Aria: Retirement Woes

Time, Aria had so much of it, retirement stretched ahead, a vast emptiness. Her daughter loved mornings, the energised attitude driving her projects, enabling her to cram so much into her day. Ziva’s career gave her confidence, she smiled, breezed through the house, a cheerful positive voice answering the phone, volunteering or meeting friends. Aria wished she knew what a beautiful person she was as she watched Ziva disappear through the door. Rylan kept his own time, juggling freelance writing and partying, Aria saw him when he was hungry, passing through the kitchen helping himself to the latest batch of fudge bars, or leftover bacon. Gone were the days they sat together, the kitchen table home to Ziva’s Rocketship parts, cleaned and oiled ready for use, except progress on this had slowed, leaving Aria to wonder if her daughter was really happy, both feet grounded

Aria’s favourite time was her chess games with Ziva, a few evening a week they poured some wine, and chatted; Ziva remained quiet regarding her private life, blushing at suggestions of a love interest. She steered the conversation toward the changing neighbourhood, and her desire to leave Newcrest, to a San Myshuno apartment or settling down on the beach in Brindleton Bay. It seemed Rylan had no intention of ever leaving the family home, Ziva regretted asking, looking over properties for sale in Brindleton Bay, suggesting he may find the water soothing and inspiring. Rylan scowled, inaudible grunts, this was his home, life was in Newcrest.

Aria baked every day, taking the excess to her neighbours and bake sales, it was a time to let her imagination run wild. While she could picture Ziva bringing home a young man, the beautiful wedding dress, her sitting there crying as they took their vows. She believed Rylan would amble through life, committing himself to himself. Family life echoed in her mind, wanting a second chance, to make up for all the things she missed when her own were young. Life moved forward, her memories were stories told to her of their adventures without her, why had she worked so hard instead of being with them? She sat quiet, solemn in her thoughts, a coffee chilling her hands. Hope stirred, images of grandchildren giggling at the table, feeding them gummy bear pancakes and brownies, watching them play in the garden, their pictures filling the bare walls. Sending them home, sugar highs and happy brought a smile to Aria’s face, walking to the sink, her heart fell flat, piles of unwashed dishes faced her, leaving her pondering if either child would notice if she disappeared.

Aria relished her Saturdays, the “Major Chords” club stayed strong, conversation, music and dancing filled the house. She came alive, blasting music, offering up baked goods, forgetting all her worries as she danced. Whilst many gatherings were at her house, the younger members were pulling the group towards evenings in the bars of Windenburg or San Myshuno, with Karaoke and open mic nights taking precedent. The long trips were tiring, she and the few remaining older group members like the quieter evenings, but these were becoming rare. Alone, Jose and Braydon filled her mind, their presence at these gatherings missed, the longing and aching in her heart as the evening wore on became apparent. Picking up the violin, Aria needed to feel close to the men she had loved. Her pain flowed through the bow, her violin echoing her tears, composing music no-one would hear.

Aria couldn’t sleep, tossed and turned, her head ached, a sick feeling in her stomach, creeping to the kitchen, Aria made herself some herbal tea and sat with her phone flicking through photos. She paused, Jose was painting, Rylan stacking his blocks while Ziva rearranged her dolls house, she had made lemonade and sugar cookies, Rylan stopped first, eager to ensure he had the biggest cookie. They competed for the easel, both loving the rich vibrancy of blending colours, it had sat in the closet gathering dust since his death. Rising Aria took the easel outside, a fresh canvas and morning air revitalised her, the brush flowed over the canvas, memories of Jose flooded her senses; feeling his presence, a smile danced on her lips.

Rylan: Life out of Balance

Working as a freelance writer meant dropping whatever you are doing and hanging around with friends whenever they called. They entered bowling matches, movies and new DJs livened up the dancefloor, anything to stop Rylan pining over Emilie. Acting as wingman, Sai led the way, he loved the club scene, dragging Rylan to the dance floor to lay down some moves. Surrounded by so many beautiful women to admire, Rylan tried imagining dates with all, except none were his blonde beautiful Emilie. Sai pushed Rylan towards Erika, she had been casting glances at them all night. Rylan stood awkwardly near the DJ booth chatting with her. Her melodic voice discussed a career in medicine, the rocking tunes this DJ played and how she would love to go to the movies with him. His minded blanked, he had nothing to say, searching the crowds of people, he hoped Sai needed him or at least came to rescue him, but this looking unlikely Rylan made his excuses, pushing his way to the bar.

