My Sisters And Me, p.1
Lisa Dickenson is the pseudonym for Beyoncé. OK, FINE, THAT’S NOT TRUE.
Lisa lives by the Devon seaside, stuffing cream teas in the gobs of anyone who comes to visit, and writing stuff down that she hopes is funny. Her first novel was the copyright-infringing Sweet Valley Twins: The Twins Holiday Horror, which she wrote in primary school and gave up on after five pages. Twenty-ish years later Lisa went on to be a real author and wrote the Novelicious Debut of the Year, The Twelve Dates of Christmas, and never looked back.
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Also by Lisa Dickenson
The Twelve Dates of Christmas
You Had Me at Merlot
Mistletoe on 34th Street
Catch Me if You Cannes
Published by Sphere
All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Copyright © Lisa Dickenson 2018
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher.
The publisher is not responsible for websites (or their content) that are not owned by the publisher.
Little, Brown Book Group
50 Victoria Embankment
London, EC4Y 0DZ
My Sisters And Me
Table of Contents
About the Author
Also by Lisa Dickenson
Dedicated to the sisterhood,
my Strong Women Squad
Emmy shifted in her seat, the hard plastic as unforgiving as her hangover. ‘Come on, Jared, you know we haven’t done anything wrong.’
‘This is clearly a case of Maplewood bullshittery,’ Rae scoffed next to her, peeling fragmented pigments of last night’s lipstick from her mouth and dropping them on the table like a pink pile of ash. ‘This town ain’t big enough for the three of us.’
PC Jared Jones mirrored Emmy’s shuffling, uncomfortable under the gaze of the three sisters. ‘How can I not bring you in for questioning? The misdemeanours are stacking up against you.’
‘Please tell us exactly what we’ve done wrong?’ prompted Noelle, who sat up straight, business-face on, the knowledge of the law behind her unwavering smile.
Emmy pushed her hair away from her face, and feeling something against her fingers, pulled a small leaf from the tangles. She met Jared’s eye for a second.
He refocused on his paperwork, a blush creeping out from under his collar. ‘I’ve had reports of theft, criminal damage, threatening language, antisocial behaviour, disturbing the peace, breaking and entering, devil worship, kidnapping —’
‘Alleged kidnapping,’ Noelle interrupted.
‘It’s all alleged,’ sighed Emmy.
‘Then help me out here, ladies,’ said Jared, holding his head in his hands. ‘You can’t keep this silence up. Where is she? Where’s the mayor?’
In Hyde Park, London, the late summer sun was already dipping, as if it knew September began tomorrow, and it wanted an early night before the task of reddening the leaves was here. Rae Lake was ‘backstage’ in a pop-up trailer, warming up her voice to play Musetta in a stripped-down alfresco performance of La Bohème, her curtain call in twenty minutes. She stood in a sumptuous red satin gown, furry slipper boots and a black hoodie while she waited to go on.
Next to her, her husband Finn was popping Tangfastics and keeping her company.
‘I am so looking forward to not having to wear a pissing dress for two whole months,’ she said, the corset gripping her tightly.
‘Me too,’ agreed Finn, and she smiled at him.
‘Are you sticking around for the whole thing or do you think you’ll go and get a burger?’
‘I’ll stick it out, it’s a nice evening. Plus, you’re bloody good in this part and I like being all smug-face in the audience telling people you’re my wife.’
Rae grinned. ‘It sucks that this has fallen on our last night together though. Bad planning on my part. As soon as the show’s over, let’s go and grab a bite to eat.’
‘You don’t want to go for cast drinks?’
‘Christ, no. I want to hang out with you. I’ll see them all again in what’ll feel like no time at all.’ Rae was a soprano for the London Operatic Society, a musical style her younger, rock-obsessed self would never have imagined becoming her life.
Finn wrapped a big bear arm around her waist and snuggled her over to him. ‘Are you going to miss me, missus?’
‘No, I just want to get one final bone in before I go and sow my oats in Maplewood.’ Of course she would miss him. Rae had one soft spot, and it was Finn-shaped. They met when he was freelancing as a sound engineer for the Royal Variety Performance eight years ago. She came offstage so pumped from being part of a Phantom of the Opera medley that she felt on top of the world, and told him she wanted to take him home. He was six-foot-seven to her five-five, large in tummy, huge in heart, and with dark-rimmed glasses and a big dark beard. He was her bear, and four years later they married near Abbey Road Studios.
‘On a scale of one to ten, where are your stress levels about tomorrow?’ Finn released her and went back to the Tangfastics.
