He tells me in the car. Sebastian was brought in to the vets a few miles away. He’s been injured in a scrap, with a fox maybe? But he is fine.
‘How’d they know to call us?’
‘He’s chipped. They scan the chip to find who he is, where he lives.’
Oh. So Sebastian is a Chip-head, like me. ‘If someone hadn’t brought him in, could we track him? With the chip?’
‘Depends on the type of chip,’ Dad says, looking at me sideways as he drives. ‘Not with Sebastian’s. Though they can do Tracker chips, and do with Lorder dogs and the like. Why do you ask?’
‘Tell me,’ he says. And there is something about Dad, the note in his voice, that makes you answer him when he asks questions.
‘Just something someone said at school. She said that I’m like a spy for the government ‘cos I’ve got a chip in my head. That I can’t be trusted.’
He laughs. ‘A spy? Well, well. I best mind what I say in front of you, then.’
‘Is it true? Does it record stuff I do and say?’
‘Of course not,’ he says, but I get the feeling that isn’t the whole answer.
At the vets it says ‘closed’ on the door, but we are let in.
‘Heh Double D, how’s business?’ the vet says to Dad. Double D? Oh. David Davis.
‘You know, as always.’ They exchange a look.
The vet pushes a swing door behind the counter. ‘Miss Best. Bring that cat out, will you?’ he calls.
‘Is he all right?’ I say. ‘Where did you find him?’
‘It wasn’t me. The girl who helps out here had him at home, and brought him in today. And he’s fine. Gave him a few stitches and a shot to be on the safe side.’
‘What do I owe you?’ Dad says.
‘On the house,’ he says. ‘Come have a look at this a minute,’ he says, and they head into an office.
Behind the counter, the door swings open and out comes Phoebe, carrying Sebastian. Even from the other side of the waiting room I can hear he is purring, though he is shaved down one side, and stitches are sticking out. Poor Sebastian.
But what is Phoebe doing here? My eyes widen, and my mouth hangs open as I start to realise what must have happened.
‘Don’t catch flies, Slater,’ she says.
‘You knew. You had him, and you saw my drawing and knew he’s my cat, so you brought him in.’
She shrugged. ‘Someone found him hurt yesterday, and gave him to me to look after. Then I brought him round here today and told the vet whose cat it was. Though he scanned him to check, anyhow.’
‘Thank you so much.’
She eases Sebastian into my arms.
‘Don’t be stupid enough to think this makes us friends. This don’t change anything, Chip-head,’ she says, scowls and goes back through the door.
I turn; Dad is back in the room, raising an eyebrow. A thoughtful look on his face.
He holds the door open. ‘Come on. Home time.’
We get in the car, and are almost home before Dad says it. ‘That was her, wasn’t it.’ A statement, not a question.
‘The girl who said you were a spy.’
I say nothing. If I say yes, then I am a spy, after all.
CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN
* * *
The first thing I hear the next morning is a deep rumbling purr: Sebastian. He seems to have decided that my pillow is the place to sleep, and is curled across it. I, for one, am going to let him sleep wherever he likes.
He seems unfazed by his experiences: scrapping with foxes or whatever creature it was, rescued and given to Phoebe, stitched by the vet. He accepted special titbits of dinner from Mum when we got in last night, then went straight to sleep on my bed.
Phoebe: I just can’t work her out. She is so nasty, yet that robin trusted her. Sebastian purred in her arms, and she brought him back to me. I saw her face when she handed him across; she didn’t want to give him back, yet she did. She must like animals and birds better than people.
Well, I like Sebastian better than most people, so who am I to judge?
It’s the bus for Amy and me today as Jazz has a class trip.
As we get on, I wonder: should I stop and tell Phoebe that Sebastian is all right? But I try to catch her eye and she scowls, gives a slight shake of her head. So the answer to that is no.
I sit with Ben at the back.
‘Heh,’ he says. ‘All right?’
‘Sebastian’s back home,’ I say. And on the noisy bus I lower my voice, and tell him about what Phoebe had done.
‘Just goes to show you,’ he says.
‘That people aren’t always how you think they are. That was a nice thing she did for you: who would have guessed?’ He smiles.
Though I am sure she did it for Sebastian, not me. Nothing’s changed, she said last night.
Mrs Ali waits for me outside my first class.
‘Can we have a quick word?’ she says, and draws me into an empty office across the hall, not waiting for an answer. She shuts the door behind us.
‘Is something wrong?’ I say.
‘Don’t look so worried, Kyla. You haven’t done anything. But you know that I am here to help you, don’t you?’
‘Uh, of course.’
‘Listen to me, Kyla. If anyone is hassling you at school or causing you problems, you have to tell me. I don’t like hearing about things from other sources. It makes me look like I’m not doing my job.’
I stare back at her, confused. The only one who fits that category is Phoebe, yet no one knows about that: we were alone in the woods when she said those things. ‘I don’t understand. What have you heard?’
Mrs Ali smiles and shakes her head slightly. ‘Poor Kyla. This world must be so confusing for you; that is why I am here to help you work things out. But I can’t help you if you don’t help me. So is there anything you want to tell me, dear?’
