I Don’t Need All Your Good Advice: Final

Final part of a  longer short story about a teenager still learning how to navigate tricky situations, the price of loyalty to the unworthy, and the demands of any relationship. (Go to the beginning: Part 1 )

As always constructive criticism, feedback or even a note to say hi in the comments is welcomed!

I saw Sara just one more time after that. School was over, with our, on occasions sweet but mostly long, graduation ceremony. I hadn’t seen her all day, as we were placed in different seats in the huge concrete lunch-area-slash-ceremonial-hall, then missed her during the rush of farewell hugs and tears, scribbling notes in everyone’s Year Books, and cleaning out my locker for the last time.

The school drained away. Younger students trudged back to their classes, and graduates with cars made their dash to freedom, and home, to prep for the graduation party. The crowd waiting for the specially chartered, early bus was small, and my usual seat mate wasn’t amongst them.

Home was stifling. Too empty and hot. I had hung my dress up on a curtain rod in the morning, hoping that if I stared at it long enough, it would help me decide whether or not to go tonight, whether I should continue sewing, whether I should accept any of my uni offers or just give up and become a hermit living off scraps behind Andy’s Legipops. I was placing a lot of unrealistic expectations on that dress.

It met none of them. I walked to the supermarket instead. If I didn’t go to the party, I would need junk food.

I recognised the dress first, before realising it was Sara wearing it, as she stood contemplating our usual meeting nook by the vending machines. She had her stilettos on this time, black, with matching dark eye make-up. I had been right about how intimidating she would become, particularly as she watched my approach without a smile, or a word.

“Dressed up already?” Decision procrastination had sapped my energy to the point that I hadn’t even changed from my school uniform yet. Even in flat, leather shoes we were the same height.

Professional female basketball? Top shelf grocery stacker? Possible career paths tempted me.

“Yeah, I’m heading out soon, just came down to grab some drinks’n’stuff for the trip.”

“Oh?” Despite her unusually stern expression, Sara moved closer to talk.

“Dad called.” She cleared her throat a little, and looked away.

Oh no… My hands twitched, as I wondered to what extent she would accept my comfort, but she looked back, eyes glassy with unshod tears, yet smiling.

“He said he’s sorry for everything. For trying to force me into a relationship with “a damn liar like Jo”. She ran home to mummy yesterday, and spun some great horror story. I don’t know what she asked him to do, but for once, he took my side and now he’s taking me and Mum up to Sydney tonight to celebrate my graduation… as a family.”

“Wow. That’s great, Sara.” I didn’t really know what else I could say. Maybe she heard the slight reservation in my voice, because her smile shrunk again.

“I wouldn’t worry about Jo. Nothing even happened to her, thanks to you.

Peace negotiator? Bomb defuser? Psychologist who talks people down off bridges?

“She wasn’t worth it.”

She tapped her long, fake fingernails against the vending machine, before holding my gaze again.

“No. I guess she wasn’t.”

She broke the awkward silence that followed with a quick glace at her watch. “Look, I gotta go. And you have the grad to get ready for.”

“Mmm. See ya then?”

“Yeah… sometime maybe.” We didn’t hug, and she didn’t turn back or wave as she clicked those stilettos away through the car park.

I stood by the vending machines for a while, filled with the sense that no matter what my future was, it wouldn’t contain any more late night conversations behind them.

Mum was home when I got back, and talking quietly on the phone. Pausing at the door, I blatantly eavesdropped, however she wasn’t doing much talking.

As she hung up the phone, I caught her eyes and raised my eyebrows.

She ignored them. “Congratulations, big graduate. How do you feel?”

I collapsed dramatically across the table.

“That good, huh?”

“I had a client try to cheat me out of my money after I made her a dress, and I don’t think Sara wants to be my friend any more.”

“Wasn’t Sara that girl who beat up people?” Mum had made us both tea, and brought them over to the table. “If you want my advice, and you never do, not having her as a friend doesn’t sound like a big loss. As for the other one… haven’t you heard of payment in advance?”

I sighed and accepted the tea. “Maybe you’re right.”

“Oooh, that’s a first from you.” She smiled though and a packet of chocolate biscuits joined our tea on the table.

“Was that Dad?”

“Yeeep. He wants to meet. Talk my ear off some more. Maybe over dinner somewhere. He said he’s paying.”

“Romantic.” I thought I had misjudged the mood as she stared wide-eyed at me, before giving me a whack with a nearby tea-towel.

“Just dinner! Don’t get your hopes up. Wrong choice of wine and it could be all over!”

“Wine? Sounds fancy.” I suddenly saw Mum in all her cotton uniform, broad shouldered, taller than average, shapeless, beige-ness. My fingers edged towards a spiel of measuring tape.

“Mum. I think you’re going to need a new dress.”

Scallop skirt, just below the knees, to accentuate her long legs, orange, like the one in her student photo. The blouse, cobalt blue, flaring to accentuate her curves, with a wide neckline and short puffed sleeves. It would be the outfit of a curse-proof scheme.

