Halfway to my Heart
by Brigid Doyle
Copyright - July 1999
In the three weeks since Reagan had first been 'introduced' to discipline according to Thorne, she had made two return visits. Each time coming away with another dose of Thorne's scorn, as it was 'affectionately' referred to about campus. It seemed the entire faculty had been alerted to the 'evil ways' of Reagan McAllister and every one of them was on guard for any of her conniving ways. Reagan was pegged. Every move she made was scrutinized. Every word was weighed for hidden meaning. Every smile suspected of hiding some covert activity. But despite the heavy handed tactics of Brisbey's teaching staff; she earned a soft spot in the hearts of her fellow students.
Reagan was always the first to offer to help the other girls with their studies and, while she never seemed to complain or even flinch after a trip to Miss Thorne's office, she was always willing to listen to the woes of others. They in turn, enjoyed listening to the wonderful stories she had learned from her mother and more than once gathered in Reagan's room to listen well beyond lights out. Somehow, this little bit of misbehavior had gone unnoticed. The girls giggled that Thorne and her cronies probably couldn't stay awake past sunset being so tired from overseeing every minute of everyone's every move throughout the day. Unknown to the small girl, her friends had made a pact to protect her from the Scorn's wrath. Reagan wouldn't have allowed it, so they kept it a secret among themselves. Some of the girls were a bit more upset than others and had taken matters into their own hands, not knowing that Reagan would probably pay the price for their actions. It was because of one of those students that Reagan once again found herself seriously in danger of angering the school's headmistress.
She had been on her way to the library on that fine sunny Saturday. The library was a great escape from the long lonely weekends on campus. Weekends were times when most of the student body visited with parents or made shopping trips into the city, a privilege earned with exemplary behavior. Reagan had yet to earn this honor. So Saturday morning usually found her at her favorite place. There she could lose herself in a book, any book. She read and reread her favorites weekend after weekend. The library was also located in the prettiest part of the campus, surrounded by ancient pines and gardens of wildflowers. It was one of the oldest buildings on the campus and Reagan always imagined it as some sort of castle transplanted here to guard all of the great stories within. There were benches cast in white stone in the garden and during the warmer months it was possible to take books outside the building and enjoy the environment along with the words of the great authors. Reagan was pleased to find at least two of her mother's novels on the shelves in the great hall.
On her way through the garden that morning she was distracted from her reverie of kings and castles by a strange scraping sound. Not the kind of sound she usually heard on her trek through the small glade. It would stop for a moment or two and then continue. It reminded her of very squeaky chalk on a dusty chalkboard. It made her shiver. She stopped and listened intently then began to follow the sound to an open area in the small wood. She stood for a moment watching the girl before her. She couldn't tell who it was, but she was quite busy at some task. The girl's back was to Reagan as she knelt on the ground apparently drawing or perhaps carving something. The scratching sound was coming from the instrument she was using to make marks on the small white bench in front of her. At first Reagan thought it might be a student working on some project for the upcoming art show, many times the girls were inspired by the beauty of the library garden. She moved closer, hoping to catch a glimpse of the other girl's work.
"Hey," she called out softly, glad for the company on the lonely morning. "What are you working on?"
The girl jumped and stopped suddenly, turning to face Reagan. For a few seconds the girl merely stared at her.
"I'm sorry," Reagan smiled. "I didn't mean to startle you. I should have realized you were concentrating on your work. Is it for the art show?" Reagan stepped closer, trying to see around the shaken artist.
The girl stood and placed herself directly in front of her efforts. Her eyes darted from side to side as if she were checking for other intruders.
"There's just me." Reagan assured her. "Most of the others are off to the city on that shopping trip. Guess you didn't want to go either, huh?"
"No " the girl spoke finally, her voice a bit shaky.
