“Dad, are you forgetting something?” He looked up at Elle, grimacing. Time’s ‘a wastin’ if he and the newest Robinson want to be at the prison in time for the meeting with RobRob.
The years have been good to Paul Robinson, despite what his son had tried to do to him. Elle’s father had always been handsome (he would have had to have been to create her), but even now his hair is greyer, his eyes tireder and with more than a few head injuries he looked like the lady killer he’d been in his youth. Still sharp jawed, still immaculately shaven and hair styled with the air of im-better-than-you vanity he’d always been known for. Much to her great disappointment, however, he’d gone back to suits. As his memory had come back, he’d retreated from the more fashionable, smart casual, country club chic outfits she’d picked out for him and back to his old reliable. But he seems happier, he always is when one of his kids is living with him.
Truth was her and Dad’s relationship had fallen into the old trap of being comfortable. She’d fought so hard for their relationship and then she’d lost it. Through sheer carelessness. Things had been so much better with both of them making time for weekly Skype calls. Many long nights had been spent, lounging around, putting on her many and varied creams and lotions while Dad caught her up on the latest Robinson exploits and she told him what trouble Donna and Annie had been up to while he was away. Things were better, they were back in a good place and with the glittering lights of the city that never slept having outstayed their welcome coming home had finally felt right.
Dad had been right all those years ago, brown rice with Mum only held so much appeal. Not to mention the fact that Robert and Cameron haunted every inch of that house, their old things, old clothes, old pictures and all the people they used to know. Anyway: She had a niece and a brother she wanted to get to know. Step-Mum too, though so far Terese had not wanted much to do with her. Maybe she was still mad over the wedding thing. Whatever - There was plenty of time to make that up to her.
“No I don’t...Oh.” He crossed to the couch she was seated on and pressed a kiss onto her cheek. “Love you, darling.” She patted him on the arm with one hand.
“I love you too, Dad but that’s not what you’re forgetting.” Dad tucked his phone away to raise one eyebrow. Then, he entered the kitchen where his wife was seated at the kitchen table tapping away on a keyboard. She heard him repeat what he’d said to her, followed by the same kiss but louder and more passion. No one could ever accuse them of having a dull marriage.
“Happy now?” He asked, re-entering the sitting room as Harlow descended the stairs, re-tying the bow on the front of her dress, which was a colour Elle would consider Fuschia. It was hideous, but she was kind of making it work. It’s too much of one colour, call her old fashioned but Elle liked a nice pattern to break things up. It was a sign she was in her thirties, not understanding what the kids are wearing these days just like Mum hadn’t got the appeal of low rise jeans and Juicy sweatpants.
“That isn’t what you’re forgetting.” She said again, as he began patting down his pockets. “Keys, Dad. For the car?” His lips parted into a small ‘ah’ shape and he hurried towards the backyard he’d just come from, correctly guessing that he’d left them on the back table. “You look nice.” She said, turning to look at Harlow who was adjusting a stretchy elastic headband. It makes her look like a child allowed to straighten her hair for the first time.
“Thank you.” Harlow said, and looked Elle up and down before replying, “So do you.” A white pants and houndstooth top combination is hardly groundbreaking, Donna would say it was boring. She’d say something like ‘At least Harlow is experimenting! What happened, Elle? You used to be fun!’ She’d expected things to be awkward between herself and the daughter of the man who tried to kill her, but...suffice to say Dad had been right. Harlow was a Robinson, and Elle liked her. She was whip-smart, but...Kind. An unusual trait for their branch of the family tree and not from Rob that was for damn sure. “Are you sure you don’t want to come with us?” Harlow asked for the umpteenth time. Harlow had been asking for Elle to tag along for her prison visit, and each time Elle had returned with a firm but polite ‘No, thank you.’
“Yes, I’m sure.” She offered no additional ammunition with the statement, “Anyway, isn’t it meant to be daddy-daughter time? I’d probably just get in the way.”
“He really wants to see you.” Harlow said, “He asks about you all the time on the phone.” It didn’t strictly surprise her that Robert was asking after her; if he was looking for a way to get back at Dad then going through his youngest daughter was a time tested way to get to him. And if - by unlikely chance - he had changed into an honest man then it was only natural that he’d be asking after his triplet sister. She found it easy to believe Rob was feeding Harlow false or...Unflattering information about her, and the only way to defend herself was to come and tell Harlow herself. But it seemed RobSquared was either not holding a grudge or had surmised that Harlow was much smarter than he was. Whatever the case was, Harlow hadn’t rejected her on sight. Since it seemed Rob wasn’t on the offensive with her, for right now, she was content to not see him. The war between them was over now.
“Well, for today at least Rob can keep asking. I’m not ready to see him.” And that was the truth. Harlow may have suckered Dad in for a kiss and make-up but Elle didn’t want a bar of it. She didn’t need to see him to know he was as deranged as ever.