All the late nights were taking its toll, Rylan slept half the day, crawling hungover from bed at noon, stuffing in leftovers of food from the night before, showering, hoping that sitting at the computer would spark his inspiration. Rylan’s work was average enabling him to pick up work most established writers refused. His latest work gave him trouble, ghostwriting memoirs, a business executive, sharing the story of how he succeeded, much of the material had been sparse and the client had clear guidelines on steering clear of unfavourable news stories. Embellishing the story with anecdotes he found in interviews with the client should have pulled the book together. The effects of partying, his alcohol-infused mission resulted in rejection by his client, Rylan’s agent bent his ear over grammatically errors, false claims and making it look as though the client had it easy. An honest depiction of the client’s life required adverse content, but with them withholding it, a frustrated Rylan edited his book using the forbidden media. Careful consideration of sensitive stories took concentration, a difficult task when his phone vibrated every half hour. A determined Sai wanting to get his friend on the dating scene with a blind date, while skeptical he succumbed to pressure.

Ditching the novel, Rylan took the train to meet Bailey, her shoulder-length brown hair, curvy figure and bubbly personality a welcome surprise. She was older than Rylan, but shared similar interests in bowling and gaming, their walk to the bar, filled with conversation. As a babysitter, Bailey was keen to have lots of children of her own, something Rylan had yet to consider in his future. Approaching the bar Bailey’s excitement for the evening grew, “Bear” night was in full swing, Rylan thought it was a joke until a person in full bear outfit came towards them. Glancing at the furry costumes, he managed one quick drink, while Bailey enjoyed the humour and grizzly innuendoes, he found it annoying, this was a night to forget.

Rylan: Making my own Rules

Rylan quit his job at the greasy burger joint and with school finished, the time had come to strike out, take charge of his career, be the boss. While his sister is career-minded like Aria, Rylan thought of himself similar to their father. Creative writing had been a strength in school and posed a possibility for Rylan, picking his sisters brains to crunch some numbers, he set himself up as a freelance writer, that way he could pick the juiciest and highest paid jobs, keeping the money for himself. Work had been hard to come by, he needed to build a reputation and for the most part, wrote short articles for free to push himself in the competitive industry, Aria questioned his decision, encouraging him to look for a ‘sensible’ job.

Bowling took precedence over looking for employment, his cocky “I can do this on my own” attitude meant his sister picked up the bills, and tensions with his mother grew. Rylan had new issues, his team “Mischief Makers” were sinking in the bowling league and a rival Newcrest team were looking to seize the trophy. The opposition had a beautiful blonde woman called Emilie, she had the sweetest smile, she focused on the game, knocking up an impressive score for her team. He looked at the matching outfits, team unity and strategy his team lacked. “Mischief Makers” were competitive with each other, they dressed as they felt and performed pranks on the opposition hoping to throw them off their game. Putting slime in the holes of bowling balls or the floor, random cheers as they took a shot, except today, seeing Emilie stopped Rylan in his tracks, her presence distracting him from him his normal high standards of play.

Emilie occupied Rylan’s thoughts over the next few days wishing he had asked for her number instead of kicking himself for losing the match. Aadhya complicated things, he agreed to take her to the spice festival, she referred to it as a “date”. Although they got on well, Rylan saw her as a friend rather than a romantic interest, they had known each other as friends all through high school and his feelings had remained the same.

San Myshuno was busy, the vibrant colours enticed them, festival food at the heart, tickling their senses, mouths watering at the thought of hot samosa’s. Aadhya flashed flirtatious glances, made sweet comments and offered encouragement to take up the spice challenge, a plateful of the hottest curry. Rylan cringed, the throng of people, their mouths full, he imagined flames expelling from them, sweating from the heat. Shaking his head he brought them a safer choice, spiced lentils stuffed in pastry, fried, a side of Raita, flavours he could handle. They sat close to the guitarist, enjoying the tunes, Rylan could see Aadhya wanted to push their relationship towards romantic intention, but all he could think was Emilie, he diverted their conversation, maintaining neutral subjects.

