Something was up. Emma drove home from another Friday full of lectures knowing in her bones that something was going on with her mother. Rather cryptically Joanna Carter had made both her daughters promise to come home for the weekend. She apparently had a big announcement and wouldn’t give any hints as to what. Emma, the eldest daughter, had her suspicions though.
“I would bet money on it being about Ben.” Emma checked her mirrors before reversing into a parking spot outside their family apartment block. She smiled, having fond memories of the place. She enjoyed the independence of living at college, but nothing beat Joanna Carter’s cooked breakfasts and sweet ice tea. Emma got out her little Toyota and hauled her duffle bag from the trunk. She held the strap on her left shoulder and walked to the front door. She caught her reflection in the door window with her right hand poised over the intercom button to her mother’s apartment. Her long ginger hair was tousled from both the spring breeze and running her hand through it ass he tried to reason out what her mother was up to. Her hazel eyes were tired from studying every hour under the sun for her final exams this semester. She sat the last one this morning and relief swept over her like a ton had lifted from her shoulders. I’ll get my colour back soon enough. Mum’s ice tea and some much needed sleep will see to that.
Depending on what this announcement was, of course. Emma pressed the intercom and waited for her mother to answer.
“Hi Ma it’s Emma. Here as promised.”
“Oh perfect! Come on up honey.” Joanna perked up and buzzed her in. Emma walked into the building and straight into the elevator. She pressed the button for the 5th floor and pulled her hair back into a scrunchie at her nape. Something she always did when she meant business. Studying, sports, and dealing with her headstrong and eccentric mother. Her younger sister Beth took after her too. Emma was far more practical and sceptical by nature. Traits she was told she got from her father. That, and his hazel eyes.
Emma sighed and shoved her right hand into her jeans pocket as she thought of her dad. She had been young when he died from astroke. 10 at the time. She still had plenty of fond memories to hold onto, unlike Beth who had been 6 and remembered very little. It had been so hard losing her father. It damn well broke Joanna she was so heart broken. Justin was her high-school sweetheart and had adored her. He was funny, honest and hard working. Qualities Emma strived to instil in herself in his honour. She also had to be the grounded one. With her mother and Beth being as daft as a box of frogs at times. Beth especially. Emma chucked and straightened up as the lift approached the 5th floor. The trouble that girl and her camera have gotten into. I don’t even have enough fingers to count how many times I’ve been called to collect her from private property or find her after she got lost wandering off for ‘the perfect shot’.
Emma cleared her throat, rolled her shoulders and heaved off towards her mother’s apartment. She lingered outside the apartment as worry once again set in about this family meeting.
Ben Walker came into their lives 2 years ago. Or more specifically, he nearly ran Joanna over in his pickup and destroyed her bike. Her mother got off easy with just a sprain, but he was mortified about hurting her. Emma wanted to press charges, but Joanna had been drawn in by his big brown eyes and rugged smile. He was a cop to boot, and insisted on seeing to Joanna’s medical bills.
Then he came to visit her. With flowers...
4 months later he had moved in.
Two years later and here they were. Are they getting married? Could that be the announcement? That they are engaged? Beth has been hinting that they should be all year long. Oh, and that she should be their wedding photographer.
Emma sighed and held the back of her neck. It wasn’t that she didn’t like Ben. He seemed like a good guy. Spoiled her mother, took herout on dates, paid half the bills and treated her right. Joanna hadn’t smiled like she does now since her father died. She clearly loved Ben, and he appeared to return those feelings.... but he also had a lot of question marks over his head too.
Like, why did he live with Joanna, but drive away during the week to work? Why not transfer to the local police force? Why only live here properly Friday to Sunday night? He said they would all live together full time ‘soon’, but never seemed to give the impression that he meant in Seattle. If he saw his future being with Joanna, why drive all the way across statelines into Oregon for most the week? Was he really working, or did he have another family on the side?
Emma knew one thing for sure. She had a bad feeling about this announcement, with a capital B for Ben at the heart of it. Maybe I’m being unfair or paranoid. Emma cleared her throat, fixed a smile on her face and pressed the door bell at last. They have waited 2 years before getting hitched. Nice and slow for the most part. Mum is a grown woman and I don’t know Ben as well as she does. Mum has even been out with him to see his work a few times... She’s sure he isn’t hiding anything, so I’ll just hold my tongue and roll with it...for now...
The door opened and the hugging free for all began.
Emma was yanked forward into her mother’s arms and givena fierce hug. All the Carter women had ginger hair, but her mother’s was mildly peppered with silver these days. “Oh my darling Emma! It’s so good to see you!”
“Dear lord!” Joanna screeched and cupped her cheeks. “You look positively gaunt! Are you unwell?” Green worried eyes gave her the once over. “Come and sit down. I’ll get you an ice tea and some of my coconut macaroons.”
“Sounds great, but I’m fine really.” Emma allowed her mother to fuss over her and herd her to the floral print sofa in the livingroom. “Just burnt the candle at both ends a bit this week. Finals and all. But they are done now so it’s just a matter of waiting for my grades.”
