Back to the Farm Ch. 13byevanslily©
"And was that long enough? Have you two made up?" The note of excitement in her best friend's voice was strangely contagious. "Did you have time to—?"
"Do you mind?" Melissa couldn't help smiling. "I'm fine. We're fine."
"That means yes," she said triumphantly. "Thank God for that."
"Tell me what?" she asked as Melissa batted Matt away. "What does he think I should know? More to the point, what does he know? Have you told him?"
"Huh?" Watching Matt drop to his knees right in front of her, Melissa frowned.
"About the baby, of course. Your baby. His baby."
She blinked, his slowly spreading smile alerting her to the fact he could hear every word. "You knew I was pregnant?"
"Well, no thanks to you. I can't believe you didn't tell me."
"Oh God. I'm sorry." Melissa stuck out her tongue at Matt's 'I told you so' look. "It's just you were away on holiday when I first found out, and then... Well, everything got a bit out of hand."
"So I've heard." But Gemma didn't sound aggrieved. "Anyway, listen. I know this might sound like a really odd question but—"
"Hang on," Melissa cut in, cogs whirring. "How did you find out?"
"Oh, Jonathan's face turned a really funny colour when I told him that I'd need to take some maternity leave. It didn't take a genius to put two and two together. Now look, are you two—?"
"You're pregnant too?"
"Three months gone, thanks for asking. Mother and baby doing well. A lot better than you, by the sound of things. You poor old thing—I can't imagine what it must've been like. But anyway," she added quickly, seeming to remember her mission, "we can talk about that later. Liss, there's something else I need to explain. We knew that we needed to get you and Matt together, but there was another thing that Jason wanted to do. He—"
"For God's sake, will you let me finish?" The note of irritation in her voice was tempered with amusement. "Yes, Jason. He—"
"What's he got to do with all this?" This time it was a bewildered Matt who interrupted. "I didn't even know they knew each other."
Melissa shook her head. "They don't."
"Well, we didn't," Gemma said, clearly grasping for patience, "until Steve decided he'd like us to go and do some house-hunting. I had no idea where he had in mind, so imagine my surprise when we ended up just outside Ebberlea at a place called Beech Tree Farm. And imagine my greater surprise when I found out my dear husband had also arranged for us to have a look at one of the new houses being built there—with none other that the site manager himself, Mr Jason Armitage."
"Wait a minute." Having leaned forward to listen more closely, Matt was frowning. "Your husband's name's Steve? As in, Steve Pinkerton?"
Melissa stared. "How the hell did you know that?"
"Hmm, well let's see." Smiling now, he prised the phone from her fingers and spoke into the receiver. "Gemma, maybe you'd like to tell Lissy how I knew that?"
"How?" Melissa demanded as he clamped the phone back to her ear.
"We're buying Plot One."
"We fell in love with the place. Loved the exterior, loved the room sizes, loved the layout, loved the views." Gemma certainly sounded like a woman in love. "Your Matt knows how to design a house, that's for sure. So if it's okay with you, we'll be living next door. It is okay with you, isn't it?"
A suddenly blurry-eyed Melissa allowed Matt to seize the phone. "Oh, I think she'll come round to the idea in the end," he said cheerfully, bending to drop a kiss in her hair. "I think it's great. Does this mean you can take her to work until we've got her through her driving test?"
But she could hear Gemma laughing. "Absolutely. Knock ten grand off the asking price and we'll call it a deal," she teased. "Now Matt, you'll listen to me, won't you? Are you two dressed? Because—"
"Oh!" Distracted by the flash of light she saw at the window, Melissa straightened up to investigate. "Someone's just pulled up outside. Whose car is that?"
"For heaven's sake," Gemma groaned as Matt rose to his feet. "I've been trying to tell you."
"It's Jason's," Matt said, having crossed the room to peer through the glass. "What's he doing here?"
"Matt, please!" Gemma sounded rather desperate now. "Just tell me you're both wearing clothes!"