“He reads all your articles.” Harlow persisted, “He says your one on parental alienation was particularly enlightening.” Interesting choice, but that article actually hadn’t been about parental alienation, but instead about one specific case in which a mother convinced her son to kill his father. Rob is smart and probably did read her work if only out of boredom. If she’d wanted to convince someone she was no longer harbouring homicidal intentions it’s the article she would have picked as well. Which makes her suspicious.
“I’m always grateful for copies sold, but I’m not interested. Just tell him I’m doing fine, and that maybe I’ll send him another postcard when I get back to New York if he wants one.”
“Another postcard?” Dad asked, and even without looking she could hear the frown in his voice. It’s a particular sort of tone, one he uses when he’s concerned but doesn’t want you to know he’s concerned. He has no reason to be, she didn’t send it to tell him she loved him. She just wanted him to know that she was living a fabulously happy and fulfilling life in New York City and he was rotting in a jail cell. Irrespective of if that were true or not.
“Thought I should send something for the big Three - Oh.” She replied casually, “Just a little wish you were here thing I brought on Coney Island. I sent one to everyone.”
“Yes, it’s on the mirror in our bedroom.” Terese said from the kitchen, “The carousel, right?”
“You kept it? That’s sweet.”
“I’ve kept everything you kids have ever given me,” Dad said, and with five kids and two grandkids, she can’t think it’s a small amount of stuff. It reminds her that she should bring the pictures she had developed for the family album from the hotel next time she comes over. There were some great ones in there, Dad dressed as an elf, for example. And her PhD graduation, Donna with her arms stretched above her head in a giant Y shape, caught mid whoop. Riley with his arms around her waist and his chin on her shoulder, looking as handsome as ever. Aunty Lucy laughing, wearing her graduation cap, cuddling Annie in close for the picture. Some of the good ones taken when she and Amy went to the Statue of Liberty with Jimmy. Amy had one arm around her shoulders, the other around Jimmy who stood between them looking suitably embarrassed by his mother and new aunt.
“You’re going soft, Daddy.”
“Ha ha. Harlow, are we leaving?”
“Elle, are you still holding on to anger about what Dad did?” Harlow asked, her eyes taking an intense look to them, and her eyebrows creeping closer together. She looks earnest, it pains Elle to know she’s about to hurt her feelings.
“You could say that.” A strange sort of cold sensation made its way along the outside of her arms, unpleasant and tingling. It was anger, in part. It was also hurt, betrayal, and sadness. A bone cutting sadness that she has never been able to shake.
“Elle doesn’t have to go visit Robert if she doesn’t want to,” Dad said as if he were explaining it to a very small child. Harlow was not deterred from her line of questioning.
“Why? He wants to make things right. Please come see him.”
“I’m allowed to be angry over the things that happen to me.” She said, bluntly. “And I don’t have to justify that to you or to anyone.” Perhaps sensing the same disruption that Elle was feeling Terase appeared in the space between the new fireplace and the bookshelf. She makes concerning eye contact with Dad, before looking back and taking one of her hands into the other and twisting her wedding ring to ensure that the diamonds face the front. Raising three of her own children had clearly given her an advanced understanding of conflict resolution.
“Yes, you are.” Terese says, “And Elle’s only been home a week. I think you should give her time to settle in a bit more before you start taking her to prison.”
“We need to get going if we want to be on time,” Dad repeated. His eyebrows were angled downwards and dominated most of his face. His grip on the car keys is white-knuckled now. Rob always makes them like this, tense and brittle. He still manages to ruin things, and he’s been in jail for over a decade. It does make her angry, but there’s no point putting that anger on Harlow. She’s just a kid who loves her dad; Elle’s been there and done that. Getting upset with her would only ruin the friendship they’ve been cultivating or upsetting Dad and Terese. Both, probably and seeing as she’s already on thin ice….
“You need to let go of your anger,” Harlow advised, and to make this all so much worse the open, truthfulness of what she must surely think is meaningful advice is visible in her open expression and the way her hands have landed on Elle’s knee. They’re warm, and Elle can feel it through the material of her white trousers. If it were that easy to make amends with Rob then she would have just done it already.
“Fine. Anger’s gone now. Just like that, I have forgiven and forgotten, now get going before Dad changes his mind.” She said, and Harlow, seeing she wasn’t getting anywhere other than under Elle’s skin stood up and sighed. Knowing when to give up, she probably got that from her mother. She stuck one hand in her pocket and slung her cross-body bag over her shoulder before crossing to Dad who looked relieved to have avoided whatever meltdown he thought was going to occur. His wife straightened out the bow on the side of her wrap dress and gave Elle an approving nod.
Perhaps she’d find her way onto Terese’s Christmas card list yet.
But until then she had an afternoon of editing ahead of her for her last New York article. Preferably here on the couch, while she waited for the pasta Dad had promised to rustle up for dinner, and then after that, she figured she could get a ride back to Lassiters to call it a night. If Dad had his way then she’d be staying here but emptying the office just for her when she’s not even sure how long she’ll be staying is just going to push Terese further away and if she gets far enough away then she will take Dad with her.
