Morning – True Image

Hours later, I woke up to the sound of sizzling and the smell of fried bacon and eggs. My stomach growled as I pushed aside the blanket and tried to smooth my wrinkled shirt.

As the fogginess in my head began to clear, I noticed an undercurrent of deep and also not-quite-so-deep tones mingled with the sizzling noise.

Father and son are both up. I wonder what time it is.

Gradually, I got up from the lounge, blinking and stretching out my tired muscles. Even though I didn’t move quickly at all, the act of standing up made me feel like an hourglass being turned over – dizziness, like grains of sand, filtered from my brain down into every part of my body. I grabbed onto the closest solid thing handy: the arm of the lounge.

Once I had recovered, I made my way slowly past the dining table and into the kitchen area. Standing by the stove with his back turned was Bob, once again wearing the floral apron. He was flipping bacon with a massive pair of tongs. Beside him, Micah was pouring orange juice into some tall glasses.

Good. They’re too busy to notice me.

            I always avoided being seen first thing in the morning. There’s nothing worse than being greeted with an overly enthusiastic “good morning” when you’re not awake enough yet to decide whether it is good or not… and not awake enough to make it a good morning for any other human being.

Noiselessly, I slipped into the bathroom and shut the door. I immediately went to the mirror.

I gasped. Streaks of black mascara were smeared all over my face!

I look horrible. No wonder Micah asked if I was okay. Now, how on earth am I going to get the darn stuff off?

I had left my make-up remover in my overnight bag (which I had forgotten about with all that had happened) in the lounge room and there was no way I was going to get past Bob and Micah unseen again. Soap and water were the only other option.

Shaking my head, I turned on the tap and adjusted the temperature. I got some soap from the dispenser and began trying to clean myself up.

As I doused my face with lukewarm water, I tried once again to figure out a place where I could start over. I now realised what had seemed like a good idea in the midst of despair and confusion was actually impossible.

I was a fourteen-year-old with hardly any money and no friends or real family outside of the small town where I lived. There was no one I could stay with, and I didn’t have enough money to rent a room.

But what could I do? I certainly couldn’t just go home and pretend everything was normal… because it definitely wasn’t. I needed time to process it all. Get my thoughts straight.

I rinsed off all the soapiness and then dried my face with the bathmat. I was just about to put it back in its place when I noticed a neatly folded lavender towel sitting on the corner of the bath. That was definitely new.

Dinner, the blanket, and now a towel. You’d think I was a real guest.

“A real guest,” I whispered, hope rising within me. “It wouldn’t be a fresh start, but I wonder if I could just stay here until I sort things out.”

Suddenly, all my lies about having a place to stay and friends to be with came rushing back to my memory. Fear of being exposed as a liar made my blood run cold.

How can I convince them to let me stay if they find out I’ve lied to them about all that?

There was a faint tap on the door and Micah’s voice called out, “Good morning, Veronica. We have breakfast ready if you’d like to come and have some.”

“Thanks! I’ll be there in a sec.”

It may not have been a good morning for me, but I was determined not to ruin my chances by making it a bad one for the two people upon whom so many things depended.

When I walked back into the kitchen-dining area, Bob and Micah were sitting down at the table – one on either side. They acknowledged me with a smile and a nod as I took the chair at the end of the table.

Bob was the first to speak. “Did you have a good sleep?”

“Sorry again for disturbing you,” added Micah with a grin.

“That’s okay,” I replied with a bit of a laugh. “Yeah, I slept all right apart from that.”

“Oh good.”

Bob suggested we start eating. “Before it gets cold,” he said.

It was a fairly short and silent meal since we were all hungry and the food was good. Before long, each plate was empty and Bob was draining the last drops of orange juice from his glass.

He put the glass down on the table with a bang and announced, “Well, I guess I’d better take you to the train station, Veronica. It’s nearly nine-thirty now and I’ve got an appointment in town at a quarter past ten and won’t likely finish until late afternoon. Do you need to get anything before you catch your train?”

My mind went blank again. “Uh…” then I remembered, “no, I’m pretty sure I have what I need in my overnight bag.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yep, I should be fine. I’ll just go and check anyway.”

I made my escape from Bob’s scrutiny to the comparative protection of the lounge room (even if there was no actual barrier other than the lounge itself). But once I reached the lounge where I had slept the night before, I remembered that I hadn’t left my overnight bag there at all! It was back at Carly and Rick’s lounge room.

I groaned inwardly. Great. Fantastic.

Just at that moment, I felt something in my jacket pocket vibrate. Luckily, I had kept my phone with me.

I took it out. There were two new messages – one received from Mum just then and one from Carly in the early hours of the morning.

I opened Mum’s first: Hi Veronica! I hope you’re having a lovely time with your friends. I’ve just checked in at the conference. Thought we might have a chat after the first session… maybe after 12? Love you, Mum xxx

I closed the message. She could wait for a reply.

Carly’s message read like this: Vee, I’m so so sorry about last night! I shouldn’t have said those things. And I had no idea Rick was going to act like such a jerk… honestly! You don’t know how worried I’ve been, especially coz you left all your things behind. Please call me and let me know you’re safe!!

With a couple of savage taps, I exited my message box and locked the screen.  Both of them could wait for a reply. I shoved my phone back into my pocket.

I let out a sigh.

“Everything okay?”

I swung around. Micah was watching me from his seat at the table – Bob was nowhere to be seen. Obviously, I had been so engrossed by what I was reading that I’d forgotten about everything else.

I made myself meet his gaze. “I’ve just got a message from my friend. She has really bad gastro, so I can’t stay with her.”

He cringed. “That’s horrible! Almost everyone I know has been sick recently. Something really nasty seems to be making the rounds.”

I nodded. That was for sure.

“I hope she gets better soon,” he added.

“Thanks. I hope so, too.”

I actually sounded genuine just then. I relaxed a bit more.

“So what are you going to do?” he proceeded to enquire.

Instinctively, I tensed up again. My eyes strayed away from his. “I don’t know. I lost my house keys and there’s no one at home to let me in.” In truth, my house keys were with my ill-fated overnight bag.

Out of nowhere, Bob’s voice boomed, “You’re welcome to stay here for now if you like.”

“Really? Is that okay?”

I looked at Micah again. His eyebrows had risen a little at his dad’s offer. But he smiled and said, “Yeah, for sure.”

A weight lifted off my shoulders. “Thank you both so much. I had no idea what I was going to do.” I meant every word.

Bob’s massive frame appeared from the kitchen. “It’s no trouble,” he assured me with his cracked smile.

The morning was shaping up to be a good one, it seemed.

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