‘My stress levels are non-existent. Apart from the fact I haven’t packed a single thing yet. I’m looking forward to some time off, hanging with my sisters, spending some time at the house again. What I am worried about is the other two.’
Rae, middle sister Emmy, and their youngest sister Noelle were heading south to Maplewood, Devon – their home town. Leaving tomorrow afternoon, they were embarking on a two-month sabbatical from their respective jobs around the country, plus a bit of holiday leave tagged on, to go back to the place they grew up, despite not having returned for more than fleeting visits since their school days.
Now, apparently, they all thought they were Kirstie Allsopp and at their mother, Willow’s, request, the sisters were reuniting to renovate the family home. Willow had become quite the adventurer since their father passed a little over a year ago, and no longer needed a huge, crumbling house in the woods to herself. The idea was that, while Willow was away on another of her world cruises, the girls would have a clear-out, spruce the place up and whack it on Airbnb for all those months of the year that their mum was s
The sisters, super-close, but in an arms-distance kinda way, hadn’t spent this much time together in years.
‘How’s Emmy doing? She nervous?’ Finn asked.
‘Emmy has a huge stick up her arse at the best of times, so two months in Maplewood in a crumbling house and a power struggle between three siblings is making her super-chill, as you can imagine.’ Rae was half kidding. She loved her little sister, who was quiet and careful and so independent she’d forged a career working for the space programme, but she really hoped she could relax on this break. Emmy, more than any of them, had a real aversion to going back to where she grew up and reliving old memories, and their father’s death the year before had only made the canyon deeper. If ever Emmy could find an excuse to transport their mother from Devon to Oxford, instead of her having to go home, she’d taken it.
‘It’ll be fine,’ Rae continued. ‘I doubt we’ll even recognise the town, let alone the people, any more.’ She wished she actually knew, in her heart, that these next two months would be smooth sailing for the three of them. Growing up, Rae was always the one to protect her sisters when the bullying and the rumours got too much – or before it even reached them – but they were all adults now. The pettiness and the cruelty was behind them. Rae just didn’t want to spend nine-plus weeks on edge, listening for whispers in the walls.
‘Right.’ She whipped off the hoodie, needing to shake out of this concern and focus on her performance. ‘You fuck off and I’ll see you at the end.’
Finn stood and gave her a warm kiss. ‘Good luck, lady.’
‘Love you, bear.’
Off he went and she composed herself into Rae the Opera Singer. She applied a last coat of lipstick and smoothed the goddamned dress. At least Noelle seemed to be looking forward to the trip, but then she was the epitome of the hippy love child their mother and father had once been, so she was generally happy about everything. Funny girl. Emmy might be a work in progress. They really had been so close growing up, even with four years’ difference between the youngest, Noelle, now twenty-nine, and Rae, the oldest at thirty-three. They had to be. And man, it would be good to be back living under the same roof again.
Rae put on a huge, genuine smile, felt the tingling sensation ripple through her as the anticipation and excitement of going on stage flooded her veins. Many years ago, she got this rush from being Maplewood’s wild child – from being in her rock band, drinking, sneaking out of the house and smoking with her friends at the top of the hill. Now it came from this: from belting out her voice and seeing those that used to drag her and her family down stand up and applaud her. It felt good.
She still liked a drink though. Mmmm, gin.
While her sister was captivating an audience from the London stage that evening, Emmy Lake was working late. She sat in her robotics lab at the European Space Agency’s Science and Innovation Campus in Harwell, near Oxford, hunched over, unaware that most of her colleagues had left for the day. Quite a while ago. She was so close to finishing her new piece of machine vision technology that even one giant leap by mankind across the floor of the lab wouldn’t have been able to break her concentration.
Sure, she had tomorrow as well, one final day of work before her two-month sabbatical, but she knew she wouldn’t be able to sleep tonight with excitement if she left without testing her creation.
Emmy was living her dream: after graduating from university ten years ago, she’d joined the ESA as an Aerospace Engineer. After spending most of her career working on spacecraft design via her computer screen, she’d recently progressed to the exciting (and trendy!) world of robotics and automation. And she loved it. Knowing that the things she was literally holding and making with her own two hands could end up out there in space, going about their little jobs in the ways she taught them, well, that was almost like being up in space herself. It was like sending her children up into space. In a good way.
She started to softly hum the Star Wars theme tune to herself as she neared the end of her testing. She was going to miss this place. They say there’s no place like home, but here was her home now. Here in the lab, in the Innovation Centre. She thought of Harwell as ‘Space Town’, and it was exactly the kind of town she used to dream of growing up in – full of like-minded people who looked up to the universe and explored it with not only their imagination, but with their brains. She was at home here.
