Chapter 1: Tallulah's Coming Home
VOLUME ONE: RULES
"I'm back!" I hear my best friend call down the phone at me as soon as I answer her call. Her voice has a ring to it; almost like she's singing the words at me.
She's driving. I can hear the sound of the engine in the background as she speaks to me through the car's sound system.
"What do you mean you're back?"
I'm confused. She can't possibly be back. It's the middle of November. She should be sitting in a classroom, learning all about... well, whatever artist types learn about at University.
She'd been so excited when she left at the end of the summer to go to Brighton for her masters. She'd been like a small child, her eyes dancing with all the possibilities that her future held as she packed up her car and drove away.
"I've come home," Tallulah replies quickly. Too quickly.
Home? Why? What on earth is she talking about? She can't come home. What is her brother going to say?
"What about your course?" I ask because it's not like Tallulah to quit anything, least of all her education. Not when her elder brother had worked so hard to help her pay for it. Heck, he'd risked his life to get her on that course.
"I don't want to talk about it. I don't want to even think about it."
I can't help but feel worried. It's not like Tallulah to not want to talk about a problem. A quiet Tallulah is usually a bad sign. Something has gone wrong. And it's bad. Really bad.
"What's wrong, Lou?"
I know I probably shouldn't ask but I can't help it. She's my best friend and I feel responsible for her. I'm her family. Almost all she has, except for her brother, Nathan.
I can hear it in her voice. The singsong lilt has gone; her voice is timid and slightly cracked. It's very unlike her but I won't press her.
I know better than that.
She'll talk to me when she's ready. She always does in the end.
"So, I was wondering, did you ever replace me?"
"What do you mean?" Replacing Tallulah would be impossible. There's no one in the world like her.
"In the flat," Tallulah explains, "has someone else taken my old room?"
"No one could ever replace you, Lou. The room is still yours, if you want it."
The truth is I haven't even thought about getting someone to take Tallulah's room. It's not like I need the rent money and I always wanted her to have somewhere to stay when she visits.
She's family and this is her home. She's sometimes more like family than my own flesh and blood.
"Great! I'll be over in twenty minutes."
Tallulah hangs up without a goodbye.
I'm sitting in the living room of my three-bedroom flat. The one my parents insisted on buying for me when I started university.
It's a beautiful apartment; far too nice for typical student living. We're just around the corner from Battersea Park in an affluent area of London.
Not that far away from my parent's townhouse. Not that they are ever there. They spend most of their time in Surrey.
The sliding doors are open, letting in a gentle breeze from the terrace, surprisingly warm considering it's the beginning of November.
The room is open plan with a large sitting area in the centre, a kitchen alone one wall, partitioned off from the rest of the room and a dining area to the side. The television is on mute and there are study books and lesson plans all over the coffee table.
I studied English for my degree and had just started my training to become a teacher a month ago.
Glancing at my watch, I wonder if I can finish my year eleven Frankenstein lesson plan before Tallulah arrives. I sigh with defeat before gathering up all the pieces of paper and notebooks.
Although there is probably enough time to get it done, I'm not convinced that I'd be happy with the finished product. Knowing me, I'd end up doing it again tomorrow anyway. Ever the perfectionist.
"Calling it a day already? You've only been at it for half an hour."
Cameron chuckles as he walks into the room wearing his gym shorts and a green t-shirt that shows off just how defined his muscles are, with just the hint of a tattoo visible under his left sleeve.
He's somewhat flushed and his dark hair is slightly damp from sweat.
Making his way into the sleek kitchen area that although clearly expensive, looks more like a student kitchen than anything else in the flat, he opens the fridge.
There are dirty dishes in the sink and a pile of letters on the side left unopened, not to mention silly magnets on the fridge.
Pulling out a cartoon of milk, he pours himself a glass because he knows I hate it when people drink from the bottle. Only of the many Stone family rules I'd grown up with.
"Tallulah called," I reply as I turn to face him. "She's back in town so she's moving back in."
Cameron gives me a blinding smile.
"In about fifteen minutes."