Authors: Rebecca Berto
Copyright © 2013 Rebecca Berto
All rights reserved.
This book is published in Australian English and includes relative diction.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other non-commercial uses permitted by copyright law.
If you are reading this book and have not purchased it or been gifted a copy via an online retailer, it has been pirated. Please delete this eBook and support the author by purchasing a copy from one of its many distributors.
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
ISBN (eBook): 978-0-9874566-5-6
ISBN (paperback): 978-1493692651
Cover copyright © Rebecca Berto of
Lauren K McKellar
When Sarah first came home her ears had a faint ring in them, and now, in the aching silence, they buzzed at her fiercely. Her first thought was
Ah! Relative quiet for once. I’ll just sneak in and get my mobile phone
. Now she wished her dad had been doing anything else, even playing that stupid rock ‘n’ roll music. She had a solution for that: plug in her Favourites playlist and turn the volume up.
She heard the first moan, whispering through the walls. She was drawn toward the sound in her parents’ bedroom; it was like the undeniable dread of watching someone being bullied from afar. It was being unsure how to make it stop.
But Sarah’s mum was out, and there was definitely two people making
sounds in there. For the first few moments, Sarah wondered if her mum had suddenly materialised here. Why else would her dad be moaning in sync with that female voice, and the bed legs be screeching in that way?
She remembered arriving into the silence that had encased her, replacing the throbbing sounds from the party she’d just been at, thinking it all seemed
quiet in here.
She was right.
Sarah felt the blood drain from her face. A sense of nothingness washed over her as she braced her palm to the wall outside her parents’ bedroom, narrowly preventing her wobbly legs from taking her down.
What should she do?
She willed her ears to block out what she heard, but she knew sticking her fingers in the holes wouldn’t help a bit. And her dad didn’t deserve to be the reason she harmed herself if she poked inside too hard.
Sarah wished she could run, but instead her feet stayed rooted against the wall, and she shivered at the choice she had to make. What would she do, tell her mum that she could hear the bed creaking against the frame, that her dad’s friend wasn’t trying to be quiet at all?
The sounds triggered a memory. She’d caught a weird text message when sitting at the kitchen bench, her playing with her dad’s phone, her mum still at work. Her dad had snapped his mobile phone from her fingers and told her to go to her room. Her shock back then debilitated her choice to tell her mum. Her voice didn’t work when she tried to speak, and her throat was tight even when she swallowed. Now, hearing what was happening behind the wall, she had no idea where to even begin.
Sarah clamped a hand over her mouth in case she sobbed loudly, forced her other hand to push her from the lure of the wall where she had been frozen, and to walk herself out the front door.
Back to that party. Back through the shadows of darkness and odd orbs of light, along the sidewalk, back to the noise and the alcohol, and the people trying to forget their responsibilities.
She combed her fingers through her mocha brown hair, the ends tapering off at her breasts. It was the same colour as her mum’s. Would her dad hate her now, being reminded of the wife he clearly had no care for? Would physical factors, like Sarah’s pale grey eyes, the same shade as her mum’s favourite cardigan, be as horrible to him as her inner qualities?
She realised when she got to the party that she never did get her mobile phone from her room as she had originally intended, so she’d have to wait for someone to open the door.
There were two fanning plants in pots, framing the double door entrance. A porch stretched under the balcony of the first floor and a swinging bench sat at the far end beside the garden bed. The music was so loud the bass vibrated through the concrete underneath her feet and she could only hear a faint sound when she tried knocking anyway.
She blinked against the memory of the sound of the bed frame creaking and that shrieking sound that made her insides churn, until soon enough a drunk girl in a miniskirt stumbled out the door with a guy staring at her ass, laughing at nothing at all.
Sarah slipped inside, found a corner free on a couch next to two people chatting and bit her lip, thinking too much when she shouldn’t have been thinking much at all, as a regular sixteen-year-old at a regular house party.
• • •
Sarah’s dad wasn’t always this way. In fact, Sarah’s dad used to be the most perfect man in the world, in Sarah’s mind. She’d go to school and announce his achievements like, “My daddy built my own cubby house for me.”
And it was true. He didn’t buy that cubby house from a store in a flat-pack box and nail it together. He loved spending hours in the shed with her, even when Mummy would have dinner waiting for them. Mum would have to call Sarah and her dad at least twice every time they were out there building.
But as Sarah sat on that couch at that party, she didn’t mind the back of some drunk person and their constant laughing a bit too hard, and talking a tone too loud, and jerking back an elbow or head to her side or neck. She didn’t mind as much as she should have.
What did a little discomfort mean in the scheme of her life now? She’d forget that arrogant drunk person, and they wouldn’t even remember sitting next to her.
She would never forget the sound of the headboard pounding the wall and the sting after she removed her fingers from her ears. It shouldn’t have been another woman there.
Why had Sarah just remained quiet?
Her group at school were so different, and yet similar, in their goals. For one, Brittney would never have sat frozen when she realised her dad was with another woman, as Sarah had. She would have probably even stormed in. Why didn’t Sarah do that?
She dropped her head in shame. It was true it suddenly felt too heavy to hold, but she’d also lost the will to pretend to sit here like she was tired or shy. She blew the strands of hair away from her face, blowing air up past her nose. And she didn’t mind if that looked weird.
