Five Years and Four Days Ch. 00bycareythomas©
This is the fanciful prologue to the actual tale I decided to spin. This is more protracted back story than anything else. Lots of set up, not a lot action. So come back to this after reading the actual story if you fall in love with the characters like I did.
FIVE YEARS AND FOUR DAYS – PROLOGUE (Five Years Ago)
The assembly hall was packed. The new girls were seated in the front rows, their uniforms crisp and new. The deep blue of the school kilts in each row faded ever so slightly from the stage to the back of the hall, where the sixth formers were. Alexandra Mak sat with her fellow sixth-formers, their tired uniforms hanging on desperately to some semblance of conformity. Clare Shepard, or "Clash", her best friend, had perfected the art of wearing a tie without appearing to agree with its presence on her person: It looked like it had been in a fight with itself while attempting to work its way up to her shirt collar.
"Poor things, they look terrified," Clash whispered.
I nodded, "I remember being terrified. Mostly because you told me that all new girls had to get up and say their names and where they were from. Vintage Clare Shepherd bollocks."
Clash put her head on my shoulder, "You didn't speak to me for the entire first term. Now look at us."
I gave her a squeeze. "9 more months of this place. I can't believe it. Audrey has 5 more years. Poor thing.
"Audrey's lucky to have you here – people will leave her alone knowing that she has a big, bad sixth-former as a sister."
I nodded, "We'll see. My parents requested that she be assigned a different house, so I basically won't see her all that much."
The double doors at the front of the hall opened and the headmistress walked in, followed by members of staff. I leaned forward in when a new member of staff caught my eye as she strolled in with the rest of the faculty.
Miss Wainwright. That was her name. She had been one of the teachers at Greystone Prep when we swam against them last year. She was talking to Miss Goode, a teacher in the PE department, as they walked in. Now she's here? At Halsey?
Clash nudged me, "New teacher."
I nodded, "I recognize her from somewhere," I said vaguely. An understatement, if I ever made one. I suddenly hoped that Miss Wainwright would look up and see me.
She still had her shoulder length dark brown hair. My memories from the Greystone swim meet were easy to grasp: Miss Wainwright was joking around with the girls on the Greystone swim team. She seemed so cool, so fun. I had heard her laugh at something one of the girls was saying and felt envious that I was not in on the joke.
Now, as the headmistress went through her annual beginning of school address, I stared at Miss Wainwright, wondering if she had joined the PE department, and if swimming would be her focus here.
"... We have several new members of staff to introduce to you," Mrs Lincoln droned on.
I sat up straighter.
"Father Michael Burns has joined us," she nodded to a gentleman who stood up and smiled, "he is taking over from Father Richard, whom you know retired at the end of the school year last year."
"Dr. Anne Finch will join the Chemistry department this year, so Dr. Skarstaad and Miss Dewhurst will have some company. She joins us from Northbury School." Dr Finch stood up and waved quickly before sitting back down.
"And Miss Jessica Wainwright will be joining the PE department as head coach of the swimming team. She'll also be heading up our brand new photography effort. Welcome, all of you, to Halsey."
Her name was Jessica. I immediately wondered if she shortened it to 'Jess', or if there was another nickname she went by. Photography also suddenly became extremely interesting to sixth-former.
"They all seem nice enough. The new Chaplain looks much nicer than Father Dick ever did," Clash shrugged, "What do we care, we are almost out of here!"
"Now, will the prefects please stand up," Mrs Lincoln continued.
Clash and I stood, along with about a dozen others in the back of the hall.
"These are the sixth formers chosen by me and members of staff to lead the school this year. Please follow their example. Prefects, good luck. Now, please will the school captains please stand."
Clash sat down, and I remained standing. 5 other sixth formers joined in standing with me in the back of the assembly hall.
"Georgia Cohen, Lacrosse; Sarah Blackhall, Squash; Tori Milton, Tennis; Alexandra Mak, Swimming; Antonia Harding, Netball; Edwina Miles, Fencing."
I felt Miss Wainwright turn her head towards me when Swimming was mentioned. I looked away, suddenly shy, but felt a weird tingling sensation knowing that I was in her line of sight.
