Elouise had sat in the coffee shop for a long time, nursing her tiny cup of espresso while the waiters gave her filthy looks. She felt somehow dead inside. She just couldn't make her brain accept what had just happened, and she couldn't seem to get past the roadblock idea that she had just murdered someone. It was on an endless loop in her mind - murdermurdermurdermurder - until the word no longer made any sense. Even then, the idea of it remained with her and whenever she tried to think about what she was going to do now, to plan anything beyond taking the next breath, having another sip of coffee, she was road blocked by the image of Zach's broken body lying on the rough ground beyond the fenced off platform. She craved the days of her childhood, when decisions were made for her, when if she made a bad decision, it could be fixed by the grownups. But there was no grown up to turn to now - she was the grown up, and time had relentlessly shuffled on. Even deciding whether or not to go home was too difficult a decision to make, and it was well after lunch time that she finally found enough impetus to stand up and wander back to the train station.
She had caught the train more out of habit than by actually thinking about what had to be done. Her feet knew which platform to go to, and they took her there faithfully. The train had moved along its well-beaten path, the sound of the wheels running along the tracks singing their song just for her (murder-er, murder-er, murder-er). She had gotten off the train at Redton and walked in a daze to her car, where she had driven on autopilot to her home. She opened the garage door remotely and had started to manoeuvre the car inside when she recognised something out of place, and at first she couldn't pin point the problem. Then she realised that it was Rob's car ... why was the Prius here at three o'clock on a Thursday afternoon?
Kasey got off the train at Central, and walked quickly to the end of the platform to meet Zach. But when she got there, he was nowhere to be seen. She stood at their normal meeting spot, tapping her feet impatiently and watching the smattering of other people coming and going on the other platforms. She could see a small commotion happening on platform one, over where the interstate, long distance trains came in, but she couldn't tell what, if anything, was going on. She watched with idle interest for a while, checked her watch, and looked up at the electronic timetable on a screen suspended from the ceiling. There was a train heading home from another platform in about ten minutes, and she decided to take it if her boyfriend didn't show soon. She waited another five minutes, and when Zach still hadn't appeared, she wandered over to the exit, up into the station and back down on to Platform Twelve. She couldn't see the commotion on Platform One from here, it was too far in the distance, and before she had a chance to think any more about it, the train pulled in and the doors hissed open, inviting her to enter.
On the train ride back to Redton, she sent Zach a text message, saying that she had missed him at the station and would see him next week. She didn't get a response. She felt let down and a bit miserable, but decided that she would go home and make herself a milkshake and spend some time listening to music and chatting to her friends online for the afternoon. She really should be studying, she had exams next week, but she needed some time to herself too, she couldn't study for seven days straight! The fact that she had actually not studied at all this week seemed inconsequential to her at the moment, and she promised herself that she would do some over the weekend instead.
Eventually the train pulled into Redton station and she alighted and meandered back home. She let herself in with the door key she kept on a key ring hanging from her backpack, and went into her room to dump her school bag and turn her computer on. While she waited for the machine to boot up, she went into the kitchen and prepared herself a milkshake and a handful of biscuits to take up with her. It was only then that she noticed the neatly packed suitcase and the overflowing hold-all on the floor of the living room. She heard a motion from the stairwell and looked up to see her father dumping another bag, this one full of her mother's shoes and handbags, next to the two already there, and instantly she knew what had happened. Her mother's secret was out, and Dad wasn't happy about it.
"Dad! DAD!" Kasey sung out from the kitchen.
"What?" Robert responded from upstairs. Instead of answering, he heard his daughter's footsteps coming up the stairs, and he looked up from where he was packing bottles of makeup and hair product into a bag in the ensuite.
Kasey stuck her head around the corner, "Um. Mum's here. She's just pulled in to the garage."
Robert nodded, then, noticing how nervous she looked, he gave her a quick hug, "It's going to be alright, Kasey, we'll sort this out OK? Do you want to try and make yourself scarce for a bit? How about you slip out the back door and run down to the corner shop for fifteen minutes or so?"
Kasey started to shake her head in protest and then, thinking better of it, agreed reluctantly. Robert gave her a wan smile - the best he could do right now, and she took off back down the stairs. He waited until he heard the back door slam, then finished putting the last of the bottles and tubes into the bag. He hoisted the bag, now heavy with cosmetics, and set off downstairs with it, stomach churning in anticipation of the confrontation he had orchestrated.
When Kasey had got home and saw the packed bags, Robert had decided to tell her that her mother had been having an affair with another man. She had surprised him when she said she knew about her mother's affair, because Elouise had told her the whole sorry truth only last Tuesday evening. He had asked her why she hadn't said anything to him, and was strangely relieved when she had shrugged and said that it was because Elouise had sworn her to secrecy. "Besides," she had said to him, "She said she was breaking it off, so it didn't seem important to get you all upset over it when it was ending anyway." Robert had thought wryly, Oh, she finished it off all right - permanently, before he could stop himself, and he bit his tongue to keep from revealing the gruesome conclusion he had witnessed just that morning. He hadn't called the police, he had no evidence other than his own eyes, and he didn't know the man's identity. But, he thought, he wouldn't hesitate to call them should he feel the need.
He had heard the door that gave access to the house from the garage as he descended the stairs, and as took his foot from the last stair and placed it on to the carpet of the living room, he could se Elouise staring at the bags of clothes and other belongings as though she could not identify what they were. He walked over to the pile without acknowledging his wife, and dumped the bag he was holding alongside the others.
