Chapter One: Birthdays

Chapter One: Birthdays

A Chapter by Amelia Birch
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Ruby's mostly-absent father brings her a present she wasn't expecting.

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I rolled my eyes as I heard the back door open and shut. They’d arrived. Who’s called Cherry anyway?

Mum dug me in the ribs, “remember what I said; be nice!”

“Why do you care anyway?” I huffed. “You don’t like her. You don’t even like Dad. Why do you care if I hurt her stupid feelings?”

She fixed me with a look muttering under her breath. “Be the bigger person. You’ll be glad you did later.”

Mum should patent those looks, and maybe teach courses in putting your kids down.

She sighed, “I do wish they’d knock rather than just walking in though.”

Again I rolled my eyes. You’re probably thinking he used to live with us and that was why he was so familiar with the house. He didn’t. He’s just rude.

Cherry’s smiling face appeared around the purple dining room door. “Where’s the birthday girl then?”

 “Right in front of you having dinner, which you guys are late for by the way. We had to start before it ruined,” I said raising an eyebrow.

She ignored me. So did Dad who appeared behind Cherry, his hip nudging her out the way so he could enter the room first. He danced a jig. Or should I say he ‘dad danced’ a jig the wooden floor echoing beneath him.

Cherry sat opposite me at the square pine table, too small really for us all. She breathed in closing her eye liner painted eyes, “mm something smells good. Thank you Sue for doing all this, we really appreciate it.” Her Southern American drawl gave every word a drawn out quality as though she were pulling them from a mouth full of molasses.

Mum looked at the table. I kicked her in the shin waiting for the fireworks. They didn’t happen. I guessed Mum really was set on this whole bigger person thing. That would be a first.

Dad sat beside Cherry and started heaping pasta onto his plate. “Cherry cooks a mean tomato sauce. You should try it Sue, it’s amazing.”

Mum kicked me under the table. We exchanged a look. I couldn’t help it, I started to giggle.

“Have I missed something?” Cherry said her glistening red lips forming into a pout.

 “Sorry, I don’t know what’s got into her today,” Mum spluttered.

 “She’s my birthday girl!” Dad said, “That’s what’s got into her.”

I rolled my eyes. “Yeah of course. That will be it.”

Dad picked up a slice of garlic bread and bit into it. The butter dribbled down his chin. He didn’t wait to finish his mouthful before speaking. “So how old are you now kiddo?”

Cherry’s face turned pink. “She’s sixteen. I told you.” She flicked her icy blond hair and her steely blue eyes glazed over. “I remember being sixteen, so much potential, sweet sixteen and the world ahead of you. You can have everything and anything you want. You only have to ask.”

 “You still only have to ask baby.” Dad said reaching over to hold her hand.

Mum let her fork fall. It landed with a clatter. “It can’t have been long since you were sixteen. Not like Trevor. The Berlin Wall was still up when he turned sixteen.” She glared at Dad, “Wasn’t it?” Her eyes slid back to Cherry, “Well now, I bet you can’t even remember the day it came down can you?”

I spat out a lump of pasta snorting. “How old are you Cherry?”

Her cheeks now matched her name, round and red, and shiny. “I’m twenty two.”

I grinned. “Dad’s forty.”

Mum kicked me again, “I remember being twenty two. That was when I gave birth to Ruby. And look at her now! Quite the little madam.”

Cherry leant over and whispered into Dad’s ear. “What’s the Berlin Wall?”

Mum turned to me raising her eyebrows. I giggled again. Maybe we could buy a book for her birthday. Or better still, a brain.

*****

Saffron came round to watch me open my presents. It was handy having my best friend living down the road. We’d moved from the tiny dining room into the slightly bigger living room. Dad and Cherry had taken up the whole leather look sofa to themselves whilst the rest of us stood next to the remaining two seats; the threadbare armchairs with their fake William Morris bramble print. Mum covered them herself, way back when I was small.

Saffron handed me a small rectangular parcel. “Go on! Open mine first.”

I grinned checking out the paper. It was covered in smiling students and descriptions of A Level subjects. “Interesting wrapping.”

 “I didn’t want to use up tree by buying actual wrapping paper. I just reused some of those old college prospectuses.”

That was Saffron, one eye on the environment at all times. Whilst I cared about the planet I didn’t think wrapping paper once a year was going to destroy the rain forest.

“Have you decided where you’re going yet Saffron?” Dad asked.

“Of course! It’s the same place as Ruby.”

Dad looked at me, “Where are you going then Ruby?”

 “Are you serious?” Mum said looking at the ceiling.

Dad coughed.

Saffron looked at me out of the corner of her eye. I knew what she was thinking, I always did. A slightly rubbish father was better than a completely absent father, which was what she’d been blessed with. I wasn’t sure I agreed. At least you didn’t hope for more with a completely absent father, didn’t hope this year might be the one where you got more than a fleeting visit and a hastily bought present.

I ripped into the college prospectus wrapping. “Oh my god, oh my god, you didn’t! Thank you!”

