You Are Kidding Me!

I'm sure you'd hyperventilate if you found that you're jumping from an only child to the brother of three siblings. Make the three new arrivals a tomboy, the new favourite in the family and the girl-you-fall-for-who-hates-you-at-first-sight, and you have the makings of a nightmare. Alas for Nathaniel K. Smith, its a living one.
Despite his usual tenacity, determination and way too vivid imagination, this is certainly beyond his wildest dreams. With his reputation on the line, will he be able to keep the terrifying additions to his family a secret?
Jeer, cheer, laugh or aww in this way too cheesy reminder that coincidences are never coincidences, love is never easy and not to ever wish life was less boring...

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11. Chapter 10

"For the last time Dad, no!" he flings his bag to the ground.

"Henry, you have to go and see your mum. She hasn't seen you for the past 13 years!"

"Which is why she has no right to see me."

Shattering of glass.

"Son, this is important. She needs to tell you something important. She sounded really desperate on the phone."

He sighs and looks at the exhausted, unshaven face of his father. He hasn't spoken about his mum ever since she left. His face is still etched with suffering, the memories clouding him each time he recalls a time she was with them.

Which is why he couldn't see her. He didn't want to look in the eyes of someone who abandoned his father and made him cry every night.

A man who never stopped waiting when all seemed futile. Who gave up drinking completely and worked even harder to become a better man. Who waited in vain for the past 13 years to come back to us- but she never did.

So why now Mum? He asked. Why come back just when we're starting to mend the frayed ends of the hole you tore in our family? Will you stitch it up to mend or will you create a bigger cut?

Pain slashes through him and he turns to the side so his dad can't see the tears.

"I'll go. But this is the last time she will see me." His voice is calm and cold, unwilling to betray the hurt underneath.

His father hugs him silently and retreats to his room. Probably to relieve another memory, to cry another time.

-2 days later-

He steps outside Hangwee and smiles wryly. This place will never seem the same again after this encounter with a woman he has never wanted to meet.

He found out the story of how Mum left when he was 10. He hated her ever since he heard how she ran from their home without looking back. No phone calls, no note, no emails, no nothing. He hated how she left his father a shell of his former self and deprived him of the family he desperately longed for.

This was why he was a playboy. He had vowed never to become committed to a woman. Because they always leave. Truth be told, he enjoyed breakups as much as the first few dates as it was satisfying seeing the pain on their face- the same pain his mum inflicted on his dad years ago.

But enough memories. Impatiently pushing back his chair, he hauls the door open and steps inside.

He senses her even before he sees her, and recognises her even before she stands up to acknowledge her presence.

She has eyes the exact shade as his, hair exactly the same colour tone as his, and her smile, although world-weary and tired, is just like the kind he flashes for the ladies. Gentle yet smug.

The fact that she is so much like him stings somehow, and he lets this irritation show as he marches up to the table and sits.

"Long time no see, mother," he snaps. "It's been forever."

Her smile disappears and despite himself he regrets his outburst.

"I'm sorry, Henry." Her voice is calm, with a serious note. He used the exact same voice on his ex-girlfriend last month, and he winces at the sound.

Another reason he hates her. She never fails to bring up a painful memory he doesn't want to recall.

"I understand if you don't want to be here, if you'd rather be anywhere else than here. But please, hear me out. I know it is selfish of me to hide this for so long and then pour it out like acid on you but please, you need to listen to me."

If she had told him this several years ago, when the hole in his heart was still fresh and aching, he would have agreed without hesitation, tears streaming down his face. He'd do everything to bring her back, to become the family he longed for.

But he's thirteen now, and time healed the gaping hole in his heart. He can look after Dad and himself now. He doesn't need her.

He takes a deep breath and looks at his mother, someone he has loved for so long- too long. "I will listen to whatever you have to say, but that will be all. You've had many chances to come back to us, Mother, but you blew those chances when you stayed away. Distance is the best solution for now."

He sees the wounded look in her eyes. My child, why do you do this to me? He longs to hug her, to become a little kid of 5 again and tell her childishly everything is alright. But he sits there, staring at her with an ounce of regret slowly subsumed by rage, and does not utter another word.

