Saturday afternoon


“Let’s play dress-up,” Emma says, poking through the clothes in Lily’s wardrobe.

“Let’s not,” her twin sister replies, lying on Lily’s bed.

Lily looks at them from the stool at her dressing table. Twenty minutes into this play-date and her guests have failed to agree on a single thing. She would not want to rely on these girls for a witness statement, she would not ask them for opinions on the weather.

The only thing that brings the twins together are their faces, identical, and their outfits, white dresses with black and blue dots. But the hair is different, Hannah in her pigtails and Emma sporting the kind of large hair-bow so popular among their classmates this year.

“Why not?” Emma asks.

“Because dress-up is for babies,” replies Hannah, looking up at the ceiling with an expression that would sit better on a bored teenager.

Emma shakes her head. “Everybody dresses up.” She grins and asks Lily, “What are you going to be at Halloween?”

Lily shrugs, nonchalantly replies, “Not sure.” But really she’s excited – last year her father took her and Ryan on a last-minute dash and grab in the Tesco costume aisle – this year Dad’s promised to go all out and help her craft something proper.

“Only a week away,” says Emma. She turns to her sister. “Have you decided yet?” There’s a tension in her voice, there’s history.

Hannah produces a spooky, monstrous laugh and then says, “A ghost.”

Emma puts her hands on her hips. “You have to match mine, Daddy said.”

Her sister sighs. “Fine. Wonder Woman’s ghost.”

“And you can’t be anything scary.”

“Right,” says Hannah, putting a hand to her forehead. “Because the last thing Halloween should be is scary.”

Emma opens her mouth to disagree and then apparently thinks better of it. She looks back to the wardrobe and pulls on a rose-coloured dress. “Look, this one’s for a grown-up.” She wrinkles her nose. “Why you got grown-up’s clothes, Lily?”

Lily shrugs. They are Parkdale girls, they are agents, they have shared adventures and yet they never seem to talk about it afterwards.

“Why do you think?” Hanna mutters.

Emma juts out her chin. “I don’t know,” she says tightly, “That’s why I asked.”

Hannah gives the most long-suffering of sighs, holding up her arms, looking as though she might be about to take flight. “Sometimes you’re so dense.”

Her sister lets the dress fall back into the wardrobe. “No, I’m not,” she says. She puffs out her chest. “I got an A in Friday’s test, what did you get?”

“You’ve taken that test before,” Hannah replies. She groans. “We’ve taken all of them before.”

Emma opens her mouth to protest and Lily says quickly, “Sounds like it’s a ‘no’ to the dress-up, Em.” She smiles brightly, a little desperately. “Is there something else you’d like to do?”

Emma shrugs, but she looks thoughtful, and then she spins slowly around on her feet, looking for possibilities.

“There’s nothing else she wants to do,” Hannah says flatly. She rolls onto her side and folds her hands under her chin, adopts a theatrically gleeful expression and says sickly-sweetly, “You wanna play superheroes, don’t ya Em, just like Halloween. You wanna dress up like Wonder Woman like you actually think she’s real.”

“No, I don’t,” Emma says, and she’s not spinning anymore, she’s forgotten about alternatives, too busy glaring at her sister.

Lily feels her shoulders tighten. Emma probably does want to dress up like Wonder Woman, but what’s wrong with that?

She’s just a little girl. They’re all just little girls.

Why does Lily have to be the babysitter? The peace-maker? They’re all the same age, kind of, sort of, so why does she always end up having to take charge?

No, not always. Just lately, just all the time these days.

“We could play karaoke,” she says brightly, indulgently.  She hates the tone in her voice, like a teacher with the patience of a saint.

She gets off her stool and reaches under the bed, pulling out the box.

Emma’s frown fades when she sees the design. “Trolls,” she says, and bounces lightly on her toes. “Cool.”

“The songs are really good,” Lily says, trying to build momentum. She giggles. “My daddy knows a lot of them, he says they’re really old, just like him.”

Emma crouches down beside her and they both smile.

“Trolls is my fav’rite,” says Emma.

