Chapter Eight ~ Paperwork

Chapter Eight ~ Paperwork

A Chapter by aubreydiamond

I was still shaking - still infuriated with my mother for the scene she just performed in front of my best friend and her family. It didn't matter how much Juniper or Rose told me not to worry about it, I wasn’t worried - I was pissed off, and I wasn't going to let it slide any time soon.

She made me out to be some rule-abiding clone of herself with no capability to think or feel anything for myself. I know that I'd always made an effort to do my best in life and my education, but I'd quite frankly had enough of her manipulative and controlling grip over my every waking moment.

Though I can't help but feel maybe I shouldn't have brought my dad up… he was always a touchy subject with Paula as she never spoke about him - I'd learnt not to ask from an early age. I don't even remember what he looks like; Paula had helpfully removed any photographs of him from the house before I was old enough to wonder who or where he was. From then he has been nothing but an enigma to me - somewhere else in the world with his new life…

 

Once I managed to calm myself down a bit, we vacated back inside the cottage away from the cold nigh-time breeze. Once she made sure I was okay, Rose bid us all goodnight and disappeared through a beaded curtain leading to her bedroom. Juniper and Rain ushered me down into Juniper’s Burrow to spend the rest of the evening in cosy blanketed-bliss. I happily followed suit and wrapped myself in a blue mink blanket that was folded at the foot of the bed.

Juniper sat cross-legged next to me and Rain perched off the foot of the bed. He was holding a glass bottle-contraption that was unmistakably used for smoking weed from. I'd never used one before nor had I ever smoked pot, but I know a lot of my friends used it to relax and mellow out. Sounded like something I could use right now.

‘You want some?’ Rain asked, offering me the bong first.

‘Uhh…’ I stuttered. I didn't know if I should or not… as much as I wanted to relax and de-stress, I wasn't sure if it was safe. I looked at Juniper, who I could tell was reading my mind.

‘You’ll be fine, Arie,’ she said calmly. ‘Mum smoked pot all through her pregnancies with us two and we turned out fine. She reckons it helped, actually.’

‘Exactly,’ Rain agreed. It took him a moment to realise but he calculated what had just been said. ‘Wait… what?’

S**t!’ Juniper gasped, clasping her hands over her mouth.

‘You're pregnant?’

‘Sorry Aroha…’ Juniper said with disappointment in her voice.

‘Yeah, I am - it's okay Berry. I trust you guys.’

‘Far out…’ Rain said casually. He didn't seem too shocked by this news.

‘You don't seem too surprised,’ I said.

‘Na, not really,’ he said. ‘I mean - almost half my mates have got kids or have knocked someone up at least once. Just one of those things in life I guess that happens to people - doesn't matter what age you are, right?’ He brandished the glass bottle again at me, casually changing the subject. ‘You still want a bong?’

‘Uhh, okay sure.’ I said, still surprised at his chilled demeanour.

He pulled a tin out of his pocket and opened it up; there were a few large chunks of green sitting inside the tin almost filling it completely. The smell effortlessly filled the room, already making me feel sleepy without having tried any of it.

Rain ripped a tiny bit off of a larger chunk and put it in the inverted cone protruding out of the bottles base. He passed it to me along with the lighter.

‘What do I do?’ I said, holding the vessel nervously. It was like some sort of alien tech that I’d just discoverer. I felt like such a dork - this was not my forte.

‘I'll light it for you,’ Rain said taking the lighter. ‘You just put your mouth on this bit - don’t put it in your mouth though - and inhale slowly.’

I pressed my lips against the rim as Rain sparked the lighter and held it over the cone. As I inhaled the flame poured over the little bit of green, turning it to a bright orange ember as the smoke was being pulled down into the water and bubbling up towards my mouth. After about five seconds of inhaling, I pulled it away from my mouth and just about vomited all over myself.

Sorry…’ I wheezed between coughs. My throat felt raw like it had been scratched and scraped with sandpaper. I coughed with all my being; puffs of smoke rising from my mouth with each gag. Juniper and Rain were both grinning, enjoying my one woman show.

‘Virgin lungs, aye?’ Rain smiled, taking the bong out of my hands as I thrust it in his direction.

‘I remember my first session,’ Juniper said dreamily, thinking to herself. I was still coughing my heart out to the point I caught myself dribbling on the blanket, much to Rain’s enjoyment. God I bet I look like a mess.

‘Want anymore?’ Rain said sarcastically.

No - thank - you,’ I wheezed between coughs, feeling a bit stupid. ‘I'm good.’ Rain giggled, putting a much larger piece in the cone for himself and inhaling it with great ease and delight.

‘Here,’ Juniper passed me a bottle of water which I snatched out of her hands. I sculled a good half of it back to lubricate my throat, gathering myself together and taking a deep breath.

Once my throat calmed down to just a tickle, I could feel the effect of the weed on me immediately. I was pleasantly surprised; it wasn't as intense as I thought it was going to be and I felt significantly calmer and very chilled out. My eyes felt heavy yet my head was much lighter, as if someone had come and removed all the tension and stress for the time being and stored it elsewhere. I finally understood why so many people did this regularly.

‘This is - actually quite nice,’ I said cheerily.

Aw! I'm so glad I was here for your first sesh,’ Juniper smiled, taking the bong off of Rain. ‘You were there for mine!’

‘When was that?’ I asked, trying to remember.

‘A good few years ago now, we were at Luke’s 16th… what a night; all the booze and weed you could imagine. People were going off the rails.’

‘Sounds like a bloody great time,’ Rain said.