Reagan walked around the girl as she pivoted to keep eye contact. "I'd love to see your work. My mom and I used to visit the museum in the city on weekends. I loved the sculptures. All of the greats had to start somewhere. Are you entering a carving, or a statue? Oh, don't worry. I won't tell anyone " She stopped abruptly, her jaw dropping, as she finally was able to see the other student's work. She ran her hand across the rather crude writing engraved in the top of the cold stone bench. Chalky dust stuck to her hand and fingers. Her cheeks flushed as she read the wording etched there. Slowly she raised her eyes and met those of the other student.
"Why would you do such a thing?" Reagan asked both shocked and saddened by the girl's actions. "She'll have a fit! She'll see it or someone will tell her and " she shook her head again, suddenly at a loss for words. "Why?" She asked again in little more than a whisper.
The other girl's jaw was set in a firm scowl, her eyes flashed with anger. "She deserves it! The Scorn of Brisbey deserves to have her name permanently engraved in stone so everyone will know just what kind of cruel bastard she really is!! I know how she treats you. We all know and it isn't fair! Millie Carlyle wants to call her dad and have him get her removed! She is a witch! How can you let her " The girl was practically in tears and her voice rose to almost a scream in the small quiet area. Reagan clapped her hand over the girl's mouth and pulled her down onto the bench.
"Shhh!" Reagan warned before releasing the other girl. "Do you want the whole campus to hear you?" The girl shook her head quickly. "Good." Reagan whispered as she lowered her hand. For the first time she noticed the small sharp object the girl held in her hand. She recognized it as an engraving tool from the art room. "Where did you get this?" She slowly took the tool from the girl's hand.
"I I borrowed it from Miss Feeney's room. I was going to put it back." The girl whispered contritely. "You you're her you should understand!" Her voice began to get louder again and Reagan quickly placed a finger against her lips motioning the girl to be quiet.
"Understand what?" She asked. Reagan tried to recall the name that went with this freckled face but found herself at a loss. She'd seen the girl at least a dozen times in the cafeteria or perhaps just in the commons. No, she couldn't remember seeing her in any of her classes. She wasn't much bigger than Reagan was. She couldn't be an upperclassman and since it was Reagan's first year at Brisbey the girl couldn't be any younger. Where, just where had she seen this rather chubby, curly-haired student before?
"What kind of person Miss Thorne is and what she is doing to you," the mystery student explained.
"Doing to me?" Reagan repeated.
The girl looked at her for a moment. "Stop that!"
"Stop what?" Reagan was confused.
"That!" The girl almost laughed at Reagan's expression. "Repeating everything I say."
Both girls giggled easing the tension. They sat side by side on the defaced landmark. "I'm Pamela." Curly top extended a cubby hand. Reagan accepted. "You're Reagan McAllister. Everyone knows you," she smiled.
"Where did you ever learn such language?" Reagan asked tracing part of the lettering next to her leg.
Pamela shrugged. "My brothers I guess." She smiled. "They never much noticed when I was listening. Didn't pay me much attention. I guess it was kinda stupid to do, huh?" She looked down at the words etched in the plaster between them.
"Well, I'm sure it can be repaired." Reagan assured her. "Maybe we can talk to the custodian. He seems kindly and he might be able to fix it before anyone finds out." Both girls sat quietly pondering the dilemma. "You know," Reagan began, "Miss Thorne really can't help the way she is. She's just trying to do what's best for the school and the girls as well."
Pamela wrinkled her nose and shook her head. "You've got to be kidding! Thorne the Scorn? She doesn't care about anyone or anything."
"I don't believe that." Reagan stopped her. "Everyone has a soft spot. She just keeps hers well hidden. It wouldn't do her very well if everyone thought she was a pushover. How would she keep control?"
Pamela's brows came together and she tilted her head to stare at the girl next to her. "You really believe that, don't you?" Reagan nodded. "After what she's been putting you through, you still think she has a soft spot in that rock heart of hers? You are really something, Reagan McAllister." Pamela smiled at the blush that colored her new friend's cheeks.
"She certainly is." A third voice pierced the morning quiet. Both girls jumped to attention at its sound. Miss Thorne stood a few feet from where the girls sat on the newly 'decorated' bench. They involuntarily fidgeted under her gaze. "I can only assume that you are up to something, McAllister." She turned her attention to the small blonde. "And corrupting another student as well."
