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This Strange Course

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The trouble with this house is that there’s too much of it. It’s all arches and windows, built for more people and bigger parties, and they feel small against it.

Beatrice does her best. She never gets to be here for this usually, right in the middle of the school year, and so she wakes Hero up with singing and doesn’t stop until her cousin begs for relief. Leo makes it back in time for the aunts’ appearance from Siem Reap, clouded in rain and static. More singing, and swapping of stories, and complaints about international air mail.

Bit by bit they fill up the house. There are things to get ready, to chop and cook and clean, and they turn the music up louder. It’s the same old playlist they’ve been bouncing back and forth for years, adding as they go but never removing, so that by late afternoon they’ve gone through all the hits of the intermediate school disco and Leo banishes them upstairs.

Even though Beatrice stretches out the process of getting ready, tries to give Hero all the dressing up fun she could want, she’s still done well before Meg turns up. Hero has barely started, flitting around the room as though she hasn’t been planning this for weeks. Meg sits her down, twists her hair into plaits with nimble fingers, as Beatrice presents shoes and jewellery and makeup for approval. The bell rings again.

Noise rises as the night goes on, bodies warm. Beatrice takes pictures, as many as she can, and chases Hero from the kitchen each time she tries to help. It’s your party , she says. You’re sixteen! People float and muster, conversations tumbling from room to room until they’re rounded back together. Music is lowered, candles are lit. A circle forms and the house has stopped feeling too big now that they’re all there with Hero spinning in the middle. Someone threatens to sing again, they all clap. Speech, speech. 

Beatrice doesn’t realise at first, not until it’s too late. Voices climb, not just his but all, and there’s a crack behind her as the circle breaks. Hero springs, is thrown back by her own wrists. There are bodies moving, which ones she hardly knows because her eyes are set on the girl in the centre of the room. When she finally reaches her there’s a gasp that makes her stomach twist and they stagger together, Beatrice trying to walk for both of them, until finally they sink. The house is quiet again, cold floor, high walls, and they are so very small.

 

Marry, this well carried shall on her behalf

Change slander to remorse; that is some good:

But not for that dream I on this strange course,

But on this travail look for greater birth.

Chapter Text

Beatrice loses the fight to stay at home with Hero. 

She's not convinced that Leo really would call her parents, but it’s an argument she doesn’t have time for because Hero’s barely left her bedroom since Saturday night. Beatrice can hear her shifting and wheezing through the wall that divides them, and in years gone by that would have been her cue to go and wake the aunts, to tell them that Hero can’t breathe again. Now the aunts are gone and it’s Beatrice who creeps into Hero’s room and curls up at the foot of the bed, watching.

“I just feel,” Hero had gasped, after a bout of this, “like I can’t make it stop."

“I know,” said Beatrice, reaching out to push tangled hair back from her face. “I’m sorry.”

She isn’t sure what she’s sorry for, really, except everything. She can’t fix Hero’s lungs any more than she can go back and stop Claudio. It was all she could do to talk her down on Saturday night, to rub her back and wipe away the trails of her mascara. To ignore the whispers from the onlookers as she babbled nonsense to Hero and waited for her gasps to soften, her heartbeat to slow. To be thankful when Leo came back and sent them away, when he cleaned up as the girls stumbled to bed.

“She can’t go to school tomorrow,” she’d told Leo, as they picked at their stir fry the previous evening.

Leo just nodded and pushed his bowl away. "Yeah. I know."

Dickface

Sun 17 Aug 15:12 PM
how's hero?

So Beatrice is alone on the walk to school. It’s not yet spring and the mornings are still cold, mist sunk low over Messina as she trudges down the hill

It's another Monday morning, however badly her own world has been shaken, and so the bell rings and she goes to form and the bell rings again and she goes to Physics. And because it's another Monday morning there's Benedick at the top of the stairs. He’d messaged her yesterday but she didn't respond. There isn’t space for him in her head.

Ben looks as though he might be about to speak, but Ms Brahe is clapping her hands and so Beatrice breaks his gaze, turns inside. The air in the classroom is stale, full of wet coats and deodorant. She drops down at the desk wondering how long one day can possibly last.

