The Brown Siblings: NEVER ENOUGH by LAUREN DANE
Copyright 2011, Lauren Dane
All Rights Reserved, The Berkley Publishing Group
Erin knew when she saw the woman had dug herself into a place and built a life. Knew a woman like this wasn’t the type to be looking to con her brother into a payoff to keep her quiet. A family lived in this house and had for a long time.
There were lawyers involved now. They’d built a moat around Adrian, which Erin approved of. Her brother was a good-hearted man, and she wanted him to be protected.
At the same time, Erin felt like the process was spinning out of control, into acrimony where perhaps none was needed.
So she’d left Alexander with Ben and Todd, who had finally relented to let her go see Gillian after they’d gone over her background check once more. And she’d gotten on the ferry and set about seeing Gillian for herself.
From the other side of the door Erin heard Kings of Leon and smiled despite herself. One of Adrian’s favorite bands. A sign perhaps.
Erin knocked and heard the sound of someone moving toward the front door.
And that was the first time Erin clapped eyes on Gillian Forrester.
Pretty. Dark hair. Bangs that fringed big brown eyes. Her lips drew into a bow, complete with dimple at the far corner of her mouth. Petite, she wore flats and a pair of ridiculously adorable skinny-legged pants with a lovely cream-colored sweater.
Her smile was warm for several moments. “Yes?”
“I’m Erin Brown. Adrian’s sister.”
The easy smile went away, replaced by a calm façade. “Why are you here? You’re not supposed to contact me. Your brother made sure I knew this when he had his lawyers inform me so. In writing. Served by my attorney. It was a lovely memory.”
Erin knew she deserved this anger on one level. Adrian was so nervous and thrown off balance by this he’d pulled away from everyone and had been writing music nonstop. Erin and Brody had agreed to let him until they got the answers they needed. But this woman, if she was telling the truth, had taken a huge risk and had received nothing but grief in return.
“I wanted to see you myself. Wanted to see if perhaps I couldn’t smooth the way a little should the test come back positive. May I come in? He’s not here, is he? I checked the middle school schedule and he’s not due home until after three. That really sounds stalkery of me. I just wanted to be sure . . . well, naturally I’d love to meet him, but I wouldn’t do it without arranging it with you in advance.”
“He’s not here, no. He has math club after school today so I have to run to pick him up later on.”
Erin took a step into the house and saw them. Pictures of the boy all over the walls. It was a punch to the gut, just how much he looked like Alexander. And Adrian. A sense of longing to know him and give him the Brown love he’d been missing.
But also the realization that if Erin was in this woman’s place, she’d be freaked the fuck out.
“And I can see the test will come back positive. Christ.” She dug in her bag and pulled out a small photo album. “This is my son, Alexander.”
Gillian leaned forward and her eyes widened a little. “He’s beautiful. Is this recent?”
“This one was just two weeks ago. Miles is clearly my nephew. One only has to look at him to see it. My god. He looks so much like Brody here.” She moved to one where the boy must have been eight or nine, holding a cat, grinning at the camera.
“That’s Fat Lucy, she’s only one of his strays. We have four cats he’s picked up along the way. A turtle. We had a dog but he passed on two years ago.”
In that face, Erin saw love. So much love she felt a deep affinity for the woman. This was a mother and Erin wanted her to know she wouldn’t threaten that.
“He brings home stray animals?”
Gillian’s smile was back. “Yeah. He’s hopeless and I am weak against it. He’s just got so much love to give.” She focused on Erin, intent. “This is why I went to your brother. How can I keep him all to myself?”
Erin ached for her, at the same time being very grateful the woman loved that child so much she’d risk a great deal by bringing him to his father. Who then yelled in her face multiple times.
“Can I come in? Have a cup of coffee? I want to know you. I want to hear about Miles. Please.”
“Come in. I’ll put on a pot of tea.” Gillian turned and led the way through the sunny house toward the kitchen. Erin got the chance to devour every detail of the place. Pictures on the walls. Most of mom and son, some of others Erin gathered were extended family or friends.
A grand piano dominated the family room. Music played through the in-house speaker system.
The kitchen had a large table in the nook space. “Have a seat, I’ll get the kettle on.” She began to bustle around. “Or I can make coffee if you like.”
