Title: The Wrong Side of Twenty-Five
Author: Kate Armitage
Genre: women’s fiction
Release Date: December 28th, 2017
Amazon (universal) Link: books2read.com/u/bpWNwX
Blurb: With newsfeeds full of perfect pouts, hot-dog legs and the self-proclaimed hashtag-blessed, it’s hard not to feel inadequate. How has everyone figured out how to live their best life except you?
That’s what Kylie wants to know. She thought she would spend her twenty-fifth birthday having a mini-break not a mini-breakdown. After an evening of finger-food and snide remarks, Kylie decides that things must change. Naturally, Alexa disagrees. She doesn’t think anything needs to change and is quite happy plodding on with her best friend by her side. So, when everything changes for the better for Alexa, while it’s going from bad to worse for Kylie; will it tear them apart?
The sink is blocked again. The plug isn’t in and yet there sits a murky pool of water. I don’t have time for this. I only dashed home to change before I go to Mum’s, but upon arrival I was greeted with a large note on the fridge from Lucie saying I cleaned the kitchen but I’m not cleaning the mess you made in the sink – sort it out! The sensible thing to do would be to leave it until later but it doesn’t bear thinking about if she comes home before I do and finds the sink as she left it.
Lucie might be petite, but she’s strong from years of gymnastics and running. Instead, I poke at viscous water with a wooden spoon. But it does nothing except make me look like a modern-day witch hovering over a cauldron. It’s a shame I’m not, I could do with a spell. The sink belches and bubbles and for a moment I think I’ve done it, but nothing else happens and the water remains. I look at the clock on the kitchen wall. Shit. If I don’t get ready now, I’ll miss my train.
Does anyone else have an area in their room dedicated to clothes that aren’t dirty enough to justify washing but don’t want to wear two days in a row? I like to think we all do but some are more vocal about it than others. If you genuinely don’t and you’re thinking I’m disgusting well, I’d like to let you know that washing perfectly wearable clothes is a waste of water and electric.
I’m just doing my bit for the environment. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.
My clean-enough clothes live on the chair that I bought so I could sit at my desk and be productive. I stand before it, wondering what to wear. So many clothes lay before me; some even spilling off the chair and onto the desk, which itself is buried under half-finished notebooks, important paperwork, bus tickets, receipts, the contents of a make-up bag, an empty make-up bag and books that I have been meaning to give to charity for the past year. They’re mostly vampire books, back when vampires were crammed in to every new piece of literature. I fell for the vampire craze hook, line and sinker… but I’m over them now. Right, on with the hunt for something to wear. I take off my leggings, because I don’t plan on wearing a dress and wearing them as trousers just won’t do. ‘Leggings are not trousers’ Mum will say. I find some black skinny jeans from the floor and a respectable top from the pile on the chair. It looks good, if a little creased. I would iron it but I don’t think I own an iron. Instead, I reach over for my hair straighteners and switch them on. As they heat up, I start applying the least amount of make-up that I can get away with. I rub at my eyelids with eye shadow, because despite how often I watch tutorials on how to apply make-up, it’s still a mystery to me. I won’t be hashtag-declaring myself as a make-up artist any time soon. Besides, it looks so exhausting. When did everyone start filling in their eyebrows?
The straighteners are ready so I press them around the collar and hem of my top, taking care not to burn my body or worse, face. I’d rather not do that again; last time I ended up with a nasty blister on my chin. With my top looking almost respectable, I turn my attention to my hair. The thing about my hair is that it’s neither straight nor curly but just cavemanesque. In my nearly twenty-five years of life I haven’t figured out what to do with it except take the outer layer of hair that has frizzed from a night of being smushed against my pillow and create waves with straighteners. I don’t own a curling tong. Necessity is the mother of invention, right?
Speaking of mother, I better catch a train and see mine. I slip into some shoes and pick up my phone when I notice a message from Alexa. Don’t miss your train!
Sometimes I’m sure she has a camera installed in my house. I look around, paranoid. Don’t worry, I’m absolutely on top of things.
I doubt it. Are you ready for Saturday night? Have you decided what to wear?
I roll my eyes at Alexa’s incessant need to be prepared for everything and reply Of course I’m prepared. I was born prepared. Don’t worry about it.
