tagRomanceNot Passing Go! Ch. 06

Not Passing Go! Ch. 06

bySpencerfiction©

Chapter 6: Family matters

The terraced house is Victorian or Edwardian, and is similar to a lot of brick-built slate roofed houses in other Home Counties villages. They were built originally for tied farm workers, but those labourers were no longer needed after mechanisation. The terraced cottages are narrow, two-up, two-down, most with two-storey extensions out the back to include a modern kitchen below and a bathroom and or third bedroom above. I had spotted the extensions on my earlier recce and noticed several houses also had small very similar conservatories built on the back of the extensions.

It's Polly-Jo who answers the door, almost speechless with surprise and joy at seeing her favourite swimming coach.

"Daddy-Dan!" she squeals putting her hands up to her mouth, "Come on in! Come on in, please!" She holds out both her hands and I respond by holding out mine. She pulls me in, Agnes following immediately behind. I glance at her, Agnes is back smiling again. Children smiling is naturally infectious whether you are a parent or not.

"Mum! Mum!" She shouts down the hall as she pulls me long with one hand now holding mine in a vice-like grip, "you'll never guess who has come visit!"

'Mum?' I think, instantly on my guard. If her mother Josie's here, does this mean that was Marty Wheelwright here too? Was he lying in wait for us, or was I about to catch him cold? Unfortunately, I am unarmed, we had left the 'tools' in the motor in response to Freddie's relied on all-clear signal. I silently motion Agnes to stay back with my free hand. I want her out of the way if there was going to be a fire-fight. Damn, my twins were inside already and now I regret not marching up to the house, tooled up at the outset.

Pulling me with one hand and skipping with joy, Polly-Jo throws open the door to the sitting room and drags me through.

"Mummy!" Polly-Jo cries, "this is my coach, Daddy-Dan!"

The twins were playing with some toys on the floor in front of the newly lit fireplace, the kindling burning fiercely and the coals just starting to catch, but the twins were already up on their feet and running into my arms, crying "Daddy!"

Sitting close together on the two-seater settee are Freddie and Polly. Sitting very closely together in fact and holding hands. Freddie grins at me, remaining seated, but Polly jumps up in shock.

"Daddy? Danny?" she says, "is that really you? What's going on?" One hand has gone to her mouth, the other still held firmly by Freddie.

"Is Marty here?" I snarl at her from the centre of the room. She reacts like she's been struck and almost sits down again, struggling to maintain her balance.

"No ... no, of course not, we never see him at all. I doubt he even knows where we live." she says, her eyes brimming over with tears. She is still holding Freddie's hand. "Why does PJ call you 'Daddy', Dan?"

"Where's your sister Josie, then?" I demand, pushing aside her question.

"She ... Josie passed away, in Turkey, about ten years ago ... ten years last June."

"So, you've looked after your niece, ever since?"

"She's not my niece, Daniel, she's my ... she's ... our daughter." As she speaks, Freddie tugs her by the hand and pulls her down to sit back next to him and puts his arm comfortingly around her.

I am confused, she surely can't mean that Polly-Jo is Polly and Freddie's daughter, as Freddie is twelve years younger than us and from Lancashire not London. How would they have met without me knowing? No, that can't be it, they don't even know each other, although they do seem very friendly now. So if Josie's not the father and Polly is the mother, then she must mean that Martin Wheelwright, her brother-in-law, is Polly-Jo's father. But none of that matters now. Families! And I thought that Agnes and mine had become a complicated marriage!

"So, are we here alone?" I ask, "just the seven of us?"

I hear a rustle Agnes quietly enters the room behind me.

"Just us, Staff," Freddie says, a smile on his face like he's just lapped up the cream and, judging by the way Polly is cuddling up to him, I guess he has. "I've had a quick recce, and you couldn't swing a cat in any room here, either upstairs or down. There's no cellar, garage or even a garden shed, and no-one's been in the loft for months, according to a spider's web in the corner."

"OK, Freddie, cough up, what's really going on here between you two?" I ask.

The girls giggle and Mickie holds out a hand to her mother Agnes, so she sits down on a rocking chair the other side of the fireplace, and the twins cheerfully climb on her lap, all full of infectious smiles. "Uncle Freddie loves Aunt Polly," they sing out in unison. The couple on the settee, snuggle up, although Polly still looks in shock at seeing me.

"I can see that," I say, "So, while l've been busting my butt in school, I suppose you two love birds have been exchanging emails."

"Tweets," they quietly say in unison, dripping with guilt. Freddie clears his throat.