“No kidding,” Hannah calls over from the bed. “If you ask to see that stupid film again tonight, I’ll strangle you.”

Emma touches her throat gingerly, as if it’s already happened.

“It’s my fav’rite,” she says again, a defensive edginess building in her voice.

Hannah covers her face with her hands. “You’ve seen it a million times.”

Her sister purses her lips and then says bossily, “Don’t be silly. It’s impossible to see something a million times.”

This earns a grunt of frustration from Hannah.

They’re the same age, sort of.

Speaking of fav’rites, Lily is wearing her favourite dress today. Navy blue velvet with fireworks decorating it, and on the front it says YAY!

Daddy will pick her up and say he doesn’t need a Catherine Wheel because he has a Lily Wheel. He’ll hold her horizontal in his arms and zoom her around the living room.

She’s not feeling so YAY! right now.

Daddy is downstairs right now, watching Sky Sports. Football is fantastically dull but even that would be better than watching the twins argue. She imagines her father coming upstairs right now – what would it take? a scream, a crash? – and taking charge.

But she knows he’s just thinking about Chelsea right now. He had pretended to be a butler when the twins had arrived, greeting them at the front door, and Lily had heard both girls giggle when he had used his deep, posh voice to invite them inside, and she’d pictured him bowing.

He’d brought the twins to Lily’s room and he’d warned them not to spend their time talking about boys, that they weren’t allowed to put on make-up, and Emma had shrieked with delight, clearly finding the prospect of doing either unfathomable.

They were so silly and giggly, they were little girls, and then as soon as Lily’s father had left the room, the twins had fallen to bickering.

For a moment, Lily wishes the twins hadn’t come round.

Then it would just be her and Daddy.

She knocks the thought away, as unkind, as not being her best self. 

Emma pulls the microphone out of the plastic casing determinedly. She points it at her sister. “So do you want to play or not?”


Emma drops the microphone and jumps to her feet. “So what do you want?”

Hannah gives her a tired look. “To disappear.”


“Boom,” Hannah says, bring her hands together and the pulling them apart, “in a puff of smoke, like the Wicked Witch of the West.”

“That’s not nice,” Emma says softly.

“Come on,” says Hannah. “You want me to disappear as well.”

“No, I don’t!” Emma declares hotly. “That’s a horrible thing to say.”

They both look so tired, Lily notices, shadows under their eyes. Maybe they’re not getting enough sleep, maybe they’re having nightmares. A nap would fix their moods, perhaps, but they’re not babies, they’re in primary school. No naps anymore, unless they’re not well or up late the night before.

A nap would be perfect right now. A nap with a story right before, and Lily eyes the bedtime book on her bedside table. Wouldn’t it be nice if they could all just be in their pyjamas, fuzzy and innocent, leaving the grown-up in charge?

Because they’re just little girls.

“You must be sick of me,” Hannah says, and there is a bitterness in her voice that doesn’t belong to a girl her age. “I’m sick of me.”

“You’re being silly,” Emma whispers, and Lily watches with anxiety as the girl’s eyes fill with tears.

What now?

Lily’s brother would know what to do. These girls don’t think much of boys, Lily included, but they always have time for Ryan. Because he’s not a bully, he’s not always smashing things.

He’d know how to fix this, he’d find a game for them. But he’s out with some of the older boys and Lily is on her own.

“I’ve got some games on the top shelf,” she says quickly, and she takes her plastic stool to the wardrobe and stands on it, reaching with fingertips for games she hasn’t wanted to play in a long time.

“Some of these are new,” she lies, fumbling blindly, pulling at a couple of boxes and sending them down to the carpet. She looks down and points, realising instantly that Hannah won’t want anything to do with these games but keeping her voice buoyant anyway.

“Bingo,” she says brightly, “That’s fun.”

Hannah rolls over and faces the wall. “I’m going to sleep, you two do what you want.”

“You can’t go to sleep,” Emma replies, her shoulders slumping, and she whines, “It’s not bed-time, it’s a play-date.”

Hannah’s voice is muffled but Lily can make out the words.

