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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Still editing my Stephanie story.

4th October 2006

Hi
It was my birthday last week and my husband took me for dinner to the City Tatterstalls Club in Sydney. They have a small menu but the food is great as is the service. And you feel spoilt. I loved it.
I had a ball on Sunday. Had the family over and we ate, drank and laughed. My granddaughter is talking a bit. She says dad, mum, car, and mocca - which is the dog's name. I found out that my brother-in-law and his wife are thinking of moving. My husband's cousin has his house on the market and it will be going to auction next week. My extended family is on the move, so it seems.

I am still working on another draft of my Stephanie story. On Monday my husband and I went looking at houses again. We're going to build next year. We built the house we live in now. After it was finished, I swore that I would never do it again. I must be crazy. My daughter and her husband are coming over to stay tonight. They live 2 hours away. I can't wait.

Every day is a blessing. As I write this blog, someone in the world has died and someone in the world has been born.

Be kind to someone today. Your kindness will return to you twofold.

Olga:)

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Stephanie - new draft

20th September 2006
Another busy week. I've been trying to do too much as usual. Had my hair cut on Monday. My hairdresser's such a wag. He cheers me up every time I go there. But this time he had some bad news. His cat had died. I was very sad for him. I'm going up the coast to a place called Toowoon Bay. I love it there. Hope to enjoy some sun, swimming, walking on the beach and just veging out.

Here's my next draft on my Stephane story. I have noticed some of my formatting goes crazy when I copy and paste it here. There's nothing I can do about it. If you like what you read, please, please send it to any publishers you can think of. And thanks very much if you do.

Life is but a single grain in a bed sand.
Some are larger and make more of an impression.
Most are small, lost amongst the crowd.

Some are blown about by wind to settle where fate drops them
Others seek temporary escape in the river of life
The best are warmed by the sun and enjoy love and friendship

Which grain are you?

Bye for now.

STEPAHANIE
© Olga Segal 2006

Prologue


He waited inside his van until the streetlights came on and the evening dusk became night. A Californian sea breeze came up and set the oak trees rustling and throwing dancing lamp lit shadows on the sidewalk.
He reached for the bottle of water beside him, and took a mouthful; all the while, he watched the house opposite. A light came on in what seemed like a bedroom, and then went off. He opened the car door with care so as not to make any noise. Then he walked casually across the road, skirted the large oak tree at the side of the drive, and whispered across the lawn and down the side of the wooden front porch.
The soft flickering glow from a television seeped under the curtains at the back living area. Satisfied that someone was home, he retreated across the lawn to the garage, crept down the side nearest the house and looked for a door, and he stumbled on the uneven pathway.
He did not curse; he was too focused on his mission. The darkness, like an enveloping blanket blinded him and he pulled out a tiny pocket flashlight and shone the beam low on the garage wall. He located the back entrance to the garage and killed the light.
Once inside, he shone the light on the Ford, opened the door as quietly as he could and waited. No one came.
Then he reached under the driver’s side to release the hood. He slipped out and shone his flashlight on the engine. When he found the hydraulic brake fluid line, he pulled a spanner from his back pocket and loosened the nut on the clamp holding the line in place so the next time the vehicle was driven, it would fall off.
Once the job was done, he returned to his van. Climbed in and waited. It took about an hour before the external lights to the home went on. A man and his son came outside. The man opened the garage door, secured the child into the passenger seat, and then reversed the car.
He smiled to himself as the Ford disappeared down the road.


