DISCLAIMER: Not mine. I promise I'm only borrowing them and will return them to their rightful owners whenever they ask for them back. My imagination took a flight of fancy.....my bank account stayed empty. (Not mine, no profit, just some day-dreaming I wrote down - everything belongs to the BBC and Sally Wainwright).
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is gentle fluff - it has neither angst nor high drama but gently potters along and is almost certainly a little bit sugary and 'neat', but that's what this pairing triggers for me and I make no apology. It is self-contained, but there will be more self-contained one-shots in the same 'story canon' of 'Some Dances in Harrogate' and will make more sense if you have already read 'Invitations'.
STORY CANON POINTS: To make things work, I've decided Kate went to Cambridge University (to compliment Caroline's Oxford University pedigree) and William is now there himself. Lawrence is about 14 and in his last year before embarking on the two year GCSE courses (UK school years 10 and 11). John is still being brattish but the divorce is progressing to plan and very much 'off screen'. I assumed (based on the references to A Level exams, that the first series ended in June/July and that therefore, this story arc starts about 8 months later.
CONTEXT NOTE: I'm not a teacher, nor am I dyslexic - what I have written is based on no formal knowledge or theory as far as I'm aware, but is influenced by my own educational experiences and helping friends who do have dyslexia. Please that this as a plausible fictional version of reality used for the purposes of story-telling. 'TES' in this context is used for the Times Educational Supplement (as it once was when it was a magazine/newspaper) which is now a massive online hub for teachers in need of resources, advice etc.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To ncruuk[at]gmail.com
Some Dances in Harrogate
"What can I do to help?" Caroline entered Kate's kitchen having finished hanging up her work clothes and generally putting the school day behind her. Gone were the 'fabulous' shoes and formal tailoring, replaced instead with thick socks, casual trousers and a cosy jumper the whole outfit shouted 'relaxed and comfortable' and it always delighted Kate to see this side of the often formidable Dr Elliot.
"Keep me company?" Kate didn't break from her methodical chopping, "I thought pasta?" she continued, not too concerned if Caroline proposed something different as sliced onion, red and green peppers could be used for any number of dishes.
"Sounds perfect," Caroline confirmed her agreement by coming up behind Kate and slipping her arms around her waist, taking care not to do anything other than hold her girlfriend in a loose hug whilst there was chopping to be done she'd already finished too many evening meals at home in A&E for a lifetime, "this okay for the company?" she asked, resting her chin on Kate's shoulder so she could watch.
"Fine," agreed Kate softly, relaxing into the embrace and relishing the calmness that was settling around them, helped by the gentle choral music playing quietly in the background it was the perfect tonic to end their day with, free of the hustle and noise of Sulgrave Heath and its pupils.
Soon, Kate's heap of chopped vegetables was larger than the to be chopped heap and she was about to seek opinion on sauce flavourings when their comfortable peace was disturbed by a buzzing noise that also created a slight tickling sensation at her lower back. "Is that "
"My mobile, probably the rugby tour," explained Caroline, pressing a kiss to Kate's neck (her excuse that Kate was finally no longer holding the knife) as she extracted the offending phone from her trouser pocket and, not releasing Kate from her now one-armed grasp, answered the call.
"Mark, hi." On hearing Caroline greet the sport's teacher by name, Kate released a breath she hadn't realised she'd been holding, having instinctively braced for their evening being ruined with bad news.
"Good, and everything's in order?" continued Caroline, clearly receiving good news in her update as she began to occupy herself with slipping the fingers of her unoccupied left hand between the buttons of Kate's shirt, her chin still resting on Kate's shoulder.
"They generally organise everything very well," Caroline's calm conversation gave no hint that her traitorous fingers were leisurely seeking out the soft, warm skin of Kate's stomach, clearly intent on providing some compensation for only being able to hold Kate in an one-armed embrace. Abandoning all notion of trying to continue her cooking preparation for the moment, Kate was more than content to let the warmth of Caroline's stroking fingers and gentle pressure of her body nestled against her back ensconce her like a blanket whilst Caroline fulfilled her headmistress' duty.
