I know, I know – I’ve been quiet lately. Why? Because I’ve been writing an epic novel! That’s why 😉
Anyway, if you haven’t been on Facebook to witness all of the teasers I’ve been posting for you all. Then you’ll want to read this – it’s the entire chapter one!
Everybody, I’d like you to meet Damien and Etta.
“Are you sure that moving out of home is what you want for your eighteenth birthday?” my father asks a week before the actual day. “Has it really been that terrible living here?”
“Oh no, dad! Don’t think like that. It’s just that all of my friends are either living in uni housing or they’re in flats of their own. I just don’t want to feel left out anymore,” I attempt to explain.
My father just growls in response, he’s not happy about this change at all. And I understand that, ever since my brother died, he’s kept a very close eye on me. I mean, I’ve had a 6pm curfew since I started high school which continued on into university.
He has always claimed that it was because I was so intelligent – he wanted me to focus on my studies. Although I’m pretty sure he was just making sure I had no time for a social life.
Not that that stopped me – where there’s a will, there’s a way. And I’ve managed to have my fair share of teenage experiences, despite my restrictions.
My mother butts in as she wanders into the kitchen and pours herself a cup of coffee. “Oh, leave her alone Barry. It’s perfectly normal. She wants to stand on her own two feet. I don’t blame her. You’re so damn strict with her all the time.”
“There’s nothing wrong with wanting your family close,” he grumbles.
“Of course there isn’t, dear,” my mother coos, sliding an arm over his protruding belly as she kisses his cheek. “But she’s going to be an adult. We can’t keep her locked up forever.”
My parents have one of those silent exchanges that always ends with them kissing, so I take that as my cue to leave.
“I’ll see you both tonight. I have a train to catch,” I say, as I stand up from the stool I was occupying and pick up my navy blue Crumpler laptop bag.
“Have fun, honey,” my mother calls. “I hope you find something.”
Walking toward the train station, I squint against the warm Australian sun and dig inside my bag for a pair of sunglasses. As I slide the dark shades over my eyes, I can’t help but smile to myself as I check my watch.
Today is my first whiff of freedom. My friend Aaron is taking me apartment hunting, and I can’t wait. Pretty soon, I’ll be eighteen, and I’ll be able to legally go out and have fun without having a curfew to get back in time for.
Swiping my travel pass, I enter the station and after a short wait, board the sterile steel carriage of the train, disembarking a stop later at Kingswood station. I make my way over the pedestrian bridge and walk toward the older styled apartment block where Aaron lives.
He moved in with a new flatmate only a couple of weeks ago and since I haven’t visited him here yet, I double check the message on my phone containing his address to make sure I have the right place.
Once confirmed, I enter the foyer through the brown painted aluminium and glass door. To my right, is a bank of letterboxes and just in front is a narrow set of stairs that wind up the couple of flights to his floor.
Each floor seems to have five apartments on it. I’m looking number nine and find it on the second floor, right near the landing on my right.
I knock loudly on the faux wood, chipboard door in an attempt to be heard over the music booming from the inside. Then stand back, and wait patiently as I hear the music shut off and footsteps coming toward the door.
When it opens, I’m immediately taken aback by a set of unusually light brown eyes, set in a lean, stubbled face, topped off with dark hair, messily spiked. Their owner practically fills out the doorway, and I thank Christ I’m so tall and can almost look him in the eye, because in my periphery I can see that he’s gulp shirtless. I will not look down, I will not look down, I assure myself, trying to ignore the round pecs and defined abs that are calling to me. My heart beats solidly against my chest as I stare directly into his questioning eyes, hoping I appear calm.
“Hi, I’m Etta, Aaron’s friend. He said to meet him here,” I say to who I’m assuming is Aaron’s roommate Jeremy, while trying to sound confidant and unperturbed by his thoroughly ruffled and very sexy appearance.
Taking a deep breath as I await his response, I inhale his smell, my stomach growls audibly, he smells like… bacon?
