فصل 09

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فصل 09

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Chapter nine

A difficult period

On Saturday evening, as she cooked in the kitchen, Fanella was feeling very nervous about seeing Mark. Ellie was in the front room watching a video, something Fanella felt a bit guilty about. She had never agreed with people who thought it was all right for children to watch endless TV. But she was beginning to realise that there were times when a good children’s video worked wonders for a tired child, as well as a tired parent! They’d had a busy day, having been swimming and shopping round town, and Ellie had been in an emotional state when they got home.

She had cried when she heard Fanella was having a grown-up friend for dinner, saying she didn’t want him to come. Fanella guessed this had something to do with the changes at school that week - Rod hadn’t been there and a temporary teacher had replaced him. Ellie liked things to be predictable and she also liked Rod: no other teacher was as good as him in her view.

So when Fanella told Ellie she was going to meet someone new this evening, it was more than the child could take. Fanella had solved the situation by suggesting they hire a video and Ellie had chosen Disney’s Cinderella, which she was now watching. However, Fanella rather wished Mark wasn’t coming, so that she could spend all evening with Ellie and then go to bed herself, as she was feeling quite exhausted.

Ellie was in bed by the time Mark arrived, but it was not long before her curly head appeared round the sitting-room door. She obviously wanted to have a look at Fanella’s new friend.

Mark didn’t seem too pleased to see the child and made very little effort to talk to her. Fanella began to feel uncomfortable. ‘Go back to bed Ellie,’ she said. ‘I’ll come up for a moment.’

She thought how different it would have been if Mark had offered to read to Ellie, so she could get on with preparing the meal. But he simply stretched his legs out and sat back in his chair with his drink while Fanella took Ellie back upstairs. Ellie was not going to give in easily. ‘I’m not tired,’ she said. ‘Can I come downstairs and watch another video?’

‘No,’ said Fanella firmly. ‘You are tired. Perhaps you don’t think you are, but you’ve had a busy day.’

‘Will you read me a story?’ asked Ellie.

‘Well, I need to go and get dinner ready. I’ll just read you a short one.’

But by the time she had read Ellie a story and fetched her a drink, a smell of burning was drifting up the stairs. ‘Oh no!’ cried Fanella. ‘That’s the food! It’ll be ruined!’

She rushed down, just in time to save the meal she had carefully prepared from going up in flames. Mark ate politely, saying it was very nice, but Fanella felt embarrassed.

‘Shouldn’t you try and get her to bed earlier?’ Mark asked her. ‘Children always push their luck if you give them a chance.’

It turned out he had two children of his own, who lived with their mother and who he only saw every month. He’d separated from his wife three years ago and she lived in Devon, so he couldn’t see his children more often. ‘But I don’t mind,’ he said. ‘We have a good time when I do see them, and the rest of the time I’m a free man!’

Fanella couldn’t help wondering what the children felt about this arrangement, but she said nothing. She wasn’t sure what to make of Mark. He was quiet and a good listener, but there was something a bit unkind about his attitude, both to Ellie and to his own children, that gave her reservations about him.

After the meal, she found herself wishing he would just leave so that she could go to bed, and she had to drop several hints about how tired she was. ‘I’m not exactly making myself attractive to him,’ she thought, ‘going on about how tired I am, but I really do want to go to sleep.’ She was afraid the evening had been a disaster, and that he would never want to see her again.

But he stopped in the doorway as he was about to leave, and bent down to kiss her. His kiss was gentle, and suddenly Fanella wondered whether it was a mistake sending him away like this. ‘Can I see you again?’ he asked, to her surprise, and she was quite glad to be asked.

‘Perhaps another lunch would be easier,’ she said, smiling, and he nodded.

When he had gone, she went straight up to bed but found she couldn’t sleep. Too many thoughts were flying through her head. Did Mark want to have a relationship with her? Did she want to have a relationship with Mark? And, if so, how would Ellie feel about it? Was Ellie going to be more difficult, now she knew Fanella better?

Why was Rod away from school? Would he ever come back?

As she began to drift into sleep, she dreamt that she was standing laughing in a park watching Ellie playing happily and that Mark had his arm around her. She felt complete for the first time in years, as if all her worries had floated away She turned to look into the man’s face, only to find that the man was not Mark at all, but Rod.

Fanella had guessed correctly that this might be the beginning of a difficult period for Ellie. It was clear Rod wasn’t coming back to school very quickly. The parents were told the temporary teacher was going to continue until half term at least, but they weren’t told why. Ellie had taken a real dislike to this teacher and was refusing to go to school in the mornings.

