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Tether

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Taylor

I was having a disagreement with my eyelids.

Not that that was anything new. Early mornings have long been the bane of my existence, something that doesn’t exactly mesh well with being the part-owner of a coffee shop that does a roaring trade during breakfast. When my alarm clock goes off at five o’clock sharp – and not a minute earlier or later – I’m torn between hitting the snooze button and getting a few extra minutes of sleep, or getting up and stumbling to the kitchen in search of something to wake me up. One option runs the risk of at least one member of my family getting more than a little stroppy at me, and the other usually results in me being non-verbal for at least the first ten minutes after I wake up. Neither option is something that particularly appeals to me at the best of times.

That particular morning, though, my mental disagreement was ended rather abruptly when, through a haze of sleep, I felt a little hand land on my right shoulder and start shaking it.

“Daddy…Daddy wake up…”

I forced one eye open and squinted against the light from the lamp set into the wall above my side of the bed. Standing there was the oldest of my twin daughters, Cara – one of her eyes was squinted shut and her hair was tangled up and matted over on one side of her head, a pretty good indicator that she’d only just woken up. I was even willing to bet that she wasn’t quite sure where she was. Her left arm was curled around one of her teddy bears.

“Cara, sweetheart, it’s” I broke off briefly to eye my alarm clock, biting back a particularly potent swear word when I saw that it was four-thirty in the morning “way too early to be up. Why aren’t you in bed?”

Cara’s immediate response was to take her right hand off my shoulder and lift it up to her right ear, pulling down on her earlobe. “My ear hurts,” she said. “It woke me up.”

I couldn’t help but feel sympathy when Cara said this. I had been plagued with near-constant earaches as a kid, and it seemed that Cara had inherited it from me. Mia had escaped it thus far, something her mother and I were very thankful for. It remained to be seen if our youngest would be in the same boat as Cara, but so far we’d been lucky.

After a quick glance back over my shoulder to make sure Kimberley hadn’t woken up, I pushed my covers back and eased myself upright. “Come on Cara,” I said as I got up out of bed, stretching as I moved. “We’ll get your ear fixed and then you can go back to bed.”

Deciding that the bathroom just across the hall from mine and Kimberley’s bedroom carried far too high a risk of waking Kimberley up with our talking, I led Cara out into the kitchen and lifted her up onto the kitchen bench. It was still pitch dark outside – sunrise wasn’t for another hour and a half at the absolute earliest – but there was enough light from the streetlights outside and next door’s patio lights that the house wasn’t completely dark. Even so, I switched on the kitchen light anyway – I needed fairly bright light to be able to see what I was about to do.

The very first thing I did was seek out Kimberley’s work bag and liberate her digital ear thermometer from its depths. That, I felt, was one of the benefits of being married to a doctor – instead of going to the bathroom to hunt down the thermometer we kept in the medicine cabinet, so long as Kimberley was at home I could just nick hers out of her bag. It saved a hell of a lot of time for one, something I felt was absolutely crucial when dealing with our three kids. Not mention that with Fletcher in particular being a biter, there was far less of a risk of the thermometer’s glass breaking when one of the kids chomped down on it.

“Daddy?” Cara asked once I had stuck the probe of the thermometer into her ear.

“Hmm?”

“Do I have to go to Grandma and Grandpa’s house today?”

I didn’t answer straight away, instead focusing on the little LCD display on the thermometer – her temperature read as normal, but I resolved to get Kimberley to keep an eye on Cara once she was up and about. “Not today,” I replied, giving Cara a quick smile before turning to the cupboard next to the range hood above the stove. Inside that cupboard were all the various medications used by our family – painkillers of one description or another, allergy medication, vitamins, and cold and flu medication. A quick root around one-handed produced the bottle of strawberry Children’s Panadol and its measuring cup that lived in there on a more or less constant basis. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Cara staring at it with a healthy amount of distaste in her eyes.

“I don’t like that one,” she said matter-of-factly. “It tastes yucky.”

“It’s strawberry kiddo, you like strawberry don’t you?” Cara shook her head at this. “No, that’s right, it’s your sister that likes strawberry.” I studied the back of the bottle so I could figure out the correct dosage. “It’s all there is Cara, so unless you want to have a sore ear all night you’re going to have to take it.” I reached over and ruffled Cara’s dark blonde hair, a colour she and her twin had inherited from me. “You can have some chocolate milk to get rid of the taste if you like, but you have to take your medicine first. Okay?”

Cara sighed. “Okay.”

“Good girl.” I uncapped the medicine bottle, poured the necessary dose into the measuring cup and handed it to Cara. She downed the dose of medicine in one go and handed the cup back, pulling a face. I gave the cup a quick rinse under the tap and set it in the draining rack to dry.

“Are you going to work today, Daddy?” Cara asked once she had the promised cup of chocolate milk in her hands.

“For a couple of hours, yep,” I replied. “Then I have band practice with your auntie and uncle. You’re going to stay home with your mum today though, okay?”

“But I want to come with you!”

I raised an eyebrow at Cara. “What did your mum and I say about that sort of attitude, young lady?” I asked her, my tone a little sterner than usual.

“To knock it off,” Cara said, her tone contrite.

“And what happens to little girls who don’t knock off with that sort of attitude?” I prompted to make sure this particular lesson had sunk in.

“I don’t get to ride my bike or watch TV for a week.”

“That’s right. So no more of that attitude, okay?”

“Okay.” She finished off her milk and handed the cup back to me, and I helped her down off the bench. “Sorry, Daddy.”

I bent down and pressed a kiss to the crown of Cara’s head. “Come on you, back to bed. Your mum will have my head if she finds out you stayed awake longer than you were supposed to.”

Once Cara was safely back in the bedroom she shared with Mia, and after I had checked on Fletcher to make sure he was still in his cot – he was getting to that age where he was more than capable of climbing out of it, and did just that on a disturbingly regular basis – I returned to my bedroom. The lamp above my side of the bed was still blazing – Cara not being tall enough to reach the dimmer switch, I figured that she had just barely managed to flick it on in the first place. Kimberley was still asleep, her back to me as I turned the lamp down and carefully got back into bed, but the second I sat down on the mattress she woke up.

“Tay?” she mumbled, and rolled over so she could see me. One grey eye eased itself open and squinted up at me. “What’s goin’ on?”

“Cara woke me up with an earache,” I replied. “Got some Panadol into her and put her back to bed. She should be all right in the morning.”

“Good,” Kimberley said through a yawn so wide I was almost certain she would end up dislocating her jaw. “I might stay home with her today. If they need me at the hospital they can always ring me – they know what my mobile number is.”

“Sounds like a plan to me. I have work and band practice today, otherwise I’d watch her.” I leaned over and planted a quick kiss on Kimberley’s forehead. “Go back to sleep. I’ll try not to wake you when I get up.”

“Thanks, love,” Kimberley said, and gave me a sleepy smile before closing her eyes. I mirrored her smile, even though I knew she couldn’t see it, and closed my own eyes in an attempt at catching a few minutes’ sleep before my alarm went off.

Much to my relief, the breakfast shift that morning went off mostly without a hitch – there was a tiny crisis when the coffee machine stopped working right as I was sorting out a coffee order for the florists’ over on Fitzroy Street, but that was sorted out fairly quickly – and I was soon driving over to my sister’s place. Sara lived in a townhouse on Rawson Avenue, and out of the three of we Ainsworth siblings was the only one who had enough space for our band practices. I parked my car in the street outside her block and popped the driver’s side door open, noting absently that Nate’s car was already parked in the driveway.

Nate and Sara were hard at work setting up the lounge room for our band practice when I walked in the front door – Nate was putting his drum kit together, and Sara was setting her keyboard up on its stand. All of the furniture that normally filled the lounge room – the coffee table, the lounge and both armchairs – had been pushed against the walls so that we had as much space as possible.

“Would you look who the cat dragged in,” Nate said dryly as I dropped my messenger bag and guitar case right next to him. In response I smacked the back of his head. “Ow!”

“Don’t be such a fucking baby,” I retorted. “I barely touched you.”

“Can we please set up for practice?” Sara asked before Nate and I could really get going. “If we’re going to get this EP of ours finished anytime soon then I’d really like it if we could get even just a tiny bit of rehearsal in.”

“Yeah okay Sare, don’t get your knickers in a twist,” Nate said, earning himself another smack across the back of the head – this time from Sara. “Jesus fucking Christ Sara, you don’t have to hit me so goddamn hard!”

“Well watch your mouth then,” Sara said. She set her piano bench into place behind her keyboard and sat down on it. “Come on, are we going to get started or what?”

“Actually, I was wondering if I could talk to you guys about something,” Nate said as he sat down behind his drums and took two of his drumsticks out of their quiver. “I think it could be really good for us.”

“Nate, the last time you said that, Taylor ended up with a broken arm,” Sara said, and jerked a thumb at me. “So you’ll have to excuse me for not feeling all that enthusiastic about any ideas you might have.”

“Yeah, okay, but that was one time!” Nate protested. “This won’t be like that, I swear.”

“Shoot, then,” I said. I rubbed my right forearm near where the break had been as I spoke. I was admittedly a little nervous about what Nate was going to suggest, because I was usually the one who got hurt.

“I was watching Channel V last night,” Nate began. “And I saw this ad for a competition – one indie artist will get to tour around Australia as the opener for an American band this March and April. It would get us hell of a lot more exposure than we already get around here, and we’d get to see the rest of Australia.”

“And what band are we talking about here?” Sara asked. She sounded as if she was starting to warm up to the idea.

I watched as Nate swallowed hard and bit down on his bottom lip, as if he were trying to phrase his answer in a way that wouldn’t piss both Sara and I off. “Hanson,” he said at last.

Hanson?” Sara asked, clearly shocked at what Nate was suggesting. “Am I hearing you right? You want us to tour with Hanson?

“I thought you liked Hanson, Sara,” Nate said.

“Yeah, I do, but touring with them? We’re nowhere near good enough for that!”

“Not to mention that they’re a hell of a lot more popular than we’ll ever be,” I added. “Barely anyone outside Tamworth knows who we are – why the fuck would a band like Hanson ever want to tour with us? Compared to them, we’re nobodies.”

“Yeah, but see that’s my whole point,” Nate said. I could tell he was getting excited about his idea now. “Okay, yeah, we’re pretty much nobodies and we don’t have nearly enough touring experience. But this could be really good for us, don’t you see? If they pick us, because there’s absolutely no guarantee that they even would-”

“Wait, Channel V’s not judging the competition?” Sara asked.

“Nope,” Nate replied. “They have to like who they end up spending a month on the road with, right?” He twirled one of his drumsticks around in his fingers. “As I was saying, if they pick us then we won’t be nobodies anymore. People outside of New England will know who we are. Not to mention that we’ll be able to prove that people from Tamworth are capable of writing something other than bloody country music.” He gave a somewhat theatrical shudder at this. “I really think we should give this a shot. Nothing ventured nothing gained, right?”

Sara and I glanced at each other, and I watched as my sister gave me an almost imperceptible nod. “Okay then, say we do decide to enter,” I said. Nate sat up a little straighter at this, and I bit back a grin. It was his way of attempting to intimidate me. “What exactly do we need to do?”

“We need to get the EP finished, first and foremost,” he replied. “We also need to record an audition video that has no more than ten songs in it, and submit a digital copy of our EP, photographs of ourselves and a copy of the video to Channel V by the fifteenth of this month.”

“That’s pushing things a little, isn’t it?” Sara asked. “I mean, it’s already the sixth.”

“EP’s almost done, though,” I said. “We’ve got, what, four songs done for it? Only need a couple more, and then we can pick a few more songs to play in our audition video.”

“Speaking of, and I’m probably going to regret this…” Nate visibly braced himself. “If you two say for sure that you want to do this, then I’ll let you pick the extra songs we play in our audition video.”

“And you won’t complain?” Sara asked.

“I swear I won’t complain. Because I know damn well that if I do bitch and moan you’ll tell Mum and Dad what I did during my Year 12 Formal after party, and Mum will kill me.”

“Well then, in that case,” Sara said, sounding very cheerful – knowing that she had something to hold over our little brother’s head as blackmail always made her happy. “We’ll do it.” She then pointed her right index finger at Nate. “But the first I hear of you moaning about the songs that Tay and I pick, I’m telling Mum.”

“I don’t doubt that for a second,” Nate said. “Okay then, seeing as that’s decided, how about we get some practice in?”

But try as we might, we didn’t get that far. We were just about to start rehearsing one of the songs we hadn’t yet recorded for the EP, one that Sara had written called Days And Days, when my mobile phone rang in my pocket. Its ringtone identified the caller as Kimberley. I waved a hand at Sara and Nate to indicate that I needed quiet and answered my phone. “Hey Kim.”

“Tay, are you at band practice?” Kimberley asked as soon as I’d finished speaking. In the background of the phone call I could hear the unmistakable sounds of the emergency department of Tamworth Hospital.

“Yeah,” I replied, wondering just where Kimberley was going with this. “Hang on, what are you doing at work? I thought you were staying home with Cara today.”

“They called me in. I need the three of you to come down here, okay? Your dad’s been admitted.”

The instant that Kimberley told me that my father was in hospital, I nearly dropped my phone. “He’s what?” I asked, willing my voice not to shake.

“He’s in hospital, Tay – he had something fall on him while he was working in the garage at your parents’ place. He’s all right but he’s got a pretty bad concussion – he’ll probably have to stay here overnight.” She paused, and I could almost see her running a hand through her hair. “I can’t say anything more than that, I’ll get in trouble. Just get down here, all right?”

“Okay. We’ll be there soon. Love you Kim.”

I could almost see Kimberley smile at this. “Love you too, Tay.”

We hung up almost at the same moment, and I locked my phone again before sliding it into my pocket. “Dad’s in hospital,” I said, deciding to get straight to the point.

Those three words were met with what was clearly a very shocked silence. “Is he okay?” Sara asked at last.

“Yeah, he just got whacked on the head,” I replied. “Probably with that toolbox of his. Anyway, Kim asked us to come down.”

A brief glance passed between Sara and Nate. “All one car, d’you think?” Sara suggested. “There’s no point in us all taking our own cars, I’m not even sure there’d be enough parking spaces.”

“Yeah, good idea,” Nate replied, and stuck his drumsticks back into their quiver.

The drive between Sara’s place and Tamworth Hospital didn’t take long at all, and once Sara had found a parking space in the hospital’s carpark we all piled out and headed inside the main building. Kimberley was waiting with Mum and the kids in the waiting area of the emergency department, with Mum and Kimberley looking up at us as Sara, Nate and I approached. Mum had Fletcher perched on her lap, while Cara and Mia were sitting on the floor playing with the dolls they’d got for Christmas.

“How’s Dad?” Nate asked Mum once the pleasantries were out of the way. “Tay said he got whacked on the head with something but that’s it.”

“That stupid, stupid man,” Mum said – she sounded more relieved than angry. “I’ve been telling him for years to take that toolbox of his down off that shelf and put it somewhere it’s not going to fall on someone. I swear I’m going to kill him when he gets home.”

“Told you,” I said in an undertone to my brother and sister. “But he’s okay though?”

“Aside from a concussion and a very nasty gash that I just spent ten minutes stitching, he’ll be fine,” Kimberley replied. “But I will be keeping him in overnight for observation, just to be sure there’s no lasting damage.” She gave us a smile. “Sara and Nate, how about you, your mum and the kids go through and see your dad – I want to talk to your brother for a little bit.”

Oh great, what did I do this time? I couldn’t help but wonder. In my experience, if Kimberley needed to talk to me either the kids had done something idiotic or I had – I could only hope neither applied in this case. “What did you want to talk to me about?” I asked once Mum, my siblings and the kids had headed off.

“We should go somewhere a little more private,” Kimberley said, and I was immediately on my guard. This couldn’t be good.

‘Somewhere a little more private’ turned out to be the hospital’s pathology department. “Tay, what’s your blood type?”

I raised an eyebrow. “How the fuck should I know what my blood type is? I’ve never donated, you of all people should know that.”

“One way to find out, isn’t there?” Kimberley grinned at me, a little evilly I thought, and proceeded to drag me inside Pathology.

Ten minutes later I was glaring at the bright pink bandaid that now had a home on my left forearm just beneath the crook of my elbow, completely ignoring Kimberley as she worked on figuring out exactly what my blood type was. “You’re type O-positive,” she announced triumphantly. Her tone quickly sobered. “Okay, that should not be possible.”

I looked over at Kimberley to see that she had a very confused look on her face. “What shouldn’t be possible?”

“You inherit your blood type from your parents. I saw your dad’s in his records after he was admitted, and out of curiosity I pulled your mum’s as well.”

“Should you even be telling me this?” I asked. “I mean, isn’t this a breach of doctor-patient confidentiality?”

“As long as you keep your mouth shut I won’t be in the shit,” Kimberley shot back. “Your dad is A-negative, and your mum is AB-positive. You should be either A, AB or B. It shouldn’t be biologically possible for you to be O.”

It took a little while for this to sink in. “Kim, what exactly are you saying here? And don’t even say I’m adopted because there’s no way in hell that’s true. Mum and Dad would have told me years ago if I was. They would never have kept that from me.”

“That’s exactly what I’m saying.” She let out a quiet sigh. “Tay, I really do think you might be adopted. There’s no other explanation – if you weren’t, we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now.”

“Jesus Christ,” I whispered. “What am I supposed to do now, Kim?”

“Talk to them,” Kimberley replied. “Find out why they’ve kept this from you for so long. Though I would wait until after your dad is out of here. I don’t think it’s a conversation you should have anywhere other than home – it’s a private matter between you and your parents.” She came over to where I sat on a high stool and put her hands on my shoulders. “I really am sorry you had to find out this way. And if it helps any, I still love you no matter what. That you might be adopted, that doesn’t have any bearing on who you are as a person – you are still my Taylor, and that will never change. Okay?”

I nodded. “Okay.”

Dad was sitting up in a hospital bed in the emergency ward, a curtain separating his bed area from the rest of the ward to provide an illusion of privacy. He had a large white bandage taped down over the right side of his head. “How are you feeling Dad?” I asked, pulling up a chair next to Sara and sitting down as I spoke.

Dad flashed me a tired smile. “Head’s killing me but I’ll be right. That wife of yours has decided to keep me locked up here overnight for some reason, though.” He winked at me to indicate he was joking.

“Standard procedure for a head injury, Mr. Ainsworth,” Kimberley said, shifting seamlessly into her professional tone of voice. “We wouldn’t want you to send you home and risk missing something.” Here she dropped that particular tone. “It’s good to see you’re all right though, Nick. I was a little worried there for a moment.” She nodded at Mum. “I think Jeanette might want to kill you later on, though.”

“So what did Kim want to talk to you about?” Sara asked as the discussion around us turned to things that didn’t have anything to do with doctors and hospitals.

“Dinner tonight,” I lied, thanking my lucky stars that I had always been very good at telling little white lies. They had saved my sanity on many an occasion.

Out of the corner of my eye I could see Sara studying me, blue eyes nearly identical to my own just a little concerned. “You’d tell me if anything was up, wouldn’t you?”

“Yeah, of course I would. I’d never intentionally keep anything from you. You should know that by now.”

“Okay, just making sure.” Sara gave me a smile and turned back to Dad. I got up from my seat near the end of Dad’s bed, slipped through a gap in the curtains and headed out of the ward.

There had to be some mistake. I wasn’t adopted – I couldn’t be. I looked like my parents and my brother and sister – my entire family was blonde to various degrees, and I shared my eye colour with Dad and with Sara. Nate had inherited Mum’s green eyes. I had no memories that would indicate that I wasn’t an Ainsworth – my earliest memory was of being three years old and playing in the snow with my parents and Sara at our old house in New York, a year before Nate had been born. My passport, my driver’s licence and my birth certificate all gave my full name as Taylor James Ainsworth. Why would they say anything different?

But at the same time, Kimberley telling me that my blood type wasn’t even close to being similar to my parents’ had planted a tiny seed of doubt deep inside. I knew there was no chance that she had made a mistake. Never mind that she would never lie to me unless she had a very good reason for doing so, and the revelation that I could very well be adopted didn’t come under that particular heading. It was something that had the potential to change my entire life. Hell, it already had changed it.

I raked my hair back off my face with my hands and let out a sigh. Kimberley was right – I needed to talk to my parents about this. I needed to hear the truth from them, as much as I knew it would probably hurt. And if I was adopted, then I needed to know why they’d kept it from me for so many years.

“Whatever deity is out there, give me strength,” I said to myself. “Because I think I’m going to need it.”


A week later, Dad was out of hospital and the EP was finished. By mutual agreement, Nate, Sara and I had chosen to call our EP Broken Hearts And Opened Scars – of all the titles we had been tossing around between us over the last couple of months, it was the only one that even remotely seemed to fit. With recording completely out of the way and the Channel V competition firmly in our collective sights, there really were only three things left to do – record an audition video, get some new photos taken, and upload the whole lot to the competition website. We were cutting it pretty fine, though – with just two days left until the competition ended, it was going to be a case of attempting to do our video in the one take so we didn’t waste any time.

“Thanks for helping us out with this, Dad,” Nate said once Sara’s lounge room was set up for filming. Nate’s drums were directly in front of the sliding glass door that opened onto the backyard, with my guitar in its stand to the left of our makeshift stage and Sara’s keyboard to the right.

“No problem Nate,” Dad said. His video camera was set up on its tripod in front of the window that looked out on the front verandah. “Now, how long does this video need to be?”

“Forty-five minutes at the absolute most,” I replied. Since agreeing to enter the competition, I had spent a little bit of time familiarising myself with its rules. “We have to introduce ourselves, talk about our band and then play a few songs.”

“Sounds easy enough,” Dad said as Nate, Sara and I took up our positions in front of the camera, which were more or less the same as how we set ourselves up onstage – Nate in the middle, Sara to his left and me to his right. “Ready?”

“Ready,” the three of us chorused, and the red light on the front of the video camera that indicated that recording had started went on. Sara being the oldest, she went first.

“My name is Sara Ainsworth,” she said to begin our audition video. “I play piano and violin in After Midnight – I also sing vocals and do the majority of our songwriting.”

I was next. “I’m Taylor Ainsworth,” I said to introduce myself. I could feel myself beginning to shake, and I clenched my hands into fists behind my back to stave it off. “I play guitar, piano and drums, along with vocals, and I contribute the occasional song to Sara’s writing efforts.”

Nate, as the youngest Ainsworth and the youngest member of our band, was last to introduce himself. “My name’s Nathaniel Ainsworth, but everyone calls me Nate,” he said. “I’m After Midnight’s drummer, and I also sing and play guitar.”

“And as you can probably tell from our accents, we come from Australia,” I said. “Home for us is a city roughly three hundred and twenty kilometres south of the border between New South Wales and Queensland – it’s called Tamworth. Originally we hail from the USA, New York to be exact – our family moved Down Under in 1992.”

“How long have you been a band?” Dad prompted from behind the camera.

“Eight years,” Sara replied. “Since Nate finished high school, basically. That was the deal we made with our parents, because they’ve always known how passionate the three of us are about music – once all three of us were completely done with high school, exams and all, then they’d let us play our music as much as we liked. It was really just a hobby before that.”

“We’ve also just finished our second EP, which we’ve christened Broken Hearts And Opened Scars,” Nate added. “And seeing as the whole point of this video is to show what we can do, how about we play a few songs from it?”

“Sounds good to me,” I agreed, and out of the corner of my eye I could see Sara nodding. We went to our instruments and set ourselves up to play, with Nate and I leading the very first song from our EP on my guitar and his drums, one that Sara had vocals on.

“After some thought on the subject…I’ve decided that I’ve gone and lost it…I feel stupid and confused on…anything that has to do with you and…I got a bad reputation…I got a bad reputation…

“Too much coffee and no smoking…I feel a little lame like I’m kinda boring…I wish I could date my former self…she’d be a fun girlfriend…she’d be a fun girlfriend…

“She got a bad reputation…she got a bad reputation…she probably needs medication…she don’t care ‘bout no reputation…

“And I’ve lost a little bit…but I’m gonna go find it…yeah, I’m gonna go find it…

“I have dreams about the end of the story…there’s no explosions, there’s never any holy glory…just a bunch of people lost and sleeping…trying to find someone…trying to find someone…

“We got ourselves a bad situation…we got ourselves a bad situation…we gotta get to the next space station…to save ourselves from this bad reputation…

“We’ve lost a little but we’re gonna go find it…yeah, we’re gonna go find it…

“I got a bad reputation…I got a bad reputation…I probably need medication…to save myself from this bad reputation…”

After a short pause, one meant to mimic the time the audience at our shows spent clapping and cheering, we skipped the next three songs in the EP’s track list to one that I sang lead vocals on. Nate and Sara had backing vocals, but essentially this song was all mine. It started out with Nate’s drums and Sara’s keyboard, with my vocals starting around thirty seconds after the song itself did.

“I don’t know how you do it…but somehow you always will be there…and there’s nothing to it…but somehow you always understand…there’s no way to wake up now…too many times I saw you cry…and no one can make up it…you wait for the sun to make the sky…

“And no one elevates you, elevates you now…and no one’s gonna take you, gonna take you there…

“All this time, never thought I would see you smile…know that I and I know that I see you now…but I know I can’t walk in…never go back again…no matter how, tonight I’ll never go back, never go back again…

“And no one elevates you, elevates you now…and no one’s gonna take you, gonna take you there…and no one elevates you, elevates you now…and no one’s gonna take you, gonna take you there…

“You know that I want to get away…and I cannot wait for another day…you know that I want to elevate…time to pick it up and celebrate…you know that I want to get away…and I cannot wait for another day…you know that I want to elevate…time to pick it up and celebrate…you know that I want to get away…and I cannot wait for another day…you know that I want to elevate…time to pick it up and celebrate…

“And no one elevates you, elevates you now…and no one’s gonna take you, gonna take you there…and no one elevates you, elevates you now…and no one’s gonna take you, gonna take you there…hold on to your heart…

“You know that I want to get away…and I cannot wait for another day…you know that I want to elevate…time to pick it up and celebrate…you know that I want to get away…and I cannot wait for another day…you know that I want to elevate…time to pick it up and celebrate…hold on to your heart…

“You know that I want to get away…and I cannot wait for another day…you know that I want to elevate…time to pick it up and celebrate…you know that I want to get away…and I cannot wait for another day…you know that I want to elevate…time to pick it up and celebrate…hold on to your heart…

“You know that I want to get away…and I cannot wait for another day…you know that I want to elevate…time to pick it up and celebrate…you know that I want to get away…and I cannot wait for another day…you know that I want to elevate…time to pick it up and celebrate…you know that I want to get away…and I cannot wait for another day…you know that I want to elevate…time to pick it up and celebrate…you know that I want to get away…and I cannot wait for another day…you know that I want to elevate…time to pick it up and celebrate…”

This time there was applause once the song had finished instead of silence, and all three of us looked over at the stairs that led up to the townhouse’s first floor. Standing there halfway up the first flight of stairs was Sara’s fiancé, Joshua.

“Josh, we’re filming,” Sara said, sounding rather like a petulant child.

“We can edit that out, Sare,” Nate said. “How was that Josh?”

“Bloody awesome,” Joshua replied, and I couldn’t help the smile that erupted onto my face. “What are you filming?”

“Audition video,” Nate replied. “We’re entering a competition to try and get on tour with Hanson when they come here in a couple of months – it closes Wednesday.”

“I’ll leave you to it then,” Joshua said. “Sara, my parents have Chelsea tonight, okay?”

“Okay,” Sara replied.

Joshua disappeared upstairs after that, leaving the three of us to finish our audition video. “Covers next then?” I said to pick up the thread again.

“Yeah, may as well,” Nate said, and started tapping out a drumbeat – one that I recognised as the beginning of the song that Sara had chosen as her cover, 1997 by Washington. That was all it took for us to refocus on what we had been in the middle of doing before Joshua had interrupted us, and we shifted seamlessly back into our performance.

When we had finished performing our three covers – we’d followed 1997 up with Hold My Hand by Hootie and the Blowfish, rounding things out with Panic! At The Disco’s New Perspective – we left our instruments and resumed our places before the camera. It was time to make our closing remarks and end our video.

“So there you have it,” Sara said. “Hopefully this video and our EP have shown you what we’re capable of. This would be an incredible opportunity for us – so many people consider Tamworth to be known for country music and not much else, so to show the rest of Australia that indie musicians make their home here too would be amazing.”

“Not to mention that getting to see all of Australia would be pretty awesome as well,” Nate added. “There is so much out there to see, and in all honesty between the three of us” he gestured at himself, Sara and I “we’ve barely scratched the surface.”

“Thanks for taking the time to consider us as a potential opening act for the Australian leg of the Anthem World Tour – we really appreciate it,” I said to finish up. “This is Sara, Taylor and Nate Ainsworth, otherwise known as After Midnight, signing off.”

The red recording light on the front of the video camera blinked off, and I let out a sigh of relief. It was done. All we needed to do now was edit out the bit where Joshua had interrupted us – I was pretty sure nobody but us needed to see that – and get some photos taken.

“And that’s a wrap,” Dad said. He popped the media card that held our audition video out of the video camera, and Nate went over to collect it from him. “Oh, before the three of you go anywhere, your mum and I want you to come over for dinner tonight.”

“Just the three of us?” I asked. I knew that Kimberley had the night off from work, so it would be no trouble for her to look after Fletcher and the girls – I just needed to give her plenty of notice.

“Just the three of you,” Dad replied. “This is strictly an Ainsworth family matter for the time being, and to be honest it’s something you two” he indicated Nate and I “should have been told about years ago. Having that toolbox fall on my head last week was a wake-up call to say the least.”

“Okay,” I said, all of a sudden feeling very nervous. I looked over at Nate, and he shrugged – a clear sign that he had no idea what Dad was on about. I, on the other hand, did have a fairly good idea – and I was almost certain that it had pretty much everything to do with what Kimberley had discovered the week before.

Our little band meeting ended in the backyard with a photography session, Sara donating her digital camera for the cause and roping Joshua into being our photographer. Two headshots apiece and a group photo later we were completely done. “Lose this and I’ll lose you,” Sara warned as she handed her digital camera’s media card over to Nate. “Got me?”

“Gotcha,” Nate replied, and he slid the media card into a pocket. “When did you want us to come over, Dad?” he asked.

“Six should about do it.” To me he said, “Tay, I know you tell Kim everything, but your mum and I want you to keep things quiet for now. Tell her that you’re having dinner at our place if you like, but nothing more than that. All right?”

I nodded quickly. “All right.”

For the rest of the afternoon, I had Kimberley’s little discovery about me on my mind. It was the only thing I could come up with that my parents would want to talk to Sara, Nate and I about – the only thing that even remotely made sense. Something that they should have told Nate and I about years ago, and that Sara obviously knew about already – it fit. It was the only thing that did.

“Something on your mind?”

I looked over at Sara. The two of us were sitting on the deck outside the back door, Nate having gone home to shower and get changed for dinner – I’d decided to catch a ride to our parents’ house with Sara, reasoning that as long as I didn’t drink too much that night I could drive myself home from my sister’s place.

“Just thinking about what Mum and Dad want to talk to us about,” I replied. “It’s just…what the hell could they need to talk to us about? I can’t think of anything.”

“If it’s what I suspect it is,” Sara began, “then I’m honestly shocked they haven’t mentioned it before now. They really should have.”

“Okay, I’m kind of worried now.”

Sara’s only response was a tight smile, and I swallowed hard.

That evening was tense to say the least. Normally spending time at my parents’ place, in the hundred-year-old house on Fitzroy Street where I had essentially grown up, put me completely at ease – it was a familiar place to me. But walking in the front door just behind Sara that evening, not even realising that Mum had done up a pot of spaghetti bolognese for dinner was enough to ease my nerves. I didn’t want to know what my parents had to tell us, and if not for the fact that my car was still at Sara’s place and home was more than an hour away on foot I would have turned around and started heading back to South Tamworth.

“Is that you Sara?” Mum called out from the general direction of the kitchen, and I froze right in the middle of the front hallway.

“Yeah Mum,” Sara called back. “Tay’s with me.” She looked back at me and nodded toward the kitchen, and I shook my head. “How old are you again?” she asked with one eyebrow raised.

“I don’t want to do this,” I hissed. “I don’t want to know what Mum and Dad want to talk to us about, and I am this goddamn close to walking all the way back home.”

“For fuck’s sake Taylor, grow the fuck up and act your age for once. You have no idea what it is exactly they want to tell us. For all you know it could just be that they’re selling up and moving somewhere smaller. How about you wait until you hear what it is they have to say?”

“I hate it when you’re being sensible,” I grumbled, knowing that Sara had a point.

