‘Thanks so much, Tilly. You’re a life saver,’ Carrie said, buckling Becky into the child seat in Tilly’s truck. ‘I knew the brakes on my car were on their last legs, and I really do need to go to my mum’s.’
Tilly smiled, trying desperately to disguise that driving to Inala, and then waiting outside Isobel’s house was her worst nightmare. ‘No problem at all.’
‘I know that’s a lie,’ Carrie said, jumping into the passenger seat, and placing a bunch of flowers and a bottle of Merlot at her feet. ‘And I feel so bad for asking you. But I promise I’ll pop in with the gifts and be right out.’ She snapped on her seatbelt. ‘Are you sure you don’t mind?’
‘Of course I don’t mind.’ Tilly started the engine, and pulled away. ‘It’s your mum’s birthday, Carrie. What kind of sister would I be if I didn’t take you?’
Tilly had always loved Carrie. They hadn’t lived together as children, and had very different mums, but Carrie had always been there for Tilly.
Tilly had only ever met Isobel once as a child at Carrie’s wedding. The woman had been friendly, even made a fuss of Tilly, cutting her a generous slice of wedding cake. But her own mother had painted Isobel every shade of black. So much so that Tilly had never been able to see beneath that darkness. It was much the same with her father.
‘Isobel never stopped loving your dad, Tilly,’ her mum had pointed out at every opportunity. ‘Every chance she gets she tries to steal him from us. And your father hangs on to her. So where does that leave us?’
Tilly would look up at her mother, wide-eyed, struggling to understand, unsure where it left them. Hatred for her father grew inside Tilly, as she absorbed her mother’s point of view like a sponge.
‘I’ll only be a moment,’ Carrie said as Tilly pulled up outside Isobel’s house on the outskirts of Inala. She jumped from the car, scooped Becky from her seat, and walked up the path. It was a beautiful house, with expensive drapes at the window, and a garden full of flowers. Such a contrast to the small apartment on the other side of Inala, where Tilly had lived with her parents until she was eight.
Tilly gripped the steering wheel, her knuckles turning white. She’d known her father had often visited Carrie and Isobel at this house, when she was growing up.
Carrie was true to her word, and back in the car in five minutes. Tilly knew Isobel was standing in the window, but she kept her eyes fixed on the road in front, not wanting to catch a glimpse of the woman who ruined her childhood.
‘Does Dad still love her?’ Tilly found herself saying as she pulled away.
‘Who, my mum?’
Tilly nodded, biting down hard on her lower lip, wishing she hadn’t asked.
Carrie shrugged. ‘Maybe. Dad’s not the easiest person to read, is he? He still comes to see her. You know that. She listens to him.’
‘My mum listened,’ Tilly snapped, but she knew she never had. Tilly would bring home news from school, and although her mum would say, ‘That’s wonderful, darling,’ her eyes were always firmly focused on her own life.
‘Of course she did, Tilly…I didn’t mean…’
‘Sorry.’ Tilly dashed a tear from her eye, as she pulled up at a red light. ‘My emotions are all over the place for some reason.’ She tried to smile and Carrie patted her arm.
Tilly knew her sister would never understand how she felt. Carrie had adamantly defended their dad the day Tilly’s mother was hurt. She said he was a lot of things, but never violent. Tilly had covered her ears and screamed that Carrie should stop talking. She didn’t want to listen to her lies. And lies they must have been, because if they weren’t, it meant her mother was lying, and at nine-years-old she couldn’t have coped with a mother who lied to her. It would have meant Tilly’s whole life, to that point, had been a lie. No, Carrie had been wrong that day. Her dad was evil.
Tilly and Carrie never fell out. Carrie wouldn’t let that happen. She wrote to Tilly in New York, lots of letters, sent postcards with puppies and kittens on, and little gifts - fluffy koala bears, brightly coloured necklaces, and rings with plastic diamonds almost as big as her fingers. She sent birthday cards, Christmas cards, then, later, emails, Facebook messages, texts and WhatsApp. They loved each other, and the family rift would never wreck that.
That evening, once Becky was snuggled in her bed, and Poppy had rushed around like a mad thing and finally exhausted herself, curling up in her basket, Tilly and Carrie sat in the lounge, sharing a bottle of fizzy wine.
Carrie smiled a real smile. She was over her sadness.
‘You know what, Tilly?’ she said, sipping her wine, and tucking her legs under her.
‘No, do tell.’
‘I’m going to live my life like I’ve never lived it before – everyday a gift. I want no regrets. Ever.’