They sit silently until she opens her mouth.

"I was overjoyed when I had you. We were overjoyed. Life was whole with you, our little bundle of joy. You let us see everything from new eyes, and despite our difficult financial situation life was blissful."

Her eyes well in tears.

"Then I became pregnant again."

He jolts upright and stares at her.

Pregnant?

She had another kid?

He has a... sibling?

She nods and a slow smile creeps up on her face. "Indeed. You have a sister, and she's coming inside the restaurant now."

Heart racing, he keeps his back turned as the door opens with a tinkling sound. Footsteps approach and an all too familiar voice calls out, "Hey Mum!

Oh. My. Gosh.

He can barely breath. The air seems to be choking him, suffocating, the noise around them seems dimmer and softer. The flowers on the tablecloth are blurring, going out of focus...

"Mum, why is he here? Why is Henry here?"

There is a pause.

"So you know him huh?" He can almost picture her amusement. Its not funny! He wants to scream.

"This boy is your brother."

He looks up to see the last person he would have dreamed could be his sister

o~O~o

Sophie's pov

I got tired in writing in third person. Its exhausting.

I stare at Henry, wide-eyed in shock.

"No way!" I yelp and slump into a chair, gaze still fixed on Henry.

His lips curl in a tired but smug smile. "I'm just as surprised as you are."

Mum orders hot chocolate for both of us and it arrives swiftly, hot and steaming. Henry raises it to his lips and yelps as it scalds his tongue. I can't help but giggle, remembering something in the past.

"What?" He glares at me before it hits him. "Ohh, that date huh?"

"What date?" Mum's eyes are wide in curiosity. Stirring my drink, I take Mum on a trip down memory lane...

-Two years ago...-

I waved at Mum and excitedly raced to the mall. Although I had told Mum I was meeting Azalea, in truth I was going on a date with someone of the complete opposite gender...Well, their personalities are pretty similar, I had argued to my conscience.

After the middle school social, he had come up to me and offhandedly asked me out.

I recalled Hilda's outraged look when I told her who I was going out with.

"He's a playboy! He'll break your heart!"

"It's alright! I'll break up with him first!" I said confidently. I had accepted not because I was interested in him, but because I was curious.

Just one date...

I stopped outside Hangwee. Nervously, I tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear and debated entering. There were so many guys... I felt so defenceless.

"What are you doing outside?"

I snapped my head up and looked into the eyes of my date. The notorious playboy Henry. I grinned and curtsied. "Good to meet you too," I said pertly.

He sighed and offered me his arm. We stepped into the cafe together.

We ordered hot chocolate and sat in a table situated near the window. Being impatient, Henry brought the drink to his lips and yelped when the hot liquid scalded his tongue. Clucking, I took the cup quickly from him before wiping up the small mess he had created.

We laughed after everything was cleaned up and the tension between us broke. I was chatting animatedly about my new pet dog when he reached over and grabbed my hand gently, halting my speech. I held my breath. This was it.

He's going to ask me on another date and I'll reject for the sake of the girls he has hurt! Mehehehe... I silently applauded myself for being so sly. Although truth be told, I wholeheartedly enjoyed his company.

"Sophie, as much as I have enjoyed today, I doubt we have any more chemistry than siblings," he said straightforwardly and I grinned. So he knew we couldn't work out as well.

His eyes widened in shock when he realised I was not crying. "You aren't... upset?"

I burst out laughing and he seemed confused, annoyed even. "Why aren't you heartbroken?"

I ceased my laughter long enough to splutter, "Because I feel the exact way, idiot!"

His expression was priceless. Horror his breakup speech had failed to wound me and awe at how well I handled it spread over his face.

"You sure are one strange girl, Sophie," he mused, shaking his head. His hand let go of mine and retracted back to the table. "I've never met a girl who laughed over a breakup."

"That's because I'm not interested in you, unlike the numerous frivolous girls you've dated," I retort.

