'This is your house?!'
I ignored Taliah's comment as I tapped my card against the taxi pay machine. The cabbie who quickly became Mr chatty when he heard the mixture of accents, jumped out to help us get our suitcases out the back.
'Tourists are they?' The gruff cockney accent brought my attention back to Lindsay and Taliah who's faces were practically pressed up against the windows as they took in the sites of London. They'd been doing this since we left Heathrow airport.
'How can you tell?' I joked.
The cabbie set the suitcases down on the frost-bitten pavement where Lindsay and Taliah were waiting.
'Cheers mate.' I said handing him a five pound note that had, for the last couple of months, been collecting dust in my purse since I'd left.
'No worries little lady.' He tipped an imaginary hat then went back to his car.
'Enjoy the trip.'
'Are your family like millionaires or something?' Taliah asked as I joined the two of them outside number 12 Grove Terrace, South Kensington.
'Taliah!' Lindsay scolded but she too looked a little in awe. I guess Mum never brought her here when she visited.
I don't blame them. I thought the same when my parents told Nora and I that were moving in here. I knew we had money, I'd have to be an idiot not to know that, but it was never really something we noticed whilst in the countryside. Here in London however, living in the 5-bedroom 4 story Victorian end of terrace, it was hard to ignore.
I was 8 when we moved here. Until then dad had commuted from our house in Surrey to London every day. Then my dad's father passed away leaving the London house to my parents. My sister and I were put into a private all-girls school and we all moved in here for the school months. I can't lie though, as much as I loved London, I always missed the house in the country. It felt so peaceful there and was a massive contrast to the organised chaos of the city.
'They were... comfortable.' I replied. My hand hovered over the garden gate as a wave of sickness washed over me.
'Are you ok?' Taliah asked concern etched onto her soft features.
'Yeah it's just weird being back here.' I took a deep breath and opened the gate making it creak slightly from the lack of use. We just about managed to lug our suitcases up the front steps and I moved to put my key in the front door just as it flew open making the three of us jolt back in surprise. Thankfully none of the cases tumbled back down the steps again.
'Evelyn!' Henrietta our cleaner and house keeper threw her arms around me so tightly I could hardly breath.
'Darling girl, it's so good to see you!' She pulled me back so her surveying eyes could look over me.
'Hmmm you've lost weight.' She tutted.
'It's all the soccer and running she does.' Lindsay said.
'Oh, how rude of me not to introduce myself! You must be Lindsay; we spoke on the phone. I'm the Townsend family house keeper.' She said properly but I could hear the crack in her voice.
Lindsay shook Henrietta's hand as I rolled my eyes.
'Hetty you're not just a cleaner. You're practically family.'
'Yes well. And you must be Taliah.' She said when her eyes fell onto my blonde friend.
'That's me.' Taliah gave Hetty one of her sweet as pie smiles but her teeth chattering because of the minus temperature made it look a little forced.
'Come inside now ladies, it's bloody freezing outside.' Hetty helped us with our bags as she ushered us inside. 'how about I go and put the kettle on whilst you lot warm up by the fire? You must be exhausted from the flight!'
She left us in the entrance hall as the change in temperature made us all start peeling off layers of clothes. Then I lead the two of them up the stairs into the living room where the log fire was crackling away.
'This house really is beautiful.' Lindsay said taking a seat on one of the sofas. Before I could even ask Taliah if she wanted a blanket, she plonked herself down on the carpet next to the fire releasing a satisfied ahhh.
'Did you never meet Mum here?'
'No. She always invited me to stay when I came to visit but I was always all over the place so never got the chance to.' She snuggled down into the pillows as Hetty entered the room with a tray of tea and an assortment of cakes.
'Well you haven't seen anything yet. Anastasia really went to town with re-decorating this place.' Hetty said as she started pouring out the tea.
'Evelyn's grandad had really left the house in a bit of a state, so Anastasia got herself into adding the life and soul back into this place.'
We all fell into silence, Lindsay and I deep in thought and Taliah probably not sure what to say.
'Anyway..what have you girls got planned? Have you been to London before Taliah?'
'No never, but there's so much I want to see! I wrote a list on the plane of all of the sights I want to go to.'
'We better make sure we're wearing our walking shoes then.' Lindsay said nudging me.
