It was a perfect afternoon to be out.
The sun was shining, the autumn leaves were falling, and the air was warm. Sienna took a moment to breathe in, allowing the country air to fill her lungs before taking the four steps to the door and gave the little silver bell a ring.
It was a new day—she had to remind herself that. A day she had been looking forward to for weeks, months even; her niece’s second birthday. A good enough reason to be with her family in old Aringdale to celebrate it.
She swayed side to side on the heels of her black leather boots, unable to still herself. She exhaled a drawn-out sigh. It didn’t matter that her fiancé wasn’t by her side. In fact, part of her was relieved.
It wasn’t long before she heard footsteps approach the front door. Her heart raced with the unknown. How long had it been since they had been under one roof together? It must have been before her niece, Bailey was born. Surely no longer than two years? She shuddered at the thought. It would have been longer than that. Maybe as far back to when they were newly engaged, four or five years ago. How could she have let so much time pass? A familiar pain of regret swept through her body, commanding her dancing feet to stop.
Her thoughts were interrupted as the door opened. Her sister embraced her with a smile as though all had been forgiven for not having returned her eleven calls over the past month. There was no bitterness in her expression, just a genuine joy to see her. Her heart was replaced with a glow of warmth at the very sight.
A feeling she barely recognised these days.
‘You’re here!’ She threw her arms around Sienna, locking her in an embrace reserved for a sister.
Sienna accepted it graciously, latching onto her long dark hair as it tickled her neck. She pulled back and tugged it gently from either side. ‘Your hair! It’s grown!’ she gasped. It only felt like yesterday where it sat above her shoulders, and now fell half way down her back.
Mia laughed lightheartedly as she took hold of her locks and tossed them over her shoulder. ‘I know, so long now! I’m reminded every day the way Bailey latches onto it. I need to cut it before she rips it all out on me!’
Sienna managed a giggle. Oh, how her heart soared at the very mention of her little niece. She not only missed her so much, but
had missed so much. Why hadn’t she made the time to come up more often? Aringdale was only a couple of hours drive away. She couldn’t think of a single reason why she hadn’t made time for her own family. The same way she couldn’t think of a single reason why she hadn’t packed her bags and …
‘Where’s Patrick today?’
The question strangely took her off guard even though it was a copied and pasted line at every family get together.
She fiddled with the straps of her handbag, gripping tightly onto the handles at the mention of his name. The concern in her sister’s eyes didn’t match the resentment in her tone. A tone that always held a sharpness whenever she turned up at events like these without the man who was supposed to be her other half. Just because they weren’t glued to each other one hundred percent of the time didn’t mean he deserved such a harsh verdict. They were two people, leading two very busy lives. If anything, they should be commended for being individuals with an independence to do things on their own.
Yet the look in her sister’s eyes told her that she thought differently. Mia had always questioned Patrick, finding reasons to slam him down from the day she basically met him.
She shouldn’t be so affected by it, but she couldn’t help it as she caught herself inhaling deeper than normal. She had become tired of having to defend him all the time. What would she tell her? That he was home hungover yet again, burying his head in the sand? Stuck in a bottomless pit he had been digging for himself for the past four years? Obviously, she wouldn’t say such things about the man she was going to marry. She wouldn’t give her family another reason to hold a grudge over the man she loved. Besides, he had been through
so much, even if it had been years since the accident. She didn’t need their judgement, too.
‘He got called into work. You know how things have been since his promotion. He’s biting off more than he can chew.’ She smiled, pretending she wasn’t bothered in the slightest.
The lies, so many of them. When would they stop?
Mia nodded slowly as she processed, then waved her inside. ‘Yeah, ok. Shame he can’t be here … again.’ She pursed her lips in a hard line on the last word. ‘Anyway, come on in, everyone’s here and lunch isn’t too far off.’
Before she could work out if her sister’s disappointment was sincere or not, she found herself being ushered down the corridor.
Her parents were in the living area, pecking away at a table filled with fruit, cheese and various slices. As soon as they heard the sound of her boots pattering along the floorboards, their heads turned.
Sienna smiled tentatively, before a real one took over at the gentle tug on her jeans. ‘Bailey!’ She reached down and scooped her niece into her arms, planting a thousand kisses on her forehead. She had grown so much over the few months she had seen her last.
Bailey’s lips parted, revealing an adorable tooth gapped smile, her deep brown eyes glistening at her with a love that made her heart want to explode. ‘You have grown so big,’ she whispered and swung her little body to her hip. She finally had the nerve to exchange eye contact with her parents whose had been focused on hers the entire time.
