March 12th, 2016
It’s better to start from the beginning.
The party was in semi-full swing. More people showed up than planned, but that’s always what happens. Word gets out that there’s a house party somewhere in the golfing district and people try out their chances. I told Abby and Miles about it, and a few other half-friends, including people from tennis. Abby and Miles are my only real friends, and the others just happen to be freeloaders or ass-kissers who want VIP access to Rich Kids’ events.
I started talking to Abby and Miles when we were stuck on a coach to a tennis tournament in San Jose a couple of years back. I tried my best not to talk to anyone during the journey, but I could hear two people laughing and sharing candy in the seats directly in front of me. I couldn’t help butting in when they started talking about TV shows, just throwing my two cents. Abby turned around and smiled, and that was the first thing I really noticed about her; her wide, hospitable smile. I knew her beforehand, but it never went further than that. I had only played against her once, but it was a mixed doubles and I can remember hardly being able to focus that day – for whatever reason.
Miles is the second-best player in our school, and when I first saw all the trophies lined on shelves in his room, I knew he meant business. The tennis society isn’t as big as the football or basketball teams, but it does have quite a decent following. Tournaments in the summer do tend to sell out, and our players very often make it into regional or national matches – including me. Miles won the last regional, which not only added to his collection of golden prizes but also landed him more popular reputation around school grounds. A lot of people pretend to be his friend, but I’m glad I can actually call myself one.
The Rich Kids of Bluebeach are a generational thing – residents of the richest suburbs in town have been ruling the social circles for years in Bluebeach, California. It’s our answer to Beverly Hills, even if it’s not as notorious or renowned. Though I could call myself an honorary member, I keep my distance from the others as much as I can. I just don’t gel with their superficiality, and the female cliques tend to grate me. That isn’t to say we don’t brush shoulders or hang out; sometimes I find myself going out with them, or being invited to award ceremonies and movie premiers that their parents have some link to. There are a few actors’ children in the Club, as well as former sportspeople, authors, entrepreneurs and whatnot. In my First Life, I was close to only a handful of people. Though we were bratty and rich enough to throw dollar bills off a yacht, we were still quite tight-knit. There was the bigger network of Rich Kids, or you could say somewhat of a hierarchy. Paradoxically, the more socially successful you were, the lesser closer friends you had. I just had my girlfriend Naomi, and my three musketeers, Bret, Tanner and Jonesy. Just like they were all I needed back then, Abby and Miles are all I need right now.
My mother was a supermodel in her mid-teens, but retired early after having Jacque, her second child, a decade later. She was left with a million-dollar fortune, presenting TV shows for a while and selling a few moderately successful books. Into her thirties, she decided to open a chain of restaurants in a couple of states, and the first one opened in central Bluebeach in the mid-90s. The Middleton Brasseries that opened up twenty years ago turned the family name into an empire, and the publicity of Rose’s death a few years into the businesses gave a bittersweet boost to the popularity of the branches. Even though my mother no longer needs to enter the restaurants and moderate them anymore, she is still a part of the cuisine industry and will often attend other restaurant branch openings. She has been considering expanding the brand into hotels too, and she’s financially in a safe enough position to, but now being in her sixties and recovering from her last attack of cervical cancer, she’s slowed down on work ventures.
My father’s acting career peaked a few decades ago when he became a series regular in an Emmy award-winning comedy drama, and since then he starred in a couple of films within the thriller and drama categories. The highlight of his career was swiping a Best Supporting Actor Emmy award in 1985, for his role in the show Eastern Hearts. He’s old as hell too now, and practically retired from the limelight. That’s a side-effect of having a kid in your forties. You end up on your toes, running around chasing a kid when they should be looking after you. It’s not too bad; my sister Jamie is forty, and my brother Jacque thirty-eight. But they’re out living their own lives, and I’m just trashing my parents’ house throwing parties when they’re not around.
“I’m getting a ladder from the garage, Miles. Can you help me?”
“What the hell you want a ladder for?” he asked, lazing on the couch. We were all pretty drunk, but Miles was one of the least. I knew he could, and would help me out.
