Petal in the Rain
Chapter 1- The Many Winged Escape
"Freedom is never dear at any price. It is the breath of life. What would a man not pay for living?"
As the morning sun broke over the horizon and threw into sharp perspective the city of London, a young girl with red hair sighed from her attic perch in one of the city's many boarding schools, less than enthused that another day had dawned. She toyed with a small locket that delicately hung around her neck as she peered out of her room's only window, watching as people began to fill the cobbled streets outside. She wondered—as she did every morning—what it would feel like to have the ability to come and go as she pleased, a free citizen of the British Empire.
St. Madeline's Academy for Girls...my gilded cage.
Lily Evans, a bright girl of seventeen, sighed aloud, dread beginning to flower in her abdomen as she anticipated the arrival of the school's headmistress—a wretched woman by the name of Sister Agatha. A nun who Lily had despised ever since their first meeting, she routinely arrived at her doorstep to escort her to the day's studies, keen on ensuring her imprisonment. The path to the dining room from abode was a long one, and Lily had—on more than one occasion—diverted from the established route.
To think I would have made it out the door last time if the cook hadn't spotted me…
"Right on time," Lily murmured when she heard torrential footsteps sound on the creaking staircase that led up to her attic dwelling. She flinched at the pounding at her door and the booming voice clanging from behind it.
"Get up, girl! Up!" the burly woman demanded, continuing to hammer her beefy fist against the door. "Don't you make me come in there!"
"Coming, Sister!" Lily cooed, sarcasm dripping from a voice that—when cheerful—sounded more like wind chimes on a breezy summer's day. "Just smoothing out my skirt!"
"Hurry up, child! I shall double your dish time if you make me wait much longer, mark my words!"
Instead, Lily mocked the nun's words, screwing up her face as she imitated the woman in her cracked mirror. Satisfied with her impertinence, she pulled on her rumpled school uniform, tied her hair back into a messy ponytail, and pushed open her attic door, taking into account the nun's close proximity to it.
"Ooff!" Sister Agatha barked, clutching her tender nose. "Stupid girl!"
"Dreadfully sorry, Sister, I had no idea you were so close to the door," Lily tried to conceal the grin that threatened to creep onto her porcelain face. Once she tamed the laughter that threatened to burst from her lungs, she wiped her eyes and took in the appearance of the nun—a sight which caused her to wince.
Sister Agatha was, overall, an unpleasant looking beast. She possessed beady eyes that were hidden beneath bushy eyebrows, and sprouted dark facial hair that appeared just above her upper lip—two features which made her look like a walrus in need of a shave. Apart from her girth, Agatha was also distinguished by her white-blonde hair, which she always kept slicked back in a tight bun with pomade. Though dressed in dark convent robes—clothing usually associated with kindly old nuns—she remained an intimidating sight for any to behold.
They say man was made in God's image, but I refuse to go to heaven if he looks like that…
"You are going straight to purgatory on judgment day, you little demon," the nun heralded, grabbing Lily by the collar of her white blouse and marching her down the stairs into one of the Academy's many overly-furbished corridors. She used her other hand to clutch her swollen nose.
"I'll meet you there," Lily retorted, succumbing to the daily manhandling she endured on the way to breakfast. She knew bruises would form on her neck where the nun was pinching her skin.
"I am a servant of God: He shall welcome me into heaven with open arms," Sister Agatha pronounced with confidence, turning a corner sharply so that Lily's shoulder caught the edge. "If you don't shape up, girl, you'll have more than His wrath to deal with, do you hear?"
"What would your God say if he knew how you were treating one of his beloved children?" Lily snapped, her rebellious eyes burning as pain pulsated in her shoulder.
"You belt up!" Sister Agatha demanded, opening the double doors to the dinner hall and roughly releasing Lily's collar. "Now get out of my sight before I throw you into detention for your insolence."
"My pleasure," Lily muttered under her breath. She wasted no time getting away from the butch of a nun, disappearing into a sea of girls dressed in white and navy blue as she headed toward a table near the back of the hall.
