“Hunter, can we come in?” I heard my mother ask. I looked up from the pages sprawled out in front of me then saw my mom’s head peeking through the slightly ajar door. I saw a figure lurking behind her so there was definitely someone else, most likely my father. The two of them were inseparable at work so I’d be surprised if it was anyone else.
“Come in.” I permitted them. My mother sauntered into my small office followed by my father, unsurprisingly. I put down my work and prepared myself to hear whatever they wanted to talk to me about.
“Anything I can help you guys with?”
“We need to talk.” My mother said those words but immediately turned to my father. I had no idea what my parents were planning but I prepared myself for anything they could throw at me right now. We were at work so maybe it was about the electronic division I was running.
“We’ve received some alarming calls from our clients about the way you’re conducting business with them. This is not the first time though. We’ve received multiple complaints from clients over these past few months about you and we’ve also lost a few of our old clients because of this.” I wasn’t surprised by this. I knew that I had been strict and stern about the way I worked these few months but I needed to be. I rechecked most of my contracts and noticed that we were not getting enough profit to grow in the coming years.
“Let me ask you this then; how much money has this division made the company over the past… say 5 months?” I challenged them.
“Hunter, this is not about the money. This is about the way you’re conducting business and the person you’re turning into.” My mother gently told me. Her tone might’ve been sincere but her words were definitely threatening.
“We know that you’ve gone through something terrible…” My father immediately struck a nerve there.
“No. Don’t you dare even think about mentioning what happened to Stella right now.”
“Look, we’re not here to attack you. We just want to know what’s going on?” I saw their tactic now. My mother was playing the ‘good cop’ role while my father was the more aggressively blunt ‘bad cop’.
“Nothing’s going on. I’m just doing my job.” Both of them looked like they were saddened by something.
“That’s not how we do business here. You’re treating clients like they’re just numbers. Yes, this is a business at the end of the day but what makes us different is that we build long lasting relationships with all our clients and not just throw them away when they can’t meet our standards anymore. You’ve changed and not for the better.” I could hear the disappointment in my father’s voice and it definitely made me feel like less of a man but that didn’t mean that I couldn’t work on being better.
“I’m sorry about this son but we’re going to have to let you go.” Wait what?
“Are you guys seriously firing me?” This has to be a joke or maybe I heard wrong.
“It’s for your own good sweetie.” Wow, okay. This was not what I was expecting but I guess I should’ve. My parents always wanted what’s best for me but firing me? How is that what’s best for me? If this was some form of ‘tough love’ then I was not going to be apart of it. If they don’t want me in the family business anymore then I wasn’t going to give them a chance to kick me out of the family as well.
“Fine. Whatever you guys want. I’ll get out of your lives before you get anymore complaints.” I grabbed my sling bag then stood up and began packing up my personal belongings.
“Hunter, we don’t want…”
“I don’t care what you guys want anymore.” I cut my mother off before securing my bag on my left shoulder.
“Hunter, wait.” My mom told me as I walked out from behind my desk.
“For what mom? What more do you guys want to take from me? I have nothing left.” I saw the tears forming by my mother’s eyes but it only evoked anger out of me. Why the hell is she crying when they fired me?
I continued my journey to the door then walked out but immediately bumped into Naomi in the hallway. My anger was instantly joined by irritation once I saw her. She had a habit of appearing at the most inopportune times.
“You certainly woke up on the wrong side of the bed today.” I was seriously in no mood for her right now.
“Whatever.” I slid past her and began walking down the hallway. I was glad that she wasn’t following me which meant that she had other business to deal with besides irritating me. I honestly couldn’t care less.
In less than half an hour I found myself at home again. The once relieving pathway up to the house I grew up in now turned into one of my most hated journeys I’ve had to endure. I entered the building and immediately made my way up to my room. I grabbed a suitcase out of my cupboard and quickly began shoveling clothes in it before any thoughts could deter my angered mind.
“Hunter, I thought I heard the front door.” Mrs. Davenport appeared in my doorway then began watching me. “What are you doing?”
