Although I’m not usually one to rub my success in the face of others, I find myself doing just that to my older brother, Sam, in the form of a victory dance as his counter lands on the corner I just so happen to dominate with my small business empire.
“Lord give me strength, you’re busting my balls here, Jessy!” he moans, throwing his baby-faced head back in utter defeat, causing the light curls framing his angular jaw to bounce and sway with his every movement. “What idiot thought playing Monopoly with the woman whose job primarily revolves around hotels would be a good idea? he questions, rather reluctantly handing over a five hundred dollar bill.
I sneak an amused look to my Dad from across the kitchen table; the small smile playing on his thin lips proving as much his enjoyment at Sam’s misery as my own.
“Yours, you moron!” I fire back, happily placing the crisp note in my pile and loving the overflowing element to my fake bank account, silently wishing my real one would show such a resemblance.
One can only dream.
“I think she’s got you there, Sam. Let’s face facts, the odds are not working in your favour.” soothes Dad, appearing to maintain the peace at family games night, or at least trying to.
Every Friday evening, Sam and I get together with Dad and undergo an intense game or two of a classic board game. Usually, it’s Trivial Pursuit or Cluedo but Sam thought Monopoly would be rather fitting for this week’s chosen game, given my relatively new job title. On this occasion, being ironic has certainly come back to bite him firmly on the arse.
Poor sod didn’t realise I was a natural.
“It’s not over until the fat lady sings.” he argues, reaching for the dice and inflicting what he claims to be a lucky blow onto the object before flinging it across the table and groaning when it displays a pathetic one.
“Oh for fuck sake!” he groans, well and truly ending the game as his counter, once again, lands on my occupied space.
“Language!” scolds Dad, looking about as relieved as one can get at the prospect of our game ending.
Having claimed bankruptcy roughly one hour ago, he’s been forced to watch Sam and I battle it out ever since; the pair of us just as stubborn as the other. It’s what happens when you’re brought up in the Countryside with nothing but each other’s company to contend with. We’ve always been somewhat competitive and it’s more often than not ended in many fights, even going as far as resulting in broken bones on one occasion. We’re not violent by any means but when your nine year old brother dares you to jump from the top of the roof and onto the rusty trampoline, what else can be said on the matter other than to rise to the challenge, of course.
“I’m out! You win.” he states, clearly outraged by my success.
Face like a slapped arse, he leans further back into his chair, revealing a pair of large, ocean blue eyes; the blonde curls falling into them more than suggesting he’s long overdue a decent haircut. I mentally take note of that and decide to pull him up on it at a later date. Kicking him in the balls when he’s already down seems like an indecent move on my behalf and I fear getting my head bitten of should I even attempt it.
“How about another drink to soften the blow?” asks Dad, gesturing towards my almost empty glass of lemonade and Sam’s non-existent can of Coke.
“No thanks, I should get off soon. I have a bunch of paperwork to do before Monday.” I reply, mentally visualising the stack of files positioned neatly on my revitalised coffee table in my flat, a spacious living area positioned in the heart of Kensington.
It’s rented of course but it’s mine nevertheless and I love that I can call it that. Granted, the extortionate deposit, alongside the sky high monthly payments sets me back quite a bit but with my newish, well-paid job I’m finally on my way to being financially independent and loving it.
“Oh, right. They’re not working you too hard, are they?” asks Dad, slightly concerned in his enquiry.
“No, not at all. I’m just finding my bearings still.” I reply, smiling afterwards to ensure him that Scott is in no way taking the piss as far as business hours are concerned.
If anything, I work myself too hard; always staying behind that little bit longer and skipping lunch that once too often. I don’t necessarily mean to do it but I find myself getting into the zone sometimes and before I know it, hours have gone by without me noticing.
“You work too much. You need to chill out more, sis. Be more like your older brother and have a little fun.” suggests Sam, sticking his nose in, quite frankly, somewhere it doesn’t belong.
“I have fun.” I defend, gesturing towards tonight’s previously played pack of cards.
Sam scoffs in my direction before cautiously glancing at Dad, the pair seemingly engaging in a somewhat coded conversation.
“Family games night is not what I had in mind, Jessy. Come out with me and Alex tomorrow night?” he offers and not for the first time in the past month.
It’s no secret that my social life past my brother and his best friend, Alex, is pretty much non-existent. I don’t mix with girls my own age because I find their brain cells to be on a completely separate level to my own. Chatting about the latest hashtags and shading of lipstick is about as appealing to me as spending the entire afternoon with Spencer-annoying as fuck- Michaels, so, like any self-respecting twenty five year old, I simply avoid it.
