He slips his hands in his pockets, as I level him with a guarded look. “I didn’t mean to offend you. It’s just … you look so much like … Saoirse.” He almost whispers her name. “You’re the spitting image of your mom at the same age.” As he places a hand across his chest, tears well in his eyes, he drops onto the corner of the bed, and hangs his head. His solid frame heaves as strong emotion rattles through him.
Unless this is an act, he genuinely seems to have cared for my mum.
Their relationship, or lack of one, is a mystery I wouldn’t mind unraveling sometime.
I don’t know what to do, whether I should reach out to comfort him or not, but he’s a stranger to me, and it doesn’t feel right, so I do nothing, letting him deal with whatever is going through his head in his own time.
A short while later, he looks up, and I’m startled to see so much devastation in his eyes. In this moment, he appears to have aged twenty years. Raw pain radiates from his eyes, and he doesn’t do a thing to shade it from me. I kinda like that. There’s an honest quality to it that endears him to me.
Slowly, I release my grip on the covers and slide out the side of the bed. I sit down beside him. “It’s true? You really are my mum’s brother?” Not that I need verification. He has the same color eyes, the same complexion, and similar little strips of fiery red trace a path through his dark hair. He’s like the male version of my mum. Tears gather in my eyes as her image surges to the forefront of my mind. I blink them away, but not before a sneaky beggar slips out, cascading down my cheek.
“Yes, and I’m James, by the way.” He extends his hand and I reluctantly shake it, feeling terribly awkward. “I’m so sorry for your loss, Faye. I’ve been distraught since I heard the news.” He scrubs a hand over his prickly jaw, and at this proximity, it’s easy to confirm that truth. Bruising purple shadows hang underneath his bloodshot eyes, and his skin has an unhealthy tinge to it. It’s clear he hasn’t slept in days.
“Why didn’t she tell me about you?”
His Adam’s apple bobs in his throat. “We had a complicated relationship.” He says it with a real drawn-out American twang that’s kinda funny. His accent is a bit messed up. “I didn’t realize she had a daughter,” he continues, eyeing me earnestly. “I didn’t know you existed until a few days ago. I’m sorry you had to go through the funeral by yourself. I should’ve been here with you, but the solicitor said his instructions were very clear. He was only to contact me after the funeral.”
“It’s okay.” I toss him a feeble smile. “I survived the ordeal.” Barely, but he doesn’t need to know that. I close my eyes, forcing the horrific memories away.
Another layer of uncomfortable silence descends. I smile weakly at him.
“I thought I was going to have to avenge your death,” he murmurs a few minutes later, motioning toward the red-stained bed linen.
I can’t bring myself to laugh even though I understand he’s trying to lighten the mood. “Apparently, I thought it was a good idea to undergo a makeover last night.” I grimace as I inspect strands of my now garishly red hair.
“I’m surprised that you would drink yourself into such a state, especially after what happened to your pare …” He trails off when he spots the expression on my face.
Undisguised misery fills every part of me, and I can’t deal. My breathing becomes labored, and that awful fluttery feeling is back in my chest. I need to shut it down before it destroys me. I can’t go there. It’s still far too painful to think about the specifics of the accident. And who the hell does he think he is? Swanning in here like he knows everything?
He knows nothing.
“You don’t get to lecture me,” I grit out. “You’re not my dad.”
If he thinks he can replace my dad, he has another thing coming. He’s my uncle, not a substitute dad, and the sooner he understands that the better. I’m only agreeing to this farce of a move because I’ve no choice. At least not until January.
All bets are off once I turn eighteen.
However, he’s also right in his insinuation, and I loathe myself in this moment. My parents were killed by a drunk driver, and drinking myself into oblivion isn’t the best way of honoring their memory. Mum hated me drinking, although she was realistic enough to know that she couldn’t stop me. She’d be so disappointed in my behavior, and I hate feeling as if I’ve let her down, which is mad, because she’s let me down in a much worse way.
She promised she’d always be here for me.
But she lied.
Because she’s gone, and I have to try to find some way of living the rest of my life without her in it.
A painful lump jams my throat as tears gather in earnest. A wayward sob escapes before I can stop it.
“Shoot,” James says. “I’m making a right mess of this. I’m not used to girls … not since …”
He doesn’t need to say it.
Not since my mum.
I look into his sincere eyes, and my sudden burst of rage-fueled grief disappears. I can tell he means well and that this is as hard for him as it is for me. “Well,” I say, deciding to be charitable, “I’m not used to having an uncle, or cousins, and I’ve never even been outside of Ireland, so I think my level of unease totally trumps yours.” My fingers pick at a loose thread on the hem of my shirt. “Not that it’s a competition or anything. I’m just saying.” I shrug.
A huge grin transforms his face, and he looks so young when he smiles. “I have a feeling you’re going to fit right in, Faye.”
He stands up, offering his hand. “Come on. Let’s go home.”
My eyes are out on stalks as we arrive at a small, private terminal at Dublin Airport a little while later. I’ve been glum the entire half hour of the journey. James didn’t waste much time hanging about. I was showered and packed in record time. Locking the door to my house was a heart-wrenching moment. Everything is happening so fast. Too fast. My life is about to flip right over, and I’m ill prepared.