Please sit back and enjoy Part 1 of Back to School. I will try and post the other parts each day until we're done.
The imposing exterior of the famed 'Hellborne' Academy.
Gail Hetherington alighted from the cab, allowed the driver to drop her bags next to her, looked up at the imposing façade of Wellborne’s Finishing Academy for Ladies of Quality, tugged her skirt into place, took a deep breath and pressed the doorbell.
Gail was in her early thirties and a highly successful businesswoman with a senior executive position for a large multinational corporation. She was happily married and considered intelligent and attractive. Why was she waiting nervously in the gathering gloom outside a finishing academy?
The attractive blonde woman had attended an old fashioned girl’s school not unlike Wellborne. She had done well, graduating close to the top of her class. She had been popular with classmates and staff alike, she was one of the school’s leading athletes and been involved in many extra curricular activities: plays, the debating club and various charity fund raisers. She applied a similar sort of zeal to everything she did and then a year ago she hit a peak.
She couldn’t move any further up the corporate ladder at her current company, and while she could get another job she was also considering starting a family, and companies were leery of hiring a woman with aspirations to have children for an executive role which required long hours and lots of travel.
Gail didn’t like to use the word depression to describe her mental state and even the mental health professionals she had seen for her condition didn’t say it was exactly what was causing her problems.
She had developed a longing to go back to her schooldays. Everything had seemed so much simpler then. She had structure and routine, she knew exactly how far she could go and what she could achieve and her boundaries seemed limitless.
Unlike many who attended her old fashioned boarding school, or others like it, Gail loved the atmosphere. She actually loved everything about school. The lessons, the sports, her friends, staying up after lights out to talk about boys or the dreamy new English teacher, the celebrations after a win over a rival school or house in a sports event.
She even liked the discipline she thought with a little thrill. It wasn’t fun when it happened. Being confined to the dorm or having to write lines was not enjoyable, but there was the rush of adrenalin when you did something wrong and got caught. The pounding of your heart and the racing of the pulse as the headmistress lit into you with one of her world famous scoldings. Gail never got more than a smack or two from one of the sports mistresses, but Matron’s slipper was spoken about in hushed tones and one of her friends claimed to have actually seen a cane in the headmistress’ office.
It was a work mate who brought Wellborne to her attention. The other woman had been browsing the internet during a train journey for business reasons and stumbled across a news article about the school.
“Gail, have a look at this,” she had said. “There are grown women paying to go back to school at some placed called Wellborne’s Finishing Academy for Ladies of Quality. Can you imagine? Paying to go to school? I couldn’t wait to leave the place!”
Her heart racing, Gail had quickly scanned the article on her colleague’s iPad and then mentally filed the information so that she could investigate more fully in the privacy of her hotel room.
The article in the paper linked to Wellborne’s website. It was well presented and very professionally set up. Gail had fired off an email requesting more information and this had led to the school’s catalogue arriving not that long after in the mail.
Her friends who knew about her yearning, and even her husband, thought she was mad for spending two weeks of her carefully hoarded and valuable vacation time attending a school for adult women who wanted to play at being teenagers again.
Gail’s husband, while he didn’t quite understand his wife’s desire, was still supportive of her decision. Largely because she had been hell to live with of late and not the women he had married. Her marriage was in very real danger of breaking up and if this was what it took to make her happy then he was all for it.
Gail herself had mixed feelings about what she was doing. It wasn’t the money, although the place was not cheap, she could afford that. It was the question of would it live up to what she had read in the catalogue?
On the face of it, it sounded absolutely perfect. It was so like her old school that it made her heart ache with a very real sense of loss, but would it be the same? It was over a decade since she attended school; the other women at Wellborne were likely to be of a similar vintage. Would it be the same? Would they want to have late night feasts and talk about boys? They mentioned sports, but was she still the same shape as she had been in her teen years? There were so many questions whirling around in her head, but the only way to get answers was to try. Had she built the memories up in her head to be more than they really were? Could anything now live up to them?
The door swung open and Gail was looking into the face of a pretty brunette similar in age to herself. The other woman wore an immaculate Wellborne school uniform and a smile.
“Welcome to Wellborne,” she beamed. “I’m Emily. You must be Gail.”
“Ummm…yes,” Gail stumbled. “Hi.”
“Come in,” Emily invited, standing aside.
“My cases?” Gail asked, looking at them still sitting on the doorstep.
“Oh don’t worry about it,” Emily said airily. “I’ll have one of the other girls take them to your room later. You’re a little late,” she said sternly.
“Ahh yes there was a mix up with the trains, and…” Gail faltered.
“Never mind that,” Emily said briskly. “You’re here now and that’s what matters. Now come along and I’ll introduce you to your roommates.”
Gail followed Emily through the mansion and tried to keep pace with the other lady as she pointed out pertinent information, only asking as they ascended the staircase, “Questions?”
