I wasn’t really surprised when I heard James’s voice calling my name after school on a dreary and cold Friday afternoon. I mean, James had shown some devout interest in me and he can’t have expected me not to notice. I doubt he expected half the school not to notice, either.
‘Lily,’ he called, ‘walking home?’ as he caught up to my side, grinning a little too enthusiastically just as I was about to plug my ears with my headphones and listen to some heavy drumming to block out the noise of the screaming children fighting and giggling their way home around me.
Of course I was walking home, I thought, wasn’t that obvious?
‘As always.’ I shrugged, turning to smile politely back at him.
‘Me too.’ He told me, as though it was a strange coincidence. I frowned.
‘You live in Grove.’ It wasn’t a question. I knew this because Grove may as well have been his middle name. James was the ‘posh boy from Grove’, I suppose. Not that he acted particularly posh, but areas like Grove were inhabited by those who would afford to spend over a £1 million on a house. Why James’s family decided to send him to your average, if not a little scruffy, high school was beyond me.
‘Well, yes,’ he replied, twisting his face a little as he thought. I almost felt like laughing. ‘But I have family living here, and I’d promised I’d visit.’
‘Ah, sure.’ I smiled, nodding my head. I wondered if I’d overdone the fake belief and unintentionally sounded sarcastic. In any case, James didn’t seem to notice.
‘So where do you live here, exactly?’ he asked me as he walked down the main road. There was a small crowd of Year Nines in front of us, which I’d learnt to highlight as a potential hazard. My mind automatically planned to overtake as soon as possible.
‘Buttonsworth Road.’ I replied, doubting he knew the street.
‘Oh, seriously?’ he said, a little too surprised. ‘My Aunt lives not far from there.’
‘Oh, really?’ I said, my eyes wide with surprise. You would have thought he’d told me he was my long lost brother. I all but gave myself a golden star for my acting skills.
I quickened my pace, as did James. We overtook the Year Nines, James almost falling from the curb and into the road. I held back a laugh when one of the kids told him to watch where he was going when he nudged into him accidentally on his effort to reposition on an area of the pavement that was not so close to the road.
James seemed to see my reaction, and I blushed, feeling a little harsh. He turned back at the little boy and glared at him. The boy almost tripped over his own foot.
When we’d turned down Peter St. to the right of the main road, we lost the crowds of children going home, which was a relief. James seemed to be following me, rather than accompanying me home on his way to his Aunts. I realized that he mustn’t actually know where he was. I felt a little bit of pity for him, but that didn’t stop me from being amused by his clumsy attempts at conversation. He was so transparent. I could see though him clearer than I could see through myself.
‘Doing much tonight, Lily?’ he asked me conversationally. I had snuck a headphone into the ear furthest from him, so his voice was little more than background. This suited me fine, though I had to try not to bop my head during my reply.
‘Um, no I don’t think so.’
‘Really? But it’s Friday.’ He grinned. Damn. I should have made up some plans.
Predictably, he asked ‘Well, if you feel like doing something you can always come to the cinema with us tonight.’
‘Us?’ I asked.
‘Sure. Johnny and Paul are going with Sarah and Michelle. I think Louise and Nicole are coming too. You should come … you know … with me.’ He looked up at me and smiled.
‘Oh, I’d love to,’ I smiled, but rushed on before he let his thrilled expression grow further. ‘But when I said I wasn’t doing anything, I meant it was because I have to stay at home and babysit my little sister. Sorry.’
‘Ah, right.’ He nodded, clearly disappointed. ‘Another time, then?’
‘Sure.’ I smiled apologetically.
‘But isn’t your sister only a year younger than us?’ he frowned.
‘Trust me, she needs a babysitter.’ I replied, hoping he wouldn’t ask for a further explanation because it would be obvious, even to James, that it was merely a poor excuse not to go out with him tonight. But luckily, he didn’t.
We walked on for a few moments in silence. I tried not to drift away with my music entirely. I pulled out the headphone, to silence the temptation, and decided I felt guilty for putting him down all the time. The least I could do was make conversation.
‘So what are you watching tonight?’ I asked him.
He had been watching his feet as he walked, his hands in his pockets, but his face lifted, a smile playing on his lips. I wondered what was so great about my lame conversation starter, but then I got the feeling it was just because I’d spoken. This annoyed me a little, but I didn’t know why.
