Oh look more emo romangst. BECAUSE AS IF I DO NOT WRITE ENOUGH OF IT. xD.

First chapter is dedicated to Brouc, for being so awesomely fantastic lately, and smexy Chad for helping me out more than he'll ever know (insert hearts).

So, here's the thing. You get offered these two choices, right; to spend your holidays either at your boarding school, alone 'cause you're possibly being the only kid dumb enough to stay there (with the warm company of that creepy and possibly paedophilic caretaker), or at your sister's spacious and bodacious little farm up in the gorgeous green Atherton Tablelands.

The farm, right?


Boarding school all the way, baby. And somehow she acts like she's actually surprised by this answer, nay – stunned. Shocked. Abso-fucking-lutely flabbergasted.

"Dylan," she says, and her voice is perfectly calm if not a little exasperated. "I think you're being a bit difficult."

I give her my most charming smile, my hand snaking expertly between the dangerous cluttering of condiments. Ketchup, ketchup. Always trying to hide behind that Tabasco. Tsk. "No, mother. I am being extremely difficult."

Blue eyes are definitely the best for glaring with, I've noticed. They always have the perfect right ice-rage ratio, and let's just say my mother is a whiz with math. "This isn't a laughing matter, Dylan."

You always know it isn't a laughing matter when your name is said twice. Thrice, and I might as well book a grave. If you don't pre-purchase a site before your untimely demise, do they just stick you wherever? Always kinda wondered that. Would suck if you're into feng-shui.

"I'm not laughing." I point out around a mouthful of soft, mushy broccoli. And, seriously, I must have told her a thousand hundred times that I don't like it soft. I like it hard.

Foot in mouth much? I end up nearly choking on the broccoli. Laughing probably isn't the best option right now. I may be a dickhead, but I'm not stupid.

…Okay, so maybe that was a lie.

Her hand rises to push back that insufferable, so-blond-it's-practically-yellow fluffy 80s fringe of hers and I can't help it; I inwardly grimace, imagining those oddly rectangular nails of hers catching on her face. Every. Time. Serves her right for keeping them so long anyway. They're always this horrible, thick rust colour that clashes superbly with said hair.

"Dylan." Ah, there it is. I'm fucked now. "You're being completely unreasonable. I've already told Penelope you're coming, and she's already made the correct arrangements."

Oh, well, wasn't that kind of her? Just stupendous, mother. What arrangements this time? If it's anything like the last time then boy oh boy, I'm in for a treat. Will I actually be allowed home this time? Only time will tell!

"Well then, why even bother asking my opinion?" I give up on the sweet smile; fuck that, it's on now. "One-way ticket again, or did you suffer a rare burst of shame?"

I love it when my mother gets angry (except, obviously, when I'm on the receiving end of it. Which is, oh… ninety-eight point five percent of the time, I think?). She does this thing with her eyebrows, where it kind of looks like she's set inchworms free on her forehead and just told 'em to go nuts.

Hm. I haven't seen an inchworm for years, come to think of it.

"Why can't you ever just be fucking civil for once?! I just… I can't deal with you anymore, Dylan, I give up! Is it too goddamn much to ask for you to – and you wonder why I'm sending you away!"

"No," I reply coolly and I set my cutlery down, well aware that I won't be returning to the table after this. Which is a pity, really, because fuck that was some nice lamb. Broccoli master she ain't, but she does know how to handle sheepflesh properly. "You're sending me away because, as usual, you have no idea how to fix the mess you've gotten us into."

Her voice is low; nothing but a malicious hiss and I know I've crossed the line. Gee. What. A. Surprise."Get out."

I push back my chair, making sure it makes that unbearable squeal on the tiles just the way she hates, and tip my imaginary hat (I like to imagine it's a bowler – they always looked kinda nifty).

I take the sugar shaker on the way out, and I can hear her sobbing before I've even made it to the kitchen.

I don't turn back.

Not this time.

- - -

Two weeks, four days and several hours later I'm on a train, Northbound.

Fun. Tas. Tic.

I have about a weeks worth of clothes packed tight into my sports' bag (I think it was a cricket bag once?) and my blazing orange messenger bag beside me. No, it doesn't contain beautiful and angsty poems, awing sketches, or even books. I don't have a creative, poetic bone in my body (ignoring all sex jokes, please). Skipped that completely, whoops. It does, however, have my most prized possessions in it, and I cradle the bag against me with all the care in the world.

I jerk as something buzzes under my beloved orange hoodie, ignoring the annoyed noises coming from the old lady next to me. She hasn't opened her eyes the whole trip, and if she hadn't been moaning and groaning every time I so much as blinked I would've sworn she was dead.

