Lucas Crawford was thinking about only one thing when he arrived at the Crawford Estate. On any other day, he probably would have been thinking about the sheer size of the house, or about seeing his father for the first time in thirteen years. He also might have been thinking about his mother, or the life he had left behind.
What he was thinking about was the girl he met at the train station. Well, he wouldn’t say that he actually met her. No words actually passed between them. But they did look at each other. They locked eyes for much longer than would be expected of two complete strangers.
Because she was definitely a stranger. He definitely would have remembered those eyes. He didn’t know her. He wanted to. In that moment, something happened; something good, something nice. And goodness knows he needed something like that in his life.
So Lucas was thinking about the girl as he climbed the fifteen steps up to the front door of the main house. Before he could even try to locate the doorbell, the door opened, and there stood his father, looking nothing like Lucas remembered. There was a woman standing beside him.
They were looking at him kindly, somewhat pitifully, as if they knew his story. As if they could understand. They didn’t. Nobody could.
“Lucas, hi.” Michael Crawford waved his arm as he spoke, gesturing for the boy to enter the house. “Please, come in. Come, come,” he said, managing a smile.
For a moment, Lucas hesitated. This was all too weird; too foreign. He forced himself to take a step, and then another until he was walking. “Hi,” was all he said as he stopped about a metre away from the couple and turned to look at them. He didn’t face them head on just yet. He wasn’t ready for that. He kept his body slightly turned away, shielding himself.
Michael swallowed, sneaking a look at his wife for some courage. “How was your trip?”
Lucas just shrugged, choosing not to answer.
“We would have sent a car to fetch you from Milnerton, but I was under the impression you are a fan of trains.”
“Who told you that?” Lucas had to ask.
“Well, seeing as you’ve refused to speak to me on the phone, your grandmother told me. And I remember the look on your face when I bought you your first train set.”
Lucas frowned. His mother had bought him his first train set. How did his father even know about it?
“Lucas.” The woman beside his father spoke gently, stepping forward ever so slightly. “I am Ivan,” she said, smiling. “Michael, admittedly, hasn’t told me much about you, but I must say that I am very glad to meet you.”
Lucas would have passed some snide remark but he could tell she was being sincere. She seemed genuinely pleased to see him, which was something he definitely had not expected.
“You must be tired from the trip,” she said, understanding that he wouldn’t have responded to her words. “You probably want to get settled in. Come, let me show you to your room.” She started to walk, prompting Lucas to follow.
He did, in silence. He walked straight past his father as if he wasn’t even there and followed Ivan up the flight of stairs on his right. There were two. When they emerged on the first floor, she turned right and walked straight to the end of the expansive corridor.
“Your room is here on the right,” Ivan told him, coming to a stop at the door. “It is your space, and feel free to do what you want with it. I am all for freedom of expression. I saw to it that you would have everything you would need. We want only the best for our children.”
“That is what you are now, Lucas. I know you will fight it, and you will resent it. Michael will probably try too hard to enforce it, but I have no intention of rushing you. We are a very close family here, and now you are a part of it.” She smiled kindly. “Have a look in the room, decide what you want to stay, and we can remove the rest. If you need anything, we can always go to the shops tomorrow.”
Lucas let out a long breath. “Why are you being so nice to me?”
“Well, why wouldn’t I be?”
“I'm a bastard son,” he said, looking at her rather incredulously. “I'm a reminder of your husband’s infidelity.”
“Oh, Lucas. Michael never did cheat on me. What makes you think that?”
“I don’t know what you have been told, but I intend to be honest with you. We have a lot of time to discuss all of it,” she assured him. “All the kids went down to the beach so they won’t be back until much later. For now, I suppose, you can relax, go exploring, and we will see you for dinner at seven o’clock. Is that okay?”
Ivan started to move, walking past him. She was about a metre away from him when she stopped and turned back to him. “And Lucas?” She waited for him to look at her. “Don’t ever call yourself a bastard son. I won’t have that. Not from you, and not from any of the other children.” When she was sure he understood, she started walking again. She met Julian, their butler, on the stairs. He was carrying Lucas’ one suitcase and his tog bag, with his backpack hanging off of one shoulder. It was a bit of a struggle but he was determined to make only one trip up the stairs.
