“Behaviour of this sort is simply not acceptable at Langleys!”
Jessica glanced at her mother who was staring intently at Mr Hunter, the Head Teacher, her face a mixture of desperation and fury.
“Mr Hunter,” she started, the control in her voice palpable, “I appreciate that what Jessica did was both dangerous and-”
“Mrs Bream,” he cut her off, “your daughter brought a weapon onto school premises and threatened another pupil with it!” His tone was incredulous and angry.
Jessica watched a vein pulse in his neck. It bulged every time he spoke.
“I know that, but-”
“Mrs Bream,” he cut her off again, smiling strainedly in an attempt to calm the situation. He had noticed Angela Bream’s jaw clenching and knew from the way she was gripping her chair – with such ferocity that her knuckles had turned white – that he was about five sentences away from facing the full wrath of her temper. They’d been here before, with her sitting in that same chair in fact, and the verbal dressing down she’d given him on that occasion had left him mentally cowering for days afterwards.
“Yes, Mr Hunter,” she seethed the words, and Jessica was reminded of steam escaping from a pan left boiling for too long.
“I am sure you will understand that I have a duty to protect all of my pupils.”
“Are you saying my daughter is a danger to the other students?” This time Angela had cut him off. “I don’t recall you saying that when Marie Rayner was terrorising my child!”
As calmly as he could, Mr Hunter met Angela’s gaze. Hold your nerve, Gerrard. It’s not your fault it has come to this. He was blinking quickly – something he did automatically when under pressure – and thought back to the meeting that Mrs Bream was referring to when he’d faced both her and her husband. Both of them had practically begged him to do something about their daughter being bullied, but there’d been no evidence and no witnesses to the events which they and their daughter claimed to have happened. He couldn’t control what pupils did whilst away from school premises. His hands were tied.
“The reasons behind our previous meetings in connection with Miss Rayner were,” he paused, searching for the right word, “unfortunate.”
Angela rolled her eyes.
“But the issue at hand today is that Jessica brought a knife into school, seemingly with the intention of using it to threaten Miss Rayner. I have half a mind to contact the Police!”
Angela’s eyes narrowed to slits. You dare. Go on! You dare!
“But I won’t,” he added quickly as Jessica tried to control the wave of panic that had started to crash over her. “However,” he folded his hands and stared at his intertwined fingers, his voice lowered now as though he were a Judge passing sentence, “I have no alternative but to suspend your daughter from school until this matter is resolved.”
“Suspend?” Angela was outraged and her voice raised a few octaves.
Jessica supposed she ought to be outraged too, but all she felt was overwhelming relief that she wouldn’t have to go to school for a while. As she wondered how long for, her mother asked that very question.
“Two weeks initially. There will need to be an investigation and the feelings of all parties taken into account before a decision can be made as to how long it will be before Jessica can return to school.”
Angela flinched as she unclenched her hands from the armrests and leaned over to pick up her handbag. She had no desire to listen to anymore of this and gestured to Jessica to stand up as she made to leave.
“Mrs Bream,” Mr Hunter sounded almost apologetic.
“Save it,” she snapped, already turning towards the door, but then she turned back towards him. “With all due respect, Mr Hunter, this whole fiasco has more to do with the generous contributors to your school than it has to do with protecting your pupils.”
Jessica stood up, glancing back and forth between her mother and her Head Teacher. The steely glint in her mother’s eyes told her that she’d got the measure of Mr Hunter and he knew it too. He started to defend himself, but Angela was already exiting his office with Jessica close behind her. Jessica, who before today had never knowingly broken any school rules – ever – paused to look back at a man whom she had once believed would protect her. She thought she saw regret in his eyes, but couldn’t be sure. She dutifully turned back to her mother and left.
“A letter will be sent in the post,” he said weakly before sitting down.
The weapon in question lay before him on the desk and he picked it up – a pathetic looking pen-knife. It would barely open a letter, let alone do anything else, but rules were rules and he had to follow them. He tossed the penknife to one side and then slammed his hands down on the desk in anger. Angela Bream was right. At some stage – and he was at a loss to pinpoint exactly when – Gerrard Hunter had been bought. He opened the top drawer of his desk and snatched a mint from the half eaten packet. It did little to extinguish the putrid taste of shame.
“Duty to protect his pupils?” Angela’s voice was high pitched as she charged down the school corridor with her daughter in tow. “Duty to protect his pupils, my backside,” she almost shrieked as she crashed through the main entrance doors into the blazing sunshine.
“Mum!” Jesica shouted as she only just managed to halt the heavy oak door from bashing into her face.
“What?” Angela snapped, misdirecting her annoyance, but she did a double-take when she realised what had happened. “Gosh, sorry, love! Are you okay?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Jessica answered sullenly, swiping her mother’s hand away from her face.
Now that Angela’s internal monologue of fury had been interrupted she suddenly felt helpless. Her eyes pricked with tears and her shoulders fell in defeat. “I can’t believe this is happening,” she muttered, and her cheeks began to burn as she realised people would find out about this. Her friends, her boss, her neighbours; they would all find out that her daughter was practically a criminal. What they probably wouldn’t be told was that Marie Rayner had made Jessica’s life a living hell for the past year. There were reasons things had come to this. Her daughter had been provoked, pushed to her limit.
They were stood outside the front entrance of Langley High. Angela looked up at the drab, grey building. It was so depressing to look at from the outside, but inside were some of the most modern classroom facilities that any schools in the area had to offer. As her eyes fell on the window of what was once her form room, she was consumed with memories of her own time there. Such happy years, they’d been. Yes, of course she’d had her ups and downs like any teenager just trying to make sense of themselves and the world, but overall she’d had a great experience and had been one of the most popular girls in her class.
Her gaze now fell upon Jessica, who stood like a gawky, introverted ten year old as opposed to the confident, blooming fifteen year old that she had been before Marie Rayner chose her as her main target. Angela’s heart ached. People always warn new parents about the sleepless nights, the smelly nappies and the terrible twos, but they don’t warn you about how gut wrenching things get when your child is older. She couldn’t help Jessica make friends and she couldn’t magically make her popular. Her child wasn’t liked and that hurt Angela like hell; it felt like a personal slight, and it was something she couldn’t just kiss and make better. Her throat began to constrict.
“C’mon Jess,” Angela held an arm out to her baby, her only child.
Jessica didn’t want her mother’s arm around her. In fact, she didn’t want to be anywhere near her right now. She didn’t want to be near anyone, but she’d heard her Mum’s voice waver and knew she was doing her best not to cry, so she put up with it and allowed herself to be fussed over as they walked to the car.
[TO BE CONTINUED]
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