Although she had forgotten the dream, the uneasy feeling had followed me around all day, casting a shadow over the day like a raincloud that threatened to rain, but never did. Millie, as always, acted like she couldn’t care less about the hardwork that mum and I had put in to making her day special. Determined not to let Millie put a damper on things, I kept my energy levels high with a constant stream of energy drink and worked tirelessly to put a positive spin on everything but it was hard to keep ignoring the flashes of hurt that spread across her mum’s face each time Millie gave a non committal grunt instead of a response to any suggestions. It was clear that she’d rather be anywhere else
“Who wants a cuppa?” I asked in a desperate attempt to break the silence. Passing mum, I placed my hand on her shoulders and squeezed as a sign that I was there for her. I hoped it was enough.
“Cheers love” mum replied, the optimistic tone of her voice plagued by a sadness that only Millie had the power to induce. Once again, Millie had ruined the day; at this stage my efforts were futile. Millie barely raised her eyes from her phone, the latest status update on Facebook proving far more interesting than basic communication.
Biting the inside of my lip, I tried to stop the building frustration from boiling over. I focused on my breathing and took control of my emotions by controlling my breathing, taking slow deliberate breaths. My hands curled into fists and gently pumped at an imaginary stress ball ‘It’s not worth the argument. Don’t ruin the day for your mum. Positivity only’
As the kettle boiled in the background, I tried to collect my thoughts. I knew that I shouldn’t let it get to me but I couldn’t help but get annoyed everytime my mum reacted this way. I’ve been looking out for my family and fixing Millies screw ups for so long that it’s become the norm, no one even notices anymore. I don’t do any of it for attention, I do it to try and stop mum feeling the disappointment that Millie causes with her constant carelessness. I’m sure that Millie doesn’t intentionally mean any of it, she just doesn’t think. I still hoped, in the far corner of my mind saved for fairytale endings and Santa, that Millie would drop the act. We weren’t children anymore; the care free approach to life wasn’t suitable, she needed to be realistic. I shouldn’t get my hopes up, I know that as long as I am there to fix it, Millie will continue to screw up but mum remained so optimistic. It’s not like I haven’t tried to stop helping her; after one particularly bad argument I swore that I wouldn’t give my sister the time of day again and managed a whole three days before mum begged me to make peace, for her sake. Of course I gave in and, within 30 minutes of being reconciled, Millie had asked for money so she could go out. It was an endless cycle.
“You gone to China to pick the tea?” Millie piped up, laughing at a joke that she thought was funny. I said nothing and simply placed the tea in front of her.
Mum, sensing the tension in the room, tried to play peacemaker. “So, Millie, what do you want to order for dinner?”
“Nothing. I’m off out”. I froze where I stood, this would be bad.
“What do you mean out? We have to have your birthday meal! It’s a tradition, we get takeout” Mum had spun in her chair and knocked her tea flying. I stood in my place and simply started cleaning up. ‘Here we go again’
“Mum, we started that tradition when I was like 3, I’ve been with you all day. I want to go out with my friends and celebrate with a few drinks!” Millie replied, apparently shocked that her mum could even suggest her staying in.
“Right. Ok then” tears filled my mum’s eyes but she kept her voice steady. “I’m going to go to the bathroom. Taylor, what do you say me and you stay in and watch a film tonight?”. I started to protest, I had more editing to do.
‘She needs you. She’s clearly upset!’ The voice in the back of her head piped up again.
“As long as something blows up, I’m in” I said, inwardly cursing as I made a promise to myself that I would edit more tomorrow. I knew it wouldn’t actually happen but it was the thought that counted, right? As the toilet door closed, I heard water running and knew mum was crying again. I turned to Millie.
“Why do you treat her like that?” I whispered, hoping her mum wouldn’t hear. “You upset her every day. She isn’t your punch bag, or your bank, or your personal shopper for that matter. She’s your mum and it’s about time you treated her like it.”
“Don’t start Taylor. Mum is always upset about something” Millie retorted, her vicious tongue as quick as ever.
“She is not always upset. Only when you’re around! God, don’t you care about anything or anyone but yourself? You don’t help out around the house; you barely contribute to the bills and don’t even get me started on the things you bring in here”
“Whatever Taylor. Geesh cut the apron strings!” She lifted herself from the sofa, moving for the first time today. Putting on the sickly sweet voice reserved especially for mum, she called “Bye mum, don’t know if I’ll be home tonight so don’t wait up”. She didn’t even wait to hear mums reply before she slammed the door. She still found the time to flip me the bird though. God, I hated her.