“I can’t do this anymore.”

She stands on tip-toes on the stool, reaching further, scrabbling for an answer. There should be an emergency button in situations like this, a Bat-signal for Ryan or her father to magically appear.

Perhaps she should just cry. Make something up, scrape a knee or feign a sore tummy. Maybe she should tell her father the truth. That a cub agent is losing the plot.

But there’s a code amongst agents, isn’t there? You don’t tell tales.

She can feel another cardboard box and she guesses it’s the matching card memory game, she guesses Frozen, which is unlikely to pull Hannah out of her slump.

“You’re ruh-ruh-ruining our Saturday,” Emma scolds, her voice hitching as the tears finally fall, fat drops running down her face.

“I’m so soh-soh-sorry,” replies Hannah. “Please foh-foh-forgive me.”

A stomping of feet behind Lily.

“I hate you,” Emma hisses.

“Couldn’t care less,” mutters Hannah.

Lily’s fingers curl around something hard and plastic, it feels like a TV remote control or a Wii controller, which is strange because the Wii is downstairs in the living room.

She pulls it back and it’s heavier than a Wii controller. There’s something else there, thin and smooth like a playing card, and Lily succeeds in grabbing hold of both at the same time as pulling the matching game off the shelf.

“I’ve found some…oh fudge!”

Losing her balance, Lily presses her heels onto the stool and it gives way, sending her to the floor, and the contents of the game box empty around her, sending a shower of snow-themed cards on top of her. She is covered in Olafs, she is coated in Elsas.

The object that isn’t a Wii controller follows, hitting her shoulder and then landing with a muffled thump on the carpet.


Finally Hannah manages a smile. “Well done,” she says dryly.

Emma crouches beside Lily, hands fluttering around her. “Are you okay? You really got thumped by that black thing.”

Lily rubs her shoulder. “Yeah.”

“Hey, Frozen,” Emma says, her face brightening as she looks at the cards. “That used to be my favourite.”

“Really? I thought you didn’t like princesses?” Lily says.

“Elsa’s a queen. And she’s got magic powers.” Emma grins. “And Anna’s kinda funny for a princess.”

“What’s that one?” Hannah asks, sitting up and pointing to the bright yellow card amongst all the snowmen and princesses. “That’s not part of the game.” She reaches for it but Lily’s faster, snatching it up and holding it to her chest.

“Nothing,” she says quickly, and she knows she’s blushing. “It’s private.” And she gets up and puts it underneath her bedtime book.

When she turns around, Hannah is holding the black device.

“Cool,” Hannah says softly. “We could have some fun with this.”

Emma shakes her head. “No TV. Lily’s daddy is watching the football.”

Hannah gives her sister a funny look. “It’s not…I know how this works, I’ve seen Miss Anderson use it in her office.”

“She doesn’t have a TV in her office,” Emma replies, tears still during on her cheeks but a confident tone returning to her voice.

“Em…” Hannah begins and then rolls her eyes. She looks at Lily. “You know what this is, don’t you.”

Lily shakes her head. “It’s nothing. Just some stupid toy Ryan had.” She rubs her shoulder. “There aren’t even any batteries for it.”

“Huh,” says Hannah. “That’s a shame.” She holds the object in one hand and then taps it against her palm.

Lily rushes forward with her hands outstretched. “Be careful!” she cries.

Hannah steps back and grins. “Yeah, you do know what this is.” She steps over to bedroom door. “It’s okay, you have to press the buttons to activate it.” And she runs her fingertips lightly over the controls.

Lily watches as Emma starts gathering the memory game cards into a pile.

“Give it back,” Lily says to Hannah. “It’s not yours.”

Hannah laughs. “It’s not yours either!”

“I don’t know how it got here,” says Lily, and she can feel her heart thudding in her chest. “But you can’t use it.” She holds out her hands again. “Please, Hannah, this is serious.”

“I haven’t seen Frozen in ages,” Emma says from her spot on the carpet. Could we watch it tonight? Oh! We could have a Frozen dance par-”

“Stop!” Lily shouts at her. “Stop messing with the stupid cards!”

