Gemma Keegan, an insecure fifteen-year-old girl, sat cross-legged and listened attentively to Mandy Parker boast of her sexual exploits. Gemma, a redheaded, immature girl with numerous freckles, felt uneasy when her schoolmate went into detail about her supposed romps. The four girls had opened the debate with chilling ghost stories, which befitted the eerie atmosphere inside the tent. It was not too long, before the topic as usual turned to men.
Gemma reddened, and in an attempt to block out the sacrilegious subject, she focused on the dancing shadows of the interior of the tent. The cigarette was passed to her, and she pretended to inhale as the curling smoke irritated her piggish, blue eyes. A cough was met with scowls of derision when she passed the cigarette to the raven-haired Kirsty.
“His thingy was about this big,” claimed Mandy, who held out her hands, as a boasting fisherman would. Mandy Tyler was a tall, blonde girl with mesmerising green eyes, and Gemma was envious of her large breasts.
This was Gemma’s first trip abroad without her parents, and already she felt like a grown-up, as she listened to the sordid details that escaped from the lips of Mandy. She was in awe of her friends, and longed to possess even a minuscule of the confidence they exuded.
“Right, your turn now, Gemma.”
The leering eyes focused on the petite girl, and she felt a lump in her throat. “I have this great ghost story.”
“Shit, Ginger; we want sex, and don’t forgo the smut,” insisted Mandy.
“She’s still a virgin,” offered Lorna Foley, the blonde, leggy athletics champion of the school.
Kirsty held up her hands, the cigarette dangling from her lips. “Let her speak. Come on, Ginger. Have you popped your cherry, or what?”
“I er… I once kissed Trevor Tompkins at my birthday party.”
The other three girls looked to each other open-mouthed, as if Gemma had committed a serious crime.
Mandy tried hard to suppress her giggles. “You… you kissed Trevor Tompkins. Is that it?”
“Trevor Tompkins? What a geek,” added Kirsty.
Lorna accepted the cigarette. “I bet she hasn’t even seen a dick.”
“I have so.”
“Okay, whose?” prompted Mandy, her head resting on her hands.
Gemma’s head sagged and her lips trembled when she fought to hold back the tears.
Mandy continued the cruel onslaught. “She’s going to cry. What a baby. So immature, she even wears her hair in pigtails. Ginger, losing your virginity is the most precious of gifts. It’s priceless.”
Gemma slipped into her sleeping bag and turned her back on the mocking girls. Sleep did not come easily that night; the sexual antics of the girls would not go away.
Gemma wakened purposely before the others and sneaked off to the showers, grateful she had escaped the taunts about her undeveloped body. She dressed in a navy blue tee shirt, white shorts, and looked forward to her introduction to horse riding.
As she left the shower building, she almost bumped into Mr Wagstaffe, one of the two teachers who had accompanied the girls to Dompierre in Burgundy. She gazed at the muscular man, who carried a towel. She felt a ticklish feeling in her stomach. Her crush on the handsome teacher with the wavy, dark locks had not diminished. Now she saw him in the flesh, and she was not disappointed.
“Good morning, Gemma. Looks like a wonderful day. Looking forward to the riding, are you?”
Y-y-yes, Mr Wagstaffe.”
“Good. Is there something wrong, Gemma?”
She blushed and fought for the words she knew would never be delivered to the object of her infatuation. “No, Mr Wagstaffe.”
“Well, run along child. Breakfast is almost ready.”
“I’m not a child!”
The teacher frowned and he peered down at the girl. “Of course you’re not. It was just a figure of speech. Are you sure there’s nothing wrong?”
She shook her head, turned and ran towards the campfire. She tucked into her breakfast of eggs and bacon and watched with lustful eyes when Mr Wagstaffe approached, looking pristine in his white shirt and jeans. He ignored her and headed for Miss Sayer, a pretty, petite teacher with short, dark hair. She stoiod besides a tree and smoked a cigarette. Wagstaffe whispered something in her ear, and she punched his arm playfully, much to the annoyance of the watching Gemma.
“Do you think he’s shagging her?”
Gemma turned her head abruptly to see who had made the offending remark. "No! He most certainly is not. Mr Wagstaffe’s not like that, Mandy.”