It certainly feels like forever. She moves between classrooms with no idea of what she heard there, her mind full of Hero. There’s a problem to be figured out but no rules for how to do it: she has an outcome with no variables, an event without causality. Given that this has happened, what is the probability that it could? And even if Beatrice can do the maths, can diagram the conditions, there’s no confidence that she’ll be able to produce a solution.

The obvious explanation is that Claudio was drunk. Drunk and jealous and making something out of nothing, just like at Pedro’s party. A replicated result. But there are problems with the hypothesis, because they hadn’t been drinking that much. Leo was keeping count. And Pedro is one variable but Robbie - Hero can’t stand Robbie. She’s nicer to him than Beatrice is, because she’s unnaturally nice in general, but she’d still been relieved when he and Meg broke up. That in itself could be misinterpreted, if you were really trying, but why? Hero was the last person in the world to do that, to Claudio or to Meg.

Not that Meg had stuck around to hear that on the night. She must have gone after the boys when Leo did, or not long afterwards, because Beatrice never saw her again. She didn’t see most people again; by the time that Leo came home and cleared the house there were only a few left. Just Ursula and Balthazar and Benedick clustered awkwardly in the living room as Beatrice tried to coax Hero to stop crying, to exhale.

It wasn’t how the night was supposed to end. Remembering the look on Hero’s face that afternoon, the light in her eyes and that stupid grin – Beatrice had made fun of her for it, but that hadn’t stopped her – is more maddening than anything else. There ought to be rules. Nobody with the power to make her cousin that happy has the right to take it away like that. And now Hero’s on her own again, in her room, upset and very possibly not breathing.

The clock on the wall ticks lazily and Beatrice swallows down.

Dickface

Mon 18 Aug 17:06 PM
how're you?

The week doesn’t improve from there. Beatrice is running late on Tuesday morning, with not enough sleep and no Hero to nag her. She has to run all the way from the road to reach History in time, almost tripping over Ben’s stupid legs as she falls into her chair.

Tony twists around from the front row, looks her up and down. “All good?”

Beatrice’s head is pounding and she rests it against the cool table. “Late,” she gasps.

“I didn’t mean -” but his voice is drowned out as the last of the class trails in, taking their seats and complaining about the reading. Beatrice feels the chair beside her being moved and knows that Pedro is there.

“Hi.”

She hasn’t seen him since Saturday night, since she sent him after Claudio. Neither of them came back, and she’s heard nothing since. Last time it had been Pedro who worked out the confusion, who dragged Claudio over to their house to sort it out. That part has changed somehow, and she doesn’t know why or when.

When she sits up and opens her eyes he’s watching her, frowning ever so slightly. Tony’s eyes flicker between them. There should be something to say, something clever, but there isn’t.

“Hi.”

Apparently that’s what he was waiting for, because he sits down and starts to unpack his bag. Mr Hollingshead has them well trained: everyone knows they have ten minutes to pool notes and come up with something intelligent to say about the sacking of Kororāreka. And unlike Beatrice, Pedro clearly had nothing to distract him from his homework. He looks at the other two and their closed notebooks.

“Did you do any of it?”

Tony shrugs, and Pedro rolls his eyes. Beatrice can feel the blood rising in her cheeks again.

“No, I didn’t,” she hisses. “I was a bit busy trying to keep Hero alive, thank you very much.”

He looks surprised. “Why, what happened to her?”

“She couldn’t breathe, Pedro! Which you’d know if you’d bothered to ask. What do you expect, with Claudio going off at her like that?”

“Right. Well, I guess she feels bad.”

“You don’t actually think she cheated on Claudio, do you?” She remembers now: it’s the truth, okay?

Pedro clicks his tongue and pushes his shoulders back, the way he does when he’s fed up. “I know you think she’s perfect and everything, but what she did was messed up. It’s him you should feel sorry for.”

“Well, I don’t! He should know – like you should know – Hero would never do that! I can’t believe you’re actually taking his side on this.”

Out of the corner of her eye Beatrice can see Tony shuffling his chair away from them.

“You don’t have to take her side just because she’s your cousin. You could just admit you’re wrong; it’d do you some good.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“An excellent question.” The long tweed legs of Mr Hollingshead appear. “Perhaps you’d like to explain this particular academic debate to us all?”

