The War of Wind and Moon, Chapter 8

Hello everyone, Chapter 8 is ready for your ears and eyes and, gosh it was a tough one to write and record! I won’t go into detail for fear of spoilers but I feel the need to warn you to brace yourselves – and do feel free to vent in the comments if you are so moved (if I done my job right, you will be!)

Chapter 8 finds Mia hoping she can keep the school counselor from prying into what happened at her last school but, as always, the real danger is at home.

Chapter Eight

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Mia was awake long before her 6:45 alarm was due to ring and not just because she kept rolling onto her back and being woken by Sunday night’s, now flourishing bruises. It was Thursday and she wasn’t going to be able to talk her way out of the counselling session Vice Principal Kostopoulos had rescheduled.  If she was lucky, she’d be able to keep Mrs. Paige focused on catching up on the extra work changing schools had created, rather than discussing why she’d moved. Mia had a plan. She’d been up till 1 a.m. filling in and colour-coding a study timetable. She was quite proud of it. Every fifteen minutes from 8a.m. to 11p.m. of the next month was jammed full of enough work to make any counselor worth their salt want to spend a full session discussing taking breaks and the benefits of extra-curricular activities and exercise.

She worried a little that she might have overdone it. If Mrs. Paige was too kind hearted she might want to reach out to Mia’s mother. The last thing Mia needed was for Patricia to find out she was seeing the counselor but she was pretty sure that as long as she could convince Mrs. Paige that she accepted her advice, it should be fine.

Movement in the hall. A muffled voice… A raised voice. “I don’t care what your records say! I had a long conversation with a perfectly lovely but evidently incompetent young lady only a week ago.”

Oh no. Not again. 

“Well, yes,” her mother shouted. “I’ll thank you to check again!”

Knowing what she’d find but hoping she was wrong, Mia reached a hand out of the warmth under her doona and reached for the lamp switch hanging over the edge of her desk, beside the bed. Squeezing her eyes closed in case it did turn on, she pressed the switch. Raising one eyelid ever so slightly confirmed her fears. The room remained in pre-dawn grey.

Anger fizzed from her chest to her gritted teeth. Every single time they moved house, her mother would wait to transfer the electricity to their name until it was cut off by the last tenant and then call the electricity company and shout and cajole and lie until they agreed to put it on without penalising her for not transferring it in time. Sometimes Patricia managed to get them to give her a credit for her trouble.

Mia understood that her mother was trying to save money because they had so little, but she also understood that her mother could have been working full time, not just during the Uni holidays, if she wanted to. Patricia had been offered a permanent position at the temp job she’d taken just these last holidays, as she had the holidays before and before that, but being “just an employee” was beneath her. What Patricia Delaney wanted was what she’d had before Mia had been born: to be a rich man’s wife. And nothing – not even being twenty years older than her classmates – could sway her from the belief that the place to meet a rich husband was the same place she’d met Mia’s father. University. Not that she was entirely wrong. She’d fallen in love with several rich husbands over the last eight years – just not her own.

Mia pulled her arm back into the warm and listened to her mother’s familiar fight with some poor customer service officer at the electricity company.

“Do I need to speak with a supervisor? Electricity is an essential service and I’m a single mother with a young child freezing in her bedroom in the middle of winter!… Yes, I’ll hold.”

Ah, the seventeen-year-old young child thought, the killer blow. If it didn’t work it meant at least twenty-four hours, sometimes seventy-two, without heating and light. At least in this flat they had gas cooking and hot water. It would also mean an angry morning. Come on, Mia prayed to the anonymous customer service officer, just give in.

“Yes…Six hours?” Patricia’s tone softened. “Well, I suppose that’s the best I can expect. Thank you.”

A clatter of hard plastic on a surface. The flick-and-suck of a cigarette being lit. A low, satisfied chuckle. Mia let out her own breath. It fogged before it dispersed. That would make the morning easier. As would pretending she hadn’t heard the phone call. She closed her eyes at the sound of her mother’s footsteps approaching her bedroom door.

“Mia? Sweetie? Time to wake up.”

Mia opened her eyes and blinked at a spot of light that quickly resolved into a dull candle flame.

