Flesh & Blood – Chapter Four

In my head, I’d had all these heroic visions of helping Bree finish top of her class to glowing praise and the ‘Most Improved’ banner across her photo in the yearbook. Well, after we’d set up Bree’s tablet and she’d shown me some of her homework and assignments, that idea quickly died a swift death.

Her homework was intense. It was so intense and so demanding that I began to slowly recall in agonising detail all those nights I’d spent sobbing over my own books in year 12. Just looking at all the questions on Bree’s screen was making me sweat. It was no wonder she hadn’t done any of it.

Rob wandered past the kitchen table to grab another beer at some point and peeked over Bree’s shoulder while we were hunched over the screen. “Jesus,” was his assessment. “Now I remember why I dropped out.”

“You dropped out?” Bree asked him, sounding surprised.

“Yep,” he told her as he disappeared into the kitchen and called back, “in year 10 so I could take an apprenticeship. And I still earn more than Sares. Or I will when Waterbank re-opens, anyway.”

“Not helping, Rob,” I said dryly as he walked back past with his fresh beer. He toasted us with it, and I ignored him. “Well,” I told Bree, sitting back and crossing my arms at her checklist of assignments. “You weren’t kidding about how behind you are.”

“It’s okay if you don’t think you can help,” she said quietly. “I kept the receipt, we can always return the tablet so you don’t feel like you made a giant mistake spending all that money on me when it won’t do anything.”

I hugged her. “Stop it, we can do this. Fuck. Okay, open the maths homework and I’ll see if I can remember any of it.”

Sarah finally got home while I was scrolling through the questions, and she bustled over to the kitchen table with a lot more energy than she’d had this morning. I glanced up at her.  “You look better.”

She laughed once. “That’s because I’m on every cold and flu tablet in the chemist. I think I just paid off his mortgage. So, I’m not actually sure if I do feel better or if I’ve just consumed so much pseudoephedrine that I’ve phased into another dimension. Either way…” She shrugged. “My presentation was spectacular and Sales are idiots and will definitely waste everything I taught them. What are you guys doing?”

I passed her the tablet. “Bree’s homework.”

Sarah scrolled up. “From February,” she noted in her best school teacher voice as she tabbed down the page. “Fantastic. Good to see that you’re up to date with—what the hell.” She stopped scrolling. “What is that? It looks like a modern art.”

Bree tilted the tablet so she could see. “That’s De Moivre’s Theorum,” she said. “It’s fucked.”

Sarah spent a few seconds staring at it. “Okay,” she said. “I have a pretty good memory, and I don’t remember that at all. Are we sure it’s maths? There are so many letters in it, it could be English. Like, x, y and z, I’m okay with, but why does it start with an ‘i’?”

“Maybe the equation has evolved so far that it’s become sentient?” I offered.

Bree giggled at us. “‘i’ is for ‘imaginary’. It’s an imaginary number.”

Sarah stared critically at it. “Imaginary, right. Because it’s not as if maths could be any less applicable in real life, now we have to teach kids pretend numbers, great. What is this, ‘Solve to find ‘I’?” She read aloud, “Please help this lost little number find its meaning? What is this, philosophy? Oh my god.”

“On the bright side,” I said, “given that they’re imaginary numbers, maybe we could just hand in a blank sheet of paper and tell the teacher the answers are imaginary, too?”

“I tried that,” Bree said. “And he told me I wasn’t funny and that there’s always one student every year who tries it.”

I liked this guy less and less, seriously. “Did you tell him he needed some imagination? Maybe your imaginary numbers are so creative and unique he’s unable to fully appreciate them.”

Sarah was still trying to wrap her head around that theorem. She tilted the tablet sideways, squinting at it. “Min, do you understand any of this crap?”

“I wrote Bree’s name up the top,” I told her, and pointed to it. “I even spelt it right. Does that count?”

She gave me a look and then asked Bree, “What about you, do you get any of this?” Bree just laughed bleakly. “That’s what I thought,” she said, and put the tablet down on the table so she could take her mobile out of her handbag. “I’m calling the cavalry.”

Bree looked blankly at me and I shook my head and shrugged.

Sarah put the phone to her ear and I could faintly hear it ring a couple of times before someone answered. She was grinning. “Hello, yes, I’m looking for a weirdo who does maths for a living and has no life?” She laughed at the response. “Shut up, Gem, you know I love you. I need you to come and do that whole maths thing over at my place, though, because Bree is learning about fake numbers and Min and I have no idea.” She looked blankly at us for a second as she listened, and then her eyes narrowed. “A non-trivial what? No, I don’t know if that’s part of it. What the hell is that word, anyway? Is that even a word?”