‘Sounds a bit like a birthday card quote, but yay! Brilliant.’ Tilly raised her glass before taking a sip.
‘And I want you to do the same, Tilly. No regrets.’
‘No regrets. Sounds like a great plan.’ They chinked glasses.
There was a pause while they rested their heads against the back of the sofa, eyes closed, listening to Imagine Dragons ‘On top of the world’ playing from the CD Player.
‘You should talk to Dad,’ Carrie said after some moments, more seriously now. She pushed herself upright, and met Tilly’s eyes. ‘He’s always loved you.’
Carrie had said it so many times before, but now, whether it was the wine, or maybe meeting up with Isaac, she felt her guard lower. In her glass, bubbles jostled. ‘But he never wanted me,’ she said.
‘He never wanted your mother. That’s a completely different thing.’ Carrie looked so earnest. ‘But he stayed with her because she was having you.’
‘And your mum didn’t want him.’
‘Well, yes, that’s true. You know as well as I do that my mum found it hard to forgive that he’d strayed, even if he was drunk at the time.’ She sighed deeply. ‘But Tilly, he stayed with your mum, because he didn’t want to lose you.’ Carrie’s eyes were already glassy from the wine. Her version was so different to Tilly’s. ‘He was messed up. He’s still messed up,’ she said.
‘Plenty of excuses to not be the kind of person he should have been.’
‘He wants to make things right with you now. Talk to him. Please.’
Tilly’s head spun. It was all too much. Even if she wanted to make amends, her mother would never forgive her. ‘He hurt her, Carrie. She could have died.’
‘You can’t know that for sure. You only have your mother’s word.’
‘No, Carrie. It’s more than that. I heard how scared she was,
remember?’ But deep inside something stirred. Perhaps it’s time to ask him why. Let him tell his side of the story.
She closed her eyes and fleeting memories pushed their way in, disjointed without the whole picture: her father crouching by her side, hugging her, wiping tears from her eyes as a droplet of blood trickled down her leg, following a fall from her tricycle; his voice, calm and comforting. A trip to the park, where she rode for the first time without stabilisers, and he held the back of the bike steady until she found her confidence. How he used to pretend to steal her nose. Moments – snippets in time. Tiny moments that had never existed before, released from her subconscious – let out to dance.
A cry from the baby intercom brought Tilly back to the present. Carrie turned down the CD player, and they sat still for several seconds, before Becky snuffled, and silence descended once more.
‘I saw Isaac,’ Tilly said.
Carrie’s eyes widened. ‘You never said.’
‘Well, I’m saying now.’
‘And nothing, we talked, that’s all.’
‘OK, he kissed me.’
Carrie’s eyes sparkled. ‘And…’
‘Stop with the ands, Carrie. It was good. Great even. I like him. OK?’ She thought for a moment, ‘Except, he sounded a bit crazy.’
‘He said something about a potion, and being able to go into photographs.’
‘What the heck?’
‘I know.' Tilly gave a little laugh, to show she couldn't believe it either. 'His face lit up when he talked about it, but then he said he was joking.' She felt her face flush. 'I am curious though. What if there is a way of going into photos and being a fly on the wall.’
‘Are you drunk?’
Tilly laughed again. ‘Maybe, a little,’ she said, as her phone made a noise like a typewriter. She picked it up and read the text, knowing already it was from Isaac. They’d been texting all day.
I think I’m falling in like with you. X
Her heart danced with excitement. These feelings were so new. She looked at her sister. ‘I like him so much, Carrie,’ she confessed. ‘I’ve never felt like this before.’
‘That’s fantastic,’ Carrie said. ‘I’m so happy for you, Tilly.’
‘But I’ll be going back to New York soon, and he lives here.’
‘Then stay in Australia a bit longer.' Carrie made it sound like the obvious solution. 'Jess is fine looking after the shop. Stay here, fall in love with Isaac, and live happily ever after.' She pressed her palms together. 'Pretty please.’
Tilly laughed. ‘I barely know him.’ Then why is my stomach somersaulting?
Her phone rang and she answered without checking who the caller was, expecting – no, hoping – it was Isaac.
‘Hi,’ she said.
‘Hi, it’s Jess.’ Her friend’s voice was tense, faraway. Tilly’s mind went into overdrive. Jess never called. She emailed, texted or Facebooked. ‘Is everything OK?’
‘I’m so sorry, Tilly,’ Jess said. ‘It’s your mum. She’s in hospital. I think you should come to New York.’