Well. I don't like this chapter any more than the last one, but better than nothing, y/y? It's only slightly more jumbled, I promise.
Apologise for the thousand and one mistakes. They were all Chad's fault for being so damn distracting.
TRANSLATIONZ FTW: 'Yowies' are like the Australian version of Kinder Surprises – they were little toys of Australian animals sold with chocolate. I collected them hardcore. 'Blinky Bill' is a cartoon from the 90s about the adventures of a mischievous koala. My kids are currently addicted to it D: Umm. Nantaimori is the male version of Nyotaimori, which is a sort of food-play/fetish, I suppose, where sushi is eaten off the naked body. Don't think there's anything else anyone should get confused about, but as usual if there is lemme know so I can clear it all up!
I promise Millaa Millaa is a lot more beautiful than I am making it sound. It's a lovely, charming little town that I would happily spend the rest of my life in. If you live in Australia then I strongly suggest you head/down/across that way, and check out the Tablelands in general, especially the waterfall circuit.
Dedicated to Nada for bringing such joy to my life for two years and counting, touch wood.
leafykin: Life's long-winded, unfortunately D: Lawl, concise is never as fun ;D
Lauren: My middle name is pronounces like Mays. I'm not sure where it came from? My parents are English and Australian, if that helps. Oh gosh, my profile. Heh. No, Tuesday and Ashley are not the same person. Tuesday is my husband, but we're separated, and so Ashley is my amazing boyfriend. Chad is one of my best friends, quite possibly the most beautiful guy in the world, and someone I happened to fall in love with along the way. Hope that cleared any confusion up! And I'm glad you've read everything for so long. Thank you (hearts)
His Terrible Beauty: SPIN? I do intend to finish it, and of course I want to. It's just a very difficult chapter to write, and I haven't really been in the right state of mind for it lately. I promise I will finish it! XD I am in Africa, yes, and I am still married. S'alright, I know you're not some crazy stalker after my organs :P Thanks for the review!
Nada: IS A WHORE. HA!
Inkspilled: Sorry, the slang can get confusing I guess D: Arvo does mean this afternoon, and FFS stands for For Fuck's Sakes. I say it all the time, like the geek I am.
Amindaya: Oh good! I have watched Everybody Loves Raymond and I have to say I hated it. I just couldn't stand his voice – it grated me. Eh, it was a typo. You should know what my horrible English skillz are like D: Hope you are okay, take care x
eViL-uNicorns: OMG how can unicorns ever be evil?! D: But um thanks for the review!
Koira: …Do not tempt me. I am so tempted to do that now. Gah! If I ever write it, you'll be the first I send it to ;D
AlwaysForTheGay: It's weird because I'll be totally fine, all walking along dandy-like and then this weird sudden instant panic sets in and I bolt off to some room and slam the door. Have to calm myself down. I have no idea why. But eh. Freaks ftw!
Kilian: Ah, teenage drama. Nothing else like it. I've named my pets all sorts of weird things xD I pity our kids, though. They got some whack names.
Ze Shoopuf: Nah, I'm totally fine with crowds. I think it's from so much clubbing xD To be honest most of it comes because I talk like that all the time. It just all kind of slips in and as long as it works out I'm not really bothered, y'know? Thank you for the review though x
meep: No D: I have like. No faith in self. It's a curse :(
Evanescent October: OMG they just started showing reruns on… Nickelodeon I think? Some kids' show on Foxtel. I was proper excited – probably more excited than a twenty-one year old man is allowed to be about a kids' show :P I keep the theme song on my iPod. I'm weird like that. Thanks x
vimaro22: I'm a very social person, but I loathe small parties? Which is a bit backwards I guess. I'd rather a massive event with a thousand strangers crammed around me than a small group of people. Thanks for the review.
Brouc: Whatever, lesbian. I LOVE YOU. HXC. Even your eyebrows! (Well, no, but I can shut my eyes and pretend they don't exist)
Muthine: Mm, green ants are delicious. They are the perfect snack for when you are out and about and completey broke :D Hee thanks!
Y: I have no idea who that is, sorry D: I don't read a lot, if at all. But it sounds good?
blue spaghetti socks: Ugh, he annoyed me so much. I think he's a bricklayer now. So much for fame. Wtf is applesauce?! D: My silly Amerifriends eat it and I'm like wtf sauce of apples who what how?! I get confused. Anyways thanks for the review!
firestar267: It's funny how big collecting them is. I never thought it was something people actually invested in until I was randomly browsing them on Wikipedia. And OMG I love Milo! I have it every morning (and day and night). Thanks for the long review, take care!
Shampain86: I love you, Chad.
Whoever invented the Nokia ringtone needs to die. Like, seriously. Right. Now.
A gargled half-moan escapes my mouth, throat, as it starts up, in all its irritating glory, muffled by the knot of blankets around it, and me.
I find it somewhere under my stomach, vibrating madly against my hip in a very unpleasant kind of way, and smack myself in the head with it while trying to find my goddamn ear.
Yawn. Hit the green button. "Mmf?"
Fuckers wanna wake me up at fuck knows what time it is and expect a conversation? HA!
There's an explosion of noise, music and yelling and shouting and oh god what the hell?
"Dylan! Dilly!" Ugh. Mike. His voice is thick, words slurred and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to work out he's wasted beyond repair. "How's it hangin?!"
I never got that. How is what hanging? My mood? Life? Balls? How the hell do these stupid expressions catch on?
"Mike." I rub the bridge of my nose and then my eye, pulling a face when my fingers come away damp. Yum. "What the fuck, man? It's like…" I pull the phone away from me for a moment, squinting frantically at the tiny digital clock in the top right corner. "Three. It's three in the fucking morning."
Whoa. How the fucking heck did I sleep for that long? How did I sleep at all? God, I must have been absolutely knackered. I don't even remember falling asleep.
I sit up properly as he howls some reply, some unintelligible bullshit, rubbing at my face and oh god stop yawning before my jaw dislocates, please. Can you even do that? Dislocate your jaw from yawning too much? "Mike. Mike. Fucking hell. Can you even hear – "
The line goes dead.
…You've got to be fucking kidding me.
