That night on Throckmorton Street, all hell broke loose.
Truth to tell, we should have seen it coming. Someone should have. Jack, maybe. He knew a lot about a lot. Though I doubt if anyone could have predicted we were going to set a world record for moving into and out of a new house – all in the same week!
Not that we knew about the murders. At least, we kids didn’t. I suspect Jack, our step-dad, did. And Mum … I think she must have known.
She’d had a chance to score a big promotion by moving to her company’s new office here in Gabriel Falls. And Jack, who’d been married to Mum for nearly two years, had been talking about leaving his job at the ad agency (where he seemed to feel like a frustrated poet) and becoming a freelance copywriter, so they went ahead and made all the arrangements.
For me and my sisters, Shelley and Sybil, it was school holidays, so the timing fell right in place. But the first time I saw thirteen Throckmorton Street, I’ll admit a chill came over me.
I’d like to tell you it was some kind of premonition and I’m psychic (like Claire, who you’ll meet later); but I’m not; I’m just a gawky teen dweeb named Stan. Stanley Samuel Skelton, to be exact. Isn’t that a handle? Add to that I’m tall and skinny and inclined to be clumsy when I’m supposed to be graceful (like walking up to the front of the class to make a speech). I’m told I blush when I’m around girls, and I hate the way my straight black hair falls across my forehead, no matter which way I comb it.
Sybil says that next Halloween, I should take all my clothes off and go to her party as Stan Skeleton. She reckons I’d scare everyone silly! She may be right.
Sybil and Shelley are my younger sisters – twins – though they’re anything but identical. Sybil is the one who, if you’re kind, you’d say has personality (though sometimes Jack tells her she just has an attitude). Sybil is the bossy but motherly one who likes to take charge when Mum and Jack aren’t around. She’s short and pale with straggly black hair, suspicious little brown eyes and ears that kind of stick out. Also, her nose is kind of pointy. She isn’t a cover girl. She couldn’t even do voice-overs for a cover girl. Not that her voice is bad, but her laugh – how do I describe it? Like sandpaper on steel with a dentist’s drill thrown in. Sybil’s laugh is made for Halloween.
Shelley, on the other hand, could make it as a teen model. She could also do voice-overs. But her strength is visual. I know it’s not cool to say these things about your sister, but Shelley is … well, she’s a doll. She has a heart-shaped face, blue eyes that look green when she’s sad, and pale brown hair she wears swept back from her high forehead. She’s mostly sweet, but can be a devil when she doesn’t get her way, and Sybil is always coming up with new ways to make her look bad in front of Mum and Jack.
All things considered, Jack is a pretty good guy. The girls don’t remember our dad at all; but I do. Just little things like having his arm around me when he read picture books, or the thrill of excitement when I’d hear his car come crunching up the drive at the end of the day. And the way he smelt sometimes, like a mixture of aftershave and sweat. No one else has ever smelt that way. Not even Jack. And the good thing about him is that he doesn’t try to take Dad’s place. That’s why he lets us call him by his first name. That’s pretty cool. And he is pretty smart, even if at times he’s also pretty sneaky.
Mum adored our dad, and after he passed, became sole head of the house; she’s learnt to rely on herself. I was two when Dad had the crash, and the girls were babies. It must have turned Mum’s world upside-down. I guess that’s why her career is so important; as long as she can earn a living, she can take care of her family, no matter what, and that’s everything to her. She seems to make a good living in telecommunications (I don’t know how much or doing exactly what), and she’ll be managing the Gabriel Falls office, which is a promotion, so she’ll be able to work all the hours she needs, with Jack setting up his office at home, where he can keep an eye on us ne’r-do-well kids.
I miss Mum sometimes, when she works long hours, and moving to a new town means having to make new friends, break in new teachers (when school starts) – it’s a lot.
Of course, there was packing, unpacking, the squabble over who’d get which room, and to make it interesting, Sybil kept running around yelling “Freeze!” and taking your picture with the Canon camera she got for her birthday. Of course, Sybil’s birthday is also Shelley’s birthday, and she got a cosmetics kit, which she uses like an expert, making herself look just like one of the models whose faces she’s got plastered up all over her walls.
The girls have separate rooms on the first floor, where the master bedroom is. Downstairs are the kitchen, dining room, living room (complete with fireplace) and built-in verandah. Up on the second floor are my room, a storage room across the hall, and a door that opens on a skinny staircase that leads up to an attic.
Sybil is jealous that I get my own bathroom; but after my first night in that room, I’d have gladly swapped places, and that’s no lie. Sybil’s such a tomboy, she probably would have accepted, and then I’d be stuck with towels and make-up and girl-stuff everywhere, and would totally lose my privacy. A man needs that. Even a man of sixteen. Sybil wouldn’t understand.
Just as there was a lot I didn’t understand as I stood on the street looking up at thirteen Throckmorton Street and feeling that weird chill come over me.