Of course, I'd thought about what might happen. It's one of those things everyone thinks about, talks about, even fantasizes about... I'd heard rumours of something like this; I just never expected it to be so literal.
This is my thought process, anyway, as I look down at my mother, having contractions on a hospital bed. Cries fill the room as the doctors pronounce her second child a girl. She is called Rosaline and already has a head full of dark hair.
Ten years later
The dark hair didn't last long. I smile as I look down at the wild red hair falling across her shoulders. She has her nose in a book despite her mother chattering as she cooks dinner. She needs to be asked several times before she consents to put down the book to join the dinner table.
Ten years later
"Is he an actor"
The six of them are crammed into one relatively small room. Plates from the flat Christmas dinner are still lying on the floor as they play 20 questions. Laughter fills the room - with the election so recently passed, the candidates had already come up several times.
Despite the overly filled room, with Max and Julie both sitting on the floor, Rosaline truly felt she'd never been more at home.
The following morning, tears prick at her eyes as she sits, surrounded by stacks of papers. Having set her alarm for 8 am, despite the previous night's festivities, to get ahead in her holiday time studies, she now felt that she had never been more exhausted.
Truth be told, her chemistry was getting away from her. After being said to be so intelligent all through her childhood, university life was not going as planned.
The day wore on as she made excuses to her flatmates for her absence. She was utterly unwillingly to show how hard she was trying to catch up. Even though they were her best friends, she couldn't help but feel she would develop a reputation as the dumb one of the group - a reputation she was not prepared to accept.
Two years later
The purple dress beneath the graduation gown goes so perfectly with her hair. I can see the grin beneath her attempt to act so nonchalantly about the whole process. She's right to be proud, in my humble opinion, after working so hard for that 2:1. The entire family is here to celebrate.
As we grab drinks after the ceremony, her bright green eyes are sparkling, and she has never looked so beautiful. She has the whole world ahead of her.
One year later
I know that she’s depressed. Despite getting a decent job almost immediately after graduation, her life is crumbling.
The gang has somewhat fallen apart, making little to no effort to see each other or even message. Deep down she knows she hasn’t really put in the effort either yet she can’t help but feel abandoned.
Maybe it’s a little wrong to smile at seeing her distress. The thing is, watching her at such a low point only reminds me how much better everything is going to get.
Five years later
The bells chime in perfect harmony, and my heart nearly explodes. Entering the church, she is a vision in white. The strapless gown is decorated with intricate patterns of lace, while the floor of the dress falls loosely and almost shines in the sunlight streaming through the window.
Max looks equally splendid standing up at the alter. He forewent the traditional black suit in favour of deep violet.
Reciting their vows, they look so happy.
Four years later
She counts her blessings as she steps into work. Her baby is her pride and joy, but it does feel good to be around adults for the day.
She's still only in three days a week, and that is plenty; even with Max on full-time paternity leave, it's hard to be away for hours on end.
Her research team are fortunately very supportive, helping her to come back slowly. She knows many aren't as lucky; indeed, parental leave is almost a thing of the past for many.
Today, the crew is in a particularly jovial mood, and she feels that she is finally where she is meant to be.
Five years later
She plays with the red curls her second-born inherited. Her factor-50 lies on the floor - mandatory for her pale complexion. Max laughs as he admonishes her caution, his French genes blessing him with an inability to catch a sunburn.
"Shall we do the museums tomorrow?" he asks, lying down next to her.
"If the weather is this good the whole time, I vote we do exactly this all week."
"Well, in that case, you can deal with the kids being bored after two days", he laughed.
Looking up at the sky, she knows he's right - the kids need more stimulation. Besides, she wanted to pique their interest in more academic subjects. Neither had inherited her keen interest in school. Making it into an enjoyable experience was sure to help them on their way.
That being said, the relief of lying with her eyes shit on the warm sand was unparalleled.
After a few minutes, she looked around at the sandcastle worked on by the children, and found her three year old attempting to pile it completely dry, absent-mindedly distributing it across the beach towels.