“The electricity company’s been stupid again but isn’t this fun?” Her mother grinned at the candle she was carrying in a glass that was too short and wide. The candle rocked against the rim of the glass throwing shadows that turned Patricia’s grin into something from a horror film. It helped Mia manage the smile her mother expected.

“Come on,” Patricia went on. “Get dressed and we’ll have breakfast by candlelight. We can pretend to be the Bennet girls till the sun comes up.”

Mia was fairly certain the Bennet girls’ servants would have set a fire the night before and tended it so that it was still warm when they woke but she wasn’t going to ruin her mother’s good mood. If Mia went along with it, it could actually be almost fun. If Mia pierced the illusion and hinted, even slightly, that she was aware that her mother had, in fact, caused the situation they were now in- well, it wasn’t worth it. Especially four days after the last time.

For the same reason, after Mia had showered and dressed in the dark and made her way to the flickering kitchen, she resisted getting the emergency lantern out from under the sink. Her mother was sitting on the living room side of the kitchen island, lighting another cigarette from the candle she’d placed in the middle. Mia went to the cupboard and began to pull out cereal bowls.

“Hang on,” her mother said. “You’re not getting into the spirit of this. The Bennet girls wouldn’t have had cereal. What would they have had?”

“Um,” Mia hoped her expression was hidden by the shadows. She pushed as much enthusiasm as she could muster at this hour into her voice. “Smoked kippers?”

Her mother took a long, angry drag on her cigarette. “We don’t have kippers do we?” she said, smoke billowing through her clenched teeth as she spoke.

“Um.” Mia forced a chuckle. “I’m trying to think what’s English.”

“Pancakes!” Patricia blurted, her voice suddenly bright. “Let’s have pancakes! We can get the birthday candles out and put them on like a birthday cake!”

“Okay!” Mia said, trying to match her mother’s sudden excitement. She put the cereal bowls back into the cupboard and reached for a mixing bowl. She wasn’t sure how she was going to know when the pancakes were cooked in this light but her mother’s mood swings wouldn’t tolerate the slightest question or doubt. “Lemon and sugar or jam?”

“Lemon and sugar sounds much more English to me.”

Mia nodded and pulled out the white sugar with the flour. She startled, almost dropping the packages as a jangling noise went off in her bedroom. She’d forgotten to stop her alarm clock.

Again the moment of anticipation, preparation for her mother’s response.

“Up before the alarm,” Patricia said. “Aren’t we good?”

Breathing free again, Mia nodded then pointed toward the bedroom as she ran around the bench and headed in to stop the racket. She lifted the old-fashioned, faux-chrome, electricity-cut-proof alarm clock from the side of her desk and pushed the lever on the top to stop the clanging. The sun was rising now, so she went to the windows and tilted the metal blinds to let some light in.

“A counselling session?”

Mia froze.

“Do you want to tell me what this text is about?”

Her heart already racing, Mia turned to see her mother standing in the doorway, bathed in orange light, holding up her mobile phone.

“Um. It’s…” Mia’s eye fell on the timetable still on her desk. She pointed. “It’s about that.”

Patricia stalked to the desk and snatched up the stack of meticulously drawn pages. “A study timetable?”

“They want to help me catch up.”

“Who’s ‘they’? How many counselors do they have at that school?”

“Just one. Mr. Kostopoulos thought it would help.”

“Did he? When did he say this?” She slapped the precious pages back on to the desk and folded her arms.

“On Monday. When I started.”

“You had a meeting with him on Monday?”

Mia nodded.

“I see. Why didn’t you tell him to call me when he brought up the counselor? You know I wouldn’t have given permission for that.”

“Well, yes, but-” Mia stopped before the sentence could take them exactly where she didn’t want to go.

“‘But’ what, Mia?” Patricia bit out each word. “Come on. You took it upon yourself to make a parent’s decision, you should be able to tell me your adult reasoning.”

“I just-”

“What?” Patricia said. “You just what?”

“I thought-”

“Oh you thought! There you go again. Come on. What did you think?”

“I thought if you refused permission it would make too big deal out of it-”

“Oh you think it’s not a big deal?”

“No – I -”

“You think other people prying into our lives isn’t a big deal? Invading my privacy isn’t a big deal? Forcing my child to do something without my permission?”

“No. It is a big deal but he said it was just about catching up on work.”

