Author: Cenowar PM
Elliot Webber had learned the hard way that most teachers weren't to be trusted; but then, Max Forsythe wasn't really like most teachers, was he? Rated for strong language and romantic themes. *Rewrite*Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Friendship - Chapters: 3 - Words: 6,086 - Reviews: 39 - Favs: 11 - Follows: 13 - Updated: 05-16-11 - Published: 10-01-10 - id: 2852127
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Note: To you, the reader: thank you for the support. And to my reviewers, thank you for your wonderfully encouraging and useful words. You guys are love. Sorry this took me so long, it just took me a while to find my angle.
by Roxie H.
There was a buzz of excitement in the staff room at St. Anne's. Usually, half-eight on a Monday morning brought with it a sullen, moody atmosphere, almost as bad as those of the pupils wandering the school's grounds. But the first day back after the summer holidays was categorically one of the happiest - not because the staff loved their jobs and couldn't wait to get back to teaching. Far from it. The long stretch of summer, the heat, the holidays … they tended to outshine the somewhat grim reminder of what working in the school on a day to day basis was actually like. So, for the first few hours of the very first day, the school's walls held the brightness of sunshine between them; until it became slowly tarnished by the constant reminder of what it was like to work there.
That morning, however, there was gossip. New blood was about. Rachel Ludlow, the former English teacher and a favourite amongst most of the faculty, had suddenly quit without warning. Rumours flew from one side of the staff room to the other, like paper planes, and just as flimsy: she'd got knocked up; she'd gone to jail (she had one of those faces no one would ever suspect, meaning it just had to be her); she'd been kidnapped; she'd died. The longer the list went on, the more bizarre and ridiculous the rumours became.
The staff room was a weary, tired area that practically sighed every time someone walked through the main doors. Dingy mustard seats made 'social squares' sporadically around the room, moulting foam, and pennies from the '80s, and God knew what else whenever anyone actually sat on them. A coffee machine that looked more like something from the science laboratories sputtered in the corner if anyone attempted to approach it, and the walls and pinboards were lined with years-old motivational posters and slogans that barely applied to last decade, let alone last year. The stale smell of a hundred boiled kettles hung in the air like a damp fog.
It was the shabby, familial place where the staff could spend their free time. It was perfect.
"Are you sure about Rachel?"
The voice was young, with a Northern lilt, and came from a mouth surrounded by flecks of stubble as the owner's eyes flicked from one intrigued face to another.
"What's there to be sure of, Drew? She's not here, is she?"
"Well, no." Drew sat back into the cushion of the chair, crossing his arms over his chest. He sniffed derisively. "But she might just be late."
The knowing pair of eyes that met his gaze told him he should know better.
Rachel Ludlow, loved as she had been, had never been known to miss a day of work, not even for illness. And, though she might have been a great colleague, she had somehow never managed to end up in the group of friends who sat around gossiping that morning.
Andrew 'Drew' Kirk, who was never far away from a strong cup of coffee and a sarcastic comment to lighten the mood, was a Mathematics teacher, and quite an impressive one at that. He never really understood how he'd ended up as one; he'd bloody hated Maths in school.
Miss Jennifer Hadley sat across from him, sipping a cup of tea and going over her introductory speeches in her head. A golden engagement ring flashed on her finger as she nervously, unconsciously, twirled her hair while she thought.
Next to her sat the somewhat shy Nikki Belmore, who was already glancing up at the clock and trying to swallow away her worry like she would an unpleasant mouthful of food. She was the only one of the group who was not actually a teacher - Nikki had the pleasant duties of tending to most of the headmistress's general requirements.
That left Guy Griffiths, the oldest of the bunch. He had a kind face, the wrinkles etched into his skin whispering of more laughters than frowns. He looked as though he hadn't seen a razor blade in at least a year. His dark hair was flecked with silver and he watched the world from behind laughing, pale blue eyes. He had the not quite enviable task of managing the whole English department.
Naturally, it was he the others turned to for the news concerning Rachel.
"I can't say anything," he said, putting up a palm as if to shield himself from their questions.
Drew nudged the man's leg with his foot. "You know, though, don't you?"
Guy's silence was answer enough.
