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Authors: Georgia Hill

In a Class of His Own (16 page)

BOOK: In a Class of His Own
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I’d
just collapsed back into bed when Mona
returned with a blessedly welcome cup of tea and bullied me into
eating some milky porridge.

When I lay back, worn out
by the effort of eating, she filled me in on the details of the
events of the last few days.

Apparently
Jack had been a real hero. After nearly tripping over me,
he had picked me up and carried me into the medical room where,
between them, Mona and he had looked after me. Jack had driven me
home (I vaguely remember being a desperately shivering little huddle
in his E-Type) with Mona in my ancient Fiat following behind. It was
Mona who had helped me to bed and Jack who’d phoned for a doctor.
And then I had slept – for nearly two whole days.

“What
about my class?” I asked her horrified, trying not to think of my
none too insubstantial and inert body being carried by Jack. It was
just as well he was so fit.

“Jack’s
taking them. And it’s the last day of term today so they’ll just
be playing games or watching a film won’t they?” Mona wagged a
finger at me, “Now don’t you worry about a thing. I’ve told
Jack exactly how hard you’ve been working.” She tucked the
bedclothes into submission while she continued to speak, almost to
herself. “The rest of those teachers ought to do more. Leaving it
all to you and Jack. It’s not right.” She tutted fiercely.

Although
I didn’t think she was being at all fair I was,
nevertheless, glad of her support.

She
stood up straight and stretched her back, as if stiff. “But I’m
sure they’re all rallying around back at school. They’ll cope my
dear. You’ve made some good and loyal friends there.” This,
coming as it did from Mona,
came out almost as a threat.

In my
weakened state her stern words brought tears. And then I laughed
through them. I wondered what would happen if I ever got Mona
and Joyce together? My money was on Mona.

I
dozed my way through the remainder of the day. By the time my
‘nurses’ swapped shifts I was feeling a hundred times better. Now
that Mona
had relented and closed the window, it was warm in the flat –
someone must have turned up the thermostat. I’d never managed to
find it, assuming that like the stopcock, it served both properties.
And at the moment I was basking in the new cosiness too much to care.

As
Mona
left I could hear her nagging Jack about making me eat and that she’d
left some of her homemade soup for us both. I smiled faintly. She was
a walking cliché; her stern and unyielding exterior really did belie
her heart of gold.

I sat
up in bed and realised that I felt completely horrible but not
because I was
ill. It had more to do with my hair needing a wash and the fact that
I was in desperate need of a shower. I explored my mouth with my
tongue. Ugh! My teeth felt claggy with plaque.

Jack came into the
bedroom as I was attempting to throw back the duvet and get into the
bathroom. I tried to stand and managed one step before collapsing
back onto the bed in a pathetically wobbly heap.

“Get
back into bed,” he murmured neutrally. He lifted my legs and
smoothed the duvet back over me with ease.

I
looked up at him wearily, too tired to play
the game, ‘Guess What Jack is Thinking.’

“You
seem to spend an awful lot of time trying to get me into bed Mr.
Thorpe. Anyone would think you’d got an ulterior motive.”

He snapped off a curse
and glared down at me. Really, I was getting a bit tired of all this
glowering.

“Crack
a smile once in a while Mr. T.” I sighed impatiently. “I was only
going to have a shower. I must look disgusting.”

He paused and considered
what to say. Then suddenly he smiled broadly. I hadn’t seen him
smile properly for weeks and the effect was far more debilitating
than the ‘flu’. I was back under his spell, which I suppose I
hadn’t really ever escaped.

“You
must be feeling better if you’re worried about your appearance.”
He hesitated, “But I’m not sure if you’re up to a shower, are
you?”

I admitted defeat. “No!”
I wailed, and then thumped the bedclothes. I was perilously close to
tears which I blamed on the virus.

Jack stood with his head
on one side, looking down at me through long lashes. “What if I ran
you a bath? Lots of bubbles.”

Then I did weep – out
of sheer gratitude. Jack took one look at me and fled into the
bathroom.