“And you believed him?”

“Well. Yes. I- I thought it might help.”

“I see.” Patricia paused. Considering. Wide-eyed anger softened into a frown Mia had long ago learned to fear. “Then why didn’t you tell me? Did you think I wouldn’t listen if you explained that?”

“I- I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?” Patricia’s eyes sparkled in the now yellow sunrise. Her lower lip quivered. Her voice caught. “You think I would I have denied permission for something that might have helped you?”

Mia could only stare, her chest heaving, her own lower lip beginning to quiver. She willed them to stop before her mother noticed.

“Well?” Patricia said, almost sobbing. “Is that what you think? That I don’t want what’s best for you?”

Mia was trembling now. Her mind blank. “Sorry,” was all she could manage.

“‘Sorry’? That’s not an answer-” Patricia stopped, giving Mia a long look up and down. “Look at you. You’re terrified. Why are you terrified? I don’t understand why you’re like this! You act as though I’m violent when all I ever want is the best for you!”

“I’m sorry.”

“Stop saying that!” Patricia screamed through gritted teeth. “Do you want me to hit you? Is that why you’re like this? You want me to hit you so you can go to your counselor and lie about me?”

Mia’s rebellious brain whispered that saying her mother hit her after her mother had hit her wouldn’t be lying. She pushed the dangerous thought away but somehow her mother had seen it cross her face.

“What are you thinking?” she demanded.

“Nothing.”

“Yes you are. You’re thinking it wouldn’t be a lie aren’t you? You’re thinking that if I had hit you it wouldn’t be a lie!”

Mia blocked the first blow with her left forearm.

“There!” Patricia screamed, bringing her other hand down on Mia’s shoulder. “Are you happy?! Is this how you see me?!”

Her hands balled into fists, Patricia flailed at Mia. Instinctively, Mia crouched and turned her back to the onslaught. As the first blow landed on her already bruised flesh she screamed and twisted away, swinging her face into the path of her mother’s hand and it’s bulbous, silver ring.

Pain. Searing from her nose, through her skull and down her spine. Mia’s legs gave out. Her hands flew to her nose as she landed on her right arm, her head bouncing off the carpet.

“Oh god! Oh god!” Her mother’s voice was barely audible over the wet slurping noises Mia made as she tried to breathe through the blood pouring through her fingers. “What have I done? What did you make me do?!”

Mia spat and wiped at her lips, trying to clear her mouth so she could breathe.

“I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.” Her mother’s hands on her shoulders. Mia recoiled. “Okay. Okay. I won’t touch you. Oh god. There’s so much blood.”

Mia watched her mother’s bare feet leave the room and took the chance to push herself up but gravity pulled at her nose so she stayed down. Her mother’s feet returned and a towel dropped to the floor. Mia grabbed it and held it above her mouth so that she could breathe blood-free.

Sobbing, her mother retreated to Mia’s bed at the other side of the room. “It’s just- You make me so angry. You- You just won’t accept how much I love you!”

The words shocked Mia almost enough to numb her throbbing nose. She stared at her mother over the blood-soaked towel.

“I wanted you for so long, Mia. For ten years I tried to have you and then you finally came. Finally!” Patricia looked directly into Mia’s fast-bruising eyes and went on. “You were the first thing I ever had that was completely and utterly mine. I called you ‘Mia’ because it means ‘mine’ – that’s how much I love you! But you just never give me credit for it.”

Mia watched tears stream down her mother’s cheeks, wondering exactly what her mother was seeing as she looked at her. How could she possibly be seeing her daughter curled on the floor, blood pouring from her face and call that love?

“You act as though I’m demanding the world, Mia but all I want is for you to behave. To just be normal. But maybe that is too much. Maybe I just need to face it. You’re not normal. You were three years old the first time you lied to me – standing there with chocolate all over your mouth denying you ate it.

I just didn’t know how to handle the lying, Mia. Normal children don’t lie! That’s why I don’t want you to go to a counselor – not because I don’t want you to get help because I know that anyone with any psychology training will just look at you and know that there’s something wrong with you.”

