Ten months ago, Tilly’s sister’s world fell apart. Carrie’s husband walked out after the birth of their daughter, saying he wasn’t ready to be a father. And a month to the day later, Carrie found a lump in her breast.
When Tilly heard the news, she felt helpless living so far away in New York. She wanted to be there for her sister, just as Carrie had been there for her growing up. She jumped on the first plane, leaving Jess in charge of their flower shop, and arrived back in Australia fifteen hours later, for the first time since she was nine-years-old.
But now, Carrie was getting her life back on track. The operation and radiation therapy had been successful, and the consultant was confident the risk of cancer returning was low. Plus, she no longer saw her ex-husband through continual tears, but as the waster he’d always been.
Tilly could go home.
But however hard she’d tried over the last two days to tell Carrie she was leaving, the right words wouldn’t form.
Now, Tilly crouched in front of her niece, Becky, who was sitting in her highchair, chubby legs bouncing – one pink and white checked sock on. The other sock, their puppy, Poppy, had in her mouth and was giving it a good shake.
Tilly pretended to remove the baby’s nose, wiggling her thumb through her fingers. ‘I’ve got your nose, Becky,’ she said, and the child giggled. Tilly pushed away a memory of her dad doing the same trick on her as a child. ‘I’d better put your nose back,’ she added, wondering how a baby could be fooled. She pretended to replace Becky’s nose, causing another tinkle of laughter.
Tilly turned to Carrie, who was putting plates in the dishwasher. Despite having different mothers, they looked alike. Carrie was ten years older, but she had the same pale complexion and blue eyes. And although Carrie’s hair was shorter, it had the same gentle wave as Tilly’s.
Tilly stood up, and nibbled on her thumbnail.
‘You OK?’ Carrie asked, glancing her way.
Tilly nodded, and took a deep breath. ‘The thing is, I’ve been thinking,’ she began.
‘Ooh, don’t do that, you might hurt yourself,’ Carrie said with a laugh, clattering another plate into the dishwasher.
Tilly smiled, her resolve to tell her sister she was leaving already gone.
Carrie stopped what she was doing and locked eyes with Tilly. ‘You’re going back to America, aren’t you?’ she said.
‘I won’t go if you still need me.’
Carrie smiled. ‘To be honest, Till’, I’d never let you go, if I had my way,’ she said. ‘But I’m well now; and completely over my idiotic ex-husband. You need to get back. Live your life.’ Her eyes shone bluer than ever, as they filled with tears. Tilly dashed across the room, and took her in her arms, breathing in her sister’s familiar perfume. ‘It’s been so good having you here,’ Carrie said, her voice breaking.
‘And I’ve loved being here with you and Becky.’
They finally released each other, and Poppy jumped up at them, wagging her tail.
‘She’s so cute,’ Tilly said, bending to fuss her. ‘Although I still think you’re crazy, getting a puppy on top everything else.’
‘Dogs are better than men,’ Carrie said. She picked Poppy up, and let her little pink tongue hoover up the tears on her cheeks. ‘And this little one was going to be put down. I couldn’t have had that.’
‘You’re so soppy.’
‘I know.’ She put the dog down, and took Tilly’s hands in hers. ‘Before you go back,’ she said, as though planning her words carefully. ‘Could you at least give Dad a chance?’
Tilly tensed. It hadn’t been easy living in Springfield with her sister, so close to where her father still lived – so close to where she’d grown up. ‘I’m sorry, Carrie. I still don’t think I can.’
‘He keeps asking after you. He wants to make things right.’
Tilly shook her head. ‘I can’t. My mum could have died that day. She’d never forgive me if…’
‘But he says he didn’t…’
‘Please, Carrie.’ Tilly swallowed hard. ‘Just stop.’
‘OK, sorry….sorry,’ said Carrie, releasing Tilly’s hands. ‘I don’t want to upset you. I’ll shut up. Sorry.’
‘It’s OK,’ she said. ‘Let’s just agree to differ shall we?’
‘Like always,’ Carrie said, pulling a tissue from a box and dabbing her eyes. ‘Right,’ she said. ‘Let’s change the subject! Has he called yet?’
‘You know who.’ She gave her sister a meaningful look. ‘Isaac.’
‘No. And if he was going to, he would have by now.’ It came out far too snippy.
‘Maybe he lost your number.’
‘I wrote it on his hand, Carrie. You can’t lose a hand. Well you can, but it’s not very likely.’
‘He could have washed it off, by mistake.’
‘Maybe, or more logically, he doesn’t want to get in touch.’
Carrie screwed up her face. ‘But you were such good friends as kids.’
‘That’s exactly it. We were children.’ Tilly was saying the words, but she couldn’t help hoping she was wrong. ‘To be honest, I’m not even sure he recognised me that day at Molly Malone’s. I kind of assumed he did, but when I think back…’
‘You’ve changed a lot since you were young.’
Tilly shrugged. ‘Well, he’s gone, and I don’t care. I’m over him.’
‘Over him? When did you fall for him?’
‘I never fell for him.’ She paused. ‘Well, maybe a tiny bit.’
Carrie laughed, and took Becky from her highchair. ‘Come on, sweetie,’ she said, propping her daughter on her hip, smiling when she tugged her hair. ‘I reckon your Auntie Tilly is smitten.’
‘Smitten? I’ve never been smitten in my life.’ She smiled. ‘What does smitten even mean?’
‘Besotted, pfft.’ She blushed. ‘Anyway I’ve agreed to go out with Hank for a drink.’
‘Hank?’ Carrie’s eyes widened. ‘Whatever for? He’s so obviously no good.’
‘You’ve only met him once.’
‘It was once too much. Why would you go out with him?’
‘Just to see, you know.’ Tilly knew she sounded defensive. She didn’t even know herself why she’d agreed. ‘He’s persistent.’
‘Yes, but he’s all kinds of wrong for you.’ Her sister sounded resigned. ‘Why do you always go for jerks?’
‘Takes one to know one,’ Tilly said.
‘OK, I asked for that. Anyway, he’s shorter than you.’
‘Not if I wear flats. And that’s short-people racist.’
‘There’s no such thing,’ Carrie shot back playfully. ‘I like short people, I l like you, don’t I? I just don’ t like Hank.’
Tilly laughed and glanced at her watch. ‘I’d better go or I’ll be late for work,’ she said, kissing her sister and niece, before grabbing her bag and heading for the door.
‘Please don’t go out with Hank,’ Carrie called after her. ‘Wait for Isaac to call – I know he will.’