Back to Bristol Ch. 14byGaryAPB©
As I drove away from Ralph's house that Saturday afternoon, I was deep in thought. Was it possible that with Susan and Peter working as a close team that they managed to brainwash Molly into marrying Peter? It seemed pretty farfetched, and then I thought, what would it have gained Peter? He would have known that the relationship was based on lies and collusion. He's a sensible guy, surely he'd know that a marriage built on sand would inevitably fail?
But then there was an even more basic question: Did it matter? But, Yes it did. Because, maybe, just maybe, it would help to explain why she had done the stupid thing of marrying him. But I had difficulty with that, if she was a brainwashed zombie then I didn't like that image of her either.
When I got back to my new flat, life took over. Moving that morning had involved little more than getting everything to the new flat and dumping it on the floor. And even doing that had taken two trips in the car. So, the evening was spent organising things, with one break when Mum phoned. Len and her had got as far as Glasgow, and were going on a cruise of Loch Lomond tomorrow. She sounded as if they were having a good time. She did ask for an update on the state of play, but there wasn't a lot to say. I was pleased that when I just said I was still thinking about things, she didn't press me. At ten o'clock I quit unpacking and arranging things for the day, poured myself a whisky and watched the television news. It was only then that I really looked at my new place.
I was really pleased with it. It was stylish and had quality. It wasn't terribly big, but it had a second bedroom, so I had thoughts that maybe the boys could stay over once in a while. And that maybe useful if life gets tough between Molly and Peter.
What I also noticed was that the place was impersonal. I'd lived for three months in the company flat and it hadn't worried me. But this one was My Flat. And it had very little of me in it, except for my clothes. I'd have to do something about that. So, I spent most of Sunday walking around shops looking for things to personalise the flat and to make it home By Sunday evening I'd spent quite a lot of money, but as I looked around the flat I was quite pleased with the look of the place. I gazed at the set of crystal decanters that I'd bought, wondering how to fill them. Brandy was obvious. Maybe a sherry in case Ralph calls? I'd have to consult Piers on the whisky. That would give me an excuse to phone him in the morning.
Monday morning in the office, and Carole openly asked, "And the next instalment?"
"Not a lot, except..." and I told her about Susan and the tickets for Longleat. It was the first time I ever saw Carole leaving my office angry. She obviously decided she couldn't say what she thought of my ex-mother-in-law to me, and she left the room, quietly fuming.
I let her fume whilst I called Piers. I opened, straight to the point. "Is he in?"
"Yes. In his office. I don't know how well he's going to work, but he's in. I've told him that he can cancel his regular Wednesday's research at the eye hospital, they can do without him; he's got work to catch up on things here. Anyway, he's got to go your way later, Neil's got to give him a dressing down and his formal warning letter. I'd keep my head down if I were you. In no uncertain terms, he is pretty sure all his troubles are your fault."
"I really couldn't give a damn. Now the real reason why I phoned..."
"Well, it was a pretty big part of it. But now I want to turn to religion. Which whisky should I have in my decanter as a nightcap type of drink?"
"Ah! The search for the Holy Grail! Personally, I'd choose something from the North of the Highlands. But, for a novice convert like you I'd recommend something old, probably from Speyside, and with some years in the vat."
No name? No recommendation? That's not what I wanted, "Is that it?"
He laughed, "Yes. Discovery is what it's all about. The journey, not the arrival."
"Research you mean. Bloody researchers."
"We're all fucking bastards!" He chortled happily as I put the phone down.
On Monday evening I drove back to the wine shop where I'd bought my whisky before. I found the same guy as had been there before, not that he remembered me. But I explained that I was looking for an aged Speyside malt, and he produced a 21 year old Balvenie matured in Port Wood. So I bought it because I like port, and that was the only clue I had. At over £50 per bottle, I thought for a first attempt it that was quite enough.
Later that evening I couldn't resist trying. Who was it that said they don't know much about art, but the know what they like? I don't know much about malt whisky, but I know I like this stuff.
