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Disclaimer: All characters and events are purely fictional. All characters are at least 18 years of age.

“Bracchia et voltum teretisque suras integer laudo;

fuge suspicari cuius octauvm trepidavit aetas claudere lustrum.”

(“Arms and countenance and those lissome ankles cooly uninvolved I commend;

suspect not one whose rushing life has already drawn its fortieth year shut.”)

– from Horace, Ode 2.4

Standing in front of the display, she peruses the selection. There’s nothing fancy on offer, Mars bars, Snickers, Twix, Double Decker, Kit Kat, Crunchy, Twirl, all the usual crap. She selects a small, plain Galaxy bar. It’s not really her preference, but chocolate is chocolate, and she’s in no position to be fussy.

She coyly hands over a pound coin, accepts her thirty pence change, thanks the cashier and scurries away quickly, more than slightly embarrassed to be buying chocolate again. It’s the third time this week and it’s only Wednesday. She tried to have a healthy lunch, chicken salad with just a little dressing and a banana, but it wasn’t enough, she’s still hungry. There are healthier alternatives to choose from, popcorn or rice cakes or something, but the craving for chocolate always wins.

“Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” she mutters to herself as she finds a quiet bench to sit and indulge.

The book of Matthew, wasn’t it? Or was it Mark? No, definitely Matthew. Born into a devout family, scripture has always been one of her strong points. However, it was never enough to steer her from the sin of gluttony.

She was a podgy little pudding as a child and her parents’ pet name for her has been ‘dumpling’ for as long as she can remember. Now people tell her she’s ‘curvy’ and ‘buxom’, occasionally she gets ‘chubby’ or worst of all ‘plus sized’. She wishes people wouldn’t use these stupid euphemisms and just say what they’re thinking. She’s fat and she knows it, everyone knows it and there isn’t any point in trying to sugar coat it.

Honestly, she doesn’t eat that much; it’s really the lack of exercise that’s the problem. That and the regular treats everyone gives her. They mean well. Sweets, cakes and especially chocolates bring her joy and they love to see her smile.

Her smile is a sight to behold. It isn’t just her face that lights up, it’s the whole room. It’s infectious. Seeing her smile will brighten your entire day, so they keep bringing sticky, creamy, fatty things, never knowing the depression she feels whenever she stands in front of the mirror and sees her muffin top, or the tears she sheds in private after someone passes a thoughtless comment on her size. She knows ultimately she is the only one to blame. She doesn’t have to eat absolutely everything put in front of her and these post lunch chocolate bars aren’t helping at all.

It’s a chilly Autumn day, but the sky is bright and clear. There’s no wind either, so she finds a quiet, out of the way bench to sit down upon. Poking her squidgy belly, she knows she’ll never be skinny, but promises herself to lose the flab one day. With that, she carefully unwraps the bar, peeling back the copper coloured foil to reveal the glossy brown delight inside. She snaps off a segment, slips it passed her lips and sucks, allowing it to melt slowly. It’s overly sweet of course, but that doesn’t matter right now. Whenever she eats chocolate, no matter what else is going on in her life, for that brief moment she feels truly happy.

Before she has time to realise, it’s nearly finished, just one square left. As she looks around, delaying consumption of the final piece, she sees him walking towards her.

She knows it’s him long before he’s close enough for her to see his face. He’s recognisable by his gait alone. Straight and upright with a distinctive roll of the shoulder and an ever so slight limp in his left leg. The injury not so much evidence of weakness, but rather indicative of a life well lived.

He’s dressed, immaculately as always, in three pieces of beige tweed, white shirt buttoned at the collar, green tie and matching handkerchief in his breast pocket. His physique is solid, not overly tall or excessively wide, but definitely well built.

His head is hidden by a cloud of dense, blue smoke from the cigarillo he’s puffing on, but it clears as he draws near, and she’s able to get a good look at his face. A thick beard, heavily flecked with grey and shaped to a soft point, gives him a distinguished, professorial air. His lips don’t smile; she’s never seen him smile. His eyes are distant and thoughtful. When seen in profile, the high ridge of his nose is prominent, noble, and aquiline. The aroma of the smoke carries. Not as acrid as a cigarette, but stronger, more robust and rounded. It has a heady quality that reminds her, in a way, of church incense.

