The Second Call
“You look tired, Katie!”
“Tough first day?”
I wait for a reply, but for a moment she seems lost in her own thoughts. Staring at the screen, I watch as she looks down at something that I can't see, and I can't shake the feeling that my girl appears rather drawn and fatigued. Perhaps the lighting isn't very good, but I swear I can see bags under her eyes.
“Are you sleeping properly?” I ask.
“Huh?” She turns to look at the camera again, and she furrows her brow for a few seconds. “Oh. Yeah. Sure.”
“Or are you out partying every night?”
Please don't be out partying.
“I'm just getting used to -”
She stops suddenly, looking at something just to the side of the screen. For a moment she seems almost to have forgotten that I'm here, although finally she looks at me again.
“No, I'm fine,” she continues, forcing a smile. “It's normal not to sleep so well in a new city. This place is next to the river! You wouldn't that that'd be noisy, right? It's noisy! And today was exhausting, you know? It was just induction and getting to know the school, but there was a lot of traipsing up and down stairs, and meeting people, and listening to boring lectures about how the course is gonna be run and blah blah blah! Plus, I have to be up early tomorrow for the first proper class, so it's kinda all go right now.”
The cat slinks past the sofa and glances at me for a moment before continuing on its way.
“I know the feeling,” I mutter.
“Nothing. Did you make friends?”
“Mum, it was the first day!”
“What's that got to do with anything?” I take a sip of wine. “You can make friends on the first day.”
could make friends on the first day,” she replies. “You're the kind of person who could make friends in an empty room. I find it a little harder, okay? There's nothing wrong with that.”
“You have to put yourself out there more,” I tell her. “Make an effort.”
She sighs. “Yes, Mum.”
“I'll tell you a little trick that always works,” I continue. “First, you have to get everyone to a pub or a bar -”
“Of course,” she mutters, rolling her eyes.
“No, seriously! Get them to a social place and buy the first round of drinks! Take control and -”
“Can we drop this, please?”
“It always works. You're showing the rest of the group that -”
“I just want you to understand -”
She lets out a loud sigh as she leans back in her chair.
I open my mouth to continue, but she seems a little annoyed. I can't help noticing that her hair is a mess, too, and that she looks a little gaunt. Then again, I must be imagining the gauntness. I might be a little overprotective, but I know she can't be getting thinner after just a couple of days. These video calls have such terrible lighting, it's very difficult to make out any detail.
“I'm fine,” she says finally, sounding a little irritated as she sits up straight. “I'm sure I'll sleep much better tonight. I have to. I mean, I'm exhausted. I've probably just been nervous until now.”
“You haven't been sleeping?”
“Fits and starts. I keep waking up. Like I told you, it's noisy.”
“You could ask your landlord to put plexi-glass on the windows.”
“I'm not asking him to do that, Mum,” she replies, sounding exhausted. “He's a nice guy, I don't want to disturb him.”
I wait for her to go on, but she seems once again to be staring at something next to her laptop, just off the edge of the screen. I try to tell myself that she's simply tired, although after a moment I see that her brow is a little furrowed and her eyes are moving, almost as if she's reading something.
“Katie?” I say finally, waving at her. “Cooey! I'm still here!”
“Katie? Am I surplus to requirements all of a sudden?”
She turns to the camera again, and I swear if I didn't know better, I'd think she actually
forget about me for a few seconds.
Sighing, I take another sip of wine.
“You need sleeping pills,” I tell her.
She shakes her head.
“There's nothing wrong with sleeping pills,” I continue. “Just go to the pharmacy and -”
“I don't like taking pills unless I have to,” she replies, interrupting me. “I'm not like you. Just let me do it my way, Mum.”
“Go to the pharmacy and -”
“Mum, knock it off!” she hisses. “I'm not going to the pharmacy to get pills just so I can sleep! I can sleep perfectly fine without dosing myself up to the eyeballs! I'm not that desperate yet!”
She mutters something else under her breath, and for a moment she seems genuinely annoyed.
“I'm just trying to help,” I reply, shocked by her sudden mini-outburst. “There's nothing wrong with medication in small doses.”
