Back to Bristol Ch. 07byGaryAPB©
When I took the boys back that Sunday it was Susan that opened the door. She looked pale and worried. She let the boys in and just nodded to me, without saying a word, ignoring my cheerful, "Hi, Susan."
I was just getting into my car as Ralph came out. I stood and waited for him. He also looked worried, but he smiled at me, "Got time for a quick sherry?"
I smiled, got out of my car door again and followed him, "Sure."
Once we were ensconced in his shed, and we each had a plastic cup half full of the rich dark liquid, he looked at me, "It's serious. He's talking solicitors."
I considered that news for a while, so many emotions and thoughts washed over me, but I found the voice to say, "I'm sorry. Any idea what she is going to do?"
"None at all at this stage. At the moment she's at their house, and appears to be staying there. But, of course, they are welcome here."
"Well, that's good to know. But tell her, if she has any financial problems then I'll see what I can do. The boys need a good home with their mother. And I don't want them stuck in a place where there is no love, just because she can't afford to make the right decision."
Ralph put his hand out and squeezed my arm as a reply.
We sipped our sherries in silence. It was me that eventually broke it, "Susan must be worried. If having Molly married to Peter was her security, then not having her married to Peter will be her insecurity."
"I wouldn't worry about Susan. How about you? If this is the end for Peter, then you must feel something... and don't try and be magnanimous. There must be a bit of you that is crowing."
I smiled, "Well, Yes there is. But poor Molly. She gave me up for the man of her dreams, and now that's falling apart. She must be devastated."
Again we sat in silence, then Ralph looked up at me, he was obviously searching my face, choosing his words carefully, "Susan may have preferred Peter, but that doesn't mean I did. As far as I was concerned, you were always a far better son-in-law than him, on the only criterion that matters. Would you think about trying again?"
"Good Heavens, No!" I paused to look at him, how do I politely tell Molly's Dad why not? "I can think of a hundred reasons why not. She dumped me for Peter, OK? I accept that in her eyes I came second to him. And, if they are splitting then I'm sorry for her, but that doesn't alter the fact that I come second to him."
"Don't you have regrets?"
"Yes, of course I have regrets. Everybody has things in their lives that they regret. Don't you?"
He nodded, "Yes. I always believed that her marrying Peter was a mistake, but I didn't do anything to stop it. I regret that. I regret that I didn't interfere enough when you two were splitting up to make you try again. Yes, I've got regrets." He looked very sad, suddenly he looked older than his sixty something years.
"Well, you have no reason to regret not interfering. No one should ever interfere between a man and wife. Not even a father-in-law. And, I've told you before, Molly never gave me any reason, any hope, that there was any point in trying to rebuild what she was throwing away. I accept that, so should you, Ralph." It was my turn to give his arm a comforting squeeze. "And anyway, it was all a long time ago, and we were different people then."
"Partly. Helene is a very important part of my life. I owe her so much."
"But she's not part of your future?" It was a question, not a statement.
"No." I looked up at him, "I'll say this for your daughter, Ralph, she taught me what love really is. Yes, it was all the passion of two young people, and we were young then. But it was the total trust, commitment and security of life. In those days my life had only one future - with Molly. There were no alternatives." I smiled at him and shrugged, "Well there wasn't until she forced one onto me. But with Helene, there were always alternatives, and one of them was to walk away, and I've taken it. Helene is a wonderful girl, but she was no Molly."
"So, it wasn't Helene at the Ball last night?"
"No. That was Myra. Delectable Myra as my secretary calls her."
"Is she serious?"
Suddenly I remembered something, "No. But I think she told Molly she was. Apparently she met Molly in the Ladies, and Molly asked. I don't think Myra knew who she was talking to, but she gave a smart reply." Then a thought struck me, "Oh, No, Ralph. You can't claim that my being at that Ball with Myra is Peter and Molly's problem. And if anything, Myra telling Molly that we're an item even if we aren't, should have put both Molly's and Peter's minds to rest."
Ralph just watched me, "Talk to Molly, please Chris."
"I made one mistake in all of this. That afternoon when I went back to their house. I'm not interfering any more. If Molly wants to talk to me, well she knows where she can find me. But as she couldn't tell me anything over that whole afternoon, I doubt whether she's going to say anything of importance now."
