Robyn is stuck in the dark, and no well meaning shrink can help her. Desperate to try anything, maybe a little piano lesson couldn't hurt? While trying to get out of her own head, Robyn may have made room for something else to move in - and she isn't the only one.
Warning - talk of depression, suicidal thoughts, and reference to sexual abuse.
Sally woke with a start when her chin finally finished its slow and jerky descent to her chest. Sluggishly, she straightened her back and kneaded her knuckles into her eyes until they started to hurt. Tapping the screen of her phone told her that she had not missed any calls and it was well past 2am. The street outside was silent and deserted, and she wished that her mind would take a leaf out of it's book. Since that last phone call she had considered every possible scenario from every possible angle multiple times. Physically and mentally she was spent. Fighting to stop her head lolling back down again she decided that pacing in front of the fireplace was the only way to stop from completely falling asleep. After a few turns she began to eye the couch and it's inviting horizontal posibilities, but luckily at that moment Jack entered the room carrying two steaming mugs of coffee. He awkwardly switched on the standing lamp in the corner and held one out to her. She blinked in the sudden light only know realising that she had been sitting in complete darkness.
Sally placed her hands on her hips with a look of feigned annoyance. "I said you should stay in bed." She tried to scold him, but the heat from his coffee had just caused his glasses to steam up and she couldn't resist that smile.
He wiggled the mug at her enticingly until she finally took it, and shrugged his shoulders. "You woke me up with your mutterings and shuffling at the blinds every five minutes." he answered playfully. "I was afraid the house was haunted." Sally gave him a disbelieving look before took a sip of the scalding coffee and thanked him with a kiss. The sharp aroma filled her senses with energy and she was very suddenly very grateful for his intervention. She couldn't have lasted much longer without him. "Don't worry," he added, slumping down on the couch and throwing his slippered feet up, "I'll hide when they get here." Now that Jack's tall frame filled the length of the sofa she had no option of lying down.
Sally cradled the mug in both her hands and breathed in the rich layered scents. She turned towards the window. Running through the phonecall in her head again she wondered if she'd made the right decision. She had only discussed it with Jack for a matter of hours before finalizing the plans, and now because of her, both of their lives would be changed, probably forever. Hopefully forever. "I just can't help but wonder why." she said exasperatedly for the hundreth time that night.
"Don't think about it." Jack said calmly.
"But don't you wonder what happened to her? If she's going to be all right here? Can we even handle -"
"Thinking about it isn't going to help.” He answered sternly. “And asking yourself questions that you can't answer right now will only make you sick.”
"I know but -" she pinched the bridge of her nose and screwed up her eyes, frustrated with all this waiting. She knew he was right, she did, but quelling her yammering inner voices was never as easy as simply knowing. Jack set his coffee on the table between them and moved towards her. Wrapping his arms around her, he rocked her gently from side to side. She leaned her head on his chest and wound her free arm around his waist. Over the last six years they had worked out a great rhythm for their life here. They hadn't had a full fledged argument in a long time and it finally felt like they got each other, and they worked well together. Sally wondered how much shaking up their rhythm could really handle. What if it wasn't as strong a beat as she hoped?
"We'll do the best we can and figure it out as we go." He kissed her on the forehead.
Sally smiled. "You keep me sane." She said matter of factly.
Jack was about to reply with some witty, probably sarcastic retort when, they both heard a car engine approach the house and stop in the driveway. There was a moments pause before Sally jumped to attention pushing her barely touched coffee into Jack's hands and rushing to the hallway where she could already hear a car door closing, and high heels clacking loudly on the concrete. She breathed deeply before opening the door and everything that was to come with it.
A woman stood before her dressed in a grey suit and wearing a broad professional smile. Her auburn hair was swept back into a elderly librarian's bun and her concealer had started to wear off, revealing tired circles underneath her eyes. She carried a briefcase in one hand and held out the other for Sally to shake fervently.
"Hello, Sally?" the woman asked.
“Yes! That's me. Please come in.” Sally stepped back so she could pass and glanced almost suspiciously at the car, but it was too dark to see anything on the inside. The front door closed with an odd feeling of disappointment that she hadn't expected to feel.
"Ah- this way." Jack greeted their guest and led her down the hallway to the kitchen. Sally followed them. Jack dumped their untouched mugs of coffee down the sink, trying not to make it obvious. "I was just going to make some coffe, would you like some, -"
"Rachel." The social worker introduced herself. "You must be Jack. And yes that would be great. We've had a very long drive." She didn't wait for an invitation to sit at the kitchen table and lay her briefcase out, she simply pulled out a chair and sat down heavily. Sally readied some clean mugs, dwelling on the weight of the word 'we' in her mind. She thought her anxiety had been due to the waiting, but it was starting to increase now that they had finally arrived.
"How was the drive?" Sally asked, trying to come across relaxed, as though she spoke to social workers at two thirty a.m. all the time.As the kettle began to bubble they sat downopposite Rachel at their small kitchen table. It felt like a very unnatural layout, like the way people sat on television. But neither of them wanted to get partiularly close to the stranger.
Rachel rolled her eyes as she struggled to open the catch on her briefcase yet again. "Long. Just long." Was all she said, accompanied by an exasperated sigh. She started pulling files and papers out, all of them mismatched and slightly dog earred at the edges. Sally bit aggressively at her thumbnail making loud clicking noises with her teeth until she caught the disapproving look her husband was giving her. She decided to change the subject.
