Milton 'n' McGold


2. Chapter Two

Chapter Two

Abbi's hopes for an ally had been crushed when she returned to her room to find the other bed empty. No suitcase. No Jenna. Something must be wrong since she's not here for dinner. Of course she might have text Abbi but how would she know with no phone? Abbi put the pieces of her broken phone in her cosmetic bag, like putting a dead body in a body bag. How could she replace it? Granddad had just put a deposit down on a new car and his wage was stretched to the limit with all the payments he has to make. He warned Abbi that they wouldn't have any spare cash for a while. He promised to teach her to drive; that's probably why he got a new car. His old one not stable enough for a new driver. She go to him with this problem. She tucked the dead cell in the draw next to her bed. She didn't have insurance for accidental damage; life with out a phone was a life not worth living. She'd be out of the loop even more that she already is. Girls who were on the outside of social circles soon transferred out of Parton; this school isn't kind to outsiders.
Ok. She would have to find a way of earning the cash to fix the phone if Tori didn't have a change of heart and owned up to breaking it. Fat chance; like that was going to happen anytime this century. Abbi swore and kicked over the waste basket in the corner of the room. It was so unfair, life was unfair. No goo reporting it to the head teacher, she never took the scholarship pupil's side over the paying students.
Breath, M*******. Abbi let her head hang between her arms as she lay her arms on the window. This was no biggie. She would cope, like she always did about everything. This was peanuts compared to losing her mom to cancer and her dad to Afghanistan.
I'm sorry for your loss, that was what people said, like she had misplaced her parents. They said it, of course, because all words were inadequate and these were the ones society had deemed appropriate, but there were times when she wished someone had said 'I'm sorry your mom and dad died.' Told it like it was. Horrible. Gut-wrenching. Not a loss but a huge hole dug out in the middle of her. Mom had gone first. After her dad die, Abbi's old life had been flushed away and an unspeakably grim transition period followed while the authorities fumbled over her future. Granddad had been out of the picture, in hospital in England after a heart attack, so for a while the social worker dealing with her case had placed her with military friends of her parents, not realising the couple was going through a stormy marriage breakdown. Emotionally there had been no room for a grief-stricken thirteen year old, leaving her prey to their bully of a fifteen year old son. Jimmy Bolton looked innocent, boy-next-door-charming, but his face hid a malicious nature. That was where she had learnt to run fast, and if she couldn't run, how to fight back so she could get away. Her old self-defensive lessons had become a daily survival tactic. She couldn't even escape him during the day as Jimmy had been in the senior department of her high school. The exact opposite of Parton., it had been under funded, teachers over stretched and the students low on ambition. It was a place in which you endured rather than studied. Whether her granddad recovered enough to apply to be her guardian, Abbi had thought that coming to Parton was a move to paradise-lawns, gardens, cool ancient building; it looked perfect.  But then, even Eden had its snakes, didn't it?
Enough brooding. Dumping the robe on her bed, Abbi changed into a summer dress she had picked up for a fiver from the Oxfam charity shop in the local town over Easter. She smoothed it down, enjoying the sensation of the cotton against her skin, hanging just above her knees. She doubted any of her class mates ever barging hunted like she did. Bright orange, the colour suited her bronze skin tone. She accessorised with a string of green and orange beads, also picked up from the same store but from the fair-trade Craft section. She tugged off the label telling her about the women's cooperative in Bangladesh that made it, her mind flittered around the world to a hot shed by the river bank that spent weeks in floods. It seemed really stupid to be fretting over a smashed phone in contrast to that level of hardship. Get a grip, Abbi.
The dinner warning bell sounded outside. Just as Abbi was on the point of leaving her room, she almost stepped on an envelope that had been shoved carelessly in the gap under her door. Expecting some leaflet about term time activities, she ripped it open. Her photo fell out, features defaced by a permanent marker, a dagger sticking in her neck, spurting out blood. So not funny. Angrily, she scrunched it up and chucked it in the bin in the bathroom, not wanting it to be in her room a moment longer.
The picture left a horrid taste in her mouth and a shaky feeling in her stomach. Somewhere deep down she was always the terrified girl who had lost her foundations along with her parents, and she worked hard so that side of her didn't come to surface. Her old school had taught her not to show weakness, that was like blood in water to the circling sharks. Only her grandfather saw the true her and that was heavily edited so as not to worry him. Why had someone decided to single her out for such spite? Even thought she didn't expect a welcome party downstairs, she wanted to be with other people to chase away the image on the letter away.
Pushing through the heavy fire door in the corridor, she headed down the narrow stairs. The room she shared with Jenna was up in what had once been servants' quarters. The school had four storeys in the main building, divided in to boys' and girls' wings. The second and thirds floors were given over to classrooms; and the fancy high ceilinged ground floor that had started life as a medi evil manor and grown to a castle status under the Tudors. All in all, the school was home to approximately three hundred live-in pupils. Parton castle was just the English branch of the exclusive Union of International Schools. If you counted the other thirty schools around the world, the number of students numbered tens of thousands, forming a powerful and well connected network. Her granddad had been astonished that she was accepted; he thought that if she graduated from Parton she would be set up for life.
The gong sounded in the entrance hall. She was late. Picking up speed, Abbi charged down the corridor, leaving the doors swinging behind her. Leaping the last few steps she reached the door just a second before it closed. The rule is if you get there after the bell you have to miss supper.  Fortunately, it was her grandfather on door duty. He raised a bushy eyebrow at her but held the door open so she could enter.
"Thanks." She whispered as she slipped past.
He patted her shoulder and disappeared off into his office by the kitchens, his little figure disappearing behind yet another fire door. The old architecture and character of the building had been brutally beaten to take on fire precautions, swinging doors and fire escapes. She wished he had elected to stay and eat with the students, but as usual he avoided eating with the students; the resident teachers weren't so lucky. Their attendance was mandatory.
Abbi  slipped into the hall and closed the door behind her, feeling vulnerable with out Jenna by her side. As she had anticipated, she was the last to arrive and most seats were taken. This was no Hogwarts style dining room; with long wooden oak tables and candles lit everywhere as you might expect from the old building, but a restaurant seating of circular tables that could easily be folded away when the space was needed for other activities. The students were supposed to learn the art of dinner party conversation in the groups of ten, teachers sprinkled around the room strategically to encourage polite conversation and intelligent conversation. At least that was what the prospectus had promised parents; in reality, the tables were closely guarded spheres of influence, markers of who was in and who was out. Teacher preferred to sit on a table together and let the students have their social battles with out a referee.
Abbi's eyes swept the room. Though she was standing in the shadow, her late entrance had not gone unnoticed, the girls were all staring and started whispering then a round of giggles started. She could only imagine what they were saying: There's the thief, we always knew it was her.
Which one had left the picture, she wondered? It was horrible to think that someone had spent their afternoon thinking how to upset her. Her money was on Tori and the gang, now she knew what they thought of her - the schools trash - she had begun to see enemies everywhere. No one had stood up for her, she would remember that.

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