Melanie looked at the message again in disbelief. She’d been trying to come to terms with the telephone call from her father two days previous. Her twin sister Ellen and husband Jeff had died in a car accident and the funeral was scheduled to be held this coming week. Her father was insisting she should be there. The sisters had not talked since Ellen’s marriage to Jeff, but father had urged her to put that aside and come home for the funeral. He needed her support through all the stress this would entail and to help with arrangements. Her mother Susan had died three years previous and Melanie knew her Dad had struggled with that and gone back in health over her loss, so she knew she’d no other alternative but to return home to help him. She loved her parents and had been close to her sister too up until the time Jeff came on the scene.
Melanie had been the outgoing twin, into sports and on the debating team at school with a clear vision of what she wanted in life and energy to back up her plans. What Melanie wanted she usually got.
Ellen had been the quieter of the two happy with her books and study. She knew she wanted to be a writer after completing education and eventually after graduation found work with a publishing house while Melanie interned with a law firm. Their interests took them to different locations for work but because the family was close they’d return home for vacations to share quality time with their parents and relatives.
On one of those vacations they were enjoying time camping with relatives at a beach resort. Melanie would be down at the beach enjoying beach ball with whoever happened to be playing and it was there she first saw Jeff. He was the star player on the other side on the day she first noticed him, well-built and obviously the life of the pack. After the game she went over to talk with the opposing team and sought Jeff out. She felt an immediate attraction to this man and looked around to see if he was attached. Seeing no one claiming him on the sidelines she made her move. What Melanie wanted she got, that was her mantra. She invited him over to their camp to share a meal with her family after finding out his family were not there. He’d come to the beach resort with a group of guys and he said yes after consulting with his group.
He was an instant hit with Melanie’s family, at ease with them and the life of the party with his dry humour delivered with appropriate respect to those elder to him. It appeared he’d studied marine biology and was working as an intern in that area of studies with one of the university research departments.
Melanie was smitten, but the green-eyed dragon of jealousy appeared on the scene when Jeff showed an interest in Ellen rather than her. She did everything she knew how to divert Jeff’s attention to focus on her but while he was polite his attention always refocused on Ellen in that first meeting. The family were totally unaware of Melanie’s distress and encouraged this spark which was too obvious to miss. Melanie was furious with all of them, but her ire was directed at her sister. She’d bought this man into the family circle, why was her sister the focus of his attention and why was Ellen not understanding he belonged to her? Ellen was oblivious to her sister’s irritation and had not in any way encouraged Jeff’s interest in her. But she was secretly pleased as her introverted personality wouldn’t be attractive to many but in Jeff’s hands he had the talent to draw her out of self-isolation and she liked that.
So, to try and turn his attention Melanie began to flirt with other members of his group and at the same time indicate she’d be available exclusively to him if he made a move. She even cast some disparaging remarks about her sister but observed quickly this was counterproductive. Jeff was not into putting others down and even stated publicly he didn’t agree with what she said about her sister. Melanie could see she was not going to get her way with this man and her attachment turned into dislike. She resolved that she’d somehow teach her sister a lesson over stealing this man’s affections form her. From that time, she exhibited a coldness toward her sister that caused Ellen considerable distress. Ellen tried to find out what had caused the change in attitude as they’d been close up to this time, but Melanie wouldn’t respond to Ellen’s attempts at reconciliation.
Ellen shed many tears over the situation begging to be forgiven for whatever had made Melanie angry with her, but eventually recognizing their closeness was a thing of the past she accepted it. Her distress was compensated by letters from Jeff and meetings with him whenever their two different occupations permitted it. When Jeff proposed Ellen was ecstatic and the family delighted. Melanie raged within over the engagement. When Ellen asked her to be bridesmaid at the wedding Melanie was tempted to say no but realized family friends and relatives would never understand that so put on her professional face played her part and resumed her cold treatment after the wedding avoiding contacts with the family where Jeff and Ellen would be present. Her excuse was that moving up in the law firm required all her time now.
Melanie had cried when she heard Jeff and Ellen had been killed in that motor accident. Her conscience smote her heavily as she thought of how unreasonable and cruel she’d been to her sister. She wanted to make it right now but that was impossible. It had been hard enough losing her Mom to cancer but now losing her sister when she wanted to make things right was crushing her. She’d been terribly wrong, and it could not be reversed.
She looked at the message on her phone again tears streaming down her cheeks. Ellen’s two children were with their grandfather. Her father had reported both were inconsolable at the loss of their parents. Their names were Jeff Jnr and Melanie. When Melanie first heard from her Mom what the two children had been called at birth she interpreted that as a subtle way of getting back at her by her sister for the cold treatment. Now she recognized what she’d always known to be the truth inside. In naming her child Melanie Ellen had signalled she still loved her sister and if she could not have that relationship with her as it had been before she’d get those memories renewed every time she looked at her daughter. Melanie’s tears turned into loud sobs of grief.
Melanie took compassionate leave from the law firm and headed home. She’d never met her nephew and niece before because of alienation from her sister. Her father met her at the door when relatives reported she’d arrived. The two of them embraced and tears were shed. Clutching grandpa’s legs were her niece and nephew. Eventually Melanie controlled her emotions and glanced down to see the children for the first time. She saw a mirror of Jeff in the making but could not determine who young Melanie looked like. Both children stared at her while Melanie attempted to smile winningly to make them feel comfortable. The young girl spoke first.
