What you’ll be watching on TV in the weeks ahead ....
Annie lay back on her lounger by the blue swimming pool and smiled at Tom, her new husband, as he got up. ‘I couldn’t be happier!’ she told him, wishing with all her heart that it was true. She should be happy; she’d just married the man of her dreams, after all. They’d had the most beautiful wedding surrounded by family and friends and now they were having a week in the sun at a perfect hotel in Majorca. Her, Tom and his seven-year-old daughter, Megan.
‘Can you keep an eye on her while I go to the bar?’ he asked.
‘Of course!’ Annie smiled and her eyes wandered back to her stepdaughter who was just getting out of the paddling pool. Megan had seen her father go and started to run after him… then promptly tripped over. In an instant, Annie was on her feet.
‘Are you all right, darling?’ she asked, bending down. Megan’s face crumpled into tears. ‘Go away! I don’t want you, I want Daddy!’ she cried, pushing her away.
Tom was there a moment later. He picked up his daughter and immediately consoled her the way Annie feared she never could. She went back to the lounger and sat down, feeling deflated, and wished with all her heart there was a foolproof guide to being a stepmother.
Megan soon recovered and went into the bigger pool, with Tom this time, then they all went in for dinner. Annie looked around the crowded room. To an outsider, they probably looked like any other happy family. If only they were!
‘I don’t want this holiday ever to be over,’ Megan said as she ate her omelette. Annie smiled at her and her hopes rose. Well, that was a good sign.
‘Neither do I,’ she said. ‘It’s been lovely, hasn’t it?’ She went to smooth a hair away from Megan’s face, but she pulled away sharply. Annie’s heart sank.
‘What do you think was the best bit?’ asked Tom, as if nothing had happened. ‘Easy!’ Megan grinned. ‘The kids’ club. That was so much fun.’
Annie smiled ruefully. She’d known she would. That was one of the reasons she’d suggested this hotel for their honeymoon. Her mum hadn’t been able to believe it when she told her what they were doing.
‘You’re taking Tom’s little girl on honeymoon with you?’ she’d cried.
‘It’ll be fine,’ Annie said. ‘She’s been through so much. She’s had to adapt to her mother dying and then me coming into her life and marrying her dad. I really want her to feel that she belongs in this new family. Besides, I’m sure Tom and I will have plenty of time on our own.’
What Annie hadn’t told her mum was that she’d invited Megan along on honeymoon with an additional ulterior motive. She so wanted Tom’s daughter to accept her but, try as she might, she hadn’t been able to break down the barrier between them. It was always Tom she wanted to be with, Tom she told about her day at school, Tom who had to tuck her in bed at night… She’d hoped spending this time on holiday together would bring a new closeness between them.
‘She’ll get used to you in time,’ Tom had told her before they got married. That was before Megan had refused point-blank to be a bridesmaid and threatened to boycott the whole ceremony. Tom had managed to bring her round, allowing her to choose her own dress. So Megan had fulfilled her bridesmaid’s duties in the end, but she had glowered throughout.
And now they had come away together, Annie was more convinced than ever they’d made a mistake. They should have given Megan more time to get used to the idea of them all together. She sighed heavily. If anything, Megan seemed to be
SHE WISHED WITH ALL HER HEART THERE WAS A FOOLPROOF GUIDE TO BEING A STEPMOTHER
pushing her away even more now. She’d offered to teach her to swim, to take her on a girlie shopping trip into the town, but Megan hadn’t been interested. She’d only wanted to do something if her dad was there too. The rest of the holiday went by far too fast. Megan didn’t soften towards Annie, not one bit, but she was transformed from the sad little girl who hadn’t even been able to raise a smile at their wedding.
Annie watched her playing at the kids’ club, laughing and running around with the other kids. If only she could be this happy when they got home. And if only, if only, she could come to like her…
The day after they got home, Tom was back at work, Megan was back at school, and Annie was doing all the washing, shopping, cooking and cleaning while fitting in her part-time job and doing the school run. Megan’s face fell when she came running out of school that first day after half-term and saw that Annie, not Tom, had come to collect her.
‘Where’s Daddy?’ she asked crossly. ‘He told you he wouldn’t be able to pick you up today, remember?’ said Annie. ‘I’ve been baking this afternoon and I’ve made your favourite chocolate chip muffins. If we hurry home, they might still be warm.’
