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‘Come along now,’ Mrs Ali says, so I follow her back to the Unit. As my feet automatically step along the path, I can’t stop the images that appear in my mind: a bus stuck in London traffic, explosions, flames. Screaming; bloody hands banging against windows; a final explosion. Then, silence.

A stone memorial, thorny roses, and all those names.

Mrs Ali leaves me in a chair outside an office. ‘Wait until she calls you,’ she says, and disappears down a hall.

The door says ‘Dr Winston, Educational Psychologist’. Soon it opens; another student comes out.

A woman’s voice calls from inside. ‘Next!’

Does she mean me? There is no one else about.

‘Next!’ the voice says again, louder, and I get out of my seat, peek uncertainly through the door.

‘Hello, is that Kyla Davis? Don’t be shy, come in.’

She smiles: or does she? Her face has bright red lipstick painted on in a turned up crescent. She has so much makeup caked on that if she smiled properly, her face might crack.

‘You’ve got your school ID done, I see: good. See that, by the door: you put your card along it when you come in. It says who you are.’

I turn back: there is a card sized slot set in a small boxlike machine attached to the wall by the door.

I look uncertainly at my ID, take it in one hand and look back at her.

‘You don’t have to take it out of the holder, just hold it, face down, on the slot.’ I do so and it beeps.

‘Good girl, now have a seat. You do that in and out of every class at our school; also at the Unit from now on. So we always know where everyone is.’ She beams that lipstick smile.

I perch on the edge of a seat in front of her desk.

‘Now listen up, and I’ll just explain the rest of your day.’ And she tells me that I’ll be doing tests all afternoon, to see where I am at. Whether I can go to mainstream classes, or have classes in the Unit to begin with, or some mixture of both. And I’ll get a timetable with assigned classes tomorrow morning.

‘Any questions?’ she says but she is already folding her computer shut.

‘Well yes, one.’

‘Oh?’ She pauses, surprised.

‘Can I take art? I can draw really well. My nurse said that I should be able to, and…’

My words trail off. Her eyes are looking impatiently at the clock. She is not interested.

‘Tell you what: how about I put a note on your file.’ She smiles brightly again, and taps at the screen. ‘There: “Kyla expresses an interest in art.” All right? Now scoot off to lunch downstairs, there’s a good girl.’

I stand, and head for the door.

‘Wait.’

I pause in the doorway.

‘You have to scan out, of course! Or the computer will think you are still here.’

Oh. I hold the card in the slot; it beeps.

Downstairs I find the room I had lunch in yesterday, and this time notice the card scanner by the door. I scan in; it beeps.

As promised, the afternoon is filled with hours of tests. All on a computer, multiple choice. Mrs Ali stays, and watches as I endlessly press A, B, C or D. The questions are mostly easy, and cover many subjects: maths, English, basic history, geography, biology.

When I’m finally done my eyes are tired and shoulders stiff, but I think I did all right. They’ll tell me tomorrow, Mrs Ali says, and then sees me out the door as the final school bell rings.

I get on the bus with Ben, having persuaded Amy to go with Jazz alone. That I’ll be all right.

Drifting down the aisle after him, now that my mind is free from all those tests, it is back to the memorial, and the AGT killing a whole bus load of students. A bus like this.

I catch the movement too late.

My foot catches on the other that flicks out in front and I trip, and sprawl forwards. I try to reach my hands out to stop myself, but my back-pack is yanked from behind, pulling my arms backwards. My face smashes on the back of a seat and I sprawl on the ground.

Laughter rings out.

I get to my knees and touch my lip: my fingers come away red.

I pull myself up, spin round.

It’s her: the girl who blocked the empty seat yesterday, so I couldn’t sit next to her.

‘Enjoy your trip?’ She smiles.

My muscles tense, and I step towards her. The smile falls off her face. Her eyes widen.

‘Kyla? Kyla!’ Ben takes my arm, yanks me around. Pushes me in front of him towards the back of the bus.

The bus driver gets out of his seat, and starts down the aisle.

‘Everything all right?’ he says.

No one answers. He doesn’t see me behind Ben. He goes back to his seat, and soon the bus pulls away from school.

Ben slips a warm arm around my shoulder, guides me into a seat.

‘You have to watch your step, Kyla,’ he says, but his face is unreadable. His eyes show concern, not outrage, yet he must know she tripped me. That this was no accident.

He finds a tissue in his pocket and holds it out. I press it against my lip, then pull it away to look at it. Bright red, though not much of it.

I’ve had worse.

Have I?

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

* * *

‘I’m all right.’

‘You don’t look all right.’ Mum dabs at my lip with antiseptic. ‘What happened?’

‘I tripped over, on the bus. And banged my face on a seat.’

I don’t mention the foot that tripped me, or the laughter that followed when I hauled myself up. Or how I’d turned and was ready to smash that girl in the face. And she knew it, too: a look of uncertain fear crossed her eyes before Ben pulled me away.

‘Where was Amy when this was happening?’

And I don’t know what to say. I know Jazz being her boyfriend is a secret; is Amy being in his car also a secret? And Mum isn’t even meant to be home yet; she left work early. She must have some sort of dragon radar.

‘She couldn’t catch me,’ I say, finally. Which is true enough, since she wasn’t there.

