Chapter 8

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With five days until December, it couldn't feel less like Christmas. And that's not to say it doesn't look seasonal - if all I had to go on was the fine sheen of snow outside, then I'd probably be top-full of festive cheer.

No, it's the way my parents have tiptoed around the house - faces drooping like wilted flowers. I don't think they know how to respond to the way I bolt from the room every evening, stay silent at the dinner table, refuse family movie night - time after time. And I'd try to help them out if I had a clue, myself, why I do it. 

My cluelessness doesn't stop guilt nibbling away at my insides. It's like the resident bird in my ribcage is pecking at my lungs, because when I look up from the kitchen counter and see my dad - sagging into the dining room chair with a tired frown - I feel like all the oxygen has deflated out of me. That's me. I did that. I'm making him miserable. 

Once I dry the last plate, once it's slotted safely in the cupboard, I go back to stirring my tea and then carry it tentatively to where he sits. The china clinks against the table, and the noise rouses him - he looks up at me with sleepy eyes. 

"You look like you could do with the caffeine," I try for a smile - feel like my face is too tight to accommodate one - and turn to slump into the next chair over. Dad runs a cautious finger around the rim of the mug - lips taut, mind somewhere else.

"I haven't had a minute spare to sleep, really." He sighs. "Things at the job centre are tough, and I've only got the occasional gig.Folks don't like jazz the way they used to, kid."

The very mention of work, jobs, and the money situation stirs a tremor in my body. Iciness pervades my blood - sloshes to and fro while I fend off the nerves and try to think of a comforting word.Try to think of a reassuring gesture. Yet, those are things I've not made a habit of recently, and so I'm at a loss - solace all too foreign a concept. It's a pained spasm of my fingers - eager, despite being unsure - that makes me reach over to squeeze his hand.

"It'll work out, things always work out, you know."

And it's weird how a couple of words, a throwaway sentence on my behalf,lifts his face. I don't even know if what I'm saying is the case -don't know much about anything any more – but I can hope that if I recite this enough times, it'll come to fruition. Hope for my sake,as much as his.

Unsteady,shaky fingers wind their way through mine, and we sit for a silent minute – palm to palm – feeling heartbeats thrum in our fingertips and breaths slip into the emptiness. If reassurances work for him,maybe they can work for me too. I want to keep that smile on his face, want to keep the air in my lungs, and the way to do it seems to be pretending nothing is wrong – or at least, won't be for much longer. The way everyone else is coping.

"You want to watch West Side Story again?" I ask, eager to keep him content and distracted – eager to throw minutes out the window,eager for time to disappear altogether really. The corners of his lips twitch,

"We don't have WiFi – the new router is being fitted tomorrow." The words spill from his mouth in an uncharacteristic rush, and my gut clenches because it feels as though he's ashamed. The worry, the guilt – it all stirs in his eyes and shimmers in a way that makes me question whether it's the light, or tears. And I know what that feels like, know all too well, and so I'm desperate for him to smile instead.

"Well then, I'll go down to Mills and pick it up on DVD."

I pull my hand away, wind it through my hair instead so he doesn't feel it damped with sweat. Strands of brown, clogged with grease, clump in my grip and I remember I need to wash it, soon. Things like that have taken a back-seat recently, while I've been drowning in my skin.

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