'And that your energy is up! Now eat, drink and rest. If you need anything and I mean anything just let me know!' Hetty fussed before leaving us to it.
'I think I'm going to head up for a shower.' I announced lifting myself up out of my chair. The other two were too busy stuffing their faces to say anything so I headed up the stairs to mine and my sisters room. I probably would've been a little bit more reminiscent as I walked around the house if it wasn't for the banging noise coming from my room. I flew the door wide open to find Nora jumping on her bed like she was five years old.
'I wondered when you would show up.' I said as I quickly dodged to stop myself falling over mine and Taliah's suitcases.
'I forgot how bouncy this bed was.' She giggled before crashing down onto the mattress and falling to the floor.
I looked around our bedroom to find everything left exactly as it had been since I left. Actually, it was quite messy from my rushed packing so maybe I should tidy up a little seeing as Taliah's staying in here as well.
'It feels like we never left doesn't it?' Nora said as she walked around our room, occasionally picking up bits of jewellery or clothes.
'That's what's so scary.' I whispered.
I did a quick sweep of the room, first tidying the bed that Nora had just been jumping on and then hiding away a few of her things. I doubted Taliah would say anything but even I knew it was probably a bit weird for her staying in the room that still has all of my dead sisters' things in.
To be honest at the time when I left, I just wasn't in the right frame of mind to sort through it all. I don't think I'm ready now. I was always the sentimental twin out of Nora and I. I kept things like ticket stubs or sea shells from holidays we went on as kids. She would always laugh at me and "my junk", but she understood that those things were important to me. I always had a way of connecting feelings with inanimate objects. If it were the other way around Nora probably would've already sorted through my things, keeping a small handful and then giving the rest to a charity shop. For now, all I could do was pile the majority of her things into boxes and hide them in our wardrobe.
I quickly sent a text to Harrison when I realised it was still too early to call him and then jumped in the shower. For the next couple of hours, the three of us chilled out. Lindsay and Taliah had showers too and then we catnapped some of the jetlag away. By 4 o'clock we had enough energy to head out.
'Where do you two want to head too?' I asked as we started put all of our layers back on again. The warmth inside the house made me feel like it couldn't possibly be that cold outside but I knew it wouldn't take long. It was starting to get dark outside and the sky was clear which was a recipe for frost bite.
'Well if you girls don't mind, I'd quite like to go on the London eye. It was something I used to love doing near Christmas when I was in London. All the Christmas lights look beautiful from that high.'
'Oh yes let's do that!' Taliah squealed excitedly.
The three of us, once satisfied that we were bundled up enough, headed out into the afternoon. It was a short walk from my house to South Kensington tube station where Taliah used an oyster card for the first time which apparently was a novelty to her. According to her, the whole tube experience was fun which was comical to watch. I was just waiting until she experienced her first roasting hot sardine squished commuter train. Now that I guarantee would ruin it for her.
We got on the district line and then five stops later exited at Westminster. From there we passed by Big Ben where I promised Taliah we'd come back to in the daytime, then did the short but breezy walk along Westminster bridge. Then it was a short walk along the river Thames where the London eye was lit up.
'Wow, we're going on that?' Taliah asked with a hint of scepticism.
'Yep. Not scared of heights are you?'
'No no, heights and me we're cool.' she replied whilst looking up at the wheel like it was Everest.
I chuckled and dragged her over to the relatively short queue where it didn't take long before we were being ushered into our pod. Ever so slowly the wheel started turning and we lifted off from the ground. From then on it was like the three of us fell under London's trance. We all stood by the glass windows staring out at the magnificent city twinkling with Christmas festivities. People buzzed about below us, some strolling along whilst giggling to their friends, and others alone too busy staring down at their phones.
'This was a bit of a tradition between Anastasia and I when we were in college.' I turned to look at Lindsay who had tears in her eyes.
'Sorry I don't mean to get teary.' She reached up a wipe under her eyes.
'Don't apologise. It can be overwhelming sometimes. Plus, you're crying over fond memories, that's the best kind.' I linked my arm through hers and Taliah's as we looked out at the city.
'It can be our tradition now.' Taliah whispered as she squeezed my arm slightly.
Lindsay smiled and looked down at the two of us.
'That's how she would've wanted it.'