Authors: Anyta Sunday
First published in 2014 by Anyta Sunday,
Contact at Buerogemeinschaft ATP24, Am Treptower Park 24, 12435 Berlin, Germany
An Anyta Sunday publication
Copyright 2014 Anyta Sunday
Cover Design Natasha Snow
All rights reserved. This publication may not be reproduced without prior permission of the copyright owner of this book.
All the characters in this book are fictional and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is purely coincidental.
This book contains sexual content.
This is the story of how I fall in love.
This is the story of how my home breaks and is rebuilt.
This is the story of how I became a rock.
part one: igneous
igneous: of and pertaining to fire.
New day, new stone.
Today’s is a small trapezium of coarse-grained gabbro that’s spilling through the fence of our neighbor’s yard. I squat to pick up the grey-black stone, jumping when a fresh raindrop slides across it and splashes onto my wrist. I squeeze the stone. Stone 3621.
The gabbro’s subtle weight increases as I tell it all the crap that happened today, my last day of intermediate school. Nothing dramatic, just saying goodbye to my teachers and high-fiving my mates going to St. Patrick’s and Scott’s College next year.
I drop the stone into my pocket and breathe in the perfumed air rising from the magnolias that flank the street. Today smells different, like the cusp of summer.
Home looms before me, and I swing my backpack off before peeking into the letterbox. Emptied already. I fling our gate open. Its squeals match the rickety fence and clumps of wildflowers I trample as I walk across the front lawn. Ivy climbs the wooden pillars that support the veranda roof and give our home a cottage-like look. Small and cozy.
Except something is off. The door is held open by a faded kitchen-appliance box and—
A high-pitched gurgle. I quicken my steps toward the sound.
My older sister Annie is sitting at the end of the veranda, huddled against the side of the house in a crimson sundress, head bowed into her hands.
“Annie?” I drop my backpack onto the cracked brick path. Annie’s tears drop onto her Roman sandals. “What happened?” I crouch and grab her knees.
Her green eyes resemble mine, flecked with hazel, one ever so slightly brighter than the other. Enough to make strangers look twice.
Except now, as Annie blinks, she looks different. The skin around her eyes is swollen and red, and the mascara she’s not allowed to wear weaves complicated webs over her cheeks.
Her mouth opens and shuts, and another sob rattles her. I don’t know what to do. She’s my big sis; she’s usually the one comforting
I pat her shoulder. She rests her head against my arm, smudging her black tears across my skin. It tickles, but I shake it off. “Did . . .” I swallow. “Did someone die?”
She shakes her head and relief sweetens my next gulp of air. I rock back on my feet. So long as no one is dead, I can handle anything. Maybe her first boyfriend dumped her? Two days before her fourteenth birthday, though? I’m only twelve, but getting dumped like that would have to suck.
Annie sniffs hard, as if trying to regain control. She wipes her tears, drawing the mascara outward so it resembles cat whiskers.
“Our home is breaking, Cooper,” she says. All thoughts of cats flee my mind.
The appliance box that’s propping the front door open takes on a new significance. “What do you mean?” I ask. But I already know.
My sister’s voice grows taut, strangled and angry. “It means a week here, a week there. It means choosing Mum’s side or Dad’s. It means we have a
I don’t understand this last part; in fact, I can’t quite grip the first part either.
Clouds pass over the afternoon sun, and the veranda darkens like a bad omen.
“They’re getting a divorce?” It comes out like a question, but it isn’t. Of
that’s what she means. They’re getting a divorce.
“It’s more than that.” Annie glares at me. “Dad has someone else. Do you understand? He has this whole other life we don’t know about. He wants to move in with
’s the real love of his life. All those business trips? It was him being with her. With
My breath comes in and out fast. I’m not sure I want more details, but I ask anyway. “Them?” This can’t be real. Sure, Dad leaves for two weeks out of the month, but he always brings back gifts for us. Always says he loves us to the moon and back. “Them?” I ask firmly.
“The bitch has a son and is pregnant.”
I flinch. “A son? Dad’s?” Our . . . brother?
“The son isn’t his, but the baby—” Her voice breaks. “I’m staying with Mum. I don’t want anything to do with him. I hate him.”
Footsteps creak over the wooden boards. I don’t know how long Dad’s been standing there, but his expression is tight and pain flashes in his gaze—green like ours. We are our father’s children.
But for how much longer?
Dad folds his arms across his old, oil-smeared shirt. He’s fit for thirty-eight, but the creased skin around his eyes can’t be denied. I’d like to believe that his crow’s feet came from endless smiles, but all I ever see are frowns.
I guess the smiling must have happened when he was with
Dad looks from Annie to me, and his sad frown hits me like a punch to my gut. I can’t breathe.
“Cooper,” he says. It comes out raspy, like he’s been crying. “Cooper,” he pleas.
I glance from Annie to Dad, feeling like I have to choose. My breathing quickens and I need my stone. Like, right now. I plunge my hand into my pocket and strangle this bad memory into the gabbro. I look at Annie. At Dad.
