‘Are you fine?’ he asks, working the sponge around the base of my neck.
I smile down into the water. ‘I’m okay.’
I watch the water ripple, the little waves lapping around me as he moves in closer and rests his mouth at my ear. ‘I’m a little worried about my defiant little temptress.’ he whispers.
I don’t want to come over all hot and tingly, but it’s something I’ll never prevent when he’s near, let alone breathing in my ear. I push my cheek into him. ‘Why?’
‘Because she’s too quiet when there’s information to be had.’ He kisses my temple and lays back, taking me with him.
‘If you want to tell me, then you will.’
His chest jolts a little beneath me on a silent laugh. ‘I’m not sure I like what pregnancy is doing to my girl.’ His hands come over and rest on my stomach. ‘First of all, she’s developed a phobia of my cock in her mouth.’ He lifts his hips into my lower back, as if demonstrating what I’m missing. I know exactly what I’m missing, and I’m not liking it. ‘And secondly, she’s not blessing me with her forceful demands for intelligence.’
I shrug nonchalantly. ‘My Lord isn’t blessing me with his wide range of expert fucking’s, so we’re even, aren’t we?’
He laughs, and I’m a little annoyed that I’m not facing him because if I was, I know I’d see the sparkle in his eyes and the light fans at the corners. ‘But she’s still blessing me with her filthy mouth.’ He gives me a little tweak above my hipbone, and I perform a little jerk and a yelp before he lets me settle again. The silence settles, too. I know his mind’s cogs are racing because I can hear them. It’s almost like he wants me to force him into spilling, but I’m not going to. We’re in a silent stand-off.
He eventually sighs and starts circling tiny rings with his fingertips on each side of my bellybutton. ‘His name was Jake.’ He doesn’t say any more than that. He just gives me his twin’s name and says no more, and I just lie quietly on him, waiting for him to elaborate. He needs to do this in his own time and without any encouragement from me. I know that he wants me to lead on from here, but I need him to confess everything willingly. ‘You’re doing this on purpose, aren’t you?’ he asks. He knows, so I remain silent. And then he sighs again, my body rising and falling with him. ‘He idolised me. He wanted to be me. I’ll never understand it.’ He sounds angry, and I’m suddenly moving, being turned around to face him. I’m now on my stomach, spread all over him and looking up into green grief. ‘I can’t do this on my own, baby. Help me.’
My instincts kick in and I push myself up his body, settling higher so I can get my face in the crook of his neck. ‘Were you not alike?’ I ask. Twins must surely be alike.
‘We were the furthest away from alike you could get. In looks and personality.’
‘He wasn’t a God?’ I ask quietly, thinking maybe I ‘ve just suggested that his twin brother was ugly. I didn’t mean it like that, but it would be the furthest away from Jesse.
His hands caress my back gently. ‘He was a genius.’
‘How is that far away from you?’ I ask.
‘Jake had his brain to get him by, I had my looks and I used them, as you well know. Jake didn’t use his brain. If he did, he wouldn’t be dead.’
Oh? I take back all previous thoughts because now questions are popping into my mind left, right and centre, and I can’t hold them back. ‘How did he die?’
‘He got hit by a car.’
‘How would that be not using his brain?’
‘Because he was pissed when he staggered into the road.’
Realisation in dawning, and it is dawning very fast. I stepped into the road on Friday. I was also drunk. ‘Carmichael isn’t the only reason you don’t talk to your parents, is he?’ I ask.
‘No, the fact I’m responsible for my brother’s death is a major contributing factor.’ He says it with no emotion at all, almost sarcastically. The resentment is gushing from him. ‘Carmichael and The Manor came after and kind of put the nail in the coffin.’
‘Jake was their favourite?’ I hate saying that. It makes me angry to think it, but I’m slowly working this out. I don’t know Jesse’s family, and I have no desire to after he told me that they’re ashamed of him and the lifestyle he led. But all of this is telling me that the rift isn’t just a result of The Manor.
‘Jake was everything they wanted from a son. I wasn’t. I tried to be. I studied, but it didn’t come as naturally to me as it did to Jake.’
‘But he wanted to be like you?’
‘He wanted the small piece of freedom I gained through being considered the one with the least potential. All of their attention was focused on Jake, the genius—the one they could be proud of. Jake would go to Oxford. Jake would make his first million before he was twenty one. Jake would marry a well-bred English girl and breed well-spoken, polite, clever children.’ He pauses. ‘Except Jake didn’t want any of that. He wanted to choose the direction of his own life and the tragic thing is, he would’ve chosen well on his own.’
‘So what happened?’ I’m so intrigued. He’s really in his flow now.
‘There was a house party. You know, full of drink, girls and… opportunities.’
Yes, I know, and I bet Jesse was a regular at these house parties.
‘We were coming up to our seventeenth. We were prepping for our finals, ready for the Oxford application. Of course, it was my idea.’
‘What?’ I’m not sure I like where this tale is heading, but I know I’m going to find out.
‘To go out and be teenagers, get away from the constant grind of studying and to stop trying to live up to our parents expectations. I knew I’d pay for it, but I was prepared to face my parent’s wrath. We were going to have a few drinks together, like brothers. I wanted to spend some time with him, like normal kids. It was just one night. I never expected to pay so severely.’
