Felicity managed to avoid the whole Peter situation the next day; she was dreading him asking her out. Because honestly, how could she say no? He was very good looking, in that slightly-awkward-boyish kind of way; some would consider her to be almost out of his league. Also, he was bound to ask her in front of the others - she was sure that he would ask her Friday night - and then she would feel too guilty and mean to refuse. And she liked Peter, he seemed like a great boy – but as a possible friend, nothing more.
It was always a tricky thing, being asked out by a boy, in her situation; it felt rather mean to say no to just a coffee and a chat, yet it also felt mean to say yes and conceivably lead them on to think anything of the sort was at all possible with her.
Not that she had been asked out by boys a lot, being from an all-girls boarding school and from a fairly strict and very respectable family household. But whenever she had, she always faced this dilemma. She had tried to be attracted to them; she really had. She had even tried kissing her childhood friend, Dick Kirrin, one summer not long ago – the summer right after her incident with Moira, in fact, just to make sure – but it had been no use. And oh, she had felt mean, leading him on like that; he had been so confused when she told him she just liked him as a friend, after that. She had felt even meaner when she had kissed his cousin Georgina, just a few weeks after – not that he ever found out about that, she assumed.
She just wasn’t “wired that way”, she guessed, as Alicia would say.
She wondered how Alicia or anyone at the university knew about Moira’s – wirings; she was sure the girl was very careful about that particular aspect of her life; after all that was the advice she had given Felicity, back then - “you have to be more careful with this sort of thing”. She wondered if perhaps Moira had been involved in any sapphic affairs in university, and if one of them had reached Alicia’s sharp ears.
Alicia was so sharp. So was June.
She had seen June’s subtle raised eyebrows when she had mentioned Peter wanted to ask Felicity out, as though looking for a certain sort of reaction from her. She had also detected that trace of enviousness in her voice, and had felt rather uneasy.
She should really get a move on and start making her own friends, friends apart from June and her new circle, she thought. She did like June; she was fun, and entertaining, and always good for a laugh – plus she was really including Felicity in everything, for which she was grateful, considering she really didn’t have to do that - but she could also be dangerous when she was envious, or resentful about something, and Felicity didn’t want any drama from her.
The only place to really make friends away from June’s circle, she thought, was in her classes. So she would really try today. She walked into the classroom. The teacher hadn’t arrived yet; some of the students were chatting, others were reading, some were looking around, like her, wondering were to sit. A thin, stylishly dressed boy with blonde hair and glasses walked in, saw Felicity looking around and grinned.
“Hello, there. Fellow newbie?”
His voice was soft and tinged with a slight American accent. His eyes were startlingly green, almost cat-like, and twinkled with a kind, warm sort of mischievousness. Felicity smiled back.
“I think mostly everyone is, in this class” she replied.
“True, but some are better at hiding their newbie-ness than others. Look at those four chatting like they’ve known each other for years” he nodded towards a group of two girls and two boys. Felicity looked and laughed.
“Those two are chatting like they’ve been married to each other for years” she remarked, as one of the boys put his hand on one of the girls’ leg.
The blonde boy raised his eyebrows in mock shock.
“Disgraceful”, he remarked; “what is this generation coming to”.
They both laughed.
“I like you already. Laughing at other people is the best way to bond with a person, don’t you think?” he said, his voice light and teasing.
“That might be true”, Felicity shrugged, smiling.
“We should probably sit down. After you, m’lady” said the boy, gallantly extending his hand, indicating to Felicity to choose a seat. Felicity laughed and went to sit at a desk by the window. The boy sat beside her and stuck out his hand.
“I’m Frederick, by the way.”
“Felicity”, she replied, shaking his hand. “Where are you from?”
“Ah, you noticed my American accent, I see. I’m actually from New York, but I’ve been living in London for five years. Changing school was a nightmare”, he grimaced.
Felicity remembered Zerelda, the American girl who had gone to Malory Towers, and remembered how she had a hard time fitting in. She had secretly always thought she was rather exciting and exotic, although she had been so criticized by the other girls back then.
“What school did you go to?”
“St Patrick’s. All boys, run by priests. Back in America I went to a public, mixed school – real relaxed, so you can imagine it was quite a change. What about you?”
Felicity grimaced sympathetically; she had heard a bit about the strict priests at St Patricks.
“I’m from Cornwall. I went to Malory Towers – it’s an all-girls school too. I quite liked it, really, but university’s a nice change”
“I prefer a mixed environment – I’ve always gotten on better with girls” said Fred. Felicity looked at him and could imagine why – he had an effeminate air about him; she struggled to imagine him in an overly masculine, “tough-upper-lip”, environment like she had heard St Patrick’s was.
“So have you made many friends so far?” asked Fred.