‘Hayleigh was drinking straight tequila and still managed to drink the whole class under the table.’ Juniper grinned.

‘Oh yeah. I remember that,’ I said through Juniper’s cloud of smoke, ‘Zeb almost gave her a run for her money.’

‘Before he power-chucked all over her. Which I think was on purpose…’ Juniper laughed. ‘I’ll never forget that.’

I still remembered that party very well despite being almost 4 years ago; it was the first and only time Luke had let his friends celebrate his birthday which he never usually cared about or wanted to make a fuss over. “It's just another day,” he'd always say. This year, he managed to supply the whole year group with alcohol and whatever else to let them get drunk and disorderly in his honour as he didn't like to touch alcohol - something I always admired about him.

‘So - what are you gonna do about the elephant in the womb then?’ Rain said out of the blue.

Rain!’ Juniper hissed. ‘You can't ask a woman something like that! Be a bit more sensitive.’

‘It's alright,’ I said to Juniper, not wanting anymore confrontation. She folded her arms looking annoyed with her brother. I wasn't the closest with Rain, but I knew he was someone I could trust and talk to openly without worrying about being judged.

‘I didn't mean it like that-’ he said frantically.

‘It’s okay, Rain.’ I assured him. ‘Well, if your mum can sort something out for me - I’m going to get a termination… Eugh, it doesn't matter how I say it, it still doesn't feel nice coming out.’

‘As long as you know you're doing what's best by you,’ he said, ‘that's all that matters, right?’

‘Yeah, I guess.’

‘Besides,’ Juniper added, ‘you don't have to worry about anything until Mum makes some calls. Sit with your decision for a bit and we’ll see what happens.’

She was right, as per usual. ‘I won't worry myself sick until I know what to do next.’ I said. ‘Thanks for being my reminder to chill.’

Juniper gave me a proud nod as she passed the bong to her brother.

I shook the slight panic creeping up in my mind away and reminded myself to relax. I was in a safe place with everything and everyone I needed around me; I just need to take it day by day.

I reached over into my bag on the floor beside to bed to check my phone. It was a nice sight to see no angry messages or missed calls on my screen, and felt even nicer to put it back in my bag without having to unlock it. As I moved my bag over it fell to its side and the five thousand dollar bill rolled out onto the carpet. I had a sudden idea.

‘Rain,’ I said snatching the piece of paper up off the floor. ‘Do you think you’d be able to give this to Valerie for me?’

‘What is it?’ He said, exhaling his second large intake of smoke while analysing the paper.

‘The bill for Luke’s funeral.’

Rain coughed when I said this, almost dribbling as bad as I did.

‘How the f**k did you end up with it?’ He gasped, looking intrigued.

‘The funeral director gave it to me after Valerie ripped the first one up. I'm supposed to give it to her, but I don't know how exactly… she doesn't really know me.’

‘She'd know you better than me,’ he said.

‘You couldn't just slip it to her the next time you go to get pot off her?’ I pleaded.

‘I don't know, Aroha. She's not exactly the talkative type, nor does she let me as far as the front porch. She usually just does door sales.’ Rain said. ‘She'd probably think I was trying to steal something. I don't even think she’s ever seen my face come to think of it… I can give you her address at least?’

‘It's alright,’ I said disappointed. ‘I know where she lives - it's Luke’s old house.’

‘Oh…’ Rain said, going slightly red. ‘Of course.’

‘Maybe if I tell her I'm pregnant she’ll listen to me.’ I half-joked.

‘Or flip the f**k out.’ Said Juniper.

I guess it could go either way. I didn't know Valerie any better than Rain did by the sounds of it, so I don't know how willing I was to share my situation with her - not if I'm planning to get rid of it. She’s technically the grandmother - this would be just as much a shock for her as it was for me. And from my impression of her so far i could only see it giving her more of a reason to hate me, and then I'd be stuck with a five thousand dollar bill that has to be paid for a service that's already happened. If I wanted it off my conscious, I would have to give it to her. How the f**k did I end up involved in this?

‘Sleep on it,’ Rain said, hopping up from the bed. ‘You’ll figure out how to give it to her - just leave it in her letterbox or something. I'm gonna crash out, gotta start work early in the morning. Night you two.’

‘Night,’ Juniper and I said in unison. He left the Burrow and entered the neighbouring room, shutting the door behind him.

My eyes were so heavy and I felt so relaxed that I could have just fallen asleep where I was sitting. But just when I thought I was ready to go to bed, my stomach made another loud and uncomfortable gurgle, demanding something else to eat.

‘You alright?’ Juniper asked.

‘You don't think it's too late to reheat some of those noodles, do you?’

‘Ooh, Aroha’s got the munchies!’ She laughed with great pleasure. ‘I'm hungry too though, let's go.’

We both got to our feet and tip toed into the kitchen, which was dimly lit by a huge salt lamp on the table top. Juniper turned on the little counter oven and placed the bowl of leftovers inside of it as quietly as she could.

‘Do you want some tea as well?’ She whispered. I nodded and within a few seconds the kettle was beginning to boil. It felt like we were having a sleepover in primary school days and we had snuck out of bed for a midnight snack, trying to be as quiet as possible - despite the kettle starting to boil away.