The academy's dining hall was spacious and grand, housing row upon row of tables and boasting a beautiful antique chandelier which acted as the cynosure of the room. Everything was impeccably clean; the marble floors were waxed to the point of hazard, the windows spotless, and the white table linens pressed and laundered. Near the front of the hall was a buffet of assorted breakfast foods.
Lily cringed when she took a seat at her table. She hated everything about St. Madeline's Academy for Girls; every room, every textbook, every teacher...even the food was horribly conceited. The thought of having to attend the snobby institution depressed her significantly, everything making her want to scowl and shake.
Everything, that is, except her best mate, Roxanne.
"It's about time you showed up," Roxanne complained as Lily plopped down next to her. "I'm bloody starving."
"Would you calm down? You get so grumpy when you haven't eaten," Lily alleged, chuckling at the only person that kept her sane in the corrupt and crooked place she called home. "I'm late because Sister Hagatha was giving me another speech about how fast I'm going to burn in hell."
"Ah, yes. I would pay good money to see that woman set on fire," Roxanne said, tucking her long, russet hair behind her ears as she poured herself a glass of water. "At least hell would be more pleasant then here though, am I right?"
Lily snorted in her orange juice. She and Roxanne had been best mates since the beginning of school, both having a lust for trouble and a knack for finding it. Roxanne was the only girl in St. Madeline's who'd ever accepted Lily or bothered to befriend her—something she would always be thankful for.
If it wasn't for her, there's no telling where I'd be…
From the very beginning of her school career, Lily had stuck out among a society of wealthy blondes and brunettes. It wasn't just her lovely locks, unusual eyes or her insubordinate attitude; it was because of her unorthodox past.
St. Madeline's Academy held a prestigious reputation within academic and patrician society. It was a fine all-girls institution (with a hefty tuition) meant to cultivate the next generation of upper-class women—girls of higher education and perfect etiquette that, in turn, would marry wealthy aristocrats and enjoy the pleasures of high society. As such, all the girls in attendance at St. Madeline's had considerable inheritances—a rarity during the War—and proud parents who gladly backed their daughter's education with ample funding.
Everyone, that is, except Lily Evans.
"Lily? When was the last time you washed your blouse?" Roxanne inquired, noticing a yellowing stain on Lily's sleeve.
"Last week. Sister Agatha insists that I have already used up too much water. I'm now limited to one wash a week," Lily muttered, stuffing bits of poached egg into her mouth.
"Vile woman. Give me some of your dirty clothing tonight and I'll have them washed with mine," Roxanne ordered more than offered, pursing her lips together. "Agatha has really been pushing the limit with you lately."
"I suppose...and thanks, it would be better if I didn't stink up the entire school—I get enough unwanted attention already," Lily joked, doing her best to ignore Agatha's discriminatory practices. "Perhaps I should throw my dirty things into Sister Agatha's office...see how she enjoys the stench then."
"I recommend holding off on that plan until you really reek," Roxanne suggested cheekily.
A bell clanged loudly throughout in the dining hall, signaling it was time for classes. As Lily and Roxanne collected themselves, a large group of girls strutted by their table, each with a superior smile plastered across their smug face.
"Oh, look ladies! It's the brunette whore and her little orphan friend! Don't look into their eyes, we might all turn to stone!" the ringleader of the group proclaimed dramatically, smirking at Lily and Roxanne as she brushed past them and left the hall, her sniggering posse following in her perfumed wake.
"Do I have snakes in my hair? I think Acantha may have just mistaken me for Medusa," Lily said, rolling her eyes at the pathetic attempt to insult the duo; Acantha's bullying certainly wasn't anything new.
"I can check that for you," Roxanne affirmed, riffling through Lily's hair for any signs of wildlife. She batted her away. "You are reptile free, my dear."
"Alleluia," Lily muttered.
To Lily, Acantha was almost more intolerable then Sister Agatha. The Greek beauty was the most popular girl at St. Madeline's school, largely due to the fact that she belonged to one of the richest merchant families in Europe. She had long brown hair that cascaded around her shoulders in perfect ringlets, a prominent, sculpted nose that looked like it belonged on an ancient statue, and piercing black eyes that were often glaring viciously in their general direction, the only two girls in the school who didn't worship the ground she walked upon. Acantha had taken an immediate dislike to Lily when she had first started at the school, often poking fun at the fact that she was indeed an orphan.
