Southport was a very small seaside town in the North West of England, consisting of a tiny area of countryside mixed in with a minute variety of mainstream shops, thrown into the town centre. During it’s heyday, Southport was considered a very popular holiday resort for the Victorians; they would spend their time strolling with parasols on the promenade with their sweethearts, playing in penny amusement arcades, paddling in the sea, basking in the sun, and eating candy rock whilst letting the tangy sea salt breeze caress their porcelain skin. Nowadays, it was mostly an area that was overlooked, perhaps because Liverpool city was not so far away — no doubtedly a much more exciting area for tourists to visit.
Despite the bleakness of the town, many could say it was more beautiful by far, with many lush parks, botanical gardens, and historical architecture in the shopping areas. In the summer, annual flower shows were held, and the air was heavy with the scent of both local and exotic floral arrangements, homemade fudge, coconut ice, and freshly mown grass.
Portside Academy was an all-girls school located on the border of Southport, where the sea breeze was at its strongest, and where on a fine, clear day, you could see the bright yellow sand dunes and the azure waves rolling in and out in the distance. Girls that attended the school would often dream of breaking free from the grounds and running into the surrounding green fields, just to escape from education for one moment, and feel the velvety sand beneath their toes and the warm sun on the back of their necks. It would be impossible to reach the dunes from the school grounds, because despite looking so painfully close, it was also so very excruciatingly far away, and would take days and days to travel to on foot.
Quite often it was very windy as the school was situated by the sea; girls that dared to run into the grounds on a day that they weren’t allowed outside would come back indoors with wild hair and streaming eyes, and the windmill that towered over the grounds would spin at a dizzyingly fast speed.
The school was surrounded by daisy-gemmed green fields that stretched for miles around in every direction, some of them golf courses, and then looming pine woods that trailed all the way into the neighbouring town, Formby. Usually, when the skies were a clear blue, and not a cloud was in sight, the students would be allowed to sit outside and picnic at lunch breaks, or play summer sports like tennis and badminton whilst their classmates cheered them on. It would be peaceful out there in the sunshine, except for when the bully-like seagulls flapped past and became more and more daring with their sandwich-stealing adventures.
September gave way to beautiful, mild weather and intensely sunny skies, much like an Indian summer. Many new children would be arriving in the following days to be welcomed earnestly to the premises. The year sevens, or first years, were considered a new start by some, fresh bait by others; namely girls in the older years, including year eights who were simply relieved to have the pressure taken off of them for being the youngest in the school, and year tens and year elevens who didn’t exactly mind getting themselves into trouble. Either way, the newcomers were thrilled to start — some more than others — and all had stomaches filled with butterflies.
The main hall was bustling with newcomers, and emotions were running high. Some were giggling and chatting amiably amongst themselves, some were silently weeping when the realisation hit them that Portside would be much harder to flourish in than primary school, and others were sticking close to their best friends, daring anyone to split them up and put them into separate classes. Girls everywhere clung to one another, hanging around in packs of two, three, four, or five. Art work of the older students lined all of the walls, and many stopped in awe to stare up at them and point out their older sisters’ works, or to feel intimidated by the competition facing the more creative students.
All wore old-fashioned, pastel blue dresses that fell down to slightly above or just below the knee, depending on how tall the girl was. They all had long sleeves in the same muslin cotton, including a slim strip of broderie anglaise lace, and had a slightly nautical design with sets of gold brass navy buttons down the pin-tucked bodice, and four silky white ribbons sewn tightly onto a big alabaster Peter-Pan collar. Straw hats were either held reluctantly on laps, or worn on the frigidly-held heads of the newcomers, not quite accustomed to wearing such frivolous items of clothing. Some people liked the uniform they wore, saying it made a nice change from the boring black jumper and grey skirt combination; others were wholly in favour of abolishing the froufrou concoction with a burning passion, claiming that it made them look like a silly row of ancient dolls that had lingered in grandma’s attic for donkeys years.
One eleven year-old girl hung back from the rest of the students. She wore the typical uniform with a certain grace, along with shiny black mary janes, black under-the-knee socks and sock suspenders that actually weren’t part of the uniform, but she had decided beforehand that she would wear them no matter what — after all, she was allowed to wear them at home, so why not at school? Her hair snaked down her back in one thick, single ginger braid that ended at the bottom of her waist. The girl had no bangs, but had a firm, tight parting that looked although it had been separated by a furiously determined mother. Her eyes were a wide, dusty aquamarine, and her eyelashes appeared short and stumpy in a colour to match her red hair. Freckles dotted across her nose and cheeks, and her ears stuck out maybe a little too much. Despite her slightly different appearance, she seemed sweet in a wide-eyed, innocent kind of way as she attempted to flatten her ears against her head.
All around her, girls squabbled, played, teased one another, and talked about the summer they had just had; she felt completely alienated from the rest of her peers. In her previous years, she had been home-schooled by her solicitor mother, and had never so much as set foot in a real school before. Because of this, she had little experience with making and maintaining friends, and the only person she knew attended this school was her older sister, two years ahead of her and already a social butterfly. The urge to escape from this jungle of a hall played on her mind, until an elderly head teacher slowly made her way onto the stage.
Everyone was suddenly silent little angels, sat delicately and gracefully in the seats laid out especially for them. The head teacher smiled knowingly. This was only an act of courtesy to give a good first impression. A few girls smirked impishly, and the teacher made a mental note to keep an eye on those individuals throughout the assembly. Others trembled uncontrollably in their seats, the nerves setting in already and it was only five past nine.
‘Ladies, first of all, can I just say we are all so very pleased to have you here. Welcome to our school — may you have a wonderful time in our premises, and a promising first day within the school. All the teachers, I know for a fact, are rather excited to meet you.’ She paused to beam around at all the children, a somewhat pitying look within her eyes as they fell on a few rowdy individuals. ‘It is such a joy for me to see so many happy, smiling faces this September. Have you all had an enjoyable summer?’