“Maybe it’s an imaginary word,” I suggested.

Sarah rolled her eyes at me as she said to the phone, “Gem, I’m way too wrecked for your long maths words. Come over, will you? It’ll take an hour, maybe. Two, tops. See you soon!” She hung up and smiled at us. “Guess who’s coming to visit?”

Before Gemma arrived, Sarah and I opened a blank Frost International Project Management Timeline, put our heads together and tried to figure out how the hell we were going to structure Bree’s study to get her assignments done in a month and also catch her up on all the homework she’d missed out on.  We were still going when Gemma walked casually through the back door. She had a big pile of textbooks under one arm and a bottle of champagne in the other, and she put it loudly on the table directly in front of Sarah. “Fancy a drink?” she asked with an innocent smile. Clearly Sarah’s hangover had been a topic at work.

Sarah gave her a dirty look and was about to say something when Bree piped up, “You look really pretty, Gemma!” She was looking directly at the skin that was exposed by Gemma’s off-the-shoulder jumper and all the freckles on it. “You have really pretty shoulders, they look nice in that top.”

Gemma’s alarm was admittedly hilarious, and Sarah burst out laughing. “There’s one she hasn’t heard before. We’ll have to put that in your Tinder, won’t we, Gem?”

Gemma recovered. “I do not have a Tinder,” she said, dumping several kilos of textbooks on the kitchen table in front of Bree, deliberately not making eye-contact with her. Her cheeks were a bit red.

“Well, maybe that’s your problem.” Sarah was still grinning. “Maybe we should make you a Tinder.”

Gemma just sighed at her. “Can we get straight to where I help Bree with her homework and skip the part where you mess with me?”

I couldn’t help chiming in with a wink and a low voice. “Messing with you is the best part, though, Gemma.”

“I wasn’t messing with her!” Bree protested. “I just think women should compliment each other more, and Gemma looks really pretty today!”

Gemma groaned and put her face in her hands as she sat down beside Bree. “Why did I come, again?” she asked no one in particular, before resurfacing and pretending to ignore me and Sarah. “Bree! Show me this homework of yours?”

After Bree handed the tablet to her and they’d scrolled through the whole syllabus together, Gemma sat back and made a face. “I don’t really use any of this stuff day-to-day in Risk, we mainly use statistics,” she said. “Don’t get me wrong, I’ve studied it, but I’m going to have to brush up on all of that before I can teach someone else how to do it.”

“How long will that take?” I asked.

She shrugged. “A week, maybe?” She patted the thick textbooks on the table. “This is not exactly bedtime reading.”

I felt like I’d got off lightly. “Well, I studied all the same books in VCE, so I’m good to go right now with English,” I told them. “I’m probably okay with Psychology, too.” I didn’t say why. They probably already guessed.

Sarah made a face. “I guess that leaves me with Chemistry,” she said, and then added sarcastically, “Yay! So how are we going to roster this?”

Once we’d all crowded around the tablet for the better part of an hour and set out who was going to be spending time with Bree and when on the Timeline, we all sat back and stared at it. For an hour’s work, it was very involved.

“That is one seriously beautiful timeline,” Sarah commented, considering it. “Look at it. I think I should take it to work and make everyone admire it.”

Across the table from us, Bree was slumped in her chair looking really worried. “Not that I’m not super grateful and your timeline isn’t really colourful and all that, but why are you guys doing this? Do you really want to spend, like, hours and hours teaching me how to do chemical equations?”

We all looked at each other. It had actually never crossed my mind to not help her, but I suppose it was a reasonable question to ask of the other two.

Sarah leant forward. “I have this thing where if my friends need help, I don’t abandon them,” she said as if she was explaining a really difficult concept. She patted Gemma on the back. “And Gem here has nothing else to do, so…”

Gemma rolled her eyes. “Just don’t rely on Sarah too much, okay?” She told Bree. “Apparently she’s getting so much sex that it might be difficult for her to keep any of her other commitments.”

Rob must have been eavesdropping because he laughed loudly from the couch on the other side of the room. “Okay, I think that’s my cue to fuck off and go to bed,” he said, standing and stretching. “You ladies—” He gave me a bit of an uncomfortable look. “Whoops, sorry, and gentle… person, enjoy your evening.”

