“Why didn’t you tell me you had already met my parents?” Grayson demands, as we speed down the street in his Dad’s fancy Range Rover. His knuckles are white as he clutches onto the steering wheel.
“I don’t know. I didn’t think it was that important.”
“How? I think it’s pretty important. I would’ve preferred to have known before finding out back there.”
“I needed money. I was desperate. My friend works for your dad every weekend, so he offered to help me out by offering me a job. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you.”
He slumps back down in the seat. “I guess it’s not that big of a deal. I just wasn’t expecting them to come home so early and—”
“Find me?” I finish for him, breathing heavily through my nostrils.
“No… yes, I don’t know Skye!” He rests his elbow on the window, exasperated. “I hadn’t planned any of this. If anything, I was hoping to avoid them altogether.”
Now I’m getting defensive. “Why? Because I’m not rich enough for you? Is that it?” I snarl, stealing a glance at my phone. The battery is dead. I have no idea what time it is or how long we’ve been sitting in the car for. It feels like forever.
“I didn’t mean it like that,” Grayson tries again.
“Well, I saw the way your mother was looking at me.”
“That’s precisely why I didn’t want you to meet her.”
“She clearly has a problem. I have never met anyone so stuck up and rude.”
“Watch what you say,” Grayson warns. “That is my mother you’re talking about.” I sigh into my hands and Grayson shoots me a sympathetic glance across the leather interior. “Look, don’t let my mum get to you alright? She acts like that with everyone – doesn’t have a filter. Once you get to know her though, she’s not that bad.”
He’s trying to reason with me, but I’m past the point of caring. “If I had money to my name, your mother’s reaction would have been very different back there, and you know it.”
Grayson’s defending his mother, naturally. And I’m defending myself because nobody else is going to do that for me.
“You’re right,” he says, voice lowered. “Sadly, that’s just how it is.”
His town sucks and so do the people in it.
I turn my head away. “I bet Sophie fits in like a charm then.”
“She does,” he confirms, making me frown. “But you’re different from the other girls I’ve brought home Skye.”
He is saying all the wrong things. I’m different because I’m not as posh as Sophie or as privileged as Shelly blinking Matthews.
“Before I met you, I didn’t have the ability to emphasize with people or understand how hard life could be for them,” Grayson continues. “And it’s made me realize how important it is not to judge someone so harshly at first glance. I know we didn’t get on the best side of each other in the beginning, but actually you’re kind of fun to hang out with.”
“I guess you’re not so bad either,” I admit.
When Grayson pulls up outside my house, we stay seated a few minutes more. I make to get out of the car, but his hand shoots out to stop me. It sits there on my arm and we both stare at it.
“I don’t care what my parents think,” he whispers, “We’re getting along now Skye and that’s what matters.”
My eyebrows ratchet up and my brain scrambles for something to say, but I have nothing.
“I know what my mother is like and I didn’t want to put you through that. That’s why I didn’t want you to bump into each other. I’m sorry if it made you feel uncomfortable.”
I present him with a smile. “It’s done now. No hard feelings. I enjoyed it for the most part… and we got a lot done.”
“Yeah,” he releases my arm and I watch his hands return to the heart of the wheel. “It’s mad to think that this time next week we’ll be doing the presentations.” He chuckles under his breath. “It’s gone so fast, hasn’t it?”
“Extremely fast,” I agree. “And what you said earlier about not being nice to me the first time we met… well, I suppose I owe you an apology too, for jumping down your throat so early on and for not giving you a fighting chance.”
“I’ll take that.”
The doors close with an expensive clunk and all I hear is the skidding of tires as Grayson drives away.
Some people get excited about birthdays, but not me. I just see it as another excuse for half of the population to go out, get drunk and party until their feet bleed.
I checked my account this morning, only to find that I am £100,000 richer and yet I don’t feel any different.
Am I supposed to feel happy that I suddenly have a ridiculous amount of money stored in my bank?
Is it weird that I don’t care?
Maybe it hasn’t sunk in yet.
I came to an agreement with my mum, that we would use some of the money to fix up the house. I know how much this place means to her and I want to give her something back, considering the house is falling apart and needs urgent attention.
So, my birthday mainly consists of my mother singing her own version of ‘happy birthday,’ at precisely 10am, to then buying new paint at the store, to coming home and receiving the biggest surprise yet. Rory Keaton is leaning against the brick wall of our house.
Mum nudges me when we’re halfway across the street and I stop in my tracks. “Isn’t that Rory?” she says, pointing to where he stands, hands shoved in his pockets, eyes trained on the ground beneath him.
But what is he doing here?
Rory glances towards us and I jump behind my mother’s tall frame. She shoots me a look over her shoulder, as if to say, ‘what are you playing at?’ Unfortunately, Rory comes over to help us with the bags.
“Oh, thank you Rory,” my mother says, staring at him dreamily. She rushes into the house and I’m still crouching down when Rory peers at me.
“What are you doing down there Clemons? Looking for bugs?”
I straighten up, flattening some of my hair. “No! I – I dropped something!”
Rory smirks and leans towards me. I get a taste of his cologne and end up taking a step back, dropping one of the bags. The two of us bend down to pick it up at exactly the same time, resulting in a head collision.
Rory chuckles deeply and swings the bag over his left shoulder. We try to swerve around each other as we enter the house and I don’t know what is wrong with me. I’m acting like Rory has caught some contagious disease and that being anywhere near him is a threat to mankind.
“Where would you like me to set this down Miss Clemons?” Rory asks my mother, politely.
She comes to stand in front of him, smiling. “You can call me Collette. I’d actually prefer it. And just place it down anywhere.”
Rory lowers the bag onto the carpet and stares at me. My heart leaps in my chest. It has a habit of doing that whenever Rory is around.
“Doing a bit of decorating are you?” he guesses, eyes travelling to the can of paint I’m in the middle of placing down.
“I thought that we’d brighten the place up a bit,” I tell him, trying to speak without stumbling.
“Did you win the lottery?” he laughs. “How can you suddenly afford to decorate?”
“Remember when I told you about the secret account?” He nods, while I open a new packet of paintbrushes. “Well, I’ve decided to use the money for something good. We’re going to fix some problems with the house, call for a handyman to help sort out the boiler and the drought that keeps coming and going. And basically, give the place the makeover it deserves.”
“Do you need any help? I’m no expert, but I know how to work a paintbrush.”
Before I can reject his offer my mother has already left the kitchen and comes rushing to his aid, overhearing our conversation.
“Oh yes! We need a man to help us do the heavy lifting.”