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Rearview Mirror Saints

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“Dad, are you forgetting something?” He looked up at Elle, grimacing. Time’s ‘a wastin’ if he and the newest Robinson want to be at the prison in time for the meeting with RobRob. 

The years have been good to Paul Robinson, despite what his son had tried to do to him. Elle’s father had always been handsome (he would have had to have been to create her), but even now his hair is greyer, his eyes tireder and with more than a few head injuries he looked like the lady killer he’d been in his youth. Still sharp jawed, still immaculately shaven and hair styled with the air of im-better-than-you vanity he’d always been known for. Much to her great disappointment, however, he’d gone back to suits. As his memory had come back, he’d retreated from the more fashionable, smart casual, country club chic outfits she’d picked out for him and back to his old reliable. But he seems happier, he always is when one of his kids is living with him. 

Truth was her and Dad’s relationship had fallen into the old trap of being comfortable. She’d fought so hard for their relationship and then she’d lost it. Through sheer carelessness. Things had been so much better with both of them making time for weekly Skype calls. Many long nights had been spent, lounging around, putting on her many and varied creams and lotions while Dad caught her up on the latest Robinson exploits and she told him what trouble Donna and Annie had been up to while he was away. Things were better, they were back in a good place and with the glittering lights of the city that never slept having outstayed their welcome coming home had finally felt right. 

Dad had been right all those years ago, brown rice with Mum only held so much appeal. Not to mention the fact that Robert and Cameron haunted every inch of that house, their old things, old clothes, old pictures and all the people they used to know. Anyway: She had a niece and a brother she wanted to get to know. Step-Mum too, though so far Terese had not wanted much to do with her. Maybe she was still mad over the wedding thing. Whatever - There was plenty of time to make that up to her. 

“No I don’t...Oh.” He crossed to the couch she was seated on and pressed a kiss onto her cheek. “Love you, darling.” She patted him on the arm with one hand.

“I love you too, Dad but that’s not what you’re forgetting.” Dad tucked his phone away to raise one eyebrow. Then, he entered the kitchen where his wife was seated at the kitchen table tapping away on a keyboard. She heard him repeat what he’d said to her, followed by the same kiss but louder and more passion. No one could ever accuse them of having a dull marriage. 

“Happy now?” He asked, re-entering the sitting room as Harlow descended the stairs, re-tying the bow on the front of her dress, which was a colour Elle would consider Fuschia. It was hideous, but she was kind of making it work. It’s too much of one colour, call her old fashioned but Elle liked a nice pattern to break things up. It was a sign she was in her thirties, not understanding what the kids are wearing these days just like Mum hadn’t got the appeal of low rise jeans and Juicy sweatpants.  

“That isn’t what you’re forgetting.” She said again, as he began patting down his pockets. “Keys, Dad. For the car?” His lips parted into a small ‘ah’ shape and he hurried towards the backyard he’d just come from, correctly guessing that he’d left them on the back table. “You look nice.” She said, turning to look at Harlow who was adjusting a stretchy elastic headband. It makes her look like a child allowed to straighten her hair for the first time.

“Thank you.” Harlow said, and looked Elle up and down before replying, “So do you.” A white pants and houndstooth top combination is hardly groundbreaking, Donna would say it was boring. She’d say something like ‘At least Harlow is experimenting! What happened, Elle? You used to be fun!’  She’d expected things to be awkward between herself and the daughter of the man who tried to kill her, but...suffice to say Dad had been right. Harlow was a Robinson, and Elle liked her. She was whip-smart, but...Kind. An unusual trait for their branch of the family tree and not from Rob that was for damn sure. “Are you sure you don’t want to come with us?” Harlow asked for the umpteenth time. Harlow had been asking for Elle to tag along for her prison visit, and each time Elle had returned with a firm but polite ‘No, thank you.’ 

“Yes, I’m sure.” She offered no additional ammunition with the statement, “Anyway, isn’t it meant to be daddy-daughter time? I’d probably just get in the way.” 

“He really wants to see you.” Harlow said, “He asks about you all the time on the phone.” It didn’t strictly surprise her that Robert was asking after her; if he was looking for a way to get back at Dad then going through his youngest daughter was a time tested way to get to him. And if - by unlikely chance - he had changed into an honest man then it was only natural that he’d be asking after his triplet sister. She found it easy to believe Rob was feeding Harlow false or...Unflattering information about her, and the only way to defend herself was to come and tell Harlow herself. But it seemed RobSquared was either not holding a grudge or had surmised that Harlow was much smarter than he was. Whatever the case was, Harlow hadn’t rejected her on sight. Since it seemed Rob wasn’t on the offensive with her, for right now, she was content to not see him. The war between them was over now. 

“Well, for today at least Rob can keep asking. I’m not ready to see him.” And that was the truth. Harlow may have suckered Dad in for a kiss and make-up but Elle didn’t want a bar of it. She didn’t need to see him to know he was as deranged as ever. 

“He reads all your articles.” Harlow persisted, “He says your one on parental alienation was particularly enlightening.” Interesting choice, but that article actually hadn’t been about parental alienation, but instead about one specific case in which a mother convinced her son to kill his father. Rob is smart and probably did read her work if only out of boredom. If she’d wanted to convince someone she was no longer harbouring homicidal intentions it’s the article she would have picked as well. Which makes her suspicious. 

“I’m always grateful for copies sold, but I’m not interested. Just tell him I’m doing fine, and that maybe I’ll send him another postcard when I get back to New York if he wants one.” 

“Another postcard?” Dad asked, and even without looking she could hear the frown in his voice. It’s a particular sort of tone, one he uses when he’s concerned but doesn’t want you to know he’s concerned. He has no reason to be, she didn’t send it to tell him she loved him. She just wanted him to know that she was living a fabulously happy and fulfilling life in New York City and he was rotting in a jail cell. Irrespective of if that were true or not.

“Thought I should send something for the big Three - Oh.” She replied casually, “Just a little wish you were here thing I brought on Coney Island. I sent one to everyone.” 

“Yes, it’s on the mirror in our bedroom.” Terese said from the kitchen, “The carousel, right?” 

“You kept it? That’s sweet.” 

“I’ve kept everything you kids have ever given me,” Dad said, and with five kids and two grandkids, she can’t think it’s a small amount of stuff. It reminds her that she should bring the pictures she had developed for the family album from the hotel next time she comes over. There were some great ones in there, Dad dressed as an elf, for example. And her PhD graduation, Donna with her arms stretched above her head in a giant Y shape, caught mid whoop. Riley with his arms around her waist and his chin on her shoulder, looking as handsome as ever.  Aunty Lucy laughing, wearing her graduation cap, cuddling Annie in close for the picture. Some of the good ones taken when she and Amy went to the Statue of Liberty with Jimmy. Amy had one arm around her shoulders, the other around Jimmy who stood between them looking suitably embarrassed by his mother and new aunt. 

“You’re going soft, Daddy.” 

“Ha ha. Harlow, are we leaving?” 

“Elle, are you still holding on to anger about what Dad did?” Harlow asked, her eyes taking an intense look to them, and her eyebrows creeping closer together. She looks earnest, it pains Elle to know she’s about to hurt her feelings. 

“You could say that.” A strange sort of cold sensation made its way along the outside of her arms, unpleasant and tingling. It was anger, in part. It was also hurt, betrayal, and sadness. A bone cutting sadness that she has never been able to shake. 

“Elle doesn’t have to go visit Robert if she doesn’t want to,” Dad said as if he were explaining it to a very small child. Harlow was not deterred from her line of questioning. 

“Why? He wants to make things right. Please come see him.” 

“I’m allowed to be angry over the things that happen to me.” She said, bluntly. “And I don’t have to justify that to you or to anyone.” Perhaps sensing the same disruption that Elle was feeling Terase appeared in the space between the new fireplace and the bookshelf. She makes concerning eye contact with Dad, before looking back and taking one of her hands into the other and twisting her wedding ring to ensure that the diamonds face the front. Raising three of her own children had clearly given her an advanced understanding of conflict resolution. 

“Yes, you are.” Terese says, “And Elle’s only been home a week. I think you should give her time to settle in a bit more before you start taking her to prison.” 

“We need to get going if we want to be on time,” Dad repeated. His eyebrows were angled downwards and dominated most of his face. His grip on the car keys is white-knuckled now. Rob always makes them like this, tense and brittle. He still manages to ruin things, and he’s been in jail for over a decade. It does make her angry, but there’s no point putting that anger on Harlow. She’s just a kid who loves her dad; Elle’s been there and done that. Getting upset with her would only ruin the friendship they’ve been cultivating or upsetting Dad and Terese. Both, probably and seeing as she’s already on thin ice….

“You need to let go of your anger,” Harlow advised, and to make this all so much worse the open, truthfulness of what she must surely think is meaningful advice is visible in her open expression and the way her hands have landed on Elle’s knee. They’re warm, and Elle can feel it through the material of her white trousers. If it were that easy to make amends with Rob then she would have just done it already. 

“Fine. Anger’s gone now. Just like that, I have forgiven and forgotten, now get going before Dad changes his mind.” She said, and Harlow, seeing she wasn’t getting anywhere other than under Elle’s skin stood up and sighed. Knowing when to give up, she probably got that from her mother. She stuck one hand in her pocket and slung her cross-body bag over her shoulder before crossing to Dad who looked relieved to have avoided whatever meltdown he thought was going to occur. His wife straightened out the bow on the side of her wrap dress and gave Elle an approving nod. 

Perhaps she’d find her way onto Terese’s Christmas card list yet. 

But until then she had an afternoon of editing ahead of her for her last New York article. Preferably here on the couch, while she waited for the pasta Dad had promised to rustle up for dinner, and then after that, she figured she could get a ride back to Lassiters to call it a night. If Dad had his way then she’d be staying here but emptying the office just for her when she’s not even sure how long she’ll be staying is just going to push Terese further away and if she gets far enough away then she will take Dad with her. 

After pausing to crack her knuckles in a way she knew would annoy Dad, Elle reached out for her laptop that was sitting on the other side of the couch to her. Riley grins at her from the lock screen, face hidden under large sunglasses, the salty spray of the ocean making the scene picturesque. She’d snapped that one on a boat in Indonesia, where they’d both had a stopover on their way to the next job. He blurred as she hit enter to bring up the password box. Pausing at the door held open for her by Dad, Harlow turned back around to look at Elle. Not knowing what to do, she held her gaze with a questioning eyebrow raised. 

“Are you sure you’re sure?” 

“Really are a Robinson aren’t you?” She said, amused. “Yes, I’m sure.” Harlow’s face got intense, and it was easy to see how she convinced Dad to go. But unlike Dad, whose memory is always going to be broken up, corrupt and fatally incorrect she can remember. She can remember in glorious 4k HD the terror of being on a plane crashing over the ocean, the heat of the car bomb on her back, the blistering fear in Dad’s eyes as he struggled to leave the house, and the hot red burn of hatred from Dylan. And...

“Is that what Cameron would want?”  When Elle looks up, all the colour is gone out of Harlow’s face. She must have known as soon as she’d said it that she’d said the wrong thing. Dad hesitates and the gears behind his eyes are spinning so fast they might as well be sparking as he tries to find a way to diffuse the situation. Dad’s not built for defusing situations, but.

“Pardon me?” She asks, softly. It’s been so long since she heard someone else say Cameron’s name since she heard it any place outside her mind. That great wound on her has once again been torn apart, and like always, she’s reduced to exposed bone.

“Nothing, never mind.” Harlow says, “Let’s go, Grandad.” 

“No.” She says, surprising herself with the authority in her tone, “Stay, Harlow. I’d love to hear more about what you think Cameron would want for me.” 

“I didn’t mean it like -” 

“Like you were trying to use him as a pawn to convince me to see Robert?” The bile in her voice is thick and disgusting. She can’t help it, Cam is personal to her. His name, his memory, they’re so precious. She can’t stand that anyone would say his name so callously, with such little regard for who he was. 

“Elle.” Dad said, “She didn’t mean anything by it.” 

“You’ve got something to say about Cameron too, do you? First time in years I’ve heard you say his name and it’s to try and get me to see Robert. Unbelievable.” 

“That’s not what I meant and you know it.” 

“Than what did you mean?” 

“I think we should take a moment and calm down before we say something we regret.” Terese, while Elle was busy being angry, had moved to the spot by the armchair, looking between the three of them. Her voice sounds like she’d trying to mediate children, the same tone Mum used to use when trying to break up a fight between Robert and Cameron, or Carmella attempting to break up Oliver and Marco.

“You’re right.” She says, not in the mood to settle down. In fact, she’s starting to feel righteously angry. “Dad might make the mistake of remembering that he’s got another son, and acknowledge him more than once every decade.” 

“Elle!” 

“Oh, sorry. Did that hurt your feelings? Saying something about Cam?” Sarcasm is poison leaching from her, and into the stream of conversation. 

“I didn’t mean to upset you.” And the worst part is Harlow didn’t. She’s earnest, eyes just bordering on damp. She looks truly upset to have brought this fight out of her. But Elle’s not ready to stop, not yet. How can she stop when this is the first time that anyone has said more than five words about him since Dad was sick? How can she, when this teenage girl doesn’t know better than to leverage her dead brother to make her go see Robert?

“What were you hoping for? Poor Elle, she’s the last one standing from her set of triplets. If I mention her dead brother, she’s sure to want to go visit the one who killed him!” 

“No!” Harlow exclaims, “No, that’s not what I mean! I just meant that Cameron wouldn’t want you to be angry!” 

“There it is again, trying to tell me, his best friend, his closest ally, what he’d want!” 

“Lucinda!” Dad says, this time his voice is raised. Elle stops short at hearing her full name. No one calls her that, it’s like hearing a name that belongs to someone else. She turns to look at him. He looks pained, not entirely dissimilar to the times she’d kicked him out of the house, or when he was trying to talk to her at Harold's when he was sick. It still hurts, despite it all. Because she does love him. She does. But sometimes she just feels so furious - Especially when it comes to Cameron and his memory. Harlow by virtue of simply existing makes her angry. The way Mum still goes to see Robert makes her angry. The way Dad can’t or won’t acknowledge Cameron makes her angry. 

“This is pathetic. Cameron is your child too. You should be siding with us, not the kids you’ve got on Ramsey street now. We love you, and they tolerate you.” No one says anything. The silence is heavy and all-consuming. Elle grabbed her mustard yellow handbag from the coffee table and headed for the front door. Dad put a hand on her arm to stop her but she pulled away, much to his visible surprise. 

“Elle, we can talk -”. 

“Haven’t you got a living son to go visit?” She asked, in a voice dosed with vitriol. Then, she stormed out, and down Ramsay st. He doesn’t follow.

Chapter Text

The Waterhole is an entirely different beast to Charlie’s, and the Scarlet Bar before it. Both had been trendy enough in their day, but Steph had modelled Charlie’s off the sort of place she liked to drink at. Not skeevy, per se, but far more in line with the dive bars Elle and Cameron would sneak into as teenagers to drink and play pool. These days, the Lassiters owned bar is bright, modern and exactly the sort of place a businessman would stop to get a drink with his colleagues or before that four pm meeting.

It’s muscle memory that guided her there, her subconscious mind looking for Rebecca. Not like there are that many places one can go in Erinsborough, it’s much more like a small self-contained town than a suburb in that way. Being back in all the old places brings out all the old habits, and all the old wants. A mother figure is one of them. It’s not that Elle doesn’t love her mother, of course, she does but she’s not here. She’s never here when she’s needed, and should just be avoided altogether when the problem at hand was related to Cam and Rob. Rebecca does not live here anymore. Dad had driven her away just like Lyn before her and whatever he’d done must have been heinous. It had to have been. Rebecca had loved him.  

The faux marble was cold and smooth under her hands as she placed them palm down on the facade. The bar was empty, but a few other patrons were scattered around, some she knew but most she didn’t. Her sister in law Chloe is engaged with her laptop computer, long almond-shaped nails clicking loudly on the keys. Her hair, long and brown, is tied back from her face in the middle of her head and falling in gentle waves, her makeup is natural. An otherwise business casual look is interrupted by two enormous ruffles on the shoulders of her white shirt, making her look like either a pirate or a child playing pretend. Toadie is leaning on the bar, potentially the same bar they met at, studying his phone. Close cropped black hair, business shirt with vest but no blazer indicating a laid back approach to his career, one that will attract the suburban crowd that he usually represents, lips pulled back into a customary smile. He’s probably waiting on a takeaway lunch, probably to eat at the office so he can be home in time to see his children. He is probably texting Steph. 

She’d met Riley here, a long time ago. They both got drunk on gin and told each other about their family issues. His inability to connect, her fear of being pushed aside. The charming, long-haired surfer who took himself far too seriously. Actually, that’d be what he’d tell her now, she can practically hear it. He’d be right, of course. There was no need to snap at Harlow like that and the fact that she had was just proof of how tightly wound Robert made her. She’d never spoken about him in great length to anyone since his trial. Not even Mum, Dad and Aunty Lucy. Not even Riley. She can’t quite pick which emotion it is that makes her like that. Could be fear or anger but she doesn’t think it’s either. She’s not scared of him, he’s too pathetic to warrant her fear. But the anger hadn’t been at Robert, it’s been at Harlow for bringing up Cam. For not the first time, she wished there was a book. ‘So: Your triplet snapped, tried to kill you, your dad and your brother before also threatening your mother, kidnapping your friend and had to be lured out by a fake wedding. Here’s how to turn your complex, messy emotions into something palatable.’ 

Maybe she’d pitch it to Dad, who knows. Olivia Bell made a damn killing with her averagely written but unethically produced novel. Who’s to say she shouldn’t turn her trauma into something she can make money off of? 

“You look like you could use a drink and a chat.” Elle looked up to find herself face to face with Roxy Willis. Short, blonde and enthusiastic about life...If a little stupid. It was clear why Dad and Leo had developed a soft spot for her, she was strikingly similar to Donna. In their brief interactions, she came across as someone who never pretended to be anything other than who she was and that was something Elle could respect. She was also an active participant in the local gossip mill, so she’ll have to watch what she says. 

“We might be step-cousins, but I’m positive you have better things to do than listen to a thirty-something mope about family drama.” At the word drama, Roxy’s eyes lit up. 

“I’m a bartender.” She said, matter of factly, “Listening to mopey thirty-somethings part of the job description. “

“Really.” 

“It’s not out of the goodness of my heart.” She produces a glass from under the counter, “They stay longer and order more drinks. I’ll pour you a white wine and we can trade war stories about Paulie.” 

“Paulie? Do you call him that to his face?” Elle asks a barely disguised laugh sneaking into her tone as she speaks. She can’t imagine anyone referring to her Dad as Paulie. Well, maybe Izzy but that was a very long time ago now.

“Of course I do, he loves it.” 

“Oh, I’m sure he does.” 

“So?” 

“So what?” 

“A drink and a chat.”

“I had to give up the drink.” 

“Lemon-Lime Bitters it is!” Roxy announced, putting the wine glass back and pulling out a schooner instead. She drops lemon and lime slices into the glass before attacking them with some kind of tamp. “What happened?” 

“I got myself into an argument with Harlow.” 

“That’s not exactly difficult,” Roxy assured her, 

“It was me being irrational, I’m afraid. I was taking myself...Way too seriously.” 

“What’re you fighting about?” Roxy asked, spraying lemonade from the little gun-like device behind the bar. 

“Has Dad ever told you about my brother Cameron?” She asked, already knowing the answer. 

“No. He doesn’t talk much about his other kids, we had to find out about Harlow’s dad through David... His twin brother, right?” It’s exhausting to think that this will be Cam’s legacy. Robert Robinson’s twin brother. Not his art, not the music he liked or the way he laughed. Not his terrible jokes, or the way he was charming and adoring. Just...Rob’s brother. 

“And my triplet.” She said, instead of voicing it. 

“Were you close?” 

“We were. I loved him very much.” Understatement of the year. 

“He…” She pauses, trying to find a polite way to say dead. She needn’t, Elle knows that he is and doesn’t want or need it sugar-coated. “Passed away. I know that much.” 

“Yes, when we were nineteen.” 

