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Lanterns

Chapter Text

As we walk out
Without question, without doubt
In the light that we have found
It is finally clear
Our day has come
And we'll stand for who we are
We are ready, we are young
We have nothing to fear

Lanterns – Birds Of Tokyo


Chapter 1

Ruby

Whoever it was that invented the beeping sound that alarm clocks make must not have been loved as a child. Nobody comes up with something that evil without deep-seated childhood issues.

The harsh, discordant beeping of the aforementioned alarm clock reverberated around what passed for my bedroom, the curtains hung at my windows and the carpet on the floor doing nothing to deaden the noise. It was so loud that I half-expected either of my neighbours to start banging on the walls telling me to shut the damn thing off. I yanked one of my pillows out from under my head and slammed it down over my face in an attempt to block out the noise. No such luck. I lifted the pillow back off my face and proceeded to glare at my alarm clock, my gaze fixed firmly on its glowing red digits.

“Oh would you shut up?” I croaked at it, as if it weren’t just an inanimate object and could actually comply with my order. It kept right on beeping at me, of course, just as it did every morning until I got fed up with it enough to finally hit the off switch. Which, like every morning, took me the grand total of one minute. I resisted the ever-present temptation to fling it across the room once it had been silenced, instead giving it one final baleful look before reaching for my mobile phone. It immediately started vibrating in my hand, the opening credits music from Doctor Who blasting from its speaker and Lis – Mobile on its screen. I bit back a sigh and answered it. “Hello?”

“Oh good, you’re up.”

“Good morning Lisbeth, how are you today?” I said pointedly.

I could almost see Lisbeth scowling at her phone – and by extension, scowling at me – before she spoke again. “You like Hanson, right?” she asked.

“That’s a stupid question,” I replied as I pushed myself upright, my right hand acting as a lever against my mattress. “You know damn well that I’ve liked them since Year 7.”

“Well, I have a spare ticket to their show at the UniBar tonight if you’re interested. I think it’s their last show of the year.”

“I thought they already did a tour this year.” This was said as I attempted to manoeuvre myself toward the side of my bed without jarring my joints more than they had been already. I hadn’t even been awake for five minutes and I was already aching. I squeezed my eyes shut as pain rocketed down my legs. The sooner I could get my daily dose of painkillers into me, the better. “Because I definitely remember seeing them at the Hi-Fi and the Enmore in the middle of September.”

“That was just the capital cities,” Lisbeth said. “They’re winding up their New South Wales regional tour tonight.” I could almost see her raise an eyebrow at me. “And you call yourself a fan. Didn’t you know they were going to be touring again?”

“Bite me, Lis.”

“No thanks, I already ate,” was Lisbeth’s cheerful response. “But anyway, the show’s at eight – I can pick you up at six if you like so we can grab dinner on the way.”

“You don’t need to pick me up that early,” I reminded her. “The uni’s like ten minutes over from me in case you’d forgotten.”

“Two words – Crust Pizza,” Lisbeth said. “And Cold Rock for dessert before we make tracks to the uni for the show.”

I considered this for a few moments. “Okay, either you got paid early or your Austudy went up massively,” I said. “Because usually there’s no way you’d be suggesting Crust Pizza or Cold Rock. I know how expensive they both are.”

“It’s called a job, Ruby. So are you coming tonight or not?”

I let out an almost inaudible sigh. “Okay, yes, I’ll come. Anything to get out of this place for the night.”

“Sweet,” Lisbeth said, sounding pleased with herself. “See you tonight, then.”

“Yeah, see you tonight,” I echoed. We both hung up at almost the same moment, and I tossed my phone down to the end of my bed. The temptation to just crawl back into bed with my heat pack was extremely strong, but I knew very well that if I didn’t take my medication soon I would find it more than a little difficult to function that afternoon, let alone that evening. I let out a quiet sigh and eased myself to my feet, wincing the whole way, and stood still for a few moments to make sure I wasn’t about to fall over. Only once I was absolutely certain I would be able to move without my knees giving out on me did I leave the side of my bed and draw open the screen that closed my ‘bedroom’ off from the rest of my caravan.

