Where foundlings hide, p.8
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       Where Foundlings Hide, p.8

           KL Mitchelson

  Chapter Eight

  When six pm draws near, I head down to the Annexe with a feeling or trepidation. It’s not completely dark yet, but the sky is a steel grey, the grounds dimly lit by the interior lights spilling from the windows of the school.

  I glance in the direction of the woods, part of it now reduced to a cluster of scorched, skeletal remains. It sends a shiver down my spine. What was it that made me see Lana in the fire? Why did I see her reflection standing behind me in my room?

  I thought I was getting better; I had even started to feel a little like my old self. But the old me wouldn’t have started a fight, or yelled at a teacher.

  I waited in my room all afternoon expecting Ms Gould to come for me, to tell me that I was suspended, but she didn’t.

  I caught her off guard before, I saw the shock in her eyes before I left her office, but she’s had time to think now, to work out exactly what words she’ll use when she tells me I’m suspended.

  Maybe I’ll get to the Annexe and she’ll turn me away at the door, announcing there and then that I’m going home, that Ivy is on her way from Paris to collect me.

  Just in case she does in fact make me clean out the dusty Annexe, I have dressed in an old pair of leggings and a red hooded top, my new necklace tucked safely inside. Despite its mystery, I’ve become strangely attached to it, comforted by its peculiar warmth.

  As I head along the path, a figure walks around the side of the building and with a jolt, I realise it’s Caleb. When he sees me, he smiles impishly and my stomach flips.

  “That was quite a show earlier,” he laughs. “Two girls fighting in the rain.”

  I tut at him disgustedly and continue down the path, my face hot with embarrassment.

  He falls into step beside me. “Come on, it’s funny.”

  “Maybe to you.”

  “And the rest of my Psychology class…”

  I look at him questioningly, his eyes are still a vivid green despite the half-light.

  “We can see the Annexe from our window,” he explains, pointing up at the main building. “We put bets on who would win.” He shifts in front of me causing me to stop abruptly, then he leans in and brushes the hair off my face. “I bet on you.”

  I try to think of something cutting to say in response, but my mouth is suddenly dry. He grins and takes off at a jog towards the main building.

  I smile in spite of myself, my skin tingling just above my left eyebrow where he touched me.

  I feel a little lighter as I reach the Annexe, but it doesn’t last long. I find Molly inside, looking less like her usual polished self in a green sweatshirt, her dark hair piled on top of her head. She scowls at me and turns away, giving me a good look at the bruise on her jaw. My stomach sinks.

  Ms Gould emerges from the supplies cupboard with a roll of bin bags in her hand, her clothes smudged with dust, her blonde hair tied up in a ragged bandana.

  I hold my breath, waiting for her to reprimand me for my behaviour earlier, but she smiles when she sees me. “Hello Casey, I was just telling Molly I want to start with this cupboard,” she says, jerking her head in the direction of the doorway she has just emerged from. “I want you to throw out all of the dried-up paints and old paintbrushes, then there’s a load of paintings we need to sort through,” Ms Gould beams at me as though I have volunteered to help, instead of being summoned here against my will. “We could pick a few to display, but we’ll have to dispose of the rest, they’re really piling up.”

  Molly and I work in silence, tossing crusted paint bottles and old brushes into black sacks.

  A couple of hours later, Ms Gould instructs Molly to take the rubbish up to the large waste container behind the kitchen. I don’t look up as she leaves, busying myself instead with restocking the cupboard with a box of new supplies, while Ms Gould records her inventory on a clipboard.

  “I thought making you come here tonight would give you and Molly a chance to talk,” Ms Gould says, watching the Annexe door swing shut. “But neither of you said a word.”

  “I don’t think we have anything left to say to each other.” I sigh, putting the last bottle of paint in the cupboard.

  “You could start by apologising to one another. Have you thought about being the bigger person?”

  “I don’t think Molly wants an apology, she’s happier just hating me.”

  “I don’t think that’s true.” She says, softly.

  “Speaking of apologies,” I twist my fingers together awkwardly. “I’m sorry for how I behaved earlier in your office.”

  “Thank you, Casey,” she says, hugging her clipboard to her chest. “I know you’re having a hard time, but you must believe me when I tell you that I only want to help.”

