Big Girls Don't Cry Ch. 04bybeachbum1958©
My thanks to Mriceman1964 for his help, advice, his eye for reality and plausibility, and his willingness to argue over the story, which keeps me focussed, I have to admit!
Many thanks also to Bonnie for her sharp questions and further reality checking me, long may you keep doing it, Princess!
As I've said before, this is a story, not real-life, just my version, an alternate reality where things can happen the way I want them to, so feel free to immerse yourself in my universe;(although, if quantum physicists are to be believed, somewhere in the limitless reaches of possibility there is a universe where this has already happened, exactly as I've described it...) so go ahead, dip in a toe or two, who knows, you might just enjoy the water. FYI The places I mention are real; I've either lived there or worked there, and I know them well.
As before, if you liked it, please rate it, if you didn't, please tell me why
I arrived home at 6 p.m. expecting to see Lena dressed, prepped and ready for fun; we were going out to dinner, then we were going to a club, or at least that was the plan; instead I found her pacing and muttering, nervous, edgy, and irritable.
I hugged her close, fondling her taut little bum cheeks as I nuzzled her, as per usual, but she was tense and tightly drawn, her body humming with nervous energy.
"What's the problem, Princess?" I asked, conscious that this kind of tension was definitely not good for the baby.
She looked at me, her eyes troubled, and almost afraid, which put me on alert; Lena is fearless, outspoken, and not afraid of a confrontation, so something serious was up.
"Dar, it's Lizzie...she's on her way over...with the children!" she blurted out, her expression almost afraid.
"What if they don't like me, what if they find out about...you know...us? What are we going to tell them, how on Earth are we going to explain it? Dar, I'm scared, I'm scared of some kids, I'm scared they'll hate us, Dar what am I supposed to do? Tell me!"
I grinned over her shoulder; Lena had never been uncertain or unsure in her entire life, and now she was scared of a pair of kids? It was too much! I rubbed her back, feeling the muscles knotted and strained under my hands, so I began squeezing and gently massaging those knots and tense muscles, slowly relaxing her as she held onto me, her face buried in my shoulder. Eventually, she slumped against me, giving a gusty sigh as she relaxed, her muscles relaxed and un-knotted as some of the fear and apprehension drained away.
"There, feel better now?" I asked her, smiling as she leaned against me and kissed my ear.
"Much better, thank you baby!" she murmured, her fingers idly toying with the buttons on my shirt. She leaned back to grin at me, her eyes calm and unworried, her expression normal as she regained her balance.
"I meant what I said, though; what are we supposed to do if they ask about us, you and me and little Morgan in here?" she grinned, tapping her midriff lightly.
I grinned at her expression.
"We tell them exactly what we said we would; that I'm your boyfriend, Emma's nephew, and that you're Lizzie's younger sister, that's all they need to know for now. I'm not sure how they'll react if we just blurt out that Lizzie's actually my mother, because I still haven't worked out yet just how the hell this baby is related to them! Occam 's razor, baby, 'the simplest explanation is the one most likely to be true' as my physics teacher used to tell us, so for now, little Morgan-baby is their new first cousin, which is true, sort of; later on, if it seems appropriate, we'll tell them the truth, but for now, just the simple version, okay?"
Lena smiled back at me, happy to be reassured.
"Okay Dar, just the simple version for now, got it!"
She began bustling about, picking up and rearranging cushions, moving ornaments and putting them back, keeping herself occupied. The doorbell rang, and I jumped up to answer the door.
"Showtime, Lena, are you ready?"
Lena just looked up from her fiddling with the ornaments on the mantelpiece.
"It's not Lizzie; too early. I asked Aunt Doreen to come over, that'll be her now. Let her in, Dar, chop-chop, don't leave her standing out there!"
I opened the door and there was my favourite aunt. I felt a little guilty seeing her; while Lena had been away I'd immersed myself in my work, keeping myself busy, and consequently had hardly spoken to Doreen in weeks, but her smile was the same, and she showed no sign of annoyance at my ignoring her. I suppose it was the little boy in me, but whenever my Aunt Doreen was around, I felt safe and secure; she was one of my most enduring symbols of family, and I loved her dearly. She handed me her light jacket and walked on into the sitting room, Lena immediately hugging her warmly; Min may have been Lena's favourite aunt, but Doreen had a special place in her heart too, and I could see her relaxing as Doreen embraced her.