But I do worry, Kylie. And you weren’t born prepared, you were three weeks late and needed medical assistance. So once again, have you decided what you’re going to wear?
Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. Anyway, must dash.
I knew it, you’re running late. Have fun!
Have fun, she says, after all she knows about my mum. She’s so sarcastic when there’s no one but me to witness it. I put the phone in my bag, head downstairs and take one last look at the kitchen clock. Shit. I might have to run after all.
I ring the bell and Mum opens the door. Is it just my imagination or is she disappointed to see me?
‘Come in,’ she says as she heads to the kitchen, without so much as a ‘hello’, let alone a ‘nice to see you’. Instead she stands with her back to me, preparing the kettle to make a round of drinks. I don’t care, my attention is on the array of finger food before me: egg and mayonnaise sandwiches cut into triangles, party rings, hot dog sausages, and cheese and pineapple on sticks
are displayed nicely on the dining table as well as a chocolate caterpillar cake sitting proudly in the middle. It’s not a birthday without a chocolate caterpillar cake.
‘This looks amazing,’ I say as my mouth salivates.
‘Yes, well, I did offer to take you out but you insisted on a finger food buffet.’
I almost laugh at the exasperation and pain in her voice. ‘I love finger food, Mum. It’s the best bit about my birthday.’
‘Yes, your appetite has never truly matured. We could have gone somewhere nice.’
I roll my eyes and help myself to a sausage roll. ‘This is fine, Mum. Honestly.’
‘We could have gone to that posh gastropub that’s opened up around the corner.’
‘Putting the word gastro in front of the word pub doesn’t make it posh, Mum.’ In fact, the name alone puts me off seeing as gastro as a prefix is generally reserved for stomach problems.
‘Oh sorry, Kylie, we aren’t all as cosmopolitan as you.’
There’s annoyance in her voice now as she puts a cup of coffee in front of me and taps my hand, which is shovelling food into my mouth.
‘Wait until everyone gets here, please.’
‘Oh, just Nan and Grandad, and Auntie Julia.’
‘Oh, that’ll be nice,’ I lie. We sit and sip our hot drinks together. I can’t help but notice she’s looking at me, with a frown on her face that tells me she’s mentally scrutinising my appearance.
‘How’s Robbie?’ I ask, as a distraction. Robbie’s my brother. He’s much younger and we have little in common. What we do have in common is that we were named after pop stars. He was named after Robbie Williams and I was named after Kylie Minogue, if you hadn’t guessed already. The whole naming-your-kid-after-fleeting-celebrities is a bloody awful idea, thanks Mum. I could have had a normal name with potential for nicknames but no I had to be Kylie. A name that sticks out for all the wrong reasons. It can’t be shortened unless I want to be Ky, which I don’t, or Lee which I can’t because that’s my surname. Yep. My name’s Kylie Lee.
Mum must have hated me from the moment I was conceived.
‘We’ve just found out he’s got in to the college of his choice for September.’
I nearly choke on my tea. ‘College?’ Surely not. Am I missing something?
‘Yes, college. Why?’ She looks at me like I’m mad.
‘But… he’s like thirteen!’
‘He’s sixteen next month, Kylie. You do exaggerate.’
I do the maths in my head and she’s right, he’s sixteen next month. ‘Unbelievable.’
Nan, Grandad and Auntie Julia arrive and I stand accepting hugs and greetings from each of them while Mum calls down Dad and Robbie.
‘Kylie!’ Grandad hugs me and stuffs fifty pounds in my fist at the same time, like he always does when he sees me. ‘I can’t believe you’re nearly twenty-five, how does it feel?’
‘I can’t say I feel much different, Grandad.’ After all, age is but a number.
‘So, Kylie. How are you getting on in the city on your own?’ asks Auntie Julia.
‘Good, thanks. I’ve been living there years, it feels like home now.’
‘Oh, of course, but I mean how are you getting on in terms of finding your feet? Any
promotions recently? Any big plans?’
‘Not exactly.’ By not exactly, I mean, not at all.
‘No? Too busy running around the city chasing boys and drinking cocktails?’