“’Gentle person’,” I repeated sceptically when he was gone. I think I was grinning a little.

Sarah chuckled. “Well, ‘Gentleman’ isn’t right, is it?” She stopped me when I went to tell her it was fine, adding, “I’ve got it! Ladies and Gentlemin. I’m a genius. Right, who wants a very non-alcoholic drink to celebrate that timeline? I have coke and a big selection of really pretentious green teas.” She stood up and put her hands on her hips.

I loved how she needed to specify ‘non-alcoholic’. “I’ll go with a pretentious tea.”

“I’ll have all the alcohol you guys aren’t drinking,” Bree said grimly after Sarah had disappeared into the kitchen. She was still slumped in her chair with her chin resting on her collarbones.

“You’re going to do fine,” I reassured her, reaching across the corner of the table and taking her hand. “Better than fine. You’re going to do great, and I’m going to be sitting in that audience when you get your certificate, and I’m going to clap really loudly for you.”

I must have been smiling, because she mirrored it and laced her fingers with mine. She didn’t look like she believed me but she nodded reluctantly anyway, smiling up at me from underneath her long lashes.

“—Yeah, I’d better head off, actually,” Gemma said suddenly, standing. I actually forgotten she was still there for a second, and I felt a bit bad about sharing a moment with Bree in front of her. I remembered oh-so well what it was like to be around lovey-dovey couples all the years I’d been single.

I made a face. “Sorry, that was a bit insensitive.”

“We’ll stop, I promise, we’ll just be normal,” Bree added, looking worried and withdrawing her hand.

Gemma shook her head as she carefully picked up one of the heavy textbooks, presumably leaving the rest for us. “No, no, it’s not that. I had a really late one because of Min’s birthday last night so I’m really tired,” she forced a smile at me, which made me feel worse. “I probably shouldn’t have even come just now, but I’ve never found it very possible to say no to Sarah, so…”

I laughed at that. “She probably would have just driven over.”

“She definitely would have driven over,” Gemma agreed, laughing with me and tucking a strand of auburn hair behind her ear.

“Well, sorry anyway,” I said. “And sorry again about needing to read that again.” I nodded down at the textbook.

She glanced down at it and shrugged. “I actually like number theory,” she told me. “It will be interesting to read this and go over it all again. I mean, it’s a total head-fuck, but that’s half the fun, isn’t it?” I gave her a bit of a strange look, and she grimaced. “Yeah, okay, I think it’s time for me to go before you try and have me committed. Bye.” She gave me a quick hug, and then showed herself out.

Bree was slumped again. “She hates me.”

“Yes,” I said casually, as I sat back down again. “We all secretly hate you, Bree. That’s why we want to help you get your HSC.”

“No,” she corrected me. “They’re helping you help your girlfriend to get her HSC. I’m just your plus one.”

“Bree, you’re not just my plus one.”

“Yeah, you’re more like Min’s plus-point-five,” Sarah said, carrying our pretentious teas out into the living room.

Bree looked a bit worried that Sarah may have heard the rest of what she’d said, but Sarah wasn’t making any indication she had. She was concentrating on not spilling our tea while she put it in front of us. She got to the rest of Gemma’s books before she realised that their owner was gone. “Wait, why are we minus one?” She looked accusingly at me. “Why did you let her go?”

“Because detaining people against their will is a crime?”

Sarah scoffed, turning to look at the clock. “It’s not even that late at…” She stopped, and her tone changed. “Okay, so it’s half-past eleven and that’s pretty late.” She looked across at Bree. “Isn’t it on your timeline that you’ll read fifty pages of Pride and Prejudice tonight?”

Bree sighed and grudgingly stood up to grab her tablet. “Yes.”

“Hey, none of that. Every page you read gets you closer to that certificate,” Sarah told her. “You’re nearly there! Focus on the prize, okay?”

“Okay,” Bree repeated, looking directly at me.  She gave me a little smile as she retreated to my bedroom with her sparkly purple tablet and pretentious tea.

I relaxed against the back of the chair and took a sip of my own tea. “Thanks. I owe you.”

