The rest of Scott’s day only got marginally better. Pete and Eliza seemed to accept his presence, but they both still treated him coldly, like he was this guy who didn’t belong. He tried to be annoyed by it, tell himself the manor was just as much his as it was Pete’s, but that wasn’t the truth. The manor had always been Pete’s. Growing up there’d been no question as to who it would go to. It was kind of unfair if you asked Scott. It was so big they could have cut it in half and shared it, probably still gone eight years without seeing one another.
“Jenny and Bryce will be home soon.” Pete said taking another sip from his beer. He was on his third one. He’d spaced them out, so he wasn’t even close to being drunk, but usually he drank nothing. Now he needed a little something to take the edge off. Scott didn’t need to wonder why.
“I look forward to meeting them.” He replied, taking a sip from his own beer. He was on his fifth, and he hadn’t spaced his out. His tolerance was a lot stronger than Pete’s though. Actually he had a stronger tolerance than most people, years of drinking yourself to sleep will do that.
“Jenny will love you instantly.” Pete explained. “Bryce will take some time, he doesn’t trust easily.”
“Isn’t he eight?”
“He has a tough time at school.” Pete said.
“So what’s wrong with him?” Scott asked.
“Nothing’s wrong with him.”
“He’s a Garrison, this town wouldn’t exist without us. Plus he’s your son, the brightest golden boy this town’s ever had. He should be worshipped, not bullied, something’s wrong with him.”
“Nothing’s wrong with him.”
“Right.” Scott didn’t buy it. He knew first hand the perks that came with being a Garrison. Back in the day, whenever he’d mess up, and he messed up a lot, he never got anything worse than a couple detentions. He had friends that had been expelled, suspended, even thrown in jail a couple times, but Scott always just got a little slap on the wrist. All thanks to his last name and the legacy that was the Garrison bloodline.
The sound of tires screeching over gravel caught his attention and he leant back on his chair to take a look outside. ‘For a Good Time Call Eliza’ sat at the wheel, turning off the car as two kids in the back waited for her to let them out. Jenny, Eliza and Pete’s four year old daughter, bounced excitedly in her car seat, waving her hands in the air as she danced and sung along to something Scott couldn’t hear.
Then there was Bryce, eight. He had the same blonde hair as his father, combing it over neatly so not a single strand stood out of place. He sat with his back perfectly straight, his hands clasped in his lap and his lips pursed into a pout. He also wore a suit. He could have worn anything he wanted to school, but he’d chosen a suit. All these things, the appearance, the way he held himself, the way he pouted his lips, told Scott one thing, Bryce was a know-it-all. He was the kind of kid who thought himself superior to those around him, one who probably corrected teachers when they were wrong and stared at the other students as if they were dimwits. It was no wonder he was picked on, and with a name like Bryce, Scott didn’t know what anyone had expected.
The three of them stepped out of the car and began to make their way inside. The moment the front door opened Pete jumped to his feet and scurried to clean up the empty beer cans. He reached for the one in Scott’s hand and Scott let him take it. He had a week to prove his worth, no point blowing it on the first day.
“Jenny watch your…”
A loud crash sounded through the house, cutting Eliza off mid-sentence.
“Sorry Mom.” Came Jenny’s girly voice.
“Okay, everyone into the living room, and watch where you step.” Eliza said.
Three pairs of footsteps padded into the living room and Scott instantly felt uncomfortable as the eyes belonging to those feet scrutinised him. Eliza’s gaze was firm, warning him to behave and Bryce flipped his head back, trying to look down his nose at Scott. Jenny was the only one welcoming, a big grin on her face as her eyes brightened with wonder.
“Are you my Uncle Scott?” She asked, bouncing where she stood.
“Sure am.” Scott said.
“Hmmm.” Bryce huffed. “So you’re the one who hasn’t called in eight years.”
“Can I hug him?” Jenny asked, her feet gaining momentum.
“Jenny maybe you should…” But Eliza’s words fell on deaf ears as Jenny’s feet took over and she dashed to Scott. She was running so fast she tumbled over her own little feet and her body headed for the ground. Pete and Eliza hurried forward, attempting to catch her, but Scott got their first, scooping her up into his arms and sailing her through the air like an aeroplane.
She giggled with excitement and after another loop through the air wrapped her arms around his neck so tightly for a moment he couldn’t breathe.
“Easy there kid.” Scott said, detangling her arms from around his neck.
“I’ve always wanted an uncle.” Jenny exclaimed.
“Jenny he’s not our uncle, he’s just a guy.” Bryce protested, bobbing his head like a bobble-head toy with practically every word. What was with this kid? Scott wondered. The guys at school couldn’t be that bad could they? No eight year old should be this jaded.
