Andrew tucked the letter from Mr. Brown into his pocket, where he could be sure that Aidan wouldn't find it until Andrew had told him about its contents. There was another knock at the door.
Andrew got up to answer it, but Mrs. Stock beat him to the door, opened it, and then walked away disgruntled sigh.
"Really, that woman," Stashe said as she came in, Tarquin on her heels. "As if I'll change my mind about marrying you if she's rude enough to me. We just dropped by for you to have a look at Dad's leg." Stashe turned around from hanging up her coat, eyes locking with Andrew's. "What is it?"
Andrew couldn't help but wonder at how well Stashe could read him given their whirlwind courtship. "I've had a letter from Mr. Brown."
"Don't tell me he's not really leaving after all that," Tarquin said, limping a little.
"Have a seat, I can firm that leg up for you," Andrew said to his future father-in-law. "No, he was warning me about the glass and... passing information along about Aidan's parentage."
Stashe blinked. "Aidan's parentage?"
"He isn't Mr. Brown's child," Andrew said, handing Stashe the letter.
Stashe read it, then burst out laughing. "Aidan's your uncle?"
Andrew spluttered in surprise. "I suppose that does make him my uncle, doesn't it?" He wondered if this revelation was going to give Aidan the same headache that was starting to form behind his eyes.
"I knew that Melanie Caine was up to something." Tarquin sat on a chair, rolling up the leg of his trousers. "And that man at the manor could have saved us a lot of trouble if he'd just said something sooner."
"He claims he didn't realize it until he saw Aidan," Stashe said.
"While it should make adopting Aidan easier, I'm not entirely sure I should tell him," Andrew said. "He's had such a week all ready."
"Of course you should tell him," Stashe said. "The sooner the better in my opinion. If we're going to need your blood relationship for the adoption, then he's bound to find out, and he needs to find out from you. Besides, it's better if he has some time to absorb it before the authorities get involved."
"Yes, but how do we tell him?" Andrew asked. "I mean, his mother was what, 16? I can't imagine what would go through his mind."
"Is it any harder to think about than having Oberon Rex, king of those that don't use iron, for a father?" Stashe shook her head.
There was a galumphing cacophony as Aidan came down the stairs, a large stack of plastic packets and other assorted rubbish in his arms. Andrew made a note to make sure to get a bin for Aidan's room, as well as to remind him to keep that room tidy. (Andrew figured he could be much more pleasant about it than Mrs. Stock. Besides, he was paying Mrs. Stock to cook and clean, not to raise Aidan.)
They stopped talking as Aidan entered.
"Hello, Stashe," Aidan said. "Mr. O'Connor."
Mrs. Stock was close on his heels. "You finish with that room!"
"I expect it to pass her inspection inside of an hour, Aidan," Andrew said. "And I trust that you won't let it get into such a sorry state again."
Aidan blinked at Andrew, then nodded, heading to the kitchen to dispose of the plastic bags. A moment later, Aidan galumphed back up the stairs, this time with Rolf barking at his heels.
"We'll talk to him after lunch," Stashe said. "We don't want him to lose his appetite on top of everything else."
"Thanks," Andrew said.
"In the meantime, you see to Dad's leg while I make sure that Mr. Brown's emissary hasn't meddled with your computer again."
"I'm afraid he did, actually," Andrew said with a resigned sigh. Hopefully with Mr. Brown and his ilk leaving Melstone, his computer would work, and he'd be better able to balance working on his book with more important things--like Stashe and Aidan.
"Why don't you get on with it while I see about Tarquin's leg."
Stashe kissed him on the cheek, then headed into Andrew's study. He took off his glasses, giving Tarquin's missing leg a hard look.
Aidan finally got his room up to Mrs. Stock's exacting standards just before lunch. Andrew couldn't help but wonder if Aidan was about to have a giant growth spurt at the rate he was putting food away. Could Aidan really have worked up that much of an appetite just cleaning his room?
* * *
They settled into the parlor after lunch, Aidan staring at the portrait of Andrew.
"That's me at about your age," Andrew said, standing behind him. "There's a strong resemblance, isn't there?"
"Yeah," Aidan said. "Impressive for distant cousins."
Andrew glanced at Stashe, wishing he could leave this to her. She nodded at him encouragingly, and Andrew plowed ahead, hoping that he wouldn't make a mess of it. "Not distant, as it turns out. At least if Mr. Brown's hypothesis is correct."
Aidan turned to him, reaching up to take off his glasses and rub them on his shirt. "What do you mean?"
