Peggy sat at her desk in the staff-room, trying to arrange her timetable for the following week.
"Sure, that'll be no good," a familiar voice observed over her shoulder, making her jump. "'Tis meself's wondering when you're planning to eat on Tuesday? You've marked remedials in right through breakfast, and to make it worse you've netball practice across morning break."
Peggy cursed under her breath. Biddy was right. How had she made such a silly mistake? She sighed and scored through Emerence Hope's name on Tuesday, looking across the columns to find another time.
"Ah, leave it for now, won't you?" Biddy continued easily. "It's only Wednesday, you've not to worry about the finer details of next week already."
Peggy grimaced. "That's all you know. I have to run that timetable past Matey, who can be safely relied upon to throw several hefty spanners into the works - this girl can't rush her milk and biscuits, that girl is last on the bath list, and so back to the drawing board! If I can get this to Matey tomorrow, I'll be able to finalise it on Friday. Otherwise, it's weekend work."
She didn't need to expand on this: in a job where the usual notions of working hours scarcely applied, it became somehow important to minimise additions to 'weekend work'. Supervising the girls was one thing, but spending Saturday - or worse, Sunday - engaged in one's own paperwork was something all strove to avoid. Biddy patted her shoulder sympathetically and left her to it, turning to regale Ruth Derwent with a sorry tale of IIIa's ideas on History instead.
Thursday evening? No, then she has two days in a row. Wednesday, Wednesday - what gaps can we find on Wednesday? Peggy nibbled her pen thoughtfully. She heard the door open and close but kept eyes and attention trained firmly on her work.
Wednesday won't bend. Well, what about if we settle for Thursday evening and move the Friday massage to - Monday? She had her pen poised when she heard a throaty laugh which made her look round, immediately catching the visitor's eye with a warm smile. "Are you joining us for dinner, Evvy?"
Evvy nodded. "I stayed to see how IVb were getting on with their autumn pruning and got talking with them about their plans for next year. Predictably, their ambition rather outweighs anything we might feasibly hope to grow, which made for a lengthy conversation with no great conclusion..."
"They're a keen bunch," Peggy observed, still smiling. Evvy certainly wasn't what anyone might call pretty, but she was very good to look at: she held herself tall, strong and unapologetic; her face brown from the sun and wind, her hazel eyes displaying a frank intensity that likewise made no apologies. With a sudden flush, Peggy realised she had been staring. Embarrassed, she looked back at her timetable and swore quietly again when she saw the ink splashed on the paper from her sudden movement when she had realised who the newest arrival had been. She reached for her blotchy, trying not to listen as Evvy, Biddy and Ruth continued their conversation behind her. Emerence: Thursday evening, Monday morning break? It worked, at last, but she eyed her crossed-through timetable ruefully. Peggy was still far too close to her own schooldays to dare present Matron with such a mess.
She picked up a fresh sheet of paper and sneaked another glance across the room as she did so. Evvy was different from the others somehow, possessed of a sense of self that didn't seem to require the affirmation of her peers, nor to measure against them competitively. She stood apart, incomparable somehow and accepting it: apples and oranges. This self-contained assurance was clearly written into the line of her jaw, the breadth of her shoulders, the curve of her spine. There was a glorious unconsciousness to her mannerisms: where Biddy plainly knew her best sides, sensed each hair that fell out of place and tucked it back automatically and daintily, Evvy's physique was just that - a vehicle for living in. Functional, unadulterated, raw. Peggy listened wordlessly and yearned to join in the conversation; knew she had no comment to make; knew anything she did say would likely come out with a mumble and a blush. Sighing inwardly, she looked back at her task, wrote out the column headings carefully on the clean sheet and began once again by filling in her fixed teaching periods, leaving space to add in the precariously-balanced individual sessions. Her progress halted each time the gravelly rumble of Evvy's voice interrupted her concentration - unknowingly, quietly, inexorably.
"Oh, help!" Biddy squawked, at length. "The bell for dinner'll be going and just look at me! I must go and tidy up."
On that note she had whirled out of the room, leaving Ruth to perform similar protestations, though with less vigour, extending a thoughtful invitation to her newest colleague to join in the familiar ritual. Peggy smiled as she declined with a shake of her neat curls, and Ruth threw her a mock-bitter look: "I don't know how you do it, you know."
"I have to tidy up several times a day already," Peggy retorted to this misplaced envy.
Ruth grinned. "Occupational hazard, my dear! See you in a few minutes, then," - and she was gone too.
Peggy capped her pen carefully and put away the unfinished timetable.
"Shouldn't that be Rosalie's job?" Evvy asked, lingering beside Peggy's desk with an interested glance.
Peggy laughed. "Oh, I couldn't do that to poor Rosalie, since quite half of it changes from one week to the next. Actually, I wouldn't dare either - Rosalie's my cousin, you know, and she'd tell me in no uncertain terms where I could get off, landing her with that on top of everything else!"
Evvy laughed too and Peggy's heart soared to hear her. "Probably nicer to do it yourself, in some ways. More likely to get things arranged the way you want them."
Peggy gave her a curious look. "Is that why you don't live in? To have things arranged the way you want them?"
Evvy snorted slightly, but it was not unfriendly amusement. "My landlady isn't too encouraging of any of the rearrangements I'd prefer to make, but yes, I suppose it's something like that, in part at any rate. I've never yet lived with an employer, and though the School offered when we moved, I don't intend to start now. No offence meant," she added hastily, "I just like to have a bolt-hole of my own, that's all, and it's hard to think about going backwards once you've had that."
This was part of what held Evvy comfortably aloof, Peggy realised: when her working day was done, she still had a whole other life away from it. Peggy wondered who Evvy was, once the school gates clanked shut behind her in the evening and she strode off along the pebbly road to her rooms in St Briavel's village.
Evvy grinned suddenly: "Wouldn't you like to know? Come on, it's probably time we were going," and she extended a hand to Peggy, firm and steady. Peggy blushed and got to her feet awkwardly: she was both unaccustomed to the gesture and ensuing danse a deux of etiquette, and thrown by her colleague's clairvoyance. The dinner bell rang just as they stepped from the staff-room, saving her from having to prepare any kind of proper response to either.
Author's Chapter Notes:
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