Where foundlings hide, p.7
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       Where Foundlings Hide, p.7

           KL Mitchelson
 

  Chapter Seven

  Monday morning arrives under a sky of grey and murk. As I weave my way hurriedly through the crowd of people wandering towards their lessons, I catch snippets of conversation about Friday night - who or what might’ve been responsible for the fire and how it’s the most dramatic thing to happen since…Lana disappeared.

  Bria bounces along at my side, chatting excitedly about her dress for the St George’s Day Banquet that arrived earlier this morning. Her hair is cast in a film of damp; it weighs down her curls, making them cling to her neck and shoulders. She’s keeping our conversations light, to stop me from thinking of the fire, just like she’s done all weekend.

  Some of the sixth formers went home for the weekend, including Caleb, so the place was pretty quiet. Bria and I spent most of Saturday and Sunday sipping coffee and watching DVD’s.

  We have Art this morning. Our lessons are held in the ‘Annexe’, a converted barn that still has some of the original beams in place. The entrance is decorated with colourful spirals and mobiles that hang from the rafters and the grey cement floor is splattered here and there with paint.

  After we hang our damp coats on the hooks outside of the classroom, Bria tips her hair forward and rakes her fingers through the tangles, then she tosses back her head and admires the effect in the reflection of a glass cabinet filled with clay sculptures. I roll my eyes at her and she bumps my hip before flouncing into the classroom.

  The room is buzzing with hushed chatter, the students waiting at their easels for the lesson to begin. I spot Molly sitting closest to the door, staring coldly at me as I walk towards two vacant stools on the other side of the classroom.

  “Just ignore her.” Bria whispers.

  I have no choice, because just then Ms Gould emerges from the walk-in cupboard behind her desk and claps her hands for silence. “Today, I want to try something different,” she starts, “I want us to forget our coursework and create some abstract paintings based on our mood.”

  I look sideways at Bria and she smirks at me.

  Ms Gould gestures at the supplies cupboard and then, with a scrape of stools, everyone hurries over to fill their pallets with paint. When we return to our seats, Ms Gould tells us to close our eyes and empty our minds. She turns on the small CD player sitting on her desk and the sound of a sitar drifts across the room.

  Bria snorts behind her hand, but quickly composes her face when Ms Gould’s eyes fall on her.

  “I want you to paint the first thing that pops into your mind,” Ms Gould says. “You may begin.”

  The classroom is quiet except for the whisper of paintbrushes against paper. Bria mixes the colours on her palette furiously then spots her easel with paint. I look at my own blank canvas despairingly. Lana was the creative one, not me.

  When we were ten, Lana decorated the wall of our loft with a scene of green lands and snow-capped mountains. The sky was yellow and the tops of the trees were golden. It was a masterpiece, but Ivy freaked when she saw it. She waited for the wall to dry out before painting over it, returning it to its original pastel-pink. Lana was so upset. She said she had imagined a world where the sky was made up of yellow and orange, instead of blue, where it was always warm and the forests were filled with magic. She always did have a good imagination.

  I gaze out of the window, wishing I had her creativity, my eyelids growing heavy as I listen to the sound of the sitar.

  “Casey.” The voice tickles my ear and the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I whirl around, but none of the other students show any sign that they heard someone say my name. My breath starts to quicken as I wait for the voice to speak again. Did I imagine it?

  “Time’s up.” Ms Gould gets up from her desk and starts to wander between the easels, examining the class’s work.

  I look at her in confusion, my heart pounding in my chest. It’s been just minutes since the class began, hasn’t it?

  Ms Gould stops behind Bria and peers at her abstract masterpiece, a swirl of vibrant pinks, oranges and reds.

  “I think I painted the fire,” Bria says. “I cleared my mind, but when I closed my eyes I saw the flames.”

  Bria and Ms Gould both tilt their heads, examining the vivid colours.

  “Beautiful.” Ms Gould says with a smile.

  Bria turns to me expectantly as Ms Gould shifts sideways to my easel, but her smile soon falters. I follow her stare and inhale sharply. Black and grey streaks cover my canvas, crisscrossing violently towards the centre where a girl lies face down. One of her legs is turned out at a strange angle away from her body and there’s a trail of red in her blonde hair.

  I turn to Ms Gould, unable to speak. I have to tell her that I didn’t do this, but the words won’t come. I look down at my hands, they are smudged with black paint, and the palette resting on the side of my easel is a mess of colour.

  Ms Gould is suddenly pale. “See me after class, Casey.”

  Once everyone has left, Ms Gould faces me with a grim expression. “Casey, I asked you to come to me if you were having problems.”

  “I’m fine,” I say. “I just…. I don’t remember painting that.”

  My canvas is now leaning against the legs of the easel, the disturbing image turned towards the window.

