All I Ever Wanted
[Z is for Zoo/zeal?, Katie/Naomi, Skins/Trans, for curt_tone; get well soon, S!]
Katie sighs like she’s lost something, and when she speaks, you realize that in all probability, she has. That the mumbled conversation you and James have been avoiding for weeks has probably been exhausting for no other reason than that she makes them so, but you love her, so you’ll comfort her. And it will be alright. “They’re bringing the girls here for vacation,” she says into your neck, tucking against your body, pulling her legs up into your lap.
“And?” you suggest, knowing her too well. The girls have stayed before, for nights and weekends, with and without their mothers (and if you’re honest, its the latter that are the more stressful events).
“And the dogs,” Katie dead-pans, pulling back, and sighs. “Don’t even bother giving me that look, I’m well aware what I’ve been talked into, but we haven’t seen them in ages, and we definitely owe them this favor and besides, the kennels are massively expensive this time of year.” You’re not certain what look you’re meant to be giving, but it quickly dissolves into a gentle smile.
You poke Katie in the side. “She gave you an earful, didn’t she?”
“Just a bit. I’m honestly a bit shocked Effy hasn’t gotten my sister on some sort of medication. I believe she’s going senile at a young age.”
You draw a quick shape on Katie’s thigh with your fingertip, smudge it out. “Are you certain it doesn’t run in the family?”
“Good evening, Aunt Naomi, say good evening Alice. Alice packed her own bag for the week, but Mum was quite appalled at the state of things, and told Mumsy to fix a quick dinner whilst she fixed us up, sis and I. And Alice wasn’t too happy about leaving behind her ballet costume, were you Alice? There was quite a crying fit if you ask me, but between the three of us we calmed her down and well, Aunt Naomi, here we are. Where’s Aunt Katie and Cousin Jimmy? Mum said he’s got a new gaming system he’d let me have a go at.”
In the door–pushing her little sister in front of her like a gift–Lota introduces herself in a single breath, not pausing for replies or answers, slinging her backpack and duffel in the hallway, kicking off her mary janes, and dashes up the stairs. She’s comfortable enough in the house that she knows her way. Even has a room of her own–her’s an Alice’s–designated for visits. You’ve almost forgotten what it’s like to be around someone this young, or this… loud. Alice is a bit different, slinking back towards the door frame and lurking back to watch after “Mum and Mumsy” (neither of which are titles you managed to acquire, you think, relieved) heft the dogs from the car.
Katie’s out of the bathroom, still drying her hands together. “I thought I heard–”
“Look, Alli, Aunt Katie’s here as well. We’ll have a mad time this week, the lot of us.”
Over the doggy noises, suddenly there are four grown-up bodies at the door talking at once: “You’ve got my email, Katie?”
“No nuts–absolutely no nuts.”
“Christ, you’d think I was half-imbecile.”
“They sleep outside, right?” You reach for Fred’s leash–not moving as fast as he used to, but still wagging his tail–and when the twins, and a very maternal Stonem stare you down for roughly the equivalent of the time it takes to take a few steps back, you kneel in front of Alice, dwarfed by the adults, and tweak her chin. “If your mums and your aunt had any sense of humor, they’d know I meant the dogs.”
Katie is first to crack a smile, and you sigh, knowing you’ve got to run the dogs out back while she sorts out the details.
“Aunt Katie,” you hear, sliding open the back door, “Jim isn’t sharing the controller! I’m the guest!”
And a minute later the tell-tale sounds of Alice gearing up for a good cry.
The girls are in bed–Alice out cold, breathing from her mouth and curled on her side, arms squeezed around the pillow, Lota still tossing, sighing occasionally. You’ve told Jimmy goodnight, “Ten more minutes, okay?” pressed a kiss to his forehead, fluffed his hair back.
“Apparently,” Katie says, when you step down the stairs, trying to avoid the creeks, “that brother of Effy’s would like to take Jim for a trip. During school recess, perhaps. Says Jim’s been raving to him about adventure and exploring–they share emails, you know.”
You do, a little; that Jimmy grins at dinner when he’s had an email from Uncle Tony, that they keep in correspondence, that she and Katie’ve talked about it, and despite all the bullshit in the world, it’s simply nice for Jim to have a friend, and right, maybe a role model thrown in.
“What sort of a trip?” You’re not sure of the right question to ask.
“I blame you entirely.” The words are harsh, but Katie is smiling, and she gets up, comes towards you, touches your face. “In fact, I don’t think I can tolerate you putting the idea that we need a vacation–fucking–privacy into our son’s head. It’s incredibly rude.”
Your eyes slip closed and you lean into her. “But that’s why you keep me around, remember?”