Patrick slammed his bedroom door; Charlotte pulled her head back to avoid the hit, she asked if he wanted to play the monster, but his mood remained icy. Rylan told them to disown Eliza; if she was so inclined to avoid them, he believed they should give her the distance she desired, complete isolation. The middle child had taken this bad, worse, Charlotte let slip Eliza e-mailed her, and the two were engaging in a secret exchange. Charlotte embodied the popularity, thriving on being the centre of attention that Eliza’s disappearance brought. She smiled, a flair for language; conversations flickered across her tongue as she knew how to influence friends. Blue eyes possessed an innocence; a smile wrapped teachers into believing lies, and a growing intellect tormented her brother, confusing and tricking him into doing her chores. He grew insulated, avoiding her, their parents, preferring time playing video games or reading, confiding in no one, Eliza seemed to ignore him, and it hurt.
Charlotte enjoyed watching the moves adults used in chess, memorising predictable ticks, rotations, and clues to how she could take down the opponent. Sitting eyes fluttered, a churlish smile asking to learn; the game went as planned, her stories meant to distract and lend sympathy. A mean older brother, burying her teddy, a cricket sandwich he gave her when she was five and her favourite, the one they gathered for, a lost sister who may have found herself in the nether realm at Grim’s behest. She multitasked, her focus on the game, her opponent distracted as Charlotte planned the next three moves, with a “checkmate”, she thanked them for listening and teaching her; their confused expression her biggest reward.
What got her through the day was hoping Eliza e-mailed; her messages were short, sporadic, but Charlotte needed them. It was hard work living up to the demands of popularity; her face ached from smiling, the forced bounce that said “Yes, I am happy”, people who clung to her as though their lives depended upon invitations to parties aboard the pirate ship. She could see the pain in her mother’s eyes, and while Patrick was alone in his anger, at least she had the wannabe gang, despite her quiet, gloomy days, when she resented the “Social Butterflies” and the leadership she inherited.
Emilie chose to ignore her birthday; Rylan made a cake, provided cards, presents and with a brief visit from Ziva, Vicky and Milly; the day passed without genuine joy. Arguments were rare; Emilie tolerated Rylan’s behaviour, his distant parenting methods, the workaholic lifestyle he insisted on living. What she chose to confront him with was Eliza. He banned her from the house and communication with the family; he monitored their calls, Emilie cried, her voice cracked, pleading with him to stop the callousness; they argued, these were words needed for them both to share bottled emotions, to reassess the relationship and how they got here. It frightened Emilie; she wanted Rylan and Eliza to make things better, to heal their family; she called them both stubborn, yet neither backed down, claiming the other should apologise. Eliza, he suggested, should crawl home, beg forgiveness; Emilie sighed, he was the father; she continued to hope he would be the better man and realise both were in the wrong.