Her eyes follow him all the way down the footpath. When he meets her gaze, she panics, suddenly aware of her indiscreet staring. casino siteleri She can’t help blurting out a cheery, “Hi!”. In response he merely inclines his head towards her, polite but curt, not stopping nor even slowing his pace.

Instantly, she’s embarrassed at her behaviour. Such enthusiasm is inappropriate with a total stranger. What must he think of her? At best that she’s rather immature, at worst a little insane. She must control herself and not be so excitable. Then a terrible thought hits. She presses a finger to the corner of her mouth and wipes. Upon inspection, her worst fear is confirmed, chocolate. She was gawping at him with chocolate smeared on her face. He must’ve seen it.

Holding her head in her hands for a few moments, she curses her sloppiness and cringes inside. Luckily there’s still one piece left. She pops it into her mouth and savours it with thighs clamped together. As the last morsel disappears, leaving behind a lingering after-taste and claggy texture, the bell rings signalling the end of lunchtime and calling all pupils to registration.

She ambles to her form room. Sister McDermott is getting on in years and always a little late, so there’s no reason to hurry. She’s in no rush to meet with the rest of her class and be amongst the other girls again, preferring to be alone with her own thoughts for a little longer.

As she walks alongside the imposing, neo-gothic school building, towards the rear entrance, she wonders who he could be. He couldn’t be a teacher; she knows them all by name and sees each of them multiple times a week. She’s only seen him a couple of times in the past month or so. Besides, most of the teachers at ‘The Sacred Heart’ are middle aged or elderly nuns. He’s far too well dressed and dapper to be a caretaker or gardener. No member of staff or even visitors would smoke so openly on the school grounds. He could be the father of one of the other girls. He’s certainly the right age, but why would he walking around during lunchtime? Parents don’t usually stray far from the entrance hall when dropping off or collecting their daughters.

Unable to come to a satisfactory explanation on her own, she resolves to find out for sure. But, who to ask? Maybe one of the sisters during this afternoon’s lessons if she can find an appropriate moment for conversation, she doesn’t want to appear too nosy.

****

After last period she heads towards the library unaccompanied. It’s not that she doesn’t have friends, she just knows how to appreciate her own company and she’s never really alone when she’s around books. They are as much friends to her as any person. Besides, the other girls all play sport, field hockey, netball and the like, or attend the many and various extracurricular clubs on offer. She prefers to spend her free time in the warmth and comfort of the library, engrossed in literature dating back through the ages. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dickens, George Eliot and George Orwell, Wilde, Wodehouse and Evelyn Waugh, poetry from Blake, Shelley, Tennyson, Wordsworth, Byron and Keats. She’s read them all and they have been her constant and loyal companions.

She’s slightly annoyed that she didn’t get the opportunity to ask about the mysterious man on campus. Sister Corrigan, the sadistic old maths teacher, had given them a test straight after lunch. She probably would’ve berated her curiosity anyway. Miss Monaghan, her English teacher and one of the few who hasn’t taken holy orders, had engaged the class in a lively discussion on James Joyce and his influence on 20th century literature. She enjoyed that, but it meant there was no chance for idle chit chat where she could make her enquiries. Still, it did inspire her to get hold of a copy of ‘Ulysses’ at the earliest possible opportunity.

As she passes the chapel of saint Agnes, the gentle, clear sound of the choir in practice emanates from within.

“Gaudete, gaudete. Christus est natus ex Maria virgine, gaudete.” A medieval Christmas hymn in Latin.

“Rejoice, rejoice. Christ is born, of the Virgin Mary, rejoice.” She translates silently to herself.

“Deus homo factus est natura mirante, mundus renovatus est a Christo regnante.”

“God has become man, nature marvelling, the world has been renewed by Christ reigning.”

She knows it, not because she’s particularly fluent in Latin, but because she was in the choir herself until she gave it up at the end of last year to concentrate on her studies. She has performed the hymn at carol services and knows both the original Latin and English translation by heart.

A sudden wave of appreciation for being here comes over her. ‘The Sacred Heart Convent School for Girls’ in Berkshire is the most exclusive Catholic school in England. Few from her background are privileged enough to receive the standard of education most of the girls take for granted. Her Mummy and Daddy could never afford to send her here; they can barely afford the uniform. She won a scholarship at the age of eleven and works hard slot oyna every day to make her parents proud. Much harder than she even needs to, but she’s determined to be the first in her family to attend Cambridge University. It’s not that they are ill-educated, they’ve just never made it to the lofty heights of Oxbridge so far. She will get there, no matter what it takes.

