Authors: Shivaun Plozza
âGreat dialogue and strongly paced. Frankie's a gutsy character with a lot of heart.'
Frankie Vega is angry. Just ask the guy whose nose she broke. Or the cop investigating the burglary she witnessed, or her cheating ex-boyfriend or her aunt who's tired of giving second chances...
When a kid shows up claiming to be Frankie's half brother, it opens the door to a past she doesn't want to remember. And when that kid goes missing, the only person willing to help is a boy with stupidly blue eyes â¦ and secrets of his own.
Frankie's search for the truth might change her life, or cost her everything.
For Mum and Dad
âDon't tell him where you live. Don't give him any money. Don't trust a word he says.' That's what Aunt Vinnie said about Xavier.
âHow bad can a fourteen-year-old be?' I asked her.
That got a throaty, âHa! The kid says he's your brother, so wipe off four years and take a look in the mirror.'
Anyway, he's late. So I guess I can add
Don't rely on his time-management skills
to the list. Behind me, people dash in and out of Bean Me Up Scotty, the smell of coffee calling me each time the door opens. But I wait. I search the afternoon crowd for âbrown hair, grey hoodie, high-tops' because that's what Xavier said to look for. âI'll wear bright-blue high-tops so you'll know it's me.'
The 86 rattles down Smith Street. Sparks fly where the tram's mechanical arm thingy meets a crisscross of overhead cables and I jolt back into something warm and solid. Something that lets out a loud âoi!' I swing round and get a greasy from the old guy I've just bashed into: grey hair, dandruff-sprinkled jacket, expensive-looking brogues.
So, not Xavier?
The guy shuffles past, shaking his head and muttering. My middle finger itches, but I'm trying to cut down on obscene gestures: Vinnie says it's a sign of low breeding. âNot like you can't think of something colourful to say instead,' she says.
I check my phone for the time. Again.
What's this kid going to look like, anyhow? Dark like me? Short? No, he sounded tall. But he also
like a con-artist-junkie. Maybe.
A young guy walks into Smith Street from Gertrude: grey jacket, the hood flipped over his head. My gaze slides down his black skinny jeans toward his shoes, my heart kabooming the whole way.
He's wearing white chucks.
My nails dig into my palms.
There's a voice behind me. âGot change, cuz?' I turn round and see Homeless Eddie doing his morning rounds. Right now he's chasing a grey-haired librarian-type. His hands are in a prayer pose as she's shaking her head, gripping her bag to her chest. She scurries away.
âNothing for Eddie,' he says, raising one arm high above his head â it's his usual tic. He jiggles his outstretched arm, his index finger poking all sorts of holes in the sky.
I'm just about to split when another voice stops me short. Male. Young. Right behind me. âFrankie?'
Okay, so running away is still an option, right?
Grow a pair, Frankie.
I take a deep breath, swing round and get a punch in the face.
No, not literally. What I experience is more like a bitch-slap from fate.
Brown hair, grey hoodie, high-tops, bright-blue.
I look him over â this Xavier person, this boy who shouldn't exist. I look him over and it's like a sumo wrestler is bear-hugging my lungs.
âFrankie, right?' The kid blinks at me, half smiling, and all the while my lungs are collapsing into mashed-banana mush in my chest.
He holds out his hand, staring at me with wide-set so-brown-they're-black eyes.
âYou're Frankie?' His outstretched hand hangs between us. I don't take it. I give him a small wave: jerky and mechanical.
âCool,' he says. His shoves both hands in his pockets and grins.
He's tall, broad-shouldered and pale, light-brown hair cut short back and sides, with a fringe flopping half across his face, all the way to his chin. More skate punk than junkie. No meth sores and all his teeth. That's a good start.
We stand in silence. Me and my brother.
âShit. This is awkward,' he says. And then he laughs.