"Oh no, Miss Thorne." Pamela spoke up quickly. "We were just talking."
"Just plotting some sort of malicious mischief is more like it, I think." Miss Thorne accused.
"No, really " Pamela protested beginning to stand. Reagan tugged her back down, darting her eyes quickly to the bench and then back toward the headmistress. Pamela took the hint. As long as both girls remained seated Miss Thorne would not be able to see the defaced seat. The woman stood waiting for the girl to continue.
"Yes?" She inquired.
"Nothing." Reagan added. "We were just admiring the garden and and discussing the many types of flowers growing here." Pamela rolled her eyes. Reagan sighed. Miss Thorne glared.
"YOU are a terrible liar, Miss McAllister." She growled at the girl scrutinizing her from tip to toe. "What is that on your fingers?" She pointed toward Reagan's hand that held the books she had planned on returning to the library. Reagan looked down at fingers suddenly remembering the knife she held in the other hand. She quickly slid it into the pocket of her skirt.
"It it " Reagan stuttered.
"It's chalk!" Pamela chirped. "We were practicing penmanship in the study hall. I guess Reagan just forgot to wash her hands before we left. Right, Rae?" She smiled at the girl next to her.
"Mmm hmm." Miss Thorne nodded stepping toward the smaller girl. "And what exactly did you slip into your pocket, Missy?" A piece of chalk you 'forgot' to leave in the study hall as well. Perhaps you are a thief as well as a slob?"
"No I didn't take anything " Reagan stammered.
"Show me." Miss Thorne ordered flatly.
"It's nothing " Reagan repeated. Both girls grew panicky as the headmistress stepped even closer. Each made an effort to spread their pleated skirts wider hiding the graffiti beneath them. This did not go unnoticed.
"What are you hiding?" She accused. The girls remained silent, trying to look innocent. "WHAT ARE YOU HIDING?" She demanded. The girls looked at each other and back at their headmistress, but still did not answer. "Get up!" She growled through her teeth. "NOW!!" The girls rose slowly, but remained standing in front of the bench. Miss Thorne reached forward pulling each girl roughly aside. She slowly, silently mouthed the words of the phrase etched into the bench, then turned toward Reagan.
"I can explain." Pamela began, rushing to stand between the headmistress and her friend. "It was "
"You are excused, Morgan." Miss Thorne announced looking past the girl in front of her and into the eyes of the other.
"But, you don't understand!" Pamela protested.
"No, YOU don't understand." Miss Thorne looked at Pamela, her eyes blazing with fury. "I said you were excused. Now go!"
Before Pamela could answer, Reagan placed a hand on her shoulder. "It's all right, Pam. Go. I'll be okay. Don't worry." Pamela looked into her friend's eyes for a second and chewed her bottom lip. There was no arguing. Reagan shook her head slowly and squeezed Pam's shoulder then smiled a tiny smile. "Go please."
Pamela turned slowly and looked back at the headmistress. Miss Thorne's gaze was fixed on Reagan. Pamela walked down the path toward the dormitories. Before she rounded the bend, she turned one more time and looked back. Reagan smiled again and nodded in a silent plea for her friend to continue. Pamela blinked the tears from her eyes and broke into a run heading for the safety of the dormitory and hoping to find someplace there to hide her guilt. She was afraid to think of the price Reagan would pay for her mistake and just as afraid of the price she would pay herself. Reagan wouldn't snitch, she knew that, but how could she let her friend take her punishment. She ran anyway and didn't stop until she reached the large circular porch of Regents' Hall. She'd wait, wait for Reagan wait to see wait to . She wasn't quite sure what she would wait for, but she would stay right there until she thought of a way to make this right.