"Well, that's about it I think." he said, looking at the bags and placing his hands on his hips. Gradually he looked up into her stricken face, realisation starting to dawn slowly across her pretty but worn features, "I'll give you a hand to take them down to the car shall I?"
Elouise didn't reply, she didn't act as though she had heard, just continued to shift her gaze from Robert's face to the bags of belongings at their feet. "What?" she said eventually, in a tiny voice, "What's this? What's going on? Where are we going?"
Robert looked at her intently, a mean glint coming into his eye, "Not 'we' honey, 'you'. You are leaving this house. Now. I want to ask you a lot of questions, but right now what I want even more than to ask questions is to get you out of this house." Robert had not raised his voice, in fact it had dropped slightly in volume as he gave this little speech, becoming quieter and somehow much, much more frightening. To emphasise his point, he re-opened the door leading to the garage and picked up two of the bags, one in each arm. Staggering slightly with the weight, he took them out to the garage and packed them neatly in the back of the sedan. When he came back in for more, she was standing still gaping at him.
When they had spoken on the phone the day before, Brianna had come to like Grace almost immediately. Now, Brianna was on her way around to Ariana's house to meet her. It was a fair walk from the train station, but Brianna had been surprised at how close they had lived, albeit unwittingly. She was tired from walking when she arrived at the big Queenslander, up on its stilts, but the overriding emotion was nervousness. She hadn't told her parents she was coming here. Normally on Thursday's she had a dance class, but she had made an excuse that she wasn't feeling well and decided to head out here instead.
Nervous, but excited, walking slowly yet wanting to run, Brianna got to the front door and hesitating only slightly, rapped loudly. There was a nervous pause where she thought that either no one was home, or she had the address wrong, but eventually footsteps could be heard and a thin voice sung out, "Who is it?"
"Uh ... it's Brianna Moore. I spoke to you on the phone yesterday?" she called in response.
There was no answer immediately but the door opened as a form of acceptance, and Brianna found herself looking at a woman who so closely resembled her father it was quite uncanny. She didn't quite have his height, and she had not gained the amount of weight he had in the past ten years, but otherwise, her face and features were identical. Behind the red-rimmed eyes and the grey pallor to her skin, the visual cues of her grief, Grace Mathers had clear green eyes, high cheekbones and a graceful, pointed nose. Her mouth was a rosebud, softening and lined at the corners with age but with the naturally well defined line that had so charmed her many suitors. Grace's hair, the same strawberry blonde as her father's receding locks, was pinned back casually with a clip, and strands of it hung in her face. Grace gave a sad smile, and reached out for Brianna's hand.
"Brianna, Love," she said, "I am so glad to see you here. It means a terrible lot to me that you have reached out as you have."
Brianna did not know how to react, and so she simply nodded, dropping her head slightly in embarrassment.
Together, they had walked into the kitchen, sat at the table, and they had begun talking. As she had done with Shannen, Grace got up and made tea, and eventually two stories - different stories yet inexorably intertwined - were unravelled onto the table that sat between them, like an unwinding ball of tangled twine. Grace discovered what her twin brother had been up to all these years, and finally got the contact, second hand as it was, that she had craved for so long; and Brianna discovered the cousin, also in a second hand way, that she had discovered so recently, and lost before she knew of her existence.
It was some time later when Brianna was startled by a sound from the next room. She wheeled around to work out what the noise was, and Grace flapped her hand in the direction of the dining room. "That's Shannen," she said casually, "Shannen is - was - Ariana's best friend. Ariana did all her writing in that room and Shannen has been sorting out the paperwork." Grace dropped her voice, and leaned across the table as though she were about to impart a grave secret, "I'm a bit worried, she hasn't budged from the room for two days, but I don't want to disturb her. I wonder if you would like to speak to her." This last was spoken wistfully, and seemed to be Grace speaking to herself, more so than to Brianna. Nevertheless, Brianna was intrigued. She stood, walked over to the entrance to the dining room - there was no door here - and stuck her head around the corner. She saw a woman sitting hunched over at the wooden slab of a dining table, her fingers flying over the keyboard of a laptop, totally engrossed in her work. Unwilling to interrupt, but completely unable to resist the gnawing fingers of curiosity, Brianna cleared her throat.
Shannen, startled, looked up from her typing and, expecting to see Grace and seeing instead a teenage girl with a dark ponytail and round features, frowned at the newcomer. "What's this? Who are you?"
Brianna smiled politely, explained her connection to Ariana, and hastened to add that she didn't want to interrupt Shannen's work.
Shannen smiled sheepishly, and lazily waved her hand at the computer, losing the abruptness of her movements once she got over the initial shock, "Ha. Not my work, for certain. Ariana had come so close to finishing the story and, when I had read the rest, well I wanted to see what happened. The crazy thing is, the characters are writing their own stories; they're just using my fingers to get them down on paper." She gave a slight chuckle at how crazy that sounded then added, "It's quite amazing really. Here, sit down." Shannen gestured to an empty seat next to her, then to a pile of papers on the table, "Here's all Ariana's notes - do you want to have a look?"
Brianna was stunned at Shannen's easy friendship, especially after being so shocked at her presence initially. She sat down on the offered seat, and pulled the papers toward her, staring almost reverentially at them. Slowly, one by one, she started going through them, and became lost in the portrait of a world and a people that were completely new to her.