“Now you can really start getting down to it,” she grinned as the freckles across her nose and cheeks wiggled up with her smile.

I held up my present, The Writers and Artists Yearbook. “Just what I wanted!”

 “What do you want that for?”Dad said wrinkling his nose.

Mum left the room.

I sighed. “Dad, Saffron and I are going to be journalists when we get older. I’m going to write for the Guardian and go on Question Time.” It’s not like I wanted him to know me as well as Mum did, I didn’t expect that much. But it would be nice for him to have some kind of insight into my life.

My mum stepped back through the doorway holding my birthday present. “Ruby has been writing since she was a little girl,” she explained. “She’s never without a notebook and pen.”

Dad shrugged.

Of course he did. I wrote him letter after letter too. Not that I got any response.

I spotted the present in my Mum’s hand. My eyes grew wide as they took in the large box, the same shape as Saffron’s present but much bigger. The golden wrapping paper had been covered in black potato print ‘R’ shapes.

 “Ooh give, give!” I said holding out my arms.

“Say please,” Mum laughed hiding it behind her back as her eyes twinkled.

Dad swooped in. He handed me his present. “There you go baby. I hope you like it.”

Mum’s face crumpled. I eyed that golden package behind her back and then the small box my father had just placed in my hands. I tried to keep my face bright.

 “Like I say, I hope you like it,” he said as he rubbed his forehead. “Cherry chose it. I have no idea what to get a sixteen year old girl.”

I rolled my eyes, “Yeah, it’s not like you’re the parent of one is it. How could you ever know?”

But then he’d asked earlier how old I was. Cherry, the girlfriend I’d met once before had reminded him. Fifi, the one before Cherry could probably have told him too. I shuddered, she was a nightmare. At least she hadn’t come back.

Mum’s shoulders were slumped; she wrapped her arms around the parcel she’d been about to hand over. I desperately wanted her to stop trying to be the bigger person because she was coming across as the pushover person.

I gave up waiting for her to insist I opened her present first and tore the paper from Dad’s small present. Non offensive striped paper with the corners turned in expertly. The kind of wrapping no one can manage at home. Once I’d freed my sixteenth birthday present I stood silently, weighing it up, trying to work out what it was for.

Saffron leant over. “Come on then, what’d you get?”

I turned it over in my hand. “Twenty shades of beige apparently.”

At least that’s what it said it was. That silver cardboard box with the big eye on the front was proudly declaring ‘Twenty Shades of Beige’ like it was some kind of cheap erotica.

Cherry giggled, she reached over and grabbed it taking off the outer packaging and flipping open the silver tin she found inside. “Ta da eye shadow!”

And so it was. What was I going to do with that?

Saffron grimaced. “They’re all the same colour.”

She was kind of right. There was a dark brown at one end of each strip of ten shadows and a cream at the opposite end but across the lengths the colours all blended into one another as they very slightly changed hue.

“That’s the beauty of it,” Cherry said with a pout, “you can get the most unbelievably good contouring because the shades work in perfect harmony together.” She handed it back to me.

“Thanks,” I said, putting the eye shadow on the sofa. Perfect harmony, which would be the opposite of my family then.

It was now time for my real present. Dare I say, from my real parent? The one who’d actually bothered to find out what I liked, what I cared about, what I wanted.

I grabbed the box, tearing the wrapping off with eager fingers.

I stopped. My mouth fell open. Saffron’s eyes grew wide. I squealed, not believing I could have been given such a thing. Saffron squealed evidently not believing it either. All my grumpiness dissipated. No longer did I care what my father did or said. Once again, Mum had made everything perfect.

“I hope it’s the right one,” Mum said.

I threw my arms round her neck. “Of course it’s the right one! Any one is the right one. I’m just so happy to have my very own laptop! And it’s a mini one I can carry around with me.”

Mum grinned.

“Where did you get the money for that?” Dad asked. His mouth turned down at the corners, as though he genuinely thought a box of manky eye shadow was going to top whatever Mum had planned for her only child’s sixteenth birthday. As if!

Mum looked at her hands. There was a white mark on her wrist where her watch was missing, “I moved a few things around.”

*****

The candles on the cake lit my mum’s face as she carried it into the dining room from the kitchen. Cherry and Dad exchanged their own snide look at the lateness of the cake, Dad checking his watch as he no doubt worked out how many more minutes he’d need to suffer of the great family get together. I don’t know why any of us bothered with the pretence. The candles weren’t the only thing lighting up her features, she was radiating happiness, even with my father’s presence. I hoped she was proud of me.

My family sung ‘Happy Birthday’. My family and Saffron that was, although Saffron pretty much was family. In my eyes anyway, and Mum’s. She joked she really had two children she was there so often.

I blew out the candles; the icing was still wet and smeared as my breath blew across the top of the cake; a chocolate river bursting its banks.

“Did you make that yourself Sue?” Cherry asked as Mum put the cake on the table in front of me.

Mum’s eyes narrowed.

