Barman Oliver Chandler might be able to help with both; in fact, he’s definitely up for a friends-with-benefits arrangement. However, after a shocking act of violence against his sister interrupts one of their date nights, Wallis has to decide if she can handle being around a family that makes relationships so complicated. Besides, the closer she gets to Oliver, the more difficult it is to avoid revealing her own relationship history.
Warning: contains a tall drink of water who causes thirst rather than quenches it, to say nothing of the inappropriate use of the word ‘Daddy’…
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I was always the good girl, according to my family. Studied hard, passed every exam, never late, always tidied my room. One member of my family, namely my technically-little-but-actually-much-taller-than-me brother Lucas, called me all the names under the son. Goody Two Shoes, Angel Face, The Duchess, Little Miss Bossy Knickers. I suppose I should have been grateful he didn’t use any profanities in his nicknames for me. Mind, when we were still at our parents’ house that wouldn’t have been an option. Lucas would have got a clip round the ear. A scowl from Mum or “You’ve upset your mother,” from Dad would have been all it took to get me back in line. Not that it would ever have been likely, me swearing in front of our parents.
Behind their backs, I did a lot worse. Away from the people who knew me. Even Lucas, my precious little brother. I grew up, made other friends, cut loose a bit, discovered alcohol and sex and Class B drugs. The best times involved all three at the same time.
But…heavy sigh…then I grew up, friends started having kids and getting jobs and mortgages, and my need to self-medicate myself into being able to socialise died away. Or at least I learned to cope with things sober. I became friends with Sarah Keating, we ended up sharing a flat, and strangely, her wildness became a steadying influence on me.
She likes to say she never met a line she didn’t want to cross, but…Sarah has an inner moral compass that always points North. She’s playful, mischievous, would never do anyone deliberate harm. As daring as she likes to be, she’d never dice with real danger.
Apart from that time she and Lucas discovered a break-in at his workplace and she tackled them, making them freak out and jump through a broken window onto the street below, but at least she had the good grace to tell me she wondered straight afterwards what the hell she’d been playing at.
And she had my brother there to protect her, so maybe it wasn’t all that bad. She acted out of character, but there was a moral outrage at the base of it all, not carelessness or a desire to self-harm.
I itched for something, didn’t know what, as I packed my bag. Sarah wasn’t home from work yet and Lucas worked nights for a security firm so at this precise moment would be catching up on his sleep before arriving later. I’d had an hour or two to myself since wrapping up my appointment at my favourite hair salon. I had to put my afternoon off work to good use after all.
Company? I asked myself. Is that what I’m after? Well, it was my own fault for booking a few hours off. I could have gone into work and had plenty of company in the shop.
But then, I’d had holiday time to use up and preparing myself for exile was one way to do it. Get my hair done, do some toiletry shopping, come home to pack my overnight bag.
Because Lucas was coming over tonight, I planned to make myself scarce. Yes, he was my brother, no I didn’t want to have to listen to him pumping my flatmate while I tried to bury my ears under seventeen pillows in my bedroom down the hallway. Yuck. Sarah had the bedroom next to the living room and mine was beyond that, the kitchen, the bathroom, at the other side of our place, but…yeah. Yuck indeed.
It had been awkward, since he and Sarah got together; I’d ripped the piss out of them both when it first kicked off, playing the big sister, reverting to my Little Miss Bossy Knickers act again, but it had all been in good fun.
I had a role to play. The stern older sister, the responsible flatmate, and keeping up that role put the onus on me to behave in a mature manner. Like The Duchess Lucas had often accused me of being. They wanted me to be a Goody Two Shoes, so a Goody Two Shoes I would be.
Is it company I want? I still couldn’t decide between a vest top and a t-shirt. It was only something to wear in the morning after I had a shower at Leah’s.
Leah, the lucky pal I’d prevailed upon to give me a bed for the night while my brother and flatmate did whatever. And though she’d only just moved into her one-bedroom flat, she’d said I’d be more than welcome.
In the end I packed both; my bag had plenty of room and I’d decide later what I’d wear the next day.
It wasn’t like I needed to pack anything too showy. I wasn’t going out out, having only recently recovered from a heavy-duty bout of food poisoning which coincided with my brother and my flatmate getting together. Whenever I went near a pub or club these days, it was with a group of friends rather than one girlfriend. Certainly not a male companion. That would constitute a date, for Heaven’s sake, and one of those hadn’t happened in a long time, if ever. I associated Sarah and Lucas getting together with me being in bed for an eternity, feeling like I was dying, and I associated attending licensed premises with getting shitfaced, laid, and in a heck of a lot of trouble.
Probably an association I needed to kill off, so when I’d arranged to meet up with Leah, I’d actually said to her, “Why don’t I wait for you in Grape & Grain; that’s pretty near your work? And we can take it from there.”
I’d never been one to play dares at school – of course not. I’d never been the type; too controlled for that. But this time, I dared myself to do it. Go out to a bar, meet a friend, don’t cut loose, remain respectable.
It was almost funny, the fact I went to extremes. At school, around my current group of friends, at work, with my flatmate…the Duchess, Little Miss Bossy Knickers. Away from all that? Totally different. I wondered what Sarah would say if she knew. She probably suspected. Everyone knew the saying, it’s always the quiet ones you’ve got to watch out for.
Still, I’d gotten that out of my system. Probably. The drink, the drugs, the casual sex, the need to be different from the public version of Wallis.
God, it was hard, though.
I groaned out loud, and automatically looked around the silence of my bedroom, as if expecting someone else to be there. Idiotic, really, as Sarah wasn’t due back for a while. And she was the only other person with keys to the flat, besides the landlady, and that was in case of emergencies like being locked out and forgetting our own set of keys.
It was just an irrational feeling of shit, what if someone had seen that loss of control? Goodness; Wallis Jackson, groaning in frustration? How unlike her.
Clutching a nightshirt (plain, cotton, straight from the bargain racks in Primark), bunching it up in both hands, I sank onto the end of my bed.
Killing time until Sarah came home, Lucas appeared and I went out to meet Leah. Packing a fucking overnight bag so I could stay at a friend’s house while my flatmate and brother had a life. A polite way of terming what they’d really be up to, but I preferred to think of them as ‘getting to know each other’ or ‘building their relationship’. Twenty-seven years old and exiled from my own home.
No, it wasn’t company I wanted. But I sure as hell felt lonely.