Even with Diana in school, and no plans for any more pregnancies, having two babies in the house was a challenge. Flynn, although practically a dream child, was still as helpless as any other newborn, and needed constant changing, feeding and nursing.
Any attention that wasn’t devoted to Flynn was snatched up by Emily, who continued to be as much of a troublemaker as ever.
Now that James was back at work, I was taking on the bulk of the childcare, which meant not only feeding and changing both children while trying to keep the other occupied, but also trying to find time to sit down together with Emily. She was much slower than Diana had been in learning to talk, so helping her to develop well was a more difficult task, especially with a newborn in tow.
All in all, I was pretty relieved by the time Flynn’s birthday rolled around. I hoped that as a toddler, he would continue to be as well-behaved, with the added benefit that he would now be a little more independent so that I had the energy to give him and his sisters the attention they deserved.
This time, it was James that held our son as they blew out the candles on his first birthday cake together.
As I leaned down to give my baby his birthday bottle (since he was still too young for cake), I couldn’t help the tears that sprang to my eyes. Flynn was the spitting image of my own father – not only had he inherited my father’s dark hair, but the blue eyes he had passed down to me now gazed curiously at me from the face of my own little son.
I smiled tenderly as Flynn’s chubby hands caught the bottle I held out to him. He was just perfect… my little man. At that moment, I promised myself that no matter what happened, I would make sure that he never had any reason to feel lonely or neglected, simply by reason of being an only son.
Although he didn’t have the same sentimental family attachments, James was just as much in love with our little son as I was.
Every day when he came home from work, he gave me a quick kiss hello and then went straight for the nursery to spend time with the kids. Emily was an independent little thing, but James and Flynn could spend hours playing together, and neither of them would ever get tired. The girls were gorgeous and he loved them dearly; but the way I understand it, nothing is quite the same, for a man, as having his own son.
I had to admit, I was feeling a little nervous about how Emily especially would respond to her brother now that they were both toddlers. Flynn was as good a child as he had been a baby, and whether by his own virtue or simply because he was submitting to her natural authority, the two of them seemed to get along much better than I had expected.
Unfortunately, the same could not be said for the two girls.
Since she had become a child, Diana had always left her old favourite toy, Patterns, beside her bed while she slept. Lately, Emily had taken a special liking to the doll, and often snuck into her sister’s room in the early hours of the morning to play with it. Obviously, she knew that there was no way Diana would let her near the room if she was awake.
All usually went well, until Emily started to get uncomfortable or hungry. Of all the babies I had ever heard, Emily took the prize for most loud and obnoxious cry.
“Emily, shhhh, don’t cry… Mummy’s here…”
Emily, as usual, paid no attention, and continued to wail even louder in my arms. I looked worriedly over at the bed, where Diana was stirring. I was really not in a mood to deal with two angry daughters.
I approached the bed as Diana got up, and tried to soothe her.
“It’s okay, Di. Go back to sleep, I’ll take care of Emily. I’m sorry she woke you.”
Di just glared at her little sister, before turning to me.
“Really, Mum? Again?!” she cried. “This is the third time this week! How am I supposed to keep up my grades in school if I’m too tired to think?!”
“Di, honey…” I was shocked. Di had rarely spoken to me like this before. “I know it’s hard on you, sweetheart. You could try locking your door at night, that way Em can’t get inside in the morning.”
“I can’t lock my door,” she reminded me. “Dad won’t let me, in case something happens and you guys need to come in, remember?”
She was right – I had forgotten that. “Well, I’m sorry. I’ll try to keep an extra eye on your sister. This won’t happen for much longer, sweetie, I promise.”
Diana stomped her foot in annoyance. “It wasn’t supposed to happen at all! This is why I got my own room in the first place!”
I sighed, too tired to continue arguing. “Go back to sleep, Diana,” was all I said as I scooped Emily up into my arms and left the room.
I was still angry at the way Di had handled the situation by the time I sat down to breakfast, but at the same time I had to admit that she had a valid point. I knew how serious she was about her schoolwork, and it was fair enough for her to expect to get a good night’s sleep in her own bedroom. I decided I would talk to James about the possibility of installing a baby-proof gate at the bottom of the stairs the next time I saw him.
It was therefore a relief, both for myself and Diana, when Emily’s birthday finally rolled around. I held my youngest daughter as she blew out the candles on her home-made cake, then set her down on the floor so she could grow up on her own for the first time.
