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icons by Aimala and Babaloney

 

Snapshots - A Holidays Sequel
[WIP - Modern/NC17]

in which we find out what happened in the first year of marriage...

Part one

Winter

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Once Christmas and New Year were over, it was almost impossible to believe that there had ever been a holiday, Elizabeth thought, as she plodded upstairs one Friday night after work. The ice hotel had been wonderful but seemed so long ago now. Going out for a sleigh ride, snuggled up in warm blankets with William as they sped over a frozen lake under the twinkling stars, and saw the sparkling icicles hanging from the pine trees, had made her laugh with delight. Even Christmas morning, being woken by two giddy children who were far too old to believe in Father Christmas but were still excited enough to be up at 6am, seemed half an age ago. Now they were in their new house, and the memories of the nightmare weekend spent moving two homes into one were fading. The furniture was in place and all their possessions had been unpacked.

She reached the bedroom and stripped off her suit, throwing the jacket and skirt onto the bed. Walking into the en suite bathroom still gave her a little thrill as she had not yet become blasť about the new found luxury in her life. She lazily dropped her blouse and underwear onto the floor before stepping into the shower, and wondered why time seemed to have speeded up recently. She was wrapped in a towel and drying her hair by the time William appeared upstairs, tugging at the tie around his neck and grumbling at the need to shave before going out.

Elizabeth and William were due to attend a rather smart dinner, something to do with a charitable foundation to which Pemberley was donating money, Elizabeth had gathered. She finished getting dry and began to get dressed. She found that it was more of a struggle to get into her close-fitting evening dress than it should have been.

"I hate being on the pill," Elizabeth grumbled. "Makes me feel really rubbish. Fat and horrible."

"You're neither fat nor horrible," William said, fumbling with his bow tie. "And if it makes you feel bad, come off it."

"Yes, but condoms. Urgh."

"Who says we have to use condoms?"

"What?" Elizabeth said, startled for a moment then regaining her composure. "Are you sure you mean what I think you mean?"

"Yes," William replied, smiling with a twinkle in his eye. "We both said we wanted a family. Let's make babies."

She laughed at his sincerity tied up with the quirky phraseology.

"Well, put like that, we'd better get making fairly soon," Elizabeth said. "At my age, it might take a while to conceive, so .."

"So, lots of practising?" William asked hopefully.

"You're terrible!" Elizabeth said, swatting him playfully.

"Mmm, you know, I thought I was rather good," he said, nuzzling at her neck. "You always tell me I am. Can we begin practising right now?"

"No! We have to get ready to go out. And I have to stop taking the pill. And the chemicals have to get out of my system, and .. well, just don't get too hopeful, OK?"

"OK," William said, conceding to her serious intent. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to trivialise things."

"Don't be daft," Elizabeth said, kissing him quickly before he let her go. "It's just .... I'd love it if we had a baby but we only have to look at Charles and Jane to see that it's not straightforward. It's taken them 15 years. It might not happen at all for us. We haven't got 15 years."

"I know," William said quietly, taking her in his arms. "And if it doesn't happen, then so be it. But if it does, you will be the most marvellous mother in the world and this time I'm going to be a proper Dad."

"You already have two kids who think you are a good Dad, you know."

Hours later, at the dinner dance, William's expression still glazed over ever now and then as Elizabeth's words came back to him.

~ * ~

Elizabeth was pleased, and a little surprised, at how easily they had all adapted to being together, and to having new routines. Ally was still revelling in the fact that she was no longer away at boarding school, and would gleefully read out to Elizabeth bits of emails from one or two friends at her old school as they grumbled to her about the restrictions they faced. Sam had settled in to the new school quite quickly once he found a few sports-mad boys to hang around with, and although he had complained at first about the strict new uniform, he had soon got used to wearing a tie and a blazer. There had been a few arguments and one fight, but nowhere near the friction between two teenagers as Elizabeth had feared in her more pessimistic moments. William had been the one who had found it hardest to adjust, as he was completely unused to having people around him all the time, and much as he loved them all, Elizabeth knew there were moments when he disappeared to his study just so he could have some peace.

Elizabeth got home after a late meeting to hear the noise of two competing stereo systems coming from upstairs, one belting out Galaxy FM, and the other playing what seemed to her to be yet another indistinguishable guitar band, although she knew Sam would groan if she said she couldn't tell one of his indie bands from another. She knew where to go to find the man she wanted. She found William in his study, reclining in his big leather chair, eyes shut and headphones on. She tapped him gently on his arm.

"Oh!" he jumped, startled, then smiled as he took his headphones off, breaking Elgar's spell. "Hi!"

"Didn't mean to make you jump," Elizabeth said, leaning over and kissing him. "Everything OK?"

"Fine," he replied, glad that she was home. He had been worrying about the length of her working day, and the amount of travelling she was doing, and was waiting for the opportunity to propose an idea.

"Have they been annoying you?" she asked, gesturing upstairs. "You should tell them to keep it down. I would never have guessed that you would turn out to be such a soft touch with them."

"Ally's so happy to be home, I can't possibly tell her off," William admitted. "And Sam looked so stricken that one time I yelled at the two of them."

Elizabeth grimaced, remembering the occasion. Sam and Ally had spent a whole evening winding each other up about an incident at school, culminating in Ally throwing a jug of bath water at Sam, who had promptly retaliated by flushing her lip gloss down the toilet. William's flash of anger had resulted in Ally disappearing behind a slammed bedroom door in tears, Sam going pale and hiding in his room for the rest of the evening, and William feeling guilty for about a week. Elizabeth had made them all sit down at the kitchen table to work out some rules, and there had been no major incidents since then.

"They're doing their homework, although I don't know how they can concentrate with that amount of noise," William said. "Anyway, how are you? Meeting OK? Want to eat?"

"Yeah, not bad," Elizabeth said, yawning and following him through to the kitchen. "And yes to eating, I'm starving. Haven't had anything since lunchtime, and even then I only had a sandwich."

"Sit down," William said firmly, although Elizabeth was more than willing to comply. She sank onto a kitchen chair and sighed as William poured a glass of wine for her. As she sipped her wine and began to relax, she watched him busy himself about the kitchen. He took a plate of cold chicken out of the fridge, assembled a salad, grabbed a knife and fork and some bread, and set it all out in front of her.

"Thanks," she said, smiling. "You know, when I first met you, I never would have had you down as the domesticated type."

"But I lived more or less on my own for years," William reminded her. "Mrs R only really came in full time during the school holidays."

"She used to cook dinners for you though."

"True, and very nice they were too," William agreed. "But not every day. And not the last few years, when I was trying to convince her that she needed to cut down the amount of work she was doing."

"She enjoyed her job," Elizabeth said. "It was easy to see how much she loved looking after you."

"Talking about cutting down on work," William began, then hesitated. He knew how much Elizabeth enjoyed her job, but also could see how tired she was getting.

"Mm hmm?" Elizabeth mumbled as she ate. "Are you thinking of giving up working all together?" He had already taken on a deputy and reduced the hours he spent at work.

"No, not me."

"What?" Elizabeth asked. "Are you telling me you want me to give up my job?"

William hadn't wanted to leap straight into this conversation and was annoyed that he hadn't foreseen that Elizabeth would see right through him.

"No, not that you should give up working. But I worry about you, coming home this late, being so tired."

"Yes, I know, you've said so before," Elizabeth replied. "And its sweet that you worry but there's no need. I'm fine. And besides, I'm not built to be a lady of leisure. You know that. I'd go mad if I had nothing to do."

"Yes, I know, and I'm not suggesting you stop working," William said. "But I've been thinking about something you said ages ago. What would you have to do to be a GP?"

"A GP?" Elizabeth asked, slightly startled by the turn of the conversation. "Well, I did my training but never practised, so I could do a refresher programme, which would take about 6 months, then try to get a partnership. Or work as a locum."

"Or work part time?"

"Yes, I think so, but it would depend on the practice," Elizabeth said. "What's all this in aid of, William?"

