I felt the bed shift around me as a pair of strong arms wrapped around my waist.
'Happy thanksgiving London.' A husky voice whispered.
I sighed contently as I twisted in his arms so I could bury my face in his chest.
'You better be. Trust me, this'll become one of your favourite holidays after you've eaten thanksgiving dinner.'
I had no doubt about that after I'd seen all of the food that had been bought yesterday. Four deserts seemed excessive but I wasn't complaining.
'I should probably go back upstairs.' I started to push myself up however his vice like grip kept me in place. I chuckled as he pretended to scold me.
'Five more minutes.'
I lay there in his arms until I knew I really didn't have a choice but to get up. By the time I'd had a shower and dressed the house was bustling with people either prepping food or putting up decorations. It turns out in this household they put up Christmas decorations today.
Taliah, Hailey and I had been given the task of the Christmas tree whilst the guys were wrapping garlands up the banister and stairs. Before I knew it was 2pm and we were being called to the table.
What I saw in front of me was like something out of Willy Wonka. Masses of food filled every free space on the table. Colourful dishes piled with a variety of different vegetables and meats smelt amazing. It really did remind me of a British Sunday roast dinner except for a few key ingredients i.e. Yorkshire puddings.
'This looks incredible!' I said as I sat down in my appointed chair.
'Go hard or go home.' Erika said as she piled some food onto my plate. I should've known most of this was her involvement.
As everyone sat down numerous plates were passed around to the point where I had so much food in front of me, I didn't know where to start.
'Try the cauliflower cheese first.' Taliah said from next to me. She'd obviously seen my inner struggle and had insider knowledge on how to tackle the beast.
Doing as I was told I took a mouthful and my eyes went wide over the taste.
'You're welcome.' She said obviously satisfied with my expression.
The rest of dinner went like that. I tried more food and my stomach was happy. Conversation flowed around the table and after a board game break we were onto puddings. As I flopped down on the sofa once we'd helped clear up, I felt like a stuffed sausage. I couldn't remember the last time I'd eaten that much food. So worth it though.
'Look what I found.' Hilary waltzed into the room with a smile on her face a she carried a big wooden box.
'Uhh not again grandma.' James whined.
'Eve my grandchildren hate when I do this but surely you'll appreciate looking at some old photos.'
'You bet I will.' I said evilly as I secretly prayed to find some funny photos of Harrison and Taliah from when they were younger.
For the next hour I sat with Hilary gradually making my way through the box of photos. Every so often she'd stop me and start up on a story that one of the photos had provoked. I was happy to find quite a few embarrassing photos showing some questionable fashion choices from when Harrison, Hailey and Taliah were younger. Even though they had all complained to begin with, when a certain photo would do the rounds anecdotes were relayed back which made all of us tear up from laughing so much.
One particular story was being told right now by Simon of one of the kid's school plays. I however had stopped paying attention because a small photo album caught my attention from where it had been uncovered by hundreds of loose photos. There wasn't anything particularly special about it apart from the university college of London logo on the front.
I pulled it out from the box and lay it on my lap. The dates on the front matched up with what I thought this was. I flipped page after page not sure what I was looking to find but I stopped dead when I did. The photo must've been taken by someone else and the two girls seemed completely unaware as they were too busy laughing at something one of them had said or done. One blonde and the other brunette. It looked like a photo of Taliah and I.
It was the photo below that really felt like a punch to the stomach though. I could tell it didn't belong as it wasn't stuck in the book, only left in between the pages. The photo showed the stereotypical happy family. A young couple beaming at their two 6-year-old twin daughters. My mum had somehow managed to get both of us in matching dresses with our hair in braids. I bet I screamed bloody murder when she did that. The only differential between the two girls was one had a front tooth missing.
'That was the summer your mom and dad brought you and your sister to visit.' Lindsay sat down on the sofa next to me and watched as I studied the photo.
'I remember it vaguely. Well I remember this photo being taken.' I motioned to put the photo back in the album but Hilary stopped me.
'Keep it sweetheart.'
'Thank you.' I said softly. 'Lindsay please don't ever get a perm again.'
The jokey conversation started again and all awkwardness had left the building. I plastered on a fake smile and tried to join in but it felt forced. After a couple of hours, I managed to sneak away from the group. I put my coat on and sat outside on the sofa holding the photo Hilary had given me. I was sat out there for about 20 minutes before I felt a blanket drape over my shoulders and someone sit down next to me.