"Sit down, child, you're supposed to be resting now; let Darryl do the running around, he's big and ugly enough to do for himself, you need to take care of yourself and that baby!"
She grinned at me as she said it, and I couldn't help but grin back; being twitted by Aunt Doreen was as much a part of my childhood as Lena, or school, or mum and dad.
I left them huddled together on the couch as I went to put the kettle on; Doreen was an inveterate tea-drinker, and I'd been making tea for her since I was eight or nine years old, so I knew just how she liked it. As I was busying myself in the kitchen warming the teapot and measuring out the tea, the doorbell rang again. Even in the kitchen I heard Lena's sudden gasp. I smiled to myself and went to answer the door, knowing she'd be a bag of nerves all over again.
When I opened the door, Lizzie was standing there, and I could see Emma shepherding the children from the car. Even from a distance, I was struck by how much the girl (Allie, her name was Allie, remember that, I told myself...) resembled Lena; apart from the different hair colour, they could have been the same girl at that age, a leggy, coltish 12-year old, all knees and skinny arms and legs, but a dead-ringer for Lena nevertheless. The little boy had dad's expression, that slightly bemused, good-humoured upward curve to his mouth, the same features, the same eyes. I stared in wonder; there stood my dad almost 60 years ago.
I ushered them all in, Lizzie and Emma both kissing my cheek, Allie shaking hands with me, her eyes roving across my features, then flicking over Emma's, and the little boy, Marcus, gravely shaking hands with me as I introduced myself. I led them into the sitting room, Lena's expression somewhere between terror and longing as her gaze fell on those two children, her eyes widening as she took in the little boy's features. Lizzie smiled reassuringly at her.
"Hello Lena, thank you for allowing us to come over at such short notice. Kids, this is Lena, remember, I told you about her. Lena's my little sister. Lena, this is Allie, and this," she put her hand on his shoulder, "is Marcus. Kids, say hello to your aunt."
Marcus waved shyly, and Allie grinned impudently.
"You've gotta be mum's sister, you look just like her; been hiding, have you?"
Lena grinned, her stage fright abandoning her.
"Hello Allie, yes, I really am your mum's sister; she left home before I was born, so I never knew her. I'm glad to meet you, though. And please, call me Lena!"
"Hello Lillibet!" said a soft voice from the other side of the room; everyone had been so intent on this first meeting that we'd forgotten Aunt Doreen was there, keeping well back.
Lizzie spun round, her eyes wide, tears suddenly brimming in them.
"Dodo? Oh my God, Dodo, I'd...It's...Oh Dodo, I missed you so much, please...!" she breathed, dissolving in tears, Doreen suddenly there to hold her as she sobbed into her shoulder. Lizzie hugged her tight, Doreen murmuring to her while she patted her back and stroked her hair, soothing her and fishing out a hanky for her to wipe her eyes and blow her nose. When Lizzie had calmed down, Doreen held her at arm's length and looked her up and down.
"Look at you, Lillibet, all grown-up, a mother, and so beautiful; I missed you so much, Lillibet, more than I can say! I've waited so long to see you, and now here you are, and your beautiful children as well. I missed you, sweetheart, more than you can understand, I thought I'd lost you forever, I prayed for you to come home, and now you have!" she dabbed at her eyes, just as Lena was doing, and I nearly was as well.
Lizzie urged the two children forward.
"Allie, Marcus, this is my Auntie Dodo, she helped my dad bring me up, she was like my mum when I was growing up, I want you to say hello to her."
The children looked shyly at Doreen, obviously affected by their mother's emotional reunion with her aunt, not knowing quite what to say. Marcus broke the ice, holding out his hand.
"Hello Auntie Dodo, is that your real name?"
Doreen smiled at him as she shook hands with him.
"No, Marcus, my name is Doreen, but you can call me Auntie Dodo if you want; that's what your mummy always called me."
Marcus grinned at her, looking so much like dad it made my breath catch in my throat.
"I like that; my Auntie Dodo! My name is Marcus David Robert Daniels, and I'm nearly seven! You can call me Marcus, if you want."
Doreen smiled at him.
"How do you do, Marcus, I'm a lot older than seven, and I'm very pleased to meet you! And who's this?" she smiled, turning to Allie.
Allie grinned at her.
"I'm Alison, but everyone calls me Allie, and I'm nearly thirteen! Are you my granddad's sister? Does that mean you're my Great-Aunt?"
