I've tried to give a sense of place in this story, both within the landscape and buildings but also within the people and culture of their lives. I felt it was important to give a taste of the relationship between the sisters from the offset but I hope the editing also starts to show more of the family and their Northern Irish roots.
Am I getting there?
Caitlin sighed as she looked at the gardening manuals spread across the island worktop in her sister's kitchen. The sound of her exasperation muffled by the grinding of ice as Niamh refilled a glass with cold water.
'Sure you don't want one?'
'We live in the West of Northern Ireland and it's January. Freezing cold water isn't going to warm my bones.'
'More fool you for choosing a career that leaves you outside most of the day.'
Caitlin rifled through the pages, finding the next one, marked with a sticky note.
'Look, just tell me what you think about these.' She gestured towards the page. 'What about the clematis montana, this honeysuckle, maybe the winter flowering jasmine and an evergreen cistus?'
'I've no idea what any of those are. You choose.'
'Won't you at least look at the pictures?'
'As long as you get rid of what's out there and plant something new I couldn't care less what it is. Besides, I trust you.'
'Sometimes I despair of you,' Caitlin said, pushing a stray blonde hair back into her pony-tail. 'I'm never going to convince you gardening is good for the soul, am I?'
'You inherited those genes,' Niamh replied, holding up one hand, the sparkling, well-tended talons on display. 'I much prefer nail extensions to green fingers, thank you very much.'
Setting the glass down on the gleaming surface, Niamh pushed the gardening manuals closer to her sister. Caitlin accepted them revealing stubby finger nails. The skin on her hands coarser than Niamh's and indelibly stained from the green and brown of plants and soil, the tools of her trade.
'Lucky you found a rich man to marry then.' Caitlin tucked her hands between her jean clad legs, shifting on the uncomfortable bar stool, watching her younger sister bristle as she grabbed the edge of the granite.
'Don't knock my man, it's his generosity paying for your gardening services.'
Caitlin opened her mouth to reply that he hadn't paid for anything yet but the noise of the phone ringing stole Niamh's attention.
Opening the glass door of the stove, Caitlin rubbed her hands in the heat that emanated from the fire, the strong peat and charcoal aroma of the coal and turf escaping into the room around her.
The two dogs unfolded their long limbs and stood, shaking their mahogany coats before moving to her side, pushing their soft, brown noses closer to the warmth.
'Don't get too close you pair,' she said, ruffling their long, floppy ears. 'Don't think Niamh would appreciate singed setter hair.'
She rotated, warming herself all round and closed the door again. 'Where did she get to anyway? That has to be the longest phone call in history,' she muttered at the dogs. Roise lifted her large paw to rest it against Caitlin's leg. 'I know you want a bit of attention but I'll have to go soon.' Caitlin pulled the dog beds closer to the stove and went in search of her sister.
Standing in the doorway, between the kitchen and the hall, Caitlin could hear Niamh's voice drift from the drawing room. Following it, intending to indicate she'd call back later, she stalled as Niamh's voice rose.
'I don't bloody care. I'm sick of you trying to manipulate us and if I had my way your life would be a lot less comfortable. I will tell him you rang, this time, but you're getting nothing more out of us.'
Caitlin heard the sound of the phone clatter onto a table. She padded quietly on the wooden hall floor, her thick woollen socks muffling the sound as she retraced her steps back to the kitchen.
By the time Niamh returned to the kitchen Caitlin was sitting by the granite island. Niamh set the phone down on the gleaming worktop. 'Sorry about that. Mum called to remind me that Tom and I promised to have dinner with her and dad tomorrow night but you know what she's like. Couldn't get her off the phone.'
'Mum? Surprised she didn't want to speak to me.'
'Like I said, it was hard enough getting her off the phone.'
'Suppose I should call round and see her later. I must be due another lecture on coming to my senses and moving back in with her and dad.'
'She worries about you. Can't blame her for that and you must see why we all do. Living like that can't be healthy.'
Sounds from the hall that lead to the rear door, stopped the conversation.
'Hello. What are you two plotting? Tom Whitley asked, his leather soled shoes, clipping on the white travertine tiles, as he crossed the kitchen to join his wife.
Niamh turned to him, pointing at his feet. 'Thought I told you to leave those shoes by the door. Look at the black marks they're leaving all over the floor.'