Acute pain blossomed in Mia’s jaw and traced its way up her cheeks into her eyes, stabbing as tears welled. She wanted to be angry. She wanted to shout that every child lied about not eating chocolate and far worse besides. She wanted to scream that she wasn’t the crazy one, her mother was. But she couldn’t. Because her mother was right. Mia was insane. How else could she explain the shimmering, pot-bellied creature staring at her with lidless yellow eyes as it floated near the ceiling above her mother’s head?

 

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The War of Wind and Moon, Chapter 5

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“I’m closing up in ten minutes, Mia,” Mrs Taylor, St. Kilda High’s librarian warned.

The end-of-day bell had rung fifteen minutes ago but Mia was waiting for the crowds to clear. She’d made it to the end of her first day without running into Julian again by spending lunch time and then her double free period in the library. Still, she couldn’t be home too late – her mother had no classes this afternoon but a late class tonight, so she’d be home now and want an early dinner. Mia packed up.

The fifteen minutes had been enough, the lockers and the tram stop were bully-free and she even got a seat on the ride home. Perhaps she should do that more often.  As she reached the front door of her new flat, she saw her mother through the kitchen window, lifting a newspaper-wrapped plate from a box she’d perched over the sink. Mia sighed. Patricia was doing what she usually did – unpacking everything at once but not putting anything in the cupboards, just stacking it all onto what little bench space their always tiny kitchens had. Patricia’s reasoning was that everything needed to be washed of newsprint before it was put away but it was so much easier to unpack, wash and put away everything from one box at a time. Her mother’s way turned the whole kitchen into one of those puzzles with one piece missing; you had to shuffle everything around to get enough space to even reach the sink – let alone make a meal.

“Where have you been?” Patricia asked the moment Mia stepped through the door. “You should have been home fifteen minutes ago.”

“Sorry. I was in the library.” She headed past the kitchen, down the short hall to her bedroom and dropped her bag on the bed.

Her mother appeared in the doorway. “The library?”

“I was finishing one of the new English books. I’ve only got three left to read now.”

“You went to the library after school to read for fifteen minutes, instead of coming straight home?”

“No. I was in there already – I had a double free and I was almost finished the book so I-”

“Hang on,” her mother held up one hand. Mia stiffened but managed not to commit the sin of flinching. “You had a double free period and you spent it reading in the library instead of coming home to help unpack?”

Mia swallowed. She hadn’t thought of doing that. “I was reading the English books I have to catch up on.”

”Oh! Oh well that’s alright then! It’s not like I was here with an entire household to unpack!”

“But, it’s schoolwork-” Mia was genuinely confused. Now even her school hours weren’t her own?

“And it’s a library. You can bring the book home.”

“Actually, I can’t. You can’t take the assigned texts home. They’re reference only.”

Her mother’s left eye twitched. She folded her arms. “Why must you always lie?”

Fear swallowed the surge of anger the insult brought to Mia’s chest. “I’m not.”

“Novels are not reference books. Reference books are dictionaries and encyclopedias. Do you think I’m stupid?”

“No. They just put the assigned texts in the reference section. They don’t have many and they don’t want people to leave them at home when everyone needs them.”

“Stop lying! You wanted to stay at school instead of helping me. At least admit that.”

Mia took a deep breath through her nose. I didn’t want to stay at school,” she said, fighting the desire to grit her teeth. “I just wanted to do my school work.”

“And I suppose I don’t have any schoolwork I could be doing instead of unpacking? I had a presentation this morning, which you haven’t even asked about yet – so I haven’t had a moment to work on my thesis for weeks! Do you think your high school reading list is more important than my Masters Degree? Honestly Mia. What goes through your head?”

There was a lot going through Mia’s head. Like: No I haven’t asked about your presentation – I started a new school today and you haven’t asked about that! and; Yes, I do think my final year of high school is more important than the Masters Degree you’ve been working on for 8 years, in 5 different disciplines because you keep sleeping with a classmate or a lecturer and when you break up suddenly your life time goal has always been to study Philosophy, not History like it was last year, or Literature the year before that…

What she said was, “I’m sorry. I didn’t think.”

“No. You never do.” Patricia shook her head and left the doorway, still talking at Mia as she went up the hall. “You know, if you thought even a little about someone other than yourself once in a while, you might make friends more easily.”

Mia bit down on a response that would only get her in trouble.

