“Emma!” Hidgens called her name a little too loudly, he had woken up with a bit more energy than usual this morning.
Emma watched him pace excitedly about the living room before coming to sit by Emma on the couch. “I have someone for you to meet today!” He beamed.
“Oh!” Emma faked her interest, meeting people was not her favourite, but she was happy for her professor. “Who am I meeting?”
“I’m having family over, my nephew, oh, I haven’t seen him since he was very young! I didn’t even know he was still in Hatchetfield!” He jumped back to his feet, too excited to sit.
“Wow,” Emma sunk further back into the couch. She felt deflated already, and her early morning shift today wasn’t helping her energy levels. She didn’t know he had any other family. “Who is it?”
“Well he’s about your age, a few years younger.” He glanced out the window as if he were expecting to see him already. “You two will make such great friends!”
Emma winced, that was the phrase that she knew would ruin it all. Now she knew for a fact they weren’t going to get along.
She began to shake her hands anxiously, fanning her face and biting her lip. “Yeah? What’s his name?”
“Oliver!” Hidgens said. “He’s coming for a little visit.”
“He’s just staying overnight.”
Emma felt a part of her die inside at the thought. A few hours meeting she could handle, but overnight? That was asking too much. She didn’t consider mentioning the fact that she had been occupying the guest bedroom for the past few months.
“Oh Emma dear, don’t look so nervous! He’s a lovely boy. You’ll get along so well.”
“Perfect,” Emma’s voice was dripping with sarcasm. “I can’t wait.”
Emma peered our from behind Hidgens’ shoulder as his nephew stepped in through the front door.
“Oliver! You made it!” Hidgens was happier than he had been in a while and Emma only let go of his arm as he moved forward to give the boy a hug.
“Oh, Oliver! You should meet Emma,” he stepped aside to show her off. “She lives here with me. You two are cousins!”
Emma winced, clapping her hand to her forehead to hide her eyes.
Hidgens was getting too excited, he was already moving on to labels.
Oliver squinted behind his glasses but stiffly held out his hand.
“Hey,” Emma mumbled, shaking his hand hesitantly.
“We’ve never met,” he pointed out.
Emma drew her fingers through her hair, looking away. “Yeah.”
Hidgens placed one hand around each of their shoulders, drawing them together.
“No you haven’t,” he looked down at Oliver before looking over at Emma. “She’s one of my students who’s come to stay with me.”
“I’m sort of adopted,” Emma stated bluntly, rubbing her arm self consciously.
“Sort of?” Oliver echoed quietly.
“Now! With introductions out of the way, how have you been Oliver?” He lifted his arm from Emma’s shoulder to place both his hands on Oliver’s.
Emma sulked off the moment she was free, leaving Hidgens to carry out his greetings on his own. There was something about Oliver she just didn’t like.
She scampered up the stairs to her bedroom and shut the door, falling down on her bed with a grunt.
This was the first she had heard of any of Hidgens’ family, she thought it was just them.
Hidgens knocked softly on Emma’s bedroom door and she hesitantly came to open it.
“Are you busy, Emma?” He asked.
“I was just revising,” she remained behind the half open door.
“Revising what?” Hidgens tilted his head to the side.
“Uh- active transport,” she stammered, jumping to the first thought in her head.
“Active transport! Oh Emma, you’re so funny! We went over that in class ages ago!” His laughter bellowed out around the house, emphasised by his good mood. “Come on! We’ll go over that later if you really need,” he pushed the door open wide, bringing Emma out into the brightness of the hallway. “Come down, dinner is almost ready.”
“Do you need a hand?” Emma offered quickly.
“Ah, it’s your night off! Oliver is already helping with cooking. Would you like to prepare the table?”
Emma let out a distressed gurgle as Hidgens lead her closer to the staircase.
“Oh!” He stopped her, looking her firmly in the eyes.
She forced herself to maintain eye contact but it made her skin prickle.
“I know you don’t like meeting new people my dearest. But you don’t have to be nervous,” he rolled his eyes and gave her a small chuckle. “Or jealous. Once you two talk you’ll click right away! We’ll have a lovely family dinner. Okay dear?”
Emma nodded. “Okay Hidgens,” she sighed, letting him lead her down the stairs to where Oliver was moving pointlessly through the kitchen in search of something, but he approached Hidgens at his beckon.
“Ah, just one moment. I have to just finish up in the study!” He parted from Emma, walking briskly off. “Be kind!” He added.
“Hey,” Emma stared at the corner of his glasses instead of making eye contact.
“Hi,” Oliver replied.
