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Here is a short sample from the book:
‘What are they like?’
… Ella asked, smoothing her outfit as they walked quickly towards the house.
The ride in the car with her little brother at the wheel had taken its toll on her new clothes and stomach. Examining her reflection while passing the windows, she saw a shine coming off her brown skin and her black bob was a mess.
‘They’re really cool people,’ Nat replied. ‘We’ve been out a few times and Daniel’s the man, Tom’s a bit quiet but really nice. You’re going to love them!’
‘More men in the family, great,’ sighed Ella. ‘How comes I never get invited when you guys go out?’
‘Firstly I know you hate ‘family’ things and because if you were asked, then you’d have to bring that idiot boyfriend along,’ Nat sighed and looked at her. ‘Have you had another quarrel?’
‘No,’ she lied still reeling from her row a couple of hours earlier.
‘He’s no good for you, you know that?’ continued Nat. ‘You’re not your usual happy self when he’s around and come to think of it, he’s turning you very cynical.’
‘I am naturally cynical,’ she shrugged knowing her brother had a point.
‘Why don’t you leave him? You can always come and live with me.’
‘Then dad can tell me how I’ve made a bloody big mistake?’ she snorted. ‘No thanks!’
‘Your pride is going to be your let down, you know that?’
‘What’ve you been reading?’ she laughed out and looked at Nat.
‘This girl I’ve been seeing had a copy of some magazine that fits into your handbag and I was flicking through,’ he sheepishly said. ‘We’re nearly there.’
‘Oh god Nat, can I just go home?’ she pleaded, feeling her brother’s grip tighten. ‘I can’t do this.’
‘Oh no, you don’t!’
‘If you loved me you wouldn’t be so mean,’ she sulked, trying to pull back.
‘And if you loved me you wouldn’t be acting like a dead weight,’ he laughed now running.
Today Ella’s widowed father, Reggie, was celebrating his marriage to divorcee Jude, much to Ella’s dismay. She liked her new stepmother but missed her own mother so much as she hadn’t ever completely bonded with her father.
‘Never in a million years did I think he’d get married again after he was so crap at being married the first time. But here I am, with you, on a Saturday in October on the way to our father’s wedding reception party,’ she said, shaking her head. ‘And he couldn’t even tell me his bloody self.
‘He tried to get hold of you but I only found out when they got back from Guyana,’ laughed Nat.
‘I bet he married her out there because it’s not legal,’ she mumbled as Nat flashed an evil look. ‘Well you never know. Did you get them a present?’
‘Oh no, I forgot,’ groaned Nat. ‘Did you?’
‘Yeah I’m going to give my father a quick kick up the arse, if I get the opportunity,’ she laughed. ‘Jude is so lovely. How could she marry him?’
She noticed her brother was busy trying to catch his reflection in the passing car wing mirrors, as they trotted down the road, flattening his mop of hair.
‘Jude loves him. Isn’t it better she ends up looking after him than you?’ Nat smirked to himself.
‘Just because I said I’d stick him in a home if he got senile,’ she said. ‘Okay, not really. Why should I get lumbered with the old man just because I’m female?’
‘You know, maybe this is your fault,’ he said, stopping at the gate. ‘If you promised to look after him in his twilight years he might never have looked for another woman.’
‘When did he ever stop looking at women when he was married?’ laughed out Ella, then saw her baby brother’s face drop.
Nat’s messy curly hair and brown eyes shone out to match his ecstatic grin, his light brown skin glowing. Ella looked all over at her five foot four inch frame and finger combed her chin length bob, then saw how creased her clothes were.
She looked and felt fat.
‘I will try and be nice but I get wound up when I’m near dad,’ moaned Ella.
‘I know but try and behave for me?’ Nat said earnestly.
‘Remember if he plays any Ella Fitzgerald or Nat King Cole leg it!’ she quickly added.
Before they could debate further, the front door was flung open and Jude was standing at the door, smiling from ear to ear.
