Anabel finished her sandwich a while ago. I don't know how long we've been sitting here, me staring at her and her refusing to look up. When Abby walks in she scares the hell out of me, sending my heart into overdrive, but Anabel doesn't even flinch. I wonder how she does that.
"God, I'm starv-" Abby says by way of greeting as she makes a beeline for the fridge, but she stops halfway when she catches sight of the young blonde. "Who's this, Anna?" she says, polite but curious. When I don't answer her, Abby tosses me a strange look and walks over to the sofa Anabel is perched on the very edge of. She crouches down, like I did, and smiles. "Hello, sweetheart, what's your name?"
I expect nothing but silence from the girl and she doesn't disappoint me.
"Anabel," I say. "Her name is Anabel."
Abby gives an exaggerated gasp. "Wow, that's so cool! You two have the same name- you're like sisters!"
I wince- she doesn't know how close to home she's hit.
Jen walks in only a few minutes later, the twins shortly after her. I thank God for the first time today, knowing there's only so many explanations of Anabel I can hand out. Jen, Alan, and Jake all pretty much share Abby's reaction to Anabel, cooing and fussing over her. An unbearable pressure begins to press down on my head, driving me to the urge to scream. I stand up, take Anabel's plate and walk to the kitchen. I wash the plate and fill up a glass of water. It drops from my uncontrollably shaking hands, tumbling and clanging in the sink.
Someone calls my name. Blocking it out doesn't work.
It's Jake, and I look at him helplessly. There's nothing I can say that can make this go away. The only thing I can do is try to ease my siblings into it- they don't deserve the shock I received.
The 'easing' plan never comes into play. "Anabel is my sister."
Dead silence. The four of them stare at me. Finally, Alan laughs nervously. "Did you hit your head, Anna? As far as I remember, your sisters are Jen and Abby."
I repeat the only thing I now seem capable of saying, "Anabel is my sister."
Abby says, "I don't understand," but Jen is quicker on the uptake.
"Anabel is your sister," she says slowly. "As in not ours."
"As in," I say, "my father's daughter."
My four siblings look at my sixth one, and then look back at me. Silence again. Abby sits down.
This is what I wanted, wasn't it? Someone to share these damn green eyes.
"You have a sister," Abby states and I can only nod. "Like a sister who's not me or Jen."
I nod again.
"When did this happen?" Alan asks, looking around as if more of my secret siblings are going to pop up around us.
"Well she wasn't here yesterday," I say.
More silence, and it's painful and suffocating.
Jen speaks up, asking the question all of us are probably thinking. "Well, what are you going to do?"
Abby's reaction is sudden and completely unexpected. "What do you mean 'what are you going to do'? Anabel is Anna's sister and Anna is our sister. Anabel is family, she'll stay here."
Dave had said something like that, too. When Abby says it I feel like she's putting an ocean between us, even though I know that's not what she means to do.
There's the smallest, barely audible sound- a cough, or sniff or something- but it's enough to remind everyone of Anabel's presence. In honesty, I don't think it's possible to forget she's there- the tiny, blonde elephant. I walk over to her suitcase and pick it up, it weighs almost nothing.
"Anabel can share with you for now, Abby. At least until we move."
Abby nods. "Jen, is it okay if you share with me for the next few days?"
Jen doesn't give me any grief either, so I carry the suitcase into her room, taking a moment to rest against the wall, and wishing I had given in to the urge to call Rob before. He could've been here right now.
I let out a deep breath and walk out again.
"I need to go out for a bit, guys. Could you..." I'm referring to Anabel, of course.
"Yeah, sure," Alan says.
"What time will you be back?" Abby asks.
"I won't be too late," I say vaguely, already wearing my coat and wrapping my scarf around my neck.
When I do finally get out, I realise I have nothing to do. I amble around town for a while aimlessly, until I look up and find myself in a familiar place- the coffee shop I was in before I got that call about Jake, Alan and Abby. It's still open so I walk in, relishing the delicate chime of the bell above the door, and basking in the smell of real, fresh coffee. I don't see Adam today, instead there's another familiar face as barista. A smile is finally coaxed from me, as an old friend waves at me excitedly.
"Sophie," I say as I approach the counter.
"Anna!" she squeals, leaning over to squeeze me in a hug.
There isn't much to say about Sophie. She's beautiful (really the only reason she got through school), hilarious, and, ultimately, ditzy. I hate being a slave to stereotypes but Sophie, and her best friend, Kiera, really don't help paint a good picture of blondes everywhere. Nonetheless, she's an old friend, and she nearly knocked over someone's latte to get to me, so I hug her back just as affectionately. Out of nowhere she hits me on my arm.
"Hey, what was that for?"
"Where have you been?" she demands. "I haven't seen you in ages."
"I was here only a couple of days ago," I say, in my defense.
Sophie scowls at me, but it abruptly changes to a coy smile and wave. I look behind me, confused, and see Adam has just come out of the storeroom.
"Isn't he gorgeous?" Sophie whispers, gripping my arm tightly.
I chuckle, remembering my reaction to him wasn't all that different. My laugh dies out quickly as I remember the endless stream of problems that began after that day.
Sophie looks at me, purses her lips, and whips me a cup of hot chocolate immediately. There's a huge mound of whipped cream on top and two biscotti cookies on the side.
"You look sad," she says.
"The last few days have been rough," I tell her. "Especially today."
She pats my hand and nods sympathetically. "Whatever it is, it can't be that bad. Just remember, Leo."
I smile but resist the urge to laugh. When we were in high school, Sophie got a cat, whom she called Leo. When she took Leo to the vet, it turned out he was a Leona. Sophie was heartbroken when the people she told found her story funny. 'How would you feel,' she'd sobbed, 'if your son turned out to be a girl.' She still finds it devastating but it's comforting to me- something so silly but familiar, unlike the little issue waiting for me at home.
I get up abruptly and hug Sophie again, who cries, "Hey, you can't go yet!"
"Sorry, love," I say, leaving a fiver for the drink. "Need to go."
She takes the money (three pounds of which is a tip) and makes a face. "Fine, but you have to come again soon! Oh, and say hi to Rob for me," she adds with a little wink.
I grimace, "Seriously, Soph?"
"What? He's cute!"
I shake my head, knowing Sophie's a lost cause, but feeling pleased about it. I get home later than I thought I would; when I get in, everyone's asleep. I don't have the nerve to check on Abby because of her new roommate; I can't even gather the courage to pick up Anabel's file. I go straight to my room, being careful not to wake up Jen, and despite the day I've had, the moment I'm cocooned in my duvet, I'm asleep.