Pearl awkwardly grabbed at the side of her messenger bag. The last, prolonged year of her school had meant a whole ton of books had to be carted around at her side. She had finally busted out of her limp - something that had taken months since she'd stopped using the crutches after her injury. First lesson with the year group below her, huh. Biology at that, too. At least she'd be ahead of the game, somewhat. She carefully padded to the door, looking around. It seemed she was earlier than her peer group.
Rose was still in the staff room, finishing up her tea. She checked the clock: fifteen minutes to her class. She drank the rest of her tea, gathered her things and made her way to the classroom.
She'd anticipated being there before her students, but one was already waiting. It was Pearl, the quiet but startlingly bright one who had to re-do this year because of a sporting injury.
"Good morning," Rose said, smiling at her student.
Startled, Pearl twisted back as she tried to locate the sound. "O-Oh!" She fussed with her satchel strap. "Miss Quartz! Sorry, am I in here too early? I don't have to attend the assemblies, so I thought I might as well have come up, but now that I think about it, it might have been a little rude. Oh God, I'm so sorry..." The poor student then went on to ramble an apology for several minutes.
Rose smiled at her and took out her keys, unlocking the classroom door and stepping inside.
"Pearl. It's quite okay, I assure you. Why don't you come in?" She gave her student another smile before going to the teacher's desk and starting to take out her things.
"How's your knee? I heard you took quite a dramatic fall last year, but I'm glad to see you back with us."
The subject itself seemed to drain the colour from Pearl's already pallid face. Switching from her string of apologies to a rather quiet, "It's alright. Getting better, I guess." As if Rose herself had just touched a metaphorical bruise. She attempted a small smile. "I, uh, hope everything was well on your end, Miss."
Rose watched Pearl go pale when she mentioned the injury and immediately regretted bringing it up. She didn't get a chance to apologise.
"Yes, I had a good summer." She smiled at Pearl warmly. "I hope you've not forgotten all of your biology from last year? As I recall, you were a very good student."
"Oh, God, well. I'd say the consistent visits to the hospital were advantageous in at least keeping the lessons in my thoughts." Pearl placed her books underneath her seat and pulled out a grey lined note pad and clicky biro pen. "Though, I hope you don't have anything too straining planned for our first lesson."
Rose grimaced with sympathy when Pearl mentioned her hospital stay. "Well, at least you're getting better, that's something, isn't it?" she said. When Pearl asked about the upcoming curriculum, she gave a short, bright laugh. "Oh, no. You're only just back from the holidays, after all. I'm going to ease you back into it, nice and slow." She didn't mention the huge biochemistry book sitting inside her bag this very moment - her students didn't need to know about that. At least, not yet.
"Oh, goodness. That's alright, then." Pearl nodded, as if to affirm to herself that everything was going to be okay. She seated herself by the desk and neatly wrote the date on the left hand side of the margin before drawing a line under it.
Rose watched Pearl for a moment longer, if only to make sure she was okay. Then she busied herself taking out her materials and neatly arranging them on her desk. This term, she would do genetics, and next term, they'd be starting on metabolism.
She wondered idly what Pearl was going to do after she finished school, since now her dancing career was obviously not going to happen anymore. But she felt it would be far too invasive to ask Pearl about that, so she didn't. Instead, she just checked the handouts she was going to give the students one more time, making sure there were enough of them.
In a matter of minutes, the lower year (now enjoying their new positions as the alpha year group of the school, it seemed) came tumbling into the classroom. The beginning of the year was always bright with colours of new stationery and bags, still unused and ready to get lost within the next few weeks. Pearl looked around awkwardly as the classroom she'd grown to know filled with unfamiliar people. She slowly looked towards her teacher, even if for comfort. Ready to think about anything but this awkwardness.
Rose barely looked up as the rest of the class came filing in. In all her years of teaching, she'd found that looking busy was usually your best bet; that way, she'd start the lesson on her own terms, without giving the students the feeling that they were the ones in control. She only briefly looked up once and caught Pearl's eyes.
She couldn't help thinking that Pearl looked a bit lost among the younger students. She gave her an encouraging smile before going back to her tasks. She quickly checked the time: two minutes, then she'd begin class.
Awkwardly drumming her fingertips on the table, Pearl waited for everything to start. The sooner that happened, the sooner she could go home. She softly sighed, still focusing on Miss Quartz. At least the view wasn't bad. She softly smiled at the thought. Her teacher was, if Pearl was indeed your average fuckboi, in the unfortunate MILF category of teachers in general.