I couldn’t stop fidgeting all throughout dinner. I had always been restless when I was even just the smallest bit anxious, my fingers worrying at the hem of whatever shirt I was wearing at the time or tapping on the nearest flat surface, and my feet tapping out whatever drumbeat that Nate had most recently dreamed up. Tonight, it seemed, was absolutely no exception – my left foot would not stop tapping against the polished wooden floorboards beneath my feet, no matter how many glances my parents shot my way. I was on edge and my whole family knew it.

Finally, once the dinner dishes were cleared away and stacked in the sink, ready to be washed later on, Dad cleared his throat. My hands tensed on my knees, and a ripple of fear started to work its way down my back. This was not going to end well.

“Your mother and I have something we need to tell you two,” Dad said to Nate and I. “Sara has known for a long time.”

“How long is a long time?” Nate asked.

“Almost twenty-nine years,” Sara replied quietly. “I’ve wanted to say something for a long time, believe me. But it was just decided that nobody needed to know until now.” She gave me an apologetic smile.

“I thought we didn’t keep secrets in this family,” I muttered just loud enough for everyone else to hear.

Mum and Dad looked at each other for the briefest of moments. “In this case, this secret was kept to protect you, Taylor. You…” Mum sighed. “There’s no easy way to say this, unfortunately, and I truly wish there was.”

“Just say it already, Mum,” I snapped.

“Taylor James Ainsworth, you watch your mouth,” Dad scolded.

“Why should I?” I retorted. “I know I’m adopted, Dad.” I spat that last word out as if it was something distasteful. “I’ve known for an entire week.”

“You know?” Mum asked – she was clearly shocked that I had found out. Those two words cemented who I was, what Kimberley had discovered last week. I really am adopted, I realised, the horrible truth of it slamming into me like a freight train. I’m adopted, and they never intended to tell me.

I nodded sharply. “Yeah. I…why would you keep something like that from me?” My hands curled into fists, and I dug them into my knees. “What in the world possessed the two of you to lie to me my whole life about who I am? My own wife was the one who found out – you know, the one who works at Tamworth Hospital as a doctor? She was the one who had to break the news to me. Not the two of you” I raised my right hand from beneath the table and jabbed my index finger at my parents “who should have been completely honest with me from the very fucking beginning!” These last few words were shouted at them, and I very belatedly realised I was on my feet with my chair tipped over behind me. “And don’t even give me that bullshit about protecting me, what the fuck could you have been protecting me from? I just…” I shook my head hard. “This is complete bullshit. I’m leaving.”

At any other time, the shock that was present on the faces of my parents would have snapped me right out of my anger. But right then, I was too caught up in my fury about having been lied to for virtually all of my life to even care. I stormed out of the kitchen and out into the front hall, yanking the front door open when I reached it. I pulled on it so forcefully that it nearly came off its hinges, and when I slammed it closed behind me I could hear the panes of glass set into it rattle.

I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been so angry – in fact I was almost certain I’d never felt so much anger before. It was blinding me to the point where once I finally stopped walking, the January heat almost too much to bear, I had no idea where I was at first. All I could tell was that I was in one of the parks that littered the city. As I calmed down the burning heat of my anger quietened into a simmer, and I looked up to find I was standing near the high green viaduct that carried the CountryLink trains toward the railway station in the middle of town. That was enough of a landmark for me to figure out where I was – Riverside Park. It was a mark of how truly pissed off I was that I hadn’t even paid attention to where I was even going.

“Taylor!”

I ignored the voice calling my name as I walked over to the viaduct so I could sit down in its shade. It belonged to one of the three people I really didn’t want to talk to right at that moment, and in all honesty finding some shade was more important than anything else. A hand landed on my shoulder as I stepped into the viaduct’s shade, but I shrugged it off and sat down on the ground against one of the pylons. The second I sat down a shadow cast itself over me, and I looked over to my right. Sara stood there, shading her eyes with one of her hands as she looked down at me.

“Go away,” I snapped, turning myself so I didn’t have to look at her.

“Tay, come on. I know you’re angry – believe me, I know, and I don’t blame you one bit. I’d be angry too if I was in your shoes right now.” I watched out of the corner of my eye as she crouched down in front of me. “I don’t care that you’re adopted, Tay. I really don’t. In every way that matters, you’re my pain-in-the-neck little brother and you always will be. Okay?”

I didn’t respond to this. “They lied to me, Sara,” I said. “However long it’s been since they adopted me, that’s how long they’ve lied to me. I…” I drew in a shaky breath. “Why did they do that to me?”

“I don’t know, Tay,” Sara replied. She shifted out of her crouch and sat down on the grass next to me. “Mum and Dad have always maintained it was to protect you, but I honestly don’t know what they’ve been trying to protect you from. They’re the only ones who know why.”

“How old was I?”

“Tay, I really think you should be talking to Mum and Dad about this. Not me.”

“Right now Sara, I want to talk to those two about as much as I want to climb up there” I pointed up at the underside of the viaduct “and jump off. As in I don’t. Now tell me how old I was.”

“You were two,” Sara replied. “I was three. That’s my earliest memory, actually – meeting you. They took you in as a foster kid at first, but I think the intent once they met you was to adopt you. I still remember the day they signed the adoption papers and brought you home for good – the fourteenth of September 1985.” She rubbed a hand over her face. “You didn’t talk at all until you were four. I guess something happened to you when you were in foster care, before you came to us anyway, and you were just scared mute.” She looked at me sidelong. “Maybe that’s why they were protecting you?”

“Doesn’t make it right.”

“No, it doesn’t,” Sara agreed. She tucked a stray lock of hair behind one of my ears. “I don’t know who you were before you came to us, and I’ll probably never find out. But you know what? That doesn’t matter to me. Who you are now, that’s what I care about. You’re my brother, my band mate, and the dad of my nieces and nephew. You annoy the absolute shit out of me sometimes, but that’s what brothers and sisters are supposed to do to each other. You’re supposed to piss each other off. But at the end of the day, when everything’s all said and done, we’re still family. That’s what’s important. Okay?”

I nodded, not trusting myself to speak – now that my anger had mostly abated entirely, I’d started shaking. Sara seemed to realise this, for she pulled me close and wrapped an arm around my shoulders. I squeezed my eyes closed against the sting of tears that threatened to fall, not wanting to cry – I was thirty years old, I didn’t have a reason to cry.

“We’ll figure things out, Tay,” she said quietly. Her hand started rubbing my right shoulder. “If you want to, we’ll find out who you were before. But only if you want to – I won’t let anyone push you into it. You just let me know.”

I nodded again. “Thanks Sara,” I said quietly.

“Anytime, Tay.”

Chapter Text

Therese

“You are not leaving me here this time!”

Those eight words, shouted at almost the very top of my voice, had the intended effect. They reverberated around my cousins’ studio, causing the three of them to look up from their respective instruments – Zac’s drums, Joel’s grand piano, and Isaac’s guitar. Three very startled pairs of eyes – two brown, one blue – stared at me, and I raised one slender blonde eyebrow at them.

“Who said we were going to leave you anywhere?” Joel asked, mimicking my raised eyebrow with one of his own.

“You know what I mean,” I retorted. “I didn’t get to go to Australia with you in 2012, and there’s no way in hell I’m missing out this time. I’m coming whether you like it or not, even if I have to play contortionist and stow away in one of your suitcases.”

“Okay, Ree, first of all calm the fuck down,” Zac said, the voice of reason as always.

“Don’t tell me to calm the fuck down Zachary!”

Zac, to his credit, ignored my latest outburst. “Second of all, the only reason we didn’t ask you to come last time was because you were busy with Adrian and we didn’t think you’d appreciate being interrupted. What happened with him anyway?”

I pulled a face when Zac mentioned my ex-boyfriend’s name and dropped down onto a crate of LP records that was sitting next to Joel’s upright piano. “Adrian’s an asshole. That’s what happened. He thought it was absolutely fucking hilarious that I’m related to you guys and decided to give me crap for it every chance he got. I told him that if he wasn’t going to stop being a prick he could forget about being my boyfriend and, well…” I shrugged, as if the rest of what I had to say was self-explanatory. Which it really was, so I saw no point in elaborating.

“What a fucking asshole,” Joel muttered just loud enough for the rest of us to hear. “So I take it you definitely want to come along this time?”

“No shit I do,” I replied. “Passport’s up to date and everything.”

“Okay, here’s the deal then,” Isaac said. For the first time, I noticed that he had his laptop open and balanced on his knees. “There’s this competition that just closed in Australia that we organised with one of the pay TV channels over there – we just managed to narrow it down to five entries, and we were wondering if you wanted to help us pick the winner.”

“What’s the competition for?” I asked, definitely interested now.

“Deciding who’s going to open for us during the Australian tour,” Joel replied. “We like all of them but there’s no way we can ask them all to come on tour, and we can’t decide for sure which one we want to ask to tour with us. So basically, we would like you to decide.”

“Uh huh,” I said thoughtfully. “And what exactly is in it for me? You know, carrot and stick?”

“Work the merch stand at each show, do some photography and take a bit of video for us, and we’ll cover your airfares and accommodation,” Zac replied. “That’s the deal.”

“And I can work on my tan the rest of the time?” I asked hopefully.

“That’s bad for you,” Isaac said absently, and I automatically flipped him the bird. “But yes, as long as you get your work done you can lay around on the beach anytime you like.”

“It’s definitely tempting,” I mused. I hadn’t been to Australia since the Underneath tour – The Walk hadn’t seen a release Down Under and I’d missed out on the Shout It Out tour, so it had been almost nine years since my last trip to the Great Southern Land. “Okay, you have a deal. How long do I have to decide?”

“It’s what, the sixteenth today?” Zac asked, and the other two nodded. “Four days – Channel V asked us to give them an answer on or before the twentieth.”

“Pushing it a bit aren’t you?” I asked, and the three of them shrugged. “You’re just lucky I wasn’t planning to do anything more than plant myself on the couch and marathon Sanctuary the next few days.” I got up off the crate and dusted off the seat of my jeans. “You got a website or something so I can actually check them out, or do I have to go hunting for it myself?”

“I can do you one better than that,” Joel said, and he stood up before taking a flash drive out of his pocket. “Every entry is on here,” he explained as he walked over to where I stood. “Just make sure you give it back when you’re done with it, okay?”

“Yeah I will Joel, don’t worry yourself,” I assured him as I tucked the flash drive into one of my own pockets.

I actually had an ulterior motive for agreeing to help my cousins out, but I didn’t dare tell them that. In all truth, being ‘busy’ with my ex (as Zac had so delicately put it) hadn’t exactly been the reason I’d opted out of the previous Australian tour, though it was definitely one of the major ones. The primary reason for my absence from the Shout It Out tour was because I’d been in New York chasing up a lead – the missing link to the earliest part of my childhood.

My aunt and uncle had never kept it a secret that I was adopted. They had been open with me from the very beginning – as soon as they considered me old enough to understand, they had made sure that I knew of my roots. But even then, there were a few things that remained a mystery to me – things that even my aunt and uncle had never been able to tell me. Hence my trip to New York the previous September. The only missing piece was the whereabouts of my twin brother, something I had run into a complete dead end on. All I knew was that he had been shoved straight into the New York state foster care system at about the same time as me, with the crucial difference being that Aunt Diana and Uncle Walker had managed to locate me almost straight away. The same couldn’t be said of my brother. All I knew for sure was that he had been adopted in September 1985 – the trail had gone cold around then, his records sealed and not even open to me, his own twin sister. It hurt a little bit to know that my brother was out there in the world with no idea where he even was.

After I left my cousins’ studio, I drove to my apartment building right in the heart of the city. I lived with a couple of friends, the idea of living on my own having never appealed to me all that much. Part of it, I supposed, came from growing up in a huge family – there were ten of us in the Hanson family all told, and as much as I’d hated the lack of privacy, peace and quiet growing up I would never have wanted it any other way. My roommates, I discovered upon unlocking our front door and slipping inside, had gone out on a double date with their respective partners (at least according to the note that Kelsey had scribbled out on the whiteboard we kept on the kitchen wall), which meant I had the apartment to myself for the evening. It was the perfect opportunity to give the five competition finalists’ entries a quick once-over, and I fully intended to take advantage of it.

The first thing I did with Joel’s flash drive was copy everything on it over to my laptop and burn the videos it contained to a DVD. I didn’t see much point limiting myself to watching them on my computer when my roommates and I had a perfectly good widescreen TV and sound system in our living room. Once all five videos had been burned to a DVD, I took the DVD and my laptop out into the living room, popping the DVD into the player before setting myself up on the couch.

As I watched the videos and listened to each band’s EP over the next few days, I slowly began to realise just why my cousins were having so much trouble picking a winner. All of the bands they had added to their shortlist were excellent, and I found myself wishing all of them could come when Hanson kicked off their Australian tour in March. I resolved to ask my cousins to keep all of their names in mind for any future tours, because they all deserved a chance at one point or another.

Finally, just one day before the deadline, I came to the final band’s video and EP. The folder that contained their competition entry was labelled After Midnight, with their EP name catching my attention instantly – Broken Hearts And Opened Scars. “This should be interesting,” I mused as I loaded the EP into iTunes and hit play, bringing the first of their photos up on my laptop’s screen so I could see just who After Midnight were as I listened.

After Midnight, it seemed, consisted of a set of three siblings – two guys and a girl. They all looked to be around my own age, which was one point in their favour already – the minimal age difference meant that if I did end up deciding they were the winning band, they’d probably get along pretty well with the rest of us. I liked their sound a lot – they were very indie, at least from what I could tell from the first song, and the female vocalist (Sara, according to the filenames of her headshots) reminded me a lot of Sarah McLachlan. Fitting, I supposed, considering that the two names were very similar. I couldn’t quite tell which of the guys was the second vocalist, but whoever it was sounded quite a lot like Joel.

As I realised this, a jolt of something I couldn’t quite put my finger on shot its way down my back, and I scrambled to find the guys’ headshots. The brothers in the band, Nate and Taylor, were both very blonde, and they looked quite similar to one another. But as I studied each headshot, I realised that Taylor looked a hell of a lot more like my cousins than he did his own brother and sister. He even looked a little bit like me – same hair colour (though his was a little darker than mine – though as far as I was concerned it still counted as blonde), the same sort of smile, our ears even stuck out the same.

“Holy shit,” I whispered.

All I knew about my twin brother was his name, his birthday and his birthplace. We had been born in New York City, with our birthday being the fourteenth of March 1983. His name, though it was likely it had changed upon his adoption, had been Jordan Taylor Miller. And even though I knew it was still pretty likely that this Taylor wasn’t my brother, there was still a chance that he was. It was the first real lead I’d had in months. Concrete or otherwise, I knew I had to chase it up.

By the time I had finished listening to the EP, my mind was pretty much made up. After Midnight was the band I was going to tell my cousins were the winners, but before I decided for sure I hit play on the DVD again so I could watch their video. And as I watched, especially once Taylor spoke for the first time, I found myself wanting to climb through the TV screen to be closer to them.

Taylor Ainsworth was my brother. I was certain of it. I would never have felt the need to be close to him if he wasn’t. It was almost as if there was something linking the two of us across the miles – a tether of sorts. I paused the DVD and got up from the couch, crossing the room to the TV and kneeling in front of it. One of my hands pressed itself to the screen, right underneath the image of Taylor’s face.

“Hi Taylor,” I whispered. Tears began pricking at my eyes and I blinked furiously to stave them off. I was not going to cry yet – that could wait until I actually met him. Instead I smiled – I was now the closest I had ever been to finding my brother, and that in itself was something worth celebrating.

I took my hand off of the TV screen and hit play on the remote, scooting back from the TV until my back rammed up against the coffee table. I had a job to finish, and it wasn’t going to get done if I sat on the floor in front of the TV staring at a paused picture of my brother all night. I drew my legs up under my chin and wrapped my arms around my calves, propping my chin on my knees, and watched After Midnight go through their paces.

Once After Midnight’s audition video was finished, I hit the stop button on the DVD player’s remote and uncurled myself, glancing up at the clock on the living room wall as I got back to my feet. It was eight-thirty in the evening – Joel would still be awake. I fished my cell phone out of a pocket and texted my cousin just two words – After Midnight. It would hopefully be the only prompting he would need to either call me or text me back. I tossed my phone onto the coffee table and went into the kitchen in search of some popcorn.

Sure enough, I was right. My phone’s ringtone sounded off right as I was filling a bowl with microwave popcorn, the theme song for Firefly echoing around the living room. I left the bowl on the kitchen bench and dashed back into the living room, snatching my phone up off the coffee table and answering it. “Hello?”

“Hey Ree. So it’s After Midnight then?” Joel said, getting right down to business.

“Yep,” I replied. “Definitely After Midnight. They sound good and they’re about the same age as you three – better chance of you all getting along than if they were a lot older or younger.” I paused for a few moments. “Joel, I think Taylor Ainsworth is my brother.”

There. It was out in the open now. Joel didn’t say anything for a little while, and for a moment I thought he hadn’t heard me. “Joel?”

“You’re sure?” Joel asked.

“As sure as I can be when you consider I’ve never actually met him,” I replied. “Joel, he…he looks like me.” I let out a quiet, almost hysterical laugh. “He has the same colour eyes as you, and he even sounds a bit like you, but otherwise he looks like what I might look like if I was a guy. His ears even stick out like mine do. I really think he’s my brother.”

“Shit, Ree…” I could almost see Joel shaking his head. “Okay. How about you come down to the studio tomorrow, and bring my flash drive with you – we’ll have a look at the video again. All right?”

“Okay.” My next words were uncertain. “You believe me, don’t you Joel?”

“Yeah, of course I do. If anyone’s going to be able to spot their own long-lost twin brother, it’s you. I just don’t want you to be disappointed if you find out it’s not him after all.”

“I won’t be disappointed,” I assured Joel, absolutely certain in my words. “If it isn’t him, then I guess I just have to widen my search.”

“Well, it’s good to hear you’re being realistic about this, Ree. I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”

“Okay. Love you Joel.”

“Love you too Ree.”

The two of us hung up at almost the same moment, and I slid my phone back into my pocket before going to fetch my popcorn. Just as I retrieved the bowl from the kitchen the front door of the apartment opened, and I peeked around the wall of the kitchen into the living room. “Oh, hey Kels,” I said when I saw that one of my roommates had come home.

“Hey Ree. Making popcorn again?” Kelsey asked. I watched her shaking snow off her hair as she spoke.

“Yep. Want some?”

“You offering?”

My sole response to this was to walk into the living room and hold the bowl of popcorn out. Kelsey grinned at me and took a handful, and I set the bowl down on the coffee table. “So what have you been doing all evening?” she asked as she sat down cross-legged on the couch and dumped her handful of popcorn into the lower half of her T-shirt.

“Helping my cousins pick the winner of a competition they’re running,” I replied, snagging my own handful of popcorn as I spoke. I sat down next to Kelsey on the couch and started tossing popcorn into my mouth. “I think I’ve nailed it down.”

“Oh really?”

“Yep.” I chewed thoughtfully on my mouthful of popcorn. “This band called After Midnight – they sound pretty awesome. Hopefully they’re still up for tagging along.”

“Well, I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you.”

I swallowed my popcorn and gave Kelsey a wide smile. “Thanks, Kels.”

“Anytime, Ree.” She dusted her hands off on her jeans before leaning down over the side of the couch. “Now where’s the damn TV guide…aha, there you are!” she said, sounding triumphant as she lifted the current TV guide off of its usual pile. “Now let’s see what’s on the old idiot box tonight, shall we?”

That night in bed, before I drifted off to sleep, I found myself thinking about my brother. We had never met and there was a good chance he had no idea I even existed, though I had to hope his adoptive parents had at least told him he was adopted and possibly even that he had a sister out there in the world. What parent wouldn’t tell their kid they were adopted?

There was so much I wanted to know about him. What he’d wanted to be when he grew up, his favourite subjects in school, what he liked doing in his free time, even what job he’d ended up doing. I was even curious about his family – his adopted brother and sister seemed nice, and I could only hope appearances weren’t deceiving. There was only one way to find out, really, and that was to meet them – which, if things went the way I was hoping they would, would happen in just a couple of months.

The next morning, I met my cousins at their studio. Joel’s flash drive was safely stowed in my pocket, and I had the DVD I’d burned all the band videos to in my handbag. There was really only one that we needed to watch, but I’d figured I may as well bring the whole lot along anyway.

“So Joel said you have an answer for us?” Isaac said once the four of us were all set up in the studio.

I nodded. “Yep. I picked After Midnight – I think they’re a really good fit for the tour. Music sounds fantastic for one.” I took a deep breath and let it out a little shakily. “Also, I think one of them may be my brother.”

“Damn,” Zac said softly. “What’s his name?”

“Taylor Ainsworth,” Joel replied. He nodded at me. “Ree told me last night. I said we’d have a look at their video this morning, though I think she might be right anyway. They’re twins after all.”

“Plus, and I know this is going to sound weird…” I trailed off, and my hands tensed around my knees. “When I saw him on my TV screen, I wanted to climb into my TV so I could be close to him. I really don’t think I would have felt that way if he was anyone other than my twin.”

“That doesn’t sound weird at all,” Zac said. “It makes total sense actually.” I looked over at Zac and he gave me a smile, which I mirrored. “Right then, let’s have another look at After Midnight’s video before we get in touch with Channel V – I want to make sure we’ve picked the right band to tour with us.”

“And someone point out the guy Therese thinks is her twin,” Isaac added. “I’m not saying I don’t believe you Ree,” he said when I raised an eyebrow at him, “but I’d like to see him for myself.”

“That’s fair,” I said with a shrug, and went to fetch the DVD out of my handbag. Joel took it from me once I’d found it and slotted it into his laptop’s DVD drive, opening After Midnight’s video once the DVD folder had opened onto his desktop. “He’s not hard to spot – only two guys in the band and the other’s got really short and spiky hair.”

Joel spun his laptop around on the top of his piano so that we could all see the screen and hit play, allowing the video to play through Sara’s introduction. As soon as the camera focused on Taylor I jabbed a finger at the screen. “There,” I said, and Joel quickly paused it. “That’s him. That’s my twin.”

There was quiet in the studio for a little while as my cousins looked back and forth between me and the laptop screen – I figured they were comparing what I looked like with the guy onscreen. Finally Zac sat back in his seat and ran his hands through his hair. “I think Therese is right,” he said. “Someone want to screenshot that and email it to Mom? She’d be able to tell for sure.”

“On it,” Joel said. He soon had an email with the attached screenshot sent off to Aunt Diana, before unpausing the video so we could watch the rest of it. Once it was finished, and the DVD had been ejected from the DVD drive and replaced in its case, Joel looked around at us all. “So, After Midnight then?”

“After Midnight,” Isaac replied, with Zac nodding his agreement. He looked over at me. “You did good, Ree.”

I grinned. “Thanks, Isaac.”

Joel’s cell phone rang just then, the Imperial March sounding off and echoing around the studio. He stood up and worked his phone out of his pocket to answer it. “Hello?...oh hey Mom…yeah I can do that, hang on.” He propped his phone up against his laptop’s screen and put it on speaker. “Okay Mom, it’s on speaker now.”

“Therese?” Aunt Diana said, and I sat up straighter. It was an unconscious thing with me – even if my aunt wasn’t in the same room, when she said my full first name I automatically straightened up. “This Taylor Ainsworth – you think he’s your twin?”

“Yeah,” I replied, my voice almost too quiet to be heard. “I just…I know I’ve never met him, but I can feel it’s him. I wouldn’t feel desperate to be close to him if he wasn’t my twin.” I almost went to shrug before I realised my aunt wouldn’t be able to see it.

“I see.” Aunt Diana’s tone was thoughtful. “You’ve seen photographs of your mother and your father, correct?”

“Every time I went into the living room,” I replied. My aunt and uncle had kept a framed photograph of my parents on the mantelpiece in the living room for as long as I’d been able to remember – it was one of the very few photographs of my parents that I’d ever seen. I knew there had to be others out there but I’d never asked to see them.

“This Taylor Ainsworth looks like your father, Therese. I think you may be right – if it’s not him after all, then it’s a very convincing double. The only way you’ll be able to find out for sure is if you meet him.”

“Which she’ll get to do in a couple of months if all goes to plan,” Joel said. “They’re probably going to come on tour with us in Australia.” He smirked. “And yes Mom, we’ll try and get a photo of the two of them together.”

“I’m going to hold you to that, Joel,” Aunt Diana said, and I bit back a snicker. “Therese, please don’t get your hopes up too high – it’s still very possible that he’s not your twin after all. I just don’t want you to be disappointed if you find out that he isn’t.”

“I won’t be,” I said. “I swear it.”

“All right then. I’ll let you get back to things then.”

“Bye Auntie Di!” I called out as Joel hung up, scowling when my cousins all raised an eyebrow each at me. “Oh, fuck off you three.”

Zac let out a quiet snicker. “Okay, who wants to get in touch with Channel V to let them know who the winner of the competition is?”

“I’ll do it,” Isaac volunteered, and got up from his seat to take over control of Joel’s laptop. As he typed out an email to whoever at Channel V had been responsible for organising the competition, Joel got up from his piano bench and came to sit down next to me. He nudged me in the side with an elbow, and I looked over at him.

“So you finally get to meet your twin in a couple of months,” he said, sounding almost nonchalant.

“If he is my twin,” I said. “I know I said he is, but it’s like Auntie Di said – he might not be after all. I just…” I shrugged. “Why would I feel that way if he wasn’t my brother?”

“Hey.” Joel tucked a few stray locks of hair behind my ears. “If you say he’s your twin, then he’s your twin. I really doubt you’re wrong.”

I let out a quiet sigh. “I hope you’re right, Joel. If he isn’t my twin after all, then I’m practically back to square one again. And that would really suck.”

“To say the least,” Joel agreed, nodding.

Isaac soon had the email sent off, and he closed Joel’s laptop as he stood up. “We should get a bit of practice in,” he said. “Don’t want to be rusty for the tour.”

“I’m going to head out in that case,” I said. “I’ve got work in an hour and I’ll get bitched at if I’m late.”

“Yeah, no problem,” Zac said, raising a hand to acknowledge me. I waved and headed out of the studio, snagging my handbag as I went.


Slightly more than a week later, Australia’s Channel V announced the winner of the competition they had organised in conjunction with my cousins, with the three of them posting their own version of the competition announcement in the Hanson.net site blog.

We are pleased to announce that for the Australian tour this March and April, an Australian band will be joining us on our trip around the Great Southern Land – they are known as After Midnight and call the city of Tamworth, New South Wales home. Thank you to all of the bands who entered the competition – we wish we could have all of you on tour with us, but there could only be one winner this time. Australian fans can check out their music via the Channel V website and on Triple J Unearthed. We look forward to meeting After Midnight when we arrive in Sydney for the Australian tour in early March.

Isaac, Joel and Zac

On the afternoon of the twenty-eighth, my cousins and the members of After Midnight had their first meeting – over Skype of all things. It was the closest any of us were going to get to a meeting for at least a month, so it really was the next best thing to speaking in real life.

It wasn’t originally my intent to sit in on their meeting – I had very little idea of the inner workings of the Hanson machine, as it were (and to be perfectly honest I liked it that way), and I’d always felt as if I would be intruding if I did sit in, even just to watch. That is, until I was on my way home from 3CG Records, having spent the day working out some of the travel arrangements with my cousins, Joel snagging the sleeve of my hoodie as I went to open the building’s front door.

“Ree, we’re just about to give After Midnight a call on Skype,” he said when I’d looked over my shoulder at him. “You want to watch? I know you don’t normally, but you’re coming on tour as well – you deserve to know exactly what we’re going to be doing for the month we’ll be over there.”

“So long as you don’t mind,” I said, and Joel shook his head. “Okay, but I’m staying off camera. I’m not in the band, they don’t need to see me yet.”

“Wasn’t expecting you to be on camera,” Joel said with a shrug, before leading me through to the main meeting room. Isaac and Zac were already in there, hooking Zac’s laptop up to the widescreen TV mounted on one of the walls and making sure the webcam that had been connected to the TV wasn’t going to fall off. “You two ready yet?”

“Oh hold your horses Joel, this is fucking fiddly,” Zac griped. He had his face barely an inch away from the connection between the TV and the webcam.

“Put your damn glasses on if you can’t see it any closer than that,” Isaac said. He had evidently sorted out the connection between the TV and the laptop, because once he had done a bit of typing on the laptop’s keyboard a replica of its screen popped up on the TV. “Now we’re getting somewhere.” Just as Isaac said this Zac finally figured out the webcam, and a mirror image of the meeting room popped up in a little box on the TV – including me just off to the left of picture. I let out a squeak and ducked out of frame.

“Okay, are we all ready then?” Joel asked as he sat down at the long table that took up most of the meeting room. Isaac and Zac joined him, Zac taking his place at the table once he had started their video chat. Another, larger frame popped up on the screen, this one flat and featureless black with the image of the meeting room in the lower left corner. In almost no time at all the black had transitioned into a colour video of three people, and I automatically clapped my hands over my mouth as I spotted Taylor in the middle of the trio.

“Hey guys,” Sara said, sounding very cheerful. “Channel V just gave us a call a little while ago – thank you so much for picking us.”

“It’s no problem at all,” Joel said. “We’re looking forward to working with you all on tour. Have you ever toured before?”

Nate nodded. “Just around our region of New South Wales – we aren’t really that well known outside of New England. We’re making plans at the moment to tour our new EP around during the second half of next month – we haven’t really nailed down any specific dates but we’ll definitely be done by the end of February.”

“When are you planning to release it?” Isaac asked. I saw that he had his notebook out and was making notes, writing down just about everything After Midnight said.

“February first,” Taylor replied. “We’re going to sell it at our shows during the regional tour, and possibly at a few record stores if we can find a couple to take it. I think there’s some in the shopping centres in town who would sell it for us if we asked them to.”

“Okay, good,” Joel said – he sounded very pleased with this. “I’m sure you’re wondering how this tour is going to work, so we should probably talk about that next.”

“I kind of have a rough idea,” Sara said, sounding a little hesitant. “I’m…I’m actually a fan of yours, and I went to a few shows on the Shout It Out tour in 2012.”

“You did?” Zac asked, and Sara nodded. “What shows?”

“Gold Coast and both Sydney shows.” She nodded at her brothers. “These two are too chickenshit of Hanson fans to want to be in the pit at a Hanson show.”

“Our fans can be a little frightening so I can’t say I blame them,” Zac said with a chuckle. “It’s going to be a little different this tour, however – we’re planning to visit every state and territory capital, along with three regional cities in Queensland and New South Wales. There’ll be two shows in each city – we won’t go into specifics just at the moment, but one of us will email one of you three” he indicated each member of After Midnight with his pen “with the full tour itinerary and the arrangements for travel and accommodation sometime in the next week.”

“You want to look after that Sare?” Nate asked. “Seeing as you’re the oldest and all.”

“Yeah, fine by me,” Sara said with a shrug. “Is there anything specific we should know about the tour? Like, where will we meet up with you guys? We’re almost exactly halfway between Sydney and Brisbane so either one works for us.”

“We usually fly into Sydney,” Isaac replied. “First shows will be in Queensland, but it might be best if we all meet up in Sydney to begin with – at least that way nobody gets lost.”

“Yeah, good idea – Taylor’s sense of direction is notoriously bad,” Nate said, earning himself a smack over the back of the head from his brother. “Ow! It is Taylor, you should know that well enough by now.”

“Oh, go to buggery,” Taylor said, sounding just a little annoyed.

“All right children, settle down,” Sara intoned, and her brothers shot her simultaneous dirty looks. “How old are the two of you again?”

I snickered into my hands, very glad it was muffled – Sara pulling her brothers into line sounded much like when Isaac decided it was time to do the same with Joel and Zac. Clearly all seven of us were going to get along like a house on fire once the tour began.

“So is there anything else you’d like to ask us?” Joel asked.

“Yeah, just one more thing – the shows on this tour, is there any age restriction on them?” Nate asked.

“They’ll be mostly for ages eighteen and over,” Zac replied. “We’ll make a note on the itinerary which venues are restricted and which ones are all-ages.”

The video meeting ended with an a capella version of one of the covers that After Midnight had performed in their audition video – Hold My Hand by Hootie and the Blowfish. As with their audition video Taylor had lead on it, with Sara and Nate providing the backing vocals.