‘We’re seeing Bourne Ultimatum. Should be good.’ He said.
‘Oh, sure.’ I grinned. ‘I liked that.’
‘You did?’ He smiled again when he saw my interested expression. He must have a thing for me, I thought, if my mild interest in film choice (about the only decent film out in the cinemas anyway) had made him happy.
‘Definitely. Who doesn’t have a thing about Matt Damon after watching that?’
‘I would.’ He shrugged, but only his laugh made me realize that he was joking.
‘You would definitely make a great couple.’ I smiled.
‘Actually, he’s not really my type.’
‘What is your type?’ I laughed, picturing a man in red stilettos, wearing a leather handbag.
‘Well, I prefer girls, for one thing.’ He grinned. His pace slowed a little, which gave me no choice but to slow with him.
I waited for him to continue his description. I didn’t realize till a short moment later when he did continue his description that I regretted asking for it.
‘I like blonde hair.’ He said, his voice getting quicker and a little quieter, ‘and brown eyes. And … someone who’s not … in-your-face, you know?’
I didn’t reply, but kept my eyes on the road in front of me, I forced my expression to look as though he was telling me nothing but the most recent forecast of the weather.
‘Someone like you.’ He ended. It was more of a mutter, and he was staring at his feet again. I wondered how long I could get away with staying silent. Would I be able to flee to my house without saying anything? Could I hold onto the silence for that extra five minutes?
I decided no. Although it was mentally painful for me to put him down again, in a more obvious way, I decided that the tension would clearly kill James. His face was a little red. The little red in his cheeks was glowing. He was adorable, sure he was, and I may have been his type, but I couldn’t help it if I felt nothing more for him.
‘Ah, that type.’ I said finally, clearing my throat. ‘Not too hard to come by, if I’m honest.’ I knew from experience that subtle hints like this one did nothing to help James understand. I suppose I was just dragging on the ordeal, which was mean, I’ll admit.
He sighed and stopped. I continued for a couple of steps, praying to God that he would start to walk again, but he didn’t. I could have screamed. I reluctantly walked back over to him.
‘Sup, James?’ I asked, acting slick. It didn’t work for me. He looked up at me, his brows furrowed. He looked like he was thinking of what to say.
‘I … like you, Lily.’ He said finally. He took one look of my face and turned his attention back down on his feet, as though he hadn’t spoken. Probably wishing he hadn’t.
‘I … um …’ I began, thinking of what to say too. My mind was blank. I stared at his face for a few moments, waiting for nothing, thinking of nothing. How hopeless was I? ‘Listen, your great.’
He looked back up at me, his frown deepened. Even James could tell that this was a ‘but’ kind of sentence.
‘But I’m just not looking for starting anything with anyone, James. I’m sorry.’ I sighed, and I meant it.
He cleared his throat, looking thoroughly disappointed, as though he’d been plucking up the courage for it to come to this for a very long time, not expecting another knock down. He probably had.
‘Seriously, though.’ I continued quickly, my eyes everywhere but on his face. ‘You are great. You’ll make someone really happy. One day. Girl or guy.’ I smiled, hoping to lighten the uncomfortable mood.
‘I’m not actually gay, you know that right?’ he asked, worry in his voice. I had to laugh.
‘Of course I do. It was a joke, James.’ I grinned.
‘Oh,’ he said, embarrassed, not laughing at the joke. ‘Sorry.’
‘Don’t be.’ I shrugged. ‘Your good looking and decent – and you have tons of money.’ I said, grinning again. ‘You can have anyone.’
‘But not you.’ He said. He looked a little frustrated now. I didn’t like the direction this was going in. I groaned and took his arm, pulling him forward.
‘Walk with me, James.’
Reluctantly, he stumbled forwards beside me.
‘I’m sorry James. Really, it’s nothing to do with you, it’s –‘
‘”It’s not you, it’s me?”’ he snapped. ‘Seriously, that’s what I get?’
‘James, seriously! It’s nothing to do with you. I swear. I got the idea we were friends, and I don’t want us to stop being friends. I’ve … never liked anybody much, to tell you the truth.’
He glared at me.
