Life Lessons

Rina Pearce got into teaching because of the teacher she'd had when she was at school. Sat in the corner and trapped within her own loneliness, the only friend she'd had was herself and she spent her time picking at splinters that wouldn't come out. That was until Miss McKenzie transferred in, and she alone had seen Rina. Rina—not Katerina, the name her no-good mother had chosen—not weirdo – not loner. Just… Rina. The days spent at her teacher's house, playing games, cooking… just talking, they were some of the happiest days she could remember.

She knew, acutely, what loneliness was. Not so hard therefore, fast-forward a decade, to notice Cat. To start with, the girl had just been part of the class. The class—that amorphous blob! And her year nine English class were always trouble… sometimes it was just easier to brand them all troublemakers, forget that they had individual personalities and haul the whole class in for detention… easier, but not right.

And so easy, that girls like Cat should slip through the net. Hardworking, quiet lonely girls. The ones that always did their homework, never needed to be told off, but were always on their own. Who knew what went on these girls' heads? But as long as they did they work, she and her colleagues were trained not to care. Miss Pearce didn't. But Rina did.

Cat was true to her namesake. Every day for the last few weeks, she'd found the girl lounged up in a tree on the playing fields, balanced precariously with a book in her lap. She'd wondered if she should say something to her, but each day shrugged the urge off, pretending she didn't want to startle her. Not that there was much chance she'd fall; she was catlike in that respect too, seeming completely at ease. Most girls don't belong in trees but if you saw Cat there, you'd think it was completely normal; like a set piece, a bird on a branch. Something catty in her profile, even; short cropped hair to frame the fey nape of her neck. Safe as a sailor in a hammock, she was completely engrossed in her book. Every so often she'd murmur something under her breath, or a pull a face, or touch her hair, unaware that anybody could see her.

And although she felt like she shouldn't disturb her, today the urge was too strong. Rina raised her voice and said, "Good book?"

She didn't jump, like Rina expected. But her eyes moved from the page down to the ground and she frowned in displeasure.

Even so, she was polite; "It's not bad, miss."

Rina came forward, putting her hand against the trunk of the tree, pretending to inspect it. "I've seen you here before," she said. "Why do you like it so much?"

Cat looked through her. Rina had lost her—she was in her book world once more. Just when Rina thought she wasn't going to speak, she said softly, "It's peaceful. Nobody can see me."

Smiling, Rina said, "Not everybody. Maybe you'll have to try harder?"

A rift in reality, again. "Maybe I will," she twisted her lips; she seemed distressed that she had been found. Slipping down from the high branch gracefully, she folded the book under her arm.

"Hide and seek's no fun on your own though, surely? I'm running a reading group Tuesday and Thursday lunch times, if you've nothing to do."

She could see by Cat's face she was assessing whether this was obligatory or not.

"You don't have to," Rina said quickly. "But it might be fun."


Rina thought the girl could sincerely use it.

Before Miss McKenzie had found her, Rina had her favourite haunts, too. Behind the boiler had been a good one, till the boys had claimed it as their smoking spot. She'd had her fair share of trees, which lasted till someone looked up. She wasn't afraid of heights, and had even ventured into the kitchen roofs. Once she met a boy there, holding a rolly between his lips. He told her one day he'd burn the world down, and that she and him could be king and queen of the ashes. Rina took a drag of his cig but told him no thanks; she believed in fair, governed rule, even for ashes.

Cat's face peered through the porthole, and then the door swung open. Relief tempered the disappointment in her eyes.

"Nobody showed up again," she said.

"Maybe I should put up some posters," Rina sighed, dumping a whole stack of the book they were supposed to be doing this week, bang!- back onto the desk. Five identical windswept heroines smiled coyly up at her.

But Cat shook her head. "Actually, I'm kind of glad." Blushing, as if it took great effort to say it, she continued, "I like it when it's just us together. It kind of feels like…like I have a friend." She smiled, and it lit up her entire face. "Reading cheesy romances together… it's fun."

The battle between Miss Pearce the professional and Rina the human being was destined to be a short one. Though Cat had been shy at first, they had soon established a rapport Rina hadn't shared with any other student. Simply put; they both saw themselves in the other. They were too similar to be strangers.

"Well, we are friends," Rina said. Cat smiled softly, unsurely. Rina smiled back and she beamed.

"I guess," Cat said cheerfully, swinging herself up onto the desk, "if a boy was here we'd have to read thriller or crime books, wouldn't we?"