‘I’m not hungry,’ said Megan, scowling. ‘What’s that you’ve got?’ asked Annie looking at the rolled-up piece of paper in her hand. ‘Have you been working on something at school?’ ‘Nothing much,’ Megan muttered quietly.
‘Can I see?’ asked Annie. ‘No,’ said Megan holding it away from her. ‘When’s Daddy coming home?’
‘She still doesn’t like me,’ Annie told her friend, Lisa, when she called round the next day. ‘I thought it would be better once we were married, once she realised I was here for good, but it isn’t.’
‘She’s been through so much,’ said Lisa. ‘Just give her time.’ ‘How much time does she need?’ asked Annie, despairingly. ‘I thought Majorca would help.’
‘You were a saint to take her!’ Lisa said. ‘How many brides arrange their weddings so their honeymoon is over half-term and they can take their new stepdaughter away with them?’
Annie shook her head. ‘I couldn’t have left her. She enjoyed Majorca, and it was a lovely hotel, perfect for kids. Have you got time to see our photos?’
‘You bet!’ Lisa said. ‘They’re up in Megan’s room. I’ll just get them for you,’ said Annie. She rushed upstairs, but when she came down she was carrying a piece of paper and her face was white.
‘What on Earth’s the matter?’ asked Lisa, jumping to her feet.
‘This!’ said Annie. ‘This painting. Megan brought it home from school and wouldn’t show it to me. I guess it serves me right for being so nosy and having a look while I was up there…’
Lisa gasped. The drawing was clear and stark. It was of a green hill on a grey day, and on the top of it was what looked like a woman, only deathly white, her eyes dark and soulless, more zombie or ghost than living woman. Beside it were the words, ‘Annie Blackstone.’
‘I knew she wasn’t too keen on me, but I had no idea she hated me that much,’ said Annie. ‘She’s drawn me as some kind of vampire.’
Her voice wobbled and Lisa rushed to put her arm around her. ‘You’ve got to remember what she’s been through,’ she said. ‘She had Tom to herself for so long. It’s only natural she wants that to continue. So much has changed in her short life, it’s inevitable she wants some stability.’
‘But that’s what I’m trying to give her!’ Annie cried. ‘Oh, Lisa, I’m an absolute failure as a stepmother!’
‘No you’re not,’ said Lisa. ‘I think you need to sit down and talk to her. See if there’s anything in particular you do that’s upsetting her.’
Annie supposed it was worth a try. So when they got home from school that afternoon, she made Megan a milkshake and they sat down together.
‘Are you glad to be back at school?’ Annie asked her.
‘I’d rather be in Majorca with Daddy,’ said Megan.
‘And what about me?’ asked Annie. Megan looked at her and then she shook her head.
For a moment, Annie didn’t know what to say. ‘That picture,’ she began, eventually. ‘The one you brought home yesterday. What was it of?’
‘You, ill,’ she said, quietly.
‘Oh, I see… and… and why did you paint me like that?’ Annie asked her, gently.
Megan looked up at her and blinked. ‘Our teacher… she said we had to paint the thing we feared most in the whole wide world.’
Annie stared at her. ‘You’re scared of me being ill?’ she cried. She couldn’t believe it. ‘But… I’m fine, sweetheart. Where on Earth did you get that idea?’
‘Because Daddy fell in love with Mummy, like he fell in love with you…’ Megan began tearfully. ‘And we were happy and then… and then Mummy got sick and died…’ and she burst into tears.
Suddenly everything became clear. So that’s why Megan had been pushing her away. It wasn’t that she hated her at all. She was scared of history repeating itself, of letting Annie get too close so that it hurt her again.
‘Well, I’m certainly not going to get sick or die!’ Annie said, vehemently. ‘I’m sticking around forever. Or at least another 60 years. I promise you! OK?’
And as Megan nodded, and as Annie scooped her up into her arms and held her tight, for the first time ever her stepdaughter didn’t push her away. It was then that Annie knew for sure – they were going to be all right.
SO THAT’S WHY MEGAN HAD BEEN PUSHING HER AWAY. IT WASN’T THAT SHE HATED HER AT ALL