Read the First Chapter

Lucie checked her phone for the fortieth time, cursing under her breath when she saw the picture of her childhood dog that was her lock screen. The two little girls with their arms wrapped around the large dog’s neck were her and her cousin, Nancy. The two girls looked so similar they were usually mistaken for twins in strange company. Both had cheery bright smiles and the same pale locks of hair that always got tangled in their eye lashes. She sighed and put her phone back in the pocket of her apron.

“What’s wrong Goose?” Lucie’s father asked, his jovial smile as fixed as ever on his open face. Lucie rubbed her clean hands on her apron and adjusted the tie around her waist.

 

“I’m waiting for Nancy to tell me if she’s on for this weekend or not.” Lucie looked down, slightly embarrassed that she couldn’t even organise a hang out with a single friend – who also happened to be a family member – a week in advance.

 

“I can call Uncle Richard if you like?” He offered, his smile still in place.

 

“No it’s fine, I’ll try and call her later.” Lucie shrugged and pushed her phone deeper into the pocket. She moved away from her father and back toward her canvas, carefully stepping around her assortments of piled paint tins on the drop sheet under her feet and

“Do you think weather will hold up?” She asked, maintaining polite conversation while her eyes wandered over the two-foot-square canvas on her easel. It was black, the whole thing had been painted in a smooth and oily darkness that seemed to hint at colour but never quite entertain it. The grey glow from outside was a nice counterpoint to her work and glanced outside into the blustery fields. She wondered if it might snow.

 

“The weather app on my phone says it will.” He responded noncommittally, his tone depressed and without hope.

“Not that it really has any power to judge weather, the other day it said it would be sunny.”

 

“Well let’s hope it’s wrong again.” Lucie forced her words to be light and playful. She collected her brushes from their jars and sorted them, looking for the heavy one with the thick bristles and solid handle that she liked to use for the texturing process. She found it and started to add, on top of the still tacky undercoat, thick globules of paint. The mix she used was almost congealed in texture, it formed peaks and valleys with little effort and she carefully covered her canvas in it, dragging some of the undercoat up through it to add to the texture of the piece. Despite the fact she knew she had an audience, she continued to paint, carefully building layers and standing at different angles to try and work out where the work was going. Once she’s used most of her patented goop-paint she resealed the jar and rinsed the brush, leaving the canvas to dry and stripping off her protective outer garments. Once paint free and with considerably cleaner hands she padded to the kitchen and filled the kettle, absentmindedly clicking the switch backwards and forwards instead of just leaving it to boil.

 

“Leave it alone Goose.” Her father said, sounding tired all of a sudden.

“Just switch it on and let it do its thing. I’m going to go lie down, could you bring me a cup of tea when it’s done?” He didn’t wait for an answer, his heavy boots trailing wet muck and heavy footfalls all the way down the corridor as he went to the bedroom he had just moved into.

 

“Sure thing.” Murmured Lucie, leaving the kettle to boil and lifting herself onto one of the barstools at the brunch bar. She watched the steam start to slowly coil out of the kettle’s spout and her phone buzzed. She lifted it screen up and saw a text from her best friend, Glenn. She sighed, not bothering to read it. She had hoped there would be a message from Nancy. The phone buzzed again and Lucie flipped it over on the bench, keeping one eye on the kettle as it sung it’s impending release. Glenn had corrected something he’d written by accident in the previous text. She sighed and unlocked her phone to respond. Yes, I’m still on for tonight, just waiting to hear back from my cousin regarding tomorrow. She hit send and almost put her phone face down again, but another text came through. This time from her mother. Lucie paused, trying to decide whether or not she wanted to respond. She didn’t even know if she wanted to read it or not. She figured she would read it until the kettle finished boiling; if the kettle boiled before she finished or before she had a chance to respond, then tough titties. She opened the message and read, trying to keep in mind her mother was a lying bitch who was probably cuddled up in bed with one of three or four lovers while her new  boyfriend was at work. It was just the kind of person she was.

