My eyes widen. ‘You’re not scared.’
She shrugs. ‘No. I’ve been through too many alerts for them to hold fear.’ She leans back in her chair. ‘Yet I’m curious why they would trouble you.’
Terrorists; bombs. Explosions, screaming, and…
‘Tell me, Kyla,’ she says.
‘There is a memorial at my school. Six years ago, a bus load of students got in the way of an AGT attack. Most of them died.’
‘Ah, I see. So you start to understand the cause and effect; the terrorist, the death.’
‘How could they do that? They were just kids. They didn’t do anything.’
‘Wrong place, wrong time.’ She shrugs.
‘They were real people!’
The eyebrow goes up again. ‘Of course. Real people get hurt every day, and it causes pain to those who care for them.’
‘You sound as if you are separating yourself from it,’ I say, slowly. Looking at her and realising I can see things, too.
Real surprise registers in her eyes. ‘Very good, Kyla. I am, and I do.’
She shrugs. ‘Part of it is just being a doctor. I can’t fix every hurt; I just concentrate on those that I can.’
Part of it, she said. There is more she is not saying. But I’m not dumb enough to try to pick at her scabs; it is her job to poke at mine.
She looks at her screen again. ‘I see you are doing well in school and at Group, that you have made a few friends. That you haven’t had any more blackouts. This is all good. Any nightmares?’ Her eyes are back on mine.
Bricked into a tower, trapped and beating on the walls…
I switch. I don’t know why, I just do. I tell her about my dream of the bus bombing. She listens as I describe the screaming, and the blood on the windows. The smell of burning fuel and flesh.
She flinches; a slight involuntary movement. Not so controlled, then. She raises a hand and I stop.
‘You have too much imagination for your own good. But now I see why the alert has worried you. You are safe here, Kyla: this is one of the safest places to be.’
Safe, closed in, trapped: she is trapped in as much of a tower as I could ever imagine in my dreams.
‘Do you ever get out?’ I ask.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Do you take time out. Go to the country, take a walk in the woods or something.’
‘You are full of surprising questions today! And I do. Once every few weeks – tomorrow, it will be – but I don’t walk. I have Heathcliff, my horse: I go on trails, and—’ She suddenly stops, shakes herself.
‘I don’t know how you get me to talk like this.’ She smiles to herself. ‘You should be the doctor. Now, listen to me. Stop worrying about the terrorists. Let the Lorders handle them; it is their job. Now here is what you need to do. You need your one thing, your goal, your love. A focus. What is yours?’
‘Art,’ I answer. There is no other contender, after all.
She smiles. ‘I knew you would say that. See, you have your predictable moments, as well. Concentrate on your drawing, your painting: make this your reason for being, and the rest won’t be so important.’
‘Like your horse?’ I say.
‘Just so.’ She answers straight away, and I wonder as I leave. Shouldn’t her patients be her answer?
On the way home, Mum either forgets she said she’d tell me what is bothering her, or she decides not to. Either way, I don’t ask.
My mind is busy with the things Dr Lysander said, and didn’t say. There was no mention of Mrs Ali or Phoebe, and she isn’t one to shy from difficult subjects. The only answer is that she doesn’t know about it. At least that probably means that Mrs Ali hasn’t filed a nasty report about me. And I don’t think I said anything I shouldn’t, anything that could get anybody else in trouble.
Maybe I can keep secrets, after all.
Lucy holds out her hands. The right is perfect, five white fingers, even nails. My fingers but smaller. The left is bleeding, fingers bent at wrong angles.
I back away.
Green eyes, my eyes, shine until a fat tear spills over each lid.
‘Please. Help me…’
‘Wake up, Kyla.’
I jump, open my eyes; confused. Mum is undoing her seat belt. The car has stopped. We’re home.
* * *
It is cold, and the rain the weather report promised last week has finally arrived. It is incessant, steady rather than a deluge, but has gone on long enough now that it is starting to get through the leaf canopy overhead in great, soaking drops.
We run together, Ben and I. We’ve pulled away from the rest. So fast that I’m not cold, despite the soaking, but still. ‘Crap weather,’ I gasp out.
‘Yeah. Typical October,’ Ben answers.
How would I know? It’s the first October I remember.
When we arrived for cross-country training this morning, instead of having the boys before the girls, Ferguson had us start a minute apart in finishing time order from last week. So Ben and I set off first as we were fastest last time. We hit the pace hard, knowing the others will be keen to catch us up.
We clear the woods and start up a hill. No cover now, and it is raining harder, unsteady underfoot with mud and leaves. The path is cut into the hill so the water channels down it. We have to slow down to keep our feet.
‘Isn’t this great?’ Ben says, soaked and spattered head to toe with mud.
‘Wonderful,’ I say, sarcastic. But then laugh. It is wonderful, running past feeling, into the zone where all I am is alive. I feel every drop that lands on my head, as if I can follow each one as it falls from the sky, slowing them down with my eyes to watch their progress. Every sense, every feeling is on overdrive. If I push hard I can almost forget about Tori, and Phoebe. And being haunted by Lucy. She is there when I close my eyes, holding out her hands, pleading for help. It makes no sense for so many reasons.