Mr Hollingshead, who was hard going at the best of times, seems to have even less patience than usual this morning. When Pedro doesn’t provide a justification and Beatrice fails to produce any notes on the reading he ejects them both from the classroom. If Beatrice had been annoyed at Pedro for not coming back, for not sorting things out, then now she’s downright furious. She pulls her bag onto her shoulder and turns down the corridor.

“Where are you going? We’re supposed to stay here.”

He’s slumped against the wall looking mutinous. This is probably the first time he’s ever been in trouble, which is why his hands are twisting through his hair and he’s scowling as though he has any right. Beatrice returns her best glare, the one even Leo doesn’t argue with, and leaves.

The library is empty this early in the morning. It’s a far cry from its cousin at St Miranda’s, plastic and coffee rather than wood and mildew. Beatrice prefers it. Back there the librarian, who regarded students as unwelcome intruders in her kingdom, would have had a thousand questions for any student appearing midway through the first period. At Messina, though, no eyebrows are raised.

It’s as good a place as any for her to try and collect her thoughts. Even after Pedro shouted at her, them, on Saturday night, it hadn’t occurred to her that he would believe Claudio’s story. It was so patently ridiculous, and he’s known Hero for as long as he’s known Beatrice. Not as well, maybe. And if he’s going to stick to this then it doesn’t bode well: people follow Pedro, they always have. What if they decide that this is Hero’s fault too?

Not going there , she tells herself sternly, and opens her textbook.

Dickface

Tue 19 Aug 11:10 AM
hey, where are you?

The library is her refuge for that day, and the next. Usually she has a video to edit during Wednesday form time, but not this week. Exams are still far enough away that the place is quiet, with nobody to pester her. If she concentrates hard enough she can stave off the fears that are brewing in the back of her mind, drown them out with bullet points and diagrams. Balthazar comes to sit opposite her for most of their free period but is blissfully silent, scratching away at his own work.

It must be Balthazar who tells Ursula where to find her, though, because she turns up at interval and heads straight for Beatrice’s table.

“How’s Hero?” Ursula doesn’t bother with the preamble.

“Bad.” Beatrice can’t lie to Ursula. “She keeps having those attacks. Where she can’t breathe properly.”

“Like when we were little?”

“Yeah.”

Ursula doesn’t ask any further. She’s been around for as many of those as Beatrice, probably more. It’s a small group that remembers Hero as she was back then, when any kind of fun came with warnings and time limits. Constant reminders to be careful, not to let things get out of hand.

“She hasn’t had to go to emergency or anything. But she has these attacks, and her blood pressure’s too high, and...” Beatrice trails off, not sure what else there is to say.

“Will you give her my love? She hasn’t - I guess her phone’s been off.”

“I know. Sorry, I should’ve replied.” 

Ursula sighs and pulls her legs up onto the chair. “You’re not the only one. Meg’s disappeared too. Are people in your year talking about it?”

“Probably.” And if they weren’t before the argument with Pedro, Beatrice can guess that they are now. “What about yours?”

“It’s all they’re talking about.” Ursula picks up one of Beatrice’s pens, pops the cap.

“Do they…”

“They all think Hero did it. And it’s everyone, Beatrice. Everyone.”

It’s only once Ursula says it that Beatrice realises she can hear them too. Just in the minutes it takes to walk between lessons, she can hear them: Hero’s name on the air, and Robbie’s. The whispers that stop when she gets too close, the hurried shh! between friends. Everyone seems to be looking at her. Before this week she’d have been surprised if many of the Messina student body recognised her at all: she hasn’t spent the last four years here, just drifted in at the end. That must have changed too.

By the time she makes it to History at the end of the day she would happily have sunk into the ground rather than walk another metre of the campus. The last thing she needs when she walks into the classroom is Pedro’s eyes on her too, his brow furrowed. Her first inclination is to tell him to fuck off, but Mr Hollingshead is looming.

“Now, do you think we might manage a whole hour without being interrupted by your thrilling personal lives?”

Pedro grunts something that might be agreement. Beatrice nods. The teacher just rolls his eyes.

Dickface

Wed 20 Aug 15:46 PM
hope stuff gets better soon

By Friday, Beatrice is getting used to sliding away. It’s easier not to listen, to sit with one eye on the clock and ready to run. That way she doesn’t have to pretend. She does it at school and she does it at home too, not because she doesn’t want to listen but because there’s nothing there to hear. All she can do is bring things, tea and toast and books, and hope for some acknowledgement.

