Wild and Green
Chapter Nineteen: Bartering
"Anyone home?" Hailey called out as she stepped into the house. It was December 23rd and she had spent the day at the shops looking for Christmas presents for her friends. She had never had to buy so many before. Usually she had only to buy gifts for her brothers and sisters, Rebecca and Kristen. She would also be obligated to exchange generic gifts with Gianna, Alexia and Charlotte that didn't have any meaning to them. This year, however, she was laden down with shopping bags, the waxy handles digging grooves into her palms.
She walked into the kitchen to find Jade wearing a red and white checked apron, her dark hair piled in a messy topknot, covered in flour and icing from head to toe. The counter was cluttered with baking supplies, cook books and bowls filled with lollies and sweets such as malt sticks, mini M&Ms, candy canes, pinwheels, strawberry bricks, jubes, marshmallows and Flake chocolates. Jade was in the middle of making a gorgeous gingerbread house, no, more like a gingerbread mansion.
"What on earth are you doing?" Hailey asked, dropping all her bags on the floor. "Mum is going to go mad at you when she sees this mess."
Jade didn't reply. She was too busy coating the perfectly crafted gingerbread door with 100s and 1000s. Hailey picked with a marshmallow and popped it into her mouth. Jade glanced at her and Hailey saw that her sisters eyes were rimmed red. It was clear that she had been crying.
"What's the matter?" Hailey asked in concern. She hardly ever saw Jade cry. Normally, she was so calm and composed. Again, Jade didn't reply, just concentrated on sticking candy cane poles on her creation.
Hailey reached into a bowl of M&Ms and took out a handful. Jade smacked her hand away, making the M&Ms scatter over the floor.
"Hey!" Hailey cried out. "What do you think you're doing?"
"The sweets are not for you," Jade snapped. "I need an even amount of M&Ms for each side. And don't you dare take another marshmallow. I need them for snow."
"Jeez, can't a pregnant girl catch a break?" Hailey mumbled.
"Just leave me alone, Hailey." Jade turned her back on her.
Hailey threw the remaining M&Ms back into the bowl, gathered up her many shopping bags and stormed away upstairs.
"Fine. I'll leave her alone. Nobody ever leaves me alone but sure, I'll do just what she says," Hailey snarled.
As soon as she got into her room, she threw all the bags down, slammed her door and flung herself on her bed. It took a few minutes after she calmed down for her to realise something.
"Boy... this pregnancy is sure making me moody," she said aloud to herself. She remembered back to a few months ago when she was just a quiet, demure, shy little girl. Now she was full of anger and sugar cravings.
Jade had never spoken to her like that before. Usually her older sister had plenty of time for her. Hailey figured it was because she had been lazing around the house all holidays. Jade had been slaving away in the kitchen for who knew how many hours making a gingerbread house big enough to feed their entire town. Tomorrow, she would help with the decorating. Their mother usually had the house all decked out by now, but this year everything had been thrown out of whack.
She sat down on the floor and slowly started to sort out the presents to start wrapping them. She would write the cards out tomorrow.
For Rebecca, she got her a hexagonal succulent plant set- Rebecca was a seasoned green thumb- and some amethyst crystals. She could just imagine how pretty Rebecca's windowsill would look with them sitting on it.
For Kristen, she got her a bottle of Gucci perfume that had nearly emptied out her savings account and a cute pair of pineapple-patterned pyjamas.
For Molly, she got her a pink crossover bag from Nordstrom. Joey and Sam would be receiving Polaroid film for their cameras. Lila would be getting a set of agate coasters and a matching cheese board. Lila was always talking about how she couldn't wait to have her own place to decorate and entertain guests, and she was always looking at homewares shops for inspiration. For the ultra-organised Juliana, a daily planner. For Chloe, essential oils and a diffuser. She also got a little something for Sarah-Mae and Mark, as a thank you for continuing to treat her like a normal person after her pregnancy was revealed. She was really proud of all the presents she chose- it was nice having mature friends, even though it was expensive.
