So – dear reader- do you prefer this first chapter or the one from Poppy’s Time in the previous post?
Cat’s Eyes by Margaret Evans-Kaufeler
‘Ow!’ I jump up as the hot tea soaks into my clothes.
Jess’s favourite mug is now a jigsaw puzzle of bone china smashed across the kitchen table… and over me.
For a fraction of a second me and Dad exchange looks. The pain I see in his eyes must be reflected in mine.
‘Sorry Kitty… I mean Cat.’ Dad stands up too. ‘Cold water-’
‘Yes, I know.’ I’m already at the sink, splashing myself. I start to slip off my jumper and shirt but realise that maybe at nearly sixteen I’m too old to be doing this in front of him.
So I run upstairs, grab fresh clothes from my room and dash to the bathroom.
A cool shower later, I return to the kitchen.
Dad’s studying his school paperwork again. At this angle the patch of thinning hair at the top of his head is obvious. At least the mess’s been cleared.
I throw my stained clothes into a bowl of water and add what’s left of the detergent, chucking the empty bottle into the bin with a clunk. It’s not the only thing we’ve run out of.
He doesn’t look up.
‘We have to go to Tesco.’ Mum would’ve realised.
‘We need 400 rolls of loo paper.’
‘And I’ve gone on the game coz of my drug habit.’
Mum would’ve listened. And Jess.
The alarm goes off on Dad’s mobile. At last he notices me. ‘Are you alright Kitty… Cat?’
He doesn’t wait for my reply. ‘Time to go. Get Sean, will you?’
I give him my do-I-have-to look, so he adds, ‘Please.’
But Sean beats me to it. He shuffles into the kitchen combing his fingers through his light brown hair – a young version of Dad. Totally different from the almost black hair I’ve inherited from Mum. A whiff of Lynx hits me.
‘Any toast left?’ he asks.
‘Yeah. But it’s cold.’
He takes it from the plate I hold out to him.
‘Thanks.’ He winks. ‘Well, I’m ready. How about you two?’
Sean calls shotgun, so he ends up in the front passenger seat. The car hasn’t got to the end of our road before he grumbles about the early start … again.
I switch off and sink into the back seat, alone. No Jess.
An autumn mist hangs gloomily over the school as I walk through the tarmacked area that a primary school would’ve called a playground. Sean abandons his ruck-sack to join in a quick game of football. I aim for the farthest bench.
Glancing across I see my ex, Nick, swerve around two players then neatly slot the ball between the two schoolbags acting as goal posts. He extends his arms and swoops like an aeroplane, catches sight of me, and waves. ‘Hey, Cat.’
I turn away, head down, and speed up my steps. I’ve nearly reached the bench when Leanne snarls in my ear
‘I thought I’d warned you about talking to Nick.’
‘I didn’t speak to him. And all he did was wave at me and say hi.’
Leanne muscles in on me as her mates snigger. I’m forced to take scuffling steps back until I’m pinned against the wall. My bag drops to the ground again. I make myself meet her stare, even though my stomach has sunk to my knees.
She grabs the front of my jacket and pulls me close until we’re almost nose to nose. I can see every stroke of her heavy eye-liner and mascara. ‘Listen here Miss Snobby Cat Johnson. Just coz you’re the Deputy’s daughter doesn’t mean you’re safe. You leave my boyfriend alone or else.’
One of her mates mutters a low warning. ‘Watch it, it’s Bunny!’
Leanne pretends to brush dust off my collar, then adds in a helpful voice ‘You’ll have to be more careful, Cat, tripping up like that.’
‘How kind of you Leanne,’ says Mr Warren, Head of Science, his tone suggesting he thinks she’s anything but. ‘Feel free to hand Cat’s bag back to her.’
I wipe my face on my sleeve. I know I’m safe at the moment. But from the spiteful glance Leanne throws me, it’s only a matter of time.
‘Off you go Cat, I’ll speak to you later,’ Bunny says. Turning to the others he adds, ‘But you ladies, and I use the term loosely, will discuss matters with me now, in my office.’
Head bowed, I walk as far away as I can and sit on the bench, blinking back tears. When I look up, I notice Jess has appeared.
‘About time you showed up,’ I say grumpily, though I’m relieved. Jess’ll help make sense of things. ‘What took you so long?’
‘Good morning to you too!’ Jess sits down and stretches herself out in a relaxed fashion, her familiar light-brown hair worn in a pony-tail today. I feel a slight pang in my gut as I remember all the times I used to style it.
