Broken Rules 7: Aurora
I arrive a few minutes early, pulling into the driveway and stopping the car right outside the front door. The door is unlocked so I let myself in and call out, “mum, dad, I’m here.”
I wait for a response as I take off my coat and hang it up in the cloakroom, before making my way into the hall. The biggest problem about growing up in such a big house is that it’s very easy to lose people and it’s very easy to feel lonely. Just as I’m about to go look for them, the housekeeper, Ella, makes her way out of the kitchen, “Miss Stone, your parents’ are outside by the pool . Can I get you a drink?”
“Yes please,” I say as I follow her into the kitchen, “a vodka and cranberry, thank you.”
I walk out onto the patio, through the sliding doors in the family room. “Ah, darling!” my mother gets to her feet and gives me a hug. “I’m so glad you could make it.”
“Hello mum,” I smile at her and then at my father before giving him a big hug, “daddy.”
“Join us,” my father pats the sofa. “Ella tells us dinner will be ready in half an hour.”
“How is school?” mum asks me.
“Good,” I reply, “everything is going well, thank you.”
“And Cameron and Tallulah?” my dad asks.
“Cameron is very focused on his studies and Tallulah came back home yesterday.”
“Oh?” my mother presses. My mother has moments of generosity. This is one of them. She genuinely cares about my friends and she’s concerned about Tallulah.
“She hasn’t told me why.”
“She’ll tell you when she is ready,” my father smiles sadly at me. He always has been more patient than me.
“Miss Stone,” Ella says as she makes her way out of the house with my drink, “your drink.”
“Thank you, Ella,” I smile at her as I take my drink from her outstretched hand.
“Really Aurora! Haven’t you grown up enough to stop calling Eleanor a silly nickname?” My mother chastised me.
“Sorry mother,” I apologise, “thank you Eleanor.”
“You are welcome Miss Stone,” she smiled, before asking my mother, “Where would you like to eat tonight, Mrs Stone?”
“At the dining table in the family room please, Eleanor.”
Ella made her way back into the house to set the table. “Where’s grandma and papa?” My mother’s parents had been living with us since I was about sixteen. My parents had turned the attic into a little apartment for them. It had two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a living room and a small kitchen that they never used as they tended to eat their meals downstairs in the main house. That’s what my family call little; it’s anything but little but I humour them. I often wonder if they would know how to cope if our family suddenly lost all its money. Seriously; what would they do? I think the only one who would be completely unaffected is Ali. I wish I could say the same for myself but unlike Aileen, I’ve allowed my parents to pay my way; apartment, university, car. You name it, they’ve paid for it. The thought troubles me. I like to believe I’m independent but I’m really not.
“Inside,” my father looks up from the paper he is reading, “in fact why don’t you go tell them that dinner is ready.”
“Okay, daddy,” I smiled as I stand to my feet. I walk through the kitchen where Ella is plating up our food and back into the hall. As I step into the hall, I can hear the sound of my heels clicking on the stone floor. My parents’ house is ridiculously excessive. It’s all white stone floors, walls and ceilings. It makes Landon’s apartment seem almost normal. I make my way across the hall to the staircase and travel up two flights. “Grandma?” I call out.
“Aurora baby!” my grandma comes out of her living room with a massive smile on her face, “Gerald, look who has come to visit!” My grandma is severely deaf and as a result tends to shout at everyone.
“Aurora,” papa smiles at me as he joins us on the landing.
“Papa,” I grin back at him, “it’s so good to see you. Father asked me tell you that dinner is ready.”
“Oh jolly good,” papa smiles, “You run down the stairs and tell them we are on our way. Our legs aren’t quite as good as they used to be. I think we’ll take the lift.” My parents had had the lift put in when my grandparents moved in but they had refused to use it until the year before last when papa had had an operation on his knee.
An hour later, we are all still sat around the dining table as my mother interrogates me about Aileen. “Have you seen your sister lately?”
“No mother,” I frown, “I told you, I haven’t seen her since the last time we were here.”
“It’s just,” my mother presses, “you girls used to be so close.”