"I was talking to Ellen this afternoon," William replied. "She said she'd taken Danny in to the surgery this morning, and that there are ten doctors in the practice but half of them are part time. And it got me thinking about how you said once that you'd always wanted to be a GP, and I worry about you and your hours, and if we... well, you know, if we're lucky and we do have a baby, and maybe you'd not want to work full time...." He tailed off, feeling that he was being far too incoherent to make sense.

"A part time GP?" Elizabeth said, half to herself. It was something she had scarcely allowed herself to dream about; since her latest promotion she had regretted the move away from clinical work but had not imagined how she might get back to it.

"Just think about it, that's all," William said. "No need to make a decision, but promise me you'll consider it. If it is something you still want."

"I'll consider it, I promise," Elizabeth said thoughtfully.

In bed later that night, with William curled up behind her, holding her close to him as he liked to after they had made love, she listened to his deep, regular breathing that let her know he was asleep, and let her mind drift over what he had said earlier. Pictures of herself at home in the afternoons, reading a book while a little baby slept, or baking as Sam and Ally got in from school, or sitting in a nice new consulting room on a sunny morning, flitted through her drowsy mind. She fell asleep sighing happily as she wondered who to phone the next day.

Glossary: a locum is a doctor who fills in for another, either while that person is on holiday, or away for a longer period of time. Same idea as bank or agency nursing.

part two

Spring

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After a few weeks of consistently miserable, damp weather, spring seemed to arrive overnight in mid March, coinciding with Mary's return home from Japan.

"Are you really staying this time?" Sam asked her as they sat down for the dinner that Elizabeth had organised to welcome Mary home.

"That's the plan," Mary said. "I've got a job, and Nick's got his work visa." She smiled at Nick as he came into the dining room and took his place opposite her.

"Have you got a job, Nick?" William asked, bringing in dishes of food.

"Not yet," Nick replied. "But I've got the names of a few agencies, and I'm told it's not too hard to pick up teaching jobs in London."

"And we've got a flat," Mary said.

"Oh, where?" Elizabeth asked as she set the last few dishes down on the table.

"Earl's Court," Mary laughed. "Thought Nick might like to feel at home, there's more Aussies there than Brits!"

"Hang on a minute," Jane said, slowly catching on. "You're going to live together?"

"Mm hmm," Mary said, grinning and nodding.

"Are you getting married?" Elizabeth asked. She was having difficulty picturing Mary, who had seemed rather free spirited in recent years, settling down and being part of a couple.

"We've talked about it, and if living together works out, then yeah, we'll get married," Mary said, smiling at Nick.

"Well, good luck," William said. "And Nick, welcome to England."

"Thanks," Nick replied, raising his glass to return the toast. "Health and happiness."

"Health and happiness," chorused the rest of the happy gathering.

"So, Lizzie," Charles said, as everyone began to help themselves to the food set out in front of them. "Tell us about this new venture of yours. You're going to retrain as a family doctor?"

"Not retraining exactly," Elizabeth said, and began to explain how she had been lucky enough to find a placement at a training practice in Kingston-Upon-Thames, where she would begin work once she had completed her notice period in her current job. "It's more like a refresher. But, in twelve months' time, with any luck, I'll be a GP and I'll be working just a couple of miles down the road."

"That's fantastic," Jane said. "It's all working out, isn't it? You're all coming home." She smiled at Elizabeth, then at Mary, as Charles squeezed her hand under the table. "Sorry, I can't help it," she continued, wiping a tear from her eye. "I get so emotional these days."

"What do you mean, 'these days'?" Mary asked, teasing gently. "You always were the soppy one!"

By the time the meal was over, Elizabeth was convinced that everyone's faces must be aching from the amount of talking and laughing that had been going on. Mary was a very funny story teller, and had kept them all entertained with tales of her exploits. After her emotional outburst earlier, Jane had been very quiet, and was happy when Charles suggested they should go home as she had begun to feel rather tired.

"Are you feeling OK?" Elizabeth asked.

"Fine, if feeling like a beached whale is fine," Jane grumbled. "It sounds stupid, I know, but I spent so much time longing to be pregnant, and now I'm longing not to be!"

"When do I get to be an aunty again?" Mary asked. "When's the baby due?"

"Yesterday," Charles said.

"What?" Mary squawked. "Go home now, lie down, keep your knees together!"

"Shut up, Mary," Jane laughed. "You're talking nonsense."

"Take care," Elizabeth said, hugging Jane and then Charles. "And let us know if there's any news."

"Of course," Charles said. He smiled, but his smile was a weary and rather worried one. The tension of waiting for this much longed-for baby to arrive had begun to get to him.

"OK," Elizabeth said, turning back into the house after waving them off. "Bedtime for you two, I think."

"Do we have to?" moaned Ally.

"No, not at all," William said. "In fact, why don't I go to bed while you clear up in the dining room, get the dishwasher loaded, wash the glasses..."

"OK, OK, Dad, got the picture," Ally sighed as she went upstairs, followed by Sam. "Night night."

"Sweet dreams," Elizabeth said. "Have a lie in tomorrow."

Elizabeth hadn't realised how late they had all slept in until the phone woke her the next morning. She stared blearily at the clock as her sluggish brain worked out that the insistent noise was the telephone. She jumped out of bed and stumbled out to the landing to answer on the upstairs extension.

"Hello?"

"Hi, Lizzie? It's Charles. Congratulations, you're an aunty."

"What? Really? Oh, Charles, congratulations!" Elizabeth said, waking up fully. "Boy or girl?"

"A little girl. She's called Emilia. Arrived at half past 6 this morning."

"Oh, how wonderful! How's Jane?"

"She's tired, but everything went really well, quite quick really but it was all straightforward. She's having a little sleep now so I'm just phoning everyone."

"Well, give her my love, won't you?" Elizabeth said.

"I will," Charles replied, and yawned.

"Oh dear, you do sound tired!" Elizabeth said sympathetically. "Can we come in to see you all this afternoon, or will that be too much, do you think?"

"I'm sure Jane would love to see you," Charles said. "I'll ring you again later, OK? I'd better go, I don't want to be away for too long in case one of them wakes up."

"Of course," Elizabeth replied. "We'll see you soon."

"Yes, I hope so."

Charles rang off, and Elizabeth returned to the bedroom, finding William half awake.

"Funny time to be ringing," he mumbled.

"It was Charles. Jane had the baby at half past 6. It's a girl, Emilia."

"This morning? Wow," William said. "No wonder she was feeling uncomfortable last night! How is she now?"

"Fine but tired, and having a little sleep," Elizabeth replied. "Charles is going to ring later, I said we might go in to see them."

"Yes, of course," William said. "Are you coming back to bed?"

Elizabeth saw the hopeful look on his face now that he had woken up fully, and smiled slowly, teasing him.

"Do you want me to come back to bed?"

"I always want you to come back to bed," he said, sitting up and reaching out to pull her towards him. His hands caressed the backs of her thighs, and she sighed with pleasure.

"Well, if you insist," she murmured, slipping into bed beside him.

~ * ~

"She is such a sweet little thing!" was a refrain Jane felt she had heard a hundred times by the time she left hospital. It was true, Emilia was the prettiest, loveliest baby yet born, she was sure of it. A walk around the maternity ward looking at some of the other babies had convinced her that she was right, even though she had nodded and agreed with other mums that yes, their baby was lovely. Charles was besotted with her, although Elizabeth had pointed out to him that having a baby monitor meant he didn't have to go upstairs every half an hour to check she was breathing for the first week she was at home.

"I know," Charles laughed. "But I almost have to keep pinching myself to be sure that she's here, she's not just a mirage."

"Just a little miracle," William said.

Elizabeth knew that it was likely to take some time, but couldn't help wondering whether another little miracle might happen soon. She had been making a conscious effort to eat regularly, and was finding that she had much more energy now she had changed jobs. She loved working in the surgery and was enjoying her retraining, having settled in very quickly with her new partners. Mary, who was a regular visitor to the Richmond house, told her she was glowing, one Saturday in April as they sat at the kitchen table having coffee.

