We’re finally ridding ourselves of the mouldy floral wallpaper from in the passageway and I waste no time tearing it down. It’s strangely satisfying. The paper crumbles in my hands, showcasing just how many years it has to its name. It really does feel like we’re starting fresh and it’s exciting.
Rory is helping my mother paint in the other room. He did offer to help me tear this down, but I told him I could do it alone. The closer I am to him, the less I’m able to concentrate and breathe normally.
As I’m removing the paper, I find myself wondering about my dad.
Do I look like him?
Do I have similar tastes/tendencies?
Does he write with his left hand or right hand?
What’s his favourite food?
Where is he right now?
Then I tell myself off for even thinking about him. What he did to my mother was absolutely dreadful and I won’t ever forgive him for shaping her into the woman she is now – or at least used to be. It’s his fault she lost confidence. It’s his fault she became vulnerable. She felt used and betrayed, by the one person she thought she knew best.
I overhear Rory and my mother talking from behind the thin walls. Light music is playing in the background.
“Are you in college Rory?”
His voice is introduced seconds later. “Yeah. But I’ve just found myself an apprenticeship now, so I’m thinking of leaving after this year. Money is scarce, and I need to be able to provide for my family.”
“Everything is so expensive these days,” she mutters in return. “What are you studying?”
“Plumbing level two,” he says. I can hear the faintest of brushes moving against the wall.
“Are you enjoying the apprenticeship so far?”
“It’s what I want to do, so yeah,” he speaks, passionately. “I like to fix things.”
“Well, it’s really nice of you to offer to help us,” my mother is saying, “Not many people would give up their time like this.”
“That’s alright, it’s no big deal. Anything for Skye.”
“You like my daughter, don’t you?”
Do they not realize I’m standing close enough to hear their entire conversation?
I wait for Rory’s reply earnestly, as I climb up the small ladder to scrape off the rest of the floral print.
“I like her a lot.”
I bite on my bottom lip to stop myself from smiling.
“She’s a good girl,” my mother adds. “She hasn’t had it easy though.”
“I would never hurt her Miss Clemons.” My mother must give him a look of warning, as he quickly corrects himself. “I mean, Collette.”
“That’s better.” I had no doubts about Rory meeting my mother. I knew they would get along.
I’m paying so much attention to my own thoughts, that I don’t notice Rory join me. “You missed a spot,” his voice filters up.
Startled, I lose my footing on the ladder step and there’s a fluttering in my stomach as I lose balance. A pair of hands reach out to stop the ladder from falling.
I turn to glare at Rory. He laughs as I climb down the ladder.
When I’m at ground level, Rory is watching me with amusement. “Aren’t you supposed to be helping my mother with the painting?” I ask, tapping my fingers against the steel of the ladder, expressing my annoyance at the sudden interruption.
“She told me to check on you.”
I must’ve missed that part, because I can’t remember hearing her say it.
His eyes travel to the bare wall and he nods in approval. “Looks like you’ve done a pretty good job in here.”
“Yeah, well, I am perfectly capable of tearing down a wallpaper, without your help.”
I flick some hair out of my eyes and push past him. He’s right behind me as I walk into the living room, exposed to the strong smell of paint masking the walls and my mother’s dreadful singing voice.
“Skye, can you come and help Rory finish this wall? I need to go and get you a birthday cake,” she says, already chucking on her coat.
Unfortunately, Rory heard that last part. “It’s your birthday?” he says, slightly disoriented by this information.
“Why didn’t you say anything?”
I shrug. “Because it’s just another day.”
“But it’s meant to be your day Skye,” he argues.
“I’m not a big fan of birthdays. I don’t like all the extra attention. That’s why I never tell anyone.”
My mother walks past and we both turn to look at her. “I won’t be long.”
“Can I go instead?” I don’t want to be left alone with Rory - not without supervision.
Mum bats me away. “I’m not going to let you buy your own birthday cake. You stay here and keep your friend company.”
The door shuts in my face.
Rory and I work in silence. Whenever he attempts to start a conversation, I keep shutting him down with one word answers and low mumbling. He eventually gives up trying and the awkward silence descends upon us. Rory doesn’t seem bothered by it. In fact, he’s enjoying the music too much.
Some hair falls in Rory’s face as he bounces around on the heels of his feet to the music. He’s jumping about like an idiot. He does look silly. Yet, he doesn’t care. Despite me being cold and distant with him, Rory has made no attempt to leave. Not many people would be able to put up with my mood swings. For some reason, this guy is hard to shake off.
“What are you doing?” I ask him. “You’re going to hurt yourself.”
He stops flinging himself from one corner of the room to the next and his eyes fix on me. “I’m dancing.”
I place my hands on my hips, like I am a High School teacher telling him off. “Well, please stop. It’s distracting.”
“You could always join me,” he says, sticking out a hand. I shake my head and he pouts in return. “That’s a shame. I could have taught you some of my favourite moves.”
A laugh erupts from my throat. “I’ve seen quite enough thank you.”
I place the tip of my paintbrush against the wall, running it up and down with slow, gentle strokes. That’s when an Elvis Presley song starts playing over the speakers and Rory is clearly a fan, because his dancing starts back up again.
I spin around, only to be swept off my feet and sucked into Rory’s crazy workout routine.
“Put me down Rory!” I shout.
He doesn’t let me go and we’re spinning circles around the room. “Ugh, I think I’m going to be sick.”
At this, Rory sets me down onto the carpet, not wanting to risk getting puked on.
Then he starts doing the moonwalk across the carpet and I can’t hold back anymore. It’s hilarious.
“Uh huh huh.” He tries to imitate Elvis’s voice but misses the cue entirely and ends up sounding more like a donkey.
“I think the paint fumes have gone to your head,” I tell him, through more laughter.
“It’s fun. You should try it.”
“What? The uh huh huh? I’d rather not.”
“No. Dancing. It’s good for the soul.”
I narrow my eyes. “Really? And who told you that?”
“Nobody, that’s just my personal opinion.”
“And why should I listen to your personal opinion?”
“Just trust me.”
I chuck my paintbrush onto the towel and storm up to Rory. He stares at me for a second, fearing he’s going to be faced with another telling off most likely. And then I pull my bobble out, swing my hair around and dance like nobody’s watching.
Rory joins me a moment later, the two of us laughing uncontrollably. He’s right. This is fun. I’m full of energy and I’m not worried that he’s standing within two feet of me who has the power to think that I’m an absolute weirdo after this because he’s dancing with just as much enthusiasm.
We dance through the next couple of songs and fall flat onto the sofa when we have no more energy left to spare.
I fling my hands up, exasperated. “That’s enough exercise for one day.”
He nods, breathing heavily. “I think I might have pulled a muscle.”
Then we collapse into tear inducing laughter. I haven’t laughed this hard in ages and it feels good.
When our laughs eventually die out, we turn to face each other. A wavering smile plays on my lips and I lean forward to kiss him on the cheek, but Rory’s head moves slightly and we end up brushing lips instead.
The front door swings open and my mother is back. We spring apart and I land on the floor. Rory is on his feet, guilt masking his expression.
Mum stops to observe us both and laughs under her breath. “Well… I can see you pair have been working hard.”
Oh gosh. This is beyond embarrassing.
Rory gathers his jumper from the floor. “Uh, I – I’d better get going,” he mumbles, shooting past us both. My face is beetroot red and his isn’t any different.
“I’ll speak to you later Skye,” he says, already out the door.
I knew he wouldn’t stick around for long.