Ralph smiled, "Myra was the girl that went to Marston Abbey that afternoon and upset Peter enough to send him home early, wasn't she?"
Now that was true, and that thought led to all sorts of possibilities. "I can see that Peter might think that indicates I was plotting against him, but I'm not that devious." I paused, looked at him and smiled "Well I am ........ but I didn't think of it."
"I'm going to ask you again: Please talk to Molly. I know she has things she needs to talk about."
"No, Ralph. I understand that she might need a shoulder to cry on, but you're asking too much of me to volunteer that it's my shoulder. I'm not the person for her to talk to about her problems with Peter." I looked at him, quite sternly, "It'd be too painful. There'd be too many memories. I'm not doing it. OK?"
Ralph looked defeated, "OK." He paused, "It's Easter next week. Got any plans?"
"No, not really, why?"
"Well, I don't know how it will turn out, but it might be nice if the boys saw you with Molly. Their future is being shaken around a bit at the moment. They can stay here as many nights as they like if things aren't good at Peter and Molly's, but it might be nice if their Dad was around a bit. How about coming round on the Monday."
"Well, you'd better wait and see what's happening. But I'd like to take them out all day on one of the days, if that would help. So just let me know which day would suit you ..... and Molly of course."
"You could at least talk to Molly about those sort of arrangements. Myself and Susan shouldn't be some sort of middlemen about your children."
"Yes, I'm sorry. I'll leave it a couple of days, until things have calmed down a bit...but, Yes, I'll talk to her. It's Jamie's birthday soon and I need to talk to her about his present anyway. I really don't want to add to yours or Susan's load with the boys, you do so much for them as it is."
We left it there, and I drove home - with a lot to think about.
That evening, at home alone, I hit the whisky bottle. Not too much, but they did slip down too easily. This is rare for me. There was a period after the split from Molly when I did drink alone at home, but it wasn't good and I stopped myself. It seemed ironic that the collapse of Molly's second marriage had me doing it again.
I'm not sure what I really felt about it all. There were waves of sheer 'I told you so' joy. But there were waves of pity for her and what she's going through. There were doubts about the future for the boys, it was so important to me that they shouldn't be damaged by this. I realised there was no pity for Peter. I guess he was going through Hell at the moment, and it was wrong of me to not at least feel some sympathy for the guy, but I didn't.
And then there were the questions: How could I build an easy friendship with Molly if she was distraught as I assumed she would be? I still hadn't answered the question of why she wanted to take me to her bed that Friday afternoon. My cuckold-wimp theory was shot to ribbons, but what was the alternative? The only one that I can think of is that she was overcome with emotion at the remembrance of what we once had, just as I was. I do remember that she had said it was a one off, so I guess she thought 'just one more time - for old time's sake.'
And then there was whatever Ralph meant by saying that I was the better son-in-law by the only criterion that counts? That I'll have a sherry with him in his shed? That I gave him grandsons? My guess is that Peter fires blanks, and maybe that is part of the cause of the break-up. Who knows?
And with one more whisky - who cares?
Carole was already at her desk when I arrived on Monday morning. "Morning!" I said cheerfully as I passed.
She smiled, "And how was the delectable Myra?"
"Delectable!" I said as I disappeared into my office, but then I put my head around the door and added, "And I delected!"
Two minutes later Carole came in with my coffee, "And did you delect for just the evening, or was it a whole weekend of delecting?"
"A gentleman would never tell."
"But will you be delecting again? And will it be with Myra?"
"Well, I certainly hope that I will be delecting again, I'm too young to give up delecting just yet." I paused and considered her second question, "But will it be with Myra? I hope so, but it's not vital that it is."
After that Monday passed quickly I did go looking for Myra at one time, but I was told that she had left to go to London, and wasn't due back until Tuesday. On Monday afternoon I was invited to appear on a panel of businessmen for a local television programme, and I accepted. But, other than for that, I think I was rather grateful that Monday just passed without any personal issues coming up, just good solid work.
Tuesday continued where Monday left off, I did leave a message for Myra to come and see me before she went home, but I was stuck in an interminable meeting with Production all afternoon. I also learnt that my television appearance was neatly timed by the producers to be on the same day as Jamesons finally closed. Bugger. That meant hours in PR getting my words and the corporate line absolutely word perfect.