CHAPTER 1


Little did Stephanie Kelly know that her life would be challenged by a simple thing like a mail delivery.
When the buzzer outside the glass security door to the laboratory sounded, Stephanie looked up to see the mail girl in the hallway with a wad of letters in her hand. She turned the light off on the microscope, set down the slides of tissue cultures she had been checking for signs of necrosis, peeled off her disposable gloves, and undid her mask and cap as she walked to the door,
They exchanged small talk for a few minutes as she accepted the letters. Stephanie let the heavy door close, pushed back a stray lock of thick-black hair from her face, and went back to her office.
Her research on fibrocystic and stromal breast tissue had kept her busy at the Los Angeles branch for the previous five years until a fire burnt down the laboratory and some of the offices, and made her move to their branch in Arizona, a subsidiary of Rigby Research Inc. She worked in tandem with Dr. Richard Dixon ran the Arizona labs.
Greed did not propel them to delve into a sphere where there was much money to be made, but a genuine concern that they could make a difference to women. Only this excited her and gave her a reason to live. The other reason had been severed so suddenly a year ago that it festered in her mind like a parasite.
She roughly sorted the mail into bills and advertising. The latter she threw into the wastebasket without opening it. Why did they bother?
Some of the actual mail was for Richard. The rest was for her, as she looked after the day-to-day purchase decisions in the laboratory. Most was from companies from which they ordered stock but there was one envelope, without a return address or company logo, addressed to her: Stephanie Kelly, Senior Tissue Engineer, Rigby Research Inc, Scottsdale, Arizona.
Richard walked in. “Any mail for me doc?”
“Stop that stuff. Just because I have a few letters after my name…”
“I like to tease you,” he grinned.
He was a full head taller than her. She stared up at him as he finger combed his wavy black hair. “Perhaps I should call you Professor Dixon?”
“Now…now. I see you’re still getting loads of readdressed stuff from our Los Angeles branch?”
“Yup. And it’s been three months since I transferred here. Don’t they ever update their contacts? I emailed the companies before I left,” she said.
Melissa, her co-worker told her that Richard, a Harvard graduate, had been headhunted by most of the major companies. The reason he settled for Rigby was probably more to do with the freedom he had with his research projects, and being able to work with the best equipment money could buy than with the high salary he drew. She admired him for that.
“Obviously none of them is as organized as you.” Richard gave a cheeky grin.
“Oh yeah, sure. How are the RT241 trials looking so far?” She opened the envelope without a return address and found two photos inside.
“It’ll be another thirty six hours before we know anything…what’s that you’ve got there?”
“I don’t know. It must be someone’s idea of a joke.” One photo was of her walking through the park with her niece, Dionne Sarlos, and the other of her stepping out of her silver Honda dressed in a duck-egg blue jacket and pencil skirt. That suit she had dropped off at the cleaners yesterday. She wore it to work only days ago. What was going on? Dumbfounded, she sank into the gas-lift chair hardly aware that she had edged backwards around her cedar desk to do this. Stephanie glanced beyond the glass wall at the other three white-coated colleagues in the laboratory. Could one of these people sent these images to her? “What the hell?”
What did she know about her co-workers anyway?
Fred Lincoln, the biomedical-engineering wizard. She had heard about him on the grapevine when she studied at Berkeley. While there, five years earlier, he had written a significant paper on rogue cancer cells. And he still lived at home.
“What’s wrong?” asked Richard.
She let the photos drop onto her desk and glanced at Nina Mumczuk. The woman had befriended her the day Stephanie moved here from L.A. three months ago. Nina was kind and considerate. No…her friend couldn’t have done this.
“Take a look,” she handed them to Richard and slipped off her lab coat. “Do you think these shots are some sort of a joke?”
And what about Melissa Toomy: the tissue-engineering graduate fresh out of university who often seemed empty headed and dreamy, but sometimes showed that there was a brain under that bottle-brunette hair. Could she have sent these photos?
Beyond those details, Stephanie knew little more about her co-workers. “Why would anyone bother to take these shots and send them to me?”
“I’d be worried if someone sent these to me. I’d be thinking when’s the note going to arrive? You know, blackmail or something.”
“Don’t scare me. I’m trying to be logical about this.”
“You can analyse this away but I don’t like it one bit. What we’re doing here is too important.”
“I played catch in the park with Dionne two weekends ago.” Then Stephanie saw the self-adhesive label on the back of one of the pictures. It read, ‘My Princess. My one and only love.’ “Holy shit.”
“Now I’m thinking stalker?” A worried frown creased Richard’s forehead.
“No one’s been following me. At least I don’t think so. But then I didn’t see them take the photos.” She shrugged and tried to shake off an uneasiness that had seeped into her thoughts. “Maybe someone here is a practical joker?”
“Let’s ask them?” He opened the glass door and went into the laboratory with her one step behind him.
“Can I have your attention please? Does anyone know who sent me these photos?” Stephanie waved them at the other co-workers as if this was some sort of practical joke, although this invasion of her privacy worried her.
Nina’s blonde bob fell across her high-cheek-boned face as she slid a tray of test tubes into the autoclave. “What are you talking about?” she said as she straightened.
Melissa, as usual, seemed to be daydreaming as she stared through the window at the desert landscape. Probably about her boyfriend, Stephanie guessed.
Fred added incubation media into a machine that would inject a measured amount into a dozen test tubes and did not look up.
“Have a look at these. Someone has been taking photos of my niece and me, and sent them to me.”
Nina stared open mouthed. “That is terrible.”
Nina was a doctor of medicine in the Ukraine but not recognized as such in the States. She was undertaking a part-time, degree program, at the local university. She was married to a civil engineer--his degree was not recognized here either--who worked as a janitor to help make ends meet. They rented a small apartment in Mesa.
“Tell me about it,” said Stephanie.
“What’s the problem?” Melissa closed the fume hood and peeled off her disposable gloves, skirted the white bench, and came over. “You’re very photogenic. I wish I had thick black hair like you. Something I’ve been meaning to ask you? Are your parents Greek?”
“They are. But they’ve lived in the States since before I was born. Are you going to ask me about the clothing I’m wearing in it as well?”
“Sorry. I didn’t mean it like that.”
“Accepted.” Stephanie showed her the message on the back.
Melissa laughed. “Some creepy admirer you’ve got.”
Stephanie shook her head. “Don’t say that. That makes me feel uncomfortable.”
“Some people are so strange. I wouldn’t like it either,” said the brunette.
Do you know anything about this, Fred?”
As he lifted his head, a clump of lanky brown hair slipped free from the disposable cap. He pushed it back inside and then he pulled down his mask. “What?”
Stephanie held up the photos. “They came in today’s mail. Do you know anything about them, Fred?” she repeated.
He raised his caterpillar-like eyebrows. “As if I would. I’m here till eight o’clock most nights. When would I have time?”
A typical answer from someone who still lived with his mother and wore pants up to his waist with two pleats on each side. “Sorry I asked.”
“I don’t like it. I think you should call the police,” said Richard.
“In the Ukraine where I lived, the policemen did not help anyone much unless you had money.” Nina shook her head. “They were corrupt.”
“Someone will own up soon enough. Perhaps one of the guys downstairs might have an idea who sent them? It could be a prank,” said Stephanie trying to convince herself that it wasn’t something more sinister.
“A damn stupid one if it is. Irresponsible of them,” he said.
“I’ll ask the mail girl when she makes her delivery tomorrow. She seems to know all the gossip around here.”
“I don’t know. You’re making light of this. I hope it’s not anything more serious.”
“Me too. I don’t want to think about it. Anyway we have work to do. How are the RT251 tissue cultures coming along?” Stephanie asked Richard.
“They do look promising. Still, it’s too early to say for sure.”
“And the lymphoma cells?”
He grimaced. “Don’t even ask. I’m doing a full comparison report this afternoon. I think we need to enrich the mixture. I’m to going start with a quarter of a millilitre at a time.”
Fred picked up the tray of test tubes that were partly filled with media. “We have to just keep at it. It may take years to get the formula right before we can start testing it on mice.”
Stephanie sensed that, to Fred, the challenge was the best part. Once it was over, he would lose interest.
When we do perfect the formula, you two get all the glory and make a fortune. You’ll be famous.” Melissa said to Richard and Stephanie. She put on her gloves and mask and then loaded two test tubes into the centrifuge.
Dixon screwed up his face. “Glory? You mean fight off the sharks clamouring for a story, and truckloads of people wanting money from us. I can do without that. What do you think Stephanie?”
“Paparazzi? They’re a menace. ” Stephanie tapped the photos in her hand. “I still don’t get why someone would do this?”
“I thought you said you didn’t want to think about them?” Richard said.
“I’m trying not to.”
“If we don’t get this sorted by tomorrow…I’ll ring the police if you don’t,” he said as he strode back to his office.
“It’s a deal.” She slipped the photos into her lab coat pocket, and went back to study the slides of tissue cultures she analysed for necrosis before the mail delivery. The results of the cultures were disappointing. Too many of them had decayed. Even the samples that showed signs of remaining pink and healthy yesterday had blackened overnight. Damn, she thought she was on to something when the last batch showed an improvement. She shrugged, mystified.
Stephanie went back into her office and sank into her chair and sighed. She pulled off her disposable cap, and pushed her fingers under through her thick black bob while she tried to think. What was wrong? Was the mixture too rich? Had the cell structure decayed while being kept in the cryogenic freezer after harvesting? No. She discounted that; it had tested as normal and healthy at the start of the trials. When they seeded the cells, had the process somehow contaminated it? She must send a few samples to an outside lab for testing for mycoplasma and acholeplasmas.
The phone beside Stephanie rang. She answered it. The receptionist told her that Jack Theed, the representative from West Labs Equipment was downstairs at the reception waiting to see her.
She shrugged out of the lab coat, hung it over a stool, and started to open the heavy glass security door. The photos were still in her pocket. She went over to her coat and retrieved them. Why would someone do this? She slid the photos into the envelope they came in. Why take candid shots of her with Dionne? It didn’t make sense. Her muscles at the base of her neck tensed with worry and she rubbed them.
She let herself out and strode to the elevator. Her black pumps clicked on the beige tiled floor. When the metal doors opened, she stepped in and travelled down to the ground floor to meet Jack.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Doing another draft.