“I’m okay thanks.” I state, keen to reject his far from tempting invitation. “Besides, you won’t want your kid sister around when you’re surrounded by all those damsels.” I add, knowing fine well that will not be the case.
Sam and Alex are the two furthest men I know from being classed as studs and although the pair claim to never be short in that department, I know for a fact they spend most evenings sketching on their computers and brainstorming new ideas. Not that I’m mocking that in any way. I happen to love that about them.
They’re both passionate about their job, designing and fitting landscapes for private clients and sometimes even the council. Their current project involves working on a rundown park in South West London and with their end goal being specifically to create a safe environment for the youth; it’s no surprise their business is benefitting highly from all the positive press surrounding it. They’ve had such an increase lately that they’re now in the process of taking on another landscaper.
I’m extremely proud of them both and couldn’t be happier about them undergoing this journey together. Having been best friends since teenagers, they both have a great personal and working dynamic; the two somewhat considered a pair of practical jokers. With Alex being a constant face in my day-to-day life, it’s no surprise I’ve grown rather fond of him myself, learning to love him in my own, sibling-like way even. Although things weren’t always so platonic between us thanks to ranging hormones and tense circumstances. I’m sure Sam would flip his lid if he ever found out his best friend and little sister once slept together as a way of dealing with life throwing shit them.
Still, here’s to hoping he never finds out.
The two now live together in a two bedroom flat in Croydon and as much as I’d like to say they are capable of looking after themselves, I do make it my personal business to visit them at least once a week, if anything just to put a wash on. I dread to think what would happen should I ever stop.
“Are we still on for tomorrow?” I ask, drastically steering the subject away from my rather pathetic social life and doing so by bringing up tomorrow’s plans.
“Sure are.” replies Dad, clearing away mine and Sam’s drinks. “I don’t suppose you want to drive? My knee is still giving me jip.” he adds, indeed referring to his latest golfing injury, courtesy of one round too many with the lads. Or so he claims.
“Sure thing, old man!” I laugh, ridding all evidence of our game by clearing away the counters and restacking the fake bank notes.
“Watch it petal, or I’ll whack you with my walking stick.” he retorts, ever the joker.
Now I know where Sam gets it from.
I laugh in response whilst sliding the game back on the shelf, watching as Dad stacks Sam’s empty coke can in his very specific recycling area. The pair of them are environment enthusiasts and while I’d hardly call them tree huggers, I do often find myself subject to long lectures outlining the dangers of using a plastic carrier bag when doing my weekly shop at Sainsbury’s. They mean well but there’s only so much ‘global warming is a real threat’ I can take before I’m ready to gauge my own eyeballs out. Which is ironic really, considering Dad is a heavy smoker.
“You coming, Sam?” I ask, wrapping myself up in my oversized parker and the hand knitted scarf I won in the latest care home raffle.
It’s an absolute eyesore with its bright purple structuring and horrific, yellow decoration but I absolutely adore Betty, the elderly woman who made it, so I make a conscious effort to wear it at all costs. Besides, November in London can be brutal and the thick material actually makes the ice sharp air that much more bearable.
Sam nods his head in my general directing and begins to layer himself up too.
“You text me when you get home, petal. I won’t sleep otherwise.” states Dad, shouting his demand from inside the kitchen. “And get straight to bed, none of that work nonsense. You do far too much for that boss of yours.” he adds, having still not taking a liking to Scott, even though it’s been weeks since I started working for him.
Little does he know, it’s the other brother he should be worrying about.
I’ve yet to see Spencer since that afternoon in the meeting room but I’ve received the odd snarky email from him and let’s just say we’re still not on the best of terms; the words ‘dick’ and ‘head’ certainly springing to mind.
“I don’t work too much and besides he pays me enough to put in a few extra hours.” I defend, actually sticking up for Scott who, although my boss, I’ve grown rather fond of lately.
I respect him wholeheartedly and I find the way he dotes on his pregnant fiancé sweet. Sickeningly annoying, but sweet nevertheless.
“Hmm, still. You deserve a night off some time, Jessica.” he argues, bringing my full name into it.
He’s not wrong to do so. I’m something of a workaholic in my day to day life and anyone who knows me may even go as far as to use the term OCD when describing my personality. The truth is I like to control all aspects of my life and prefer to know exactly what to expect next. It means I can plan ahead and not be thrown off by any elements of surprise, which I am in no way a fan of, having been on the receiving end of it.
“Sir, yes sir.” I mock, offering up a fake salute afterwards. “I’ll pick you up at nine tomorrow then, shall I?” I add, keen to put the discussion behind us.
