White bandages were hidden beneath the loose sleeves of the oversized denim jacket that the girl in row 21 seat D wore. It was an overnight express that transversed several states, moving steadily towards various destinations that were all unknown, unheard of and, to the girl in row 21, completely unwanted.
Most passengers were sleeping, many drug induced so that they could awake, refreshed at their destination. Others simply read, listened to music, anything to pass the seemingly endless hours.
She had the seat to herself now, for half her journey there had been an elderly woman beside her, who, after her few attempts at conversation had failed, had huffed and decided to leave the rude, antisocial girl alone. As soon as the old lady had departed the girl had heaved her former school bag onto the seat beside her, a clear sign that no company was welcoming. Her hair hung heavy around her face, hiding the black circles that rimmed reddened eyes, the heavy make-up that failed to conceal her pallor. She had avoided all eye contact since she had been released from hospital… Since she had been admitted to hospital.
She didn’t want to be on the train. She didn’t want to be travelling from the city she had grown up hating to a part of the country she had never heard of, let alone seen. Three states had been crossed. Towns passed through. She was a problem that wasn’t wanted. A problem that couldn’t be abided. A problem that was, conveniently being shipped away to half-brothers that she hadn’t seen for ten years, whom neither of her parents could abide, who were having to deal with the problem that she was so clearly seen as.
People had stared at her all trip. Judging her. One woman had criticised her heavy make-up loudly, earning a contemptuous glare and music blasting so loudly from the ear buds connected to the iPod that half the carriage could hear. It had been the most obnoxious song she could find and the woman and her companion had moved, huffing and muttering as they did so.
Shifting, she winced, her whole body ached. Long hours spent on a train were not exactly how she had wanted to spend her first week of official summer holidays. Her eyes flickered to the edge of white that peaked from the sleeves of the too-hot jacket; the bandages were itchy, bulky under the sleeves. Being alive was not how she wanted to spend the first week of her holidays. Her lips pressed into a thin, frustrated line. She had failed in her desire for death and, instead was being sent to her brothers, the brothers that her father despised and that her mother loathed. According to her father - who had noticeably refused to look at his daughter on the one occasion he had visited her in hospital before unceremoniously dropping her at the train station, there would be no opportunities to make another, hopefully successful, attempt to destroy her life. He had been careful, one of her mother’s cousins sat in the seats opposite her. She was followed at all times. There was no chance, even on this train, to end her life: to escape.
The conductor’s voice cracked into life over the audio system and she yanked her ear buds out to listen to the nasal voice. Fifteen minutes and she would finally be at the town that her three older brothers lived near. Wonderful. Fifteen minutes before her life was finally made all the more hellish than it already was. She shifted, finally turning her angry gaze to the scenery that flashed by her window. Mountain ranges were close upon them; it was so different from her home. Cows grazed on open fields, orchards filled with fruit trees were scattered over the sloping lands. Her heavy sigh momentarily fogged the window. One prison to another.
The train pulled into the platform and she rose, snatching her bag and sending a withering look of contempt to Moira Clarke. “Duty is done you don’t have to follow me.”
“I follow until you are delivered to your brothers. Now, move.” The nasal voice was flat, cold.
A disgusted noise escaped her as she marched the narrow aisle and grabbed her suitcase, the items her parents had deemed worthy of accompanying her. The drop from train to platform was higher than she had anticipated and she sucked in a sharp, painful breathe as the multiple stitches holding the skin and muscles on her arms together pulled tightly. Her eyes swept the platform. The train would stop here for twenty minutes, convenient for Moira as long as her brothers were on time. She hoped they weren’t.
The old stone station appeared unchanged from when it had been built, according to the sign hanging below an old-fashioned clock, close to two hundred years previously. It was as if she had stepped back in time. Clearly, from the eyes of the dozen people that were unabashedly staring at her, the viewpoints had not changed since the 1800’s. She shifted, uncomfortable with the stares, eyes locked on the concrete, conscious of Moira standing closely behind her. Acting for all intents and purposes like a watch dog. An ugly, over-fed watch-dog.
