Joey – Chapter 17

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Ethan

After the upheaval of the funeral, people coming out of the woodwork, the media and David’s email, Ethan and Joey had an early night and a lie-in the following morning. Being Sunday, the only plan they had was to go to Joey’s parents’ house for dinner, which Ethan was trying not to think about. Instead, as they lay in bed, Ethan’s head on Joey’s chest, he explained about David’s email.

“Ani said you would say I should ignore it, but I don’t know David well enough to know if he’s capable of anything more.”

Joey’s chest lifted and fell as he sighed. “Under normal circumstances, yes, I would’ve said ignore it, but David gave me a slimeball feeling right from the beginning, and the way he was with you was just plain wrong.” He paused. “The least you should do is tell Meredith. I’m sure she could think of something to give her an excuse to fire him.”

“Won’t that exacerbate things, though?”

“Possibly. I’m happy to pay him to keep his mouth shut, but one, there’s no guarantee he will stay quiet, and two, there’s always the chance he’ll keep coming back for more and more.”

“True.” He wasn’t sure what the best route was, but he’d definitely speak to Meredith. Maybe she could speak to other employees and see if they’d had similar experiences to him. It might stop him from focusing so much on him and Joey if he had something else to worry about. Maybe. Far too many maybes around there lately.

Joey slipped out from beneath him and braced himself on his elbow. “Tell you what. Go for a shower, and I’ll cook us a late breakfast. Sorry, brunch. We’re not due at my parents’ until three o’clock, so we have time to relax.”

“Deal.”

Joey leaned over and kissed him, soft and far too chaste for Ethan’s liking, but a shower sounded nice. Some warmth to help keep away the chill of what David was trying to do. He truly was an asshole. He watched Joey walk naked to the drawers before he slipped on some boxers. Catching Ethan staring, he winked and left the room, and Ethan headed for the shower. As the hot water pounded down on him, he closed his eyes and let it wash away his worries, at least for now. He was where he wanted to be and would soon be doing what he thought he might enjoy—which was another reason he needed to speak with Meredith. He shivered as he climbed out of the shower and dried off as quickly as he could, and then he sat on the bed and held his phone. He wasn’t sure what Meredith’s reaction would be to him handing in his notice, but he’d soon find out.

“Hey, Ethan. How are things down there?” Meredith said, and just hearing her voice made Ethan realise it would be fine.

“Hi. They’re great, Meredith. Really good.”

Meredith sighed. “You’re not coming back, are you?”

She always had been quick on the uptake. “I’ll be back to work my notice, but then, no. I’m moving to London.”

“I’m happy for you, Ethan. I truly am. And…I knew it was coming. I’ve checked and you have enough holiday days accrued to use for your notice period. I’m not saying that I don’t want you back, but you have the option if you wanted a fresh start from now.”

Ethan swallowed hard, and everything went blurry. “I don’t know what to say.”

“Say, ‘Meredith, I’d like you to use my holiday as my notice period, please.’ It’s not that hard when it’s truly what you want.”

Ethan chuckled and inhaled deeply. “Meredith, I’d like you to use my holiday as my notice period, please.”

“Good boy. I will sort it. I want you to keep in touch, yeah? Let me know how life is in the limelight.”

Which reminded him of his other reason for calling. “Talking of. I have something to talk to you about.”

“What’s that?”

“David.”

Meredith sighed. “What’s he done now?”

Ethan paused. Had he done something before? “Blackmail doesn’t look good on him.”

“Fucking asshole,” she murmured, quietly enough that Ethan was sure he wasn’t supposed to hear. “I don’t know what to suggest.”

“I need to tell you about other things he’s done, too.” He went on to explain David’s behaviour during working hours, the innuendos they put up with and anything else he thought was pertinent to the conversation.

“Why is it only now I’m hearing about this?” Meredith said. “I knew what I saw, but I never knew it bled into work.”

“We didn’t think it mattered. It appeared harmless, to begin with, but now, with the blackmail, I’m wondering if he’s getting worse.”

“I’m going to investigate it, Ethan. I know you won’t be working here any longer, but I’ll keep you updated so you know if there’s likely to be any backlash from it. If I have to let him go, he might up the heat on the blackmail.”

“Okay. Thanks, Meredith, and sorry for throwing everything at you.”

“It’s fine. I’m just so glad you’re happy.”

Ethan smiled. “Yeah. Life throws things at you when you least expect it.”

“So true.”

They spoke for a few more minutes, and then they ended the call with Meredith promising to send the final paperwork to him in the week. He couldn’t believe that was it. His years at The Cliff End Hotel were done. He stared down at the phone for a long moment, remembering the people and events he’d seen and taken part in. It was a wonderful place to work if he excluded David’s being there. Though, hopefully, he wouldn’t be there for much longer.

“Hey,” Joey said, stepping into the bedroom. “I heard you on the phone, so I gave you some space. Everything okay?”