8th September 2006

Hi
Still doing another draft on my latest story it's getting hard to keep at it. The editing on the train is the easy part, and sitting down at the computer for hours is the hard part. I'm doing the hard part today. Every now and then I get up and go outside to see what the weather's doing. It started sprinkling before. Yesterday we had rain, rain and more rain. It's nice to see as we've been in drought for years.
I went to an editing workshop last Saturday and allowed the class to edit the first chapter of the second story I have posted here. I received some great feedback and will be editing the post here shortly.

Had some dental work done on Wednesday. It's the worst thing having to sit in that dentist chair with your mouth open for so long, and have him poking inside your mouth. I just hate the thought of the needle.

My dentist is good because he numbed the area first so I couldn't feel the needle going in. I just knew it was because, even with my eyes closed, I could tell he was holding something still against my gum. Then two hours later, a little shell shocked from keeping my mouth open and him doing whatever he was doing in my mouth, I got out of that chair.

Another dentist visit next week...something to look forward to...not.

I still live in hope as I haven't heard from either publishing houses yet about my partial manuscript. I will get my stories published eventually, it's only a matter of time.

Live life with passion. Don't wish you'd done this or that. Do it now. It's never too late.

Today give someone the gift of your smile. It will lift their spirits and brighten their day.

Bye for now.

Olga

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Weird people

1st September 2006

Hi

This week I went to dinner in the city and had a tasty meal of salmon on a bed of lentils and pea mash. I ordered chips (fries) as well.

My nephew has been very busy getting organised to open a bookshop and has invited my husband and me. I can't go because I'm going to a workshop on editing.

I sent a partial manuscript off to a publisher the other day. And I'm still busy working on another draft of my current story.


It's amazing how weird people can be. A guy walked up to me the other day and said, 'there's people in that building over there and they're watching me.'
I wasn't really listening and nearly said...oh that's nice...but stopped myself in time. I looked at the office block, and didn't see anyone staring out the windows. It wasn't even a full moon the night before. I walked away as quickly as I could.

Do you ever see people doing weird things in a shoe shop. I was in one and a lady was trying on some joggers. She walked up and down and up and down and then she peddled her feet on the spot as if she were running and she did this for about 5 minutes. When she noticed my glance, she said. 'Oh I'm just testing them for when I go walking.'

Please read my first chapters which are in the earlier chapters, and leave some comments. Thanks.

Have a good weekend.

Olga:)

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Waiting to hear from publisher

23rd August 2006

Hi

Yesterday I caught the train as I work in the city and, as usual, had to squeeze on a crowded train. Luckly I'm slim and was able to sit in between two people in the seats facing each other in the downstairs section. The one man and two women opposite were all large. The brunette woman in the middle was leaning forward reading a magazine as her bulk wouldn't fit between the other people. Anyway, after a while, the blonde sitting next to her suddenly jerked her shoulders back to give herself more room while she turned the page of her book, as she was sitting at an angle. When this happened the brunette got this angry look on her face and shouldered herself back as well. The blonde slammed shut her book and then opened it again. She was squeezed in tighter than before. I thought...here we go...an argument. And the man, well he was busy tap...tapping on his notebook and had his legs spread and had plenty of room. He didn't look up, but I'm sure he knew what was going on. After a few more stops, the brunette pushed past the blonde and got out. What a way to start the day! Is this train rage or what?