I bet old people play dead just for fun. I sure would.

I dig the phone out, cursing as it slips through my fingers and grabbing it just before it hits anything noise-producing. Phones baffle me. Technology baffles me in general, but phones in particular. They seem to be shrinking by week, and what the hell happened to phones you could just, y'know, phone people with? I don't understand all these new applications. I swear, they're like fucking Swiss Army Phones now. Why the fuck do I even need all that crap?

…More importantly, what am I meant to do with it all? My contact list consists of five numbers, and two of which are taxi companies. One is the library.

The screen is flashing angrily, and I randomly hit at buttons to shut it the hell up. I seem to get the right one, because it stops flashing and makes a cute little beeping sound instead, swapping its epilepsy-inducing light show for a pleasant glow. Ooh. Rhyme. Fuck what I said about not having a creative bone in my body.

There's a little envelope in one corner and I squint at it suspiciously, trying to decide if it's actually worth the effort, before taking my chances.

It's from Mike: an eloquent hav fun in woop woop haha. With friends like these, right? Not that Mike is my friend per se – I'm not entirely sure what category I'd stuff him into. Fuck buddies, maybe, or at least we would be if we ever actually got down to that.

"Shut off the light," the lady moans, shuffling around so energetically for a moment I'm concerned her arthritic joints might snap. Can you get a hip replacement more than once?

"Shut off the noise," I reply under my breath, and press my forehead against the glass pane (are the windows actually glass?) as hard as I can without causing injury.

There are seven hours to go, seven long fucking hours, and already I'm yearning for my small, cramped little bedroom. My fingertips are aching for the towers of books, the constantly flickering light because I'm too much of a pussy to go up three goddamn steps and change the bulb. Hey, that stepladder is rickety, dammit. I'm pretty sure it's older than my mother.

At the mention, at the thought of her, I put the headphones back on and turn the volume up as high as it can go. Imagine the window is the window in my room, that it's looking out over our tiny backyard. The thin woolen blanket over me is my fluffy doona.

I force myself not to think of it as home.

Especially not her.

- - -

Penelope and I were close once, I think. We might have been. Is it possible that her desertion wiped out all the good memories I had of her, us? Does it work like that? Trauma does that, I hear.

Whatever. I'm sure we were close once. I still have notes from her, buried deep in my bottom drawer, on heart-shaped paper from her silly girly notebooks, her lettering wonky and almost illegible. Declaring her undying love in metallic purple ink; all those warm and fuzzy things that made me think we'd actually be okay, that we'd have that bond for the rest of our lives and dammit we'd be fucking invincible.

But we give family too much credit. I gave it too much credit. It isn't magic, it doesn't automatically mean things will be okay. In the end it's just a bunch of people with the same damn problems. Kids are so fucking naive, and let's face it; I never claimed to be smart.

I didn't even know mum was still speaking to her.

I'm the last person in the carriage when it finally slows to a stop. The old lady left three stops ago, taking the lead in the air with her.

I haven't eaten anything since I left, and my stomach is twisting and moaning in starvation. I don't think I've ever gone so long without feeding it, excluding The Black Period. I stroke it absently as the train slows, and it gurgles appreciatively. My stomach is such a greedy little bitch.

"If you are leaving us at this stop please be sure to take all your baggage with you. We hope you had a pleasant journey."

And it occurs to me, not for the first time, that I don't really have to get off. This train can't go on for much longer, right? I can just get off at the last stop, and… and what, I haven't worked out yet. I could just catch a bus back. I only have about twenty bucks to my name, the glorious orange note a crinkled ball in my pocket, but I have my mother's memory card details memorised and I can forge a signature like no one else.

Fucking coward, my brain sneers at me while my stomach busies itself with cartwheels, and I scowl at the opaque reflection in the window.

Fucking coward.

I get up, taking my hoodie and bag with me, and my walk is more of a stomp. The march of a determined man on a mission. Something wonderfully theatrical and melodramatic, and the moment my shoe hits the platform a satisfied charge twists through me.

Pfft. 'Sif I'm going to run away. I'm better than that, thanks.

The bus station is ride beside the train station, and when I retrieve my ticket the train takes off again, its roar cutting through the open air. Something sinks inside me – my heart maybe – and it's too late to do anything but continue the journey.

Fuck me and my stubbornness. Always leads me into trouble somehow.

The bus ride is another two hours, and I spend it blowing against the window and trying to write my name legibly without lifting my finger, my legs curled up on the spare seat beside me, noting the triangle it makes. Which triangle is which again?

Millaa Millaa.

What a place to settle down. From what I know about it – and trust me, it's fuck all – it's a tiny little dairy town. It has a waterfall. Nay, a waterfall circuit. And that, boys and girls, is the extent of my knowledge.

