On Saturday morning, Wilfred Noble awoke earlier than usual. While he and Harriet were traveling, they both tended to wake up at their leisure—a refreshing change from the strict schedule he kept at the office. But the events of the past two days had occupied his thoughts and were apparently now affecting his sleep. He quietly and carefully got out of bed so as not to disturb Harriet. He made his way to the kitchen, intending to relax with a good cuppa and periodical. As Wilf entered the kitchen, he saw the young woman whose situation was currently weighing heavily on his mind. She turned and looked at him, appearing slightly surprised at his sudden appearance.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Noble. I woke up and couldn't get back to sleep so I thought I'd make myself a cuppa. Tends to help relax me. I hope ya don't mind," Rose said, holding the kettle and appearing a tad worried.
Wilf smiled warmly at her which seemed to ease her uncertainty. "Of course not, my dear. And none of this 'Mr. Noble' nonsense—it's Wilf. I'm sure ya've heard Harriet holler it enough times since ya've been here," he said as he sat down at the table. "Do you mind if I join ya?"
"'Course not!" Rose said, pouring a cup for both of them and joining him.
"This is heavenly," he said after taking a few sips, smiling warmly at her.
She grinned at him. "My mum taught me. I've been sworn to secrecy. I was eight but she practically made me sign my name in blood promising to keep it quiet," Rose said with a giggle. She then smiled warmly as she realized that this was the first time that she had been able to mention her mum without feeling her usual heartache.
Wilf gave a small chuckle himself. He looked at her, making a brief study of her as he saw her expression change. "It's good to see ya smile. Sadness doesn't suit you."
Rose gave a faint nod. "Doesn't feel too good, either." There was a brief pause before Rose sighed, and continued, "I want ya both to know how grateful I am that ya lemme stay here. I...I needed it. Needed to clear my head of all the things muckin' about in there."
Wilf reached his hand across the table and gave hers a slight squeeze. "We're happy to do it, sweetheart. It's just good to see you less troubled. It's been weighing on both of us," he said in earnest.
"It's been weighin' on me, too. For years. And I know it's gonna sound silly, but now...now I actually feel sorta... I dunno... free," she said, a small smile of contentment blossoming.
"Does that mean you'll be going home soon?"
A spark of uncertainty flashed in Rose's eyes. "I'm…I'm not sure. I know I should, but I'm nervous. Not 'bout seein' my family, but about…," she trailed off, quite sure Wilf knew how that sentence was going to end.
He gave her a soft smile, and patted her hand. "Nervous 'bout seein' John, are ya?"
Rose gave a faint nod. "Yeah…I know I need to, but…I've got so much to say 'n I dunno where to even start."
"Well…in my experience, the beginning's usually best," he said, giving her a slight chuckle as if the answer was obvious.
Rose responded in kind. "It's tryin' to determine where the beginnin' is that's the problem."
He gave her hand another reassuring squeeze. "You'll figure it out, sweetheart. I have faith in that."
"Thanks," she said with a smile, grateful for his reassurance; she needed all that she could get.
Releasing her hand, Wilf sat back and took another sip from his cup. "I think you two will do each other good. From what Harriet's told me of you, you're a remarkable young lady, and John would be lucky to 'ave you. Of course, you'd be lucky to have 'im, too. But then again, I'm quite partial," he said with a broad grin.
Rose couldn't help but mirror him. "What was he like…as a kid?" she asked, leaning forward and eagerly awaiting Wilf's response.
"Wild," he answered in complete seriousness. Rose had expected as much and couldn't help but giggle.
"Nooo…not John," she said in mock disbelief before bursting into another round of giggling.
"Wild is puttin' it rather mildly. One time—I think he was 'bout fifteen—he tried 'improving' Donna's hairdryer. Mind you, he neglected to mention that plan to her. Well, turns out his 'improvements' messed up the heating somethin'-or-other. Went off like a sparkler when Donna turned it on. Thankfully, she didn't have it aimed at her head at the time. She turned as red as her hair and started chasing him through the house. She got 'em back later, though—glued glitter onto all of his Converses," Wilf said as his earlier chuckle turned into full on baritone laughter. Rose couldn't help but join in after the mental image that anecdote created. They spent the next hour exchanging stories, both of them continuing to laugh to the point Rose could feel her sides starting to ache. It wasn't too long before Harriet came downstairs, wrapped in a fuzzy yet elegant dressing gown and still wiping the sleep from her eyes. She sat down in the chair next to Wilf. Rose smiled and promptly went to fix the woman a steaming cuppa.
Harriet smiled her thanks. "You two seem to be having an awfully good time considering how early it is."
Wilf put his arm around her, gave her a quick peck on the cheek, and smiled, saying, "Just givin' Rose here a glimpse of what her children will be like."
Rose's eyes widened and she felt herself blush from head to toe. Harriet frowned and backhanded his chest.
Wilf continued to smile broadly at her, completely oblivious, and continued, "It'll be nice havin' lil' ones runnin' around here again. We're not getting any younger, y'know."
Rose's blush turned into a brilliant crimson and she was certain the temperature in the room had risen at least ten degrees.
"Yes, well, you're not going to get any older if you don't hush," Harriet warned him.
"I think I'm gonna go shower," Rose said, eager to remove herself from the slightly uncomfortable and extremely premature conversation. She hurriedly left the kitchen and practically sprinted up the stairs. Harriet turned her face towards her husband, looking at him crossly.