Intrigued Rylan suggested trying the bubble blower, its effects varied depending on the flavour. Being a first-timer, Aadhya suggested sticking to plain, handing him the hose. The intoxicating effects dazed Rylan, coughing bubbles as it hit the back of his throat, liquid snorted from his nose. Aadhya laughed, Rylan slipped off the cushioned seat in a stupor. He stumbled over his feet, reaching his hand towards the bench, laying down, he attempted to sleep off the effects.

Ziva: The Next Step

Aria imagined her retirement filled with romantic getaways, fine dining and hiking along the local trails. She and Jose planned a move, San Myshuno with its penthouse apartments, easy access to the theatres, but with him and her second love deceased, the future looked empty. The growing demands of her clients tired her, leaving her unable to complete her workouts. Stepping aside, she handed the work to a younger colleague, offering instead to manage the accounts. Watching her children embark on their career, lives independent of her, had she become a spare part, an extra in life’s show?

Jump starting her career in the field of technology, Ziva took advantage of her contacts to secure a position. Her interest and ability in computer programming impressed the management team, unfortunately, this position was with the games department, a skill Ziva lacked. Rylan’s assistance had strings attached, a favour he would call upon when it suited, making Ziva occasionally regret spending all that time studying rather than wasting her teenage years on those same games.

Acquainting herself with current and rival games was the least of her problems. Having a head for numbers and being the sole girl on the team saw her pushed towards the finance part of the team. She argued her case, determined she could be every bit as good as her male counterparts when it came to programming. Gaining recognition meant doing jobs the main team refused, for now, she followed the project expenses through the company. It posed a dilemma, what should she do regarding her most recent discovery; small amounts of money disappeared from larger projects in the department, allegedly done to support smaller side projects.  However, things were failing to add up, meaning she was unable to decipher if this was an individual theft or going to one of the companies many other hidden projects. While her moral compass told her to take the problem to the appropriate people, she became concerned that being new in employment this possible exposure may yield unfavourable results. For the time being she dismissed her findings, surprised and perturbed by her supervisor’s sudden happiness and her glowing performance review. Ziva took another look, the supervisor claimed for items that failed to appear in the office, but with no solid proof, Ziva guessed that it was going his own pocket and she regretted her decision.

The money she earned supported the upkeep on the house and her rocket currently taking up a large portion of their garden. Her focus on reaching the stars consumed her free time, collecting metal from the scrapyard, up-cycling other items to develop the rocket. Staring at the rocket, Ziva pined for the days when she sat on her dad’s toolbox, learning the basic skills, the nuts, bolts and piping that held their bathroom together, she smiled, her teenage years had been building her computer, acquainting herself with electrical items thanks to a neighbour. Standing in the garden with a welding torch in hand, she had the guys at the scrapyard to thank, each skill bringing her dream one step closer. The pops, bangs and Ziva’s welding worried Aria, she cringed with every sound. Ziva felt her hobby was a release for the growing tensions at work. 

Since her review, her supervisor had increased her workload asking her to perform duties outside her role. He asked Ziva to deal with difficult employees, give project feedback, on top of her day-to-day work commitments. Fresh from school with no real management experience, Ziva was tentative when approaching these situations. Rather than a confrontation, she enquired what problems the project was facing, she praised the team ideas, offered constructive criticism and brainstormed with them. This positive approach and review ensured she climbed the career ladder, leaving some colleagues disgruntled, their rudeness and dismissive attitudes built inside Ziva, releasing itself in a furious bang and the creation of the rocket.

Aria and Rylan: Best Laid Plains

Aria and Braydon made their plans, the serenity offered in Granite Falls, a quaint lodge, fishing spot, romantic forestry walks, stargazing and cuddling near the campfire. Despite reservations, Aria agreed to the plans and the chaos the twins had in mind for their graduation and birthday that same weekend. The twins arrived home excited, discussing their last exam, happy they had survived school, the promise of their young adult life awaiting them. Rylan grabbed the pastries from the fridge, imagining the fake news stories he’d tell, the epic dance moves, competitive console racing, no nagging or chores, time to chill and party. Ziva answered the phone, it was Braydon’s neighbour, he had popped over for a cuppa when he noticed him slumped in the armchair, the neighbour assumed his friend was sleeping. Her mother arrived home full of energy, ready for their break at Granite Falls, devastated to discover his passing.