"If Lawrence wants to talk to me, he'll ring me from his mobile," corrected Caroline kindly but firmly, the sport's teacher clearly having got his boundaries a little confused, prompting Kate to smile as Caroline continued, "but you might like to issue a general reminder to everyone that parents would probably appreciate a phone call or text and remind everyone that the staff mobiles are available for those who either don't have or have forgotten their own phones."
"Okay then, well, send me texts with the results please, and keep me informed about walking wounded," requested Caroline, smiling as she felt Kate slip her fingers up the baggy sleeve of Caroline's jumper to reciprocate the caress Kate was currently enjoying herself.
"Yes, I know it's a rugby tour Mark, but you have 35 pupils whose parents entrusted into MY care, a care I delegate to you and the staff accompanying you. If one of them gets injured in any way, I want to know so I don't get ambushed by an upset mother, is that understood?" Caroline's fingers stilled for a moment as she tried to keep her temper with her very good but still quite new sport's teacher who was on his first school tour for Sulgrave Heath.
"Good, well, wish the boys good luck with the first game tomorrow and you can enforce curfew in my name, save any of you being universally loathed before the fun really gets going," offered Caroline, extending the olive branch, even if it did seem to cause some confusion.
"Just tell the boys that my Tuesday afternoon is totally clear and that, if anyone is caught breaking curfews or lights outs set by you, I have plenty of appointments available for them to come and discuss with me individually how unfair the world is. I guarantee they'll behave," explained Caroline smugly, her fingers resuming their earlier circling pattern now that an 'entente cordiale' had been reached with her colleague again, giving Kate a second reason to smile, having initially struggled to smother a chuckle at Caroline's offer of her 'little chats' as a means of maintaining discipline.
"No problem Mark, thanks for the call, good luck in the first game."
"Night," and, with a sigh of relief at having got that chore over with, Caroline shoved the phone back in her pocket and resumed her earlier, two armed embrace of Kate, "sorry about that."
"Don't apologise, it was entertaining to listen to."
"We might get Lawrence ringing in a minute," observed Caroline as she eyed up the assembled ingredients on the worktop, "Can I vote for stir fry, with noodles?"
"In a rush?" teased Kate, not disagreeing with Caroline's suggestion, having begun regret her initial suggestion of pasta.
"Quite the opposite but your couch has a habit of eating me," quipped Caroline, alluding to their running joke about how, once settled on Kate's couch they generally struggled to get moving around again although admittedly, it had little to do with the couch and everything to do with their reluctance to separate once comfortably entwined.
"Beef and black bean?"
"Delicious," agreed Caroline, her stomach rumbling in agreement, prompting Kate to laugh before reluctantly saying,
"You're going to have to let me go then," just as Caroline's phone started vibrating again, "talk to Lawrence and I'll do the cooking," she encouraged, secretly enjoying how 'cuddly' Caroline had become over the months of their relationship and the steady healing of old hurts.
"Yes Boss!" Laughing, Caroline stepped away from Kate completely and extracted her phone again, confirming it was her younger son ringing her. "Hello " she greeted warmly, in total contrast to her previous phone call.
"No, I'm at Kate's," explained Caroline, leaning against the kitchen doorframe so she could continue to pull silly faces at Kate but not be in her girlfriend's way as she started cooking their dinner in a large wok.
"Everything ok?" Caroline's voice coloured with concern admittedly she hadn't explicitly told Lawrence she would be staying at Kate's the nights he was away and she wasn't in Oxford but then he'd never previously shown any interest or worry about where she was on the nights he'd slept over at friends as long as she would answer her mobile if he rang.
"Ah, I see do you want me to ask Kate?" offered Caroline, understanding Lawrence's problem a little better now, giving Kate a little bit of warning that she might have to join in the one-sided conversation.
"Course you can, she's right here!" Caroline was already crossing the kitchen to offer the phone to her girlfriend, "he wants to talk to you, I'll finish the cooking," she volunteered, holding out her mobile phone in one hand and accepting the proffered wooden spatula in the other as, roles reversed, Kate took up the conversation, propped up against the doorframe, watching Caroline take over cooking.