Her mother was first to come forward. ‘Sienna, darling! How was the drive?’ She popped the last of the slice in her mouth, dusted her hands on her blazer jacket and presented her with wide stretched arms. It felt strangely unnatural as her mother’s arms closed over her, squeezing onto her waist. ‘Have you been eating?’ She leaned back observing her, scanning her body like a security wand checking for explosives at an airport.
Before Sienna had a chance to defend herself, her father came to the rescue. Unlike her mother, his eyes were beaming without all the burning questions behind them. ‘It’s good to see you baby girl.’ He leaned in giving her a kiss on the cheek. There was a sadness in his voice that knotted her heart with the same web of pain she was caught in earlier.
She couldn’t blame him.
It had been over eight months since she had spent any sort of quality time with either of them. She hadn’t even made it home for Christmas that summer. How things had gravitated that way over the years, she had no idea. She was sure Mia would run her mouth with an explanation, blaming Patrick for the countless times he had pushed her away from her own family.
But she knew she has no one to blame, but herself.
‘How are things, sweetheart?’ He placed his arm on her shoulder and peered into her eyes with a concern that validated just how much he had missed her. She had missed him too. She had missed everyone. It was enough to make her suddenly feel all thick in the throat. She gave Bailey another kiss and lowered her wiggly legs down onto a free space of carpet that wasn’t submerged with toys. Her big dark brown eyes were looking up at her as if she too, was waiting for an answer.
‘Things are fine. Busy, but fine. The semester is drawing to a close so report writing and parent teacher interviews are just around the corner.’ She forced a stiff smile and spotted the bottle of wine on the counter. She took a few unnatural strides towards it and poured herself a glass for the first time in years. A glass she didn’t even want. The stuff had already caused enough destruction in her life. ‘Looking forward to the break to be honest,’ she muttered and inhaled a giant sip.
Lately, she found herself questioning whether her career choice as a teacher had been the right move. Maybe she just wasn’t cut out for the job. It wasn’t the hours, the obsessive parents or the challenging students as such. It was everything else she hadn’t signed up for. The rivalry between her work colleagues, or to be more accurate—the war between her and them. They despised her that much. Not to mention the principal at top of the chain who would date her tomorrow if she gave him the all clear. That was what it truly felt like, a food chain. Where she was at the bottom being mauled alive by everyone above her.
And then there was Patrick, her fiancé.
If you would even call him that.
She was beginning to doubt if she would ever walk down the aisle. But that was another story. One she now wasn’t sure would have a happy ending as she once imagined. Every suppressed emotion bubbled to the surface in a blur. She could no longer pinpoint the moment where everything in her life became such a …
‘Lunch is served! Hope you’re all hungry because I think I over calculated this one!’ sung Lance, Mia’s husband, as he burst through the kitchen with trays piled high with steak, chicken, sausages, onion and tomatoes.
Sienna’s stomach grumbled as the sizzling aroma of a good Aussie BBQ filled the room in an instant. Bailey let out an excited squeal and everyone raptured into laughter as they took their seat at the family table, just like old times.
* * *
The afternoon played out in a flash and to Sienna’s surprise, a little too quickly than she hoped it would. Lance cooked the meat to perfection, his recent passion and hidden talent for cooking failing to go unnoticed as compliments flew around the room as many times as her mother eyed her plate. She had only dropped a couple of kilos over the months, she didn’t know what her problem was as she watched her every chew.
The mood seemed to lift as soon as Mia brought out the cake she had spent the entire previous afternoon working on. It looked like something a professional would put together. She had managed to create the perfect owl, decorated with pastel coloured icing, using chocolate buttons and licorice to detail the features of the bird.
The animated look on Bailey’s face was priceless as it was lowered onto the table, her eyes growing wider by the second. Her excitement only escalated when everyone started singing happy birthday before taking five or six slobbery attempts of blowing the candles out. Sienna smiled savoring the moment. A warmth filled the width of her heart, comforting her like a blanket. She had almost forgotten what it felt like to have her family all together under the one roof. It felt, well … like home.
She was in the kitchen, helping with the clean up when her sister came in carrying what was left of the bird. It looked a little disturbing with its limbs missing after all of that effort.
Lance came whizzing up behind her, wrapping his arms around her waist and planted a kiss at the top of her forehead. She couldn’t help but feel a little bit jealous with all the affection.
‘Sweetie, you completely nailed that cake.’ He curled his finger into the icing that hung from the side.
Mia slapped his hand away playfully. ‘Hey! Get out of there!’ she laughed spiritedly, resisting him as he pulled her in closer.
He grinned and in slow motion, placed his finger to his mouth and licked it. Sienna watched, admiring her sister and brother in law
who were clearly still so in love, even after a decade. They giggled as they maneuvered around the kitchen together, tidying up like a
perfect team. They looked like two teenagers flirting with one another, even after all this time. She couldn’t help but smile, grateful her sister had found a love that hadn’t wavered in the eleven years they had been together.