Rylan stuffed an éclair into his mouth, Aria sat, tear-stained face; Ziva holding her hand. The twins offered to cancel their weekend plans or at least postpone them to another time, Aria shook her head, she understood they needed to celebrate all their hard work alongside their friends. She took a deep breath, sighing she hauled herself up, grabbed the mixing bowl and set to work on the decadent chocolate cake. Ziva looked sorrowful, it was clear Aria wanted some alone time, Rylan grabbed a few sausage rolls as Ziva ushered him from the kitchen.

This was the day Rylan had waited for, he was a young adult; it eradicated his curfew and nothing could stand in the way of having the life he wanted. His results were better than expected with his marks scrapping a B grade. What mattered most was the party, introducing himself to the hoover, he tackled the lounge, but as with most things, Rylan found other distractions namely the importance of picking the night’s playlist, leaving Ziva to clean up the kitchen stacked high with pans Aria had used to create the buffet. Ziva’s teenage journey had been much smoother than her brothers’, she found school fun and exciting, seeking challenges to push her knowledge and skill. Whilst she didn’t have a paid job, her voluntary work had helped her catch the attention of some influential people offering support in a variety of potential jobs.

The few hours baking had been enough to temporarily quell her grief, the quiet moment in her bedroom saw her succumb to tears. The time she spent with Braydon seemed bittersweet, as a friendship blossomed, his subtle charm that caught her by surprise, lost. He looked peaceful, his head nestled against the edge of the chair, his face soft, appeared younger in appearance. Aria half-smiled, their conversation that morning, the excitement over a fishing spot, it was perfect for her to relax, continue reading her novel to him. Their short time together were memories to treasure, he made her happy again after losing Jose and gave her renewed hope she would have someone in her twilight years. Tears welled in her eyes, her grief interrupted by the doorbell and Rylan cheering the arrival of friends.

Aria sat anxious on the bed, desperately trying to focus on her book. Beneath her in her lounge were twenty or so young adults cheering, she cringed at the broken glass, the loud music and laughter. Aadhya hogged the controller, with Sai and Rylan throwing popcorn at her. The kitchen was chaotic, food spilt from plates to the floor and trampled into the carpet. Taking the party up a notch, Rylan lined up some shots, Sai unable to handle his drink staggered outside, singing incoherently, startling Ziva and a few of her friends. She turned back to the burgers, their conversation interrupted by the vocals and sudden yell from her friend Laura. Sai grabbed the frame support surrounding the rocket, ascending with a drunken clumsiness that worried the girls. Moving the burger aside Ziva rushed over, although the structure was sound, she worried how it would fair with a man swinging from it. A small crowd gathered, she persuaded Sai he could jet off, powered by “operatic” singing after eating, reluctant, he clambered back down and slumped on the floor, Laura handed him a burger in the hope of sobering him up.

The crowd return indoors, earth grounding Sai and burgers finding their way into everyone’s hands. Rylan’s next bright idea involved lining up against the kitchen wall each with a beer, the challenge to drink it all whilst performing a headstand. Their shoes scuffed up against the wall holding their positions, bubbles snorted through their nose as they struggled to swallow against gravity, resisting the urge to vomit.

Ending their party, a giggling Laura pulled Sai to standing, legs wobbling beneath him, hands resting on her hips, they joined a conga line through the house. Quiet streets erupted, vibrant drunken energy snaked its way home, a few stragglers danced, kicking mud on the lawn; Ziva winked at Rylan, flicking the sprinklers switch, surprised, they ran down the street joining the conga. The twins collapsed on the sofa, their silence bringing Aria down to the horrendous mess the party created. Locking the door, she paused, watching her sleeping children, covering them with a blanket.

Rylan hung his head over the maple bacon pancakes, head pounding, stomach-churning, his clothes clung to him, crumpled and covered in food and beer. Ziva didn’t fare much better, sleepy efforts to stuff in huge mouthfuls, hoping to feel better, her hair shielding her eyes from the light. Aria lacked sympathy, rolling her eyes as she gazed at the mess surrounding them. Clanging paint tins, mops and buckets made the twins groan, Aria, agreed to host and provide the food, the twins were adults and responsible for the cleanup, a perfect hangover remedy. She smiled to herself, settling on the patio chair, a coffee and good book in hand.