That asshole woke me up just to… UGH! Fucking hell! I chuck the phone angrily, throwing myself back down onto the hard mattress and probably fracturing my spine in the process. What the hell?! Why call me just to… ugh. Ugh. Whatever. What the fuck ever, Trevor.
I pull the pillow over my face for a moment, stifling another yawn, and I bloody hate this stage. Where you're sleepy but not quite sleepy enough to drop straight back into it and Jesus Christ if my stomach was any louder it'd beat out whatever heavy metal band is all the rage these days.
I sit back up, blink into the darkness. Wait, darkness? I never turned the light off. Did I? Ugh, I don't even remember.
The party. I remember the party.
Great. Wonder how pissed at me she is. I wonder if she's told mum by now – pfft, of course she would have. It'd be yet another thing for them to be disappointed in me for, another point of conversation for them. Oh, that Dylan. Always getting up to crazy hijinks.
I throw the sheet off, my feet hitting the rough carpeting and I grab my phone again, using the light to find the actual light, flipping it on before stepping into the hallway. It's dark up here, but there's a light on downstairs and it provides enough for me to find the bathroom.
I lock the door, before remembering that oh yeah, the fucker's broken. Oh well. Who's going to be wandering around at three in the morning? …Besides me, of course.
While I'm washing my hands (I srsly do not get people that don't wash their hands after they've been to the toilet. I mean, what the hell? Basic fucking hygiene, people) I glance up at the stupid petal mirror and wince. Jesus. I look like shit. I look like the shit of shit. There's purple, black, some dark colour under my eyes like I haven't slept for a goddamn week, my hair messier than it's ever been and my eyes are a blurred mess. I'm a charmer. Whoever ends up with the honour of waking up next to me every morning for the rest of their life is going to be a lucky dude.
I run a hand through my hair, grimacing when all it does is aggravate the knots, and eventually just settle for washing my face. I'm such a wuss with that. I know you're meant to, y'know, wash your eyes properly and all but I can just never do it. I can never hold them open – even when I've got shit in them and I'm trying to flush it out. I always close them against the spray.
The ice cold water does fuck all; I still feel bleary as all hell, and my hand fumbles blindly for a towel, not even caring about the stupid shelving system. I dump it on the edge of the sink when I'm done, turning the light off on the way just incase it somehow wakes up Her Royal Highness. Hell, she's probably got sensors for that sort of thing. Who fucking knows with her.
His usual bullshit.
I pad downstairs, still attempting to get my hair into some kind of order, and freeze at the bottom of the steps when a very male voice calls out, "babe?"
There's a squeak from the side, the source of the light, and I turn around almost guiltily as Daniel comes out from the dining room. He's wrapped up in a robe – an actual white, fluffy bath robe with oh god, his initials etched into the breast (what is with them and initialing everything?), thin glasses perched on his nose. There's a coffee mug in one hand, papers in the other.
"Oh." He says flatly, his affectionate expression falling and I snort bitterly.
"Sorry to disappoint."
He rolls his eyes with what I suspect to be exasperation, sipping from his coffee before pushing his glasses back up his nose. They suit him, I think. Some people were just not meant to wear glasses, and some were. He'd be in the latter, lucky for him. I can't imagine myself with glasses. Then again I could probably rock some emo shades. … Except for how shades aren't glasses. Shuddup. "Are you always such a drama queen?"
And then I remember when we last saw each other – at the part, when I'd shoved him off and swore at him about his wife. Oops. Still, aside from the regular ol' disdain there seems to be no anger or anything like that about him, and after a hesitant moment I shrug.
"Only when I haven't had enough sugar."
"Ah." His lips twist as if that explains everything, and he turns back into the dining room, his footsteps damn near silent. I wait until he's gone before heading into the kitchen, pausing in the doorway.
It's a complete mess. And I mean a mess. There are pots and pans everywhere, rags and tea towels thrown over the benches, cups everywhere and for a moment I'm not even sure I've come to the right kitchen. Maybe Penelope's got sucked into some black hole, or I'm in some crazy alternate universe.
Oh, how I wish. I bet AU!Penelope is a blast. Bet AU!Daniel is a hippie, and Ben is one of those grandpas that hand out sweets to the kids on his block.
…Actually, no, that always struck me as creepy. Way to lure them in, pops.
I find a clean glass and open the fridge on the hunt for H2O. No. Such. Luck. The door is filled with bottled water, and bottled water only. That's funtastic. Oh wait, icemaker!
I check it out, work out how to turn the stupid water part on, and let it fly. Success!
I wonder if anyone's actually really succeeded at describing the taste of water. It's just… there's no words for it, y'know? It's tasteless, and entirely full of taste at the same time. I don't think anything else is quite like it. A friend of mine once said that trying to describe love is like trying to describe the taste of water, so I guess that's close enough. Not that I'd know.
Since I have nothing better to do I wander into the dining room, to find Daniel seated at the table with about ten pamphlets strewn about in front of him, all painting guides. You know, the ones with all those little rectangles of colours to help you pick what you want to paint your house with?
"Couldn't sleep?" He asks when I've sat down two seats away from him, without looking up from his pamphlet. There's a colour chart in front of me, all rusty reds and blazing oranges.
"Friend woke me up." I have no idea where the almost aggressive pride comes from; it clings to the word 'friend' and the need to put that out there almost embarrasses me. God. Sometimes, I swear. Beyond. Pathetic.
I'm not sure if he's actually interested, just making conversation or trying to get me to shut the hell up but I end up shrugging awkwardly, taking another long sip. "Yeah. Roommate at school. What's all this for?"
Fine, I admit, it's a lame attempt at a subject change but hey. The awkward uncomfortableness is not really something I'm too fond of. Because I'm not even sure I consider Mike a friend. He's a dickhead on the worst of days, an excellent blowjob on the best. What category is that?
He sighs, throwing the pamphlet he's holding across the table and picking up a giant circle on, peering at the little rectangles. "It's for the Trezonas' new house."
I have no fucking idea who the Trezonas are, but that settled whatever curiosity I had about what Penelope's man does for a living. "Is that why you're awake?"
"Something like that." His lips quirk for a moment, and he takes another mouthful of his coffee or tea or whatever the hell he's drinking. "Penelope snores, and I'm a light sleeper."
