Today you can read an excerpt from "How to Survive Your Sisters". You can learn more about these talented authors by visiting their website chicklitsisters
Natalie MacLeod walked into the maternity ward of St Joseph’s with purple daisies in her hand and profound dismay in her heart. Wincing visibly at the groans and screams audible through too-thin walls and averting her eyes from half-snatched glimpses of drip bags, plastic piping and other disgusting hospital apparatus, she pushed open the doors to the semi-private room and hesitated, examining the tableau before her.
In many ways it echoed several she’d passed along the way; the same Perspex cot beside the bed, the same medical paraphernalia and the same crowd of eager visitors, except in one important respect. This patient, with wet patches across her chest and a tired smile plastered onto her face, was her sister.
What on earth was Milly thinking? Didn’t she have enough on her plate with two rambunctious boys and one insufferable teenage daughter? Hazel, their youngest sister, had said – swearing Natalie to secrecy – that Ivor’s condom had sprung a leak, but in this day and age everyone knew there was absolutely no need for mistakes. Tubes could be tied. Ivor could have the snip. Men were ridiculously squeamish about these things of course, but if she and Jeremy were ever in that particular waterlogged barge…
She shuddered. Nope, it would never happen. Couldn’t happen. She, Natalie, would never allow it. After all, there was such a thing as a morning after pill.
And now here was Milly, who’d never quite lost the baby weight from Rory, sprawled out on the hospital bed like a… like a… well, Natalie sucked in her well-toned gut automatically, she didn’t want to be uncharitable – or, worse, cliché – but it was hard not to get an image of scores of exhausted do-gooders trying to push a hapless orca towards a receding sea.
She ran a manicured hand quickly through her blonde bob, pasting a magnanimous smile on her face as she waited by the swinging door for her family to notice her.
“Natalie,” Milly’s face was unbecomingly flushed, a lock of damp hair stuck to her forehead but her happiness radiated the room. “Come and meet your new nephew.” She cooed over the bundle in her arms. “Isn’t he a darling? Isn’t he just perfect?”
From their chairs by the bed, Peggy and Callum rose to greet their third-born.
“Natalie,” her mother swept upon her, all dressed up for the occasion in her best winter coat and a hideous printed dress, shapeless if it weren’t for a bulging sash that tugged it too high in the front like a distorted stage curtain that exposed large bony knees.
“How lovely to see you, dear,” she beamed cheerily. “I was just telling your father that I don’t know why I bothered to put myself through the agonies of childbirth. I swear it takes an earthquake to dislodge you or Avril from London these days. Of course I know Hazel’s gallivanting all over the globe and Avril’s fantastically busy with her illustrious career, but I’d think you, at least, could drag yourself away from that sexy man of yours to visit us once in a blue moon. Honestly, I’ve four daughters and, except for darling Milly, I might as well have spared myself the bother of labor and all those nappy changes.”
Natalie’s eyes narrowed, her teeth gritting, as Callum clumsily patted her shoulder. Her father smelt of peppermints and pipe tobacco but, thankfully, no hidden undercurrents she could distinguish and the fingers searching the pocket of his ancient tweed sports jacket were tremor-free.
“Och, don’t mind your mother, she’s just teasing,” he rasped. “Come and sit by me. Tell us everything you’ve been up to, eh?”
“Well, as it happens, I do have an important…”
“Wow, he’s gorgeous! You look fab, Milly! Well done, sweetie!” In a tumult of Opium perfume and Nicole Farhi, Avril had hijacked the limelight, rushing over to envelope Milly in her arms, praising her new nephew before she’d even given his sleeping face a glance.
“Hi Mum, Dad, Nats,” she made the rounds of hugs and air kisses with all the insincerity and polish of someone who’d made a very prosperous vocation of working the room, coming to rest on the chair Peggy had vacated, only her circling Chloe-clad toe betraying the urgent tick-tock of precious wasted time. “Sorry I’m so late but I got a call - Julia Roberts of all people. I brought Moët…” She flourished a gold-topped bottle, then caught her mother’s scowl, “…but maybe we should save it for later. I can only stay a minute. All hell’s breaking loose back at the office. I’m over the moon for you, Mills. He’s a cutie! Too bad Hazel’s not here.”
“Too bad?” Stung by the familiar mix of chagrin and disappointment that her family inevitably inspired, Natalie lashed back. “If she had any consideration at all, she’d have come home for this. She knew when Milly was due. Is it too much to expect that she’d make a bit of an effort for her family for once?”
As always Avril was hot in Hazel’s defense.
“Don’t be such a witch, Nasty.” Her fingers fidgeted, clearly itching for a cigarette, her mobile or a quick clutch at her younger sister’s neck. “You know full well Hazel had planned this trip and bought her ticket months before Milly found out she was expecting. Besides, look who’s talking - you couldn’t even be bothered to show up at Hazel’s leaving do. Too busy with Jeremy and his moronic city crowd, I imagine. In any case,” unable to resist she took a peek at her mobile, checking for texts, before realizing hospital policy had forced her to switch off, “it’s not as if it’s Milly’s first, is it?”
