Chapter 02 – Overture
The trip to Canberra was long and tedious with Maya and Elle taking it in turns to switch drivers every so often so the other could rest while Maisy stayed resolutely silent, either turning her music up to an obscene level or texting away on her phone. After the first five hours of trying to cajole the youngest girl from her mood, they gave up and talked amongst themselves about nothing of substance, straying away from those topics they would have to talk about once they arrived at their new home.
The trip took them four days and roughly thirty or so hours of driving, stopping every night at the cheap budget motels they'd booked in advance. By the last day everyone was tired, cranky and even Maisy had broken her vow of silence to complain that it was taking too long and they never should have left (repeatedly, every hour until they reached the outskirts of Canberra).
It was very different to Cairns. While Cairns was humid and almost always warm, even in the wintertime, Canberra had a cool, dry feel to it. It wasn't pretty and there wasn't the constant comforting smell of the ocean to make them feel welcome, only the smell of rain coming not far away. It was a city built around hills and lakes, not the beach and sugar cane fields. It was too different from what they were used to and all three girls felt the loss of their home now more than ever. This was real; their new home almost like a foreign land in their own country.
"How could dad do this to us? I hate this," Maisy hissed from the back seat as Maya read the road map in front of her, giving Elle directions. "And I hate him for doing this!"
"Maisy!" Elle exclaimed in shock, almost taking a wrong turn off the roundabout. "Don't say things like that, it's terrible! You should be ashamed of yourself."
The chastised fifteen year-old set her jaw and looked out the window with a huff, though not quite able to hide the tears coming to her eyes. "Turn right down here Elle," Maya murmured before twisting around in her seat and placing a hand on her younger sister's knee. "It's hard, I know it is. I hate this too, but we've got to stick together now, don't we? You can yell about dad all you want when we get there and I'll listen, okay?"
Maisy sniffed and nodded and Elle stopped at an intersection, looking around as the light turned red. "In the meantime, why don't you get angry at Uncle Thomas for sending us hours away without a GPS?" she asked with a slight smile, looking at her other sister in the rear-view mirror as she laughed slightly.
"I'll have you know, I'm a fantastic navigator," Maya replied, very affronted as she straightened out the road map with a flourish. "Both Ben and Andre said so."
Maisy snickered. "Right, when you had to find your way to the bedroom?"
Maya and Elle both looked scandalised before Elle, glancing in the mirror again at her youngest sister's poker face before her shoulders began to shake and she began to laugh heartily and soon she was joined by Maisy while Maya looked affronted. "Well, sometimes it was the kitchen floor," she added defensively, before bursting out into laughter herself.
Ten minutes later, when the three girls had laughed themselves silly and finally regained composure Elle found the place. Thomas Reeves' brother John owned a small cluster of flats in one of Canberra's outer-suburbs and had offered one to the three girls for a low cost. Provided they got jobs within the next month, they would be able to continually pay the fortnightly rent, Maisy's school fees (which Thomas was going to help with) and live quite comfortably.
The flats were like old people's village homes. They were compact, not overly imaginative and all the same. John Reeves and his wife lived in one while three were occupied (unsurprisingly by older people) and the last was vacant for the girls. So they were to live in a small, unimaginative brick hut until they managed to save enough to do otherwise.
As soon as the three girls stepped out of the vehicle, they were greeted by a loud, jovial voice and were soon confronted by a man who had very little resemblance to their friend Thomas except for perhaps the colour of his eyes. He was tall, had probably been lithe and strong when he was young, but now he was about fifty he'd grown fat and relaxed. He had laugh lines crinkling at the corners of his eyes and mouth and wore a blue shearer's singlet, a pair of worn out shorts and some thongs*.
"Ah, the Dean girls! Been expecting you for the past hour. Didn't get lost, did you? Nah didn't think you would, the place isn't too hard to find. I'm John by the way, but most people call me Reevsey. You don't have to if you don't want to, but don't expect me to lift my head the first time you call!" All this was said in almost one breath, and 'Reevsey looked at them expectantly when he'd finished.
The girls all exchanged a glance before Elle cleared her throat and said, "I'm Elle, that's Maisy and this is Maya. Thank you for agreeing to let us have the place, I hope it wasn't too much trouble."
"Not at all, not at all, always willing to help a mate in need," Reevsey replied with a wink. "Now, there's a garage for your car off your place and the furniture's all in there. Thom said you'd have your own sheets and things, so I didn't get anything for you. The missus wants you over for dinner at seven if you're not too tired and some of the other folks will be around too so you can meet them."
"That would be lovely, thank you J- er, Reevsey."