You might ask what's the point of this? Our government want's more of us to use public transport. And more people will as petrol gets dearer and the roads more crowded. I wish those politicians would try catching a trains at peak (rush) hour and see just how crowded they are. I'm thinking that people may come to blows to try to secure a seat in the future...and then we'll be thinking...what's the world coming to? And we'll be looking for someone to blame...will it be ourselves for not speaking up about the sorry state of our trains...or the people we elect (then is it our fault again for electing them) for not having enough vision and strength to take the steps needed to create a better system?

Oh...and what was I doing while this was going on opposite me in the carriage? Editing my manuscript...well trying to.

I read that incidents happen on our public transport system all the time...and what do our dear transport workers do you might ask when they are notified? Some just stare dumbly back...
A couple of months ago I travelling to the city (as I do 4 days a week) and just before Redfern a lady started vomiting violently. (We are on the upper level of the train) I was sitting in the isle seat opposite. The woman next to her had some spattered on her as well. I tried to help the woman by calling her family on my mobile but she wasn't coherent enough to give me the correct number. The woman next to her excused herself and slipped past her. I thought she was getting away in case the sick woman was going to start throwing up again. When we stopped at Redfern I was still trying to contact her family and when the doors started to close, was about the time I gave up on that and raced downstairs to try to signal to someone to get help. The doors closed as I reached them. I banged on the doors and a railway worker standing on the station just gave me a smile and a shrug as if to say...too late.
By this time, I was trying to tell him that there is a sick woman on the train but he ignored me.(What happened to the training the system is supposed to give the workers on this sort of thing)It was obvious that something was wrong and he should try to help me. The train hadn't left the station and I was still banging on the doors. Anyway the doors open and I started shouting and saw that a someone from rail security was looking for this woman and didn't know what carriage she was on.

I wave to him frantically, and he comes running. The woman who'd been sitting next to the sick woman had alerted the security and she's standing on the station with vomit all over her skirt.
By this time people have come downstairs just to get away from the smell. Who else is helping the woman? No one. Sad isn't it.

I hope she was okay. I thought she may have had a heart attack as this may happen during a heart attack.

How are my stories going? I'm waiting to hear from a publisher who has my Stephanie story under consideration. I don't expect to hear from them for a couple of months.

Bye for now.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Relaxing at the beach

16th August 2006
Hi
I was busy at work yesterday and barely had time to have lunch. I had a great time on the weekend at The Entrance. Caught up with my cousin and Aunty, my daughter and son-in-law. Saturday was spend walking on the beach and wishing I could do that everyday. That night we went to the golf club for dinner with some neighbours. Sunday morning - walked on the beach again and wished I had brought my swimmers as it was so warm. For lunch - had prawns, salad and corn bread (that my daughter had made) . Afternoon tea - shortbread biscuits (made by my daughter) and raisin scones (made by me) and my cousin brought banana bread. Yummy stuff. More walks on the beach (but the tide and wind was up and we ended walking on the rocks a bit) before we packed up and came home.

Here's the first chapter of my next story (thriller/suspense). I have pulled this story as in my later blogs there is newer version.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The Deadly Caress

Hi 9th August 2006
I'm new at this. It's been a dreary morning in Sydney but this afternoon the sun decided to shine. I've been at home today doing washing and all that important(dreary) stuff. Back to work tomorrow. I'm going to The Entrance on the weekend and hope the weather will be fine. I can't wait to walk on the beach and feel that soft yellow sand between my toes.
The main reason for my blog...I hope to find a publisher/literary agent for my 2 stories. I have been writing for more than 10 years. I've a pile of rejections in my bottom draw. A US agent offered me a contract last year and once it was signed and set emailed me a few weeks later to tell me she was closing her agency due to ill health. Sigh...yes its a sigh because I just have to move on as I must make this my business and must be business like. As Anthony Robbins says 'make it a must and you will succeed'.
I am posting the first chapter of the first completed story here and chapter 1 of the second story next time.
If you like what you read, email this as a link to every publisher/agent you can find. And thank you very much if you do.



Olga:)


The Deadly Caress (still in draft form)
(thriller/suspense)

© Olga Segal 2006
90,000 words



CHAPTER 1



APRIL 20TH
Amanda Blake opened the door of the silver Rolls Royce and sucked in the salt-laden Monterey sea air in an effort to contain emotions that were wound tighter than a steel tension coils.
The chauffeur hurried around to help her.
“It’s okay. I can manage thanks…Ricardo isn’t it”? A chauffeur picking her up from the airport, doors being held open for her…what next?
She shaded her eyes from the warm afternoon sun to stare at the Californian classic mansion with fluted marble columns that rose up to meet the second storey. Impressive? Well, whatever she'd expected it hadn’t been this display of wealth.
The contents of the letter that brought her to the United States from Sydney, Australia were branded in her memory.

Dear Amanda,
It is hard to know how to begin. I regret that I have not made contact with you before, but this was the agreement I had made with both your parents. It is with your father, Samuel’s permission that I am writing to you now.
I wish there were a gentler way to break this news to you. Elaine is not the woman who gave birth to you, I am. Nor is Samuel your biological father. He can verify this. I know your life has been a reasonably happy one from the annual letters Samuel sends me.
I realise you must have many questions you want answered. Since I am the only one that can answer fully the circumstances of your birth, please direct them to me. I hope you can forgive me.
Please come and stay with me as soon as you can. I have enclosed an open airline ticket to California for you.
I want so much to see you.
Yours sincerely,
Jean Campbell.