"You never know," teased Rina. "Some boys like romance too."

Cat snorted, as if such a thing was possible. But then her eyes glazed, she said, "I keep reading about it, but I wonder what it would really be like to be in love?"

Rina clicked on the lights at her apartment. It was silent, only the radiator clinking and clunking away like a poltergeist. She checked the answering phone, and it beeped and mocked her; "You have zero new messages." She threw herself down on the settee. Things hadn't changed much since she was a girl; she was till irrevocably, irretrievably alone.

Rubbing at her temples, Rina put her head in her hands. The fire alarm that morning had caused a huge mess. Everyone had been screaming; some were scared, most were excited. They were told to leave their bags behind, but Emily Wilder wouldn't leave her P.E kit, even though she hated P.E.

Mr Smith passed the biscuit tin round the staff room as a matter of course. Ever since she'd started at this career, Miss Pearce had found that chocolate digestives were a form of therapy.

"I could die for a canary cream right now," Mrs Kilner moaned, before she snatched the tin from her.

The headmaster burst violently into the room, thunder on his face. "It was Richards," he stormed.

"I knew it!" said Mrs Kilner.

The name sounded familiar, and now Rina remembered why—Richards was Cat's surname. She was so shocked she dropped her digestive.

"It couldn't' have been," she exclaimed. "Cat isn't that kind of girl. And she was—" she paused, "she was helping me with the photocopying."

Actually, she had no idea where Cat was this lunchtime. So she was going to start making alibi's for her now too?

But Mrs Kilner rolled her eyes. "We're not talking about Cat Richards, Rina. This is her brother, Keiran."

"She has a brother?" How bizarre, that Cat had never mentioned it. "I've never heard of him before."

"Hoho, then you will," said Mrs Kilner, her lips twisting into a grimace of wry displeasure. "He just started this year and I've never met a hooligan like him. I know his sort; no matter how much you punish it, it'll never straighten him out. He's a lost cause."

Rina said nothing.

"Martha, can you get Mrs Richards phone number?" the headmaster said. "We better get Keiran's mother to come in."

"You can't," said Rina. She was thirteen years old and sat behind the headmistress's desk. "She's busy. She works really late."

"You can't," said Cat; she stared hard at the floor. Never, could she look someone in the eyes and lie. "She hurt her ankle. The doctor said she has to rest it."

"You can't," said Rina. "She's busy. She's just busy, okay?"

"She's not even there," Cat told her. Tears ran down her face. Rina couldn't bear it—she gathered the girl up into her arms. "She's never there. It's just me and my brother, and he's always out causing trouble. He doesn't listen to me, and the house is always empty. And I'm always, always--!"

How unbearable it was, Rina knew, what utter agony it was, to be alone.

"Cat," she said, hugging her tighter, "how would you like to come round my house tonight?"

Rina clicked on the light. The apartment was silent, the radiator clunked, until Cat giggled, "This is really weird."

"Too weird?" Rina was concerned.

"No- no!" Cat said hurriedly. "It's… it's good weird." She sniffed the air. "What is that? Air freshner?"

"Jasmine scented."

"We've never had an air freshner. But my aunt said she had one, till her cat ate it." She poked at the air freshner as if she'd never seen one before, and it exhaled a little puff of jasmine at her. She beamed, and ran into the kitchen, where her mouth opened into a little O at the sight of Rina's spice rack. "You have a spice rack. Awesome."

Cat was far too cute for words. "If you think that's awesome, I've got a milkshake maker that's going to blow your mind."

"A milkshake maker!" Cat was delighted.

Rina moved behind the counter and rolled up her sleeves like a magician. "So what do you want, strawberry, chocolate or peppermint?"

"All three," Cat said decisively.

"It's going to taste weird," Rina said.

"I told you—I like weird."

So she sucked on her strawberry, chocolate and mind milk shake and said, "It does taste weird." She stared at the glass as she drained it to the bottom. Then she stood, her hands on her skinny hips. "Hey, what if you went to my parent teacher conference and pretended to be my mum?"

"That would work well, except I'm your teacher."

"Oh yeah," she giggled. The side Rina had only glimpsed in Cat was beginning to spill out. Beneath all her studious seriousness, Cat was a girl like no other; giggly, girly, and ready for fun.

But it was locked away, isolated, by that empty stagnant house she couldn't shake from her mind.

