Up to about 4400 words lagging behind schedule due to socialising on Sunday whoops! ;-D
‘You look well Dad,’ it was true, he did. Her father’s usual pallor had benefited from a couple of hours hard labour in the garden, a favoured pastime when he needed a bit of peace and quiet.
‘Let me look at you sweetheart’ Lewis held his daughter at arms length and surveyed her thoughtfully. He missed Eme’s ready wit and the shared experiences they oft times had enjoyed in the past laughing at other’s follies. Her hair suited her cut short. The spiky cut framed her small pale features and enhanced her delicacy of bone structure. Her most striking feature, a pair of sparkling green eyes held her father’s gaze. Dimples peeped each side of her mouth as she smiled back at Lewis, tilted her head to one side and raised an eyebrow quizzically,
‘I like your hair style’ he commented with an affectionate smile.
‘Thank you kind sir’ Eme responded with a mocking curtsy.
‘When did you get it done?’ Lewis asked as he lifted her suitcase and made a dent in the array of carrier bags arrayed on the gravel forecourt.
‘A month or so ago now, when we had a week of hot weather, back in early June I think. I was soo hot on the back of my neck…’ Father and daughter chatted inconsequentially as they entered a surprisingly quiet hall.
‘Where’s Mum?’ Eme asked, surprised not to be greeted rapturously, if fleetingly so.
‘She’s gone with Lara and Kylie to do a little shopping for an extremely important forthcoming engagement’ Lewis pronounced wryly with a roll of his eyes.
‘Ah, that would account for the decibel deficit’ Eme agreed with a smile, ‘shall I make a cup of tea? We could sit in your study and have a bit of a catch up.’ Her father nodded and smiled agreement,
‘That would be nice.’
Father and daughter number two spent an entertaining couple of hours discussing family matters, a source of mild amusement to them both. Apart from Jade who’s company was missed by each of the interlocutors.
‘So Jade’s planning to be home for at least a year then?’ Eme sought verification.
‘She said so yes. I think it will save her money to be at home, and its not so bad…’ Lewis glanced about him at the charming book-lined room that served as his study and his sanctuary. From his desk he had a view of the long back garden laid to lawn with its little wilderness at the end. The rays of the afternoon sun flooded the room with light that pooled around the sofa on which they were seated together. Eme leaned over and kissed her father fondly on the cheek,
‘Of course it’s not bad. In fact its lovely…’ her remark was interrupted by the slam of the front door and female voices raised in excitement, ‘just a little noisy sometimes.’ Eme grinned at her father conspiratorially; Lewis raised his eyes skyward in response.
‘Better go and say hello’ Eme skipped over to the door with a wave behind her as she entered the fray. ‘Hi Mum, Kylie, Lara’ Eme was almost deafened by the collective screech of welcome.
‘Darling’ her mother crushed Eme to her, not inconsiderable, bosom. Oh your hair! What have you done to all your lovely hair?’ Amanda Benton wailed in dismay. Amanda had been training to be a hairdresser (whilst aspiring to be a lingerie model) when she had met Lewis. Hair was of great importance to Amanda.
‘Sorry Mum’ Eme pulled a conciliatory face, ‘it was just too hot for exams. I just couldn’t bear it. It’ll grow’ she added philosophically attempting to placate her mother. No such luck; Amanda’s laments were long, heart felt and loud. Lewis Benton sighed heavily, selected a book of medieval poetry and settled down to read. He felt empathy for Eme having to endure such a tirade, but not quite enough to join the fracas in her defense.
Eme was inured to dealing with her mother’s hysterics and managed to turn the flow with dexterity.
‘Ooh shopping bags, show me’ she enthused, eliciting a volume of excitable information equally from her mother and two sisters. Carrier bags were ransacked and ‘bargains’ displayed for Eme’s approval. Eme reviewed the various purchases with a certain degree of disquiet. Her sister Lara’s selection in particular would not, in Eme’s view, look amiss on a hooker. Kylie as usual copied her younger sister’s every fad. The two girls had amassed a haul of items suited to the stage or to the aforementioned profession. Eme quelled a desire to remonstrate with her mother try to keep the peace at least for a couple of days she ordered herself.