“Please let me help you. I work for Mrs. Campbell for many years. She ask me…look after you,” said Ricardo.
He spoke with a heavy accent and his complexion was dark, possibly Mexican she thought.
One of the large double-fronted doors swung open. A short buxom maid in a black dress and a starched white apron hurried down the marble steps to greet her.
“Welcome. My name Estella.”
Startled, she took a half-step back…. more people at her beck and call? Amanda heard the Rolls start forward. “Oh…my bags, my camera. He’s forgotten about them?” She swung round and waved, trying to attract the chauffeur’s attention.
“Not worry Miss Blake. Ricardo take them to your room. Please excuse. My English not too good.”
The maid’s accent and features were similar to the chauffeur's, Mexican also, she guessed. “I’m just not used to someone fetching and carrying for me.”
“We are pleased you are here. Come, Mrs. Campbell is waiting.”
***
“Jean? Have you heard anything I’ve said?” Lionel Cohen, her lawyer, balding and overweight, was seated beside her on the cream damask-covered lounge.
Jean glanced at the mantle clock. "I just hope Amanda likes me.” In anxiety, Jean Campbell pressed her manicured hands to her temples
“I did suggest that it might have been better to leave well enough alone.”
"Is that Ricardo?” Jean jumped up and straightened her silk skirt. “I should be out there to greet her.” She started for the door.
“Come back and sit down. Estella will bring her in.”
“But-”
“You want to look calm don’t you?”
"So has the surveyor submitted his report yet to the architect yet," she asked?
"Yes. I spoke to Bob yesterday and the subdivision plans are in being couriered over to my office as we speak."
"Good. Did he tell you how many blocks we could fit on that parcel of land in Fountain Hills?"
"Four hundred I believe. We've already had some early interest from a housing company in this project. I don't know if you've heard of them, Hilltop Homes?"
She shook her head. "We'll see what develops."
He picked up some documents from the coach-wood coffee table. “I'll get the changes done on this and get it back to you tomorrow together with the plans.”
“Now, is there anything else you want to add to this draft?” He held the pages in his hand. “I must advise you as your lawyer-.”
Jean held up her hand. "Lionel, I've agonised over this, you know that. I’m tired of people telling me what I should do. I lived with that when Murray was alive. You knew what it was like--he told me who I should see, who I could speak to, what I should wear. No one will tell me anymore. I’m sorry, Lionel, not even my closest friend.”
***
Amanda’s low heels echoed on the marble-entrance stairs and announced her arrival; and with each step she grew more apprehensive, her stomach knotted. Part of her wanted to turn and run, but she continued through the entrance, and tried to look calm.
This white sleeveless dress, was it too casual? Perhaps she should have changed into a suit. But the only one she owned was past its expiration date. She paused in her stride. The confident woman she’d moulded herself into? Where had she gone? Did it really matter what Jean thought of her? She hated to admit it, but it did. For all the reasons she had to dislike Jean and what she’d done, there was one outweighing them. She would have a mother again. It had been a long, lonely sixteen years without one.
A rainbow of sunlit colours filtered through stained-glass panels above the entrance. She stared at anything and everything; an 18th century Chippendale chest nestled by the staircase, the Andy Warhol in the hallway. It was her photographer’s mind trying to distract her enough to ease that coil of fear inside. What would her mother think of her? What if this stranger, Jean, didn’t like her? Would this mother find her enough?
“This way Senorita,” Estella held open the door to the living room.
A balding, chubby, Jack Nicholson type, carrying a brief case, came towards her. “It's a pleasure to meet you Ms. Blake.” The dark-suited man pumped her hand. “Lionel Cohen, I’m Jean’s lawyer. I’m afraid I’m the reason Jean didn’t meet you at the airport.”
A slim woman, dressed in white and navy, crossed the wide expanse of beige-coloured carpet towards her. Amanda didn’t respond to Lionel, she stared incredulously at an older carbon copy of herself.
" The resemblance is striking. No one would mistake either of you for anything other than mother and daughter. I will leave you both to talk. Tomorrow around noon Jean,” he asked?
“I’ll be here.” Jean nodded; her blonde bob framed pale skin set on high cheekbones.
"Good bye," he said as he left.
Fine lines had formed cobwebs at the corners of her mother's eyes that glistened with unshed tears. The older woman drew her into a warm embrace. Nonplussed, Amanda stiffened at the unexpected display of emotion. Then reluctantly, she submitted herself to it, and she bent down a little to let her mother kiss first one cheek then the other. The scent of wildflowers and sandalwood lingered in the air as her mother withdrew.
“I can’t believe it.” It stunned Amanda to see what seemed to be her own, deep-blue eyes stare back at her; unlike her own they seemed to be brimming with welcome and acceptance.
“I knew there was a likeness from the photo you sent me, but seeing you here now…well it’s amazing.” Jean brushed away a tear.
Jean had a hint of an Australian accent and that surprised her. That was something Amanda hadn't expected.
“It’s so good to meet you at last,” said her mother. “I’m sorry I wasn’t able to be there at the airport. I hope Ricardo looked after you in my place.”
“Thank you for the invitation and the first class ticket Mrs. Campbell.” She was pleased how calmly she’d answered this woman. Just like the captured budgerigar, she had held in her hand as a child. Her heart pounded so hard against her ribs it felt like it would bruise them.
“It was my pleasure. Please…call me Jean.”
The urge to call someone mum again, maybe this someone, was there inside her.
“I’ve left a smudge of lipstick. Let me wipe it off.”
The intimacy of Jean’s touch stirred an unexpected response from within: elation and something else that she couldn't identify, like being atop the crest of a wave, and the feeling was so new.
“Make yourself comfortable.” Jean buzzed the intercom beside the marble fireplace and asked for two Jamaican coffees.
How did this stranger, her mother, know what coffee she preferred?
