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The Rothwell Redemption

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One

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I am screaming.

I scream for so long that no sound comes out and I feel faint, but I can't stop because of what's in front of me. My eyes are shut and even through the darkness it seeks me out, desperate to confront me with its agonising truth.

There is red and there is bright, blinding white and there is black, so black that I feel as though I will never see anything so dark and hopeless again, but then the black is replaced by more red and this time it's on me, consuming me, suffocating me with its never-ending pain.

"Darcy!"

A hand is on my shoulder, jolting, and my eyes snap open. My cheeks feel sticky and I can taste salt on my lips, and when I stretch out a hand it trembles so badly that I think for a moment it was real, all of it, and that it's happened again—

"We're almost there, sweetie," my mother says, glancing over at me and then back up at the rear-vision mirror. She smiles, but her eyes search my face for any kind of familiarity, something to tell her that I'm fine, I'm okay, it's just allergies or a cold or a sad poem that has caused the tears to make identical trails down my cheeks.

But it's not and I'm not and she doesn't find anything, anything at all, and so she turns away, focusing instead on the city traffic that is so unlike anything we're used to.

"Dad and Olly are already there," she tells me, as though I have been wondering and not gazing out blankly at the rows of houses, all closely packed together without front yards or back yards or gardens.

"Oh."

"Dad said he already told the moving men where to put your bed," she continues, slowing down to a crawl and holding up all the other cars behind as she searches for a street sign. "He didn't think you'd mind which room you had."

I nod in response. She takes it as a sign to keep talking, but she's talking about inane things that don't mean anything and I want to tell her to stop, that I don't care any more, not about anything, but I can't find it in me and so she flashes me a smile as she turns into a street full of identical orange-brick houses.

"It was all we could find in such a short amount of time," she says, pointing at one near the end of the street, with maroon trimming and a rusted wire fence. "Val tried, but it's hard for her, being so far away from the city properties…" she adds, referring to the real estate agent in our old town.

There are two moving trucks parked alongside the curb, and the trailer Dad borrowed from someone has been backed up the driveway and it's clear that they've only just started unpacking, so that the whole place is just chaotic. There are moving men scurrying around, and there's Dad setting the smaller stuff on the nature-strip and Oliver is standing on the front porch with a box in his hands and there are more people everywhere, watching, and someone is walking towards Dad and I can't help but remember the last time I was surrounded by so many people and my heart is constricting and my eyes squeeze shut because I don't want to go back—

"Darcy," Mum says, and I can hear the concern in her voice but all I can do in reply is look at her. She doesn't ask if I'm all right, just lets it drop, and I wish she wouldn't because they won't acknowledge it any more and it's as though it never happened at all.

"Maybe you should ring your friends, to tell them you've arrived safely? I bet Nash would love to hear from you," she says, and I can tell its just a ploy to get me out of the way so that this will all be over and done with as quickly as possible.

I shake my head and open the car door. The wind is cold and bitter and my arms are bare, but I let it wrap around me until I can see the hairs rise and the bumps form, and although my body feels it, my mind doesn't so I stand there until my mother prods me about getting some boxes out of the car's boot.

The biggest box of them all is in the middle and on its front it has a large 'fragile' sticker emblazoned across. Mum watches me carefully, and I can see that Dad has stopped what he's doing to follow suit, and for a moment I feel as though I am the box with the fragile sticker, the one that has to be watched at all times in case of breakages, the one that could shatter and fall apart at any given moment.

I pick it up anyway and, ignoring their gazes, walk across the road to our house. Oliver stands at the top of the steps, but when I approach he moves away quickly, as though burned. Inside it's nothing special – a kitchen, a lounge, a dining room, three bedrooms and a bathroom – and I move towards the counter. The box in my hand is heavy and I struggle; the side is almost on the bench but it slips, falling to the ground with a resounding crash that echoes around the empty room.

Oliver is the first in. "How hard is it to carry a bloody box?" he cries, coming to a stop next to me. Although he is younger than me by nearly three years, he is a head taller and he looks down at me, eyes full of scorn and something that I can't identify, and I know I should do something, anything, but I don't know what and so I just stand there.

Mum follows, stepping inside the front door as though she is afraid of what she might see – of what I might have done. The first thing she looks at is me and I catch a look of relief, before she turns her attention to the box and her eyes well up with tears.