"So there is my swimming captain," I thought to myself. Pat McAllister retired from Halsey at the end of the school year, and had exchanged emails with me telling me about the programme and about Alexandra. I remember watching her swim: she was fast, winning every race she was in and thrashed my swimmers at Greystone. Not surprising that I was quite happy to have the speedy athlete on my team for a change.
Halsey was a larger school than Greystone. The assembly hall itself was easily twice the size. Cathy Goode helped make introductions for me when Pat's positioned opened at Halsey. Cathy and I had known each other for a while: our families have been friends for generations up north. Cathy was like an older cousin I never had, as neither of my parents had siblings.
"So how do I get in touch with Alexandra? What's the protocol?" I asked Cathy as we filed out of the assembly hall.
"Leave a note for her on the Sports Centre bulletin board. There's a section for the school captains there. Or the prefects' board. She goes by 'Alex,' by the way."
"Yes, I remember Pat mentioning that," I nodded, "Quiet and steady, she also said."
"Pat would know," Cathy nodded, "and I agree. I've never seen her ruffled. Still waters run deep, as they say."
I quickly wrote a note to Alex, asking her to meet me during tea to get started on team trials and the competition schedule. I pinned the note on the board, as Cathy suggested, quite liking the fact that Halsey was obstinately sticking to pen and paper communications.
My day passed quickly: a constant stream of new faces and new rules to absorb. Certainly learning the way the faculty eco-system worked was fascinating. Greystone's smaller size meant that everyone pretty much knew everyone else. Halsey seemed to be a bustling world of many different jurisdictions co-existing all at once.
It was clear that Liz Patterson was the top dog as Deputy Head of School. It was also clear that while she was well-liked by many of the staff, no-one underestimated her authority – or ambition.
"Be careful of that one," Cathy cautioned, "Friendly, but dead keen on climbing the administrative ladder. Has her eye on Lincoln's spot. She's fine as long as she doesn't think you are a threat."
"I teach PE and photography. How much of a threat could I be?"
With Cathy's words in mind, I knocked on Liz's door at 3.
"Come in," came a crisp voice on the other side.
I walked into a sparsely decorated office, filled with books and framed certificates.
"So good to see you again, Jess," she began, "have a seat."
"Good to see you, too. I'm very excited to get started."
Liz was surprisingly warm, and I felt that we were getting along quite well as our conversation progressed.
"One more thing I wanted to mention before we finish," she said, "Alexandra Mak is pulling double duty as a prefect and school captain. She's also an academic advisee – something only our highest academic achievers get to be. A-As help teachers in specific disciplines – a little like Teaching Assistants in US colleges. She's my A-A for mathematics."
I was impressed, "Quite notable for an 18 year old."
"We think she can manage, and she's certainly deserving, but please keep it in mind as you dole out things for her to do."
"I will absolutely do that," I nodded, "Thanks for letting me know."
I looked at my watch as I left, just as the tea bell rang through the school. I made my way to the Sports Centre.
Alex was standing outside my office, backpack slung over a shoulder. She raised her hand in greeting.
"Hello! Come on in," I said as I unlocked the door, "have a seat."
Alex dropped her bag onto the floor and flung herself into one of the chairs next to my desk. I wondered if all teenagers were conditioned to collapse into furniture like they had the weight of the world on their shoulders.
"I'm not sure if you remember, but I was an assistant teacher at Greystone last year when Halsey came for a swimming match. You swam some great races." I sat down in a chair next to her.
Alex went red. It was endearing.
"Uh, yeah, I remember seeing you."
"Mrs McAllister thought very highly of you. She and I spoke over the summer."
"I'm going to miss her. I mean, not that I'm not happy you are here, which I am. Happy that you are here, that is. That came out all wrong."
Alex went redder.
I chuckled, "Oh, no offense taken. I'm very happy to be here, too." I patted her on the arm reassuringly.
She flinched. I withdrew my hand, a little embarrassed by how awkward it had suddenly become.
"Now, let's have a chat about this year, shall we? Why don't you take me through what usually happens, and we can go from there?" I shifted my tone a little.
Alex nodded, "We usually have trials during our first practice. We should put up sign-up sheets this week. Practices start in two weeks."