Homeless Eddie laughs too, but I ignore him because right now I'm listening to my half-brother laugh for the first time and it'sâ¦weird. Weird and cool. It's like when you get a whiff of some random chick's perfume and the smell drags you back to primary school and that teacher who cuddled you after the kids ganged up on you at the monkey bars because all your clothes were from the Salvos. So you want to chase the random chick down the street and hug her for reminding you of that moment. But you also want to slap her because it's not just Miss Ng stroking your hair you remember, it's the name calling too.
Xavier chews on his bottom lip. He's not laughing anymore.
Maybe because I'm staring at him. Like a proper psycho.
I shift my weight, boots sloshing in a puddle. I nod at the cafe. âWe could go in? I mean, if it's gonna be awkward we may as well overdose on brownies, right?'
âCool,' he says with a shrug.
We got the call three nights ago. Vinnie answered and said nothing â just shoved the phone under my nose. I half expected it to be a cop or a nurse â someone saying, âSorry about your mum. We did everything we could. It was just her time, blah, blah, blah.'
I haven't heard from Juliet in forever, not since she dumped me aged four. Not since she pissed off to Queensland so she wouldn't have to worry about a kid cramping her style while she got high and ripped people off.
But it was a young voice on the phone. Male. âAre you Francesca Vega?'
âI'm Frankie. Who the hell are you?'
âIs Juliet Vega your mum?'
âWhy are you asking?'
âCos I'm Xavier Green. She's my mum too.'
Bam, crash, ka-pow. Hell of a game changer.
It's those four words â âShe's my mum too' â that loop through my head as I follow Xavier into the frosted, wooden Scandinavian-ness of Bean Me Up, Scotty.
We grab a table at the back and I inhale my brownie. Because eating equals mouth full equals can't talk.
In between mouthfuls I watch him, sitting there looking more like Juliet than I do.
âThis is cool, hey,' he says.
I nod because if I open my big gob I'll be honest and tell him this is about ten per cent cool, thirty per cent uncomfortable and sixty per cent completely freaking me out. Either that or I'll tell him there
words other than âcool'.
He rips a serviette out of the dispenser, pulls out a fineliner and starts doodling while I flag down the waitress and order a second brownie.
I tear my fingernails and watch him â his tongue at the corner of his mouth as he scribbles all over the serviette. He moves his arm so I can't see what he's drawing.
On the phone he told me he's just turned fourteen; already he's a fair bit taller than me. I don't know if I'd call him good-looking but I think girls would go for him. It's the dimples. Bet he gets away with murder.
âYou like music?' He points his pen at my Joy Division t-shirt.
âSome,' I say. âIan Curtis is a god.'
âHe's a tool,' says Xavier.
I stop wiping brownie crumbs from around my mouth. âYou did not just say that.'
He looks up at me and grins.
Dimples don't work on me, kid.
I lean forward and jab my finger at him. âFirstly, without Joy Division there would be no Smiths and without The Smiths there would be no Radiohead and without Radiohead there would be no music. At all. Secondly â'
âSo that's how I get you to talk, hey?' Xavier flips the serviette over and slumps back in his chair. Still grinning.
âInsulting Ian Curtis is how you get on my bad side.'
âConfession. I don't know who Brian Curtis is.'
The edges of my lips twitch. It's a weird feeling. Almost like I might be about toÂ .Â .Â .Â smile. I quickly cover my mouth with my hand.
Xavier leans forward on his elbows. âSo you live with your aunt, hey.'
âI guess she's my aunt too. What's she like?'
What do you say about Vinnie? That she has three ex-husbands and two ex-fiancÃ©s? That there's nothing tighter than her skirts? That she took me in when no one else wanted me?
âAmazing. Basically the opposite of Juliet,' I say.
He looks away, a little crease between his brows.
Way to go, Frankie. He was probably dumped in a cardboard box on the doorstep of a convent and raised by sadistic nuns. The only thing keeping him going was the hope that out there, somewhere, was a fairytale mother who would ride in on a silver unicorn and rescue him. But now his ugly half-sister is telling him his mum's the wicked witch.
