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Authors: Elsbeth Edgar

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BOOK: The Visconti House
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Laura nodded, full of excitement. “This is where I found the curtains,” she said, lifting the lid off a large packing case. They both leaned over to look in, bumped heads, and came up laughing.

The box was empty except for some assorted cutlery, all rather old and battered, and a heavy candlestick.

“This will be perfect on the table,” said Isabella, carrying the candlestick over to the skylight to examine it more closely. “I think it’s silver. We can polish it up, and it’ll look wonderful. Let’s take everything we’ve found downstairs.”

As she was passing the chairs through the door to Isabella, Laura noticed a piece of cardboard on the floor near one of the boxes. Quietly, she slipped it into her pocket before joining Isabella on the landing. Then they struggled down the stairs. The chairs were surprisingly heavy, and they were both glad to reach the new dining room and deposit them by the window.

“We’ll need a table,” said Isabella, surveying the space. “And some more chairs and candles.” She picked up the candlestick, squinting at it. “We’ll go on an expedition tomorrow. It will be great. We’ll take Harry’s car and go shopping.”

Laura hesitated. “We can’t spend much money,” she said.

“Don’t worry.” Isabella threw her arm around Laura’s shoulder. “I’m an expert at shopping on a shoestring.”

It was not until later, when Laura was snuggled up in her room with Samson, writing, that she dug her hand into her pocket and felt something unexpected. It was the piece of cardboard she had picked up in the attic — a tattered postcard with a picture of a wide boulevard beside the sea. There were palms lining the street and people in old-fashioned clothes strolling along it. The writing on the back was foreign. Perhaps
French, she thought. Laura leaned the picture up against some books beside her bed, and that night she fell asleep telling herself stories about it.

The next morning, Isabella and Laura set off for the local secondhand shop in Harry’s car, a battered 1967 Citroën, which Laura’s mother described as a shark. Laura liked to drive in it because it rose on a cushion of air whenever the motor started. But Isabella was not very good at maneuvering such a large vehicle, so they had to park some distance from the shops. As they walked down the main street, Laura tried to look inconspicuous beside Isabella, who was wearing a scarlet hat, a long black coat, and extraordinarily large and noisy earrings.

Fortunately, she only saw one person from school: Leon Murphy. He was walking on the other side of the street with a tall man who stooped and whose hair fell untidily over his face. Laura wondered if this might be Leon’s father — though he didn’t look like a criminal, just an old man. Then he smiled, and
she realized he was much younger than she had first thought. It was just the way he was walking that made him look old. At that moment Leon glanced in her direction. She felt her face redden and turned back to Isabella.

The secondhand shop was overflowing with used furniture and bric-a-brac. Laura expected Isabella to knock something over with her sweeping coat and flamboyant gestures, but she managed to move quite easily through the crowded rooms. Soon, they had found a table and lots of candles and a variety of plates. Then, armed with these treasures, they returned home to transform the room.

They hung the swaths of velvet on one wall. “It is like a medieval tapestry,” said Isabella, although Laura wondered how it could be a tapestry if it had no picture on it. They placed candles on boxes under the windowsills, and Isabella swirled a sheet over the table. In the middle, she arranged an elaborate pile of vegetables and fruit, entwined with ivy. They cut more trails of ivy and twisted them around the candles. Then Laura found some empty wine bottles, and they filled these with branches from one of the plum trees.

“We must dress up,” said Isabella, catching hold of Laura and spinning her around. “We must look as though we belong in the room. But we won’t tell anyone. It will be a surprise.”

At dinnertime, they made a spectacular entrance dressed in long skirts, with gleaming earrings dangling from their ears and Isabella’s theatrical makeup outlining their eyes. The candles were lit, and Isabella was singing. Laura looked at the table, laden with Harry’s delicious food and Isabella’s wonderful centerpiece, at the wineglasses sparkling in the candlelight, and at the faces of her parents and Harry, laughing in surprise. She imagined they had been transported to a faraway palace. They were no longer surrounded by the town. School was a million miles away. Outside the walls a wonderful, pine-scented forest had sprung up, and in the night sky her dragons were circling, wild and free. Their fiery breath sent showers of red falling through the darkness. It was an enchanted place. She wished she could stay there forever.

After the excitement of the banquet and the long, lazy day that followed it, Tuesday morning arrived with awful finality. Laura stumbled into the kitchen, grumpy and miserable. Even when Samson, trying to catch a moth, leaped into the air and landed in a pile of baskets, she couldn’t raise a smile.

“Why the long face?” asked Isabella, who was the only other person up.

“I hate school.” Laura collapsed onto the nearest chair and reached for the milk carton.


“Everyone stares at me.”

“That’s good,” exclaimed Isabella. “I love it when people stare at me.” Her bracelets jangled as she swept her dark curls back from her face and rolled her eyes at Laura.

“Please, Isabella, don’t start to sing,” begged Laura. “I’m not feeling very strong.”

“But music makes you strong,” Isabella cried, and burst into an aria anyway.

Laura gulped down her milk and escaped into her parents’ room. She sat on the edge of their four-poster bed, looking at the traces of murals on the walls, wishing she could disappear into them.

“I don’t want to go to school,” she began.

“You always say that.” Her mother smiled.

“But today I
don’t want to go to school. Can’t I stay home? I promise I’ll go tomorrow.”

“It won’t be any better tomorrow,” her father said, propping his head on his elbow to look across at her.

“Then I could stay home tomorrow too, and the day after that. And the day after that.
do I have to go to school?”

“You know why you have to go to school,” replied her mother. “The reasons don’t change, just like your questions don’t change.”

“But today is going to be really bad. Really, really bad. I can feel it.”

