Cover image for First fruits
First fruits
Evans, Penelope, 1959-
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Publication Information:
New York : Soho Press, [2000]

Physical Description:
253 pages ; 20 cm
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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Kate Carr is such a lucky teenager. Although her mother has left, she is far from neglected at home. The girls at school envy her because her father is such a charmer, the most mesmerizing minister in Edinburgh. Kate is special; she is Keith Carr's first fruit, his offering. He is bringing her up in his image, to have it -- his special power, the ability to manipulate people. She practices what he's taught her with devastating effect. But a recurrent dream tantalizes Kate. On the night she hosts a sleepover, it comes to her once more, and a truth that has long eluded her is revealed. Then nothing can cleanse her world but fire and death.

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

In this darkly seductive follow-up to Freezing (1998), Evans positions catty Scottish schoolgirls as unknowing victims of a family's control fetish. Part Lolita-esque twist on the psychological thriller, part straight-ahead mystery, this unusual, intriguing story mystifies throughout. Kate Carr seems to have an edge over the other girls in her class. She is always the one planting the seeds for slumber parties, Greek lessons and flirting with boys; she's the kind of girl who quietly and craftily gets her way without raising a stir. Her father, Minister Keith Carr, is an irresistible sweetheart who has an almost hypnotic ability to befriend his daughter's schoolmates (who, naturally, are green with envy over Kate's enchanting dad). While it's obvious that Kate has no lack of girlfriends, her home life is certainly reclusive. She and her father live alone, save for Keith's cold, barely there motherÄa homestead in stark contrast to those of Kate's classmates Lydia and Moira, whose mother and grandmother are openly affectionate and loving. With no drive than to emulate her father, Kate perfects the art of beguiling, in this case shrewdly influencing her "friends." Though seemingly harmless, her power over Lydia, Moira and others is reflective of her father's own power over her. Kate eventually realizes the horror of her father's need to control, and the author's talent for spinning a suspense-filled denouement quickly becomes evident. Raising questions relating to parents' love, commitment and power over others, this intelligent work both challenges and frightens. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One I made a new friend today. Her name is Lydia. Now I'm wondering how I'm going to get rid of her.     That's the trouble with the new girls. They promise more than they deliver. Although it's not all bad. It just depends on what you need them for. Look at Hilary. Hardly what you would call ideal material, but she's come in useful in all sorts of ways. It's only that, well, I hoped for more.     But Lydia, she had potential. Or so I thought. The signs were all there. Mrs. Chatto brought her into the classroom, leading her by the hand like some small animal she had lassooed and then stunned. Lessons hadn't started and the din was tremendous. Hilary was there of course, glued to my side as usual, whispering into my ear the hundred and one things she had done since she had got up this rooming. That includes cleaning her teeth and folding up her pyjamas. You see the problem.     But what can I do? If I let her go, she'll be off to attach herself to Fiona McPherson and all that lot. And we don't want that. Because who would that leave me with? I'll tell you who. Moira MacMurray. In which case, need I say more?     Two reasons to sit up and take notice then; one, just to have a distraction from Hilary and two, became you only had to look at Lydia to see she would be easy. You felt that the moment Chatto took her hand her away, she would fall over. I mean, the girl was shaking.     `Class.' Mrs. Chatto removed the hand so as to clap for our attention--and see what I mean? For one astonishing moment Lydia actually seemed to hang in mid air, like a baby that's been dropped. `Class, this term we have a new girl, Lydia Morris. Lydia has moved up all the way up from ...' She paused, frowned and turned to Lydia, who had recovered her balance. `Where was it again, dear?'     The girl beside her gasped. She was wearing thick glasses, and you could see her eyes start swimming frantically behind them like two small fish panicking. She muttered something none of us could hear.     Mrs. Chatto named to us again. `Hole. Lydia has just moved all the way up from Hole in Devon.' There was a hush, and then the entire room exploded. This is Scotland, for Heaven's sake. And it wasn't going to occur to anyone here that the name of Auchtermuchty might cause just as much mirth down where she came from.     