The loch was quiet, bar the distant hum of a tractor crafting bales of hay in the nearby fields, and the sounds of the three teenagers standing at the water’s edge. The wind was gentle; the water bobbed up and down at the muddy bank, the reeds cut down by the farming activities on the side they stood on. The opposite side was a wildlife refuge, where swans and ducks enjoyed their own company and other birds hid within the tall reeds. They had caught a rare glimpse of the local kingfisher, which hunted in the stream that split off from the loch and took the overflowing water to the seaside. It was a wonderful place.
Finn kept his distance from Serenity and Liam, quite content to enjoy the fishing and keep to himself. The other two were hardly taking it seriously and, in fact, Liam had no previous practice or even knowledge about how to fish.
“Try not to impale each other with your hooks, please,” Finn muttered, glancing sideways at the two laughing teenagers.
“Oh, would that actually hurt?” Liam gasped.
“Try it and find out?” Finn suggested, and then, under his breath, “Dopey sods.”
With some more giggling, the two of them tried to take the activity seriously. Finn often came up here and had suggested to let them try it, under the strict threat that even if they enjoyed it he wouldn’t bring them back, much preferring his own company for this sort of thing. Liam had agreed, not because he wanted to fish, but because he loved to spend any time he could with the two of them. They had all become incredibly close and Liam couldn’t remember how lonely he had been beforehand. That he always had Loxley by his side was something he took for granted, but it was only when he gained friends of his own that he realised his relationship with his twin had lacked real effort on both of their parts.
“I dare you to eat one of those wild tomatoes,” Liam told Serenity, hearing Finn groan in the distance. Serenity grinned and shoved her rod at Liam. He flailed to hold them both as she bounded over to the nearest plant and plucked one off.
“You know what she’s like with dares,” Finn sighed.
“That’s exactly why I dared her!”
Serenity rinsed the tomato with her water and then made a show of biting into it, squealing when the juice splattered out, some of it squirting down her top. Liam laughed so hard he dropped the rods. Finn shook his head in exasperation.
A buzzard swooped overhead, showing off its flecked brown wings, and went into the tall grass in search of prey. Finn tracked it across the sky as he gave his fishing rod a practiced flick, sending the bait further into the water. There were plenty of fish around but none were biting today. It was probably too sunny. Either that or the shrieking idiots next to him were scaring them away. Despite this, Finn smiled as he listened to them speak.
“Wait,” Liam said between laughed, “why do you hate rainforests?”
“They’re too…” Serenity made some sort of gesture with her hands, her elbow almost smacking Liam’s nose. “Unfathomably diverse. I hate not knowing what’s inside! I want to know all of the species in the world and they have so many cool things but it’s impossible to know them all, and that’s not fair.” She tried, and failed, to say this with a straight face.
“You know that we only know like one per cent of the bacteria in the soil that you’re standing on, right?” Finn commented.
“Bacteria don’t count. They’re not cute.”
“I dunno,” Liam said, “my brother has a plushie of botulism or whatever. That’s kind of cute.”
“Botulism?” Finn said, incredulously, his attention snatched away from the fish. “The incredibly toxic illness that causes paralysis and death? Yeah, that’s cute.”
“I thought botulism was what they injected people with for botox?” Serenity asked, making her lips look bigger to demonstrate.
“It’s the same bacteria that causes the illness, I think. Very diluted though.”
“Oh. That’s weird.”
“Yup,” Finn said, popping the ‘p’ with a shrug.
“How do you know this stuff?” Liam asked, jiggling his fishing rod and wondering what he was meant to do if a fish was attached, and even how he’d know.
“I read,” said Finn, slowly, as if it were obvious.
“And binge-watches QI,” Serenity snorted.
“I need a daily dose of Stephen Fry,my lord and saviour, to get through the day.” His voice was entirely flat and serious, but the twinkle in his dark eyes gave him away.
“Reading factual books is bo-ring,” Liam sang, rocking back on his heels and peering at a lizard shaped cloud in the sky.
“Not all of them!” Serenity interjected.
“Oh here we go,” Finn sighed.
“Jon Ronson is awesome. He’s my hero!” And on she went, leaving Finn to exchange a put-upon look with Liam.
“You’ve done it now,” he muttered. “She’ll never bloody stop.” He began to silently mimic her, correctly predicting her next words with ease because he’d heard her talk about the man so much, the entire reason that she wanted to be a journalist. Liam was in fits laughing at them both and had to entirely give up on the pretense of fishing to clutch at his sides.
Yes, he really couldn’t remember what it was like to feel lonely.