Mum sucked on a chocolate biscuit, her eyes lingering on ruffles of my creation. Watching her, I was finally able to make a decision, at least regarding my near future. Dresses were made to be worn. I had a few more hours left before the party to prepare.

Mum finally nodded. “Yeah, I think I might too. I guess I better put in my order now quick before they all that dress tonight and your schedule fills up.”

Am I hearing this?

She took out her wallet. “How much do you charge?”

And for one, probably transient, but still euphoric moment, everything seemed clearer.

Professional dressmaker? Worth another shot.

The End

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I Don’t Need All Your Good Advice Part 8

Part 8 of a  longer short story about a teenager still learning how to navigate tricky situations, the price of loyalty to the unworthy, and the demands of any relationship. (Go to the beginning: Part 1 )

Swearing.

As always constructive criticism, feedback or even a note to say hi in the comments is welcomed!

Of course, my luck being what it is, there was only one day they could both come for the final fitting. I thought with careful time management, I could avoid them meeting.

I was wrong.

Jo arrived and we chatted for a while as I waited expectantly for the fee, and repayment of uniform deposit to appear in all its glorious physical form. Finally, during the awkward pause when all conversation had been explored, I asked directly.

“Oh, I came over earlier and gave it to your Mum.”

When was Mum here when I wasn’t?

Jo was gone, tripping past me and into Grandma’s room before I could follow up. The fight with Mum had left me tired of conflict, but working on that dress had helped me manage the drama, and there was no way I was letting her take it gratis.

Yeah. Just go in there! …Now! “Show me the money!” I was working up the courage to follow her in using when the doorbell rang. Sara.

“I’m really sorry, Rachel, but something came up, I have to do this now.”

“I’m with another client right now.”

“It’ll take 2 minutes, I swear, and I’ve got your payment.”

At least one of them does. “Fine, you’ll have to use the bathroom though. Go, go! I’ll get your dress.”

No doubt wondering why I was hustling her so fast through the house, I closed the bathroom door on Sara, before rushing back to the dining room to collect her silky, black dress. The door open only to the extent that a seriously slippery, sheer dress could pass through, I heard Sara’s gasp of admiration. All I wanted to do was go in and go into girly meltdown with my best friend as she tried on her dress.

That’s it. I’m going to kick Jo the fuck out unless she pays up now.

Jo was behind me.

The red looked fantastic on her. The lines accented her bust, but swept outwards from there, swishing down to her knees, making her form seem taller, lighter.

The bathroom door opened. I had forgotten Sara’s dress would take a lot less time to put on.

I began to feel a sensation of floating.

Maybe I’m going to have an out of body experience… or a stroke? But then I’d miss the stylish show down…

I expected Sara to act first, and backed towards the door to try and block her rampaging run, but it was Jo who, knees bent like a Maori haka, began moving towards us aggressively. “What the fuck, Rachel! Are you trying to protect her! I’m the one who needs protection from fucking Certifiable!”

Sara gripped my arm and she pulled me aside. “Nice work!” She winked, before facing down Jo. She wasn’t yet in her stilettos, thank god, but she towered, cool and strangely calm, over her adversary, frothing and feisty, turning the same colour as her dress.

“Joanne. That dress looks nice on you. I bet Rachel spent a long time making it. I bet you haven’t paid her though, because you’re a lying piece of shit who likes to steal things. Things you don’t even use. I wonder what you have in your bag? Some pins? Some scissors?”

What!

As Jo shot a look back into Grandma’s spare room, I knew Sara had it right.

“Those belonged to my Grandmother. You give them back.”

Sara nodded next to me. While my fists had clenched, she still stood serenely. How could I be the more visibly angry of the two?

“Look! Look. I saw it had fallen on the ground and…”

“Joanne, I feel sorry for you. You are such a liar, you can’t even stop.” Sara began to walk slowly, putting herself between Jo and the front door. Barefoot on carpet, with not a noise from the sleek fabric, she had become a panther, playing with its food. “Bring out her bag, Rachel.”

I complied, as mesmerised by the cold ferocity of Sara as Jo was. As I dropped the huge bag on the table, the mouth gaped open we all stared into it. I could see the round shape of my Grandma’s pin-cushion half hidden beneath her phone.

“Take out Rachel’s stuff.”

Jo didn’t take her eyes of Sara until she reached the table, and had the bag and me as a buffer between. As she dug through her rubbish tip of a bag, surrendering a pile of my things, from my tape measures, to rolls of ribbon and lace, and yes, my scissors she repeated, “It was all over the fucking place. I thought you’d dropped it. I just put it in here to have it in one place.”

“Her money, too.”

Jo’s eyes rolled up. “But, I gave it to her-”

Don’t lie.”

“But, I only started work, I don’t have-”

Don’t… Lie.” Not even looking at Jo any more, Sara began taking out bobby pins and lining them up on the table. She shook her hair loose and then locked eyes again.

