Sloane and Fitz exit the arrival halls at London Heathrow to a welcome party; sisters and their husbands with welcome signs and balloons.
‘You sick bastards.’ Sloane says with a laugh.
All three sisters engulf her in a group hug.
‘Sloane is home!’ Bea squeezes her sister a little tighter, so happy to see her. Fitz suffered hugs and affection from the sisters as well.
‘Welcome home Slayer,’ Gabriel gives his sister a playful punch on the shoulder, he always thought Sloane the family slayer, she would go to battle for anyone of them no questions asked.
‘I’ve missed you boys.’
‘Same can be said for you, except you don’t like coming home to see us anymore so hey ho.’
‘Um… planes, trains, automobiles, you can’t come see your favourite sister-in-law once a while?’
‘You just saw Bea so that works.’
‘I’ll let you off.’
Bella clears her throat, patiently waiting for her moment.
Sloane turns to her sister. ‘Of course, we have a new kid on the block.’
The others laugh good-naturedly.
‘Sloane, I would like to introduce you to our newest member of the family, Kaiser, my husband.’
‘WHOOOOO!’ Everyone cheers and Bella rolls her eyes with a laugh.
‘Kaiser, my sister Sloane. Again.’
‘Nice to meet you.’ Kaiser holds out a hand.
‘Really dude? You finally found your reflexes after meeting Briar?’
‘Oh!!’ the others burst out laughing. News of Kaiser’s meeting with Briar Rhodes has become the new family legend.
Kaiser takes the teasing in good stride.
Sloane bypasses his hand and gives him a hug, ‘welcome to the family, we own your ass now because you marry one, you marry all four of us.’
‘So I’ve been told. Thank you.’
‘And this is Fitz my husband. Fitz, Kaiser, Bella’s husband.’
‘Nice to meet you man.’
‘How long are you staying for?’ Serena asks as she spots Sloane and Fitz’s luggage with the concierge provided to them by the airline.
‘Last minute and all, I didn’t have time to decided so I came with everything.’
‘And she means everything.’ Fitz says and Sloane playfully elbows him.
With their luggage in tow, they bundle into the slicks Mercedes Benz sixteen sitter which Serena hired to take them home, they sent the children and the dog ahead with their grandfather, Bea and Edward came down to London welcome Sloane and meet Kaiser. Chatter flies all around, and Fitz is ensconced with the boys, whilst the sisters catch up.
‘How did it go with the phone call?’
Kaiser’s mother had a phone call with Briar and Stephen, a formal meet was too short notice to plan considering they sprung a wedding on her at the very last minute.
‘It went well. Not the classic Briar show, she was actually genuinely nice.’ Bella says.
‘She called me to say how lovely Mrs Williams sounded on the phone and she was looking forward to meeting them all tonight.’ Bea says, ‘she is coming round.’
‘She doesn’t have a choice because this wedding is happening.’ Serena shrugs. Whatever their mother’s feelings she has no choice but to get over it and get on board with this because the wedding is happening whether or not she wants it to.
The sisters pulled out all the stops for the wedding, it was relatively easy to since Bella wants something simple with just the family around, both families. She’d already decided on her wedding dress; a simple and elegant gown from Dior; Sloane had called in a favour. Anas and the staff will handle the wedding dinner and drinks tonight. Ari and Ben have also been invited considering the part they played in the entire scenario. Stephen called in a favour with the village priest, who agreed to marry them at the very last minute. A hair and make-up team from one of London’s finest salons; Errol Douglas, will be coming down first thing tomorrow morning, and a local orchestra band will provide music. Bea will handle the photography.
Sloane is happy to be home with her sisters, all together for a joyous occasion, no matter how it came about. The van pulls into the Rhodes estate and the regal home comes into sight; she loves this place, it had shaped her mindset growing up, for all their issues, Briar raised them all with an incredible sense of self and consideration for others. From early on she told them the story of their heritage, their travelling ancestor going back several generations, those who were enslaved to the ones who put down roots in this English country side, all so they could have a better life than the last generation. And they did, they grew up privileged, but it did nothing to thwart their knack for hard work and grit. All of them.
‘There they are. My favourite humans.’ Anas greets the girls as they piled out of the Mercedes, her hug is big enough for all four of them.
‘Oh Anas I’ve missed you.’
‘Not as much as I’ve missed you Sloaney, come here.’ She gives Sloane an extra hug. ‘You look beautiful but too skinny my love. We need to fatten you up.’ She turns to Fitz, ‘she still eats like a bird?’
