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Today we're previewing MM Contemporary novel Cutting Out from Meredith Shayne.
Please enjoy this sample chapter from the book . . .
VISITING CHRISTCHURCH to see family also meant catching up with old friends for a drink or ten, so Lachie was still asleep on the Tuesday morning when someone knocked on the door to his childhood bedroom. At first he lay still, only moving when he heard the second knock.
He kept his eyes closed. “Come in.” God, his voice sounded like he’d swallowed frogs and chased them down with sandpaper. He cleared his throat and frowned at how much his hair stunk like smoke.
The door opened, and after a moment he could hear his father laughing. “Good night last night, then?”
Lachie groaned and blinked his eyes open, squinting up at his dad without lifting his head. “Yeah, you could say that.” He cleared his throat again. “What’s up?”
His dad came into the room and sat down on the edge of the bed. “Nothing’s up. I just wanted to know if you were going to meet me in town for lunch, that’s all. Remember I said I was working in the CBD today? A few good cafes and things have sprung up since you were here last, and we could celebrate your competition win.”
Lachie smiled a little and closed his eyes again, performing a silent assessment of whether he could move from the bed for long enough to actually leave the house. Answer: no. “Ah . . . probably not.”
His father laughed. “I thought you might say that. It’s okay. There’s always tomorrow, right?”
Lachie smiled. “Right. We can definitely do something tomorrow. I’ll spend today . . . resting. To prepare for it.”
His father chuckled, and Lachie felt a gentle hand on the top of his head, ruffling his hair. “You do that, and I’ll see you tonight when I get home.”
“Yep,” Lachie said, opening his eyes for long enough to watch his father walk to the door. “It’s nice to be home.”
His father paused in the doorway, looking down at him with a smile. “It’s nice to have you home, son. Get some sleep, take some Berocca, and I’ll see you tonight.”
Lachie smiled. “Yeah, okay. Have a nice day.”
“I CAN’T BELIEVE you dragged me up Queenstown Hill. Haven’t we been here a million times? I thought we were going somewhere interesting. With less of a fucking incline. Jesus.”
Shane stopped by the tourism panel art and looked at his friend Zach, who was looking decidedly green around the gills. “God, you’re such a whinger. Why wouldn’t you want to be out here on a day like this? And you, a walking tour guide and all. You’re a disgrace to your profession.”
“Fuck you. I’m hungover. That’s what I am.” Originally from Tasmania, Zach Harris was in his mid-thirties, handsome in a blue-eyed, blond, square-jawed, male-model kind of way, teeth blindingly white, and charm oozing from every pore. To top things off, he was a ski instructor in the high season, and a walking trail guide in the summer. He had people—men and women, which was fine by him—falling at his feet all year round. Right then, he didn’t look as hot as he usually did, because he looked like he was about to throw up. He stopped and raked a hand through his sweaty hair, then reached for Shane’s backpack and yanked a bottle of water out of it. As he tipped his head back, throat working as he drank most of the bottle in one go, Shane had to admit he understood why people did pant over him. But he and Zach had never slept together, and Shane didn’t regret that. They’d met almost as soon as Shane arrived in Queenstown ten years before. They’d had a fondness for the same pub, and an Australian accent coming from someone who didn’t seem like a tourist had drawn Shane like a magnet. First they’d bonded over being Australian in a sea of Kiwis, Brits, and South Africans. Then they’d discovered they had more in common, and not just a love of cock; Shane didn’t ski, but he loved to hike, and once Zach had found that out, he’d taken Shane exploring the walking tracks of Queenstown and its surrounds every chance he could get. They’d spent days out in the wilderness, scruffy and unwashed. Zach was the only person who knew why Shane had left Australia, and why he didn’t bother going back, and he’d never said a judgemental word about it. That was the kind of friend Shane had needed back then, not a friends-with-benefits one.
Shane had no sympathy for him in the present though. “How can you be hung over on a Tuesday, for fuck’s sake? It’s not ski season. Are any bars here even open on a Monday?”
“Are you serious?” Zach rolled his eyes and shoved the empty water bottle back in Shane’s pack. “You’re such a monk, Cooper. This is one of the most popular tourist traps in New Zealand—of course there are places to drink on a Monday. Even you could have a drink on a Monday, if you came out with me more often.”
Shane suppressed a sigh of exasperation. He knew what was involved when Zach went out on the prowl, and he was over it. He could find his own hook-ups. He just didn’t want to do that in Queenstown anymore. Don’t shit where you eat, that was his new motto now he was old enough to know better. Zach just hadn’t got that through his thick skull yet. “Come on.” Shane started upwards again. “Think yourself lucky I picked a trail with trees so you could have some shade.”