“Hmm, he’s quite dishy in a certain kind of way. I wouldn't say no to getting my tonsils tickled by him… I wonder why he isn‘t married?”
“Mr Wagstaffe’s waiting for the right girl to come along,” said a starry-eyed Gemma.
“He’s all over her, look. He’s definitely giving snotty Sayer one.”
“You know nothing you, Mandy Tyler.” Gemma sprang to her feet and walked away from the rebellious girl, her hormones in turmoil.
Gemma was lost in a dream when she felt the refreshing breeze caress her sun-baked face. She had disobeyed the orders of the riding instructor, and urged on her mount, as it galloped across the lush, green meadow. The feel of the magnificent beast beneath her and the odour it generated, pleased her greatly. She leant over and tweaked its ear, resting her head against the soft, black mane.
Only the rumble of the hooves interrupted the quiet, serene ambience of the gentle countryside and its undulating hills. The pleas from behind went ignored, as she kicked her mounts quarters, generating every ounce of strength out of the stallion. The perimeter fence approached rapidly and Gemma prepared to hurdle the barrier, but the horse had other ideas. It dug its hooves into the turf and Gemma was catapulted across the fence, landing forcefully, face down.
Gemma lifted her head and a blurred face appeared before her.
“Gemma, are you all right?”
She smiled when she recognised the voice. “Mr Wagstaffe, you do care.”
“Of course, I bloody care. Whatever were you thinking of, galloping off like that? You could have been killed.”
“Do you like me, Mr Wagstaffe?”
“Yes, of course I do. You’re a fine pupil.”
“No, I mean, like me in a...you know, sexual way?”
“Good god, girl. You’ve taken quite a fall and don’t know what you’re saying. I’ll get you to a hospital.”
“No! I’m fine.”
The sound of several hooves interrupted them, and Gemma looked towards the approaching riders. She held the hands of her teacher and pulled them towards her breasts, holding them there as she closed her eyes. Wagstaffe tried to release the girl’s grip, but she was determined, and pulled on his hands powerfully. She opened one eye, to see Miss Sayer sat astride her mount, a look of shock adorning her smug face. Mandy, Kirsty and Lorna covered their mouths, and attempted to stifle their giggles; a mixture of surprise and incredibility astonishing each of them.
Wagstaffe managed to wrestle his hands free and was now standing, his face reddened and his breathing rapid. He faced his colleague and words were not needed. “It’s not what you think, Susan. The girl’s delirious.”
Mrs Sayer pulled on her reins and turned her steed back towards the green meadow, a look of rejection and disgust on her face. She gave her horse a slap and they cantered back towards the campsite.
Wagstaffe angrily addressed his pupils. “What are you three looking at? Give me a hand here.”
Gemma was not seriously injured and was released from hospital that same day. The atmosphere amongst the school party was one of rumours, and Gemma bathed in the notoriety that had presented itself. Several of the girls, and even some boys had quizzed her on her relationship with Mr Wagstaffe. Her reply was always the same. We were an item, but we’re cooling it.”
The teacher had withdrawn from any liaison with Gemma, and loud arguments between him and Miss Sayer were now commonplace and a source of amusement.
That evening, as Gemma made her way to the shower room with her head held high, she sensed someone approach from behind. She swivelled on her heels and faced the irate looking teacher.
“Gemma! Whatever has come over you? You must tell the others there’s nothing going on between us.”
She shrugged him aside and continued her progress into the shower room. A strong hand grasped her arm.
“Listen, you little brat! Don’t you realise what you’re doing? My career is on the line here, not to mention my reputation.”
“Then, why did you do it, David? If you want to end our affair, then so be it; that’s your decision.”
“What fucking affair? You little minx you. Why are you doing this?”
She proceeded to undress, and he shook her by the shoulders.
“You evil bitch. I’ve done nothing to warrant this.”
“No, David, I’m too young for you.”
He followed Gemma’s line of sight, to see Susan Sayer standing tearful, her head shaking from side to side.”
“No, Susan, come back,” pleaded Wagstaffe.