She had um'ed and ah'ed for ages over whether she should get something for Aaren or not, and in the end she settled on a pair of black Rolling Stones socks. Even harder to decide on was Daniel. He was the father of her baby, after all. Not that she expected him to return the favour. She would be slightly embarrassed if she gave him a gift and he didn't give her anything in return. But it wasn't about whether or not she received any presents. Giving shouldn't be about receiving, she told herself. All she had for him was the new Wiz Khalifa CD and that was most likely as much as he would be getting from her.
Once she had everything wrapped, she sat down at her desk and pulled a stack of Christmas-themed cards towards her. She fondly remembered back in primary school when everyone would write a card for every single person in class and you would unzip your bag at the end of the day to find several cards with mini candy canes sticky-taped to the envelopes.
When she was done, her hand was cramped and stained with ink. She sighed and got up to go wash them.
It was still early in the afternoon and everyone was still out. Jade seemed to be taking a break from decorating and was in her room, so Hailey took the opportunity to get started on hanging some tinsel up. She opened the cupboard under the stairs and pulled out a box full of red, gold and silver tinsel. She started with the Christmas tree, already beautifully adorned with colourful baubles and lights. Next, she hung the Christmas wreath on the front door, placed red candles on the table in the foyer and holly around it, then coated the staircase banister with red and green ribbons and twinkling lights. She also found snow globes, garland, stockings and a Nativity scene to complete.
When she was done, she stepped back and admired her work. Everything was looking rather gorgeous, if she did say so herself.
The front door opened and in stepped her parents, Isobel and Finn. The door closed and there was silence for a moment.
"What the fuck is this?" Isobel said, laughing.
"Language, young lady!" Grace snapped before looking around. "Oh... my..." At a loss for words, Grace faltered. "I didn't do this in my sleep, did I?"
Tom shook his head, fingering the tangled fairy lights draped across the doorway entrance. "You have better taste than this, darling."
"I'm guessing it was someone who has no control over their emotions," Finn shrugged. They all looked at each other and burst out laughing, except Grace.
"Oh, don't!" She cried. "She's such a good girl, she's just trying to help out."
Isobel was laughing so hard she had tears running down her cheeks.
"Mum, this is absolutely shocking," Finn said resolutely. "It looks like Santa Claus threw up in here."
"That may be so, but still! Don't you animals dare insult her!" Grace warned, but she was eating her words when she stepped into the living room, which, simply put, looked as though a red and green bomb had hit it. The kitchen was also a mess. They found Hailey in the process of wiping the excess flour off the bench left by Jade. Jade's creation stood proud on the island.
Grace sent her husband and two youngest children looks of chill to warn them not to say anything about Halley's decorating job. Tom cleared his throat and Hailey looked up.
"Uh... uh..." He stalled for time, brain working fast as he tried to think of something nice to say. "Great job with the decorating, sweetheart!" He managed, lying right through his teeth. Hailey's face broke out into a glad smile.
"Thanks! I just wanted to help out."
"And help out you did," Isobel gave her sister a sarcastic thumbs up but it went straight over Hailey's head.
There was a silence as everyone looked around at each other, smiling awkwardly. Then Tom clapped his hands together and said, "Well, I'm off to bed. Night, folks."
Isobel and Finn also said goodnight rather quickly and scampered off upstairs. Grace took Hailey by the shoulders and led her to the staircase. She was absolutely dying to fix the decorations.
"I'm fine!" Hailey repeated herself for what felt like the tenth time. "Honestly Mum, I've already got my Christmas shopping done, so there's no point of me coming with you."
"Are you sure you want to stay at home by yourself?" Grace looked at her daughter with concern. "Even if you've done all your shopping, it's still Christmas Eve and we should be spending the day together as a family."
"We'll be spending the day together tomorrow," Hailey pointed out. "I don't feel left out."
