Lessons by Sophie Meredith by Sophie Meredith - Read Online



Julia Simmons, mother of nine year old Mandy, and a teacher at the village school, has been divorced for a year. Julia, in self-defence, has distanced herself from the villagers, her neighbours and also to a certain extent, her colleagues. The headmaster, a middle-aged bachelor, has been pursuing her for some time. On her way home one evening she sees smoke coming from an apparently empty house. She intervenes and later learns that the twin sons of the new owner were responsible for the fire. Their father, Bob Nooney, brings them to Julia's house to apologise. In the meantime they are enrolled at the school. Julia feels drawn to Bob, a widower with as many problems as herself.
Published: Whiskey Creek Press on
ISBN: 9781611608342
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Lessons - Sophie Meredith

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Published by


Whiskey Creek Press

PO Box 51052

Casper, WY 82605-1052


Copyright Ó 2014 by Shirley Mitchell

Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 (five) years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.

Names, characters and incidents depicted in this book are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of the author or the publisher.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

ISBN: 978-1-61160-834-2

Cover Artist: Nancy Donahue

Editor: Tricia Isham

Printed in the United States of America


For Frédéric

That’s the reason they’re called lessons, the Gryphon remarked. Because they lessen from day to day. Lewis Carrol


Chapter 1: No Smoke Without Fire

Julia sat at her desk in the deserted classroom. In front of her were the piles of exercise books she had been marking. Mrs. Perks had long since finished the afternoon cleaning, leaving the upturned chairs on the desks while her carefully-mopped floor dried out. She had not spoken to the teacher. She knew that there were those who liked being distracted while they skimmed through their pupils’ work, slapping down a tick here, a cross there, on the grubby pages. But Mrs. Simmons was not like that. She gave her full attention to whatever she did, from correcting work to preparing the blackboard for the following day. Mrs. Perks respected that. Two of her grandchildren had been in Julia’s class and they had never done better than when they were in her hands. She certainly had a way with kiddies and seemed to know how to bring out the best in them. So Molly Perks contented herself with a polite nod when she arrived and another when she left. She had been especially careful not to intrude since Mrs. Simmons’ bit of trouble. Anyway, she could indulge her tongue when she got to young Mr. Grundy’s room. He’d be glad of a bit of a chat while he inflated the footballs for tomorrow’s game. Not that they would discuss Mrs. Simmons, of course. Her problem was her own business, and anyway Mr. Grundy would be too busy making the cleaning lady laugh as he told her of his wife’s latest culinary disaster.

Julia glanced out of the window and noticed vaguely that Mr. Perks was locking the big gates. It must be later than she had realised. The caretaker left this task till last, turning a blind eye on any small groups of boys who lingered to kick a ball around on the school field. It was a crying shame, he was always saying, that there was no proper recreation ground in the village. He didn’t begrudge the lads a bit of a game even though it was strictly against school rules, and the headmaster’s study being at the front of the building, and him usually first off the premises...

I really must go, thought Julia. Mandy will be back and it’s not fair on Alice. She locked her desk drawer and made her way to the staff room to hang up her keys. For once, Joseph Smith, the headmaster, was still in his room, the door open. Almost as if he were lying in wait... Julia dismissed the thought.

Ah, Julia! he said, slamming closed the filing cabinet he had been riffling through. I’m glad I’ve caught you.

So he had been waiting. Julia was irritated at the veiled suggestion that it was unusual for her to leave after him. But it doesn’t really matter, any of it, she thought in the same moment.

In no hurry to get home? he asked, holding her coat for her while she put her arms in the sleeves. He held on to it even after it was obvious she was ready to do up the buttons.

How about a cup of tea? he asked with an ingratiating smile.

He shouldn’t grin, she thought. He hasn’t the teeth for it.

No thank you, she said. Besides, Mrs. Perks has put the cups away.

Not here, he said, lowering his voice. I was thinking of the café.

And I don’t want to think of the café, she mused. Not after our last ‘accidental’ meeting there. She shook her head.

Thanks all the same, Mr Smith. But I must get back to Mandy.

Is your aunt still staying with you? he asked, following her along the corridor.

Yes, but it’s her last night, said Julia. She’s going back to her own place in the North tomorrow.

Will you manage? he asked.

His hand was on the doorknob, but it seemed more as if he were trying to prevent her leaving rather than assisting her out.

I shall have to manage, shan’t I? she said coldly, pushing past him and running lightly down the steps. She looked back at him. Good night, then.

Are you sure... he began. He shrugged. Another time then. He went back inside.

