Frankie laughed, spluttering into his tea.
“What’s wrong with that?” Edie replied, her voice barely a whisper.
“Prose of the deepest hue.”
“Purple prose. It’s a phrase we use in class when something’s over dramatic, too… how do I put this delicately? Flowery.”
“You couldn’t be delicate if you tried, Frankie.” Ben piped up from the back of the staff room.
Sonya, who’d been making her and Edie’s teas, resisted the urge to defend Edie, glad that Ben had come to the rescue, as he so often did.
“Give her a break,” Ben continued. “She’s not trying to write Shakespeare.”
“Just as well,” Frankie replied, “I didn’t like his stuff the first time round.”
“And you call yourself an English teacher?”
“No,” Frankie laughed, “that’s what Vera Harkett calls me.”
Right on cue, the Headmistress walked into the room.
Edie and Ben stood up. Sonya looked in their direction, still wondering why Vera provoked that reaction. They weren’t students. Respect, yes, but it bordered on… she wasn’t sure. Fright? No, too… dramatic. But it wasn’t reverence. In the three months Sonya had been there no-one had explained to her why Vera was such a force to be reckoned with. She’d been nothing but sweet to Sonya. Two sides of a coin, she guessed; sweet to the new ones, something quite different to those accustomed. Sonya absentmindedly dropped the teaspoon onto the draining board which turned the room’s attention to her.
“Morning everyone… Sonya,” Vera said. “Edie, Frankie, can I have a word please.”
The two teachers looked at each other, Edie blushed.
Vera looked at the sink. “You can bring your teas with you.”
Silently, Sonya handed one of the mugs to Edie, who smiled then followed Frankie and Vera to the Head’s Office.
“Sit down please,” Vera said, more of an order than request.
They did as they were told, waiting for her to speak, or at least sit. She did neither.
Frankie opened his mouth but shut it again.
“Right,” Vera said finally. “You’re probably wondering why I’ve asked you here.”
Edie and Frankie looked at each other as if ‘ask’ had anything to do with it. Frankie recognised the phrasing from somewhere but couldn’t place it. Frankie winked at Edie who giggled.
“It’s come to my attention,” Vera continued.
Uh oh, Edie thought, this never ends well.
“It’s come to my attention,” Vera repeated, returning Frankie’s gaze which she could see was veering towards the window.
“Yes, Vera, listening,” Frankie grinned.
Edie could only admire his cheek, knowing she’d never be so brave… or stupid.
“As I said,” Vera tried again. “It has come to my attention…”
Edie gulped; three times wasn’t good.
“…that the English literature students aren’t performing as well as they could be.”
Edie stifled a smile at the not-so-subtle swipe in Frankie’s direction.
Vera waited for an answer. Frankie was not forthcoming.
“I’m sure that…” Edie started but was stopped by Vera’s raised hand.
“Vera… er, Mrs Harkett.”
“Frankie,” Vera repeated, even more sternly. “You need to follow the syllabus in order for your students to do well in their exams. You’re going off…”
“At a tangent? On a day trip? Like old cheese?”
“Off the syllabus,” Vera finished.
“Well, it’s all so stuffy. Dull, dull, dull. The kids don’t want to know about the likes of Paradise Lost or Homer, they want to know all about Paradise City and Homer Simpson.”
“A Guns & Roses song and American cartoon…” Edie offered, smiling at Frankie.
“I’m aware of The Simpsons,” Vera replied, then turned to Edie. “But, thank you.”
Edie’s smile faded.
Vera turned back to Frankie. “I think Edie here has more literature running through her veins than you’ve got blood, including the syllabus.”
“Hot dinners.” Frankie said, then frowned realising that didn’t make sense. But then nor did the syllabus.
“They’re bright children,” Vera continued.
Frankie, more than anyone, knew that. “Yes, Vera.”
“So where are things going wrong?”
“Could you be a little more specific?”
“Do I really need to be?” she paused. “OK, then. Grades. Let’s start there.”
“As good a place as any.”
“You’ve seen them, Frankie.”
“That wasn’t a compliment.” She paused again. “Well?”
“Bit of a cough actually, but thank you for…”
“I wasn’t asking. The grades, they need to be improved and quickly, and I’m sorry…”
Frankie and Edie were pretty sure she wasn’t particularly.
“You won’t get the students where they need to be…”
“I could hire a minibus,” Frankie offered.
“That’s why I know you’ll be the perfect person.”
“But you just said…”
“Not for English literature, Mr Smith.” At that point she knew she’d lost them. “You know Norman Grey?”
‘Grey by name, grey by nature,’ Frankie was tempted to say but then thought better of it. “Norman, yes.”
“I do too,” Edie piped up, wondering why she’d been invited.
“Yes, well, he’s retiring.”
At last, Frankie thought. “Really, so soon?” he said.
“So,” Vera continued, “We’ll need a replacement drama teacher and the school has no bigger drama qu… fan than you Frankie.”
“Really?” Frankie asked. “I thought you were going say…”
“Sack you?” Vera shook her head.
“Really?” Frankie asked, just to be sure.
“Absolutely. I’ve seen you with the children. They adore you. So do the staff, deep down. And some deeper than others,” she said turning to Edie who blushed and looked down at her lap. “Frankie, you just need to be doing something more… hands on.”
Frankie turned to Edie, smirked, then looked back at Vera. “Then I don’t quite understand why…”
“I want Edie here to take over your role.”
Edie looked as stunned as Frankie.
“She’s the obvious choice.” Vera confirmed.
“She knows her Shakespeare like the back of your hand.”
Frankie and Edie exchanged uncomfortable glances.
“It’s fine. Just keep it outside work. She’s a great Supply Teacher, you could be a great teacher. You just need to be in the right place.”
And for the first time in a long time, Frankie knew exactly where that place should be.
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