Emma made one step towards the kitchen and Oliver stepped the other way.
They both paced in a circle, eyeing each other up like dogs checking for danger.
“So what’s the deal?” Oliver asked, breaking out of their circle to head back to the kitchen.
“Man. Why do you walk like that?” Emma deflected.
“Walk like what?”
“And honestly, your voice. What’s the deal with that?”
Oliver’s face reddened. “What’s the deal with you being short?” He retorted. “I can’t help it!”
Emma huffed, stalking over to the table to start setting it up. “If you’re looking for the glasses they’re in the second draw,” she added quickly.
“I’m looking for the cooling rack” he hissed back.
“Third draw on the other side,” Emma answered.
“So, you’re adopted?” Oliver asked, his question
concealed by the clang of the rack he pulled from the draw.
Emma pretended not to hear and Oliver didn’t repeat the question.
“You don’t have to bully me just because your self conscious about it,” Oliver spoke up as he slammed the draw shut and served up dinner.
“I’m not bullying you, you’re just weird.”
“Emma! What’d we speak about!” Hidgens scolded, marching back into the kitchen. He placed his arms around Emma’s shoulder, drawing her in to him as if to pull her away from Oliver.
“Sorry Oliver,” Hidgens apologised for her.
“Emma, that’s not very nice,” he frowned.
Emma crossed her arms and glared down at the ground.
“Sorry, sorry. We’re working on that. Emma has trouble expressing her frustration sometimes, and she’s just a little anxious about meeting new people.”
“Oh yeah?” Oliver almost sounded like he was prompting the professor to continue.
“Can you apologise please, Emma?”
Emma gave a small nod. “Sorry, Oliver. You aren’t weird,” she started more genuinely, but couldn’t help herself as she went on. “I’m just bad at expressing my frustration and I get anxious meeting new people.”
“Clearly.” Hidgens gave her a light, warning tap on the shoulder. “Dear, please behave,” he forced his request through gritted teeth.
“Sorry,” Emma grumbled.
“Now,” Hidgens clapped his hands together to symbolise they had moved on from that topic. “Can we sit down and have a nice family dinner?”
Emma rubbed her hand across her face to hide her discomfort. “Yup.”
Oliver pulled up a chair at the dinner table, staring at Emma the whole time.
She hated that most of all. It pissed her off when people stared.
When Hidgens sat down at his chair he untucked the edges of his jacket like a piano played would with their tailcoat. “Dinner looks lovely, Oliver. Thank you.”
Emma prodded her meal with her fork.
“Thanks Oliver,” she repeated.
“Did you both have good day’s today?” Hidgens asked.
“It’s been nice to see you again,” Oliver began. “Interesting to find out I have a cousin.”
“Um, today at work,” Emma started quietly, hoping to get Hidgens’ attention before Oliver could follow that line of dialogue any further. “That guy came in.”
“What guy?” Oliver queried.
“The tall man in the suit? Doesn’t he come in everyday?” Hidgens pointed out.
“I still get excited,” Emma admitted.
Oliver swallowed his mouthful and raised one eyebrow. “Hey, where do you work?”
Emma bobbed her head to one side to hold the floor as she finished chewing. “Downtown at Beanies.”
“Beanies!” Oliver’s jaw dropped. “You’re that barista!”
“That’s me,” Emma breathed in through her teeth. “I’m that Barista.”
“Oh! Have you two met before?” Hidgens smiled, his fingers entwining as he leant forward, eager to hear the story.
“We haven’t met. I just go to Beanies a lot. Your hot chocolate is really uh...” he eyed Hidgens before continuing. “Not good.”
Emma scoffed. “We don’t serve ‘good’ at Beanies. It’s all just swill. I wouldn’t drink it.”
“Ah,” Hidgens gave a nervous laugh. “Well that was nice. What about another topic! Has anyone read any good books lately?”
Emma winced, stuffing her mouth with food to avoid the question. Hidgens had been trying to get her to read more but she just didn’t have the time.
“No, not really,” Oliver sighed.
Hidgens bit down on his lip, maintaining his tense smile. He hadn’t much else to say.
“‘S he staying overnight?” Emma pointed her fork across the table.
“Yes! Is that alright Emma?” Hidgens asked, but she didn’t think she had a choice.
“Where’s he staying?” She tried to not sound too interested, leaning back in her chair instead of forward.
“Well, in the guest room of cou- oh!” Hidgens rubbed the back of his neck.
Emma’s heart skipped a beat excitedly, certain he had realised his mistake and that he would have to send Oliver away.