“With a little love, and some tenderness…we’ll walk upon the water…we’ll rise above the mess…with a little peace, and some harmony…we’ll take the world together…we’ll take ‘em by the hand…‘cause I’ve got a hand for you…‘cause I wanna run with you…

“Yesterday I saw you standing there…your head was down, your eyes were red…no comb had touched your hair…I said get up, and let me see you smile…we’ll take a walk together…walk the road awhile, ‘cause…‘cause I’ve got a hand for you…I’ve got a hand for you…‘cause I wanna run with you…won’t you let me run with you…

“Hold my hand…want you to hold my hand…hold my hand…I’ll take you to a place where you can be…hold my hand…anything you wanna be because…I wanna love you the best that, the best that I can…

“See I was wasted, and I was wasting time…till I thought about your problems, I thought about your crimes…then I stood up, and then I screamed aloud…I don’t wanna be part of your problems…don’t wanna be part of your crowd, no…‘cause I’ve got a hand for you…I’ve got a hand for you…‘cause I wanna run with you…oh, won’t you let me run with you…

“Hold my hand…want you to hold my hand…hold my hand…I’ll take you to the promised land…hold my hand…maybe we can’t change the world but…I wanna love you the best that, the best that I can, yeah…

“Hold my hand…want you to hold my hand…hold my hand…I’ll take you to a place where you can be…hold my hand…anything you wanna be because…

“Hold my hand…want you to hold my hand…hold my hand…I’ll take you to the promised land…hold my hand…maybe we can’t change the world but…I wanna love you the best that, best that I can…oh, the best that I can…”

As the three of them performed the song, I couldn’t help but wonder just how much I had lost by being separated from my twin for close to my entire life. The two of us could have had almost thirty-one years together by now, but instead thanks to Fate being one hell of a bitch we were only just getting close to finding one another. What made it a little worse was that I knew he was out there in the world, and I always had – it was entirely likely he had no idea that I even existed, and that hurt more than I had words to express. The first tears began to prick at my eyes as the song ended, and I got up from my seat.

“Ree?” Joel asked as I made to head for the door, but I shook my head, knowing that if I opened my mouth I would start crying. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted the look on Taylor’s face, and I almost stopped short – it was one of shock and maybe just the tiniest amount of recognition, though I dismissed that last bit as my imagination playing its usual tricks on me. I fled the meeting room right then and there, bolting for the back door and the parking lot at the rear of the building.

It wasn’t long before someone came to find me – Joel. I had been sitting out on the back steps for what felt like forever (though was probably more like ten minutes at the most), hunched over inside my hoodie in an attempt to keep warm, when warm fingers tipped my chin up so their owner could see my face. “Hey, you okay?” Joel asked, and I shook my head. He let out a quiet sigh, one that I could barely hear over the late afternoon traffic, and helped me to uncurl myself before easing me to my feet. “Come on, I’ll take you home. Your car’s parked around the side, right?”

“Yeah,” I said softly. “What about your car though?”

“I walked here this morning,” Joel replied. “Good thing I did too, seeing as you parked your car in my spot.” He shot a scowl at me, and I smirked back at him.

Back at my apartment, Joel went hunting around in the kitchen for God only knew what while I retreated to my bedroom in search of something warm and dry to wear. The seat of my jeans was soaked through, much to my displeasure, and I hung them up in the bathroom to dry before pulling on thick socks and my favourite pyjama pants – black with bright pink butterflies all over them – and heading through to the kitchen.

“Joel, what the fuck are you doing?” I asked upon seeing what a mess he had made of the kitchen. Storage containers and jars littered every flat surface, as did bags of flour, rice and sugar. Meanwhile, Joel had climbed up on the bench and had his head and shoulders deep into one of the cupboards.

“Looking for the coffee,” he replied, his voice echoing. I padded further into the kitchen and yanked on one of his sneakers, causing him to pull himself out of the cupboard and look back over his shoulder at me. “What?”

“We don’t have coffee in this place. Kelsey and I don’t really like it, and Sam gets her fix elsewhere.”

Joel climbed back down off the bench and turned around to face me, raising one of his eyebrows. “You don’t like coffee? Who are you and what the fuck have you done with my cousin?”

“You should know by now I don’t like coffee very much,” I reminded him. “Now are you going to help me put this place to rights, or do I have to do it on my own? Because if it’s a mess when either of those two get home tonight they’ll kick my ass.”

Joel raised his hands in surrender. “Okay, I’m sorry. Just…please tell me you at least have hot chocolate in here.”

“Yes Joel, we have hot chocolate. Don’t worry yourself.”

Working between the two of us, we soon had everything Joel had pulled out of the cupboards back in their proper places, and I quickly had the makings for hot chocolate set out afterward – milk warming in a saucepan on the stove, the tin of drinking chocolate that was a permanent fixture in the pantry every winter, two mugs, two teaspoons and a bag of mini-marshmallows. “So let me get this straight,” Joel said as I stirred the milk, making sure it didn’t burn. “You’re a Hanson, but you don’t like coffee. That doesn’t make sense.”

“I’m a Miller, Joel,” I reminded him. I quickly dripped some of the milk from the wooden spoon I was using to stir it onto the underside of my left wrist to check how warm it was – it was still mostly cold, so I kept on heating it. “Not a Hanson. Just because I legally changed my last name doesn’t automatically mean I’m going to start liking coffee.”

“I can hope, though.”

“Yeah, well, keep on dreaming.”

The milk was soon heated through, and I spooned chocolate powder from its tin into the mugs before adding the milk. “Wasn’t sure how you like your hot chocolate, so you can add more if you like,” I said, stirring the milk in my mug and adding in a few marshmallows. I soon had my hot chocolate the way I liked it – piping hot, so chocolatey it almost gave me a toothache just by looking at it, and with a layer of marshmallow floating on the top. I put the milk saucepan in the sink and filled it with water so it could soak, and wandered through to the living room.

“So why did you go running off earlier?” Joel asked me once he’d joined me in the living room. I’d decided not to turn on the TV or the stereo this evening, preferring the quiet – I needed to sort out my thoughts and my feelings as they regarded Taylor Ainsworth.

I didn’t answer Joel’s question at first, instead allowing myself to think as I ate the foamy layer of marshmallow from the top of my hot chocolate. “I pretty much just realised how much I’ve missed out on,” I replied with a shrug. “I mean, okay, I’ve never been lied to about my adoption – I’ve known about that since I was like four or five. But there’s always been something missing, you know?” I ran my left index finger along the rim of my mug. “We should never have been separated,” I said suddenly. “They…they just shoved us into foster care without caring that we’re twins and should have been able to stay together. It’s like they decided that neither of us would know what we were missing, but I know better.”

“It’s like you’ve got a piece missing,” Joel said quietly, and I knew without a doubt he was talking about Isaac and Zac. The three of them were unbelievably close, something that was one of their greatest assets as musicians – their close sibling bond meant that they were more in tune with each other than they might have been were they not related.

“Yeah, it’s exactly like that,” I agreed. I sipped carefully from my mug so that I didn’t burn my mouth. “Sometimes I wish nobody had told me that I still have family out there,” I said quietly. “At least that way I wouldn’t be driving myself insane trying to find him.” I shrugged. “But that’s when I tell myself I’m being an idiot – it’s good that I still have at least one other member of my family out there, even if he probably doesn’t know I exist.” I let out a shaky breath. “That’s what sucks about all of this, though. There is a decent chance that Taylor has no idea whatsoever that I’m searching for him – hell, he might not even know he’s even adopted himself. And if he doesn’t know, then I’m probably going to be the person who breaks the news to him.” A humourless chuckle escaped me. “And that’ll make me the world’s biggest bitch.”

“No more than his parents would be if they’d kept that from him his whole life,” Joel said with a shrug, ever the voice of reason. “And anyway, there’s still a chance he does know he’s adopted and that you’re out there – he might even be looking for you. Don’t get too down on yourself, okay?”

“Okay.” I gave Joel a small, shaky smile. “Thanks, Joel.”

“No problem, Ree.” He wrapped his free arm around my shoulders and drew me close to his side. “Anything for my favourite cousin.”

When we had both finished our drinks, I took our mugs into the kitchen to rinse them. “You can stay here tonight if you like,” I said as I walked back into the living room. “It’s a bit too cold and dark to be heading back to your place, anyway.”

“You sure your roommates won’t mind?”

I shook my head. “Nah. Sam’s probably going to stay at her girlfriend’s place tonight, and so long as I give Kels advance warning that when she gets home the first thing she’ll see is some tall blonde guy snoring his head off on the couch she’ll be cool with it. She knows who you are anyway.” I glanced at the clock on the living room wall. “Anyway, I’m going to turn in early – I’m pretty wiped. You know how the TV works, right?”

“I think I can figure it out.” Even as Joel spoke he was reaching for the remote. “Good night, Ree.”

I smiled. “G’night Joel.”

I didn’t go to bed right away that night. Instead, I liberated my laptop from the depths of my messenger bag and turned it on, settling it on my lap as it fired up. For the last year I’d been working on a letter to my twin – I’d been meaning to do it for years, but it was only since my trip to New York that I had forced myself to finally sit down and write it. With the Australian tour swiftly approaching, and especially now that I was almost certain I was close to finding him at last, I knew I had very little time to get it finished before we all left for Sydney in March. Thankfully it was very close to completion now, and I had a fairly good idea of how I wanted to finish it off. I wasn’t quite at that point just yet, though – there was still at least one more thing I wanted to say before I wrote the end. After a little bit of thought, and once I had the letter open in Microsoft Word, I placed my hands on my laptop’s keyboard and started to type.

There’s an almost integral piece of me missing. It always has been missing, but I’ve especially been feeling it since I started my own search for you back in 2001 – our aunt and uncle helped a little bit before I turned eighteen, but there wasn’t a lot they could do. All they could really tell me was your name and where we were born – I had to chase up the rest myself. And hopefully I’ve put things together properly, because otherwise this next bit is going to sound really stupid of me – when my cousins showed me your band’s audition video, for the first time in my life I felt like I was actually close to finding you.

At the same time, though, it reminded me just how much I’ve missed out on – how much we’ve both missed out on. And it hurts to realise that – we should have had the last three decades together, but because some asshole in New York decided we wouldn’t know the difference if we were separated we’ll never have that. But at least we’ll finally have each other. That counts for something, right?

I rubbed at my eyes with the heel of my left hand, all of a sudden feeling drained. Not wanting to fall asleep over my laptop, I saved the letter and set my computer aside, promising myself I could finish writing it in the morning.

Chapter Text

Taylor

I’m adopted.

I was still reeling from this news as January gave way to February. My whole life had been turned upside down, how could I not be? In all honesty, I would never have minded so much if my parents had been open with me from the very beginning, but the fact of the matter was that they hadn’t. What hurt the most was that they had never intended to tell me. If Kimberley had never discovered it and broken the news to me, my parents would have taken their greatest secret to the grave.

“I still can’t believe they were never going to tell you,” Kimberley said. The two of us were sitting in the lounge room at home, as we normally did on a weeknight when Kimberley wasn’t working – the twins and Fletcher were all in bed, and in a departure from our usual routine neither of us had turned the TV on. Instead, Kimberley had dusted off our record player and liberated our shared collection of records from one of the cupboards in the entertainment unit that sat in a corner of the lounge room. Billy Joel’s River of Dreams album was playing quietly in the background, loud enough to be heard but not so loud that either of us had to crank up the volume of our voices a few notches just to be heard over the music.

“Apparently they kept it from me to protect me,” I said. I spat out the last two words. “Which to be honest I call total bullshit on. I was apparently in foster care for the first two years of my life, according to Sara at least, but I can’t think of anything that could have happened to me in those two years that they’d need to protect me from. It doesn’t make sense.”

“You’ll have to talk to them about it to see why they did that,” Kimberley said, before holding up a hand as I opened my mouth to protest. “I know you’re not all that keen on the idea, but please just hear me out before you decide to jump down my throat. Okay?”

“Fine.”

“Thank you. Now, there is no way in hell that I’m ever going to defend your parents’ actions – they should have been open with you from the very beginning. I don’t blame you in the least for being angry with them. But there’s only one way you’re going to find out why they kept this from you, and furthermore why you were placed in foster care to begin with – and that’s to ask your parents. You deserve to know the truth, and right now they are the only two people who can tell you.”

“I know they are.” I let out a weary sigh and dropped my head into my hands. “It’s just…more than anything I feel betrayed. They have always told Sara, Nate and I to be as open with them as possible, and that they’ll do the same for us. I just don’t understand why they saw this as an exception. It’s almost as if they’re ashamed of the fact that I’m not theirs.”

“If they are, then that’s a really shitty attitude to take.”

“No kidding,” I mumbled. I raised my head out of my hands and pushed my hair back off my face. “When do you want to tell Cara and Mia? I kind of want to keep this just between us two until I’ve at least had a chance to, I don’t know, get used to the idea, but at the same time I know we should tell them as soon as possible. I don’t want to make the same mistake that my parents did.”

“Tomorrow morning,” Kimberley decided. “I’ll go into work late so that we can tell them together.” Her hand found mine and she squeezed gently. “I think it’s going to take you a very long time to adjust to this, Tay – months, if not years. And I think that the more people know about it the better, so that you don’t have to deal with it on your own. So far I know, your parents know, and your brother and sister know.” She was quiet for a few moments, and I knew she was thinking. “Did you talk to Sara or Nate about it?”

I nodded. “Sara told me a few things, though it’s really not that much – all she was able to tell me was that I was two when they adopted me, and that I apparently didn’t say a word from then until I turned four.” I let out a rough chuckle. “If nothing else, it explains why I was such a chatterbox when I was a kid – I was making up for lost time.”

Kimberley echoed my chuckle with one of her own. “It sounds that way to me. Do you think you have family out there?”

“Biological family, you mean?” I asked, casting a sidelong glance at Kimberley, and I saw her nod. “I probably do, yeah. Probably got aunts and uncles at the very least – I don’t know why I was given up, so I can’t say for sure if my, well…my birth parents are still out there.” I paused for a few moments. “Even if they are, I’m not entirely sure I want to meet them – I mean, they gave me up. For whatever reason, they didn’t want me. I can’t imagine what must have been going through their heads when they decided to have me adopted.”

“Whatever reason they had, I’m sure they didn’t make that decision lightly. Don’t be too harsh on them for that if you ever meet them.”

“I’ll try not to be,” I promised.

“That’s all I can ask of you, I suppose. Promise me something?”

“Depends on what you want me to promise you.”

Kimberley gently turned me around so that I was facing her. “Please don’t be too harsh on Jeanette and Nick the next time you talk to them. I know you’re angry with them, and you have every right to be – I’m not going to tell you not to be angry – but just hear them out. Please?

“I guess I can do that. But if it’s some stupid cop-out reason like they couldn’t decide on the right way to tell me, then I’ll be as harsh on them as I damn well please.” Almost on impulse, I made what could potentially be a very stupid decision. “Tomorrow. I’m going to ask them tomorrow. After we tell the girls.”

I was as good as my word, both when it came to telling Cara and Mia about my adoption and asking my parents the truth about why they had never told me. The next morning, once the breakfast dishes had been cleared off the table and stacked in the sink ready to be washed, I led the girls into the lounge room. Kimberley had gone in there a little earlier with Fletcher, and she glanced over at me briefly as I cleared off the coffee table and sat Cara and Mia down on it. For my part I sat down in the middle of the lounge, looking down at my feet as I tried to put what I wanted to say into words the twins would understand.

“Do you two know what adoption is?” I asked them at last, deciding that the best place to start was to figure out just how much they knew about this particular subject, and both of them nodded. “What is it, Mia?” I asked.

“It’s when your mummy and daddy can’t look after you, so they give you to someone else who can,” Mia said. “Are we adopted?”

“No, Mia, you two are definitely not adopted,” I assured Mia. “But I am.”

Both girls looked at me wide-eyed. “You’re adopted Daddy?” Cara asked, and I nodded.

“Yep, I am. I only found out a little while ago, though – it’s not like it is with your friend Kelly. Kelly’s known since she was very little, but Grandma and Grandpa didn’t tell me until a couple of weeks ago.”

“That wasn’t very nice,” Mia said matter-of-factly. “They should have told you when you were little like Kelly’s mummy and daddy did.”

“Why couldn’t your mummy and daddy look after you when you were little?” Cara asked.

“I don’t know, Cara. I wish I did.” I worried at a hole in the left knee of my jeans with my left index finger. “I was the same age as your brother when Grandma and Grandpa adopted me, and before that I was in something called foster care – a whole bunch of other families looked after me until Grandma and Grandpa found me. And in the end Grandma and Grandpa decided they wanted to keep me.”

“I’m glad they kept you, Daddy,” Mia said.

I swallowed hard. “Me too, Mia,” I said. And secretly, as angry as I was at my parents for keeping my adoption a secret, I was glad they had chosen to adopt me. If not for that, then I wouldn’t have Kimberley, and I wouldn’t have the girls or Fletcher. For good or for ill, becoming an Ainsworth was what had made my life into what it was now. “Now, how about you two go and get dressed, and we’ll go over to Grandma and Grandpa’s. Okay?”

“Okay,” the twins chorused, and raced off to their bedroom. I sat back against the lounge’s cushions and let out a sigh of relief. “That went better than I expected.”

“We can only hope it goes just as well at your parents’,” Kimberley said as she got up from her seat on the floor, balancing Fletcher on her right hip once she was upright. “I’ll get Fletcher ready to go if you want to have a shower.”

“Think I might do that,” I said, and went over to kiss Kimberley on her cheek. “See you in a bit?”

Once the five of us were all dressed and ready to go, we piled into my car for the twelve-minute drive to my parents’ place. In cooler weather it was a distance we normally walked (or in Fletcher’s case, was pushed in his stroller), but in the summer months walking almost six kilometres was generally just a stupid idea. Tamworth routinely reached temperatures in the high twenties and low to mid thirties in December, January and February, which during my childhood after the move from New York had meant keeping the house entirely closed up so the heat outside didn’t sneak its way inside. I tended to do the same thing in my own house, with the addition of air conditioning to keep the house even cooler than it would be otherwise.

Somewhat to my surprise, when we arrived at my parents’ place it was to find Sara and Nate’s cars parked in the street outside. Sara’s little bright blue Ford hatchback and Nate’s decades-old white Kingswood ute stood out like the proverbial sore thumb, recognisable from at least a mile away, and I found myself wondering why they’d decided to visit on the same day that I had. As with all things that had one thing or another to do with After Midnight, I found out pretty quickly.

“They emailed me last night,” Sara said once the pleasantries were out of the way. “Sent me the tour itinerary, their accommodation details, flights, everything.” She actually looked a little freaked out. “I don’t know how we’re going to afford any of this, Tay. I really don’t. The flights alone will cost us a fortune, and I don’t even want to think about how much accommodation will set us back.”

“Let me have a look at all of it before you start worrying, Sara, okay?” I said, and Sara handed me her iPad. A quick click of the home button and a swipe across the screen to unlock it brought up a PDF. I ignored the flights that went to and from Los Angeles, instead eyeing off the flights that would end up crisscrossing the entire continent. “We’ll work something out,” I assured her as I scrolled down to the list of hotel bookings. “Even if we have to book different flights and places to stay. I’m sure they’ll understand if we end up needing to arrange things a little differently to them.”

“I hope you’re right,” Sara said as I handed her iPad back. “Especially with our little tour coming up – selling the EP won’t bring in all that much money, and we won’t really get much of a cut from ticket sales.”

“Like I said, we’ll work something out. Don’t sound so worried.”

“I hate it when you’re being optimistic,” Sara grumbled. “So what are you doing here anyway? I thought you were still pissed off at Mum and Dad.”

“I told the girls this morning,” I replied. “And Kim and I both decided that we needed to hear the truth about why they kept my adoption a secret for as long as they did. It would end up coming up eventually if I manage to track down my birth family.”

“You’re going to try to find them?” Sara asked, and I nodded.

“I want to see where I come from, Sare. For one, I’d love to see where I got these from.” I flicked at my right ear with my fingers. “Who knows, maybe one of my birth parents had sticking-out ears too.”

“Taylor?” I heard Mum call out, and I stiffened reflexively. Beside me Kimberley put a hand on my right shoulder and squeezed gently in reassurance. A few seconds later my mother came into the front hall, wiping her hands off on a tea towel as she walked. “I thought I heard your voice.”

“Hi Mum,” I said. “Can I talk to you?”

“Of course you can. Kitchen okay?”

Mum had soon dragged Dad away from whatever project he was working on, and the four of us – Mum, Dad, Kimberley and I – gathered around the kitchen table. It wasn’t long afterward that Nate and Sara joined us. The twins were running around in the backyard, and Fletcher was playing with some of his toys in a corner of the dining room, so I saw little point in delaying the discussion any further than it had been.

“I want to know why you never told me that you adopted me,” I said, getting straight to the point. I had never really been one for beating around the bush. “You had every opportunity when I was a kid to tell me, but for whatever reason you decided not to. I think I deserve to know why.”

Mum and Dad looked at each other. “You’re right,” Mum agreed finally. “You do deserve to know why.” Her clasped hands tensed a little in their spot on top of the table in front of her. “We were protecting you, Taylor-”

“Yeah, as you said when it all slipped out,” I interjected. “And frankly I don’t believe you. What in the world could you be protecting me from?”

“He knows he didn’t talk from the time you took him in as a foster kid until he was about four years old,” Sara said. “I told him that afternoon, and I thought it might have something to with the time he was in foster care. Before he came to us at least.”

“The foster care agency we were dealing with at the time told us that…” Dad’s voice trailed off into silence, and almost to my shock I thought I could see tears forming in his eyes. “They told us that you were abused, Taylor.”

“I was what?” I asked quietly. “A-abused? By who?” As I said these words I felt sick, and I pressed one of my hands to my mouth.

“They were never completely sure,” Mum replied. “But all they knew and were able to tell us that sometime between the ages of six and eighteen months, that was when the abuse started. They believe it was to keep you quiet. Every time you made even the slightest amount of noise, you were disciplined in one way or another. Apparently it happened in every single family who fostered you until you came to us – it didn’t matter that you were learning to talk, those families who took you in were punishing it instead of encouraging it.”

“Jesus Christ,” I whispered. “Is…is that why you never told me?”

“It’s most of the reason,” Dad said. “Your mum and I, we realise now that it was wrong of us to keep it from you for so long – we know that we should have told you as early as possible.”

“How do you tell a child that though?” Kimberley asked. “That the reason they’ve been shuffled around between so many homes was because they were being constantly abused, and for something as normal as working out how to talk?”

“We never figured that out, to be honest with you Kim,” Mum said apologetically. “But it is the reason that we never smacked you to discipline you, Taylor – we didn’t want to continue that cycle. We don’t see smacking as child abuse, as I’m sure Sara and Nate are both well aware, but you’d been beaten enough – we saw no point in adding to it. We felt that would have made us as bad as all of your former foster parents. Luckily you were always a good kid and we never had to discipline you much.” She sighed. “And that, essentially, is why we never told you. We truly were trying to protect you, Taylor. I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that we’re proud of what we did, because we’re not. It’s not something anyone should take any pride in.”

“I sincerely hope I never meet any of those foster parents,” Kimberley said. Her tone had turned fierce. “Because I will make every single one of them wish they had never been born.”

“Kim,” I said quietly. “Don’t, please. Just…” I sighed. “Don’t, okay? It’s not worth it.”

“Tay-” Kimberley started.

Don’t,” I repeated. “I appreciate that you want to defend me – really, I do,” I assured her when I saw the doubt in her grey eyes. “But it was a long time ago and I honestly don’t remember any of it. I would never have known if nobody had ever told me. Just leave it be, please.” Of course now I’m probably going to have nightmares about it, I thought, my mental tone more or less resigned.

“So, something a little more positive,” Dad said, steering our conversation away from anything potentially depressing. “A little birdie told your mother and I that you three” he indicated Sara, Nate and I “are headed off on a couple of tours soon.”

“Oh, please tell me it didn’t make the paper,” Sara groaned. Almost as a response, Dad got up from his seat and walked over to the sideboard, picking up a newspaper and bringing it back to the table – yesterday’s edition of the Northern Daily Leader.

“Page ten,” he said, setting the paper down in front of Sara. Sara shot Dad a moderately dirty look before unfolding the newspaper and flipping through to page ten. Sure enough, right there on that page was a large colour photograph of Sara, Nate and I that looked as if it had been taken from our page on the Triple J Unearthed website, with a short article beneath.

Tamworth trio After Midnight are set to take Australia by storm this March and April when they join American pop-rockers Hanson on the 2014 Anthem World Tour. Siblings Sara, Taylor and Nathaniel Ainsworth recently won Channel [V]’s Indie Fringe competition, which saw them beat out hundreds of other entries from around Australia to win the coveted position on Hanson’s latest tour of Australia.

“We’re very proud of the Ainsworths here at Tamworth High,” Tamworth High School teacher Sharon Kemps said of the trio, Ms. Kemps having taught the three Ainsworth siblings in her Music classes throughout their respective years of high school. “They are all very talented and there was never any doubt in the minds of any faculty member that they would do well after school.”

In the lead-up to After Midnight’s first national tour, they will be touring around the New England and Northern Rivers regions in the second half of this month to promote their second EP, ‘Broken Hearts And Opened Scars’. Tickets to their February 14 show at The Good Companions go on sale today and can be purchased online at Moshtix.

“That’s an embarrassing photo of me,” Sara grumbled. I peered closer at the photograph in an attempt to see just what Sara meant by ‘embarrassing’ – granted, it was a fairly old photo, having been taken around the time of our first EP’s release, but I couldn’t really see anything wrong with it. Like many of our band photos it had Sara in the middle with Nate and I flanking her – Sara held her violin in its usual playing position, tucked under her chin with the bow laid across the strings, me at her left with my acoustic guitar balanced on the base of its body and the fingers of my right hand curled around the fretboard, while Nate at Sara’s right had his arms crossed over his chest and two of his drumsticks sticking up out of one of his back pockets.

“It’s not that bad, Sare,” Nate said. “I look good at least.” He raised an eyebrow at Sara and I and smirked.

Sara’s immediate response to this was to close the newspaper again and roll it up into a tight cylinder. The two of us eyed each other briefly before getting up out of our seats, Sara tapping the end of the newspaper against the palm of her left hand as she moved. Nate’s gaze almost immediately zeroed in on Sara’s makeshift weapon, and I saw him swallow hard.

“Sara, what are you going to do with that paper?” Mum asked, sounding more than a little wary of what my sister was about to do to Nate.

“I’m going to beat his arse,” Sara said. Her tone was very determined, and she raised one of her own eyebrows at Nate in a mimicry of his earlier expression.

“Well do it out in the yard if you must, I don’t want blood all over my kitchen floor,” Mum said as she got up from the table, taking her coffee mug with her. Sara and I now grinned at each other before turning our grins onto Nate.

“Uh, guys…” he said – the only two words he managed to get out before Sara ducked around behind him and swatted him across the backside. He let out a yelp and bolted for the nearest door out onto the back verandah, Sara and I hot on his heels and Kimberley’s laughter following us outside. We chased him around the yard a few times, getting closer to him every lap, until finally I dove forward and rammed my right shoulder into the middle of his back in a rugby tackle. He crashed onto the ground like the proverbial tonne of bricks. So that he couldn’t get up straight away, Sara sat down on his back. “Oh come on you guys, let me up!”

“Not a chance, Nate,” Sara said. She tapped Nate on the head with her newspaper. “Now are you going to take back that remark about our photo in the paper, or do I have to tickle it out of you?”

“Never!” Nate shouted, and Sara glanced up at me. I shrugged – Sara’s cue to flip Nate over onto his back, straddle him and hike his T-shirt up. She started poking at his ribs and his midsection, causing him to start howling in laughter. “Sare stop it!” he yelled, his words punctuated with almost hysterical laughter. “I’m not kidding, stop it!”

“Take it back then! Because I know exactly where you’re most ticklish Nathaniel Owen Ainsworth, and I’m quite willing to take that risk!”

“Okay, okay, I give!”

“That’s more like it,” Sara said, her mouth twisting into a smirk. She gave Nate one last rap on the head with her newspaper before getting back to her feet.

“You’re evil Sara,” Nate said as he stood up, dusting himself off before starting to pick grass out of his hair.

“Evil’s my middle name Nate. I thought you knew that by now.”

I couldn’t help myself. I leaned over, put my hands on my knees and started laughing. For one short moment I forgot everything I’d learned in the last few weeks – I forgot that my parents had kept my adoption from me, I forgot that they’d told me I was abused as a toddler, I even forgot that now that I knew about the abuse nightmares were almost inevitable. None of it mattered right then. All that mattered to me was that in little more than a month, for the first time I would be sharing my music with people outside of New England and the Northern Rivers. And that in itself was something worth looking forward to.


In the middle of February, following a sold-out show at The Good Companions right in the middle of town, Kimberley and I dropped the twins off at my parents’ house, packed up Fletcher and my car, and set off on tour. We had two weeks in which to cover a decent part of New England and the Northern Rivers, with the town of Gunnedah our very first stop. Our tour route was scheduled to take in eleven separate towns – it wasn’t exactly our most extensive tour, but with very little time to spare between the middle of February and the beginning of the Anthem World Tour we had to make do with the short amount of time we did have to work with. Sara had scheduled our tour stops very strictly and was allowing little to no deviation, though I knew very well that Nate would be lobbying pretty hard for a side trip to Nimbin once we hit Byron Bay. He had done the same on our previous tour, so it was more or less a foregone conclusion that he would be attempting to do the same sometime during the next fortnight.

“What is it with your brother and Nimbin?” Kimberley asked as I guided the car onto the Oxley Highway, heading west.

“Two words Kim – Schoolies Week.” I glanced at Fletcher in the rear-view mirror, strapped into his car seat. “Which I sincerely hope none of the kids find out about until well after they finish Year 12.”

“Good luck with that. We’d have to sell the TV, the computer and the house, move way out west and homeschool the lot of them to stop them finding out,” Kimberley said.

“You know, that’s not such a bad idea,” I mused, earning myself a smack across the back of my head.

“Don’t even think about it,” she warned. “You and I both know we’d go insane within about a week.”

“Kim, I’m joking,” I said. “I wouldn’t do that.” I paused. “At least, I wouldn’t do it for longer than a month.” This little remark earned me another smack over the back of my head, and I snickered before returning my focus to the road before me.

Our late morning departure from Tamworth saw us arrive in Gunnedah just before lunch time. The agreement between Nate, Sara and I prior to leaving that morning had been to meet up for lunch at the Gunnedah Services and Bowling Club before we made tracks to where we would be staying that night. Almost as soon as we crossed the imaginary line that turned the Oxley Highway into Conadilly Street I headed straight for the bowling club, managing to find a parking space on the street right next to Nate’s ute. As Kimberley and I got out of the car, Kimberley hanging back a little so she could let Fletcher out of his car seat, I spotted Nate and Sara leaning against the low brick wall that separated the club’s bowling green from the street.

“Have a good trip?” I asked them almost nonchalantly as I walked up beside them, knowing almost instinctively what reaction I would get. I wasn’t disappointed.

“Nate drives too bloody fast,” Sara grumbled. “Speed limit on the highway’s a hundred and ten, and he was pushing a hundred and fifty!” She gave Nate a good hard whack to the back of his head.

“Well you had bloody Hanson cranked up too loud!” Nate retorted. “That’s what your iPod’s for!”

“You know, you could have each brought your own cars,” I reminded them. “Nobody said you both had to pile into Nate’s ute. You’re an idiot Nate, by the way.”

“Why am I an idiot?”

“They’re called mobile speed cameras, Nate. You know that cops have those out every so often, right? And I’m pretty sure you don’t want to lose your licence or your car – there’s bugger-all room in my car for all of us and our gear so don’t fucking speed. Okay?”

“Okay, okay, Jesus Christ,” Nate mumbled. “I’ll keep to the speed limit if she” he jabbed a thumb at Sara “turns the volume down on her music or uses her earphones so I don’t have to listen to it the whole tour.”

“Jesus Nate, I’ll use my earphones if it bothers you that much,” Sara said. “You’re going to be in relatively close quarters with them for a month before long, I’m just trying to get you used to the idea.”

“By sending me deaf from blasting You Can’t Stop Us right in my fucking ear?”

I let out a quiet sigh and closed my eyes, pinching the bridge of my nose between the thumb and index finger of my right hand. “If you two are going to be like this the whole of the next two weeks, let me know now so I can go back home. I’m in no mood to be putting up with you both sniping at each other the whole time. Now can we go inside already? I’m hungry and if I don’t get lunch pretty soon I’m going to end up with a raging headache.”

“Okay, okay, jeez,” Nate said, sounding rather put-upon. I opened my eyes just in time to see him eye Sara. “Bitch.”

“Jerk,” Sara snapped back, sending Kimberley into a fit of the giggles.

“What the fuck have you been smoking this time?” I asked, a little confused at why Kimberley would be laughing at my siblings insulting one another.

“You’ve obviously never watched Supernatural,” Sara said, raising an eyebrow at me before leading the way inside the club.

After lunch in the bowling club’s Two Rivers Brasserie – during which Nate, Sara and I spent a good twenty minutes hammering out the majority of that evening’s set list while Kimberley stole hot chips off my plate – we headed back down Conadilly Street to our accommodation for the night, the Gunnedah Motor Inn. While Sara and Nate were inside the reception office, I stayed out in the carpark and watched Kimberley playing with Fletcher. The two of them were playing a simple handclapping game, one that I had often played with the twins when they were younger, and I found my mind drifting back almost twenty-nine years to when I was Fletcher’s age. There was no doubt in my mind that Mum and Dad would have tried to do the same with me, though I had no memory of it – emphasis on tried, especially considering that I apparently wasn’t talking at that point. Fletcher, thankfully, was completely different – except for when he was sleeping he almost never shut up.