Once the noodles had reheated, Juniper pulled it out of the oven and brought it over to the table, where we ate them out of the bowl they sat in (which made it harder to be quiet because we began fighting with our forks over leftover noodles and vegetables; Juniper was making light-saber noises as she did so). In no time, we’d polished off the remainder of the noodles and broth and had full, satisfied tummies. Juniper poured the hot water from the kettle into the teapot before it had a chance to screech and wake up half the street. Together we sat on the floor of her lounge for what must've been half an hour silently giggling at one another trying to drink the piping hot tea. Moments like these always remind me that after the trials and tribulations of life there is always something to smile about.

 

~

 

I sat in an armchair, looking out onto the lawn before me where the screams and shouts of happy children constantly rang. I was watching them play together, baby in my arms feeding while the TV hummed in the background. It was a simple bliss, and I was content.

It was such a beautiful day; the sun was shining in every aspect of this stunning home, lighting up the beautiful furniture and deco. The kids charged past me, wielding plastic weapons and running up and down the hallway. I was home, though not home like I knew it - home like I had made it myself.

“Be careful you two!” I called out to them. But like usual they didn't listen, not that I was surprised. I pulled myself up off the arm chair, struggling to so with the baby in my arms and my huge basket-ball belly. I'd become used to this now.

“Let me help you!” Luke said. He raced in from the kitchen where he’d been cooking to take the little human out of my arms.

“Thank you, babe.” I said. He was good with the kids, and absolutely loved being a dad. I watched him bob side to side with our youngest in his muscular arms, like a gentle giant, singing and making funny/ugly noises. The little face below him lit up and cracked into a gummy, toothless grin. Luke's face glowed with pride as he looked back at me.

“Did you see that? He totally smiled at me! Yes you did my little moosh!”

“Could just be gas,” I laughed, bending over to pick up a pile of dirty clothes pushed up against the wall.

“I’ll go with a smile, thanks,” he said.

“How do these kids go through so many clothes?” I wondered aloud, spotting another pile of dirty laundry. I picked it up and turned to Luke, but he wasn't there. The house was silent and empty. There was nothing around me, no one beside me, nothing but white walls.

“What have you done?” A sharp voice said. Behind me stood my mother, she looked livid.

“N- Nothing! Where are they?”

“Look what you've done to yourself.”

“I haven't done anything! Where are my children?!”

“You're a disgrace.” She was wielding a large kitchen knife. “You're not my daughter.”

“Kids!?” I cried. No answer.

“Luke!?”

Nothing. It was just us.

My mother stepped forward and plunged the knife into my rounded stomach. I doubled over in pain as a sharp pain travelled up my abdomen and into my chest. I cried out for help, but there was no one here to help me. I called for Juniper, Luke, anyone, but they were gone, and so was my mother. I was alone for good.

My stomach ripped open with a great crack, and I fell to my hands and knees. Crying with pain, I called out to the empty room to help me, praying this would end.

“I'm sorry.” Said a voice. It was Luke, but he was beneath me, laying spread out on the ground below the gaping hole that was once my womb. He was staring back up at me void of emotions.

“I’m sorry Aroha.”

I screamed, but no sound came out. The entire world around me swirled into a vortex and I couldn't feel the floor beneath my feet. I was spinning out of control, flailing all over the place until my back slammed hard into something solid…

 

~

 

I lurched forward from the mattress in a sweaty, distressed ordeal into pitch black darkness. Panting, my hands desperately fumbled around me to try and decipher where I was. I felt the warm and squishy sensation of someone's cheek against my fingertips, followed by mounds of thick, curly hair. I was in Junipers bed, at Junipers house in Raumu. Phew.

With a great thud I fell onto my back, wiping the thick streams of sweat away from my forehead. I forced myself to take long, deep breaths to try and calm myself down; I thought my heart was going to beat its way through my ribcage at this point. What a horrible dream.

I was still mad at my mother - that much was clear. I could only imagine how angry she was with me. I guess my brain was showing me what I really thought and felt deep down. But as for the rest, I thought I was ready to move on from Luke’s passing; Thought I was ready to leave all those thoughts and feelings in the box I'd pushed aside for my own mental wellbeing, but I guess my subconscious had other plans for it, because for that split moment in my own head I felt like I belonged with that family, like it was everything I wanted from life and then some. The house, the children, and Luke - he looked so happy, so vibrant and so mature, it was almost as if  I'd just visited him in his new life, like I'd just seen a happier, more vibrant and animated Luke who had moved on to better himself and his new family. I think that was the most painful part - because he is gone. There was no coming back from death, no matter how real it felt. It wasn't Luke. It was just my mind showing me what's happening deep down inside of me; I'm still grieving. Acceptance is one kind of process, and mourning is another that I can't imagine will end any time soon.

Reaching underneath my pillow, I pulled the rose quartz necklace out by the stone and clutched it tightly in my grip with one hand, the other over my rock-hard stomach. I let tears stream from my face and into the pillow as I didn't know what else to do, and sleep was not that inviting right this minute.

The time on my phone read ‘4:32 a.m.' To try and distract myself I opened my phone, turned the brightness right down, and began to watch pointless mind-numbing videos on YouTube so I had something else to think about. It didn't really work, but it made time pass quick enough that I found myself in the exact same position when Juniper started to wake up not long after 7am. She rolled around like a dog would, yawning and stretching until she felt my body lying next to hers.

‘Mornin’’ she mumbled, rolling over and giving me a sideways hug.

I wanted to tell her about my dream so badly; Juniper loved to decode the meanings of dreams. But I could tell on my own that this wasn't any dream, it was a nightmare. I didn't want to relive it again if I had to, so I did my best to cram it into the mental-box and push it as far to the back of my mind as I could manage, and hope it stayed there.