Mrs. Chatto of course had recognised her mistake. She clapped her hands again. `Girls!' She had that look in her eye, so we stopped laughing--all except for Moira MacMurray, for the simple reason that she hadn't been laughing in the first place--and stared at Lydia instead. And that was even better in a way, because you never would have thought it possible for a human to turn so red, and all the while staring at the floorboards as if searching for a crack wide enough to take her.     See what I mean? Easy.     Meanwhile Mrs. Chatto was casting her eye over the class. `Lydia, I think you should go and sit with ...' Her eye landed on Fiona McPherson. Just in time I realised what she was had in mind and shot my hand into the air.    `Mrs. Chatto,' I cried. `Lydia can sit here, next to me.'     Note the sharp intake of breath from Hilary. She had been under the impression that she would be sitting next to me, just like she always did. So it served her right--she could go and sit beside Moira MacMurray for thinking she could take me for granted. Note also the approving glance from Mrs. Chatto; it never did any harm to get on the good side of her. But, most important of all, do you see what I'd done? I'd snatched the new girl right out from under the nose of Fiona McPherson!     Only trouble is, Fiona McPherson didn't seem to care. Now she was making a great show of wiping her brow for all to see, and pretending to be relieved. So there you are; less than five minutes into the friendship, and you had to wonder if being kind to Lydia might not be a mistake after all. I mean, if Fiona didn't want her ...     Too late though, Mrs. Chatto had already turned to Lydia. `All right, dear, you can go and sit next to Kate Carr.'     But, would you believe it, Lydia didn't move. She took one look at me and bit her lip. And that's the thanks I get for putting up my hand when not a soul in the class wanted her. But it gets worse. Now the whole room had grown quiet, watching as Mrs. Chatto actually had to push her in my direction before she's willing to move. That's when I noticed her sneaking a glance over at Fiona McPherson, as if she had known that was where she might have ended up and was sorry she hadn't.     Finally she began to make her own way between the desks, bumping against chairs and tripping over school bags, moving like someone twice the size she was, which actually was no size at all. Imagine a head with straggly thread for hair and a body made of pipe cleaners. Got it? The full horror of it? Now you've imagined Lydia.     Hilary whispered in my ear. `Did you ever see anything so skinny? ' She stood up straight and stuck out her chest to show what a proper fourteen-year-old was like. As if Hilary would ever know.     But Lydia didn't even look at her. She was standing by the desk now, staring at the floor. Was it my imagination, or was there suddenly the faintest whiff of ammonia in the air? Yet I didn't say a word about that. I just smiled, giving her one of what Hilary likes to call my goofy grins. (Hilary adores words like goofy and loony .) It means smiling at someone with every inch of your face and letting your eyes crinkle up in the corners. It never fails, at least not on Hilary.     `Hi,' I said, and patted the seat beside me. But still she didn't move. Maybe it was Hilary glaring at her, putting her off. I sneaked a hand up to Hilary's waist and took a large pinch of all the spare flesh that was there and squeezed. Hilary smiled. Sort of.     And at long last, Lydia sits down.     `Well,' I say. `This is nice.' No answer. She had her hands bunched in front of her, so tightly clenched you could see the whites of her knuckles. At the same time, I looked up, and what should I see but Fiona McPherson across the room grinning from ear to ear. Well, that did it. I just lost all patience with her, with Lydia.     `Where did you say you were from again? I don't think I've heard of it before.'     Above me, Hilary snorted, like one of the horses she always claims she wished she had. At the sound of it Lydia's arms seemed to twitch and something tinkled. That's when I noticed it, the bracelet of metal links, hanging off her wrist like half a manacle. I picked up her arm, and had a better look. The bracelet had one of those tabs you can get inscribed, like this one.     ` Good Luck Lydia ,' it said. ` From all your friends in 2A .'     Fancy that, she had had friends then, before she moved up here, to the very top of the country. I bet it felt like a hundred years ago, and a thousand miles away.     `Oh, that is nice,' I said. Dad says if there's nothing you can think to praise in a person, praise something they're wearing instead. That way there's no end to the gratitude. `You'd better take it off though. Mrs. Chatto can't stand folk to wear jewellery.'     Well, I couldn't let praise go to her head.     