Robert Sugden gripped the steering wheel and breathed out slowly trying to steady his heart rate as he drove past the sign saying Welcome to Emmerdale. There was no reason to be scared of a village. This was a fresh start. It wouldn’t be like before. He'd make it work this time.
Robert had only been back to the village once since he left at the age of sixteen. That had been four years ago when his father had died. He'd sat on the bridge and watched as his siblings and step mother cried for a man he hated.
When he pulled up outside The Woolpack he was still gripping the steering wheel so hard his knuckles were white. Robert looked up at the famous pub. He let out a shaky breath. It looked exactly the same.
Five minutes later and Robert had finally pulled himself together enough to climb out of his Porsche and make his way inside. Inside was warm and smelt of ale and gravy. A few people were scattered around sipping on their afternoon beers although Robert was fortunate enough not to see anyone he knew. He stuffed his hands in his pocket and made his way to the bar. After a minute or two of no sign of service Robert was about to call out for someone when a brunette walked out laughing.
Roberts heart stopped. He knew that laugh. His sister had been sixteen the last time he'd seen her but she looked no different apart from less acne and more blonde highlights. Just as Roberts heart started up it stopped once again when he saw the tiny hand in hers, a toddler's hand. He stood frozen staring at the tiny curly haired child when someone asked "Robert?".
Robert looked up at the sound of his sister saying his name. She looked shocked. "Oh my god it is you!" She exclaimed, a large grin spreading across her face. She swiped the little boy next to her up into her arms and rushed around to him, wrapping her other, child free, arm around him.
"What are you doing here! My god look how tall you are now, and buff too, someone's been working out!" She pulled away from him still smiling.
"Surprise" Robert managed to say still taken aback by the sight of his teenage sister with a baby. Did he have another nephew nobody had bothered to mention? Victoria was the only one he'd stayed in touch with, surly she would have mentioned having a baby in one of their monthly phone calls. "Who- who's this?" He stuttered out pointing to the boy with bright blue eyes.
Confusion crossed Victoria's face before she understood. "Oh! This is Mason" she laughed "he's not mine calm down, he's my … nephew I suppose, I'm babysitting him for a little while".
Robert let out a sigh of relief. No more nephews and no teenage pregnancy. Everything was good.
"But you mister-" she continued, poking him in the chest "- still haven't answered my question. What are you doing here? Is this just a flying visit?"
"I hope not. I'm planning to stick around for a while"
Vic's grin grew wider and Robert was worried her face was going to split in two. It looked like she about to start squealing again but then the little boy spoke up quietly. "Auntie Ick, I'm hungry" he whispered before turning his face away bashfully.
"Okie dokie" she told him setting him down on the floor and taking his hand. She turned back to Robert and pointed aggressively "you are coming back to mine and telling me everything!" She ordered before she was marching out of the pub with the expectation of Robert to follow which he did. He followed her with a small smile tugging on his lips. He was home.
It was dark by the time Adam Barton and Aaron Dingle arrived back in the village, three family sized pizzas in hand.
"You really think she's gonna like it mate?" Adam asked for what felt like the hundredth time "you think she's going to say yes?"
Aaron rolled his eyes, slamming the car door behind him, "you've asked me this about a billion times, what did I say last time?"
"That we're too young" Adam said in a mocking voice causing Aaron to roll his eyes yet again.
"Says the twenty-year-old with a toddler" Adam interrupted him mid-sentence with a laugh.
"Haha. Very funny. What did I say after that, and every other time you've asked me that same question in the last hour? Yes, Adam she's gonna love it".
This made his best friend grin and Aaron face twitched into a mischievous smile "and if she hates it and dumps yeah then you always have me, eh bud" he said patting Adam on the back as they walked through the front door.
"Honey I'm home!" Adam called out in a loud sing-song voice, pulling off his moody boots. Aaron copied him before following him down the short corridor and into the kitchen. As soon as he was in the room Aarons eyes scanned the room for any sight of a hyperactive three-year-old in need of a haircut.
It took him only two seconds to spot his son sat at the coffee table, a large bowl of something in front of him. Something that would no doubt keep him up all night and leave sticky stains on his face and clothes. He spun around at the sound of Adam and Aaron entering the room.
The kid's chocolate covered face lit up at the sight of them. "UNCLE ADAM!" He screamed, dropping his spoon and rushing over to him. Adam dropped the three pizza boxes onto the sofa just in time to pick him up and hoist him up above his head. "MASON!" He mimicked.
"What about me!" Aaron asked in a scandalized voice "what am I, chopped liver? Not like I gave you life or anything". Aaron reached over and started tickling his son who was giggling and wriggling in Adams arms.
"Godfather beats out actual father every time, right Mase?" Adam asked.