“Beatrix!” A loud, cheerful, masculine voice called her name and she turned reluctantly to face the voice.
A tall man strode towards her, stopping only a foot away before he grinned boyishly. “Hey! You grew since I last saw you!” He hugged her.
Twisting away, cutting the embrace short, she raised an un-shaped eyebrow rose. “I was eight when you last saw me. You would want to hope I grew.”
David Milton’s eyes twinkled. “You have a valid point. It’s good to see you again.” He reached for her suitcase and their eyes locked in a silent battle before she released the handle. “You must be starving, we can grab something to eat and eat in the car or stop in one of the cafes. Entirely up to you.” He glanced towards Moira curiously.
“You are one of her brothers?” Moira stepped forward. The clothes she wore were too tight. Too young for her middle-aged body.
“I am.” David’s eyes swept over her. His lip curled in barely concealed disgust. “And you are?”
“Moira Clarke. Stephanie’s cousin. I accompanied Beatrix to ensure she didn’t try to do anything stupid. Again.”
“Right.” The disgust wasn’t concealed now and David glanced sideways at the stiff form of his younger sister. “Well, you can tell the witch that Beatrix is now safe. Away from your poison.”
“Let’s eat in the car? You must be looking forward to actually settling into a house.”
A half smile touched her lips as Moira visibly bristled. “Yeah, whatever.”
“Come one then.” He led her away, leaving the woman who had ‘delivered’ his sister to him staring after them with a look that could only be described an venomous.
“Gideon and Caleb are both dying to see you.” He hoisted the suitcase into the back of the large vehicle.
She snorted faintly as she pulled herself into the truck. Clearly they weren’t all that excited, neither of them were here.
David glanced at the girl seated beside him. She was so tiny, and the air of fragility that hung about her made his heart ache. She looked vulnerable, lost.
“Are you fussy about food?”
“Not vegetarian or anything?”
“Good!” He knew he was being too cheerful. “That’s a relief, we had this horrible thought that you might like tofu and none of us would know what to do with the stuff if they served it on a place in front of us!”
She glanced sideways at him from under mascara coated eyelashes.
“I already shopped for groceries, so we can grab some food and then head home; it’s nearly a two hour drive back home at the moment. We’ve had a really wet summer and the roads are pretty much a wash out. Normally it’s only about an hour trip.”
Beatrix frowned as she dutifully followed the tall man through the parking lot onto the main street. “Does it flood a lot?”
“Some.” David shrugged. “You get used to it after a while.” He glanced down at her again. Ten years and the beautiful girl they had loved had grown into a silent teenager who wanted to die. “Pretty different to the city, isn’t it?”
“We don’t have great cell reception at home and no internet, so, if you want to call your folks, or your friends to let them know that you got here you better do it now.”
“I don’t have friends.” Her voice was flat, devoid of any emotion.
God, he wished he had made at least one of his brother’s accompany him now. “Well, how about—”
“And Mom and Dad probably hoped the train would de-rail and finish the job I failed at. Moira would have been an unfortunate casualty.”
“Hey!” David sung her around to face him, his eyes, as green as her own, bored into her. “We are glad you are here, ok? That is all you need to know, we are glad you are here, no matter what the circumstances are. You are our sister and we love you.”
“You don’t know me.”
He squeezed her shoulder gently. “Well, if we love you now, just think how much we will adore you when we do know you.” He winked at her. “Now, in here are the best burgers and chips in the state! And their milkshakes, they are the best in the country! Now, very serious question! What is your favourite flavour?”
“Of milkshake?” Beatrix hazarded as she stepped through the door he held open for her.
“Oh no! This is a travesty!” Her brother was shaking his head sadly. “Caleb will crow about this for weeks. We have a bet, I said it would be strawberry, Gid figured on caramel and Caleb was set on chocolate.”