After a long, endless minute, Jo took out her wallet, and flicked some bills on the table.

“Is that enough, Rach?”

I did a quick count. “Nope. Missing the uniform deposit I spotted her.”

“Oh. Well, silly as it was of you to lend her money…” Sara looked meaningfully at Jo.

“This is fucking extortion. I’m going to tell the cops.” More bills fell into the pile.

“They know you pretty well by now.”

I picked up one of my pens from her 5-fingered-discount pile, and my receipt book from the counter, where it had been miraculously let lie and signed the detailed, itemised receipt with a flourish.

“There you go. Pleasure to never do business with you again.”

“Whatever Loopy, don’t expect anyone else to come over.”

Loopy?

Sara smiled. “Oh Joanne, you are so great at making up nicknames for your friends, and really good at playing the victim, but at the end of the day, you have to keep on being you. And that must suck.” She picked up a bobby pin.

“Um. I’m going now. You got your shit, and your money.”

Sara walked towards us, with that same, slow step, putting Jo again between herself and me. The bobby pin in her hand held prongs out. The narrowness of the space, between the table and the wall, with me in the way, had blocked that route for Jo to escape.

“You’re fucking crazy. Let me get my clothes!”

Sara flicked her eyes from Jo to me momentarily.

“Get ready to hold her arms back.”

“What!” Jo began to shake.

I took a step back. “She’s not worth it, Sara.”

A line marred that smooth, chill mask. “What?”

“Just let her go.” I took another step back, which was the only direction now possible, as Jo, sensing escape, crushed into me. I let her past, getting a whack from her bag as she vanished into the spare room, closing the door with a bang.

Sara stared at me. “I helped you get all your stuff back. I thought we were friends, Rachel.”

“She’s not worth it.” I repeated. “One day, soon, everyone is going to know what she is. People at her work, people at school… ” Your Dad. “She can move town, change jobs, but if she can’t change who she is, it’s going to happen over and over again. Don’t wreck your own life over her.”

A second slam indicated that Jo had left the house. My relief was only marred by the concern she had restocked her bag, or broken something out of spite. For the moment however, I cared more about how the cat, deprived of her prey, would react. Sara’s eyes had trained on the door as it closed, but she hadn’t moved. She slowly looked back at me: less marble and more tired than before.

“What if I can’t change, huh, Rachel?”

“Well, that’s what I’m here for. To remind you of what does and doesn’t matter.”

She snorted, then sighed. “I don’t know if I need that kind of friend.”

In the weird silence after, she changed, and helped me clean up. Then, her money placed in an envelope by the scattered pile of Jo’s notes and, dress protectively wrapped and over one arm, she left.

The Final Part

I Don’t Need All Your Good Advice Part 7

Part 7 of a  longer short story about a teenager still learning how to navigate tricky situations, the price of loyalty to the unworthy, and the demands of any relationship. (Go to the beginning: Part 1 )

Some swearing.

As always constructive criticism, feedback or even a note to say hi in the comments is welcomed!

Give her this.”

Dad had passed me a photo as I was climbing out of his van. Over the last few days, I had studied it closely, but even so, again held it close to my face, trying to spot a detail about the people within it that I might have missed before.

They were a student pair of the 70s. A laughing, flirtatious girl in a high cut, dusty orange dress, no stockings and big sunglasses, grabbing the broad arm of a young, man in matching shades, khaki short sleeves and a mullet he no doubt now regrets.

My parents.

Back before bitterness, before disappointment, before anything deeper than looking stylish in a photo. Would the promise of a memory be enough to convince her to take Dad’s call? Was I right to even ask her to? Mum wasn’t this girl any more. If she had the chance, perhaps she would walk into this photo and yank off those glasses, and make her younger self see the world in all its current, regret-coloured greyness.

Jesus stared down at me from every wall. The memory associated with them of my Grandma, cleaning, straightening, proudly hanging new ones she found at garage sales, calmed me. I remembered her forcing us all to eat together, an increasingly difficult task as we grew into moody teenagers; secretly calling Mum’s work to organise a shift change or day off so she could come to a school event; and not so secretly agitating for Dad to come home, in huge fights with Mum. The thought of those fights, usually in Maltese, and accompanied by lots of tea-towel throwing, made me nervous again.

I heard the car drive in, and the engine switch off, the clang of keys against the door frame. Mum was home already! Lost in the photo, my sewing jumble was still on the table, with all three dresses hanging behind it.

I took my place in front of the table, shielding them with my body in case she went into a rage again. As Mum came in she looked at me, then at the dresses, then back at my face, probably seeing there a mixture of white fear and defiance.

She burst into tears.

“I really don’t need this now, Rachel.” She said, disappearing into her room.

I sat heavily in the pool of kitchen light, with a weird, mixed, burn of relief and bewilderment in my chest.

That was unexpected.

It took half an hour, and a cup of tea, to build up the courage to slip into her room.

Despite the heat, she had pillows and blankets bunched around protectively. At least it was soft to cuddle into.