“Bryce don’t be rude.” Eliza chastised.
“It’s okay I’m used to…” Scott began.
“No it’s not.” Eliza insisted, shooting Scott a disapproving frown. “Bryce your uncle may be a deadbeat but you can’t be rude to him. Got it?”
“Got it.” Bryce confirmed, but the glare he shot Scott made it clear he had no intention of listening to his mother. Scott smiled, the glare was so similar to the look Eliza used to give people she disliked, it was obvious where her son had learnt it from. It seemed the old Eliza wasn’t as far gone as the new Eliza pretended she was.
“Pete you in here?” Came a male voice Scott didn’t recognise. A second later the owner of the voice entered the room. Scott didn’t know what it was about him, but he instantly hated the guy. Maybe it was the way he styled his hair to look like it was naturally messy, or the polo shirt he wore despite there being no country club for miles, or maybe that do-gooder look in his eye, the same one as Pete, the one that said no one could possibly compare to him.
“Ryan.” Pete said, sounding panicked. “This is…ahhh…my brother…Scott.”
“Scott?” Ryan asked, shooting a number of accusatory glares Scott’s way. The whole thing piqued Scott’s interest. First, Pete’s panic when, what’s his face, Ryan, had walked into the room. And now this Ryan guy, looking at Scott as if he’d killed his dog when really they’d never met until now. “Does Natalie know he’s here?”
Okay, now Scott was more than just interested. What did Natalie have to do with this? And what the hell did she mean to this bozo?
“As far as I know she hasn’t been told.” Pete said.
“Who the hell are you?” Scott demanded, staring down Ryan.
“Are you sure Natalie doesn’t know he’s back?” Ryan asked, completely ignoring Scott.
“I’m sure.” Pete said.
“Someone should tell her.” Jenny piped in. “I want Miss Natalie to meet my Uncle Scott.”
“That won’t be happening.” Ryan said coldly.
“But he will love her.” Jenny protested. “Just like I love her.”
The room instantly fell into a tense, awkward silence, no one saying a word or making any attempts to acknowledge Scott’s past with Natalie.
Ryan’s eyes narrowed at Scott, and he threw his shoulders back to pump out his chest, trying to look bigger, more intimidating. Scott had seen that look before, countless times on the faces of boys under Natalie’s spell. This Ryan guy clearly had ties to her and Scott desperate wanted to know how strong they were. Was he just an admirer, or was he more? God, he hoped he was just a stupid admirer.
“We didn’t properly introduce ourselves.” Scott said, putting Jenny down and stepping toward Ryan. “I’m Scott.” He extended his hand, but Ryan only stared at it before taking a step back, making it clear he wasn’t gonna play ball. He had to be an admirer. Natalie couldn’t be with this guy. He was an idiot.
“Unbelievable.” Eliza muttered under her breath. “Bryce, Jenny, lets go clean up that lamp we broke. It looks like Ryan and Daddy want a little time alone.”
“But Jenny broke that lamp.” Bryce complained.
“And now we’re gonna help her clean it up.” Eliza replied, sternly staring down her son. He shrugged in defeat before taking his sister’s hand and leading her back into the foyer. His little glare might be good, but he had nothing on Eliza’s. “Scott, I suggest you come too. Ryan clearly came to talk to Pete. Let’s leave them to it huh?”
“You said it like a question but your eyes say that was a command.” Scott observed.
“Listen to my eyes.” She replied nodding for Scott to follow the kids. He bowed his head dramatically, as if he were bowing to his master, before exiting the room. Once they were out of earshot he finally asked the question he’d been dying to know when he’d first heard the name Natalie.
“Who is he?”
The way Eliza looked at him gave him his answer. For a brief moment she was his high-school friend again. She was, ‘For a Good Time Call Eliza’, looking at him knowing that her next words would hurt, trying to soften the blow with her eyes before she said them. Then the moment was gone, the new Eliza was back, and in that cold, stern voice she told Scott what he’d already figured out.
“He’s Natalie’s boyfriend.”
“I figured.” Scott said. “Anyway, I’m gonna go take a shower.”
“Mmm-hmm.” Eliza replied, already ignoring him and beginning to help her kids pick up the broken pieces of the lamp Jenny had destroyed.
Scott turned and ducked out the side door, he had no intention to go shower right now. No, he had something else in mind. He’d thought he’d be able to control himself better, but all he had to do was hear the name Natalie and already he was losing it. He should just stay away, ignore everything and anything about her, it was the only way he’d be able to survive being back.
