“Phelia! That was amazing!” Seraphina Ashbourne had somehow saved her a seat. Ophelia was grateful but suspected that she didn’t want to know how. Her light-brown-skinned cousin grinned at her, hazel eyes sparkling in a way that suggested that she knew exactly what she was thinking and patted the seat. “Sit down and tell me how you did that.”
“How I did what?” Ophelia asked blankly. â€œHow’s Mike?â€
The mention of her brother made Sera sober. â€œMum just texted. Mike’s still unconscious but he’s stable and doesn’t seem to be in any danger. I’ll tell you what happened in a bit, but first how did you throw Kate all that way.” Sera waved her hands to indicate a long distance but her voice was soft as if she didn’t want anyone hearing what she said. “You didn’t even touch her.â€
“Er?” Ophelia said.
“Yes, I had a great view! She was charging at you and then there was this flash of red light around you!” She made an explosive gesture. “Next thing, she was lying on the grass a long way from you. It was cool!” Her voice dropped further. “But for heaven’s sake, be careful or people might think you’re emerging…” She trailed off. “You don’t know what happened, do you?”
Ophelia frowned. â€œI know that she ended up on the grass somehow but I didn’t do anything.â€ She looked around – none of the other passengers were staring at her or flinching away from her and if what Sera had described had happened someone else would have noticed. “Are you yanking my chain?”
“No! That’s what I saw! But no one else seemed to – not even people looking in the same direction I was. It was odd… but probably lucky – you know what people would think.”
Ophelia stared at her cousin. She knew exactly what they’d think and she was sure that she wasn’t one of the people who’d started appearing since the Pulse a few weeks earlier â€“ people who manifested strange powers, usually explosively. Yet if Sera’s story was true, what other explanation was there? She certainly wasn’t one of the other group of empowered people who’d revealed themselves in the aftermath and were helping deal with the mess.
She opened her mouth to say it was impossible but the thought of her forgotten dream held her back. As the bus trundled towards the school, she stared out of the grimy windows. “Today is going to be a strange day,” she said. “I can feel it.”
As soon as she got into registration, Ophelia knew she was right. Even though they were already a few weeks into the first term and there were severe travel restrictions in place since the Pulse, there was a new girl sitting on the edge of the teacher’s desk. Mr Dooley, who’d been talking to the new student, looked up as the form piled in and sat down. Most of them were staring curiously at the unusual-looking newcomer.
“Ahem,” he said. “As you’ve noticed, we have a new student. Her family just moved here at short notice.”
“And the authorities let them?” One of the boys interrupted. “How the hell did they pull that one off?”
“Language, Ian!” Mr Dooley said. “Kira’s father works for the government. They were living in Birmingham but the authorities needed him here so an exception was made.”
“Birmingham!” Ian’s voice rose and he was obviously about to say something angry. Given that his family had been forbidden from visiting his dying grandmother just twenty miles away a couple of weeks back, it wasn’t surprising. Fortunately, Mr Dooley cut him off again.
“So, Kira.” He gestured to her to stand up â€“ as if the whole class wasn’t staring at the poor girl already. “Please introduce yourself.”
“Hi, guys!” Kira seemed unperturbed by being the centre of attention. “I’m Kira Layton.” There was a collective gasp from the class at her surname. Kira gave a half-smile. “Yes, my father is the Doctor Layton you’ve all been seeing on the news.”
“That explains why they let you move here!” One of the girls said.
Kira nodded. “Yeah, we moved here because â€“ as I’m sure you’ve noticed – there’s a small but significant difference in the number of emergences in this town compared to elsewhere. And of course no one died.” She smiled around the room. “I am pleased to meet you all.”
Ophelia risked a furtive glance around at her classmates while the new girl was speaking. In spite of the alarming reason her family was in Caredale, most of the guys and a couple of the girls were gawking at the new girl in a way Ophelia knew had nothing to do with her father’s job.
“She’s hot, Lee!” she heard Ian whisper to the boy next to him.
“Too hot for you to handle,” Lee said. “She’s mine!”
Ophelia guessed they were right because she wished she looked that good in her uniform â€“ Kira’s fit her like it was made for her. No one at their age should be able to pull off silver hair without looking like a freak, but Kira managed it somehow.
It was only chance that Ophelia was looking at Vivienne when an ugly expression flitted across the girl’s face. Ophelia winced; no one wanted to be on the receiving end of a look like that from Vivienne Bradley. She’d always be something of a queen bee but since the Pulse, she’d been playing on her mother’s reputation to virtually rule the place. A shame she wasn’t as nice as her mother.
“Find a seat, Kira,” Mr Dooley rifled in his desk for the register. Kira picked up her bag and headed up the aisle towards a spare desk. Ophelia’s neck began to prickle and she looked down in time to see Vivienne surreptitiously push her bag in front of the new girl with her foot. Kira got tangled in the handle and went sprawling to the floor.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Vivienne said. “I didn’t realise that my bag was in the way.”
Ophelia groaned. Not only was she not trying to sound sincere but her tone made it clear that she was declaring war on Kira. The news would travel fast and most of the kids would follow her lead because of Vivienne’s leverage with her mother. From the look on Mr Dooley’s face as he began to call the register, he knew it as well and was wishing that he knew how to stop it without offending the mayor.
Ophelia pulled out her her mobile phone and cautiously texted Sera about the situation. When she reached the first class of the day â€“ which they shared â€“ Sera gave her the thumbs up. So they invited Kira to join them at their table for lunch.