“So, how did you get that rather impressive black eye?” she said in a slightly more upbeat tone.
“Oh god, I swear if one more person asks me that…” I sighed. “I got in a fight with a couple of guys.”
“But how?” she asked. I decided to go with the story I’d kind of already half-told.
“They mugged me, except I didn’t have anything so they got mad.” That had always been a fear of mine.
“They didn’t do anything else? Just hit you?” She was all concerned again.
“What do you mean? No, I got away.” I was definitely going to leave out biting someone’s finger off. “It’s fine. I’m fine. Things like this happen if when you live in the Isl…”
Crap. I left too long a pause for her not to notice even if she wouldn’t have picked up on my mistake anyway. I was such a bad liar. One of her eyebrows raised.
I sighed and explained that I’d lied to her about where I lived.
“But why?” she asked. “There are quite a few students from that area, this is one of the closest schools to there that isn’t actually on the Island.”
I didn’t know that. “I dunno. I just don’t want anyone to know. People view you differently when they know where you’re from.”
“So that night I dropped you off I just drove you to some random place and left you there?”
“Yeah, but its ok! It was half the way home.” She was hard to reason with.
She sighed and rubbed her eyes. She looked tired. I wanted to change the subject.
“Did you see the careers assembly? I didn’t see you there,” I asked.
“No, I was teaching a different year. What did you think? Have you got any plans?”
“I was looking at the military…” I left the sentence hanging there.
“You really are a good student, Alexis, you could go really far. I think you should set your sights higher,” she said.
“I was thinking of trying to get a scholarship on one of the pilot programmes. I’ve kind of always wanted to be a pilot.”
“Really? Well, yes you certainly have the skill for it. Go for it, does it have to be with the military though?”
“Yeah, they are the only ones to fund scholarships. To get qualified privately costs millions.”
She nodded, seemingly happy with my explanation. We sipped more of our coffee.
Then, out of the blue she said. “You’ve put on weight.”
Had I? I’d been eating a lot more lately, but I hadn’t noticed my weight going up.
“Have I?” I echoed my thoughts, not sure how to respond. “Oh. That’s good I guess.”
“I thought you might have… problems with food..” She said.
“Problems?” I had a problem getting enough to eat but I didn’t think that’s what she meant. “Like anorexia or something?”
“Yes. When I first saw you I recognised the signs. You were overly tired, so thin…” She paused. “I used to struggle with it as a teenager; I wanted to look good like the other girls but…”
She trailed off.
“Mz, it’s not like that.” I hesitated. “It’s just; I don’t really have any money so… Food can be difficult.”
She frowned at me “You mean you can’t afford to eat?”
“Well, I get free school dinners but when there’s a holiday… After summer I couldn’t really manage to eat much cos I just wasn’t used to it.
“Since I stayed over at Beth’s I’ve been eating more. Look.” I opened my back-pack and took out the sandwiches. “There are no rules in the canteen for taking away food so I can make myself dinner now.”
“You live off school lunch?”
“Yeah, in the holidays I kind of… Well, usually I steal a bit here and there. But it’s only the cheapest stuff!” I didn’t want to get in trouble.
“What about benefits? Surely your mom gets money from the government to support you…” She stopped talking at the expression on my face. I must have shown the anger I felt.
I really did hate my mom for just… ignoring me like she did. I sighed. There really wasn’t any point in being angry.
“She’s an addict. All the money we get goes on her drugs.” I said. More firmly “Listen, you can’t tell anyone about this. I don’t care and I really don’t want to deal with the mess of… whatever would happen if people got the authorities involved. It’s not going to make my life better.”
“You can’t live like that Alexis. It’s just not… right,” she said.
“Maybe when I was younger it would have been ok, I might have gotten adopted or a decent foster family. Now? In a year or two I’ll be in college. At best I’ll spend a year in a foster home full of… other kids. I can’t take the chance that some of them will be like Haley.
“I’d rather manage on my own. I might even be able to get a job soon and then I’d have no trouble.”
“If you are absolutely sure, but I still think you should do something about it.” She finished the rest of her coffee, looking thoughtful.
We spent about 5 minutes trying lame attempts at conversation – not something I’m good at. Eventually we got onto the subject of the class. Mz Gregory started talking about some of the applications of what we’d been learning and we got in a debate about one of the problems she’d set a few weeks ago.
I was having a much better time now we were talking about something else. She really was passionate about the subject and I was surprised at how much she knew out-side of the syllabus. I bet a lot of teachers just knew about what they had to teach.
After an hour the snow really began to fall heavily. We couldn’t really see from our alcove but Anna came up and asked how we were planning to get home – we should probably get on our way if we were driving.
“Where do you live then? Don’t lie this time, I don’t care you know,” she said. “I’m going to drive you home, especially with weather like this.”
“I’ll give you directions.” I said.
I pushed the door, the wind caught it as soon as it opened and I had to pull back on the handle worried it would break the glass if I let it swing out.
With the snow billowing up in the wind we dashed to the car. Sealing ourselves off from the weather inside Mz Gregory pulled a hat and gloves from under her seat and pulled them on, switching the heater on full.
I was glad I’d put on two t-shirts this morning.
“You really don’t have to drive me Mz Gregory, I can walk from here it’s not far.” She had already gone to so much trouble already.
“I’ll be the judge of that. Just tell me where to go. If it’s not far then it won’t be out of my way. If it is far, you can’t go walking in this weather. It makes sense either way.” She gave me a smile.
So I told her where to go, we made a few wrong turns where I’d cut down a one-way street or through an alleyway. As we got onto my road I told her when to stop.
She didn’t say anything, I was expecting a “You live here?” kind of comment but it didn’t come.
“I’ll see you tomorrow. Be careful Alexis.” Was all she said as I opened the car door and stepped out into the semi-blizzard. She watched me go to the door of my flat and unlock the grating we had to protect the actual front door then the door itself. I turned and waved to her, that’s what you’re supposed to do, before getting in and closing it against the weather.
Well, that was strange. I climbed the stairs to the flat going through my routine of opening the door as quietly as I could. Checked the clock I noticed It was half six, I must have spent an hour at least with Mz Gregory.
I wonder why she was so concerned about me.
I picked up a book I’d borrowed from Beth, it was some slushy romance – not really my thing but I would read anything and I’d decided to have a night off from homework.