 

I need you to call me Lucie, it’s about your uncle, I know your dad won’t pick up the phone, please call. Lucie thought about responding and the kettle boiled. She laughed and put her phone down, moving around the kitchen to make two cups of tea without a care in the world. If anything was wrong with her uncle, her dad would be the first to know. He usually got terrible back pains when something was wrong; and even if it wasn’t like that, Richard was his brother. She finished brewing the tea and carefully added the obligatory negligible dash of milk and half a spoon of sugar to her father’s cup. She took the cup into him and stood at the end of his bed, watching him sleep. Smiling ruefully she put the cup down on his bedside table and shook his shoulder, cooing under her breath to try and wake him up. His eyes slowly opened and he smiled up at her.

 

“Hey Goose; what’s up?”

 

“Your tea is ready dad.” She whispered, pointing at the steaming mug on the table.

 

“Thank you.” He said, his voice hushed.

“Why do you look like that?” He reached up and poked her cheek until she smiled and her dimple appeared.

 

“Like what dad?” She asked, pushing his hand away and standing up.

 

“Like your mum did whenever something was bothering her.” Lucie scoffed quietly. She looked nothing like her mother. They didn’t even have similar eyes.

 

“I look nothing like mum.” She said quietly.

“Though, speaking of mum, I got a text from her. Apparently there’s something wrong with Uncle Richard.”

 

“Why would she know anything about Richard?” Lucie stepped back, avoiding the fine mist of tea and spittle that flew in her direction as her father sat up.

“He’s my fucking brother!” Lucie took a couple of deep breaths and tried to settle her heart, which beat like a hummingbird against the walls of her chest.

 

“I don’t know dad. I’ll call her and find out. I’m sorry, I’ll get more information.” Lucie ran from the room without waiting for an answer, pressing herself against the cool fridge door once she was in the kitchen, hoping the cold surface would jerk her back to reality. Instead, images of her father’s angry eyes flashed in front of her and her vision began to dim. She squeezed her eyes shut and held her breath, slowly her breathing and focussing on the dopey grin Glenn gave her everytime she reminded him to do something. That brought her back to reality and now that the world was once more cold and bright and full of colour, Lucie went to her phone and speed dialled her mother.

 

“Hey chipmunk, what’s happening?” Lucie’s mother’s voice was loud and obnoxious over the phone; her phone manner had been shaped by years of secretarial work and role playing.
“Mum, what’s wrong with Richard?” Lucie didn’t have time for the banter that would make her mother happy. She just wanted the information that would mean she could report to her father that it was a typo and everything was fine.

 

“Oh dear Lucie, I don’t know. How about you call the number I’m about to send you? It’s the number they told me to call only I have no interest in dealing with your bastard of a uncle.” Her voice turned poisonous, her words like thorns.

 

“Sounds great mum.” Lucie hung up, sagging against the benchtop. She used to be mummy’s little girl. She used to run to the front of the house to meet her mother after a long day of work, despite how many times she was told running near the road was dangerous. Now her mother could barely talk to her. She waited for the text to come through and when it did it was just the phone number, no explanation as to who it would connect to. Lucie tossed up whether or not to follow through and call the number or just tell her father everything was fine. A small niggle in the back of her brain reminded her that however slim the chance, there might actually be something wrong with Richard and maybe, because dad had changed his number, the authorities had called mum instead. She held her fingertip against the number until the phone gave her a list of options and she hit call.

 

“Hello, District PD, how can I help you?” A little chill ran down Lucie’s spine and she licked her lips with her suddenly dry tongue, composing herself as best she could.

 

“Afternoon, um, this is Lucie Caller?”

 

“Miss Caller, can I ask what you’re enquiring about today?” The polite voice answered, a civil but bored tone capped with a tiny smile.

 

“My mother received a message asking her to call this number, but she and my father are split up, she asked me to call because it’s regarding my uncle?” Lucie didn’t know how to explain the whole situation. She didn’t even know if the whole situation needed explaining.

“It’s about my uncle, I think, Richard Caller, but that was all my mum would say.”

 

“Richard Caller, ah , yes.” The line clicked and the heavy silence of holding floated through the handset. Lucie tried to stay calm.

 

“Hello?” The single word followed another click. Lucie remained mute, not sure who she was talking to.

“Hello? This is Detective Linda White. Who is this please?” Lucie breathed out in a gust.

 

“Lucie Caller.” She said, trying to speak calmly. Her words came out a little too fast, tripping over each other.

