by Michael E. Lloyd
Table of Contents|
Book III: At Home With Robert
Chapter 5: Summer Nights
part 1 of 2
Charlie and Barbara had started planning a very special party for Grandpa Kerr’s eighty-fifth birthday. And since it was going to take place in mid-July, and their own wedding anniversary was only a few days before that, and our Mum and Dad’s anniversary would be coming up in early August, and Peter’s birthday was in late June, we all agreed to turn it into a multiple celebration, and to do our best to get him to travel back to England for it.
And we succeeded. I don’t know what combination of emotions actually led him to accept the invitation, but perhaps the arrival at his Monte Carlo hotel of four personal letters, in very quick succession, persuaded him that resistance would be a tactically bad decision. Personally, I’d bet that the one from good old Sally clinched it. She showed it to me before she sent it off. She was very polite and loving towards her country cousin, as always, but she didn’t mince her words ...
So everyone finally converged on Grandpa’s house in Wood Green on that birthday Saturday. Mum and Dad had taken the coach up from Orlesbury, as usual, and they arrived well before lunch. I biked over from my flat in Northgate Hill, and by the time I turned up most of the others were already there too, enjoying a drink in the sunny front garden. Then, on the stroke of one o’clock, Peter, who had booked into the best hotel in the area for a couple of nights, stepped out of a taxi sporting long, flowing blond hair and a suit to die for. He smiled broadly to the assembled multitude, and made straight for a glass of champagne from the table they’d set up by the front door. The party was complete!
‘Was he still as “petite” as I’ve always imagined him, Robert?’
‘No. He wasn’t any taller, of course, but he’d put on a lot of weight in the right places. Good diet and good exercise, I’m sure. He was now definitely more dapper than weedy!’
‘Ha-ha-ha! But that’s very cruel of you!’
‘I know. In all seriousness, he looked extremely smart — in every way. And the guests were quickly falling over themselves to welcome back the family’s none too prodigal son.’
That afternoon was a very special one. We had a marvellous lunch, largely thanks to Sally’s heroic efforts. If I hadn’t already been a confirmed bachelor, and she hadn’t been my baby cousin ...
And everyone managed to let their hair down in a way I’d never seen before at any gathering of the Kerr clan. Of course, there was an extra, rather exotic ingredient that day ...
‘But why have you been away from us for so long, young man ...?’
‘Oh, I wasn’t trying to get away from you, Auntie Anne!’
‘Peter — is it really true that the girls in Monte Carlo ...?’
‘Hey, Owen, I think we should talk about that later, right?’
‘Look here, Smarty-Pants — why haven’t you invited me to come and enjoy the good life out there with you?
‘Because, lovely Sally, you’re way too fine for that!’
‘What a smoothy, Robert!’
‘I met one of those once.’
‘Bad luck, Donna. I only ever met this one.’
‘But you have to love him, don’t you?’
‘We all do.’
And I noticed a few more changes in Peter. He was now smoking quite heavily (despite his “promise to Jane”), and drinking freely, and hinting about shady dealings in the gambling underworld, and giving me a general impression of unreliability and increasing selfishness and amorality. He made no mention of any women in his life, and I wondered to myself if he was simply still not interested in them, or was just not willing to discuss them, or maybe even had a different agenda ...
And when one of our relatives asked if there was “a young lady in the wings” he jokingly replied ‘No, there’s no-one in particular ... I move around far too much. I just have lots of good friends!’ Everyone laughed heartily, and he quickly changed the subject.
That was when I got the distinct impression that Peter was painting a rather inaccurate picture. Not about the women in his life, but about having lots of friends.
The party swung on into a fine early evening meal, and then we all drank long toasts to Grandpa and the other celebrators, and Sally played a fine selection of records from five decades, and everyone agreed it had been a perfect day.
Mum and Dad were staying there overnight. Peter, who had been drinking all day, insisted on taking a taxi back to his hotel, so I jumped on my motorbike and went straight home, still pretty sober. And late the next morning, I came back to see Mum and Dad again and make sure they got safely down the hill and onto the bus for the first leg of their long trip back to Orlesbury.
Then I rode over to my brother’s hotel, and suggested we should go out to one of my favourite old country pubs for lunch.
‘I haven’t been there for years, Peter! In fact I never visit pubs on my own these days. And it’s really good to have someone different to go with for a change!’
We didn’t get there until well after half-past one. And we were only just in time — the kitchen was due to close at two. The good old days? Hah! Anyway, we ordered some sandwiches, and then I went to the loo while Peter took the drinks out into the sunny pub garden.
But of course we’d left it very late. The only spaces he could see in that busy little area were at a table for four, already partly occupied by two young women facing away from the building. So he went up to them, checked the places opposite were free, sat himself down, and then waved across to me when I came back out. I wandered over and plonked myself onto the bench next to him, and then I got the surprise of my life!
