"STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN" by Alessandra Azzaroni
© 2002 by Alessandra Azzaroni firstname.lastname@example.org http://au.geocities.com/vcastairwaytoheaven/index.htm
STORY LAST UPDATED ON 06/12/2002
Written in Australia. This story has been adapted from an original novel of mine, under the same title. Please send me an email if you would like to know when this story is updated.
CHAPTER THREE: THE FUTURE DECIDED
I didn't know what I was expecting to hear. In my mind, I dreamt there to have been some kind of mix-up. I longed for my parents to tell me that I shouldn't have been the one left, that Silke was meant to be, and me being left on the doorstep was just a mistake that never should have happened. I should've known better than to think that. There are so many "what ifs" in our lives that if we paid them heed we'd get little else done. The reality was that I was not "the Chosen One", and I had to face it.
While in my crying time, running-around-like-a-headless-chicken time and thinking time, I had tried to figure out why I was left behind, but had came up with nothing. While eating my dinner silently and feeling my sister's presence beside me, I had been thinking, and I was beginning to think of Silke as "the Chosen One". After all, she was able to stay with our parents, and I was not. I must've done something wrong in these early days, not that I had the foggiest idea what.
But I wanted to find out. And so I followed her as she led the way to the lounge, where our parents and grandparents were already seated. There was a tea for me, and a coffee for her. Leanne and Greg already knew what I drank, and they must have asked our parents (though I secretly thought of them as only Silke's parents) what my sister drank.
We sat down on one of the black leather sofas, the one that had been left free for us. I picked up my cup of tea in my mug with a koala on it from a coaster that had the Victorian Arts Centre photographed on it. "Well," I said, before taking a tip, "who wants to start the bidding?" My left eyebrow quirked, as it often did when I got sarcastic.
There were no takers.
"Fine," I sighed. "If you're gonna be that way, you, Melinda, can go first. After all, you were the one who left me on the doorstep." I felt somewhat smug as I said this, as if I had power over everyone in the mood. Meanwhile, I hid my nerves by crossing my ankles casually and sipping my Lipton tea as if I were having a pleasant Sunday afternoon chat with friends.
Melinda put her mug of white coffee onto her nearest coaster, which had Sovereign Hill in Ballarat photographed on it. Her hands were shaking as she did so. She cleared her throat. "Where to begin," she said with a sardonic smile, seeming very unhappy that I'd pointed her out. I'd had my reasons, though.
"How about where you left me on the doorstep, I think that'd be a good place to begin." I hid my twisted smile behind another sip of tea. I was enjoying seeing her uncomfortable. I reckoned she deserved to be uncomfortable. There had to be some punishment for choosing between your children instead of taking them both.
"No," Melinda said, shooting a disapproving look my way. "I think I'll start… well, from the start would be the best.
"I finished Year 12 when I was eighteen, but I didn't have the marks to get into the course I wanted back then for uni. Can't even remember what it was, it was that long ago.
"So I got a job working at a pub in the city. I'd been working there for about six months when the Germans came in one evening. They'd come to purchase companies and set up Aussie branches of German firms at the time. They asked me about the things to see and do in Victoria. Dieter had arranged to meet the rest at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, but he'd got off at the wrong station. So he ended up just walking around and ended up at the pub, where I was having a shift. So I went on the tram and train with him until we got to Richmond Station, and then we walked over to the 'G.
"The others were at Punt Road Oval next to it, and they'd met a bunch of locals who were teaching them how to play Australian Rules football. We went back to the 'G and sat on the steps outside the entrance that had the big sculpture thing outside it. We talked for ages, and, well… things went on from there.
"A few months after that, I ended up pregnant with you two, though I only knew that one existed. I never listened when I got the ultrasounds and examinations, I didn't want to hear. It was still a bit strange that I was not yet twenty but still had a bun in the oven.
