Thursday, 4 October 2012

Dinner Date

Honestly meeting your own sister for dinner is not supposed to be such a nerve wracking event. I love my big sister dearly, but Brad Pitt she is not! Still I find that while I sit alone at the table in one of the best Italian restaurants in the city I keep straightening my clothes and hair. I have been in to the ladies four times, and each time I have re-fixed my immaculate chestnut bob and carefully retouched my already perfect make-up. I had to lay off of the perfume a bit though or she would tell me off. She cannot stand the type of woman who sprays herself head to toe in scent, having decided that only smokers and wag wannabes feel the need to smell that strongly. I am neither. I am a mother.

I check and re-check my reflection in the floor length mirrors to ensure that my children haven’t covered me in too much gunk before I left home, but can’t see anything for a change. My son, Benjamin is a boisterous 5 year old boy. He is forever climbing, sliding on his knees and jumping around and as a result is always filthy. My husband and I often joke about Ben not being able to walk; he sort of hops, skips and rolls on the floor to get around. Millie, my 3 year old is far more prim and proper. She takes tiny, dainty little steps on her tippy toes, but yet still manages to be covered in dirt and food for large parts of every day. Thank goodness for baths and washing machines! I feel so sorry for women who had to raise their children without modern appliances for back up; frankly I would be on my knees!

The restaurant is heaving with young, good looking twenty something’s (who apparently don’t fear carbs unlike the media would have us believe), all out on a Friday night trying to find some fun after a week of hard graft. It’s been a while since I’ve been out and I find it shocking to see so many people crammed in to one space, those of us with tables are lucky as the bar is full of people waiting and even some of those people are having to stand as there are no more seats. I have no idea how my sister managed to secure a booking at such short notice. No one seems to mind standing though, everyone seems to be laughing or smiling as they chat animatedly with their companions. My stomach gives a small growl as yet another plate of delicious looking food wafts past my table, I cannot wait to eat and have already decided what I’m having. Now I just have to resist the temptation to look at the menu yet again and change my mind another ten times. Frankly everything sounds wonderful.

“Sorry Connie, terrible call to deal with at the end of the day” My sister announces her arrival in typical style. I jump slightly, caught off guard by daydreams of food. On seeing her all my careful preparation flies out of the window and I revert to feeling like the world’s scruffiest troll! My sister is stunning! She has the most glorious straight black mane of hair and the most perfect size ten hour-glass figure-toned to perfection in one of the most exclusive gyms in London. It’s so unfair that someone with such a teeny, tiny waist can still manage to have such full breasts and such a cute bottom and the stunning nude trouser suite she is wearing probably cost as much as my entire wardrobe. Add to that the fact that she is well travelled, intelligent and extremely popular; if she wasn’t my sister I would totally hate her. “You look stunning”! I cry enthusiastically, “how is it possible for you to still look so great at the end of the day? I don’t look that good at the start of my day!” She laughs dryly and compliments me on my outfit (a simple plain black wrap around dress). I thank her even though I don’t believe a word of it! After all, as a defence lawyer I suspect that she is paid to stretch the truth somewhat.

My husband is a Detective in the Met, and the family joke is that he arrests the criminals and my sister gets them off. Its funny how sometimes jokes like this can turn a bit sour. As she sits down she asks if I waited long, and I lie and tell her I didn’t. We do this every time we meet even though I am well known for always being early and she for always being late. Although according to our mother it was the other way round at birth. We secretly think she confused the stories of our births because that would have been the first and last time.

The waiter finally arrives with the drinks I ordered more than half an hour ago. Louisa downs the Gin and Tonic I had ordered for her as soon as the waiter places it on to the table, “Can I order another G&T and whatever she’s having?” she asks immediately before telling me that it may be some time before we see him again given how busy it is. “I’ll have the same again please” I request politely and turn my attentions back on to my sister asking her why she’s a regular if the service is that bad. Apparently she dines here with clients from her firm and has become quite friendly with the owner. My hopes are raised that perhaps there might be a little romance bubbling, I ask her about it but she doesn’t acknowledge my question.