Cries of both “yes” and “no” echoed throughout the hall, causing everyone to snicker in childish amusement. These children had only just left the final year of primary school where they were the queens of the castle, to be dumped in a school filled to the brim of big girls, making it very clear that they were the babies of the school — so they certainly acted their tender age.
‘Excellent! So, teachers, could you please lead your forms into their respective form rooms? I shall be calling round the classrooms to see how you’re all settling in.’
Line by line, the girls filtered out of the assembly hall and trickled in separate directions. 7T descended the marble staircase closest to the entrance hall, up to their form tutor’s official classroom, which was situated in the humanities corridor. Skeletal models of the victims of the Holocaust that the elder girls had made in Art class lined the window ledge overlooking the smallish car park outside. The flag of Ghana swayed in the salty breeze just outside the window, alongside the flag of Great Britain. Students pointed in wonder, before one of the angels — a prefect employed to look after the newcomers in the first few months of high school — pointed out that Portside’s sister school was located in Ghana, as they had contributed to a charity not so long ago to found the Ghanaian school, for girls that were too poor to afford a decent education.
7K trailed in twos and threes along the maths corridor, down the music corridor (the school’s GCSE orchestra blasting jazz music from behind the door), and turned right to find themselves in the languages section of the school. Their form tutor was head of languages, and was fluent in five different languages; English, French, Spanish, German, Mandarin Chinese, and Russian. Along with Italian in the evenings, these were all the foreign languages you could choose to learn at Portside.
7N found themselves situated in the textiles room, along with a very kindly teacher that loved to sew and craft a lot of the time. You could find all her homemade kitsch decorations all over her classroom. Their classroom was specially on the ground floor, as a girl in a wheelchair was a member of that class. Already, she had volunteers to push her in her wheelchair, and run errands for her when she wasn’t feeling very well. A teacher’s assistant stayed by her side at all times, to look after her as well as the other first years.
Other girls were pleasantly surprised to know they were now a part of the English Literature and Language corridor, and gazed speculatively around at all the book quotes and posters of classical books tacked to the cream walls, each one wondering if their favourite book was mentioned at all.
The girl with auburn hair shyly followed her peers along the maths corridor, up the second marble staircase in the foyer, and down the second humanities corridor until they reached Miss Thompson’s History classroom. This was to be named 7L. Inside the bright and fresh classroom, she was pleased to find that the windows were huge and took up the whole of the west wall, overlooking the sand, sea and sky in the distance.
Once inside they were instructed by Miss Thompson to take any seat they wanted until she found the register order seat placements, which were to be delivered the following day. Friends from primary school naturally sat side by side, but the girl with freckles and red hair did not know anybody, so she sat at the back of the classroom in the seat that had the best view out of the window. Instead of focusing on the idle chatter between companions, she cast her gaze out into the scenery outside, until the form tutor awoke her from her daydreaming by calling her name from the register.
‘Evangeline?’ she said for the second time, in her nasally, brittle voice that made her sound like she had a permanent cold. ‘Evangeline Basset?’
‘Here,’ Evangeline said uncertainly, unsure if that was what she was supposed to say in a roll call, for she hadn’t been listening to the other people answer to their names.
‘Pay attention in future, okay,’ the young teacher instructed, taking on a slightly impatient tone, then went on to read out the rest of the names:
‘Margaret Baron?’Miss Thompson called, bringing Evangeline’s attention to a girl sat two rows ahead of her, on the other side of the classroom.
Margaret had shoulder-length straight blonde hair, and from her profile, Evangeline could tell she had grey-blue eyes and thin, rose-pink lips. The sun cast her hair different hues of white blonde and golden blonde, and whenever she moved her head even just a little bit, white specks of light danced on the wall opposite. Her face was fair just like her hair, and the teenage curse of acne had not yet touched the delicate peachy skin. She chewed anxiously on her lower lip, and uttered a quick, “here”.
The girl turned around sharply and offered a friendly smile for Evangeline, their eyes meeting for a fraction of a second before she turned back around to face the front. Evangeline gave a quick smile back, just in case she should miss it and deem her as a miserable sod. Underneath her dress, her heart beat rapidly. She had never had a school friend before, and by the looks of it, she was already well on her way — both their surnames began with a B!
As they were showed where to go, handed a low-quality black and white photocopy of the school map, and told to go downstairs to the locker room to find their new lockers, Evangeline could hardly listen, for her mind was completely focused on Margaret Baron. Her amiable smile was frozen in her mind, promising all sorts of things that may or may not become true, and the latter thought made Evangeline feel almost although her heart was going to snap in two. It was hard to find somebody to be with in a school full of strangers, and nobody was trying to fool her otherwise... Her mother had specifically told her the night before school: “you don’t have to go to Portside Academy if you don’t want to, dear… Just remember that I’m always here to teach you if you change your mind.”
Changing her mind would be classed as defeat, so the eleven year-old scoffed and remained calm, clenched her fists, and followed the crowd down into the foyer where she would find her new locker. By the looks of it, these lockers were bought new, for they were shiny and postbox red, whereas the other lockers she had seen were rusty, smelly, with paint peeling off and plastered in stickers of a film made years ago. Much to her amusement, the old lockers also contained things like “Janice wuz ‘ere. 2000-2001” written in white correction-fluid. Inside, she placed the tie-dye bag her mother had made for her, taking out her homework planner, a jotter, and a couple of black biros. Others were throwing hairbrushes, cosmetics, PE kits, and dictionaries inside, some combing their hair and others spraying perfume. Hesitating a little, she looked about her for onlookers, and took out a small picture of her sister and mother sitting together in their late grandma’s country home. Both were grinning widely, and looked like best of friends; something that was lost long ago in the Basset household.
