Rachel opened the front door and her breath caught with surprise at who was standing on the other side.
“Hi, Rach,” Melissa greeted with a small smile.
Rachel’s eyes grew wide. At first it was with the sensation of being caught red handed doing something she shouldn’t – not that she was – but that was soon replaced with disbelief at her sister’s audacity.
She frowned, every ounce of anger she had felt towards her sister bubbling up inside her. “‘Hi, Rach,’” she mimicked. “That’s it? You disappear, you abandon your son, and then you turn up two months later with a ‘Hi, Rach’?”
Melissa at least had the decency to look ashamed. “I… I had things to sort out,” she stammered.
“And did you?”
Melissa frowned, and it occurred to Rachel that she was probably shocked by the level of anger being fired at her. But Rachel found that she couldn’t help it; just the sight of her sister had brought back everything she had been unable to voice for the last eight weeks.
“Did you sort it out, Mel?” she demanded, “The bigamy, your obsession with lying? Did you sort it out?”
“Rachel I didn’t come here so you could lecture me,” Melissa shouted over her, “I know that I made mistakes. I came back to try and – ”
Melissa’s eyes darted past Rachel and lit up. “Phil,” she smiled.
Knowing Philip’s reaction to Melissa’s arrival was likely to be even more charged than hers, Rachel turned her head to smile reassuringly at him.
He was standing outside the door to the living room, staring at his mother with an unreadable expression. He may have been living with Rachel for eight weeks, but there were still times when she couldn’t tell what he was thinking.
“What are you doing here?” Philip asked Melissa, his voice hard.
“I missed you,” Melissa told him, and Rachel cringed at what sounded like another lie tumbling from her sister’s lips.
“You could have phoned me,” Philip voiced Rachel’s thoughts.
“I couldn’t, I – ”
Philip shook his head and interrupted her. “I don’t want to hear it.”
When Philip walked back into the living room, Melissa shouted after him and pushed past Rachel into the house.
“Melissa!” Rachel called to her, pushing the door closed and following her.
Melissa stopped in the doorway of the room and, as she stopped behind her, Rachel’s feeling of guilt churned again in her stomach.
Melissa looked over her shoulder. “Well isn’t this a nice, cosy way to spend a Saturday afternoon?” she said, icily, “Quite the little family.”
Rachel’s eyes moved into the living room and locked with those of the man stood with Philip.
“Don’t start on them, Mum,” Philip instructed harshly.
“It’s okay, Philip,” Rachel assured him with a smile.
“No it isn’t okay,” he argued, starting to scratch at his chest, a sure sign that he was getting agitated, “She has no right to comment on anything!”
“Philip – ” Melissa began, only to be interrupted by Philip again.
“Rachel and Eddie have looked after me since you left me! Don’t you dare – ”
Eddie placed a hand gently on Philip’s shoulder. “Philip, it’s all right. Your mum does understand that.”
Rachel moved past Melissa – who remained frozen in the doorway – and stood in front of her nephew. “Why don’t you go upstairs for a bit and let me and Eddie talk to your mum?”
“I want to see my son,” Melissa argued from behind her.
“I don’t want to see – ”
Rachel cut Philip off this time. “Go on. We’ll get things between us sorted out and then you can give your mum chance to explain.”
Philip met Rachel’s eyes and she could see the anger, and also the hurt, that swirled in his.
“I’ll come up and speak to you in a little bit,” she promised softly.
“I don’t want to hear any more lies,” Philip told Rachel, quietly.
“I know. We don’t either… I’ll make sure everything’s okay. Don’t worry, Philip.”
He still looked uncertain, but he nodded and made his way towards the door. Melissa smiled at him as he reached her, and said his name, but he looked away.
“Melissa, we need to talk first,” Rachel informed her, her tone making it clear there was no room to argue.
Philip left and Melissa levelled a glare at Rachel. “Now you’re going to tell me how to raise my son?”
