WRITTEN BY BETH MCKAY
Sarah and George prayed that a sunshine holiday would pull their big family together – or would it fall apart?
Sarah’s heart skipped a beat as the plane touched down. She always found the moment of landing exciting and it was wonderful to be back in Cyprus.
She prodded the seats of the teenagers in front, to remind them to remove their headphones. Reluctantly, they stuffed their scattered belongings into overflowing backpacks. George, Sarah’s partner, raised a sympathetic eyebrow. The idea of a holiday abroad together had seemed such a tantalising prospect in the gloomy depths of a British winter. Now they both wondered how a week with two combined families of adolescents would work out.
The first glimpse of the holiday villa lifted Sarah’s spirits. The house nestled on a hill below a grove of ancient olive trees, just metres from a pretty, pebbled beach. With its pastel colours, terrace and lofty, open-plan interior, there was plenty space for everyone. Even when the inevitable quarrels kicked off about who would have each room, Sarah was serene. She left George to soothe ruffled feathers and wandered, barefoot, onto the warm paving stones outside the patio door. It was wonderful to be here in the Mediterranean sunshine, gazing out at a dazzling blue sea.
However, peaceful moments became rare as the daily battles over getting up, mealtimes and chores mounted. Sarah’s eldest son, Matthew, could be stubborn at the best of times. He rose late every day. He resented being forced to join in activities with George’s twins, Joel and Ellie. He found it hard enough sharing a room with thirteen-year-old Joel, who talked incessantly from dawn till dusk.
“Mum, get him to stop pestering me!” was Matthew’s cry of exasperation. Her son was clearly craving time alone and there seemed to no chance of that here.
Sarah’s middle daughter, Sophie, was kinder to the twins but she still preferred topping up her tan or messaging her friends back home. Tilly, her youngest, moped around. She was anxious to monopolise Sarah’s affection and jealous of time her mother spent with George. Sarah knew Tilly still missed her father.
“When will things go back to normal, Mum?” had been her constant question at bedtime, when Sarah first started dating George. After two years, Tilly voiced that hope less often, but she had lost her sense of security.
What was normal these days when so many marriages faltered?
Her ex-husband’s affair with his female boss was not a prospect Sarah had entertained when they’d exchanged rings and vows.
What a relief it had been when George came along, with his honest face and crinkly grin. He had certainly brought her sense of humour back. More importantly, he had thrown himself wholeheartedly into the rich tapestry of their complicated new life.
With five children between them, it really was a juggling act. The unfamiliar role of being a step-parent was full of more pitfalls than either Sarah or George could ever have imagined. One or other of them was always getting things wrong.
In the end, it was the swimming pool that rescued the holiday dream. Matthew was sitting on the edge, dangling long, pale legs in the water, listening to his favourite band on his new Beats headphones. Sophie was sprawled beside him on a towel, her face concealed beneath a floppy hat and shades.
It was Tilly of all people who started the water fight with Joel and Ellie. Soon the three younger children were shrieking and jumping in and out of the pool with excitement. Matthew was oblivious until a large, wet ball hit him on the side of the head. Joel froze, waiting nervously for his reaction. It was an accident of course. He had been aiming for Tilly, who was grinning with mischief from behind her big brother’s shoulders.
“Hey!” Matthew shouted. His face flushed with fury. He stared hard at his young adversary.
Tilly tickled her brother in the ribs before he could explode and whipped away Matthew’s headphones.
“It was me, silly! Joel wasn’t aiming at you!” She danced off with the Beats and threw them on a lounger. She just made it back into the pool in time, dripping water all over Sophie as she dived past her. Suddenly all five of them were in the pool, splashing and laughing together. Sarah put her arm round George when he came in to fetch the ice lollies.
“They’ll need these,” George beamed. “It’s good to see them all playing.”
“They look like a proper family,” Sarah replied happily.
She watched Matthew drape a brotherly arm around Joel’s shoulder as the pair tried to pour a jug of water over Tilly’s head. Tilly’s smile, as she escaped their clutches, was brighter than the sun above their heads.