The only problem drama teacher Paiton Underwood has is deciding what to do for the school’s fiftieth anniversary Christmas production...Until a class altercation leaves her with a broken arm—and a new job.
Fraser Quirk’s first day as headmaster goes from pretty good to downright disastrous in seconds. Now he’s suspending students and dealing with an injured teacher. Not to mention the threat of a school closure—of the permanent kind.
She thinks he’s bossy and overbearing. He thinks she’s a control freak. Can the school's journey to Christmas bring healing, love and a hope for the future?
Fraser Quirke sat in his new office and took a deep breath. Then another. He’d applied for and got this job sooner than he’d expected. The initial advert had said from January, but the board seemed to have other ideas. As had Ofsted, the government body in charge of overseeing all schools in the country. Headley Cross Secondary, responsible for 1,320 pupils, was failing, and it was his job to turn it around. By Christmas.
He’d wanted a challenge in his next posting. He’d actively prayed for a fortnight for God to give him a challenge. And he’d been given just that. Now all he needed was a deputy who’d rise up and help him drag this school back on its feet and make it shine like the beacon it used to be.
The board had their views on the subject, but Fraser preferred to pick his own right-hand man, or woman. He wanted someone already on staff, someone who knew the kids, knew the school, and the lay of the land. He glanced at the list of names he’d shortlisted from the files he’d read all weekend. He’d make his final decision tomorrow, once he’d spoken to all the staff individually.
Watching them during the upcoming class photos would be a good start—see the teachers in action handling their own tutor groups. And he’d call a whole school assembly for later that day. God had called him here to shake things up, and that was precisely what he was going to do.
Paiton Underwood tugged the last box of scripts from the drama cupboard and sighed. Then she sighed again, longer and deeper, purely for effect. There had to be something more exciting in this box—some play that wasn’t a hundred years old, politically incorrect, or hadn’t been performed ad-nauseam over the last fifteen years. If there wasn’t, she was stuffed.
The next ten minutes proved pointless and fruitless. Sitting back on her heels, Paiton concluded that she was definitely stuffed. She angled her head and glared at the box. No, not stuffed. She’d already applied that statement and wouldn’t repeat herself. Even if she had just done that three times. After peering at each and every script in the box, all she’d found were more copies of The Wizard of Oz and Sweeny Todd. Neither of which she wished to do again. Oh, and a musical copy of A Christmas Carol from three years ago.
She wanted something different, something lively and current and…oh, who was she kidding? This year had to be bigger than big. It had to be spectacular.
This year was the school’s fiftieth anniversary. A simple carol concert wouldn’t do. This year’s Christmas show had to be huge and special and something none of the current pupils had done before. It was a shame there wasn’t a heroes-of-faith play she could use. Especially as the school’s houses were named after four of them—Liddell, Carey, Wesley, and Elliot.
Each year had four forms, one in each house. The name of each form was made up of their year, house, and teacher’s surname. Hence her form group was 11LU.
She shoved her hands through her hair just before she remembered the class photographs were being taken this morning. Great! Now she’d look a complete mess. The registration bell rang, and she barely had time to shove things back into the cupboard, before her form trooped in, laughing and chattering. All of them were way too happy for a Monday morning.
“What are you doing, Miss?”
Paiton stood and brushed the dust from her skirt. “I’m sorting out the cupboard and looking for something, Darius.”
“What have you lost?”
She smiled. “I haven’t lost anything, apart from my marbles.”
Darius laughed. “Think you put them in your desk drawer for safe keeping.” He took his seat, still grinning. That child was too clever for his own good sometimes.
Paiton glanced over her form. She’d been with them since they began secondary school in Year Seven. Five years later, as Year Elevens, they would be sitting final exams in May and June before moving onto sixth form or college next September. And she would begin again with the new intake.
“As you know,” she began, “it’s the school’s anniversary this term, and I want the Christmas production to be special. But everything in there,” she stabbed her finger in the direction of the offending cupboard, “is either too recent or not suitable.”
“Then write one,” Darius challenged her, the typical smirk on his face.
“There isn’t time.”
“Sure there is, Miss. Christmas is four months away.”
She sat at her desk and pulled the black and red pens from her pen pot. Hmmm, maybe she should think about the idea a little more. But for now, registration. “OK who’s on register duty this week?”
