I bobbed my head up and down in response, not bothering to look up from the book that lay in my lap. A glass or Chardonnay dangled between my fingers – my fifth, if I was still counting correctly.
“As in, dead dead? As in six-feet-below-the-ground-never-to-grace-our-doorstep-again-dead?”
Ian stood in the doorway, hands frozen on his tie. His expression held equal parts skepticism and incredulity.
“Yep”, I popped the p as I lifted my glass to my mouth, my own face as bland as I felt. “I mean, I don’t think they’ve gotten to the burying part yet, but yeah, my grandmother passed away. They called me earlier this evening.”
The words tumbled from my mouth in a sarcastic rush.
I knew they were supposed to come with some kind of feeling, but so far my heart hadn’t caught up yet, my brain still reeling from phone call with the doctor. I supposed it would have been weirder if I hadn’t been shocked.
The only family member I’d still had any ties with. The woman who’d raised me. Gone.
I wasn’t sure whether that made me feel sad or just relieved.
“That’s… Did they say how she kicked the bucket? She looked pretty damn alive to me last time we saw her.”
I watched while Ian kicked off his shoes and loosened his tie, his movements somewhat sluggish as he sunk into the couch. The weary groan that left his lips was the exact opposite of erotic.
Once, I would’ve thought he was simply tired from after-work meetings, but by now I knew perfectly well what those tousled blonde curls and the bags beneath his eyes meant. I could smell the cigar smoke clinging to him all the way from the other side of the living room.
He was tired, alright, but it probably had a whole lot less to do with the business partners he’d been out with, and a whole lot more with the amount of whiskey they’d all consumed together.
Which was all fine by me, truly. It just would’ve been great if he had taken the effort to let me know that that was what he’d be doing tonight, so that I wouldn’t have been waiting for him with a full tray of oven pasta. Just a text. Was that really too much to ask?
“Heart failure. They tried to resuscitate her in the restaurant, but she flatlined once in the hospital”, I said.
Ian huffed. “Food too spicy for her?”
I exhaled through my nose as I turned another page, the words nothing but a collection of character before my eyes. That same annoyance I’d felt earlier tonight bubbled up in my chest again, the wine and the unexpected loss of my grandmother only fueling it.
Ian didn’t know it, but it was because of her that I was here with him now, living together and working my way up in his father’s company, rather than finish my degree and make something for myself.
My grandmother’s meddling nature had never been more obvious than that day she’d forced me to move in with him. I hadn’t been ready. I’d come to her looking for advice, and she’d terminated my lease and cancelled my uni payments instead, making what was arguably one of the most important decisions in my life for me.
I think part of her even expected me to be grateful for it – expected me to shrug once and then start smiling again when she’d told me I know had nothing to worry about anymore.
Sometimes I wondered if she’d just thought I was dumb.
“I’m sorry sugar. You’re right.”
Ian surprised me by pushing himself up, the annoyance in his features making place for something not quite sympathetic, but close enough to it that I could see he was trying. “You’re right”, he repeated, moving around the coffee table to come my way. “I shouldn’t be making light of this. Anetta was still your grandmother. Are you okay?”
His steps were sure as he took position behind the lounge chair I was folded into. He didn’t seem all that drunk anymore as he massaged my shoulders, those same tousled curls falling forward to shield an angular and sometimes frustratingly handsome face.
I needed a moment to catch my thoughts, the sudden change in his behavior catching me off guard. Ian wasn’t so rigid that it was rare for him to apologize, but it was just rare for him to do it while still half-intoxicated.
Not that I was complaining. My head rolled back at the feel of my muscles unwinding. I wasn’t sad, but I sure as fuck was tense, apparently.
“Yeah, I’m okay. I’m meeting with a funeral director tomorrow. Want to come?”
The kind smile above me morphed into a grimace. “I would if I could, but I’ve got meetings I can’t cancel. Sorry sugar. You should take the day off, though.”
I simply nodded, not wanting to fight him when I knew it wouldn’t get me anywhere. He was right. As Financial Director, he couldn’t just up and leave whenever his fiancée had a family emergency.
“Did they mention anything about-“
Ian stopped himself before he could finish his sentence, shaking his head and plopping a kiss down on the top of my head. When he stepped back I could feel the spots where his warm hands had just been.
“Did they mention what?” I called after him as he moved into the open kitchen, the clinking of bottles betraying he was digging into the liquor cabinet. When he came back it was with two glasses filled with amber.
“Nothing love. Honestly, it can wait. Let’s toast to your grandmother’s memory.”
Our glasses clinked, but I didn’t put mine to my mouth as I sniffed, recognizing the French Cognac well before it touched my lips. God knew I’d gotten drunk on worse, but I hardly ever felt as bad the next morning as I did after that toxin.
“It’s not like I’ve retreated to my bed sobbing or whatever, Ian. We both know me and my grandmother weren’t on the best of terms.” Not the least bit because of him. “Come on, spill.”
He pulled a face as he sat down opposite of me again, his dress shirt falling open to reveal a peek of the Fleur de Lys tattooed on his left pec. A hommage to home, he called it. I called it an ugly flower.
“I was just wondering, did her lawyer call you yet? About your heritage, I mean?”
My eyebrows drew together. “I had a missed call”, I said, “but I didn’t return it yet. Why?”
“Did you ever get a chance to look into her will?”
The sip I’d unconsciously taken burned its way down my throat, causing me to choke. Ian’s blue eyes were patient as he waited for my coughing fit to end. When it did I cocked my head.
“No, not that I can recall. Why are you asking? Are w- you in financial trouble, or something?”
Whenever it came to finances, I tried to avoid the usage of ‘we’, A, because we weren’t married just yet, and b, because it was him who insisted on a prenup. Which was just as well with me.
“I’m sorry, financial trouble?” Ian chuckled, tossing one foot atop of his knee and gesturing towards our lavish living room as he shook his head. “No. You don’t ever have to worry about that, sugar. But if the lawyer wants to set up a meeting, do let me know, and I’ll make sure to be there for you for that appointment. Does that sound okay?”
Eyes the color of denim bore into mine. I drowned in that gaze as I slowly nodded, a yawn escaping my lips at the alcohol floating to my head.
A compromise, and one he’d come up without even the tiniest bit of pressure on my side.
Maybe I was being too harsh on Ian lately.
“Good. Now let’s get you to bed and make you forget about today for a while, hmmm?”