27. Across The Pond
“How’s retired life treating you?” Nate asked his father. The man was already looking less frenzied and more relaxed. Hell, it had even looked like he had gotten some sun.
“Your mother wants me to put in a lagoon-style pool with a hot tub,” Harry told him, as if that had somehow answered his son’s question.
Nate paused, not knowing what to say for a good minute while the gears in his mind worked over his father’s words. Finally, he breathed out, his face looking pained.
“If this is a sex thing, I’ll leave right now,” Nate responded, his eyes crinkling with worry.
Harry only laughed. Boisterously.
“It’s not, just making conversation,” his father told him.
“And hot tubs,” Harry reminded him.
“Are we in the same conversation right now?” Nate wondered aloud. He also wondered if the man needed a hearing aid or maybe was suffering from dementia.
“Yes, you asked about retirement and I’m telling you about my plans during retirement.”
“So... pools,” Nate said, still slow on the uptake.
“And attached in-ground hot tubs.”
“Right.” Nate shook his head as he responded.
The two were silent, sitting out in the back yard, each nursing a scotch on the rocks as they sat at a patio table in padded chairs.
“So... this questioning about my retirement plans, was this a smooth segue into letting me know you weren’t planning on going back to England?”
Nate flinched. How the fuck did the man know? It wasn’t a far leap, but still...
“Maybe,” Nate allowed. He had told his father he would take over the position of CFO but hadn’t mentioned for how long, or that it wasn’t going to be temporary.
“I figured,” Harry said, taking a sip of the smooth Macallan. “It wasn’t hard to figure out that you weren’t happy there and that you missed the bay area. It’s a different world, being across the pond. Even though you rarely visited here, I figured it had more to do with finding the time than finding the energy or need.”
That was true enough. So many days had passed in London when he had wanted to pack up his stuff, hail a cab and hoof it to O’Hare. He had tried to make the time around the holidays, but with the businesses, he didn’t always get home to have a traditional family Christmas.
That was another thing. London had never truly felt like home. Now home was feeling more like home than home ever did... if that made any damned sense.
“It was nice and I wouldn’t mind visiting again, for business or personal reasons, but I can’t make it into something it’s not,” Nate said.
Harry nodded. It had been a while since he had been back to his native land for any significant amount of time. Now northern California, with its verdant, rainy winters and desert-dry summers was now where he felt he belonged.
“I... I did get a surprising call from the McCormicks yesterday,” Harry announced in an off-handed manner.
The cords on Nate’s neck strained against the fabric of his collared shirt. Fuck.
“Yes,” Harry answered. “Lorelei McCormick was asking when you were coming back to England. She practically was demanding an answer. Quite rude about it, she was.”
“Well, that’s Lorelei for you,” Nate replied, all his bitterness mixing with his words.
“You two were dating for a while, weren’t you?”
“Yes, for a time.”
“It ended badly?”
Nate made a face at him. It was his only response.
“That badly, eh?”
Nate nodded, not wanting to talk about it further. It was embarrassing, mortifying and humiliating. He could probably think of a few more descriptive words for it, but he was done thinking- and speaking- about it.
“What a shame. Such a pretty girl,” Harry said.
“I’m sure the big oaf who she left me for thinks so as well,” Nate muttered.
“Walk in on her or-”
“Not going there with you, Dad,” Nate said, interrupting.
“Fine, fine,” Harry said. If only his son was as forthcoming as his wife with news and gossip.
“Why aren’t you pissed?” Nate asked after a moment. Harry’s cocked a brow at him.
“Did you want me to get drunk? Is this some sort of male bonding experience you Americanized young-”
“Not pissed as in drunk,” Nate said, laughter threatening to bubble up from within. “I meant pissed off as in angry, livid, infuriated.”
“Hmm... good question,” Harry mumbled. He shook his head and tossed a carefree smile his son’s way. “Maybe it’s because I don’t want you to leave. Maybe I’ve missed having my son around.”
“Or maybe it’s because Carl, Aiden, and Ramon all have growing families and aren’t around as much,” Nate tossed back, smiling.
“Can’t it be a little of both?”
Nate could see much of himself in his father’s smile. Violet may have been 95% Mathilde, but Nate was a spitting image of his father when he was his age. Put a side by side of them in their mid-twenties, and aside from the fact that fashion had changed, they could have been twins.
“It can,” Nate ventured. “Though I hope it’s more about missing your oldest child than having someone younger to push around.”
“I don’t push Aiden around,” he objected. “He wouldn’t allow it.”
“He does allow it, and often,” Nate argued lightly. “It’s just that he doesn’t put up as much of a fight. Not since being married and having kids at least.”
“Yeah Constance and Little Lizzie have softened him up quite a bit,” Harry agreed. “What did you want me to tell her?”
“Lorelei.” Oh. They were back on that.
“I dunno,” Nate said with a shrug. “Tell her I’m involved with someone else, tell her I’m never coming back. Tell her I got married in Vegas to a stripper named Heaven. Hell, you could tell her I died and I wouldn’t give a shit.”
“Are you?” Harry asked, cocking another brow.
