‘’So, did you ever think you’d see the day? Coming round for Sunday lunch with your son-in-law Robert Sugden?’’ Paddy chuckled.
They had just arrived at the Mill, and Chas shot Paddy an unreadable look as she hovered by the main door.
‘’Not exactly where I thought I’d be spending my Sunday I’ll grant ya, but never thought you’d have knocked me up, so stranger things are possible.’’ Chas fired back as she rapped on the door.
Paddy mulled over his fiancée’s words, trying to decipher if it was more classic Dingle dark humour, but before he could say anything, the door opened, Robert on the other side with a welcoming smile on his face.
‘’Have you gotten to grips with Dingle humour yet?’’ Paddy blurted out, eliciting a glare from Chas and a baffled look from Robert.
‘’Nothing…hiya.’’ He started over.
‘’Hiya.’’ Robert repeated hesitantly. ‘’Come in.’’ He gestured, stepping aside to let his guests in.
Chas walked into the kitchen followed closely by Paddy, who nearly collided with her when she stopped in awe to admire the scene in front of her; the dinner table neatly set, and her son manoeuvring about the kitchen with a tea towel slung over his shoulder as he pulled a tray of roast potatoes from the oven and set them next to a glorious looking topside of beef.
‘’Hiya love.’’ She eventually said, after shaking off the shock of seeing her son look so domesticated.
‘’Yea, thanks for having us over.’’
‘’Need a hand with anything?’’ Chas asked, still unable to tear her eyes away from Aaron as he moved around the kitchen.
‘’Nah, we got it covered,’’ he said, looking at Robert, who nodded in agreement and gestured for them to take a seat at the table. ‘’Oh Liv says hi by the way.’’
‘’Is she having a good time at her mum’s?’’
‘’Yea, think she needed a break after being inside, but she sounds good.’’ Robert chipped in. ‘’Beer Paddy?’’
‘’What do you want Chas? We’ve got water, orange juice or this fizzy grape juice stuff with’’ Robert paused, pulling a bottle from the fridge, ‘’all of the taste of Prosecco but none of the suffering,’’ he read from the label.
‘’Or fun, apparently.’’ Chas moaned. ‘’Sounds perfect.’’
Robert nodded, pouring her a glass and handing it over along with Paddy’s beer, before setting two others down for himself and Aaron, who set all the heaving plates on the table with a triumphant look on his face.
‘’Wow, looks great Aaron.’’ Paddy said.
‘’It really does.’’ Chas agreed.
‘’No need to sound so surprised.’’ Aaron snorted.
‘’If it’s too much for you Chas I can make you something else.’’ Robert offered. Chas looked up at him curiously, and while she would have once scoffed at his offer, telling him sucking up to her wouldn’t change her mind about him, she knew that it wasn’t what motivated his offer. He genuinely cared about what she could handle with her questionable stomach, and the thought warmed her.
‘’Not at all love,’’ she reassured him. ‘’Been looking forward to this all morning.’’
‘’Told me when she was getting sick and I was holding her hair back that it was leaving more room for this.’’ Paddy chimed in unhelpfully, getting a glare from Chas and a baffled look from Aaron and Robert. ‘’Anyway, let’s dig in.’’ He finished hurriedly, stuffing a large mouthful of roast potatoes into his mouth to shut himself up, still managing to grin manically through it, much to Chas’s chagrin, and soon they had all settled down to eat, and Paddy nudged Chas surprisingly subtly, both of them looking up as they watched Aaron shuffle his chair ever so slightly closer to Robert, so that their shoulders knocked together as they moved in tandem, swapping the salt and gravy with precision. Giving Paddy an amused glance, Chas dug into her food.
''This is so good.'' Chas murmured through a mouthful.
''It's all Aaron.'' Robert replied, and the pride in his voice, along with the accompanying blush on her son's face made her heart flutter uncontrollably as she watched them make soft eyes at each other, Robert beaming at Aaron before tucking into his food.