  A telephone rings from inside Ms Gould’s classroom and she hands me the clipboard before bustling inside to answer it.

  I scan the inventory to make sure everything is accounted for, then I follow her into the classroom, hoping to be dismissed. As I linger in the doorway, something catches my eye at the back of the room - Bria’s pink and orange painting of the fire.

  The other paintings from class are there too, lined up against the wall. Most of them are abstract paintings, swirls of colour, like Bria’s. Mine is noticeably absent.

  I look at each one in turn and my stomach lurches when my eyes fall on a painting of a girl with blonde hair framing a pale face. She has full red lips, her eyes are closed and her head is tilted slightly, so that her hair falls over her cheek. I crouch down for a closer look.

  It’s Lana, but there’s something about this painting, something more than those in the exhibition.

  “It’s Molly’s painting.” Ms Gould says behind me, making me jump.

  “Why isn’t with the others in the lounge?”

  “This work is a little more personal,” she says, retrieving a large leather folder from a nearby rack that she opens out on the floor in front of me. “This is Molly’s portfolio.” Some of the drawings just show part of Lana’s face - her lips, her nose, her eyes. It’s like Molly has my sister memorised.

  “I shouldn’t really be showing you Molly’s work and I would appreciate it if you didn’t tell her, but can you understand why I wanted you to see it?”

  Her intentions are clear. “You wanted me to see how much Molly cared about Lana.”

  “She still does.” Ms Gould dabs at her eyes with the tips her fingers.

  I’m about to close the folder when I notice something else, something that makes my throat tight. Where an artist would usually sign their name, Molly has written the word ‘missing.’ I trace it lightly with my fingers. “Have you seen this?”

  Ms Gould nods. “Molly signs all of her work like that.”

  I look at the painting Molly created today and find the word in the bottom right-hand corner. “But Lana’s not missing anymore, they found her.”

  “I think Molly’s use of the word is much more symbolic than literal,” Ms Gould sighs. “She misses Lana, terribly. You both have that in common.”

  Ms Gould is right, so why is it that I can’t bring myself to paint something like this? Why is it that Molly can pour all of her feelings into a painting to show how much she loved Lana, but I can’t?

  It hits me then, why Molly’s paintings are different to the others in the exhibition. The other students painted memories of Lana, but Molly depicted her like an artist would portray their muse. Maybe Molly loved Lana in a different way to how I loved her, or how Bria, or Ivy loved her.

  Molly was always following Lana around, copying her style, making catty comments about the boys Lana liked. But Molly likes boys too. Didn’t Bria say that Molly likes Caleb? Confused, I close the portfolio.

  “Will you try to talk Molly?” Ms Gould looks at me pleadingly. “I’m not saying you have to be best friends, just clear the air.”

  “I’ll try.”

  Seemingly satisfied, Ms Gould dismisses me and I hurry from the Annexe under a black, starless
sky. I head to the lounge in the hope of finding Bria, eager for some mindless chitchat to distract me from Molly’s portfolio. I find her sitting with Orla and Jas, curled up in one of the armchairs, her legs tucked underneath her.

  Sabrina, Jas’s little sister is there too, her face buried in her big sister’s shoulder.

  “How’s the hand? Orla snorts. “I heard you gave Molly a mean right hook.”

  “That’s not funny,” Jas scolds. “They shouldn’t be fighting.”

  “Molly should learn to keep her thoughts to herself.” Bria scowls.

  “No Jas’s right,” I say, perching on the arm of Bria’s chair. “I shouldn’t have hit Molly.”

  Jas shakes her head. “I’m not taking her side, Casey. What Molly said to you was awful. I don’t know what’s got into her lately.”

  “We all know Molly can be a bitch,” Orla says. “She’s so secretive lately, and she keeps disappearing, she skips classes almost every day now.”

  “What do you mean she keeps disappearing?” I ask. “Where does she go?”

  “I don’t know,” Orla shrugs. “She’s probably sneaking off with a boy.”

  I think of Caleb and my stomach twists.

  “How was detention?” Bria asks. “Did Ms Gould give you a hard time?”

  “No, she had us clear out some old supplies, then-” I think about telling them about Molly’s portfolio. Ms Gould only said that I shouldn’t tell Molly that I’d seen the portfolio, but I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t want me blabbering about it to anyone else either. “Then she just let us leave.”

