Trees swayed and bounced happily between blasts of wind and leaves swept off pavements. Rain showers drenched the roads and dribbled down muddy and slippery doorsteps. Thunder knocked down in rage and strips of lighting could be witnessed. Droplets streaked down the windowsill of Number forty-four Cherry Lane.
Harley stared at the droplets, before stretching and yawning. She sighed, at the driveway in front of the house porch. Her mother's flight was due to arrive in a few more hours from now.
She leaned on her bed, closing her eyes for a few seconds, pressing two fingers on her forehead, as if pushing against a headache. Today had been a hard day. With her mother absent, Dad expected her to make breakfast and lunch. She assisted her father with the garden and helped her little sister make paper butterflies and play Go Fish with her. She had washed the dishes and did everyone's laundry.
She flopped back onto her bed, looking completely exhausted.
A knock on the door sounded. Harley hunkered up, her eyes flicking open. "Who's that?" she demanded, stuffing her clothes into the wardrobe and gazing at the door defiantly.
The door rasped open. A girl, about six timidly stood at the entrance. She had pretty corkscrew curls, sloped firmly by a satin red headband. She had a dress with deep red and elegant pink flowers printed all over it. She smiled, gliding gracefully into the room.
Harley hoisted an eyebrow sceptically. "Why are you dressed up like you're going to a party?" she sneered.
The girl grinned, with her teeth unfolded up widely. "I want to welcome Mum home."
Harley rounded her eyes. "Nicole, get out, please. I need a break." Nicole shrugged. She propped up two Barbie dolls. One had pink hair and one had strawberry blonde hair. They both held identical heels and matching crop-tops. One held a pink handbag with Barbie lettered all over it. One held a pink wooden basket with roses and daisies.
"Will you play with me?" she asked pleadingly.
"Not now Nicole."
Harley locked her eyes, closing it and waited for the door to close before getting out of her room, and slackening on the couch. She could hear her Dad in the kitchen, swearing fluently under his breath. The scent of warm, burnt fish and chip takeaway crowded the living room. Harley sniffed pointedly, before getting up to make some sandwiches instead.
"May I help?" Harley suggested, furrowing her nose at the oven that steamed gas out of it. Dad sighed. He cracked his knuckles and rolled his head to the side.
She lifted the takeaway out and stared suspiciously at it. It looked shiny.
Groaning, Harley deposited the takeaway in the bin. Her father had forgotten to take the plastic wrap off. She popped in some toast and screeched butter on them. She squirted chilli sauce and spread tomatoes and cucumbers. She stuffed salad and some salad dressings before closing the sandwich and placing it neatly over a polished plate. "Mum please come home," she mumbled.
It seemed like she was the one who had to take care of everything while her mother was away for a business trip.
Quietly, they rested in the living room, grinding on stale sandwiches and piercing eyes upon the television.
"Where's Mum?" Nicole wailed.
It had been exactly five hours and thirty minutes. Dad was sprawled on the couch, snoring noisily. Nicole was staring fixedly at the television, her dolls lolling on the yellow carpet beside her. Harley yawned sleepily and scrolled through the movies on the television. Although Dad seemed calm enough to sleep, deep inside, Harley couldn't help but feel that something was very wrong.
All of a sudden, there was a clear, sharp rap on the door. "Open up!"
Dad yanked his blankets and jolted awake. Nicole's eyes shifted to a frightened brown. Harley gazed at the door, her eyes opening up wide.
Dad hastened to the door, to discover a man dressed formally. He had on a black bowler hat and a pinstriped suit. His shoes looked profoundly flawless and perfected. The man's eyes were a compassionate brown and he was thin-lipped.
"I believe that you are the family of..." he hesitated, fumbling into his pockets hastily.
The man glimpsed at a faint, light brown passport. It looked chapped and the colour had worn off. It looked like the passport had met in a major accident.
But Harley remembered the owner of the passport.
"Maisie Ryder Walker."
Dad nodded. "Yes, why is my wife's passport in your hands?" he inquired curiously, glancing at the passport.
"Well, haven't you listened to the news? Flight 345 has crashed. Your wife was in it. And we are sorry to say that there have been no survivors of the accident. Your wife hasn't survived."
The last thing Harley heard was an earsplitting scream and a loud sob before everything turned black and she passed out.
Harley's vision shifted back and she regained consciousness.
She jerked up, slamming her eyes and crossing her fingers, hoping to goodness it was a dream.
"Mr Redd, your daughter's awakened."
Harley had opened her eyes.
She glanced around, noticing Nicole at the edge of her bed. She squeezed Harley firmly. A nurse smiled faintly at the end of the hospital bed. "I'll give you three a minute. Harley Redd, please calm yourself, we don't need you knocked down in another minute." she smiled before walking off, her black polished heels clacking down the corridor.
Harley's eyes locked with Dad's. For the first time in her life, she could see her Dad crying. And she had decided, that she didn't like it. Not one bit.
Her dad's eyes looked puffy and red. He wiped his flushed cheeks quickly with a handkerchief. His eyelashes were framed with tears. "Don't cry, Dad. I'm fine." Harley muttered. But she wasn't.
Where was Mum when she needed her the most?
Dad nodded, holding his tears in. "Harley, what am I supposed to do? Your mother is no longer here. I don't know how to manage the family on my own," he whispered.
Harley squatted up. She leant her warm, freckled face onto her father's shoulder and sobbed.
"I'll take care of Nicole. I promise Dad."