The SARAH Act

What does SARAH mean? Before you say “Princess”, I ought to explain that I am referring to the context of whether to help a stranger (or anyone really) who is in distress.

You may perhaps have come across it if you have been on a First Aid Course in recent years. I found several websites that explain it. Here is the first that popped up:

https://www.communityheartbeat.org.uk/governance/sarah-act-2015-legal-issues

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Well, after completing some training recently for work, SARAH will no longer make me think “princess”. No from now on, I will think “hero”!!

SOCIAL ACTION, RESPONSIBILITY AND HEROISM ACT 2015 (SARAH)

It is essentially legislation designed just to give you peace of mind should you be innocently wandering along and see someone in distress.

The Cold Creeps In

Fir the past two days I have noticed the cold has descended. I have been wearing my winter coat and I now have my winter duvet on the bed. If it were up to me, I would already be in hibernation.

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When I reach this time of year, I start to feel a little optimistic – I just have to hold on tight while we get the filthy, dismal, commercial month of December out of the way…and then come January…we can start to look out for signs that spring is hovering. Searching for the first snowdrops, relishing the lengthening days.

Not long until spring ow – just a couple of miserable months and then we can plan to get out there and live a lot more!!

The Art Of Suggestion

I was reading another bloggers post recently, and it was full of advice I needed to pay attention to and heed. I have a real weakness with my style of writing. I am not very good at suggesting something to the reader, allowing them to fill in the gaps. Instead, I tend to waffle and supply way too many trivial details that don’t aid the flow of the story.

I don’t really know why I do that. I guess I am just such an amateur when it comes to crafting a story and captivating readers. I become immersed in my characters, and find that almost everything they think, feel, say, hold back from saying, do, regret they didn’t do – it all matters to me…and I sort of expect it to matter to others who read their stories.

But it does not always work that way. Ultimately, nobody will ever know or love my characters as much as I do. That is just a fact. So, if I go overboard with revolving the story around my characters alone, it can be like having dinner with a parent who wants to show you a host of photographs of their little ones, the pictures they drew at school, their first milk teeth that fell out, and share you with accounts of every memorable incident since birth. Yeah…there is only so much you can take of that!!!

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There is another issue I have…I realized I have in some cases been too explicit in my explanations. I don’t want to shy away from the fact my characters have complex issues they grapple with. But I think in some areas I have made the explanation of what is happening almost too clinical. They are difficult, provocative subjects, but I don’t need to handle them like a Doctor or a Social Worker. I need to get down on to the level of my characters and indicate just how uncomfortable they are with talking about their weaknesses. I need to learn the art of suggestion, and not be overly graphic or descriptive.

Hmm….writing is such an education in itself! It is truly fascinating to look back at your writing and analyse patterns in your style, seek improvements and enhancements, and learn how to see things from your Readers point of view always.

Scrambled Brains And Wine Stains

I have been on a course. It was a very very interesting course, packed full of important updates and entirely new information. I enjoyed it, I benefited from it, I saw many applications for the course content. It was a cracking course!

However….I have to admit, I am feeling rather overwhelmed with learning. I started a new job three weeks ago, and although I am loving it, I feel as if it has been somewhat a steep learning curve that has coincided with hours of mandatory training to complete. I am enjoying my job, I adore my new colleagues, and I do like that there will be continual opportunities to learn…but my brain!!! Oh my poor brain!!! I am not sure whether I can take in any more! My synapses are fried. My axons have barbequed. My brain is scrambled!

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I just hope that all of the information I have taken in in recent weeks does actually stick.

In other news…Jack spilt wine all over the fresh bed linen I had just made the bed up with. He did it at midnight…and so we had half an hour of soaking the carpet with water, stripping the bed, submerging the linen and pillows in stain remover and then as I had not washed the other set yet, we had to make up the bed with fleecy blankets as under-sheets, and fortunately there was no wine on the duvet. I also have a couple of spare pillows for guests, so we were comfy enough. That meant lots of washing the next day. Oh Jack – I love you lots, and these memories I will treasure always. Life with you is never dull! Not for a minute!

Stellar Wonders

I have managed to dodge those weird conversations when a neighbour, or a colleague, or the cashier at the supermarket start telling you about their star sign. When I was a child it was a bit of a joke that some people seemed to actually make decisions based on that cringe-worthy column in the rags.

Even recently, I heard a woman who is paid a six figure salary talking about her star sign and who that makes her compatible with and how it dictates her attitudes and interactions and reactions. She admitted that she takes a person’s star sign into account when she is interviewing candidates. I was absolutely horrified when I heard her say that…to the extent that I am wondering if I should discreetly report it to one of her senior’s.

Anyway…at this time of year when the sky is dark not long after four o’clock, there is only one constellation that I look for in the sky. Orion. My first interest in astronomy was due to the fascinating Orion’s nebula.

