Going Out: Part Two

PART II – OUT

London

(iv)

 

“This isn’t forever, is it.”

“No.”

“It’s just pretend.”

“Yeah.”

“Good.”

They walk down Shaftesbury Avenue, after dark, but the streetlights and cars seem dazzling.

The three women, in rose, blue and black walk past Forbidden Planet, hand-in-hand at Emma’s request as soon as they leave the Uber car, until Hannah breaks it off, feeling ridiculous, only to insist on holding hands a few steps later when Emma wanders off the pavement, threatening to cause a road traffic accident before they’ve spent five minutes in London.

At least they changed Emma’s shoes. Her flats means she walks normally, even if she needs constant reminders of her size. No need for a booster seat in the car, and a hissed reminder from Lily not to smile at everyone, not to smile at anyone, in case Emma wants people to think she’s special.

“I am special,” Emma says. “We’re all special.”

The drive took an hour, enough time for Lily to brief the twins on London – it’s really big, don’t wander off, don’t speak to strangers – and Emma to bring the conversation back to more familiar topics – Halloween costumes, songs from Trolls, and were the others certain that her pink hair bow was babyish?

And now they walk, looking for something to do, because what do three woman do on a Saturday night out?

“Pub or club,” Lily says.

“What’s the difference?” Emma asks, her hair bow left in the Uber car and sure to be a point of sadness later on.

“Club’s have more dancing.”

“Club!” Emma cries. She swings her arms, forcing the others to swing as well, Emma in the middle, and Hannah feels as though she’s taken her little sister to the park. Taken her and then regretted it.

“But they’re also dark and really loud and hot,” Lily says authoritatively.

“Oh,” says Emma.

“You wanted a dance party,” Hannah says with a smile. Because she has run the numbers and has a simple plan; keep Emma happy, keep Lily busy.

“Oh,” Emma says. “Club.”

They pass a McDonalds and Emma whines with regret. “I’m starving.”

“Pubs have food,” Lily says.

“Pub!” Emma demands, earning strange looks from passers-by.

“Except,” says Lily, “they will expect us to pay for it.” And she looks at Hannah

“I already said I was sorry.”

Lily nods. “I can’t believe you tricked my dad into giving you his phone but never thought to ask him for money.”

“I forgot,” Hannah says, although in truth, she’d never even though about the need for cash or credit card. Now she gets it, now it’s obvious. Stuff costs money, they should have some. But back at the house, she was only interested in leaving, focused on the vehicle and getting the other girls out of the house.

Just for a little while.

Just for tonight.

Just for long enough so that Emma can mentally mature and they Hannah can speak to her for real, about what matters, about the rest of their lives.

But they are penniless, and when they are asked for money by someone, Emma is delighted to know the answer and broadcast it for everyone in the street to hear.

“We don’t have any!” she tells the homeless man. “We forgot!”

The man says something that makes Lily’s ears burn when they pass him.

“Why did he get so cross?” Emma asks.

“It sounded like you were joking,” Lily says. “The next time someone asks you for money, just say sorry, no, and keep walking.”

Hannah gives a forceful nod, although it’s one more thing she hadn’t thought of. It doesn’t always matter that she has mentally matured; they couldn’t squeeze actual life experience into her mind as she got older.

But Lily knows, Lily’s been there and done that. Which is why Lily is here right now.

“Okay,” Emma says. She’s digested the lesson, or at least a garbled version of it.

They turn onto Greek Street and Lily points at the brightly-lit entrance and a line of people waiting outside. “That’ll do,” she says.

Emma peers at the queue. “Is that a pub or a club?”

“Dance party,” Lily says.

“Yay!” Emma cries, and Hannah thinks of Lily’s dress from earlier, from a lifetime ago.

They stand at the end of the line and Lily looks down the queue with a frown.

“What’s wrong?” Hannah asks.

“If they ask for I.D., we’re not getting in.”

“What’s eye-dee?” Emma asks.

“Proof of our age,” replies Lily.

How strange, to be in London have nothing.