The middle of three children, she’s always had the feeling of playing third fiddle to her artistic older brother and athletic younger sister.

She hasn’t seen her brother recently. He dropped out of his art history degree, at a second rate university, to go travelling. He’s now somewhere in Asia, a constant worry to their parents who send him a stipend every month to keep him from destitution. They seem to think if they don’t, he’ll be walking the streets with a begging bowl. She doesn’t understand why he can’t just get a job.

Her sister is in some ways worse than her brother. They live together, but don’t have much to do with each other. In her early teens, she’s well into a rebellious phase. Vain and self centred, always primping and preening, she’s the most demanding little bitch you could ever have the misfortune to meet. Yet mother and father lavish attention on her and do their best to keep her happy. They were on the brink of divorce before she was born, a terrible thing in the eyes of the church. This child’s birth saved their marriage so she’s practically a miracle baby to them.

Unlike her siblings, she hasn’t really ever done anything. Nothing except excel academically and try to make life easier where she could. As a result, she’s been more or less ignored by everyone. The one thing they all seem to say about her is, “She’s such a pretty girl. If only she lost some weight.” She hate’s that. Sometimes a backhanded compliment is worse than a backhanded slap. Even worse still is when they add, in hushed tones, “It’s such a shame.” Her achievements always seem brushed over and the focus put on her appearance. Why is that so bloody important?

If she’s honest, she longs to be considered attractive in spite of her size. She wants to be beautiful and desirable, every girl does, don’t they? She doesn’t want to be “pretty for a fat girl”, but instead longs for someone to find her alluring as she is, for who she is and not have to change so people will think she’s appealing. At the same time, she desperately wants to get rid of this damn belly and bulging thighs, that wobble as she walks.

Sister O’Shaughnessy resides in the dark, wooden, Victorian library. The kindly old nun, with a thick Galway Brogue and even thicker glasses, has been the librarian here for longer than anyone can remember. A forgetful and slightly dotty demeanour hides a fierce intelligence. It’s easy to forget just how clever she is, then she’ll come out with the most esoteric and in depth knowledge with incredible insights on the obscurest topics. She’s definitely more astute than the majority of the teachers.

“Good afternoon, sister,” the girl says with a tone of familiarity.

“Oh, Helen. Is that you yourself there?” the sister asks, knowing full well it is. “I haven’t seen you in here for a good long while, so I haven’t.”

“I was here yesterday, Sister,” Helen reminds her. “I borrowed some books, remember?”

“Of course you were, Dear. I remember now, ‘Middlemarch’ and a history textbook. How are you getting on with those?” The old woman’s brain is still much sharper than she likes to let on.

“I finished most of my history prep last night and I started ‘Middlemarch’ on the train this morning. I’m enjoying it so far, but I’ve only read a few pages.”

“That’s lovely, Dear. Why don’t you come and have a little choccy,” she says, waddling over to her desk and producing a box of ‘Milk Tray’ from the drawer.

Helen isn’t a massive fan of Cadbury’s chocolate, but takes one anyway. It would be rude not to. The sharing of chocolate together is a daily ritual, like their own private holy communion.

The Hazelnut Swirl is waxy and cloying, but still enjoyable. Sister O’Shaughnessy has an Orange Truffle and they suck away contentedly.

She relays to the old woman some of what she learnt in her English lesson today and expresses her desire to borrow ‘Ulysses’ by James Joyce. O’Shaughnessy is impressed and commends her enthusiasm, but suggests she try ‘Dubliners’, a collection of short stories, before tackling the notoriously difficult and challenging modernist novel. Helen agrees, but vows to get through it quickly and be back next week for ‘Ulysses’ and ‘Finnegan’s Wake’ too.

“Now surely Mary Evans is more than enough for a young lass to be getting on with, without adding Joyce into the mix as well?” the nun laughs, as she looks up where to find a copy of ‘Dubliners’ for the eager teen-aged girl.

With the old, hardback copy in her hands, Helen flicks through slowly, scanning each page. Completely engrossed, she has almost forgotten about the enigmatic stranger, until he pushes canlı casino siteleri open the heavy oak door and enters the library.

