TRACKSIDED

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REUNION

JANE

“Jane.”

“Dad.”

My dad spreads his arms, I’m confused, but the little girl in me runs to them. Travis Austen Jr. is like most dads. He has the best role, he doesn’t speak much, and when dad does, what he says is meaningful, but isn’t it what you expect from someone supposed to maintain and cultivate diplomatic relations?

Travis shines, and Rebecca finds herself overshadowed by this accomplished man.

My dad has only one default, he’s career-driven, and we are just elements that decorate his ambitions, but he’s kind. Deep down in the depth of my soul, there’s a reserve of love for him.

“Gosh, you’ve grown, and you’re blonde,” dad says as he pulls away.

Grown for my dad is the substitute for fat.

He’s a diplomate after all, and he doesn’t want to vex the chubby little panda I’ve turned into; it’s not something which troubles me.

Weight wise I’ve been going up and down the balance since. From size 8 to 16, I am a pure product of the Yo-Yo effect. A veteran and I possess the stretch marks to prove it.

Yes, in five years, I’ve changed, and the blonde hair was to irritate Rebecca, who is proud of her red hair. I don’t know if my strategy worked since my dad is the first to remark the color change.

“How long are you staying?”

The uplifted tone of his voice reassures and gives me an impression of security.

My dad is here, and everything will be okay. He’s reliable; what he managed five years ago proves it. I know he’s the one who made the calls and pulled the drain on my shit.

“I figured I could spend a semester or two, is that, okay?”

“Of course, it is.”

“Honey, we should talk first,” Rebecca says, unable to hide her apparent disagreement.

“What is there to discuss? My daughter, who I haven’t seen for years, is here. You don’t expect me to send her back, do you?”

At that moment, the brat in me wants to stick my tongue out at Rebecca, but it’s my first day, and I’m too exhausted to start a feud.

My gaze shifts around the dining room table, a little spark wells inside of me; I almost feel in place. It’s hard to describe, but I get the impression I made the right decision. Even if Rebecca’s expression shows it’s disapprobation, I’m glad to be here.

I look at the dishes on the table, and I grab the salad, Aina brings cutlet, and the smell immediately makes me want to throw up.

“Is everything alright, Jane?” My dad asks.

“It’ sㅡ.”

A wave of hesitation sweeps over me. If I start explaining all the phobias I suffer from to them, I’ll be on an airplane back to London in no time. No, Jane, don’t sell yourself out. Abby must have told them already, and they’re playing pretend, so let’s play.

“Everything is fine,” I say with my 3 euros worth smile.

Dad smiles, but Rebecca gives me, I’ m-not having-your-bullshit stare.

The phone rings from afar, and Aina walks in with the dial.

“Who is it, Aina?”

“It’s Miss. Mona.”

I’m stunned, I’ve only been here a few hours, and Mona has already whiffed my presence.

“Did you call her?” Rebecca says with an inquisitive risen eyebrow.

“No, I didn’t call or tell anyone.”

“Inform her we’re eating and that Miss. Jane will call her back,” Rebecca says.

“Yes, madam.”

I wonder who told Mona?

We haven’t spoken in almost five years.

It’s shameful she was my best friend, actually, Mona more than that. Mona is my cousin, her mother, and my uncle Robert met in Egypt.

Aunt Salomé was a widow, and she was raising Mona alone, her family wished her to remarry one of her cousins, but uncle Robert came along like a knight in shining armor. He married her, adopted Mona, and whisked aunt Salomé away.

Sounds beautiful, doesn’t it?

But things aren’t always what they seem.

My uncle is an American Lieutenant Colonel. They moved around a lot, aunt Salomé’s family criticizes her a lot, and the extreme Muslims literally spit at her, saying uncle Robert is a murderer.

When aunt Salomé visits them, she always comes back a little brainwashed.

Aunt Salomé sent Mona to Egypt one summer, and she came back bald. Everyone thought it was her mother’s family who did it.

