No Matter What
Text copyright 2015 Lauri Thorburn
Cover design copyright 2015 Lauri Thorburn
Cover Photograph by Robert Kneschke
The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, dead or alive, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Shakespir Edition License Notes
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Published by Lauri Thorburn 2015
Dedicated to my husband who somehow loves me no matter what.
Table of Contents
“Ladies and gentleman, we are now on our final approach into Auckland. On behalf of the crew, I would like to thank you for flying with us today.”
I reach over and kiss Kev’s neck, relishing the subtle scent of the cologne I bought him for Christmas, relieved the tedious journey from England is ending.
“Nearly there, hon. Excited?” he asks.
“Of course!” For all his travelling, Kev’s never been to New Zealand and I’m looking forward to showing off my homeland.
“Perhaps not quite as excited as Dan,” he says, laughing.
Dan’s head is flopped against the window frame at an awkward angle. I flick the tip of his nose and snap him out of sleep.
“What the hell, man? Not cool.”
“That’s for being rubbish company for the past however many hours. Some best friend you are!”
“Are we here? God, I can’t wait for a shower and a shave.”
“Me too.” Kev usually keeps his face smooth but I love the way his ink coloured stubble contrasts with his brilliant blue eyes. “I’m not exactly the most dapper future son-in-law right now. My beautiful fiancé puts me to shame.” Kev and I use that word every chance we get and it’s a novelty I can’t imagine wearing off.
“A shower and a shave won’t fix that, mate,” Dan teases. “Chances are Charlotte’s parents will take one look at you and you’ll be on the next plane home.”
Dan’s not far from the truth. I’ve told Mum and Dad the typical things most parents want to know – about his career as a marketing manager, how he owns a lovely flat in Chelsea, that he adores and respects me – but there’s one thing I’ve somehow managed to dodge telling them and my joy at being home is overshadowed by this significant omission, which I can no longer avoid addressing.
As the plane taxis to a stop, I pull my navy backpack from underneath the seat. It’s the same bag I took with me when I started my OE two-and-a-half years ago, a month before my twenty-fifth birthday. Back then, I never imagined I’d make the UK my permanent home.
I pull my wavy auburn hair into a ponytail and apply some lip gloss while Kev reaches into the overhead locker for the rest of our hand luggage. As we shuffle off the plane, my phone beeps. It’s a message from my sister, Alice: Welcome home! Call me asap! xx
When I look up, Kev and Dan are no longer following but are lumbering behind an elderly couple.
“Sorry, hon.” Kev apologises when he catches up. “Those folks were waiting in their seats so I let them into the queue.”
At the baggage claim, I find a spot away from the maddening crowds to call Alice. I’m only eighteen months older, but we’re completely different. Alice is permanently online, sharing her life with others, and it drives her nuts I don’t use Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. My digital compulsion goes as far as the occasional Skype when Kev’s away on business.
“Yay, you’re home!” she squeals, picking up on the first ring. “So I know you’re probably shagged from all the travelling but Mum’s cooking a massive dinner for tonight.”
I scrunch my face as Kev and Dan come over with our luggage.
“What’s up?” Kev mouths.
I shake my head and roll my eyes. “Okay, well, thanks for letting me know, Ali. We’re just going to get our rental car so we’ll be there in a couple of hours.”
“I can’t wait to see you, Charlie. And meet Kevin … oh, and Dan!”
“He’s out of bounds, Ali.”
“Oh, why? He sounds perfect. Around my age, cute and loads of fun.”
“You’ll find out why soon enough.”
“Whatever it is, it probably won’t stop me,” she says, giggling.
Alice has been dying to meet Dan ever since I told her about him, back when we met. We worked together at a swanky London coffee house called Brew. I didn’t know anybody else and he took me under his wing.
Dan was the person who introduced me to Kev. I was attracted to Kev from the start. With his striking eyes, immaculate dark hair, impeccable taste in clothes and a slim, muscular build, it was hard not to be – but I never expected it to go further than a secret crush.