When I emerged from a
very long soak, during which I’d just about managed to wash my
hair, to my shame I had to be helped. I closed my eyes as I leaned
against Jack and luxuriated in the feel of his strong arms around me.
This was as much bliss as the bath. I sighed. No, I was wrong. This
was far more blissful.

“Where
would you like to go?” he asked in a tight voice. “Bed or sofa?”
I looked up at him wondering what he would say if I gave him an
honest answer.

“Sofa
please,” I answered feebly. “I can’t bear the thought of any
more time in bed.” Not alone, I added silently.

I folded up onto the sofa
and tucked my feet under me. I pulled the edges of my towelling
dressing gown closer together, although there was no need; it was
still lovely and warm in the flat. But I felt in need of some
protection, quite possibly from myself.

Jack
disappeared for a moment
and returned bearing a towel.

“Come
on,” he grunted. “We’d better get your hair dry.”

He sat himself down next
to me, making the sofa sink so that we fell against one another.

Despite my protestations
that towelling it dry roughly would make my hair impossibly fluffy,
Jack rubbed enthusiastically until it was only just damp.

He looked down at me when
he was eventually satisfied with the end result and smiled.

Two in one night. I was
honoured.

“I
used to do that for Jenny, when she was little.” He lifted some
stray hair off my face and for a moment the back of his fingers
lingered on my cheek. His voice deepened, “She might be coming over
tomorrow. Would you like to meet her? She’s quite keen to meet
you.”

I nodded dumbly. I felt
unsettled at being compared to Jenny. Perhaps this was how he saw me;
as another sister? He was so much older than me, after all. And then
I wondered why Jenny wanted to meet me.

Jack
read my mind in that infuriating way he sometimes had. “She wants
to meet the only other
woman who has ever had the courage to stand up to her horrible
brother!” He gave a short laugh.

I smiled up at him. “I
do give you a hard time don’t I?”

He nodded and shifted
away from me a little. “You do but I probably deserve it.” And
then before I could answer he asked: “Hungry?”

We ate
Mona’s
soup on the sofa in front of the TV, much as we’d shared Jack’s
takeaway when I’d first moved in, all those months ago. As I risked
a glance sideways, I sighed as I realised I was no closer to really
knowing the man.

He looked up from
watching the news. “Not feeling well?”

I didn’t want to move
from Jack’s side but I nodded reluctantly. I was feeling tired and
shivery again. My head flopped back onto a cushion and I cursed
inwardly. I hated myself for being so weak.

“But
I think there’s a film on later,” I said childishly and then had
yet another coughing fit.

While
I sat feebly on the sofa, exhausted by my hacking cough, Jack
resolved the problem by moving the TV into the bedroom. He brought
his laptop
in and sat on a chair working while I dopily watched the film. The
furious tapping on the keyboard didn’t bother me unduly. Only half
of my concentration was on the film anyway. My attention kept
straying to Jack’s long fingers nimbly dancing over the keys and at
his expression.

He was frowning as he so
often did and his nostrils were flared. I’d seen that look before
and it usually meant he was angry. Perhaps he was chaffing at his
enforced position of nurse?

“What
are you working on?” I asked, in an attempt to lighten the
atmosphere.

“Just
finalising the details on the school improvement plan for Annabel,”
he replied, without looking up. His voice was terse but not angry.
“I’ve taken on board your suggestion about looking at what
multi-cultural experiences we give the children by the way. It might
be an idea to make links with your previous school. You know, email
pen-pals, perhaps an exchange programme?” He rubbed the back of his
neck wearily. “Think I’ve done enough for today though.” He
snapped his computer shut, stretched and yawned hugely.

I
nodded. Fragments of what I’d heard Annabel say came back to me.
What was this ‘London job’ she’d mentioned? How much longer was
Jack going to be at the school? Was he going to be there in September
to begin implementing the new
improvements he was currently spending so much time on? His
appointment had been only temporary after all, to cover for the
previous head’s absence. Annabel had told us in the meeting that
David was taking retirement and that they now had to look for a more
permanent headmaster. It didn’t sound as if it was going to be
Jack. A cold hand of fear clutched around my heart at the thought of
him going away.

He looked up suddenly.
“What’s the matter?” His look was direct, the greeny-blue eyes
vivid in the soft light.

