The apartment repairs failed to transpire; alongside her unwelcome houseguests, a rotten egg smell came from the floor vent. Nothing made Eliza feel as sick as the scene that greeted her at breakfast, a cockroach made it into her fridge and made themselves at home on her leftover spaghetti. She checked the shower, hoping none would keep her company, but worse was to come, the pipe sprung a leak, and the whole floor plunged into darkness as her fuse box sparked as a result. Icy water washed over her, desperate to rinse the soap stinging her eyes. Eliza tightened the towel, her neighbours in the hall yelling, banging on doors; she crumpled to the floor sobbing.
Eliza knew sympathy would be in short supply; her exams were awaiting her, regardless of the amount of sleep or state of her living conditions. The chaos of the last few years weighed on her as she poured over questions; nausea swirled inside, a mixture of nerves and hunger. There had been a time Eliza would have written with a furious passion, knowing with certainty the answers if her time alone had taught her anything; it was the contrary was truer. It made her re-evaluate her attitude to Rylan; her father was imperfect, doing the best he could with the knowledge he had. She tapped a message; having completed the exam, she wondered if he and the family were open to meeting her. Hovering her thumb above the send, Eliza reread the message several times, wondering how many ways they could interpret it. Taking a deep breath, she hit send. Part of her expected an immediate response; the disappointment jolted a flood of tears.
Saturday, Eliza prepared herself for disappointment; although she knew Rylan would ignore her message, she hoped her eighteenth birthday might be a time for a second chance. As a legal adult, she was no longer beholden to her parent’s whims, the weight lifted and her choices, her own, but she could hear Rylan, his anger, dismay at how she lived. She squared her shoulders; today needed a positive vibe, reflections were for tomorrow, she has a cake to ice and an evening with friends.
Eliza licked the spoon; the sweet icing gave her a buzz, as did her phone; messages had been coming through; this one made her pause. Nerves fluttered through Eliza, preparing herself to read the response; Rylan and Emilie had plans for the weekend, but he hoped her exams were a success. It felt like a message her mother would send, perhaps had, but she thanked him and would see them in a few weeks. The timing was perfect, as her friends arrived and a familiar face grinned from the lift doors; her parents were unavailable; her brother on-the-other hand stood awkward, unsure if he should hug her or punch her arm with playful intent. Her plan post tuneless singing and cake was getting their dance shoe on for a nightclubbing. Patrick cleared his throat proposing another suggestion from their youth, bowling; Eliza arched her eyebrows, her friends on board; made a beeline for the door. Something in her brother’s smile told her that there would be another surprise if she went.
Charlotte paced outside, checking her phone, convinced she should have been the sibling to convince Eliza this was the place to party. Rylan had been reluctant to spend money on hiring, certain if Eliza knew he was there, she would refuse, but Patrick said he could bring her. The wait got to Charlotte; she wanted to see Eliza; pouncing on her as she stepped from the taxi. Arms embraced, squeezing, Rylan kept a distance, a respectful “Happy Birthday” with Emilie giving him a glaring look as he refused to show any affection. Released from Charlotte’s intense hug, Emilie took her place, sobbing at her baby being so grown, proud of her achievements and the excellent grades she would no doubt receive. Eliza shared a brief silent moment with her father, a sorrowful glazed look in his eyes, but Charlotte tugged Eliza’s arm, and the time with her father that heartfelt conversation would need to wait.