From Opposite Sides

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Chapter 14

Every day after college, I’ve been meeting Grayson in the library to work on the project. So far, I have learned that he is also an only child, has a dog called Ernie (which I kind of already knew about) and spends Sundays playing golf with his father. He leads a very active and superior lifestyle, unlike myself.

I’m helping to clean the dishes, while my mother vacuums. I clean the inside of a tea stained cup and place it back on the rack.

“Is Ted coming over tonight?” I ask her.

“No. He’s busy,” she says from over my shoulder.

I do a little victory dance in my head. I haven’t met Ted yet, but I know that we’re due for an introduction soon.

I just wish my mother wouldn’t rush into relationships as quickly as she does. She keeps choosing the wrong men to date, Robert Knowles being the prime example. I’d like to think that maybe Ted is different from the rest, but I seriously doubt it.

“How’s that college project coming along by the way?”

“Awful,” I tell her. “My partner is really difficult to work with.”

“Oh, how come?”

“He’s a bit stuck up…”

“Hold that thought. I need to take this phone call,” she says, leaving the room.

I spot the postman walking past the window and quickly dry my hands with a cloth. “The postman is here. I’ll get the mail.”

“Yeah, yeah. Okay.”

I get to the door to find a few letters posted through the letterbox. I flick through them, carelessly. Then I rip open an envelope and realize I’ve opened my mother’s bank statement by mistake.

I’m already checking the documents before I can stop myself. It’s nothing out of the ordinary, just my mother’s usual work balance.

Then I notice something strange. On the third page, she seems to have set up another account that hasn’t been opened yet. I do a double take when I read how much is in there.

Account balance: £100,000

My jaw drops. This can’t be right. There’s no way my mother could have that much money stored away. How could she? She only works at the café down the road and I know she isn’t earning much there.

That’s when my eyes zoom in on another account user, under the name ‘Bluebell,’ who has been sending the payments into the closed account, dating back to the year I was born. That’s a long time to be sending money across. But why? I don’t understand why this ‘Bluebell’ character would be adding funds to the account every year.

The money is inaccessible until my eighteenth birthday, which is months from now. This is so strange.

Mum emerges from the kitchen in that moment, unaware of my new discovery. “Maggie has invited us over her house for dinner this afternoon. I thought that we could—” Her voice is drowned out by the raging headache I’ve got coming on.

“What’s this?” I demand, clutching the papers tightly and waving them at her.

She inches closer and I back away. “What? What’s the matter?”

“Who is Bluebell?”

It’s as if I’ve slapped her. My Mother’s skin is turning red and blotchy. She scratches at the red rash emerging on her neck, proving that she is far from innocent and knows something that I don’t.

Her eyes turn accusing, as she looks from me to the papers in my hand. “Why have you been snooping through my mail? That’s personal Skye.”

“I didn’t mean to open the letter. I thought it was mine.”

“How could you think it was yours? It has my name on the front!”

I’m the one that should be angry. I deserve to know what this means. “The payments only started when I was born,” I continue, “And the account won’t open until the fourth of December, which is my birthday. What is going on?”

She places a warm hand on my shoulder. Her eyes are filling up slowly. “You were never supposed to find that. “

“What’s going on Mum?” I push.

“Those payments are—” she closes her mouth and then says, “They are from your father.”

My entire body freezes. I stare at her in complete shock, unable to form words with my mouth. There’s an aching in my gut and it’s getting more painful and harder to digest every time I’m reminded of her words.

I wish I could magically click my fingers and make this plaguing sensation disappear. I want it to disappear so badly.

My mouth has gone dangerously dry. “I – I don’t understand. What has my father got to do with any of this?”

“He pays the money into the account Skye. It’s there to support you.”

I must be hearing things. This can’t be real. I don’t want it to be. Not only do I feel more anger towards my father now, but I feel betrayed by my mother. She kept this from me and if I hadn’t read her letter, would she have ever told me? I’m starting to doubt it.

“I can’t believe this,” I say, finding more tears spring to my eyes. “You can send the money back.” I dab my watery eyelids with the end of my sleeve. “I don’t want it.”