When all the girls had met Miss Thompson back in the History room and sat down in the seats they had claimed earlier, the teacher told them to stand back up again. It was time for the first lesson. Reluctantly, they stood back up again, flung themselves from their seats like rag dolls, and traipsed downstairs for third period English. Their cheery demeanour from the main hall was just a facade; nobody was really looking forward to big school, it was just a place they had to go when primary school became much too juvenile for them. Only a select few girls wanted to grow up faster than their young bodies would let them — both mentally and physically — the rest wanted to remain in limbo of their childhood; dressing up as princesses, having tea parties with teddy bears, and not caring how well they did at school for their only ambition was to become a fairy princess when they grow up.
After getting lost by the leader of the pack a few times, five minutes later the girls arrived in the English block. All the newcomers waited at the door, chattering animatedly and waiting for the teacher to let them in. Mrs Howgego met them with the most welcoming look she could muster. She was old and haggard, but had gentle grey eyes and soft, snowy, wispy hair.
‘Good morning, class. I am Mrs Howgego; it’s very nice to meet you all,’ she said in a loud voice, so that the girls could hear over all their chattering. ‘Could you all line up against the back wall, so that I can sort you all out in alphabetical order?’
The girls dragged their feet backwards, resting their backs up against the wall and whispering more quietly. Again, friends clung to each other, not willing to be separated for more than a minute. First the As were brought to their places, Mrs Howgego taking each girl individually by the arm and leading them to sit down, and the blonde girl from before was sat in the middle of the row furthest away from the door. When the teacher reached Basset on the seating plan, Evangeline felt her chest grow tight as she was forced to sit next to Margaret.
Thankfully, the blonde shifted over in her seat to make room, and gave her another fleeting smile before flickering her eyes back down to the tabletop. Here, Evangeline had the opportunity to look at the girl more closely.
The yellow florescent lights overhead, Evangeline noticed, cast Margaret’s hair a slightly unpleasant gaudy gold colour, but the skin of her face, hands and neck remained a pure milky white. Her memory brought her back to her mother’s daily readings of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and how in the evenings when the solicitor read to her (they had no TV, only a wireless radio and books), she could imagine how maddeningly white the skin of Dracula’s next victim would be. This, no doubtedly, was what Margaret’s doll-like skin would from now on remind her of, no matter how slightly gothic and morbid it seemed.
Her eyelashes were long, soft brown curves, casting slight shadows against her rosy cheeks — another feature that reminded Evangeline of her mother’s old porcelain dolls from the Victorian era, salvaged from attics and charity shops — and her eyes were a wide, innocent blue with flecks of sea green and sky grey. Margaret’s lips appeared a smooth, shiny rose petal pink, and as her eyes were roving over the touchable features of the blond’s profile, those very same lips stretched into a big grin, showing off dazzlingly white, straight teeth.
‘So you like Harry Potter, too?’ Margaret asked, her tone light and friendly. ‘I see you’ve written it on your favourite books list.’
The list she was referring to was something that all the girls wishing to attend Portside had to fill out before arriving in September. It was entitled “All About Me”, and was made so that every student had something to talk about whilst making new friends because of the changing seating arrangements. Evangeline was suddenly very grateful for the booklet. Without it, she would have no idea what to say to the girl.
‘My name is Margaret,’ she unnecessarily continued, ‘and I know your name is Evangeline Basset?’
‘Yes,’ replied Evangeline quietly. Despite her voice being very soft and gentle — almost inaudibly so — it also had a deep tone to it, sounding almost like a boy. ‘It’s my favourite book… I’ve read the series six times already.’
Ambling home in the warm sunshine, Margaret was very happy indeed. She had made many new friends that day; Anne Walton and Madison “Maddy” Nightingale from the science classes they had shared, and best of all, Evangeline Basset from English class! Evangeline and Margaret had had a hushed conversation about the wizard world of Harry Potter all morning and most of lunchtime, continuing at the locker room, and finishing at the bridge where the pair went their separate ways.
There was another person at Portside Academy that had stood out to the girl’s attention, other than Evangeline, but she had been spotted in a fleeting moment whilst racing along the field to the English Block. In the few seconds that she had to take in the scene through the patio window, Margaret knew how much she would have liked to meet this particular girl. She was Chinese, perhaps, and sat far away from the other members of her class, bent over her illustrations. Those drawings interested her, reminding her of the clothes and cute girls lined up in a row that she liked to draw herself. However, they were in separate forms, and to try to strike up conversation with somebody unknown would be rather frightening for Margaret…
Back at primary school, Margaret had seldom made friends with the other children as she had found them rather difficult to get along with, and had only acquired a select group of companions in her last year of primary, most of them boys. It had been hard to talk to people back then — she was very shy — but today she had found a strange confidence had stolen over her, just like in the evening before, she had promised herself she would become more like Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series; smart, confident, and independent… This change of character worked very well for her, but how long could it last?
‘Good afternoon,’ Margaret beamed at her next-door neighbours, whom were out washing their sports car.
Usually, she wouldn’t even dare to look their way, in the remotest chance they would spark up a conversation with her, but the unusual bravado of a fictional character, plus the pride of finally being a “big girl at big school” gave her the confidence to speak to a stranger with the most cheerful demeanour she could manage. She knew her mother would be proud.
Another thing that had made her very jubilant today, was the fact that she was placed into the Red house at Portside. Actually… the colour was Burgundy, and the house was called Keller House, but to sound more interesting and magical, her new friend and herself likened it to Gryffindor, house of the brave. This had made her very bubbly and excited, and forgetting she was supposed to be a mature high school girl, she had jumped up and down at the time, clapping her hands and squealing. No matter what a good mood this had put her in, it was still rather disappointing that Evangeline and herself weren’t in the same house. Evangeline was in Curie house, and their colour was Yellow (which they had supposed could be for Hufflepuff), but it just didn’t have the same feeling of glee attached to it… In the end, they decided they didn’t really care if they weren’t together. The houses were just for assembly and prefects anyway.
Because her home was very close to the school, the girl would take her time revelling in the scenery and drinking in the radiant rays of the sun. The road was wide and very quiet for traffic, which made it one of the most peaceful places to live in Southport. Birds would sing and argue amongst themselves in the trees, an occasional bark of the neighbourhood St. Bernard could be heard, with a Chow Chow answering every now and again, men on the rugby field behind would whoop and cheer, disrupting the peace only for a few minutes, and sometimes, only sometimes, a car would come whizzing by, often at a much faster speed than would usually be accepted. Lovett Drive was a very peaceful place to be, which is why Margaret would usually take her time wandering aimlessly and daydreaming.