Finally, however, a reaction. Lydia's head shot up to look at me, eyebrows arching above her specs. `Oh,' she said. `Oh?' Her hand moved across to touch the engraved tab as if it was all she had to ward off evil. `Oh,' she said again, faintly.     As I said, a reaction--of sorts. But really it wasn't good enough. Not after the effort I had put in. After break, she'd find herself sitting next to Moira MacMurray. We'd see if that didn't teach her to be more appreciative. And better still, I wouldn't have to look at her. You could hide the Rock of Gibraltar behind Moira MacMurray.     After assembly, and the usual Welcome to the New Girls, it was history. For once, Mrs. Chatto ignored us, continued to read what was in front of her long after we had sat down. People started to exchange glances.     Finally she looked up, glared at us. That's when it occurred to me that whatever she had been reading had put her in a thoroughly foul mood.     `Girls,' she says. `I've just been looking over Lydia Morris's report from her last school. You may be interested in hearing a little of what is here for yourselves.' Then she made us listen to all this stuff about Lydia's genius for history--not to mention maths, French and every other subject under the sun. And to make matters worse, Lydia's last school hadn't even been a private one, not like ours. Not so much as a penny had changed hands.     Of course, it rebounds on us, with Chatto telling us we're going to have to pull our finger out, that we're costing our parents the earth, and for what? We've to look at Lydia, see what hard work can do for us.     Tell that to Moira MacMurray, who could work till there's no ink left in the world and still not be able to spell her own name. In fact I noticed that Chatto let her eyes slide right across her as usual, as if none of this had anything to do with her. They all do it, all the teachers. I think they gave up on Moira years ago. If it weren't for needing the fees, I reckon they would have bumped her out into one of those places where they don't even try to teach folk like her. They just make them do basket weaving instead. That's how Moira can get away with it, sitting there, eyes bulging, taking nothing in, letting nothing out.     Meanwhile everyone else is looking at Lydia with a kind of horrified interest--with the sole exception of me. Dad says it doesn't do to let yourself be impressed. There's always going to be something to detract.     And when has he ever been wrong?     But what about Lydia? What did she do with all this praise flying about? I'll tell you what she did; she just sat there gazing at the desk as if trying to ignore it--Mrs. Chatto, people's stares, everything. Yet she had to be secretly pleased, having all that attention. I mean, she must have been. Surely.     Later, at breaktime, the inevitable happens. Fiona McPherson moved in. Lydia was sitting beside me as before, but we were just doing our best to ignore her now, bring her down to earth where she belonged. Hilary was leaning over from behind, breathing loudly in my ear, whittering on about something and nothing. And Moira ... Moira of course was just ... there.     Moira.     I don't think even Dad would have anything to say about Moira. Not that I've asked him. Somehow, I've just not got round to it. Some things you just don't want to discuss. Right at this moment she was opening her mouth to insert a sherbet lemon, the kind of sweet all the old ladies eat in church, sweetening their breath before closing in on Dad at the end of Service. Dad, who is a proper scream about these things, says they have cups of tea which they keep ready for him in their handbags, but that's not true of course. You can't keep pots of tea in a handbag. All he's saying is, you can't escape old ladies when they're determined to give you tea.     But why should anyone want to be old before their time? Moira does. Or rather, Moira doesn't. Care that is. Moira doesn't seem to care about anything.     Where was I? Not thinking about Moira, that's for sure.     So where was I? Oh yes, Fiona McPherson moving in where she isn't wanted.     And the first thing that happens is that Hilary shuffles out of her way because folk like Hilary will always be impressed by Fiona. But Moira, Moira stays exactly where she was. Fiona has to move round her, which she does, without seeming to mind, as if Moira were just part of the furniture. That's how they all treat Moira. But they haven't noticed, have they? They don't see what I see, how there's something very wrong with Moira.     `Oh, Lydia,' says Fiona, face smooth, hair shining. Lydia looks up and the faintest of blushes begins to spread across her cheeks. Did she know then, even after this short time, about Fiona? How she's a boarder, and how generally boarders stay over by the radiator under the window, and never cross a room for anyone? Yet here she was, standing right in front of our pair of desks, come all this way just to speak to her.     `Lydia,' Fiona says again. `We hardly heard you in class just now. You've got such a little voice. I wasn't even sure if you got the answer right, you know, to the question Mrs. Chatto asked you.'     Lydia pushed her glasses up her nose. Suddenly she was thoughtful, as we'd never seen her before. Which means she did know, about Fiona. How is it people always seem to know?     Meanwhile, Fiona carries on, voice suspiciously calm, that posh Edinburgh accent of hers adding a little extra polish to every word. `What was his name again, the man who jumped off the bridge to escape the Duke of Argyll's men?'     Lydia swallowed hard. Opened her mouth, but nothing came out. Opened her mouth again, and this time there comes the answer....     `Rob Roy.'     Or rather, Wob Woy .     The room which had grown quiet at the sight of Fiona leaving the radiator, suddenly erupted. Too late, Lydia has realised what she has said, understood for the first time how she sounded. She should have listened harder to Kenneth McKeller on the radio, learned from Moira Anderson and the TV specials at Hogmanay before she ever thought of moving North. A huge swathe of red sweeps over her face, as she stares around at an entire room laughing.     And that's all she can do--stare, her head turning every which way, cheeks flaming, lips pale and twitching. Until. Until she comes to Moira. Because as usual, Moira isn't laughing. As usual, Moira has failed to see the joke. Yet something about her has its effect. A moment later Lydia stops staring and shaking. She even stops blushing. It's as if suddenly, she isn't so much upset as confused, asking herself why Moira, is the only one here not laughing.     And it didn't stop there. The confusion seemed to lead to something else, a kind of unexpected confidence. Suddenly she lifted up her head, stretching that long skinny neck of hers and mumbled something.     `What did she say?' This was Jackie Milne, who's deaf as a post because even at her age she doesn't clean inside her ears. I'd heard though, and so had Fiona McPherson. Who had stopped laughing, and now was simply smiling. She turned to Jackie. `Lydia says if we ask her nicely, she'll say "Round and Round the Ragged Rock the Ragged Rascal Ran." Just for us.'     At which, at long last, Lydia actually smiled. And that's when we saw it, the logjam of metal in her mouth. She was wearing dental braces, gigantic ones with bands and knobs and claws, the sort that made you wonder what sort of man could have done such a thing to anyone. No wonder she had barely opened her mouth before.     Only now here was another point of interest. Everyone bent forward to have a really good look. And once again, she didn't seem to mind. The smile just grew broader, more metallic.     Watching her now, you'd have sworn she was the only interesting person in the room.     That's when I jumped to my feet. `Stop it, stop it all of you. Stop staring at the poor girl. How can you be so unkind? She can't help being ugly. Just leave her alone.'     The effect was instantaneous. All the smiles stopped together. A couple of people--like Helen May and Pamela Wilson--even appeared to be quite upset. But it was all you could wish for. In the bare twinkling of an eye, Lydia had become quite invisible. There was a new centre of attention.     Me. You see, it was me they were staring at now--even Moira MacMurray and let me tell you, not even Lydia had managed that. It's a moment to savour really. Because it's at times like this that you know, that you remember what it means to have It . Something no-one else has. I haven't mentioned It before, how It changes things. But then I haven't had to, have I? It has a habit of making itself known, all by itself.     One by one, then, they drifted away, even Fiona McPherson, till there were only the three of us left. Four if you count Moira MacMurray.     Hilary however was still gazing at me. Her eyes were shining, and her nose had gone quite pink. `Kate,' she said. Kate, I never saw anything so brave. You were just like something from a book. Lydia, wasn't Kate brave ...?'     She was casting round her, looking for Lydia. But she couldn't find her, not at first. Yet Lydia was right there, exactly where she'd been all along, beside me, in my shadow. It's just that for some reason or other, she had made herself so small again, so insignificant you could hardly see her.     Sad really. Some people just aren't made for the spotlight. Better for everyone that they stay invisible. * * * Down in the cloakrooms after lunch, Hilary was still going on about it. So brave, she kept saying, So headstrong, so in control . She was beginning to sound like a broken record. Still, it's nice to be appreciated. Without Hilary it wouldn't happen, not with the sort of people we have in our class. It's one of the things she's good for.     It helps, you see, having someone to remind you that you're special. That you're not just anyone--or worse.     