Choose! Choose! Choose!
But I can’t.
Mum begs me to spend the weekend with Dad.
She stands tall and fair, with freckles that I didn’t inherit—save the ones on my toe and under my eye—as she pulls out T-shirts, shorts, and socks from my dresser drawers. I hurry over to take care of my own boxer shorts, thank you very much.
She pauses, arms full of clothes that are ready to collect her tears, but she holds back. I’m not fooled by the façade of strength.
I understand why Annie wants to take sides; why she chose Mum’s.
“We were both to blame. Things haven’t been working out for a long time,” she says with a smile far too bright to be real. “Don’t be as stubborn as your sister. It hurts him, not seeing you.”
“It’s only been a month.”
“He’s called every second day.”
, right? So he chose this.” But those are Annie’s words, not mine, and I feel guilty for saying them.
“He left, but we were already broken.”
“Have you met his new . . . woman?” I ask, for lack of a better word—and because it sounds rude and mean, and I want to spite her.
She pauses and unzips my duffel bag with a swift flick of her wrist. “Yes.” She looks away, but not before I see tears finally rimming her eyes. “Lila was once a friend of mine. We’ve known each other since our first day of university. In fact, she introduced me to your father.”
She packs my bags even though I can easily do it myself. But she needs something to keep her busy, so I let her. She tosses in my journal, throws in last week’s collection of stones, and places my magnifying glass between piles of clothes.
“I’m sorry,” I say.
She shakes her head. “I’ll be okay, Cooper. You’ll see.”
Mum drops me off outside Dad’s house. The worst part of going to Dad’s is how close it is to Mum’s. I’d always thought Dad was in Auckland the weeks he wasn’t with us, but his other life had been only a few neighborhoods over the whole time.
I asked Dad that day on the veranda. When he didn’t answer, I shouted.
“Guess this is it, then,” I say. Mum glances toward his house—his
Château de Dad
has a large, freshly-mowed lawn that glints in the mid-morning light so that the grass glimmers like a moat. Except this castle is modern, all straight lines and glass, and crowned by a hilly forest in the distance. It makes a simple, powerful statement:
We’re better than you
I understand why Mum looks away.
I want to lean over and hug her, but Mum isn’t the hugging type. Instead, I shrink into my seat and refuse to unbuckle my seatbelt.
Maybe this weekend isn’t such a great idea after all.
“We can go back home,” I say, running a hand through my messy locks as if I’m trying to be like
, trying to prove I’m just as good even though I’m not the one Dad chose. “I wish Annie was coming.”
“She’ll get there, sooner or later.” Mum grips the wheel like she’s ready to leave. “She needs more time to adjust.”
I don’t tell her maybe I need that time too. She’s counting on me to be the peace offering; to show that she is all fine and dandy with this. Like she wants to prove that she’s the reasonable, accepting one. Like she wants Dad to know that nothing can get to her, and that she’s not turning us against him. She’s no bitch. She’s gracious. Tolerant. Accepting. She wants to rub what he’s thrown away in his face.
And I want to give that to her.
But I am nervous, and my belly is lurching like it needs food, even though that’s the last thing I want. I rub my sweaty palms over my shorts and grab the duffel bag between my feet, hauling it onto my lap. “It’s only the weekend.”
“Just the weekend,” she repeats. Something in her monotonous tone makes me shiver. Does she think because it’s a mansion I won’t come home?
I don’t care that she doesn’t like hugs; I give her one anyway. The angle is awkward and her short hair finds its way up my nose. Even though she doesn’t hug back, she warms me inside and out. “Love you.” I draw away and finally undo my seatbelt.
“I was young,” she says, “when I met your father. I thought we were in love.”
I fumble to open the door. A rush of sweet summer air washes into the car. Mum snaps out of her reverie and laughs. “Whatever you do, Cooper, don’t fall—I hope it’s different for you and Annie.”
I walk to the front porch through the moat instead of on the path. I dig my heels in a bit too, hoping to make my stride look clumpy and ripe with attitude. I dump my duffel bag on the porch and ring the bell. When no one answers, I check the windows.
A familiar yell comes from the distance; it’s my dad’s voice, but it’s attached to laughter. My spirits fall to the freckle on my large toe. I kick at the skirting of the house but it does nothing except make my foot throb. “Shit!” I hop around to the side of the house and stop in the shadows.
My dad is kicking a soccer ball to a boy whose back is to me. The boy has short brown hair and skin that’s seen some sun, judging by the tan. The way he moves forward to meet the ball with a precise, hefty kick suggests he’s the cocky type who knows he’s good and flaunts it.
With a grin, Dad catches the ball on his knee and heads it. He lets it fall behind him, using his heel to kick it over to the front again. He passes it back to the boy. “Try that on for size.”
The boy sniggers and repeats the juggling without a slip. He smoothly kicks the ball back. “Give me a real challenge, Dad.”
I must not have heard him right. I shake my head.