But an orphan with enough money for tuition, apparently.
"And who is she calling a whore?" Roxanne demanded once the group of girls had departed from the dinner hall, "If she's anything like her mother, she's the hussy. I heard a rumour she was a prostitute before she met her wealthy father…"
Lily never cared for gossip concerning the aristocracy—something Roxanne had always had a taste for, despite being level-headed in every other department.
"Just ignore the brat. Did you know that her name means "thorny" in Greek?" Lily mused, chuckling to herself. "I was looking up curse words in Latin and came across the meaning."
"Really? We should start calling her thorny arse then," Roxanne whispered, hugging her textbooks to her chest as a conspiratorial smile spread across her lips. "She certainly acts like she has one shoved up there."
They proceeded to their assigned desks at the back of a wood-paneled classroom and took a seat. Lily pulled a geography manual out of her bag and examined the book's title with disinterest. Sister Marietta taught first period geography, and it was—by far—the most wearisome class in her schedule.
Typically, Lily was a vegetable during her classes—numb, aloof and nearly catatonic during boring lessons taught by nuns in scripted monotones; however, despite her indifference, she was top of every class. As she was confined to her attic bedroom without anything to amuse herself with during the night (an arbitrary rule of Agatha's that Roxanne defied by sneaking her the occasional rag-magazine or newspaper), Lily had taken to reading and memorizing her textbooks—an act which resulted in her extensive acquisition of knowledge and her mastery of almost every subject offered at the school. In essence, it was a combination of boredom and natural intellect that had rendered her the top-scoring student at St. Madeline's—a fact she cared little about.
"See you next period, then," Lily murmured to Roxanne, piling her textbook and notebook up on her desk and resting her head on the stiff pillow, hoping to catch a few winks before arithmetic...
"MS. EVANS, STRAIGHTEN UP AT ONCE!" Sister Agatha bellowed with characteristic indignation.
Lily bolted into an upright position, her catnap snuffed out like a candle. Every girl in the class turned to look at her disheveled, bleary-eyed appearance, most tittering or shaking their heads.
"What are you doing here?" Lily questioned in tired confusion, grimacing.
"Do not speak out of turn!" the nun continued shrilly, her facial pigmentation turning an anomalous red shade. "Put up your hand if you wish to address me."
Sister Agatha did not tolerate poor behaviour from any of her pupils, especially Lily Evans. She strived to be perceived as an intimidating, God-fearing administrator in the eyes of her students—something she found difficult to achieve in the red head's witty presence. Sister Agatha therefore came down on Lily harder than any other student—a fact all parties were aware of, and a source of pride for Lily.
She scoffed and put her hand up.
"Now, to begin today's lesson," Sister Agatha began, ignoring Lily's persistence and bringing the classes' attention to a sepia map on the blackboard. "Who can tell me—?"
"Are you blind, Sister? I have a question," Lily sassed, waving her hand about to try and get the nun's attention.
"WHAT DID I SAY ABOUT—?" Sister Agatha started furiously, turning around the face the girl.
"You clearly stated that I had to put up my hand before speaking. So, I have, and I have a pressing question," Lily challenged. Roxanne gave her a wary look, but she wouldn't be put off.
"What's your question?" Sister Agatha demanded, steam practically spouting from her ears as she relented to the obstinate girl.
"Where is Sister Marietta?" Lily asked, a smile threatening to twitch.
"The whereabouts of the teaching staff is none of your concern," Sister Agatha seethed, closing her eyes in order to regain control of her anger, "Now, be quiet."
It was going to be a bad, bad day.
As the headmistress continued to rant and rave about different rock and soil types an hour later, Lily's thoughts drifted back to what Acantha had said to her and Roxanne earlier at breakfast.