‘Enough, Emmy,’ she scolded herself. She’d promised to keep an open mind. This was a good chance to reconnect with her sisters, and although it made her a bit sick with worry on what she’d miss out on, she really should take some time off work once in a while.
She sat back in her seat and beamed to herself. It worked. Her technology worked. She felt a million dollars, like the inventor George Devol, or Anthony Hopkins’s character from Westworld. She had made a tiny robot! ‘I’m your mum,’ she whispered, before packing it away carefully into dust-proof casing.
Emmy looked at the clock. It was closing on nine p.m. now. She should get home and pack, since Rae was picking her up tomorrow evening almost as soon as she got home.
She contemplated taking her baby robot home with her – it wrenched her to leave it here, sleeping alone. But no. It would be okay. It had to fend for its little self while she was on leave, as did she. Which was ridiculous really, because she loved living alone and when she got to Maplewood she’d be – for the first time since university – sleeping under the same roof as other people. But there was something about Maplewood that meant no matter how surrounded she was by her sisters, her parents, the woods, she felt more alone than ever.
Noelle Lake had given up on packing. She’d plonked all of her things to take on the floor, but as the last two hours of August began their countdown, she sat cross-legged on her sofa in Bristol with a huge bowl of ice cream and her eyes glued to Stranger Things. Also scattered around her were legal briefs for court the next day, one with a huge stain from a blob of Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie that had flung itself from her spoon when she jumped at one of the scenes on the TV.
For an environmental lawyer, the irony was not lost on Noelle that her own home often resembled an environmental hazard.
Noelle was intrigued about going home to Maplewood. It would be a very interesting situation, she had no doubt. She wouldn’t say she was as excited as Rae seemed (though Rae was queen at putting on a front, and Noelle highly suspected she wasn’t quite as mad-keen as she was making out), but she definitely wasn’t as trepidatious as Emmy. It would just be interesting, to see how the town had evolved, how the three of them would cope living back in the same four walls as each other, that’s if they had it in them to completely renovate the family home without cocking it all up or burning it down.
What time was it in Peru? Her brain, as usual, flittered about from one thing to another, though she always kept a handle on where each thought had been left off.
Peru was six hours behind at this time of year, which meant it was around five in the afternoon. She paused Stranger Things, scooped up another spoonful of ice cream, and reached for her phone.
It took eight rings before her mother, Willow, picked up, sounding out of breath and a little annoyed. ‘What, darling?’ she used as a greeting.
‘Mum! How’s Peru? How’s the Inca Trail? Are you in the middle of hiking?’
‘No, I’d just flaming well finished hiking for the day, taken my boots off, unleashed my poor smelly feet into the air and had settled down for a glass of toddy. Then you ring and I have to go charging off up a hill to get better reception. What’s wrong? Can’t you get in the house? I told you you’d forget your key.’
‘No, no, we’re heading there tomorrow evening. I’m still at home. I’m eating ice cream and watching TV. I forgot I’d bought a job lot of Ben & Jerry’s when there was an offer in Tesco a couple of w
‘That is a hardship, so comparable to my situation.’ Her mother made one of those long, low exhalation noises that everyone past their mid-twenties does when they stand up or sit down. ‘Just settling down on a rock. It is quite a spectacular view from up here.’
‘Are you having a lovely time?’
‘Oh yes, we get to Machu Picchu tomorrow. Your dad would have loved it over here, the scenery is straight out of National Geographic.’
‘He loved a good landscape. How’s the walking?’
‘Fine, fine; there’s life in this old girl yet.’
‘Plenty.’ Noelle smiled into the phone. She wanted to be her mum when she grew up: full of life. Rae got her no-nonsense attitude from her mother; Emmy had inherited her ability to dream big and think far, far beyond the confines of her own homestead; and Noelle liked to think she was the happy hippy branch of her mother. The one that smiled in the face of adversity, cared for the earth around her and allowed her heart to be open to the world and all it had to offer.
‘So you’re heading home tomorrow?’ Willow asked.
‘Yep, tomorrow evening. I’ll be meeting Em and Rae at the house.’
‘I should tell you something…’
‘I know when you girls normally come home you stay very close. Too close, sometimes, it’s like you think you’re quarantined in the house. But moving back for a couple of months means you’ll have to get out and about.’
‘I know, I’m actually looking forward to it. It feels like for ever since we went into the centre of Maplewood.’