CHAPTER 4: School, Clashes, and a Gathering
Donald and Hugh had been invited for supper, and were made to feel completely at home by the Flynns. The only damper was provided by Tyrentia, who still gave an impression of having her own personal thundercloud hovering over her. Things came to a head when she was asked to get a refill of juice for Hugh.
‘Let him ****-well get his own **** juice!’ she snapped.
‘Oh, Tye!’ her mother breathed in horror.
Her grandfather stood up, and said with ominous quietness, ‘To your room; now! Come back only when you are prepared to apologise to all of us, and to undertake that you will not be guilty of any such rudeness again. Language like that is not permitted in this house.’
For an instant, it looked as though she was going to defy him, but then she jumped up, nearly knocking her chair over, and stormed out. Not many seconds later came the loud slamming of a door from upstairs.
Mrs Flynn glared at her daughter. ‘How many times do I have to tell you, you’re making far too many allowances? Tyrentia needs to be …’ then she glanced at Donald and Hugh and tailed off.
Raine shrugged helplessly. ‘She’s been getting worse, lately. The homeschooling isn’t working; I simply can’t keep discipline any more. Oh, I do hope she’ll be able to cope with going to school tomorrow, and can be accepted.’
Hugh was bewildered. ‘School?’ he repeated blankly. ‘What school; where; how …?’
‘Sorry, Hugh,’ Raine said, ‘there are rather a lot of things we haven’t been telling you until we had some idea of whether there might be a chance for them to work out or not. One is that arrangements have been made for her to go to school with you, if she still agrees, and to sit in on your classes for the next three days. The idea will be to see if she can fit in there and be accepted. If so, she will be enrolled, and we will move home to here.’
‘Oh,’ said Hugh. He thought for a minute while carefully resisting the temptation to see if he could spot what some late Shiners in the passage visible through the doorway were up to. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I think I may have upset Tyrentia by asking about her father. I didn’t mean to, but …’
Raine suddenly had a frozen expression. ‘Yes,’ she said tightly. ‘That would account for it.’ Donald and Hugh looked at her expectantly, but it was clear she didn’t intend to say any more on the subject.
Later, while the adults were having coffee and liqueurs, Hugh excused himself and went upstairs. There was only one closed bedroom door, and he knocked on it. ‘I’m sorry if anything I said upset you,’ he said.
‘Go away,’ came in muffled tones.
‘You will be coming to school tomorrow?’ he pleaded.
There was a long silence, and then came: ‘OK; now go away.’
As they were taking their farewells, Mr Flynn said, ‘I apologise for the behaviour of my granddaughter.’
‘I know she’s sorry, but she’s too “otherwise” to admit it,’ Hugh said. ‘Anyway, she will, actually, be going to my school tomorrow.’
He was treated to another look of total amazement.
The next morning Mr Flynn phoned to say he would be driving Tyrentia to the school, and would pick Hugh up on the way. Their arrival and attendance at the first classes went without incident. It was clear that the staff were trying to assess Tyrentia’s ability to some extent, because each of them asked her a number of questions during the lessons. She answered all of them intelligently, and also asked some good ones of her own. In the middle of one of them a Greeny appeared which was behaving comically - it was trying to jump back through the window and kept rising just short of the sill - but she only glanced at it from time to time and did not let her mind wander. Hugh could see how it was possible still to be Aware, but to act normally as far as other people were concerned. If only, he told himself bitterly, he had realised this years ago.
When ‘big break’ came, Hugh started to sneak off somewhere from force of habit. ‘Where are we going?’ Tyrentia asked.
‘Out of the way,’ Hugh said.
‘Why? I want to watch the scene here,’ she declared.
‘Because I … uh … just like to keep away from people,’ Hugh said feebly.
‘Oh, don’t be ridiculous. We’re staying right here,’ she said – not feebly but firmly, and with a withering look.
The inevitable soon happened. Brian spotted them, and he and his gang sauntered over. ‘Heyoo!’ he yelled. ‘Where did you dig up that corpse? Looks like a zombie.’
‘Get **** lost, you **** little squirt,’ Tyrentia said.
‘Wha-a-a-at?’ Brian could scarcely believe his ears.