“You look just like your pictures in my Mom’s room.”
Melanie glanced at her father who looked away grieved at his grandchildren’s plight. He hoped against hope Melanie wouldn’t treat them coldly when they were in such need of support now their parents had been taken from them. Melanie understood this unsaid signal well and tears returned to her eyes. On impulse she reached down and gave each child a hug.
“I’m sorry it has taken so many years for me to meet up with you. What were the pictures your Mom had in her room of me?”
Melanie glanced at her Dad again and saw he was distressed recalling the bitterness that had entered his two girls lives. Now one of them was dead and no chance of a reconciliation.
“She had a big picture of you and her up on the wall of her writing room and a photo album of the both of you when you were growing up.”
Melanie swayed on her feet as guilt enveloped her again. The room was beginning to black out on her, but she fought against this feeling. She was the poker-faced lawyer trained at coaxing truth out of her targets but now she was the one placing herself under scrutiny. The truth judged her guilty! She turned to her father again.
“Where do you want me to put my things Pop?”
“We kept your own room ready for you Melly.” He forced a smile as he reached down to carry her luggage inside.
When she’d settled in and refreshed herself after the long trip she emerged to find the children standing outside her door. “You look just like our Mom!” Said Jeff Jnr.
“Well we are twins so I suppose I should look like your Mom, but I think your Mom was prettier don’t you?”
The children smiled. “You’re pretty too Aunt Melanie.”
Melanie looked up as her father appeared in the hallway. “I think you should let your Aunt settle in as she’s just arrived from a long journey.” He made to gather them up and take them back to the recreation room where other relatives were assembled. The children turned to accompany their grandfather.
Suddenly Melanie wanted to connect with her nephew and niece. She couldn’t reconcile with her sister now, but she could make it up to the children for all the years they hadn’t known her other than through photographs.
“Dad there are a couple of things I left behind in my haste to come here that I need to go downtown to buy. I wonder if you’d let me take the kids with me as I feel the need of company?”
Her father looked at her inquiringly. What kind of game was Melanie playing? She’d been so cold to her sister over all these years since the wedding and now she wanted to take these children for a ride with her? He glanced at his grandchildren who were looking eager to get out of a house full of serious adults for a while.
“Children go and wait with your uncles and aunts for a while. I need to talk with your Aunt Melanie and then we’ll come out. OK?”
The children nodded and ran down the hallway to join assembled relatives. When they were out of hearing he spoke.
“Melly I love you without reservation and that is without question, but we need to talk. I have documents from the lawyer’s office where Jeff and Elly ‘s will, and other important papers were kept. They state that if anything happened to them they’d like you to manage the estate in trust for the children and care for them personally as their guardian. They knew it would be more than I could handle. But I know the relationship between you and your sister was broken and feel it would be better to leave them in my care as your kind of work is demanding and you’d not be able to care for them in the way they need. I’m old and that’s not the best solution but am prepared to do that under the circumstances. Please don’t be cruel to them by taking them with you this afternoon and raising their hopes of a substitute mother as you look just like Elly as I heard the kids mention and they’re already suffering grief at the loss of their Mom and Dad.”
Melanie cried bitterly and her father anxiously tried to comfort her. “I’m sorry if what I said hurt you, I’m only trying to be practical for both you and the kids.”
Melanie thought quickly as she cried. Finally, she calmed down. “Dad I accept the responsibility and will be a loving and attentive mother to Elly’s precious kids. They are lovely and I deeply regret my actions all these years. I’m humbled Elly would consider me for this privilege after all the hateful things I’ve done.”
Her father looked troubled. “It would not be in their interests for you to take them Melly. Your lifestyle doesn’t allow for you to give them the care they need as they grow up.”
“Dad please trust me. I’ll put in my resignation as soon as the funeral is over and return to take on this responsibility. At least they’ll be familiar with their own home surrounds and friends. It’s won’t make up for the loss of Jeff and Elly but I’ll be a mother to them I promise.”
Her father stared at the wall still holding his daughter to comfort her. “Melly what will you do for work? Obviously, there will be bills to pay so don’t be rash in deciding this.”
“Dad I’ll sell my apartment in the city and set up a law practice in town handling simple legal issues like property transfers. I won’t take on cases that require days and nights of research so I can spend time with the kids as they grow. It will be my pleasure to do that and probably better for my health as the lifestyle I live now impacts on health without proper meals, exercise, and rest. Please trust me Dad, I want to do this.”
Her father now relaxed smiled and kissed his daughter on her forehead. “I’m proud of you Melly! Go take the kids to town and take their minds off their grief for a while, I’m glad you returned to help me with funeral preparations.”
Melanie dried her eyes and went looking for the children. “Let’s go to town. I need some things and I think you guys need an ice cream!” For the first time since news of their parent’s death the children smiled as they all headed for her car.
As they were driving to town Melanie spoke. “Would you guys be disappointed if I came to live in your house to look after you?”
Jeff Jnr and little Melanie glanced at each other in surprise. “It would be like having our Mom back again as you look just like her.”
“Then in a few weeks I’ll be back to take you home from your grandfather’s place and I’ll stay with you forever.”
Jeff Jnr said. “We’ll be so happy! We miss our Dad and Mom very much, but we’ll be happy to have you as our second Mom.”
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