"Um… Miss Pearce," she twirled the straw round the empty glass, distractedly, sadly. "Could I maybe have dinner with you tonight? It's just that our fridge is empty. I mean, if it's a bother…"

Rina remembered, how once the only food in the house was a mouldy piece of cheese and a soggy box of crackers. "Your mother didn't leave any money for groceries?" she said.

Cat let her head droop into her hands. She sucked sadly on her straw with drooping eyes. "Gee, I don't think Mum even has any money," she said softly.

"Does your mother leave you home alone often?"

"Sometimes," said Cat, and her eyes flicked up to gauge her teacher, wondering how much to say. "—And sometimes," she rushed on," I don't even know where she goes. Once the police brought her home."

"Where have you been?" Rina demanded, her throat hoarse. Her eyes were red from crying, but now they blazed. Her fists were curled up tight in fury. "Kieran's been bawling his eyes out!"

Her mother staggered in from the front door, pushing past Rina to collapse into the sofa. Rina could smell the drink on her from there. Her face buried in the cushions, she said, "No now dear. Mummy's tired."

"But it's been three days!"

Her mother lifted her head limpidly. She seemed genuinely bamboozled by this. "No, no," she said. "I only stepped out for a few hours."

Under this confused drunk, Rina knew, was the mother she loved. But it was difficult to find her at such times. She was tired of cleaning up this strange woman, putting her to bed. Rina was no more than a child herself—sometimes, she wanted to be looked after.

"Katerina dear, would you get Mummy a glass of water?"

"If you call me Rina," she said through gritted teeth.

"I can never understand you. It's a lovely name."

"It isn't, and I shan't get you a drink till you drop it." All her mother ever gave her was neglect and an awful name—she wanted to leave it all behind. Perhaps if she did, she could forget that she ever had such a mother.

Drunkenly, she lifted her hand above her face, and said, "Things seem so far away now."

It was the only sensible thing she said that night.

"Doesn't your mum have a friend who can help her out?" Rina asked Cat.

"The place we live… isn't the kind where people talk to one another, let alone help each other," she said.

"But you don't have to be alone. Call child services and—"

"No." In her distress she knocked the chair backwards. "I'm not going into care. No way. I have too many things to do. I have to look after Mum, and my little brother, and, and—"

"I'm not going to make you," said Rina quietly. She looked her in the eye. "It's just that, you shouldn't have to handle everything on your own."

"Well," Cat said despondently, "that's life."

But Rina took her hand from across the table and said, "Cat, I'm here for you."

"Rina," said Miss McKenzie, "you're not alone."

Blushing, looking round for a distraction, Cat picked up a letter from the table.

"Rina Pearce," she read. She looked up at Rina from under her eyelashes. "That's you?" And then, staring at the tissue box, "Is it alright if I call you that? Then, it would be like we're real friends."

She and Miss McKenzie—no, Anita—had been on a first name basis too. "When we're not at school," she said.

"Ri—na," Cat tasted the sound on her tongue. "It looks like the name of a famous flamenco dancer." Abruptly, she laughed. "Or a doorbell saleswoman. You could run Ring-Ring-Rina's Doorbell Emporium!"

"Ring-Ring-Rina?" Cat laughed harder at the indignant look on her face. Then her eyes glazed. How interesting it was, just to watch the emotions pass over her face like a changing weather forecast.

"We would be famous dancers in Madrid. And the moon would shine bright every night, every boulevard decked with garlands of flowers. And the men would be like Don Jose, and the women would wear gypsy skirts…"

Anita, are you out there? Are you living in a black and white land, your hair twisted up in braids? Can you see the moonlit boulevards? Who are you dancing with now, Anita?

"And what would we do then?" Rina whispered.

"Go shopping. And we'll eat at famous restaurants, sip wine and eat tapas, and, ahh—"

Cat's stomach rumbled.

Rina smiled mellowly. "And on that note…"

Well, it wasn't five-star cooking, but Rina did her best to cook up a gourmet continental meal. Though she didn't have any tapas on hand—so it would have to be Italiana. She snapped the spaghetti clean in two and dropped into the bubbling pan. Cat helped her cut up the vegetables for her famous mystery sauce. As she had discovered, Cat was one of those people who hated to sit while others worked around them. She had to get up and help, even if she was more of a hindrance than a helper.

"Okay, so I cut this with which one?"

"The knife with the serrated blade."

"This one?"

"No—" she leant over, and put it into her hand. "This one."

