Chapter Eighteen

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Hannah quietly closed the back door behind her and leant against it; her bag fell off her shoulder and dropped onto the floor. The house itself was silent, but the birds that sat on the rooftops outside, called to each other, celebrating the warmth of the rising sun that was slowly starting to filter its way through the kitchen curtain. Their song was bright, hopeful, and content. Emotions that Hannah felt she would never feel again. Zeke had quickly bundled Hannah into a car and they had sped away just as sirens could be heard in the distance. Zeke had pulled the car up in a back street behind Hannah's house. Checking it was clear, he got out and opened her door.

"Hannah," Zeke had prompted. "You need to get out now and go home. They'll be round to check on you shortly. Do you have my card still?" he asked.

Hannah nodded once, her eyes rooted to the floor.

"I will be here for you whenever you need me. Never use a cell phone or home phone to call. Find a payphone, listen to the message, don't say a word, wait five seconds and hang up... I will then know you need to contact me and I will find a way as quickly as possible," he explained.

Hannah willed herself out of the car and they parted in silence. She entered the back yard taking care not to let the gate slam behind her. They would be knocking on the door soon, waking her parents up. Act now, think... feel later, she told herself. Once inside the house she removed her boots and crept stealthily up the stair with her bag. She opened her bedroom just enough to allow her to enter, flung her clothes and bag in the wardrobe and pulled on her old grey pyjamas. As she pulled up the blanket, she heard a banging at the front door.

Hannah pulled the blanket up higher over her head.

"Keep it down, we're coming," shouted her father from the landing. She heard his footsteps stomping down the stairs, the door opening and then a muffled conversation.

Knock, knock, knock.

The door opened. "Hannah wake up and come downstairs, honey." Her father walked towards the bed and shook her shoulder gently.

Hannah took a deep breath and pushed away the blanket.

"What is it Dad?" she asked, testing the quality of her voice.

"The guards are doing a curfew security sweep and they need to check each house. Won't take long."

These kinds of night time interruptions weren't all that rare. "Ok, I'll come down."

Her father left the room and Hannah sat up on the edge of the bed, her eyes drawn to the small picture frame on her bedside table. The frame was made of a dark, knotty wood. Inside the unglazed frame, was a yellowing picture Shane had drawn for her tenth birthday. The small sketch showed a boy and a girl flying a kite. The drawing wasn't very good, but Hannah had loved and treasured it. Shane had actually succeeded two years later making that kite. The hours they'd spent trying to fly it were some of the happiest times of her life.

"I don't know if I can do this, Shane?" she asked the drawing of the small boy wearing the bright red sweater.

"Hannah," her father called from downstairs.

She picked up the picture and kissed it gently. "I am so sorry," she whispered. She then she stood up on shaky legs, walked over to the door and slowly descended the stairs.

"Did all of the occupants of this house adhere to the curfew last night?" a male voice enquired. Hannah reached the kitchen and paused at the door. She adjusted her frame, lifting her shoulders and then walked into the room.

"You must be Hannah?" a man in a grey suit asked. "My name is Tom Scott. I work for the Council."

"Okay," she replied, determined to say as little as possible, afraid her voice would give her away.

"Hannah, have you been here all night?"

"Yes," she replied, forcing herself to give the man eye contact.

"Did anyone visit you in the last twelve hours?" The man's questions becoming more searching.

"No," her father replied. "She got in from work at her usual time, said goodbye to her boyfriend Shane at the door and then she went to bed feeling unwell".

"Sorry to hear you haven't been feeling well Hannah, anything serious?" he asked again.

"Just a cold, but I'm feeling much better this morning." The lie stung and she could feel her eyes beginning to water. She doubted she would ever feel better again.

"Hannah, I'm afraid I have some sad news to tell you." For the first time the man in the grey suit appeared less confident.

Oh god, it's coming. Hannah braced herself.

"Last night, Shane Dexter was mugged and shot dead, just a mile from here."

"What?" shouted Hannah's father, "surely this must be a mistake?"

"Sadly, this isn't a joke." Shanes parents have just formally identified his body."

The hard-shell Hannah had been trying to build around her, cracked. An unearthly cry came from her core and she broke down sobbing. Her mother rushed over and wrapped her in a tight hug as Hannah. Finally, she could grieve.

"Who could do such a terrible thing?" her father asked, visibly shaken. Trying to block her pain, Hannah focused, waiting for the man's response.

"Two homeless youths were shot dead at the scene. The guards were unfortunately just seconds too late."

Hannah had heard enough and couldn't tolerate any more of this man's lies.

"I have to be alone," she murmured and released herself from her crying mothers grasp. She had just made it to the door when the agent spoke again.

"Hannah, I'm sorry to put you through this, but I have to ask, do you know why Shane would be out near the woods after curfew"? Hannah froze as her brain tried to conjure up a suitable answer.

"Shane liked to camp out in the woods; he felt free there." This wasn't a lie, and it was something he did regularly. Shane had asked Hannah repeatedly to come with him, but she had always been too terrified to go, worrying about stupid things like insects crawling into her ears and things that could go bump in the night. She could almost laugh at that irony had it not hurt so much.

"Ok, thank you Hannah. May I say again, how sorry I am for your loss." He approached her and from his inside top pocket he took out a business card and passed it over.

"Here are my contact details. I have a few loose ends to tie up and would appreciate it greatly if you could attend a meeting at the Council's regional government office tomorrow morning at ten o'clock. I will send a car for you at nine-thirty."

Hannah knew exactly what that meeting was for. So tomorrow was the day then.

She couldn't bring herself to say another word to him, so she nodded just once. Just as her father was showing the Agent out of the house, Hannah's eyes moved across the table and fell upon the note she had written so few fated hours ago. The note was just where she'd left it; its contents unopened. She had to get that letter back before someone found out about her, about last night... The consequences of that were too dark to imagine.

Hannah reached for the note but her mother got there first and began reading it.

As her father closed the door, Hannah watched in horror as her mother's face moved through a dark range of emotions.

"That poor, poor boy, we must visit his parent...." Her father had entered the kitchen to find his wife crumpled up on the floor, holding the letter out to him. "What on earth is it?"

"Stop," Hannah mouthed and head her hands up, "they can hear us." She tugged at her right earlobe.

Her father rushed over to her mother and took the letter from her and began to read.

Hannah placed her finger over her lips.

"Outside," hemouthed back, the sadness in his eyes, replaced with white hot fury. Gently, he helped her mother to her feet and Hannahfollowed them into the yard to quietly confess her sins.

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