I stand in the lashing rain. It's almost a whipping sensation, that rain gives you. It's like stressed fingertips violently drumming on your head and shoulders. Or like a virus. Trickling in, somehow making it past your mum’s resolute Macintosh. Into your clothes, that after five minutes are exhaustingly drenched and clingy to your bare skin. The worst part is the coldness, but then there comes a time when you can't feel that anymore. You can't feel anything. I've reached that stage. I've gone past that stage. I'm numb. From my toenails up to the curls on my head that abstractly jut out in every possible direction. I feel paralyzed, but my thoughts are dancing the tango in my head. My parents. They said they would come. The timer in my pocket could reverberate any moment now. I feel my hope levels soaring hazardously. With every breath, there is a ringing of concentration in my ears. I almost feel my balled-up fists pumping up and down.
"Come on, mum. Come on." I'm nodding my head up and down and my eyes are pinched shut. "Come on, come on." I'm not even finished speaking, and the timer goes off, playing "Suspicious Minds" by Elvis Presley. I feel my heart, that was on a huge soar, just a minute ago, crash and burn. The rain has become a gradual dim and inaudible drizzle, so I leave the song playing for a minute or two and I sway along to the melody. Every breath I take makes me feel like utter shit and then it spreads around my insides, like toxic gas. The song just keeps playing, mirroring everything I feel but just can't find the words to say.
Then I pick myself up as I do every time, and start to turn towards the direction of my alleged destination. I say "alleged" because I don't know where I'm going now. I take one stride in the direction of the nearest bus station, but then I hear someone revving their engine. I ignore it, at first, but then it gets vociferous. Fierce and angry. And then closer and closer. From behind me, the person starts to honk their horn. Louder and louder. I hope to god that, that insane psycho isn't honking their horn at me. I try to avert eye contact, even as the car slows down right next to me. I hear the window being lowered and then somebody leaning over.
"Get in." I allow myself a quick glance and a smile. "Get in." She repeats, and this time I promptly oblige.
Half an hour later, I am showered, dressed in an oversized "Everly Brothers" shirt, and fed. We lie on our stomachs, propped up by our arms, legs in the air, on her bed. Ashley's room is the epitome of a classic 50s teenage girl bedroom, plastered with posters, a dressing table, a mirror... Elvis plays softly on her record player in the background. We don't say anything. It's around 11 minutes later when I crush the silence. "How did you know where I was?" Silence. She shrugs, then stretches.
"Just had a hunch, y'know?" I look at her. Her thin, blond, brown-streaked hair, is parted down the left side of her head. Her jade eyes, which are usually rimmed with charcoal eyeliner, are bright and contemporary, clean, and happier. More like my best friend, rather than her normal panda facade.
She notices me studying her. "What?".
"Nothing." I shift my gaze to the Little Anthony poster on the wall. "Nothing. Just, you've had the same hunch, the whole of the last three years."
"You come to expect things from different people based on the decisions they make." She answers slowly. "Funny," I stare at my hands. Seconds pass. "I don't. I don't come to expect things. I always think that maybe things will have metamorphosed, even just a small-tiny bit. I think my mum will have... well, I don't know. I wouldn't go as far as to say "remade herself", but I always think that she will genuinely try to be a good mum one day. "
"Times ticking, Sienna." Ashley shifts to a more comfortable position. "We're 16 now. She's wasted 16 years already, I don't see her making it up to you in only two years." I wait for her to continue, but she doesn't.
"I just don't know why I still get so bizarrely shocked, though. Still a surprise, 16 years later. Tells me to meet her on the side of Hope street at 6 p.m, and then I'm still there at 10 p.m." I bash the side of my head with the palm of my hand, to gesture my denseness. "And then she rings me, after every single time. Tells me some horse shit about how sorry she is. I can hear the hangover in her voice, Ash. It's not every day, you can hear that."
"I don't want to sound condescending or overbearing in any way, but would your dad not get your mum help? Like, serious help." I think about it for roughly three seconds.
"No." I lie down on my back and stare at the ceiling. "He does not want any outside help. Well, that’s his mantra" I give her a half-smile, and almost immediately it is returned. "But, you know. He doesn't really have the time to consider me. My mum is a full-time job. And I love my dad. And this is the way things are." She doesn't need things explained. We already have this conversation a lot.
"You know what?" She stands. "I'm getting popcorn and Clubzeros. You go ahead and choose a movie." And that's how the rest of the night flies by.