‘Well, no, that’s not true, I like people.’ I said quickly. ‘I just don’t like –‘
‘Me?’ he smirked.
‘No, no.’ I sighed again. ‘Listen, I like you, your cool, but I’ve never … felt that way about anyone.’
He stopped again, watching me strangely. ‘Nobody?’
‘Well, I’ve had crushes and stuff …’ I frowned, thinking back. ‘Never much more than that, though. Like what you seem to feel for me … I don’t understand it. I’ve never had that.’
‘Oh. That’s weird.’ He said. I couldn’t pretend I didn’t find that remark a little insulting. So now I’m weird for not feeling like grinning like an idiot and walking James home all the time?
‘It’s not weird, there’s just nobody around that I like enough in that way.’ I shrugged.
‘Nah, it’s definitely weird.’ He disagreed. He didn’t look as annoyed anymore, though he did still look disappointed.
Thankfully, we had just arrived outside a narrow, three-story house. It was attached to the identical mirror reflections of it on either side. My home.
‘And this is where I live.’ I smiled. It felt a little stiff, and it probably looked it. It was because I was trying so hard to prevent myself from grinning at the lucky timing, or maybe it was because James was annoying, I couldn’t decide which.
‘Oh, right.’ He smiled reluctantly, looking up at the house. It was probably a skip compared to his mansion in Grove. ‘I’ll see you on Monday then, I guess.’
‘Yeah. No hard feelings, right? Still friends?’ I smiled hopefully. I’ve never been too keen on keeping enemies.
‘Of course.’ He sighed. ‘Bye, Lily.’
I waved when he turned back to watch me climb the steps of my garden path, before pushing open the huge front door and letting myself in.
I could hear the familiar sound of all the windows rattle in their frames from the slam of the door. I sighed and relaxed my face from the smile I’d worn throughout most of that experience with James. My mouth ached a little from it.
The steep staircase in front of me was the familiar image I’d lived with for almost fourteen years. The majority of my life.
I heard the movement overhead, and Rebecca’s face appeared above me as she leaned over the banister at the top of the stairs.
‘Hey, Lily.’ She called.
I looked up at her suspiciously, wondering what she was up to. She would never usually waste time to greet me when I got home. ‘Hello, Rebecca.’
She must have noticed my tone, because she toned up the innocence in her expression. Her blue eyes big, her dimpled smile angelic.
‘What did you do, Becks?’ I asked, more amused than annoyed as I pulled off my coat and hung it up on the banister.
‘What d’you mean?’ she frowned. She was good at this. I wouldn’t have the slightest suspicion, had I not known her so well and for so long. I guess you could say acting skills ran in the family. She climbed down the stairs and headed for the kitchen. ‘Do you want some tea, Lil?’
‘Um … I’m fine thanks.’ I frowned, taking off my shoes before following her into the small kitchen and leaning against the counter, watching as she got two mugs out of the cupboard anyway.
‘Listen … Lily.’ She said as she dropped a teabag into one of the mugs.
‘Just spit it out, Rebecca. I understand that you want something, I’m not stupid.’
‘Right.’ She said quietly, turning around to face me and closing her eyes. She leant back on the counter like me and turned her face up to the high ceiling for a moment, letting out a long breath.
‘What the hell is it, Rebecca?’ I snapped, getting a little frustrated. What was so bad that she couldn’t say it with a grin on her face, like she does with everything? What was important enough to trouble Rebecca in this way?
She opened her eyes to watch me with worried eyes. She was no longer wearing her angelic mask, and she looked genuinely worried.
‘I want to move to London.’ She blurted suddenly. As soon as the words left her mouth, her lips tightened into a thin line, watching me intently. Her hands behind her made it look a little like she might have had her fingers crossed. Her expression was full of anticipation.
‘You want to … what?’ I frowned. Whatever I had expected, it was not this.
‘I want to move in with Mum.’ She said.
I stared at her, confused and bewildered. ‘Why?’
‘Because it’s not right for me here, Lil. It never has been. I want to move in with Mum.’
‘But Becks …’ I began, struggling with the words. I didn’t know what to say. ‘Have you … told Dad?’
‘No.’ she said quickly. ‘I don’t want to, not yet. I wanted to tell you first.’
I stared at her. What was she playing at? My little sister wants to move to London?
