Authors: Leah Cook
by Leah Cook
Copyright 2014 Leah Cook
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I had prepared myself for the
with the usual teenage sulking that defies the logic of most parents. I did everything from giving them the silent treatment; screaming that I would hate them for life; to rolling my eyes at all the lame jokes my mother tried to make in order to get me to at least crack a smile on the insufferable three day car drive to our new
in Primfield. The name Primfield…It even
lame. I did feel guilty that it was only my mother who suffered from my mood. My father had already been in Primfield for a few weeks.
As I sat sulking next to my mother after a few hours driving I glanced over at her and took in the small frown that creased her forehead. I pushed away the guilt that bubbled up inside me threatening to apologise to her for my appalling childish behaviour. Thinking instead about everything that I had been forced to give up because of the move.
I had left my boyfriend, (now ex thanks to mum and dad), my job, my friends and my life, back with my heart in the city where I had grown up. I felt lost, alone and utterly furious. I was going to make it my mission to spend as much time as possible making my parents feel guilty. Despite the rising levels of guilt that I was managing to quash by focusing on the things I had lost.
I’d been with Jake for nearly a year. Despite this, when he heard about the move he had said the distance was just going to be too much for him. It was a “deal breaker” he’d said. I had all but begged him to at least try before he gave up on us. In the end he’d reluctantly agreed, but we ended things the week before I’d left. I spent the first two days crying and texting him, telling him I loved him and that I’d do everything to make sure we could move back so that we could be together. Then I’d heard on day three post break up that he’d already moved on. Secretly I believed he was just hoping I’d have a change of heart and sleep with him before I left.
I watched my mother change the station on the stereo, her beautiful olive skin glowed, even in the confines of the car. I was so jealous of her complexion and added that to my growing lists of things to be angry at her about.
At forty one years old, my mother, Janet De Grey, was still beautiful. Her shoulder length dark hair was cut into a symmetrical A-line bob that complimented the sleek lines of her face. Her eyes were the colour of milk chocolate and she had maintained her sporty figure over the years, mostly with gardening and walking.
In contrast to my mother I had blue eyes and ivory skin that just wouldn’t tan no matter what I did to it, this was thanks to my father’s genetic input. I’d even tried fake tan last year and it had been disastrous. I had ended up a weird kind of orange-brown that had reminded me a lot of baby poo. I’d sworn off fake tans from then.
My auburn hair often got compliments and I had never dyed it. Unlike most natural red heads I loved my hair. I loved that it was different to most people, and laughed at those who spent most of their life trying to match my exact colour from a bottle, unsuccessfully I might add. I had luckily managed to inherit my mother’s physique, and had a slim, sporty body, small breasts and soft muscles.
As I stared out the window, not really taking in towns that continued to get smaller, my thoughts turned to my father. As a private consultant my father, Robert De Grey, spent a lot of time travelling and was constantly away. On average he was home only three or five days a month, and usually they weren’t all together. He’d sworn this new job would keep him home more often with only a few brief trips away each year. I'd heard this so many times before, promises and deals made with both me and my mother, and I was yet to actually see him for more than three days in a row. My mother still clung to the romantic notion that one day she would finally be put before business.
My parents were a striking couple. Separately they were beautiful, but together people were drawn to their charisma. I’d seen it so many times at their dinner parties, for family, friends and business associates. Some of those occasions had been the only thing that had managed to get some of his more unconvinced clients to sign on the dotted line. My father was paid particular attention to my mother on those nights; whispering things in her ears that made her blush, or simply keeping his arm wrapped around her waist or a hand on her thigh. This wasn’t something he did when the clients weren’t there, and it had always made me uncomfortable that he felt the need to put on such a show for them but never made the effort when it was just the two of them.
He isn’t what people would consider a tall man, being only slightly taller than my mother. If she wore heels they were the same height. He has a much fairer complexion with pale skin, green eyes and short, well-kept black hair. Physically he had a slight paunch around the middle, that my mother liked to rib him about sometimes, but he still liked to run occasionally.
By the time we stopped at the end of day one of driving, my mother had driven for most of our twelve hour day. Being on my learners, I hadn’t had a lot of experience, so my parents only allowed me to drive at eighty kilometres an hour and only for an hour at a stretch. We found a little motel on the outskirts of a small town, grabbed some fish and chips and fell into the double bed. I hadn’t said more than a simple yes or no to my mother all day. When she said goodnight I simply rolled over, she sighed, and told me she loved me no matter what before rolling over herself. I figured if I could make her feel guilty enough she would eventually agree to move back to the city with me leaving my father to travel to and from Primfield for work.