Emma looks down at the pile between her hands. “I was only tidying,” she whispers, stung.

“I’m not stupid,” says Hannah.

Lily looks at both of the twins in succession. One with hurt feelings, one with a terrible idea.

“Sorry, Em,” she says without taking her eyes off Hannah. “I know you’re just trying to help.”

“Please,” Lily says to Hannah.

Hannah puts the device down between feet. “It’s okay,” she says. It’s going to be fine.” And it’s Hannah’s turn to sound like the reasonable one, the calming babysitter, before she abruptly pulls her polka-dot dress over her head and leaves it in a pile on the carpet.

Lily looks at Hannah and then at her own dress.


Emma stares at her sister, standing there in her underwear. “What are you doing?”

Her eyes are like saucers when Hannah removes the rest of her clothes.

“Hannah, come on,” Lily begs.

“You’re naked,” Emma hisses. And that’s been okay before, when they’ve had sleepovers, sharing bath-time and changing into pyjamas. But this isn’t either of those occasions.

Hannah picks up the gadget and points it at her face, holding it like the karaoke microphone.

“Hey, Em,” she says, and she smiles at both the other girls. “Let’s play dress-up.”





They’re all Parkdale girls. They’re all agents. But when it comes to getting older, Lily is the expert, Hannah is ambitious and Emma may just fall to pieces.

“You made me too big,” Emma says, staring at her sister’s mirror image.

Lily’s bedroom, that seemed generous enough when they were little girls, now feels cramped, positively pokey.

“Same age as me,” Hannah says, holding the device by her side like a cowboy ready to shoot from the hip.

“You’re still twins,” says Lily, picking up on the tremor in Emma’s voice, the flush in her skin. It can be overwhelming, the first time you get older, and she suspects Emma’s never done this before, at least this far, not this conscious.  

“We’ll always be twins,” Hannah says. The sisters stand opposite each other, and in truth, at twenty years old, they look even more alike than before, with the same hair down to their shoulders, the same mature curves.

Emma pouts. “I’m too big,” she insists. “On my front on and on my back. She takes some steps towards Lily’s bed and cries out, “I’m all wobbly!”

Lily makes a hushing gesture. “Take it easy. Just takes some getting used to.”

Emma shakes her head. “I don’t…” She gulps, but the air isn’t getting to where it needs to, and her face goes from pink to white. “I’m gonna be sick.”

“Hey,” says Hannah, and she rushes to the bed, more confident in her adult size, and she helps her sister to sit down, an arm around her bare shoulders.

“It’s just like the teacups, Em,” she says. “Put your head between your knees, nice big breaths.”

“Okay,” Emma says, and she does as she’s told. Why am I hairy there?” she asks abruptly.

Hannah laughs. “Nice, deep breaths.” She strokes her sister’s back.

“Tea cups?” Lily asks softly.

“One of those carnival rides, it wasn’t fast but it went in circles, and then we got to see how much candy floss Em had eaten.”

“It was all pink,” Emma adds, her head still between her legs.

Lily laughs, then takes the time to examine her own body. She’s seen it before, she’d had it for years. She can move without trouble, she won’t trip, she won’t throw up, but it still feels strange, like  poorly-fitting clothes, at least for a little while.

“Feeling better?” Hannah asks her sister.

Emma sits up straight. “Yeah.” She nods at the black gadget sitting on the duvet. “Turn me back now?”

Hannah laughs. “Are you crazy? It’s only been five minutes.” she softens her voice and says, “Don’t you want to dress up?” She points at the wardrobe. “Lily’s got all those clothes.”

Emma shrugs. “I like my spotty dress. And Lily won’t have two the same.”

Hannah shrugs. “So?”

Emma pouts. “So we won’t look the same!”

“Well, maybe that’ll be fun for a change.”

“I don’t want a change. Daddy likes us to match.” She bites her lip. “Like two peas in a pod, remember?”

“I know,” Hannah. “But that’s not how grown-ups dress.”

“We’re not grown-ups.”