“Skye, that money is there for you to build a future with. It’s there to support you and provide in ways that I never could.”

“You did your best,” I snap, not knowing how to deal with my frustrations at this stage. “Dad is the one that left you to do the hard work, while he started up a new life without us. That money is dirty and I won’t have anything to do with it.”

“Skye, please reconsider before you—”

“No! I’m done! I can’t deal with this anymore!”

I jump on my bike and slam the door behind me as I head out. I can hear mum shouting my name from inside, but I can’t go back. I put both feet on the pedals and ride down the street, receiving a few concerned looks as I pass by, tears building in my eyes.

I keep going, even when my legs start to lose stamina and the rain hammers down, soaking me from head to toe.

I don’t care if anything happens to me right now. I don’t care if I’m putting myself in danger. I just need to get away.

To know that the father I have never met has been trying to buy me this whole time, is another stab to the heart. His money means nothing. I feel sick thinking about it.

The world is a whip of colour. I’m not thinking about where I am or where I’m going. I just know that I can’t be home right now. That’s the last place I want to be.

When my body decides it’s time to stop, I collapse under a flickering street lamp. The bike falls next to me. I gaze up at the sky, which has turned dark since I left the house. I’m completely alone, except for the stray cat watching me cautiously from across the road.

I don’t move for a few seconds. All I can hear is the sound of my heavy breathing and then big heaving sobs leave my body, making my chest tight and my throat sore. A large sum of money doesn’t make up for the years my father lost. He can’t buy me or my affections.

My real father is out there somewhere, and he could be anyone. I could be passing him every day and just not know it. Does he miss me? Does he think about me every so often?

I really could have used a male role model to point me in the right direction growing up. A dad to protect me from the dangers of this world. A dad to tell me to stay away from boys, until I reached a certain age. The truth is, I will always be the daughter of a man that didn’t want me.

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I knock on Rory’s door at least five times before he answers, looking all flustered and red in the face. For a moment, he seems shocked to see me standing there on his doorstep on a Saturday evening.

Then he smiles and it pushes away any doubts that I originally had. “Hey, this is a surprise,” he says, leaning against the doorframe. “Everything okay?”

I must look terrible. I’m still in my wet clothes and my eyes are red rimmed with tears.

“I’m sorry for turning up unannounced like this. I just didn’t know who else to talk to or where to go. But if you’re busy then I’ll get out of your way.”

Rory steps outside and rests a hand on my shoulder. “No, I’m not busy or anything. But—” He glances into the house and turns back to me with a hesitant expression. “My Gran is having an off day, so I can’t really go anywhere.”

“Is she alright?” I ask, hurriedly.

His eyes lower to the pavement separating us. “Every day is different…” he trails off, like he’s just revealed too much in one sentence.

I’m not entirely sure what he means. But, if I had to take a guess, I would assume that he’s talking about Martha’s memory and short attention span. When we ate the bolognaise the other day, Martha kept staring into her bowl, like she had never seen spaghetti before. She also kept asking what program she was watching, even though she’s the one that suggested they put it on.

Rory had to repeat himself at least five times before she fully understood. I don’t just want to ask him straight out what the real deal is because it’s cheeky. I want him to tell me when he’s ready.

I can’t believe these words are about to come out of my mouth, but it’s like word vomit.

“Would you mind if I stayed for a bit?”

“You still want to hang out?”

“Yeah, unless you don’t want to.”

Rory glances at me with a defeated smile on his lips. “No, I want to. I just didn’t think that you’d feel comfortable with the idea.”

He steps aside and gestures for me to come in. He takes my coat and leans my bike against the back wall of the porch, before we walk into the sitting room together.

Martha is staring into space, eyes trained to the TV in front of her. She’s lying in bed, blanket up to her chest. I can hear a gentle grating sound, as she grinds her teeth together.

She looks more ill in the face compared to the last time I saw her. She doesn’t even acknowledge me standing there with Rory. It’s as if neither of us exist.

Rory awkwardly scratches the back of his head. “Uh, take a seat Skye. Do you want a drink or anything?”