 

“Ah, Lucie, yes. Thank you for calling back. Your mother said you would.” The detective sounded relieved.

“I have some bad news, are you in a position to receive that right now?”

 

“Position?” Lucie asked doubtfully.

 

“Are you sitting down?”

 

“Yes.” Lucie replied, sitting herself on the low chaise lounge in the entrance way usually reserved for coats and scarves to be bundled in heaps.

 

“Good, now I have some bad news, as I said earlier. I would rather do this in person but it’s been a very long week and I’ve had to make a lot of these calls.” Lucie hummed apologetically, not sure why the detective was eliciting sympathy when she was the one receiving bad news.

“I am afraid I have to inform you that Richard and Nancy Caller died in a tragic potential homicide about two weeks ago.” The detective’s voice was loaded with regret. Lucie understood the words and their implication but she felt numb. Bad news was something she’d heard a lot of since she and her father had moved out of the family home.

 

“Thank you for letting me know.” She said softly, tears thick behind her eyes but as yet remaining put.

“I will alert my father.”

 

“Could you possibly make a time to come and give a formal identification? All for procedure?”

 

“Of course.” Lucie said, her voice hoarser but just as quiet as before.

“I will call back on this number to arrange it.”

 

“Thank you Miss Caller.” Detective White hung up and Lucie put her phone down on the lounge like it was made of glass. She watched the screen with the picture of her, the dog and cousin Nancy on it fade to black and the first of many sobs ripped through her, tearing her diaphragm and stretching her vocal cords on the way out.

 

—-

Marcus stood in the snack food aisle at the shopping centre, staring at a party-sized bag of pretzels in one hand and a party-sized bag of corn chips in the other. He simply couldn’t decide. He knew he needed to make a decision but he didn’t know what the group would like more. He knew some of the participants would laugh if they knew he couldn’t do this by himself but he decided to call a friend, just in case. He dialled her number and the phone rung for over a minute before going to voicemail.

 

Hey, it’s Lucie Goose, you’ve got thirty seconds to tell me why I should call you back, or I won’t!” The beep sounded less than half a second afterwards and Marcus tried to rattle off a message as quickly as possible.

 

“Hey Lucie, it’s Marcus, pretzels or corn chips Goose? Call me.” He hung up and sighed. She might be driving and he didn’t know how long it would take her to get back to him. He shifted his weight form foot to foot and risked a second call. This time they picked up on the first ring.

 

“Hey, Glenn here. What’s up?” The cheery voice sounded forced. Marcus chuckled.

 

“Glenn, it’s Marcus, I need some help.”

 

“Sorry Marcus, I think you’ve got the wrong number, I don’t know anyone named Marcus.” For a second Marcus believed him, then noticed the sly upward inflection at the end of the statement.

 

“No worries then, I guess I’ll have to leave the snack decisions up to the new girl then.” Marcus teased.

 

“Oh Marcus, man, sorry about that, little brain blip if you know what I mean. What’s the conundrum?” Glenn’s tone became genuinely happy.

 

“Pretzels or corn chips?” Marcus quizzed.

 

“Pretzels. Come on, what kind of dumb question is that?” Glenn hung up before Marcus could answer. The guy was a nutcase but most of it was show. He was very changeable by nature and it was always entertaining talking to him. A text buzzed through his phone and looked down;

 

BTW my lil’ bro is coming tonight, hope that’s cool

 

It wasn’t a question. Marcus didn’t get much of a choice when it came to Glenn’s brother. Ryan was a smart kid, not afflicted like his brother, and Marcus knew he wrote comic books about everyone who attended the meetings. He didn’t feel there was any harm though; the kid was creative and a badass artist.

 

Marcus put the corn chips back on the shelf and grabbed two more bags of pretzels; he then added some jelly snakes and marshmallows to his basket for the sweet toothed members of the group and grabbed a bottle of milk for the tea and coffee table. He went to the register, waited patiently in line between a pair of gossiping oriental women that seemed to give little to no thought to the fact that between them was a tall man who now knew an uncomfortable amount about the sex life of a third party, someone named Yvonne.

 

He didn’t feel comfortable again until he was in the carpark and even then it was touch and go. He felt like furtive glances were coming at him from all angles today.

