This is the beta version of my novel. If you are a new reader – welcome. You can read from the start here.
New sections are released every Tuesday and Friday. Please let me know your opinion in the comments section. Thank you for reading.
Artie crumpled the page and flung it away from her. The paper ball bounced off the arm of the garden chair opposite her and rattle-rolled across the patio. It came to rest in the shade of a hosta within a metre of four of its sisters.
Artie scrubbed at her face with the heel of her hand. The effort of chasing down and catching hold of a slippery memory was giving her a headache. And the bright sunlight glaring off the white page of her sketch book probably wasn’t helping. She squinted and began again.
All of her attempts to capture the lines of that strange face had failed. They just came out looking wrong. But was that because the original had looked wrong? She had been sure of it: Alex’s abductor was not human. But as for what he looked like…
All of her attempts to capture his face on paper had overlaid the real thing in her memory. Now when she tried to recall the encounter in the woods two nights ago the edges were blurry and she wasn’t sure what she had seen. Not human? Now she wasn’t so sure. Her perceptions had been skewed, by fear and by the darkness. What had she really seen?
She started the pencil across the paper again. The table jerked. A thick line of graphite scored the page. Artie looked up to see Alex’s bag of football kit on the table in front of her. The back door of the house slammed open. She saw her brother’s hunched shoulders vanishing into the kitchen.
James pulled out the chair next to Artie. “Hiya.”
“Hey.” Artie snapped her sketchbook closed.
“Being arty, Artie.”
“Because that joke never gets old.” She jerked her chin at the open door. “What’s got his pants in a bunch?”
James waggled the front of his T-shirt, letting the air in, and avoiding Artie’s look. He pursed his lips.
“What?” She folded her arms. “I know that I haven’t done anything more to upset him. It can’t be my fault.”
He shrugged his shoulders in a roll that went from left to right. “OK, but it is kind of your fault.”
Hands spread wide, Artie raised her eyebrows at him – so tell me.
“He got kicked off the football team.”
“My fault how?”
“One of the team said something about you. Alex overheard it and beat the sh–, I mean the snot, out of him to defend your honour.
“And you think that’s my fault.”
“No.” James sighed and quirked his lips. “Not really.”
Artie twiddled her pencil between her fingers. A breeze cast the smell of blossom across the table. Birds chattered in the tall hedge. And James was still not meeting her eyes.
“So who was it? And what did they say about me?”
Saved by the stroppy brother. Alex stomped out onto the patio and handed a can of cola to James, who grabbed it like a lifeline. Alex scowled.
“You told her I got kicked out?”
Engaged in emptying the can in one go, James only shrugged.
“Hey. Don’t I get a drink,” Artie said.
“Get it yourself.” Alex dropped into a seat.
Artie slammed her sketchbook down on the table and stood. “None of this is my fault.” Her brother stared pointedly past her. “You’re the idiot that got into a fight.”
Alex’s attention snapped to her. He pointed. “If you’d heard what Rob said-”
Heat invaded Artie’s cheeks. James and Alex exchanged a glance.
“What did Rob say about me?”
“The kind of stuff that you don’t say about a chap’s sister, alright?”
Artie fought against Alex’s stubborn stare. It devolved into a scowl.
He snapped. “Look, I don’t need any grief about this OK?”
Alex pushed back his chair and strode into the house. Artie raised both eyebrows at James, who turned helpless palms to the sky.
“I don’t know what’s with the boy.”
“He was pissed off at me because I told Mum and Dad about his sleepwalking.“ Artie snorted. “Now he’s doubly pissed off because I’m the reason he’s off the team. I can’t win.”
“Of course. It’s all about you.”
“Shut up. I didn’t mean it like that.”
James leaned towards Artie and put his elbows on his knees. “It wasn’t just the fight that got him suspended from the team. His game’s been dreadful. Today he spent half of practice staring off into space, and the other half being moody and snappish and viciously fouling anyone who came near him.
“Not just football. In college he’s been just as bad. Staring out of the window. Humming to himself.”
“The sleepwalking. Artie said.
James nodded. “It’s a good thing that you’ve got him going to a doctor about it. He needs to get this sorted before exams.
“Yeah.” Artie stared after Alex.
James drained the last dregs from his can and crushed it between his hands. “Right, if the diva isn’t coming back out, I’m heading home.”
He grabbed his bag and pulled it up with him as he stood.
“Hmm, bye.” Artie glanced up. “Wait. What did Rob say about me?”
James exhaled. “Sure?”
A flare of anger surged through Artie. “I’m not a kid. You two should stop trying to protect me.”
“OK. OK.“ James held his hands up in a placating gesture. “He said, direct quote: I’d do Artie Jacobs – even though she’s got no tits.”
Artie tried, and failed, not to look down at her chest. Small tits, but not no tits. The flare of anger settled into a different kind of heat: the sickly heat of humiliation.
“Hey.” James said. Artie looked up at him. “Don’t worry about it. All guys say stuff like that. Macho bravado bullshit. used to do it myself when I was playing hetero. Besides at least half of that statement was probably meant as a compliment. Probably.”