo correcting herself.
“Oh right,” mumbled Jack deciding against asking any further and returning to his newspaper.
Jo took a sip of her now almost cold tea and mulled over the conversation she’d had with Vi, they mysterious Megan arousing her curiosity.
Vi returned to Mary-Lou’s notes a little happier and a little clearer. She’d known what to do really, she’d just been seeking confirmation if she was honest with herself. She read the words through again. I realised in those few moments everything that I had missed out on, at the time I’d thought I was doing the right thing but now I wasn’t so sure. Of course Abigail had the right to see those words. It didn’t matter how many times people tried to explain events to Abigail and tried to put her mother’s feelings into words, Vi knew that it would only be in Mary-Lou’s own words that she would truly understand.
Kathie nodded. “I know it’s silly, but…”
Nancy regarded her friend for a moment. “Well, not exactly silly, maybe you do have some justification for it. But in all honesty Kathie, you’re a lot older and wiser now; and besides Abigail is much younger than Mary-Lou was when you first met her.”
“I know that, but I can’t help…”
“Kathie,” Nancy interrupted sternly. “Will you stop being such a ninny?”
Kathie stopped and stared at her friend. “I’m sorry,” she mumbled. “I know that things are different now, but I can’t help worrying a little.”
Nancy smiled. “Of course you can’t,” she said comfortingly.
Kathie looked at the precariously balanced text book pile on Nancy’s desk. “I should go and do something with those geography books,” she said standing up and gathering them into her arms. “I’ll see you for lunch.”
“Alright then, see you later,” said Nancy not noticing that the worried look hadn’t quite left her friend’s face.
Walking along the corridor Kathie tried to reason sternly to herself that things wouldn’t be the same this time around, but somehow she couldn’t quite convince herself. She knew it was silly but she couldn’t help being niggled by her resurfacing feelings.
The next few weeks passed Abigail by in a blur as things were organised around her for going to school. She pored over the prospectus trying to fit all the information it gave into her head. She wouldn’t ever admit it to anyone but the thought of surviving in French and German only on certain days of the week terrified her; her French was only shaky and she’d never done any German. She did wonder as well where she’d find the time to fit in some of her more non-conventional activities, she didn’t think the school would look too fondly on her wanting to go off and protest about whatever cause caught her attention next. She and Robert spent the weekend with Vi and her daughters a fortnight before term was due to start during which she begged any information she could from Cathlin and Livia. Ruth would occasionally wander into their conversation to add or correct something, before adding with a sigh that there were times she wished she were going back to school and not Cambridge.
“Silly Ruth,” grinned Cathlin on one of those occasions. “Of course you want to go back to Cambridge, you’d look a bit silly being nineteen and still at school when you clearly aren’t.”
Ruth pulled a face in return to Cathlin’s comment. “I know I do, but it is okay to be nostalgic you know,” she said aiming a friendly punch at her younger sister.
“Hey,” exclaimed Cathlin taking aim with her cushion.
“Oh you two,” groaned Livia rolling her eyes as Ruth pulled Cathlin off the sofa with a wild shriek. “Come on Abby, let’s leave the children to it.”
Abigail gave a half smile to Ruth and Cathlin who were engaged in what appeared to be a free fight on the living room floor and, not for the first time, found herself with that slight pang of jealousy again. She’d always had friends, but never siblings, something she’d often wanted. Over the course of that weekend she learned to overcome her initial impressions of Livia as a bit of an airhead. Livia herself would be the first to admit that Ruth and Tacy, who would be going into upper sixth that year and applying for Oxford, had got the family brains; but it was Cathlin and Livia who had inherited Vi’s artistic skills. Abigail had marvelled at some of the work they’d produced, she herself being more scientifically inclined as she intended to follow in her father’s footsteps.
Jo Maynard had also been having a busy time of late having persuaded Jack that they needed a weekend break, and so they’d come to the tiny village where Mary-Lou had spent her last months. Having dispatched Jack to the nearest golf course she was able to concentrate on her own intentions for coming. She’d spent her Saturday morning in the library reading over back issues of the local paper, scouring the obituary pages for Megan’s mother. It had been a long job since she’d had no idea when Mary-Lou had first met Megan but eventually Jo decided that she’d found the right obituary. Having treated herself to lunch in the village café she went for a walk along the beach to clear her head after her morning’s research. It was one of those perfect days with the sea as flat as a pancake and shimmering in a pale blue colour stretching on forever to the mistily defined horizon with the sky. Standing at the water’s edge Jo felt an irrepressible urge to have a paddle and kicked off her sandals to do so. As the cool water lapped around her ankles she suddenly became aware of somebody standing close to her.
