A/N: Sorry, guys. Once again, I’m very slow at getting updates out. :( Going to try and update more regularly now the holidays are here, though. :)
When I return home, my parents are arguing.
Or rather, my mum is shouting and my father, like always, remains as silent as a stone.
I think about turning around and leaving again, but my feet are frozen in place. Mum’s voice is muffled by the heavy wood of their bedroom door, but I can make out snatches of fury.
“… can’t believe you…”
Carefully, silently, I shut the front door. My hands are trembling and there’s a tightness in my chest that won’t go away. My parents never argue – not that I’ve heard, anyway. Mum usually tries to keep things in the house as calm as possible.
“… a damn idiot!”
But not today.
I creep over to the bottom of the stairs, heart thudding. A large part of me wants to hang around and eavesdrop some more, but an even larger part of me wants to run upstairs, burrow under my duvet and not come out until it’s safe. And Jed always tells me I’m brave. Pah.
As I reach the bottom stair, I realise that silence has fallen. I pause with my foot on the stair, straining to hear what’s going on. The shouting has stopped, but I can just make out an indistinct murmuring of voices.
Then I hear it.
From behind the closed door comes an inhuman moaning that makes my skin crawl. The tightness in my chest intensifies as I struggle to identify what I’m hearing.
My father is crying.
I turn and flee upstairs, not looking back.
* * *
When I was younger, my father was my hero.
Not just in that way little kids usually have, you know? An actual hero. In the pulled-me-from-a-burning-building kind of way.
According to my mother, my father has always been terrified of fire. He used to have nightmares about being trapped in a burning apartment. The fear was so bad that Mum says the house didn’t have an oven for years. I couldn’t imagine not having an oven – how would we cook macaroni cheese? How would Mum bake cookies?!
I guess dreams have a strange way of coming true, but not always in the most expected of ways.
For that one moment, my father put his fear aside and saved my life. No matter what happened afterwards, no matter the accusations levelled at him by the police, my father will always have that.
But, when I was in hospital, my father insisted that a ghost had set the blaze. He insisted that he saw it hanging around my bedside, waiting to unplug the life support.
Waiting to finish the job, as it were.
The police were monitoring him at this point. They reckoned his warnings about the ghost were actually threats. For a brief time, everyone but Mum thought that he had started the fire. Mum says she always believed in him, even after she complied with police wishes and barred him from my hospital room.
I asked her once if she believed in the ghost, but all she said was, “Your father was very sick, Elery.” It was only later that I realised she hadn’t answered my question.
After my father was banished from the hospital, things really started going downhill. Several times, he was caught sneaking past security, with the insistence that he needed to protect me. One time, the police were called and my father spent the night in a police cell, until Grandad Moss paid his bail.
Then my father attacked a nurse, and he was shipped off to a psychiatric institution. Mum has always said ‘attacked’ is an exaggeration, but she won’t tell me what actually happened.
By the time I got out of hospital, my father was still institutionalised. It took another year and a half before the doctors agreed he was well enough to be released.
By then, he was a stranger to me.
Things should have got back to normal after that, whatever ‘normal’ had been. But things don’t work out that smoothly.
My father had become a ghost himself. For a long time, all he could do was sit on the sofa and stare at the wall. It broke Mum’s heart. Farrow began acting out, and his grades at school plummeted. If not for Jamie, I think our family would have fallen apart.
Farrow went to stay with Jamie and his family often, sometimes for weeks at a time. It was not the best situation, but it took the pressure off everyone and Farrow even started to smile again. Jamie and Mum, with patience, got my father interested in gardening again.
And things, though they did perhaps not improve, evened out.
Through all this, however, I have never heard my father cry.
* * *
Later, when I’ve mustered the courage to go back downstairs, I bump into Heidi on the stairs.
She blinks at me, and says in a hushed voice, “I was just coming to find you.” She checks over her shoulder, and then adds, “Farrow’s here. Mum and Dad have something important to tell us.”
“A family meeting?” I ask.
Heidi nods, before turning and walking back down the stairs again.
I remain where I am for a moment, head reeling, chest tightening. The last time we had a family meeting was just before Farrow went to stay with Jamie and Jenna for two whole months.
Had Farrow told our parents what I’d done?
Were they going to send me away too?
I shake my head, tell myself not to be so ridiculous, and walk down the stairs to join my family.
Farrow and Heidi are already seated on the sofa, leaving a space in the middle for me. My parents are seated on dining chairs in front of the sofa, their expressions grim. My father is wringing his hands, staring at his lap and looking every inch the scolded child.