“What happened?” Elle delayed answering by taking a long sip of her drink and swishing it around her mouth. How do you explain to someone who wasn’t there the series of events that led to Cameron’s death? Do you start with him being hit by Max? Is that enough?  Do you begin with the scheme she and Dad had pulling where they were pretending she was terminally ill that led him to storming out of the house that afternoon, swearing to never speak to them again? How about with Robert kidnapping Katya, or his choice to hide in the courtyard to upset the guards or when he sent her a troubling letter in the mail that led to her and Max being on high alert that afternoon? Do you go back even further and start at whatever moment in their childhood where she’d decided she liked Cam more than Rob? Back to the start, when Mum and Dad signed up for the IVF program? 

“It was an accident.” Says Toadie, who is now facing them. He’s challenging her to disagree and while she doesn’t know why Toadie would have even the faintest interest in defending Max these days...He’s right. It was just an accident, a tragic accident. 

“He was struck by a car.” 

“That’s terrible.”  

“I flew off the handle when she told me what she thought he’d want for me.” 

“That doesn’t sound like you.” Toadie said, “You always struck me as the quietly plotting people’s downfall type.” 

“The worst part of doing something irrational is when you calm down and realize you were being irrational.” She admitted, leaning her elbow on the tabletop and then her chin on her hand. “Dad went the full Lucinda.” 

“The what?” 

“My full first name, Lucinda. He’s never done that before.” 

“How do you get Elle from Lucinda?” Roxy asked, curious. 

“Which letter does Lucinda start with?” 

“Oh.”

“Cam picked it out for me. Before I was Elle I was LucyTwo.” Roxy grabbed Toadie’s lunch and passed it to him. 

“Enjoy.” 

“I will. Enjoy the mopey thirty-something.” 

“I’m still here.” Said Elle, in objection. 

“We’ll be right. We’re buddies, me and Elle.” Roxy sounds genuine, and Elle wouldn’t mind if she was. One thing she’d always lacked was female friends. She always had Cameron, and Dad later on but you can’t exactly chat girl problems with your dad and you can’t ask your brother for a tampon. Steph had done her damndest to be a stepsister to her, and Elle had been too depressed to accept her. Rosie had been Dad’s conquest. Pepper was too bubble-headed, Lyn and Miranda too old, Izzy too volatile, Susan too moral and Libby too Lucas’s ex-girlfriend. There was Rebecca, but she’s gone now.

Toadie laughs to himself and heads towards the back door that leads out the back towards Lassiters. She isn’t sure yet if she’s offended by the suggestion that she can’t be friends with Roxy or in agreement with him that she doesn’t have a lot of luck in the friendship department. 

“So..” Roxy leant on her elbows, studying Elle. She’s wearing a shimmery pink lip gloss, it catches the light when she gets close. “What are you going to do about it?” 

“I’m not sure. Can’t hop on the next flight to New York, I left my laptop in the living room.” 

“So you have to talk to them.” 

“I’m allergic to talking to people about my feelings.” She scowled, grabbing a paper straw from the holder on the bar and opening it. 

“If you want that laptop back then you’re going to have to take an antihistamine and get on with it.” 

“I didn’t come here to get into trouble, but that’s all I ever seem to do.” 

“Robinson’s attract trouble like a magnet,” Roxy said, meaningfully. “At least, your dad and Harlow do.” 

“That’s one way of saying we’re not very popular around here.” 

“I didn’t mean it like that. Just that...Bad things happen. But they happen to your family more than others.” 

“Not just us, but those who associate with us too.” Elle sat back in her chair and tore a long shred from the paper packaging of the straw that was now sitting discarded on the countertop. “We’re cursed.” 

“If you’re so cursed then why come back?” 

“Ever since I was a little girl, the only thing I’ve ever wanted is to be where my Dad is. That hasn’t changed, as pathetic as that makes me.” 

“Ah. See, there’s your problem with Aunty T because that’s what she wants too.” 

“To be where my Dad is.” 

“They’re practically attached at the pinkie toe.” She says and produces a water bottle from under the bar. She uses her teeth to pop the top and take a sip. “You being here and monopolizing Paul’s time is the most they’ve been apart since they got married.” 

“I do not monopolize his time.” 

“How long have you been back?” 

“A week and three days.” 

“How many of those days have you had lunch with your dad?” 

“Nine.” 

“How many of those nights did you have dinner with him?” 

“Ten.” 

“And how many -” 

“I get it. I’m needy.” 

“Robinson!”  Toadie re-entered the bar, a smile best described as ‘mischievous’ plastered over his face. It was a good thing that someone was feeling upbeat because Elle was beginning to deflate from the inside out as she spilled her guts to Roxy over the bar. She had a strong suspicion that his upbeatness was directly linked to her being miserable, if not the cause. 

“Oh, God.” She said punctuating it with a sip of the drink. 

“You going to tell Lucas you’re back in town by the way?” 

“I’m sure he’s got a clue.” 

“Are you going to catch up with him?” 

“Wasn’t planning on it.” 

“Why not? I’m sure he’d be rapt.” He says, voice lingering on the last word, pronouncing it with enunciation on the last two letters like a drumstick on a cymbal. 

“As much as meeting up with Lucas would be…..” Like pulling teeth? “Fun, he’s married with three kids. I’m sure he’s got much more important things to do than visit his ex-girlfriend. Besides, I’m pretty sure said wife has had more than enough ex-girlfriends coming into her life.” 

“I’m going to forgive that dig at Steph only because you’re looking so utterly pathetic right now,” Toadie warned, but his tone didn’t change. It’s like being threatened by a golden retriever. As the local lawyer, and someone who can and has shown how dangerous Robert is, he’s someone she does want to keep on side, so Elle figures it’s best to drop this one. “Beer and football at my place.”

“Doesn’t like half your extended family live with you?” 

“They’re out.” 

He leans in close, one arm around her shoulders and the other in front of him as if he were displaying his idea for her to see. “Beer and football at my place. Some snacks, too. I invite Lucas, and then boom! Power goes out at your place, so you come over to see if I -your hero- can flip the fuses for you -” 

“Why wouldn’t I just get Ned to do it?” 

“Ned’s out with Yashvi.” 

“Okay, why don’t I get Dad to do it?” 

“He’s out with Terese.” 

“Why don’t I just do it myself?” Toadie fixed her with a look that says ‘Really, Princess?’ She rolled her eyes and then said - “Okay, Mister Hero, you go to flip my fuses.” 

“So I go to flip your fuses, and I send Lucas to get you a towel from the bathroom -” 

“Why do I need a towel?” 

“Because you’re soaking wet.” 

“Why am I soaking wet in your fantasy story?” 

“Because it’s raining.” 

“So, on a rainy night, I go to your house in the night because I need someone to flip the fuses. Lucas is there, having a beer and watching football with you and you go to twenty-two to fix my power while Lucas gets me a towel.” 

“So you are paying attention!” Elle reached into her breast pocket and grabbed her cell phone and held it to her ear 

“Hello? Triple zero? Hi. I’m at the Waterhole at the Lassiters complex, there’s a deranged man here threatening my life.” As she removed the phone from her ear, the screen lit up, showing three missed calls from Andrew. Upon leaving the house Elle had put her phone into Do Not Disturb mode, and there were only three people who can get through. Donna, Andrew and Riley. 

“Why’ve you got three missed calls from your brother?” Toadie asked, sounding curious. 

“Why is he in your phone under his full name?” Roxy followed on, eyes downcast at Elle’s screen where ‘Andrew Robinson’ is displayed. 

“It’s not his full name.” She replied, “His middle name is Benito.” 

“No nickname?” 

“His name is Andrew. I call him Andrew.” 

“Are you going to call him back?” Toadie asked, as Elle reflexively cleared the screen so she could see the image used for her lock screen. 

“Probably not - Dad’s called him to call me no doubt. It’s like 3 am in Berlin. He probably got the call from Dad, called me a couple of times and then turned his phone off.” 

“Is that Cameron?” Roxy asked, her eyes fixed on Elle’s phone screen. Toadie turned his head down to look as well. It was a picture of her, Dad and Cam, one of the very few she had. She’s in the middle, naturally, both hands one atop the other under her chin while she looks up with an open-mouthed smile. On one side, Dad is pressing a kiss to her cheek. On the other, Cam is doing the same thing, but more of his white shirt with blue flowers is visible since he’s the one holding the camera in front of them. 

“Yeah, that’s him.” 

“Cute picture.” She says, “He doesn’t really look like Harlow’s dad.” 

“It’s the fringe. Cam always liked to have a fringe, Rob told him he had a big forehead once, and of course, he took it to heart, didn’t he? RobRob always had short hair.” 

“Think about my Lucas offer.” Toadie says, changing the subject, “You can hang out with him and it won’t be weird.” 

“You don’t have somewhere else to be? A client to harass maybe?” 

“None that are as fun as you.” He assured her before standing. “But you’re right, I should get back to work, hoping to knock off early tonight. A big Friday out on the town.” 

“I’ll believe that when I see it.” She grumbled, as Toadie stepped away, and headed out the back door. Hopefully for real this time. Leaning onto the bar, she placed her forehead against her arms as her phone began to vibrate loudly near her. 

“Are you going to answer that?” 

“No, but I would like another lemon lime bitters.” 

“Coming right up,” Roxy said, as she grabbed Elle’s phone off the counter and declined the call. “Sorry Donna - Elle’s too busy mopping to take your call. Aside from this fight, are you having fun being back home?” 

“Fun? No. Not really. I mean, I’m not exactly Janae Timmins. People aren’t rushing into the street to greet me.” 

“Who?” 

“Never mind.” Elle let out a long breath against the countertop.  Roxy placed the drink down in front of her and cleared the shredded straw paper off the counter with her hand. 

“Paul would be ecstatic to have you back. Every time something you write comes out he starts telling everyone who’ll listen how amazing his daughter is. As far as David I can’t help you but...Well...You did try and break up Aunty T’s wedding.” 

“I did not,” Elle said, sitting back up to narrow her eyes at Roxy who held her hands up in a surrender pose. 

“Call it what you want, but your actions affected her wedding. She thinks you hate her.” 

“Why would...I don’t hate her. She deserved to know the truth about Dad and he wasn’t going to tell her and she wasn’t interested in hearing it from me seeing as I didn’t even get a courtesy call of ‘Hi there, I’m marrying your dad’. I found out they were engaged over Facebook! So someone had to tell her. Might as well be the horse's mouth. If anything, I did what I did out of respect for her. If it had anything at all to do with her.” 

“Does she know that?” 

“What?” 

“Does she know you don’t hate her and want her to break up with your dad?” 

“Well, I would assume so seeing that I’ve been hanging around her house like a bad smell.” 

“Yeah. To compete for Paul’s attention. You should try just being honest with her. Drop the Elle Robinson American Journalist act, and just be with her like how you’re being with me.” 

“How am I being with you?” Roxy shrugged her shoulders and picked up a lemon wedge and stuck it on her tongue. When they were kids, Mum would take the three of them, Ian and Step Devil to the local RSL every week on Saturday night. When they were twelve, she let them order ‘grown up’ drinks. Read: Lemon Lime Bitters.  Robert would collect everyone’s lemon slices and suck on them, trying to pick the little cells of juice to pop like boba.

 “Normal.”  

“I think I need to go clear my head.” This was Izzy all over again - except this time it was all her own fault. And since Dad was apparently in remission from evil she was quite sure putting antidepressants in his new wife’s food would end up with a lot more than a stern scolding. Was this a sign he loved Terese more than Izzy? Maybe. She struggled to imagine anyone more suited to Dad than Izzy. Getting Terse out of the way wasn’t an option, so she’d have to go the long way.

“You haven’t finished your drink.” 

 “Here.” She put a twenty down on the counter, “Does this cover it?” 

“I guess.” 

“Can I leave my shoes here?” 

“Here?” 

“In the backroom, or something. They’re not great for walking in, and they cost me like three hundred dollars.” 

“I guess so.” Roxy blinked, as Elle handed her a pair of black low heeled sandals. She put them under the bar on the floor as she swallowed the last of her drink. 

“Thanks for the chat. I see why Dad’s got a soft spot for you.” 

“Um. Thanks?” 

Exiting through the big door she had only one goal. To get as far away as she could from anything that Dad owned. 

Chapter Text

After leaving the Waterhole, Elle’s legs led her without any intervention from her mind. The sun was a distant star, bright and hot on her shoulders as she slipped behind the building and into the alcove where Stingray’s memorial sat, time faded and lacklustre. A water tank with two mouldy pipes in front of it, half of it cut off by a staff only door. But, it persists. After all this time, memory persists. Like a splinter in your foot, or a grain of sand caught in the hem of your swimwear. Memory is fragile, it slips through your fingers and dissolves into thin air. It crumbles into little pieces you scrape from the floor into your mouth, to keep them safe. 

Time has inevitably bleached the Cameron who lived in her memory of his blemishes. It had shone the good slivers of Robert like wedding silverware until they shone so brightly that she could pretend that this wasn’t inevitable. Memory protects you from itself, folding in on the bad pieces so you can only see the good. It happened to Dad, it happened to Mum and it’s happening to her as well. The tail of the ‘y’, the part that’s been cut off by the staff door and redrawn in crude black paint -  that’s what memory is, a crude substitute for the beauty and horror of being alive. 

It was through this mural that she had provided Riley with a tip and he’d gone on to call her his muse. He’d told her, many years later, at a dive bar somewhere in Arkansas, where the air was thick with smoke, pool cue in one hand, that it was that moment he first realized how easy it would be to fall in love with her. Elle, who has never considered herself a very lovable person, thought he was full of it...And cheap beer. She lay the back of her hand against the textured wall and thought about Scott for the first time in a very long time. It’s not as if she was particularly close with Scott Timmins, like most of his clan (Dylan included) he had a bad habit of getting on her nerves. But he had taken her in when Dad booted her out. In fact, the whole family had taken her in as one of their own, and for the first time perhaps ever, she’d been part of a cohesive family unit where no one wanted anyone else dead. She was deeply envious of their tight-knit family group, her own family was, and would always be, fractured and fragmented. Sunlight filtered through curved glass. 

But it had seemed so simple to them. They were Timmins, they stuck together. Janae had told her that, and it was important to them. When Stingray’s mural was in danger, Janae saved it, because she was his brother and she loved him. The people gathered to observe, Steph in her leathers. Adam in his police uniform and Riley with his camera. Janae, her wet eyes and hanging earrings, both arms places palm down on the wall, defending it bodily from harm. Did she feel it too? That desperate, half-finished desire to defend her brother from the body that had failed him?  It was one of the relatively few times she felt a sense of connection with the other woman. 

There was no memorial for Cam in Erinsborough. No graffiti mural, no laminated photo stuck to a lamp pole with rotting stuffed toys, or a cross in the ground.  It’s almost as if he were never here, and she’s sometimes wondered if that would have been better. To have him safely in Tasmania with Mum, drawing his drawings and alive. Or to have never known him at all. To not be a triplet. To just be Elle.  Was the nineteen years she had spent with him worth the lifetime of pain his death had caused? 

The answer, of course, was yes. 

Even if she was the only person left who bothered to care, so long as there was a shred of joy to be found in her memories of him. So long as she never forgot the sound of his laugh.  So long as she could remember what it felt like to share such closeness with another person. So long as she remembered his life and not his death, then it was worth it. He’d been ripped from her hands by some fatal cosmic mistake but it wasn’t a mistake to have cared. It was no error to have loved, to have had the time she had to feel his hands in hers, and see the mischievous light in his eyes. While the ghost of his life still lingers on the edges of her vision, wanting her to be better than it was worth it.  She sighed again at the mural and then turned away from the last trace of the Timmins Erinsborough had to offer - At least now with an idea of where to hideout. 

It’s damn hard to find a place to hide out not related to Dad in some way or other. His fingers were in most pies, as Mum would say. So, she went somewhere else entirely. The beach, by cab off the rank from The Waterhole. Let it be known that Lucinda Anne Robinson is not a beach person by any stretch of the imagination. She hates the ocean, the taste of it and the gritty feel it leaves on your skin. Riley, conversely, adored it. He loved the feeling of water coming in between his feet, and the smell of it lingering in his nose. He loved to surf, to be one with the sea, to feel like you could possibly tame it. You can’t, and Riley has the chunks taken out of the back of his legs by other peoples boards to prove it. Elle has never been in the ocean past her ankles since ‘05. Since the plane went down over the Bass Strait. Since her brother committed, by all accounts, domestic terrorism. 

People tend to think it’s funny when they find out Dad used to be a flight attendant. Can you imagine brusque, hard-nosed Paul Robinson bringing you a gin and a blanket? Elle doesn’t think it’s funny -  Serena Bishop died because she inflated her life jacket while still inside the cabin, and when she escaped without it, she couldn’t stay afloat and drowned. That’s what Connor O’Neil said when he and Dylan crawled back to the land of the living. The only reason Elle didn’t inflate her life jacket inside the plane was because Dad knew not to, and he’d wrapped his wide palmed hand around hers and held it close to his chest for a moment, trying to talk over the ruckus but he just couldn’t. Water came in around their ankles, while Dad led her to safety with his grip practically, desperately bruising against her bird boned wrists. What Riley saw as absolution, she saw as abject terror. The swirling black water, Dad’s warm hand being pulled from hers by a wave, crying out for him as he was swept from her view, the pop of her shoulder being pulled from its socket as she tried hard to hold onto him, being saved by Izzy Hoyland, the hard metal of the debris they sat on waiting for rescue for a long, cold, twelve hours. 

When they were kids, Dad came over for a visit one year and he took the three of them to the beach. RobRob sat alone under an umbrella with his book and his frown while she and Cam, being only about five or so swam out into the water. He stood and watched, issuing them with instructions. No further than your knees, you two! Cam disregarded them almost instantly and swam out to where his feet couldn’t touch. Elle followed after him, neither understanding the true danger of the water and never having to because Dad was upon them in moments, sweeping them up in his big arms, sitting each child upon a hip. At first, she thought he’d get mad, like their stepfather, or Ian but he wasn’t. He was laughing, a giant amongst the clouds to his small children, the world held between his knees. He said something that time has washed from Elle’s memory and walked out even further until he was up to his chest. 

It’s dangerous out here.” He calmly remarked. “See those swirls? That’s a riptide. If you got caught in that then you’d be carried away to New Zealand.” 

“But you’d follow us, right Dad?” She asked her hero, in that solemn way small children sometimes do. He nodded very seriously, and then said - 

“Of course I would. That’s what Dad’s are for.” 

“Elle!” She’s pulled from her memory by a voice calling her. She looked up to see Dad struggling across the sand towards her. In the dying sun, his green eyes are practically catching alight. Cam had eyes like that. They were brown, like Rob’s, but in the sun they looked more like his pupils were suspended in amber. “Thank goodness.” He says and then sits next to her on the sand, stretching out his legs in front of him. His breathing is slightly heavy, it’s probably hard for him to balance on the sand. 

“How did you know I was here?” She asked as he crossed his good ankle over the plastic one. 

“You’re not the first daughter I’ve had run out on me.” He replied, knowingly.

“Really?” 

“I tracked your phone with the Track My i-Phone password you gave me.” 

“That is meant to be for emergency use only.” She grumbled, without any serious malice. 

“I consider my daughter picking an out of character fight with my granddaughter about her brother to be an emergency.” He retorted, the ocean waves fighting with his voice to be the dominant sound in her ears. 

“Did you see my brother?” She asked, removing her eyes from his face and placing them instead on the ocean. 

“I did.” It settles between them, heavy as lead. 

“How was he?” 

“He asked about you.” 

“I ‘spose Harlow spilled her guts about how awful I am.”  She sighed, digging one foot into the warm sand. 

“She feels bad for upsetting you. She wanted to know what she could do about it. He said there’s nothing that can be done about it, and she’ll have to wait it out.” 

“Do you see him often?” She asked, instead of commenting on Rob’s comment. If it’s good or bad...She can’t say. 

“No, not really.” She flopped backward onto the sand, placing both arms behind her head and looking out over the water as the sun turned the sky from blue to citrine and pink. It’s a beautiful sunset. “Are you going to tell me why you had a go at Harlow over an innocuous comment?” 