“Yes but things change,” Aileen and I hadn’t been close in years. She had pushed me out when she started rebelling against our parents.
“She used to tell you everything,” Grandma shakes her head sadly.
“When she was ten,” I retort bitterly. I shouldn’t. It’s not her fault.
“Yes, we have to allow Aileen her secrets,” my mother laughs. It’s not a pleasant laugh. It’s not even a happy, genuine laugh. No it’s cruel and cold. My mother has a drink in her hand and I wonder if she’s had too much already. I hadn’t notice her hand straying for the bottle in the middle of the table. I frown. Normally I notice.
“That’s enough Michelle,” my father says quietly.
“I’m sorry Lewis,” my mother is frowning too now, “but really our youngest daughter will have nothing to do with us.” Her blonde hair is tied in an elegant knot and there are laughter lines around her eyes that almost seem not to belong there. My mother rarely laughs.
“Give her time, dear,” Grandma pats her on the hand. “She’ll get through it.”
“We’ve been saying that for two years now,” my mother continues, “she hates us.” It’s as if they’ve forgotten I’m in the room. They are talking about things that I don’t understand. I presume they are merely referring to Aileen’s rebellion but that doesn’t make sense. Aileen started rebelling long before that.
“Michelle, stop,” my father is cross. His voice is still calm but his eyes tell me that he’s unhappy, “why don’t we go and sit in the living room. I’m sure Eleanor will make us all a cup of tea.”
“Yes,” Papa smiles, “I think that is a fantastic idea.” Papa the peacekeeper.
I want to ask what my mum meant about Aileen but I know better than to push a subject that my father has closed. When we are all seated in the living room my grandma asks me about school, “How are classes going?”
“Good grandma,” I smile at her.
“We’re all so proud of you,” Papa nods, “teaching is a very noble profession.”
I smile but I’ve heard it all before. My mother laughs, “well one of our daughters had to amount to something.” She’s got a new glass in her hand now; whisky perhaps?
“Aileen is working hard,” I retort protectively, “she’s in the last year of her degree. She’s worked harder than I ever have. She’s done it on her own. She’s her own person.”
My father smiles sadly but my mother actually laughs. She makes her way over to the sideboard and pours herself another drink, “she refuses our help. She wants nothing to do with her own parents; as if her choices are our fault.”
“Michelle darling,” my grandmother shakes her head.
“No mother; we should be realistic. She made it very clear last time we saw her. She blames us.”
“Blames you for what, mum?” I can’t help but ask.
“Your sister has always been rebellious,” Papa grins, “its part of who she is.”
“When she was eighteen, she got into some trouble,” mother tells me.
“How come I didn’t know about this?” I ask.
“You were at university,” my father tells me with a shake of his head; “we didn’t want to worry you. Do you remember when she went to stay with my parents in Bournemouth?”
“Yes,” I frown, “you never told me why though.” Of course I remember when my little sister went and spent several months living on the south coast when she was supposed to be at school. I’d been jealous.
“She was pregnant!” My mother practically shouts.
I’m speechless. I actually don’t know what to say.
“Your sister wasn’t ready to be a mum and that boy, Devon, was a waste of space. We arranged for her to have the baby adopted. She regrets it now, but she would have made a terrible mother. She was too young.”
“Mother, did you force her to have the baby adopted?” I can’t believe what I’m hearing.
“No, of course not. We gave them options; get married or have the baby adopted. He wanted her to have an abortion so that left her with no choice.”
“She could have raised the baby alone,” I stand up, “I can’t believe you never told me.”
“Yes, and then she wouldn’t be a year away from finishing her degree,” my mother retorts. “It was the right thing to do and one day she will realise that.”
“Was it a girl? A boy? Did she name it?” there are so many questions running through my head, “where is the child now?”
“Her name is Amelia,” my father places a comforting hand on my shoulder, “she lives in the city. Her parents send photographs regularly.” He leaves the room hastily, coming back almost as quickly with a small box in hand, “there’s a copy of every photograph they’ve ever sent in this box. Aileen refuses to look at them. She doesn’t want to remember.”
