Tired of staring at the Headmaster's ample girth she transferred her scrutiny to the clock, its brass fingers glistening in the morning sun. A solitary wasp hovered near, duped by the brightness. Dust motes prepared to dance in more mature rays.
Somewhere in the distance sirens wailed. Fire-fighting appliances, she thought, but couldn't be sure. As the big finger clicked onto the five she estimated that ten minutes had elapsed since being summoned to the stage, in disgrace for reading in assembly and not singing hymns. The second accusation was a joke. She wasn't singing up here either.
She flinched as the wasp whizzed past her ear. Her shoulders ached through standing at attention. What wouldn't she give to slouch, to stand with hands in pockets and legs crossed in unladylike fashion.
The final hymn commenced. Perhaps now she would be excused.
As the piano's last notes faded the Headmaster, with a grim glance in her direction, extracted the letter from his pocket, strewing twisted toffee papers and spent matches in the process. She was horrified. Surely he wasn't going to recite the letter to the entire upper school. Had he no regard for her feelings? As if confiscation was not enough, was he going to reprimand her in front of her friends? Not daring to look at the mass of students before her, she bowed her head and fixed her sights on the wrappers lying on the waxed floor. Shifting her weight to the other foot, she thought how unfair the situation was. It should be Matthew on display not her. After all, he wrote the letter.
The Principal placed the letter on the lectern, squaring it with the top edge and securing it with his leather-bound bible. Stroking his goatee beard he solemnly scanned the room, peering over the tortoiseshell spectacles he used for reading. He cleared his throat and began to condemn her personal possession as a piece of worthless trash, expounding the importance of upholding moral values.
Surreptitiously, she withdrew her handkerchief to swab her clammy hands. She tried to remember what Matthew had written which had driven the Head to lecture and his emaciated deputy to look aghast. Was it the reference to their engaging activities at the youth club or the comments about kissing in the Odeon? Or was it the mention of how many babies they would one day have? If it was the latter then they need worry no more. The romance was over. Crumpling the handkerchief in a tight ball, she vowed never to speak to Matthew Kelly again.
At length the assembly was dismissed. The Headmaster disappeared through a side door ahead of an entourage of mentors, his deputy scuttling behind, his scholars on trust to repair quietly and in single file to their respective classrooms. As she retrieved the letter from the lectern, peals of boyish tittering penetrated the corridors like shards of friendly derision. Guessing that Matthew had admitted his folly to his mates it occurred to her that he was more astute than she gave him credit for. Not signing his name on the letter was a brilliant stroke - it enabled him to survey from afar the agonizing drama on stage. Fierce loathing surged like a fountain, sending ripples of repugnance through her body, making it imperative to eradicate Matthew Sebastian Kelly from her life.
The girls rallied to support her and express their anger. One or two confessed they wouldn't mind reading the letter, their curiosity having been aroused by the Head's remarks about lust baring its evil face and declaring his intention to stamp it out before it became rife. She could not fathom how a man with such a narrow viewpoint had accomplished the siring of twins. Ordinarily she would seek Matthew's opinion on such a subject, but after enduring such humiliation she was disinclined to breach her pledge not to communicate.
Dinner hour was spent by the river with Kate, a gawky girl, slow to blossom, her attraction to boys being in the nature of a willingness to mind coats during football games. Her knee-high grey socks graced her ankles, elastic garters unsuccessful in their objective. Beside her on the grassy bank was a square lunch box filled with beef and pickle sandwiches. There was also an apple, a pear, and a banana.
While studying the antics of a pair of mallards, a sandwich in one hand, can of Cola in the other, the girl spoke of failing to understand what the hoo-ha was all about, claiming it was sweet of Matthew to pen those lovely words. Such expressions would make her proud to be the recipient. The girl wedged the can in the grass and chewed a segment of her sandwich before adding that when her chance came to procure a boyfriend she hoped he would refer to her as sexy and allude to her boobs as terrific. The girl wiped a hand over her brow as if allusion to the female form had brought on a fever.
Showing Matthew's letter had obviously been a big mistake. Rather than pity the plight he generated, the girl was applauding him. The Head's action had been assessed as scathing, bearing in mind that Matthew was such an affectionate lad, with desirable attributes most girls would simply die for. No thought was given to the distress he caused or his incomprehensible reluctance to share the anguish of centre-stage exposure. The whole conversation served to cement the decision to steer clear of Matthew Kelly.
At the end of the interminable afternoon Matthew romped out of the school building with countless companions cuffing his back as though he was some kind of genius. It pained her to see his arrogant stance as he took part in a game of fisticuffs with the former group leader, a burly lad deposed to lower ranks by one of Matthew's knock-out punches. Several times the other boys glanced at her with rude admiration, though their leader paid no heed. His eyes were glued to his wily opponent, oblivious to everything else.
The girl Kate was at her post by the green railings, surrounded by sports bags and coats, her socks in base position, the tip of her tongue protruding from the side of her mouth as she eyed Matthew with adolescent reverence. Sudden cheers and acclaims of ‘Good on ya, Matty’ indicated the end of the amicable battle. Happy to have won, Matthew recovered his blazer, hurled 'See you' at his gang and propelled himself through the iron gates.
Observing the Headmaster strutting across the quadrangle with his haggard deputy, it occurred to her that he had unwittingly done her a huge favour. But for him, she would still be passing herself off as Matthew's girl, with her head in the clouds, her brain fuddled by adulation. 'Never again,' she muttered as she advanced towards the gates. It would be a long time hence before she dated boys, particularly fickle ones.
Slinging her blazer across one shoulder, dragging her satchel by its strap, she sauntered home and summed up the day. This morning she had a boyfriend; now she had nothing. Tossing her hair from her face, she thought how satisfying it was to be free of Matthew who had swaggered around all day enjoying the kudos of his conquest. Angrily, she booted a stone into the gutter, kicking so energetically that her blazer fell to the ground. She picked it up and shook it vigorously to expel the street dust. The letter slipped out of the pocket. Promptly her hand shot out, but she was not quick enough to save it and the envelope coasted through a grating. She laughed, professing it to be the best place for it. Maybe it would end up in a sewer full of rats. Maybe one of them would enjoy chewing a fellow rat's scribblings.
Relocating the blazer she journeyed on, pondering whether or not to relate the Headmaster's deed to her folks. It might be relayed to them by sundry well-meaning neighbours, those with girls in the same form as herself, spiteful females who couldn't boy-catch if their lives depended on it. But there was no need to tell. Her parents had educated their offspring properly. They trusted them to do the right thing and not plunder the family honour. Her brother would plague her, but it would be good natured. He fancied that being the eldest gave him the authority to tease. She told herself she had brought no shame on her family. It was Matthew who committed the outrage, she had merely read it.
Suddenly hungry she broke into a run, tugging her tie from her neck as she went, almost drooling in anticipation of the beef stew her mother had promised for tea, with apple pie to follow.
She veered round the corner, then stopped dead. Matthew was leaning on her garden gate, his blazer dumped at his feet. His face was streaked with dried ice cream, his blue tie askew, his funny blonde quiff standing erect. He held a bouquet of wild flowers, the big daisies that grew by the churchyard wall, sweet peas from outside the railway station. Matthew bestowed upon her the cheeky, loveable grin which attracted her to him in the first place. Giving a noble bow, he proffered the flowers.
Seeing his knuckles scratched and bruised and the knee of his grey trousers torn, she was charged with emotion and a savage desire to protect him, and in that instant she knew that one day they would have babies … and to hell with the Head's philosophies.