Chapter Twenty Three

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“We’re off to the gym now, Soph. Got an extra Taekwondo lesson this morning,” Beth said, while I was checking I’d packed enough paint for my final assignment piece. “See you after class,” she shouted, play fighting with Justin as they opened the door and fell through it laughing.

The morning was dismal, with a nip in the slight breeze.

I wandered over to the church. Discarded, decaying flower heads mingled with soggy confetti on the damp pavement, the only remnants of a weekend’s happy occasion. In the side graveyard, I found a place where a cherry blossom tree overhung the adjacent garden wall, and unfolded my stool and easel at the side of Simone’s grave to start work.

Time passed. A blossom flew onto my canvas and stuck in the wet paint, interrupting my concentration and drawing attention to my almost numb fingers. Time to leave. I had enough to work with anyway.

On the pavement, Boatman John stood clinging to the church railings…staring straight at me.

A funeral cortège pulled up outside the gates, and I watched transfixed as a small, white coffin was pulled from the hearse and carried into the church. The only audible sound was the sobbing coming from a distraught Mrs Marshall, whose frail form had to be supported on the way to her daughter’s final farewell.

I passed by silently, managing to avoid Boatman John, whose eyes I could feel boring into my back, as I wondered how much of the child was actually contained in that wooden box. Still trying to wipe the gruesome vision from my mind, I hurried along the road to uni.

“Thank you, Sophie,” Mr Arkwright said, later that day. “They’re all in here are they? May I take a look?” I nodded as the professor lifted the cover of my portfolio and flicked through the assortment of canvases, satisfied I’d managed to complete the graveyard scene in the relative warmth of the cafeteria and slot it in, at the last minute. “Yes, yes, very good. I particularly like the contrast of the russet-red fox poking its nose in the grey bins. Should do well with that one.” He smiled and added my portfolio to the growing pile. “Settle down now people. Today we will be discussing…”

Mr Arkwright’s voice blended into the background, as I sat down and let my mind go off on one of its wanderings. Quite how I would be able to write a three-thousand-word essay on a subject that I was paying absolutely no attention to, I had no idea.

On my way home, I passed by the gym where Triplasian practice was obviously popular. A group of fencers stood in the far corner discussing tactics as they waited for their turn on the mat, and closer to me, the more energetic Bo Staff fighters gave an impressive display of prowess, until one boy failed to move quickly enough and the staff landed unceremoniously between his legs.

I couldn’t see Connor. Perhaps he’d decided not to compete. Of course, the tournament would be something else Sebastian would miss if he didn’t come home. I wished he would come home.

Reaching the front entrance, I glanced over to the reception desk. “See you tomorrow, Sophie.” Marie waved.

I waved back. “Yeah, see ya.”

At the bottom of the steps, Lara was sliding into the passenger seat of a black Porsche convertible, ably assisted by…Tyron. Damn. He saw me, flashed his pearly whites, and doffed an invisible cap, an action which made Lara turn to discover his audience. She scowled at me as they sped off.

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