"Right then, see you in an hour," he returned, fishing into the pocket of his shorts for a set of keys before handing them over to Elle, then was off with a wave of his hand.
In the hour between arriving at their flat (number 5, only distinguishable by the small metal '5' on the mailbox) and going to dinner at the Reeves' the girls moved all their bags into their new home. It was a typical small apartment, with and open plan kitchen and lounge room with a connecting room which housed a big bedroom which was connected to a smaller bedroom and bathroom. Maisy was rather disgruntled at the small size of the second room and had said that Elle and Maya could share the Queen bed in the bigger bedroom and tough luck if the latter wanted to have sleep-overs with her newest boy toy.
When it was finally time to go to dinner everyone's nerves (especially Elle's) were fraught. The past hour had seen Maisy constantly moaning about the size of her bedroom, bed and the fact that there was only one bathroom that didn't even have a bathtub, only a shower. They turned up at the Reeves' flat and were received warmly once more by Reevsey.
"Come in girls, come in! Just been throwing a few snags on the barbie** – none of you are those fancy vegetarians are you?" he asked as he threw open the door, now wearing a rather loudly printed Hawaiian shirt over his shorts, evidently dressed for the occasion. "Marg's already here, she's out the back having a drink. She lives one up from you girls, a nice old duck."
He continued to speak as they walked through the kitchen out to the backyard which was much bigger than the kitchen/dining area and had a nice outdoor setting where a stout woman (perhaps in her late sixties) sat, smoking a cigarette and laughing merrily at something the younger woman (presumably Mrs Reeves) attending the barbeque.
Mrs Reeve's was younger than her husband, probably forty or so. She was a warm, kind looking woman, curvaceous rather than fat like her husband and had a small amount of creases in her face. She was probably once very beautiful, but not in the icy-cold way that the girls were used too. The stout older lady who the girls took to be 'Marg' was also very kind looking and had a very loud and genuine laugh. Her hair was dyed black like she was resisting old age and her eyes constantly twinkled as if she was privately amused by something.
It was Marg who first noticed the girls. "Who are these pretty young things Reevsey? You didn't tell me we were expecting visitors tonight!" she announced, hauling herself off her chair and tottering over to them with a wide smile. "Look at you three! You must be the Dean girls, yes?"
Her smile was contagious and despite the foul mood all three girls arrived in they couldn't help but feel their spirits lifted somewhat by these kind people. "We are," Elle agreed. One by one they introduced themselves and Marg, who was really called Margaret Jennings but hated her full name, took a shining to Elle and pulled her over to the table so she could ask all about the three new arrivals.
Mrs Reeves arrived at a more sedate pace as Elle was dragged over and introduced herself as Anna. "I'm glad you all arrived safely," she said softly, and something in her air immediately reminded Maya of her mother. "I was sorry to hear of your loss. I didn't know you parents that well, but they were very kind people."
Maya smiled and Maisy rolled her eyes, saying, "Well, they were until they left us nothing." Maya looked sharply at her sister before Anna shook her head and said that it was fine, asking Maisy to go help John with the barbeque and Maya to help with the salads.
The Dean's were welcomed into the family atmosphere almost immediately. Elle, though somewhat taken-aback by Marg and her garrulous personality, felt herself feeling relaxed, like she didn't have to worry about anything for a while. Maya, who had always been closest to their mother, basked in the affection Anna showed her and was happy to help anyway she could. Maisy became relaxed grudgingly, not able to completely stop enjoying herself around Reevsey and Marg as they chattered and joked.
As dinner was about to be served, Anna looked unhappily around. "Chris should have been here by now," she said to her husband, who simply shrugged.
"He had to see Gemma and Peter off to the airport, they were going home today. He probably just got held up in traffic," he explained, setting the plat of sausages and steak onto the middle of the table while Maya and Anna set down the salads.
"Who's Chris?" Maisy asked curiously as she sat next to Marg, who had Elle to her right.
"Oh Chris!" Marg cooed as she put a spoonful of potato salad on her plate. "Chris used to live here when he was in University. A lovely boy, isn't he Anna? Always was a favourite of mine, our Chris. It is a shame he had to leave us, but I suppose he needed somewhere closer to the school."
"Chris is a teacher at the high school in Belconnen. He was dropping his sister off at the airport tonight, which is probably why he's late," Anna explained as they all served themselves dinner.
"A very nice young man, but very quiet and severe sometimes, isn't he Reevsey?" Marg asked, but continued without waiting for a reply. "A shame he's still single, such a nice young man though. Quite a catch I think." The last comment was directed pointedly at Elle, who seemed unaware, though Maya caught the reference and bit back laughter with a gulp of juice.