“Nope, she owes me, unless you need help with your HSC, too.” She had a sip of her own tea and then looked critically at it. “Ugh, this is gross. It had better be as good for my poor liver as it says it is.” She had another sip and made another disgusted face. “Anyway, back to Schoolgirl: how the hell did she get so behind? When I was at school, the teachers used to make us get all our assignment marks initialled by our parents. And, I mean, my parents are pretty chill, but if they’d paid stacks of dough for me to go to an ultra-elite private school and I was getting 50% on things…” She shook her head. “I’m guessing her folks don’t know, yeah? How the hell is she hiding it from them?”

I winced. It was tempting to tell Sarah the truth, but it wasn’t my truth. “They’re just very busy. I don’t think they’re home much.”

Sarah made a noise. “Well, I guess that explains why she’s always staying over with you and why there’s no one at home to help her with stuff. Maybe she’ll never need to tell her folks at all if we can get her marks up.” Something occurred to her. “Oh, wait, that’s right!” She fixed me with a very intent stare.

I froze, probably looking like a deer in headlights. “What’s right?”

She inched closer. “Speaking of telling people, how’s your Mum? That’s who left those messages, after all?”

I groaned audibly. “Great. Thanks for reminding me.”

She sat forward, very pointedly silent and waiting for me to tell her what was going on, so I did: everything about that awful phone call in the park. “God knows what I’m going to do,” I finished. “So, yeah, please don’t remind me.”

Sarah spent a few seconds considering what she’d heard. “’By Henry’s birthday’. When’s Henry’s birthday?”

“July 19.”

She sucked air through her teeth. “Whoa, that’s not far away.” After some further thought, she shrugged. “Well, you’re just going to have to figure out how you’re going to tell her about you.”

I could have choked on my tea. “No,” I said firmly. “That would not help, she’s really conservative. As in, ‘best friends with the pastor’s wife’ conservative.”

“Some Churches are really forward about this stuff,” Sarah pointed out.

I shook my head resolutely. “Not Mum’s, and I’m an only child. She’s been planning my wedding since my conception. I can’t tell her, Sarah, she even sent me a wedding book for my birthday.”

“Well, what’s the alternative, really? You can’t pretend you’re still with Henry if he’s not even talking to you. And you said yourself you can’t get back into those chick clothes, so, really, telling her is kind of your only option.”

“Not if I can just figure out some way to convince her that everything is fine and she doesn’t need to see me.”

Sarah gave me a tired look. “Min. I watched you march into a boardroom and roll right over two billionaire CEOs and the manager from hell, and you can’t tell your own mum that you’re transgender?”

“That’s different.”

“Just tell her,” Sarah enunciated. “You’re going to have to do it eventually, why not right now and save yourself all this stress? I’m sure her reaction isn’t going to be as bad as you think.”

No, it’s probably going to be worse, I thought, my blood running cold at the thought of what she’d say. “I understand where you’re coming from, Sarah,” I began, “but it’s not as simple as you think. She grew up in the 1960s in Korea, and she moved to Australia for twenty years to raise me because she thought it would be better here. I can’t just go, ‘Hey, Mum, I’m not the daughter you left your friends and sacrificed twenty years of your life for, and now I’m going to do whatever the hell I want and I don’t give a fuck about how it affects you.”

“But if the result is you not feeling like you can be yourself, that’s so screwed up,” Sarah said. “No one should get any sort of say in how you run your life except you, not even your parents. You don’t bring a child into the world so you can control it and live vicariously through it.”

I couldn’t even imagine what Sarah’s family was like. “Sarah, she raised me by herself as a single mum, and gave up so much to make sure I got everything she thought I needed. And I fucking hate it, trust me, I do, but her one dream is to see me happily married to someone like Henry and with a family of my own.”

“And one day you’ll be happily married to someone like Bree with a family of your own?”

I wasn’t sure how to explain it to someone with such a different upbringing, so I tried another angle. “She loves Henry. Like, she loves him. He even used to call her ‘Mum’ sometimes. I swear to god she spoke to him more than she speaks to me.”

“Even more likely that she’s going to find out you’re not with him anymore,” Sarah said emphatically. “Min, seriously, where do you actually see this going if you don’t tell her?”

“I don’t know!” I said, flopping my hands on the table. “I don’t know. I just want her to live happily up in South Korea in her little fantasy world where her daughter is marrying this great guy and everything is normal and fine and perfect, and I want to live my own life down here in Australia, not stressing Mum out because I’m nothing like the way she wants me to be!”

