Chapter 6 :Family
THE sound of people’s laughing filled in at the opened space parking lot in front of Hillview Town’s cinema as a group of five making their way to their cars.
“That movie was brilliant! I love the part where the main lead dodged the bullet at the very last minute. It was soo cool! I really like him!” Anya Romans spoke admiringly with a big smile.
Dressed in white long sleeves stretch shirt with a short grey skirt and black tights, the youngest Romans completed her outfit for the evening by wearing a pair of knee high boots.
Beside her, James Romans laughed.
“You only like him just because he reminded you of what’s-his-name again?”
“Ethan Carter,” Josh Campbell grinned teasingly. “The Literature Club’s President, whom our dear Anya has a forever crush on! Aww, just look at that face!”
Anya’s ears burned and her cheeks flushed as the two men continued to laugh like a couple of drunken idiots.
Standing not too far away from her, light chuckles escaped from the Excalibell Prince’s lips before he quickly covered it up with a series of a cough.
Anya turned her head and glared sharply at Duke.
“I’m truly sorry, Miss Anya. Honestly, I didn’t mean to laugh at you,” Duke muffled a few fake coughs, behind his hand.
Aidan who stood beside the Prince looked at her with a polite smile, yet his eyes said otherwise.
Rolled her eyes at them, Anya turned her attention back to her brother and uncle.
“Thanks for the dinner and movie, Joshy!” She crashed into the man’s strong arms and hugged him close.
Josh chuckled softly. “Anything for my favourite niece. You be good at school, ya hear?” He pulled away slowly and messed with her loose hair.
“Gawd, Josh. Stop treating me like a kid!” Anya smacked his hand away.
“The day when you start acting more like a lady and actually get yourself a boyfriend will be the day when I’ll treat you like an adult. But until then, you’ll always be my adorable tomboyish niece!” Josh pitched both her cheeks before pulling them to the sides while making funny baby noises.
“Josh, I don’t think that’s—”
It was too late. Josh screamed then stumbled on the ground, as a strong fist punched him on the cheek.
“Told you so,” James sighed.
Anya shut the back seat’s door. Beside her, Duke entered from the other side, shut his own door gently and stayed quiet as a mouse while waiting for James to start the car. Aidan seated beside him in the passenger seat.
Duke’s eyes moved to Josh who held a bruised left cheek with one hand while the other hand waved them goodbye with a big smile plastered on his face.
With final goodbyes, the four made way home peacefully.
ANYA yawned tiredly after she’s spent nearly half of the day completing her assignments that were due next week. Decided she’s in need for some stretches her limbs, Anya got up from her study chair and headed toward the door.
It just so happened the day was a public holiday on Monday. Though they would still be up running the business at Homez even during public holidays, James had decided to let everyone to take a rest from work today and let them do whatever they please.
Duke and Aidan had enjoyed themselves by waking up late — something that surprised the young lady as she had thought the butler would be waking up earlier than everyone regardless.
Anya herself had woken up fairly early that morning. At seven-fifty o’clock, she had gone for a morning jog. An hour later, drenched with sweat and thirst for water, Anya was immediately delighted when she saw breakfast was served by the lovely James donned in the kitchen’s apron.
Day went by fast as the night fairly approaching. The small living room of Roman’s household was lively by the loud sound of the television.
Duke and Aidan were sitting on the long jointed sofa watching a wrestling match while James seated on a single sofa with reading glasses and totally engrossed with an autobiography book of a famous Chef.
Anya mildly watched the wrestling match while painting her toes. Wrestling has never been her favourite sports. In fact, she was never a fan of it. Though according to her brothers and especially her uncle, she should be considered watching it as she could learn a few wrestling techniques.
I wonder if Ethan likes to watch wrestling? Maybe he likes to be covered in sweats and-
“Huh?” Woah there, girl! Where did that come from?
Anya snapped out of her thoughts. She must have said them too loud because when she looked up, six pairs of eyes were staring at her strangely.
“What’s with you? What’s going on inside that head of yours?” James asked, with a teasing tone hinted in his voice.
“Nothing!” Anya ignored how increasingly red her face became at getting caught day-dreaming and focused on painting her toes.
Eventually, everyone shrugged and resumed with the match when the telephone rang loudly in the kitchen.
“Anya, pick up the phone.”