I flop down on the sofa between my siblings, deliberately not looking at Farrow. His gaze burns my cheek for a long moment, before Mum clears her throat and takes his attention away.
“Your father and I have something important we need to talk to you about. Now, I know you’re not going to like what he has to say, but I want you all to listen to your father.”
Our father shuffles in his chair, but doesn’t speak. Mum nudges him with her elbow.
Our father seems more tired than usual. The lines on his forehead are deeper, more pronounced. When he speaks, the words sound rehearsed, as though he has been reciting them over and over in his mind.
“When I… when I adopted Jamie, I didn’t really do things the normal way. A company called Doo Peas helped me out, the same company who gave me this piece of land to grow a garden on.”
“The Doo Peas in town?” Heidi asks, and my father nods.
“Well, they asked me to sign a contract. At the time, I didn’t really… well, I didn’t think it’d have any implications. And then I forgot all about it, until a letter arrived this morning.”
There is a short silence, and then Heidi finally asks, “What did it say, Dad?”
My father draws in a slow, steadying breath.
“I promised them that one of my children would come to work for them when they became of age.”
A stunned silence follows his words, as each of us tries to digest this news. A hard knot of nausea has taken residence in the pit of my stomach. My father takes a deep breath.
“Farrow, you -“
“Fuck, no, Dad. You’re not asking that of me.”
“No!” My brother rockets to his feet. “Jabberwocky has started getting offers for gigs in other cities. I will not let my bandmates down, no matter what stupid promises you made to some company long ago!”
My father looks stricken. Before Farrow can say anything else, however, Heidi speaks up.
“Please, don’t fight. I’ll do it.”
Farrow’s face is a mixture between relief and distress. He sinks back onto the sofa.
“But, Heidi… what about your garden centre?”
Ever since Heidi was a little girl, she has dreamt of opening her own garden centre here in Riverview. She’s always helped our father out in the garden with the vegetables, but her real passion lies in flowers, especially orchids. She got a part time job at the bookstore in town when she was still in school, just so that she could start saving up to make her dream a reality.
But if she goes to work for Doo Peas, that will never be the case.
Heidi gives us a weak smile. “It doesn’t really matter, don’t worry about it.”
Up until now, I’ve remained silent, trying to understand what my father’s actions really mean. Hearing the quiet acceptance in Heidi’s voice, however, makes my stomach begin to churn.
My sister has a dream. A tangible, reachable dream.
What do I have?
A dream to sing on the stage, when my own brother can’t even stand to look at my face.
If anyone should be sacrificing their dream to protect their siblings, it should be me.
“Heidi, no. I’ll do it.” When she looks at me and opens her mouth to protest, I shake my head. “No, listen. Riverview needs a garden centre. Have you seen the state of some of the gardens around here?”
“Elery.” There’s an odd note in Mum’s voice. “Are you sure? We’re going to try and fight them on this, you know.”
I make myself smile, if only to stop my parents worrying.
“I’m sure. This could be a good thing. I won’t have to worry about applying for a job or anything this way.”
There is a long silence, in which everyone stares at me as though I’ve grown an extra head. My cheeks heat up and, suddenly, I want to be anywhere but here.
“May I be excused?”
I don’t wait for anyone to answer; I can’t stand to sit there for another moment. I get up and walk upstairs, steps mechanical, back straight. I try not to let them see how much my hands are shaking.
Dreams hurt when they shatter.
* * *
My family leave me to myself for about an hour. At least, it seems that long. When I hear footsteps on the stairs and glance at my alarm clock, only five minutes have passed.
“Go away,” I mutter, as the tell-tale top stair creaks loudly. “I don’t care what you have to say, I’m doing it.”
“I didn’t come to talk to you about that.”
I sit up in surprise at the sound of Farrow’s voice. He is standing at the top of the stairs; if I didn’t know him better, I would say that he is hovering unsurely. Memories of the day before flood into the pit of my stomach, red and hot and painful, and I flop back
on the bed.
“If that’s the case, fuck off.”
“I suppose I deserved that,” Farrow mutters, but he doesn’t leave.
“Why the hell have you come to talk to me if you can’t stand to look at me?” The venomous, angry words spill out of me before I can stop them.
Farrow doesn’t answer right away, just looks at his feet. My chest constricts, burning with an ugly, white-hot hatred.
“Did your friends force you to come and apologise?” I spit the question at him. “Well, don’t bother. I don’t want your apologies.”