The corner of his full mouth turns up in an amused grin as my cheeks flame from my stomach’s rudeness.
“I’m making bacon sangas. You want one?” he asks me, stepping aside to let me through.
“Ah sure,” I reply, stepping inside and setting my things on the vacant chair at the two seater dining table to the right of the front door. Jeremy picks up a shirt and slides it over his head, and I’ll admit that I eye licked him a little while his face was hidden under the material.
My eyes scan the apartment, noting how meticulously clean it is for an apartment that houses a couple of male university students. To my left, there are two doors that are closed, presumably leading toward bedrooms and a bathroom door between them which lies open.
The living area is open planned, it’s basically one big rectangle that houses the lounge, dining, and kitchen. A two-seater black leather couch sits in front of a rather large flat screen TV that is attached to the wall above an antique looking, Jacobean style sideboard that houses the DVD player, and stereo system.
There is some very modern looking art adorning the walls, they feature lots of shapes, lines and duotone colours. I particularly like the one that’s hanging above the dark-stained pine, dining table. It kind of looks like a glass of red wine, hitting a black surface and exploding.
To the right is a small kitchen where Jeremy is still cooking strips of bacon and buttering slices of bread. The scent of the pan and the sight of the man standing over it, causes my mouth to water and my stomach to nag at me with both hunger and a nervous attraction. I continue to look around the room, trying to keep myself from staring at him as he works the pan.
Right next to the door on the wall, I notice a pin board covered in small pieces of paper. Stepping closer, I lean in, scrutinising the collage, releasing my breath in awe as I notice that they’re all sketches.
Reaching out, I touch a yellow post-it note with my finger, on it is a perfect sketch of a girl, leaning up against a tree. It’s so small and so detailed that I feel myself leaning even closer to have a look.
The sound of plates being placed on the table brings my attention away from the board, and I’m once again entranced in those light coloured eyes. His gaze flicks from me to the plate, and I snap out of it, moving to the table to sit down and eat.
“Thank you,” I say as I pick up my sandwich and take bite, closing my eyes as the greasy-bacony-goodness flows over my taste buds. “That’s delicious,” I practically moan.
Smiling, he sets a can of coke in front of me before moving over to the pin board and flipping it over. I frown slightly as I’m now faced with a board pinned with a calendar, bills and a few photos.
He makes his way over to the table and sits across from me, raking his hand through his messy jet black hair and popping his own can of coke before taking a thirsty gulp.
“Sorry, I didn’t realise I wasn’t supposed to be looking at that,” I say, indicating the now flipped pin board.
“It’s fine,” he says, focusing on his sandwich. “I normally flip it when I’m expecting someone. Um, what time are you supposed to be meeting Aaron?”
“One, although I’m a little early,” I reply glancing at my watch, it’s twelve fifty two and I’ve already been here for five minutes.
“Ah ok,” he says before filling his mouth with almost half of his sandwich. He must be hungry.
“I didn’t just steal half your lunch, did I?”
He grins around his food, covering his mouth slightly as he shakes his head in the negative. Swallowing he says, “Don’t sweat it, I’m happy to share. So how do you know Aaron?”
“We’re studying for the same degree.”
“Ah, of course,” he says, his eyes twinkling at me as he finishes devouring his sandwich and starts to wash it down with his can of coke. “Here,” he says, reaching out and popping the top of my can, twisting it around so the mouth is facing me.
“Thanks,” I say again. “You make a really good bacon sandwich.”
“Thank you,” he nods, as he sits and watches me eat, his eyes still twinkling in what looks like amusement over the top of his can while he takes another swig. “So how long have you and Aaron been dating?”
“Oh. No. We’re friends. We have been since the first day of uni. I mean, we dated for a while, but the age difference became a bit of an issue. So that was the end of that.”
“Why was your age a problem?” he asks, taking another sip.
“Because when my dad found out I was dating an older guy, he cracked it and forbade me to go out with him – although, I think it was really just the whole ‘dating’ thing that was an issue.”