‘Yes ma’am she does, no matter how hard I try.’
‘I had a big breakfast this morning.’
‘Uh huh. Lovely to see you Fitz.’ Anas gives Fitz a hug with the same affection.
The butler and two assistants help with the luggage as the others traipse into the house after exchanging greetings with the staff.
‘Who’s there making all that noise?!’ Stephen and Briar come down to greet their daughters and in-laws both looking very well.
‘Good to see you son.’
‘Good to see you sir.’
‘My youngest daughter still giving you trouble?’
Stephen hugs his son-in-law. He wishes he sees them more often, his daughter is off doing big things in the world, they speak her name with respect and he couldn’t be prouder of her. Of all of them.
‘Aunty Sloane!!’ Out of nowhere five little children and a golden retriever come bounding towards them. Sky reaches them first and goes right for Sloane who catches her, lifts her up spinning her around.
‘Hello my sweetness!’
‘I’ve missed you.’
‘Oh I’ve missed you too, all of you.’
‘Did you bring us any presents?’ Arlo asks piling on for a hug.
‘Of course, I think uncle Fitz bought out the entire toy store for everyone.’
Children gabber all at once with hugs and kisses all round and they make their way into the house, leaving the sounds of laughter in their trail. The familiar sound of the girls who grew up into women, in the home where they grew up, in the village that holds so much memories for them, some of the best ones.
‘What time is drinks mom?’ The tension between Sloane and her mother did not go unnoticed by the others, but they did a good job of being civilized in the melee of fun and laughter.
‘Seven pm. Let’s not be late, we have to make a good impression.’ Briar says, ever the stickler for time.
‘Yes mother.’ All four girls chorus before exchanging a look behind her back.
‘I saw that.’ Briar says jocularly, her children are home, they have a lot to celebrate, a wedding and Christmas, a lot to be thankful for.
Children and grandchildren head upstairs to unpack and get ready for the reception.
‘We are having guests tonight Briar, you have to do better with Sloane.’ Stephen says to his wife as they get ready for the evening to host Kaiser and his family.
‘I thought we were perfectly civil-’
‘Civil is not what you should be with your daughter, besides, you owe her an apology.’
‘What for? I thought I was well within my rights to get the truth out of her.’
‘You accused her of doing something she absolutely did not, and after all that she put this entire wedding together very last minute-’
‘They all did.’
‘You know good and well Sloane brings everything together. Look, the bottom line is Bella is getting married to Kaiser, he is family now, I understand you’re upset but that will do no one any good.’
‘What is that supposed to mean?’
‘Be better with your daughter. At the very least you owe her an apology.’
Ruth Williams, Kaiser, his brothers and their wives arrive at the Rhodes estate at seven pm prompt and are met by Briar and Stephen. The girls, all dolled up in evening gowns and their husbands in suits, are introduced to the family before moving to the larger, slightly less formal parlour for drinks and canapes; akin to a meet the family type deal. Sloane takes the time to observe her mother and Mrs Williams who seem to have taken to each other from what she can tell. They are no question talking about the union between their children, and she can imagine just how that conversions is going, but so far, not voices have been raised or anger on display. She observes Kaiser and Bella too, her sister looks so happy, she glows in the stunning Carolina Herrera gown; they did each other’s’ hair and makeup tonight, much like they often did growing up, it brought back more fond memories for them. These moments are becoming fewer and farther in between for them, life, work and love take them far apart so when they get together, they do the most together. Even if it means the threat of calling the police, there is nothing she wouldn’t do for her sisters or them for her, and by extension their other halves. Kaiser has now joined the gang, he slots in perfectly with them, gets their jokes, is good natured about the teasing…its weird, but she absolutely pictures Bella with him, it’s the darndest thing.
A flash of light catches her unawares, Beatrix.
‘You and that damn camera of yours.’ Sloane chastises.
‘What’s up sister dearest, you seem a little… disconnected.’ Serena puts an arm around Sloane and Beatrix takes a picture.
‘Disconnected? How so?’
‘I don’t know. I cannot put my finger on it but something is up with you.’
‘Nothing is. I’m good.’ Damnit Serena and her hawkeyed observation skills.
‘Come on. Let’s go for a walk outside, I’m sick of all this loveliness.’ She giggles, as they escape by the side door unnoticed.
‘Are you okay? You seem a little quiet.’ Serena asks her youngest sister; forever looking out for her sisters.