“Not really…I mean, I’ve met some people through my roommate, June, who used to go to school with me – she’s more sociable than I am” laughed Felicity. “They seem nice enough. And my older sister Darrell’s here too, and some of her friends, so I’m not completely on my own. You?”
“Not really. My roommate’s a complete jerk. Seems to hate me for some reason. I talked to a couple of people, but you’re the first one I genuinely like, so. Friends?”
Felicity laughed at the boy’s honesty, and at the almost innocence of it all, the childlike aspect of asking someone if they wished to be your friend. She liked him; he reminded her of June in the sense he seemed mischievous and funny; yet he had a kinder, calmer air about him.
“Friends” she agreed.
That evening, they went out for tea together, and soon it was as though they had known each other all their lives; they talked about everything apart from the one thing Felicity suspected they both had in common yet floated around like an unspoken truth between them.
Nobody had noticed, back at Malory Towers, that Moira and Felicity had become close. Well, as close as you could be, being from different forms at that school; even being friends with someone just one form younger than one’s own was socially frowned upon by the girls. Which was quite silly, really, considering a second former and a third former could very well be the same age, or with a one-year difference, two at most. But that was school for you.
At university, Felicity thought, it was different; it wasn’t at all uncommon to see an eighteen-year-old chatting away with a twenty-something year old, or even kissing someone a few years older. Felicity had even heard some stories about affairs between students and teachers (although these, of course, were frowned upon, and with good reason).
She wondered if having an affair with a teacher’s assistant-helper would be frowned upon.
She didn’t know if all universities did this, but at St Andrews, many teachers had older students, students about to graduate, as assistants; usually one or two per subject. They would attend their class and basically assist the teachers in whatever they needed. They would also offer help and extra tutoring in that particular subject to the new students if they needed it. It was an efficient way of ensuring all the students got attention and help, and the assistant-helpers got to deepen and strengthen their knowledge on the subject, and learn how to teach and mentor others.
She pondered upon this as she studied the older girl from her desk. The teacher - a dark-haired, thin man of around forty - was explaining something about the different organ systems in the human body, but Felicity was finding it hard to concentrate with her sitting there.
They had become closer after the whole June incident, and after Felicity wouldn’t shut up gushing about Moira’s “kindness” to the whole form. It had been so obvious, even back then, the crush she had on the older girl, even though she didn’t recognize it as a crush at first. After all, she was only thirteen back then.
She had recognized it all right by the time she was fourteen.
It was the same year Amanda had decided to coach June in tennis and swimming. Moira, annoyed that Amanda had been only training June and ignoring Felicity, had decided to give the girl some extra coaching. That’s when Felicity really began feeling things. It wasn’t just the physical aspect of the situation – Moira taking her arm and gently showing her how to swing the racket or the hockey stick properly, and that sort of thing, although it had been somewhat of an incendiary component. No, it had been the chats, the long talks, the side to the older girl that not many people saw, that solidified her crush.
For instance, her incredibly dry, sarcastic sense of humor. Many people said she was like Alicia in many ways, only more domineering and with no sense of fun – that wasn’t true. True, Alicia was probably more conventionally fun; it was hard to imagine Moira dancing at a party, for instance. In that respect, she was quite a serious person; however, she had that dry, sarcastic, almost mean sense of humor, that wasn’t for everyone. The kind that made you emit an exasperated kind of laugh and roll your eyes at once.
She was also kind in her intentions, and truly cared about others succeeding. That’s why she was so strict, so demanding all the time; she seemed to not realize most people weren’t as demanding with themselves as she was with herself. She had to be, after all; after her father had decided to take his life and left them with gallons of money and a crushing depression which led to her mother’s complete detachment – not that she had been much of a mother to them growing up – and disappearance of any maternal instinct she may have harbored.
So from a young age, Moira was forced to be the strong one, to take charge of the situation, to be a mother and a father to her young sister Bridget, but she wasn’t much good at either, and only led to Bridget hating her. Depression in Moira didn’t lead her to lock herself up in her room and not get out of bed for days, like it did her mother; it led her to be mean. Snappy. Rigid. Domineering. She didn’t know how to be a nurturing mother, or how to make Bridget respect her in the way you would a father, which was probably the reason why the younger sister was so brazen and cold and disrespectful to everyone.
Moira had always taken on more than she could handle. But she would never accept not being able to handle something, so she would be twice as domineering, twice as stubborn, twice as dictatorial. She would make the world manageable, controllable.
Felicity could see, back then, that it did Moira good to open up to her. She would go to Moira’s study more and more often, and share lemonade and crackers. It was a good thing Catherine had had to leave so early in the beginning of term; Moira had been sharing the study with her and since she was gone, she had had it all to herself.
