Melissas phone rang in her pocket as she hurried up the steps to her apartment carrying groceries in both hands. She fished around for her keys inside her handbag and dropped the bags at the entrance, leaving the door open.

”Hello? ”

”Well, its about time, Mandy. What took you so long? Ive called million times! ”

Melissa rolled her eyes. Exaggeration was one of her mothers talents. ”Good morning, Mum. I hope you are well. I received literally two calls from you whilst walking up the stairs. ”

”Well, it felt like ages. Especially since I have something to tell you. ”

Melissa pushed the door shut and supported the phone against her shoulder to carry the shopping in the small kitchenette. ”What is it, Mum? ”

”Patrick is dead. ”

Melissa froze. ”What? ”

”You remember Patrick? He was part of the cricket team and the best friend of the Ferrero twins. Her mother and I went to the same middle school. ”

Melissa relaxed. ”Yes, I think I can vaguely recall seeing him once or twice whilst growing up. ”

”Well, he is dead now, ” her mother blurted, and loud sobs filled the speaker.

Melissa sighed. ”Jeez, Mum. Im so sorry to hear. Please don cry. I didn know you were close to his family. Last time I checked, you and Ophelia weren speaking. ”

”Well, during a time like this, I believe their family need all the support they can get. ”

Melissa nodded and unpacked her shopping. ”Absolutely, Mum. You are right. ”

”So, can I count on your full support as well? ”

”Of course, whatever you need. ”

The moment the words slipped from Melissas mouth, she could have kicked herself.

”Thats great, Mandy. Ill expect you to be here this weekend to escort me to the funeral. I don want to go alone. ”

”Oh, Mum. I don know. I didn know him at all and haven seen him since I left Canford Cliffs. Besides, I already had the weekend off last month for… ” Melissa paused. ”For Dads funeral. ”

”I know, Mandy, but surely you wouldn want to send me to the funeral alone. ”

Melissa had to agree with her mother. She had been shattered and unable to eat for days when her father had an early heart attack, which no one had expected.

”Well, I guess I can come down to Canford Cliffs, but I need to leave with the first train on Monday morning without fail. I mean it, Ive taken too many long weekends lately. ”

”Great, honey. Will you stay at a hotel in the city centre, or would you like to stay with me? ”

”No, Mum. I will stay at Dads old house where Ive always stayed when Im in town. ”

”Well, suit yourself. I don know what you see in that old log house anyway. ”

”Its called memories. ”

”I prefer to look at the future instead of living in the past. Ill see you on Friday! ”

”Hold on, wait, Mum! ” Melissa yelled, but her mother had already ended the call.

Melissa dropped the phone onto the kitchen counter and finished unpacking.

She wasn enthusiastic to return to Canford Cliffs so soon after her fathers passing. She had barely survived the funeral and already dreaded the weekend, but she didn want to fail her mother. After all, she was the only relative she had left.

***

Melissa arrived early on Friday morning at Canford Cliffs.

She dropped off her weekender at her fathers house and opened the thick curtains to allow natural light to enter the house. She inhaled the ocean breeze and changed into the same black dress and pumps she had worn to her fathers funeral, which she matched with a blazer and a silk scarf. She left her hair loose and applied red lipstick to draw peoples attention away from the dark circles under her eyes.

Her fathers spiritual presence in the house brought her comfort, but it only made his absence even worse. Melissa partly expected to see him in the backyard tending to his precious plants, but she would never have the pleasure of witnessing his passion again. A lump formed in her throat, and she turned to check her reflection in the entrance mirror before heading to the rental car outside.

Melissa arrived at the address her mother had texted her earlier that day and spotted her waiting in the parking lot.

”You
e late. ”

”I don think so. You said three oclock and here I am. ”

Her mother crossed her hands and pursed her lip. ”I wanted to arrive early to mingle before the service. ”

”Mum, this is someones funeral. I don think its an appropriate place to mingle. ”

Melissa sighed and followed her mother to the entrance.

The funeral was a far cry from a traditional English one. The walls of the old county hall were covered with photos of Patrick and the tables were full of treats, which had been moved aside in a U-shape so people could talk with each other.

”Mum, you didn tell me it was going to be the event of the year. I don know half of these people, ” Melissa whispered as she smiled at the young couple passing by.

”It must have slipped my mind, ” her mother responded and hurried over to the grieving family who were welcoming the guests at the entrance.

Melissa followed, eyeing her mothers floral dress that was everything else but suitable for a funeral.

Her mother threw herself into a tight embrace. ”My darling, Im so sorry for your loss, its horrible what happened. I still can believe it! ”

”My deep condolences for your loss Mr and Mrs Reed, ” Melissa said and suddenly realised she had no idea what had happened to Patrick.

They left the grieving family and followed the crowd. ”Mum, what happened to Patrick? ”

”Mandy, you don know? ”

Melissa rolled her eyes. ”If I did, I wouldn be asking. ”

Her mothers eyes lit as she scanned the room to ensure that no one was listening and lowered her voice. ”Car accident. Apparently, Patrick had been drinking with one of the Ferrero twins and they never made it home. ”

”Oh my god, thats terrible! ” Melissa replied, feeling for his parents.

Patrick had only been a couple of years older than her, and the apple of their eyes.

Her mother nodded. ”It was horrible, I saw the car on local news. They crashed with a lorry. ”

”But who drove the car? ” Melissa asked, but her question was left unanswered when her mother became surrounded by her friends.

”Pick up something to eat, Mandy, and enjoy the party! ” her mother said and sailed away.

Melissa felt mortified by her mothers untactful attitude and wanted to remind her that the party she referred to was someones funeral, but her mother was long gone by the time she had opened her mouth to speak. Melissa sighed again and made her way to the tables.