‘Yes, I think I forget how big the family is when we get together.’
‘Do you miss it?’
‘I do. I miss you guys a lot, so I’m glad Fitz made us do this and dad insisted otherwise it would’ve been a not so merry Christmas.’
‘Why didn’t you want to?’
‘You know why; mom for starters. I got tired of dealing with her bullshit of hanging my refusal to get further educated over me. There are other reasons too-’
‘Like what? Talk to me Sloaney, what’s up with you? You are disconnected tonight.’
Sloane looks at Serena, the two Sweethearts as their dad calls them from time to time, bookends to the Bees. She has to tell her, she has to tell someone.
‘Come, let’s sit.’
Both sit on one of the chairs in the garden.
Deep breathes. Here goes. ‘I think I’m pregnant.’
‘Oh my God! Sloane! That’s awesome news!’ Serena hugs her sister tightly, happy for her. ‘Oh sweetie- hold on a minute, you think you’re pregnant?’
‘I took three home pregnancy tests after you and Bea left and it came out positive but I haven’t been to the doctor yet.’
‘I’m scared.’ Sloane wipes a tear that falls from her eyes. She’d been feeling so emotional about everything, but she knew there was something off when seeing her sisters in New York overwhelmed her to tears. She took three home pregnancy test and confirmed it.
‘Being a terrible mother. I don’t know…’
‘Come here.’ Serena holds Sloane in her arms, and in that moment her sister was a little girl again. Her lovely little feisty darling. ‘You are not going to be a terrible mother, you will be the most awesome mother there is. This child will be so awesome the word will need redefining.
Sloane laughs wiping away some more tears. ‘I haven’t even told Fitz, because I am too scared to even think it could be possible.’
Serena leans into Sloane, ‘I promise you will be wonderful at it. How are things with the two of you?’
‘Things are good, we haven’t been together much in the last three months; our schedules, Bella and her madness and then finding this out…we just haven’t had time.’
‘It’s little surprise he wanted to steal you away here.’
Sloane looks at Serena, ‘what do you mean?’
‘You’re always at it Sloane, work, best friend, sister, wife, and between the two of you, you travel for the world, run multi-billion dollar companies, you are pulled in a billion different directions, it cannot be easy on you and what suffers is the two of you. This is his way of making sure this is about the two of you as much as possible. As Bea said, I love your husband for you my darling sister.’
Sloane hadn’t thought about it like that. Oh Harp. ‘Enough about me, how are you and Gabriel? Don’t think I didn’t notice you and Gabriel, rather him looking at you, a little too much. You know I could never say this to anyone else but he is my favourite in-law.’
‘He feels the same about you too.’ Sloane laughs. ‘We’re good. We hit a rough patch earlier in the year.’
‘Patch out of the ordinary of marriage or…’
‘It was a little bit of that but then we didn’t listen to it so it got out of hand.’
‘Okay, I’m listening.’
‘Now I don’t want you to freak out but-’
‘Oh Serena are you getting a divorce?’
‘No we’re not, but earlier in the year I had a miscarriage.’
‘Oh no! I am so sorry my darling. Why didn’t you tell me?’
‘We were all so busy and stuff so I guess I didn’t want to add to that. But I wasn’t exactly thrilled about it when I found out I was pregnant, because the twins took a toll on my body and after Sawyer I thought I was done and it made me feel less motherly. But when I lost the baby I was so torn, but he knew I wasn’t exactly thrilled about having another child, so he went on as normal and when I challenged him about that he told me I didn’t want the child so he doesn’t know what to say. That hurt.’
‘We had a huge falling out. He didn’t sleep in the house for weeks and I didn’t talk to him for months. I think that was the time he started talking to Fitz more-’
‘I think so, because they would be on the phone for hours and in some ways I was happy because it meant he had someone to talk his feelings to since I was not helping.’
‘What about you? Who did you have to talk to?’
‘I told Bea, before I told Bells.’
‘Why didn’t you tell me?’
‘Sloane I miss you when you are not here, I don’t want to-’
‘Stop. Stop. Stop. You’re my sister it means you get to abuse the right and privilege however you want. Always.’
‘I know. Thank you.’
‘How are you?’
‘I’m better, better than I was. And I think your husband had something to do with that. Whatever he said to Gabriel, he came home one day and he begged me to forgive him for everything, he didn’t want to lose me or the children. I apologised too, because you know how I am.’
‘How are you two doing now?’
