After dinner, the Larsen family gathered in the cozy den Claire had created in the basement of their elegant townhouse. Richard sat back on the sofa, watching Nathan getting beaten by Ruby on the PlayStation. His father sat next to him, talking of California.
“Claire and I hope to visit you in November, if you’ll have us?”
“That would be great. I’m not sure if we’ll have a lot of room in the apartment, but there are a couple of hotels nearby.”
Richard looked at his father. The two of them had always maintained a solid relationship, despite the upheavals of divorce, remarriage, and overseas living. It was only as Richard got older that he realized just how much effort Steven must have put into seeing his son, and making sure that Richard always realized he was loved.
“Will you bring Ruby?”
“I hope so, as long as she doesn’t miss too much school. Otherwise Nathan has volunteered to stay and look after her.”
Richard looked at his dad and burst out laughing at the thought of leaving Nathan in charge of a twelve year old child. This was the guy that had lost his passport, wallet and ID somewhere in the Andes, and didn’t realize until he tried to board a plane. It was highly likely that he would forget to pick Ruby up from school, or wander off on a whim, leaving her home alone, like a female version of Macaulay Culkin.
“How was Hanna? Did the two of you have a good time today?” Claire asked, walking over to join them. She was carrying a small glass of white wine in her right hand. Sitting down on the easy chair opposite, she leaned towards him, her face animated.
“She was good, she seems very happy,” Richard answered.
“That’s what I thought too. Josh seems to have brought out the best in her.”
Richard looked at his step-mother, as he put his bottle of beer to his lips and swallowed a mouthful. He knew that his family was completely oblivious to anything that had gone on between Hanna and him in New York, but Claire’s easy acceptance of Josh rankled.
“Do you like him?” He knew he was asking a leading question, but a part of him wanted to hear something negative about the guy.
“He seems very nice. A little wary of us, I guess, but friendly over all.”
“Why is he wary?” Richard’s brows knit in confusion. Why would anybody be wary of the Larsens?
“I think the location of our house might have something to do with it. From what I’ve gathered from Hanna, he’s not that keen on people with a lot of wealth. I’m not sure whether we intimidate or infuriate him.” Claire smiled gently.
“Does he treat her well?”
“I think so, darling. I haven’t heard any different. I’ve only met him once, when Hanna first came back to London in July. She brought him over to meet Ruby. And by the way, Ruby isn’t keen on him.”
Richard tried to resist the grin that was threatening to creep across his face.
Hearing her name, Ruby’s head whipped around. Her momentary lapse of concentration allowed Nathan to crush his on-screen opponent, and he let out a whoop as her character died. Having the innate ability of a twelve year old girl to do three things at once, Ruby pressed restart, hit her brother’s leg, and demanded of her mother, “Ruby isn’t keen on what?”
Claire and Richard replied at the same time.
Ruby’s nose screwed up, as she hit the pause button, ignoring Nathan’s cries of frustration. She put down her controller and moved closer to Richard and Claire.
“I don’t like him at all. When they came over he treated me like a kid, and every time Hanna tried to tell me something, he just kept on interrupting.” Ruby crossed her arms firmly in front of her chest. “And then he started to kiss her neck as she was trying to play Monopoly with me, even though she kept telling him not to. He was all grabby and horrible.”
Richard’s good mood only lasted a moment. He wanted to grab hold of Josh Chambers’ grabby hands and twist them until they hurt. Maybe until he could hear a crack.
The violence of his own reaction surprised him.
“Why can’t you be Hanna’s boyfriend, Richard?” Ruby continued with her complaints, her face turning to look at him plaintively.
“Yeah, Rich, why can’t you be Hanna’s boyfriend? I noticed the two of you getting cozy on the underground.” Nathan laughed as he poked fun at his step-brother, ignoring Ruby’s dirty look.
“Leave your brother alone, you two,” Claire interceded, placing a gentle arm on Richard’s shoulder as she leaned towards him. “We all know that Richard and Hanna are good friends. And Richard is moving to California next week, do you really think he could have a relationship with somebody so far away?”
“He has a relationship with me, and I’m this far away.” Ruby piped up.
Fair point, Richard thought, interested to see how Claire would respond to her daughter.
“But being a brother and sister is different to having a boyfriend or girlfriend. You two are family; you’ll always have a bond, no matter where in the world you are.”
“Hanna’s family, too. You said so.” Ruby was starting to look confused, and Claire was definitely looking perturbed. Richard played with the label on his beer bottle, trying to keep the amusement from his face.
“I know she is darling, I know.” Claire downed a huge gulp of white wine. Putting her glass on the table, she glanced over at Richard with her eyebrows raised, as if she was asking him for some help.
Richard could feel his father shaking in amusement at Claire’s discomfort. Claire turned to look at Steven, her lips pursed and her eyebrows lowered in response to his laughter.
“Perhaps your father would like to explain it, Ruby.”
“Hey, you’re on your own with this one, Claire. I can’t wait to find out how Hanna is different to Ruby.” Steven winked at his wife.
“Yeah, Mom, how is Hanna different to me?”
Nathan muttered something below his breath. Though his words were inaudible, Richard could hazard a good guess at what he was saying. It almost certainly had something to do with tits and ass.
“Well, put it this way, Ruby. We wouldn’t be having this conversation at all if Hanna were really Richard’s sister, would we? Then they wouldn’t be able to be boyfriend and girlfriend.” With that, Claire stood up and wandered over to Nathan, cuffing the top of his head with her palm. “And don’t think I don’t know what you just said, because I do. And it was rude.”
“Aw, Mom!” Nathan rubbed his hair with his right hand, his bottom lip pouting as he complained. “That hurt.”
“You deserved worse. Now entertain your sister before she asks me any more questions.” Claire hissed, glancing behind her briefly before leaving the room, her skirt whipping out behind her as she beat her hasty retreat.
Finishing his bottle of beer, Richard leaned back and looked at his family, enjoying the warm, happy feeling that suffused his body. They may have been a little weird, and they were definitely annoying, but they were all his.
And he was going to miss them.