The cold rain forces my shirt to cling to my curves, as I stand looking up at the home I haven't seen in five long years. I should regret the actions that had me sent away from this town, my home, my friends and father. I've never been one to regret finishing something another started though.
I've been described as Jekyll and Hyde. I'll grant the name was warranted. I get infuriated at bullying, overcompensating and just fools in general. A town like this most people know each other. The entitled stuck up girls and boys with egos bigger than their shoulders with american football protective gear on. Who am I to deny them of it being knocked down a peg or two? Instinctively I trace my thumb over the inch long scar on my opposite hand. Three stitches. I smile at the memory.
This town brings back memories. So many good but also so many bad. This house is where my mother passed away. I was eleven years old when she fell asleep. Never will I say she lost her battle to cancer. After three long years she had fought with more strength than a Lion who had been starved for weeks. Duke Kennedy, the man who my mother had married when I was just three years old. He had adopted me and raised me as his own. This home had been his parents before and then ours. Now with him gone the street, the town, it feels empty. Cold like the rain dripping over my soaked hair, forming paths down my face like tears.
"No one lives there yet. It's been under renovations but no one has come." I turn around to see an older lady. Beneath the black umbrella protecting her against the rain. The street light is not shining on her face but I can see the lines of aging. The telltale sign of grey streaks shooting through her midnight black hair. "You'll catch your death out here dear." I watch her almost bewildered by her sweet endearment term. How long had it been since someone had called me something so timid? "Well come along. You can't stand out in the rain all evening."
She turns away and begins walking a few steps. I remain frozen watching her. Does she mean for me to follow? I can't place who she is. Maybe she is new to town or just grown old in the five years since I've been gone. She obviously doesn't recognise me.
"Are you coming? Tea will warm you up." She turns and calls to me. For some reason I find my feet moving towards her. When she turns at the house next to mine. Walking up the short driveway. Could she be?
"Mrs O'Sullivan?" I find myself saying. She reaches the porch and smiles at me. Unlocking the door and standing to the side. An invitation to come inside. Inside the property of a person who had led to my downfall, or at least helped it.
"So you are Allie. Well young Miss Kennedy you have grown into a beautiful woman. I can see why my boy was infatuated with you even more now than before."
Her smile is warm but her words wash over me like an ice bucket. Infatuated would perfectly describe Austin O'Sullivan. The boy had been a menace long before I had moved to this town and I imagine long after I left. Though he wasn't infatuated with me for any specific reason other than he couldn't have me. That had irked him and in turn he had irritated the hell out of me at every single opportunity. He tore my life apart piece by piece until finally I had snapped.
"Are your sons home?" I look into the doorway and find the house is dark. No lights are on. Unless they have the ability to see in the dark now they aren't here but still I feel the need to know. I am not prepared to see him.
"No. I'm sure they won't be home this evening. You know boys and Friday nights." She is being modest. Her oldest son practically rules this town. His MC has taken over slowly. My father had informed me of that much. Mostly they are quiet but all the same, they rule. I imagine their Friday's are spent the same as the rest of their week.
Mrs O'Sullivan turns her umbrella down and places it outside against the wall. Walking inside and turning on the lights. She walks down the hall and disappears into the kitchen. I know because my own home next door had the same layout. Until I rearranged nearly everything about it. Finally deciding on following her inside I close the door gently and walk through. The warm yellow lights and navy coloured cabinets are beautiful. She is already pulling two cups from the cupboard and the hum of the kettle goes.
"I am sorry for your loss."
"Thank you." How many times do people usually hear that? For me they had all been via texts, social media and phone calls. I hadn't even been here to bury my father. A pang of guilt and shame shoots through me.
"So what have you been doing with yourself? Duke mentioned you were sent away to a boarding school. Then you finished and he would visit but you never came back."
"There was never the time. I was working." Lies of course. Everyone can make time. A few hours. Maybe a couple of days. But I had never wanted to. When she places the mug of tea in front of me I find myself chewing my bottom lip. Does she know how bad Austin was? "Did you know?"