The two minutes were up, so Rose straightened up and raised her voice a little to cut through the chit-chat of her students.
"Good morning, everyone!" She waited for the obligatory "Good morning Miss Quartz" from her students before continuing. "I hope you all had a fantastic summer. And welcome to your final year here, I'm sure you must be very excited." Most of the faces looking at her reflected this sentiment; Pearl, however, mostly looked mildly impatient. Maybe Rose should give her something else to do so she wouldn't have to go through the entire DNA replication thing all over again.
She quickly explained to her students what they would do this term, then handed out the paper she'd prepared for them: a short history of genetics, including big names like Mendel, Watson and Crick. She'd searched for a rather long time until she found a text that mentioned Rosalind Franklin as well - she thought it was important for her students to know that it wasn't just men who had paved the way for science as it was known today.
Keeping Pearl's attention wasn't too hard a task. Miss Quartz was at least top tier when it came to presentations- they were interesting and at least there was minimal reading off the board (a pet peeve of hers). She leaned back and slowly took notes, only annoyed by the fact that she actually knew pretty much all Rose was saying. She'd been ready to apply it to her tests just a few months ago, after all.
Rose got through the lesson smoothly, just like she'd planned, and eventually gave the students their homework and sent them on their way, but not before she caught Pearl's eye.
"Could I talk to you for a moment, Pearl?" she asked with a smile.
She'd not really prepared anything to give Pearl, but she already had a few ideas. Pearl was smart and surely already knew most of what Rose was reaching; it would not be a stretch to give her a few university-level tasks. This, Rose thought, was where her massive biochemistry textbook might come in handy.
"Oh, sure, Miss!" Pearl flushed. Oh God, what if Miss Quartz had the power to read minds? Osmosis? She needed to think of something unsexy fast. "I was just pondering over.... Rectums. Very interesting. Hm." She felt the urge to slap herself and fought it, hard. "What did you, erm. Want to talk about?"
Pearl seemed a lot more flustered than Rose had expected her to when she'd asked her to stay. She said something Rose was sure she must have misunderstood. She was blushing. It was adorable.
Rose smiled at her, sweetly. "Well, I got the impression that you are way ahead of the class. Surely all I've talked about today was already familiar to you. So, I thought, what if I gave you some more advanced material to work with?"
She wondered if Pearl... liked her. It happened sometimes, and Rose had become rather good at being able to tell. If she was being honest, she enjoyed the attention. In some cases, she even subtly encouraged her students in these matters, but she was always careful not to take it too far.
She held eye contact with Pearl for just a moment longer than she needed to.
Those dark eyes were mazes. Pearl was already trapped. She slowly nodded, trying to process those smooth words in her head. Voice like butter. Maybe caramel. Something equally as sweet and rich. She swallowed. "Uhm. Sure! I'd love to take something extra to boost myself up."
It took some effort to break eye contact. Rose shifted her attention to her bag and took out the heavy book. "This is a book which mostly handles university level biochemistry, and I'll be teaching some of it in this class. But if you want, I can copy some pages for you so you have something to read and some more advanced questions to answer while I take the class through the basic stuff. How does that sound?" She smiled a dazzling smile at Pearl.
"Yes, Miss." Pearl's pale face had turned rosy as she fidgeted with the strap of her bag. "I mean," she cleared her throat, eyes more lucid. "Yes. That's a good idea. It'd give me something to stretch on."
"Excellent." Pearl was pretty when she blushed. "I'll prepare something for you, okay? Anything you're particularly interested in?"
"It's probably better if you pick." Pearl gave an almost naughty smile. "I have very peculiar interests."
"Alright," Rose said, smiling. "I'll find something for you. Although I'd certainly be fascinated to hear what those peculiar interests of yours are." The way Pearl had said it, it had sounded almost... like she meant something else entirely. But Rose quickly chased those thoughts from her mind. Pearl was far too sweet and innocent to have meant anything of the sort.
If internal chuckling was a thing, Pearl was certainly doing it now. "I can't wait to see what you've got in mind for me."
Rose wasn't quite sure how to respond to that, though her face did not betray any of that. She gave Pearl another smile. "Well, I will see you in class tomorrow," she said. "Unless there's anything else you need?"
"Erm. No. I think that's alright." Pearl fumbled before carefully tiptoeing away (obviously not as gracefully as she would have usually done due to her injury, but the lithe steps of a dancer were still present). "I'll, uh, see you tomorrow."
The next day, Rose made her way to class with excitement in her heart. She'd spent most of her free time the previous day leafing through her books, not just the biochemistry one but other ones as well, and copying out relevant pages for Pearl. She hoped Pearl would find them challenging and stimulating.
