I study people’s expressions. I’m good at it, so it’s what I do.
They raise a brow slightly in confusion when I tell them that it’s a useful skill to have; just a glance at a person revealing much more than a sentence ever could. It’s also useful when detecting a liar.
Gazes shifting every so often, not quite meeting the other’s eyes. Or when someone says yes with a shake of their head that’s so slight that you could miss it all too easily.
Like when mum and dad are working late again, and they know that it’s the fifth time this week, but no no, it can’t be that bad. They’re being silly. This is work, and it’s important.
More important than your daughter?
'Oh, no one said that. Just drop it in a casual conversation with a smile, and get Hayley from a few houses down our street to pop in. Even though your daughter’s turning eighteen in a couple of days.'
The daughter who is me, and I know that I don’t really meet their expectations of her. I’m an odd girl who doesn’t talk very much and yes, studying for school and psychology is good, school is good, but there are... other things.
Associating with friends more outside of school. That doesn’t happen very often, unless it’s for a homework project with a classmate or two.
Reading is encouraged - better than your kid sitting in front of a screen all day - but why are the books so thick? Writing journals and ideas of mysteries and whatever else is jotted down in neat black lettering.
They go out working together in one of the largest real estate businesses in town, maybe in the country. Property manager and coordinator. That’s Bobby and Judith Cassia.
'Holly Cassia should be a part of this industry too, when she’s old enough. One family in one big business. But she doesn’t want that, and it’s baffling.'
That’s what they think, I can tell. And they aren’t wrong.
Money shouldn’t be as important as it is, but, well, it is. Successful lives, fancy things. Normal things.
Trouble is, normal things bore me.
I usually see things coming before they actually happen, but not always.
Not this time, Holls.
“Holly?” Mum comes in wearing a black short-sleeved top with sleeves just above her elbows, a white pencil skirt with chubby black flowers snaking up from the bottom, thin black heeled sandals on her feet and a black leather purse in one manicured hand. Professional and classy, according to her. That’s her look.
“I told you about the work meeting, didn’t I? Well, more of a gathering - not a party, but... well, you know.”
I keep my gaze fixed on the book on my lap, flipping the page. “Mhm.”
“Me and your dad are going to be out for a while, so I’ll send Hayley a text.”
“You don’t have to,” I mumble, but I know why she does it. Because there’s some kind of company now and then instead of me being alone all the time. It doesn’t make much of a difference, though.
“Well, I know, but it’s sort of a routine now. She’s a nice girl. Anyway, I’ll see you later. Looking forward to your party on Friday?”
I shrug, shaking my head. “I suppose.”
Mum nods and sighs lightly before leaving the room, dad popping his head in too and giving me a brief smile.
I nod, brows raised a little.
“What’s, uh, what’s the book about?”
I look up at him, then back down at the book. “A mother who has to kidnap a child to get her child back from her child’s kidnapper, who had to kidnap the mother’s child to get theirs back.”
Dad blinks. “Right.”
He says ‘right’, meaning, ‘right, that’s a bit strange and sounds a bit dark, but I won’t argue with you’. Not ‘right, because there are people like that out there in the world, people who walk among us every day and we’re oblivious to them. Right, because everyone’s a suspect. Right, because the most important person to parents is their child. Or, is supposed to be their child’.
“Have fun at the party-gathering,” I say instead with a small smile, and he nods, smiling back before leaving to go downstairs, the secure click of the front door closing sounding a few moments after, the car engine starting after that.
Silence. Just the way I like it.
And somehow, I’m distracted.
I look at my rucksack, revision books stacked inside, the zip done up halfway, revealing the pristine white pages and glossy covers with large titles of the subject. You go to school to learn to be educated, and when you’re in college, you learn and are educated in the career path you want to enter. Not so easy when you’re not entirely sure what path that is.
Not police. Psychiatrist? That’s a lot of years in uni, and a lot of medicine talk. Not a therapist, because I won’t be judged as being one and pretending to care because I’ll get paid. A detective of some kind? Not one who deals with affairs and contracts and basically being the dirty worker with triple naughts on their prices.
And I’m back to not knowing.
I dogear the page I’m on and put it down on my bed, sliding off and going downstairs to the kitchen, washing an apple and twisting the core absentmindedly.
Then a thought lands. Funny how things change, it says.
There was me as a child in several photos dotted around the house, mum one side of me and dad the other, all of us smiling at the camera at different places. Genuine smiles, not distractedly before rushing out the door, not in hesitance over what I’m doing or saying. Smiling and taking after the title of family, before the promotions and the growth of business and the increasing numbers all around. When things were a lot simpler, and it always seems to be when you’re younger. Can you do anything about that? Debatable.
Now, for company, there’s Hayley, who stays for ten or fifteen minutes to chat before going back home. She doesn’t mind. Her honey-blonde hair is always pushed back with a narrow headband, locks clouding at her shoulders and big hazel eyes friendly enough. We’d talk about exams and books and whatever was brought up, and Hayley would tell me about taking music in college and her dreams of singing in proper gigs, not just in clubs and bars.
“Oh well. It’s not a big deal. Maybe one day, who knows,” she’d said with a warm smile.
My phone started buzzing from my pocket, and Mia came up on the caller ID. Mia, a girl from my school a year below me, who often chose the same book as me from the library or for English assignments, clips decorating her wavy chestnut locks.
“Hey. How far have you gotten?”
“Chapter Eight. You?”
“Seven. Wow, you read quickly. It’s great, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, it’s pretty good so far.”
“I was just gonna tell you that your mum invited me and my mum to yours on Friday. For your party! Eighteen... wow, I mean, are you excited?”
“Not excited,” I respond, “but it is the age of responsibility. Being viewed as an adult, I guess. Can’t be any more boring than being a teen.”
Mia laughs at that. “You could leave school now, if you want.”
“No,” I disagree with a half-smile. “I’ve come this far. Look, don’t get your hopes up about the party. If my parents are setting it up, they’ll use the opportunity to get more clients and everything.”
“Ah, well. We’ll make it fun. I’m gonna get back to the book. See you on Friday then.”
I lower the phone from my ear, putting it down on the kitchen table and looking out the window just in front. Quiet street, busy people in houses on my side and the opposite. Cars parked and missing from their spaces.
Another thought. If the adventure doesn’t come to you, go to it.