‘’So now Pearl’s holding the notice board hostage, and Vanessa’s hidden the printer ink. It’s getting out of control.’’ Paddy moaned minutes later, recounting the latest catastrophe to hit the vet’s; a civil war between the office manager and the receptionist.
‘’You do realise this is all Robert’s fault right?’’ Aaron chuckled through a mouthful of roast beef.
‘’How?’’ Robert and Paddy asked in unison as Chas watched on, an amused look on her face.
‘’It’s that book you gave her.’’ He directed at his husband.
‘’What book?’’ Paddy probed.
‘’Well,’’ Robert began, ‘’you know how Vanessa’s redecorating Tug Ghyll as a project for her and Charity to take their minds off the trial?’’
‘’Yea…’’ Paddy agreed suspiciously.
‘’Well I might have given her this design book…’’
‘’On the importance of clean lines and symmetry.’’ Aaron chimed in unhelpfully. ‘’Something to do with angles and multi-functional spaces or that.’’
‘’So let me get this straight; my office manager is currently concerned with having every leaflet about worms and spaying at identical distances from each other on the noticeboard because of your book?’’
‘’And my receptionist has now stolen my noticeboard and refuses to give into said office manager’s obsessive need for perpendicular angles because of you?’’
‘’Sounds about right.’’ Robert admitted sheepishly.
‘’So Mr. Shifty strikes again eh?’’ Paddy grumbled
‘’Well I’ve a rep to maintain Paddy.’’ Robert shot back with a glint in his eye.
‘’Phew.’’ Aaron joked, causing everyone to raise a questioning eyebrow. ‘’What? We nearly had a whole week go by where Robert’s wasn’t blamed for something, and that’s just not on.’’ He joked, earning a spluttering laugh from Paddy and Chas and a mock glare from Robert, which soon turned to a smile.
‘’Well technically that’s probably two things, so I get a pass next week.’’
‘’Sounds fair.’’ Aaron agreed, beaming at Robert, whose eyes lit up as he smiled at his husband, and Chas and Paddy shared an amazed glance as they watched the men opposite them act so playfully.
‘’So, who’s ready for dessert?’’ Robert asked a little while later, once everyone had finished their lunch and were leaning contently back against their chairs.
‘’What’s on offer?’’ Paddy asked enthusiastically.
‘’Homemade apple and blackberry crumble with custard.’’
‘’Homemade, even the custard?’’ Chas asked in disbelief, causing Aaron to snort as he rolled his eyes at Robert, who feigned surprise.
‘’What?’’ He asked innocently. ‘’I haven’t said anything.’’
‘’Are we missing something?’’ Chas asked.
‘’Just the list of a hundred reasons why my husband refuses to feed his family custard from a packet.’’ Aaron pretended to groan, but he rubbed Robert’s shoulder affectionately as he did so, and the man next to him instantly softened, which didn’t go unnoticed by Chas and Paddy.
‘’Homemade is just better in every way Aaron.’’ Robert countered, and the look of utter indignation on his face was enough to send Paddy over the edge, and he couldn’t hold in his laughter anymore.
‘’What?’’ Aaron asked impatiently, tearing his gaze away from Robert.
‘’Can’t believe my son and his husband have gone from getting shot and ending up in prison to arguing over the merits of homemade custard.’’ Paddy guffawed, and there was an awkward silence for a moment when he realised he may have put his foot in it, but then Robert burst out laughing, and soon the two Dingles joined in.
‘’Go sit down in the living room,’’ Aaron chuckled, ‘’we’ll make some tea and bring it over.’’
Chas made herself comfortable in the chair nearest the door as Paddy sank into on of the reclining seats, marvelling at the technology as he swayed back and forth like a little kid with a look of delight on his face. Meanwhile, Chas found herself entranced by the collection of children’s clothes and toys piled neatly on the coffee table, and started to think of her own baby as she fingered the soft material of one of Seb’s hoodies, the recognition that it was a mini replica of one her own son owned bringing a smile to her face.
