The Hidden Truth

Clara hasn't seen her sister for years, and she's not sure she wants to after all this time. Harper was so close to her, someone she knew like the back of her hand, but leaving the family for Uni changed her, so much that now she is barely recognisable.
When she returns, one summer, Clara doesn't know what to expect. Confusion lurks in the air, but will she ever find out why Harper came back? Why it took her this long to realise?

There's a hidden truth in everything, but will it be found?

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I recognise her as soon as she steps inside, hand planted on hip. It’s her eyes – the way they dart from table to table before finally placing on me. They’re still the chocolate brown I always remembered – not that they would have changed since – and her polite, professional, slit-of-a-mouth forms that casual but perfect smile.

“Clara!” She cries, hurrying over in her wedges, bag slung over one shoulder. I don’t know whether to be happy that she’s pleased to see me, or upset that it took her this long to come back. But I smile, anyhow, my teeth gleaming with joy.

It’s a long time since I’ve seen my sister Harper. The last time I saw her (face to face, of course) was before she left to go to University. We had stood on the balcony that adjoined to our four bedroom house - that after a long time, was finally affordable – and waved as she zoomed  off in her brand new car.

I liked her then. I loved her. She was my sister before. But then she wasn’t. It was as if she’d switched lives with someone completely opposite, someone who unlike her had fake beauty, latest fashion and the most popular friends. The sister I knew had natural beauty, unique trends; friends for life. She was always happy with how she was, not caring about how she looked or what people thought of her, and was the kindest person I knew. But she changed. She changed an awful lot.

Like a magical fairy-tale a handsome prince stepped into her life – it was that easy – whisking her away into what was a whole new world. I expected it to be a two year thing, and then she’d come running back home afterwards as single as can be.

But it wasn’t like that. Not at all. Instead, one night, she was presumably lying on her bed with her laptop – like she always did at home – typing an email out to my Mum telling us about her ‘plans for the future’. She babbled on and on about how her and James were perfect for each other and that they were both 100% sure they wanted to live together for the rest of their lives – as if!

Easily, we all assumed she was getting married, tottering around with a diamond ring on her finger. It wasn’t until after we’d read the rest of her email that, in fact, they were only moving in together.

“There’s some flats on sale down the road. Why don’t we check them out together?” Mum offered.

“If you need some help finding an affordable place to buy, I’m here!” Dad exclaimed.

Even I insisted on helping unload their belongings once they would arrive. The point was, they didn’t arrive. Not here, anyway. Instead, they laid foot miles away down South meaning we never saw them since.

We could of, I guess; it’s not like my parents let it end that way. They tried emailing, texting and even calling, but suddenly Harper was a different girl. Normally she’d be so organised and efficient she’d be at the phone in minutes. Instead, her annoying answer message replayed over and over as we continued to try and reach her. Sometimes I wondered why my parents even bothered.

Unfortunately, this went on for a few months, until my parents finally decided to give up. She clearly wanted nothing to do with us or she would have replied by now, and after all, she did have her own family now.

It was a few years later when we heard the news – Harper had had a baby. Hallelujah! We found out via Facebook (yes, Facebook) when we had scrolled through her Timeline to see if she’d posted any updates on her ‘new and stress free life’. None of us knew if we were happy that we’d found this out, because all we really wanted to know was ‘why didn’t she tell us?’ All she could of done was picked up her phone and rung us. Even a quick text or email would have been worth something. But we couldn’t be sure. None of us had a clue.

So now, as my transformed sister stands before me, I’m shocked at how she can just turn up here so casually after all these years, months, hours; after everything. What makes her think we even want her here?

Anyhow, she continues to hobble over in her heels, awkwardly wrapping her arms around my neck when she reaches me. I can smell her overpowering perfume, almost making me sputter.

“Hey.” I squeak out from beneath and she lets go, slumping down into the cushioned seat beside me as if she’s been doing it all her life.

“So,” she says, leaning forward on her hand and smiling at me kindly, “What’s news?”

And then I realise she doesn’t know anything anymore. She doesn’t know me; she doesn’t know my parents; she doesn’t know any of our family at all.

So then I’m obliged to say, “Oh, well that’s a completely different story,” and move onto what she has to say.