Rina was inspecting the spaghetti when Cat held the knife dramatically to her own chest. "O happy dagger! Hey, wouldn't this be a great knife to kill yourself and your lover with?"

Rina looked hard at her. "You're bizarre."

Cat giggled. "Just messing around."

"I think we need to wean you of the romance stories." She shook her head and went back to the spaghetti.

"So I cut this diagonally, right?"

"Take the top layer off first."

She picked at the onion with her nails, biting at her lip.

"It's easier if you cut the top and bottom off first."


And yet Rina was just the same. The incessant need to move. Being still for so long that you couldn't bear it. She moved in from behind Cat, picking up the onion in her long white fingers and guiding Cat's hand, fingers on top of hers. The knife came down, and the onion span away over the counter like a spinning top. Finally, their hands gave up all pretence and were still. Cat leant back into Rina as her arms folded around her.

"It's weird, isn't it?" Rina whispered into her ear.

Cat didn't even move; she stood frozen as a statue. "No. Not at all," she whispered.

"Fancy a biscuit, Rina?"

She didn't have time to answer, because Mrs Kilner immediately shoved the tin into her face.

"No thanks," she said, trying to pass it back.

"Come on Rina," she pushed it back, like a game of biscuit volleyball. "Have a chocolate chip and sit with me."

She couldn't remember the last time Mrs Kilner ever wanted to talk to her. "Alright then," she said suspiciously, though she found to her dismay that all the chocolate digestives were all gone.

"Yeah, Bob and Eunice scarfed them all earlier," Mrs Kilner said casually. She leant closer. "Do you think those two have got something going on? I saw them getting cosy last training day, now they're sharing a digestive."

"Mmmnn," Rina said, her mouth full of wafer.

"That's what I thought as well."

"Mnnnn," said Rina.

"And it's not exactly professional, is it? I'm thinking of saying something to Adrian… but that's not what I wanted to talk to you about. Stephanie said she saw you and Cat Richards walking home together last night."

Rina started to choke.

"My dear girl, take a drink," Mrs Kilner pounded her on the back, and she managed to slop a good amount of her coffee down her front too.

"Th-thanks," she said.

"No problem. They might take away the biscuits if you died choking on a wafer."

Mrs Kilner was as comforting as ever.

"So," she said. "About Cat Richards—"

"I'm a friend of her mother's," Rina said quickly. "Sometimes they come over for lunch."

Mrs Kilner stared. "Actually, I was going to ask if you could get her sociology project from her."

"Oh," said Rina.

Now Mrs Kilner really was looking suspicious.

"I have to go. I'm on lunch duty," Rina got up and pulled on her coat, but Mrs Kilner was still tracking her like a hunter. "Great chatting with you, and, um, thanks for the life saving."

But Mrs Kilner just said, "Uh-huh."

Rina hurried out of the room, her heart pounding.

The wind whipped her hair into her face. The damp made it cling to scalp uncomfortably. She wrapped her arms around her tighter, scanning the playground full of shouting screaming children, and teenagers trying hard not to be children.

"Mi---ss Pe---arce," Amy Atkinson whinged, "Lawrence stole my shoe." Rina looked down, and saw the girl was standing in stripy socks and one shoe.

"Lawrence!" Rina roared. "Give Amy back her shoe."

Behind the boiler, she confiscated cigarettes from three boys (they could never think of anywhere original, could they?) and scolded sixth formers playing on the climbing frame.

"You're supposed to be adults," she told them.

"Supposed to be," said Jamie Parkes wryly. "But what does being an adult feel like?"

And behind the tennis courts, she found Cat surrounded a tight wring of sneering girls.

"How sweet," Katie Thompson said, "Little Loner is a dyke. When's the wedding?"

The girls tittered with laughter. Rina had to hand it to Cat; even surrounded by this many tormentors, she stood strong, considering them with a stony look on her face.

"We're just friends," she said.

"Friends!" Emily Booth screamed, swaying with laughter. "You've never had a friend in your life, Loner."

"You can think what you like," Cat said. "That doesn't make it true."

"You know…" said Katie. "I don't think dykes should be allowed in the changing rooms. I thought somebody was staring at me."

"I would never look at you!" Cat said heatedly.

"Oh-ho!" they all exclaimed. "So you look at someone."

"No I don't, I don't."

Elyse Smith nudged Katie. "I bet she wishes she could watch Miss Pearce get dressed."

Rina watched with dismay; how Cat turned beet red, the girls bellowed with laughter.

