Part One: Starting Over
Being divorced was delicious — not that she could say so out loud. Still, Isobel Stevens felt like she was sliding into a new skin as she leaned out of her shiny red sedan and stepped onto the well-manicured lawn of the All Saints School for Girls. The bright blue western sky stretched to meet the horizon on all sides and the air was cool with no threat of rain. Isobel flipped her pin-curled brown hair over one shoulder and pulled her milk-white leather handbag onto her arm. The first day of school. It never sounded so rich, so promising, so cake-like and clean.
The Stevenses, as a general rule, were not teachers. Not by the time they reached thirty. The Richard Stevenses, including her father, John Richard Stevens, and her brother, Paul Richard Stevens, were headmasters. But desperate times called for desperate measures: Isobel Stevens was a teacher.
Isobel didn’t relish being known as the daughter of John Richard Stevens, but there was no avoiding it. “Stevens” was her Admit One. The headmaster, a childhood friend of her father’s, strode across the lawn of All Saints to meet her with a broad, welcoming smile, and held out his hand. As her father often did, the headmaster patted her affably on the shoulder. “Welcome, Miss Stevens,” he said, smiling his shiny-toothed old man’s smile, pushing his ruddy cheeks up under his blue eyes.
“Thank you, Headmaster,” Isobel said, returning the smile. She realized she had left her satchel in the car. Her forehead wrinkled and she ducked out from under his arm. “So sorry, sir, I left my books.”
The headmaster waved her off. “I’ll send one of the girls to retrieve them,” he said. “She’ll bring them to your quarters. Come, come.” He took her elbow and steered her towards the great hall.
The All Saints School for Girls looked ancient. It was easy to calculate its age; 52 years old in 1952. It wasn’t brick, like the other formidable buildings in town, having been built an era earlier when stone was in vogue. It was gray, dark, gloomy, the stones fitting carefully into each other and lined with dark cement, like an imposing jigsaw puzzle. Two towers rose up on either side and a taller bell tower loomed in the center, home to a clock as large as a man and a pointed bell tower. The bronze bell…