The truth was, Hailey sensed that her family was mad at her for some reason. They hadn't really been talking to her much lately, not to mention Jade had snapped at her again this morning. She had racked her brains all night for reasons why but couldn't come up with anything. She figured the best thing to do was to just stay out of everyone's way. The decorations had seemed to cheer Isobel up at least- she couldn't seem to stop smiling about them. But surely there had to be more she could do.
She waved all five of them out the door, then began to put her plan into action. She did her hair in tight banana curls, put a red and white bandana over them, threw on a pair of comfortable trackpants and an old ratty shirt and searched the cupboards for cleaning supplies. She was going to clean the entire house, top to bottom. How could anyone stay mad at her, then?
She blasted a bit of Christmas music to put her in the spirit, trying not to think about the fact that next Christmas there would be a little person in the house, getting spoilt by her parents. She could only hope that Jade would be smitten enough by her niece or nephew to forgive Hailey for whatever she had done to make her so mad at her.
By two pm, she was done, having vacuumed and mopped every floor, polished every surfaced, even wiped every blind free of dust with baby wipes. With the rest of the afternoon still ahead of her, she got started on making a batch of chocolate chip cookies and another batch of salted caramel cookies. She curled up on the sofa and started to flick through the telly channels, trying to find a good Christmas movie to watch. She finally settled on Four Holidays with Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon and devoured half a dozen of her cookies before the movie was over.
She heard the front door opening and her mother singing, "We're home!" She picked up a plate of cookies and went to greet her family. When she saw her three siblings and parents framed in the doorway, laden with shopping bags and laughter in their eyes, her heart sunk a little. They seemed to have had a lot of fun without her.
"Yum, cookies!" Finn exclaimed when he saw Hailey hovering awkwardly nearby with a tray of them. He ran over and popped one almost entirely in his mouth.
"Aw, you made cookies, sis," Isobel groaned. "Suck up much?" She took two. Hailey glared at her. Meanwhile, her parents were both raising their eyebrows at her.
"First decorations, now cookies?" Grace inquired. "What's going on with you?"
Hailey shrugged. "Nothing, I just wanted to do something nice for you. Why should you be the one who gets stuck trying to transform this house for Christmas?"
"That is so sweet of you." Grace looked pleasantly surprised as she kissed Hailey on the cheek. She looked at the cookies and carefully picked one up. "It's full of sugar, isn't it?"
"I'm afraid so." Hailey gave a sheepish smile.
Grace shrugged, grinned and bit delicately into it. "Almost as sweet as you."
Grace stopped in her tracks when she entered the living room. She sniffed the air. "Why do I smell cleaning products? Why is the floor sparkling?"
Hailey couldn't help the blush spreading over her cheeks. "Um, I sort of cleaned the house as well."
"Well, aren't you turning into quite the little domestic goddess?" Tom chuckled in approval.
"Hailey, you don't have to do all this!" Grace assured her. "You're pregnant, for one thing. You should be resting."
"I'm only four months! Just because I'm pregnant, doesn't mean I'm useless," Hailey insisted earnestly. "I don't want to rest, I want to be doing something productive. It makes me feel better about myself."
Tom simply squeezed Hailey's shoulders, took a cookie off the plate she was still holding and winked. "I'm not complaining, sweetheart. But your mother is right, you shouldn't be feeling so obligated to do stuff like this. It's like you're trying to make it up to us."
Hailey squirmed and nodded. "Yeah, it is in a way. I just... wanted to make you happy."
"You make us happy simply by existing," her mother promised her. "That's all you have to do."
She put her arms around Hailey and held her close, her heart heavy at the fact that Hailey felt like she had to do so much in order for everyone to forgive her for being pregnant.
Tom watched Grace sit of the edge of their bed and take off her cream high heels, her forehead creased in a little frown.
"How are we supposed to tell Hailey that she isn't welcome for Christmas lunch at my mother's tomorrow?" Grace asked her husband.
"We can't," Tom sighed heavily.
"But we have to!" Grace cried. "I have no idea what I'm supposed to do. The last thing I want is for her to feel left out, especially on Christmas Day. But you know that if we tell her we are having Christmas lunch at home then she will get upset because she will feel like she's ruining things for everyone."