The wonders of the stars and galaxies stir a different fascination in me. I see vast vast vast amounts of energy (you know that word that is constantly in the news) converted into matter on an extraordinary scale.

Speaking of energy…I ought to go to sleep so that I have enough energy for a very busy day tomorrow.

CARAMELODY

Did you notice??? I wonder if you did? My WordPress site is called Caramel, but my name is showing up as CARAMELODY. I have been called this by several other WordPress users over the years who know me by my writing name Melody Finch.

Well….it sort of grew on me. So much so that finally I added “ODY” onto the end of my WordPress user name. It feels good – you know like that feelng of just having a haircut?

I use my writing name because I feel safer and less inhibited when I write. I am grateful to all of my friends who know me in person have honoured my request to only use my nom de plume online.

I admire writers who are comfortable with using their real name and sharing photographs of themselves…but I have so many reasons to be anxious for our security (Jack and myself).

Caramelody is making me smile. I hope you like it too!

Under The Influence

Despite the openhearted kindness and warm hospitality extended to me by Sandy and also Liam, all of my thoughts were dominated by Dean’s words to me. My sleep was restless that night. I was clinging on to a hope, a wish, and was afraid that it could be slipping away.

On Friday morning, my slumber was disturbed by yet another heated feud downstairs. My dad was going back to work today. I guess he was first to notice the two cartons of milk in the refrigerator. Mom and Dad both signalling their dissatisfaction because the brand of milk was different than the one Mom usually bought. It didn’t help that there was not one wrong carton of milk, but two.

It suddenly crossed my mind that those damn milk cartons might end up causing a lot of trouble for me. Mom was bound to ask why I had brought back some strange brand. Plus, she had given me a $5 dollar bill. She would have been expecting some change. I had none, I just had her original bill. What was I going to tell her? If I risked the honest option, returning her money and crediting Sandy’s generosity, I was sure to make Mom angry. So what else could I do but deceive her? That was not a prospect I relished.

Dad left for work not long after seven o’clock. Not long afterwards I heard Mom climbing the stairs and letting out sighs of frustration. There was every reason for Mom to be tired after several busy days. When I mustered up the courage to open my bedroom door it was clear that she was designating that day as her washing day. I quickly volunteered to carry the laundry basket down the stairs. When she accepted my offer I became hopeful that I may be in her favour. But as soon as I placed the washing basket next to the washing machine, Mom almost thrust one of the milk cartons into my face, “What is this?”

I took a moment to think about my reply, “I’m sorry Mom, that’s all they had.”

Mom pursed her lips together and placed a hand on her hip, “And what possessed you to buy two cartons?”

I looked down at the floor searching for some inspired explanation. Doubtful that it would pass Mom’s scrutiny I offered a paltry lie, “They had a special offer and I thought it would be better value for money.”

Mom let out a noise somewhere between a tut and a “humph”. She shook her head, “You can’t just do what you are told, can you? Are you incapable of listening Annabelle?”

I had been listening for years and I was broken, just broken. Mom did not comprehend how overbearing her rebukes were. I had no ability to form any kind of response when she told me off. I was dumfounded at the injustice. The crushing hurt had brewed within me and led me to embarking on a terrible path to relieve my pain. At the age of fourteen, my arms and legs were covered with scars, and my parents and teachers had no idea how trapped I was in a cycle that I could not control. It was whenever I was confronted with a dispiriting, discouraging, dismal put-down that the urge to seek a release from that piercing ache took over.

Even today, I look back in shock at what I was doing. It was awful. Now I can see that adding to my self condemning thoughts was guilt about my avenue to deal with emotional heartbreak. I want to weep when I think about the fourteen year old who was gripped by this disturbing compulsion. Of course I wish I could go back in time and protect her and empower her to deal with emotional distress. But back then, I was on my own.

I told Dean though. I didn’t tell him everything, but about a month after Christmas I was still tormented by the lie I had told my mom. The five dollar bill reminded me of my sin. Abraham Lincoln seemed to glare at me in severe judgement.

It kept on playing on my mind. Dean had noticed I had been more quiet than usual, and eventually he probed enough for me to give way to tears. I did not tell him what my mom had said, I just communicated the remorse that I was wrestling with. When he asked me why I had not told my mom the truth about where the milk cartons had come from and returned her money, I confessed that if she knew who I had spent that day with the outcome would have been much worse. I was not prepared to risk losing my friends, so although I had no wish to be deceptive, I felt I had to hide the truth from my parents.

When I unburdened my conscience, confessing my deceit and stating how terrible I felt that I had kept the money Mom had given to me, Dean looked at me in absolute astonishment. He clearly thought I had lost my marbles to be feeling so awful about just five dollars. It seems laughable now. But at the time it was a huge ordeal to me.

