It was late in the evening of the day before Christmas Eve. Cecily was setting the living room in order while John made the rounds, checking the windows and doors. A slight noise came from the kitchen where Bits was making herself a drink before going to bed.
Cecily was content, a slight smile rested on her lips as she completed her task. Their home was filled to bursting. In fact so many were here this year that she had improvised a dormitory in the playroom for her girls and Stephen's boys. Cecily bent and picked up an abandoned sketchbook from under an armchair. Poor Claire. For a moment Cecily's smile dropped and her contentment vanished, Claire was so unhappy even though she was trying to not let it show and join in.
For the first time Claire was learning about heartbreak. After she had finished her major commission to provide artwork for a new office block, she had planned to take Paula away for a surprise week-end away. Paula had refused to go and instead Claire had visited her parents to pick up the drafts for a children's book that Mum, Claire and Cecily were working on together. She had not stayed long and returned to London early where she found Paula hurriedly packing. Claire asked why her beloved Paula was going. The reply had stunned her into silence. Paula told her that while Claire was her soul mate, that she loved her, she wanted to be normal, do normal things, perhaps have a child. She was ashamed to say that she wanted a partner she could introduce to her parents who would never understand her true nature. While Claire had been busy Paula had met someone, and though not sexually attracted to him, thought that they could be happy together. She even handed Claire a wedding invitation.
Claire had collapsed into a seat. Then Paula had said the worse thing she could. She asked if she could still come and visit, stay overnight sometimes, her implication clear. Predictably Claire had lost her temper, thrown Paula's belongings out the window and screamed at her that however dubious her lifestyle was she had never come between others and had no intention of being anyone's bit on the side. It was over. Paula gone, Claire had proceeded to get drunk. Cecily did not know what had happened next but it made Claire blush and admit she had coerced someone into doing something she should not have done. Once her hangover had disappeared in the way she felt her life had, Claire had got on her bike the next day and visited an old friend and lover as a further act of revenge. Paula may be getting married but Claire did enjoy the company of men. Back in London, Claire had packed up the semi-nude portrait she had painted and, first adding the title of My Lover above her signature, sent it to Paula's fiancé. Then she had come early to her sister's home.
Cecily had held her, spoiled her and generally tried to give her the space and time needed to heal. It had hit Claire hard but over the last few days Claire seemed to have something else on her mind. Cecily looked through the sketchbook in her hands. It had not effected Claire's work. Still, Cecily wished that Erica was here. Erica had a calming effect on Claire that would be helpful.
Cecily placed the book on the sideboard, next to a forgotten toy fire engine and an odd button, and started flumping up cushions and collecting a few coins that had escaped pockets in the sofa. John came back and Bits stuck her head out of the kitchen to ask if anyone else wanted anything.
'Not at the moment thanks,' John turned to his wife, 'Every one appears to be asleep all ready.'
'Len and Con took them all on a long walk and I'm not sure what else. Dad's reached the age where having all these children around makes him tired. Mum's up for anything but she's had a tough time looking after Aunt Madge at all hours of the day and night. I'm so glad that David and Ailie have taken her for a holiday. Mum needs this break.' The Triplets had undertaken the entertainment of all the guests for the day leaving Cecily and Bits free to have a quiet time preparing for the next few days and then having a restful time before the chaos ensued. John had been at work so he could save some time off for when Marya went into hospital in the New Year.
'Ready for tomorrow?'
'Yes. There's a few last minute things to buy, cream and so on. It's an all day buffet tomorrow so we can press ahead and prepare for Christmas day itself. Felix has volunteered to be entertainment manager for the day so we don't have to worry about that, apart from the noise and mess. Fingers crossed it will all go smoothly.'
'It won't be your fault if it doesn't. You've everything planned to the last full stop.' Bits came in carrying her mug of hot chocolate. Suddenly the phone rang. 'Who's that? It's a bit late for a courtesy call.'
'You're standing by the phone. Answer it and see.'
The others listened as Bits picked up the phone, 'Hello?... Hi Kits, what's the problem?... Yes she's here, hang on.' She handed the phone to Cecily with a bemused shrug.
The others were wildly curious. Phone calls after eleven were an unusual occurrence, especially from Kits who worked hard all day, played hard when she got home and went to bed early. 'Hello?... Reallyr53; How come?... Okay, yes. I'll leave now. See you soon.' Cecily slowly put the phone down. She felt dizzy. With a note of disbelief she spoke to the other two, 'Phil's at the flat. I've got to go.' Then stood staring into the distance caught up in sudden disorientation and need to organise her emotions.
Bits hastened to the kitchen, 'Not without coffee you don't.' She disappeared to set the percolator to work.
Cecily broke out of her reverie, 'I should leave at once.' She took a step towards the door not yet quite sure of what she had just learnt.
John stopped her, 'Twenty minutes or so won't make much difference. The roads should be clear. Go and change, you'll freeze in that dress.' She looked down at the light woollen dress she was wearing, agreed and went to change into trousers and big, fluffy jumper.
Bits and John were filling a rucksack with coffee, snacks and a blanket when Bits suddenly dashed off to her room. She returned with a coat. 'I was going to ask Cecily to make some alterations to this, it's new and doesn't fit right. Phil may need it. It should fit her more or less. I heard Cecily on the phone but don't know who to.'
'I wonder who?'
'Margot.' Cecily entered, 'I suddenly thought that she would be the best person to take with me. Not only because she's a doctor but she's also forthright enough to manage hysterics.'
'Good idea. I'm coming too. We'll take my car, it's more comfortable. Bits can get a good nights sleep and see to everything tomorrow.'
'I can manage by myself.'
'Sure you can but you're tired. Too tired to drive to London and back as well as dealing with whatever we find when we get there. You drive down and I can sleep in the back then I can drive back. It makes sense.'
Cecily gave in and nodded, 'One thing Bits. Don't tell anyone anything until we're back. Let's see what's going on before letting the rest of the family know. Kits sounded really worried.'
Margot was watching for them and quickly came and slipped into the passenger seat. She grinned at Cecily, 'Poor Len, she's dying of curiosity but determined not to ask. I thought it would be better to assess the situation before telling anyone.'
'Agreed. There's coffee if you want some.'
'No thanks. I'll probably doze soon. Tell me about where we're going. Who is Kits exactly?'
'She's my sister-in-law, Bits twin sister. She's a doctor in London.'
'A GP? Good, she'll have access to anything I might need.'
'No she's a paediatrician. She works at Great Ormond Street. Her special interest is Cystic Fibrosis.'
Margot pulled a face, 'That's tough.'
'I know. I think it's why she spoils her son so much. Not only guilt at working long hours and leaving him with a Nanny but because of the short life span of her favourite patients.'
Margot yawned, 'Sounds feasible. I think I should try to get some sleep now if you don't mind.'
'Go ahead.' Cecily turned the radio on and headed to the motorway, glad neither of her passengers were going to comment on her speed.
I meant to save this for a few months time but I'm celebrating my internet being sorted out.