Saffron held her hand, “Ruby’s mum is the best cake maker in the world. Ever! She’s made every one of my birthday cakes since I was ten years old!”

Mum gave her a small smile. “You were an angry child in those days!”

Saffron grinned back at her. I pretended not to notice. She still was an angry child, well angry teenager. The only thing different now was how well she got on with her own mother; although she still made it clear she preferred mine. Sometimes I wondered if my Mum preferred Saffron to me.

“What did you wish for?” Mum asked hand still in entwined with Saffron’s.

I’d wished for Cherry to disappear, her and her stupid voice. None of Dad’s other girlfriends had been American.

“You don’t want to know,” I said.

“Yes we do!” Cherry squeaked. “I love wishes.”

I sighed, she wouldn’t like this one. So I lied. “I wished for my own magazine column.”

Dad laughed, loudly.

I glared at him.

“You might as well wish for wings, you’d have more chance,” he said.

Cherry’s lips were puckered. For all her faults even she could see Dad’s behaviour was not acceptable; and on my birthday as well. At least my real wish had some chance of coming true if Dad carried on acting like he was.

*****

“Yes, lovely to see you again too.” Mum said through gritted teeth as Cherry leant down to kiss her on both cheeks; as though they were friends.

A cloud of perfume wafted towards me as Cherry moved in to give me the same treatment; kiss, kiss, simper, simper. Dad didn’t bother. He simply danced another jig and saluted. Saffron’s face was twisted into a snarl as Cherry trotted across the floor towards her. The simpering simpleton got the hint and backed away following Dad out the back door.

Mum followed us into the living room and threw herself down onto the sofa landing with a thump. “Phew,” she said, “Glad that’s over for another year. Not your birthday darling, your father’s visit.”

 “Come on Mum, be the better person, you’ll be glad you did.”

She shook her head. “One day you will be glad you didn’t start an argument. He’s your dad. One day you’ll be close.”

“We won’t. And Cherry won’t be here next year. Apart from Cherry I’ve never met the same one twice. They all want to be my best friend and they all disappear once they figure out what a dick Dad is.”

Mum sighed. “Cherry was here last year.”

“So she’s nearly outstayed her welcome. Come on in number one-hundred-and-twenty-two your time is up.”

“Imagine if she was number a hundred and twenty-two!” Saffron giggled. “How many has it been really?”

“I actually have lost count,” I said. “But it’s about one a year since he went to live in France.”

“Well I’ve seen him about three times since he moved back, and I’m your best friend.”

“Best friend?” Mum joked, “You live here practically so if you’ve only seen him that many times that’s how often he’s been here.”

I rolled my eyes. Mum was right; he’d made it to my house once a year since he moved back to the UK when I was twelve. You’d think that was fine, you’d think I’d go and see him at his house. You’d be wrong. Saffron thought she’d seen him about three times; I’d probably seen him about six since my twelfth birthday.

“I don’t know why you let him get away with it Susan,” Saffron said glaring at Mum. “If you just shouted a bit he’d sort it out, I know he would.”

“No he wouldn’t,” Mum shrugged, “You don’t know him. Not like I do.”

“I know he’s a grown man who prefers to date young models.”

“They’re just the people he meets; that’s all.”

I raised my eyebrows. Yes, he was a photographer, but that didn’t mean he only got to meet models. What about the other photographers, the Make-up Artists, the editors. Not to mention waitresses, shop assistants, his neighbours. No, I was sure it was a lifestyle choice, nothing else. It meant he could be the big man. Except it didn’t make him a big man, it made him a child.

Saffron noticed my frown and picked up ‘Twenty Shades of Beige’ from the back of the sofa. “Seriously,” she said, “What is this bit of tat? What do you reckon a fiver down the local chemist on his way here?”

Mum shook her head. “No, that’s not his style. He said Cherry chose it. She’s clearly the kind of girl who goes way over the top. You just have to look at the ridiculous shoes she was wearing. And you could see he thought he’d done well. Some of those make up brands can be pretty expensive.”

“I’d take it round to his house and tell him where to stick it, if I was you.” Saffron said handing it to me.

“You know, I really should. But first I’m going to use my new laptop to Google it. After that I’m going to give it straight back to him and tell him I want the money he spent on it so I can go and buy myself a decent present.”

Sneaking a look at Mum I saw a ghost of a smile on her face. Whatever she said about being the bigger person, I knew she’d love to see me tell Dad where to go.



© 2014 Amelia Birch


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This chapter is just as good as the last one. There were a few wording issues; I had to read over some things a couple of times, but that's just a style choice, not necessarily something you need to change. :) Characterization is brilliant, I love it. I can't wait to see where this goes!

Posted 9 Years Ago



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Added on August 10, 2014
Last Updated on August 10, 2014
Tags: teen, young adult, crossover, make-up, make up, cosmetics, facebook, youtube, blogger, beauty, vlogger, coming of age, parent


Author

Amelia Birch
Amelia Birch

London, London, United Kingdom



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