Hannah laughed, the sadness fading from her eyes. She squeezed my hand back, and I led her to the dining room, where our family was waiting:
Cam, Cole, Uncle Mick, Olivia, Joss, Ellie, Braden, Adam, Elodie, Clark and Declan.
What a beautiful sight for sore eyes. I smiled at Cam across the room as he pulled out a chair for me.
Once we were all settled around the table and the others were chatting loudly, Cam leaned over me. ‘How are the ribs holding up?’
I looked into his concerned eyes as I held a roast potato to my mouth. ‘Just as they were when you asked me that question twenty minutes ago.’
‘Well, excuse me for being a concerned boyfriend.’
I made a face at him, and we shared another silent conversation.
You just want to know if we can have sex yet.
Cam’s lips twitched around his mouthful of food.
Amused and turned on in equal measure, I searched for distraction from Ellie, who was talking about the bridesmaids’ dresses for Joss and Braden’s wedding.
‘I saw these beautiful fuchsia gowns on this Spanish wedding designs website. I was thinking –’
‘That I’m out of my mind if I think Joss will have the colour fuchsia in her wedding,’ Joss finished for her drily.
Braden and Adam immediately began working diligently on their meal and I wondered just how many times they’d been pulled into a disagreement about the wedding between the bride and the maid of honour.
‘Why don’t we go more muted on the bridesmaids’ dresses?’ I suggested, throwing Ellie a pleading look.
Ellie looked so adorably disheartened I wanted to hug her. ‘But fuchsia is such a romantic colour.’
Clark’s eyebrows dipped together. ‘What colour is fuchsia again?’
‘Pink,’ Joss bit out.
Braden snorted, and apparently unable to help himself, he gave his wee sister an incredulous look. ‘You’re really trying to get pink into our wedding? My wedding … to Joss?’
‘It’s not just pink,’ Ellie argued as if they were idiots. ‘It’s a luxurious pinkish purple magenta colour.’
Joss raised an eyebrow. ‘It’s pink.’
Ellie pouted. ‘You’ve not taken on any of my suggestions for the wedding.’
‘Ellie, I love you dearly, I do, but you are all sweetness and rainbows and I am everything that is not that.’
I ventured forth with another idea. ‘What if we go for something in a metallic for our dresses?’
Ellie stewed over that for a moment and then her face brightened. ‘We would all look good in champagne. I think even Rhian would wear champagne.’
Rhian was Joss’s best friend from university and the two didn’t get to see each other as much as they used to because Rhian lived in London. They kept in contact all the time, though, and they were to be in each other’s upcoming weddings.
‘Hmm.’ Joss swallowed a piece of chicken and shrugged. ‘I could work with that.’
Everyone stopped eating to look at her. She glanced up, her eyes round at all the attention. She grimaced and shot Braden a dirty look. ‘What? I can compromise.’
He laughed. ‘It’s just the first time I’ve heard you actually agree about something to do with the wedding.’
‘That’s because our wedding planner sucks. No offence, Els.’
Ellie rolled her eyes. ‘Well, you could plan it yourself, you know.’
‘I only agreed to marry him under the condition that I didn’t have to do that.’
Cam swallowed a chuckle beside me.
Braden narrowed his eyes on his fiancée. ‘Why don’t I plan the wedding, then?’
All of our eyebrows rose at that suggestion.
‘You?’ Joss gaped.
‘Me.’ He shrugged and took a sip of water before adding, ‘We have the same taste, so you know you’ll probably like what I decide. And I think I can get it done faster than you two squabbling mares.’
‘But you’re so busy as it is – I can’t ask you to do that.’
He shrugged again and gave her a ‘So?’ smile.
‘Then I’ll help,’ Joss announced determinedly. ‘We’ll do it together.’
‘But –’ Ellie’s crestfallen opposition to being ousted from the plans was cut off by Adam as he pressed a quick kiss to her lips. He pulled back and they had one of those silent conversations that seemed to be all the rage these days. Whatever passed between them, Ellie’s shoulders slumped and she nodded, giving in.
‘I’m glad that’s sorted.’ Elodie beamed at us all. ‘If I’d had to deal with one more phone call asking me to referee, I was going to scream.’
‘Hear, hear,’ I murmured, ignoring Ellie’s look of betrayal.
‘So, Mick, Olivia’ – Braden sharply changed the subject – ‘Jo tells us you both found flats.’
Olivia nodded. ‘On Jamaica Lane. And Dad’s just round the corner. We move in soon. It’ll be nice to get out of that hotel. Oh, and Dad’s got his first job lined up, thanks to you, Braden.’
That was the first I’d heard of it. ‘Really, Uncle Mick? Where?’
Mick appeared more than a little pleased as he replied, ‘Doing a couple of show homes for a new development in Newhaven. Starts in two months. Gives me time to get a team together.’ He eyed me down the length of the table. ‘How about it, Jo? Do you feel like packing it in at the bar and the estate agency to become an apprentice?’