Amanda drew in a deep steadying breath, and took in the quiet ambience that she’d been too preoccupied to notice till now. She recognized two Picasso’s, a Degas, and a Monet amongst the paintings that were hung on the walls. Everything fitted, everything was carefully matched, and mismatched. Some porcelain figurines were displayed in an antique cabinet. An exquisite standing lamp: with a rope-style base of bronze and a gold trim stood beside the lounge. Overwhelmed by all this, she sank into a wing-backed chair.
Jean smiled as she joined her. “How was your flight?”
“Great. I sometimes get a little queasy, just on taking off or landing, so I popped a travel sickness pill and managed a little sleep.” Amanda couldn’t return her smile; she couldn’t relax, as there were too many questions she needed answers to.
“If you're tired, I can cancel the coffees. I know it's a long trip to the States. Perhaps you would like to go upstairs to your room and rest? We can talk later.”
“I came here to find out so many things that I hardly know where to begin?”
“What would you like to know?”
Amanda steeled herself. “One of the things I really want to know is why you waited this long to contact me? Why now? Why not years ago? Why contact me at all? I'd have probably not found out until dad died and found something about the adoption in his papers.”
Estella carried in a tray of pastries and hot drinks. She moved aside a thick ring-bound folder, set down the tray on the low table in front of them.
Jean watched the maid leave and then said, “I still remember your birth as if it was yesterday. I was only seventeen at the time. I didn’t have any money or a job.”
“What about the father, my real father? Wouldn’t he support you?” Why didn't her mother address Amanda's question?
Jean’s hand trembled as she sugared her coffee. “He moved away before I’d summoned up the courage to tell him I was pregnant.”
Excuses. Somehow, she’d hoped that she’d have the chance to find her other parent too. He may have been a victim of all this like her. It had been hell for her as a child not knowing from one day to the next what mood her mother, Elaine, would be in. One day she was treated like a princess and the next shouted at like a downtrodden Cinderella. Elaine was a manic-depressive. Her father, Samuel had told her when he considered her old enough to understand, and that had been after her mother had taken her own life. This news hadn’t eased any of her internal pain over Elaine's hard-handed treatment of her. “Who is my real father?”
“I can’t remember.” Jean’s face coloured, she would not meet Amanda’s gaze. “He…he was a married man.”
Her mother's embarrassment was misplaced. “I don’t care if he’s black, white, green, single, or married, I just want a chance to meet him.” She stirred her coffee as she battled to keep a calm exterior.
“I don’t know where you’d even begin to look for him. He was someone I knew for a brief period in my life. I really can’t remember his last name. Sorry.”
“Record of birth at the hospital?”
“You were registered under my maiden name,” Jean picked up her cup.
"Why did you give me up for adoption?" Amanda’s hopes, of finding her natural father, temporarily collapsed. “Your family, wouldn’t they support you?” To contain the hurt she was feeling she drew her arms across her waist and sat rigid. Just breathe, she told herself as she closed her eyes for a moment. She needed more justification why Jean had not been able to raise her. Why she, Amanda, had been brought up in a family devoid of love? And that Jean had really wanted her.
“My father’s business was going bad. My parents were in no position to help me. It was just about impossible in those days in an Australian small country town to keep your baby. And Orange, where I was raised, was no different. Adoption was encouraged by everyone from the doctor to the hospital staff.” Jean picked up a pastry. “Also I thought you would have a better chance at a normal life with a mother and father to care for you.”
Normal! Amanda couldn’t speak. How she wished her family had been that.
“My husband Murray died last year. He didn’t much care for living near the beach-side, but he bought this house for me.”
“Your husband, he wasn’t my father was he?” A stab in the dark to see what response it provoked.
Jean blinked. “No. I met Murray in my mid-twenties when I was on a working holiday in California. We fell in love…and eventually married.”
“I wish I’d got to know him. If you’d told me sooner, I could have.” She went to sugar her coffee but stopped herself.
“I’m sorry, but it wasn’t possible.”
She sipped her drink to suppress the urge to say what she really thought. It’s not fair…I missed out on a mother because of you. Elaine wasn’t a real mother to me.
All of her twenty-eight years she, Amanda, had lived in Sydney and had not known of Jean’s existence until she’d come home for a weekend’s break from her latest assignment, and Jean’s letter had been waiting for her. Its contents threw her safe ordered life upside down. That letter, plus the secretive tryst her parents had made with this woman had made her feel so vulnerable again. How could they do this? How dare they.
Jean lifted the tray of pastries. “Please help yourself. They’re fresh from the local bakery.”
“No thank you.” Layered with custard and chocolate cream, they looked fattening.
“You can’t be watching your weight, surely? You have a lovely slim figure.”
“Just one then. Thank you.”
“You looked a little flushed. Are you okay?”
“I’m still trying to adjust to this. Finding out you are my mother, and Elaine…not being…. Meeting you.” Had this trip been a big mistake? For her own piece of mind, she had no other possible choice. Cool down, she told herself, give this woman a chance.
“Some fresh air might do us good.” Jean rose, crossed the room to the French doors, and opened them onto a wrap-around veranda.
Jean’s steps began to slow and almost falter as she walked back to the wing-backed chair. “I know I must be repeating myself, but it’s wonderful to have you here in my home at last. I can't tell you how much this means to me.” As she sat her eyes glistened with unshed tears.
Amanda swallowed nervously; the show of emotion touched her, yet at the same time it felt uncomfortable. “If it hadn’t been for the photo shoot I was doing on dolphins in Western Australia, I’d have been here weeks ago. Right now, I should be in Tasmania doing a piece with a writer for the Australian Geographic. But I’ve put that off for the moment.”