“I got a call from the school today,” Jessica said, without preamble, and dropped down on the sofa next to James. He glanced over, half his attention still on the news bulletin, and cocked an eyebrow.
“Should I feel heartbroken that they didn’t call me too? Clearly they’re playing favourites.” He reached for the remote and turned the TV down, turning his body towards her. “What was it about? Lox?”
“No, Faye. She didn’t hand in her report card, even though they gave her a replacement for the one she lost.”
“Ah,” James said, understanding dawning on him. “’Lost’” he sighed, fingers coming up to quote the word. Faye had said that her card had fallen out of her bag when she walked home from school, and although they had their suspicions that the card had a little help to get lost, they could hardly accuse her of lying in case she was genuinely telling the truth. And, James thought, casting his mind back to the conversation with his daughter, she was very good at looking innocent.
“Behaviour?” James asked, pressing his lips against her forehead for moment. “Well, we know she’s not applying herself as hard as she could in school, but is she misbehaving too?”
“Not paying attention, disrupting class, handing in half finished or copied homework…”
“Why has it taken them this long to tell us this?” James wondered, frustrated with the school’s lack of foresight. If they had an issue with Faye’s behaviour then they shouldn’t have waited for the report card to tell him and Jessica. “I wonder why Summer or Skye never mentioned it.”
Of course, they only shared a couple of classes with their sister; Faye didn’t try hard enough to get into the top classes no matter how much Jess and James tried to encourage her. It was difficult to know what to do. Neither of them had been the best students when they were younger and were both aware of how little effect that their mothers’ had when scolding them about it.
“We’ll have to talk to her when she comes home.”
Faye had come home from a day in town and was in the process of putting her purchases away, finding space for them in the small wardrobe. Skye and Summer shared a lot of clothes anyway, but Faye thought all of their clothes weren’t girly enough or were too unflattering. This benefited her, though, because then technically half of the wardrobe could be for her clothes!
She took a sip of her starbucks coffee and skipped to the next song on her phone, letting the chart music fill the room while she continued finding space for her new things. The next sip of the coffee was clumsy and a drop spilled onto the back of the book lying on the desk; Faye didn’t notice. At that point the door opened with only a few seconds of pause after a knock. She already knew it would be her parents before she turned, and groaned inwardly when she saw them. She had been in such a good mood, too!
“Can you turn the music down, Faye?”
It may have been phrased as a question, but Faye knew a parental order when she heard one. With a huff and a roll of her eyes, she did as she was told.
“That’s enough of your attitude,” James said, his brow furrowed as he did his best to look stern. Faye scoffed anyway and was rewarded by Jessica folding her arms over her chest. It only succeeded in drawing Faye’s eye to the large section of stomach on show. How embarrassing! No one over thirty should wear a top like that, and here was her mother sporting stretch marks. And her dad, of course, wore tops that he said were ‘cool’. Faye was so glad she’d never been seen in town with them.
“I’ve put my music down. If you don’t mind, I’d like to put my stuff away.” She hoped they would get the jist and leave, but their scowls only deepened. Okay, so it wasn’t just about the music.
“The school phoned today.”
“Yes, by the look on your face you know what this is about. They gave you two report cards and you conveniently lost them both! That’s not honest behaviour, Faye, and we like to think we’ve raised you better than this!” James said, his voice rising as Faye tried to look nonchalant.
“And they tell us that you’re misbehaving in class,” Jessica said. “This is fourth year, Faye. You have important exams. You need to engage your brain cell and think about your future.”
“Yeah, well, I don’t want to go to uni, sorry to burst your bubble,” Faye huffed, giving her best dramatic eye roll which was, essentially, when she also rolled her head at the same time.
“There are plenty of other paths that still require good standard grades and decent highers. If you don’t want to work at school then you’ll have to get a part time job for some experience on your CV.” Jessica thrust her finger towards Faye as she moved to put her shopping bags away. They were so cute – she’d got them for a tenner at a cute craft market the other day.
“Here is your choice, Faye,” James began, and Faye felt her heart very quickly sink and take up residence somewhere in her stomach. Her father looked pleased with himself and that was never a good sign. “You either achieve 3′s and above in all year standard grades this year, which you are more than capable enough of doing.” James raised his voice to be heard over Faye’s protests. All 3′s! She had eight of the stupid classes, she didn’t want to spend that kind of time studying! “Or you get a job next year which ensures you work ten hours or more a week.”
“But-” Faye spluttered.
“And if you don’t manage to find a job, there’s plenty of housework you can be doing,” Jessica spoke over her, giving her daughter a severe look. “This will teach you some responsibility at the very least.”
James nodded in agreement. “We’re putting our foot down, Faye. It’s your choice what you do next.”