"My wedding vase," she exclaims, brushing past Oliver to tear open the lid. Inside thousands of tiny, shattered bits of glass fall out, like a sprinkling of sparkling sand and they are so beautiful that I want to reach out and touch them.

I step forward, but there's glass underneath and it cuts my foot and now I'm bleeding, but I can't seem to care; not when Oliver turns to me and says, angry, "What's wrong with you? This is all your fault!" and it reminds me of another time, when it was also my fault, only it was much, much worse—

"Don't worry about it, sweetie," Mum says to me, but I can hardly hear her because her voice is choked with sobs and she wipes her eyes, reaching out to me, but I move away and now my blood is mixing with the glass and it's not beautiful any more, just an ugly reminder of destruction and horror and life.

"What happened?"

Dad walks in, directing the moving men who are attempting to wrangle our old faded brown couch through the front door, and he stops and his gaze roves over all of us, then rests on me.

"Just an accident," Mum answers, pulling herself together and rising off the floor, "do you know where we packed the broom?"

"Darcy broke the wedding vase," Oliver says to him, and because it was the last thing Dad's dead mother ever gave to him I see his eyes close, and then when they open they don't look at me.

"The dustpan's in Mum's car," he tells Oliver, who gives me one last look before going off to get it. Then Dad turns back to me and I wish he would look at me, because then I'd be able to feel his despair and not this empty nothingness which is threatening to consume me from the inside out.

"It's okay," he says, taking a step towards me. The moving men leave loudly to get something else, but Dad doesn't pay them any attention. "As long as you're okay – it's just a vase."

I nod but it's clear that I'm not okay, and it's not just a vase, and he's about to say something else but Oliver comes back in and shoves the handle of the pan into my hand.

"Here," he says. "Your mess; you clean it up."

"Oliver." Dad reprimands, glancing at me as though I too will break into a thousand tiny shards like the decimated vase, so that nothing and no one can ever put me back together again. And I have, but I can't tell him because the words get stuck in my throat and cut me with their implications.

"What?" Oliver says, "suddenly she can't clean now?"

"For Christ's sake, leave her alone," Dad snaps, and for a moment there's silence and Oliver's looking at him in shock, because he's never so much as raised his voice to either of us before.

"Whatever," Oliver says finally, and he drops the pan on the ground and whirls around to go back outside, away from us.

Dad hovers for a moment, torn between going after him or staying with me, but then he looks at me, really looks at me, for the first time since he walked into the room. I know that all that's there is hollowness and not anger and not bitterness like Oliver and so he steps away from me, and I am left alone in the empty room with only the broken pieces of something that was once whole for company; something like me.

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We have take-away for tea, from a Chinese restaurant around the corner, and we have to eat it on paper plates because we don't know where the box with the crockery was put. Nobody is talking except for Mum and the air is tense and irritable and I know it's because of me, but I can't find it in me to care.

"It's a pity we can't have chooks down here," she says, gazing wistfully into the tiny square that's our new back yard. It's dead and brown and there's a large patch in the middle where all the grass has been scuffed away.

"We'd have to get a council permit, and there's no room for them, anyway," Dad responds.

"There was room for them back home," I hear Oliver mutter, but either Mum and Dad don't hear him or they choose to ignore it.

"They would have been handy for fertiliser, too," she continues, going back to picking at her lemon chicken.

Oliver scoffs. "Mum, people down here don't use chook shit to make their plants grow – they can afford the real fancy stuff that costs the companies a dollar to make but they sell it for twenty."

"Oliver," Dad warns, looking up from his plate for the first time since we sat down. He doesn't threaten and he doesn't say anything else, but it's the tone he uses that's effective.

His words put a stop to Mum's chatter for a few minutes, but then she looks from me to Oliver and beams. "You'll be going to a city school," she says, "when I was your age I would have done anything to get to go to one of them," she adds in my direction.

"When you were nineteen you were married," Oliver points out sullenly. "And I don't think Darcy gives a shit about going to a stuck-up school. I don't think she gives a shit about anything."