"Have you got a reason for it?" Mary asked cheekily.

"Not as far as I'm aware," Elizabeth replied.

"But you wouldn't be complaining ...."

"Not at all!"

Sam came in to find them laughing, but froze on the spot when Elizabeth pointed and shouted "stop right there!"

"What?"

"What do you mean, what? Don't move one step further! You're covered in mud, what on earth have you been doing?"

Sam looked down at his jeans as if he had only just realised that he was caked in mud to just above his knees, and from his hands to his elbows.

"Oh, that," he replied casually. "I'm digging out a place for a jetty in the river bank, so my canoe can go there."

"A jetty?" Elizabeth said.

"What canoe?" Mary asked simultaneously.

"You remember," Sam said. "We decided to put in a jetty and then get canoes, then we can go up and down the river. Although I might ask William if I can have a boat instead. Anyway, can I have a drink?"

"Yes, there's Coke and juice in the fridge," Elizabeth said, waving her hand towards the fridge absentmindedly as she attempted to get a grip on what he had said.

"Well, I can't get one if I can't move," Sam said, shrugging. He took the bottle of Coke that Elizabeth handed him and wandered back outside. "Thanks!" he called over his shoulder as he went.

"I know what they've done," Elizabeth said. "They've got him on his own before I've got back from work one night. He'll agree to anything if he's trying to get a meal ready and make them do their homework, and listen to the news all at the same time."

"Where's Ally?" Mary asked. "Is she out there digging too?"

They both paused, looked at each other while almost identical images of Ally, with designer trousers, lip gloss and manicured nails, came into their minds, and began to laugh.

"No, perhaps not," Mary chuckled. "Where is she?"

"Shopping," Elizabeth said. "It's Saturday, therefore she shops. She's rather pleased with herself now she's 15, and reminds Sam every now and then that he's still only 14."

"What does he think of that?"

"He just reminds her how easily lip gloss flushes down the toilet!"

By the following weekend, Elizabeth had begun to suspect that there was, in fact, a very clear reason for 'the glow' as Mary put it. She checked and rechecked her diary, and decided to call into a chemist's in Kingston on the way home.

William arrived home, pleased to see that Elizabeth's car was already there. He could see by the way the little frown line on her forehead had got shallower in recent weeks that the shorter journey and the happier environment at work was making her happier and more relaxed.

"Hi, where are you?" he called as he went upstairs. He found her sitting on the bed looking thoughtful.

"Are you OK?" he asked, worried momentarily.

"I'm fine," she replied. "I've got something to tell you."

William spent the rest of Friday night in a daze. They went out for dinner as a family , as they often did, but as agreed beforehand, didn't mention the pregnancy to the children. Elizabeth had told William that she needed a while to get used to the idea, and to feel a little more secure in the pregnancy, before she told anyone, and he agreed. He fell asleep that night, thrilled with this new development, hardly able to believe it had happened so quickly.

By the following Sunday, Elizabeth had decided that the children should be told. The bone-wearying tiredness that she vaguely remembered from expecting Sam had begun to kick in, and she was sure they suspected that something was up. Thus it was that as the four of them sat down for breakfast, William spoke.

"We've got something to tell you," he began.

"Oh God," Alice groaned. "Don't say you're having a baby."

"What?" William said, startled. "How did you know?"

"I didn't. Shrewd guess. You can't tell us you're getting married 'cause you've already done that, so it must be a baby."

"Well, yes, you're right," Elizabeth said. "But..."

"Oh, it's OK," Alice said blithely. "I mean, I expected it, really. Didn't we?" She nudged Sam, who hadn't said a word or made eye contact yet with either Elizabeth or William.

"Yeah," he mumbled.

"So, congratulations and stuff," she continued, as she got up from the table. "But I'm not baby-sitting. Anyway, I'm going out with Cam and Lou, so I'll see you later, OK?"

"Hey, don't forget that Mary and Nick are coming for dinner!" William called as she strolled away. "We want to see you back here at some point."

"Yeah, yeah," Ally said, disappearing upstairs. She was followed by Sam.

"I'm going to rowing club," he muttered, leaving the kitchen.

Elizabeth and William stared at each other, dumbfounded.

"Well, I didn't think it would be anything like that," Elizabeth said.

"Who are Cam and Lou?" William asked. "Boys or girls?"

"I have no idea," Elizabeth said, feeling as if she suddenly barely knew the two children with whom she shared a house.

~ * ~

"So, how's it going with your new surgery?" Mary asked, as Elizabeth brought in the coffee tray after dinner .

"It's really nice," Elizabeth replied. "All the partners are great, there are five full time GPs, four part timers, and two trainees. It's a really good practice."

"How about you, Nick?" William asked. "Did you manage to find something?"

"Yes, pretty quickly, actually," Nick said. "And the school I'm in has a couple of Kiwis, an Aussie and a guy from South Africa, as well as me."

"Really?" Elizabeth asked, surprised. "Where are all the English teachers?"

"In Australia and Japan!" Mary answered, laughing. "So, have you seen Jane and Charles recently? Emilia's a cutie, I know, but I have never known anyone coo over a baby as much as Charles does!"

"Yes, but they've waited a long time for this to happen," Elizabeth said. "She's a very treasured baby."

"True," Mary agreed.

"Anyway, we have a bit of news too," Elizabeth said. "We're expecting."

"What?" Mary exclaimed. "Wow, congratulations! That's great news!"

There was a lull, and Mary sensed that something was wrong.

"What?" she asked. "What's up?"

"Nothing really," Elizabeth said slowly. "It's just .... we told the kids this morning, and Ally was totally blasť, and Sam hasn't spoken to me all day."

"Oh," Mary said thoughtfully, wondering how to reply tactfully. "Do you think they're upset?"

"Ally didn't seem upset, did she?" Elizabeth said, turning to William. "She just seemed to take it in her stride. But Sam ..."

"Where is he, anyway?" Nick asked. In the short time he had known Sam, he had become fond of him, and understood why Mary always talked so warmly about him.

"Oh! I don't know," Elizabeth said, wondering how he had managed to slide away once again without her noticing.

"Maybe he's upstairs," Mary said. "I need the loo, I'll check on him."

She went up to the upstairs bathroom, glancing in to find Sam's room empty and quiet. On her way back down, she looked out of the landing window, and noticed a hunched figure on the recently-completed jetty.

~ * ~

"Hey, Sam."

He recognised the voice but didn't reply, and hardly gave any sign that he had heard.

"Can I sit down?"

He looked up and nodded. Mary lowered herself carefully onto the planks of wood jutting out into the little river.

"You OK?"

"Yeah," he answered.

"Fibber," Mary said.

They sat quietly side by side for a while, watching the ducks on the other side of the stream, and idly tossing little twigs into the water.

"So, you going to tell me what's up, or are we staying out here 'til we get piles?" Mary asked, making Sam snigger although he tried to hide it.

"You know what's up," he said eventually.

"Your Mum and a new baby."

"Yeah."

"So, you're really mad about it, are you?"

"No."

"Looks that way to us," Mary said. "Your Mum's pretty upset."

"See, that's just it!" Sam flared. "We. Us. Mum's upset! What about me?"

"What about you, Sam?" Mary asked. "No-one knows what you think because you haven't talked to anyone all day. Come on, you haven't even talked to me! And we've been mates all your life, haven't we?"

"You say you're my mate but you think it's good that Mum's having a baby, don't you?"

"Yes I do, because it makes her happy, and I love her and things that make her happy make me happy too," Mary said, watching Sam tighten himself into an ever smaller huddle as he rocked backwards and forwards on the jetty. "But I love you too, Sammy."

She reached out to touch him, and he flinched.

"Don't do that, Sam, please," she said. "Don't make out that we're not friends any more. Come on, tell me."

After a long pause, during which Sam finally allowed Mary to rub his back and he seemed to become less agitated, he mumbled something.

"Can't hear you," Mary said quietly, aware that he had become less tense.