I wait for her to say something, but now she's looking away from the camera and she still seems to be mumbling to herself. The longer I wait, the more I feel as if she's lost in her own little world. A moment ago she seemed to have forgotten she was even talking to me, and now the same thing appears to have happened again. Taking a sip of wine, I decide that this time I'm just going to wait for her to come around.
Finally, however, I lean closer to the laptop and turn the volume up, trying to make out the words that she's saying.
“Wasn't really here,” she mumbles, or at least I
that's right. “Not looking at me.”
“Katie?” I say finally, starting to feel genuinely worried. “Katie, what's wrong?”
Startled, she turns and looks at the camera.
“Are you on some kind of...” I pause, before realizing that the question is completely unnecessary. I know full well that Katie isn't the sort of girl who'd ever take illicit substances. I have a hard enough time persuading her to try a sip of wine or take paracetamol for a headache. Still, she seems totally zoned out, and I can't help worrying that perhaps all the fumes in London might be affecting her. After all, she's used to good, clean country living in our little village.
“I'm fine,” she says suddenly, forcing a smile that doesn't seem entirely convincing. “Mum, you worry too much. I've got school every day this week, so it's not like I'm even gonna have
to get into trouble. I wanna really get stuck in and do well on this course. That's gonna take a lot of studying! It's okay, though, 'cause they've got this amazing library that's open late every night.”
She seems okay now, as if she's snapped out of whatever was causing her daze.
“I should get going,” she continues. “I have to study, and I need to go to the corner store, and then I want to be in bed by nine. I'm sorry if I seem kinda vacant, Mum, but I'm really just -”
Suddenly she turns and looks over her shoulder, and then she pauses for a few seconds before turning back to the camera. For a moment, there's something in her eyes that makes me feel a little unsettled. Fear, maybe, or at least concern.
fine,” she adds, smiling again. “Maybe a little jumpy, but apart from that, I'm good.”
“You'd better be,” I reply, sipping more wine. “Don't make me come over there and put you straight.”
“You don't need to come over here, Mum.”
“Because I could, you know!” I continue. “I was looking last night, and trains from Shropley to London are really very reasonable. I could be there on Friday, and we could spend the weekend -”
“I don't need you to come and take care of me!” she says firmly. “I'm absolutely, positively, categorically doing just fine! And if you want me to make friends, I need to get off Skype and start preparing for class tomorrow, okay?”
“Okay,” I say with a sigh, before taking another sip of wine. “But call me!”
“Either tomorrow or Wednesday. It depends on how much I have to study. I might be at the library tomorrow evening.”
“Well, that sounds -”
“And now I really have to go. Bye, Mum! Talk soon!”
“Don't forget to call me!” I remind her. “Katie? Call me! You must -”
The line goes dead, and I sigh as I lean back on the sofa. I know she's fine, I know my little girl is more than capable of taking care of herself, but I just...
I miss her.
I turn and look across the dark living room for a moment, before grabbing the wine bottle. I'll find a movie to watch in a moment, but first I just want a nice, relaxing glass to calm my nerves. And as I fill my glass almost to the brim, I can't help thinking of Katie in her boxy little London apartment, getting ready for bed.
As selfish as it might seem, I can't wait for these six weeks to be over, so she can come home again.
“Puss!” I call out, hoping that the car will come running. “Pussy? Puss!”
I grab some Dreamies from a bag on the table and wait for the cat to come to me, but evidently he's far too busy somewhere else in the house. After waiting for a few minutes and calling his names some more times, I put the treats back in their bag and grab the remote control.
“Katie is fine,” I mutter under my breath, to reassure myself. “Stop being such an unbearable old fuss-pot, Winifred.”
The Third Call
“No, Mum, I've been fine! I was just busy, that's all!”
“Because I very nearly called the police and asked them to check on you,” I continue, not quite willing to let her off the hook just yet. “Or at least the school. You said you'd call me on Tuesday, Katie, and -”
“I said I'd
to call you on Tuesday! I also said I'd be at the library!”
“And then on Wednesday I was expecting -”
“I sent you a message! I told you I couldn't call on Wednesday!”
“A one-line message that didn't explain anything at all!”
“And on Thursday I was studying as well,” she continues, “but look, I made time right now to -”
Suddenly she turns and looks over her shoulder, and I hear another girl's voice in the background.
