Eva unloaded her bags from the car and surveyed the large house along the driveway. Home sweet home. Well, her parents’ home anyway. It hadn’t been hers in over a decade and now she’d come full circle. Ugh, that’s pretty depressing.
She pulled on her shoulder bag, grasped the handle of her wheeled suitcase and lifted her tote. Trying not to trip on the uneven paving, she dragged her stuff to the front door. The scent of spring flowers caught her attention and she glanced over to where her mother’s crocuses and hyacinths were blooming along the garden path. Is it crocuses or croci? Eva remembered the tale of a mischievous local man who’d been given community service for minor misdemeanours. His job had been to plant crocuses along the main road through their small Yorkshire town. After dutifully completing his task, he went on his way. That spring the blooms came into full force, planted in such a pattern as to spell out the most pearl-clutching of four-letter words. The women’s bridge club had been most affronted, unlike the community teens, who gathered at every opportunity to take selfies by the flowery swear words before the local council cut them down.
Eva sniggered despite her low-key misery as she remembered the tale. She inhaled the sweet smell of her mother’s hyacinths and reached for the doorbell, but before she could press it, the door whooshed open and she was enveloped in a hug. The scent of Chanel overpowered the flowers.
Her mother pulled back and studied her face. “Come in and get your feet up, beti, I’ll make you a nice cup of tea.”
Eva smiled at the sound of her pet name. It meant ‘daughter’ in her mum’s native tongue, Urdu.
Her mother seemed to be under the impression that tea possessed healing powers that cured all ills. However, Eva wasn’t sure it was strong enough for her current predicament. She climbed the stone steps into the house and set down her bags.
“Matthew!” her mum yelled. “Come get Eva’s bags!”
Her dad appeared on the upstairs landing. “No need to shout, Meena. I’m right here.”
Eva shook her head. “I can manage, Mum.”
Matthew came down the stairs. “No, I’ll get them.” He enveloped her in another parental hug. Eva inhaled the soothing scent of his aftershave and was overcome by a flood of childhood memories.
She smiled against her father’s chest. “For goodness sake, I’m being hugged to death here. Death by cuddle.”
Matthew laughed and released her, grabbing her bags to take upstairs. Eva followed her mum along the hall into the kitchen and took a seat at the table.
Meena busied herself about the kitchen, brewing her signature tea to perfection. “How was your journey?”
Eva leaned back and gazed out of the patio doors onto her mum’s well-kept back garden. “Fine. A bit of traffic going through Cumbria but, on the whole, not too bad.”
Meena poured the tea into two china cups. “It’s a bit of a boring journey on your own all the way from Scotland, isn’t it?” Whenever Meena said ‘Scotland’ she attempted a terrible Scottish accent, which made Eva cringe and smile at the same time.
Meena brought the cups and saucers over and placed one in front of Eva. “I used to get fed up when I did the journey after dropping you off at university.”
Eva sipped her tea. “I like listening to the radio. It takes my mind off things.”
Meena nodded, shifting in her seat and fiddling with the milk jug. She cleared her throat. “When does the new job start?”
Eva grasped her cup, enjoying the warmth that transferred into her fingers. “I wanted to give myself enough time to get settled here, so I don’t start until the beginning of next month.”
Meena lit up. “Great. That gives us a few weeks to do some cool mother-daughter bonding.”
Eva laughed. The word ‘cool’ wasn’t her mum’s usual vernacular. “Sounds awesome.”
She sipped at her tea again. Meena Mathers did indeed make a mean brew and it was soothing—but unfortunately not problem-solving. Eva doubted there was any solution to her problems. She shook her head in an attempt to dispel those thoughts and shifted her gaze from the floral pattern on the cup over to her mother. “What room am I in?”
Meena placed her teacup down with a clatter. “Your old room, of course. Go and have a nosy. I’ve redecorated for you coming.”
Eva raised her eyebrows. “Aw, Mum, you didn’t need to do that.”
“I wanted to,” Meena said, reaching over and topping up their cups. “I thought it would be nice for it to look different from when…” She trailed off, her cheeks flushing.
Eva smiled. “What? From when I was last here with Callum?”
Meena glanced up from where she’d been stirring her tea a little too aggressively. “Well…yes. Sorry. My mouth ran away with me. I need to engage the brain before speaking, as you keep telling me.”
Eva stood and hugged her. “It’s okay. You’re allowed to mention him. I’ll go have a peek at the room.”
Meena smiled and kissed her cheek.
Eva left the kitchen and climbed the stairs, walking along the hallway to her old bedroom. Sunlight enveloped the space in a bright haze. It really did appear different. Interior design was Meena’s passion, along with gardening and tea drinking. So, as a British-Pakistani, she fitted right into the Yorkshire tea culture.
None of those things were Eva’s interests but she could appreciate that the room looked good. She ran her hand across the bedspread, trying not to think about the fact that last time she was here at Christmas, Callum had shared the bed with her.
She made her way around the room, unpacking and putting clothing and other items into drawers and the wardrobe. She found the paperwork for her new job at the Riverside Medical Practice, which was in the neighbouring town, and placed it neatly into her doctor’s bag. She thought of her friends and colleagues at her old practice in Edinburgh and how supportive they’d been when she’d handed in her notice. ‘We’re so sorry to see you go,’ the senior partner had said, ‘but everyone understands your need to return home for support after all that’s happened.’
The requirement for family support wasn’t the only reason for her leaving. There was also the need to put as much distance between her and Callum as possible, plus to give herself mental space from her pain. She’d become adept at burying it. If she didn’t think about it, then she was over it. Right?