'Can I look?' He motioned to the photo in my hands. I passed it to him and watched as he studied the photo.
I glanced at who he was pointing at and was surprised to find that he was right. Even my parents had struggled to tell us apart sometimes.
'How did you know?'
'Your eyes. Hers are more blue grey, whereas yours are a deep ocean blue. That was what struck me most when I first met you.' I thought I noticed a blush on his cheeks but it may have been the cold.
We fell into a silence until the elephant in the room was too much to bear.
'It was a car accident.'
'You don't have to tell me.' He said softly.
'I know but I want to.' I took a deep breath taking one last look at the photo before launching into the story. The real story.
'We were going to one of my dad's work functions. We used to go to them all the time and I hated them. Having to socialise with poncy boring people made me lose the will to live but we did it to support my dad.
I remember that night being an unusually cold night. A lot colder than most September evenings. We were driving down a country road when a deer ran out in front of the car. The driver swerved when he saw it but unfortunately that meant we ploughed into a tree instead. All I remember is the reflection of our car headlights rebounding off of the tree trunk.
I woke up in the hospital and I instantly had this horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach. I looked around the room and none of my family were there so I just knew something was wrong. My parents would never let me wake up somewhere like that by myself. A nurse came in and a look of pity was on her face. She told me she'd be back and she sent in my grandma. That's when they told me they had all.. died.' I only just managed to choke the last word out before tears sprung into my eyes.
'Apparently someone else had driven by and saw the car. They called an ambulance and so on. They found me unconscious outside of the car so they think I crawled out of the back window but I don't remember anything.' I felt myself involuntarily shudder.
'For a long time, I just couldn't understand. My whole family dies in one split second yet I come out with only scratches and bruises. I was a miracle according to the doctors.'
I sighed softly as I voiced all of the things I'd been going over in my head for months. The thoughts that had been keeping me up at night.
'Our car was wrapped around a tree; people aren't supposed to survive that. So why me? I've always believed in fate and everything happens for a reason but this? At first it felt like a fate worse than death.' I fell silent as I wiped away the few stray tears that had escaped.
Harrison waited until he knew I was finished until he started talking.
'No one deserves to go through what you've been through Eve. Life can be painful sometimes but the accident wasn't your fault. It also wasn't some kind of punishment to you.' He reached over and gently wiped the tears off my cheeks.
'I never met your family but I know enough about them to know how proud they'll be of you. You're one of the strongest people I've ever met and it's one of the long list of reasons why I admire you.'
'Yes really. There would be a lot of people out there that would've given up but not you. You had the strength to move to another country and make the most out of the life you have. I think that's what they'd want for you. For you to not stop living because of what you've been through, but for that to spur you on to make the most of it.'
I'd never heard Harrison speak as passionately as he was right now. He had this expression on his face that I didn't know how to read as he held my hands tightly and stared into my eyes.
'Thank you. I didn't realise how much I needed to hear that.'
'You're welcome. And Evie...thank you for sharing that with me. Anytime you want to talk I'm here. I mean it. Anytime.' He pulled me into a hug that I instantly melted into.
'Why don't you come inside. It's cold out here.'
'Just a few more minutes ok. I'll meet you inside.'
He looked at me to check I really was ok, then nodded and headed back inside.
As I sat in silence again it felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I guess I didn't realise how much I needed to get all of that off my chest. In the blink of an eye a figure sat next to me in the spot Harrison had been only moments ago.
'Where have you been?'
'I've been hitting up the tourist attractions. There's a bear at the local zoo that does backflips.'
Nora nodded and wrapped part of my blanket over herself.
'So...you told him.'
'I did yes.'
'Can I ask you something Evie?'
I turned to Nora a look of confusion on my face. Nora never asked, she just said. It was one of her best and worst qualities.
'Go for it.'
She thought for a moment before looking at me.
'How does Harrison make you feel?'
'What do you mean? Like does he make me happy?'
'I know he makes you happy but do you have stronger feelings for him?'
She'd completely taken me off guard to the point where my mind went blank. I'd never really thought too much into it.
'Ok forget I said anything.' She said getting up. However just before she walked away, she turned back round to look at me.
'Evie, I think Harrison is falling in love with you and if I'm not mistaken, I think you are falling in love with him too.'
I couldn't form words.
'Just think about it ok.' With that she was gone.
She really did know how to make a dramatic exit.