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‘Hello. Hello.’ Fen chirps on the other end of the line, happy to hear her sister’s voice.
‘I quit my job and took on a role as a florist apprentice with a local flower bodega owner and I’m not going back so don’t talk me out of it.’
Fen can hear her sister’s shaky breath, sounded like she had been running. ‘Okay, I won’t. Are you okay?’
‘I don’t know but I’ve never felt more certain about anything.’
‘About walking away from a cushty gig after under grad at Harvard, an MBA from Princeton and all of dad’s meddling and high hand that got you your dream job. Okay then.’
JJ felt the weight fall off her shoulders hearing her sister repeat the circumstances by which she came to find herself standing outside the little bodega in Chelsea. A place she walked past every morning on her way to catch the subway to work. Mr Muwanga, was a rose cultivator from Gambia, his roses gave her such joy and every morning she walked past he would give her a rose to brighten her day. Every weekend she stops by to get flowers for her apartment. They’d talk about his flowers, and he’d show her how he grows his own roses, he even cultivated one for her, her own special rose, and in turn she’d spare whatever free time she has to go over his books and do his taxes until she recommended an accountant to him.
One afternoon after scoring the biggest account of her career, amidst the celebration and the back slapping adulation from her colleagues, JJ felt empty and alone. How could she? Her life was seemingly perfect; great job, engaged to a fiance of three years, great apartment and a trust fund she could fall back on. How could she feel alone? Oh but she was, something in her life was not clicking, as if she was looking down on someone else’s life, masquerading in it. Far away from home, surrounded by strangers who celebrated her more than some in her family ever have, and Barnaby, but there was something missing. She felt a hollow that comes from having walked in someone’s else’s shoes, settled into someone else’s dreams and adopted them as her own.
She quit the next day. Broke things off with Barnaby that night and set to make things right in her life. One year on, and there is that easy calm she’d never known, but craved, a gentleness. She’d been intentional about her next steps; she went to apprentice for Mr Muwanga in his shop, she had enough put by in savings and owned her apartment, so she figured she’d be fine until her next intentional steps. The only wrinkle in her plan was telling the siblings to which she was closest; her oldest sister and her two brothers and her father.
Today on her lunch break she decided to call her older sister. Fenmore Simpson. Big sister extraordinaire.
‘Jorja are you okay?’
‘I am.’ JJ noted the concern in her sister’s tone; and the dreaded us of her clichéd full name.
Fen was in full big sister panic mode. She’d probably spliced the different ways they would have to break this to their father because that really is the elephant in the conversation. ‘Are you sure? Do you need me to come over?’
She asked that like she was just popping by on the subway.
‘Really? You’re just going to drop by check in on me and then hop on the plane back home to Didier and the boys?’
‘Simple as. And I can use our private jet.’
‘I’m fine.’ JJ knows her sister is seriously considering it, jettisoning her entire life just to come and check in on her. She really was the best of them.
All her life growing up, right before she moved away from home, Fenmore was the mother she never had. She got her ready for school everyday because JJ refused to let her governess do it, sat with her to do her homework, washed and plait her hair and did just about everything else for her. When she started her period is was Fen who taught her the basics, when Cleo would tell tales to get her in trouble with their father it was Fen who comforted her after a spanking. When boys made fun of her and girls picked on her, Fen was to her rescue. Fenmore protected her from Cleo’s incessant bullying. Her brothers were in the wings too, acting as her protector, but Fen was there for her every moment until she left for Harvard; a move encouraged, rather enforced by their father. In his own fatherly way, and for a long time, he’d been the driver of JJ’s life, especially, and right up to the moment she walked away to forge her path, he never let go. He was trying to right a wrong or prove something to himself, his ex-wife and the world, who knows, but he never let go. There is that thing about holding on to a twig too tight until it snapped, JJ had snapped. Every day for the past year she thought about how she’d break the news to her family and today she ripped off the plaster and started with big sister.
‘JJ, I’m worried about you.’
‘Don’t be I’m fine I promise. I know it sounds irrational but I’ve never been more certain about anything.’
‘But you worked so hard for the life you have, I know dad pushed you harder than the rest of us but you got where you are on your merit. People just don’t give up on that and walk away. What’s going on? Talk to me. How are you and Barnaby?’
‘I broke up with Barnaby, he understood when I talked to him about it. It felt like I was wallowing around in someone else’s dreams for me.’
‘Yes. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful I know he did everything for me, and it could not have been easy for him after mother… but I just felt like he was dragging me along my life instead of me living it and I didn’t have an option but to follow. It was time I did something for me.’
Fen was silent on the other end for a spell… ‘I understand.’ And she did.
Their father was harder on JJ than anyone of them, boarding school, Harvard, Princeton, great job on Wall Street. He spanked her when she was naughty, much more than he did the others, she’d grown up terrified of him therefore seeking his approval for most of her life. It didn’t matter that she was the smartest of them all, that only tightened his grip on her, she skipped two years in secondary school, and even so the older children in her year could not catch up to her. She got a full scholarship to Harvard. He had this obsession to mould her into the perfect daughter, deeply rooted in more than just her potential, she was a pawn in which he used to taunt her mother. As if she, JJ, was a representation of her failings as a mother. It hurt JJ more than they would ever know. So she gets it.
‘I love you Jorja darling, I love you so very much.’
‘Thank you.’ She needed to hear that. ‘I’ll call you later okay and please don’t say anything to dad, this is something I know he needs to hear from me.
‘Let me know if you need me there when you tell him okay.’
‘I will.’ JJ breathed a sigh of relief. She didn’t get to break the news to her father.