I run my hand over the top of the box before opening it. This is all quite overwhelming. There must be dozens of photographs in the box; photos of a little blonde girl. “She looks just like Ali.” Except her hair is as bright as the sun and Aileen’s is as black as a starless night, my silly poetic brain adds.
There are photos of her playing in her paddling pool, playing with her dolls, walking, sleeping, playing in the garden, feeding the ducks in the park... and then at the bottom of the box, there is a photograph of my sister in a hospital gown with a tiny baby in her arms. “Oh god,” I’m in shock. I put all the photographs back in the box and place it on the coffee table. “I need to go.”
“Aurora,” my father starts towards me. He knows I’m hurt.
“I’m sorry,” I try to smile at him; “I’m just tired. It’s been a long day. It’s a lot to take in.”
“You could stay the night,” my mother offers. All her anger gone; her voice is hopeful, although a little muddled from the alcohol she’s consumed. She misses having us in the house because when we were living here she could control us better, the thought is bitter and I try to send it from my mind. I don’t want to think so negatively of her. I love her.
“No... I need to head home,” I give everyone a hug before making my way into the hall. They all follow me out.
“We’ll see you at the fundraiser though?” my mother presses once more, she never gives up, tenacious Mrs Stone, “next weekend?”
“Yes, of course,” I nod as I lean into the cloak room to get my jacket. “I’ll be there.”
“Good, it may well be our best one yet.”
“What’s it for?” I ask.
“Supporting children with disabled parents,” my mother tells me as I open the front door.
I nod, “I really need to go. I need to get back into the city.”
The roads are completely empty on the journey back to the flat. I’m tempted to call my sister but I don’t know what I would say to her if I did. My finger hovers over the call button on the steering wheel as I consider making the call, but I change my mind and put some music on instead. I turn the volume up to try and distract myself. The only problem is; I’m not easily distracted. I mute the music and press the call button. It rings for quite a while but she doesn’t answer. Eventually it goes to voicemail; “Hiya! It’s Ali; if you need to speak to me leave a message and I’ll try and get back to you.”
“Hi Ali,” I really don’t know what to say, “I just wanted to see how you are. I miss you. Any way... I’ll speak to you soon, yeah?”
I hang up just as I’m pulling into the underground parking garage. I pull into my spot and get out of the car. When I get into the apartment, I head straight for the liqueur cabinet, pouring myself a vodka and cranberry. I’m surprised by my behaviour. I am not my mother. I take a sip and then put the glass down. I don’t want it. I will not be like her. I notice a note on the fridge door. It’s from Tallulah.
Gone to bed.
Cameron has gone out with Zara.
See you in the morning.
I screw the note up and throw it in the bin. Just as I’m about to go to bed, my phone rings. I think it might be my sister but one look at the screen tells me it Landon. I’m a moment too late answering the phone but I call him back; “Hi?” hearing his voice is more soothing than I want to admit.
“Hello. You called.”
“I wanted to hear your voice,” it’s so strange to hear him say what I feel.
“Where are you?” It sounds like he’s driving.
“Driving home; I’ve just been to dinner with my father. It was awful.” The irony isn’t lost on me. Neither one of us has had a pleasant evening and as always you can blame the parents.
“My dinner wasn’t great either,” I sigh because I’m sure I shouldn’t ask him my next question, “Do you want to come over?”
“That’s not what I asked.”
“No, it isn’t,” he’s laughing now and I’m not sure if he is laughing at me, “I’m on my way. Do you live with anyone?”
“Tallulah and Cameron,” I tell him, “but Cameron is out with a girl and Tallulah is asleep.”
“Okay,” I tell him to park in the visitor bay in the underground car park, “I’ll see you in a minute or two.” He hangs up. I take my shoes off and pad into my bedroom so that I can put them away, drink back in hand; this time to still my nerves. I hear a gentle knock at the door so I make my way down the corridor until I reach the front door. Tallulah’s bedroom is right next to the front door so I put my finger to my mouth as I open the door.
Landon is stood there looking all handsome leaning up against the wall. “Hi,” I whisper, before moving aside so he can come in. I’m feeling awkward. I’ve never had a guy over in the middle of the night. This is new territory for me. “Lou is asleep in there,” I point towards Tallulah’s room before leading him down the hall to the living room, “Can I get you something to drink?” I ask him.