"And so... I noticed you said we?"
Rachel looked up at her quizzically. "Of course. My colleague is in the car with her now. Don't worry, we didn't forget her." she gave a short chuckle and then seemed to remember that the situation was a lot more serious than that. She cleared her throat with a slightly more somber look just as the kettle clicked off. Jack made the coffee and Sally handled the awkward small talk portion of the meeting which consisted mainly of weather and the fact that none of them had had enough sleep. Jack's dispensing of the drinks and a plate of biscuits for good measure signalled the beginning of the big talk.
"Well." Rachel smiled at them both in turn, back to her professional face."I'm Robyn's case worker, as I'm sure you've guessed. Karen's waiting in the car with her because I wanted to speak you alone first." They both nodded understandingly, though they didn't really understand at all. She shuffled through her papers trying to figure out how to start this difficult conversation. The phone call was the easy part, as most people either said 'yes' or 'no' and that was that. But this was the difficult part, the part where the real facts of the child's status were laid bare and they could point blank refuse to take her, even knowing how desperately she needed them. And then the drive back would be so much longer. She decided to bring it back at the easy part. "First of all I would like to thank you for taking my call and agreeing to this in the first place, especially at such a terrible time of night. I'm sorry you had such little time to decide, it was really important that we move Robyn as soon as possible.
Sally's hand crept up to her mouth again and Jack grabbed it in his, keeping it firmly placed on his knee. "Yes, well we couldn't say no. I mean.... I had no idea that my sister had even.... ah..." She felt her throat close up and Jack squeezed her hand gently. The social worker nodded sympathetically and opened the file in front of her.
"I know it certainly must be a huge shock and I'm so sorry for your loss. Of course it's Robyn's loss as well and you being her only living relative, it might just give her the sense of family and community that she so sorely needs." Rachel was good at her job. She was especially good at aiming right for the heart strings. There was no shame in really laying up her puppy dog eyes and doing what she had to for these kids. Whatever she had to.
Sally looked down at her hand intertwined with Jack's and nodded slowly. She knew all too well what a difference family could make. The faint panic that had been reaching for her heart from the pits of her stomach since she had answered Rachel's phone call was starting to recede, replaced with a wall of determination. She needed to do this, and that's why she would get through it. As though he had read her mind, Jack raised both their hands to his lips and kissed the back of her hand. They were in this together.
It had begun to drizzle outside. Robyn could hear the raindrops pattering gently on the roof of the car. Karen was ruining the ambience though, thudding her large thumbs on the steering wheel for no reason. She didn't have a rhythmic bone in her large, square body though, and this just made it all the more irritating
"Starting to rain." Karen stated blandly, leaning over the steering wheel and pushing her short hair out her eyes so she could look up at the night's sky through the windscreen. That was number two on the list of reasons Karen was annoying – she was Captain Obvious. Robyn stayed silent, not that Karen expected a response at this point.
Facing the window, Robyn raised her right index finger to trace the path of a raindrop that was making it's way down the outside of the glass. It's progress was jerky and slow, and it stopped often even though she couldn't see any obstructions. She imagined that it was racing the other raindrops that surrounded it, in competition to reach the edge of the glass. Mutely she urged it on, willing it to push further and move faster, to take in the other raindrops so that it was bigger and stronger than them. But just an inch from the finish line it stopped dead, and she felt a heavy weight settle in her chest. The other raindrops carried on, unphased. She dropped her hand from the window and averted her eyes as her raindrop was consumed by a larger raindrop. She looked towards the house towards the house. There was a light on in the front window.
"So, are you excited about your new home?" Karen asked, looking at Robyn in her rearview mirror with a hopeful smile. Robyn responded with a blink and continued to stare at the house.
New home, she scoffed to herself. It's just another strange building with even stranger people.
A stale silence pervaded the car for some painfully slow minutes. Animal, Robyn's little mutt puppy was curled on her lap, and she allowed herself a smile as he yipped softly in his sleep, chasing an imaginary foe. She stroked him softly until his breathing slowed and he was content again. Animal was her only real friend here, only real family, and she had already decided that if these people refused to take Animal too, then she was not staying. She didn't care what they did, she wasn't leaving him. Rachel had promised her that she would talk to them about it, but she doubted that. Rachel didn't like dogs.
Karen opened her mouth to break the perfect silence again, but before she could get a word out Rachel stepped out of the front door of the house. She waved them both in with her hand, not wanting to step out into the rain which had picked up slightly. "Right." Karen got out of the car and opened the door for Robyn who wrapped Animal up in the folds of her hoodie and mechanically followed her up the drive. Animal grumbled at being moved into the cold night air. Tiny droplets of moisture attached themselves to strands of Robyn's long dark hair and her black clothes. They appeared as a dusting of stars against a black night's sky in her peripherals. She liked the idea of being enveloped in darkness, because that all she had really brought with her.
Rachel's fake smile greeted them at the door and Karen stepped in from the cold gratefully. Robyn however stayed rooted on the threshold, unable to move. Her entire body had emptied of any feeling, any bones, any sense of really being there at all; she almost let Animal slip from her grasp but bundled him back up tightly. She could hear the words echo through her mind as clearly as though they were being cruelly whispered in her ear right now, "You will never see your mother again!" Yet here she was. Breathing patiently, the hall light reflecting off her grey eyes, her untidy brown hair being swept back from her face. She was full of life, and looking right at her.