Kim was two years from moving up to Middleton's high school. She had a fondness for gymnastics and athletics. Not so much for the instructor who was caustic, paranoid and generally unpleasant.
"But I thought you liked gym, Kimmie?"
"I do, it's the teacher! He hates me!"
"I'm sure it's not as bad as all that!"
Kim went to school morose, hardly talked to Ron at lunch, then slunk into the gym. Only to see that the usual gym instructor wasn't there. The headmaster, Mr Phelps, made the announcement. "Your old teacher retired today, after visiting Middleton High where he suffered acute food poisoning there."
There were a few snickers, none so loud as to attract the attention of the headmaster, although the presumed replacement raised an eyebrow.
"Our new gym instructor is on loan from England and will be continuing for the remainder of this year. You will not give her any trouble or it's detention for the class."
The expression of shock and horror registered on every face. Satisfied, the headmaster left.
The new teacher rose from her perch on a table and walked over. Her movements were catlike and graceful. She had obviously been very beautiful in her youth. Time hard worn that down but there remained an elegance and an air of self-confidence without ego or vanity.
Only Kim really noticed this, however. The rest of the class only saw a seventy year old woman with grey hair and a quizzical expression.
Someone poured itching powder down the back of Ron's shirt, daring anyone to give class detention.
Ron, predictably, freaked out. How his shorts ended up on the light fixture, nobody ever quite determined. His shirt was reduced to ribbons. The teacher's eyes narrowed ever so slightly.
Her response, however, convinced Kim of the sort of person in front of her. She checked Ron was basically unhurt, got his name, told him to shower thoroughly, and told him that new clothes would be ready and waiting when he was done.
After a quick phone call, she then turned back to the class. In her rather old-fashioned, clipped English tones that cut through their minds like an acetylene torch through butter, she told the rest to show what they could do.
"One at a time, starting with you", gesturing to the perpetrator, "and I don't want anybody playing safe."
That was unusual.
The bully went first. He slipped and his can of itching powder burst open, covering him head to foot. The class giggled. Nobody much liked him and it looked like this could be a substitute for detention. It was, except for him, although he was allowed to shower first. No new clothes were offered.
Every other student performed well clear of the powder. Virtually everyone stumbled, but not one was criticized for it. Rather, they were told to practice.
By the time it came to Kim, almost everyone was busy learning to balance, tumble or climb. This helped, as Kim was very aware by now that whilst nothing got past this new, mysterious teacher, she was more supportive than critical.
She entered her routine a little self-consciously though, only to hear "No! No! No! Stop right now! Go back to the start and really push yourself!"
This was a first, as she knew she'd done much better than anyone else. However, if push was what was wanted... She hammered into a new improvised routine, slipping and stumbling occasionally as she took herself to the limits of her ability. At the end, she felt shame. She couldn't get it perfect and that's how she always did things.
Mrs Peel came over and looked at her with something that could be best described as stern amusement.
Kim waited to be berated, partly for the imperfections but particularly for the seven heath and safety violations.
"That was excellent, although you need to practice recovery on the triple backflip and you need to be less hesitant on the cartwheels. I'd recommend Shaolin martial arts and more trust in yourself. If you want to take me up on after school classes, give me a call."
Not "ask your parents if", this new teacher had expected her to decide, had thought her responsible enough.
The business card was elegant and old-fashioned, although it looked like it had been printed only yesterday. In fact, it had. The name at the top rang no bells, although she was sure Wade could find something out. It was almost as old-fashioned as the card.
That evening, after talking it over with her parents and deciding one babysitting session a week less wouldn't kill the clothes budget, she gave the number a call.
"Hello? Mrs Peel? You're needed..."