, Sarah decided. As she was about to push up on the couch cushion to stand, a boy walked up to her, pointed next to her and said, “Okay to take a seat?”
He didn’t need Sarah’s permission, yet she smiled to herself, feeling special, and shuffled over to let him through.
That was a mistake, she realised. How would she ever get up, now she’d shuffled over as if she were staying here?
Okay, a couple of minutes and then I can pretend to change my mind.
“So,” the boy asked, “is it just me, or is this crap making you want to poke sticks in your ears?”
Looking at him now, Sarah forgot to hold her hands neatly in her lap as she had been doing at the start of her countdown. Now she didn’t even realise her jaw was hung open, until the boy leant just that bit closer and made her heart stutter, and closed it with a finger. She took in his rich brown eyes, so much like her dad’s. They were framed by thick lashes, too pretty for a guy.
Sarah smiled, knowing that she wouldn’t have to leave after all. This was much better than facing the prospect of going home. “I hate this ‘crap’, too. No feel, just ‘thromp, thromp, thromp’ in alternating patterns. R&B is much better.”
“Okay, I will have to ask for your name. There is no way I can continue this excellent conversation without knowing this pretty girl’s name.”
Sarah didn’t realise she looked pretty tonight. She had on dark-wash jeans, ballet flats and a tank top with a metallic print. Maybe it was her hair, she rationed. Maybe the messy loop of it actually looked like a sexy hairdo.
“It’s Sarah Langham.”
“Sarah.” He nodded slightly, as if giving his approval that it was a great name. “Well, I’m Nicholas Brookland, and no, I don’t get called Nick. Just Brooks for short if anything, and no, I won’t tell you my middle name.”
“That’s okay,” Sarah said. “I never asked.”
It seemed this was the first time anyone had replied like that to the way Nicholas introduced himself. He gave Sarah a look, all deep dark intensity, that made her feel uncomfortable, but in a good way. She knew she’d impressed him the way other girls hadn’t tonight, or maybe ever.
He shifted closer and some guy came to stand inches from his face, facing the other way. Sarah couldn’t help but laugh, and she had to cover her mouth, although the music was loud enough to hide her startled cry. The other guy started chatting to somebody, his ass in a direct line with Nicholas’s head. Sarah laughed again and Nicholas, cheeks red and lips pressed in a tight line, moved closer to her, his hand resting behind her ass.
“You made me do this. Now I have to squeeze close to you,” he said, wriggling his fingers near hers to show her what he meant, although there was no way she’d forget where they were. He held her gaze, now inches from her face.
She gulped, but it provided little relief. His eyes were so brown, so warm that she was already lost in them. She’d kissed a couple of other boys but only a peck, because she wasn’t quite sure how to stick her tongue in without asking them to widen their mouth for her. She wanted Nicholas to kiss her, but she hadn’t an idea how to ask—until she didn’t have to.
She could see the moment coming. His gaze, intense and captivating, created a weight on her chest she couldn’t shift. His gaze dropped to her lips. Unconsciously, she licked them, knowing he was looking. He made a little sound when she did that.
That night, Nicholas Brookland leant in to Sarah Langham and connected his lips to hers. She only realised their tongues moulded together in-sync after she had already memorised the softness of his tongue on hers, and it was too late.
That night she spent all her time on that couch with her hands wrapped at the bottom of his hair, his hands careful at her waist or jawline, smiling into his lips.
That night, the party didn’t turn out to be a stupid thing to kill her time and distract her mind.
What was stupid was the choice to stay at the party until one am, because Sarah got caught when she got home.
Her parents wouldn’t listen to a word she said. Sarah slammed her bedroom door shut and hated the night of her first real kiss because it was ruined. She was meant to come home and tell her mum what her dad had done, but they didn’t bother hearing her out, that night or the rest of that weekend.
When the new week started her parents had to go to work, and Sarah had to go to school.
But, Sarah rationalised, she probably would have never told her mum anyway. Not because she didn’t want to, but because, any which way she said it, it would have utterly broken her heart.
The first time Sarah saw Him, he was leaning up against a pillar at Flinders Street Station, knee bent against the wall, checking the time on his watch.
At five thirty, after her first day as a junior editor, she still hadn’t stopped trembling with excitement. She’d memorised the names of all the workers in her team, and loved the way she walked into the office and it smelt of warm paper, straight out of the printer. There must have been at least six printers on the one floor alone.
Now, at the train station, she supposed it made sense this man stood out. She was on alert and he was impossible to miss. Eyes peeled, she noticed him, as if he were a photograph, the aperture turned low so the bustle of other passersby blurred out.
She sat on her seat, waiting, pretending to text on her mobile. Now and then she’d look up as if wondering, “When’s the train coming?” Like she’d forgotten. Under her lashes, or from a casual glance sweeping the platform, she’d look at something new on him.
First it was his jaw. Sarah didn’t know why a strange man’s jawline mattered, but it did. She could imagine the sharp turn as she traced from ear down to his chin, and back up to his other ear with her finger. She imagined all her old poster pin-ups. Sarah wasn’t a fussy girl. She had James Dean, Elvis Presley, Bon Jovi, Brad Pitt, Zac Efron, and even the Hemsworth brothers.