"Ah, okay, what do you want to write it on?" Kate smiled in reassurance at Caroline once this was clearly a homework related question.
"Well, that is the last book you read," she agreed, shoving her free hand in her pocket as she relaxed against the doorframe, enjoying her evening despite the various interruptions.
"Why don't you start with a bit about what type of book it is and why you enjoy reading it before then writing about the actual details of the book?" Kate's suggestion was quickly followed by a frown as she considered Lawrence's next question.
"I'm sure Mrs Connors meant the homework to be an opportunity for you to practice writing reviews rather than as a chance for her to be critical about what you read at home for fun," explained Kate, holding her hand up to forestall Caroline storming over to steal the phone.
"Yes, I'm sure, and if she marks it any differently we'll worry about that once you've got it back, okay?" promised Kate as much for Caroline's benefit as Lawrence's.
"Okay then. So, do you know which words you want?" Kate crossed the kitchen to where she kept a pad for making shopping lists, detouring via the stove where she quickly gave Caroline a one armed hug intended to convey just a little reassurance that everything really was fine with Lawrence and his English homework.
"Uh huh, uh huh, okay no, you know how to spell that one, and that one," she chastised gently, before scribbling down a couple more, "okay, that's eight so far. Anymore?" Clearly Lawrence couldn't think of any.
"Right. I might think of a couple whilst I'm eating, so don't be surprised if you end up with eleven or twelve "
"No problem, now, I think your mum would like a proper chat with you whilst I finish making dinner." Kate reached out for Caroline who was clearly trying to not plot how to make Mrs Connors' life hell tomorrow morning.
"Good luck tomorrow, here's your Mum." Kate passed the phone to Caroline who, in exchange, handed off the spatula so that the stir fry cooking could continue.
"Problem solved?" asked Caroline of Lawrence before quickly kissing Kate's cheek in thanks whilst she listened to Lawrence explain his English homework and Kate's role in helping him.
"No, I think Kate's absolutely right take the question at face value and write the book review and wait to see what grade and comments you get back."
"No, I will not growl at Mrs Connors tomorrow," laughed Caroline, amused at her son's behaviour, glad that between them, his nervousness about tackling his English homework is disappearing, replaced with a plan.
"Yes, she's cooking dinner " the conversation was clearly shifting to an interrogation of their evening plans, " stir fry. What did you have?"
"Sounds good who are your dorm mates?" asked Caroline, noticing Kate adding the noodles which indicated she had only a few minutes until her own dinner was ready.
"Well, say hi to Sam from me and you can say hi to James and Trey as well if you think they can cope with thinking of me as your mother and not scary Dr Elliot," teased Caroline, moving around Kate's kitchen extracting plates and cutlery.
"Okay, just Sam then," agreed Caroline, "where are they?" she asked, knowing her son probably wouldn't have felt comfortable discussing his homework with Kate in front of his friends.
"Ah, that was nice of Sam."
"I see." Kate gave up trying to follow the conversation between mother and son as Caroline's comments became increasingly unfathomable and instead concentrated finishing off the now cooked stir fry.
"Okay, well, Kate's just finished cooking so I should go too. Ring either of us whenever you want, as long as Mr Johnson hasn't told you to turn your phone off, okay?" instructed Caroline, instinctively qualifying her request so her mother's wish couldn't be misinterpreted as the headmistress overruling or contradicting her staff.
"Love you too, good luck tomorrow," and, on that positive note, she hung up the phone and put it next to Kate's on the side duties done as headmistress and mother, she was now hoping for a quiet, interruption free evening as girlfriend and lover.
"He sounded happy " began Kate, starting to dish up their dinner.
"I'm going to kill her."
"No, you're not," corrected Kate gently, pouring the last of the sauce over the plates, "at least, not until after she's shown herself to be narrow-minded, old fashioned and unsupportive of your son then you can " Kate's calm and rational plan was interrupted by Caroline's
Responsibly and calmly tackle the issue, knowing that, in the short term, Lawrence is continuing to be doing well," soothed Kate, pressing a reassuring kiss to Caroline's cheek and grabbing their plates, " there's a bottle of white in the fridge."