Incredibly, Dean remembered my admission of regret and the reason behind it. It was the first of many occasions when he would see how scared I was to displease my parents and reap their disdain or condemnation. Later, Dean would see for himself how close-minded my parents could be. It provoked anger within him and he ended up writing off my parents as “kooks”. That whole milk-gate situation back when I was fourteen – well, it lingered in Dean’s memory long enough for him to think up the lyrics for the title track of their album “Hole In Your Soul”. Do you remember the following verse….

Nothing as heavy as a guilty conscience in your pocket
Leave it there over night and it will burn a deeper hole
Leave it there for long enough and it can even kill
This insane fear that your mother will explode like a rocket
Is poisoning your happiness and darkening your soul
You're torturing yourself over a five dollar bill

Yeah, that song captured how I felt about lying over those two cartons of milk. I still cannot think about the chorus lines about how excessive guilt drills into your core and leaves a hole in your soul – it hits a very raw nerve within me. Dean had no idea at the time just how insightful his words were. Gradually he was learning about me. Nobody else knew me like Dean did, not for many years.

Of course, my errors and misdemeanours paled into insignificance compared to the behaviour of Dean himself and his associates. It was no wonder that he had already felt some concern over the influence that he and his friends could have on me. There was one person in particular who had the potential to shape me perhaps more than anybody else – Lauren.

I first met Lauren and Rick during the first Saturday of January – it would have been the fifth of the month I guess. Rick did not have to say anything to dominate the room. It was clear that Dean, Liam and Greg looked up to him. I noticed that Greg seemed to be talking quietly to Rick before they began practicing and although I think Rick was listening, he only nodded slightly in response. While Greg was singing, it was Rick’s reaction he seemed to be watching.

Dean was right – Rick completely ignored my presence. He expressed no interest in who I was and why I was perching on the sofa watching in awe. It would be a long time before Rick began to acknowledge me, and that was purely because of Lauren’s growing attachment to me. I learnt a lot about Rick from Sandy, much more that Dean ever told me. Rick’s father had played guitar with one of the biggest heavy metal rock bands of the eighties. Rick had two older brothers who also played guitar, his oldest brother Kline was in a band that found a cult audience amongst a college-age audience.

Of course, I had never heard of them, but when I googled them it was easy to find some of their recordings and scheduled performances. Their music sounded very angry and hostile to me, full of cursing and offensive terms. What did I know at fourteen about what college students wanted to listen to?

Rick had grown up around musicians and guitars and it really was all he had ever known. Parties, drinking, cocaine, women, tattoos, motorbikes and the occasional fight either with one of his brothers or someone who had crossed him, it was all in a day’s work for Rick. When I met him, he was twenty-four years of age, and had already played with several other bands that had since dissolved. It was Dean’s Uncle Gary (who had played live with his father) that had introduced Rick to his nephew. Rick, like others, had spotted Dean’s talent and was keen to nurture his confidence and ambition. The other members of the band seemed to aspire to the self-assuredness and effortless commanding air that Rick manifest. Sandy was clearly smitten with him. The other guys wanted to be as respected as him. I was scared of him.

The day I met Rick I met his girlfriend Lauren. The band had already been through two songs when Lauren entered the garage. She walked past Rick and softly ran the flat of her hand up his chest as she turned. He swiftly responded by gripping her behind. Lauren then headed towards the sofa where I sat. An expression of confusion on seeing me registered. As she sat on the other side of the sofa and threw her legs up onto the cushions, I detected the cigarette smoke on her hair and clothes. Lauren did not say anything to me at first, but while I watched the band, I believe she was watching me. After around fifteen minutes, she crouched forwards and traversed the sofa on her hands and knees, leaning right over my lap and reaching for a bottle of beer from the crate next to the sofa. After opening it, she handed the bottle to me.

Liam stopped playing and crossed the garage in a couple of strides. He took the bottle out of my hand and put it in Lauren’s. He then picked up a can of 7UP and offered it to me. I took it. There were no words during this significant exchange. The others seemed irritated that Liam had stopped playing so suddenly. While they started the song again, I glanced at Lauren. She was grinning at me.

She was beautiful, well, I thought so. I had no idea back then of how much cosmetics could transform someone’s appearance. Lauren knew how to use make-up. I would learn that she was very pretty though even without make-up and due to years of dance lessons, she had a figure that was enticingly feminine. To Rick she was perfect. Lauren was devoted to Rick, and allowed him to order her around. But apart from Rick, Lauren had respect for nobody. You just had to hope that she liked you.

As it turned out, Lauren did end up liking me. Being liked by someone, it sometimes results in becoming very impressionable and easily swayed by their influence. Although Lauren shocked me many times, and I never felt entirely at ease with her, her affection for me prompted me to adore her. I was so glad to have a female friend. Lauren would advise me on all sorts of subjects Dean had no clue about – cosmetics and hair products, clothes, lingerie, and eventually she introduced me to subjects that would force me out of my childish ignorance – Lauren was behind the transformation that took place during the next year that followed.

