This week's bedtime story is dedicated to all the siblings out there.
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Everyone kept telling Bryony how lucky she was. "Ooh, you're going to be a big sister," they would coo. But Bryony didn't feel very lucky.
For the last few months, her mum had been getting tired and she couldn't play all the games they used to play together. Her dad was fretting and fussing and he didn't seem to have as much time for fun as he used to, either. And to make things worse, soon there would be a screaming baby to put up with, keeping them all awake half the night and stinking the whole house out with its dirty nappies. Bryony was going to have to share her toys, as well as her mum and dad and somehow, it didn't really feel very fair.
It wasn't that Bryony didn't like babies. She loved her friend Becky's baby sister, Lola. She was cute and funny and she was just learning to crawl. It was fun to play with her, but Bryony didn't have to live with her. Bryony could still go home to her own room and keep all of her toys safe from being chewed or thrown around. Goodness knows what was going to happen to her stuff when her little baby brother came along. What if he ate her special bracelets and choked on the beads? What if he stuck his fingers in her paint pots and made a mess of her bedroom walls?!
Bryony just wasn't sure how she felt. She thought it would be nice to have a little brother, once he got old enough to play with her properly. But whilst he was really small, he was going to need a lot of looking after. Bryony knew that meant that her parents would probably have even less time to play with her. And that made her sad.
Then, it happened one night. Bryony woke up to strange, muffled noises. She crept out of bed, just as her dad appeared in the doorway of her room. "Granny's on the way round to look after you," he whispered. "Your mum and I have to go to the hospital. Your little brother's on his way!"
Bryony didn't get much sleep after that. She lay awake, listening for the sound of the front door opening, followed by hushed voices in the hallway downstairs and finally, the door creaking shut again.
When the morning came, Bryony was glad it was the weekend. She was too tired to go to pre-school. Granny told her that they'd be going to the hospital as soon as they'd had breakfast, but on the way, they were going to call in at a shop so that Bryony could get the baby a present.
At the shop, Bryony chose a teddy bear. She already knew the baby's name, because she'd helped her mum and dad choose it, so Granny helped her to write "Happy birthday Toby" in a special card. As they climbed back into the car to go to the hospital, Bryony almost felt nervous. What if Toby didn't like her? What if Mum and Dad were only interested in him, now?
The hospital was really big and it smelt a bit funny. As Bryony clung to her Granny's hand, she heard strange machines beeping and lots of people talking in quiet voices. People walked down corridors carrying balloons and flowers. Bryony held tightly to the little bag, containing the bear, a present from Granny and the card for Toby.
Finally, they arrived in a big room with lots of beds. Each bed had a little cot next to it, with a newborn baby inside. Bryony looked around the room, searching for her mum and dad. Eventually, she spotted them right at the end of the room, by a big window. Mum was in bed, holding a bundle in her arms, wrapped in a white blanket. Dad was sitting on the edge of the bed, with his arm around Mum's shoulders. They both smiled when they saw Bryony and Granny walking into the room.
Mum pulled the blanket down a little and held the bundle out to Bryony. "Hello, sweetie," she smiled at Bryony. "This is Toby!"
Toby's face was all scrunched up and his eyes were closed. Bryony couldn't believe how small he was. She lifted up the bag in her hand. "Granny and I got you some presents," she explained. "The bear is from me."
Toby just stayed asleep, so Mum took the bag and gave Bryony a kiss on the head, like she did every night at bedtime. "He's going to love that," she grinned. "I tell you what else he's going to love, too. We're all going home in an hour or so!"
"Already?!" Bryony exclaimed. She'd thought she might have longer to get used to the idea, first.
"Yep," Dad continued. "Toby was born just before eleven o'clock last night and he and your mum are doing really well. We're just waiting for one last check from the doctor and then we'll head home."
Bryony opened her mouth to say something, but before she could, her mum asked her a question: "Do you want to hold your little brother?"
Bryony bit her lip. She was scared she might drop him. She managed a little nod and her Granny helped her climb up into a chair next to Mum's bed. Dad took Toby out of Mum's arms and carried him over to Bryony. Very slowly, he lowered the baby into Bryony's arms. "Hold his head really gently," he told her. Bryony did as he said and suddenly her breath caught in her throat. Toby's big eyes - almost too big for his tiny face - blinked open and he looked right at her. His mouth opened and for a second, Bryony thought he might be about to cry, but he didn't. Instead, he reached out with one hand and Bryony instinctively held out a finger. Toby grabbed onto it and something inside Bryony's chest seemed to swell. He was so small. And so cute. And hers. Bryony's face began to crack into a smile.
"I think he already loves his big sister," Granny said with a nod.
"I think I love him, too," Bryony beamed. "But can you take him back now, Dad? I need to go to the loo."
Dad picked Toby back up and Granny took Bryony off to the toilet. They didn't seem to be gone long, but when they got back, something didn't look right. Dad was standing by the window, with his coat on. Mum had her coat on, too, but there was something missing... Where was Toby?!
Bryony broke into a jog. She rushed to the bed and peered into the empty cot. Where was her brother? Who had taken him?!
"Where's Toby?!" Bryony wailed. Suddenly, the thought of not seeing his scrunched up little face, or feeling his tiny hands reaching for her finger made Bryony want to cry. He was her baby brother! She wanted to look after him, play with him and teach him things as he got bigger. She didn't want him to go away!
"Don't worry," her dad smiled, giving Bryony a cuddle. "He's just having one last cuddle with the midwives!"
Sure enough, seconds later, a friendly looking lady came walking towards them, holding that familiar bundle in her arms. "You must be Bryony," she said, with a big, warm smile.
Bryony nodded, waiting for her heart to calm down.
"So, you're a big sister, now!" The lady went on. "You're very lucky."
Toby let out a little cry and Bryony smiled with relief to have him back again. "Yes," she agreed. "I'm very lucky."
Bryony helped Mum and Dad to strap Toby into his new baby carrier and, together with Granny, they all walked back out of the big room, down the long corridor and out into the car park, again. Bryony watched Dad strap the baby carrier to the back seat. Granny gave Bryony a big hug and said she'd follow them home in her own car. Once everyone was strapped in, Bryony reached out and gently let Toby hold onto her finger again. Now that he was here, suddenly all the worries she'd had seemed very small. She was sure he would cry in the night and chew her toys and make a mess and do smelly nappies. But she was also sure that she was going to love having him around, just the same.
Toby softly snoozed as the car began to head for home. Bryony smiled at him and kept hold of his hand. "We're going to have so much fun together," she promised him, in a whisper. Then, Bryony gave a sleepy yawn and let herself close her eyes. All the way home, she dreamt about the adventures she was going to have with her new baby brother.
She couldn't wait to get started.