Even if they'd had more questions, they were interrupted by a cold gust of air blowing through the room, bearing the headmistress with it. Nikki took her cue, departing quietly and taking up residence next to the striking woman. Nathalie Levine had made it to her fifth decade unmarried, and it showed in everything from her style of dress to the way she walked. Drew often commented that it was a pity she'd never found a husband; he might have been able to dislodge the stick wedged firmly up her -
The staff room quieted.
"Good morning, everyone," she welcomed. The smile she gave the room might have been wan, but it was real. "I know, I know. First day back after the summer holidays are a joy to us all." No one could tell whether or not she was being sarcastic so, in the brief pause that followed, nobody laughed. "Well, then. I just wanted to take the time to remind everyone of last year's academic successes and to push for the same kinds of results this year. I realise a year is a long time, but every journey starts with a first step, and every year is compromised of a collection of single days. They are all as important as each other." Drew found himself fighting off the overwhelming urge to roll his eyes. It was no mystery why the fading posters adorning the walls had never been taken down. "I won't keep you. Morning registration beckons, after all. But I do have a couple of announcements to make. First, it is with regret that I inform you all that Rachel Ludlow contacted me over the summer to hand in her notice, effective immediately. She assured me she had a wonderful time working here and that she hopes each of you finds his or her own personal success. Second … "
That seemed to be it on the Rachel front. Jennifer glanced to Guy, saying with her eyes what she couldn't with her mouth: he would have to tell them what on earth had happened, lest they all die from the curiosity of it. Then she winced - had her life's interests really been reduced to gossip about someone she didn't even know that well?
Busy thinking about the mystery of the first topic of discussion, she very nearly missed the introduction of the second: new blood.
"… so I'd like you all to make sure he feels very welcome. Thank you."
Ms. Levine left in a bustle, followed by the diligent Nikki; that would be the most anyone saw of her until break time, at least. She left in her wake a rather young, nervous looking fellow who kept wiping the palms of his hands on his trousers. He barely looked older then twenty. Guy, Jennifer and Drew immediately leant forward conspiratorially.
"What d'you think?" Drew asked first, eyeing him up. "Looks a bit wet behind the ears, doesn't he?"
"He wouldn't look out of place with my sixth form group," Jennifer murmured in agreement.
"I didn't know you took sixth form."
Jen gave Drew a withering look. "That's because you never listen."
"All right - what's his name, then?"
"Who?" Drew looked confused.
Jennifer sighed. "Never mind."
She turned to Guy to ask him instead, but found herself facing an empty seat. Frowning, she looked up to find him approaching the new kid with a smile on his face and his hand outstretched. Made sense, she supposed; being head of department meant it was his job to make his subordinates feel happy, safe, welcome. Although if the guy standing there like a lost little lamb was really going to replace Rachel Ludlow successfully, he'd better get his game face on sharpish. Drew's expression said that he was thinking more or less the same thing. Or about sex. Sometimes, it was hard to tell.
"Jennifer. Andrew." Guy came back to their corner with the new blood in toe. "This is Max."
"Hi." Jesus, even his voice was shaking. He really needed to step up, otherwise he'd be eaten alive by the pupils. He offered a hand first to Drew, then to Jen. "Max Forsythe. I understand Rachel was … really rather good at her job."
The way he spoke was probably the most surprising thing about him. Though he looked no older than twenty, maybe twenty one, he spoke like some learned old English professor who'd been at the craft for years. His face was youthful, but it was his attire - chequered shirt beneath a dark denim jacket - that really spoke his age.
He was greeted with warm handshakes, though. After all, they'd all been new too, once upon a time. "She was," Jennifer replied with a smile. "She worked hard. We all do."
"Speak for yourself," Drew scoffed. "Just call me Drew. I'm in Maths. Jen's in Art. Guy's insane." He grinned.
"Oi. I'm his boss, remember, don't undermine me."
"Leave off, Guy, you couldn't boss a chicken across a road."
"You cheeky… "
Max couldn't help but smile, already gauging a feel for the atmosphere enveloping him. "Not to worry Guy," he deadpanned, "I'm not a chicken, so you should have no trouble with me."
Guy stared at him for a moment, before letting out a bark of laughter. He slapped Max on the back in earnest. "Glad to see you've a sense of humour, kid."
Max gave a chuckle as he eyed the group. "You could say that - though 'kid' might be pushing it."