‘Stop a sec,’ Ben says when we get to the top of the hill. We huddle under a huge oak tree. He squats down to sort a twisted shoelace, does it up again and leans against the tree.
We can see all across the valley from here; the sky is rolling in blacker. None of the others are in sight.
‘Bet they turned back,’ Ben says. ‘Wimps!’ He laughs.
‘Nah. We’re past half-way now; no point.’
‘Let’s go,’ I say. Anxious to keep going, faster. To make running all there is.
I shrug, hold my arms around myself.
‘Tell me, Kyla,’ he says, and I look up into his soft brown eyes, and I trust, I really do, but should I?
I shiver and he wraps his arms around me.
‘Want to run,’ I say.
‘Not until you talk.’
And Ben’s eyes are worse than Dr Lysander’s: they are pinning me against this tree. As my breathing and heart rate slow I start to shake, but not with the cold. I bury my face against his chest so his eyes can’t hold mine any more.
‘Maybe, I can help,’ he says.
There are so many reasons to say nothing. I promised Mac. Knowing dangerous things could put Ben at risk. I don’t know if Ben can keep secrets, really keep them; I don’t even know if I can.
Ben draws away, turns; sits on a rock in the pouring rain. Pulls me on to his knee.
‘We’re not going anywhere until you tell me what is wrong.’
I sigh, close my eyes, and settle against him. To stay here, in this moment, doesn’t sound so bad. His arms tighten around me, he shifts, and puts a hand under my chin, tilts my face up. And I open my eyes, his are closer now, he leans forward. My heart flutters, beating faster once again even though I’ve stopped running. His eyes intent on mine like that other day when I thought he was going to kiss me, but all he wanted to do was talk about Tori.
Tori, Phoebe and Lucy: so many ghosts between us. But I can exorcise at least one of them with the truth. I pull away a little; choose words.
‘Do you ever wonder why you were Slated?’
‘Are we back to that?’ He shrugs. ‘Sometimes. It’s hard not to. But we can’t know who we were, and—’
‘But I do know.’
There is a pause where all I can hear is the rain, and all I see is doubt in Ben’s eyes.
‘What do you mean?’ he finally says, his face carefully neutral.
I swallow. There is no point in ignoring her, is there? She won’t go away.
‘My name was Lucy Connor. I went missing when I was ten years old. I had a grey kitten; someone b-b-broke my fingers. And somebody misses me.’ And with each whispered sentence, I shudder. Something is twisting inside, shaking, trying to break. Instead, I cry. Burrowing into Ben’s arms, and he just holds me, strokes my hair, with the rain pounding down all the while; the wind picking up. The storm outside and in.
‘How can you know these things?’ Ben finally says.
And once the tears stop enough to speak, I tell him about the illegal computer, missing persons websites, and Lucy. And gradually, I see: he starts to believe.
‘I don’t understand,’ he says. ‘Missing persons?’
‘Lots of people go missing. They’re not arrested and tried; they just go missing. Maybe, we’re not even criminals.’
Ben shakes his head. ‘They can’t do that, it’s illegal. How can the government break its own laws?’
‘Maybe we didn’t do anything wrong, and the government just decided they didn’t like something we did, or said. Do you want to find out? If you were reported missing, too.’
A complex play acts on Ben’s face. He starts to speak, but I hold up a hand. ‘Wait,’ I say, and turn my head. It is hard to hear over the wind and rain, but is someone coming?
A figure appears over the edge of the hill. I try to jump up, but Ben holds me tight. It is one of the boys from training; he smirks at us sitting there and runs past.
Ben releases me; I spring up. ‘What did you do that for?’
‘He was going to see us, anyhow. Might as well let him think we were having a cuddle, not a dangerous conversation.’
Having a cuddle. Is that what we were doing, or was it just a cover story? My face burns despite the cold. I turn once again at a sound; is someone else about to overtake?
‘Let’s run,’ Ben says, and without waiting for an answer, he sprints ahead at full speed.
Well. I follow after him, and try to catch up, but can’t; he must have been holding back before. His stride lengthens and soon he is out of sight. It is almost like something is chasing him, something he doesn’t want to face.
It is only me.
CHAPTER THIRTY ONE
* * *
Phoebe’s robin is on the front wall in the art studio. No other pictures hang there. Many are displayed on the sides, the back, but never the front. She hasn’t signed her sketch; no one but us would know whose it is. Instead of barking at us to hurry, Mr Gianelli is silent as we file in and scan our cards, for this: our first class since Phoebe was taken. Everyone sees her sketch of the robin, and falls silent also.
He must know. I glance towards the door; Mrs Ali stands there. She still shadows me between classes most of the time, though it is obvious I know how to get around. She is keeping tabs on me: will she always? Ben and Amy don’t have anyone in their footsteps.
Mrs Ali glances around the room; she can sense something is up, looks from face to face. She stays.
‘Class, today I want you to think about something: the importance of connecting with what you put on paper. Take our friend Mr Red Breast, here. See the care, the connection; it takes an ordinary moment and moves it beyond, makes you be better than you are, finds the artist within. The communication between you, and your subject, yes? Give and take. How you see your subject, in a way nobody else can.’
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