The house, Millie observed rather wryly from where she perched, was in absolute chaos. That this should be of such little concern to her was mainly because she was currently balanced precariously in the boughs of a large oak tree that overshadowed most of their garden, and could just see into the house through the open window, to the living room, from which shrieks floated at regular intervals. Also, she was bemused by her mother, who had sat them all down just that morning and told them to behave, because she was busy preparing for the holiday and didn't need them to interfere or cause more trouble. This was, as ever, the signal to get into as much mischief as possible.
Soon enough she would have to go in and sort it out – Ashley and Stacia were arguing again, and the only reason that Poppy wasn't joining in was because Charlie must have called her away to pack. With her mother occupied in trying to make sure that they would have everything they needed, the burden would fall on her to keep the younger fry out of at least the worst trouble; it was an unspoken duty, but one that she'd put up with ever since she was a small girl and liked to walk her baby brother up and down the room in his pram, playing at house.
Her thoughts were interrupted at that point by the arrival of said baby brother, not so much a baby now as he dropped nimbly from a limb further up and landed neatly at her side, wobbling for a moment before settling himself and dangling his legs over the edge so that he could swing them in time with her own. The two were so similar that they could have been twins, if Millie hadn't been considerably taller; both had inherited their mother's fair, tumbling hair that it was almost impossible to control (though Millie, at least, tried her best, unlike Charlie) and round, hazel eyes with a laugh always contained in them.
“It's carnage,” said John bluntly, once he'd settled himself comfortably and brushed nonchalantly at the streak of green ruining his last clean pair of trousers. More often than not he was told that at his age he should know better, but he was never happy unless he was active and usually getting into whichever scrapes were happening.
“I'd better go,” sighed Millie; loathe was she to leave the cool, pleasant shade created by the leafy canopy above to go and argue with her two sisters, who would only unite once they were convinced that they had a common enemy in her. “You don't want to try and get Poppy out of it, do you? Dad's still furious about her squashing his hat the other day. If she gets into any more trouble he might carry out his threat to send her to Auntie Con while the rest of us go on holiday.”
“Send her out if you find her,” he offered, tipping his head back so that it was bathed in the warm sunlight that did filter through. Uncaring as he might seem about it all, everyone in the family knew that there was a soft place in his heart always reserved for the youngest of the Maynard clan, and he would go to the ends of the earth to protect her.
Rolling her eyes, Millie jumped down and sauntered into the house, kicking Will as she passed. He was lying on the grass, bare arms pale compared to the rest, always fighting a losing battle to keep his glasses on; today, he was reading a large tome that Millie recognised as their father's history on politics, and the kick was mainly to remind him that Charles would be furious if he knew it had been taken outside. Little notice that he took of that!
Setting her mind to calming Ashley and Stacia down before Charlie should find them, Millie entered the living room and was at once met by a scene worthy only of the description John had given it. The argument had quickly turned into a fight, using the cushions from the settee which had looked battered and worn before the two girls deployed them. At the present they were silent in horror, possibly because of the glass from Charlie's favourite vase now strewn across the simple cream carpet in all directions.
“Stacia caught it with her pillow,” explained Ashley, when she looked up and saw who had entered. Hope caught in her eyes; with Millie, she was likely to scold them, but she would still back them up when it came to confessing their sins to their parents. “We didn't mean to.”
“It was only 'cause you hit me round the head and I couldn't see where I was going,” complained Stacia quickly, eyes leaving Millie's face to glare at her older sister. She was a chubby child of nine, with the same brown eyes as most of the family, but with the dark hair that only Will and their father shared. Unlike Ashley, who always gave herself away, she had the ability to look more angelic the more trouble she was in, and now she was positively radiating light.
Before Millie had the time to give her caustic thoughts on the situation, the door opened again. Conversation on the possibility of making a tray of iced lemonade to cool everyone down in such fantastically hot weather was stopped promptly as Poppy and Charlie surveyed the mess. It was so bad that Poppy even managed to restrain the cheeky comment that was readily available, and it was left to Charlie to demand icily,
“What on earth has happened?”