“It will certainly be bad if you’re late,” said her father. “Now, off you go. You’re spoiling my beauty sleep. I was working until four o’clock to get my article finished.”

Nobody understands,
thought Laura, sliding off the bed.

“The day will be over before you know it,” said her mother, kissing her.

“No, it won’t. It will go on forever. It will be bad forever.”

Laura walked as slowly as she could and arrived at school just before the bell. She glared at the students milling around the locker room. Why couldn’t there be people like Isabella and Harry at school? When they were young, of course. Or like her parents. Or like her. Why did she have to be so different? She pulled her books irritably from her bag, and her lunch fell out. Her apple rolled across the floor, bruising.

Kylie, Maddy, and Janie were ahead of her as she crossed the courtyard toward the art room. She ran to catch up with them.

“Did you do anything over the long weekend?” asked Maddy.

Laura gave her usual evasive reply: “Nothing much.” Then she added, “We had some friends visit.” That seemed safe enough. “What about you, Maddy?”

“We went down to Lorne. It was awesome. We spent all day at the beach. There was even some sun. Look at my tan.” Maddy lifted her skirt to show off her legs.

“You’re so lucky,” grumbled Kylie. “I wish we’d gone away. We never go anywhere. It’s so not fair.”

“I think I saw your friends.” Janie turned to Laura. “They were shopping on the main street. Do they wear strange clothes?”

Here we go again,
thought Laura. “Sometimes.”

“They looked really weird. Are they weird?”

“No!” Laura dug her fingernails into her palms. “They’re just — they’re just a bit different.”

“You can say that again!” Janie grinned at the others. “Spooky, I’d say. Really
” Kylie and Maddy giggled and nudged Laura.

Laura tried to smile, but the thought of Harry and Isabella being laughed at made her feel horrible. She just knew today was going to be bad. She sighed and headed into class.

Finally, she reached the last class of the day, English. This should have been one of her favorite subjects but Miss Grisham’s classes were so dry and repetitive that Laura always had trouble concentrating in them.
She fit her chin into her hands and lifted her gaze to that patch of blue through the window that was her escape. Her thoughts wandered to her dragon book. She would be home soon and able to work on it. She conjured up a number of her favorite species and reviewed their habitats and characteristics.

Suddenly, an idea for a new dragon flew into her mind. She saw the dragon clearly in that blue sky, its wings a translucent silver, its eyes full of reflections. A terrible, urgent need to capture the image before it flew away seized her. Hardly daring to breathe, she reached into her desk and drew out a piece of paper. Then, shielded by Jamie Robertson’s back, Laura started sketching.

She was almost finished when she realized that Miss Grisham’s eyes were fixed on her. She dropped her pen and covered the image with her arm — but too late.

“You feel no need to join us in this exercise, Laura Horton?” inquired Miss Grisham.

“No, Miss Grisham . . . I mean, yes. I was just writing something down.”


Laura went cold. “Nothing. Nothing important.”

“Let me see.”

“It’s nothing, Miss Grisham. Please, I’ll put it away.”

“Bring it here.”

Laura looked down at the paper she was shielding. The tiny dragon’s face peeped out from under her arm. She couldn’t give it to Miss Grisham. She just couldn’t. This was her own private world; it would be like laying her soul bare.

She gulped. “No.”

Everyone gasped, even Miss Grisham.

“Laura, this is the last time I will ask you.
the paper here.”

A blackness descended over Laura. She could not see the classroom, the desks, or the students. She could only see Miss Grisham. Her heart was throbbing so powerfully, it felt as though it had taken over her whole body. There was nothing but the
thump, thump, thump
of its beat. Laura picked up the paper and deliberately, desperately, tore the tiny dragon in half. She continued to tear it over and over again until the pieces lay scattered like blossoms over her desk.

“Outside, Laura,” ordered Miss Grisham in the iciest voice Laura had ever heard.

Laura swept the pieces into her hand and clenched them in her fist. Then she walked to the door, darkness surrounding her. She felt as though she was walking
through a tunnel, but the tunnel had eyes that gazed at her with fascination, horror, fear.

She stared straight ahead. Only as she reached the door did she glance sideways and glimpse Leon watching her with a mixture of surprise and amusement. She wrenched the door open and stepped outside.

The hallway was long and cold. Empty. Laura stood hesitating, wondering what she should do; she had never been in this position before.

Her eyes fixed on a poster flapping in the breeze.
, it said.
. If only she could. She would be able to hide there among the books. But that was not possible now: Miss Grisham had opened the door and was stepping outside. Laura looked down at her feet. At least Miss Grisham would never see
book, but a little part of it was lost forever, and Laura felt anger rising within her. She lifted her eyes and faced Miss Grisham.

“Now perhaps you can tell me what that was all about, Laura,” her teacher said.

“I am sorry, but I don’t think so,” replied Laura.

Miss Grisham gasped again. “Really, Laura, I don’t know what has gotten into you. You have always been such a good student.”

Laura clenched her hand more tightly around the
fragments of paper and said nothing. Miss Grisham stared at her. She stared at her for so long, Laura thought they were going to be standing there until the bell rang.

“I don’t know what to do with you,” said Miss Grisham eventually. “You have the potential to do really well, Laura, but you never put in quite enough effort. And now this.” Laura’s eyes slid back to the poster. “Is there something troubling you? Something wrong at home?”

“No!” Laura spoke too vehemently and saw that her teacher did not believe her.
Just like Miss Grisham to misinterpret everything,
she thought. Miss Grisham was looking at her with pity and concern now instead of anger. Laura wondered what appalling things she was imagining.

“Well, I’m going to let you off this time, Laura, but if something like this happens again, I shall have to speak to Mr. Jameson.”

BOOK: The Visconti House
11.45Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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