CHAPTER ONE – THE MARKSONS
I pressed the buzzer, gazing up at the building towering over me. It was quite old-fashioned but pretty, with flowerpots hanging from the dark bricks and windows with beautiful carvings. The sun shone down on the noisy street, bustling with people going about their business and cars humming down the road.
"Hello?" said a slightly croaky voice from the speaker.
"Hello," I said politely, looking into the camera. "Er, I'm Marie-Claire Renaud, and I was looking for Mrs. Markson..."
"That would be me!" the voice said happily. "Please, come up!"
"Thanks," I said, lugging my suitcase up the steps. I dragged it into the entrance hall, a small but homely space, with a dark mahogany counter set in front of a young, blonde woman who smiled at me kindly. The carpet had gold swirls on a red background, and vases touching the walls came up to my shoulders. A rather small room, but pleasing to the eye.
"Hello, there. What can I do for you?" the woman behind the counter asked.
"I'm looking for Unit 3F. Do I just go up the elevator?" I asked.
"Yep," she confirmed with another smile, and I returned the smile before pulling my luggage through the hall and into the elevator. I pressed 3 and waited. Classical music played faintly from the speakers.
With a ding, the elevator arrived at the third floor. The doors opened, revealing a slightly narrow hallway resembling the entrance decoration-wise. It had the same tall vases, red-and-gold carpet and paintings framed by dark wood. I walked down the hall, my luggage rolling along behind me.
3A... 3B... I kept walking, making sure to check the sign on each door. Finally, I arrived at 3F and pressed the doorbell.
The door flung open, an old woman standing in the door. She was slightly short and plump, her hair greying and her face brightened with a smile that revealed all of her rivers of wrinkles. She wore an apron and, as she pulled me into a warm hug, I could smell cookies on her.
"Hello there, Marie-Claire!" she said, beaming brightly.
"Hi, Mrs. Markson," I greeted with a smile. "Call me Marie."
"Call me Maude. Come in, come in," she urged, holding the door open wider. I gratefully wheeled in my suitcase.
The unit was slightly small, but like the rest of the building, just as homely. The curtains were all pulled back, bathing the room in sunshine. What I could see of the living room was a leather couch and two recliners, all facing inwards toward a TV above an unlit fireplace. The carpet was a deep blue.
"I'll take you to your room!" Maude said rather excitedly. I followed her as she led me into a hallway. At the very end, the door was open, revealing what I presumed to be my bedroom. It was plain and clean, meaning I could decorate it myself.
"Set your things in there, and we can talk. Do you like tea? Coffee, maybe?"
"Um, tea, please," I said as I put my suitcase into my room.
She walked away quickly. I followed her back into the living room. From this angle, I realised that there were two people sitting in the recliners, peering at me curiously. The first person, a girl, had flawless pale skin and cheekbones and a nose that any girl would die for. Her curly, bust-length hair was black like ravens and her eyes silver. The other person, a guy, looked a lot like his sister (at least, I presumed they were siblings), except for his platinum-blond hair.
Maude brought me over to the couch and handed me a cup of tea. I accepted it with a mutter of thanks.
"Marie, I'd like you to meet my grandchildren, Lucy and James Markson. Lucy is fifteen and James is sixteen. Kids, meet Marie-Claire Renaud. She's your new flatmate."
"Hi," I said to the Markson siblings. They acknowledged me with a nod of their heads.
"Tell us all about yourself," Maude insisted, sipping from her cup.
All three Marksons looked at me expectantly. I didn't know where to start.
"Are you French, by any chance?" James asked me.
I was glad to have a question I knew how to answer easily.
"No. I'm Australian, but my parents were both French. They moved here when they got married, and they hardly ever used French, so I don't know the language well. My mother died when I was seven because of a pulmonary embolism, and my father... well..."
I cleared my throat. Maybe I'd revealed too much at once.
"That's very sad," Lucy said sincerely. "What happened to your dad?"
"We lived together, but he was hardly ever home, always out dating or partying with his mates. And just yesterday morning he left. He wrote a note, though," I said. I pulled a piece of paper out of my pocket.
"Dear Marie," I read aloud. "You know that I've been out dating a lot. I'm sorry I haven't been home much, but if I had been, then you would be much more sad when I tell you that I'm leaving. I've found a woman I truly want to be with, but she lives all the way over in England. You're a big girl now. You're fourteen. You don't need someone to look after you, do you? Contact your grandmother's friend, Maude Markson, and I'm sure she'll take you in. Lots of love, Dad."
By the end, my hands were shaking with anger. How dare that man call himself my father when he would choose some tramp over his own daughter!
Lucy and James looked very grim.
"That horrible man! I'd warned your mother about him!" Maude said angrily.
"Well, at least you have a better family now," James commented.
"Who?" I asked, confused.
"Us, of course!" James said, laughing. "Maybe your last name isn't Markson, but you're officially one of us now."
"That's right," Maude said firmly.
I found myself filled with gratitude. I liked the Marksons already.
All of a sudden, Lucy jerked out of the recliner and ran frantically to a whiteboard, scribbling down some words I couldn't understand.
"Oh, I forgot," James said, smirking. "Welcome to Life With Lucy."
I sat at the table to have dinner with them that night. I'd found out a lot about them and I liked them more and more as each minute passed – apparently, Lucy always had sudden ideas, and it was a normal thing for her to stop whatever she was doing and run to her whiteboard. James and Maude had no idea what she did, and she refused to tell them, insisting that it was too complicated.
James loved maths, and according to Lucy (who enjoyed saying bad things about him), he was hardly ever home, always at some party or other. I was hardly surprised, given how good-looking he was.