"Why does she need another one," he stated bluntly.

"Sometimes you love someone so much that what you want to do is have lots more people to love," Mary said, relieved that he had finally put his feelings into words. "So you have babies, and you both love them so much, and it makes you happy. But you don't stop loving the people you already love."

She carried on rubbing his back in the way she had when he was a little boy, and she had calmed him down after a day at school.

"It's not like you have a cake of a certain size, and if you share it with more people, each person gets a smaller slice," she continued. "What happens is, the cake gets bigger." She looked at him for a moment, and changed tack. "Have you got a girlfriend?"

"No!" he said, blushing and refusing to look at her.

"But there's a girl you like," Mary said, guessing shrewdly. "So, when you met her, did you like your Mum less?"

"Of course not," Sam said.

"No, of course not. And it's the same with your Mum. She feels the same about you as she always did. She loves you to pieces. You're number one boy, you know, Sam, and nothing will change that in this family. And now she's going to have another person to love, as well as you. And she really hopes that you'll like him too. Or her."

"Did she make you come out here to say all this?"

"Make me?" Mary laughed. "You reckon your Mum can make me do stuff?"

Sam couldn't help a little laugh from escaping. He desperately wanted to feel happier than he did, and was unhappy with himself for feeling the way he did, but the idea that suddenly his Mum might have a replacement for him had been more than he could bear. He turned to look at Mary for the first time that afternoon, and it was as if she saw right into his heart.

"No-one can replace you, Sam," she said. "You and your Mum, that's special."

Finally he relaxed and leaned against her as they gazed out over the stream in the settling dusk. In the house, William and Nick looked down across the garden.

"She's an amazing woman," Nick murmured admiringly, guessing at the sterling effort Mary had made that afternoon.

"She certainly seems to be," William agreed. "I'm sure the two of you will be very happy together."

"Thanks," Nick said, as the two men clinked glasses and drank a silent toast to the making of families.

Glossary:
- gig - performance by a band
- Broody - as in hen - someone who wants a baby

Part three

Summer

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Elizabeth was aware that Sam had been struggling with his feelings ever since Mary had given her a short précis of the conversation on the jetty, yet despite her best efforts, he still seemed distant from her. One Friday morning late in May, Ally shouted goodbye and announced that she would be in late because she was going to a party, Sam set off for school shortly after her, and Elizabeth caught William just as he was about to leave for work.

"Are you doing anything later?" she asked.

"No, why?" he replied, puzzled.

"Why don't you pop round and see how Richard is? Go to the pub or something?"

"What are you up to?" William laughed.

"Nothing," Elizabeth said. "Well, Ally's out tonight and Sam's in, and I just thought it was time he and I had a video night."

"Oh, OK," William agreed, fully aware of Elizabeth's concerns regarding Sam. "I'll go round and plan a barbecue, how's that?"

"Sounds lovely," Elizabeth laughed.

"In fact, its time we had a party. The Fitzwilliam clan, Mary and Nick, daft daddy Bingley and his entourage.... Can you think of anyone else? How about the mysterious Cam and Lou?"

"Why not!" Elizabeth said. "Let Sam and Ally invite 3 or 4 people each, we can easily cope. But can we invite some more grown-ups? Otherwise the teeny ones will outnumber us!"

"Richard and I will sort it all out later," William said confidently. "You make sure you and Sam have a good time, OK?" He bent down to kiss her. "See you later."

When Sam came in from school, he went straight to the kitchen for a drink and a snack. He found Elizabeth sitting at the kitchen table, reading some papers.

"Hi!" she said brightly. "Good day at school?"

"Yeah."

"Homework?"

"Tons."

"Can you give yourself a night off tonight?" she asked. "Ally's gone round to her friend's place to get ready for the party, and William's gone round to Richard's, so I thought we'd have a pizza and a video."

"If you want," Sam replied.

"Yes, I do want," Elizabeth said, wondering whether it was his age, the situation, or the mood he was in that had turned him into a sullen teenager over the last few weeks. "I'm not sure about tuna and banana though."

"Tuna and banana?" Sam asked, puzzled.

"Oh, it was an advert on the telly when I was expecting you," she explained. "This couple are decorating a room, and he says he'll go out for pizza, and she asks for tuna and banana, then you see that she's pregnant."

"Did you eat one?" Sam asked. "That would be disgusting."

"No, I didn't, but I did have a spell when all I wanted was pineapple. I once ate two fresh pineapples, one after the other."

"Yeah? Were you sick?"

"No! In fact, I was never sick with you."

"Are you sick this time?" Sam asked.

"Only a bit," Elizabeth said, smiling, as this was the first question Sam had asked her about how she felt, and his first expression of any interest whatsoever in her pregnancy.

"Oh. Well, so long as it's only a bit," he said.

"So, decide what you want to eat, I'll phone them, and we'll nip down to choose a video and pick up the pizzas."

"Cool," he said, picking up the leaflet that she pushed across the table. "I'll get changed, yeah?"

"OK."

Elizabeth watched him amble off. He had grown suddenly, and was rather gangly and clumsy, as if his brain had still to catch up with how long his legs were. She realised that they had just had their longest conversation in about a month, and wondered whether this was a small interlude in his adolescent silence, or a real turning point. At least he wasn't only communicating in grunts, as one of her new colleague's sons seemed to be.

Later, sitting cross-legged on the floor, eating their pizza and watching the film, as they had often done in their old house, Elizabeth felt that they were getting back to the way they had always been, comfortable in each other's company. Their silence was a companionable one, not a sullen, resentful one, and she was glad that she had decided to spend the evening this way.

By the time William came home, having been to the pub with Richard, Sam had sprawled across the sofa and Elizabeth was curled up in the chair.

"Good evening?" he asked, leaning over to kiss Elizabeth.

"Ooh, you're beery!" Elizabeth laughed as she smelt him. "We rather over-ordered so there's a bit of pizza left in the kitchen if you want it."

"Great, I'm starving," William said.

He returned with a slab of pizza and slumped down next to Sam.

"How about a barbecue in a couple of weeks?" he asked. "We think everyone's around then."

"That's almost my birthday," Sam said.

"So it is," William said. "Do you want it to be your party, then? Ask some mates from school?"

"Can I? Yeah, cool!" Sam said. "How many?"

"Three?" Elizabeth suggested.

Sam quickly totted up a list in his head. "Five?"

"OK," William agreed. "Fitzwilliams, Bingleys, Mary and Nick, five of your mates, five of Ally's..." He added up the numbers in his rather beer-befuddled head and realised what he had let himself in for. However, it was too late to rescind the offer to Sam, so he just grinned. "It'll be great!"

Elizabeth sighed and shook her head ruefully. Perhaps sending him to the pub with Richard hadn't been such a good idea after all.

"So, are you happier now?" William asked Elizabeth as they got ready for bed later that night. "Do you think Sam's OK?"

"We're getting there," Elizabeth said. "He's got such a lot to deal with. I wouldn't be 14 again for anything!"

"No, me neither," William agreed. "I'm sure he'll be OK. We just have to handle him with kid gloves for a while."

"Yes," Elizabeth said, slipping into bed. "Goodness, I'm tired! Can't wait until 12 weeks, when this bit passes."

William got into bed and pulled her towards him. She cuddled up to him, and yawned.

"Sweet dreams," he whispered, kissing her tenderly.

"And you," she replied, snuggling against his chest as she soon fell into a deep sleep.

Ally's response to the barbecue proposal was, for her, quite enthusiastic.

"Yeah, I'll invite some people," she said. "Who's Sam asking?"

"I don't know," William replied. "Does it matter? Just invite who you want."

"Yeah, but if his sleazy friend Marco is coming, Cam won't come, so he better not ask him," Ally said. "And if Lou is coming, he can invite Jamie from rowing club, 'cause Lou likes him."

"Right," William said, working out at last that Cam and Lou were probably girls. "Well, to be honest, its Sam's birthday party so its up to him who he wants to invite. After all, for your birthday you wanted to go to a gig and we let you do that, so now its only fair we let Sam do what he wants."