‘No. I don’t know what you mean,’ I say, yet I am convinced: somehow, she knows something about Phoebe, and wants me to tell her about it.
But no matter what Phoebe said, I’m no spy. Anyhow, how could I say anything against her when if it wasn’t for her, we wouldn’t have Sebastian back? We wouldn’t even know if he was alive or dead.
Mrs Ali stares back at me, and I can see it in her eyes: she knows there is something I’m not telling her. She shakes her head. ‘I’m sorry, Kyla. You might not know that you need my help, but you do. I’m all that is between you, and…most unpleasant possibilities. Do look after yourself. Now, go to class.’
And she turns, opens the door and marches out.
My knees turn to jelly. That was a threat, wasn’t it? What unpleasant possibilities?
And I stay in the office, pull the door to and try to draw myself together. Picturing my Happy Place, floating on the clouds. But more and more I get a sense that something is wrong, that I’ve done something. And I’m going to pay.
At the very least I’ll get told off for being late to class. I shake my head: right, Kyla, pull yourself together. I take a deep breath and reach for the doorknob, but hear footsteps. Clipped, precise footsteps. I hesitate; my hand drops back to my side. The office light is off, the hall is lit and there is a window in the door. I step back into the shadows and watch. The footsteps get closer: two men appear, in grey suits. Lorders.
They open the door to my English class, where I should be, right now.
Is this an unpleasant possibility? Have they come to take me?
They disappear inside, and return moments later. And between them is a white-faced Phoebe.
At the end of the day when I get on the bus, there are whispers; whispers and pale faces. Eyes walk up my spine as I go down the aisle and sit with Ben, but when I turn to look around no one meets my eyes. They think I’ve done something. They know she was nasty to me, so somehow, Lorders taking her out of class is my fault.
Phoebe’s usual seat stays empty; she doesn’t come late. The bus pulls away. So they didn’t just talk to her, then let her go, did they?
Ben takes my hand. ‘Are you all right?’ he says, and watches my eyes looking around the bus, from face to face. Sees the eyes that slide away. ‘What is going on?’
I shake my head. What can I say with so many hostile ears, listening in?
I want to run tonight, I want to run now but am hemmed in on the bus, bodies all around. I concentrate on Ben’s warm hand, close my eyes, wish myself anywhere but here.
‘Tell me what is wrong,’ he says. ‘Maybe I can help.’
I open my eyes, and shake my head. ‘Not now. Are you training before Group tonight?’ I ask. He nods. ‘Can I come?’
He grins. ‘Of course.’
‘We can talk then.’
And his hand tightens on mine. He knows it is something serious, if I have to run to be able to talk about it.
CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT
* * *
It takes some convincing. Mum would never have let me go, but Dad is still home: just on his way again, bag in hand, for a work trip.
‘Please. I need to run,’ I say, and he seems to understand. Somehow talks Mum around.
He is gone by the time Ben knocks at the door.
‘Are you sure about this, Kyla? It feels like rain,’ Mum says, anxiously scanning the dark sky.
‘I’ll be fine,’ I say. ‘This is waterproof, isn’t it?’ And I tug at my jacket sleeve. And I’m not in any danger from cars: it’s not like anyone could miss seeing me in this fluorescent vest she made me wear over the jacket.
‘You will stick to main roads?’
Ben promises to look after me, and stares levelly back at Mum. She seems satisfied and off we go.
We start out slow and speed up. We’ve got an hour until Group, five miles to go: easy.
Ben looks at me curiously now and then as we run. I can tell he is waiting for me to talk, but suddenly, I am unsure what to say.
Fact: Phoebe was mean to me; fact: she was taken from school by Lorders, and wasn’t on the bus home. But that is all I know, isn’t it?
I run flat out. Ben keeps up, matching my speed. His much longer legs don’t have to work as hard.
‘We’ll be there early at this rate,’ he says. ‘Slow down?’
So we do; first to a light jog, then a walk.
‘Is this about Phoebe?’ he asks.
‘What do you know?’
‘I heard about it when I got off the bus this afternoon. Someone said someone saw her getting pushed into a Lorder van this morning. But it was all “he said – she said”, none of them actually saw anything, themselves. Though she wasn’t on the bus home.’
‘It’s true: I saw them. Two Lorders went into the class, and a minute later came out. One was holding her arm; they marched her down the hall and out the building.’
‘Does anyone know why?’
‘I was going to ask you that.’
He hesitates. ‘Some people think you might have said something. Got her into trouble.’
‘I didn’t! I wouldn’t.’
‘I know that. Especially after she got your cat back,’ he says, and I can see he means it. But I’m not so sure. I might have had something to do with it, whether I meant to or not.
‘Is there more?’ he asks.
I shrug. ‘Just stuff Phoebe said: that we are spies for the government, because of the chips in our brains.’
‘That’s not true.’
‘But what if it is, and we don’t know? Maybe I gave her away without even knowing that I did. Maybe somebody just scanned my brain, and pow: she’s gone. Because she said stuff the government didn’t like.’
Ben shakes his head. ‘That can’t be true.’
‘Why? How do you know?’
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