Soon, Chas was distracted from playing with Seb’s toys by an incessant pulling on her elbow.
‘’What?’’ She growled as she glared at Paddy.
She followed his gaze towards the kitchen and saw what could only be described as an expertly choreographed and well-practised routine. She watched, fascinated, as Robert flicked on the kettle before laying out four bowls neatly in a row. As he did, Aaron removed the crumble and custard from the fridge, handing them smoothly to his husband before grabbing the milk without even looking. While Robert spooned the dessert into the bowls, Aaron pulled four mugs from the cupboard, holding them out to Robert, who expertly dropped teabags into each one before Aaron set them down on the counter and opened the drawer, pulling out enough spoons for the dessert and tea before handing them over to Robert, who took them while simultaneously putting bowls in the microwave to heat the crumble. Aaron made the tea while the desserts finished cooking, and Chas and Paddy were captivated by how the couple moved around each other in sync, always finding a way to touch each other while they danced around their kitchen, trading soft smiles as they worked in silence.
‘’Alex never stood a chance did he?’’ Paddy chuckled as he watched them both.
‘’Guess not.’’ Chas murmured in agreement, equally captivated by the sight before her.
Just as the last bowls were coming out of the microwave, a sound on the baby monitor alerted both men and again, they turned in sync to follow the noise. They had a wordless conversation, all of five seconds long before Aaron kissed Robert's cheek and headed up the stairs to Seb. Chas took her chance, waiting for Aaron to disappear from sight before she made her way over to Robert, who was putting the spoons into the bowls.
‘’Need a hand?’’
‘’Eh yea, you can carry some of these, Aaron’s just gone to get Seb.’’
Chas carried over two mugs to where Paddy was seated before returning to get the rest, and Aaron soon appeared with Seb in his arms, descending the stairs slowly.
‘’You got everything?’’ He asked.
‘’Yea, I’ll get his bottle and be there in a sec.’’
After dropping the remaining mugs and bowls over to the coffee table, Chas hovered by the sink as she watched Robert heat up Seb’s bottle.
‘’Everything okay Chas?’’ He asked, apprehension evident in his voice.
‘’Yea, fine.’’ Chas answered, glancing over at Aaron, who was bouncing Seb in his lap.
‘’Yea. You know, I’ve known you a long time Robert Sugden…’’
‘’And?’’ Robert asked tentatively.
‘’And I didn’t think I’d ever say this, but I’ve never seen you look so genuinely happy.’’
‘’Yea well, your son’s got a lot to answer for.’’ Robert said softly with a smile as he followed Chas’s gaze towards Aaron.
‘’Reckon he’d say the same about you love.’’ Chas admitted, which brought a beaming smile to her son-in-law’s face.
‘’What do you reckon those two are whispering about then?’’ Paddy asked, and Aaron followed his gaze to where Robert and his mum were having a hushed conversation.
‘’Rob’s probably telling her what colour scheme is best for a baby’s cerebral development.’’ Aaron laughed.
‘’Really? That sounds interesting.’’
‘’Don’t get him started, you’ll never leave the house again.’’ Aaron mock groaned as he watched his husband test Seb’s bottle with a grin on his face, but his own smile faded when he turned back and saw Paddy watching him with an unreadable look on his face.
‘’What are you looking me like that for?’’
‘’Just...it’s nice to see you so happy.’’ Paddy said softly. ‘’I never thought I’d say this, but I’m glad you and he found your way back to each other.’’
‘’Me too.’’ Aaron said with a soft look in his eyes. ‘’I want to make him as happy as he makes me, you know?’’
‘’Well I think you’ve succeeded.’’ Paddy said softly, nodding over to where Robert was talking to Chas with a soft look on his face.