‘You of all people,’ she adds, ‘should know I have no control over when I turn up. After all I’m just made up by your imagination.’
Jess laughs and hearing that joyful sound makes me miss her all the more. ‘Anyway,’ I continue, ‘Connie says I shouldn’t be seeing you much longer.’
‘Ah, yes. Connie the Con Artist.’
‘That’s a bit unkind. It’s Connie the Counseller.’
‘But is the counselling helping you to get over my death?’
‘You’d think after six months there’d be some improvement. But Connie did say it’d be harder to get over losing a twin.’ Jess sits forward. ‘So, what’s up? You seem upset.’
‘Your mug. And Dad. And Nick. And Leanne.’
‘I’m sure it all makes sense to you, but the only bit I understood was Nick and Leanne. Fill me in.’
‘Well you should know since you’re in my mind.’
‘Humour me. Airing your thoughts will help.’ She sits back and crosses her hands behind her head in typical Jess listening pose.
So I explain.
‘Nick was a rat,’ Jess says. ‘He went off with Leanne just when you needed him most.’
‘But I did shut him out. And he seems really sorry.’
‘He might mean it now. But what happens next time he’s tempted? Stay away from him and Leanne. What you need is new friends
When I frown she adds, ‘Be helpful… smile a lot … join in more.’
I look down at my clasped hands. ‘But I’m not as good as you at that sort of thing. You always-’
I’m interrupted by the registration bell.
Jess responds first. ‘Just promise me you’ll try. See you later. Cheer up, Kitty Cat.’
So I make an effort to smile at everyone during registration, but all I get is blank faces from grumpy classmates. Not surprising, I suppose, on a dreary September morning with Maths first thing.
During that first lesson, I sit alone at a double table at the back near the window. Without the distraction of a chatty neighbour I complete all the set exercises quickly. I ease back into my chair and so as to avoid thinking about earlier, and Jess’s absence from the class I focus on my other class-mates. One girl shields her work so no-one can copy, a bleary-eyed boy dozes over his book, another girl along the row from me, her mobile under the table, busily texts. I sigh and switch my attention to the room. Large posters in overly bright colours shout that “Maths is Fun!” and show cartoon children with huge grins pointing at congruent triangles and parallelograms.
Whoa, what’s that? I glimpse movement out of the corner of my eye and whirl around towards the near corner.
This definitely isn’t normal. Items of rubbish are airborne, and skirt the rim of the waste bin. Snotty hankies pirouette silently around pencil sharpenings and dry pieces of chewing-gum stuck to broken biros. Since the action is below table height and no-one else is near me, they don’t notice the strange goings on.
I squeeze my eyes shut and shake my head to clear it of this weird image. I hear Jess’s voice: ‘Come on Cat. Be like a pair of curtains … pull yourself together.’ So this strange bin activity isn’t due to her.
It’s not surprising I’m imagining things, I suppose, other than my twin Jess that is. Connie the Counsellor, warned this might happen after the trauma of Jess’s recent death. I wish Jess’d appear so I can check whether she can see it too. Though that wouldn’t prove anything.
Meditation might help. I breathe deeply, putting into practice Connie the Counsellor’s relaxation tips. I reopen my eyes, convinced that everything will be back to normal. How wrong can I be? The Aerial Acrobatic Waste Team is still in action.
And that’s not all. Through breathy mist I see a nose pressed against the window. It belongs to a pale face with intelligent blue eyes and framed by platinum blond hair. He lifts his hand and points something towards the bin. The rubbish shoots back to its rightful place. Stunned, I look back at him, but he’s already striding away towards the sports’ block changing rooms. Who is he? Can’t be from school, unless he’s a young-looking sixth-former, as he’s wearing jeans and a nerdy Scandinavian-style jumper, not uniform.
Should I tell someone? But who’d believe me? Nobody else has noticed. Maybe I’m hallucinating and if I speak up, they’ll make my life hell. What would Jess do? Definitely not wait till break by which time it’ll be too late to find him.
I put up my hand. ‘Please, Miss. I’ve finished my work. I’m not feeling well. Can I go to the toilet?’
Miss Morrissey’s dark, curly mop of hair bobs up from the front of the classroom where she’s helping Leanne. ‘Yes, alright Cat.’ It’s clear she thinks it’s genuine since I’m the one who’s asking. She rummages around her desk and hands me a pass. ‘Would you like someone to go with you?’
‘No thanks, Miss. I’ll be OK.’