He puts his hands up in surrender. "Indeed. I am honoured to meet you, Sophie..."

"Hale. Sophie Hale."

-Present-

By the time I've finished the tale, we're laughing uncontrollably, holding our hands at our sides and fighting the tears rolling down our cheeks.

Mum shakes a finger at me. "So you lied to me to go on a date! You're grounded!"

"Mum!" I whine. "That was my first and last date ever!"

Henry laughs at the two of us, but his expression quickly shuts down again.

"Hale... I knew it was the surname of my mum, but I didn't really piece it together," he says, slamming his head on the table.

"I'll start from the beginning. No questions till I'm done." Mum says softly. And she begins...

"Like I said, life was harsh but meaningful when we had you, Henry. Your father and I loved you so much."

I notice Henry's hand gripping his jeans tightly as he leans forward to listen.

"I was pregnant with Sophie just two months after you were born. I was so scared- too scared to tell your father. He was already struggling to pay bills after you were born. Another child was the last thing we needed on our plate."

Her voice wobbles and I instinctively hand her a napkin. Henry clasps her left hand as she uses her right hand to dab the tears forming at her eyes. "Where was I? Ah yes. I was intending to tell him. I had prepared a nice meal and dressed up to tell him the news. I was hoping he would be happy and he and I would be able to sort things out."

"He was drunk when he stumbled home that night. He flailed his hands and shouted profanities at the neighbours. He tried to swing a blow at me. That was the last straw."

She lets out a long, shuddering breath.

"I packed up and left that night. Your father had always been an alcoholic, but that night was too much."

She looks at Henry with so much tenderness and love, and she caresses the hand on hers with a thumb.

"Henry. My son. The last time I saw you was when you were 1, still a baby. I longed to tell your father the truth, but I was too ashamed. Too ashamed for being cowardly and running away. Too ashamed for not sorting it out with your father."

I think Henry is crying too, from the way he's angling his face from me and the way his shoulders are heaving.

"I'm sorry. I have not been with another man since your father. He was too good to me- too kind, too gentle, too tender, too loving. I don't deserve him." she blows into the napkin and sips a bit of her latte, which has long gone cold.

I feel like an outsider, watching both of them in a reality tv show. I don't really belong.

Its difficult coming to grasp with the knowledge that Henry is my brother, biological brother, and his father is the man I've been searching for as my father. It feels like I'm wading through a thick jelly paste of facts, and its impossible absorbing anything.

"He gave it up for you, you know," Henry's voice is gentle, without a hint of anger or bitterness. "He gave up drinking in hopes you would come back."

Mum just sobs louder. This is turning into a rather uncomfortable scene. I gently tug at her hand, to remind her we are in a public place and everyone is looking at her and this is embarrassing and mortifying and-

"Let's go." I look up and see Henry getting up decisively.

"Where?"

"Home, of course. Let's go see my dad." He speaks matter of factly, as if we have tearful reunions everyday. I smile and help Mum up. We each take one side of her and support her in the slow walk out the restaurant to the car.

Suddenly, Henry smacks his forehead and says, "Shoot! I forgot my handphone!" He hastily gets out of the car and races into Hangwee.

I turn to Mum and ask, "Are you ready to see Dad?"

"I guess so... I owe him an explanation after all. Are you ready to meet him?"

"Definitely."

A silence settles for a moment, then Mum speaks again.

"Honey, I'm really sorry for not telling you about your father when you were younger. Or that you had a brother. I didn't want to freak you out in any way..."

"Mum. I understand. I'm glad you told me now."

"I love you sweetie."

"I love you too."

---------------------------------

As he steps into Hangwee once more, Henry's head is still spinning.

"I've found my mum and my sister in the last 2 hours."

The information overwhelms him. He had always pictured his mum to be cruel, leaving him with no qualms and intentionally hurting his dad. Now that the misunderstanding was cleared up, he only hoped she could sort it out with his father. Who knows, maybe they'd even get back together...

And tomorrow is my birthday! He grins wryly. What a birthday present.

