WRITTEN BY MICHELL MATTHEWS
It’s not the best time for Ella’s sister to land on her doorstep complete with her kids… or, actually, is it?
“Kristina?” Ella tried to keep the surprise from her voice as she opened the door to her flat to find her older sister standing there. Kristina’s daughter, two-year-old Mira, was balanced on one hip, and her four-year-old son, Joe, was holding tightly to her hand.
“Hi,” Kristina said, out of breath from climbing the stairs of the Victorian walk-up. “Is it all right if we stay here tonight? Burst water main.” She edged past Ella into the front hall. “Joe, take off your shoes, please.”
Joe did so, then looked from his mother to Ella and said, “Auntie Ella, I made a train out of cardboard tubes at nursery today.”
“Did you?” Ella said, giving her nephew a smile.
“I wanted to show you, but Mum said I couldn’t bring it.”
“You can show her another time,” Kristina said. “Why don’t you ask Ella to take you to the living room?”
“Actually, that’s not a good idea –”
“I’ll sleep in the blue room, and they can share the yellow one.”
“That’s fine, but – Joe! Wait!” Ella called after Joe as he tore off down the hall. “I’m shooting!” she cried, racing after him.
“Shooting?” Kristina followed her sister down the hallway with Mira in tow.
“Wow! This is amazing!” Joe cried.
Ella had done up the flat beautifully, Kristina thought. But somehow, she didn’t think that was what Joe meant. Reaching the living room, she froze.
“Joe, don’t touch!” Ella said. “Those lights are hot!”
“Stop, Joe!” shouted Kristina.
“Ha! Got you!” Ella said triumphantly, scooping him up. Relieved, she let herself laugh, tickling Joe into a giggling fit.
“I guess this is for that YouTube thing you do?” Kristina asked, taking in the studio lights and high-tech camera.
“My channel, yes,” replied Ella, wondering if her sister had ever watched it. I have half a million subscribers! she wanted to shout.
“So, where is Paul?” she asked instead.
“London. Big meeting for work.”
“Ew, smelly,” Mira piped up.
“Oh no,” Ella groaned, putting Joe down and rushing into the kitchen. Smoke was issuing from the oven. On cue, the smoke detector sounded.
Kristina grabbed a tea towel, waving the smoke away, as Ella pulled a cake, slightly black around the edges, from the oven.
“I’m sorry. It’s our fault for arriving unannounced,” Kristina said.
“Don’t worry about it.” Ella’s tone was light, but she couldn’t quite look at her sister. It was the third cake she’d burned that week. She bit her lip, wanting to cry.
Kristina was silent for a moment…
When her sister still didn’t look at her, choosing instead to busy herself with cleaning, she swallowed hard.
“Well, I guess I’ll get the kids ready for bed,” she said quietly.
She was gone by the time Ella looked up, wondering why her always-plan-ahead sister hadn’t called in advance.
Kristina lay in bed, looking up at the high ceiling, where Ella had lovingly restored the original plasterwork. Her little sister had taught herself everything about DIY when their parents helped Ella buy a flat in dire need of “modernising.” Not only had she modernised it, she had also had the ingenuity to put videos of her projects on YouTube.
Kristina watched Ella’s channel, Girl DIY, all the time. She was so proud of her sister, but when she tried to say so, the words stuck in her throat. Because I’m jealous, she thought, with a flash of shame.
She rolled onto her side, remembering the time she’d won a scholarship to spend a term studying Italian in Tuscany. She’d been so young, so free, back then.
Obviously, you can’t live like that forever. It’s a fantasy life. Or so she kept telling herself, now that a new fantasy, one in which she ran away, kept invading her thoughts.
In it, she simply walked out of her front door, with only her toothbrush, her lipstick and her bank card in her bag. No push chair, no snacks, no hassle. The breeze lifted her hair, a smile lifted her face, and she was away.
“I love my children. I wouldn’t just leave,” she muttered fiercely into her pillow. But she needed to change something in her life. She had been hoping Ella could help her find a solution.
The next morning, Ella pushed herself upright in bed. It was five am, and her phone was flashing that it was time for yoga. Normally, she bounced out of bed. This morning, she felt bone-weary and the thought of yoga made her want to pull the covers over her head.
Down the hall, she could hear Mira and Joe. She closed her eyes. Would anyone notice if she hid in here?
Yes, yes, they would. With a sigh, she hauled herself out of bed and pulled on some leggings and a hoodie.
In the kitchen, a war was underway. The War of the Chocolates.
“But I waaaant!” Mira wailed.
“Sorry, but no,” Kristina said.
“Couldn’t she have just one?” Ella suggested. Kristina cast her a murderous look.
“You need to have something healthy,” Kristina insisted. Valiantly, she tried to interest her daughter in something else – cereal or porridge or pancakes.
“I love pancakes,” Joe called over his sister’s shouting.
