Back to Bristol Ch. 04

byGaryAPB©

"But it is without your patronage, as you call it."

I began to get a firmer tone in my voice, "Yes, it is. I think you've got to allow me to choose how best I spend my time working for this Company."

Piers stared at his clenched fists on the desk in front of him. Then he looked up at me, "Dammit, Chris! This is so you can avoid Peter. OK, he stole your wife, but that was years ago, get over it."

I just stared at him, and waited while the pause became heavy, "Interesting choice of words, Piers." I said, quite quietly.

Piers slumped slightly, "I don't know, but I am beginning to suspect you might have been right. That he picked up Molly because he simply fancied her."

"And why would you suddenly think that?"

"Last Friday in the George for the Friday drinks, I don't go every week and I always leave early before it gets embarrassing with some of the juniors, anyway, I asked him if he ever sees any of her old girlfriends. It was my attempt at trying to approach the subject obliquely."

"And?"

"He said: Not really. But then he mentioned one girl who I knew he had an affair with that went on for several months, and I thought might have been one of the married ones. He said she was back with her husband, and very happy. I asked if she ever left him, and he sort of smiled conspiratorially and said: Well, not really."

"So he had an affair with a married woman." I said it as a fact, not a question.

"It would seem so. I tried to ask a little about Molly. He seemed quite happy, even profuse in talking about her now, but if I threw in any question that related to how they met, or their early days, he became vague."

"Can't you remember what he said at the time?"

"Not really. In those days it was simply that Peter has a new girlfriend, so what's new? I asked my wife, Jeanette, she was the one who talked to him about affairs of the heart, and she says he told her that Molly was in a bad relationship, and that it was breaking up and he could let her be the woman she really was. Jeanette and Peter have always liked each other, Peter and Molly's wedding is the only civil wedding that Jeanette has ever been to. Proper weddings are in Church as far as Jeanette is concerned. If Peter and Molly got up to something naughty in those days, Jeanette will have real problems with it."

He didn't look at all happy. I felt rather sorry for him.

"Well, we don't really know the truth, we can only guess. And you shouldn't condemn a man without knowing the truth." He could take that as a way out or a challenge.

He looked at me, rather forlornly, "I've known Peter for nearly ten years. He's a really nice guy, and very good at his work. I don't want to find out that he deliberately broke up a happy family, even if it turned out fine for him and her in the end."

"Well, you don't have to ask. You don't have to know for certain." But I knew damn well that he would, it was in his nature. And I wanted him to.

We sat in silence for a moment, then I spoke up, sounding more positive, "Look, why don't I take you and Jeanette out to dinner on Saturday, if you're free?"

"I know we're free. But you don't have to."

"I'd like to. I'd like to meet Jeanette, and you can use it in this prestige war you have with the rest of the Company. Let it be known that the first senior executive that I've wined and dined is Head of Research. It can't do any harm. Where do you live?"

"Bath."

"Well, Bath has loads of great restaurants. Choose the one that you and Jeanette really like, let Carole know and she'll get it booked up. How about it?"

He smiled, "OK, you're on."

I stopped at a wine store on my way back and browsed the malt whiskies, looking for one for my new office decanter. I like the stuff, but I'm far from an expert. After looking at the whisky shelves for some time, an assistant came over to help. Having told him that what I wanted was a whisky for early evenings, just a quick shot occasionally at the end of the working day, and that it would be nice if it was a bit different, something to talk about, he suggested a Lowland Malt, "They're drier and lighter. And less common than the Highland Malts. But he only had two, Auchentoshen or Glenkinchie. I chose Glenkinchie because I thought I stood a chance of pronouncing it without risk of upsetting any Scot in the room.

When I got back to my office Carole was waiting for me with a question, "Are you going to dinner with the McBaines on Saturday?"

"Yes. Is it a crime?"

"Oh No, it was just a surprise. Anyway Piers McBaine phoned to say he's had a word with his wife, and now you are invited to their home, at eight o'clock. Here's the address." And she handed me one of her message sheets.

"Thanks."

"And don't work too late. Remember you've got that sales dinner tonight."

"Yes, Mummy." I said with a smile and went into my office.