Then, after a few casual brunches, outings to the theatre and trips to the south coast – sometimes with Dan and sometimes without – Kev and I became inseparable.
Although Dan was never more than a friend, he was indignant when Kev and I officially started dating, but he eventually got over it. And, while a few of my friends back in London thought asking Dan to come to New Zealand with us was weird, I really need his support. It will be nice for Kev and I to have an ally when the shit hits the proverbial fan – and there’s no doubt in my mind that it will.
The February heat greets me when we step outside and I take off my green cashmere jumper. I can’t stop beaming as the sun warms me from the outside in. I grab Kev’s hand and start skipping. He humours me and joins in.
“Do you want me to drive, hon?” he asks as we get to our rental. “I can put the sat nav on so you can have a sleep.”
“Nah, I’m fine. Thanks anyway.”
On our way to Hamilton, I am floored by the way the landscape has changed. There are more overhead bypasses on the motorway and, further south, large diggers are creating new parts of the Waikato Expressway.
As I drive, I tell Kev about the dinner Mum’s planned.
I don’t reply.
“Yeah … I guess.” I can feel him continue to stare at me. “I’m just worried how everyone’s going to react.”
“How much do they know about me, Char?”
“Pretty much everything.” I keep my eyes firmly on the road. Dan’s off-guard laugh makes him choke on his Red Bull.
“Like how you kick butt at doing cryptic crosswords, how you’re super fit and motivated, how you cook the best steak – Dad was impressed with that – how you make me the happiest I’ve ever been in my life, blah-de-blah-de-blah.”
Kev nods and gazes out the window. He knows I haven’t told them the most glaring thing about him, even though it’s not important to me.
I pull into the driveway of my parents’ brick and plaster house much sooner than I expect. Mum can’t have heard the car pull up or she’d have been out here like a shot.
I scrutinise myself in the rear-view mirror. My hazel eyes are slightly red from the flight and my skin is pale from the English winter, but after applying mascara and more lip gloss, I’m almost back to normal.
“Well, this is it,” I say more to myself than to Kev. “Let’s find out how open-minded my family really is.”
“I love you, Char. Whatever happens, whatever your family thinks, that won’t change.”
I try to smile, but the heaviness in my stomach weighs it down. “Right, let’s do this.”
We get out of the car and Kev cocoons me in his arms, making me feel protected.
“Enjoy that, guys – it might be your last,” Dan jokes.
I tap on the heavy wooden door but no one answers so I let myself in. The familiar aroma of Mum’s cooking welcomes me, and it’s then I realise how much I’ve missed my family. I seem to almost float towards the chatter in the dining room.
“Hi Mum, Dad,” I squeak as we enter.
“Charlotte!” Mum is wearing the purple paisley apron she’s had since I was a kid. She’s as beautiful and sunny as ever, and I’m comforted by the fact she’s exactly as I remember. The smell of her fruity perfume envelops me as affectionately as her embrace.
“And you must be Kevin,” she says eagerly.
“Um, Mum, no …” I splutter, putting my hand on her forearm. “That’s Dan.”
Her eyes dart between the three of us.
“I’m Kevin.” He holds up his hand politely. For a split second I see Mum, Dad and Alice’s stunned faces, mouths agape.
“Kevin is actually Dan’s … father,” I add. My mouth is dry and my heart is banging inside my chest.
“Holy shit!” Alice gasps. Dad is as rigid as a tree trunk.
“Language, Alice!” Mum spurts, her cheeks flaring. “My apologies, Kevin. Nice to meet you.” She shakes his hand but doesn’t quite meet his gaze. “If you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to the roast in the oven.”
Dad pulls himself up from his seat as though his body weighs a tonne. Unlike Mum, he’s aged since I left. His chestnut hair is peppered with grey and his face is lined with a few more wrinkles.
“I’m Jim.” Dad offers his hand to Kev and then to Dan. Although Dad is smiling, it’s forced.