‘I just don’t know what to do,’ Fanella said in desperation on the phone to Teresa. ‘Can I come and talk to you?’

It was a long time since she and Teresa had had a chance to talk on their own together.

‘Yes, come round. Come for lunch,’ said Teresa eagerly. She found her days alone at home long and lonely sometimes, and was glad at the thought of some company.

Fanella took some wine and went round to Teresa’s house.

‘All children behave like that at times,’ Teresa told her. ‘You mustn’t think it’s to do with her being adopted.’

‘It’s just, well, she seemed to settle in so quickly with Rod, and now she seems to be going backwards. What does Timothy think of the temporary teacher?’

‘He says she shouts sometimes, and is stricter than Rod, but it doesn’t worry him,’ said Teresa.

‘What’s the matter with Rod?’ Fanella asked. ‘Have you heard anything? Is he ill?’

‘Well,’ said Teresa slowly, obviously enjoying the fact she had news to tell. ‘The gossip going around is that he hit that boy Dan hard enough to bruise him. Dan’s mother went to the education authority and accused Rod of abusing her son. They had no choice but to suspend him immediately, until a court hearing finds him innocent, if they do…’

‘But that’s terrible!’ said Fanella, with feeling. ‘Rod could never have done a thing like that!’

‘Well, that’s what most of us think,’ said Teresa. ‘But of course, there are those who say they wouldn’t blame him for hitting that child. Dan’s the kind of boy who would drive the most patient person in the world wild.’

‘But Rod is so professional and so gentle. I could imagine some people losing their heads and doing something silly, but not Rod.’

‘Hmm,’ said Teresa, sighing, and placing a plate of salad in front of Fanella. ‘It can’t be doing his career much good, even if he is innocent, having this kind of scandal going round Cambridge.’

‘We really ought to do something to help him,’ said Fanella. ‘He is being treated so unfairly.’

‘It’s difficult to prove that he is innocent though,’ said Teresa. ‘The education authority places a lot of importance on what the child says.’

‘Why would the child want to lie like that?’ asked Fanella.

‘That’s the big question,’ said Teresa. ‘Of course, he may not be lying.’

‘I’m certain he must be,’ said Fanella, ‘and it makes me so angry. Not with the child, he’s probably just doing what his mother tells him to do. Is there some reason why she might not like Rod?’

‘Well, she’s one of the mothers who thinks he favours the rich kids,’ said Teresa. ‘She thinks he doesn’t like her son because he’s from a poor background.’

‘That’s not true. Rod likes Ellie and she’s not rich.’

‘We know it’s not true,’ said Teresa. ‘But some people get fixed ideas about things like this. Anyway, I hope you aren’t so upset about this because you’re still in love with Rod?’

‘No!’ said Fanella, a little too angrily. ‘I’m upset for Rod, and because his absence is giving me problems with Ellie just when I thought she’d settled down.’

Teresa looked at Fanella suspiciously. She knew her friend too well to be completely fooled by what she was saying and felt slightly annoyed by the fact Fanella was obviously still attracted to Rod. She didn’t know why it annoyed her. After all, she’d always had a similar feeling about him. It was just that Fanella always seemed so serious about things, while Teresa had felt quite light-hearted about her attraction to Rod.

‘How’s it going with Mark, anyway?’ she asked, deciding the best thing was to get Fanella off the subject of Rod.

Fanella hesitated. ‘I’m not sure,’ she said. ‘He’s nice, and attractive, but I don’t think he’s got much time for Ellie.’

‘It’s you he should have time for,’ said Teresa. ‘You can’t put Ellie first in every area of your life. If you get on well with him, she’ll find a way of fitting in.’

‘I’m seeing him again next week,’ said Fanella, not really wanting to talk about it. ‘So I guess I’ll see how we get on then.’

Teresa smiled. ‘He’s very good-looking isn’t he?’ she said. ‘Handsome and rich. You could do worse. Anyway, I think you should stop worrying about Ellie. She’ll be fine once she gets used to this new teacher. Why don’t we take her and Timothy out this weekend and you could bring Mark?’

‘Maybe,’ said Fanella. ‘I’ll give him a ring and see if he’s free.’

But as she left Teresa’s house, she realised she felt no better than when she’d arrived. The things she’d heard about Rod had really upset her. They couldn’t be true! If they were, it meant she’d completely misjudged his character, and she was usually pretty good at judging character. It also seemed unlikely he would be back at school very soon. Whatever Teresa said, she doubted if Ellie was going to get used to the temporary teacher.

She decided the only thing to do was to concentrate on her work, or she would go mad with worrying.

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