Dean observed the outward metamorphosis, however it was his priority to shield the inner me that he had did not want to suffer corruption. Yet I suspect that he liked some of the changes he witnessed. Lauren certainly was key to me abandoning the sports bras Mom had bought me when it was clear I needed some sort of support. Just after I turned fifteen, Lauren convinced both me and Dean to allow her to take me to Harlem where Rick rented a tiny apartment. She took me to Victoria’s Secret and bought me some bras that seemed to completely change my shape.

That was just the start of Lauren’s mission to tailor me in accord with her ideals. I did come under her influence, but my conscience would never have allowed me to be a faithful disciple of Lauren. Dean may have sometimes been baffled by the ingrained tendency to suffer excess guilt, but for a long time it served as a protective restraint. Never commit the crime that you are being punished for – I read that somewhere. My parents may have been heavy-handed in their criticism, but I was never going to prove deserving of that degree of disapprobation. So Dean was never really at risk of losing the me that had won his attention and steadfast attachment.

Dinner And Disappointment

Liam disappeared into the garage, no doubt to greet Dean. My impulse was to follow, but Sandy had other ideas. How could I object when she asked me to give her a hand in the kitchen? Did she notice that I was so nervous that my hands trembled while I chopped vegetables up? I kept on expecting her to tell me I was doing it all wrong, and to tell me I was hopeless, and to dismiss me from the kitchen. Sandy was very different to my mom. She chatted away telling me how she was making the curry, starting with a ginger and garlic base and layering spices before adding minced onions. I wish I could remember every step of her recipe. I was concentrating on my assigned tasks so much that I could not retain any of Sandy’s tips.

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Soon, the aroma of the spices was filling the kitchen and wafting through to other rooms including the garage. I could only faintly hear the instruments as Liam and Dean played. Sandy told me they had installed top-grade soundproofing when they renovated the garage to house Liam’s drumkit and other musical equipment.

An hour after we began making dinner, Sandy asked me to lay the kitchen table. Then it all happened so quickly…I was sitting down, as Sandy had encouraged me to do at the same time as Liam entered the room, followed by Dean. I caught the expression of bewilderment on Dean’s face when he saw me. Instantly I interpreted that to mean Liam had not informed him of my presence. At that moment, I felt like such a fraud, as if I had invaded Dean’s territory without receiving his invitation and I was sure he felt offended by this incursion. Anxiety rose up into my throat. Dean clearly was directing his annoyance at Liam as evident by his glares. Did that mean he did not want me there?

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Sandy was not going to allow an uncomfortable atmosphere to linger. She provided Dean with a brief explanation that perhaps he had a right to. “Liam just happened to bump into Annabelle when she was on her way to buy milk for her mom, and as I overestimated how much milk we would get through over Christmas, Liam knew it would help us if Annabelle could take a couple of cartons. But we ended up chatting and getting on like a house on fire. It’s easy to see why you would enjoy the company of this young lady.”

As Dean’s expressions softened, indicating he accepted Sandy’s carefully worded comments, I felt much less uncomfortable. Questions were soon directed towards Dean as to how his Christmas had been. He evaded giving any detail, but I picked up on a few expressions. He said he could not remember much of it. They’d been living on pastries and muffins for the past few days as the coffee houses had over-ordered, so he had been allowed to take a crate of baked goods home on Christmas Eve. Mark had brought some girl home who had been wandering around the house in nothing but one of Mark’s shirts. A friend of Gary’s had turned up to ask to borrow money. Dean also shared that he had missed his mom a lot this year and written a song about her. I was drinking in every word trying to paint a picture in my mind of what those details may have looked like.

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I then heard more about the festivities in Sandy’s home. Her oldest daughter had stayed with her twin daughters over the weekend and right up to Christmas Day. Her first husband (clearly they were long since divorced) had come from West Virginia to spend the holidays with his children and grandchildren. Her parents had spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day under Sandy’s roof, before they had embarked on a trip to Florida. On Boxing day, Kevin, her second ex-his had visited with his son (from a previous relationship) along with Sandy’s brother and his partner who were on good terms with Kevin (who had originally introduced them). I marvelled that despite two divorces, Sandy seemed to be able to welcome her ex-husbands and their children into her home and only to say pleasant things about them. Her only criticism was the gift her first husband Jason had given her – she joked he had no idea what a woman in her forties would wear.

I was dreading the moment that questions were directed towards me about how our family Christmas had been. Somehow, a conversation developed that rescued me from that predicament. The subject of whether Sandy would ever consider re-marrying came up, and was one that clearly caused great amusement to all. Sandy asserted, “I am not against getting married again, but this time he would have to be filthy rich. Some tycoon who made his fortune from oil, or some tech phenomenon.”