The next time that Loxley entered the break room, he caught Lukas by surprise.
It only occurred to him in that moment that this had never happened before. Lukas always seemed hyper-aware of his surroundings, ready to greet Loxley as soon as he approached. It was odd, now that he thought about it, and it added a further mystery to the scientist. Did he just have really good hearing, or was his hypervigilence rooted to something in his past. Was he ever in the army?
Lukas startled, blinking out of deep thoughts, and jumped around to face Lox. He had been cutting a new pack of coffee beans open and the scissors had torn some of his skin as he jerked in surprise. There was a single bead of blood and then, strangely, no more. Loxley wondered if the light was playing tricks on him. There was no evidence or mark on Lukas’ skin now. How odd.
Lukas leaned against the counter, doing his best to seem casual, and gave a tight smile. Usually Lukas was cheerful, smiling so wide that he flashed teeth, and it was the absence of that which struck Loxley as strange. All these things could be shrugged off quite easily, and in fact he almost did, but he was a scientist. They observed, they tried to make sense of the data, and then they performed more experiments when it became clear they needed more knowledge.
Loxley needed more knowledge.
“What can I do for you?” Lukas asked, when the silence dragged on. His voice, like his smile, was tight. He gave up on leaning against the counter and made a show of sucking on the ‘cut’ from the scissors.
“Oh, we were just wondering if there were more filter papers around.”
“Sure, I’ll go get them for you and bring them to the lab in a mo.”
Lox nodded, the action absent; his mind was elsewhere. The way Lukas moved, the way he was always so aware of his surroundings, the flash of his eyes in the dark the other day. Were these more points of data to be tested, just like the cut? Eventually Lox left the break room, aware that he had stayed too long. Lukas’ eyes were on his back all the way.
Skye had been playing around with her hair, watching her reflection in the triangular mirrors, sweeping it over her shoulders, up into a ponytail, down again, and trying to figure out what she really wanted to do with it. She had eventually decided to leave it down for once, just to try, when a knock on her door made her turn. James peeked into her room when she answered.
“Heeey kiddo,” he said, slinking into the room and trying to seem casual. Skye shook her head in embarrassment but couldn’t help but smile.
“Hey daddo,” replied Skye, her tone light and teasing. He rolled his eyes at her cheek.
“I was hoping to talk to you, Ms. blue Skye.”
Skye raised an eyebrow, ignoring the old nickname to focus on the most important thing. “A talk? That sounds ominous.” She had been such a daddy’s girl when younger that she was usually approached by James rather than Jessica when there was something big to talk about. Even The Talk. Skye shuddered at the horribly awkward memory.
“Well.. I just… Wanted to know a bit about this Felix boy.”
James shoved his hands in his pockets, scuffing his shoe on a bit of dried dirt on the carpet. He pursed his lips and tried to work out the best words for what he was trying to say. “It’s just that you’ve changed a lot in the past week or two,” James began, slowly. His gaze had been darting around the room before he spoke, but now rested on her to gauge her reaction. “I just want you to know that you don’t have to change for a boy. Or for anyone.”
At her raised, defensive voice, James held up his hands in surrender. “It’s just.. Well, you’ve never shown much interest in, you know, black clothes and, well, your mother said you mentioned getting your nose pierced. It seems very out of character.”
Skye crossed her arms. Her fingers were gripping her arms so hard that the skin was white. “This isn’t fair!” she spluttered. “You can’t accuse Felix of trying to, to change me or whatever. He’s just trying to give me confidence to be who I want to be!”
“Skye, you’ve never wanted piercings before. You don’t even have your ears pierced. We’re just concerned -”
“Well you don’t need to be!” she snapped back, thinking of poor kind Felix and how unfair this opinion of him was. “I’m happier like this, and I finally feel like I have enough confidence to do this stuff. Why can’t you support me?!”
James groaned, trying his best not to let Skye’s attitude get to him and turn this into a full-blown argument. “Honey, we do support you, and if this is really going to make you happy then that’s great. It just seems very sudden to us, and, well, boys can make you do silly things to impress them. Just ask your mother,” joked James, trying to lighten the mood. Skye’s scowl only deepened.
“This isn’t just a silly thing,” she protested. “And I don’t need your approval! I’m sixteen and I can get a piercing if I want one. Now, I have homework to do.” Skye turned on her heel, picking up her notebook, and pointedly looked at the door. James pressed his lips together, his face flushed with disapproval, but left her alone to cool down. He’d try to get through to her again later.
Honestly my favourite thing is James “the awkward dad” Williams.
Hey, we’re also not far from putting the real plot into action. Only took eighteen chapters… -.-