She wouldn't have Pearl's class until after lunch, but when the time came, she went to the classroom extra early. She found herself hoping that Pearl would be early again, like she had been the day before.
Indeed she was. She quietly sat at her desk, leafing through her textbook with aimless, lazy swipes. When she looked up, her face turned its usual flush, but something seemed a little off. The hollow of her cheek was more slim. There were heavier rings around her eyes. She, however, gave a delighted wave. "Afternoon, Miss Quartz."
"Hello, Pearl." Rose smiled at her student. She noticed that Pearl looked a little... ill? "I hope you've had a pleasant day so far." She set her bag on the table and rummaged in it, procuring a slim folder with several pages in it. Swiftly, she brought it over to Pearl and showed it to her student.
"I brought you a few things, like I said. For now, you can just read through them - it's a variety of different areas, but mainly genetics and metabolism, the things we'll be discussing this term and next. Feel free to do these things instead of following the class. I'm perfectly confident that you'd be bored if you did."
Up close, she definitely thought Pearl looked ill.
There was a force in Pearl's grateful smile. Her tone, however, was wholly thankful. "These look interesting!" She scanned a few with her vision and then cocked her head. "And a little more complex, hah! Thank you! Do you want me to complete any questions on them and hand them over for you to take a look at too?"
"Sure, if you'd like." Rose smiled. "But if all you want to do for now is read, that's okay too. Some of these questions are fairly simple, though, so if you feel confident, feel free to try your hand at those. I'll keep giving you new material each week, and from the week after next, I will be assigning you specific questions and collecting your work so I can give you some extra credit."
It would be another five minutes until the rest of the class would even begin to appear. Rose wondered if she should ask Pearl if she was okay. Would it be rude to? Some people were very sensitive. But she was only concerned... as a teacher, it was part of her responsibility to make sure her students were okay.
"Alright! I'll use it as a supplement then." Pearl gave a weak smile and went back to her exercise book to draw in the date to the margin. An elegant motion with her thin wrist. She then paused and looked down for a few minutes before copying the lesson title from the board.
Rose watched her for a moment before going back to the teacher's desk.
The silence drew longer and Rose, who was used to awkward silences between teachers and students and probably shouldn't have felt as uncomfortable as she did, couldn't help looking at Pearl again.
Did her motions seem slower today, did she seem to hesitate before moving?
Rose thought she was probably just reading too much into it. Pearl was her most advanced student, and one she paid more attention to than many of the others, so obviously she was bound to notice things. It didn't mean anything was wrong.
She pushed her worry aside and looked up as the rest of the class started to arrive.
Pearl watched her peers come in once more. Her eyes skimming over their bodies as a glimmer of almost envy flickered in her eyes as a clique of chattering girls paced in. Sixth form meant that they were allowed to be more liberal with clothes- and Pearl's eyes were strained over how their more revealing outfits clung to the thin curves of their bodies. Perfect legs in short skirts. She then frowned and looked at the board. And then at Rose. Perfect, loveable Miss Quartz. Avoiding eye contact, she opened her textbook to the correct page.
Rose started teaching, trying to ignore the nagging worry in the back of her head. She couldn't help glancing at Pearl now and then, and at some point towards the end of the lesson she realised that since the start of the term, she'd never seen Pearl with anybody else. She didn't seem to have made friends in this year group yet. She also didn't seem particularly keen on making any.
She explained to the class about the chemical structure of deoxyribonucleic acid, which bases bonded with which and the differences to RNA. She gave them their homework for the next day and answered questions. It was all business as usual, really.
She wondered if she'd get the chance to speak to Pearl after the lesson. She wasn't going to ask her to stay again since they'd talked about their proceedings regarding the extra work already. But maybe, just maybe Pearl would stay of her own accord - although Rose knew she shouldn't be hoping for that.
As the bell to signify the end of class went, students began to pack up equipment and briskly leave, ready to go home. Pearl happened to be the last person out, which was fortunate, as mere seconds from the door, her bag strap gave way and the contents tumbled to the floor. "Oh, fuck me." She gritted her teeth and eased herself to the floor to pick up her items.
The bell rang just as Rose was finishing up the class. She watched the students file out. Pearl was the last to leave.
She wasn't even looking at Rose, which Rose found a little odd. She felt a small stab of regret when Pearl left without saying anything, but only moments later, she heard the sound of books and paper hitting the floor, followed by cursing.