No, not nothing.

 “We could use the sticker,” Hannah says.

“Too many people,” says Lily, and that settles that.

So maybe they’ll get in, maybe they won’t.

And all this threatens to cave in at any moment, if Emma decides she’s too hungry, or that London is too busy, or if she’s just had enough of the weirdest of days.

Instead, a few moments later it’s Hannah who feels a rush of anxiety.

Away from Parkdale. Away from everyone she knows. No one looks at her like she’s a child, no one treats her like one.

And it’s Emma who starts giggling and pointing, a look of pure delight on her face.

“What are you-?” Lily follows Emma’s pointed finger and then she nods. “Hen night.”

“They’re not hens,” Emma says, eyes wide. “They’re bunnies.”

Hannah is the last to see the women on the other side of the street. Five, six, seven women all dressed in beautiful dresses, but on the top of their heads, fluffy pink bunny ears.

Emma pokes her sister in the side.

“Hey!” Hannah protests.

“You said big girls don’t wear pink hair bows,” says Emma.

Hannah looks at the woman and can’t explain their fashion choice. She looks to Lily for help.

“It’s a special par-…Em!”

Emma is in the street before they can stop her, earning a honk and some more ear-burning language, but she is oblivious, only stopping when she reaches the women.

Hannah and Lily race after her.

“I love your bunny ears,” Emma announces to the women breathlessly.

“Cheers,” a woman in a gold-coloured dress says. “We’re rampant rabbits, aren’t we ladies.” This earns a roar of agreement from the rest of the party.

“Em,” Lily says, pulling her arm, “Leave them alone.”

“Ow,” says Emma, “Don’t.”

Hannah notices the woman in the middle, she’s standing like Emma did back at Lily’s house when she tried on the high heels, she looks ready to fall over, but what’s more interesting is instead of rabbit ears she has a white veil, and a pink feather boa around her neck.

Emma’s more concerned with the two women with cigarettes. “Smoking’s really bad for you,” Emma announces with the stark certainty of a little girl.

Hannah watches Lily redden with embarrassment. “Em, come on, we’re going to lose our place in the queue.”

She points back to the club and the women beside L-plate grins and says, “We’re headed there later. See you in there.” She flashes her teeth and says to Emma, “Don’t take all the talent before we get there.”

Emma blinks in confusion and then she giggles as the women wearing the veil turns around, revealing an L-plate on her back.

Emma points with delight. “What’s that for?”

One of the smokers gives her a funny look. “She’s getting married, love.”

Emma’s lips form an oh of understanding. And then she frowns again. “Where’s her husband?”

“He’s not her husband yet,” the other smoker says, earning a laugh from the others.

“Stag do’s in Bournemouth,” she says to Emma. And then, “And what he doesn’t know can’t hurt him.”

Hannah watches Emma’s face form a mask of confusion.

“What’s a…?” She trails off, too many questions. Her mouth is open but she can’t put her next sentence together.

The woman on the left of the bride-to-be nods at Hannah and says, “I think your friend’s bladdered.”

“Sorry,” Lily says to the woman. “She’s a little…special.”

Emma beams at the compliment and is quick to return the favour. “You’re special too, Lily.” She gives Lily a hug and says loud enough for everyone to hear, “That’s why we have play-dates!”

Emma turns back to the women. “But I like your bunny ears.” She points at Hannah. “I was gonna wear my special bow tonight but my sister said I looked like a baby.”

Hannah throws up her hands, pleading innocence.

One of smokers look at the rest of her group, and Hannah knows they’re making a decision. Some things are the same, whether they take place in the playground or adult life. A choice, to be nice or nasty.

Hannah has time for regret, to be sorry for dragging her sister out here, into the middle of a enormous, mysterious city.

And then the smoker pulls off her bunny ears headband and steps forward to place it gently on Emma’s head. “There. Suits you better, sweetheart.”

Emma gasps with delight. “Cool!” She touches her new ears and bounces on her feet.