I must have sounded pretty upset, because Sarah’s look of determination faded to one of concern and she reached out and put a comforting hand on my shoulder. “Min, I’m on your side, I am,” she said, rubbing my arm warmly and then sitting back. “It’s just hard for me to understand, that’s all. I’m going to have kids in, I don’t know, a few years’ time, I guess. I can’t imagine being happy if my kids aren’t.”

“Yeah, well,” I said, running my hands through my hair. “Mum’s only going to be happy if I marry Henry.”

“Are you sure about that?” she asked me, and it was a genuine question.

I didn’t even have to think about it. “Yes,” I answered easily. “She even says exactly that. All the time, and she means it.”

Sarah exhaled at length. “Well, shit,” she said. It was weird hearing her swear, but it absolutely articulated how I felt. “And it’s not like he can help you pretend, because you guys don’t talk anymore. Okay, I see your point, but I still think this either ends with her finding out or you telling her.”

“And that’s what’s stressing me out,” I said, sighing down at the tea in front of me. “I just wish I could figure out some way that neither of those things would have to happen.”

“What will she do when she finds out, do you think? Will she just be very upset, or will she, I don’t know, do something, or…?”

I shook my head. That question. “I don’t know, Sarah.”

She watched me closely for a few seconds and then put her tea down. Her tone completely changed. “Okay, Toyboy,” she said. “That’s enough talk for tonight. You need to show me how to play that annoying shooting game you’re obsessed with.”

I looked up. “What, you mean Call of Duty?”

She waved her hand dismissively. “Whatever it’s called. Teach me how to play it.”

I couldn’t help smiling. “But you hate video games.”

She grimaced. “Hate is a bit of a strong word,” she said, and then patted my arm “Come on.”

I wasn’t going to say no to that, and not just because I hadn’t played for a while and I thought it might be fun, but because I knew why she was offering. We were crouched down by her television trying to figure out how to plug the PlayStation in when we clonked foreheads and sat back, laughing.

I originally put an arm around her to apologise for head-butting her, but I ended up giving her a proper big hug. There was no way in which she hadn’t been there for me in the last few months. “What the hell would I do without you?”

She was rubbing her head and moaning. “Well, you’d have one less concussion,” she told me, but hugged me back. “Probably best not to praise me too much. I’m so high on cold and flu tablets right now that I’m actually starting to think I might be God.”

We spent an hour or so playing video games – at least half of which was Sarah complaining she couldn’t remember the buttons – and then those tablets she’d taken began to wear off and she started to yawn and look really exhausted. I turned off the console while she staggered off to bed, and then I put our cups in the kitchen with the unopened bottle of champagne. I even managed to leave the bottle unopened, despite what was going on with Mum.

I expected Bree to be sitting up in bed with the tablet when I retreated back to my room, but she’d tucked herself in and, predictably, had fallen asleep with her new sparkly tablet beside her on the pillow. I was grumpy at her not sticking to the timeline until I checked to see how close she’d gotten to the 50 pages she was supposed to have finished; she was up to 113.

Smiling, I locked the tablet and went to put it on my desk beside my—

—flashing phone. That stupid fucking light was going to give me a heart attack one of these days; I needed to figure out how to disable it. I swiped across the screen with a finger, expecting to see ‘Private Number’ in the call log, but that wasn’t what was on it at all. ‘Missed call: Henry Lee 23:41PM no message left’ was scrolling across the display.

I drew a sharp breath. Oh my god.

I immediately grabbed my phone and stared down at it. Why was he calling me so late? Was something wrong? My heart lifted: maybe he was lying awake in bed and just wanted to talk to me?

I chewed on my lip while I tried to guess why he might be calling. I couldn’t think about this here, though, I felt like my frenzied thinking would somehow disturb Bree. I tiptoed out of the room, gently closed the door, and then went out onto the back porch where I could be pretty sure no one could hear me.

I should call him, shouldn’t I? I thought, walking to the far end of the decking and staring down at my phone. 11:41 was—I checked—nearly an hour ago, but he was calling me so late anyway that he was probably still awake.

Maybe it’s not that he wants to talk, I decided. Maybe Mum’s ringing him continuously and he wants me to make her stop.

“But I did that,” I told the phone. “I already told her not to!”

After a minute or two of painful deliberation, I decided to just call him. Maybe he did want to talk. I tapped the little green handset icon and put the phone up to my ear, closing my eyes for a second as it rang. I wasn’t sure which worried me more: him answering, or him not answering.