My heart is breaking for him. I pull myself from my snug place in his neck and sit up. I need to see his face. ‘You got carried away?’
His eyebrows shoot up. ‘Me? No! I’d had a few, but Jake was throwing back shots like he’d never drink again. I virtually carried him out of that house, then it all came out. How much he hated the suffocation, how he didn’t want to go to Oxford. We made a pact.’ He smiles mildly, fondly. ‘We agreed to tell our parents together that we didn’t want to do it anymore. We wanted to make our own decisions based on our dreams, not based on what would impress the snotty fuckers who my mum and dad socialised with.’ Now he really smiles. ‘He wanted to race motorbikes, but that was considered uncouth and common. Reckless.’ His eyes clench shut and re-open, and he loses his beam. ‘I’d never seem him so happy at the thought of rebelling with me, doing what we wanted for once, not what we were told to do. And then he walked out into the road.’ He keeps his eyes on mine, gaging my reaction. He wants to know if I think it’s his fault.
‘You can’t be held responsible.’ I’m feeling a bit mad.
He smiles and brushes my hair from my face. ‘I’m held responsible because I am responsible. I shouldn’t have dragged Jake off the perfect path. The stupid idiot shouldn’t have listened to me.’
‘It doesn’t sound like you dragged him anywhere.’ I counter.
‘He wouldn’t be dead, Ava. What if…’
‘No, Jesse. Don’t think like that. Life is full of what ifs. What if your parents didn’t suffocated you? What if you stood up sooner and said enough?’
‘What if I’d have played ball?’ His face is straight. This is a question he has asked himself repeatedly and never found the answer to.
I’m about to give it to him.
‘You would never have found me.’ I can feel my emotions squeezing at my vocal cords. ‘And I would never have found you.’ I whisper, the very thought finishing me. Tears start streaming down my face. It’s unthinkable. Unbearable. Everything happens for a reason and if Jake was still alive, then I’ve no doubt that Jesse’s life would have taken a different direction, and then we would never have found each other. I’ve said this because the silly thought mulling around in his crazy head might just soften the torment.
His head rests back, and he looks at my tummy. ‘Everything that’s happened in my life has led me to you, Ava. It’s taken forever, but I’ve finally found where I belong.’
I grab his hand and hold it against my stomach. ‘With me and these two little people.’
His eyes drift up my body and his other hand grabs my waist, pulling me down. ‘With you and those two little people.’ he confirms. ‘Our little people.’
Jesse’s reaction to our news is understandable now, and the more he speaks of his parents, the more I dislike them. The unreasonable need to keep up appearances tore their family apart. ‘What about Amalie?’ I ask.
‘Amalie would marry well and be a good wife and mother, and I believe she might have fulfilled her obligation. It said Doctor David, didn’t it?’
‘There you are, then.’ His tone carries an air of bitterness which I can’t help but feel, too.
I don’t want to ever meet Jesse’s parents. My mind is building up an image of a stuffy English gentleman with a pocket watch, a shotgun and some plaid trousers tucked into wellington boots. That would be Jesse’s Dad. His Mum? Probably a two-piece wearing lady, with a set of real pearls and an extra stiff upper lip, who only serves tea in proper English bone china at the correct time of day. I bet it has to be Earl Grey, too. I smile on the inside at the thought of their faces and Jesse’s constant cursing. And The Manor. He really did go all out after Jake died, like he was on a defiance mission to make up for Jake’s absence; like, in a weird kind of way, he was avenging his brother’s death. He was doubling up on the delinquencies, making up for Jake’s absence and ensuring he didn’t break the pact. Although I hope to God Jesse’s dream wasn’t to become a hedonistic playboy. His interest in superbikes is clear now, though.
‘You started spending more time with Carmichael after Jake’s death?’
‘I did. Carmichael knew the score. He’d been through it himself with my Granddad.’ His hands slip all over my back. ‘Are you comfy?’
‘Yes, I’m fine.’ I brush off his concern quickly, wanting him to continue.
‘It was a relief. I escaped the daily reminder that Jake wasn’t with me anymore, and I distracted myself with jobs that my uncle gave me around The Manor.’ He shifts a little. ‘Are you sure you’re comfy?’
‘I’m bloody comfy!’ I tweak his nipple, and he laughs. This is good. He’s at ease sharing this with me.
‘She’s comfy.’ he muses.
‘She is. What jobs did you do?’
‘Everything. I’d collect the glasses in the bar, mow the lawns. My Dad went through the roof, but I didn’t let him stop me. Then they announced that we were moving to Spain.’
‘And you refused to go.’
‘Yes, I hadn’t ventured into the rooms of The Manor at that point. I was still a Manor virgin.’ He’s grinning, I know he is. ‘But on my eighteenth birthday, Carmichael let me loose in the bar. Worst thing he could’ve done. I slipped right in. It came naturally. Too naturally.’ I look up at him. The grin has gone. ‘If simply being at The Manor took my mind away from all of my troubles, then being drunk and having sex at The Manor eliminated them completely.’