Tuesday - 5:13pm Outbound

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Lawrence had come home on the 5:13 outbound, arriving at Redton at about half past five, and he was now making the fifteen minute trek back to the house that he shared with Damien. Damien worked the night shift as an orderly at the hospital down the road, so Lawrence generally saw him when he got back just as Damien was racing out of the door to start. It worked well, it meant that they both virtually had the house to themselves at the times they were there, but the helping hand with the rent certainly made a difference. Lawrence hadn't thought too much more about the call from Ben this morning, figuring that he would have gotten over whatever high he was on this morning by the time he was supposed to call, or that the matter would no longer hold interest for him and would be dropped. He had, however, jotted the name Ariana down in corner of his desk diary at work, so that he wouldn't forget it, just in case Ben did call back.

Lawrence trudged the final few steps up the driveway, grabbing a handful of junk mail out of the letterbox as he went past and dropping it unceremoniously in the garbage bin three steps later, without even rifling through it. Ben unlocked the front door with his key and pushed it open, calling a greeting to Damien as he did so. It was answered by a muffled thump and a curse from Damien's room, before Damien appeared hair sticking up and wearing nothing more than a pair of boxer shorts that had seen better days.
"Sleep in, Damo? Seems to be a minor epidemic." Lawrence said casually as he dumped his briefcase on the lounge and followed it closely with his own body. He fished around in the crevices and creases of the cushions for the remote control, eventually finding it, a crumpled receipt for fuel, and a slightly furry potato chip down the back. He discarded the docket and the chip by pushing them back down into the couch and used the remote control to switch the television on.
"Uh, yeah. But it's your bloody fault," Damien complained. Lawrence looked up, questioning, and Damien continued, "Yeah, your mad mate - Ben - he's been ringing up every hour on the hour since about three o'clock, wondering if you were home yet. I tried telling him, man, but he sounds like he's going nuts. And I was going to go nuts if he called here again, I can tell you!"
"Oh, gawd." Lawrence moaned, "Sorry, Damo, I don't know what his problem is. He woke me up this morning too, wanting to know the name of that girl I was chatting to on the weekend."
"Well do you think you could ring him up, Larry? Put the man out of everyone else's misery?"
Lawrence nodded miserably as Damien disappeared back into his bedroom, slamming the door behind him. Lawrence closed his eyes and laid his head back on the couch. What on earth was Ben up to? He heaved himself back out of the couch, and hunted around for the cordless phone, eventually finding it hiding under a dirty sock on the lounge room floor. He picked it up, hesitated for a second as he pondered what he was about to discover, and dialled Ben's number.


Together, they had sat together in the kitchen, sometimes sipping but more often ignoring too hot cups of weak tea. Ariana's mum, Grace, had cried, Shannen had cried, and eventually the story had been told. Grace had been some half an hour into the whole torrid chain of events when Shannen suddenly realised that she was talking about the very same chain of events that she, herself, had been involved in only the day before. The body wrapped in the blanket that she had tripped over, the body with the pink-polished, neatly cut toenail, had been her best friend, her only ally in the long-running struggle that had consumed her so suddenly for so long now. A fresh wave of emotion - not yet grief but some harsh and acidic forerunner to that - boiled behind her eyes and in her heart, and the words were knocked out of her. Between the two women, a ripple had passed. They had not comforted each other, neither was able to deal with their own emotions sufficiently enough to reach out to the other yet, but they sat beside each other and that, for now at least, was the only thing that could be done.

Eventually - she had no concept of how much time had passed - Shannen had gotten up from the table. She said nothing, and left a half drunk cup of tea on the table. She wandered into the next room, the dining room, and saw the papers scattered across the desk. Shannen recalled the sight of Ariana sitting here, as she had so often when Shannen came to visit, surrounded by papers, an amazing array of coloured ballpoint pens and a light-weight laptop buried somewhere underneath it all. And books, Shannen thought, always books, everywhere. No discernible thread between them, but somehow Ariana had been able to glean little nuggets of truth, half-truth and falsities from between their covers, and weave them into a narrative. Shannen sat down at the dining room table as it groaned underneath the weight of Ariana's abandoned work. Shannen’s hands stayed primly on her lap as she let her eyes sift through the papers, seeing half-scrawled unintelligible notes, discarded chocolate foil with crumbs of the contents still clinging to the wrinkled wrappers, scribbled pictures of faces, hands, animals, trees, houses and cars, the ring pulls from possibly hundreds of soft drink cans, some twisted into abstract shapes, open books with pages tagged by fluorescent sticky notes, the rings from a countless number of coffee cups leaving their signatures over the lot.

Shannen sat, stunned into a reverie of shock by the news that Grace had so recently imparted, by the knowledge that she had been so close to Ariana, post-life, without realising it; by the fact that she was here, sitting where Ariana was supposed to be sitting, not writing where Ariana had written so much. For being so full of life, when Ariana had given hers up so recently, so suddenly, and so very, very unfairly.

Shannen lifted her hands finally, placed them on the table carefully atop the clutter, without disturbing a single piece of paper or causing a single pen to roll. It felt libellous somehow, sacrilegious almost, to be even contemplating looking through these papers without Ariana's permission. Ariana had never shared her work until she had considered it ready for even a very limited public showing. And now she was thinking of sifting through something that was not even planned, in some cases, and barely dry on the page in others. Unable to make herself do it, she lifted her hands again, paper sticking slightly to her sweaty palms as she did so, and watched as they fluttered the short distance back to the table. She dropped her hands to her lap again, lowered her head and let the tears fall silently, only getting up for a tissue when she realised that the ink was running on some of Ariana's sketches and notes. How could this have happened, and more to the point, who could have done this to someone like Ariana? It didn't stand to reason, didn't stand to reason at all.


