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Charity begins

Charity is on her way out of St Brian's, but Horsmel just won't let go

There's no going back. I've checked the acting head's pigeonhole and the letter's gone, so now he knows: I'm leaving St Brian's. I can hardly believe it myself. The Hugh Young Community School, top-scoring favourite of the local middle class, starship of the LEA, an officially "good school", wants me to teach history to its little Midwich cuckoos.

I left the interview convinced I'd made an idiot of myself. Then when I got a call from the school's human resources manager I assumed it was to advise me to seek an alternative career. Instead, an earnest but soothing voice told me I was the stand-out candidate and they really hoped I could bear to wrench myself away from St Brian's, where I was so obviously happy and settled. I said yes immediately.

And now everyone seems to be looking at me strangely. They can't possibly know, but I have this nagging feeling that they do. Guilt.

Nigel Horsmel bounds into the staffroom, all forced smiles and fake bonhomie. "Who fancies a drink?" he asks. The room empties amid a cacophony of excuses: slimmers' club; chiropodist appointment; antenatal clinic; someone even claims they've got an audition for Les Miserables.

Like the gazelle that's always left behind in those wildlife documentaries, I don't move fast enough. "Looks like it's just you and me then, Charity!"

booms Horsmel. Then he drops to a whisper. "Actually, I was rather hoping we'd be alone. I wanted to congratulate you personally on your marvellous news." I don't like the way this is shaping up.

We end up at Tommy's Karaoke Bar, which is not a good omen. The last time I was here I was with the boy from Oddbins who lied about his age and sexuality. I sip a white wine spritzer while Horsmel knocks back vodka, swiftly plunging into a state of dishevelled intoxication.

A completely pissed woman staggers up to the front and launches into "Lyin'

Eyes". Horsmel drags me on to the dance floor, and I find myself celebrating my new job by line dancing to The Eagles with the acting head as he swigs a bottle of Smirnoff Ice. By the time I manage to coax him back to our table he's in a serious mess. He's muttering to himself, then he turns to me and shouts: "You can't leave, Charity! I don't want you to!"

I get up to leave but he grabs me by the wrist and hisses: "You're not going anywhere. Sit down and listen, Miss Casement!" Then he shuffles to the microphone and the words "Hotel California" flash up on the screen. The psychotic serenade reaches its climax with Nigel screeching the words, "You can check out any time you want, but you can never leave" before crashing to the floor. As I put on my coat he looks up and shouts: "I had to tell them, Charity, I had to!"

Back at the flat, I'm still mulling over his words when I notice that the answer machine is flashing. I press the button and am surprised to hear the voice of Piers Johnson, head of Hugh Young. "Hello, Ms Casement. I'm afraid that in light of the reference we received from your acting head this morning we have no alternative but to withdraw our offer. I am rather surprised that the Criminal Records Bureau search didn't reveal your perverted past, but then you people are masters of deception, aren't you? Goodbye."

Looks like I'm not checking out after all.

Next week: Ramona's work placement

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