Lily had been called an orphan numerous times before, and many of those who used the term intended it to be disparaging—like being a parentless child was the biggest humiliation in the world. For her, it evoked sadness rather than embarrassment, but in high society it was just that. It wasn't logical, and she knew better, but the word had begun to carry a degree of shame for Lily; it meant she had been abandoned—was purposely deserted without money or a history to call her own. She knew it was stupid to care what the other girls thought of her, but after an entire childhood of name-calling, she couldn't help thinking less of herself because of it.
Unwanted by all, even my parents...
As Lily understood it, her mother and father had disappeared when she was very young, leaving her on the doorstep of an orphanage just after her first birthday. Having no other relatives or siblings, she'd remained there until she was ten. Then, miraculously, she had been plucked out and sent to St. Madeline's, the most expensive all-girls institution in London. Social workers had told Lily that her parents had arranged for her to be sent to the school when she was born—a detail which bothered her to no end, for she had never been given the impression that her parents were wealthy.
In truth, Lily wanted nothing more than to leave St. Madeline's; however, she was legally stuck in the awful school until she was eighteen. Her only consolation was that she'd be free come November.
"Ms. Evans, kindly recite the alphabet to me in French," Sister Agatha snapped out of nowhere, noticing Lily's vacant expression and pouncing like a hungry lioness.
She groaned, wondering why it was the nun's mission in life to try and demean her whenever possible.
Funny how she often ends up looking like the fool...when will she learn?
"I thought we were learning geography. I think you're beginning to go a bit loony in your old age, Sister," Lily tone was smooth, though she was bitter about returning to reality.
A few girls in the class gasped at the disrespectful comment; Roxanne stifled a grin.
"RECITE THE ALPHABET IN FRENCH, NOW!" Sister Agatha commanded, waddling over to her desk and pulling out a long strap of leather. It looked long and slick in her stubby fingers. "DO AS I SAY, GIRL!"
Lily rolled her eyes. She wasn't afraid of a little pain.
"I was under the impression we spoke English...why recite it in French?"
"YOU'LL GET THE STRAP, EVANS, MARK MY WORDS!"
"Someone is in need of some anger management," Lily murmured to Roxanne, who eyed the nun and her mutinous friend cautiously.
"WHAT DID YOU SAY—?" the nun started, the vein in her forehead pulsing like a balloon on the edge of bursting.
"A, B, C," Lily started, pronouncing each letter with contempt evident in her soft intonation.
Once she was finished with her recitation, she was pulled to the front of the classroom where the palms of her hands were whipped with Agatha's thick, buckskin strap. She did not flinch, moan in pain or complain; instead, Lily simply took her seat once more and whispered to a sympathetic-looking Roxanne. "Is that the best the old bag can do?"
Classes that day were, as Lily and Roxanne had predicted, bad beyond compare. Sister Agatha had made it a point to discipline Lily for the most menial of things throughout the day, searching for any excuse to slash her tender hands. Acantha, on the other hand, continued to hurl insults at Lily and Roxanne whenever possible, putting in more effort than usual.
The duo therefore spent their supper cursing Sister Agatha and Acantha, the primary reasons for their unhappiness at St. Madeline's. To vent their frustrations, Roxanne flung peas in Acantha's hair for the duration of dinner—snickering every time she shrieked and searched for the perpetrator—while Lily accidentally spilled the entire contents of a pepper shaker into Sister Agatha's tea. Both felt comforted when the nun took a swig and spat out the hot liquid, causing herself great humiliation in the process.
"I have double dish duties tonight thanks to that harpy, but I was thinking...maybe I could nick some crisps from the kitchen while I'm there and we could have a little party in the attic?" Lily covertly suggested to Roxanne as they exited the dinner hall.
"That sounds brilliant! We could certainly use some fun after the day we just had," Roxanne agreed, her cheeks flushing with sudden excitement. "I'll meet you at ten once the girls are sleeping."
"Good plan. Agatha comes to check on me at nine, so take the alternate route to the attic so you don't encounter her on the way," Lily instructed.
"I'll see you then. Try and nick some drinks too, if you can," Roxanne added before heading toward her room, flinging her hair over her shoulders and offering a wink.