We began the next day at five in the morning, my mother bribing me out of bed with the promise of a very large coffee. And after three days of driving and only a handful of words spoken to my mother, we finally arrived in the lush green town of Primfield. Massive oak trees lined the main road into town, creating a regal like welcome. The town seemed old, the main street was lined with cobblestone paths, the newer parts of town had more modern paths but they looked out of place despite the modern houses. We passed a manmade lake that even in my sulkiness I had to admit was beautiful and rippling with wildlife, people walking their dogs and a lone cyclist.
"Well honey, this is it. Welcome home." My mother turned the car into a sandy coloured gravel driveway surrounded with roses and flowers in full bloom. The house that stood before me was typical of my father, a modern two story that would have all the essentials and a lot of extras. He drowned us in beautiful homes and hoped it compensated for him not being around.
Stretching, I grabbed my backpack and headed into the house. Sighing, my mother began to unload the rest of the fully loaded car alone.
I looked around the first floor and found a massive kitchen filled with boxes ready to be unpacked which had been left by the removalists earlier that day. The late afternoon light filled the room with a beautiful amber glow. I entered a large hallway and found my father's office, my parent’s room, two lounge areas and a bathroom. Climbing the short staircase I quickly discovered another large bathroom, bedroom and a study before finding my own room tucked into the back. I was grateful that they had given me some distance between our rooms, at least I would have a little privacy. The bed was set up but unmade, and surrounded by large boxes filled with what was left of my life. I lay on the unmade bed, wondering how I would save enough money to move back to the city and get my life back. Without a job anymore, I didn’t have any income of my own coming in. If my plans of guilt tripping my mother into giving up her new life here and moved back to the city failed, I wouldn’t be going anywhere.
Picking up my phone I noticed a text from Claire, my best friend since primary school, ‘don't worry babe,’ she wrote, ‘you'll be back from Hicksville before I've had a chance to miss you completely!'
I missed her. I missed her laugh and the way she seemed to know what I was thinking even before I did sometimes. I missed our sleep overs where we would eat junk food and giggle until daylight peeked around the curtains. I was so out of the routines that controlled my life. I loved routines. I had one for everything; school, work, home and study. I loved knowing what was next. I didn’t like surprises or being unprepared. I stared at my phone as wave of grief hit me and I curled up on the unmade bed and cried myself to sleep.
I woke stiff and hungry around midnight and amazingly found my way to the kitchen. Opening the fridge there was a sandwich covered in cling wrap was on the top shelf, a note sitting on top. My mother must have gone shopping while I was asleep. I grabbed the plate, placed it on the bench and read the short note, it simply said 'love you, Mum'. I immediately felt ashamed of the way I had been treating her, especially on the long drive we had shared. She had no one else but me when Dad wasn't around. None of her family were alive, she had us and that was it. We had always been closer than this, sharing a passion for reading and often sat nestled in her bed at night discussing our latest finds. In truth I missed her, her warmth, her guidance and I knew I needed to apologise. I ate in the light of the range hood, hoping not to disturb her. I wasn't ready to talk to her now, but my anger was fading to a dull roar.
Heading back to my room I found a box marked ‘bedding’ and grabbed a doona, a pillow and fished out my laptop from another box. I decided to do some research on Primfield and what it apparently had to offer.
From the council website Primfield looked like your typical small town, lots of community spirit, fundraisers, old time dances, bingo, a youth group, choir, marching band, craft group and mother’s groups. Clicking on the link to the youth group I felt a little flicker of excitement at the information that I read. Mainly on Friday nights, and run by the older teenagers of the town, no adults. Some of it actually looked interesting with movie trips, dancing, camping, hiking and other organised activities, but it mostly seemed to be a place to meet up and hang out. I figured being a small town teenagers here lacked the same social advantages of living in a larger city, with easy access to shopping centres, pool halls and other exciting places to go. My father would never let me go to an unchaperoned event, even at seventeen. I had never really given my parents reason not to trust me, I was a good student, studied and worked hard and had never been in real trouble. Sure I was still sullen sometimes, even argumentative when I thought I was truly right and often angry at being constantly watched and controlled, but I was still a teenager. My father, however, still refused to trust me keeping tabs on me even when he was away. My mobile had a tracker app that let him check in to make sure I was where I was supposed to be. I had argued tirelessly about having to have the app, but the one rule of having my own mobile was that it had to have what I had termed the stalker app. My mother always did what he wanted even if she completely disagreed, but even she had seemed firm on that one. She liked to let him feel like they shared the parenting evenly even though he was away more often than not. He just didn't really know me anymore. In fact he hadn’t really known me since I was about five, and even though he appeared not to have noticed, I had grown up a little since then. My mother knew me better, after all she was there at least every day. But even she was beginning to lose sight of the real me, or maybe I was just starting to hide it better. In the last year I felt like she was watching me more carefully, always on the verge of telling me something before she would blurt out something completely random.