I was probably the first person to admit that a younger version of me would never have considered calling a caravan park home. Not in a million years. In my very limited experience it was a place of last resort, a dumping ground of sorts for people who couldn’t find a house or flat to rent, or a temporary home for those who were waiting for their place on the lengthy Housing NSW waiting list to come up. But after having called site 159 at Bellambi Beach Caravan Village home for the last six years, I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. It was a little cramped – my caravan had just enough room for a double bed, a little kitchenette that consisted of a pantry, a microwave, a stovetop and oven and a refrigerator, a tiny wardrobe, a small kitchen table set close to the left-hand wall and a bench seat along one side of the table – but I also had an annexe that doubled as a lounge room and a little bathroom built onto the side of the annexe, both of which served to make my little home feel a lot bigger than it really was. It wasn’t perfect, but it was mine for as long as I was able to keep up with my rent – that much had been made clear when I had signed the lease – and that was all that mattered to me.

I had my breakfast made in almost no time – three Weet-Bix with plenty of milk and raw sugar, zapped in the microwave, and a banana sliced on top – and set out on my kitchen table. I normally reserved this sort of breakfast for winter mornings, but the thermometer I’d mounted on the outside of my kitchen window a few years ago indicated it was fairly chilly outside. So even though it was the beginning of December and therefore should have been beginning to warm up, I felt perfectly justified in a hot breakfast this morning. Beside my bowl was a glass of orange juice, a spoon and the two pill packets that contained my daily doses of medication. I gave the pill packets a half-hearted glare as I sat down at the table. I hated that I needed to be on medication just to be able to function normally each day, but I considered the alternative of being stuck in bed almost constantly to be far less preferable. At least this way, I was able to go into town or over to the beach whenever I wanted or needed to.

A knock sounded at the front door of the annexe right as I swallowed my second pill for the day. Moments later I heard the clicking of nails on linoleum as my assistance dog, a black Labrador named Sadie, came up into the caravan and looked at me expectantly. “Yeah Sadie, I heard it too,” I told her, and gave her a scratch behind the ears before getting back to my feet. “It’s probably Mrs. Canning from across the road bitching that I had the TV turned up too loud last night.”

Somewhat to my surprise, it wasn’t the aforementioned Mrs. Canning. I figured it was too early in the day for her to be bitching and moaning about the evening activities of one of the caravan park’s youngest tenants. Instead, it was one half of the couple who lived to my immediate right.

“Hi Loretta,” I said once I’d opened my front door. Loretta and her husband William were probably two of my favourite people in the whole of the Village – I considered them to be surrogate grandparents, given that both sets of my grandparents lived interstate and I therefore got to see them very rarely. Loretta in particular was always coming up with ways of getting me to stop being such a hermit, her favourite being to take me grocery shopping whenever she was headed over to the shops in Corrimal. I never had the heart to turn her down, even though I had a car and my licence and was therefore quite capable of getting myself out to the shops.

“Good morning Ruby,” Loretta said with a smile, one I readily returned. “I was wondering if you were doing anything today.”

I shook my head. “Nothing beyond planting myself on the lounge with my heat pack and watching really trashy daytime TV.”

“Oh dear, is your knee bothering you again?” Loretta asked, sounding concerned.

“Just a little bit. I think it’s going to rain again soon. I can deal with it though. What did you have in mind?”

“Grocery shopping in Corrimal for an hour or so,” Loretta replied. “Then lunch at the Palm Court Hotel if you like – my treat.”

“You don’t mind treating me to lunch?” I asked. “I don’t mind paying my share.”

“Of course I don’t mind,” Loretta assured me. “You keep your money. I’m sure you need it to buy Christmas presents.”