My fork clattered to my plate in shock. Was he … did he … was Uncle Mick really asking me to work for him? ‘Eh?’ I answered intelligently.
‘I asked if you wanted to work for me. It’s a risk for us both, what with it being a new business, but I have every faith I can do this. I’ve done it twice before. So will you trust me? Will you come and work with me?’
‘As a painter and decorator? With you?’ Oh, my God, Uncle Mick thought I was good enough to work for him?
I know it may not sound glamorous to some – an apprenticeship to become a painter and decorator. But it took skill, and patience, and it was something I genuinely enjoyed doing. It would be an actual career, something I’d never thought I would have.
Because I didn’t think I was good enough at anything to have one.
My old insecurities whispered and cursed in my ears, causing a flight of nervous butterflies in my stomach. Those insecurities wanted me to say no, so sure that it would only end in failure.
And it might. Not just because of me, but because, as Mick said, it was a new business. I could give up two secure jobs for this one and then have everything fall apart. Could I really be that selfish? Cole needed me to think logically about these things –
I felt Cam’s hand slip into mine under the table and when I looked at him his eyes told me everything I needed to know. I shoved back the insecurities, the second-guessing.
The butterflies were a little harder to get rid of, but despite them, I nodded at Uncle Mick, a wondrous smile forming on my lips. ‘I’d love that.’
A few hours later I was still stunned by Uncle Mick’s offer. Sitting at Cam’s desk in his living room, listening to Cole laugh at Olivia as she trash-talked Nate over a video game, I was still half in that moment back at Elodie and Clark’s.
Cam, Cole, Olivia and I had come back to Cam’s to meet up with Nate and Peetie, who’d stopped by with beer, takeaways, and the latest fighting video game.
Olivia had quickly fallen into a surprising camaraderie with Nate and the two of them were now throwing PG-rated (I was still aware enough to give them hell if they swore in front of Cole) comments at each other as they beat the crap out of each other’s virtual counterparts.
‘Dude, you suck!’ Olivia grinned as the annoying commentator bellowed, ‘Knockout!’
Nate threw her a look of mock offence. ‘Give me a chance, Yank. I haven’t played this game before.’
‘Neither have I.’
‘Aye, but you have smaller fingers. They’re faster and more agile across the buttons.’
Olivia burst out laughing. ‘Even your excuses suck.’
‘Dude,’ Cole agreed, shaking his head in disappointment.
‘Och, now.’ Nate gestured to him in dejection. ‘Don’t you be “dude-ing” me.’ He narrowed his eyes on Olivia. ‘You’ve been here ten minutes and you’ve already managed to undo months of hero worship.’
‘Oh, come on,’ Olivia answered cheerily. ‘I did the kid a favour. He would have found out the truth eventually.’
Lips twitching, Nate turned back to the television. ‘Right, Liv. Prepare to die.’
I wondered when the grown-ups were finally going to allow Cole to play. Eyes on my wee brother, though, I could see he was enjoying himself just hanging out with the guys and listening to Olivia’s banter with Nate. I actually suspected Cole might have a small crush on Olivia, but I would never embarrass him by asking.
As they laughed with one another, I stood up and quietly left the room, heading to Cam’s bedroom for a moment of peace so I could wrap my head around the fact that in a few months’ time I would be starting a new career.
Shaking my head in wonder, I closed Cam’s door and then crept across the room to carefully lie on his bed. Getting comfortable, I kicked off my shoes, my mind whirring with new plans as I lay there.
My eyes snapped down from the ceiling at the sound of the door opening, and I wasn’t surprised to see Cam slip inside the room, shutting the door behind him. He smiled at me as he came over and settled beside me.
‘You all right?’
I nodded, reaching up to stroke his cheek. ‘Just needed a moment to process.’
He cozied up to me and I rolled into him, enjoying the feel of his arms around me. I breathed in the smell of his aftershave and rubbed my forehead against the bristly line of his jaw.
‘Today’s a good day,’ I murmured, content.
‘Well, I don’t know if I’m about to make it better or worse.’
Remembering the last time he’d said that, I tensed in expectation. It had been just before I discovered Uncle Mick and Olivia in his sitting room. Hopefully, whatever he was about to say would be as nice a surprise as that one. Fingers crossed. ‘Okay,’ I answered warily.
Cam took a measured breath. ‘You said last week you thought you needed to leave your mum and you didn’t know what to do.’
‘Aye.’ My good mood fled at the thought of it.
‘I think I have a solution, but I don’t know how you’re going to react to it.’
Cam’s hand cupped my hip and he murmured above my head. ‘Move in with me. You and Cole.’
At the life-altering suggestion, I jolted back and instantly flinched at the sharp pain in my side. Clearing my expression so he didn’t think I was wincing at the thought of living with him, I gazed up into Cam’s suddenly uncertain face. ‘You’re asking us to move in with you?’