Eliza tried to convince herself that she was not avoiding Jane. Why should she? After all, she was a mature, responsible woman. She had merely gone off to the most desolate place in the school because she had wanted to paint alone on Sunday, and had simply overslept even more than often on Monday morning (much to Miss Potts horror). Even when Jane walked past her and Eliza quickened her step, it was only because she wanted to get early to the classroom. Of course she wasn't avoiding her.
However, Jane must have gotten the wrong idea.
It was Tuesday afternoon when Eliza went into the staffroom, carrying her painting folder, just to find that the hearty mistress was the only person there, filling a kettle with water. She looked up and smiled at Eliza, who returned the smile with rather scared looking eyes.
"Well, hello, stranger" Jane grinned, closing the water tap. "I'm just making tea, would you like some? It won't be great, I'm afraid, making tea has never been my strong point."
"Um, actually, I've just remembered, I…"
"Do stay. I feel like you've been avoiding me ever since last Saturday. I know I'm not the most entertaining person to be around, but I'm rather hurt at your reluctance to be in the same room as me" Jane interrupted, grimly. Eliza's eyes widened.
"I wasn't avoiding…! I don't…I didn't mean to…!" she stuttered, half apologetically, half indignantly, feeling mortified, then trailing off at the sight of the other woman's teasing eyes. Suddenly, Jane threw her head back and laughed her deep, loud, hearty laugh.
"Your face! Oh, Eliza, you'll be the death of me. I was just joking, old thing, no need to get all hot and bothered" she snorted, wiping away tears of laughter. "But do stay and have some tea, else I'll be bored to bits for the next hour. Mam'zelle Rougier's gone off to give some extra coaching to someone, Miss Parker is correcting exam papers and everyone else is teaching. Do you take sugar with your tea?"
"Two spoonfuls" replied Eliza, sitting down at the small staffroom table, embarrassed for being such a stuttering idiot. "Where's Miss Potts? I thought she usually has a free period at this time on Tuesdays too."
"Correcting some prep from the first form, I think, luckily for you" replied Jane.
"She doesn't really approve of me at all, does she?" laughed Eliza, sipping her tea.
Jane laughed, shaking her head. "I don't think it's you that's the problem. I think it's more to do with the fact you're kind of, well…"
"I don't know, exactly…nothing bad, don't look at me like that! Just kind of…lost."
"Well, you have that kind of artsy, lost air about you…like your head is always up in the clouds. It's not just you" she added hastily, seeing Eliza's indignant look "Mr Young's like that too. And so is Mam'zelle, with her famous 'artistic temperament'. And you know Miss Potts; she's all about being sensible and realistic…stiff upper lip and all that. She doesn't understand people like you, who are daydreamers and oversleep" she finished teasingly. "I thought she was going to positively murder you when you arrived twenty minutes late for breakfast yesterday".
"I thought so too" laughed Eliza. "She's a good sort, though, if a bit cynical."
"Well, Mr Young certainly approved of you when you first came here" teased Jane. Eliza laughed in embarrassment, remembering how the man had been all over her in the first term of her teaching there. He had been quite heartbroken when she rejected him, but he had gotten over it with time, and he and Eliza had become friends. "Did he really ask you to marry him?"
Eliza nodded, smiling sheepishly. "He did. My parents would have been pleased. It would have given them something to approve of, at least" the words were out before she could stop them. She hadn't talked about her parents in a long time. There was just something about Jane Peters that made it easy to talk to her. Jane nodded.
"Ah. Not on very good terms with them, then?" she asked knowingly, reaching for a biscuit.
"You could say that. They don't approve of me. You know, studying art, and then working. They always wanted me to just get married and be a housewife. I haven't spoken to them in years."
Jane nodded. "I can relate to that. I'm not exactly the dream daughter my parents wanted either."
"They didn't approve of you getting a job either?"
"It wasn't so much about me working, really, it was…a different reason" she replied, looking at the smaller mistress directly in the eyes. Before Eliza could ask what, the door swung open and a fuming Mam'zelle Dupont walked in, her eyes blazing.