  “Well, you both got off lightly,” Jas says, stroking Sabrina’s hair.

  The little girl takes in a shaky breath and I notice that her eyes are ringed with red.

  “What’s up?” I mouth to Jas, gesturing at Sabrina.

  “She’s had a difficult time settling in,” Jas explains. “I thought she was getting better, but some second years locked her in the girl’s toilets in the East Wing. They were trying to scare her.”

  “By locking her in the toilets?”

  Sabrina raises her head, her tear-streaked face red and puffy. “They said they were f-feeding me to the m-monster.”

  “Monster?” I raise an eyebrow at Jas and she nods earnestly, as though being eaten was a serious risk at Malvern.

  “Some first years started a rumour about a monster lurking in the toilets of the East Wing,” Orla explains, rolling her eyes. “They said they saw bony hands sticking out of one of the air vents, like a skeleton trying to crawl out.”

  Even though it’s a silly story, something about it makes me shudder. “That’s really creepy.”

  “It’s not a rumour, Sabrina protests, her voice thick with tears. “Eleanor Morris said she saw a dark shadow in there one day and when I was in there, there was this horrible noise.”

  “What kind of noise?”

  “Like someone was behind the wall,” Sabrina says, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand. “Banging on the pipes.”

  “That’s probably just the plumbing,” Bria says kindly. “This is a really old building you know.”

  Sabrina shakes her head. “It was a monster.”

  “C’mon Sab, there’s no such thing as monsters.” Jas smooths her sister’s dark hair in such a maternal way that it causes an unexpected lump to rise in my throat.

  “Look, why don’t we all go down together and take a look?” I suggest.

  Orla looks at me like I’ve just grown an extra head and Sabrina’s big, brown eyes are wide with terror.

  “You’ll see that there’s nothing to be afraid of.” I say.

  “That’s a great idea,” Bria says. “And if we do find a monster, we’ll tell it to leave and let everyone pee in peace!”

  Sabrina giggles then, and with a little coaxing from Jas, she agrees to come with us.

  The east wing corridor is dark and our footsteps echo in the silence. Orla pulls her phone from her pocket and presses a couple of buttons on the screen so that a bright light illuminates the way.

  When we reach the bathroom, I push the door open and the lights automatically splutter to life, making me squint in the sudden glare.

  “How did they lock you in?” I ask Sabrina, gesturing at the empty keyhole in the ancient door.

  Sabrina peers nervously around me into the bathroom. “I don’t know.”

  “They managed to get a key somehow,” Jas says. “They dared her to go in and then locked the door behind her. One of the teachers heard her banging on the door and called for the caretaker. She was in a right state when they finally got her out.”

  A sudden tapping noise echoes around the bathroom and I hold my breath. Orla steps around me, her eyes fixed on the air vent in the ceiling, which is scarily large enough for someone to fit through, the space above it dark and vast.

  She puts her hands on her hips. “Is this where the monster comes from?”

  Sabrina nods, her dark eyes huge.

  Orla holds her phone up to the vent, tilting the screen back and forth so that the dark space is bathed in light. “There’s nothing up there, see?” She starts along the row of toilet cubicles, pushing the doors open and peering inside. “Nothing scary in here, except someone forgot to flush.” She scrunches up her nose and pulls the chain.

  “Sorry girls, no monsters.” Orla says, washing her hands at the basin.

  The sound of running water is followed by a loud clanging noise that makes us all jump. The thin, cubicle walls shake and the lights blink and splutter.

  “I told you,” Sabrina says, backing away into the dark corridor. “It’s the monster.”

  The noise stops abruptly, leaving silence in its wake, but seconds later a groaning sound reverberates around the room, followed by a huge crash that sends us lurching towards the exit. Water rushes out of the toilet that Orla flushed just moments earlier and she hastily closes the door to the bathroom before ushering us up the corridor.

  We break into a run and we don’t stop until we are at the foot of the stairs, struggling to catch our breath. Jas laughs so hard that her shoulders shake.

  “I told you there was something in there.” Sabrina frowns.

  “It was just the plumbing,” Jas says, ruffling Sabrina’s hair. “We’ll get the Caretaker to take a look tomorrow. Come on, I’ll take you back to your dorm.”