 

~  ~  ~

My Dad’s always been private. I mean, yes he shares his feelings about matters when it comes to family arguments, but when it comes to everything else, he keeps it hidden. It was only a few months ago that we found out he’d lost his job, even though it happened months back.

“Thought you’d break down on me and get annoyed. I had to do something.” He’d said, claiming he’d been out all day doing several other small jobs whilst sneaking out every now and again in the evenings for extra money. We all thought he was at his normal job.

“Are you sure? The money still came in every month?” My Mum had said, trying to reassure herself that he would never do such a thing, although we were all pretty certain by then that it was true.

“Yes,” My Dad exclaimed, “I still provided the money we needed, even though I wasn’t happy with all my part time jobs.”

So then, we had it. We realised that he’d do all that to hide something from us. I mean, yes he was thinking about us before himself, but we’re his family for goodness sake, we do have a right to know!

That was a year ago, but now he’s back on track. We’re definitely sure of it this time – my Mum insisted on driving him to work one day just to make sure – but it’s like he doubts our trust in him. Obviously, we do a little because of what he did, but we know he regrets it, and he’d never do it again.

I tell this all to Harper now, once we’ve returned home after the coffee and quick chat at the local café down the road, and are now chilling on the sofa. She seems strangely fine with it, as if she’s heard it all before. Somehow it gives me an image of her talking to Dad without us knowing, so she knows everything before we do. But I flick it away in an instant, because I know my own Dad wouldn’t go that far.

“So you’re not surprised?” I ask, as she lies back and hums quietly to herself, as if she’s deciding whether to say something or not.

“A little.” She says, but it’s hard to know whether she means it.

Later on, when she settles into the Guest Room downstairs (thankfully far away from my room), I decide to question Mum on this sudden visit of Harper. I catch her washing dishes in the kitchen, sneakily singing along to songs on the radio. She stops abruptly as soon as she hears me walking in, dunking a clean plate on the side and pulling off her rubber gloves.

“What is it, sweetie?” She asks, too nice for my liking.

“Oh, you should be answering that.” I say, plopping myself down on the breakfast bar chairs.

She stares at me for a while, wondering what on earth I’m on about, before finally getting her brain into gear and sitting down beside me.

“You know this is a tough time for her, dear,” She starts to say, “And we can’t just let her go off somewhere on her own. I mean, she’s part of our family really, even though she went off and…”

“What?” I butt in, not really getting what she’s trying to say.

“They broke up.” It’s as easy as that. “James and Harper are no longer future husband and wife.”

“They were engaged?”

My Mum sighs, disappointedly. “Oh, they were so happy. They were going to get married and everything.”

I push myself off the chair, grabbing a glass from the cupboard and filling it with water. “Since when did you care about her life?”

It sounds really harsh, but it’s true. Harper’s life made no difference to ours, until now.

Sipping at my water, I decide to rephrase my wording. “I mean, Mum, we never really cared about her when she had the baby or anything, so why do you suddenly care now?”

It’s only when she looks up that I realise her face looks drained and almost sad. Suddenly it makes me regret what I said.

“She’s my own daughter,” she whispers, looking me straight in the eye, “and she came back to us.”

 

~  ~  ~

 

I’ve never really understood the whole Mother and Daughter thing. The whole ‘no matter what they do I’ll always be there for them’. That’s like saying ‘Oh they can murder whoever they like and I’ll still love them’. Who would say that? Who?

Anyway, when Harper told me today that her baby is going to be dropped off by James, I couldn’t be more annoyed. Not only does she drop herself off here like ‘Oh mother I ruined my chances of happiness so please let me come back even though we haven’t spoken for years’, but she also decides to bring her child as well. As if we don’t have enough on our hands as it is.

“It’s only going to be a short term thing,” she explained to us at breakfast this morning, which was awfully awkward because we had nothing to talk about even after all these years.

“That’s what they all say.” I thought to myself as I chomped on my cereal a little too loudly. I wasn’t in the best of moods for a Saturday morning. That might have had something to do with the fact that Harper gets up at six to go out to the gym on the weekend, which means having a long shower (which makes a lot of noise because of our water system) and banging all the cupboards to find what she’s looking for. Even burying my head under my pillow came to no use at all.