As I sipped it, I started thinking about Molly. In some ways I wished I'd never come back to Bristol, but then I'd never have rebuilt my relationship with Jamie and Ben. I couldn't imagine building anything but some supportive friendship with her, but there were too many memories, too many echoes of what we once had. Then I began to worry, I guess Peter was back living in their gym next door. Would he make trouble? It was a ridiculous situation, him camping out in the gym, and her and the boys next door. I had to talk her into something better, away from him.
In the end I called her, it was gone eleven o'clock. She sounded tired and quiet when she answered the phone.
"Hi, I hope I didn't wake you."
"No, I'm in bed, but not asleep."
"I was sitting here getting worried that Peter's back. Is he causing any problem?" I asked.
"No. Not a problem. He knocked at the kitchen door earlier, and that was a first, he's just come and gone before. Anyway, he very politely and formally asked if we could sit down and talk. He says he has a right to be heard."
"What did you say?"
"That there was no point. But that I'd think about it. I promise you I have no intention of sitting and talking to him. I just wanted him gone. I only agreed to think about it so that he would leave this evening."
There was a pause, then I told her, "He had an official warning letter at work today. He's screwing up his job."
"I kinda guessed that. It doesn't help. He is a good man, and he does love me. And he's screwing up his whole life."
There was a long pause. I was thinking that she sounded tired. Which made me think that now wasn't the time to tell her what I really thought of Peter Fucking Davies.
Instead, I suddenly suggested, "Could you get a babysitter for tomorrow evening, late evening, after you've seen the boys to bed? If you could, then why not come down here for a drink and to see my new place?"
"You know I'd like that. I'm sure Ralph would baby-sit. He feels so guilty about what Susan did. On Saturday, after you'd gone, I found him in tears. I've never seen my father cry before. And I couldn't say that what she did didn't matter, because it did."
"I wish we knew how much."
"How much our splitting matters? Everything. Don't you know that?"
"Yes, it was the worst thing that ever happened in my life, too. But I didn't mean that. What I meant was: I'd like to know just how influential Susan and her collaboration with Peter was in it all going so wrong."
"You want to know that? How do you think I feel? I think I'm going mad." She sounded very bitter, "There's nothing in that bit of my history that I can grasp and say I genuinely felt that, I wasn't just manipulated to feel it. Or that I freely chose to do something, and wasn't manipulated to let it happen."
"We haven't got any answers, but maybe we should talk about it tomorrow evening."
"Yes. I'll look forward to it. I love you, Chris. And I am sorry......"
I didn't say anything, very conscious that I couldn't make the wanted response. After a couple of moments silence I heard the phone click as she put hers down.
I went to bed still pondering just how much a free, independently minded adult could be manipulated. It was her signature on the wedding certificate to Peter, not Susan's. I was willing to talk, willing to try to understand, but I didn't think I'd be convinced.
First thing on Tuesday morning, Piers phoned me, "Hi, Chris. I thought I'd phone you. You know Myra's arranged this meeting about the future of this site. Well, she's moved it to be held here, and I guess I should invite Peter. What do you think?"
My heart missed a beat. Maybe I'm a coward, but from what I understood of Peter's mood and what he thought of me, I'm not sure I needed a showdown with him in front of a property developer, an architect and my staff. I was wary, very wary. "I didn't know she'd moved it. I'm not sure I've got the time to drive over to the Abbey and back, just for one meeting. It isn't that sort of day for me. If she has to hold it at the Abbey, then I won't be there."
"But if we hold it as planned in your office, you would be?" Piers asked.
"Yes." I said with more enthusiasm than I felt.
"Well, unless Myra has some real reason why it has to be held here, then let's hold as planned. And I'll tell Peter he's invited, and we see what he does. I suspect he'll find a prior engagement, but we don't know."
"That sounds like a plan. Will you talk to Myra? I'll tell Carole." I smiled bitterly to myself. I'll tell her to have the Band Aid ready, and at least I'll have a stiff whisky to hand if I need it!
"I'll call her right now. By the way, Jeanette insists that you come to us on Saturday. She never was too keen on restaurants, and she argues that home is more private if you want to talk. As if she'd let you get away without!"
I smiled to myself, "I'm looking forward to seeing Jeanette. She knew Molly well, I'd be interested on her views on one aspect of all this. Oh, by the way, I chose a twenty one year old Balvenie. Any good?"
