“Has she told you about the St Andrews job?” Alex inquired, choosing the moment of silence to introduce a new topic.
Mum’s attention redirected back to me. “What St Andrews job?”
I bit my lip and then said, more caustically than I intended, “Just another temporary job to add to my lackadaisical list, Mum.”
“Tell us, Em,” Dad said, sitting down at the table and leaning back in the chair.
“Martin, chair,” Mum said. Dad guiltily plunked the two airborne legs of the chair back down on the wood floor and took a swig of his beer.
“I’m moving to Scotland,” I said. “In September. For a year. To teach. Covering maternity leave. I’ll be down some weekends.” I offered them a tight smile. “Maybe I’ll find a rich Scottish bloke to marry who doesn’t want kids and who has a mansion to install me in.”
“Don’t be rude, Emily,” Mum said. Her expression softened. “Must you move all the way to Scotland?”
I let out a huff of air. “Mother, you were quite happy a moment ago for me to move all the way to California in the hopes of finding some ambition. That’s kind of a lot further than St Andrews. Like, thousands of miles further. Stop being so inconsistent.”
“It’s Scotland,” Mum said. “The Scots are…different.”
“More so than Americans?” I said in disbelief. “For god’s sake. We lived there for two years when I was little.”
“Yes, which I think gives me the authority to pass judgment on them!” Mum’s cheeks were flushed and she refused to meet my eyes.
“Mum, you’re being horrible.” I shook my head. “I am going to Scotland. I might even go up to Aberdeen and hunt up old friends. I am not going to California. I am not marrying Nate. And I am, as of a week ago, most definitely single, with no interest in changing that status. And unless an accident occurs, that means no grandbabies for you in the near future.” I took a deep breath. “Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to finish this conversation and peel these damn potatoes.”
I picked up a potato and began to hack at it, fuming.
“Let it go, Ellie,” Dad said. “She’s a grown woman. You can’t force her to do something that won’t make her happy.” He looked at me. “As for you, Em…”
“Yeah, okay,” I muttered. Mum didn’t say anything as she began to slather butter on the chicken.
“Dr Plaice,” Alex said, “Fish is always going on about how excellent your roast is, but in all the years I’ve known her she’s never once done a roast herself.”
“Really, Alex?” I said.
He flicked a carrot peel at me and continued, “I expected this is because she doesn’t have your recipe and doesn’t want to ask you for it.” He gave Mum a winning smile. “I, however, have no such compunction, and if you wouldn’t mind sharing, I’d love your recipe so we could make it for Sunday roast in the house.”
“Eleanor,” Mum said. “Please.” She closed her eyes for a moment, and then said, “Of course. Forgive the domestics, Alex. We’re not usually this squabbly.”
“Lies,” I whispered. Alex hid a smile.
“But of course you can have the recipe,” Mum said. “I’ll have to write it down. It was my grandmother’s, you know.”
“I had no idea,” Alex said, sounding far more interested than I’d have ever imagined a man could be when discussing recipes.
“Now, what have you been occupying yourself with lately, Alex?” Mum asked. “We haven’t seen you in months. How’s that pretty girlfriend of yours?”
“Sarah’s great,” he replied. “She’s in Paris at the moment, but I spent the last week with her.”
“See how well Alex is doing?” Mum asked, stuffing onion into the cavity of the chicken.
“Mum, I really don’t think it’s a good idea to tell me to follow Alex’s example,” I said, glaring at him pointedly. He was trying not to laugh.
“And why not? It seems to me he’s been with this girlfriend of his even longer than you’ve been with Nate and it’s going so well.” She smiled up at Alex. “When are you going to propose?”
Alex snorted. “Beg your pardon, Eleanor, but Fish is right. Sarah and I have a pretty loose relationship — ”
“ — by which he means they’re apart more than they’re together, and meanwhile Sarah’s off shagging every bloke she meets,” I said under my breath.
Shrugging, Alex said, “Like I said. Loose relationship. But yeah, not much chance of marriage in our future.”
“Well, perhaps you just haven’t met the right girl then,” Mum said.
“How come he gets to have a pretty unspectacular relationship that fails repeatedly and he’s just not met the right girl, while I just fail at life?” I demanded.
“Because I’m not you,” Alex said, and grinned. “Also you just fail at life.”
“If you’re going to squabble, get out of my kitchen,” Mum said as she opened the oven door. “Dinner’s in an hour and a half. If you want to be useful you could nip off and get some wine.”