“Will you watch out for him?” Ivan asked him, stepping down to meet him. “I'm convinced he's not going to confide in any of us, so if he does turn to you; make sure you are available.”
Julian nodded his understanding as he stepped aside to allow her passed. “Of course, mam.” He took a deep breath before he climbed the last few steps. Lucas was walking towards him when he finally emerged on the first floor.
“I can take that,” Lucas said, reaching for his tog bag. “And that.” He gestured for his backpack. “I was coming to get them.” He made a move to take the handle of his suitcase but Julian shook his head.
“We’ll walk together,” Julian spoke softly, warmly. In his years as a butler to the Crawford family, he had learned a great deal of patience. He saw things and heard things that he wished he hadn’t, and it took only a man of his caliber to carry it all with him.
Julian Leonard Barkley was fifty two years old, with a considerable pension, and yet no family of his own. Sometimes, when he was in the presence of the Crawford children, he was exceptionally thankful of that fact, but there was a large part of him that was convinced he missed out on something truly beautiful about the world.
“I'm Lucas, by the way,” Lucas introduced himself, trying to be polite.
“Julian,” he offered, smiling. “It’s nice to meet you, young man.”
Lucas didn’t know what more to say. He didn’t handle these sorts of situations very well. He wished his mother were around to rescue him.
“I'm sure you will find your room very accommodating,” Julian said as he followed Lucas into the large room. “I arranged it this morning, with the help of our dear little Ivy. I think you'll find that she is rather fascinated by the prospect of you.”
“Who is Ivy?” Lucas asked, trying to take in the size of what was now his room. He was convinced it was about the size of the entire apartment he had lived in with his mother. It was overwhelmingly white. His linen on his oversized bed was shockingly white, like it had never been used. The curtains, falling from roof to ceiling, looked like they weighed a ton; they were also white. The walls were white, and the furniture was white. He could just see into the bathroom, and it was filled with a lot more white.
It was some other kind of canvas.
“Ivy is the youngest daughter,” Julian explained. “She is ten years old. Then there is young Salvador, who just turned fourteen the other day. Leila is fifteen, and is probably the closest to your age. Her room is actually exactly opposite yours, but I wouldn’t expect much interaction from her. She, I suspect, like you, likes to keep to herself.”
Lucas stopped looking around and turned to face Julian. “I was under the impression there were more than three children.”
“There are,” Julian continued. “The oldest Crawford, Paula, no longer lives at home. Then there are the twins, Ross and Duncan, who are twenty one. They live out there, in the cottage.” Julian pointed towards the balcony’s glass sliding door.
Lucas looked out at another smaller building. It had a beautiful front patio that was built at a lower level to the main house’s ground floor.
“If you need me, I am around,” Julian offered. “Let me leave you to unpack. If you require any help, do let me know. Also, if you would like the grand tour before the other children get home, just find me. I'm usually in the kitchen.”
Lucas just managed a smile.
“Until then,” Julian murmured, as he started to back out of the room.
“Thank you,” Lucas said softly, watching as the man closed the door behind him. There was a short moment of panic where Lucas was convinced he would burst out crying, but the feel of his phone vibrating in his pocket stopped him. It was his grandmother. He waited another ring before he answered.
“Oh, Lucas, thank goodness you’ve arrived safely,” she exclaimed, overreacting as usual. “Donald has been filling my head with all sorts of things that could have gone wrong.”
“I'm good, Granny,” Lucas assured her. “I met his wife.”
“And how is she?”
“I'm not sure,” he admitted. “She seems nice enough. I think maybe she’s using psychology on me.”
“It’s okay for you to like her, sweetheart.” Gene Hudson was determined to be gentle with her only grandson. “She has done no wrong by you. I know you will be well mannered and kind to her.”
“But not to him?”
“Well, that is your decision. I can’t tell you how to respond to your father. All I can tell you is that you are not doing a disservice to your mother by giving him a chance to make amends.”
“What if I'm not ready?”
“Then you're not ready,” she said, speaking slowly. “When you are, you'll know. Nobody expects anything from you. Not now, not for a while. Not so soon.”
“How are you, by the way?”
“I caught a bit of a nap when you left, but Donald woke me up prematurely. I swear, one day I'm going to smother this man in his sleep.”