“There’s just something I want to do. I need to bring it upstairs. Just help me.” I demanded, with a mischievous smile. He knew I was up to no good.
“Well… alright then.” He rose, no more questions asked. “You’re a crazy one.” He probably knew things like ladders would work against me in my state, but his naturally painfully nonchalant demeanour means he probably wouldn’t bat an eyelid if there was a tornado outside his window.
“I just wanna do some exploring.” I giggled, leaning on the wall next to me for balance.
“You don’t know your own house? And how does a ladder help you with that?” he asked. I thought the questions were over. I led him through the kitchen where people are busy revelling and messing around, and through to the garage where I knew my dad keeps stuff like folding ladders. The attic door is quite high up, adjacent to the bathroom door along the upstairs landing. I remembered how it had a key, and I was pretty sure it was locked. I guess I really should have thought my plan through. You could say that I’m a tad less strategic in this life, if I ever was in my First one.
Miles stood on the ladder, repeatedly hitting at the attic door with a metal broom from the cleaning closet. He should have felt a lot guiltier about damaging property in someone else’s house, but there was probably already around five broken objects at the party by that time. He also knew I’d take the wrap for it, because he was doing me a favour. He’s also my best friend, so he couldn’t complain. Did I mention his extreme nonchalance towards everything?
Bits of splintered wood and dried peeled paint fell onto the ground, covering us in the process. The door had been bashed open, like a village mob thrusting a giant log into an unlucky victim’s front door. Though excited, I peered into the small opening that the broken door made, and I could just see darkness. I’ve never been afraid of ghosts, because I’m a realist. Spooky shit just doesn’t do it for me. But there was a certain shudder in my spine that I felt, and I know Miles felt it too.
“What’s up there?” he asked.
“It’s got all my sister’s things in there.” I responded, still staring blankly up at the ajar door.
“Your late sister?”
“What are you looking for in there?”
“I don’t even know. I’ve just never been. I’ve never had the guts. But I’m just curious about something.”
“Hmm,” he sighed. “I’ll just wait down here then, whilst you explore.”
And with that, I climbed slowly and unsteadily up the ladder, pushing the door up and across the attic floor. The first thing I noticed was the smell; woody and rustic, and not as bad as I would have thought. I guess my dad was really concerned with the upkeep of the room. With only half my body in there, I groped around for a light switch, expecting there to be one. I wasn’t sure, and I couldn’t find one, so I asked to borrow Miles’ phone for his flashlight.
The sight wasn’t too bad at first; there were things that I expected to be in there. Old clothes, trophies, photos, memorabilia and other possessions that she would have most likely kept in her bedroom. It felt kind of sad seeing that quite a few of these things could have been given away or sold to charities, but my parents still felt a need to keep them. Even after Rose was resurrected.
I was nosing around, shining the flashlight on different labelled cardboard boxes and brick-a-brack, like books, newspapers (I supposed that had articles around the time of Rose’s death) and just everything else. I didn’t feel as afraid as I always thought I would – in fact, I felt kind of at peace, like I was visiting an old friend. A wave of bittersweet nostalgia swept over me, at the thought that someone had lived in this house before me, a girl roaming the halls throwing parties and making noise, just like I do now. I felt a bit emotional, actually. I was finally delving a bit deeper into my sister’s life.
I turned to the other side of the attic, where piles upon piles of paperwork was stacked in plastic boxes. Some were envelopes, some written letters, but there was just too much for it to make sense of. And it was when I went to observe them, that things took a turn for the worst.
All the papers, the letters, the files and confidential information just seemed cryptic at first, like a code I had to crack. I felt nausea building up, and it was partly due to my drunken state. As my head whirred and tried to rationalise everything, I felt like I was going to throw up. Or cry. Or do something else quite stupid.
“.Miles?” I called out. “Are you still there?”
“Yeah. Hurry up, I want my phone back. I also think I heard someone break something in the kitchen. And I’m not too sure, but I think there are some people getting it on in one of the bedrooms. I don’t think they came upstairs to just chat.” He laughs.