As she talked, the awkwardness disappeared. Alex was confident, and passionate about her duties as a school captain. She was thoughtful as she described what had been done in previous years, and offered her suggestions on what could be improved. Diplomatic, even, as she managed to walk me through an entire year's worth of ideas without ever denigrating what came before.
"That was a very long answer to your question," she concluded, "Sorry, I've been talking for a while."
I shook my head, "No, please don't apologise, that was incredibly helpful, and I'm so glad we get to work together on this. So let's start with the sign-up sheets – do you have time to get them set up?"
Alex nodded, "I did them already – here you go," she pulled out a stack of papers from her backpack. "I also took the liberty of printing out results and times from last year's matches. I've highlighted swimmers I think might return, and I have circled the swimmers who won't be returning. I think the biggest gap is in the fly. We lost our two best swimmers for that stroke."
Impressed by her foresight, I took the information from her and promised to look through it.
"So I'll see you in two weeks, yes?" I asked.
Alex blushed again, "Um, I also was hoping to sign up for photography with you, actually, if that's ok."
"That would be lovely! Miss Patterson said extra-curriculars don't get started until after the first short-leave, so I actually haven't even started thinking about that yet. But I should, shouldn't I?"
Alex shrugged, "The school's never offered it before, so I guess it's up to you how you want to run it."
"How do you mean?"
"You could run it as a once-a-week drop in, where anyone who wants to can come in to do a project, or you could set aside a number of lessons each week and allow only those who sign up to take those slots each semester."
I started debating the merits of each option in my head as Alex kept talking, "The former is a little more ad hoc, and takes up less of your time. The latter takes up more of your time, but you can direct more focused projects that can be completed each term." She started zipping up her backpack.
"Do you think there's interest for the weekly lessons?"
"I'm interested!" Alex grinned. The awkwardness gone, I smiled back at her.
"Well, I'll think about it. Thanks for your time Alex – I'll be in touch."
What the hell was happening to me? Every time I thought about Miss Wainwright, my heart would start pounding like it was about to burst. In the 2 months since school started, I had mastered the art of walking into a particular hallway just as she was about to enter from another direction, creating an opportunity to say hello. It just happened. My brain had somehow gradually rewired itself until it had a sixth sense of where she was relative to where I was.
I also made the dark room my second home after the pool. She didn't seem to mind my hanging around and helping out, so I just kept showing up. I'd never been this happy to devote time to a teacher at school before. And I'd never had a teacher that I wanted so badly to befriend. I just wanted to spend time with her.
"Oy, Alex, head in the clouds again? What's going on with you?" Clash chucked at pillow at me from across the prefects' common room. We both had a double-period free and were valiantly trying to finish up some essays we had to write while procrastinating. I'd been failing spectacularly at the task: I'd been staring out the window, thinking about Miss Wainwright.
"Just thinking about our swimming match coming up this weekend. I keep tweaking the line up in my head." I lied.
"Go talk to Miss Wainwright – shouldn't she have this under control? Why are you obsessing about it?"
"I don't want to bother her. I am probably I'm overthinking it."
In truth, I didn't bother to find her because it was her morning off. I had Miss Wainwright's schedule memorized. There was no point going to look for her because she wasn't at school. She was somewhere else, living a life I had no clue about. I wondered what she got up to.
"Bother her?" Clash scoffed, "You spend more time with her than anyone else at school."
I whipped my head around, "No I don't!"
"Ok, fine, you spend the most time with me, but you act more like you are friends with her than her student."
I scrunched up my eyebrows, "So what? I just happen to work with her on a lot of stuff that I do."
Clash shook her head, "Keep your hair on, Mak, I'm just making an observation. I just never figured you for a teacher's pet."
Clash laughed, "Ooooh, did I upset Alex Walex?"
"Shut up, Clare. It's not funny." I knew she was joking, but it felt uncomfortably on target. I wanted to be Miss Wainwright's favourite. I was horrified that it showed.
Clash stopped giggling when I called her Clare, "Shit, Alex, I really was only joking. Come on, let's go do rounds down in the prep room."
Prefects had to go check in on the junior girls in their common room at the end of each lesson period – both to offer help and to make sure things didn't get too raucous.
"I'll buy you a double pack of white chocolate kit-kats this weekend if you go without me," I offered, preferring to return to my daydreaming.
"No deal, Alex, you already owe me half the tuck shop's inventory with all the bribes you've thrown my way."
