After our fast-food stop and an unplanned trip to Tesco's, we stumble into the apartment, but it seems the twins only have time to dump their bags and grab a football before they're out the door again. Abby stalks off before I can corner her.
"They're home early," a voice notes from the table.
"Hey, Jen," I say as I toss her meal to her. "I didn't see you there."
It's true- her constantly growing mounds of study guides and notes are beginning to shield her from view.
"What happened?" she asks, digging in.
"Ah. Rob's going to be pissed."
I groan. "Tell me about it."
She eats in silence while I debate how to confront Abby.
"Jen?" I say finally.
"Mmhmm?" She doesn't manage much through all the burger in her mouth.
"Abby's been acting weird lately." I try mentioning it casually, hoping she won't have noticed, either. No such luck.
Jen gulps down a huge sip of coke. "You just noticed?"
But Jen's Jen, so she realises I'm hurt by that comment before I do. "Hey, I didn't mean it like that. I just think you should talk to her."
I gnaw on the inside of my cheek. "I will," I promise, and Abby chooses this moment to step out of her room. I grasp my opportunity to take control. "Hey, Abby, can we talk?"
Abby stops at the fridge and turns around.
"Is everything okay?" I ask.
"If you want to talk about something–"
"For God's sake, Anna, I said I'm fine! Just leave it!"
She yanks whatever she wanted out of the fridge and storms back to her room. I turn to Jen again, taken aback by the events of the last few moments. I blink.
"You," I emphasise, "were never this difficult."
Jen nods thoughtfully. "I wasn't, was I?"
I allow my head to fall into my hands as I groan, for the umpteenth time today.
"I'm a bad, bad sister."
"No you're not, Anna," Jen soothes, now both munching on chips and examining a notebook. "You're a great sister, the best kind." She stops and stares intently at the book. "Hey, does this say transport or transfer?"
I slouch over to her, dejected. I peer at the book. "Transfer," I mumble.
She glances at it once more then nods in agreement. For a few minutes the only sound is the frantic scratching of her pen. It stops abruptly. Jen looks up again.
"I want to go to uni, Anna."
I'm not so stunned by her actual words as I am by her approach. Dimly, I realise that this should've been my technique with Abby.
I put an end to my self-pity for a minute. "Yeah, of course you do, love. Who says you won't?"
"It's just that it's expensive, you know? And I'm not sure about the loans–"
"Hey," I interrupt. "You, Missy, just need to focus on your exams right now; we'll deal with uni together, okay?"
Jen lets out a deep breath. And another one. A relieved smile spreads across her lips. "Thanks, Anna." But it quickly fades as she glances down at her books, letting a grimace take its place. "Remind me again why I took Psychology, Sociology and Biology?"
"Because," I state, "you are going to be the awesomest–"
"Not a word."
"Shut up— psychiatrist ever. Speaking of which," I grab a chair and drag it around so it faces her. I grab her fingers and place them on my temples. "Tell me why I'm so useless."
Jen laughs. "Psychiatrist, Anna, not psychic."
I scoff. "Same thing. Tell me."
She squeezes her eyes shut and begins to move her fingers around my head. "Yes, I'm getting something!"
"Speak, Oh Mighty One."
There's a sharp, sudden pain on my face. I scowl as I realise she flicked me.
"My finger slipped."
I stand up and cluck down at her. "Children these days."
Only a few minutes later, Jen, who seems uncharacteristically reluctant to study today, asks if she can go out. In the tiny space of time since we last spoke, my attention has already been diverted, so I must give some form of indistinct permission because, within ten minutes, she's gone.
It's thinking about Rob that's suddenly grasped my attention: I want him to come home. Things are always easier when he's around, like his presence alone is the solution to all of our problems. Even when he was only seventeen and I was busy day-in, day-out with lawyers and insurers, he made it so easy to rely on him. He still does. Most people living his life probably wouldn't take the time out for their family that he already does- yet he comes down from university, for at least a few days, every month without fail. If I call him up now I know he'll come tomorrow without a fuss, but that won't blanket my guilt of having dragged him out of school because our fifteen year old sister is being difficult. He's coming down on Friday anyway, to help with the move over the weekend; I decide to leave him be, thinking there's nothing I can't handle for a few more days. After all, I'm the oldest. It shouldn't be up to Rob to handle the duties that are mine.
Finally having found the initiative I needed, I walk up to Abby's door and knock loudly. When she doesn't open I break my own rules regarding the privacy I give my siblings, and walk in.
I look around her bedroom. The one thing her and Jen ever agreed on was the colour of this room- a gorgeous sky-blue. Jen has picked green for her new bedroom but I spent a whole week looking for this exact shade for Abby, knowing how much she adores it.
Abby is clearly startled. She pulls her earphones out- her music is so loud, I can hear from the doorway- explaining why she didn't open up. She avoids looking at me but she doesn't shout, an encouraging response. I sit on the edge of her bed, next to her, and look at my upset, little sister.
"You need to talk to me, Abby." I say, trying to tell her in not so many words that I'm not mad. "Fighting and shouting- it's not like you- what's going on?"
Abby, teenager that she is, immediately goes on the bitter defensive. "How would you know what I'm like?" But I don't expect what she says next. "You're not even my sister."
I recoil, flinching from the venom in her words. She covers her mouth with her hand, "Oh my God, Anna, I am so sorry, I didn't mean it, I swear."
"It's okay, Abby," I say, trying to shake off the hurt. "You're telling me how you feel, that's good."
Abby tears up, "No, it's not, Anna. That was a nasty, horrid thing of me to say. It's just, I wish you wouldn't play favourites.
I bite my lip. "Abby…" I find myself searching for the words to tell her that's not the case- that I love her just as much as our other siblings. "I don't have favourites, believe me. If I'm always on the others' case, it's because I have to worry about them; Rob's so far away from us, Jen's stressing about her exams, and you know the twins- they always have to be chased after. But with you, I know that you're smart and sensible- I can rely on you to make things easier on me."
"I didn't know that," she says.
"Well now you do," I say, nudging her shoulder lightly with mine. "I don't want to lose the trust I have in you, Abby, do you?"
She shakes her head. I lean over and wipe away her tears with the end of my sleeve and place a light kiss on her forehead. "Get some work done and in half an hour, we'll order Chinese, okay?"
Seeing her eager nod makes me smile, and I ruffle her hair as I leave the room. With nothing to do now I turn on the TV- but it proves to be useless, because the only words I can hear are Abby's, echoing in my head.