The Wrong Sister

By: Kris Pearson

Like her sister, Fiona had thick honey-brown hair in a rich swathe well past her shoulders. That could go for starters. It would be a beginning, anyway.

Jan had always been a discreet and classy dresser. Fiona pictured bright funky clothes to go with a new hairstyle. Flamboyant earrings, lower necklines, shorter skirts—all the things alien to Jan would become part of her own new look. Little Nicola would enjoy the storybook colors, and hopefully Christian would be reminded a lot less of his recently dead wife.

She turned toward him, feeling safer now she’d increased the distance between them.

“What will you have for breakfast?” She hated the false brightness in her voice. “Bacon and eggs? Toast?”

“Just coffee. But Nicky likes porridge.” Their eyes swiveled in unison to the determined two-year-old digging in the sandpit outside the huge doors. A fence of toughened glass and slender steel posts bordered the sunny lawn. They were high up in the Roseneath area of Wellington. Beyond this, the land dropped steeply down to the harbor. Beautiful houses, old and new, nestled on the most improbable building sites to capture views of sparkling water and the city centre against its backdrop of tree-clad Tinakori Hill.

Early summer in New Zealand, Christmas a bare two weeks away. Fiona’s eyes roved over the garden borders billowing with petunias, marigolds and lavender, thinking they were much more Jan’s sort of thing than the careful funeral flowers. She could still picture the perfect stiff formal roses decorating her casket in the hushed church. The church where just a few short years ago her sister had been married.

Jan would never see her garden again, but if her daughter wanted porridge, that at least Fiona could manage.

“You need more than just coffee,” she said too sharply to Christian as she spooned oatmeal into a saucepan. “I’ll make you some toast.”

His beautiful lips twisted. “I can do it myself.”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake, I know you can! But I’m here to help. Let me. Go and get dressed for work.”

He shook his head, sulky as a mutinous school-boy.

Fiona found herself once again snared by his dark deliberate gaze. She’d always found her sister’s husband disturbingly sexy—not that she’d seen him very often because of her globe-trotting cruise-liner job—but now he looked exhausted as well. She had a sudden fierce urge to hold him and comfort him, to help him slide into a deep refreshing sleep.

She dropped her eyes from the heavy-lidded intensity of his. She knew the very best way to tire him out so he’d sleep deeply, and that wasn’t going to happen.

“I’m staying home for a few more days at least, so you may as well go,” he said.

Fiona turned aside, fuming that he’d taken no notice of her parents’ wishes. If only he knew what a nightmare assignment this was for her.

She threaded two slices of bread into the expensive four-slot toaster, and took her annoyance out on it, pushing the knob down with unnecessary force. There was a loud pinging noise and the mechanism failed to engage.

“You’ve broken it.”

Her nerves stretched a notch tighter. “I’ll toast it under the grill then.” She bit back her temper as she flicked the controls on and removed the bread to a rack.

Christian unplugged the chrome monster, shook the crumbs out into the sink, and laid it down on his opened newspaper. He left the room for a short time and returned with a handful of tools.

Fiona got the porridge under way and stood by the counter pretending not to watch as he turned the toaster over and poked about, his whole attention fixed on the task. She’d noticed he was always like this, immersed in whatever he was doing or whoever he was talking to. He gave himself totally to little Nicky when he played with her...had devoted himself without reserve to Jan when Fiona had dared stay with them in New Zealand on her trips back home from Europe. It was almost as if she hadn’t existed for him during those times—and it had been a shameful relief, because she’d found herself fascinated by him.

He’d made her feel super-aware, and edgy and uncomfortable.

Guilty with nothing to feel guilty about.

Far too alive and alert, when she’d been there to wind down and relax.

It had been wonderful seeing her sister, but there was always that extra edge of intensity when Christian was present.

“Toast’s burning.”

Fiona cringed as she smelled the smoke, and tore her eyes away from him. Flustered and annoyed, she reached for the grill-tray, forgetting how hot it would be by now.

“Damn!” she exclaimed, sucking her tender fingers.

He sprang up immediately, and his chair teetered off-balance before its front legs thudded down onto the floor again.

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