Lucas laughed. “Remind me when the wedding is?”
“As soon as possible – you know how these men can be like; they just drop dead whenever Delia’s granddaughter comes to visit.”
He laughed again. “Well, she really is quite the looker. What did you expect?”
“They need to arrest her; that’s what I think,” she told him. “But anyway, I'm glad to hear you’ve arrived safely. We’re about to head in for a game of Bridge. I should probably go before Donald herniates. You will call me if you need anything, right?”
“Of course.” Lucas tried to sound sincere. The truth was that he probably wouldn’t be bothering her with phone calls too often. She had already done so much for him, and the least he could do was allow her to live her life.
“Good boy.” Gene could tell he was lying, but she didn’t mention it. She needed him to know that she would always be there for him, no matter what.
“Talk to you soon, Gran,” Lucas said, managing to keep emotion out of his voice. “And thank you for everything.”
“Anything for you.” She had to make sure he knew.
And he did know. When he finally hung up, he felt this wave of sadness wash over him. He wasn’t angry. He just felt sad, lost and severely spiritless. In a few short weeks, so much about his life had changed. Too much.
Lucas sighed. “Welcome to Burbidge County,” he mumbled, looking around again. He walked towards the desk in the room. It was also white. Surprise. But he was more focused on the iMac computer on the desk. Also, just to the right of the computer was a closed MacBook Pro. As if that wasn’t overwhelming enough, on one of the tables beside the bed, there was an iPad, and an iPhone.
Lucas almost started laughing. “What? No iPod?” he asked sarcastically, shaking his head. That’s when he spotted it. There was an iPod Touch plugged into a socket on the wall by the light switch, which was also next to the temperature control. Lucas didn’t quite believe it. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
Feeling oddly overwhelmed, he started to unpack. He started with his backpack, mainly because it held the more important things in his life. He took out his wallet and checked it, cringing at the sight of his ID picture. He didn’t have much cash in it, and he thought it would be best to keep it that way.
His grandmother has taken him to change the settings on his student account at his national bank. After he sold most of the furniture in the apartment, he had more money in his account than he could have ever dreamed. But it never would have been enough to insure his survival alone. Not for long anyway. That was why he was here, now living with complete strangers, who he was convinced didn’t want anything to do with him.
Next, he took out his mother’s jewelry box. It was small and wooden, with an eastern European design on its top. He once asked her about it, and she hadn’t given him much of an answer. Just that her father, a Croatian immigrant, who was killed in an aircraft accident, gave it to her. Lucas never met his grandfather, and neither his mother nor his grandmother liked to speak about him.
Lucas emptied out his most prized CDs, DVDs and books. He used to have a better collection but the bulk of it remained, boxed up, with his grandmother. He picked his favourites – the ones that meant the most to him – to take with him. In all honesty, his choices tended to remind him of his mother.
He also had a single picture frame. He smiled at his mother’s sunshine face, wishing above anything in the world that it could be returned to him. He moved to set the frame down on the table beside his bed, along with the little jewelry box. He wanted them to have their own space so he opened the single drawer to put away the iPad and iPhone, but what he found was even more of a surprise. It was a set of keys. Car keys. And what he believed was a garage remote, labeled thirteen.
His eyes opened wide before they narrowed. He didn’t know why but he suddenly felt angry. What were these people trying to do? He slammed the drawer shut, and stood up straight. He was sure they weren’t trying to buy him, but it sure felt like that. Were they trying to make him feel bad for the life he had missed out on?
From the way Ivan came across, he was convinced that they were just trying to make sure that he had everything he would ever need, in case he felt like he couldn’t ask for anything. Well, now he really felt like he couldn’t ask for anything. This was too much.
Lucas calmed down enough to finish with his backpack, packing things away in the desk drawers and on the shelves above the desk. He started on his tog bag next. At the top, he found his boxing gloves. Without a boxing bag, they wouldn’t be much use. Beneath the gloves, he found his baby blanket. It was soft blue that had been washed much too many times. He threw it over the white pillows, choosing not to go down memory lane. Not yet. He wasn’t quite prepared for that.