Clash pulled me up and linked her arm through mine as we traipsed down to the common room. We heard the shouting before we even finished going downstairs.
"What the hell?" Clash strode through the hall and threw open the door.
I followed quickly, and found myself in the middle of a massive paper aeroplane battle, taking one right on the side of my head.
"Oh ha-ha, people, very funny. Let's put all the trees you killed in the recycling bin and get back to work." I started picking up the debris from around the room.
The younger girls looked terrified. The slightly older ones looked smug.
One of them said, "It's our Physics prep, Alex, we were doing our lab work."
"Fine, let's pay a visit to Mr Mendelsohn and see what he has to say about it," Clash snapped, "fancy taking a walk with me, Helen?"
Well, that shut them up.
The girls went back to their tables and order was reinstated. One of the younger girls put her hand up.
"You don't need to put your hand up to talk to prefects," Clash spat out, "What is it?"
"Uh, you have a paper aeroplane stuck to the back of your shirt," she pointed out, bottom lip wobbling with terror.
I ripped it off as Clash turned around.
"Ok, show's over. Get back to work." I crumpled up the paper and lobbed it into the recycling bin.
"We'll be back in 20 minutes, or maybe sooner, and if we hear a peep from this room, you'll all get points taken off." Clash stormed off.
Each girl starts off each term with 50 points. She could earn or lose points throughout the term. The reward for the highest points earned was a prize at the end of the year. It's one of those stick versus carrot games the staff had us carry out. It's totally stupid, but sometimes, the threat worked.
I stomped out of the room after Clash.
"That was SO embarrassing," Clash confessed, "I can't believe I had a paper dart hanging off my hair while I was telling them off."
"Come on, it probably made it less terrifying for the 11 year olds."
"Fine, but next time, you are going in solo. I need to recover my dignity."
"Go back in there like you didn't care. You won't need to recover." I gave her a squeeze.
"Ugh. So embarrassing," Clash repeated.
"I walked around the pool deck the other day with loo roll trailing under my foot. Some second former pointed it out. I just chucked it in the bin and moved on. I think she would have thought it funny if I made a big deal out of it."
"How are you so wise?"
I shook my head, "Fake it till you make it."
"Oh look, there's your favourite teacher," Clash nodded towards the faculty car park.
My heart started racing. Miss Wainwright was getting out of Miss Goode's car. The two of them were chatting away. I did a quick calculation: if they continued talking and walking towards the teacher's lounge, we could bump into them outside the dining room if we headed there immediately.
I shrugged, "Let's go get some biscuits before heading back up to check in on that lot upstairs."
Clash nodded and we made our detour to the dining room. I was mentally estimating the time it would take us to "coincidentally" cross paths with the two teachers. I heard Miss Wainwright talking to Miss Goode before I saw her.
"Hello girls," Miss Goode said as we headed into the dining room.
"Oh, hi Miss Goode," Clash said, "Hi Miss Wainwright."
I grinned at Miss Wainwright as they walked past. She winked at me. It was probably the coolest thing she could have done. Clash didn't see it – she was making a beeline for the biscuit tins.
I followed her in, hoping that Miss Wainwright would call me back for a quick chat, but she didn't.
"Remind me to ask Alex about this weekend's swimming match," I said to Cathy after we walked past the dining room.
"Just go ask her now, she's right there!"
"It's not important."
"She's dying for you to go talk to her," Cathy insisted.
I scoffed, "She's digging into the tea biscuits with her friend. What I have to say can wait."
"You know Alex has a big crush on you, right?" Cathy asked.
I looked at her quizzically. "What?"
"Your swimming captain thinks you are just dreamy."
"I don't think so. We just get along well, Cathy," I said feeling a little awkward that Cathy has noticed something I had not.
Cathy shrugged as we stepped into the faculty lounge, "Yes, you do. And it shows. Just be careful. The walls have eyes and ears at this place, and if I can see it, others might be able to, too."
"Don't tell me other teachers don't have favourites. You worry too much, swimming and photography aren't high on people's priority lists, and that's just the way I like it," I added. For good measure, I decided to send off a note to Alex, asking to meet me in the Dark Room after tea. I pinned it on the prefects' notice board, and went on with my day.