Everything was all over the place.
Nothing was marked. Not a single box. Maybe that was the reason why there was an avalanche of anxiety closing in around her chest. The woman she knew was extremely organised. She sighed heavily and wedged her knees between the small space of carpet in her new apartment that wasn’t engulfed with brown, cardboard boxes.
Just focus on one. One at a time.
Sienna smoothed her hand over the lid sealed with thick tape, completely unmotivated to tear it open. She knew herself better these days to know that her lack of OCD wasn’t the reason for her heart’s flightiness. It wasn’t even the unmarked boxes. It was everything else that led her to the very moment she found herself in. She never thought she would be doing this alone. But true to her deepest fears, here she was.
She would approach this as a new chapter. Starting over didn’t have to be a bad thing. There was much to look forward to! Wasn’t there?
She placed her feet either side of the box like a monkey from Madagascar, and with both hands aggressively tugged on the tape. Success. The thing completely peeled open, exposing the many books she had inside. There would have had to be about eleven or twelve more boxes filled with them. She was an avid reader, after all. It didn’t matter that she didn’t have a bookshelf of any kind to store them. Minor details. She would work it all out later.
Kind of like the rest of her life.
Come on, Sienna. Stop it. She took a breath out and stood to her feet. There were honestly boxes everywhere. This was overwhelming, but she had to be positive. She found a beautiful place, just a stone’s throw away from her new school. She wouldn’t have to worry about traffic again. That was a relief! And really, her place was almost double the size for almost half the price as her shoebox in Melbourne. This was fine. In fact, it was great.
She shifted her eyes uneasily to the side. Already she could see his name lighting the screen. She curled her foot over the edge of the phone and watched it fling across the carpet, stopping short somewhere under the couch her dad recently assembled for her. Who would have thought IKEA would have such decent stuff? She had scored a three-seat charcoal leather sofa for under $600. That was unheard of. But up until this year so had an IKEA being in Aringdale. The little town wasn’t so little anymore.
She glanced at her watch. It was just past seven. She was getting peckish. She opened her fridge door and smiled as her eyes landed on the vegetable lasagna sitting in the plastic container (compliments to IKEA) her mum had packed for her. No, she wasn’t one of those adults that relied on their parents to look after her. She more saw it as “making up for lost time”. There was something about old childhood meals that bonded a family. She now understood the reference from MasterChef that food was comforting. If it wasn’t for these Sunday “cook in bulk and pass on to your troubled daughter” meals, she might have crawled under that couch and given in to what would have to be over fifty messages from her cheating ex.
She glanced over at the couch just in time to hear her phone make that ting sound again. Honestly, she was an idiot for not having blocked his number but something about his persistence made her feel like she held the power. And as volatile as that was, she liked it.
Back to the lasagna. She opened the container slightly and popped it into the microwave. She reached high, opening the cupboard doors, trying to find where she had put the plates. She finally found them in the last one and groaned to see that she had just stuffed the cardboard box up there and hadn’t taken the time to unpack them. She rose to her tippy toes to take it down. She managed to edge it close enough for her to take hold of it with two hands when her phone started to ring. For some reason, the vibration it made under that couch was enough to give her a fright with its amplified boom.
Just like that, all of the porcelain plates were in pieces. The box exploded open on its landing because she was stupid enough to have removed the tape when she stuffed it up there. She lost her balance and placed her foot down onto one of the shards of glass. She let out a little scream as she clutched her foot and quickly assessed the damage. There was something stuck into the side of her little toe. She began to feel lightheaded even though blood was something her feet were accustomed to, seeing as she had been a ballerina for most of her life.
At that moment the microwave timer went off and her phone started ringing again.
‘Oh, give it a break,’ she whimpered and hopped over to the lounge room to try and find the brush and shovel (courtesy of IKEA once again). She knocked over a glass of water sitting on the edge of the counter as she passed. Like the plates, she helplessly watched it smash into tiny shards on the kitchen floor.
‘You’ve got to be kidding me!’ she said even louder, almost scaring herself at how quickly she has lost it. What was wrong with her?
There was a knock at her door. She froze, feeling the blood rush to her head which only made her feel even dizzier. She grabbed a sock from the couch and opened the door.
‘Are you okay?’
A man, maybe in his late thirties, stood before her with a suspicious, yet amused look on his face. His eyebrows were lifted in an unnatural arch. Well actually, his left one was lifted a lot higher than his right.
Sienna took hold of the door frame and curled her foot up under her in a pointed position behind her, already feeling the blood seep its way through. This cut was bad. She needed to have a look at it.
