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Two of A Kind

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Megan had never seen her brother so happy. True, he’d not often truly been happy, much as he’d tried to convince her otherwise. But now… now he was with Sophie.

Sophie was really quite pretty. And, to Megan’s relief, she didn’t flatter Howell or feed his ego. Truly, Megan wasn’t sure why someone as seemingly lovely as Sophie would waste her time with a layabout like Howell, but, well, surely Howell could have (and had) done worse.

It didn’t hurt that Sophie seemed quite stern with Howell at times, even in front of Megan and Mari. She didn’t seem to be afraid of Megan, either. Mari loved her, Neil didn’t hate her, and Gareth… well, Gareth hadn’t met her yet. Megan didn’t think it was a stretch to say that Gareth would probably like Sophie more than Howell, but then he liked just about anyone more than Howell. 

Megan did have to admit that Sophie dressed much more sensibly than Howell, though she doubted Sophie was a career woman. (Perhaps Megan was wrong in that; it would be like Howell to find some poor girl to support him while he wasted his degree).

Megan didn’t want to admit it, but she was sort of impressed that her brother had not only managed to get such a girl to show interest in him, but to maintain it to the point that he’d introduce them.

Sophie even volunteered to help her with supper. Howell’s pained look was most of the reason why Megan accepted her help. Normally she wouldn’t have, but she told Howell to stay out of trouble and whisked Sophie off to the kitchen.

She handed Sophie some potatoes to peel (figuring it was the hardest task to ruin) and they set to work. 

After a few minutes, Sophie said, “You know, Howl is very successful where we live. Many people admire him.”

“So you’ve said,” Megan said, and she had.

“I used to think he was a layabout, too,” Sophie continued. “Worse, even. And he does have a bad habit of slithering out of things.”

Megan raised an eyebrow. “You’ve noticed that, have you?”

“How could I not?” Sophie asked. When Megan didn’t respond, she continued, “But Howl would do anything for the people he loves.”

“Except get a respectable job.”

“He has a perfectly respectable job, even if it’s not what you would have chosen for him. I have two younger sisters. I understand that you only want what’s best for him, but the way you show it makes him uncomfortable.”

“You know he spent thousands of pounds getting an advanced degree, only to write his doctoral thesis on magic and proceed to do whatever he could to avoid getting a proper job. Gareth’s offered I don’t know how many times.”

“But that’s not what he wants,” Sophie said gently.

“What does this respectable job of his entail?” Megan asked. “Every time I ask him, he – how did you put it? – slithers out.”

Sophie blinked, as if she wasn’t quite aware of how to address this question. “He helps people,” she said carefully. “They come to him with problems, and he helps solve them. And he teaches others how to help people, too.”

Aha. There was something. “Is that how he met you?” Megan asked, taking care to keep her tone carefully neutral. “Are you one of his students?” That would be so like Howell to seduce some vulnerable undergraduate student.

Sophie blushed. “I came to him for help. He did his best, and – in the end, he did solve my problem, though it did take some time.”

“Did he take advantage of you?” Megan asked.

Sophie shook her head. “Oh, no! Howl would never do such a thing! He did have a horrid reputation, but that was all a lie. Well, it was mostly a lie,” she amended.

“I’m sorry, I’m just trying to figure out how someone like you ends up with someone like him. No offense, of course, but it seems to me that you can do quite a bit better than my brother.”

“You’re not the first person to tell me that. In fact, I think just about everyone who knows him has told me as much.” She seemed amused by this fact. “He’s got a lot of flaws, but I love him. Even when he spends two hours in the bathroom each morning getting ready.”

“To look like that?” Megan asked, nodding toward the door. Howell had come in in that terrible old rugby jacket again, and worn out jeans and trainers like a teenager and not the twenty-seven-year-old man he was. 

“He’s quite vain,” Sophie said. 

Was that what vanity was meant to look like? He looked like he belonged in a grotty pub, not… well, anywhere where vain people might be. 

“But he’s done so much to help people, too. I don’t think he tells you about that. He seems quite ashamed of it, really. Howl helped me when no one else would, and Michael, too. Michael didn’t have any family, or anyone, and Howl took him in and taught him how to help people like he did.”

“Is Michael that boy who he brings round sometimes? Quite tall?”

