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Since Patrick and Katherine made a habit of spending Christmas in France, as they had done for the last thirty five years, it had become something of a tradition to have a belated family supper the second Saturday of January. It was the one time all year that everyone wound up under the same roof, which seemed to prove more and more difficult every year.

Nicholas and Travis had both come over straight after double shifts, and were both on the sofa, on the verge of passing out. Nicholas leaned into Janine, his head resting on her shoulder, while he completely ignored Travis almost laying on him, and very possibly snoring at one point.

He wasn’t listening to any one of the half-dozen conversations happening, or the television playing some sort of mindless drivel.

“You two.” Katherine lightly shook both Travis and Nicholas awake. “Why don’t you go have a proper lie down? Supper won’t be ready for another hour yet.”

Travis yawned widely and got up. “Yeah, all right,” he said, wandering upstairs to the bedroom that he’d shared with Nicholas ever since they were seven years old. The same bunk beds had still been set up, which neither Travis nor Nicholas had ever properly grown too big for, with the same duvets from when they were children, and the paint on the walls was still the same terrible shade of blue, only worse, because it was now a faded, sun-bleached version of the same terrible shade of blue.

Katherine turned her long suffering stare to Nicholas, who gave her the same stare right back.

“I’m fine,” he insisted, putting his head back on Janine’s shoulder.

“Nicholas, come on,” Janine said softly, tugging on his hand.

Nicholas sat back up to give Janine a different look, this one silently saying everything that needed to be said. He would be going up to bed, but she was not allowed. Ergo, he was staying right where he was.

“Nicholas,” Katherine said, quietly exasperated with him.

“M’fine,” Nicholas repeated.

To show that nothing unholy was going on, he raised both his hands for her to see, and then moved so that they stayed where she could see.

“I just don’t want to see it become three,” Katherine said, shaking her head as she walked away.

Nicholas knew exactly what she meant. Kate had broken up with Sam’s father just before learning she was pregnant, and Beth and her boyfriend had decided to wait until they were twenty five to make any plans on marriage, despite their first child being due that March.

Choking down an annoyed growl, Nicholas got to his feet. “Fine,” he said.

He tried not to stomp like a child throwing a tantrum as he made his way upstairs, finding that Travis had irritatingly taken the bottom bunk. Nicholas managed to climb onto the top one without falling, and sprawled out face-down, ignoring the faint must in the bedding.

“Thought you were fine?” Travis said, his voice squeaking oddly, as though he was only just this side of conscious, himself.

“Shut it,” Nicholas spat.

Everyone at the table was stunned, supper completely forgotten. For a few short moments, they were all even silent, before breaking out in a chorus of protests.

“When were you going to tell us?” Nicholas asked.

The thought that Patrick and Katherine had decided to sell the house – the house they had all grown up in, and that hadn’t changed at all since – was one that hit hard.

“We didn’t want to say anything until everything was finalised,” Patrick explained. “You know how these things go. People drop out without warning.”

Travis turned to Mary, the youngest of the six of them. “Did you know this?” he asked.

“No,” Mary said. “And I still live here! Where am I supposed to go?”

“We thought that since you’re in uni now, you could go stay with one of your friends.” The irritating part was how utterly sincere Katherine managed to sound.

“Mum!” Mary protested.

“You can come stay with me,” Travis offered. “I still haven’t found a flatmate since Nick moved out.”

This seemed to surprise their parents. “Nicholas moved out?” Katherine asked with a slight chill in her voice.

“Yeah, he moved in with—”

Nicholas kicked him under the table, but the damage had already been done. He buried his face in his hands so he didn’t have to watch his mother rush off to the kitchen.

“You didn’t tell them,” said Travis.


Their sisters hardly seemed to notice or care about any of this, and as they all continued to carry on protesting at Patrick, Janine stood up.

“I think I’m just gonna go,” she said quietly.

Nicholas jumped up to follow her. “Me too.”

The two of them quickly fetched up their shoes and coats and slipped out, stopping on the steps for just long enough to Nicholas to put a knitted cap on.

“I can’t believe you haven’t told them,” said Janine as started making her way carefully down the steps. Nicholas could tell that she was disappointed, but couldn’t figure out why.

“Well, it’s none of their business,” he told her. “I don’t think Dad cares either way, but you saw my mum.”

“Nicholas, I am not going to be your dirty little secret,” Janine said coldly. “That sort of behaviour is for students.”

Nicholas nodded, finding it difficult to make eye contact. “Can we do this when we get home?” he asked, hoping to avoid a conflict right there on the pavement.

“No, we’re doing this now.”

“Okay, I’m sorry,” Nicholas said, quickly but honestly. “You’re right.”

More frightening than having a domestic right where the entire street could see was the idea that if he didn’t end this argument right then and there, that Janine might just leave him altogether. It had been years since his last relationship, and this one had already gone far better than any of his previous attempts.

But now, he’d let his guard down, got comfortable in the routine, and had settled in. If that routine got broken...

Well, he just tried not to think about it.

“Start being honest with them,” Janine said, her voice starting to soften again. “I’m serious, Nicholas. This is important.”

He nodded. “Okay,” he agreed. He had no idea how well this would go over, but he’d have to figure that out later.

Nicholas was surprised when Janine moved to take his hand in hers. “Let’s go home,” she said. “It’s cold.”

He nodded and started walking with her, already finding that breathing had started to become easier.

“I’ll phone us a cab,” Nicholas offered, pulling his mobile from his pocket.
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Police Chief Inspector Nicholas Angel

September 2013

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