"But she isn't," Tom said simply.
"Yes, I know that, Tom," Grace said patiently. "Other people don't see what we see."
"She already thinks that she's done something wrong and is trying to fix things," Tom pointed out. "We have to just be upfront with her. She would appreciate it more than us lying to her, even though the truth will be hard to hear."
"You're right," Grace nodded. "As her parents, the last thing we want is to be the bearer of bad news. We will all just have to be adults about this, and tell her the truth."
Hailey knocked gently on Jade's closed bedroom door. She heard the soft padding of feet on carpet before Jade opened the door, scowling when she saw who it was.
"Oh, it's you," Jade said, before retreating back to her bed, though she left her door open.
Hailey took one step in the room and leaned against the doorframe.
"Um, sis, can I talk to you?"
Jade shrugged without looking up from the magazine she was flicking through. Hailey took another step in.
"You seem mad at me. I can't help wondering why because I can't figure out what I've done."
Jade turned another page, with unnecessary force. Still, she didn't meet Hailey's eyes, but she did speak.
"The world doesn't revolve around you. Ever thought that maybe I'm mad at someone other than you?"
Hailey shook her head. "Well, it's just that you've never acted like this around me before. What was I supposed to think?"
Jade shrugged again. Hailey threw caution to the winds and sat on the edge of her older sister's bed. Jade spared her a glance for half a second.
"Will you tell me what's going on? Maybe I can help."
It was a few seconds before Hailey noticed the silent tears running down Jade's bronzed cheeks. Jade sniffled quietly.
"It's not you," she said in a choked voice, finally putting the magazine aside. "It's Ruby."
"Ruby?" Hailey wrinkled her nose. "Are you talking about Ruby Grenleah?"
Jade nodded silently.
"What does she have to do with anything?"
"Nothing. It's just... you remember how we were friends in primary school? And then we started to drift apart in high school? Well, before we all found out that you were pregnant, Ruby and I had started to talk again. We were being friendly with each other. It really hurt to lose her as a friend, you know. She was never my best friend, but she was someone I could trust. I really liked her. And we fell out over something so stupid, I can't even remember the reason why. I was happy that we were speaking again. And then her little brother went and got you pregnant and everything went back to hell."
Hailey sat still, a little shell-shocked. She hadn't been expecting that. Jade wiped under her nose with the back of her hand and picked the magazine back up.
"So as you can imagine, she's been giving me a pretty hard time about it," Jade continued.
"I'm sorry," Hailey said softly.
"Whatever," Jade replied.
Hailey stayed for a few more seconds before she got up and left, leaving the door open behind her. She ran into her parents in the hallway.
"Woah, slow down there, tiger," Tom laughed, grabbing her gently by the shoulders. "What are you running from?"
Hailey shrugged and looked down at her feet. "Why does it matter?"
Tom and Grace exchanged confused glances. Using only her eyes to communicate, Grace silently told Tom not to say anything else. Tom nodded slightly, then patted Hailey on the shoulder.
"Well, go on, then. But slow down, for the love of Christ. The last thing you want to do is trip over."
Hailey nodded and took off again, slower this time.
"What?" Tom asked his wife.
"Oh, come on! As if we could have said anything to her just then. Did you not notice how upset she was?" Grace scolded him.
"I try not to notice anything. Asking a female if they're upset only tends to lead getting me into trouble."
"Uh huh," Grace deadpanned. "Hailey shouldn't be stopped from having Christmas lunch with us."
"What was I trying to tell you before?" Tom threw his hands up in exasperation. "Tell your blasted Christian parents that if Hailey doesn't get to go, none of us will. And no one better treat her any differently."
Grace pulled her iPhone out of her back pocket and held it in the palm of her hand with a mischievous smirk. "Why don't you tell them? I know you've been dying to tell my mother all these years what you really think of her. What better opportunity than now?"
Tom took the phone and threw Grace the most grateful look she had ever seen.