We lay in silence for a while. It had been a long time since I had come in here. Her room, and her bed, were where we met at times of family crisis. When Dad had left, or been asked to leave, Mark and I had come in to sleep in a big, comforting family jumble. After she came back from visiting Mark in the police cell, we slept a week in this room together. With Grandma gone by then, the house and all its previously occupied rooms had become a wound.

“Mum?”

“I’m not a monster.” Her voice was hard to hear through the blanket. She threw out an arm and pulled me in under.

“I know that uni is a big step when you’re not sure what your interest is. But the world doesn’t care, doesn’t wait, and you’ll lose all those opportunities that come when you’re young. You need to be ready to catch them or they’re gone forever. Uni, work, these are things you have to do, not because they’re fun, but because they’re what you need to get security. A home sewing business will never give you security. I’m not saying this to be mean, just realistic, cos you have no training other than Grandma. Who will want a teenage seamstress apart from other teenagers, maybe? Find some job at least as a parachute. Y’know, I talked to my supervisor for you, and she’s happy if you wanted to come in, do some work experience, maybe even get some paid hours. That’s a good compromise, if you don’t want to go to uni yet.”

The heat and blankets were becoming oppressive. I flipped them open a bit, to allow in cool, fresh air.

“Mum, do you even like working there? I remember how you wanted to be a librarian. What happened to that?”

“Because things didn’t work out. All of your Dad’s business failures left us too broke for me to do a Library Science course, or to volunteer in the library until a job came up. Nerry’s is at least stable. Pays your school bills, buys your food!” I can feel her body tensing up, her arm withdrawing and a pillow getting wedged in between us. “Why can’t I have one kid following my lead? Mark and his idiocy proved that he’s your father’s son. I was hoping when I saw your good grades that you would enjoy the chances I missed, but lately I’m beginning to wonder if you aren’t also his daughter!”

The blankets were being pulled off me. I let them go and sat up, “It took two people to make me, Mum, I’m not your clone, and couldn’t be if I tried.”

“Then you’re just going to leave me too.” Her voice was flat, and I couldn’t see her expression in the dark, but the words gave me hopes that helped control the anger and resentment our budding fight had produced.

“They want to come home, Mum. Mark’s been training as a baker at-”

“When did you see your brother?” She sat up.

“The other-”

“I’m not happy with you interacting him, Rachel, he’s a criminal now, and people don’t change.”

“Mum!” The angst roared back and my hands itched for one of Grandma’s tea towels to hurl. “He’s your son! My brother! You wonder why you’re alone? It’s because you pushing us all away! Always remembering our mistakes! Sometimes people fail Mum, why don’t you get that?”

“Rachel-”

You told Dad to leave.”

It was out there now. Time to test which one had been telling the truth. The proverbial gloves were off, and her counters could be the finishing blow to the boys’, and my, hopes of us ever being together again.

“You said he ran away, but you kicked him out! There’s a pattern here! Mark fucks up once and he’s broken beyond repair? Now I’m not following the plan, what will you do? Change the locks when I’m out? I bet you’ll love being all alone, except when you’re at a job that you fucking hate!“

“Move out then! Move out! Maybe you might finally understand what it’s like to struggle. Even then you won’t have to support an ungrateful family, always knocking you on your back! Get out Rachel, out of my room!”

I stood, stumbling a little as the blankets tangled. We glared at each other, even as my anger began to subside into a cold ball of regret in my gut.

Well, I’ve fucked it all up now.

Hands shaking, I took Dad’s photo out of my pocket and placed it on the bed.

“They want a second chance, Mum. To – I don’t know – show you they made good.”

Her voice was less angry, but guttural like she was pushing the words out through clenched teeth. “Your Dad made life really difficult, Rachel. I know you don’t remember, but I do. I don’t know if I could ever forget enough to forgive him. Either of them.”

“Just talk then. Maybe it’ll help, you know.”

She picked up the photo, gently, though she shook her head. “It’s impossible to go back. I just can’t let all these years go so easily.”

“Dad’s going to call. Just talk. Don’t even talk, just listen.”

She shook her head again. Placing the photo, face down, on the nightstand, she turned her body away, but didn’t protest when I climbed back in and curled around her back.

Lacking the energy to speak any more, sleep came quickly, and so heavily that I didn’t wake even when she left for work in the morning. When I did rise groggily to drag myself to school, I noticed the photo was gone.

Part 8

I Don’t Need All You Good Advice Part 6

Part 6 of a  longer short story about a teenager still learning how to navigate tricky situations, the price of loyalty to the unworthy, and the demands of any relationship. (Go to the beginning: Part 1 )

Some swearing.

As always constructive criticism, feedback or even a note to say hi in the comments is welcomed!

Say something.

The silence had expanded throughout the interior of Dad’s van and, with nothing obvious to jump-start conversation, paralysed my ability to speak. For his part, Dad seemed like he was constantly on the verge of saying something. His eyes would flick over to me, and he would suck in a breath to oxygenate all the words, which somehow got trapped in his diaphragm and the air would whoosh out again, like a sigh.