Kathie Ferrars had also talked herself into taking a weekend’s break and had gone back to the house where she had grown up in the Cotswolds. Her aunt and uncle had died a few years ago now and the house had passed down to her. She knew why she was here, there were ghosts from the past to be laid to rest. The diary she’d kept during her first year teaching at the Chalet School had certainly seen better days but it was the content that mattered, not the condition.
Jo turned as she heard the splash of a pebble skimming across the glass like surface of the water. Her eyes rested on a dark haired girl of around thirteen or so with a faraway expression on her face. She wasn’t sure if this was the girl she’d come looking for or not. Jo stepped out of the water and picked up a relatively flat looking pebble which she attempted to skim, it landed with a solitary splash. She turned and grinned irrepressibly at the girl beside her.
“You’re much better at this than me.” The girl gave a half smile and let go of another stone with enviable ease and Jo watched it skip across the water’s surface. “How about you show me how to do that?” The girl stared at Jo wide eyed. “Seriously.”
The girl shrugged and crossed the few steps difference to Jo and began explaining what to do.
“I can’t believe it’s only two weeks until the start of term,” said Vi to Robert that afternoon as they sat in her garden with the day’s papers. Robert nodded and shrugged. “I suppose it’ll be strange for you not having Abby around.”
“It’ll be quieter,” he said with a smile. “But strange, yes. Although, at least I won’t be worrying constantly about where she is and what she’s up to.”
“Oh those worries don’t stop,” replied Vi smiling. “I never stop worrying about what mad scheme will enter my girls’ brains to try out next, especially Cathlin. They don’t tell me themselves of course, it usually comes out in their reports, mind you there have been occasions they’ve cared to share some of their wilder exploits.”
“Did you share that sort of thing with your parents?”
“Most things, besides we knew that if we didn’t tell them then Jo Maynard would, the perils of her being good pals with your parents really.”
Robert chuckled. “Do you get used to not having them around?”
“No, not really, it gets easier as time goes on but you never completely get used to it. These last two years have been the hardest only having Alexis at home, it’ll be harder when she goes next year. I don’t think I’ll quite know what to do with myself. Ruth only has short terms at Cambridge, and Tacy will as well if she gets to Oxford, so that makes it easier having them around and the beginning and end of term and that shortens the time to half term. And of course it was easier when Hugh was alive,” Vi broke off, her eyes met Robert’s and they both smiled. “Listen at me,” she said brushing away the tears that had begun to form. “Five years down the line and still inclined to weep when I mention his name.”
It’s been a few days since half term and already it’s blurring into memory. I’d have written about it before but I fell into Matey’s clutches having wrenched my shoulder at Wahlstein. It was all Mary-Lou’s fault, but of course if it hadn’t been for her I wouldn’t be here now. Let’s just say it may be the last time I visit a glacier for a while if they’re going to do that sort of thing to me again! All I remember was Mary-Lou grabbing me by the arm and I flipped at her for having the nerve to do that and when I turned round there was a great big hole where I’d been standing only a moment before. She doesn’t know what possessed her to grab me at that point but I’m so glad that she did, especially since she wrenched her back again doing that. In all honestly I feel a bit of an idiot for having been so off with her all term now; I’m sure some of her habits may continue to grate on me but really I have been an utter ninny.
Kathie flung her diary across the room telling herself sternly that this time around it was all going to be so different. Picking up the ill treated book she reminded herself that a lot of water had passed under the bridge since then; she’d grown up and had so much more experience, and Abigail was younger than Mary-Lou had been. Kathie knew that she wouldn’t make the same mistake again.
In Livia’s room she and Abigail could still hear the wild shrieks of Ruth and Cathlin coming from downstairs so they guessed that the pair hadn’t quite resolved their fight. Livia pulled her photograph album down from the shelf and explained various members of her form to Abigail and retold some of their wilder exploits and madder pranks. Thanks to her mother Livia also knew some of the legends that had passed into school memory and was able to bring those in as well. Abigail sat and listened fascinated by it all, it was so far removed from her own school experience.
“I don’t think I’ll ever get the hang of this,” said Jo as another stone plopped straight into the water without skimming.
The girl shrugged. “I wouldn’t worry about it.”
“Thanks for trying to show me anyway, I suppose I shouldn’t be trying to acquire new skills at my time of life.”
“My nan used to be able to do this,” said the girl. “She taught my mum, who taught me.”