"I assume you mean that Austin was being rather awful to you?" I nod. I cannot be angry at her. I remember the hours she would work. When Austin was young and she would finish a night shift. Coming home to get him ready before taking him to school. Scarcely getting four to five hours sleep before she would collect him. Even with the help of the older brothers Louie and Jackson. She never complained and always smiled. "I cannot lie and say I hadn't noticed. Of course I had spoken with him on many occasions."
"He was an arsehole." I'd say mind my language but I already know she has heard much worse. "But we were young."
"I can't say he has changed much." She smiles and winks at me.
"I believe it sounds as though you are calling him an arsehole." I smile back.
"A mother would never say such a thing. Out loud." I chuckle as does she. "I know what my boys are. I love them all for such very different reasons. Even Austin's passion."
I scoff. "Are you still working in the main hospital?" I decided to change the subject from her sons. Better to leave that conversation alone.
"O no. I retired nearly three years ago now. My back couldn't take the long shifts anymore and the nights there, they made me feel ten years older than I am. Enough about old me. What job has kept you so busy?"
"I fix bugs for apps or testing firewalls." Fancy term really. I'd say I am a hacker mostly. People bring me in to check over their software or try and hack into their database. Pays a lot of money and in the end I can actually work from anywhere.
"Sounds like technology stuff to me." I fake a cough to hide the short laugh. She is obviously not interested in technology. "It was always obvious how bright you were. Every after school activity you were enrolled in you would come back with some form of a trophy."
Mrs O'Sullivan had always been super sweet. Having three boys herself and no daughters. She would see us pull up and come out so I could show off about whatever I'd learned. Either a new flip in cheer or move in kickboxing. I even would demonstrate the swimming moves. Yes, including the butterfly all on the front lawn with no shame. I was over active. A bundle of joy dad would say, too excited and may have an attention issue mum would reply.
"It feels like a lifetime ago."
"It certainly does. Especially when the once young boysterous tomboy now sits in front of me as a fully grown woman." She speaks softly. Sipping away at our tea we sit in comfortable silence for a moment. The house wasn't the issue I realise. I'm not uncomfortable being in here. I am just unsure on how I will handle seeing the brothers again for the first time in five years. "The house has been renovated so much I don't even recognise it. Next time I'm over you'll have to invite me round for a tea."
I know she is hinting, am I staying? I haven't decided whether it will be permanent but for now, yes. I want to feel closer to dad again. Once I received the phone call I felt truly loney. I've been alone a long time. I enjoy being alone but lonely is totally different. I realised the last soul in this world that loved me unconditionally was gone. Suddenly and unexplained. So for now I will remain here and find answers others won't look for.
"Of course. You are welcome round. Next time you are over? Do you not live here still?"
"Lord no. With the boys. They can barely stay here all at the same time. I moved out about a year ago. Finally took the leap and got myself a boyfriend. So the boys stay here whenever and I come round just to check that they are stocked up and the house is still in one piece. If they damaged anything Jackson would sort it out but you know how I am."
I did. A doting mother who had three big sons who wanted for nothing. "I'm glad you got yourself a life." I lift my brows insinuating. How easy it is to feel like no time has passed.
She taps my arm with the back of her hand. "You remind me far too much of the boys. I'd heard nearly the exact same thing from them." The doorbell chimes and she puts a finger up to gesture one moment. I walk to watch down the hallway. My heartbeat picked up a pace at the idea it could be one of them. Don't be a fool. They wouldn't press the doorbell. I calm myself slightly.
She opens the door and I see a tall, large figure. The porch light is still off and in comparison to Mrs O'Sullivan he towers over her. I instantly chuck my cup onto the counter. It skids but doesn't slip to the ground. Moving quickly towards her I stand in front of her protectively. Our area isn't bad. In fact other than the Hell Riders MC there aren't many crimes that they aren't somehow involved in. Yet being the mother to the leader could put her in danger.
The tall bulky figure takes a step towards me. Meaning to intimidate but instead I step towards him as well. Once toe to toe I can see his dark chocolate eyes and the dreads tied up at his crown. His rich dark skin. His scent hits my nostrils and he smells like cocoa. Yum. Instantly my stomach churns with hunger. I haven't eaten in a few hours.