Strange, isn't it? How the good things in this life often evaporate into thin air before you even can acknowledge them properly. And the bad things. Well, what can I say? They just get worse. Fabricated and magnified. Even as I prop my head in my hands and watch the daylight spilling into Ashley's room, I can not remember the distraction packed, fun girls night, even though it's less than 12 hours ago. I can not remember if we laughed and joked, or did we just talk? Extraordinarily, I feel as though I have come to a stage, where everything has just become a deal of black or white. It intimidates me.
There's a knock. I turn. Ashley stands in the doorway in her pajamas, munching on a toast slathered with chocolate spr-. No hang on.
"Is that Marmite?!" I inquire, my face is already contorted into a revolted look.
She giggles. "Yup."
"You nasty Australian."
"Yeah, well, nasty Australian is about to kick you out." She jokes, joining me on the blow-up mattress. "You're so going to-" A loud noise interrupts her. My phone. My freaking phone and I think I know who it is. That's why I leave it in my coat pocket, hoping that that particular person calling will just get bored and hang up. Like she does every time, but five minutes later the phone is still ringing. I apologize to Ashley and I grab my phone. I make sure that I'm locked in Ashleys' bathroom before picking up.
"What?!" I hiss and almost instantly feel like the world's biggest crap bag. I regret it, but still do nothing to fix it.
"Sienna?" She sounds different. Sober, perhaps? But more distraught. My heart goes out to her for a brief second.
"Yeah. Yeah, mum, I'm here." I perch on the toilet and start playing with the strap on my green vest. I don't want to listen to her pathetic reasons. I'm not her therapist. I don't want to play this game with her. I don't want to pretend. Who am I pretending for? What am I pretending for? I don't want to continue like this.
"Sienna, bug. I want to be better. I am so sorry, darling. I am so sorry." Again, excuses. The same every single time. "I wanted to come last night, I did."
"I'm sure you wanted to mum." With uncertainty, I force it right out. Mum doesn't even notice. She seems too upset to notice.
"Sienna. If I could turn back time." And then she's sobbing. It's an atrocious sound over the phone. Hacking away at whatever is left of her whiskey-worn vocal cords. But she sounds genuine. And then it strikes me, and I can barely believe my stupidity. She's trying to tell me something. Something real has happened. For once, not one of her drink-related hallucinations.
"Look, mum? Can you pass me to dad?"
"Sienna?" It's not my dad’s voice though. My dad’s voice has a Liverpool twang, this guy sounds high-class London. My dad sounds a little bit rougher, a little bit more authentic, not like this smooth-talking Ken doll.
"No. I mean, yeah. I mean... Look can you please pass me on to my dad?"
"I'm afraid, I can not do that."
"Is this for real?" I raise my voice slightly. "Pass me on to my dad, I don't have time for fancy-talk. Just please do it!" Then there's quiet. I'm a big fan of stillness and lulls, but come on.
"This must be very hard for you." His voice is lower and I can tell he's dropped the act. And then, it clicks. This is not about drinking or talking to adults like shit. It's not about our so-called "current situation". It's giving me chills and I feel as though I am about to vomit.
"I'm sorry Miss. Your dad was involved in a drunk driving accident."
"No." I shake my head, my hands spasming. "No. My dad doesn't drink." But we both know it wasn't my dad, who was drinking. "Ok, I'll be right over. Liverpool University hospital? Tell him I'll be right over. Please tell him"
"Sienna. I don't think you understand." He says. "I can't tell him. He's not here."
"Where is he?"
"Sienna. He's dead."
"Oh." And then I can't breathe. I search for air, but I'm drowning. That's what people say in this situation, but it's true. You have to be there to get it. "I-I have to go." I stammer and I hang up. Etched into my heart. Dead.
And then I don't know what I do. It's like I'm sleepwalking or unconscious. I walk towards the door and unlock it, surprised I haven't vomited or jumped out of the window or even fallen over yet. Ashley senses my instability and she is by my side in a flash ready to catch me. She leads me by my arm to the bed and sits me down next to her and lowers my head into her lap.
I realize what kind of reality and future I am facing and I cry. Ashley continues stroking my hair. She doesn't ask. She doesn't try to find out. She just continues, her hand moving simultaneously back and forth tenderly. My eyes are red and shrimpy. My nose running, but she doesn't care. That's what I love most about Ashley. Whatever happens, whatever will happen, she will always be there.