There were, Kathie was quite sure, far worse reasons to buy shoes you couldn’t actually walk in than the fact someone you liked had offered to lend you an arm while you wore them. Just because she couldn’t think of any right this minute didn’t mean they didn’t exist… Oh, she really was an absolute idiot, wasn’t she? Nancy hadn’t meant anything by it, she was just being friendly - and friendly was nice, friendly was good, friendly wasn’t something that could get her dismissed; she shouldn’t be disappointed about friendly, she should be happy about it. And yet… there had been something in Nancy’s face as she made the offer… or had she just imagined it?
She rolled over and buried her face in her pillow, muffling a groan. This was absurd. She’d been going over the events of the day in her head for what felt like hours, and she was no closer to making her mind up about them than she had been when she started. There was only one thing she was sure of, and that was that this was all Peggy Burnett’s fault.
Kathie had meant to be responsible, really she had. She'd been thrilled by the invitation to join Nancy and Peggy's shopping expedition, but she'd promised herself she'd be sensible and buy nothing she didn't need. She’d managed to keep the resolve for quite a while, too, as they went from one place to another - it seemed that Peggy prefered to save her shopping and do it all in one swoop. Judging by the amount of things she bought, her entire wardrobe must have been in need of replacement! Then they’d walked into a shoe shop, and Kathie had met the Nemesis of all her good intentions.
“Can you even walk in those?” Peggy asked dubiously, eyeing the high-heeled shoes Kathie was trying on. “You look like you’re about to fall over!”
Kathie did, if she was honest, feel extremely unstable, but she didn’t particularly want to admit it. “I’m fine,” she insisted, taking a tentative step and wishing she didn’t wobble quite so much.
“Trust a gym mistress to be sensible about shoes,” Nancy remarked. “Don’t listen to her, Kathie! They look lovely.”
“Nancy, you traitor!” Peggy exclaimed, and the other woman turned to her, much to Kathie’s relief - she was sure she’d gone as red as the shoes at Nancy’s compliment. “You’ve always said you couldn’t see any point in high heels.”
“I meant for myself, ass,” Nancy said lightly. Was that a blush on her cheeks, or was it simply wistful thinking on Kathie’s part? “I’m more than tall enough as it is. But I’ve no objection to other people wearing them.”
“Even when they’re going to break an ankle?” Peggy asked.
“I just need some practice,” Kathie said, beginning to feel annoyed. Anyone would think she was a child! She could pick her own shoes, surely.
“You’ll manage them perfectly in no time,” Nancy agreed with a smile. “And if you do have trouble at first, you can hold on to my arm. I won’t let you fall.”
Well, how could anyone resist an offer like that?
“I’m an idiot,” Nancy announced, dropping the parcels she had offered to carry for Peggy on her friend’s bed.
“Probably,” the other woman agreed, then chuckled at Nancy’s glare. “Well, really, what do you expect me to say?”
“Would something reassuring be too much to ask for?”
“Is this about Kathie?” Peggy guessed.
“What else?” Groaning, Nancy flopped down onto the bed. “I’m an idiot.”
“That doesn’t mean you have to make a mess of my coverlet! Sit on the chair, Nance. I’m not making my bed again just because you’re feeling sorry for yourself.”
“Matey’s not going to inspect your room, you can just leave it,” Nancy said, though she moved to the chair. “There, happy? Think you could condescend to saying something useful?”
Peggy leaned against the wall and surveyed her friend. “Poor old girl,” she said at length, in more sympathetic tones than she had used up to then. “You’ve really got it bad, haven’t you?”
Nancy grimaced. “I encouraged her to buy shoes she can’t walk in, just because she looked so excited about them.”
“And because you’re hoping she’ll end up clinging to your arm,” Peggy added wickedly.
“That’s not true!” Nancy retorted, and her friend raised an eyebrow at her. “Well, it’s a little true,” she admitted, “but mainly it was because she seemed to love them so much, and she looked so disappointed when you pointed out she couldn’t manage them. What can I do, Peggy? I know I'm being ridiculous, but I can't help it. I know she only sees me as friend..."