Remember Lydia, back there in the class room the first time, looking at me as if I was something she had discovered under a rock? Biting her lip. Believe me, a lesser person might want to make her pay for a look like that.     And that's what I'm up against.     Something about me. People can see I'm special. Something about my eyes perhaps, out of the ordinary. Something he's put there. That's why you have to remember to smile. Smiling makes the world a better place. It puts people off their guard, makes them easier to ... deal with.     And anyway, why not smile? I have reason to smile. I'm his daughter. The luckiest girl alive. Except for the one thing.     I suppose I have to mention it. If I don't someone else will. Except for my leg, then. The one thing that stops me walking on air, stops me walking like other people, like Hilary. Like Fiona MacPherson.     Actually, we prefer not to talk about it. He doesn't like it. And why should he, when he can't bear anything not to be perfect, least of all me?     It's the reason I can't ask him. How it happened that I have the one leg shorter than the other. A leg that no-one is allowed to see. Not even me. It's the rule. Every family has to have rules. There's a way of getting dressed, having a bath even, without looking down, without having to be reminded. I get dressed the way he showed me, so as never to catch sight.     Except that, every so often I do catch sight. Streaks of brown, tinged with pink. And in bed I can feel it, below the knee, softer than the other leg, softer than the tips of my fingers. It's what happens when something burns, when skin has been fired to become something different from skin. Something beyond repair. Something lost. Something I can't even remember. Something no-one will tell me.     Don't dwell. It's unhealthy. And I can walk, can't I? I could even run if I wanted, as fast and as far away as I wanted, if I weren't so happy where I am.     And anyway, none of it matters. None of it. I've got him and I've got It . When you've got It , nothing else counts. Especially if you know how to use It.     So brave, Kate. So in control.     Hilary will have to stop going on about it soon. Even she can't keep it up forever. I told Lydia to go and sit next to Moira. It took a moment to get through to her, but she did as she was told. She was tired. Behind their glass panes her eyes looked sunken. Three hours at a new school had taken it out of her.     But there couldn't have been anything brighter than my smile when I said kindly: `I wonder what they're doing back at your old school right this minute. Your friends in 2A. Getting on without you, do you think?'     She just stared at me then, but her eyes seem to sink even further into her face, like people going slowly down into quicksand.     Hilary, who is no slouch when it suits her, chipped in. `Funny how you can forget a person when they go. One moment they're there, and the next moment they're not, and then it's as if they never existed.'     She gave me a nudge. And that's Hilary for you. Nobody had told her to go making the poor girl's day more miserable than it was.     So I ignored her.     `Actually,' I said--nice and clearly because Lydia was trying to look away--`Actually, I should think they're missing you terribly.' I pointed to the bracelet which, despite my best efforts on her behalf, she was still wearing. `You must have been really popular to be given something like that when you left.'     I glanced round then and there's Hilary wearing a look sour enough to turn milk, and it's irresistible. `Do you think anyone would club together to buy you a bracelet if you left, Hills?'     Of course they wouldn't. Not unless I organised it.     Lydia is the one to watch, though. Putting Hilary in her place has had its effect. That teeny flash of metal was the signal, the first time she's smiled since Fiona started to make fun. In other words, the first sign of gratitude I've seen all day.     And as Dad would say, it doesn't do to ask too much of people. Not everyone has it in them to rise to the occasion. You've got to take them as you find them.     Meanwhile, the room has grown quiet suddenly. Someone must have noticed the time and signalled it to the others. Yes, it's time. You won't catch anyone moving now, not for anything.     Or would you? Behind me, a rustling noise. Completely unexpected. I turn round, and believe it or not, Moira is busy offering a crumpled bag of sherbet lemons across the desk to Lydia. It's as if she hasn't noticed the time. Or doesn't care.     And to make matters worse, Lydia takes one.     Meanwhile, far away, in a distant part of the building, comes the sound of footsteps, hailing closer. And is it my imagination or is there also the warning flap of gabardine, cracking in the bone-dry school air like a ship's sail? There's danger here, and yet Lydia and Moira are oblivious, busy with their sweets. Lydia pops hers into her mouth.     