'I'm only gonna be a minute,' Tom said, reaching across the island to draw a manual towards him, while pushing away the transparent, crystal vase and the five white lilies it contained. 'Wish you'd stop buying those damn things. Hate the stench of them. Remind me of funerals.'
'Some inspiration for the garden,' Caitlin said, watching him leaf through her book, its corners worn from folding, notes scribbled alongside the photographs and fluorescent colours highlighting the black print.
'Nothing wrong with it the way it is,' Tom said, flipping the manual closed. 'No need to spend any money on it.'
'It's the last reminder of your ex-wife in this property and I want it gone,' Niamh said, prodding his shoulder.
'That's not playing fair,' Tom said, pulling her into his arms. 'You know I can deny you nothing.' He kissed her glossed lips. 'If you insist on changing it, I'm sure Caitlin will be offering me family rates.'
Caitlin, immune to Tom's placating smile, remained silent. Having no intention of offering him anything she retrieved her book, flicking back to the pages she'd been trying to show Niamh.
'Anyway, I don't have time for this right now,' Tom said, releasing Niamh. 'Just popped home to pick up my passport, had a great tip about a property in Marbella that would be prime a-list rental. Rushing out to see it before the family of the recently deceased little old dear sell it to someone else for a song.'
'Wait a minute.' Niamh pushed her hands under his open blazer, holding the shirt, tucked into his jeans. 'You're going to Marbella, now?'
'That's what I said, isn't it?' Tom muttered, side-stepping her to rifle through a kitchen drawer and retrieve his dog-eared passport.
'You're not going without me. Give me an hour to get ready.'
'Be serious pet, the flight leaves at four and you know it'll take me two hours to get to Belfast. I wish I could, but I don't have time to wait for you.'
'All I have to do is pack a bag, change my clothes and freshen my make up.'
'And we all know how long that takes,' Caitlin said, forcing a mocking smile onto her face, when Niamh narrowed her black-lined eyelids, obscuring her blue eyes as she cast a withering look at her sister.
'Look, if you've got time to pack, then so have I,' Niamh said, turning her back to Caitlin.
'Not packing,' Tom said. 'I'll pick up a few things at the airport. Besides, I haven't booked you a seat,' Tom continued, 'and, even if I could get you one, you'd be bored whilst we try to get a good deal out of the family.''
'We. Who's we?'
'Just a business contact who's interested in investing in this property with me.'
'Male or female business contact?'
'Would it matter?' Tom said, glancing over his shoulder at her, while pulling out the next drawer. 'We're still newly-weds after all and you know I only have eyes for you.'
'You better have.'
Clutching the passport, Tom reached around Niamh, tucking his hands into the rear pockets of the jeans that clung to her slim legs, pulling her close and swivelling her around, resting their hips against the island.
'Why would I need to look elsewhere when I have my gorgeous wife waiting here to welcome me home?'
Niamh stroked the lapels of Tom's jacket and cradled into his embrace. When Caitlin saw her stick out her lower lip, a gesture she'd developed as a child and used to great effect on everyone ever since, Caitlin smirked. Tom's escape was about to become conditional and she was glad his condescension was about to be parried.
'You better make sure you bring me home something expensive and dazzling.'
'As always. I'll call you later.'
Caitlin was relieved to see him break the embrace and turn to leave the room. The man repelled her and she couldn't imagine how Niamh could bear his touch.
'Wait a minute,' Niamh said. 'I need to speak to you about...'
'Can't. Tell me tonight.' He ruffled the ears of the two Irish Setters as he spoke, before striding to the back door. When he slammed it behind him, Caitlin realised he'd side-stepped the issue of who he was travelling with.
'How can you stand him talking to you like that?' she asked.
'Oh don't be such a feminist. Your attitude is the reason why I'm happily married and you're alone.'
'I'm alone because I have standards and anyway, I'd rather have no-one than an old man groping me and talking down to me like some brainless doll.'
'Tom's not old. He's only fifty.'
'Exactly. He's twice your age.'
'He looks after himself and he's fitter than some of the men I know in their twenties. Sometimes I think you're jealous. I have a loving husband and two beautiful homes whilst you dig around in the dirt every day, just to pay for a scruffy van and that crumbling house. Tom says if you knocked it to the ground and sold the plot you could make a fortune.'
'He would, but how can you be so soulless? You know how much I love that house and I happen to like digging around in the dirt. It's more honest than digging for gold.'