“What are you thinking about?” Kimberley asked once she and Fletcher had finished their game.

“Who says I’m thinking about anything?”

Kimberley’s immediate response wasn’t verbal. Instead, she shifted Fletcher onto her hip and used her free hand to trace along my forehead. “You frown when you’re thinking,” she replied, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. “That says it all. Come on, tell me what you’re thinking about. I promise I won’t laugh.”

“Just…wondering how I’d have turned out if I was never given up. I mean, look at Fletcher. He’s the same age as I was when I was adopted. He is one of the happiest kids alive, and looking back on when I was two I am so thankful for that. I can almost guarantee that I was nothing like that.”

“I think it depends on why you were given up, Tay. For all you know, you were given up for adoption because your birth parents knew they couldn’t raise you – they might have decided that you were better off with another family.” She raised herself up on tiptoes and pressed a kiss to my cheek. “But for what it’s worth, I think you would have turned out just fine.”

I had to smile at this. “Thanks, love.”

“No problem. Now, how about you get Fletcher settled in his stroller, and I’ll get the boot unpacked.” She shifted Fletcher off her hip and handed him to me.

“Daddy?” Fletcher said as I opened the boot of the car one-handed and hauled his stroller out.

“Yeah mate?”

“I love you Daddy.”

I smiled again and unfolded the stroller so I could put my son in it. “I love you too Fletcher.”

Sara and Nate emerged from the reception office just as I closed the boot of the car, Kimberley having unloaded our suitcases and my guitar case from it. “Okay, we’ve got a family room on the ground floor, and a cot for Fletcher,” Nate said. “It was cheaper than booking two separate rooms, and it’s only for one night anyway – it won’t kill us to share the one room.”

“If you say so,” I said with a shrug. “Kim, you packed my earplugs didn’t you?”

“Hey, I don’t snore!” Nate protested.

“Never said you did, Nate. I’m pretty sure Sara talks in her sleep, though.” I smirked at Sara and dodged the handful of bark chips she snatched up from a nearby garden and pelted at me, and followed Nate through to our motel room. “So when did you want to head over to the Civic?” I asked as Nate unlocked the door of our room.

“In a couple of hours, I think,” Sara replied. “We can just as easily practice here as we can over there.” She glanced at her watch. “It’s just after half past one now, so if we leave here at three-thirty we’ll have plenty of time to get ourselves and our gear all set up in the theatre.”

“Sounds good to me,” Nate said.

“If the three of you are going to be practicing for the next couple of hours, Fletcher and I are going to go for a wander into town and see if we can find a shopping centre,” Kimberley said. “I’ll meet you over at the Civic.”

“You know where it is?” I asked, just to make sure Kimberley wouldn’t end up getting lost, and she nodded. “Guess I’ll see you in a few hours then.”

“Have fun!” Sara called after Kimberley as she pushed Fletcher’s stroller down the driveway toward the street. “Right then you two – Nate, get my keyboard out of your ute and we’ll do a bit of practice. Need to decide exactly what covers we’re doing tonight as well.”

It didn’t take us long to sort out our set list for that evening’s show. What we had more or less decided prior to the Tamworth show was to use the same basic set list for every concert, which took the form of both of our EPs and a few songs that hadn’t made it onto either EP, and change things up with different covers. It gave us a decent amount of time onstage and kept us on our toes, not to mention that people who followed us between towns would hear something different each night. Keeping the set list entirely unchanged from night to night meant we would most likely be bored with it before we even hit the halfway point of the tour, and if there was one thing none of us coped well with it was boredom. Our set list nailed down, Sara typed it up on her iPad and saved it, and we got down to the important business of practicing.

It was about halfway through our practice time that I put my guitar down on the bed that Kimberley and I would be sharing and stood up, stretching my arms up above my head. “What the hell are you doing?” Sara asked once she realised I had stopped playing.

“I need a break, Sara,” I replied. “And I think Nate does as well, he’s staring at the wall and not doing a lot else.” I glanced over at Nate, who was staring at a spider that was crawling up the wall from behind the writing desk, tracking its movements with his eyes. “I’m going to go for a swim. Coming?”

“Nah, it’s too hot outside,” Sara replied.

“Whole reason I’m going for a swim, Sara. But suit yourself.” I walked away from the bed and over to the pile of suitcases, shifting both Nate and Sara’s out of the way so I could haul mine off the pile and unzip it in search of my boardshorts.

It was still very warm outside, though the heat wasn’t as intense as it had been when we had arrived that morning. Even so, it was enough for me to make a run for it through the carpark, the soles of my thongs smacking loudly against the concrete the whole way. The second I was inside the high fence that surrounded the motel’s swimming pool I dropped the towel I’d borrowed from our room, kicked off my thongs and dove into the pool. The mid-February heat changed rather abruptly to icy cold, and I almost gasped in a shocked breath before realising that would be a monumentally stupid idea. Death by drowning in the swimming pool of a country motel was not the way I would have chosen to go, not by any means.

I ended up staying in the pool for much longer than I had intended to. Most of my time was spent underwater where it was cool, surfacing for the occasional breath and not much else. I didn’t even realise how long I’d been in there until I surfaced one final time and saw Sara unlatching the gate that barred the way through the fence around the pool. “Oh crap,” I whispered.

“Having fun are we?” Sara asked with an eyebrow raised.

“Yeah,” I replied, and lifted my hands out of the water. My palms and the pads of my fingers and thumbs had gone all wrinkly, a sure sign that I had been in the water for far too long. “I’m coming in now though. What time is it?”

“Four o’clock. Nate and I are all ready to go, so get a move on.”

“Yes’m,” I said, snapping off a mock military salute. Sara rolled her eyes, bent down to the water and splashed me. I splashed her back and climbed up out of the pool, picking my towel up from the terracotta paving and wrapping it around my waist before following my sister back out into the carpark, snagging my thongs along the way.

Back in the motel room I saw that Nate had changed out of the shorts, T-shirt and thongs he had been wearing that morning and earlier on in the afternoon into a clean T-shirt, jeans and his sneakers, his hair looking damp and sticking up all over his head. “Shower’s free if you want it,” he said without looking up from tapping away at the screen of his phone. I raised a hand in a silent salute, even though I was aware he probably couldn’t see it, and went for another hunt through my suitcase for something to wear to the concert that night.

The three of us set off for the Civic Theatre at around a quarter to five, deciding that with all the instruments we needed for the show it was better that we drove rather than walked. Nate’s drums were still in the tray of his ute so getting us to the venue for the show was his responsibility that evening. And unless we decided to switch things up at some point along the way, it would remain his responsibility until we got back to Tamworth. Kimberley was waiting for us out the front of the theatre when we arrived, Fletcher sitting on her lap and the folded-up stroller leaning against the brick half-wall she was sitting on. “Well don’t you look dashing,” she said when I got close enough. “You can definitely scrub up nicely when you want to.”

“You don’t look so bad yourself,” I replied, before crouching down so I was at Fletcher’s eye-level. “Hey mate, you have fun with Mummy today?”

“Yeah!” Fletcher said happily.

“Oh, he had fun all right,” Kimberley said. “We went to Target and he had an absolute ball tossing toys off the shelves. Didn’t you, you little monkey?” She bounced Fletcher up and down on her knee a couple of times. He laughed and clapped his hands, and I smiled before straightening up again.

“Well, now that we’re all here I reckon we should head inside and get ourselves set up,” I said, and checked my watch quickly – its face gave the time as five o’clock. “Show kicks off in three hours so the sooner that gets done the better.” And with that I walked back over to Nate’s ute, uncovered the tray and started hauling out our instruments.

That first Saturday of tour more or less set our routine in stone. In the morning we would check out of the motel we had stayed in overnight (or in the case of our stay in Tenterfield, for two nights), pack my car and Nate’s ute with all our gear, and head off to the next town. Depending on how close to lunchtime we arrived at our next destination we would either seek out the nearest pub or club for lunch or find a park where Fletcher could run around and let off a bit of steam. After lunch we would check into the motel we had booked the previous evening, spend some time practicing for the show that night, and get ourselves ready to take the stage before packing the tray of Nate’s ute with all of our instruments. Dinner was normally takeaway or something from a local supermarket, eaten very quickly backstage at the venue for that evening’s concert. We would then help Kimberley get the merchandise stand set up so we could sell some copies of our EP, before hitting the stage at around eight-thirty and playing for around an hour and a half. Once the show was over we stripped the stage and took down the merchandise stand, the venue owner paid us our cut from ticket sales, and we headed back to the motel to sleep. The cycle would start all over again the next morning.

Our final show of that tour took place on February twenty-eighth. I was acutely aware that after tonight, we would have very little time left as a more or less completely anonymous indie band – once Hanson arrived in the country and kicked off the Anthem World Tour up in Brisbane, anonymity would be a thing of the past. Our tiny crowds of no more than around five hundred people would quadruple at the very least – something that terrified the living crap out of me. Part of me wanted to tell them to get stuffed, but I knew that wasn’t very professional of me. The three of us had committed to the tour, and despite being absolutely petrified of the massive crowds I knew awaited us all around the country I was looking forward to it. I knew that Sara and Nate were as well.

That final show took place in Armidale, at The Armidale Club. As a way of celebrating our final show, we had tossed our usual set list out the proverbial window. Tonight’s set list was composed of the bare minimum of songs from our EPs – three from Broken Hearts And Opened Scars and two from Burning Down December – with the remainder of the set list taken up entirely with covers. I knew very well that it wasn’t something we would likely be able to do once we began our first major tour, so I was making the most of it while I could.

A few minutes before we took the stage, I was coming back from the front of house where I’d just been helping Kimberley out at the merchandise stand to find Sara and Nate in the middle of a staring contest. The two of them were sitting at a table backstage with Sara’s iPad sitting between them, eyes locked on one another.

“What the fuck are you two doing?” I asked as I fetched a bottle of water from the ice-filled Esky that sat off to one side of the room.

“Sara wants to do a Hanson song as our first cover tonight,” Nate said without looking away from his staring contest with our sister. “I want to do Birds Of Tokyo. So we’re trying to psych each other out – first person to blink loses.”

“And that’s the set list on Sara’s iPad?” I asked, and the two of them nodded simultaneously. I reached under their shared eyeline and snagged Sara’s iPad off the table, unlocking it so I could see the set list we had already agreed on. Right there at the very top in bold text, denoting it as a cover song, was Wild At Heart by Birds Of Tokyo. “It’s Birds Of Tokyo, Sare. You lose, sorry.”

“Damn it!” Sara said, breaking eye contact as she spoke. “Oh bloody hell that was uncomfortable. Remind me never to pull that sort of bullshit again. Did either of you see where my handbag got to?”

“It’s over there next to the Esky,” I replied. Sara raised her hand in thanks before going to retrieve her handbag, unzipping it and taking out the little bottle of eye drops she habitually carried with her. She quickly put her eye drops in and capped the bottle again.

“That feels better already,” Sara said in what was obviously relief. She then pointed the bottle at Nate. “Don’t ever pull me into a staring contest with you ever again!”

“You’re only complaining because I can keep my eyes open for longer than you,” Nate replied. Sara went to throw the bottle of eye drops at him, but I stepped in at just the right moment and snatched the bottle out of her hand.

“Why is it that I’m the middle kid but I’m the one who has to act like the oldest most of the time?” I asked, and dropped the bottle back into Sara’s handbag. “Seriously, if I didn’t know that the two of you are actually adults I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the two of you now and the two of you when you were teenagers!”

Nate raised an eyebrow at me when I was done with my rant. “Who the fuck are you and what the hell have you done with my brother?”

I glared at Nate. “I’m just fed up with the two of you continually sniping at and fighting with each other. You’ve been at one another’s throats practically all tour. Just knock it off, okay? We only have tonight’s concert to go, and then we can go home and rest for a week.” I let out a sigh. “I swear to God, if the two of you pull any of this bullshit of yours during the national tour I’m locking you both in a room so you can fight it out.”

Both Sara and Nate were quiet for a few moments. “Sorry, Tay,” Sara said at last, sounding very contrite, and elbowed Nate in the ribs. He echoed Sara’s apology after shooting Sara a very wounded look.

“Thank you,” I said, suddenly feeling drained. I hated fighting with Sara and Nate – it always exhausted me. “Now can we please get our act together just long enough to play this last show? The natives are getting a little restless.”

“Yeah, all right,” Nate said, and fetched his drumsticks from the table he and Sara had held their staring contest over.

We took the stage around five minutes later to raucous cheering and thunderous applause – I thought I could even hear a few feet being stamped and the odd catcall thrown into the mix – and moved into our usual places onstage. Nate was at the rear of stage behind his drums, Sara to my left at her keyboard with her violin in its stand close at hand, and me with my guitar behind my microphone. We gave the audience a chance to calm down a little before starting off with the first of our covers, Sara and Nate playing the intro before I came in with my vocals and my guitar. As we played the audience sang along, matching the three of us word for word.

“You’ve got your motive, you set the scene…so how about another taste…or would you like to remind me why we are here…as I walk to the water to cleanse off the blood on my hands…the weight of this crime leaves a stain in the sand…I hope new tides come to wash me clean for good…

“You know that I fought with many and I won for some…we stared at ourselves till our breaking point…we wear our bruises like watermarks…the life and the death of the wild at heart…

“This empty bottle, this busted hand…highlights mistakes of a broken man…he won’t speak up, no he won’t come out of his hole…we were led to believe that the language of love was God…so few were forgiven…I’ll lead a march to the wall…and we’ll pull it down…so we can rebuild it…

“I fought with many and I won for some…we stared at ourselves till our breaking point…we wear our bruises like watermarks…the life and the death of the wild at heart…when was the moment it all fell apart…with no sign of warning, no raised alarm…we still wear our bruises, we show our scars…forever the wild at heart…the wild at heart…

“You know that I fought with many and I won for some…we started at ourselves till our breaking point…we wear our bruises like watermarks…the life and the death of the wild at heart…when was the moment it all fell apart…with no sign of warning, no raised alarm…we still wear our bruises, we show our scars…forever the wild at heart…the wild at heart…”

When the song ended the audience erupted once again, and I felt a grin sneak its way onto my face. For those few fleeting minutes I forgot all of my apprehension over the upcoming tour, and that not even two months earlier my life had been thrown into turmoil thanks to my parents’ lies being uncovered by the last person I would have expected. I even forgot that I was pretty much terrified of facing crowds many times larger than those we usually had come to see us play. In their place was anticipation of the opportunity that we had been given, and the determination to make the most of it while I had the chance. I knew that we were damn lucky to be able to go on tour with one of the most successful indie bands of my generation, and I fully intended to make the upcoming month of tour count.

Chapter Text

Therese

I’ve always been an ardent believer in Murphy’s Law – that if there are two or more ways to do something and that one of them can end in disaster, then sooner or later some idiot will find a way to make it happen. To put it a little more concisely, if anything can go wrong then it most definitely will.

On a Sunday in early March, mere days before I was due to leave for Australia with my cousins and their road crew, Murphy’s Law came into full effect in what may be one of the worst ways possible. I woke up sneezing.

“Jesus Christ Therese, are you okay?” Kelsey asked as I stumbled into the kitchen that morning, weaving around as if I was drunk. She and Samantha were sitting at our little kitchen table with their respective breakfasts, spoons frozen above their bowls of cereal as they watched me trying to stay upright.

“‘M fine,” I mumbled, before sneezing again. “Okay, which one of you two brought this fucking cold home with you?”

“Wasn’t me,” Samantha said, raising her hands in seeming self-defence.

I raised an eyebrow at her. “Sam, you work with kids all day,” I reminded her.

“And I disinfect myself before I come home. Hand sanitiser is a brilliant invention. I swear it wasn’t me Ree. You’ve got nieces and nephews, it could have been one of them.”

“And don’t even think about blaming me either, I don’t get kids coming into work all that often,” Kelsey added. She quickly finished off her breakfast and got up from her seat at the table, and took her bowl over to the sink to rinse it. “Speaking of, if I don’t leave now I’ll be late. I’ll see you two tonight.”

“You leave for Australia soon don’t you?” Samantha asked once Kelsey had left for work, and I nodded. “Will they even let you on the plane if you’re sneezing and coughing all over the place?”

“They’d fucking better,” I mumbled, and fished a tissue out of the pocket of my dressing gown seconds before I sneezed again. “My ticket’s already paid for. I’ll wear a mask if I absolutely have to, but there is no way in hell I’m missing out on this trip.”

“You could always go next time your cousins tour Australia,” Samantha suggested tentatively. “It’s not like this will be the last time they’ll ever go there.”

“Yeah, but…” I sat down in the chair that Kelsey had just recently vacated. “Okay, you know I’m adopted right?”

Samantha nodded. “Yeah, your aunt and uncle adopted you after your parents died.”

“Basically, yeah. I have a twin brother – we were separated after we were born and shoved into different foster homes. I’ve never met him but I know he’s out there. Anyway…” I trailed off and picked at a gouge in the table with my thumbnail. “I think he lives in Australia. And this might be one of the only chances I have of tracking him down. It’s one hell of a long shot but it’s one I’m willing to take.”

“Even if you end up back at square one again?”

“Even if that happens. I’ll at least have tried. The…” I sneezed again. “The whole reason I’m so certain he’s in Australia is because I saw a video in January that an Australian indie band submitted to a competition my cousins were running. One of the guys in that video looks like me and sounds really similar to my cousin Joel. My aunt even said he looks like my dad.” I hesitated briefly before continuing, “When I watched the video and saw him, I wanted to crawl through my TV so badly, all so I could be close to him. I don’t think I would have felt that way if he wasn’t my brother.”

“No, that actually makes a lot of sense,” Samantha said, sounding thoughtful. “What’s his name?”

“Taylor,” I replied. “Taylor Ainsworth. He’s in a band called After Midnight.”

“Now where have I heard that name before?” Samantha asked. She frowned a little. “Do they have a song called Save Me?” She tapped rhythmically on the table, humming a little bit, before breaking briefly into song. “This time you’ve gone too far…right on track to crash, how come…I stay at home while you act the star…two wrongs don’t make it right…two wrongs will start a fight…every time you step outside the lines…”

“Yeah, that’s one of theirs,” I replied. “It’s off their first EP. Where did you hear it?”

“YouTube. Someone in Australia put up video from one of their concerts from last month – found it completely by accident. They’re pretty good.”

“They are, aren’t they? They ended up winning my cousins’ competition, so I’ll get to see them in action for real next week.”

Samantha smiled at this and stood up, picking her empty bowl up as she moved. “Well I hate to love you and leave you, but I promised my mom I’d come over for Sunday lunch today. Will you be okay on your own?”

“Yeah I’ll be fine,” I replied. “I’ll take a bath or something – that should stop me aching all over.”

Pretty soon, I was alone in the apartment. Almost as soon as I had closed and locked the front door behind Samantha, I went back into the kitchen and hunted around in the cupboard under the stove for the teakettle. If I was going to have a bath, which in all honesty wasn’t something I did all that often, then I was going to make myself a nice cup of tea to drink while I waited for my bath to run. I finally found it hiding inside our big soup pot – how it had found its way in there, I really had no idea – and filled it from the kitchen tap, setting it on the stove and turning on the hotplate it sat on once it had been filled.

It wasn’t long before the kettle was boiled and my tea was made – peppermint tea this morning, rather than my usual cup of Irish Breakfast – and I took it into the bathroom with me, snagging my iPad and my phone along the way. My iPad, phone and my cup of tea were set down on the shelf next to the sink so that I could fetch the book I was currently halfway through reading, my hoodie, one of my long-sleeved shirts and my jeans. I could have stayed in my pyjamas all day – I was sick so I had enough of a reason for it – but I wanted to look halfway decent in case one of my relatives decided to knock on the front door at some point. I had no desire for anyone in my family, immediate or otherwise, to see that I tended to stay in my pyjamas all day when it was my day off. As soon as I had all my necessary bits and pieces set up in the bathroom, and once I had my Pandora app set to play one of my more mellow stations, I dug around in the cabinet under the sink in search of the bottle of very expensive shower gel that I had talked Joel into buying for me the last time my cousins were in Australia – Japanese cherry blossom shower gel from The Body Shop. I’d figured it would substitute well enough for bubble bath in a pinch – I just had to be careful not to use too much of it. There was no telling if I’d have a chance to get another bottle in Australia.

I had just finished running my bath exactly the way I liked it when my phone rang. Both of my hands were preoccupied with pinning my hair up so that it didn’t get wet while I was relaxing, and I let out a frustrated growl. “Damn it,” I muttered, and quickly shifted all of my hair into my left hand so that I could answer my phone. “Hello?”

“Jesus Christ Ree, you sound like shit.”

“Thank you ever so much for that particular assessment, Joel,” I snapped sarcastically. “I have a cold for your information.”

“Jeez, okay, no need to jump down my throat.” I could almost see Joel raising his hands in self-defence as he spoke.

I let out a quiet sigh. “Sorry, Joel. Any other time coming down with a cold I wouldn’t mind so much, but we leave for Sydney in four days – it’s the worst timing. What did you want to talk to me about?”

“I was going to ask you if you wanted to sit in on our last pre-tour meeting but I figure you’re not much up for going anywhere right now,” Joel replied.

“Considering I’m about to hop in the bath, yeah.”

“More than I needed to know, thanks. Anyway, once you’ve finished whatever it is you’re doing check your email – I’m going to send you a few things you need to know for Thursday. Okay?”

“Yeah, okay. Anything in particular I should be concerned with?”

“Nothing I can think of right now. Did you still want me to pick you up from your place that morning?”

“Yes please. I don’t really want to leave my car at the airport for however long it is we’ll be overseas. How long is that anyway?”

There was the sound of tapping keys right after I asked this, and I figured that Joel was looking up the exact stretch of time we would be in Australia. “Okay, so we leave LA on March sixth and arrive in Sydney on March eighth. Stupid International Date Line. We leave Sydney on April sixteenth and get back to LA the same day, so that’s…about five weeks.”

“So I’ll be in Australia for my birthday. Nice.”

I could almost see Joel smile at this. “Okay so I’ll pick you up from your place bright and early on Thursday morning then – how does five o’clock sound?”

“You’re evil.”

“Yep,” Joel agreed, sounding entirely too cheerful for my liking.

“Okay, five o’clock it is then.” I let out a quiet groan. “That is ridiculously early, you do know that right?”

“Better early than late, you know.”

“True,” I agreed, before glancing back at my bath. “Anyway, I want to have my bath before the water gets too cold, so I’ll see you on Thursday morning.”

“Yeah, see you then. Hope you feel better soon.”

I smiled. “Thanks, Joel.”

The second I had hung up, I put my phone on silent so that I wouldn’t be disturbed, finished pinning my hair up and hit play on Pandora. The piano intro of Breathe Me by Sia started up, and I closed my iPad’s case before hopping into my still-hot bath, snagging my book along the way.

I wasn’t entirely sure how long I stayed in the bath, but by the time I decided it was time to get out nearly all the bubbles had vanished, I had almost finished my book, and my feet and toes had gone all wrinkly. I did feel much better, though – the warm water had eased the ache in my muscles and joints considerably, and the warm, steamy air that filled the bathroom had cleared out my sinuses just a little. I unplugged the drain and let all the water and the remaining bubbles swirl away down into the pipes, hopping out of the bath and wrapping a towel around myself before I had a chance to cool down too much.

True to Joel’s word, when I checked my inbox after I was dressed and out of the bathroom there was an email sitting there waiting for me. I waited until I had my iPad set up on the kitchen table and was towelling my hair dry before I opened it up to read it.

Just a few important bits and pieces everyone needs to keep in mind this tour:

1. Our flight to Sydney, Australia departs at 10:10pm on March sixth from terminal 7 at LAX – flight number is UA839. The core group (that is – Isaac, Zac, me and our cousin Therese) will be waiting near the United check-in desks from around four o’clock that afternoon. You should all have your tickets for all of our flights in your inboxes – if you’ve lost any of these emails and can’t find them in your deleted items folder, EMAIL ME and I will work things out with you.

2. In case anyone has forgotten in the 18 months since our last visit to Australia, the seasons are reversed – we will be going into late summer/early fall. You will NOT need to pack your winter gear as it will still be very warm, especially up north in Darwin. Dress warmly for the trip out to LA by all means, but you definitely won’t need it after that point.

3. Everyone must make sure that their passports are up to date and are valid for at least the next six months after our return to the US. You will not be allowed past Immigration in Australia if these conditions are not met and will most likely be sent straight back home. This is not something we want to happen. Check the expiration date on your passport and arrange to have it renewed if you need to.

4. We will be meeting our support act, After Midnight, in Terminal 2 of Sydney Airport at around five o’clock in the morning of March ninth. As the tour does not actually begin until the tenth, Sunday will be reserved for giving us a chance to get to know each other a little better. Ideas for things for us to do on Sunday as a group are appreciated.

5. We will be visiting every state and territory capital over the next four weeks of tour, along with three regional cities, in the following order: Brisbane, the Gold Coast, Sydney, Newcastle, Wollongong, Melbourne, Hobart, Canberra, Adelaide, Darwin and Perth. There will be two shows in each city, with the Brisbane, Wollongong, Canberra and Darwin shows being age-restricted. You should all have a copy of the tour itinerary in your inboxes already – email me if this is not the case.

I think that’s everything. If there’s anything you’re not totally sure about, email me and I’ll do my best to help you figure things out. See you all in LA on the sixth.

JSH

I tapped out of my email app and closed my iPad’s case, wrapping my hoodie tighter around myself as I got up out of my seat. With the date of our departure from Los Angeles just days away, I needed to start packing. Just because I had come down with a cold didn’t mean I couldn’t sit on my bed and toss clothes and shoes into my suitcase.

With this fixed firmly in my head, I picked up my iPad and phone and wandered into my bedroom, with the intent of hunting down my suitcase so that I could start filling it.

On Thursday afternoon, following a mid-morning flight from Tulsa to Los Angeles, I followed my cousins into Terminal 7 at Los Angeles International Airport. True to his word, Joel had arrived at my apartment that morning at five o’clock on the dot, in the process scaring the living daylights out of Samantha when she went to answer the front door. I was thankfully finally on the mend, my cold reduced to little more than a stuffed-up nose that was easily remedied with a bit of Sudafed. Kelsey and Samantha had made sure of that, keeping me dosed up with cold and flu meds, lots of orange juice and chicken soup, and really trashy movies that Kelsey had taken it upon herself to torrent once she had got home from work on Sunday afternoon. So while I was still sick, it wouldn’t take me long to shake the rest of it once I had a chance to sleep off the inevitable jet lag.

“Remind me again why we’re here so damn early when our flight isn’t until ten past ten tonight?” Zac asked as the four of us hunted for somewhere to sit near the United check-in desks. Joel’s email had said that was where we would wait for everyone on my cousin’s road crew to meet us, so it made little sense for us to sit anywhere else.

“Well, for starters,” Joel said once we’d found a spot to claim for ourselves. “We need to give everyone a chance to get here, we need to check in for our flight, we need to go through security, and we need to have dinner before our flight. That enough of a reason?”

“Six hours early, though?”

“Be grateful it’s not twelve hours early, Zac,” Isaac said. “Because knowing Joel, that’s what time we’d have got here if we stayed in LA overnight. Don’t even deny it Joel,” he added once Joel opened his mouth to presumably protest.

“Okay, so I want to make sure things run smoothly. Can you really blame me?”

“You could have done that without making us get out of bed before the sun was even up,” I grumbled. “I’m still sick, in case you’ve forgotten.” I picked up my handbag from where it sat on top of my suitcase and stood up. “I’m going to go find the ladies’. Watch my stuff for me?”

“Watching it,” Joel said, snapping off a mock military salute. I eyed him with one eyebrow raised before shrugging and heading off to find the ladies’ room.

I figured I had to have been in the ladies’ longer than I thought I was, for when I got back to where everyone else was sitting only Joel was there with his suitcase and backpack – Isaac and Zac had disappeared off to parts unknown. “Where’s everyone else?” I asked once I was sitting down again.

“Went to go look for a McDonald’s,” Joel replied. “Left me here to hold down the fort, as you can see.” He spread out his arms, indicating his brothers’ suitcases and backpacks.

“And here I thought you’d all gone and checked in without me.”

“Nah,” Joel said. “Others aren’t here yet, they’re all stuck in traffic.”

“Of course they are.” I put my handbag back on top of my suitcase and unzipped it, taking out my iPad. If I had to wait for Isaac and Zac to get back from hunting down the nearest McDonald’s, wherever the hell that happened to be, and if I had to wait for the road crew to get here, then I was going to get some reading done. I opened my Kindle app, scrolled down my library until I came to A Game Of Thrones, and tapped on it to begin reading from where I had left off.

I’d always been a fairly quick reader, so I managed to make it through two and a half chapters before Zac and Isaac got back and the rest of our travelling group converged on the terminal. Someone poked me in the shoulder just as I got to a particularly exciting part, and I looked up from my iPad to see Joel rising to his feet. “Time to check in, Ree,” he said – the only prompting I needed to close my iPad’s case and put it back into my handbag. I zipped my handbag closed again and got back to my feet, collecting my backpack and handbag before extending the handle of my suitcase. My belongings gathered, I hurried after Joel so that I could get in line right behind him. As I waited in line to check in, I went over my usual answers to the questions that would inevitably be asked by the person manning the desk – my full name was Therese Alexandra Hanson, I was travelling to Sydney in Australia, I’d packed my suitcase myself, and I hadn’t had anyone come up to me attempting to get me to take something suspicious across the Pacific with me.

Security was full of the usual dramas that accompanied us whenever I joined my cousins on international tours, with Zac, Joel and I all setting off the metal detector (which of course resulted in Isaac smirking at the three of us from the other side of security). Zac had forgotten to take his belt off, Joel had a few random coins in his pockets, and of all things that could have set off the metal detector the underwires in my bra would have to be it. “You just wait, your turn’s coming,” Zac said darkly once we had been reunited with Isaac, who was still smirking at us. “The metal detectors in Sydney will go off when you go through them, see if they don’t.”

“Didn’t they do that last time?” I asked from where I sat on the floor, pulling my sneakers back on.

“No, that was Joel,” Isaac replied. “Idiot forgot to take his belt off.”

I paused in pulling my left sneaker back on and instead whacked Joel in the shin with it. “Idiot,” I said when he glanced down at me, looking wounded, and I stuck my tongue out at him before slipping my foot into my shoe and doing up the laces.

The hours before we were due to board our flight almost flew past. After we had all dropped our backpacks off at gate 71B and conned the guys’ bassist into looking after our gear, we split off in different directions, agreeing to be back at our gate lounge by seven-thirty. I ended up splitting my time between wandering in and out of the food court and the shops (picking up a strawberry smoothie and a chicken BLT sandwich from Starbucks for my dinner, and a notebook to serve as my tour journal from the newsagent during my travels), and finding a quiet alcove off to one side so I could eat my dinner and start writing in my journal. Between bites of my sandwich and sips of my smoothie, I managed to fill two pages with my small and neat handwriting before a glance at my watch told me it was time to reunite with my group. I put my notebook and the pen I’d found in a pocket of my handbag away, finished off the last bites of my sandwich and got back to my feet, sipping from my half-finished smoothie as I wandered back to the gate.

At nine-thirty, the first boarding call sounded over the gate PA, and I glanced up briefly from my iPad to listen. “This is the first call for boarding for flight UA839 to Sydney, Australia,” the gate attendant said. “At this time we would like to call forward all of our first class and business class passengers, and also any passengers with special needs and small children. Please have your boarding passes ready. We would also like to remind you at this time that all cell phones, laptop computers and tablet computers should be put into flight mode and switched off prior to boarding. Again, if you are travelling with us as a first class or business class passenger, if you have special needs or if you are travelling with small children, please come forward to board. Thank you.”

“That’s us, Ree,” Joel said. “Come on.”

“What, first class?” I asked as I locked my iPad and slipped it back into my handbag.

“I wish. Business class for us.” He nudged me and grinned. “You’ll love it. Bit of a pre-birthday treat for you.”

“Holy crap,” I whispered. I had never travelled business class – every other flight I’d taken outside of the USA I’d always flown economy, mostly because I had always insisted on paying for my own ticket. But this time I’d caved into letting my cousins pay for my flights, fully aware that none of them would budge on the matter. I had thought I’d be back in economy as usual – knowing that I would be up at the ‘pointy end’ of the plane this time, as it were, was a nice surprise. “Really?”

“Yeah, really. If we’re going to be spending fourteen hours inside a glorified tin can, we may as well be comfortable while we do it.” Joel slung an arm around my shoulders and walked me to the line of passengers who got to board first. “Happy early birthday, Ree.”

