“I’m not down to go anywhere,” replied Ceridwen dispassionately, as she shook the remaining crumbs out from the plastic boxes that had held their lunch. “Dad wrote and said they might wander this way for half-term, so I told Trev I’d stay and hostess the visitors if she wanted.” Liddy’s face fell, and Carey felt a sinking sensation of disappointment, though she didn’t allow it show.
“Oh, Kerry! Come off it, your dad’s hopeless at actually turning up! You know what he’s like – he’ll probably turn up next week and expect to whisk you off for days, and then get mardy when Trev tells him to forget it. Go and ask her if you can come to the Platz with the rest of us, and then we can help Carey find the girl in the photo.”
“Sounds like the title of a film,” said Ceridwen with a grin. “I want to, of course, but I did promise Trev I’d help, and you know she likes to have an intermittent Prefect hanging about to be useful – everyone else is off to the Platz, or home.”
“But there’ll be loads of other Seniors,” objected Liddy, with some truth. “You know people like to stay during summer half-term – it’s so much nicer here than on the Platz. I know Aimee and Hilda and Sabine and that lot are staying, which is most of Lower VIb and if they can’t sort people out, then it’s a bit crap!”
“OK, don’t get on your high horse! I’ll ask Trev – it *would* be fun,” said Ceridwen, glancing at the photograph of the girl in Carey’s hand. “I wonder why someone sent them to you?” Carey shrugged.
“I don’t know.”
“Maybe it’s long-lost family,” suggested Liddy, helping Ceridwen tidy up. She didn’t see Carey’s flushed expression, and though Ceridwen did, she said nothing.
“I don’t think so,” said Carey carefully. “I know who my parents were and everything; there isn’t any mystery.”
“Well, this is pretty mysterious,” said Ceridwen briefly. “And we haven’t got anything like enough time to walk to Tiernkirche and back, Liddy. I want Trev in a sweet mood if she’s going to let me off hostessing, and you know how she is when people come back late.”
“Today’s litigious society – I don’t know!” And Liddy tut-tutted, to Carey’s amusement.
“Do parents really sue the school?” she asked curiously as they headed back towards Briesau.
“All the time,” said Ceridwen.
“Not *all* the time,” interrupted Liddy consideringly. “Just occasionally. One of the girls in the Lower Fifth broke her leg skiing last winter, and her parents tried to sue, only it didn’t get anywhere, because everyone has to sign disclaimers and waivers and all that, just so the school isn’t liable. And that pain, Sasha whatshername, last spring, who had a complete spaz about something and her parents shouted to high heaven about how crap the school had been, only then it went dead quiet and they took her away…”
“Praise the Lord,” said Ceridwen piously. “She was a right nuisance, and flat refused to speak anything but Italian, which was completely pointless, and only pissed off the mistresses – and everyone else, for that matter. That’s what the suit was over – the languages thing. They said it was discrimination, only Trev sorted them out in pretty short order, I think. Idiots.”
Carey promptly fell over, not so much in reaction to the conversation but because she’d fallen over a rock. These things happen. Ceridwen held out a hand. Carey looked at it, and realised, a propos of very little indeed, that other than shaking Miss Trevor’s hand the previous day, she hadn’t really touched anyone in… years. She worked in an office, a bland impersonal environment which hardly lent itself to personal interaction. She had no real friends or family, just Mrs Howard, and she didn’t count for this sort of thing. Looking at the competent, tanned hand held out to her, Carey wondered what it was like for people who could expect that sort of thing, and could take it, without even thinking. Slowly, she reached out her own hand, then paused, but it was enough, and Ceridwen, bent down, caught hold of the pale fingers, and hauled. Once Carey was on her feet, the younger girl didn’t let go straightaway, but held on for one-two paces, so their arms were outstretched between them and Carey was propelled behind her, before dropping her hand with a smile.
They chatted about the school, and the weather, and inconsequential things all the way back round the lake, but Carey couldn’t get rid of the feel of Ceridwen’s hand around hers. She wasn’t sure she wanted to.