"You need to wet the sand a bit more at the top there, honey."
"That's what Elsie's doing."
"What do you mean, she's doing it?"
"She's gone to get wet sand."
"What?!" The red curls practically whipped as she swivelled to where she believed her eldest to be. Upon finding that the spot was empty, a wave of panic settled in her stomach that became a whole tsunami when she swept her eyes across the beach, seeing no sign of Elsie.
"Max! Where is Elsie?!"
"What?!" he too, turned sharply towards the spot she had been in not two minutes previously.
My gut clenches in sympathy as I watch them run frantically. The lifeguards are all involved in the search now, as are most of the beachgoers. Every parent knows the pure horror of the possibility of losing your child.
"What clothes does she have on?" Max asks, holding the phone as he speaks to the police.
"Erm, the little red top with the fish. Her shorts are blue. Dark blue, not the glittery ones." she barely paused for breath. "Make sure they know it's been nearly an hour - we need them now!"
I can see her whole body physically relax as she sweeps her little girl into her arms. The police are still on the phone as the woman accompanying her explains that she found her in the public toilets further down the beach, seemingly unable to unlock the door.
The entire family finally calms down, but with the day's events seared into their mind.
Ten years later
"I don't see why you get to decide! It's my life."
"Look, Elsie. Education will open doors for you, it will give you choices..."
"So will opening my own business!"
"No, it won't. It's one option. If the business idea crumbles, what then, you have no back-up?"
"What is even the point of back-ups if you hate all of them? And besides, it's not even relevant; it's not your decision, it's mine!"
Elsie stormed out of the room, leaving her mother with her head in her hands.
"I don't know what to do," she said, turning towards Max, who looked equally exasperated.
"She is technically right. Once she turns eighteen, there's nothing we can do."
There was a brief pause before he said;
"I just don't understand why she has to be so shortsighted. They aren't even mutually exclusive. I'm sure she could run a beauty products line with a degree below her belt. Might even help her on the way!".
"I know. I don't see how we can convince her. She's nothing like I was at her age."
The last statement was the crux of the issue. Rosaline found it so hard to persuade her daughter of anything, mostly because she simply couldn't relate to her perspective.
"I couldn't wait to get to university." mused Max, stirring their tea. "Couldn't bear the idea of getting a real job. I'd still go back if I could."
Setting a cup down beside his wife, he said, "The best we can do is hope she knows herself and does the right thing for her."
Tentatively, Rosaline knocked on the door. Elsie rolled her eyes towards the ceiling as she saw her mother on the other side.
"Darling, I just want to talk about this.".
"There's nothing to talk about. Like I've already said over a thousand times - it's not your decision!"
"Okay." The reluctant agreement startled Elsie into at least looking her mother in the eyes. "I'm not going to try to persuade you to go to University. If this is what you want to do, I'm not going to keep standing in the way. What I want to talk about is your A-Levels.".
The scowl was back on Elsie's face immediately but with a flicker of hesitation now.
"Three years is a lot, yes, but you've only really got a few months left in sixth form after your birthday. And you have to stay until then anyway. That's the law, you know that.".
"I know you're sick of hearing this now, but education really will open doors for you. And, in the event you want to change your mind, you will be able to go into a more academic career without having to redo the year you've already done. It seems ridiculous to throw away that possibility just for the sake of a few months."
Elsie's lack of objection spurred her mother on.
"And you like being there anyway, don't you? Your friends are there. You like your teachers. You may not love the courses themselves, but really, is it worth backing out of something that isn't that bad, after already completing a year and a half of it?".
Rosaline knew that deep down, she was making some headway here. Parenting was never easy, but at least for a moment, she felt she connected with her daughter.
Five years later
She felt a familiar pang of annoyance as she heard the door shut. Why did the shop have to be so close? She had barely had time to relax before Max was making his way back through the hallway.
"Can you turn the television down?" were his first words as he saw her.
She has to fight not to roll her eyes but turns down the volume, saying nothing.
