Olivia’s eyebrows rose and she shot a look at her father before she said admonishingly, ‘Way to go, Dad.’
Looking uncomfortable, Mick sighed. ‘I didn’t mean it like that.’
Way to go, Jo. ‘I know.’ I waved him off, feeling bad for my waspishness. ‘I’m a little sensitive around that subject.’
‘Cole, I’m Olivia.’ She stuck her hand out and Cole’s cheekbones flushed a little as they shook hands. ‘It’s good to meet you.’ She glanced around the sitting room, her eyes brimming with approval. ‘You guys have a really nice place.’
‘Jo does all the decorating.’ Cole surprised me as he informed her about that almost enthusiastically. ‘The wallpapering, painting, sanding … everything.’
I felt Uncle Mick’s smiling eyes on me. ‘All my teaching stuck with you, eh?’
Embarrassed, I shrugged. ‘I like decorating.’
‘Aye, we know.’ Mum’s voice had me sucking in my breath as we all turned to watch her shuffle into the sitting room. ‘You do it often enough.’ Cole and I exchanged glances, utterly taken aback by her appearance. She hadn’t just showered; she’d gotten dressed. Her hair was blow-dried smooth, she had some make-up on and she was wearing a pair of skinny jeans that were loose on her frail body, and a black silk shirt I’d bought her for Christmas even though I never thought she’d wear it. To us she looked better than she had done in ages, but when I glanced back at Uncle Mick I could see the shock in his eyes at her appearance.
He stepped past us and towered over Mum, who gave him a small smile. ‘Fiona. It’s good to see you.’
She nodded, her mouth trembling a little. ‘It’s been a long time, Michael.’
‘You look almost the same.’
‘You don’t, darling,’ he replied softly, something like anguish in his voice.
Mum lifted her shoulders in a gesture of resignation. ‘I did what I could.’
Uncle Mick didn’t say anything, but I could see from the hard set of his jaw that he didn’t think she’d done enough. We would be in agreement on that one.
‘Dad.’ Olivia moved to his side, taking his hand reassuringly, and I felt the last of my resentment towards her disappear. How could I resent someone who so obviously adored Mick?
Uncle Mick tightened his hand around his daughter’s. ‘Fiona, this is my girl, Olivia.’
And just like that it all went to pot.
Mum pursed her lips as her eyes drifted over Olivia. ‘Aye, she looks like that American piece you had a thing with.’
I squeezed my eyes shut in mortification and heard Cole’s low groan beside me.
‘Fiona,’ Mick scolded her.
‘Dad, it doesn’t matter.’
‘Pfft.’ Mum looked past her to me. ‘You told me it would just be him. I’m going back to bed. Leave me some dinner later.’
I nodded, my muscles tense as we waited for her to leave. When her bedroom door slammed closed, I sighed. ‘Sorry, Uncle Mick. That’s about as good as it gets with her. Olivia, I’m sorry …’
‘Forget it.’ Olivia waved me off. ‘It’s not a problem.’
‘I can’t believe that’s the same woman.’ Mick shook his head as he strode across the room to take a seat, his body seeming heavy with the shock. ‘I just can’t believe it.’
I thought of how Mum had actually behaved fairly well, at least until she saw Olivia, but I didn’t want to tell Mick that. ‘Believe it.’
Like a turtle that had poked its head out for a little sunshine only to discover that it was raining, Mum retreated back into her shell even worse than before. She rarely left her room, a crate of alcohol was delivered to the flat, and the only way I knew she was alive was that the food I’d leave for her disappeared. Anytime I knocked to check on her, she grunted at me to go away.
I wanted it to be black and white. I wanted to hate her for hitting Cole and not give a shit whether she lived or died, but I found I just couldn’t abandon her entirely.
Cam said there came a time when we had to let some people go. There was no helping them, and attempting to would just pull you into the mire with them.
It was easier said than done. Despite all of our ugly encounters, she was my mum and there was still a part of me that wanted her to care more about us than she did about herself. I knew I had to let her go. I knew it. For Cole and also for me. When it came time to leave her, I would. But I would take the guilt with me.
Uncle Mick had said he wanted to spend as much time with me as possible and he hadn’t been lying. That Saturday Cole, Cam, Olivia, Mick and I met in the Grassmarket for a pub lunch. I learned that Olivia had been a librarian in the States, but much like Cam, she had been made redundant due to budget issues. Olivia was warm and funny and extremely hard not to like, and I could envision her getting along well with both Joss and Ellie.
Lunch was fun and I could tell Mick approved of Cole and Cam’s close friendship, as he kept shooting me looks that said as much. We took a stroll down the busy spring streets of the city, wandering up Victoria Street to George IV Bridge, and then taking Olivia down the Royal Mile. I took some photographs of her and Mick standing on the Mile and then more as we travelled back towards New Town. We walked along Princes Street Gardens and I got some great shots of them together by the Ross Fountain with Edinburgh Castle towering over them in the background. It was a good day, a relaxing day, and as I walked behind them, Cam’s arm around my waist, I forgot about all my worries for a while.
