May 7th, 2016 | Published in Dragon Wars
At the gate, Ophelia paused and looked in cautiously to see if Kate was around.
“She’s looking for someone she doesn’t want to run into,” Sera said. “Kate Brooks.”
“Oh, the girl Philip mentioned yesterday?”
“That’s the one, Rat.” Philip was standing nearby. “And she isn’t in today.” He frowned slightly. “She has an awful lot of time off, doesn’t she?”
“Couldn’t say,” Ophelia lied. “Too busy avoiding her to notice I guess.”
“Please don’t call me Rat, Philip,” Kira added. “You’ll have people thinking I’m a sneak.”
“But I’ve always called you Rat.” He grinned unrepentantly. “Because the first time I saw you, you looked like a bedraggled little white drowned rat. And then there’s your father of course… It still seems appropriate.”
â€œDad does not use me as a lab rat!â€ Kira said hotly.
Philip smirked at her. â€œWhatever you say, Rat.â€ His eyes narrowed and he noticed Lee approaching. “Oh hell! Johnson!”
“Morning, girls,” Lee said to them while resolutely ignoring the other prefect. “Why are you loitering? Looking for your nemesis, Ophelia?”
“She’s off, according to Philip,” Kira said.
“Really?” He frowned sharply. “I wonder why?” He looked over at Kira. “Anyway, let me take you to a show tonight?”
Kira gave him a long look. “No thank you, Lee.”
“Oh come on…”
“Leave her alone, Johnson.” Philip interrupted in a cold tone. “She said no.” He turned back to the girls as the bell rang. “And you’d better get to registration.”
No one was really surprised when Mr Dooley informed them that the headmaster had taken some time off. After yesterday’s performance, Ophelia suspected that it wasn’t really his choice â€“ he’d probably been forced to take a break.
With that brief exception, the school day passed without incident. Home time came and after bidding Kira goodbye â€“ properly this time â€“ they got into Aunt Sophie’s car for the journey home.
“Hey, Cass.” Aunt Sophie came to the door with Ophelia. “Would you mind if Ophelia stays at ours tonight? They’ve had a tough history homework dropped on them. Besides, I want to make up for you having to have Seraphina over at such short notice.” She smiled at Cass, who looked tired but smiled back. Ophelia just hoped that she and Sera would be such good friends when they were that age. Her mother said that they had been best friends even before Cass’s parents adopted Aunt Sophie.
“It was no trouble, Soph. I’m just glad that Mike’s okay.” She chewed her lip and looked down. “But it’d be nice to have an evening in with just John and me. Of course Ophelia can stay at yours. As long as I know where she is I won’t worry.” She smiled at Ophelia. “Go and get your stuff then.”
“Okay, Mum!” Ophelia ran upstairs and packed her overnight bag. She’d started back down when she realised they were discussing the mess in the park. Both were appalled by the ‘vandalism’ but she got the sense that the conversation was floating around to her. They’d stop if they saw her so she stood still and kept quiet.
“You’re being silly, Cass.” Aunt Sophie was leaning against the door frame. “The park is lovely and no one is going to close it because you’re paranoid. This doesn’t make it dangerous.” She cocked her head her sister. “I’d be more worried about Skiller Street myself.”
“Well I wouldn’t let Ophelia go there either,” Cass replied. “But the park creeps me out… you know why.” She shuddered briefly.
“I do, but you can’t wrap her up in cotton wool any more. If you push it too far she’ll rebel. She’s a remarkably good kid, considering how much you smother her.”
“She’s a child. I just want to keep her safe. Don’t you want to keep Sera safe?”
“Of course I do, but safe’s relative. Life isn’t risk free,” Aunt Sophie sighed. “And they aren’t really children any more. They’re at the awkward age. There comes a point where you have to strike a balance or they’ll never cope as adults.”
“I know. I just don’t want her to make my mistakes all over again…”
Aunt Sophie laughed and shook her head. “Don’t worry. I’m sure she’s too busy making her own mistakes. She has more sense than you did as well.” She glanced up the stairs and winked at Ophelia. “By the way we have an audience.”
Cass whirled around and stared up at her. “How long have you been there? You weren’t supposed to hear that!”
“I gathered that,” Ophelia said. “What mistake was so bad it still upsets you?”
“Nothing!” she snapped. “Have a good time.” She hugged Ophelia rather perfunctorily compared to usual and headed to the kitchen. Ophelia frowned after her.
“Is mum okay? Perhaps I shouldn’t come over after all…”
Aunt Sophie shook her head. “Staying wouldn’t help, dear. You’d probably make things worse. She’ll be okay in a bit and pretend it never happened.”
“Hmm…” Ophelia’s frown deepened and she followed her mother into the kitchen. Cass was sitting at the table with her head in her hands. “Mum? I’m sorry I didn’t mean to upset you. I was just curious.”
“I know.” Her mother looked up and smiled wanly. “It’s not your fault. I’m just chasing memories I’d rather forget.”
“They must be bad then. I can stay if you want some company.”
“No, no…” she made a shooing gesture. “Don’t worry, I’ll be okay. You shouldn’t keep Soph waiting.”
“Are you sure?”
“I’m sure! Enjoy yourself.”
Ophelia gave her mother another hug and headed for the front door.