I did actually feel considerately better after the ticklefest. I don't know why, but suddenly it seemed to wipe away the years and I felt like a little kid all over again, playing with my (then) siblings... There was a part of me that wanted to contact them so desperately. I had after all spent a good majority of my life living with them: it was weird not knowing what they were up to. Tess would probably have another boyfriend. Freddie was going to uni this fall- I shook my head at that, I still imagined him as the three year old who used to tug at my hair. I subconsciously fingered the phone number of their aunts', where they'd been staying since...Richards' death. Just one short phone call: I could just check up. But what if they didn't want to talk to me? They knew the truth, I wasn't their sister. They were just Freddie and Tess Richards, the two kids who I used to live with. Besides, somebody was hitting SCIT from the inside: how else would they have taken Steve away so easily? The last thing I wanted was any harm to come to those two through a lapse in my judgement, a two minute call to say...What would I say? Sorry I killed Dad, only he was a dirty rotten man who was trying to kill my biological father?
As I sat in front of the TV with my tub of toffee ice cream (I couldn't just ignore Jagan's advice when it involved confectionary, now, could I?), my mind slowly drifted back to Steve. I couldn't shake it from my system, replaying that scene from this morning over and over. They had just marched in there, he'd given up so easily...I knew he was innocent. He had to be. I could see what the others were thinking: okay, so he's a little psychotic and makes the odd death threats and gets trigger happy, but don't we all? Even Beth seemed of two minds about it. And God knows what Dad thinks: I could see him getting all protective about a murderer dating his daughter, understandably...I didn't just say that, I did not just say that...
I woke the next morning early at ten past five, my cheek slumped slightly into a ice cream tub: empty but nonetheless uncomfortable. The TV had been blaring mindless news stories all night, but in my mind only one headline was whirred around. I had to do some research: it was obviously a framing, Steve couldn't have killed anyone.
I was surprised not to see Dad in the office when I walked in at six: he was usually all Early Bird, whereas I liked to lie in- a very valid reason for moving out. There hadn't been some body swap like in Freaky Friday, had there? I was still smirking at the thought when I picked up the Post-It, standing out like a sore thumb on my desk. Each word I read was more ominous than the last.
Stay safe. I looked up at the empty office, suddenly feeling self-conscious. I knew why: I could feel my eyes misting up, my shoulders aching. I ran to the toilets: it all came out like a barrage had been torn down inside me. All the emotion bubbled to the surface, and I felt the heaving sobs shake my body. Dad had left us, right in the middle of an operation to prove Steve innocent, which right now seemed nigh on impossible. My hands flew to my face. They couldn't all just go. They couldn't. I needed them...the two most important people in my life and they were gone. I felt helpless, even if only for that one minute: it was as if they had taken all of the barriers with them, and I stood defenceless and alone. I looked at the mirror and took a deep trembling breath. I had to keep it together, stay strong. No matter how much you feel alone, you have to carry on. I hurriedly splashed water over my cheeks and wiped my eyes with my sleeve gently. Come on Dani, get a grip. What would they say if they could see you like this? I tried a smile in the mirror, then walked out. I had suffered my moment of despair: now I just had to go for it. I was pleased to see Beth there in the office when I returned, and felt relieved that she didn't point out my blotchy eyes. Instead she took the Post-It and read. I held my breath.