The sounds of traffic—cars mixed with trucks—assailed her ears from three floors down. Even though she was tucked away in a side-street, Fortitude Valley in Brisbane was always bustling, a large arterial road cutting straight through it from the northern to southern suburbs, across the busy Story Bridge, carrying vehicles at every hour of the day and night. She found it comforting being lulled to sleep by the sounds of movement, and waking up to it. It reminded her that she was alive, and that there were still things she needed to do.
Her hand stilled as she rubbed her hair, the tendrils dark with perspiration and curling at the ends.
As much as she loved living in the centre of a thriving metropolis, reality had a way of cropping up when she least expected it. Just as it had three months ago.
Helen grimaced and turned away. That’s not to say she was ungrateful. Brisbane had been a home to her for all of her twenty-six years. And, until a few months ago, it had treated her well. Her gaze roamed the expanse of her loft apartment, where walls existed only to enclose a goods elevator, two bathrooms, and a kitchen, suggesting no more than a minimal attempt at privacy. The large mullioned windows let the sub-tropical sun stream through and caught the rich texture of the polished pine floors, warm and comforting against the brilliant white of the tall walls and high ceiling.
The whole floor was hers—the top storey of an old warehouse right in the middle of Brisbane’s liveliest inner city suburb. By the time she bought the apartment shell, the idea of warehouse living had taken off in the city, but buyers were still reluctant to purchase a residential property in one of its most notorious locations. Helen, on the other hand, saw the location’s potential more as an opportunity than a problem, and signed a contract on the place as fast as she could pull a pen into her hand. Now, in the late afternoon, a pleasant breeze blew through the open windows, airing the large space completely, and lifting the gauzy white curtains so they resembled birds’ wings fluttering in the wind. It was October and the chill of winter had well and truly disappeared, bringing with it a balmy warmth and the promise of more heat to come.
At the thought of another humid summer, Helen started perspiring again. She turned and was about to head for the bathroom when her phone rang. Normally, she let the answering machine take it, but she was close enough to the coffee table to reach down and pick up the receiver herself.
“Hel,” she said succinctly, using her diminutive. Now that she was standing still, she thought she could detect the aroma of sweat and exertion on her body. She sniffed experimentally at her underarm and grimaced. It was lucky for everybody concerned that nobody shared the apartment with her.
“Hel, it’s Ryan.” The welcoming voice of Helen’s sometime employer filled her ears, and a smile instinctively curved her lips.
“Hello Ryan. What can I do for you? Do you have another workshop you want me involved in?”
“Ask not what you can do for me,” he replied with a laugh. “Ask what I can do for you.”
“Really? Like what?”
“Nothing I can discuss over the phone. Would you care to meet me for a coffee? I can be in the Valley in about thirty minutes.”
“That sounds perfect. How about I meet you at Carlo’s?”
“Carlo’s it is. See you then.” And he clicked off.
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