My sheer euphoria at getting to travel business class for the first time in my life didn’t evaporate even as I stepped into the cabin of the Boeing 747-700 that would be taking us across the Pacific that night and showed my boarding pass to the flight attendant at the door. As I reached my assigned seat I paused in the aisle just long enough to run my hand over it, and hid a small smile behind my other hand. This is real, I realised. I’m not dreaming. This is real.

The flight took off from Los Angeles International Airport at its scheduled time of ten past ten o’clock. As the plane left the tarmac and rose into the night sky, I looked out of the window next to my seat down at the bright lights of Los Angeles. It would be my final glimpse of my home country for the next five weeks – I would not be setting foot back on American soil until halfway through April. This was going to be a good trip, though – I did have to do a little bit of work, but in all honesty it was a small price to pay for five weeks of travelling around the Land Down Under. Especially when I took into consideration the fact that not only would I be in Australia for my birthday, but the chance that my twin was part of After Midnight was extremely high. Finding out for sure that Taylor Ainsworth was my twin would be the best thirty-first birthday present ever, even better than getting to spend the fourteen-odd hours it would take us to get to Australia in the business class cabin.

“Happy early birthday to me,” I said to myself as I settled back into my seat and started hunting through the in-flight entertainment guide in search of something to watch. Happy early birthday to me indeed.


Even at five o’clock in the morning, Terminal 2 at Sydney Airport was a teeming hive of activity. People of all descriptions filled the check-in area, most of them toting suitcases, duffle bags and backpacks – I’d figured that not many people other than those catching ridiculously early flights would be here so early. Like my cousins, their crew and I, for instance.

Our first full day in Australia, the eighth of March, had been spent wandering around Sydney. Once we had cleared Immigration and Customs at the airport and had checked into our home for the night, the Radisson Blu Plaza (which, according to my copy of the tour itinerary, we would be returning to for our weekend of Sydney shows), we’d all split up. Isaac and Zac had flagged down a taxi and headed off to Pitt Street Mall, the road crew had gone off to find a music store, and my cousins’ manager had decided to stay at the hotel to finalise everything for the tour. Joel and I, in a mutual and unspoken decision, had gone down to the hotel’s concierge desk and asked about the city’s sightseeing bus tour. Our hotel wasn’t very far on foot from the tour’s first stop, down at Circular Quay, and we had arrived just as the red double-decker open-top bus rolled up alongside the curb. Our little tour of Sydney had taken in the Queen Victoria Building, Sydney Town Hall, Kings Cross, the Sydney Opera House, the Royal Botanic Gardens, various museums and the Sydney Aquarium, among other things. It had been a good day, and I now had plenty of photos to add to my tour album on Facebook once I was somewhere with a reliable wireless connection.

Today, though, we were off to Brisbane. The tour began tomorrow, with today being our final day of relative peace and quiet before we were swept up in the chaos that was a Hanson tour. And I knew exactly how I wanted to spend part of it.

“Sorry we’re late!”

A distinctly Australian and very female voice caught my attention, and I looked up from my generally futile attempt at catching a few extra minutes of sleep. The voice, it seemed, belonged to a tall blonde woman wheeling a bright pink suitcase along behind her. “You guys are Hanson, right?” she asked, just as two even taller blonde men came up behind her – her brothers, I realised. This, then, was After Midnight.

“Yeah, that’s us,” Joel replied, and out of the corner of my eye I saw him stand up from where he’d been sitting on his suitcase. “Sara Ainsworth?”

“That’s me,” Sara said, sounding altogether too cheerful for so early in the morning. “It’s fantastic to finally meet you.” She stuck out a hand, and Joel shook it.

“Likewise. And you’re not really that late, our flight isn’t for another two hours.”

“Oh good.” Sara sounded very relieved at this, and she promptly turned around and hit one of her brothers on his shoulder. “And you said we’d be late, Nate!” she shouted at him, which set her other brother off laughing. “Oh don’t you start Taylor!”

“Well now that we’re all here, why don’t we check in,” Joel suggested. “That way we have plenty of time to grab breakfast and wander around the terminal before our flight.” As soon as Joel said this those of us who were sitting down got up and gathered our belongings, making sure we had left nothing behind. Check-in ran smoothly, as did going through security, and soon we had all gathered near the base of the escalator that connected the two levels of the terminal. None of the shops were open yet, from what I could see anyhow – considering it was five-thirty in the morning, at least according to my watch, I wasn’t really all that surprised.

“Please tell me Macca’s is open this early,” I could hear Taylor saying to Sara, who was bent over her iPad.

“It’s probably the only place here that is open this early,” Sara replied. She frowned a little at her iPad. “Yep, it’s open.”

“Oh good,” he said, sounding a tiny bit grateful, and he let out a shrill whistle. All of us stopped what we were doing and looked over at him. “I’m going to wander down to McDonald’s and get myself something to eat,” he said, standing up and lifting his backpack onto his back as he spoke. “Anyone want to come with?”

In the end, it was Zac, Taylor and I who decided to head over to the terminal’s food court. “Our gate’s A31,” Joel reminded us before we went to wander off. “It’ll be the first on your right.”

“Gotcha,” I said. “Come on you two, let’s go get ourselves something to eat.”

“So are you their sister or something?” Taylor asked me as the three of us split off from our group and headed over to the food court.

“Cousin,” I replied. “My name’s Therese Hanson.”

“Cousin and general pain in the ass,” Zac said, smirking as he said this.

“Shut the fuck up Zac!” I snapped.

“Temper, temper,” Zac said. “What’s crawled up your ass and died this morning?”

I glared at him. “I haven’t had my breakfast yet, what the fuck do you expect?” Never mind that I’m still getting over this damn cold, I added in my head, not daring to say it aloud.

Zac’s only response to this was to raise his hands in seeming self-defence, before heading off ahead of us. I let out a quiet sigh, closed my eyes and pressed my fingers to my temples. “Sorry, Taylor.”

“It’s all good,” Taylor said, and I opened my eyes to look at him. “Nate,” he added, as if that one word explained everything – which it really did. “He’s a pain in the arse as well.”

“I’m still sorry. You don’t even know me and I’m going off at my cousin right in front of you.”

“Apology accepted, then.” He gave me a smile. “So how come you’re tagging along?” This was said as the two of us set off again, following along in Zac’s wake.

“Looking for my twin brother,” I replied. “Plus my cousins said that if I helped them out a bit during the tour they’d pay for my flights and accommodation, and there’s no way in hell I’m saying no to a free vacation. Haven’t been here in nearly nine years after all.”

“Your brother?”

I nodded. “Yeah. We…we were split up after we were born, and I haven’t been able to track him down anywhere in the US. So I thought I’d try my luck here. It can’t hurt, right? If he’s not here after all, then he’s not here – I’ll try looking somewhere else.”

“Sounds like a plan to me. Good luck with it, Therese.”

I grinned. “Thanks, Taylor.”

The three of us had soon bought breakfast for ourselves – Zac had a bacon and egg McMuffin, Taylor had a sausage and egg McMuffin and a black coffee, and I’d decided on hotcakes and a mango and pineapple smoothie. Not the healthiest breakfast in the world, but I was essentially on vacation – ‘healthy’ was akin to a four-letter word right now as far as I was concerned. The three of us found an empty table in the rapidly-filling food court and seated ourselves, the hum of people talking surrounding us as we started eating.

“I had an idea of what we can do once we’re settled in Brisbane,” Taylor said between bites of his breakfast. “Seeing as we’ll have a whole day to kill before everything kicks off tomorrow.”

“Yeah?” Zac asked without looking up from his own breakfast.

“Yeah.” Out of the corner of my eye I thought I saw Taylor’s hands tense on the tabletop. “I was thinking we could go ten pin bowling. There’s an alley in Queen Street Mall, and it’s not all that far from our hotel so we could probably walk there.”

“I’ll have to talk to Joel and Isaac about it,” Zac said, and he finally looked up at Taylor. “But I like it. I think it’s a great idea, and if I know those two as well as I should by now they’ll agree with me.”

It was entirely possible that my eyes were playing tricks on me, but I was almost certain that I could see something very close to relief flash in Taylor’s eyes. It further cemented my belief that he was in fact my twin – I knew I got the same look in my own eyes whenever something went right and I wasn’t quite expecting it to. I held back a snicker when his hands untensed and he went back to eating his breakfast, knowing almost instinctively that he would take it the wrong way. He didn’t know me properly yet and so would have every right to. I just had to hope that would change very soon.

By the time we had finished eating, the shops that lined the main Departures concourse were beginning to open for another day’s trade. Our flight left at seven o’clock, so I knew we would have exactly half an hour to kill before we had to get to our gate and prepare for boarding. With this in mind, along with the knowledge that I had my credit card burning a hole in my wallet, I collected the remains of my breakfast and got up out of my seat. “I’m going to go and spend some money,” I announced to Zac and Taylor. “See you at the gate, yeah?” The two of them each raised a hand, I figured to acknowledge what I had said, and I headed off to start exploring.

It soon became apparent that there wasn’t a whole lot of exploring to be done. Shopping at T2 Departures consisted of a surf store, a toy store, a pharmacy, several high-end clothing stores, two newsagencies, a store selling tech gear and accessories and another selling Australian souvenirs, a stand for the phone carrier Vodafone and little else. After a quick browse through each store, I ended up going back to the surf store to buy a new pair of sandals and a wide-brimmed hat, heading through to the gate once I was done spending my money.

“That was quick,” Joel commented as I sat down next to him at our gate. “Zac said you were heading off to do some exploring.”

“Yeah, I did,” I replied. “This place is shit though, there’s hardly anything to do here. I’m half-tempted to go over to the International terminal and see what shops they have over there. They’re probably a hell of a lot more interesting than the ones here.”

“Unless you’re willing to fork out five dollars for a terminal transfer ticket I wouldn’t bother,” Sara said, and I glanced over at her. “Most of the International terminal’s shopping is after Customs anyway, at least according to the map on the airport’s website. Bit of a wasted trip if you ask me but hey, it’s up to you.” She shrugged.

“We’re supposed to start boarding in about twenty minutes, anyway,” Zac said from his spot on the floor near Joel’s feet. He had his laptop open on his lap and was tapping away furiously on its keyboard. “You’d get over there and pretty much have to come straight back again.” He looked up at me. “I think you’re better off waiting until we’re headed home – if we get to the airport early enough you’ll have plenty of time to spend a bit of money.”

“Yeah, I suppose you’re right,” I agreed with only a small sigh. “The sooner we get to Brisbane the better.” I drew my legs up under my chin, folded my arms and rested them on my knees, and leaned forward so that I could prop my chin up on my arms. “I never thought airports could be so goddamn boring. This sucks.”

I didn’t have time to get properly bored, as it happened. I had just resigned myself to being bored out of my mind until we boarded our flight, and was seriously considering going for another walk all the way to the other end of the terminal when our flight was announced over the gate PA. All around me people began packing up their handbags and backpacks, and I scrambled to my feet so I could shove my new sandals into my backpack. My hat, on the other hand, went straight on my head once I’d yanked off the price tag. I was fairly certain I would need it once we got off the plane in Brisbane, and besides which it was brand new – I didn’t want to stick it into my backpack and end up mangling it.

“So where are you sitting?” I asked Taylor as we got in line with everyone else.

His immediate answer was to stick a finger into the book he was carrying with him, having used his boarding pass as a makeshift bookmark, and examine his boarding pass closely. “Uh…14A.” He glanced quickly at me. “Nice hat.”

I smiled. “Thank you,” I said, and checked my own boarding pass. “Oh, looks like I’m next to you. I’m in 14B. I can swap with Nate or Sara if you’d rather sit next to one of them – I mean, only if you want to,” I appended hurriedly.

“Nah, s’okay,” Taylor replied with a shrug. “I sat next to Nate on the way here from Tamworth. We were in this tiny little plane that only had two seats either side of the aisle, and quite frankly that’s closer than I want to be to him anytime soon.” He looked around a little furtively before giving a rather theatrical shudder, and I snickered quietly. This made him grin. “You know what Therese?”

“What?”

“I think you and me are going to get along very well over the next few weeks.” I watched him study me briefly. “And this is going to sound a bit stupid, but I feel like I know you already. Even though I really don’t.”

“Well you’ll definitely get to know me pretty well by the time the tour ends,” I said. “That much I can say for certain.”

On any other flight, I would have jammed my earphones into my ears and started my iPod playing the second our plane was in the air and the seatbelt lights had been switched off. This time, though, my iPod stayed in my backpack and in quiet voices, Taylor and I got to know each other a little. We couldn’t really go into much depth – that would have come under the definition of overshare this early on – but over the hour and a half of our flight north we learned the basics about each other. Things like our families, a few favourites, even places we had been and lived in over the years. The most surprising thing I learned about him, though, was something I hadn’t even found out when I had looked After Midnight up online after they had won their spot on the tour. As it turned out, we shared our birthday – right down to the day.

“You’re kidding me,” I said when he told me, my voice a little flat. “Your birthday’s the fourteenth of March?”

“Yep,” he replied. “March fourteenth 1983. Three days before St. Patrick’s Day. Makes it dead easy for other people to remember. Why?”

“It’s just…” My hands tensed a little in my lap. “That’s my birthday too. Same year and everything.” I let out a quiet laugh. “What are the odds? Next you’ll be telling me you’re my twin br-” I cut myself off and quickly shut my mouth, realising I might have already said too much.

“Well, you never know, I might be,” he said with a small shrug, evidently having picked up on what I wasn’t saying. “This is probably a little too much information at this point, considering we really barely know each other, but…” He let out a quiet sigh. “A couple of months ago I found out that I’m adopted. I didn’t know before that.”

“Your parents never told you?”

He shook his head. “Nope. I mean, I kind of get why they never told me, though I still don’t really understand it. I just wish they’d told me years ago.”

“I can understand that. Okay, I’m not in your exact position – I’ve known for years – but I definitely understand wishing you’d found out earlier than you did.”

“You’re adopted too?” Taylor asked. The surprise in his voice was obvious – it was almost like it was the last thing he expected to hear.

“Yep,” I replied. “My…my mom died a few weeks after my brother and I were born – my dad died a few months before that. It’s the reason we were split up, at least according to my aunt and uncle – foster care system in New York City couldn’t figure out what to do with the two of us, and they couldn’t get in contact with anyone on either my mom or my dad’s side of my family. So I guess they took the easy way out. My aunt and uncle found me after a few weeks and adopted me – my brother was already lost in the system by that point.”

“That really sucks.”

I let out a rough chuckle. “That’s a major understatement. Started looking for him once I turned eighteen but I haven’t had much luck – the trail went cold in 1985.”

I could almost see the cogs and wheels turning over in Taylor’s head after I said this. “I hope you find him, Therese.”

I smiled a little at this. “Thanks, Taylor.”

“Hey you two!”

Both Taylor and I looked up at the exact same moment as each other at Joel’s voice. He was looking at us from over the backs of the row of seats in front of us, and had his digital camera in one hand with its strap looped around his wrist. “What?” I asked.

“I want to get a photo of you two,” he replied. “Call it a souvenir if you like – come on, budge up together.” He motioned with his free hand for the two of us to move closer together, with Taylor obliging by raising the armrest between us. Figuring it wouldn’t get us in trouble if we were unrestrained in our seats for a few moments, the two of us unbuckled our seatbelts and shifted a little closer together. Joel quickly took his photo and we shifted back into our seats, the armrest went back down and we did up our belts again. “Thanks you two.”

“Anytime,” Taylor said with a small salute. Joel nodded in reply and disappeared back down behind the seat backs, coming up beside me a few moments later.

“I’m emailing that photo to Mom when we get to Brisbane,” he said quietly in my ear. “Soon as I hear back from her I’ll let you know.” I gave a quick nod in response, and he went back to his seat.

The rest of the flight to Brisbane passed by without incident, and we landed on time at Brisbane Airport’s Domestic terminal. Collecting our gear downstairs was similarly straightforward, if a little time-consuming – though considering that between all of us we had something like eighteen suitcases and a fair few equipment cases, that wasn’t really all that surprising – and soon we were heading off to the hotel that was to be our home for the next three days. As the van occupied by my cousins, After Midnight, my cousins’ manager and I drove away from the airport and into the city, I found myself staring out of the van’s tinted windows at the passing scenery. It had been a long time since my most recent visit, so I was curious to see how much things had changed in the intervening years.

“Pretty amazing, isn’t it?”

The question had come from Taylor, who it seemed had found an excuse to sit next to me in the van rather than with his brother or sister. “Just a little bit,” I agreed. “Have you ever been here before?”

Taylor shook his head. “Been to Queensland plenty of times, but we’ve always bypassed Brisbane completely. It’s nice to finally come here. What about you?”

“Twice for me – came here when my cousins toured in 2000 and 2005. Didn’t really get a chance to see much either time but we’re here for a few days so who knows, it might be different this time.” I shrugged a little as I said this.

Soon, we had arrived at our Brisbane hotel, the Sofitel Brisbane Central. We all piled out onto the hotel’s driveway, and as soon as the sunshine hit my face I scrambled to put my sunglasses on. The exterior of the hotel wasn’t all that impressive, at least to me – it was a dizzyingly tall building (I had counted at least twenty rows of windows marching up the side that faced the street as our van had driven up) built from what looked like sandstone, with palm trees planted in three rows outside and flags of various countries hanging above the doors.

“Okay, just before we go and get ourselves checked in,” my cousins’ manager said right before we headed inside out of the heat, “Sara and Therese” she gestured to Sara and I “are you okay being in a room together?”

“Yeah, that’s fine by me,” Sara replied, and I nodded my agreement. “I’d rather not share with my brothers anyway if I don’t have to, Nate snores and Taylor talks in his sleep.” There were snickers all around as she said this, with both Nate and Taylor fixing the rest of us with identical dark looks. “Those two can irritate each other as much as they like, but I for one would prefer a bit of peace and quiet.”

It wasn’t very long before we were all checked in and heading upstairs to our rooms. Sara and I had a room on the tenth floor, just down the hall from Sara’s brothers. “So what are they like?” Sara asked as we arrived at our door and I dropped my keycard into the lock.

“My cousins?” I replied with a question of my own as the light on the lock changed from red to green. I had a reasonable idea of who Sara was asking me about, but a little clarification never hurt anybody.

“Yeah. I mean, okay, I’m a fan – let’s get that out of the way early. But I’d never met them before this morning, and all I know about them is what any other fan does.”

I considered how to answer Sara’s question as I led the way into our room. “Oh wow,” I breathed when I saw the interior of our hotel room. It was primarily cream and dark brown, with dark carpet on the floor under our feet, and two double beds up against the left-hand wall. “This is incredible…” I left my suitcase against the door that I figured led into the bathroom and darted across to the nearest bed, jumping backwards onto it and letting myself sink a little into its mattress. “Oh this is nice. I’m going to sleep well tonight!”

“They are pretty comfy,” Sara agreed as she sat down on the other bed. “Not a bad place to call home the next couple of days.”

I raised myself up on my elbows then and looked up at the ceiling. “They’re just normal guys,” I said, deciding to finally answer Sara’s earlier question. “I grew up with them for almost my entire life – to me they’re no different to what your brothers are to you. Take away the celebrity element and you have three guys from Oklahoma who just happen to be very talented musicians.” I looked over at Sara. “Just treat them as you would any guy you’re friends with and you’ll get along fine with them.”

“Okay. Thanks, Therese.”

I gave Sara a smile. “Anytime, Sara.”

Chapter Text

Taylor

Nate and I had just started setting ourselves up in our hotel room when someone knocked on the door. I let go of the lid of my guitar case and went to the door, squinting through the peephole to see just who it was – Joel, as it turned out. I pushed down on the doorhandle and opened the door so that we could talk. “Hey Joel.”

“Hey Taylor. Listen, Zac told me what you suggested we could do today to kill a bit of time. Bowling, right?”

“Yeah, that’s right,” I replied. Please say yes, please say yes, I pleaded mentally.

“Zac talked it over with Isaac and I, and we’re all for it. You said there’s an alley not far from here?”

“Yeah, it’s something like three blocks southeast. Easy enough to walk there, it wouldn’t even take us ten minutes. Just a few problems though.”

“Well, whatever they are, I’m sure we can work them out.”

I started by holding up my left index finger. “One, they don’t open until ten o’clock, and their first session isn’t until half an hour after that. I’m not surprised at their opening time to be honest, it’s Sunday and everything opens late today.” I held up my middle finger. “Two, you have to book in advance – you can’t just rock up there without telling them you’re coming. Which means everyone will have to decide within the next half an hour if they want to come.” Finally I held up my ring finger. “And three, it’s fourteen dollars a game per person, twenty-two if we decide to play two games, and they expect payment when you book. If all seven of us go it’s going to be a huge drain on my bank account.”

“Ouch,” Joel said, and I nodded. “Okay, how about this then. You ask Nate, Sara and Therese if they’re up for it. If they are, then let me know and I’ll book for all of us.”

“You don’t mind?”

Joel shook his head. “Don’t mind at all.”

“Well…thank you,” I said, feeling just a little stunned. “I’ll text Sara and see what she thinks – d’you want to come in while I do that?”

“Sure,” Joel replied.

I stepped aside so that he could enter the room and closed the door after him, fishing my phone out of my pocket one-handed as I pushed the door shut. “Nate, you up for thrashing the Americans at bowling?”

We’re American, Taylor,” Nate reminded me without looking away from our hotel room’s TV.

“We’re also Australian citizens, you twit. You coming or not?”

“Yeah, may as well,” Nate replied.

“Jesus, don’t sound so unenthusiastic,” I commented, and opened my phone’s messaging app so I could write a new text message to Sara. Bowling with hanson this morning, you and therese up for it?

Sara’s answering text landed in my inbox just as I’d pulled up the booking page for Strike Bowling Wintergarden on my laptop. I got out of the way so that Joel could make the booking for us and opened the message. Yeah sure, why not? Should be fun. :) “Sara and Therese are in,” I said. “That’s all seven of us then.”

“Sweet,” Joel said. I watched as he picked the date, our chosen starting time and number of games we wanted to play, scrolled down to choose the number of players, and clicked through to the payment page. I averted my eyes as he typed in all the information that Strike Bowling required for our booking to be made, deciding it was none of my business what his phone number, email address and credit card details were. “All done,” he announced once our booking had been finalised. “We’re booked in for the first session of the day at ten-thirty.”

“Awesome,” I said, and quickly typed out another text to Sara with this particular bit of information. Joel, I noted, was doing the same with his own phone.

Joel soon headed back to his own hotel room, leaving Nate and I to our own devices. With a full hour and a half to kill until we absolutely needed to leave for our morning at the bowling alley, I grabbed my laptop from the end of the bed that I had claimed as mine for the duration of our stay and fetched my earphones from my backpack. If I had that much time to kill, I was going to do a bit of catching up on my favourite TV shows. A quick jab at the screen of my laptop once I had my torrents folder open revealed that I’d picked Revolution for my morning catch-up. I’d already finished watching the first season last night at our Sydney hotel, but there wasn’t much harm in rewatching the first episode. With that in mind, I plugged my earphones into the jack on the front of my computer, shoved them in my ears and clicked on the first episode to start it.

Ten o’clock on the button saw the seven of us heading down to Queen Street Mall and in turn the Wintergarden shopping centre. It was fairly warm outside, about as warm as it would be at home near the middle of March, and I found myself hoping that the alley was air conditioned – I was getting the impression that it would be much appreciated by all of us. The sounds of the city on a Sunday morning surrounded us as we walked down Turbot Street, heading toward Edward Street – cars and trucks passing by, music blasting from open windows in the buildings that lined our route, birds in the park near the intersection of Turbot and Edward, and the occasional plane in the sky overhead.

“You’re quiet,” Sara said as we turned left into Edward Street. She had slowed down so that she could fall into step alongside me, leaving the others to keep at their slightly faster pace. “Something on your mind?”

“How long have you got?”

Out of the corner of my eye I saw Sara smile slightly. “Tell me one thing – and just one thing. I know how you can get when you’re fired up.”

“Therese is adopted too,” I said, deciding to say what was at the forefront of my mind. “She told me during the flight up here from Sydney, after I told her that I’m adopted. She’s come here looking for her twin brother – didn’t have much luck at home so she reckoned she might as well try her luck here.” My fingers twitched a little inside my pockets. “Do you know anything about my family from before Mum and Dad adopted me?”

“Honestly?” Sara asked, and I nodded. “I really don’t know. Mum and Dad might have some idea, though – I’d ask them. But – and don’t quote me on this, because like I said I honestly don’t know for sure – it is entirely possible that you have a brother or sister out there. Therese might well be one of them. Don’t go getting your hopes up though – I don’t want you to end up disappointed if it turns out you don’t have any birth family after all.”

“I’ll try not to.”

When we arrived at the Wintergarden Centre, I was immediately reminded of Pitt Street Mall in Sydney. The part of Queen Street that it was home to looked like one long shopping strip, though it was a fair bit narrower than Pitt Street was. Strike Bowling was on Level One of Wintergarden, and was already teeming with people. “Good thing we booked,” I commented as we walked inside, with Joel breaking away to go up to the front counter.

“Bit of a warning in advance,” Sara said while we waited for our lane to open. “Taylor is just a teensy bit unco – he’s a bit uncoordinated,” she clarified when Therese raised an eyebrow.

“Oi!” I complained. “I’m not that bad!”

“Who exactly was it that nailed Mr. Thomas you-know-where with a t-ball bat during Year 3 sport?” she said, raising an eyebrow of her own at me, and I felt my face slowly begin to burn bright red.

“I was nine years old, Sara!” I reminded her. “And I haven’t tripped over my own feet in months, give me a break already!”

“Jesus Christ, okay,” Sara said, holding her hands up in front of her. “I’m just screwing with you Tay, calm down.”

“I’m not exactly coordinated myself,” Therese piped up. “So, you know...y’all might want to keep a safe distance when I’ve got my hands on one of those bowling balls. I’ll probably nail one of you where the sun doesn’t shine.”

“She’s not kidding,” Joel said as he rejoined our group. “Remember what happened when you were ten, Ree?”

“A lot of things happened when I was ten Joel, you might want to be a little more specific,” Therese said.

“You tripped over the soccer ball when we were playing in the yard at the old house and broke your ankle?”

“Oh, that,” Therese mumbled, her voice barely loud enough to be heard over the music that was playing in the bowling alley.

“Yeah, that,” Joel mimicked, and Therese gave him the finger. “Charming, Ree. Anyway, we’re over at lane six – we can’t start until half-past ten though.”

Not being able to start bowling until ten-thirty didn’t stop us getting ready for our morning of fun, though. Once we had each collected a pair of bowling shoes from the front counter, we dropped all our gear over at our lane and went to pick our bowling balls. The alley had bowling balls in so many colours and patterns it almost made my head spin, and I eventually picked a black ball that had a splash of light blue across one half.

Almost as soon as the second hand on my watch swept past the twelve, ticking over to ten-thirty, the fun began. The two TV screens that hung side-by-side from a bracket above our heads lit up with our names – Isaac, Joel, Nate and Sara on the left-hand screen, and Therese, Zac and I on the other. The lanes to either side of ours were slowly filling with players – I spotted a group of teenagers and a very bored looking woman to our right, while to our left was a group of young women who looked like they were out for a hens’ party.

“Come on, quick game’s a good game,” Sara said as Isaac went forward to bowl the first frame of our first game – which also ended up being the very first strike of the morning. A cheer went up from Therese and her cousins, and all four of them high-fived each other. Nate, Sara and I, for our part, glanced at each other nervously – neither of us were all that good at bowling, even though we had gone bowling for school sport quite often in high school, and I could only hope that Isaac’s strike wasn’t a sign of things to come.

The next three frames followed in almost the same fashion – eight pins followed by a spare from Joel, Nate’s first strike of the game, and nine pins followed by a conversion to a spare from Sara. Finally, it was my turn to step up to our lane, my chosen bowling ball in my hands. I raised the ball up in front of my face and sighted across the top, in an attempt to line it up with the pins. Once I was satisfied that my ball would knock most, if not all of the pins down, I lowered the ball, swung it out behind me as I moved forward, and once my arm was halfway through its downswing released the ball, making sure the toes of my left foot didn’t go over the foul line. “Come on you bastard,” I muttered as the ball rolled down the lane toward the pins, willing it to go further to the left than it was currently moving. It connected with the front pin and knocked it down, its momentum knocking down the eight pins right in the middle and leaving two pins standing in a split. “Damn it!”

“You can still try and convert it,” Sara reminded me as I walked back to the ball return to wait for my ball to come back.

“Yeah, but I wanted a strike,” I said. My ball popped back up and I grabbed it as soon as it had stopped spinning too much, going back for another go at knocking down the remaining pins. This time my ball went straight down the middle, leaving both pins still upright. “Oh for fuck’s sake…

“Cheer up Tay, you’ve still got at least nine to go,” Sara said, clapping me on the shoulder as I sat back down next to her. “And you’ll probably get better as we keep playing – I know you’re probably a bit rusty. Chin up hey?”

“Uh oh, here comes trouble,” Zac said as Therese stepped forward to bowl her first frame. She picked up her chosen ball – it was blue, black and silver and looked kind of marbled – and feinted throwing it at her cousin’s head, smirking at him before taking aim at the pins. Her first attempt at knocking down all the pins went straight down the left-hand side, taking out all four on that side and one at the back. Over the music I heard her let out a growl of what sounded like frustration, and she came back to collect her ball for another go. This time she knocked down the other five pins, leaving her with a spare in her first frame.

By the time the fifth frame of our first game had been completed, a pattern was beginning to emerge. Joel was the most consistent, converting every frame he bowled to a spare, leading me to believe that he would win our first game. The rest of us, it seemed, were still working out all the kinks that came with not having bowled for some time – I currently had the second-worst score, only four points ahead of Sara and two behind Therese. I was hoping like crazy that the second game would result in much better scores, and I had an idea of how I could make that happen.

“I have an idea,” I said just before Isaac went to start his sixth frame. “We should up the stakes for the second game – give us an excuse to really go all out. We’re just working out all the rust at the moment – that’s understandable, neither of us” I gestured to Nate, Sara and I “have really done much bowling since high school. If we put a penalty in place for the lowest score, it’ll make things a lot more interesting.”

“Like what?” Nate asked.

“The loser has to shout everyone lunch. Though to make it fair it has to be somewhere that isn’t too expensive. McDonald’s or something like it.” I looked around at everyone. “We’ll finish up this game and call it practice for the real thing – we’ll start our competition first frame of game two. How’s that sound?”

“Works for me,” Sara said. I could almost see her thinking over how to improve on her score from our first game so that she wouldn’t be stuck footing the bill for lunch. Everyone else made some sort of gesture or sound of assent to my little plan, and I smiled slightly. If nothing else, our second game would be very interesting.

Our first game ended with a win from Joel, beating the rest of us with a score of 174 – Sara was at the other end of the scale with a score of 127, with the rest of us slotting in more or less neatly between the two scores. My own score was 138 – while definitely not my best score, it was also far from my worst and not too bad considering that it had been a good many years since I had last set foot in a bowling alley. We took a quick break between games while the scoreboard was reset – Sara and Therese headed off toward the ladies’, and Isaac, Joel, Nate and I conned Zac into keeping guard over our seats while we went over to the bar to buy some drinks.

“You and Therese are getting along pretty well,” Joel commented while we waited in line at the bar.

“Yeah, well, she’s nice,” I said with a shrug. “I think we could be good friends by the end of tour. Anything more than that and I think my wife would have some very stern words for me.”

“You’re married?”

I nodded. “Ten years this September. We’ve got twin eight-year-old daughters and a two-year-old son. Kim will probably bring them all down from Tamworth at the end of the tour, the girls will be on their autumn break from school by then.” I pulled my phone out of my pocket, unlocked it and clicked through to my notes. “I should probably give them a call tonight, actually – they’ll probably be very upset with me if I don’t.”

“Might be a good idea, yeah.” Joel grinned at me before stepping up to the bar and giving his order to the bartender.

We gathered back at our lane a few minutes later, and I quickly laid down the rules of our little competition. “Loser has to buy lunch for everyone, we’re all clear on that?” I asked, and everyone else nodded. “If there’s a tie between two or more of us, we either flip for it or play rock-paper-scissors to decide who buys lunch. And nothing too extravagant for lunch either, it has to be something reasonably affordable for all of us.”

The terms of our collective attempt at not having the worst bowling score laid down, game two began in much the same way as game one with Isaac bowling yet another strike. This was followed quickly with an eight from Joel, a nine from Nate, and a spare apiece from Sara and I. Therese’s turn came after this, and she carefully sighted along the lane from over her ball before bowling it. The ball rolled down the lane and hit the sweet spot between pins one and two, sending all ten pins crashing down. “Bullseye!” she yelled triumphantly, punching the air and grinning.

“Nice one,” I said, holding my hand out for a high five as Therese walked past. She high fived me and resumed her seat next to me.