“Well that’s your room now isn’t it! Ah, that’s alright!” Hidgens was getting excited again. He was tapping his fingertips on the dinner table to an unheard rhythm and easier further and further forward in his chair until he nearly wasn’t sitting down anymore.
Emma raised one eyebrow, her jaw dropping. What was he so happy about now?
“It’s perfectly fine. We’re all family! I’ll set up the spare bed in the guest room - no Emma, don’t give me that face please. It’s really no trouble.” He continued to assure them both it was fine in an attempt to convince them before the inevitable storm started.
But instead of complaining, it hit Emma. Neither of them seemed to have a proper understanding of what family was, and Oliver was just as confused about the inner workings of things.
Hidgens was just grasping at straws of what a normal family life was, and Emma couldn’t provide much help either but she didn’t want him worrying. But Oliver’s face was starting to twist, he hadn’t signed up for this either.
Hidgens was waiting expectantly and hopefully for them to agree, but he could only smile for so long.
“Okay, Hidgens.” She didn’t let anything show through her voice. “That’s fine.”
“Auuh yep,” Oliver copied Emma, shooting her an equally confused and concerned look.
But Hidgens was smiling again and that was all that she needed.
“This is my room, just so you know,” Emma staked her territory, refusing to turn around to face Oliver. “I don’t want you in here, I just don’t want Hidgens to feel sad.”
“I want to hear the story,” Oliver prompted her as he settled down on the air mattress on the floor.
“What story?” She whipped around but upon seeing him had to hold back her laughter. “Oh! Man, you’re such a nerd! You’ve got the button up pyjamas and everything, it’s classic!”
“You’re ignoring the question!” Oliver grimaced, straightening out his pyjamas and fiddling with the buttons. “You’re going to pick on me for everything aren’t you?”
Emma tried to lie down but she was too on guard to stay still and sat back up, pulling her blanket up over her legs. “Listen, I didn’t ask Hidgens to bring you here and I’m just a little-“ she paused to think. “I’m bothered. Okay? And you aren’t making it easy on me.”
“I’m just existing in the same room as you!”
“But you keep asking me to talk about how I got here! Can’t you just accept it?” She thrashed her hands down on her mattress.
Oliver shuffled to the other side of his bed. “I think I have a right to be curious about why my uncle adopted one of his students.”
Emma snarled, turning her back to him and trying to lay down on her side. “Well he just did, okay? I’m here and he’s like my dad and we’re family.” She put a sarcastic twist on the end of her sentence as if to mock Hidgens’ enthusiasm.
“Can you lower your voice? You’ll wake Henry.”
“He’s probably still awake. He’s just in the lab or something. He can’t hear me,” Emma growled. “I don’t want to talk about it.” She turned off her lamp so she would no longer have to look at him.
Oliver rolled his eyes before pulling up his sheets and falling quiet. “Well,” he spoke up after a moment of silence. “I’m not too happy about this whole arrangement either.”
“Oh but this is what family does!” Emma deepened her voice as if she were trying to sound more like the professor.
“We aren’t family! You don’t have to say that when he isn’t around!” Oliver finally snapped. “We aren’t family, you aren’t my cousin and he isn’t even your dad!”
Emma bolted upright only to find he had done the same. They glared at each other in the darkness, Emma’s breathing was heavy.
“Listen. Fine. I get it. I don’t want to be around you and you don’t want to be around me. I can sleep in the study.” She kicked off her sheets and slid off her bed before bundling them up in her hands. “Goodnight, Oliver.”
She slammed the door behind her and marched down the stairs with the ends of her blanket trailing behind her.
She listened closely for the professor’s footsteps but heard nothing. She didn’t want to upset him by letting him know about their fight.
He was probably in the lab or working in his room, so as long as she was quiet she could stay in his study without him knowing.
But of course, if something could go wrong it would.
She slowly creaked open the door only to jump back when she saw Hidgens on the other side.
“Emma!” He looked up from where he was working at his keyboard and raised one eyebrow upon seeing her blanket. “Is everything okay?”
Emma wrapped her hands up tighter in the sheets and her eyes rolled to the side. “Sorry. I didn’t think you’d be in here. I’ll-“ she titled her head back to gesture that she would leave but he welcomed her in.
“Oh you know, I just need my personal space so I can’t really sleep when someone else is in my room,” she tried to maintain eye contact to seem more convincing but Hidgens saw right through her.
“Emma, you aren’t getting along with Oliver are you?”
“No, please don’t try to argue. You can just say you aren’t getting along, that’s okay, that’s...” he turned away, pinching the bridge of his noise and exhaling loudly. “You don’t have to get along. I won’t force it. But I just wanted you to be his friend, you don’t have enough Emma.”