Thank the nice lady, Hannah almost says. Instead she mouths it herself, giving the women a nod. Thanks for putting up with my sister. Thanks for not laughing in her face.

“Come on,” Hannah says, and this time Emma doesn’t resist, happy to bounce bunny-style back across the street.

Back in the queue, Emma looks very pleased with herself.  “Look,” she says, and Hannah braces herself for another chase. This time, Emma is looking up at the sign.

“The Toy Room,” she reads and then looks to Hannah. “I wonder what kinds of toys they’ve got,” she says excitedly.

Hannah sighs. “You’re not going to change, are you,” she says. “You’ll stuck this way.”

“What do you mean?” asks Emma.

“It’s just a name,” Lily says, and Emma’s face falls with disappointment.

When the reach the front of the queue, the bouncer looks them up and down, three attractive young women, and doesn’t come close to asking them for I.D., waving them inside.

The club is loud. It is hot.

And really, is it so different from the primary three school disco?

Hannah keeps hold of Emma’s hand – although she’s hard to lose now, just follow the bunny ears – and she wonders, was there really ever a plan to leave her?

Emma pulls the other two woman onto the dance floor, because they arrive at the perfect time, with the sound of Justin Timberlake and a song that makes Hannah usually want to bang her head against a brick wall, but not tonight.

She watches her twin sister, bounce along to the Trolls song, dancing in the same, silly, sweet way she’s always done. That shy, sappy, and sometimes bossy, seven year old, seven for the longest time.

Hannah looks over at Lily and wonders if she’s thinking the same thing; that some people just fit in Parkdale. People like Emma.

And then there are people like Hannah; a Parkdale wallflower, good at the job but never going to fit in, unhappy in her own skin.

Emma hops over. “Dance with me!” she yells, and Hannah laughs, because yes, it really is the school disco all over again, Emma wasn’t interested in dancing with boys then either.

It’s hard to say no to a pretty girl in bunny ears. And so Hannah dances, bouncing along, and then joining hands, circling until she’s breathless, spinning until she’s ready to fall over, and then she comes to a stop and sees Emma’s pale face.

She shouts over the music. “Tea cups?”

Emma swallows and nods.

They walk away from the bass and shriek, finding Lily who knows exactly what to do. Because she’s done this for real. Because she’s lived the life, and all of this, from the moment they left the house, has taught Hannah that there’s big difference between Parkdale tricks and getting older for real.

Some things you can’t skip. Some things, you have to go through for real, even when it feels like swimming through treacle.

“What’s this?” asks Hannah as they enter a room that’s quiet in comparison, the lights subdued without being dark (without beings scary), and instead of a busy dance floor, black couches and polished glass tables.

“It’s the chill-out room,” Lily says, leading them to one of the couches, where Emma sits with her head between her knees.

And then Lily disappears, leaving Hannah to wonder if they’ve been deserted – she wouldn’t blame Lily for looking for real adults, back to her real life – but Lily returns with plastic pints of water.

Hannah drinks thirstily and watches her sister put the glass to her forehead before she asks Lily, “Did you have to pay?”

Lily shakes her head. “Besides, we won’t have to pay for drinks in a place like this.”

Hannah nods. She’s seen the way men have looked at her. She’s the reason they’re here. She has only half an idea of what they want with her, but she grimaces at any of them trying something with her sister. With her silly bunny.

Emma puts her water to her lips and proceeds to gulp down half of it.

“Careful,” says Hannah.

“Hot blood,” Emma replies, rubbing at her mouth.

“What?”

“Like the song,” says Emma. She shakes her head. “Doesn’t matter.” And then she looks down at herself and exhales heavily.

“I feel a bit weird, actually.”

“Too much bouncing,” says Lily kindly. “You’ll feel better soon.”

Hannah nods, but Emma shakes her head.

“Not like that.” She puts her hand to her head and touches her headband, stroking the ears as if she can’t quite remember where they came from.

“It’s okay, sweetie,” says Lily, sounding like a nursery assistant. “We should probably go home after this, get you home to your daddy.” She pats Emma’s hand. “You’ve had a very big day!”