Doreen smiled even wider at Allie's sharp inquisitiveness.
"You are so much like you mother when she was that age, it's almost like having her back again! Your mother grew up here, in this house, your grandfather and I, and your other aunt, my sister Minnie, helped bring her up from when she was just a baby. She went to school just down the road there, with her friend Emma, and yes, I recognised you too, Emma Fraser, you haven't changed much either!"
Emma smiled at that, exchanging glances with Lizzie.
"I was wondering, Miss Morgan it's been a long time!"
I looked enquiringly at Doreen, who smiled back at me.
"Lillibet and Emma both went to the Cathedral Primary School where I was Headmistress, Emma and her sisters, Lillibet, and...." she broke off as she nearly mentioned Robert Fraser, before continuing "...and a lot of other people they both know, who still live around here!"
Once the awkward moment passed, we sat down and chatted, Lena anxious to make some sort of connection with her nephew and niece, while I made tea, passed around fruit juice or fizzy drinks, biscuits, and generally acted as host while Lena's family connected. I was just congratulating myself on a successful afternoon when Allie caught my eye with her own sharp little eyes.
"So tell me something, Darryl; why do you look so much like Aunty Emma?" she asked shrewdly, so I told her.
"My father was Robert, Emma's older brother; I was...adopted, and didn't know until my adoptive parents told me. Emma's my aunt, too!"
Allie grinned at me.
"So Lena and you are having a baby, and this baby will be my first cousin, right?" I nodded.
"So it'll also be Mum's niece, nephew, whatever, right?" I nodded again.
Allie leaned back and smiled.
"And it will also be Aunty Emma's what, Great-Niece or nephew? Wow, this family just got complicated! Anything else you want to tell me?"
If only I could!
I grinned at her.
"Nope, nothing else to tell, now you know as much as I do!"
Marcus piped-up then.
"Mummy said you're a doctor; do you stick needles in people and cut them open?"
I had to grin, but I shook my head.
"Well, someone else sticks the needles in, but yes, I do the operations!"
The conversation went on in this vein for a while, the kids asking Lena and I surprisingly sharp questions about our lives, my job; Marcus, in keeping with every little boy, wanted to know all about the gory bits, but I kept those to a minimum. They were all a little shocked, I think when Lena asked if they could be free for a week, as we wanted to take them to Cyprus with us as soon as possible, like the end of the week?
Allie was excited, Marcus was incoherent, and Lizzie was brimming again at the thought of seeing dad again, and to be honest, so was I; I'd never felt their absence so keenly, even when I was away at medical school, at least then, mum and dad were only at the other end of 120 miles of motorway. Emma herded the kids out so Lena could talk with Lizzie, so I took the three of them to Veracchio's, a local gelato parlour, to try some of the best Italian ice cream in Clifton while Lena and Lizzie ironed out their plans.
Emma and I talked more about Robert, telling me what he'd what he liked and disliked, his sense of humour, what he'd been like as a boy. I asked about him joining the Royal Marines, and a line appeared between her eyebrows.
"You've got me there, Darryl; none of us know what made him do it; Robbie was so quiet, gentle, and soft-spoken, it was a complete surprise, actually, it was a huge shock, when he announced he'd joined-up. Robbie was interested in art, in sketching, painting; he spent all his spare time drawing all sorts of things; birds, insects, cars passing the house, the other kids in the playground at school, and of course endless studies of Lizzie; I think he thought he was somehow letting dad down, that he wasn't being 'manly' enough or something, but I don't know where he got that from, certainly not from dad; dad was so proud of his ability. No-one in our family had ever been anything like that; they were always blue-collar working men, not a trace of artistic ability or inclination; Robbie was the first. When he went away to the Falklands, dad was convinced he wasn't coming back, and when he heard the news that he'd been killed, he just locked himself in his room and stayed there for days."
She stopped talking while she took a sip of her coffee, her eyes distant.
"He never mentioned Robbie again after that, but then he hardly ever spoke again, and when he died, one of the things he'd requested in his will was that we collect all Robbie's drawings, sketches, paintings, everything, and bury them with him. When Lizzie heard the news of his death, she took all the sketches and paintings of her, everything Robbie'd ever done for her, and burned them, just so she'd never be reminded of him. She took his loss as hard as dad did, in her own way, which is why I never judged her; what do you do when the centre of your world is wrenched away from you? Lizzie chose to remove any reminder of it, to deny it ever existed, and I can't say I really blame her."