 

“Excuse me?” Marcus ignored the quiet words initially, focussed on juggling the bag of meeting supplies and trying to find his keys in the sixteen available pockets in his clothing.

“Sorry, I don’t want to be rude, but I need to ask you something.” The voice dropped an octave and became more serious. Marcus finally found his keys – back in the first pocket he’d checked – and looked up from the boot of his car, straight into the face of a willowy young woman with worried eyes and a tense smile.

 

“How can I help you?” Marcus let his southern-gentleman-drawl carry.

 

“I was wondering if you could, uh, well, answer some, um, questions.” She seemed much less sure of herself now that he was actually looking at her with his sharp but doey eyes.

 

“Fire away.” Marcus smiled and placed his bag into the plastic tub secured with straps in his mammoth boot. He’d installed it after the third bottle of milk had been thrown about by his violent driving and subsequently exploded, leaving a stinky and difficult to clean mess in its wake.

 

“I understand you work with people who need help.” Marcus could not have thought up a less specific topic sentence. He looked over an imaginary pair of glasses at her and raised one eyebrow slowly. She blushed but continued.

“Support I mean, not really help, they need support.” Marcus knew what she was talking about but played dumb, tension growing in his shoulders.

“I would like to join the group.” Her request rushed out of her like a cat let out of a bag and Marcus considered what she was asking.

 

“You want to join.” He felt like he was missing something. He didn’t have the right to invite anyone in, vouch for anyone, or kick anyone out. He happened to be a friend of two of the members and had consequently been voted in as moderator.

 

“Yes.”
“Anyone who’d heard anything about any group knows that anyone looking for support needs to be vouched for by an existing member.” He stated, not wanting to give too much away. The group had never really been exposed in any way but he lived in constant fear of something happening to that end. These people were vulnerable in a very special way.

 

“But I don’t know anyone else.” She spoke desperately, like she was clinging to this as a last hope. He felt a pang in his chest but pushed it aside. He had sworn he would not interfere and he would keep that promise. The people in the group were tightly knit and they were all his friends. He would not jeopardize that.

 

“I don’t know you.” He stated, finality dripping off of every word.

“And I am not in a position to bend the rules. I am sorry.” He turned away, cringing at her tiny intake of breath. He knew it would turn into a sob. He knew it would. He climbed into his car and rested his head against the top of his chair, the weight of what he had just done sliding around his neck like a noose. He didn’t want to regret that decision. He deliberately did not look in his mirrors, instead starting his engine and using his car to call Lucie again. Her voicemail filled the car and he banged his head softly on the rim of the steering wheel as he left her a message.

“Lucie, it’s Marcus, look, I need your advice, before the meeting. Please call me.” He hung up before her phone could inform him his time was up. He peeked out of the rear vision mirror and saw the woman walking away into the distance, towards the the nearby playground. He reversed and drove in the opposite direction, deliberately taking the long way home to avoid seeing her moping. He drove at five kilometres under the speed limit the entire way, letting people fly past him, waving obscene gestures at him through their windows. He was waiting for a light to turn green when Lucie’s name popped up on the touch screen display in the centre console. He answered.

“Lucie, hey.”

 

“Hey Marcus.” The normally perky voice was a little bit raspy today.

“What’s up?”

 

“I just got accosted in the carpark while buying snacks – by the way, I chose pretzels. Glenn helped.”

 

“Good man.” Marcus wasn’t sure whether Lucie was referring to him or Glenn. He decided to skip over that and the roughness of her voice and focus on his question.

 

“This woman said she needed support; she wants to join the group.” Lucie’s interest seemed piqued.

 

“She said that?”

 

“Yes. She said she wanted to join.”

 

“But she doesn’t seem to know the rules.” Lucie said it like she was stating the most obvious thing in the world. Maybe to her and other members of her community she was.

 

“I told her I couldn’t vouch for her, even if I knew her, which I don’t, but I feel like her not knowing the rules isn’t a good reason to assume she doesn’t need support.” Marcus was a reasonable man by nature and he knew that the young woman at the other end of the line was reasonable too. But being reasonable and protecting one’s own did not always go hand in hand.

 

“We might talk about it at the meeting.” Lucie sounded like she was making a massive concession just be suggesting they might discuss the event.