Emma snatches her hand away. “Stop,” she says impatiently. She glares at Lily. “I’m not a baby.”

Lily blinks at her. “Yeah, I know.” She glances at Hannah. “Sorry, I just meant-”

“I feel different,” says Emma. She looks around the room with an expression that Hannah doesn’t recognise.

“I feel…like I fit. Or something.” Emma holds her hands out in front of her and stretches out her fingers. She stares at them, not speaking for so long that Hannah is ready to panic when her sister says abruptly, “This isn’t a game. Is it?”

Hannah shakes her head. “No.”

“It’s serious.”

Hannah nods.

“Are we going back?”

Lily stares at the twins. “What? Of course we are.”

“We’ll do whatever you want to do,” Hannah says. She takes Emma’s hand and holds it tight. “We’re together.”

It’s Emma’s turn to nod. “Cool. I think we’d better go home.” She smiles at Lily. “I didn’t mean to snap at you.” And then to her sister, “I’m sorry about before. I was such a baby.”

Hannah grins. “Not your fault. Glad you caught up, though.”

Emma smiles back. “I…really don’t want to watch Frozen tonight.”

Hannah bursts into laughter.

The girl with the bunny ears takes another drink of water and says, “I’d like to sit here for a bit, if that’s okay.”

Hannah nods. “I’m going to find the toilets, freshen up a bit.”

Lily passes her the handbag. “You want to call an Uber?”

Hannah nods and takes the phone from the bag. Her hand finds something else and she puts both items in the front pocket of her sweat dress.

“Don’t speak to strangers,” Lily says with a smile.

 

 

 

(v)

 

The chill out room was cooler than the dance floor, but the ladies room is cooler still.

Hannah uses the toilet and then checks her face in the mirror. Her eye make-up is smudged, but the best she can do is dab with a tissue.

A woman offers Hannah her own eyeliner pencil but Hannah politely declines. She’s never used make-up for real before; without Lily’s help she’d end up looking like a panda, or a clown.

Besides, the make-up doesn’t matter. Because they’re going home. Back to Lily’s house, back to the gadget with the hope that no one, besides Lily’s father, knows they’ve been gone.

She’ll feel better, even physically back to childhood, if she can keep some of these mature thoughts, and even more importantly, if Emma can too. To talk seriously, finally with her sister about their life in Parkdale; that would make this long day worthwhile.

She leaves the toilets and pulls out the phone. She had watched Lily’s father use the Uber app and she’s confident she can do it herself. Head down, ready to book their ride home, she walks into someone in the hallway.

“Sorry,” she mutters, and then looks into the eyes of a man carrying a backpack.

“No problem,” says the man. “It’s kind of my favourite thing, bumping into beautiful women.”

And shouldn’t a line like that make Hannah cringe?

But it doesn’t. She finds herself smiling at the man. A young man, perhaps her age, he’s not skinny, she could even call him heavy, but there’s something about his face, in his eyes, that she likes. Something familiar, something friendly and sweet.

Still, there’s no time for this.

“I have to go back to my friends,” Hannah says.

The man, the teenager, he nods but he gestures at her outfit with an open hand and says, “I love your dress.”

“Thanks,” says Hannah, and she’s impatient but also can’t help feeling pleased. There’s a nervous, yet not-unpleasant fluttering in her stomach as she smiles at the man.

“It’s funny, but I’ve got some outfits in my bag. They’re free, would you like to take a look? You’re welcome to have any you like.”

The man smiles, and Hannah feels herself blush, and she looks to the backpack which does look full, and she imagines dressing up for him, she imagines giving him a show, and then she thinks, Do you want to see some puppies? And she’s sure that a real woman, one with experience, wouldn’t give this man the time of day.

She forces herself to frown at him. “No thanks,” she says, and she moves to walk past.

The man dances backwards, and it’s playful but Hannah feels anxious.

“You sure?” the man asks. “I’ve got something in here I know you’d look adorable in.”

Adorable? What happened to beautiful?

