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Brother and Sister

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“Oh, Jan, please wait!” Vivian called anxiously after her brother. “I can’t keep up when you go so fast.”

Jan paused and looked back at Vivian, who was several yards behind him. He’d grabbed his rucksack and slammed out of the house fast, wrapped up in his own thoughts, not noticing the fact his kid sister had come after him, until now that is. He really wanted to be alone, and opened his mouth to shout at her to go away when she tripped on a loose stone in the path and twisted her ankle as she stumbled. Reluctantly he went back for her.

“Daft girl,” he scolded gently, as he helped her limp to a large log at the side of the footpath. “Why ever did you come out without your boots? You know those shoes are just meant for walking on pavement.”

“Don’t blame me – you’re the one who left so fast, I hadn’t any chance!” Vivian’s tone was semi-accusatory.

“I didn’t know you were following,” Jan explained.

“But you said we were going for a walk this afternoon.” Her heart sank, though, as she saw the expression on his face, and his next words came as no real surprise.

“Did I?”

Clearly it had been a throwaway promise meant to appease her without any real intention behind it. She realised that, as had happened all too often this Easter, she had been cast in the role of ‘annoying little sister’. She’d been so looking forward to seeing Jan this holiday; but nothing had turned out as expected. Every day had been punctuated with rows between Jan and her father, and he seemed somehow changed. She couldn’t put her finger on how or why; he was just different.

Not that he had ever been close to Dad. He’d always been closer to Mum. Maybe that was the problem this holiday: Mum was not only busy with a play but her company was away on tour, so she couldn’t even get back to visit Sundays and Mondays. She’d always been a bit of a buffer between Jan and Dad; and now she wasn’t around to do that.

“Come on,” Jan said. While she’d been woolgathering, he’d massaged her ankle. Now he stood looking down at her still seated on the log. “If we’re going for a walk, then we’d best be off.”

He had that bland look on his face – the one that said he didn’t really want to be with her. Vivian decided not to question her luck though. Maybe he’d prefer to go without her; but he was offering to take her and it was always more fun to spend an afternoon with him than without him. She scrambled up from the fallen tree, brushed off her skirt, and set off with her brother. She had to hurry to keep up. He’d shot up this last term at school and the long strides he made with his lanky legs took him swiftly along the side of the hill. She simply couldn’t keep pace with her shorter strides. No matter, Vivian thought, as without thinking, he pulled away from her. She’d figured out where he was making for, and would catch up in a bit.

Jan was leaning against the cairn when she arrived ten minutes later. It marked a point in the hills at the back of their house, which, while not very high, was nonetheless, the highest point for two miles round. As young children they’d often come up here to play; it was a safe path and not so far from the house that their parents would be worried. Later they’d escaped here to avoid rows between Mum and Dad, who seemed to be two people who just could not live together, no matter how much they loved one another. That had got much better once Mum had gone back to work, and her acting took her away from home on a regular basis (though the Jan and Vivian had learned to dread those periods when she was resting – mercifully brief though they had been, because Mary Hallows was a very good actress). And, of course, round about that time, first Jan, and then a couple of years later, Vivian too, had gone off to school, which had also helped.

Jan looked at his kid sister as she sank down cross-legged beside him. She wasn’t a bad sort really. Lots of the chaps at school had horror stories about their sisters – prinking and preening in front of mirrors, or prying into a one’s private belongings, or being sissies about snakes and frogs and insects. But Vivian had never been like that. She might wear skirts; but he couldn’t remember ever seeing her in a frill or bow. And she was just as likely to bring him some garden creature as he was to find it on his own. Yes, he could have done a lot worse than Viv. She was a good chum.

“What was the argument about this time?” Vivian asked.

“Same old, same old.” Jan returned.

“He still wants you to go to medical school?”

“Can you see me working all day in some horrible poky room in the middle of town?” Jan asked, “or in some barracks of a hospital?”

“No, I guess not.” Truthfully, Vivian had only a hazy idea what a doctor did all day. Cure sick people, she supposed. And she guessed they spent most of their time in their surgeries – at least GPs did – or maybe making calls round the home of sick patients. It was that she just couldn’t see Jan doing: spending his life round sick and elderly people. It didn’t fit with her vision of Jan somehow.

“Anyway, I’ve told him flat out that’s not what I’m doing when I go up to college.”

“No?” Vivian’s tone of voice was wondering. She couldn’t quite imagine telling her father anything ‘flat out’. But then Jan had never been one to shy away from confrontation if need be. He usually didn’t have to worry about that, having inherited his mother’s charm in spades. He had also, however, inherited her determination.

“What will you do then?” she asked.

“Geography,” he said.

“Geography? What do you do with that when you’re finished?”

“That’s what he said,” Jan replied somewhat scornfully. “He tried to say he wouldn’t pay if I didn’t take medicine or law or something useful, as he put it. But then I reminded him of the money I’ve got coming to me when I’m 21, which was what led to the latest row, I suppose. He’d thought I would invest it in a doctor’s practice.”

“Oh,” said Vivian, somewhat blankly. It was all a bit beyond her understanding, though, of course, she was behind her brother. He and Dad had never got on; so the idea of Dad knowing what would make Jan happy was pretty stupid – not that Dad would ever see it that way.

“But what will you do between now and when you’re 21?” Vivian’s question was a reasonable one. After all, Jan had at least a year between leaving school and receiving his inheritance.

“Mum’s said she’ll sort something out,” said Jan. “I had a letter from her yesterday about it. “You know, I think it was when I told him that he really blew up at me, in that cold fish sort of way he has about him. He seemed to think she should have discussed it with him first. You know how unreasonable he is.”

Vivian wasn’t so sure she agreed with Jan about this. Why shouldn’t a husband think his wife should talk to him first? She didn’t mention it to Jan, though. He and Mum had always been allies; and he’d never understood their reserved and reticent father. She supposed she only did because she’d been left behind at home for two years after Jan left for boarding school, before she went off to her own school. It had just been Dad and her on their own; and she’d developed a better appreciation for the fact he was just there, solid and reliable.

“Plus, I rather fancy travelling a bit when I graduate; and my inheritance could come in useful for that too,” Jan added. “Regardless, this is the last holiday I’ll be spending here.” His tone of voice was scornful.

Vivian’s heart sank. No more visits with Jan in the holidays? Just to be here alone with Dad (for Mum wouldn’t be around much either)? Responsible he might be, but life with Dad tended to be a bit colourless and dull. Not for the first time Vivian thought wistfully about the unfairness of it all: she’d never have Jan’s choices.