Back to Bristol Ch. 12byGaryAPB©
Piers and myself managed to keep off Molly and Peter all the way to our first drink at Piers' Scottish pub. I had put myself in his hands for drinks, and he had decided to give me a single malt tour of Scotland. He started with Bladnoch, which he told me was the most southerly of all the distilleries. I asked about Auchentoshan, which I'd seen on the shelves when I was buying the whisky for my office, but I was very firmly told that it was a Glasgow distillery, and as Piers was an Edinburgh man he didn't talk about that.
After we had toasted Edward's entry into this world, and we stood at the bar sipping the light golden liquor, he looked at me, "You'll be pleased to know that I've already had a word with Peter."
I just raised my eyebrows in askance, and waited.
"When I got back to the Abbey he was still there, so I called him in, and basically told him to get his act together. He admitted that he hasn't been working well. I think he wanted a friend really. My guess is he wanted me to take him around to the George, buy him a pint and let him cry on my shoulder."
"But you didn't?"
"I couldn't. I have this feeling that this is exactly what you said month's ago. That it all started with an immoral act, he chatted up a married woman to get her into bed. And with a pint inside me, and in an informal setting, I think I might have told him." He paused and sipped his whisky. "I do feel sorry for the guy in some ways. He's broken hearted, and it shows, but the only way I can deal with it is as his boss."
"So? What is he going to do?"
"I don't know. They have a small cottage somewhere up in Wales. He's going away there this weekend, I suggested that he takes tomorrow off and does some real thinking. So, we'll find out if he's going to resign or get on with his job on Monday."
I thought about that, and sipped my whisky.
Piers looked at me, "I know you might be pleased to see him go, Chris. But he's bloody good, and I think the company needs him. I hope he comes back and just puts his shoulder to the grindstone."
I smiled, "Actually, so do I." I sighed, "I've got reasons to hate the guy. But I don't want to drive him out of a good job that he does well. Castrate him? Yes. Make him unemployed? No, that doesn't gain anyone anything."
He smiled, "Let's move slightly north, up the west coast I think, and then sit down and get something to eat. I know what I'll be having, but I'll let you choose something other than haggis, if you really must."
He ordered another Scotch, this time from Oban, and we sat down. I happily chose haggis with Piers. I'd eaten it a couple of times before, and I remembered that I quite liked it. Whilst the food was delivered, we talked whisky and food.
When the plates of food were put in front of us, Piers jumped up and went to the bar, returning quite quickly with two more whiskies. "Onward and upward, the Isle of Skye, Talisker." He sat down and looked at me across the table, "OK. You've had long enough. Why did you think you were a really big fucking bastard?"
I smiled at his choice of words, "Well, actually, Peter was right. Or, at the very least, he was right to think what he does."
Piers went on eating for a moment or two, then he put his knife and fork down and looked at me, "You mean Molly loves you?" He searched my face, and obviously read sincerity, "Shit!" again he paused, "What? When? Did she tell you? What happened?"
So I gave him a précis of Molly's confession. I didn't go down the lousy sex life of Peter and her, I wasn't sure why not, but I glossed over that bit. At the end I just looked at him, and he looked back at me. Silence.
Eventually Piers stood up and went to the bar. He returned with two more glasses, "Dalwhinnie. Just over half way up and in the middle. And these are large ones." He sat down and looked at me, he raised his glass, "After that story I need this. I can't imagine how you feel." He paused to look at me again, "How do you feel about it?"
I drank some whisky and watched myself put my glass down, "If I knew that I probably wouldn't be sitting here."
"Well, how do you feel about her?"
I smiled, "If I knew that I probably wouldn't be sitting here."
He smiled, and I added, "I have a huge amount of different feelings for her. I don't think we can put it all back together, but...I don't know. I've had all sorts of thoughts. Last night I was going down a route of wondering if we could put together some new committed but not committed sort of relationship. You know, a large house, each of us with our private areas, and communal areas for the boys. Some sort of arrangement where the boys come first, but that we can each pursue our own private lives." I looked up at him, and saw the look on his face, "Don't worry. The cold light of dawn put pay to that one. But it just shows, I haven't the faintest idea what to do or what to think."