The sheer width of the car, and the roar of noise from outside as Dad’s ‘free air-conditioning’ preference had all the windows down, made it difficult to talk even when my brain finally produced the banal, “So… new car?” which got lost in the wind, and had to be repeated three times at volume, before Dad wound up a window to reply, “Yeah, you like it?”

Well… It wasn’t clean like Mum’s car, with regularly vacuumed mats and my Grandma’s lace doilies on the headrests. The van was grimy and a few soft-drink cans rolled over empty chip packets underfoot; while in the back a mass of crumbled black tarps covering some cargo. Whitish, grey dust covered everything.

We pulled up in front of the white, concrete-brick building that looked more like a community hall than a Correctional Centre. The tall fence around the side was bare of barbed wire, and young guys leaned against the railings on the balcony, chatting.

“Are they… inmates?”

“Yeah, probably knocked off from their work for the day. They’re all good kids, don’t worry. “ Dad passed me a card in a plastic sleeve. “I’ve gotta go park this down the road a bit, you go on in, show them the visitor card and tell ’em I’ll be coming along in a bit.”

What! Go in? Alone?

As Dad drove off, I lingered by the curb. If he was coming along soon, I could just wait until then.

“Hey, Miss! You with Mr Walker, Miss?” The boys on the balcony had noticed me, one was walking down the stairs. I braced for a police squadron to appear and tackle him down as he moved further from the Centre.

“You here to see Mark, Miss? I’ll show you where he’s at.” The boy was tall, and a few years older than me, but even up close didn’t seem that threatening. I followed him mutely, expecting jeering comments as I passed the others. They had all resumed their conversation however, about Dad’s van and how sick new rims would look on it.

My guide took me past the sign in desk, after quickly flashing the badge towards a police officer who nodded us through with a: “So John’ll be along in a minute? No worries.”

Down a narrow, dim hallway, lined with doors. The boy stopped by one.

“Here’s usually in here in the arvys.” He said as he opened the door.

Compared to the hallway, the room was well-lit with afternoon sun. Two beds lined up against the walls, with a table and chairs against the window. Mark had been sitting with his back to the door, flipping through a thick book, though he turned at the noise of the door.

“Rachel!”

“Hey Mar-” My words got cut off by a mouthful of shoulder at he leapt up and across the room to grab me in a hug. His body was harder, and taller, than I remembered, and his clothes cleaner, without the stink of cigarettes.

“Ahhh, I missed you! Come sit down! Do you want the bed or the chair? You’re so much taller now! You’re going to be bigger than Mum soon. Is she coming today too?”

“Um, no.”

“Oh, fair enough.” His lips twisted a little, though he smiled again as he pulled out the chairs.

“I think Dad wanted it to be just me today. I don’t know if he’s even seen her since he moved out.”

“Yeah, I don’t think so.” He sat in the middle of his bed, legs pulled up. “She hasn’t come here either. She calls sometimes, but I think visiting me in the police station made this whole thing a bit too real for her.”

I looked around at his room. The white bricks were hidden beneath aboriginal dot paintings in frames and tattered posters of cars and bands.

“This is a lot nicer than I expected. There’s no… bars or anything.”

“It’s pretty low-security, everyone here’s in for drugs, or fights, mainly.”

“Aren’t they worried you’ll try and escape?”

He shrugged, “Nah, it’s not so bad in here, and I guess they trust us not to take off. “ He caught my eye, “There’s a lot of trust here.”

Mum trusted you too. I frowned, but he had begun talking.

“They keep us pretty busy anyway. Some of the guys are really good at their art – not me though – so we make them wood frames, and boards and stuff. We can do TAFE courses, and even go out to classes or to workshops sometimes. Dad has me helping him most days…”

“Dad?”

“Yeah, the business is doing really well, he’s needing me most days now.”

The business? I felt the walls were closing in on me. The van, the whitish powder, Mark’s old connections…

My voice lowered to a harsh whisper, “What are you doing! Dealing drugs from Dad’s van! That’s fucking crazy, you’ll get caught again–“

Mark stared at me. “What the hell, Rachel, no! I’m not dealing drugs with Dad’s, though, “ He laughed, “The van does look a bit dodgy, when you think about it, but… NO!”

“Then what business is it?”

“Baking! Not hash brownies either, just before you think that.”

“Oh.” I sat and digested this for moment. The food safety certificate hanging over the desk, and business management texts on his desk by my elbow suddenly seemed obvious. “Well… I feel dumb. Sorry for thinking… ”

“Don’t, don’t. I kind of deserve it. I’ll have to make sure I’m more clear when it comes time to tell Mum.” He leaned forward. “We have a plan, sis.”

“Drug smuggling, right? OK, OK, it was a joke!”

He threw a sock at me. “Listen! Mum’s always told us, Dad left, and we had to deal with his mess. Dad reckons she kicked him out though, saying our lives would be better off without him, and I guess it was kind of true at the time, so he went.”