"Do we have a problem here Marie?" His deep voice isn't directed at me. He is talking to Mrs O'Sullivan. Who I had never even asked the first name of. Always happy to call her Mrs because she had been so respected. Even by me.
"No. Gabe this here is Allie. Allie, Gabe. She is my neighbour and an old friend of Austins. Don't worry Allie. Gabe is bringing back the shopping list I requested." She walks confidently back into the kitchen. I tilt my head to watch her walk away. Turning back I give Gabe a short nod which he doesn't return. Instead he watches me with interest.
"Well this will be interesting." He says before stepping back and reaching down. Finally I notice the shopping bags just to the side of the door. Does Jackson have one of his crew fetch shopping for his mother? It looks as though he does.
"What do you mean by that?" I snatch a bag up before he manages to take the handles. Proving myself not totally incapable. Still standing in the way of him entering. Not that he couldn't just push past me with his size.
"I mean that things are about to get interesting around here." He leans forwards with a smile and then does push past me. Unless I want to be knocked into the hall wall I have to step out of his way. With a roll of my eyes I close the door and follow him through. Placing the bag down and turning to Marie as only now I've found out her name. It suits her though. How a sandy beach on a warm day may be. Laughing heard all over, warm and gentle. That is Marie. Warm, gentle, calming and bring laughter.
"I'm going to head off."
"You didn't even have any luggage with you. Do you have supplies? Tea or milk?" She asks. Always the doting mother. Maybe even feeling sorry for the twenty two year old girl who has now tragically lost both of her parents.
"I had my things delivered yesterday and shopping this morning. All with the help of technology Marie." I smile. She comes over pulling me into a warm embrace. Being around my height she doesn't struggle. My arms stay limp at my sides. A vivid memory of my mother pulling me into a warm embrace in her slender arms. The same warm expression on her face. The gentle and soothing caress of a hand at my back. Only bringing the further realisation I am completely alone shooting through me. I abruptly step back. Mumbling an apology at her expression. Was it hurt or sympathetic? Maybe a mixture of both. "Are you going to be alright?" I tilt my head towards Gabe.
"O yes. He is a member. Jackson wouldn't trust a prospect to help me but Gabe is close with both Jackson and Louie. Reassure her boy." She says turning towards Gabe. He looks from me to Marie before nodding.
"I am only here to assist with putting the shopping away and making sure her car gets her home safely. After that my duties are over and I'm off to the club house." He doesn't even sound annoyed about it. Most men wouldn't appreciate helping a woman put her shopping away instead of being at the club. So with a nod and making sure not to have her embrace me again I leave.
It hadn't felt awkward. Not until she had embraced me. I leave closing the door politely rather than how I do with my car door. I'm surprised the hinges haven't had to be replaced numerous times on the poor thing.
Back at my original destination. The rain has stopped and the wind has a hint of warmth to the cool evening. I'd instructed for the house to be done exactly as I asked. They had succeeded but now. Looking at what is practically a completely new home. Somehow I miss the shabby windows and crusty paint on the porch.
Breathe. Go inside and see your new home. I try to talk myself into moving my feet. Finally taking the steps and walking up until I reach the large door. Placing the key that had been mailed to me within the hole. I hear the click and push the door open. I don't give myself a chance to think before stepping in and kicking the door closed again. Finding a switch and flicking it on.
The open plan downstairs lights up. The living room flowing into the kitchen diner. Kicking off my heels I let my feet plant on the warm marble floor. The underfloor heating was definitely a good purchase. My fingers gently graze over the cream fabriced L shaped sofa and then the solid oak counter.
Most twenty two year olds who now owned their own home and had a business worth more than they needed, they'd be happy. But as I see the kitchen I think of my father making breakfast here. The morning before his life was snubbed out. They say he had accidentally shot himself whilst cleaning his gun. In his car of all places. Who do they think they are fooling? I'll get to the bottom of what happened if it kills me. Anyone standing in my way will be destroyed. This whole town can burn if it means extracting the truth.