Underneath his two towels, Lucas found them. And he immediately smiled. He took them out one by one, piling them up on the desk, after he had moved the laptop and pushed the computer to the side. He arranged his assortment of license plates by size until the tog bag was empty. He admired his collection for a long while, thinking about where he would put them. He would put them up on a wall, he was sure, but which one? And how would he put them up without leaving marks on the perfect white wall?
He moved on to his suitcase, deciding that he still had time to think about where to put the license plates. Well, of course he did. He had the entire summer, didn’t he? Mainly his clothing was all that was in his suitcase. He was sure it wouldn’t take him too long to unpack it all.
“What?” Lucas asked himself, opening the closet doors to reveal floor to ceiling shelving. “It’s not a walk-in?”
Lucas used different compartments for his jeans, t-shirts, shorts and pyjama bottoms, before he slid open a new closet door. He didn’t have much to hang up. He owned two smart shirts and three checked shirts. All of which would need to be pressed before he wore them again. At the bottom, he laid out his four pairs of shoes. He owned two pairs of black All Stars, of which he was wearing one. He had a pair of running shoes, a pair of blue Supergas and a pair of flip-flops.
His toiletries were all together in his small toiletry bag, which he carried with him into the bathroom. He had expected it to be big, but never that big. It was easily ten metres in length; the same as the actual bedroom with extra cupboards to his left. There was a freestanding white bathtub in the middle of the bathroom that oddly made him smile. It was something his mother definitely would have loved.
The windows were forest glazed, but he knew that he would have to close the blinds before he even considered getting undressed. One couldn’t be too cautious. But it was the size of the shower that really got to him. It was probably the size of a small car. He set his little black toiletry bag beside one of the two white basins before he headed back into the bedroom. He stopped in the doorway though, noticing that the bed was facing a little to the right, instead of perfectly straight. He looked in the direction it was facing. It was just some more closet space, surely.
The short closet doors opened up towards him, revealing a large flat-screen television. “Lest, how could we forget?” he asked sarcastically, stepping back to take it in.
He found a cooling drawer after he packed his socks and underwear in the top drawers of the chest of drawers. The drawer beneath the television was actually a cooler, already stocked with drinks and a few snacks. Lucas was sure all if it wasn’t happening. He came from next to nothing. Nothing. To this.
He finally finished unpacking, and packed away his suitcase, tog bag and backpack in the bathroom cupboards, where he had discovered another television, before he sat down in one of the white armchairs in the room. He wasn’t sure what to do. He was sure he actually didn’t want to do anything. He felt tired, rather worn out, like everything that had happened recently was just catching up to him.
Without contemplating his decision, he rose to his feet, kicked off his shoes and lay down on the massive bed. His body relaxed almost instantly, and he drifted into an unexpectedly calm sleep.
“Do you want one of us to go up and get him?”
Duncan asked Ivan, looking unusually concerned. It didn’t quite suit his face
to be at all worried about anything that didn’t directly involve him.
“No,” Ivan responded, looking towards the bottom of the staircases. “I told him seven o’clock. He’ll come down himself. We don’t want to scare him.”
“Just the number of us would be enough to scare him,” Ross pointed out, receiving nervous laughter.
“Imagine how he feels,” Paula said softly. “I would leave it to the last second as well.”
Ivan turned to look at her six children. They might not have all been biologically hers, but she would never have been able to see them any other way. “Don’t interrogate him,” she warned. “Ask a few questions, yes, but try not to come on too strongly. He’s quiet, and I suspect quite shy and overwhelmed. And don’t be surprised by how much he looks like your father. I was.”
Michael cleared his throat, seeing a figure appear at the bottom of the stairs. “He’s coming.”
“Act normal,” Salvador instructed, turning to talk to his younger sister.
Lucas walked slowly, unsure of where to go at first. At the bottom of the stairs, he turned away from the front door and walked straight. He was going to leave the house, and walk out onto the dimly lit back stone patio, where they were all waiting for him. He hesitated, wishing for a moment that he could just disappear.
“Lucas,” Ivan called to him, noticing his hesitation. “Come meet everyone.”
He took steady steps towards her. Indeed, there was an everyone. Nine human beings were all looking at him, taking him in, each with a glass of some drink in his or her hand.
The main thing that struck them all was that Ivan was right. It was true. Lucas did look a lot like Michael. He had the same grey eyes, the same wave of brown hair and even the same sideways smile. He looked very serious, just like his father, but, like Michael, Lucas looked capable of revealing a totally different side.
