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The next day, the sun rose brightly as if to fill the city with its warm embrace. It touched everywhere, except for Tanya’s household where, even well lit, an imaginary dark cloud hung over their heads. Tanya came down the stairs, absently buttoning her tie under her collar, when she paused at the spare bedroom. It was open, and the insides untouched. She stared inside, unsure how to feel and thus feeling nothing. Frowning, she stepped into the kitchen, her brow furrowed under her thick blonde fringe. “Where’s dad?” she asked and her mother flinched at the counter.
“Out,” she said returning to back the younger son, Max’s, lunch.
“But doesn’t he have a massive report to write about his last expedition?” Tanya pushed.
Her mother didn’t appreciate her attempts in furthering the conversation. “I don’t know. When you see him next, you’ll have to ask him what he’s been doing with his spare time,” came the clipped reply.
“Alright, I get it,” Tanya said, deflated.
Her mother exhaled and pushed the cartoon lunch box away. “How’s your art going?” she asked.
Tanya shrugged. “Okay. I won’t get more than a B for it though. Never do.”
“That’s not the right attitude.”
“It’s the truth,” she said, pushing past her mum to get to the cupboard. She pulled out a box of cereal and dropped it on the counter. “There’s only like three girls in our class who get As. The rest of us are just left behind.”
“You should be more positive.”
Tanya gave her a dry stare. “This is our second last assessment—I have a good four and a half years of research to back me. It’s all subjective, and those girls just happen to get it right 90% of the time.”
“Didn’t you say that the niece of your teacher was in your class? I guess that would be bias,” her mum commented while returning to cutting the sandwiches for Max.
“Evi?” Tanya asked. She pushed herself up onto the counter so she could sit on it while eating from the cereal box. Her mum gave a disapproving look, but couldn’t be bothered saying anything about it. “Naa, her Aunt, Mrs Bell, teaches the younger classes and Evi’s kind of does her own thing—which is really good, so she doesn’t really need special help. She kind of lives in the art room and is really nice actually, though seriously quiet.”
“Huh. Why don’t you speak with her more often. Surely she’s better then some of the other girls you hang out with. She’s the one who won the art prize last year, yes?”
“Yeah, I got a special mention for that one. It usually is tossed up between her and Francesca. And my friends aren’t that bad. Just… a little preoccupied with other things.”
Her mum gave a ‘humph’. “Isn’t Francesca really competitive?” her mum asked before pausing. “Wasn’t there some drama between those too?”
“Uh huh, last year,” Tanya confirmed with a mouth full of cereal. She swallowed. “Francesca thought she should have won.” Tanya frowned.
Noticing the change in her attitude, Tanya’s mum raised her eyebrows. “What?”
“Nothing… maybe. It’s just there was an accident involving Evi’s work yesterday.” She smirked. “Oh this could be fun.”
Her mum shook her head as Tanya’s little brother entered the kitchen, rubbing his eyes. He wore his school uniform and he had a little mohawk. He ignored Tanya as he made his way across with heavy limbs and latched himself onto his mum’s thigh. He was about six. “I don’t want to go to school,” he mumbled.
“Why?” her mum asked. “You like preschool.”
He burrowed his head into his mums thigh. “It’s scary.”
Tanya and her mum exchanged a look. “Scary?” her mum asked. “Are some kids causing you trouble?” Max shook his head.
“This about those murders?” Tanya asked.
A nod. Her mum paled and loosely wrapped her arms around her boy. “You’re safe, don’t worry. They’re far from our neighborhood.”
“But my teachers say scary stuff.”
The mum pursed her lips, annoyed. “You’re safe, we all are.”
“Daddy will protect us, right?” he asked.
The mum winced. “Right.”
Tanya gave a bitter laugh and jumped off the counter. “Yeah, if he comes back.” Her mum made a sharp noise, but Tanya was already walking out the room.
The officer stood on the stage addressing the entirety of the female catholic school. They sat on the gymnasium floor in sectioned rows, listening with dreaded silence. A few whispered together, others drew and read, but the majority listened—far more then with the morning notices anyway. Evi sat in the very back right, absently listening while she sketched in her visual art diary.