The truth was they wanted Mona to wear a hijab, and she didn’t. So Mona shaved her head and said there’s nothing to see move along. They sent her back, saying the shaitan possessed her.

Mona is a new age woman, impulsive, and passionate.

My cousin is my hero. I admire her mental strength. She’ll probably insult me for not contacting her and for being a coward. Brad, she and I were very close before I spoilt everything.

What did my parents tell them when I left abruptly?

We’re finishing dinner when the sound of screeching tires fans my ears, followed by the doorbell and the echo of clicking heels.

“JANE.”

At this instant, Rebbecca’s expression is six feet under as Mona strides in and squeezes my head against her bosom in a headlock, “die, you evil bitch.”

“Mona.”

“Oh, uncle Travis, I didn’t see you,” Mona lets go and runs to kiss my father on the cheeks, and she sticks both thumbs up at my mother as she says,” aunt Rebecca, looking good.”

Rebbeca grabs her napkin and dabs the corner of her lips,” I guess you’ll be having dessert with us, Mona?”

Rebbecca doesn’t even have time to finish that Mona pulls out the chair next to me. Dad smiles; I read both relief and fear on his face.

Is he thinking the same thing as me?

Will Mona ask me what happened?

Will we get into the same mischief as we did back then?

A part of me craves to tell my father I’m not the same. I don’t drink, smoke pot, or take other drugs anymore.

I’m clean; I swear I’m clean even if sometimes when the culpability is to bare hard, I wouldn’t mind a little Nirvana Blue [Name of the drug in NETIZEN].

I heard on the news they arrested the drug lord, and you could find the pill in Seoul no more.

Aina serves a crème brûlée, which Mona and I quickly eat and leave for my bedroom under Rebecca’s fiery eyes.

Like many, Rebbeca thinks Mona is the one who influenced me in those days, but looks can be deceiving. I was the instigator, calling Mona names when she didn’t want to try Nirvana Blue.

Rebecca holds Mona responsible because she sees this go-getter girl who seems too secure in her stilettos, and it scares her. Mona is the girl Rebbeca, and I could never be.

Did I mention how much I adore my cousin?

Once in my room, Mona pushes me on the bed, “now speak before I kill you.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Sorry, is that all you can come up with?”

“You left a party, and I never saw you again,” Mona says, chucking her handbag on my bed before crossing her arms while standing in front of me like a middle school bully waiting for me to cough my lunch money.

“I sent you presents at Christmas and on your birthday.”

“Oh, come on, Jane, you know I don’t give a Teopokki about material things; I’ve got money too, remember? A call to say, how are you? It would have been cool. And what’s this about you becoming anorexic-bulimic for some guy?”

The explanation leaves me speechless; this is what they told her, that I went berserk for some guy. How ridiculous, but it’s better than saying I killed three people.

“Yeah,” I reply without explaining second thoughts.

“Girl, I told you no man on earth is worth dying for; move on to the next.”

I look at her; she’s even more beautiful than before with caramel skin and a bob haircut she’s wearing straight. I wonder why Brad doesn’t fall for her.

“How’s Brad?”

“I don’t know; when you vanished, so did he. His dad sent him to rehab in New York. Didn’t he contact you?”

He did; Brad called almost every day. He’s the only one who knows what took place, and we agreed to leave Mona out of it, so I guess he didn’t tell her.

As I don’t answer, Mona pursues, “he’s back, too, though, let’s say it’s a coincidence.”

It is; I told no one I was coming. The news comes as a shock.

“How is he?”

The reaction I have seems to reassure Mona, who comes to sit next to me,” Brad is more handsome than ever.”

I deduce Mona still has a crush on him from her sparkle in her eyes; we were an inseparable trio. Unfortunately, Brad fancied me while Mona’s heart throbbed for him.

Not wanting to spoil our friendship, I never dated Brad, knowing my cousin’s feelings. I tried to divert his attention onto Mona.

Don’t diss, please, yes, it’s dumb, but I still tried for Mona’s sake.

Brad made it clear. He said he’d love me for life; I hope he lied.

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