Mr. Perks let her out of the side gate. Did it look as though he’d be much longer? he whispered. I don’t like to say anything, but it’s my darts night. Trust him to choose tonight to stay late. Not often he’s last out.

Julia frowned. She did not like Mr. Smith, but she could not approve of the caretaker making such remarks. But what did it matter, really? She could not be bothered to reprimand him.

Mr. Perks watched her walk off down the quiet street, her hands thrust in her pockets, her head bowed. He shook his head sadly. What a waste, he thought, a nice looking woman like that to be reduced to such a state. He watched until she turned the corner and then he was nearly bowled over as Mr. Grundy freewheeled his motor cycle across the playground. He shook his fist playfully as the young man brushed by, squeezing his machine through the little gate, breaking another of the school rules.

G’night, Mr. P., called Jim as he revved up his engine and roared off after Julia. He slowed down as he caught her up.

Don’t forget it’s your Assembly tomorrow! he shouted.

She nodded her appreciation of his reminder and watched him zoom off in the direction of the nearby market town. He would be picking up his wife from her office. They would do their shopping together before going to their little flat just off the High Street. He complained all the time about its many inconveniences, but it was so obvious how happy he and Anne were in their first little home. Julia stopped and steadied herself on a lamp post. She had felt giddy for an instant. It happened less often now, but a few months ago she’d been having dizzy spells two or three times a day. It had been all she could do to camouflage these bad moments from her pupils. The doctor had assured her they would pass; they were just part of a delayed reaction.

If she had not stopped she probably would not have smelled the smoke. All her senses seemed to have been dulled recently. But yes, there was definitely an odor of burning straw. Yet there were no farms here and the only building on this side of the lane was an empty house standing behind a paved front yard. Then Julia remembered that there was an old stable at the rear, left over when the original cottage had been rebuilt. She hurried round the side of the rather ugly red brick bungalow and saw at once a plume of smoke suspended over a skylight.

She hesitated. It was not really her business. Suppose someone had bought the property and was burning rubbish. But surely not inside when there was this vast expanse of yard. She pushed open the double doors and was surprised to see that a car had been garaged here. A nice car, too–a Porsche. She was even more surprised when two small figures scuttled past her as she craned her neck to look for the source of the smoke. It was indeed straw–a small heap just a metre or two from the brand new vehicle. Julia tore off her coat and began to beat at the smouldering pile. It was soon under control though her coat was rather the worse for the experience. Julia noticed something lying just beyond the blackened straw. Surely it was–yes, she picked it up–it was an old-fashioned candlestick with half a white wax candle in it. She glanced towards the open doors. Had she imagined it or had there been two little boys in here? Now that the crisis was over she had doubts. She had had some trouble with her vision and the doctor had diagnosed migraine–he thought it would be the most difficult of her symptoms to clear up. So she could have been seeing double. She was certainly left with the impression of identical size and color, even features and clothing had been exactly the same in the two figures so briefly in her view.

She stirred the charred remnants of the fire with her shoe to be certain no live embers remained. Then she went outside. She knocked on the side door of the house. There was no reply. She peered through the uncurtained windows at the front. The rooms were unfurnished but in one stood three large packing cases. Someone had moved in, or was just about to. Julia stepped back and looked along the length of the building.

Anybody about? she called.

There was silence and Julia felt oppressed by it. Her taut nerves could not stand much of this sort of thing. She decided to delegate the responsibility for any further action to Alice. It would probably be best to telephone the local police station, but Julia did not feel up to it. Her head had begun to throb. She thought longingly of her quiet, dark bedroom.

There were only a few houses in this lane but around the next corner, over the railway bridge was the avenue where Julia lived. There were thirty houses there, not exactly an Estate, though the newer properties had all been erected by the same builder, who had not tried to cram in as many houses as possible and had managed to blend them in with the old cottages. Julia hurried past the first houses, looking neither to right nor to left, trying not to remember that that was what John had said he liked most about this village, the nice blend of old and new. Trying also not to see anyone who might be tending a front garden or looking out of a window. She did not feel up to neighbourly greetings. She could just about cope with her job and felt fairly confident now about taking over the running of the house, but the thought of receiving commiserations or, even worse, feeling the weight of unspoken sympathy from people she hardly knew was quite unbearable. She almost ran up the path to her own front door.

Chapter 2: A Booster for the School Roll

Julia took her place on the small dais in the school hall. She had conducted most of the Assembly from the piano stool. In a small school like this the staff had to fabricate opportunities for free periods as best they could and taking turns to oversee all three classes