I sat in darkness, breathless for a moment, just staring at the boxes. Miles pulled me out of my trance, asking for his phone back for a second time, then asking me what was wrong, when I didn’t answer.
I slowly climbed back out of the attic, trying my best to put the broken door back in its place. But anybody could see that it had been tampered with. My parents were going to kill me.
“Jesus, Anne. You look like you’ve seen a ghost!” he snorts. “What was up there?”
I stared at him for a while. “…Nothing. Just got a bit in my feelings, that’s all.”
“Aww,” he rubbed my back. “It must suck losing a sister, you know. I could only imagine how it must feel.”
“Yeah,” I breathed. “It’s hard.” I’m sure he could tell my character was totally off at this point, and that whatever I witnessed must have sobered me up. But he didn’t ask any more questions. He just helped me take the ladder back down, and went back to the party.
It can be hard, trying to fathom the unfathomable at first. It can be a lot to take. I felt like an alien inside my own body for the first time in my life. I felt like a trespasser, and every part of me felt odd. For the rest of the night, up until people started trailing out of the house, my mind was somewhere else completely.
It all makes sense now, my brain told me. That’s the reason you look like Rose! and the voice sounded like a light-hearted taunt, so sinister and unsettling. That’s why you look like Rose! You ARE Rose!
“I think we should have one more,” Roseanna Middleton smiles, leaning on Jeff’s shoulder as they lounge on the couch.
“I don’t think that’s such a good idea, honey. We’ve only just moved to California. We need time to settle. I want to go further into my actin’ career. And you’re still modelling.”
“I don’t want to be one of those parents who have their kids at sporadic times, Jeff. I don’t want there to be a huge age gap between our children. Jamie’s almost four, Jacque’s just turned two. We need to get number three over with.”
“Does there really have to be a number three?” He sighs, though deep down, the idea interests him more than it bothers him.
“We gotta save the best for last, right? They might end up becoming brain surgeons or singers or something.”
“And our other kids won’t?” He huffs.
Roseanna positions herself upright. “Look, I know we didn’t come to any deals about kids when we got married, but always told you I wanted three. It’s the perfect number!”
“I think we should focus on our work. Soon you’ll just be a full-time momma, and I’ll be the one working and you’ll never make it out of the front door. Cali is a wonderful place, full of amazing opportunities. If I keep working, I know I’ll make it to Hollywood. I can see it. Then once we’ve got that perfect beach-house mansion or whatever, Three can come around.” He sips on the can of beer perched on the table beside him.
“I think we should get it all over with, right now.” Roseanna responds, slightly sterner, more demanding. Jeff is a strong man; the Native American blood that runs through his veins from his mother’s side made him a fighter at heart – strong-willed and passionate. And he used to get into brawls with bikers and redneck druggies down back home in the South plenty of times, but he still always weakens at the sound of Roseanna’s voice, when she asks for something. His main goal in life is to make her happy, and he’d do anything to achieve that. That’s why his skin prickles when her words become sharper, because he knows he’ll obey her. She knows this too. “I don’t mind being the housewife that stays at home all the time. I’m twenty-four now; I’ve lived through the epitome of my modelling career. I’m married with two kids – what will one more do to us?” She continues.
“Jesus, Roseanna. You’re only twenty-four. What compels you to settle down so hastily?” Jeff sighs.
“I was scouted outside of the Cheesecake Factory when I was fifteen. At the time, I thought it would be an awesome idea. I’m grateful for all the places it took me, and all the fortunes I’ve made. I’m grateful to have been on the cover of Vogue and walking Paris and Milan. I’ll never take for granted the trips to Dubai and Cuba and all the red carpets I’ve walked on. But as a child, I had that corny old dream of getting married, having three kids, owning a nice café or restaurant somewhere. I wanna do that.”
Jeff shrugs, finishing off his beer with a few large gulps.
“They might be a blessing, Jeff. They might be the final piece to fit – to complete our family. They might be the one. Our job-done-perfectly.”