Occasionally she would stop to look up into the lush green treetops and try to find the bird’s nest within, or cast her gaze downward to seek out the dead starling that had been decaying for weeks now; something that always managed to fascinate Margaret in a dizzy, macabre kind of way.
Today, she was allowed a key to let herself into the house. Being a high school girl now, she had been allocated a certain responsibility with this key, unlocking the same “big girl” pride as before. She opened the two doors — the turquoise key was for the porch door, the purple key was for the front door with the stained glass — entered the open plan kitchen-dining room-living room, greeted her black cocker spaniel until he had quietened down, then let the silence of the building sink in. Deciding it was much too quiet for her liking, the girl switched on the flat screen TV and put on the first cartoon she could find, opened the French window for the sound of cheering in the background, and fussed her dog by rubbing his tummy.
As a way of congratulating herself for a day well done, she made herself a vanilla ice cream and lemonade float, then went to sit outside in the warmth until her mother and father returned. Already, a stack of homework weighed down the red tote bag she used for school, but Margaret wanted to wait to tell her mother about her day. Half an hour later they returned with the sister and brother from primary and nursery, and Margaret told them all about her day, her new friends, and Evangeline — perhaps the first person at school she had ever felt so attached to.
Everybody in the family noted how unusually enthusiastic Margaret seemed about school, and put it down to amiable teachers and nice, friendly girls from good families. What they didn’t know was that the vision of Evangeline with her incredibly long auburn hair, cute freckles and aquamarine eyes stayed in her mind all evening and night long as she wrote feverishly in her diary.
Equally, Evangeline had had the best possible outcome for the day imaginable. At first, she knew it would be horrible to go to a real school. A school with no mother. A school with other girls her age… But in actuality, she could count this as one of the best days of her life! It was certainly enjoyable to have somebody different to talk to (somebody that wasn’t her mother or elder sister) about something she adored. For most of her life, the Harry Potter series had been the bane of her existence. Every day after having Mathematics, Science and English Literature in the mornings, a choice of either French or German, and then a mixture of Art and History in the afternoons, Evangeline would choose to relax with one of the Harry Potter books.
Strangely, it was one of her habits to read a different book in a completely different room. The Philosopher’s Stone would be read in the front parlour by the fire, The Chamber of Secrets would typically be read in the second parlour, The Prisoner of Azkaban in her bedroom, The Goblet of Fire was enjoyed in the garden on a pleasant, sunshiny day, and once, she had engulfed herself in the world of The Order of the Phoenix whilst sitting on the bathroom floor! Many people in her family found that a little odd, but that was just what Evangeline liked to do.
Today was no exception. She would relax with a mug of rose hip tea and The Half-Blood Prince in her bedroom, for she had run out of new places to hide herself in.
Evangeline loved her family, really she did. Yet, at times she could find them hard to deal with… Her mother and father were separated (they had never truly been in love) yet had never divorced, meaning that her older sister and herself were almost always in a state of confusion.
The father was temperamental, impulsive, and very, very selfish. He was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder years and years ago, and seemed to use it to his advantage to explain his strange and irrational behaviour. Mr Basset kept well out of everybody's way unless he wanted to do some extraordinary, uncalled-for work to their house.
The man lived with a different family now, and Evangeline had hardly seen him since she was in nappies, but every so often he would come to visit — meaning that he wanted to make an adjustment to the house she lived in. Once he had some work done so that a strange statuette was molded right next to their garden wall (nobody had asked for it, and none of the Basset women had particularly known about or wanted it) and he had flown into a rage when they had enquired why on earth he’d required for it to be put there. For years now he has been promising to fix the roof, yet for some reason or another, never seems to get around to it, meaning that the old house was always freezing cold and smelt of damp, even in the middle of August.
Evangeline’s mother was a very kind-hearted and talkative woman. Like Evangeline, she had auburn hair and green-blue eyes, but that was about the only trait they shared. The woman was petite, about four foot eleven, and could manage a conversation for hours at a time, whereas Evangeline found it hard to say so much as a hello.
Her mother was very intelligent, devoting most of her time to the law, teaching Evangeline and her sister, or reading two to three books per week — most likely Shakespeare, Jane Austen, or some other timeless classic. She was also a very dogmatic church-goer, and really wanted Evangeline and her sister to share her religious values, even if they didn’t believe an utter word of it.
The elder sister’s name was Jemima and she was born two years and three months before Evangeline. Most days they would get along swimmingly and be the best of friends, after all, they only had each other for company — but on others, the pair were mortal enemies, getting themselves caught up in both physical and psychological warfare… Jemima was short and stocky, with thick horn-rimmed glasses and short straggly hair that she had dyed dark brunette to disguise the natural red tint of the Basset family. The girl usually hid away in her bedroom, talking to friends on the telephone and doing God-knows-what. It was rare that Evangeline would see her, and whenever she did, she simply wished she would retreat to her bedroom again and leave her alone. Just like her father, Jemima was capricious and forever changing her mind in how to treat her younger sibling.
Every single one of the Bassets were vegetarians and valued animal life high above everything else. Not once had a member of their family allowed themselves to put meat to their lips, and would rather go hungry and starve to death than know they were eating another creature that had once walked this planet. Many people found this odd, but the Bassets had many pets (five rabbits, two guinea pigs, two rats and six hamsters), therefore viewing the thought of eating an animal unbearable.
Now, she flung herself down on her bed, sending many teddies, sweet wrappers and books yet to be re-shelved flying in the process. Her bedchamber was constantly in a state of disarray, but that was the way she liked it. The room was a mixture between a Victorian lady’s boudoir, a building site, and a tweenager’s lair.