‘Er, well…’ I don’t know what to say. The truth is far from chasing boys and drinking cocktails. More like stalking boys on social media and drinking whatever is on buy-one-get-onefree.
Thankfully Dad pokes his head through the door, cutting my conversation with Auntie Julia short. What a shame.
‘Hey, love. Happy Birthday for Saturday.’
I smile at him. ‘Thanks, Dad.’
Just then, Robbie plods in, clearly coerced by Mum who stands unnaturally close behind him.
‘Right, now that everyone’s here, Kylie can open her presents. Oh, hang on, I need to take a
photo.’ Mum spends the next few minutes setting the scene, making sure everything is perfect.
‘Come on you lot, stand closer together.’ She gestures us to move closer.
As Mum sorts the lighting, I see Dad roll his eyes to himself. It makes me happy knowing Dad feels somewhat like I do in regard to Mum and her business of making a fuss.
‘Okay everyone, say Happy Birthday!’
‘But it’s not her birthday,’ says Robbie.
‘I know but she’s too busy to see her parents on her actual birthday so this will have to do.’
There’s resentment in her voice, and a sense of ‘woe is me’. Everyone clearly senses it too, and
‘Lovely, let me just check it looks nice and no one was blinking—’
‘It’ll be fine, Marie; can the poor girl open her presents now?’ Only Dad could get away with undermining Mum like this.
I open my gifts and look pleased when I’m supposed to and thank everyone for the usual loot of chocolate and toiletries. I always need toiletries and if I manage it well I can make my Christmas toiletries last until my birthday ones and make those last until Christmas. When I open a card from Mum and Dad, £300 falls out. Kerching! ‘Thanks, you guys!’ Oh, the things I could buy. What do I need? More importantly, what do I want? I’m already mentally spending the entire amount.
‘That’s enough for a provisional license, theory test and a handful of lessons,’ Mum says.
‘What?’ I’m not even listening. I’ve pulled my phone out for a spot of online shopping. It’s enough for something nice from Michael Kors. Who needs a man to buy me nice jewellery when I can buy my own? I’m an independent woman. Although I wouldn’t mind a man buying me nice jewellery…
‘Well, you’re twenty-five on Saturday. Don’t you think it’s about time you learned to drive?’
‘Oh, Mum, no one drives in the city. There’s never anywhere to park on the street anyway.’
‘Even if you don’t get a car straight away, you don’t want to wait too long to learn to drive.
My biggest regret was waiting too long. You don’t want to be like me and take your test with a
massive bump behind the wheel.’
‘I certainly don’t want to do anything with a massive bump.’
‘Which is why you should do it now, before you have kids.’
‘I’m not having kids,’ I say. Certainly not any time soon anyway. No thanks.
Dad clears his throat for attention. ‘Right, I’ve got an important call to make. Bye, love. Enjoy spending your money.’ With a final nod and a typical Dad smile, he slinks away.
Mum looks horrified and follows Dad. ‘Pete! You do not walk out when I’ve planned a nice event. How do you think that makes me feel?’
Mum can’t help but make everything about her, even my birthday. I would be annoyed but I’m just glad the attention has been taken away from me and all the kids she’s planned for me to have.
Mum sits back down, her face thunderous. ‘Where were we? Before we were rudely interrupted.’
‘We were about to—’
Auntie Julia cuts in, ‘Kylie was saying she’s not having kids.’
‘Ah, yes. Well you can’t know that for sure, darling. I didn’t think I was but then I married your dad and eight months later, there you were. Some things just happen.’
I shrug, ‘and some things just don’t happen, at least not for a long time.’
‘You never know. Maybe soon you’ll finally be serious with someone. Do you have a boyfriend?’
Happy birthday to me! I can’t think of anything better than declaring my long-term singleness to my immediate family. ‘No…’
‘Marie, maybe she’s one of those lesbians. It’s very trendy now,’ says Nan, to my horror.
Mum shakes her head, ‘she’s definitely not a lesbian.’
‘But what about that girl who comes as her plus one to everything?’ asks Nan, as if I’m not in the room, ‘Alexandra?’
‘Oh goodness, she’s not dating Alexa. I’ll admit, they’re unnaturally close but it’s purely platonic. No, Kylie’s definitely straight. And single.’ The last word echoes around the room, bouncing off everybody and coming back to bite me.
