Chapter Nine

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Waking on Monday morning had been brutal. When Connie's phone alarm first rang at six, she managed to switch it off and pull the duvet back over her head without even mentally registering what she'd done. Luckily, she'd adopted a cautious approach for her first ever solo school-run and had set a second alarm for half an hour later. This one, fortunately, managed to break through the post-weekend fug numbing her reactions. She no longer had time for her morning run but one look at the pale face reflected back at her from the bathroom mirror and the pounding in her temples reminded Connie that she'd fallen at the first hurdle in her promise to herself never to go to school with a hangover. It was unlikely she'd have made it to the end of the garden without throwing up.

Groaning, Connie rooted through her sponge bag and located a fluff-covered foil of painkillers. Even the weather appeared to have gone out in sympathy with her plight, the beautiful, cloudless skies of the previous days replaced by an overcast drizzle. For a change, Marjorie's blasting heaters were not unwelcome on the short journey to school, Connie's empty stomach churning and her fingers pale and cold on the steering wheel.

She'd not expected any sympathy from the boys at school and they did nothing to challenge that opinion. Luckily, being a Monday, it was a whole school assembly so all she needed to do was to hold it together long enough to register her tutor group's attendance and walk them to the assembly hall before slipping out of the back to take refuge in the staffroom where she forced down a second dose of painkillers and as much water as she could stomach. After twenty minutes, when the boys started to filter back out of the hall, the pounding in her skull had at least started to abate a little although her stomach was stretched uncomfortably by the large quantity of liquid she'd consumed. It was fair to say the last place Connie wanted to be was at the beginning of a double period with her bottom set year eleven class which, as she realised with a sinking heart, was exactly where she was due in three minutes time.

She arrived at her classroom after the boys, never a good start to a lesson, and opened the door to be greeted by Greg's smirking face.

"Good weekend, miss?" he asked with a sly grin around at the rest of the group who laughed openly as Connie flushed an embarrassed puce.

It was at this point she remembered the replanning of the year eleven lessons she'd intended to do over the weekend. Connie had completely forgotten to speak to Rolf about the group and was faced with an hour of boring and inappropriate grammar exercises plucked straight from the textbook. A wave of panic washed over her, squeezing her nauseous stomach and causing her temples to throb. There was an urgent pressure in her bladder and the lesson had barely started. Connie took a deep breath and forced her spinning mind to focus. With relief, her gaze settled on the filing cabinet in the corner of the classroom. She cleared her throat and spoke as calmly as she could.

"I had a lovely weekend, thank you, Greg," she smiled brightly, "You?"

There was more sniggering but the boys settled and, at Connie's instruction, put away their textbooks and exercise books, keeping out only a pen.

"Alex, could you give me a hand, please?" she asked, remembering him from the previous lesson as the motivated member of the group.

"Course miss," he smiled, getting to his feet.

Connie pulled open the filing cabinet drawer and took out a set of past exam papers. There was a communal groan as the boys realised what she planned.

"Thank you, that's enough," Connie said, injecting as much authority into her voice as she could.

"It's very important for me to have a baseline assessment of your abilities so we all know what we're dealing with," she improvised, actually pleasantly surprised at how convincing that sounded.

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