Piers sipped his drink and was obviously thinking, "OK. Let's start at the beginning. Do you accept the idea that her first time with Peter was just an aberration, a moment of passionate madness? That it is something you could forgive and know that it would never happen again?"
I was considering my answer when Piers added, "And how could she ever marry him? And have a happy .. what four, five years of marriage? It just doesn't make sense."
I breathed a sigh of relief, partly because it let me off answering his first question, and partly because it gave me an excuse to tell him about Susan's hand in this. When I finished doing that, Piers again stood up, "The plot thickens. Time to hit Speyside. Let's start down at Dufftown with a Glenallachie." And he was off to the bar again.
When he returned, he held his glass up to silently toast me, "You've one hell of a set of in-laws there." And he smiled. I guess I was getting as inebriated as he was, but it was beginning to show.
Whilst I considered our sobriety a more important question came into my mind, "Do you think that it is possible that Peter and Susan, working in collusion, could have brainwashed her to an extent that she drifted into the marriage? Oh, and by the way, I don't think it was that wonderful in the bedroom department, not from what Molly told me."
Piers was thoughtful for a long moment, and sipped his whisky, "Well, I don't know about that, and I'm not sure I want to know. But as for your question, well I don't know the answer to that either. I think I'd have to sit and think about that. But what about my first question, was the initial incident acceptable...no that's the wrong word, was it forgivable?"
"Well I have a theory about that...."
"Well before you give me your theory, let's move slightly north, but still Speyside." And he was off to the bar again. I looked at my glass, and realised it was empty. The whiskies seemed to be going down quicker now.
On his return, he handed me a glass, "They didn't have any Glen Elgin, which I wanted. So this is Linkwood, still from Elgin." He sat down and prompted me, "OK, what's your theory?"
"Well, I don't believe that it was just two innocent friends going out for lunch. That guy knew exactly what he was doing, and he saw his opportunity. Molly doesn't see it that way, but I'd like to bet...." I paused, "I can't prove any of this, but I bet he made sure that she had as much to drink as she would reasonably take without getting suspicious. Then he got her back to his flat. Then the boiling water episode to give him an excuse to get his kit off. Well, it's funny how it was scalding water and not scalding black coffee that would have stained his nice shirt and trousers. I bet it was only warm water as well. And women react to a good male body just as much as we react to a good female body. It's in our basic instincts."
Piers interrupted me, "As male strip shows for hen nights prove on a daily basis."
I smiled, but continued, "Well you can imagine the scene. He's just in his boxers, right up close behind her. She's had a little too much to drink, and is feeling a bit sexy from just seeing him semi-naked. He has his arms around her, to point out things in the view. His cologne smells good, his body is pressing against hers. I bet there was soft music playing, but Molly didn't mention that."
I paused to sip my whisky. Piers looked at me, "Why do you think he managed to get her to drink too much? How much did she have, did she say?"
"She asked for a gin and tonic. He probably turned that into a large one. Was that the kind gesture of a friend who's seen that she's had a bad morning, or a bachelor on the make? OK, then they have wine, only he has water with his, because he's driving. She's relaxed and there's plenty of wine in the bottle, because he's carefully not drinking his fair share. Then he pushes for a liqueur, Grappa apparently, because neither of them have ever tried it. But he doesn't like it and he palms his off onto her. So, she's not drunk and incapable, but she's had a fair amount, specially as she's not used to drinking at lunchtime."
I looked up at Piers. He was deep in thought. Eventually, he realised that I was looking at him, "Drink up. We'll go a little further north, Glenmorangie I think. Then we'll go back to my place for some coffee and the crowning glory of the evening. I have a bottle of thirty year old Highland Park back there, all the way from the Orkneys. A glass of that will round off the evening nicely."
"OK. But what do you think of my theory? You know him a lot better than I do."
"I'm thinking about it. But I'm thinking about whisky more. Come on, Glenmorangie to toast Edward's head one more time. I'm a grandfather. Isn't that great? Except that I'm married to a grandmother now."
Once we were back at his flat, and he'd made two steaming mugs of the most wonderful, rich dark black coffee. And had poured, with extreme reverence, two glasses of this Orkney's whisky, the name of which I'd already forgotten, we sat in chairs, either side of the fireplace and just looked at each other. The whisky was catching up with us.