“We are right now,” says Hannah and her expression is suddenly fierce. Emma looks the opposite, as if she’s caving in, and she suddenly hides her face behind her hands and wails, “You don’t wanna be my sister anymore!”

Lily steps forward. “Shhh!” She gives Hannah a panicked look.

“That’s not what I meant,” Hannah stage-whispers. “I want to be your sister, I just-”

All three women look up and towards the bedroom door as footsteps sound on the stairs.

Lily has her own teacups moment and the room threatens to spin out of control.

Her father would knock if he knew what was on the other side of the door.

He doesn’t know.

Lily puts hands to her chest and crotch as the bedroom door opens and Lily’s father stands in the door way.

“What the f-” He stops himself, and then closes and opens his mouth again, but there’s no sound.

Hannah grabs a pillow and puts it over her lap, while Emma just looks down guiltily.

“It’s…” Lily begins. It’s what?

“Lily,” her father says. She’s easy enough to recognise, she was this age before, for real, for keeps, before her brother invited her for an extended stay in Parkdale.

Her father looks her up and down, astounded, before keeping his gaze firmly at eye level. “Lily, what happened?”

Good question. Lily’s eyes dart Hannah-ward before she looks down at her toes and says, “It was an accident. It just happened.”

She looks up, scanning for data, and she can tell her father wants to believe, has decided to believe her.

“Yeah,” he says. “Okay, I’ll call it in.” He waves at the twins. “Girls, whatever did this, we’ll sort-”

“It wasn’t an accident,” Emma says, frowning. “Hannah did it.”

Hannah glares at her sister before saying slowly, “No, Em, you’re all mixed up. It just happened, remember, we were playing…the Frozen game and…it just…” She give Emma a soft smile. “Remember, you want to watch Frozen tonight. Let’s do that, let’s have a dance party. You can sing all the sings, it’s your fav-”

“You used the thing,” Emma says.  

And that’s when Lily sees that Emma has the device in her hands.

“Look,” says Emma, balancing it on her palms, holding it up for Lily’s father’s consideration, like a delicate sculpture, like a piece of Great British Baking.

Hannah shakes her head and throws up her hands helplessly as Lily’s father rushes forward to take the device.

“Where did you get that?” he asks all three of them.

Emma points helpfully to the wardrobe. “Top shelf,” she says.

Lily feels heat behind her eyes and a watery sensation in her stomach as her father looks to the wardrobe, to the gadget in his hand, and then back to her.

He gives her a look that is both angry and anxious. “Where did you get it, Lils?”

There’s no lie that can get them out of this. And the truth?

She didn’t put it there. She found it by accident.

The truth isn’t believable.

She could tell her father what she really thinks, that Ryan hid it there.

But that just shares the fireworks, and the thought makes Lily ache and wish for a few minutes before, when she was wearing her velvet dress and her father raced her around the living room. When she was his Lily Wheel.

What happens to agents, even cub ones, who misuse company property? Who steal it in the first place?

Ryan won’t just be away for an afternoon. He’ll be gone for good. Same for Hannah.

“Well?” her father asks.

“I found it,” Lily says slowly, walking over to her bedside-table. “I thought it was for the Wii.”

She lifts up her bedtime book. “I found this as well.”

She turns away from her father, peels the backing paper from the sticker and smoothes the gold star onto the palm of her hand.

She turns back and holds up  her hand. “See?”

Her father peers and then nods. “That’s Ryan’s,” he says. He blinks at the sticker and then looks at the device. “There’s no way he’s supposed to have one of these.” He pockets the gadget and murmurs, “Jesus.”

“Oh,” Lilly says, frowning. “Are you sure it’s Ryan’s?” She keeps her hand up, willing her father to look more closely at the star.

Her father nods. “It’s definitely…” And then it happens, like the gentlest clicking of a switch.

Lily watches as his face relaxes, and his eyes widen for a moment as he gazes at the sticker, really takes it in, before his eyes and the rest of his face relax.

