I plodded downstairs in a daze of confused feelings and frantic euphoria. What had just happened?
It had only been a few minutes since the deputation had left my bedroom, but they were already seated in the living room, each with a mug of green tea. It's best to mention that I had not seen a teabag in our house in years, which meant that my parents had been expecting this interested man in a suit. Additionally, I had been under the impression that the sitting room door had scarcely been opened since the day Vere had been stabbed and left to bleed to her death of the boards. But now the saggy moth-eaten sofas were propped up by a mountain of foreign cushions and the mantlepiece had been clumsily dusted.
I glanced quickly at my dad, who appeared to be innocent-looking enough. I noted that his fingernails were clean and his hair neat. He had also shaved the best part of his beard, leaving a few stray spikes near his ears. Evidently he had been in a hurry when preparing for the visit of this queer-eyed visitor.
I, frankly, was terrified of him. I was not often terrified of anything except my own reflection, but I can't hide that I was actually anxious to remain at least ten paces from him. His eyes swept the room and saw everything. I could almost read his thoughts as he mentally listed it:
I winced with every item. He saw everything. Each note was a piece of a jigsaw puzzle to this man. This unfeeling, indiscreet man who cared nothing for my emotions. Cared nothing for what I had been through. Cared for nothing but the truth. He was investigating. He was either a detective or a solicitor or a social worker.
I hated him.
"Sit down," rasped Dad, and I dropped onto the less cushioned-up couch, feeling dizzy. "What have you to say for yourself?"
"What?" I grunted.
"I took you to town," said Dad, and I shivered uncontrollably. The sweat had long since chilled and the golden warmth I had felt a few minutes earlier had also evaporated with every step I took downstairs. "I took you to a street, and I took you to a house. I led you to a room, and to a man who tried to help you talk and unravel the weight of...what happened. And you ran away."
"And that man tried to kill me!" I corrected. "You saw the knife under his cloak, Dad. Don't you dare deny it!"
I felt the ripple of air as my mum's lip quivered, and she emitted a tiny whimper. My heart hardened. Time to make my parents face facts.
"Vere's dead!" I shouted, and my voice echoed off the hollow walls. "She's dead, dead, dead, and she's been dead for three time five hundred and sixty-five days and more and more and more. She's been dead since you locked yourselves in your studio and let the money dwindle to a bleak empty puddle. She's been dead since I've been hotting up baked beans and posting them through a cat flap so that you wouldn't starve. She's been dead since people started hating us and turning away from us. She's been dead since I lost my only friend. My only friend, my sister. Vere is dead."
I leaned back in exhaustion and exhaled hoarsely. Despite the reinforcements I was aware of the settee structure gradually giving under my weight. Emphasis made me tired. And I was painfully aware that it wasn't just my parents I was trying to reconcile to Vere being dead. It was me. I needed to be told. I needed to be told over and over again in blunt words, till they swirled round and round my head and hypnotised me into believing them.
"Vere is dead," I said again in a murmur, and my words sounded oddly empty.
I opened my eyes, and realised that the room was empty too. The room was dark and bluish in the twilight, and for a moment I panicked. That colour...
Had I been asleep? It had been daytime, noon, perhaps, when I had tiptoed upstairs to the tune of Deanna's conversation with the ghost of her sister Aileen. Seconds afterwards, I had been sitting on Deanna's leg with three faces leering at me from the doorway. Seconds afterwards, I had been... Had that really happened? And after that it had been a matter of just a few more seconds before I was in the lounge with the three faces, Deanna Macpherson having slipped out the window and home to her parents.
Had I fallen asleep? I didn't know. I was tired, very tired. All I knew was that Aileen Macpherson had died in a cliff accident. Her memory was preserved by a wooden cross atop a green green hill.
And a man in a grey suit knew every word of my heartache.