Lily headed for the kitchens, feeling happy despite the mountain of dirty dishes that awaited her. When she opened the kitchen door she found she wasn't the only one on dish patrol that night. Two younger girls were already there, chattering whilst washing a teetering pile of tea cups. Taking no interest in them, Lily begrudgingly started rinsing a pile of dishes further away from the gossiping females; however, as they were talking rather loudly, it was impossible not to eavesdrop.
"Did you hear about the big party going on at the Potter mansion tonight?" the fair-haired girl asked her friend importantly. "It's the talk of the town."
"Of course I've heard about it! All the rich and famous Brits will be there for Lord James Potter's birthday," the other girl squealed, batting her eyelashes.
"Imagine if we were invited? Think of the fun we would have! There'd be champagne, caviar, famous guests, and dashing lords asking to fill our dance cards!"
"I would literally kill my best friend if it meant I could go. I bet there will be many wealthy gentlemen in attendance, looking for their future brides—"
Lily stopped listening after a while, more interested in vomiting than hearing about some old geezer's birthday party. She imagined Lord James Potter to be a rich, egocentric fop concerned only with fame and money. He probably had a beautiful trophy wife and several undisclosed mistresses—all of whom only put up with his withered body and bad temper because of his fabulous wealth—as well as a small brood of spoiled children that resented him for withholding their trust funds.
She giggled, though the other girls didn't hear her, having already finished up their washing. Realizing she was alone, Lily buckled down to get the rest of her dishes finished. As she worked she found the fluorescent lights bothersome; she'd always preferred natural light over imitation light, especially since she wasn't allowed outside often.
As the unsettling silence began to unnerve her, Lily decided to end her punishment early while no one was there to tell her otherwise. She shoved a pile of dirty plates she was too tired to complete into a random cupboard and—before exiting the kitchen—snagged a few bags of crisps, biscuits, and (to her great delight) a small bottle of port.
Lily left the kitchen and flicked off the lights, heading for the attic. She was the only student in the school who did not receive a proper suite; but, as her parents were dead, nothing could be done about it. Sister Agatha was intent on ostracizing her from the rest of the girls, believing her unworthy of the school and the respect that they deserved. Roxanne once offered to have her parents step in to rectify her treatment, but Lily had rejected any such help. In truth, she didn't mind the attic, for it was away from the general population of bitchy females as well as the nuns who usually patrolled the corridors.
Besides, much more mischief could be concocted beneath its spider-webbed rafters.
When Lily finally reached her dusty sanctuary, she stored her food parcels and alcohol under her pillow, taking precautionary measures in case Agatha unexpectedly entered her room. There weren't many other places to hide the food as the attic was near empty; it contained only a wobbly bed made of brass that was shoved against one of the walls, directly below the only window, and an old trunk.
"Lily? Are you there?" a familiar, disembodied voice whispered from behind her door.
"Come in!" Lily called softly, hurrying a pajama-clad Roxanne inside the attic. "Quickly."
"It's so dark in here…can we light a candle?" Roxanne complained, settling down on Lily's bed as if it was her own.
"Don't be ridiculous, Agatha will catch us if we do that."
"Fine. I guess we'll just have to make do with the light of the moon. How romantic," Roxanne murmured, pulling out a bag of crisps from underneath Lily's pillow and ripping open the package.
"Did you happen to see what else is under my pillow?" Lily asked coyly, changing into her holey nightgown while Roxanne snacked on the goodies.
"Soft drink?" Roxanne guessed, pulling out a bottle and squinting at its label.
"PORT!" Roxanne yelped in excitement. "How on earth did you manage—?"
"Keep your voice down!" Lily shushed, plopping down beside Roxanne and popping out the cork. "Now, what shall we drink to?"
"To Sister Agatha!"
"I won't drink to that!" Lily spat, nearly tearing the bottle away from her best friend.
"I wasn't finished," Roxanne continued. "To Sister Agatha...may she watch you and I ascend to heaven while she burns in the depths of hell."
"Here, here!" Lily took the neck of the bottle firmly in her hand and drank the gloriously-rich beverage.
"How is it?" Roxanne asked, her eyes alit with enthusiasm.
"Superb," Lily purred, smacking her lips together and wiping her mouth off with the sleeve of her nightgown. "My legs already feel numb."
