Chapter 1: Nuns Crossing
“Sterling!” I was jolted awake from my sleep and rapidly flung myself into an upright position. I looked over at Ella, who was looking at me with a worried exterior. She stood across the desk from me, clutching her books to her chest. Her hair was in perfect ringlets--not a hair out of place, and her freshly pressed uniform and red glasses completed her prim and proper look.
“Why are you sleeping in the library?” she asked me. I shook my head at her and stood up.
“It’s nothing, really,” I told her, as I rubbed my eyes.
“Were you up late studying, again?” she hissed at me--which quickly prompted a harsh shushing from the old crone of a librarian.
“I don’t know why you kill yourself studying. You know, my uncle is a doctor, and he says that the mind of an adolescent just as much sleep as an infant to--”
“--to perform well on tests. Yes, Ella, I know.” I scoffed as hoisted my bag strap over my shoulder.
“Well, you don’t act like it.” I ignored her comment as I reached into my skirt pocket and pulled out my pocket watch.
“Christ!” I said a little too loud for the librarian’s liking, which earned me an even louder silencing than my eccentric friend.
“We’ve got to go Ella- we were supposed to meet the driver five minutes ago,” I said as I began rushing out of the library with Ella trailing close behind. Ella’s eyes widened in realization,
“Your Mother is going to tear you apart--.”
“I know, which is why we must go.” I said with my eyes focused Infront of me.
“Shhhhh!” I turned and gave the nun sitting behind the desk a stern look, which she gladly returned with a glare, that (in my opinion) should be deemed unholy, but that was beside the point.
“Oh, we’re leaving!” I said in a harsh whisper, towards her as we walked out. With my chin in the air, I picked up my pace, and my strides progressively became faster. I hastily passed the tall windows lining the old corridor, not paying any mind to what was outside. My eyes were focused on the large, solid oak door that was propped open and letting light stream into the academy halls.
“Mind explaining to me why you’re running?” Glancing over at my friend, I saw that her worried expression had returned. Her curly blonde hair was bouncing in all directions, and her eyeglasses were crooked--her prim and proper exterior was now long gone. Eleanor Cleary had been my neighbor, and my better half, since primary school. We’ve had the pleasure of living next door to each other for the majority of our young lives.
“We are not running-- running is not allowed-- we’re brisk walking,” I told her curtly. The last thing I needed was a correction meeting with the headmistress--or worse... Sister Sara. At the thought of her I was reminded of the sour old woman; she has had it out for me ever since I sneezed into my trombone during the morning assembly two years ago,
“Seems more like a jog really, but fine, then why are we brisk walking --” My friend’s words were cut off when we attempted to duck around an unsuspecting nun to avoid a head-on collision.
She gasped in shock and her papers flew up in the air and fluttered down. I would have helped her, but me ensuing the wrath of my mother would have helped no one.
“Ladies! No running!” She huffed at us as she shook her bony fist at us.
“--We’re not running, we’re brisk walking,” Ella chimed.
“Sorry Sister Garret!” I shouted as I brisk-walked away.
“And my father is having another dinner party tonight, and so if you ever want to see me alive again- we need to keep moving.” I informed Ella, I may have spoken sweetly with a smile, but I was sure that the fear in my eyes told another story.
“Tonight? he had one last week! Honestly how many more haughty politicians can ask the poor man for money?” Ella said perplexed.
“This one is different--he got elected.” I corrected her as I gave my finger a short wag in her direction.
“To a deputy banker? That’s fantastic!” She said enthusiastically.
“Which is why I--wait--there’s the door!” I reached over and gripped her shoulder to get her attention. There it was--the door--freedom! Salvation! Even better was the additional bonus of possibly avoiding a cruel and usual maternal punishment at the hands of my mother.
“Keep up, Cleary!” I exclaimed to my friend’s surprise as I started sprinting towards freedom.
“Sterling!” She hollered at me as she began running, struggling to match my pace. I sprinted as fast as my panicked legs could carry me. I ran past the fountains and the gardens, then I set my eyes on the red-painted iron gates, and I was overcome with joy. Although I love my mother and she is the light of my life—along with my cat—but she is also the most terrifying woman in the world. The Headmistress and every nun in the British Empire had nothing on Hellen Violet Howard.
Ellie and I came to an abrupt stop once we were outside of the gates. I could see the driver was leaning against his glossy black car, smoking a cigarette and checking his pocket watch impatiently. Ellie and I shared a glance as we both huffed with exhaustion, unable to speak. I gave her a nod, which she understood as we both made our way towards our chauffeur.
“Miss Howard,” he said the moment he noticed us. He threw his cigarette down and stomped it out before opening the door of the cab for me.
“Mr. Baxter,” I said, trying to seem composed and not panicked at all, as I slid into the car. I watched him as he got into the vehicle as well. Baxter’s a young man in his mid-twenties, he’s tall with blond hair, a square jawline, and blue eyes. But best of all, he’s dependable, employed, and honest—a bit rude, but that was beside the point. In the words of my mother, any woman with healthy eyes fancied Mr. Baxter.
“Your mother instructed me to pick you up at 4 o’clock sharp-- it is precisely 4:18. I was here at 3:45.” He griped at me as he glanced at the clock in the vehicle.
“Yes, well, I’m here now.” After my cheeky remark, Baxter scoffed and took off his cap to rustle his hair in frustration. He then glared at me through the rear-view mirror, which I returned in kind. Ella slid into the car, glanced back and forth between us and undoubtedly picked up on the thick tension.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Baxter! Nice weather we’re having!” She said nervously, hoping to disperse the animosity. Their eyes met for a fraction of a second, and Ella’s cheeks became about as red as her glasses. She promptly averted her eyes and looked down at her lap as she fiddled with her skirt hem.
“Good day, Miss Cleary,” he said with an exasperated sigh. Baxter started the car and pulled away from the curb. The rest of the drive was silent and unbearably awkward. When we pulled up to our London townhouse, Ella and I threw ourselves out of the car and gave a rushed goodbye to Baxter before he drove away in a huff. Ella quickly hugged me and wished me well tonight before we parted ways and darted up the stairs of our respective homes.
“I’m home! I’m home!” I said as I rushed inside.
“And you’re late.” I looked over to the stairs and there my mother stood in the foyer, tapping her foot. My mother is a poised, petite, slender woman. I never let her small stature fool me. I swear—my mother is a force to be reckoned with. Her dark hair was always perfectly pulled back into a low bun and her dark cat-like eyes were piercing. The many years she spent studying in Paris had left her lips permanently pursed.
“Yes, but I’m here now,” I said as I hung up my coat.
My mother crossed her arms as she stared me down. “34 minutes late. Never mind,” she huffed, “your father’s party is at 6 o’clock sharp. I expect you to be ready and presentable—and be in the pink drawing-room no later than 5:45 do you understand.”
I rushed past her, kissed her on the cheek, and scurried past her. “But since we painted the pink drawing-room, isn’t it the blue drawing-room?”
“Sterling!” she snapped.
“Fine, blue drawing-room 5:50. got it.” I facetious saluted her and hurried up the stairs.
“And best behavior.” She warned me. Probably not wanting a repeat of last year’s Christmas party.
“Best behavior,” I assured her.
I went up the many flights of stairs to my bedroom on the fourth floor. I cracked open the door and was greeted by my plump cat, Winston, sitting on my bed in the warm yellow and orange bedroom.