"Whatever," Ally muttered as she disappeared up to her bedroom.

On the chosen Saturday, Richard and Ellen appeared at lunchtime in their people carrier, fully loaded with toys, barbecue equipment and children.

"I know its not far to walk," Richard said, laughing as he and William unloaded gear. "But we had so much to bring."

"What on earth have you brought?" Elizabeth asked, as Ellen approached and kissed her on the cheek.

"Everything!" Ellen laughed. "How are you, anyway?"

"I'm fine, thanks," Elizabeth replied. "Over the exhausted bit and beginning to feel quite human again."

"Good!" Ellen said. "Well, we brought a few games for the children, of whatever age." She glanced sideways at Richard as she made that remark. "And we weren't sure what barbie gear you have, so we brought all ours.

"And this!" Richard said, handing a tray of cans of beer to William. "Thirsty work, making fires!"

"OK, I think it's time the ladies retired and the boys got on with burning stuff!" Elizabeth laughed. "Let's go in."

She and Ellen went into the house to see what the children were doing while Richard and William got on with setting up the barbecue. Nick and Mary arrived mid-afternoon, and somehow Nick was drawn outside whilst Mary ended up in the kitchen with Ellen and Elizabeth. The arrival of Charles and Jane with Emilia brought the men inside to greet the new arrivals and admire the baby.

"She really is a little cutie," Richard said, taking her from Jane. "Aren't you beautiful!" he cooed at the baby.

"Don't even think about it, Richard," Ellen said, the smile on her face not quite obscuring the steely glint in her eye. Richard handed Emilia back to Jane.

"Oh, I think there are enough babies around, even for Richard, don't you?" William said. "I never knew men could get so broody!"

"Is it supposed to be smoking like that?" Charles asked, pointing out to the patio.

All four men exited rapidly, leaving the women laughing.

"I said once before, didn't I?" Ellen asked. "Men and barbecues. They just can't resist."

"Where's the birthday boy?" Mary asked. "I haven't seen him yet."

"Upstairs gelling his hair, I expect," Elizabeth said. "We have girls coming round this evening."

The doorbell rang at six o'clock, and Sam ran down to answer it.

"Hi," he said, opening the door to find three pretty girls wearing plenty of eye liner and very tiny skirts. "She's up there."

"Ally!" one of the girls screeched as Ally ran down the stairs to greet them. Sam watched as the girls disappeared arm in arm out to the garden, but then his friends began to arrive, distracting him from the girls. Elizabeth and Ellen moved everyone outdoors, and soon the garden seemed to be full. William, Richard and Nick had set up shop on the patio, cooking food and dispensing drinks, whilst Ellen and Mary had marshalled the older boys into organising a complicated tournament involving a number of games and a detailed scoring system for everyone else. Charles sat with Emilia on his knee, while chatting to Jane and Elizabeth.

"Come on, Mum, you have to play boules!" Sam called. "Otherwise our team loses points."

"OK, I'll play games where I can stand still," Elizabeth said. "No charging about."

William paused in the cooking of the food to gaze out over the garden. He couldn't help a satisfied sigh escaping as he took in the happy goings-on in his garden. So many people having fun. His heart was warmed.

Eventually the food was cooked, and everyone lined up to help themselves to bread and salad and to choose the hot food they wanted.

"I'll have what Nick has cooked," Cam said, smiling coquettishly. "Everyone knows Australians are best at barbecues."

"I think you have a challenger there," Ellen whispered to Mary, who laughed.

"She can try but she won't win," Mary replied.

She looked up and caught Nick's eye, and he winked at her, much to the disappointment of Cam who saw the look that flashed between them

"What do you have to do to find a decent man?" Cam sighed theatrically as she sank down on the grass beside the other girls.

"Dunno," Lou replied. "But you wouldn't want a year 10 boy, would you?"

"Well..." Laura said, slowly.

The girls glanced over to where Sam, Jamie and the other boys were sitting, and sighed.

"No," said Ally determinedly.

By the time everyone had finished eating and the barbecue had been more or less tidied way, Ellen had totted up the scores for the pre-dinner tournament. She announced the winners, having engineered it so that everyone got a prize, then came to the overall champion. She glanced towards the kitchen to make sure everything was set.

"OK," she said. "And our overall prizewinner for tonight is....Sam!"

As she said it, Elizabeth emerged from the kitchen with a cake which had 15 candles set in the top. "Happy Birthday to you," she began to sing, soon joined by everyone else.

"Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday dear Samuel, Happy Birthday to you!"

"Three cheers!" Richard shouted, as Sam blew out the candles and everyone shouted "Hip Hip Hoorah!"

"Make a wish, Sam!" Mary called.

He closed his eyes and wished, then opened them to meet the gaze of Ally's friend Laura. He smiled at her, then looked away quickly. This was his best birthday so far, he decided.

~ * ~

Driving through Richmond to the hospital for their first ante-natal appointment one Wednesday lunchtime, William was concentrating on negotiating the busy and narrow main road whilst Elizabeth gazed out at the numerous shoppers crowding the pavements. She was enjoying living in Richmond, the combination of a busy town centre yet having proximity to both central London and the river and park appealing to her. Suddenly she perked up, staring intently out of the window.

"Hang on a minute, stop!" she cried. "That's Sam! Holding hands with a girl!"

William could neither stop nor look round as the traffic lights were changing and he had to keep moving.

"I can't stop," he said. "Anyway, what do you want to stop for?"

"I told you, I saw Sam with a girl!"

"And?" William asked. "What do you think you might do? Anything you did would make him curl up with embarrassment in front of this girl, if you're sure it was him in the first place, and embarrassing him is one sure-fire way of making sure he won't speak to you for the next month."

"But..." Elizabeth stuttered. "A girl. He's ...."

"He's 15. It happens."

Elizabeth sank back in her seat, wondering whether it had been Sam she had seen. She was sure it was him, with one of the girls who had been at the barbecue. She knew that William was right, that it was inevitable that Sam would begin to have girlfriends, but it was a thought she had not wanted to face, at least not just yet. Her baby boy was growing up fast, and soon wouldn't be the baby of the family any more anyway.

"OK?" William asked as he parked the car, aware that Elizabeth had been lost in her thoughts.

"Yes," she said. "It's just strange somehow. I think I've avoided allowing Sam to grow up, in my mind at least. Girlfriends and the start of all that angst. I've just been putting off thinking about it."

"Don't blame you," William said. "I do the same with Ally. I'm just amazed that she hasn't brought some spotty youth home yet."

"Oh dear," Elizabeth laughed. "Poor things, to have to be teenagers!"

"Never mind that," William said. "What about poor us? We survive this round and then we get to do it all again in 13 years' time!"

~ * ~

"OK here we are," said the ultrastenographer. She had done the necessary measurements from Elizabeth's scan, and now it was time to show the prospective parents the details of the scan. She turned the screen towards them, and moved the scanner over Elizabeth's tummy.

"Right, here you can see a heartbeat."

William grasped Elizabeth's hand, thrilled to be seeing his baby on screen.

"And here you can see another one."

"What?"

"So, I think we can safely say, you're having twins."

"Twins?" Elizabeth asked, feeling dazed.

"Twins!" William exclaimed, feeling both thrilled and scared. "Oh my darling, twins!" He leaned over and kissed her.

"Wow," Elizabeth managed to say. "That's a surprise."

"Do you feel OK?" William asked Elizabeth that night as they sat on the sofa after dinner.

"I'm fine, why?"

"Do you think the fact that its twins is making you more tired?"

"Maybe," Elizabeth replied. "It's certainly a possibility. And my age is a factor." She snuggled up to him, and kissed him softly. "Are you worried?"

"A little, of course," William replied. "But only that you'll be all right."

"I'll be fine, there's no need to worry," Elizabeth said. "I'm being very well looked after. What about the fact that we suddenly get double what we'd anticipated?"

"That doesn't worry me," William said thoughtfully. "It scares me a bit, I have to confess. Mainly the thought of having to play football with two small boys when I'm in my mid-forties!"