‘Don’t look at me like that, sis.’ She twitched her mouth into a nervous smile.
‘Rebecca … you can’t … you can’t leave me.’ I said quietly. ‘You can’t leave Dad.’
She opened her eyes wide for a moment and shook her head quickly. ‘Oh no! No, I don’t want to go without you. I was trying to ask you what you thought about … you know … London. I don’t think I have the guts to leave you.’ She smiled. ‘Not yet, anyway.’
‘Rebecca, but why London?’ I asked her. I wanted to clear the confusion in my head.
‘Because that’s where Mum lives.’ She frowned, as though it was obvious. There was something else behind the act, though. I think she knew what I meant.
‘No, I mean why do you want to leave here? Leave Manchester? I thought you loved it here.’
‘What gave you that impression?’ she asked me, tilting her head to the side. I noticed that, all of a sudden, her eyes were filled with sadness. It looked odd on her face. Rebecca was somebody who radiated joy.
‘You’ve always seemed happy … Becks, what’s brought this on?’ I asked her softly. My body flinched as I considered comforting her, taking her hand, but changing my mind.
‘Nothing.’ She shook her head. ‘I just want to go, Lily.’
‘But why?!’ I exclaimed impatiently. ‘You do well at school here… You have friends here… you…’ I trailed off, staring into her face. It hit me, then. ‘You were happy here.’ I whispered.
‘I have nothing here anymore, Lily!’ she said suddenly, loudly. I flinched again, but not just because of the hurt I could hear in her voice, but also because of the eyes she glared at me with. They were not Rebecca’s eyes. They were a desperate stranger’s eyes.
I didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t say anything. I simply watched her as she tore her eyes away from mine and closed her eyes again, leaning her head back as she did before. The kettle suddenly reached frantic boiling point, the lid threatening to fly off, when it clicked off and the water calmed. Rebecca still hadn’t opened her eyes.
‘I’ll think about it, Becks.’ I whispered before walking reluctantly over to her and stroking a strand of blonde hair from her face. Her eyelids twitched, but didn’t open. I left the room and headed for the stairs, feeling a disorientated and confused.
As I changed from my dreary school uniform and into something a little more comfortable, I thought about my sister.
Rebecca and I have always been friends. Not the normal kind of friends, obviously. We were still sisters. We never had that kind of bond – the one that made us feel comfortable telling each other everything. We kept our secrets to ourselves. We weren’t close in that respect, but we were close.
More than once, we have heard that we are very alike. What else can you expect, being sisters? We have the same lips; the same shaped eyes, the same laugh. When we were younger, before we felt the need for dye, we had hair of the exact same shade of blonde. I see it in old photographs and home videos. Where we stood together at every family occasion, neither one of us very compatible with strange and unfamiliar environments, seeking comfort in each other, where Rebecca would more often than not cause me to suffer from a fit of giggles, rolling on the floor laughing at one of her jokes. We always had fun when we were together.
Rebecca was always a beautiful person, inside and out. She would lift the spirits of anybody in her path. Her laughter was infectious. Her angelic face made everybody simply love her. She was definitely a cause of envy in the Scott family. I was never a very funny person, but I suppose Rebecca always made up for that.
Last year, Rebecca went through something I thought she was beginning to get over. I thought the nightmares had stopped, that the memories had faded, but that’s obviously not true. I realize now, that just because I cannot hear her scream in the night, that I cannot hear her sob in the shower, does not mean she has forgotten.
Last year, Rebecca was fourteen years old, in her third year at high school. She had made friends with a girl called Sophie. Sophie was a very quiet, but polite girl. She was small and slight, her skin ivory pale. Her mousy hair was long, which she wore in two plaits. Sophie always seemed honored by Rebecca’s company.
There weren’t many people that knew what to say to Sophie. There weren’t many people that would know how to act, so for the majority of the time at school, Sophie was ignored.
Rebecca had no enemies at school, and anybody would be more than happy for her to be their friend, but Rebecca didn’t choose to be any of their friends. At lunch, she sat next to Sophie, who sat on her own or next to her cousins.
They became best friends, and they would do everything together throughout their first years at high school. They would talk on the phone for hours and they would have those girly sleep over’s when they’d talk about everything to each other.
