Chapter 67: Careful What You Wish For
Butterflies, of the unpleasant variety, were fluttering around my belly while I fiddled with my fingers in my lap. I was nervous. Seated around the round, white table of my parents’ dining room in West Hampstead, I watched Dad pour me a glass of white wine to go with the salmon dish he had prepared for dinner. In the background, I heard the familiar ticking of the old clock that Mum had inherited after my great grandmother. That sound was nostalgic now, as it had ticked away every second I’d spent in this house during my childhood. It made me feel odd. So much had changed, and yet some things never did.
It was Wednesday today. Sometime around noon, William had attended his first appointment with his counsellor, Gregory Fielder, and while I was looking forward to hear his thoughts around it when I eventually returned to his flat, I had taken the liberty to ring my parents and ask if I might come for dinner. I’d discussed it with Jason, who was more than happy to babysit his brother for a few more hours, in my stead.
“Phoebe has been sending us great many pictures of her trip with Chase,” Mum informed me as she reached for her glass.
“Yes,” Dad chimed. “Chase seems to be making her very happy.”
“I told her to ask whether he wanted to join her when she flies over in August.”
“Did you? Good thinking, Lily. I hope he decides to come. I’d like to meet him,” Dad replied with the eager nod of his head that I’d grown up to understand as one of his inherent characteristics.
Mum paid him a small smile and lowered her glass again while Dad took his seat by my right.
I pursed my lips at him while my thoughts strayed onto the topic of my own boyfriend, of which I had yet to inform them. “You going to torture him with a million rhetorical and ambiguous questions?”
Would he treat William that way? The idea intrigued me. How would William handle Dad’s banter? Would he fall short or present himself as an equal? In the end, William could be rather ambiguous and rhetorical, too, whenever he set his mind to it.
I had to admit that part of me was positive that William was going to impress both my parents. While he could be a true fool, he could be the most charming of men when it was required of him. It worked in his favour that my parents were fond of authentic and original individuals, and my boyfriend was surely that. However, the other part of me was sincerely worried about his uncontrollable mouth. Both my parents sported remarkably tolerant and liberal minds, but I was confident that if anyone could test their patience, it would be William. In the end, he ceaselessly tested mine, and I was the breathing product of my parents. So, how would he fare?
He grinned at me. “I’ll go easy on him.”
“You ought to,” Mum warned with eyes of steel.
I looked to Mum. “I sometimes wonder how you could have fallen for Dad when he’s capable of being the most annoying person out there.”
Her blue eyes – which I had always been told I had inherited, both in form and colour – turned toward me, and humour danced in them. “Have you forgotten how we met, darling?”
I shook my head. “No, I remember you said you threw your shoe at him.”
Dad groaned. “Took me ages to earn her affections after that chaos.”
She scoffed. “Well, you should have ignored Ben’s advice and treated me how you initially meant to.”
“Well, I’ve never been good at wooing women, and Ben always was. He had ethos.”
“Ben’s divorced for the fourth time, honey. That ethos was only an illusion. We’re going on twenty-one years together this August,” Mum muttered. “Surely, you’re much better in the art than he ever will be.”
“I never said he was good at keeping them,” Dad argued.
I rolled my eyes when they started to argue again, something they always did. They’d bickered like an old married couple – which I supposed they now were – for as long as I could remember, but there was no doubt in my mind that there would never be anyone else for either of them. This was merely how they expressed their affection. I must have inherited that trait, because William and I constantly bickered, too. Come to think of it, so did Daphne and John. I was certain there was interesting psychology behind this pattern I’d just noticed. Neither William nor I were shy of conflict. Could this be why? Nurture, or nature? Both? Probably.
“You know what?” Mum sighed. “I don’t care about Ben and his controversial history with women. Cara is here, and she’s zoning out because we’re boring her.” She turned her entire attention to me and reached over the table to stroke my cheek. “I’m so sorry, dear. Tell us what’s new since last. How’s the internship coming along? You doing alright?”
Blood warmed my cheeks upon the mention of my internship, since all I could associate it with was William Night. Last time I’d spoken to my parents about my internship, I hadn’t had a clue that he was Jason’s brother and my to-be boss, much less my to-be boyfriend.
“Well, that’s conspicuous,” said Dad while he pushed his glasses up the bridge of his bulky nose. “You’re blushing red like a tomato, darling.”
Reactions like these never passed by him, which was honestly surprising, when taking into account how oblivious he generally was. His mind was usually miles away while he entertained some abstract idea, and yet he always seemed to pick up on the things I didn’t want him to.
“Oh, it’s getting worse,” he continued and pointed at me with a cheeky grin on his mouth.
“You moron,” I grumbled and shielded my hot face with my hands. “Stop pointing it out. You’re making it worse!”