A huge, slightly disconcerting oil painting of a woman in a straw hat, probably painted in the Cubism era, was gilded in a golden frame and hung rather askew on the peeling wallpaper. Every night when poor Evangeline was a child, the painting would cause her terrible nightmares, and she would wake up crying in a cold, silky sheen of sweat. Now, she simply viewed the ghastly thing with distaste, and desperately wished her mother would allow her to replace it with something else. Anything else. Even a photo of a public toilet would do!
In the corner, a wooden ladder lead all the way up to the gaping hole in the ceiling. Sometimes the cries of baby jackdaws could be heard in the mornings, for they had been nesting there for four years in a row. Stacks of old furniture, other outdated paintings, newspapers from years ago, and pictures that Evangeline had drawn in her spare time littered the place. Dolls that Jemima and herself hadn’t played with for years were strewn across the floor, yet nobody had the time or patience to clean them up and donate them to charity.
Some time later, the sound of a key turning in the latch echoed throughout the house hold, sending Evangeline out of her wizard world and back into the dreary present. Sounds of Jemima and her mother’s return would usually send a dull chill down the back of her neck, but today she was rather looking forward to telling them about her day at school.
Racing down the staircase, she stopped just in front of Jemima. ‘How was violin practice?’
‘Oh, just the ordinary,’ Jemima replied stiffly, obviously still remembering the tiff they had exchanged the other day. Suddenly she grinned widely. ‘How was your first day of an all-girls school?’
A tremor ran down Evangeline’s spine. She knew how she loved to tease about that kind of thing, and for once she just hoped she wouldn’t do it in front of their mother...
Coolly, she gave the sister a neutral smile. ‘It was really good, thank you for asking, Jemima.’
‘Are you sure? You’re blushing, you know.’
‘Yes, I’m sure!’ Evangeline snapped, her patience running thin. ‘I’m going back up—’
‘Wait,’ her mother pleaded. ‘We’ve hardly seen you. Aren’t you going to tell us of your day? It’s not every day that a girl starts her first day of school at the age of eleven.’
As much as the girl had first wanted to tell her mother how fantastic her day had been, Jemima had ruined her good vibration. It seemed that her sister took a kind of malicious pleasure in bringing petty annoyance to Evangeline, and the slight stress and apprehension of the day had certainly taken its toll.
‘I don’t want to.’ She said firmly. ‘I’ll talk to you later, mum. I’ve got a lot of homework to do.’
Ms Basset and her eldest daughter watched resignedly as the youngest member of the household made her way back upstairs. By her side, two tiny hands were clenched into fists, and a few moments later they heard the door slam closed.
Evangeline was used to this kind of treatment by her older sister. Based on psychology, she could guess that Jemima liked to tease her about homosexuality because of something she wanted to keep secret herself… And the fact that she did those things in front of their mother made the problem ten times worse, especially as Ms Basset wasn’t the most open-minded of mothers.
Instead of doing the algebra homework like she had originally planned, the girl lay down on her bed and placed The Half-Blood Prince in an arc over her flaming face, pulled the covers up to her chin and closed her eyes, waiting for her mother to yell upstairs that dinner was ready.
A week later, it seemed the duo were inseparable. They spent all breaks, lunches, and some of the lessons together, giving one another the answers in the classes that the other girl struggled in (English and French for Evangeline, Chemistry, Physics and Maths for Margaret). Because the weather was pleasant, during lunches they would sit outside on the field and picnic, making daisy chains and talking of this and that. Some might say they had a little bubble and needn’t care to invite anybody else inside; and without knowing it they were a popular subject of conversation for the other girls who ate their lunch in form.
Margaret had never been in such an exclusive friendship before, and found that the way Evangeline was doting and hanging on her every word made her feel special. At school, she kept her mind on the school work, but at home, Evangeline was all she could think about. Repetitive thoughts of the silly little nothings they had shared buzzed about her mind as she attempted to focus more on her Biology homework and less on school friends.
One of the things she loved most about Evangeline was the fact that she was kind to all living creatures, big and small, two-legged or four-legged. The red-headed girl loved animals, and sometimes it was all she would talk about. In fact, it astounded Margaret when she first found out how many pets Evangeline owned. After all, she knew it would be a million years before her own mother would allow her to get more than one pet, no matter how much she begged and pleaded.
‘How many pets do you have, Evangeline?’ Margret asked one day, shyly twiddling a coil of blonde hair around her finger, and rubbing the grass stains off her knees. ‘I have two dogs. One lives in my home, and his name is Indy. The other one, Fraser, lives with my nana and granddad, but I count him as mine, too.’
‘I have…’ She paused for a minute to count on her fingers and think things through, ‘fifteen. Lets see… Five rabbits, two guinea pigs, two rats and six hamsters… Yes, that’s about it. I’d really like a dog, though. You’re so lucky!’
‘Fifteen… Seriously, fifteen? Goodness... Are you sure you counted them right?’
‘Fifteen, indeed,’ Evangeline retorted, a slightly smug smile curving her mouth up at the corners. ‘I love animals more than people.’
‘My mother says our house is too much of a zoo already, and we only have one dog. He’s not a big dog either, he’s only a cocker spaniel. We also have an Aberdeen terrier, but he lives at my nana’s house, so doesn’t bother her too much.’
It was one day in the middle of October that the girls of 7L found themselves queueing outside the music corridor (otherwise known as the ‘crush corridor’, as many a person found themselves pressed together and suffocated as they passed through. Rather a claustrophobic experience). Out of nowhere, a hollow, piercing shriek rang through the narrow room, causing everybody’s blood to run cold to the marrow, and stop and stare towards the source of terror.
A girl’s face was pale and stricken as she jabbed a frightened finger at something fast and black, something that attempted to scuttle out of the limelight, fearing that it would be squashed underneath somebody’s hefty school books. And squashed it would be, if Evangeline hadn’t stepped out of line to save it’s little life.
‘For God’s sake, it’s just a spider!’ she uttered darkly, a sort of venom in her voice. ‘Stop being such silly girls and grow up.’