Saturday evening at the McBaine's was very pleasant. Jeanette seemed very pleased with the bunch of flowers that I'd brought. They had a very tasteful and elegant flat in one of the classic Georgian terraces of Bath. They told me that they'd moved here as they downsized from their large family house after both their son and daughter got married.

The dinner was good, I asked who was the cook, but was told they shared the work, and both had cooked the meal. Table talk was mainly about family, holidays and tales of good times in the past. There was nothing specific about Molly or Peter Davies, although obviously a lot of my good family memories and stories were from my times with her.

It wasn't until Piers disappeared off into the kitchen to make the coffee, a speciality of his apparently, that Jeanette raised the subject of my marriage and divorce, "You know, Chris, you've quite upset Piers in raising doubts about Peter. Was he so bad? I understood that you and Molly were pretty much at the end of the road when he came along."

I looked up at her, "Then you understand wrong, Jeanette. To the very best of my knowledge, and I've thought about this quite a bit in the last four years, myself and Molly had a great marriage and a happy family until he came along. I know I was deeply in love with her right up to the final bust up."

"And now?"

"And now they love each other, and are married and they give a home to my two sons, and I wouldn't really want to upset that. It's just that he came along and chose, with no option for me, to impose himself on my life, on my sons' lives, and on Molly's life. Of course I accept that she seems to have welcomed his intrusion, but I don't have to like it."

"If he did that, well....." She paused, "I like Peter a lot. We often argue about ethics and morals, especially as they apply in research. I rarely agree with his views, but he has thought them out carefully and I respect that. If he took deliberate, selfish action that led to unhappiness and hurt on innocent people, I don't know what I'd think." Again she paused, "But Molly seems to have been attracted to him, so something must have been wrong somewhere in your marriage."

I shook my head, "And don't I know it! I'd still love to know what it was that made her prefer him to me...what I did wrong."

"Well, I'm seeing her on Friday, for lunch. I might find a way of asking her."

"Please don't put your friendship on the line just because of me, Jeanette."

She smiled, "Oh, I'll be discreet. She won't even know I'm asking."

We paused, until she asked, "How do you get on with your boys? I've seen them lots of times, and they are a credit to you and Molly."

"Mainly to Molly. I haven't been a very good father, my career seemed to take over for a while after the divorce. But I'm trying to do better now. I'm seeing them every weekend, I'll see them tomorrow."

"How's that going? I know that Molly puts a lot of effort into making sure that they always think of you as their father, and that Peter is just a step-dad."

I smiled as I thought of Jamie and Ben, "Better than I expected, better than I deserve. But, I find it hard to think up something to do with them every weekend. If we were a family, they'd amuse themselves whilst I cleaned the car and their mother cooked or something. But as I only see them for a few hours each week, I always want to make it special."

Just then, Piers returned with a tray of coffee, "....make what special?"

"My time with Jamie and Ben, my boys. I only see them for a few hours at the weekends."

Piers looked at me, "You know the company has a box at Bath Rugby and, I think, another one at Bristol City if you're a football man."

I smiled, "No, I didn't know. Who is guardian of such treasure?"

"Sales Department. Who else? I've had an invite a couple of times to the rugby, but they mainly keep it to themselves.... And the occasional client of course." We all smiled, knowing the ways of the world.

On Sunday I turned up on time to collect my two sons from Susan and Ralph's. It was Susan who opened the door, although I could see Ralph in the background, pottering in the kitchen.

"Hello, Susan. Are the boys ready?"

She called out for Jamie and Ben and they came running out and were busy climbing into the back of the Jag with little more than a 'Hi, Dad.' as they passed.

I turned back to Susan, "I hope this is OK with you, but I thought I might keep them a bit later, six or seven o'clock say."

I could see her bridle, "Molly didn't say anything about that. And we'll want them back to give them something to eat before Molly collects them." Then she looked into my eyes, I think her eyes showed signs of fear more than anything else, "Why do you think you can come back here and just take them whenever you feel like it, without a word to anyone?"

I answered quietly, "I don't. I just want to start extending the time I spend with them. Maybe one day I can get to having them for the whole weekend. It would save you and Ralph always having to baby-sit."

"It's a pity you didn't think about them a bit more a few years ago. But that would have got in the way of your job."