I opened my mouth, but he continued quickly.

“So, he got this job at the bakery, and worked there until the old boss wanted to leave, and he bought it! It’s his now. That’s where I’m working most days. And, Rach, get this, it’s making a profit! People like his stuff. I’m not working there for free, I’m getting first year apprentice wages.”

We heard footsteps coming down the hall, and Dad’s voice bantering with what sounded like the police officer from before.

Mark got up to fix him a chair. “Dad’ll fill you in on the rest of the details, but the main idea is to get us back to being a family again. If we can get them together in the same room, Dad can make his case for secon– well, more than second but anyway, another chance now that he’s made good. That’ll be your part, Rach, getting her cool enough to hear us out.”

Us. It wasn’t just for Dad, Mark wanted that second chance. His room here was tidier than I’d ever seen it; certificates embossed with his achievements spread over the walls, and his ambitions on his desk. He was trying to be worthy of that second chance.

Would Mum accept his efforts?

As Dad reached the door, Mark put his hand on my shoulder, “It’s going to be different when I get out. If I don’t let the past hold me back, no one else can either. Dad taught me that.”

Part 7

I Don’t Need All Your Good Advice Part 5

Part 5 of a  longer short story about a teenager still learning how to navigate tricky situations, the price of loyalty to the unworthy, and the demands of any relationship. (Go to the beginning: Part 1 )

Some swearing.

As always constructive criticism, feedback or even a note to say hi in the comments is welcomed!

“You’re quiet today.” Jo said, as I carefully pinned the paper patterns to her school uniform.

“Yeah.”

Silence settled over us again. Best to just keep quiet, both to avoid becoming more involved further in the saga between my two clients, as well as to better hear the footsteps of either Mum or Sara arriving unexpectedly. Pins were pushed into the soft wood of the table legs, after my jumpiness made keeping them in my mouth more dangerous than even style would allow.

“How’s everything going with Certifiable?”

“Who?”

“Sara. Sorry, I know you guys are friends and all, but she is pretty crazy.”

It’s hard to deny, but… “She’s having a pretty rough time at home, you know. I think that’s enough to make anyone become a bit… over-dramatic. Turn around.”

“Yeah, except, the way she acts, you’d think no-one’d ever gone through a divorce before.”

I stabbed a pin into the table, wishing we weren’t having this conversation. “It’s always hard when reality sets in. She’ll learn to focus on other things.” Like I focus on this dress, and not my fight with Mum, or my own broken home. Healthy? “How’s that feel? I think it’s fitting really nicely.”

“Her Dad is a jerk anyway.”

“Um, OK. I didn’t realise you’d met him. Aaaah, be careful! Don’t rip it!” She had twisted around to stare at me.

“OK, OK, hold up a sec. What has she told you?”

“Whatever, it’s not my business. Let’s just get the patterns off, or you’ll end up asymmetrical.”

“She didn’t mention anything about her Dad and my Mum at all then?”

Oh… I looked up at her wordlessly. It all makes a lot more sense now.

“Nothing?”

“Uh, She only really talked about some exam trouble at Grammar.”

Jo’s arms quivered. Trapped in the paper, they punctuated her words in stiff, though still alarmingly violent, motions. “That! That’s when I realised she really hated me. Me! For what? Her stupid Dad dating my Mum? Trying to be all friendly and hey! I have a daughter your age. You know he brought me over some of her stuff? Like her books and shit? I never asked for a father, especially not her father, but she can’t hate him, so I get all her angst. The exam was just the last straw. No wonder they expelled her.”

She stopped, her eyes meeting mine, searching for some missed reaction. “You don’t know anything about this? She hasn’t told you anything, has she? And you’re her best friend? “ She began drawing out the pins around her in order to sit down. As I hastily took over before anything got ripped, she murmured, “And that’s why we call her Certifiable.”

A heavy silence returned, full of my regrets, not only about having tried to defend Sara leading to this outburst, or the decision to take two arch-enemies as clients, but shading into remorse of having made contact with anyone, ever.

But it made sense. If I couldn’t trust Dad to stick around, or Mum to support my dreams, or even Mark to use his brain, how could I trust someone I’d only known a few years to tell me the truth about her painful past?

Focus on the dress.

Rolling out the rich, red material seemed to make both of us perk up. Jo touched an edge of the satiny fabric. “Wow, it’s going to look great.”

“I’d like to have it done by end of next week, so I’ll give you a call for when to come around again for another fitting. If you could bring the cash next time too…?”

Jo’s hand pulled away, but she nodded. “I just got a job at Nick’s Nosh, starting tonight, so that’ll help. Actually, this is a bit awkward, but I just realised I didn’t bring the deposit for their uniform. So… could you spot me and add it to my bill?”

“Sure, I guess. Though, it’s going out of my fabric fund, so I hope I don’t need anything more for your dress this week.”

