By Sarah Andrews
The rain falls around me, masking the tears that run down my face. I never realised that growing up would be so confusing, so painful. I try to make sense of the emotions that whirl through my mind. Mum is getting married. My mother, the woman who raised my brother and me all on her own, is getting married.
I like her boyfriend Travis, he's funny and he knows when to back off and leave me alone; but marriage? It's so… permanent. I'm not sure how I'll handle living with him. He stays over sometimes, but he always goes back to his apartment after a couple of days. I don't think I'll be able to handle him moving in permanently. I'm not used to sharing the house with more than my mother and brother. We know when to give each other space, and when to offer comfort.
What if they have kids? I shudder at the thought. I don't like children at all. They're just so breakable, and annoying. I can't stand the screeching and the grubby handprints everywhere. They're worse than baby animals. At least baby animals don't need to be carried everywhere.
Can I be strong for Mark? He needs me to be there for him. But so does Mum. I know she has Travis now, but she needs Mark and me as well. I don't think I can be strong for both Mark and Mum. There just isn't enough of me to go around. I sigh and let my head rest on my knees as the memories wash through me.
The smell of roast lamb wafted through the house, drawing me and my brother towards the dining room. Mum had been cooking all afternoon, nagging us to do little jobs whenever we drifted past the kitchen. I'd been asked to take out the rubbish three times already and told to unstack the dishwasher twice. We'd just settled down at the dinner table to eat when Mum broke the news.
"Jenny, Mark," She said, "You know how I've been dating Travis?" We nodded. Travis and Mum had been going out for nearly a year now. "Well," She seemed to gather herself. "He's asked me to marry him." I sat staring at my peas in shock. Mum and Travis? Getting married? I was startled out of my trance by the loud bang of a chair being knocked over.
"How could you!" Mark shouted. "We're happy, why do you have to go and ruin that?" He threw his cutlery down and stormed away, slamming his bedroom door shut.
Mum sighed in exasperation and looked at me, "Jenny could you just go and talk to your brother? I know you're probably not very happy with me right now either, but Mark might actually listen to you."
I left Mum sitting alone at the table with her head resting in her hands. I walked down the hallway towards my Marks bedroom. My door and Mark's door are across the hallway from each other, so I just leant on my door and knocked on his. "Mark, you okay little brother?" My only reply was some more banging from within his room and a muffled grunt. "Could I come in please?" I asked. "Just to talk, I promise not to tell Mum."
The banging stopped for a moment. I hoped that meant he was thinking about letting me in. Neither of us goes into the other's room without permission. It's easier to avoid embarrassment that way. "You can come in," Mark said. "Just try not to mess anything up, alright?"
I opened the door slowly, trying to counter the weight of the clothing pressed up against it. Mark was sitting against the wall next to his bed, staring at nothing. The room was a pig sty; clothing was everywhere and I didn't want to think about how long the plates and cups must have been there for. I picked my way across the floor, trying to find patches of carpet to stand on, and sat on the bed. We sat in silence for awhile, neither of us wanting to be the first one to start talking.
"Why does she have to marry him?" Mark burst out. "She seemed happy when he came over a bit and they were just dating."
I didn't know what to say. I was having my own doubts about Mum and Travis getting married, but I didn't want Mark to be hurting either. "Well I guess that they just love each other a lot," I mumbled. "Maybe he wants to make sure she doesn't leave him. Or maybe they want us all to be one family."
"I don't want to have to call him Dad!" Mark said. "We already have a Dad. He might be an arsehole, but he's still our Dad."
"Mark, you know that Mum and Dad broke up ages ago. You've seen how they fight whenever they're in the same room together. Remember how you told me that you hate it when they try to get along for us?"
"Yeah I know," Mark replied. "It's just that, Travis isn't our dad, but if he marries Mum, then everyone will think he's our dad. Neither of us looks anything like him, especially you Jen."
"It's not what we look like that matters. It's how we act." I replied. "You want Mum to be happy, don't you?"
"Yeah, I s'pose." Mark mumbled
"Well then I guess we'll just have to try and get along with Travis. He's the one that's making her happy right now. I don't want her to be upset because we want to keep her to ourselves. Look, if you need to grumble about Travis or Mum, just come talk to me, okay? That way we can be mean about Travis and not upset Mum. It'll probably take us awhile to get used to him anyway." I got up from the bed and started navigating across the floor. I'd just opened the door when Mark called out to me. I turned around to face him, "Yeah Mark?"
He looked down at his feet, "Thanks Jen."
I smiled, walking out into the hallway, "Any time little brother." When I got back to the kitchen, Mum was doing the dishes.
"Jenny, could you grab a tea towel and help me with these dishes please?" Mum asked.
I opened up the bottom draw to search for a tea towel, trying to think of something to say. The rain outside was getting heavier as I picked up the first plate to dry off. Mum was making odd noises beside me, almost too soft to hear. I looked over at her, placing the plate on the bench. Mum had let her hair fall forward so her face was hidden as she attacked the dirty dishes.
"Mum," I asked gently, "are you alright?"
"I'm fine, Jen." She whispered. "It's, it's just a big change isn't it?" She cleared her throat before continuing. "How did your talk with Mark go? Is he alright?"
I didn't believe her when she'd said that she was fine; her voice sounded like she was crying. "He's okay." I replied, resenting not being asked if I was alright. Mark may be younger and more emotional, but that doesn't mean that I can't be upset and need a hug either.
"That's good," Mum said. "So are you okay with Travis and me getting married?" "Sure," I lied. "I think it'll just take awhile for me to get used to the idea."
"Good, that's good" Mum replied "I just want you to be happy." She started really crying then, giving up on washing the dishes and bracing herself against the sink instead. I didn't know what to do. Should I give her a hug? Should I ignore her? I could her whispering in my ear as I held her close.
"I'm sorry Jenny, I shouldn't be crying. I'm just so happy, but I don't know how to make sure that everyone is happy. I want you and Mark to be happy, but I want Travis to be happy as well. You'd tell me if you weren't, wouldn't you?" She pulled back to look me in the eyes. "You would tell me if he said or did any thing, wouldn't you?"
I loosened my hold on her as I replied, "Of course I'd tell you Mum. But I trust your judgement, it's not like you'd marry an axe murderer or anything." I joked.
She looked at me seriously, ignoring my attempt at humour. "You can't always be sure though Jen. I'm only asking just in case. Promise me that you'd tell me the truth."
I couldn't look her in the eye, I needed to go and think. Maybe I would go out onto the driveway in the rain. The rain always helps clear my head and cheer me up. "I promise," I whispered as I let her go. "I'm just going outside to think for a bit."
Mum turned back to the dishes, wiping at her eyes. "Just don't stay outside for too long, Jen. You wouldn't want to catch a cold." She said. "Oh, could you take the rubbish out?" She called after me.
I sit down on the driveway, feeling the water seep through my jeans. The rain is still falling, slowly drenching me to the skin. I shiver a little, glad to feel anything other than the turmoil within. Soon I know I will have to go back inside. Soon I will have to talk to Mum again. Soon I will have to decide what to do about Travis. Soon I will have to be strong for my Mother and younger brother; soon.
But not right now. Now I will let the rain wash over me. Now I will cry. Now I will just be me; not daughter, not big sister. Now I will just be Jenny, confused and small. Now I will ignore responsibility for just a little longer. Now I will be free.