Clearing my throat and doing so by undergoing one rather unattractive cough, I straighten out the crumpled up piece of paper in front of me and begin to speak in what can only be described as forced confidence.
“Contrary to popular belief, the saying, ′everything happens for a reason’ does not always live up to be true, nor does it make one feel better by repeating it over and over again,” My voice begins to shake but I don’t allow it to stop me.
“However, I must stress that although I stand by my opinion strongly, I cannot disregard my appreciation for the creator of said quote; admiring them for their efforts, even. Perhaps they were going through a particular rough patch in their own life and deemed delusional thoughts their only way forward? Or maybe they were simply trying to comfort someone else in their own messed up problems by making up some ′what will be, will be’ crap,”
“Whatever the reason, it isn’t true. So, if you could all kindly refrain from using that particular phrase today, it would be very much appreciated.”
Subjecting myself to yet another excruciating moment of quietness, I glare my hazel eyes into the ocean-blues that belong to my overly assertive twin sister, Anna; noticing straight away her utmost disapproval. Love-heart shaped lips gape open in a far from flattering manner and each eyebrow, both of which are drawn on with such precision, travel so far up her forehead, I’m sure they’re going to disappear at any God given moment now.
“Well?” I ask, confidently awaiting some form of approval, though in reality I’m feeling nervous under the, now, thickening silence.
Rather than responding with spoken word, Anna let’s slip a sudden bust of laughter, filling the entire room with her sweet sound; its caressing tone like literal music to my ears. Being the only source of her apparent amusement, I momentarily allow my own smirk to shine through, happy I’ve finally made her smile with my choice in speech for tomorrow’s dreaded funeral.
“Oh honey, no way! You can’t say that.” she outrageously declares, though the trace of laughter prominent in her voice only moments ago doesn’t quite disappear.
“What, why?” I question, setting my speech down on my desk and returning my attention back to her.
“Because, it’s a eulogy, not a massive F-you to everyone.” she retorts, seemingly sobering up from her laughing fit long enough to reply.
I let slip a reluctant breath in the hopes it strongly portrays my thoughts on her opinion and slump further into my cushioned chair, allowing my body to physically deflate as the daunting prospect of tomorrow’s reality kicks in. I’m not particularly known for being in tune with my emotions, so having me speak at my Mother’s wake is a task large at hand as far as I’m concerned. One in which I am absolutely not looking forward to.
“You do it then.” I offer, already knowing the response to my suggestion.
Surely enough, I watch on as Anna carefully removes herself from the comfort of the bed to close the gap between us, sympathetic as ever. Then, using the power of one almighty smile and an encouraging shoulder squeeze, she offers me her utmost objections.
“I can’t, Amelia. You know I can’t. You’re the strong one,” she soothes, sickening me with her sad sense of apprehension. “And you’re better at wording things than I am.” she adds, as if somehow throwing in a compliment will sweeten me up.
“Fine. Maybe I could Google a poem about love or something?” I offer, thinking my suggestion is rather impersonal if anything but no longer caring.
Truth be told, it’s a damn miracle I’m even attending tomorrow. Given the chance, I’d quite happily skip the entire ordeal and bury my head in the sand, so to speak.
It certainly beats the alternative.
Thankfully though, her reaction appears enthusiastic at best but it doesn’t quite manage the task of masking her true feelings. With bags the size of the entire East Coast, she looks positively exhausted and sporting an unusually pasty complexion, it’s fair to say our Mom’s unexpected death has taken its toll on her. Luckily, I’ve mastered the art of bottling things up, thus, creating the fake allusion that I am, by all accounts, doing just fine but that doesn’t mean I’m completely off the hook with regards to physical flaws. I, myself, have minor bags under my eyes due to serious lack of sleep and I’ve lost a few hefty pounds, having not eaten a proper meal in days.
Still, it’s nothing compared to the emotional damage currently talking place internally. Like a coil being repeatedly wound up, my stomach feels ready to reject anything I put in it and as if that weren’t bad enough, my head is in a constant state of banging; dull, aching pain just about ready to push me over the edge.
But I mustn’t let it show.
“Would you like me to help you look?” she asks, squeezing herself next to me on the tiny chair, only intended for one.
I budge up a little, allowing her some room and find her closeness a comfort.
“Please.” I reply, undergoing a much needed cuddle.
We end up staying in this position for quite some time; Anna with her head on my shoulder and me losing myself in her strawberry scented hair. She smells just like Mom, though unfortunately I don’t have much time to marvel in it. The sudden noise of my phone’s aggressive ring pulls my focus away, giving me no option but to gently peel Anna from my body.
“Hi, Amelia. It’s your Dad.”
There’s a moment of complete panic as my hazy mind tries to assemble a response most appropriate, yet I find doing so near enough impossible when I accidentally blurt out a rather sarcastic “Dad?“, instantly gaining Anna’s attention.
