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.
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.
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 Ashley if anything ever happens to me,’ Lisa whispered one day. I nodded solemnly.
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. 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 needed me now, more than ever.
‘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 was 10 by the time she arrived at home with Darren 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.
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.
‘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.
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. ‘You’re falling asleep on the sofa.’
She was right. I was exhausted after a day at work. 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 – 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 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 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, said: “Obviously part of me does regret it, but I’ve got bigger things to worry about. I don’t speak to Ashley. She’s probably more ashamed than me because it was her family.”
Ashley said: “It’s affected me massively because me and Kerry aren’t as close as we used to be. Before then, it was good. She helped me a lot. 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. The affair was just a comfort thing.”
As told to Helen O’Brien Google