‘Oh my dear children, come in!’ she yelled in her soft Wolverhampton accent, with open arms. ‘Where’ve you been?’
‘Delayed,’ Nat replied, rushing to hug Jude as Ella loitered outside and could see the party was in full swing. ‘I had to pick her up.’
‘My, my look at you,’ Jude said, over Nat’s shoulder to Ella. ‘You look beautiful.’
Ella snorted back a laugh at her comment and felt her face go red at the compliment.
‘Oh thanks. Congratulations!’ Ella replied, walking to Jude and giving her a kiss. ‘I didn’t know what to get you for a present. A whip?’
‘Ella, you are funny,’ said Jude, smiling brightly. ‘You’re not annoyed about the wedding?’
‘Why should I be? He never invited me to his first so I didn’t expect to go to his second one,’ she chortled, knowing full well she was at his first, albeit, in her mother’s womb.
‘We just thought…’ Jude hesitated as she looked at Ella. ‘I know this is hard for you but I do love you and Nat.’
‘Really?’ she asked as Jude smirked at her. ‘Well there’s no accounting for taste. Can’t I go home? Dad’s going to be a right show off and it’s so embarrassing. I’m useless at parties and-.’
‘No young lady, it’s a family occasion and you’re very much part of it. Reggie’s not a show off, he’s just very funny.’
‘Love is blind, as they say,’ mumbled Ella as she begrudgingly stepped in.
Ella walked into her ‘family’ home, the place where she once lived with her mother, father and stinky little brother. It didn’t feel like home any more, it felt like someone else’s house.
It had been redecorated from head to toe, all the walls on the ground floor had been knocked down so the living area, dining room and kitchen were all one and there was nothing she recognised, other than embarrassing school photos.
‘Kids!’ Reggie shouted, standing with a bottle of rum in one hand and a glass in another.
Nat walked to his father and shook his hand before giving him a hug. Ella stood there and smiled, thinking how quickly she could leave and go back to Bethnal Green.
Then again, seeing John after a row wasn’t very appealing.
‘Ella, come and give your father a hug.’ Reggie smiled and waited for her to make a move. She quickly gathered every ounce of enthusiasm in her body and did as she was told. ‘Let me look at you?’
He held her at arm’s length then started shaking his head.
‘Too fat, too thin, too tired?’ she said, waiting for his comment, smirking.
‘Too sour faced.’
‘Well I had to be ‘too’ something or another.’
Ella knew her father always had to say something about the way she looked and even though she tried to ignore him, the comments were still sharp enough to hurt.
‘How much do you weigh now?’ he asked, eyeing her up and down.
‘Enough,’ she slowly said and suddenly felt annoyed.
That was the second time today someone asked her about her weight, the first being the lazy shit she lived with.
‘Hey come with me,’ Nat said, pulling Ella to the living room.
‘What the hell am I doing here?’ scowled Ella, turning back to see her father watching her. ‘Even when he’s celebrating something he’s getting at me.’
‘You’re imagining it. It’s his way of showing he loves you,’ Nat whispered into her ear.
‘Like a battered wife? Beat them because you love them so much?’
Ella’s eyes searched the room.
Everyone seemed to be looking at Nat and her.
She looked around and saw a very handsome man, medium height, tanned, messy dark hair and sparkling brown eyes. Ella immediately liked the look of him. He was smiling at her. Before she could ask who he was, Nat was tugging at her arm again.
‘Come and meet your brothers,’ Nat said.
Ella immediately halted and pulled her brother’s arm.
‘You’re my only brother and, unfortunately, as much as I can’t stand it, that’s how it’s going to stay. Is there something wrong with me?’ Ella quickly wiped her nose. ‘Why’s everyone looking?’
‘They’re probably shocked to see you. You know the mythical daughter who doesn’t come round, only makes contact by email and can’t use her phone.’
‘Nat don’t start-.’
‘Fine, fine, chill-.’