Shortly after Juniper had properly woken up, we rose out of bed and dressed ourselves before heading out to the kitchen, where Rose was already up pottering about.

She had laid out teacups, a teapot and several plates on the table for each of us to have breakfast; bringing freshly cooked toast over by the load and piling them on a single plate in the middle.

‘Morning, ladies,’ she smiled at us both. ‘Any plans for your day today?’

I hadn't gotten that far into planning my day - I still felt a bit spacey from the weed we had last night and over-tired from my horrible nightmare it was as if I'd just gotten off a 24-hour plane ride. That meant that Juniper was most likely going to plan the day for us both, which was fine by me.

‘Nothing major,’ Juniper replied. ‘Though we might go get a coffee at Lazuli’s?’ She raises her eyebrows to check if I was keen. I nodded in response, thinking about how good a coffee would be right now. Of course I couldn't drink it while I'm pregnant though. Uhg.

‘Dunno really,’ she continued. ‘Just see where the day goes.’

‘Sounds good. How’re you feeling, darling?’ Rose asked me, putting a buttered piece of toast on my plate for me and filling my teacup.

‘I'm okay,’ I lied. ‘Had an odd sleep.’

‘That's normal,’ she said, grabbing a few washed plates and stacking them in one of the cupboards. ‘I used to have the most bizarre dreams when I was pregnant with Rain. Thought I was going mad at first, kept me up for days!’

‘Did you get any weird dreams with me?’ Juniper chirped, looking intrigued.

‘Not that I can recall. No dreams, only cravings.’ Said Rose. ‘Mainly carrots with you actually.’

‘That explains a lot,’ Rain laughed entering the room, rustling Juniper’s curly orange hair while yawning with gusto. ‘Morning all.’

‘Greetings, brother rain.’ Juniper said, putting on the voice of a dojo master. ‘I sense the tiredness is strong with this one. Hey do you think you could give us a ride to Lazuli’s on your way to work?’ She gave him an over-cheery smile and fluttered her eyelashes.

‘If you're ready in fifteen minutes, then yep.’ He gave me a sweet smile and then disappeared down the hallway and into his bedroom to put his work gear on. Rose came and sat down at the table between Juniper and myself.

‘Now, Aroha,’ she said quietly waiting for Rain to be out of earshot, ‘I've spoken to one of my good friends at the wards about booking you an appointment at the maternity ward - she’s going to get back to me sometime today. Is there any specific time you’d like to be booked in? Or any time that suits you best?’

‘Any time that works, I guess.’ I wanted to say not at all, but I appreciated Rose and everything she was doing for me far too much to be immature about it. My mother ought to take notes off Rose.

‘Okay,’ she said, clapping her hands together. ‘I'll be in touch about it later on. Are you still going to stay here again tonight?’

‘If that's okay…’

‘Of course it is sweetheart. It'll all be over soon, just hang in there.’ Not that I had much choice, but I gave Rose a warm smile so she knew that I was grateful for all of her help - I wouldn't know where to go or what to do if I was doing this alone.

Shortly after we’d eaten a piece of toast each, Rain appeared in his fluoro-yellow jumpsuit that swallowed his skinny figure up in its loose folds. He gave Rose a kiss on the cheek goodbye before putting his boots on near the front door. Rose gave each of us a hug before we grabbed our bags and followed Rain out towards his blue truck parked in the driveway.

‘Have a wonderful day team!’ Rose called out to us as we climbed into the vehicle. It only had one long leather seat in the front, so we all squished in and closed the door, cramming us in even closer. It felt slightly claustrophobic but managed to ignore it once we’d reversed out of the driveway and zoomed off up the street. I had my head slightly tilted out the window like a dog, letting the fresh air whip my hair about as I took deep, refreshing breaths.

‘Are you expecting Lazuli’s to be open?’ Rain asked Juniper as he turned out of Amber Grove.

‘I don't know actually,’ she said, realising this for the first time. ‘Carzel’s the only employee they've got, but I don't know if he'd be working today - he’ll probably still be on bereavement leave…’

‘Poor f****r.’ Rain said.

I hoped Carzel was okay, I knew he’d be struggling with this just as much as I was, and he was someone who took things to heart.

When we turned into the main road, I could see the stretch of shops that Lazuli’s was perched on. Through the cracks of the window blinds - I could see that the lights were on, and the cafe was most definitely open.

‘Maybe he's doing better?’ Rain wondered aloud, pulling up outside the café without turning the ignition off.

‘Thanks bro,’ Juniper said, punching Rain’s shoulder playfully. I opened the door on my side and stepped out onto the concrete, Juniper close behind me. She walked around the car and headed straight for the cafe.

‘Hope you're feeling better Aroha,’ Rain said to me with a kind smile.

‘Sort of,’ I said. ‘Thank you though - you’re all a really special family, I'm really grateful for the things you’ve all done for me.’

He flashed me a sweet grin as I closed the door and followed Juniper onto the pavement. Rain waved out his window as the truck took off again with a series of grunty-noises and a puff of smoke out the exhaust. I could hear the truck for a while after it had disappeared from my view.

Juniper walked to the main door of the cafe, turned the handle and kicked the wooden door open. We stepped over the threshold into the little shoebox of a cafe. It was unusual to think the last time I was here, I found out Luke was dead - right after telling Juniper i was pregnant. It felt different now, even though the entire decor was exactly the same as I'd last remembered it, something about it had shifted in my mind, and I didn't feel as relaxed here anymore.

‘Hi, welcome to Lazuli’s,’ a girl’s voice spoke from behind the counter. ‘… Oh, hi.’