“What’s to say?” 

“You can start with an explanation.” 

“It’s been so long since I heard his name anywhere outside my own head. And it was about Rob. It made me angry.” 

“Evidently.” 

“I’m sorry, I accused you of not loving him. I know you do, it’s just -” 

“I don’t show it.” 

“You shouldn’t have to show it.” 

“Yes, I should. I don’t want you to feel like you can’t talk about him, because you can.” 

“And say what? Hey Dad, remember your son who died? Well I like totally miss him. Sucks you had a brain tumour and don’t remember him anymore.” She can hear the eye-roll in his voice as he replied - 

“If that’s what you want to say.” Truth is, Elle has spent so long not talking about Cam and pushing her feelings aside that now she has the chance to speak about him she doesn’t even know what she would say. When Dad was sick, he didn’t like being reminded of what he forgot so Elle didn’t remind him. Then the new family came along, and they didn’t know Cam at all so there was no point bringing him up, she didn’t want pity. 

“I hate the beach.” She says, instead. 

“Then why come?” 

“Riley likes the beach.” 

“Ah,” Dad says and doesn’t elaborate any further. Elle props herself up on her elbows so she can watch the waves roll in.  They lapped at the sand, inching closer and closer, encroaching on them. When she’d been a little kid, Dad was like a superhero or a mythical thing. He’d seemed utterly invincible, and unaffected. Time is encroaching on them, just like the beach. “I brought you something.” Dad reached into his breast pocket and held a rather vintage looking flip phone out to her. She accepted it as she sat and stared at it, puzzled. The phone was chunky and white, with a small grey rubber antenna. From the top hung a red lanyard. 

“Cam’s phone.” She identified, “The first one you brought, and he promptly lost. ” 

“And I promptly replaced,” Dad added, sounding a little brighter. 

“I think the two of us cleaned you out more in a couple of weeks than your other kids ever have.” 

“I didn’t mind. It’s why I amassed my fortune, you know. To pass on to you kids.” 

“No, you ‘amassed your fortune’ because you don’t like losing.” 

“That too. Go on, open it.” 

Curious now as to what Cameron’s phone could possibly hold that would convince Dad to give it to her, Elle flipped the lid. The screen lit up, showing the little pixel icons. A little globe for the web browser, a little envelope for messages, a little cog for settings…

“How did we ever use these tiny little screens?” She asked, pulling it up close for better vision. 

“Go into movies, there’s something there I think you’ll enjoy.” She did as he asked, and inside was a file labelled ‘MOV_001_06’. The thumbnail was a blurry image about the size of her pinkie fingernail, the colours earthy green and yellow. She can’t make out what it is. Without ceremony, she clicked it with the select button.  He huddled in nice and close so he could get a look. He smells like the inside of an air-conditioned car. 

For a second, the screen went dark, and then illuminated, showing an image of Cameron standing in front of a floor-length mirror. His brow is furrowed tightly, his fringe falling across his forehead. He’s wearing a green army jacket over a blue shirt printed with an image of a skull and jeans. He looks exactly like Elle remembers him, tall and lanky in that way teenage boys often are before they finish growing into men. In the little movie, his face lights up into a grin, and he breaks eye contact with the phone to make eye contact with himself in the mirror, then he gives a little wave. He turns, and walks in the other direction, the view bouncing in time with his step. 

“Hey, Porky! Dad! I got the camera working!” He exclaims, and Elle watches herself and Dad come on screen, both seated at the kitchen table. In front of them, is Dad’s coffee press, and two cereal bowls filled with the sugary delight of Frootloops. Elle is wearing a pink face mask, an oversized pink dressing gown over a faux silk nightie and Dad has his leg - no prosthetic - resting on a chair, while dressed in his blue robe and plaid blue pyjamas. 

Cam! My hair isn’t done!” She shouts back. 
“I don’t have my leg on!” Dad cries out, leaning forward to cover up the pink, round end of his leg with his hands, almost knocking over his crutches in the process. Cam just laughs at them and turns away out of the room. His laugh is like putting on an old, comfortable jersey, or when she went along to the football with Lucas and he draped his leather jacket over her. Or when she and Riley got caught out in an airport and she’d fallen asleep on the floor, next to a charger with her head on his shoulder and she was so stupidly in love even the stale smell of his clothes after a red-eye flight was comforting. 

“Sometimes, they’re so alike it scares me.” He whispers into the mic before stopping the video, a blurry shot of the ugly dog statues taking most of the screen. Then it fades back to black. 

It’s no prophetic video of him telling her how much he adored her. It’s nothing particularly special, either. Just a short video of a teenage boy, messing with a gift from his father and annoying his sibling in the process. It’s only meaningful because it captures Cam as he was, exactly how he was. His voice, even through the tinny speakers of an ancient phone is so much younger than she remembers, the pitch higher. But he’s as handsome as ever, his cheekbones sky high and his smile slightly lopsided. 

She began to play it again, this time pausing it on the moment he makes eye contact with himself through the mirror. Using her thumbnail, she traced his jaw. 

“I know…” She murmured, “That making him into a saint in the rearview mirror doesn’t help anyone - least of all him...But he was perfect, wasn’t he Dad?” 

“If he wasn’t, then he was pretty close to it.” Tears welled up in her eyes, despite her best efforts to stop them. 

“I wish he could know us, who we are now. That we’re better now. That you are better now.” 

“He probably does.” 

“You think?” 

“Why does anything else bear thinking about?” 

“I guess so.” She stretched her legs out,  “This is going to sound stupid but do you ever wonder if he might still be out there somehow?” 

“What do you mean?” 

“Dylan and Connor came back from the dead. Harold Bishop, and Toadie’s wife did too. Why not Cam? Why shouldn’t we get a miracle?” 

“Because Robinson’s aren’t built for miracles. They’re built to endure, and to keep enduring.” 

“I’m sick of enduring. I’ve spent my whole life enduring. I endured my childhood, with Robert menacing us at every possible opportunity, and I’ve endured a plane crash and car bomb. I’ve endured Cam’s death for the last fifteen years, and I endured Kate’s death. I endured your brain tumour, and the roof coming down on me and getting kidnapped, and losing Lucas, and my mother making regular visits to the man who tried to kill me but never to me when I needed her...Haven’t I endured enough? Aren’t I entitled to a bit of happiness now?” 

“I’ve always been tragedy prone.” Dad says, his breath is warm on the top of her head, “The people I love get hurt because they know me. Starting with my Gran, and never really stopping. I didn’t know I was going to pass that on to my kids. I know that I don’t deserve absolution, I know who and what I am. But you’re too young for this much grief. I wish that I could take all your pain and hold it for you.” 

“But what would I do with my hands? Put them on Robert’s throat?” 

“I wouldn’t stop you, but Harlow’d never forgive you.” 

“Is this the rest of my life? Is everything destined to be about the person who hurt me most?” 

“Unfortunately, I think it might be.” Dad sighed, as Elle dug her toes into the sand. Inside her chest, there grows an enormous pressure. 

“He took everything from me. It wasn’t enough, to ruin my faith in myself, and it wasn’t enough to make my father crazy, and ruin any chance of reconciliation between my parents. Wasn’t enough he ruined my mother. Wasn’t enough he drove Izzy and Dylan away. He had to take my Cameron too. And I’m so sick of it!” Her brain swam in a riptide of dangerous thoughts, pulling her down, down, down. 

“Elle - “ 

“I’m sick to death of him having this power over me! He shouldn’t! I cut him out like a tumour but he won’t stop growing back in. He won, can’t he see that? He won! He won the war, my weapons are down, my dead are buried but he just won’t leave! Me! Alone!” She cried out, mostly into Dad’s arm as she buried her face in it. 

“Oh, Darling….” Dad says, one of his hands coming to her hair but Elle pushes him away and stumbles to her bare feet. Breath comes in short, sharp gasps. The sand makes her unsteady, uneven. The sky is full of stars, this far away from the city, they seem very bright, but not as bright as the ones that she and Cam used to see over the farmhouse they grew up in, the very same stars Rob used to point his telescope at, in their peacetime, tell them the constellations of.  The ocean is so big, and so blue and so full of water - it looks like pure night. 

“I can’t even go to the beach without thinking about what he did to us!” She shouted, at the top of her lungs, maybe loud enough to startle some seagulls and to echo around the mostly empty this time of night beach. It rattles around the rock pools and through her lungs filled with lead. She turns her eyes out the water, the same water Riley had sought absolution for Briget’s death in, halfway across the world, on his board or just in his own set of white, bare feet. The crashing waves that beckon him turn her away because she is so scared, and angry about what Robert did. The three lives Robert took. The long hours she didn’t know if Dad was alive or dead, or if she would live or die. The stink of spilled petrol on the water, Izzy’s torn up voice begging for help. She didn’t want those memories anymore. She wanted to be wiped clean. 

She wanted absolution. 

“I’m not giving him anything else.” She announced, to her panic-stricken father. Then, she turned her back and started to run toward the swirling, black night sea. The hot burn of fury, pure fury stung the inside of her veins. Her head pounded with a glorious, heady mixture of rage and passion. The unpalatable feelings of love and hatred that bled into one another inside her for Robert bubbled and boiled and spilled over out of her in loud angry screams as she surged forward as fast as her legs could carry her. As she ran, she fumbled with each of her earrings, tossing them aside. Pearls, gifts from Oliver a long time ago. She didn’t want that love either.  Then, her blouse was thrown aside, brought in New York with Donna during her high fashion phase. Let her have the best of Elle’s best years because she no longer wanted them. She didn’t want to be on the beach. She wanted to be in the water. She tossed aside the ring she was wearing, won for her on Coney Island by Chris Pappas, the man who had created Annie with Aunty Lucy and who had become a close friend and family member. Coney Island was her favourite place in the world, surrounded by the noise, and the people and the pier. She was never going back there, so she didn’t want it anymore. She fought with the clasp on her silver bracelet. If she snapped it, or if it opened she didn’t know but it went into the water by her ankles. She turned halfway enough to see Dad chasing her down the beach, limp more pronounced than it had ever been. 

She ran into the surf, it climbed up her legs, clinging to the fibres of her pants. Then it was at her knees, pounding her in rolling, foamy water. She kept running, running, running until her feet ran out of ground. 

“Elle!” He shouted behind her, but Elle simply raised her arms and embraced the wave that crashed totally into her. The water was thick and smothering and it stung the inside of her nose. It battered her around, unsure what was up and what was down. Sand slipped through her fingers, she couldn’t see in the water. Her lungs burned now from both the missing air and the pressure inside her skull that sought release. How deep was she? Did she care? Her eyes stung, if she was crying then no one could tell. It’s a blessed relief, it’s agony, it’s terror. She is in the ocean, she is screaming and crying after being dumped by a wave, she has no life jacket to keep her afloat this time. Only the kicking of her legs as she fights against the current. 

Then, air. 

Dad’s chest is right up close to her face as he wrapped his hysterical child in his arms, armpit deep in the ocean. The noise she makes barely classes as human, it’s guttural, a valve releasing pressure. He doesn’t try and soothe her, and nothing he could say would soothe her anyway. She clutches onto him as tightly as she could, taking fistfuls of his shirt and shoulder into her hands. One of his wide palms rests on the side of her head, in her wet hair. She’s got all these messy, terrible things inside her head, chewing on her brain and no other place for them to escape other than out. Including the one thing that has been inside her, sitting like lead, leaching into her bloodstream for the last fifteen years.  

“I let him in!” She screamed, louder than before, louder than the rushing water around them, louder than the startled birds and louder than Dad’s laboured breaths as he struggled to keep them both upright. “I let him in.” She repeated, “I’m sorry, Dad. I’m sorry -” 

“What? Let who in?” He asks, before bracing himself as the water crashes against him. He used his back as best he could to protect her from the onslaught. 

“Robert! You knew, when he showed up you called him Rob. You knew! I convinced you he was Cam. I came up with the godforsaken joy flight, and I believed him when he said Izzy was coming on to him. I turned on Cam, and I encouraged you to go on that camping trip. It’s all my fault, I let him into our home. I let him ruin everything. I played into his hands at every single opportunity. Oh, God! Dad, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” She wept, totally exhausted of all her energy now she’d confessed her sins at the church of Paul Robinson. Dad was silent, for several hours, which is actually only a minute or so. 

“Let’s go back to the beach.” He said, quietly, releasing Elle from his arms. Elle stood, and then let him move one arm, and layer it over her shoulders so he could lean on her. They had to walk slowly, Dad’s limp making it a laborious task. 

It took them a while to make their way back to their things. Dad’s suit jacket with the contents of his pockets strewn atop it, along with Cam’s phone. Elle’s phone, and her notebook she’d been carrying and left on the sand. Good thing it hadn’t been ruined, there are notes from Riley in there. Dad lowered himself down on the sand and then removed his prosthetic with practised hands. He emptied it of water and then lay it sideways on his suit jacket. Elle gets a look at his leg underneath, it looks the same if a little wet. Round, pink, with a thin white-ish scar encircling it. She remained standing at his feet, saturated and cold. 

“Sorry.” She says, finally. 

“Come here,” Dad murmurs, opening his arms to her. Elle sat by his side, leaning in to place her ear on his chest. Enveloped in his arms, she felt the same kind of safe she’d felt there as a little girl on his hip, watching the riptide. It’s fake, of course. But it’s a little peace just the same. “I love you.” He said as if he knew that was the only thing she wanted to hear right now. 

“I’m sorry.” She repeated, 

“You have nothing to be sorry about. Nothing at all.” 

“I didn’t know it wasn’t Cam. I didn’t know.” 

“I know.” He soothed, laying his cheek on the top of her head. His breath is a warm breeze atop her wet hair. 

“And I didn’t know he was going to hurt you. I didn’t know he was going to hurt anyone.” 

“I know that too.” 

“I played into his hands. Over and over again. I played into his hands, I let him in. It was me. I can’t believe I was so stupid, that I didn’t see the pattern...That I couldn’t tell it wasn’t Cam. He didn’t even do a good job stealing his identity.” It kills her to this day, to have been so blind, so stupid. 

“The only thing you did was believe your brother. No one has ever blamed you for what Rob did, not for a minute. He’s a very sick man, Elle. If you hadn’t played along he’d have had no qualms about disposing of you.” 

“Everyone kept saying that it would get easier. That time’d heal my wounds. But it hasn’t. It still hurts like I’ve had my top layer of skin ripped off every time someone brings them up.” He sighed deep in his chest. It rumbles like thunder.

“I know what people say, I’ve been hearing it since I was eight and I found out that Mum wasn’t going to be coming home with the new baby I’m sixty now. And you’d think that would be enough time to get over it but it’s not. When you love someone, really love them...It never goes away.” 

“I know Rob thinks we didn’t love him, but we did. Of course, we did, he was our triplet. I know that we weren’t perfect siblings, and he treated us like dirt, but we loved him. Maybe...If I’d done more to let him know that things would be different now.” 

“You weren’t kind to him.” He agreed. 

“We never did anything he didn’t do to us first.” She said, “He tormented Cam every day for years and years until he snapped. But we must have loved him. Otherwise, why would it hurt so much?” 

“I’ve thought the same thing myself.”  

“Do you still love Rob?” He thought for a while, looping a strand of Elle’s wet hair around his finger three times as he did so. Something Cam used to do when they were watching television together, legs stacked and enjoying being near one another. Something Riley does, when they watch the news together. 

“Yes.” He replied simply. “He’s still my son.” 

“He won’t get better though, will he?” 

“I doubt it.” The surf rolls in front of them, sand sticks on Elle’s pants in gritty clumps and salt clings to her skin. Rob was going to be Rob for the rest of his life. He was never going to be the brother from her teenage years again, never going to do the fun things they did to one another or be there for her family events. He’s going to be in jail. It’s a tragedy for her because she’s the one missing out on a brother because of his choices. It’s sad, deeply bone cuttingly sad. “Listen to me, Elle. You are not to blame for Rob’s choices. I have never blamed you, your mother doesn’t blame you, no one does.” 

“I blame me.” 

“If there is anything that you need forgiving for, then I have.” Dad paused, “But you weren’t Rob’s target, I hate to call you this but you really were collateral damage to him. I don’t think there’s a damn thing that you or anyone else could have done to change the ending to this story. If you did something differently, then who’s to say that Gail and I wouldn’t have lost you too? I wouldn’t have survived, not without you.”  

“I think that if it wasn’t you then it would have been someone else.” She murmured, “Probably Cam. I don’t know why he hated Cam so much, he never did anything to anyone.” 

“Robert’s sickness does not discriminate. Cam and I were easy targets.” 

“Cam loved you. You know he did, right?” 

“I assumed as much.” 

“Do you...Have many memories of him?” She asked, finally sitting up a bit, wiping her face on her gritty arm and managing to only get a little in her eyes. 

“Sometimes I’m sure I remember things, but other times I think I just remember things I’d like to have said to him. But the feeling...I know I love him. I know I loved him then, too. That’s what came back to me first, my feelings. I can’t explain it but one day, I woke up, looked at you and just knew that you were mine. Then I started feeling that when I caught glimpses of Cam and Rob in pictures. That’s what I think the most important thing was to recover.” 

“Do you remember his god awful sense of humour?” 

“How about his terrible fashion sense. Remember that white button-down with blue flowers he used to wear?” 

“Hey, he loved that shirt. But it was truly hideous. He was very good about letting me dress him up for his dates, though. Like my very own real-life Ken Doll.” 

“He was a very patient boy.” Dad agreed, “But he had the good old Robinson competitive streak in him. At Scarlet Bar, he challenged me to see who could win this girl I was talking to, Stacey or Lacey or something. Proud Dad moment.” 

“I can imagine it!” She chuckled, “He could charm the pants off just about anyone. He used to get us out of all kinds of trouble. One night, we were at this bar and we weren’t...Quite eighteen yet and our fake IDs got busted. Somehow, he sweet-talked the owner of the place out of calling the cops, and then Mum out of punishing us when she caught us sneaking in through our bedroom window.” 

“I don’t think I’ve ever been able to sweet talk your mother into anything.” 

“No, me neither.” She grumbled, ruefully.

“He was a very talented young artist.” Dad is looking up into the sky, which is darker than ever before. “I like to think he got that from your Great Gran.” 

“Well, we didn’t get it from Mum’s side of the family.” She thought aloud, “When he got drawing, he could do it for hours at a time. He didn’t like to stop, said he lost his train of thought.” 

“Gran was a bit like that too. It was good to see her living legacy.  His designs…” Dad pauses, “I’ve seen enough proposals over the years to know that they were good. Really good.” 

“He loved buildings. That book you sent him when we turned ten, he used to highlight the parts he liked best, and he had a map of the ones he wanted to visit when he grew up.” 

“I’m glad he liked it.” 

“He loved it. But I think, mostly, he loved it because it came from you. You knew us, you loved us, even if you weren’t there. You know what his last words were? To me?” He shook his head no, tears welling up silent and unspoken of. “Take care of Dad. He was so worried about you...I think he must have known he wasn’t going to be with us much longer.” 

“I thought he was going to live.”

“Why did anything else bear thinking about?” 

“Exactly.” 

“I know people thought it was weird. You bringing in a television, and food from Lassiters and having the house measured to be more...Wheelchair accessible. But, you weren’t being weird, you were planning our future. The three of us, our perfect little family. If Cam could have been saved on belief alone, you’d have cured him.” 

“I didn’t know what else to do. I couldn’t do nothing.” 

“Does it still hurt?” 

“Sometimes, when I think too long about all the things he’s missed, or...That he was in pain. I do my best to think instead on the happy memories I do have. Teaching him how to handball when you were little, the three of us watching home movies or when he showed me the new facade he’d designed for Lassiters. It doesn’t hurt, not as much. It’s...It’s a warm sort of feeling. Grateful, I suppose to have had the time we did have with him. Sometimes I wonder about what the right amount of grief to feel for him is. I only knew Cam, the real Cam, for a couple of weeks. I mean - obviously, I knew him his whole life but...Only for those couple of weeks was I really there. Am I entitled to grief? How much grief does the man who struggles to remember his son deserve?” 

“Did you love him for the whole nineteen years?” 

“Of course I did.” 