“Your job sounds demanding.”
“I’ve been taking photos ever since I can remember. But mostly since the part-time job at a photographic studio while I was in high school. Why I chose to do accountancy at university I don’t know?”
“What happened with that?”
“One year was all I managed before I threw it in. Then I was back at the studio. That’s where I learnt my trade. “ The hobby that had turned into a job had kept her sane when the darkness in her mind seemed to overwhelm her, and she thought she would go down the same path as her mother. Now she was sure that would never happen. Elaine was not her real mother.
Jean picked up the ring-bound folder from the coffee table “This is a scrapbook of your work.” She handed it to her. “For years now, I’ve followed your career.”
Yet it took twenty-eight years for her mother to contact her. Amanda leafed through it. “How did…that’s from Geo, and that spread, the National Geographic?" Even the one I did for Black and White. That one shot. You’ve no idea. I had to hang upside down under a bridge it get it.” Her pulse throbbed in her neck. Her career lay bare in this folder…and yet…. It was somehow unsettling to know that this woman has kept tabs on her.
“You shouldn’t be taking risks like that. I hope you were well secured?”
Amanda laughed, and couldn’t believe she had. “I had so many harnesses on me, I could hardly move.” Jean cared, she really cared? “I’m surprised, and I suppose, touched that you’ve collected all these.”
For more years than she could remember, she had yearned for some small sign of interest in her work from Samuel. She’d driven herself harder and harder to win any show of pride from him. But it was never enough.
“You have a boyfriend don’t you? Are there any long term plans in that direction?”
“Charles? I called off our engagement ages ago. He wanted me barefoot and pregnant right after we were married. That's just not me.” There had been another reason, one that she'd barely acknowledged until now: the fear that she would be the same type of mother Elaine had been. “How did you find out about him?”
“Samuel.”
“Dad told you everything? How dare he!” She jumped up and started for the door, blinded by angry tears. "I can't believe this. It's…it's like some conspiracy against me."
“Please…come back. I'm sorry." Her mother hurried after her into the hallway. "Please let me explain."
"I'm getting my bags when you tell me where they are. And then I'll be going home."
"Oh Amanda, please don't do this. Your dad only told me of the milestones in your life. It was only by chance that I started the collection of your work when Samuel sent me a letter telling me that you were a freelance photographer working on some assignment for the National Geographic. After that, I hired one of those publicity firms to send me all the clippings they could find of your work.”
"Oh sure. I'm supposed to believe that?"
"It's the truth. Please believe me."
“You can’t imagine how it feels to suddenly find out that the mother you believed had carried you inside her hadn’t. The frustration. No explanations from Dad or from you in your letter. My whole life suddenly seemed a sham, a lie.”
Jean drew in a long breath. “I’m so sorry. I have always regretted giving you away. Regretted the agreement of not having any contact with you. I wanted to so many times. I know I let you down all those years ago and I feel more guilty today than I did then."
Amanda gritted her teeth but couldn't bring herself to look at her mother.
"Will you come back into the lounge, please?"
When they were both seated, Jean pulled out a knitted baby's bootie from her suit pocket. "This was your's. I slipped it off your foot the last time I saw you." She shook her head. "I still remember that small country hospital where I gave birth to you. The maternity ward was beside the nursery, and I snuck in twice to see you. It was then that I took this bootie from your tiny foot. A day later you were been transferred to another hospital."
In disbelief, Amanda remained silent.
"After you were gone my milk came in and I had to watch other mothers feeding their baby's, all the while my breasts were painful and leaking. I thought I would go mad with the worry of where you were and whether you were being looked after. Gradually, I got on with my life and tried to forget you. But I never did and as the years past I consoled myself with the thought that you were with a family who loved you."
"Loved me?" She shut her eyes and told herself to remember to breathe. "I guess they did in their own way." Tears started down her cheeks and she wiped them away with the back of her hands till her mother handed her some tissues.
When she looked up, she saw that her mother had been crying also. Was she hurting as much as she, Amanda was? She blew her nose. "I need to splash some cold water on my face can you tell me where the bathroom is?"
When she returned a few minutes later. To be part of a real loving family again, not the cold, unfeeling one she'd been a part of till now, drove her to seek more answers, she asked, “after all these years of keeping secrets with Samuel…why…why now?”
Jean shook her head. “I hoped you wouldn’t ask me that yet…not yet…I can’t. Sorry…Just give me a little more time.” she closed her eyes for a moment.
Again, Jean refused to answer? What was she hiding? To be excluded now, hurt.
“I have a twenty-one year old stepson.”
“Your husband’s son?”
“Yes. Murray’s first wife died long before I came on the scene.”
“What’s your stepson like?”
“Dorian. I guess he’s a typical student. He’s doing some sort of arts-law degree at Berkeley University. He usually rooms near there through the week, but tonight he’s coming home for dinner. You’ll meet him then.”
“Anyone else I should know about? Any more brothers or sisters?”
“Only one, and he's outside waiting to meet you.”
She jerked upright, stunned. "What?" Her breath caught in her throat. "Your telling me I've got a brother? I've lived all my life to this point thinking that I was alone…and now you tell me I have a brother. Is he younger, older? Does he look like me?" Someone to play with someone to fight with someone to hold close in times of crises: this news erased all other thoughts from her mind.
Long moments passed before Jean answered. “He’s your twin. Not identical, but all the same, very much like you.”
