If you’ve ever seen your own mother cry, you’ll know how awful it feels. Especially when you’re the one who is causing her pain. She wept into her palms, great, racking sobs, refusing to look at me. A shadow had fallen across my father’s face and my stomach tightened at the thought of seeing him cry, too. Of seeing my broad-shouldered hero dissolve into tears just like his wife.
He didn’t cry, but wrapped an arm around my mother’s shaking shoulders.
Then we were moving house again, just like that, to a new city and a new life, leaving my betrayal trailing behind us as though by moving across the country the problem would go away. It hurt me that they thought it was a problem, something to hide.
After unpacking my stuff, I walked past our new bathroom. My dad was standing there, shirtless, the tiniest beer belly resting on his belt. He was shaving. He turned to glance at me, one eye spotting me hovering in the doorway, his razor on his chin and frozen on the spot. I gave him a half-smile, shoving my hands in my hoodie pocket.
He hadn’t said much during the drive to our new home. Mum had ranted and raved, screaming about the betrayal of her only child. How she’d kick me out of their home if I were old enough. Dad had stared straight ahead at the road, his grip tight on the steering wheel, his eyes narrowed.
His eyes weren’t narrowed now. He held up his other hand. A second razor.
I shuffled towards him and took it. “Give it a try,” he said.
I squeezed next to him at the sink and looked at our reflections. The shaving foam was stark white against his dark skin. I stood behind him, pale in comparison, taking after Mum’s side of the family with an ivory shade.
I rubbed warm water over my face. “Shaving foam,” Dad reminded me.
I squeezed the thick, creamy stuff onto my hands and piled it onto my cheeks and chin. It looked messy, like a screwed up Santa Claus beard. I gave a shy grin and the foam wobbled, stuck to my skin.
I brought the razor to my cheek and brushed it against my jawline. The blade ran along my smooth skin, collecting the foam as it went. Dad carried on shaving his own stubble, before shaking the creamy bristles into the sink. I copied him, watching as the globs of white slid down the porcelain.
We were shaving together for the first time.
My new school was just like the others before it; it was bland, boring, with students squinting at me, the new kid. I caught one girl looking at me from the corner, her hair the colour of sunset, her sweet smile catching my eye. Everything else behind her seemed to melt into grey. I almost smiled back.
The teacher paused at my name. “Ashleigh Cunningham,”
“Present,” I replied, my voice sounding even higher as my nerves swarmed inside my stomach like bees. “Just- Just ‘Ash’ is fine.”
The girl jumped, and her eyes widened in sudden understanding. She looked around, flustered. Anywhere but me.
I returned home to find my mother weeping again. She was clutching a lilac dress, something I’d only worn once to appease her, her tears dampening the nauseating white lace as my dad sat stony-faced beside her.
“Are you telling me,” Mum gasped between sobs, “that I’m supposed to accept the fact that my daughter is dead?”
“Not dead,” Dad caressed her pale arm. “Free.”
He smiled up at me as I came in, slumping my school bag on the floor. Mum looked up at me with tear-filled eyes, the sky-coloured pools I loved so much.
I thought she would scream again, or throw the dress at me, or tell me to get out. She got to her feet, sniffling, wiping away one last falling tear. “Ash,” she whispered, and her skinny arms embraced me.
“I love you, Mum.” My heart warmed at her hug, her acceptance.
“I love you too, son,” she whispered back.