At this stage her only goal is to make it to the weekend undisturbed so that she has two full days to try and fix Hero. She’s done with the library, the whispers that set her on edge, so at lunch she curls up on one of the benches behind the block that nobody really uses. With her headphones on and music blasting, she doesn't hear them approach.

It's the flash of green that first catches her attention, sun bouncing off the football shirt that Pedro's tossing in the air. He's surrounded by a crowd of people that she knows by sight if not by name, just strolling down the walkway without a care in the world. And there at his right hand is Claudio, laughing at something Pedro's just said and snatching the top from his grasp. 

Beatrice’s stomach leaps, quick and wretched. She's managed to keep away from him all week but that doesn't mean she hasn't seen his face. It’s there all the time, in Hero’s eyes as she stares at the wall. Having him this close makes her feel sick. The group moves on past her - Pedro meets her eye but thankfully doesn't stop - and her pulse is pounding so hard that she doesn't even notice when one of them pauses beside her bench. It's only once the chatter is fading that she realises she's cast in shadow. 

"Can I sit down?"

He does so, before she can respond. She's done such a good job of keeping out of Benedick's way - outstanding, even, given that they share half their timetable. He sends her messages. She hasn’t read them.

"So, you're just avoiding everyone now?" 

She glances up before she can help herself, irritated. "You're not everyone, Benedick." 

"Yeah, but I’m right.”

He is, of course, and she hates it when that happens. "Sorry if I don't feel like hanging around with those guys right now. Maybe if they hadn't just annihilated Hero then I'd feel a bit more sociable." 

"How is Hero?" 

"Like you care." 

"Of course I care." There's no sneer on his face, no disdain in his voice, and yet. 

"If you cared then you wouldn't be hanging around with them. But hey, it’s all guys together, right? Even when you’re deliberately fucking over girls. Especially then.”

He looks genuinely taken aback. "Hey, stop. It's not like that." 

"Oh, really?" This feels better; this feels normal. Arguing with Benedick means life before the party, before anything overheard.

"No. Alright, I’ve hung out with them a bit, but what else do you want me to do? Meg and Hero aren't here, Balthazar's got some music thing and you , you know, stealth mode. Ursula doesn't even talk when you guys aren't around. Believe me, I tried. So yeah, fine, I didn't fancy knocking around like a loner for however long this lasts." 

The words spill out of him in a rush until he stops with a sharp breath. It’s almost as if he means it.

"However long this lasts?" 

He shrugs. "I mean, there's no way people are going to believe this forever, right? Hero and Robbie ? It's ridiculous, it's just all hyped up with the videos and everything." 

Her hand clenches around the strap of her bag. "What videos?" 

Benedick looks suddenly wary, his face closing into a frown. "Um. How many Year Twelves do you have on Facebook?" 

"Meg, Ursula, some of the others?" She hasn't really been on there since the party, other than to block Claudio from both their accounts. Hero’s relationship status had already been deleted. 

"Fuck." He pulls at his hair. "Look, bell's about to go. You coming to English?" 

"What did you mean about Facebook?”

"Afterwards, okay? Just don’t run off, like, immediately.”

Reluctantly she nods. He nods back. For a moment she feels like they should shake on it, a promise, but then the bell rings and so she just shoulders her bag again and follows him silently up the path.

Chapter Text

Ursula

Fri 22 Aug 19:43 PM
Hero's phone's off, so please could you call me when you can?

Dickface

Sat 23 Aug 8:36 AM
don't know if you're still offline but ursula put her video up

Beatrice couldn’t bring herself to watch past the first few seconds of the video. She’d seen it often enough by now, from all angles and radii. When she got home from school on Friday she had done exactly what Ben said she shouldn’t and logged onto Facebook, trawling until she’d found each and every person at the party. The roiling fear in her stomach swirled as she scrolled through grainy clips and cryptic statuses, all with their sly little comments. 

why do I always miss the good drama haha
😮
just a quiet one then?

Three people had liked the last comment, and one of them was Pedro Donaldson.

Beatrice’s hands had jumped to the keyboard and she was halfway through a scathing reply before her brain caught up with her. It was possible that being a week deep on someone else’s profile, shouting at some loser from the football team, wasn’t the best form of defence. If it had been about Beatrice herself then she wouldn’t have thought twice, but Hero would care. Besides, as Hannah had once said, better getting involved in a land war in Asia than on Facebook.