Ooh, wait! It's below Malanda, right? Or above. I can never read maps. Hm, Malanda. Makes me think of milk. Wasn't that brand? Once upon a time? Fuck knows. I'm not that into cow-juice.

The bus isn't that big, but there are nearly eleven people strewed about, and the noise remains at an acceptable level. I get another text from Mike half an hour in, exclaiming his hated for English. I almost reply, to remind him that it's the holidays, but there aren't enough little reception thingies because Optus hates me with the power of a thousand burning suns, so I leave it at that.

Towns, small and neat and homey pass us by and I press my shoulders back into the seat, testing how long I can hold the uncomfortable position before my legs crack a tantrum. There's a jumping spider making its way along the windowsill and I scoop it up in my hand, cupping my other hand around it quickly before it can make its daring escape.

The only thing I hate about jumping spiders is you can never bloody tell where they're moving. They're too small, too light, and I always get nervous about accidentally smooshing them between my fingers.

Fortunately, this one is a feisty one and when I cautiously remove my hand it leaps up straight away, clinging to my other hand, and I lead it back to the windowsill. Jittery little buggers.

Tablelands. What the hell was she thinking? Why doesn't she just send me away altogether? Might as well have sent me to fucking WA. Bet she'd like that.

I sigh, the tip of my tongue dipping over my lip, and stretch my legs out properly. The auburn-haired girl across the narrow aisle is not-so-subtly watching me, her hands resting oh-so-conveniently on the bottom of her denim miniskirt. She looks about my age, and her mouth is curled appreciatively.

I give her a lavish wink and turn back to the window.

- - -

You know those little postcards you get, cheap as chips, at little touristy shops? The ones with rolling, couldn't-get-any-greener fields with long rustling grass and cute folksy little towns?

Yeah. That's Millaa Millaa.

The bus depot isn't really much of a depot; a little square building with a single window. There's a redhead inside, in her forties I guess, with over-sized glasses and a coffee mug at her smudged lips.

The redhead in the miniskirt gets off the bus before me, her thongs hitting the rough gravel like she owns it. Her eyes don't even flicker in the window's direction and she has no belongings with her, so I take a wild guess and assume she lives here.

It's a hassle and a half getting the stupid bulging sports' bag through the thin doorway, and the messenger bag slips half-way down my arm when I finally manage to climb the hell down. I jerk in surprise as her hand comes from nowhere, her thin wrist wrapped with several pieces of coloured string, and adjusts the strap for me while I'm still trying to get the dumb (heavy) bag up off the ground. When I've managed it she holds out her hand, her long arm stretched out between us, and her handshake is firm.

"I'm Carice. Are you Pen's brother?"

Cue dazzling smile, and I cock my head to the side. "You know her?"

"She's friends with my sister." She tucks her hands into the back pockets of her skirt, the tip of her left thong digging into the gravel a bit. There's an old-looking scar curved around her tanned thigh. "She told us you're staying for a bit."

"Did she now?" I adjust the length of the messenger bag strap, and in the booth the lady still hasn't looked up from whatever she's reading, her hand propped up in the air weirdly.

She nods and looks out over the road, one hand arching up to pull the sunglasses down from her head. An old blue Holden rumbles towards the depot, slowing until it stops right in front of us. There's a young man in the drivers' seat and his hand flops out the open window, a cigarette burning between his dark fingers. Carice gives him the type of smile that suggests they're Close, and looks back to me as she snaps the sunnies over her green eyes. "You want a lift to Pen's? It's just out of town."

I glance at the guy, another person I can't be arsed to deal with. People tend to ask questions, and I hate questions. "Nah, it's alright. Thanks though."

She shrugs and gives me another flirty smile, shaking the loose gravel from her thong. "See you around then."

"Yeah, you too." I watch her climb into the passenger seat of the car, leaning across to give the guy a kiss, and they drive off. Nice enough girl, I guess. I have a weakness for directness, so my opinion might be a bit on the bias side.

I leave the sports' bag by my feet for a moment, wishing like fuck I'd worn my thongs too because there's a sauna going on in my joggers, and dig into my pocket for the stupid address. No, I have not worked out how I'm going to get there yet, thank you. But Carice said it's only just out of town, and the town doesn't look too big, so I'm sure I can walk it or something. Do they have taxis?

I almost drop the twenty bucks, swap it over to the other pocket, and finally snag the torn bit of paper mum scribbled Penelope's address on. Hm. Great. Now if only I knew how to get there.

I go to the booth, and ask what street we're on.

"Main Street." She looks up from what her Woman's Day and purses her lips for a moment. Main Street. She's got to be kidding me. They couldn't think of a better name? "Penelope's brother?"