Aria: A New Normal

Aria cried, Rylan was right, her mind was elsewhere, the impact her absence was having on her family. Wrapped in grief Aria focused on her career and friendships, everything except the children, their needs all but brushed aside. Her son was rude, arrogant and hurting, how could she get through to Rylan, he missed his father and held her responsible for being at work when it happened. Ziva picked up the household chores her father did, finding solace in her studies rather than in her friends and family. Braydon offered her a tissue and a glass of water, he kissed her forehead, he took her hand, sat with her, it was little comfort, but it was something. The front door opened, Rylan shuffled to the lounge door, his eyes dropping to the floor at the sight if Braydon, he turned and made his way upstairs.

Breakfast was uneasy, Aria rustled up bacon and eggs, Ziva checked over her homework, both silent. Rylan shuffled in, issuing his first apology, while he maintained a dislike for Braydon, he accepted he made Aria happy. It was hard, accepting that he needed help, Ziva had been staring at her work, wondering why the change, she glanced up, Rylan’s sorrowful eyes pleading with her. Aria warned that failing school meant working in the diner, his job prospects would be bleak and his stay in the house with her indefinite. Ziva closed her book, smiling, could he go a week without tormenting her, he grinned back, that would be tough.

Rylan enjoyed playing pranks, whoopie cushions, fake snakes in the grass, or spiders in the shower, teasing Ziva, her interests in computers and space, secretly admiring her fascination. He had saved some money and with the sale of their telescope, he surprised Ziva with an alternative to stopping his mischievous behaviour. Wary, Ziva opened the boxes, metal sheets, second-hand engine parts, her eyes widened, at the bottom of the box was a rocket design, Rylan shrugged, she would have to do the research, the hard work, but she was a step closer to her space exploration dreams. Rylan steadied himself as Ziva flung her arms, embracing him, wondering what she would need to sacrifice for this kind gesture.

Aria reduced her client list, allowing them more time at home together with breakfast the highpoint of their day since Rylan’s job took him away in the evenings. Ziva opened up, her mother intrigued by her volunteering time a few weekends a month to help with the Brindleton Bay beach clean-up and helping in a local soup kitchen. Inspired by her father’s stories, her favourite was the adventures she and Rylan had meeting people with amazing stories. Her last visit, she had calmed an argument between two older men having a heated discussion on which TV series was better, she drew their attention away from their argument with enquires about the lighthouse and the Lady whose ship broke up on the rocks near the harbour. Rylan scoffed, interrupting her flow, they began elbowing each other whilst trying to enjoy Gummy Bear Pancakes, a childhood favourite, Aria stared amused, the twins erupting into laughter.

Braydon assisted Ziva with her new project, giving Rylan and Aria time to chat, but he had other ideas; handing Aria a controller, he loaded a console game. To bond with her son, Aria needed to get to grips with racing cartoon characters, the competitive spirit was a family trait they shared, it took a few attempts, but Aria was soon zipping through the obstacles and leaving Rylan’s character eating dust. Her lead rarely lasted long but she was happy to spend some time with him doing what he loved. Seeing the concentration on his face the jeering when his character didn’t listen to yelled commands and occasionally nudging Aria when she started to do well, giving himself the edge.

Rylan argued, believing his improved grades should allow for some leeway and stating this continued lockdown was unfair, pleading with Aria to let him go bowling or have friends over. Aria’s presence at home meant regular visits from Braydon, Rylan growled to Ziva how he had his feet under their table. It was weird their mother had new love at such an age, Ziva bit her lip, desperate to laugh, she thought it was sweet. It was nice to see Aria happy and to spend time with her, conversations of the future they hoped for. Braydon was intelligent, helping Ziva with her spaceship and the complicated maths and hopefully, it’s first flight. She kept her thoughts to herself, Rylan had another month of behavioural reflection, in the meantime, Ziva listened to her brother’s moaning, the injustice he endured.

Aria: We All Need A Time Out

When romance is young, you feel you have all the time in the world to explore; it can mean taking it for granted. For Aria, time slipped by as she embraced new love. She felt disconnected from her children, the distance growing as they did, so having Braydon, filled in the little moments. Feeling close to someone again, young and alive. Their friendship had blossomed quickly, their restaurant dinners, museum visits, conversations filled with hope, promise and remembrance, hands reaching across the table, a gentle touch, caress, a stolen kiss. They kept their relationship discrete around her children, whilst Ziva seemed supportive, his increasing presence in the house and their life unnerved her. Rylan grunted when Braydon engaged him in conversation on the rare occasions he stayed at the table to eat, or he would leave the room when Braydon entered.