Mum and Dad have both turned to look at me, horrified, but all I can do is sit in my seat and look at Oliver. I want to feel indignant, outraged, anything, but all that's there is the faint sense that he's right, that he's absolutely right, and I know that it should ring alarm bells in my head but it doesn't. It just leaves behind a fatigue so deep I feel as though I could crawl into bed now and never get back up.

"Oliver, go to your room," Dad utters lowly, reacting because I won't. He stands up so quickly that his chair scrapes against the tiles and makes an ear-piercing noise, so that Mum flinches and Oliver shudders, and it echoes right through me until it blocks out all other noise and thoughts but the bubble of familiarity that is rising inside me, telling me that I've heard a noise like this before, only it was so much louder and confronting and ominous than anything I'd ever heard before—

"You know what?" Oliver says, and I can see that he's squaring his shoulders for a fight, for some sort of confrontation so he can unleash his feelings on Dad or Mum or me because it's convenient for him. "My room's at home. Not here in God-knows-wherever the hell where are. You calling this home doesn't mean it is."

"What do you propose we do, then?" Dad asks evenly.

"Go home!"

Dad pauses, letting the force of Oliver's tone reverberate around the kitchen. "You know what can't do that."

"And why the hell not?" Oliver shoots back, arms folded. "It's simple. Tell them you've made a mistake. It's not hard."

"You're acting like you're six, not sixteen," Dad tells him. "What about the expense moving here? We can't afford it now, let alone again… and if you're prepared to stroll into a house that another family now owns, then by all means, go ahead." He shakes his head, "Just let it go, Ol."

"Why are we even here?" Oliver asks now, eyes flicking from Dad to me and back again so quickly that I can barely catch the glimpse of white-hot fury that's threatening to be unleashed at any moment. "We've left behind all our friends, the chooks, the dogs, your jobs… why the frig are we even here?" he repeats, narrowly avoiding swearing in front of our parents.

Dad doesn't say anything this time, but his gaze rests on me for a long time, his eyes full of sadness and regret and something else, and when all I can do is look back blankly, he turns away towards Mum.

Her hands are clasped so tightly together that they're white and I want to go over and pry them apart, to tell her that I don't care, that it's fine, but it's not and so I don't, and she doesn't look up. "You know why we're here," she says quietly, so quietly that I can hardly hear her and I see Oliver strain. "Don't make it any harder than it has to be, Olly."

"Why does it have to be this hard?" he says, but he's not angry any more, only disappointed and a little confused, and I'm reminded that he's only sixteen and it's the first time he's ever had to be away from everything he's ever known. And even though it's the first time I've had to be away from everything I've ever known as well, the difference is that he's desperately missing it and I'm not sure what to feel, or even if I feel anything at all.

Instead he focuses on me, because whereas he's not going to win the battle with our parents, there won't be a battle with me at all because I'll be the one who couldn't care less if it's a life or death fight until the end.

Later, when Mum and Dad are clearing away the empty containers and we're told to go to bed because we've got a long day of unpacking ahead tomorrow, he tells me, "I bagsed the better bedroom, because it's your fault we're here."

I nod and grab my toothbrush from the backpack sitting by the door, then head towards the bathroom. He follows and stands back, watching in the mirror as I squeeze a glob of toothpaste onto my brush, then place it on my mouth. He's staring, and I follow his gaze to my collarbone, where there is an enormous purple-yellow bruise the length of my hand.

"Does it hurt?" he asks suddenly, and for a moment, I think I see concern in his eyes. But then the handle falls off the tap and the clunking sound it makes reminds him where are, hundreds of kilometres away from home, two of millions of people living in this big, bustling city instead of the town we've lived in all our lives.

His eyes linger on the myriad of colours, and I shake my head no, that it doesn't hurt – not physically. But it is a reminder, a reminder that sometimes I stare at for hours just so that I can feel something, anything, even if it is gut-wrenching pain as my memory assaults me time and time again, reminding me of just how I got it – and what resulted from it.

It is my reminder, and long after the colours fade, and everything goes back to the way it was before, it will continue to be my reminder – of the person I was before, of the things I did before, and of the person I will never be again.

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A/N: Not much to say about my newest story. Unlike You, Me, Them, Us it hasn't been pre-written, so updates won't be as consistent - I've only got down the first few chapters so far. Any questions, queries or comments - please review, I'll be happy to answer them. Thanks for reading this far. :-)