“What happened to Catherine?” asked Felicity one afternoon, after a long training session. They had gone back to Moira’s study to cool off.
“She had to leave” Moira replied, stiffly.
“Yes, I realize that. But why?” persisted the younger girl.
“Her mother was sick or something. I don’t know. Why do you ask?”
Felicity flinched slightly at Moira’s hard tone. She knew the girl well enough to know that whenever she got defensive it was because a nerve had been touched somehow.
“Why are you getting defensive?” shot back Felicity.
Moira stared, and for a moment Felicity wondered if she was going to snap at her to remember her place or something of the sort. It wouldn’t be the first time; if she really didn’t want to talk about something, she would pull the “I’m older and you have to respect me” card. However, she just sighed wearily.
“It’s just…it’s complicated” sighed Moira, running her fingers through her hair.
Felicity frowned, confused. Surely her leaving couldn’t have anything to do with Moira? Why would it?
“Complicated? In what way?”
“Just…” she paused, apparently thinking hard about what to say and how much to say. “We – used to be friends once. Back in fourth year. But it was – a complicated friendship.”
Felicity sipped her lemonade, frowning.
“When did it end? Last year? Did you fight?” she asked. Moira snorted softly.
“It didn’t really end, that was the problem. It sort of carried on like – a toxic circle. It was all right at first, but then I realized she was very manipulative, and I was very mean. It made me worse than ever – I was so irritable that year, during the whole pantomime thing. She hated me and I hated her and at the same time I lo – “she stopped abruptly.
“Why be friends if you hate each other?” frowned Felicity, confused.
Moira shook her head.
“You wouldn’t understand, kid. It’s complicated.”
Felicity thought for a while.
“It’s kind of like that with June, actually…sometimes I like her and sometimes she’s awful” she remarked, thoughtfully.
Moira smiled warily.
“No, not like you and June…I’m pretty sure it’s more intense than that.”
Felicity was about to ask in what way it was more intense, but the older girl had already changed the subject.
Felicity snapped out of her flashback with a jolt as Fred dug his elbow into her ribs.
“Ouch! What? Sorry – I – “
The whole class was looking at her.
“He asked you a question” hissed Fred.
“Doctors must pay attention at all times, Miss Rivers”, said the dark haired teacher, sternly. He didn’t look cross, exactly, but slightly annoyed. “It wouldn’t do much good for a doctor to daydream while he operates on a dying patient, now, would it?”
“No. I’m sorry”, replied Felicity, her cheeks red. A few giggles and sympathetic glances were thrown her way and she sighed. Great. Now she looked like an idiot. Thankfully, he just gave her a stern look, muttered something about “women doctors” and carried on with the class.
Once it had finished, Felicity stood up, still slightly subdued with embarrassment. Fred stood up beside her, turned to her and grinned.
“What a sexist prick. Did you hear him muttering about women doctors? And what’s up with you, dreamy-head? What were you daydreaming about?”
“Nothing, just remembering stuff”, laughed Felicity, waving her hand dismissively.
“Hmmm. I bet you were thinking about Mr. Dimples asking you out tonight. I bet you secretly like him and you’re just playing hard to get” teased Fred, grinning. Felicity groaned and rolled her eyes.
That morning, before Anatomy class, she had grabbed Fred’s arm and hurried him along because she had seen Peter rushing towards her in the distance like a cat chasing a mouse, his smile showing off his two dimples in his cheeks – hence the nickname “Mr. Dimples”. She had had to explain the whole situation to Frederick, for which he had teased her mercilessly all day.
“You better come with me tonight” said Felicity. She had pleaded to him earlier to come with her that evening to the outing, to which he had agreed.
“I will. Although I don’t know why you don’t want to go out with him…”
He was interrupted by Moira, who stood in front of them with a casual if slightly stiff smile, and handed out the book she had promised to bring Felicity, who beamed.
“Oh, thank you! You’re a brick” she smiled.
“You’re welcome. Hope you pay more attention to it than you did to this class” she replied, her tone dry but her eyes glinting slightly. Felicity laughed.
“That was embarrassing”, she admitted, flushing slightly. “My head was somewhere else”
“I could tell. Don’t worry. Things are never as embarrassing as they seem to oneself” replied Moira, her voice gentler.
There was a short silence. Felicity wondered if that past embarrassment had not seemed as embarrassing to Moira as it had felt to her. She suddenly remembered Fred, who was standing beside her, looking from girl to girl with curiosity, like someone watching a particularly interesting scene in a film.
“Fred, this is Moira. She used to go to school with me”. They smiled at each other, Fred’s smile inquisitive, Moira’s polite, and shook hands.