"Ah, that Alicia, she is bad, bad, BAD! All these English girls are bad, bad, BAD! They say to me, it was just a treek, Mam'zelle, do not be cross! Do not be cross, they say! They put beetles in my coffee mug! Ah, how I hate those tiny monsters that crawl! A hundred of them, this big!" she exclaimed dramatically, holding her hands apart to the size of a small dog. As she wittered on angrily about the "crawling monsters" and the "bad English girls", Eliza caught Jane's eye and started giggling uncontrollably. Soon, they were both laughing shamelessly, holding their sides. Mam'zelle stared indignantly at them for five minutes before bursting out laughing herself, suddenly seeing the funny side of the whole situation.
A few minutes later, a most surprised Miss Potts and Mam'zelle Rougier walked in, and were most surprised and shocked at the sight of the three mistresses laughing uncontrollably, tears of laughter rolling down their cheeks. They both left, feeling quite bemused. Well! Whatever next!
After the laughing had subsided, Mam'zelle had gone off to write a letter, leaving Eliza and Jane alone once more. Eliza sighed and leaned back against her chair, giggling softly. Jane shook her head, grinning.
"Well, I think we just got Miss Potts and Mam'zelle Rougier to disapprove of us even more" she laughed. "How about going for a walk now? I feel like stretching my legs a bit."
Eliza nodded and got up from the chair, stretching.
"I'll just leave my folder in my room and I'll be right back" she said, grabbing the folder and walking towards the door. "Shall we meet, say, in the –"
But where Eliza wanted to meet Jane would never know, for at that moment the art mistress's foot got tangled in the foot of a chair and she fell flat on her face. The folder she was holding flew out of her hands and the papers – which were, unfortunately, paintings and sketches of Jane - scattered messily all over the floor.
Eliza picked herself up from the floor and began to frantically collect all the sketches. She looked up and saw, with a sinking heart, that Jane had gotten up to assist her and was now picking up a few dozen sketches and staring at them disbelievingly. She looked up at Eliza, frowning in puzzlement. Eliza stood there for a few minutes, frozen in shock, and then hurriedly picked up the remaining sketches on the floor surprised at finding sudden tears in her eyes.
"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry" she choked out, snatching the papers out of the other woman's hand. Jane stared at Eliza, realization suddenly dawning on her face. "Eliza…" she began, but the art mistress was already running towards her room. She ran and ran, tears pouring down her face. Well, that was that. Jane knew her secret, and Eliza would probably be fired. After all, what school would keep a teacher like that? And even if she wasn't fired, how could she ever face her again? She probably thought she was a disgusting, obsessed, sick stalker. She ran into her room and sat on the bed, covering her face as she let out a sob.
She had done it now.
A few seconds later, she felt footsteps approaching. Eliza jumped and uncovered her face. Jane was at the door. She stood up quickly. There was a few minutes silence, and Jane cleared her throat.
"I'm so sorry. Please don't tell Miss Grayling. Please." She interrupted, her voice small and tearful.
"It won't happen again. I'm sorry. You don't have to speak to me again. You don't have to even acknowledge my existence. But please don't tell anyone" she went on, tears spilling down her face. "I've got nowhere else to go."
"I won't sketch you anymore, I promise, I'll just…"
Her speech was cut off by Jane's lips, pressed to her own. Eliza's knees buckled and she would have fallen to the ground if the other woman's arms hadn't been tightly wrapped around her waist. Eliza shivered and brought her hands up to the taller woman's head, running her fingers through her short black hair, deepening the kiss.
When they finally broke apart, Jane cupped Eliza's small face and wiped away the tears with her thumbs, pressing their foreheads together.
"You stupid woman. You really thought I would get you fired? For what, being adorable? You had me at 'flowers, also'" she murmured, chuckling gently as she stroked Eliza's pale cheek. The art mistress blushed and smiled, feeling ecstatic with joy.
"I didn't know you also…well…"
"Liked woman more than men?" finished Jane, snorting softly as she nuzzled the smaller woman's neck. "What did you think I meant when I said my parents didn't approve of me for a different reason?"
Jane reached down and began gently nibbling her earlobe. Eliza moaned softly and before she knew it, they were on the bed, and Jane was on top of her, kissing her, touching her, making love to her, and it was heaven. At last they came, panting, and they snuggled up to each other, tangled, breathless, exhausted and happier than they had ever been before.
"I think we've just given another reason for people to disapprove of us" said Eliza.
"A beautiful reason", Jane smiled. She kissed Eliza's forehead tenderly and then they fell asleep, warm and at peace in each other's loving embrace.
A/N: And that's it! Hope you liked it! I know the ending was very soppy and mushy and fluffy, but oh, well. Please review! :)