The Space Between Us

21: It’s Not Just You

“Are you sure that you don’t want to come back with us?”

Amelia, who was wrapping her coat around her shoulders, looked up at the sound of her mother’s voice, biting back the urge she had to sigh at the concern that was etched onto her face. She had tried to hide it. With her parents, and sister, being concerned that Fernando would use Amelia’s birthday as an excuse to get in touch with her, they had spent the whole day together, and as bright and warm as Felicity had tried to be, the fact that she was worried hadn’t escaped Amelia’s notice. She couldn’t quite pinpoint what worried her most, whether it was the prospect of Fernando appearing and ruining the day, or the fact that Amelia had invited Lionel to her birthday dinner, but Amelia knew that she needed a break from it.

Felicity was looking out for her. The entire day that they had shared had been based around finding a balance between celebrating Amelia’s birthday, and distracting her from the fact that Fernando, who had made a show of celebrating Amelia’s previous four birthdays, wasn’t around to make the same fuss that year, and as grateful as Amelia was for the effort, she needed a little time away from her family. She appreciated what they had done for her, but in trying to keep her mind off of Fernando, they had inadvertently caused her to notice his absence.

Pushing a small smile onto her face, Amelia shook her head. “I’m OK” she mused.

“I’ve got a nice bottle of wine at home” Felicity quipped, an encouraging smile on her face “One more drink?” she asked.

Amelia shook her head. “I’m really OK, mama” she insisted “I am probably going to take a walk, and then head home. But thank you for today. It’s been really great” she added.

Felicity opened her mouth to press again, but Albert, who was stood next to her, cut her off when he stepped towards Amelia, pressing a kiss against her cheek as he wrapped her in a tight hug. “Happy birthday, sweetheart” he cooed gently.

“Thank you, Albert” Amelia replied.

Albert stepped back with a soft smile, allowing Felicity to hug Amelia, before they both walked away from the table.

Amelia watched them walk away, a soft sigh falling out of her mouth, before she heard someone clear their throat behind her, causing her to turn and look at Lionel who stood behind her. “Don’t worry” he quipped “I just want to say goodnight. I am not going to try and drag this out for any longer” he added, his lips quirked in a small, playful smile.

Amelia couldn’t help smiling back at him. “She’s not subtle, is she?” she played along.

“She never has been” Lionel quipped.

Amelia shook her head, redirecting a more rueful smile down at her feet. “She’s just worried” she mused “I am pretty sure that she thought that Fernando would pull something today. He loves birthdays and, he’s really great at surprises” she added, a bitter look passing over her face.

Lionel nodded his head wordlessly, allowing a moment of quiet to pass between them, before he cleared his throat. “Did you want any company on your walk?” he asked “Feel free to say no. It was just a thought” he added quickly.

Amelia looked up, her eyes surveying the expression on his face, before she nodded. “I think I would like that” she answered.

Lionel blinked a couple of times, surprised by her reply, before he gestured for her to walk ahead of him. “After you, then” he chirped.

“I hope that tonight wasn’t too weird for you”

Lionel quirked a faint smile, his eyes still fixed on the pavement ahead of him as he and Amelia walked slowly back towards his car. They hadn’t spoken much. Since they had stepped out of the restaurant, Lionel had had the sense that Amelia wanted to use their walk as a chance to gather her thoughts, and that, twinned with the awkwardness that had persisted between the two of them for weeks, had led to him being content to just walk quietly next to her.

It was clear that she needed the space. Throughout the evening, she had looked increasingly overwhelmed, and whilst Lionel itched to ask what it was that was bothering her, he had bitten his tongue, knowing that if Amelia wanted to talk, she would do it on her own terms.

“Weird isn’t the right word” Lionel replied “But it was fine. It was what I expected” he added.

“What you expected?” Amelia prodded.

Lionel nodded his head wordlessly. He didn’t want to admit to her that he had felt out of place, that it had been obvious from the way that everyone around them had treated him that they knew that he was just someone she had invited to fill a seat. He didn’t want to make her feel bad for needing someone to sit next to her and take the attention off of her.

Amelia didn’t press for a reply, allowing the two of them to lapse into silence once more.

Lionel listened to the sound of their footsteps for a few moments before he cleared his throat. “Victor didn’t seem that happy to see me” he commented.

Amelia quirked a slightly bitter smile. “It’s not personal” she mused “He and Nando are pretty close, and whilst even he can’t explain away what Nando did, he’s very much of the opinion that I gave up on our marriage too easily. He would be unhappy to see me with any other guy, not just you” she added.

“That explains why he asked if we were a couple” Lionel replied “And not just with subtle looks like everyone else” he added, letting out a bashful laugh.

Amelia’s cheeks flushed pink as she determinedly kept her stare away from him. “I’m sorry” she mused “I didn’t think about tonight being awkward for you” she added.

She hadn’t thought about what inviting him to her party would mean. When she had extended the invitation, the only thought that had crossed her mind was that she wanted him to be there, but as the night had progressed, she watched the way the others had regarded him, something that had her worried that he had spent the evening feeling uncomfortable. She didn’t want him to feel awkward, and she hadn’t invited him just to fill the empty seat at the table. She had wanted him to be there as much as she had wanted anyone else who’d sat around the table to be.

“I think I can forgive you” Lionel chirped warmly.

Amelia smiled to herself, tugging her coat a little tighter around herself as they stopped next to his car. “For what it is worth, I am glad that you came” she mused “I know that things have been...well, they’ve been a little strange between us, but I am glad that you were here” she added.

Lionel’s eyes searched her face, looking for a sign that she didn’t mean what she was saying, before he offered her a soft smile in reply. “I wouldn’t have missed it” he said.

Amelia grinned up at him before she took a couple of steps forwards, eagerly stepping into the hug that he was offering. Lionel folded his arms around her, hugging her happily for a few beats before they both stepped back, putting a little space between that was bridged when Lionel leant over, pressing his lips to her cheek. “Happy birthday” he chirped as he pulled back.

Amelia lifted her hand, her fingertips brushing over the spot he’d kissed, whilst her eyes searched his face.

Lionel didn’t notice her looking at him. He was too busy trying to find his car keys in his jacket pocket.

Amelia took a small step forwards, settling one of her hands on his arm.

Lionel’s eyes snapped back to meet hers, but he didn’t move away.

Amelia hesitated for a second, expecting him to duck away from her, but he didn’t. He gave her all the time she needed to think about what she was doing, about what it would mean for their relationship, and when she finally pressed her lips against his, he smiled gently into the kiss.