He did answer. “Min,” he said, and with that one word a heavy flood of nostalgia hit me. His voice was so warm and so familiar, and it was so good to hear it again. I smiled ear-to-ear and opened my mouth to tell him exactly that, but he cut me off. “Sorry to call so late, I realise how unprofessional this is. I need to speak with you and I couldn’t do it at work.”

Unprofessional? Okay… I wasn’t sure what he meant by that, but I found it unsettling. Why would it matter if he was unprofessional with me? Our whole relationship had been unprofessional. He was the HR manager, after all. “That’s okay,” I said, unsure about where this was going. “I’m obviously awake…”

“Good,” he said. “Good. Listen, Min, last week we mailed you some information about a meeting that’s taking place and you haven’t responded to accept the invitation. I did something else highly unprofessional and notified management you’d accepted anyway, but I need to know if you’ll be attending or not, or if a representative of yours will be attending on your behalf.”

I didn’t… “A meeting? I didn’t get anything in the post. Is this about the complaint?”

“Yes,” he said, and then made a noise that sounded conflicted. “I shouldn’t be doing this from my work account. Here, I’ll email you a copy.”

I could hear him tapping at his phone, and then mine dinged. I quickly checked it. ‘Directions Interview’, it was cryptically titled. I checked the mailing address on it and groaned. “It’s addressed to the hotel,” I pointed out. “Of course I didn’t get it, I’m living at Sarah’s now and I haven’t been back to collect my mail from there yet.” I swore. “I should have just had it redirected. I’ll do that tomorrow.”

“Thank you. I didn’t want to change your address on record myself, I shouldn’t even be opening your file,” he told me. It sounded like he was outside somewhere, I could hear pretty strong wind. “Well, are you going to come to the meeting?”

“Of course,” I said, thinking about the fact I’d promised Sarah I wouldn’t drop the complaint. “When is it?” I held my phone away from my face to check at the exact moment he told me.

“First thing on Monday morning.”

Shit. “Yeah, so I see. Thank you for not letting me miss it.” I wondered if the complaint would have been dropped in my non-attendance. “Really, thanks.”

“You’re welcome,” he said, and it was all so painfully formal. “I recommend you bring representation, if you’re not already doing so.”

“Yeah, because I’ve got so much money lying around for a lawyer, especially since Frost hasn’t paid out on my entitlements yet.” I laughed, but he wasn’t laughing, so I stopped. “No, I’m coming by myself. Why?”

“Because Sean Frost has flagged his attendance, and given that he’s my manager, I’m in no position to refuse him.”

The smile that had been on my face faded. “Why?”

“Because he’s an asshole, Min,” Henry said harshly, his professional voice lapsing for a second. It didn’t last long. “Anyway, thank you for confirming your attendance. The conciliator will meet you in the Atrium at 9:45am and escort you inside.”

That seemed to be the end of the conversation, but neither of us hung up straight away and a silence stretched between us. I couldn’t believe he would only have called to tell me that, especially given how late he was calling and how late he’d answered to me. I could hear he was holding his breath on the other end of the line, and the fact that he didn’t hang up straight away seemed important, so I thought I’d risk it. “Henry, I just want to let you know that—”

“—Please, Min,” he cut me off stiffly. I could hear how tight his throat was. “Please, I’m sorry. Please don’t say it. I don’t—I just can’t hear it right now, please. I shouldn’t even be calling you, I’m so sorry. Good luck on Monday.” With that, he quickly hung up.

“—I miss you,” I finished to the sound of an empty dial-tone. I sighed. “And I’m sorry Mum keeps calling you, and I hope you’re okay. And, by the way, even though I cheated on you and completely broke your heart, would you mind helping me pretend I’m about to marry you anyway?”

I flopped against the railing as my screen went dark. The same wind I could hear in Henry’s mic was rustling the trees in Sarah’s backyard; it was eerily quiet, otherwise. I wondered why he was outside after midnight, and had a really horrible vision of him sitting by his pool with its immaculately maintained child-proof fence in the dark. I wondered if he was drinking.

I wanted to text him, and it took all of my fucking strength not to. I needed to give him space.

What the hell was I going to do about Mum without him, though? He’d been helping me with her for so long. I leant heavily against Sarah’s porch railing until about 1am, stuck in an endless loop of worrying about Henry, missing him and wanting to talk to him, thinking I might be able to broach the subject of Mum with him after all, and then realising I couldn’t because Mum was no longer his problem. She was my problem. I was my problem. Everything was my own fucking problem, and no matter how much I wanted to call him back and talk through everything with him just like old times, I needed to leave him alone and let him heal by himself.

