Until Harry(5)

By: L.A. Casey

“Him and that bloody jumper,” I muttered.

Soft chuckles filled the parlour then, and it helped take some of the hurt and tension away for a few fleeting moments.

When I was ready, I took a steady breath, then turned to look at the faces I hadn’t seen in the flesh for six years. The first person I saw was my mother. She looked older than her fifty-four years, but no doubt my uncle’s passing had added to the lines on her still beautiful face. My nanny, who was next to my mother, still looked the same as she had the day I left. My second brother was different. He was muscular . . . very muscular. He’d been overweight the last time I’d seen him, but that wasn’t the case anymore.

“Jesus, Lay, did someone buy you a gym membership?” I asked, stunned.

My father burst into laughter behind me while my mother and nanny covered their mouths and tried to muffle their giggles. My brother smirked at me, but his aqua-blue eyes shone brightly.

“I couldn’t be the fat twin forever, now could I?” he asked, tongue-in-cheek.

I playfully grinned. “I guess not. You look great.”

Layton winked. “You too, sis.”

My lip quirked for a moment, then I turned and looked at my father. His handsome face was the same, just hairier and fuller. His entire body was fuller.

I blinked. “While Layton hit the gym, you hit the pub and chippy. Huh?”

My father gently clipped me around the ear. “Cheeky brat. I’ll have you know a few layers of fat never hurt anyone. It keeps me warm on these cold winter nights.”

“I’m teasing,” I chortled, and hugged him.

I liked that he was fuller; there was more of him to snuggle.

My brother, mother and nanny were in a fit of laughter at my teasing, and it took them a few moments to calm themselves. My nanny walked towards me when she was at ease and pulled me into her warm embrace.

“Hello, me darlin’,” she crooned.

I closed my eyes and gave her a tight squeeze as I got lost in her soothing voice. My nanny was from Crumlin in Dublin, Ireland. Her accent was thick as ever – even though she had lived in England the past fifty years, she never lost her Irish brogue and I loved that about her.

I smiled affectionately. “Hey, Nanny.”

When my nanny let go of me, Layton was right there, gathering me up in his thick, muscled arms. I yelped a little when he lifted me clean off the floor and held me in mid-air like I weighed nothing.

“Can’t breathe,” I playfully wheezed.

My brother set me down and snorted, “Little terror.”

I teasingly grinned, then lost it and replaced it with a bright smile for my mother when she approached me. I was expecting her to smile at me and possibly be a little teary, but I definitely didn’t expect her to burst into tears as she hugged me, which is exactly what she did.

“Welcome home, baby,” she wept. “I’ve missed you so much.”

I folded my arms around her small body and squeezed. “I’ve missed you too, Mum.”

That was the God’s honest truth. I did miss her. We didn’t agree on my living away from home, but she was still my mother, and I loved her dearly. She held onto me for a long time as she cried. She kept pulling back from our hug, looking at my face, then throwing her arms back around me and squeezing me as tightly as she possibly could. It was like she couldn’t believe I stood in front of her. That made me both happy and sad. Happy because she was happy to see me, and sad because it was my fault that she rarely got a chance to see me in the first place.

You have your reasons, I reminded myself.

I stroked her back. “It’s okay, Mum.”

Nothing was okay, but it felt right to say it.

When we eventually separated, I looked from my family to my uncle and frowned. “I guess the only person left for me to greet is Lochlan.”

A throat cleared from behind me. “Not quite.”

Oh, no, I silently pleaded. Please, God, no.

I felt my eyes widen as his voice encircled me like a warm blanket. No matter how many years went by, I would know his voice even if it were a whisper. I slowly turned, but I froze when I saw him standing in the doorway of the parlour, leaning against the panel with his hands jammed into the front pockets of his jeans.

His eyes, my mind whispered. What’s wrong with his eyes?

There were many things that I loved about the man before me, but his eyes were by far my favourite. They were the first things I looked at whenever I saw him. There was always a mischievous glint in his whisky-coloured eyes that only I could see because I looked hard enough. It was a glint that told me his soul was alive and thriving, but what I saw now caused me to shiver.

There was no glint, gleam or light of any sort in his eyes. They were dead and reflected the clouded grey skies that often hung over York. They were as captivating as they were haunting.

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