Amanda put her head in her hands. Another well kept secret. Were there any more? All these years she had a sibling that she could have shared her life with if only she'd known of his existence. He had been so near and yet, so far. The excitement of the revelation washed over her. “Did you keep him?”
“Brian was adopted as well.”
Brian? Amanda noticed Jean’s eyes were momentarily shadowed with pain. Was it for Brian? If so, why? Regret? The stillness in the room seemed suddenly suffocating.
The mantelpiece clock chimed the hour as Jean nervously smoothed down her skirt.
Amanda’s heart raced. “Tell me about him. What’s he like?”
“I don’t know a terrible lot about him myself. Brian works as a stock hand on a large station near Darwin.”
The front door slammed.
“He arrived from the Northern Territory twelve days ago.”
Footsteps echoed down the hall.
“That should be him now.”
Amanda’s heart pounded as a tall man strode in. His hair, a darker blond than hers, looked like it had hurriedly been combed into place.
She half rose, sat down, and then rose again, uncertain how to greet him as he crossed the carpet to her.
“My god, you do look like a younger version. You've got to be Amanda, I’m Brian.”
He didn’t speak with the typical Aussie outback drawl she’d expected after hearing that he was a stock hand. This man: part of her real family. She drank in the sight of him with disbelief. The resemblance, although definitely male, was there. His jaw: more angular, and his face: sharp tanned planes. The eyes were different; deep green with hints of gold. “Hello.”
“It’s hard to take all this in, isn’t it sis?”
A full head taller than her, and she wasn't short, he had to bend over to kiss her cheek.
Sis! She didn’t like the liberty he took at calling her this name. Her mind was in turmoil. This stranger: her twin. She supposed she should embrace him but couldn’t.
He was still staring at her; she recalled he had asked a question. “I’m still adjusting.”
Emotions raw from suddenly learning that she had a twin brother, she closed her eyes so as not show the turmoil she felt. What had she expected? To suddenly feel empathy, love, or anything else except this uneasiness, for this stranger?
"Me too. It's weird isn't it?"
What had his life been like? Had it been as lonely as hers, longing for a sibling to argue, to fight, and to share secrets with; and she had plenty of those. Had he had a real dog unlike her who had to be satisfied with a stuffed toy, all the while wishing it would come to life. Able to bring school friends home without worrying what state his mother was in. The only time she had brought a girlfriend to the house had been the day that Elaine had broken every plate in the kitchen. Before the friend had any chance to see the destruction, she, Amanda, made up an excuse and said that she wasn't allowed to play and her friend left.
Relief seeped through her when he focused his attentions on Jean.
“You’re looking lovely.” He lent over and lightly pressed his lips to Jean’s cheek.
“Thank you,” her mother said.
“How long have you known about me?” Amanda started at him.
Brian shrugged. “Almost a week now. So I've had a little more time to get used to this,” and then he sat in an armchair. His muscular suntanned frame seemed to slide into it in one lithe movement.
“You both received the same type of letter from me. Brian, what can I offer you to drink?”
The maid appeared as if on cue.
“Will either of you join me in something stronger? I’ll have a beer,” said Brian?
“No thanks.” said Jean.
Somehow, Amanda had guessed that her mother would refuse. Her mother: not the alcohol drinking type. Stunned, she sat back. How did she know what this woman liked? Already, she was forming opinions about her.
“You like to drink beer too, Miss Blake?” Said Estella.
“Maybe later…any alcohol after a long flight will send me to sleep,” said Amanda.
“Lo siento.” Estella apologised. “I thought all Australian’s liked it. I went to your country last year. My cousin, she drinks beer sometimes. She lives not Sydney, but Wollon…something.”
“If it’s down the coast from Sydney, it could be Wollongong.”
“Make it a Fosters for me,” said Brian.
Jean reminded the maid of her duties.
The maid turned, and collided with a reed-thin male entering the room. “Lo siento, Mr. Dorian. I did not see you.”
“Martini, Estella. You know how I like it.”
His wiry frame hinted at an awkwardness that had recently gone, a flat stomach that some overweight teenagers probably dreamed of.
The maid nodded, then left.
Dorian stared at the three of them; his untidy brown hair fell to one side across his forehead, his features had no softness: from hollowed cheeks to an angular jaw with thin lips. “What’s this? A party?" He strutted across the room in his designer faded jeans and t-shirt, then stopped beside a rectangular coachwood side-table pushed up against a wall. He swung round and stared at them.
“Dorian. You knew my daughter was coming today.” Jean clasped her hands together. “What are you doing home so early this afternoon? I thought your last tutorial didn’t finish till two.”
“Oh yes. The only children to come from your womb are all finally here. Isn't that just great.” He plucked one of the white lilies from the crystal vase on the table, and watched the water drip onto the carpet.
Brian glared at the other man. “Cut it out. Your mother doesn’t deserve to be spoken to like that. Apologise!”
Dorian jabbed the flower back in its place. “So you're Amanda then?”
Amanda sat back. "In the flesh."
"How long are you staying?"
"I'm not sure yet."
"What about some music?" He strode to the stereo and selected a compact disc, and loaded it into the player.
Brian drummed his fingers on the armrest when the music started to play.
“Please, turn that down,” said Jean. "It's too loud."
“Well, I was only trying to cool it,” said Dorian.
“We can’t talk above that,” said Brian.
Jean grimaced as her stepson turned down the sound.
“I couldn’t wait to meet my dear, half-sister. Although she isn’t quite that, is she? Now what is she? Half stepsister. What a nice mouthful.” He flounced to Amanda’s side, bent over and kissed her cheek. “You must tell me what colour eye shadow you’re wearing. I love it.”
Stunned by his behaviour and his question, it took her a moment to answer. She could not imagine why he wanted to know her choice of makeup except to provoke her. “Straight-brown. I don’t know if it would suit you.”



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