“Lucas, this is our family,” Ivan began to introduce them all. “Ivy, Salvador, Leila, Duncan, Ross, Paula, and her fiancé Rafael.”
Lucas just managed a smile. “Hi,” he said softly, lifting his hand in a weak wave.
“It’s nice to meet you, Lucas,” Paula said kindly, feeling the awkwardness descend on them. “Have you settled in all right?”
He nodded. “I have, thank you.”
“So, Lucas?” It was Duncan. “You play football?”
“I don’t, no; I'm not a particularly sporty person. I like to watch it though.”
“Oh yeah?” Salvador came to life. “We’re all Hawks fans in this house – who do you support?”
Lucas smiled. He actually smiled. “The same.”
“Must be a Crawford thing,” Ross said, stepping forward. “Can I get you a drink or something? Anything to put in your hands there, bud; they're shaking like crazy.”
Lucas looked down at his hands, only noticing how they were literally vibrating from nervousness.
“I should tell you that the legal drinking age in this house is eighteen,” Ross continued, sounding amused. “So, are you of age?”
“I'm not,” he answered truthfully. In fact, he wouldn’t have had a drink if he had been offered one. “Water is fine for me,” he added.
Ross took a bottle of water out of the cooler on the patio and handed it to Lucas, nodding at the boy’s thank you before he returned to his original position between Duncan and Paula.
“So, Ivan,” Paula said, thinking it would be best to take the attention off of Lucas, just to allow the boy to relax. He looked so tense; she was sure his muscles might never recover. “Regina called me today – she says the bowl we chose isn’t available on the day, so we have to go down and pick a new one.”
“Ah no.” Ivan sighed. “But none of the other choices was remotely as nice.”
“I know,” Paula added sadly. “Everything is just going wrong.”
“No it is not,” Rafael assured her, putting an arm around her waist. “Our wedding is going to be perfect.”
Lucas wanted to ask when the wedding was but he didn’t want to have people looking at him again.
“The first week of August,” Michael said, confusing them all. “The wedding is in the first week of August,” he answered Lucas’ silent question.
“Thanks for reminding us, Dad,” Paula said, faking irritation. She shook her head at her father before looking at Lucas. “It’s great that you're going to be here for it.”
He smiled again, feeling her sincerity in the way she spoke. “How did you two meet?” he asked, oddly curious. “If you don’t my asking.”
“Gosh.” Paula looked at Rafael. “I don’t think we’ve ever told that story, have we?”
“I know I haven’t,” he said, showcasing his heavy Spanish accent again.
“Tell it then,” she said, kissing the underside of his chin. “But go slowly, and in English, preferably.”
They all laughed, leaving Lucas wondering what the joke was.
“Okay.” Rafael looked at Lucas. “Paula and me, we go to the same college. One day, I see her walking. I don’t know who she is or where she is going, but I just know that I have to talk to her. I have to tell her she is the most beautiful woman on earth.”
Paula just looked at him.
“So I go to her, and I stop her. You should have seen the way she looked at me, like I am some crazy person. I asked her many questions, and she lied about every one. She told me her name was Patricia, and the number she gave me was not real. I asked her if I could walk her to wherever she was going, because it wasn’t safe to be walking alone.”
“Alone?” Michael asked curiously, looking at his oldest daughter.
“I know, Dad, but just know that nobody likes to go to the library, so I have to go by myself.”
Rafael laughed. “You mean you were actually going to the library? You didn’t lie about that?”
“I don’t think that is important right now, baby,” she told him. “Continue with the story.”
“Well, I can tell you that she made me work very hard for it. I had to find her again, somehow, and convince her that I wasn’t, umm, what did you say? A crazy psycho killer?”
“And after I realised he wasn’t a crazy psycho killer, I agreed to go on a date with him,” Paula added. “And now I'm going to spend the rest of my life with him.”
“It was the accent,” Leila said, speaking for the first time. “It’s just so sexy, I'm sorry, but it just is.”
“Okay, easy there.” Paula looked at her.
Rafael laughed. “So that is how we met,” he said, looking into Paula’s eyes. “I saw her, and I knew. I knew I had to have her.”
Everyone smiled. Including Lucas.