She flicked away from the offending page before her resolve could break and onto Hannah’s profile. The cover picture was new: her and Lily and Ashleigh, all dressed up and posing at what must be somebody’s eighteenth. They were shining, smiling, and Beatrice wondered if anything had happened to ruin their night. It was probably just the usual. There would have been spilled drinks and broken glass and Ashleigh rushing to help clean up and Hannah dancing so enthusiastically that she fell over and Lily disappearing with one of the usual suspects. The next day would have brought regrets and headaches and teasing, plenty of teasing, but it would all be forgotten by next weekend. And Beatrice should have been there for all of it, except that she wasn’t anymore. She was here.

Right when she was thinking about sending them all a message she heard a sound from the other side of the wall, a thump that sent her flying next door. Hero was sat up in her bed, staring at her laptop where it lay on the carpet.

“What happened?” Beatrice demanded, voice too loud. Hero didn’t answer, just carried on looking at the floor where the screen displayed an all too familiar scene.

Speech, speech

Beatrice slammed the laptop shut with her foot. “Don’t watch that. Seriously, Hero, don’t.”

“I didn’t mean to,” Hero said quietly. “I got a notification when I went on YouTube.”

Beatrice sat down on the bed and hugged Hero very hard, the way she’d wanted to all week. She was warm and damp, sour in the stale heat of the room, and Beatrice didn’t care. All she wanted to do was hold on and so she did, tighter and tighter, until Hero took an almighty sniff and pulled away.

“Sorry. I just wasn’t really expecting it.”

“What are you apologising for? Blame Ursula, she’s the one who put it up.” Beatrice glared at the computer as if it too should be held personally responsible.

“She wouldn’t have done it to hurt.”

“Yeah, but it’s not her business. It’s nobody’s business, except...”

Hero twisted the fabric of her pyjama pants in her fingers. “Have people been talking about it? At school?”

Beatrice felt very much like she was perched on the edge of the question, about to drop. “I haven’t really noticed.”

“Yes, then. And - and they’re saying I did it?” Hero’s cheeks were red and rough, glowing in the dim of the room where just a week ago she’d been twirling around in her brand new dress.

“I think so.”

“Meg too?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t seen her.” Hero sighed, and Beatrice caught hold of her hands. “Look, people are stupid. People are so fucking stupid. They’re just talking about it, because, I don’t know, it’s good gossip or whatever, but some idiot’s going to do something else and then everyone will forget about it. Probably already happened. Probably someone’s woken up this morning covered in their own vomit, naked, in a skip, and that’s the new thing.”

“But he - everyone - will still think I cheated.”

“No they won’t. We’ll convince them. I’ll convince them. Because I know it’s crap, and so does Ursula, and so do lots of people really. They have to. Even Benedick does, so it’s not like it takes much to get there.”

Hero looked a little surprised by that.

“Ben believes me?”

“I know, he finally got something right. Look, you go back to sleep and I’ll come up with a plan. Or do you want breakfast? Or chocolate?” Or an organ , Beatrice thought, or the moon ? This was the longest conversation she’d had with Hero in a week, horrible though it was, and she wanted so badly to just do something.

“I think I want a shower,” Hero said carefully. “A very long shower. And new pyjamas.”

“You can borrow mine. I’ll put the hot water on. And then, then I’m going to make a plan.”

Hero sniffed again, and swiped at her nose. “Alright. You can make a plan.”

Dickface

Sat 23 Aug 11:07 AM
What are you doing tomorrow?

The plan was not one of Beatrice’s finest. It had seemed a good idea, to point out to everyone exactly how stupid this all was, but then Leo had found them and everything was so much worse by the end of the weekend than it had been at the beginning.

Somehow it had never crossed her mind that Leo might believe Claudio’s gibberish. He’d been in a foul mood all week, stomping around and going for extra long runs, but she had assumed that was just him being worried like she was. Maybe there was an added dose of guilt, of the party having gone so terribly wrong whilst the aunts were away, and of not having been able to protect Hero from everything like he usually tried to do. She hadn’t considered for a moment that he actually believed it, that he could ever think his own sister capable of something like that.