The reason why Sophie was always an awkward girl to keep in company at school was because everybody knew that she was dying. There were the good patches, when the doctors were optimistic that they could successfully remove the tumor that had been growing in Sophie’s brain. There were the bad patches, when Sophie and her parents were told that the cancer had spread, and her health deteriorated. It was an aggressive tumor, which multiplied with time. And soon, time was the only thing left for Sophie.
Her time at school wavered, obviously. Meanwhile, Rebecca would sit beside her best friends family, talking little, if not at all. Sometimes she would sit next to my friends and me. Of course she would sometimes joke, and laugh, but it was never the same. It wasn’t Rebecca.
Rebecca would visit Sophie in hospital almost every night, near the end. It was with Rebecca that, one bright Saturday afternoon of spring, Sophie died.
Rebecca would not speak for days afterwards. It was strange, for me, to go even a day without hearing her ringing laugh. Her face was pale and she always looked cold. She looked ill.
I remember watching her at the dinner table, poking her food with her fork, as though wondering why she was here, and her best friend wasn’t. At night she would scream, in the shower she would sob. I heard her muttering in her sleep through my bedroom wall, though I couldn’t tell what she spoke of, but I’d heard it all. The best I could do was the block it out. Act normal, as though I hadn’t heard anything. I hoped that what she needed was consistency, knowing I was there for her, knowing that it was OK.
After a while, Rebecca seemed to heal. As I said, the sobbing stopped. The nightmares stopped. I stopped being so worried. I thought my sister had dealt with her best friends death. Put it behind her. Not forgotten, but buried.
I should have known better. Rebecca was unhappy, and I didn’t realize. She returned to her usual self, after all. She laughed and made jokes fluidly, like Rebecca did. So easy to believe. Was it just a front? Was she really hurting inside, all of this time?
She must be in agony inside. She doesn’t even want to live here anymore, where she’s lived for almost the whole of her life. She wants to leave Dad, with whom she has an unordinary close bond, especially since he had to be both parents at once.
I hung my clothes up in my stuffed little wardrobe and closed the doors unsuccessfully. The amount of clothes prevented them from ever staying shut for long. As they flew open again, a pair of jeans fell off the hanger and tumbled from the wardrobe. I sighed, kicking the jeans to the side of the room before picking out a thick pair of socks from the top drawer of my bedside table and pulling them on over my extremely baggy jeans.
I left my small bedroom and headed for my dads room, up one flight of stairs. He had that level of the house to himself, where he spent a lot of his time. His bedroom, his bathroom and his study. He worked hard in that study, but I’ve never known what exactly on. His job consisted of large numbers and complicated formulas for money. I learnt it was best not to pry, especially when the subject was that dull.
I climbed up the stairs two at a time, and bounded into his room. It was empty, as I’d expected it to be. Dad was still at work and didn’t get home till around six o’clock on a weekday. I looked around the room for what I wanted, and found it lying over the back of the armchair facing the window on the left of the room. A thick grey sweater, a little worn with age. The color faded and the soft material was covered in tiny specs of fluff. I pulled it over my head and straightened it around me. It fell almost to my knees. I bunched the overhanging sleeves into my fists as I turned around and headed downstairs.
‘Becca?’ I called as I made my way downstairs and into the front room. Rebecca was curled up on the end of one of the sofas, sipping from the mug of tea she’d made earlier. She looked around at me when I walked in and smiled. She didn’t look as sad.
‘You alright?’ I asked apprehensively, sitting down on the other sofa, watching her.
‘I’m fine.’ She shrugged, taking another sip. Was this another cover? Another front?
I hesitated for a moment, before putting my feet up on the sofa, too. ‘What’re you doing tonight?’
She shrugged again, and turned to look at me when she answered. ‘Nothing really, I don’t think. You know that guy … James?’
‘From my year? What about him?’
‘He text me just now. I thought it was a bit random…’ she said.
‘James?’ I frowned.
‘Uh-huh. The one that’s always all over you. He text me and asked me to come to the cinema with him and some friends. What’s that all about?’ she asked me.
‘Ha, seriously?’ I asked, amused. I turned him down, so, what, was he’s going for my little sister instead?
‘Yeah. I was kind of like … “Mate, do you even know me?”’
I laughed. ‘Is that what you said?’