Are you serious? What'd she do, alert the whole township?

"Yes." I hold back the irritated scowl, and stretch my lips in my bestest, sweetest smile. "I'm sorry, but I don't really know the way around. I was wondering if you could tell me how to get to her house."

She puts the magazine down and takes the slip of paper from me, her beady brown eyes deciphering my mother's scrawl. "It's a little ways out of town. You just keep going down Main Street, and left. You should reach it eventually."

The "eventually" makes me a little hesitant, but I thank her anyway and take the paper back. She goes back to her magazine and I go back to my mad navigational skillz.

I barely manage to get out off the gravel road onto an actual road when everything, as it usually does, heads South.


What? What the fuck am I ducking for?

I turn around, and there's a little dark girl running towards me in a fuss, her long skinny arms waving high above her skinny little head. She looks pretty alarmed, but I still can't see what the hell I need to duck from.

And then something skitters past me, a gust of flapping wind and I jerk around in shock as it brushes my shin.

A duck. A big, fat, snow-white duck.

"What are you, stupid?!" The girl shrieks as she dashes past. "Get it!"

Get… the duck? The fuck do I look like, a retriever?

The duck squawks, quacks, whatever ducks do, and abruptly changes course, its fat little body waddling back this way as fast as it can, putting some serious distance between it and the girl, who is yelling bloody murder at it. Who knew ducks could move so fast? Mm, duck. Shush, stomach.

And then it takes off.

"Fuck!" I duck quickly as it barely misses my head, heart leaping somewhere into the vicinity of my throat, and just when I think I'm about to have a heart attack a small foot flies straight into my shin.

I jump back, because fucking ow that hurt! What the hell, is she wearing steel-capped boots or something?! No girl her age should be that fucking strong!

"What the hell is wrong with you?!" She shouts, waving that little fist around for all it's worth and I narrow my eyes at her angrily, trying not to show the little brat how much damage her dumb foot did to my shin.

God. I get my ass handed to me by a little girl on my first day here. Shaping up to be a fantastic holiday.

"Me?! It's your own fault for letting it loose!" I snap back, grabbing my messenger bag off the ground and slinging it over my shoulder far rougher than I mean to, enough so that I whack my own chest in the process. "Control your fucking animals!"

"Don't swear at me!" She bellows and fuck me that girl's got some lungs in that small chest of hers. "And I didn't let it go, it ran away!"

"Well with an owner like you who could blame it!"

"Arguing with a twelve-year-old? Are you that bored already?"

We both turn at the bemused voice, and immediately the girl lets out a high-pitch, nails-on-chalkboard scream. I flinch, my ears implode, and I barely have time to step back as she rushes for the guy, throwing herself into his side. "Daniel!"

He's older than me, his skin that healthy golden glow all these people seem to have, and his hair in unruly chocolate curls. And he's holding the dumb duck in one arm, his arm wrapped around it even as it struggles and quacks in outrage.

Oh god, I'm imagining the duck's mood. I've been here too long already.

…I wonder if it's for sale. It is quite fat. Pfft, with what money will you buy the bird with, genius? See, this is why all my teachers branded me pointless. Oh, wait, twenty bucks. Score!

"You have to keep a better eye on him, Soph." He chides and I guess his age to be early twenties. Mid, maybe. He hands her the duck and it takes both her stick-arms to hold it, and even then it's a struggle. She better be planning on eating that thing. What a waste of fine birdflesh it'd be. "Lock the gate properly this time."

"Yes, I promise!" Her voice is giddy with excitement at having her stupid bird back, and her head whips around to give me a glare before she takes off, giving the duck a right old very loud lecture.

Affronted, I snort and turn away, ready to grab the next bus and head the fuck home when the guy speaks.

"Dylan, right?"

Fucking hell.

"What?" I snap, giving him the barest of glances. I'm pretty sure the duck touched my head when it flew off and ew, ew, duck germs. I have to force myself not to reach up and check for feathers. "I'm kind of in a hurry, so – "

"You're Penelope's brother." He cuts in rudely, but calmly, as if it isn't rude and holds out his hand. "I'm Daniel, her fiancé."

So she's engaged now? Didn't even know she was in a relationship. Then again, what the hell do I know about her these days? For all I know she could be the head of some crazy cult, intent on world domination or something. She might even have kids.

Oh god, please tell me she doesn't have kids. Unless they're still festering away inside her, I guess. But wait, doesn't that make women ridiculously hormonal? Well, more than usual. I remember my mother's friend was pregnant and I don't think I've met anyone more painful since. Then again she was a pretty painful person to begin with, even before she got all… diseased.