Diplomatically Eme admired the least unsuitable items and attempted to reassure her inner uneasiness that the girls were young, it was the fashion and that they would grow out of it. Both her younger siblings were sporting heavy make-up despite that they were attired in school uniform. Their mother must have collected them from school for the shopping spree.
‘So what’s the big occasion then?’
‘An AUDITION that’s what for’ Lara proclaimed with a shimmy of excitement, ‘I’m going to be a TV star’ Lara beamed as though the whole thing was a forgone conclusion.
‘Mum?’ Eme sought confirmation,
‘It’s for one of that Simon Cowell’s talent shows. Lots of the young people go on to be famous, and rich. It launches a career in show biz’ Amanda proclaimed, no less confidently than her younger daughter.
‘And me. I’m going on it too’ Kylie butted in.
‘Er’ Eme paused trying to frame her question so as not to elicit outrage, ‘what talent would you be demonstrating?’ at the last count Lara’s only real talent was for amazing conceit, she certainly could not sing, dance classes had failed to instill much discipline, ditto acting classes.
‘I’m going to be an all rounder’ Lara responded without hesitation, ‘like Cara, Pixie and Alexa, y’know singing, acting, TV presenter, model…’
‘Oh right’ Eme responded faintly with a pointed stare at their mother who showed absolutely no sign of disabusing her youngest. In fact Eme saw with a grimace of despair that her parent was actually encouraging her daughter’s fantasies. ‘I think that those girls have to work really hard as well as having a lot of luck to get where they are’ Eme ventured, again attempting not to be provocative.
‘I don’t know WHAT you think YOU know about it’ Lara retorted, ‘it’s me that has been trained in singing and dancing and acting’ she tossed her hair dismissively.
It was into this heated discussion that their middle sister entered. Meg Ann could not be different from her two younger siblings, or indeed her elders. Her hair was tied back into a severe plait, round glasses adorned her studious face and her convent school uniform was plain and neat. Meg Ann turned her nose up at the disgorged contents of several Primark bags and declared self-righteously that she would not debase herself to shop in such a place.
‘Those clothes are made by children starved of food, freedom and dignity just so that you can wear trends’ she sneered piously, ‘and animals are routinely slaughtered for you to be able to wear their skins.’
‘Oh do shut up Meg Ann’ Lara and Kylie chorused, ‘Go and eat your mung beans and say your prayers’ Lara muttered to her departing sister’s back.
‘I will pray for your soul’ Meg Ann responded loftily, ‘words cannot hurt me.’
‘Go away!’ Lara rejoined crossly.
Jade’s arrival was much anticipated, particularly by her father and Eme. It was not, sadly, to be until the following weekend. Meanwhile Eme’s three younger siblings had broken up for the summer holidays, Meg Ann for the last time. She intended to spend the summer working for a charity whilst she contemplated her options. Meg Ann could not quite decide between becoming a nun or to be ordained into the church.
The house was continuously in turmoil and Eme found herself to be frequently in sympathy with her father. The noise situation escalated as Lara and Kylie insisted on rehearsing for the so far non-existent audition for the vaunted talent show. Frequent confrontations between Meg Ann and Lara raised the decibels to unbearable levels. Admonitions for peace and quiet were met with violent tirades and appeals to their mother for support. Hysterically inept peace keeping from their mother inevitably led to episodes of tears and tantrums. The house rocked to the punctuation marks of slammed doors.
Eme spent as much time as she respectably could around the corner at her best friend’s house. Here the girls were little inconvenienced by young Alexander, the only one of Scarlett’s siblings much at home. William was not expected until the weekend and Henry just came home to change his clothes.
The Facebook search for Ashley Brook drew a blank so Scarlett was none the wiser regarding his whereabouts. She supposed that she would just have to wait until their trip to Cornwall unless her mother spoke to his mother beforehand. Eme and Scarlett idled their time away in pleasant pursuits all the while procrastinating the moment when they must start job seeking in earnest.
‘We must set ourselves a deadline’ Eme suggested sensibly, at the end of one such afternoon of indolence.
‘I agree, we should. How about after William’s been? He returns to London on Monday.’