Just then, Ralph stepped up behind Susan and put his arm around her shoulder, "It's all right, Chris. Just have them back by about seven, Molly collects them about then." And he pulled Susan back into the hall and closed the door.

What was that about!?!

On the Monday morning, I asked Carole, "I hear that the Company has a box at Bath Rugby and another one at Bristol City. Is that true?"

"It certainly was last year. Why?"

"I suspect my sons might like to watch a match."

"I'll get onto it." And knowing Carole, she would.

And as good as her word, just before lunch she hands be a plastic wallet. "What's this?"

"Entrance for Bath Rugby this Saturday. And a car parking space I believe."

"They cracked quickly, what did you do?"

"I went down and asked them who they were taking as guests and to which venue on Saturday, because you'd like to help entertain clients. They got all embarrassed, and admitted that they hadn't got any clients coming this week. So I said, well perhaps you could invite some personal guests to the rugby, and we won't say anything about the football. They seemed happy with the arrangement, and handed over the rugby."

I smiled, "Well done. But please remind them that it is really for entertaining clients."

I phoned up Ralph and invited him to the rugby, and that I'd pick up the boys and him just before lunch on Saturday. I then gave Piers McBaine a call, and thanked him for the idea, and invited him as well.

The rest of the week seemed to fly by. I spent Wednesday and Thursday in London, keeping HQ happy. On the Wednesday I had a good meeting with Stephen, The Old Man. He seemed happy with my thinking on Franks, as far as it went. I made sure Myra was in London for the Thursday so that we could have some joint meetings. I tried inviting her to dinner on Wednesday evening, hoping she would be staying in London, but she excused herself as she was in Bristol on Wednesday and was going to come up to London on Thursday morning.

On the Saturday, I picked up Ralph and the boys and we set off for the rugby. We stopped for a good lunch before we got to the ground, and I was sorely tempted to ask what had got into Susan on the previous weekend. But I decided that contentious issues were probably best left until after the match.

Everything went smoothly, Carole had organised things. There was no lavish entertaining, but there was a small buffet table laid out, and a good selection of cold beers and wines in the fridge. I introduced Ralph and Piers, but they vaguely knew each other through Molly and Peter.

When we got to the match, we sat in a row out on the balcony, with the boys between Ralph and myself, and with Piers on the other side of me. I took the opportunity to ask Piers how Friday's lunch between Jeanette and Molly had gone.

He smiled, "I've got a bone to pick with you about that."

"What?"

"Well, Jeanette's approach was that naturally she wanted to gossip about the new boss at Franks, and who better to ask than his ex-wife. Apparently, Molly said you were a husband sent from heaven. Loving, kind, a great father and family man. You even bought flowers, often apparently. I've never been big on flowers myself .... as Jeanette has pointed out to me on several occasions last night and this morning." He was smiling.

I smiled in response, "Anything else?"

"No, not really. Jeanette was a bit wary of asking too much. But Molly does seem to say that the end of your marriage was solely that she had this affair with Peter. Jeanette didn't like that very much. I don't think she wanted to ask too much more in case she got angry."

"And I'm none the wiser." I said and we watched the game.

At half time Ben needed the toilet, and I took him. When we got back I found Jamie piling loads of the buffet food onto a plate, and Piers and Ralph drinking beer and chatting. Ben quickly found his own plate and joined his brother. I found myself a beer.

I watched as Jamie and Ben set themselves up on the balcony with their food and cans of Coke. I joined Piers and Ralph, "What are you two talking about?"

Piers answered, "You actually, or you and Molly and Peter."

"And what bit of gossip in particular?" I asked

It was Ralph that then turned to me, "What I never understood was why you never tried counselling, or simply forgiving her or something? Why didn't you fight back instead of just rushing to a divorce?"

That irritated me, "Well, having an affair is a pretty long way towards the Divorce Court. And then I think there's a clue in the fact that she never asked for forgiveness, not once, not one word. And then there's the fact that she never said she loved me. Oh, she said that she had thought she loved me." I paused briefly, "In fact, I believe she really did love me all the way to Peter Davies turning up. And then there was the fact that she never said sorry. Oh, she was sorry for how she'd hurt me, she was sorry at what she was doing to our family, but she was never sorry for her affair with Peter. And then there's the fact that she went on seeing him, and accepted his marriage proposal weeks before the decree nisi was granted, and she married him within five weeks of the Absolute being granted. Does that give you a clue as to why I accepted divorce?"