"Don't be silly!" Elizabeth said, tickling him. "For a moment I thought you were serious!"

"I am, a little. It'll be a big change for us."

"A new baby was always going to be a big change for us."

"True," William replied. "It's just a matter of scale then, I suppose. The nursery is big enough for two, isn't it?"

"Shall we go and see?"

They went upstairs together to the bedroom they had decided would be the nursery. It was a large, sunny room next to theirs, which still contained some furniture that hadn't been sorted out since they moved in. William pushed a few boxes to one side, and looked round.

"This will be fine. One cot there, one cot here," he said, gesturing to where things could go. "Plenty of room for whatever furniture you choose."

Even with boxes and old furniture in the room, in her mind's eye Elizabeth could picture a brightly pained nursery with jolly curtains, little mobiles hanging from the ceiling, and piles of freshly washed baby clothes. She sighed and smiled.

"Yes, I think it will be fine."

"I'll decorate it," William said. "Let's choose paint and material this weekend."

"You're going to decorate?" Elizabeth asked, surprised. The downstairs rooms and the three main bedrooms had been professionally decorated not long after they had moved in.

"Yes, I'd like to," William said. He didn't know quite how to say that he felt as if he was being given a new chance. Somehow, decorating the room where his new babies would sleep was an enormously important landmark for him.

"OK, we'll go shopping at the weekend," Elizabeth said, seeing the look in his eyes and realising that this really meant something to him.

"Great!" he said enthusiastically. "Have you any idea how happy you make me?" He swept her off her feet and spun her round. "I love you so much!"

"Put me down!" Elizabeth giggled. "I love you too."

"Good!" he said, and kissed her.

~ * ~

The summer holidays seemed to come round incredibly quickly, and Elizabeth's focus shifted from the nursery to the teenagers. She came home from work on the day the children broke up from school to find Sam sitting at the kitchen table with a rather pretty girl.

"Hi!" Elizabeth said, determined to be friendly and welcoming.

"Mum, can Laura and I go to the rowing club barbecue tonight?" Sam asked.

"Yes, I don't see why not," Elizabeth said. "Does that mean you won't need tea?"

"Yeah."

"And what time do you want picking up?"

"Well, actually...." Sam said, and paused. He glanced at Laura, who had not yet managed to meet Elizabeth's eye. "I thought I should walk Laura home, really. You know, girls and safety and all that."

"Where do you live, Laura?" Elizabeth asked.

Laura whispered something that Elizabeth couldn't hear.

"It's only just round the corner," Sam said.

"OK, well, if you're sure you don't need a lift."

"Sure, thanks," Sam replied.

"I'd better go home," Laura said quietly.

She and Sam got up and left the kitchen, and after a while Sam returned, alone.

"She seems nice," Elizabeth said. "Pretty girl."

"Yeah," Sam said, unable to stop a big smile creasing his face. "She is."

"Well, you know that girlfriends are welcome, just like your other friends," Elizabeth said. "And you know about being sensible, and ...."

"No, Mum, not the talk!" Sam interrupted. "I know, and I won't be stupid, OK?"

"OK," Elizabeth said, smiling. "I trust you. Now, if you're going out tonight, you'd better go and start getting ready, hadn't you?"

She watched him go, wondering how her little boy had suddenly managed to turn into this rather good-looking young man with a very pretty girlfriend. She was pleased for him and proud of him, but a part of her felt sad that he was growing up and would soon leave her. She told herself not to be silly and began to prepare a meal for herself and William, guessing that if Sam was out partying on the last night of term, then Ally would be too.

~ * ~

The summer flew by, and the last two weeks of the holidays were spent at Richard's complex in Spain. As usual, the Fitzwilliams had spent a significant chunk of the holidays there, and William, Elizabeth and the children flew out to join them, hiring a car at the airport and driving to the villas.

"Hi!" Ellen called from the poolside, seeing a weary looking Elizabeth walking towards their villa. "Boys, go and help Uncle William!"

Elizabeth waved to Ellen as Tom and Michael ran past her, giving her a little smile of acknowledgement as they passed.

"Good journey?" Ellen asked, hugging Elizabeth.

"Not bad, but I'm so tired!" Elizabeth sighed. "And hot! And I'm not even six months pregnant yet but I look like the side of a house!"

Ellen couldn't help but laugh as she led Elizabeth to a sun lounger and gently pressed her down, ignoring her as she said she really should help William unload the car.

"Nonsense," Ellen said firmly. "The boys have gone to help him."

They glanced over to see Ally, carrying one small bag, leading the way, followed by Sam, Tom and Michael each carrying a bigger bag. William followed them, directed them to the correct villa, then came over to join Ellen and Elizabeth.

"Hi!" he said, kissing Ellen on the cheek. "How are you? You're all looking very brown and healthy."

"Fine, thanks," Ellen replied. "Richard won't be long, he's nipped out for some groceries. I said I'd wait for you and keep the children busy."

The sounds of splashing came from the shallow end of the pool where Daniel and Sophie were playing.

"Now, I was about to get Elizabeth a cold drink, so what would you like? Juice? A beer?"

"A beer would be great, thanks," William said, sinking into the lounger next to Elizabeth and kicking off his shoes and socks. "Mmmm that's better," he said, wiggling his toes in the sunshine.

Their peace was shattered as Sam ran out of the villa and leapt into the pool, closely followed by Tom and Michael. Ally strolled out a moment later, doing her very best to look cool and sophisticated and as distanced from the silly boys as was possible. Elizabeth and William glanced at each other and had to stifle their giggles.

A few days relaxing around the pool and having lazy meals at their favourite terrace restaurant did William and Elizabeth the world of good. Sam and Ally were left to organise their own breakfasts while William insisted that Elizabeth needed long lie-ins, which of course necessitated him keeping her company.

"Funny how much has changed in a year," Elizabeth murmured one morning as William kissed the back of her neck and caressed her.

"Mmm," he sighed. "But I have to confess that doing this did cross my mind once or twice this time last year."

"Really? I just liked your bum," Elizabeth answered, rolling over to face him.

"Only my bum?" he asked, pretending to be offended.

"Not just your bum. But you do have rather a nice one in shorts!"

"So do you," he replied. "And not just in shorts either."

"I think we should have a very long lie in today, don't you?" Elizabeth said, pulling him close to her. "After all, once the twins arrive, we won't have much chance."

"You're right, as always," William said, kissing her slowly.

William and Elizabeth finally emerged from their villa in their swimming togs, and joined the children in the pool. Elizabeth swam very slow lengths as Sam and William sped past her.

Resting after a few lengths, Sam began to giggle as he whispered to William, and William began to laugh too

"What?" Elizabeth asked, sculling happily on her back across the pool.

"Nothing," Sam snorted.

"Tell, or I will do dreadful things to you."

"Sam thinks that if only you could blow water out of your belly button, you would do a really good impression of a whale," William said, fending off Sam's attempts to fight him and stop him from speaking.

"Nooooo!" Sam wailed. "You weren't supposed to tell her!"

Elizabeth burst out laughing, and splashed water at them while pretending to be cross. She climbed out of the pool and made her way to a sun-lounger, with William watching her every step. She was slower and rounder now, but he loved every inch of her, and could hardly keep himself from stroking and cuddling her at every opportunity. She turned to him and smiled as she settled herself on a sun-lounger.

Ellen appeared, bearing a tray of drinks, and handed a tall glass of cool lemonade to her.

"You OK?" she asked.

"I'm fine," Elizabeth replied, absent-mindedly stroking her bump.

"Are they giving you bother?"

"No, not really," Elizabeth replied. "Although I sometimes wonder if having two on board means they're already starting to fight."

Ellen smiled sympathetically as she settled onto the lounger next to Elizabeth.

"Well, at least they'll always have someone to play with," she said. "Have you got twins in your family?"

"No," Elizabeth replied. "None on my side or William's. But older Mums are more likely to have twins. The odds are non-identicals, which at least means I won't confuse which one to put on which boob when I'm feeding them!"