"I was sent to pick you up, but the car broke down on the way." He continues, and I stop mid-step. Great. No escape bus for me, then. Joy of joys. Why did they have to send someone to pick me up? They probably knew I was going to run. Sly foxes.

"How… nice." I mutter, turning back to him slowly and ignoring his extended hand. I don't meet his eyes; I can feel them studying me, and I know exactly where they end up. Hell, that's where they always end up. I can sympathise with girls, I think, and their breasts being the immediate centre of attention.

"Yeah." I say shortly, shoving my hands in my pockets in such a way that my forearms are turned away from his inquisitive gaze. "Apparently you should cut down, not across. Probably should have Wikipedia'd it first."

His eyes, crazy cornflower blue, move back to my face, slowly, as if he's not even bothering to hide his curiosity. "Try wrist to elbows next time. Foolproof."

I blink, a little taken aback by the casual tone of his voice. "I'll keep that in mind." I mutter finally, twisting the scars even further away from him.

He nods at my bag, offering his hand again. "Want me to carry that?"

"I'm fine." I'd rather not have complete strangers touching my very precious stuff, thanks. Future brother-in-law or not.

He looks doubtful, tilting his head to the side. "You sure? It's a long walk."

I look around for the car, narrowing my eyes at the lack-of-vehicle in the vicinity. "Where's the car?"

He turns away, and there's this annoyingly amused smile on his face. "I told you – it broke down."

"Wait," I pause as it finally sinks in, "we're walking back?"

"Yep!" He flashes me a cheery grin over his shoulder. "And it's a long walk. I'd let me carry that bag if I were you."

Oh, this is just fucking great. Just wonderful. First there's a crazy (yet so edible) duck, then a homicidal maniac of a girl, now this.

"Maybe I should just stay here for the night." I suggest quickly, already backing back into the depot. "You can come get me tomorrow, yeah?"
"Sure," he agrees mildly, "if you wanna get eaten alive by mozzies and dingoes. Watch out for the snakes too."

Whoa, wait, what?

I narrow my eyes suspiciously. Think, Dylan, think. What did you learn in school? …Wait, when did you last attend school?

"There aren't any dingoes up here." I retort, and I'm kind of proud of myself for keeping my voice so decided, because let me tell you I've got absolutely no fucking idea of what I'm talking about. "They don't live this far up."

Do they? Where the hell do they live, dammit?! Should I be worried about the snakes? What type of snakes? Are we talking brown snakes? Wait, no, they're not this far up, are they? Taipans? Coastal? Wait, aren't inland taipans more venomous? Are we inland or coastal?! Do they live this far up?! Shit, shit, shit. Dammit, I knew I should have paid attention when I got the Snakes Lecture! Three steps back, right?!

He shrugs and links his fingers behind his head, looking down at me with an upward twist of his lips. "If you say so, mate. Oh, and the station closes in an hour, so make sure you find a comfy patch on the ground. And be sure to stay away from the light – less mozzies that way. See you tomorrow."

…Is he fucking serious? He's actually leaving me here? What the fuck?!

I wait, watching as he gets smaller and smaller in the distance, this horrible dread feeling building inside me. He's actually leaving me here. By myself! And what if there are dingoes?! What if some axe-murderer comes along and axe murders me?! How the hell is he going to explain that to my mother, huh?!

He has to come back, obviously, I mean, it's not like he can just leave me here… it's illegal, isn't it? I'm still a minor dammit. Right?

But five minutes pass, and there's still no sign of him. There's nothing in the distance but the setting sun, the glorious pink bleeding into the evening sky.

Oh, fuckzorz.

I grab the bag by the straps, heaving it up over my shoulder as much as I can and take off down the wide aptly named street, cursing under my breath.

Dingoes, fucking dingoes.


He turns as I catch up to him, his left eyebrow quirked curiously. "Yeah?"

I scowl and shrug as nonchalantly as I can with the stupid fucking bag weighing my right side down. "Forgot to bring mosquito repellent." I mutter, and I can practically fucking hear the smirk.

Man, what a prick.

"Of course." He says smugly, and in my pocket my fist clenches. "Come on, then. It's a long walk back."

- - -

Nearly an hour later, I'm kind of regretting not handing over the bag. I'm practically dragging it along the ground, on account of how I'm pretty sure I've dislocated my shoulder or something. The messenger bag feels heavier than ever, like a lead weight around my neck.

"Are you sure you don't want me to take that?" He asks for the umpteenth time, his voice laced with amusement. Bet he's getting a real kick out of this. Bet kicking him would be even sweeter.

"I'm fine." I grunt. I am Full Of Lies. I twist the strap of the bag around, swapping sides to give my left a break. I'm pretty sure there are bruises blooming around my neck by now. Great, big, painful bruises. Oh why oh why do I have to be such an obstinate little fuck?

