Authors: Lauren K. McKellar
For SydVegas, and for Stacey
I remember in primary school we learnt about alliteration. You'd have to think of an adjective starting with the first letter of your name that truly described yourself.
I'd been upset, because Laura took "lovely", but eventually, the teacher helped me settle on "ladylike". Ladylike Lia. It felt like the only one left.
Now, though? Now I'm spoilt for choice.
Lia the Liar.
Lia the Lost.
My name is Lia Stanton. And this is my story.
I flick through the book, searching for something, anything. Anything to help drown out the wallow of loud music coming from the living room downstairs.
The words, though? They don't want to cooperate. They're blurring into one another faster than a steam train, creating a page that feels less like a history book and more like some kind of dot art by Lichtenstein, minus the colour.
"I ... will always love you ..."
I bring my hand to my temple and wonder if I press hard enough, if I can knock myself out. If I have to listen to her singing that damn Whitney Houston song one more time, I think I'm going to use this text book as a weapon and bludgeon myself to unconsciousness. It'd be a hell of a lot easier than asking her to stop.
"Will-alwaysssss ... love yiew ..."
Yep. She's getting progressively worse as the song goes on.
Focus, Lia. F-O-C-U-S.
Once again, I start to read, and I don't know if it's the volume from next door or the fact that I've been using my phone as a torch, but I'm not able to concentrate. I could turn on the light, but there'd be every chance that she would see. They say misery loves company, and my mother is living proof of that.
I glance over to the poster on the back of my door, shining my phone's torch toward it. With a grin, I jump from my bed, snagging the red marker from my desk on the way. When I get to the chart, I make a big red cross through number 154.
way too many to go.
This is undoubtedly the best part of my day. When I cross off one more number on the poster. When I officially mark my life as one step closer to freedom, one step closer to leaving Emerald Cove and starting my new life in Melbourne. Away from the memories that haunt me around every corner. Away from the strange looks that I still get. The whispers that follow.
And as much as I hate to admit it,
away from her.
"You ... ooo ... ooo ... oou," she warbles, her voice tremoring as she climaxes over the high notes.
Although freedom will never happen if I don't finish reading this history text.
"Damn it," I whisper, then march over to my bed, grab my book and slide my phone into my pocket. I turn and open the door, walking out to the living room where she has the wine bottle as her microphone and the photos as her audience. They're scattered over the coffee table, their glossy sheen reflecting the candles burning on the mantel. The smell of wine mixes with the candles' scents of vanilla and some kind of pungent tropical flower, and my stomach roils.
"Duet?" Mum's head lolls to me, and her eyes, chocolate mirrors of my own, don't seem to focus—instead, they gaze glassily over my body.
"Maybe later." I smile, and take my coat from the old rack near the door, tossing my long brown hair over my shoulder. "I'm going out."
"On a school night?" She frowns.
"Not a school night, Mum."
It's totally a school night.
"Oh. Haf fun," she says, and skips over to her iPod to start the song again. It's odd—when she sings, her heart bleeds, but in between tunes, she can be oddly cheery. I feel for my keys in the pocket of my jacket and shut the door behind me, just as the serenade starts again.
Sometimes I feel guilty for lying to her like that. But when she makes it so easy, it's hard not to use it to my advantage. Because sometimes, I just have to leave.
Leave. Leaving is easy.
Leaving is all I want.
I start my old beat-up green Corolla and drive the seventeen-minute trip to Duke's place. Familiar ghosts of houses flick past, block shapes with triangular pitched roofs lit up in a kind of grey-scale thanks to the black-as-hell night and the spotlights cast from the street lamps.
You can tell the minute the neighbourhood changes. Subtle things that even the night can't keep secret. The lawns go from wild and unkempt to a tidy order. The toys from kids who've played too late aren't strewn over the front yard, and there isn't any soggy newspaper clumped on the road, or junk mail stuffed too tightly into rickety-looking mailboxes that a light breeze would likely blow over.
No. The only thing out of place in this neighbourhood is me.
I park in front of Kat's house, and smile, seeing the bedroom light through her window. It was how I met Duke in the first place—the girl I was partnered with for my English assignment on my first day at school just so happened to live next door to my now boyfriend, and be his best friend.
I remember that day in 3D Technicolour. I'd walked over to Kat's house, a long hour-and-a-bit trek, before the days of having a licence. My hand had been raised, ready to knock on her front door, when I’d turned to the right.
He was washing his family car, wearing only a pair of boardshorts slung low on his hips. His black curly hair glinted in the sun, and it seemed as if the world slowed in motion.
Yeah. It was as if he was a girl in a bikini, flicking his wet hair back and forth, and I was the creeper watching on. I swear, he all but ran the sponge down his muscular chest.
He caught me looking, those crystal-blue eyes making contact with mine, and I gasped and looked at my feet, studying the tips of my scuffed shoes.
"She's not home," he called.
I frowned, certain I had our meeting time right. I clicked my phone to life and sure enough, there in my received messages, it said
Saturday at eleven. My place.
Duke nodded. "She went to Jimmy Black's place."
"Yeah." Darkness flashed over his features, then he shook it off with a squeeze of his sponge. "Come help me wash the car."
"What?" I scrunched up my nose. But before I could form any further reply, a big yellow sponge was thrown my way. My reflexes kicked in, and I grabbed it just seconds before it collided with my very white, very see-through-when-wet shirt.