Her blue eyes sparkle with hope and I just know that her grieving mind is intending to latch onto our other, slightly less involved, parent; Jack Stark. It’s been quite some time since we last saw him; the term ‘strangers’ describing our relationship rather impeccably.
“Hi.” I offer, cringing as I repeat myself.
“How are you both?” he asks, likely having not thought his question through. “I mean, given the situation.” he adds, sounding far too stressed.
Much to my annoyance, Anna signals for me to undoubtedly kiss his ass, though I’m far less inclined to be persuaded. While our lack of Father-Daughter relationship is not entirely down to him, I’m not about to play happy families with a man I barely know and certainly not one week after my Mom’s death.
“What he saying?” she whispers, keen to know more.
“We’re fine.” I lie, silently gesturing for her to shut up.
“That’s good to hear. My plane just landed, so I’m on my way now. Is Susan still there?” he enquires, sounding far too formal for a man having a phone conversation with his seventeen year-old daughter.
“Yeah, Susan is still here.” I inform, physically scoffing when Anna passes me a hand written note, declaring her wishes to indeed tell him we’re excited to see him.
No freaking way!
“Great, can you let her know I’ll be about forty minutes?” he states, or rather asks, which is odd.
Susan is our temporary social worker, sent to us after the extreme case of our Mom’s passing. Living in New York with no family meant there was no one to take care of us and being only seventeen, Anna and I are still classed as minors. Although quite capable of looking after ourselves, legally, we’re disinclined to which is why, in a matter of days, we’ll be forced to uproot our entires lives to play house in California with my Dad, his new wife and their four year-old daughter.
Much to my relief, Susan isn’t so bad and is actually a caring soul, though rather overbearing at times. It was her who insisted I speak at tomorrow’s gathering, promising I’d regret it if I didn’t and while I’m inclined to appreciate that, I’m slowly starting to resent her for it.
“Yep, will do.” I reply, desperate to end our awkward exchange.
“See you soon, then.” he counters, having likely sensed my unease.
Finally relieving my ear of the heat it is now accustomed to, I exhale a sharp breath and place my phone face down on the desk, scared to go near it again.
“That was awful,” I admit, feeling truly drained after just three minutes with the guy. “He’s on his way.” I add, alerting Anna of his plans.
She nods her head in silent acknowledgement before cautiously resting her hand over mine, seemingly having something to say.
“I know it’s hard but give him a chance, Amelia. He is our Dad after all.” she begs, seeming suddenly desperate.
I hate to admit it but her burnt honey curls and blue eye combo resemble that of Mom and although unwelcoming, her gentle voice seeps into my mind, reminding me of something she said not long before she left us.
“You should try with your Dad, Amelia. He’s a great man and I know he misses you.”
I don’t need this kind of negativity right now.
“I’ll go tell Susan.” I state, quickly removing myself from her intense gaze and pleading aura.
I don’t want to make promises I can’t keep and especially not when she’s feeling most vulnerable. It doesn’t help that I’m nervous about seeing him myself. Five years is a long time and I’m unsure a relationship can recover after so much time out. It’s not that I don’t want to bond with him again. I’d love to but I’m simply too scared to set myself up for failure. What if it doesn’t work out? Perhaps it’s too late for us. Maybe Anna and I are destined to be orphans at just seventeen?
Forty minutes comes and goes without so much as a knock at the door, sending my already heightened nerves into overdrive. Anna has repositioned the sofa’s cushions a total of seven times; driving me truly insane and Susan has gifted me that patronising smile of hers at least twice now, annoyingly so. Thankfully though, when the situation does call for it, Susan takes up responsibility for seeing to our Dads welcoming, meaning we don’t have to.
“Come in, love. You must be tired after your flight.” she gushes, making such a fuss over something so very basic.
I bravely risk a glance and almost choke on thin air as I come face to face with similarities of my own. Deep hazel eyes and mouse brown, wavy hair mirror my own physical traits, making me truly my father’s daughter, freakishly so.
“Thanks, I take it you’re Susan? It’s a pleasure to meet you.” he greets, taking her offered hand and shaking it with vigorous force.
His West Coast accent draws more separation between us all, highlighting just how very far away we are from being a fully functioning family. Not that this seems to bother him, mind you. He slowly rests his overnight bag on the floor next to his leather clad feet and catches sight of an awkwardly standing Anna and I in doing so. We’re both stood by the dining table, too scared to move in fear of doing or saying the wrong thing and although he’s wearing a thick coat, even then it’s easy to make out the slight tremble his body is currently undergoing.
He’s just as nervous as we are.
“Wow. Look at you both. You’re so grown up.” he smiles; lips twitching with unease.
We both respond with modest shoulder shrugs, though sensing we should do more, Anna moves forward to offer him her blinding smile. She then overcompensates for my lack of involvement by chatting enough for the two of us, giving the poor guy a run down of our lives these past five years.