Serve them right then when the door bursts open and there it is, standing in the entrance, the reason we've all been waiting.     The door slams and a poisonous cloud of chalk dust--twenty years of it, rising from those same black folds of gabardine--moves across the room, scattering particles. Mandy Edwards--who swears she's allergic--immediately begins to cough. But it doesn't get her anywhere. In the middle of the cloud, a hard black figure--Miss Jamieson--stands, tapping her foot, glaring with chips of flint for eyes, and waits for her to stop.     Silence falls. Then she is off again, this time striding between the desks till she arrives in front of Lydia. There she judders to a halt, black gown swirling and, finally, settling around her. Lydia lifts her head, slowly, unwillingly; takes one long look--and gulps. She has just swallowed her sherbet lemon. Whole.     `Lydia Morris,' says Miss Jamieson. `New girl. Good at Latin. Very good at Latin. Well, we'll see. We'll see.'     There's another silence. Miss Jamieson is examining Lydia, taking her in. You'd think the girl would be all of a shiver. But here's a surprise; after that first involuntary spasm, Lydia is staring back at Miss Jamieson with a look none of us has seen before. A look that is partly terror, but also partly of naked admiration, the look some folk will have when they watch a thunder storm.     Miss Jamieson continues to stare, then, almost imperceptibly, nods her head. Something has passed between them, Lydia and herself. An understanding you might say. Not that anyone else would have noticed it. You would have to know how to look properly, how to read the glances that pass between people. In short, you would have to have It to be aware of anything at all.     For the moment though, Miss Jamieson is brisk. Whatever went between her and Lydia, it doesn't show. She turns away and makes her way to the front of the room. The word is she's a Catholic, but you wouldn't know it from looking at her. Dad has taught me how to recognise every Catholic I am ever likely to meet, told me how you can be friendly, but never trust them. Because they've got it all wrong, haven't they, with their idolatry and being such fools for Mary, who is only a woman after all. That's what he says, so it must be true; yet still I can't imagine Miss Jamieson being a fool for anyone.     Nothing I've done has ever worked.     She turns her back and starts to sweep the blackboard with the eraser, arms outstretched so as to be sure to catch all that stray chalk in the folds of her gown. `Pages open, girls. Book three. Lydia, you can start.'     And so Lydia starts. Reads the Latin, then translates it into unfaltering English, sentence by sentence, never stops for breath, or to think even. Around the class girls are catching each others' eyes, and opening their mouths in mock horror. Hilary however dreams up another tactic of her own, and sticks two fingers down her throat, pretending to be sick.     But Lydia, she doesn't notice a thing. Lydia is enjoying herself. The tiredness that had her slumped in her seat has completely disappeared. It's as if someone has come and slipped ice-cubes down her neck, given her oxygen, put the bubbles back in her brain.     And the effect goes on. When it comes to other people's turn to translate, Miss Jamieson is like a crocodile that has eaten its fill, allowing small fish to swim between her claws without harm. Time after time, people make mistakes and Jamieson just sits there, smiling, doesn't bite off a single head. You can feel what folk are thinking. Lydia Morris is an asset to the class.     Unless of course, you're Hilary. Who hasn't forgiven Lydia for sitting in her rightful place all morning, for taking up my time.     And it's not over yet. As we're putting away our books, Miss Jamieson raps her desk. She has an announcement to make. She tells us that she is considering teaching Greek as an extra subject to anyone who is interested. She needed two pupils at the very least. Lessons would have to take place in free periods and some lunch breaks. Was anybody interested?     I suppose I should have warned Hilary. In her book, friends know everything there is to know about each other. No secrets. But that's Hilary for you, not understanding that we don't belong on the same page, she and I, let alone the same book. As if it was planned, I put up my hand to be the first to volunteer. Miss Jamieson merely nods.     `Yes, Kate, I know all about you. That's been discussed with your fat her.'     You see, it was planned. Hilary looks at me, piggy eyes wide. I knew this announcement was coming. They talked about it at the end of last term, Miss Jamieson and Dad. Worked the whole thing out between them. It was Dad who suggested it actually, the one who had the vision.     