"Mr. Brown assures me that he's not your father," Andrew said, shifting uncomfortably. He wasn't sure how Aidan would react to all of this.
"That's a relief." Aidan put his glasses back on. "I was afraid I was going to develop an allergy to iron or something." He paused, studying Andrew and throwing a nervous glance towards Stashe. "There's more, isn't there?"
Andrew didn't want to say it, but Aidan looked about to burst from the suspense. He was doing this all wrong. "Mr. Brown suspects that Jocelyn Brandon is your father."
"Your grandfather?" Aidan asked, blinking. He took his glasses off again, squinting at Andrew with his naked eyes.
For pity's sake, did he think Andrew would lie about something like this?
"The very same," Andrew said. "It would explain the resemblance, and Mr. Brown said your mother was um..." Andrew didn't think Aidan would appreciate being told that his mother threw herself at any man.
Aidan laughed nervously. "Gran always said she was a bit of a flirt."
"Mr. Brown seems to think it went beyond that," Andrew said. "And she did come to stay here for a while because she was getting into trouble."
Aidan glanced around the room, found a chair, and spilled into it. His face was blank, as if he were just shutting down.
Andrew moved over to the chair, squatting next to it so he could look Aidan in the eye without looking down on him. "On the bright side, it'll make the adoption much easier."
"Won't they notice that I'm being adopted by my nephew?" Aidan asked, rubbing the bridge of his nose.
"Is it giving you a bit of a headache too?" Andrew asked, gently.
Aidan nodded, looking from Andrew to Stashe with pleading eyes. Andrew reached out and squeezed his arm. Aidan squirmed, and Andrew removed his hand. So if Aidan didn't need comfort, what did he need?
Rolf sidled up to him, a tennis ball in his mouth, whining pitiably. Aidan looked at the were-dog longingly, reaching out to scratch behind Rolf's ears.
Andrew glanced at Stashe, unsure if he should give Aidan some space or keep him close. Aidan, meanwhile, had taken the tennis ball from Rolf, and raised it up as if he were about to throw it.
Andrew took Aidan's wrist. "Not in the house. You'll break something."
Aidan was definitely shut down, and not thinking straight. He glanced at Stashe, who cocked her head towards the back door.
"Off you go," Andrew said. "I'll be here if you decide you want to talk."
"I will too," Stashe added.
"Otherwise, back by supper, all right? And don't go wandering into the forest just yet. I'd rather be sure that Mr. Brown and his lot are fully gone before you go getting into everything."
"OK," Aidan said quietly and followed Rolf out the door.
"Are you sure we should let him out on his own?" Andrew asked. "He doesn't seem to be thinking too clearly."
"Rolf will keep him out of trouble," Stashe said. "I think Aidan just needs some space right now. He knows where we are if he needs us."
"All right," Andrew said, grateful that he had Stashe's help for this. He'd be lost without her.
* * *
Aidan was glad to get out of the house for awhile. It was easier to not think when he was alone--almost alone, but right now Rolf was just a dog, happily chasing after the tennis ball and bringing it back every time that Aidan threw it. He didn't have to think, he didn't have to talk (and if he chose to, he knew Rolf would listen), and he didn't have to feel.
He didn't yet know how to feel.
Andrew and Stashe adopting him was marvelous. If being Jocelyn's son made that easier, well that was good, he guessed. What that meant, however, was threatening to overwhelm him. He didn't like to think of Andrew's grandfather as a bad seed, like Gran had always said about his father. Then again, Gran had clearly thought that Mr. Brown was Aidan's father.
Aidan had spent the last several years trying to convince himself that it didn't matter that he didn't know his father, that he had Gran and that was enough. Gran didn't suffer fools lightly, and sometimes her pithy sayings weren't as funny as she seemed to think, but she'd always been there when Aidan needed her. He hadn't needed a dad.
Aidan supposed that now he sort of had two parents. Although Andrew was more like the quirky older brother who took you on great adventures while you told him all your secrets. Except for this morning, but at least Andrew hadn't talked down to him so much as let him know that he wasn't meeting expectations. Though Andrew would've been lost without Stashe there while he was explaining about Jocelyn and Mr. Brown. Stashe seemed to get people on a level that Andrew just didn't. They made a good pair. Come to think of it, he and Andrew had also made a pretty good team while walking the boundary, and Aidan had been able to figure out what Stashe needed for going through things before she needed them. The three of them would likely make a great team-- or a great family.
Aidan reached down, scratching the dog behind his ears, and looked up at the reddening horizon.
"Come on," Aidan said. "We should go home before Andrew and Stashe have kittens about us."