After pausing to crack her knuckles in a way she knew would annoy Dad, Elle reached out for her laptop that was sitting on the other side of the couch to her. Riley grins at her from the lock screen, face hidden under large sunglasses, the salty spray of the ocean making the scene picturesque. She’d snapped that one on a boat in Indonesia, where they’d both had a stopover on their way to the next job. He blurred as she hit enter to bring up the password box. Pausing at the door held open for her by Dad, Harlow turned back around to look at Elle. Not knowing what to do, she held her gaze with a questioning eyebrow raised.
“Are you sure you’re sure?”
“Really are a Robinson aren’t you?” She said, amused. “Yes, I’m sure.” Harlow’s face got intense, and it was easy to see how she convinced Dad to go. But unlike Dad, whose memory is always going to be broken up, corrupt and fatally incorrect she can remember. She can remember in glorious 4k HD the terror of being on a plane crashing over the ocean, the heat of the car bomb on her back, the blistering fear in Dad’s eyes as he struggled to leave the house, and the hot red burn of hatred from Dylan. And...
“Is that what Cameron would want?” When Elle looks up, all the colour is gone out of Harlow’s face. She must have known as soon as she’d said it that she’d said the wrong thing. Dad hesitates and the gears behind his eyes are spinning so fast they might as well be sparking as he tries to find a way to diffuse the situation. Dad’s not built for defusing situations, but.
“Pardon me?” She asks, softly. It’s been so long since she heard someone else say Cameron’s name since she heard it any place outside her mind. That great wound on her has once again been torn apart, and like always, she’s reduced to exposed bone.
“Nothing, never mind.” Harlow says, “Let’s go, Grandad.”
“No.” She says, surprising herself with the authority in her tone, “Stay, Harlow. I’d love to hear more about what you think Cameron would want for me.”
“I didn’t mean it like -”
“Like you were trying to use him as a pawn to convince me to see Robert?” The bile in her voice is thick and disgusting. She can’t help it, Cam is personal to her. His name, his memory, they’re so precious. She can’t stand that anyone would say his name so callously, with such little regard for who he was.
“Elle.” Dad said, “She didn’t mean anything by it.”
“You’ve got something to say about Cameron too, do you? First time in years I’ve heard you say his name and it’s to try and get me to see Robert. Unbelievable.”
“That’s not what I meant and you know it.”
“Than what did you mean?”
“I think we should take a moment and calm down before we say something we regret.” Terese, while Elle was busy being angry, had moved to the spot by the armchair, looking between the three of them. Her voice sounds like she’d trying to mediate children, the same tone Mum used to use when trying to break up a fight between Robert and Cameron, or Carmella attempting to break up Oliver and Marco.
“You’re right.” She says, not in the mood to settle down. In fact, she’s starting to feel righteously angry. “Dad might make the mistake of remembering that he’s got another son, and acknowledge him more than once every decade.”
“Oh, sorry. Did that hurt your feelings? Saying something about Cam?” Sarcasm is poison leaching from her, and into the stream of conversation.
“I didn’t mean to upset you.” And the worst part is Harlow didn’t. She’s earnest, eyes just bordering on damp. She looks truly upset to have brought this fight out of her. But Elle’s not ready to stop, not yet. How can she stop when this is the first time that anyone has said more than five words about him since Dad was sick? How can she, when this teenage girl doesn’t know better than to leverage her dead brother to make her go see Robert?
“What were you hoping for? Poor Elle, she’s the last one standing from her set of triplets. If I mention her dead brother, she’s sure to want to go visit the one who killed him!”
“No!” Harlow exclaims, “No, that’s not what I mean! I just meant that Cameron wouldn’t want you to be angry!”
“There it is again, trying to tell me, his best friend, his closest ally, what he’d want!”
“Lucinda!” Dad says, this time his voice is raised. Elle stops short at hearing her full name. No one calls her that, it’s like hearing a name that belongs to someone else. She turns to look at him. He looks pained, not entirely dissimilar to the times she’d kicked him out of the house, or when he was trying to talk to her at Harold's when he was sick. It still hurts, despite it all. Because she does love him. She does. But sometimes she just feels so furious - Especially when it comes to Cameron and his memory. Harlow by virtue of simply existing makes her angry. The way Mum still goes to see Robert makes her angry. The way Dad can’t or won’t acknowledge Cameron makes her angry.
“This is pathetic. Cameron is your child too. You should be siding with us, not the kids you’ve got on Ramsey street now. We love you, and they tolerate you.” No one says anything. The silence is heavy and all-consuming. Elle grabbed her mustard yellow handbag from the coffee table and headed for the front door. Dad put a hand on her arm to stop her but she pulled away, much to his visible surprise.
“Elle, we can talk -”.
“Haven’t you got a living son to go visit?” She asked, in a voice dosed with vitriol. Then, she stormed out, and down Ramsay st. He doesn’t follow.