Some women are destined for greatness, for adventure, for taking on the world. Some women you can easily imagine with a sword, staring defiantly into the wind. Some women are conquerors, slayers of monsters, fighters until the end.
Kelly Jones was born one of those women, everyone at St. Trinian’s knew. She was born to scale mountains, to swim oceans, to wield a gun against her betrayers, and it came as no surprise to her friends when she did just that.
Annabelle Fritton was perhaps not born for it, but she became it, because some women see a gap and grimly accept that they must be the ones to fill it. Some were surprised, but not all, when she lifted her head high and said, “This is St. Trinian’s,” as though she had always been there; as though she always would.
There are others, of course. No one can leave out Polly Hopkins, who most regard as fearless, or Chelsea Parker, who wears stilettos while conquering the world. Peaches, a perky and loving mob boss, acknowledged queen of crime in London. Tara and Tania, quiet and innocent and completely horrifying, the twin terrors. Harriet, challenging hundreds of years of school tradition and refusing to stop there. Too many others to name.
St. Trinian's nurtures and produces women like Boadicea. It’s why the world trembles in their wake.
There are the others.
Celia reflects on these facts while slowly closing her teashop for the night. Her feet make a well known circuit through the tables and chairs, the route so familiar and instinctual that the floor might as well be worn down underneath her.
She is not one of those women.
She did not pursue a grand life of crime, like Peaches. She did not go into academia, like Chelsea. She is not a high-powered business executive like Chloe, nor is she a super-spy like Annabelle or Kelly. She cannot do whatever she sets her mind to, like Polly, and she cannot operate a small but successful crime ring like Taylor and Andrea.
She owns a teashop.
Celia knows what they say about her. Little Celia, so vacant behind her eyes. Adorable Celia, with her cute and ridiculous love for the environment. Poor Celia, with no real story of her own. Celia, passive and quiet and submissive. Celia, who waits. Celia, who listens. So boring. So dull. So useless.
What an utter load of rot, she thinks, smiling to herself.
The bell to the back door jangles. She doesn’t bother looking up from wiping the table down with a wet cloth, soapy water trickling down her arms. She knows who is there. She has nothing to fear.
Anoushka walks in slowly, her heels clacking, her hips swaying; Posh-Totty habits never say die. Celia smiles down at her hands, lets out a breath, and drops the rag to turn and smile at her friend properly.
Anoushka is another of the forgotten women of St. Trinian’s. When people mention the legends that have been born out of their school, they never mention her, the other kind of Posh-Totty, the owner of a bar. They tell tales about Zoe, about Lucy, about Bianca. Whisper about Miss Fritton- about the Miss Frittons that came before their Miss Fritton. Millicent Fritton, who faced down police officers and soldiers and jail with a firm set to her jaw. Arabella Fritton, who took the school under her wing lest it be closed down for good. And always, always about Kelly Jones.
Really, there is only one story. Kelly Jones, saviour.
Neither of them resent this. Because Kelly is their friend, one of their best friends, and because Kelly is remarkably humble for all her adventures, and because Kelly is terribly broken for all her adventures. They know this well, the two of them. Sitting across from her, hand on her wrist, watching her eyes roam and arms twitch, listening to halting words.
No, no. Let the stories be about Kelly, they’ve both decided. Let them weave tales. They need only look at Kelly to see that they don’t want it. They don’t want the fame.
Of course, if it isn’t about Kelly, it’s about Annabelle. Annabelle, who disappeared for two years, scaring them all. Annabelle, who ran to Kelly, who became what Kelly needed in order to save them all. Annabelle, who learned so many different languages and so many different martial art forms, who learned how to encrypt software and how to forge documents, all because it was what was required. Annabelle, who drives getaway vehicles and shoots a gun with alarming accuracy. They admire her, her determination and fierceness. They love her, for saving them all.
And it is Celia and Anoushka, really, who know the other Annabelle. The Annabelle who walked away from her innocence, away from her naïveté, into death and destruction and despair. They know the Annabelle who once couldn’t throw a punch to save her life, and now breaks jaws without trying. And they know the haunted look in her eyes all too well. They do not envy her her fate.
Anoushka walks over to Celia quickly and gives her two quick air kisses before sitting down in a chair at the table Celia was just cleaning. Celia joins her, wiping her hands off on her skirt and easing her sore body down slowly.
If Annabelle is not the topic of conversation, it usually drifts to Polly, as she is forever tied to them in more ways than one. There is less to be effusive about in terms of Polly, as she is quiet compared to every other St. Trinian’s heroine, but they still find ways. Her silent operations over the years. The way she put together all the information together so quickly in order to save their lives. That she did it all while working a menial job, while being a co-mother, while having regular tea with all her other friends, and never letting anything slip. That she picked up a gun and protected what was hers, in the end.
What they forget, Celia knows, Anoushka knows, is that Polly was left behind. They forget that Kelly was her best friend, the woman she’d loved for years, and she left her. That Annabelle was her best friend, too, and she disappeared without a word. That for three years, Polly waited in limbo, unaware if they were alive or dead. They forget that Polly prides herself on her omniscience, and that for three years, she did not know. The scars, Anoushka knows, Celia knows, are subtler, but just as deep.
They do not want glory, if it comes with that price.
Peaches, with her criminal empire, passed down from mother to daughter, mother to daughter, is much admired.
Peaches, with her criminal empire, is ever terrified of the moment when her connections cannot do anything to save her friends, as they did not save her father.
Miss Fritton, who inherited the school from her Aunt Arabella, who inherited it from her Aunt Millicent; all three women stared down men who came to take the school away; all three women won.
Miss Fritton, who inherited the school, the problems, the debt, the community distrust, the scorn, the loathing, the social exile…
No. If this is fate, if this is destiny, Celia and Anoushka do not want it.
Anoushka pulls a bottle of bourbon out of her purse and sets it down on the table between them, smirking, her eyes dancing with amusement. Celia laughs and pats Anoushka on the arm as she goes to get teacups. At Anoushka’s bar, they sit and drink tea from shot glasses. At Celia’s teashop, they drink alcohol out of teacups. It is their own secret amusement.
Between them, they carry the collective secrets of hundreds of Trinian’s women. They know the grand tales of triumph, and they know the sad tales of defeat. They know the mundane details (Bunny is pregnant again, this time with twins; Elizabeth’s car broke down and she can’t afford a new one; Catzie might be running for office), and the less mundane (Alex and Jemima are getting married; Lila is wanted for burglary, which she emphatically did not do; Deidre died, suicide, and her best friends can’t figure out why).
Celia sets down the teacups, and sits down across from Anoushka. Anoushka begins pouring their drinks, topping off her own cup, leaving room at the top of Celia’s. She knows Celia’s habits nearly as well as her own, for all the years they’ve been friends, for all the years they’ve come together to discuss what they know, to mourn and celebrate their friends without the influence of others.
“Za vas,” Anoushka says, a smile still toying at the corners of her mouth as she raises her glass.
“Za vas,” Celia replies, knowing full well that she’s mirroring Anoushka’s smile. They clink their teacups together, giggling slightly, and begin talking.
Celia and Anoushka are not bold women. They are small, quiet women with their own lives. They help their friends when they can, but they do not have grand adventures of their own. They have never risked life and limb. They’ve never given a real sacrifice. They’ve never known what it is like to have their entire lives ripped from them by a single act, or contended with a fate greater than themselves. They tend a bar, they work a teashop. They mix drinks, they steep tea.
In its own way, it is a grander destiny than anyone’s. In its own way, it’s enough.