Rambunctious laughter erupts from the living room, and I immediately recognize the boisterous sound; Karl Vallemosso, grandpa’s life-long best friend. A moment later, I hear Gran’s hearty laugh as well. I take a peek in their direction from the corridor and I can’t help but smile in gratitude.
I’m glad she has so many good people around her who love and support her. I’m also glad to finally see a genuinely happy smile on her face after so long. I haven’t seen or heard her smile and laugh like that since before Grandpa passed—not since my dad, and her only son, was still alive.
I head back into the kitchen and my eyes dart over to the antique clock hanging above the sink. Its chrome pendulum swings back and forth in a slow and steady rhythm. It’s almost eight, and after several hours of good food, great music, and lengthy conversations, there are only a handful of people left, and from the looks of it, they’ll probably be leaving in the next twenty minutes or so.
Just then, the doorbell rings, removing my attention from the clock and its ever-swaying pendulum.
“I’ll get it,” I say as I spot Gran getting up from her chair.
What the hell?
Who could be coming over at this hour? The day’s practically over.
I walk over to the front door, figuring it must be Theodore coming back for something he’d forgotten.
When I open the door, however, my eyes tell me otherwise. I feel my eyebrows rising in an obvious show of surprise at the sight of the figure standing in front of me.
“Ramona? Who is it, darling?” Gran calls out amidst the swarm of voices from the living room.
The figure cocks his head slightly to the side, and more of his face is illuminated by the porch light. It only takes me a second to figure out who it is.
Liam Burrows: the youngest grandson of the late Jim Burrows, grandpa’s first mentor and close friend. Liam’s a musical prodigy in his own right, and as a result, is also the heir to his grandfather’s fortune and legacy despite the fact that he has three older brothers.
I’d had something of a crush on him way back then—when I was still young and fairly stupid and naive—but even then I knew that guys like him were out of my league. But even if—by some ridiculous chance that I know never existed for several reasons—he had wanted to date me, it never would have worked.
Even if he wasn’t seven years older than me, or if I hadn’t been immensely jealous of his musical talents or intimidated by his family, it never would have worked. Some people just aren’t compatible with each other.
Behind my frames, I continue to regard him. After almost ten years, he looks exactly how I remember; tall, handsome, and arrogant. Even his features—from his dirty blonde hair to his forest green eyes—are exactly the same. He’s even in one of his signature brown suits.
Gosh, he doesn’t look like he’s aged one bit. Life’s obviously been very good to him; the same way it’s good to all rich and powerful men, I suppose.
The last I’d heard, he’d gotten married about four years ago and had his first kid the year after that.
Liam’s expression seems to be one of surprise as well, only a lot less mild than mine. He slowly narrows his eyes at me in curiosity as he steps forward.
“Ramona?” he asks with one of his eyebrows arched so high that I swear it’s a second away from merging with his hairline.
“Hi, Mr. Burrows,” I offer with a smile. I haven’t seen him since I was in junior high. He wasn’t even present for grandpa’s funeral last year. Which makes me wonder why he’s here now. And after the memorial is already over, no less.
“Well, look at you, little Miss Gallo. Wow…you’ve certainly grown up, kid,” he says with a smile and a stare that lingers two seconds too long.
His gazing throws me off a bit, but I quickly get my wits about me. “Please come in,” I offer, opening the door completely and moving to the side so he can pass. I turn to face him once the door’s closed again.
“Well, this is quite a surprise,” I say, arching my brows and animating my facial features more than necessary. “I think you’re the last person we expected to walk through here today.”
He nods in agreement. “I know. I wish I could have been there for the funeral, but better late than never, right?” he says with a wink.
I can’t believe this dude’s nonchalance! He really is still as arrogant as ever. Maybe even more so now. I can only manage a slight, forced chuckle that I’m pretty sure sounds uncomfortable and insincere.
“I suppose,” I say with a tiny, almost invisible shrug.
“So…how’ve you been, Roni?” he asks, removing his coat and hanging it over his elbow. “I’m assuming people still call you Roni?”
I nod. “A few. Except Gran, of course,” I add with another forced smile. “And I’ve been good, Mr. Burrows. Thank you for asking. You?”
He waves his free hand in a dismissive motion. “Please, enough with all the formalities. And call me Liam. We’re all family here,” he says with a wide smile right before he engulfs me in a hug that I’m not prepared for.
The awkward embrace lasts a little longer than I think it should, and I’m pretty sure the discomfort I feel from being enveloped so abruptly like that is written all over my face, but I do my best to hide it behind the most convincing forced smile I can manage.
“Liam,” I say with a concurring nod, and the forced smile still glued to my lips.
He continues to stare at me even after I’ve freed myself from his grasp. I may not know Liam that well, but I certainly know that he isn’t the quiet or innocent type—not even remotely—and his silence now, as brief as it is, rings pretty strange. Strange and…discomforting.
I can’t stand the awkward tension, and so I say the first thing that comes to my mind.
“Uh, I can take your coat,” I offer, my eyes darting to the long brown overcoat hanging over his elbow.
“Oh, that’s fine,” he says with another dismissive wave. “I won’t be here very long. Your gran in the living room?” he asks.
I simply nod.
With that, he heads into the living room, greeting the few people still there before I see him and Gran head out to the balcony, presumably for a private discussion. Just as I start to walk back to the kitchen, the doorbell rings again.
“Ugh, who the hell is it now?” I grumble under my breath as I stomp back to the front door.
In my irritation, I swing it open with more force than I mean to…and I immediately wish I hadn’t.