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Red Bicycle When You Were Twelve

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Jacqueline Tyler was tired. Her head was throbbing and she could barely move an inch from her bed. She had just arrived from work but she probably had to start making dinner in a while. She lay on her bed and buried herself deeper in her duvet groaning.

Today had been hell. A woman had gone nuts after her order had gone wrong, making her take the food back and forth the kitchen until she liked it. Bloody cow, it wasn’t like Jackie worked in a five-star restaurant or anything, it was just a tiny dinner in the middle of nowhere London. Who the hell did she think she was. She had been pulling extra hours at the dinner, saving everything she could, what with Christmas coming up soon and having no money to buy Rose a present, and it was so tiring. Rose was twelve now, and was having trouble with school. Jackie couldn’t help her since she hadn’t finished her A levels, but at least Rose was happy with her gymnastics lessons that she worked hard to pay every month, she could do that for her.

Ever since Pete had died, Jackie had raised Rose by herself. Taking her to and from school until Rose said she was old enough to go by herself (it had become a fight, and they didn’t speak to each other for two days), gymnastics, and tutors, and every year she tried to buy at least one small present for Rose for Christmas. Last year it had been a small lip gloss kit, Rose wasn’t thrilled but she smiled and thanked her. It was hard, she wasn’t going to deny that, but she wanted the best future for her.

She closed her eyes for a bit and was startled by a hand on her shoulder and a soft voice calling for her.

“Mum. Come on, wake up” 

“Rose?” Said Jackie groaning while she checked her alarm clock, she had fallen asleep. “Oh, sweetheart, I forgot to make dinner” She rubbed her eyes and tried to get up. Rose put a comforting hand on her shoulder stopping her.

“Don’ worry, I made something quick for us” Rose smiled and left the room.

Jackie sighed as she watched her daughter go to the kitchen. She was the adult here, that was supposed to be something she did, and she knew Rose was just trying to help but Jackie wished she didn’t have to. She was growing so fast, one moment she was her daughter still playing in the park Hide ‘n Seek and the next she’s helping around the house.

Jackie had grown up really fast, too. That’s what happens when you’re from the Estates: high school dropout, teenage pregnancy, a job in a shop. In a way, there was no escaping this fate. Bloody hell! Stop thinking like that! Jackie chastised herself and tried to put herself together. She was still young, and she had a great daughter, she could do this.

Jackie went to the kitchen to help in whatever was left but found dinner already at the table and Rose fiddling with the remote control of the telly searching for something entertaining (or maybe for something that made noise in the flat so she didn’t feel lonely). She finally decided on a random channel and turned down the volume, as to not interrupt any conversation with her mum.

Jackie sat down and they started eating in silence. They had been awkward with each other for a while now, what with Jackie working most of the time, and Rose making more friends at school. Jackie searched for something to talk about but she couldn’t remember anything, not even the names of Rose’s friends. She looked around the flat, searching for some inspiration, until her eyes landed in Rose’s backpack.

“How’s school?” Jackie asked finally, choosing the safer subject of school.

“‘S good” Rose answered trying to appear casual about it, but she was looking at her plate, moving the food around instead of eating. “Today was the last day”

“You recall you need a new tutor?”

“Nah, ’m good” Rose mumbled as she shoved food into her mouth so she wouldn’t be able to answer.

“Really? Sometimes I wished that Professor guy had left some kind of number to contact him. He really helped you, you know?” He had been a really weird man in a really weird outfit but he had helped Rose on her science class when she was failing, spent a couple of weeks teaching her in the afternoons and he never accepted when Jackie told him he was going to pay him. He called Rose brilliant.

“Don’t worry about it, Mum.” She opened her mouth as if to say something else about it, but she closed her mouth and kept eating.

Jackie did the same, and they spent another couple of minutes in silence. God, she was a terrible mother, she couldn’t even talk to her daughter normally. What did normal parents talk about with their children, anyway? Where there, like, usual subjects every parent touched?

“Are you gonna get Christmas Day free?” Rose asked, taking Jackie out of her head and breaking the silence again with an air of casualness about it.

“Of course, sweetheart” Jackie answered with relief, and smiled.

Rose smiled. “Oh, well, that’s good!”

Somehow that took a little bit of the pressure of the room, but Jackie was still feeling anxious, so she looked around the room again. She saw the phone and remembered she hadn’t talked to Bev today to get the latest gossip, and she decided that was as good a topic as anything could be.