My eyes are drawn to Martha, who is now grinding her teeth even harder. Is it because I’m here? Does she not like me?

“What do you have?” I ask Rory, trying to act normal. It’s difficult under the circumstances.

“We’ve got some orange juice,” he says, breaking me from my trance.

“I’ll have a glass of that then.”

Rory leaves the room and I’m left alone with Martha. I hold my breath and it suddenly feels like the room is a lot smaller. The TV is blaring and making all sorts of noises.

Martha chuckles and I glance into the kitchen, hoping Rory will be back soon. Am I supposed to talk to her? What do you say to a person that is sick? Does she even know that I’m here right now?

Martha’s head suddenly whips to where I’m sitting and her eyes land on me. I jump, a little startled to be caught watching her. I touch my hair, my earring, my knees, unsure what to do with myself. I force a smile onto my face, but it ends up becoming lopsided and now I just look like I’m trying too hard.

“Who are you?” she demands, despite us already having this conversation before.

I shuffle forward. “I’m Skye... Rory’s friend,” I explain, adopting a softer tone.

Martha is not convinced. “Rory has never told me about you,” she says, before fixing her attention towards the television again.

On cue, Rory returns with the drinks and sets mine down on a table in front of me. I thank him and make a quick grab for it, to make it seem like I’m doing something other than gawp and stare.

He plonks himself down next to me. “So, what’s up?”

“Do you know when you asked me about my dad the other day and I said that I didn’t want to talk about him?” He nods, his stare intensifying.

I twist my fingers together as I try to explain the situation. “I found out today that he’s been sending me payments every year. I had no idea this was happening until I read my mother’s letter by accident. She’s been keeping this a secret from me.”

He adjusts himself on the sofa, throwing an arm over the top of the arm rest. “Have you asked her why she kept that from you?”

“No. I don’t want to talk to her. I’ve kind of been avoiding that conversation.”

“Well, maybe you should hear her out.” This isn’t what I wanted him to say. I thought Rory would have taken my side.

“But she lied to me and it’s not like it was over something little either. This is huge! Don’t you think I deserved to know about the arrangement?”

“Yeah, of course you deserved to know. I’m just saying... she’s your mother, you can’t stay mad at her forever. Life is too short for that.” He says this as if he’s speaking from his own experience.

“I know that I’ll have to forgive her eventually… but at the moment, I’m still so angry.”

“That’s fair enough. Have you ever seen your dad? Do you know his name or what he looks like?” he asks.

“No. My mother doesn’t like to talk about him, so all I know is that he abandoned us both and we haven’t heard from him since.”

“Maybe you should ask your mother for more information,” he says.

I stare at Rory. “I’ve tried, but trust me, any conversation revolving around my father is not something she wants to talk about. I can’t force her to tell me anything.”

I’ve dreamt about meeting my Dad for a long time. But, what good would it do? I would only be setting myself up for disappointment. Maybe it’s better if I don’t know his reasons for leaving. The truth hurts.

Loud footsteps come tumbling down the stairs and Jenny falls down next to me. “I like your hair,” she says, threading it between her fingers.

I immediately feel myself tense up under Jenny’s scrutiny. I don’t know how to act around teenagers. It helps that I used to be one, but I am not the best when it comes to communicating. I’m going to have to add it to the list of things that I need to work on.

All I manage to say is, “Uh, thanks.”

“I wish I had hair like yours. How did you get it to stay all curly like that?”

“Oh, I just...”

“Do you think you could do mine sometime?” she interrupts.

Her eyes are sparkling, and I catch a glimpse of my sixteen-year-old self, back when I was naive and didn’t know any better. It’s enough to catch me off guard. However, Jenny’s full of hope and I can’t shatter that, no matter how fresh my wounds are.

“Sure. Why not.”

“Awesome!” she slumps back. “I like this new girlfriend of yours Rory. She’s cool.”

“She’s not my girlfriend Jen,” Rory speaks for us both, just as Martha starts singing I dreamed a dream from Le Mis. The private concert has begun.

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