I started school in two days and I was terrified. I knew that most of the friendships would have been cemented in primary school or the first year of high school. The cliques were formed and I never really had a
that I felt I belonged to or connected with. Claire had been my only friend until I had met Jake. He had transferred into the school about a month before we got together. Claire hadn’t really liked Jake, but she put up with him for me, knowing that he mostly made me happy.
I was an A grade student, except in maths, I had to work my butt off to get good grades in that, but I was far from a nerd. I disliked the hierarchy system that seemed to apply to all high schools around the world. I just didn’t fit into the mould of popular or unpopular. I kind of skated through the middle, unnoticed in social circles and left alone by the cliques, most of the time anyway. Here I was heading into year eleven as the new girl. At least it was the start of the year, my parents at least had the decency to delay the move so I could finish the school year out in the city. My father’s new boss had been a little annoyed at first, but my father offered to fly when needed and the rest of the time work from his old office.
Switching the lap top off I climbed under the doona and closed my eyes. My mind kept drifting back to the youth group, I felt drawn to it. Like I just
to go and check it out. I’d never joined any clubs or groups in the city, I had never felt the need, but there was just
about this youth group. I just needed to convince my father I was trustworthy enough for him to let me go unsupervised. I drifted into a restless sleep, spending most of the night dreaming about being in an unknown school at night, being chased by stereotypical versions of geeks and popular kids. Complete with pom-pom wielding cheerleaders and calculator throwing geeks.
I woke up at eight and heard my mother’s laughter float up the stairs making me smile. That meant only one thing, my father was still home. Two days in a row
actually impressive, even though we hadn’t been here. She still sounded so in love with him, was so in love with him. She still blushed when he gave her a compliment and laughed at all his bad jokes. It was what they had that I wanted in my own life. To find someone and be so deeply in love with them for years, to still be laughing at their jokes and making them smile nearly twenty years later.
I found my bathroom and quickly showered and brushed my auburn hair into a tight ponytail. I love ponytails, love that feeling as it swishes back and forth when I walk or head out for a run, almost like a metronome keeping time. A ponytail was pretty much the only way I wore my hair as it was easy and kept it off my face. Back in my room I searched through my still packed clothes, and grabbed out a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. I headed downstairs, swallowing the anger and resentment I still felt about the move, but mostly feeling apprehensive about my first day of school the next day. My mother's face fell when she saw me obviously expecting some verbal sparring or general rudeness.
"Good morning." I said smiling as I reached into the fridge and poured myself an orange juice.
"Ruby, we have something for you," my father stood up from the table. "Can you come with us for a minute?"
"Um, okay..." I followed them outside, it was a beautiful morning, the sky cloudless and brilliant blue. The heat would follow later in the day, my mother had told me that the dry heat here would take some adjusting to.
My father headed to the garage, which confused me, he was anything but a handyman. He avoided domestic chores and fixing things by hiring people who actually
what they were doing. When I was little he’d attempted a few home do-it-yourself jobs. They never ended without the use of the first aid kit being used at least twice and the jobs were left unfinished. Mum always had to call a professional in after he left for work again. They would usually shake their heads and ask who’d tried to ‘fix’ it.
I entered the garage last. My mother stood next my father with a funny little smile on her face, not quite a smirk, but something very similar.
“This is for you, Ruby.” He held a large box in his hands awkwardly and I let out a small gasp as I heard a quiet whimper from inside. “We know this move is particularly hard on you, and we need you to know that we appreciate you understanding that this is really going to be better for us, as a family.”
I took the box, lowered it slowly to the ground and unravelled the thick red ribbon that held the lid closed. A small golden head popped out and yapped loudly.
“Oh my god! A dog? Seriously? You’ve never let me have a dog, you hate them!” I picked up the little bundle of happiness and he licked my nose.