“I can’t leave my seat. My toes aren’t dry yet. You go and pick it up.”
“If you don’t pick it up, I’m going to come over and drip my saliva all over your face. You want that?”
“Just you try. You’re not Dean,” Anya glared, challenging.
A minute passed by in heavy silence between the two siblings before James got off from his seat, saliva gathered in his mouth and moved faster than lightning toward her.
Anya scrambled out of her seat, wet toes and nail polish were forgotten on the floor as she rushed to the kitchen, leaving James fell back to his seat while holding his sides and roared with laughter.
“Yo, brat.” A deep voice replied over the phone.
Anya choked. “Oh my god, Dean! We’re just talking about you!”
James rushed over to the kitchen and attempted to steal the telephone but Anya smacked his hand away.
“Hmm. Talking behind my back, eh? How are you? How’s business?”
“Homez’s fine. I’m good. How about you, Dean? How are you?”
“Anya, let me talk to him — Ugh!” She elbowed James on the chest and hissed at him.
“Get in line!”
Dean Romans, the oldest of the siblings, chuckled amusingly at the sound of those two argued over the phone.
“I’m good... More or less. Listen, Anya, do you mind if I talk with James for a bit? It’s kinda urgent.”
Anya scoffed and rolled her eyes. “Yeah, sure. JAMES!”
She handed James who rubbed his chest, the telephone and returned to the living room.
Anya took James’s seat, with her legs crossed, her hands reached out for the snack on the table and munched angrily.
“He hasn’t talked to me in two years.”
“That’s all he wanted to say to me?”
While Anya was grumbling, Duke and Aidan sat quietly dared not to move nor uttered a word, least to rage the young woman any further.
It was not long before they heard the phone conversation ended and James hung up on the telephone.
“Anya, can you come over here, please?”
Anya stopped munching at the soft tone and looked at her brother strangely in the kitchen.
James poured himself a drink but said nothing when Anya came in.
“Anya, honey. Dean... got involved in a car accident.”
“Calm down. He’s good. It’s nothing too serious. He’s broken his left arm and his right leg,” James winched. “Rina is taking care of him now.”
“Does Mum knows about this?”
“Yea, she did. He’d called her first before calling us. And yes, she did freak out. That poor woman,” James rubbed the back of his neck and sighed heavily.
“Listen, Anya. Now that Dean has been hospitalised for possibly a month or so, I’m afraid I am needed to take care of our restaurant as soon as possible...”
“You’re going back? So soon? But you just got here, like three days ago.”
“I know. I’d planned for staying over for two weeks, but seeing as how things are now,” James sighed heavily again.
“Listen, I know we’ve already made plans but—”
“You should definitely go back.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Anya shook her head and smiled reassuringly. “We can always make another plan the next time you come back. When you two come back. The more the merrier, right? So don’t worry about it.”
James looked sadly. Hands reached out, he gently pulled her close and kisses her forehead.
“Tell you what. Why don’t we have that hotpot for dinner tonight, huh? We can invite Josh over if he’s free. Whaddaya say, kiddo?”
Anya nodded slowly. “Sure. I’ll give him a call.”
“I’m going to book a flight ticket. Hopefully, I’ll get a morning flight tomorrow,” James sighed softly then walked out of the kitchen and to his bedroom.
A deep silence was all that was left soon after James left the kitchen. Anya moved from her spot at the centre and immediately began to prepare for tonight’s hotpot dinner.
On the other hand, Duke and Aidan who had been eavesdropped to the entire conversation wondered what would happen next.
Aidan suggested leaving the Roman’s family affairs be as it has nothing to do with them. Duke, however, beg the differ and marched toward the kitchen before his butler could stop him.
Anya did not stop her paces cutting the fishcakes on the wooden chop-board.
“What is it?” Anya asked, after a pause.
“Well, I was wandering. That is, Mister James—”
“Ah. It happens all the times. Being a highly successful and demanding chef and all. I’ve gotten used to it, so no need to worry your little hat about it.”
“But you were... You were really looking forward to the plans, did you not? Like going out for a picnic, playing laser tags, staying up late at night chatting or just simply watching movies! Or even—”
The sharp sound of steel met the wooden chop-board board caused Duke to halt his words.
