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|Down London Road(On Dublin Street #2)(21) by Samantha Young|
‘But –’ My protest was cut off by Cole, who shook his head at me like a parent to his child. My mouth slammed shut more from surprise than anything else, and I watched with a mixture of pride and worry as he narrowed his eyes on Cam.
‘Can I trust you with her?’
Cam heaved a deep sigh, but he answered Cole as if he was speaking to a man on equal footing. ‘I know I deserve that, but I promise from now on I’ll treat your sister with the respect she deserves.’
I was truly dumbfounded by the exchange. The fact that I was already a shell-shocked mess didn’t make it any easier to understand what was passing between them, and it was probably why I allowed Cole to take money that I knew Cam must need and walk out of our building. That’s also why I let myself be manhandled into Cam’s flat.
His flat, like ours, was a rental, and although decorated in neutral colours it was definitely in need of a repaint. Cam’s furniture was practical and comfortable, with very little thought to style, except for his huge black suede couch and matching armchair. I found myself ushered to the couch and I sat down numbly, staring around at the space that was still cluttered with packing boxes.
I shook my head. ‘Water, please.’
When Cam returned with a glass of water for me and a coffee for him, I watched him settle into the armchair just across from me and my heart began to gallop.
What was I doing here? Why was Cam being so nice all of a sudden? What did he want? I should get back up to the flat and face the consequences.
‘Jo.’ His deep, raspy voice brought my chin down. I’d been staring at the ceiling and hadn’t really even realized it. When I looked at Cam, I felt my body tense. His eyes were searching my face as if he was desperate to dive inside me and unearth all my secrets. My breath caught at the intensity of his look. ‘What the hell happened to your life, Jo? How did you get here?’
A bubble of bitter laughter escaped from my lips and I shook my head at him. I asked myself that question every day. ‘I don’t trust you, Cameron, so why would I tell you anything?’
Regret replaced his concern, and there was no denying the genuine remorse in his eyes. ‘That’s fair. And I can’t even begin to tell you how shit I feel about going off on you about Cole. He came down here to set me straight.’ He suddenly threw me a rueful grin that kicked my heart into high gear. ‘I swear I thought he was going to take a swing at me.’
That wasn’t particularly good news to my ears, which Cam must have sensed, because he grew sombre quickly. ‘You never have to worry about that kid being disappointed in you, Jo. He loves you to bits. And what we just witnessed in the kitchen – that’s nothing for you to be ashamed of. That was a mum protecting her kid. Because that’s what you are to him. More of a mum than a sister – I realize that now.’ He made a sound heavy with regret. ‘I feel awful about the way I spoke to you. I feel shit that you found out about your mum hitting Cole that way.’
My eyes dropped to the floor and I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t respond to his apology – partly because the ungracious side of me was thinking, Good. I’m glad you feel like shit.
‘You need to talk to someone. Out in the hall, that was because you’ve been bottling up God knows what for months … years? Jo, please talk to me.’
Instead I took a sip of water, my fingers trembling – from adrenaline or my emotional fear of Cam, I couldn’t tell you.
‘Fine.’ Movement from Cam drew my gaze back to him and he was leaning forward in his chair, his expression seeming more open than I’d ever seen it. ‘Maybe it’ll help if you get to know me a bit better.’
My response was a humourless snort. ‘What? Were you a therapist in another life?’
Cam made a face. ‘I’ve never been accused of that before. You know, usually it’s the woman asking me to open up to her? The first one I’m actually interested in hearing about and she’s shutting me down. Not good for my ego.’ He gave me a coaxing smile and I remembered the night I’d first seen him, watching him give Becca that smile and thinking I’d do anything that smile asked of me.
Funny how a couple of weeks could change it all.
Cam saw my eyes darken and his expression fell. ‘Okay, Jo, ask me anything. Anything you want to know.’
I raised an eyebrow. Anything? So he was serious about wanting to help, was he? Well, I knew one way of finding out. My eyes fell to the tattoo on his arm, the one with the black script that read BE CALEDONIA. Becca’s lilting voice echoed in my head …
‘… don’t bother asking him what the hell that means, because he won’t tell you.’
I looked up from the tattoo to his rugged face. ‘What does the ink mean? “Be Caledonia”?’
The left side of his mouth tilted up as his eyes glittered at me. ‘Well played.’