‘Oh fine! Yes, thank you.’ She smiled brightly at the man, not being able to turn her attention away from such an unusual eyebrow. It bore an uncanny resemblance to a caterpillar. She breathed in, feeling a wave of nausea sweep through her. Her foot was throbbing, bad.
The man seemed to sense that something was wrong and manoeuvred his head to peak into the apartment, kind of like an emu. Conveniently, the kitchen faced towards him, revealing the abstract display of smashed porcelain. The reminder for the microwave went off again just as her phone decided to ring in perfect unison with it. It sounded quite musical, actually.
The man chuckled and took a step back. ‘I’ll grab a broom’.
‘Oh, no. It’s just a little … accident … I’ve got it!’ she responded a little too enthusiastically.
He nodded and shifted his attention to her foot. ‘I’ll grab a bandage, too.’
She watched him dash off around the corner as she clutched her foot into her chest and let out a little whimper. Of course, it had to be a white sock. It looked like something from a crime scene the way the blood was spreading like wildfire, changing its colour like some sort of science experiment. By the time she looked around for something else he was back with a broom in hand as promised, and something strapped around his waist. She couldn’t help but chuckle at what looked identical to the first aid kit she would wear during her many lunch duties as a teacher.
This guy was quirky.
‘Which one do we tackle first?’ The guy smiled and looked at the broom then patted the white plastic pouch with the giant red cross on it.
‘A name might be a nice start, maybe?’ She let out an awkward chuckle, stubbing her foot against the door frame as she did so. ‘I’m Sienna,’ she said, taking the reins. The pain in her face was enough for the man to unclip the first aid kit and reach inside.
He smiled at her. ‘How on earth did you manage to do that to your foot, Sienna?’ He looked like he didn’t know whether to laugh or look concerned as he passed her an antiseptic spray and a really thick fabric band-aid. It all looked very serious and professional. He pulled out a metallic looking tool.
Were those tweezers?
‘Hey. No way, put that little device back where it came from.’ She laughed and took a step back into her apartment, freeing the entranceway.
‘I’m sorry. But from what I can gather, you’ve got a nice big chunk of glass in your foot. What else has caused all of that blood? Come on, we need to get that thing out.’
Oh gosh, the blood. She suddenly felt faint all over again. Her foot really was pulsing with sharp pain. He passed her the first aid kit, took the broom and made his way into the kitchen.
‘Hang on a sec. I don’t even know your name. You could be anyone.’ She laughed as she said it, but part of her was cautious. He could be a psycho for all she knew.
‘Daniel,’ the man said, beginning to sweep the porcelain into the shovel. He scratched his dark brown hair. ‘See? Now we aren’t strangers anymore. I promise I’ll stay in a tight vicinity just so you feel safe.’ He manoeuvred his broom around the kitchen as if he was on a mission with just one job to do. Maybe that’s all he was here for. To help. Too late now if he wasn’t.
With her eyes still on him, she took a seat at the end of the couch and started to sort out her foot situation.
‘I have to ask though,’ Daniel said as he looked up and flashed a grin. ‘What was going on in here? It sounded like you were beating yourself up?’
She dabbed her foot a couple of more times, screaming internally when she removed the shard. She took off the sticker from the band-aid. ‘Something like that. I mean, really, what else do people do for entertainment around here?’
‘That’s a fair question. I’m still figuring that one out myself.’
‘Was I that loud?’ she said, ignoring his comment.
He shrugged. ‘Well, yeah.’
He already seemed to be focused on the next thing. ‘Do you have a bin?’
She gritted her teeth together and shook her head. ‘Nope. I mean, I do…. somewhere,’ she said, looking around at all the unmarked boxes. Little details such as marking things as you go had cost her so much time.
‘It’s ok. I’ll take this out for you.’
‘Oh, thanks.’ She stood to her feet and placed her hands on her hips. She stared awkwardly at Daniel. He was done now, right? She appreciated his help. She did, honestly. But something about a guy she didn’t know being inside her house felt a little off.
‘I’m guessing you’ve recently moved?’ He was clearly up for a chat.
She studied him closely. She hated that she was so suspicious of everyone and everything these days. Gone were the days she could have a light-hearted chat with someone without wondering if there was some hidden agenda behind every word and action. It was as though Daniel could read between her eyes as these exact thoughts plagued her mind.
He leaned the broom against the counter and muttered something softly to himself that she couldn’t make out. ‘I think we’ve got this situation all under control. If there’s anything else you need don’t be afraid to give me a yell. I’m just a couple of doors down. The one with the barrel-shaped letterbox.’ He stood awkwardly, studying his shovel that was stacked full of her porcelain.