  “Clearly you’re not fine, that picture is troubling and now you’re telling me that you don’t remember painting it?” Ms Gould puffs out her cheeks. “I mean, it’s no wonder that it’s the first thing you thought of, but to paint it in class…”

  I look up sharply. “No, it wasn’t like that. I wasn’t thinking about…that, I was looking around the room and then…the painting was there.”

  “I’m worried, Casey, if you’re still experiencing some trauma after what happened to Lana, you need to tell me so I can make sure you have the right help.”

  “I’m fine.” I repeat, my stomach twisting uncomfortably.

  Ms Gould perches on the end of her desk. “Casey, I have the rest of the class to think about too, and images like that could cause distress. There are other people here who miss Lana.”

  “I know.” My voice is suddenly thick with tears.

  “I’m going to speak to Dr Parker about today’s incident so she can pick it up with you in your next session.”

  I look down at my shoes, my face burning with a sudden rage. My sessions with Dr Parker are private, our discussions based on an understanding between me and her. Ms Gould does not get to choose what we talk about.

  She dismisses me with a weary flick of the hand and I storm from the classroom filled with anger. I’m angry at her, angry at myself, and angry at Lana for falling off that stupid cliff.

  I look at my hands still smudged with paint and shake my head disbelievingly.

  In the entrance, I find Bria and Molly arguing heatedly. Bria has my coat slung over her arm, her face contorted in frustration. They both turn as I approach and Molly’s face twists into a sneer.

  “Get what you wanted?” She spits, angry and venomous. “More attention because of your freaky painting?”

  “Shut up, Molly!” Bria says through gritted teeth.

  I advance on Molly, stopping inches away from her. “What’s your problem?”

  “You are my problem. I was her best friend and you couldn’t even be bothered to pick up the phone to tell me when they found her.” Tears start to fall over Molly’s flushed cheeks.

  “Molly, I’m-”

  “No!” She shoves me roughly in the shoulder. “This is all your fault. Lana would still be here if it wasn’t for you!”

  Her words are a slap in the face and I stare at her, stunned.

  “Why don’t you tell us what really happened that night?” She continues, “You turn up the next morning covered in blood and no one says anything about it. The Police don’t care; everyone thinks you’re so innocent.”

  “What is that supposed to mean? That blood was mine and I can’t remember anything, you know that!”

  “Yeah,
that’s what you told us.” She gives me a look of disdain before stomping out of the building.

  I feel like she’s just punched me in the stomach. I realise, with a sinking feeling, that she thinks I had something to do with what happened to Lana.

  I throw my bag to the floor and run after her, I have to make her see that I didn’t do anything.

  “Hey.” I shove her hard in the back of the shoulder.

  She stumbles forward, but quickly recovers herself. She whirls around and lunges towards me, grabbing the hair at the nape of my neck. I act instinctively, grasping the front of her shirt. I feel suddenly powerful, my body reacting to the emotions burning inside of me. I punch upwards and my fist connects with her jaw.

  She releases her grip on my hair and swings her fist towards my face, skimming my nose. She grabs my wrists suddenly, her nails pressing through the exposed skin peeking out from beneath the cuffs of my blazer, and she squeezes tightly. Her hurt, her anger and her suspicion jolt through me like electricity, paralysing me. She hits me then, the side of her fist colliding with my temple, right where my head was injured that night. I stumble backwards and lights pop in front of my eyes. I hear footsteps approaching.

  “That’s enough!” Ms Gould yells, stepping between us. “Both of you follow me, now!”

  The rain is falling in sheets, and Molly’s hair hangs wet around her face and shoulders. The front of her shirt is stained with smudges of black paint where I grabbed her and her chest rises and falls with every breath, her lower lip trembling. She snatches up her bag and follows Ms Gould up the path towards the main building.

  Bria hands me my coat and bag without saying a word, her hands shaking.

  Inside, Ms Gould holds the door of her office open, ushering Molly and me inside with a jerk of the head. Bria sits down in one of the chairs in the corridor and scuffs the toe of her shoe along the floor.

  “Bria, don’t you have a class to go to?” Ms Gould asks.

  She shakes her head. “Free period.”

  Ms Gould eyes her suspiciously, then closes the door and takes a seat behind her desk.

  I glance sideways at Molly but she glares furiously ahead, her arms crossed over her chest. My head aches where she hit me and the knuckles of my right hand are red. I’ve never hit anyone before. The bubble of rage that inflated so unexpectedly has now burst and all I feel is shame.

  “I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that fighting is not tolerated at Malvern,” Ms Gould starts. “You should be setting an example to the younger students, not brawling like teenage reprobates.”

  She slams her hands down on the desk making me jump. “Well? Do either of you have anything to say?”

  I shift a little in my chair as Ms Gould’s eyes flick between Molly and me. “What happened to you two? You used to be good friends.”

  Silence again.

