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Chapter Eighteen

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I was setting up my desk for the day when Maureen came rushing into the classroom with her arms flapping around in the air. I dropped the file in my hands, convinced she was going to tell me that the school was on fire.

I listened out for any blaring alarms, trying to rack my brain for anything I may have forgotten to do when silence greeted me. When nothing came back to me, I steadied my stance and hoped for the best.

"OFSTED are here," she blurted.

Those three words caused an instant knot to form in my stomach. OFSTED's inspections were the cause of most schools anxiety and why they were here today was beyond me. My blood pressure rose to boiling point. I had nothing prepared. Nothing. And an inspector would be in my classroom within the hour.

I tucked my hair behind my ear in a nervous habit, wishing to be anywhere but here in the moment. "Why weren't we informed?"

Maureen ran her worried eyes all over my shocked face. "They informed us last week, remember?"

I pressed my fingers into my temple and massaged, trying my hardest to recall this information. "No, I don't think I was told, Mo."

Maureen's arms crossed over her chest. "You were, hon. I was there with you."

A sense of dread filled my body as my skin burnt with embarrassment. When would all of this end? "Are you sure?"

Maureen sighed in sympathy. "More than sure. Look, don't get too stressed, okay? You're always well prepared. You'll kill this."

I closed my eyes, feeling the surrounding air thicken, making it near impossible to breathe — the signs of my frequent panic episodes rearing their ugly head. "I can't breathe," I said, warning her from the onset. "My chest is tightening up."

"Hey," Maureen replied, helping me to kneel on the floor with my head lowered as the doctor told me. "Get ready to count with me."

"I can't believe that I forgot something so important," I replied, feeling sick with myself.

"Forget about it. It isn't the end of the world. You're a wonderful teacher. It will show. Let's get a grip on the situation here and breathe again," she said.

I shook my head. "I won't be able to manage the day knowing I've done this. I'll be all up in my head." My voice broke as tears surfaced in the corners of my eyes.

There was the sound of the door opening and then little footsteps, followed by the thump of larger ones. "Miss Rose, are you okay?"

I tried to stop the shake of my shoulders, but couldn't as the sobs were ready to breakthrough.

Maureen shielded me with her body. "Can you wait outside, Mabel, honey? We're just sorting things in here."

"Verity," Henry's voice followed, increasing my mortification. "Are you okay, darling?"

Maureen lowered her voice so Mabel wouldn't hear. "We're in a bit of a panic here. Could you leave us to it?"

The snark to her tone didn't go unnoticed by me, and as I raised my head to see Henry frowning in her direction, it told me he didn't appreciate her tone either. "No, I can help. If you'd kindly move out of the way."

"Stop it," I butted in, struggling to contain the anger now bubbling in my stomach. "Please... just stop it!"

Forgetting about the panic, I got up from the chair with wobbling legs to storm my way across the classroom, heading towards the bathroom just outside the door.

Once inside, I aimed straight for the mirrors and crouched down to get a good look at myself as the maintenance guy fitted them lower on the wall for the kids. Not liking the way my mascara had smudged at the edges of my eyes, I switched on the taps and grabbed a wad of tissue paper to shove under the running water to clean myself up.

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