Where foundlings hide, p.4
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       Where Foundlings Hide, p.4

           KL Mitchelson
 
Chapter Four

  I gaze up at the ceiling of my bedroom; white wispy clouds drift serenely against a painted blue sky. The clouds start to quicken, carried by the breeze. I look across the room and I see Evergreen. My bed is cold and when I shift into a sitting position, I find myself on the lawn in front of my house. Someone stands on the doorstep, her long blonde hair lashing across her face in the wind. I hear the creak of the front gate and a crack as a sudden gust drives it against the frame. The sky begins to darken and raindrops splatter the ground. I scramble to my feet as a rumble of thunder sounds overhead and the ground beneath me begins to shake. Lana looks terrified as the house quivers around her. The door behind her opens and a figure emerges, tall, swathed in black, his face a flat, blank nothingness. A soundless scream escapes my lips. Lana reaches out to me, but the man wraps his arms around her. She struggles against his grip, but he’s too strong.

  “RUN!” She screams.

  But I don’t run away, I can’t, I won’t leave my sister. I sprint towards the house, but it’s too late. As I reach the front gate, there is a flash of lightning and Evergreen crumbles, dissolving into dust.

  My alarm clock wakes me from the nightmare; startled, I knock it to the floor where it continues to beep piercingly, threateningly, like a siren. A cold sweat covers my entire body and I try to take deep breaths until I am calm, silently cursing Bria for her talk of the faceless man and her painting of Evergreen that came to life so vividly in my dreams.

  I climb shakily out of bed, scooping up the alarm clock.

  When I finally manage to silence it, I start to mull over the dream. I’ve had the same one every night since Lana fell from that cliff, each time I watch her fall, but last night was different.

  Just like mine, Bria’s nightmare was dismissed by the Police, they said there was no evidence to suggest that anyone had been involved in Lana’s death.

  Bria was also what the Police referred to as an “unreliable witness”, on account that she was intoxicated that night, drunk on the vodka she had smuggled along to the camping trip.

  The snow has turned to hail outside; I can hear it thudding against the window like tiny pebbles on a drum skin. I switch on the bedside lamp and blink in the light. My stomach sinks when my eyes fall on my uniform – a tartan skirt, white shirt and navy blazer - which is unfortunately still mandatory for sixth formers. I lift it down with a groan and toss it on to the unmade bed.

  After I’ve showered, dressed and arranged my hair into a high, meticulous ponytail, I make my way downstairs, my heart battering my ribs.

  My stomach churns as I rest my hand on the bronze door handle of the dining hall, listening to the sound of weary voices inside.

  As I open the door, I take a deep breath, like a diver preparing to submerge. A few people turn to stare, but most of the sixth form students wave or smile in my direction. The first years, who I can easily pick out of the crowd because of their tiny statures and too-big uniforms, won’t even know who I am, at least not by face, and they barely glance at me.

  I scan the tables for Bria and find her sitting with her back to me at the far end of the hall, her copper hair cascading down the back of her navy blazer. I keep my head held high as I join the queue for breakfast, clutching the strap of my shoulder bag so tightly that my knuckles are white. I grab a plate and I take a little scrambled egg and bacon from the counter, along with a mug of coffee. I turn too quickly, plate and mug in hand, and I collide with a tall, solid figure. Scalding hot liquid spills down my front and I inhale sharply as my plate smashes on the floor, the porcelain shattering into a million pieces. The room falls silent and everyone turns to stare.

  “Woah!” A dark haired boy stands in front of me, his arms outstretched as he looks at the mess on the floor between us. I wipe at my wet uniform, my chest feels like it is on fire and I am amazed that my skin hasn’t erupted into huge blisters. The boy’s eyes are wide as he takes in my coffee-stained shirt. He snorts suddenly and I feel my cheeks blaze. “Do you think this is funny?”

  He arranges his face into a look of mock sincerity. “Not at all.” He edges around me and grabs a wad of napkins off the counter. He holds them out to me and I snatch them out of his hand, as his eyes flicker to my chest again. “I’d offer to take you to the nurse, but it doesn’t look like there’s any lasting damage.” He has a slight accent that I can’t place.

  Before I can respond, one of the kitchen staff scuttles over with a dustpan and brush, she shoos us away and proceeds to sweep up the shards of porcelain and the remnants of my breakfast.

  I step back, still dabbing at my drenched shirt. “Well you could at least apologise.” I say to the boy, who still stands close by, watching me carefully.

  “I am truly sorry,” he says, dramatically. “I am sorry that you weren’t looking where you were going and I regret that Marcia here is having to clean up your mess.” He waves his hand towards the lady now extracting a damp cloth from the pocket of her apron. I hear those nearest to us laugh and my face flushes with embarrassment. It’s suddenly difficult to breathe, I have to get out of here. I turn on my heel and rush out of the hall, the laughter dampened by the sound of blood rushing in my ears.

