“You invited her?” Bella heard her younger sister bellow down the phone. “Why would you do that?” Susanna spat as an afterthought. Bella lowered the mobile, which up until now she had been pressing to her hear, straining to hear Susanna over the noise in the background. Bella took a deep breath, as quietly as possible, so Susanna wouldn’t hear her. “Bella, you still there?” she heard from somewhere by her shoulder. Lifting the phone back to her ear, Bella apologised. “I’m sorry, Susie, I didn’t invite her. But I also can’t do this right now. You know I have about 20 women coming through my door anytime now. I still haven’t finished decorating and the cake should have been here half an hour ago. Susanna groaned into her ear. “Sis, you know I’m bringing the cake. Cut the passive aggressive bullshit. This is me, your sister.” Bella rolled her eyes in exasperation; very glad her sister wouldn’t be able to see that. “Susanna, you were supposed to be here half an hour ago. So don’t be angry with me for not having enough mental preparation when mum arrives later.” “What kind of a difference do 30 mins make for prep time, when it comes to that horrible woman.” Bella gasped. “Susanna! Don’t say things like that.” She heard Susanna snicker at her justified outrage and couldn’t help cracking a smile herself. “Ok Susie”, she heard herself say in a soothing tone. “I’m aware it’s not ideal for her to come today, of all days. But her timing has always been impeccable, hasn’t it? Let’s just get through it.” Susanna agreed begrudgingly, emphasising again, that it was not okay for their mother to just appear today.

Their mother had a talent for just appearing – out of nowhere. Over Bella’s 32 years on this earth, her mother had been absent for 30 of them. Popping up here and there over the years, yet never long enough for any actual mothering to take place. Luckily her father had remarried a wonderful woman, who had become the mother they had always craved. And for Susanna their stepmother seemed to fill the mother-shaped hole completely. Bella had her difficulties making it work. She waited her whole life for their mother to come back to them. To be part of their lives. To show an interest, any kind of interest. But it never happened. Every time she came back, she was there for a reason, and it was never to be with her daughters. A couple of times she had come back for money but when their father had stopped giving it to her altogether, she had disappeared for almost 10 years. Her comeback after that was a traumatic one. She had become an addict, and the court needed their father to get involved as they were still married at that time. Bella was 24 at the time, she used to help her father with all the official appointments. Together, they had brought her mother to a rehabilitation centre. Together, they had picked her up there, hoping for her to regain a semblance of normal life. But it never seemed to happen for her. She went from rehab straight into the arms of an abusive lover. Those years had been the worst. She would show up randomly on their doorsteps, mostly on Bella’s asking for help or for money. Susanna had stopped paying her any attention when they had found out about the drugs, but Bella just couldn’t help herself. She needed to be there for her. Rescue her.

Then, three years ago, everything seemed to improve. Their mother had found a stable job and a stable man. She had turned things around for herself. Bella was over the moon. Maybe now, they would finally spend more time together, go shopping or to the Beauty salon or whatever a normal mother-daughter pairing would do. When Bella had come crying to Susanna, her sister had hugged her tightly and whispered in her ear: “We could never rely on her. You need to stop trying.”

And that is exactly what Bella had done for the past three years. She had given up on building a relationship with a mother and instead had found a beautiful relationship with the man of her dreams. Now she was pregnant with his child and the motherly abandonment in her childhood had grown even more baffling to Bella than it had been before. She could never imagine leaving this little being that was growing in her belly. She was sure, she had made the right decision, to cut her mother out of her life. But then she had called that morning, asking if she was invited to the baby shower. Apparently, their stepmother had asked her to come. She probably thought that Bella would regret not inviting her own mother. Bella was slightly angry with her, but she also couldn’t help admiring her strength. To invite the woman who stood in direct conflict with her and those she loved most. The woman who put a question mark behind her entire being as a wife and a mother. Bella loved her even more for that. And deep down she knew that she wanted their mother at her baby shower. Even if she would never admit that to Susanna. Yet now, Bella was worried. Would she even really come?

“I’m here!”, Bella heard her sister’s voice thunder down the hallway. “And I’ve got the cake. No need to panic.” Bella smiled lovingly and hurried into the kitchen to hug Susanna. “Oh, sis, you’re even bigger than three days ago”, Susanna exclaimed putting down the huge cake box on the counter. As they embraced, laughing and catching up, their stepmother entered the kitchen. “Hi Bella”, she said shyly, not knowing yet how Bella’s reaction to her unsolicited party planning had panned out. Bella gave her a big hug and whispered in her ear: “Thank you for inviting her, mum.” The last word hung heavy between them, as they separated. Susanna had witnessed the tender moment and went over to put a hand on each of their shoulders. “You are our mum, you know that right?”, she asked their stepmother and with a teary nod their stepmother pulled them in for a group hug. Then, the two most important women to Bella, got to work in her kitchen, helping her prepare for the party. Bella watched them with love in her heart and she knew it didn’t matter, whether her mother would come or not. She already had all the motherly love she needed.