"What?" he asked in complete ignorance.
Harriet just rolled her eyes and took another sip of her tea.
oOo oOo oOo
John was utterly exhausted. Two days—he had spent two whole days tirelessly searching for Rose. The search wouldn't have been as tiring if he had been able to sleep through the night. But concern and longing for Rose had made sleep a virtual impossibility. He had gone to almost every hotel, called all the numbers Martha gave him at least three twice, and tried to discretely question their neighbors for any useful information. And after all of his endeavors, he was still no closer to finding Rose. John still wasn't sure how to interpret her sudden departure; but his belief in her kept him hopeful.
John woke up late morning, something that was beginning to be a habit of late. He shuffled into the kitchen, still rather groggy, and made himself a cup of coffee. After taking several sips of the steaming liquid, John reached for his mobile and dialed Mickey's number, hoping that maybe something new had developed. After a few rings, Mickey finally answered.
"Hey, Mickey. How's everyone?"
"We're alright, I guess. I'm tryin' to be patient and not beat on every bloody door 'til I find her. Martha…she's still pretty down. Hasn't let go of her mobile since Rose left. But Tony's okay. Thankfully, he didn't question too much when we told 'im Rose was 'outta town.'"
"Has she called or anything?" Even though his messages had gone unreturned, John was hopeful that she had at least let them know she was alright.
"All we've gotten the past two nights is a text lettin' us know she loves us and that she's safe. Goes straight to voicemail every time we try to ring her. You had any luck?"
John let out a weary sigh, and rubbed the back of his neck. "Nothing yet. I'm honestly out of ideas."
There was a thoughtful pause before Mickey continued, "As much as I hate to say it, maybe... maybe we just have to wait 'till she decides to come back."
John closed his eyes as he pinched the bridge of his nose. He couldn't bring himself to agree with Mickey, and decided to ignore the statement altogether.
"Let me know if anything changes?"
"'Course. Talk to ya later."
John ended the call, and leaned against the counter as his mind pondered over every event that had happened recently. He was torn from his thoughts when his mobile rang, and he answered without looking at the Caller ID.
"John? You sound half-asleep," came worried Donna's voice.
"That's 'cause I am," he said, rubbing his eyes.
"I'm guessing you haven't found Rose yet," she said, her voice soft and lined with concern.
"No…still nothing. She's sent a couple texts to Mickey and Martha, letting them know she was alright. Other than that, none of us can get ahold of her."
He heard Donna give a soft sigh. "Well, at least you know that she's safe."
"Yeah," John replied weakly, knowing that should be a comfort, but still yearning for more.
Donna could hear the loss and weariness in his voice and attempted to comfort him.
"She'll be back soon, John. I'm certain of it."
She genuinely believed that, but Donna knew her reassurance would probably do little to comfort him at this moment.
"Can we change the subject, please?"
"Sorry…," she apologized before granting his request and saying, "I actually called to tell you Uncle Wilf and Aunt Harriet are back."
John wrinkled his brow at that information. "I thought they weren't coming back for another week."
"They weren't, but apparently lazing about on the beach and such lost its appeal. Aunt Harriet called earlier this morning and let me know they were back, safe and sound, and that we didn't have to keep an eye on things anymore. So, we're gonna surprise them with a 'Welcome Home' dinner."
"Well, have fun."
"I said 'we'—that includes you."
John sighed, and closed his eyes again. It wasn't that he didn't want to see his family, he just didn't feel like going anywhere. "Donna, I'm tired and I just w-…"
She cut off his protest, her tone brooking no refusal. "John, we haven't seen 'em in almost two months. 'Sides, ya need somethin' to take your mind off things. You're comin'. It's not up for discussion."
"Fine," he grumbled, not having any energy to argue the subject.
John could practically hear her satisfied smile as she answered, "Good. We'll pick you up at six."
oOo oOo oOo
John remained quiet for the majority of the ride despite Jack and Donna's best attempts to draw him out, choosing instead to focus on the passing scenery. When they finally arrived, they opened the door and looked around for Wilf and Harriet as they made their way further into the house, calling out their greetings. On hearing their voices, Harriet walked out of the living room and was immediately greeted with hugs from all three of them. They all went back into the living room where Wilf was sitting in a wingback and reading. At seeing his niece and nephew, his eyes widened ever so slightly in surprise, and Harriet, too, appeared slightly uncomfortable with their presence, though she tried to hide it with a smile.
"What brings you all here?" Wilf said as he stood to greet them.
"We've come to wine and dine you two," Jack said as he flashed a brilliant grin at them.
Harriet let out an uneasy laugh. "That's very kind, but as much as we'd like to, we can't this evening."
Harriet and Wilf's odd behavior was not lost on the three of them. John and Jack exchanged confused and questioning glances, while Donna just looked annoyed.
She crossed her arms, and raising an eyebrow, demanded, "What's goin' on? Why are you two actin' so strange?"
Harriet mimicked Donna's stance, refusing to be intimidated. "There's nothing going on, Donna."
Donna wasn't so easily convinced. "Pull the other one," she snorted.
Wilf gave her a somewhat stern look. "Hey now, none of that! We just have company staying with us is all."
Baffled, John finally spoke up, "You've been back all of two days. Who could you possibly have staying with you?"
"Me," came a soft yet familiar voice from behind them. All eyes turned instantly to see Rose standing in the doorway.