‘Where is she now?’

‘At a friend’s house, I think,’ I say, trying to be vague.

‘She didn’t come home with you after you hurt yourself?’

‘Uh…’

Her mouth sets in a thin line.

‘Go up and change.’

I stay in my room, holding ice to my lip.

I was going to hit that girl on the bus; I know I was. There was no conscious thought or plan, it was in my muscles tensing up, my hand curling into a fist. My body reacting.

I’m not supposed to be able to do that. My Levo should stop me. Any trace of violence, and it is supposed to knock me out.

But nothing. Somehow I stayed near enough to 5 through the whole thing.

Ben and the others just sat smiling together as usual, even though they all knew one of them had been deliberately hurt. And it’s not like they don’t care. Ben came and helped me, didn’t he? More like in their happy little Slated brains it is not enough to create a ripple.

I’m nothing like them.

I don’t understand.

The front door opens below; I hear voices.

Heated voices.

Minutes tick past, then there are footsteps on the stairs. The door opens: Amy.

‘Are you all right?’ She crosses the room, tilts my chin up to look at my lip. ‘That’s got to hurt.’

I shrug. ‘A little.’

‘Good.’

She picks up her book by the spare bed, her robe on the back of the door. All her bits and pieces that have spilled into my room the last week of her staying with me so I won’t be alone at night. She crosses the hall and goes into her room, shutting the door behind her with a definite slam.

Like he knows by some feline empathy trick that he is needed, Sebastian peeks into the room, meows and jumps up next to me. Rubs his head against my arm until I pet him. A tear rolls down my cheek and hits my lip. It stings, and I lick it off.

Green trees blue sky white clouds green trees blue sky white clouds…

‘Dinner!’ Mum yells up the stairs.

I ease sleeping Sebastian from my knees on to the bed, and go down to the kitchen.

‘I made soup for you; easier to eat with that lip.’

‘Thanks.’

I sit.

Mum puts my bowl and two plates of pasta on to the table, then goes to the bottom of the stairs.

‘Dinner, Amy,’ she yells, then walks back into the kitchen. ‘Well, if Miss can’t be bothered to join us, she can go hungry.’ She plonks herself down at the table.

I look at my soup.

‘Well, try it. I made it just for you.’

I pick up the spoon.

‘Are you all right, Kyla?’ She grabs my wrist just as my Levo vibrates: 4.3. She sighs. ‘You didn’t just trip on the bus, did you.’

A mind-reading dragon.

‘Tell me.’

‘It’s not that.’

‘What, then?’

I don’t say anything; just stir the soup.

‘It’s Amy, isn’t it. What did she say?’

I let go of the spoon, slump in my chair. ‘She’s angry with me, and I don’t understand.’

‘Teenage girls, what a nightmare! Boys are so much easier. Wait here.’

She stomps up the stairs; moments later returns with Amy, and yanks her into the kitchen.

‘Sit!’

Amy sits.

‘Listen up, Miss. Kyla didn’t tell me anything, all right? About your silly little boyfriend, or driving in his insane car, or anything. I put it together all by myself. Now: you two sort yourselves out. I’m going to eat by the TV.’ And she picks up her plate and stomps off into the other room, shutting the door with her foot.

Amy looks at me guiltily. ‘I’m sorry. I thought you must have told her.’

‘She’s like a mind-reader,’ I say.

‘Somehow she tricked me into confessing. And you can’t keep secrets; your face is an open book no matter how you try. I should know that. I’m sorry.’

She starts on her dinner, doesn’t say much else. But I can see it in her eyes: she won’t tell me any more secrets.

I can’t be trusted.

And that night, she stays in her own room, leaving me to sleep alone.

The driver lays on the horn. Why, I don’t know. They aren’t going anywhere: it is gridlock. The road has become a car park, right in front of heavy brick buildings with a sign hanging in front: ‘London Lorder offices’. Trapped like rats in a nest.

I scream at the driver. ‘Do something! Open the doors! Let them out!’

But he doesn’t know what is about to happen. He can’t hear me.

First there is a whistling noise, a flash of light, a concussive BANG that rips through my skull and makes my ears ring. And then the screaming starts.

Choking smoke; bloody hands beating at windows that don’t open; more screaming. Another whistle; a flash; an explosion. There is a gaping hole in the side of the bus, but most are silent, now.

I cough in the smoke, choke on acrid burning fuel, metal and worse. Stuff my hands in my ears, but the screaming just goes on and on.

Then, it stops.

And I’m not there any more. I’m somewhere – someone – else. Terror and smoke and blood, all gone. Not a memory of a past event, not nothing…just gone. A dream. No more.

No less.

I’m laughing and playing hide and seek with other children in my green place. High trees above long grasses, bright dots of purple and yellow wildflowers. I scrunch down behind some bushes, and I see: my hands, my feet. They are small. I am small. My heart thuds a pleasant thump-thump, thump-thump, from the game. Will they find me?

When my eyes open I can’t see anything. I open them wide and then wider, stand and feel my way along the wall to the window, pull the curtains aside and look out. There is no moon tonight.

It worked. Going to my Happy Place in the midst of a nightmare: it actually worked. No screaming the house down, no blackouts. A nearly acceptable 4.8 on my Levo.

***

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