When was the last time she and Patrick had laughed like that? She quickly filtered through the memories. There were many times, surely? There was that time where they…
‘Here you go S, a slice for Patrick to take back with you.’ Lance placed a clear plastic container down on the bench beside her.
She laughed at the generous serving of cake inside. It was pretty much three slices thick. ‘He’ll love that, thanks.’ She smoothed her hand over the container, hoping Patrick would actually appreciate the gesture. He probably wouldn’t even think twice, if she was honest.
It wasn’t until Lance joined the others in the other room where Mia jumped in on their time alone and begun the familiar conversation. ‘Talk to me, what’s going on with you?’
Sienna squirmed, knowing confrontation was just around the corner. It was something she didn’t do well, even with her own sister who never seemed to give up. She knew exactly where this was all heading. She tilted her head to the side, planting a vacant expression as though she had no idea what she was talking about. ‘What do you mean?’
Mia rested her hand on her hip, clearly irritated at the game they continued to play. ‘Ok … what is your plan? You and Patrick? When’s this wedding going to happen? It’s been how long now? Six years?’
She was bringing out the big guns today. This was her sister in full force, and it looked like there was going to be no holding back. Why wouldn’t she leave it alone?
Everyone else had.
‘Five, actually,’ she snapped, not meaning to respond as sharply as she did. ‘We’ll get around to it. Like I said, he has a lot going on at the moment. Work’s busy, we are at a stage in our careers where we don’t want to be asking for time off for a honeymoon and the craziness that comes with planning a wedding.’ It wasn’t what she truly felt, but these days, it was the best she had.
Mia shook her head, clearly not believing a word. Sienna studied her, not knowing if her sister was frustrated at the scripted response or was at a loss as much as she was. The problem was, Mia had been questioning every detail about their relationship for years. It wasn’t the first time they have had a conversation that went down this path. It carried out the same way every time, despite never having reached a different outcome.
So really, why did they have to go down this road again? Couldn’t they enjoy an afternoon together without devouring into something that clearly upset her?
‘Don’t you think this is dragging out far enough? When are you going to make a stand?’
It looked like they were back there again. Sienna sighed, feeling the weight of her body slump against the bench. ‘Make a stand? Come on, let’s not start, please. I didn’t ask for you to open all this up again.’
Mia sighed heavily. ‘Come on S, you aren’t seriously making excuses for him still, are you? Is it him putting the planning off? Because the sister I know had the whole thing planned out since she was ten. Every single detail.’
And there was that lump again. Why did she have to bring her past into it like that? Damn her for pulling on her heart strings this way. They had been pulled hard enough already. Yet, the comment had a way of taking her mind right back.
Growing up she had taken advantage of their long, narrow, lounge room—it having been the perfect aisle as she pretended it was her wedding day. Every time she put on the ugly, stained, silk dress that lived in the family’s old dress ups box, it would transform into the most beautiful dress in the world. Throughout her teenage years, she had envisioned the gown she would wear, the music that would be played and the choreography of the dance she would share with her future husband. Even before she was engaged, she had created a Pinterest board for inspiration, documenting all of her ideas.
‘It’s in our future, it will happen eventually. We just need to find the time to look at venues to find what we want.’ It didn’t matter that she had already researched over a hundred at the time, narrowing the list down to a top ten. A list she has put forward to Patrick on numerous occasions. Every time he would say the same thing.
‘This weekend is no good for me babe, next week.’
But they never actually set a time to make it happen. Soon enough the weeks rolled into years. Before long, so much time had passed to the point where it was almost out of context to bring it up a single time more.
He had accused her of nagging him, pressuring him whenever it was gently brought up in conversation. ‘Leave it alone S. You pushing this is making me not want to go.’
After five years of being patient, she had given up.
Then when the accident happened, she kept silent. The wedding would just have to take a back seat.
‘As long as you’re happy to keep on waiting.’ Mia sighed again and filled her glass with water from the soda stream.
The defeat clouded in her eyes was obvious as she inhaled deeply—and Sienna could understand why. They both knew she wasn’t happy. Well, not really anyway. But they also both knew the conversation wouldn’t move forward to a place where it was safe to uncover her true feelings. She wished she had the courage to openly speak her heart. If only she could tell her sister everything that was going on then maybe the burden would ease, even slightly.
But she couldn’t.
It wasn’t that she didn’t trust her. She knew she could, they used to tell each other everything once upon a time. But time had
hardened her, and now she was too stubborn, even if she couldn’t admit it out loud.
Of course she was happy.
For the most part, anyway.
She shouldn’t be so quick to write it off. She had so much to be thankful for, today being a perfect example. It only felt like yesterday when her heart was bursting in those early years when she found the person she believed would make her happy forever.
