Frozen in Time by Sheena Billett

Chloe: 

It was a freeze-frame, imprinted on my mind, never to be erased. The pre-kiss look between them. I was suddenly the third party, excluded from the intimacy of the moment. My ‘What shall we eat?’ remained unasked. Instead ‘What…?’ hovered in the air between us. Then motion returned as they pulled apart and looked at me. 

‘Sorry, Chloe. What was that?’ Even leaned back in the chair lazily crossing one leg over the other. 

‘What…was that?’ I wanted to shout. 

But, instead, in the moment, I affected an air of indifference, leaning idly against the door frame. ‘What do you fancy to eat tonight?’ 

As soon as the sentence was spoken it was too late to go back. Normal service had resumed. ‘It seems like a curry evening to me,’ said Esther, giving Evan a private look. ‘Yup. Sounds good.’ Evan looked at me. ‘Ok to order the usual?’ he asked, eyebrows raised. ‘I’ll sort it. Delivery at eight?’ 

‘Thanks, Chloe,’ said Esther without looking at me. 

Esther: 

I thought we’d blown it this time. Surely Chloe must have seen – even she isn’t that thick! How could she just carry on as if nothing had happened? It seems that she’s a throw-back to our mother’s generation – sweep everything under the carpet and pretend it’s not there. Avoid any awkward conversations and pretend everything is normal, and then it will be. When she’d gone to order the take-away, Evan smiled, still leaning back in the chair. ‘Well. What do we do now?’ 

‘What do you mean, “What do we do now?”’ I could feel my cheeks flushing with the anger resting heavy in my chest. 

‘She knows, but she’s not going to say anything. Don’t you think that’s a bit weird? We can’t just leave it at that.’ 

‘I can’t believe she’s put us in this situation! Why couldn’t she shout and fly off the handle like any normal person?’ I could hear my voice turning into a shout. ‘Now she’s made things really awkward.’ 

Evan: 

I can’t help enjoying watching Chloe and Esther driving each other mad. Really, they are more alike than they want to admit. 

I hadn’t planned to bring things to a head tonight, but, there, it just happened. Now, neither of them knows how to talk about what just occurred, and I can just sit back and watch the show – if there is one. 

Maybe they’ll both ignore the obvious and I’ll be able to carry on seeing them both without anyone actually talking about it. A very French way of going about things. It quite appeals to me, but then I would never get the satisfaction of seeing them scratch each other’s eyes out over me – which would be a shame. 

Chloe: 

I could hear Esther’s voice from the kitchen while I was ordering the take-away, but I resisted the urge to go and listen from the hall. 

Whatever they were arguing about, I wasn’t going to get involved. In fact, I didn’t know what I was going to do…about any of it. 

The questions were beginning to trickle to the surface: How long? Why? And more importantly… How had I not known? 

I closed my eyes and sat at the table where Esther and I had eaten thousands of meals, as toddlers, children, silent teenagers, and now as twenty-somethings clearing out our dead mother’s belongings. 

A very small part of me wondered whether Evan was actually enjoying all this. He certainly hadn’t seemed bothered, and come to think of it, it was only Esther’s voice I heard, not Evan’s. There had been no shouting from him. 

And…why hadn’t I thought of this? Why hadn’t he followed me to explain, grovel, and say it meant nothing – that it was just a fling. Wasn’t that what people usually did? Why hadn’t I made a scene? Forced them into some sort of apology? I banged my hands against my head in frustration. 

Esther: 

Even though I knew Chloe was seeing Evan, it was obvious he was more interested in me once we met. One thing led to another and before I knew it, six months had passed. I thought it was up to him to tell Chloe how things were – it was his relationship, not mine – she just happened to be my sister. And anyway, I hadn’t wanted to force the issue. 

But now, this evening, suddenly, I did want to force the issue. I wanted to know for sure that it was me he wanted. But Chloe had ruined that by not saying anything. So now it was left to me to open the can and let the worms out. It was obvious that Evan wasn’t going to do anything. What would happen though if I came out with it and Evan walked away from both of us? Or worse, chose Chloe. Unlikely as it was, it was still a possibility. And I couldn’t take that risk. 

Evan: 

I can see Esther’s thoughts playing out in her restless hands and rounded shoulders. She doesn’t have a clue how transparent she is. What will she decide? Will she go for a full-blown confrontation? Somehow, I think not. What will she do with all that simmering anger though? One of these days it will boil over. I hope I’m there to see when it does. I’m guessing that most of it will be directed at Chloe. 

Poor Chloe, so trusting, just as needy as Esther in some ways. She lacks Esther’s anger though, she’s more accepting. Maybe that makes her the weaker of the two. We’ll see, because I’m definitely sticking around to see how this plays out. Perhaps, in time, I could introduce a fourth party into the mix. That would be fun. 

As Maisy came home from Bingo, she saw Barb’s girls eating their supper in the front room with someone she didn’t know. She was going to miss Barb. 

Published in Issue #19

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