‘Better than ever.’
‘I’m happy to hear that. Are you still trying or letting things be?’
‘Letting them be. I think three children, is more than enough.’
‘Would you like to have more children?’
Elizabeth shrugs, ‘I don’t know. But for now, we are happy.’
‘Good. I’m glad you’re happy. I love you Serena, you are the best big sister there ever was. I love Gabriel for you too.’
‘He’s alright innit?’
Both sisters giggle making their way back to the house.
‘How are you Sloane?’ Sloane finds herself alone in the kitchen with her mother when she went in search of something to eat, there is still a lot of food out, as per usual Anas and the team went all out.
‘Hi mom. I’m good. How are you?’
‘I’m well.’ Briar observes her daughter, piling food onto her plate, Sloane has a bad habit with food, she picks but doesn’t really sit to eat, she can go for hours without food and the binge on everything in sight. They tried to stamp it out of her as a child but nothing ever stuck with Sloane, even as a baby she was determined, grew up to be just as, as a woman. ‘Listen, I’m sorry about the way I behaved after Bella’s…news I should never have assumed you would have anything to do with it.’
Sloane shrugs, ‘I’m the bad influence in the family, you say it all the time so why wouldn’t you assume that.’ She fills a glass with water, about to sit down to the pile of food on her plate, she is starving. Now that Serena knows her news she feels a little better. She has to tell Fitz of course but it’ll have to be after the wedding. She will not steal Bella’s thunder. She deserves this moment, the shine and glory of it all.
‘Mom it’s okay, I’m home for the wedding and after that we’ll move over to Bea’s so I don’t have to keep getting in your way.’
‘Why would you do that?’
‘Because you don’t want me here. I know that and it’s your house you shouldn’t have to entertain someone you don’t want to.’
‘You’re my daughter, and I love you. I like you a lot.’
Sloane laughs a little. ‘You’ve been talking to Beatrix haven’t you?’
‘Is that really how you feel?’
Sloane shrugs, ‘seriously mom, don’t worry about it.’
Briar knows her daughter, in this mood of hers she will only put up more walls between them and she would rather not. She will broach the subject after the wedding. She stands watching her stuff her face with the spread on her plate, it makes her smile; she’s home and that in itself is a good sign, they’ll talk and they’ll be fine. Sloane takes a large gulp of water, before reaching for another canape, happy as a clam.
‘What?’ Sloane asks her mother who is still standing there looking at her.
‘Gone off your favourite champagne? Daddy bought those especially for you.’
Sloane was not the only one observing tonight, Briar too been observing her daughter all night, they needed to talk but she kept a fair distance even in the intimate group, and she had her hands full with Kaiser and his family in attendance. But in watching her daughter she noticed that she only held on to her glass of champagne but drank water instead.
‘I couldn’t help but notice you weren’t drinking tonight.’
‘I was, just not a lot.’ Bloody hell what is her mother getting at?
‘No you weren’t.’
‘Are you pregnant Sloane?’
That moment, that exact moment is the moment Fitz, Gabriel and Serena walk into the kitchen. Sod’s fucking law.
Fitz and Sloane exchange a look, he’d heard, of course he had.
‘I’m sorry I didn’t mean to pry… I’m sorry.’ Briar wanted to take back the last five minutes, Sloane will not forgive her for this. She’d simply been trying to make up with her daughter.
‘Are you pregnant?’ Fitz is the one that asks that question. He sits on the bar bench beside his wife who is not looking at him.
‘Fitz I’m so sorry I didn’t-’
‘Oh for goodness sake mom just stop!’
‘Don’t take this out on your mother, this is not about her. You still haven’t answered the question.’ Fitz says.
‘I don’t have to answer to anything I don’t want to.’
‘Sloane, don’t do that. Please don’t. I’m so sorry.’ Briar never looked sorrier in her life.
‘Don’t do what!? Say that I am too afraid to admit that I am pregnant but scared that I will be terrible mother and not like my child the way you don’t like me? Or that I am so scared of being so bad at this that I have not even told the father of my child that I am in fact pregnant. Or that I still haven’t been to the doctor because I am too afraid of what they’ll confirm.’
By this time the entire family are in the kitchen having heard raised voices in the kitchen.
Sloane turns to Fitz, ‘yes I am pregnant. At least the home tests proves it, I found out after Serena and Bea, left. I haven’t been to the doctor to confirm anything. There you have it.’ She exits the kitchen via the garden door leaving behind stunned faces.