“Tea would be lovely, thank you.”
Gillian sat across from Erin, putting a plate with assorted cookies and crackers out. “Biscuits. Erm, cookies.” She laughed.
“We lived in London for two months once. Way back at the beginning. Enough for me to get a craving for real malt vinegar crisps every once in a while.” Erin took a cookie but didn’t eat it. “Tell me about him.”
Gillian’s smile was back, warm and a little shy. “Miles just turned thirteen and he’s often on the tussle between acting forty and sometimes, infuriatingly thirteen. Surly. Sullen. Snappy.” Gillian rolled her eyes, amused affection on her face. “He’s a great kid. Smart, though he can be lazy and I have to be on him to get his homework turned in. Musical. Which isn’t a surprise really. He’s rather sweet. There are three girls who call here all the time and he doesn’t seem to know what to do with all the female attention.”
Gillian poured out as she spoke.
“Works hard, especially on things he loves like music or animals. Rarely gives me a problem except he grows out of his shoes every few months. He started walking late. Liked to snuggle in next to me and found no reason to get up and go anywhere.”
Erin sipped, liking this woman more by the moment. Charmed by the way she spoke about Miles. So totally in love with the boy.
“Gentle. Not very athletic, I’m afraid. He tried for a while and then found computers and games more to his liking. Reading. Writing stories. Music. He’s in a band, you know. With his friends. They’re quite earnest and sometimes they’re even good.”
“Yeah? We started early too. I was seventeen when we started Mud Bay. We played music together for years before that. Brody raised us, you know.”
Gillian shook her head. “No, I didn’t know. I’m aware Adrian believes I am some sort of petty thief out to steal from him in an elaborate game wherein I get his money without actually asking for it. But I don’t know a lot about you and your family.”
Erin cringed, wishing she could explain all the shit Adrian had to shovel and why it made him so suspicious of strangers. “He doesn’t really think that. Brody, well, let me tell you the story and then I’ll fill in the other details.
“My parents died when Brody was seventeen. He’d been pretty much raising us as it was. He’s the one I have all the big childhood memories with. Anyway, our parents died when I was fourteen and Adrian was eleven. We had some distant family who’d agreed to take us. But only one each. Brody gave up his place at art school, stepped in and took over. He’s my big brother, yes, but in a very real sense, he’s my father. He’s definitely Adrian’s. They have a complicated relationship, but Brody runs a tight ship and Brody has been on your side since day one. Adrian listened to Brody and now we’re here. He’ll be glad he did; Brody is rarely wrong. Which’d be annoying if he wasn’t such an all-around great guy.”
Because he understood, perhaps, what it meant to be a parent, no matter how it came to you.
“Anyway, Adrian really doesn’t believe all the stupid stuff he’s said. I think he’s afraid this isn’t real. Afraid to get his hopes up and then find out Miles isn’t his after all. You really don’t know how glad I’m going to be to tell him how utterly certain I am that is not the case. I hope you’ll give us a chance, even with the rocky beginnings. I know we might look out of the ordinary, but past the funky hair and the tattoos, we’re just like many other families. We love each other and we want to love Miles too.”
“You have a lot of money. And a lot of power. I don’t have either. I’m trying to do what’s right for my child, but it scares me senseless that Adrian has the ability to tie me up in court and try to take my son.”
Erin nodded. She reached out and squeezed Gillian’s hand. Just a brief, reassuring touch. “I’d be freaked out too, in your place. I can’t take all that fear away. I hope that’ll happen once Miles and Adrian meet and you get to know us better. But we’re not the bad guys. I can’t say I’m thrilled about your sister not telling anyone for so long. But you can’t own other people’s mistakes. I’ve learned that one, big time.”
Gillian found it easy to talk to Erin . It was, well, it was lovely that this woman wanted to know Miles. Her reassurances did indeed help too.
She began to loosen up for the first time since she’d opened the door. She talked about Miles. Told stories about his life as Erin began to unfurl her own, and through that, Adrian’s too.
It was simply impossible not to like Erin Brown.
Today’s prize is a signed copy of NEVER ENOUGH. I’ll choose the winner from the comments to this post and announce it tomorrow, Monday April 16.