“I think that Paula here was more frightened by the accent at first though,” Rafael joked. “I sometimes think it makes me sound unintelligent. But in Spanish, I speak fluently, and then I sound intelligent. But nobody would understand me here.”
“I would,” Lucas said, in English. Then he spoke in Spanish, which translated to English, as, “I find it somewhat comforting that I'm not going to be the only new addition to the family.”
Rafael smiled. “You speak Spanish?”
“Very well, I might add,” he added, switching back to English. “I don’t think you would learn that dialect in school though.”
“I didn’t,” Lucas explained, doing the same. “My grandmother was a language professor, so she has spoken to me in foreign languages my whole life.”
“What other languages can you speak?” Salvador asked.
“Umm, not all of them fluently, but I know quite a bit of French, German, Italian. But Serbian Croatian is probably the language I know best.”
Lucas nodded. “I'm really European.”
“Do you have any idea how much money we could make off of you?” Duncan asked. “Ross, we could hustle all sorts of suckers.”
“Oh, boys,” Ivan reprimanded, shaking her head as she laughed at how silly they could be.
Just then, Julian came through a set of doors to Lucas’ left. He was grateful he hadn’t walked into ongoing conversation. “Dinner is served,” he said, as he said every single day in the Crawford household.
Again, Lucas was overwhelmed by the size of the dining table. It was long enough to fit at least thirty people, which was just preposterous to him. The large room was dimly lit, which was very calming. The windows were open wide, allowing the warm summer breeze through. It was both welcoming and uncomfortable at the same time.
The dinner itself was quiet, calm. He was asked a few questions about the foods he liked and what sort of music he liked to listen to. He kept his answers short, precise, mainly because he didn’t trust his voice.
After dinner, Lucas excused himself to go to the bathroom. Leila pointed him in the direction of one of the downstairs bathrooms. From the second he walked in, he knew it was probably his favourite room in the entire house. It was amazingly clean, and smelt refreshing. The orange and yellow colour scheme made him feel warm, happy. And it was big enough for him to move in.
When he was done, he waited a little longer. His footsteps were quiet as he emerged. So quiet that nobody heard him coming.
Paula, Ross and Duncan stood near the main set of back doors, talking quietly with drinks in their hands. The whole family had gathered outside on the patio.
“I guess we don’t need a DNA test now,” Ross whispered, but still loud enough for Lucas to hear. “He looks more like dad than any of us combined. It’s almost uncanny.”
“Well, what did you think?” Paula asked, also whispering. “Dad and Ivan wouldn’t just let any kid come live here if they weren’t sure.”
“Well, you’ve heard what his mother was like. We have a right to be concerned,” Duncan added, speaking a little louder than his siblings. “I still think we should do it; just to be sure. I mean, we have to be careful. We are all Crawfords after all, you know?”
“No, now you're just being paranoid,” Paula pointed out. “He seems nice enough, quiet, kind, even smart. Oh gosh, then he really isn’t one of us.”
They all laughed at that, and Lucas felt himself get angry. He stepped through the doors, silencing them, and walked towards the cooler where he picked up a bottle of water. He then walked towards Ivan, who was speaking to Rafael. He told her he was going to bed and thanked her for dinner.
“But it’s still so early,” she said, trying to get him to stay.
“It was a long trip,” he told her. “I'm feeling quite tired.”
She allowed him to go, of course, and as she watched him walk away; she felt like she had lost him. She felt like something had happened, and they had somehow ruined it. She didn’t know why she felt it, or what it meant, but she felt very saddened by it.
Lucas walked towards the group of older siblings. He stopped right in front of them, aware that they hadn’t uttered a word since his return. Lucas made a show of drinking from the bottle, even licking the top for effect. Then he handed the bottle to Ross.
“Thought I would save you the trouble,” he said slowly. “That should be enough for your little test, I'm sure.” Then he walked away, and back up to his room. He was feeling tired and utterly defeated, but it was still a couple of hours before he did fall asleep. He spent a couple of minutes on the phone talking to his friends back home. It just made him miss his old life even more. But it was gone now. Just gone.
He rolled over to look at the picture of his mother. He half smiled at it, remembering the day he had taken it. It had been quite a terrible day, but even then she could bring joy to his life. Even then.