She was only young when she first met Patrick, a skinny blonde with legs for days. It was her twenty-first birthday and she had been out for dinner with a group of her closest girlfriends. He had been a waiter back then, working part time whilst completing his business degree. She couldn’t remember who noticed who first, but she did remember that their chemistry was instant. He was not only easy on the eyes with his chiseled jaw line and piercing blue eyes, but a gentleman too.
Throughout the course of the night he hovered around their table, offering to pour what must have been ten glasses of wine in the space of an hour. He had ignored the fact that each time their glasses were more than half full, but Sienna liked the attention so much and hadn’t minded in the slightest.
‘That guy is keeeeeeen,’ her best friend Jacqueline said, smirking every time his eyes darted back towards them.
They really did lock on Sienna like a spell.
She had waved off her friend’s remark casually. ‘Nah, not a chance. He’s just polite and efficient at his job. In fact,’—she reached into her purse—‘I think he deserves a tip girls, what do you think?’
They had all laughed. This wasn’t the United States of America. A tip was hardly necessary. At this stage Patrick had lingered around their table yet again with another wine bottle in his hands. Her friends had looked on in with anticipation at what crazy remark would fly from her lips. She was witty like that. Or at least had been back then.
She had spiritedly tossed her long blonde hair over her shoulder as she built up the courage to look at the beautiful man in the eyes for the first time. Oh, how her heart swelled as butterflies spasmed in her abdomen when their eyes finally locked. She cleared her throat. ‘So Mr… um, waiter, Sir. On behalf of my girlfriends and myself, we would like to formally extend a token of our appreciation for your outstanding service tonight.’
The girls burst into laughter at the formality of her approach. With slightly quivering hands, she handed a twenty-dollar note towards the tall handsome man that stood beaming over her.
‘Why thank you, Miss. Although regretfully, I have to decline your generous gesture.’ He was smirking as he placed his hand over hers, sending the money back into her palm, and closed it.
Sienna bit her bottom lip and frowned, pretending to be offended. ‘You should never deny a woman who’s kindly extending her token of appreciation, sir.’
Patrick titled his head with a mesmerised look on his face, unable to whip the smile from his face.
Some would have found the level of smitten comical.
‘I can do one better.’ That was when he reached into his pocket and took out a piece of paper from his note pad and scribbled something down on it.
Her eyes glanced down and there it was, his name and mobile number. She was impressed at his boldness.
‘What about this? What would you say if I were to ask you out one evening where you can enjoy a beautiful meal without a bothersome waiter harassing you every ten seconds?’ His crystal blue eyes captivated her, sending her stomach into a collection of knots.
She had admired his confidence. And those high cheek bones and perfect face. No way she could have said no. She would have been crazy to.
So, she didn’t.
One date soon turned into another and before long, they were inseparable. She clearly remembered the first time he told her that he loved her. It had come just shy of their two-month anniversary. They had been sitting in a park on a warm summer’s day with a bag of skittles, grouping the colours as they often did with any packet of candy. He began to fiddle with them arranging them into patterns as she had run down to the Mr Whippy truck. When she returned with two chocolate coated ice-creams, she discovered that he had arranged the skittles into those three beautiful words every human soul longed to hear. She remembered staring at them for a while, wondering and hoping that she was reading them correctly before he took her hands in his, and squeezed them.
‘I love you Sienna Henderson, more than anything.’ He kissed her then. A tender, passionate kiss that confirmed all that he felt for her.
‘I love you too, Patrick Daley.’
The months carried on in a blur after that. They had laughed often, vowing to never be one of those boring couples.
And they weren’t.
Their friends and family could barely keep up with them. Their relationship was colourful, filled with the type of adventures people would be lucky to experience in a life time.
‘I’m going to marry you one day, you know that?’ he said as they reached the top of Mount Murdock after a strenuous and sweaty bike ride to the top.
It was like something from a movie the way he had whispered it in her ear as the sun set around them in golden tones. She had used the last of her energy to jump up and wrap her legs around him.
They were engaged not long after that, at the tender age of twenty-two. On their one-year anniversary on a still summer’s night, Patrick had set an array of tea light candles along their favourite beach on the Morning Peninsula. Hand in hand, he had guided her through the sand dunes that led to a heart, outlined by red petals where the ultimate question was presented in giant letters in the sand. She remembered the whirlwind of emotions that overcame her as he knelt down on one knee. Dizziness, anticipation and sheer excitement, all mixed in one. It all seemed to have taken place in slow motion, exactly the way she wanted it to carry out. She had wanted the moment to last forever if it could.
But it didn’t.
And neither had all the wonderful feelings she had felt that night. If only she knew how much would change. How much he would change.
Because now, she no longer recognised the man she fell in love with.