“Packing a bag.”
“I can see that. Why are you packing a bag?”
“I’m moving out.”
“I think you’re going to need another bag then.” Mrs. D’s humor didn’t evoke any sort of reaction out of me. All she did was just add fuel to my already burning anger.
“Not even a smile. What happened?” Her apologetic tone seemed to calm me down a bit. Why couldn’t I bring myself to just ignore Mrs. D? Maybe it was because she was like my grandmother or maybe it’s because we were always open and honest with each other no matter what happened.
“I got fired.”
“You got fired? How? It’s basically your company so how can you get fired?” Looks like I wasn’t the only one shocked by my parent’s decision.
“You can ask my parents when they come home.”
“Wait, where are you going to live if you’re moving out?”
“I bought a house.” I didn’t know if Mrs. D was more surprised at my casual tone or my answer or maybe both.
“You bought a house? When did you buy a house?”
“A couple of months ago. It was supposed to be a surprise engagement present for Stella but then… well she’s gone and it has been standing empty so I guess I’ll finally use it.” Painful regret immediately began announcing itself alongside my anger. Every single time I mentioned Stella’s name made me want to break something then fall down and let the earth swallow me.
“Hunter, I understand what you’re going through but I don’t think you should move out. I know you’re angry but just stay until they come home then you guys can calmly talk about this.”
“I’ve made my decision Mrs. D. I can’t live under the same roof as them anymore, not after this. They’ve ruled my life for too long and I’m not going to allow them to anymore.”
“But that doesn’t mean you have to move out.”
“Honestly Mrs. D, with the amount of anger I’m feeling right now, I don’t know what’s stopping me from moving to a different continent right now.” My broody tone contained all the unsweetened emotions coursing through my mind.
“Are you sure you know what you’re doing?” I zipped up the suitcase and grabbed the handles before turning to Mrs. D.
“I have no idea what I’m doing but I know that I can’t stay here anymore.” She stopped me by my door and put her hand to my cheek as she gave me a sorrowful smile.
“Be careful.” I appreciated her concern but all I wanted to do was get out of that house as quickly as possible.
“I know your parents don’t want pets in the house but I think that they would make an exception for Buddy.” Mr O’Connor stated when Buddy and I entered their home that evening. We’d gone for a stroll in the park but the little pug didn’t seem like himself as usual. Ever since Stella passed away, Buddy just didn’t seem like he had energy for the things he loved to do. It’s like the joy inside him faded away but I understood that feeling all too well. Joy seemed to be a long forgotten memory in my mind as well.
“He belongs here.” I replied. I unleashed the calm animal then watched him stagger to the couch and struggle to jump up the piece of furniture before settling down the plushy cushion.
“The only time he does anything besides lay on that couch or eat is when you come to fetch him.” Looks like everyone was missing Stella.
“I’m moving to my own place so maybe I’ll take him, if you really think that’s the best decision.” I made my way over to the dining table he was sitting around while completing a crossword puzzle in the newspaper. I’ve seen the older man do it before and he was really good at it from what I witnessed.
“I think it’s what’s best for both of you. You and Stella raised him from when he was a puppy so you should continue caring for him, Stella would want you to.” I turned to the animal moping on the couch and reluctantly smiled at him. I had great memories of the 3 of us just having fun together so having him reminding me of those happier times is something I definitely felt like I needed in my life right now.
“It’s a good thing Stella chose a house with a big backyard then. I’m pretty sure she wanted it for any future children but I’m sure she wouldn’t mind our first child using it.” That brought a smile to Mr O’Connor’s serious face.
“I didn’t know you guys bought a house already. I know you spoke about moving in with Stella but I didn’t think you meant that quickly.”
“Stella chose the house and she loved it so I was going to surprise her with it.”
“What surprise?” Mrs O’Connor asked as she came out of the kitchen carrying what smelled like her lasagna dish. “And don’t bother trying to make up an excuse to leave because you’re having dinner with us.”