Ethan leaned against Joey’s arm and smiled. “I’m using my holiday as my notice period, so I don’t have to go back. I’ve also told her about David. She’s going to look into it.”

Joey slid his arm around him, and Ethan sighed. “Wow. I was expecting to have to part with you for a few weeks while you finished up there.”

“Me, too. The only thing I really need to go back for is to pack up the house and get it on the market. I’m sure Dad and Mum will help if I need anything during the sale.”

He’d spoken to his mother late the previous evening, and although groggy, she sounded in good spirits. It lessened the worry about her, but he still hadn’t spoken to Kole. He’d received a few messages from Christi, though, updating him as much as she could. He was still insisting on going back to work that night. Ethan wasn’t so sure, but it was Kole’s decision.

So many things were happening at once.

“I would offer to slow time down, but I don’t think that would help,” Joey said with a chuckle.

Ethan laughed. “I didn’t even realise I’d said that out loud.” His stomach growled, and he pressed his palm against it. “Oh god. Has breakfast gone cold?”

“No, I put it in the oven. It’ll still be hot enough.”

“Okay, let me get dressed.” Ethan moved to stand, but Joey grabbed his arm and tugged him to the bed.

“I can think of something much better to do with this towel.” Joey growled and kissed him, and Ethan let himself be distracted—because who wouldn’t if they had a “Joey” in their arms?

An hour later, their breakfast was far more crispy than Ethan liked, but he ate it anyway. Joey had offered to make some more, but Ethan declined. No point wasting food, especially as his stomach was churning enough about meeting his parents. He hadn’t thought about how nerve-wracking it was when he’d taken Joey to meet his. He felt like he needed to apologise again, but Joey wouldn’t have it.

“You don’t have to worry about it, you know,” Joey said, proving he was a mind reader.

Ethan chuckled. “That transparent, am I?”

“Not really. I’m just getting to know you.” Joey leaned his head down onto Ethan’s shoulder. “They’re lovely people. Much like your own. I’m sure they would get on well together.” Joey hummed. “Maybe too well. We might need to keep them apart.”

Ethan snorted. “Two of my mum? Definitely.”

“I suppose there is one thing. If we ever get married, we wouldn’t have to do anything.”

Ethan’s heart raced at the thought of marrying Joey. They’d barely known each other, but the idea wasn’t as far-fetched as he would’ve thought at another point in his life. He glanced down at Joey, imagining their lives completely intertwined forevermore, and it wasn’t a bad thought.

Joey lifted his head. “Are you thinking how it sounds too sudden or too right?”

The man’s bright gaze met his, and there was no hesitation. Ethan realised that if Joey asked him to marry him right then, he would’ve said yes. How crazy was that?

“Both,” Ethan answered.

A smile crept across Joey’s face. “Duly noted.”

They spent the next couple of hours talking about what needed to be done for Ethan to join Joey in London and what Joey’s schedule looked like over the next couple of weeks. Ethan would need to return to Whitby sooner rather than later to get some more things. He’d only brought one bag, after all. They decided he would drive back on Tuesday and grab whatever was essential and could fit in his car, and he would return on Thursday, so he could spend a night each with his friends and family. Joey was due to visit Bath on Tuesday and Cardiff on Wednesday, so it was the perfect time. The next time Joey travelled, Ethan would be going with him. It was a crazy but exciting thought.

The drive to Joey’s parents took around an hour. They were on the outskirts of London in a lovely detached house that should’ve scared Ethan with its size. He was used to Joey being so down-to-earth despite his money, and he hoped his parents were the same.

“They’ll love you. I promise.”

Joey snuck a kiss as they headed, hand in hand, to the front door, which was opened by a butler—there was no mistaking who it was. He even wore the uniform.

“Good afternoon, Master Joey. Your parents are in the lounge.”

“Thank you, Percy. I’d like you to meet my boyfriend, Ethan.”

The butler, Percy, bowed his head and held out his hand. “Nice to meet you, Master Ethan.”

“Likewise.” And he found it was true. As they headed for the lounge, Ethan said, “You never told me they had money. I thought this was from you.”

Joey glanced at him. “How do you know it’s not?”

“Percy seems to have known you for a long time.”

Joey grinned. “Okay, well, we didn’t always have money, but I was about ten when Dad made a wise business choice and reaped the rewards.” Ethan raised his eyebrows at him. “Investments. Dad has a way with them. They’re not famous by any means.”

“Not like you.” Ethan nudged his side.

Joey chuckled. “Definitely more subdued than me.”

They entered a large, bright room with plenty of seating space, a large coffee table and a bar in one corner. Ethan inhaled and braced himself for meeting the two people deep in conversation.

“Mum, Dad?”

Joey’s mum glanced up, and Ethan could see the resemblance immediately. They had the same facial features, though Joey’s were more masculine than his mother’s. She smiled in the same way, too. Rising from her chair, she opened her arms as Joey went towards her.

“Joey! I’m so glad you came.”