I blink in astonishment, borderline stunned. She snores? The great, perfect Penelope Valentine snores? Lawl. Oh god, that's just too good. "Really?" I swear, I try to keep the snickers down but they break through, and I quickly muffle them with my hand just incase His Royal Highness gets all insulted on her behalf or something.
"Really." He confirms, the smile fading as he frowns about some colour on the sheet in front of him, before he sighs again. He takes off his glasses and rubs his eyes, gathering all the pamphlets into one pile on the centre of the table, before getting up and leaving the room without another word.
I reach out and move his glasses off, taking the top sheet from the pile. There's one rectangle circled; a rich cream titled, believe it or not, Cream. Colours have never really been my forte. Wtf, like I even have a forte. But either way it was never art – I can't draw, can't paint, definitely can't pretend I feel anything more than a vague interest in the subject. I don't get how people can be so awed by a piece of art. Like, those people who are moved to tears. I don't get that. I look at it, and I feel nothing out of the ordinary. If it's a nice piece and I like it that's cool, but no moving happens.
I guess I'm faulty like that.
Penelope was always the artistic one, the one with the burning interest in that sorta shit. She was forever spouting off random poems and making obscure references to artwork, artists, all that crap. It always went straight over my head, and my dad would joke about how he was so proud to have such a typical male for a son, whatever that meant.
I'm so engrossed in looking at all the different colours (who the fuck knew there were so many shades of one damn colour?) I jump when there's a clink; the sound of a plate meeting the table and I blink at the plate in front of me in confusion.
"I figure you haven't eaten." Daniel explains simply, handing me a knife and fork and I'm lost for a moment, before it all falls into place. Spaghetti. Belly. Right
"Thanks." I say eventually, still kind of confused about why he's feeding me when the guy doesn't even trust me enough to be in his house alone, doesn't care about me enough to make sure I get back safe. And it suddenly occurs to me that I could have walked back to the house, to here. At some hour of the night, not really knowing where I was going.
Would they have even tried to come after me? To call me, check up on me? Would they have just let me wander off into the night?
He takes the sheet from me, biting his lip thoughtfully before pulling a biro from his pocket and circling some other rectangle. "You're welcome."
For what it's worth the spaghetti is actually really nice. I've eaten a lot of types, and it's definitely one of the better attempts. The sauce is rich, almost damn intoxicating, and I don't even miss the cheese. I love cheese on spaghetti. It's my weakness. Wave a plate of spaghetti in my face and I might move, but hot damn, sprinkle some cheese and I'll be eating it out of the palm of your hand. Probably not literally.
Ew. Like a whole new form of nantaimori.
"Alright." He dumps it back down with the others, sticks his pen back in his pocket along with his glasses, and takes his mug. "Just leave the plate in the sink. I'll do it in the morning before Pen wakes up."
Good idea, because I'm bettin' she'd throw a fit at the sight of the kitchen right now. I nod, preoccupied with trying to twirl my spaghetti around my fork properly, and mumble another thanks before he bids me goodnight and disappears.
And it's suddenly less eerie down here alone. Not as… something. Maybe just because the spaghetti is deliciously warm in my belly, or because I know there are other people here should an axe murderer randomly pay a visit, or maybe I'm just too fucking tired to be nervous.
Either way I finish my spaghetti, dump the plate in the sink with the rest of the dishes (and there are a lot, and I wonder how early he's going to have to wake up to clean it) and wander my way up back to bed.
I don't bother looking for my phone.
I hum the Blinky Bill theme song, head buried into my pillow. The mattress is fucking concrete beneath me and I sigh, twisting around to rearrange myself into something a little more comfortable (god, is there any way to say that without it sounding dirty?).
Pretend I'm anywhere else but here. I'll call my mum tomorrow, figure out what the fuck is going on. What I can do, because Lord knows I ain't staying here. Not after last night. And then the moment I hit Brisbane I'm going to pack my shit back up and go back to school.
I have to.
I can't stay here.
- - -
This time Penelope doesn't try to wake me up.
I wake up myself somehow, the sun already blasting through the pathetic excuse for a window, and I wonder how long this cold shoulder thing is going to last. She was always excellent at ignoring things when she wanted to.
Ignoring me when she wanted to. Like, say, when she was leaving us. But hey, everyone has their faults, right? Pfft.
I get out of bed, brush my teeth. Grimace at the almost nauseating mintiness Colgate provides, the smell so strong it almost makes my head spin. When I shower, I don't check the towels. Just throw a wet hand out, eyes squeezed shut, and when I've dumped it on the ground I can kind of see what might be either a P or a D.
Oops. Shit happens.
Downstairs the TV is blasting, some stupid country music channel (coincidentally called Country Music Channel) and Ben is collapsed on the couch, his great big fat head lolled back and a thin stream of drool shining on his face.
Oh, just fucking delicious. I swear that man is incapable of even looking nice. Sleep is supposed to make you look serene and beautiful or some shit. Personally, I'm pretty sure I look like a drooly loser myself when I'm asleep, but hey. I know I could do better than him, that's for sure.
I barely get one foot in the kitchen before the door alarm goes off, that ever-so-catchy chime strumming through the air. At first I assume it's Daniel and almost consider not checking it, but then figure I better just in case that axe murderer did decide to drop by.
"Oi, loser." Carice is standing at the door with a teasing smile on her face, her hands shoved into her baggy jeans, her hair in a messy heap around her head like she's tried to get it all into a hair-tie and just given up along the way. "Figured you'd be here all lonely by your lonesome."
I shrug, nodding back towards the house slightly. "Not exactly the best of company."
I guess she must know who I mean, because she laughs a bit. "Yeah, Ben's a real gentleman. Anyway, you want a tour?"
"A tour?" I repeat stupidly, utterly confused and she steps off the doorstep with another laugh, her thongs slapping against the cement.
"Of the town, dumbass."
What, driving to one end of the street and then back to the other? Some town. Forgive me if the idea of a 'tour' sounds less than appealing. So I cock my eyebrow and glance out over the long-ass driveway, and the dirt road attached to it. "You mean your little village?"
She gives me a wry look, shaking her head. "If you don't respect it, it ain't gonna respect you. Now get your ass dressed, and meet me back here."
Bossy bitch. Not that I'm complaining; anything has to be better than sitting around in this great big empty house with great big assholey Ben.