“Not that you’re interested,” Patricia continued from her bedroom next door, her voice accompanied by the swish and zip of clothes being changed, “but my presentation went very well. So well that my young tutor has asked me to dinner after my lecture tonight.”

Mia closed her eyes and rolled them behind the safety of her lids.

“He can’t be much older than you. So don’t wait up.”

Mia shuddered.

“While I’m out, I want you to finish the kitchen – wash everything before you put it away. We can’t even make dinner without some bench space.”

Her eyes still closed, Mia opened her mouth so wide her lips felt they’d split and pushed out a silent, skull-vibrating scream.

***

Tak plugged his phone into the TV speakers and set his music playing loud. He had a routine when his Mum started her night-shift rotations: music too loud, food too sweet, computer games too late. Just for the one night – it was too close to exams to screw around all 10 shifts but he was a strong believer in the philosophy of everything in moderation, including moderation.

He danced into the kitchen and swung the fridge door open. “Yes!” He fist-pumped the air. His Mum had left him ebi-katsu to fry up. They were his favourite Japanese food – patties of prawn and egg coated in breadcrumbs and deep-fried. Hiroko had told him that in Japan ebi-katsu was strictly a New Year tradition but, like most traditions from her homeland, she seemed to take pleasure in flouting it.

He went to the cupboard under the sink and pulled out the deep fryer, lifting it to the bench and glancing out the window as he plugged it in. It was getting dark and the lights in the flats on the other side of the U made the sheer white curtains that came pre-installed disappear. Almost directly across from his window, Mia was at her kitchen sink, washing dishes and occasionally sighing heavily, making her white t-shirt tighten-

Tak slid the fryer around the corner of the bench so that he wouldn’t be tempted to spy. It didn’t work. He glanced across several times as he waited for the oil to heat, then again as he cooked each of the six burger-sized ovals until the panko was golden. Even after he’d shredded some cabbage and poured creamy sesame dressing on it to make what his mother called “lazy salad”, Mia was still washing dishes, drying them, putting them away and washing some more.

When was she going to eat? He was pretty sure she hadn’t had lunch – he and his mates’ spot was outside the library and he’d seen her duck inside at the beginning of lunch and hadn’t seen her leave and she wouldn’t have been able to eat inside.

He took his plate around the island that separated the kitchen from the living room and perched on one of the two stools. He cut into a crunchy golden croquette with the side of his fork and the scent of salty prawns made his mouth water before the forkful reached it. He wondered if Mia liked ebi-katsu.

“Jeez, Tak!” he said out loud. “Leave it alone!”

She was putting a kettle on now. Reaching into the cupboard above it and pulling out… a cup noodle. Sighing, deeply at the cup noodle.

Tak looked at his pile of golden treats, crisp, salty and juicy. Where was her mum?

He stood, flicked off the lights and stalked up to the kitchen window, peering down at the car space on the ground floor that belonged to Mia’s apartment. Empty. If she was eating alone, she wasn’t expecting her mother back soon…

Moments later, he was knocking at her door. She opened it slowly, suspiciously but when she saw him, her eyes sparkled and he felt himself blush.

“Hi, Tak.”

“Hey. Do you like ebi-katsu?”

She frowned. “I have no idea what it is.”

“It’s my favourite Japanese food, prawns, deep fried, salt – not on the soccer coach’s list of approved foods. You want to come have some?”

“At your place?”

“I saw your mum’s car’s gone and my mum’s starting her night shift rotation at the hospital – she’s left me way too much.”

Her eyes flicked toward her kitchen – was she picturing the cup noodle? – then she glanced past him toward his door – she was considering it. But she shook her head.

“No. It’s really nice of you and the ebby…?”

“Ebi-katsu,” he said.

Her face lit up. “Oh! Ebi as in prawn and ‘katsu’ as in fried?”

“Hai!” he said, far too brightly for someone trying to impress a girl.

“It sounds really yummy,” she said, “but I’ve got so much to do here. I’ve been washing and putting things away all night and I still can’t see the bench.”

“Isn’t that exactly why you should take a break?” he asked.

She took a deep breath and met his eye properly for the first time. She smiled, biting her lower lip and then looked at her watch. Tak could see she wanted to come.

“Is your mum going to be home soon?” he asked.