Robert followed Chas back to the living area, where he took his seat next to Aaron and held out his hands for his son, Aaron passing him over before diving into his crumble while Robert fed Seb his bottle. Minutes later, when Aaron had finished his dessert and taken a massive gulp of his tea, he mimicked Robert’s gesture and his husband placed Seb into Aaron’s waiting arms before taking his own dessert off the table, eating it as he gazed at his husband feeding Seb the remainder of his bottle, all without saying one word to each other.
‘’Amazing.’’ Paddy murmured in utter disbelief as he watched the two men.
‘’Sorry?’’ Robert asked, slightly distracted by his son pulling on the strings of Aaron’s hoodie now he’d finished his milk.
‘’Eh…this crumble, so good.’’ Paddy said hurriedly as he took another mouthful. ‘’Such a nice blend of tart and sweet, with just the right amount of crunch, splendid.’’
‘’Alright Paddy, it’s just a crumble.’’ Aaron snorted as he stroked Seb’s hair.
‘’Just a crumble?’’ Robert repeated in mock horror.
‘’Not exactly hard is it?’’ Aaron teased.
‘’I’ll remind you of that next time you try to set the place on fire by making beans on toast.’’
‘’That was one time Robert.’’
‘’Do we want to hear to hear this story?’’ Chas asked sceptically.
‘’Yes.’’ Robert laughed, just as Aaron firmly said ‘’no’’ with a glare at his husband.
‘’Maybe another time.’’ Robert relented, with a look of surrender towards Aaron, and they all laughed at how clearly Robert was wrapped around his husband’s little finger.
‘’Another brew?’’ Robert offered a little while later, gesturing to get up.
‘’Stay, I’ll make these ones,’’ Paddy countered, taking Robert’s mug. ‘’Aaron?’’
‘’I’m alright, ta,’’ Aaron replied; too busy bouncing Seb on his lap.
‘’Excuse me a sec,’’ Robert said, prising himself away from Aaron and his son to head to the bathroom.
Chas couldn’t help the smile on her face as she watched Aaron play with the little boy in his lap, Seb letting out the most glorious noises as he got tickled and smiled at.
‘’What?’’ Aaron asked, briefly looking up to see his mother staring at him in awe.
‘’You’re really good with him love.’’
‘’You sound surprised.’’
‘’I’m not, I’ve seen you with Leo, but this is different isn’t it?’’
‘’Well, he’s really good with me. Think he actually quite likes me.’’
‘’Is it any wonder, given who his dad is?’’
Chas felt a surge of warmth pass through her when she saw Aaron’s reaction to her comment, his face reddening slightly with the blush of a man unable to hide his love for his husband, and he looked so happy her heart felt on the brink of bursting.
‘’So…do you think you’ll make me a nana again sometime? What? I’m just asking.’’ Chas said, seeing the wide-eyed look on her son’s face.
‘’Sticking you beak in more like.’’
‘’Well, I bet this one would love a little sister. And if he’s anything like you or Robert, he’ll need one to keep him in his place.’’ Chas laughed.
‘’Yea, and do his head in.’’ Aaron added. ‘’Well…’’
‘’Robert did…half mention the idea a while back and…I didn’t say anything but I didn’t exactly…hate it.’’ Aaron admitted, a small smile tugging at his lips.
‘’Okay let’s just calm down yea? Why don’t we let my future little sister arrive first before we start planning matching outfits okay?’’
‘’I’m shutting up now then.’’ Chas relented, but they shared a knowing smile as Robert returned from the bathroom.
‘’Okay?’’ Robert asked as he sunk into the couch next to Aaron, who nodded softly as he watched his husband tickle his son’s belly. ‘’Oh cheers.’’ Robert said, taking his mug of tea from Paddy, who had re-joined the group.
They chatted aimlessly about work, Liv and the new baby as they drank their tea, Aaron contributing less and less to the conversation with every passing minute, until Chas paused mid sentence to just gawp in her son’s direction.