“Thanks babe! “ She took the money and began collecting her gear, “Man, I wonder what will happen if Sara ever comes to Noshies?”

I will get a call to come hold your arms back… “Look, you know Sara is still really angry, and not going to chill out any time soon. It’s not my business, but I think you should talk it out, instead of always worrying she might be the next customer through the door.”

Jo’s cheerful expression fell away to one that was reminiscent of a two-year old’s stubborn scowl. “Unless you can talk her Dad out of moving in, I doubt it. Let’s just drop it, OK? I’ll see you about the dress next week.”

Closing the door on her, I felt I was closing something inside me. Maybe Mum was right in believing there was nothing she could have done to stop Mark. There’s no medicine for stupidity, there’s no advice that can stop a bad decision if it’s wanted to be made. Instead, I savoured the emptiness of the house.

Both dresses were at the stage of transforming from paper into product. Sara wanted a little black dress and I could see them becoming a frequent request if I lasted past this tumultuous beginning of my trade. I wanted something less funeral for her, I wanted a summery halter neck in yellow cotton, with a tight waist and ripply, bell shaped skirts falling just below the knee.

But she wanted a little black dress: strapless, shiny, ankle length matched with new stilettos.

And there’s nothing I can say to change that.

The phone rang. I moved slowly to answer it.

“Rachel?”

“Wha- Dad?” I hunched over a little, at the sharp pain in my gut.

“Hey girl, how you doing? Hey, I’ve got something to show you, if you’ll come past tomorrow arvy. Just you, ok? Don’t bring your Mum. Yet.”

Part 6

I Don’t Need All Your Good Advice Part 4

Part 4 of a  longer short story about a teenager still learning how to navigate tricky situations, the price of loyalty to the unworthy, and the demands of any relationship. (Part 1 , Part 2 and Part 3)

Some swearing.

As always constructive criticism, feedback or even a note to say hi in the comments is welcomed!

Something had happened. Sara was listless around school, cold to her favourite teachers, and unresponsive to her group on the bus. It was a surprise to open the door and find her there, staring down at the steps, without a word, only cracked, hesitant breathing.

“Um, are you ok? “

“Fuck them both. I don’t even fucking care any more. “ She pushed past me into the house, only to call back in a different voice, “What’s all this, Rach?”

“I’m trying to set up a dress-making business. “ I would work from arriving home designing, drawing and covering the kitchen in cut out paper patterns, until the hour before Mum came back, when it would all get stored back in Grandma’s room as if I had never touched it. “What’s wrong, Sara? “

She, with somewhat more care than my other visitor, moved some clutter from a chair before climbing into it, her knees pulled up under her chin.

“Mum and Dad. It’s all finally over. The divorce went through. I stupidly thought that it’s taken so long, maybe they weren’t really serious and he’d come back… but whatever. I got a C last week. That’s how much I care any more. “

“I’m sorry. I know it can be hard… “

“Yeah, that’s why I wanted to talk when I called, but, “ She rubbed her reddening face,” I’m just so over it now. Tell me more about your business. “

“Well, it’s only one customer so far. I’m making her a dress for grad. “

“It’s next month, you know. “

“I finished mine in two weeks, this one hopefully will take less time.“ I pointed to my beautiful dress where hung on the wall, as inspiration and company, as I worked.

“Wow, it’s great. Could… could you make me one too?“

Is the risk worth it?

Sara’s eyebrows drew together as she began to take offence at my pause.

“Sure, sure. I’m half way through this one, so I should have the time. Let’s get some measurements then… “

There is something about the relationship between a customer who has to sit and wait, and the person working on them, that one becomes that captive audience of the other. Hairdressers must feel this way.

“I’ve been thinking about the other night. “ Sara began almost as soon as I had the tape running along her arm. “You must think I overreacted. “

“Well…”

“You have no idea what she’s done to me though. She lies all the time, to get what she wants, and she wants what other people have. “

“Like your friends at Grammar? “

“Like, everything. She has seriously ruined my life. Seriously. “

You sound seriously crazy. “Stop moving so much or your dress will be too tight.“

“After today, I just don’t know if I can handle seeing her ever again without freaking the fuck out. “

“That depends on how frequently you think you might see her though. Could be kind of awkward in future if you went to the same cafe, or like a funeral, or something. “ What was meant as a joke only made her face more pensive.

Sara’s body was much finer and more angular than Jo’s. She would be very tall when she finished growing, and probably, especially in a pair of sharp heels, become even more intimidating than now. Finished measuring, I straightened up. “Maybe you should talk to her. “

“You just have no idea, Rachel. I don’t need your advice, I just want you to agree with me that she’s a crazy bitch, and maybe hold her arms back for me when the time is right. “ She smiled, finally, but I couldn’t return it.

Part 5

I Don’t Need All Your Good Advice Part 3

Part 3 of a  longer short story about a teenager still learning how to navigate tricky situations, the price of loyalty to the unworthy, and the demands of any relationship. (Part 1  and Part 2)

Some swearing.

