‘Jesus Christ Mum, would you just relax, just a bit, for like, once in your life.’
‘No. I will not ‘just relax’ given that my daughter is out gallivanting God only knows where at all hours!’
‘Two hours.’ Sarah rolled her eyes. I said nothing – I had nothing constructive to say. Opening my mouth would be a mistake. ‘Two hours late. Big deal, it’s not like I’ve been gone all night.’
‘Oh well, that’s okay then,’ I took a deep breath. ‘Sarah, you can’t behave this way. I don’t know where you are, who you’re with, I don’t know that you’re safe, I just can’t – ’ She just looked at me. I searched her face for some sign of remorse, some kind of guilt. I saw only defiance. Anger. Hurt. ‘Go to your room. Go to bed. You’re grounded.’ I couldn’t think what else to say. Why are you behaving this way? Why are you so distant? What the hell is wrong? All these would have been better.
‘What!? Mum, that’s not fair. Juliet Parker stays out all night and doesn’t go home til the next day and she doesn’t even phone her parents and she doesn’t get in trouble.’
‘I don’t give a damn about Juliet Parker. You are my daughter; you. And I care aboutyou.’
‘Yeah right,’ she snorted.
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’
‘You don’t care. You’ve never cared. The only person you care about is Elsie.’ It was like a slap in the face. I looked at her, really looked. At only thirteen, Sarah was so different to the little girl I’d given birth too. The perfect baby girl, soft and round, with a perfect little head and a crumpled face. Not a mark on her skin. The girl stood in front of me was older than her years, pierced and covered in makeup. She wore an awful lot of makeup for such a pretty girl, she didn’t need it. Her jet black hair was as far as it could have been from the mop of mousy brown she was born with. I wanted to reach out, to hug her, to tell her something that would help. Instead, I said,
‘You know that’s not true. I’m concerned about you. I don’t want you out late at night when I can’t get hold of you because I love you and I care.’ She just stared at her feet like she didn’t believe me. ‘Sarah?’ Eyes thick rimmed with eyeliner glanced upwards, shot back to the ground. ‘I thought you were more mature than this.’
‘Can I go now?’ she asked. I nodded and watched as she took off, over sized hoodie and Dr Martens in tow. I waited for her bedroom door to slam, waited for the noise which always made me flinch, but it didn’t come.
I’d waited two hours for her to come home. I was tired, I wanted to go to bed, but I’d waited for her. I’d sat in the living room all evening, wearing my dressing gown and slippers and wanting to fall asleep. Why couldn’t she see how inconsiderate she was being? I’d had a long day, I’d have to be up in the morning with the baby, I needed to rest, but now my mind was awake and buzzing. Did she really believe I didn’t care? Everything I did, I did for my children. Never got a bloody minute to myself.
Last week, she’d come home drunk. Drunk, at her age. God knows where she’d gotten the alcohol, or where she’d been drinking it; out on the streets like some commoner probably. She’d stumbled up the stairs and I’d wanted to wring her neck. But I was too tired to fight, too tired to argue. We didn’t even really talk about it the next day. Kevin hadn’t been much help. His best input was to wish a ‘stinking hangover’ on her.
‘It’s teenagers,’ Jennie had said over a coffee one day, ‘it’s a phase. She’ll grow out of it.’ I’d believed her at first, but now I wasn’t sure. She was so distant at the moment, staying out late, not picking up the phone; she’d missed a lot of school and now this. I was drained. Upstairs, I heard Elsie crying. I wanted to put my head in my hands, shut my eyes and ignore it, ignore everything. I wanted to curl up in a ball, and sleep in my dressing gown on the sofa. I didn’t want to have to get up in the morning, get dressed, get to Ti a Fi with Elsie, deal with any more of Sarah’s crap.
A sharp cry startled me, jolting my mind back to the present. Dragging my slippers in the direction of the stairs, I felt heavy and low, like a my feet were made of iron. Kevin was fast asleep in our bed, sprawled out and snoring, despite the baby’s cries. I always said he could sleep through a train wreck. I scooped up the baby, inhaling her warm, milky smell, and held her tight.
‘C’mon, we don’t want to wake Daddy do we baby girl?’ I carried Elsie back downstairs, where I seemed doomed to spend my night, and sung to her softly until she stopped grizzling. ‘There now, that’s better isn’t it?’ She looked up at me, her big blue eyes full of sleep, and she reminded me so much of her sister. But I hadn’t gone wrong with her yet. Not that I knew where I’d gone wrong with Sarah. I’d always tried to do the right thing, always been there for her. With the baby asleep in my arms, I collapsed on the sofa, ready to drift off myself. Then I saw Sarah’s phone. She’d left it on the sideboard. I knew I shouldn’t, but I’d paid for the bloody thing anyway.
As I scrolled through the messages folder, I saw texts to her friends, texts to some boys I didn’t know, one or two texts moaning about me, but nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing incriminating. No photos, no videos. Just the average phone of any teenage girl. I put the phone back quietly, in the exact same spot I’d found it, and carried Elsie slowly up to bed.