My throat was too
constricted by emotion to answer straightaway.

“Are
you tired?” His voice softened.

Suddenly I couldn’t
bear him being nice to me so I nodded briefly and slipped down under
the covers. I pulled the duvet up around my face and screwed my eyes
shut to stop the tears escaping.

I heard him murmur a
questioning, “Nicky?” and then he moved gently around the room,
switching off lights and the TV. He didn’t leave the flat though. I
heard him settle back on the sofa in the sitting room with a long
drawn out sigh.

The
following day I didn’t seem to be able to get enough sleep and I
dozed intermittently for most of the morning. But by late afternoon I
was
fidgety and desperate to get up.

My bed was full of
wrinkles and no matter how I arranged the pillows I just couldn’t
get comfortable. After a brief argument with Jack, who thought I
should stay in bed, I decided to get up, wash and get dressed. It
took me the best part of an hour as I kept having to sit down and
rest. Every movement made me break out into a hacking cough which
further exhausted me. Finally I sat on the sofa, feeling as I’d
just run a half marathon but very proud of myself.

Jack had just made a pot
of tea when, without knocking, a woman walked through the adjoining
door from the main house beyond. The family resemblance was striking.
The Thorpes obviously had impressive genes; Jenny was every bit as
attractive as her older brother. She trilled a ‘hello’ and
reached up to kiss Jack.

I took the opportunity to
surreptitiously study her.

Tall
and long-limbed, she was a slender version of Jack. She had glossy
dark hair cut in a frantically messy style which told of expense and
regular upkeep
but I thought her clothes too old for her, elegant though they were.
She wore immaculately cut jeans and a cashmere twin set and the whole
outfit hummed money.

“And
you must be Nicky,” Jenny turned to me with a genuine smile. She
held out a hand. “Hello, I’ve been longing to meet you.” Her
voice was honeyed and, unlike her brother’s, had no trace of a
discernible accent. She eyed me speculatively and then glanced at
Jack who was looking distinctively uncomfortable. “Jack, do be a
darling and get the fabric sample books from the car.” She waved a
key fob at him. “I’ve brought them for the cottage.”

“I’ll
get them later,” he replied gruffly. “I’m sure they’ll keep,
Jenny.”

She so obviously wanted
him out of the way and he, in turn, was so reluctant to go that I
began to giggle. It turned inevitably into a cough.

She surprised me by
coming to sit next to me. “You poor thing,” she patted my hand
and stared openly. “That sounds such a nasty cough.” Then she
giggled, “So, you’re the woman who has been causing my big bro so
many sleepless nights. How utterly fascinating!”

“Tea
Jenny?” Jack thrust a mug into her hand. His face was like thunder.

“Touchy,
touchy.” Jenny made a small moue with her mouth, turned to me and
said flirtatiously, “He’s such a grump. Takes life so seriously.”
She laughed up into his tight face.

“Some
of us have to take life seriously.”

The rest of his sentence
was lost in the sound of a sharp rap on the front door.

To my
relief our little scene of domestic harmony was interrupted by Rupert
and Mona, the latter bearing yet more food. I’d never been more
pleased to see anyone in my life.

It was
lovely to have visitors and I was eager for news of the outside
world. I seemed to have been closeted in this strange half world with
Jack for ever. All too soon, though, I began to tire. Rupert
had made me laugh about something funny which had happened in school
but my giggles inevitably turned into a coughing fit which made my
head throb. My guests were proprietarily chased away by Jack who,
with one glance at me, then ushered Jenny out of the adjoining door.

I heard her silvery laugh
float back at me as she went. “What Jack? Oh don’t be a silly
moo. As if I’d say anything to her!”

The ‘silly moo’
returned several hours later.

“Hello,”
I croaked. “I was just about to go to bed.”

“Still
not feeling any better?”

I shrugged, “Slightly.”
Although there are parts of me that are never going to heal, I added
but only to myself.

“Jenny
came over to bring the keys to a holiday cottage she and Colin are
doing up.”

I nodded, not really in
the mood for polite conversation. I just wanted to be left alone to
lick my wounds, or more specifically my wounded heart.

BOOK: In a Class of His Own
8.7Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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