"How are you so calm?"
"Okay " Caroline's confusion was evident as she joined Kate at the table which Kate had set for two much earlier in the evening, complete with softly flickering candlelight, " this looks wonderful, thank you," acknowledged Caroline as she poured out the wine before following Kate's lead and sitting down.
"Joint honours on the cooking and homework helping?"
"To sharing," declared Caroline, raising her glass in toast but preferring to steal a quick kiss rather than clink glasses.
"To sharing," agreed Kate, taking a sip of wine whilst she watched Caroline dig into her dinner, "good?" she asked, only gradually getting back into the habit of cooking for someone, Caroline reigning supreme in her own kitchen most of the time.
"Excellent, now quit stalling!" instructed Caroline, emphasising her point by jabbing her fork in Kate's direction who, with a smile, took a deliberate bite of her own plateful of stir fry. Satisfied, at least that Kate was eating, Caroline let the comfortable silence grow for a few minutes whilst they both despatched their initial hunger pangs but she ultimately could only allay her curiosity for so long, "so, practice?"
"You remembered," stalled Kate, taking a sip of her wine.
"I've got quite good at listening and I do pay attention."
"Umm, ok "
"Kate " Kate's unexpected nervousness at what Caroline had intended to be a reasonably innocent question concerned Caroline, " I'm sorry "
"No, it's fine, just, this is me having a moan as your girlfriend okay? No Dr Elliot?" asked Kate having quickly decided that she would 'have a moan', that they, as a couple, would be better off is she stopped bottling up this particular frustration as it was only going to reappear as time went on.
"99% girlfriend, and I promise to tell you exactly what Dr Elliot thinks and might want to do," countered Caroline, reaching across the table to take Kate's hand and start an automatic caress of Kate's knuckles with her thumb, knowing she couldn't completely separate her professional persona but understanding what Kate wanted from her right now, which was a girlfriend to moan to about whatever crap had come her way as a teacher.
"I've had far more practice dealing with the Josephine Connors of this world they're in almost every school and are my least favourite type of teacher " started Kate, smiling at Caroline's carefully schooled expression as she paid close attention to what Kate was saying but also how she was saying it, picking up on the tension creeping into the other woman's neck, " they have become formulaic in their teaching and lost any ability to convey a passion for English and are so cynical about contemporary literature or alternative literature forms that I want to shake them until they admit to not having read anything that's age appropriate for their classes except what's on the set lists oh, and I wish they'd get off their bloody high horses long enough to actually teach some basic techniques." Kate shrugged sheepishly at her slightly shell-shocked girlfriend, " sorry, it's a pet moan, I shouldn't have " she started to instinctively apologise, only for Caroline to cut her off with a question.
"Umm, grammatical rules and concepts for the younger classes, critical appraisal techniques for A-Level."
"Are those basic?" This discussion was beginning to make Caroline realise how, despite all her teaching experience, she actually didn't have that much comprehension of the practicalities of language and literature teaching.
"Yeah " Kate paused to eat a mouthful of dinner and think how to explain her point to Caroline, " you taught chemistry, moles and stuff?"
"Moles and stuff, yes," confirmed Caroline, smiling at Kate's generosity to her translating her point into Caroline's field.
"Okay, so it's mathematical right? Water is two hydrogen plus one oxygen and so on?" Caroline nodded, refraining from pointing out that example had nothing to do with moles, sensing that would be considered unhelpful, "did you ever have to teach your chemistry students how to do basic arithmetic before you did the chemistry bit?"
"No, of course not by the time we did chemical equations or anything numerate on the general science courses, the maths department taught them how to add and multiply."
"Right, because anything else would be a waste of your time?" suggested Kate, grinning as she teased Caroline a little, having heard the implied 'that's what they're there for' that had gone unspoken.
"Basically, yes," confirmed Caroline, not taking offense.
