‘Dyl! Hey! What was all that about?’
‘My Mum’s just doing my head in! She won’t let up about me going into the fire service!’
‘Eh?’ Charlie scratched his head. ‘Since when?’
‘You heard her! Just then, in the living room! Her tone of voice, what she said, everything!’
‘Just sounded like she was taking an interest in your grades to me, mate. Good thing too, we totally lost track of time there. We should probably get started.’
Dylan was taken aback. ‘Wait… What?’
‘The assignment? We really should get -‘
‘No, not that,’ Dylan interrupted. ‘You didn’t… It didn’t sound like…’
‘Oh, your Mum? No! It didn’t sound like she was getting at you. And even if she was, it’s understandable. You’re her baby, aren’t you! No Mother wants to think of their child running into life threatening situations! She’d be the same if you were going into the army or the police or something. It’s just how Mums are, isn’t it!’
Sifting the sand between his fingers, Dylan sat in his childhood playpit as the sun started to lazily descend over the Bridgeport coastline. Making his Mother worried about him, Melody, Louise, Puzzle… Was nothing in his life destined to go right for him?
‘What’s up, bro?’
‘No-one says “bro”, Robbie.’ Dylan looked up smiling at his little sister, stood looking down at him with a concerned expression on her face. ‘What do you want?’
‘Just wondering what’s up, bro. You’ve been sat out here for ages, Charlie left hours ago. Don’t think I’ve seen you in here since pre-Starch.’
Laughing a little to himself, Dylan looked back down at the sand. ‘Yeah, it’s been a while. Just catching up with the old place.’
‘Before you have to move out and leave us all behind forever and ever?’ Her tone tinted with sarcasm, Robyn sat down opposite her brother and began raking through the sand herself.
‘Oh, don’t you start! You’re as bad as Mum, saying things like that.’
‘She’s only worr-‘
‘Worried, I know. I just wish she wouldn’t. It’s doing my head in.’
‘Never going to happen, Dylan!’
‘I know! I just… It feels like I can’t do anything right. I was shipped off to boarding school aged ten because they… Well, because of the out of control pranking. I start dating the most popular girl in school who dumps me in front of my entire year. I realise that I actually really like a completely lovely girl who reveals she’s leaving the city after graduation. And then I finally work out what I want to do with my life, and I’m really excited about it and feeling all positive and then my Mother starts making me feel really bad about leaving! I know why she’s worried and everything, but… I just want her to be happy for me, and feel the way I do.’
‘Never going to happen, Dylan!’
Robyn laughed as she tossed the rake back down onto the sand. ‘Look, have you actually spoken to Mum about this?’
‘Thought as much! Look Dylan, you really need to talk to Mum. You’re going out of your mind in teenage angst and she’s going out of hers panicking that you’re leaving home to be burnt to a crisp. And neither of you will do the sensible thing and actually talk to one another about this.’
Dylan rolled his eyes and sighed. ‘You’re right.’
‘I’m always right.’
‘Oh, do be quiet!’
Sidling into the living room, Dylan stood and watched his Mum as she stared at the television. She wasn’t watching it. It was just on, something she could claim to be doing while her mind worked a mile a minute. Gnomes, she looked so worried. Why hadn’t he seen it before, properly? Edging over, he cleared his throat a little.
‘Mum? Can… Can we talk?’
Ivy’s face broke into warm smile. ‘Of course we can! As if you need to ask.’
Dylan smiled nervously back, relief flooding through him, as he went to sit next to his Mother. He took a deep breath. ‘Mum… Look. I’m sorry.
‘What for?’ Ivy looked confused.
‘For… Well, for not understanding. For not getting that… Well, that you’re worried about me and stuff. I didn’t think about how you or Dad might feel about me going into the fire service.’
Ivy’s smile faltered a little. ‘Oh, love. Please don’t tell me you’re feeling guilty.’
‘A little…’ Dylan shifted awkwardly in his seat. ‘I just don’t want you to worry about me.’
‘But that’s my job! It’s in a mother’s job description. I can’t help it. I’d worry whatever you were doing, wherever you moved out to. If you moved into the house across the street I’d worry about you. If you got a job in an office I’d worry about you getting paper cuts.’
Ivy paused for a second, thinking. ‘Look, son… I haven’t made this easy for you. I know I haven’t, and for that I’m sorry. It’s a big decision you’ve made, and you’re going into a noble career path. It takes guts to risk your life to save others, and I’m so, so proud of you. But yes, I am worried. When you told your Dad and I it was just so out of the blue, it took me by surprise and I didn’t take the thought of it well. I… Look, you know I grew up without family around me. I just couldn’t bear it if something happened to it now.’ Her voice trembling a little, Ivy wiped away a tear.
Composing herself, Ivy beamed at her son. ‘Right, you! Let’s not talk anymore about this. I’ll try and stop worrying, and you get focusing on graduation and becoming the best darn firefighter you can be. I know you’ll do marvellously, Dylan. I’m so proud to call you my son.’ Standing up, Ivy held out her arms to give her child a hug.
‘It’s a deal!’ Dylan hugged his mother tightly, a child again for a split second, a child who needed his mother for everything. ‘Now, about my birthday…’
‘Happy birthday, nephew of mine! I can’t believe you’re all grown up, Dylan. You make me feel so old! I remember when you were knee high to a grasshopper!’
‘Oh Uncle T, what does that even mean!’ Dylan laughed as Tristan faux-hobbled over to him, feigning old age. This was the compromise he’d reached with his mother – a small celebration with his Uncle Tristan and Katya, his family coming together for his birthday.
‘You know what I mean, kid. Seems like only yesterday you were sat playing with that crazy doll of yours, and now look at you! All ready to go out into the big bad world and fight fire!’
‘To be honest, it does feel a bit surreal,’ Dylan admitted. ‘I mean, for ages it wasn’t quite real… It was all just an idea. Now it’s actually happening… Well, I am a bit nervous!’
‘That’s understandable, Dylan,’ Tristan said kindly. ‘But we’re all here for you, you know, and we’re all proud of you.’
‘Right everyone! Birthday cake time!’ Ivy called out to the small gathering as she lit the candles on Dylan’s cake. ‘Make a wish, love.’
Dylan studied his cake for a short while, contemplating his wish. Vaguely aware of another presence stood watching him just over his shoulder, he put it to one side and focused on the flickering flames dancing before him. I don’t want to let anyone down.
‘Oh, Dylan! My handsome boy!’
‘Cut the cake, bro!’
‘Robyn, stop saying bro! It’s so lame!’
Ethan and Tristan stood watching as Dylan and Robyn bickered while Katya and Ivy started dishing out the cake, grins plastered on their faces. ‘Ah, they grow up so quickly!’ Ethan sighed.
As everyone sat down around the table set up in the living room especially for cake, Dylan looked around the table at all the familiar faces sat with him. His family. They were all here for him. They were all proud of him. And for a split second, he didn’t want this moment to end… He didn’t want to move out, he didn’t want to grow up. Shaking his head, he came to his senses. It was inevitable, it wasn’t like he could stop it! Shivering a little in excitement, his thoughts turned to the firestation. He’d be moving into the accommodation this time next week… Oh, the adventures he had to come!