“Then you’re entitled to all the grief in the world.” 

“It means a lot to hear you say that.” He says, pulling what Elle has come to refer to as his ‘frog face’. His lips pull back into a tight line, his eyes go wide and upwards. His voice gets croaky. It’s the face he makes when he wants to cry but is trying desperately not to. She leaned over to wrap her arms around his chest again. 

“You don’t need to put on a brave face for me.” He placed his face on the top of her head, where her hair was stuck down to her head. He sniffled slightly, as he held on as much for him as for her. 

“I wanted to be a good father to you, all of you.” 

“I know you did.” 

“I’m supposed to have a set of triplets.” He sniffed again, the bone of his chin firm against her head but not painful. 

“I know.” 

“I loved him so much that I was scared of it. What was a person meant to do with all that love? I’d already reached my capacity with you.”

“You couldn’t help but love him. No one ever could.” 

“I should have been with him. I couldn’t make it better, I couldn’t take his pain away but I could have been with him.” 

“He wanted you to go to that appointment, Dad. That was all he wanted, for you to be well again.” Tears start again, hot and sticky and clinging to Elle’s eyelashes. She tries to stifle her sobs, and it makes her chest seize, her heart a hummingbird trying to break free. 

“I still have no idea what to do with all that love, I can’t give it to anyone else, it’s not theirs. It’s his. I should be giving it to him.” 

“I miss him so badly,” Elle whispered. 

“Me too,” Dad whispered back, the hummingbird in his chest fluttering violently against his ribs as he struggled not to cry. He put up an admirable fight for a long set of minutes before giving in, his cheek pressed tight against the top of her head, his arms tight around her. She didn't say a thing,  until the water finally reached them, lapping gently against her feet. Dad had stopped crying some time ago but remained in the same position and Elle would do anything to know what exactly he was thinking right now. Her mind is full up with thoughts of Cam, and Dad, and the feeling of her ears popping as the plane went down over the ocean. It’s spilling over, thinking about her father crying about his deceased son, and the musty smell of her childhood bedroom last time she went to see Mum and the lecture she got from her for covering Rob’s face in all her photos of him with masking tape. She doesn’t cry. She’s cried enough times in the last fifteen years to fill the ocean twice over. 

“I’m sick of being sad when I think about him.” 

“I wish I had happier memories of him to dwell on,” Dad says, releasing her so he can stop his leg floating away. She split apart from him and then looked out at the water. Her shirt is nowhere to be seen, so she’s stuck in her singlet and pants. Drawing up her knees, she looked up at the half-moon, unsure if it is waxing or waning. Perhaps noticing now her state of semi-undress he grabs his jacket and put it over her shoulders. “Here.” 

“Thanks.” 

“Oh, I grabbed this too. I didn’t see where the earrings or your ring went, hope they weren’t important.” Elle accepted the bracelet from his hand and stared at it. A long, silver chain, very of the time. Chunky statement clasp.  - the one that Dad had gotten for her on their first Christmas together. 

“I’m glad you saved this.” She remarked, “I’d be heartbroken if it got lost.” 

“Gift from someone special...Like Riley?” She notes that the clasp has broken, and rubs it between her fingers. 

“You don’t remember?” 

“No? I’ve never seen it before.” And for a split second, she wants to cry again, because this is going to be the rest of their life. She will have all these memories, time spent with him that he doesn’t even know that he’s missing. But she pulled it together like she always does. 

“It was from you.” 

“When?” 

“Our first Christmas together, in 2005. Izzy was wearing that god awful red Santa outfit, and you put too many lights on the tree and blew out the power for the whole street and then you had to host everyone in the community centre.” 

“Hmph. Sounds like something I’d do.” He smiled, “Tell me, what did my favourite youngest daughter get dear old daddy for Christmas?” 

“A framed photo of you, Izzy and I.” 

“Oh, I remember that. I found it in a box after you moved out, had the weirdest feeling of being strangled.” 

“Huh. Maybe you’re reminded of Izzy suffocating you with her...Shall we call it affections?”

“See, that’s what I love about you. Able to still hold a grudge even after all these years.” 

“Well, if she wanted me to like her then she shouldn’t have slept with my boyfriend.” Dad laughs, and she stuffs the bracelet into his coat pocket. 

“Let’s get going.” He says, “Before we’re swept halfway to New Zealand.” 

Chapter Text

It’s half an hour later when Elle dumps a soft-serve ice cream, served in a plastic cup with a plastic spoon and hot fudge sauce in front of him. Dad rubs his hands together comically and then glances at hers. 

“What, you didn’t get one for yourself?” 

“I don’t eat dairy. “ But she did show him the juice she’d picked up. The fast-food joint Dad had told her to pull into was open twenty-four hours, and suitably smelly inside. The register was manned by a bored-looking teenager who was not paid anywhere near enough to care about thirty-something hauling a one-legged sixty-something while wearing a suit jacket over her singlet despite the strange picture the two of them surely painted. The overhead lights cast a faint blue glow, and their reflections prevented them from getting a good look out the window. The table they were now sitting at had large red cushioned seats and a brown plastic table with a veneer of wood atop it. 

“Well, I’m going to enjoy my ice cream.” She slid across from him, and shook her head. 

“Do you have any idea how much bacteria is in those things?” 

“Of all the things that could possibly kill me, the soft serve is not the one I’m worried about,” Dad replies around his spoon. Elle has to admit if being pushed off two cliffs and a mezzanine, a plane crash, and being shot at didn’t kill him...

“You’re not too good for fast food ice cream?” She asked, tone mocking.

“No one is too good for ice cream.” Dad counsels, “Except you.” 

“Whatever, Daddy. Hey - did you see what Karl’s calling a beard?” 

“Hold that thought, I’m not done parenting you yet.” 

“I’m thirty-six, I don’t need parenting.” 

“Mmhm. That’s why you ran into the ocean.” 

“It was a moment of madness!” 

“Last time I checked I was still your father so be quiet and drink your juice. I have three more items on my Dad Agenda.” 

“Your Dad Agenda? Didn’t you just get at least six months out of parenting out of that?” 

“I have ten years worth of pent up parenting urges. Humour me.” 

“Fine. Go for your life.” Elle said, raising her straw to her mouth for a sip of pre-packaged orange juice. It tastes like not enough water went into the cordial. 

“Okay. Item one. You need to make Terese like you.” 

“Really?” 

“Really. Like it or not, Terese is my wife, and she’s going to be my wife for the rest of my life so you need to be getting along with her.” 

“I’ve been trying. I don’t think she’s that interested in me.” 

“Gee Elle, wonder why that would be.” He said sarcastically. Rolling her eyes, she tucked her straw into her mouth and tried to take a sarcastic sip of juice...Whatever that sounded like.

“Honestly, what’s the big deal? You meddle in other people's relationships all the time and she still likes you. For some reason.” 

“They expect it of me. You haven’t exactly been making a great case for yourself, showing up and lounging around like you own the place, eating all the snacks in the house, causing problems with the tab at Lassiters and fighting with Harlow.” 

“Hey, that thing at Lassiters was a little joke! Remember when I first arrived and -” 

“I know that! I also know that you have qualities beyond being a scheming little wedding ruiner but she doesn’t know you like I do Elle. And unless you change, she never will.” He settled back and raked his eyes over her in that unsettling way he often does when he’s about to say something that he knows you won’t like to hear. “I know that you’re upset things didn’t work out with Rebecca.” 

“I thought you two were going to make it.” She admitted, “You were in love when I left, then like a year later you’re in a coma, then you’re divorced and Andrew has epilepsy.” 

“It was a tough couple of years.” Dad swirled his spoon in the soft serve and gazed at her thoughtfully. Elle tilted her head and studied him intensely. The downturn of his lips, the light catching on his pinkie ring and his plain silver cufflinks. Rebecca had never given her a reason as to why she’d peaced out so close to the attempt on his life other than it ‘wasn’t working and that he wasn’t the man she fell in love with anymore’ - which yeah. Duh. The man she’d fallen in love with hadn’t been real, an illusion cast by sunlight shining through the hollow centre of a man who was a stranger in his own body. 

The real Dad, the one Elle knew better than anyone else was not easy to love. She’d assumed Rebecca would have figured out exactly who he was when he cheated on her. It wasn’t the first time she’d seen him lie to peoples face but it was the one that stung worse than any other. Okay, yes, him stealing her big story after she left The Erinsborough News had been a massive kick in the teeth but she could anticipate him doing things like that. She could never have anticipated him cheating with Kirsten Gannon of all people. She tried to catch his eye - 

“You cheated on her again, didn’t you?” Rather than respond verbally, he just nodded, having the decency at least to look ashamed of his actions. “Why?” 

“I...Didn’t think I had any choice.” 

“Wha…” She half asks, shrugging her shoulders and imploring him to continue. 

“I loved Rebecca.” Dad defends, “But I was…” He looks away from her, up to the roof and tilts his head side to side trying to come up with an answer. “Embezzling is such an ugly word. I was directing money away from Lassiters. She...Diana... found out, trying to dig myself out of the hole I agreed to sleep with her to form an alliance against your great aunt.” 

“Rosemary?” Weird choice to make - As far as she knew in recent history Rosemary was all about keeping family in the business. Hence hiring Aunty Lucy and not firing Dad over his many, many indiscretions. 

“Hm. It er...Well, it all blew up in my face when I got pushed off the mezzanine.” 

“By Diana.” She says, finally. Something here is not right, but she wouldn’t even know where to begin to look for the truth. Maybe she doesn’t want to know the truth - there are very few people Dad would lie to cover for. Declan wasn’t one of them so he certainly didn’t do it. And Rebecca...She’d never push anyone off a mezzanine. Violence wasn’t her nature. So. Andrew? Sure - Him and Dad hadn’t been on great terms but that didn’t make him a murderer. Kate? Dad’d lie for her. He’d lie for any of his kids if he thought it would help, probably even RobSquared if he really needed it. He didn’t delight in his children being miserable, he’d never been that kind of parent. Lots of the times he had made her miserable had been misguided attempts to make her happy. 

So, Kate or Andrew. She didn’t like either for it. Someone else? But then again she’s probably just thinking too much about it. It’s been a long, damp evening and her Dad-reading skills were about ten years out of date. He’d just tell her.

“Apparently I was arguing with her before I was pushed, and Andrew told me she was hiring a hitman to take me out. So.” 

“It would make sense that it was her.” 

“Well, the other suspects were my son, my stepson and my wife. And Kate said Rebecca was with her, Andrew would never and Declan...”

“He had a baby to look after.” India, Riley’s niece and Bridget’s daughter. As far as Elle knows, Riley has never met the child who Rebecca has proudly shared photos of with her. The spitting image of her mother, thick dark curls and the sweetest toothy grin. 

“Hm.” Dad agrees. 

“So, you cheated but not because you were in love with someone else, or because you were just toying with her.” 

“Yes.” He confirmed. Elle lay her palms face down on the counter, which is slightly sticky from whatever it is that they use to clean them. Of course, she could get angry with Dad about his failed marriage. She had been, then, and spitefully decided not to return for a visit she’d been planning to meet Andrew. With time and space, she can see that the only person she’d hurt by doing that was herself, and Andrew. Forgiving Dad is an impulse. It happens without her consent no matter what he does. He has an endless supply of second chances from her, and he always would. It’s a defence mechanism of sorts, it had to be. There have been plenty of times in her life when she’s thought that she’d have been better off without Dad, or with a different Dad. But the truth was this. She loved him, and life is so unbearably short. 

“Why tell me now?” She questions, “Seems like all of this might have been something you’d have liked to tell me way back when. Instead of leaving Andrew to fill in the blanks for me a month later. You know, I might have liked the chance to fly in and be there for you.” 

“Oh, Elle. It’s good you weren’t there. You’d have disowned me long before I was pushed, and you didn’t need to see me like that...I wish Andrew hadn’t. I was wearing one of those braces they had Cameron in, that you hate. It’s better you were in New York.” 

“Okay, how about when you decided to keep having cancer from me?” 

“I didn’t want you to worry! Or fuss. Which is what you would have done, don’t deny it.” He raised his eyebrows, daring her to disagree, and she can’t. Ultimately, she had decided to cancel her trip in to see him, because...She hadn’t wanted to see him unwell. She’d seen him dying before and didn’t particularly desire to see that again if he wasn’t really. There’s only so many times a person can see their parent dying and Elle has reached her quota. She didn’t care about his financial crimes. Barely even rated on her morality scale. (So long as it’s not her he’s stealing from, of course) She’s investigated enough businesses to know that most of them were doing it in some capacity or other and Dad probably just had the misfortune of being caught. 

“Alright. What about when you were on trial for murder? Didn’t think to pick up the phone and go ‘Hey Elle...In a spot of trouble...Can you help me out?” 

“You didn’t want to help me when I was in trouble over the development!” 

“Well, you actually did that!” 

“And what would you have done from the middle of a war zone anyway? Not like you could leave - or had constant access to the rest of the world.” Elle sighed and scrunched up her nose. This is not the time or the place for a fight about being left out of Dad’s major life events. 

“As far as the affair goes at least...I forgive you, but if I ever even have an inkling you’ve been unfaithful to your new wife then I swear, I swear that I will make what RobRob did to you seem like child's play.” And Dad knows, he knows what Elle did to him when he broke up her relationship with Dylan in the throes of his illness. He knows what Elle did to Max Hoyland when he struck Cam with his car. Unlike Rob, she’s perfectly capable of making good on her threats and she doesn’t need to put on a great big show and dance about it...Though it does help. 

“If I ever cheat on Terese then you have my permission.” He said, his eyes level with hers. “I love her, Elle. I love her so much that I was prepared to let her go. How often can you say that about me.” 

“Never.” She replied, thinking about Dad’s downright embarrassing attempts to curry favour with Rebecca after the affair with Kirsten came out - despite their combined efforts to keep it under wraps. “Please promise me one thing, and I will promise you that I will make a serious attempt to get on your wife's good side.”

“Shoot.” 

“Don’t do to her what you did to Rebecca. Just let her go if it comes to that. Just let it all slide away.” 

“You don’t expect me to fight for my marriage? You know that’s not me.” 

“I mean don’t follow her around, buying her things she doesn’t want, harassing, stalking and slandering anyone she’s interested in after you. Please, Dad.” 

“It won’t come to that.” He says, confidently, “But I promise. Now, will you please do your best to make peace with Terese?” 

“Alright. Fine. What do you suggest I do to make her like me?” 

“Try being respectful, for once?” 

“I am respectful.” 

“Darling you’re a lot of things, respectful isn’t one of them. Stop being such a journalist, be honest about why you decided to ruin her wedding and apologize. I mean that. Apologize.” 

“I hate apologizing.” 

“So do I but I want the two of you to be at the very least friendly before you go back to New York. I can’t be happy if my wife and my baby girl hate one another, can I?” He asked, punctuating his point with the plastic spoon. Elle isn’t going back to New York, but now is not the time to be bringing this up with him. 

“Leave it with me.” She sighed, leaning her elbow on the table then putting her chin on her elbow. 

“Okay, next on my list. You also need to have a chat with Harlow and -” 

“Apologize. I know.” 

“I was actually going to say tell her about Cam and Rob as you knew them.” 

“There’s nothing I can tell her about Psycho Rob she can’t figure out for herself.” 

“Then talk about Cam. She wants to know about him, and you’re the only one in a position to tell her. And...You’re still Rob’s triplet. You have insight into him no one else does you’re the one who can make her take my warnings about him seriously.” 

“Okay. One aunty niece chat. Coming right up.” 

“She does like you, Elle. She was very upset that she hurt you.” 

“She seems the sort.” It comes out sarcastic but she doesn’t mean for it to.

“Be nice. She’s just a kid with an evil father. You should know a bit about that.” 

“Please. You’re not evil. I’ve seen evil and you, Daddy, are just a suburban businessman. Small potatoes.” 

“I hope that was a compliment.” She used her pointer finger to move her straw around in a circle and thought about Harlow, and about the fact that Rob had a daughter. And Cam would never have kids, not unless some random girlfriend showed up with a child and she knew that Cam was so careful that there was next to no chance of that. 

“Can I see the picture that her mother sent you of her and Rob?” She asked, on a whim. 

“Think I might have made a mistake about which of my sons it is?” Dad asked and then fished his phone out of his pants pocket. He spent a moment tapping the screen with a concerned look on his face before setting it down in front of her. On the screen is a picture of one of her brothers. He’s smiling for the camera, one arm extended, holding it in front of him. Wide eyes, high cheekbones, and a freckle just above his top lip. The other is draped around the shoulders of a much older woman with peroxide blonde hair and a wide, dangerous-looking smile. She doesn’t need to check his arm to know that it’s Robert - She can just tell. Everything about it screams Rob. The pose, the short and spiked hair, the cameo print jacket ...All of it. He looks agonisingly like her brother, and he looks very, very young. 

“I was kind of hoping that it’d be Cam.” She admitted with a sigh. Using two fingers, she zoomed in enough to cut Prue Wallace out and focus just on her brother. Not that she doubted Dad’s ability to spot the lack of mole on his forearm - he’d never make that mistake again. 

“I know. Me too.” 

“He looks like a child.” 

“Do you recognize where the picture was taken?” Dad asked, clearly fishing for information for some agenda of his or other. Elle is beyond caring about that sort of thing, she’s an adult now and it’s not like he’s going to tattle on her to Mum for underage drinking. 

“Yeah, I do. That’s an old haunt of mine and Cam’s. Beer was cheap, I.D checking was lax and the pool table was level. What else did a couple of ratbags need in a bar?” Cam used to think that the beer was watered down, and complain that he couldn’t get the smell of smoke out of his hair for days afterwards. Not that it ever stopped him going there, of course. She doesn’t remember if they ever brought Rob along with them. He wasn’t into the whole underage drinking scene - He got his kicks handing them over to Mum when he could catch them in the act so the idea of him going out to a bar is almost too ridiculous for her to consider if not for the fact that she knew he had gone with them to a couple. He’d asked if they’d take him with them and not wanting to cause trouble, she and Cam had agreed on the condition that he let them do the talking. So he knew how to get there, and how to get in. But this clearly wasn’t a time he’d gone with them. He strained her eyes on the pool table in the background, trying to see if Cam was there but she couldn’t be sure. The only clue she did see as to when exactly the photo was taken was the television in the background playing the news but it’s too out of focus for her to tell what’s on display. 

“You drank cheap beer?” Dad asked, and when she looked up he was smiling wolfishly. “Cam I can imagine but you always seemed like a champagne girl.”

“Any shelter in a storm.” She replied, slightly bemused. “I don’t know why Rob wouldn’t have mentioned her to us.” 

“Prue? Why would he tell you?” 

“Losing his V-card at fifteen? Cam didn’t lose his for another year after that. I know enough about Rob to know he’d be lording that over him for the rest of his life.” 

“Maybe he just wanted to keep it to himself.” 

“Yeah. Right.” 

“Alright, your theory?” 

“I don’t have one. Not enough information. Anyway, shouldn't you be angry about some twenty-something woman taking advantage of your teenage son?” 

“Oh, I’m furious.” Dad confirmed, “But there’s no point in taking that out on Harlow.” Then, he gave her a knowing look through his eyebrows to punctuate his point. 

“I am not taking anything out on Harlow.” 

“Oh?” 

“I like Harlow!” She exclaimed, causing the person manning the counter to glance at them quizzically. She felt herself blush and looked down at her hands awkwardly before continuing. “She’s a good kid.” 

“She is. A really good kid. Which is why you need to behave yourself around her. No calling him ‘Psycho Rob’ or any of those other unkind things you call him.” 

“Not even RobRob?” 

“Not even RobRob.” 

“Ugh, you’re taking this parenting stuff for real.” She sighed. “Fine, I’ll drop the nicknames around her.”

“Excellent. Next on my list is - Riley.” 

“Oh, God.” She said, wrinkling up her nose. 

“Well? Anything to report? Am I going to get to walk at least one of my daughters down the aisle in this lifetime?” He asked, giving her a somewhat imploring look. Elle just sighed and leaned over her drink to suck the last of the juice and melted ice cubes. 