Lily smiles at her father even as she feels sick for lying. “We were just playing, Dad.” She strokes his arm. “Daddy.” She gives her father time to nod, to return the smile, his gaze still locked on the sticker, and then she goes on in the sweetest, highest tone her adult voice can muster, “We’re just playing dress-up, Daddy!”

Her father smiles as his eyes grow glassy.

“We’re just silly little girls,” Lily says in a sing-song voice. “Go downstairs and watch the football, it’s so boring up here.” She steps forward and kisses his cheek. “Don’t come back up, Daddy. We’ll come downstairs when we’re ready, give you a fashion show!”

Her father nods and smiles. “Fashion show,” he replies. He blinks as Lily puts her hand down. “You’re such silly girls,” he says to the woman, the most indulgent smile on his face. “I’m going to finish watching Chelsea.”

He leaves the room and Lily rushes to close the door behind him.

“Thank you,” Hannah says. Red-faced, she tries to fan herself with the pillow.

“That was crazy,” Lily says, and maybe she’s the one who will throw up. She puts the sticker back under the bedtime book and holds onto the table for support.

“Okay,” she says, “Turn us back.”

Hannah laughs. “You’re not serious.”

Lily doesn’t laugh. “What choice do we have?” She gestures at the three of them. “This is a mess!”

“And you fixed it with that sticker.” She smiles. “We could have some serious fun with that too.”

Lily looks at her in disbelief. “You’re determined to end up in that place Rachel told us about!”

Hannah gives her a superior look. “That’s just one of her stories, and besides, it’s for grown-ups.”

“What do we look like?”

Hannah walks over to the wardrobe. “I can’t change us back, your dad’s got the device.” She flicks through the adult-sized outfits on the rack and smiles. “It’s all right for you, Lily, you’ve done all this before. I never got the chance.” She gives her friend a pleading look. “Come on, one outfit, let me see how I look all dressed up.”

Lily groans. “You’re pushing your luck.”

“One outfit,” Hannah says. “Ten minutes.”

Lily sighs and looks to Emma for support, sitting on the bed and digging her toes into the carpet. “Well?” Lily asks.

Emma shrugs, but she looks more excited now than anxious. “You did promise your daddy a fashion show.”




“Do I have to wear it?”

“Yeah, it’s part of the…it makes them look better.”

“It’s too tight.”

“Trust me.”

They’re all Parkdale girls. They’re all agents. But when it comes to getting older, Lily is the expert, Hannah is ambitious and Emma may just refused to wear a bra.

Emma pouts. “Okay.” And then, “Ow.” And then, “I want Lily to do it.”

Already dressed, Hannah looks to the ceiling and exhales. “She’s all yours,” she says to Lily, who smiles and gently eases Emma into her bra.

“There,” Lily says with satisfaction. “See, isn’t that pretty?”

Emma looks down and scowls at the white, lacey material. “Yes, but it’s pinchy.”

Hannah huffs. “If you’re going to keep whining about it, just take it off.”

Lily shakes her head. “We may as well do this properly.” And she helps Emma into her chosen outfit, the rose-coloured dress she’d had her eye on before.

When Lily zips Emma up the back, Emma spins around and grins.

“Like it?” Lily asks.

Emma nods. “Rose is like pink but more grown-up.”

Lily laughs. “Good point.” She hands Emma a pair of black heels. “See if you can put these on by yourself. ”

Emma takes the shoes and goes over to the bed.

Hannah says softly to Lily, “Shouldn’t she be maturing up here to match?” and she points at her head.

Lily shrugs. “You used the gadget, I thought you were the expert.”

“I feel different,” says Hannah. ” Like I know more.” She frowns. “Not information, but that I can…” She pauses and then smiles. “I can see the bigger picture.” She jerks a thumb at her sister, leaning back on the bed with her legs wide, struggling to put on the shoes, showing off her underwear without a hint of self-consciousness. “But she seems exactly the same as before.”

Lily nods. “I think it’s different for different people. That’s why the agents stick around, run tests, to make sure the mental part is right. If we stayed this way the whole day, she’d probably catch up.”

Hannah nods. “Right.”

Lily touches Hannah’s arm. “But once I’ve done the make-up and we’ve had a good look, it’s back to normal.”