We had suspected that Carzel wouldn’t have been working this close after the funeral of his best friend, but I would have expected to see the shop closed. Instead, it was Chloe; she wore her usual oversized glasses and awkward body language. She was a good foot shorter than the both of us, looking more out of place and out of her comfort zone than ever behind the coffee machine wearing a navy blue apron.

‘Chloe?’ I said in surprise. ‘What are you doing here?’

‘Oh, well, I work here now.’ She said monotonously. ‘Carzel handed in his resignation so I am going to replace him. I think he’s still grieving.’

‘Carzel resigned?’ Juniper repeated in shock. ‘Why?’

‘I don't know,’ she said. ‘The owner of this building is friends with my father. He asked me to come and work instead. I'm trying to save.’

Despite the extreme lack of customers, she looked very nervous to be talking to anyone as an employee with responsibility. A cafe was the last place I'd imagine Chloe to find work, but I guess it could help her work on her people-skills. Though she was in the wrong cafe for that kind of skill set; Juniper and I have made up about half of the clientele on our own.

‘What would you like?’ She said, almost as if she’d been dreading this moment.

‘Could I please have long black and a quarter-strength flat white?’ Juniper asked.

By the look on Chloe's face, Juniper may as well have just spoken gibberish.

‘Uhh…’

‘Two coffees please,’ i translates. ‘One of them very weak - However it comes. We’ll wait outside.’

‘Thank you!’ Juniper said.

Somewhat satisfied with an order she could attempt to make, Chloe turned away and began mucking around with the coffee machine. I've never worked in a cafe before, but I'd ordered enough coffee to know the way she was working the machine was not how it's supposed to be done. But not wanting to pressure her, I walked out into the courtyard and chose a different table than the last time and made myself as comfortable as I could.

Juniper was walking very slowly from inside the cafe towards the table, head lowered to the screen of her cell phone while her thumbs typed away.

‘I hope Carzel’s alright…’ she said, not taking her gaze off of her phone as she sat down across from me.

‘Me too. I hope he doesn't feel too guilty about the last time he saw Luke.’

Carzel was a sensitive soul, I knew him well enough to know that the last encounter with Luke would be playing on his mind repeatedly. I just hoped he didn't blame himself; he was like a brother to Luke after all.

‘Maybe we ought to send him a text?’ I suggested.

‘I already have.’ Juniper locked her phone and stowed it in her pocket. ‘So - what're you going to do about that bill?’

S**t, I'd almost forgotten all about it. I dug around in my bag until I felt the thin and crumpled piece of paper and pulled it out. I lay it flat out on the table and we both stared at it for a few moments. It was amazing that something so small could demand so much:

 

RAUMU FUNERAL HOME - 27.01.19

MISS VALERIE HARTLEY

 

SERVICE COSTS - $2,000

DELIVERY COSTS - $300

CASKET COSTS - $1,700

PUBLIC SPACE RENTAL - $1,000

 

TOTAL - $5,000

 All funds must be paid within twelve weeks of funeral date. Contact us on 08007528765 for more information. -RFH

SIGNED J. C. COLEWELL

 

‘God, I don't know,’ I groaned. ‘Why the f**k did I say yes to taking this? I should've just walked away and let him deal with it.’

‘I reckon you could just dump it in her letterbox,’ Juniper suggested. ‘It shouldn't have to be your problem; you have enough on your plate right now.’

‘Yeah - I do. But it doesn't change that I do have it. They'll know if it isn't paid, and they'll know who it was last handed to. I have to give to Valerie.’

I replayed the last time I saw Valerie in my head, the way she looked me up and down when I introduced myself and how cut-throat she was about everything. First impressions aren't much to go by but this one had made me nervous as hell to approach her. Who knows? She could be as crazy as the knife-wielding dream-version of my own mother, especially if I tell her I'm pregnant with her grandchild.

The door to the inside opened and Chloe emerged taking baby-steps as she shuffled out into the courtyard, trying with all of her might not to spill the two coffees she was carrying. She placed them on the table almost as slowly as she walked, until a good inch of the coffee was floating around the base of the saucer. They looked like hot cups of murky dishwater with moats around them.

‘Thanks, Chloe,’ I smiled at her. I couldn't tell which coffee was weaker, but i just held one of the cups in my hands. I didn't want her to think I was being rude.

‘You’re welcome. I'm still learning how to use the machine,’ she said with a very awkward smile.

‘It's fine,’ Juniper said taking a sip of coffee and hiding the eruption of bitterness in her mouth. ‘Practice makes perfect.’

Chloe smiled at her, and then noticed the bill sitting on the middle of the table. I didn't have time to put it away before she had already read the whole thing.

‘Where did you get that?’ She asked looking suspicious.

‘I was asked to pass it onto Valerie,’ I told her. ‘I haven't had a chance yet.’

‘Funeral bills are only ever supposed to be kept confidential between immediate family members of the deceased,’ She said matter-of-factly. ‘Who gave it to you?’

‘Your dad, actually.’ Juniper said - Chloe looked even more confused. ‘He tried giving it to Luke’s mum, but she wasn't interested.’

‘The polar opposite of interested,’ I added. If I legitimately shouldn’t have this bill, then I really didn't want it. ‘Why would he give it to me if I'm not immediate family?’

‘I don't know,’ she said, trying to figure it out. ‘Did he mistake you for someone in Luke’s family?’

‘I doubt it. His mother was the only relative there.’ I said.