"Nice catch." He smiled, stepping back. Those blue eyes travelled from my Converse shoes, over my jeans, shirt, right up to my face. Assessing. Appraising. And all of a sudden, those two words took on a new meaning.
Heat flushed to my cheeks.
Duke strode across the lawn to Kat's front door, and his large frame dwarfed mine. Without saying a word, he made me feel safe. "You are beautiful," he breathed.
And I was gone.
I shake my head to clear it of the memory, revisiting the present day, walk up to Duke’s front door, and suck in a deep breath.
Here goes nothing.
Two knocks on the door.
"Lia." Collette's face beams before a cloud seems to shadow it, which she chases away with a smile. "We weren't expecting you ..."
I fill in the blanks, and mentally add
so late again
. It has to be one of the two.
"Sorry, Mrs Finnegan," I say, and go for what I hope is my most contrite expression. "I'm just having some trouble with a history question, and was hoping I could ask Duke?"
"Now, Lia, you know you could have just used the phone for that." She frowns, but opens the door anyway. "You're here now though, so please, do come in."
I toe my Cons off and arrange them next to the other shoes at the front door. I have to push Collette's to the side slightly, making a space between hers and eight-year-old Olive's. You have to line footwear up according to size if you want to leave your belongings at the Finnegans' front door.
And a weird part of me likes it.
"Good evening, Mr Finnegan," I say, nodding at the man who looks so much like his son that no one would ever doubt Duke’s paternity.
He looks up from the newspaper he's reading, pushing his glasses back up his nose. "Lia, I've told you a thousand times, it's Mark and Collette. No need for this mister and missus business."
"Sorry, M ... Mark." I know it's what they'd prefer, but here in their perfect house, with their perfect family and their strict order, it seems hard not to treat them with proper respect. Not to give them the formal reverence they deserve.
"Duke's in his room. It'll do him good to take a break from all that study." Mark nods toward the stairs, a kind twinkle in his sparkling blue eyes, and even though I can feel the scorch of the heated glare Collette is no doubt now throwing her husband for praising my late-night visit, I smile politely and skip up the stairs, taking them two at a time.
I walk down the hall, making sure I'm extra quiet with my steps as I pass Olive's door. A soft snore travels through her cracked open door, and it does something weird to my stomach. Makes it all fluttery. Warm. Gooey, even.
Then I'm there. Where I always go. Where I
I don't even knock. I simply twist the handle and walk in, because when you've been dating for twelve months, you don't have to.
Only, now I wish I had.
"Shit!" Duke grabs the quilt and throws it over his
, although why he bothers with that I'm not sure. I’ve seen penises before, his in particular. It's actually the weird-arse dominatrix midget porn playing on his computer that I'm freaked out by.
"Sorry, I ..." I open and close my mouth like a goldfish. I have no words. Nothing that makes sense is coming out, although even if it did, I'm not so sure it could be heard over the groans of the two—is little people the correct term?—going at it, hell for leather, while wearing leather, on the screen.
I step inside and close the door behind me, just as Duke slams shut the lid to his computer that's resting on his desk. As one, we exhale. I don't know who is more relieved right now.
"You should have knocked, or said hi." Duke glares.
"I did … say hi," I protest, hands up in the air. "But I shouldn't have entered ..."
Duke's eyebrow raise makes it clear that he agrees.
Silence hangs between us, awkward, confused, and weighted with the unspoken heaviness that comes from little people in leather who really seem to like dildos.
"I'm sorry," I offer feebly, and make my way over to the bed where I sit down beside him. Duke gives off a short laugh, then graces me with his smile. That smile is what made me fall for him in the first place. He keeps everything in that smile—charm. Sex.
"S'okay." He slings an arm around my shoulder and pulls me closer, so my legs are flush up against his, the comforter a thin shield between us.
We stay like that for a few moments, just two bodies touching, two worlds colliding. It's so often that way with Duke and I. Neither of us are here, yet both of us are present.
"So ... you like ... midge—"
"Gimme a break, Lia. It was just a link I clicked on, and then ..." Duke turns about eighty shades of red.
I can't help but giggle. "You know that's pretty weird."
This time, Duke laughs, too. "It was a total accident, babe."
"Oh yeah?" I poke his side.
"Yeah." He laughs, and grabs my hand, placing it on the blanket right over his groin. "You know what you do to me.” His words trail off, and we fall into silence once more as after a few moments, yes, I do feel what I'm doing to him.
"I came here to see if you wanted to study together," I say, but I don't lift my hand from where it's resting.
"Not really." He leans closer, and his minty breath is sweet on my skin.
I purse my lips. "But Duke ..."
"But what? I can think of something you can study, if you need to." His eyes flash, and even though it's the worst, cheesiest line in the world, I find myself falling.
Then I think of the reason I had to come here.
And I stop.
"What did you put ..." I trail my hand slowly down his covered leg. "... as the answer to question three?"
Duke takes my wrist and starts to move it back to his crotch. "Which question was that?"
I snap my hand to my lap. "The one about why people believed in myths with such fixation."
It's almost as if his attention snapped the second my hand broke connection with his dick. He gives a resigned sigh, then his gaze flicks to his desk. He moves his hand under the quilt and shuffles around for a moment, before emerging clad in briefs, and walking over to where his textbooks are piled.
"I wrote that it was lack of knowledge and fear. Fear of the unknown. Of what they couldn't control," he says, his fists down on the desk as he studies the books in front of him.