“And we can work something out from there, but if she’s not going to come through the accepted channels then we need to work out where everyone stands on that. Some of us have a lot to lose.” Marcus knew she wasn’t referring to herself. She was a societal nobody. The people who had things to lose were friends of hers though and she was going to fight for them.

 

“Sounds fair. I’ll see you tonight then.”

 

“Yes, tonight.” Lucie hung up, leaving Marcus sitting in his driveway wondering how he got there. He switched the car off and got out, gathering his groceries from the boot and taking them inside. The house was cold and dark, profoundly empty.

 

—-

Ryan was pumped. He bounced in the seat next to his brother, his entire being quivering with anticipation.

 

“I can’t believe Marcus said yes!” He had expressed this sentiment nearly thirty three times in the last half an hour and he didn’t care that his brother was obviously getting tired of hearing it.

 

“I didn’t give him a choice buddy.” Glenn said, his voice even.

“It’s not like he’s really in charge anyway.” Ryan didn’t care about the technicalities. He bounced, his grin hurting his cheeks and his back teeth clenching against the muscular ache his cheeks emanated into the rest of his head.

 

“Do you think I’ll be allowed to sketch again?” Ryan wanted so badly to sketch each and every member of his elder brother’s support group. He had been working on superhero outfits for all of them and he thought the other members would think they were totally rad. He especially liked the design he’d thought up for his brother’s platonic best friend and the woman he’d had a crush on since he was ten year old, Lucie. He wanted her to really love the suit he’d drawn for her. He’d put hours of work into it.

 

“I don’t know, you’ll have to ask when we get there.” Glenn was barely paying attention, focussed on the road ahead. They pulled off the main road and up a slightly thinner country lane with no markings. Then they took another left and another left and finally Glenn applied the brakes and slid to a graceful stop outside Lucie’s home. The young woman emerged immediately from the side door and began to jog toward the car. Ryan climbed out and held his door open, inviting her to sit in the front passenger seat. She smiled distractedly and climbed in, thanking him under her breath. Ryan closed the door behind her and climbed into the back seat, from which he had a vantage point to stare at the curve of her neck and shoulder without her observation. Glenn gave him a sharp look through the rearview mirror but Ryan ignored it.

“Lucie, what’s wrong?” They were once again on the main road before Glenn spoke, and his question made Ryan lean forward. His older brother was right, there was something wrong.

 

“Uncle Richard died.” Lucie looked down at her hands, seemingly counting her long fingers.

“So did Nancy.” her voice cracked and Ryan watched jealously as his brother reached out and, without taking his eyes off the road, took a hold of her hands, squeezing them tightly.

 

“How the hell could that happen?” Glenn asked, his voice quiet, juxtaposed with his angry words.

 

“I’m not sure, dad and I have to head into the city and talk to some police or something about it. Dad is in shock.” Glenn squeezed her hands again, his knuckles briefly turning white, and Ryan bit back the urge to offer that she come into the back seat where he could give her a hug. She’d made it clear in the past that it would be a few years before he was old enough for her to take seriously as a romantic partner. He was totally okay with that.

 

“Is there anything we can do?” Ryan asked, cutting over the top of the start of whatever Glenn was about to say.

 

“Thank you Ryan.” Lucie smiled over her shoulder at him. He smiled back, a warm glow in his chest for being able to elicit a smile despite the obviously trying circumstances of the deaths of family members. He didn’t know who Richard and Nancy were but he assumed they were close family. A little flame of jealousy ignited in his chest when he realised that his brother knew who they were and he didn’t.

“I think everything is under control for now. Have you done any more cartoons for the group?” Lucie always insisted calling his drawings ‘cartoons’. He hated the diminutization of what were in reality very good and well thought out comic books that he had actually managed to sell a few copies of.

 

“I have a few new chapters to show off; you’re the star of one of them.” He smiled and she giggled like a schoolgirl.

 

“You’re incorrigible Ryan.” She said, flooding his entire body with a warm glow.

 

“Don’t get too excited Lucie.” Glenn warned mockingly.