Major Chord gatherings were hectic social occasions, food was laid over every surface in the kitchen, the mouth-watering smells of Spinach and Mushroom Quiche, Cheesy bread and Banana Cream Pie. Rylan sneaked some delights as guests arrived, his favourites were the first devoured. Aria gave him a playful tap, her rolling eyes and wry smile meant he got a stash of food to see him through the evening. Ziva scrammed in her studies, the group arrival, their music and conversation loud and distracting, and she enjoyed watching her mother play the violin, plus food, like her brother it was a real weakness. Jose had instilled in his children a love for all food, his excellent quality dishes highlighted their days, making them smile when they had a bad school day. Savouring her fish pie, Ziva listened intently to the conversations, Jade Bird on the stereo, her voice making the room sway in unison.

Braydon unofficially moved in, settling into the ebb and flow of family life, careful to avoid the stern glares from Rylan. Ziva was amiable, her pleasant nature hiding her slight annoyance of the man invading their lives, Aria, however, appreciated the effort. He played chess with patience, honed from years of fishing, offering Ziva the challenge she needed. Aria gave him space in her bedroom, a couple of draws emptied of her music scores she no longer required. Rylan spent his time outside the house, pushing against the curfew, half an hour late each time, Aria’s patience wore thin, but warnings fell on deaf ears.

The bowling alley at night, lit in neon lights, the slippery shoes, smooth weighted balls crashing against pins, Rylan had a few passions, his games station, pranking his sister and friends, but Bowling, he knew every inch of this place. A few friends brought alcohol, a fun addition, they felt unstoppable, their loud, vibrant laughter echoing above the music. Blasting the ball down the alley Rylan ignored the buzzing, his phone tucked in his jacket. Aria had sent him three curfew reminders, she was calling him. Rylan grinned, midnight, the game finished, two points short of winning, swapping shoes, he grumbled to his friend, the strict rules and permanent houseguest, their supportive nod giving him a righteous pride. He walked home, taking a longer route through the park, convinced Aria would be asleep.

Aria waited, anxious over her son’s whereabouts, approaching the house, shuffling his feet, she stepped out, half wanting to hug him, the other ready to yell at him. Rylan shrugged, tired, he brushed Aria’s anger off as over-dramatic ramblings, but this time she stood strong. While she accepted his dislike for Braydon, tolerating his complete disregard for her and the house rules, this was his last warning. Aside from taking his phone, she grounded Rylan; no bowling or time with his friends, the poor grades, calls from the principal all had to stop. Protests dismissed she headed back to the house, he sank to the pavement, a final act of defiance, breathing heavy, tense, both said truths the other needed to hear, for change.

Ziva: In the Quiet Corners she Remembers

The house is so quiet, Ziva closed the door, standing in the hallway, stairs to the right, opposite, the lounge and the kitchen door. At this point, Jose used to pop his head round to greet them pretending they had woken him up. His arms pulling them in tight, Rylan wriggling free-running upstairs, pausing halfway to grin at his father, claimed he was too old for a bear hug, but secretly Ziva knew her brother loved it. It was these moments she longed for, the daddy-daughter time, Jose telling her tall tales, reading his latest book, cooking, or repairing faults in the house, making it all look easy. Her childhood diaries were full of the times they had spent together, no-one gave hugs like her father. Comfort, when the monster lurked under her bed, his sense of humour and tolerance of Rylan’s pranks made the house bearable. Jose’s death made life lonely and silent, his presence had held them together. Aria and Rylan took for granted the amount of work he did, these responsibilities now laid on Ziva’s shoulders. She would do anything to have her fathers support, his shoes were big and would be difficult to fill.

The kitchen was Ziva’s least favourite place, every meal she attempted threatened to go up in flames at any moment. She felt as though the appliances were against her. It was so easy to burn toast, blacken bacon, even the microwave looked suspicious if she got too close. Aria teased, recalling her own experiences as Ziva extinguished the flaming pan. Rylan walked in, grabbing a soda from the fridge he barely noticed the smoke. Ziva sighed scraping her burnt supper into the bin, defeated, she sat down to leftover cold Chilli.