Rolling her eyes she spoke derision clear in her voice. “You are crazy.”
“Fast learner.” David congratulated. “Right, Jenna, Doll, one chocolate milkshake for my turncoat sister, strawberry for me, a beef burger, chips and for mademoiselle?”
Florence flushed miserably as the curious eyes of the young woman behind the counter stared at her.
“Just chips.” She mumbled.
David snorted. “And just chips for my sister. We are going to have to fatten you up, kid. If you want to freshen up, bathroom is over there.” A brief hesitation. “Only door is the one into the restaurant.”
Mumbling something incomprehensible she fled, not seeing the worried eyes that followed her or the helpless way her brother turned to the girl behind the counter.
“I have never hated my father more.” His declaration was soft, yet the harshness in his voice made Jenna Jukes sigh.
“Give her time, Dave. It’s been ten years since she saw any of you. Just give her a little time.”
“So, do you want to know anything before we get back to the farm?”
“Mom said you have people stay.”
“Yup, mainly friends, or friends of friends. People who were, or are in the military, and their families. One of Gid’s best friends, Jake Mitchell, lives at the farm permanently in a little cottage, he keeps to himself for the most part so you probably won’t see him much. Otherwise, people come and go as they please. They always call us about a week in advance so we know how many to expect.”
“Do they expect you to feed them?”
“Nah, most cook for themselves in the cabins. Some of Gid’s and Cale’s closer friends will stay in the house and eat with us but if you aren’t comfortable with that they don’t have to. It’s your house too.”
Beatrix remained silent as she stared out the window. Panic clawed at her, not only were there strangers in the forms of the brothers she barely remembered, but there were people she had never met.
“Do you remember seeing Gid and Cale after they came back?” David’s voice shattered the silence, he sounded wary.
“Gid’s in the wheelchair but otherwise he’s pretty healed up. Caleb… he’s… got some nasty scars.” The words felt like chalk in his mouth.
“I remember.” Her voice was flat. The scenery changed as they circled the mountain on a rough track and the air cooled with the forest canopy. The silence was awkward and she knew he would be searching for topics of conversation.
“So, do you have hobbies?”
An internal sigh, there it was, awkward small talk. “No.”
“Seriously?” David glanced at her. “You don’t do anything?”
“We have a heap of books, whole library full of them, bits of everything.” He navigated a particularly washed out area of road.
“What are your plans for next year?”
“Look, just because you were landed with me doesn’t mean you have to be all chummy. Feel free to ignore me for the entirety of all summer.” Her words were angry. Impassioned.
David was quiet for a moment. “I am sorry you feel that way,” he said finally. “But we want to get to know you better and hopefully spending this summer with you will help that goal.”
“Whatever. I don’t have plans. I was meant to be dead. Remember?”
The silence that fell was deafening. He had no idea of what to say to the explosion that had startled him, hurt him. He wished he had worked harder on making one of his brother’s accompany him… or, in all honesty, not argued with their offers.
The farm was beautiful, the old farm house had been built over one hundred years ago and modified every few generations to adapt to the changes the modern world brought. The Goodwin brothers had inherited the farm from their mother’s grandparents and they had expanded on the house, adding extra rooms for entertaining the guests they had on increasing frequency, all the modern delights of the twenty-first century clear in the white-washed home. The house was angled, sloped, beautiful; each new addition had been seamlessly added to conserve the beauty and the history of the old two story house. A wide porch wrapped around the entire house and big bay windows jutted into it. Beatrix stared at the house passively. It was gorgeous, that was easy to decide, but suddenly, the sharp, agonised longing to be back in her parent’s house, in the frigid, loveless house where she was confident she would be left alone. To plan a death that was fail proof.
Two figures were waiting on the porch close to where David pulled the vehicle up, gravel crunching under the tires. They were waiting for them, watching the vehicle and fear worked its way into her throat, suffocating her. She didn’t want this.