“My rose,” he cooed affectionately. He’d always called me that whenever he caught me blushing.
“I’m not a bloody flower, Dad,” I muttered irritated.
“Richard,” Mum scolded, and I knew her sympathy was rooted in personal experience. Like I, she was also a blusher, and Dad relished teasing her for it.
“Lily,” Dad responded and sent her a strict look. “With that colour in her cheeks, she could as well have been you twenty-five years ago, when we first started seeing each other. I recognise that blush all too well. I’ve analysed it in detail,” he continued. My throat contracted with my anxiety. I despised how perceptive Dad could be. It was truly eerie how well he knew me.
“I’m willing to bet good money on the fact that she’s blushing at the mention of her internship because she’s met someone there,” Dad brought himself to say.
Mum’s lips parted as she fixed her gaze on me again, seemingly gobsmacked. “Have you met a man, Cara?”
I hadn’t thought my blush could intensify, but she proved me wrong. Opposite of me, Dad smiled a sheepish version. “You have, haven’t you, love? Don’t tell me he’s some posh, conceited solicitor?”
I inhaled sharply and stared at the table between us. “In fact,” I mumbled, “I have.”
Shocked, she brushed a lock of her short, brown hair behind her ear and stared at Dad. “I did not expect this,” she admitted.
I groaned and tilted my head back. When I said, “Me neither,” both of them laughed.
“There you have it!” Dad exclaimed through his laughter. “I can’t believe this. I’ve been waiting for this day for bloody twenty-three years. Phoebe’s had two boyfriends already! You are quite different to your sister in that aspect, Cara, but at last, it’s happened for you, too.”
I was chewing on my lower lip when I fixed my gaze on Mum to study her reaction. From the look of her, she was still processing the news, even if she was grinning from ear to ear.
“So, what’s the story, then? Does he work at Day & Night?” Dad probed me.
I sighed. This was going to be a long story to tell. “Um, yes. His name is William, and he’s actually Jason’s elder brother.”
Mum blinked beside me. “He’s Jason’s brother?” she echoed disbelieving. “What does he make of this, then? Have you known this William for long?”
I gulped down a mouthful of wine before I shook my head. “No, not for long, but it’s a long story, on the other hand. When I first met him, I wasn’t aware he was Jason’s brother. We got along quite well from the first minute – actually, that’s wrong. Not the first minute. Like you, Mum, I honestly wanted to throw my shoe in his face when I first met him. He struck me as a complete twat of the highest order.”
Dad burst out laughing again. “What?”
I grabbed my cutlery. At this rate, the dish would turn cold if I kept talking without eating. “Yes, he was beyond insolent. I’d never met a ruder man in my life.” I tensed at the memory. Gosh, how he had infuriated me back then.
Mum pursed her lips to prevent her laughter from spilling over, and when I gazed at her, I saw genuine joy light up her round face. “So we have a taste for bastards, do we?”
“Hey,” Dad grumbled. “I’m a respectable gentleman.”
“You are,” she confirmed with a nod of her head, “when you want to be. When you don’t, you’re more daunting and irritating than a plague.”
“We’ve got a taste for challenging men,” I corrected her and sent Dad a wink, which he returned immediately with a heartfelt smile.
“Is he your boyfriend, then?” he queried, and his question made my heart race. An involuntary smile tugged at my lips as I watched him coyly.
“When can we meet him?” Mum asked, audibly thrilled.
“Well...” I frowned and studied my food absentmindedly. “He’s been wanting to meet you for some time now, but there’s been an incident, so I don’t think it’s ideal to make the introductions as of yet. Just last Friday, he...” My mood plummeted upon reminder of his ordeal. “He was assaulted by a man named Oliver and ended up in the hospital with serious injuries, including a skull fracture and a severe concussion, not to forget a stab wound and plenty of broken ribs.”
My face twisted when feelings I’d been hiding from Jason and William all week climbed to the surface. Being here, in the comfort of my parents’ company, invoked their true force at a speed that took me entirely aback.
“I’m sorry,” I uttered upset and rushed to cover my face with my hands when tears welled in my eyes. “I really need to cry.”
“Bleeding hell,” Dad mumbled and pushed his seat out to walk around the table. When his familiar arms came around me, I started shaking, and the relief of being able to express my true feelings was overwhelming.
“Darling, what on earth,” he soothed and squeezed me against him.
“I was so scared for him, Dad,” I confessed through my sobs. “He was unconscious, and I really thought I might lose him. There was so much blood on him,” I whimpered.
“Cara, sweetheart, why haven’t you told us sooner?” Mum asked of me, and when I looked over, I could see that she was horrified.