“Yeah, maybe you’re right,” I agreed. I’d actually already bought Christmas presents for my friends and everyone in my family, but Loretta didn’t necessarily need to know that. “What time were you thinking of heading out?”

“Let’s say…” Loretta trailed off, and I knew she was considering her answer. “How does ten-thirty sound? The Palm Court’s restaurant opens for lunch an hour after that.”

“That sounds good to me,” I replied. It worked in my favour nicely – I still needed to have my breakfast and write out a shopping list, and I also wanted to have a shower. A sneaky glance at Loretta’s watch gave the time as a quarter to eight. I would basically have an hour and a half to get everything done, but in all honesty it didn’t take me that long to wash my hair. “So I’ll see you at ten-thirty, then.”

“See you then, Ruby,” Loretta said with one final smile, and she turned to head back to her own caravan. I closed my front door once she was out of sight and headed back to my breakfast.

I was ready for my shopping expedition with Loretta in what seemed like no time at all. My hair was squeaky clean and tamed enough to be pulled back into its usual plait, I’d dragged my well-worn jeans and my favourite T-shirt out of my wardrobe, and my shopping list was written down in my notebook. Right as I finished stowing everything I needed in my handbag, I could see Sadie sitting next to the lounge and watching me almost expectantly. “You want to come too, Sadie?” I asked, knowing full well that I could get away with it and that Loretta wouldn’t mind. Her answering bark was all the response I needed, and I grinned. “Stupid question, right?” I said, speaking rhetorically, and went to fetch Sadie’s jacket and lead and my walking stick from up in the caravan.

Loretta was sitting on the wooden bench outside her and William’s front door when Sadie and I arrived next door at the time we’d agreed. “Is it okay if Sadie comes along?” I asked her.

“Of course it’s okay,” Loretta assured me, as I reckoned she would. “She looks very smart today. Shall we head out, then?”

“Sounds good to me,” I agreed. “Sadie, car,” I commanded, dropping her lead and shifting into what I called my ‘handler mode’. Loretta had the back door of her car open by now, and Sadie immediately darted forward, lead trailing behind her the whole way. She hopped up onto the car’s back seat and sat up, patiently awaiting my next command. “Down,” was my next command, accompanied by my left hand moving sharply downward. She immediately lay down on the car’s back seat, just as she’d learned during the time we had spent training together. “Good girl,” I said to her, giving her a scratch behind the ears, and closed the back door once I’d made sure her lead wasn’t trailing outside the car.

The drive between the caravan park and Corrimal Court was relatively uneventful, save for the odd traffic jam, and soon we were wandering around Woolworths collecting our groceries for the week. I had tied Sadie’s lead around the top rail on the right-hand side of my trolley so that she could keep pace alongside. Not surprising for a Thursday morning, the supermarket was pretty much packed with people, and reminded me exactly why I tended to do my grocery shopping on a Tuesday morning instead.

“Have you made any plans for Christmas?” Loretta asked as the two of us wandered down the bread aisle.

“I’ll probably spend the day at my parents’ house,” I replied. I paused in front of the loaves of bread, studied them for a few moments and picked up a loaf of multigrain. “I haven’t really thought about it yet, though. Odds are I’ll get things sorted next week sometime – shouldn’t take me too long.” The loaf of bread went into my trolley, next to a six-pack of English muffins, and I gave Loretta a smile before leading the way down the aisle.

True to Loretta’s word, as soon as we had finished and paid for our shopping – three litres of orange juice and a box of frozen raspberries had been the last items on my list – we loaded our groceries into Loretta’s car and headed next door to the Palm Court Hotel. “Now don’t forget, this is my treat,” Loretta reminded me as we headed inside, bypassing the poker machines and heading straight upstairs to the pub’s restaurant. “You pick whatever you like, and don’t worry about paying me back later on.”