“As you are aware, there have been a series of incidents in the neighboring areas,” the officer began. He wasn’t the only policeman or women too. There were three others to the side along with a hired security guard. “Your safety is the upmost concern to us, and seeming the unpredictability nature of these attacks, we will be putting measures forth to make sure you remain safe.”
“Isn’t this a little drastic?” a girl whispered beside Evi. The teacher who sat on a chair beside her gave a small, agreeing nod before going for an unease wince.
“It seems that way,” she said, “but there was a student found this morning from the state school just up the road from us.”
The girl’s eye widened. “What? How do we not know about this?”
“They’re keeping on the low so not to cause panic,” the teacher said. “So please, keep a lid on it.”
Evi held back the urge to eye roll. The teacher knew she just told one of the bubbliest, talkative year elevens at their school, right? She gave it until morning tea for the whole cohort to know.
Evi looked back down at her sketch and frowned. She had stopped working on a layout and turned to doodling in the corner—a crow? Why did she draw a crow? She didn’t dwell on it too much before look back up at the stage.
“So we will be around. If you see anything out of the ordinary, please alert us. We are here to protect you, so please trust us.” Evi found herself raising her head to look at the officer with his words. She felt something with them, a trickle of warmth and the belief he was trustworthy. The officer was in his late thirties and had a rugged handsome quality to his face—a good build too. She tilted her glasses so she could look over the rim, and her breath caught. It was faint, but there was little wisps of silver flickering around him. His aura? It was beautiful… She blinked and it was gone. She looked around to see if anyone else had noticed, but she couldn’t tell. All she knew was a lot more students were now paying attention and had paused in what they had doing to look up. Slowly she pushed the glasses back up her nose and swallowed. She settled back into her diary and thought nothing more of it.
Bell walked around the art room with a large bag of rubbish in her hand. She was cleaning up after her last year eight class as there were scraps of coloured paper and magazines everywhere. She had tried to get the students to clean up after themselves, and a few had, but most had run the moment the bell went off.
She gave an exasperated huff after fifteen minutes of solid walking around and picking up leftovers before ditching the bag to go get a broom. Evi walked in with a vegetarian roll from the tuckshop set on her books which she carried in one arm while her free hand dug into her pocket. “Bell,” she called and her Aunt appeared from the inside classroom to smile. The outdoor area wasn’t really outdoor. More of a shed attached to the main building with a clear roof and roller doors.
“Want to give me a hand before you get started? Pretty please?” Bell asked, hopefully.
Evi cast an eye around the room before her shoulders sagged. “Sure.” She dropped her books on a desk and produced the key from her pocket. “It’s the artrooms spare,” she explained to Bell’s quizzing look as she stepped forward.
“Why do you have it?” she asked, watching Evi drop it into her outstretched hand.
“I had to stay back yesterday, longer then Ms Mavson.”
“Really?” she asked, heading towards the office to return it. “Why?”
“There was an incident with my artwork, and it got paint over it.”
“Really? But you’re so careful!” She dropped the key in a small hand-made bowl and it clinked as it mixed with other labeled key. They were alone in the office, the other teachers off to get food and run errands. There were few to now students either in the room, a few year ten’ers.
“Yeah, not careful enough,” Evi said with a grimly amused tone.
“Evi… Do I need to check the cameras?”
“No. No real harm done. Someone just moved my figure and carelessly left it to the side,” she said. “We don’t need to make this into something it’s not.”
“And if it is something like last year…”
“It’s not. She wasn’t in class yesterday.” She didn’t need to say her name, Bell knew who.
“You said it was moved beforehand…”
Evi waved her hand in dismissal and exited the office. Bell followed. “I’m just looking out of you, Evi. Your mum would kill me if anything happened to you.”
“Nothings going to happen to me,” Evi said, missing the serious tone in Bell’s voice. “What’s getting into you all? Mum took part of the day off today too to look after me. You’re all losing your mind!”
Bell paused. “She cancelled her shifts today?”
“Yeah,” Evi said, slightly flabbergasted. “Said she wanted to drop me into school and pick me up. Crazy woman. Like, I appreciate the gesture—it’s nice. But I’m perfectly capable in looking after myself like the last few years, and she really shouldn’t cancel her shifts.” She dropped to the floor with a small brush and pan to start sweeping up the smaller bits. Bell didn’t join her, instead she was staring out of the artroom to where students sat and ate in the green area. A few of the students stood and ran over to the security guard as he entered the area, giggling with a thousand questions on the tip of their tongue.