Maude was your stereotypical grandmother. She adored baking and seemed to care very much about her grandchildren. Her favourite hobby was knitting, which she mostly did by the window in her room, because that was where all her knitting stuff was and she didn't want to clutter the living room with needles and balls of twine.
We ate Chinese food, the hum of cars audible in the background. Lucy and James were telling me about their school, which I would be going to tomorrow. Since the Marksons lived so far away from my old school, I had to change to their school.
Lucy seemed rather disapproving of Mayland High, while James went on and on with praise.
"No one cares about their studies–" Lucy huffed.
"There are these huge gardens and ovals to play sport on–" James informed me brightly.
"All they do is listen to music and chew gum during class–"
"And the facilities are great; there are toilets everywhere–"
"I almost don't blame them, what with the standard of the teachers they hire–"
"Most people are friendly–"
"I haven't learned anything in a few months–"
This went on for a while, my smile growing with the entertainment. Maude busied herself with the dishes, making me think that this type of conversation was a regular occurrence.
"Oh, tell us where you're from!" Lucy said brightly, interrupting James mid-sentence.
"I was born and raised in Brisbane."
"Oh, good thing it's not too far from here," James said.
"Yeah, it was only a half-hour train ride," I agreed.
"Why's your hair so long?" Lucy asked curiously.
I chuckled slightly. Standing up with my hair out, my chocolate brown hair came down near my ankles. Usually, though, I plaited my hair, keeping it out of my way. The plait pooled in my lap at the dinner table.
"It's how I honour the memory of my mum. Her hair came down to her hips. I kind of... let my hair go a bit, er, further."
"That's nice," James remarked.
Lucy's eyes suddenly wondered off into the distance, her face scrunched up with concentration. Then, with a frightening exclamation of "AHA!" she jumped out of her seat and ran to her whiteboard, muttering, "Trains, train rides, that's it!"
James looked calm. "Just ignore her."
"Lucy," Maude said sternly. "Not at the dinner table."
"Uh-huh..." Lucy said distractedly, scribbling down words and shuffling around pictures attached to the whiteboard with magnets. I wondered what went on in her brain.
"She keeps saying she has this mystery to solve, but she won't tell us anything more," James sighed. "It's like living with a bomb that doesn't tick. You never know when it'll go off."
"Her aunt is a forensic officer, so I suppose she tells Lucy all about the mysteries and things concerned with the police," Maude said, overhearing our conversation.
"But she doesn't tell you anything?" I asked James.
"Nope. Apparently I'm not detective material. Not that I want to join in with this silly detective business or anything," he told me hastily.
"Sure," I said with a grin.
"Right," Maude said sharply. "Off to bed. Tomorrow is Monday, and you'll have to be up bright and early for school."
James and I rose from the table and began to walk down the hall. On the way, James called out, "She means you, too, Lucy!"
Lucy grumbled in response and wrote down a few more notes before joining us.
We readied ourselves for bed and re-emerged into the hallway to say goodnight to the each other.
"Welcome to the family, Marie," Maude said.
"I feel very welcome," I said with a smile.
Then I closed my door, the smile still visible on my face. I flicked on the lights and began to unpack as quietly as possible. Half of the space in my suitcase was taken up by books. I liked reading, a lot. The rest of the space was taken up by clothes and other possessions.
I put what little decorations I had onto my bedside table and then climbed into the covers, relishing the warmth.
Sleep wouldn't come easy, though. I was much too giddy to go to sleep. After a long while staring up at the faintly glowing stars pasted to my ceiling, I decided I was thirsty and crept out of my room. The flat was dark, but the windows were open and the moon and streetlights helped to slightly illuminate the living room. I walked into the kitchen and poured myself a glass of water.
I brought it with me to drink in my room, but stopped as Lucy's whiteboard caught my eye. Surely Lucy wouldn't mind if I took a little peek... I was very curious, itching to see what ideas brewed in Lucy's mind that made her jump up at random points.
I moved closer to the whiteboard, squinting to see in the dark. My eyes had adjusted, but it was still difficult to read anything.
There were a multitude of seemingly random pictures – close-ups of several people going about their business, strange-looking objects, weapons, and...
I almost dropped my glass. Bodies. Lucy had pictures of dead bodies!
I berated myself for not realising. Of course she would have pictures of corpses; these "mysteries" James had spoken about were given to her by her forensic police officer aunt.
Trying to feel too sick, I leaned closer to try and understand the writing on the whiteboard. None of it made any sense, though. They were just odd bullet points.
"You interested?" said a voice from behind me.
I spun around, finding Lucy, who looked faintly amused.
"Sorry," I said quickly. "I just really wanted to see what you were doing – I didn't mean to invade your privacy." My words came out hastily.
Lucy laughed light-heartedly. "Don't worry. If my whiteboard was private, it wouldn't be on display in the living room, would it?"
"I suppose not," I said, relieved.
"What are you doing up?" Lucy asked me.
I help up my glass of water. "I was just thirsty. What about you?"
"I'm getting some water, too," Lucy replied. I could tell she wasn't being entirely truthful, though, from the speed of her words. I didn't mind if she kept secrets, though. Didn't we all have secrets?
She walked to the kitchen and grabbed a glass.
"I'll just be going to bed, then," I said awkwardly.
"Good night," Lucy said with a smile.
I walked back into the hallway, but lingered for a moment, before peeking back into the living room to see Lucy poring over her whiteboard notes, the glass of water standing forgotten on a desk.
Gulping down my water, I moved into my room and snuggled up with my covers, this time going to sleep easily.