“I’m pretty sure I’ve seen the sketches and I think it’s borderline porn.” Glenn threw a cold look at Ryan through the rearview mirror and Ryan straightened his spine and stuck his tongue out. Glenn might have a crush on Lucie but Lucie and Glenn had been friends for too long; Glenn didn’t have a hope.

 

“Oh, well I’m sure even porn can be done tastefully.” Lucie responded, her voice light and humorous.

 

“Don’t bet on it.” Glenn muttered, his shoulders tensing when Ryan laughed to himself. Ryan enjoyed winding his brother up but Lucie was about the only topic that could get Glenn’s temper running hot. He was understandably protective of his lovely friend. Ryan would be protective, was protective, but he wanted more and Glenn knew it.

 

Ryan watched the suburbs slowly turn into twisted alleys and streets, and finally Glenn’s car parked on the side street closest to the old youth centre in which Marcus held his meetings. Ryan jumped out to help Lucie but she was already out, the door shut behind her, and Glenn on her arm, leading her chivalrously toward the decrepit looking double doors of the front entrance. Ryan hurried to catch up but sat right behind them as Glenn opened the big doors with one hand, guiding Lucie through the gap with his elbow. Ryan followed them into the dark hallway, passing the closed ticket counter with the metal bars rolled down over it and the row of bins waiting for someone to care enough to put them back into the rooms that no one used anymore. Marcus had done a good job of keeping the place in such a state that it wouldn’t be condemned but also, no one would want to go in. Together the trio walked the dark hallways, turning left and right haphazardly, until they were met with an open door. There was a very faint glow coming from inside, so faint that if Ryan looked directly at it he couldn’t see it. Only his peripheral vision was capable to detecting it. Glenn went first, grasping Lucie’s hand so he could lead her down the narrow staircase. Ryan followed. He wished Lucie would extend her hand back to him, as if asking for support, so they could be a chain of protection. But she seemed perfectly comfortable just holding on to Glenn’s tough and calloused hand. The light got brighter and finally, when the stairs disappeared and they had descended to the basement, they pushed through a thick black curtain and arrived in the warmly lit boiler room. Marcus, standing an inch taller than Glenn and several inches narrower across the shoulders, greeted their little party with a wave.

 

“Lucie, Ryan, Glenn. Good to see you again. Ryan, do you have some show and tell for the group tonight?” He sounded hopeful. Ryan grinned cockily.

 

“I do indeed.” He patted his jacket, inside of which nestled his trusty sketch pad.

“And they will blow you away, I’ve designed outfits for everyone.”

 

“Super cool.” Marcus exclaimed goofily. Glenn sniggered under his breath and Lucie lightly punched his arm.

 

“Nice to see you again Ryan.” Ryan and turned around. He could have picked that voice out from any crowd; Lisa was a beautiful beautiful lady but she had the voice of a strep infected bear. She was also the youngest member of the group, three months younger that Ryan and built like a woman in her twenties, she was voluptuous and had incredibly hearing. Ryan had always found her voice a massive turn-off though.

 

“You too Lisa.” Ryan responded politely, backing a little closer to Lucie in the hopes she would turn around and engage Lisa in conversation. He could hear Lucie speaking quietly with Marcus in the background, their tones earnest and personal, and then lisa approached and began to try and strike up conversation.

 

“Do you have more sketches to show me today?” She arched an eyebrow and finished the question with a little giggle. It sounded like a cat being strangled. Ryan smiled tightly.

 

“I’ve got sketches with me, yeah.”

 

“Can I get a sneak sneak peek?” Lisa came even closer, coy and playful. Ryan tried to tune out the sound of her voice and imagine a voice more akin to that of a Disney princess. It didn’t work.

“Come on Ryan, I’d love to see what you’ve been working on.” She was chiding, pleading, her tone changing as she tried every emotional button she knew he had. When she stood so close to him that he could feel the rate of her breathing through the light contact of her bust on his arm he felt like he would faint.

 

“In a minute; I want to show everyone.” He said hurriedly, breathing hard and backing up so far he actually ran into Glenn.

 

“Watch it,” Glenn rebuked, pushing him back again without turning around.

“Stop playing silly buggers, the meeting is starting soon. How about you go take a seat?” Ryan nodded gratefully and ducked between Lisa and his brother, finding a seat between two group members and nestling himself in their shadows.