"Emerald Motor! Finally I find you!"
I glanced up from a very intimate girly gossip with Sue and Bethany, and instantly felt my cheeks burst into flame.
"Will!" I hissed, straightening myself. "You're not meant to be here in East! And especially not that this sort of hour!"
"I'm not technically in East," he grinned - Will Butten Holder, the sparkle in my eyes.
I smiled back, and hauled myself to my feet with as much springiness as I could muster. I was tired with the day's strenuous travelling, and wearied with the excitement of reuniting with my friends - but he wasn't going to know that if I could help it.
He beckoned, and shuffled back so that I could not see him through the window glass. The window was very near to where our circle congregated, luckily, so not many noticed that a boy was trespassing on the girls' side of the courtyard at a quarter to nine in the evening - a grave insult to take such a bold liberty.
I didn't mind. Slipping through the window, again with as much grace as I was able to feign, I joined him, and he led me along the wall to the South-East Tunnel. The senior girls' common room was situated on the ground floor of East Tower. The four towers were interlinked by solid blocks of classrooms, with the great hall in North-West across the courtyard. And in the centre of each block was a short narrow tunnel leading out into the grounds.
"Echo," cooed Will as he steered me down the tunnel, and his voice grew round and long and smooth. I giggled, and the tunnel turned my frivolous gesture into a chorus of fairy laughter vibrating infectiously.
At the other end of the tunnel, the soft grey stone framed a backdrop of peach and gold - the mellow colours of the sunset as the great orange world drops into the yawning ocean, a prayer to the waning summer, a memory of beauteous childhood, where innocence prevailed and all was good and love and truth, before it became ugly and painful and sad - and lonesome for the complete family once so dear and true - that is what I miss so about my childhood.
Kate does not remember what it was to have a family. Once, there was Mother and Father and I and Baby Kate, and we were compact, inseparable, supportive of one another. Then Mother grew ill. Her rosy cheeks paled and her crimson lifeblood drained, and her slender fingers grew thin and bony like the flaky skeleton of a leaf. Once we had hope; now we are all separated, and that I can scarcely bear. I love Aunt Janetta dearly, but she is not Mother. She is just Auntie, and she can never be more.
That is why I love BCR so. I don't know what I'd do without all my friends here at the Institute. They are my family - and soon I will be gone and left, grown up, pushed out into the world. The world is a cruel and harsh place, where there is no brave Susan Hind or kind Tanya Merrien. There is just me.
And perhaps there is Will Butten Holder. As I step over the threshold of the South-East Tunnel, into the frame of the picture, the sunset washes over me like a golden tide, its gentle insistency winning me over to its purpose - the innocence I crave is back, and someone who is very dear to me is close beside, his warmth reminding me of the loving glow of the father I once knew and adored so.
I tilted my head to see that person who stood beside me - slightly behind, protecting, supporting - and, just above, there was the gallant face of Will Butten Holder. He was not handsome, was Will - but he was so mind-bendingly valiant, somehow - so gentlemanly - how it made my heart ache!
"Enchanting, isn't it?" The silky murmur slipped from his lips - oh, winsome Will! For a moment, I thought he was leaning in, but I must've been mistaken. The light was dazzling me, making me dizzy, I'm sure, for he looked away, deep into the dying sun, and I felt a quick wave of disappointment in my tide as the golden light of life dulled, and darkness descended.
As reality returned with its sour pain, I remembered Kate. I promised to see her before she went to bed, and she would surely be getting ready by now, at least. A simple excuse frothing up, I said something or other, and left my Will to the sunset, and stepped back onto the flagstones inside the South-East Tunnel. Stepping out from the frame, away from the deadly illusion - it only served to warp my senses and meddle with my emotions.
The twisted beauty of the world. How a simple sunset is spoiled in my mind forever - I watched every sunset over that summer, once long ago, with Kate; that was the summer before Mother got ill and it all went wrong. Such powerful links between such things that would, and should, be unconnected - embedded forever, unsettling assertions and grieving loves. What things, great and horrible, can a memory do to spoil the wonder and love of the world for so young and chaste a soul!