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Liam claimed he knew who his mother had her eye on. Sandy did not have to guess who Liam was teasing her about. “Well, he is hot! I just have to figure out a way to get rid of that ill-mannered girlfriend who thinks she owns this place when she comes with him.” It quickly transpired that they were talking about Rick, the bass guitarist who I had still not met. Sandy asked me if I thought Rick was gorgeous. When they realized I did not know what Rick looked like, Liam asked Dean to show me some photos on his phone.

Dean leant over and scrolled through his pictures at a fast pace. I was peering at the screen and catching fleeting glimpses other photos that were of great interest to me. There were a lot of pictures of guitars, and groups of men, some women too. I saw images of Dean with a girl with brown hair, pictures of his uncle and cousin. Then finally Dean slowed down his scrolling and showed me a photo of Rick. The first thing I noticed was his muscular arms and upper body. His arms were covered with tattoos and he had a closely shaved hair and a jet stud in his ear. Then Dean showed me a photo of Rick with a girl. She seemed much younger than Rick did and had deep chestnut hair. Dean told me Rick’s girlfriend was Lauren. Most of the photos of Rick showed him in ripped jeans and looking dishevelled, but there were a few pictures of Rick at his brother’s wedding that revealed how good-looking could be.

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It’s hard to describe to you my blissful state while Dean was showing me photographs of his friends from his phone. Our physical proximity was closer than ever before, and I could breathe in his scent and try to memorize it’s trace. My knee touched his, and neither of us flinched. I would not put it past Sandy to have noticed my reaction to Dean. Perhaps that is why she stood up and asked if anybody would like some dessert. I felt full! The turkey baguette, the gingerbread, and now the delicious curry, I did not feel I could eat any more. However, the offer roused Dean to his senses and he was quick to volunteer to help take the dinner plates out to the kitchen.

In the end it was only Dean who wanted some dessert. After presenting a dish to Dean with a jug of cream, Sandy asked if she could have a word with her son Liam. I stared at the heap of Christmas pudding in front of Dean. If I had known, I would have asked for a serving. Dean tucked into it heartily. He made those hums of enjoyment with each mouthful. As if he needed to justify his reaction, he turned to me and said, “This is so good. Try some.” He held out his fork to me with some of the pudding balanced on the end. The moment he brought it to my lips was another I would recollect with glowing delight. It may have been a simple gesture, one that was open and unguarded, but I believe Sandy was weighing up everything she saw. She picked up that there was something sparking between Dean and I, and it concerned her.

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Within the next half an hour, all four of us were in Sandy’s car. She had insisted on driving me home and dropping Dean off at the branch of Food Bizarre he worked at. When she pulled over on Kelly Street, she climbed out of the car with me and accompanied me to the front door so she could be sure I had let myself in and was safe. She pressed the two cartons of milk into my arms and hugged me. “You’re a good girl Annabelle. Thank you for your company today.”

It felt odd, I should have been thanking Sandy for her astonishing hospitality. But I was overwhelmed at how the day had turned out for me. When I left the house around ten hours before, I could never have imagined how the day would develop. Making it back to our house before my parents was an extra blessing. No interrogation about where I had been all day, no demeaning telling off or criticism to take away from the joy I had felt that day. I put the milk cartons into the refrigerator and ran upstairs. When I was safely tucked up in bed, the thrill still lingered. It felt like a prisoner who had enjoyed a day of freedom undetected and made it back to his cell before the security guards noticed.

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How could I sleep that night with so much excitement within me? My mind and body were electrified with happiness. When my phone started to ring and I saw who was calling, I wondered if I was hallucinating. I answered it immediately, “Hi.”

“Hey Annabelle, it was a nice surprise to see you at Liam’s. Sandy said you had been with them most of the day?”

A punch of fear hit me deep in the stomach. Was Dean calling me because it irritated him that I had been there? “It was a total coincidence. Liam was on his way back from the gym, and I don’t why I told him about the milk…but then he told me I should take some of theirs and…well, I had no idea how nice his mom was gonna be…I’m sorry if it was weird of me to be there, they were just so kind.”

“Yeah, Sandy is great, I know. It’s cool you got to hang out with them. Sandy said some real sweet things about you in the car after she dropped you off.”

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The fear dissipated, but a nauseous suspicion that something I did not want to hear was coming. I wondered where along the heartbreak scale it was going to land. “She’s very kind.”

“So, look Annabelle, Sandy had a talk to Liam and me in the car. Hold on wait a minute, I am just going to go outside.” I waited for him. I could hear a door creak open and then slam shut. I waited a few seconds more, curious about what was going on. I heard him curse, and then his voice returned. “Annabelle, I’m no good at this kind of thing so bear with me.” It sounded as if he was drawing on a cigarette.

“Is everything ok?”