Many girl’s faces twisted with disgust and slight fear as she attempted to hold out her hands into a cup shape and brush the fat little common spider inside. She would have succeeded if it weren’t for how fast it moved, and as the critter scuttled away with jerky, disjointed movements — it was missing a leg, perhaps from a past misadventure with another frightened schoolgirl — she gestured for Margaret to come closer and help her out. Usually Margaret was a little apprehensive of spiders (not as much as her younger brother, she was proud to admit) but because of the sheer awe and adoration of Evangeline’s bravery, she came forward to help without a drop of nervousness. Together, they managed to corner the poor arachnid that seemed to have a spot of stage-fright, capture it into Evangeline’s nimble hands, then bring it to the safety of the bushes outside.
The duo were rather austerely reprimanded by the information-technology teacher for being even the slightest bit late, but both remained in a happy bubble, knowing that they had done a good deed for the day — which made all the difference to the world. Evangeline, who took a slightly religious view on things, counted it towards her chances of going to Heaven, and Margaret, who had a Girl Guide sister, accepted it as an Act of Kindness, even if it was just to a common spider. Both remained in cheerful spirits, ignoring the slight alienation from the other girls who thought them rather strange.
It was around November, and just getting dark and frosty when the dreamy blonde girl sat contentedly at her desk, absentmindedly sketching down onto her paper, becoming absorbed in her own little world. She loved to daydream, just as much as she loved to draw. Right now she was thinking of beautiful clothes and all the things associated with them.
Lolita fashion was one of her major interests, and she had been completely enamoured with the frilly dresses and petticoats as soon as she laid eyes on the things! The fashion took inspiration from the Victorian and Rococo period of England and France, and sometimes could have a rather cute, kitsch feel to them, especially if they were designed with the 50s in mind. Margaret fell in love with the dresses because of the poignant connection between history and clothes. It was like wearing a story from years ago, and every dress, every skirt, every blouse, told its tale.
Often she would sit at her desk and doodle the clothes she liked from the internet. Typically, these clothes were made in Japan, cost a fortune to buy as well as ship, and were all made in teeny, tiny sizes that she imagined wouldn’t fit even her own petite form… So, instead of buying and wearing them like she would in her dreams, she illustrated herself wearing them; sometimes designs from the notorious and famous lolita brands, sometimes little designs she had whipped up herself.
Secretly, she imagined how Evangeline would appear wearing these beautiful, froufrou co-ordinations. Sometimes, when she knew for certain that nobody would go snooping about and thinking up strange thoughts, she would take out her fine-liners and marker pens, then draw herself and Evangeline wearing the most gorgeous, princess-like dresses and accessories she could either find or dream up. Whenever her friend asked Margaret to draw pictures for her to hang up in her room (or just whenever she was thinking of Evangeline and feeling generous) she would just draw the red-head in her usual clothes; apparently she only wore all black in the winter months, and all white in the summer months, making her look rather ninja-like in appearance, a thought that always amused and appealed to Margaret, a well-known ninja lover.
The idea of Evangeline in these clothes thrilled her, and made her heart flutter slightly at the thought of having someone to dress up with and go out for strolls in the Botanical gardens like posh Victorian ladies.
She had the perfect day planned for the two, complete with where they would go, precisely what they would eat, and exactly what they would wear.
First of all, the two would arise bright and early and get dressed into their finest; a forest green pinafore dress with rose print and white Peter-Pan collar, an olive, wide-brimmed hat with roses to match, and a long-sleeved off-white blouse for Evangeline, for green was truly a colour that complimented fiery hair and empathised aqua eyes. For herself, either a navy blue, flocky star print pinafore with a huge bow on the chest, trimmed with matching white starry lace — exactly like a romanticised view of the night sky — a complimenting hair bow in the same fabric, and a capped-sleeve blouse in white chiffon… or an entirely white ensemble, reminding the girl of an angel. It would have long, bell-shaped sleeves like something Marie Antoinette would wear, and a large, cupcake-shaped poofy skirt, complete with lots of lace (but not too much as to throw off the composition of course), ribbons, pearls and other embellishments, almost like a wedding dress a princess in the 18th or 19th century would wear.
Together, they would set off for the Botanical gardens and walk arm-in-arm, watching as other strolling couples passed by, equally as dressed-up and fancy in their finery, but not as fancy or as refined as them, you see. In her dizzy head, this would all have taken place in the Victorian days, for they had been the creators of a time machine to go back in history and enjoy each others company then, where the focus was on elegance and manners.
Well, they would take in the scenery, stop to smell the soft, powdery perfume of pansies and English roses, point at funnily-shaped clouds, look out for different types of unusual plants in the old greenhouse (Evangeline was interested in Botany), play on the swings, then eventually stop to sit by the weeping willow-strewn lake. It was there that they would smile peacefully at each other, away from all the hustle and bustle of the modern-day world, and Evangeline would put her head on Margaret’s lap as she read their favourite book together, Margaret narrating in many different voices that she really couldn’t use in reality, for fear of sounding silly. After sitting in the early morning sunshine to read for a bit, they would stand and straighten the creases from their dresses, adjust their hat pins, then approach closer to the lake in order to feed the many ducks and ducklings that lived there.
The ducks, elegant swans, and tiny, fluffy ducklings would duck between the water lilies, and splash and kick their little webbed feet until they were close enough to gobble up the morsels of bread they had left for them. A little while later, when the birds were on the other side of the bank, they would go for a saunter in the park museum.
The museum held many weird and wonderful artifacts; a knight’s armour at the bottom of a flight of stairs (that Margaret had heard from her mother that Uncle James, her brother, tripped down the stairs when he was ten years old, and sent the whole display crashing down), model trains, very old children’s toys, dolls houses that they longed to play with, creepy taxidermy birds, rotting, yellowing wedding dresses, and strange little works of art, such as porcelain dancing ladies and rather rude, nude paintings.