“Do you always do what your dad says?”
“Why wouldn’t I?” I shrug. “I mean, it’s not like he’s super unreasonable. He’s just strict. Especially after my brother died, he just wants me close. I can understand that.”
“Sorry to hear that.”
“Why? It’s not like you killed him. He got drunk and fell in the river.” I shrug, feeling there wasn’t much more of an explanation needed.
He studies me for a moment, his eyes on me seem to bring the surface of my skin to life as if I can actually feel everywhere he sees. Taken aback, I reach for my can of drink and lift it to my lips, hoping my cheeks aren’t flaming too brightly.
“You keep mentioning an age difference. If you’re doing the same degree as Aaron, you’d have to be at least 20. You’re third year right?”
“Yeah, third year, but I skipped a couple of grades in high school, so I’m only eighteen – well, almost. My birthday’s next week.”
“A couple of grades? Geez, what are you? A genius or something?”
“Not quite. There just isn’t a lot to do but study when you’re not allowed out.”
I can see this information rolling around in his head as he regards me for a moment.
His brow creases as he leans back in his chair. “So, let me get this straight – you’re an eighteen year old girl, and you’ve come here on your own, to the apartment of a man you’ve never met, and eaten lunch with him like it’s no big deal. What if I was dangerous?”
Suddenly I bristle a little. “Excuse me? How is visiting the home of a friend suddenly dangerous?”
“You obviously have zero life experience. I don’t blame your dad for being so strict with you.”
“What? Of course I have life experience. Probably more than most girls my age.”
“Really? How many high school parties did you attend?”
Shifting uncomfortably in my seat, I’m not sure if I want to answer – I never got invited to parties in high school. No one wanted to invite the girl who was younger and smarter than everyone else. I missed out on everything social about high school. All I did was study.
But once university started, even though I was younger than everyone, I was finally able to socialise. The Bar Café on campus holds social events that start at lunch time. On top of that, my lectures and tutorials, don’t take up the whole day. So I’d leave home before nine and get home before dinner at six. As far as my father knew, I was in class or studying at the library – I could fit a lot of fun in around those hours. And I did my damnedest to join in with everything I could.
“You didn’t go to any parties did you?” he asks, narrowing his eyes as he assesses me.
“No ok, no one wanted me around. I totally missed the party scene in high school – are you happy?” I snap, more out of embarrassment than anger. “What’s it to you anyway? It’s not like I’m totally sheltered. So what if I didn’t have a social life in high school? I’ve had one since I started uni – I’ve even managed to have boyfriends. I’m not totally clueless.”
“It matters because a girl like you shouldn’t be entering the apartments of guys you don’t know.”
“I can assure you that I’m quite capable of looking after myself,” I tell him.
Shaking his head he sets his can down. “It doesn’t matter, a girl – no matter how strong she is, is no match for a guy when she’s cornered.”
“My father teaches Aikido. I trained with him every day until I was twelve. I assure you – I’m fine. Plus, in case you haven’t noticed, I’m a bit of an amazon.”
“Oh, I noticed – you look like an Amazon princess or something.” His eyes move over me appraisingly before moving back up to my face. “It’s part of the reason I think you’re making a big mistake. It’s great that you know how to defend yourself but it’s not going to help you if you’re trapped is it?”
Annoyance flashes, hot in my chest as I push back from the table. “Listen, this is obviously a bad idea. Just tell Aaron to call me when he gets in. I’ll wait for him in the park across the street. I’ll practice my self-defence skills while I’m there in case I get mugged by one of the little grannies coming out of the post office.” Shaking my head, I roll my eyes. “Thanks for the food,” I add as an afterthought, as I stand up and gather my things to leave.
He rises as well, watching me as I sling my bag over my shoulder and turn towards the door. With a speed that seems unnatural for a man with his bulk, he suddenly slams his body up against mine, effectively pinning me against the door.