“There’s nothing to report. He took the contract and went back to the Middle East.” And that was that. Their on again off again relationship was off again. 

“I never thought you’d find someone as dedicated to their work as you are,” Dad remarked. 

“And I never thought you’d find someone who loved Lassiters as much as you.” 

“So we’ve both found the one, then.” 

“Shut up, it’s not like that.” She grumbled. “If I have a ‘the One’ it’s not some surfer bum from Oakey.” 

“Don’t talk about my future son-in-law like that.” He scolded, waving his spoon around again to punctuate his words. “He will come back to you if he loves you.” 

“I know he loves me. He’s loved me since the roof collapsed. The problem is me, and that I told him to go back on contract.” 

“Oh-Kay. You didn’t want him to do that so why?” She let out a long sigh and placed her arms on the counter, before leaning on them. Her hair fell around her face in messy, sandy curtains. 

“Because. Because I love him, and I want him to be happy.” 

“And he won’t be happy with you? Elle, darling, you’re doing it again.” 

“Doing what?” 

“Sabotaging your happiness. Just like you did with Lucas and Oliver. Some poor bloke adores you, and you keep finding excuses to fob him off. You do, believe it or not, deserve to be happy.” 

“So you’re team Riley?” 

“Actually, Harlow tells me that these days the kids make a portmanteau of your names.” 

“What’s you and your wife? Traul?” 

“My wife’s name is Terese, and I prefer praise.” 

“So what would Riley and I be, since you’re so hip with the kids?” 

“Rilelle? Rucinda? Luley? Elly?” 

“Oh, the first one. The second is what Ian used to call me. Gross.” 

“I thought you kids liked Ian?”

“Sure...When Cam is distracting him so Rob and I can steal his whiskey.” Dad snorted and rolled his eyes affectionately. “Tell me. What makes you so fond of him and not Harlow’s boyfriend?” Dad pursed his lips then spoke - 

“He saved your life, and he makes you laugh. What else could I possibly ask of him to prove he loves you? Donate a lung or something? So. Why are you not team Riley?” 

“Because. He’s got a chance to be normal and live a normal life. When people spend too much time with us Robinsons...They just get...Warped.” 

“Examples?” 

“Andrew was a normal kid until he moved in with you.” 

“Your brother's neurological condition is not my fault.” 

“No, but he wouldn’t have it if he hadn’t come here. And in future, when you want to speak to me don’t use him as a go-between.” 

“Go between?” 

“Why else would he have called me this afternoon at three am Berlin time if not for you trying to find me?” 

“At three am Berlin time I was in the car with Harlow heading to the prison. I didn’t ask him to call you.” 

“Then what was he calling about?” 

“As if I’d know. I don’t understand half the things that go through that boy's head.” 

“Huh. Well, if it was important he’d have left a voice mail. I’ll catch up with him tomorrow.” 

“Who else has been warped by us?” Dad asked, leaning behind him to dump his empty cup into the garbage. 
 
“Oliver. Lyn. Susan Kennedy. Dylan. Ned. Lucas was normal until he started going out with me, then he developed a gambling addiction.” 

“Lucas’s gambling addiction was not your fault. Elle, let me tell you something, man to daughter.” 

“...Okay.” 

“There are two types of people in this world. People who have potential, and people who don’t. All of those people only reached their truest potential because we pushed them to it. Good, or bad.” 

“So, your wi...Terese. She has potential.” 

“Of course. When she arrived here, trapped in her marriage with that unfaithful lump Brad she was a smart, capable businesswoman with fire but she didn’t know how to use it in a way that could bring a man to his knees...Now she’s a ruthless, considered, tactical businesswoman who fights with the big boys. You think she’d ever have found someone to nurture that spirit in a...Surfer bum? No, of course not. He’d have seen that spark in her and stamped it out. She didn’t need that. She needed someone to hate, who could teach her to embrace volatility.” 

“And hate is just love without vulnerability.” 

“Exactly.” While she did find it exceedingly funny that Dad insulted Brad over being unfaithful less than twenty minutes after confessing an affair to her...He had a point. “Lucas Fitzgerald has no potential. I know -” He said, raising a hand to stop her, “That you loved him. I respect that, but he doesn’t have the potential to be exceptional. He’s nice, and a good father but those qualities alone do not a brilliant man make. Riley Parker, however, has potential. I’ve read his work, I’ve seen his reporting on Channel Eight. Need I remind you that the two of you published award-winning journal articles about the ethics of true crime? When he works with you and embraces your volatility with his laid back attitude the two of you can be brilliant. Stop pushing him away, Darling. One of these days he won’t come back.” 

“Does she love you?” 

“Terese?” 

“No, your second wife, Beth from H.R.” 

“Haha.” He scoffed, sarcasm dripping. “Yes. She does.” 

“And you’re sure it’s real true love and not an elaborate ploy for your money and hotel?” 

“Why is it that you automatically think any time a woman is interested in me it’s about money?” Dad asked, rolling his eyes. 

“Um, because they usually are.” 

“Oh, darling you wound me so. I thought they wanted my good looks and charm.” 

“Yeah. Izzy and Cass were totally into your sparkling personality.” 

“Yes, Terese loves me, and it’s for real. Not that I blame you for having doubts, God only knows I’ve had enough false starts.”

“I have heard the ‘fairytale ending’ speech three times already.” She concurred, “And Cass did try to make you out to be a wife-beater to the whole street. I guess what I’m trying to say is...I don’t want you to get hurt again. I want you to be happy, and with someone who knows how to weather the storm you inevitably bring into the lives of your loved ones.” 

“Which is why you sent a string of assassins. So, she passes your test?”

“I guess so. Who knows Dad, maybe it is true love. But if she ever gets you sent to jail again I’ll sabotage the breaks on her car.” 

“No, you won’t.”

“You always spoil my fun. Anything else on your Dad Agenda?” 

“Nothing you haven’t heard before. Stop putting holes in your ears, call me more, I wish you’d choose safer stories to pursue, stop fighting with your mother...Usual Dad Stuff.” 

“Well, thanks for the advice. I think.” 

“Hey. What are Dad’s for?” 

“What happened to you two?” Terese demanded, as she opened the passenger side door to the car, Dad’s crutches in hand.

They’d taken the long way home from the restaurant, mostly so they could scream sing some classic Taylor Swift. Dad must think there’s something wrong with her because he’d only ever done that before when he thought she needed a real, serious cheer up. But honestly? How can anyone be sad driving in a red convertible, in the middle of the night, roof down, music blaring and wind in your hair? 

“We had a bit of a drive and a swim,” Dad said, cheerfully. “Elle, grab my leg won’t you?” His wife looked between the two of them, eyebrows pulled together in a frown. 

“In the ocean.” 

“I told you she was at the beach,” Dad replied, as the three of them went inside. Cam’s phone, now worn around her neck on a lanyard, bumps against her heart. “Why go to the beach if not to swim?” 

“You hate swimming.” She says, “Too many people starring at your...Leg.”

“I was...Persuaded.” 

“Should I catch a cab to Lassiters?” She asked, standing awkwardly in the door as Dad and his wife entered. 

“Don’t be silly.” Terese said, “You’re family. I can make the couch up for you -” 

“You don’t need to do that...I assume the linen cupboard hasn’t moved… And the bathroom..” 

“I’m sure I can rustle up some clothes for you, at least.” She says, determined, and bustling away to resume her no doubt extremely motherly fussing. Dad paused at the foot of the stairs and turned to face her. 

“You should keep Cam’s phone. He’d want you to have it anyway. Just promise me you won't become one of those people who sit around calling their deceased loved ones phone to hear their voicemail.”  

“Don’t worry, no voice mail calling here.” 

“And I mean it. I want you to talk to me about Cam, and Rob if you want. Let’s try to avoid letting it get this bad again, shall we?” 

“Yeah. Hey, Dad?” 

“Hm?” He asked, pausing now a few steps up. Terese stood at the top of the stairs holding the blankets and pillows. 

“As far as Dads go...You haven’t been a total failure. I mean, yeah, Rob’s a total psycho, and sometimes you’re more like my enemy than my parent but Andrew and I...We turned out just fine. So cut yourself a bit of slack now and again.” 

“Thanks, LucyTwo.” He said, “Sleep tight.” 

 

Chapter Text

“So. Would you like to know the answer to your question?” 

Harlow, who was seated on the couch facing the television glanced up at Elle with pulled together brows. On her lap was a Penguin Classic novel, though which one it is Elle isn’t sure. She’s taken a place next to the fireplace that separated the kitchen from the living space in order to keep a safe gap between them. After an unpleasant night spent on the couch, she’d woken up just about as sandy and annoyed as when she fell asleep. But, a hot shower and hot coffee had perked her up enough that having to borrow clothes from Dad didn’t bother her half as much as it should. Maybe she could even make an outfit out of a shirt-dress. Those were back in again or so she’d been told. 

As Harlow processed her question Elle made a few judgements about her, locking the thoughts away for later use. She was exceptionally British - not just in her accent but in her slightly better than you pose and the way she carried herself. Her clothing choices were...Not what Elle might have expected but she was never untidy. Her hair was a very fashionable shade of blonde. When she smiled, she had a set of sweet dimples and she smiled a lot. She did not look like Rob - Or Cam by extension. So, her looks must come from her mother. 

“What question?” She asked, frowning. 

“The one you asked me yesterday before I bit your head off. About what Cam would want for me.” 

“I suppose.” She said, sliding her bookmark - of course she had a bookmark - into the novel. “Why?” 

“I don’t want you to think that you can never ask me about him. That if you say his name I’ll turn around and snap at you because that isn’t the case. I want to share Cam with you, he’s your family too. I was just caught off guard yesterday.”

“Okay.” Harlow accepted, “I’d like to hear what Cam would want for you and Dad.” 

“I know what Nineteen-year-old Cam, fresh out of jail and a coma would want. He’d want me to cut him out and keep him out.” Elle let out a small sigh and lay her head against the shelf on the side of the fireplace.  “We promised each other that we’d never have anything to do with him because we hated him.” Harlow looked away, her face sad. She’s probably heard something like this from Dad, the conversation is not going to get anywhere so Elle busts out her second paragraph. “But as for thirty-six-year-old Cam? I can’t say. I’ve thought about it a lot, over the years. You aren’t the only person who thinks I’d benefit from a relationship of some kind with Rob. Mum and a lot of my therapists think that I should reach out properly. I mean. I’m a triplet, right? I’m meant to have two brothers.” 

“What do you think thirty-six-year-old Cameron would want?” 

“Oh, I think he’d want me to do whatever is best for me. Whatever that might be. He was pretty forgiving, and he wanted Rob to love him so who knows. Might have even approached Rob himself. I’m sorry, Harlow. I’m the adult and you’re the teenager. I should have been able to talk to you in a reasonable, respectful way.” 

“Thank you for the apology,” Harlow says, sliding a bookmark into her book, and then placing it on the table. “But I don’t think that’s the only reason you’re here.” 

“No, it’s not.” Elle admitted, “Dad wants me to tell you about Rob and Cam..” 

“He thinks I have unanswered questions.”

“You know when I first arrived in Erinsborough...Oh, about fifteen years ago now basically the first thing anyone said to me was that Paul Robinson was Satan. They didn’t know he was my dad, but that was their honest opinion of him. So, I do know what it’s like. To turn up somewhere and find that no one likes someone that you love. I’m sure Rob has said some...Things about Cam and myself, and I probably haven’t done much to seem approachable in your eyes but having a relationship with my father is a lot of hard work, and loving him is a thankless job but to me, it’s worth it. I dare say you feel something similar for my brother. I don’t want to imply that there’s something that I know about your father you can’t figure out for yourself but if you do have  any questions for me, I will answer them as honestly as possible and never with the intention of convincing you to end your relationship with him.” 

“Which is what Grandad thinks that you’ll do?” 

“No, I think he just wants me to do it because he can’t. I’m covering my bases in case Rob asks.” 

“Fair enough.” Harlow conceded. “You were right, though. Dad has said some...Hm. Some things about you. And Cameron, but mostly you. I figure that I’ve got his side, so if I get yours then the truth will probably be somewhere in the middle.” 

“You’re a very reasonable young woman, has anyone ever told you that?” 

“Just about everyone I’ve met on your side of the family.” 

“That’s ‘cause you didn’t get it from us.” 

“So, I guess I’ll start with...What was Cameron like?” Harlow has changed the subject away from her own family. Interesting, but fine with Elle. She didn’t want to accidentally get into another fight by saying something about her deceased mother. 

“Charming. He could dial the old Robinson charm up to a hundred to get just about anything from anyone. He liked the ladies, and dad rock. His favourite song was Talking in Your Sleep by the Romantics. He had good morals. He took everything to heart. He loved me, and he loved Mum and Dad. He was an artist, he loved to draw. His muse was usually old buildings, he couldn’t get enough of them. He was good at maths, but he didn’t have the introspection needed for English.” She stopped and sighed deeply. This wasn’t helping Harlow understand Cam, this was just a list of facts about him. Time for a new approach.  “Oh, here’s a good story. Okay, so did Dad tell you what Cameron did for a living?” 

“No, he’s hardly told me anything.” 

“He wanted to be an architect. He always believed that architecture was the perfect blend of art and maths. Whenever we went anywhere he used to drag me to look at old buildings and you could just see him dismantling them with his eyes. He had this thing with angles. You know how some people have perfect pitch? Well, Cameron had this weird skill where he could look at any angle and figure out what it was just with his eyes.” 

“That’s impressive,” Harlow said, sounding a little surprised. 

“Yeah, it’s what made him such a great pool player. Taught me everything I know. Byron Bay North Club Champion 2001. He could have gone pro with pool, I think. Because of the angle thing. But instead, he wanted to be an architect.” 

“2001? You would have only been like…”

“Fifteen? Yep. Probably around the time you were being conceived.” 

“Gross.” 

“We were a couple of ratbags. From when we were fourteen we were sneaking out and making our way to parties and by fifteen we were finding our way into sketchy bars. Cameron would impress with his pool skills and I’d have the money from whatever cheque Dad had sent for our birthday.” Indeed, Elle’s teenage years had been thoroughly booze-soaked. She could still remember walking home with Cam, since they were too young to drive, and him dancing under the streetlights for her in the purple orange morning sky. The smell of cheap beer, cigarette smoke and the perfume of his latest conquest that clung to his clothes when he lay a heavy arm over her bare shoulders. The sound of his laughter startling the birds from the trees of their sleepy little street, and the way he hitched his jeans up with his other arm. 

“Did dad ever come?” Elle is broken from her recollection by Harlow reminding her of the blight in her otherwise fun, carefree teenage years. 

“Sometimes, but he didn’t like pool and he didn’t like me hanging around the bar trying to get older guys. Or girls, if the right one came along. He didn’t like drinking either, he’d get the worst hangovers and trying to cover them up from Mum was difficult because Robert was just about always at her side.” 

“So like you and Grandad?” 

“I’m not always at his side.” She said, rolling her eyes. 

“Since you’ve been here you’ve had a total monopoly on Grandad’s time.” 

“It’s not like I’m forcing him to spend time with me, but I’ve got time to spare, and he’s not as busy as he used to be since Lucy hired Terese. “ 

“Well, I wouldn’t know.”

“No, I guess you wouldn’t.” 

“Were there...Hm. Dad said Cameron hated him.” 

“When we were twelve, Mum started letting us catch the bus home instead of to the nursery. Robert was always a quick walker, and he’d arrive before us. Mostly because Cam and I were too busy dragging our feet and chatting. Our door entered onto a hallway, and along that wall, Mum had all of our family photos. Cam’s angle thing meant that all the pictures had to be at a ninety-degree angle, and when Rob got home he’d put his hand on the wall and walk, making sure he knocked every picture askew.” 

“Why?” 

“Because Cam would have a conniption fit about it.”  

“So...He wanted to upset him.” 

“Oh, yeah.” 

“Did they fight a lot?” 

“I’m not sure what the usual amount of fighting for siblings is. Cam wasn’t much of a fighter. If he had a problem then he’d write about it in his journals. I was the one who had to do the most standing up to RobRob.” 

“You were more assertive?” 

“I was mean.” 

“Mean?”

“Rude, unkind. Call it what you want. I could give as good as I got, Cam couldn’t. Or rather, wouldn’t.” 

“So he was kind.” 

“Wouldn’t say that. When we were thirteen or so, after years of putting up with Rob’s daily torment of name-calling, him breaking our stuff and snitching to Mum for things we didn’t do...He snapped. I thought he was going to try and kill him. But he didn’t. Just gave him the twenty-minute dressing down of a lifetime. But when it came to people other than Rob, yes. He was… A bit like you.” 

“You wouldn’t say that if you knew me.” Harlow said, with a shrug, “People have said Dad was odd. What does that mean?” 

“It means...That he was weird. I don’t know what to tell you. I had a fish tank in the bedroom I shared with Cam, and he used to fish the tetra’s out with the little net you use for cleaning and watch them try to breathe just to see what would happen. He shaved our cat, Molly and I still don’t know why. He always insisted on long pants, even in summer when he was sweltering, and he let our mother pick his haircut his whole life. He drowned the bear Dad sent me for my tenth birthday and I never slept in the same room as him again. Cameron and I used to keep a diary of all the strange things he would do we called ‘The Freak Files’, I can dig it out for you if you like. And promise not to judge me too harshly.” 

“I’d like that.” 

“Great, I think I left it in my hotel room, so I’ll get it for you next time I see you.” 

“Do you have good memories with him? Or are they all bad?” It’s a valid question. So much of her memories of Rob are tinted with bad it’s easy to forget that she had loved him. Why she had loved him. 

“Sure, there’s good memories. Rob saved up every penny he made from our crappy part-time jobs, and Dad’s birthday cheques for years so he could buy this old bomb of a car. I’m sure that Lucas would have taken one look and had a heart attack, but he was so proud of it. He’d clean it every weekend, and try to fix it himself. I don’t know if he ever did or if he was just making it worse. We used to spend hours just driving around, windows cracked, the three of us screaming Cold Chisel and Queen at the top of our lungs. I tell you what, Barnsey never sounded better than when he was coming through Rob’s broken, staticky speakers.” She paused and then added a second anecdote -  “I used to be a cheerleader until I got dropped in my finals and broke my leg in two places. He broke our video camera he was using to film the performance because he threw it away so he could run to me faster and ream Cam out for dropping me. He held my hand the whole trip to the hospital while I was crying and tried to assure me, in his own way, that my career wasn’t over before it even began.” The strange tenderness of the moment, perhaps the only tenderness Rob had ever shown her, was an oft revisited memory. 

 Harlow’s smile is small and damp, but she looks relieved to hear that Rob was not all bad all the time. And that was the problem wasn’t it? He hadn’t been all bad all the time. If he had been then there was no way he would have been able to start pulling off his ridiculous final revenge against Dad because he’d have been sectioned or something. Maybe given the appropriate help earlier, he’d have been okay.

‘You’re doing the same face Grandad makes when I talk about Dad.” 

“What face?” She asked, putting a hand up to tap her cheeks and lips. 

“A scrunched up smile. Like you’re in pain.” 

“I am in pain. But good pain, like the moment you realize you’re through the worst of a cramp.” 

“Oh. That’s different.”

“He is my brother. Despite what he’s done.” 

“Tell me about your crappy part-time jobs.” Elle sighed and leaned the side of her head against the shelf on the side of the fireplace. Terese has a lot of vases decorating her furniture, it was hard to believe that this was the house she used to call home. With the giant vases, and Dad’s meerkat dogs. There wasn’t even one, weird tacky wall art. It feels clean and bright. Modern.

“Well, when we were sixteen Mum decided that we should learn the value of hard work so she called in a favour and got us jobs at the local mob front.” 

“Excuse me?” 

“You know the kinds of corner stores. You go in, but everything is empty, and the milk is almost expired and the person behind the counter is shocked to see you there because no one comes in?” 

“No, we don’t have those in London...And there’s no way Gail has mob ties.” Interesting that Harlow calls Dad by a title and Mum by her name. Elle has never done that to either of them, no matter how angry she was. Is. Though there have been times when she wished Mum was less...Mumsy. And more times when she wishes that she would put her above her dear golden child.  Mostly she just feels bad for being judgemental - Mum had been a first-time mother raising triplets on a strict budget with Step Devil, who mostly slept and was annoying. And Dad was right, she had done a good job with her and Cam. Maybe she should put the word in with Harlow to go see Mum?