“Please,” he grins, “I think I need one.”
I close the door of the living room and make my way over to the kitchen, “what can I get you?”
“Whatever you are having,” he smirks at me as he wanders around the living room, looking at the different photos on the walls. “You and your sister?”
I look over from where I’m pouring our drinks, my last one finished, “Just before she started university.” I frown because I’m angry. I feel as if that photograph is a lie. The girl in that photograph had just had her daughter adopted and never told me. I turn away from the photo disgruntled with it.
“Aurora, are you okay?” he asks. I turn back to face him. He’s closer than a moment ago.
“I’m...” I don’t really know what to say. I barely know him and yet I feel compelled to tell him everything. “My parents told me something unsettling tonight.”
He’s stood right next to me now. He picks up both glasses, “should we sit down?”
I nod and follow him to the sofa. He hands me my drink and puts an arm around my shoulder, pulling me close. “Tell me what happened.”
“I found out tonight that just before that photograph was taken my sister had a child.”
If he’s shocked, he hides it well. “That must have been very shocking for you,” he says kindly as he rubs soothing circles on my arm.
“The baby was adopted... I have a niece and I never knew it. She never told me. My sister; she never said anything.” I down the rest of my drink and turn slightly so that I can see him better. “What about you? You said your dinner with your dad didn’t go well either.”
“He’s sick,” Landon tells me, “he told me he’s dying.”
“I’m so sorry,” Suddenly my problems don’t seem so big.
“He wants me to take over his company,” Landon frowns, “but I’m not the right man for the job. I’m convinced my brother would be the better choice.”
“He’s good with technology. It interests him. He pays attention to what new tech becomes available on the market and he understands the production side too. It’s his field not mine. I guess I’m more of a sales man, than an inventor.”
I nod, what he is saying makes sense, “have you told your father that?”
“Countless times. He doesn’t listen. He’s threatening to sell the company, if I don’t take over his position as Managing Director.”
“Why won’t he let your brother do it?” I ask.
“He’s convinced my brother will screw it up.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Parents are challenging,” I sigh, “my father always told us that the publishing house would be ours one day, but I’m really not interested in publishing and Aileen isn’t really talking to my parents right now.”
I take a breath before carrying on, “although I think my dad’s still holding out for her. She’s doing an undergrad degree in business so I guess there’s hope. She’d be fantastic at it, I think.”
“Why isn’t your sister talking to your parents?”
“I found out tonight,” I laugh, “I’d always thought she was just a bit rebellious. Too easily hurt by mum’s words. Unwilling to keep the rules. But that’s not it. She blames them. She blames them for having Amelia adopted. My parents gave her and the father a choice; get married or have the baby adopted. He wanted her to have an abortion so she wasn’t really left with much of a choice.”
“How old was she?”
His eyebrow is raised and he’s silently asking the same question I want to ask. What the hell stopped my overly rebellious sister from rebelling and doing what she wanted to do regardless of what our parents said.
“She was about to start university. Maybe she was scared my parents would cut her off, but that doesn’t make sense because she’s as good as cut them off. She doesn’t touch the bank account our parents set up for her as a child. She refuses to live here in the flat that they bought for us. She pays her own tuition fees. She has a job, for goodness sake.”
“I don’t think it’s going to make much sense until you speak to your sister.”
“What are you going to do about your father’s company?”
“I don’t know. I might see if my mum can reason with him.”
We sit quietly for a few moments. For the first time since my family told me about Aileen, I feel calm. I don’t want to ruin the moment but I’ve got class in the morning and I know that he’ll have work. “Do you want to stay?” I’m scared that he’ll say no. I don’t want to lose the calm he is instilling in me.
“I don’t want to leave,” it isn’t the same thing but it’s enough to put me at ease.
“Will you stay?”
He looks me in the eye, as if he’s seriously considering his options and then he nods his head. I take his empty glass and place it in the sink with my own. Then I lead him down the hall and into my bedroom. Now that I’ve got him here I really don’t know what to do with him.