“Stay there!” her mother shouted from the kitchen doorway when she saw the state of her. “I don’t want you dripping through the house.”
“But mum I’m freezing.”
“The heating’s on, you’ll soon dry.”
Hannah went to step towards the radiator.
“Can’t I at least…” Hannah looked down at her shoes.
“Alright then,” her mother conceded. “But just your shoes. You and they stay on the mat.”
Hannah was used to being spoken to like this but she thought even this was harsh.
“Where have you been anyway?”
This was different; curiosity bordering on concern, a flicker of compassion.
“The shopping centre,” Hannah lied.
“No you haven’t. They shut at seven on a Friday.”
Hannah said nothing.
Hannah knew she’d find out eventually. “The woods.”
Her mother shrugged her shoulders, truth clearly outweighing risk.
“And it was scary,” Hannah whispered.
“You’re dripping,” her mother grumbled, throwing the washing-up towel she’d been holding. Despite falling short of its intended target, she ignored it and returned to the kitchen, getting another tea towel from a drawer and continuing to dry the dishes from the evening meal that Hannah had missed.
The smell of the food still clung to the air making Hannah’s stomach growl. She stared at the towel then at the kitchen. Shaking her body like a dog, she figured she’d be dry enough to tread the few yards in socked feet to retrieve the towel but putting her right foot forward she heard a squelch, so bent down to take off her socks. Like a gymnast she leaned towards the radiator and hung them over the top of the curved white metal; the metal that was now piping hot; the heat that would suck up her moisture if only it was allowed to.
“What you doing?”
Hannah looked round to see her brother, David, standing in the lounge doorway holding a yoghurt pot and licking the spoon.
“Trying to get warm. What does it look like?”
“You look stupid.”
“Thanks. Charming as ever.”
“You been seeing Jason again?”
“How do you know his name?”
“Everyone at school’s talking about it. The romance of the year.”
“Why? He dumped you?”
“Did he tell you to meet him by the lake at dusk, all romantic like?”
“He did the same to Emma, only he didn’t turn up then told everyone at school the next day that she was easy, just by her being there.”
“Emma? My Emma?”
“Yes, your Emma. Bezzie mate Emma.”
“Last week sometime. When you was…”
“When I was visiting Nan in hospital?”
“Yeah, that was it.”
“She phoned me. Crying. Said her uncle had died. I didn’t even know she had one.”
“Probably doesn’t. Just wanted you to feel sorry for her. So you went through Priory Woods, to meet him and he didn’t…”
“Change the record, David.”
“Record. Round flat thing made of black plastic… oh, never mind.”
“And you went in the dark. Even you’re not that stupid.”
“It wasn’t dark.”
“Not when you went, no, but… you waited that long? You are that stu…”
“I wasn’t waiting.”
He looked down then picked up the tea towel. “You want this?”
“OK,” David said, handing it out to her, just short of reach.
Hannah closed her eyes and sighed. David stepped nearer and nudged her hand with it. “Here. I’m not that mean. Not like…”
Hannah’s eyes bolted open then glared at her brother.
“Alright,” he said, “subject closed.”
They stared at each other until he spoke again. “Was it really horrible?”
“I don’t mean being stood up, though I bet that was… OK. No, I mean going through the wood after dark. It’s supposed to be haunted.”
“Now you tell me.”
“You didn’t exactly ask. Didn’t tell anyone you were going, did you?”
Hannah shook her head.
“What was it like?” David continued.
“Quiet. No birds, nothing. Like death.”
“Who are you talking to?” Hannah’s mother asked as she walked through the hall to take her husband a cup of tea.
“No-one mum,” she said.
Her mother paused. “Hannah… please don’t go down there again. You know how I feel about that place. David made that mistake. We can’t lose you too. OK?”
“OK mum,” Hannah said, feeling warmer than she had in a long time, and even managed a smile.
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