“Don’t let those big warm eyes fool you. Mum’s a stone-cold operator - She’s half the reason Dad has what he has now. People forget her accomplishments because she’s Robert Robinson’s Mum, but she’s a woman who puts it up with the best of them.” 

“I didn’t mean to insult her, I’m just saying. She seemed...Um. Well, she was in bed with you over the wedding thing.” 

“Like I said. Stone cold operator. I didn’t get it all from Daddy, you know. Anyway. Rob and Cam were hired as shelf stackers, and I was hired to be a check out chick. But when Cam realized that he was not going to get any girls stacking jars of prunes he asked me to swap and I said sure. Rob and I had a sweet deal - We’d show up at six, work together to stack the new perishables then steal chocolates and hang around the parking lot until closing time.” 

“What did Dad take?” 

“Violet Crumbles.” 

“And you?” 

“Usually a block of dark chocolate, the darker the better.” 

“There’s something wrong with you,” Harlow said, pulling a face. 

“Therapists have been trying to figure it out for years.” She agreed, “After we finished pigging out, I’d sit in one of the trolleys and Rob would push us as fast as he could across the empty parking lot, before jumping up onto the bottom bar and we’d just skate. I was only a little dainty thing. We’d do that for hours, rain or shine.” 

“Sounds like fun.” 

“Yeah. We had good times. Which is the problem - if we had no good times then hating him would be the easy option.” 

“I thought I’d hate you,” Harlow admitted she's studying Elle with a set of intense eyes that are remarkably like Robert. 

“I thought you would too, once Rob got in your ear about his abusive, miserable childhood.” 

“It wasn’t him - It was the court documents. Dad’s not your biggest fan, but he does care about you.” 

“Oh, those. Yes, those have been causing me trouble since the whole charade began. The defence gave it a red hot go.” 

“That’s one way of saying that you were raked across the coals.” Looking back on those days were some of the worst of her life. Sitting sandwiched between Dad and Susan Kennedy while Robert described how she and Cameron had ruined his life until he felt he had no way left to fight back except to lash out. Mum starring at the back of Robert’s head like she could figure out why he did what he did. The cracking of Dad’s voice as he told her to be brave as they left court to fight their way through the hoard of reporters. Robert staring her down from the bench, his eyes cold and impenetrable. 

“It was a miserable time, having your every mistake dragged out for public consumption. Rebechi has always said that it’s the defence’s job to make it personal. I don’t think it was just that, I think Rob just wanted me to suffer.” 

“They had to try.” 

“He could have pled guilty, saved us all the pain.” 

“He’s sick, not evil.” 

“Funny, that’s what his groupies tell me when they email my work address.” 

“He’s got groupies?” 

“And he’s a regular story in many true crime shows and podcasts. Some of them even bother to ask me for an interview.” 

“You’ve never given one. I’d have seen it.” 

“It’s bad for my interview karma.” She admitted, “But the court documents are mostly true. I wasn’t terribly kind to Rob as a child, but he was never kind to me either. I wish I could go back and make a point of that. I was a scared, traumatized, grieving nineteen year old - I should never have been put on the stand to begin with. “ 

“What’s not true?” 

“Hm?” 

“In the documents. What’s not true?” 

“Pretty much everything Rob had to say about Cam. He wasn’t violent, and he wasn’t a ringleader of any bullying campaigns. He was just a kid with a weird brother he didn’t know how to deal with. That’s all.” 

“He was trying to get into a psychiatric facility, which for the record is where I think he should be.” 

“See, that’s the thing though, isn’t it? I know Cam’s death was an accident, and no one set out that day with the intention of killing him. Not me and Dad, not Katya, not Rob and not Max. It was just an accident, and I can...Forgive an accident. But nothing Rob did was by accident. He didn’t accidentally build a bomb and blow us out of the sky. It’s no accident he put Cam in a coma.  Didn’t accidentally gas Izzy, didn’t accidentally kidnap Katya or take a shot at Dad, or leave him to die in a mine shaft. Didn’t accidentally try to kill me. He did all of that on purpose, he made a choice and then followed through. I know I throw the word psycho around pretty liberally when it comes to Rob but if he’d truly been having some kind of episode where he was no longer in control of his actions or suddenly unaware of right or wrong I could have a lot more empathy for him...But it was premeditated. All of it. He told me he loved me, kissed my forehead and all the while he was planning how I was going to die. He covered up what he did because he knew it was wrong. Rob is mentally ill, for sure, but not in any way where he can be medicated and then sent on his merry way. He’s just Rob, and Cam paid the price.” 

Harlow’s expression is no less intense as she studies Elle’s face. She’s traded in the awful fuschia dress for something Donna would probably call an exercise in beige, the only spot of colour coming from her red sweater vest looking thing. 

“You really loved Cameron. More than anyone.” 

“Yes.” 

“How on Earth did Dad trick you?”  And that was the million-dollar question, wasn’t it? To this day, Elle would insist that she knew Cam better than anyone, and he knew her better than she knew herself so how could someone fake that? Especially someone like Rob, who’d done a poor job of it. It’s a question she’d meditated on for years, discussed with therapists and barmen alike. Everyone must have wondered it. And they must have all thought she was an idiot. Maybe she was. 

“He didn’t. Not really. I saw the red flags from the moment he rolled up, the way he spoke - He was articulate. Cameron’s accent was clumsy like his words were tripping over each other inside his mouth. He didn’t remember our inside jokes or what we used to do for fun. He didn’t want to play pool. But I was miserable here. Dad was having a paranoid breakdown, the house was filled with cameras and he was obsessed with viewing them. Someone had just tried to kill him in our home - Someone who wasn’t Robert by the way. He wasn’t the father I’d been expecting in fact he was terrible at fatherhood. Izzy had just slept with my boyfriend, and he left me standing by the curb. I’d survived a plane crash over the Bass Strait where I broke my arm and almost died. I missed my Mum, I missed Tasmania. I wanted...I needed Cam. Subconsciously I knew it was Robert, but I just wanted it to be Cam so bad that I let him lie to me. I let him lie to me. When Dad saw him, on some instinctive paternal level, he knew it was Rob. But I convinced him it was Cam. So what he did to Izzy, Charlie and Katya...That’s on me. And what he ended up doing to Dad, I guess that’s on me too.” 

“No, Elle, what Dad did to those people, that wasn’t your fault. It was just...He was sick.” 

“I ‘spose that’s always going to be the difference between you and me,” Elle said, turning from her side to her back, now facing off against Terese’s large shelf with photos and vases and the like on it. She reached her arms in front of her chest to cross them, her eyes fixing on the middle distance as she tried to picture Serena’s face. “You don’t know the people Rob hurt. I do. Did. I’m not religious by any means but I pray that you never, ever have to go through anything even remotely close to what Rob did to me. I hope you are never on a plane that crashes. I hope your father never holds you to his chest and tells you he loves you in case he never sees you again. I hope that you never spend twelve hours in the ocean, hypothermic with a dislocated arm. If I have my way then you’ll never know the heat of a car bomb on your back, the smell of burning wool as shrapnel catches you through your shirt. Attending the fake wedding of your parents, knowing Katya is out there, somewhere, and he’s doing God only knows to her. I can only imagine what Cam went through, waking up in a weird place, with his brother about to kill him, trying to find help with his Dad and then being sent to prison for things he didn’t even know had happened...His triplet sister turning on him - I - Sorry.” Elle said, realizing she was choked up. 

“It’s...It’s fine,” Harlow said, softly. 

“You are Rob’s key to starting over, but I don’t get to start my life again.” Elle turns away again, collecting her thoughts for a second before she releases one arm to point at the carbon monoxide alarm built into the wall.  “Do you ever wonder why Dad had one of those built into every room of this house?” 

“No, I don’t even know what that is.” 

“It detects the amount of carbon monoxide in the air so you don’t suffocate if you leave the stove on.” 

“Oh-Kay.” 

“Charlie Hoyland is the son of Stephanie Scully and Max Hoyland. You might have met her mother, Lyn during my big wedding scheme.” 

“I didn’t, but I heard about her. Max Hoyland was driving the car that hit Cameron, right?” 

“Yes. He did. Charlie was also the nephew of Izzy Hoyland, who was Dad’s girlfriend when Robert showed up. He was only a few weeks old, and Izzy had just barely convinced Max and Steph to let her babysit. Robert turned on the gas, and left them to suffocate.” 

“Why would he do that?” 

“Because he’s evil. Because he values getting revenge on our father by disposing of his girlfriend more than the life of a newborn. Because he felt like it. Take your pick - all the options are bad.” 

“But he doesn’t anymore.” She said, good old cognitive dissonance setting in. “Not anymore. He’s not looking for revenge. You have to believe me.” 

“You can believe whatever you want about my brother.” Elle says, “Whatever you need to believe to sleep at night, to keep visiting him, to make it through the day believe it but I’m his sister. I know him better than anyone - I always have. Robert plays the long game. He played it with Cam, he played it with me and the only option I have is to believe he’s playing it with you, too.” 

“But he’s not.” 

“Then the only person who’s losing is me. Harlow, it’s not your job to make people forgive Robert. It’s not your job to foster their relationships with him, and it’s certainly not your job to convince me to go see him. Me not forgiving Robert, or holding on to anger, whatever you’re convinced I do - It’s not a moral failing on your part. I’m speaking from experience here; you can’t make people forgive your father and you certainly cannot make them forget. We’re both the children of a specific kind of man, and if you start shouldering the weight of his actions you’ll be putting Atlas to shame. Please understand where I’m coming from. I don’t hate Rob - In fact, I love him. But I can’t risk letting him back into my head.”  Harlow looked at her, with big eyes. Her face is unreadable but familiar. Elle gets it. As the silence sets in, she moved across the room in three large steps to the couch and sat, leaving a respectable space between them. Harlow fidgeted but didn’t move away. 

“At least you have the guts to be honest about it.” 

“I don’t believe in lying to spare people’s feelings.”  It had only ever gotten her into trouble. “I think you should maintain your relationship with Rob. But he has hurt people, and it’s your job as his daughter to be sensitive to those people and their needs. You cannot privilege the abuser over the victim.”

"Is he being truthful when he says he loves me?" Harlow asked, fiddling with her thumbnails exactly like Dad does. 

"I think that's one of the very, very few things in his miserable life that Rob is sincere about." Elle sighed. 

"How do you know that?"

"I'm his sister. I just know these things."  

“Do you really think I manipulated Grandad into seeing Dad?” 

“Of course you did. Maybe not on purpose, maybe you thought you were doing the right thing but if he’s only going to see Rob because he’s scared of losing you...Is that a relationship you want him to have?”  

“I didn’t think it was that serious. I just thought he was being stubborn. He was never going to fulfil Dad’s request, so he needed to know that Dad running off wasn't out of malicious intent for David.” 

“If you thought that Dad had that kind of power in the criminal justice system - a system he has been the victim of - then you’re as delusional as your father. The fact that he would risk David’s life is disgusting. He should have given that kidney with no strings attached as soon as he found out he could. David is our brother.”

“David doesn’t even really like you.” 

“If he likes me or not doesn’t matter. He’s my brother.” 

“Would you give Dad a kidney if he needed it?” 

“Yes.” She said, without hesitation. 

“Because Gail would want you too?” 

“Because he’s my brother, it’s the right thing to do and I love him.” 

‘You have a funny way of showing it.” 

“I’m a Robinson, Darling.” 

“Yeah, you are.” Harlow agreed, “And so am I.” Elle reached out to drape one arm around her shoulders and tug her in for a half hug, kissing the side of her ponytail. 

“Hell yeah, you are. You’ve just been born onto an unfair tightrope, you know? What’s the right amount of compassion for your father, when you know that he has done something evil? I normally advocate for mercy for the mentally ill. I’ve forgiven people for doing the wrong thing when they were sick before.” 

“Grandad?” 

“Yes, him. But also Steph, Lucas and Susan. Why is forgiving Dad a natural impulse and forgiving Rob like climbing a mountain alone, in the winter in bare feet? He did do a net good, by giving David a kidney. David will go on to save other lives, making the total amount of lives in the world more, and the number of devastated families less. Is David’s life worth one of the ones he took? ” 

“Nothing will ever make up for what Dad did, he understands that. So do I.” 

“Well, how about being angry? Or any other negative feeling. Sometimes when I think about the life Cam didn’t live, I get so angry I can hardly stand it. My hands start shaking, my chest gets tight and it feels like someone is filling up my lungs with molten metal. When I used to speak to Harold, I could see it in his eyes, the loss. I know that Dylan used to wake up shaking after dreaming about being in the middle of the ocean. Katya had to leave her siblings because being here, when Rob hurt her, was too much. I should be mad. I should be scathing. And I am, every now and then. I’ve always advocated for people letting anger go, but having residual anger is normal when you experience something unjust. Mostly, though?, I’m sad. It’s easier to be angry, being angry feels good. Anger has a purpose. Being sad is miserable, who wants to be sad? Not me, that’s for damn sure.” 

“Grief is...Grief doesn’t leave.” Harlow said, and she’s speaking from experience. Probably about her mother. 

“If you’re too compassionate, you end up like my Mum, sitting alone in our old place in Tasmania, airing empty bedrooms and waiting for her sons to come home. Too much the other way and you end up like my Dad, accidentally scrubbing a child he loves out of his life because of how much it hurts to think of those days.” 

“So how do you do it? Balance on that tightrope?” 

“I have no idea. But when I figure it out, I’ll let you know.” Harlow laughed slightly, and let her head rest on Elle’s shoulder. She smells like perfume, and the expensive detergent Terese uses to wash clothes. “I want you to have a good relationship with your dad. Just be careful. Know the signs of manipulation. Don’t let him get in your head.” 

“You know what you called Gail?” 

“A stone-cold operator?” 

“He called you that, once. He said ‘Lucinda Anne Robinson is a stone-cold operator. She once ruined our father for fun, and she loves him above all others. So imagine what she’s capable of doing to someone she didn’t like.” 

“What am I capable of? Getting away with it, probably.” Elle had to laugh at the idea of serious, creepy old Robert, telling Harlow that. It’s nearly comical - like most of what Robert does. “That could just about pass for the truth, so who knows? Maybe you’ll make an honest man of RobRob yet. Anyway -” Elle released Harlow from her grip and patted her on the leg twice. “You should get my Dad to show you the Robinson Family Album, there’s some great pics of your Dad in there. And of the most important triplet, me. And...Cut the poor guy some slack, will you? He climbed down a mine shaft in a bushfire to rescue you after you got bit by a snake. I think he’s earned the right to be a little overprotective.”

“Fine. A pinky of overprotective. You gonna stick around to see what are no doubt some amazing mullets and other questionable fashion choices?” 

“I would, I love looking at old pictures but, the apology train has another stop to make. Terese’s office.” 

“Ouch.” 

“Any advice?” 

“You might have to engage in some ego fighting to win her respect. Other than that...I think it’s up to you.” 

“Damn. Wish me luck.” 

“Good luck, if you don’t make it back can I have your pink kitten heels?” 

“No way, those shoes cost Dad’s credit card several thousand dollars. I’m being cremated in them.” 

“Well. I had to ask.” She laughed, and paused, before giving Elle one more hug for the road. Elle hugs back, and she feels pretty good.

Chapter Text

Elle ended up getting a taxi back to Lassiters, having added a skirt from Harlow to the outfit of Dad’s shirt. As cute as the shirt dress might look on a model, she was pretty sure that Terese would not take too kindly to her showing up half-naked in her husband’s shirt. Slinking up the elevator to her room, she took everything off and helped herself to another hot shower. She wasn’t paying for the water bill, after all. Lassiters rooms were much like they’d always been and much like the many other hundreds of hotel rooms she’d stayed in over the years, but don’t tell Dad that. The only difference between this one and the ones she usually stayed in was that Riley was not here, and she’d like him to be. But one thing Lassiters has always had going for it was great water pressure and a shower head with more features than Elle’s computer. A traditional shower feature to wash the last of the sand out of her hair, a massage function for the crick in her neck from sleeping on the lounge, and a mist option for steaming herself while she applied a thick layer of her preferred pink face mask to get rid of even the traces of salt on her skin.  

Stalking around naked, she rifled through her suitcase for something appropriate to wear to a meeting with her father’s much younger wife. Maybe he’s got a thing for younger women? Since Mum, all the women Dad had been interested in were much younger than him with Naomi being the worst offender. She was quite literally only a couple of years older than Elle was. Rebecca had been six or seven years younger and Izzy too had been closer to Elle than to Dad. But Terese, at least from what Elle had observed, was far closer to him in personality than any of the others. Maybe that was good? It’s hard to figure it all out on only one cup of coffee. 

Finally, she came across the outfit she figured would do the job of seeming harmless and also like an adult. A high-waisted black skirt she usually wore for interviews, and a sleeveless white shirt with tiny little red hearts embroidered all over. Business, but still casual enough not to make her seem overdressed. Terese seemed fond of colours and patterns and upstaging her would just be tacky. She topped the look off with a pair of black close-toed heels, her favourite silver heart earrings and Cam’s phone. Examining herself in the mirror, she decided to tie her hair back into a bun. Pays to seem neat and well put together. New look completed, she opened the mini-fridge and grabbed one of the energy drinks stashed inside. At what point she’d graduated from coffee to energy drinks she couldn’t say but hey - They went down real easy because of the sugar and they were perfect for keeping you awake. 

Last time they spoke before he went to the airport Riley asked her to cut back and threatened to tell Dad or Lucy about her habit if she didn’t but Elle’s quite sure he won’t go through with it. For one, that’d include reaching out to a family member, something he’s quite allergic to. About as allergic as Elle is to talking about her feelings. Doesn’t matter whose family member it is, Riley just...Isn’t that man. Which is amusing to Elle, seeing as she’s quite the opposite. In the weeks leading up to her surprise visit - slash - homecoming, she and Dad had been messaging daily, usually, multiple times a day as their time zones collided. Something she’d never have expected would happen only a couple of years ago. She sat on the bed and slid her metal straw into the can. Sure, her wedding scheme had ended up being foiled. That sucked, it always sucks when a plan folds. She’d fully expected Dad to cut back even more on their already sporadic contact but instead, he’d started asking her about times they could meet and chat. Have coffee online or something. It only took one or two meetings for Elle to realize just how much she missed him. And how much he missed her. They would always have a special connection, the two of them. People who share the worst days of their lives with one another often do. Messages planning calls had migrated into messages chatting about their day as it happened. As her relationship with Mum deteriorated further - her trip to New York could easily be classed as a disaster - her relationship with Dad only got better. 

So, things with Mum were bad right now. She just managed to get under Elle’s skin, asking about her relationship - unlike Dad who’d gotten a play by play of her and Riley over the years, she knew Mum didn’t exactly approve of its format, asking her about kids - Not on the agenda, complaining that she worked too much, complaining about how in all the pictures Elle has up including Rob, his face is covered. Then, to top it all off she made some random disparaging comment about Dad, and if Elle hadn’t been in the room with Amy, whose approval she very badly wanted, she might have lost it entirely. She knew she was lucky. She had two parents, both of whom loved and adored her, both of whom wanted a relationship with her and both of whom she loved back. But it was all a bit too much, and Elle had ended up saying some rather hurtful things about Dad being there for her while Mum was too busy with her Golden Child. If Elle were an agenda keeping person, she’d put ‘Call Mum and apologize’ on it. 

Knocking back the last of her energy drink, of which her preferred brand is Electric Energy, she tossed the can into the bin with the others. She wiped off the pink face mask in the bathroom with a soft, Lassiters branded face washer. She’d never been one for make-up if she wasn’t doing an interview but a touch of bb cream, and lip gloss made her look a lot more complete. With nothing else she could do to distract herself from the situation at hand, she brushed the sand off the mustard handbag and tucked it under one arm. Time to go. 