“A pleasure to meet you, Jim … and you too, Alice,” Kev says. Her narrowed eyes are fixed on him as she sips her wine. “If you don’t mind I’ll quickly unload the car before dinner and let you all catch up. Dan, can you please give me a hand?”
“Just put our stuff by the front door for now.” I sound meek, which I kick myself for.
Kev rubs the top of my arm, which he always does when he knows I’m nervous. I can feel Dad and Alice’s discomfort.
As soon as we hear the front door close, Alice begins yelling at me. “Shit, Charlotte, you told me he was older than you but I didn’t think he was going to be freaking ancient! And, Dan’s his son? That’s sick. No wonder he’s out of bounds. You’re bloody insane!”
“Cut it out, Alice,” Dad growls. “Nice to have you home, Charlie.” He kisses my forehead. “I’d better help your mother carve the meat.” He smiles at me, but it doesn’t extend to his deep brown eyes.
Alice makes no move to hug me. “I’m your sister, Charlie. Why the fuck didn’t you tell me you were dating a fucking fifty-year-old?” She tops up her wine and takes a gulp.
“He’s actually fifty-four,” I bark back. I’m tired and deflated and the last thing I need is an irate, tipsy little sister.
“Ew, gross. He’s older than Mum,” she shrieks. “There is no way I’m going to be your bridesmaid if you marry that fucking old creep, Charlotte. No. Fucking. Way!”
A vein in Alice’s neck is swollen like a purple worm. She snatches her wine glass, spilling half of it as she charges out of the room. The slam of her bedroom door is a slap in the face.
I can see where she’s coming from. We’re sisters. We’re supposed to tell each other everything. But, if I’d told Alice how big the age gap was – and how Kev was Dan’s father – she’d have gone straight to Mum and Dad and all hell would’ve broken loose. I figured if I shared all of the wonderful things about Kev, then his age wouldn’t be such an issue when they finally got to meet him.
I head to the kitchen for a tea towel to soak up the spreading wine stain on the carpet, but Mum’s voice stops me.
“Do you think they’re joking? Do you think Kev’s the younger one? The one who’s pretending to be Dan?”
“No, Viv, I don’t,” Dad murmurs back.
“But he’s our age. It doesn’t make sense.” I hear a pot clunk into the sink. “How could she just spring this on us?”
I slink back to the dining room, slump into a chair and pour myself the last of the wine.
Kev knocks loudly on the front door before he enters and it dawns on me he was prepared for this kind of reaction. He knew he’d be judged without a fair trial, and yet he was willing to risk it out of his love for me. It makes my heart melt even more for this sweet, sensitive, selfless man whose only crime is that he is twenty-seven years older than his bride-to-be.
“Oh, Char,” he sighs when he sees me. He crouches down and puts his hands on my lap. “Everything’s going to work out, hon.”
I nod weakly. It will be a slow, emotional process but he’s right. Just as Dan accepted us, I know my family will too.
“They’ll end up adoring you as much as I do,” I say.
“Either way, I love you. That won’t change. No matter what.
I draw his face to mine and kiss him tenderly. “Me too, hon … no matter what.”
About the Author
Lauri Thorburn is a trained primary school teacher who also has a background in journalism. She is the former editor of New Zealand teenage lifestyle magazine, Crème. Lauri predominantly writes for children. No Matter What is her self-published short story debut. Lauri is a wife and mother from the Waikato region of New Zealand. In her spare time she loves to read, escape to the beach, hang out with friends and family and go to concerts with her husband.
To connect with Lauri, follow her on
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27-year-old Charlotte is bringing her English fiancé, Kevin, back to her home in New Zealand for the first time. She should be excited to show off her caring, intelligent and successful fiancé but, for all his amazing qualities, there is one confronting aspect about him that she knows could tear her family apart. No Matter What is a short story that challenges our views on what is important in a relationship and makes us think about the own judgements we place on others.