“I meant to.” I sniffed. “I just haven’t had the time. I’ve been so busy looking after him and minding work that–”
“Sh, darling, it’s okay. Is he going to be alright, like you said?” Dad interrupted me and planted repeated pecks to the top of my head.
“Yes, I think so. He’s still recovering, but he’s trying really hard to be brave. Part of me worries it’s just an act; that he isn’t being entirely honest about it because he doesn’t want me to worry.”
“Don’t overthink like that, Cara. You’re only adding weight to the burden. I’m sure he’s going to be back to his old self soon enough. You’ll just have to be patient,” Dad argued.
“I don’t understand why he was assaulted,” Mum murmured. “Have they caught his assailant, at least? Has William pressed charges?”
“Yes. I should explain,” I replied and heaved in a deep breath.
“Don’t rush yourself, love,” Dad cooed. “Just breathe.”
Regaining my composure, I nodded and wiped my stream of tears away to elaborate on the gravity of the situation.
When the old clock struck eight, the familiar melody chimed through my ears, leaving a small smile to climb to my lips. By now, I’d wept all my make-up away, and it had been liberating. This was exactly what I’d needed. Their display of unconditional love and support had instilled me with new strength, and so a moment of pure serenity descended upon me as I sipped on my cup of tea and listened to Mum and Dad debate foreign politics. I felt seventeen years old again, and I savoured the pleasant feeling. Under the shelter of my parents’ care, I felt invulnerable.
“Yes, I understand that, Richard,” Mum muttered. “What I’m saying is that most of those people won’t be able to reunite with their relatives before they die.”
I vaguely knew they were debating the state of affairs between North Korea and South Korea, but I didn’t have the mind to get involved. I was preoccupied with basking in the comfort of their presence. It always happened when I visited them; only when I was in their company was I reminded of how much I’d actually missed them.
It felt great to have told them my entire story with William. Even if I had held back a few details, mainly revolving our intimate affairs, I hadn’t omitted much, and I’d only left out sexual details because I wasn’t in the habit of discussing my sex life with my parents. Unlike Olivia, who discussed absolutely everything with her mum, it just didn’t fall naturally to me. I’d never understood how Olivia could be comfortable discussing her sexual endeavours with her mother, Victoria, but I certainly didn’t judge it either. It just wasn’t for me.
Seated on the sofa next to Mum, I was busy smiling at their profiles when my phone rang. The sound of it interrupted their conversation, which increased my awareness of it. Worried it might be Jason, I fished it out of my pocket, only to feel my heart flutter when I saw that it was his brother who was calling.
“Hello?” I greeted and avoided the scrutinising stare of my parents.
“Where are you?” Ever to the point.
I frowned. “Um, Jason hasn’t told you?”
“No, he only said you had plans,” he replied, and I heard Jason murmur in the background, “Who are you on the phone with? Cara?”
As expected, William ignored him completely while he waited for my response.
I said, “Well, I’m with my parents.”
Absorbing the information, he was quiet for a beat. “You’re with your parents?” he echoed surprised. “Why haven’t you told me?”
“I thought Jason would. You were attending your appointment when it was decided, so I told him to tell you.”
“Why the fuck haven’t you told me she’s with her parents?” William asked of Jason, and he sounded entirely baffled. I struggled to stifle a chuckle.
“I didn’t think it was important who she was with,” Jason replied, equally perplexed.
“Of course it’s important who she’s with,” William retorted. “I wouldn’t have called her if I knew she was with them. Now I’m just interrupting where I shouldn’t be.”
“As if that’s a foreign concept to you,” Jason replied sarcastically. Hearing it, I got the feeling that they’d had their quota of each other for a day. I would need to take over Jason’s shift sooner rather than later.
Jason continued to query, “If it was that important to you, why didn’t you just ask me rather than ring her?”
“I decided to use it as an excuse to hear her voice,” William replied matter-of-factly. “I could’ve asked you, but if I had, I’d have no reason to call her.”
“Then what’s your problem? I literally gave you the excuse you wanted. You should be kissing my arse. Not kicking it.”
“Well, I also look for any excuse to give you hell. I like having excuses.”
“Sometimes, I think you’d look prettier sporting two black eyes than one. You’ve got a face that begs for a hit, Will.”
William refocused on me, “Darling, I’m sorry. Had I known you were with them, I wouldn’t have bothered you. I was only wondering when you’d be home.”
Knowing it was past eight, I shrugged my shoulders and, on autopilot, glimpsed the clock on the wall. “I’ll be home in about an hour. Will you survive until then?”
“Jason might be dead, but I’ll make do.”
I laughed, and the sound of it made my parents grin.
His tone was affectionate when he continued, “Don’t rush to come home, though, yeah? Stay for as long as you like. I’ll be fine.”