“And then you’ll be able to have your first placement, right?”
Emma sank into the sofa with a happy sigh. Nothing made you appreciate being mothered over like living away from home each semester. Joanna soon brought a plate of her famous macaroons through, a pitcher of ice tea, and some chocolate squares too. Emma accepted a tall glass, took a welcome sip and felt the tension from her body begin to unwind.
“Yeah mum. I may have done my degree, but I still need to pass a year’s nursing placement before I can transfer into studying midwifery full time.”
“Or?” Joanna clinked her glass with Emma’s and grinned ather with pride. “You could join one of those midwife placements that qualify you on the job?”
“Gosh mum. Those apprenticeship places are like gold dust.” Emma exhaled longingly.
“But they are out there honey.” Emma smiled against the hand on her cheek. Her mother meant well, she really did, but someone in their family had to be practical. And that someone was always Emma.
“Yeah, for the top 10%. Of which, I am not.”
They had had this conversation nearly every visit for the last year. Why her mother couldn’t understand Emma’s reluctance to put her hopes in a very elusive and highly competitive way in to become a midwife, she couldn’t fathom. Emma worked very hard for her above average grades, but she was no exam super star. Her highest scores were for her practical workshops. I fit was hands on? Emma excelled. If it required a pen and paper with a time limit? She struggled. “Anyway, whereas Beth?” Emma tried to change the topic. Her mother raised her brow and gave her a look that said she knew exactly whather eldest was doing, but conceded with shrug regardless.
“In the dark room. Up to her elbows in rolls of film and developer fluid.” Joanna chuckled and sipped her tea. “Ben should be home any minute.” She spoke up at the clock on the wall. Emma watched as her mother finished her ice tea, dusted herself off out of habit from all the baking she did, and mentally checked she was ready for his arrival. The smile that blossomed on her face told Emma just how much she loved Ben. He might not by my cup of ice tea, but Ma clearly adores him. “Why don’t put your bag in your room? No need to unpack, just go get your sister out of her den on the way back, would you honey?”
Joanna vanished into the kitchen and Emma hoisted her duffle bag back up into her shoulder. Her suspicions were peaked again, as she noticed a few things walking through her childhood home. Joanna was a knickknack fiend. Doilies, China ornaments, bobble head film characters and crystal animals normally lined every surface. Yet they were all gone. The many family photoframes were missing off the walls too. She could smell bleach and every surface she passed had been dusted and polished to perfection. Her alarm bells sounded even louder when she peered into her mother’s room.
Her mother’s room was full of cardboard boxes with roomnames written on the side in black marker pen. Son of bitch! That’s what this is all about?!
Emma shook her head and stuck her tongue into her cheek. Wow. Okay mum. How long have you been planning this then? She chuckled and should have seen this coming. Part of her did, really. She’s moving in with Ben. In Oregon. I’m going to have to find my own place full time. She mentally groaned as her hand pushed the door to her sister’s room open. She paused there for a moment, her mind whirring about how her own life would be different with her mother moving to Oregon. I don’t have time to work! I study every minute under the sun just to get my decent enough grades. But I can’t afford a place year round on my own otherwise. I can take on work over the summer and save up for now? Crap! Emma closed her eyes and mentally groaned again. What about Beth? She’s only just finished high-school. Will she go to college in Seattle or Oregon? She could stay with me I guess, but can I support her? If she moves to Oregon and studies there she can live with mum and Ben, but she must have missed the deadline for re-applying, surely?
“Earth to Emma?” Emma blinked and looked up to see you 18 year old sister stood in front of her. Like a double of their mother in her youth, Beth had bright and hopeful green eyes, long wavy ginger hair, freckles across her cheeks and an air of naivety about her. She wouldn’t be spotted dead without a camera on her person and currently had what she called her ‘casual polaroid’ camera hanging from a pink strap around her neck. Converse shoes, jeans with torn knees, a yellow tank top with a thick warm brown cardigan that came to her knees was a staple outfit for the misfit. Beth tapped Emma’s nose gently, a mannerism she picked up from their mother, to get her attention. “Hay Sis? Do I need to send out a search party for you, or are you back with me now?”
“Oh that’s rich?” Emma sniggered and smirked at the younger redhead. “I’m normally the one searching for you and dragging you home.”
“...not this week...”
They shared a brief laugh as Emma dropped her duffle bag onto the brown couch that would pull out into a futon bed later. She had given up her old room to become Beth’s dark room when she first left for college. On the understanding that they would be roommates in the holidays, and the younger redhead wasn’t to be ‘annoying and loud’ during her stay. Sure, Beth was both those things anyway, but she was Emma’s kid sister and always got away with mischief. All she needed to do was clasp her hands together, give the old puppy eyes, and Emma would roll her eyes and forgive the airhead.
“So how long has Ma had this fast one in the works?”
Emma deadpanned her sister and folded her arms. “... Mum told me not to tell you what I thought she was up to.” Beth shrugged sheepishly. “On the pain of packing away all my gear early so I couldn’t developor edit anything.”