"Dieter had to go back to Germany just a week or so before I was due to give birth. I sent him off, and you two came out on the exact date you were due. Silke, you came twenty minutes before Gabrielle, and I didn't even realise there was another baby, I just thought I was a human heifer. By that time, I'd got used to the fact that I'd be raising a child, just one, so another one threw me completely off balance. Maybe I was having some kind of post-natal depression, but I panicked. I bought a lot of things for you, Gabrielle, and left you on the doorstep one morning with the note. Dieter had sent a plane ticket out for me, and I left as soon as I could.
"That's it," Melinda concluded. "We've been living in Munich, until recently. We also have a holiday villa in Monte Carlo. We've done a lot of travelling, but Munich's been home until now."
"It can't be home for you," I commented after finishing my tea and putting it back on the Victorian Arts Centre coaster. "After all, you still sound like a true blue Aussie sheila."
"Maybe I do, but I've been a joint citizen for over five years," she said.
"That still doesn't answer a question. How come I was left behind and Silke wasn't?" I asked.
"Simply because you were born second."
"And are you sure we hadn't been swapped around?" I still had some niggling hope that I was meant to be the Chosen One.
Alas, it was not to be. "No, I was dead certain. Silke had a tiny birthmark on the outside part of her left thigh, but you were very different in personality. Silke basically just slept all the time, but you'd be awake for hours, and you cried an awful lot. It's a wonder you didn't wake her up."
"Were we still in the hospital then?"
"Yep. I hadn't let Mum and Dad know I was in labour. I was staying at a friend's place."
"But through all these years, did it ever occur to you to pick me up or at least tell people the truth about me?"
"I blocked you out of my mind to forget the guilt."
I sneered. "Jeez, how considerate of you." I was getting sarcastic again, a sure sign that all was not merry in my world. "So you up and went to Germany," I started. "Did you get a job there, or just played the part of a rich socialite?" I asked. I was genuinely interested in the response. After all, she'd had no university qualifications when she'd left Aussieland.
"I worked in one of those Aussie-themed pubs," she replied. "At the same time I was taking German lessons and managing family life."
Family life without your second born, I added in my head.
"It took me awhile - about ten years," Melinda continued. "Then I became a joint citizen, and I started teaching the English language to people in the area. It's funny," she laughed. "Now when they speak English, they have Aussie accents!"
"Silke doesn't," I noted.
"Well, she didn't learn English from me, she learnt it at school."
"Oh." I'd be focusing on Melinda only, and suddenly remembered the others in the room. "What did you tell Silke about me recently?"
"I simply said we were moving to Australia to manage the Victorian branch of the Metzelder Media Group. The main office is near the Docklands. And I said we were meeting up with relatives," she added. She bit her lip. "I also told her in the car that she had a cousin." She wrinkled her nose. "Of course, that was a lie."
Nothing else was said for a long time. To break the silence, I asked, "Well, what happens from here?"
"That is up to you," Dieter spoke up. "Now that we are living in Victoria, you have an opportunity to live with us."
That threw me off. "Oh."
"Of course, you'd still be able to visit your grandparents," he added. He changed the subject. "When does your school year end?"
"Early December," I replied.
"Do you have many close friends?" Melinda asked.
"I have friends, yes, but I don't have best friends. We're all equal."
"Then it wouldn't bother you to move schools?"
"Move schools?" I double-checked. "But Greystone is as far from here as it is from Belden."
She let out one of those superior little laughs, sending a reminder that I wasn't superior - which therefore made me inferior. "No, you'd be going to a private school, of course."
Private schools were the same as a foreign concept to me. I knew people who knew people who attended private schools. It was strange, really - the cost for private schooling was so much higher, yet their school year was shorter.
"And not just a private school, but a boarding school," she added.
Boarding school? What was this, an American university or something? Sarcastic again, I commented, "How very Aussie."
"You'd be surprised. This country is very much influenced by other nations. It's no wonder we're referred to as 'multicultural Australia'. It's just a great place for everyone to live."
" 'For those who come across the sea, we've boundless plains to share', right?" I quoted from the second verse of our national anthem.
"That's right. So what do you think?" Melinda asked. "Are you interested in coming to live with us?"