Stephen Hobbs phoned me from Exeter. Apparently they were having a staff party on the 28th April, the Saturday after Easter. It was going to be a barn dance, all very informal, and I was invited. I accepted, and in fact I thought it might be fun. It reminded me what a good bunch the Exeter staff seemed to be, but more important, that I wasn't sure how they fitted in my vision of the future. After some more chat with Stephen, I agreed that I would actually spend the Friday in Exeter, and do some blue sky thinking about strategy with him, and maybe a couple of his most senior and trusted guys. Later I asked Carole to book me a nice hotel in Exeter for the Friday and Saturday nights.
I was working at my desk after Carole had left for the day, when Myra came through my office door. "You needn't have called for me, I was going to come and see you anyway."
I looked up and smiled, "For business or pleasure?"
She smiled and parried, "It's always a pleasure to see you about business." I waited until she added, "For private reasons, maybe not pleasure."
"That sounds ominous. How about I do you a deal? I wanted to see you for both business and pleasure. How about I do the business bit now, and I buy you a simple dinner for us both to do the private bit? Out of the office and all that."
She looked doubtful.
I added, "What's the worse that can happen? My guess is that you are going to tell me that you want to cool it. Well you might as well get a meal out of me before you do, and I promise that I won't have a tantrum in a restaurant and embarrass you. What do you say?" I smiled, I hope winningly.
She smiled, but neutrally asked, "What was the business?"
"When are you going to Exeter next?"
"Nothing scheduled. Why?"
"I'm beginning to wonder what we do with them. It seems to me that they have a great capacity to be expanded, and to do other work for other companies. But that is not within our remit of building a company in the health market. If they are to just continue as they are, then why don't we relocate them to here, in Bristol? They are a brighter, more intelligent bunch than a lot of the current incumbents. To inject some of the Exeter guys into Production would be a good thing, wake them up a bit...."
"Ooooh! I can see Dennis Murrell having something to say about that!"
I smiled, "So can I. But none of us, including Dear Dennis, are indispensable." I continued to smile.
She smiled, "And Stephen Hobbs as Production Director? I could live with that."
"Not necessarily, but Yes, I could live with it as well. Or we could just sell them off, make a profit, and contract with them on the open market."
"Mmmmmm...." She said thoughtfully.
"So? When can you go and spend a day in Exeter, with that little lot in the back of your mind?"
Myra picked up her diary, "The earliest would be Friday week."
"Great! I'm going to be down there that day, so maybe we can touch base sometime at the end of the day. I can give you a lift if you like."
"OK." And she wrote a note in her diary.
I didn't add, 'and you can stay for the weekend and go to a Barn Dance.' I thought I'd see if we were going to have dinner tonight before I fish for a dirty weekend in a nice country hotel outside of Exeter.
She smiled, "So what about this dinner then?"
I suggested we drive in convoy down to the Old Vic area and park down there. There are plenty of restaurants in that area. As we walked up from the car park she linked her arm through mine, and we strolled up the road.
"What do you fancy? How about Italian?" I pointed at the lime green one, "I ate there once, it was quite good."
"Suits me." She said. And that's what we did.
We just chatted until the food turned up, but once we started eating, she obviously decided to turn to her problem, "Chris, I want to thank you so much for Saturday. It was pretty important for me."
I looked up, and took a sip of wine and waited,
"Saturday night and Sunday morning, I mean. It was the first time since Jonathon and an important milestone for me. But, I don't want to lose your friendship, your confidence in me at work, because of a passing romantic entanglement."
"You know I've had doubts. I've never dated any one from work before. I've never been attracted enough to a colleague, so its never been a problem before. Strictly speaking, you aren't a Franks employee, your Head Office staff, just seconded."
"It's our working relationship that's important. And I don't really think I'm a fit and proper person for you to get involved with just yet anyway."
I smiled, "I'd much rather get involved with an improper person." But then I put my hand across the table and gently squeezed hers, "Look, Myra, I've been there. It's taken me over four years from splitting with Molly to get where I am now. You were with Jonathon for what? Six? Seven years? Take your time. Have the relationships you need. And don't let anyone push you around."
She looked into my eyes, and just said "Thank you."