“Dead? I’d be the most active corpse if I was.”
“No... involved with someone,” Harry replied. He rolled his eyes, completely uncharacteristic of himself.
Nate’s jaw twitched and he hoped his father didn’t see it. It was his tell, so people had told him, that he was about to spew out a falsehood.
“It’s...” Fuck. What could he say? He had a feeling his father would see through any lie. If he wasn’t so horrible about at lying, he was sure Harry would be able to divine it from him through sheer force of will.
“It’s... what?” Harry asked.
“Maybe... yes... no- I... I don’t really want to talk about it right now.”
“You either are or you aren’t, unless...” Harry scrutinized him for a brief moment, his gaze clouded over. “You’re not dating one of your mother’s friends or anything weird like that, are you? Because if you are, I warn you now, they are entirely too much like your mother. High-maintenance, gossiping old hens who like to brag about their children- or grandchildren- until you want to rip your ears off your body and burn them.”
“God, no! And you like Mom being high-maintenance and gossiping,” Nate told him with a laugh. “You get to know all the juicy bits first that way.”
“True.” Harry smiled. “I wouldn’t have her any other way.”
After speaking to his father about his permanent residence in the bay complete, Nate got into his car and headed toward home.
It had been three weeks since he and Leila had started seeing each other and a week since Violet and Carl had gotten back from their honeymoon. The two had still been trapped in their own blissful bubble at the airport, but at least Mason was back with his parents and Nate didn’t have to worry about his mother feeding him caviar or oysters or other some such nonsense. Not that she really would. She would have simply thought that caviar was for special occasions. That’s how the mind of Mathilde worked when it came to food and recreation. There was a time and a place for everything.
Before leaving, Mathilde had made Nate promise that he would come by the following Saturday. They were going to have a ‘welcome back’ dinner for Carl and Violet, though Nate figured it was probably just another excuse to get the family and friends together for dinner. It didn’t take much for Mathilde to find a reason to celebrate. Whether you passed a physics exam or got pregnant or married (or both), she was always up for a night together. It would have been endearing if it wasn’t also frustrating at times.
Nate played with the idea of inviting Leila along all the way home. She had been at the Charles residence while growing up almost as much as she had been at her own home a few miles away. Mathilde was like a second mother to her, or a fun, quirky aunt at the very least. It made Nate smile that at least one of his parents would be as excited as he when news of them seeing each other got out. To be honest, he wasn’t worried that they would eventually know, though Leila seemed a little more hesitant with her trust in that fact. It wasn’t anything she said, but her movements spoke volumes. They were a little stiffer when they talked about it, like she was putting up a wall with her skin. Skin he could almost feel under his hands right now, tracing her curves, sliding over her ass, nipples, and-
He shifted in his seat as he moved from the 101 to I-80, taking a curve a little too fast for his tastes. Leila- even the thought of her- was distracting.
As soon as he pulled onto their street, he noticed the lack parking spaces available. He ended up a block away but didn’t mind the short walk to his home. Locking his car remotely, he walked along the sidewalk hurriedly. His wayward thoughts had made him hard and needy. If Leila wasn’t home he would have to take care of it himself, but he hoped he could convince her to-
There was a man, large and firm, standing on the front stoop of the house. He didn’t look like a burglar, or even that dangerous, though Nate couldn’t tell from behind. He could have had jailhouse tats for all Nate could see of the man’s face.
Nate stepped behind a bush in a neighboring house’s yard, not wanting the man to see him until he was quite sure of what he was up to.
The man just stood there, knocking on the front door. There was a doorbell right next to it which rang up to Leila’s part of the duplex, but when he rang it, no one answered.
The man ran a hand through his short, cropped hair and sighed. Nate stepped out from behind the bushes and started to slowly make his way toward his front door.
“Sir,” Nate said, catching the man’s attention. “Is there something I can do for you?”
“Are you Nathan Charles?” the man asked, peering into his face as if working a particularly difficult puzzle.
“Yes.” The man... Nate thought he looked familiar, but he couldn’t place him. It was the accent that gave him away. It wasn’t the clipped London drawl his father had possessed. This one was a lilting brogue that bespoke of a strong Irish upbringing.
“Nathan Charles formerly of 325 Covington Street, London?” The man’s words were almost stilted, stern. Almost impossible to discern.
“Yes, now what’s this about?” Nate asked. He was done with the questions, done with this cloak and dagger bullshit. He didn’t care if the man looked like he ate nails for breakfast and shat out tacks as the result. He was there, at his home, asking about him with his thick accent and large frame in between him and the woman he loved.
That wasn’t right.
He didn’t love Leila. It was too soon. But he cared a fuck ton about her and this was a man was keeping him from being there with her, keeping her safe from... whoever the hell this man was.
“Yeh know a Lorelei McCormick, do yeh not?” the man asked him. The man’s brogue seemed to get heavier, rougher.
“Wish I didn’t, but yes, I knew her.” Nate tilted his head. “At least I thought I did.”
There was no other questioning, no other words that the man said. He simply walked up to Nate and threw a fist into his face, knocking the man to the ground.