As always constructive criticism, feedback or even a note to say hi is welcomed!

I would have to do it alone.

My funds consisted of change from unspent school lunches and a windfall from when hand-made hair accessories were trendy a few months earlier. While it wasn’t enough for a new machine, I could take out a newspaper ad and buy material to fit three dresses. I lay awake scripting polite refusals I would need for all those unlucky to come after the third caller.

A week passed. A week of waiting, of silent pleas and threats aimed at phone. When it acquiesced and rang, I got to experience the awful feeling of my heart’s stumbling beat, followed by a cratering sensation that started in my gut but began to swallow me whole as yet another ’16 is not too young to need it‘ life insurance seller began their pitch.

A week of avoiding my Mum, and having Sara avoid me. Distracted the failure, before it even really began, of my business dream, I didn’t mend bridges with either of of them, and so passed a week of chill and desolation.

Then: “Hi, this is Joanne Mitchell. Is Rachel Walker there?“

“Speaking.“

“Hey! I saw your ad. I’m looking for a formal dress. How much do you charge? “

Oh. My. God. I scoured the kitchen bench for: pen, paper, poise, professionalism.

“I base my costs on a, um, case to case basis.“

“Oh, right…? “

“What I mean is, depending on the cost of the material and how complex a style you want. My hourly rate is very reasonable.“ Shit, how much is reasonable? “Why don’t you come over for… a free measuring? We can discuss style and materials, costs and… y’know, stuff.“ Arrgh, stuff?

“Sounds great!“

“Really? Great! When is a good time? “

Forcing myself to write down her details in my best block handwriting, I confirmed my first appointment, then went to my room and collapsed.

The next day I had time to clean up the front areas of the house, close doors to the less organised areas, fiddle with the arrangement of my kit on the table, then stand for half an hour before our agreed time peeking through the curtains at the street outside.

My first customer was, however, punctual, as well as proof that Mum was right. I am cursed.

Joanne, long for Jo. Formerly a customer of Andy’s Legipops and name writ large on Sara’s “People To Take Out” list.

“Hey, you look familiar. “

“You take the bus? “ I was impressed with my mouth’s ability to act independently of my brain.

“Oh. Yeah, sometimes when Mum can’t be bothered picking me up. “ She dumped her gear on the table, forcing an overspill of measuring tapes and pin cushions to the floor.

“Gosh! Sorry ’bout that. “ As I stooped to collect my things, she upended a bag full of magazines, sending more gear sliding from above.

“I have a few different styles in mind… “ Through the glare of the glossy paper, I could tell they were all going to be very modern, very black and very short.

“That’s great. It’s just… that I’d like to take your measurements first… To see what will suit you best. ”

She crossed her arms, “ No worries. I’m sure you have a lot of ideas. “

Was that an invitation? Or a challenge? My fingers twitched, unrolling the measure.

“Well, actually… “ Soon I had the tape out around her waist, shoulders, hips while she fingered the samples.

“You’re a lot younger than I thought.“ She was flipping through my style guides. I had moved the magazines to their own, distant, edge of the table. “And these styles are a bit… older than I expected too.“

“Some things never go out of style.“ I ran my fingers along the dusty paper, “There was a time that people had less, and they made things to go further, last longer. The details were important. The cut of the cloth, the fit of the lines, extras like buttons, trimming… Clothing these days is so disposable, I mean, do you ever really notice what other people are wearing? “

“Not really, hey. “

The phone began ringing, but I was lost in a fog of cuts and colour considerations and ignored it. The fact that this was the girl Sara had a rough history with also receded as I critically took in her light hair and complexion, short stature and generous frame. Taking my art pad, I sketched out the long, soft lines of an A-line dress in a bright red that would accentuate her pale hair and eyes. The phone’s second attempt finally broke through the reverie.

“Rachel! I’m sorry I’ve been in the shits recently. “

Why now? “That’s OK. No worries.“

“Are you busy or something? I want to talk to you.“

“I’m busy at the moment…“

“Well, on Tuesday I’ll come past your place, OK? Your Mum won’t be home, right? Cool? OK, gotta go. See ya. “

“All good?“ Jo asked.

Mum was right. We are the victim of our own stupid choices.

For her, it was trusting in the man she loved. Loaning him money, when his credit was so bad no bank would take the risk.

Meanwhile, I had managed to get between my best friend with her inability to forgive a grudge, and my client who was the target of it.

I could, however, change that.

“You know Sara Francis, right?“

“Was that her? She’s not coming here, right? “

“Not now. Look, I know that something happened between you guys. It’s not my business, but I’ll understand if you want a different dress-maker. “

She stood silently by the table. I noticed that my my sketch was in her hands.

“Do you like it? “

She nodded. “It’s pretty good. If you can sew as well you draw… and as long as she never comes over while I’m here, it’ll be OK.“

So much for being out of the middle. On the other hand, I had not only my first client, but one who, despite the Sara threat, was sticking around. For today at least perhaps the curse was off.

Part 4