She was back, on the dot, for breakfast so we could all have it together – oh, the joy of family meals – and then she was off again doing whatever she loves to do, which nowadays involves reading fashion magazines and expecting her nails which ‘omg must not be chipped, like, otherwise I’m so gonna die coz, like, they’re just so important to me and like…’ Obviously, I’ve already experienced her stupid complaining that shatters my ear drums. Honestly, it’s like living with a Barbie doll, and it’s hardly been a day!

So today, I’m planning on trying to stay as far away as Harper as I possibly can. She can’t be staying more than a few weeks, so I might as well make the most of everything outside my own house. This means, probably, hanging with friends who haven’t gone away for the summer; chilling at the café down the road; walking around town being a loner. I haven’t got many choices.

My school broke up a week ago and I’m already totally bored with my life. My best friend Mollie is away in Spain, probably having the time of her life without me, whilst I’m left here with Annie and Tessa, who at least are here for most of the summer.

They want to have a fun summer (so they say). Go bowling, watch a film at the cinema, use coupons they have for places like pizza hut. It sounds totally cool, but there’s one problem. Rules.

Since I turned up late home a few months ago, after going to a house party, Mum has laid down rules. It’s not like I enjoyed that party – in fact, I hated it – but it was just the point that I actually turned up there, stayed for a whole three hours, and nearly got caught by the police, that my Mum was still annoyed. After all, I had agreed to go, even though it was Tessa’s idea.

“Number One on the list,” Mum had announced, holding a sheet of paper in front of her, “Curfew is half ten.”

I remember groaning, annoyed that this would mean I couldn’t go anywhere with my friends, but I knew it was kind of reasonable considering I was, and still am, sixteen. I knew a lot of people had it worse.

“Number two,” she continued, “I have to know where you are, all the time.”

I groaned even louder that time. Why were Mum’s so overly-protective?

Nevertheless, I had let her carry on. “Always have your phone with you and switched on so I can contact you in any emergencies and you can contact me back.”

This time I kept silent - I knew these were actually sensible rules.

“And lastly, tell us the truth. I don’t want any lies from you, okay? We tell you the truth, so you tell us it back.”

 I remember nodding, knowing that she was right once more. They told me straight that they were, in fact, having an argument when I questioned it. They also admitted to sneaking out at night when I was asleep so they could go down the pub for a drink. I wasn’t happy, but I knew that they regretted it, therefore I was willing to forgive them. So I know now, I have to do the same.

“Mum!” I shout, slamming the door of bedroom and hurrying down the stairs, “I’m going to town with Tessa!”

I know Mum hates it. She isn’t particularly fond of Tessa because she’s so…well…naughty? She isn’t really, just likes to mess about. If any one of us was to do something wrong, it would be her. Plus, I kind of accidentally told her it was Tessa’s idea to go the party, therefore she blames everything on her.

Annie is her favourite - of course. She’s so shy, and super polite. Whenever she’s round she offers to do the dishes for Mum, although she always tells her she doesn’t need the hassle, and has nice conversations with her even though I’m waiting impatiently by the door, trying to hurry her up.

Mollie is the inbetweener. Mum likes her, and she kind of has to because she’s my best friend, but she finds her ‘average’. I have no idea what she means by that, but it probably means she finds her too like any other girl you would find along the street. Pretty, talkative, and normal. My Mum prefers someone a little different. Like Annie.

Oh yes, that’s my Mum’s favourite saying. She’s always saying how ‘you should have proper manners, like Annie’. Or, ‘why don’t you join some after school clubs, like Annie’. Somehow, she’s become my comparison. Everything I do results back to how I’m ‘not as good as Annie.’ And I hate it.

Now, I’m almost pleased to be able to say Tessa and not Annie, who Mum will instantly jump down the stairs to. For once, I want her to be able to be happy for me when I see other friends.

“Tessa?” Mum questions, as she finds me by the living room, “Is Annie going too?”

Of course she’s going to ask that, I think. “No.”

I know well enough by now that I have  to tell the truth.

“Well, you better be careful.” Mum warns.

“Gosh, she’s not going to murder me!” I cry, but I regret it after as she gives me a serious glance.

“Yes, yes,” I add on, obeying her every word, “I will.”

And then I’m off, waving her goodbye, just a blur of a vision as I turn onto the sidewalk and disappear round the corner.

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