“How are you? How are the children and Tony?” she asks, I assure her that everyone is fine and start to try to amuse her with funny stories about things the children have done or said, usually my sister is the most attentive listener to tales about my children, she is such an adoring Aunty. Today however she has a more pressing issue to discuss (the very issue that I wish we could avoid naturally), “Is Tony still mad at me Con”? As I look in to her face I see a hint of desperation, it’s been years since I have seen this expression on her face (perhaps the last time was when she was pleading with me to let her wear my luminous odd socks aged about 12, hers having been stolen in the school changing room after Mum had warned her not to wear them in and she felt she had to be seen wearing them at home to cover her tracks. I conceded but mum wasn’t fooled for a second, she expected us to both produce our socks before dinner. Rather than pass the blame on to me Louisa owned up and took her ‘I told you so’ lecture, my sister was very honourable despite her fun loving nature. I gave her my socks after that anyway. I wasn’t bothered about luminous socks despite my keen interest in fashion. I was always more interested in making other people feel good about themselves, which is quite fitting given that I am a part-time nurse and full-time mother now.

“No” I assert firmly. “Antony never was mad at you personally. He was just so angry that the legal system allowed someone so obviously guilty of such horrendous crimes to walk away scot free on a technical error. It was pretty disgusting”. I realise too late that I am shaking my head disdainfully but offer no apology. The truth might be slightly hurtful but it doesn’t make it any less true after all. Louisa’s mouth opens, no doubt with the intention of jumping to her clients defence, but she catches herself just in time. It was such a difficult situation for Antony and Louisa. Antony has been part of a massive investigation involving someone who had apparently made millions out of trafficking children. He was so over the moon that they had finally nailed this guy and a number of his gang, got them off of the streets and even managed to save a number of victims not to mention scores of potential victims. Then this vermin hires my own sister as his lawyer. It was the first time this had ever happened and it was so stressful because it meant that we couldn’t spend time together and to be honest I think Antony was quite disgusted that she even agreed to defend him. To be fair someone else in her firm should have done so, but she took it on. She perhaps didn’t want to turn down such a high profile case when she was close to a partnership in such a lucrative city law firm. Well the man in question obviously struck gold because my sister is brilliant at her job, she has always been brilliant at everything she has ever done and never even needed to make much effort. She didn’t even have to work hard on this case. It was handed to her on a plate as she was able to get him off because the address on the arrest warrant had been incorrect. Not even a massive mistake, just a typo. Of course the press had been all over this story. They made the police, and therefore my Antony look like blundering idiots. Louisa and he had serious words in the court, neither of them have been willing to tell me exactly what get said as they don’t want me put any further in to the middle of this family dispute but I gather things got very heated and very personal, and they haven’t seen each other since. Worse still other gang members are yet to have their trials and perhaps their cases won’t even get to court after what happened. In a way I am secretly hoping that they won’t just because I cannot stand the thought of Antony and Louisa going head to head again. I know how awful and selfish that sounds. It’s been a very difficult situation, but she is my sister, and I adore her so we will get over it.

“If he isn’t mad at me still then what are we doing here?” she demands. “Actually I just wanted to talk to you myself” I tell her, which is mostly true, although I’m in no rush for those two to be in the same room again. I think the fact that they do genuinely care very much for each other just made this whole situation so much worse. Each feels very let down by the other. You see Louisa and Antony had been friends before he and I started dating. They had mutual friends and we only met when Louisa dragged me off to a party that Antony was attending. Later she told me that she was determined to set her newly dumped sister up with this Mr Nice-Guy who she knew would be at least a fun fling. She was only too happy to then follow me down the aisle two years later.

