It was finally the end of a week that had seemed to go on forever. Ellie was almost ready to go home; she was eyeing the time on her computer in between each sentence she wrote.
Her boss decided to pop his head into her office at that moment. “Elena, quick word?” She tried to tidy up her desk as he walked into the office. He looked sideways at her statue of one of the Dioscuri twins with a horse that rested on a file cabinet, “Always meant to say I like that statue.”
She breathed out, “Thank you.” She knew what was coming next. Her hands turned cold in anticipation.
“Have you thought about Dublin?” He asked.
She tried to look relaxed, “I have… Hassett, I was wondering if you don’t mind, could I have the weekend?” She attempted a smile, but she was sure it looked more like that straight-faced emoji.
“Yeah, no worries. Don’t feel pressured to say yes Elena.” He got up and patted the horse statue on its head.
“Oh, I don’t,” she lied to convince herself of that fact as well.
“Have a good weekend. Don’t work too much!”
“Ha, I should be telling you that Hassett! Enjoy your weekend” When he finally left she let her body melt into her chair. She turned her chair around and stared out the window.
Traffic was slow as people left work early. Everyone wore a version of the typical business attire, and everyone came out with coffee cups from the surrounding shopping malls. It was a daily routine. The only changing factor was the backdrop: sometimes the mountain was covered in green foliage, sometimes it was bare. Today, it was in the middle, the leaves were turning orange, some had already fallen, to be stepped on by expensive heels by daylight, and knock-offs by moonlight.
She traced the outline of the McGill Arts building with her index fingernail on the window. The sun, low in the sky, shined between her fingers, casting an orange-red light through the thin skin. They matched the trees in the back. She tapped her finger against the glass. The city was gearing up for the weekend; students exited the school buildings and mingled with the white-collar workers.
Everyone needs a change of atmosphere for good health, Ellie thought as she rested her head against the window. Her black shoes gleamed. Well, they really weren’t that expensive compared to others.
She took her phone out of her purse: her mom had called and left a voicemail. Sighing, she listened to it:
“Hello Ellie, it’s me, your mother. It’s currently 4:12 pm. I just wanted to make sure you are still coming over for dinner. Have you met anyone interesting since we last talked? Bye bye.”
She texted her mother quickly: “We talked last night, who was I supposed to meet? Never understand why you still leave voicemails. I’ll come over after work. Leaving in a bit.”
Too preoccupied to think about work, she shoved some files in her workbag, grabbed her purse and left.
The savoury perfume of food encircled Ellie before she even set foot in her parents’ house. She tried the door - it was unlocked. As she made her way through the vestibule and the biggest living room - decorated all in white and very classically, she tripped on large suitcases sprawled on the floor, open and filled. Her siblings were already in the kitchen where her mother was hustling while her father was getting everyone drinks.
“What’s with the luggage in the living room?” Ellie made her entrance.
Her mother strutted towards her. She was a grand woman, with a lot of grace in her movements, and beautiful traits. She pointed at her, “You never remember what I tell you. We’re going on vacation in a week.” Ellie feigned being hurt. Her mother still hugged her.
“I remember! But you’re leaving next week. Why are you already packing?” Her mother waved her comment away, instead whispering in her ear loudly so that everyone heard: “Did you meet anyone this week?”
Before she could get too exasperated, her father grabbed her away and offered her a crystal cognac glass: “Ellie! Try this cognac. So good.” She gratefully accepted it.
“They want to make sure they don’t forget anything, obviously,” her brother cut in. Their father walked to his grey luggage and picked something out of it, he turned back to them with a white short sun hat, “What do you think of this, eh? Don’t I look cool?” He walked like a model, spun and walked back outside of the kitchen, before quickly reappearing without his hat. “Your dad is cool.”
Ellie laughed and raised her glass to her mouth to drink more - however she had already finished it. She looked sideways at everyone to make sure no one had noticed.
“A bit stressed by life sister dear?” Keon laughed and subtly poured her more of the drink. She nodded in thanks. “How was Diego?” he asked.
Both sisters stopped dead in their tracks. Keon continued, “I mean, the date. How was your date with Diego?”
“Diego? Who is this Diego? Is he your new boyfriend?” her mother asked, behind the kitchen counter. “What does he do?”
Ellie slapped her brother on the arm. “No, he’s not my new boyfriend. He’s just my neighbour. The date went well. Where’s Hamza, Lina?”
Adelina and her had started setting the table, amongst their mother’s usual nagging about what plate goes where. Her sister quietly answered: “away, on a business trip.”
Her father looked at Ellie, “Elena, it’s bad to date so close to home. You don’t want to mess up your neighbourhood vibes.”
“So where am I supposed to look then? Across the pond?” She bit her tongue.
Her mother handed Keon a plate filled with cold cuts and vegetables. He snagged a few before setting it in the middle of the table.
“I think Max is single,” he said. “You’ve been in touch with him no?”
When she shook her head, he commented: “Weird, I told him to reach out to you.”
The glass Adelina had been wiping suddenly cracked; she was now holding three pieces of sharp glass. While their mother loudly gasped, Ellie and Keon rushed over to help her. “I’m okay, I’m okay,” the sister insisted, “I’ve been working out lately - guess I got that much stronger.” She smirked.
They finally sat at the table to eat. It was a typical family dinner: everyone talked about what they wanted to, no one listened to the other, everyone cut each other off. There was too much food, and even more wine.
As Keon attempted to talk about his last flight to Tokyo, Ellie’s phone vibrated in her pocket. She took it out slowly; Max had sent her a message on Facebook. She opened it reluctantly. “Hey Ellie! How have you been? Listen, I know you’re probably not so down to come to Ireland for many reasons, but I promise you I’ll help you out. And if it’s because you don’t want to stay in a hotel the entire time you’re here, I can definitely arrange to find a room for you. I swear you won’t regret it.”
She had no idea why he campaigned so hard for her to move over there but he had raised a valid concern. She didn’t want to stay in a hotel room for that long. She also had the vague suspicion her brother was behind this.
As if he knew she was thinking about him - or maybe because she hadn’t been paying attention to him, Keon threw a piece of bread at her. It landed smack in the middle of her forehead before falling in her lap. She looked at her brother, dazed. And she ate the bread.
It was during a heated discussion about what colour the new curtains in the smaller living room should be that Ellie actually answered Max: “I’m considering it. It would be nice to have a room while I’m there, but I’m sure I can figure it out from here.”
He replied quickly, “I’ll help you out as much as I can.”