I sprint towards the sports block. No sign of life. All the lessons must be outside on the playing fields. I open the first door which leads to the girls’ changing rooms. Nothing. Except… the sound of rushing water is coming from next door. I dash back into the corridor then turn towards the boys’ changing rooms. I hang back before opening the door and taking some hesitant steps. ‘Hello. Anybody there?’
It isn’t the awful smell of sweaty PE kit that makes me stop in my tracks. It’s the column of water, shooting upwards out of the end toilet cubicle, hitting the ceiling with an impressive roar.
Suddenly, like a fancy fountain being switched off, the water stops spouting. But the heavy splash back to earth is followed by what sounds like a curse in a language I don’t recognise. The toilet door opens to reveal a waterlogged version of the boy I saw earlier.
I smother a giggle at his disgusted expression. All of this has to be real. I can’t be imagining such a strange scenario.
‘Are you OK?’ I manage to sound sympathetic rather than amused. The boy looks puzzled and taps what looks like an earpiece for an iPod or hearing aid. I spot a gadget nestling in the palm of his hand.
My curiosity overcomes my shyness. ‘What’s going on?’
The boy shakes himself, clearing away excess water like a dog emerging from a river. He taps the earpiece again. ‘Ah!’ Something that wasn’t working is back in action again. Now he looks like he feels more in command, though I’m not sure that’s true. His clothes drip into the growing puddle at his feet. Is that really a reindeer design on the front of his jumper?
‘Greetings! I am thanking you for your concert…er…concern. But I am satisfied. I mean satisfactory.’ He frowns. Language matters aren’t going as well as expected.
‘You’re new, aren’t you?’ I ask. ‘What’s your name? Where are you from? Not from round here. Poland? Sweden? Norway?’
The boy holds up his hands with his palms facing outwards, as if shielding himself from my questions. As he does so, I can see the gadget he used on the bin.
I stare and he stuffs his hands behind his back shaking his head.
‘Look, tell me later,’ I say. ‘Let’s go to Lost Property and get you a towel and some dry uniform.’ Though a freshen up first might be a healthy idea.
He hesitates. ‘It is unnecessary. I can dry here.’ He enters one of the toilet cubicles and pushes the door to. A faint red glow emerges from under the door and I feel warmth at foot-level. But a buzzing noise is followed by a sharp crack! and a strong firework smell.
I take a few steps nearer. ‘Are you alright?’
The door creaks open revealing his sheepish face. ‘Perhaps I do need your aid, thanking you.’
After he’s had a quick wash we head towards the Lost Property cupboard and minutes later, we’ve found a decent towel, and most of the required clothing. Now we dig around for better trousers as the best pair so far is hopelessly short in the legs and would make him look like Tintin.
Suddenly, in response to voices in the corridor outside, he shoots up, nearly hitting his head on a shelf. He covers my mouth with his hand.
I listen carefully but can’t make out what’s being said. It’s like people speaking with marbles in their mouths. An exotic language like Hungarian or Outer Mongolian or something. The sound of voices fades, now speaking in English together with a third person. A local. Someone I know very well. I nudge the cupboard door open carefully and glimpse Dad deep in conversation with two tall, blond-haired men dressed in ill-fitting black suits and brown shoes. As they disappear around the corner, I wheel round and face the boy again. He looks worried.
‘Have you got any relatives visiting? Maybe uncles who really need a clothes make-over?’
‘No.’ Judging by his puzzled look, he doesn’t get my weak joke.
‘Nevermind,’ I continue, ‘I’ll turn my back while you get yourself into dry clothes. Then we’ll talk.’
Soon we’re sitting relatively comfortably on piles of clothing. The smell in this place might not be the freshest, but at least it’s warm and dry. And away from prying eyes. I raise my eyebrows in a silent question.
‘I am in danger from those men,’ he says.
‘What? Those men who look like your uncles?’
‘No, no! They are not members of my family. They are my enemies on my …. in my place.’
I raise my eyebrows again, this time in surprise, then try to help him with his English translation. ‘You mean your country?’
The boy looks at me keenly. ‘Well…’ The word hangs in the air.
‘So where are you from?’
‘You would not know the place.’
‘Try me. My geography’s pretty good. I always get quizzes about capital cities right… well, nearly always.’
‘It is a long, long way away.’
‘But…’ I try a different angle. ‘So who are those men?’
‘They are critical… no!’ He tuts in frustration …‘Criminals.’
‘What! Why are they here?’
‘They want to kill me.’