Movement in the armchair across the room made Aaron tense up. He looked over Adams shoulder and saw a tall blonde stranger sat there. He wore expensive looking jeans, a knitted jumper with elbow patches and shirt underneath and behind him there was a leather jacket slung across the back of the chair.
"Who are you?" Aaron asked, immediately on the defensive. This man had been here with his son and Aaron wanted to know why.
"Adam, Aaron, this is my big brother Robert" Victoria introduced them, coming in from the kitchen with plates and a bottle of wine, "Robert this is my boyfriend Adam Barton and our friend Aaron Dingle, he's Masons dad".
Robert stood up and took two steps towards them. Aaron took Mason from Adam as Robert reached out and shook Adams hand. Aaron gripped Mason closer to his chest wanting to feel him close even though he was most likely getting his coat all sticky.
"So, you’re the one my sisters been banging on about" Robert asked Adam, not hiding his judging stare.
"All good things I hope".
Robert only snorted in reply.
There was an odd moment of silence before Victoria cleared her throat "well since that macho man showdown is over who wants pizza?"
"Me! I want pizza Ick!" Mason declared.
"You want more food!" Victoria asked as they all got comfy, Robert going back to his armchair, Adam and Victoria took up the couch while Aaron took some pillows and got settled on the floor.
"What's Auntie Ick been feeding you?" Aaron asked.
"I had macaroni for dinner with chocolate milk and then ice cream with sprinkles!" Mason was very hyped up, the sugar having started to take effect.
Aaron accepted a plate off Adam as he said "you're not going to sleep tonight are you?"
Mason shook his head extremely fast.
Aaron groaned and shot Victoria a look "geez thanks Ick".
Robert watched the whole scene and felt a warmth in his chest. He'd sat in his sister's house for a few hours catching up with her. He'd learnt so much about her. How she was working at the Pub now as a chef, how she was renting her own house off of an old lady called Betty and was hoping to buy it with Adam who'd she'd been seeing for over a year and was apparently madly in love with.
Robert saw nothing special out of Adam, he thought his sister could do better than the son of a farmer.
The Dingle boy was … interesting however. He had dark brown hair and stubble, his hair was gelled to the side and bright blue eyes just like the boy who he now knew was called Mason. He was good looking. As soon as that thought and a few other popped into his head Robert marvelled at how much he'd grown since he was last here. Just thinking about the attractiveness of another man would have had him hating himself. He had come a long way.
"What's with the whole Auntie Ick thing?" Robert asked curiously as he watched the easy banter between his sister and her friends. Her family. The family she'd made for herself since he'd been gone.
"Because Uncle Adam and Uncle Vic are always doing really icky stuff aren't they Mase" Aaron said with a smile although Robert noticed how his shoulders were tense.
"Just cause you never get any action" Victoria joked.
Robert watched as the Dingle reached over and covered Masons eyes with one hand and held his middle finger up to Victoria earning a laugh from Adam.
"She has got a point though mate, get your mum to babysit for you, we're due a night out on the lash, we've been out once since you got back!" Adam said "or my mum, she's always nagging about how she needs more time with her only grandson".
"That’s a great idea, you can take Robert out with you too, show him around" Victoria suggested.
"Oh yeah, show me around the hottest places in Hotten" Robert joked, hoping to hide how his ears had no doubt gone red from the embarrassment of having his sister make plans for him.
"Er yeah, not a bad idea Vic" Adam said.
"Hold up I haven't agreed to any night out full stop, some of us have responsibilities, we can't all act like an overgrown man child" Aaron said. This comment had Victoria practically cackling.
"Man child! Who are you calling man child! Just cause you have a kid doesn’t make you a grown up, Masons three and he's more mature then you" Adam exclaimed.
"Still missing the point where I agreed to go out"
"You didn’t because I'm not giving you a choice, it might not be the nightclubs in Paris like you're used too but after a couple of vodkas you won't even notice".
Aaron scrunched up his face and Robert thought it was adorable, "what are you on about, I didn’t even live in Paris".
"Eh whatever, either way you gotta find someone to watch Mason cause you're coming out whether you like it or not".
"It's moments like this when I regret moving back"
"You love me" Adam said.
Aaron didn’t say anything, instead he threw his leftover pizza crust at Adams head.
"You're coming too" Adam said, picking up the fallen crust and pointing it at Robert "it'll be a chance for us to get to know each other, and I'm gonna need the backup for when I'm dragging a passed-out Aaron down the road"
"Excuse me who was it who tripped over his own feet and went head first into a bus stop and had us spend the rest of the night in A&E?"
The pizza crust went flying again, this time hitting Aaron chest as Adam mumbled "we agreed never to talk about that".
Robert bit into his own slice of pizza and he settled back into the chair. Today had gone well. He'd been welcomed back by his sister who had basically threatened him to stay in their spare room which is what he'd been hoping for. And it seemed he'd been invited on a lad's night out. Maybe coming home wouldn’t be as bad after all.