‘And don’t tell me to chill, that really pisses me off,’ Ella said, seeing Nat was starting to laugh and she in turn was grinning. ‘And you know it does.’
‘John has really pissed you off, hasn’t he?’
Nat’s smile slightly faded and she felt a pang of guilt.
‘Sorry, I’m being mean,’ she said. ‘I find this so hypocritical.’
‘I don’t want to talk about him,’ she grimaced. ‘Come on let me meet the new relatives then I can get drunk. Hopefully they’ll never want to see me again.’
‘They’re not as bad as you think and now we’re related to them by Dad.’
‘I’ve got out of meeting them for nearly four years so why change a habit of a lifetime,’ she laughed out.
‘You really should change your attitude young lady!’
Ella watched her ecstatically happy brother smiled at everyone, alternating between kisses and handshakes, while she looked at the ground, avoiding eye contact. Accidentally she could see her facial expression in a mirror and it looked like she was having problems breaking wind. Ella laughed to herself and at the ridiculous scenario.
‘Let me introduce you. This is Tom and Daniel, Jude’s kids,’ said Nat, pulling at Ella’s arm as she waved at the next door neighbour, Rosie.
‘Sorry,’ she shouted to Rosie. ‘He’s persistent my stinky brother.’
She turned to the couple of men in front of her and immediately realised one of them was the dishy guy she had made eye contact with several times.
This was a bad start in coveting your step brother.
Ella tried to suppress the heightened colour coming to her cheeks, knowing her brown skin meant she’d just shine or worse, break out into a sweat.
‘Lovely to meet you at long last! I’m Tom,’ he said and hesitated before kissing Ella on the cheek. ‘And that’s my brother, Daniel.’
He was small, wavy blond hair and looked a bit like his mother, with bright hazel green eyes and a sparkling smile.
‘Great,’ she replied, embarrassed on what to say but smiling brightly then turning to the gorgeous brother. ‘Hello.’
‘Hello,’ said Daniel, with one hand in his pocket and the other clutching a bottle of beer.
He was taller, fit body and even more handsome close up. From the way he was standing, the man knew it.
‘Nice to meet you,’ she replied, not sure if she was to kiss him or not, before realising he was about as thrilled to meet her as a poker up the arse. Her smile was beginning to freeze. ‘Are you enjoying yourself?’
‘What the fuck do you think?’ replied Daniel, looking pissed off.
Ella looked at Nat and Tom, who both grimaced.
She didn’t know what to say.
‘Come on Daniel,’ Nat said happily. ‘Be nice to my sister.’
‘Why should I?’ Daniel replied, looking at Ella up and down.
She noticed he pulled a face which made her feel self-conscious.
‘Shut up Daniel!’ Tom said, smiling at Ella. ‘Excuse my brother he’s just being a prat today. Women problems.’
‘You should take some ibuprofen capsules, that should do the trick,’ she said, smiling at Daniel who narrowed his eyes at her. ‘Always gets rid of my period cramps.’
‘A comedian like her father,’ scorned Daniel as he turned his nose up making Ella instantly angry.
‘Aren’t you happy about your mum getting married to my dad?’ Ella said, as Daniel eyed her up suspiciously. ‘I mean, we’re all family now.’
She gave out a little false laugh then glared at Daniel who she now had taken an immediate dislike to. Ella could feel Nat pulling her arm.
‘About as happy as anybody could be, getting a drunk for a step-father and some Pakis as relatives,’ Daniel suddenly said, looking at Ella right in the eye. ‘But you’re the illusive one aren’t you? Can’t be arsed to turn up to anything like you think you’re too good or something.’
‘What the hell did you say to me?’ she said, startled by the comment.
‘You heard!’ he snapped before laughing.
She turned to her brother, who laughed and Tom just shook his head, giving his brother a dirty look.
‘Daniel, you’re so funny,’ said Nat, shaking his head. ‘He’s winding you up. It’s just his-.’
‘No he’s not!’ snapped Ella, getting angry with her stupid brother.
‘Sis, he’s only-.’