Eva wandered back down the stairs and into the living room. She plonked onto the sofa next to her dad.
Matthew glanced away from the horse racing on TV, raising his eyebrow. “Still bouncing me off the sofa whenever you sit down, I see.”
Eva grinned. “Shut up, Dad.”
Meena entered the room carrying a tray containing yet more tea. She cleared her throat loudly as she placed it on the coffee table. “Matthew, that was Lily on the phone. She says Damon and Sarah are definitely splitting up.”
Eva was only half listening as she studied the messages on her cell phone. Her friends back in Scotland were texting to ask if she’d gotten there safely, and her best friend here in Oakcastle had contacted her to suggest meeting up. She glanced at Meena. Funny, I didn’t hear the landline ring. Her mum’s best friend Lily always called the house phone rather than Meena’s mobile.
Matthew raised his eyebrows. “Oh yes? She just called, did she?”
Eva gave them her full attention. Her dad used that tone when mum was up to something.
Meena nodded. “She was on the phone a moment ago.” She sat in an armchair and gazed at the ceiling. “It’s such a shame, isn’t it?” She let out a loud sigh. “We were hoping they’d manage to work out their problems for the sake of the children. But Sarah said it had to end, that they seemed more like brother and sister than a couple. Poor Damon is heartbroken.”
“Damon?” said Eva, finally realizing who they were talking about. Her mum’s best friend’s son was someone she hadn’t thought about in a while. They’d been in the same year at school and Damon had been Eva’s first love. Though it was a shame that she hadn’t been his—and that he hadn’t noticed her at all.
“Wow, that’s so sad,” said Eva, “especially when they have two kids. And they’ve been together forever.” Damon and Sarah had been going out since before she and Callum had met. They’d never married but were so solid in their relationship and had gone on to have a daughter named Adele and a son called Sam. Eva pursed her lips and blew out a deep breath. Everyone is splitting up nowadays. Has it come to that time of life already? I’m not even thirty yet.
Eva glanced at her dad. He had a wry expression on his face. She rolled her eyes. Auntie Lily hadn’t just phoned. They’d clearly discussed this piece of bad news a while before, and here Mum was trying to mention it in a nonchalant way for Eva’s benefit…and failing badly.
In the past, Meena Mathers and Lily Evans would’ve loved nothing more than for their two offspring to become a couple, though neither of them had known about Eva’s feelings for Damon during their school days together. No one did, because she’d never confided in anyone. She wasn’t comfortable voicing those kinds of emotions for fear of appearing foolish, especially when it was regarding a ridiculous crush on someone who was way out of her league.
Eva preferred to play her cards close to her chest. The more she liked someone, the more inclined she was to keep it quiet. The only reason she and Callum had gotten together was because he’d made the first move—and the second, third and fourth… He was super-confident and always went after what he wanted. Sometimes Eva wished she were more like him.
Eva played dumb to her mother’s game and acted like she wasn’t interested, even though old feelings were starting to surface. She remembered Damon’s warm brown eyes and his playful smile. They’d only had one class together in high school and she’d deliberately chosen the seat behind him so that she could stare at the back of his head. He had dark brown hair with a soft curl and she used to fantasize about running her hands through it.
Eva shook her head. Stop being an idiot. That was a lifetime ago. “I suppose that was the saving grace for Callum and me. No kids. So I don’t ever have to see the bastard again.”
Normally she’d expect a ‘Language, Eva,’ from her mother. But on this occasion, Meena must’ve thought it well deserved because not only did she let the comment pass but it appeared she was nodding in agreement.
Matthew stared at the TV. “Good riddance to bad rubbish.”
Eva glanced over. He was normally good at hiding it, but since their split, she’d gotten the feeling he’d never really liked Callum.
“So,” Meena said, “Damon has moved out into a lovely house a bit down the road from Auntie Lily, and Sarah and the kids are staying in the family home. Damon gets them every other weekend. You should see his house, Eva. It is huge. His company is doing really well.”
Eva raised her eyebrows. “Wow. That house sale was organised very quickly when Auntie Lily’s just called you to tell you they only just split up.”
Matthew snorted with stifled laughter.
“Yes, I know,” Meena said, her cheeks colouring. “Anyway, I’m just going to check on dinner.”
Meena left the room and Eva and her dad both broke down laughing.
Eva shook her head. “She’s hilarious. She never changes.”
Matthew smiled. “I know—and I wouldn’t want her to.”
Eva cuddled into his side. Her mum and dad were the best, and she was lucky to have such loving parents who cared for her, her big sister and each other in equal measure. “Dad?”
“Can I ask you something?”
“Is it about Callum?”
Her dad had always been exceptional at reading her. He was the most intuitive man she knew. “Yes.”
He sighed. “Before you ask… No, I never liked him. He wasn’t right for you or good enough for you either.”
Matthew Mathers was also very matter of fact when his opinion was requested.
Eva met his gaze. “What makes you say that?”
Matthew frowned. “He didn’t appreciate you. Treated you like some sort of trophy and didn’t look out for you.”
She grimaced. “I don’t need looking after. I’m a grown woman and my actual job is to take care of other people.”
He smiled. “I know, and you’re very good at it. But what I mean is the way a husband and wife both look out for each other and put one another first.”
Put one another first. Callum had never put her first, always himself. He was out for number one and did what he wanted without any regard for her needs or feelings. Looking back, she wondered how she hadn’t noticed the warning signs earlier, but they’d been madly in love. Then, as time had gone on, she had just accepted how he operated, though she’d never dreamed in her worst nightmares how things would end. I was a supreme idiot for falling for his crap, so maybe I deserved everything I got.