"Oh, what is your problem now?" his exasperated voice rings in her head as she tries not to lose her temper.
"I literally did not say a word."
"Exactly! You are sour - normal people just say, "oh yeah, sure" or "Oh, sorry about that." Not give complete radio silence."
"So now you want me to apologise just for the volume when you weren't even here until two seconds ago?".
"It's not about apologising. It's about acknowledging when someone talks to you."
"Don't just give me lessons in manners like I'm a child."
Max sighs in frustration and gets up to start putting the shopping away. When he sits back down, he seems to be more resigned than angry.
"Rosaline, we've been at each other's throats for weeks. Maybe months even, I don't know. How do we solve this?"
Rosaline sighs, knowing he's right.
"I don't know either. We just don't know how to be around each other without the kids. We've had them to look after for years, but with Ben away at university and Elsie's shop thriving; they don't need us the way they used to. We're just on top of each other now, and the system needs renegotiating." She almost laughed as she saw him looking taken aback. "I've thought about this in-depth quite a few times."
The two sat in contemplative silence for a while.
"Well, what should we do then?" Max said, "There are only two options available, either we restructure and make it work or..."
"We get a divorce." she almost whispered the rest of the sentence.
"I don't want a divorce. But we can't carry on like this."
"Maybe we need more hobbies, outside of the home, that aren't about work," she said decisively. "We just need to refocus ourselves a bit."
They talked for a bit more, eventually deciding she would take up a creative writing class, and he would start playing badminton like he did as a teenager. She couldn't help but feel these might be too trivial to fix the issues at play, yet she felt more hopeful about her marriage than she had since the day they had dropped Ben off at halls.
Six years later
Tears prick at her eyes yet again as she sits with a cup of tea in her hands. Julie looks at her with sympathy that she can't stomach. That, she thinks, has to be one of the most intolerable things about divorce. The way that people look at you like you've finally hit rock bottom.
Today, she finally moved her things into Julie's place. She had been staying there some time, but it never felt as permanent as it did at this moment.
I can actually see her suppressing the urge to tell the story once again. She knows Julie has heard it all a thousand times, but for some reason, she can't stop rehashing it over and over.
The idea of gaining more hobbies outside of the home did actually work for a little while. But then, the idea of "hobbies" became "spend as much time out of the house as possible". Before she knew it, she and Max were actively avoiding each other. From that point, they barely even knew each other anymore.
"I just keep thinking, was it always wrong?" she laments. Despite Julie's every effort at keeping her face showing interest, she knows it's got to get old eventually. "Was our whole relationship built solely on raising the kids?"
"Ros. People change. You and Max were together for years before having children. But the people you both are now is different to the people you were. Maybe these new people aren't compatible. The old ones were. But that doesn't make the old ones wrong or the new ones bad. You're both great people, just not ones that should be a couple."
Thirteen years later
Julie laughs along as Rosaline reads out her new stand-up comedy routine. After restarting her creative writing in retirement, she had ended up branching out into comedy. She even performs it at the local gig night, as they have sections for amateur performers.
Julie is her primary practice audience - her sense of humour and her penchant for blunt truths make her the perfect candidate.
I can see the nerves in her eyes, although she needn't worry. The routine she is working on now is her best yet. Focusing on the many antics she and Julie get up to in the shared house, it will captivate the audience.
It's interesting to think of how different she is now. When she first met Max and Julie at university, they would never have dreamt of ending up here. It goes to show that dreams don't always make the best life. I know she would never change a thing about what's happened so far.
Ten years later
I know now that we are nearly done as I see Elsie, Elsie's partner, Ben, Ben's children standing around the bed. It's a shame it had to happen so soon after the death of their father, but it's been a good life.
Ben has his arm around Elsie as she sobs, and I know why. Once again, I didn't expect this to be so literal - my vision is tunnelling with a singular light at the end. I know that they will be okay, just as I was okay. Despite all the discussions, theories and rumours, it's more apparent than ever that the final destination of life is not what's important. The journey is the best part.