"At least with one at a time I never had that problem!" Ellen laughed. "How's Sam now?"

"He's fine. It took him a while to get used to the idea, but he's OK now," Elizabeth said. "And Ally just seems to sail through life as if nothing can really touch her."

"She's had to adapt to so many things through her life, I don't think much really phases her," Ellen said. "She's more robust than we allow, sometimes."

"True," Elizabeth said, watching as Ally emerged from the villa in a bikini. "She's also going to break a few hearts."

"Yes, she is pretty," Ellen agreed. "Sam's grown up in the last year too, hasn't he?"

"All this rowing means he's beginning to fill out a bit," Elizabeth said. "They're not children any more, are they?"

Elizabeth and Ellen shaded their eyes as they gazed towards the pool, watching William and Richard playing with the smaller children, whilst the two teens lounged in the sun.

"No, they soon grow up," Ellen sighed.

Part Four

Autumn

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The end of the previous school year had been accompanied by very good reports for both Sam and Ally, which meant that when they went back to school in September, there were high expectations for both of them. They seemed to have copious amounts of homework every night, and were being exhorted every day by the teachers to strive for the very highest grades.

Not only that, but there seemed to be a club for every activity, Elizabeth thought, and Sam and Ally between them seemed to have joined most of the clubs on offer. However, as parents they had been invited to several social events and Elizabeth was amazed at how easy it had been to settle in.

"I thought the school gate thing ceased when they left primary school," she said to William one night, getting ready to go to a party at the cricket club.

"What do you mean?"

"Well, at primary you get to know the other parents while you're waiting after school," Elizabeth said. "But one thing I never liked about secondary school was that I hardly got to know Sam's friends, or their parents."

"Whereas here, half their friends seem to be in our kitchen most of the time!" William said jovially.

It often seemed to be the case that the kitchen was full of teenagers after school, and on several occasions Elizabeth had ended up making spag bol for half a dozen or more children who were busy phoning parents to say that they would be home later.

"It's nice though," Elizabeth said. "At least I always know where our two are. If they're not all here eating us out of house and home, they're doing the same at Laura's or Jamie's or Camilla's."

"True," William said. "Right, are you ready? Sure you're fit for this?"

"Yes, I'm fine," Elizabeth said. "Don't fuss. I may look like the side of a house, but I'm not an invalid."

"You could never look like the side of a house," William said, smiling. "You look like the side of a particularly attractive barn!"

"I don't know why I take any notice of you at all!" Elizabeth laughed, following him down the stairs.

They had settled into a routine of going out for dinner on Fridays as an end of the week treat, although Sam and Ally's presence became less and less regular, and soon Friday nights became their night out usually as a couple and just occasionally as a family. The only thing Elizabeth insisted on was that whilst Saturday tea time could be relaxed and lazy, more or less a buffet in the summer months, as the children's social lives seemed to take off, Sunday would be a family meal. Sometimes it would be four of them, but more often than not, Mary and Nick, or Charles, Jane and Emilia would join them, and occasionally Laura would be there too.

"I'll walk Laura home," Sam said one Sunday night after dinner, once they had finished helping Elizabeth clear the table.

"OK, see you later," Elizabeth said. "Bye Laura."

"Bye."

"Is this the love of Sam's life, then?" Mary asked, coming into the kitchen as the two of them disappeared.

"Don't be silly!" Elizabeth laughed. "Although he's been seeing her for four months, which isn't bad going when you're 15."

"Four months? That's forever when you're 15!"

"I know," Elizabeth sighed. "I wonder which one will break the other one's heart first."

"How about Ally? I haven't noticed any boyfriends coming round for dinner."

"I think she's having fun breaking boys' hearts at the moment," Elizabeth said. "So far this term, she's turned down one for being too short, one for being too tall, and one for having a horrible coat."

"You're kidding!" Mary laughed. "Really?"

"That's what she tells me," Elizabeth said, setting out six coffee cups on a tray. "I think she's holding out for a sixth-former to ask her out. It's not cool to go out with boys in your own year, apparently, although it seems to be OK for Sam and Laura."

"Who'd be a teenager?" Mary asked. "Nightmare stuff. Of course, I agreed to Nick's proposal on the basis that he's just the right height."

"Mm hmm," Elizabeth said, concentrating for a moment on making the coffee. Then she realised what Mary had just said. "What? He proposed? Congratulations!"

"Thanks," Mary said, smiling broadly.

"You dark horse!" Elizabeth continued happily. "Why didn't you say anything earlier?"

"I don't know," Mary said. "I didn't want a big fanfare, I just wanted to tell you. First, by yourself. You're very special, you know that?"

"No, I'm not," Elizabeth said, feeling embarrassed.

"Yes you are," Mary said firmly. "I've never really said it before, but you gave me such a great chance, when you let me come and live with you and Sam."

"You were good for me and Sam," Elizabeth said.

"No, let me carry on," Mary said. "I never believed I could do anything, until I moved away from home and stayed with you. I would never have gone to Japan if it hadn't been for you, and then I wouldn't have met Nick, and now I wouldn't be the happiest woman in the world, without you."

She hugged Elizabeth, then let her go.

"And seeing you and William so happy, and Charles and Jane of course, makes me want some of it too. And I think Nick and I can have that."

"I hope so," Elizabeth said, as she rubbed Mary's arm companionably. "I'm sure you'll be very happy. And thank you, for saying all those kind things. You didn't need to."

"OK, that's the end of emotional speeches," Mary laughed with tears in her eyes. "But I had to say it."

"Well, let's go and tell the others, shall we?" Elizabeth said.

They carried the coffee tray into the lounge, which moments later was ringing with congratulations, questions, and the plans for a spring wedding.

"I've booked somewhere for tonight," William said as he got ready for work one Friday in October. "The kids are going out, and I thought we could perhaps have a birthday tea all together on Sunday."

"Lovely," Elizabeth sighed, still snuggled in the bedclothes. She rolled over, trying to get comfortable. Even though the twins weren't due for a few weeks, she was feeling increasingly unsettled and unable to get comfortable however she lay.

"What are you doing today?" William asked, returning to the bedroom after brushing his teeth. Even now, the sight of him dressed in his dark blue suit made her tummy flip.

"Not much," she replied. "Some errands for the children to run, if they ever get up."

Sam and Ally, having broken up from school for their half term holiday the previous Friday, had rarely emerged from their bedrooms before lunchtime.

"Well, don't do too much," William said, bending over to kiss her softly on the forehead. "Make those two monsters earn their keep!"

"Yes, boss!" Elizabeth laughed, watching him leave their bedroom before turning over for a little more desperately needed sleep.

She finally gave up on getting any more rest mid-morning, and went downstairs to find Sam in the kitchen eating cereal and reading a magazine.

"What are your plans for today?" she asked.

"Not much," Sam said. "I might go down to the rowing club later."

Ally appeared, looking rather more awake than she usually did, having showered and got dressed already.

"I'm going shopping," she announced, helping herself to an apple.

"Is that all you're having for breakfast?" Elizabeth asked.

"Yeah, I'll get something later," she said, breezing out of the kitchen, and disappearing as swiftly as she had arrived. The slam of the front door announced her departure.

"Short and sweet," Elizabeth said. "Right, I'm going for a shower."

"OK," Sam mumbled, continuing to eat and read.

Elizabeth plodded slowly upstairs. At 35 weeks pregnant with twins, she felt enormous, and also felt nervous, knowing that the odds of a twin pregnancy lasting for 40 weeks were slim, 37 weeks being the average. Sometimes, too much medical knowledge was a bad thing, she thought. She already felt lucky that she had made it beyond 32 weeks, but felt some small measure of confidence that these two would be big enough to be healthy, whenever they arrived. She was glad that William had persuaded her to finish work at the earliest opportunity, although in truth she hadn't needed much persuading. Much as she had been enjoying her new role, she had been glad to give up and have a break.

