Creepy characters and shadowy scenes are woven through this suspense-filled story, steeped in strangeness with splashes of humor. When Ali Duncan advertises for two tenants to share an upmarket apartment with her, she has no way of knowing the series of cryptic events that is about to unravel. When one housemate turns out to be a quirky nonconformist, the other a Gothic misfit, she has to rely on her own defective judgment to find her way.
With circumstances stacked against her, whom can she trust when she finds herself alone in her quest for normality, but nothing in the house is as it seems.
I sucked in a deep breath and held it, then wiped sweaty palms on my trousers. I’d only arrived home ten minutes ago and hadn’t relaxed enough to freshen up or change out of my work clothes.
Get a grip, Ali. I shouldn’t be so nervous—this was my apartment, my advertisement. So I was in charge.
It took me a little over eight seconds before I snapped myself out of my trance. If Lucia James had seemed distant and sociably inept on the phone, meeting her in person only solidified my impression of her.
Pin-straight hair, dyed jet black with purple streaks, hovered just above a sorry pair of sagging shoulders. A thick, black fringe fell across an insipidly white face, barely hiding brown eyes bordered top and bottom with a heavy band of eyeliner. Black lipstick sapped the girl of any natural color and made her look deathly pale. She clutched a brown leather bag across her chest, and a black leather jacket and studded jeans rounded off the look. The girl bit her lip and dipped her chin, her nervousness palpable.
I closed my mouth when I realized I’d been staring. “Um, sorry…come on in.”
I stepped aside to let Lucia enter. Her brown eyes darted furtively around the spacious lounge, then focused on an invisible speck on the hardwood floor.
“So, do you live nearby?” My eyes remained on her as I asked the question and tried to size her up.
“No, I’m not from around here. I don’t know many people in Umhlanga yet.” A shoulder raised two inches, then went back down.
“Where are you from?” I studied her, trying to draw the girl out of whatever spell she was in.
“Eastern Cape.” Her eyes remained averted, the brown leather bag clutched like a lifeline across her chest. The long fringe hung like a thick, black curtain over her right eye, and I had to resist the urge to reach out and pull it aside.
“So, what brings you to Durban?” I honestly wasn’t trying to sound pushy, just curious. Besides, it was a reasonable question, not so? When Lucia didn’t reply, I crossed the room and closed the front door to give her time to answer. Just as I turned back to face her, she jerked her head away and averted her eyes back to the floor. I felt my frustration levels start to rise. So Lucia could quite easily look at me, as long as I wasn’t looking back at the same time?
I held my palms together and tried to shake off the girl’s unsettling presence. “All right, so…the rent is fourteen grand, split three ways. With water and lights, say an extra grand, we can round it off at five grand each. How does that sound?”
Lucia bit her lip hard and her eyes darted around the room briefly. “Sure. Whatever.”
“Rent’s due by the first of each month.” I tried to keep it upbeat, to sound much friendlier than I felt. “I’d like to check references before I make a final decision.” I gave Lucia a pressing look, one intended to communicate that I wasn’t too convinced about her yet. And in case she hadn’t been looking, I’d made sure she heard the threat in my tone.
“That’s no problem, you don’t have to worry about me not paying or nothing.” My warning didn’t seem to rattle her one bit.
I drew in a deep breath and gathered my thoughts. “Right, so we have a domestic worker who comes in once a week. Name is Thandi.”
Lucia met my eyes for the first time since she’d stepped foot in the place. “A-a cleaning lady?” There was measured trepidation in her voice.
“M-hmm. That’s okay, right? With all three of us girls working—”
She waved her hand. “That’s okay, I’ll clean my own room.” Lucia returned her grip to the bag and her gaze to the floor.
I narrowed my eyes at her, unsure how to respond. For somebody trying to gain approval, she was being surly and aloof, if not downright rude. “Well, if you’re sure. Just let me know if you change your mind.”
She gave a quick nod, obviously just to appease me.
Lucia’s tone was as colorless as her complexion, and lacked any kind of verve or energy whatsoever. The girl was as insipid as a jellyfish, with a personality to match.