You'd think Miss Jamieson could have shown a bit of gratitude then, managed something better than a nod. Instead, she looks straight past me, mouth twitching, impatient because no-one else has put up the r hand. Her face is browner than usual, hair curlier, though just as grey. She'll have just come back from Greece, goes there every long vacation. Next week, after the brown has begun to fade, she'll be bringing in her photographs. She always does, passing them round as if it's some kind of treat. But they're all the same. Ruins and lots of blue sky. Usually there aren't even any people to make them interesting--except the odd fat person maybe, bursting out of his holiday clothes. Or just occasionally, this one woman who crops up time and time again. Miss Jamieson says she's only there to give a sense of scale.     Meanwhile she is still waiting for another hand. But who in their right mind would want to give up their free periods, not to mention lunch breaks? There's no-one here with a dad like mine to steer them in the right direction. All the same, suddenly I become aware of a little local difficulty beside me. It's Hilary, taking gulp after gulp of air as though in distress.     And you know why, of course. Ever since I had put up my hand, she had been struggling. I can read her mind. Hilary likes her lunchtimes. She even likes school mashed potato and rice pudding, though she tries to pretend otherwise. Best of all, she likes doing absolutely nothing--and yet even that is difficult for her. One lunch break is taken up with piano lessons, and another is Sewing for the Disabled in the domestic science block, which she does because there are biscuits provided.     Now there's Greek. Yet it's not as if she's even any use at Latin. But Hilary has read all the books about girls at school, going through everything together, sticking close no matter what. No wonder she's having problems.     And I can't resist it.     I lean across the desk and whisper, `I thought you were supposed to be my friend.'     Well, you have to have fun sometimes. Poor old Hills-are-alive. A slow despairing look at me, then up goes her hand.     Miss Jamieson looks surprised, pursing her lips, which just for now are pale next to her skin, tanned by so much unScottish, not to say Mediterranean, sun. Come to think of it, she looks quite handsome, though you couldn't imagine anyone actually falling for her. Right now, she's regarding Hilary in almost kindly fashion, the way she might some poor animal she has found run over--before she pulls herself together and puts it out of its misery. Miss Jamieson likes animals. She has a cat called Cassandra that she mentions now and then.     Then she remembers that Hilary is not a cat and she frowns. `Hilary Cross, I can't believe you have time for Greek. You'll have no lunch breaks left to play with, child.'     Now there's a surprise, Miss Jamieson letting someone down lightly. When she could so easily have said, Hilary Cross, you don't have the brain for what Kate is doing . Hilary however puts down her hand, and begins to perspire with sheer relief.     But the relief only lasts a second. Because now, behind us, we become aware of another hand climbing upwards, calling attention to itself. Hilary freezes, then forces herself to turn around. Sure enough, Lydia is holding up a scrawny wrist as though to test the air.     Miss Jamieson smiles briefly. `Lydia?'     But the only sound that answers her is the soft thud of Hilary's head hitting the desk in despair.     Which Miss Jamieson ignored. She writes down Lydia's name, and then drops the subject. I don't believe she wanted more than two anyway. This was to be her treat to herself, teaching Greek. Can you believe it?     Trust Dad to know it. One conversation, that's all he needed. He can do that, get people to tell him things they would never dream of letting on to anyone else. He knew Miss Jamieson was just itching to teach Greek.     The trouble is, then you have to ask yourself why I have to be the one who has to go and learn it. I mean, who in their right mind would choose to learn Greek? (Well, there's Lydia of course. But then, she's hardly what you would call normal.)     The answer is simple. Anyone can go to school and learn French, or German or whatever. But I'm his daughter, and that changes everything. That's what he says. It changes everything . That's the reason for the Greek. It's important to have something special, something no-one else has got, something that marks you out. He realised this when he taught himself Greek years ago, Hebrew, too.     So that's why I will be learning Greek. Greek will make us even more special than before. We'll be able to read the New Testament together as it was first written. It will put us in a class of our own.     Except, now there's Lydia, too. Which makes you wonder. Maybe I'm not the only one. Maybe there's someone else with a dad like mine.     Silly me. That's impossible. I know very well, better than anyone. There's no-one like my dad, not in the whole wide world. And I'm his daughter, the luckiest girl alive. Copyright © 2000 Penelope Evans. All rights reserved.