She was more than tempted to come up with a witty response to Pearl's 'Fuck me', but really, there was absolutely no way she was going to flirt with one of her students in that obvious a manner. Especially one who already had a crush on her. Instead, she hurried over to help Pearl.
Her leg, Rose thought. "Are you okay? Here, let me help."
"No, no!" A panicked cry. Pearl quickly scrambled to hide the contents back into her bag. Clearly not wanting her teacher to see. She then awkwardly turned around and gave a shy, awkward look. "I'm, erm, alright. My bag must've finally hit its expiration date." She spied a lighter that had tumbled out by her foot and stuffed it quickly in. "Whoopsie daisy, am I right? Haha."
Rose leaned down to take some of Pearl's stuff, only to have it snatched up by Pearl, who quite obviously didn't want to be helped.
"I'm sorry," Rose said, feeling a little taken aback. "I didn't mean to -" Her eyes fell on something that Pearl must have missed, and she stooped down to pick it up. "Here, is this yours too?" A packet of tobacco. Oh yeah, she saw Pearl pick up a lighter earlier, too.
"I didn't think you smoked," Rose said, trying hard not to let her surprise colour her voice. She suspected she didn't do a very good job at that.
Pearl turned pale. Again. She scrambled to ensure nothing fell out. "Erm, yes. Only socially! Hah!" A lie. She had no social life and the thought of anyone to smoke with was near laughable. "Nicotine supresses the appetite, too." Now that held more truth. She folded her legs and carefully tried to pick herself up. "Uh. Thank you."
Rose didn't miss the way Pearl turned pale when she handed her the tobacco. And Pearl's comment about suppressing the appetite made about a dozen alarm bells go off in her head.
Rose had learned to be confident and love her body after figuring out that losing weight wasn't easy, and even harmful to her health; she looked at Pearl, who was barely more than skin and bones, and held a hand out to her, helping her up.
"You're not... trying to lose weight, are you?" This time, she couldn't keep the worry out of her voice. She wasn't particularly trying.
Pearl took a sharp inhale. Beads of sweat against her swept back pale strawberry bangs. "Oh, no! Not at all. I'm just trying to get fit again after this!" She pointed to her leg, but her response seemed far too rehearsed. As if every syllable had been said a million times in prior. "I'm fine." The two words were so familiar to her tongue they may as well have been a bible verse.
It felt familiar, all of it, and did nothing at all to soothe Rose's worry.
She'd always assumed Pearl was thin and lean because of her dancing profession, but her actions and words just now painted an entirely different picture.
"Pearl..." She didn't quite know what to say. "Eating enough is just as important to fitness as anything else. ... Please look after yourself, okay?"
Pearl bit her lip, struggling to properly stand up. Her tone became a little more firm. "I'm fine, Miss Quartz." As if she was some sort of tween who didn't know how to play this game. She knew exactly what she was doing in this and a lecture from a teacher wasn't something she was in the mood for. She'd played this story out for years with family, old friends and doctors. Nothing was going to stop her. She only now noticed her grip on the bag had turned her knuckles white.
Rose's brow creased worriedly. Pearl looked thin, drawn, and now that she actually knew something was wrong, she could definitely confirm that she looked ill.
Rose knew, objectively, that there was nothing she could do if Pearl didn't want her to help. She hesitated, then reached out and placed a gentle hand on Pearl's shoulder.
"You know us teachers are always there if you need help, okay?" Especially me - she didn't add it, but she felt like Pearl knew anyway.
Pearl slowly looked at the hand as colour rose back to her face. She blinked, at first a little blearily. Then looked back at her teacher and down. "Yes, I know. Thank you. But honestly. I'm alright."
"If you're sure." Rose smiled at Pearl warmly. "In that case, I'll see you tomorrow." She knew better than to push more - if Pearl didn't want to talk about it, there was little use in trying to force her. She was going to observe Pearl, keep an eye on her, but she wasn't going to bring it up again unless Pearl did.
Pearl nodded and silently left the classroom. Really too anxious by the encounter to say anything more. It had been a while since her issues had been brought into question, and she'd been completely unprepared to respond. Usually, she was far colder and more calculating in such dealings but this was... this was something else.
Rose watched as she left, then let out a tiny sigh and went back to packing up and preparing the next lesson. She wondered if she would get a chance to catch Pearl alone - well, if Pearl continued to race ahead with her studies, then at some point maybe private tutoring could be an option? She should definitely think about that.
Pearl raced home - well, as fast as she could with the combo of her leg and terrible public transport. Her parents were out of town for the week and thus, no one was there to object when she immediately lay down on her bed and refused to get up until the early hours of the following morning. Homework and dinner left untouched.