Even as he realised this he didn’t change course, didn’t go take the shower he’d just said he was going to take. Instead, he continued forward, to his old spot at the side of the manor, the spot where he often used to sit next to a certain air vent that somehow carried voices through it, allowing Scott to listen in on conversations whenever he wanted to. And right now he wanted to listen to Ryan and Pete’s.
He turned a corner, and smiled when he saw it. The small air vent gleaming out at him as if welcoming him home. He sidled up to it, wondering if it would still work.
“She found the ring.” He heard Ryan say, confirming the vent was still in working order. Although Scott was now kind of wishing it didn’t. What ring? Natalie had found what ring?
“How?” Pete asked.
“I locked it in my bedside table.” Ryan explained. “She broke it open and found it.”
“It’s too soon. She’s not ready.” Pete said.
“What was I supposed to do? She was just standing there holding it.”
“You shouldn’t have done anything.” Pete said. “You never should have bought that ring in the first place.”
“But I want to marry her. I want to spend the rest of my life with her.”
“It was too soon to ask her.”
“We’ve been together for three years. How much more time does she need?”
So Ryan had asked Natalie to marry him, and Natalie had said no. Knowing that brought a smile to Scott’s lips. A smile he instantly forced into submission. He shouldn’t be happy about this. It didn’t mean what he wanted it to mean. Natalie wasn’t still in love with him, he’d royally burned that bridge to the ground eight years ago when he’d forced her to leave. Whatever Natalie’s reasons for rejecting Ryan had been, they had nothing to do with him.
He shouldn’t be listening to this. He shouldn’t have done this to himself. He hadn’t come back for her. He needed to remember that. He could’t hope, he couldn’t want her. He had to just go, and somehow ignore the girl who’d made it impossible for him to ever love anyone else.
Natalie’s mind was still spinning as she hopped out of the shower. Should she marry Ryan? She knew it was the smart thing to do. He’d make her happy, and he’d never leave her, or hurt her. But marriage was a huge step. A ginormous step. Honestly, she didn’t know if she was ready for something so big.
She wrapped her robe tightly around her body and stepped into the bedroom to find Ryan sitting on their bed. A wave of relief coursed through her body. He’d come back. He wasn’t leaving her. They could work this out, she could try to explain why she’d said no.
“I’m glad you came back.” She said.
“Did you know Scott’s back?”
“What?” She felt like she’d just been slapped. Scott? Was he serious? Was Scott back?
“Did you know he was back?” He asked.
“What?” She repeated, unable to really process what he was saying. Was he serious? Was Scott back? “Scott’s back?”
“Is that why you said no?” Ryan demanded, his voice rising. “Your high school boyfriend is back so you dump me to run off with him? Is that it Natalie? I was just this placeholder you used to fill your time while you waited for Scott?”
“Shut up.” She screamed, her mind spinning so ferociously it was making her dizzy. She tried to grab onto one thought, one thing that would steady her racing mind, but everything just got worse, question upon question crashing through her as she tried to process what Ryan was telling her.
“What do you mean he’s back?” She asked.
“I went to Pete’s. I met him.” Ryan explained. “Did you know he was here?”
“No I didn’t know.” She snapped. Did it sound like she knew? She was freaking out here. Scott was back? This couldn’t be happening. “Are you sure it was him? You didn’t mishear the name or…”
“Pete introduced him as his brother Scott. I didn’t mishear.”
This couldn’t be real. It had to be some weird dream. It was just way too surreal. She hadn’t seen him in eight years, hadn’t so much as gotten a card to say he was still alive. Now he was back, again without saying a word, just completely out of the blue. Why was he back? What did he want? What was he expecting?
“Natalie where are you going?”
“Huh?” Only then did she realise she’d been making her way toward the door. She wasn’t going anywhere in particular, she just needed to be alone right now. “I just need to…”
“You’re going to see him? Aren’t you?”
“No Ryan.” She snapped. She couldn’t do this anymore. Not right now. Not after this. “I’m not going to see him. I just need a moment to think because I am kind of freaking out right now.”
“Don’t you realise how that sounds?” Ryan asked, his voice gentle this time. “You just rejected my proposal and now this.”
“You know what Scott meant to me. I didn’t try to hide anything. You know he was the big one. The big ex. I haven’t seen him or heard from him in eight years and now he’s back. No, I’m not gonna run back to him, but I do need some time to think, and to freak out without you yelling at me.”
She slammed the door behind her as she left, her mind filling with more and more noise, with more questions she needed answers to, and more words she was desperate to say. Scott was back? Why? What did he want? The noise inside her head continued to grow, it got louder and louder the more she tried to make sense of this. She wanted it to stop, but she wasn’t foolish enough to think it would. This was only the beginning. She knew, without a doubt, it wouldn’t stop until he left.