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“Evening, I thought you could use some food.” Mack waved a pizza box under Amber’s nose. “Mrs Donaldson from over the way called me and said that you hadn’t left your table since after you cleaned up the lunch dishes.”
Amber rolled her eyes. “One of these days I am going to get blinds. You’d better come in.” He came in and took the pizza directly out to her kitchen where he found a couple of plates and served her up two slices.
He took the two plates back to her dining room as Amber closed some textbooks and pushed some papers to one side of the table. Mack peered over her shoulder.
“You can read that,” he asked her as he spied a whole page of Cantonese characters and various English potential meanings.
“I’m a translator. I have my own business,” she said.
“What do you translate,” he asked her.
“I have a computer program that does legal stuff. Took me ages to get that programme right but it has been very lucrative for me. This stuff is the fun stuff. This is old school translation of a text.”
“So how does a kid with such a stuffed around childhood manage to own their own business.”
“Stan and Merry,” Amber stated.
“What did they do, aside from Stan teaching you to read properly,” Mack pried.
“Believed in me,” Amber replied promptly.
Mack looked at her with a steady gaze. Amber shook her head.
“I learnt to read, write and speak Cantonese when I was 8. I was pretty quick at it too, it made so much more sense than English to me. When I was ten I spent 6 months with an Egyptian family. They were such a great family, I was quite upset to be pulled from them, but they were going back to Egypt for three months and Child Services didn’t want me to go too. They taught me Arabic. Then I had an Italian family and a Japanese family. They were the drug dealers,” she added quite calmly now. “So by the time I was 12 I could speak, read and write 4 languages quite well. Then when I was 15 I mastered English, took French and Cantonese at school through senior and did a double degree in Modern and ancient languages at university. About six months into my first year, I started charging students to help fix up their assignments and in my second year started working for lecturers translating academic articles from other languages for them. The business grew from that.”
“Do you employ anyone,” Mack grilled kindly.
“I have a woman who does my accounts. I’m going down to Melbourne the day after next to go through everything with her and I have about five casual staff that I use at any one time. Although technically I have about fifty people I call on to do translations depending on their areas of expertise. Oh and a couple of friends whom I outsource my help desk too.”
“Wow,” Maverick didn’t say much. “You are just wow.”
“As I said, I owe it all to Stan and Merry. If I hadn’t lucked into their lives, I would still be struggling to learn to read a paragraph in English. Probably sitting in some scummy prison because I didn’t believe I had brains at 15.”
“You spoke five languages at 15 Amber, how could you think you weren’t intelligent.”
“Because I got Es in everything at school and if you couldn’t do English you didn’t get to try another language at high school. My god Stan got so fired up when the school said that I had only just mastered English by the end of Year 10, I shouldn’t be doing a language in Senior.”
“Why don’t you call them Mum and Dad? I can’t see them minding,” Maverick stated. He risked brushing a strand of hair off the side of her face. Amber froze but didn’t pull away.
“It’s just that if I call them Mum and Dad then I have a claim to them and every other foster child has a claim to them. They’ve fostered over 20 different kids for extended times and each one of us, well Stan and Merry were the last option, no one else would take us. They were our only advocate. If I claim them, then I state I still need them and if I still need them, can they give Roxy what she needs? Can they give the next 15 year old what he needs? I don’t have that right. I am not theirs, but they were mine for four years.”
“You stayed with them after you turned 18, but the government doesn’t pay for that.”
“I know, They had me for as long as I needed them. Just before I turned 19, I was making enough money to rent a room so I went, so that the next kid could get what they gave me and if you make me fucking cry again, so help me you’ll be arresting me for assault.”
Maverick laughed and cleaned off the plates from the table. She followed him and washed up, dried up and put the dishes away whilst he ate another slice of pizza.
“Why do you do that,” he asked.
“You always put everything away. I have never seen such a tidy person.”
Amber smiled. “Because for so long, I never knew if I would be there the next day. Even when I was out of care, cheap rooms came and went quickly. Enough,” Amber halted the conversation. “Robert worked out that there are 30 centimetres between the back of the kitchen cupboards and the wall in the dining room. I figure I don’t use the upper cupboards anyway so I can take the wall down and have an open planned dining room. If you are going to hang around you are going to help me.”
“Sure thing, but it’s after 10pm. You want to do this now?” Maverick grinned. Amber wasn’t treating him like some form of piranha and that was a good thing in his books.
She gave him an eye. Maverick continued to grin as he exited to the back veranda where Amber stored her small supply of tools and grabbed the jimmy bar and hammer. He could hear Amber dragging the table away from the wall. As he entered Amber was working on the sideboard. Maverick picked up the other end of the furniture and the lifted it back towards the front window.
“I’m going to put a sliding door out to the new deck here. Milly and Roxy say that it will be great in Summer.”
“Cold in winter, spend the extra and get double glazing, we get snow here in winter.” Maverick handed her the jimmy bar. “Wedge it under the rim there and just rock back with it. He stepped closer to her and when she struggled, he wrapped an arm around her. She didn’t quite freeze like last time but she was timid. “You’ve never dated anyone have you,” he whispered. She felt his breath on her ear
“No,” she muttered, “I wanted to get my house.”
“And you’ve got that now, you’re not going anywhere.” He applied pressure to the picture rail and it started to break away from the wall. Maverick held her like that, breathing in the smell of her shampoo. The picture rail pulled slowly away from the wall. Three different colours of paint could now be seen.
Amber couldn’t look at him, she trembled.
“It’s alright Amber, we can take this slow. You’re not going anywhere and nor am I. We’ve got time up our sleeves, now are you going to take off the first panel.”
She paused, breathed and focused on a run of brown paint over the bare timber where the picture rail had been.
Amber grinned. She found a crack in the wall and rammed the jimmy bar in, she pushed back with all her might and the panel splintered.
“Great work, you keep pulling and I’ll go load up your ute. Didn’t you have a morning off taking rubbish to the tip?”
Amber laughed. “I got up this morning just as early and spent some time looking at the validity of reprogramming my software. Decided that it was worth it and spent two hours on the phone to Hong Kong and my programmers over there.”
“No rest for you then, tell me do you ever stop.”
Amber didn’t respond, instead, she put the jimmy bar between the stud and the next timber.
“There’s something in there,” Amber said. Three tongue and groove boards had been removed and Amber had her bar in the fourth but it wouldn’t budge.
“Tap the end of it with the hammer,” Maverick advised. She did that and then pushed hard.
The board moved, as did three or four boards beside it. She repeated the process, getting the jimmy bar further in each time. Maverick wedged some chunks of the other boards into the gaps and then they both heaved on the Jimmy bar. There was a crack and four boards peeled back. On the inside was a blue board.
“That’s wet board,” Maverick sounded confused.
“There’s a gap.” Amber put her eye close to the slither of the dark. “There’s something in there.”