“What are doing?!” I shriek, my heart beating wildly in my chest as I struggle against his body. He leans his face close to mine and I go still, his warm breath on my face sending shivers over my body. I should probably be scared right now but instead, all I can focus on is the firmness of his chest against the softness of my own, and the beautiful colour of his eyes staring into mine with what looks like concern.
“Do you see what I’m talking about?” he whispers close to my ear, his voice threading its way through my senses, making me dizzy and short of breath. “Sometimes a man will be faster and more trained than you are. It’s not safe for you.”
My eyes flutter and the only sound that escapes my mouth is a whimper-like ‘huh’. I can’t believe how affected I am by him, I just met him.
As our eyes lock, and I feel sure he’s about to kiss me and hold my breath, waiting for him to do something. My phone chooses that moment to start playing Young Girls by Bruno Mars. I gasp as he releases me and steps back, moving immediately to the table to clear away our plates and empty cans.
With a shaking hand, I reach in my bag and pull out my still ringing phone. Frowning, I slide my finger across the screen to answer the call.
“Etta? Where are you? I’ve been waiting for you for ages. I thought you were coming over today?”
“Uh… no, I mean yes – yes I’m coming. Um, what number apartment are you in again?” I ask, eyeing the man who I had thought was Jeremy in front of me as he leans against the sink with his muscular arms folded over his broad chest, watching me with darkening eyes.
“Nine,” I repeat as I open the door and look at the number, now noticing the scrape marks from where it has obviously spun countless times. Reaching up with my finger, I slide the number up to its original position and press it in place so that it’s now a number six.
“I’m here. I’ll be at your place in a couple of minutes. See you soon,” I say before disconnecting and turning my attention back to my deceptive host, pointing to the number on his door. “You might want to use something a little stronger than Blutach to keep that in place in future. It will save you getting unwanted visitors.”
“You were definitely wanted,” he says watching me intently.
Shaking my head, I ignore the clenching of my insides as my body responds to him. Instead, I call him a jerk and step out into the hall way. Closing the door quietly, I take a moment to calm myself down before looking at the doors around me, quickly locating number nine on the other side, almost diagonal from this door.
As I step away, I jump slightly when the music starts up again in the room behind me. I can’t believe that guy just took me into his apartment when he knew I wasn’t here to see him. To what? Teach me a lesson about self-defence? I don’t care how sculpted-from-marble-by-the-hands-of-the-gods you may look – who the fuck does that?
I walk towards the correct door, pray that my face isn’t too red and knock. I’m immediately greeted by another Adonis and almost gasp at the sight of him as well. What the hell is this? The secret hiding place for all of the god’s love children? I’m wondering if I knock on every door I’ll find a model like creature living inside.
“Jeremy is it?” I ask, double checking this time.
He grins, his blue eyes almost getting lost in his perfect smile. “That’s right, come on in. Aaron’s just hunting for his keys,” he grins, stepping aside to let me in.
I can’t help but notice the stark contrast in the state of the two apartments. This one is basically a mirror image of the one across the hall, but as you’d expect for the home of two single men – it’s not the tidiest place in the world.
“I’ll be right out,” I hear Aaron call from the bedroom.
Jeremy moves some papers, books and clothing from one of the couches and gestures for me to sit down.
“Geez, you’re a tall one,” he comments, looking me up and down.
“So I’m told,” I respond, smiling politely.
“You know, I used to think I was a pretty decent height. I mean, I’m almost six foot, but then I moved up here. Is there something in the water supply or something?”
“Who knows,” I shrug before attempting to steer the conversation away from my six foot, one height. “Where were you living before?”
“I’m from Victoria. Grew up on Phillip Island,” he nods.
“So you’re a bit of a surfer then?”
“Not really,” he laughs.
“Found them!” Aaron declares from the doorway to his room, holding his keys up triumphantly. “Hey Etta, thanks for waiting,” he smiles moving over to the couch and planting a kiss on the side of my cheek. His stubble grazes my skin as he brushes past.
“No problem. Are your ready to go though? We’ll have a few places to look at.”