‘My god. It’s Robert, isn’t it?’
And then she just smiled disarmingly and said nothing more.
‘Well I’m damned! There’s that Catherine back on the scene again ...’
‘My goodness, that was a rather strange reaction, Donna!’
‘Oh, I do apologise, Robert. I don’t know why I interrupted you like that. Please carry on ...’
Well, I quickly regrouped, and I introduced Peter as my brother, of course, and Catherine as a young lady I’d met in Wood Green way back in ’63. They both smiled politely and shook hands.
Then Catherine spoke again, at last.
‘And this is Jane.’
Nothing more. And there was just a smiling ‘Hello’ from her pretty young lunch companion ... and some more polite handshakes.
But by now, Catherine and I had both recovered sufficiently from our shock to be able to start chatting clumsily and reminiscing about the evening we’d spent at that simple little dance club. Peter and Jane both listened with interest, of course, and they each chipped in from time to time. And then our food arrived and brought a very welcome respite from the challenge of playing that extraordinary, unexpected little game.
But as soon as Peter and I had finished eating, Jane turned to him and said ‘Hey, let’s leave these old mates alone together for a few minutes and get some more drinks in!’
Once they were out of earshot, I whispered across the table to Catherine.
‘Is Jane by any chance our daughter?’
‘Yes, she is.’
‘Ah! Well ... I think she’s lovely.’
‘Yes, she is.’
Then I went very quiet for a while. Catherine just waited until I was ready to speak again. And when I did, it was nothing very original.
‘So, is everything fine with you both?’
‘Yes, Robert. Perfectly fine, thank you.’
‘Are you still living with your parents?’
‘Oh my goodness, no! I eventually got my own Council House, because of the baby.’
‘Ah. Right ...’
‘But she has absolutely no reason to suspect you’re her father. She knows I met a lot of guys that summer, and I told her long ago I wasn’t sure which one he was. Even though I really was certain, I promise you! So please don’t say or do anything here that might even begin to suggest it. And I presume Peter knows absolutely nothing about her either ...’
‘Of course not. I made you a promise, Catherine, and I’ve always kept it.’
‘Good. Well, once this crazy little episode is over, I’d like you to forget you’ve ever met her — and of course you must continue to say nothing to Peter. She’s just my friend, OK?’
‘OK. I obviously can’t argue, once again, and I’m not going to. But there is something I really have to ask. Is her name a pure coincidence ...?’
‘Oh no, Robert. I never forgot what you told me about your brother Peter and your poor little sister. And despite the way things had to be, back in ’63, I did still feel very fond of you, and when she was born, it seemed the natural thing ...’
‘Thank you, Catherine. That’s all quite wonderful.’
‘Well, it was ...’
‘Ah, they’re on the way back with the drinks now! Look, let me quickly say a proper goodbye, please ... I never got the chance in that phone call, remember ...?’
‘Yes, I remember. All right. But no kissing! And no holding hands!’
‘Hah! Always in control! OK, then, dear Catherine ... goodbye, and good luck, and long life — to you both.’
‘Thank you, Robert. And I truly wish the same for the two of you.’
Peter and Jane arrived with the second round of drinks, and we went back to talking pleasantries for another twenty minutes. Then we finally contrived to split up — very amicably, of course, with all the obvious ‘Lovely to see you again!’ and ‘Lovely to meet you!’ stuff — and at last Peter and I were safely back at my bike. As we were putting on our helmets he said some nice things about Catherine, of course, and I think I just remarked on what a pleasant surprise it had been to bump into her again after all those years.
I dropped him off at his hotel and said ‘Good luck, and farewell.’ Yes, farewell — I really had no idea when I would see him next.
But what an evening that was for me, back in my bachelor flat and all alone again!
When I’d suddenly come face to face with Catherine, in that sunny country pub garden, she’d looked just as attractive as she had back in 1963. And I’d felt so strange — so emotional — all the time we were there together, especially after I’d confirmed that Jane really was my daughter. I couldn’t get to sleep at all that night, wondering whether I should try to speak to Catherine again, despite everything she had said about making another complete break. And I went back to work on Monday morning feeling utterly exhausted and still very confused about what I should do ...
‘That’s another quite remarkable story, Robert.’
‘Yes, Donna. And it’s actually only the beginning.’
Anyway, Peter called me the following morning to say he’d decided to stay on at his hotel and do a bit of sightseeing for a few days. I was very pleased to hear that. So we were able to fit in another quick drink together on the Thursday evening, before he finally left London to fly straight to the Far East. He sent me a postcard from his Singapore hotel soon after he arrived, and I wrote a short letter back to wish him well again.
So Peter went to Singapore! I wonder if he was hoping to make contact with his old school-friend Tanusha in Malaysia ...
To be continued ...
Copyright © 2010 by Michael E. Lloyd