It was only few weeks into term time when it happened. The girls had settled back into familiar routines, and had just started to be more comfortable bending the rules again, resolutions of the holidays and the New Year forgotten. But with the newly rediscovered ease of breaking the rules came more complacency. And so one day, Gwen was walking towards the horses when she saw something that she shouldn’t have seen.
Being Gwendoline Mary, there was no way she was able to keep it to herself. She managed two days, and plotted to herself, until she got her chance to set her horrid scheme in action. It wouldn’t go at all as planned, but Gwen didn’t know that then, so one day as they were all chatting in the common room, Gwen came rushing in, an awful smile on her face that was really closer to a smirk, and meant she was planning something horrible.
“Say,” she cried, but was ignored by all the girls except Daphne. Clarissa and Bill were still conversing about horses, Emily continued sewing quietly next to Irene and Belinda, and Darrell, Sally, Alicia and Betty kept talking amongst themselves, Mary Lou continuing to listen next to Darrell, for all the girls in the year had plenty of practice ignoring Gwendoline’s horrid spoilt boasting.
“Everyone,” Gwen said, louder, “Listen! I saw Bill kissing a girl behind the stables!” and at this, she captured the attention of the room. Pleased, Gwen continued, “She’s a deviant and a dyke!” and pointed a dreadful accusing finger at Bill, who had gone very pale. “Sinners like you will burn in hell, you know,” Gwen continued. The silence in the room was a second away from eruption.
Before the tension could come to a head, however, Potty poked hers round the door.
“Girls,” she said sharply, “You’re late for tea! Hurry up at once.”
In the clatter to get to the dining room, Bill vanished. No one noticed until they were all seated and eating, and Miss Parker asked where she was.
“We don’t know,” answered Gwen immediately. “She just stormed off.”
Darrell seethed from the other end of the table, and Alicia and Betty were furiously plotting against Gwen and her supporters, Daphne and the Pi Sisters, but Sally placed a hand on Darrell’s shoulder. “Steady, old thing,” she warned, and then she addressed all the girls at their end. “Don’t call her out now, or Parker will notice and be nosy.”
Darrell frowned, and even the timid Mary Lou looked indignant, but they could all recognise the logic behind it. “We can scold her later.”
And later they did. After supper, everyone hurried back to the common room, where Darrell flew into an immediate rage. Alicia and Betty were behind her, and a row broke out between them and Gwen, Daphne and the rest of those who agreed with Gwen’s cruel name-calling and accusations.
“I think Bill is in the bathroom,” Sally said quietly to Darrell, Clarissa, Mary Lou, Alicia and Betty. “I’m going to see if she’s okay after that beastly thing Gwendoline did.”
“I’ll come after I’ve finished scolding Gwen,” said Darrell, who had turned red in the face with anger.
Sally slipped off to the bathroom, and sure enough, she could hear Bill there. “Bill?” called Sally, “Can I come in? It’s Sally.”
“Alright,” Bill replied. Her voice was thick. Sally came in and found her sitting on the floor. There were tear tracks on her cheeks and her eyes were red. Sally lowered herself next to her.
“I’m dreadfully sorry about what Gwendoline said,” Sally said gently. “She oughtn’t have called you those things. It was beastly of her. All the girls- Clarissa, Darrell, Alicia, Betty, Mary Lou, Belinda, Irene, Jean, all the girls who are kind- are dreadfully angry. They’ve threatened to send her to Coventry for a whole term. And Darrell lost her temper dreadfully. The row was frightful, but I’d say Gwen deserves all of it. She really oughtn’t have called you a dyke, and in front of everybody too! It’s horrid.”
“I know,” sniffed Bill, slightly reassured.
Sally continued. “And no one will tell anyone else. Alicia and Betty will make sure of that. I heard them threatening everyone with some dreadful tricks if they sneak.”
Bill shivered. “I shouldn’t like to get on their bad side. Alicia has a wicked tongue, and I don’t doubt they could come up with some beastly revenge.”
“They really could,” agreed Sally. Thens she asked, “Is what Gwen said true? That you were kissing a girl?” Before Bill could answer, Sally said, “Because you know that even if you were kissing a girl, none of the kind girls care. It’s only Gwen and the Pi Sisters, and Daphne a little, who really care. Besides, if Darrell and I cared we’d be frightful hypocrites.”