Bemused, he glanced back at Melissa, clad in his white shirt but very little else, then down at the jeans he wore, his own chest bare. "Er, I s'pose you could say all the vital bits are covered."
"Oh well. That'll do," she said, almost disconsolately. And before he could ask her what on earth she meant, there was a click and the line went dead.
Melissa sent him a puzzled look. "What?"
A loud hammering at the front door saved Matt from having to hazard a guess. "Stay right there."
Melissa had no intention of doing any such thing. Already heaving herself up from the bean-bag as he jogged out of the room, she found her feet just as she heard Jason's voice. "Hi," he said, a note of apology in his tone. "Did Gemma let you know we were coming?"
Smoothing the shirt down—even if Jason had seen her completely naked before, she was determined he wouldn't see anything this time—she slipped out into the hall.
"Not exactly," Matt responded, his own tone rather cool. "What are you doing here?"
"Matt..." Jason sounded wary. "Look, this was my idea, okay? It was something I needed to do, needed to set straight. And the thing is, I really think you ought to hear—"
"It's all right, Jason. There isn't any need for you to explain."
Hearing another familiar voice, Melissa smothered a gasp, horror washing over her in an icy wave. "Aunt Ruth?" she exclaimed, darting forward. "But..."
Too late, she remembered how little she was wearing and how Matt's shirt, less voluminous than the bottle green tunic she'd worn earlier, clung to the small, but well-defined bump beneath. Almost in the same moment, she watched Ruth's gaze sweep over her from top to bottom, her lips compressing into a thin line.
"You're pregnant?" Jason was first to break the silence.
"I would have said that was patently obvious," Ruth said, seeming to recover almost immediately. "With my grandchild, I presume?"
"Mother." Matt slid a protective arm around Melissa. "If you've come here to—"
His mother held up a hand. "No, I'm not here to make trouble. Far from it. It's only too clear you two were made for each other. It was always meant to be. Good heavens, Matthew, I'm not blind!"
"Wh-what? I mean—" Melissa stumbled over the words, convinced she must have misheard. "I'm sorry?"
"No, my dear. I'm the one who should apologise." To her astonishment, Ruth appeared genuinely contrite. "The moment I saw you with my son again at Charlie's funeral, I knew it would simply be a matter of time before you both came to your senses. My only regret," she went on, casting an even guiltier glance at Matt, "is that I wasn't gracious enough to encourage things along then."
Matt looked thunderstruck. "Encourage things? You told me to contest Charlie's Will!"
"I know." Ruth seemed uncomfortable. "And I'm not proud of that. But there were..." She hesitated, looking to Jason for reassurance. "Reasons," she finished at last as he nodded his encouragement.
This was surreal, Melissa decided. Had she ever seen a more unlikely pair of allies?
"There are things I should have told you, that I realise I should have told you a long time ago. But of course..." She sighed then and looked down at her shoes. "The longer you keep secrets, the harder they can be to tell."
"What secrets?" Matt demanded. "What the hell could you possibly know that we don't? Charlie told me everything—and I swear," he turned to Melissa, his expression solemn, "I've told you everything he told me."
"But you see, he didn't tell you everything." Again, there was that note of contrition in Ruth's voice. "There was one thing he couldn't tell you. Because it wasn't his secret to tell."
"Really?" As Matt's attention returned to his mother, Melissa watched his brow furrow in disbelief. "Then whose secret was it?"
Ruth hesitated, but only for a second. "It was mine. Mine and..." She took one last glance back at Jason before her eyes met Melissa's. "Your mother's."
But as Melissa heard the utter bewilderment in Matt's tone, she knew instinctively what the secret had to be. It was, after all, the only thing she didn't know. Something she thought she'd never know.
"You know who my father is."
Melissa suddenly felt as though she'd somehow split into two. And even as the second version of herself marvelled at how calmly the first version of herself was reacting to such a bombshell, she dropped her hand into Matt's and gently tugged him to the side of the door.
"Well then," she heard her calmer self say brightly. "In that case, I suppose you'd better come in..."
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