“We’re both really excited about moving next week. I’ve been doing my research and would quite like to visit a few places. Do you live near Universal Studios?” she blabbers on, in serious breech of losing her voice.
“Relatively close. We could drive up there.” he replies, loving her enthusiasm.
For the most part, I happily watch the two converse and simply allow their exchange to pass over my head as I mentally relive the last one I had with my Mom. It was just before I left for school and she’d told me how very special and beautiful I was. Looking back, I should’ve know but as always, I was blinded by it all.
“Amelia, your Dad asked you a question.” speaks Susan, penetrating my internal thoughts.
“Sorry, I zoned out. What did you say?” I apologise, settling my gaze on his and noticing for the first time the specs of grey circling his temples.
With the ever lingering threat of Anna’s stare, I make a conscious decision to concentrate on what he’s saying, determined not to screw this up for her.
“I just asked if there is anything you want to do when we get to California?” he repeats, thankfully sounding impartial to me straight up ignoring him.
“Oh, no. Not really. Maybe it would be nice to visit some beaches.” I offer, trying my best as to appear mentally engaged.
It doesn’t help that during my response, I’m constantly referring to him as Jack in my head because the thought of calling him Dad is mildly disturbing. I suppose this way, no one gets their feelings hurt and I’m not kidding myself that he’ll ever be more to me than a stranger.
“We’re excited to see Hannah again and to meet Emily too,” interrupts Anna, using a fake happiness that has me questioning her motives. “Aren’t we?” she adds, locking eyes with mine and shooting across a somewhat warning glance.
Her eyes are fixated on mine and I nod my head, quick to agree with her even though I wouldn’t exactly use the word, ‘excited’ to describe my feelings on the matter. Try awkward, that’s more fitting.
“That’s nice. They’re excited to see you too. And we have everything ready for you coming. The school has been informed and are more than happy to take you both on, your bedrooms are decorated and I even bought a car off of a friend for you to share.”
There’s a brief pause on his behalf while he clears his throat, uncomfortably so.
“You both drive, right?” he asks, seemingly embarrassed by his lack of knowledge.
I nod my head and smile.
“Yes! And we’ve never had our own car before. How amazing is that, Amelia.” expresses Anna, once again attempting to involve me in the conversation.
“Fantastic.” I mummer, inclined to do nothing else but agree with her on this one.
Arguing with her is not worth it and I refuse to make a scene out of nothing. Besides, having our own car would be pretty cool. Though how I’ll manage to drive in California is beyond me. New York may be busier by all accounts but at least the one way systems and road traffic signs are simple enough to navigate. There’s so much open space in the Golden state and I’m unsure I can cope with that whilst concentrating on driving safely.
“That’ll be nice! Think of all the sights you’ll see,” flaps Susan, doing my head in as far as over exaggerating goes.
Seriously, she needs to tone it down.
“It’ll do you both the world of good to get out of the City. A fresh start for you girls.” she adds, truly angering me,
Fresh start! I don’t want a fresh start. What I want is my old life back with my Mom firmly in it, preferably.
“I’m going to bed.” I declare, neither prepared not willing to continue this discussion.
“Amelia, don’t be rude. Your Father has travelled a long way to see you both-”
“No, my Father traveled a long way because my Mom killed herself and now he’s lumped with us,” I finally blow, having had enough of holding it all in. “I’m mature enough to understand the situation and I’ve put up no resilience to moving away so far but do not expect me to sit here and talk about how great it’ll be. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a pretty busy day ahead of me tomorrow and I’ve yet to find a speech. Goodnight.” I finalise, removing myself from the living area before I say something regretful.
I make it two steps before Jack’s determined voice stops me, halting me dead in my tracks.
“I know you’re grieving and I fully appreciate how angry you must be but don’t ever doubt my reasons for being here.” he soothes, encouragingly so. “I came because I want to support my two daughters in what is quite possibly the hardest things they’ll ever have to endure. I believe everything happens for a reason and I think your Mom wanted us to rekindle our relationship.” he admits, shocking me with his choice in uttering that particular phrase.
‘Everything happens for a reason.’
The idea of someone taking their own life just so that their two daughter’s could reconnect with their somewhat distanced Father is ludicrous. Then again, she was hardly considered mentally stable in the lead up to her suicide but that doesn’t mean what’s he’s saying has truth behind it. I’d be foolish to believe such utter crap.
I continue to stare across at him, feeling the glare radiate from Anna and sensing her anger at my abrupt outburst. I’m not proud of myself for losing my cool but there’s only so much one can take before an explosion takes place and I need to leave before that happens.
“Well let’s hope you’re right and that it’s not too late.” I reply, finally taking my leave and entering my bedroom on a dramatic sigh.
Let’s hope, indeed.