“I make pretty good pancakes,” Ella said loudly. Mira went quiet.
“With chocolate syrup?” she asked.
Ella glanced at Kristina, who gave a tiny shake of her head.
“What about strawberry? My extra-special guests are allowed to have my secret strawberry syrup.” Ella extended her hands – one to Joe, one to Mira – and they followed her to the fridge.
“I need coffee,” said Kristina.
“It’s right in front of you.”
Kristina picked up a jar of beans, staring at it blankly.
“The grinder is over there.”
“Do you have any instant?”
You, the girl who came back from Florence saying she could only ever drink espresso, is asking for instant?
“That was a long time ago,” Kristina muttered.
“Kristina, could you just…” Ella’s words trailed off and she waved her hand vaguely.
Get lost. Kristina silently finished her sister’s sentence. Whether or not Ella was going to say that didn’t matter. With breakfast over and everyone washed and dressed, it was obvious Ella had a million things to do, mostly involving filming herself. Kristina was watching, which was a welcome change from wiping yogurt off Mira and trying to get Joe to sit down.
“You’re better off without us.”
“I didn’t say that!”
“It’s obviously true.” She hustled Joe and Mira towards the door and wrangled them into their shoes and jackets.
“Honestly, you don’t have to go.”
“I don’t mind.” Kristina knew her voice sounded tight and angry. She didn’t mean it to. She was just so disappointed that Ella couldn’t make a little more time to talk to her, that Ella was too wrapped up in herself to notice how miserable she felt.
They’d always been there for each other growing up. Maybe that was over, now her sister was famous and she was… nobody.
I’m not nobody, she told herself sternly.
Outside, Mira soon fell asleep, wheeled along in her pushchair, and Kristina opened the gate to the park and let Joe fly free. She tried to recall how having unlimited energy felt and concluded her best source of energy that morning was another cup of coffee. She bought one at the kiosk and sat where she could see Joe, then settled down to think, all alone.
Shooting the video was going all wrong. First, Ella knocked a bowl of strawberries on the floor. Once she’d cleared up the mess, she knocked over her camera tripod. It hit the table on its way down, knocking her mug of tea to the floor and smashing it.
Ella paused and listened to how quiet it was when everyone was gone. She missed the noise. Her niece and nephew could be lively, but they were good fun. And, since her break-up with Ben, she felt the silence might overwhelm her at times.
Some fresh air will help, she decided as she tidied up the mess. And I really need to talk to Kristina. As she exited her building, she pulled out her phone and typed burst water mains, Clarence Drive into the search engine.
The gate to the park creaked open and Kristina looked up to see Ella.
“Sorry about this morning,” she said as Ella sat down.
You really didn’t have to leave.
“We were in the way.”
“I didn’t mind. Honest. Is everything OK with you and Paul?”
“Of course it is.” Kristina was genuinely surprised. “Why wouldn’t it be?”
“It’s just … I know there wasn’t a burst water main on your street. And I thought maybe something was wrong at home.”
It wasn’t an unreasonable assumption. Their parents’ marriage had been rocky at best; their mother was prone to storming off to her sister’s, leaving them behind.
“We’re fine. I mean, there’s the usual marital stuff, like why is it so hard for him to put his socks in the laundry? And why does he have to eat the cake I was saving for later?”
Ella gave a wry smile. “That doesn’t sound so bad.”
“It isn’t really. I’m just so exhausted. And bored. Oh, listen to me feeling sorry for myself. Pathetic.”
“You’re not pathetic. But how can you be bored? I’d have thought they kept you busy.” She watched Joe on the monkey bars.
“Busy isn’t the same as not being bored.”
Ella drew a deep breath.
“I have a question. I was wondering …” This was so hard. “Would you like to help with my channel?”
“You don’t have to give me a pity job.” Although I’d love to give it a try, she thought.
“It’s not all about you,” Ella snapped.
Kristina looked at her.
“Is everything all right?”
“Yes. And no.” Ella took a shaky breath. “It’s just… I thought I could help with the kids, and then you could help me with work, because in a few months, I’ll really need your help.”
“What do you mean?”
“Help, especially with kids.” When her normally perceptive sister continued to look blank, Ella added, “In a little less than nine months.”
Kristina’s mouth dropped open
Ella nodded, a lump in her throat. Kristina was the first person she’d told. She’d barely allowed herself to think about it since the test.
“Oh, honey!” Kristina threw her arms around Ella. “That’s wonderful!”
“It does look kind of hard. And I’ll be doing it on my own.”
“Don’t be daft. You won’t be on your own.” Kristina drew back, eyes shining with tears. “It is really hard, but it’s also the best thing ever.”
“Welcome to parenting.” Kristina laughed. “But we’ll have each other. Do you want to rename your channel Baby DIY?”
Ella laughed and shook her head. “Although, I’m thinking Sisters United sounds pretty good.”
Kristina grinned. “Count me in.”
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