Rachel’s eyebrows rose in disbelief again. “Yes! You can’t just waltz in here and expect everything to be okay. You’ve been gone for eight weeks, Melissa. Eight weeks! With no word at all to your son. Even on his birthday!… Did you expect he was just going to hug you and carry on as if nothing happened?”
“I see you two have carried on as if I never happened,” Melissa snapped back.
Rachel gave a bitter laugh, and, from the corner of her eye, saw Eddie’s posture straighten as he clearly felt as angry as she did. She shook her head. “We’re not going to talk about that… Philip should be your priority. If you’re back to stay, then you’ve a lot to talk about; if you’re back to take him with you… Well, then you’ve a lot to talk about; don’t expect that he’ll want to go.”
“What have you told him?” Melissa asked through gritted teeth.
Rachel rolled her eyes.
“We haven’t told him anything,” Eddie answered her question. “He was devastated when you left him. We’ve spent eight weeks trying to assure him that he is wanted, that someone does love him.”
“He knows that I love him,” Melissa defended, “I’m his mother, of course he’ll want to go with me.”
“So you’re not staying?” Rachel asked, unsurprised.
Melissa shrugged. “I’ve no reason to.”
Rachel fought down the offence she took at that, determined not let anything get in the way of making Melissa see what she had done to Philip. Melissa’s ultimatum to Eddie had been the end of any desire of Rachel’s to have a close relationship with her sister, it really didn’t matter what Melissa would throw at her. The only person who mattered now was Philip.
“Philip’s getting settled at Waterloo Road, starting another school won’t be easy for him,” Rachel said.
“He’ll be okay. He’s used to it.”
“Melissa, just because you’ve not treated him like a child, that doesn’t mean he isn’t one.”
“I am aware of that, Rachel. I’m not completely stupid… I am sorry that I left Philip, I just… I didn’t know what to do.”
“And you were angry at him for telling me the truth.”
“No! No, I wasn’t,” Melissa protested emphatically.
“That’s what Philip thought,” Eddie told her.
“What? No, I was never angry at him.”
“You blamed him for you and Eddie splitting up,” Rachel stated.
“This is what he’s been thinking, Melissa, because you didn’t give him reason to think otherwise.”
“I’ve told him he wasn’t the reason you and I split up,” Eddie added, “but as far as he’s concerned you wouldn’t have left him if he hadn’t done something really bad.”
Melissa closed her eyes, seeming genuinely pained by hearing this. She sighed heavily and dropped herself onto the nearest sofa. “It’s such a mess,” she whispered, rubbing a hand across her eyes.
Rachel watched her closely, wary of trusting that these were real emotions. She glanced at Eddie to see his reaction, and found him looking at her. He smiled sympathetically and then said, “I’ll put the kettle on.”
Rachel thanked him with a smile, and then once he’d left the room, she sat down beside her sister.
“It is a mess, Mel,” she agreed, because she could hardly argue any differently, “And I don’t know how you fix everything else… But talk to Philip. Really talk to him. He hasn’t handled all this well. I’ve done what I can, but he needs his mum.”
Melissa looked up from her hand. “He doesn’t want to talk to me… And I can’t blame him… I’m surprised any of you are talking to me.”
“Philip needs you. It’ll take time, you’ve eight weeks to make up for, but things will get better between you.”
Melissa gave Rachel a look that told her she had noticed that Rachel had ignored the last part of her utterance. But, Melissa didn’t press it; she just returned her look to her hands and sat silently.
Despite everything that had happened, Rachel still felt herself drawn to protecting Melissa. It had always been like that; she had always been the big sister, and no matter what Melissa did Rachel couldn’t leave her to deal with it alone. Now she’d practically said it was Rachel’s fault that her third (simultaneous!) marriage had not gone ahead; she’d told her fiancé he had to choose between them – how exactly Melissa had expected Eddie to distance himself from his boss Rachel hadn’t figured out – and she had made several digs that made it quite clear she suspected Rachel and Eddie had probably been together since about five minutes after she left. Yet Rachel was finding it very difficult to stay angry at Melissa.