Jo bit her lip, knowing that it was now or never. “I know this is going to sound a bit rude and odd,” she said. “But are you Megan Webb?”
The girl stared at Jo for a moment. “Yes I am, but how… why…?”
“I’m sorry,” said Vi suddenly pulling away from the comforting arm Robert had slipped around her shoulder and dabbing furiously at her eyes. “I didn’t mean to go off weeping like that on you. It’s the last thing you need really.”
“Oh come on Vi, you’ve done the same for me of late, only without the weeping, but you’ve been there when I’ve needed you.”
“That’s what friends are for,” said Vi pointedly.
Although neither of them realised it at the time, something in their relationship changed there.
“Just a lucky guess in the first instance, but I have been looking for you” replied Jo in response to Megan’s question.
Megan took a cautious step back and eyed Jo warily. “Why…?”
“Oh dear,” said Jo. “It does all sound really rather strange.”
“Who are you?” asked Megan.
“Me? Oh goodness, I hadn’t realised I’d not introduced myself. My name’s Jo Maynard, I was a friend of Mary-Lou Trelawney’s, I believe you knew her.”
“I did, yes, she… she was very good to me. But I still don’t understand why you’re here and what this is all about.”
Jo glanced at her watch, she still had a couple of hours to spare before Jack would finish his game of golf. “How about we talk about it over tea and cakes?”
Megan led Jo to the village tearooms as Jo tried to explain Mary-Lou’s notes that Robert and Vi had found and were working on to try and come up with something for Abigail.
“That’s a nice idea,” said Megan. “I can’t imagine what it would have been like if I’d not had mum, I mean nan’s great and all that, but it’s not the same.”
“What about your father?”
Megan paled a little and bit her lip, but something in Jo’s face made her want to talk. “I haven’t really seen him since I was six,” she said with a shrug. “He left mum for somebody else, and didn’t want to know after that, even when she died,” Megan broke off there. “I’m sorry, she said, “it’s not something I like to talk about.”
“I’m sorry for asking,” said Jo. “I didn’t realise.”
“It’s not your fault.”
They sat in silence for a few moments before Jo decided to break it. “Megan, would you like to help us in putting together a picture of Mary-Lou for Abby? Helping with Vi’s project I mean.”
“Yes, I would.”
Kathie picked up the wine bottle to refill her glass only to find it empty. She’d been so lost in her thoughts that she hadn’t noticed how much she’d had to drink. With a sigh she stood up and took the empty bottle and glass through to the kitchen, a quick glance at the clock told her it was too early to have consumed so much. The words she’d written so long ago continued to haunt her. I can’t believe that ass Mary-Lou, she really does have no idea what’s so awful about her and is blinkered to her faults. The things she gets away with are unbelievable and everyone just laughs it off and says ‘it’s only Mary-Lou’. A knock on the door interrupted her thoughts as she went to answer it.
“Nancy,” she said, half with relief, half worried, seeing her friend on the doorstep. “What are you doing here?”
“I was worried about you,” replied Nancy as she entered the house. “You just took off without letting me know where you were going, I only realised a few hours ago.”
“How did you know I was here?”
“Where else would you go Kathie?” Kathie said nothing in reply, only hung her head. “What’s eating you?” Her friend’s silence spoke volumes. “Mary-Lou still?” Kathie nodded slowly and sat down on the stairs. “Oh Kathie,” said Nancy softly sitting beside her friend and slipping a comforting arm around her shoulder. “Why didn’t you say something before?”
“It… it just seems so silly. I’ve reasoned with myself ‘til I can’t take it anymore, but there’s still something that won’t stop niggling. I just don’t want it to happen all over again.”
“Kathie,” Nancy backed away slightly on smelling her friend’s breath. “It won’t happen again, and you know why, because you’ve got me this time. You’re not the shy new mistress who didn’t feel she could turn to anyone now, if you don’t feel you can come to me about this then there’s something very wrong in this friendship.”
Kathie blinked back the tears that were forming and buried her head in her hands. ”Thank you,” she whispered from between her fingers. “I just needed to know I wasn’t on my own.”
“Just one more question Kathie, how much have you had to drink?” asked Nancy with a smile.
Kathie scrubbed her eyes furiously and flushed. “Just a bottle of wine.”
“I thought as much, I should have known there’d be a good excuse for you weeping like this.”
Kathie replied with a friendly punch and then proposed that they move somewhere more comfortable. Spotting her much abused diary on the side in the kitchen she took the executive decision to drop it into the bin. There was absolutely no reason for the past repeating itself and she knew that if it did there was someone she could turn to.