It soon became apparent that all we had needed was a little bit of practice, because as our second game progressed our individual scores climbed higher and higher toward the elusive score that would be needed for a perfect game. I was definitely a lot more consistent than I had been earlier on, scoring mostly spares with a few strikes. In the end, though, I didn’t manage to win. My final score of 180 in our second game was a vast improvement on my game one score, however, so I considered that a win in itself. Nate was our winner for game two with a score of 222, while Sara brought up the rear again with 147. I could hear her swearing quietly as she stared at the screens above our lane.

“So lunch, then?” Nate asked as we returned our balls and our bowling shoes to their proper places. Almost as soon as he said this, a rough chorus of rumbles started up from the general direction of Nate and Zac, and we all burst out laughing. “Yeah, it’s lunch time.”

“Serves you right for not eating breakfast when you had the chance,” Sara said, ducking out of the way of Nate’s hand as he went to swat her over the back of her head. “I think there’s a McDonald’s downstairs, unless you lot want something a bit different.”

“No, Macca’s is fine by me,” I said, and everyone else nodded. “We’re probably not going to get to eat much else over the next month so we should probably get used to it early on.”

“I’m not going to want to even look at a French fry by the time this tour’s over,” Nate said as we left the alley and started to make our way downstairs to the shopping centre’s food court. For some reason this set the rest of us all off laughing, and I grinned. Tour hadn’t even officially started yet – that time would come in the morning – but so far we were all getting along like a house on fire. I could only hope that it was a good omen for the tour itself.

That night, I couldn’t sleep. By all rights I should have been exhausted – after lunch we had spent the afternoon at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, and had gone out to dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant over in Fortitude Valley before going back to our hotel. Instead, I was completely wired and more than a little terrified.

Tomorrow night, the Australian leg of the Anthem World Tour would begin. The tour’s very first concert would be at The Tivoli, and for the first time in my life I would be playing my music for more than a couple of hundred people at the one time. Every single show on the tour had sold out months ago, and Sara, Nate and I were set to play for a couple of thousand people per show at the very least. It was utterly terrifying and made me want to hightail it back home to Tamworth on the next flight out. And to make matters worse, Kimberley wasn’t here to ease my anxiety. I likely wouldn’t be seeing her until Cara and Mia finished their first term of school for the year and were free to travel without missing any of their lessons – we had decided that before the tour had even started, and for the first time I was regretting it.

I had just made the decision to go for a walk outside in an attempt to wear myself out when my phone rang, and I quickly answered it before it woke Nate up. “Hey Kim,” I said, knowing by the ringtone who was on the other end of the line.

“Hey Tay. Just thought I’d give you a call before I went to bed,” Kimberley said, her voice sounding like home. I let my eyes drift closed as I listened to her speak. “Everything okay?”

“Not really,” I admitted. “I just…” I sighed. “I’m scared, Kim.”

“Scared of what?” Kimberley asked, and I found myself grateful that she hadn’t decided to make light of it. It was rare that I admitted to being scared of anything, so whenever I did admit to it Kimberley knew I meant business.

“Being onstage. This is going to be completely different to our little tours – we’re going to be up in front of a couple of thousand people every show instead of a couple of hundred. And that terrifies me.” I got up from my bed and snagged my room key from my nightstand, deciding it was best to continue my phone call out in the corridor. Nate would have my head if I woke him up. I slipped out of our hotel room and out into the corridor, and leaned against the wall outside our door. “There is so much potential for things to go wrong. We were very lucky to get this spot on the tour and I don’t want anything to screw that up.”

“I would be very, very surprised if anything happened to screw things up, Tay. Look, I know this is intimidating – I totally understand that. I feel the same way whenever I’m up for a performance review at work. But you’re good at what you do – all three of you are. You wouldn’t be on tour with Hanson if you weren’t good. And I will tell you right now that it’s normal to be nervous or even scared before doing something new – you wouldn’t be human otherwise.”

“You’d think I’d be used to being nervous before a show by now,” I said quietly. “It never gets any easier, Kim.”

Kimberley was quiet for a little while. “Okay, how about this. Why don’t you look at this tour as being like one of your regional tours? It’s nothing like that, I know,” she added before I could protest, “but it might ease your nerves a little if you look at it as something familiar.”

“It’s worth a shot, I suppose.”

“That’s the spirit.” There was a brief pause, during which I could almost see Kimberley glance quickly at her watch. “Anyway, I need to go to bed, and I’m sure you do too. Don’t forget what I said about the tour, okay?”

“I won’t. Love you Kim.”

“Love you too Tay.”

We both hung up at almost the same moment, and I rubbed a hand over my face before letting myself back into my hotel room. Kimberley was right – I did need to sleep, especially if I was going to be ready to perform tomorrow night. But even so, it was a good few hours before I finally drifted off to sleep, Kimberley’s advice echoing in my head as my eyes closed.

The first day of tour, March tenth, dawned warm and sunny. After my talk with Kimberley the night before I wasn’t feeling as apprehensive about that evening’s concert, but there was still a faint sense of anxiety buried inside me – deep enough to not sneak its way easily out into the open, but still shallow enough that I knew it was there. I could only hope that tonight’s first show wasn’t the trigger that forced it to show itself.

“Looking forward to tonight?” Sara asked during breakfast in one of the hotel’s restaurants. It was still very early, and I had been sorely tempted to just stay in my room and order room service. That is, until Sara had knocked on the door and managed to talk me into having breakfast with her instead. I wasn’t entirely sure where everyone else was, but judging by the time on my watch – a quarter to seven on the dot – I figured they were all still in bed.

I poked at my pancakes as I tried to figure out how to answer Sara’s question. “I am, but at the same time I’m not,” I replied finally. “It’s like…we finally get to show people in a whole different city and state what we can do, and that’s awesome, but at the same time the idea of getting up onstage in front of so many people is freaking me out. We’re lucky if our regional shows pull in five hundred people at one time. Tonight is…” I let out a slightly hysterical laugh. “There’s going to be three or four times as many people at the show tonight, Sara. That’s what terrifies me.”

“I don’t blame you in the least, Tay,” Sara said. “It is pretty frightening.” She leaned forward over her scrambled eggs, bacon and toast and looked me straight in the eye, blue eyes almost identical to mine fixing themselves on my face. “But look at it this way. Would you rather be here and getting to share your music with more people than you ever dreamed you could back at home, or would you rather be at home and limiting yourself to the few hundred faces we see at our shows during our little tours?”

I had to admit that she did have a point. “I’d rather be here,” I replied. “As much as it scares me, I’d rather be here.”

“Right answer.” She grinned and drew back into her seat. “We have an amazing opportunity here Tay, and it’s up to us to make the most of it.” As soon as these words left her mouth, she began to busy herself with eating her breakfast. “You and Therese have been getting along well,” she said idly between bites of scrambled egg and bacon. “Any new developments?”

“About what?”

“About whether you might be related,” Sara replied. “Because I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but you kind of look alike. I only just realised yesterday.”

“We do not.”

Sara raised an eyebrow at me. “You can’t see it?” she asked. “I definitely can – I mean, yeah, you and me also look a little bit alike, and you also look a bit like Nate, but there are quite a few similarities between you and Therese that you don’t have with Nate or me.” She pointed the tines of her fork in the general direction of my right ear. “Your ears, for instance.”

“What about my ears?” My tone when I asked this was suspicious, almost as if I expected the next thing to come out of Sara’s mouth to be an insult.

“Well, they stick out a bit for one. So do Therese’s. You’re both also blonde, though you’ve gone a little bit darker over the years, your smiles are the same, and you’re both pretty tall. Probably one of the only differences between the two of you, aside from the fact that you’re a guy and she’s a girl, is your eye colour. She has grey eyes – yours are blue.”

I paused in cutting a bite from my stack of pancakes and looked up at Sara. “You don’t think…”

“It’s entirely possible, Tay. Ask her where she was born and when – that might be another clue.”

“I already know,” I said. “She told me on the way here. Her birthday’s the same as mine, and she’s from New York City. Do…” I swallowed hard. “Do you know where I was born?”

Sara shook her head. “You’d have to ask Mum or Dad.”

“Figures.” That was yet another thing I needed to add to my growing pile of things to ask my parents.

“I can feel my ears burning!” a voice sang out, and I looked back over my shoulder to see Therese walking into the restaurant. “Good morning you two.”

“Good morning Therese,” Sara said as Therese sat down in one of our table’s empty chairs. “I thought you’d be asleep for a little while longer.”

“Nah,” Therese said, shaking her head. “I’m too excited for tonight. Even though I have to work.” She gave a slightly theatrical shudder. “That was the agreement between my cousins and I in return for a free vacation – I have to work the merch stand at every show.”

“You’ll still get to watch, though?”

“Oh yeah, of course. I only have to work between doors opening and the show starting, during intermission and for half an hour after it finishes. Rest of the night I can watch the concert. You two looking forward to it?”

“I am,” Sara replied, before pointing her fork at me again. “This one though, he’s shitting metaphorical bricks.”

“Lovely language, Sara,” I said dryly.

Due to weekday sound restrictions on The Tivoli, we couldn’t go there to begin sound check until five o’clock. Our instruments and the amplifiers for the guitars belonging to Isaac, Joel and I, along with the amplifier for Sara’s violin, had been transported to the venue earlier that afternoon, so once five o’clock rolled around it was just a simple matter of piling into the van with everything we would need for tonight – our stage outfits were pretty high on that list – and driving out to Fortitude Valley. As our van turned into Costin Street, I got my first real glimpse of The Tivoli – it was a red and green brick building with a gold-coloured awning over the doors. The doors themselves, I could see as the van slowed down to turn into the driveway, had an intricate pattern of black vines and gold leaves on them. It was all very impressive, and I found myself hoping that the interior wouldn’t be a disappointment.

“Doors are scheduled to open at seven-thirty,” Hanson’s manager said once we were all out of the van and standing in the carpark. “The six of you will have approximately two hours to complete sound check – you’ll need to be offstage by seven-fifteen at the absolute latest so the techs have time to get the stage set up.” She pointed at Sara, Nate and I with her pen. “The three of you will be going onstage at eight-fifteen, and you’ll have forty-five minutes to perform. Intermission will be half an hour, after which you three” this time she pointed at Isaac, Joel and Zac “will go onstage for your set. Everyone clear on how things will work tonight?”

“Crystal,” Joel replied, and the rest of us nodded. “Come on you guys, let’s get inside – we’ve got a bit of work to do in the next couple of hours. It doesn’t much help matters that we’ve never performed here before.” He looked over at Nate, Sara and I. “We won’t need to do as much of a sound check tomorrow night, though, because we’ll be back here for the next show. Shouldn’t take us too long to get a feel for things.” And with those words, he broke away from our group and led the way inside through the side doors.

While everyone else was getting themselves set up backstage, in readiness for beginning sound check, I wandered out to the front of house to get a look at where we’d be performing that evening. From the stage it looked rather impressive – in front of the stage and under the balcony that ran along three sides of the building’s interior was an empty space where I figured most of the people attending tonight’s show would be standing. The balcony itself was about halfway up the walls, and its railings were wrought iron in the same pattern that was on the front doors. Looking up above my head, I could see that the rafters were exposed, with lighting rigs and the occasional catwalk taking up space along each rafter. Right now it was all very empty, with the only people present aside from me being the bartenders, and I tried to imagine it filled with people. I wasn’t exactly successful.

“It’s nice, isn’t it?”

I looked over at my right to see Therese coming up alongside me. She gave me a smile before walking to the front of the stage and sitting down on the edge. After a few moments I joined her.

“It’s very nice,” I agreed. “Going to be pretty full later on though.”

“That’s an understatement.” She started swinging her feet back and forth, the heels of her sandals knocking against the front of the stage. “It’s okay to be nervous, you know.”

“I’m not nervous,” I said, lying through my teeth the whole time, and sneakily wiped my hands down on the knees of my jeans.

“Yes you are. You just wiped your hands on your pants.” She twisted around to look at me from the side, and out of the corner of my right eye I could see her studying me. “It’s completely normal. Hell, even my cousins get nervous before a show, and they’ve been doing this for nearly twenty-two years. Joel in particular gets a bit shaky.”

“That doesn’t exactly reassure me, you know.”

She raised an eyebrow at me. “Taylor, what I’m trying to tell you is that even veteran musicians get nervous. You don’t think it’s intimidating for my cousins to realise that they can still pull in crowds of a couple of thousand people for every show after all these years? Because believe me, it is.” She pointed back toward the rear of the stage. “I have lost count of the number of times that I have seen one of them get so nervous before a show that they have to bolt off and throw up. But you know what? They love being onstage and performing so much that it really doesn’t bother them. They put aside that anxiety, they get out there onstage and they put on one hell of a show.” She lowered her arm and put her hands on my shoulders, gently turning me around to face her. “If you’re as lucky as I think you will be, then eventually the same will happen for you. It’s just a matter of time.”

“I hope you’re right, Therese.”

“I don’t hope I’m right. I know I’m right.” She gave me a smile, and got back to her feet before extending a hand down to help me up. “Come on. Let’s go and find those siblings of yours, and then you three can show us what you can do when you’re away from the camera.”

That very first sound check of the tour was one hell of a learning experience. Before now, during After Midnight’s regional tours, our version of sound check had taken the form of a very quick rehearsal and little else. With only the three of us onstage at any one time there really wasn’t any need to do much more than that, especially as we didn’t tour with any form of support. This tour, though, was completely different. Because there were two bands performing each night during the tour, with Hanson also being accompanied by three backup musicians, it was far more complicated than we were used to. The primary difference was in the sound equipment we’d be using tonight and during subsequent shows.

“You’ll need to wear these whenever you’re onstage during this tour,” one of the sound technicians explained just before Nate, Sara and I went onstage for our sound check. On the table in front of her were three objects, each of which looked very much like the pager Kimberley had for work. They were black, each about the size of a pack of playing cards, and had a small LCD display near the top. Each of them had what looked like a pair of earphones connected to it, and were marked with our names. “They’re called in-ear monitors – they’ll make it easier to hear yourselves onstage. The audience can get pretty damn loud.” She picked up the one labelled with Nate’s name. “Nate, if I can get you to take your shirt off just for a bit, I’ll show the three of you how to use them.”

Nate eyed the sound technician with one eyebrow raised before shrugging and unbuttoning his shirt, draping it over the back of a nearby chair once he had it off. “You wear the receiver either in a pocket – usually the back pocket of whatever pants you might be wearing – or clipped onto your belt or waistband,” the technician explained as she came around behind Nate. She dropped the receiver of Nate’s monitor into one of his back pockets. “The cord goes up your back underneath your shirt – turn around for me Nate,” she added, tapping him on the shoulder, and Nate obediently turned around so that his back was to us. “It goes up your back, through your collar, and you stick the earpieces into your ears. Red for your left ear, blue for your right.”

“And we’ll definitely be able to hear ourselves better with these?” Sara asked as Nate put his shirt back on. She picked her receiver up and studied it, turning it over in her hands.

“That’s right. You should still be able to hear the crowd, but they won’t be as loud. We don’t want you to go deaf.” She gave the three of us a smile. “Now, the Hanson guys will be doing their sound check first – this is so you can get a rough idea of how things work, but also because I know they have a meet and greet session right before the show. They should be done pretty quickly – from what I’ve been able to tell from past tours, they have it down to a fine art now. Rest of the time will be yours to figure out what works best for the three of you.”

Hanson truly did have their sound check down to a fine art – though considering they had been performing professionally for nearly seventeen years, this really wasn’t all that surprising. Their sound check took the grand total of half an hour – they did a very quick run-through of their set list, playing at the very most the chorus and one verse from each song, and spent a bit of time working on what sounded to me like a cover of The Whitlams’ Fall For You before vacating the stage. Nate, Sara and I exchanged glances before climbing the short flight of stairs up to the stage. Sara had her violin case in hand, while I carried my electric and acoustic guitars in their cases.

“We’ll work on sorting out the sound levels for your instruments first,” was the first thing that was said as soon as we were set up onstage. The voice, which belonged to someone I knew was the head sound technician, was so loud that I jumped nearly half a foot in the air.

“Jesus Christ, that loud enough?” Nate called out. This remark resulted in a gale of laughter from somewhere above our heads.

“Plenty loud enough, yes,” the same voice from before said. “Sara, we’ll work on your keyboard and violin first. Run through a few piano scales until I ask you to stop.”

After the sound levels for Sara’s instruments had been finetuned, it was my turn. Even though I switched between keyboard, my two guitars and the drums during the course of a show, I only needed to get the levels for my guitars sorted – Sara’s keyboard was done already, and Nate’s drums would be worked on once we were done with my instruments. I opted to start with my acoustic, and worked through some scales and the beginning of Led Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven before switching instruments and doing the same with my electric.

Once all of our instruments were sorted out – Nate had worked through the percussion parts of Days And Days to give the sound technicians a baseline to work from – we moved onto our vocals. “Now, is there a song the three of you know particularly well and can sing a capella?” we were asked as we moved out from behind our instruments and over to the front of stage, where three microphones had been set out.

“Should it be one of ours or a cover?” Sara asked as she adjusted her chosen microphone.

“Either one is fine.”

The three of us looked at each other. “We know When Your Love Is Gone by Jimmy Barnes pretty well,” I said. “Would that work?”

“Don’t see why not. Can you alternate on the verses and chorus in that case? Each of you sings a verse and you sing together on the choruses – that way we can get an idea of how each of your voices sounds individually and together.”

“Yeah, we can do that,” Nate replied. He started humming the intro of the song, clicking his fingers along with what I knew was the drumbeats. When he pointed at Sara, she began to sing the first verse.

“Well I thought nothing was wrong, but nothing was right…I turned to you but you were nowhere in sight…I left it too late, and maybe I hurt your pride…I should have thought of you, now you’ve changed your mind…and just like a well, your love had run dry…loneliness was falling from the sky…I’m like a man with no hope, I just don’t belong…I can’t help it when your love is gone…”

I knew that my turn at singing was coming up next, but when I opened my mouth to sing nothing came out. The lyrics were right there in my head, and I wanted to sing them, but I couldn’t. It almost felt like my voice had disappeared entirely.

“Tay?” Sara asked quietly, and I held up my left index finger to let her know I wanted to try again. But the same thing happened every time I tried to sing – my voice had fled to parts unknown, leaving me mute.

“Is everything all right down there?” the sound technician called out.

“Yeah, Tay’s just having trouble finding his voice right now,” Sara replied. It was about this time that I felt it, for the first time in years – the first sign that I was about to have an anxiety attack. It started with my hands beginning to shake, and this time the shaking didn’t dissipate when I clenched them into fists. The rest of it came on so fast that I couldn’t tell which hit me first, and the next thing I was aware of was Sara’s hands on my shoulders and her voice quiet in my ear.

“Easy, easy,” she said softly, and I felt myself being guided to sit down in a chair (or something that felt like a chair at least). Another hand pushed on my back so that I was leaning forward over my knees. “Put your head between your knees, okay?”

“I’m fine,” I protested, wincing at the volume of my voice.

Sara let out a quiet snort. “You’re fine, right,” she said, her voice only a little sarcastic, and I saw her lie down on the stage and position herself so that her face was beneath mine. She raised an eyebrow at me. “You had an anxiety attack and then you blacked out – in what universe exactly is that considered ‘fine’?”

“Mine,” I mumbled.

“Hey, is everything okay?”

These four words were accompanied by the sound of shoes against a hardwood floor. I didn’t need to look up to realise what was going on – Hanson had just finished their meet and greet session, I guessed, and Therese had probably told them what had happened.

“Taylor had an anxiety attack,” Nate explained. He had one of his hands on my left shoulder as he spoke. “First one in years – he’s never blacked out after one before, though.”

“I am here, in case nobody’s paying attention,” I said crossly. “And I’m fine so I don’t know why I have to keep my bloody head between my knees!”

“Yeah, he’s okay,” Sara called out, answering the question that had been asked in the first place, and her head disappeared from my view. I slowly straightened up and shook my head to get rid of all the metaphorical cobwebs that had settled in there after I’d blacked out. “Think you’re up for finishing our sound check?”

“Yeah, I think so.” I dropped the volume of my voice down a few notches. “Sorry about before.”

“Hey.” Sara tipped my head up so she could look into my eyes. “You have nothing to be sorry for. These things happen. And if it keeps on happening, then we will deal with it as best we can. Okay?”

I nodded. “Okay.”

Sound check went off without a hitch after that. We got our vocal levels sorted out right before the time on my watch ticked over to seven o’clock – our collective cue to head backstage and start getting ready for the concert. Nate, Sara and I would be taking the stage first, which meant that the three of us had just over an hour to get changed and ready to perform.

Backstage was nothing short of barely controlled chaos. None of the noise that accompanied the preparation for tonight’s show had managed to drift out to front of house, so it was just a bit of a shock to be slammed with it as I walked through the door that blocked the side of stage from the general goings-on backstage. It was so loud that I could have sworn my eyes crossed for just a few moments. As my hearing adjusted to the increased level of noise, I managed to pick out a few things – Zac at a borrowed drum kit (his kit being out on the stage already) bashing out a few solos, Joel working on scales at a keyboard off to one side, and Isaac working on tuning his guitars. Right in the middle of the room was a long trestle table loaded up with food and drink – pizza boxes, bowls of potato chips, Twisties and Cheezels, bottles of fizzy drink and fruit juice, and even a glass bowl full of apples, bananas, oranges and mandarins. I made a beeline for the pizza boxes and lifted the lids of three of them before I found the box of pepperoni, grabbed a serviette and eased two slices out of the box.

“I hope you’re planning on leaving most of that for everyone else,” Sara said as she came up alongside me. “Which one’s got Hawaiian in it?” In answer I pointed at the box to the immediate left of the pepperoni. “Now tell me honestly, are you all right?”

I held up the piece of pizza I was currently in the middle of eating, and swallowed my current mouthful before replying. “I’m eating aren’t I? Wouldn’t be eating if I wasn’t okay.”

“Good point.” She gave me a smile and went to head off, but obviously thought better of it at the very last moment. “Oh, before I forget – when you and Nate are changed and ready to head onstage, come and find me so we can get one last practice and warm-up in. Okay?”

“Yeah, all right.”

It didn’t take me long to finish my dinner – another two slices of pizza, a handful of Twisties and a banana rounded things out – and once I’d tossed my serviette and the banana peel in a nearby bin I picked up my backpack from where I’d put it earlier that afternoon. Inside it, among other things, was a change of clothes to wear onstage – a dark grey short-sleeved button-down shirt, a white T-shirt to wear underneath, and my cargo pants. It would be a little too warm to be wearing my jeans onstage under all those lights, and I didn’t see much point in wearing them any longer than I absolutely needed to. Once I was changed and had shoved my other clothes into my backpack, I went in search of Sara. Nate fell into step alongside me right as I dropped my backpack back in its original spot. “Nice shirt,” I said when I got my first look at what he was wearing – jeans, sneakers, and a black T-shirt that had a print of a pink, yellow and blue piñata and the words You know you want to hit this in white uppercase on the front.

“Yeah I thought so,” Nate replied. He smirked at me. “Hey Sara!” he yelled out, having spotted Sara talking to Joel near the trestle table in the middle of the room. Joel was dressed in solid black – plain black T-shirt, black waistcoat, black pants and black sneakers. “You look like you’re going to a funeral, mate,” Nate told him a little bluntly, and I jabbed him hard in the side with my elbow. “Ow!”

“Be nice,” I hissed at him, and he shot me a wounded look. Sara, in direct contrast to Joel, was dressed in bright colours – a very lacy bright red dress, red and white striped leggings, and sandals. Her hair was pulled back in a plait, with any stray locks of hair held back by a red headband that had a red rose on it. The rose looked like it was pinned behind her ear. “You look nice Sara.”

Sara flashed me a bright smile. “Thanks Tay. You don’t look so bad yourself.”

“All right, listen up people!” a voice yelled out, followed by a shrill whistle. The noise level, which had dropped considerably in the time I’d been backstage (or maybe it had just been me getting used to how loud it was), melted away into silence almost immediately. “That’s better, thank you. Now, in case none of you have been paying attention to your watches, it is now ten past eight. After Midnight, hands up please?” Sara, Nate and I all put our hands up straight away at this request. “The three of you will be going onstage in five minutes, so make sure you have everything you need out onstage and ready to go. It’s a full house out there tonight, and they are all very excited so let’s give them a show to remember. All right?”

Nate, Sara and I looked at each other. It was easy to see in their eyes what they were both feeling, especially now that it had been confirmed that the concert had sold out and the venue was pretty much packed to the rafters. Both of them looked just a little freaked out.

“We can do this,” I said, willing my voice to stay steady. “They picked us for a reason, yeah? Because we’re awesome, that’s why. Let’s go out there and prove it to that lot.” I nodded toward the stage door. “You two ready?”

Both of them nodded, and I did one final check of my watch. The minute hand was a couple of minutes away from a quarter past eight. This was it – no turning back now.

“Showtime,” I said, and took a deep breath before leading the way out onstage.

Chapter Text

Therese

“I can finish up here if you want to go watch the first bit of the set,” the girl I was working the merchandise stand with said as the time on my watch ticked over to ten past eight. “They’re your cousins, right?”

“The headliners are, yeah,” I replied. Over the last forty minutes, the people streaming into The Tivoli and stopping at the merchandise table to buy one thing or another had dwindled to little more than a trickle, and I knew that there wouldn’t be anyone else coming up to spend a bit of money until intermission. My first shift was just about over anyway – I still had two more to go tonight, but for the moment I was done. I bent down to the shelf beneath the countertop and picked up my security pass, looping the lanyard around my neck before I straightened up again. “You don’t want to go watch?”

Carlie shook her head, her tight corkscrew curls bouncing as her head moved. “Nah. I like After Midnight but I can hear them well enough from here. You go have fun, okay?”

I grinned and snapped off a mock military salute. “See you later then.”

Rather than try and force my way through the crowd that packed the venue’s dance floor, I decided I’d have a better view from up on the balcony. It didn’t take me too long to find my way upstairs, and I was soon picking my way through the sparse crowd, hunting for a good place to stand. I found an empty space near the front of the right-hand balcony, at the railing that faced the stage at an angle, and decided to claim it for the time being. Almost as soon as I reached my chosen spot the house lights went down and the crowd quietened a little, and the drums, guitar and keyboard that opened After Midnight’s first song for the night sounded, followed by Taylor’s vocals.

“Love is a drug but the drug won’t take me higher…love is a drug but the drug won’t take me higher…and we’re cryin’ again…fighting with our backs to the wall while our blood’s on fire…love is a drug but you still can’t fool desire…but I’m tryin’…we lost total control…we lost total control…

“Love is a drug but the drug won’t take me higher…take what you want but you still can’t fool desire…we lost total control…we lost total control…love is a drug but the drug won’t take me higher…

“Walking with our eyes to the sky on a tightrope wire…fight like a flame in the night till our hearts get tired…but we’re tryin’…just one taste, we’ll replace anything you want…shoots up the top of the arms till you hit the floor…now we’re dyin’…we lost total control…we lost total control…

“Love is a drug but the drug won’t take me higher…take what you want but you still can’t fool desire…we lost total control…we lost total control…love is a drug but the drug won’t take me higher…

“Fight like a flame in the night till your heart’s on fire…we lost total control…we lost total control…

“Love is a drug but the drug won’t take me higher…take what you want but you still can’t fool desire…we lost total control…we lost total control…total control…we lost total control…love is a drug but the drug won’t take me higher…I said that love is a drug but the drug won’t take me higher…yes love is a drug but the drug won’t take me higher…”

Loud cheering and applause filled the room as the song ended, and I thought I could even hear a few catcalls and feet stamping. It was a good sign, I felt – if they could get this kind of reaction from the crowd just from the one song, one that I knew to be a cover, then who knew what the crowd would think of one of their original songs? Down onstage Sara was holding her hands up for quiet, and the noise level gradually lowered until it was little more than a quiet hum of voices.

“Good evening Brisbane!” she called out, prompting loud cheers from the crowd. “That’s quite the welcome there, how are you all doing tonight?” More cheering was the crowd’s response, and Sara grinned. “That’s what I like to hear. Now, I know you’re all here to see the headliners, though I can’t quite remember who they are…” She frowned a little and tapped her chin with her right index finger, as if she couldn’t quite remember who was coming onstage after them.

“Hanson!” a few people down on the dance floor yelled out, and Sara pointed out at the crowd.

“That’s the one, thank you,” she said, and laughter rose up from the pit. “You’re all here to see Hanson, I know, so our job is to get you all nicely hyped up and excited for their set. And over the next forty-five minutes – well, forty now that we’ve finished our first song,” she amended, eliciting a wave of laughter. “Over the next forty minutes that’s just what we’re going to do. The three of us” she gestured to Nate and Taylor “are going to get you all warmed up and ready to spend two hours singing and dancing along with Hanson. You all ready to show us what you’ve got?” There was more cheering, and Sara grinned. “Excellent.” She placed her hands on her keyboard, as if she were about to start playing. “This next song is one from our very first EP, Burning Down December – it’s called Save Me.”

After Midnight’s second song of the night got underway, I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket. Without taking my eyes off the stage, I worked it out of my pocket and quickly put the screen against my shirt so that the brightness of the screen once I unlocked it wouldn’t disturb anyone around me. I curled my left hand around the top of my phone and swiped my right thumb across the screen to unlock it and open the text message that had just landed in my inbox.

Come backstage during intermission. Got an email back from mom – you need to see it. – JH

I didn’t even need to ask what the email was about – I knew. I swallowed hard and tapped out a reply to Joel’s text.

Ok. See you then. – T

My text message sent, I locked my phone again and slid it back into my pocket, and returned my attention to After Midnight’s set.

After Midnight’s first set of the tour was a resounding success. By the end of their time onstage they had the crowd singing along with their every word, and brought the house down at the end with a cover of Friday On My Mind by The Easybeats. Once the lights came back on again I left my spot at the balcony railing and headed downstairs, turning right at the bottom of the stairs and walking out onto the dance floor. From there it was just a matter of picking my way through the tightly-packed crowd until I reached the steps that led the way onstage, showing my security pass to the security detail so that they would let me past.

“Joel texted me,” I explained as I walked backstage, and Isaac and Zac both looked over at me. “I know, I’m supposed to be at the merch table right now, but he said it was important.”

“Over here, Ree,” Joel said from where he sat over to one side of the room, bent over his laptop. He waved me over. “Mom sent this a few hours ago – I didn’t see it until now though.” He spun the laptop around a little so that I could read the email in question without bending down over his shoulder.

 

Joel,

I am almost certain, based on the screenshot you emailed me in January and the photograph of Therese and her friend Taylor that you took during your flight to Brisbane, that Taylor Ainsworth is Therese’s twin. I would have to meet him to be completely sure.

I’ve attached a photo of Therese’s father, your Uncle Warren, that was taken just before he was killed. Taylor looks to be roughly seven or eight years older than your uncle was when he died, but even with that age difference there are a lot of similarities between the two of them – ones that probably wouldn’t be there if they weren’t related.

It’s up to Therese now what happens. Show her this email and the photograph when you have a chance, but don’t push her to do anything she isn’t comfortable with. All I ask of you is that you remind Therese not to get her hopes up too high.

Have a good show tonight – I’m very proud of you and your brothers, as I’m sure you’re aware, and I look forward to hearing how things went.

Love Mom

“Oh my God,” I whispered. Aunt Diana had all but confirmed it. My knees went a little weak, and it was all I could do to stay upright. “He’s really my brother?”

“Mom seems to think so,” Joel replied. “I think the photo I took of you two on the way up here was the clincher.” He turned his laptop back toward him. “For what it’s worth though, I’m absolutely certain that he’s your brother. It’s like you said when you saw him in their video for the first time – you wouldn’t have felt like you needed to be near him if you weren’t twins.” He studied me for a little while. “Do you still feel like that?”

I shook my head. “No, but I think it’s because we’re actually in the same city now. Once I go back to the States that’ll probably change.” I shifted my weight a little from my left foot to my right. “Can I see the photo of my dad?”

“Yeah, sure.” Joel minimised his browser window and brought up his computer’s image viewer. He’d put the photograph of my father and the one of Taylor and I side by side as a way of comparing the two, and I immediately saw what Aunt Diana had written about in her email. The similarities were uncanny. My father and Taylor had the same colour hair, the same smile, even their ears stuck out the same. I touched one of my own ears upon seeing this. “So I guess this will make Taylor our cousin, then.”

“Guess so.” I resisted the temptation to reach out and touch my father’s face, knowing that Joel would get rather irked at me for putting fingerprints all over his laptop’s screen. “Anyway, I should get back out there and put in a bit of work before intermission ends. See you after the show?”

“See you then Ree,” Joel replied, and both Isaac and Zac raised a hand each. I waved briefly and headed back out to the front of house, determined to put in even just fifteen or twenty minutes of work behind the merchandise table.