“Absolutely. I just need my wallet…”
Twenty minutes later, Aaron has located his wallet and we’re saying goodbye to the real Jeremy. As we walk down the hallway, I try my hardest to keep my eyes from straying to the door at number six – what is that guy’s game anyway? Why not just tell me I had the wrong room?
“What’s going on?” Aaron asks me, looking over his shoulder. “You seem a bit skittish.”
“Oh it’s nothing. I just had a bit of an altercation with your neighbour over there.”
“I don’t know his name. I just knocked on the wrong door at first because his number was upside down.”
He rolls his eyes and shakes his head slightly. “Doesn’t surprise me. That guy’s a grade A fuckwit in my books. He’s some kind of artist and has girls streaming in and out of there all the time. He’s the kind of guy that gives the rest of us a bad name.” Shaking his head, he runs his hand through his sun streaked blond hair then abruptly pauses, tapping on his pockets before exclaiming, “Oh shit. I left my phone on the charger. Meet me downstairs in the car?” he says, as he passes me his keys.
Rolling my eyes at his absent mindedness, I can’t help but smile as I take the keys from him. Knowing Aaron, he’ll be another twenty minutes trying to find his phone too.
The moment I step in front of number six, the door bursts open, and my arm is caught by a very strong hand. I spin my arm around effectively evading his grip, and step away.
“What the hell is your deal!?” I hiss out, not wanting to cause a scene in the hallway.
“I’m sorry, ok – at first, I was just having a joke. But when I realised how young you are, I realised how dangerous it could be for you if this happened somewhere else.”
“I can look after myself,” I told him through gritted teeth, extending out my arm and pushing him in the chest. He doesn’t even move.
“Obviously,” he says, a slight grin turning up the corner of his mouth as he holds my eyes.
“Is everything ok?” Aaron asks as he emerges from his apartment. He moves to stand beside me, his arms crossed over his firm chest as he looks between myself and Damien.
“Aaron,” Damien says with a nod.
“Damien,” he responds.
“So, you dated a minor huh?” Damien starts.
“Fuck you. She was seventeen when we dated. The legal age is sixteen dickwad.”
“I was referring to the fact that legally, you aren’t an adult ’til eighteen. But if you want to tell me about your sex life, that’s fine too.”
“Um…guys. I’m standing right here,” I say, although my words fall on deaf ears.
“Well, we can’t all go around using the fact that we’re an ‘artist’ to trick girls into sleeping with us,” Aaron bites back, using his fingers to quote the word.
Damien presses his lips together as he regards Aaron, then turns his attention to the stairwell. “Speaking of art, here’s my next model now.” We all turn to see who he’s talking about, as the most gorgeous looking brunette I’ve ever seen walks, no, she slinks, up the last few stairs. “Sucks to be me huh?” he says, directing the comment at Aaron.
“Damien.” She oozes his name in greeting. “Are we having some kind of party?”
“No Bec, these two were just stopping by.” He steps to the side a little as she glides past us all and into his apartment. “It was nice to meet you Etta. I’m sure I’ll be seeing you soon.”
“I don’t think so,” I retort, feeling all agitated by that girl’s entrance, hating that in my mind, I’m comparing myself to her, as well as hating the pang of disappointment I feel over seeing her with him.
“We’ll see,” he grins, closing the door and leaving us both standing there.
“Don’t let him get to you. He’s just a jerk,” Aaron says, placing his hand on my back and guiding me toward the stairs.
“He doesn’t bother me,” I lie, pretending to shake off the interaction. “Although, what the hell is with this building? Are you only allowed to live in it if you’re ridiculously good looking? I feel like I’m on an episode of Next Top Model!”
“Do you think I’m ridiculously good looking?” he grins, nudging me lightly with his shoulder.
“You and Jeremy could be brothers, you look very much alike.”
“That’s not answering the question,” he laughs.