She stares at the man. His hair looks damp, a little disheveled, as if he’d gotten ready in a rush.

There’s no time for this.

Hannah looks back over her shoulder. The hallway is empty.

She reaches into her pocket.

“I’ve got something pretty adorable right here,” she says softly. “Take a look.”

The man peers at the gold shape Hannah has fixed to her chest.

He laughs, and then looks more closely. “Is that a…” he trails off.

Hannah almost laughs in the man’s face. “It’s a reminder,” she says, “something you forgot to do.”

The man nods with a dream expression. “I forgot it,” he says, and Hannah feels powerful, knowing whatever she says next will fall neatly into the man’s mind without a flicker of doubt.

“You forgot to try on your dresses, silly!” says Hannah sweetly. “Go on,” she says, pointing to the gents toilets sign. “I want you to choose the most adorable dress and put it on for everyone to see.” She beams at him. “You can do a little fashion show!”

The man nods and smiles, as if this had been his idea all along. “Yeah, I gotta go.” He reaches over his shoulder and pats his backpack. “I gotta try on my dresses.” And then he rushes past Hannah and into the toilets.

Hannah peels the sticker off her dress  and slips it back into her pocket.

Okay, now she can get back to Emma and Lilly.

After she orders the Uber.

After she tries one last trick with the sticker.

Fifteen minutes later she walks back into the chill-out room, one of the club bar-tenders carrying a tray with bottle of champagne and glasses behind her.

“I thought we deserved something more fun than water,” she says when she reaches their table, and then she frowns.

Emma already has a new drink, as does Lily.

Three cocktail glasses filled with a syrupy looking liquid, the drink finished with a cherry and a little pink umbrella.

Emma flutters her fingers at her sister. “We were waiting for you!” she says bossily, and then giggle, giving Hannah a grin that she can’t return, not when she sees the man.

Lily gives Hannah an unreadable look and nods at the man sitting at the table with them. “He says he knows you,” Lily says softly.

He gets to his feet, performs a little bow, and invites her to sit down in the remaining chair.

“You’re supposed to be…” Hannah glares at him. “Not here.”

The man nods. “I thought about what you said.” He steeples his fingers underneath his chin. “But I really do think the outfit would look better on you.”

Hannah sits down, gripping the sticker in her pocket. She must have done it wrong.

But she used the same technique at the bar. Nothing fancy and a perfect job, free Champagne.

So there’s another explanation. She watches as Emma sucks on her straw, her glass half-empty.

Lily’s glass looks full. Which explains why Lily has such a glum expression, while Emma is twirling her hair between her fingers and giggling at nothing.

“How did you find us?” Hannah asks the man.

He’ll raise his eyebrows, look puzzled.

No. He taps the table with his fingers and replies, “Not much of a magic trick. GPS tracker on your phone.” He pauses and then adds, “Lily’s father’s phone, I mean.” He gives everyone at the table a theatrically sad expression. “The phone you stole, Hannah.”

Hannah shakes her head. “He gave it to me., Teddy.” She recognises him now, an older version of his usual self, old enough to get into the club, old enough to make the girls hesitate. Because really, if you’re paranoid, everyone in London could look just like a Parkdale agent.

“The sticker doesn’t work on you,” says Hannah.

“Time to go home,” says Teddy. “Isn’t that right, Princess Emma?”

Emma shakes her head seriously and then giggles. “Nodda pwintheth…Kween! Kween Eltha! I gonna watch Foh…fohthen wif Daddy and Boo!” 

Hannah’s stomach feels watery. A moment of dizziness, even sitting down, reminds her of a fairground, makes her think of tea cups. “What did you do to her?”

“Just a princess cocktail,” Teddy says brightly. And then he looks straight at Hannah. “Trust me, all of you will be far better off if you’re thinking like sweet little girls when you get back to Parkdale, the more innocent the better.”

Hannah feels rage bloom in her chest. “She only just got her adult thoughts, you shit.”