"So I have to teach 13 year olds how to construct grammatically correct sentences in French using irregular verbs "
"Je suis votre petite amie, vous etez ma petite amie?" suggested Caroline suddenly, using the only irregular verb she could ever remember being taught.
"Oui, show off." Despite the playful banter, Kate was impressed as she had already exhausted what little chemistry she could remember, "although I don't still think of me in only a formal way?"
"Definitely not," husked Caroline, belatedly remembering she could (and should) have said 'tu es ma petite amie' "but don't distract me, this is interesting "
" okay, so, I'm supposed to be teaching about French irregular verbs but, unless the Classics Department has beaten me to it, I'll end up spending most of the week explaining how to conjugate verbs and different verb tenses to them in English."
"That sucks." It was at moments like that that Caroline's vocabulary proved quite how much of her life was spent around teenagers.
"I think so."
"Is it any better in Italian?"
"Actually, yes," admitted Kate, smiling.
"No irregular verbs?" Caroline was taking her girlfriend's frustration seriously and tried to work out what might be the reason.
"More like they don't start Italian until after they've already been taught it in French!"
There was a pause whilst Caroline absorbed what Kate had just said.
"You're laughing at me."
"And you're pouting."
"Mmm finished?" asked Caroline, pointing to Kate's empty plate.
"Dishwasher's loading," said Kate, getting up and setting about working with Caroline to quickly clean up the kitchen so that, with dinner behind them, and no school work ahead, they could enjoy each other's company.
"Couch?" suggested Caroline, holding up the two wine glasses and tipping her head in the general direction of Kate's sitting room.
"In a minute," said Kate simply, extracting the two glasses from Caroline's grasp and putting them safely on the kitchen worktop before wrapping her arms around Caroline's waist.
"Mmm " acknowledged Kate as she leaned in and gently kissed Caroline's lips once before pulling her head back just enough to say, "thanks for listening," only to then cut off any response Caroline might have wanted to make with more steady, tender kisses. When they eventually parted again, the only comment that came to mind for Caroline was,
"I didn't have to listen for that long!"
"No, but you did pout quite a bit " pointed out Kate, amused when Caroline's instinctive response was to pout further, giving Kate another reason to kiss her girlfriend one final time, " as lovely as my kitchen is, my couch and sitting room might be more comfortable?"
"In a minute " It was now Caroline's turn to make them pause, " can I be Dr Elliot for a moment please?"
"Okay." Kate let go of Caroline and took a step backwards, enabling her to lean against the worktop.
"How do I fix it?"
"Fix the problems that means my modern language and classics teachers spend too much time teaching basic techniques I thought my English teachers covered."
"By making those techniques core curriculum that all three departments share responsibility for," explained Kate, taking a sip of her wine, watching Caroline wrestle with this freshly presented but long established conundrum.
"Okay so, what? A four class programme taught in the first week of the academic year to all year 7s?"
"Something like that," agreed Kate, unsurprised at how quickly Caroline identified a solution.
"Right, I need to tell the Heads of Department I want this what do I call it?" asked Caroline, respecting Kate's opinion completely.
"'Principles of Grammar' refresher? Stops the kids who do already know it from fighting us on their first day," suggested Kate pragmatically, remembering some of the 'challenges' the staff have to face every September when they start with a new batch of eleven year olds who, despite all passing the Entrance Exams, arrive with very different levels of actual knowledge and can take some time to settle into Sulgrave Heath.
"Okay, so Dr Elliot has a question to ask how do I know to ask the question?" Although it was Caroline's final question it was, in many ways, the most important to her as the last thing she wanted to do was expose Kate to any unpleasantness with her fellow teachers because of their relationship.
"Read this week's TES."
"Really, it's why I was so grumpy, I read it this afternoon so I was already "
"Informed," corrected Kate gently, pleased to see Caroline grin.
"Brilliant, now " and, taking a leaf from Kate's book and deliberately ogling her girlfriend's long legs, Caroline quickly abandoned any further thoughts about education best practices in favour of, " fancy making out like teenagers?"