On Sunday, Elodie was in her element. Having heard from Ellie about Uncle Mick and Olivia, she’d invited them for lunch. When we arrived, it was to discover Elodie had found a second table somewhere and placed it at the end of the one that was already there. Their flat was filled with conversation and laughter as everyone chatted away, getting to know them. I watched Olivia and felt a lump in my throat when I saw the delight on her face, the flush in her cheeks, and the spark in her eyes. Ellie had pounced on her almost immediately and I could tell they’d already glued themselves to each other. Ellie had a way of doing that with people.
Seated at the table next to Joss, she nudged me and leaned in to whisper, ‘Did you ever think you’d be a part of something like this?’
I glanced around at all the faces, my eyes coming to a stop on Cam, who was laughing at something Braden had said. I turned back to her, shaking my head. ‘Never in a million years.’
She smiled, and I was taken aback by the emotion in her eyes as she looked down at the simple diamond engagement ring on her finger. ‘Me neither.’
Joss nodded. ‘More than.’
I grinned at her and was just about to crack a joke to ease us out of such seriousness when Braden called, ‘Jo, you need a job?’
I rolled my eyes and shot Cam an impatient look. ‘I was going to ask him.’
‘Well, you were taking your time about it.’
Sighing, I nodded at Braden, my cheeks flushing at having to ask. ‘If you have a part-time position available, I’d appreciate it.’
His light blue eyes searched mine and I felt vulnerable under his scrutiny. Braden had a way of stripping a person bare, as if he could see into the very depths of them. I didn’t know how Joss had withstood him so long before eventually owning up to her feelings for him. Surely he’d known all along. ‘Jo, come to us whenever you need us, please.’
I gulped but nodded.
‘I’ll set something up tomorrow, see if we can’t get you started on Tuesday.’
‘Thank you,’ I whispered gratefully.
When conversation started up again, Joss chortled under her breath. ‘He’s scary, right?’
‘Yeah. He sees more than most people.’ She eyed me carefully. ‘Is there something going on with you we don’t know about? Are you and Cam okay?’
I thought of all my insecurities and the fight I was having with them on a daily basis. ‘Just finding our feet with each other.’
‘Sure. Well, I think he’s pretty cool. I mean, before you met him you would never have taken a job from Braden.’
‘Yeah, don’t rub it in.’
‘Jesus C, woman, I didn’t think anyone was as proud or as stubborn as I am.’
‘Well, you were wrong,’ I answered drily.
Joss laughed. ‘Yeah, and now you have your very own caveman to … shake out some of that stubbornness.’
I felt my cheeks warm at the thought of Cameron shaking out my stubbornness tonight. Good times ahead.
Joss snorted. ‘Just keep that thought to yourself.’
There are times in life when there is so much going on you may feel as though you don’t even have a chance to take a breath. You wake up, you get washed and dressed, the day is a blur of events, work, activities, chores, and then before you know it, your exhausted body is melting against your pillow and mattress. Then, in what feels like two seconds later, your eyes are forced open at the sound of the alarm clock. That’s how my life was for the next few weeks.
Because there was so much going on, I let go of my neurosis for a night and stayed in Cam’s bed until morning. It was the Wednesday after the weekend with Mick and Olivia. As soon as the alarm went off, I groaned, shoved back the covers, and jumped out of bed.
Apparently Cameron found the way I got out of bed very amusing.
I watched his nak*d shoulders shaking as he pressed his face into his pillow.
My heavy eyelids and nervous anticipation of my second day working at Douglas Carmichael & Co didn’t add up to a whole lot of patience. ‘It’s not that funny.’
Cam pulled his sleepy, grinning face out of the pillow. ‘Baby, you’re hilarious,’ he said in his sexy, sleep-roughened voice. I wanted to dive back under the covers with him, but I had to get ready for work.
‘If I don’t jump out of bed right away I’ll fall back asleep. What you’re doing … I can’t do that.’
He pushed himself up to look at me, the tenderness in his eyes stopping me in my tracks. ‘You’re f**king adorable. You know that, right?’
His ability to make me blush was ridiculous. No one got under my skin the way he did, or made me feel less like myself and yet more like myself. I looked away as I wandered out of the room to the bathroom. ‘I’m going to be adorably late.’
That was as much one-on-one conversation as we got out of each other over the next two weeks. That first week we’d both started our new jobs (well, Cam had started back at his old job), Mick and Olivia invited us out for dinner, came over to Cam’s for dinner, took the three of us to the cinema, spent alone time with me and Cole while Cam hung out with Peetie and Nate, and generally crammed as much time in with us as they could. I willingly spent that time with them, unsure when they’d be returning to the States. I couldn’t imagine how expensive their hotel bill at the Caledonian was. Mick said Yvonne had inherited money from her grandmother – part of the contention between Yvonne and her family – and that she’d left that money to Mick and Olivia when she passed away. It wasn’t ‘forever’ kind of money, and the trip to Scotland was eating its way through it. I knew Mick well enough to know he wouldn’t want to continue to waste his money on hotel bills.