All This Time

35: He Can’t Explain It Away

“I’m sorry. Helena spotted you from across the room and we couldn’t resist coming over”

Amelia's stare was fixed on the table as she offered a tight nod to Matthias, forcing the corners of her mouth upwards into the most polite smile she could muster. It was the first time she had seen any of Fernando’s relatives. After she had walked out on him, she had spent months persistently avoiding their calls and texts, and it meant that seeing Matthias, and seeing Helena who’d been Amelia’s closest ally in her new family, stung. She could see it on their faces. Underneath the warm smiles, and the tight hug that Helena had wrapped her in, there was the upset about Amelia having cut them out of her life so suddenly, and it had her itching to disappear.

She hadn’t wanted to hurt them. Matthias, along with Fernando’s other two brothers and his parents, had welcomed Amelia into his life so warmly and so easily, and Helena had been like an older sister at times to Amelia, and she hated that she had upset, but at the time it’d felt necessary. She didn’t want the reminders of Fernando, and Matthias, who had the same green eyes as his brother, was one giant glaring reminder of the man who’d broken her heart, one of many that Amelia hadn't been in a position to face.

“It’s OK” Amelia murmured “This is Leo, by the way” she added, gesturing to Lionel who was looked up at her, his forehead creased in concern.

Matthias turned away from Amelia, offering his hand out towards Lionel with a polite smile. “It’s good to meet you” he said warmly.

Lionel hesitated for a moment, examining Matthias’s smile for any sign that it was fake, before he stood up, shaking his outstretched hand. “You, too” he said.

“We’re intruding” Helena said, gently tugging on Matthias’s sleeve “We should get back to our own table. Lia, call me some time. We can catch up” she added.

Amelia responded with another slightly pained grin and a short nod of her head. “Sounds good” she mused “It was nice seeing the two of you” she added.

Helena grinned and started back towards her own table, but Matthias lingered behind her, staring at Amelia for a split second before he stepped towards her, wrapping her in a tight hug. Dipping his head slightly, he feigned politely kissing her cheek, instead opting to whisper into her ear. “My brother is an idiot” he muttered “And I am so sorry that you got caught up in that. I’m so sorry that he hurt you” he added.

Amelia had to bite her lip to stop a soft whimper from falling out of her mouth. She had heard it countless times. Her mother, her sister, Henri and Molly had all said something similar, but hearing it from Matthias felt different. She didn’t know what Fernando had told them. She didn’t know how much he had owned up to, and how much of the blame for their failed marriage he had tried to push off onto her, but Matthias’s words made her think that he probably taken responsibility, something which surprised her. She had thought that he’d tell them that she had given up too easily, that he’d give them a reason to believe that she was part of the reason that things hadn’t worked out, and it was another reason she had kept her distance. She had thought that his family would try and convince her that she ought to give Fernando another chance.

Matthias must have felt her tremble, because before he let her go, he offered her another tight squeeze. Pulling back, he flashed her a gentle smile before he wandered away, allowing Amelia to fall back into her seat, her expression dazed.

Lionel watched Matthias away before he turned back to Amelia, gently taking her hand in his. “Do you want me to ask them to box up the food?” he asked softly.

Amelia slowly nodded her head. “If that’s OK with you” she mused.

Lionel just squeezed her hand, already turning to signal for their waitress.

Letting out a soft yawn, Amelia curled further into Lionel’s side, revelling in the soft touch of his thumb which was settled on her hip, brushing back and forth over the skin he had just about exposed from beneath the hem of her blouse. He was comforting her. Even if he didn’t fully know why seeing Matthias and Helena had affected her like it had, even if he hadn’t asked, he knew that it had bothered her, and since they’d left the restaurant, he’d done everything he could to let her know that he was there for whatever she needed him to be, something which meant a lot to Amelia.

It was going to happen. Despite all the time that had passed, and all the progress she had made in getting past what had happened between her and Fernando, there were still going to be rare occasions where it hurt her, and it meant a lot to her that Lionel wasn’t getting frustrated by them. It meant a lot to her that he wasn’t getting frustrated with her. She knew how easy it would have been. She had made a lot of big claims, insisted that she wasn’t in love with Fernando any more, and that she couldn’t be again, and she knew that it would have been easy for Lionel to assume that that meant that she was entirely ready to move on, and that it would have been easy for him to get annoyed when she backtracked a little, but he never had. In the time he had been back in her life, he’d been nothing but a comforting presence, and Amelia didn’t quite have the words to express how much his patience and comfort meant.

“Do you want me to go?” Lionel murmured, pressing a soft kiss to the top of her head.

Amelia shook her head, pulling her stare away from the television to smile up at him sleepily. “Not yet” she replied.

Lionel’s lips quirked upwards slightly, clearly amused by her sleepy expression, but he didn’t argue, allowing Amelia to settle her head against his chest again. They were quiet for a beat before Amelia lifted her head, pressing a gentle kiss to the underside of his jaw. “I thought that Nando would have blamed me” she murmured “I...I cut ties with his family immediately, I didn’t want to be reminded of him, but I thought...I thought he’d tell them that I messed it up. Matthias told me that he was sorry and caught me off guard, I guess” she added.

Lionel was quiet for a moment before he turned, touching his lips to her forehead. “You didn’t do anything wrong” he said, tilting his head so that his forehead touched hers “I think Matthias and his wife understand why you pulled away. A lot of people would have done the same thing in your position, but it’s more important to know that you didn’t do anything to make Fernando do what he did. You might have had doubts when the wedding was getting closer, and I probably didn’t help with that, but I saw you when you first got together. I saw how smitten you were, how keen you were to make it work. He fucked it up, and he can’t explain it away. Penelope is all the proof they’d have needed to see what happened” he explained quietly.

Amelia looked up at him through her eyelashes, marvelling at him for a long moment, before she lifted her hand, tracing the line of his jaw with her fingertips. “You play early on Saturday, don’t you?” she asked.

Lionel, who’d created a little space between them, frowned at the change of subject, but nodded nevertheless. “We do” he confirmed “Why?” he asked.

Amelia's answering smile was small and shy. “How’d you like to come to my mother’s anniversary party?” she asked.

Lionel’s lips kicked up before he could stop them, something which made Amelia's nervous smile widen a little. “Really?” he asked.

Amelia just nodded her head. She hadn’t told him that her mother was worried about them, or that she had initially ruled out the prospect of him making an appearance, and it wasn’t something she wanted to bring up, something she knew she would do if she opened her mouth. When she was nervous, she revealed too much, and she didn’t want him to think that she didn’t want him there. The more time they’d spent together, she surer she had got that she did.

Lionel smiled at her gently. “I’d love to” he said.