My second shift was over almost before I knew it, and I made a quick detour to the bar to get something to drink before heading back up to the balcony. I relocated my original spot and set my bottle of water down on the railing, steadying it with a hand so that it didn’t go falling to the floor below and potentially end up whacking someone hard on the head. Downstairs those in the pit were getting a little restless as they waited for my cousins to make their grand appearance onstage, and I checked my watch quickly. There were still a couple of minutes until nine-thirty, so they weren’t running all that late yet. They weren’t running on Hanson Standard Time yet, that was for sure, but it was still only the beginning of the tour – there was a decent chance that would change as the tour progressed.

Right as my watch ticked over to nine-thirty the house lights went down and the opening guitar riff of Fired Up played, with the stage lights going on when Zac came in on his drums. The loudest cheer I had heard in a long while went up from the pit as Joel started singing, and I didn’t even bother to hide the grin that had crept onto my face. If anyone here had ever doubted that after almost twenty-two years as a band and seventeen as professional musicians they still had it in them, that doubt would have just been blown right out of the proverbial water. I had always been proud of my cousins – I’d have to be crazy not to – but after all of the drama and fighting that had gone on between the three of them prior to the recording of Anthem that pride had only increased. They’d worked out their problems and come out the other side much stronger as a trio, and it showed in their music.

“How’s it going Brisbane?” Joel called out after the first song had ended, and was answered with another loud cheer. “It is great to be back here in Australia, not to mention it’s great to have come back after eighteen months instead of seven years.” This particular comment was answered with a ripple of laughter from the pit, at which Joel cracked a smile before stepping away from his piano and picking up his electric guitar. He glanced briefly at Isaac before playing the opening chords of In The City. “Let’s see how many of you know this one.”

My cousins’ set was roughly a third of the way through, with one of the songs from the previous year’s member’s EP currently being played, when I felt someone sidling up next to me. I looked over to my left just briefly to see Taylor standing next to me. He was leaning forward with his arms crossed on top of the railing. I nudged him with my elbow and he looked over at me, smiling when his eyes landed on me. “Hey,” he said, his voice just barely audible over the music.

“Bit too loud in the pit for you?” I asked.

“Nah, more like there’s too many crazy people,” he replied with a shrug. “I don’t know how anyone can stand it down there.”

I let out a chuckle. “Welcome to my world.”

He cracked a grin at this, one I found myself mirroring. Right at that moment I wanted so badly to tell him what I knew about him, that I was his sister and that I’d been searching for him for years, but I held back. We still barely knew each other, and for all I knew it would scare him off completely. That was the absolute last thing I wanted to happen. For now though, I smiled to myself – I would tell him eventually, but at the moment it was like my own little secret.

The first Brisbane show of the Anthem World Tour ended just after eleven-fifteen with a balcony-rattling rendition of Rock ‘n’ Roll Razorblade, and I let out a loud cheer with everyone else. I knew that I would probably be half-deaf for the rest of the night, but I didn’t care – it had been completely worth it to be in the audience for tonight’s show. My cousins had been in fine form tonight, and I knew it would only get better from here on in.

It wasn’t until just before midnight that I finally made my way backstage, my last shift at the merchandise table for the night over and done with. I still couldn’t hear properly but my hearing was gradually returning with each minute that passed.

“How awesome was that?” Sara was saying as I ducked through the stage door. She was perched on the table that was still set up in the middle of the table, swinging her feet back and forth. “I never thought anything could top our little regional tours. That was just…” She laughed. “That was amazing.”

“And this is just the first show, so just imagine what the next few will be like,” Joel said. He had unbuttoned his waistcoat and untucked his T-shirt, and had fetched a bottle of water from somewhere backstage. “You three are in for a real treat – it always gets better as the tour goes on.” He uncapped his bottle of water and drank about half of it without stopping. “We’ve got a bit of a busy day tomorrow so I think we should probably get out of here – lots of interviews before the concert tomorrow night.” He flicked his free hand briefly at Sara. “At least one radio station will probably want to talk to you guys. You really impressed everyone here tonight.”

“Well I just hope they don’t want to talk to us too early, I’m knackered,” Nate said. He glanced down at himself briefly and pulled the hem of his shirt away from his stomach. “Make that I’m knackered, and I need a shower before I go to bed.”

“I think we all do,” Taylor agreed from behind me. I glanced back over my shoulder at him, and he flashed me a tired grin – I had to guess that he’d been running mostly on adrenaline for most of the night, and now he was pretty much crashing. “Your fans are nuts by the way.”

“They’re a lot saner than they used to be,” Zac said. “Back in 1997 they were absolutely crazy. Count yourself lucky that you weren’t on tour with us back then.”

Back at the hotel, I let Sara have the first shower in our bathroom. While she was showering, I hopped on Facebook on my laptop and made my first post since arriving in Australia two days earlier.

 

Tour has started and so far it’s going well. My cousins and their support act played a fantastic show tonight at a theatre in Brisbane called The Tivoli – I’m shocked the balcony is still standing. Second show is tomorrow night, back at The Tivoli, and this time I think I might be brave enough to go in the pit. I didn’t exactly feel like being bumped into all show tonight.

Also, my aunt all but confirmed that one of the members of After Midnight (the band my cousins are touring with) is my brother. His name’s Taylor Ainsworth. I want to tell him so badly who I really am and that I’ve been trying to find him for more than ten years now, but we only just met a few days ago. For all I know that could freak him out. We get along well, which is the main thing right now. I just have to wait for the right moment to tell him that he’s my twin. Hopefully the right moment comes along before I go back home next month.

Once I was satisfied with its wording, I clicked the Post button and set my laptop aside, picked my handbag up off the floor next to my bed and started digging through it for my camera. The bathroom door opened just as I found my camera, right down the bottom of my bag tangled up in the cord of my earphones, and looked up to see Sara stepping out of the bathroom with steam billowing out behind her. “Shower’s free if you want to have one,” she said as she rubbed her hair dry with a towel.

“Oh, thanks,” I said. I left my camera in my handbag and slid down off my bed, snagging my pyjamas and my shower kit on my way through to our little bathroom. That was the thing I hated most about touring, entirely aside from the endless travelling and the occasional drastic time zone changes. I always got used to those two eventually. In all my years of tagging along with my cousins on tour, though, I had never gotten used to hotel and motel room bathrooms. They were always absolutely tiny, with barely enough room for one person let alone the two who typically ended up sharing them. Or in the case of my family when my cousins and I were all much younger than we were now, the four who ended up sharing them. There had always been the inevitable fights over who got to use the bathroom next, and the almost constant bitching and moaning between Jessica, Avery, Zoë and I over the amount of time we each spent in front of the mirror. Needless to say, I much preferred the tours nowadays – I usually got a room to myself, and was therefore able to spend as much time in front of the bathroom mirror as I damn well pleased.

Sara was fast asleep in bed when I finally emerged from the bathroom after a shower of my own, and I carefully closed the bathroom door so that the hinges didn’t squeak. A quick glance at the clock radio on my nightstand revealed the time as ten to one in the morning. I hadn’t felt even remotely tired until I had seen just how late it was, and I suddenly found myself holding back a yawn. There really was no point in staying up any longer – I’d already checked my email multiple times, looking at my photographs from the concert could wait until morning, and any Facebook notifications that might have come through during my shower would still be there when I woke up. With this in mind, I quickly braided my hair and climbed into bed, switching off my lamp as I pulled my covers up over myself.

March eleventh, the second day of tour, started out much the same way as the previous day. I woke to a text message on my phone from Joel – one that had been sent rather hurriedly I thought, judging by the sheer amount of spelling errors – that I managed to figure out was telling me that he, Isaac and Zac would be on the radio that morning, on a station called Nova 106.9. Deciding not to go down to the restaurant for breakfast that morning, as I didn’t want to miss my cousins’ radio interview, I picked up the hotel room’s phone and dialled the number that would connect me to room service. Sara woke up just as I was waiting for my call to be answered.

“They’re going to be on the radio this morning,” I told her. “Going to stay here for breakfast, you want anything?”

“Yeah, wouldn’t mind some pancakes,” she replied. “What station did they say it was?”

I was about to answer Sara’s question when the phone was picked up on the other end of the line. I quickly put in our order – pancakes for Sara, an omelette for me, and a jug of orange juice to share – and hung up, snagging my phone and opening Joel’s text message again. “Joel said Nova 106.9,” I replied. “Doesn’t say what time but he sent the message about ten minutes ago, so who knows when they’ll actually be on the radio.”

“Well, Nova streams from their website, so we can probably start listening now,” Sara replied around a massive yawn. “I’ll get my laptop out in a bit, once I’ve woken up a little more.”

Sara soon had her laptop out and set up on her bed, propped up on a lap desk so it wasn’t resting on the mattress and having its vents blocked. It didn’t take her long to hook into the hotel’s wireless network, and I shifted myself onto her bed so I could watch her load up the Nova 106.9 website. She quickly had the streaming page open, which was currently playing the station’s weekday breakfast radio show. The breakfast show was hosted by three guys who went by the nicknames Ash, Kip and Luttsy, and the current song playing was Something I Need by OneRepublic. There really wasn’t much left to do now, other than waiting for room service to arrive and for my cousins to come on the radio.

A few minutes after Sara had started the radio stream, the DJs came back on the air and a knock sounded at the door. “I’ll get it,” Sara said, and I nodded to indicate I’d heard her. While Sara was over at the door getting our breakfast, I listened to what the DJs had to say.

“Now, last night over in the Valley, those living near The Tivoli would have had a bit of a treat,” one of the DJs said. “A lot of people have been asking us to have these guys on the show since 2012, and we finally managed it this morning. They’re seventeen-year veterans of the recording industry, and are here in Oz to tour and promote their sixth studio album, Anthem – Isaac, Joel and Zac Hanson, welcome back to Brisbane.”

“Thanks, it’s great to be here again,” Joel said.

“So, the show last night at The Tivoli pretty much brought the house down, we heard,” another of the DJs said.

“Pretty much, yeah,” Zac replied. “We’re back there tonight for another show, so who knows – maybe this time we’ll rattle the balcony right off the walls.” There was laughter at this, and I let out a snicker of my own. “It was a fantastic show for all of us and we’re looking forward to tonight’s concert – it should be great.”

“And it’s all sold out, which is great for us – not so great for anyone who missed out on tickets, though,” Isaac added.

“And we heard that you have an Australian indie band touring with you this time.”

“Yep, we do,” Joel replied. “They’re called After Midnight and they’re brilliant musicians – they were the winners of a competition we organised with Channel V earlier this year. We wanted all of the finalists to come on tour with us, but unfortunately we could only pick one. We all get along great, so we couldn’t have picked a better band to join us this tour.”

“And the audience loved them, which is something else that works in their favour – if last night’s crowd is anything to go by, they’re going to be very popular by the time the tour ends next month,” Isaac said.

“Speaking of the tour, we’ve heard that it’s set to be your most extensive tour of Australia to date?”

I could almost see Zac nod in response to this question. “It is, yeah. Normally our tours take in Brisbane, the Gold Coast, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth, but this time we decided to take things just a little bit further. There’s also the fact that our Australian fans live all over the country, so we wanted to make it easier on those fans who might have to travel hundreds of miles to see us. So this time, we’ll be visiting every single state and both territories, and we’ll be playing shows in every capital city plus three major regional cities. The first of those regional shows will be on the Gold Coast tomorrow night.”

“We’ll also be playing shows in Newcastle and Wollongong, down in New South Wales,” Joel added. “Those shows will be next week, after our show at the Sydney Opera House. It means a much longer tour than usual, but we’ll get to see a lot more of the country than we ever have before so that makes up for it. We’ve always loved coming here, so the more time we can spend here the better.”

“The travelling is a pain in the neck though,” Zac said. “But like Joel said we do love it here, so it’s worth the trip. And it means we get to share our new music with our Australian fans.”

“And speaking of new music, your sixth album was released here last week?”

“It was,” Isaac replied. “There was a small uproar about Australia only getting a digital release of our last album, so we made a point of releasing it in stores this time as well. It’s doing well so far from what we’ve seen.”

“Always good to hear guys,” the DJ who had introduced my cousins said. “We might wrap it up there now – as a reminder to everyone who was lucky enough to nab tickets, Hanson and their support band After Midnight will be playing at The Tivoli again tonight, with doors opening at seven-thirty. It’s an eighteen-and-over gig so make sure you’ve got ID handy if you’re hitting that show tonight. The guys will be taking us out to the break now with the first single from Anthem – it’s called Get The Girl Back.”

Sara closed the stream once the interview was over, and we looked at each other. “Good interview,” she said, sounding pleased.

“It was, wasn’t it?” I agreed. I glanced at my watch and quickly started shovelling my breakfast into my mouth. I wanted to spend the morning shopping over at Queen Street Mall, and that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon unless I finished eating. “Listen, I was looking to do some shopping this morning – would you like to come with me?”

“Sure,” Sara replied. “I wanted to see if I can find something for Taylor’s birthday – it’s coming up in three days.”

“So’s mine,” I said.

“Yeah?” Sara asked, and I nodded. “Looks like we’ll have to have a party for the two of you, then. How old will you be?”

“Thirty-one,” I replied. “Kind of frightening, really.”

“Oh, it’s not that bad. I just turned thirty-two back in November last year so I guess I’m proof of that.” She winked and grinned at me, one that I returned. “Well, come on then. Sooner we get out of here the sooner we can start spending a bit of money.” She hibernated her laptop again and closed it, and hopped off her bed. “You sure you two aren’t twins?” she asked as she hunted through her suitcase for something to wear. “Because you’ve got the shared birthday, you’re the same age, and you even look a little alike.”

“Pretty sure,” I replied, mentally crossing my fingers as I spoke. It was a lie and I knew it, but right now it was a necessary one. It would be a disaster to scare all three of them off this early, especially as we were all getting along so well right now.

I’ll tell you soon, I promised. I swear. I just need to wait for the right moment. I just hope the right moment comes along soon.

 


Our next stop on the tour was the Gold Coast. The twelfth and the thirteenth of March had seen After Midnight and Hanson play two sold-out shows at the Gold Coast Convention Centre, the same venue that they had played at in 2005. Both shows had been incredible, something that was quickly becoming a common theme of the tour thus far, and I found myself hoping very fervently that the rest of the tour would go as well as the first four shows had.

The fourteenth of March was our first day off since the tour had started – it was just coincidence that our day off coincided with mine and Taylor’s shared birthday. I didn’t really have any plans for today – I would have been content with renting a surfboard from somewhere in Surfers Paradise and hitting the beach for a surf, but if I knew my cousins as well as I should have by then they had plans of their own in mind.

And as I discovered when I went downstairs with Sara that morning, I wasn’t disappointed.

“Happy birthday Ree,” Joel said once Sara and I had reached the lobby of our hotel. He reached down into a gift bag that was sitting between his feet and pulled out a silver diamante-covered tiara. “Bend down a bit so I can get this on you, okay?” The tiara was soon in place on my head, the long ends of the headband part tucked securely into my hair so it didn’t fall off, and Joel took his phone out of his pocket so he could snap a photo of me.

“So how does it feel to be thirty-one?” Zac asked once Joel had slipped his phone back into his pocket.

“Ask Joel, he’d know better than me,” I snarked, earning myself an elbow in the side. A quick glance over my shoulder and I spotted Taylor and Nate exiting one of the nearby elevators. “Oh, here comes trouble,” I called out, my tone teasing, and was rewarded with a mock scowl from Nate. “So what are we doing this morning? Seeing as we have today off and all that.”

“Well, us three were thinking-” Isaac started, which Nate interrupted with, “Careful, don’t hurt yourself now.” All seven of us burst out laughing at this.

“We were thinking that we could all go out to breakfast,” Isaac continued, as if he hadn’t even been interrupted. “And after that maybe head up to Dreamworld for the day, but it’s up to the two of you.” He gestured between Taylor and I as he said this. “It’s your birthday after all.”

“That sounds good to me,” Taylor replied. “I haven’t been to Dreamworld since I was twelve – I wouldn’t mind spending the day there again.”

“Yeah, I’m up for that,” I agreed. I’d done a little bit of reading online about each of the cities we would be visiting this tour before leaving the States, and I knew that Dreamworld was a sort of amusement park. To be specific, it was Australia’s biggest theme park. I’d pretty much wanted to check it out since I had found out it existed, and it seemed I was now getting my chance to do just that. A quick glance at my watch showed the time as eight o’clock. “So breakfast first, then?”

Our first destination that morning, after a quick dash back up to our hotel rooms to grab our wallets and anything else we might have needed for our day out, was a café on The Esplanade called The Surfers Paradise Beach Café. Even at this early hour, half an hour before most of the city’s shops would open for the day’s trade, it was just about packed with people. We found a long table on the patio outside, overlooking the ocean, and once we were all seated started reading the café’s menu in search of something to eat for breakfast.

“I think I’ll have waffles,” I decided once I’d read through the breakfast menu. I hadn’t had waffles in ages, not since my last birthday, and it sounded like the perfect birthday breakfast. I fished around in my handbag for my notepad and a pen, and scribbled down my breakfast order on the first empty page. “You can write your orders down on this,” I said, passing the notepad and pen to my left as I spoke. Isaac was the last to jot down his order, and we all put money in the middle of the table to cover our individual orders so that he could go up and pay for breakfast. “So what’s Dreamworld like?”

“Keeping in mind that I haven’t been there in more than ten years, since I went there during Schoolies Week,” Sara replied, leaning back in her seat and looking up at the clear blue sky above us as she spoke, “it’s pretty awesome. They’ve got roller coasters, bumper cars, these two really tall rides called The Giant Drop and the Tower of Terror, laser skirmish, a log ride and this place called Tiger Island. There’s a lot more there than that but I can’t remember all of the rides off the top of my head. You guys will love it. Hopefully since it’s a weekday and all the kids will be at school it won’t be all that packed.”

“That does sound pretty cool,” Joel said.

We had just started discussing what we could possibly do that evening, once we were done at Dreamworld, when our breakfast orders arrived at our table. I almost rubbed my hands together in anticipation when my plate of Belgian waffles, cinnamon apples and cream was set down on the table in front of me, with a little jug of maple syrup to go with it. A tall glass of pineapple, mango, passionfruit and banana juice – something that in the drinks menu was called a Tropicana – joined my breakfast plate. Around the table I could see plates of pancakes, a few plates of bacon and eggs, croissants, and bowls of muesli, with pots of tea, glasses of juice and mugs of coffee accompanying it all. It all looked delicious, and I couldn’t wait to dig in and start eating.

“Before we get started,” Joel said as he got up out of his seat, holding his mug of coffee aloft, “I would like to propose a birthday toast – to Therese Hanson and Taylor Ainsworth, who are both turning thirty-one today.”

“Can you not embarrass me, please?” I mumbled as what felt like every single café patron who was sitting out on the patio turned around to look at our table. Still, I raised my glass and clinked it against Taylor and Joel’s coffee mugs and Sara’s teacup. A glance sideways told me that Taylor looked almost as embarrassed as me, his face slowly turning bright red. We set our glasses, mugs and cups back down on the table and set about devouring our respective breakfasts, with our conversation focused primarily on one thing – our day out at Dreamworld.

“So how are we getting there?” I asked between bites of apple, waffle and cream. “I doubt we can walk there, we passed it on the way down here from Brisbane and it’s not anywhere in town.” I sipped at my glass of juice. “Or rather, we probably could walk there, but it’d probably take us hours.”

“I’m sure we can talk one of the roadies into driving us up there and back here again tonight,” Nate said. “Can’t hurt to ask anyway. Worst they can do is say no.” He shrugged. “Hell, if we get particularly desperate we can book a taxi to get us there.”

Luckily, we did manage to get one of the roadies to agree to drive us up to Dreamworld, and once we were all finished eating we headed back to the hotel. It was turning out to be a nice day so far – the sun was out, it was nice and warm, and there was a little bit of a breeze. All in all, the perfect day to be spending at an amusement park. That it was my birthday was just the icing on top of the cake. The roadie who would be driving us was waiting with the van we had rented in Brisbane in the driveway of our hotel, leaning against the driver’s side door and reading a newspaper. “I call shotgun,” Zac said as we walked up to the van.

“You had shotgun on the way down here, give someone else a go for once,” Joel said, and he darted ahead of Zac in an effort to beat him to the front passenger seat. “Shotgun!”

“How old are you again?” I called out as Joel pulled the van door open, climbed in and made a beeline direct for the front passenger seat. He promptly flipped me the bird in the rear view mirror as I climbed in behind him. As soon as we were all inside the van, seatbelts done up and the door slid closed, our driver hopped into his seat and turned the key in the ignition. The engine roared to life, sending a rumble through the van, and once the van had driven out of the driveway and into Hamilton Street we were on our way. Beside me Sara was tapping away at the screen of her iPad, looking the route between our hotel and Dreamworld up on Google Maps – her mobile broadband modem was peeking out of the pocket of her shorts, which answered my question of how she was able to get online when we weren’t even inside our hotel.

“Just keep going along here until you get to the highway,” she said, and I guessed that she had decided to play navigator this morning. “It’s right at the end of this street past all of the traffic lights – hang a right once you get there.”

It wasn’t long until the hotels, apartment buildings and shopping malls that lined the Gold Coast Highway as it went through Surfers Paradise gave way to trees and houses, and we were soon driving along the bridge that crossed the Nerang River and linked Surfers Paradise with the nearby suburb of Southport. Rather than pull my phone out of my pocket and hop on Twitter and Facebook for a little while, I decided to sit back in my seat and watch the world go by outside my window. As we drove through Southport a Snow Patrol song came on the radio, prompting Isaac, Joel, Taylor, Zac and Nate to start an impromptu karaoke session.

“The perfect words never crossed my mind…‘cause there was nothin’ in there but you…I felt every ounce of me screaming out…but the sound was trapped deep in me…all I wanted just sped right past me…while I was rooted fast to the earth…I could be stuck here for a thousand years…without your arms to drag me out…

“There you are standing right in front of me…there you are standing right in front of me…all this fear falls away to leave me naked…hold me close, ‘cause I need you to guide me to safety…no, I won’t wait forever…no, I won’t wait forever…

“In the confusion and the aftermath…you are my signal fire…the only resolution and the only joy…is the faint spark of forgiveness in your eyes…

“There you are standing right in front of me…there you are standing right in front of me…all this fear falls away to leave me naked…hold me close, ‘cause I need you to guide me to safety…

“There you are standing right in front of me…there you are standing right in front of me…all this fear falls away to leave me naked…hold me close, ‘cause I need you to guide me to safety…

“No, I won’t wait forever…no, I won’t wait forever…no, I won’t wait forever…”

We ended up continuing the karaoke session all the way from Southport to the suburb of Coomera, where Dreamworld was located. Almost before I realised it, the van was driving under a high sign that read Welcome to our worlds, and I knew we were nearly there.

Today being a weekday, it seemed, had done nothing to deter people coming to Dreamworld. The park wasn’t officially scheduled to open for another fifteen minutes – my watch read 9:45 – and yet the parking lot was packed with cars. Even despite this, our driver found a parking spot easily. “What time do you all want to be picked up?” he asked as we unbuckled our seatbelts.

“Let’s say…” Joel glanced around at us all. “Four o’clock? It’ll give us plenty of time to have fun and still make it back to Surfers Paradise in time for dinner.”

“Four o’clock it is, then. Give me a bell if you decide you want to be picked up earlier.”

“Will do,” Nate said with a small military-style salute, and we all piled out of the van. I heard the van’s engine start up again as we headed toward the park gates, and looked back over my shoulder just long enough to see our ride driving back toward the road that led into the park grounds.

Fifteen minutes and almost seven hundred dollars later – something that all seven of us had winced at – we had our tickets and were inside the park itself. We took a few moments to survey our surroundings – the park gates were situated right across from the Dreamworld Cinema, and I knew that the park exit was almost right next to the gates. I filed this away for future reference so that I wouldn’t get lost. “So what do you guys want to do first?” Joel asked, gesturing between Taylor and I as he spoke. “It’s your birthday after all.”

Neither of us answered right away. Instead Taylor unfolded the park map he had collected on his way through the gates and studied it. “Zombie Evilution,” he replied finally. “I haven’t played laser skirmish in years. Laser tag,” he translated when he saw the slightly confused looks from my cousins and I.

“I’m in,” Zac said immediately, before looking around at the rest of us. “Don’t tell me you’re all chickenshit all of a sudden.”

I narrowed my eyes at my cousin. “And just for that, I’m in as well. I’m gonna kick your ass.”

Laser tag was followed up swiftly by rides on the Wipeout, Cyclone, The Claw, Tower of Terror II and The Giant Drop. Sara ended up begging off all five, content to look after our gear as the rest of us raced between rides. After a hair-raising ride on The Claw that left me hoarse from screaming and my stomach rolling with nausea, I decided that Sara had had the right idea.

“Jesus fucking Christ,” I moaned as I followed Taylor and Joel away from The Giant Drop, just before midday. My knees were shaky and I almost felt like I was about to throw up. Joel looked about as freaked out as I felt, but Taylor on the other hand had a massive grin on his face. “You liked that?” I asked him, and he nodded. “You’re crazy.”

“Guilty as charged,” he replied with a shrug. “I’m an adrenaline junkie, I can’t help it.”

“He’s not kidding,” Nate said, evidently having overheard his brother. “You see that scar he’s got along his hairline?” he asked, and Taylor obligingly swept his hair up on top of his head so that I could see the faint line that ran down toward his left ear. “His class went rock climbing for school sport one week when he was in Year 9. He falls three metres off the wall and cracks his head open on the floor, and what does he do? He gets up, blood pouring down his face, and he runs off for another go at it. Mum about killed him when he got home that afternoon.”

“I broke my left ankle abseiling at school camp in Year 10 as well,” Taylor added as we headed over to where the others waited for us. “Barely noticed it until we were heading back to camp.”

“You’re crazy,” I repeated, feeling just a little stunned.

As we were walking inside one of Dreamworld’s restaurants for lunch, Joel pulled me aside. “I just want to talk to Ree for a bit,”  he explained when Isaac shot him a look. “I’ll be right behind you.”

“What is it?” I asked him.

“When were you planning on telling Taylor about who you think he is?” Joel asked.

“I don’t know,” I admitted. “I kind of want to wait until the right moment, y’know? This doesn’t feel like it.”

“Honestly, Ree, I don’t think there will ever be a right moment to tell him. He needs to know, Ree. How would you feel if your situations were reversed and you had to find out from someone else that Taylor’s your brother?”

“I’d feel pretty angry,” I admitted. “So you think I should tell him today?”

“Yeah,” Joel replied. “Not right now, but definitely before we all go out to dinner tonight.”

I swallowed hard. “Okay. I’ll tell him when we get back to the hotel.”

I was as good as my word.

After a quick shower and once I’d changed into clean clothes, I headed down the corridor to the room that Nate and Taylor were sharing. Nate answered the door with a toothbrush hanging out of his mouth and pale blue foam dripping its way down his chin. “Hey Nate,” I said in greeting. “Can I talk to Taylor, please?”

“Yeah, sure,” Nate said around his toothbrush, before yelling back to Taylor, “Oi Tay, your girlfriend wants to talk to you!”

“She’s not my girlfriend!” Taylor yelled back, before emerging from the bathroom. He had a towel draped over his head and was dressed in jeans and a light blue button-down shirt. “Hey Therese,” he said with a smile as he got closer to me, peering out at me from under his towel. “You wanted to talk to me?”

“Yeah,” I replied quietly. “Can we do it out in the corridor?”

“Yeah, of course.” He dropped the towel on the floor and slipped out of the room, letting the door swing closed behind him. “What’s up?”

“There’s no easy way for me to say this,” I said, and squeezed my eyes closed. “Taylor…I think you might be my brother.”

Chapter Text

Taylor

I think you might be my brother.

Therese’s words slammed into me like a tonne of bricks, and for a few moments I felt like the world had stopped. “Are you sure?” I finally managed to ask, half dreading her answer.

“Not completely,” Therese admitted. “But I’m fairly certain. My aunt is too. She said you look like my dad.” She shoved her hands into the pockets of her pants. “I won’t blame you if you’re creeped out by this. You barely know me after all, and here I am telling you that I might be your sister.”

“I’m not creeped out,” I assured her. “It’s just…” I trailed off as I searched for the right words. “It’s a lot to take in, that’s all.”

Therese let out a quiet laugh. “No kidding.”

We were both quiet for a little while after this. Just as our silence almost became too much to bear, Therese spoke again.

“I should go finish getting ready.”

“Yeah, me too,” I replied. I glanced down at my feet as I spoke. They were bare, my toes curling into the carpet that ran the length of the corridor. “See you downstairs?”

“See you.” She gave me a small smile and headed back down the corridor to the room she was sharing with Sara. I watched her for a few moments, before easing my room key out of one of my pockets and dropping it into my room’s lock.

Nate glanced up from his phone as I slipped back into our room. “All good?” he asked as I went over to my suitcase.

“Yep, all good,” I replied, deciding to keep what Therese had told me to myself for the time being. I dropped to my knees and lifted the lid of my suitcase, and started digging through it in search of my boots and a clean pair of socks.

Dinner that evening was at the Hog’s Breath Café in Main Beach, just ten minutes up the road from our hotel. As soon as we had all placed our dinner orders – I’d decided on chicken parmagiana with curly fries – talk turned to the upcoming shows in Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong.

“So have you ever been there?” Nate asked once a waitress had taken our orders off to the kitchen. “To Newcastle and Wollongong, I mean.”

“We’ve been to Wollongong,” Joel replied. “Just as daytrips to Symbio Zoo and to the Buddhist temple – we’ve never played shows there.” He ran a finger around the rim of his glass of water. “Never been to Newcastle though.”

“You’ve got one up on us then,” Sara said. She gestured between herself, Nate and I. “Closest we’ve ever got to either city is passing through one summer on our way to Shoalhaven Heads so our parents could take us camping somewhere other than Port Macquarie or Nambucca Heads.” She grinned a little. “You’ll have to show us around.”

“We can do that for sure,” Zac said. “It’s a shame we don’t have longer than a few days there, really. There’s a lot we haven’t had a chance to do there yet.”

“I’m totally going surfing on our day off though,” Therese piped up. “I’m sure I can hire a surfboard from somewhere.”

“I thought you lived in Oklahoma,” I said. “Isn’t that a landlocked state?”

“We go to California all the time,” Joel replied. “Recording, mixing, playing shows, that sort of thing. It’s practically a second home for us. We all learned to surf while we were recording Middle Of Nowhere there.”

“One of you is going to have to show me how,” Nate said. “I’ve wanted to learn for ages but there’s no beaches near Tamworth – the nearest one is three and a half hours away. And the beach at Shoalhaven Heads is kind of shite.”

“I’ll teach you,” Therese offered. “What about you, Taylor? Up for a surfing lesson?”

I barely had to think about it. “Yeah, I’m in.”

“Sweet!” Therese sounded very pleased by this. “You can both swim, right?” she asked, almost as an afterthought.

“High school District champion six years running,” Nate said proudly. “Even got to go to State a few times.”

“And I’ve been diving once or twice,” I added. “So yeah, we can swim.”

“Oh good,” Therese said in what sounded like relief. “Bit of a bad idea to teach you guys to surf if you can’t even swim.”

“No shit Sherlock,” Zac snarked.

“Bite me Zachary,” Therese said as she gave her cousin the finger.

Sara, meanwhile, had dug her phone out of her handbag. “Okay, so the Sydney shows – first one’s at the Enmore, yeah?” she asked, and I figured she was reading through her copy of the tour itinerary.

“Yep,” Isaac replied. “Played there the last few tours so we didn’t see much point in breaking with tradition.”

“Plus it’s just an awesome place to play shows anyway,” Zac added.

“No arguments from me there,” Sara said. “And the second show – the Sydney Opera House? Am I reading that right?”

“The Forecourt, but yeah,” Joel replied. “Just for something a little different.”

“Like Crowded House did in ‘96,” I said.

“That was where we got the idea,” Joel said with a nod.

“Wait, you know the Crowdies?” Nate asked.

“They’re brilliant musicians, of course we do,” Zac said with a grin.

“Okay, I really like you guys now,” Nate said. He sounded rather impressed by this particular revelation. “That’s going to be an epic show.”

“Well, we certainly hope so,” Isaac said.

Sara nudged me as conversation turned to a discussion about the upcoming show at the Sydney Opera House. “Everything okay?” she asked me quietly.

“Yeah, all good.” I traced the pattern on the tablecloth with the pad of my left thumb. “It’s just…” I glanced over at Therese for a moment. She was teasing one of her cousins about something, her voice not quite loud enough to cut through the hum of voices and music that filled the restaurant. “Therese told me something earlier.”

“Yeah?”

I gave a quick nod. “Can we talk about it later?”

“Yeah, of course we can.” I felt her put a hand on my back. “Was it good, what she told you?”

I hitched my left shoulder up in a half-shrug. “Not sure yet.”