“Did you hear? Trisha Delaney, you remember her, well…” Jackie jumped into a complicated story that she probably didn’t have all the facts correct, but she filled the room with her talk.

Rose made a face but she didn’t say anything and let her talk.

They finished eating while talking about the latest gossip of the Estate, after that, Rose gathered the plates and took them to the kitchen and offered Jackie to make her a cuppa.

“None of that, you take a shower, I’ll clean the dishes and then we can watch the telly” This she could do “Go on, then! Get on with it, I’ll make the tea”

“A’right” Rose said animatedly and turned back to her room.

Tea, Jackie could do that, she could make one mean cuppa. She put the kettle over the stove and waited. She called Bev, she really wanted to know what had happened with Trisha Delaney, and she talked while she made the tea.

Rose came out of the shower and sat in the living room. Jackie grabbed the cups, handed one to Rose and sat down, all while still listening to Bev on the phone, getting all the juicy details. How much can happen in a day? Apparently a lot. Jackie kept listening and lost track of time, when she hung up the phone and turned to Rose to tell her all about it she found she had already fallen asleep. Jackie sighed, way to go, talking to Bev instead of spending time with Rose. She stood up and woke Rose so she could  sleep in her bed. Rose woke up grudgingly, said nothing and went to her room.

Left on her own Jackie went to her own room and changed into her jimjams. As she was getting into her bed her eyes caught the photo album that was always on her bedside table. She hadn’t opened it in a while, and she wasn’t tired at the moment. She sat at the bed and started passing the pages. The first ones always brought tears to her eyes. Pictures of Pete and her during her high school years and of their wedding. She passed the pages and landed on some Christmas a couple of years back. Jackie sighed and closed the album, she would have to disappoint her this year.

***

Time passed slowly until Christmas. Each day, Jackie would leave her job tired and sick of the patrons and arrived at the flat, Rose would make dinner since she wasn’t going to school because of the Holidays. They talked about their days, well, not really, Jackie mostly talked about whatever she could to fill whatever awkward silence created in the between and Rose shared with her how she was spending most of her day with Shareen while Jackie worked the extra shift.

Rose was the one that decorated and put on the tree with the help of Suzie, one of Jackie’s friends. She had wanted for them to do it together but Rose said it was her surprise for her.

“‘S not like I have any money to buy anything” She had said, probably teasing, but Jackie felt it.

And then, without even noticing, it was Christmas’ Eve. 

Jackie went to sleep with a feel of uneasiness. She had to stop this self loathing right now! So she couldn’t get her a present, at least she was going to spend the day with her and she was going to make it fantastic. You’re doing your best, now shut the fuck up and go to sleep! She thought and closed her eyes. A restless sleep followed her all night.

***

Jackie woke up feeling like crap. 

Pull yourself together, woman! Oh, God, she was starting to sound like her mother. She stood up and grabbed her dressing gown. She was gathering the courage to get out of her room when she heard a scream.

“Mum!!” Rose screamed from the living room. 

Jackie went running to find Rose jumping up and down with the biggest smile on her face, a red bicycle beside her. She went running to her and hugged her tightly.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!” She said, still jumping a little. “Can I go and play now? Pleaspleaseplease?”

Jackie was stunned but managed to give her a little nod before she ran out screaming to her bedroom to put on some clothes.

When Rose closed her bedroom door she approached the bike to examine it. It looked brand new, shiny and sleek. Way better than the other bicycles from other kids she had seen from the Estates. She hadn’t bought that. Oh my God! Someone had come into her house! Just when she was about to start panicking and call the police she saw a tiny box with a note with her name on it over it. She grabbed the box and the note cautiously. She opened the note first.

 

Don’t worry. She’s gonna be Fantastic!

 

She turned it around, expecting more but found only those words written on it. She opened the box and found a mug that said: World’s Okayest Mum.

She frowned. It was probably her friends' idea for a joke and to do something nice for once. Once she was certain that it had been someone she knew (probably), she smiled. Rose came back running, ready to take her new bike out.

“Wait a mo’ young lady” Jackie said smiling “Breakfast first, play later”

“Mum!” Rose whined.

“None of that, now come on, the faster you eat, the faster you can go out and play”

Rose smiled, hugged her and went to the kitchen. Maybe this Christmas was going to be the best, yet.