I get dressed – am smart enough to ditch the jeans this time for some high-quality boardies and joggers, and drag a comb through my hair. It kind of just flops back into its usual disheveled bullshit though, and I don't really have the time or patience to deal with it. I jump the stairs, land wrong and probably shatter my ankle, and Carice is still exactly where I left her, eyeing off the half dozen yellow butterflies dancing around one of the windows.
"You look very smart." She says in a crisp English accent (kudos to her and her mad skillz) and I shrug loosely as we make our way to the familiar ute parked crookedly in the driveway.
The driver's seat is already occupied by Leon and for a moment I hesitate. Am I causing him even more trouble? But he smiles a bit as his girlfriend climbs in beside him, and gives me a lazy once-over. "Hey."
"Hi." I close the door behind me, hating the stupid cramped ute already and Carice sets about wrapping herself around her boyfriend's lean body as much as she can, nibbling a bit at his ear lobe first as he starts the ute up. Oh, young love. It's amazing how often it can be mistaken for vampirism.
"Where abouts you wanna go?" He asks me, and as if I have any fucking clue. "Well, no. You wouldn't know."
Uh, no shit, Sherlock. Keen observational skills you got goin' on there. Geez, Louise. I settle back in the seat as Carice directs him, obviously more at ease with this navigational stuff than I am. That's cool.
In any case we start driving, or technically Leon starts driving and we just sit back, and it's shaping up to be a cloudy day.
Perfect day for touring. Perfect day for working out how the fuck to get out of here.
- - -
The town? Might as well be a village. Are villages and towns the same thing? What the heck is the difference between all those labels anyway? I thought a city was anything with a church. I was told that, at least. Who knows.
In any case, the town is not exactly something to get all excited about. We stay in the ute the whole time, driving around looking at various (very boring) buildings. There's a bank, where apparently Penelope works, which surprises me kind of because I thought she'd be more… I don't know, something more. Not that there's anything wrong or lowly about being a banker, but I figured she'd be some hot-shot lawyer or something. Real estate at least.
There's an eatery, a takeaway shop that Carice works at, a very small-looking school, a few random shops, service , medical centre and yeah, that pretty much sums up the awesomeness that is Millaa Millaa.
"That's pretty much it." Carice sighs, and even she sounds unimpressed. She's slumped over Leon like she can't even be bothered to hold herself up anymore. "Unless you wanna see the lookout."
And because barely two hours has passed and we obviously have nothing better to do, off we go to the lookout.
There's a long winding road up a long winding hill, and Leon parks, right at the edge of the curved road, underneath a giant shady tree.
"This is the lookout?" I ask dubiously as we all get out, and there isn't another car around as far as I can see. And Lord knows what I expected – a tower, maybe. Ooh, a lighthouse, like the one in Byron Bay.
Pfft. As if this dumb town would have anything awesome like that. Unless we're counting cows, because fuck knows it has enough of those.
There's a lameass attempt at a fence around it, this short wooden thing following the curve of the land, and we traverse to the edge of it, where miles below the land stretches for, well, miles. As far as the eyes can see – it's all green. Ridges, valleys, farms, leaves and trees with leaves and leaves of trees, grass and I don't even know what. It's a fucking sea of green.
"Isn't it amazing?" Carice says from beside me, and there's this awed tinge to her voice. Like she can't imagine anything more beautiful, and I squint down at the land with nothing but fucking nonchalance.
I just don't get it. I don't feel it. Where's the awe? Where's the wonderment? Why the fuck can't I gush and squeal and feel elated over something so beautiful? And I'm not going to be all "oh woe is me, I am dead inside" but Jesus fucking Christ sometimes it would be nice to see what everyone else sees. To feel what everyone else feels when they look at shit like this, just so I know how I'm meant to react.
"Yeah." I say flatly, sticking my hands in my pockets. Forgot my phone. Oops. "It's beautiful."
That must satisfy her, because she doesn't ask again. She smiles, her long fingers brushing over the Mizpah Coin around her neck. She murmurs something under her breath and gives Leon, leaning back by the ute, a big smile and he returns it with a nod. He doesn't seem the type to be bowled over by scenery either, but maybe that's just me and my judging books by covers and whatnot.
"Hey," she turns suddenly, her eyes lighting up, "you wanna come to Leon's for lunch?"
Whoa, his house? Uh, I think that crosses the Too Personal line, thanks and somehow I don't think he'd be too thrilled at the idea. But he seems to like it, because he says something like "for sure" and my stomach, the opportunistic bitch that it is, gives a loud rumble.
"I don't wanna impose – " But I'm cut off by her snort and she grabs my arm, yanking me back to the ute without letting me get another damn word out. Eh, fair enough.
- - -
Leon lives a bit out of town, apparently, but on the opposite end to Penelope and Daniel. Jesus, who doesn't live out of town here? Then again I guess there ain't much space in town, is there? It's a huge house, supported by the thinnest-looking steel sticks I've ever seen, and underneath is so open that I can see straight through to the backyard, and to the blue cattle dog that quickly decides what he's doing just doesn't cut it and makes a beeline for us instead.
"Hey, Jimmy." Leon bends down to pet the slobbering pile of slobber, and the dog (Jimmy, apparently) tries to damn near clamor into his arms. "Been a long morning, eh?"
Carice hangs back, giving the dog a simple pat on the head and it, he, whatever, gives me a weird look (shuddup, I am telling you dogs have certain looks dammit) before shooting back off for the yard, barking energetically at what seem to be chickens. Or something like them.
"He's pretty easily amused." Leon informs me with a shrug, as if that explains everything, and heads up the long wide stairs. And hey, what dogs aren't? Not that I'd really know. Wasn't really allowed pets growing up; dad had all sorts of crazy allergies and mum was far too anal to let a mutt near her home. Wouldn't even settle for a cat, oddly enough. She always seemed like a cat person.
Inside, the house resembles a Queenslander and I almost shiver at the sudden change in temperature – somebody is obviously very fond of the air conditioner. We barely get two steps in the hallway when there is a loud, almost inhuman screech.
"Leon! Connor threw my toothbrush in the bin!" There's a furious holler and I stop dead in my tracks as Sophia hurtles into the hallway, her little fists waving around her head. "You!"