"If you say so." He's smirking again, and I give the sports' bag a savage tug, hoping the jerk trips and lands on his face. "Sorry about Sophia." He adds after a moment, the first thing he's said to me other than offering to carry my things.

"Who?" I bite back a wince as my shoulder pangs; I pause to swap hands and release a suffering sigh. Blisters are breaking out along the curves of my free hand, and I'm hold it open in front of me as I catch up to him, so that the bastard can see the pain I'm suffering.

…We will ignore how I'm the one causing it. What the fuck ever.

He makes a motioning movement with his hand, at something behind him, and I figure it's the town. Yeah, we're a long way from the town now. We're walking along a wide dirt road, with nothing but rolling fields around us. And cows. Lots and lots of cows. And, fuck, when mum said the middle of nowhere she wasn't kidding.

"Sophia. With the duck? She can get a bit… excited."

"Excited." I repeat sourly, remembering her waving fists. "That's a nice way of putting it."

He chuckles quietly, his hands in his pockets and shoulders slouched in a relaxed type of way. He doesn't seem bothered by the never-ending walk at all, but then why would he? He doesn't have to drag a thousand kilos of junk behind him. "Look, are you sure – "

"I'm fine." I cut off, tired of his stupid questions. If I haven't said yes by now, I am obviously not going to, am I? Geez. Give it a rest.

"Well, you're definitely Pen's brother." He says, sort of under his breath and I'm not sure if he means for me to hear it or not. Either way I snort, and kick back the desire to let him know that we have nothing in common.

"How long is this going to take?" I groan, hissing at the burning pain rolling over my shoulders and he looks up at the sky. The pink isn't quite pink anymore, and the stars are out in full glittering force. It can't be light for much longer, and then what? We walk in the dark? Because, yeah, that's way safer than sleeping at a bus depot.

He glances at me, the smirk still playing about his lips. "If I say an hour, will you let me hold the bag?"

"You wish, jellyfish." I mutter, annoyance flaring at the stupid answer. "Is it really an hour?"

He laughs again and stops, right beside a thinner dirt road, twisting off into the fields. "Ten minutes, tops. Think your weedy city legs can manage it?"

I bristle but don't answer; as if I'm going to give him the satisfaction of knowing my weedy city legs are absolutely dying. I don't walk much. Hell, I don't do anything much.

We turn into the smaller path, our feet wrecking the faint tyre tracks lacing it. My hoodie is knotted loosely around the messenger bag strap, and probably trailing in the dirt but when I try to look down to check, my neck protests just a bit too painfully.

It's evening, beyond evening, so why the heck is it so hot? Sweat pours down my forehead, causes bits of my shirt to stick to my skin in the most irritating of ways. Every now and then a breeze flares up, and the relief is indescribable.

I wonder if my mother thinks I'm here, actually doing this, or if she's assumed I've backed out and run away somewhere. Probably the latter, but I guess it doesn't matter much either way. As long as she gets her precious break.

Because, y'know, as if she's the only one that needs it.

And finally, fucking finally, we arrive at a fence. A great big towering, wooden-picket fence with a gate meshed in there somewhere, and Daniel has to take a key from his pocket to unlock it (oh yeah, I rock it).

Somehow, I expect a rickety old house made of straw and mud – okay, not really the last part. I'd like to hope they're slightly more civilized than that, but it has been a while so who knows.

Anyway. I expect an oldskool cosy country cottage, maybe. With vines snaking up the brick sides and flowers in windows, lace curtains and, hell, a chimney just for kicks. A barn, of course. What country house would be complete without a good ol' barn?

But the house is tall, phallic (lawl) and its walls aren't brick. They're concrete, and midnight blue. There's a double door, glass and twisting, shining metal, and the only things in the windows are glass.

No friendly vines, no chimney. No straw and mud, that's for sure. What does she do these days? Must be something with a nice paycheck. She always wanted to do political science, but dad said it'd never get her anywhere. Looks like she proved him wrong.

"This is it?" Like I even need to ask, pfft.

He closes the gate behind us, and gives the house a fond smile. I wonder if it's his or hers. Theirs. They probably have joint bank accounts and all, with a mortgage and university fund for any children already started. "This is it."

Well, beggars can't be choosers. Not that I ever beg for anything, thanks. Ignoring the obvious (insert seedy winks here plz).

The door must be rigged up to an alarm or something because it makes a cute little jingle when he opens it to allow me entry, and inside the house isn't much different. Contrasting blue and white walls, with hard, dark shiny wooden floorboards and an alarming amount of lights.

