In another hour they began to see signs for Coleman. The sky was now a perfect, crisp winter blue, and the air seemed to be full of promise. As they entered the small town, Noelle felt a twinge of disappointment, not wanting the journey to end. Granger pulled over on the side of the road, and took his phone out.
“Still nothing!” he said. "And it’s 10.30 already.” Noelle sighed.
“What do we do now?”
“Drive around, hope to catch him on a breakfast run or something.” For the first time since they’d met, his voice carried a hint of frustration and irritation.
“Population 6,930,” Noelle read from a road sign. “Sounds like there aren’t going to be too many hotels here.”
“Let’s hope not,” he said grimly.
They stopped at the first motel they came to. Granger jumped out of the car and went in to ask for his brother.
“No luck,” he said. “Apparently there are six other lodging places here. I could probably find them on the internet, but I might as well drive around, in case we get lucky.”
After a negative result from the second one too, he checked his phone again.
“Yes! He’s here!” he exclaimed. “He just paid $79 at the Coleman Motor Inn. Where is it?” He tapped and scrolled on his phone. “On the outskirts of town, at the opposite end.” He put his phone down and began to drive fast. Noelle pressed her lips together and focused on her breathing. She hated fast driving, but she could hardly blame him in the circumstances.
As they passed the town’s central square, a young couple caught her eye. They were in front of a Christmas tree, which was half buried in snow. The guy was tall and well built, with dark tousled hair, and the girl was small, with white blond hair that reached down to her hips. The guy was kneeling down in the snow – well, on one knee at least – and he was holding both of the girl’s hands, while looking up at her. She was smiling at him, a picture of radiance.
“Cute couple,” Noelle remarked. Granger turned his head to where she was pointing.
“Adam!” he yelled and slammed his brakes on.
“That’s your brother?”
“Yes!” Granger leapt out of the car and stormed towards the couple. Noelle ran after him.
“Adam!” Granger bellowed, his voice deafening. The young man stood up, brushing snow from his knee.
“Granger!” he shouted back, with a grin. Noelle noticed distractedly that they did look remarkably alike. He ran over and grabbed his older brother in a bear hug.
“What are you doing here, man?” he exclaimed.
“I’ve been looking for you for days!”
“But – I thought you were still on deployment?”
“I’ve come back, for good. Discharged from the army. But on my way home, I heard that you’d run off with that girl, like a teenager, and mom was worried sick, so I came looking for you.”
“That’s so nice of you, bro!” Adam replied, seemingly unruffled by the news.
“Well, I didn’t want her Christmas to get ruined. Now, tell me – what the hell are you doing here?”
“We were trying to make it out east, where Sylvia thinks she has some ancestors, but we’re running out of dough. Oh – hey – I’ll introduce you.” He held out a hand to the girl, who was lingering by the Christmas tree. She skipped over, a shy smile on her face.
“This is Sylvia, the daughter of one of the Blackpeak Pack’s enforcers, my true mate, and the love of my life.”
“Hi Sylvia, good to meet you,” Granger said, offering his hand. She shook it uncertainly.
“But tell me – why did you guys think it was a good idea to run away from home, with very little money?”
“Because our parents wouldn’t let us be together,” Adam said, looking at Sylvia. Noelle could see that despite his careless manner, his feelings for the girl were genuine.
“I know that,” Granger said, with a dry laugh. “I heard plenty about it from mom.”
“But it’s too late. She’s my mate, and she’s pregnant!” Adam’s face glowed with happiness. For just a beat, Granger looked taken aback, but he recovered fast.
“Congratulations, Adam,” he said, hugging him. Then he turned to Sylvia, whose features were taut with worry. “Congratulations to you too.” He bent and kissed her on the cheek.
“Will you help us with our parents?” she asked, speaking for the first time, in a soft, silvery voice.
“Of course. I know they’re pretty traditional, but they need to get with the times. Hopefully having us all back together will help them to see that,” Granger replied. “Now, we’ve got to leave pretty much immediately, as your escapades have created such a long drive home for us. But first, I’d like to introduce you to Noelle. She’s a good friend of mine, and she helped to find you. In fact, I wouldn’t be here now without her help.” Noelle stepped forward and Adam and Sylvia shook her hand.
“Cool name,” Sylvia said, her voice barely above a whisper.
“Thanks,” Noelle replied, and for the first time in many years, she felt like she didn’t hate it.
“Have you got everything?” Granger asked.
“Uh, yeah.” Adam indicated two small suitcases and a bedraggled rucksack. Granger picked them up and put them in the car.
“Ok, kids in the back,” Granger said, opening one of the rear doors of the car, and Adam and Sylvia bundled in, while Noelle climbed into the front. He set up the sat-nav. “On the plus side, we don’t have to go back through Northwood, as there’s a shorter route. Still, it’ll take us six hours and 37 minutes to get home, weather permitting, so let’s go.”
Noelle shot a glance at Granger as they began to drive. He’d been very measured so far, but she could tell from the set to his jaw that he was still wound up tight, no doubt furious at his kid brother for being so irresponsible and bringing a pregnant Sylvia out here with no plan and no money. She felt comforted by meeting Adam though. Seeing that he was very laid back made the prospect of meeting their parents a little less daunting.