He laughed, "I couldn't tell you until I've tasted it. Any Tuesday evening this week will do."
Now I laughed, "Hard luck. I can't do it, but you can tell Jeanette this just to tantalise her: Molly's coming over this evening."
He wished me the best of luck, and rang off.
Peter didn't turn up for the meeting which was held in my office. But Piers brought a Research Project Manager with him instead. She seemed an amiable and intelligent young woman, and when I asked after her, in a private few words with Piers, he said she was a possibility as a future Deputy, should anything happen to Peter.
Afterwards some guilt and shame attacked me, for not going over to the Abbey and facing up to Peter. As Managing Director I can't have no-go areas in my own company.
So, I was in a very mixed mood when Molly buzzed the entry-phone that night.
I opened the door for her and waited. As she came up the stairs I thought she looked good, casual, but sexy. As I kissed her on the cheek, her perfume hit me. It wasn't her usual one but it was very good.
"You smell nice." I said as a greeting.
She smiled, "Thank you. It's L'Air du Temps. Peter gave it to me for my birthday."
God! That hurt. For a moment our eyes locked, and she knew what she'd done. But she didn't say anything, and I hoped my smile stayed in place.
I showed her over the flat, and she seemed to like it. When we got to the little second bedroom, I did say that I hoped the boys could come and stay some times.
Her response worried me, "They're a bit...... mixed up at the moment."
We talked for some time about them, whilst we returned to the living room, and I poured us a couple of glasses of wine. We talked about how they had been through our original divorce and how they were now as their lives changed yet again. I used it as an excuse to argue that she should take them and go and live with Ralph. I don't think she was opposed to the idea, but was reluctant. I asked why?
She looked at me, "Because I hoped ......." And the look in her eyes told me what she hoped for.
"No. You know that's not going to happen. We're a long way off that happening, if ever."
She looked very disappointed, but her face tightened and she accepted it and she continued, "And I guess I'm a bit scared of Susan coming back. At some stage Ralph has got to let her back. At the moment they meet for lunch once or twice a week, but I assume he'll let her come home sometime, and I don't think I want to live under the same roof as her."
I smiled, "I don't blame you. Does she know that you are going to divorce Peter? And what state is that in, by the way?"
"I don't know whether Susan knows. Who knows who talks to who any more? But I spoke to the solicitor this afternoon. We've had no reply from Peter to her letter, so I told her to start preparing for me to divorce him. I'm going to see her on Thursday about that."
"Good." Was all I could say.
There was a long pause, a silence. For my part, I was wondering how to approach talking about the gulf that lay between us. But, it was Molly who spoke first, "The other day you said you'd moved forward in your thinking. Could you tell me how? Even if you haven't come to any conclusion...please, Chris."
I looked at her, "OK. I guess I feel, no, I know that whatever I feel, whatever you feel, it is impossible to just pick up where we left off. I know that's what you want. Everybody seems to want it, it'd be the fairytale ending. But this is real life, and you can't go back in time, however much we might want to."
As I watched her, her face drained of colour, and her eyes filled with tears, "Couldn't you at least try....please, I know I hurt you, I know it's been over four years, but I still love you. Please Chris...."
Before she collapsed completely into tears, I interrupted, "But that doesn't mean we can't try and find a way of building something new."
She looked up at me, there was interest and some hope in her eyes, and I continued, "Maybe we can get to a happy, supportive friendship, without hurts and jealousies, something that gives the boys the stability and love they need..."
"I'm not sure I understand what you mean?"
"Well, how would you suggest that we get to a place where we're comfortable with each other? Where we can understand and share each other's lives, without regrets and hurtful memories?"
"But not share love, not get back to a true partnership?"
"I'm sorry Molly, I don't think that's possible. But I would like to be able to see you, to talk to you, without getting hurt because you tell me that the perfume I like was bought by Peter."
"Time will do that. But I want more, I want to be more than a friend...."
The idea that time will do it just wasn't enough, that was too simplistic, "I had dinner with Myra last Monday. Today I spent two hours at work with her. And I had lunch with her and some others. How do you feel about that? Don't tell me that you didn't just flinch. That a pang of jealousy didn't just hit you. It will take a huge effort just to get over that sort of thing, let alone anything else. And I don't know how to do it. What do you think?"