  I race to the bathroom and shut myself in one of the cubicles. I drop the lid of the toilet and I sit down, resting my head in my hands until I am calm. The image of the boy from the dining hall fills my mind. He’s handsome, I can’t deny it, but so arrogant, his tone condescending, and the way his eyes flickered to my chest…

  I want to cry, but that seems foolish. I realise that I can’t stay here forever, so I straighten up, take a deep breath, then I leave the cubicle.

  I clean the coffee from my chest at the sinks, using wet paper towels to scrub my skin, then I hurry upstairs to change my shirt.

  My blazer is a little stained on the left lapel, but it will do for today. On the way back downstairs, my stomach rumbles and the smell of coffee still lingers on me.

  I have a meeting with Ms Gould this morning. She wasn’t around when I returned to school, but she left a message for me at reception, asking me to report to her office at nine a.m. today.

  I am a little early, but I can’t face the dining hall again, so I head straight to her office, ignoring the complaints from my stomach. When I knock, she calls for me to enter and looks up from her paperwork when I step into her office.

  Ms Gould is about thirty, with a round face and a penchant for red lipstick. Today her eyes are ringed with purple and her sandy-blonde hair sticks out at all angles, like she woke up late and didn’t have time to brush it through.

  Despite her obvious fatigue, she smiles as she gestures to the seat in front of her.

  I slide into it, dropping my bag at my feet.

  Ms Gould’s office is small and windowless and I immediately start to feel claustrophobic.

  “It’s good to see you, Casey,” she starts. “How was your Easter holiday? I understand you spent it here at school.”

  “It was…fine.”

  She stops shuffling her papers and locks her fingers together. “You must’ve been lonely; I understand you were the only sixth former here.”

  “I saw Dr Parker,” I shrug. “Almost every day in fact, and anyway, Ivy had to go back to Paris for work, so…”

  Ms Gould narrows her eyes at me. “According to your Aunt, it was your idea to return to school.”

  My cheeks burn. “I had to, otherwise Ivy would never have gone back to work.”

  “Hmm.” Ms Gould considers me for a moment. “Well, you’re back now and we’re pleased to have you. I just hope you’re ready. Year twelve is tough.”

  I nod firmly. “I’m ready.”

  “That’s the spirit,” she beams. “Well your tutors are all satisfied with the work you submitted from home. You might have a bit of reading to catch up on, but I’m sure you won’t have a problem with that. I don’t suppose you’ve had any time to work on your art portfolio?”

  “Oh, yeah.”
I delve into my bag and pull out a folder of drawings. They are mostly sketches of inanimate objects from around the house - bowls of fruit, candlesticks, anything that wouldn’t stir up emotion. Catching up on all of the coursework I’ve missed was a condition of my return to Malvern.

  Despite the dull subjects of the drawings, Ms Gould looks genuinely satisfied as she rifles through them. “That’s a great start,” she says. “I have some exercises planned for class that might help you choose more of a… direction, a theme, if you like.”

  I have a feeling that I know what Ms Gould wants that theme to be.

  “Have you seen the memorial display?” I was hoping that you might like to contribute something yourself.”

  “Maybe.” I shrug, my suspicions confirmed.

  Ms Gould sighs. “The memorial display is about celebrating Lana’s life; it’s brought comfort to many of her friends.”

  “It’s just not really my thing.” I say, squirming uncomfortably in my seat.

  “Casey, through the display, Lana’s memory can live on.”

  It takes all of my will-power to not roll my eyes. “I know; I saw the plaque above the door of the new lounge.”

  Ms Gould raises her eyebrows and I quickly clear my throat, realising that I’m bordering on rudeness. “The display is great, really…thoughtful. I just don’t think my work is up to the standard of the other paintings.”

  Ms Gould looks mollified, but she waves my comments away. “Nonsense, I’m sure with a little help you could paint something really lovely in memory of your sister.”

  I can’t think of anything polite to say, so I just smile.

  “I have your planner here,” Ms Gould pushes a small, spiral-bound book towards me. “Your timetable is inside, and here’s a note for your first lesson, explaining why you’re late.”

  She squeezes my hand as I reach for the planner and the note. It’s a kind gesture, but it sends a jolt through my skull like a hammer.

  She doesn’t seem to notice my discomfort. “I want you to tell me immediately if you start having any more of your…difficulties. My door is always open.”

  I mutter a quick thanks before snatching my hand away, lurching towards the door with my heart pounding, my breath ragged. In the hallway, I lean against the wall and close my eyes.

  Even though Ms Gould’s touch was brief, the feeling emanating from her was so strong that it surged through me like electricity. Now, in the silence of the hall, I know what that feeling is. It’s the same thing I felt yesterday when I saw Bria, after weeks of ignoring her, of shutting her out. It was guilt. Ms Gould feels guilty about something. I can’t think about it now; my head feels too fuzzy.

  Pushing the thought to the back of my mind, I check my planner; my first lesson is Physics with Dr Campbell. I like Dr Campbell, his lessons are fun, but I still take my time walking along to the east wing to the science labs, revelling in the near-silence.