“If that’s the case, I’ll start doing the rounds starting next week when your mum returns to work—even on my days off. I’ll swing by the morning too.”
Evi paused and straightened. “You really don’t need to.”
“I insist. I have to take the kids anyway and you’re not far out. It’d be just like when you started going to school here. Same thing.”
She smiled. Evi exhaled. There was no use arguing and besides, it saved her a lot of hassle. “Thank you. I’d appreciate the lifts.”
“No problem. Now, you work on the outside, and I’ll do the inside. Shouldn’t take too much longer.” Evi gave her an encouraging smile that really meant: yes, I didn’t need to eat anyway, Aunt. But she didn’t argue. Seeming she was about to be put out of her way to take her to school, she didn’t mind.
Evi came late to homeroom after having to stay back while her English teacher ranted at them for being the worst English class she had ever taught. It was a funny rant, especially seeming everyone knew how she praised about them to her worst year eleven English class she had ever taught. You couldn’t take any of it seriously. Evi knew one or two girls were failing, but they also had some of the high-achievers in the class, so it had to balance out.
“I expect better from you all,” the teacher hissed.
“Yes, Mrs. Crama,” came the unison reply not without a few snickers.
“I expect everyone to fix their orals this weekend. The orals this Monday, then girls, that’s it. I hope you understand that,” she said, her voice curt.
The students echoed: “Yes, Mrs Crama.”
Evi followed her other classmates into her homeroom and made her way to her desk. She only looked up when the new arrivals started gasping and exclaiming in shock. “Lizzie! What’s wrong?” The tall girl deemed beautiful with her well-done natural make up and long artificially straightened black hair was blubbering in her desk, surrounded by a circle of girls—some generally concerned, some just getting in on the drama and attention.
Liz opened her mouth but couldn’t get it out, so of course another girl easily stepped in. “Her family friends been confirmed missing. She was like a brother to her.” The girl called Niki said it in a matter of fact manor while her sharp eyes declared: show some compassion. Of course, Niki wouldn’t have said it in such a nice manor in real life.
“He’s only fourteen,” Liz said in a broken voice. “He can’t… not like this… Oh my god, what if…” She couldn’t bring herself to say it. She was saved by the homeroom teacher who entered the room, her face grim.
“Liz, your mum’s here.”
Relief filled her face and without any questions, she collected her stuff and left. Evi and the rest of the class watched after her.
The teacher cleared her throat. “Who is walking or taking public transport home?” she asked.
Three girls raised her hands. “Do you have friends who can take you home? I’m more then willing to give lifts to those who need it. I don’t want anyone going home by themselves, you hear me?” Nods. The teacher—Mrs White— rested her eyes on one girl. “Do you need a lift Izzy?”
The student nodded. “If you don’t mind.”
Evi finally lowered herself into her seat, and so did a few others. Most of the students were suddenly quiet with no idea what to say. Then there were the few who wouldn’t shut up: “Geez, why haven’t they got this guy yet? What they doing?” Or: “I hope he doesn’t get you Cindy. Knowing your luck, you’re next.” An outraged shriek, then: “I know a few people I’d like to be taken—”
“Enough!” The class hushed as Mrs White raised her voice. She never raised her voice. “That’s more then enough. I don’t want to hear any of that. You are students of this school and thereby sisters. You will protect each other. Understood?” Nods. She drew a long, deep breath. “Good.” She settled, took another breath, and began to read out the role.
Evi looked down to her hands. They were trembling on the desk. Taking a sharp breath she scrunched them and dropped them to her lap. Get a hold of herself. Why was she acting like this? She had to be rational. The chances of her actually being attacked by this thing was minimal. Then her eyes seemed to drift on their own accord and focused on Tanya. She was pale and pasty, liked she had seen a ghost. Was she that scared? It wasn’t like any of them were in real danger. This kind of stuff happened movies. It happened around, but not directly in your life. Right?
“Evelyn?” the teacher called.
She blinked. “Here,” she responded.