And really, I wasn’t entirely sure that what Therese had told me was a good thing. On the one hand, if what she had told me was true then I had a much bigger family than what I’d always believed existed. I had another seven cousins, three of whom I’d already met. I had another aunt and another uncle. I had another sister. My children had another aunt. Having more family out there could only be a good thing.

But on the other hand…I couldn’t help but feel that by going in search of my roots, I was betraying the family that had raised me. Even though my parents had hidden my adoption from me for virtually my entire life, they were still my parents. They were the ones who had raised me. And I couldn’t help feeling like I was casting them aside, even though I knew I wasn’t.

After we had all eaten and our dinner plates had been cleared away, and once Therese and I had opened our respective sets of birthday presents, the lights in our part of the restaurant dimmed a little. Out of the kitchen came two of the restaurant’s kitchenhands – one of them was wheeling a trolley along before them, while the other carried a stack of plates. As they neared our table I could see that the trolley held a chocolate mudcake with silver candles dotted around its edge and what looked like chocolate frosting piped around its base. The cake itself was marbled on top with what looked like white chocolate. Piped in a circle just inside the ring of candles were six words – Happy 31st Birthday Therese and Taylor.

“I thought I told you not to embarrass me,” I clearly heard Therese complain as one of the kitchenhands lifted the cake onto the table and set about lighting each of the candles. The flames cast flickering shadows and silhouetted each of us against the walls and ceiling.

“All right, who wants to go first?” Sara asked Therese and I once the requisite singing of Happy Birthday was finished. “I’d say age before beauty but you’re both thirty-one today.”

Therese and I looked at each other. “Ladies first?” I suggested.

“After you,” Therese teased me, and I gave her the finger. She stuck her tongue out at me before getting up from her seat, and she paused for a moment with her eyes closed before leaning in to blow out the candles. As soon as each of the flames had gone out, the wick of each candle sending a thin stream of smoke toward the ceiling, the candles were relit and I was getting to my own feet.

“Make it a good one,” Therese called out.

A good wish… I allowed my eyes to drift closed as I thought of a good wish to make. It didn’t take long for one to pop into my head, and I hid a smile before leaning in for my turn at blowing the candles out.

“Did you make a good wish?” Sara asked me as I sat back down.

“Yeah, I think I did,” I replied.

“Anything to do with what Therese told you?”

“That would be telling.” Sara hid a grin behind her hand at this. “It won’t come true if I tell you, isn’t that what Mum and Dad kept telling us when we were kids?”

“You’re such a killjoy sometimes.”

I grinned and made a show of polishing my fingernails on my shirt. “That’s me.”

Back at the hotel after dinner, I rode the lift down to the hotel’s lobby with my iPad under one arm and a million questions rattling around in my head, all jostling for attention at once. But for once I was managing to ignore all of them. Right now, I had just one thing on my mind.

Sara looked up from her phone as I joined her on one of the couches in the lobby, giving me a smile that I returned. “So what exactly did Therese tell you?” she asked as I settled myself.

“She…” I took a deep breath. “She said she might be my sister.”

“Holy shit,” Sara breathed. “That…that’s huge, Tay.”

“No kidding.” I leaned forward and rested my elbows on my knees. “She said she isn’t totally sure, though. But she’s fairly certain. She…” I felt the entirely unwelcome sting of tears, and I quickly squeezed my eyes closed. “I look like her dad, Sara. That’s what she told me.”

“But that’s a good thing, isn’t it?” Sara asked tentatively, and I shook my head. “Why not?”

“Her dad died thirty years ago,” I answered. “Before she was even born.” I scrubbed a hand over my face. “How…how can she even stand to look at me?”

“Hey…” I felt Sara wind an arm around my shoulders, and she drew me a little closer. “I’m sure she doesn’t mind, Tay. I haven’t known her all that long, none of us have, but I think she would have said something earlier if it bothered her.”

Here I felt her arm tighten a little around me. “Oh, Tay,” she said softly, evidently having realised what I wasn’t saying, and I nodded. “If it turns out she’s definitely your sister…”

“Yeah. Her…my mum too.” I let out a shaky breath. “That’s why I was adopted out. My freaking parents died. Both of them.”

Neither Sara nor I said anything for a little while after this. It took Sara noticing that I’d brought my iPad downstairs for our quiet to end.

“So are you going to talk to Mum and Dad?”

“I’m going to email Mum, yeah.” I ran a fingernail along the seam of the left knee of my jeans. “Can you help me figure out what to ask her? I have so many questions I want to know the answers to, but I have no idea where to start.”

“Of course I can.”

I managed a smile. “Thanks, Sare.”

“Anytime, Tay.” I looked over at her just in time to see her smile. “You want to come up to my room? I’m sure Therese won’t mind me kicking her out for a little while.”

“Actually, I was kind of hoping to get her help on this as well,” I admitted. “Seeing as she was once in my position. She might have some ideas for questions I might not have thought of.”

“That’s not a bad idea.” She nudged me in the side a little before getting to her feet. “Come on.”

Therese was in the middle of packing her suitcase when Sara and I walked into the hotel room that had been theirs for the last few nights. “Hey you two,” she said, giving us a smile. Her smile quickly disappeared, leaving a look of concern in its wake. “Everything okay?”

“He told me,” Sara replied as she guided me over to what I figured was her bed. I sat down hard, and Sara gave my right shoulder a quick squeeze before sitting down next to me. “What you told him earlier, I mean.”

“Oh…” Therese abandoned her packing and sat down on her bed across from me. “I wanted to wait a little while longer,” she said. “At least until we got to Melbourne, seeing as it’s still early days and we don’t know each other that well just yet. But Joel said you needed to know as soon as possible.” She gave me a sheepish smile. “Sorry for dropping it on you today of all days.”

I managed to return her smile. “It’s all right, Therese. I appreciate you telling me.”

“So what makes you so certain that you’re his sister?” Sara asked. “I don’t mean to be blunt, but we really have no proof that you’re who you say you are.”

“I totally understand, Sara. I’d be wary too.” She drew a circle in the carpet with her toes. “I can’t prove it for sure just yet. I know that. But I’m willing to do whatever it takes.”

“You said I look like your dad,” I said.

“I did, yeah,” Therese said. She got back to her feet and fetched her iPad from the desk, and unlocked it before handing it to me. “There’s a picture of him in my photos app.”

I nodded my thanks and set about finding the photo of Therese’s father. It didn’t take me long, and as soon as I opened it I sucked in a sharp, shocked breath.

For the first time in my life, I saw myself in someone who wasn’t part of the family I had grown up with. It was almost as if I was looking at my reflection in the mirror. There was just one difference between Therese’s father and I, that I could see anyhow – our eye colour. Everything else was the same. The same smile, the same hair colour, and our ears even stuck out the same. I touched one of my own ears out of sheer reflex.

“His name was Warren,” Therese said as I stared at the photograph. “Warren Miller.”

“Holy shit,” Sara whispered from beside me. “Tay, look at me.” I looked at Sara as she picked the iPad up and held it next to my face. “You weren’t kidding, Therese. He really does look like your dad.”

“How did he die?” I found myself asking.

“Subway accident just before New Year’s Eve 1982. He…he fell in front of an oncoming train.”

“I’m so sorry, Therese,” Sara said.

Therese shrugged. “It’s okay. Wasn’t your fault.”

Sara put the iPad down on the bed behind her before proceeding to study me for a little while. “Are you all right?” she asked me quietly.

I didn’t know how to answer her at first. I’d had so much dropped on me in the last few hours that I hadn’t had a chance to properly process any of it yet. With how intense the last few days had been, never mind the rest of the tour, I didn’t like my chances of processing any of it until I was back home again.

“Not really,” I admitted finally. “But I think I will be.”

“As long as you’re sure,” Sara said, and I nodded. “Why don’t you head off to bed? Got an early start in the morning.”

“Don’t remind me,” I grumbled. Whoever it was that had had the utterly stupid idea of scheduling our flight down to Sydney for six o’clock in the bloody morning had to have had rocks in their head. Especially considering tomorrow was a show day. “Can I ask a quick favour first, Therese?”

“Yeah, of course.”

I went quiet again for a few moments as I tried to work out how to ask what I needed to. “I want to email my mum to ask her a few questions – there’s so many things I want to know, but I wouldn’t know the first thing to ask her. And I figured that since you’ve been in this kind of situation before, you’d have some idea of the questions I could ask.” I worried at a hole in the right knee of my jeans. “Could you help me?”

“Sure I can. How does lunchtime tomorrow sound?”

“Works for me.” I gave Therese a small smile. “See you two in the morning, yeah?”

“See you in the morning,” Sara echoed.

Therese was as good as her word. At around noon the next day, Sara and I met Therese at Oporto in Newtown, just a few minutes’ walk from the Enmore Theatre. I had crashed for a few hours after we had arrived in Sydney, our early morning taking its toll, but as soon as I was awake after my nap Sara and I caught the train out to Newtown from Wynyard station. Packed into my backpack, in among the multitude of bits and pieces I was positive I would need that afternoon and evening, was my laptop and its power cord, and I knew Sara had brought her mobile broadband modem with her.

“Nice to see you looking a bit more awake,” Therese teased me. I resisted the impulse to give her the finger, settling instead for a half-hearted scowl. She stuck her tongue out at me before leading the way inside.

There wasn’t much of a line at the sales counter, so it wasn’t long before we each had our respective lunches and had found somewhere to sit. As soon as I’d sat down I unearthed my laptop from my backpack and plugged it into a nearby power point, and started eating my lunch as I waited for it to fire up.

“So where do you think we should start?” Sara asked Therese. “I mean, I’m guessing you know a few things about Taylor.” She took a bite out of her burger, chasing it with a couple of fries. “Assuming he is your brother, of course.”

“I don’t know as much as I’d like,” Therese admitted. I couldn’t help but notice that she sounded a little defeated as she said this. “Both of our original birth certificates are still sealed. We’d have to apply for a court order if we wanted access. I only know as much as I do because my aunt and my mom were sisters.” She picked a bit of chicken out of her wrap and popped it into her mouth. “Start with the basics. Original name and birthplace.”

“I’m guessing you know what those are,” Sara said as I pulled Microsoft Word up on my laptop and typed out what Therese had said.

Therese nodded. “They’re just about the only things I do know for sure. I wish I knew more than that.”

“It’s a start, though,” I said without looking up from my laptop.

“That’s true,” Therese agreed. She went quiet for a little while, and I figured she was thinking. “I would also ask your mom if she knows of any other family.”

“Would she know about that sort of thing?” Sara asked.

“Probably not, but it can’t hurt to ask.”

As I ate my lunch, I read through the email that I would be sending to my mother.

Hi Mum,

Tour’s going well. We just got to Sydney this morning – we’ve got a show at the Enmore Theatre tonight, and another show tomorrow night at the Sydney Opera House forecourt. Hanson are pretty cool guys – it’s been great working with them so far. I can see why Sara’s been a fan for as long as she has.

I guess the reason I’m writing is to ask if there’s anything you and Dad could tell me about who I was before you adopted me. There’s so much I don’t know about myself. But what I mostly want to know for now is:

1. What was my name before you and Dad adopted me?
2. Where exactly was I born?
3. Do you know if I have any birth family?

I’ll understand if you can’t tell me anything more than that. But if you can tell me anything else that would be great – I want to start looking for my family after the tour, and even just the most basic of details helps.

I miss all of you. Even though I’m loving being on tour and seeing the rest of the country, I miss home a lot. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone when I come back to Tamworth in April. Nate and Sara send their love.

-- Taylor

“I think that about does it,” I said once I’d read it through a few times. “What do you think Sare?”

Sara turned my laptop around so that she could see the screen – I guessed it was so she didn’t have to bend down over my shoulder to read. I could see her eyes moving as she read the words I’d written.

“Looks good to me,” she said, and turned my laptop back around to face me. She started digging around in her own backpack, eventually unearthing her modem, and she switched it on before setting it on the table. “You know what the password is.”

Before too long I had the email sent off to Mum, and I quickly checked my email, Twitter and Facebook before switching my laptop and Sara’s modem off again. “When do we have to be at the Enmore?” I asked as I packed everything away.

“Joel said half-past three when I asked him this morning,” Therese said. “So we have a bit of time to kill yet.” She broke the last of her churros into thirds and offered two of the pieces to Sara and I.

“We could always go back into town and have a wander down Pitt Street Mall,” Sara suggested as she and I took a piece of churro. “That’d kill a couple of hours.”

“That sounds good to me,” Therese agreed. “I wanted to see if I could find something nice to wear tonight.”

Sara gave Therese a smile. “Up for a bit of a shopping trip, Tay?” she asked me.

“Yeah, may as well,” I said with a half-shrug. “Though I’m not going shopping for clothes.”

“I think there’s a JB Hi-Fi there,” Sara offered. “Didn’t you want to look at buying a tripod or something for your camera?”

“I wanted to get some new picks and strings as well,” I said.

“Well there you go then.” With those words, Sara was on her feet and swinging her backpack onto her shoulders. She gave me a smile as she adjusted the straps. “Come on.”


Early the next afternoon, I headed out to the Opera House via the McDonald’s across the street from Circular Quay. I was armed with my DSLR camera, a recent Christmas gift from Kimberley – I hadn’t had much of an opportunity so far during tour to give my camera a proper workout, we’d been so busy, so I was taking full advantage of my free afternoon to properly break it in.

The show at the Enmore Theatre the previous evening had been a resounding success. We had played to a packed house, with many of the faces in the pit ones I recognised from the shows in Brisbane and on the Gold Coast. The sound of close to two thousand people in full voice during our cover of You’re The Voice had made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.

But even with five shows and nearly a quarter of the tour under our belts, a few things still managed to surprise me. I was honestly shocked that the Enmore was still standing that morning, a full twelve hours after the previous evening’s show had ended, what with Hanson’s fans making a pretty good attempt at rattling the balcony right off the walls during their set. According to not only Sara but Hanson themselves, it had happened during the last two Australian tours as well.

I was equally shocked that I’d still been able to hear when I woke up that morning. Hanson’s fans were, in one word, loud. The monitors I’d worn every set since the first Brisbane show cut down on most of it while I was onstage, but once I was offstage all bets regarding my hearing were off. I still almost went crosseyed every time I heard the first cheers explode from the pit. Tonight’s show was out in the open, though, which could only be a good thing.

As I walked down the foreshore toward Bennelong Point, I could hear running footsteps coming up behind me. I stopped walking and turned around just in time to see Therese pelting down the footpath.

“Jesus effing Christ you walk fast,” she said once she had caught up with me, near the stairs leading up to the Dendy Opera Quays. She was bent over with her hands on her knees trying to catch her breath. “I’ve been trying to keep up since you left McDonald’s!”

“Sorry,” I apologised.

She shook her head. “Nah, it’s okay.” Here she straightened up and gave me a smile. “Long legs like yours, I’d walk fast too.”

I let out a quiet laugh at this. “I take it you wanted to talk to me,” I said.

“Yeah. Can we sit down?”

We ended up walking a bit further along the foreshore until we reached the steps that led to the Opera House forecourt. Ahead of us, I could see that the amphitheatre for that night’s show was in what looked like the final stages of construction – the main stage had been built, and steel crowd-control barriers had been set up around the forecourt area. Beyond the amphitheatre, with the Sydney Harbour Bridge as a backdrop, the gleaming white sails of the Sydney Opera House rose up into the autumn sky. As soon as we’d sat down on the top step Therese stretched her legs out in front of her, crossing them at her ankles, and leaned against one of the concrete bollards. I took the neckstrap of my camera from around my neck and wound it around the lens, and stowed it in my messenger bag. Something told me I wouldn’t be breaking it in today.

“Are you okay with the fact that we could be brother and sister?” she asked.

“Yeah, of course I am,” I assured her. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

“It’s just…” She worried a little at the hem of her T-shirt. “You don’t seem very happy about it.”

“I take it that you are?”

“Happy?” Therese shifted herself around a little so she was facing me. “Taylor, I’m freaking ecstatic that I found you. I’m not being sarcastic here. It’s…” She dropped her gaze a little. “Do you have any idea how long I’ve been trying to find you?”

“A long time?” I guessed.

Therese chuckled quietly. “You could say that. I started looking on my own as soon as I turned eighteen. So thirteen years, basically.”

“So you’ve had a long time to get used to the idea?”

“Since I was about four, yeah.” She scuffed the heel of her right sneaker along the slate tiles underfoot. “I keep forgetting that you haven’t always known you’re adopted. It’s a bit overwhelming, yeah?”

“Just a little bit.” I went quiet for a little while, lowering my own gaze. “Do you know who originally told me I was adopted?” I asked, continuing after I took Therese’s silence as an answer, “My wife.”

“Your wife?

I nodded. “Yeah. She’s a doctor at the hospital in my hometown.”

“How did she find out?”

I raked a hand back through my hair as I debated how much to tell Therese about the day that had changed my life forever. “My dad ended up in hospital with a really bad concussion a couple of months ago,” I said. “He used to keep a really heavy toolbox on a high shelf in the garage – it fell on him while he was working in there. Kim got called in almost at the last minute, and she ended up being his treating doctor. Anyway, she’d seen Dad’s blood type in his hospital records, looked at Mum’s out of what she told me was curiosity, and decided she wanted to find out what mine was because I didn’t know. I’d never needed to. I don’t know if she suspected anything, but I seriously doubt it. She would have told me ages ago if she did. We’re not the sort to keep anything from one another.”

I went quiet for a little while after this as I organised my thoughts. Thankfully, Therese didn’t push me to talk. She merely waited patiently for me to continue.

“Turns out I don’t even have the same blood type as my parents,” I said once I’d figured out how to say what I needed to. “Mum’s AB-positive, and Dad’s A-negative. I should be A, B or AB, but I’m not. I’m O-positive, which shouldn’t even be biologically possible if I was theirs.” I took a shuddering breath. “They pretty much confirmed it a week later. Dropped it on me right after family dinner. I…I was livid they’d kept it from me for so long, to put it bluntly.”

“I can imagine,” Therese said softly.

It was at that moment that I felt tears pricking at my eyes all over again. “They were never going to tell me, Therese,” I said, my voice beginning to shake. “If Dad hadn’t ended up in hospital, and if Kim had never figured it out, they’d have taken it to their graves. Even Sara knew, and she never usually keeps anything from me.” I scrubbed a hand over my eyes. “What in the world possesses someone to keep that sort of thing from their kid?”

“I don’t know, Tay. I wish I did. That…I can’t even imagine how hard that must have been for you.”

“It’s been pretty bloody hard, yeah.” My gaze drifted down to the knees of my jeans. “I really am happy about it, you know. That we might be brother and sister, that is. If it turns out that you’re right…”

Whatever Therese or I might have said next was interrupted by the sound of my phone chiming at me – I had a new email. “Hold that thought,” I said as I worked my phone out of my pocket and unlocked it. The new email in my inbox, it turned out, was from Mum.

Hello Taylor,

I’m very glad to hear that tour’s going well. Your dad and I have seen the photos and video that the three of you have been posting on Facebook, and you all look like you’re having the time of your lives. I look forward to hearing all about it when you come home next month.

I’m not surprised that you have questions about who you are. I would have expected you to ask sooner, but I’m guessing you’re still working through things.

“No kidding,” I mumbled, and kept reading.

I can answer all of the questions you have right now. I’m not sure I could answer any others you might come up with, but I’ll do my best.

Your name when you first came to us was Jordan Taylor Miller. You wouldn’t answer to any other name but Taylor when we were fostering you, though, so when your dad and I adopted you it made sense to keep that as your first name. We gave you the middle name James as a family name. You were born in New York City, at the Brookdale Hospital Medical Center in Brooklyn – and yes, in case you were wondering, March 14 1983 is your birthday. As far as any other family, we were told that you have a sister. Your birth parents are both deceased, unfortunately. We tried to find out if your sister was available for adoption so that you could grow up together, but she had been adopted by another family a couple of years before we took you in. The agency wasn’t able to tell us anything more than that.

I know this isn’t a lot to be going on with. But hopefully it’s enough to make a start on finding your family. If there’s anything your dad and I can help you with, let me know. We love you, and we’ll see you soon.

Love Mum

“What exactly do you know about me?” I asked once I’d taken in everything Mum had written to me. “You said yesterday you know my original name and where I was born.”

“I do, yeah,” Therese replied. “Your…your original name was Jordan Taylor Miller. And you were born in Brooklyn, in New York City.” She fixed me with a somewhat inquisitive look. “Your mom emailed you back?”

“Yeah. And you just confirmed what she told me.”

Out of the corner of my eye I could see Therese clap her hands over her mouth. “Holy shit,” I could just hear her whisper.

“Yep.” I ran a thumb along the grouting between two of the tiles. “She also told me I have a sister, but that she’d already been adopted a couple of years before they took me in. They were going to take her in as well if they could, so we could grow up together.”

It wasn’t hard to tell that Therese was more than a bit stunned by this little revelation. “Do you know what this means?” she asked once she had lowered her hands from her mouth.

I nodded. “I think I do, yeah.” I gave Therese a shaky smile. “Hey sis.”

“Hi,” Therese just about whispered, seconds before I found myself on the receiving end of a very tight hug – one that I guessed Therese had been waiting a very long time to give me, and that I didn’t even hesitate in returning. I instinctively knew she needed it. “I found you,” she mumbled into my shoulder. “Oh my God I found you…”

We sat there on the steps for what felt like ages. It took Therese rolling her shoulders a little for us to break apart. “Unbelievable,” she said softly as she straightened up. “Un-freaking-believable…” She let out a quiet laugh that I echoed a few seconds later.

“So how do we find out for absolutely certain that we are brother and sister?” I asked as the two of us got to our feet again. “I mean, between what you and my mum’ve told me, that’s more than enough proof for me.”

“But you want to know for sure,” Therese finished, and I nodded. “I totally get that. I sort of want to know too. I’d be really fucking surprised if we weren’t, considering that aside from the eyes you’re just about a mirror image of Dad. But it’d be nice to find out for sure.”

“Kim,” I said. “She’d probably know. Seeing as she’s a doctor and all.” I cast a sidelong look at Therese. “You’re okay with me telling her?”

“‘Course I’m okay with it. She’s your family too.”

It took every last bit of self-control I possessed to keep things together during the walk back to the hotel. My world had turned over on itself all over again – but this time, unlike when Kimberley and my parents had told me I wasn’t quite who I thought I was, I wasn’t utterly furious. I didn’t feel betrayed. Rather, I felt a little more complete. I didn’t know exactly who I was just yet, but I was slowly beginning to put all of the pieces together. And today, another piece of the puzzle had fallen into place.

I had family. Before this tour, and certainly before Mum and Dad had dropped their little bombshell, I could never have imagined I had family beyond the one I had made with Kimberley, or even beyond the one that had adopted me as their own. But I did – and if what I’d learned during the last week was any indicator, it was a pretty big one.

I could hear the shower running in the bathroom as Therese let the two of us into the hotel room she was sharing with Sara. “I don’t know how long she’s been in there,” she said as she closed the door behind us. “Hopefully not too long.”

“Why?” I asked, my tone somewhat quizzical.

Therese sat down on what I guessed was her bed and gestured for me to join her. “Because I want you to tell me everything. So far I only know the basics. Like I know you’re married, and I know your wife’s name. But I don’t know a lot apart from that.”

I let out a quiet laugh as I joined Therese on her bed. “Kim and I are basically high school sweethearts,” I said to begin. “We met on our first day of Year 7. She’s the one who asked me out in the first place.” I twisted my wedding band around my finger. “Our first date was our Year 10 Formal, way back in 1999. Formal’s like prom for you guys,” I explained. “We’ll have been married for ten years on September twentieth.”

“Do you have kids?”

I nodded. “We’ve got twin girls and a son. Cara and Mia will be nine in July, and Fletcher turned two in October last year.”

“Holy…” Therese whispered. “I have nieces and a nephew?”

I hid a smile. “Yep, you do. Odds are you’ll get to meet them pretty soon. Kim’ll probably bring them down from Tamworth during the girls’ autumn break from school.” I bent down to my messenger bag and pulled out my iPad. A few taps and swipes later I had Facebook and one of my albums open, to a family portrait Kimberley and I had had taken just before Christmas. The five of us sat on the lounge at home – the girls and Fletcher in the middle, with Kimberley and I flanking them. “Cara’s on the left,” I said, pointing her out – she wore a pink sundress, in direct contrast with her sister’s dark blue. “That’s Fletcher in the middle, and Mia’s on the right.”

“They look like you.”

“Who looks like who?” I heard Sara ask, and I looked up from my iPad just in time to see her poking her head out of the bathroom. Clouds of steam billowed out of the partly-opened doorway as she squinted at us.

“Therese just said that my kids look like me,” I replied. “They’d want to, they’re mine after all.” I got back to my feet. “I can clear out for a bit if you want.”

Sara waved me off. “Nah, you’re good. Just close your eyes or something for a bit, I need to grab something to wear tonight.”

“Just let me know when I can open them again,” I said as I closed my eyes.

“Don’t you dare look,” Sara warned me, and I held my hands up in self-defence. There was a muted sort of rustling sound – I guessed from Sara digging around in her suitcase – followed by the sounds of footsteps on carpet and the bathroom door swinging shut again. “Okay, you can open them!”

“I should head off anyway,” I said as I slipped my iPad back into my bag. “I need to have a shower before sound check.”

“Tell Sara first,” Therese said. “If anyone needs to know right now, it’s her.”

“You think so?”

Therese nodded. “Yeah.” I watched as she twisted the strap of her watch around her left wrist. “Plus I want to thank her. I can’t do that unless she knows.”

She is the cat’s mother,” Sara said as she came back out of the bathroom, dressed in jeans and a black T-shirt. She was towelling her hair dry as she walked.

“You sound like Mum,” I said.

Sara shrugged. “Someone has to.” She finished with her hair and ducked back into the bathroom, coming out with her comb. “You wanted to tell me something?”

“Nothing wrong with your ears then,” I said, and Sara gave me the finger. “Oh, that’s nice.”

“Well come on then, spill already.”

I glanced over at Therese for a second, and she gave me what I took to be an encouraging smile. “Therese is my sister,” I said, deciding to just come right out and say it.

At these words, Sara dropped her comb on the floor. “Holy shit,” she whispered. “Are you absolutely sure?”

“As certain as we can be for now,” Therese replied. “Your mom emailed him back – she told him what I knew already. It all matched.” I heard a breath catch in her throat. “He’s my brother, Sara. There’s no doubt about it.”

“Oh my God.” Sara put a hand over her mouth, and for a moment I thought she was going to pass out. “You found him.”

Therese nodded. “Yeah.”

It was right about then that Therese got to her feet, and she nearly ran across the room to Sara. “Thank you,” was all she said before throwing her arms around my sister. She almost sounded like she was about to start crying. “Thank you, Sara.”

“For what?” Sara asked.

“For being his family when I couldn’t. It means the world to me.”

It took a few moments, but Sara eventually returned Therese’s hug. “You’re welcome, Therese.”

I decided to take this as my cue to head off to my own room so I could start getting ready for that evening’s show. “I’ll see you two downstairs,” I said as I picked up my messenger bag and started heading for the door.

“Hang on a tick,” Sara said, and she snatched up her room key from what I figured was her bedside table before following me out into the corridor. “How are you feeling about all of this?” she asked me as soon as the door had swung closed behind us.

“Honestly?”

“Yeah.”

I leaned against the corridor wall as I thought about how to answer Sara’s question. “It’s overwhelming,” I admitted at last. “Two months ago I had no idea I was even adopted.” I let out a quiet laugh. “Hell, two weeks ago I didn’t know I had any other family.”

“I get that.” By now Sara had joined me in leaning against the wall. “We’re still good, right?”

“Of course we are. Why wouldn’t we be?”

“It’s just…” Sara started picking at the hem of her T-shirt. “I kept who you are a secret from you for nearly thirty years. I’m surprised you don’t hate me for that.”

“Sare…” I closed my eyes for a moment. “I could never hate you. You’re my sister for fuck’s sake.” I looked over at Sara. “And I don’t hate Mum and Dad either. I’m still pissed off at them for keeping my adoption from me for so long, but I don’t hate them. Mum filled in the missing pieces for me, how could I?”

The two of us were quiet for a little while, and I let my eyes drift closed again as the sounds of the hotel and the city settled around me – the quiet hum of the lift motors just down the corridor, people moving around their rooms, cars and trucks on the streets outside, and in the distance trains rattling along the nearby railway line and ferries cutting their way through the waters of Sydney Harbour.

“You won’t leave us, right?” Sara asked suddenly, and my eyes popped open again.

“Sara, listen to me.” I straightened up, turned to face Sara and put my hands on her shoulders. “Just because another part of who I am has fallen into place doesn’t mean I’m going to abandon you guys. I could never do that. You and Nate, and Mum and Dad are just as much my family as Therese is. Just as much as Kim and my kids are. I’ve made a life for myself here. I can’t imagine living anywhere else, or with anyone else. All right?”

Sara nodded. “Just making sure.”

“Yeah, I know.” I drew Sara close. “I’m glad you’re my sister.”

“Me too, Tay.” She gave me a quick, tight hug. “Go on, go get ready. I’ll see you downstairs soon.”

“See you.”

Nate poked his head out of the bathroom just as I slipped into our hotel room. “Hey,” he said, and I raised a hand in reply. “Thought you’d be back later.”

“Something came up.”

“I’m not sure I like the sound of that.”

“No, it’s a good something.” I sat down on the end of my bed and proceeded to study the toes of my sneakers. “Therese is my sister.”

“No way.” I looked up just in time to see Nate come out of the bathroom, half-dressed in jeans and with his hair damp. “Really?”

“We’re pretty sure she is, yeah.” I traced the pattern on the quilt with my right thumb. “Mum told me a few things about who I was before they adopted me, and Therese confirmed all of them.”

“Damn.”

“Yeah.”

“Are you going to find out for sure if she is or not?”

I nodded. “We both want to. I’m going to ask Kim if she has any ideas of how we’d go about finding something like that out. If anyone’s going to know about that sort of thing, she will.”

Here Nate let out a laugh. “You know what this means, don’t you?” he asked, snickering quietly, and at a raised eyebrow from me continued, “Therese said that Hanson are her cousins, right? Turns out they’re your cousins too.”

“Shit, they are too.” I let out a laugh of my own. “Sara’s going to freak when she figures that out.”

“If she hasn’t already, yep.” Nate gave me a smile that I mirrored. “Anyway, bathroom’s free if you want a shower.”

“Thanks mate.”

Nate gave me a quick salute and wandered over to his suitcase, dropped to his knees in front of it and started digging through his clothes.

Before my shower, I perched on the edge of the bathtub and scrolled through my phonebook. Kimberley’s name was about halfway down the list, and had a picture of a violet next to it – her favourite flower. I tapped it, bringing her full entry up onscreen, and hit dial.

“Hello?”

“Hey Kim,” I said. “I miss you.”

I swore I could see the smile on Kimberley’s face when she spoke again, just as I could hear it in her voice as I let it wash over me. It sounded like home. “I miss you too, Tay. How’s tour going?”

“Really well. We’ve got a show at the Opera House tonight.”

“No way.”

“Well, just in an amphitheatre on the forecourt, but close enough.” Kimberley let out a chuckle at this. “How’s the kids?”

“They’re good. They miss their dad.”

I swiped at my eyes as Kimberley said this. “I miss them too. Can’t wait to see you all next month.”

“Me too.”

I shifted out of my perch on the bathtub onto the cold tiled floor, and tipped my head back a little. “You remember how I told you that the Hanson guys brought their cousin along on tour?”

“Yeah?”

“I…” I squeezed my eyes shut against the entirely unwelcome sting of tears. “She’s my sister, Kim. I found my family.”

“Oh wow,” Kimberley breathed.

“Yeah.”

“That’s…” I could almost see Kimberley shaking her head. “Unbelievable, Tay. Un-effing-believable.”

“Tell me about it.” I shifted my phone to my other hand. “We’re almost certain that we’re related – I asked Mum about who I was before they adopted me, and she confirmed everything that Therese had already found out while she was looking for me. Plus I’m practically a mirror of her father.”

“But you want to find out for sure, yeah?”

“Yeah. Both of us want to. How would we go about doing that?”

Kimberley didn’t say anything for a little while, but I didn’t push her to talk – I knew she was thinking. “A DNA test,” she said finally. “That’d do it. You leave Sydney tomorrow, yeah?”

“Yep. We’re driving up to Newcastle in the morning, down to Wollongong on Thursday, and then we fly to Melbourne next Sunday.”

“Getting it done in Melbourne might be your best bet. I’ll see what I can look up, and I’ll ask around at work tomorrow as well.”

“Sounds good to me.” I eased myself back to my feet. “I’d better go. We’ve got sound check in a little while, and I still need to have a shower.”

“Okay. Have a good show.”

“Thanks, Kim. I’ll call you after.”

“Love you Tay.”

I smiled at this, even though I knew Kimberley couldn’t see it. “Love you too Kim.”