"Okay, not the reaction I was aiming for," admitted Caroline, slumping against the wall.
"Lawrence I forgot to text him his words!"
"Ah, good point," agreed Caroline, remembering now why they'd even been talking about grammar tuition in the first place, "are you sure I can't kill Josephine Connors?"
"Not until after she's put her foot in it and shot her mouth off about Lawrence writing his book report on Asterix, and only if you let me help," Kate was perfectly serious as she discovered her mobile phone was stubbornly claiming to have no battery life.
"Here, use mine," suggested Caroline, pointing to her phone which was next to Kate's on the side, "unless you want me to do it?" asked Caroline politely, knowing she had no real hope of being able to text without her glasses, not to mention not knowing how to spell most of the words Lawrence probably wanted, with his discovery of Asterix down to Kate.
"You can spell Abraracourcix?"
"He's writing about the French version?" asked Caroline, finding it hard to picture his English teacher's reaction, "and he didn't technically read that one on his own," she pointed out, remembering the wet Saturday afternoon when Kate had helped him untangle the 'same but different' French original.
"No, but he wanted to include a couple of the French character names as part of his general introduction about Asterix as he didn't think Mrs Connors would have read them," explained Kate as she typed out the text, taking care to avoid the autocorrect suggestions as that rather defeated the point of her giving Lawrence the correct spellings of the more unusual words he wanted to use in his book report.
"Smart boy did I ever thank you for this?"
"Umm, sure, when I handed the phone to you "
"No, I mean, helping him with the whole reading and dyslexia situation," Caroline's awkwardness was returning as familiar doubts about her capabilities as a mother began to resurface, fuelled Kate knew, but some of the bitter barbs John was throwing at her through the divorce.
"Frequently, and I will continue to promise you I would have helped him in almost exactly the same way if he'd been in one of my classes and I wasn't in love with his mother," reminded Kate kindly, used to Caroline's uncertainty.
"If he'd been just another kid in class I'd have written to you, as his mother, suggesting that graphic novels or comics like Asterix or Tintin might be a good starting point to help boys like Lawrence stay engaged with the written word long enough to start to understand and work with their dyslexia rather than fighting it all the time I wouldn't have sat with you both on Saturday afternoons and helped him with his homework."
"And I will continue to thank you and love you for it," confirmed Caroline, resuming her earlier position of hugging Kate from behind so she could see what Kate was texting, or would be able to if she had her reading glasses on.
"Want to add something?" asked Kate when she was satisfied that, despite the wonderful distraction of Caroline's body pressed up against her back, she'd not made any spelling mistakes in her text.
"You'll have to read it to me, my glasses are upstairs," husked Caroline, starting to become distracted now she had Kate in her arms.
"Lawrence, words as requested:
Vitalstatistix/Abraracourcix/a bras raccourcis
Few more from me:
Laurel (no excuses not to learn this one, it's like your name)
Rene Goscinny (writer)
Albert Uderzo (artist)."
"Mmmm, you're sexy when you speak French " murmured Caroline, completely distracted.
"Caroline, focus," encouraged Kate, " I don't think you want me to send that to your son!"
"Mum says don't think about Mrs Connors' opinion, good luck in the match tomorrow and don't stay up all night telling jokes about your brother," decided Caroline eventually, trusting Kate to faithfully transcribe or even improve on it.
"Added a 'love you."
"He'll blush," observed Caroline, not disagreeing but now definitely more interested in kissing Kate's neck than pretty much anything else.
"Just like his Mum," stuttered Kate, managing to press send and put the phone aside just as Caroline's curious fingers managed to get past her belt and start exploring under her clothes.
"But I'm not a teenage boy "
"Thank God," confirmed Kate, gathering enough of her wits to press her hands over Caroline's, stopping them in their exploration, "wanna skip the couch?"
"God yes " and, with wanton disregard for lights that would shock them in the morning (they'd already locked the doors and extinguished the candles) they headed, still wrapped around each other, upstairs to Kate's bedroom for the very best kind of early night.
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