I was terrified of the whole thing. I couldn’t help thinking that this was the worst time to be meeting my sister, the only person (except for my kids) who shared my genes. Family life was hard enough without an addition to the dynamics and an injection of uncertainty. But Hilary had reached out to me and how could I say no?
‘OMG!’ my middle daughter, Alexis, said, a few mornings after the email arrived. ‘I can’t stop thinking about this, Mum. I had no idea you had a sister.’
‘Neither did I,’ I replied, still reeling from the news.
‘I was pretty jealous of you being an only child, and then she contacted you,’ Alexis said with a grin, ‘and I stopped being jealous.’
‘Charming,’ Kate said. She had just entered the kitchen in her work uniform.
‘How cool would it be,’ Alexis said, ‘not to have sisters older and younger than me, both idiots with a history of being lame and annoying?’
Alexis is the clever one. She is the star of classroom and music exams, the one with a shelf in her room laden with certificates and cups.
She dropped into a kitchen chair. ‘It’s so weird,’ she said, ‘Grandad having two families. Will this Hilary come for Christmas?’
‘Calm down, Ali,’ I said. ‘This is early days. Nothing may come of it.’
‘Let Mum take this at her own pace!’
‘Yeah, chill, Ali,’ said Kate in her serious voice. ‘You never think. Let Mum take this at her own pace.’
Ali rolled her eyes. ‘How come you always want to tell me what to do? And you think I don’t know that Mum needs time and space?’
My youngest, Rebecca, wandered in wearing pyjamas – my pyjamas – sat down and took a sip from my cup of coffee.
‘Aren’t you going to stop her doing that, Mum?’ Kate asked, glaring at Becca.
‘I’ve got too much in my head to worry about coffee,’ I said. ‘This is a big deal for me.’
‘Too right.’ Rebecca reached out to help herself to Ali’s toast. Ali slapped her hand, and I switched off from them and took my mind away to Hilary.
It was a very big deal. My older half-sister had made contact for the first time and suggested we meet. A few days ago, I thought I was the top of my own family tree, an only child of deceased parents. But now, apparently, this wasn’t the case. My father had produced a child before he met my mum, a child who had ended up in care and had followed a different path to mine, a child who had recently spent a year looking for me. The email had dropped into my inbox like a bomb.
I have always known you existed, Hilary wrote. My mum was in contact with our dad for some time after they split up. She knew he’d had another child. But she – my mum – went off the rails with addiction and petty crime after that, and the connection was broken. I won’t bore you with all of it, but just to say that I’m fine. This is not a begging letter, Gemma, this is a desire that comes from somewhere deep inside as I reach 50, to meet my sister.
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