Accepting that tonight was going to be a long night, I slumped down on the sofa. Mum would be in the toilet until the puffiness of her eyes went down so she could pretend that Millie’s selfishness hadn’t affected her. We both knew better of course but it was an unwritten rule that we never spoke of it. I started making tea to replace the one she’d spilt and put some popcorn in the microwave. Flicking over from the reality car crash TV that Millie watched, I stopped on the news and left it on in the background while I got into my PJs, ready for a night of comfort. Something on the news caught my attention; I paused as an image of the River Phoenix pub appeared in the top right hand corner under the headline attack. That was just a few streets from here. Panic gripped me, forcing the familiar burning sensation of acid to rise in my throat and adrenaline pumped through my veins. My breath caught in my throat as my heart tried to break out of my chest with its rapid beating. My senses were heightened, the popcorn sounding like gunshots and the boiling kettle screaming at me to turn it off. I turned the TV up, desperate to hear any details that would make sense of what I was feeling but I couldn’t look away from the screen. It was as if the reporter was talking to me and asking me if I had any witnesses. I flushed was connected to the story and she was racked with guilt.
‘Emrys’. The name popped into my head, loud and clear. Then, it started on repeat, and my legs felt weak as fear replaced adrenaline. I was on full alert, every nerve in my body standing on edge and the muddle that is normally my brain became perfectly clear. ‘Emrys’. The sound of water running in the bathroom seemed almost deafening and my legs started tingling with an urge to run. So many questions were running through my mind: who or what was Emrys? Why would I think of a name that I’d never heard before? Why did he hurt that person? Did he hurt him?
‘One at a time please’. The voice in her head had changed, it wasn’t hers. I froze as the voice continued. ‘We can only answer one at a time; I get confused when you ask too many’
“Who are you?” I asked, my voice shaking. I sat as silently as possible, scared to make a noise incase I missed the response. I got nothing. “Who are you?”
My mother’s voice came from the hallway, “who are you talking to sweetie?” The happiness had returned to her voice. I didn’t want to cause her to worry about me. Not yet anyway.
“Myself. Someone’s been attacked at the River Phoenix pub and they are looking for witnesses. They only have the back of the guys head; I was just asking who he was” I’d thought on my feet with the response but even I wasn’t buying it.
The toilet flushing let me know she was coming out. She hadn’t used the toilet but pretences must be upheld. “You are a weird one love. You used to talk to yourself all the time”
“I did?” I asked, half listening as I thought a losing battle with the popcorn that was too hot to handle.
“Oh god yes. You were never popular, preferred to be on your own, but you cared about everyone. You would have whole conversations with yourself. We assumed you were just lonely and left you too it. You grew out of it though, all kids grow out of imaginary friends eventually” She smiled as the memory of Millie and I as kids flashed across her mind. She sighed “Simpler times”
I sat in front of the DVD player, trying to pick out a movie that both mum and I would enjoy. “How old was I when I grew out of it? Did I ever give my friend a name?” I probed further, all the while trying to appear uninterested in it.
“Gosh…well you must have been about 12 or 13. Nearer 13 I think. You never did name it, you would just reply and we’d only get half of the conversation. It seemed harmless enough and it made you happy so I didn’t question it” she giggled as a memory came to her. “I remember you used all your pocket money to buy a happy meal for a homeless man under the underpass because he looked hungry. Then you simply sat with him to have a chat so he had a friend. You were always so caring, so kind Taylor. You still are. I do love you, you know!”
“I know mum” I just about managed through the handful of popcorn I had managed to jam in my mouth. I was struggling to move my jaw to chew it. “I love you too. Now let’s watch the movie”. I sunk into the sofa and cuddled mum under a blanket, laughing each time she drifted off to sleep and snored herself awake. Three hours, five car explosions, six deaths and a corny closing line later and I was ready for bed. Mum had sunk into a deep sleep about an hour in and had left a damp patch on my shoulder as she drooled. I shook her awake and made sure she was safely in bed before slumping into my bed, grateful that I’d the forethought to put my pyjamas on earlier otherwise I might of just slept in my clothes rather than get undressed. A quick be careful text to Millie and I was out like a light, the name Emrys clear in my mind.