"You are honestly the best wife ever."
"WAKE UPPPPPP!" Finn howled as he ran down the hallway, knocking on everyone's closed doors. "WAKE UP, EVERYONE. SANTA'S BEEN, SANTA'S BEEN."
"Shove Santa up your ass," Isobel snarled when he hurtled into her room and jumped on her bed.
Hailey smiled sadly to herself when she heard how excited her little brother was. She would have given anything at that moment to be eleven years old again, when Christmas Day was the most magical day of the year, when a tiny part of her still believed in Santa Claus, even though she had long suspected that Santa was really her dad stumbling around the kitchen after knocking back the beer they would leave out for him every year. Waking up at the crack of dawn to rush downstairs and see what presents were laid out for her under the tree that was always so immaculately decorated.
She would have given anything to be a kid again.
"Okay, Finn, this big one here is for you," Grace told her youngest boy. She was sitting on the sofa next to Tom, holding a mug of steaming tea. Finn immediately dived on top of the box and proceeded to tear the wrapping paper to shreds.
"Slow down, big boy," Isobel joked.
"An xBox 360! Shit yeah, Santa rules!"
"FINN!" Grace screamed, but everyone else fell about laughing, having never heard so much as the word 'crap' coming out of innocent Finn's mouth.
Hailey had received some beautiful new clothes, that her mother had sworn up and down were not from the maternity section, and a gorgeous ring with her birthstone- tourmaline embedded in the centre.
"Hailey, you missed this one," Isobel said, handing Hailey a small, soft parcel.
As soon as Hailey had unwrapped it, tears sprang into her eyes. It was a plush brown and white bunny rabbit with long floppy ears.
"It's... it's for the baby," Grace said softly.
"You know, if you're keeping it," Tom put in, awkwardly scratching the back of his neck.
Hailey didn't say anything. She had no words to explain how much this meant to her. She rubbed her cheek against its soft fur and closed her eyes, feeling more comforted and safe than she had for a long time.
The phrase, 'you could cut the tension with a knife', was one that Hailey could say had described many moments of her life over the last few months, but none more so than when she stepped into her maternal grandparents kitchen and saw that all her uncles, aunties, and cousins were already present. Everyone turned toward her at once.
The three second silence seemed to stretch on for at least three minutes to Hailey. She hated being the centre of attention at the best of times, but this was taking the cake.
"Uh, Merry Christmas, everyone," Isobel said loudly and like turning on a switch, everyone jumped into action.
"Merry Christmas!" Everyone suddenly shouted at each other and before she knew it, Hailey was being enveloped in the arms of her extended family.
She had no idea that Tom had spent nearly an hour on the phone the night before to Grace's parents demanding that this Christmas was going to be just like every other Christmas, or none of them would ever be coming for Christmas ever again. It hadn't taken much agreeing to after threatening to never participate in midnight mass ever again.
Hailey knew her cousins had a lot of questions to ask her and sensed that her aunts and uncles had instructed them not to talk about anything during lunch until they were outside.
While the adults drank wine and exchanged anecdotes, the kids trampled outside to play with all their new presents. Hailey and her sisters sat down with their cousins Leighton, a year younger than Hailey, Caitlynn, Hailey's closest cousin, and Matttie, who was starting kindergarten in the new year.
"I'm still super cut that I wasn't with you when you took the pregnancy test," Caitlynn told Hailey as she sipped on a virgin mojito. "We tell each other everything."
"I know," Hailey sighed. "This is just one of those things that you don't go running around telling people about."
"It's a very taboo topic," Isobel put in. "I can't think of a single adult who would encourage Hailey to tell anyone about this. She's supposed to keep it as hush hush as she can."
"Bit hard to do that when you're going to look like an elephant in a few months time," Leighton smirked. Hailey shoved her arm and rolled her eyes.
"Is it kicking yet?" Caitlynn tried to put her hand on Hailey's stomach but Hailey quickly moved away. No one had touched her stomach yet, or had seen what it now looked like under her shirt.