She waited another minute, to see if she would somehow manage to resist the impulse to pick up the pieces this time. When it was clear that wasn’t going to happen, she quietly said, “Mel, you should speak to a solicitor. You can’t carry this secret around forever. Philip can’t carry on wondering when you’re going to be found out… And don’t you want to be able to meet someone and not have to lie?”
Melissa raised her head and looked at Rachel with a resigned expression. She nodded. “I know… I know what I need to do. I’m just… I’m scared, Rach.”
“Of course you’re scared, Mel,” Rachel said sympathetically, “But you can’t keep running away. Eventually you have to face up to your mistakes. It happens to all of us.”
“That’s easier said than done,” Melissa said, despondently.
“I know that,” Rachel empathised, “But you’re going to have to try.”
Eddie arrived as Rachel spoke, and placed two cups of tea on the coffee table.
“Thanks, Eddie,” Rachel smiled to him.
“Thank you,” Melissa said.
“I’ll be in the kitchen if you – ”
“Eddie,” Melissa stopped Eddie before he finished excusing himself. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry I lied to you, I’m sorry I – ”
Rachel shifted uncomfortably on the sofa, suddenly feeling like she shouldn’t be in the room for this – much the same way she had felt she shouldn’t have been in that classroom when Melissa’s secret came out.
She looked from Melissa to Eddie, trying to see if he wanted this conversation, if there were still unresolved issues between them.
Eddie shook his head, gently dismissive of Melissa’s contrition. “It’s in the past,” he told her, then his eyes flicked sideways and met Rachel’s. He smiled reassuringly, obviously able to read her anxious thoughts.
She smiled shyly, slightly ashamed at being caught feeling so vulnerable.
Melissa’s voice broke their eye contact. “It wouldn’t have worked anyway,” she said.
Eddie blinked and looked back to Melissa, ready to defend himself – and Rachel knew he was set to defend her too.
“No, I’m not trying to pick a fight,” Melissa’s tone was resigned, “I just meant… You two look happy. I’m sorry for my comments since I arrived. I … My feelings are all muddled up. I’m angry at myself but I take it out on anyone else. I know I brought all this on myself. I know I should never have got involved with you, and I definitely should have backed off when I realised how Rachel felt about you. I keep doing this. I keep messing up, and Philip has to keep paying for it… I’m glad you two are happy. I’m glad I didn’t mess that up too.” She turned to Rachel and smiled. “I am. I am happy for you.”
Rachel was a little taken aback by Melissa’s outpouring. “Melissa – ”
“I do want to fix things, Rachel. I do.”
“Well then you have to prove it,” Rachel said sternly. “Speak to a solicitor; speak to Philip. Stay in the area so he can stay at Waterloo Road. There are some things that aren’t completely broken yet, Mel. They’re the easiest ones to fix.”
Melissa nodded. “I will stay in the area. I don’t want to cause Philip any more pain. Can he stay with you a couple more days until I find somewhere?”
“Of course he can, he’s welcome here any time.” Rachel resisted the big sister part of her that was saying she should offer to let Melissa stay as well. She was still determined that Melissa wasn’t going to pull her back in this time.
“And if I go to… jail would you…” she let her question trail off.
“Of course I would… Mel, just take things one step at a time or it’ll all get too overwhelming… I’ll go and see if Philip’s ready to speak to you now,” she told her, standing up. “I’m going to tell him that you’ve promised to sort everything out. So you’d better be telling me the truth, Melissa.”
Melissa looked up and her eyes met Rachel’s. The emotions swirling in them seemed to be genuine. “I am, Rach. I really am sorry that I just ran away.”
Rachel nodded. “Okay. I’ll be back in a minute. If he’s not ready to speak to you, I’m not going to force it. It hasn’t been easy for him, Mel, he might need some time.”
Melissa nodded gratefully. “I know.”
Rachel shot Melissa one more look that warned her this had better not be more lies, and then stepped out of the room.