“No,” she snapped, frowning. But then she softened and let out a sigh. “I mean, probably not but maybe. I just… She’s kind of strict, if I wasn’t here when- I just don’t want to risk it. Sorry.”

“No. No worries. It’s fine.”

“Thank you, though,” she said.

Tak should have left it at that but he was seized with a sense of injustice. Why shouldn’t she stop slaving away for a while and having something decent to eat?

Before she could shut the door completely he said, “Do you have any laundry to do?”

“What?”

“In all that unpacking, there must be some clothes or towels to wash.”

“Ah. Yeah. There is. Why?”

“Well, you have to go past my door to get to and from the laundry room…” He caught her eye with a smirk and felt a rush as she held his gaze and allowed herself to smile as he outlined the idea. “Put the load on, bring the basket to my place and if we see her come back-”

She nodded, “then I’m just coming back from checking on the washing.”

“See you in ten minutes?” he asked.

She grinned. “I’ll try for five.”

He shoved his hands in his pockets and headed home to wait for her.

 

 

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The War of Wind and Moon, Chapter 1

 

Alternative Platform Links: Narrative DisorderWattpadiTunes, Tapewrite, Audioboom and Soundcloud

The War of Wind and Moon, Season 1, Chapter 1

Floating to the ceiling of Mia’s bedroom, its dangling belly swollen after a feast of rage and fear, the Gossip enjoyed a dessert of contempt and defiance. Through bulging, yellow eyes the creature watched Mia uncurl from the ball she habitually formed whenever her mother’s fists began flying. The girl turned her ear to the door she was forbidden to shut and stilled her ragged breathing, listening for her mother’s movements in the tiny flat.

The Gossip had been bound to Mia since the girl was three years old and, after fourteen years, it knew as well as she did that the danger wasn’t over. Mia would have to return to the kitchen to clean up the food she had overcooked and her mother had cast to the floor. The timing had to be just right: too soon and the very sight of the girl would have her mother spitting insults as Mia cleaned; too late and the rage would flare all over again.

Ordinarily, the Gossip would hunger for the latter because it would provide the larger meal, but its belly was almost full and the need to report what it had witnessed was already painful. An insult or two would be enough.

***

Green. Mia had worn a lot of school uniforms but she’d never had to wear green before. It didn’t suit her, it brought out all the red in her complexion. It wasn’t even a nice green. There were so many they could have chosen – an elegant bottle or a happy leaf green – but no, someone had chosen the mud green of bruised avocado flesh. Which, now she thought about it, was appropriate, considering the state of her back this morning.

“Mia!” Her mother’s voice from down the hall. “Where are my glasses?”

Mia rolled her eyes but made sure to put a smile in her voice. “Are they beside your bed?”

“Don’t you think I’ve already-” Silence as she no doubt looked beside her bed. “Found them. Are you going to come and wish me good luck before I go?”

Mia corrected her expression in the mirror then met her mother at the front door.

“Good luck with your presentation.”

Her mother beamed. “You did remember!” She pulled Mia into a hug, stretching the bruised skin across her shoulder blades. “Mia. Mia. Mia. Light of my life. See you tonight!”

Mia smiled until the door closed, then let herself shudder. She’d resisted hugging her mother once. Just once. Now she put up with it, like the ranting and the hitting and then the pretense that none of it happened.

“Six more months,” she muttered, making her way into the kitchen to clean up the breakfast dishes and make herself a salad sandwich for lunch. Four months to exams. Then two months waiting for Uni offers. Everything depended on getting that offer in January. The moment it arrived she could apply for Youth Allowance, find some student housing and be free to start her own life. Six more months and it would all be worth it.

Starting a new school four months before final exams wasn’t ideal, but it was done now and she’d be damned if she was going to let her mother’s chaos ruin her plan. The only real difference she had to get her head around were the novels St. Kilda High was studying for English. Biology, Japanese and French didn’t change from school to school. Still, she wasn’t going to even try to make new friends this time. For four months they could think what they wanted to, call her whatever names they liked. She had no time for anything but study.

At the front door she slipped her lunch into the new green backpack on top of the stack of books destined for her new locker and hoisted it on to her right shoulder. “Ow!”

