“I already told the Gardai what I know.” Tall and thin as a rail, the professor gathered his notes with brisk efficiency. “I believe it was an Inspector O’Duffy conducting the investigation. Have you spoken with him?”
“I have an appointment with him later this week, but hoped you might spare me a few minutes in the meantime.”
He placed the notes inside his briefcase and snapped it shut. “I’m sorry, Ms. Lane, I really knew very little about your sister. On those rare days she bothered to come to class at all, she hardly participated.”
“On those rare days she bothered to come to class?” I repeated. Alina loved college, she loved to study and learn. She never blew off classes.
“Yes. As I told the Gardai, in the beginning she came regularly, but her attendance became increasingly sporadic. She began missing as many as three and four classes in a row.” I must have looked disbelieving, perhaps a little stricken, because he added, “It’s not so unusual in the study-abroad program, Ms. Lane. Young people away from home for the first time . . . no parents or rules . . . an energetic city full of pubs. Alina was a lovely young girl like yourself . . . I’m sure she thought she had better things to do than sit in a stuffy classroom.”
“But Alina wouldn’t have felt that way,” I protested. “My sister loved stuffy classrooms. They were just about her favorite thing in the world. The chance to study at Trinity College meant everything to her.”
“I’m sorry. I’m only telling you what I observed.”
“Do you have any idea who her friends were?”
“I’m afraid not.”
“Did she have a boyfriend?” I pressed.
“Not that I was aware. On those occasions I saw her, if she was in the company of others, I didn’t notice. I’m sorry, Ms. Lane, but your sister was one of many students who pass through these halls each term and if she stood out at all—it was through her absence, not her presence.”
Subdued, I thanked him and left.
Professor Ahearn was the fifth of Alina’s instructors that I’d spoken to so far, and the portrait they’d painted of my sister was that of a woman I didn’t recognize. A woman that didn’t attend classes, didn’t care about her studies, and appeared to have no friends.
I glanced down at my list. I had a final professor to track down, but she taught only on Wednesdays and Fridays. I decided to head for the library. As I hurried out into a large grassy commons filled with students lounging about, soaking up the late-afternoon sun, I thought about possible reasons for Alina’s unusual academic behavior. The courses offered through the study-abroad program were designed to promote cultural awareness, so my sister—an English major who’d planned to get a Ph.D. in literature—had ended up taking courses like Caesar in Celtic Gaul and The Impact of Industry on Twentieth-Century Ireland. Could it be she’d just not enjoyed them?
I couldn’t see that. Alina had always been curious about everything.
I sighed and instantly regretted the deeply indrawn breath. My ribs hurt. This morning I’d awakened to find a wide band of bruises across my torso, just beneath my breasts. I couldn’t wear a bra because the underwire hurt too much, so I’d layered a lacy camisole trimmed with dainty roses beneath a pink sweater that complemented my Razzle-Dazzle-Hot-Pink-Twist manicure and pedicure. Black capris, a wide silver belt, silver sandals, and a small metallic Juicy Couture purse I’d saved all last summer to buy completed my outfit. I’d swept my long blonde hair up in a high ponytail, secured by a pretty enameled clip. I might be feeling bruised and bewildered, but by God I looked good. Like a smile that I didn’t really feel, presenting a together appearance made me feel more together inside, and I badly needed bolstering today.
I’ll give you until nine P.M. tomorrow to get the bloody hell out of this country and out of my way. The nerve. I’d had to bite my tongue on the juvenile impulse to snap, Or what?—you’re not the boss of me, second only to an even more juvenile impulse to call my mom and wail, Nobody likes me here and I don’t even know why!
And his assessment of people! What a cynic. “Walking victim, my petunia,” I muttered. I heard myself and groaned. Born and raised in the Bible Belt, Mom had taken a strong position about cussing when we were growing up—A pretty woman doesn’t have an ugly mouth, she would say—so Alina and I had developed our own set of silly words as substitutes. Crap was fudge-buckets. Ass was petunia. Shit was daisies and the f-word, which I can’t even recall the last time I used, was frog. You get the idea.