Whilst cooking efforts failed, Ziva’s forte was fixing anything. As a little girl she sat for hours watching her father, handing him wrenches, channel locks and drain augers, she knew the names of everything in his toolbox and how to use it. Although Ziva loved him to read his books to her, the time they spend repairing the sink was what she treasured most of all. Jose’s instructions flowed, running water to the corners of her mind, her desire to build, fix and create born and nurtured in these moments. Being a doctor or scientist was a childhood dream, for now, it was a fight with the kitchen sink, Ziva spent hours researching how to fix and upgrade their plumbing making their house efficient, in particular Rylan’s long showers.

One significant benefit of her time alone was that she excelled academically, it was rare Aria read her report card or noticed her efforts. Rylan’s disappointing results and attitude was dominating the house. Ziva felt invisible sitting at her father’s computer, she wasn’t sure as she studied the code her friend sent her, they chatted online for a few hours as she got to grips with the 1’s and 0’s, creating a file on the desktop called “Ziva’s Stuff”. Nestled in her bed later she heard the scream, her nosy brother freaked as the computer went black, the eerie images on the screen pressed itself against the glass begging Rylan to release them. Aria ran downstairs, Ziva laid giggling, wishing she could have witnessed her brother’s comeuppance.

Rylan: Fast Food and Faking it!

Manual labourer, local cafes, Rylan found it tough finding a job to support his desire for independence until Newcrest Burger Palace called him back. Work was lousy, slave labour, cleaning tables four days a week, on four-hour shifts, the perks did include chatting with customers when the boss was absent. He hated that two shifts were Friday and Saturday, every week the same, with curfew kicking in at 9 pm, he had to turn down all the parties. Aria appreciated the frustration but refused to change the time to 11 pm. Rylan targeted Ziva, her focus on school irritated him, the good little sister home on time and achieving A grades, he messed with her projects, leaving her panicking in the morning, struggling to fix the damage.

It didn’t take Rylan long to get a promotion, relieved he stepped into the kitchen a burger master. His pay increased, the bonus alone was worth it, plus his hands were clean. Unfortunately, the shifts were the same, he was flipping burgers from the end of school till curfew, months had passed since he had last thrown a bowling ball. Another downside was his manager, a greasy-haired brute, rude to his staff whilst turning the charm on unsuspecting customers. Rylan lifted his kitchen colleagues spirits, cracking jokes and playing staffroom pranks, but his kitchen antics, a misplaced flip of the burger saw it drop to the floor, the other staff went silent and looked busy at their stations as Rylan cleaned up the mess. His boss had seen the incident and scolded Rylan for his actions that saw the burger fall; the wasted food which in his opinion Rylan should have cleaned and grilled. Eating here was gross, Rylan preferred to grab a sandwich from school than risk the food he served. Happy with the money, he served the dodgy burgers, praying no-one got food poisoning!

Aria took a surprising call from the principal, her face paled as he explained Rylan’s poor test results and back chatting teachers. Rylan had been altering his grades and the letters his teachers, Aria did wonder why Rylan was keen to collect the post everyday. Saturday morning she cornered him, no wriggle room or escape, she made him cancel his plans and take the evening off work. School sent makeup homework with Ziva and the assigned project. Aria needed Jose by her side, he could communicate with Rylan, his encouragement ensured their son did his homework, alone, she struggled to understand her growing children, their opposite personalities and outlooks. Her mother had made it all look so easy, but Aria had been career-minded and realised that without her husband by her side she was perhaps not really designed for motherhood.

Rylan was moody, no slamming doors, no raised voices though, accepting his fate, Ziva and Aria knelt with him to assemble the robot. He was quiet as Ziva helped him with maths, history and geography, none made sense to him, what use was any of it. Pushing his books aside, Rylan tapped messages on his phone, Ziva scowled and lunged for his phone, her chair slipping beneath her. Her brother thought she would give up her sunny Saturday to do his homework. Aria stormed in from the garden her marigolds blackened after cleaning the barbeque, snatching the phone she stared hard at both of them. After she cleaned herself up, rather than allowing Ziva to continue helping, Aria stood over Rylan as he studied, her various baked goods, distracting, but the occasional biscuit helped him stay glued to his seat.

The change in Rylan and his commitment to finishing projects surprised his teachers, despite his continued hatred of structured teaching methods. All this effort was to honour a deal with his mother to stop bunking off school. She let him keep his job, and extended the curfew to 11 pm, on the condition he worked hard to improve his grades. The overall results were significant, he was happier, no longer faking grades, he bumped up from E to C whilst knocking down pins with the guys. Aria wondered how long this improvement would last, Rylan had bad habits and they were all to easy to fall back on.