"I wouldn't be so sure," Peggy replied thoughtfully. "She did look positively thrilled when you said they looked nice, and when you offered to lend her an arm."
"Do you really think so? Wasn't she just excited about the shoes?" Hope and caution chased each other across her face.
Peggy shrugged. "I don't know... I think you've got a chance, but I'm not sure. You're going to have to find out yourself."
Nancy sighed in frustration. "I want to, but I don't know how! If I get it wrong..." she trailed off.
Peggy perched on the bed next to her, and squeezed her shoulder gently. She knew what the consequences could be for Nancy if Kathie proved unsympathetic, but she hated to see her normally cheerful friend so lovelorn.
"What you need is a way to say something, where you can backtrack if it seems to be going wrong," she mused.
"Go to the top of the class, Burnett! I'd figured that much out for myself, thank you very much. Now if you had a way to do it, that would actually be helpful."
"Write her an anonymous love letter," Peggy suggested, grinning.
Nancy gave her a withering look. "I don't know where to begin objecting to that... She knows my handwriting, for a start!"
"So disguise it - or I could do it."
"Don't you dare!” Nancy grabbed her friend’s wrists and glared at her. “Promise me you won't do anything so stupid."
"All right, all right, I promise… But how about my dropping some hints?”
“Peggy, you’re one of my best friends, but you have absolutely no grasp of subtlety. Please don’t try to say anything! You’d probably end up telling her outright.”
“And would that be such a terrible thing, really?” Peggy asked. Ignoring her friend’s horrified cry, she went on, “If she reacts badly, I’ll say I was only joking.”
“You have gone mad,” Nancy said with great deliberation. “Stark, staring, raving, mad! Imagine if she went to the Heads about it! Do you really think you could convince them it was a joke? Or even if you could, that they wouldn’t take a very dim view of it?”
“It may not be the best plan,” Peggy conceded - “It’s the worst I’ve ever heard,” Nancy muttered - “But you've got to do something," Peggy continued as if she hadn’t spoken.
"I know, I know…” Nancy sighed. “I'll keep thinking and watching for now. Anyway, that's enough moping for one day. Let’s go down to the staffroom.”
“Good morning, Nancy,” Kathie called down the corridor, spying the older mistress emerging from her room at the same time as she left her own.
“Morning, Kathie,” Nancy said with a smile, joining her. “How are the shoes?”
Kathie blushed. “Don’t tell Peggy, but I think she might have been right,” she confided. “I can’t take two steps without wobbling all over the place.” She must think I’m an absolute idiot, buying shoes I can’t walk in… And what would she think if she knew why I bought them?
“Give yourself a chance to get used to them, you’ve only had them for a day,” Nancy said. “And my offer stands, you know - you can always hold on to my arm. The worst that could happen then is that we’ve had a night out, I’ve had too much to drink, and we both go down together!”
She grinned, and Kathie smiled back, storing the words - and their wonderful, terrifying implication that Nancy would invite her to a night out - away in her mind.
“Have a go now, if you like,” Nancy continued, a strange nonchalance to her words.
“I can’t wear those shoes to teach!” Kathie exclaimed, and Nancy laughed.
“Technically you could, but I wouldn’t recommend it. No, I meant you can try my arm, see if you think I can hold you up.” Her tone was light, but there was a strange look on her face. Was it… hope? Could it be… Even as Kathie tried to work it out, it started to change, to become guarded. There was no time to think, Kathie realised, and reached out to tuck her hand into the crook of her friend’s arm. She smiled up at Nancy, her heart thumping.
“I’m sure you can, but we’ll test it,” she answered, trying, to match Nancy’s lightness. “Shall we go?”
“We’d better, or someone will come along to see what’s keeping us!”
They set off along the corridor, arm in arm, and all Kathie could think was how very glad she was that she’d bought those shoes after all.