‘…flying over my house last night.’
‘And you think it was an unidentifiable aircraft?’
‘It didn’t look like any plane I’d ever seen!’
The voices were loud, buzzing out of the busted old radio speakers in obnoxious tones, determined to wake me up. I sighed and rolled over, pulling my duvet above my head in an attempt to block out the noise.
Old aches tingled along old scars on my chest. I shifted, uncomfortable in the heat under my blankets, feeling sticky and itchy and restless.
Any thoughts of returning to sleep vanished into the muggy warmth of a summer morning. Besides, the voices were still yammering.
With a sigh, I reached out a hand and felt around for the clock. When the voices finally stopped, I lay in bed for a moment longer. Distant memories threatened to pull me back into sleep. Memories I’d rather avoid. Memories of pain and sadness and hope.
Shoving the thoughts away, I dragged myself upright. My uniform was laid over the end of my bed. I struggled into it in a half daze.
Dark, tangled hair fell in my face as I fought with a pair of black stockings. Who made these things anyway? Were they designed to be difficult?
Somehow managing not to fall on my face, I tucked my hair behind my ears and righted myself.
Dull pain shifted through my chest, like a faded memory across my skin. I winced. Massaging the pain never worked, but I rubbed at the old scar anyway. More reminders of what today was. I was heavy and tired and sore.
Deciding to forgo the rest of my morning ritual, I wrangled my tangled hair into a messy bun. It would have to do. I checked the mirror, eyeing the top button of my school shirt and ignoring the mess that was my hair. A faint flash of faded scar tissue peeked out from above the top button. I chewed the inside of my lip and debated wearing an undershirt. The faint sheen of perspiration already forming on my forehead and neck indicated that, in this heat, an undershirt would be unreasonable.
The smell of bacon wafted in from the hallway. Hunger lurched and I abandoned any ideas of changing. I pulled the curtains aside and peered out into the lawn. As I’d suspected, someone jogged across the grass. He stuck to the outskirts of the yard, just on the inside of the garden as he kept a steady pace.
I pushed open the window and called out, ‘Breakfast is ready!’
His direction changed and he veered off toward the house. Shaking my head, I turned and traipsed downstairs to find the source of the bacon smell.
BK and I shared the only upstairs room in the house—an old attic bedroom. When BK had been adopted, there hadn’t been enough room for us all, so Grandpa decided to remodel the house.
The attic was supposed to become my twin brother’s room. Freddie and I had shared a room up until that point, and this was supposed to be some sort of man-cave—recompense for being kicked out of our room—but BK loved the hideaway so much she offered to take it instead.
I could have stayed with Freddie, but Grandma had been insistent I bunk with BK. At twelve, she said Freddie and I were getting too old to share rooms. She was right, of course, so I shifted into the attic with my new cousin.
I didn’t mind.
Downstairs, BK stood cooking at the kitchen island and more rich smells wafted my way. Crispy hash browns, creamed corn, fried tomato. I breathed in. Yum.
As usual, BK’s hair was even messier than mine. The blonde curls fell around her face in a perpetual tangle, never to be reasoned with. The sight made me smile.
She beamed, green eyes lighting up just at the sight of me. Of course, they instantly furrowed, picking up as she always did on my melancholy.
‘You need a hug,’ she said decidedly, abandoning her duties as cook to come and throw her arms around me.
I melted into it, forever grateful she’d been brought into our family. BK’s hugs were always warm and full of love. How she managed to always be so cheerful and bright, I would never know. I didn’t complain. She was comfortingly reliable. Especially now, since Grandma had passed away.
For two months BK had dedicated herself to trying to fill the void Grandma’s absence left. It was an impossible task. Grandma had raised us with stern kindness, with passion and humour. She had seemed so vibrant and full of life. Until it had been taken away.
Now we were left just us three, in the big empty house our grandparents had built.
BK pulled away, eyeing me as fiercely as she could manage. ‘Time to perk up, missy,’ she said. ‘I had a feeling you’d need cheering up, so I cooked! It’s your favourite!’
‘How do you always know?’ I asked, and surveyed the options. I grinned and turned away.
‘What’s wrong?’ she asked, her tone dropping in worry. ‘Did I miss something?’
‘No,’ I said hurriedly. ‘It’s great, really.’
It was great. But it was Freddie’s favourite spread. She’d only be upset if I pointed it out, and I was happy enough with the gesture. Besides, knowing BK’s sense of intuition, the fact she’d steered towards his favourite foods meant Freddie probably needed cheering up more than I did.
