I scrambled into my uniform before the bell. Willow was changed very quickly.
“Where were you at dinner?” I asked, throwing caution to the winds. She didn’t hesitate as she pulled her bag onto her shoulder.
“Here. I’m on the school netball team,” she said smoothly as we walked out of the building into the cold grey afternoon.
“You like sports then?” I asked mildly as we rounded the corner and come to the front of the school.
“Are you going into town again?” Willow asked with an offhanded manner.
“Yeah, I was going to - again?” I stopped, cut off sharply. Willow had realised her mistake. She looked furious with herself, her eyes dark with a flash of anger that passed in a moment.
“… ah, Meena mentioned that she saw you.”
I could guess that this was just a portion of the truth, but I resumed walking anyway. Half of my mind was trying to tell the other that there was nothing to be suspicious about, but that half was shouting over it that something wasn’t right.
“You know her well enough to talk to her.”
“In passing,” she agreed as she strode to the bus stop and followed me to a seat on the bus that had just pulled over.
“I guess you’re coming with me.”
“You don’t mind, do you?” she gave me an appraising look.
I felt almost as if I was a stubborn child resisting a babysitter, which was ludicrous to apply to the situation. I slid down in the seat and stared out of the window, blocking out the sounds of chav music coming from the back of the bus.
Once in the city centre, I began to wander aimlessly again, forgetting that Willow was trailing behind me in an almost sullen silence until she said, ”Are you actually going somewhere?”
Sheepishly, I turned around and headed for the gallery which I located easily enough in the daylight. Willow didn’t comment on the furnishings, but followed me into the gift shop room where I found a blonde girl half asleep behind the counter, head resting on her hand and an elbow propped on the countertop.
Willow gave her a blank glance and said, “Hey, I’ll see you later. I have to go to the sports store… for a new racquet, you know.”
She exited swiftly and I turned back to observe the dozing employee.
Suddenly she gave a half-snore of a gasp and startled herself awake. She was about four years older than me, her choppily-cut hair so blonde it was almost white, with a pointed chin and translucent grey eyes which blinked in sleepy surprise.
“Oh - oh - er, sorry!”
She slipped her elbow off the counter and rubbed her face quickly with the sleeve of her black hooded jacket pulled up over her hand. The jacket was a little too big for her and hung open over a white t-shirt and stonewashed jeans. Although she was older in years, her appearance, facial expression and apparent mentality reminded me of a naïve little girl.
“I’m Amber,” she said in a quiet but clear soft voice. “I’m a little tired; and there wasn’t much going on… sorry…”
I couldn’t help but smile; the anxiousness was clear in her wide pale eyes. The smile must have been reassuring, because Amber stood up properly and straightened her overlarge jacket about herself.
“So….welcome to Alessia’s Art Gallery,” she said, spreading her small pale hands as though she was making a great declaration. She was wearing several rings, some sparkling crystal and others looking like coloured glass, and there was a living red rosebud tucked into her hair above one ear. Her evident oddity was intriguing.
“I’m Ruby,” I said. “My mother owns this place.”
Amber nodded fervently. “Yes, yes, you have the same face… slightly different eyes… I’m working at fortune-telling,” she added unexpectedly, “and I can recognise family links now. It‘s important, you know, when trying to contact spirits…”
“Er…great,” I said, slightly taken aback. At that moment, my mum came though a door to the left of the desk carrying a large cardboard box.
“Ruby! I see you’ve met Amber… here, Amber, it’s the new delivery, can you set it out over there?”
Obediently the girl lifted the box into her skinny arms and drifted away. Alessia watched her go then leaned on the desk.
“Nice girl, really, but a bit of a daydreamer, wouldn’t you say?” she smiled. There were faint freckles smattered across her nose just like mine. They looked strange with her brilliantly red bob. “She’s the daughter of a friend…I met her mother Melody through Chase, actually.”
She frowned slightly, talking about my father, and my mind jumped again to what he could possibly doing abroad right now.
I was distracted by the tinkling of glass; usually it being the case that I had caused such a noise through breaking something, I looked around. It was simply a wind chime which Amber was attaching to the ceiling, from on top of a stool.
“Can you help her, please, Ruby?” my mother asked. She had also looked around, sharing my uncanny ability to attack anything breakable in the immediate vicinity. “I have to go and get the rest…”
She disappeared through the door again and I walked over to where Amber stood, unpacking the contents of the box onto the shop shelves.
The wind chime she had just hung up caught my eye; the chimes were strings of multi-faceted crystals which reflected rainbows around the room. They danced over the walls like faeries flitting around the room.