“I would never give up the opportunity to taste your lasagna.” I flashed Mrs O’Connor a smile before she turned around and went back to the kitchen. I heard a scurrying of feet before I felt Buddy snake his way between my legs before resting on my feet. Looks like he couldn’t miss the opportunity for some lasagna as well.
“So, what surprise were you planning?” Mrs O’Connor continued as she set a plate in front of me with a knife and fork.
“I wanted Stella and I to move in together but into our own place. She found a house that she loved so I bought it for her as a surprise. I couldn’t get to surprise her with it but I am moving into it today.” I answered her as she began dishing for everyone.
“Why are you moving out of your parents’ house?”
“They fired me from the company.”
“Can they do that? You are next in line to take over the business.” Mr O’Connor certainly had a point there.
“Apparently they can and I finally realized that I don’t need them. I have my own house and I can get a job easily so I really don’t care about them.” I began eating the homely meal and tried to enjoy it despite everything else that was going on in my life.
“Hunter, are you okay?” Mrs O’Connor’s sincere expression seemed to quell the rage burning inside me. I felt protected and loved as I sat around the table with Stella’s parents and that made me want to open up to them.
“I don’t think that I’ll ever be able to be ‘okay’ again. After Stella… all I had was my job and you guys. Now I’m just lost all over again and the only people I can turn to are you guys. I’m not okay but knowing that I can always come here makes things easier.” Both of them stared at each other, probably having a wordless conversation with each other to decide what to do next. I grabbed a mouthful of lasagna from my plate in my hand then lowered it down to my legs where Buddy quickly began eating it.
“If you keep feeding him like that then he is going to become fat.” Mr O’Connor lightly joked. Buddy was already quite chubby but I made sure that he got enough exercise and his health is pretty good so I wasn’t too worried about him.
“Stella was worse than me. She would’ve dished him his own plate already.” That got us smiling again.
“Hunter, there’s something we need to tell you.” Mrs O’Connor stated causing our playful atmosphere to turn into a more serious one again.
“We’re moving to my brother’s farm upcountry in a couple of months.” If my heart could’ve sunk any further than it already has then it just did. I would’ve been surprised if this wasn’t exactly the way things were going for me at the moment. Everyone I loved either left me or abandoned me so I guess it was just a continuing pattern.
“I know that you’re going through a lot right now and we’ll always be here for you but this is something that Mrs O’Connor and I both need as well.” Mr O’Connor’s words brought little comfort but it did bring understanding.
“I can’t even begin to understand what you guys went through losing a child and I appreciate that you guys helped me through my grief so if this is something that you guys need to do then I support you and you can always count on me as well.”
“We may have lost our daughter but you will always be our son as well. You’ve practically been living here from the first day you met Stella so you’re definitely part of our family.” The memory of Stella and I meeting immediately played in my head and I couldn’t fight the smile appearing on my lips.
“So are you guys going to become farmers?” I asked them as I got a friendly conversation started again. All I wanted to do now was have a nice dinner with my other parents. I didn’t want any more surprises or decisions.
An irritatingly loud banging against the front door stole my sleep from me. I opened my eyes to my new dark room and unenthusiastically stood up. I stole a glance at my clock and saw that it was just after 9 in the morning. My irritation immediately turned into confusion. I didn’t tell anyone where I was living now because I wanted to be alone. Why couldn’t the universe just let me have my way for once? It already took everything else from me so why did it have to ruin my plans once again?
“Morning Buddy.” I greeted the small creature as he strolled towards me. I slowly bent down and picked him up once he reached me. The banging on the front door persisted, reminding me of why I got out of bed in the first place. I made my way down the stairs while Buddy snuggled against my chest. It felt nice having his warmth against me right now. It wasn’t exactly cold but I just got out of bed and I was shirtless.
“Took you long enough.” She was the last person I would’ve expected to be outside my house right now. Hell, she wasn’t even on my list of possible people.
“Wow, we haven’t seen each other in nearly 2 years and that’s how you greet your family? I think I’ll just let myself in.” She walked past me into the house so I closed my door and followed her.