Miss Thorne stood in front of Reagan, glaring at her, saying nothing, posing a silent threat. Her eyes flashed with a degree of anger even Reagan had not yet seen. She stepped toward the girl and Reagan instinctively stepped back. Miss Thorne froze. "I will ask you one more time, McAllister. WHAT are you hiding?" She spoke evenly through her teeth, each word distinctly enunciated.
Reagan swallowed hard and pulled the books she was holding in front of her, wrapping her arms around them as if they alone could shield her from the headmistress' wrath. She swallowed hard and shook her head. "I don't have anything, Miss Thorne please can I go? I have to return my books." She stepped to the right trying to pass the woman blocking her path.
"Do you actually think I am just going to overlook this desecration of school property? That I would just let you walk away?" Miss Thorne growled, stepping again to block Reagan's escape.
Reagan looked at the bench and again read the obscene message etched in its surface. She thought for a moment, considering denying any knowledge of it, knowing that would be futile. She looked back at the woman standing in front of her.
"Don't bother denying this, McAllister! You have guilt all over you. That is what is on your hands and your clothing! Now give me whatever you've shoved into your pocket!"
"I can't," Reagan whispered, closing her eyes.
"CAN'T?? You mean you won't!!" Miss Thorne shrieked, roughly grabbing the child and pulling her closer. "I said I want whatever you are hiding! Give it to me!!"
Reagan's books fell to the ground as she was dragged toward the livid woman who was now clawing at her pocket. Reagan used both hands to clasp the material of her skirt together. She pulled away from the woman, struggling with all of her strength to escape. But Miss Thorne was much bigger and much stronger. She pulled the girl's hands away and reached for her pocket. Reagan reached at the same time pulling the engraving knife out just as Miss Thorne's hand reached in. The result was quick and deep. Miss Thorne pulled her hand away shocked and stung by the sudden intense pain. She let out an angry gasp and glared at the gash across the back of her hand that ran from her knuckle to her wrist.
Reagan stared at the weapon in her hand and then at the crimson flow forming on the headmistress' hand. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry." She said quickly. "I didn't mean it. I'm sor " The world exploded in a blast of pain as the headmistress' good hand connected with the child's face. Reagan had not seen it coming. She fell back and down on to the soft grass narrowly missing the bench. Immediately her own hand went to the sting across her cheek. She could taste her own blood forming a small pool inside her mouth. The loud ringing in her ear blocked out most of whatever the person before her was saying. She blinked several times attempting to focus her right eye properly. Miss Thorne was wrapping her handkerchief around the wound on her hand. Reagan blinked again and struggled to get up, hoping to help the woman to the infirmary for proper first aid. Before she could get to her feet, she was grabbed by the back of her collar and most of the hair at the nape of her neck and pulled quickly to her feet. Miss Thorne shook her roughly, muttering something about taking her revenge in a pound of flesh. Reagan desperately tried to speak but most of what she said was drowned out by the ranting of the headmistress or forgotten in the pain of Miss Thorne's constant squeezing on the back of her neck.
The headmistress dragged the girl through the small glade toward the cottage she kept as her home on campus far on the opposite side of the ancient library. 'Today.' she thought, 'this McAllister will know the full extent of my wrath. Today she will learn the meaning of the word vengeance.'
Pamela Morgan arrived at the dormitory hall quite out of breath. She considered going for help, but who would believe her and how would she explain her part in this escapade. She sat on the steps outside of the brick building breathing deeply and watching the path that led from the woods. She stood and craned her neck, trying to see farther over the small knoll that blocked the view of the library from the dormitories. 'Please, oh please let her come, please.' She repeated over and over to herself. She paced back and forth across the porch alternately twisting her hands and nibbling on her fingernails. 'What should I do? Who can I tell?' Question after question ran through the child's mind. She moved inside and to the second floor where she could look out of the large bay window in the student lobby and see all the way to the library's entrance. Nothing, not even a squirrel skittered across the campus. She watched for what seemed like an hours before she made the decision to return.