‘Sorry, about that. What she actually meant to say was go and crawl back into your sewer, you wretchedly insignificant little squirt,’ Hugh explained in a reasonable tone. ‘My name is “Hugh”, by the way.’
‘I must say, your version has a certain added zing,’ Tyrentia said. ‘Only trouble is that these morons won’t understand it.’
Brian was going a mottled red with fury, and his friends were gaping. He took a step forward. ‘Showing off to Corpsy, are you? Well, now we’re going to …’ he snarled.
‘Just a minute,’ Hugh held up a hand. ‘In all the time you’ve known me, has it ever crossed your tiny mind to wonder what would happen if I decided to squash you? All of you, for that matter?’
Brian was beyond reason. He took a wild punch at Hugh, who effortlessly caught his wrist midway, and simply held it there. Spitting with fury, Brian next aimed a kick, but Hugh turned his body slightly and placed the sole of his shoe in the way of the swinging shin. Brian gave a yelp of agony.
Ben had decided to grab Tyrentia as an easier option, but the heel of her hand struck viciously upwards at his nose, and suddenly he wasn’t seeing too well. Sipho wisely chose to stay out of it.
A crowd was beginning to gather, and Hugh simply flung Brian away from him, with such force that the boy sat down hard, and said, ‘Now buzz off and keep out of mischief.’ Then he and Tyrentia strolled away casually.
’That is an example of what has been bullying you for years?’ she exclaimed incredulously. ‘What a complete idiot you are.’
‘You’ve said it,’ agreed Hugh, with a sudden wonderful feeling of freedom. ‘That was so incredibly easy; and I didn’t even need to hit anyone!’
’Well, I’m glad I did,’ she said, with savage satisfaction.
In spite of the care he had been taking, something about Hugh’s behaviour must have aroused Donald’s suspicions, because the following morning he told Hugh to take his meds in his presence, and watched him like a hawk as he did so. After that he relaxed, and said, ‘Raine and I are delighted that you two seem to be getting along so well. Are you becoming friends?’
‘No, I don’t think so,’ Hugh replied frankly. ‘She feels a great deal of contempt for me, and there are many things about her I simply don’t like at all. She is utterly selfish and conceited, and wants her own way all the time. She hardly ever lightens up. She obviously likes wallowing in misery and shocking people, and doesn’t show signs of having much sense of humour.’
‘That about sums up what I feel about her. I can’t get through to her at all. At least you seem to, a bit?’ Donald probed.
‘Well,’ said Hugh, thinking carefully. ‘We do have interests in common that we’re both passionate about.’
‘Like, what?’ Donald asked.
‘We see some important things in Nature in the same way – although she has showed me how to see them in a slightly different one,’ Hugh explained. After tying his brains in a knot on that for a while, Donald decided to leave it there.
Actually, Hugh was finding her company increasingly annoying. As her confidence grew in the school environment, Tyrentia was developing a tendency to boss him about more and more. She would do what he wanted to do, or go where he wanted to go, only if it suited her. If she felt like visiting the library, to the library they would go, but if Hugh had an urge to buy something at the tuck shop when she didn’t, then the item would go un-bought. Any thought of doing things on his own was met by a tantrum; as far as she was concerned he was now her personal attendant.
Over the following couple of days she made a point, during breaks, of looking for Brian and his cronies, and if they even said ‘Boo!’ to anyone smaller than themselves she would drag Hugh in that direction to stare at them in a meaningful manner until they moved away hastily.
It was clear that she was making a really good impression at the school. When Hugh remarked as much, she said with a sneer, ‘Oh, it’s so easy to act like the sort of goody-goody they want one to be, if one can be bothered to put one’s mind to it. As for the lessons, they’re pretty elementary stuff, actually.’
‘Why don’t you put on the same act at home, or with other people you meet, then?’ Hugh asked.
Tyrentia looked genuinely puzzled. ‘Why would I need to waste the effort?’
‘It’d make life easier for your mom and grandparents, for one thing,’ Hugh pointed out.
‘I couldn’t really care about that,’ she said dismissively.
Some of the other boys and girls in the class, who had either ignored or teased Hugh for years, were now making friendly approaches, but Tyrentia tended to brush these off – amazingly enough, without causing offence.