‘You should probably give it to her then,’ Chloe said with a note of caution, ‘and soon. There are big fines involved with breaching confidential information like this. Especially from a funeral home.’

Great - I didn't have a choice now. I had to deliver this to Valerie herself. I didn't have the money to pay for it, or the fines if I was caught and blamed, and I certainly wasn't going to let it get to that point without at least trying to give it to whoever it should be with. But why would Chloe’s father put me in this position? If he was the funeral director, he ought to know better than to hand out funeral bills to random people at the service. The fact that Chloe was concerned with this made me feel uneasy. Something wasn't siting right…

Chloe made her way back inside, frowning more than usual clearly still trying to figure out this bill situation as much as I was.

‘This feels a bit weird,’ I said to Juniper who was looking at the bill with an unimpressed gaze.

‘You sure that's not the coffee?’ Juniper grinned pushing her cup to the side of the table. ‘But I know what you mean. Do you think Valerie knows what's going on?’

‘I'm going to have to find out,’ I sighed, knowing that by going to see her was the only way to get rid of it. ‘Would you wait here for me while I go and get this over with? She only lives around the corner.’

‘You don't want me to come with you?’

‘Na, I think it'll be better if I go by myself. I won't be too long… hopefully. Wish me luck.’

‘Good luck - you'll probably need it.’

I stood up from the table, swiping the bill up in my hand as I went. I walked back into the cafe and waved Chloe goodbye, who gave me a half-hearted wave while still looking a bit bothered. Yanking the door open, I stepped out onto the street and let the door slam behind me.

I set off down the road walking towards the beach and turned right down the first street, weaving my way through the roads and lanes to Buckley Road, just a few streets back from the beach. It was only a short walk away from the cafe, but it didn't make it any less challenging.

As I walked I could feel my heart banging against my ribs with every step I took. I couldn't help but feel increasingly nervous; every corner I took brought me closer and closer to the house Luke spent parts of childhood in. But this time I was heading there to confront his mother about money that she apparently has to pay.

I don't think I would have been as nervous if I hadn't of had that dream last night. I'd managed to put a seal on my feelings about Luke’s death, and had brought myself to a level of somewhat understanding. But after that dream, it only amplified how much I really do miss him. How badly I wished I was going to see him right now and not his mother, how badly I wished I had of known that the last time I was going to see him was on the island, how badly I wished that I knew what actually happened to him. Why did he really disappear? Why was his father murdered? Why was he involved with the gang? There were too many unknowns that didn't add up the more I thought about it and couldn't have been answered by a simple news report. I wondered how much of this Valerie knew…

When I rounded the corner of Buckley Road, my heart gave a painful pulse when I saw Luke's house. A part of me had almost expected him to be standing there waiting for me, but there was just an empty plot of grass. I took a long, deep breath and crossed the street.

I could hear the muffled sound of rock music being blasted at full volume from behind the closed door. Every window and curtain in the house had been shut, and the yellow-coloured paint was decaying and chipping away from the outside. Valerie's run down car was parked under a shelter of corrugated iron, right next to a big garden patch with tall sunflowers and rich looking roses looked like the only thing that received attention on the property. I approached the front door, and knocked thrice.

Nothing happened. The music continued to blare and thump the whole house with its bass. There's no way she would've been able to hear me. I knocked again, a lot harder this time. Still, nothing. I peered through the nearest window, trying to peek through the thin gap between the curtains and the window sill and knocked on the window. I didn't think she would've heard this, but then suddenly the music was turned down very low, and the sound of fast, angry footsteps approached the front door.

‘Got nothin’’ her croaky voice spat through the mail slot in the door.

‘Um, no I'm not here for that. I'm actually here for you, Valerie.’ I said. I was shaking.

I heard the sound of fumbling metal as she unlocked what sounded like copious locks and chains behind the door so she could open it. Her angry face appeared behind the door; she was looking at me with a look of disgust.

‘You again,’ she hissed. ‘What do you want?’

‘I, uh, I have this for you,’ I stuttered, brandishing the bill in my quivering hand. She took one look at the piece of paper and slammed the door in my face without another word. A few moments later and the music had been turned back up, even louder than before. I turned on the spot and walked away, feeling defeated.

I began to walk across the street, but looked down into my hand at the bill that was still in my possession. Why the f**k was this becoming my problem? If she was late in payment for her own son’s funeral then it's up to her to pay off the debt, not me.

I picked up my courage and spun around on the spot, marching right back up to the door. With a lot more raw confidence than before I pounded my fist on the front door loud enough for her to hear it. The music turned off abruptly with a “f**k sakes!” followed by even angrier footsteps approaching.

I grabbed the Rose Quartz for strength and Luke suddenly flashed in my mind’s eye; his face just as tired and run down as the last time I'd seen him when he told me what was going on behind closed doors. I always believed Luke - If there was ever anyone in this world who I trusted completely it was him, honesty and truthfulness was something that we both admired and strived for in our relationship, yet I couldn’t help but feel this undeniable sense that things aren’t how they've been made out to be, and he really was in some kind of trouble before he died. If this was the case, then Valerie might know something that I didn't.

The door swung open, and Valerie was holding a machete, gawping at me with a look of utter infuriation.

‘What the f**k do you want?’ She spat, brandishing the knife at me. If I knew her any better, I'd have thought she was just trying to scare me off. But I didn't know her, or what she was capable of. But thinking of Luke, I stood my ground.