Beatrice wanted to post the video anyway, to demonstrate the sheer idiocy of what Leo was saying, yet Ben had somehow talked her out of it. That in itself was concerning, but then it wasn’t as if they were swimming in allies at the moment. She was grudgingly prepared to forgive Ursula, who had spent most of Saturday evening on the phone with Hero, but other than that it was strangely lonely being right. If she chose to let Ben win this one then it was as a strategic move, a token concession.

Unfortunately, the strategy seems to have more than a few holes in it. It’s not long after Ben leaves on Sunday then Leo announces that Hero will be going back to school tomorrow.

Beatrice looks up from the freezer where she’d been foraging for something to eat. “You cannot be serious.”

“I’m totally serious. You’ve had a week off school, that’s more than most people would get.” Leo addresses this to the window seat where Hero is watching the rain, curled up in her borrowed pyjamas.

“She’s not most people. She’s sick!”

“Don’t bother, Beatrice. It’s not a debate.” This is Leo at his most frustrating, his most stubborn. If Beatrice were still eight then she’d kick him in the shins. She’s inclined to try it now.

“It’s going to be a -”

“That’s fine,” Hero interrupts. “I know, I have to go. It’s fine.”

She slides off the cushions and stands there for a moment as if lost. Her hair is slipping loose from yesterday’s plait and she pulls at the tail, tightens the band. “I’m just going to make sure I have everything.”

Beatrice watches Hero slip out of the room before turning to look at Leo. He shakes his head.

“I mean it. Don’t bother.”

“You,” Beatrice spits, slamming the freezer door shut, “can sort your own bloody dinner.”

Mum

Sun 24 Aug 17:52 AM
Feels like summer already in Brisbane! Hope the sun made its way to Auckland - how's everything going? xxx

Beatrice can hear Hero before she even reaches the bedroom door, those muffled sobs that keep them both awake at night. She doesn’t bother to knock.

“Don’t cry,” she says, crossing the room and wrapping her arms around her cousin. “Leo’s being an arsehole. You don’t have to go.”

“Yes, I do.” The contents of Hero’s schoolbag are scattered across the desk where it’s been upended: pencil case and oil pastels and ring binders, their notes fluttering free. 

“Just wag. Stay here, or go to the library or something. I’ll come with you.”

“You can’t.” Hero wriggles out of Beatrice’s grasp. “And I have to - I just don’t want to see him, I don’t want to see anyone. Not when they think…”

She sinks down onto the chair and presses into her eyes. “I know he’s going to be there and I’ll be, I’ll be like this and then everyone will be talking about it and I won’t be able to make it stop , so -”

“Hey, hey.” Beatrice kneels down, takes Hero’s wrist in her hand. “Small breaths, alright?”

Hero leans forward onto her knees, head still braced. “I just don’t understand how he could think - how any- Robbie! And if Meg thinks I, that we -”

Beatrice is trying to count her pulse the way she was taught years ago: one-one-thousand, two-one thousand, three-one thousand ...

“- don’t want her to hate me, but if everyone says then of cou- of course she’s going to hate me, and I don’t, I don’t -”

Hero stamps down hard on the floor and Beatrice loses count again. All she can hear is the heave of Hero’s chest, all she can feel is the blood racing too fast beneath her fingers.

“Please, please breathe, please -” but Hero isn’t even talking now, just panting, rocking back and forth the way she does when she can’t make herself stop, and Beatrice springs to the door, flings it back against the wall.

“Leo! Leo!

There’s no answer but she can hear footsteps on the stairs and so she falls back on the bed to reach for Hero again, to rub circles across her back just the way she did eight days before, when the world came tumbling down.

“What is it?”

Beatrice anchors her chin against Hero’s head, tries to hold her still. She doesn’t dare look at Leo but she can see his knees sink to the floor to take Hero’s arm just as she had before. He’s better at this, more practice and more training and he knows what to do. He’s supposed to know what to do. The breathing comes ever faster and there’s wheezing now with every gasp as if her lungs too are screaming in protest.

“Pull her up.” Leo’s voice is sharp but when Beatrice straightens, dragging Hero with her, she can see that he doesn’t look angry anymore. He looks frightened. “Does it hurt?”

Hero raises her free hand and slaps softly at her sternum.

“Which side? Can you feel your fingers? Mouth?”

The hand shifts to the left as Hero shakes her head. Leo stands, places her arm back in her lap very, very softly.

