When my big sister died I loved her little girl like she was one of my own. After all I’d done for Ashley she wouldn’t betray me… would she?
By Kerry Bostock, 36, from Manchester
‘You’re Little Miss Proper, you are,’ my big sister Lisa smiled, as she playfully ruffled my hair.
She was right. Although Lisa was five years older than me, I was the sensible, responsible one, and she’d be the one getting into trouble.
It hadn’t always been that way. As a little girl, I’d idolised Lisa. She was a real role model and the age-gap meant that she was another mother-figure in my life.
But at 15, Lisa fell in with the wrong crowd. At 16 she got married and my parents hoped it would be for the best.
Mum said: ‘She might settle down now, get back on the straight and narrow.’ She was wrong.
By the time she’d turned 17, Lisa had given birth to Ashley. ‘She’s gorgeous,’ I cooed as I cradled her in my arms, and marvelled over her tiny, perfect features.
But it wasn’t a happy marriage and a couple of years later Lisa left, leaving Ashley with her dad. Lisa fled to London where she quickly met a new man and had a son, Paris.
Away from home, Lisa went into a downward spiral and fell into drink and drugs. ‘Let me help you,’ I begged when I went to visit and help out with Paris.
I was studying for my exams at the time but I would have done anything to get my pretty, popular, clever big sister back.
‘Promise me you’ll look after the kids if anything ever happens to me,’ Lisa whispered one day. I nodded solemnly as I vowed to be there for my niece and nephew should the worst happen.
Not long later, at 3am, the phone rang. It was Lisa – she was in hospital.
‘She’s on a life support machine,’ the doctors explained when we got there a few hours later. ‘We’re going to try taking her off it – but we don’t know if she’ll survive on her own.’
I was heartbroken – and angry. ‘You need to sort yourself out,’ I told Lisa as she lay, unresponsive, in her hospital bed. ‘You’re a mum – there’s no excuse for this sort of behaviour.’
I lost my temper, but only because I loved Lisa so much. I wanted so much for her, I couldn’t bear to see her throw it away.
Later that afternoon, my mum and I left the hospital to pick up my brother and little Paris. While we were out, Lisa died of a heart attack.
She was just 23 years old – and I never got to say goodbye.
I was crushed. Lisa was my big sister, my role model – and now she was gone. But I couldn’t lose myself in grief. Ashley and Paris needed me now, more than ever.
Before her death, Lisa had already instructed social services that I was to care for Paris. So although I was only 17 myself, Lisa’s little boy came to live with me and my childhood sweetheart, Darren.
‘Are you sure you’re not taking on too much, love?’ Darren asked. ‘It’s a lot of responsibility.’
But I was determined. I’d made Lisa a promise – and I was going to keep it. Ashley went to live with her dad and his family but five years later, when her nan died, she came to us.
Ashley was 10 by the time she arrived at home with Darren, Paris and me. After everything she’d been through, she was a troubled child.
She’d grown up fast but to me, she was still a vulnerable little girl. ‘You’re just a child,’ I told her. ‘And while you’re living under my roof, you’ll live by my rules.’
But Ashley pushed back. She had a boyfriend and was smoking. ‘Her attitude’s terrible,’ Darren said. ‘We’ve got a daughter of our own now – we need to think about our own family.”
But I always stuck up for Ashley. ‘She’s had a tough start in life, we need to make allowances for her,’ I insisted.
So when Ashley became a teen mum herself, Darren and I supported her and even took in her two young children at times to give her some breathing space.
It wasn’t easy, but I was determined to make the sacrifice. I’d made a promise to Lisa and although Ashley could be difficult, I loved her like she was one of my own. Blood was thicker than water.
In time, Ashley moved into her own place but she was always popping over to ours to see her two children.
‘I’m just nipping down to Ashley’s’, Darren told me not long after she’d moved in. He picked up his tool box and said: ‘She’s got a few odd jobs that need doing. I want to help her out.’
I thought it was a bit unusual. Darren had always been concerned that I’d taken on too much with Ashley, now he couldn’t do enough for her.
‘I’m just putting up a few curtain rails and fixing a couple of shelves,’ he shrugged. ‘We really need to support her.’
I smiled. I felt so lucky that Darren was so caring. After Ashley had her kids so young, people in the neighbourhood had a downer on Ashley.
It felt lovely that Darren was so positive about her. She was a good kid and I felt glad that she had a fatherly figure like Darren around.
‘Why don’t you go up to bed,’ Ashley smiled one night after she’d come to visit the children. ‘You’re falling asleep on the sofa.’