The main consolation in her company was in being able to compare notes on the Little Folk. It was strange to learn that there were differences in the way they saw them. Apparently Tyrentia was able to view them as fairly detailed little figures, even to describing items of clothing, while Hugh could mostly only make out forms and shapes and colours.
Tyrentia gave an impression of holding Hugh personally responsible for the fact that he had received no further ‘messages’, and she kept urging him to do something about it. ‘Like what?’ he had asked, and she vaguely replied that he should try and send out questions of his own. When he said he had no idea how to start, she became even more contemptuous than usual.
On Thursday it was arranged that Hugh and Tyrentia would catch the bus from school to the Redcorn home, where Raine and her parents would join them for supper after Donald got home from work.
After Hugh had let them in and they had freshened up, Hugh checked that their live-in housekeeper, a glum but efficient lady inappropriately named Happiness, had everything under control for the evening. Then Tyrentia demanded, ‘You’d better show me over the place. It looks as though it will probably become my home, too, unless my mother starts seeing some sense.’
Hugh bristled. ‘What’s wrong with my dad?’
‘He’s a man; **** useless, nasty creatures, all of them,’ she snapped.
Hugh lost his temper. It was something he hardly ever did, and not at all when he had been on meds, but he made up for it now by doing a thorough job. ’One of the things that nasty, useless creature did for me,’ he raged, ’was to show me that swearing is a nasty useless habit which shows neglect of imagination and of being too lazy to look for decent words. It’s one of those nasty useless things people do to be different and daring, but which makes them all the same and pathetic. So get this: either you give it up or I’m giving up having anything to do with you. Otherwise I’d be doing some different giving - giving you a good spanking! Trouble is, my nasty useless dad thinks that’s wrong, too.’ White and shaking, he spun on his heel and stormed off.
Some fifteen minutes later she found him, still in school uniform, crouched down looking beneath a group of petunias, where a number of Greenies were flocked round a Shiny and doing something he couldn’t quite make out. ‘Isn’t it funny the way they often show no signs of knowing they’re being watched, even close up like that?’ she said, in a voice which was trying to be casual but had a slight wobble in it.
Hugh didn’t even look up at her.
She took a deep breath. ‘OK; deal. I’ll stop it with the language if you’re stupid enough to feel that way about it. I bet I make a better job of stopping than you are of not showing that you see what you’re seeing. Now, will you show me round?’
Sighing, Hugh got to his feet. He supposed that was as close to an apology as Tyrentia was ever likely to offer, and at least she had shown some manners in not having wandered all over the place on her own as he might have expected her to do.
‘You’ve seen most of the front parts, but there is still what we call the library. It’s more of a study, really, but it does have a lot of bookshelves. Through here.’ She spent some time looking at the books, and they found that they had some favourite writers in common. Then he showed her the three bedrooms, and two extra junk rooms which could also become bedrooms in need. ‘We’ve certainly got lots of space,’ he said. ‘This place was built when people used to entertain a lot of guests, or maybe they just had very big families.’
Next he took her to the change rooms next to the swimming pool, and then the workshop adjoining the garage where he kept his collection of tools. Her eyes went to his mountain bike on a rack, and a tone of more enthusiasm than he had ever heard from her came into her voice. ‘Hey,’ she said, ‘that looks like the same model as mine. Three-chainring, eight-sprocket, giving about eighteen distinct gear ratios, right? No, wait, you’ve also got the fourth oversize chainring for doing the suicide thing downhill! Exactly the same!’
Hugh was amazed. ‘Yours is upcountry?’ he asked. ‘How soon could you get it here?’
‘As a matter of fact,’ she said, ‘it is right here already, in Granddad’s garage. It just wasn’t safe to ride it where we’ve been staying after … lately, so we sent it here. I’ve ridden it quite a lot on visits, since.’
‘Why do I get the feeling some cycling is on the cards?’ Hugh laughed. ‘Have you been along Durban Beachfront to the Stadium? Or, on the trail through …?’
‘Does the garden end down there, below the pool?’ Tyrentia broke in suddenly.
‘No; beyond those shrubs is the wild part leading down to a little stream. Why?’
‘Let’s go down there. Look,’ and she pointed.
‘That certainly is an unusually large group of them,’ Hugh said wonderingly. What can so many be doing there together?’
‘Can’t you see?’ Tyrentia said impatiently. ‘They’re all beckoning – at us!’