“Leave me alone, you pervert. I’m reporting you, just as soon as we arrive back in England. If I see you talking to this poor girl again, then I’ll contact the French authorities immediately.”
Gemma followed Mrs Sayer out of the shower room, and looked back at the broken man with mixed feelings.
The tears rolled down Gemma’s cheeks when she cycled to the local village. She had been nominated to call at the bakers for the daily supply of bread. It was a fine, sunny morning and Gemma should have relished such a wonderful holiday, but her heart was heavy. Yes, her popularity had prospered, and she was the talk of the camp, after her assumed affair with Mr Wagstaffe had reached all, but she was in conflict with her emotions.
She had not slept that morning, and had made up her mind to reveal the truth. No longer could she watch the demise of this fine teacher, who had only showered her with kindness. She would reveal herself as a charlatan, just as soon as she returned to the campsite. Her thoughts for her own welfare had long since diminished; besides, she only had a few more months before she left school.
She cycled through the village square and smilied at the locals, who waved at her from the benches. Her bicycle, she parked outside the bakers, and entered, inhaling the aroma of freshly made bread. The portly baker who had a few strands of hair combed across his head, grinned at her unnaturally. His yellow teeth repulsed her, but like the polite girl she was, she approached with a smile.
“Do you speak English?”
“Why of course. What can I do for you, little girl?”
Her smile turned to a grimace when the annoying words reached her ears. “I’m almost sixteen.”
“With a queue of boyfriends, I bet, eh?” He winked at her.
“As a matter of fact, I have one. His name’s David.”
“So what can I do for you, madam?”
“I would like six loaves of bread please.”
“You’re from the campsite, aren’t you?”
“Yes… The bread please.”
“But of course. You’ve distracted me with your beauty.”
She blushed and handed over the money. His grubby hands purposefully touched hers, and he leered at her, the spittle hanging from his thick lips. Gemma was glad to leave the bakers, and made a mental note not to visit the village again.
She cycled past the woods, the whistling birds and the bounding rabbit making her feel good. After her confession, a great burden would be lifted from her tiny shoulders.
The sound of an approaching vehicle forced her to hug the inside of the narrow road. The vehicle slowed down, and she tried to look over her shoulder to motion for it to pass.
The green van pulled up alongside her and kept pace with the motion of her bicycle. She peered through the window, to see the hideous, smiling face of the baker. The van veered violently into her, forcing her from the road. She crashed to the ground and rolled down the grassy bank towards the woods.
Her attempted recovery was met with a cold feeling between her legs. The drooling baker groped her, and she tried to roll over, but he was on her instantly, pinning her to the ground. Gemma had difficulty breathing as she looked up at her attacker, his manic stare and drooling lips surely a faction of her imagination. She would wake up at any time now.
She turned her head away and tried not to inhale the fumes from his garlic breath. He reached down towards his zip and she struggled fiercely, trying in vain to dislodge the baker. He punched her powerfully in the face and she lay dazed, feeling the warm trickle of urine run down her legs. Again, he punched her, and she tasted the salty blood merge with her dislodged teeth.
Gemma felt herself being dragged towards the woods, helpless against the much stronger man. She pleaded in vain, her words muffled by the blood and teeth. The hands around her throat were surprisingly cold; the sounds of the birds abating, as she felt her windpipe being crushed. She kicked her legs, but this only made her attacker more determined. He watched the tongue of Gemma, protrude from her young mouth, her frightened eyes bulging out of their sockets. Then there was blackness.
Three days after Gemma had gone missing; the police once more turned up at the campsite. Wagstaffe observed from the shadow of his tent, Susan Sayer breaking down in tears. The conversation between the detectives and the teacher was intense, and he watched, when Susan’s finger pointed him out. The policemen looked sternly towards him, before approaching.
The watching schoolgirls huddled together, sensing something was not right, as Mr Wagstaffe was led away. Miss Sayer shuffled towards them and gave them the bad news. The distraught girls wept and consoled each other.
Gemma had died, ravaged by an evil man, who had indeed bestowed on her the so-called wonderful and priceless act that Mandy had mentioned.
David Wagstaffe would see out the rest of his days in a French prison; his crime, kindness and trust. Gemma’s confession was never to be heard.