She paused to take another sip from her coffee, her eyes glittering with unshed tears.
"I believed then, and I still believe now, that my dad died of a broken heart when that sniper took his son away, it just took a while for him to realise he was dead. Robbie was one of a kind, a gentle, sweet, generous boy, and when he was taken, something broke inside Lizzie as well; she'd owned him since he was six years old, he was always there, always in arm's reach; they always knew when the other needed them, they didn't even need to speak, they just knew what the other was thinking. I know Lizzie didn't want him to join-up, but she also knew it was something he thought he had to do. He was 20 the week he was killed; his mates on the ship even gave him a cake on the way down there. What a bloody waste that war was, all those boys killed, on both sides, for a couple of wind-blown, desolate islands in the middle of nowhere..."
Much as I tried to suppress it, I began to feel a connection and a strong surge of sympathy for this young man who'd fathered me and died before he ever saw me, and it made me feel guilty, as though I was being disloyal to dad; after all, he was the one who brought me up, in every way I could describe it, he was my dad, no-one else.
Emma picked up on that conflict, and gently steered the conversation away from me and onto the rest of her family, telling me about my other aunts, and my cousins, in Australia and in London. I learned about the scandal surrounding my cousin Julie and the circumstances of her birth, and how Emma and her youngest sister had lost touch with Lois, the middle sister, the mother of Mark and Julie. As we chatted, it became obvious she missed her sister, and regretted not trying harder to keep in touch with her
"I wish I'd tried to locate her years ago, I know where she used to live, but the last time I went to London I went to the last address I had and it was a supermarket, the whole area was gone, 'redeveloped' they called it, even the street names had been changed. Mark would be about four years younger than you, you're what, nearly 26? So Mark would be about 22, and Julie would be maybe 18 or 19 now; I wish I'd been there to see her grow up; she needed so much, and got so little from Lois. I remember Mark, such a sweet little boy, bright golden hair, just like his father, and Julie, the last time I saw her she was just a baby, but she looked like a little angel; it's a pity Lois did what she did, and her husband just leaving like that didn't help one bit; I would have taken that little girl, and Mark, in a heartbeat; but she was adamant; Mark stayed with her, and Julie, too, even though she hated her. I often wondered what she did with that little girl, she didn't want her, she hated her, but she wouldn't give her up for adoption or let me take her. Lois always was a difficult girl, and, well..."
She took a sip of her coffee, her eyes far away.
"I used to wonder how Julie grew up in a house where no-one loved her; Mark was just a little boy, and Lois just kept him around, she never once treated him like anything except a thing, something to keep around the house; she hated Julie though; it puzzled me how it was possible for a mother to hate her own child so, but she never harmed her or neglected her, so I couldn't even report her, Social Services would have found nothing, Lois was careful about that, oh yes! It was perfectly alright for her to have an affair, get pregnant, and expect her husband to claim the baby as his own; then, when he decided he couldn't, she blamed that poor little girl; she should have looked in the mirror instead!"
She sighed and drained her coffee, signalling for another one.
"I do wonder where that poor little girl is now. I hope she's happy; she was such a sweet, lovely-natured little baby; she had bright golden hair, almost white, it was so fair; she looked like a little golden haired cherub, and she had the biggest, most beautiful, bright green eyes; it makes me so sad to think she must have had a bloody miserable childhood with Lois always breathing down her neck. If I'd known where they were I'd have gone and tried to take her away, and that poor boy too; I can't even imagine what kind of a life they must have had! It's always troubled me that I didn't do enough to get those children away from Lois; I loved her dearly, but she had a mean streak and a nasty side to her tongue, and so much anger in her; she had it in her to hurt them one day, I just have to hope to God she didn't!"
We strolled back to the house to find Lizzie, Aunt Doreen, and Lena wreathed in smiles; Lena had booked five return flights to Paphos for Saturday, three days away, returning the following Saturday, so as not to miss the first day of Christmas Term at school
The kids weren't too happy about that; they'd been hoping for a little extra time off school, but they were getting a trip to Cyprus, so ultimately they were satisfied. Lena had then called mum and told her, but asked her to keep it a surprise that Lizzie and the kids were coming with us. Apparently, Mum had gotten quite teary; even though she wasn't Lizzie's mother, she'd had a small part in bringing her up, and had been as heartbroken as dad when she'd disappeared; obviously we didn't know this, I got it all later from Lena after the visitors had left.