One of the perks of being the niece of the head of Lassiters Worldwide is having access to just about any Lassiters in the world - and as many penthouse suites as she could ever want. All of which was displayed on a little piece of plastic in the back of her wallet. The same little piece of plastic that allowed her to slip into the staff elevator and access the office without having to introduce herself. Most of the staff remembered her from when she was running the joint (Thankfully, the Barnes’s had their nose in their own failing businesses these days and were leaving her father to thrive. Last she heard, Ollie was taking his hotel out of the Barnes International Company. And that was years ago. Riley had laughed gleefully when she told him, and he’d looked so handsome that she’d laughed too) so they let her through with no question. They probably assumed she was here to find her father. Instead, she exited into the wide windowed office, inadvertently holding the mustard handbag in front of her like a shield. 

Terese Willis, the sixth Mrs Robinson, is a woman of impeccable taste. The inside of her home was a page out of an Ikea catalogue. Her outfits were fitted and classily modern with just enough personal flair to be seen as a style rather than a style guide. Her coloured hair has both highlights and low lights and clearly professionally done, shining under a sheen of heat protection. Even her makeup is just natural enough to not be flashy, but obvious enough to display a level of care in her appearance and avoid the dreaded accusation women of a certain age are often levelled with - having ‘let themselves go.’ In short? She was exactly who Paul Robinson would go for. All the mumsy-ness of the women he married, and all the excitement and challenge of the women he cheated on them with. 

“Elle,” Terese says, a little surprised. “Um, your father is in a meeting.”

“I know. I was hoping to talk to you.” She said, standing a few feet away from the chairs that faced the desk. The large screen of Terese’s desktop computer casts a blue light on her face, it highlights her cheekbones and cupid’s bow. It’s an undeniable fact - She was beautiful. Elle could see how so many men would find themselves drawn to her magnetic field like moons orbiting a distant sun, pleading for its warmth. Not entirely unlike Izzy, the woman Elle had always believed was her father’s soulmate. Not because Elle liked her, because she didn’t. Even all these years later when even her opinion of Robert has softened with time and distance she is still annoyed that Izzy would sleep with Ned. But because Izzy did something most of his other wives were incapable of doing: Giving as good as she got. From what she’d witnessed, Terese could do the same when her father got into one of his paranoid moods. 

“I’m actually about to go into a meeting so -” 

“No, you aren’t.” 

“Pardon me?” 

“I saw your planner, you left it open on the island this morning. You’ve scheduled the next hour to do something with Dad, and since he’s otherwise engaged…” With what seemed to be great effort, Terese sat and placed both of her arms on the table, flat hands resting atop one another. She fixed Elle with a look, one of her neat, possibly microbladed eyebrows arched. Elle has no problem meeting her gaze, keeping her face neutral, before giving her what she hopes is a sweet and hopeful smile. “Please?” 

“Fine. Have a seat.”  Elle moved around and lowered herself slowly. She kept her handbag in her lap, wrapping both arms around it. She swept a pesky strand of hair that has fallen into her face behind her ear.  “What did you want to talk about?” 

“Well, I guess a good a place to start as any is to apologize for making a scene and saying some hurtful things in your house. I’ve spoken to Harlow already and apologized to her too. When people talk about Cameron without knowing him, it puts me on edge. I get a bit trigger happy when I feel like someone is threatening his memory. But, I should have been able to keep a calmer head and spoken to Harlow and Dad like a normal person. I’m sorry that I didn’t listen when you told me to calm down.” 

“You’re right, that is a good place to start.” Terese agreed, looking at Elle over the rim of her glasses, before looking back to her computer, “Is that all?” Geez. Frosty much? That strange prickling sensation ran up and down her arms again and she released the handbag shield with one to rub at her upper right arm. It does nothing to calm her nerves. Terese is pretending to go back to work, but the keys she’s tapping are nonsense and the screen she’s looking at is reflected in the window behind her. The message is quite clear: Elle has been dismissed. Not exactly the reaction she’d been hoping for, in fact, she’d interviewed brick walls that give more away than this. But she’s not a lauded journalist for giving up. So she says - 

“You know that it had nothing to do with you, right?” 

“What has nothing to do with me?” She doesn’t even look up or acknowledge Elle. 

“Getting Dad’s exes together. I would have done it if he was marrying...I don’t know. Beth from HR.” Terese finally looks up, and at her. She narrows her eyebrows this time as if Elle is a frog stapled to cardboard about to be dissected by preteens.  It’s unnerving but she also knows better than to break the gaze. 

“Why did you do it?” She asks, finally. “I don’t understand why for someone who claims to love Paul, you were so hell-bent on ruining his happiness.” 

“I wasn’t trying to destroy his happiness. I never told anyone to tell you not to marry him. They did that all on their own. I was just...Making sure that he remembered his past. What he did on account of that remembering is not my problem.”  

“Of course it’s your problem, you made him like that. What did you think would happen?” 

“That he’d see them and realize that he needs to shape up. That he can’t keep finding good women and gutting them like fish.” 

“Is that what you think he does?”

“Yes. I was there, you know. When he married Lyn, Rebecca and I’ve known my mother all my life.” 

“I’m sorry his other relationships didn’t work out but you don’t have free range to do whatever you want.” 

“I know that what I did was wrong - I don’t need convincing of that. Anyways, if you had a problem with people meddling in others relationships then you wouldn’t have married him. The king of sticking his fingers in unwelcome pies.” 

That’s your father you’re talking about.” 

“And I love him. But I understand what he is.” 

“And what is your father?” 

“Someone who has to fight against his nature to survive. And when he wins, he’s the most adoring, generous father I could ask for. The one who brought specially made food for Cam from Lassiters when he was dying. The one who brought a newspaper purely because he didn’t like the way the editor was speaking to me. The one that I nursed back to health, the one who gave Rebecca her first safe place in years, who taught me the ropes of Lassiters, who...Who loves me. Who loves Cameron. Who loves Andrew. And then sometimes he loses, and he’s your worst enemy. The person who teams up with companies that leach carcinogenic chemicals into local lakes. The person who frames his brother in law for fraud. The father who missed out on my every milestone until I chased him down, who Robert wanted dead and who cheated on a woman who would have died for him.” 

“He’s a complex man. It’s why I love him.” She conceded. 

“Is that enough reason?” 

“What does that mean?” 

“Is being complex enough? Because there are a lot of complex men in the world, but being complex doesn’t mean good. It just means complex. I’m sure Rob is ‘complex’ but women aren’t exactly throwing their panties at him.” 

“Don’t bring your brother into this.” 

“You did first, when you decided to sleep with Leo. I mean, there’s low and then there’s sleeping with your ex-boyfriend’s son low. ” 

“I wasn’t sleeping with Leo. We had a real relationship.” 

“Right. Which was why you toyed with the both of them, like how normal people do. My father was in love with you for years and it took trampling on my brother's heart to decide to love him back? My mother was right when she said that the hotel business poisons nice people.” 

“Elle -” 

“What about when you sent him to jail for something he didn’t do? You were meant to love him. You were meant to be on his side!” 

“You don’t know anything about me!” Terese exclaimed, loudly. “You don’t know my relationship with Leo, or your father. I love your father. I love him! I chose him, I will keep choosing him. You are a spoilt little girl who doesn’t like to share her daddy, and whether you approve or not I am Paul’s wife and you will treat me with respect!” 

Elle could have maintained a poker face if she wanted. But what’s the point of baiting someone if you’re not going to let them know you baited them? She let herself smile a little, one side of her mouth riding up. Terese, seeing that Elle is unrattled by her outburst sat back in her seat, levelling her with a gaze that could have frozen oceans. Hey, she married into the Robinsons, and Elle, like her father, is not immune to a little powerplay and manipulation when the situation calls for it.

“I didn’t doubt you love him. I just wanted to hear you say it. I worry about him, one of these days he’s going to burn all his bridges and he’s going to need someone on his side.” 

“Then why try and ruin it?” The question is posed in her best soft voice, she drops what Riley has dubbed her ‘journalist’ voice and instead speaks in her ‘Elle’ voice. Softer, less pronounced and less American. Maybe Dad was right, about her proclivity for manipulation and mind games. 

“Would you have married my father, if your daughters had never met him?” 

“No.” She answers, her face is calm again, her eyes dart to the picture on the desk, revealing its contents to Elle. A picture of at least one, perhaps both of her daughters.  “I wouldn’t have.” 

“How do you think I felt? Finding out my father was engaged over Facebook?”  Her face crinkles, “I was his best man when he married Rebecca. Now, who my father loves is none of my business. Now I’m not even worth a phone call until after he’s gone ahead and told everyone else.” 

“Elle -” 

“Neither of you were interested in what I had to say. So I found people that he would listen to.” Terese stares at her, lips pursed and fingers now linked. Elle feels like a very small child, walking next to her mother at the nursery with a hand full of daisies. 

“Maybe...Maybe we both haven’t handled this blended family thing as well as we could have. You shouldn’t have tried to sabotage the wedding - even if that wasn’t your intent - And I should have made an effort with your father's other kids.” 

“Yeah, well. I could have made an effort to reach out to you, instead of going for the nuclear option.” She shrugged, “Robinson’s gonna Robinson.”  

“Do you think marrying your father is something I will live to regret?” She asked, her eyes are candy brown, but thoughtful. Like she is picking Elle apart, one strand of hair at a time. Not entirely unlike Dad. 

“I don’t know. I think you’ll outlast the others because you’re exactly the type of woman he’d marry. Beautiful, motherly, hard worker. You’re also the passionate, career-driven excitement he’d chase in an affair. “

“Is that a compliment?” 

“For the record, he looks at you the same way he looked at Mum when he woke up with no memory of anything that happened in the previous twenty years. I’d never seen him look at anyone like that, and I’ve never seen it since. She was, as far as I know, the only woman he’s ever been truly faithful to. When she left, I’m pretty sure she pushed him into forming relationships with women who would never truly be his equal, so he never truly had anything to lose. He always had the power, with Rebecca, with Lyn, Izzy and even Naomi. You have the power in this relationship. You always have. You don’t anything from him other than love and fidelity.” 

“Is this your blessing?” She turns so Elle can see her in profile. 

“You don’t need my blessing.” 

“But I’d like it. If you’re going to be my daughter too.”

“Why does he want to be different for you? What are you, Amy and David giving him that Rebecca, Andrew and I couldn’t?” It sounds small coming out of her mouth like she is that little girl with a handful of daisies. Terese’s shoulders slump and she turns fully. 

“You love your father unconditionally. You’ve proven that time and time again. He’ll never lose you, so why do better? Amy’s love is almost always conditional, was from the start, David even more so. If he doesn’t keep his nose clean he’ll lose them because they’re not like him, and more importantly, they’re not like you. They’re a Williams and a Tanaka. You are a Robinson.” 

“Mum always wanted a little girl that was just like her. One that could stand up for herself, but who was sweet, sensitive and good-natured. She wanted a Lewis...Or Chadwick, I suppose. I was always Daddy’s little Robinson. When she remarried, I was the one who organized my brothers to ruin it for her, and most of her subsequent relationships because I thought she ought to be free for when Dad came home. I tried so hard to break up his relationship with Izzy - I damn near killed both of us. I was so two-faced with Cam. He’d never had trouble getting a girl, but he did have trouble keeping them. I would dress him up, and give him tips on girls and do his hair before his dates, and then I’d go out of my way to break them up behind his back.” Elle always does this, she realized. Spills her guts to the first mother figure who came into her life that wasn’t going to go ahead and share this with Robert. 

“Why?” 

“Because you’re right. I don’t like to share. I hate to lose, and being the second place is just first loser. I love my mother, I always hoped that they would get back together...They still love each other. I know they do. But, they won’t. I guess I can’t complain. I had my best day ever, a picnic in the country with my Mum and Dad. No brothers in the way to take the attention off me. Then she left. Like she always does. I adored Rebecca. I adored her so much that I covered up Dad’s affair with Kirsten, but that’s not love. Not the kind of love anyone wants, anyway. For a long time, it was just me and him up against the world. Running the paper, or Lassiters, or just...Being together. God, we went through the worst days of our lives together. I just assumed we’d always be that close. That he’d always be my best friend. But now that’s you, and I’m just begging to be included in the footnotes of his life. You don’t need my blessing. You’ve had it ever since you decided to marry him anyway. Maybe he doesn’t need me anymore, but I still need him. Please, take care of him but don’t take him away.” 

“I won’t,” Terese said solemnly. “You’re always going to be his baby girl. I don’t know you, but I know him. I’ve seen the way he collects your articles and the way he smiles at pictures of you. He’s always secretly dreamed of you coming back to him because he loves you. Adores you. Out of all of his children, I think you’re the one he wanted home. I couldn’t take him away from you even if I wanted to. We’re both going to be in your Dad’s life. We should get to know one another.” 

“You can start with this.” Elle fished a card out of the bag in her lap and put it on Terese’s table, “This is Andrew’s number. He’d really appreciate if you called.” Terese reaches out, but instead of taking the paper, she takes Elle’s hands in her own. They’re warm, and well moisturized, they are very different to Mum’s, which are well calloused from thirty years of struggle. From Dad’s wide fingers curled around her wrist as he led her away from court after Robert’s trial. From Cameron’s long, cold fingers treading their way between hers, the bumps and grooves of his knuckles fitting so perfectly against hers. From Lucas and his grease stains. From Riley, and the deep scar that disrupted his left thumbprint after he got caught by a piece of shrapnel. She looks down at her own long, pale fingers, the short nails, and how Terese seems very tan compared to her since she just came from a New York winter into an Australian summer. Then, she looks up. 

“I know your father told you to make peace with me, and you want to move in.” 

“I wouldn’t if you didn’t want me there.” 

“I’d never keep one of Paul’s kids from him. I think you should move in. Harlow should have a good relationship with her aunt, and you know her father better than anyone. I think she needs a stronger female influence from someone who isn't her friend.” 

“Well, there’s one thing you have over most of Dad’s other wives. They never met RobSquared.” 

“That’s one honour I could have done without.” She sighed, and kept her eyes on Elle’s face, probably looking for the parts she got from her father. “You’re one of my girls now. You know that right?” In response, Elle closes her limp hands around Terese’s. 

“Hope I do you proud.” 

“Do you have anything planned for the afternoon?” 

“Only some editing, for my last New York piece.” 

“Why don’t you do it in here? We can work together for a while.” Well...Why not? It’s not like Elle has anywhere else to be.

Chapter Text

On Elle’s tiny screen, Riley looks very tanned. He looks very handsome too, sun-kissed, with short dark hair and light stubble. Like all reporters, he displays the appropriate amount of sympathy in his story and makes all the right sounds. Like all reporters, she can only imagine after this great tragedy he’s discussing, he’ll be tossing them back in someone’s backyard. He doesn’t look like a laid back surfer from Oakey, he looks like a real reporter. Only a night ago she was admiring Cameron on a tiny screen, and now she’s doing the same for him. And he’s not even dead, just...Away. Riley always looked like someone with good humour. Not to say that he was incapable of being scary when he wanted to be, of course, because he was. Elle wouldn’t like him so much if he was a nice, normal, uncomplex guy. But most of the time, his general look was one of someone who made her laugh. Who had a smile that caught like leprosy and who could fix her with a single look and come crashing in through her hang-ups like a wrecking ball through a paper wall. All of this is to say that she missed him terribly. 

That had been one of her mother's specifications when it came to figuring out if you love someone. You always want them around, and when they aren’t, even if it’s just for a while, you wish that they were. She finds it difficult to believe her mother had ever wanted her father around the way she talks about him these days. But she must have, once. The same way Elle wanted Lucas around once, or Oliver, or any of the other not Riley's she’d populated her life with while he was gone. It also applied to most of her other loved ones. Donna, for example. She missed Donna like missing one of her fingers, but she was so proud as well. She knew that Donna would come back to her once the thrill of being surrounded by the vapid, vain upper crust she designed for these days got to be boring for someone as smart, kind and funny as she was. 

For her own amusement, she slid the ring onto her left ring finger, just to see it there. A simple silver band with a heart-shaped faux opal in the centre. Exactly not what she would have picked, but somehow it matters more than any of her much more impressive diamond-studded jewellery Dad had gifted her over the years. 

“I didn’t know you were engaged.” Elle was broken from her thoughts of Riley, who seemed to consume more of her thoughts than ever before these days by one of her brothers. David. Another multiple, probably the one of them with the strongest morals. She admired the shine from the pink-ish gem against her hand. 

“I’m not. It came in the mail for me this afternoon.” 

“Sorry, didn’t mean to assume just thought because you’re wearing it on that finger…” 

“Well, you’re only half wrong. It was given to me by someone I love, as a promise but...It’s not a promise to marry.” 

“What is it a promise of, then?” 

“That we’ll be a couple. I’ve been seeing him on and off for eleven...Twelve years. We’re both journalists. When I said I was planning on coming home...He said when he was finished with his contract then he’d come to wherever I was and we could try.” She has no idea what that’ll look like. She might be signing herself up for heartbreak, but...What’s life without risks? She loved Riley, had since the warehouse roof came down on them. She hadn’t been ready then and she lost him. But she is now, and so is he. She might even be able to convince him to go see his parents. 

“Sounds like he loves you.” David ascertains.

“He does. He’s saved my life more than once.” 

“Must be nice to have someone like that.” 

“He gets it. Not a lot of people out there who do.” David tilted his head, his hair is clean and shiny, slicked back from his face in an attempt to seem more mature and adult than his sweet face would imply. His button-down has been ironed and is tucked into his trousers. Fun-loving blue printed birds, but not so fun-loving as to leave it untucked.  He radiates good intentions, with an underlying aura that he’s smarter than you. Probably unintentional. In her limited observations of him, he had good emotional intelligence. Unusual in a smart person. Unusual in a Robinson. 

“Do you always look at people like that? Analysing them?” He interrupted her mental spiel, throwing her for six.

“What?” 

“The way you’re looking at me, you’re taking stock of my parts. Looking for weakness.” 

“It’s a journalist thing.” 

“What have you sussed out, then? Enlighten me.” Elle sighed, and then leaned back on one of her arms. 

“Well, your clothes. Fun print on your shirt, but it’s ironed and tucked in You’re fun, but you’re not that fun. You wear your hair slicked back from your face, in a style that is older than your years. You don’t strike me as vain, and I know it’s not for your husband because he’s infatuated with you so must be work. You feel like your colleagues don’t take you seriously. Could be because of your sexuality, or ethnicity. But it’s probably more due to the Finn Kelly debacle, you were tricked...Or not. Either way, they think you were taken for a ride. You don’t have the classic Robinson trait of fiddling with your accessories, in your case a wedding ring, but you do wear the ring all the time. And you clean it - Marriage matters to you. You’re wearing your work shoes and pants to a casual family dinner, you didn’t have time to change after your shift. Being punctual is important, so important that you didn’t even put on a pair of more comfortable shoes. Your pose is casual, leaning over, hands clasped between the knees. I’m on your turf - not the other way around. How close am I?” 

“Are you auditioning to be Nancy Drew?” 

“Just observant.” She says, shrugging slightly. “I’m sure as a doctor you make many of the same observations when you walk into a room.”

“True, but I make fewer deductions.” 

“Want to deduce me?” He examines her and perhaps determines that this little game of wills will win her over so he starts. 

“Well, I can’t see any roots, even though you have highlighted in your hair. Natural blonde, no need to worry about chemicals. Good eyesight, breathing fine. You’re left-handed, I can tell because the bones of your ring finger are warped from years of holding your pen incorrectly when you write. You do a lot by hand?” 

“I like the tactile-ness of it.” 

“Thought so. If I didn’t know you’d just come from a New York winter I’d think you were a little too pale. Maybe deficient? Hm, no. You seem like someone who takes supplements and is at least a bit health conscious.  Are you vegan?” 

“Yeah.” 

“Thought so, smart woman like you absolutely takes vitamins of some kind.” 

“I do take some supplements, but I try and keep my meals nutritionally balanced.” 

“It’s impressive that you lived in the US as long as you did and kept your natural teeth.” 

“I like taking care of myself.” She said, “Not bad, you know. Maybe I’ll make a journalist out of you someday.” 

“Hm, thanks but I think I’ll stick to doctor-ing.” 

