THE CREAM stucco house came to view when the iron-wrought gate slid open. This had been my mother’s house after her divorce from Dad.
Dr. Everly Hynson never remarried and been promoted as the head of the Pediatric department in the local hospital last year. Back in London, Mum’s schedule was the cause of most of their fights. She was still a resident back then. Dad was busy running our cosmetics and fragrances business while Mum was on call mostly at night. But her love over her job made her selfish in the eyes of my father.
The door swung open. Mum stood beautifully in front of me with her familiar smile. She was always curvy as far as I could remember. Her straight, blonde shoulder-length hair made her look younger than her late fifties plus she had her makeup on, and always had.
“Hello, mother!” I greeted, spreading a grin on my lips.
“My darling, Skipper. I thought you forgot your way back home.”
Stepping forward, I wrapped my arms tightly around her. A feeling of breathlessness overwhelmed my senses. “I missed you so much, Mum.”
“I don’t feel that way, Skipper,” she said with a laugh.
“Come on, Mum. We’ve been through this.” I pulled away, staring at her beautiful hazel eyes. “I just want to prove something to Dad. That I can stand on my own when the right time comes.”
She closed her eyes and nodded. “I know, baby. And Mum is so proud of you.” She kissed my cheek. “Let’s get inside, shall we?”
Mum was a neat freak. This house still looked new and smelled clean and citrus. Everything was white—from floor to ceiling, to furniture, decors, and even the grand staircases in the middle of the living room. But you couldn’t find any single living plant around. She was an environmentalist to the bone. She had this opinion that if she put plants in the house it was like cutting off their lives.
I followed her to the right corner of the house. One thing caught my attention was the door to my right was ajar with a yellow light illuminating the entire room. There were wooden racks filled with wine bottles. Dad was right after all.
My chest tightened. I took a deep breath and pressed my lips together to stop overreacting. The family room was welcoming than the living room. My pictures and Clyve were hanging everywhere. I sat on the custom-made cream couch in front of the huge motion-sensor TV I’d ever seen.
“Did you order that?” I asked, pointing to the screen.
“You mean if I till watch Grey’s Anatomy?” She smiled warmly.
“I’m not judging you.” I shrugged. “I mean how odd to watch medical-related shows when it’s far from the reality? You’ve said that, remember?”
“I know, but Grey’s Anatomy is closer to reality. I'm a doctor, honey. It’s nice to watch relatable shows.”
I looked down at the bear’s skin rag under my feet.
“That’s fake. I know how much you all love animals.” She sat beside me, leaning her head against my shoulder.
“I know why you’re here, Skipper,” she said softly.
“Of course, I’m here to manage the New York branch. And might stay here for good as well since Clyve loves his job at the CNC.”
“I’m your mother, baby. I know Bradd is aware of my drinking problem.”
“So, it’s true then?” I lifted my head and watched her closely. Dad still cared about Mum, and I thought he still loved her and talked to her from time to time.
She nodded slowly. Guilt plastered all over her face. “I’m seeing a therapist and attending some seminars.”
“But you still keep alcohols in your house. Is that part of the therapy? How does it help, by the way?” I sighed with frustration.
“Don’t judge me now, Skipper. You’ve never been here for me in the first place.”
“So, is it now my fault, huh?” My voice sharpened.
My mother stood up, crossing her arms over her chest. Her feature remained calm, softened even. She was aware of why I had to leave her years ago. Not only because I had to work for my Dad, but she was all-out support of my decisions.
“So, how’s your apartment?” That was why I loved her so much—she never pried. And I was not ready to rip the wound open as well.
“Thanks for helping me out, Mum. I like it by the way. The place is not far from the office, so I don’t have to wake up early.” I smirked.
She rolled her eyes. “You never change, haven’t you? This is New York, Skipper, and I should have chosen an apartment far from your office so that you have to force yourself to wake up early.”
“You’re mean, don’t you know that? Why would I wake up early if I can manage my time just right?”
“It’s not about time management, Skipper. Since you started high school you always skipped breakfast and just ran out of the house with an empty stomach. It is not right to just stop at the greasy food stand and eat from there? How are you even this fit?” She motioned to my body.
