☼ fifteen ₪ surprise visit

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THE REST OF THE SUMMER passes like a dream—that is, like one I've violently been ripped from only to be faced with the nightmarish reality that is my life. Okay, maybe that's a little too dramatic.

Elizabeth stays for another month until she's called back to New York to get her clothing line and models ready for Fashion Week. Zac and I spend as much time as we can vegging until we're forced back to our respective schools with the promise of reprieve in three months. I say goodbye to my dad again, each time becoming harder than the last, and am shipped off across the pond again to my new home in England. Besides our small back-and-forth on Instagram, Tom and I have minimal contact which makes me a little sad, but is what I expected from the short time we spent together.

Between my brother whining about how I wasn't coming home for Christmas, which would be the first Christmas we weren't altogether and he was really broken up about, and Elizabeth badgering me about deciding if I was going to stand up in the wedding or not, "which is sooner than it seems, Theadora!" it's amazing I was able to finish the semester at all. Elizabeth calls me the morning after the end of the term, asking me for the thirtieth time if I've made up my mind or not.

"Thea, it's nine months out. That does not mean you can string me along until the last minute or tell me now and then decide last minute that you've changed your mind." She huffs exasperatedly and I can picture her fighting the urge to chew on the ends of her hair, a terrible habit she's fought to break ever since 'making it big.' "We have to make dating arrangements, and get a dress—and there's just so many things to plan! Zac is going to sit the our table, if he wants of course, but if you don't come then I need to find someone to fill your place." My phone chiming next to my ear makes me jump and I pull it away, setting it to speaker as she continues to rant about how my not being there will ruin the wedding.

It's Zac who's texted me, a short whatcha doin sista :)

I reply quickly telling him I'm watching movies and listening to Elizabeth yell at me. Then before he responds I ask him why he wants to know. He almost never texts me to know what I'm doing.

no reason really, he says, just bored and dad wanted to know

That's a plausible answer, knowing my dad who's the least tech-savvy person I know and still owns his ten-year-old Motorola Razr, but Dad always calls me for these things himself. But I also don't care enough to pry into my brother's weird behavior and I tell myself I'll just call my dad after I hang up with Elizabeth. okay, I respond, listening as Elizabeth's rant starts to sputter out, tell him I'll call him later .

you can't, Isaac responds super quickly.

why not ?

you just can't :):):) love yaaa

I roll my eyes at his response and respond with the same back as Elizabeth repeats an earlier sentiment about the dress and me being missing. I groan tiredly and tug the hairband out of my hair, wrapping it around my wrist and interrupt her: "Get me a dress, or don't. Whatever. I said I'm not sure, okay? I'm just not down for it yet, okay?" I drop my head back against the couch and close my eyes. "I don't know."

"Well, you said yet so there's still hope, right?" She chuckles quietly, her voice sanguine and childlike. "Fine. I won't push it anymore," she continues when I don't answer. "For now. Just know that I do love you, okay? Even if I'm not good at showing it. Or showing up." I listen to the sound of her silent breathing on the other line and stare at the muted TV screen in front of me playing Ferris Bueller's Day Off, which only serves to make me miss home more. Elizabeth sighs heavily, which diverts my attention back to her, and says, "I'm going to be in London near the end of January. Maybe you and I could meet at a café and, uh, talk?"

I shake my head silently and blow out a breath through my closed lips, smoothing a hand over my scalp. "Yeah, sure, whatever. I'll talk to you later, Elizabeth."

"Okay," she says. Her voice is small, but in a way that sounds like she's trying to hold back her joy. "I love you, Thea."

I quickly hang up without responding and toss my phone onto the ottoman, tugging the heavy blanket up over my shoulders and unmuting the volume. I couldn't say it back. At one point my little self would have jumped to respond to her words, but I'd grown out of that phase of expecting a normal mother years ago. She may have been trying harder to be a part of our lives since dropping the wedding bomb six months ago, but it didn't mean I was ready to forgive and forget completely. For now, though, I push all thoughts from my mind and let myself be caught up in my eighties' movies marathon.

Before I realized it, the daylight had faded and it was almost six o'clock. I shut off the TV and stretch, wincing as my joints pop obnoxiously. As I'm standing up and heading to the kitchen to wash my popcorn bowl, the door jingles open and one of my flat mates barges in beaming and singing a Christmas song at the top of her lungs. "Hullo, Thea!" she greets me loudly, pulling me into a hug before she even shuts the door to the hallway.

I laugh and reciprocate the hug. "Hey, Tillie. You left the door open again."

"Oh, yeah! Well, actually funny story. I was downstairs and met these two strange men who said they knew you so I let them up." She bounces up and down excitedly, her dark, curly hair flying cheerfully around her face.

"You did what?" I rush over the door to shut it, the sound of Tillie's laughter behind me, when suddenly two familiar faces.

"Did you miss us?" Dad asks, appearing behind my brother with his arms wide and a smile as large as Tillie's, who's now squealing from behind me.

"Dad!" I leap into his arms, eliciting a grunt and a rumbling laugh from his chest.

"Hey, Bee," he mutters into my hair.

Isaac pulls me into a headlock as soon as I release Dad from my hold. "Miss me too, squirt?"

"Not when you do that," I grumble, wiggling out of his hold and leading them both inside the apartment. They take a seat on the sofa where Tillie is now sitting and nursing a steaming mg of tea. How she makes them so quickly, I'll never know. "What are you guys doing here? Also this is my roommate Tillie; Tillie, Dad and Zac."

"Yeah, we met downstairs," Zac says, choosing the spot right next to the brunette and giving her a cheeky smile. She rolls her eyes at him and takes a sip of her tea as Dad's eyes wander around the apartment.

"This place is pretty nice," he comments appreciatively.

"Where are the decorations though, squirt?" Zac asks as he pokes me with his sock-clad foot. "It's so bland."

Tillie nods and sets her mug down. "We told her that. Since everyone else is gone and I'm leaving tonight, I told her she could do whatever she wants, but she says she doesn't like Christmas—or something."

"You can't even get a tree?"

"You want one so bad, go buy one yourself," I tell him.

"Well, maybe tomorrow. If we're gonna be here for two weeks, I want it to feel like Christmas." He sinks back into the cushions and crosses his arms over his chest. "I need Christmas."

I smile and nudge him back with my foot, tossing the heavy blanket over his head. "You know, Bex is right. You are so needy."

Dad and Tillie laugh as he pulls the blanket from his head and onto his lap, mussing his hair and making it stand on end. His mouth twists into a grimace as he glares at me. "Shut up, Thea."

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