  We leave Sabrina and Jas on the first floor and then head back to the lounge.

  Nick is there, along with – my heart almost skipping a beat – Caleb, his dark hair wet like he has just showered. He smiles when he sees me, showing off a line of perfect white teeth.

  Bria flops down into Nick’s lap and he wraps his arms around her.

  I feel suddenly shabby as I sink down into the armchair opposite, my hooded top spotted with dried paint, my hair scraped back into a messy bun, but there is a suggestive smile around Caleb’s lips as he surveys me.

  There is something captivating about him, elusive, but he scares me a little too, the looks he gives me loaded with expectation.

  Orla perches on the arm of my chair, nudging me in the shoulder, and I reluctantly tear my eyes away from Caleb.

  “Are you seeing this?” She says.

  “Seeing what?”

  Orla nods towards the television. The ten o’clock news is on, reporting scenes of what I first assume are fireworks, but then I see a building on fire, an explosion that sends a cloud of ash billowing into the air, people running away from flames tinged with thick, black smoke.

  Caleb stands suddenly and shifts around the furniture. He turns up the volume on the television and folds his arms across his chest, his whole body tensing as he surveys the images on screen.

  I hear the reporter say words like ‘catastrophic’ and ‘firestorm’, but the satellite signal, wherever they are in the world, is poor, and their report is a little disjointed.

  The screen freezes and the feed returns to the studio, the newsreader announcing that th
e signal has been lost.

  “What was that?” I ask.

  “I have no idea,” Orla shrugs. “It looked bad though.”

  Caleb returns to the sofa then, his expression dark as he drops back into his seat beside Nick and Bria, who are too caught up in each other to notice that the atmosphere in the room has changed. Caleb’s whole demeanour is markedly different, his foot tapping the floor, his eyes flitting to his watch every few seconds. He sees me looking and his mouth sets in a thin line. He watches me for a moment, then he storms from the room without saying a word to anyone.

  Orla looks at me in confusion. “Is it just me, or was that a little strange?”

  It was definitely strange.

  Later that night, I crawl into bed with my hair still wet from the shower.

  When I turn off the light, I think about my fight with Molly, wondering if things would’ve been better between us if I had handled things differently.

  Molly said that I should’ve told her when Lana’s body was found and part of me agrees with her. Wouldn’t I expect the same of Jas and Orla, if something happened to Bria and they found out before I did? I didn’t mean to shut Molly out; I was in so much pain I couldn’t think straight.

  I remember the day they found Lana. Ivy was called to the police station to identify her, but she wouldn’t let me go. I had pleaded and cried, but it didn’t make any difference, Ivy left without me and returned, hours later, pale and shaken. It had been seven months since Lana disappeared, but that didn’t make the pain of finding her any more bearable.

  I remember Ivy’s mouth moving, but I can’t remember the words she used as she handed over Lana’s leather jacket, wrapped in a Police evidence bag. They had kept it all that time, hoping that it held some vital clue about what had happened to my sister.

  The next thing I remember is running down to the beach behind our house, the gravel on the winding path cutting into my bare feet, the water surging around my ankles as I buried my toes in the sand, just like Lana used to do.

  Pain stabbed me all over my body, cutting my heart to ribbons that were carried away on the wind until there was nothing left of me. I was vaguely aware of Ivy appearing behind me, but I held up a hand, warning her to stay back.

  She ignored me, throwing her arms around me and holding me tight. I gritted my teeth as her agony surged through me, wondering how it was possible to feel so much pain but not die.

  The Police said that Lana had fallen from the cliffs onto the rocks below. They couldn’t tell us why her body, which had slipped between the huge, jagged boulders, was not found earlier during their searches. They made some excuse about the tide preventing them from searching between the rocks, but it made no difference, my sister was dead and there was nothing they could do to bring her back.

  I try to imagine how Molly must have felt during those seven months, waiting, holding out for snippets of information, for any news on the fate of her best friend. I didn’t stay in touch; Ivy didn’t have any contact with her parents; I’ve never even met them.

  I think of Molly standing alone at the funeral, and guilt starts to rise in my chest. What would Lana make of my treatment of her best friend?

  As I drift off, I decide to make amends with Molly. For Lana.

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