"You." I repeat in confusion, before Carice looks back and forth between us and works out what's going on.
"Ah, you've met. Soph is Leon's little sister and Connor – "
She's interrupted by a pained howl and a little boy bursts onto the scene, looking like he's barely seven. Scrawny little thing with wide hazel eyes and the finest Angel hair I've ever seen. He's got a blue backpack strapped on tight, his little fingers balled around the worn straps. "Leon! Sophia hit me!"
"– And this is Connor." She finishes with a jovial sigh. "They're the best of friends on the best days, and worst enemies on the worst."
"Sounds like all siblings." I mutter as Connor and Sophia launch into an argument over who threw what when, and Leon looks on with what might be amusement. Or scorn. I can't tell with his lack-of-expression and all.
"I'm lucky that way." Carice snickers. "Only child for the win. Want something to eat?"
"Uh." I tell my stomach to stfu again and shrug as casually as I can. Less starving hobo plz. "Nah. She's right."
She scoffs that off (thank god!) and leads me through to the kitchen; a small shanty of a thing, with peeling green lino and exposed beams. There's a black man at the stove, and for a moment my head scrambles for some recognition. Ah, Neil – Daniel's friend. What's he doing here?
He turns at us rocking up, his face splitting into an easy smile, teeth dazzling white. "Hey, Carrie."
"Don't call me that." Carice groans and wanders over to him, swooping in front of his legs to steal a little bread roll from the oven. "I brought Dylan for lunch, if that's cool."
He snorts and for a moment I feel almost guilty, until the damn contagious grin shoots my way. "What's one more mouth?"
"Sorry." I apologise and I hate the stupid shy tone of my voice. He just laughs it off, and asks me to grab another plate from the cupboard to take outside. Carice helps me, plucking some cutlery from a drawer and leads me out.
'Outside' is a huge veranda, spread over a sprawling backyard with so many different types of bikes down there it looks like a bloody BMX track. There's a huge octagon of a table, already set, with colourful paper streamers wound around the chairs and veranda beams. We put the plate, cutlery and glass at one of the spare chairs and I wonder how many people live here, and what the heck their relationships are. The two little hellspawns are brother and sister – Leon's brother and sister at that. And Benjamin is also his brother. So is Neil… also his brother? Carice said he had five siblings. So who's missing then?
"Alright, LUNCH!" There's a holler, Neil I guess, and a rapid flurry of footsteps. Conner and Sophia are the first out, shoving each other along the way on their race for the best seats. Leon follows, as Carice flops into the nearest seat and yanks me down beside her. Leon takes the chair on the other side of her, kissing her temple tenderly first (aw) and setting down the basket of bread rolls, and Neil follows with a huge-ass covered platter, his other hand trying to keep a grip on a big glass bowl of salad.
He stumbles, the platter just finding the table before he can really let it go, and Carice saves the salad from total doom with her quick reflexes. "Whoa! Shit!"
"Don't swear!" It's a combined yell from the two kids, and he quickly surrenders his hands.
"I said ship! Ship! Oi! Benji!" He twists his head over his dark, bare shoulder (singlet, people. He is not shirtless, geez. Perves) and squints inside the house. "Can you help me bring the rest?!"
He goes back in, only to come back out with several more dishes, closely followed by his little brother. Ah, so the elusive Benjamin is home after all. He is laden with two more trays (he has to balance one on his thin little hip) and his face is just a little disgruntled. "Don't call me that."
Leon and Neil both roll their eyes and they both set about uncovering the platters, as Benjamin glances back and forth between me and Connor dubiously, before choosing the chair nearest to the brat. Pfft, fine. I can handle rejection. I'm a big boy.
Oh. My. God.
Seafood ftw! One of the platters is a giant fish, eyeball and all, its mouth a great big gaping 'D', drowned in coconut and it smells so fucking divine. Another is prawns, great big King prawns in all their delicious glory, and the last is whole crab, hot to the touch and oh. There's another, an ambiguous heap of meat that smells as damn good as the fish, and amongst the salad, pasta salad and bread rolls my stomach is having a fucking field day. Jesus – does he pull this off every lunch time?
"Can I poke its eye?" Sophia asks excitedly, raising up on her chair to threaten the fish's shiny eyeball with her fork. Connor of course leaps up on his chair too, his knife raised to fight her for it, until Benjamin shoves it back down.
"Can you not be so barbaric?" He hisses, and I doubt Connor understands the words but he sure as hell gets the tone, because he backs down quick-smart and Sophia follows suit.
"Help yourselves." Neil's advice is a little too late, because Carice and Leon are already hooking into it, helping the kids with theirs and I grimace as the crab's legs are snapped. I'll never get used to that sound. I frown hesitantly at the nameless meat, pointing at it after a moment.
Leon scoops me out some without even waiting, his grunt of "croc" almost unheard over the racket and my stomach growls in appreciation. If there's one meat I have a weakness for it's croc all the way, baby. Though birdflesh is a pretty close second.
"Do you normally do this every day?" I ask Neil in amazement, because I know how damn long it takes to cook fish like that, and crab on top of it. And by the way – they both taste fucking delicious.
He shakes his head. "Only when I've got the day off. You were just lucky enough to pick the right day." He gives a throaty laugh and chews off a hunk of bread roll. "So how long you with Dan and Pen for?"
Ugh. Why does everyone have to bring them up? Way to spoil my appetite, people. Do they not get that I do not under any circumstances want to talk about precious Daniel and precious Penelope? Jesus. Who would.
So I just shrug, and he seems to get the drift because he doesn't mention it again. Talks to Leon instead about some fancy new exercise equipment he's got his heart set on. He does look pretty well toned – like the type of guy that can bench… whatever strong people bench. Whatever the hell that even means. And yes, I'm aware it's obvious I've never been to a gym in my life. What the hell for? I have the fastest metabolism on the planet. It's like the Flash, multiplied by Quicksilver plus Speedy Gonzales.
Benjamin doesn't say a word the entire time; just shrinks down in his chair when the two devil's spawns start their rambunctious rough-housing and picks at his fish with as much enthusiasm as a prisoner on Death Row.