“I know.”

“The sticker works on my dad, it won’t work on an agent. PPA comes in and finds us like this, I won’t be able to protect you.”

Hannah gives another nod. “I get it.”

Lily sits in front of her mirror and starts putting on her make-up.

She’s already dressed, blue velvet just like earlier, but now as a plunge dress, showing her cleavage and the skirt stopping just above her knees.

What about the make-up? It’s been a while, but she remembers. She had a life before Parkdale, and her adult face is becoming increasingly familiar and comfortable, just like her body.

“I can’t do it,” Emma moans, pulling at the strap on her left shoe.

“Hang on,” says her sister, and goes over to help. “It goes over your foot, silly, like that.”

“How should I know?” Emma sulks.

Lily makes her lips redder, her eyes bigger. Soon she’s her old self, and the data sends ripples of excitement through her mind.

Looking like this, she could run. Looking like this, she could start again.

But what about Ryan? She looks down at her hands, feeling guilty. And what about Daddy’s giggling and sparkling Lily Wheel?

Her Parkdale life looks incorrect, it’s a curved line pointing in the wrong direction when she looks at it through her adult eyes. But there’s love here, there’s sweetness.

So these three girls are just playing. Just a few minutes, and then back to normal.


Lily adds earrings, diamante gems. They weren’t expensive but she knows the twins will be jealous, and she allows herself a superior smile. Her pierced ears have returned, relics from her past, but Emma and Hannah’s ears are hole-free, virgin skin.

Lily is the real grown-up.  

She lets her hair fall to her shoulders. No more pigtails, no giant bows.

Just for a little while.

Hannah who has chosen something that is half-way between sexy and Sunday,

“Black’s boring, ” Emma says critically of her sister’s outfit.

Hannah disagrees, fussing at her sleeves.

“It’s like a hoodie,” says Emma dismissively.

Hannah nods and grins. Her dress does have a hood, and a front pocket, but it also has a skirt.

“It’s called a sweat dress,” Lily says. “Like if you want to go out straight from work.

“I look amazing,” says Hannah. She strokes her arms.

Emma gets up and wobbles in her heels. “I want a sweet dress,” she complains jealously.

“Sweat,” Lily clarifies.

“Ew,” says Emma.

“Besides,” says Lily, “You’ve got a skater dress.” She nods at the woman. “Which is pretty cool.”

“It’s rose,” Emma says, “not pink.”

“Like to see you skate in those heels,” Hannah says, and Emma sticks out her tongue in response.

Lily rolls her eyes. “Come here, Em, so I can do your make-up.”

Emma starts walking, looking as though she’s learning how to use stilts.

Hannah grabs her hand and giggles. “You’d better wear different shoes or you’re going to fall on your face!”

Lily shakes her head. “It doesn’t matter, it’s not like we’re going anywhere.” She crouches in front of the sitting Emma and starts adding foundation to her face.

“Eyes closed please,” Lily says.

“That smells nice,” Emma says.

“Yeah,” says Lily patiently. “Eyes closed.”

Hannah’s right. Emma sounds the same as she did before they added thirteen years to her age, and Lily can’t resist talking to her like a face-painter turning children into animals and Disney characters.  

“Soon you’ll look so grown-up, just like your sister,” Lily says in a sing-song voice.

Emma nods. “This gonna be the best dress-up ever.”

“Gosh,” says Lily brightly, “Rose dress and red shoes, you could be a devil!”

She looks around to see what Hannah is making of this. She’s surprised and a little concerned to find that Hannah isn’t in the room.

Meanwhile there’s no hint that Emma is  insulted by being talked down to in this way.

On the contrary, she fidgets with her fingers in her lap and says, “Can I wear still wear my bow?”

Lily shrugs. “I suppose so. If you want to.

“Daddy likes my bow,” Emma replies.

Daddy’s not going to see you like this, Lily almost says, but instead she just smiles and says, “Keep your mouth closed, sweetie, I’m going to do your lips.”

Emma manages to do as she’s told.

