They clattered into the kitchen, drenched and bent-double with helpless laughter; their hands still linked from running through the rain. Hair plastered onto their foreheads and their clothes stuck to their skin, they looked like children still exhilarated by getting caught in the first rain of the season.
“You’ll catch a cold if you don’t get yourselves out of those wet clothes”, Diana said half-disapprovingly.
“No- don’t move! You’ll drip all over the kitchen!” she warned as Andrei turned towards her. “I’ll get you some towels- take your shoes off and leave it by the door!”
They began giggling as soon as she bustled out.
“I feel as though I’m five years old and have been told off for not wiping my feet before coming in.”
“You are five years old.” she retorted, holding onto his arm for balance as she pried her shoe off.
“I wouldn’t disagree there, Andrei.” Diana said, coming in with a stack of towels.
“Hi Mrs.Smith” he smiled, bending down to kiss her proffered cheek. “I’ve missed you.”
“More like you missed the pampering” Achlys interrupted, rubbing vigorously at her hair.
“Jealous that she loves me more?”
“Jealous that she can still smack you for your cheek, without any fear of retaliation.”
“Will you stay for dinner, Andrei?” Diana interrupted before their squabbling exploded.
“If it wouldn’t be a bother, Mrs. Smith.”
“It’s always lovely to see you, Andrei. You don’t come down often enough.”
“Work’s kept me chained down lately…”
“Caitlyn worries about you a lot, you know. I tell her you’re a big lad and can look out for yourself, but you know how mothers get. She misses you. You should try come down more often- she’s so pleased to have you back…we all are. It’s almost like old times” she sighed, her eyes a little damp as she turned away.
“I’ll put the kettle on then, shall I?” Achlys asked into the silence.
“Yes, please. Dinner’ll be an hour- alright?” Diana asked briskly, and then continued in the same breath, “And run up and get Andrei one of your father’s t-shirts, will you? He’ll catch his death in those wet things.”
Achlys rolled her eyes at him from behind her mother’s back.
Pointedly ignoring her, he turned to her mother and began to ask questions about the things that had happened since his last visit.
“I’m surprised Marc’s shirts still fit me.” Andrei remarked as he emerged from the bathroom, rubbing vigorously at his hair.
“Did you have to give him that lurid shirt, Achlys?”
“But, it’s such a good colour for him!”
“Yes, if he were a traffic cone!”
“Are you implying I stop traffic with my rakish good looks, Mrs. Smith?”
Achlys groaned out loud.
“That’s how all the girls react too.”
“What, groan in utter misery at the sight of you?”
“Oh, enough. Get out of my kitchen, you two!” Diana exclaimed exasperatedly. “More trouble than you’re worth. Always were, even in Tokyo- the four of you, bouncing off the walls and creating a mess.”
Achlys and Andrei beat a hasty retreat. A recollection of their childhood escapades was received with less warmth by their parents than it had by them. They’d gotten into a fair amount of trouble at school and had been a rumbustious group- always up to mischief, their parents dreading the next call from school. Andrei and Oro were the dare-devils, her and Robert were their faithful shadows.
“Speaking of Tokyo- where is Robert? He pretty much disappeared…”
“No, you disappeared.” Achlys interrupted snappily. “He’s in the US, chatting up boys, being a sarcastic wrench… the usual.”
“You kept in touch?”
“Mm. You left. Oro..Oro was preoccupied. Robbie and I only had each other.”
“Does he know?”
“About Oro? Yes. He couldn’t make it to the memorial, but he rang everyday for a few months to make sure we were doing OK.”
“And, are you?”
He reached for her hand.