The day had turned cloudy and a cool breeze brought the hint of rain or perhaps a bit of snow before sunset. She grabbed a heavy woolen sweater and began a slow nonchalant stroll toward the large castle-like structure at the top of the hill. She retraced the path she had taken earlier, listening closely for any sign of others that might be in the library garden. If Miss Thorne were still there, if she were hurting Reagan, Pamela wasn't quite sure what she would, or could do. She peeked around the last corner of a tall hedge toward the spot where she had last seen them. The area was still, quiet and empty. She walked slowly toward the opening, noticing that even the defaced bench was now nowhere to be seen. She stood staring at the deep impressions the feet of that piece had left in the soft earth. A cold wave of fear came over her and she shivered as she turned in a full circle wondering and trying very hard not to imagine what might have happened to her friend. Near the edge of the wood she saw two books. Reagan had been carrying two books. Pamela picked up both, flipping through the pages and noticing the library due date on the cards in the back of each. Well, if all she could do were save her friend a late book fee, then she would return the books for her. She tucked them under her arm and headed for the library doors. It was a short trip just to drop the items in the book return slot. She stood for a moment at the top of the steps and looked out across the campus hoping to see anything that might tell her what to do. She shrugged her shoulders and jammed her hands into her pockets, then jogged down the steps. A strange sound stopped her at the bottom. Something like a cough? A sob?
"Reagan!!" Pamela gasped as the reddish blonde girl stepped from the wooded area to the right of the library. "Oh god, Reagan!" She rushed to her friend and quickly placed an arm around her waist. "What did she do? Oh god, Reagan, we need to get help!"
Reagan stopped and shook her head slowly. She took a deep strained breath. "No I fell accident "
Pamela looked at her friend and shook her head. 'How could she protect that monster!?' "Come on then, I'll help you to the infirmary." She walked slowly, helping Reagan to make her way through the garden toward the student infirmary next to the dormitories. Pamela winced at the dark bruise spreading across the right side of Reagan's face and the small trickle of blood at the corner of her mouth. Reagan took small breaths through her teeth, indicating she was in some pain, and favored her left arm. She walked with slow, calculated steps. Pam could not help notice the many scarlet welts across the backs of her friend's legs. They made it out of the small garden and started across the commons passing the school building itself as they did.
Nancy Feeney pulled her sweater closer around her neck as she pulled the large double doors closed and checked to be sure they were, in fact, locked before she turned away from the building. She was using this quiet Saturday morning to do some organizing and reorganizing in her classroom. She was a first-year teacher at Brisbey and wanted everything to be just right. She spent many extra hours hard at work reading new plans and preparing new lessons for her eager art students. She was grateful for the job at the prestigious Brisbey School and wanted to do everything just right. Her second teaching year depended greatly on this probationary first year. She noticed the two struggling forms as she stepped on to the main walkway of the commons. For a moment she disregarded the two students, thinking they were just working off some stored energy and engaged in some childish game. But something about these two didn't seem right. She changed direction and headed toward the two young girls. As she approached she noticed the condition of the smaller child.
"What happened?" She was deeply concerned as she stooped down to the girl's level. She tilted Reagan's head back and quickly examined the most visible injuries. Pamela refused to let go of her friend, for the moment not trusting the intrusion of this adult. "Pamela? What happened?" Miss Feeney turned toward the taller girl, waiting for an answer.
"Fell." Reagan croaked. "Tree."
"She fell out of a tree ." Pamela lied for her friend. "I was helping her to the infirmary."
"I think you need more help then. Here take this." The young teacher handed her bag and the few books she was carrying to Pamela and scooped Reagan into her arms. "Lets go then. You lead the way."
Pamela took the items from the art teacher, then stepped ahead of her, hurrying toward the clean white building at the end of the row of dormitories.
The large black and white clock on the infirmary wall ticked loudly as if it were counting the seconds that passed since the rather rotund school nurse placed Reagan on the examining table and shooed her benefactors into the outer office. Both sat in silence watching the door as if it might give them an update on the progress inside.
"Were you climbing trees as well?" Nancy Feeney broke the silence by asking the child seated next to her.