Ralph just stared at me, there was doubt in his eyes; I wondered what he was going to accuse me of next. So I added, "I wasn't the easiest person to talk to at that time, my world was pretty much in ruins at my feet, but I'd swear to all of that. Not one glimmer of the possibility of reconciliation."

Ralph continued to just stare, I think he was considering my words, 'Not one glimmer' was all he said.

Then Piers said, "Come on, they're coming back on." And we went out onto the balcony and watched the rest of the game.

On the way home, I asked Ralph, "What got into Susan yesterday?"

Ralph looked round at me as I drove, he indicated the back seat occupants, "I'll tell you later."

And when we got back, he asked if I was going to take the boys out on Sunday as usual. I looked at him, "I'd love to, but it may upset Susan or Molly."

He smiled, "Well it won't upset Molly. She was very clear, you are their father, and you can have them as much as you want. As for Susan, well I'll talk to her about it."

That made it easier, "Well I'll take them out to lunch, but bring them back soon after. How does that sound?"

"Whatever you want. When you bring them back find me, I'll probably be in the garden and we can have a chat."

So, after I'd delivered the boys back, I went round the side of the house, and there was Ralph, trimming a bush. "Ah, Chris. Come down to my new shed. You haven't seen this, it was a present to myself when I retired." And he led the way to the bottom of their very large garden, every inch of it immaculate in the weak setting sun.

At the bottom were two greenhouses and two sheds, one noticeably newer than the other. Ralph led on into the newer one. Inside was a little safe place that was all Ralph's. I saw a couple of propagating trays on the shelf under the window which was not surprising, but there were a couple of matching chairs, a camping stove set up with a kettle and a pile of gardening magazines. And two children's bikes.

These were obviously the bikes I'd order off the Internet as the boys' Christmas presents last year. I remarked on them, and Ralph smiled, an indulgent smile, "Yes, I let them keep them in here, the only thing to intrude into my little hideaway."

I sat down in one of the chairs, Ralph looked at me, "Cup of tea? It'll be powdered milk down here, or something a bit better?" And from nowhere he produced a bottle of supermarket brand sweet sherry.

I laughed, "You're sorted down here, aren't you?"

"Wonderful on a winter's day, when the cold cuts right through you. And nice as a little taster at the end of a summer's day of gardening as well."

"OK then."

He produced a tube of plastic cups, as used in coffee vending machines. He winked at me, "I tell Susan that these are for planting out individual seedlings."

"So, what's eating Susan?"

He didn't answer immediately. Instead he poured us a generous sherry each, and passed one to me, "Susan doesn't travel."

"Pardon?"

"Susan doesn't travel. Haven't you ever noticed that we always stay in this country for holidays, and we only ever travel in our own car. Susan has never flown. I don't think she's pathologically phobic, she's just never tried. But she most definitely doesn't want to do it. And she certainly doesn't want to have to eat foreign food, or talk a foreign language."

"OK, so?"

"So, years ago, didn't you notice that Susan was beginning to have doubts about you? Long before the divorce."

"Yes, I did. I always wondered what I did wrong."

"Well, it became more and more obvious that you were ambitious and probably going to be successful. You were working in Bristol then, but what next? London? America? You ended up in Holland. What would Susan have done to see her daughter and more important, her grandsons?"

"And that was it? She was scared that I'd take Molly and the boys away?"

"Yes. And then you and Molly broke up. And Susan came into her own. She looked after the boys so well when Molly was going through the divorce. She spent hours with Molly, helping her at probably the lowest point in Molly's life. But then she married Peter. Well Peter is a nice bloke, and very bright, but he's rather a sedentary soul. He's not going to move from Marston Abbey for as long as he can do his research. Probably the height of his ambition is to be Head of Research. He is a far better son-in-law than you would ever be."

"I see. It's nice to feel wanted." I said sarcastically.

"Oh, she loves Molly. She wants her to be happy. But how much better if she's happy with Peter rather than you."

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