Oh, the egotistical nerve of her! Just waltzes into the country and expects me to live with them at the click of a finger. I wasn't going to be a pushover. Generally speaking, the wealthy needed to get their own way a lot less than what they were used to. "I think not," I replied decisively. Maybe I was being bratty, but it was who I was - but at least I admitted to it.
Melinda audibly sighed. "Gabrielle, may I talk to you alone, please?"
I copied her sigh, and stood up reluctantly. "Very well, then." I led the way to my bedroom, and shut the door behind us. I propped myself up on the bed, and she sat down on the carpet beside it, her legs folded to the side. "Alright, what's all this top secret business about?"
"I think you're a sarcastic smart-aleck who needs to learn some manners."
Predictably, I went straight into sarcastic mode again, maybe just to spite her. "Keep that up and I'll be moving in with you in a jiffy." I rolled my eyes, and folded my arms. "You're supposed to be trying to convince me to live with you, not make me want to stay."
"You've been a burden to your grandparents for far too long," she told me, her eyes cold.
"I wouldn't have been a burden to them if you'd taken me with you instead of leaving me with them," I pointed out logically.
"There you go again!" she exclaimed. "Gabrielle, you're as much to blame as anyone else is."
"Besides, if I was such a burden, they would've just put me up for adoption," I again said logically, or so I thought.
"Ha! That's what you think! If you only knew-" She broke off there, cleared her throat and said something else. "You will come with us, you know? There is no choice for you."
"Oh, really? And what are your high society people going to think?" I tried to counteract.
"In Australia, no one's aware of how many children we have."
"And aren't they going to find photos from past periodicals of only you three?"
"Then we'll say that we thought it would be better for you and Silke to be separated, so you could gain your own personalities. Believe me, Gabrielle," she said, somewhat sinisterly, "I have it all planned. What's wrong with you, anyway?" she changed the subject. "Anyone else would've jumped at the chance to live with their biological parents in high society."
"Then obviously you haven't noticed that I'm not like 'anyone else'," I mocked. "Excuse me for having a personality."
"I'm quickly getting fed up with you!"
"Then why do you want me to live with you?"
Melinda was silent for a moment, trying to keep calm, I thought. "You're my daughter, Gabrielle. I may not have owned up to it before, but I have to take some responsibility for you."
"And you seem ever so eager to."
She glared at me, and stood up, heading for the door. "You will come to us, Gabrielle. Believe me, you will. Now come on," she said. "Say good-bye to your family before we leave for the night."
I raised an eyebrow.
"We'll be back for you, of course. We'll let you wait out the rest of the school year." With one hand on the doorhandle, she added, "Nice of us to do that for you, isn't it?"
Melinda kept her promise. I wasn't contacted until there was only a week of school left. We hadn't been doing much in school, except for preparing for Presentation Night. I was going as a member of the school choir, but I would also be going because I apparently would be receiving an award. I wasn't told what, though. I was a bit of a bludger in school, really, so any award was a surprise. Maybe I was just getting an award for my personality, if I were to be sarcastic.
My schoolbag was heavy on the day I was contacted. I had to start cleaning out my locker, and so I'd organised to take a bit home each day. And it was at least 30°C that day, which put me in a stressed, emotional mood. I was born in winter, which could've explained why it was my favourite season. I hated summer, hated the beach, hated the sweat and everything that came with the heat. To make things worse, Australia was experiencing a drought, maybe due to El Niño, and so we had Level 1 water restrictions.
So I wasn't in the best of moods going home that Friday. I hiked up from the Carltrain station with a taut, painful neck, aching shoulders and a collapsing back. The eucalyptus wasn't as strong as it usually was. Maybe it was drying up because of the weather.
To save myself a trip later, I stopped at the letterbox at the bottom of the driveway. I reached forward to grip the local newspapers and junk mail, and then lifted the latch at the back to get the envelopes. With everything in tow, I looked up at the daunting uphill hike up the driveway and the stones. Sighing heavily, I braced myself for it, and up I went.