"Youngest here, aren't you? Fresh out of the training and into the pit." Guy smiled at him. "I've children about your age."
Jennifer laughed, a sound that tinkled like bells. "Oh Guy, don't. You'll give him nightmares."
They spent a few more minutes making friendly conversation, before the authoritative Guy looked meaningfully at his watch. "We'd best get off," he said to Max. "English department is on the opposite side of the school, and you wouldn't want to be late." They made their goodbyes, separating from the already diminishing numbers of staff in the room. As they walked the winding corridors, Guy made sure to keep a light level of conversation going. "You'll be taking over all of Rachel's duties, so you'll have her form class as well. I'm afraid they're year elevens, so they might get a bit feisty 'cause you're new. Don't sweat it, though - just show them who's boss."
"Right." Max swallowed. "Sure. Got it."
"Even if you're scared to death of them, don't let on. I swear, they can smell fear." Guy shook his head reproachfully. "Like animals, they are. Animals."
He wasn't exactly easing Max into the idea, but then, Max supposed he couldn't ask for anything less than honesty. His morning had already been fairly slapdash, what with spilling cereal over his smartest clothes and having his car try and pack up on the drive here. He let out a steady breath. It could be worse, he reminded himself gently. It could always be worse.
Guy left Max outside the room that had previously been designated his classroom. It was up a flight of stairs, a little out of the way, but it had his own private office ajoined. Though Max hadn't had the time to make it his yet, he had already tucked a few things away into the office. He shrugged his satchel further up his shoulder self-consciously. He could already see a few students milling around beyond the door, lounging on desks and playing with hair and throwing balls of paper around the room. Just a handful of years ago, that had been him…
He shook his head. He was the grown up now, he was the adult, he was the authority figure - but his hand paused on the door handle, mid mantra. He frowned to himself. He, a grown up. God. What a terrifying thought.
It was break time. Somehow, through some pre-ordained miracle, Max had found his way back to the staff room. However, once there, he wasn't quite sure what to do. His face felt clammy, pale, like he'd had all the blood sucked out of him. He stood by the door, clutching a steaming cardboard mug from a vending machine that was a little less volatile than the coffee maker over by the sink.
He'd made it through the first two periods relatively unscathed, dealing first with a docile lower sixth group followed by a significantly more rowdy year eight lot (what a wonderful thing to cope with first thing on a Monday morning). Morning registration had been all right too, though he'd had to deflect a lot of questions about Rachel Ludlow; mostly because he didn't know the answers. It surprised him, the way the pupils expected him to know everything, even if they acted like they knew more. He was expected to have an answer for everything. If he didn't, that meant they ignored him. It was quite a responsibility.
Fortunately for him, he only got to handle the higher sets in the school, who were far less likely to challenge him. He might have had good qualifications, but no one was cruel enough to land a brand new teacher with the lower sets, full of rowdy, obnoxious children who didn't know one end of a book from another. Still, that didn't stop him from feeling as though he'd been thrown in at the deep end. His sixth form class he had wooed pretty easily, but those year eights … Already he could see that the kids could be unrelentingly difficult, full of questions, constantly looking for ways to tear down the little respect he might have gained. It was going to be a challenge reaching out to some of them. Still, that's what all that training was supposed to have been for.
He stared at the foam on his drink, wondering if it was too early to run.
It occurred to me that most of you reading will probably be American (or at least, not-British), and may not be familiar with how the British education system works. I certainly get super confused with high school fiction. So just to give you a bit of grip on things:
Year seven to year eleven makes up the bulk of (compulsory) comprehensive school. You start year seven aged 11/12, so by the time you're in year eleven you're about 15/16 (and taking some rather horrible exams which everyone pretends are important at the time, but are actually useless if you go on to do A-levels/a degree). Some schools, like this one, also have a sixth form (lower sixth for 16/17 year olds and upper sixth for 17/18). Don't ask me why it's called 'sixth form'. I know, vaguely, but it's confusing. If you care that much, ask the internet :P
Anyway, the basic point is, Ellie is in Max's year eleven tutor group/form group, and also in his English class. So she's about 15/16.
Oy. You can understand why I tagged this on at the end rather than lump it at the beginning with the author's note. Thanks for reading, if you got this far, and please consider leaving a review. They're like my catnip. Not that I'm a cat. I just - never mind.
Until next time! :)