Rolling my eyes, I return his laugh. “You know I think you’re hot Aaron. You’re the man I got myself into a hell of a lot of trouble over,” I remind him, referring to the reason we were forced to break up. “Although, it’s lucky I refused to name you. I just called you ‘my boyfriend’, otherwise dad might have hunted you down and then pulled me out of school altogether.”
“The whole thing was a bit of an overreaction I thought, but hey – you’re almost eighteen. Freedom is on the horizon,” he affirms, opening the car door before I hop inside.
“He was just scared that I was going to end up like Craig,” I comment, defending my father. The loss of my brother is something my family felt intensely and as much as I’ve wished for my freedom, I’ve always understood my father’s motives.
When Craig was fifteen, he started rebelling against my dad. Being raised by an Aikido sensei meant that discipline and respect were a huge focus in our household, and as Craig got older, he felt that my father’s rules were too restrictive.
He started sneaking out with his friends, I don’t know exactly what they did – I was only twelve at the time – but I do know that he changed a lot in that last year. He was belligerent, and at times incredibly hateful toward my parents, and was always preaching to me about how the other kids are allowed to have fun and we should be able to as well.
I guess I admired him for standing up to my parents, which is why I never told them that he was climbing out of his window every night. Each night, when I went to bed, I would pull up my blinds and sit there, waiting until I saw him go. He always knew I was there, and would turn around grinning at me, pressing his index finger to his lips to remind me to keep quiet.
I would wave him off, and go to bed, trying to imagine all the fun he’d be having out there with his friends. In my mind, it was all parties and fun times – and I guess, based on how he died, it probably was.
Occasionally, he’d bring something back for me – a shiny stone, a hair clip – just silly things that he obviously came across while he was out having fun. He’d slide them to me surreptitiously at breakfast with a wink when no one else was looking, and I treasured each one like he’d given me a star from the sky.
Then spring came, and with it, the storms that swell the Nepean River to bursting point, increasing the speed of its current as the water rushes, carrying debris and other obstacles in its haste to return to the ocean.
A storm had raged for days, making it so that my brother was forced to stay home for a couple of nights. When the rains had finally cleared, I could tell from his demeanour that he was eager to leave and be with his friends.
I waved goodbye to my brother for the final time that night, and I’ll never forget that last grin as he ran toward his freedom, he didn’t even place his finger to his lips to remind me, he just smiled and ran into the night.
When I woke the next morning, it wasn’t to my brother, sitting at the breakfast table and the hope of a treasure. It was to my parents sitting on the couch, holding each other and crying as a police officer explained to them what had happened.
I stood by and listened as the officer spoke, saying that my brother and his friends had gone down to the river, drinking and messing about as teenagers are wont to do. At some point, my brother separated from the group and fell into the rushing water, and due to his inebriated state, he didn’t make it out alive.
Eventually, I felt so guilty that I broke down and told them that I knew he was leaving, as a result, it was deemed that I couldn’t be trusted and my life became school, home and study. Of course, as I got older, I started to rebel too. I guess I followed in my brothers footsteps a little too closely, because when my father caught me sneaking out my bedroom window, he immediately nailed it shut and after interrogating me about why I was sneaking out and who I was going to see, he forbade me to date and kept even closer tabs on my whereabouts.
And so, the countdown began. I decided that the moment I turned eighteen, I was moving out and having a life of my own – I can’t live with all that fear anymore. I miss Craig too. I just can’t mourn him forever. I need to live, and I know that’s what he would have wanted – he’d want me to be free.
“Let’s go and get your life back by finding you some place to live,” Aaron announces as he starts the car, breaking into my thoughts.
“Good idea,” I say smiling, knowing that wherever my brother is right now, he’d be smiling too.
You like?? I hope so, this has been in my head alllllllllll year! I can’t wait to release this book for you all to read!
It’s releasing on December 31st, although pre-orders are available on Apple – https://itunes.apple.com/au/book/drawn/id745273390?mt=11
or, you can add it on goodreads – https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/19172780-drawn where you can enter to win one of five print copies.
Have a wonderful day/night! and thanks for reading xoxoxox