The teacher moved on, but Evi didn’t. She was suddenly concerned for Tanya. What’s wrong with you? Did she know something? She banished the thought as soon as it appeared. It wasn’t any of her business. She was being crazy.
Evi waited down the hill from the art building by the side street at the back of her school. Students gathered around her, talking and laughing while they waited to be picked up. They had been let out before the bell today, so the parents weren’t all there yet. But it wasn’t soon before the kids were picked up one or two or three at a time. All the while, an officer patrolled around.
Evi listened to her music, sitting on the stone edge of a garden, waiting. And even though she tried to avoid it, her eyes flicked to Tanya. She just had a… feeling. But she didn’t know of what. It was like what she had seen with the officer before, yet she never saw it fully. Instead it was just a shadow in the corner of her eye that clung to Tanya like a disease or something using her as a host. What, she didn’t know. But wasn’t anything good—and there I go being crazy.
Tanya waved to her friend. As soon as they disappeared, her bright face fell into a sobering expression that made Evi take notice. Tanya began to walk away—walk home? Alone? Really? Something jerked within Evi. She couldn’t allow that. She launched off the wall and rushed over. “Tanya!”
The girl whipped around, shocked at the exclamation. “Evi?” She paused in fixing in her earbuds and let the left drop against her chest. “Is something wrong?”
“Let me drop you home. Mum’s taking me so it should be fine. She’s kind of all into the safety thing at the moment so she would be happy to.” Please say yes.
“I don’t know…”
Oh, come on. It’s a free ride! “Please. If you’re walking you can’t live far.”
She hesitated before giving in. “That would be really nice. I just live a block over.”
“Excellent.” Silence. Evi gave an awkward smile before looking around. “She won’t be far.”
“Cool,” Tanya replied.
More silence. Evi was dying a little inside. What should she say? Art? That was a common topic, sure. “How is your art going?” she asked. “We didn’t have lessons today, but you took it home didn’t you?”
Tanya became a little bit more animated. “Yeah, but who cares about that—did you fix yours?” Evi said she did and Tanya’s eyes became sly. “Oh. So do you think a certain someone was involved.”
“I didn’t say that. It was an easy mistake to make.”
“Uh huh.” She didn’t believe Evi for a second. “I guess we’ll find out. I’ll keep an eye on her for you. You seem too nice to suspect her.” She gave Evi a wink who gave a gentle laugh. But she wasn’t too nice or weak. It was just she pitied Francesca. She was very determined and competitive which were things Evi respected, but sometimes she could just be a little… Call it the benefit of the doubt.
A sleek looking four-door car that was purple under the light though looked black at a glance pulled up across from them. The window rolled down to them and Evi’s mum waved. “Hi!” she called.
Evi walked over. “Can we drop Tanya home? She lives just around the block.”
Helena looked past her daughter to Tanya with raised eyebrows. “Of course. Get in!”
Evi didn’t get into the front, but walked around the car to get into the opposite side back seat. Tanya didn’t miss the gesture who cautiously entered the back seat in front of her.
“I’m Helena,” Evi’s mum greeted as Tanya climbed in and shut the door.
“Tanya,” she said even though her name had already been declared. It just seemed the polite response and she didn’t really have any other.
“Pleasure to meet you. Where are we heading?”
Tanya gave Helena the address while Evi fell back in her seat, quietly looking out the window. She was thankful her mum had the music playing; it meant the awkward pauses in conversation wasn’t really noticeable. When did she get so bad at this? Well, she wasn’t bad at small talk, just out of practice with girls her age. It had been a long time since she did something like this with a friend. She didn’t really go to parties and over time her friends stopped asking her out when it became every single time she had an excuse. Work. Family. Work. Family. She couldn’t help it. Of course she still went out but it became rare and only really on the holiday. She had heaps to do if she wanted to get to where she wanted!
Lucky, Tanya really didn’t live that far away at all so the few topics they could exhaust didn’t run out and she left on the friendly terms.
“She seems nice,” Helena said as they pulled away and turned down the street.
From the back, Evi fell down and curled up. “She’s quirky.”
“Love, she probably thinks the same of you.”
Evi smiled. No doubt. Quirky would be an understatement.
Helena looked back in the review mirror and frowned as her daughter closed her eyes and began to drift. It was only minutes before she was asleep. Helena returned to driving, somber.