Right on cue, he stumbled into the kitchen, school tie askew and shirt half tucked in. His face was still red from his run, raven hair sticking up in a windswept mess and he was somehow missing a shoe. He kicked the edge of the bench and winced, but didn’t slow in his beeline for the hash browns.
Grey eyes flickered up to us girls, and Freddie cocked his head, one eyebrow raised in question at BK.
She crossed her arms and tried to give him a firm look.
‘Use your words,’ she said.
Freddie sighed and rolled his eyes. He’d always inclined towards body language rather than sign, something that drove our therapist insane. We’d gone through years of therapy, he and I. They thought he was autistic and I was crazy. The boy who couldn’t speak and the girl who saw an alien.
What a pair we made.
In an exaggerated motion he crossed his hands, palms open and flat and knocked his wrists together—making the word for ‘work’—then cocked his head at her again.
I glanced sideways at BK. She had her stubborn face on, but she relented and answered his one worded question.
‘I’m not going in today. We got rained out last night.’ She peered out the kitchen windows up at the grey sky above. ‘They think it’ll storm again today.’
‘In this humidity, it’ll probably be a big one,’ I said, reaching for a hash brown.
A horn tooted outside and I sighed.
‘Of course he’s early today,’ I muttered, and reached out to snag some bacon before Freddie ate it all.
Freddie eyed me shrewdly, eyes as grey as the clouds outside. I recognised my own features in his face. The same eyes, the same arch of brow, the same…well you get the point. The only difference was the perpetual state of mischief Freddie seemed to exist in.
As if sensing my thoughts, Freddie rolled his eyes and looked away. He huffed and stuffed another mouthful of hash brown into his mouth. He made some vague motion with his hands, fluttering them about and gesturing toward the door, before darting out of the room. Hopefully to find his shoe.
‘You’re not yourselves,’ said BK, her green gaze shifting between Freddie’s retreating back and me.
‘Sure we are,’ I said, trying to smile. ‘You just don’t normally see us in the mornings.’
Her frown remained, but she didn’t say anything else. I leaned around the corner of the bench to give her another hug.
‘We’ll see you later, okay?’
‘Hang on, I’ll fix your hair. That’ll cheer you up.’
The car horn blasted again, two longer hoots this time. Tim was impatient this morning—Tim was always impatient.
‘No time,’ I said, shrugging in a “what-can-you-do?” manner.
She sighed but let me go without a fuss.
I slipped into the back seat of the old, faded red Ford. It sat rumbling in the driveway, less a purr and more a sputter, as if it were about to shut off at any moment.
When Tim turned seventeen and passed on his licence, his mother had offered to buy him a second hand car. Something a little better than the car he and Freddie did burnouts in in the middle of the fields when they thought no one was looking.
He’d refused. I don’t know why. It was barely more than a glorified paddock-basher, yet Tim loved it.
‘Where’s Freddie?’ Tim barked, glancing up at me in the rearview mirror as I slid in.
‘Morning, Tim,’ I said with a wry grin.
‘Yeah, yeah,’ he said, fingers tapping on the wheel. ‘We’re late, where is he?’
‘Coming,’ I said. ‘And you’re early, not late. Who’re you avoiding today?’
‘Who says I’m avoiding anybody?’
‘You’re never early.’
‘Am so,’ he said. ‘Sometimes.’ A quick grin flashed up in the rearview mirror, but it didn’t quite reach his eyes.
I guess we were all in weird moods this morning.
Freddie came barrelling out the front door, BK close on his heels with lunch containers in her arms. As Freddie all but fell into the front passenger seat, she handed one through to him.
‘I packed you lunch!’
Freddie grinned at her, and kissed her on the cheek in thanks, earning himself a bright smile.
‘Oi,’ Tim objected, leaning over to peer out at BK. ‘Where’s mine?’
BK smiled in at him, far more patient than most girls who dealt with him (and no-where near as smitten).
‘I didn’t forget,’ she said, and handed across another container. ‘I added peppers in yours!’
Tim flashed her a toothy grin. ‘BK, have I told you a love you?’
‘You’re the best sheila in town.’
I rolled my eyes. He thinks he’s so smooth.
‘You’ve told me that too,’ she said, shutting Freddie’s door.
She leaned in the half open back window I was sitting next to.
‘Hope you feel better today,’ she said. ‘I put in something extra for you, so cheer up, okay?’
I smiled. ‘Thanks, BK.’
Tim drummed his hands on the wheel, glancing back at us.
‘Alrighty,’ he said, jamming the car into reverse. ‘Let’s get this show on the road.’
BK stepped back out of the way as Tim began to roll out.
Right on cue, the car stalled.