Kelly downed the dregs of her pint and joined the crowd wending their way out into the blustery beer garden. Quite why Carla and Will had decided to hold their gender reveal party at a pub was anyone’s guess. Surely it was just an elaborate means of self-torture on Carla ’s part. But here they were, and the moment of truth was almost upon them.
A blast of frigid November air hit Kelly side on as she stepped out of the door. She hung back deliberately, allowing the other attendees to brush past her in their eagerness to get to the front-an eagerness Kelly herself did not share. Glancing back over her shoulder, she saw her younger sister weaving her way through a crowd of football fans with a fresh pint of lager in each hand.
‘I thought you might need another one of these,’ Jaclyn said, handing the neater of the two glasses to Kelly.
‘These are weird, aren’t they?’
‘Yep. We’re essentially standing around in the freezing cold, waiting to find out what genitals an unborn baby has.’
‘When you put it like that, it’s super weird.’
‘What’s wrong with just telling people?’ Jaclyn pondered.
‘Doesn’t garner you enough attention.’
‘No? Surely pregnancy is just nine months of constant attention.’
‘And then some.’
The guests had now formed a semicircle around Carla and Will, who were grinning and clutching a long foil cylinder. Jaclyn groaned.
‘I swear to God, if I see one more confetti cannon I’m gonna grab it and shove it right up-’
‘What’s worse?’ Kelly cut her off. ‘Smoke flares of confetti cannons?’
‘Definitely smoke flares. It’s a new baby, not a sinking ship. And I hate those big black balloons that you pop and they’ve got lots of little pink or blue balloons inside.’ Jaclyn pulled a face as if she were describing something repugnant.
‘Why do you hate them so much?’ Kelly asked. She didn’t like those methods per se, but she didn’t despise them either.
‘They’re just so unoriginal,’ Jaclyn sighed. ‘No one has any creative ideas.’
But Kelly knew that wasn’t true. Creative ideas were unusual but they existed.
‘I did see one gender reveal that I liked a few months back. You know my friend Tamsin?’
‘Well she and her husband adopted a rescue dog last year. They absolutely love this dog. She goes everywhere with them. So in the run-up to Tamsin’s birthday, they gave the sealed envelope with the baby’s sex in to her sister, and she went and procured a pink collar for the dog. They found out they were having a girl at her birthday party when Poppy came bounding over to them with this collar on.’
Jaclyn was silent for a moment. Kelly knew she was trying to decide whether the dog collar reveal was cheesy or heart-warming or both. Her verdict was surprisingly positive.
‘See that’s lovely cos it’s unique and personal to them.’
Before Kelly could reply, there was a loud pop and a flurry of blue sugar paper went spiralling sideways on the wind. A few errant flakes caught Aunt Rose square in the mouth. She spat them out with a look of revulsion, causing Kelly and Jaclyn to snort into their Stella Artois. Luckily, no one saw as they were all too busy whooping and congratulating the soon-to-be parents.
Figuring that they couldn’t hang back any longer, Kelly and Jaclyn made their way forwards into the fray. In their excitement, some of the older relatives appeared to have lost all concept of spatial awareness. By the time she got to the front, Kelly had been jostled by so many people that she was having trouble maintaining her smile.
‘Congratulations, you must be over the moon!’
As she enfolded her cousin in an awkward hug, Kelly cursed her inability to come up with anything meaningful on the spot. Carla and Will must have heard those exact words over a dozen times already, but what else was there to say? Were she behind a computer screen, Kelly was sure she could have come up with something more personal. As it was, she found herself spouting the same drivel as everyone else.
‘Thank you, we are,’ Carla beamed, one hand resting on her already sizeable bump. ‘Will was hoping for a son so he can play football with him in the garden.’
‘You know girls can play football too.’
Kelly had been thinking it behind her plastered-on smile, but it was Jaclyn who said it out loud.
‘They can,’ Will conceded with the tiniest hint of a frown, ‘but it’s just not the same.’
‘Lucky for you it’s a boy then.’
If Carla and Will didn’t detect the sarcasm in Jaclyn’s comment, her sister most certainly did. Taking hold of her elbow, Kelly steered her to one side before she could say anything else.
‘I’m sorry,’ Jaclyn said once they were out of earshot. ‘I really don’t like him. I wish they were having a girl just so he’d have to suck it up and deal with it.’
The origins of Will’s attitude towards girls and football soon became clear when his father proposed a toast. Shushing the crowd while his wife handed out glasses of ‘Nosecco,’ Will Senior began his speech by congratulating his son and daughter-in-law on their happy news.
‘Every baby is a blessing,’ he said, ‘but I speak from personal experience when I say there’s something extra special about having a son first.’
Kelly heard a sound like a bus releasing its air brakes and knew it had come from Jaclyn. The others didn’t appear to have noticed; they were too busy forcing chuckles or smiling politely at Will Senior. Those guests who had had girls first or were themselves firstborn daughters did not look overly impressed but were doing their best to disguise it. Jaclyn and Kelly were not.
‘Do people actually still think this?’ Jaclyn asked, not even bothering to keep her voice down.
‘And say it out loud apparently.’
Every so often, life would remind Kelly that not everyone was as progressive and liberal-minded as she and her sister. She saw it reflected in election results, on social media and in old-fashioned attitudes towards gender like the one she had just heard. Every time if floored her, no matter how much she tried to train herself to expect it.
‘Have you got a name picked out?’ asked a middle-aged lady Kelly didn’t recognise.
‘We like Adam,’ said Will.
‘Because he’s our first little man,’ Carla added with a simpering smile. Kelly had to bite down on the rim of her glass to stop herself laughing. Not at the name itself, but at the cringe-inducing reasoning behind it.
‘And we like Luke for a middle name.’