Into the impending war a little voice squeaked in.
“Doesn’t anyone want to see the baby?” Milly suggested meekly. “He’s just woken.”
There was a moment’s guilty silence. Then a flurry around the bed.
Avril gently stroked the baby’s left hand, visibly relaxing her usually tense, over-worked gym-toned body. “He’s just precious, Mills. I can definitely see Ivor in him. And such soft skin. So have you decided on a name yet?” It had taken Milly and Ivor a week to agree on Rory’s name.
“Ben,” Milly adjusted his little white hat. “After Ivor’s grandfather, Benjamin. Look he’s staring right at you, Natalie.”
Natalie peered down. “Can they see at this age?”
“He’s not a kitten, Nee Nee.” Callum laughed, what was left of his white hair apparently standing to attention.
“Hush now,” Peggy bent down and picked him up, brown eyes glistening in her wrinkled face. “Here, Callum, you hold him and we’ll call that nice nurse in to take a photo of us all.”
“No, no.” Her husband backed away, rubbing a hand over his rarely-shaven chin where a small piece of toilet paper showed he’d nicked himself that morning. “I might drop him.”
“Phooey! Four children and three grandchildren and you’ve never dropped one of them yet.”
“Sure you never dropped Natalie, Dad?” Milly teased. “Might explain a few things.”
“Funny – not, dear sister.” Natalie screwed up her face. “Where’s Ivor by the way? I thought at least at a time like this he’d be glued to your side.”
“He was,” Milly sounded instantly defensive. “For hours and hours. All through labor. Poor man’s hardly had any sleep in the last few days. He’s only just left to get Erin, Fergus and Rory off to school and I told him to take a nap before he comes back. He’s been a saint, really.”
Natalie looked unconvinced, as Peggy gushed forth.
“Hazel might be the most adventurous and Avril the most successful but I do think Milly’s the bravest. Hours of labor with hardly a peep.” Behind her back, Milly made a face, comically suggesting otherwise, as Peggy continued in her piercing voice that could penetrate the morgue three floors below. “Turned out little Ben here had the cord wrapped around his neck. And then there was that awful business with the placenta. I told Milly she should ask the hospital to save it for her. Lots of aboriginal cultures believe in eating it. Full of iron.”
Natalie recoiled. “That is totally revolting.”
“Not just aborigines, Mum,” Avril chipped in, noticing Natalie look faintly green. “I think there’s a few of the Birkenstock Brigade partial to a little nosh. Or you could always bury it in your garden, have a little ceremony. That’s quite a trend too.”
“Anyway,” Natalie’s voice cut through the unpleasant conversation. “Now we’re all here, I have some news too.” She waited till all eyes were on her and then dropped the bomb. “Jeremy and I have picked a date for the wedding.”
“Oh but that’s wonderful, wonderful!” Peggy’s eyes flooded with tears as she rushed to hug her third daughter.
“About bloody time,” Callum grinned, rubbing his unlit pipe between smoke-stained fingers.
“Gosh, Nats, that’s brilliant. When is it?” Milly smiled happily.
“Early July. We’ve booked the church in Little Hooking. Isn’t it superb?” Basking in her family’s excitement, Natalie’s face looked as pink and pretty as any bride’s.
Avril rose to her feet, towering over everyone in the room, even without her four-inch heels. “Superb.” It was sardonic, her face shuttered, eyes cold. “Well done, Natalie,” she whispered in her sister’s ear. “You couldn’t wait to steal Milly’s thunder for your own little portion of glory, could you?” She swiveled to face the others. “Well, sorry to walk out on all the excitement but I really do have to go.”
And out she swooshed, sucking with her all Natalie’s joy.
Caught off balance, Natalie wavered between guilt and anger.
“I’m sorry, Milly. I never meant… I just thought with us all being together. Anyway,” she took refuge in leaning over Ben, trying to conceal the hurt of Avril’s words from sparkling in her eyes. “Avril’s right, he is a beautiful baby.” She could feel her throat slightly choked. Why was it no one could wound you like a sister? “Utterly perfect, thank God - even if he was a mistake.” The words slipped out before she realized her mouth had formed them.
“A mistake!” Milly clutched her child to her breast, outrage widening the blue eyes that were so similar to Natalie’s and the infant in her arms. “Why on earth would you say that? Ivor and I wanted this child more than anything else in the world. We were trying for an absolute age.”
This time there was no ambivalence about Natalie’s feelings. Rage rushed through her as she realized that, once again, she’d been had.
Damn! With every ounce of her heart, and for the thousandth time in her life, she wanted, longed, yearned to kill that bloody Hazel.
Thank you Pam and Lorraine for sharing an excerpt from your novel. Read more about Ellie Campbell at www.chicklitsisters.com where you will discover more links to their novels and social media.
Please drop by next week for a thrilling excerpt from my latest Novel-In-Progress. The Wall of War. I've almost completed the second draft and then it's off to beta readers.