"Carpet-muncher," Katie said. This was just between her and Cat now. A common tormentor, who knew the right buttons to push, the password to make her crack.

"Shut up."

"Dyke." Fixing her with such an intensity that it drowned everybody else out.

"Can't you find anything better to do than—" She was cracking now.

"Dyke. Dyke. Dyke."

Cat burst into tears, and Katie smiled with deep satisfaction, her mission achieved.

And Rina strode towards the girls, her coat flapping around her so that she looked like an avenging angel.

"Enough!" she said. "What do you think you're doing?"

The rest of the girls retreated, drawing back from Miss Pearce's anger, but Katie shrugged slyly. "We were just giving Cat some advice on her love life, weren't we?"

The rest of the girls looked at Rina uncertainly, prepared to harass a fellow student, but not brave enough to bother a teacher. They mumbled and nodded.

Rina put her hands on her hips. "It can't have been very good advice. Why is she crying?"

Katie gave Rina her most disgusting, simpering look. "She's so emotional, miss. You'd best leave her to us. We're her friends; we'll sort her out."

"No, I don't think I should," Rina said bluntly. "Instead, I think you can all see me for detention after school."

Emily was attempting to creep away, but Rina raised her voice and said, "You too, Miss Booth." She glared at her teacher sourly.

But Katie was not giving up so easily. "She fancies you, Miss Pearce," she said quickly, watching Cat, who had frozen like a statue again, the corners of Katie's mouth turned up in a victorious smile.

"Miss Thompson, if you're not satisfied with one detention I can give you a whole week's worth," Rina said.

"But Miss!" Katie exclaimed.

"And I hope you'll stop this disgusting habit of telling lies about your classmates. Now run along; next period will be starting soon."

The girls hurried off, glad to be away, throwing mutinous looks over their shoulders. Rina put her hands on Cat's shoulders.

"Are you alright?" she asked, but Cat was still doing her statue impression.

"They're right," she whispered at last.

"You mustn't listen to them," Rina said vehemently, shaking her. "You're not a loner. There's nothing wrong with you."

"I don't mean about that," Cat said.

"Then what…?"

The bell rung, and students in the tennis court flung down their rackets and trudged back indoors.

"Could I come over tonight?" Cat asked, almost anxiously.

"Well sure, but—"

But she was no longer listening. She ran towards the school, calling behind her, "See you later Miss!"

Was this destiny, the inexorable circle of fate that led Rina and Cat, hand in hand, down the same path that she and Miss McKenzie once trod? Fate also, that they should dance across the apartment, first as teacher and student, then, swaying headily, to tumble down—as lovers—

Rina knew what was happening, but she couldn't stop herself.

"What kind of dance? Flamenco? The cha-cha-cha?" Cat was asking, leaning across the settee. "Imagine! Cat and Rina, the famous flamenco dancers!" she bobbed her head, clicking her fingers to her own beat.

Rina popped the cassette into the player and pressed the on button. "I thought we'd start with something easier. A walz."

The problem with the flamenco, passionate as it was, was that you danced it on your own.

Cat got to her feet as the music started, and easily took her hands.

"Where did you learn to dance?" she asked.

"Oh, an old friend of mine taught me—now, put your hand up a little higher. You don't need to hold my waist."

Blushing, Cat moved it up to Rina's shoulder.

"That's right. Now, if you just copy me. One- two- three- one- two- three-"

"Rina dear, you're stepping on my toes."

"Oh, sorry Miss McKen—um, Anita."

"Don't worry. You'll get it the hang of it."

"Ouch!" Rina exclaimed. Cat had trodden on her again.

"Sorry!" whispered Cat. "I don't think I'm very good at this."

"You'll get it in the end."


"You've got the footwork down, so now you need to forget it."

Cat looked puzzled.

"Dancing isn't just about memorising steps. You need to feel the music. Then it will tell you when to move."

Cat nodded. The next song started, and it was one of Rina's favourites. It was very sweet, very melancholy, and she saw Cat could feel it too. She was trancelike, she moved like Rina knew she should, with that supple lean body like a cat's… And Rina, she forgot about everything. She was leading, and being led, and—

Miss McKenzie's arm slipped from Rina's shoulder, down her back, and she slipped into her arms. And they were swaying on the spot, revolving round each other's gravity, the walz forgotten. They were chest to chest, and Rina was sure she must feel her heart, beating like a rabbit's.