“Yes, yeah everything is fine. Sorry, I’m crap at this kind of stuff. Sandy told me I need to be straight with you and not play games with you. I hope you don’t think that’s what I am doing.” When I did not reply, he started to grumble and curse about how cold it was and he told me it had just started to snow. I peered out of my bedroom window to see a mix of snowflakes and sleet descending. Dean repeated to me, “I’ve told Sandy and I’m telling you I’m not playing games – ok?”

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My bewilderment made me more tense. What was I supposed to say to that? “Play games?”

“Yeah, I mean I was trying to make sure I was straight with you. You’re a kid, and I have been trying to make it clear that there is nothing going on here. Sandy told me I need to make it clearer though.”

“But I’m nearly fifteen.” Perhaps the high pitch of my voice communicated some of my distress at the conversation was attempting.

There was a long pause from Dean. “Being fourteen, being fifteen – it won’t last long. Before you know it, you’re gonna be an adult – with bills to pay and some job you hate, with a boss who is a jerk. Being a kid is good thing Annabelle, and you should make the most of it. You might not want to hear this, but in the future you will look back and wish you could have your childhood back – your innocence, your purity. Once you lose that, you will never be the same.”

“You keep on saying I’m a kid, but I…”

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“You are a kid, and I have to keep on telling myself that. Do you get that? Maybe you don’t, but I need to keep that fact in view. That’s all there is to say. Hell, it’s obvious you are not going to be a kid for much longer. Damn – Sandy should be saying this to you, she knows the words to use. She has some ideas about what is ok when it comes to spending time with you, and she’s right, I know she’s right.”

So soon after the deluge of happiness I had experienced, tears were brimming over my eyelids, “About what? I don’t understand.”

“Well, for a start it is freezing – it’s gonna snow next week. We can’t be walking around the park when it is that friggin’ cold.”

“But I don’t mind. I don’t mind being cold.”

“Well I do. My fingers were so friggin’ numb a couple of weeks go I couldn’t feel my guitar strings for half an hour. Sandy said she was impressed by you and that you are welcome there, but only if she is around. She feels a responsibly for a kid being around Liam’s friends. We respect Sandy, it’s great of her to let us play in her garage. But she has rules – no smokes, no trashing the place – we wouldn’t do anything to annoy her. But look, there is stuff I need to be straight with you about. When I am at Liam’s house, I’m on best behaviour. Do you get that? Do you know what I’m saying?”

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I am not sure I wanted to understand what Dean was trying to say. “I know you smoke.”

“Smoke? Yeah I smoke and more, plenty more. Man – this is hard to say – I’m a friggin’ terrible person for you to be spending time with Annabelle. For an hour a week, I make a real effort not to let that show, because I don’t want you to end up like me.”

“But…”

“I don’t know how this is gonna work. I’m gonna have to check that Sandy will be at home, but it’s better that way. Her home is somewhere it is alright for you to be around someone like me. We’re all on her turf, her rules. You can’t come to my Uncle’s house and there is no point walking past in the hope you might be invited in, it’s not gonna happen. It’s a house with three men who don’t live by anyone’s rules – it’s not a place for someone like you.”

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My heart was pumping loudly. The message Dean was trying to deliver was sinking in, even though the details were sketchy. “So, this Saturday…”

“I already checked and Sandy is fine with you just going straight to hers. She will be around this Saturday. Rick is not back until the following week. He is on his best behaviour when he is at Sandy’s too and he will probably just ignore you anyway. But you will meet Lauren. Sandy is not keen on Lauren at all, so, well, that is gonna make things a little weird. Just don’t copy Lauren. Stay you Annabelle, just be like you were today.”

When Dean ended the call because he had to start work, I was left confused and uncertain. I loved that hour with Dean every Saturday, and I was disappointed at the belief he was abandoning that. Was that because of the risk of snow? Or the opinions of Sandy? I think he had said I was welcome to go to Sandy’s home when the band were practicing. There was a whole bunch of other things he had said that did not make any sense to me, and I was not ready to ask him to explain them. I was going to have to be patient and plucky. My attachment and awe of Dean prompted me to make the most of even the slightest sign that he was alright with me enjoying a fraction of his time and attention. There would be tests to my resilience for over a year though, and of course I had not foreseen what kind of world Dean was going to draw me into.

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Over the next few years, I guess I figured out what he had been trying to say to me that day. I saw Dean on his best behaviour, and Dean at his worst. Some of the things I saw with my eyes, I was completely ignorant with regards to their significance. While I was fourteen, while I was fifteen, I think Dean did maintain his efforts to be mindful of my youthful outlook. But by the time I was sixteen, the pressures in his life were building, the band were recording in a studio, they were playing at bars all over the state, he no longer seemed to have the energy to put on a polished front. I was going to be confronted with Dean’s habits and hard edge.

So, I’m Writing Again

I am finding a torrent of ideas flowing in regards to Annabelle’s story through her teen years. Other characters, primarily Dean are becoming more layered, more intriguing. I am getting to know some of the minor characters I only made fleeting references to in the Annabelle Riley LEARNER AT LOVE series.