Man, I need another brownie.
He taps his fingers on the serviette and clears his throat. âWhat year are you in at school?'
âShit,' he says.
I nod. I don't tell him I'm currently on âextended hiatus'. I don't tell him that two days ago I was suspended indefinitely. I don't tell him because I am
talking about The Steve Sparrow Incident.
âYou?' I ask.
âEight. It's bullshit.'
And it's like that, back and forth, firing off questions like we're ticking off a list.
He tells me he lives with his dad in Reservoir (but grew up in Townsville), only bothers turning up at school for Art, doesn't have any other siblings (that he knows about), obsessively plays some game called StarCraft (it's big in Korea) and his least favourite food is anything green. I have to answer the same questions and pretty soon we've covered all the key topics.
Except one. No one's mentioning Juliet. But it's fine. Got to know what this kid's favourite colour/animal/holiday destination is before I broach the âJ' word.
âGot a boyfriend?' he asks.
âI'm taking an extended hiatus.'
He looks at me, nose crinkled. âYou like big words, hey.'
âBig words, yes. Boys, not so much. They lie.'
âMost people do.'
Same eyes, same healthy dose of cynicism. No need for a DNA test, doctor. We're definitely related.
I lean forward. âWhat's your dad like?'
âJust Juliet's type, then.'
He frowns, a chipped front tooth digging into his lip. âYou don't like her, do you?'
Hmmm. Looks like we're having this conversation after all.
Diplomacy is not my strong point but I'm going to try. I pick over my words as carefully as a girl in combat boots can. âShe never gave me much chance to like her. There's a lot I might have forgiven ifÂ .Â .Â .Â Well, she's not exactly bombarding me with phone calls begging for forgiveness, is she?'
Xavier's frown deepens so I assume my little foray into diplomacy has sucked. If I were a country, I'd be North Korea.
World's shortest sibling relationship? I guess this is the end of what might otherwise have been the feel-good story of the year. No more Frankie and Xavier. You'll get your way after all, Vinnie.
The silence stretches all the way to Awkwardville. Xavier stares at nothing. All I can focus on is the tip of his pen as he raps it against the table.
And then he takes a deep breath, shoulders drawing down. âDad says she should've never had kids. Not fit to be a mum.'
âYour dad and I would get along fine.'
He looks at me, the barest hint of dimple. âThat's cos you haven't met him.'
âOr maybe because he hasn't met me.'
âLook.' I lay my hands on the table, palms down. âI don't know how old you were when she dumped you but, believe me, she was doing you a favour. If I can give you one piece of sisterly advice it'd be to stay away from Juliet Vega. Unless you're a disappointment junkie. Then you should go right ahead. If you can find her.'
When I'm done with my incredibly undiplomatic diplomatic speech, there's silence. Except for all the coffee orders, hipsters droning on about how drunk they were last night, plates and cups clinking and whatever crappy dance music is pounding in the background. Actually, it's just Xavier and me who are silent.
âHow long did she stick around?' I ask. âShe must have got knocked up with you pretty soon after she left me.'
No dimples now, more of a grimace. âI'm no good with mathsÂ .Â .Â .'
But he's cut short by a racket from his jeans' pocket: a heavy beat, police sirens and some dude boasting about guns, bitches and dick size.
He has gangsta rap for a ringtone? This is not going to end well for us.
He grabs his thigh with a jolt. âShit,' he says. His second favourite word after cool. âSorry.' He reaches into his pocket and pulls out the phone. âGot to take this.' He swipes the screen and NWA quit bitching about da police. âWhat?'
Sheesh. Rude much? I rest my chin on my palm and try to look fascinated by the lunch menu.
âNah, dude. Not for like an hour or something.' Xavier's eyes keep flicking between the floor and me. He angles his body to the side, his phone ear completely hidden from view.
The waitress appears. âAnything else?' She eyes my plate with the mounds of brownie crumbs.