‘I am here you know!’ I tell Mum in a huff.
‘I know you are, darling.’
‘Well, can you not talk about my love life, or lack-thereof as if I’m not?’
‘Sorry. I’m just worried, Kylie. Maybe if you put yourself out there a bit more… And looked a bit more presentable. You could start by styling your hair before you leave the house.’
‘What’s wrong with my hair?’
‘It’s just like your father’s was in the 80s before he started balding and I finally got him to shave it.’
‘Leave her alone, Marie. I think all the young women have hair like that nowadays.’
‘Thanks, Auntie Julia.’ You’re wrong but I appreciate the support.
‘You’re right, Julia.’ Mum takes a deep breath, ‘I’m sorry, Kylie.’
Good God, I wonder if I can get her to say it again and this time record it.
‘Now don’t worry,’ she soothes, as if she wasn’t the one who started this, ‘it’ll soon work itself out. Do you go to the pub often? I found your dad at the local pub quiz a cold winter’s evening.
We had a joint mortgage by summer on this house.’
‘Marie, I’m sure she gets out plenty living in a city. I bet she goes on loads of dates when she’s not chasing her career. Young women nowadays are all about their careers.’
‘Is that true, Kylie? Are you all about your career?’ Mum looks at me, wanting reassurance and hoping that my life isn’t as shit as she fears.
‘Yes, I am,’ I lie. I’ve lied in this kitchen a lot, but it’s been a while. The last time I lied here I was seventeen and swearing to Mum that I wasn’t hungover, but genuinely just sick. I laid it on thick and she eventually bought it and tucked me up in bed. Later that day, Dad brought me up a bacon sandwich with a knowing smile. Somehow, he knew and he was happy to keep it a secret.
‘Well,’ says Mum, collecting herself now, aware of herself, ‘then I guess you have nothing to worry about. I’m sure you’ll make good choices on how to spend your money, although I dosu ggest driving lessons.’
I smile with appreciation and reach for another sausage roll. ‘And maybe a gym pass,’ she says as I stuff it into my mouth.
I sit, no longer eating, and wait while Mum buzzes around the kitchen fussing over everything until she decides it’s time to light the cake. No one smokes anymore and Mum flaps about looking for a lighter. ‘Oh, this is ridiculous, Pete,’ she huffs, addressing my Dad who isn’t evenin t he room. ‘You might not smoke now but what if we had a power cut and needed to light some candles? Do we even have candles? If there’s an apocalypse how will we survive?’ she looks through the drawer of miscellaneous crap. You know the drawer, the one crammed with takeawayleafl ets, spare keys, plasters, and hopefully a lighter or Mum will definitely have some sortof nervous breakdown.
‘Are you looking forward to college?’ I ask my brother, who has his head in his phone.
‘Yeah,’ he grunts in response.
‘Good,’ I say. Well, what a riveting conversation that was. Why do I bother?
Suddenly I’m plunged into darkness. The room is filled with everyone singing Happy Birthday slightly out of sync with each other as the cake, and now fully lit candles, is placed on the table.
‘Make a wish, Kylie!’
What do I want in my twenty-sixth year of life? I thought I wanted something nice by Michael Kors and for my favourite black dress to fit me again, but now I can’t help wonder if my priorities are wrong. Maybe I should wish for a solid career. Perhaps a boyfriend. After all, I’ twenty-five tomorrow and have neither. As I sit having an existential crisis with all of my family waiting expectantly, melted wax drips onto my cake. Shit. I close my eyes and think. I wish to have all the things I should, and also to fit in my favourite black dress. Then I blow out the candles and everyone cheers. The lights come back on and I pick the face off the chocolate caterpillar cake.
Author: Kate Armitage
Author Bio: Kate Armitage is a writer from England who has three cats, two children and one husband. She lives an alarmingly conventional life which surprises everyone who speaks to her for more than five minutes. She spends her days knee-deep in play-doh and spends her nights elbow deep in manuscripts. Sometimes she lets the children also use the play-doh but only if they promise not to mix the colours.
You can find Kate on social media under @itskatearmitage or through her website www.katearmitageauthor.com.