Aria: An Old Friend, A New Flame

Tensions in the house had eased, enabling Aria to get back to what she enjoyed; music. Having reduced her workload, the opportunity to catch up with old friends and practice the violin came to fill in the time. One of those friends was Braydon, he was an old work colleague of Jose’s and long term friend and Major Chords member. Over lunch, they laughed remembering the big gatherings, Jose’s amazing food, the different music they had danced to, and the chaos caused by the twins when they were small. Twenty years ago Braydon’s long term partner announced at the altar she wanted to travel, and he was holding her back. Brutal words crushed Braydon, his heart remained broken, believing no-one could love him, he buried himself in his career. Aria understood the feeling, losing Jose had been a punch to the chest, a gaping wound, rasping and bloody, but she had he children they helped to heal the loss, keeping him close by.

A few times a week they met for lunch, two friends enjoying the hazy afternoon sun with delicious food and great conversation. It was Braydon who made the first move, his hand grazing hers reaching for his wine, a second brush and he linked his fingers with hers. Aria felt uncertain, pulling her hand back, her cheeks soft and pink, guilty of developing feelings for someone new. With over a year since Jose had passed, would it be wrong to consider someone new? She sipped her wine mulling the subtlety of his gesture, a half-smile danced on her lips. Braydon took her hand to reassure her, no pressure to force something that wasn’t there, his love for her was genuine and he hoped she would accept an official dinner invitation.

Aria was nervous, frustrated with her curls, staring in the mirror at deepening wrinkles. Ziva had convinced her to accept Braydon’s offer, she believed her mum should enjoy life, the love she shared with Jose was so special, but why spend your remaining life alone. She stepped in to help Aria with her hair, the pair speaking in hushed tones, accepting Rylan would be unsupportive, increasing Aria’s doubts regards dating. His temper may have cooled, his friendship circle was impolite, bickering over whose turn it was on the games console, rushing to get snacks from the kitchen, speaking in hushed tones when she or Ziva walked in to get a book or ask if they needed anything. Aria feared that Rylan would party late into the night, fall in with a bad crowd, worrying that the next knock on the door would be a police officer. As the last curl fell into place, she began making excuses as to why she should stay home. Her daughter stood proud, her mother was a vibrant woman, Jose would have insisted on her living her life to the full. No denying Ziva’s words, for her age, Aria had lots of energy, and Braydon was waiting.

They drove through the picturesque Windenburg, a romantic step back in time. In the distance, Aria noticed a few small islands, overseeing the main harbour, a large lavish house surrounded by several smaller ones, a reflection of the historic era when the Lords lived surrounded by their subjects. It was an honour to have lived on the isle. The mainland had white houses, with black timber frames, beautiful, elegant characteristics, unlike the modern builds of Newcrest. Braydon parked up in a cobbled street overlooking an open courtyard a water fountain at its heart. Overlooking the yard was a renovated pub, the fresh white paint and spring flowers brought the building alive. Beyond the heavy oak door, the bar filled with young adults, enjoying pre-dinner drinks, their final destination a club down by the harbour, a converted shipbuilding factory. A few tables separated them from the rest of the diners; the reason Braydon brought her here. The dance floor, and an artistic DJ, his decks the canvas, the various records his palette, the resulting mirage of colourful sounds worming their way inside your body enslaving you to its rhythm. She could feel her body move and sway, jostled by the others caught up in the moment, Braydon pulled her close and towards the safety of a corner table where drinks and plates of fish and chips were waiting.

They danced, letting themselves laugh, spin and tumbled against other dancers, clumsiness due to a few glasses of wine. Aria surprised herself, moving closer to Braydon for one final dance, his hand resting on her waist, usual distance no longer observed, noses close to touching, cheeks warmed by alcohol and romantic intent. The night had plans, Braydon guided her towards the harbour, the haphazard light of bulbs on a string still present from a long-forgotten Winterfest. Water lapped up against the concrete boundary, lights marked where the isle sat, it’s buildings otherwise silhouetted against the starless sky. They paused, enjoying the view, cool salty air, Aria turned towards Braydon meeting in a kiss, lingering for a moment uncertain, smiling, Braydon stroked her cheek, drawing her back into the kiss.