“Whatever,” Zach said, under his breath but loud enough for Shane to hear, which was definitely on purpose.
Shane ignored him. Soon they came out of the tree line and got a view of The Remarkables. Shane stopped and looked at the mountain peaks, and the small body of water in front of them, and felt the muscles of his neck and shoulders relax. He sighed softly, and then Zach came up beside him.
“You know, if you came out with me more, you might not need to relax by being in nature. You could relax in other ways. Ways that don’t involve trees, or your right hand.”
“Shut up.” Shane kept walking, up towards the Basket of Dreams sculpture. He loved the Queenstown Hill Time Walk mostly for the view you could get from the Basket of Dreams. “I get laid. Just not as often as you.” Zach seemed to get laid every five minutes; most people didn’t get laid as much as him.
“Well, maybe you should try—”
“Maybe you should try shutting your gob. I didn’t come up here to get a lecture about my love life.” Shane punched Zach on the shoulder. “Let me enjoy the view for five seconds, all right?”
Zach grumbled and rubbed at his arm, but to his credit, he did stay quiet for a good five minutes. But then he looked at his watch and said, “Right. It’s one o’clock. By the time we get down, it’ll be beer o’clock. Let’s get a move on.” He slapped Shane on the back and started heading down the hill.
Shane took one more look at the view, then jogged after him. “You know, one day you’re going to get too old for the hair of the dog to work, and that day I’m going to laugh. I’m going to laugh right in your face.”
Zach’s laugh floated up the hill. “Okay, old man. You’ll be waiting a while for that day.”
It took them about an hour to get back to civilisation. They headed to the nearest pub, keen for air conditioning as well as a cold brew and some food. It didn’t seem they were likely to get food and drink though, because when they stepped into the bar area, sighing in relief at the cool air hitting their overheated skin, every person in the place was frozen in place around a wall-mounted TV, staring up at it.
“Looks like something interesting’s happened,” Zach said as he approached the TV.
“Looks like it.” Shane followed him, coming to a stop on the edge of the small crowd and looking up at the TV to see what it was.
THE HOUSE was quiet when Lachie woke. He got up, pulled a pair of tracksuit pants on, and scrubbed a hand through his hair as he shuffled through the house. His mother was nowhere to be seen. There was no note for him on the fridge door like there usually was when he was home and she had gone out for a while, so she couldn’t be too far away. He got himself some cereal and switched the radio on, frowning and switching it from some AM talk show to the FM rock station. He sat at the island to eat, humming along to the music as he ate and drank his coffee, closing his eyes and sighing as the caffeine spread through his system.
He barely heard it over the music at first, a distant, ominous rumble that got louder over half a minute. He noticed it properly a second before the house began to shake; at first there was a sickening roll, then a side-to-side lurch that almost toppled Lachie from his seat. He ducked as things began to fall off shelves, and scrambled for the doorway when cupboard doors started slamming open, dishes and cups falling out onto the floor, smashing and flinging shards everywhere. The power went out as Lachie grabbed the doorjamb to steady himself. The music stopped immediately. The movement of the house died almost as quickly, but Lachie stood still, his heart beating a million miles an hour as he clung to the doorway, his legs like jelly. Since the first earthquake the previous September, Christchurch had had hundreds of aftershocks, so many that even Lachie, who didn’t even live there most of the time, had lost count of how many he’d felt. But no matter how many earthquakes he’d been through, he never got used to them, and fuck, that had been a big one. The kitchen was a mess of broken crockery and glass lying in pools of milk, coffee, and juice, dotted here and there with soggy cereal. Outside, a car alarm started wailing, and people began calling out to each other, sounding shaken, but not panicked. That made him feel a bit better; if people who had experienced many more earthquakes than him weren’t panicking, then there mustn’t be a reason to. Lachie closed his eyes for a minute, taking some deep breaths to calm his fluttering heart. There was bound to be an aftershock, but he wasn’t about to hang around and wait for the house to fall down around his ears. He retrieved his phone from the bedroom and sent a quick text to his mother, not really expecting an answer; after the last big quake, the phone network had crashed pretty much straight away, and had stayed that way for hours, but it was worth a try for his peace of mind, at least. He then picked his way across the lounge room, stepping carefully around the books and CDs that littered the floor amongst the smashed frames of family photos. Stepping into the jandals he’d left at the door the day before, he tugged the front door open and went outside to see if anyone needed help.