The restaurant was quiet, with just a few people seated at its tables – considering it was mid-morning on a Thursday, I wasn’t surprised – and so Loretta and I were seated quickly. Sadie had lain down under our table at a command from me, her lead tied around one of the table’s legs, and I soon set about deciding what I wanted for lunch. Knowing Lisbeth as well as I ought to have by that point, the two of us would end up stuffing ourselves at dinner – I therefore didn’t want to have too much for my lunch. The trick therefore would be figuring out what meals on the menu would constitute ‘too much’ and steering well clear of them.

“I think I’ll have the chicken Caesar salad,” Loretta decided, setting her menu down as she spoke.

“I have no idea what I want,” I admitted. There were a few things that appealed to me, but nothing really stood out as something I might want to have for my lunch. “Chicken pad Thai,” I decided after a little bit of thought. I wasn’t all that keen on egg or tofu, but I was hungry and I figured I could just eat around them. Besides which, I hadn’t had Thai food in a while – it sounded like a nice change from what I normally ate of a lunchtime.

Once the waitress who had seated us had taken down our orders and headed off to the kitchen, I decided the time was right to ask Loretta something I hadn’t asked of anyone in a few months.

“Loretta, I was wondering if I could ask a small favour,” I said, feeling a little bit hesitant. I wasn’t entirely sure why I felt this way, but I definitely didn’t like it much.

“Of course you can, Ruby.”

I gave Loretta a small smile. “I’m going to a concert tonight,” I said. “One of my friends has a spare ticket and she talked me into coming with her.”

“Who are you going to see?”

The hesitant feeling returned, but this time I knew exactly why I felt that way. Even after fifteen years, making this sort of musical confession wasn’t taken well by many people. “Hanson,” I replied, feeling my ears beginning to burn.

“Oh, those brothers from Newcastle?” Loretta asked, and I nodded in relief. I should have known Loretta would never have made fun of me. William, on the other hand, was a different story entirely.

“Yeah. They’re playing at the UniBar at the university tonight, and I don’t want to take Sadie with me – it’ll be a bit too loud for her. Could you and William watch her for me?”

“I don’t see why not. When were you planning to head out?”

“I have a friend picking me up at around six-thirty,” I replied. “I have no idea what time I’ll be home though, the last time I went to a Hanson concert it didn’t let out until after eleven at night. It probably won’t be until eleven-thirty at the absolute earliest.”

“Well, William at the very least will still be awake around then. You have my mobile number?” Loretta asked, and I nodded. “Good. You send me a text when you’re on your way back, and we’ll have Sadie ready for you to take home.”

“Thanks Loretta,” I said. “I really appreciate it.”

“It’s no problem at all,” she assured me.

Late that afternoon back at the caravan park, I stood in front of the long mirror that ran along the wall above the sinks in the ladies’ amenities block, staring at my reflection. Lisbeth was due to pick me up in roughly half an hour, though I had absolutely no intent of heading out to the carpark until I knew she was on her way.

For some unfathomable reason, it had taken me hours to decide what I was going to wear tonight. It normally wasn’t so difficult for me to decide – I pretty much lived in my jeans and various T-shirts, and that was what I tended to wear out to concerts. Instead of falling back on my usual concert uniform I had emptied out my wardrobe, the storage boxes and the two suitcases I kept under my bed, and had pawed through all of my clothes in search of something halfway decent to wear. Evidently my subconscious had decided that since tonight was Hanson’s final show of 2012 (according to Lisbeth, anyhow), I needed to make an impression – and that said impression meant I needed to wear a skirt of all things.

“This had better be worth it,” I grumbled to myself as I tried to yank the hem of my skirt down to my knees. That in itself was an exercise in futility, not to mention that because I had opted to be sensible and wear leggings under my skirt a little pointless. Over my skirt and leggings I wore a maroon T-shirt with an intricate Celtic design on the front worked in black velvet. A black knitted cap and my cranberry Converse sneakers rounded out my outfit for the evening.