We pass through the lounge room, a pentagon-shaped room with a huge TV covering one wall and a dark blue L-shaped couch that looks more flat and uncomfortable than the floorboards. The glass coffee table is completely bare, and literally sparkling with cleanliness.

Well. At least she hasn't changed in that sense. She was always such a neat freak.

There's an airy bit of space before it morphs into the kitchen, a glaring white affair. She's at the stove, and she turns the moment our feet stop in the huge doorway.

The last time I saw Penelope was… what, two years ago? I'd love to say that I don't even remember, but, fuck it. I remember the day down to what socks she was wearing.

White, with pale pink stripes. Her favourite blue singlet with jeans, my favourite joggers. I wonder if she kept them. I don't think I even asked her to leave them behind. Must have been too busy with all that trauma.

I remember mum's frantic pleas, her cries (sobs) of how can you leave now, now? What is wrong with you?!

Remember the white-hot burning hatred that bubbled and boiled within my stomach, raced along my veins like wildfire. Angry wildfire. Because for once mum was right and how the fuck, how the fuck was she leaving? What the hell happened to family, dammit?

I haven't spoken to her since then either – why the hell would I? – and I'm not sure what I am. Anticipating, but not anxious. I don't think I'm anxious. Angry? Dammit, why am I stuck on A's? Asphyxiating.

Nervous. Am I nervous? Wait, is that the same as anxious? I'm not fucking anxious, dammit. I have no reason to be. I have no reason to be anything for this. To feel anything other than the nice, familiar hatred I've associated with her.

Makes me a bad brother, I guess, but trust me when I say she's the bad guy here. Girl.

She turns the moment we enter the kitchen, and my eyes skim right over her, from the top of her blond head to the tips of her heel-clad feet.

And I didn't think it was possible for her to have changed so much. Sure, a freckle here or there, maybe different coloured hair. But her hair is the same, the exact same strawberry-blond it always has been, and she hasn't gained any new freckles. She's gained a whole new face though. Somewhere along the line she's gotten herself a brand new pair of guarded, glacial eyes, there are shadows stretched over her cheekbones, lines where lines shouldn't be. Laugh lines aren't laughing anymore, that's for sure.

She looks older, much older. Older than I've ever seen her before, and I'm not completely sure that I'm talking about age.

Despite her eyes, despite her face, she looks good. Tall, trim. She's dressed up librarian-style, with her black slacks (I'm just on a roll tonight, aren't I?), white button-up shirt and black cardigan. I guess the countryside is doing her body good.

So what the fuck went wrong with her face?

I'm tempted to ask, tempted to demand what crack surgeon she paid to pull that off, but I don't. For the first time in my life, our lives, I have no idea what to say to her.

What does one even say in a situation like this? 'Oh, hey sis, long time no see. By the way, thanks for abandoning me while dad was in a coma and mum was having an emotional breakdown. Just what I needed!'.

Probably not going to go down so well. Maybe I should wait until after dinner, at least. It does smell good.

She speaks first, and there's not the slightest hint of uncertainty in her voice. Maybe I'm a little envious for it. Maybe I'm not. I can't decide. "Dylan. It's been a while."

"Two years." I agree mildly, since, hey, she's the one that brought it up. In case she's somehow forgotten how long she's been not-with us for. "You look… tall."

Taller. We were always competing for height, back in the day. When, y'know, our parents weren't dead and/or crazy. I went through all these amazing little growth spurts, as you do, and quickly caught up to her. Not now, though. She must be nearly three inches taller than me. Can I blame the heels? In any case, I'm back where I started. Smaller.

So why did she get to run away from it all? She was the oldest one.

For a long moment her eyes study me, study mine. I don't look away. I'm not a complete coward, y'know. They move down my body, and I instinctively twist my wrists away. If she notices she doesn't show any sign. "You look…" The rest of her sentence remains unspoken, but the words hang in the air anyway. Like him.

I don't reply, but I give a shrug. The loosest shrug I can manage under the circumstances. I know I look like him. Mum tells me that constantly, silently of course, with her eyes and her mouth and the way she can't look at me properly. I just. I guess I didn't expect her to mention it, him, so soon. If at all.

For the longest time nobody speaks, and nobody moves. She doesn't look back at my face; her eyes linger on my knees, my shoes, my stomach. Anything but my face. The wooden spoon twists in her hand, and the bracelets on her wrist make this irritating twinkling sound every time she does it.

And still, the words hang there between us.

Finally, she clears her throat and glances behind her at the stove, making vague stabbing motions towards the saucepans. "I'm making a vegetarian curry. Last time I checked you didn't eat meat, so…"

Pfft, last time she checked.