Diana, on the other side of the counter, was celebrating with unusual enthusiasm – no doubt looking forward to having her room to herself again.
As Emily grew up, she looked even more like her sister – so much so that they could easily have been mistaken for twins by someone who didn’t know them well.
Flynn now had the nursery all to himself, and we renovated one of the upstairs bedrooms for Emily just like we had done for Diana, allowing her input on colour schemes and decorations. I was hoping that the girls would have less conflict now that they each had their own space.
Unfortunately, my hopes were unfounded. Only a few months after Emily had moved into her new room, I was in the process of checking my face for spots in the bathroom mirror when I was startled by a shrill scream coming from down the hallway.
I could hear the girls arguing as I approached the door.
“Come on, sis! Just this once! How else am I supposed to get ahead in school?”
“I’m not doing your work for you, Emily! How about you actually do your own stuff for once?”
“God, Diana, it’s not a big deal! You are such a goody two-shoes!”
“And you’re a lazy bitch!”
Whoa! Time to step in. “What’s going on here?” I demanded sharply, stepping into the room. Neither child spoke. I turned to Diana. “Diana, you’re supposed to be the mature one here. I don’t know where you learned a word like that, but don’t you ever let me hear you using it again, do you hear me? Especially not with your sister!”
“I don’t care what she did, Di. You should know better than to behave like that. I’m very disappointed in you.”
Di’s shoulders drooped, and she stared down at her feet, looking ashamed.
I turned to Emily, who had been standing in the corner of the room, grinning gleefully. “Don’t think I’ve forgotten about you,” I told her sternly. “We’ve discussed this before, Emily, you are not to provoke your sister. I don’t know what all this was about, and I honestly don’t care, but you know perfectly well that you shouldn’t be in Di’s room without permission. Now go back to your own room, please, and don’t let me catch you making trouble in here again.” Emily went, but not before she threw a satisfied smirk over her shoulder at her sister, which told me that she was glad that Di had gotten in trouble, and had no intention of obeying my command to stay away.
But aside from the frequent spats between siblings, life for the household as a whole went on as usual. When she wasn’t terrorising her sister, Emily put her overactive imagination to good use, making up and performing countless games of make-believe alone in her room. Her mischievous tendencies hadn’t improved as she had gotten older, so it was a relief for all concerned when she played dress-up for hours instead of performing her usual pranks that the rest of the family usually fell victim to.
Meanwhile, Flynn seemed to be following in his sister’s footsteps.
The girls, when running up and down the stairs, often forgot to close the baby gate, and by this stage Flynn was perfectly able to climb stairs on his own. So it was that he, like Emily before him, found and fell in love with the stuffed doll in Diana’s bedroom.
Luckily, Di didn’t seem to mind as much with Flynn. Possibly, it was because he was a much quieter and more well-behaved baby than Emily had been, so he wasn’t much of a disturbance to her sleep or study patterns.
Since he was very well established in his crawling routine by now, James and I had started teaching Flynn to walk. James would usually spend time with him in the afternoons when he came home from work, and I would take care of him during the day, when it was just the two of us in the house.
He was a bit wobbly at first, but he was slowly starting to get the hang of it. On the day when he finally managed to stumble his own way across the room and into my arms, I was so proud of my baby that, after I had picked him up and covered his face with kisses, I gave him a lollipop I had bought at the supermarket the day before as a reward.
Flynn was sitting on the floor, happily gnawing on his lollipop, when Emily came down the hallway.
I knew there was trouble brewing as soon as I saw the scowl on her face when she looked at the lollipop – but I would never have expected her to do what she did. Before I could move to stop her, Emily had reached out with a malicious grin on her face and snatched the candy right out of Flynn’s little hands.
I was shocked. How could she do something like that? Flynn started to cry, and I felt anger boiling up inside me at the injustice I had just witnessed. I rounded on Emily.
“Emily Hunter!” I cried angrily. “You give that back right now, young lady!”
Emily was shocked, but stood her ground. “No,” she said insolently. “It’s mine now. He’s too small to eat it properly anyway.”
I looked at Flynn, who was still sitting on the floor and sobbing loudly. Listening to him just broke my heart. “How could you do this?” I yelled. “You’re his older sister, you’re supposed to take care of him! Stealing from someone helpless like that, that’s just bullying, Emily! You give that candy back right now, and go to your room. Go! I’m so disgusted by your behaviour, I can’t even look at you right now.”