“Just try them!” Katie tells the girl. “If they're your size, you should wear them tonight! I don't mind!”
She turns back to the camera.
“Sorry,” she says with a grin. “That's just Agnes.”
“Is Agnes a new friend?”
“We're heading out into town soon,” she continues, leaning toward the camera as she starts applying a little mascara. “Nothing too crazy. We just thought we'd hop between a couple of bars, get a feel for the place. London on a Friday night is probably a little too intense for me, but hey, I figure I should try to experience it at least once. We're not going into the center, though.”
“So Agnes is on the same course as you?”
She nods as she squints, and it's clear she's paying more attention to her own face than to me as she applies more make-up. I've never seen her use make-up before. At least, nothing more than a few dabs of concealer and some discreet nail-polish.
“And where is Agnes from?” I ask.
“Huh? Oh, France. Somewhere in France.”
“That's nice. So she's here on a visit?”
I wait for her to explain a little more, but for a few seconds she seems utterly focused on her mascara. A moment later, a pretty blonde girl comes into view behind her and immediately grabs Katie's waist, causing my poor girl to shriek and laugh in shock.
“Sorry,” Agnes says with a thick French accent, glancing at the camera. “Is this your mother, Katie? Are you talking to your mother from the countryside?”
“Mum,” Katie mutters, “I should probably get going. I still need to find something to wear.”
“Don't wear anything too revealing,” I tell her.
“Oh, as if! Come on, you know me!”
“Hello, Mrs. Wren!” Agnes says, grinning and waving at me. “It's very nice to meet you! Katie and I are going out tonight in London to have fun! We are going to meet many bars!”
“That's lovely,” I reply, although I can't help feeling that this is a little unlike Katie. Then again, she
seem to be having fun. “Darling, just make sure you don't -”
“We need to finish this whiskey before we leave,” a man says suddenly, wandering into shot directly behind Katie. He's shirtless, revealing a toned, tanned chest and bulging muscles, and for a moment I'm genuinely too shocked to even process what I'm seeing. He drinks straight from the whiskey bottle, before handing it to Agnes and leaning down to peer at the camera.
“Hey Mum,” Katie says, seemingly a little embarrassed now. “This is Fernando. He's from Spain.”
“Hello Katie's Mom!” Fernando says with a big grin, leaning even closer to the camera and waving at me. “You are very beautiful, like your daughter! I see the family resemblance in your sparkling eyes and your cute but slightly mischievous smile!”
“My eyes do not sparkle!” I reply, startled by the fact that my meek, shy daughter seems to have rather suddenly made two friends.
“They sparkle like the moon reflected in the river,” he continues. “Like the stars themselves!”
I tuck my hair behind my ears and take a deep breath.
“That's all well and good,” I mutter, “but I think sparkling is a bit much.”
As Fernando steps back and goes to talk to Agnes, Katie continues to apply make-up, although she appears slightly embarrassed.
“I really should go,” she says after a moment. “Don't worry, though. Fernando has been in London for a while now and he knows his way around really well. He's gonna take me and Agnes to a couple of bars, but we're barely gonna drink at all. This isn't gonna be some alcohol-soaked bender, it's just a chance to experience the city a little better. Or part of it, anyway. Fernando seems to know some really cool people.”
“That sounds lovely,” I reply, “but -”
“Just chill, Mum,” she adds as she starts applying bright red lipstick. “I need to do this in the bathroom,” she mutters after a moment, “but listen, I'm gonna have fun tonight, and you should have fun too. Maybe call someone and go out! Go to the village pub with Maud and Lucy. Don't they have quiz night tonight? You should do that!”
“It wouldn't be the same without you,” I reply.
“And steak night! Go get a big, juicy steak!”
“Some other time.”
“Aw, Mum, come on.” She focuses on the lipstick for a moment longer. “I don't like thinking of you all alone in that place.”
“I'm going to watch a film on the television,” I tell her. “It's about -”
She reaches out to cut the connection.
“Call me!” I remind her. “Tomorrow! Katie, call me!”
“I will! Have fun!”
I open my mouth to remind her that she must be careful, but the call has already been ended, leaving me once again sitting all alone and in silence on the sofa.
“Don't do anything I wouldn't do,” I mutter, staring at the screen for a moment before leaning back and sighing.