She let the bag thud to the floor and closed her eyes until the pain dissipated. She’d have to lug it in her hand. Probably dislocate her shoulder before she got to school. With a sigh, she reached for the door and startled as the bell shrieked beside her ear.

Raising herself on the balls of her feet she looked through the peephole. A bruised-avocado-green shirt collar and a protruding Adam’s apple filled her view until the stranger stepped back. Mia’s breath caught. Except for the tragic uniform he could have been right out of one of the TV dramas the Japanese teacher at her second-to-last school had got her addicted to. His thick, black hair was short but casually shaggy and framed a face that was all angles, dark arched brows and eyelashes so thick Mia probably couldn’t emulate them with layers of mascara, even if she had been allowed to wear it. Mia took a deep breath and opened the door. He smiled and a pair of dimples set Mia’s pulse pounding.

“Hi. I’m Takeshi – Tak. I live across the driveway in 212.” The words came out in a gentle baritone and a Melbourne accent that she blushed to realise she’d expected to be Japanese.

“Hi. Mia. I’m Mia.”

He nodded and gave her an awkward smile. “I told Mum this would be stalker-ish but she saw you hanging your uniforms on the line yesterday and she’s wondering if you want a lift to school.”

He stepped to one side, looked over the balcony railing and nodded toward the ground floor of the U-shaped building. Mia followed his gaze to a small Japanese woman waiting by the door of one of the garages. Tak’s mother smiled and waved. Mia waved back.

“I should probably also say that I’ll be driving,” Tak said. “For practice. I’ve got my test in a few weeks.”

Mia’s mother would not approve of her being driven by a Learner Driver, especially a male one … but her mother wasn’t there to ask and the bruises making it so hard to carry her bag were her mother’s fault. “Thank you. That’d be great.”

***

Tak waited while Mia disappeared behind the door. A moment later he heard the clunk of a deadlock and she appeared again, lugging a bulging, official school backpack in one hand.

“That looks heavy,” he said. “I’ll take it.”

He reached down to grasp the straps and found himself looking into eyes exactly the colour of his mother’s expensive cognac. How had he never noticed her at school? She wasn’t wearing any make-up so maybe she was younger than she looked.

“Thanks,” she said, letting go.

The full weight of the bag fell into his hand. “Whoa! What is in this?”

“Sorry. It’s all my books.”

He nodded toward the staircase and followed as she headed along the balcony. “Why did you take all your books home the weekend you were moving house?”

“I didn’t,” she said, turning into the stairwell. “I’m just starting at St. Kilda High today.”

“That would explain why I haven’t seen you before. What grade?”

“Twelve,” she said.

Shocked, Tak stopped on the last step, watching Mia continue toward his mother. “We’ve got final exams in four months.”

She turned back briefly, shrugging. “I’m well aware of that.”

Moving house and changing schools so late in the school year was bad enough, but in year twelve? Tak caught up with her as she reached his mother. “Mum, this is Mia.”

“Hello Mia.”

“This is very kind of you, Mrs … Sorry, Tak didn’t say your last name.”

“No need to be so formal. Just call me Hiroko.”

Mia seemed taken aback, but she gave his mother a nervous smile and a nod. “Thank you, Hiroko.”

She was so polite. Was she sucking up or was it real?

Tak opened the door behind the driver’s and slid her bag across the back seat, next to his own. When he climbed out, Mia was waiting to get in, so he held the door for her. Again she smiled politely and uttered another “Thank you”. As she slipped into the passenger seat he noticed her school skirt was much longer than most of the girls wore them. He pulled his gaze away and closed her door. Long skirt, no make-up… Strict mother? As he settled into the driver’s seat he recalled hearing her mother snapping at her several times as they unloaded the removal van on Saturday. Maybe the manners were real. If they were, she was going to get eaten alive at St. Kilda High.

Author’s Note:  Thank you for reading! I’m so excited to be writing this story and to share it with you. You’ve probably guessed from the “Season One” in the title that it’s a long, juicy story and I hope I can keep you wanting more each week! 

Please do feel free to comment. I love to hear from my readers, I cherish each of you and will do my best to respond to every comment and answer any questions you might ask – though I may need to plead “spoilers” sometimes! 

Again, thank you. Wishing you courage and creativity in all you do! 

Darcy.  

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