We ate in silence for a while, but when we'd finished and they'd cleared the plates, I asked, "What are you doing for Easter?"
"Nothing now. I thought I'd go home and visit my parents. But last week they suddenly announced that they were going to drive down to stay with my Uncle Bill and Aunt Anne at their cottage down in the south of France. So, I'm on my own."
"Well, so am I. Why don't we do something together one evening. Not a date, no sex, no intention or hope of sex, just friends going to see a film or the theatre or something. It's better than you sitting by yourself in an empty flat in Bath while I sit in an empty flat in Bristol. How about it?"
"Don't tempt me. I used to love theatre, but Jonathon hated it, so we never went."
"Well, why don't I see if I can rustle up some theatre tickets for Bath or Bristol. We must be able to get into something reasonable. How about Saturday night?"
"Just as friends?"
"Just as friends."
"OK. You're on. But only if I pay. I don't want you paying all the time."
"OK. I can live with that." I smiled. "Do you want some pud, or just a coffee?"
"Just coffee, please."
I called a waiter over and ordered two coffees. When he'd gone, I looked at Myra, she smiled at me, "Tell me about Jonathon. I have the feeling that he had some heavy hang-ups, and you are only just beginning to work through them."
She glanced around the restaurant and she looked uncomfortable.
I immediately backed off, "Sorry. Don't answer that, or not here anyway."
She smiled weakly. I was just wondering what to talk about when the waiter brought our coffees and saved me.
It was Myra that broke what was becoming an awkward silence, "I'm sorry, Chris." She stopped stirring her coffee and looked up into my eyes, "I think I do need to talk about it, if only to confirm my analysis, but not here."
"Well, how about we drink this coffee, and then go back to my place and have another cup there. Nothing else, just two friends talking in private about private things."
She smiled, "I guess I should, while I'm in the mood, and its all going around in my head."
And that's what we did. In fact she beat me back to my place and was standing in the lobby when I got there. I made us two big mugs of good coffee, and we sat down.
"OK?" I prompted.
She sat up, looking tense and holding her coffee mug in two hands, "Well, I guess Jonathon was a bit of a control freak. But I think that by me constantly conceding to him just made it worse. He seemed to want to push more and more to find my limit. I think the relationship was on a self-destruct course for years, slowly and incrementally."
"How? What makes you think that?"
"Well, take the hair thing. I don't really think he really had a hair fetish. I think it was all about control. He never showed any particular interest in my head hair for instance. It was just one day, in early summer, when I was going to trim my bikini line. And I told him, and suggested that maybe I should get a Brazilian, would he like it? It was just teasing talk, really. But he suddenly said No, he didn't like that. He wanted me to leave it natural. And it sort of grew from there. A year later, and it took that long, he suddenly said he didn't want me to shave under my arms. And much later after that, he used to enjoy embarrassing me, making me lift my arm when out with his friends, on silly excuses."
"That sounds like it was a power trip for him."
She shrugged, "Do you know what really got to me, really pissed me off? Once, I heard one of his friends say something about my hairy pits, and he said that it was something I insisted doing, that he had to tolerate it for the sake of the relationship. That really pissed me."
I smiled, "Matthew, 10:33"
Myra just looked puzzled and waited. So I added, "Whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven." I smiled, "Haven't you ever had much to do with The Old Man?"
She laughed, and relaxed back into the sofa.
I thought now was my moment, "And the promise?"
She looked at me, slightly accusingly I thought, then her face softened and smiled, "I thought I covered myself quite well." She paused, "When I met Jonathon, he was a virgin, and I wasn't. Oh I wasn't some harlot, but I'd had a couple of boyfriends, and I lost it, or gave it away, when I was eighteen."
I smiled, "I was seventeen and drunk. I can remember her name, it was Annette Pyrford, but I can't remember what she looked like, except that she had long dark hair. And I don't remember much more."
"He was Taylor Simmonds, and I quite liked him, but I shouldn't have. He didn't last long afterwards, I guess there was no challenge for him once I'd conceded." She paused, "Anyway, Jonathon got real uptight about it. He hated the thought of my previous boyfriends. So, I gave him my bum. I'd wanted to try it for some time, and actually, done right, I rather enjoy it, but I promised him that he was and would be the only man to have me there."