"How's school going, Ben?" Carice tries to lure him out of his silence once; he gives her an alarmed look, looking so damn frightened by the sudden attention that she drops the interest immediately, sighing and giving me a oh-well roll of her eyes.
After the lunch is more or less over everyone pitches in to help clean up; it's a marathon of carrying trays, rinsing utensils and fighting over who gets what tea towel. In case you're wondering I end up with the floral one, not that I'm feeling real picky about it, and for once I don't even feel a twinge of annoyance at having to help. They're just as rambunctious during the clean-up as they are during the dinner, and somehow the time just flies by.
"Thanks, dudes." Neil stretches, the edge of his shirt lifting to reveal a sliver of dark skin, before clapping his hands together once. "Alright. Connor, Soph – get your little butts into the shower. You guys stink."
He gives me another nod, thanks me for coming and herds them off, ignoring their outraged snarls about 'stinking'.
"Oi, Benji!" Leon calls from the kitchen, hunched over the bench to browse a newspaper. Said boy scurried off the moment the washing was done. "You want a lift to work?"
Wait, if he has school why is he working then? Why is he even home? It is a school-day isn't it? Who the hell knows with these rural towns, man. Who knows.
In any case Benjamin appears in a dark blue polo and black pants, hands dipping in and out of his pockets almost nervously. "Y-Yeah. If that's alright."
Leon just shrugs and shuts the paper, straightening up to ask his girlfriend if we're ready. Apparently we are, and we all head back downstairs to the ute. Now, utes are meant toseat two people comfortably. Three people is pushing it a bit. Four people? Yeah. Good fucking luck.
But Leon shows no signs of worry, and only Benjamin seems a bit apprehensive about it, but I'm not sure if that's regarding the seating plan, or just having to be near people. He seems the agoraphobic type. Oh god, please don't let him be claustrophobic.
He isn't, apparently, because aside from the uncomfortable look he wears on his face for the whole journey nothing much happens. No hyperventilating, so that's always pleasant. No one really talks, and we're so fucking cramped in that tiny ute that his leg, thigh, is pressed skin-to-skin (or jeans-to-pants) against mine, the body heat radiating from him damn near scorching. He keeps his eyes firmly fixated out the window, shoulders bunched up all neat and compact. He doesn't say a word the entire trip, and I guess I'm not all that surprised. Doesn't seem to get along with his brother, and by extension Carice, and it's not like he's going to be Mr. Open with me when he seems to be one closed-off kid.
Carice blasts the radio, her arm slung across Leon's shoulder in a way that her hand dangles out the open window, fingers shifting with the rushing wind.
We drop Benjamin off at a convenience store – the only real store in town, it seems – and he doesn't even mumble a thanks on his way out. Neither seem bothered though; I guess it's a typical thing.
"That's pretty much it." Carice leans across me to peer out the window up at the sky, which is looking a little moody. "The whole shizzle. Unless there was anything else you wanted to see…?"
I shake my head, mostly because I have no idea what else there is, and I'm inclined to believe her. "Nah, s'alright. Actually I should probably head back, just in case they're wondering where I'm at."
And no, I do not actually think they're worrying about my whereabouts, but I've taken up over half of both their days, and sure it was Carice who offered in the first place but the guilt is still there. Especially since I have no idea how Leon feels about me. For all I know the guy might completely hate me, and not be very impressed with having to drive me around all day.
"You sure? We're just gonna hang at the lookout or something." She seems hesitant, but I dig my heels in and in no time we're on the dirt road towards the house.
And I have to admit – it's been a really nice day. Not extraordinary, not amazing, just… nice. They're a nice family, nice people, and hanging out with them was a pleasure. I'm in pretty high spirits, and something akin to contentment settles into my belly as we turn into the makeshift driveway. There's an older-looking ute parked hazardously across the front with a few ladders and planks of wood in the tray; I assume it's Daniel's.
"Thanks, for the tour. And for lunch. Your brother's a great cook." The last part is directed at Leon, obviously, and he gives me his usual solemn nod. Carice twists her upper half around and gives me an awkwardly-angled hug, and I gotta admit it feels quite nice. Not in a perverted way, you sick fucks, but… comforting. Warm. Friendly.
Like a friend.
Oh god, Dylan, could you be more of a sap? Want a bucket to collect it up with?
After waving them off and coughing from the dust-storm his ute creates I wander inside, finding the front door unlocked and Daniel in the kitchen, scowling at his left arm. From wrist to elbow is covered in bright red paint, and it's also splashed over his white singlet, looking quite fresh.
"Fun day at the office?"
He looks almost surprised to see me, and for a moment just shrugs. "What have you been up to?" There's a hint of suspicion, and he raises his eyebrows when I explain the tour, and the accompanying lunch, with much gusto.
Moments later Ben's head pops in, mouth twisting into an ugly scowl when he sees me. "Where the fuck have you been? Didn't even leave a note. Thought you'd run away – obviously shouldn't have got my hopes up."
Don't even dignify that with a response, Dylan. Just. Ignore. It.
"Dylan's been gallivanting around town with the lovely young Carice Ford." Daniel explains with a loose grin, bending down to the cupboard under the sink to fetch the bottle of turpentine. "He was lucky enough to experience Neil's cooking."
The old bastard waddles into the room properly, his head bobbing a bit with every step. "Those Wyatt kids are bloody mongrels." He growls, his words coated with distaste. Dripping with it. Daniel rolls his eyes, obviously choosing not to comment, and sets about rubbing the paint up his arm off.
"You know Carice is taken, right?" He says suddenly, as if coming to a sudden realisation or something. I blanch in horror because what the fuck?! Why is it that the moment you hang out with a member of the opposite sex for longer than half an hour you're suddenly (supposedly) getting it on with them?
"Uh, yeah. Very fucking aware of it, thanks. So not interested." Aside from the fact that she's a walking vagina, her boyfriend looks like he could (and would) tear me limb from bloody limb if I even so much as tried to hit on her. Also, repeat: walking vagina. Enough said.