“Min?” I twisted; Bree was standing in the doorway wearing only one of my t-shirts, and peering bleary-eyed around the frame. I could only imagine how I looked, standing outside in the dark at 1am. She didn’t say anything about it. She just mutely padded across the porch with her bare little feet, took my hand, and led me back so I could get ready for bed. I didn’t get to sleep for ages, though, even with Bree cuddled up peacefully in my arms.

I kept remembering that there was no one to make pretentious green tea and play annoying shooting games with Henry, and there was no one to creep outside in one of Henry’s old t-shirts and lead him back in.

7 thoughts on “Flesh & Blood – Chapter Four

  1. I remember reading the last book, and thinking that when it ended… well, that it had -ended.- That the big things had happened and the plot was over. I obviously liked the idea of a sequel, but didn’t think the story really needed one.

    As a story, I still don’t think UMS -needs- one. It felt complete as-is. But what I like about these early chapters is how quickly they re-frame the happy ending without really adding any new twists or new facts. If I had written down my thoughts at the end of the last story, I could have predicted pretty much all of the plot-points that have come up so far, since they had all been set up already. The difference is that the moment of hope at the end of UMS made the overcoming of these difficulties seem like a foregone conclusion. Of -course- our protagonists will prevail. This… this is the more clear-headed morning after, when the true scope of things become clear. Suddenly everything looms much, much bigger and soon the tension is right back up. Good from a storytelling perspective, though not so much for the characters. Plus, it feels very realistic.

    If I had to guess at themes and all at this early date, I’d say that while UMS was mostly about self-discovery and identity, F&B will be much more about putting those discoveries into practice in the (sometimes hostile) outside world. So far, it’s proving to be even more engaging than the last work. I’m not entirely sure how much of that is due to an already existing investment in the characters this time around, and a lesser need to set up plot-lines leading to a faster-paced beginning, but either way this is an excellent start.

    (This -may- end up being a double-post because WordPress is being a pain. If so, please delete, and apologies. But I can’t find the original, so who knows.)

  2. First of all, thank you for saying UMS felt complete and doesn’t need a sequel – I wrote it so that if it wasn’t popular and people didn’t really like it that I could just leave it. However, knowing that I REALLY wanted the story to be a trilogy, I also deliberately set up the second and the third story in there so that I could pick them up if I wanted to. It makes me very happy to hear that you can see I did exactly that!

    Some of your predictions are pretty on the money – but may take longer to play out than anticipated.

    I’m glad you’re enjoying the story so far; I’m enjoying writing it! It’s great to not really need to set up the characters again, although I did put some work into the narrative to remind casual readers of everybody so that it’s not too confusing. But, yes, it makes for a faster, more engaging beginning (at least, hopefully it does!).

    Narrative-wise there were some things I wrote that I wasn’t happy with the execution of in Under My Skin and I’m going to try and write them differently this time. I wonder if you’ll pick them up.

    Thanks for your in-depth reflection on the beginning of the story and I hope you continue to enjoy it! 🙂

  3. I can’t really think about anything rather than “POOR HENRY”
    even though everyone is in pain, apparently, but… Henry!!!!
    (I’m sorry my comment is not very enlightened, I just wanted to make sure I could leave you something, you know, a small reminder that I really love your book, well, both of them actually)

  4. For some reason the first chapter didn’t really engage me, so I only caught up just now, but god I’ve been sucked back in. I really enjoy the dialogue, you’ve got some very witty characters – I wish I could drop such snazzy one-liners all the time.

    With all these new hurdles set up, it’s gonna be an anxious ride to see how Min and Bree will manage. Crossing my fingers for all your characters (especially Henry!) basically – except Sean Frost and Jason, cause they’re douchebags :p

    • Well, there’s still some setting up to be done! It’s interesting you comment on engagement – because I get so many different perspectives on what engages people and what doesn’t that I’m just… I think I just have to write the story that’s in my head and hope for the best! My general observation with all of my long, long stories is that while it’s being set up readers are much more casual, it’s when shit starts to hit the fan that people tune in weekly for the next installment!

      Anyway, next chapter (which is now Chapter 6) is imho the last chapter to set everything up. So we’ll see how we go from there 🙂

      I hope you enjoy the ride! 😀

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