“Cool, you used to be friends then?” Fred smiled. Moira and Felicity looked at each other and smiled somewhat sheepishly. Felicity supposed they had been, really; yet it was so unheard of to be friends with someone in such a higher form that it was strange to think of their past bond as a friendship. Then, of course, Felicity had messed up whatever “friendship” they had.
“Yes…well…sort of” replied Felicity at last.
Fred looked bemused but said nothing.
“I talked to Darrell this morning. She tells me you’re joining a writing course” Moira said. Felicity wondered if the same memories were popping into her head. The writing fiasco. She hoped it wasn’t the case; she was probably just making conversation.
Don’t go red, Felicity thought to herself, as she nodded in what she hoped was a nonchalant manner.
“I was thinking about it, yes – I’m nowhere near as good as Darrell, but I thought I might, as a hobby” she shrugged, rubbing her nose and smiling.
“You are good” replied Moira.
All right, so she does remember.
Moira seemed to realize the memories she was bringing up by saying that, and cleared her throat.
“Well, tell me if you need any help with anything. Not the writing, I mean, with medicine…I could tutor you, if you like” her tone was brisk and businesslike, yet had an underlying emotion underneath. Almost a hopeful tinge.
“That would be great” Felicity replied, smiling.
“Yeah, that would be awesome, I’ll need some tutoring for sure” piped up Fred, grinning from ear to ear, a mischievous glint in his eyes.
Moira blinked, looking slightly taken aback, as if she had forgotten he was there. “Oh, yes, of course, you too.”
Once they had walked out of the classroom, out of the building and into the grounds, Frederick stopped abruptly, turned to Felicity and crossed his arms, a triumphant look in his eye.
“Well, now I know why you won’t go out with Mr. Dimples.”
Felicity rubbed her nose, suddenly wary.
“What do you mean?”
Fred rolled his eyes, looked around to check no one was listening nearby, and dropped his voice to a whisper.
“You’re a friend of Dorothy, aren’t you?”
Felicity dropped her hand from her nose, now truly confused.
Fred looked at her suspiciously, as though wondering whether he was mistaken or she was just naïve.
“I might be wrong, but I don’t think so, judging from the way you were looking at that girl like she’s the best thing since chocolate eclair”
Felicity widened her eyes and fidgeted, not knowing what to say. Could she trust him? After all, she only met him a day ago, and she wasn’t sure if he was talking about what she thought he was…
Fred seemed to read her thoughts and rolled his eyes.
“Felicity, look at me. I’m like you. Well, the opposite, technically…but come on. I’m not going to judge you.”
Felicity sighed and her shoulders slumped, like a weight had been somewhat lifted from them.
“How could you tell?”
“Well, first off, you were staring straight at her while daydreaming…”
“Oh, god”, Felicity groaned, burying her face in her hands.
“…I hadn’t realized at that moment, though, I just thought you were staring into space and she happened to be in your view. I realized as soon as you opened your mouth to speak to her and you started going tomato red” he finished.
“Am I really that obvious?”
“And as for her, I could tell she was a friend of Dorothy just by looking at her. That one’s really a friend of Dorothy.”
“What does that even mean?” cried Felicity, half exasperated, half amused.
“A raging homo”, replied Fred bluntly.
“Ssshhh! Yes, all right, I gathered that much. I’ve never heard of that word before. Anyway, I know she is – but I messed it all up years ago. You have no idea. It was so embarrassing” sighed Felicity, leaning against a tree trunk.
Fred raised his eyebrows.
“Well, I don’t know what you think you did to mess it up, but I don’t think you have. She seems keen on you”.
“I’m serious! What did you do that was so bad, anyway?”
“It wasn’t bad; it was just – embarrassing. I kind of…confessed my feelings for her by accident. And she said I was too young”
“How old were you?” demanded Fred.
“Fourteen. She was eighteen, and a head-girl, and she said it wouldn’t be right…and a load of other things.”
“Well, she was right. It would have been downright creepy considering you were a child compared to her. But you’re both adults now, it’s different.”
“I know. I hope so, but – I don’t know. I think she still sees me as a kid. I made everything awkward back then, and it’s still awkward, even now” sighed Felicity. “I can barely look her in the eye.”
“Well, I think you should accept her tutoring offer and see what happens. She can’t see you as a kid forever. If you start spending time together, talking about things, you’ll get past the awkwardness. And if not, there’s plenty – well, maybe not plenty – but quite a few fish in the sea. Frankly, she seems a bit of an ice-queen anyway”, smiled Fred, elbowing her playfully.
Felicity smiled, elbowing him back, her head slightly lighter and less worried. It felt good, being able to talk to someone about it. People made you see things in a simpler manner.
“Now, tell me the whole story, and then we’ll get ready to see Mr. Dimples and your friends.”