‘Well, no. I told him I was busy tonight, and to ask you.’
‘Oh no.’ I laughed again, shaking my head.
‘What?’ she looked puzzled.
‘He walked me home because he was going to his Auntie’s or something, who lives around here apparently. He asked me then, but I turned him down. I said I had to babysit you.’
‘Babysit me?’ she chuckled. ‘I’m nearly the same age as you!’
‘Well, yeah. I needed an excuse didn’t I!’
‘Hm. Well that didn’t work out well for ya, did it.’ She shrugged.
‘Only because of you!’ I exclaimed, but I was still laughing.
‘Ah well, I don’t want him.’ She said.
‘And you think I do?’ I asked her, stretching out over the sofa to reach for the remote on the other side. I caught it and flicked on the TV.
‘Why not? I mean, why don’t you like him?’ she asked me.
I turned to frown at her, ‘What d’you mean?’
‘Why don’t you like him? I barely know the guy, that’s my excuse. What’s yours?’
I hesitated for a moment as I flipped through the channels, finding nothing worth much interest.
‘I don’t know.’ I admitted eventually. ‘He’s nice.’
‘Well then?’ Rebecca laid her head down on the arm of the two seated sofa and stretched her feet out to hang over the other.
‘I just don’t. He’s not my type.’ I shrugged, pausing at the Simpsons.
‘What is your type?’ she asked me.
‘I don’t know, Becks. You know me, I haven’t got a type. I’m too picky.’
‘Hm.’ She said, as though she was thinking about something.
‘What’s your type then? Where’s your boyfriend?’ I asked her, wanting to switch the attention away from me for the moment.
She paused, and for a moment I thought she wasn’t going to answer, but then she shrugged, and then smirked. ‘I don’t know. I guess I’m too picky.’
I smirked back, and looked at what was on later tonight.
‘Hey, Fight Clubs on tonight.’ I said after a minute. Rebecca had been daydreaming out of the front window.
She soon snapped out of it. ‘Oh? I’ve never watched it.’
‘Seriously? It’s one of my favorites. I’ll put on a reminder.’
‘Kay.’ She muttered, staring out of the window again. I turned off the TV and went upstairs to fetch a book. When I’d returned in the living room, Rebecca had the family laptop open on her lap, her headphones plugged into them and hanging from her ears.
She looked up when I reentered and smiled. I smiled back, and sat down to read.
Later, after Dad had come back from work and he’d cooked us dinner, he brought it in on separate trays for Rebecca and me, which was a pleasant surprise. We usually eat at the dining table in the other room.
‘Thanks, Dad.’ I grinned, and straightened up on the sofa to eat. He sat beside me, facing the TV. ‘What, you can’t be bothered with the table today?’
‘Nope.’ He simply sighed. ‘Anything worth watching tonight?’ He asked, tucking into the steaming plate of meat and potato pie on his lap.
‘Oh, it’s starting.’ I flicked on the TV once more, and we watched the film.
I couldn’t concentrate properly on it, though. It was the second re-watch, so it didn’t occupy enough of my attention. Instead, my mind drifted onto Rebecca over and over again. I never thought that she was that unhappy, but I didn’t want to take that risk. I could see the sadness in her eyes every time I blinked mine. It was a painful look, and I knew I couldn’t forget it.
When Dad piled our empty plates in the half hour adverts and took them out into the kitchen, I looked at Rebecca. She was staring out of the window again, not really seeing it. She looked blank. Lost.
‘Becks.’ I muttered, getting her attention. She shook her head from her daydream and looked over at me. ‘I want you to be sure. I don’t want you to regret anything, but if you want to move away, then of course I’ll come with you.’
She watched me for a moment, a little taken aback. ‘Seriously?’ she barely whispered.
‘You’re my sister, Rebecca. Of course. But be sure.’ I said.
She watched me for another, longer moment. I heard Dad on his way back from dumping the plates in the kitchen.
She smiled at me, and mouthed, ‘thanks’.
I didn’t know what this meant. Maybe I hadn’t thought it through, but I knew I had to do what was best for my sister. Did I just do something I’d regret later? I had nothing to hold me here, either, besides my dad. Surely there was more to life. Maybe London was the path I was supposed to take. Maybe it was the link I’d been waiting for, to connect me to the rest of my life.