"Well, give me a try, then!" Roxanne laughed, taking the bottle from Lily and pouring the liquid down her throat too quickly.
"Bottoms up!" Lily whispered, giggling as Roxanne slopped port down the front of her expensive silk dressing gown like an amateur.
"Bugger," Roxanne muttered before she burst into pleasant laughter.
They talked and sipped port for most of the night, sharing secrets, creating plans and talking about life after school. Though they both felt tipsy, neither friend got knackered, both eager to save some port for their next night's endeavours.
"I should be going, it's getting late. See you in the morning, Lils," Roxanne said between yawns as she crept out of the attic.
After Roxanne's departure, Lily felt oddly alone. The night had been great fun, and she was reluctant to have it end. As she lay on her bed and gazed into the sky beyond her window, she noticed it was starting to cloud over, the stars no longer shining to their fullest potential. She sighed.
Then, very suddenly, something caught her eye: Bright party lights shone in the distance, flickering through the wet mist and dark chimney smoke. As she leaned forward, palms pressed against the warm glass to get a better look, she also heard a mixture of music and chortling hovering in wet atmosphere. Lily opened her window as wide as it would go, intrigued by the sights and sounds, and stuck her upper body out of it, her elbows leaning on the windowsill. The spring air nipped at her exposed skin as she listened to the musical compositions and distant laughter.
I wonder where it's coming from?
Lily listened to the dreamlike sounds for a while before finally deciding to turn in. But—as she pulled her head back into the attic—something caught her eye: There, creeping up the stone wall of the academy like an exotic snake, was a long, thick vine. Extending upwards past the attic window, Lily realized its elongated body also reached the very bottom of the building, where it gathered at the grassy ground.
This is my chance...
Lily became overwhelmed with possibility. She desperately wanted to follow the music, and suddenly she'd been presented with a way to do so. Lily knew all she had to do was climb down the vine and she would be free to do as she pleased. She rationalized she wouldn't get caught leaving, either, as all the nuns were by now fast asleep. Yet, she still felt uneasy.
What if I fall? What if I get caught by a policeman?
Lily's indecision lasted only a moment before she made up her mind: she was going, and damn the consequences.
"What am I going to wear?" Lily questioned aloud, her nerves beginning to flare. "I can't very well roam the streets in my nightgown, and I'll only attract unwanted attention with my uniform..."
Then it occurred to her: When she was first banished to the attic nearly eight years ago, she had found a trunk...a trunk containing old, informal dresses and tunics reflecting outdated fashions from decades ago. How they had come to be there, she didn't know, and they hadn't interested her—until now.
Lily tiptoed across the attic and flung open the aged trunk, pulling out the first laced dress she laid her hands upon. She examined it critically: it was quite dated—of that she was sure—for the gown had a built-in corset and laced up the front, but she didn't have many options. She begrudgingly put on the corset and fastened the ties. The dress was very tight—in fact, it was a struggle to even breathe in it—but she thought it was well worth the exertion. After squirming into the frock and buttoning and tying multiple pieces of inexplicable fabric so body parts didn't slipped out of place, Lily examined herself in the mirror. She cringed, the bust line dangerously low.
"At this rate I might as well just walk around nude," Lily muttered.
The red head closed the trunk softly before returning to the window, deciding a revealing dress wasn't enough to dash her mission. Mustering all the courage she possessed, Lily grabbed hold of the vine and began awkwardly climbing down the wall. It was a struggle at first, but once she got a good handle, Lily easily scooted down the plant. She let go of the vine once she was close enough to the ground, gracelessly falling to her knees.
"There's no turning back now," she breathed, brushing herself off as she set out along the boulevard for a night that would—unbeknownst to her—unleash a chain of events that would seal her fate forever.
James is coming up in the next chapter, and I promise he will be quite dashing :)
Please continue to read & review!
PS…enjoying the story so far? "Like" Petal in the Rain by pratty-prongs-princesse on Facebook to receive commentary from me, the author, an in-depth look at characters and chapters, material from upcoming chapters, and to connect with fellow fans!