‘Valerie,’ I started, ‘I've been trying to talk to you since the funeral in a friendly manner but I guess that just doesn't f*****g cut it with you, does it? I was given this stupid bill to pass on to you that I have absolutely nothing to do with. I'm also your sons girlfriend, who I think deserves a bit more of an explanation as to why he disappeared off the face of the planet only to show up dead at the hands of people who he had nothing to do with! Don't you think you owe me more than five minutes of your god damn time and attention?’

Valerie simply stared at me, not expecting an eruption like that. I can't say I really saw it coming either, but it felt good. I was beginning to like this braver version of myself. Miraculously, Valerie lowered her knife arm, turned on the spot walking back into the lounge leaving the front door open. I stepped inside.

The first thing I noticed was that the house smelt like old, stale tobacco smoke that had seeped into every inch of the building, staining the once white walls an ugly tinge of yellow. It was quite a spacious house, though was still a complete mess - all counter tops and tables were covered with all sorts of random gardening junk like broken pots. Bags of fertiliser, and digging tools. Paperwork was littered anywhere it would fit and empty pill bottles and overflowing ashtrays were placed only metres apart from one another in every direction. Valerie paced the lounge with a cigarette in her hand, machete in the other watching me carefully as I closed the door.

I've never felt more uncomfortable in my life. For a few moments we just sort of stared at one another. I didn't think I was going to make it this far.

‘What's this about a bill?’ She frowned impatiently. I handed her the piece of paper slowly and she snatched it out of my grip, peering at it through squinted eyes. As soon as she had read “Raumu Funeral Home” she rolled her eyes and tossed the bill into the air.

‘F*****g money hungry c***s!’ She cursed, picking up a TV remote and throwing it at the wall, shattering it into pieces.

‘I was asked to give it to you,’ I said, ignoring her outburst. ‘After the John tried to give it to you at the funeral, he asked me to give it to you.’

‘Asked you?’ She repeated looking puzzled. ‘Why the f**k would they ask you to deliver a second bill for?’

‘I don't know, I… wait, a second bill?’ I said.

‘I've paid them enough already,’ Valerie hissed. ‘If they want more money outta me they ought to have the balls to give me some god damn notice, mother fuckers!’

‘You've already paid them? Then why are they asking for more money?’

‘I don't F*****g know,’ Valerie snapped, looking at me as if I was stupid. ‘I'm not paying those dumb f***s another cent; you’re welcome to tell them that if you like.’

This wasn't adding up. If Valerie had already paid them why were they asking for more? It's a funeral home, not a debt collecting agency. Like Chloe said, funeral bills are meant to be kept within immediately family members of the deceased, yet I'd had it in my bag for almost two days now.

Valerie picked the bill up off the floor and read it over and over a few times, tutting and huffing as she went.

‘You tell them if they want their money they can pry it out of my cold, dirty hands themselves.’ She folded the bill and tossed it towards my feet. She marched over to the table and began rummaging through the surface later of crap, mumbling and swearing to herself. Pulling out a tobacco pouch from underneath a large pot, she began to roll herself another cigarette. ‘So, you were Luke's girlfriend then?’ She sneered, licking the paper and rolling it shut.

‘Yes, I was. He's the only person I've ever been with.’

‘How nice for you,’ She said sarcastically, lighting on her cigarette, inhaling almost half of the whole thing at once. ‘I didn't know you existed ‘till yesterday. Ya learn something every day.’

‘He never told you about me? Not even mentioned my name?’ I said.

‘Na. Nothing.’

I didn't know what to say, and before I could stop it another awkward silence emerged.

If Luke kept my entire being a secret from his mother, what was he capable to keeping from me? I didn't want to think that he could, or would keep anything but this horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach was telling me that Luke was hiding the truth, and he may have taken it to the grave with him. His mother was the only living person who might have any idea as to what was going on with him.

‘The last time I saw him,’ I piped up, ‘he looked tired. Really tired, almost sick. He said he had to leave town because of a gang chasing after him. Is this true?’

Valerie seemed to consider me for a moment.

‘What else did he tell you?’ She said, looking at me with scrutinising eyes from across the lounge.

‘When he found out his dad died he had to make a run for it because a gang came looking for you both. He said you paid them off with weed, and he managed to escape.’

‘And do you believe him?’

‘Well… Yeah of course I believe him. I trusted him - he was my boyfriend.’

Valerie had a nasty smile on her face that made me feel uneasy, doubling this sensation in my stomach. She erupted into a maniacal laugh that sent goose bumps down my spine.

‘Silly girl,’ she said, shaking her head. ‘His father's not dead. Far-f*****g-from it unfortunately. He lives up north. Absolutely fucked in the head, if I've ever seen it. Luke went to meet him - wanted to know who his father was,’ she said in a mocking kind of tone. ‘That's where he met the Poisoned - the gang - they knew exactly who his fucktard of a father was and knew exactly how to get through to him that they meant business, all they needed was someone like Luke to show up, and look what happened. Luke didn't want to listen to me though, didn't want to know that his father was a drop-kick piece of s**t with no f*****g life and a meth problem. But he discovered that for himself I guess.’

‘He- he told me his dad had died…’

‘Nothing could kill that cockroach,’ she mumbled. ‘There was nothing left for him in Raumu apparently - his words, not mine. So he packed his s**t and left.’

I don't think she realised the severity of what she'd said until she saw my face. I could feel how pale I was - my worst fear about Luke had just been confirmed. He had intentionally lied to me.

‘Then how did he die? If what he told me isn't true how do I know his death isn't a complete piss-take?’

‘If it was a piss take he’d still be alive,’ she said, frowning at me with great distaste.