“What?” asked Bill, surprised, but Sally just pulled her in for a hug as Darrell showed up at the door. “Hey,” Sally greeted as she stood up from the floor, and left, dropping a kiss to Darrell’s lips as she exited.
“Hallo, Bill,” Darrell greeted, sliding to the floor next to her.
“You and Sally?” Bill asked. “Are you...”
“Yes,” answered Darrell simply. “Was it Clarissa that you were kissing?”
“Yes,” Bill admitted.
Darrell nodded. “I think Mary Lou is talking to her, and Sally must be going to see them now. Alicia and Betty are still rowing with Gwen and those horrid girls.”
“Sally told me,” Bill said in agreement. “So... you and Sally?”
Darrell grinned. “You and Clarissa?” Bill smiled too.
“I lost my temper at Gwen,” Darrell admitted. “It was such a horrible thing to do, and to accuse you in front of everyone! And what’s worse is that it could have been any of us. I think Alicia and Betty are... close, but I’m not certain. It was so close to home, and I saw red. I felt I had better come see that you were alright before I did something I would regret. Well, perhaps I wouldn’t regret it, but I would have got in awful trouble, regardless of what Gwen had said.”
“It was awful,” Bill agreed, and she thanked Darrell for standing up for her. “I am glad you were smart enough to leave, though. If the teachers were involved we might have to tell them what Gwendoline said, and that would be even worse.”
Darrell smiled at her. “Do you want to come and see all the others? They’re probably with Clarissa too- Alicia and Betty have most likely finished chewing Gwen out and threatening them. And you needn’t worry, no one else cares about anyone kissing girls.”
“What do you call it?” Bill asked. “Clarissa says lesbian, but I’ve heard Alicia say Sapphic before.”
“I’m not sure,” admitted Darrell. “I don’t really mind. Dyke is a horrid slur, but we haven’t really labelled ourselves, Sally and I. We like to kiss each other and- you know. And we sleep in each other’s beds, when we can get away with it, but we haven’t really talked about what we call it. We’re just happy being what we are.”
“Oh,” Bill said, and then she gave Darrell a quick hug. “Thank you, Darrell.” Then they walked out to find the others.
All the girls were more careful, after that, and Gwendoline became even more disliked. Loathed, even.
Bill and Clarissa went back to kissing behind the stables, but they hid more carefully, and Alicia’s threats and Gwen’s time in Coventry prevented any of the girls who disliked it from ever doing anything about it. Even when Alicia and Betty shared a kiss in the common room, all it was greeted with was grins and congrats.
Still, Bill found, she was nervous when she held Clarissa’s hand, kissed her behind the stables, smiled and winked at her on horse rides. Perhaps she would never be able to quiet the jolt of fear when Gwendoline came up to them, the panic and the hurt her accusations had caused. Still, Bill held Clarissa’s hand anyway, kept kissing her behind the stables, contined to share smiles on horse rides. They would never truly be free of the fear of not being accepted, but at least Bill was safe, here. Alicia and Betty never had to make good on their threats, and those who knew who was kissing who shared smiles when they saw each other together in the corridors. Perhaps they would never be accepted by everybody, perhaps God had forsaken them, but Bill found it didn’t matter, not when Clarissa’s body was pressed next to hers and her lips tasted like chocolate and kindness and defiance. They would be alright, just as long as they could keep sharing kisses behind the stables and declarations of love to the lilting clip-clop footsteps of the horses, just as long as Darrell and Sally lifted each other up and looked at each other as though the other had hung the moon and the stars in the sky, just as long as Alicia and Betty pressed together so close until no one could tell if they were plotting a trick or cuddling, just as long as Belinda drew hearts and portraits of flowing hair and glinting eyes through round glasses on Irene’s hips and Irene wrote piano pieces for Belinda and lost the sheet music but managed to play them anyway. Just as long as every girl kept being willing to do anything for the other girls, spit fire and give warm comfort and defend and love.
And if Gwen was right and they all really were dykes, and deviants, and butch, and homo, and queer -well, Bill found that maybe she’d rather that she was, because so what? She was happy, and Bill found that’s all that really mattered.