Scowling, Emily dropped the lollipop at Flynn’s feet, and returned to her room with a slam of the door.
I picked Flynn up, gave back the lollipop, and tried to comfort him. I couldn’t believe that Emily would do something like this. Yes, I knew that she was mischievous and difficult, but I never thought she would take it out on Flynn. I frowned. Clearly, something had to be done about her behaviour to make her understand that it was not okay.
In the end, Emily was grounded for a week after that incident. James and I had considered making her stay in her room over Christmas, while the rest of the family came over to celebrate the holiday, but decided to let her join the party on promise of good behaviour.
Christmas day soon arrived, and with it the rest of the extended family, who had come over to enjoy a holiday meal and exchange Christmas presents together. Cody and Vivien had been happily married for ten years now, with a son around Emily’s age named Ethan. Ethan was a sweet-looking child, and reminded me a lot of Cody as a young boy.
Aidan and Violet also arrived with their three children Iris, Terrance and Jamie, all of whom were now in high school. Violet and Jamie arrived separately to the rest of their family, as they had come straight from Christmas lunch at Violet’s parents’ place.
Tyler was also there, with her husband Herb. Their daughter, Carolina, was still a toddler, and had been left at home with a babysitter to look after her. James had told me that Tyler was already pregnant again, but it was still early so she wasn’t showing yet.
Bridie arrived alone. Her son, Alfonso, was only a bit older than Carolina, so he was also staying at home with his babysitter this year. I had been surprised to learn that my sister was now a mother – she had never really seemed like the maternal type – but I guess that sort of thing was bound to happen sooner or later when you went through as many boyfriends as Bridie had done.
It was cold outside, and everyone had come dressed up for the occasion, so I quickly ushered everyone into the warm house before they froze to death. James had helped me put up the Christmas tree and decorations earlier that day, so everything was ready when the guests arrived. Chattering happily, everyone gathered around the tree and added their presents to the huge pile that had accumulated in the centre.
When everyone was ready, the present-opening commenced. Iris’ present was at the very top of the pile, so she went first. One by one, the rest of the family followed until everyone had received a gift.
After presents, the dinner was served, and everyone gathered around the table to enjoy the meal together. Then Diana turned on the living room speakers, and the entire family either joined her on the dance floor or stood around talking and laughing with each other.
By the time everyone was feeling partied out and more than one child had fallen asleep in their seat, it was well past midnight. Bit by bit, the guests trickled out, with many hugs and kisses and promises to keep in touch, until it was just James, myself and the kids left. We put all three children to bed, then returned downstairs to do a bit of cleaning up before going to bed ourselves.
Both of us were exhausted by the time we were changed and in bed, and looking forward to a good night’s rest. Unfortunately, the peace didn’t last too long.
After what felt like only a few minutes, we were dragged back from sleep by the doorbell ringing downstairs. James rolled over, checked his watch, and groaned.
“It’s three in the damn morning. Who on earth would be coming to the door at this hour?”
“I don’t know…” I responded sleepily. “You go back to sleep, I’ll go check.” I sat up on the edge of the bed, yawning. Behind me, James protested.
“No, I’m coming too. It must be something important for whoever it is to be ringing our doorbell in the middle of the night.”
I nodded sleepily, too tired to argue, and clumsily made my way out of the room and downstairs. I opened the door, still half asleep, and found a woman standing there. Her dress was filthy and shapeless, and she wasn’t wearing shoes. I guessed that she must be homeless and coming to our door begging for food or money.
“Um… can I help you?” I tried to be polite, but honestly she was scaring me a bit. She shook her head, craning her neck to see over my shoulder into the house behind me. I moved to block the door, and checked over my shoulder to see where she was looking.
I saw James coming down the stairs behind me, and approaching the door to see who was behind it. As he came into her view, the woman smiled at him, as though in recognition. James, meanwhile, seemed rooted to the spot as he stared at her. For once, I had no idea what he was thinking as I watched various emotions flit across his face, none of which I could easily identify. Instead, I looked between him and the strange woman, hoping for some sort of explanation. James, however, seemed incapable of speech. After a few moments of tense silence, a single word managed to escape his shaking lips.
I don’t know what I was expecting, but it sure as hell wasn’t that.