There really was no point in hanging around staring at my reflection for the rest of the afternoon, I decided, so I gathered up the clothes I’d worn out to Corrimal along with all the paraphernalia I had brought up to the amenities block with me. It was time for me to head back to my caravan and finish getting ready for the concert.

My phone’s text message tone sounded off just as I finished packing my handbag with everything I would need for tonight – camera, my mobile phone’s powerbank and cord, hairbrush, my little pocket notebook, a couple of pens, wallet and my keys. As I’d expected, the text message in question was from Lisbeth. Leaving woonona now – be there in 10 mins or so. I clicked back to my phone’s home screen, locked it and slipped it into my handbag, and looped my handbag’s strap around my neck so it sat on my left shoulder. Sadie was already next door with Loretta and William, so all I needed to do was grab my walking stick and one of my cardigans, lock up and head up to the carpark.

Lisbeth arrived right on six-thirty, her car pulling into an empty space in the carpark not far from the reception office. I looked back over my shoulder from reading the notices that had been posted on the office’s noticeboard just in time to see Lisbeth sticking her head out of the driver’s side window of her car. “Move your arse Ruby!” she yelled. I gave her the finger in response and headed over to her car.

“Looking to try cracking onto Zac tonight, are we?” I asked when I spotted what Lisbeth was wearing. She wore all black – a short black skirt with a row of sequins along the hem, a sleeveless black top, and gladiator sandals. Her short, dark brown hair was pulled back under a headband that had a black rose sewn onto it. “You know damn well he’s taken.”

“I could say the same for you with Taylor,” Lisbeth retorted.

“Taylor isn’t married though,” I said airily. “That’s the difference.”

Lisbeth scowled at me in response and put her car into reverse gear. “I put your ticket in my handbag,” she said as she reversed her car out of its parking space. “Don’t let me forget to give it to you when we get to the uni, I’d hate for you to miss this.” She looked sidelong at me for a brief moment. “You look great, by the way.”

“Thanks, Lis,” I said with a smile. “So what do you think we should expect from tonight? Especially as it’s the last night of this tour.”

“I couldn’t honestly say,” Lisbeth said with a shrug. “I’ve never been to the last show on any of their tours. Almost got to go and see them in Freo back in September but…” Here Lisbeth shrugged. “Couldn’t afford my ticket, my airfare and however much it would cost me to stay in a hotel for a couple of nights, so I didn’t bother.”

“I’d have thought they’d play their last show in Newy, though,” I said. “Seeing as that’s where they’re from and all.”

“Yeah, I did too.” We had stopped at the intersection of Rothery Street and Cawley Street by this point, waiting for a gap in the traffic so that Lisbeth could drive around the roundabout. The traffic was unusually heavy for a Thursday evening, but I put that down to there being quite a few Hanson fans living in Wollongong who were attending tonight’s concert. “But I’m not complaining if it means I get to see them one more time before they go on their summer break.”

“No complaints here either.” My phone chimed, its tone signifying that my Twitter timeline had just been updated. In among the new updates, I saw once I had pulled my phone back out of my bag and checked my Twitter app, was one from Hanson. “They just finished sound check,” I said, paraphrasing the tweet for Lisbeth.

“Sweet,” Lisbeth said. “Maybe they’ll actually start on time tonight.”

“I wouldn’t count on it,” I said, putting my phone away as I spoke. “Three words Lis – Hanson Standard Time.”

“Good point,” Lisbeth conceded.

We arrived at Crust Pizza at around five minutes to seven, after Lisbeth had spent ten or so minutes attempting to find a parking spot in Wollongong City Council’s carpark, to find that the restaurant was absolutely packed. Here and there I could see the odd person wearing Hanson T-shirts, which led me to believe that just about everyone who was attending tonight’s concert had had the same idea as Lisbeth and I.

“Oh this is just fucking marvellous,” Lisbeth groaned as we joined the queue that snaked out of the restaurant’s front door. “Remind me again why I suggested this?”

“Because you’re too cashed up for your own good?” I teased.

