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.