When my grandfather walked into the kitchen, my heart started pounding wildly in my chest. His expression showed he was furious.
"Why is there a car outside our house?" he asked in quiet, threatening tones.
"A friend dropped me off - last night."
"And would that friend be a male friend?"
"No," I lied, but I'd replied too quickly.
"Don't lie, Violet. You're already in trouble for coming home late last night - If you came home last night. Your grandmother and I are light sleepers, which means we'd have woken up last night if a car had pulled up on the driveway. You know what we think about spending a night with a boy."
"We didn't even...,"I started, blushing, but Grandpa interrupted me.
"Don't even try to deny it, Violet. We know what you youngsters are like. All..." The old man shuddered. "... promiscuous."
"I'm not like that," I said, starting to cry. "Zack and I just met. We wouldn't. Not on our first night."
"Don't waste your breath."
"But Grandpa, I promise."
Ignoring me and continuing with the same tone of disgust, disapproval and, most heartbreakingly of all, disappointment, he asked "Where is the young fellow anyway?"
"He went home," I lied. "He was too tired to drive home so he caught a taxi."
"Good. Oh, and by the way, you're grounded."
"Grounded?!" I cried out. "For how long?"
"Yes, now stop complaining before I make it two."
One month. I didn't think that would go quickly, somehow. Also, what with school starting in a few days, I didn't expect to see Zack at all.
My grandfather left the kitchen looking grimly satisfied, I noted.
Bursting into tears again, I ran to tell Zack the awful news. Once he was out of the house, I ran upstairs to cry on my bed. When I had semi-recovered, I found Zack had texted me.
I'm on local beach.
Okay, I replied, will get my friend to bring you car.
I then called a bemused Rachel and asked her to come round to drive the car to the beach.
After the car was gone, I returned to my bedroom and wondered how I was going to survive the next month. Then a text reminded me I had at least one way of keeping in contact with Zack, which was better than nothing, I supposed.
A week and a few days later, I got a big surprise.
It was Sunday morning when my grandmother thought to mention the visit of one of her cousins.
"Oh, by the way, Violet dear, my cousin Maria is coming over from Ireland with her grandson," were her exact words.
"You have a cousin in Europe?" I asked, bewildered.
"Yes dear, that's what I said."
"You never told me this before."
"Well, you never asked. Anyway, get ready quickly: their flight lands in a few hours and that's how long it's going to take us to drive all the way up to the airport. Leave your phone here: I don't want Maria to think you've been brought up to be unsociable. You'll have Connor to talk to."
In a daze, I texted Zack to say I'd be busy over the next few days, combed my hair and picked up a drawing pad and a pencil so I'd have something to keep me occupied during the journey before climbing into the Porsche my grandmother owned.
Over the next few hours, I sketched flowers, dresses and jewellery, all from my imagination and two dimensional as I wasn't the best artist around.
I sat in the car while Grandma picked up her cousin and her grandson - apparently, I was a surprise for Great Aunt Maria. I was in the back of the car, a seat I'd have to share with some strange relative I'd never talked to in my life.
Connor ... didn't act like we were related. At all. He looked kind of dopey as he approached the car but when he climbed into the back and saw me properly for the first time, his eyes widened and he said "You're beautiful," in an amazing Irish accent I'd only heard on TV.
"Thanks," I said, trying to ignore the way he was appraising me. His eyes definitely lingered in a few places they shouldn't.
"I'm Connor," he said.
"Violet," I replied.
I felt quite closed in when he sat in the middle seat rather than the left one (I was on the right one). In fact, I felt like a caged animal.
"Do you draw?" he asked.
I was confused until I realised I was clutching my drawing pad.
I shook my head and put the pad on the floor but Connor picked it up, unashamedly gripping my wrists in his other hand and holding them near the door so I couldn't snatch it back from him.
"Don't," I said. "They're nothing special."
"They're good," Connor said, smiling at me and letting go of my wrists.
I was surprised. "You really think so?"
"Yeah. I like their simplicity."
I looked at him properly for the first time. He had a handsome face, thick black hair and green eyes. Suddenly, I wasn't so scared. He was my cousin: he wouldn't hurt me. I smiled back at him.
Connor leant in towards me and whispered confidentially "I think our grandmothers wanted to set us up. Look at their expressions."
In the rearview mirror, I saw the two old ladies grinning like Cheshire cats. I chortled.
A brief look of something like wonder appeared in Connor's eyes before he grinned.
