Ed was humming to herself as she rode home, weaving quickly though the traffic. The promenade was in a fancier part of the city, so she had plenty of time for it. Not that her neighbourhood was bad, just old, made up of families that had been there for a few generations. Nosy and comfortable. There’d been talk for months, worry, really, when a family sold their house, with all the neighbours wondering who would buy it, and what they’d be like, and if this would start the cascade of change that would sweep everyone away. She understood, a little. Another little part of her was eager to see something new.
The new people had been a family, and only wanted the tiny square of yard, so their kids could feel growing things.
She parked in the tiny space left for her and grabbed her pack. The two-story house was a little ragged at the edges, settled into the earth like a bird on a nest. Her parents kept talking about painting it and never did get around to looking into it. The kitchen window glowed gold, steamed from dinner cooking. She took a deep breath, absorbing the quiet.
She tried her luck slipping in the back door. Her mother had ears like a rabbit, though.
“Ed, take the recycling out.”
“She’s in her date clothes,” her father called back, trotting down the small flight of stairs to the entrance. He gave her a quick kiss on the cheek before grabbing up the bin.
The change from the cool night to the warm, damp house made her skin tingle. The air was full of food smells, and her stomach rumbled embarrassingly loud. Ice cream wasn’t the best lunch, maybe. She poked her head into the kitchen.
“Get the potatoes!”
She scrambled to lift the lid, catching the bubbling water just before it ran over. Her mom had the big roaster out. Pork, it turned out. There was even pie. She was only half changed out of her work clothes, too.
“What’s the special occasion?”
“It was supposed to be a big dinner with Meadow, but she broke up with your brother.”
“Nuts. I liked her.”
The five of them crowded around the painfully bright orange kitchen table. The expansion leaf had been removed from the middle, the traditional sign of another failed relationship. Auggie prodded his roast unhappily. He’d find someone again soon. She couldn’t remember a stretch longer than a week where he didn’t have a girlfriend. It was too early to point it out, though.
He saw her looking and gave a wan smile.
“How was it?”
“How was what?”
“Your date, silly,” Suzie said.
“It was fine.”
“Did you go all the way up and back down the promenade?” Auggie asked.
“What’s that got to do with anything?”
“Did you though?”
“Suzie, no work at the table.”
“Sorry, Mom. But did you?”
“We got distracted by that medal game.”
“I thought you hated that game. ‘A heartless, cynical capitalist ploy.’”
“I didn’t say that.”
“You did. When I was talking about the marketing department looking into joining.”
“It isn’t that bad, I guess.”
“You’re missing the big picture, Suze. Ed never changes her first date plan. This is unprecedented.”
“Wait, is this the baking girl?”
Ed looked at her parents for help.
“What’s her name?” her father asked.
“Leave your sister alone,” her mother said. “We’ll meet Emma when she comes to dinner.”
After dinner and dishes she stretched out on her bed, eyes travelling over the familiar decor. Things accrued. Every room in the house was crammed with stuff. She and her siblings were the fourth generation to live there, and everyone picked up the same habit of eternally keeping things for later. Books and sketch pads crowded the shelves. Clothes that she didn’t wear, shoes with broken buckles. Comforting debris. She was fairly sure that one of the boxes in her closet still had dolls from her childhood. Only Suzie broke with tradition. Her room looked like something from an interior designer’s portfolio.
She bet that Emma wouldn’t accrue. She didn’t seem the type. Ed pictured a tidy room. Probably in practical but ladylike colours. Beige, she thought, and creams. Nothing adventurous. Her childhood room had been pink or purple, with a stuffed bear and dolls, but not the latest toys. She would have had a tidily organised desk. She would have done her homework immediately after school, in the order that it was due. She probably still had a tidy desk. She probably revised her notes from baking class.
Ed rolled over. Why did she like her? She usually went for bold girls. She liked the type who hiked and played sports, as long as she could watch from the sidelines. Emma was like a mouse. A very, very cute mouse.
She opened the chat application. A little underhanded, but she’d stolen a quick picture of her. In it she was concentrating on her ice cream, fishing for the cherries with innocent glee. The wide-brimmed hat cast most of her face into shadow, hiding her reddish hair, carefully protecting her skin.
That kiss, though.