“Well I’ve got my co workers and I’ve got you and that’s all I need right?” She tried to sound hopeful only to add a dramatic flourish to her words. She hoped she could drag some sympathy out of him but it wasn’t working. “I don’t want to be his friend. I’m happy as I am.”
A small whine escaped Hidgens’ throat and he pressed both his palms up against his eyes. “Oh my dearest, Emma listen here, I love you so very much but please be an adult for just a moment!”
Emma took one step back, her hands tightening around her blanket. This was very new for Hidgens.
“Emma, I’m not going to be around forever. I don’t want to force you two to get along but can you at least not argue?” He pleaded. “It’s like you’re trying to not get along!”
Emma scratched at her skin underneath her blanket and studied the floor. “He keeps asking me what I’m doing here. I don’t like that.”
Hidgens frowned. He knew she was sensitive about that. “Well this is where you live, Emma.”
“Well I know that! But he keeps asking for ‘the story’ and it’s like he’s making fun of me!”
Hidgens shook his head and gave Emma a small, quick hug. “He’s not making fun of you Emma. You’re just seeing what you want to see. In science we call it the experimenters bias. You’re making him out to be someone he isn’t.”
Emma’s lips curled up as if she were about to growl but it turned into a frown. She felt heavier than before. “What do you mean?”
“If you try and get along with him it’ll be easier for both of you. If you really need you can stay down here in the study with me, but can you try tomorrow?”
Emma took in a deep breath. The desperation in his voice was new to her ears. “I’m sorry, Hidgens. I can do better.”
“Promise?” He held onto her shoulders tightly, like if he let go everything would crumble.
“Promise,” Emma freed one hand from her blankets to bump Hidgens’ shoulder gently with her fist. “You don’t have to worry,” she gave him a tired smile.
“Thank you Emma, thank you so much.”
Emma didn’t feel much better, it wasn’t nice to be on his bad side.
Oliver let out an abrupt grunt as Emma stepped over his mattress, accidentally waking him.
She tossed her blankets back down on her own bed before curling up inside them. “You awake?”
“I am now.”
“Sorry, I have been an asshole,” Emma admitted into the darkness. It was much easier to speak when she didn’t have to be looking at him.
“What’s the apology for?”
“Well Hidgens was right. I’m pretty shitty at expressing myself and I still have to work on it.” She shifted uncomfortably under her sheets. “I’m sorry for giving you a hard time, man.”
Oliver snorted a little. She could hear him turning under his blankets and sitting up.
“Well thanks for apologising. Sorry for bothering you I think.”
“Oh,” Emma’s face hardened. “Yeah, Hey! This isn’t just on me! You keep asking me why I live here, but I just do.”
“Wow,” Oliver moved about in the darkness. “Well I’m sorry. I didn’t think you’d get mad about that.”
“It’s not like my parents died or any of that shit.
They were just assholes. I like here better.” That was as much of the story as Oliver was getting.
“Damn, I’m sorry about that. Your parents must’ve been pretty bad.”
And then there was nothing else to say.
Emma didn’t feel as bad as before, and even Oliver had managed to settle in.
It was much easier to fall asleep.
“Thanks for having me over, uncle Henry,” Oliver gave Hidgens a hug as they stood by the door.
This time, Emma didn’t stand behind Hidgens but lingered by his side.
“You’ll come again won’t you Oliver?” Hidgens asked.
He nodded, shoving one hand into his pants pocket. “Yeah, I had a nice time. It was pretty cool to meet you Emma.” He dipped his head at her and she returned the gesture.
“Yeah, cool to see you Oliver. I’ll see you in Beanies sometime soon maybe.” She held out her fist and he bumped his against hers.
“See you then, cuz” he smiled politely, giving a final goodbye to Hidgens before taking his leave.
“Ooh! That was exhausting!” Emma let out a deep sigh after the door closed and sat down on the couch.“Everything’s okay now, I think so at least.”
“Really? Do you think? You two are friends now?”
“I wouldn’t say friends but we’re something,” Emma shrugged, rubbing her eyes. “We’re on the same page now.”
“Oh I’m so proud of you Emma!” He clapped his hands once together in joy. “Water under the bridge?”
“Yeah, you could say that.”
“You’re good, Emma dear. You’re a good listener. Thank you for doing this for me.”
“Well yeah,” Emma hesitated before continuing but opened up her eyes to give him a tired, relieved smile. He smiled back.
“It’s all about family, right?”