I am enjoying it so much…but there is not enough time to keep up with the flow of ideas that I want to preserve.

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An Unexpected Welcome

I knew that we had been invited to spend Boxing Day at the home of Phil and Michelle, the parents of Alicia’s husband. But early that morning, Mom opened my door and presented the news that Alicia was so disappointed in my behaviour the day before, she was uneasy about the thought of a repeat performance of my childish temper tantrums in front of her in-laws.

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I had no words. I crossed my arms across my chest while Mom spelled out that everyone seemed to blame me for ruining their Christmas Day and now I was to be punished by being excluded from Boxing Day. I wish I could have returned to sleep, but it hurt. I could hear all those typical household noises of my parents moving about as they showered and dressed and prepared some breakfast before the drive up to Albany. They set off just after nine o’clock, their departure unmistakable as the front door slammed shut.

I gave in that day. It was the first time since October. Afterwards, the hurt inside faded, but instead I felt dead. Completely devoid of any emotion. When I looked at my phone and saw there was still no message from Dean, I just didn’t have the energy to feel any sadness. Around lunchtime I went downstairs in my pyjamas to see if there was any leftover Christmas pudding in the kitchen. The only leftovers I could find were the tub of roast potatoes in the fridge.

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I filled a bowl with cornflakes before realizing there was no milk in the refrigerator. I took the bowl of dry cornflakes through to the front room and in Dad’s armchair. Flicking through television channels was not going to provide me with the needed distraction from my dark frame of mind. Almost every channel had a Christmas movie portraying the perfect family sharing joy, or a romantic story of an unlikely couple finding love thanks to a Christmas miracle. It made me feel sick. With real fury I pressed the Off button and allowed myself to disconnect mentally to my surroundings and imagine stepping off some lofty precipice to fall into an abyss. What if there was no escape from that abyss? What if the abyss was worse than the situation I was in?

Being alone and afraid of being confronted with images of merriment, my numbness and disillusionment intensified. At around four o’clock in the afternoon, I selected Dean’s number on my phone and called it again. It rang and rang. He didn’t have an answer service. What did that mean? Did it mean his phone was on silent and he had not noticed it ringing? Or was he deliberately not taking my call?

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These questions and doubts about the one person who had provided happiness these past two months that had taken away the hopelessness and loneliness I felt – it was exhausting and demoralising. Being in love with someone who does not reply to your text messages or take your phone calls is impossibly hard. I could not say that to Dean. He would have called me insane and reminded me I was only fourteen.

Once the brief daylight had vanished, I showered and put on some clean pyjamas. I returned to bed and put in my headphones. Dean kept on talking about The National, so I listened to their latest album on Spotify. I kept on thinking about the previous Saturday and the thrill of seeing Dean play the guitar. He belonged on a stage at a festival or in front of a packed stadium. Last Saturday had made it very clear to me that his goals were not fanciful dreams, they were a real prospect if he were to keep developing on his talent. In harmony with the awe I felt for him was an awareness of how pathetic and devoid of any useful skill or talent I was. How long would he be willing to keep up the hour he allotted to me each Saturday lunchtime?

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I guess it must have been late when my parents were back from Albany. I felt a thud, which must have been the door slamming, but I was clinging to a dream I seemed to need a happy ending to. I was climbing up a steep cliff face and somebody was telling me to give up, that I would never make it, that it I would fail, but I could see something up above, something that impelled me to keep climbing, one inch at a time, to keep going in the hope there was some kind of wonderful waiting for me.

The dream was replaced by deep unconsciousness. I must have slept around thirteen hours, but still woke with a heavy lethargy. Dad was shouting upstairs to say there was no milk for his tea. Mom was clearly frustrated. She called back to him “Annabelle must have finished the milk of yesterday.” That annoyed me. Why was I blamed for everything? When Mom started the hoover began, Dad yelled that he could not hear the television. A loud exchange ensued. I did not want to hear it. I chose the shower as a way to drown out the irritable bickering downstairs. As soon as I was dressed, I slipped downstairs and opened the front door. Mom was quick to notice my escape. Before I even reached the sidewalk, I heard her crying my name, “Anabelle, Annabelle! Where do you think you are going?”

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Feeling defeated I came back to the house and in a quiet voice I replied, “I just wanted to go for a walk and have some fresh air.”

“Does that mean you don’t want to come to your Aunt Val’s?”

Honestly, I did not want to be with any of my family. I could not say that though. “I’m sorry Mom, I forgot.”

She shook her head disapprovingly. “If you are still playing the moody teenager, it’s probably better that you stay home. I am going to give you the spare key so that if your Dad and I have left before you are back from your walk, you can let yourself in.”