I didn't greet Leanne, and she didn't greet me, as I entered the considerably-cooler-than-outside house. She was in the lounge, doing some sort of embroidery. The house had been rather quiet since the night when Melinda, Dieter and Silke had come over. Maybe because Leanne and Greg somehow knew that I'd be leaving to live in Belden. Maybe because they were afraid I'd bite off their heads. Although I hadn't talked to them about my discussion with Melinda, I think they were well aware that I didn't want to move out.
I went to my bedroom first. I plunked down my bag, removed my shoes and socks then had a look at the names on the envelopes. There wasn't much for me. I'd been so preoccupied with my "family situation", as I thought of it, that I hadn't written a piece since the one I'd wrote regarding the Melbourne Cup. There were three envelopes for me, one of them I recognised as having Melinda Metzelder's handwriting. I went to the kitchen and dumped on the counter the mail that wasn't mine, separated it and then went back to my bedroom to change into my bathrobe and have a shower in the bathroom.
After I'd changed after my shower, feeling very much more refreshed, I turned to the task at hand - reading, and then maybe replying to, the letters I'd received.
I deliberately avoided Melinda's envelope. I chose one of the others, and flipped it over to see Silke Metzelder as the sender.
I write this without my - our - parents knowing. They have both given me envelopes to post, and they each wrote one to you.
I am writing to issue a warning. You will come here to live. When we came over for dinner, I could tell that you did not want to live with us. I do not blame you.
I know, I can just tell, that our mother doesn't really want you to live with us. But I think she feels guilty for leaving you with her parents for so long. I think she feels obliged, if that is the word, to take you away from them, and into our life.
I have a feeling that when you had your little talk, she told you that you would for sure live with us. That was her way of warning you that you will be brought here, even if it against your will.
I warn you that she will stop at nothing.
Thinking of you,
Apparently, Melinda had warned me. Now Silke had warned me, too. Did that mean that I should plan an escape before I'd be taken? But where could I go?
I tried to put it out of my mind, and reached for the other envelope that was not Melinda's. Heeding Silke's warning, I predicted it to be from Dieter, and so it was.
Melinda has assured me that you will come to live with us shortly. We have begun to make preparations for your arrival. I've chosen a room for you that I think you will like.
I know that you did not want to come here at first, but after your discussion, Melinda told us that you had changed your mind. I am glad that you did.
I am sorry that I did not know about you earlier. I was only told that you existed when we arrived in Belden, and never before. If I had have known, I would have requested that you come and live with us in München (Munich, in the German language). I promise that is true.
Looking forward to you living with us,
P.S. Once you live with us, we can see about changing your surname to Metzelder - that is, if that is fine with you.
Dieter seemed, in his letter, to genuinely want me to go live with them. But Silke claimed that Melinda didn't really want me to come. I had to read what my mother had to say for herself, though. Almost reluctantly, I reached for that third and final envelope.
Just writing to warn you that you should be packing your bags, ready to be collected on December 14. My mother has told me that you will be collecting your school report the day before. Bring that with you. I'm sure the school you'll be attending will be interested in reading it.
- Melinda Metzelder
That was the final one. But what to do?
I decided to reply to the letters.
Thank you for your warning.
I think I've lost my usual spark. I don't think I'll be able to get my way. I'll do my best, though. However, I probably will end up living with you, one way or another. Sorry if this will be a problem for you.
Next, I wrote to Dieter.
Had our circumstances been different, I would've loved to get to know my direct relatives better. Unfortunately, because I feel forced into moving in with you, don't be surprised if I'm standoffish and a hassle for the family.
Thank you for choosing a room for me. I'll take your word that I'll enjoy it - that is, if I live with you.
Sorry if I don't seem all that merry. It's not your fault.
See you later (maybe),
Finally, I wrote to Melinda. I struggled to write, but write I did.
Maybe we really are related. You seem to think that I'm a smart aleck, but what have you done? You've told my father and sister that you've changed my mind and that I actually want to live with you.
You've got a motive; I know you do. You clearly don't want me near you, but claim that you do. I don't know right now what that motive is, but I'll find out someday, don't you worry about that.
Let's just call this a friendly warning now, shall we?
With those letters written and out of the way, I couldn't help but dread what lay ahead for me.