She ignored my question, "I thought you said you were finished with her. But you were taking her out to dinner only a week ago?"
"I didn't say I took her out to dinner. I said I had dinner with her, although as it happens, I did pay. But she is a friend. A very attractive and sexy one I will admit, but only a friend. And she knew that something big and dramatic has happened in my life, and she wanted to know what. So we had dinner together." I paused and looked at her, and thought: What the Hell, there is no good time for this bit. "I knew Peter was going to come round last Monday with flowers, and an all is forgiven attitude. And I guessed he wanted to take you to dinner in your special restaurant, and as Myra wanted to talk to me, I just happened to suggest that we could talk over dinner in a random restaurant in King Street."
She looked at me, very questioningly, but then said, "How did you know?"
"Because he told Piers, and Piers told me. And we realised that Peter's talks to both of us in the morning were misunderstood, or he purposely misled us. And we knew what he intended. I thought about warning you, but what good would that have done? He was intent on his mission to save the marriage."
Suddenly, she smiled, "And you were scared and jealous that I might let him take me to dinner."
"No! Not jealous, just interested...concerned."
She just looked at me, with a little smile of victory on her face. A look that I'd seen many times before, but then it was over minor incidents; being proved right on some detail or winning a tennis match. I'd have to think about it, was I jealous?
I partially conceded, "Well, you have to remember, I loved you so much, and I guess old habits die hard."
"So, let them have a chance of growing again. What happens if we could rebuild something? Please don't just close the door on that for ever. Please, Chris."
"Well, I'm not. If two people are seeing each other regularly, sharing a bit of their lives, and we have two sons so we'll definitely be sharing something, then I guess anything can happen. But I wanted to be honest with you, I don't think it will."
"But you would try to build some relationship? How about counselling? Or just meeting to talk? Whatever you want."
"I don't want to raise your hopes. You asked where I was in my thinking, and I'm trying to tell you. I'm not committed to anything yet, except trying to make sure you're in a position to give my boys a life they deserve. But, Piers McBaine raised the question of how do you go about trying to rebuild anything after all this time."
"You talked to Piers about this?"
"He raised it. And like you, he suggested counselling. But I said No. We then went on to just talk about all the aspects that would have to be covered. The past; the future; sex; why are we in this horrible situation. There are so many aspects of it all. There are the facts of what happened, and there's how we felt then and how we feel now. It's complicated."
"You spoke to Piers, I spoke to Heather Washington at the Hospital. She's a counsellor...."
"I told you, no counsellors. If we can't talk between ourselves, then it isn't worth trying. I don't want some do-gooding, soft-centred nosey-parker crawling all over my private life, thank you."
"Thanks very much. What do you think I do for half my life as a dietician?"
I looked at her and realised that I'd gone over the top, "Whoops. Sorry. It's just that I don't want to share this with someone else, a complete stranger. This is just us. What happens between us is all that matters. Whatever Ralph thinks, or Susan did, or my Mum wants, it has to be just us that solves it. I'm sorry, but that's the way I feel."
"Heather may have some good tools, ways of dealing with issues."
"So, you talk to her if we get stuck. That assumes we ever start."
She didn't like that last comment, but I could see her thinking as I poured us two more glasses of wine.
She looked at me for some time, then she asked, "What does it take to get you to at least be willing to start? To be willing to talk to me?"
I wished she hadn't asked that, "Oh! There's plenty I have difficulty with. Why my wife of seven years went with that man to his flat and fucked the afternoon away? That isn't a good start."
She immediately burst into tears, "You know it wasn't like that. But you're right, there is no answer to that one. Don't you think I haven't asked myself that over and over again. Why did I do it? Why did I throw everything away in a moment of lust? I'm sorry....."
I leant over and squeezed her hand, "Actually, I think I'd be kinder to you on that one than you'd be to yourself."
She looked up at me, through her tears, "I'm sorry....."
"I know you are." I gave her hand a squeeze. "I think the real problem that goes around and around in my head isn't what happened in a moment of stupid lust, it's what happened in weeks and months that led you to marry him. That's where I lose respect for you."