“We thought you needed something to help you settle in. You’re old enough now and definitely responsible enough to look after him.” My father put his arm around me and the little puppy and smiled as the puppy growled at him. “Look he’s protective of you already,” he laughed. “I
am going to be home more, I want you to know that, I want to be a bigger part of your life.”
“I know that Dad, I do…” my voice trailed off slightly. “It’s just hard, you know…my friends are all there...Jake too. I don’t know anyone here.”
“Honey, you’ve been here less than twelve hours and you’re starting school tomorrow.” My mother embraced my shoulders and we all stood together for the first time in a long time. “I know you have trouble at first, making friends, but with a little effort I’m sure you’ll make plenty of friends in no time.”
“I agree with your mother, Ruby,” my father said. “In fact my boss says he has a niece in the same year as you and says she’s constantly out and about with friends. He mentioned something about a youth group too that’s apparently really great for the kids in the town. His niece is quite involved in it too.” For the first time in years, I saw my father really trying to connect with me, he genuinely meant what he was saying.
“Mum, I’m sorry I’ve been such a cow to you since we left home.” I put the small puppy on the ground so that I could embrace my mother in a full hug. “I really do understand. I’m just still getting used to the idea.” I didn’t wait for her to reply, seeing the relief on her face that the attitude and rudeness might just be over was enough. I turned to my father, “so, Dad, are you trying to
me with the dog?”
“Is it working?” he asked.
I smiled, looking down at the puppy that was now asleep in front of my feet, “a little,” I admitted.
“Oh, there is a collar and lead in the box for him too, thought that would kind of seal the deal.” He laughed, and I noticed that he actually did seem more relaxed. “Have you thought of a name yet?”
“I was thinking Phoenix, I’ve always liked that name.” I replied.
My mother laughed. “You had a toy dog when you were about three and you named him Phoenix too.”
“Well then, it was meant to be.” I thanked my parents again, giving them both a firm hug before going back into the house and put the sleeping little bundle on my bed. I couldn’t believe it! They had actually bought me a
! Of all the things I expected my father to get me, it certainly wasn’t a dog, a car would have been more likely. Ever since I was little, animals had always been a no go zone, even goldfish were out. Other than a standard ‘no’ I had never been given an explanation.
I laid the beautiful blue collar and lead on my bed, grabbed a box and started unpacking, a smile plastered on my face the whole time. After an hour, Phoenix woke up and I took him straight outside before he could pee in the house.
I found Mum unpacking in the kitchen and she told me that Dad had already left for work.
“Mum, would you mind if I took Phoenix for a walk? I just want to have a bit of a look around town, get a feel for it, you know? And I want to try and find a good place to run.”
“That’s fine honey, just take your phone so I can get in contact with you.” She went back to her boxes, happily bopping away to Michael Bublé’s,
Come Fly with Me
I put the collar and lead on a slightly unimpressed Phoenix and away we went. I turned right out of the driveway, planning on heading towards the lake that we had passed on our way home yesterday.
, it didn’t feel like that yet, but seeing my parents together and happy, particularly my mother, and watching my father actually trying to make us more of a family was starting to change my mind. I would miss Claire no matter what, but maybe, just
, this move could actually be good for my family. It had already seemed to relax my father a little.
I’d spent most of my childhood hounding him for a dog whenever he was home. I did chores and even went to puppy obedience training with my mother to show him that I was willing to train it the right way. Once I’d even saved enough money to buy a kennel, a bowl, a collar and a lead; all he had to do was agree to the dog. I’d woken up the next day with everything I’d bought gone and a cheque for what I’d spent on the kitchen bench. There had never been any more discussion. I had tried to bring it up with him but in his mind it was over. Even my mother had been unable to change his mind.
As Phoenix pulled on his lead I would gently bring him back to my side each time with a stern ‘heel’. He seemed to like learning and we soon fell into an awkward rhythm, despite Phoenix occasionally falling over his feet.
The lake was only a ten minute walk from home and we soon found a shady spot and sat down looking around. The first thing I noticed was how quiet it was. No horns honking, no major traffic noise, just ducks and other birds.
I let Phoenix off his lead and watched smiling at him as he went off chasing a duck that had come out of the water. I laughed when a large duck decided to take him on and chased him away from the water with his tail between his legs. Despite the small run in he kept coming back to me, jumping on me, before scampering off to see what else he could bark at.
Eventually he settled on my lap and went to sleep. I stared out at the water, and felt completely relaxed. I’d always been this way around water, it didn’t really matter what type, the beach, lakes, even a bath made me feel content and calm.