Gathering the catalogues, and heading for the door, Caitlin found her muddy wellies.
'That's typical, throw insults at me and then run away,' Niamh said.
'Goodbye, Niamh,' Caitlin called, not looking around and letting the door slam behind her.
The headlights of Caitlin's van picked out the change from wild to neat, curving hedgerow that marked the entrance to her parents home. Turning off the tarmac road onto the concrete driveway she could see lights shine from the rear side of the house. The kitchen window illuminated, her mother would be preparing dinner.
The 1950's farmhouse didn't offer the luxury of a utility room or the convenience of the scullery that older properties provided. Instead, when Caitlin opened the backdoor with the accustomed shove of the hip, she walked straight into the kitchen.
'Ah Cate, I didn't hear you drive up. You near made me cut my finger off barging through the door like that,' her mother said, brandishing a small, serrated knife.
'Not a bit of wonder. You've that tv up so loud a bomb could go off in the yard and you wouldn't hear it.'
'Well, turn it down then and pull up a chair. I'll stick the kettle on.'
Forcing one foot against the heel of the other, Caitlin shook off her boots and sat in a wooden chair by the old cream Aga, its lids scratched and worn from decades of use. 'Want a hand with that,' she asked, watching her mother enact the daily ritual of peeling the potatoes and throwing them into the pot of boiling water. For more than half of its life the thirty year-old range had been fuelled by coal and Caitlin's head swam with delightful memories of her father sticking his feet on the edge of the fire to warm his toes, her mother scolding him for yet another pair of charred socks to be darned. Now oil-fired, the coal and the darning needles had long ago been discarded.
'No, it's grand. Almost done. Thought you were going round to Niamh's?'
'I was,' she answered, pulling out another chair and putting her woollen sock-covered feet on it. 'Didn't she tell you I was there when you rang?'
'I didn't ring. Popped over to see her last night. Such a gorgeous house.' Mary Maguire said, covering the pot of plumping potatoes with a lid. 'She's so lucky but Tom works so hard for the pair of them. He was holed up in that study of his most of the time I was there. Did you see him?' she asked, turning to Caitlin.
'Briefly,' Caitlin answered, shrugging.
'He looks after our Niamh so well but I thought he looked tired. Hope he's taking care of himself.' She flicked Caitlin's feet from the chair, sitting down on it. 'I wish you could find someone like that.'
'I don't want to be looked after and certainly not by someone like Tom.'
'Why do you have to be so hard on him?'
'Aside from the fact that he is a misogynistic dinosaur?'
'That's nonsense. He's good to your sister and she's more than happy to be looked after, so who are they hurting?'
Caitlin stared at her mother wishing she could answer, almost speaking the words which boiled in her head. If only she could be sure of what she saw the night of Niamh's wedding. She wished yet again that she'd gotten a better look at the man, then maybe she could voice her suspicions. She knew Tom was from a world she wanted no part of and she hated the way Niamh had succumbed to his cash, however he'd earned it. Instead she hung her head, knowing her mother would assume she was sulking.
'Anyway, were you able to help her out with the garden?'
'Sort of,' Caitlin said, drawing out the words.
'What does that mean?'
'I made some suggestions but we had a bit of a disagreement before I left.'
'You two don't know how to have a bit of a disagreement; blazing row would be more like it. I've never met two sisters who fight as much as you two do.'
'That's not fair, Mum. All siblings squabble.'
'I remember that day we brought Niamh home from the hospital. You were four years old and kept telling us how excited you were to be getting a sister, then you looked at her and you both burst out crying.'
'We're very different people,' Caitlin said, standing to lift the lid on the pot, relieving the pressure, as the cloudy water forced against it. A plume of steam rose, carrying the starchy smell into the kitchen.
'Niamh was always more like me, I'd love to have had the advantages she has, but you're so like your father and your grandmother. Never happier than when you're up to your elbows in muck.'
'Speaking of which, I better get back to work.' Caitlin scraped the chair legs on the tiled floor as she slid it back under the table. Pushing her hands into her pockets she wondered if she'd ever gain her mother's approval in the way Niamh managed.
'Aren't you staying for dinner? I've done enough spuds for you and your dad.'
Eager to leave the conversation, but equally keen not to look any more of a petulant child than she already felt, Caitlin acquiesced, thankful that her father would be home soon and she could update him on the glass house.