“Funny, Ruby.” Lisbeth raised herself up onto tiptoes in an attempt to peer over the heads of everyone in line in front of us. “I think we’d be better off just getting a takeaway pizza and heading up to McCabe Park or something. I don’t like our chances of getting a table. There’s too many people here.”

“Yeah, I think you’re right,” I agreed. “We’d never make it to the uni on time otherwise.”

It took what felt like hours for our place in line to even make it inside the restaurant. I had been staring at my phone, catching up on Twitter and Facebook, when the unthinkable happened – both of my knees gave out on me at almost exactly the same moment. I didn’t even have a chance to steady myself. My phone and walking stick both went flying off to parts unknown as I hit the deck, landing squarely and very hard on my backside.

“Holy shit Ruby, are you okay?” Lisbeth asked as she crouched down next to me.

“I think so,” I said, wincing as I tried to stand up. My knees refused to work, however, which I immediately took as a very bad sign. “Okay, bad idea. I’m not okay.”

“I think that may be the understatement of the year,” Lisbeth said. “Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. Do you want me to drive you home?”

“Fuck no. I didn’t get dressed up just to spend tonight on the lounge watching TV. I don’t give two shits if I have to sit down for the whole show, I am not missing out on it.” I sighed. “I should have brought my wheelchair instead of my walking stick. Should have guessed this would happen.”

“Do you want me to go back to your place and get it?” Lisbeth asked as she helped me back to my feet. Someone had found a chair by this point, and I sank down onto it gratefully.

I shook my head. “I’ll be right. I just need to sit down for a bit. Did you see where my phone and walking stick got to, by the way?”

Before Lisbeth could answer me, a pair of hands came into my line of sight – one held my mobile phone, looking surprisingly unharmed after its impromptu trip through the air, and the other had a firm grip on my walking stick. “I think these might be yours,” a very familiar voice said.

“Holy shit,” I heard Lisbeth whisper behind me. She sounded positively awestruck, and when I looked up I realised exactly why.

Standing in front of me, holding my mobile phone and walking stick and looking just a little concerned, was Taylor Hanson.

“Yeah, they’re mine,” I said once I’d found my voice. “Thanks.”

Taylor grinned, and he handed my phone and walking stick over. “No worries. You okay? You took a bit of a tumble there.”

I nodded quickly, only regretting the movement of my head for a moment. “I’ll be okay. S’like I told her, I just need to sit down for a little bit.” I jerked my right thumb over my shoulder at Lisbeth. “Not the first time it’s happened.”

“Yeah, but it’s the first time you’ve fallen on your arse in front of a hot guy,” Lisbeth said, and I immediately reached back and smacked her. “Ow!”

Taylor seemed to take Lisbeth’s remark in stride, much to my relief. “Are you coming to the show tonight?” he asked.

“Yep,” Lisbeth replied. “Been looking forward to it since the regional tour was announced. This one here though” she poked me in the shoulder “had no idea until I gave her a bell this morning.”

“Not my fault I’ve been busy with TAFE,” I grumbled.

“Uh-huh,” Lisbeth said, not sounding quite convinced of my excuse. “Likely story, Ruby.”

“Well, it’s good to hear that you’ll be there,” Taylor said. He sounded pleased that we’d be at the concert. “I should head out – it was good to meet you both.”

“You too, Taylor,” Lisbeth said. He gave us one final smile before heading off through the crowd that packed the restaurant.

“Holy fuck,” Lisbeth said in awe once Taylor was gone. “Please tell me I didn’t imagine that.”

“You didn’t imagine it,” I said. I held my walking stick almost reverently – it had nearly faded, the cold of the aluminium replacing the warmth that had leached into it, but I could still feel where Taylor had held it. I took hold of the handle, gripping it firmly, and used it for leverage against the floor as I pushed myself back to my feet. My knees still felt a little shaky, but I wasn’t about to fall arse over teakettle again anytime soon. “Come on, let’s get our dinner. I’m fucking starving.”