My chest tingled with the immense emotion that engulfed it. How I loved him. I missed him intensely now. Above all, it tickled my heart that he kept referring to his flat as ‘home’, as if it was as much my home as it was his. I knew he didn’t mean it that way – that it was merely a figure of speech, and that I was overthinking it – but that didn’t help the fact that I found the idea charming. “When you speak to me like that, you make it hard to stay away,” I confessed coyly and shielded my face with my right hand to hide my blush from view.
“I’m cunning like that,” he teased.
“And there you went and ruined it again.”
He laughed, but it was interrupted by a loud hiss. “Ah, bollocks. These useless ribs,” he grumbled. “Honestly, what a fuck-up of evolution. You’d think the bones protecting our vital organs would be the sturdiest. You should get to work on that, Jason. Invent some medicinal remedy. Make me a mutant.”
“You should’ve drained your glass of milk like Mum told you every morning.”
“You know I did. I was draining both yours and mine while you were snoozing upstairs, you lazy pig. And I don’t believe calcium is enough of a remedy for this rubbish excuse they call a skeleton.”
“Even if I could make you a mutant, I’d rather die. You as the hulk would summon the apocalypse. You’re barely reined already.”
“You’re the shittiest doctor I’ll ever meet.”
“You’re the shittiest patient.”
“That really hurt my feelings, Jason.”
“Wasn’t aware you had any.”
I rolled my eyes at them. “Honestly, Will, you make yourself laugh more than we do.”
“You might be right, but it’s always at your expense.”
Mum released the sound of a strangled laugh when she heard me, and opposite of her, Dad cackled.
“That your father in the background?” William enquired intrigued.
“Yeah. He’s got a peculiar laugh.”
“For a second, I worried it was your mum.”
That comment made me burst with laughter. “Will!”
He chuckled. “Tell him I look forward to meeting him, and your mum. Them both.”
“I’ve already told them,” I responded through a snicker.
He inhaled sharply. “You have? About us?”
I grinned to myself. It was audible how much this affected him, and it charmed me to my toes. In fact, they curled under the coffee table in front of me. “Yes.”
His responding groan was heartfelt. “Cara, thank you. At last.”
I removed the hand covering my face to catch my parents’ stare. “Will, I’ll speak to you soon, yeah?”
“Yes, sorry. I got a bit carried away. Enjoy your evening, love. And I meant what I said; stay for as long as you like. I’ll be alright.”
“Promise not to kill Jason indirectly by being intolerable.”
“That’s asking me to be someone else, so I can’t promise you that.” And with that, he cut the line. I shook my head in comical despair of him while I placed my phone onto the table. Slowly but surely, he was returning to old ways, and I relished it. In the end, that was the man I’d fallen in love with.
Vaguely, I wondered if his playful mood might have had anything to do with his appointment today. I dearly hoped so. Perhaps Dr Fielder had managed to lift his spirits and provide him with a healthy perspective of his ordeal. If he was any good at his job, he would have. I could hardly wait to hear about it.
“You sound quite familiar with each other,” Mum commented and glanced at me from the corner of her eye. “You said ‘dickhead’ as though it were an endearment.”
“Yes, pardon my French. We’re not sensitive people, and William has no filter,” I explained. “It provides the option of being entirely ourselves with each other.”
“That’s a promising thing,” Dad commented. “Or is it?”
I moaned in despair of him. “Dad, bugger off.”
He chuckled. “Only teasing.”
“Have you told Phoebe about him?” Mum asked and reached for her cup of Earl Grey.
She slurped on the content while she nodded to herself. “That girl will always carry your secrets to the grave.”
“And I hers,” I responded proudly.
“What does she make of William being Jason’s brother?” Dad asked. “She was always fond of Jason, but then Phoebe is such a sceptic it’s not a given that she’ll approve.”
I released an awkward laugh. “She approves.”
His eyebrows arched. “Intriguing. Well, if Phoebe approves, so will I. She’s the most fastidious person I know.”
“I’m not sure I agree,” Mum contested with a shake of her head. “Phoebe’s had two boyfriends already, Chase being the second, and she’s only twenty-one. Cara’s two years her senior, and this is her first boyfriend. In general, Cara might be more open-minded and tolerant than Phoebe, but not when it comes to romance. In that, facts would reveal that Cara is more fastidious.”
Dad looked to contemplate her words for a few breaths until he slowly nodded his head. “No, dear, you might be right.”
“Does it matter?” I murmured dryly.
“Not at all, but you know we like to debate just for the hell of it,” Dad teased me.
“Well, carry on, then. Don’t mind me.”
“You should tell Will to practice, if he means to stand a chance.”
I studied him impassively. “Careful what you wish for, Dad. You might get it.”