She tried to decide between duck liver pâté and pigs in blankets when someone lightly tugged on the hem of her black blazer. She turned around and gazed two feet down into a pair of hazel eyes staring at her from a wheelchair.

If Melissa had wondered what had happened to the other passengers in the car, she didn have to anymore as she stood face-to-face with Andres Ferrero.

He was still a handsome man with Hispanic heritage, received from his late mother. He had straight black hair and playful hazel eyes with a sleek, freshly shaven face. He wore a designer suit and shiny leather shoes, which poked out underneath the dark green blanket that covered his legs.

”Melissa Cunnington, I didn expect to see you here. Its been a long time. How are you? ”

Melissa remained quiet and observed the man in front of her.

During their childhood, she had been lucky if Andres, the captain of the cricket team and the local millionaire thanks to their fathers agriculture empire, had spoken more than two words to her.

Andres tilted his head. ”Are you going to react at all or just stare at me? ”

Melissa recovered quickly. ”Hi, Andres… its good to see you, ” she muttered and held out her hand.

Andres took it but instead of shaking it, he caressed the sensitive part of her wrist and kissed her palm. ”Trust me, the pleasure is all mine. ”

He smiled and Melissa pulled her hand back. She turned to fill her plate with food, but Andres grabbed the plate from Melissas hand.

”Allow me, ” he said. ”Can I make you the Andres special? ”

Melissa had no idea what he meant but smiled and nodded, the shock stopping her from speaking.

Andres chatted lightly whilst filling up Melissas plate with an assortment of food before he turned and did the same for himself.

”Thanks, Andres, this is very kind of you. Anyway, Im great! How are you? ” Melissa said, but she quickly realised the awkwardness of her question. ”Oh, sorry. I didn mean to obtrude! ”

Andres took two glasses of champagne and motioned for her to move aside from the tables. ”I guess you meant to ask what happened to me? ”

”No, no, not at all! ”

”Its ok. Its no secret that it was me who was with Patrick in the car when he died. The crash threw him right through the glass, so he died immediately, but I got stuck in the car and damaged my legs. ”

Melissa gasped. ”Im so sorry to hear. ”

Andres shrugged. ”Happens to the best of us. ”

”But you find yourself in good health considering the circumstances? ”

”You could say so. ”

They chatted for a while until Melissa excused herself to find her mother. She enjoyed small talk now and then, but seeing Andres like this sent chills down her spine.

”Do you really have to go? ” Andres asked.

”Im afraid I do, I need to find my mum and get her home. ”

”Well, let me at least offer you dinner tomorrow night at my house for old-times sake. Lets say… 8 o clock? ”

Melissa raised her eyebrows with surprise. She didn recall any old times with him at all. In fact, both of Sir Daniels offspring had spent most of their lives in private schools and then went travelling.

”Wow, Andres, thank you for your very kind invitation, but I don think I will have time as Im here only until Monday morning and… ”

But before Melissa had the chance to politely decline his invitation, her mother interrupted their conversation.

”Darling, of course you have time for it. Its only Friday evening and you have all of tomorrow and Sunday before you return to London on Monday, ” she chirped.

Melissa tried to hide her annoyance but was too polite to overrule her mothers obvious match-making attempt.

”Well, I guess I could make myself available for tomorrow night, ” Melissa mumbled.

”Thats great! Ill see you tomorrow at 8 o clock, then? ”

”You definitely will! ” Melissas mother replied with a smile.

Andres beamed and wheeled himself towards the exit. Melissa returned the smile and headed outside the county hall, her mother following her to the rental car.

”Oh my God, this is something, Mandy! Do you know what this means? ”

”Ive dated men before, Mum, this shouldn be any different. ”

Her mother was barely able to hold on to her seat. ”Think about it, Mandy. The endless possibilities when dating a man as powerful as Andres Ferrero. ”

Melissa grinned. ”As far as I recall, his older brother still runs the main business. ”

Her mother glared at her. ”Hugo? He hasn shown his face here for a long time. Besides, you can get two words out of that man. You
e much better off with someone charming like Andres. ”

The memory of Hugo still gave Melissa goosebumps. He might have been only three minutes older than his brother, but he had imposed silent respect with his calm, observing character that had left many locals feeling uneasy.

”I don know, Mum. I don want to lead people on, especially since I have no interest in pursuing a relationship. ”

”Rubbish, of course you are interested! He is the most eligible bachelor in the country, and now he is in a wheelchair, he is clearly considering someone humble instead of all the models he used to date back in London. ”

Melissa rolled her eyes at her mothers untactful comment, which wasn the first. ”Jeez, Mum, thanks. I didn know you considered me that dull. ”

***

Melissa stopped in front of her mothers town house in the city centre of Canford Cliffs, only a couple of miles from her late fathers house.

After their divorce, her mother had insisted on renting a flat in the centre of the small city despite the plenty of room they had in her fathers house, even for a separated couple.

She helped her mother out of the car and inside the building.

”Mandy, I strongly think you should stop playing around and leave that comfort zone of yours. Think about your future; this might be your lucky chance, ” her mother said, and strategically paused between her words. ”Your father and I talked about it many times, you know. He was so worried about your future and scared of you ending up alone. ”

Melissa ignored the flash of pain as she thought about her father and kissed the air on either side of her mothers cheeks.

”Goodnight, Mum, ” she replied.

Melissa returned to her, full of frustration, and turned car the steering wheel towards her fathers house.

My mother truly knows how to push my buttons after all these years, she thought as she parked outside her fathers house and rested her forehead on the cold steering wheel, calming down. A lonely, melancholic tear emerged from the corner of her eye, but she wiped it away and dragged herself inside and up to her old bedroom, grateful that her father had kept it the same until the day he had died.

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