“Like I said,” Anya’s voice deepened. “Don’t worry about it! So what if he has to go back to work tomorrow? It’s not like he’s never going to come back home. Besides, I’ve already told you that I’ve gotten used to it, didn’t I? So get off my back, will you!”
Her words cut him like blades yet Duke remained still and mute. Soft brown eyes never left Anya’s face as he watched her inhaled deeply and tried to control her breath.
Hard as she tried to hide it, the Excalibell Prince could see the tears threatened to roll down her cheeks before she brushed them off like it was nothing.
Just as she often brushes everything that bothers her.
“You two,” Anya’s sharp and boomed tone caught their attention immediately. “If you have nothing better to do, then do me a favour and buy me everything on this list!”
She slammed a piece of paper on the counter then turned around and finished cutting the fishcakes.
“THANK you and please come again!”
Duke smiled charmingly at the cashier who flushed and happily waved them goodbye as they exited the grocery store.
It had taken them twenty-five minutes to buy all the necessary ingredients that was on the list.
The Prince and his butler carried two brown grocery bags as they made their way back home.
“I hope Miss Anya has finally calmed down. I’ve never seen her acting like. I knew for a fact it saddened her the most to see Mister James leaves so soon,” Duke sighed sadly.
The footsteps beside him suddenly came to a halt, causing the young Prince to stop as well.
“Aidan? What’s the matter?”
“Your Highness. If I may speak so boldly, why do you care and invest yourself with Miss Romans’ family affairs? You do realise that she is merely a ticket for us to get to Lady Marian, do you not?”
“Of course I am!” Duke replied, angrily. “Is it so wrong for me to be concerned about a friend—”
“Miss Romans is not a friend. She has never been and will never be a friend. She is but an unwilling victim who just so happened to be caught in the middle because of your foolishness. The only reason why I haven’t kill her yet or she hasn’t kick us out of her household was due to the threat that we have used upon her on our first meeting.”
“Why do you always speak harsh words, Aidan?” Duke scowled.
“As your humble butler, it is my duty to remind you our main reason for being here.”
“I assure you I do not forget,” Duke whispered lowly. “I realised our presences here must have been a nuisance to the Romans’ family. Which is why I would like to propose something when we get back.”
“Oh? What would it be, Your Highness?”
Duke let out a smirk before he turned the key and opened the front door.
“Ah, you’re back, huh?” Came a familiar male voice in the living room.
“Mister Josh. I didn’t you were coming.”
Josh smirked and waved a hand. “Anya called me. She said we’re having hotpot tonight.”
“Yes. We’ve just returned from buying the necessary ingredients,” Duke smiled. “Where is Miss Anya?”
“In her room. She said she has a headache so I told her to rest for a while.”
“In that case, I’ll get the hotpot ready. Excuse me,” Aidan carried two grocery bags in his arms to the kitchen.
ANYA emerged from the bathroom in a yellow with white polka dots pyjamas and a damp hair fresh from the shower. She moved toward a wooden cabinet and opened the first drawer.
Her hand reached out for the cream moisturiser and applied some on her face and around her neck. Looking at her reflection on the mirror, Anya scowled.
I guess James will be leaving tomorrow. I’ll be alone in this house again.
Anya took a deep breath and start brushing her wet hair when there were a couple of knocks on the door.
“Miss Anya? It is I, Duke. May I please come in?”
There was a long pause.
Duke slowly opened the door and stepped inside before closing the door again.
With a small smile, he asked. “How are you doing, Miss Anya?”
“James got an early flight booked at six o’clock. I am sad that James is leaving tomorrow, but I’ll get over it. Besides, it’s not as if he’s never coming back home.”
“But you feel lonely without Mister James around, aren’t you?”
“What?” Anya stood up so quickly and roughly put down the brush on the table. She turned to face him with an intimidating look.
“I am NOT lonely. Whenever Mum has to go for an important Conference or a long trip, I have Casey or Josh to keep me company,” Anya snorted loudly. “I’m a big girl, Duke. I don’t need people to babysit me.”
Duke kept silence with his eyes on the ground and head lowered.
After a long pause, he spoke the next words so softly.
“But it’s not the same, isn’t it? It’s never the same of having your friends to come over no matter how great of friends you have, compare to having your whole family together again, are they?”
Anya stared back at him in deep silence, completely taken back by his words.
Duke smiled forlornly.