The waiter approaches us breezily and places our drinks down. “One gin and tonic and one sparkling mineral water” he announces to my annoyance, “Would you care to place an order? Louisa’s eyes never leave mine; I hate it when she does that. I always feel like she is invading my brain and stealing my thoughts when she fixes me with that stare. “I’ll have the green salad to start, followed by the lobster risotto” even though I am frozen to the spot and can barely breathe I manage to order the vegetable soup followed by spaghetti carbonara. “You’re pregnant”!!! My sister practically screams with delight! “You are aren’t you?” I nod my agreement suddenly feeling very coy under what feels like the glare of the whole restaurant. We leap up and hug enthusiastically. Her reaction is exactly what I was hoping for. I know that no matter what happened between her and Antony they will both at least share in the joy of the new baby. She asks all of the right questions, how far gone? – 10 weeks, what we want? – we don’t mind, who have we told yet? - she is the first (I think she gets a kick out of that) and so on.

Time flies and before I know it the waiter is clearing the plates from our starters. I am so relaxed and loving the fact that my sister and I are having the first uninterrupted conversation in a long time. “Can you believe that it will be Christmas in ten weeks?” I ask, “I hope that you will be able to help me fend Mum off from over feeding me and drink the endless Guinness’s Nan tries to make me drink for the iron” I laugh remembering last time I managed to be pregnant over the festive season. “Actually I’m going away for Christmas this year” Louisa replies without skipping a beat. Through my bewilderment I notice that she is looking down at the table cloth. She is fully aware then that this is not a popular decision. “Since when?” I demand, “If this is about Antony” I continue not allowing her to answer (not that she tries as she knows what I’m like) “then I think it’s very childish of you. You are family” I persist “and nothing should come between you, least not work issues”. I stop speaking as I can see that I have lost this discussion. Not that there is a discussion. Her face is set and she will not move an inch. I know her too well to think differently.

The main course arrives but my appetite already left. We haven’t ever spent a single Christmas apart. Not ever. Even when we were at university we always turned down offers of free holidays and travelled home for the festive season. Our mum is known in the family as Mrs Christmas. She hosts celebrations over the main three days and all the family attend at least one day. Trust me you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Our childhood Christmases are the most treasured of my memories. They are snuggled carefully away in my memory bank and brought out whenever I am feeling sad. They always succeed in making me feel loved and special. “It has nothing to do with Tony” she tells me but I remain unconvinced, “I just fancy a change”. I remind her that it’s Mum she really has to face and ask where she intends to go, but she admits that she has nothing booked. That gives me hope. Mum might be able to talk her round.

I hardly eat my food and to be honest Louisa’s food looks so much nicer than mine. She sees me eyeing her plate and sighs as she swaps them over. “Every time you are pregnant you do this” she accuses, “you just instantly go off of your food and start coveting mine. In future I’m just ordering the same meal as you. It’s so annoying” she grumbles but the twinkle in her eye makes me realise that she is as good natured as ever about my weird pregnancy habits! Feeling slightly sheepish I grin my thanks with a mouth full of lovely lobster. Bliss! I feel slightly bad as I know that Louisa hates creamy sauces but decide that her bones will thank me for the calcium.

“I want a baby” my sister whispers it so quietly, so wistfully that I almost don’t hear her. I’m so shocked I can barely move. I know she wants a partnership passionately, and I know she wants to move from her beautiful penthouse flat in to a proper house, and I even know she wants to finally meet Mr Right after splitting with Greg eight months ago after seven years together. But I had never thought she wanted a baby. She laughs at my shocked face but I can see no humour in her eyes. It turns out that my sister is very broody and after Greg made it clear that he would not consider the prospect of children Louisa left him, although she discovered via Facebook that within weeks of splitting with Louisa, Greg got together with a waitress who is now apparently five months gone. I feel sick on hearing all of this, not least because this is the first I have ever heard of it. I always thought my sister was the lucky one. She has no money worries, holidays at least three times a year, she has met all of her goals-always has done, so I thought.