  Feeling other people’s emotions takes its toll. Even the briefest touch can hit me like a thousand volts, leaving me weak and shaky.

  The door to the physics lab is open, and I linger outside for a bit, listening to Dr Campbell’s deep, calm voice. He sees me standing there and stops mid-sentence. He smiles, revealing the gap in his front teeth. “Hello, Miss George.” He ushers me inside and I hand him the note from Ms Gould, which he exchanges for a brand-new text book. “It’s good to have you back.”

  Despite all of the faces trained on me, I can’t help but smile. Dr Campbell is one of my favourite Teacher’s here. His silver hair is set in a modern style but he wears retro, tortoiseshell glasses and slogan t-shirts underneath his business shirts. Today’s t-shirt reads ‘Schrödinger’, above a picture of a cat.

  He leans over the register on his desk and scans the list of names. I know he won’t mark me as being late, even without reading the note from Ms Gould. He’s pretty easy going as long as work gets handed in on time and people don’t neglect to wear their safety goggles.

  Dr Campbell is also my fencing instructor; he was the inter-school champion three years in a row when he too was a student at Malvern, so he knows his stuff.

  I feel a tap on my shoulder and I turn to find the boy from the dining hall grinning devilishly at me. “I hope I didn’t make you late.” His teeth are perfectly white and he raises one eyebrow when he talks, giving him an air of cockiness.

  Molly is beside him, her arms folded across her chest, her brown eyes narrowed in dislike.

  “I had to tend to my third degree burns.” I scowl.

  Molly pulls a face, as though she’s personally offended by my sarcasm.

  “Well, you must heal pretty fast.” The boy’s eyes flit from my face to my chest, then back again, making my cheeks blaze. He smiles, satisfied.

  Dr Campbell begins to speak again and I turn to face the front, while fumbling in my bag for a notebook and pen.

  I hear Molly whispering to the boy beside her and he laughs under his breath.

  “The subject of time is one that has prompted many theories, there are some who believe that time does not in fact exist…”

  As I listen to Dr Campbell’s lecture on time, my eyes flit to the empty seat beside me and my heart aches. Lana and I were in all of the same classes, both equally intelligent. I can still hear the soft chime of her voice as she answered questions in class. Right now, the silence of her empty chair is deafening.

  I roll my eyes as the boy behind me laughs under his breath again.

  I wonder who he is, someone new, obviously, but he must have joined at the beginning of September. He seems far too comfortable, too familiar with those around him to have just started this term.

  Dr Campbell raps on the board, drawing our attention to a selection of complicated equations as he discusses how time is relative to a single point of reference. I study the equations, then I copy them all into my notebook.

  I keep my pen poised over the paper, but my mind wanders again. I think about insignificant things - what I might wear for the party on Friday, if I could face returning to fencing class, and that I should probably telephone Ivy, before she takes a flight back from Paris to come check on me. But each time my thoughts flit back to Lana, no matter how hard I try not to think about her.

  When the bell goes, Dr Campbell makes a beeline for my desk. “Ms George, will we see you back at practice soon?”

  “I’m not sure, it’s been a while.” I had a feeling that Dr Campbell would try to get me back to fencing practice as quickly as possible; Lana and I were the two strongest competitors on the school team.

  Lana was somewhat better than me, more advanced, a natural. For a fleeting moment, I imagine that if Dr Campbell had a choice, he would much rather have Lana, his protégée, than me.

  “That’s OK,” he says. “I’m sure we can get you back to full fitness, we have some new recruits who might make interesting opponents.”

  As Dr Campbell looks at me expectantly, the boy from the dining hall walks past and flashes me another disarming smile, closely followed by Molly who is still scowling.

  I feel the heat rise in my face as I promise Dr Campbell that I’ll think about returning to practice, then I rush out into the corridor before he can say anything else about it.

  Across the crowd of students making their way to their next lesson, I spot Bria.

  “Hey,” she links her arm around mine. “What happened to you at breakfast?”

  “Some idiot poured coffee on me and I had to get a clean shirt.”

  “What? Someone poured coffee on you?”

  “Not on purpose.” I tell Bria all about the boy, how I had bumped into him in the dining hall, how he had laughed at me.

  Bria looks thoughtful. “What does he look like?”

  “Tall, dark hair.”

  “Good looking? Has a bit of an accent?”

  I shrug, as though he is nothing special, but as I think of his undeniable beauty, my stomach flips. “Yeah, he’s got an accen
t.”

  “That sounds like Caleb,” Bria smiles. “I just can’t imagine him being so…. ungentlemanly.”

  I snort and Bria nudges me in the ribs. “I’m serious, anyway, there are quite a few new faces this year. It could be someone else. We’ll call him Coffee Boy until we find out who he is.”

  I roll my eyes. “I don’t care who he is.” Even as I say the words, I know they aren’t entirely true.

 

 
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