‘OK deal’ Eme nodded, glad to have got to grips with the issue that had been nagging at her mind, ‘I’ll bring Dad’s copy of the Guardian round and we’ll have a search on the Internet too.’ Scarlett’s aspirations were unclear unlike her friend Eme who had set her heart on the publishing industry.
‘You could try for a job at Oxford University Press’ Scarlett had suggested hopefully, she was loath to lose her best friend’s constant company.
‘Well if I have to’ Eme allowed, ‘but I’d really like to be with Hodder and Stoughton or HarperCollins, or Pan Books, or maybe Virago’ her face looked dreamy as she listed her idols of the publishing world; and, as you well know Carle, I HAVE to leave Oxford.’ Scarlett nodded in empathy. She understood her friend’s predicament and respected her reluctance to voice her reasons.
Scarlett had realised long ago that her friend’s mother was an impossible woman and that Eme and Jade’s younger sisters were all products of that parent’s vanity and stupidity. Not that she entirely excused Eme’s father either, he was an intelligent man who could have much more of an influence to the good if he chose to exert himself.
The friend’s conversation was curtailed by William’s arrival. Scarlett’s oldest brother had completed his Internship at Kings College Hospital and he too would be seeking a new posting. Eme hung back a little to allow Scarlett to be first to greet her older, by three years, brother. Eme added her welcome, she had known William since she was a toddler so his greeting for her was hardly less affectionate than for his sister.
William was tall and well built, his face unconventionally handsome under a shock of blonde curly hair. The round spectacles he sported added a studious demeanor to his otherwise rather cherubic looks. Eme appraised him carefully under her lashes. She knew that Scarlett cherished a dream of having Eme as her sister-in-law. Could she ever feel that way for William? Eme examined her feelings momentarily and discovered nothing but sisterly affection.
‘Would you like to stay and eat with us Eme?’ Mrs Lucas asked, possibly inspired by the same wishes as her daughter.
‘That would be nice thanks. Are you sure though?’
‘Yes of course, you’re as family to us’ Claire apprehended the slight awkwardness, ‘give your mother a call and ask her if its OK that you won’t be home for dinner.’
‘Thanks, I’ll call her in case she might worry’ Eme responded neutrally. Any expectation that her mother would notice her absence not being likely, or that there would be a family dinner. The Benton family all fended for themselves in a haphazard way and usually ate in front of the TV. A family meal was one of the things that Eme loved about being with Scarlett’s family.
‘I have news’ William announced part way through a delicious dinner (specially prepared for the homecoming), ‘I have a new position at Plymouth General’ William smiled around the table, ‘Cardiology’ he added to his father, who nodded and smiled in profound satisfaction.
‘Plymouth’s a long way away’ Claire expressed dubiously, ‘nearer to Cornwall though I suppose’ she had hoped for a Registrar position at the Radcliffe although Joe had scotched that idea saying that it might be considered to be nepotism.
‘You’ll be able to call in to see me every trip you make to Rock’ William reassured his mother, ‘and of course I’ll be visiting home when I’m able.’
‘When do you start?’ Joe asked.
‘Middle of August’
‘You could come down to Cornwall for a bit’ Scarlett suggested happily,
‘Yeah I thought I may do that’ William responded, ‘I have to go back to town and sort out a few things then I thought I’d bring everything home if you don’t mind Mum?’ Claire declared not, delighted with the prospect of another visit.
‘You could travel down to Rock with us’ she enthused, ‘except that we may not have room in the car…’ she glanced across at Scarlett, not sure if her daughter had outlined her plan to Eme.
‘I won’t need to’ William calmed, ‘I have to buy a car anyway. Here will be easier than Plymouth, more choice.’
‘Oh what are you going to get?’ Scarlett asked excitedly. She had plans to learn to drive and fostered a desire for a Mini Cooper. The conversation switched to favoured modes of transport with Eme declaring allegiance to public transport (her student debt would not allow anything other), with which William agreed depending on where you were living, with Scarlett pitching very much in favour of a car of her own.
Eme left the cosy camaraderie of Lucas Lodge to walk the few steps home hoping vainly for peace on the western front. Jade would be home tomorrow hooray!