Teddy shakes his head. “They weren’t really hers.” He reaches over and pulls gently on a bunny ear, earning a giggling protest from Emma in return. “It’s okay, she may have gotten some big girl thoughts but she was still gullible enough to try the bar-tender’s new cocktail. Emma never even knew what was happening, and now she’s back to her sweet normal self.”

He points at the glass in front of her, and then nod at Lily. “Probably a little younger than you’re used to, ladies, but seriously, my boss is pretty furious, and if I bring you back doing anything more mature than sucking your thumb, they may just throw the book at you.”

Hannah watches in disbelief as Lily curls her fingers around the glass stem.

“You’re not serious,” Hannah says. “You can’t just drink that stuff, look what it did to Em!”

Lily sighs. “What am I supposed to do, Hannah? My family’s in Parkdale, I can’t just leave them there.”

But she hesitates, staring at the sticky liquid long enough for Teddy to tap the table for a second time, “Come on Lils, Ryan’s counting on you to do the right thing here.”

Hannah gets to her feet, ready to knock the glass from the table. “Lily, please, you can’t just-”

Lily gives Hannah an apologetic look and then pulls the glass to her mouth, sucking on the straw, and Hannah watches, paralysed with anguish as the liquid level lowers.

“Good girl,” Teddy says to Lily. “And it’s okay, you don’t have to drink all of it.” He turns to Emma. “Right, Princess Bunny?”

Hannah’s sister chortles through her fingers and retorts, “I’m noh pwinceth buh-nee!”

Teddy smiles sweetly at her. “Not yet, but I have something in my bag that will make all of you just as fuzzy and bunny-ish as your ears. Wanna see?”

Emma nods and bounces in her seat. “Uh-huh!”

“How about you, Princess Lily? Do you want to see too?”

Lily shrugs. “I don’t…I’m okay in my dress.”

Teddy’s face grows puzzled. “You don’t like being fuzzy?”

Lily wrinkles her nose. “I’m not a baby. You should just…” And then she yawns abruptly.

“You’re a sleepy girl,” Teddy says gently.

Lily nods. Clearly that was true enough.

Hannah watches as Lily’s face relaxes and her worried look is replaced by a glassy expression.

“Well you’re in the right place, I suppose.” He looks around the chill-out room. “Good enough for taking a nap, I think. But it’s silly to take a nap without pyjamas.”

That idea brings a smile to Lily’s lips. She shakes her head. “I can’t wear puh…pah…I can’t…”

“Jammies?” Teddy offers.

Lily grabs at the word. “Uh-huh! I can’t weh jammes here!”

Teddy shrugs. “Well, we’ll see. I bet once you see them, you’ll want to get all dressed up and fuzzy for me.” He looks pointed at Hannah’s glass. “We’re just waiting for you now, Princess Hannah. You have to think about your future, and you have to think about Emma’s as  well.” And then he reaches behind him for the backpack. “I know it’s in here somewhere…” Emma and Lily both giggle as Teddy sticks his head in the bag, making puzzled noises. “Where are those fuzzy jammies? Huh, it’s so warm in this bag, I might fall asleep in here myself!”

More giggles from the girls, their faces rapt like small children watching a birthday party entertainer make balloon animals, and then Teddy says, his voice muffled, “Ah, I think I got it. Ready, princesses?”

Emma and Lily both giggle and yell in the affirmative.

“Okay,” says Teddy and he lifts his head out of the bag, pulling fuzzy pink pajamas with it.

Emma claps her hands with delight, and she only gets happier when Teddy unfolds the first set of pajamas to reveal the pink hood and fuzzy white tale.

“Bunnee!” she shrieks, and Lily giggles with just as much excitement.

“Thought you might like ’em,” says Teddy mildly, and then he turns his attention to Hannah.

“Ah,” he says, seeing the empty glass in front of her. “Good girl. You feeling better now?”

Hannah looks at him and blinks, wiping at her mouth. “I’m sleepy,” she says, and she produces a tremendous yawn.

“Good girl,” says Teddy again. “Want to be a sweet pink bunny like your sister? Like Lily? I really wanna take three pretty bunnies home tonight.”