She hunted with her limited knowledge, since she only had her name and location, but Emma was like a ghost. She wasn’t on any of the work or social nets. Most people had some kind of searchable life. She wasn’t a Luddite; she had a tablet, and she’d been given a new program to test. She didn’t expect a big presence, but at least a profile somewhere. But maybe she had secret talents and she worked in corporate testing.
She propped the tablet next to a water glass and projected the picture into the wall. It was fuzzy, broken up by pictures and a rack of belts.
The distance between her bed and the shelves was just enough to fit her knees. There’d been a time when the first thing to hand was a new sketch pad and pencil. Now she had to fish around the back to find them. Her desk was hopelessly buried under a mountain of clothes, bags and makeup, so she pushed pillows out of the way and sprawled on the bed.
Her hands sketched idly, remembering what she’d taught them to do. Turned out what they knew was only good enough for family and friends.
They faltered, then she looked at the stolen picture and went on, filling page after page of failures, wasting time.
She tore the pages out one by one and crumpled them.
Ed swept the tablet out of sight. The image vanished.
Her sister picked up the balled up papers and stacked them up in a tidy pyramid.
Suzie sat on the end of the bed.
“It’s good to see you drawing again.”
“Not a waste of time?”
“That was mean. I was young and stupid.”
She shoved the pad and pencil back into the chaos of her shelves. “You were right, anyway.”
“I was still mean, young, and stupid.”
“You’ve never been stupid.”
She turned, sitting cross legged on the bed. If you took away the expensive exercise wear and the expensive hair cut they might have been back in their teen years. Ed wiggled her feet, resenting the fact that she still liked panda socks.
“I don’t want to kick you when you’re down…”
“What is it?”
“Dad asked me to find some technical courses for you. Again. I tried to find things you might like to get certified in.”
“He’s only worried for you. He says you should be looking into it, to build a solid foundation, until you land where you want.”
“I know. He’s right.”
Suzie had been braced for a fight. Her look of surprise made Ed smile.
“You’re going to?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know. I guess.”
Suzie picked up one of the crumpled balls of paper and smoothed it over her leg.
“You really are good, though.”
“Not good enough to matter.”
She wished she was more like Suzie. Or even Auggie. He worked on engines. It wasn’t like he was an engineer or anything fancy, but he went at it in the morning, came home, complained about stupid things at work, and went out with his friends. He was happy.
“It isn’t like you can’t keep at it, and do something else for a living.”
That’s how they always presented it. It’s not like it can’t be some hobby. It’s not like you can’t fool around after you finish the job that you hate. It’s not like you can’t show at the community centre. It’s not like you can’t just take pleasure in it yourself. It doesn’t matter if no one sees it.
They were trying their best. Sometimes she wished that they wouldn’t.
“There are some interesting certifications. They pay well, too. Records and archivists, or…Well, some of them, you could go back to your blue hair. It looked good on you.”
Records were Suzie’s fallback. She was absolutely sure that Ed had a career in front of her archiving forgotten fragments of video and orphaned text.
“It’s okay, Suze. I mean, I’ve seen good art. I understand. I really do.”
Suzie grabbed her ankle and shook her leg. “This isn’t like you. Is this something to do with the new girl? Did she say something?”
“No, she isn’t like that.”
“She seems nice.”
“She is. Stop,” she added, when Suzie started to smirk, with a smug head wobble. She would take the credit for it, since she was the one who pushed the baking class.
“You know how much Mom wants to keep that table jumbo-sized.”
“What happened to Meadow, anyway?”
“She wanted to move for work. I guess it was too much commitment for Auggie.”
“What about you?” She nudged Suzie with her foot.
“When I can find someone who can keep up.” She smiled. “Don’t change too much. Your new girl obviously likes you this way. I’ll send you my notes.”
She stood to go.
“If you were going to take someone to dinner, where would it be? A proper dinner date.”
“It doesn’t matter where I’d go. It’s your style.”
“Cheap fast food isn’t impressive.”
“Don’t take her for standing noodles.”
“There goes my plan.”
“Heh. If she likes nice things, splash out. But if she seems to have simple tastes, don’t intimidate her.” She waved the wrinkled paper. “She looks like someone who wants to be where you want to be. I’d try that.”