Lily chooses a lipstick to match Emma’s dress and imagines the childish woman outside, walking down the street, wearing her pretty dress but wobbling in her heels, topping off the look with a little girl’s pink hair-bow.

It’s enough to make Lily laugh out loud.

Emma laughs as well and then asks, “What’s funny?”

“Nothing,” Lily replies.

A final inspection, dabbing at the corners of her mouth with a tissue, and Emma looks ready for a night out, all dressed up with nowhere to go.

“Look,” Emma demands when Hannah enters the bedroom. “I’m all made up!”

Hannah smiles. “You look amazing.”

“I want to wear my hair bow,” says Emma.

Hannah shrugs. “Go for it.” She looks in the wardrobe and pulls out a handbag. She holds it in front of Lily’s velvet dress and nods. “Nice.”

Lily prepares to agree and then hesitates. “I don’t need a-”

“Are we doing the fashion show now?” Emma blurts. She gets to her feet and looks as steady as a new-born foal. She clasps her hands in front of her, an expectant look on her face.

“Kind of,” her sister replies.

Lily’s eyes widen as Hannah offers her the gold star sticker.

“What did you do?” Lily says, grabbing the sticker and putting it in the handbag.

“Borrowed your dad’s phone,” she says. “He called us an Uber.”

“What’s an uber?” Emma asks.

“Some kind person is going to drive us to London,” Hannah says to Emma. When the other two stare at her, she laughs. “Come on, ladies!” She waves at their outfits. “We’re not wasting this. We’re having a girls night out.” She points at Emma’s feet. “She’ll need something flat, though.”

“There’s no way we’re leaving this house,” Lily says, and she folds her arms across her chest.

Emma twists her lips. “I don’t want to get into trouble,” she tells her sister anxiously.

Hannah dismisses the concern with a wave. “We’re not going to get into trouble because we’re not little kids anymore.”

She looks at her sister and takes her hand. “We’ve been stuck. You keep forgetting but the longer you’re like this, the more you’ll understand.” Hannah points around Lily’s bedroom. “We’ve been the same for years, Em. And they keep us this way because it suits them, but it doesn’t suit me.”

Emma pulls her hand away.

“Daddy wouldn’t let them hurt us,” she says.  

Hannah’s determined expression softens. “Daddy thinks it’s for the best, but he doesn’t know. They messed with his head, just like they do with ours.”

“And Marty’s head too?” Emma’s eyes widen.

“No, not Marty, stupid, he’s one of them! Don’t you remember? He was just a kid, a teenager, then they made him a grown-up like that,” Hannah says with a spiteful snap of her fingers; “The same day we got Boo. They let Marty get older but they won’t do the same to us.”

“Hannah,” Lily says, “Your brother loves you, he wants the best for you.”

Hannah laughs, “Marty’s stopped caring the second he grew up. Now he’s got everything, ,a job, a boyfriend, kids of his own. He doesn’t have time for us anymore.” She pauses, checks herself in the mirror. “This is the real me.” 

She walks over and picks up her polka-dot dress before throwing it back down. “I can’t do that anymore, I can’t do the same old stuff at school and go to the same birthday parties and play the same stupid games.” 

Lily holds her handbag in front as if for self-defence. “You’re not as grown-up as you think you are, you’re acting like an impulsive teenager and that’s going to ruin it for all of us.” She points at Emma. “You’re responsible for your sister, who’ll follow you to the ends of the Earth because she loves you and doesn’t know any better.”

She walks to the bedroom door and stands in the doorway, trying to fill it with her adult size. “Let’s go downstairs and get the device so we can get back to normal before we run out of time. Cancel the Uber and we can even order a pizza instead.” She winks at Emma. “We can watch Trolls.”

“Frozen,” Emma pipes up.

“Okay, Frozen,” says Lily. She stares at Hannah. “Leave this house, you’re on your own.”

Hannah smiles, grabbling Emma’s hand. “No, I’m not. I’ve got my sister. And  you know what? If I go down, I’m taking your precious brother with me. So if you’re so desperate to keep him out of trouble, you’d better come along.”



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