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|Down London Road(On Dublin Street #2)(45) by Samantha Young|
I ran my hand down his back soothingly, wanting to draw him inside me, where he was loved more than he even knew. ‘They missed out, baby. They missed out big.’
Cole had been given the full rundown about Uncle Mick already. He’d been only three years old when Mick left, so he couldn’t remember him, but he seemed okay about meeting him, having learned enough from me over the years to know that I’d once thought the guy walked on water.
Telling Mum had been a different story. I’d actually feared telling her, afraid that the news would cause her to kick off. To my surprise, she accepted the news with calm and agreed to come out and speak to Mick when he arrived.
I thought I even heard her take a shower while I clicked through the job site on Cole’s computer.
By the time Cole arrived home from school, my palms were sweating. Mum had been unruffled earlier, but that might change when she set eyes on Mick. The knock at the door caused my heart to skip a beat. I don’t know why people described that in romance novels as if it was a good thing. When your heart skips a beat it makes you breathless, you feel a little sick, and definitely out of sorts.
‘You made it.’ I stretched my lips into a weak smile as I opened the door to Uncle Mick and Olivia.
Olivia chuckled. ‘Are we that bad?’
‘No, no, no.’ I hurried to reassure them, stepping aside to let them in.
‘It’s not us she’s worried about,’ Mick murmured to her, and I threw him a knowing but weary smile over my shoulder as I led them into the sitting room.
‘Just take off your jackets. Make yourself at home. Can I get you tea or coffee? Water, juice?’
‘Coffee,’ they answered in unison.
I nodded, all nervous energy. ‘No probs.’
But Cole’s appearance in the doorway stopped me in my tracks. I put my arm around his shoulders and led him back towards Mick and Olivia. ‘Cole, this is Mick and his daughter, Olivia.’
Mick grinned at him and stuck his hand out. Cole took it tentatively. ‘Nice to meet you,’ he murmured, letting his hair hang in his eyes so he didn’t have to look directly at them.
‘You too. Jesus, you’re the spitting image of your dad when he was your age.’
‘He’s nothing like Dad,’ I said tersely.
Olivia’s eyebrows rose and she shot a look at her father before she said admonishingly, ‘Way to go, Dad.’
Looking uncomfortable, Mick sighed. ‘I didn’t mean it like that.’
Way to go, Jo. ‘I know.’ I waved him off, feeling bad for my waspishness. ‘I’m a little sensitive around that subject.’
‘Cole, I’m Olivia.’ She stuck her hand out and Cole’s cheekbones flushed a little as they shook hands. ‘It’s good to meet you.’ She glanced around the sitting room, her eyes brimming with approval. ‘You guys have a really nice place.’
‘Jo does all the decorating.’ Cole surprised me as he informed her about that almost enthusiastically. ‘The wallpapering, painting, sanding … everything.’
I felt Uncle Mick’s smiling eyes on me. ‘All my teaching stuck with you, eh?’
Embarrassed, I shrugged. ‘I like decorating.’
‘Aye, we know.’ Mum’s voice had me sucking in my breath as we all turned to watch her shuffle into the sitting room. ‘You do it often enough.’ Cole and I exchanged glances, utterly taken aback by her appearance. She hadn’t just showered; she’d gotten dressed. Her hair was blow-dried smooth, she had some make-up on and she was wearing a pair of skinny jeans that were loose on her frail body, and a black silk shirt I’d bought her for Christmas even though I never thought she’d wear it. To us she looked better than she had done in ages, but when I glanced back at Uncle Mick I could see the shock in his eyes at her appearance.
He stepped past us and towered over Mum, who gave him a small smile. ‘Fiona. It’s good to see you.’
She nodded, her mouth trembling a little. ‘It’s been a long time, Michael.’
‘You look almost the same.’
‘You don’t, darling,’ he replied softly, something like anguish in his voice.
Mum lifted her shoulders in a gesture of resignation. ‘I did what I could.’
Uncle Mick didn’t say anything, but I could see from the hard set of his jaw that he didn’t think she’d done enough. We would be in agreement on that one.
‘Dad.’ Olivia moved to his side, taking his hand reassuringly, and I felt the last of my resentment towards her disappear. How could I resent someone who so obviously adored Mick?
Uncle Mick tightened his hand around his daughter’s. ‘Fiona, this is my girl, Olivia.’
And just like that it all went to pot.
Mum pursed her lips as her eyes drifted over Olivia. ‘Aye, she looks like that American piece you had a thing with.’