Somehow, before she even looks up, she knows it’s him. She can feel him in the room. Her heart misses a beat, her stomach turns over and tightens.

She watches him walk, directly and with purpose, straight to Sister O’Shaughnessy. They have a short conversation in low voices. She knows him! Helen grips the edge of the table to stop herself from shaking. Whether it’s from nerves or excitement, she can’t be sure. Straining to hear, she manages to catch the tail end of their exchange.

“Don’t be worrying yourself, Professor. I’ve ordered them and I’m sure they’ll be in by next week at the latest.”

“Thank you, Sister.” With that he turns to leave and as he does, notices Helen watching him.

He doesn’t greet her, but nods politely, just as he did at lunchtime. Still embarrassed from their last encounter she doesn’t say anything this time. Instead she looks back down at her book, without acknowledging him with a smile or even a nod of her own. She can feel herself blushing and waits impatiently for him to leave.

Moments pass like hours, but at last the door closes and his footsteps fade away down the hallway. Closing the book she hurries over to interrogate the librarian. She wants to know everything, every detail she can possibly find out, but must be careful not to give herself away. It wouldn’t do to let any of the sisters know about her schoolgirl crush.

“Sister?” she says inquisitively. “Who was that man?”

“Which man, Dear?”

She couldn’t possibly have forgotten already.

“The man you were just talking to.” The annoyance in her voice is faint, but perceptible. “I’ve seen him around the school, is he a new teacher?”

“Oh, that’s Professor Alexander. He’s a Classics don at the university. He just comes to lecture here a couple of times a month.”

“Hmm, Classics. I should like to study Classics.” She does her best impression of nonchalance, but Sister O’Shaughnessy is worldly wise and can recognise infatuation when she sees it.

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Child! He’s far too old for you, so he is.” Her voice going up several octaves in that peculiar Irish fashion.

The girl’s cheeks flash scarlet. Unwilling to lie to a bride of Christ, she doesn’t try to deny it, but holds her tongue.

“He is devilishly handsome though. If I were twenty years younger, he’d be enough to make me forget my vows.”

Helen keeps silent, the ignominy of an elderly nun alluding to sex almost too much to bear. She helps herself to another piece of chocolate.

****

Lunchtime, a week or so later, she dutifully consumes her salad of cous cous, olives, roasted vegetables and a few crumbs of feta cheese. Once again it’s insufficient to satisfy her appetite and she’s lured back to the tuck shop.

A packet of prawn cocktail crisps is hastily done away with. A double chocolate cookie is lingered over for slightly longer, but still doesn’t last long. Guilt and the fear of being seen with such unhealthy snacks causes her to eat quickly and in private.

With her hunger finally sated, she returns to her usual lunchtime haunt, the library. Good old sister O’Shaughnessy is there as always, sorting through and organising books before returning them to their respective shelves.

After a cheery greeting and small talk, the sister has a surprise for the girl. There is a glint of mischief in her eye. She suspects Helen won’t be entirely happy with it, yet knows there is no way in the world she’ll ever refuse.

“I was chatting to that Professor of yours earlier today.”

“Professor Alexander? The classics lecturer?” Helen’s cheeks glow slightly, her curiosity piqued.

“That’s the one,” continues the devious librarian. “He mentioned that he needs some help. I can’t remember with what exactly. Probably just a bit of filing and note-taking, I expect.”

“Yes, I’m sure he has lots of books and papers and things,” says Helen as she contemplates the joy of being in his service. At this moment she wants nothing more than to be an obedient assistant, at his beck and call.

“So I told him you’d give him a hand after your lessons today.”

“Sister, you didn’t!” Helen no longer wants to be his assistant.

When it was just a fantasy, she couldn’t imagine anything better. Now it’s a reality, she can’t imagine anything more nerve-racking, more terrifying than spending time alone with him.

She’s not exactly sure why she’s afraid, there’s just something imposing about him. His looks, his comportment, his towering intellect, all these things together have created something so impressive to her, she knows she’ll make an utter fool of herself in front of him.

“I did so. Now don’t be late, you hear me? You don’t want to keep the man waiting,” insists O’Shaughnessy.

“Yes, Sister,” replies Helen, unable to think of a suitable excuse to get herself out of it.

****

After leaving her final period, maths with sister Corrigan, she heads directly for the lavatories. Unsure of whether it’s a natural urge or because of nerves, but she desperately needs to pee.

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