I wait for Dad to correct him, to remind this presumptuous boy that he should call him David, not Dad. But he doesn’t. He smiles.
My vision blurs with angry tears. He’s
How dare this cocky dickweed call him that! Cold fury fills me, and I stalk out from behind the side of the house.
Dad sees me first. His kick misfires, and the ball hurtles toward me. Dad looks suddenly nervous, then excited, and then nervous again as he glances from the boy to me.
I stop the ball right before the boy turns around.
A breeze makes the trees in the hills shiver, while the sun brightens. The heat soaks into my skin and sweat drips down my back.
I stare at him. He’s older than me, maybe my sister’s age. He’s tall, teetering on the edge of lankiness, like he’s a few summers off from growing into his build. His lips are curved into a half grin, confirming my suspicions. Cocky, like we’ve started a game that he knows he’s going to win. He glances over at my dad, then turns his blue eyes on me. They are the blue of the rubbish bags Mum uses for the bathroom bin; the blue of oily seawater; the blue of regurgitated fish scales.
“Cooper,” Dad says, waving me closer. “You’re here early.”
I glare at the boy, who doesn’t appear intimidated or nervous. In fact, his smile might be growing. “Gonna pass the ball or what?” he asks. He chuckles and taps a fist against his chest. “I’m Jace, by the way.”
Jace? What type of name is that?
A nice one.
I hate it.
Tears blur my vision. Dad knows this boy, knows Jace. Knows him like a . . .
I stare at the soccer ball at my feet. I move my foot back, aligning it perfectly. If Jace thinks he’s the only one who’s good with a ball, he’s wrong. I kick hard and whisper, “Heads up.”
The ball smacks him in the face as he’s turning.
“Fuck!” His garbled words spill out as he clutches his nose. “What the hell?” He spits onto the grass and I proudly note the blood.
I want to give myself a high-five, but the gleam in his regurgitated fish-scale eyes changes my mind. I start forward, apologies on the tip of my tongue. Maybe I wish I hadn’t done it. Maybe.
He stares hard at me. The cockiness is gone, replaced with something colder and more calculating. I have a feeling he’s going to remember every detail of this moment for the rest of his life.
Dad hollers something about brothers, but his voice softens as if he pities me.
I stare at my Puma shoes, fascinated by the slowly-unraveling double knots and dirt clods clumped into the sole.
Jace wipes away the tiny trail of blood seeping from his nose. When he speaks, his words crawl across my skin and give me goose bumps.
“Well, Dad,” he says tightly, “isn’t this the brother I’ve always wanted?”
* * *
Jace plants himself onto the kitchen counter and slaps an ice pack against his face.
“Fucker,” he mutters, scowling at me.
“Dickweed,” I retort. I’m sitting at the large dining table scowling back.
“Cooper.” Dad slaps his palm onto my shoulder. “This is not how I wanted you two to start.”
“Start? Start what?”
Dad answers, “Our new life.”
He says more but I can’t hear the words. His voice drones and hurts my head. “I hate you.” This time they are not my sister’s words. They’re all mine. “Five years? Five?” My voice breaks. “How could you? I’ll never forgive you.”
My chair protests with a squeal as I push it back and stand. I turn my back to them and rush away, refusing to run, though my blood is pumping like it’s chanting for me to run. But I can’t because . . . because . . .
Because I want dad to pull me into a hug and tell me this is all a joke, all a mistake, and he’s coming home. I’d settle for him telling me that Annie and I are just as good as his new family—but if that were true, he never would have left us.
I grab my duffel bag and march over the grassy moat to the street. I have some loose change in my pocket, so I head toward the bus stop and search the sidewalk for a stone. Preferably something sharp, something
. A cracked corner of the gutter catches my eye.
Concrete is made of rock, sand, and gravel—sometimes even pumice for the lightweight stuff. It’d have to do.
I kick a wedge of it loose and try to stuff it into my pocket. A hand grabs my arm and pulls me around.
My heart lifts, and I almost drop the concrete. “Dad.” I turn to face him.
Except it’s Jace.
I have to raise my chin to look at him. A frown cuts across his brow. He loosens his grip on me, but he doesn’t let go until I pointedly glance at his hand.
“You’re still a shit,” he says. His voice softens. “It sucks. I mean it
sucks. Like raw nerves and lemon juice and”—he looks over his shoulder—“I always wondered who you were.”
The duffel bag handles are cutting into one of my palms, and the jagged rock is scraping the other. I clutch them tightly as I think how to respond. He always wondered? Always? But that must mean—“You knew about us?”
Jace takes the duffel bag from my grasp. “Just come back to the house,” he says with a quizzical glance to the rock in my hand. I push the stone deep into my pocket, ripping the seams a little. “If not for Dad, then for answers to your questions.”
I might have gone had he not said
, but that one word catapults me back toward the bus stop. Jace can have my stupid duffel bag. I don’t care. I’ll be all right. I have my rock. “Tell him he can visit me, but I’m never coming back here again.”