It took a while to come, and since I had already lapsed into daydreams I didn’t notice the transition to actual dreams.
I was swimming through that dark water again, and it wasn’t as though it was too dark to see it, it was like the water itself was actually black. This time, I knew what to expect. I stopped trying to swim and floated in the blackness instead, waiting for those hypnotic eyes to find me again.
I became aware that something else was near me. I turned and saw something pale gliding towards me as smoothly a shark. I didn’t flinch; instinct told me this was not my enemy. I waited and it finally reached me, underneath the surface. It broke the glassy pitch waters as cleanly as a knife, not leaving the merest ripple. It was a person, and I recognised the face. He stared over my shoulder, and when I turned to see what he was looking at, I saw a tinge of blue light on the horizon. I turned back to thank him, but he was gone without a trace. Gratefully I struck out for the gradually thickening strip of blue, filled with a happier sense of purpose.
Then my alarm clock trilled and I jolted awake with a shock. It was the snooze alarm, alerting me that it was half past seven and I had somehow managed to oversleep despite my early retirement last night. I swore to myself and reluctantly flung off the warm covers, tensing at the cold of my room as I hurriedly pulled on my uniform. I had to bolt down breakfast and dash for the second bus at eight o’clock.
By the time I got to school I had five minutes to spare. Relieved, I traipsed through the crowded hallways - it was drizzling outside, the uncomfortable kind that misted over your clothes, making them damp, and left condensation on your face and hair - and into the tutor room.
I joined Meena at the back table; she smiled tentatively as I scraped the plastic chair back and sat down. The classroom was relatively empty; there was a frantic girl with her nose in a revision guide and two boys childishly aiming crumpled paper balls at her back, but that was it. It was safe to talk.
“I forgot to ask you yesterday,” I kept my voice low, though I didn’t think we’d be overheard. “Why exactly are you protecting me?”
Meena didn’t think along the same lines as me.
“Not in here,” she said plaintively. “Wait till lunch, if you can.”
The bell rang, leaving our ears vibrating painfully. The door opened and students streamed in in a noisy rabble. Any chance of arguing was lost.
I waited with agonised impatience. When the bell rang again after German later that day, I leapt up straight away, shoving my books in my bag roughly, and gave Meena a meaningful look. She rolled her eyes and motioned for me to follow her.
Willow joined us as we went out of the door and crossed the tarmac expanse between the classrooms and sports buildings. Meena must have texted her during the day because she was returning a flip-up red phone to her pocket. I thought we were heading for the sports building, though I knew we had Physics next and not PE. There was a scrubby stretch of trees on a strip of wild grass bordering the fence along the left side. They headed for that and I followed dutifully.
Through the thin trees I spotted a gap between two bars of the high blue railings surrounding the school. They hadn’t been forced to bend apart; it looked like somebody had used a sharp tool to sever the middle bar at the top and bottom, leaving a gap big enough for us to squeeze through sideways. I could guess who.
On the other side was a small patch of overgrown wood like the one behind my house. Everything was dried out and brown, dead-looking, from the bare trees to the bracken and withering leaves coating the ground. I thought we looked very obvious amongst the trees in our blue uniforms and white shirts. Why come here if they didn’t want to be seen, when we could be so easily spotted?