“Your loss.” She pulled her legs up onto the chair she was sitting on and crossed them ankle over ankle. “What can I do for you, or are you just here for the Nancy Drew Deductions about your life?” 

“When I went to see Robert, you know that I didn’t do that with any malicious intent.” 

“It’s only natural you’d be curious about your siblings. You went to all that trouble to find your father and family is deeply important to you.” 

“It is.” He agreed, but she butts in before he can continue, 

“Not important enough that you’d reach out to me about Robert, though. I get not talking to Dad, he and the past have a tenuous relationship at the best of times. But why not me? You’re a multiple. You know that I know Robert best.” 

“You haven’t seen him in over ten years.” He says, weakly, “And I was worried you’d be upset.” 

“You know as well as I do the time doesn’t matter. Rob’s my triplet. Always will be. I can feel him, and he can feel me. It sucks like that. And I wouldn’t have, it’d be for moot. You’re a doctor, your focus is on Robert’s specific brand of crazy. Being a doctor makes you naturally curious. You didn’t not reach out to me over any concern over me. Robert’s just more interesting.” 

“Maybe he is,” David said diplomatically. Elle wonders how to crack the caring doctor facade and find his Robinson side - He had to have one, they all did. Even Cameron and he was the mildest of mild in terms of Robinson-ness if Dad was the barometer. “But you’re right, I should have spoken to you or Dad first. I don’t mean to make it seem like I’m privileging your abuser over you.”

“Relax, this isn’t a hospital and I’m not about to sue. I can’t be angry with you when your actions brought Harlow into the fold, can I?” David smiles slightly, and the crease between his eyebrows smooths out. “Ultimately, your actions led to Dad finding out about Harlow and getting to speak to her before Mum or Rob. Which takes the ability to hold her over Dad’s head or otherwise poison the well away from him, and anything that takes power away from ol’ RobRob is good in my opinion. Oh, and it got Mum off my back about having kids which is a bonus.” 

“You’d deny him his daughter?” 

“That’d be pretty funny, coming from me, the ultimate Daddy’s girl.” 

“So you think it’s okay for Harlow to talk to him?” 

“I don’t think it’s okay for anyone to talk to him. The main reason I’m upset you didn’t reach out is not because I think I’m the arbiter of Robert Robinson, but because you have no idea how dangerous he is. Neither does Harlow but I can’t go and tell her anything more serious than I already have - I don’t want him to have reason to poison her against me.” 

“You seem very concerned about that.” 

“What is this? Therapy?” 

“Just observing. You care about what Robert has to say about you to Harlow. About what he might have said about Dad.” 

“Shouldn’t Dad be allowed to ruin his own relationship with Harlow rather than have some psycho with a chip on his shoulder ruin it for him?” She asked. David studied her and then tilted his head slightly, hands still clasped between his knees. He’s waiting for her to fill the silence, it’s an age-old trick and it’s well employed. She could let the silence get awkward, or answer his question. Neither outcome is going to be good so she pushes on. “When he was on the stand, Robert said some...Things about me that I’ve never been able to shake. About how I tormented him, about how I made his life Hell...About how I ruined his chance to ever be normal and have a normal life.” 

“I’ve read the court documents. A traumatized, scared nineteen year old should never have been put on the stand. What happened to you was wrong.” 

“I guess. But it’s not all wrong. I did make Robert miserable when I could get away with it.” 

“Why?” David asks, and he’s intently looking at her face, picking her apart with his analytical doctor’s brain. 

“He made Cam’s life Hell.”

“Example?” 

“He spent our entire childhood goading him, mocking him, tormenting him, saying just the cruellest things. When Cam didn’t react to the mocking, he’d start doing physical things. Lashing out. When we were ten, just before Dad went to jail, he sent us some gifts. Rob got a watch. Cameron got a huge book of old buildings, which was a fascination of his. He was going to be an architect. Did Dad tell you?” 

“I’m sure he would have been good at it,” David assured her in a doctor's voice. 

“About a year later, Cam had enough. He came down on Rob like a sack of bricks and in retaliation, Rob took the book while he was at a football camp and systematically blacked out every line of text, and turned every image into a black square. That was the first communication we had from Dad in years and would be the only one for years to come. He was heartbroken.” 

“I’m sorry Cam went through that. Did you tell your mother?” 

“What would have been the point?” She asked, brow creasing. “She wouldn’t have done anything. Maybe told him off and banned him from the television for a week. Wouldn’t have brought the book back.” 

“You think that was why Robert picked that book? Because it came from Dad?” 

“I think he picked it because it was Cam’s favourite. It was Cam’s favourite because it came from Dad.” 

“What did he send you, if you don’t mind me asking?” David asked, eyes still firm on her face. Maybe at the end of this, she’ll come away with a diagnosis of what’s wrong with her and a prescription for Adderall or something. 

“A teddy bear. I collect them. When you pressed the paw, it would play a recording of him saying ‘I love you.’” 

“Sweet.” 

“Sure was, until Robert drowned it.” 

“Did you tell Gail about that?” 

“No point. Even at thirteen Cam and I knew that the only way to deal with Rob was ourselves. I socked him so hard that he got a black eye for like a week.” 

“So you never told anyone about the fairly obvious red flags Robert was displaying?” David asked, perplexed. 

“Of course we told people.” She said, sounding offended and whiney even to her ears, “For years, Cam and I told anyone who would listen that there was something wrong with him. We told Mum, but she wouldn’t hear of her precious Robbie misbehaving. We told teachers, who couldn’t believe that smart, funny always does his homework Robert would behave badly, especially when it was coming from badly behaved trouble making Lucinda and Cameron. I told a guidance counsellor, who did nothing. Cam told our grandfather, Ian, and he did nothing.  We told Dad on the phone but he was in Rio, busy with his new son, and new hotel and new wife. We told the parents of our friends, who didn’t care, we told our stepfather who hated the three of us equally, and he didn’t care.” Her voice got higher and higher with every failed attempt to get help for Robert. Or, to get them away from him at the very least. David looks increasingly surprised at every person she listed. “We told everyone who we could think of that there was something wrong with Robert and the way he was acting. But no one did anything. So Cam and I had to learn to deal with him ourselves and we did. If we hated Robert then it was nothing that he didn’t bring on himself.” 

“Were you surprised when he did what he did?” 

“I don’t know. I thought when he left for London, that things were okay with Rob. I mean, the three of us weren’t friends really but we were okay. We were talking. Spending time together. I...I thought he was coming good. Turns out he’d already decided Cam and I should die, along with Dad.” 

“I didn’t know that, either.” 

“Well, if you’d reached out to me...” 

“I’m starting to see that the media reports about Robert were limited.” 

“I don’t want you to think that I had an awful childhood, or that my mother was incompetent. It was actually very good. Money was tight, but we never went without. Mum loved us, and she never let any of us feel like we didn’t matter.  When it was just me and Cam, I was the happiest I’ve ever been. We ran wild.” David nods empathetically, and Elle realises that for the second time today she’s been tricked into divulging her deepest hurts to someone who had offered nothing in return. Before she could get too mad about it, her phone buzzed, she tilted the screen to wake it up and saw a text from Riley. It makes her smile a goofy little smile. Being in love feels like having Sprite in your lungs. He sent a picture of himself, in his hotel mirror showing off his new haircut she’d noticed earlier. She had always liked his hair longer, but it didn’t really matter. So long as he was whole and healthy the rest of it just didn’t matter. 

“Is that your…” David pauses as he tries to come up with the word, “Betrothed?” He settles on. 

“That easy to read, huh?” She wonders, amused.

“It’s the same face Dad makes when Terese texts him.” 

“No one could ever accuse the fertility clinic my parents went to of incompetence.” She says, playfully. David chuckles, and his laugh is very charming. “His name is Riley. Riley Parker, you might have seen him on the news.” 

“I read my news, sorry.” 

“Ah, well. He sent me a picture.” She turns the phone so David can see him, and he nods approvingly. 

“Handsome.” He says, bobbing his head. Elle leans over so that she and David are in the frame for the phone camera and snaps a picture. The flash blinds them temporarily, but the picture is good enough to be sent. 

“Bonding with brother...And then I’ll include two hearts. Roxy thinks I should use more emoji’s.” 

“I think Roxy uses too many emoji’s when she texts,” David says, as she fires it off and put the phone screen down on the chair next to her. 

“Okay, now you have to tell me about you. You know all my backstory but I don’t know any of yours.” 

“I’m sure Leo’s said some things.”

“Sure. Some things. I want the good stuff.” 

“Vulture.” He teases, his teeth are very white in the darkness that is combing over them in long streaks. As the sun has set, their shadows lit by the porch light are giants creeping through the landscape. 

“That’s the job.” 

“Well, I was born in Paramatta. I spent most of my childhood studying to be a good doctor. Not very social, not like Leo. Had a stepfather, I don’t think he cared very much for us though.” 

“Mine was the same. What drove you into your profession. And don’t tell me you just want to help people, because that’s a lie.” 

“It could be the truth.” She fixed him with a look. He rolled his eyes. “I became a doctor because my mother told me it would be a good thing to do, and I wanted to please whatever my imaginary father looked like.” 

“How was it? Finding out your dad was your brothers business rival?” 

“Strange. But not bad. I always thought I would know if I was talking to my father, that we’d have an instant paternal bond. He’s on my nerves at the moment. He doesn’t like our surrogate.” Oh, yes. Dad had dedicated much of their recent conversations to the fact that Nicolette and his doctor son hadn’t made a contract. Well, he’d referred to David as ‘the boys’ with his husband. She found it infantilizing but saw no point in bringing it up. 

“She waved to me when I was getting the paper, so she can’t be all bad.” 

“Did you see Leo before you left?” David asks, changing the subject. 

“He isn’t speaking to me.” 

“Why?” 

“Thinks I’m to blame for him joining my scheme.” 

“How did you figure out he needed money, by the way?” 

“Family grapevine. For the record, I wasn’t just being rude. I know what it’s like to lose all your money, same thing happened to me...It’s why I had to sell Harolds. So, I paid Leo a large sum of money to do very little.“ 

“Why would you do that?” 

“He’s my brother.” 

“So’s Robert.” 

“Leo’s not insane.” 

“Debatable.” 

“He’s also never tried to kill me.” 

“Okay, that’s fair.” They looked at one another and then both burst into light laughter at the absurdity of the conversation. That’s Robinson life for you. 

“Please don’t be too harsh on Dad about money. If he believed that Leo was not going to be able to get himself out of it then he would have helped with no strings attached. I was honestly surprised that his offer was as generous as it was.” 

“He wanted -” 

“He’s a control freak. Of course, he wanted a controlling share. Just be thankful he took the cameras down.” 

“Wait - Cameras?” 

“Dad almost got strangled in our home in 2005. He wired the whole house up with cameras and developed a case of agoraphobia. I moved out.” 

“You two have lived a lot of life.” He says, thoughtfully, “Ever thought about writing a book?” 

“So other people can gawk at my trauma? No thanks. I’ve worked the crime beat long enough to know the damage untrained randoms convinced they’ll be the next Thin Blue Line can do.” 

“But you aren’t untrained.” He pointed out, “And you’ll be...Speaking your truth.” 

“I hate that phrase.” She said, “Why don’t you write about Robert? I’m sure you can get a neat little article out of it.” 

“It’s not my place. Robert has never hurt me, the opposite.” 

“Personally, I think it was homophobic of him to not cough up the kidney right away.” David rolled his eyes good-naturedly. 

“Okay, that’s a little funny. But seriously. You know I can’t hate him like you do.” 

“You’re entitled to your complicated feelings about Rob. Just because I can’t reconcile them with my knowledge of him doesn’t make them less valid. He’s always been my mother's favourite child and I don’t love her any less for it.” 

“I find it difficult to believe that, she always seemed very reasonable to me.” 

“She is the reason for Dad’s empire.” Elle agreed easily, “Robbie was her sweet, sensitive child. I’ve always been Daddy’s little Robinson.” 

“And Cameron?” 

“A very normal teenage boy.” 

“I couldn’t imagine life without Leo.” He said, “I’ve always had him. I haven’t always liked him per se, but…”

“Cam drove me crazy half the time too. That’s just what it’s like to have a sibling. But I bet you wouldn’t trade one second you’ve had with him.” 

“No, I wouldn’t. And as your sibling, am I also entitled to drive you crazy half the time?” Elle took a comically large breath and then nodded her head. 

“Sure. Why not.” He smiled at her, and the porch light shines off his teeth. She smiles back. 

“Elle! David!” Dad stood in the doorway, leaning against it to take the weight off his bad leg as he often did in the evenings. “Get inside before the mosquitos carry you away!” 

“Let’s get going, I’m sure the pasta is getting cold.” She said, standing up and tucking her phone and ring back into her pocket. 

“Vegan pasta?” 

“I bullied him into it.” She confirmed as they made their way back in. She slapped a mosquito on David’s arm as she passed him. He slapped her back sibling style. 

Inside the house, everyone was gathered by the coffee table which had the contents of the Robinson Family Album spread on top. Roxy was gaping at a picture of Elle’s formal gown, while Harlow had her eyes narrowed a picture of her and Cameron practising her cheer stunts in the backyard. 

“How did you get your leg that high?” She asked as Elle approached. Dad was putting something into a frame, and Terese was seated on the arm of his chair, one arm over his shoulders. 

“Practice.” She replied, shrugging. Riley had oft commented on her flexibility...And so had most of her other lovers. Poor Cameron on the other hand was less enthused by her plight to use his shoulder as an ankle rest. He’d have preferred her to find a ‘less dangerous hobby. ‘For God’s sake, Porky!’ He’d said,  ‘They had to put screws in that girl's ankle - what if it was you!.’

“How are you making this ugly dress kind of work?” Asked Roxy, turning the photo of her formal around. It’s the same one from her apartment, but Robert hasn’t been vandalised. He was her date after her boyfriend of one month and two days dumped her at the pre-formal party. He’d agreed last second to be her date after previously not planning to go at all. They got to keep their table of ten, and Rob was, for one night, a hero to a bunch of seriously drunk seventeen-year-olds. 

“Hey. Pink Lamae was very in that year.” She defended, taking the photo from Roxy and smiling at her past self. 

“You looked like a princess, darling,” Dad said, uninterestedly. Clearly, the frame he was fiddling with was more important. Even David’s husband was in the photo action, sifting through some old polaroids of her, Dad and Rob (pretending to be Cam) at Scarlet Bar.

“Well thank you, Daddy. I should, seeing as it was your credit card that paid for it.” Not even a flinch, he must be involved with whatever he’s doing.  

“What’s up with this?” Ned asked, showing her a photograph of Cam’s blueprints for the new Lassiters Tasmania which was a tidy, streamlined and appropriately modern design. 

“Cam was an architect.” She said, proudly, “That was his plan for Lassiters Tasmania.” 

“I heard that place was a nightmare,” Terese said conversationally. All these years, Elle had never thought Dad would find someone as in love with Lassiters as he was but she’d be wrong. Terese clearly cared a great deal about the trials and tribulations of running a suburban hotel. She’d know as well as anyone the reputation of Lassiters Tasmania. The hotel formally known as Lassiters Tasmania she should say.

“Oh, yeah. I’m pretty sure you’d catch something if you weren’t careful. But the minibars were stocked, and Robert was not there so Cam and I didn’t care.” Dad looked up, interested now. 

“You and Cam were drinking on my tab? How old were you?!” 

“Well, you sent us your staff card when we were fifteen after you, I presume, got back into the hotel business.” 

“And I wonder why your mother doesn’t talk to me anymore.” 

“Please. Having Lassiters was a good thing, it was our place to escape Rob when things were bad at home. The alcohol was a bonus, and don’t worry. We weren’t like...Giving to the other kids. Though maybe we should have...Could have made a killing.” David’s husband, Aaron, chuckles, and Ned smiles. It’s nice. It’s family-like and it’s been such a long time since she was part of a cohesive family unit. 

“What do you think of this?” Dad asked, and then held up a picture for everyone to see. Cameron, holding a pool cue and grinning at the camera. His fringe just brushes the tops of his eyebrows, and under his favourite green army jacket, he’s wearing a grey shirt with a print of a four-leaf clover on it. He seems...Happy. She vaguely recognizes the setting as the old Lassiters games room. 

“It’s...Nice.” She said, and there was a general sentiment of agreement in the room as everyone nodded and smiled in their own time. 

“I just thought…” Dad says, “That I don’t have a picture of him up anywhere. And I should.” Terese took the photo from him. 

“And I know where we should put it.” She strode past the fireplace, and into the dining room. Elle trailed behind, Harlow by her side. Her new stepmother proceeded to put the picture on a side table next to one of her son Josh, who passed away. 

“Looks like you’ve got a new friend, mate,” Dad says, addressing the picture of Cameron much like Elle does. “He looks nice there.” He says, leaning in to kiss Terese on the lips. She placed one of her hands on the small of his back and rested the other in the middle of his chest. When he looks at her, there’s love in his eyes. The gentle weight on her arm is Harlow, and she’s smiling too. Ned and Roxy. Aaron and David. It’s a family, a big family like she’d always dreamed about having. 

Dad, of course. Elle’s visions of family had always included Dad. He’d been in every iteration of Elle’s family either in person or as a spectre over the landscape of her heart. Better to be with him than without him because honestly, truthfully, and with all her heart she adores him. Is he a good father? No. But he doesn't have to be a good father so long as he’s her father. Will they have more blowout fights that wake the neighbours? Probably. But the good times will always be good and for her, it’s enough. 

But it’s not just them anymore. There’s a mother now, Terese. Who has welcomed Elle into her home in spite of her reservations about her. Who has accepted Cameron onto the table next to her own son, saying to not only Dad but also to anyone who comes through this house that these are my children. My sons. This is its own kind of love, and it means something. Elle can see friendship in their future, she can feel it the same way she can feel her mother will never recover from the loss of her sons. To love Terese would not be to stop loving Rebecca. It would not be to stop loving Mum. Elle does not believe in cliche, and she doesn’t believe in any innate fairness of the universe but she does believe that she deserves to be happy. That Dad deserves to be happy. More than either of those things: That Terese deserves to be happy. 

The smattering of brothers she’d always seen herself as having. She still sees herself as a triplet even now. David, Aaron and Ned all had parts of Cameron she’d loved about them. But they weren’t Cameron and they didn’t have to be. He was gone now, but she didn’t have to close herself off to all other brothers. Will she ever love them as much as Cameron? It’s unlikely she’ll ever love anyone as much as Cameron but that doesn’t mean she needs to withhold all love. 

Roxy was the sister Elle always begged for but never received, bright like the sun and astute in her own way.  She doesn’t need to be anything other than who she is. She didn’t need to listen at the bar or give advice but she did anyway. She’d returned Elle’s shoes out of, literally, the goodness of her heart tonight.

And...Harlow. Mum was right. She was a gift, and a blessing but not because she came from Robert. She would eventually convince Elle to go see her beloved Dad, no matter how much she held out and refused to be smoothed over. She’d accepted that now. But that’s not why Elle thought she was special. She was special because she decided Cameron wasn’t going to be a dirty word anymore. She’d done more for him in one conversation than Elle had been able to do in years. She’d taken the weight of her father onto her shoulders, like Elle. She’d found a way to love someone who did horrible things, like Elle. She left everything she’d ever known and came to find her father...Like Elle. And she’d come out stronger. Better. Kinder. 

It was then that Elle Robinson had the best idea she’d ever had. 

“Oh! Nobody move!” She exclaimed, grabbing her phone from her pocket. “I’m going to take a family picture.” 

“Hey I didn’t sign up for this!” Exclaimed Ned and received a very motherly look from Terese and shut his mouth. 

“Hold this.” She ordered Cameron, placing the phone with a timer set up against the frame before returning to the group of family next to Harlow, who she wrapped in one arm, pressing their cheeks together. Harlow beamed for the camera in reply. After the flash, she grabbed it and examined it closely. 

Robinson-Willis family. Dad has dropped his stern business man persona and is laughing as Terese kisses his cheek. Aaron has an arm draped over David, Ned’s arms are wrapped around Roxy and she and Harlow are practically hugging. For the first time in some years, Elle believes that things are going to be okay. 

Things are going to be just fine.