After that, they would step outside into the blinding sunshine and purchase huge waffle ice creams from the nearby stall to take into the aviary to eat whilst viewing the peacocks and canaries in captivity — a strange sight after being eye-to-glassy-eye with the stuffed avian creatures.
Next, it would be a little bit sad to leave the park when they had had so much fun, but then, they would have a little walk in the village nearby. The village was called Churchtown, and had many grave yards, religious buildings, and tiny, old-fashioned village shops, all set with cobblestone paths and Victorian street lamps. By now it would be a little past lunchtime, so the duo would step into the nearby tearoom for a spot of tea and cake. The cake from Claude’s was the best in all of Southport, and just the thought of the Easter chocolate gateau made Margaret’s mouth begin to water. Seeing as there were no adults around to scold and say no, they would order as much cake and as much tea as they liked, stuffing themselves to the brim with eclairs, custard cakes, Danish pastries, chocolate gateau, strawberry shortcake, fruit tarts, jam tarts (heart shaped in honour of the Queen of Hearts) and macaroons. It would all be washed down with a huge teapot of Earl Grey, infused with rose and lavender petals. All this food would be enough to make even a person with the healthiest appetite feel nauseous, but as it was merely a dream, anything goes.
Back at home, Margaret and Evangeline would potter about, sometimes drawing, sometimes gardening, other days hosting tea parties of two in the gardens (sometimes fictional characters were invited if they were feeling particularly sociable), and almost everyday reading their favourite books in the peace and tranquillity of the garden. Every evening, when the night sky was clear and bright with frosted diamonds, they would take out Margaret’s father’s telescope and stargaze together, trying to find their favourite constellations and point them out to one another.
Never again would they step back into that time machine and return to the future. The future was a terrible, awful, horrifying idea in this world of leisure time and peace and quiet. All of this romantic fantasy took place in Margaret’s brain, of course, but that certainly didn’t stop her from trying to brainstorm ideas for how to build a time machine. And the fact that even the most intelligent people on the planet had failed to build such a thing didn’t dampen her spirits.
By March, everybody knew it would take a lot to prise these two girls away from one another. It seemed they were joined at the hip, stuck together with super glue, or simply reluctant to spend their time with anybody but each other. In a way, they had completely alienated themselves from the rest of the young women in their school, as now they had their own “secret” meeting place.
The two liked to imagine it was secret, but in actuality it was all out in the open, the rendezvous taking place in the corner of the design-technology corridor, where the wall leading into the second cookery room hid them from view. Occasionally a teacher on patrol would find them and tell them rather sternly to stop hanging around corners like uncouth ruffians, but the more mild subspecies of teacher let them be, deciding that what they were doing was truly innocent childishness. Besides, with the angelic faces these two children possessed, it was obvious they weren’t there to sell illegal drugs, beat people up, or generally spread mischief across the land. Even if they did get scolded from time to time, it really didn’t stop them from meeting up in the design-technology corridor again and again.
In their place of semi-tranquillity, Margaret and Evangeline would sit cross-legged on the floor and do their homework from the lesson they had endured beforehand. Because both were unfortunately not at all used to the mountains of homework dished out each week day of high school, it had come as rather a big shock in September, but by now they were getting used to it.
Despite being an entire head and shoulders above everyone else at English and French, Margaret was absolutely hopeless at Maths, and every Math homework she would get was gratefully exchanged for Evangeline’s French homework worksheets. Sometimes, when Margaret was perplexed by algebra, fractions or angles, her friend would force her through another lesson of Maths, with Evangeline as the teacher. These sessions were always well appreciated, for although Mathematics caused Margaret to suffer intensely, her red-headed friend was rather gifted at explaining things to her in a clear, precise manner; almost as good as the teacher himself.
On other days, where the thought of extra education was almost too much to bear, the duo would simply make idle chatter, doodle in the back of their homework diaries, or write stories together. The subject matter of these stories were mostly to do with Harry Potter (with a rather out-of-character Lucius Malfoy as the main antagonist), but sometimes they would write stories about themselves and their other classmates, or design themselves a world on paper where everything was sweet and perfect — and this was sometimes a world made only of candies and chocolates!
It was on this day that the subject of Mathematics was rather a touchy subject. The two girls were sat side-by-side, yet refused to make conversation or so much as look at each other. One wore an expression of smug, I-told-you-so, and the other remained completely stoical — always one to keep her sangfroid. Anybody who just happened to be walking past might assume there had been some sort of fall out between the pair, and to be honest, they weren’t far from the truth. No homework was being done, no silly stories or fan fictions were being written, and not even Margaret was scribbling down ideas in the back of her diary. There had been a moment of coolness between the girls, and both were much too proud to admit it.
What had happened was — and onlookers had to admit it was foolish — they had had a disagreement about whether or not to inform the teacher of the correction-fluid in Evangeline’s mouth. Both were rather shy and timid, and the thought of talking to a teacher (nonetheless about something as embarrassing as correction-fluid gone awry) was undoubtedly, enough to bring a beetroot red flush to both of their cheeks.
Evangeline, you see, couldn’t speak because of the extremely bitter-tasting, seemingly toxic liquid in her mouth — and Margaret, the more meek and mild of the two, was too frightened of speaking in front of the class to put up her hand and ask if her friend could go to the bathroom. Despite being shy, her arm flew into the air as soon as she saw Evangeline with cheeks like a hamster at lunchtime, a white paint-like substance running out of the corners of her mouth, the alarmed, perplexed expression on her face, and the burst pen of correction-fluid smiling up at her smugly. She saw it as a challenge. A friend in need is a friend indeed. So, why sit there in silence when she could prove to everyone that she was no shrinking violet when it came to a friend in danger of correction-fluid poisoning?
‘Yes, Margaret?’ the surprised teacher had asked, somewhat amused. He was certain he had never heard her voice before, in the seven months he’d been teaching her. ‘How may I help you? Are you stuck?’
‘Evangeline’s got correction-fluid in her mouth,’ she said rather brashly, blushing deep pink to the roots of her hair.