Like last time, even houses in the same street had been affected differently. Some, like Lachie’s house, had no visible structural or land damage, but in others, huge cracks had appeared in the walls, trees had fallen down, retaining walls had crumbled. In some places, there was liquefaction, where the ground had just turned to mush, puddles of liquefied earth bubbling up through cracks in the grass and road surface. Down the end of the street, water poured out of the ground: a burst water pipe. Lachie was just glad it wasn’t the sewerage pipe.
The neighbours all pitched in to help each other, clearing things away, shovelling earth and broken bricks, banding together to shift falling trees. Propping each other up through the aftershocks. As time went on, information started to trickle in about the quake from people who had tuned in to the newscast on whatever they had that would run on batteries. It had been a six-point-three-magnitude quake, and it had caused a lot of damage in the CBD. Buildings had collapsed, people had been hurt. People were abandoning their cars in the street, and the Prime Minister had asked people to leave the central city. There were people trapped, they said. Some had died. The fatality count changed every time someone said it. Hearing that, Lachie’s stomach twisted, and he started calling his mother and father, alternating the calls every ten minutes. As he’d known it would be, the network was overloaded, and nothing would connect. He sent a text to his sister, Ngaire, hoping that at least would get through, but he heard nothing. And there was no reply from his mother from earlier, either. He tried to ignore the churning anxiety in his belly and got back to work. It would be all right. He’d hear from them soon.
LACHIE WAS just helping the woman across the road with a huge tree branch that had fallen onto the windscreen of her car when his mother came around the corner, huffing and puffing and with supermarket bags in each hand.
“Mum!” Lachie ran up and took the bags out of her hands. “What happened to you? I’ve been trying to call you. Where’s the car?”
She stopped, leaning over a little to catch her breath. “An earthquake happened, love. Don’t tell me you slept through it.”
He laughed, the sound short and sharp, but still filled with the relief he felt over the fact that she was okay. That she didn’t seem upset or worried settled his nerves even more. “Yes, Mum, I know there was an earthquake. The house is a huge mess. There wasn’t any way I could have slept through that. I meant, why aren’t you driving? Is the car wrecked?”
She shook her head. “No, it’s just a few streets away. There’s so much liquefaction up the road. I got to a point where I couldn’t get any further.”
“Okay, well, we’ll sort the car out later.” He started to nudge her towards the house. “Are you okay though?”
She nodded. “I’m fine, love, I was in the supermarket car park when it happened, away from anything that could fall on me. Ngaire texted me. She and Ken are fine; the teachers are keeping them at school until they can be collected. Are you okay?” She looked him up and down. “You didn’t get hit with anything? Were you still in bed?”
“No, although I’d probably have been in less danger that way.” He transferred all the bags to one hand so he could open the door. “There’s a lot of crap all over the floor. I haven’t had time to clean it up yet, sorry. So watch where you walk. Don’t take your shoes off.” He looked in the bags. “The power’s out. I hope you don’t have much fridge stuff in here.”
“There’s packs of ice in the deep freeze in the garage, we’ll fill up some chilly bins, hey?” She tutted when she saw the state of the lounge room. “Oh love, would you look at this mess.” She clucked her tongue a bit more, staring around at all the books on the floor.
“The kitchen’s worse. A lot of things broke. And there’s food on the floor.” Lachie stepped carefully across the lounge room and put the bags down near the kitchen door. “I’ll clean it up.”
“Not with jandals on, you won’t,” his mother said. “Why don’t you go get the ice first, and we’ll set up the chilly bins. Then you can put some proper shoes on.”
“Okay.” He paused. “I heard that people have been hurt in town. Have you heard from Dad?”
His mother shook her head, reaching out to squeeze his hand. “Not yet, love. But the phones are only working on and off. It’s always impossible to get through straight after a quake. Remember last time?” Last time, they hadn’t heard from his father for a couple of hours. Lachie nodded. “I’m sure he’s fine. He’ll contact us when he can. I’ll try to call him when I get back from getting the kids, hey?”
“I’ll go get them.” Lachie headed for the front door. “You just . . .” Put the kettle on, he was going to say. But not without power. And no water either, until the pipe down the road was fixed. But this wasn’t their first rodeo earthquake-wise, and he knew there was a shit load of supplies in the garage. “I’ll get the camping stove and water out too while I’m at it, hey? And some fresh batteries for the radio. You can call Dad while I’m out.”
He could hear the smile in his mother’s voice as she stood in the middle of the lounge room, bending down to pick up some things off the floor. “Okay, love. We’ll get there, one step at a time.” Just before he stepped through the door, she tutted to herself again, saying softly, “Well, that’ll need a new frame then, won’t it?”
He smiled and went out to the garage to get everything organised.
Cutting Out is available in e-book and print from all major sellers. Details for Cutting Out, including sellers' links, are at:
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