I was already braced for disappointment. There was no way Cam cared enough about me to divulge the secret behind his tattoo. My question would prove that his interest was mere curiosity and then I could go back to hating that he knew more about my life than he should.
So when he relaxed back into his armchair, his eyes never leaving mine, I was more than taken aback when he replied, ‘It’s something my dad said to me.’
‘Your dad?’ I asked a little breathlessly, still astonished that he’d offered up an answer. What did that mean?
Cam nodded, taking on a faraway look that told me he was back somewhere in his memories. ‘I grew up in Longniddry with a doting mum and a caring dad. I’ve never met two people who loved each other more, or who loved their kid more than they loved me. Not to mention that my dad’s brother, my uncle I once told you about, was like a second father to me. He was always there for me. We were a close-knit group. When I hit my teens, though, I went through what everybody goes through. You’re trying to find out who you are and you’re struggling to stay true to that person when the people around you seem so different from you. You’re asking yourself, is it me? Puberty makes you a really moody f**ker, but for me it was only exacerbated when my parents sat me down when I was sixteen and told me I was adopted.’
That I had not been expecting. My mouth dropped open, ‘Cam …’ I muttered sympathetically, drawing his sharp gaze.
He gave me a small shake of his head, as if to say, ‘I’m fine now.’
‘It messed me up then. Suddenly, there were two people in the world who had abandoned me, who for whatever reason, didn’t love me enough to want to keep me. And who were they? What were they like? If Mum and Dad weren’t my real parents, then who the f**k was I? The way I laughed had nothing to do with Dad like I thought it did … Their dreams, their talents … the possibility of all their kindness, intelligence and passions passing on to me was gone. Who was I?’ He gave me a sad smirk. ‘You don’t realize how important it is to feel like you belong somewhere, that you’re part of a family legacy, until you don’t have it. It’s a huge part of your identity growing up. It’s just a huge part of your identity full stop, and I guess I was in quite a bit of pain for a while after I found out the truth.
‘I acted like a dick – skipped school, got high, almost destroyed my chances of graduating with the qualifications I needed to get into the College of Art at Edinburgh Uni to do graphic design. I insulted my mum, ignored my dad. I constantly thought about finding my birth parents. I couldn’t think of anything else, and in the interim I seemed intent on destroying everything I had been, in the hopes of finding who I reckoned I was supposed to be.
‘A few months later I took my dad’s car for a joyride. Luckily, the police didn’t catch me, but a wall did. I totalled the car and my dad had to come out and get me. I was drunk. Shaken up. And once my dad finished verbally annihilating me for putting my life and everyone else on the road’s life in danger, he took me for a walk on the beach. And what he said to me that day changed my life.’
‘Be Caledonia,’ I replied softly.
‘Be Caledonia.’ Cam grinned, love in his eyes for the man who was his dad. ‘He said that Caledonia wasn’t a name we’d given to our land, to Scotland, but the name the Romans had. I was used to him spouting off random stuff about history, so I thought I was in for some boring lecture. But what he said that day changed everything for me – he put it all in perspective.
‘You know, the world will always try to make you into who it wants you to be. People, time, events, they’ll all try to carve away at you and make you think you don’t know who you are. But it doesn’t matter who they try to make you, or what name they try to give you. If you stay true, you can chip off all their machinations and you’re still you underneath it all. Be Caledonia. It might be the name someone else gave the land, but it didn’t change the land. Better yet, we embraced the name, keeping it but never changing for it. Be Caledonia. I had it inked on my arm when I was eighteen to remind me every day of what he said.’ He smiled ruefully. ‘If I’d known how many people were going to ask me what it meant, I wouldn’t have put it somewhere so bloody visible.’
My eyes had welled up again as I watched Cam’s face relaxed with humour. My chest ached with a fullness I’d only ever rarely felt, and I realized that it was gladness. I was glad for him. I was glad he had that kind of love in his life. ‘He sounds like a great dad.’ I knew if I’d had that kind of love in my life I would have turned out so differently.
Cam nodded, his eyes lifting to smile into mine. ‘I have a wonderful mum and dad.’ His gaze drifted upward to the ceiling, and even at that angle I could see it darken. ‘Sometimes it takes days like today to remind me of that.’
‘You’re going to phone them as soon as I leave, aren’t you?’
He threw me a shy grin, and my chest squeezed at the little splotch of colour high on his cheeks. ‘Probably,’ he muttered.