"Too early," she mumbled.
"So tell us about the daddy." Leighton was always ready for gossip. "Mum and dad told us that he's not your boyfriend."
Hailey's cheeks burned as they always did when she thought about the kind of stuff people were saying about her behind her back, even her own family.
"No, he's not my boyfriend," she said heavily. "But we are friends."
"Why have sex with a friend?" Leighton crinkled her nose. "I just find that a bit strange."
"Well, we weren't friends at the time..." Hailey trailed off, not bothered to try to explain the complicated relationship she had with Daniel. Instead, she watched the boys play soccer.
"Oh, good one, Finn!" Michael, their older cousin yelled at her little brother as Finn kicked the ball over the fence into the neighbours yard in the street behind. Finn started to apologise but Hailey stood up and crossed to the middle of the lawn.
"Don't worry, I'll go get it," she said snarkily to Michael, silently daring him to snap at her brother again. He knew better than to bite.
As Hailey climbed up on a ledge to swing her leg over the wooden fence, someone popped up with the soccer ball in their hands. A very familiar someone.
Hailey almost lost her grip when she realised who it was.
"-are you doing here?" They said at the same time.
"I live here," Daniel stated, glancing over her shoulder into the backyard. "Who's house is this?"
"You're kidding? I've lived here for ten years. Funny, I never really knew the people who lived here, just that they're kind of old."
Hailey shook her head slowly, marvelling at how the world worked sometimes.
"Well, I better get back, my step-dad needs my help with the barbecue," Daniel said. "Merry Christmas, Hailey."
"You too, Daniel."
Hailey had a very odd half-smile on her face for the rest of the day. Her mother kept asking her what she was so happy about, but Hailey kept repeating that it was nothing. She helped clean up lunch while everyone else splashed around in the pool, and after the dads had all fallen asleep, drunk off beer on the sofas, and the mums sat outside in the shade sipping moscato, Hailey sat with her littlest cousin, watching him play with his toys.
The doorbell rang and she got up to answer it. She was surprised for the second time that day when she saw Daniel.
"Hi," he gave her a kind of shy half-smile.
"What are you doing here?" was her immediate response. "I mean, I know you live in the street behind but..."
"Look, we're both pretty awkward around each other so let's just rip the bandaid off as quickly as possible, okay?"
He revealed what he was holding behind his back- a tiny blue box.
"It's a Christmas present... not for you," he said quickly as she accepted it. "It's, well, it's for the baby."
Hailey's mouth unintentionally dropped open. That she hadn't been expecting. Daniel didn't say anything else. He just nodded at her, turned and walked as quickly as he could without breaking into a run back down the street.
Hailey made sure she was locked up in one of the bedrooms where no one was going to interrupt her. There were already tears in her eyes as she sat down on the carpet, back against the edge of the bed as she lifted the lid of the box.
Inside was a tiny polaroid of an unfamiliar man. Hailey lifted it out and looked at it closely. The man was standing in front of a Christmas tree holding a baby in his arms, smiling down at him with the most joyful grin on his face. Hailey had no idea who the people in the photograph were. She turned the box upside down and a small folded-up note fluttered out.
This is your grandfather. You will never get to meet him. He was the most selfless man I knew and the best father ever. I hope I can be like him.
A/N: No, I didn't forget about this story, I've just had no time to write it. I've been trying to write this chapter out for months! I'm not happy with it but whatever. It's done. Enjoy. Happy Christmas if you celebrate it. I can't wait for it to be over.
Burning the evenings last fuel on my own
Head like a waltz and my heart like a stone
You said we'd both find a way to get by
Now I'm not quite sure where your allegiances lie
Was it always a part of a plan?
Did you think I'd turn into a better man?
Did you lift me up just to watch me come back down?
I'm behind, but I'm making up ground
Lazy and lovestruck, I'm foolish and old
Bartering dreams for the feelings I've sold
Now that all of our fire is gone
There is liquor and love, not enough of each one