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It's a story of longing and revenge and redemption. 2016-06-06 15:23:52 GMT 2016-06-13 10:00:00 (GMT -06:00) Central Time (US & Canada) Yes (click here to learn more about ) Closed 5 4 0 direct invitation(s) have been sent by the voice seeker resulting in 0 audition(s) and/or proposal(s) so far. Voice123 SmartCast is seeking 25 auditions and/or proposals for this project (approx.) Invitations sent by SmartCast have resulted in 5 audition(s) and/or proposal(s) so far.
Some things just never changed. Like home. It might be the place where the heart was, or the place you could never really return, or even the place where you could say anything because no one was ever really listening to you—for Annalesa, all of those things felt true—but in the end, whether you loved it or hated it, home was the axis everything else spun around. It was the center of her gravity, the place she longed to pull away from and was always drawn back to.
“Bloody fucking hell,” she swore under her breath, scraping the corner of her suitcase past her ankle as she lugged it through the front door, resisting the urge to kick it halfway down the hallway.
Home. She breathed in the scent, nothing she could have identified by name, but it filled her senses nonetheless. It was familiar, comforting, and it immediately made her want to bolt. She loved it and she hated it.
“Where is everyone?” she wondered out loud to the empty foyer, glancing down at her suitcase, conveniently blaming it for her mood. Her ankle stung where she’d scraped it.
But it wasn’t her Gucci luggage at fault, was it?
Her bag hadn’t been the one who’d ignored Ric’s last email demanding a confirmation of her flight times for the driver, had it? No, it had been Annalesa, so annoyed by her stepbrother’s tenacity, who had immediately opened her laptop and applied for a Hertz Gold account, deciding then and there that she was going to drive herself home from the airport. She wasn’t some helpless infant who needed chauffeuring around, she told him in her head, no matter how much money their parents had.
She’d forgotten that she hadn’t driven in America since... bloody hell, she couldn’t even remember the last time she’d been behind the wheel of a car in the states. Driving on the right-hand side of the road had been the least of it. It had taken her half an hour to figure out how wide the Kia Sedona was compared to the road—thankfully, Kias were rather compact.
But the real test had come at her first intersection, where she was attempting to make a cautious left turn. How the hell was she supposed to know she had to wait for the round green light and the little green arrow? The blare of that giant pickup truck’s horn behind her would probably haunt her dreams for the next three weeks. Driving in London wasn’t easy, but at least there, green actually meant go.
She heaved her matching pair of Gucci bags into the den and flopped down on the white leather sofa, spreading her arms out along the back and sighing up the ceiling before closing her eyes to rest them. At least all the lights were on, which made her feel a little better about being home alone. Flying first class on Virgin Atlantic wasn’t exactly travel hell, but she could’ve done without the layover in Detroit. Backward airlines, taking her all the way to dirty, dingy Detroit, and then doubling back to the green forests of Maine—the place she would always think of as “home.”
Which was where the heart—and her stepbrother—both were.
Thinking about Ric made her jaw clench and Annalesa took a long, slow, steadying breath. How long had it been? Four years? Too long to be out of touch with someone she’d once spent practically every day with. But she was home again now, and their parents expected the two of them to play nice, like good step siblings, to hang out and celebrate their respective graduations with a combined party for all their friends and family.
Of course, their parents had no idea what happened the last time Annalesa had seen her stepbrother. They hadn’t heard the yelling, hadn’t been witness to her tears. She’d always been good at hiding her feelings—she’d been born in England, after all—and this had been no exception. She’d gone to school, like the good girl she was, and never talked about it to anyone. Not even Ric.
Not that he made communicating with him easy. He’d been ignoring her emails completely for the past year. And her Facebook messages. And Tweets. And Snapchats. It had been complete silence from him, right up until the last few weeks. If she hadn’t been in communication with her parents, she might have thought something bad had happened to him, but no—Ric was fine.
He just wasn’t talking to her.
She told herself she wasn’t going to let his lack of communication bother her, even though she found herself hoping he would thaw enough to respond, even if it was just to be a jerk. His silence was somehow worse than the terse, sarcastic comments she’d gotten from him the first three years she’d been away at school. She would have even welcomed that brusque, nearly-hostile Ric back, if he’d just talk to her.