"Have you girls got yourselves some nice men back home?" Marg continued again. Elle shook her head and Maya scowled as she thought of the fifteen texts and seven calls Andre had ignored from her.
Outwardly, all three simply said no.
After dinner, they all retired to the lounge room as the air grew too cold outside to sit there any longer. The girls were asked about home and their plans, which made Elle grow anxious and fidgety, so Maya desperately tried to find something to change the subject. Looking around the room, she glanced at a small keyboard, pushed up against the wall and gathering dust. "Oh, you have a keyboard Anna? Maybe we should have some music?" she asked tactfully, distracting Elle and the others from talk of the impending future.
"None of us can play it though," Reevsey said after taking a swig of his beer. "Only our youngest could, but she gave it up before she got any good."
"Maya can play though," Maisy told them enthusiastically, for she enjoyed listening to her older sister. "And she can sing too!"
Marg's eyes lit up. "Well, we must hear you play then!" she announced, looking like she had some joke going that everyone else was unaware of. "All of us love some music. Do you know any nice love songs? I do adore love songs!"
Maya was, above anything else, a hopeless romantic. She loved soaring, sweeping love songs found in musicals and ballads that spoke of the pain of the soul. Despite her appetite for the physical relationship, she still was naïve and believed in true love (something she confided in to only Elle, who listened patiently despite her own scepticism). "A few," she said simply, standing and turning on the small keyboard, pressing a few keys experimentally. It sounded nothing like the grand piano they'd had at their home in Cairns.
She felt a creeping sadness as she pulled a chair towards the keyboard to sit and knew what she wanted to play. She cleared her throat and turned towards everyone (for the keyboard was situated in such a way that her back was turned to her audience) and smiled. "This one's one of Elle's favourites and one of mine. It's not strictly a love song, but I think you'll still enjoy it," she told them, before turning back to the keyboard and placing her fingers and playing the opening chords softly.
Then, she began to sing. "You were once my one companion, you were all that mattered. You were once a friend and father, then my world was shattered…" She continued to play, feeling sad as she played the familiar chords and thought of the unspoken words she had shared with her sisters – this was their mother's favourite song and now, the song had more meaning. They were both gone.
"Wishing you were somehow here again, wishing you were somehow near… Sometimes it seemed if I just dreamed, somehow you would be here… Wishing I could hear your voice again, knowing that I never would… Dreaming of you won't help me to do, all that you dreamed I could…"
Maya was talented on the piano and her singing was pleasant though not unique, but that did not detract from the enjoyment of those listening to her. It was as she began the second verse of the song, unnoticed by the performer, a man slipped into the room silently. He watched, almost entranced as she continued to sing, noticed only by Elle and Marg.
Still, she was unaware. "Passing bells and sculpted angels, cold and monumental, seem for you the wrong companion, you were warm and gentle… Too many years, fighting back tears, why can't the past just die?"
As Maya continued into the last chorus Elle observed the new-comer. He was tall and broad-shouldered, not altogether attractive but the look of earnest interest on his face as he watched Maya play seemed to make him more so. He was probably in his mid-thirties, his eyes a shade of hazel green and his hair dark brown, almost black, with a slight curl to it. She wondered if this was Chris and knew that Maya had added another man to her list of admirers – and he hadn't even seen her face.
"Wishing you were somehow here again, knowing we must say goodbye… Try to forgive, teach me to live, give me the strength to try… No more memories, no more silent tears, no more gazing across the wasted years… Help me say goodbye, help me say goodbye!" as the song ended, Maya straightened and surreptitiously wiped the tears from her eyes as the occupants of the room applauded her loudly, Reevsey even whistling appreciatively.
"Chris! We didn't see you there!" Marg announced loudly and Maya turned around, noticing for the first time the man leaning against the doorframe. Marg had of course noticed him and had noticed the same thing that Elle had, yet she was less subtle than they younger woman. "Wasn't our Maya a lovely singer? She played so well too!"
Maya, who was very proud of her accomplishments and usually basked in praise felt unusually uncomfortable under Chris' scrutiny. "It was an easy song to play Marg," she assured the other woman uneasily.
"You did play rather well," Chris assured her solemnly and Marg chuckled making a remark about Maya looking rather well too that made the young woman flare a bright red and Chris look extremely uncomfortable.
Elle, noticing this, cleared her throat and lightly touched Maisy on the shoulder. "We should probably go," she said softly, looking around the room with a small smile. "Maisy has to check out the school tomorrow and Maya and I both have job hunting to do. It was really nice to meet you all."