He cupped a hand around his mouth and leant in so close that he was touching my cheek as he whispered "Shall we pretend we like each other?"
I giggled. Connor seemed like a really fun guy. I nodded.
Connor leant back and casually picked up one of my hands, examining the charm bracelet on my wrist.
He pointed to a butterfly and said "I think you're a lot like a butterfly."
"What, thin and fragile?" I asked, snorting.
"No; beautiful and something people want to protect." He looked straight into my eyes and for a second, all I could think about was emeralds before my mind helpfully reminded me of Zack.
Was it okay to find family members handsome? I wondered worriedly.
I shrugged the thought off, thinking Since when has the law prevented you from appreciating good looks. That's all you were doing. It's like saying your baby brother's cute.
Connor was still smiling so I guessed he was unfazed by the little things I was worrying about.
"Your hair's lovely, by the way," he murmured, the hand in his lap raised slightly as if he wanted to touch my hair. His other hand was underneath the one attached to the wrist with my charm bracelet on it. His thumb was over the top of my index and middle fingers and he was stroking the skin there gently. He didn't look very much as if he were pretending to feel something for me.
"Thanks," I mumbled, slightly uncomfortable.
"So how long are you staying here for?" I asked, gently easing my hand out of his grasp.
"A fortnight," he replied. "Great, isn't it?"
I nodded, smiling,
"I think we'll become really close."
"Yeah. It's exciting to find I have family," I said, with subtle emphasis on the last word.
Connor didn't notice. He suddenly looked sympathetic. "My grandmother told me about your parents and siblings. We couldn't get to Australia for the funeral, though. It's taken us two years to save up for this one."
"What do your parents do?" I asked, trying not to remember the funeral of my own parents.
"Well, my mum's a teacher and my dad... I don't know. He left us when I was born."
"How sad," I said, instantly feeling sorry for Connor. "Life can't be easy on you."
"Well, no," Connor admitted. "Since Mum never found anyone else. We get by though."
Connor paused, looking thoughtful for a moment. "You know, you could move to Ireland if you ever felt lonely. My mum would be happy to make room for you."
"It's kind of you to think of offering but Australia's my home. In Ireland, I'd have to get used to a new culture, a new climate, a new school, and it would feel wrong somehow."
"Maybe in the future, then," Connor said, looking slightly sad.
"Maybe," I replied.
At home, I showed Connor the guest room where he would be sleeping.
"Thanks," he said. "D'you want to stay here and talk?"
"If your jet lag's not too bad," I replied, wanting to get away and text Zack to tell him about Connor.
"It's not," he said cheerfully.
Internally, I groaned. I sat beside him on the bed and said "So d'you know if there's any particular reason for your visit? Apart from our grandmothers trying to set us up, that is."
Connor grinned. "It's my grandmother's birthday. I think we're going out for lunch."
I looked at my watch. "It's midday now. I suppose we're going soon, then. What time is it in Ireland?"
"I think it's about 3am."
"You must be exhausted! Are you sure you don't want some rest?"
"Nah, I slept on the plane. So, what d'you do around here to pass the time? Maybe you can show me some of your favourite places this afternoon."
"Well, I like to watch movies a lot. And there's the bowling alley. The beaches are brilliant."
"Well, we could go there after lunch. Do you mind taking me?"
"Oh no, of course not," I replied, smiling. I really hoped Zack wasn't in the area. If he saw Connor and got the wrong impression, it would take a lot of explaining. That's why I so desperately wanted to text him.
"Violet, Connor," my grandmother called from downstairs.
Connor followed me down and we climbed back into the car to head to a restaurant.
"Oh by the way," Connor said on the way, "the mansion is impressive. I don't think I've ever seen such a big building that wasn't a castle or skyscraper."
I blushed, embarrassed that my grandparents were so rich while Connor's family obviously struggled slightly.
"Sorry," I mumbled.
Connor looked surprised. "What for?"
"Being well off," I said quietly.
"Don't apologise! It's fine. It's not as if it was deliberate."
In the restaurant, there were only two seats per table. Which embarrassingly meant that Connor and I had to sit alone together. Also, he chose a table by a window. I was now praying that Zack wasn't in town.
Lunch passed uneventfully but Connor was beaming all the way through, looking as if he was having the time of his life. It would be extremely hard for someone to not get the wrong impression. Somehow, the tension I felt made me forget to mention I had a boyfriend. I was almost letting Connor become more than a friend. Why would I want to betray Zack like that?