Philip was understandably apprehensive about speaking to his mum, and very uncertain that he could believe a word she said to him. Rachel did her best to assure him that Melissa deserved a chance, from all of them, but also that Rachel would always be there for Philip if he ever needed her.
Eventually he said he did want to speak to Melissa, and the two of them went downstairs.
Rachel could hear Eddie and Melissa’s voices as she made her way down the stairs behind Philip, but she couldn’t discern what they were saying. By the time they reached the bottom, they had stopped speaking.
Eddie emerged from the living room and smiled encouragingly at Philip, and he and Rachel watched from outside the door as Melissa and Philip shared an awkward hug. They watched mother and son sit down before moving into the kitchen.
Rachel closed the door, and instantly Eddie’s hands cupped her face and he tenderly kissed her.
“What was that for?” Rachel smiled, frowning, when he pulled his head back.
“You did very well in there. I know remaining calm with Melissa was not exactly what you’d imagined for your reunion.”
“No,” Rachel agreed, “But it wouldn’t be good for Philip to see me attack his mother.”
Eddie laughed a little, but after a second Rachel saw the amusement in his eyes shift to seriousness. “I saw you, looking apprehensive in there,” he informed her.
“Ah,” Rachel ducked her head nervously.
“Hey.” Eddie put his hand under her chin and lifted face back to meet his. “You have nothing to worry about. I know it’s a weird situation, but I am exactly where I want to be.” He wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her to him. “When Melissa arrived, I saw your sister, I saw Phil’s mum, and I just wanted to support you through this… I didn’t expect any apology or explanation. I don’t feel betrayed by her, or any other notions you’ve got in that… absolutely beautiful head of yours…”
Rachel felt the blush in her cheeks, and couldn’t help but smile widely. “Eddie,” she muttered, a mock reprimand for him embarrassing her.
He tightened his hold on her and leaned her back against the counter behind her. “I am completely in love with you…”
Her breath caught as he said those words to her for the first time and her heart skipped giddily.
“… And you are stuck with me now, forever… Or at least until you get fed up of me,” he smirked.
Rachel laughed and pulled him closer to her. “Oh I don’t see me ever getting fed up of you.”
Eddie kissed her once. “Well, forever it is then,” he grinned.
Rachel’s giggling was lost into their next kiss; Eddie’s hands gently stroking her back as his lips moved softly over hers. She allowed herself to forget everything else, and just get lost in this moment for a while. She returned the kiss fervently, pulling Eddie closer, threading her hand up to play in his hair – showing him that she shared his feelings.
After several minutes, air became a necessity and the kiss broke to butterfly kisses before they separated.
“Oh I could live with this forever,” Rachel commented, breathing deeply to catch her breath.
Eddie smiled. “Oh it won’t be like this forever. There’ll still have to be time for work and sleep and – ”
Rachel hit him playfully on the chest. “I think you’re a little mad.”
“Is that a problem?”
She leaned forward and kissed him. “Not at all.”
They shared a smile, and then Rachel’s thoughts wandered back to the living room. “Do you think they’re okay in there?”
Eddie nodded. “Phil’ll come and get us if he needs us.”
“Do you think she’s telling the truth this time?”
He sighed, sadly. “I think she fooled us both last time, and we’ve no way of knowing for sure… We’ve just got to be here for Phil whatever happens.”
Rachel nodded once. “That’s exactly what I was thinking.” She sighed heavily and looked up at him. “You sure you don’t want to get out of this mess while you have the chance?”
Eddie shook his head. “Now that I’ve got you, I’m not letting you go.” He pulled her tight against him again, his hands resting on her hips.
“Good,” Rachel grinned.
He raised his eyebrows. “Good?”
“Yeah,” she smiled, suddenly feeling nervous about what she was going to say, “Because I’m completely in love with you too,” she continued shyly.
Eddie’s smile widened, no doubt in amusement at her shyness as well as in pleasure at hearing her words. He wrapped his arms around her and brought his lips to just millimetres from hers and stopped. “I know,” he remarked with a smirk before kissing her soundly.