“Well, it runs in the blood, I guess. And my name is Skipper, right?” I arched my brow, smirking again. “I work out every day after my job, and it helps me sleep at night. I only eat a greasy breakfast, but I eat healthy at lunch and dinner.”
“Why don’t you stay with me instead.”
A boisterous laugh erupted. I could even hear the echo of my own voice in the entire house, but Mum was not amused at all. “Who the bloody twenty eight years old bloke still stays at his mother’s home?”
“I want to take care of you, honey.” Her voice remained sweet and motherly.
I abruptly stopped laughing and stood up, pulling her into a hug. “Mum, I love you so much. Let’s take care of ourselves together, but I don’t have to stay here to do that. You can come and visit me anytime. We can cook a healthy dinner, then have some cuppa whilst we watch Grey’s Anatomy together every weekend. How does it sound?”
She nodded. “I love you, Skipper.”
“I love you too, Mum.”
“So, are you dating someone?” Mum noticed how my body went rigid instantly.
I swallowed the lump forming in my throat, unable to find a word to answer her.
“So, she’s not part of the plan?”
“I know you are still close with Brett, Skip. And you probably heard what happened to her marriage.”
My heart ached. Why did it have to feel this way? After all these years, it was just like yesterday. But she lied to me, and I would never forget that. It almost took years of my life away from my family.
I was beyond shocked to see her signing up at the dating app I co-owned. Didn’t she know that his brother shared twenty percent of its profit? I knew I was a scumbag back then, and that was one of the reasons why I had to stay away. I was playing with fire—a fire that couldn’t be ceased once I stayed around. I regretted beyond anything, and worse was, I just stabbed my best friend on both sides.
Stalking Arella was probably the worse idea I could come up with, but I couldn’t let her go out with another man on a date. I guessed she had never been on a date since her divorce from her slag ex-husband. So, I called my internet engineer to make her profile unseen to everyone but me.
We’d been chatting for a while now, and I was glad she didn’t agree on meeting me, yet. Meaning, she was cautious and smart.
She changed a lot these years. Her slim figure was gone and became more hot and curvy. She changed her hair color as well, but those cherry full lips that I tasted once still looked luscious and sinful.
My stomach flipped on what I did to my best friend’s little sister.
“I have to go, Mum.”
“I’m trying to let you open up, Skip. You two can still be friends?”
How can we be friends if I’m still in lust for her? I thought after all this time, it was going to lessen, but I was completely wrong. At least, now we were both adults and single.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea, but even so, I’ll try to be nice.”
“It’s been years, Skip.”
“I know, Mum, but she still lied to me. I’ll see you on the weekend?” I sounded like an arse to my mother, but I couldn’t just talk about it right now.
“I’ll visit your apartment. And please, no more socks on the floor, Skipper. You’re near thirty for God’s sake.”
A soft laugh rumbled in my chest. “That I changed. I placed a hamper near the door where I could toss my socks.”
I took a deep breath to lessen the ache in my chest as Mum walked me out to my rental car.
* * *
I SWIPED the screen to unlock my phone. My pulse started racing as I opened the HeartRated app. It was totally all Brett’s idea to create a dating app, forcing me to go out on a date. I’d met several girls using this app, but nothing serious other than hot sex overnight then bid goodbyes after that.
Hotsome: Hey, love. You up for a drink this weekend?
I’d been asking her for days, but she just gave me reasons. I was wondering if she found someone outside this app or I was completely not her type. Photoshopping my photo and my brother’s was not exactly a good idea—it was like lying, but she did lie to me in the first place, so call it quits.
The chatbox bubbled.
SinDeRella: I have a weekend dinner with my family.
I rolled my eyes in annoyance. I wanted to ask her again what was her purpose of signing up on this app.
Hotsome: Can I ask you something?
SinDeRella: Sure. As if I can stop you from sending.
Hotsome: Did you find a date already?
SinDeRella: What made you say that?
Hotsome: Because you kept on turning me down.
SinDeRella: I’m nervous and I’m not good at it.
Hotsome: Just be yourself, love.
A minute passed...
Hotsome: Still thinking twice? Fine, my Sinderella. I won’t ask you again. Just send a message when you’re ready.
I logged out. Disappointment swept over me. What if she hadn’t moved on from her ex?