"What self-respecting girl would want to touch you anyway?" Ben sneers, wrinkling his nose at the potent smell of turps, and I almost want to snarl at him, before I remember that I have nothing to snarl at him with, because I've never been with a girl. You can't rub something in someone's face if you ain't got nothing to rub in. So I ignore that little barb and sashay out, heading upstairs to my makeshift bedroom. Everything is exactly how I left it – except when I glance at where I left my Kinder Surprises, my beautiful precious Kinder Surprises…
For a moment I just stand there, momentarily stupefied, and maybe they've just moved them to clean them. Maybe… maybe…
"Uh, guys?" I walk back out, the cold, cold feeling growing in my gut. Rapidly. "Guys?" I stop at the top of the stairs, and Daniel comes out still rubbing at his wrist with a cloth. The smell of Turps is fucking dizzying, even from this far away. "Where are my Kinder Surprises?"
His nose scrunches as he wipes between his fingers, looking befuddled. "Your what?"
"Kinder Surprises." I repeat with an amazing amount of patience, as Fear closes its vice-like hands around my stomach. "My toys."
He tosses his head, like he's trying to get hair out of his eyes except his hair doesn't quite reach that far, and frowns. His mouth purses a bit in confusion. "Toys? What, like… oh, Kinder Surprises. Like Yowies."
"Yeah, like Yowies. I had a whole fucking collection in my room. They're not there now."
My voice rises a bit unintentionally, thanks to all that hysteria I guess, and I roll my hand towards my door. "Who moved them?"
He still looks completely confused, and shakes his head slowly. "Haven't been in your room, kid."
"First of all don't call me that." I snap, and by now the anger's starting to bite. "Someone obviously did because they were there when I got up, and they were there when I left, and now they're not there."
"What's he whining about now?" Ben shuffles from the kitchen, and at once Realisation hits. Because srsly who the fuck else was home all day?
"Where are my Kinder Surprises?" I demand and fuck trying to keep the hostility out of my voice. "I fucking know it was you."
He looks surprised for a moment, before his big ugly face hunches up all angry-like and his tone is all snarl. "What the fuck are you on about?"
"Whoa, whoa." Ever the peacemaker, Daniel raises his hands, the cloth rust red. "I'm sure there's an explanation somewhere. Dylan, I seriously doubt Ben would just steal your toys."
"Bullshit." I sneer at the same time he scoffs, chortling about a boy my age having toys. "Everybody fucking knows you've got it in for me."
Daniel sighs, sounding quite exasperated. "Dylan, stop swearing. Dad, have you seen his… Kinder Surprises?"
"The fuck are they?" Ben grunts and by now I want to wring his fucking neck. Want to jump these stupid stairs and grab his stupid fat and choke the living fuck out of him. "Oh, those dumb little toys? I threw them out. Thought they were Sophia's."
"You threw them out?!" It's a screech, a howl and oh my fucking god I'm going to kill him, I am going to fucking kill him! The blood is fucking pounding in my ears, my veins and I want to hit him, want to ram my fist into his goddamn head because what the fuck was he thinking?!
He shrugs. Just… shrugs. Lifts his big shoulders up, sets them back down. His expression doesn't change.
A shrug. Eight hundred fucking toys, and I get a shrug.
"They took me fucking years to collect!" I'm shouting, beyond shouting, my fists practically fucking shaking with rage and I jump the steps, striding towards him with every fucking intention of knocking the bastard out. "Do you have any fucking idea how much that collection was worth?!"
"Whoa!" Daniel gets to me before I can reach them, his large hands finding my shoulders and holding me back. "Dylan, calm down. We can fix it."
"Fix it?! Fix it?! HE FUCKING THREW THEM OUT!"
And he smirks, he bloody smirks and oh god, oh god I am going to break his neck, I am going to kick his motherfucking head in! What the fuck is that bastard's problem?! What the fuck did I do to him?! Does he have any fucking idea how hard I worked to get all those fucking toys?!
Ben's smirk turns into a sneer, leaning forward a bit as if he's fucking challenging, daring, me to hit him, to reach past his son and just deck him. "They're just toys."
Just toys. Just toys?! JUST FUCKING TOYS?!
"Dad, shut up." Daniel snaps, shooting him the barest of glares before turning back to me and giving me a harsh shove back; I stumble but regain my footing and damn near take a swing at the asshole. "Dylan, calm the hell down! Dad's going to find them, aren't you?" He whirls around, his mouth set in a thin line.
Ben snorts, folding his arms across his broad chest. "I ain't finding sweet F.A. Maybe he should grow up; seventeen year old boys shouldn't be playing with little kids' toys. No wonder no one can take the brat seriously."
And he walks out. Twists and waddles off into the lounge room, into the dining room beside it and I can't take it anymore – I spin around and race up the stairs, slam the bedroom door behind me ignoring Daniel's shouts.
I can't stay here, I can't fucking stay here! That man is a sadistic fucking asshole! As fucking if he thought they were Sophia's – why would they be in my room?! That bastard!
I grab my phone, dialing the numbers so roughly that it takes me six tries to get the right number; it's one of the few I know by heart, and fuck knows why. It's not like I ever call it.
It rings once, twice. Four times before my mother's voice – tentative, wary, like she knows who this is and of course she fucking does you idiot – and I don't even give her time to finish her greeting.
"Why the fuck did you send me here?! What the fuck were you thinking?! Do you have any fucking idea what this place is like?!"
There's a pause, a startled pause I suppose, and I have to breathe, I have to calm down, Jesus fucking Christ I have to breathe. "Dylan? Baby? What's wrong?"
I give a laugh, a hysterical cackle because oh god, baby? Is she fucking serious?! "Oh don't fucking call me that, don't try to pretend like you weren't complaining about my fucking existence last night!"
Another pause, even longer and my heart is pounding against my ribs, so forceful it almost kind of hurts. I feel sick. "What are you talking about? What's wrong? Why are you swearing so much?"
"What am I talking about?" I repeat, my voice damn near fucking breaking it's so high, so rushed and squeaky and what the fuck is wrong with her?! Like she has any goddamn right to sit there and act all affronted! "How about when you called Penelope at the party last night? I fucking heard everything! What the hell is my usual bullshit, huh?! As if you fucking see me enough to know anything anyway! You sent me away to boarding school and then tried to send me to another fucking state, remember?!"
"Jesus Christ." It's low, muttered almost as if she's trying to keep it under her breath. "You think the whole world revolves around you, don't you? Don't bloody flatter yourself, Dylan. We were talking about Ben. We didn't bloody mention you."