“Perfect.” he replies, suddenly gesturing towards Sam. “You drop me a text when you get in too.” he demands, walking himself towards the front door on a slight wobble that I’m sure is a little put on.
Golfing injury, my arse. The old git probably had one pint too many and fell over on his way home from the pub.
“Will do, pops. You ready, Jessy?” he asks, zipping up his mud splattered raincoat and heading outside.
“Yep. Bye Dad, love you!” I state, landing a small kiss on his cheek and rejecting the sly fiver he attempts to secretly push in my pocket.
“One day you’ll take my money, petal.” he whispers, a slight chuckle lacing his otherwise defeated voice.
I laugh at his gesture but stand firm in my decision not to take it, giggling when Sam swipes the note from under my nose, instead.
“Well if you won’t, I will.” he delights, shoving the money in his back pocket and patting Dad on the back, thanking him silently. “Laters, old man.”
“You’ve certainly gotten yourself plenty of Christmas cards this year, love. You’re more popular than me!” exclaims Dad, making a fuss over the many cards Mum has received so far.
Having been a resident at Parker House for two years now, it’s no surprise she’s got a lot, not that any of it really means anything to her. Early Alzheimer’s took her mind years ago and her ability to read, alongside general interaction is luxury long lost. It’s hard seeing her like this but over the years, I’ve somehow gotten used to it. I’ve had no other choice but to.
“That’s not saying much. The only neighbour you talk to is Brian a few doors down and that’s only because he gives you cheap cigarettes whenever he comes back from visiting his daughter in Spain.” mocks Sam, amused by Dad’s sudden murderous expression.
“Put a sock in it will you, I’ve told her I quit.” he hisses, subtly gesturing toward my unresponsive Mother.
Her face is a pale grey, sporting dull, brown eyes just as lifeless as the shell of a person they belong to. The staff here are great and always dress her up in freshly pressed clothing and even go as far as to add a splash of colour to her face by dabbing a little blusher under her narrowing cheekbones. It doesn’t do much to liven her up but I suppose there’s only so much one can do with a Alzheimer’s patient. Still, I appreciate their efforts.
“This one’s from Jean.” I state, interrupting the two from their pointless arguing. “She even put a kiss on the end. Bloody hell, someone must’ve had a gun held to her head.” I snort, making them laugh.
Jean Malloy, a seventy nine year old, bitter woman is the walking definition of why I could never go down this line of business. She’s constantly moaning about how incapable the nurses are at caring for her and is often causing havoc if she doesn’t get to choose what channel is put on in the communal living room.
God forbid she misses an episode of Coronation Street. The world itself might end.
“Christ! Miracles do happen. Perhaps she was payed visit by the ghost of Christmas past.” laughs Dad, coming over to inspect the card for himself. “To Linda and family, merry Christmas, from Jean. Kiss.” he reiterates, adding in a rather sarcastic, “Well bugger me, that came straight from the heart, that did.”
I laugh in response and watch as Sam snatches the Daily Mail from Mum’s bedside table, clearly more interested in today’s headlines than the fact that she’s just received a Christmas card from the devil reincarnated itself. Jean being nice doesn’t happen often and I’m certainly not about to let it go.
“What do you say, Mum. You and Jean? New BFF’s?” I ask, smiling as I imagine her turning around in her chair and kindly telling me to piss off.
“Don’t worry, Love. If she starts requesting sleepovers, I’ll tell the nurses you’re not up for it.” jokes Dad, landing a gentle kiss to her greying hairline.
Even with salt and pepper hair and increasingly deep stress lines, Mum still holds onto her natural beauty and although her expression shows no sign of life anymore, I sometimes catch a glimpse of that fun loving, carefree woman she used to be before this horrible disease took over.
Looking back, it was very obvious what was happening. For a woman as kind as her to be experiencing extreme mood swings was an incredibly out of place reaction but putting it down to going through early menopause, I thought nothing of it. At first, even the doctors believed her but over time, it became increasingly obvious something much deeper was going on. Something much more serious.
“Wait, Jessy, isn’t this your boss?” asks Sam, interrupting me from my distracting thoughts by thrusting a newspaper article under my nose.
Staring back at me on page four is a picture of Spencer wearing a black suit; shirt creased to fuck and hair a sight for sore eyes. His mouth is set firmly in a straight line and his thick brows pull together to create an deep stress line across his forehead; the bolded headline telling me all I need to know as to why that is.
‘BUSINESS MAN SPENCER MICHAELS SET TO LOSE ALL AS WIFE FILES FOR FULL CUSTODY OF 5-YEAR-OLD DAUGHTER, DAYS AFTER HER ENGAGEMENT TO ALISTER BRANNING IS ANNOUNCED’