Darius’s hand shot up. He would be. Five minutes later, registration was done, all of her class were present, and Darius was back in his seat, having taken the register to the office.
Paiton glanced around the room. “Don’t forget first period is cancelled due to the class photos and Year Eleven is being done first. Make sure your ties are straight and blazers done up.”
Desks banged as the girls pulled out hair brushes and combs. Makeup wasn’t allowed, but a few of them pulled out mirrors to check their faces.
Francine shoved her hand high into the air. “Miss, do you want to borrow my comb?”
“I have one. Is my hair that bad?”
The teenager nodded slowly.
Paiton pulled her phone from her bag and studied her reflection in dismay. Oh boy. It was worse than bad. Her carefully brushed and set hair was a total disaster.
She rummaged for a comb and attempted to redo it. Failing abysmally, she settled for a bun and tugged a few wisps loose to soften the effect. She probably looked a sight, but she knew all the staff and children, and they’d seen her looking a whole lot worse. The school trip to Swanage three years ago being a prime example of that.
Another student knocked on the door. “They’re ready for you in the hall, Miss Underwood.”
“Thank you, Sophie.” She rose and surveyed her class. “OK, everyone. Please stand and tuck your chairs under the desks. Then line up by the door. One line, and keep to the left side of the corridor. And no complaining that you hate having your photo taken.”
“But, Miss, I do hate having my photo taken.”
Paiton grinned. “Elsie, you do nothing but take selfies. How is that any different to this? Rather, it shows how much you love having your photo taken. Right, Sara, lead off to the hall in silence, please. Other classes are working.”
The class walked down the corridor, the short distance from the drama block, across the quad and to the hall. It made life easy on the odd occasion she was running late for assembly.
She could remember a time when assembly was daily. Now it was weekly with a whole school assembly once or twice a term. So much better.
Paiton turned at the sound of the Irish tenor. She smiled at the head of the English department, and form tutor of 11WP. “Morning, Mr. Page.” It was an unwritten rule that first names were only ever used in the staff room.
Liam Page gave her a circumspect smile. “There’s a staff meeting at morning break and a full school assembly during last period.”
Paiton frowned. “That wasn’t scheduled.”
“Tell me about it. There was a scrawled message on the white board in the staff room, but as I didn’t see you, I thought I’d track you down and let you know.”
“One second,” she raised her voice. “Samuel Brooks! I saw that. You do not push anyone. Stand over there and don’t move! Sara, take the class into the hall and get them seated. I’ll be right there.” She turned back to Liam. “Sorry.”
Liam inclined his head. “It’s fine. I’ve no idea what’s going on, but I’m sure the Year Tens won’t mind missing this afternoon’s test on Jane Eyre. I’ll let you get on.” He shot Samuel a stern look as he headed down the corridor.
Paiton spun around and presented the kid with her best glower. “You have twenty seconds to explain.”
“Jack annoyed me so I shoved him. So what?”
“I didn’t hear a peep out of Jack. I would keep you in at break, but lunchtime will have to do instead.”
“But, Miss, I have football practice.”
“But, Miss, nothing.” Paiton frowned in exasperation. “I will inform Mr. Scott as to why you won’t be there. Go and join the others and then find me at lunch.” She shook her head and followed the sulky teen into the hall.
A couple of the boys chanted, “Sam’s in trouble; Sam’s in trouble.”
The whole class sniggered.
Paiton silenced them with a glare. “And to think you lot are the eldest in the school and are meant to be an example. I’m ashamed of all of you.” She thought quickly. “I was only keeping Sam in at lunch, but since every singe one of you find it so amusing, you can all stay behind after school tomorrow for an hour.”
No one dared say a thing as Paiton climbed the steps to the stage and took the chair in the middle of the front row. She straightened the scarf around her neck. “Now smile for the camera.”
Behind her came mutters and a scuffle. She began to turn, but something shoved her violently and then she was falling off the stage. Stars floated across her vision as she slammed onto the hard wooden floor. She thought for an instant she heard something snap, but then blinding pain had her clutching her right arm.
Voices called her name. “Miss Underwood?”
A pair of the bluest eyes she’d ever seen, set in the sternest face she’d ever come across, came into focus in front of her. “Are you all right?”
“I think…” She broke off. “I’m fine. Just landed awkwardly.” She gasped as she sat up. “I need to rest for a moment.”