  “Well I’m very disappointed, I’ve just had to separate two of my best students, because you were fighting,” she says. “Under normal circumstances, I would’ve suspended you for a fortnight, but this has been a tough year for you both, so I’m going to give you another chance.”

  I exhale with relief.

  “As punishment, I want you to help me clean out the Annexe tonight,” Ms Gould says. “But mark my words, anymore of this nonsense and you will both be out of here so fast your feet won’t touch the ground.”

  I nod quickly, not quite believing that we managed to get off so lightly.

  “I’ll be sending a letter to both your parents,” Ms Gould looks at me and her cheeks flush. “Well, to those who take care of you. Molly, you may leave, I’ll see you six pm sharp at the Annexe.”

  Molly nods and then stalks out of the room without looking at me. When the door closes behind her, Ms Gould fixes me with a hard stare. “Casey, I cannot have you starting fights with other students.”

  I open my mouth to protest but Ms Gould holds up her hand for silence. “I followed you out of the classroom and I saw you push Molly. I just don’t know what to do with you, if you’re having problems-”

  “I’m not having problems.” My voice raises much louder than I intended.

  “I don’t believe that,” Ms Gould sighs “The night of the fire, some of the other students heard you shout Lana’s name.”

  My mouth opens and closes, I had hoped that no one besides Bria and Caleb had heard that.

  “If you’re involved in anything else, we’ll have to seriously consider your future at Malvern.” Ms Gould’s mouth sets in a thin line. “You may go.”

  “No!”

  Ms Gould looks up, startled. The rage that had gathered so suddenly before starts to creep in again, snaking up from my stomach and into my chest. “Did you happen to hear what Molly said to me before I pushed her?”

  Ms Gould looks surprised. “No, I-”

  “She blamed me for Lana’s death. She said it was my fault.” My voice is thick with tears.

  Ms Gould’s face softens. “Casey, no one thinks it was you fault.”

  “Molly does, and if she thinks it, then other people will too…”

  “Casey-”

  “Nobody knows what happened. All they know is that she fell off that cliff and I woke up covered in my own blood.”

  “Casey, calm down.”

  I jump up toppling my chair. “Don’t tell me to calm down.” I pick my bag up and I storm from the office, almost colliding with Bria who stands expectantly on the other side of the door. I head in the direction of the staircase and I hear her hurried footsteps behind me. I can’t believe I just did that. I shouted at Ms Gould. If I wasn’t suspended before, I’m sure I will be now. In the foyer, I stop and turn to Bria. “I’m sorry for starting the fight, I just snapped.”

  She shakes her head, “Molly was asking for it, she shouldn’t have said what she did.”

  “I shouldn’t have hit her.”

  “Maybe not, but there’s no point dwelling on it,” Bria shrugs. “What did Ms Gould say? Are you suspended? I couldn’t hear much through the door.”

  “No, she said she’s giving us both another chance.”

  Bria breathes a sigh of relief.

  “But then I yelled at her, so now I don’t know.”

  Silence falls between us, the foyer is quiet except for the sound of the wind and rain battering the windows. Bria’s eyes are wide, fearful, but she just continues to look at me like she doesn’t know what to say.

  I shrug my bag off my shoulder and drop down heavily onto the bottom step. “Bria, why does Molly think I’m to blame for what happened to ‘Lana?”

  Her brow furrows. “I don’t think she does, not really; she’s just lashing out because she’s upset.”

  I consider this. Sometimes I blame myself for what happened to Lana, in the sense that I should’ve done more to look out for her, but Molly’s accusations suggested something far more sinister. “No, it’s more than that.”

  Bria’s cheeks flush.

  “Bria?”

  “Well…don’t get angry, OK?” She shrugs her bag off her shoulder and sits down beside me.

  “That night, it was like Lana disappeared into thin air and you appeared with this head injury, covered in blood…”

  “So people think I had something to do with it?”

  “No, no one’s said anything like that…except for Molly, I guess. It’s horrible what happened and to think that it happened while everyone was asleep, it’s awful. We all thought that maybe someone attacked you both.” She takes a deep breath. “But then the Police said that wasn’t possible, so I guess Molly thinks… you know.”

  I realise how it must have looked, me with a head wound, Lana gone, no sign of anyone else being there. Lana and I used to argue sometimes, like all siblings, but we never fought physically. “She thinks I killed my own sister.” I say, feeling sick to my stomach.

  “Lana was Molly’s best friend; she’s just looking for someone to blame.” Bria says quietly.

  I chew my
lip, mulling over Bria’s words, then I get up and start up the stairs.

  “It wasn’t your fault,” she calls after me, her voice thick with tears. “It wasn’t anyone’s fault.”

  “I just need to be by myself for a bit; I’ll see you at lunch.” I head up to my room, leaving Bria sitting alone.

 

 
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