Disclaimer: Malory Towers and associated characters were created by the genius of Enid Blyton, not myself. I'm just borrowing.

Notes: This was actually a case of combining two improv challenges, one for a story based around a colour, and one for a story with no beginning or end, both to be completed and edited in under 45 minutes.. Just over 25 minutes writing time, ten minutes editing time. The colour, by the way, is red, although I don't think it's ever mentioned in the improv. – still, it should be clear enough why. ;)

Guilt

Of course Gwendoline Mary Lacey was the sweetest and kindest girl in all the school, but even her devoted Clarissa couldn't help thinking her expression, as she gazed after Bill, was rather… black. It quite spoiled her fair prettiness.

Clarissa felt a little flicker of guilt. Perhaps, just perhaps, Gwen had felt a little left out of the conversation. Clarissa couldn't help it, though – it was lovely to have such a nice horsey person to talk to about Merrylegs, who understood how she felt. It was so different from being told unpleasant things about the other girls by Gwendoline Mary, and Bill felt different, too, clean and strong rather than cloyingly sweet… Clarissa caught the thought back, as the flicker of guilt flamed up at the knowledge of her own disloyalty, heating her cheeks.

"What are you blushing at?"

It wasn't like her dear friend Gwen to talk to her in those sharp tones. Clarissa blushed all the harder in discomfiture.

"Nothing." She adjusted her spectacles, to give herself a moment. She had the uneasy feeling Gwen's large blue eyes could look straight through her own, reading her treacherous thoughts.

"Clarissa. I warned you that Bill is not a proper friend for you to have. You ought to stop encouraging her. I don't think I could be fond of someone who was friends with someone as deceitful and untrustworthy as Bill." Gwendoline was smiling again, confident that Clarissa would promise, as she had promised to stay clear of Darrell and Daphne and Mavis in order to keep her first friendship.

Clarissa felt a spark of rebellion at that smug smile. Really, it was too much – she knew Gwen was only looking after her, but she was mistaken about Bill. She had to be. No one with those clear hazel eyes and that chin among chins could be as devious as Gwen liked to make out. Bill looked up from a moment from the corner in which Darrell was helping her puzzle out her maths prep., and sent Clarissa one of her frank, luminous grins. That decided her.

"I think you're wrong about Bill," she said mutinously. "She's awfully sweet."

"Why, Clarissa, I'm surprised at you. Haven't I always looked after you?" A warm soft hand covered her own. "That tomboy's not a good friend for someone as nicely brought up as you."

Clarissa wanted to defend Bill, but found she couldn't find the words, or the courage to meet her friend's assurance. After all, Gwen only wanted what was best for her. She sat quietly as Gwendoline, satisfied, began to talk herself, making plans for the half term. She was hinting broadly that she'd like an invitation for the Laceys and the Carters to join up for the day, that she was longing to be introduced to Clarissa's mother. And why shouldn't she want to meet her special friend's family? Clarissa couldn't help wondering, though, why Gwen always said "Lady Alexandra" rather than "your mother".

She knew that now was the time to say that her mother's letter had arrived that morning, and that her parents couldn't come for half term. Gwen would be disappointed, but then would invite her to go with her family, and they'd spend the whole day together.

It suddenly occurred to Clarissa that if she told Bill first, she'd be invited out with Bill's family instead. Seven brothers… It sounded rather alarming, but only two were actually coming and they were both bringing horses, Bill had said, and they'd have a gorgeous ride over the cliffs and a picnic lunch. And she and Bill could talk and talk, without Gwen sulking and trying to turn the conversation towards herself.

Clarissa listened meekly to her best friend's conversation and said nothing at all, as the guilt warmed her skin.

As they rose to get ready for bed, Gwendoline Mary said warmly, "I knew you'd be sensible. Bill's a disgrace to the school. Sometimes I think she really is a boy."

Clarissa looked over at Bill, the soft curls framing the pointed little face, the flowing line of her figure under her tunic. Out of nowhere, she caught the image of herself pressing her hand against the curve of Bill's breast through the dress, of Bill's soft and exceedingly girlish lips against hers…

"I don't know," she said. "She looks like a girl to me."

Clarissa tried not to look back at Bill as she and Gwen left the room together. All she could think of was that within an hour Gwen would be asleep, and Clarissa could be alone with her guilty dreaming. The heat from her skin crept down and pooled at her core, waiting.

After they'd left, Darrell remarked, "You know, your little Clarissa had a lovely colour tonight. She really looked almost pretty."

"Do you think so?" Bill gave her a level look, gathering up her books. "I've always thought she was extremely pretty, myself."

~end~