He quickly finds his phone and am about to leave when his gaze falls on an adjacent table. Its a plain, A4 size sketchbook. Curious, he opens it to the first page.

Property of Kayla Baker. Do not touch! If found, please call me at 1284 5672

He smirks. Hmm... wouldn't hurt to take a peek before returning it to her, hmm? He tucks the sketchbook under one arm and saunters back to the car.

Sophie's eyes widen when she sees the sketchbook and she asks accusingly, "What are you planning to do with that, Henry?"

"Nothing that concerns you, my dear sister," He retorts with a grin. She can clearly see he's up to no good.

They keep up a hilarious banter all the way back to our house, where they fall silent.

Henry smiles as he notes the awe in their faces. He may not the richest around here, but since his dad threw himself in work they've been pretty well to do. They've moved into a modest house in a distinguished neighbourhood, with a proper garden and a cleaner who comes in once a week to tidy up.

Still, the size and grandeur of the house still makes Sophie and Mum's jaw drop.

"You two live here on your own?" Sophie splutters. He nods. She begins circling the area, looking around in disbelief.

"Its huge!" She spreads her hands wide for emphasis. Grinning at her antics, he opens the door and let them in.

His dad is sitting at the coffee table, reading a newspaper and drinking some stale coffee. He steps in front of him first and he looks up.

"Son, you're back..." his voice trails of when he sees the lady hesitantly trailing behind. He turns to see Sophie sneaking upstairs, presumably to his room, but she hastily comes down when he shoots her a stern glare.

"Dad, meet someone we've waited nearly 12 years to meet. Our Mum and your daughter!"

His eyes widen, and the newspaper falls to the ground. Mum is clutching her handbag tightly in trepidation, unwilling to meet his eyes. She needn't fear. He has been waiting all his life for this moment.

In a rustle of papers, Dad is across the room and holding Mum in his arms.

Tears gather in his eyes as Henry sees his parents together after more than a decade. He grips her elbows tenderly, observing her face, noting every scar, every facial blemish, every callus. When she flinches under his gaze, he stops his intense scrutiny and gathers her for another hug. She relaxes in his arms.

I doubt I've seen a happier couple.

Sophie comes up and slings an arm around his shoulder.

"Well, while our parents are getting to know each other, how about we head to your room to give them some privacy?"

He jabs her playfully. "Don't pull that trick Soph, I know you just want to see my room." He pushes my chest out proudly. "After all, any girl would die to see my room. Count yourself lucky."

With a scream of rage she launches herself at him, but he's too quick for her despite her agility. Dodging, he laughs wildly as he runs up the stairs and bolts to the safety of his room, Sophie hot at his heels.

He loses her in the maze of rooms and closes the door when he's finally in the sanctuary of his bedroom.

"Phew... for a girl, she sure runs fast..."

There is a banging at the door.

"I know you're in there brother! Let me in, I won't bite!"

He lets her in.

"I said I won't bite, but I didn't say I wouldn't..." she smiles menacingly at him and he takes a step back. Every cell in his body screaming at him to run away. Uh oh...

She pounces at him and launches a tickle attack.

"How do you know my weakness?" He pants as they finally collapse on the floor in a laughing fit.

"Mum told me everything about my brother except who you are," Sophie's eyes twinkle just like his dad's.

He stands up and being the gentleman he is, offers a hand to Sophie, who declines and gets up on her own. "Let's see if Dad and Mum are done talking!" she cheers before racing down. He can hear her clattering down the stairs and manages a tired and exasperated smile. He lays Kayla's sketchbook on my bed before hurrying down to join her.

The first thing he sees is his parents sitting at the table, and the second thing he sees is their joined hands.

A good omen.

"Sophie, we are staying here tonight!" He can't tell know who is happier, Sophie or his mum. Sophie lets out a whoop. "Yes! I know which room I want already!" she races upstairs and his dad smiles fondly at her before pulling his mum into another embrace.

Well, so long as nothing soppy happens at dinner, I'm totally okay with it... sort of.

But he can't help the huge grin spreading on his face as he joins Sophie upstairs to call their respective friends and tell them the news.

 

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