It was eight thirty in the morning. Maddy was sitting on a bench in the forecourt to Sanford High's Sixth Form Centre. It felt strange to be back in her heavy uniform after a glorious summer of denim shorts and tiny, brightly coloured vest tops; her regulation grey skirt, crisp blouse and smartly tailored blazer felt constricting in comparison. Yet despite the discomfort of uniform, Maddy was glad to be back at Sanford for her first day of upper sixth. It was a chance for her to get away from home and to get back to doing the things she loved, mainly playing in the orchestra and seeing her friends. Owing to conflicting holidays and summer activities, Maddy had seen very little of her friends over the eight weeks they had been off, so she was looking forward to seeing them again one friend in particular. Olivia Hartford or Liv, as she was known to her friends and family was Maddy's best friend and, more recently, her girlfriend. Yet thanks to the Hartford's annual holiday in Barbados, Maddy had not seen the object of her affections for a little over four weeks. The thought that any moment now, Liv would be walking through the school gates made her both excited and nervous.
The number of people passing through the forecourt was rapidly increasing. Sanford High Grammar School was a private establishment, and thus had fewer pupils than most educational facilities, yet Maddy still found herself peering at and around the huddles of students, trying to catch a glimpse of her friends. Her fingers were fiddling restlessly with the hem of her skirt and she longed to reach for the black case on the bench beside her and pull out her violin, if only to give herself something to do. However, earning herself a reprimand so early in the new term was not a good idea, so she left the exquisite instrument in it's velvet-lined casing.
It was not long before a familiar face emerged. Two forms appeared at the gates, one tall and slender, the other shorter and much stockier. Maddy recognised the black hair and chiselled features of her other best friend, Felix Crompton. The slightly shorter man to his left was his father, whose sturdy form was lumbered down with the black mass of Felix's cello case. The man's voice rang out across the enclosed space.
If you played sports after school like most boys your age, instead of messing around in that silly little band of yours, you'd be strong enough to carry this yourself!
It's an orchestra, dad, came Felix's glum response. He spotted Maddy as they were crossing the forecourt and his face broke out into a smile.
Alright, you? he grinned, and Maddy found herself drawn into a tight hug. It feels like it's been ages. You okay?
Yeah, glad to be back, said Maddy, returning his smile Hello, Mr Crompton, she added politely to Felix's father, a man whom she did not greatly like. Strict and argumentative, Felix's father had long been encouraging his son to forsake his love of music for something, in his words, more masculine.
Hello, Madeleine, the elder man responded curtly, setting down the cello case. How is your father? I haven't seen him at the golf club for a while.
He's well thank you, replied Maddy. He's been in Paris on business for a few weeks but he's home on Friday.
Lovely, Mr Crompton grunted, with the air of one who thought otherwise. Give my best to him and your mother.
We'd better get this to the music room, Maddy, said Felix. I'll catch you in registration.
Alright, Maddy smiled. See you soon. Bye, Mr Crompton.
Felix's father mumbled an indistinguishable goodbye before retrieving his load and leading Felix into the school. Maddy's smile stayed firmly in place. It felt good to see her friend of many years. Now all she needed was one more person to make her life feel complete again. She resumed her seat on the bench and waited apprehensively.
At quarter to nine, the bell began to ring, signalling for the sixth form students to head to their registration classes. As the forecourt began to empty, Maddy begrudgingly collected her things, wondering whether her friend was simply late or if there was another, more worrying, reason for her absence. She headed for the heavy doors that flanked the entrance to the school, her high spirit's fading rapidly. Yet, before her feet had even touched the careworn steps, a voice from across the yard called her name. Maddy froze and she felt her stomach twist into knots of nervous excitement. She turned around and her eyes met the sight of Liv running awkwardly towards her, her bag and bosom bouncing in unison. A smile blossomed on Maddy's face once again as the girl came to a halt in front of her. She moved forward as if to kiss her, but Liv subtly backed away.
Not right now, she mumbled. My mother's in the car she'll see us.
Alright, Maddy conceded, settling instead for a tight embrace. She caught the sweet scent of her girlfriend's hair and her knees weakened a fraction beneath her. Let me look at you, she continued, stepping back slightly to take in the sight of her.
Gorgeous, Maddy concluded, as per usual, though in a different way this time. Liv's usually fair skin had been tanned several tones darker and her once chestnut hair had been lightened by the sun to a rich caramel brown. You look great, said Maddy. I can't wait to see the photos. I'm truly gutted that I missed out on four weeks of you in a bikini.
Liv giggled, mirroring Maddy's warm smile.
Come on, she suggested. We don't want to be late and get reprimands on our first day.
The two girls linked arms, exchanging shrewd and smiling glances, before proceeding into the building. Right at that moment, Maddy couldn't care less if she got a hundred reprimands before the day was out she was simply glad to have to woman she loved back in her life.