Pamela took her eyes away from the door at the opposite side of the room and looked at the teacher. She blinked a few times then remembered. "Me? No I was returning books at the library. I she I found met saw her and she told me she fell." She tried to explain.
"She was all alone?"
"I guess." Pamela turned back to the watching the door that lead to the examination rooms of the school infirmary. "I mean yes, Reagan spends lots of time alone."
Nancy rose and crossed the room staring out across the commons toward the wooded area beyond. "Do you know where she fell?"
"No I just found her by the library." Pamela squirmed in the chair. Miss Feeney turned and stared at the girl, trying to put her finger on just what did not feel right about this situation. Before she could ask anymore questions the door opened and Mrs. Carson stepped into the room. Immediately Pamela was on her feet. "Is she okay? Can I see her?" She eagerly asked as she grabbed the school nurse's hand.
Mrs. Carson smiled and patted the child's hand between hers. "Yes, she is going to be fine. I gave her something to help her feel a little less pain. You can go in if you promise to be quiet. NO nonsense."
"I promise." Pamela agreed quickly crossing her heart in a swift crisscross motion.
"Go on then." Mrs. Carson smiled as Pamela turned the large brass knob on the tall white door. "She is in the last bed near the window. And don't forget your promise," she warned, but the girl had already slipped through the door and was gone. The nurse waited a few seconds, watching the door and listening as the child's footsteps grew softer and softer as she walked farther from the door. She turned toward the teacher waiting there and motioned for her to follow her into a small office next to the waiting room.
"I've seen a lot in my years here at Brisbey. From skinned knees to broken bones, children have a lot of accidents and sport all kinds of scrapes and bruises from the risks they take. But I will tell you right now that child did NOT fall from anything. Someone PUT those bruises on that little body." Mrs. Carson spoke in a timbre somewhere between anger, disgust and remorse.
"Both of them insist she fell from a tree." Nancy Feeney stated even though she did not believe it either.
"She has a sprained arm, twisted, I'd say, but not broken. I wrapped it and she will probably have to use a sling for a few days. It is possible to do that in a fall, she could have tried to grab on to something and in the fall twisted her elbow. She has a lot of welts across her back and legs; she says the branches did it on her way down. I suppose that is plausible, but she would have to be falling quite a distance and there would have to be an awful lot of thin branches. Makes me wonder how she could have climbed up there. But the thing that really clinches this is the undeniable outline of a hand across her face. To the best of my knowledge no tree on this campus has ever backhanded anyone!" Mrs. Carson explained in detail. "But no matter how many times I asked her she told the same story. Something here is not right." She tapped a pencil on the file in front of her. "Not right at all."
"Do you think someone attacked her? Was she ?" Miss Feeney dared not even think about what some depraved despot might do to a young girl.
"No!" Mrs. Carson assured her, knowing where the question was headed. "She has been beaten, caned I would think also. Someone has subjected this child to quite a punishment and yet she continues to deny that. I asked her point blank if someone had done this to her and she adamantly denied it over and over.
"Then what can we do?" Nancy asked. "She is probably terrified, the poor child. Perhaps her parents can help, shall I contact them?"
"Her parents were killed in an accident last summer. She has an older sister. I think we should contact her immediately. Perhaps she will confide in someone closer to her. She is rather new to this establishment and doesn't know anyone very well. " She walked to a large filing cabinet behind the desk and pulled out a folder. She reached for the phone on her desk and opened the file. The outer office door opened and both women turned to see Miss Thorne enter the waiting room. She smiled as she crossed the room and entered the smaller office.
"I am very sorry to bother you, Mrs. Carson, but I've had a bit of a mishap and I wondered if you might take a look," she held up her bandaged hand. "Broke a glass in the sink and cut myself cleaning up the mess. It may need a stitch or two, I think. "
"Certainly." Mrs. Carson agreed placing the phone back in its cradle and handing the folder to Miss Feeney. "Will you take care of this for me, dear?" She smiled as she motioned for the headmistress to enter the examining room.
Continued in Part 3
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