“Hospital. It’s probably - but we’d better, just in case. Bea, help me get her in the car, and then you need to -”

“I’m coming with you!”

“No. I need you to find her records, they should be in Mumma’s desk. Text me anything from the last few years; I don’t think she’s gone to hospital recently but any prescription changes or anything. Get the air mattress out of the garage, because one of us should sleep in here tonight, and then… then pack her bag, just in case she needs to stay in.”

This is exactly what Beatrice has been frightened of, exactly what she didn’t want. She doesn’t know how long it’s been since this scene was last played out, because Hero never tells her. The old childhood warnings still ring clear though - any strain, any upset - and it’s always been worse in winter. Her hands are clammy against the searing heat of Hero’s skin and she doesn’t know what to do.

“And turn the oven off. Bea? Can you just do that, please?”

So she just nods.

Leo

Sun 24 Aug 19:47pm
breathing better, about to get seen
did u find the airbed?
Yes
Food got burnt though

The emergency doctor recommended rest. When Beatrice hears that she almost wants to laugh, but at least they backed it up with a medical certificate. Hero gets one more week away from school and Leo can’t argue against it. He seems to have stopped arguing at all, retreated again into early morning runs and late night gaming sessions. Beatrice took the air mattress.

When she wakes up on Wednesday morning he’s already gone, just the remains of a protein shake in the kitchen sink. She walks to school with fists clenched tight in her pockets. They have a temporary reprieve, just five more days, but it doesn’t really matter. There are still so few of them, just Beatrice and Ursula and Benedick and maybe Balthazar. Even Leo, who can fix everything, isn’t there anymore.

The form room is hot and noisy, entirely too much to handle at this hour of the morning, and Beatrice wonders how long she’ll have to stay. This too was nothing like St Miranda’s. Pastoral care didn’t seem to be one of Mr Jaggard’s priorities: so long as they all turned up and didn’t break anything expensive he preferred to leave them to it. There are students copying homework and finishing breakfast and the usual gang of sniggering juniors over by the computers. Beatrice makes her way to a seat at the back of the room, behind a row of Year Twelves all trying on a new lipstick.

“Thing is,” one of them says, examining herself in the compact mirror, “that was never going to work, was it? She’s so…”

“... yeah, but that’s the funny part. If you were going to predict -”

“- I know, it’s so random.” Both mirror and lipstick are passed down the line as bile rises in Beatrice’s stomach. “I feel super sorry for him.”

“She’s such a bitch.” The next girl takes her time applying the lipstick, pulling and pouting for full effect. “And a really massive -”

That’s all it takes, in the end, to make Beatrice’s mind up for her. She shoots a hand into the air. “Mr Jaggard? I’m going to use a computer.”

He doesn’t bother to look up, just waves vaguely in her direction. Pausing only to glare back at the girls she storms over to the bank of computers. The Year Tens turn a uniform red as she approaches and scatter.

Right , she thinks, digging deep in her rucksack and hoping she remembered to take her card out of the camera. If you’re going to be like that .

    •   Nothing Much To Do uploaded: Idiots

Beatrice’s rage has cooled somewhat by the time she gets to Physics, the pressure released by having finally done something. Probably none of those stupid girls watch her channel, she’s not even sure that they know her name, but something has to be better than nothing. It doesn’t matter what Ben says. He’s a boy, after all, and this is a different kind of warfare.

She wonders whether she should try to grab him on his way in, to let him know what she’s done, but when he appears he comes straight over to sit with her. Phoebe, just behind, rolls her eyes and heads to the back of the classroom to sit with Sylvie and Cor.

“So,” Ben says, before Beatrice has a chance to ask. “I need to tell you what happened in form.”

“I need to tell you what happened. I put up the video, the one we made.”

This seems to hit a brain cell. “Really? I thought we said we weren’t going to.”

“No, you said that. I just said I wouldn’t right then. But Leo’s acting like an idiot again, and there were these girls. I had to, because everyone’s being so-”

Ms Brahe strides into the room and claps for their attention, cutting Beatrice off. This isn’t going to be an easy thing to explain in whispers. But Ben is jumping ahead of her again, scribbling in the corner of his notepad. She leans over to see what he’s so excited about.

     MEG’S BACK

And then:

     WE THINK WE KNOW WHAT HAPPENED