‘For your information, we’re not Pakis as we don’t come from Pakistan,’ she said, stepping closer to Daniel whose eyes widened. ‘It may or may not have been brought to your attention but your mother’s husband is from Guyana, which is in South America, not Ghana in Africa, which means your mummy’s had a bit of Guyanese in her.’
‘Ella!’ Nat said, trying to drag her off so she shrugged off his grip and moved closer. ‘She’s had a bad day.’
‘Nat and I were born over here and for most of our lives I’ve had to endure fuckers like you, who embrace the curry culture, Notting Hill Carnival, smoking spliffs and listening to reggae but seem to label anyone with a brown skin ‘Paki’ or ‘Nigger’. My parents came over and did the shit jobs, paying their taxes for backward people like you.’
‘I don’t like curry that much,’ Daniel replied, half smirking. ‘Look I was only-,’
‘If you want to be offensive then throw a little bit more than that or just fuck off out of my sight! Yep, I’m delighted my father has chosen to marry a woman who has an ignorant, bigoted son. That’s why I hate fucking families. You have no control which sort of mother fuckers you’re going to be landed with,’ she said, blowing her hair out of her face.
‘Why don’t you just calm down?’ said Daniel, smirking.
‘Don’t you tell me what to do!’ she said and glanced at Nat who had his hands on his head in utter disbelief. ‘You’ve just made my day and I’ve not even been here for ten minutes. Congratu- fucking-lations! And you wonder why I don’t turn up to meet a fuck wit like you?’
‘Feeling’s bloody mutual!’ snapped Daniel who laughed again.
‘And Nat,’ she said, turning to her brother. ‘You don’t want to hang out with shits like him. They’ll laugh about you behind your back while pretending to be ‘right on’.’
‘What’s going on?’ asked Jude, quickly coming up to the group looking concerned.
Ella and Daniel were now glaring at each other.
‘Your son’s a tosser, unless you can make my day and tell me he’s adopted,’ Ella said, turning to Jude not wanting to look at the object of her scorn.
‘Ella!’ said Nat, alarmed and grabbing her arm. ‘Daniel was only joking so play nicely and don’t be rude to Jude.’
‘I didn’t mean to swear,’ she said apologetically to Jude and touched her arm before turning to Nat. ‘Why should I play nicely? I didn’t come here to meet a little dick like him and get insulted.’
‘See Daniel,’ Tom said, turning to his brother. ‘You just have to go out of your way to cause trouble.’
‘Like I give a shit,’ replied Daniel, who Ella knew was eye balling her out.
‘And don’t worry whatever your name is mate, you won’t be seeing me again,’ she hissed.
‘Again, I apologise for my brother,’ said Tom, trying to calm things down. ‘He has an odd sense of humour and I’m sure he didn’t mean to upset you.’
‘She’s not got a fucking sense of humour!’ Daniel laughed out and took a massive swig from his beer while glaring at Ella.
‘Stick it up your arse,’ Ella sneered.
‘Apologise for what?’ Jude asked Daniel, who Ella noticed hadn’t deflected his stare.
Ella turned her nose up and swore he was smirking at her.
‘Nice meeting you Tom,’ Ella said, beginning to walk out into the garden, before turning to Daniel and sniping. ‘I can only hope the pleasure was all yours, wanker!’
‘The feeling’s mutual. Remind me to never marry anyone with kids.’ Daniel hollered back and then all Ella could hear was Jude telling him off as he laughed and said, ‘Stuck up bitch. I feel sorry for anyone that ends up with her.’
It made Ella smile.
‘Good start,’ Nat said, as he came up behind her. ‘He was only joking.’
‘You take that sort of shit from people, do you?’ Ella turned and pointed an accusing finger. ‘Have you no sense of dignity?’
‘Of course I have!’ he said defensively.
‘You know what? I haven’t been called ‘Paki’ in years,’ she laughed. ‘And he should know better.’
‘Daniel is a wind up merchant.’