Chapter 1: St Hilda’s – September 1963

‘Noo!’ Rebecca aimed a half-hearted kick at Caitlin and pulled her pillow more firmly over her head.  Suzanne folded her arms in exasperation and glanced across at Penny whose face was creased with worry.  Rebecca was forever getting into trouble for being late into breakfast.  Caitlin shrugged her shoulders in defeat and rolled her eyes up,

‘Well don’t say we didn’t try’ she huffed.

‘Please Becca’ Penny pleaded near to tears, ‘you’ll get detention again and that’s so terrible…’

Rebecca hated school, Caitlin was inured to it and Suzanne and Penny quite enjoyed the life. The most fortuitous of circumstances at St Hilda’s was the chance that put the four all together in the schoolhouse dorm.  As adults they had all had occasion to wonder, why?  Why it had happened and why it had worked.  On paper the four were an unlikely group.  The logical pairing of Caitlin and Rebecca notwithstanding it seemed rather arbitrary that the relationship had cemented between all four of them.  In fact the synergy of the four was based on mutual respect tempered with humour and the resilience that they had all needed to survive.

As 11 year olds they were all awestricken by Caitlin who behaved as though she were from a different planet, not just a different continent.  Rebecca was cool.  Suzanne was so clever that they all admired her ability.  Whenever there was any hint of a personality clash between the friends Penny would look so upset and near to tears that they would all forget their differences in an effort to reassure her.

As their school years passed by each of the girls developed their own coping mechanisms and amassed the survival kits that they needed.  Caitlin carried her own loo paper and sprayed her mother’s favourite Chanel No 5 in advance of any foray to the bathroom.  Rebecca checked herself into sickbay whenever rice pudding appeared on the lunch menu.  Penny’s dislike and fear of competitive sports was so great that she succumbed to subterfuge, which was foreign to her nature, allowing Suzanne to forge excuse notes from an absent parent.  Suzanne developed a thick skin and a stoic constitution.  She underplayed her ferocious intelligence and maximised her gift for humour.

Throughout their school years the major solace had always been the early friendship that they had formed.  As is the usual case the teenagers grew and developed physically, mentally and emotionally. The patterns of their futures showing early signs like seedlings emerging from the earth.

Suzanne, though good at everything, loved and therefore excelled at languages ancient and modern.  Encouraged largely by her father’s intellectual curiosity her interest in current affairs and politics developed and grew.

Rebecca’s solace away from academic classroom teaching was in practical and aesthetic pursuits.  She loved art classes and dressmaking in particular. The fashion magazines that Caitlin smuggled became a constant source of stimulation for her friend who spent every spare moment sketching designs and dreaming of being a famous fashion designer like Mary Quant, Bill Gibb or Zandra Rhodes.

Penny’s gentle nature turned towards teaching.  She thought she would like to nurture other women’s children until she had her own to cherish.  Her real dream was that she would meet a man and be swept off her feet in a fairy tale romance.  Her husband to be would pronounce undying love and down on bended knee would beg her to be his.  They would have a traditional white wedding and settle down in a country cottage with roses around the door where they would have four beautiful and clever children and live happily ever after.

Caitlin’s future was pre-ordained; she would go to finishing school in Switzerland and then to the Sorbonne in Paris to brush up her French.  She would attend the best parties and social events in Manhattan and in London; she would ski in Gstaad, holiday on yachts, in Cap de Ferrat, Sardinia and St Lucia as well as her native Long Island.  She would be, in short, everywhere that she would meet eligible young men from the best families and she would, of course, have the pick of the crop.

 

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