“What are you doing here?” She dropped her bag down on the couch and walked to the kitchen.
“Can’t your cousin drop by to come visit every once in a while?” She began opening my empty cupboards clearly looking for something. “Where is everything?”
“I don’t have anything. I just moved in last night so all I have is my clothes and Buddy’s things.” I put the pug on the floor again then went over to one of the bottom cupboards and took out the huge bag of dog food that Mr O’Connor gave me.
“Seriously? How did you expect to live here?”
“I was going to buy everything I needed this morning.” I began making Buddy’s food in his bowl then put the bowl down on the floor next to him.
“You are honestly the most hopeless person I know.”
“You know, you haven’t answered my question. What are you doing here?” I turned to her once I saw Buddy eating.
“I did answer you.”
“Answering a question with another question doesn’t count.” I raised my eyebrow at her as my mind raced with possibilities as to why she would be here.
“Your parents wanted me to find you. Apparently you went all MIA for some reason and no one knew where you were.” That explained everything actually. I guess it makes sense that my parents would call Harper. Besides Harper being my cousin and like my older sister, her father owned a cyber security company which she now led with her husband so finding people was an everyday thing for her.
“Did you tell them where I am?”
“Not yet. I came straight here to find out the story first. Despite being an idiot, you won’t just leave without telling anyone if you didn’t have a good reason.” That made me happier. This is why I liked Harper; she might be bossy, irritating and abusive at times but we understood each other and were always there for each other even when we didn’t want to be in each other’s presence.
“So what’s the reason?” This is not the first conversation I expected to have when I woke up this morning but my life was nothing if not unpredictably catastrophic.
“My parents fired me.” My answer left her more confused than anything.
“So you moved out?”
“You’re as stupidly complicated as always.” She sighed then made her way to the couches and threw herself down on one. “Go get dressed so that we can get breakfast and start making this place an actual home I can spend the night in.”
“Spend the night?”
“Are you kicking me out already?” This time it was her turn to raise her eyebrow at me.
“It’s way too early for this.” I ended the conversation then slowly sauntered up the stairs to my room. I opened the blinds in my room to let the sunlight in but I was surprised that it was actually not that bright outside. It was the last month of winter so I shouldn’t have been that surprised. I got dressed and washed my face before heading back down to Harper.
“In addition to cutlery and décor for this house, you can add clothes to that list.” Harper stated as she stood up and grabbed a small purse that she no doubt had in her bag.
“Most of my clothes are still at my parents’ house.”
“Yeah, no. You might as well throw those clothes away.”
“Do you do this to our other cousins as well? Just pop in and start rearranging their lives?”
“I don’t need to. Their have their crap sorted out. You on the other hand don’t even have toilet paper to take a crap in your house.” She had a point there but I was going to do all that shopping today.
“Let’s just get this over and done with.” I was already tired of shopping with Harper and we haven’t even begun yet. She exited the house so I followed behind her and locked the door.
“My car is bigger.” Harper hurled her keys towards me then go into the passenger side. Her car was bigger but she needed it since she had her son I suppose.
“It’s your car so logically you should be the one driving.”
“I drove all the way here to make sure that your dumbass didn’t die so you get to drive us around now.” Why Harper and I even got along was a mystery to me right now but I knew that fighting her about this would do more harm than good. I started her car and began making my way into town.
“How’s your husband and son doing?” I decided to make conversation while we drove so that an awkward silence didn’t suffocate us.
“Reuben is struggling.”
“He’s trying to lead the company without me and still be there for me and our child. He’s wearing himself out so I told him to take today and the weekend off and just be here and have a break.”
“At least he is putting in the effort.”
“I know but he really doesn’t have to try that hard.”
“Have you told him that?”
“Hell no. If I tell him that then he goes back to being just as lazy as you are.”
“Point taken.” I agreed as we chuckled. “How’s baby Austin doing?”
“He’s sleeping through the night thankfully but he is a handful. He pushes himself up now and walks as long as he can hold onto something so I’ve just been trying to make our house more baby friendly.”