She took the first aid pack and handed it to him. ‘Thanks, Daniel. I appreciate your help.’ She realised she was still holding the tweezers in her hand. ‘Hang on, let me just give these a quick wash.’ She bolted for the sink in search for something sterile to clean them with.
Daniel waved his hand at her and shook his head. ‘Nah, nah that’s fine. I can do that. Easily done.’ He gently took them from her hands and made his way to the front door. ‘Are you sure you won’t go bashing yourself up again?’
‘Look, I can’t make any promises with those beastly boxes in my vicinity.’ She smoothed her hands over her frizzy blonde hair that had somehow escaped her once sleek ponytail.
Daniel let out a honk of a laugh and clipped the first aid bag back around his waist. ‘Good luck with that.’ He raised his predominant eyebrow once more. ‘Have a nice night, Sienna. I’m sure I’ll see you around.’
‘Night, Daniel. Thanks again.’
He gave a little wave with the broom and disappeared around the corner.
She darted between the boxes back to the microwave and set the timer for another three minutes. She made a mental note to drop into IKEA tomorrow after work to buy some more plates. She poured herself a glass of water and stared out the window, as the sun exuded pink and orange tones. There was nothing quite like a sunset in the country. It truly lit the whole sky.
Her phone started to buzz again. She placed her cup down a little too abruptly and belly dived to the carpet, reaching her hand under the couch. She took her phone in her hand and without thinking, swiped to answer.
‘Hello,’ she said vacantly.
‘Hey . . .’ his voice came slow on the other end of the line. She took a breath in and took a seat back at the counter. She didn’t say anything for a while, noticing the orange hues blending with the pinks more with every passing minute.
‘What do you want, Patrick? You need to stop calling me.’ She could hear his drawn-out sigh on the other end but it had no pull on her. ‘Look, I’m in the middle of dinner. I’ve got to go. Please, I would really appreciate it if you don’t call me again.’
‘Wait.’ His voice sounded pained.
She bit down on her bottom lip and squeezed her eyes shut and waited. She wouldn’t back down. Not now, not ever.
‘You’ve left some of your things here . . .’ his voice trailed off.
She remained quiet, reminding herself that she owes him nothing.
‘Your journals, S. You left two behind and . . . umm, well . . . I kind of read them . . .’
She opened her eyes, feeling the blood in her veins skyrocket to her head.
The timer went off on the microwave. Again. Was there a rule on how many times you could reheat food?
’You read my journals? You read my personal journals? Why would you do that, Patrick?’ She shouldn’t have cared but something about him reading what held the depths of her heart made her feel exposed. Exposed in a way he no longer deserved to know.
‘Yeah . . . I’m sorry.’ There was a pause. ‘But you know what? I’m glad I did. S, I wish I had known . . .’ He was on the verge of tears. She could tell. She knew all of his sounds, all of his expressions. She knew every detail about him. Or at least, she thought she did.
She frowned and tried to slow her breathing down. Even though she knew these things, it didn’t spark her curiosity in the slightest.
She honestly felt nothing.
‘Ok, great. I hope it was a good read for you. Take care, Patrick.’
‘S,’ he cut in. ‘I’ve got something else to tell you. Can we please talk in person? Just for a couple of minutes. It won’t take long.’
It was a nice try but there was no way she was going to go back there. She vowed to never see him again after that night she caught him with the woman from the café. The one with the cropped blonde hair.
‘S? It’ll only take five minutes. I promise. We don’t even have to meet at the apartment. It could be in a car park or outside a park for all I care. Please.’
‘Five minutes now, hey?’ She stood to her feet and wandered back over to the microwave and reset the timer again. The lasagna looked completely mutilated but she had no backup plan. This was as good as it was going to get tonight.
She plugged in another three minutes on the microwave.
‘I don’t think it’s a wise idea. I have no plans on heading to Melbourne anytime soon, anyway.’
‘I can drive to you. I don’t mind,’ his response came quickly as though he had already formed a plan.
She pulled the phone back from her ear and pulled a face. She wished she recorded this conversation. This had to be the first time he had ever offered to drive to Aringdale in over five years. It was actually quite comical.
‘Yeah, okay Patrick.’
‘Really?’ He actually sounded hopeful.
‘No.’ With that she hung up the phone and placed it on aeroplane mode so that she didn’t have to deal with him anymore tonight.
She finally settled down with her plastic container and took a bite as she stared out at the sky some more. By now the sun was nearly completely hidden behind the trees that stretched wide across her little backyard. She loved it here. She really did. She may not have been here long but there was something about being back in Aringdale that felt . . . right.
It wouldn’t be long until everything else would catch up with her and she would feel like herself again.
It was only a matter of time.