Annalesa didn’t know what to expect, after all this time. His email demanding to know her arrival information had been the first time he’d reached out, and it had sent her into a tailspin. Instead of answering, she’d decided to ignore him and give him back some of his own medicine. She wondered, now that she was sitting at home in their living room, when Ric was planning on returning. Knowing him, probably not until the day of their collective graduation party. He’d be able to ignore her completely in the midst of a crowd.
“I need a fucking drink,” she said to no one in particular, looking at her twin suitcases. The thought of unpacking made her feel queasy. She was already exhausted—had been traveling since eleven in the morning, UK time—but she’d avoided drinking on the plane, knowing she was going to be driving herself home. Now it was a little after midnight, and she wanted nothing more than to fall into bed and sleep.
But she was wound tighter than a spring, something knotted and coiled in her belly, like a trap. She glanced at the bar, considering. It was always well-stocked and it looked inviting. A few drinks, and she’d be relaxed enough to sleep. And in the morning, maybe she would find out just when her stepbrother was due to arrive. She’d prepared herself for the possibility of coming home and finding him here, but now that she was alone, the guard she’d put up wouldn’t come down.
She recognized the feeling in her gut well enough and didn’t want to wait nearly a week until their party to find out if Ric was going to continue his freeze-out.
He’s just being a man. That’s what the voice in her head liked to say, whenever she inwardly questioned his lack of communication. “Real men” didn’t email, they didn’t post Facebook updates, and they definitely didn’t Snapchat. Twitter’s one-hundred-and-forty characters was the perfect, to-the-point masculine medium, and even that was too wordy for her stepbrother.
She liked that explanation. It warmed her to think that his lack of contact was a man-thing. That theory suited her far better than any other her mind liked to come up with.
She pulled her head off the back of the couch and tried to summon the energy to go pour herself the drink she needed to unwind. She could see the bar’s reflection in the ceiling-to-wall windows, which, during the daytime, looked out over the swimming pool and hot tub. Their home gym, which would have been the envy of most commercial establishments, sat opposite, and a zillion acres of New England forest loomed behind that.
The Scandinavian-styled den was cozy, even without a fire going—her mother loved the gas fireplace and ran it often in the summer months, too—and Annalesa found herself relaxing a little, without the aid of alcohol. Her English roots made her think of this room as a “lounge,” or a “snug,” but her American stepfather ruled the linguistic roost in this house, so it was known to all of them as “the den.”
The room was a stark contrast, all white paint and creamy leather furniture offset by flooring, window panes and exposed beams in dark, varnished pine. Her mother had decorated with cream-colored throw rugs and pillows. Annalesa had written whole dissertations sitting on this very couch, her laptop and coffee cup balanced on a beanbag tray.
She remembered how she’d been rooted to this spot, the sofa becoming like a second skin while she and Ric waited to hear from their parents after their plane had lost radio contact near Bonaire in the Dutch Antilles. It was a memory that made her feel cold all over and she shivered, like she had that night. There had been a fire in the fireplace that night, but she couldn’t stop shivering, not then.
She shivered now, trying to shake off the memory.
To distract herself, she reached for a mottled banana from the fruit bowl that always decorated the glass coffee table. Maybe her exhaustion wasn’t just travel, but also a bit of low blood sugar, too. That’s when she saw the little card tucked beneath the side of the bowl. She knew without looking that it was from their head housekeeper, Payne.
Annalesa had half-expected Payne—she didn’t know the woman’s first name, and probably never would—to meet her at the door, but of course, she hadn’t told anyone when she was arriving. Still, from the note, Payne had kept tabs anyway. The housekeeper said there was a plate of boeuf bourguignon and green beans for her in the fridge, compliments of their chef—a quiet, dark-skinned man inexplicably called “Ham,” who spoke little English but could cook like the dickens.
Smiling, Annalesa put the card down and the banana back. It was nice to be remembered, but her appetite seemed to have suffered worse jetlag than her body. She wasn’t hungry—although she should have been. Just like she wasn’t tired, even though exhaustion threatened. Instead, she was wound like a top, ready to spin.
That was the other thing about coming home—memories returned, unbidden. She wished she could control them, turn them on and off like a faucet, but it was impossible. If home was her axis—her center, her core—then everything here was liquid, malleable, unmanageable. Memories flowed like molten lava, wherever they wanted, whenever they wanted, beyond her control.
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