After showering and getting dressed, she decided to finish altering the curtains in the room that was to be the nursery. She sat for while quite happily sewing and listening to the radio, not really aware of how time was passing, and occasionally rubbing her side as she felt a twinge of discomfort. Finally the curtains were finished, and since William had left the stepladder in the room after fitting a new lampshade, she decided she may as well put the curtains up too.

Once at the top of the stepladder, she reached up to the curtain rail and suddenly felt as though her stomach had been gripped in a vice. She gasped and hung on to the ladder, squeezing her eyes shut and waiting for the pain to pass. Once it had, she relaxed her grip and opened her eyes, but before she could relax, she was once more gripped by a contraction.

"Oh no," she whispered. "Too soon. Too fast."

As it passed, her mind was racing. The house was quiet; Sam had said he was going out, but he hadn't said goodbye.

"Sam," she groaned weakly as yet another contraction began to work.

"Sam!" she yelled, louder now, summoning all her strength.

Sam was still downstairs in his pyjamas when he heard the shout. He knew immediately that something must be wrong and ran upstairs. When he burst into the nursery, he saw Elizabeth at the top of the ladder, clinging on and unable to move.

"Mum?" he said, startled to find her where she was. "Get down!"

He put his arms around her and felt her put her weight on him as he helped her down the steps.

"Phone the midwife, Sam," Elizabeth said as he lowered her to the floor, feeling calmer now she knew she wasn't alone. "The number's by the phone. Tell her the contractions are coming very quickly. And then ring William. Then come back."

"OK."

He ran downstairs, found the numbers he needed and rang. He'd hardly finished speaking to William before the phone had been dropped and William had sprinted out of the office.

"Looks like the twins are on their way, then," Richard said to Jenny as William disappeared round the corner.

Sam had gone back upstairs wondering what on earth he was supposed to do now. He'd seen reports on the news about fathers delivering their own babies but there was no way he wanted to deliver his own brothers or sisters. He was terrified, but put a brave face on as he went back into the nursery.

"What do you need, Mum?" he asked. "A drink, or a hot water bottle, or ..."

"It's OK, Sam, why don't you get dressed and listen for the door," Elizabeth said. "What did the midwife say?"

"The ambulance will come to get you," Sam said. "And William didn't really say anything, it sounded like he dropped the phone."

"I wonder who will get here first then, " Elizabeth said, beginning to laugh. "Ooh, ouch, here comes another one. Go and get dressed, Sam."

He left the room, not really wanting to leave her alone but hating to see her in pain. Elizabeth tried to relax and concentrate on her breathing. Her contractions were coming too quickly and she was beginning to be seriously worried. Sam had just returned, clad in jeans and T shirt, when there was a knock at the door. He ran downstairs and let two ambulance men in.

"Mum's up here," he said, leading them to the nursery.

"Now then," said the older of the two ambulance men. "My name's Jimmy. How are you feeling?"

"The contractions are every couple of minutes at the most," Elizabeth said. "And pretty strong."

"OK, do you think you can walk downstairs?"

"Yes, I can manage," Elizabeth said. "But I could do with a hand to get up!"

With an ambulance man at each side, she was hoisted up off the floor, and began to laugh at the absurdity of having to be lifted up and helped downstairs.

"You coming with us, sunshine?" Jimmy said to Sam as they left the house. Sam looked at Elizabeth and she nodded, so he locked the front door and ran to the ambulance, climbing in before they swung away to head for the hospital.

William knew from the little Sam had said that he should go straight to the hospital, and announced his arrival with a screech of tyres, his car stopping rather than being parked. He ran into the maternity unit feeling completely flustered and unable to focus, and looked round wildly, failing to make sense of the signs in his panic. Sam had been waiting for him, and spotted him as soon as he arrived.

"William!"

"Sam! Where is she? What's happening?"

"In the labour ward, it's this way," Sam said. He set off walking briskly down a long corridor, knowing that his Mum had been alone for a while, and glad that he wasn't the only one there with her any more. William followed, feeling rather dazed. Sam seemed to be in complete control and very calm as they approached a set of code-controlled double doors. Sam pressed a buzzer and spoke.

"My Mum's in there and my .... stepdad.... has just got here."

A midwife appeared as the doors clicked open.

"Dr Elizabeth Bennet," William said. "I'm her husband."

"OK, come this way Mr Bennet," the midwife said, confusing William for a moment. "You'd better stay here," she said to Sam, pointing to a reception area where he could sit and wait.

"I'll come back, Sam," William said, then turned to follow the midwife.

Sam slumped into a chair. He'd seen enough soaps on TV to know that he was probably going to be there for a very long time.

Elizabeth looked up as William walked into the room. Her face was suffused with relief at his appearance, but he was alarmed to see how strained she seemed.

"Oh, Will, it's all going really quickly. Oh fffffff," she gasped, trying not to swear but feeling like letting go of a stream of swear words. She sank back onto the bed as the midwife told William what had happened so far and what to expect.

"I've got to get up," Elizabeth said. "Let me walk about a bit."

"OK," agreed the midwife.

Elizabeth clung onto William as they paced slowly up and down the corridor. Standing up felt much better, and it wasn't long before she knew that an arrival was imminent.

"One more push, that's it, yes, OK, take it easy."

William felt that if Elizabeth squeezed his hand any tighter, he would probably never regain the use of his fingers, then suddenly she cried out and relaxed.

"You've got a little boy."

She sank back onto the pillows, gasping for breath as William gazed in awe at the little pink creature being checked over in front of him.

"A boy," he sighed, then leaned over to kiss Elizabeth. "Oh, my darling. A boy."

"Don't relax yet," Elizabeth managed to say with a rather tired smile. "Got to do the whole thing over again."

Sam had read all the magazines in reception, counted every fish in the fish tank, and had wandered out to the waiting room where he began to play with the Lego in the children's play area. He wasn't sure if he should stay, or make his way home, but ended up waiting. Eventually one of the receptionists noticed him, and remembered him arriving with Elizabeth.

"You OK there?"

"Yeah," Sam said. "My Mum's having twins so I'm waiting for her."

"You might be in for a long wait," she said, smiling. "What's her name? I'll see what I can find out. Where's your Dad?"

"Haven't got one, but my step-dad's in there. And my Mum's called Elizabeth Bennet."

"Well, you just hang on there for a moment," the receptionist replied, thinking that there were very few things about modern families that could surprise her now that a teenage boy had brought his Mum into hospital to have a baby.

Before she could set off to investigate, a rather tousled looking William arrived, his elation beating his tiredness.

"Hey Sam," he said, grinning broadly. "Want to come and say hi to your new brother and sister?"

"Yeah, really?" Sam said. "One of each? How neat is that!"

William couldn't help laughing at the way Sam put it. One of each, indeed.

"Come on, then."

He led Sam to a side room in the maternity ward where Elizabeth sat in bed, looking rather dazed and tired.

"Hi Sam," she said, smiling. "You stayed all this time, poor you."

"Oh, it was OK," he said, even though he had been bored rigid, scared stiff and was now ravenously hungry.

"You did a really good job, looking after your Mum earlier," William said. "We're both really very proud of you."

Sam smiled, feeling a little awkward, not knowing what to say. William leant over Elizabeth and kissed her on the forehead.

"And here they are," he said, turning back to Sam and indicating two little perspex cots.

"They look like they're in gerbil tanks," Sam said, making William laugh. He walked across the room and peered at the occupants of the cots.

"They're ...." He paused, wondering what to say. "Kind of pink, aren't they?" He looked up at his Mum, who was nodding.

"Pretty much like you were," she said, smiling.

"Which one's which?"

"This is Oliver, and this is Harriet," William said. "She looks much more girly than he does, don't you think?"

Sam nodded, thinking that William was clearly deranged as they both looked like identical pink curled up prunes, but that he'd agree anyway.

"So, how does it feel, being a big brother?"

"Not sure yet," Sam said. "But I think it will be pretty cool."

Glossary:
grizzly = cranky, grumbling
Leicester Square = central part of the West End in London; nightlife, theatres, cinemas etc

To be continued


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