The water boiling in the kettle seems too loud, taking too much time, attracting too much attention. To who or what I do not know but I do not like it. I flip my phone in the air one more time to ease the nerves that do not let me go before I leave it on the counter and get three mugs. Hot chocolate is the answer to all questions tonight apparently.
A buzzing noise comes from the phone and makes me jump. I almost drop my favourite Marauders Map mug. This is the third time in fifteen minutes Taylor has texted me. Always the same messages: eloise! call me, please answer my texts or pleeeease! listen to me, don’t go through with the sleepover
I want to be annoyed at him for insisting on something that does not concern him. And for not telling me what is it about. What does he know? Or should I be flattered? Happy that he acknowledges my existence? I wave that thought away. Though I have had a crush on him since we moved to the city, three years ago. We were in tenth grade. We barely talked until Jen asked him out on a date. This is how we become friends, kind of. He spoke to me today more than he did in the last couple of months. I do not understand. So, I do not answer his texts. Not today. Especially while Jen is close by.
‘Why do you always have to pick the movie?’, Jen almost shouts at Lou from the living room. ‘Why can’t we watch Mean Girls as we planned?’
‘Because we have seen it a hundred times already!’
‘Where are you going?’
‘Toilet! Do I have to tell you everything?’ shouts Lou and storms out of the living room, passes me in the kitchen and heads upstairs. ‘Dammit’, murmurs under her breath.
I hear Jen throwing something – maybe the DVD case? – and drops on a couch. I do not want to go and check on her right now. There has been this tension between us since the pizza came at eight. We were all fine, laughing, talking about school and boys – of course – and for some reason, Jen started to be irritable by everything we said or did. It was barely noticeable at first but now it’s getting worse and worse.
The hot chocolate is ready. I pour in the milk and put some marshmallows near each mug for us to add later. And some sprinkles. I look at my phone, ignoring the new unread message and check the time.
My hands start to shake and I feel my heart beat faster, grow louder in my chest. I turn around and hit a chair, dropping my phone on the new tiles in the kitchen. Right when it bounces back, I pick it up and start running up the stairs into my father’s room. I crash into the windows and knock my head on the glass.
I check for blood. Nothing.
‘Chill, chill’, I mumble to myself while locking the windows. ‘Calm yourself woman!’
I close the curtains and do the same thing in my room and the office. Lou is out of the bathroom by the time I finish upstairs and I rush to lock the window near the sink and forcefully drag the old curtain across to cover the window.
‘Hey! Watch it, Eli’, Lou says surprised and makes way for me. ‘Don’t fall down the stairs.’
‘Yeah, yeah’, I answer automatically while I do the same in the living room, guest room and the small toilet downstairs.
I look at my watch again.
I let myself breathe and rest on the wall near the front door.
‘Seriously. Why do you still do this?’ demands Jen from the couch. She is on her phone, with her legs up on the wall and her head down. ‘Your father is not here. It does not matter.’
‘Well –’, I say as I look down, avoiding eye contact, ‘well, it does for him. I have done this all my life. It’s hard to stop now.’
‘Jen, let her be.’
I look over at Lou and give her a small smile as a thank you for siding with me. Or for being a good friend and not ask for a meaning behind all I do or say.
‘Do not get into this – ‘
Jen’s sentence is cut short by a loud knock on the door. I jump out of my skin and let out a short cry, taking two steps back. Another knock, as powerful as the first, comes two second later. And another. It shakes the whole front door and it feels like it might give out any second. Which it is not true, dad tested it out once but I can’t help and fear that it might happen and what we will have to face when – face when what?
‘Eloise? Please open the door! It’s Taylor! Eloise!’
I ignore my shaky legs and go to the entrance, forgetting about the rules about not going out at night or let anyone in after the “hour” and open the door. In front of me is Taylor, panting, his hair in all directions and cheeks red, some sweat on his brow and shirt. He takes a big breath and enters the house without asking or looking at me twice.
He checks the room before settling his eyes on Jen.
‘Jennifer…’, he stops and takes another breath, ‘you’ve got to come. Your – your father…’
Jen springs up in a second. ‘My father? What? What happened? Is everything alright?’ Panic flashes on her face. ‘Taylor, answer me!’
‘Yeah, but – but you need to see him right now. You and Louise. It’s urgent.’
He takes another breath and leans down, with his hands on his knees. He is still panting and out of breath. He must have run all the way from his place, which is four miles away.
‘What are you talking about?’
‘Is someone hurt?’
Lou and I ask at the same time.
Taylor straightens up and looks at both of them – again ignoring me – and speaks louder than before. ‘Go! Now! Can’t explain. I called a taxi and is waiting for you outside. Go!’
Both start packing their things quickly, running around the living room and kitchen without saying another word. Taylor looks at his watch and frowns. I look too.
Almost the “hour”. I feel a drop of sweat going down my back. My hands shake. I was never this scared of the “time” before. Not even as a kid. I knew dad was there to save me from the monsters. Pretend monsters.
I hear my name far, far away from me. I look up and see Lou in my field of vision. Scared. Worried.
‘I am so sorry for leaving you like this, Eli.’ She gives me a hug and goes out of the door. ‘I will text you later.’
‘Same here’, says Jen and hugs me as well. Tight. Too tight. I relax as soon as I see her past the front door.
Taylor is at the entrance, leaning on the door frame. His breathing is not as before. Is getting better. Still not looking at me. Not showing any signs of leaving. I fight the urge to shove him out of my house and lock the door in his face. What is wrong with him? And what happened? Is everyone alright?
‘I’ll join you later, girls! You go, NOW!’ He shouts to Lou and Jen who are already in the taxi.
Before I have the time to ask him why is he still here, what is going on, Taylor shuts the door with a loud thud and locks it twice, putting the chain up. He turns around, runs past me and turns all the light off.
‘What the – ‘, I start but his hand is on my mouth, silencing me.
‘Shh…’, he whispers.
We stay like this for a while. After the longest five seconds of my life past, he puts his hand down and drops on the floor with his knees up, breathing as quietly as possible. I join him on the floor after a while. He takes his phone out and unlocks it.
We both stare at the screen in complete silence. Not moving. Not daring to make any other sound. The time changes.