Emily arrived the next day to pouring rain, and did not make any comment about the décor. Today I was dressed much more for the occasion: pink skinnies and my favourite winter sweater: crimson with veins of sky blue.
My cousin was a curious character; my mother’s sister’s daughter, she shared our honey-golden hair but it was much longer and nearly always plaited, as it was on this occasion. She left school at sixteen (with GCSE passes in Home Economics, Textiles, Drama and English), to start her own hairdressing business, which, after two years had turned out quite successful.
After commenting on the weather, Emily settled down into a living room armchair and chatted away at my mother. About her hair, about jobs, about my brother, and why wasn’t I in school today?
Emily’s voice sparkled with excitement and even when she wasn’t speaking she left quite an impression on the room, listening with cocked head and eagerly awaiting her turn.
My mother, in comparison, was plain and simple with temperate tastes: her favourite fresh-cooked dish being lemon and rosemary roasted chicken which she cooked superbly…but then she stuck to microwaveable meals elsewhere. A woman in her early 40s, with grey eyes and even greyer shades in her wardrobe, she loved nothing more than sitting on our tan leather sofa with a good book, and not having to endure the endless chatter of crazy cousins.
When it got round to talking, my mother spoke slowly but sharply, pronouncing most words with great accuracy. The thing is, she wasn’t great in saying the whole truth. When the conversation about the school shutting swung her way, she simply said, “The school shut for a couple of months. There was a death,” and frankly, she now sounded bored with repeating herself to everybody.
But, of course, Emily wasn’t satisfied. She wanted more than that short response…
“A death! No way! Tell me more!” She exclaimed, to which my mother glanced at me to indicate that I should continue.
That was how half the Tuesday was spent. By lunchtime it seemed that Emily had exhausted all of her topics, but no, she always had something else to say. It was, at least, good to have some distraction from Josh Craig’s death; Carrie still hadn’t called.
One of the best things about my cousin was that she liked food almost as much as she liked talking. Lunch that Tuesday consisted of a selection of sandwiches with plain spreads like raspberry jam or peanut butter (the latter having more or less a full jar as it was only my brother who liked the taste and texture of it). Next were some slices of Victoria Sponge cake, and, by that time, after three jam sandwiches and a slice, I was full, but Emily just carried on. When she had eaten her fill we proceeded into the conservatory and Emily’s new talk about her best friend began.
“She said that she was going to dye her hair ginger, to which I said ‘don’t dye it ginger-it doesn’t suit you.’ But I think she’s going to anyway- you know how stubborn Beth gets.”
We didn’t, but it was best just to nod when she stopped for breath.
“And you know she’s doing so well in her career at the moment.” (A businesswoman apparently). “Half a year ago she said she wouldn’t give it up for anything and then she meets this man.” A bit of a disapproving glare from Emily then, as she paused to sip her Diet Coke.
“He’s the kind of man who’s bad from day one,” she continued, “I suppose you get women who are like that, but…I don’t know, really…” I knew what she meant even if she only implied it. And who was there to offend if she did go ahead and say it? My mind sprang back to Carrie, sprang back to the whole weekend’s agony; policeman and pictures, best friends and enemies, and the little thing that kept evading my thoughts…
I was brought back to the present by Emily’s voice, livelier this time:
“And then she found out this month she’s expecting a baby. With that guy! And what’s her Catholic parents gonna say? Some women really don’t know how to pick their men, especially younger ones…”
But then I stopped listening. Really stopped. Because in my brain the words connected to make sentences, the sentences connected with pictures, the pictures turned into distant memories intertwined with sorrowful music, and everything made sense.
I practically jumped out of my seat, which made Emily shut up, and left a foreign silence around the house.
“Aggie?” My mother said, slowly and articulately.
“I’m busy. I’ve just realized something I need to do…”
So, with that I grabbed my mobile, left discarded on the kitchen table, punched in the number and almost screamed down the line, “Caroline, Caroline?!”
A male voice answered instead of Carrie’s cool charm, a voice I had hoped I would not hear again.
“Who is this? Why are you trying to contact Caroline Anne Peterson?”
Instantly I hung up, and grabbed my coat from the back of the sofa.
“Mum, can you drive me to the middle of Oxford?”
Then I grabbed my moccasins and, without waiting for an answer from the astonished pair in the conservatory, flung open the front door.
“Agnetha? Agnetha Hermione King?” (Believe me: you would not like to have my name). “What on Earth are you doing? Where are you going?”
“East Oxford,” I replied, quite cheerfully, although my voice was cracked with urgency, “I would walk, but I need something faster!”
Looking back I could see my mother casting a helpless glance at Emily who was beaming with excitement. Within the next minute they were both in the car. I only hoped we could get there in time to hear what Detective Leonard had to say…