I noticed that drinking seemed to have made Piers very quiet and thoughtful, but I hadn't a lot to say. Then he looked at me, "I remember recruiting Peter. I think I told you, I was Deputy in those days. It was the last year that we did a graduate intake in the summer. After that we've always just recruited individuals as we've needed them. I think there were seven in Peter's year. He had his masters, some only had first degrees, but they were a good crowd."
I wondered where this slightly drunken reminiscing was leading. But I couldn't be bothered to ask.
And Piers continued, "Jeanette and myself took them all out on about their third evening. To help them get to know each other, you know the sort of thing. Well we took them down to the Centre, an Italian about a hundred yards up from the Hippodrome, I don't think it's there anymore. Anyway, at the end of the meal, I remember Peter beginning to wax lyrical about the wonders of Grappa. He insisted that he bought everyone a glass of it. Some didn't like it, and I think he must have sunk three or four glasses of the stuff."
There was a long, pregnant pause, as that news sunk in. In the end, I spoke, "He's good. He's very good. The Bastard. The Fucking Bastard."
Piers looked at me, "Yes, he was a fucking bastard." He paused and a look of concern passed over his face, "Drink your coffee, Chris, and ride with it. Don't do anything silly. If it's any consolation, he's paying for it now. I saw him this afternoon, he's totally broken. Justice has been served. He's suffering more than you kicking his balls to pulp would ever do."
"I'm very glad to hear it." I looked at my watch, and then back at Piers. I felt that everything that was going to be said tonight had been said. "My taxi is probably waiting downstairs. Can we talk some more when I'm beginning to get my head around all this. Just talking helps."
He smiled, "Of course. There's several hundred more distilleries to go."
The next morning, Carole served my first coffee with two aspirin sitting on the saucer.
I smiled, "Can't take them yet. I took Alka Seltzer before I left home."
"Did you come to any solution, or learn anything new?" She asked.
"Not really. Except that we came to pretty conclusive proof that Peter Davies set all out to seduce her that first afternoon. It is a pity he succeeded. But you can't rewrite history."
"So, don't try. The future is the only thing you've got to worry about."
That curt advice made me watch Carole as she left my office.
I had a very busy day, all fairly boring, except for having to do my introductory chat for a new sales video we were producing, which was quite interesting and fun.
I got to Ralph and Susan's just before six thirty, to find that they had held up having anything to eat until I arrived. It was just Mum and Len, Ralph, Molly, Ben and Jamie of course. It was agreed that Jamie could open his present from Mum, just so that she could see him open it. It was a true Australian present of a boomerang and a sweatshirt with the slogan written upside down on the front, which amused a nine year old fantastically.
I wanted to ask Molly how the visit to the solicitor had gone. But we were never alone long enough to have a private conversation. A couple of times the grown-ups discreetly withdrew, but as soon as they did, either Jamie or Ben would come bouncing into the room. There was a good side to not being able to talk, I could tell from Molly's eyes, that she was bursting to ask me if I'd decided anything about the future. But, thank Goodness, she never got a chance.
Jamie and Ben were outside, trying to throw the boomerang, when Ralph suggested a birthday photo for Mum to take home. So we gathered in the garden. Ralph took plenty of photo's of Mum with Jamie, and with Jamie and Ben, and with Len. Then she asked for one of Jamie and Ben with myself and Molly.
So we grouped together as a foursome, Molly and myself standing behind the two boys. And just before Ralph pressed the shutter, Molly linked her arm in mine. My reaction was immediate, I just stood aside, disentangling from her. It wasn't a planned or reasoned reaction, it came from within me. How dare she, I haven't agreed to anything, and she certainly has no right to put her arm around mine.
Molly looked at me, very hurt, her eyes filling with tears. And then she resumed her pose and I came back and Ralph took the picture. As soon as he was done, Molly almost ran as she went indoors.
Mum looked at me, "How could you? Go and say you're sorry."
Now I was staring at Mum, and feeling hurt, but all she did was reiterate her view, "Go on. I expect she's gone upstairs to the bedroom."
Have a flaming row with Mum? Or walk out completely? Or at least go and explain myself to Molly? I chose that last option.
I found her, quietly wiping her eyes, sitting on the bed in the small bedroom.