“Uhhhh…no…” Gail answered, her head whirling.
Emily sighed, she stopped a few steps above Gail, put a hand on her hip and regarded the upwardly mobile blonde career woman. “Not one question, despite the fact that you arrived late and missed the induction all the other girls attended? I notice you’re also not wearing the uniform and you haven’t addressed me as ma’am.”
Ma’am? The thought whirled through Gail’s head. Emily was a teacher? She was wearing school uniform though and she also hadn’t known she was supposed to be dressed in uniform on arrival. “Ma’am? But, I… you’re…”
Emily pointed to a shiny brass badge on her spotless lapel. “You may not have seen it, but I am Head Girl. That affords me a certain level of respect, I am sure you will agree.”
“Ummm…yes…ma’am,” Gail said lamely.
Emily shook her head in dismay. “You’re in a room with two other girls.”
Gail was wishing she had read the literature the school had provided her with more keenly when her application had been accepted, but she’d been working on a project with an aggressive timeline and she had to get a lot of things signed off before she went on leave. She may have known about turning up in uniform and calling Emily ma’am if she had. She had however read enough to know that the rooms generally held four girls, not three as Emily was telling her.
“Two other girls ma’am?” she queried. “I thought it was four girls to a room.”
“Normally it is, but we had a late cancellation and as you were late, you got that room. You may think that allows you some latitude, but it doesn’t. My room is right next to yours, so if there’s any hanky panky I’ll be in there with a slipper quicker than you can say knife.”
Gail frowned. A slipper? The head girl was allowed to spank them? This had to be a bit of a joke. Maybe this was some sort of hazing ritual.
Emily stopped at a door, knocked peremptorily and before it could be answered threw the door open, announcing, “And for the rest of the term this will be home sweet home.”
Gail stepped into the doorway and saw two girls sprawled on their beds, looking up expectantly. One was wearing a disheveled Wellborne uniform. Her blazer across a chair and her blouse untucked, she was a petite blonde. The other had changed out of her uniform into jeans and a sweater, she had reddish brown hair and looked to be in her late twenties.
“Gail Hetherington meet Annabelle Masters and Phoebe Smythe-Jones, your roommates and classmates. Lights out in 2 hours girls and you had better be tucked up in bed half an hour before or you’ll be sleeping on your tummies,” Emily warned, before shutting the door firmly behind her.
“Oh God she’s a cow!” Phoebe said hotly, and then to Annabelle. “How did you grow up with her and not smother her in her sleep?”
Annabelle laughed, “She’s not that bad, Feebs.”
“She’s horrid!” Phoebe argued. “Welcome to Hellborne. What got you landed here?”
“Landed?” Gail asked. “I applied.”
“Oh Gawd!” Phoebe exclaimed, popping her gum. “You’re one of them!”
Gail looked rather confused.
“Oh don’t mind Feebs,” Annabelle said lightly, her brown eyes sparkling. “She’s just upset she had to miss two weeks of her summer hols to come here.”
“You live with Emily?” Gail asked, trying to get to the meaning of the little blonde’s earlier comment.
“She’s my sister,” Annabelle confessed with a gentle blush.
“Oh!” Gail said with a flush of her own. “What did you mean about me being one of them?”
“Sorry,” Phoebe apologized. “I have a tendency to say whatever is on my mind. Neither Belle or I are here voluntarily.”
“Speak for yourself!” Annabelle told the other girl.
“Are you saying you want to be here?” Phoebe demanded, her blue eyes challenging.
“Well not really,” Annabelle admitted reluctantly.
“I’m confused,” Gail said, sinking onto an unoccupied bed.
Phoebe was about to explain when there was a gentle knock on the door. “I hope that’s not Emily,” she said as she got up to answer it.
Annabelle wrinkled her cute nose. “It won’t be. That’s not her knock and besides she wouldn’t wait for you to answer it.”
The strawberry blonde was correct. It was another girl with Gail’s suitcases. Gail thanked her and hauled them inside.
“Louis Vuitton,” Phoebe said, looking at the luggage. “Are they real or knock offs?”
“The real thing,” Gail answered, opening one and removing her Wellborne uniform to hang it up so that it would air and be fresh for the first day of classes tomorrow.
“So you must do okay,” Phoebe assumed. “Either that or you married wealth.”
“I’m a senior executive,” Gail said.
“Single career woman?”
“So why are you here?”
“I liked school,” Gail confessed. “I thought it would be a nice way to relive a fond time in my life.”
“You are one of them,” Phoebe sighed. “Maybe Belle and I can corrupt you,” she suggested with a wicked grin.
“If neither of you want to be here how did it happen?” Gail asked again. “It’s not like the fees are cheap.”