‘Why would he do that?’ I exclaimed, raising my voice more than I intended to. ‘I- I knew him! He knew me! We knew everything about each other, and had done since we first met!’

‘Maybe you didn't know him after all…’ Valerie said. She wasn't looking me in the eye, but staring into space as she spoke. ‘I'm not entirely sure I did.’

No. This couldn't be true. It wasn't. It couldn't be - he couldn't have lied to me, otherwise everything we ever thought and felt about each other was built off of lies and mistrust. I wanted to believe what he told me on the island more than anything, I wanted to hold onto that reality where the Luke that I knew was telling me the absolute and unfiltered truth. But I couldn't bring myself to believe it any longer. I wasn't sure what I felt anymore; all I knew is that the person who I thought Luke was is well and truly dead.

I was trying to form more questions, but no sounds were leaving my mouth. Valerie could see me trying to question everything, unable to piece anything together.

‘You should rip that bill up,’ Valerie said, getting to her feet and walking across the lounge. She disappeared down the hallway and opened one of the doors to the toilet, leaving me in the lounge to wallow in my own confusion and self-doubt.

How could I of been so stupid? How could I have overlooked some of the biggest aspects of Luke’s entire being? We were together since primary school - close to ten years, and not once did Luke ever mention the father he apparently always wanted to know. Could this all just be a trick? A clever facade created just to test me? I wish it was, because this was a horrible feeling to experience.

I felt my eyes well up with tears and fought with myself to keep them back; I was not going to let them take control again. I had spent enough of my days lately crying, and I wanted answers. I took deep breaths in but I could feel how shaky I was right to my core. First I'm pregnant, then Luke dies, then I find out I've been lied to. What else could top this week off?

I bent over to pick up the folded bill and accidentally knocked a piece of paper from the coffee table beside me onto the floor. I didn't mean to read the pages information as I picked it up, but my eyes stopped dead in their tracks when I saw Luke's name printed in capital letters:

 

RAUMU HEALTH CLINIC

44 Sweet Lane, Raumu Beach

7921 - NZ                                  Dr. Ingrid Walsch

 

PRESCRIPTION/PATIENT DETAILS

Patient name: LUKE JACK HARTLEY

DOB: 17.03.99

Treatment: ANTIRETROVIRAL THERAPY (Ongoing (since 2003))

 

Nucleoside/Nucleotide Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors (NRTIs)

 

- Abicavir

- Didanosine

- Emtricitabine

- Lamavudine

- Stavudine

- Tenofovir alafenamide

- Tenofovir disoproxil fumarate

- Zidofudine

                                                             TOTAL

           $9989 /Per Year

 

I read it over and over and over again and it still didn't make any sense to me. I had never heard of antiretroviral therapy before, and I'd definitely never heard of anything listed on the piece of paper. What worried me the most was that this was clearly a prescription, a serious fifteen-year one at that - for Luke. I had worried when I last saw him, how ill he looked. It was so noticeable. Now I have good reason and proof to believe that he really was sick, and had been for some time, with something far more sinister sounding that the flu. Yet another layer to Luke that I had no idea about. How could I of been his girlfriend when I clearly didn't know anything about his life?

There was a few orange pill bottles on the coffee table, and they were all for Luke too. Some of the strange scientific names for the medicines matched what was on the paper, and judging by their empty contents it's clear these pills had already been taken.

A door slammed down the hallway and Valerie had appeared back in the lounge. She looked from me to the coffee table, immediately knowing that I'd just read something that I wasn't supposed to. It was written all over my face.

What are you doing looking through my things,’ she said in a threatening whisper.

‘Was he sick?!’ I blurted. ‘What is all this medicine for? Was it his? How long has this been going on for? He never ever said anything about being sick! Is this what killed him? Did you have something to do with it? What else was he hiding from me!?’

GET OUT OF MY HOUSE!’ Valerie screamed at the top of her lungs. I jumped back in fright, and she marched towards me, brandishing her machete forcing me back towards the front door. My heart was pounding and my head was overflowing with questions, but it was clear I wasn't getting anymore answers. She pushed me over the threshold and slammed the door so hard I thought it was going to blow off of its hinges. And then it went quiet.

I was rooted to the ground for a moment while my mind caught up with my body. I'd gone from the lounge to the driveway so quickly I didn't process where I was until my phone buzzed in my pocket, nabbing my attention.

 

[BERRY: just now

 

How’s it going? X]

 

I didn't reply. I couldn't. I walked as fast as my legs could carry me back into the direction of Lazuli’s where Juniper was waiting for me. I desperately needed to talk to her.

Typically, the bill was still folded in my pocket. After all of that I didn't even manage to do what I had intended on doing, instead I was hit by about twenty truth bombs all at once.

I couldn't get him out of my head. The box I had put all of my feelings about Luke away in had been torn to shreds and kicked about. I wanted so desperately to talk to him, just give him a quick call and arrange to meet up so I could understand this f*****g chaos. But he now only exists in the minds of those he left behind; a grim reminder that I had to figure this out without him.

 

 



© 2019 aubreydiamond


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Added on February 22, 2019
Last Updated on February 23, 2019
Tags: drama, young adult, pregnancy, coming of age, fiction, life, death, love, birth, teenage, comedy, baby, friends, family, murder, drugs, swearing, course language, aroha


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aubreydiamond
aubreydiamond

New Zealand



About
I come in peace! My name is Aubrey, I’ve been a creative witch for as long as I can remember. Writing, drawing and all of the creative outlets have been my source of magic since I could craf.. more..

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