“Yes, that’s him!” Sophie said. “He’d tell you what Howl’s done for him himself, if he were here. I was as surprised as you are when he first told me. Howl doesn’t like people to know how kind he really is.”

“I see,” Megan said.

“And he did save you from that woman.”

Megan shuddered at the memory. She hadn’t been able to do anything – what would she have done if Howell hadn’t shown up? The thought sometimes kept her up at night.

“It’s only that it seems to me you’re a bit too hard on him,” Sophie said. “He’s done so much, and he doesn’t like people drawing attention to it – even me or Michael – but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s done it.”

Megan tried to think of how best to get her point across. Sophie was obviously in love with Howell, though Megan was relieved to see that she saw through all of his acts. And she’d said she had younger siblings, too. If there was anyone who’d believe her, it would probably be Sophie.

“I love him,” Megan said. “Of course I do. He’s my brother. But he keeps – he flies in and out as often as he’d like – or as infrequently as he’d like, too. Half the time, he stops by just to get drunk with his old mates at the pub, and the other half, he’s come to spoil my children with gifts they really don’t need. He never telephones. I get no notice. He comes and goes whenever it’s convenient for him, and when I want him to come – I’ve got no way to reach him.”

“I’m sure Howl and I could work out a way for you to reach each other when he’s not here,” Sophie said.

“He leaves all of his things here – can’t be bothered to bring them home! What am I meant to do? And on top of that, every time I suggest he get a normal job, a respectable job, he acts as if the very idea insults his integrity. As if his current line of work isn’t why that woman came and – I still don’t know what she did, or why we couldn’t stop it.”

Sophie put a hand on Megan’s shoulder, like she was the older one. She was barely older than Neil (and that was another thing! How old was she?), and she was comforting Megan?

“Nothing either of us do will make him quit his job,” Sophie said. “But I can try to talk to him about visiting more regularly, and about trying to reach him when he’s not here. Sometimes he gets distracted, but I know he loves all of you very much.”

Howell managed not to burn down the house (or worse) while Megan and Sophie cooked supper, but that didn’t stop Megan from giving him a stern look as he helped Mari set the table.

She knew if Gareth were there, it would have been a completely different atmosphere. She was secretly grateful Howell’s urgent need to introduce his family to Sophie had overlapped with Gareth’s business trip to London. (She wouldn’t have put it past Howell to somehow have planned it that way).

Howell pulled Sophie’s seat out for her, and sat next to her, which was, Megan had to admit, rather sweet.

Midway through supper, he cleared his throat. “Erm, you might be wondering why it was so urgent that you all meet Sophie.”

“Oh no,” Megan said. She wasn’t pregnant, was she? She shot Howell a look that she hoped conveyed as much.

“Not that,” Howell said, “Honestly, Megan, what do you take me for? No. Sophie and I are getting married.”

“Married,” Megan repeated.

“Yes,” Howell said. “Married.”

“How long have you even known this girl?” Megan asked in Welsh, because she had a feeling Sophie couldn’t understand it. The confused look on the girl’s face told her she was right. (She couldn’t even speak Welsh!)

“Well over a year,” Howell said.

“And how old is she?”


“Nineteen!” Megan said. “She’s nineteen and you’re marrying her?”

“I don’t see the problem with that,” Howell said coolly. “You were nineteen when you married Gareth.”

Oh, he would shove that in her face.

“Anyway, we’re being terribly rude,” Howell said in English. “We’ve discussed it, and we’d like to have a small ceremony here in Wales. Sophie doesn’t have a very big family.”

“That’s right,” Sophie said. “We’d only invite my stepmother, my two sisters, and their intendeds.”

Howell said, “And all of you, of course.”

“I can’t believe you’re marrying a girl we barely know.”

“You married a man I barely knew,” Howell said. “I don’t see how this is any different. If I’d had my way, we’d have gotten married last week, but Sophie insisted on telling you first.”

Sophie seemed quite focused on her meal. Megan couldn’t blame her. Howell was incorrigible. 

“Can I be in the wedding?” Mari asked.

“Of course you can, cariad,” Howell said, as if Megan had already agreed to participate in this.

“You’ve already booked the hall, haven’t you?” Megan asked.

“And you think you don’t know me at all,” Howell said.

“I know you too well,” Megan said. “That’s the problem.”