“Elery, I didn’t -“
Before I know it, I’m on my feet. “I said I don’t want them!”
I feel sick with anger; I just want him to go away and leave me alone. For a moment, he thinks about leaving; I can see it in the way his eyes flick towards the staircase, in the way he shifts his weight to his other foot.
Then, his jaw sets and he takes a step towards me.
“I came here to talk to you, and I’m not leaving until you let me.”
“You don’t understand what it’s like, Farrow. People are always staring, or commenting, or pitying! You’re my brother – you’re meant to protect me from that, not – not – Jed’s the closest thing to a brother I have!”
I’ve hurt him – I can see it on his face. For a moment, I even regret it.
There’s a few brief seconds where I think Farrow is going to shout back; that’s usually how our fights go, after all. Anger flickers over his face like an echo of my own. I almost want him to shout at me, to give me and excuse to scream every little thing I can think of.
But Farrow takes a deep, calming breath, and doesn’t shout.
“Look, I know you don’t want to hear this, but I’m sorry. Sure, I’m here because the guys made me come, but… I’ve wanted to have a proper conversation with you about this for a while.”
I sink onto the the edge of the bed, deflated. Though the anger has run its course, my stomach is still tied up in knots.
“What do you even want to say?” My voice is hoarse. “You made your feelings pretty damn clear yesterday.”
Farrow lets out a long breath, and then sits down on the bedroom floor, raking his fingers through his hair.
“It’s going to sound really pathetic.”
My eyes narrow. “Try me.”
“Looking at you… your scars…” Farrow groans and buries his face in his hands for a moment, before he forces himself to look up and meet my eyes. “It hurts. You don’t remember what Dad was like before the fire, Ri. Neither does Heidi, not really. But I do. Every time I look at you, I relive that. The fire, Dad being taken away, you lying broken and – and terrifying in the hospital.”
He looks down at his hands. “Every time I look at you I remember how close I was to losing you, and it makes me sick.”
I had thought that hearing the reason behind Farrow’s disgust would make me feel better, but, if anything, I just feel a whole lot worse.
“No one’s making you look at me,” I manage, trying to disguise the definite tremor in my voice. “You don’t have to see me at all if you don’t want to.”
There’s a long silence, in which I try to swallow the lump in my throat.
Do not cry in front of him.
Then, Farrow gets slowly to his feet. I almost want him to come over and wrap his arms around me, to apologise again and to promise to be the brother Mum’s always told me he was. But all he does is look out of the window.
“I’ve got to get out of Riverview,” he says, talking to the sky instead of me. “I’m leaving.”
I want to speak, but my mouth is suddenly dry.
This isn’t what’s meant to happen.
“I’m going to Sunset Valley. Arthur and Lance are already there, so it’s not like I won’t know anyone. The band’s going to get a flat – there’s a lot more opportunities there than out here in the middle of nowhere.”
Farrow is still talking determinedly to the window.
“I don’t want you to leave.” My voice sounds thick and weak, nothing like normal.
Farrow finally looks at me again, and his expression falters slightly. Softens.
“This isn’t your fault, Elery. I just need to get out of this town. Start again.
“Because of me.” The words are meant to be an accusation, but they just come out as a whisper.
Farrow hesitates, before saying softly, “Not entirely.”
I look down at my hands; my palms bear little half-moons where my nails have dug in. My eyes burn, but I feel too hollow to cry. As far as crappy days go, this one is pretty high up on the list.
I can’t think of anything else to say and, after a moment, I hear Farrow’s retreating steps on the stairs.
Walking out of your life, my treacherous brain says and, finally, my vision blurs.
Before I can curl up in a desolate ball, my phone vibrates loudly on the bedside table. I swipe my arm furiously over my eyes, dashing the tears before they can fall.
Slipping off my bed, I snatch up the phone and flip it open, expecting to see some silly joke Jed’s found to try to cheer me up. Instead, Charity’s name blinks at me, the new message picture flashing beside it.
7 2morrow @ Singalot Castle
dont forget xx
At this point in my very crappy day, I have forgotten all about my impending date with Charity, but I text her back reassuring her that I haven’t.
Thank God that’s not tonight.
After the message informs me it’s been sent, I scroll through my phone to find Jed’s number. He answers on the third ring.
“Any chance you can come over?” I ask, before he can get a word in. “I’ve had the worst day ever.”
There’s a beat of silence, and then Jed says, “I’m on my way.”
I hang up and flop back down on my bed, closing my eyes
With Jed coming, everything will work out okay.
It has to.