Mr C was an intimidating man – tall and not very friendly-looking. Maybe he just had a naturally angry face. My mother and I had been summoned to his office and I was nervous. I’d never been in there before. Ms H had said I needn’t worry, but I was still wary. After all, this was the man who, the year before, had written a scathing letter to all the parents, exposing their children’s sordid shenanigans at all-night beach parties, during which drinking and fornication in the bushes had been the order of the day. Nobody ever asked how he knew what went on in the bushes, and perhaps it was better that way. And yes, he really did use the word fornication. I hardly expected him to be agreeable to letting me swan around school for the next three months with my growing belly and unpredictable mood swings.
I thought I was in for a lecture on Standards and the School’s Good Name and Setting An Example, but it wasn’t forthcoming. Instead, Mr C asked what I was going to do. He asked about continuing my education and who would look after the baby, but he didn’t make us feel bad. He could have – we were expecting it and I thought I deserved it – but it didn’t come. Again, I was surprised to find that this forbidding man was just a person like me, muddling through life and doing his best. More and more, I was learning that adults were not the all-knowing, all-powerful supreme beings I’d thought they were. This was a confusing discovery. I didn’t know whether it made me feel better or worse.
Mr C said I could finish the year and write my December exams, but I had to make sure the Governing Body (Mafia Gardening Lady and her tea-drinking cronies) didn’t find out, because they might not be so accommodating. They had to think of official visits from education department inspectors and government funding and stuff like that – they wouldn’t want a pregnant girl wandering around brazenly on the school grounds, where she could be a bad influence on anyone.
He asked who knew about the pregnancy, and I fudged the details a little, I’m afraid. I couldn’t admit that everybody south of Cavendish Square probably knew by now. Well-known scientific fact: the closest thing to the speed of light is the speed of gossip in a suburban middle school. It was surprising that the teachers hadn’t heard this juicy piece of scandal. Of course, I said I’d only told one or two close friends and they would keep quiet. I just prayed that some nasty kid wouldn’t tell the head honchos, just for fun. I imagined certain other parents finding out; the outrage and uproar and emergency PTA meetings, the mob of angry pitchfork-wielding villagers baying for my blood.
I’d expected it to be much harder than this. I’d prepared myself for expulsion. I was getting used to the idea of a life spent waitressing. I hadn’t expected sympathy and simple kindness from anybody at all, let alone my teachers. I kept looking for the pitchforks, but so far there were none. Ms H didn’t have to grill me for answers; she could have given me detention instead and thought nothing of it. She didn’t have to speak to the principal on my behalf. And he didn’t have to let me stay. None of them had to help me. None of them had to care at all, and yet they did. If they hadn’t, my life might have been very different.
And so life went on. You wouldn’t think it could, but it did. I still went to school every day, I still went out with my friends, although this was becoming increasingly awkward. We were starting to drift apart, and I suppose that’s normal. Sometimes I found it hard to accept that things were changing between us, and sometimes I felt quite alone, even when I was with them. I know I wasn’t a very good friend during this time – my mood swings and self-absorption must have seemed bizarre and maybe over-exaggerated to them.
Still, the sun came up every morning, and the weeks passed by as they always had. I planned, I daydreamed, I worried. I went to the doctor for monthly check-ups, the baby and I were both healthy. Things were going according to plan, mostly. We still had bad days sometimes, but things were moving on.
One morning, I woke up with a tingly, nervous feeling in my stomach. I couldn’t place it for a minute. With a little shock, I realised it was excitement. I was excited to meet my child and to become a mother. I was excited about the future. It was a great feeling. Knowing that I was a proper mother with real maternal feelings, real love for my baby, and not a tragic planned parenthood poster child, me happy. It made me proud. I walked around with a silly grin on my face the whole day. Besides all the practical arrangements falling into place, now I knew that my baby would be safe with me. He would be loved. I wouldn’t let him down.