Mum turned to fetch the key and pressed it into my hand with a five dollar bill, “While you’re out you can pick up some milk. You should have left a note to say you had used the last of the milk.”

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I knew better than to correct her, “Sure Mom. What time will you be back?”

Mum was already closing the door. Perhaps she had not heard my question. I did not really care. I started walking, not thinking too much about my destination. Of course, I did not have anywhere else to go. There was nowhere else. It was foolish. I knew I was unlikely to see him, yet I had to be near to him.

A surprising encounter prevented me from every reaching Morris Avenue. In fact I had just reached the crossroads where 169th Street crosses 3rd Avenue, when I heard a welcome voice. “Hey! Annabelle, how’s it going?”

“Oh hi Liam,” I smiled, feeling slightly flattered that he remembered my name and that he manifest such a friendly demeanour.

“Did you have a good Crimbo?”

“It was ok.”

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Liam seemed to be expecting more of a response. He was slurping some kind of thick juice. A dark pink dribble splatted onto his shirt. “Frig!” he cursed and laughed at himself. “I ate too much this week, so I have just been to the gym. They have a juice bar their. This is one of their muscle blends – it’s called a purple people, or something like that.”

Even back then, there were signs that Liam had a wholesome and healthy streak within him. I would learn that he had an inner switch that flicked between a young man exposed to all the traps and temptations of fame and wealth at an early age and the decent, sensible well brought up young man who aspired to be worthy of respect. Liam was twenty years old when I met him, but he had figured out so much about what he wanted from life and and how he wanted to live it. That stability did not only benefit him, it was the glue that kept the band together through pressures and exhaustion. Liam could work hard but maintain balance. His default mood was easy going, light hearted. I did not know how much of a friend he would become to me, and how incredibly loyal he would be to Dean when he was at his lowest points.

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As I stood at the crossroads with Liam, it was probably obvious to him which direction I was headed in. Avoiding embarrassing me, he made me aware that I needed to abandon my plan. “I reckon he’ll be fast asleep now. You know he was back at work this morning. His Uncle and his cousin Mark will still have hangovers.”

“Oh, ok. I wasn’t really expecting to see him. I just wanted to have some fresh air.”

Liam smiled, “Today is not fresh, it’s freezing.”

“I don’t mind.”

He whole face was amiable, and I know Liam was not trying to make me feel stupid, but his next question was challenging for me to reply to. In a kindly tone, he asked, “Do your parents not mind you being out on your own? My mom gets nervous when I walk these streets on my own.”

My bottom lip quivered, “My parents are visiting family. They know I was going out for a walk. I have the spare key, and Mom gave me some money to buy some milk.”

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“Milk? If you need milk, there is no need to buy any, Mom went overboard with her grocery order and we have a gallon of milk we won’t get through. She’d be more than happy to give you a couple of cartons.”

That is how it came about that I was convinced to turn around and walk with Liam. When he reached Boston Road, he called his mom and told her he was bringing back the kid who he had told her about, and checked she had not given away all of the milk to the neighbours. I was amazed at the reaction of Liam’s mom when we arrived at his home. The door swung open, and I breathed in the warmth and an aroma of gingerbread as she greeted me, “Hello Sweetie, it’s nice to meet you. I am sorry I did not have chance on Saturday, the house was packed with visitors. I am very pleased you are going to help out with our milk lake dilemma.”

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To me Sandy seemed like the kindest mom in the world. I was a stranger to her. I had only met Liam a few days before. Yet both Sandy and Liam were generous and hospitable and welcoming in every way. They dignified me in a manner I had not experienced before. Sandy fixed turkey and stuffing baguettes for the three of us at lunchtime. Liam showed me what he did for work – managing social media for small businesses and other clients who “couldn’t be arsed to figure out how to do it themselves”. He was able to work from home, choose his working hours, and he said it was easy money. He showed me some of the websites and social media accounts he managed for his clients. I was impressed.

Sandy had a way of asking tactful questions that drew me out. She ascertained diplomatically that my parents had gone to visit relatives and I had been left to provide my own entertainment. She also quizzed me about how I had become associated with Dean. There was not a lot for me to tell her except for the truth. Sandy seemed satisfied with my answers. Perhaps I stirred in her some sympathy, pathetically lonely creature I must have seemed. After lunch, Sandy found a musical on television and welcomed me to make myself comfortable beside her. Liam sat on another sofa working on his laptop. Every now and then he glanced at the movie we were watching and laughed when he saw the reaction of his mom to some of her favourite scenes..

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It was four o’clock by the tome “My Fair Lady” had finished. I had never seen it before and I loved it as much as Sandy clearly did. Liam closed his laptop and told his Mom that Dean was on his way over to practice. I was already cheerful after the afternoon I have spent with two genuinely kind people and the musical that had lifted my spirits, but that news brought a wave of elation that made me forget how hurt I was that Dean had ignored my messages and calls that week.