I went and sat beside her, "I'm sorry I reacted that way."
She looked at me, "Doesn't it mean anything to you that I love you? I love you, Chris, and you treat me as if I'm a leper."
"That's unfair. I just don't know what to do. Mum has made it perfectly plain that I'm meant to immediately start planning a June wedding. You look at me with big doe eyes, desperate for me to say something. Len agrees with Mum, and makes no effort to hide it. Your Dad is probably the most understanding, but he wouldn't have arranged all this without knowing what he wants. And it's my life. I've had to live it, all by myself for nearly five years now, and I'll make decisions about what I'll do, not a bunch of well-meaning relatives."
"All I did was link arms."
"I know. But it seemed like you were making a claim."
"So, a few weeks ago it was alright to link arms with you as we walked down King Street together, before I told you that I love you. But now it's a terrible sin. Is that it?"
"Yes. There were no life long implications when you did it before. Now it is a claim for the future. So Yes."
I could feel my anger rising. As I'd voiced my problem, it became more understandable and reasonable to me. Why couldn't she see that?
"It was just for a photograph."
"Just like screwing Peter in his flat was just for the afternoon. But you can't say sorry, Oh No. You can't tell me that he means nothing to you, Oh No. He's important to you and you have deep feelings for him." By now I was standing and facing her directly, but my tirade just continued, and my voice rose in volume to match. "And you can't come and see me and explain. No, you'd rather let me divorce you so that you can marry him. But when that doesn't work out, well you can say: Oops Chris, I'm sorry. Really I've loved you all along. So now, my darling Chris, you can take me in your arms and whisk me off into the sunset. Well, I'll tell you what's wrong with it..."
When I started, she looked hurt. Now she looked horrified and was crying.
Not that that stopped me, "What's wrong with it is that I've spent five years out there, in the big nasty wide world. You let me go there, remember? And I've learnt that I come first in my life. I don't have to do what you want me to do. I don't have to do what Mum wants me to do. I'll make up my own mind about my life, thank you. So, you can stop linking your arm in mine until I tell you that I want it there, if I ever do. OK?"
Eventually, as the silence became pervasive, she looked up at me. I looked down on her.
She spoke first, "I'm sorry. I know I have no right. I gave that up, and I was so wrong to do that. And I'm so sorry that I did......"
My anger subsided and I sat down again, but leaving us far enough apart to be clear that this wasn't kiss and make-up.
"I'm sorry, too. I don't mean to shout at you. And, to be honest, it isn't that you put your arm in mine. It really isn't. It's just that everyone seems to know what to do for the best about my life, except for me. I really would like to come to my own conclusions."
Again there was a long pause, then very quietly she asked, "Do I stand any chance?"
"I don't know. For everything I seem to think of, there seems to be an equal and opposite reason why not. If only I could know in my heart what I wanted to do, then I think I could find the reasons why from the story. I think I could justify anything. It seems to be a sort of pick 'n mix. I'm sorry, Molly. You said you'd give me time. I don't know how long I'll need, but I'm not ready yet. I'm not ready to do anything, and I'm not ready to say anything."
Again there was a long pause until I asked, "What did the solicitor say?"
"She remembered me and said: It took me five years to come to my senses. Apparently she knew when we were divorcing that I didn't really want it to happen. I do remember her suggesting once that I oppose it, but I didn't think I had any right to." She paused and half smiled, "Anyway, she's going to write to Peter, very gently, asking what he was going to do. It will be a lot easier if he divorces me. If I divorce him, well my reasons are a lot weaker, and he might oppose it. So we want to encourage him to lead the way. I guess he'll get the letter tomorrow or Monday."
I told her, "He's gone away for the weekend."
She looked at me, questioningly. So I explained, "Piers told me. I'm entitled to know what my staff are doing."
"Sorry. Of course."
Again there was a long silence. Until I decided, "If you're OK, then I think I'll go. Are you OK?"
She looked at me, very sadly, and she sounded sad in her voice, "I'll be fine."
"I'll see the boys on my way out. Is it OK if I have them sometime over the weekend?"
"Of course. How about Sunday from my house?"
"OK. Let's say at noon, and I'll give them lunch."
She nodded, and I left the room quietly. I stood on the landing and composed myself before I went downstairs.