"Bullshit." I snarl, and the cold feeling in my gut is back. Creeping in slowly, like a little trickle just before the dam busts. "Don't try to fucking sugarcoat it, mum. There's no fucking point. I told you, I heard everything."
She laughs, the same bitter, hysterical laughter I had released moments before. "Oh, god. Of course you did. Of course you'd remember more about it. How silly of me to assume that seeing how I was the one talking that I would know more about it. Why don't you pull your head out of your own ass for once, Dylan, and act like a bloody adult for once. You didn't even stick around to find out, did you? Penelope told me about your little temper tantrum. Very mature."
"Fuck you!" I sneer, but the cold horror has overtaken my insides, absolutely coated it in uncertainty and embarrassment. They could have been talking about Ben – I didn't ask, didn't even give her a chance to explain.
No, no. They were talking about me. I know they were.
Ugh, shut up! I dig the heel of my hand into my forehead, grit my teeth. They're just trying to get to me. Just trying to… it's all bullshit. It's all bullshit.
I hang up, hit the red key without even really meaning to, and drop the phone on my bed. It stares up at me, glares up at me and I can feel my skin fucking burning.
Why didn't I just… why the hell didn't I just ask? Always rushing into things, never think before acting, I just. Jesus fucking Christ. How was I meant to know? They might as fucking well have been talking about me – it's the type of thing they'd do. When the fuck did they get all buddy-buddy again anyway? Last time I checked mum was never going to forgive her. Fuck knows it was the only thing we've ever had in common.
I sink onto the bed, bring my knees up. Glare at the empty spot my Kinder Surprises used to be.
- - -
No one bothers me for hours. At least, I think it's hours. The sky is darkening by the time I hear the call pull up at the front of the house, and a quick glance out the window tells me fuck all because my window doesn't even face that way. Genius.
I figure it's Penelope anyway. Just about time for her to get home from work, I think. I wonder if they'll even bother to tell her what Asshole did. Why would they? Not like we're on speaking terms, not after last night.
If last night even… ugh. I would have been bloody fine if I hadn't called mum. Could've just raged on and let the anger take over and everything would be just fucking peachy. But no. Way to throw doubt in, and doubt and anger never mix well.
I think about calling Mike. I think about calling anyone. Just to distract myself from this stupid swirly nauseating feeling bubbling away in my stomach. Then again it might be hunger again, who knows.
I don't get a chance to do any of that though, because there's a knock on my door.
Penelope. It must be. Great. Just fucking great. Why is she trying? Why the hell does she have to be taking steps and initiating contact? Ugh, what if she wants to talk about last night? What if she wants… what if she wants to apologise, or even worse make me apologise?
I sit up in my bed, my legs crossed, and I swallow, deliberating on whether or not to grant her entry. I could just avoid this awkward mess altogether – that would be a nice, smart, healthy idea.
She doesn't give me that chance.
She comes in before I can even open my damn mouth, in a short tight black sweater-like dress thing, her hair pinned up with pearls. There's a big black plastic bag in her hands, tied at the top, and her hands have gotten so thin. Her nails are shining pink.
I give her the barest of glares, not bothering to lift my head, and for a moment she just stands there, injecting tension into the air, before she clears her throat awkwardly.
"I… I heard about what happened with your Kinder Surprises."
Pfft. Like she fucking cares.
I don't reply, and can't be arsed to shrug. I watch her as she sets the bag down on the floor, right by the doorway, her movements slow and unsure. When she's straightened back up she links her fingers in front of her, before swapping and hiding her hands behind her back.
"I'm not sure how many you had, but… I found most of them, I think."
Wait, my Kinder Surprises? She… went out and found them for me? Seriously? Oh. Wow. I didn't really… expect that, I guess.
"Uh." My tongue is thick, fat, damn near umoveable. "Thanks."
She clears her throat again, sounding like she's practically choking on it, and her eyes dart away from mine like fish. "I'll have a talk to Ben."
"That would be swell." It comes out as a drawl, an ungrateful smartass drawl and even I'm not dumb enough to think that now is the right time to be using that. She went through and found all my toys for me – I should be grateful. I should be elated.
But for some reason the only thing really doing the rounds is bitterness, and I'd love to pin it on her but I have a sinking feeling it's aimed a little closer to home. Thanks, mum, way to throw me into some emotional turmoil.
She wipes her hands over her thighs, her lip disappearing between those dazzlingly shiny teeth, and then drops them. "Well, goodnight. Did… did you want something to eat? Dinner's on the table. Chicken and – "
"You were talking about Ben." It slips out, sounding a lot less sure than I ever wanted it to, and when she gives me a surprised look I almost want to slap myself. Idiot, Dylan! Should've just let it go.
"Yeah. We were." If she seems alarmed at the direction this conversation has taken she doesn't show it. Doesn't even falter once.
I swallow. Great. Just fucking great. For a moment I have no idea what to say, no idea how to go about this apologising bullshit, and I almost choke on my own voice. "I… I didn't know."
She's quiet for a moment, her eyes lingering on the bed before she tilts her face up, her jaw set and for a moment she looks almost defiant. "No." She agrees calmly. "You never do, Dylan. You never give anyone a chance to explain."
And I'm not stupid enough to miss the underlining meaning – she's not talking about last night. She's talking about…
And I didn't expect this. Didn't expect her to bring it up, not like this, and all I can do is stand there like a fucking moron, because I don't know what the hell to say. What the fuck can I say to that? Oh, gee, sorry about that but maybe you shouldn't have fucking left in the first place?
Maybe then there'd be nothing for you to bloody explain.
But despite that all, despite the anger and hurt my skin, my face burns with shame. Pure unadulterated shame, and the words are caught somewhere in my throat.
"Goodnight, Dylan." She doesn't hesitate. Doesn't have an ounce of uncertainty in her voice, not the slightest waver. Turns around with her head held high and closes the door behind her, firmly.
She might as well have slammed it.
"Yeah." My voice is thick. My throat feels thick and I'm not really sure why. Don't think I really want to know, either. "Night."
And that's pretty much that. Um. Sorry for the suck? D: Um. Next chapter will be better? Explanations will be… explained? It will be more consistent, at least. That's a start.
Take care, y'all.
Dirty Angel Toes