The ivory phone on Reuben’s desk alerted him to a caller in its shrill and unsubtle voice. It jolted him from his thoughts and it took him several seconds to register that someone was calling. He sighed, massaging his forehead with one hand as the other darted towards the phone.
‘Hello Dad, how are you?’
Reuben smiled and lent back into the office chair. ‘I’m feeling a little under the weather today darling, thank you for asking.’
‘I’m sorry I haven’t called recently. I started that new job I was telling you about last time and I’ve just been so busy.’
‘How are you finding your new job?’
‘It’s going quite well. Although the pay is terrible, I’m thoroughly enjoying it.’
Reuben laughed. ‘I’m not giving you a pay rise.’
‘Yes, it really is a good thing I love my job.’
‘So, how is Leah?’
‘Yes, Leah and Robin are both well and send their love.’ The called paused. ‘Leah’s twin sister Evelyn sends her love too.’
Reuben froze, his smile sliding from his face ‘What?’
The caller forced a tinkling excited giggle. ‘I know! Isn’t it lovely to have something in common with your future step-daughter? What are the odds that she would be a twin like me?’
‘Are you fucking serious?’
‘I know, I know! Leah and Evelyn are identical though, unlike myself and Caleb. Such a surprising coincidence, don’t you think?’
A bell chimed through the speakers of Reuben’s computer, signalling an email.
‘No, no, she doesn’t live here,’ chimed Hope’s voice. ‘She lives in Los Angeles.’
Reuben buried his head in his free hand. ‘Shit.’
‘I was thinking of introducing her to Aelia.’
‘Aelia is on a plane home,’ muttered Reuben into his hand.
‘That’s a shame. I thought Aelia was staying out there for another month.’
‘Are you one hundred percent sure there’s a twin?’
‘Shit.’ Reuben brought his hand away from his face and tapped his desk. ‘They told me she had had one child.’
Reuben frowned at the silence. ‘Hope?’
‘There’s a beautiful silver Sedan parked across the street. You know, the kind I considered buying.’
Reuben sat up straight. ‘A silver Sedan?’
‘Yes. It’s one of those with a personalised number plate.’
‘Is it one of them?’
‘I’m not really sure.’
Reuben stood, the office chair bumping the wall behind it. ‘How long has it been there?’
‘I’m not sure. I may go over and see if the owner can tell me more about them.’
‘Do not leave the house, Hope,’ commanded Reuben. He strode around his desk to the door and flung it open. ‘Caleb! Get in the car! Hope, stay in the house. Call Orla - we’re on our way.’
‘Well okay then. You should’ve told me you were in the middle of watching the golf when I rang. Enjoy the rest of the game,’ replied Hope, her voice overly bright. ‘Speak to you soon, Dad. Love you.’
Leah crept into her bedroom, flicked the light switch and closed the door quietly. She padded over to her bed with her mobile pressed to her ear. Leah heard the click of a lighter on the other end as she sat down on her bed, pulling a throw around her. ‘She disappears in the middle of the night. She likes her steaks rare, and by rare I mean she likes it alive –’
‘So she likes rare steak. I like rare steak,’ said Evelyn, inhaling. ‘Why are you whispering?’
‘Because Hope is downstairs and I don’t want her to hear me.’
‘What? She won’t be able to hear you if you’re upstairs.’
‘I don’t want to take any chances. Dad might hear me.’
Evelyn exhaled a mixture of smoke and exasperation. ‘Fine. So what else is new?’
Leah tapped her foot on the floor. ‘I found a small tub of blood in the fridge.’
‘Wow,’ said Evelyn, laughter hiding in her voice. ‘Did you ask her about it?’
‘Said she drained it from the chicken we’d had for lunch.’
Inhale. ‘That’s plausible.’
‘How many people do you know who keep chicken blood in their fridge?
‘L.A. baby, anything’s possible.’
'I guess,’ said Leah, picking at a loose thread on the throw. ‘Do chickens from a butcher’s still have blood in them?’
Evelyn sighed. ‘I don’t know.’
‘I’m going to Google it.’
‘Great,’ replied Evelyn, exhaling as a muffled male voice called to her. ‘Look, that’s the runner. I need to go back to the set.’
‘Leaves, I need you to come home.’
‘Why?’ asked Evelyn, her tone suddenly hard. ‘Leah, I’m sorry that you’re stuck there in this shitty situation but you’re just going to have to deal with it. You’re determined to hate this woman you know nothing about. Did you know that’s she’s also a twin?’
‘How do you know that?’
‘Because I have conversations with her!’ cried Evelyn, irritation crashing through her voice. ‘Stop obsessing over every detail.’
‘So a pot of blood in the fridge is perfectly normal is it?’ snapped Leah. ‘I’m concerned that our new Mother could be dangerous –,’
‘Dangerous?’ shrieked Evelyn. ‘Because she eats rare steaks and leaves the occasional pot of blood in the fridge?’ The muffled male voice called to Evelyn again. ‘I have to go now.’
‘Fine.’ Leah pushed her finger into the mobiles’ screen to end the call. It wasn’t as satisfying as punching her finger onto a button. Frustration ploughed through Leah’s body. Teeth clenched, she stared at the phone in her hand and then glanced up at the opposite wall. She closed her eyes and sucked in a deep lungful of air.
Hope shouted up the stairs, agitation etched into her tone. A loud, short sharp crack sounded from the back of the house, followed by the tinkering of shattered glass. More shouts; female and male voices smashed together as the unknown intruders fought their way in.
Leah leaped towards her door, the throw slipping off her shoulders trailing behind her, and yanked it open.