I squeezed my eyes shut in mortification and heard Cole’s low groan beside me.
‘Fiona,’ Mick scolded her.
‘Dad, it doesn’t matter.’
‘Pfft.’ Mum looked past her to me. ‘You told me it would just be him. I’m going back to bed. Leave me some dinner later.’
I nodded, my muscles tense as we waited for her to leave. When her bedroom door slammed closed, I sighed. ‘Sorry, Uncle Mick. That’s about as good as it gets with her. Olivia, I’m sorry …’
‘Forget it.’ Olivia waved me off. ‘It’s not a problem.’
‘I can’t believe that’s the same woman.’ Mick shook his head as he strode across the room to take a seat, his body seeming heavy with the shock. ‘I just can’t believe it.’
I thought of how Mum had actually behaved fairly well, at least until she saw Olivia, but I didn’t want to tell Mick that. ‘Believe it.’
Like a turtle that had poked its head out for a little sunshine only to discover that it was raining, Mum retreated back into her shell even worse than before. She rarely left her room, a crate of alcohol was delivered to the flat, and the only way I knew she was alive was that the food I’d leave for her disappeared. Anytime I knocked to check on her, she grunted at me to go away.
I wanted it to be black and white. I wanted to hate her for hitting Cole and not give a shit whether she lived or died, but I found I just couldn’t abandon her entirely.
Cam said there came a time when we had to let some people go. There was no helping them, and attempting to would just pull you into the mire with them.
It was easier said than done. Despite all of our ugly encounters, she was my mum and there was still a part of me that wanted her to care more about us than she did about herself. I knew I had to let her go. I knew it. For Cole and also for me. When it came time to leave her, I would. But I would take the guilt with me.
Uncle Mick had said he wanted to spend as much time with me as possible and he hadn’t been lying. That Saturday Cole, Cam, Olivia, Mick and I met in the Grassmarket for a pub lunch. I learned that Olivia had been a librarian in the States, but much like Cam, she had been made redundant due to budget issues. Olivia was warm and funny and extremely hard not to like, and I could envision her getting along well with both Joss and Ellie.
Lunch was fun and I could tell Mick approved of Cole and Cam’s close friendship, as he kept shooting me looks that said as much. We took a stroll down the busy spring streets of the city, wandering up Victoria Street to George IV Bridge, and then taking Olivia down the Royal Mile. I took some photographs of her and Mick standing on the Mile and then more as we travelled back towards New Town. We walked along Princes Street Gardens and I got some great shots of them together by the Ross Fountain with Edinburgh Castle towering over them in the background. It was a good day, a relaxing day, and as I walked behind them, Cam’s arm around my waist, I forgot about all my worries for a while.
On Sunday, Elodie was in her element. Having heard from Ellie about Uncle Mick and Olivia, she’d invited them for lunch. When we arrived, it was to discover Elodie had found a second table somewhere and placed it at the end of the one that was already there. Their flat was filled with conversation and laughter as everyone chatted away, getting to know them. I watched Olivia and felt a lump in my throat when I saw the delight on her face, the flush in her cheeks, and the spark in her eyes. Ellie had pounced on her almost immediately and I could tell they’d already glued themselves to each other. Ellie had a way of doing that with people.
Seated at the table next to Joss, she nudged me and leaned in to whisper, ‘Did you ever think you’d be a part of something like this?’
I glanced around at all the faces, my eyes coming to a stop on Cam, who was laughing at something Braden had said. I turned back to her, shaking my head. ‘Never in a million years.’
She smiled, and I was taken aback by the emotion in her eyes as she looked down at the simple diamond engagement ring on her finger. ‘Me neither.’
Joss nodded. ‘More than.’
I grinned at her and was just about to crack a joke to ease us out of such seriousness when Braden called, ‘Jo, you need a job?’
I rolled my eyes and shot Cam an impatient look. ‘I was going to ask him.’
‘Well, you were taking your time about it.’
Sighing, I nodded at Braden, my cheeks flushing at having to ask. ‘If you have a part-time position available, I’d appreciate it.’
His light blue eyes searched mine and I felt vulnerable under his scrutiny. Braden had a way of stripping a person bare, as if he could see into the very depths of them. I didn’t know how Joss had withstood him so long before eventually owning up to her feelings for him. Surely he’d known all along. ‘Jo, come to us whenever you need us, please.’
I gulped but nodded.
‘I’ll set something up tomorrow, see if we can’t get you started on Tuesday.’