Belle pushed her way past all the bustling students clogging the doorway of the old English building that was Attington Manor.
She tugged at her bag trailing behind her ankles as she made further attempts to squeeze past students who were already in deep conversation with their friends.
Belle was only concerned about getting to the main foyer. There, she would set her bag down and find a seat somewhere. She needed time to think; time to gather her thoughts and fully grasp the fact that the events of the previous month had really happened. She had left her parents at the drop-off point outside the main building in the car.
Not much was said as she’d gotten out. Belle had ignored the words of her mother and father as she left them. Thesorry’s andwe’ll miss you’s were vertically meaningless to her now, the circumstances.
Still with tears in her eyes, she rolled into the elegant foyer and fell into a nearby chair. Immediately, she dropped her bag beside her and leaned forward on her knees to place her pale, delicate face into her small hands. She couldn’t hold it in any longer.
She picked at her uniform, tears still streaming silently down her face, blurring her vision. She hated it. It was nothing like what she’d worn at Ridgeton back in Brighton.
That’s why Belle had ignored her parents as they dropped her at the school. It was their fault she was here. It was them who had ripped her from the arms of her best friend, Caitlin, and her sort-of-almost boyfriend, Matt.
At that moment, Belle lifted her head to see others greeting their friends after the six week summer break. Their laughter and excited voices filled her with pure sadness. All she felt was loneliness. How could her parents have done this to her?
Belle sat up and wiped her eyes, pushing her long dark hair away from her face and tucking it behind her right ear. She was just about to extend the handle of her bag once again and wander over to the reception desk to collect her room key, when a small petite blonde girl came and sat beside her.
“Heya,” she said sweetly, her voice light. She had an Irish accent. Belle had always wanted to meet someone Irish. “Are you okay?”
Belle lifted her head a little to look at the girl. She gave her a meek half smile and turned away again in the fear that she’d not be able to hide the next lot of tears she could feel beginning to sting her eyes.
“I wouldn’t say okay... I’m not even supposed to be here.”
“I thought you were new. Don’t worry about it.” She patted Belle lightly on the shoulder. “I’m Anne, by the way. I’ll be your friend here if you like. What’s your name?”
Belle turned to fully face Anne, smiling now. “I’m Belle, and thanks. I’m gonna need a friend here.” She gazed around the high ceilinged foyer, taking in the beautiful room; the high, painted ceiling, the long luscious red curtains that hugged the tree-high windows. She raised her fingers to her lips as she took in the deep mahogany walls, beautifully punctuated by stunning oil paintings and vases full of peonies, roses and other colourful flower arrangements.
“I understand,” Anne said. “Now, come on. Let’s get you sorted with a room.”
With that, Belle and Anne stood up, Anne also with her bag full of possessions for the year. It was quite a bit bigger than Belle’s. She obviously wasn’t interested in returning home in the holidays. Then again, was Belle?
They approached the high wooden semi circle that was a reception desk opposite the entrance to the building. It was sheltered by a part of the first floor that doubled as a balcony. The desk was illuminated only by a pair of green lamps, casting just enough light for an old woman to sort through a pile of papers. Anne caught her eye upon her arrival at the desk and smiled. The woman tilted her head to observe the girls over the rims of her half-moon glasses and gestured for them to wait a moment.
Belle leaned up against the high counter and looked up to find one other student stood at the other corner of it, waiting with his rather heavy looking rucksack, eyes down. He focused only on his fingers as they lightly tapped the wood. Belle found herself mesmerised by that alone, at first. She smiled to herself, and as if on cue, the guy raised his head.
She silently caught her breath as his long blonde hair fell out of the way to reveal the brightest blue eyes Belle had ever seen. She was sure they glistened in the light of the lamp perched on his side of the desk as they locked onto her. His lips sat perfectly still at the bottom of his face. Belle could’ve sworn they curved at one side for a second.
The boy’s skin tone was pale, but not unhealthy looking. It surprised Belle, herself, how his eyes contrasted so well with his hair and defined face. He made Belle forget where she was for a moment.
Until Anne elbowed her in the side.
“Come on, Belle,” she laughed. “I can’t do all of this for you! Now tell Mrs King your name and details.” Belle leant over the desk and told the woman her details and transfer number.
“Here you are, dear,” Mrs King began, handing a key across to Belle. “You’re in Cassington House with Anne, here. Same room, as a matter of fact.” Belle couldn’t help but let a small, relieved smile creep across her face as she met Anne’s gaze.
“This’ll be good,” Anne began, collecting up the bag at her feet. “We’ll really get to really know each other. And I’ll be able to help you settle in better this way.”She patted Belle on the shoulder and gestured for her to follow as she began to roll her bag toward a door leading to a corridor at the back of the old building.
“Follow me. Cassington isn’t too far away,” Anne called.
Belle bent down to extend the handle of her bag once more, and turned to the counter to retrieve her key. It was then that she remembered the guy she had seen a moment before at the other end of the reception desk. She dared a look as she made her way to where Anne stood waiting, not towering too far above the bag beside her.
He was gone.