HALF A WORLD
Forcing a final pair of pants into the only gap left in my stupid excuse for a suitcase - complete with tatty old Teletubby stickers - I stare around at the walls of my lovely bedroom for the last time.
They’re all bare now. Apart from the bits of blu-tak that I tried really hard to get rid of but couldn’t - not without stripping off the paint as well and I don’t want to make a mess of it. Not now. It’s been my safe place for nearly sixteen years. And unless I hurry up and get out, I shall be a horrible wet mess in a few minutes. I can’t help it at the moment – it’s my hormones apparently.
I need to give myself a silent telling off. Get a grip, girl, it’s only walls, a window and paint. Oh, and the lovely old Goldilocks bed that I’ve had since the day I was old enough to sleep in a proper bed. And those gorgeous deep purple curtains with orange silk stitched through them that match my duvet cover. And, of course, the little rug that I helped weave when I was nine which took us most of the winter to get right. That was the last white Christmas I can remember.
My heart does a dumb dance right from the base of my belly and back up to my throat and I can feel hot, stinging tears threatening to make an appearance. I need to hold them back, otherwise I may not stop. It’s harder to control lately.
‘All ready then?’ my dad appears at the door which makes me catch my breath but also stops those tears from getting any further.
‘Should make good time if we get going now.’ He glances at his watch and I immediately wonder what he’s thinking. Really thinking - right now. And I wonder whether he wishes he could turn the clock back to a few months ago. But, time-rewind or not, I’d still have gone to the party and I’d still have sneaked off with Ben. Although I think I’d have had more sense than to agree to another drink which led to our five minute lapse of concentration as we got all carried away and loved-up on the couch in the back room before we really noticed what we were doing. Had already done I guess.
Jesus, was that all it had taken? Five minutes? Five minutes and my whole world – as I’d (kind of) planned it – had taken the sharpest twist off-course and begun heading in directions I’d only ever read about and heard about in PHSCE lessons, or in magazines; on the telly, whispered in hushed tones during lesson breaks at school.
Because I’ve always been the sensible one. Emily Oliver - Miss Level-headed personified. I don’t drink – okay, the occasional glass of wine at Christmas and Birthdays but I’m not keen on it really. It tastes weird. Although Ben always insists he likes a glass of lager every now and then. I think he does it mostly ‘cause his mates drink and he doesn’t want them to think he’s a wuss or something. And since he’s turned seventeen his dad lets him drink at home too. ‘If you’re old enough to learn to drive, son,’ he said, ‘I’m sure you can drink – although never at the same time, if you know what I mean!’ I love Ben’s dad. He’s honest-to-god fun. He always makes common sense sound entertaining and cool. And he’s a policeman. I guess it’s his way of getting on our level, his humour.
‘Ready then?’ my dad repeats now.
I nod just the once . ‘Yep,’ I tell him briskly. ‘All done.’ I haul my suitcase off the bed and it lurches dramatically onto the floor. As quick as a flash, he is onto it.
‘Hey now! Let me do that,’ he says shooing me away. ‘You shouldn’t be lugging things this heavy. Not now you’re… not in your… um…. condition… anyway… come on now…’ and he leaves as quickly as he appeared, click-clacking the wheels heavily off the top step towards the front door.
I hold onto my door handle and turn one last time to stare at my room. All lilacs and golds and acned with blu-tack; sad-looking now. I know I shall miss this room the most and I can almost hear it say it‘s going to miss me back too.
‘Oh… here,’ my dad bends down and picks up something square and white that’s lying just halfway down the stairs. It must have fallen out of one of the pockets on the suitcase. He leans up and hands it to me then carries on lumbering my suitcase down the stairs and out the front door. As I straighten up, I rub my thumb over the print on the card and a whole new wave of emotions threaten to destabilise me. I almost have to lean onto the doorframe to help me get my balance back.
I remember how thrilled I felt when I held this ticket for the first time. I can still feel the butterflies swarming about inside my stomach as I waited in the warm, deep-pile carpeted foyer of the new Multiplex cinema in town; how I could hardly contain myself as I clasped my dad’s hand as we waited for the queue to move along and into Screen Two.
Taking a deep breath to steady myself, I shut my eyes and wonder if I’ll ever feel that way again; when the idea of just going to the opening of a new film will ever fill me with that simple, clear-cut feeling of pure excitement. Or is this it – the end of the road for my simple childish pleasures? I can’t think about it. It’s stressy and it’s not good for me.
I turn the ticket over twice in my hands and smile as my breath starts to come back properly. Can it really have been that just the idea of going to see Harry Potter at the cinema was the best thing I could ever imagine happening to me? I try to remember what I must have been wearing that day. I did have a particular pair of tights – purple and pink stripey ones – and the name “Pippy Longstocking” comes burrowing up through my muddled memory. That’s what Dad used to call me when I wore them. At least I think it was my dad…
‘Emily!’ he yells up the stairs at me now and I drag my thoughts back to the present. My heart wants me to turn back to my bedroom door again and say a silent goodbye but I know I will definitely crack up if I do this. And so, with each careful step down the stairs I try to look as normal as possible on the outside whilst the tiny, scared voice inside my head is screaming that it wants to run away and hide and for everything to go back just the way it was. Before. Approximately six months before. Please?