Rose Green is 36; Cory Green is 49; Melissa is 16
"It's no good trying to force her."
"So... what, we just ignore it? Pretend we don't know about it? You think that's the right way to handle this?"
"I just think counselling is never going to work unless she's ready for it. It never worked for me... not until I was ready. That's why last year - "
"I don't want to talk about last year!"
"You never do! I don't think Melissa's the only one trying to ignore stuff here..."
They were arguing again. Worse still, they were arguing about her.
Melissa knew because she had found that, if she pressed her ear against the wall in exactly the right spot in her room, she could hear almost everything that Cory and Rose were saying, in their room on the other side.
There were a lot of things that she enjoyed about living here... and also a lot of things that she hated. Like the arguments, even the ones that weren't about her.
Or the fact that Cory and Rose knew about what had happened with Joshua. That should never have happened. She should have thought up some lie when they asked her... but they'd taken her by surprise, and she was never any good at thinking in a hurry.
Then there was the baby... not that there was anything wrong with the baby in herself. In fact, little Emily was adorable.
But that was the problem. She was a baby, and she was cute and cuddly... and she only reminded Melissa of how much she missed her little brother Shane, who she would probably never see again.
But more than anything, Melissa hated the fact that every second of her time was accounted for here.
She was used to long stretches of time to herself. Her mother and Joshua would go away overnight, or even for whole weekends, and Melissa could do whatever she wanted while they were gone.
Now, Cory and Rose needed to know where she was going, and who she was with, and when she'd be back, every time she stepped out of the house. It was smothering her, and she needed her freedom back.
She waited until the house was quiet. It was easy to slip out of the window and down the fire escape.
"Isn't it a bit late to be going somewhere?"
"I... I... Um... " She was never good at thinking in a hurry. "I... just... I wanted to go out, that's all."
"You can go out. You just need to let us know where you're going."
"If you knew where I was going, you wouldn't let me."
"Into the city?"
She didn't answer.
"You're not planning to go get drunk at some bar like you did that night with Sam, are you?"
He sighed when she didn't answer again.
"Melissa, I know you're unhappy, but getting drunk isn't the way to - "
"I'm not you. I don't get drunk because I'm unhappy, I get drunk because it's fun. That's what normal people do!"
She regretted it as soon as she'd said it, but if it bothered him, he never showed it.
"You're probably right," he said calmly. "But all the same, I still don't think it's a good idea. I mean, it didn't look like much fun when you were sick half the night last time."
"Ok, so maybe I went a little bit too far that time..."
He gestured for her to sit down. "Do you know why you went a little too far?"
"Just think about it for a bit, Melissa. Are you sure it has nothing to do with trying to forget about the way things were for you?"
"That's over now," she said after a long moment. "It doesn't matter any more."
"It does matter," said Cory. "It's still hurting you, you know that as well as I do. There are better ways out there to help you deal with it, people you can talk to, counsellors... "
"You sound like Rose."
"She does have a point," he said. "Please, at least think about it."
"Why does it matter to you, anyway?"
"I just don't want you to make the same kind of mess of your life that I did. He sighed. "Melissa, its no good trying to push away the bad stuff. It'll always find you again. If you can learn that now, this young, your life is going to be hell of a lot better than mine has been."
"Your life seems to have worked out ok anyway."
"But it hasn't," he said. "Look at all that went wrong when I broke up with your mother... I mean, if I'd learned to deal with my crap sooner, maybe we could have worked it out. Maybe she wouldn't be as bitter as she is now, and maybe Sam wouldn't be either. I wouldn't have had to leave you, the things with Joshua wouldn't have happened... "
"But... but if you'd worked it out with Mum, you wouldn't have your other kids... you wouldn't ever have married Rose. You wouldn't want to change that, would you?"
"It wouldn't matter because I'd never have known any of that could happen." He got up to leave. "Now, come inside. Its getting cold out here."
"But you didn't answer my question!"
"You're right," he said. "I didn't."