She was filled with the urgent need to say something, confess anything. "Miss McEnzie," she gasped. "I—I—"

But Miss McKenzie pressed a finger to her lips. "Don't say anything." And a dutiful student, she obeyed…

And they swayed, one room to the next, as Rina knew they would. Through the living room, the kitchen, into the bedroom, to fall- of course! Rina's ankles catching against the fan heater, back onto the bed.

They lay there, Cat on top of her, both breathing heavily, though the dance had not been a fast one. Cat moved. She knew she would, the girl could never stay still; she could never stay still. Sliding herself up like a sinuous snake, to lay her head between Rina's breasts as though she was a cushion. They looked at one another for a long time. Then, like a curious child, wondering what would happen if she dared to do it, she raised herself up. Her hair dangled over their faces like a curtain, and she smiled and tucked it behind her ear, kissing Rina on the lips.

Rina thought she might drown in those deep eyes of hers. Her hand on her ripe cheek, she kissed her again, slow and lingering—and God, she was wrong; she could drown in that kiss. She could drown in this girl. Eyelashes quivering, Cat's eyes closed, she leaned her body deep into her hers. God- God! Feeling every inch of her; her skinny hips, her small triangular breasts, pressing their bodies together as though they might fuse, bed springs crying out in protest.

"What do you mean she's left?!"

The secretary examined her coldly, wedged between the staffroom door, blocking her passage.

"I mean she's left, Pearce! She cleared out her desk this morning."

"But—but why?" Rina was having trouble holding back her tears; they blurred her vision, and the secretary divided like a kaleidoscope.

But all these pieces said the same thing; "I don't know. She said she had to leave short notice and she left. Now if you don't mind—"

"But why didn't she tell me?" Grief wrenched the words from her. But the secretary looked at her as though she was absurd, her eyebrows in her hair.

"Why," she said, "would she tell you?"

The door slammed on her face, and she was alone, just like she'd be for the rest of her life.

Tears were rolling down Rina's face, great droplets leaving snail trails down her cheeks.

"Rina?" said Cat. "Rina, what's wrong?"

"I try and forget," Rina sobbed. "I try, but—again and again—"

Cat moved to flick the light switch on, but as it clicked on, Cat's attention was diverted. She forgot about her crying teacher, and walked across the cabinet where several photographs were propped up. She picked one up, looking as though she was struggling to remember something.

"Rina?" she said. "Why do you have pictures of me?" She put it down, and found another. "This is me and my brother at Swanage…But this was taken years ago."

Curiosity made Rina's tears cease. "Yeah, and Kieran got stranded on that islet when the tide went out."

They stared at one another.

"Mum bought us ice creams, and Kieran dropped his—" Cat said.

"—So I gave him mine instead to stop him crying," Rina finished.

Cat reached up to touch her face, looking for something there. Solemnly she said, "I hate to tell you this Rina, but I don't think this is real."

"Yes, I was starting to think that as well," Rina said. Then she added pointedly, "To start with, I was never such a cry-baby."

"Really!" said Cat indignantly, yanking her hand back. "So you think you know me better than I do, just because you're me? Let me tell you this; I don't know if you were trying to be Miss McKenzie, but you were doing it all wrong. She was much cooler and mysterious, and a better kisser too. "

"Well, duh. I was there," said Rina.

"And she was… much more beautiful than us. More brave. And…" her voice trailed away and died.

"A better person," Rina finished.

"Arguing is always pointless, but doing it with yourself really takes the biscuit, huh?" Cat said softly.

"I just…" Rina's eyes filled with tears, "It's just I can't understand why she left. No matter how many times we go through it." Suddenly she threw herself onto the bed, clutching a pillow tightly. Her voice was very small. "Y-you don't think—it was our fault?"

Cat slid in next to her, sighing and staring up at the ceiling. "Don't be a child, Rina."

Repentant, Rina crawled up next to her, tugging her sleeve till Cat allowed her into her arms. She asked, "Do you suppose we've gone mad?"

"Maybe," said Cat. "But I don't mind so much. S'not as bad as they make out."

Rina snuggled up closer. "I don't want to go back yet. You won't leave, will you?"

Cat kissed her, where a tear hung to her eyelashes. "Of course not." And Cat held Rina, Rina clung to Cat, as Katerina held vigil for the woman she'd danced with as a child. The woman who'd never said goodbye. Who must be out there, somewhere, down the Spanish boulevards. Eternal gypsy, dancing away the years under the moonlight with another girl, and whom she would never see again.