"Not at all dear, not at all!" Reevsey exclaimed. "But Maya, didn't you say earlier that you were looking for a new piano teacher? I'm sure Chris would be happy to give you some lessons, wouldn't you?"
Maya and Chris were both aware of what was going on and felt uncomfortable, the former by the thought of being set up in such a way with a man who was too old for her and probably not interested in her and the latter because he knew John Reeves could read him like an open book. "That wouldn't be necessary, I'm sure Reevsey," Maya assured him hurriedly.
"Oh? But Chris is a music teacher and before he had to quit he was on his way to becoming a very great concert pianist! Don't look at me like that, it's true!" Reevsey huffed as Chris looked at him, a pained expression on his features.
Maya raised her eyebrows in surprise, but said nothing and was soon pressed into taking Chris' number and the three Dean's left, all feeling exhausted and perplexed.
"The poor man!" Maya huffed as she crumpled up the paper with Chris' number on it, stuffing it into her pocket. "He probably knew they were trying to set him up! How embarrassing, at my age and at his age! Besides, it was clear he was uncomfortable and wasn't interested at all!"
Elle laughed. "Maya, he wasn't that old. Besides, I'm sure they meant well." She neglected to mention that she could see for sure that Chris was certainly attracted to her younger sister. She had seen the look on his face as she turned from the piano and while she played. It was clear to everyone (except her sister, evidently) that he had been quite taken with her.
"You should probably still consider lessons," Maisy said as they arrived home. "He was nice, and if he was a really good player then maybe he could help you learn how to write some songs like you were always trying to get Edgar to?"
"Maybe," Maya said noncommittally before yawning. "In any case, I'm tired and I got an email saying I have an interview at that café that was advertising online. Better get some beauty sleep."
"You'll need it," Maisy quipped and the girls all laughed, not feeling so bad as they walked into the flat. They all felt that they might be fine, eventually.
The next day was a dreary Sunday, the clouds threatening rain but nothing ever coming of it. Reevsey had said that morning that it was typical spring weather. Elle had gone grocery shopping with Maisy then they had gone to the closest high school (happily not where Chris worked, otherwise the insinuation from Marg and Reevsey would have been merciless) and Maya had been hired as a full time waitress at a café called Tasty Treats due to her skill with a coffee machine (because thankfully their dad had always loved proper coffee and had a full café-style machine that only he and Maya had ever mastered).
Maisy had admitted the school was quite nice and on the return of the three sisters everyone was triumphant and happy. "I'm going out to celebrate," Maya announced as soon as she returned home, later than the other as she had been forced to take public transport. "The girls who worked at the café invited me out for drinks and dancing, so I thought I'd take them up on the offer."
Elle frowned from her station at the kitchen, cooking something that smelled delicious. "Are you sure that's a good idea? You do have to work tomorrow, don't you?" she asked disapprovingly as her younger sister shimmied into their shared bedroom.
"I promise I'll be good," she called sweetly and Maisy, who sat on the worn couch playing a game on her laptop, snorted condescendingly, muttering something that sounded like 'as if'.
"Well, are you staying for dinner? I made pasta."
"Probably," was her response. "Where did you put my pink heels? Are they in the wardrobe?"
This continued back and forth until dinner was served and Maya emerged from the bedroom in what Maisy called her 'armour'. A strapless form-fitting black dress that left nothing to the imagination was her wardrobe choice this evening with ridiculously tall pink strappy heels and makeup that looked like it had been applied with a trowel. "Really, Maya?" Elle asked exasperatedly when she sat at the table with a self-satisfied smile.
"How else do you think I'm going to get my drinks paid for tonight? I don't want to waste our money," Maya pointed out prudently as she twirled some fettuccine around her fork.
Maisy giggled and Elle silenced her with a look before continuing. "I don't want you back too late. If you make a bad impression on your boss on the first day… well, I just don't think it's a good idea."
"Elle. Please. This isn't the 19th century. I'm 21 years-old and I'm hot. I need this. Just something to take my mind off everything."
Elle grudgingly agreed and was soon conned into dropping her younger sister off in front of a sleazy looking club. "Take a taxi home!" she called out the window, and Maya waved at her nonchalantly as she walked away, before showing her ID to a bouncer and flouncing through the doors.
Somehow Elle still wasn't convinced this was entirely a good idea. She had a bad feeling about tonight, something she just couldn't put her finger on. Shaking herself, she looked in the rear-view mirror at herself, taking in her sour expression. She sighed, then pulled away from the curb, putting it down to anxiousness. It's not like Maya was going to die in a car accident too.