“I know that you and actually most of the family think that my life is so perfect” she confides, “and in many ways it is. But I really do want a family of my own”. She then tells me that she just cannot face another Christmas with various relatives jibing her about career women not having babies and then leaving it too late, or insinuating that she is somehow selfish for not having a child yet. I can’t argue. She always seemed to take it all in such good humour, she says inside she wanted to cry, and of course she had Greg then. She had hope. Now here she is starting all over again aged 37, and suddenly she feels hope is fading. I assure her that she has plenty of time ahead of her for marriage and babies. At least that pig of an ex proves that these things can indeed happen in the blink of an eye in relative terms, and before I can stop myself I find that I am blurting out to her how jealous I am about her life. I tell her how I love her beautiful flat with the perfectly clean white walls. I tell her how on a Friday night when she is out having a wonderful time I am usually tucked up in bed by ten-far too tired to even watch the news. I tell her that while she works out at the gym for two hours four times a week I spend that exact amount of time ironing. I also tell her that I hated that fact that she was so good at Art and P.E at school whilst also getting straight A* grades in every other subject. I wouldn’t have been half as jealous I tell her if she had actually had to study hard for her grades, but she didn’t. She was Little Miss Popular always out with her friends and would just breeze her exams, I had to work night and day to get my B+ grades and was lousy at anything creative. “You aren’t even in a relationship” I yelp “and you totally have sex more often than me”!
“I’m not sure that you could get away with that in court” she informs me pointing to my tummy for evidence, “not even with me defending you”.

We laugh loudly and I know that we will be o.k. no matter what life chucks at us. That’s the thing about my sister and I, we really do love one another. “Honestly I feel so old and so frumpy” I tell her. I’m 35, with my third child on the way. I have no ‘me’ time and my figure has totally gone to pot! “Nonsense” she dismisses, “you look more beautiful than ever. You really do glow even when you aren’t pregnant. I put it down to contentment and happiness” she tells me, and she is right to a point I guess, because mostly I am very happy.

I laugh when I tell her, “the other week my friend Jenny and I took the children to the park, these two girls aged around 16 walked through the park, not shutting the gate that leads right on to a main road” I tut, “and look Jenny and I up and down in disgust”. I fill her in on the fact that not only were they young, slim and pretty but they clearly knew it and were flaunting themselves in tiny vest tops and shorts, “honestly I felt like the oldest, frumpiest, fattest woman in the whole world I tell my sister. She looks dumbfounded as she says that she is surprised I let them get away with that. “Oh I wouldn’t quite say I let them get away with it” I inform her coyly. “What did you do? If you slapped them I will defend you of course” she quips. “Oh no” I tell her, “I dealt with it far more effectively than that” I grin as I continue “You see, Ben and his friend were riding their scooters just next to them at one point so I stood up and yelled ‘Please be careful of the little girls. We don’t want you bumping in to them’. Oh god the outrage at being described even to a couple of five year olds as ‘little girls’” I laugh as does Louisa! I mimic their faces and we are in uproar! People stare at us but we are laughing so hard we just don’t care. “You haven’t lost it” Louisa applauds, “you could always cut a tree with your sharp tongue”. “And you” I tell her seriously “are a wonderful sister, and Aunt, and when you have children you will be a wonderful Mother without a doubt”.
“Thanks sis” she replies sincerely, “for saying when I have children and not if”. I shake my head and to change the subject by informing her that despite the great food I’m not sure if I will be eating here again, it’s far too crowded. “Ahh but you just have to” she counters “I just bought a 45% share in the place as a silent partner!” “You did what?” I stutter totally shocked! “I bought a share in the place” she shrugs like it’s no big deal. “I’ve been saving money for a long while, looking for some type of investment that was a little bit more personal than the stock market, and Paulo was looking for investment...” she trails off. “Are you both looking for a little bit more than a business venture?” I ask bluntly. She laughs but chooses not to furnish me with the answer. I instead she waves cheerfully to a very tall, very handsome forty-something Italian. I can see our mother swooning in my mind’s eye! Paulo approaches the table holding an ice bucket with a large looking bottle of Champaign nestling inside. “Will you join us with a small glass?” Louisa asks, and I do. “Cheers!” she offers her glass and the three of us make a toast to successful new ventures.

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