"Oh, I wish you were here!"
There was a pause and I swayed a little, trying to get a better view of her through the narrow slit between the door and the doorframe.
"You're so wise and good. And so sweet. I don't know what I'd do without you."
A frown creased my brow and I drew my thick shaggy eyebrows together. Unless they had grown into a monobrow. I hadn't looked at myself in the mirror lately.
"Yes, I'll tell him that. He was so kind to bring me here." She sighed.
Who the hell was she talking to? It was obvious that she wasn't talking to me, or to her parents. Was she talking to herself? But why was she complimenting herself, not that she wasn't good and wise and sweet or anything.
"That's the thing. There's something a bit odd about him and this knifing business. The would-be murderer had a blue cloak. I don't know why that's significant. But it is significant."
She was talking about me! A surge of anger surged in my chest and I felt an explosive burp coming on.
"You know his sister?"
I shifted uneasily. I wanted to hear, but I couldn't stand here like this forever.
"Yes, I'll tell him that too. No, hopefully he won't ask questions. I've given him your message once before. He looked confused, but didn't say anything. He's preoccuppied with Vere."
I felt a strange feeling in the well of my stomach and this time the burp had turned into puke. A scene came back to me from week and weeks and months ago. Deanna Macpherson, telling me that her sister wished me strength and good will. Besides that, how did she know the name of my sister? Had I told her? It had slipped my memory.
I felt insulted and complimented at the same time. Although gratified that someone remembered the name of my beloved sister, I felt it only correct that everyone should. After all, Vere's name was in my mind every day and every hour. Solipsism had been my motto for the past five and a half years. How was I supposed to be gratified? And also, at the same time, I felt intruded upon. Vere's name and her memory was mine and mine only to hog and brood upon. How dare some comparative stranger talk of her in such a casual manner?
But Deanna's voice was not casual. It was serious.
"I wish I could bring Vere back to Den! He does miss her so. I don't think anything can ever make up for it, Aileen!"
As she said this I felt first an odd tenerity for the girl who held this fervent wish for an ugly and disliked boy. And then I felt the blood fall from my head, and I felt faint.
Falling against the door in my anguish, I pushed it open and staggered over to where Vere sat by the window, her leg stretched out. I dropped heavily on the floor and my eyes darted about the room.
As if in a dream the front door slammed and men's voices drifted up from the hallway.
The ghost of the hilltop had revisited. Aileen Macpherson, Deanna's sister. Deanna's sister, Aileen, who liked cooking and knitting, and who had died five and a half times three hundred and sixty-five years ago in November, in a pale-coloured nightdress.
In the background I heard hard footsteps on the stairs, coming up slowly, purposefully.
But Aileen had not been murdered. Deanna could see her ghost. I could see her ghost.
"Den, slow down!" cried Deanna, her voice wreathed in pain, and I realised that firstly I had been speaking out loud, and secondly I was sitting on her bad leg, where I had fallen in my faintness.
And then the door creaked wide open, and three people peered inside.
My father, shock written all over his face. My mother, her eyes showing disgust, although any emotion to be shown clearly by such mad eyes was completely unheard of. And, finally, a man in a suit who I had never seen before. And he betrayed perhaps the worst feeling of all: fascination.