Hannah pouts and waves clumsily at him. “I’m not…notta bunny,” she says. “I’mma…”

“Princess?” Teddy suggests? “Because even pretty princesses have to wear their jammies at bedtime.”

Hannah’s face is full of confusion, and then she blinks slowly and nods. “Uh…I gonna be a pin…pinceth.”

“Such a  pretty princess,” Teddy agrees. He smiles at all three women. “Okay, let’s get you all dressed up and get you home to your daddies.”

Emma, Lily and Hannah all giggle and reach for their very own fuzzy pink bunny pyjamas

 

 

 (v)

 

Emma is soft and pink. She’s a fuzzy little bunny!

When Teddy pulls the hood up and over her head, she bounces up and down just like a real bunny.

It’s pretend, of course. She’s not really a bunny.

She’s really a little girl.

But it’s fun to be all dressed up, and when Teddy says how much her daddy will like her new jammies, Emma knows it’s true.

Hannah looks happy as well, just like Lily. Three pink bunnies.

Isn’t it nice to be dressed like her sister! Both of them, so sweet and innocent, so cosy and cute. What will Daddy say when he sees them? He’ll say they’re two peas in a pod, he’ll put his strong arms around them and give them the very best cuddle. Because they’re such good girls and they love Daddy.

Their make-up is all gone, thanks to Teddy’s special cleansing wipes. All three woman look fresh-faced and innocent.

Emma holds hands with Hannah as they leave the toilet, and Teddy shows them how to leave the club.

“Brrr,” Teddy says when they’re on the street. “I wish I had fuzzy jammies,” and the girls all laugh at the idea of a grown-up like Teddy wearing a bunny onesie like a little girl.

“Where’d I put the car?” Teddy muses, and for  moment Emma wonders if he’s lost it, but then he nods confidently and points around the corner.

And what’s best, as all three woman hold hands and follow Teddy, isn’t just the prospect of getting home to see Daddy. It’s meeting the women from earlier, the nice ladies with the bunny ears and the lady with the veil, who are all so happy and silly and a bit loud and who get louder when they see Emma, Hannah and Lily.

“Them ears not enough for you?” one of them says, hooting with laughter.

Emma giggles and replies, “Imma bunnee!” And she knows she said the right thing because all the women laugh even louder.

The woman who gave Emma the bunny ears before put a hand on Hannah’s shoulder and says, “I thought it was just your friend who was special, love.”

We’re all special, Hannah should say, and Emma waits for her sister to say it.

Instead, Hannah looks over at Teddy who’s checking something on his phone, and then she puts her mouth to Emma’s ear. “Love you, Em, I gotta go, but I love you forever.”

Before Emma can reply, before Emma can do a thing, Hannah plants a kiss on her cheek and then runs through the hen party ladies.

Emma watches her disappear around a corner, and then she watches Teddy look up from his phone, hold up his hands and then say a word that makes Emma’s ears burn.

 

 

 

(vi)

The Ham Yard Hotel

 

Hannah stands beside a man called Patrick as they check in at the five-star hotel.

She’s self-conscious in her bunny pyjamas, but increasingly less so. You spend enough money and people stop calling you weird and say you’re eccentric instead.

Well, you spend enough of Patrick’s money.

“You need help with your bags?” the night manager asks.

“No thank you,” Hannah replies, taking the key and then walking Patrick by the hand to the lift.

A top-floor room, a beautiful suite, Hannah should be impressed, she should feel like a princess, swept off her feet by Prince Charming.

But if anyone looks like they’re in a dream, it’s Patrick.

Once they’re inside the bedroom, he stands to attention, ready for new commands.

Hannah pulls the gold sticker from inside the sleeve of her pink onesie. “Time for bed,” she says, “You’re so sleepy. You’re going to sleep until I tell you to wake up.”

Patrick nods, getting onto one of the two large beds and closing his eyes.

