Rosie cleared her throat. “Well, I’d better start the proceedings. Wish me luck.”
“Good luck,” Billy and I both said in unison as she went to greet the people who were seated.
We took two of the last remaining empty seats, Billy sliding in next to me as he whispered, “She’s fucking adorable.”
“It must run in the family. Neil is also adorable,” I replied before I properly thought through what I was saying. Billy grinned knowingly, and I swiped him on the arm.
“Quit it with the grinning. Also, hands off Rosie. She’s not for the likes of you.”
He feigned offence. “And whyever not? I’m your brother. You should be supporting me in my sexual endeavours, not holding me back.”
“Your words are telling. You just said sexual instead of romantic. Rosie is a romance girl, not a passing sexy times girl.”
“I can do romance,” Billy protested.
I scoffed at that. “I’ll believe it when I see it. But you won’t be practicing on Rosie. I mean it. She’s off limits. Neil would have my guts for garters if you besmirched his baby sister.”
“Fine, fine, I’ll keep my filthy mitts off her. You’re probably right. She’s far too angelic and innocent for me. I shall leave her unbesmirched.”
I laughed. “Now you’re getting it.”
Billy shot me a mock scowl, and we quieted down as the book discussion began. It was such a success that neither Billy nor I were required to fill any awkward silences. Rosie held her own the entire evening and managed to direct the conversation through the themes and subject matter of the book with finesse. It was clear that literature was her passion. As soon as she started talking about the story, she practically lit up and glowed. My brother seemed to notice the same thing because he barely took his eyes off her for the entire hour.
I had a feeling I was going to have to reiterate my warning for him to stay away from her.
As the meeting drew to a close, I headed over to Rosie to congratulate her on how well things had gone.
“That was fantastic!” I exclaimed as I reached her.
“Thanks. Everyone seemed to enjoy it well enough,” she replied, glancing at me and then Billy. “If you both don’t have other plans, you should come back to my place for dinner. As a thank you for coming tonight, I mean. I live with my grandma, and she always cooks way too much. With Neil away, there’ll be even more extra food than usual.”
“Oh, um, sure,” I replied. Her offer took me by surprise, especially since we’d just met. I had to remind myself that she was an avid watcher of my stream and considered me something of a pseudo-celebrity. I glanced at Billy. “You don’t mind, do you?”
“Why would I mind? I never turn down a free meal, especially not a free meal homecooked by a grandmother. Those are the best kind.”
Rosie shot him a shy smile. “Right, well, I’m just going to finish tidying up in here, and then we’ll go. My house is only a short walk away.”
“We’ll help you tidy,” I offered.
Fifteen minutes later, we were walking towards Neil and Rosie’s grandmother’s house for dinner. I wondered if he’d be annoyed that I’d accepted the invitation. He could be a bit awkward and private about certain things. Maybe he’d think this was overstepping a boundary. But I didn’t have any ill intent. I genuinely wanted to meet his grandma and get to know Rosie better.
The house was one of those post-war numbers, and I could just imagine Neil growing up here. I pictured a prim and proper little kid with glasses, a sad little kid whose parents had died. My heart clenched. I couldn’t remember if he said what age he was when it happened, but he had mentioned that his grandmother raised him and his sister, so he must’ve been on the youngish side.
Rosie, who Billy had been bombarding with questions during the short walk, pulled a key from her bag. As soon as she opened the door, I was assaulted by the homely scent of roast chicken and what I suspected was freshly made gravy. My mouth began to water as she motioned for us to enter the hallway, and I took in the old but well-loved furniture and the slightly scuffed wooden floor with a Persian rug running down the middle.
Rosie hung up her coat and bag before offering to take ours.
“Grandma,” she called out. “I hope you don’t mind that I brought some guests for dinner.”
At this, a woman with short grey hair appeared at the top of the hallway. She looked to be in her seventies and wore a polka dot apron.
“Well, hello,” she said, dusting her hands on the apron as she took in Billy and me with a warm smile. “Are you friends of Rosie’s from the book club?”