"What, two years ago?" I wrestle down the smirk; victory is mine. "I've gone carnivore, sorry. Maybe you should have checked again. Y'know, from time to time."


Her spindly fingers tighten around the poor wooden spoon until I'm almost sure she's going to snap it in half altogether. But she doesn't. Her nostrils flare impressively and her eyebrows do that thing she's inherited from our mother, and some of that old fire returns to her eyes. "Well – "

"I'm not hungry anyway." I denounce whatever she's about to say, and turn with my bag in hand. "I'm just going to go to bed instead."

"Dylan – "

But shes cut off again, this time by her fiancé. He actually holds his hands up in the air, like he's trying to break a physical fight or something. God, what a loser. "Just let it go, Pen. It was a long train-ride."

I nod earnestly, conveniently forgetting to mention I slept most of the time on said train-ride. "I'm really tired."

Of her. Of this place, the air. The space between us. I'm tired of it already.

Her eyes narrow for a moment, and she doesn't look at all pleased about it, but she mutters a "fine" and turns back to her stove.

Family reunions. Nothing like them. (Thank god.)

Wisely, Daniel doesn't try to talk to me on the way up the stairs. The walls are covered in photographs – photos of them, in groups of smiling people with their arms wound fast around each other, framed in gold and perfectly spaced. Cute. No photos of family.

Upstairs is a wide hallway with four doors, startling white against the walls. They're smoky grey, the paint done in a way that makes it look like smoke. It's interesting, if nothing else, but quite frankly a little too dressy for my tastes.

He points out the door at the very end of the hallway, and hanging on it is a small, square, bare black chalkboard. "That's the bathroom. There's another one downstairs too, beside the lounge room."

"Sweet." I mutter, turning away from it and peering over the smooth, dark timber railing. If I twist my neck to breaking point I can see the beginnings of the kitchen; a splice of luminous white tiles, but not enough to see if Penelope is throwing a fit or not. Damn.

He goes to the door nearest to the stairs, and pauses with his hand on the gleaming silver knob. "You're staying in the spare room. Pen and I are in the one beside you."

I give him a sordid smile, releasing the railing. The fall wouldn't be far enough to snap any necks, unfortunately. "Lucky me."

He doesn't comment on the tone, the smile, anything. Gotta give him props for that, if nothing else. "It isn't much." He warns me before he opens the door, and he's right.

The room is perfectly square, with naked white walls and a rectangle window above the bed. The single bed. I don't think I've had a single bed since I was six.

There's a desk, and a bookshelf with a single thick black book that looks suspiciously like the Bible. There isn't even a shade or cover around the light bulb – it's just hanging there on its thin wire, giving the room the most damn sinister lighting you'll ever find outside a murder scene.

"Wow." I mutter flatly. This is going to be heaps fun. O to the M to the G.

"I did say it wasn't much." He points out and I step inside gingerly; it's completely spotless. Like, seriously. You could wipe your finger along the windowsill like they do in movies, and I bet your finger would come back as clean as the day you were born. You could eat off the floor, probably.

Well, that isn't going to last long.

"Anyway," he motions towards the light switch, as if that's the only thing worth showing me in this place and it most likely is. "It's yours for as long as you're here, so feel free to do whatever you want with it, short of destroying it."

"Whatever I want?" I look back to him with a hint of excitement, and he nods earnestly, probably just relieved I've shown some interest in something.

"Sure. You can decorate it, or hang out in it, and – "

In retrospect, shutting the door in his face probably wasn't the best idea. But hey, he did say I could do whatever I wanted with it.

In any case, he doesn't so much as knock, and I wait until his footsteps fade before dumping the bag down onto the bed. It doesn't sink into it, doesn't so much as dent it.

Great. A hard mattress. Nothing like my bed of feathers.

I cross the room to the bookshelf; just as I suspected, it's a Bible. So, what, Penelope's turned into a God-worshiping Christian now? Catholic? What the fuck is the difference anyway?

I snort, and slide the book back. God ain't gonna help you now, Pen. He sure as fuck hasn't helped us in the past, has He? Sure didn't help you.

The window is only inches from the bookshelf and after I take a few sugar sachets from my bag I crack the venetian blinds, actually hoping to see something decent.

Oh, what a fool I am.

Miles and miles of green. Hills, valleys, dips and curves. Grass, grass, grass, for fucking miles. Cows. Goddamn cows.

"Fuck you too." I snap, and yank the blinds shut.

The thongs are obviously of the shoe variety. Not underwear, folks.

Yes, Millaa Millaa is a real town (a lovely town), but I'm altering the layout a bit xD

(Sorry about the title, Ez :P)

Um. Review puh-leez? D: Even if you just wanna tell me it's made of fail.

Dirty Angel Toes