Breakfast the next morning is unbearably tense. Abby opens her mouth to speak then closes it again. Jen has a notebook in front of her, but every few moments she keeps glancing up. The twins don't even bicker, not a single nudge or poke. I'm no better- I stare at the door restlessly, waiting for the buzzer to sound. Only Anabel acts normally, her head facing down in silence as she prods the eggs on her plate. The TV is on to provide some sort of sound- Lilo and Stitch is playing, probably for Anabel, and Lilo says,
"Ohana means family. Family means nobody gets left behind."
The remote is next to me, so I mute it quickly.
Abby opens her mouth to speak once again but when the buzzer sounds, she runs to it instead. We can't hear the voice from the table but a relieved smile graces Abby's face, and she flings the door open eagerly. Two minutes later a familiar face appears, and I almost break down into tears. Standing in the doorway, hair longer than it should be, duffle bag slung over his broad shoulders, is the one person I want to see right now: Rob.
Jen and the twins make a run for him, and he grabs his sisters in one huge hug, spinning them both around as they laugh. He pulls Jake and Alan into man-hugs, slapping their backs as he does so. Finally he drops his bag on the floor. In only a few strides he reaches me and pulls me up into hug, and I very nearly collapse in his arms. I press my face into his shoulder, breathing in the sharpness and familiarity of his Hugo Boss cologne. He ruffles my hair and pulls back.
"You look awful," he says, dead serious, and I try to laugh but it sounds like I'm crying. "No seriously, you look terrible, Annie," and the exact moment he says that last word, Anabel's head shoots up in his direction. He notices her and looks back at me. He walks over to her and she looks up, except this time, she doesn't look back down. Rob's smile is honest and assuring as he asks, "What's your name?"
Jen, Abby, the twins, and I are watching the two of them closely, and we all think the same thing: she won't answer.
Then Anabel shocks the hell out of us. "Anabel," she replies, only a whisper, but she says it nonetheless.
We all stare at Rob, stunned.
"And when did you get here, Anabel?"
She glances up again, at me this time, and I don't know what she sees but it's enough to make her little voice die out again. Rob gets up and frowns.
"You guys," he says to the other four, "are taking Anabel to the park."
No one argues with him. They get ready and leave, in the space of about five minutes. When they're gone, I begin picking up plates and Rob helps me in silence. We carry them over to the sink and Rob says,
"Who is Anabel?"
There seems to be something lodged in my throat, which won't let the words pass through. Telling the others wasn't this hard but I know the second I say it to Rob, it becomes more real, definite.
"She's-" I stop and look away. I can feel him staring at me, waiting with that infinite patience. "She's my sister," I say at last.
There's a deep exhale.
I only need to look at him for him to get it.
"Your sister," he repeats.
There's nothing much else to say. I nod and begin rinsing the plates. He dries them as I pass them to him. But then he asks what nobody else did.
"Have you talked to her?"
I stop, saying nothing.
My silence is as persistent as he is.
"Annie, you have to."
"What if I don't want to?" I say finally, and even to myself I sound like Abby- young and stubborn.
"Sometimes it doesn't matter what you want," Rob says. His words are harsh, but true.
"What am I supposed to say to her? I don't even know the father we share."
"Well, maybe it's time that you did." Rob says nothing more on the subject, instead he says, "You're making lasagna, right? I'm leaving if you don't make lasagna."
I drop the topic, too. I walk over to the cupboard.
"No pasta," I say, shrugging.
He looks horrified. "No," he says, marching over to the cupboard and looking in it. He scowls as he pulls out a box.
"No pasta," he mimics, handing me the lasagna sheets.
I grin. "No cheese?" I try.
Rob scoffs and walks over to his bag. He pulls out a ball of mozzarella, two wedges of cheddar and two red peppers. "You were saying?"
"Of course you carry around lasagna ingredients," I say.
"What respectable man doesn't?"
"Our Prime Minister?"
Rob flicks my forehead, "I said respectable man."
I gasp. "Treason!"
"I think that's only against the Queen."
I frown, "No, I'm pretty sure it's against the government, too."
"If you don't shut up you can make your own lasagna," I threaten.
"Government," he says meekly, handing me the ingredients.
Rolling my eyes, I'm about to order him to start chopping the peppers when I hear commotion from outside. I walk over to the window and push the blinds apart, peering through. There's a huge crowd standing in front of the building; I see microphones and cameras and, in the very middle of the crowd, two girls: Abby and Anabel. Abby looks upset, trying to make her way through the horde, and not succeeding. Anabel is clinging to her. I only realise Rob is behind me when he says, "Bloody hell."
"I'm gonna go get them," I tell him.
He nods, frowning as he assesses the scene. I know what he's thinking.
I run downstairs, adjusting myself slightly as I go. I stop outside the main door of the building, take a deep breath, and stride outside. Immediately, the focus shifts, and I find myself bombarded with questions, none of which I answer. I make my way to the two girls, pushing past whoever refuses to move out of my path. I grab Abby's hand- she looks ready to cry- and give her an apologetic look. Without me having to do or say anything, a cold, smaller, softer hand slips into mine. I almost pull back in surprise. Anabel shuffles closer to me as the press around us attacks her with questions.
"That's enough," I say angrily, but my words go unheard.
"Annabelle!" someone shouts through the crowd, "How did you feel when you found out you had another sister?"
"Annabelle!" someone else cries, "Have you been in touch with your father?"
"Annabelle!" I hear again, and it's this question that impels me to move, "Do you think it's right to take Anabel back to your family's home?"
I make sure my grip on Abby's and Anabel's hands is firm as I push through the crowd, forcing our way to the door. When we make it back upstairs, Rob asks,
"Where are Jen and the twins?"
Abby, visibly shaken, says, "They went to the shops and told me to take Anabel home."
Rob and I share a look. Rob walks over to Abby and strokes her hair,
"Hey, it's okay."
I approach Anabel, whose hand I didn't even notice as it slipped out of mine.
"Are you okay?" I ask, uncertain, trying to imagine I'm talking to Jen.
Little tears well up in Anabel's eyes, and the sound of her voice catches me off guard again as she asks, "How did they know?"
I have no answer because I'm wondering the same thing myself. My hand hovers over her golden head but I walk away in the end.
When Jen walks in with the twins ten minutes later, a bit jostled but otherwise fine, she begins apologising. "Abby, I am so sorry. We wouldn't have told you to go home by yourself if we knew."
"It's not your fault," says Rob and, once again, he changes the topic. "Everyone in the kitchen," he orders. "We're making lasagna. Jen, you're in charge of the cheese. Jake, pasta. Alan-"
"Is useless," I decide. "Sit back down."
The rest of the day goes perfectly- the lasagna turns out amazing, and when everyone is fed, stuffed, and watching Eastenders on TV, I sneak away, into my room, and find the courage to open what has been haunting me since yesterday: Anabel’s file.