Hannah could laugh out loud at the sound of his snoring. The sticker can’t help with that, just as it couldn’t magically change her outfit as she ran from the club. There was nowhere to buy new clothes so she had to make do, and sure, when she walked up to Patrick, waiting for him to take his off his phone screen and finally notice her, she had to put up with his smirk at her bunny suit.

But as soon as she showed him the sticker, his expression changed.

“You want to be my boyfriend. You think I’m beautiful and you want to make me happy.”

“Hey…let’s…let’s go somewhere. I want to…”

“Oh! Don’t touch…you don’t want to touch me, you just want to make me happy. No touching.”

And he has tried to make her happy. With a taxi, with stopping that taxi long enough to get McDonalds take-away while Hannah stayed in the car. With the swankiest of hotels.

Hannah feels a trace of guilt at having turned Patrick’s world upside-down. In his right mind, what would he be doing? There’s no ring on his finger, but what about a girlfriend? A real one. Is there a family missing him?

She goes over to the bed and unties his shoelaces, pulls off his shoes, and covers him with the duvet.

Then she goes to the other bed and lies on top. No need to get undressed, she’s already in the softest, most comfortable pyjamas.

The most infantile of pyjamas.

Hannah looks up at the ceiling. Any guilt she feels about Patrick is microscopic compared to how she feels about abandoning Emma.

Why did she do it? Why did she pour the liquid from her cocktail glass onto the carpet?

Because she can’t go back to square one, perhaps. Because she couldn’t bear to have her mind reduced to pink squiggles like her sister, like Lily, both of them giggling and squirming in their seats like over-excited toddlers.

She couldn’t face it, now that she knows how it feels to be fully-grown. Now that she has the sticker, now that she has power and potential.

It feels good to be an adult. To have choices, to know the score. She may be missing experience but what better place to fill the gaps than in London. Eight million people to learn from

Starting with Patrick.

And yet, it’s hard to sleep. Without the bedtime routine, without bath-time, without her Cinderella toothbrush and strawberry toothpaste.

Without a story and a kiss goodnight.

Without Daddy.

She looks over at Patrick.

She could wake him up right now. Tell him who to be, and with one look at the sticker, she would have someone to tuck her into bed, kiss her goodnight, and tell her the sweetest of bedtime stories.

But it won’t work.

This man isn’t her father.

Daddy’s in Parkdale, and now so is her sister.

What are they doing to Emma right now?

Reducing her age, taking her back down, perhaps even younger. Hannah closes her eyes and prays that they do that when Emma is asleep, so she can wake up perfectly happy, perfectly ignorant, without even knowing it happened. Will they put Emma and Jasmine in the same bedroom? Emma’s never had to sleep on her own before.

Hannah bunches her fists, feeling protective and possessive of her sister at the same time. They’re real sisters, blood sisters, identical.

But Hannah has left all the same.

Love you, Em, I gotta go, but I love you forever.

How will Emma handle that? How will Daddy? And Marty? 

How will Parkdale?  

A cub agent has gone rogue. Stealing and misusing equipment, resisting arrest. They’ll want her back. They’ll come for her.

And then what? 

Her fingers itch towards the hotel phone. She could call Marty right now. Give her location, give herself up. Maybe they’ll be merciful. Maybe he won’t hate her.

She looks at the clock. It’s way past midnight now. He’ll be snuggled up in bed with Riley, their own kids already tucked in and fast asleep. She won’t risk disturbing them, making Marty even more angry, if he even cares at all.

She digs fingernails into her palms. Of course Marty cares!

But what does that matter? She’s on her own.

Hannah rolls over in bed, facing away from the man in her bedroom. She is far away from family, she is in a city of strangers.

Pangs of loneliness press against her stomach, making her victory over Teddy feel hollow.

She thinks of the sticky cocktail liquid, making a mess on the nightclub floor. Could she return to the Toy Room, find the stain, fix her betrayal?

Hannah brings her knees to her chest and resists the urge to suck her thumb. There’s no fix. She is a fuzzy, pink girl but she’s no princess.

And she’s not going home.

 

                       THE END

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