Just Not Mine(4)By: Rosalind James
She was in the middle of a fairly sizable group of women, a few men, too, and he sighed. Somebody’s mum. This was clearly not his night.
She glanced at him across the gray head of a shorter woman, because she was tall. Her eyes widened for just a moment at what he realized was his stare, then her face went blank and she looked away, the dismissal clear.
She was the only one who wasn’t interested, though, because one of the fellas with her looked over, nudged somebody else, and now the men’s attention was divided between the brunette and Hugh, and Hugh braced himself.
Luckily, Amelia turned up with a couple of friends just then, Amelia whispering, the others giggling, arms wrapped around each others’ shoulders, the stiff net of their tutus shoved up against each other. Their scraped-back hair and heavy makeup made them look oddly like very young … models, to put it politely, which wasn’t a look he cared for much at all, not on his little sister.
Amelia detached herself from her friends. “You need to tell Aunt Cora that it’s time to go,” she informed her brother. “It’s past Charlie’s bedtime.”
He’d seldom heard more welcome words. “Why don’t you tell her?” His aunt was in a group of her friends, and if there was a way out of having a chat, he’d welcome it. He was knackered, and his hand was throbbing in its sling.
She sighed with the patronizing exasperation that was something new, but that he’d seen more than once in the short day and a half since he’d come back from South Africa. “Because it’s not polite to interrupt. You need to tell her.”
“Why’s it polite for me to interrupt, then?”
“Because you’re grown up, and I’m a child,” she said, one hand on her pink-leotarded hip.
“Beginning to wonder about that,” he muttered, but he went over and put a hand on Aunt Cora’s elbow, smiled at the older ladies and a few men who had immediately drifted over to join the group at his approach, answered a few questions, accepted the bitter disappointment and galling commiserations over the loss of the Championship with as much grace as he could muster, and tried his level best to convey that he was teetering on the verge of leaving.
“Past Charlie’s bedtime,” he murmured in Cora’s ear, gave another smile all around, and they were finally done.
Family obligations: complete. Progress toward female companionship during his enforced holiday: zero.
Getting a Life
Except that his family obligations turned out not to be complete at all, because it appeared that they’d only just begun.
“What do you mean, back to the UK?” His body was telling him it was well past time to be in bed, his hand was aching badly now, and the news he’d just got was a blindside he didn’t need.
“I need a holiday,” his aunt said. “And I need to go back to the UK. It’s still my home, I haven’t been back in nearly eighteen months, and that’s too long. You were just there last summer, and I haven’t been.”
“I was working,” he said. “I wasn’t touring, looking at Big Ben. And I know you haven’t been back, and I’m sorry. But you must see that it’s not the best time, not with my thumb broken.”
“Sorry, but I’m going anyway,” she said. “Because there’s someone I need to be with.”
“Someone you need to be with?” He struggled to focus. “What kind of someone?”
“What do you think?” She was looking at him with exasperation now. “The male kind. I know you think, ‘Oh, Auntie Cora, she’s past it, she’s happy to look after the kids,’ but I’m only forty-five. I was nine years younger than Edward. And all right,” she went on, even though Hugh hadn’t said anything, “I needed the change, being made redundant at the office on top of it, and that made it easier to come, but now I’ve got someone.”
“Got someone how? Someone here?”
“No. Someone there. Henry Selfridge,” she said, and the color was high in her somewhat homely face.
She sighed in exasperation. “The man who was here last summer, visiting, when you first came. I took him to Waiheke, remember?”