A roaring laughter coursed through the classroom, that just so happened to sound more like a zoo or a mental institution than a classroom. Everybody turned around to gawk at the pair, some looking amused, and others deeply confused, wondering if that was really what Margaret had said. It had just sounded so strange. Out of the ordinary. Not something you’d hear everyday, especially from one who has never so much as breathed a word in this particular class!
‘Excuse me?’ he said, grinning a little. ‘I don’t understand what you mean, Margaret.’
‘I said, sir, “Evangeline’s got correction-fluid in her mouth”. Please may she go to the bathroom to spit it out?’
Again, everybody guffawed. Their hypothesis that Evangeline Basset and Margaret Baron were oddballs had been proved to be correct. Even the very understanding teacher had expressed his amazement and disbelief.
‘Well, go on then, Evangeline... Just hurry back. We’ve got a lot of questions to get through.’
When the poor, humiliated girl had left the room, and he had told Margaret (equally as shamed) to go after her and see if she was okay, the class, teacher included, had erupted into hysterics. As the bathroom was very nearby, the two could hear everybody laughing at them, and this was what had caused the momentary disagreement. And the fact that Margaret had dared to express how proud she was of herself for speaking out in class just deepened the upset of Evangeline further.
‘You’ve really embarrassed me, Margaret! How could you!’
Momentarily, mixed hurt and confusion flickered across the blonde’s features, before settling on a pout. ‘What do you mean, Angie? I saved you.’
In her childish, day-dreaming state of mind, she had rescued her friend from being poisoned to death in the middle of finding the solution to x=y+4. She was a hero, and it stung that Evangeline wouldn’t acknowledge her saviour for her brave, rapid action. Besides, the fact that she had resorted to using her vocal cords in a lesson and Evangeline wasn’t congratulating her was rather a nasty shock.
‘Saved me? Really now. Do I need saving?’ Evangeline retorted, yet her voice was devoid of the poison it had possessed before.
A wave of guilt had washed over her as the wide-eyed, innocent blue gaze stared up at the wall behind her. The girl wasn’t actually shedding any tears, but one could tell they were not so far away at the moment. Her lower lip was wavering, so she bit down on it so hard that tiny ruby droplets of blood began to form beneath her teeth.
‘Yes, really. You could have been poisoned, and I don’t want you to die,’ she said after a few moments of battling back raw emotion. Her voice was hardly above a whisper, and sounded choked and terse.
The bell shrilled out to mark the end of the lesson. Both jumped. Chairs scraped, and the sounds of chattering filed out into Portside Academy’s many corridors, sounding like a heard of elephants about to go down to the watering hole.
Evangeline looked at Margaret. Margaret looked at Evangeline. They both looked away, mortified by what they had seen in each other’s expression. Margaret dared to look back, and flushed all over. Finally, Evangeline brought herself to meet her gaze one more time.
‘I’m sorry for being short-tempered with you.’ She said, regretfully stubbing her shoe against the floor. ‘I was just rather humiliated, and would rather have waited out until the end of the lesson…’
‘That’s okay,’ her friend replied amiably, her watery eyes now devoid of tears.
‘I know you were just trying to help.’
‘So, do you want to go out on the field for a change? We haven’t done that for a while, and I’m sick of maths right now.’ Margaret offered, forcing her wobbly legs into a standing position that wasn’t pigeon-toed and brushing the imaginary dust from off her skirt.
The inseparable duo took off for the daisy-encrusted lawn, putting the brief argument behind them and forgetting all about the people who had laughed. There, they scribbled graffiti in the back of their maths books (not quite daring enough to draw on the cover) and wrote not-completely-serious plans for world domination, all whilst picking at blades of grass and slipping the tiny flowers behind their ears and into their hair.
It was nice to have a good friend that she could share everything with, but some days she worried that this particular friend would cease to be around for whatever reason. Either Evangeline would find someone else to spend her time with, growing bored of Margaret’s constant monotoning of her obsessive interests, or something much, much worse — the girl had the sneaking suspicion that the Evangeline would die someday, leaving her all on her own… Nobody knew why it was that Margaret unconsciously had the idea of death rooted so firmly in her mind. Some thought it was paranoia. Others thought it was because she had never had true friends before.
Yet what not one person, excluding Margaret, knew that Evangeline scarcely ate anything; she skipped breakfast, threw away her lunch (either feeding it to the birds, dumping it in the bin on the way to school, or giving her cakes and sweets to Margaret), only nibbled tentatively at her snack at break, and only God knows what she ate for tea when she got home. Probably nothing. Slowly, slowly, she was wasting away, and had been long before she had met her first friend. By now, she was one of the skinniest people in 7L, but wore huge, baggy jumpers that disguised her body so that nobody would notice.
This worried Margaret, but whenever she brought the subject up Evangeline would dismiss her phlegmatically and change the subject to something she knew was more entertaining for her friend. Being naive, the girl would always believe her, and soon never brought it up again. Although, in the early days, sometimes the nagging doubt would come back to sit on her shoulder, and like an itch she just couldn’t scratch, she would ask again and again, repeating all her questions until she was completely and utterly satisfied. But it would come back. She would grow anxious. Ask again. And again. Again. Once more. Her constant policeman-style interrogation vexed Evangeline rather a lot, although she never showed it in the slightest, keeping her feelings of annoyance and exasperation well hidden.
The thought of telling someone constantly played on Margaret’s mind. It was especially significant that she wanted to tell Evangeline’s mother of the impending danger her daughter was putting herself in. If the safety of a beloved friend was at stake, she would do anything, even if she was too shy to speak to an adult. However, she knew so well that it would upset Evangeline if she dared to breathe a word of it to anyone, especially her friend’s overly-protective mother! Telling somebody would hurt Evangeline (and Margaret would rather die than do that!), it would certainly hurt Ms Basset, and somewhat, deep down, she knew it would backfire and damage herself almost as much as everyone else… To lose Evangeline would be to lose everything, and desperately, desperately, the girl clung to the memories they shared, praying that nothing could take them or Evangeline away.