‘’Awh.’’ She said, her eyes wide and soft as she looked at her son.
Robert glanced to his left, where Aaron had tucked himself against his husband’s side and was now dozing peacefully, his head propped on Robert’s shoulder with his arms wrapped protectively around Seb, who was also sleeping soundly, nestled against Aaron’s chest. They looked utterly adorable, and Chas couldn’t help but whip out her phone and take a picture, which included Robert smiling down at them both.
‘’Didn’t realise our company was so riveting.’’ Paddy chuckled.
‘’He’s been pretty slammed at the yard all week, must have caught up to him.’’ Robert explained in a whisper.
‘’Oh, you should have said, we could have postponed.’’ Chas suggested.
‘’Nah, he wanted you to come over, we both did.’’ Robert countered with a reassuring smile. ‘’Chas, are you okay?’’ He asked, looking concerned as he saw her eyes well with tears.
‘’Oh it’s nothing love, just these flipping hormones.’’ She tried to laugh off, but she could tell Robert wasn’t convinced.
‘’Chas…’’ he prodded softly.
‘’Yea okay you got me,’’ Chas admitted, wiping a tear that rolled down her cheek. ‘’It’s just…’’
‘’I always wanted him to have this,’’ she said, gesturing around the room, ‘’the home and the family, but I was scared he wouldn’t get it…not because he didn’t deserve it but…’’
‘’Because he wouldn’t let himself have it?’’ Robert finished softly, and Chas nodded as she wiped another tear away. ‘’Don’t worry, I’ll make sure he always has this.’’
Chas nodded, confident in Robert’s words as she smiled through her tears, Paddy jumping up to wrap an arm around her.
‘’What did you put in that custard eh?’’ She joked.
‘’Now that would be telling.’’ Robert smiled.
‘’We should get out of your hair.’’ Paddy said quietly after a moment’s silence.
‘’Want me to wake him?’’
‘’No love, let him rest, just tell him to text me when he wakes up yea?’’
‘’Course.’’ Robert agreed as he prised himself away from Aaron’s side to walk them out.
‘’Thanks for having us over,’’ Chas said.
‘’Anytime.’’ Robert replied warmly. ‘’See you tomorrow probably.’’
No more than ten seconds passed when Chas found herself knocking on the door again before strolling straight in, greeted by Robert who was stood at the dinner table, holding her purse in his hand.
‘’Forgot something then?’’
‘’You read my mind. Thanks love.’’ Chas smiled as she took her purse, but just as she turned on her heel she felt the urge to make an admission.
‘’Yea?’’ He asked, looking up from where he was stacking plates.
‘’I don’t know if this is the custard or the fake Prosecco but…’’
‘’Thank you, for looking after my baby.’’
‘’He’s easy to love.’’ Robert replied with a soft look in his eyes as he glanced over at his still sleeping husband. ‘’And he looks after me more.’’
‘’Right well, on that sappy note,’’ Chas joked, ‘’I’m off.’’
‘’Chas.’’ She heard behind her as she reached the door, and she turned to see Robert smiling genuinely at her. ‘’You’re a great mum you know, and that baby is lucky to have you…and Paddy’s alright too I guess.’’ He chuckled.
Before she could register she was doing it, she crossed the room and had wrapped her arms around her clearly surprised son-in-law, embracing him in a warm hug, which after a moment’s hesitation, he replicated.
‘’Okay, definitely the Prosecco.’’ She laughed as she pulled back.
‘’Why do you only ever hug me when Aaron’s out for the count?’’ Robert asked with a twinkle in his eye.
‘’So I can deny all word of it if you tell him obviously.’’
‘’Obviously.’’ Robert agreed.
Chas couldn’t help the smile on her face as she closed the front door behind her and walked the sort distance to where Paddy was waiting.
‘’Everything alright?’’ He asked, seeing the strange expression on her face.
‘’Yep, never better.’’ She replied, and she meant it.