“I am an only child. Hence, I do not know what it feels like to have siblings. My mother died during childbirth, so I’d never gotten the chance to know her. But I heard great things about her from my father and the maids. Despite not having any siblings, I do know what it felt like being separated from your parent, though. The King often travelled to other kingdoms for political matters. Growing up, it was hard for me to watch him leave at the kingdom’s gates. Over time, I’ve learned it was harder on him to leave me alone in the castle, but knowing that he trusted his men and Aidan to keep me safe and sound within the castle, was what pushed him forward. After living in your home for two months now, I dare to say how envious I am because of how close you are with your family. Your fierce protectiveness of your family is something that I greatly admire.”
Duke finally looked up and locked eyes with her. His brown eyes filled with a deep understanding. “Then, there was the longing look in your eyes when you saw Mister James on Friday night...”
He smiled sadly. “Miss Anya, it’s definitely not my place to say but I sincerely think you should be honest with Mister James and tell him how you really feel about him leaving you.”
Duke turned his back on her, one hand on the knob.
“Aidan is getting the hotpot ready for tonight.”
Duke reached the dining room, just in time to see Aidan putting plates and trays consist of different types of ingredients: thinly slices of meat, leafy vegetables, mushrooms, wontons, egg dumplings and seafood, on the table. At the centre of the table, was a simmering metal pot of stock.
The Excalibell Prince took a seat and rested both arms on the table, palms underneath his chin.
“Your Highness?” Aidan stopped placing the utensils. “Did something interesting happened?”
“Oh no. Not really,” Duke shook his head. Soon as those words left his mouth, the two men heard a door creaked, followed by footsteps then few knocks on another bedroom’s door.
“JAMES, open up!”
James opened his bedroom door in hurry. He had been carefully packing his bags when out of nowhere, someone came banging on his door loudly.
Opening the door, James was immediately struck by the tears running down on Anya’s cheeks. The last time he’d seen her cried since their father’s funeral about ten years ago. Since then, no matter how badly injured she had suffered over the years from fights, Anya stubbornly refused to cry.
At least not in front of anyone.
“Anya?” James gulped. His thoughts instantly went to the two men living with them, and his eyes grew hardened.
“Anya, honey. Did those two hurt you in any way? Because if they do, Josh and I will personally-”
“No. They didn’t do anything,” Anya responded quickly, wiping the tears rolling on her cheeks with her sleeves.
Taking a deep breath, she said slowly and in a meek voice, “James, I don’t want you to leave so soon.”
“Anya, I don’t —”
“James, you’ve only been here for like, three days in two years that you’ve been away! We’ve barely spent times together except for yesterday and now you’re telling me that you have to leave already? That’s — That’s bullshit!”
“Anya, calm down. Let’s talk calmly about this—”
“Damn it, James! Don’t you miss me at all?” She started to pounding hard on his chest with both fists. “You and Dean rarely call home because you’re too busy with work! You don’t think I get lonely by myself around here?”
Anya’s emotions ran wild as new tears rolled down her cheeks. She’s closed of getting hyperventilation when her knees finally gave away.
James quickly lowered down his body to support her when her knees gave away and she crouched down on the floor.
“What about Mum, huh? You haven’t seen her for a while and now you’re just going to leave without seeing her? You don’t think she misses her sons? She talked about you two every day!”
“Anya, sweetie. Breathe,” James circled his arms around her figure and pulled her into a tight hug, comforting her while she broke down into tears.
Meanwhile, Josh who was too shocked to say anything after listening to the confession. He could not help but blamed himself for unable to detect the loneliness she felt all these while.
As an uncle, he felt responsible for taking care of her while she grew up after her brothers left their home. There were times when Josh noticed Anya would stare absently whenever a group of a family came to Homez, with a glimpse of longing in her eyes before it quickly disappeared.
Another part of him argued, telling him it wasn’t his fault. Even if he’d forced Anya to come clean with her emotions and feelings, she would probably smack his head upside before telling him to get lost.
That stubborn woman viewed crying as a weakness. She’d rather chopped her tongue off than cry in front of everyone, even to him.
“Moron,” Josh sighed softly, rubbing his forehead.
In the kitchen, the sound of Anya’s sobbing echoed.
Aidan was already be seated at the table with Duke, turned off the portable butane gas oven for the hot pot. He then got up and took all of the fresh ingredients to be stored in the fridge.