This set off a chorus of people chirruping their approval.
‘Adam Luke Sambrook. That’s got a lovely ring to it.’
‘Nice, solid name. None of these newfangled modern names. Classic is the way to go.’
Jaclyn clucked like a disgruntled hen.
‘They could have said literally any name,’ she scoffed, ‘and they’d still profess to like it.’
‘You don’t like it, do you?’
‘It’s just…ordinary. Why do parents insist on giving their kids such boring names?’
‘Because they want them to blend in and become perfectly conventional members of society.’
‘But why? Giving a kid a run-of-the-mill name to me says that you expect them to be a run-of-the-mill person. Nothing special or distinctive about them. It’s not a message I’d want to send.’
After the toast came the obligatory mingling. Aunt Rose, still reeling from the confetti onslaught, expressed surprise and no small amount of disapproval when she saw what her nieces were drinking.
‘Oh, are you not having the Nosecco? I thought the idea was for us to be in solidarity with Carla.’
As soon as Aunt Rose departed, Jaclyn turned to Kelly and muttered, ‘I’m not up the duff, I’ll drink what I want.’
While making their way through the throng, they overheard Will’s godmother loudly proclaiming, ‘We didn’t have any of these baby showers or gender reveals in our day.’
Despite being no huge fan of such occasions herself, Kelly felt a sudden urge to defend them.
‘Oh, well if you didn’t have them then that must mean they’re dreadful,’ she said through gritted teeth.
There was a belief among certain members of the family that anything that came about or became popular after the seventies must automatically be a bad thing. Such things included, but were not limited to, artisan coffeeshops, Mexican restaurants, the concept of gender fluidity, any kind of political correctness and bamboo toothbrushes.
As much as Kelly disliked gender reveals herself, she would never quibble someone’s decision to hold one. She might make the odd snarky comment to Jaclyn in private, but she would never make her views known to Carla and Will. If a gender reveal was what they wanted, let them crack on.
The truth was, it wasn’t the cringe factor or the confetti cannons that Kelly hated so much. It was something much less trivial, and it wasn’t long before she was reminded of it.
‘So, when is it your turn?’
The question was delivered with a cheeky smile and a wink, as such questions often are. Kelly knew her Uncle Nigel was merely curious, but part of her still wanted to empty the remainder of her pint over his bald head.
Because anything could have happened. She could have been infertile. She could have had a chronic medical condition that made it difficult for her to conceive. She could have had a miscarriage no one knew anything about. None of that had happened, but Nigel didn’t know that. Here he was, acting jovial and assuming that Kelly a) wanted children and b) could actually have them. She just hoped that Nigel had never asked that question to a woman who had lost a baby, or for whatever reason couldn’t have one.
‘I dunno,’ Kelly shrugged, trying her best to conceal her annoyance. ‘Hopefully in the next two to three years but we’ll see.’
And don’t you dare say anything about-
‘Yes, well I wouldn’t leave it too long. How old are you now? Thirty-two? Thirty-three?’
‘Still, they say it’s all downhill after thirty. For women anyway. Increased risks and all that.’
‘I’ll bear it in mind,’ Kelly said. It was her code for, ‘Please stop talking and leave me alone.’
‘And what about you?’ Nigel asked, turning to Jaclyn.
‘We’ve been through this,’ Jaclyn sighed. ‘I don’t want children and I’m not into men.’
It didn’t matter how many times he heard this; Nigel appeared to be incapable of accepting either of these statements as true. He’d been told at least a dozen times now, and he still seemed to think that Jaclyn would one day change her mind, that she just hadn’t met the right man yet. Ironic really, as every time he spouted this opinion, it reinforced Jaclyn’s certainty that men and children were not for her.
‘There needn’t be a man involved,’ Nigel ploughed on. ‘You could still have children. They can do all sorts of things nowadays.’
‘How are you, Uncle Nige?’
Alex. One of their older cousins on their father’s side and the life and soul of any gathering. He had timed his entrance perfectly, no doubt on purpose, thus sparing Kelly and Jaclyn the agony of having their uncle lecture them about artificial insemination. Kelly grinned as Alex flung an arm around Nigel’s shoulders so enthusiastically that he slopped cider all over both their shoes. He too had clearly foregone the Nosecco.
‘Auntie Sharon was looking for you.’
Kelly doubted very much that Nigel’s wife was looking for him. She was probably enjoying a few moments’ peace, but she was so grateful for the rescue that she didn’t object. With Alex’s hulking rugby player arm around his shoulder, Nigel had no choice but to let himself be steered away. Kelly didn’t think she had ever loved Alex more.
That evening, the sisters headed back to Kelly’s flat for a proper catch-up and a debrief. They called at a supermarket on the way because Jaclyn wanted sushi and brie.
‘Is this just because you can?’ Kelly asked as Jaclyn put the items through the self-service checkout.
‘Yep. Is that petty?’
‘Just a little bit.’
Back at the flat, Kelly found a bottle of merlot she’d forgotten about, and Jaclyn proposed a second toast.
‘To not being pregnant,’ she said, holding her glass in her right hand and a wedge of brie in the other.
‘To having kids when I’m ready and not when Uncle Nigel thinks I should,’ Kelly countered. She made to touch her glass to Jaclyn’s but her sister wasn’t done.
‘To dads who play football with their daughters.’
‘To not giving a shit if my first baby is a girl or a boy.’
‘To the people who have original ideas for gender reveals.’
‘And baby names that aren’t boring.’
The glasses made a satisfying clink, and as she took her first sip, Kelly pondered what kind of gender reveal she might do one day. She’d always said she would just tell people, but she could do something more creative like Tamsin and Stuart had done. The possibilities were endless. Only one thing was certain. When the time came, there would not be a smoke flare or a confetti cannon in sight.