She was right. I was exhausted after a day at work and caring for the kids. Stretching, I yawned and said: ‘I might just do that, night love.’
Darren agreed to give her a lift home later and I left the pair of them chatting and laughing downstairs, as I padded up to bed.
This happened quite a lot but I was happy to leave them to it. ‘I’ll drop Ashley home,’ Darren would suggest. ‘You get an early night.’
Ashley had lost her mum but Darren and I were committed to giving her all the love she’d ever need.
But not long later, the phone rang. It was Ashley’s boyfriend. ‘Kerry, I need to see you – it’s important,’ he blurted.
I agreed to meet him and when I met his eyes in the car, I knew something was seriously wrong.
‘It’s Ashley… and Darren,’ he started. ‘I found a letter Ashley wrote, like a diary. In it she confessed that she’s having an affair – with your Darren.’
I felt a sickening knot tighten in my stomach. There had to be some kind of mistake. It couldn’t be true… could it?
She must have got Darren mixed up with someone else. He knew what I’d been through, what this would do to our family.
And besides, he was far too old for Ashley. I was like a mum to her. She’d seen the struggle I’d been through to care for her and Paris as well as her own children – she wouldn’t do that to me. She was family.
‘I need to talk to you,’ I phoned Darren. But when he panicked and hung up, I felt the bile rise in my throat.
Ashley denied it when I rang her but, determined to get to the truth, I stormed over to her house.
‘You have to tell me,’ I begged. ‘Is it true?’
Eventually she broke down. ‘I’m so sorry,’ she said through her tears. ‘It’s happened a few times. It’s been going on a while.’
I felt like my heart would break as she explained that the pair had shared a phone, that they’d even been together when I was in the house. It had been an intense relationship.
I felt like such a fool. Thinking back, I realised that I’d unwittingly given the pair the opportunity to cheat.
All those nights I went up to bed early and the times I’d nudged Darren to go down to Ashley’s to pick up some of the kids’ clothes or do a bit of DIY.
‘How could you?’ I screamed at Darren later. ‘It’s sick!’ He continued to deny the affair but I’d heard enough and kicked him out.
I felt dirty and ashamed, like I was in the wrong somehow. It was all just so sordid.
And I couldn’t get over the depth of their betrayal. After all I’d sacrificed for Ashley, this is how she repaid me?
It was almost too much to bear but slowly, I allowed Ashley back into my life. Now, five years on, we’re tentatively rebuilding our relationship.
I can’t forget what happened and I’m still cautious around her but she’s so sorry for what happened and ultimately, she’s blood.
She’s the spitting image of her mum and every time I look at her, I’m reminded of Lisa – and the promise I made her. I won’t break that promise for any man.
Darren, 38, told Take a Break: “It’s not the way it looks. Her and (Ashley), they wasn’t close anyway. I feel bad for my kids obviously, but not for Kerry. She’s not the type of girl she’s probably portraying herself as. I don’t want to make a living out of bad memories… if that’s what she wants to do then by all means print away. I’ll laugh at it myself when it goes in the paper, me. Because I’ve got bigger things to worry about. It’s not going to make no difference to my life. Maybe it might give her closure or maybe it might make her feel famous for a week and she can go round showing all her friends, like she’s not told them all before anyway. For her to bring it up now, it’s not going to make no difference, mate. She’s made well sure everybody knows about it. Obviously part of me does regret it, but at the same time, there’s never going to be closure to this situation as far as I’m concerned. I don’t care what she does about the story as long as it’s not going to offend the children. That’s all I’m bothered about. I don’t speak to Ashley at all. To be fair to Ashley she just kept herself out of it. She’s probably more ashamed than me because it’s her family. She has to live with it every day. I’m not in that situation where she has to look her family in the eye and think, I f***ed up, do you know what I mean? There’s nothing else I can really say.”
Ashley says: “It’s affected me massively really, because we’re not as close as we used to be (Ashley and Kerry). We’re a lot more distant now. She seems wary around me. Before then, it was good. She helped me a lot. She kind of like, looked after me then after all that kind of happened there was a big distance between us both. It all kind of came out in a letter that I wrote. I wrote a letter, it was like a diary, about all the bad experiences and my partner managed to find it unfortunately and that’s how it all kind of came out. Yeah it was (a relief in a way, when it came out). It (the affair), was just more a comfort thing I would say. I was a bit lonely and a bit lost, everything had gone downhill. I don’t even know what was in my mind to have even done such a thing but it was just… it was kind of a rough time, wasn’t it? But it can’t explain for the things that I’ve done.”