A shrill alarm noise woke me at quarter to eleven. Groaning I leant over and punched my alarm clock. Nothing happened. Frustrated, I opened my eyes and saw that the metallic phone on my bedside was vibrating and bleeping loudly. Cursing I quickly flicked it onto silent, praying that no one in the house had heard, and lifted my aching head and legs off the bed. I grabbed my thick, Lonsdale jumper and carefully opened my bedroom door, noticing that both my mother’s and brother’s bedroom lights were off, and padded down the stairs, the carpet muffling my heavy footsteps. At the door I stepped into my decidedly unfashionable purple moccasins. They were worn with grass and dirt stains but the most comfortable of all my shoes. I glanced, slightly regrettably, behind, in order to make sure nobody was going to be disturbed by me, and pushed down on the rough, metal door handle.
I was out. Into the cold night. Closing the door behind me, I looked up at the house, and, before I could change my mind, I turned and started on my walk into Oxford.
I met with Caroline at the dusty porch of her house, the freezing weather making our chilled breaths mist and our fingers burn like red-hot pokers.
“What do you want?” Caroline called, annoyed, I assumed, by being woken so early.
I answered anxiously, “I’m sorry, but since the news report I’ve been so desperate for answers…”
“I told you I don’t know anything more!” She replied coldly.
“Caroline…” I moved to take her hand, urgency spreading into my voice, “But the girl, the explosion…it wasn’t just a coincidence; you were just about to say something ‘important’ but we were interrupted. Please help me, Caroline. Please!”
She contemplated all that I had said for a moment, then realised how cold I was getting.
“Come on in.”
The dim kitchen light was warm and inviting after the endless velvet night sky. In it I could see that Caroline’s hair was different; she had washed out her blonde streaks, so was now just a plain dark brunette, as though in mourning for her ‘husband’. Caroline pushed a fresh cup of hot chocolate towards me.
“Drink. The caffeine will do you good. You look knackered.”
“Just tired…” I giggled and muttered, almost hysterically from lack of sleep.
Caroline reached to the open drawer behind herself, and pulled out a sachet of what looked like fine white powder. She raised her eyebrows at the packet.
“Is that…?” I started. Did I dare accuse this lady?
“Is that…?” But I couldn’t say it.
“Drugs?” Caroline finished for me. She looked straight at me and admitted, “Yeah,” before turning and chucking the little packet in the bin. Suddenly a newfound respect dawned in me for this woman.
“Don’t ever do drugs, kid.” She said solemnly.
There was a pause; this was probably good advice, but Caroline had a habit of leaving me speechless.
“Thanks,” I stressed the syllables a little too much, “Anyway…things ended a bit too quickly on the phone, I think.”
“Yeah, I’m guessing that’s why you are here so late at night…?”
Caroline was calmer now, her pupils normal and her expression less cat-like, and certainly more naturally human.
“Don’t ask!” I paused to regain my train of thought, then continued, “I came to talk. Did you know Joshua’s sister?”
Caroline turned to the same open drawer near the counter-top we were sitting by to take out a shiny leather book; a second later, I realised it was the album. She gently flicked to one of the last pages of this book. One, that in my swift looked through before, I had missed.
It was of two teenage couples: The first was of Joshua and Caroline; of smiles and un-matching fashions set against a common floral background like a scene from a play. Like a scene from Romeo and Juliet…
The next photo was of Mr. Andrew Smith and Elizabeth Craig, arms around each other and wearing ball dress. This scene reminded me of Cinderella and her Prince.
As I quizzically drew my eyes up level with Caroline’s again, she turned the page to reveal the two of them, herself and Elizabeth, giggling and jolly together, at what was, I supposed, the same ball. Young and carefree, they looked so peaceful, as though their spirits could never be crushed by the knowledge of what was to come.
Gazing, stunned, down at the picture, I suddenly saw a raindrop fall onto their happy faces. Caroline was crying.
“Miss Peterson, you have a lot more explaining to do…”