Elouise pulled the car into the garage, closed the door with the remote control on her keying, and switched off the ignition. The sound of the engine ricocheted around the enclosed space for a second or two before dying away. The only sound was the ticking of the cooling engine, loud now in the sudden silence, and the musical tinkle of her keys knocking against each other as they swung from the steering column. Elouise left her hands lying as light as birds on the top of the steering wheel, and leaned back in the driver's seat with her eyes closed. A total tiredness had overcome her, and the sudden cessation of noise and movement when she had turned the car off had caused the weariness to jump up and hit with a force that was completely unexpected. She sat that way, not moving, for a stretch of time before a noise in the house above her brought her back to reality. She opened her eyes and looked around her, as though she had forgotten where she was, what she was supposed to be doing. The thought of going upstairs and being cheery and normal with her family, cooking dinner and doing all those normal things seemed totally incongruous when there was so much turmoil going on within her. She hadn't seen Zach for close to thirty-six hours now, and she had given him nothing in explanation for her absence - uncertain as to how to deal with the situation. But Zach had sent her a text message this morning, which she had received just as she was getting onto the train to work this morning. It had shocked her, confused her, and she had not known how to respond to it, had, in fact, not attempted a response at all. She had let the text message drop into a dead radio silence, and now she could only wonder what Zach might make of that.

She heaved a sigh and tried to clear the crease from her forehead that she could feel there - had felt there all day, if she was to be honest. She opened the driver's side door and propped it open with the pointed toe of her high heel as she reached over to the passenger side to grab her handbag. She snagged it with a finger and pulled herself out of the car with a groan. She doubted that she had ever felt as tired as she did right now. She knew it wasn't just lack of sleep making her feel this way, but a total mental exhaustion.

One foot in front of the other, she climbed the stairs slowly, taking note of the sound of the television blaring out canned pop music as she gradually rose into the lounge room. The television was blaring to an empty room, it seemed, and as she walked past she snapped it off at the switch on the set. An immediate outcry came from the kitchen, which opened off the lounge room. "Mum! I was watching that!" Kasey yelled, hidden by the open pantry door as she scrabbled around inside.
"Sorry, Kase, didn't know you were there," Elouise responded, but didn't turn it back on. She walked into the kitchen and dumped her handbag and ID card on the island bench with the rest of the clutter borne of a dual-income family - keys, change, used train tickets and stray lanyards. "What are you ratting about in there for?" she said distractedly, "I'm about to start cooking dinner."
"Er. Nothing much." The door shut quickly and Kasey emerged from behind it, still in her uniform, and with a mouth full.
Elouise gave a sigh, looked pointedly at Kasey chewing, and raised an eyebrow. Kasey shrugged slightly, a look of half-hearted apology on her face, and pushed past her mother to go and flop back on to the couch. Elouise heard the television snap back on, the recurrence of the music like a slap in the face.

Elouise bustled around in the kitchen, getting the ingredients together to cook a stir-fry - pre-packaged sliced vegetables, chicken strips, a jar of teriyaki sauce and some noodles. She had no energy for anything more complex at the moment. Hastily and haphazardly throwing the ingredients together into a wok, thoughts flew through her head. She made a conscious effort not to dwell on any of them. She tried to picture each thought as a little covered dish revolving on a sushi train. Each one arrived and she inspected it briefly, then let it go past her without lifting the lid and digging around in it.

Caught up as she was in this process, concentrating so intently on her mental sushi train, she didn't notice Kasey leaning against the doorjamb watching her until she turned around to wash her hands under the kitchen tap and came face to face with her. Elouise jumped slightly then covered it quickly with a smile. "You that hungry, Kasey?" she joked lightly as she turned back to the meat frying quickly in the wok.
"Nah, not really." Kasey paused, not laughing, and Elouise looked back over her shoulder as she stirred the ingredients. Kasey's face was set, and Elouise frowned slightly. Then, she tipped the ingredients out of the wok into a waiting dish, even though it wasn't quite ready yet, turned the heat off and walked over to her daughter, resting her backside against the edge of the island bench so she could study her face.
"What's up, sweetness? You look troubled."
"Um. Yeah. I guess I am. A bit." Kasey stumbled over her words slightly, as though they had a reluctance to be heard. Elouise didn't respond, just watched as her daughter struggled over the words she was about to say, forming them into a logical progression to be transmitted from her mouth to her mother's ears.
"Mum," she started, then paused again to regroup, "Mum, I'm a bit worried about things. You seem kind of, well kind of distant, sort of. Is there something going on between you and Dad?"

Elouise was shocked. She recalled the thought she had had that morning on the way to the train station, about Kasey suddenly having become astute, and that she had just realised that her daughter had somehow discovered insight and empathy also. What's more, Elouise didn't know how to answer. There was nothing going on between her and Rob. Perhaps that was the problem, she reflected with irony. Elouise took a deep breath and with the courage borne of fear and a desire to get this monkey off her back, she opened her mouth and spilled the contents of her mind to her teenage daughter.


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