At the words, some of the nervousness disappeared. He’d been worried they would be stuck up and grandiose because of their money, but he could see where Joey got his down-to-earth personality.

“Hi, Mum. This is Ethan.”

Ethan stepped closer and held out his hand, but she slapped it away and tugged him in for a hug.

“Ethan, my dear. I haven’t heard as much about you as I want to know, so be prepared to be interrogated over dinner.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Pfft. Hazel, please.”

Ethan smiled. “Hazel.”

“Sweetheart, come meet Ethan. He’s adorable, just like Joey told us.”

Adorable? He glanced at Joey, whose cheeks had darkened, and he wouldn’t meet Ethan’s gaze. He’d tease him about that later.

Joey’s father rose from his seat and stepped forward, hand outstretched. “Nice to meet you, Ethan. Please call me Jonah.”

“Thank you for having me, Jonah.”

“You’re most welcome. Come, sit.” Jonah waved to the sofa opposite them. “Tell us about you.”

Ethan cleared his throat as he sat. “Um, well, there’s not much to say, really.”

“Of course there is. Joey said you live in Whitby?” Hazel said.

Ethan shared a glance with Joey, who smiled and gave a small nod. He refocused on Hazel. “I do, yes. Although, I’ve decided to, um…” He stared at Joey, wanting his help to explain their crazy fast decision.

Joey chuckled and wrapped an arm around him. “Ethan is moving in with me. We’ve had a long talk about it, and we’ve agreed that it’s a good decision. He’s going to work as my assistant when I’m on the road.”

Hazel frowned. “It is a bit quick. Are you sure about making such a big decision?” She held out her hands. “Please don’t think I’m against it. I’m not. I’m just concerned.”

Ethan nodded. “I was, too. I kept thinking we were moving too fast, but I think living with someone is the best way to find out if you’re compatible or not. Or at least, the quickest way.” He exhaled and stared at Hazel, seeing the worry and love shining in her eyes for her son. “I love him, Hazel. I know it’s quick.” He stared at Joey, smiling. “But I also know my heart.”

He heard sniffing, and Hazel wiped her eyes. “Oh, I’m just a big softy. Don’t mind me.” She waved him away. “I don’t think we have anything to worry about, Jonah.”

“Me either.”

“Madam, Sire, dinner is ready,” Percy said from the doorway, proving he had impeccable timing.

“Wonderful,” Hazel said, standing. “Let’s eat.”

When they were settled at the dining table, their conversation continued, and Ethan felt as comfortable with Joey’s parents as he was with his own. They covered so many topics, and Hazel and Jonah gave advice to them about how to live with someone, which was cute. He wouldn’t turn down any advice, though, the same as he wouldn’t when he spoke with his mum. That thought reminded him of her fall and everything that was going on with Kole. Despite having to leave Joey for a few days, he was looking forward to being able to check in with everyone and ease his worries.

“It was so lovely to meet you, Ethan,” Hazel said as they got ready to leave. “I know you’ll miss having your parents close by, so I want you to know that you are always welcome here. With or without Joey.”

Ethan’s throat closed, but he smiled. “Thank you,” he rasped.

Hazel pulled him in for a hug and then patted his face before turning to Joey. “And you, mister, don’t be a stranger. We’re not far enough away to warrant months between visits.” She wagged her finger at him, and Joey chuckled.

“Sorry.”

Ethan nudged him. “I’ll start adding you to his calendar so he has no excuse.”

Joey gasped. “So cruel.”

They waved and climbed into the car. Ethan exhaled. “Your parents are lovely.”

“They are. Their money didn’t change them in any way. The house was a place they had hoped to fill with more children, but Mum developed endometriosis, and she struggled to conceive. After several years, they stopped trying, as the emotional toll was too great. She’s now got her eyes set on grandchildren.” He glanced at Ethan. “I should’ve warned you about that.”

Ethan laughed. “Throwing kids at me already, huh?”

“You don’t want kids?”

Joey’s neutral tone made it difficult to determine his opinion on the matter, but Ethan would be honest. “I do. At least two so they can grow up together, but I’d be happy for more.”

Joey exhaled. “I’m glad. I was worried for a moment.”

“Would it have been a deal breaker?” Ethan peered at him, the sun sending shimmers of gold through his hair.

“Nope, but I’m glad you do.”

Ethan snorted. “We wouldn’t be able to take a child on the road as much as your schedule does now.” He pulled out his phone. “Ani gave me access to your calendar.” He checked his emails while he spoke. “Do you always make your journeys more difficult by scheduling each side of the country the day after each other? It would be easier to streamline…” He trailed off as he read an email from an address he didn’t recognise.

Ethan,

You really shouldn’t have brought Meredith into this. Or anyone else, for that matter. Now, I don’t have a job, and that is your fault. Good luck trying to dampen this down.

David.

Attached were several pictures of Joey and some of them both doing various things, including the pictures of them in the kitchen at his house when that reporter got into the back garden.

“How the fuck did he get those photos?” he murmured.

Continue to chapter 18