“I’m here because of Emily,” Annabelle said, laying back on her bed and staring at the featureless ceiling. “She insisted on coming here last year and I went as a bit of a lark. That was how she became head girl, the headmistress liked her.”
“That’s because she sucks up to the old bat,” Phoebe gave her opinion.
“There is that,” Annabelle agreed. “It doesn’t hurt that Daddy is a trustee. I didn’t want to come back, but Em’ kicked up an almighty stink and Daddy ordered me.”
Gail blinked, Annabelle had to be at least twenty five years old. “Your father told you to come here because your sister threw a tantrum?”
“When you say it like that it sounds silly,” Annabelle pouted. “Daddy said he wouldn’t buy the pretty little Fiat I had my eye on if I didn’t.”
Gail was starting to understand that her roommates came from privileged wealth and their parents paid for their lifestyles even though they were both grown women. She’d met their like at school. In some ways she, being a driven over achiever from a more modest background, was a perfect match for them. This fortnight could be a lot of fun.
“You want to hear my tale of woe?” Phoebe asked.
“Oh yes, please!” Gail answered eagerly, sitting forward on the bed, chin cupped in one hand.
“I got busted shop lifting…”
“Shop lifting?” Gail queried.
“Yeah,” Phoebe confirmed. “I don’t have to do it, it’s just fun, and they were only little things.”
“Your Dad wasn’t happy, though,” Annabelle said.
“No,” Phoebe said glumly. “He and Mummy hit the roof. They didn’t want it to go to court, so they ordered me here.”
“They could do that?” Gail asked. “Didn’t the shopkeeper want to press charges?”
“Daddy paid him off and because he’s a high court judge it got hushed up.”
“You wouldn’t have got much of a sentence if they were only little things,” Gail pointed out.
“Yeah,” Phoebe agreed. “I probably would have gotten some ASBO or something, but Daddy threatened to cut off my allowance, it’s only two weeks. I can survive that, I guess.”
Annabelle looked at the clock and said, “It’s half an hour before lights out, we should get into bed.”
“Oh you have got to be kidding,” Phoebe replied, rolling her eyes. “This is about what time I think about going out for the night usually.”
“Emily was serious about that?” Gail asked Annabelle.
“Oh yeah,” Annabelle sighed. “She loves this stuff. She was a prefect last year and whining about being head girl ever since.”
“How is that chosen?” Gail asked, with genuine interest.
“All the prefects this year were students last year,” Annabelle explained. “Daddy paid extra so that Em’ would be head girl, though.”
“Why aren’t you a prefect, then?” Gail asked. “You were here last year.”
“According to Em’ I was far from a model student,” Annabelle said, shaking her head and getting into her nightdress. She was wearing a racy scarlet number which Gail was certain would cause comment if it were seen by the likes of her older sister.
The well born redhead had just slipped under the covers when they heard Emily’s hard quick knock and the door opened before either Gail or Phoebe had the chance to answer.
“Why aren’t you two under the covers?” the brunette snapped.
“It’s still fifteen minutes to lights out,” Phoebe pointed out.
Emily’s eyes flashed. “Do you want to go to bed with a hot bottom and a washed out mouth, young lady?” she demanded.
“No ma’am,” Phoebe sighed.
“Then watch your mouth, miss,” Emily advised.
“You both have appointments with Miss Hardacre tomorrow morning before assembly, so you would be best advised to get what sleep you can. You’ll be woken early and I expect you to be properly attired at breakfast.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Gail and Phoebe chorused and began to get their night things out. Emily waited while the girls changed and stayed there until they were in bed. “Lights out, ten minutes,” she snapped as she turned on her heel and left the room, calling over her shoulder.” I do not want to hear a peep out of here once the lights go out, ladies.”
“You’ve got a meeting with old CH?” Phoebe whispered.
“Yes,” Gail answered in a whisper of her own. “She would have met with me earlier, but I got here late, so it was rescheduled to tomorrow morning. Why do you call her CH?”
Annabelle laughed and supplied, “It stands for cane hard. That’s her nickname.”
“Does she?” Gail asked curiously.
“Does she what?” Annabelle asked.
“I didn’t get caned last year,” Annabelle answered primly. “The girls that did said yes and it was ever so dreadful.”
“Thanks Belle,” Phoebe said sarcastically. “I really needed to hear that.”
“Sorry,” Annabelle said softly.
“Why are you seeing her?” Gail asked. “You made the meeting earlier, didn’t you?”
“Remember what I said got me here in the first place?” the girl asked.
“Well, Daddy suggested to Hardarse,” she ignored Annabelle’s scandalized gasp of, “Feebs!” and continued. “That a touch of the cane wouldn’t go astray. So I’m scheduled for a beating tomorrow morning. I can tell life here at Hellborne is just going to be a barrel of laughs.”
As the blonde finished her explanation the lights clicked abruptly off and the room fell silent.