“Looks like he’s going to fit in perfectly with the rest of the guys in the family.” I couldn’t help but laugh at that while Harper playfully punched me.
“He’s your responsibility for the weekend then.”
“When are they coming?”
“Later this afternoon. That reminds me, we need to buy some baby things.”
“As long as you’re paying.”
“You’re his uncle, just do something good for him.” Playing the family card, smart move.
“I don’t like you anymore.”
“The feeling is mutual.” We looked at each other and burst out laughing. This is why I enjoyed spending time with Harper, we could just be stupid with each other no matter what.
“Why are there so many cars?” I asked Harper as I parked my car in the street outside my parents’ house later that afternoon.
“Oh, I forgot to mention that the family is coming down for the weekend.” No matter how innocently she tried to sound, I knew that she purposefully left out that important piece of information. “In my defense, you wouldn’t have come home otherwise.”
“Why don’t you sleep here then?”
“Because I don’t wanna be surrounded by our irritating family.”
“Me too.” I agreed. We made our way up the path and I allowed Harper to enter the house first.
“Hey guys.” Harper greeted our cousins. They lounged around on the couches and I was actually surprised to see that all of them were here.
“Now we’re all together again.” Scott stated. He was one half of the terrible twins who were always up to no good. Their younger siblings, Nathan and Cleo, were a complete contrast to them. They were so calm compared to their outrageous brothers.
“Hunter, you know where your parents keep their wine right?” Shadley, the other half of the twins, asked me. Yep, they were definitely up to no good.
“It’s good to see you guys too.” I replied.
“I heard about what happened to Stella, I can’t imagine what you might’ve gone through.” That was Harper’s younger brother, Justin. He could get as rowdy as the twins but he was always respectful and often turned out to be the voice of reason between us. He stood up and awkwardly gave me a hug.
“Life happens I suppose.” I didn’t want to think about Stella right now. She was always on my mind but
I just wanted to get through today without bursting into tears.
“Hey, no sadness today.” Harper ordered us. She had taken the last seat on the couches and made herself more comfortable so she clearly wasn’t planning on doing anything for the rest of the day.
“Hunter, connect the console please.” Rider, Harper’s youngest brother, instructed me. If there was one thing everyone know about him was that he loved playing games.
“Your brothers can help you with that. I have to go face the music I suppose.” I replied.
“Glad it’s you and not us this time.” Scott and Shadley shared a laugh at that which brought a smile to my face. I heard laughter in the backyard so that had to be where our parents were.
“Looks like you survived a night on your own.” Mrs D said when I entered the kitchen. She was preparing a couple of drinks by the counter when I stepped inside.
“Now I just have to do the same for the rest of my life.” A smile appeared on her face as I went over to her and gave her a hug.
“I’ll give you a month. If you can survive a month on your own then I think you can do it.”
“Challenge accepted.” I looked outside the window to see who exactly was outside. I saw my father’s brothers and their wives and I could hear my parent’s voice but I definitely heard other people as well.
“Now that I am not living here anymore, you don’t have to work here I guess. By the time you arrive in the morning then my parents are already gone and their unpredictable hours mean that you might be wasting your time cooking dinner. They’re old enough to look after themselves as well.”
“With that logic, I would’ve left years ago. I didn’t stay here just because of you.” That made me happier for some reason. I knew I wasn’t the nicest child to her growing up but Mrs D always felt like part of our family so I was glad to hear that she would stay around.
“Does that mean that I can pop in for lunch regularly?”
“That would probably be the only time you eat a proper meal.”
“Probably true.” I agreed as we laughed.
“Take these drinks to your grandparents outside.” My happiness immediately faded and left a sinking pit in my gut.
“My grandparents are here?” I asked again, hoping for a different outcome.
“They called in the big guns to sort out your family problem.” Definitely the big guns. If my grandparents were here then this was turning out to be a bigger issue than it should’ve been but, honestly, I wasn’t going to back down just because they were here. I respected and loved my grandparents but there was nothing they could say that would deter my feelings towards my parents right now.