Ronnie opens the kitchen door and watches them in the hall. Her daughter is pirouetting in a beautiful silver dress, a little make-up and her hair is up. Her three friends Nat, Ashley and Jenny squeal and nod in approval. The girls are as familiar to her as her own children. Nat and Sarah have been each other’s shadows since they could crawl. Ashley and Jenny are sisters and have been part of the gang since Primary School.
She can’t believe how beautiful and grown up her daughter looks. She looks just like Ronnie did at her age. Her hair’s grown so long recently and almost touches her knees and is black as coal. Her skin is pale like flawless porcelain. She eats as much junk food as her friends but never seems to get spots. Ronnie remembers when she used to be as thin as her.
She turns towards Ronnie, grinning. ‘I love my dress, I love it so much, thank you’.
‘I knew I’d never hear the end of it unless I bought it for you’.
She rushes over to her mother and gives her a big hug. Ronnie’s not prepared for the sudden weight of her body and almost staggers. Sarah jumps up and down on the spot repeating ‘thank you’ over and over covering her face with kisses. In her heels she towers over her mother. Ronnie holds her tight in her arms. She can smell her daughter’s perfume. She doesn’t want to let her go in case she slips away and is lost forever.
‘When’s Dad coming home from work? Will he be here soon?’ Sarah says.
Ronnie shakes her head. ‘He needs to work late sweetheart. He told me to tell you to make sure you have a good time’.
For a brief moment, the light leaves her daughter’s face. In that tiny space of time, Ronnie hates her husband and wishes he was within hitting range. She knows ‘working late’ is Franklyn speech for screwing his secretary or the cleaner or cliché of the month.
His indiscretions are becoming more and more predictable. It’s been years since he cheated with someone even resembling a threat. Ronnie wishes she cared more but she stopped being bothered by his bed-hopping years ago.
It doesn’t matter that he’s let her down, that’s nothing new but she’s furious that he’s let Sarah down on her big night. He could have left his conquest for half an hour to come home and see her off. The hurt leaves Sarah’s eyes and she smiles again. It’s not the first time he’s let her down either.
‘Can you take some pictures of us?’ Sarah says.
‘Just try and stop me. I bought some extra film for the occasion’.
Sarah and her friends spend the next half hour or so posing for various pictures. They hug each other in a big circle and Ronnie gets some group shots. They pull faces and make Ronnie and one another laugh but manage to look serious a couple of times. Ronnie uses up three rolls of film.
‘What time is it?’ Sarah says.
Ronnie checks her watch. ‘It’s 6pm’.
‘The limo will be here soon. We better get a move on’.
As if summoned by Sarah’s words, Ronnie hears a big vehicle pull up outside and someone blasts a horn. She peers out the kitchen window. There’s a white limo parked in the street.
‘The limo’s here’ Ronnie says.
Sarah gives her one last hug and kisses her cheek. She hugs her daughter tight against her.
‘I want you to have fun tonight’ Ronnie says.
‘I’ll do my best’.
‘I want you home by midnight – no later’.
She rolls her eyes. ‘I promise’.
After five minutes of scrambling, Sarah and her friends hurry to the front door. She glances back one last time, grins and blows her mother a kiss then they’re gone.
The front door bangs shut cutting off their chatter and laughter. She goes to the living room window and watches the four of them pile into the limo. Sarah’s face appears in the back window for a moment and she frantically waves as the limo speeds off.
The house is so silent now she’s gone. Ronnie goes back in the kitchen, gets on her knees and rummages about in the cupboard under the sink. She finds a bottle of wine wedged right at the back in the left corner. It takes several minutes to wrestle the bottle free. There’s a fine layer of dust on the bottle but she’s sure it’ll be fine. She opens the bottle and takes a swig. The wine’s past its best and burns her throat but she forces it down.
She calls Franklyn’s mobile to see if he’s managed to unravel himself from his ‘meeting’. His phone goes straight to voicemail. She thinks about leaving an abusive rant but she’s not drunk enough to embarrass herself that much. She switches the TV on and flicks through the channels until a cartoon appears on screen. She takes another swig of wine.