"Look, Staff, Poll was working at the school during the summer holidays, doing a bit of cleaning and stuff. And we sort of bumped into each other while we were there recceying the place. We just sort of hit it off like you know. I didn't even twig she was the mark in this caper until after we'd exchanged a couple of messages and Polly mentioned she'd a daughter at the school who was full of this amazing new swimming coach. Up to then I had no inkling that a school cleaner could afford to send her daughter to that flash school. Then it became clear to me after more probing that she'd had bugger all to do with your old buddy Wheelwright for ages, ever since her sister died. Only, I didn't know how to explain to you or to her, how I was 'piggy in the middle'."

"Yes," Polly chipped in, "Martin has not been seen or even heard of since you were arrested, Dan. It must be over twenty years now since they moved to Essex and even then they always had this villa in Turkey and he maintained his criminal activities in London from an accommodation address."

"I know, Freddie and I visited the place in Turkey a few months ago, it looked like it had been unoccupied for a while, with dust everywhere and most of the furniture gone."

"Josie died when PJ was only two, she left a trust fund that was only to be used to pay for her education, including board, Josie even picked the school." Polly' eyes were filled with tears. "When I fell pregnant with PJ, it solved a problem for Josie and her arsehole husband."

"How come?" I ask.

"Martin may have been a tough guy in the neighbourhood, but he could only fire blanks in the bedroom. Josie had been married to him for five years without falling pregnant, and she was getting so desperate to have a baby to lavish attention on. So, while you away doing the alpine training in the Army and you wrote to me the news that you had fallen in love with Agnes, I was back home putting up with morning sickness. When I told Josie I had your bun in the oven and not sure how I could afford to bring her up, Martin saw it as an opportunity to complete his macho image with a kid of his own."

"But—" I tried to butt in, but Freddie put his hand up.

"Let Josie tell it, Staff, we all need to know this."

Polly took a deep breath. "Before I even started to show, Martin had me move out to their Essex home with them, and I had PJ out there, so no-one at home was any the wiser. I registered with a local doctor and checked into a private hospital as if I was Josie Wheelwright, and then Martin and Josie registered the birth as their own baby and announced the new arrival with photos to everyone they knew. When they next visited Josie's and my Mum at home, they presented PJ as their baby. I stayed away and visited Mum the next week, no-one ever saw PJ and me together, otherwise I couldn't have pulled it off. To our Mum I explained my absence during the time as working in a busy hotel during the spring and summer and couldn't get time off to come home and visit. In fact, I never moved back home, just stayed as close to PJ as her nurse, nanny and then aunt."

"So Martin isn't the father?"

"No Daniel, ... you are the father. For years, you were the only friend with benefits that I was having sex with, and I wasn't interested in anyone else. I never told you I loved you because I thought if you knew you'd stop coming back to me."

Bugger! That's put the cat among the pigeons. I've got some more explaining to do to Agnes.

Now, Polly and me go way back, way back to before either of us could walk, as we both lived on the same floor of the same high rise council flats, just a couple of doors away from each other. We were always best friends. Although she's eleven months younger than me, we were inseparable for the first seventeen years of our lives, until I left home to join the Army. Neither of us had fathers living at home, and our mothers had to work more than one job to keep their families fed and clothed. Polly and Josie's mum was much older than my Mum, and the two girls were almost certainly half-sisters, being born about ten years apart. Polly and I learned to walk, talk, to potty train and cope with puberty pretty much on our own. We may have been considered 'boyfriend and girlfriend' and, although we each lost our virginities between ourselves, it was purely down to juvenile experimentation. However I may have thought we loved each other more like brother and sister than lovers, the fact that Polly never married may have meant that she felt more for me than I felt for her back then. I cast my mind back 13 years to Polly-Jo's conception, to about 2003, when I was on leave before embarking on Nordic training. Polly and I spent an evening getting drunk and fooling around with recreational sex the rest of the night and again in the morning. Next time I came home, a year or so later, I proudly showed off my beautiful new Nordic bride on my arm and the new aunt Polly made herself scarce.

With typical Army planning, after training in the Arctic snow for several months until we were as expert as any Inuit, the Army sent my unit on a six months' tour to the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan, so Polly and I never saw each other again until now.

You could hear a pin drop in that room. I easily accept the situation, that I had a biological daughter, as well as adopted twins, almost immediately. I can see the expression on Polly's face is of sorrow, over the lost years of Polly-Jo without having a father rather than of unrequited love. Both Freddie and Agnes are slack-jawed at the news and sit there open-mouthed.

It's the twins who break the silence, jumping off Agnes' lap and embracing Polly-Jo, all three rejoicing their celebrations as they realise for the first time that they are 'sisters' to a girl who had long become their best friend, however unconventional their relationship is.

I think Polly-Jo is still stunned that she had a Daddy of her very own at last, so I step forward and give her a hug and kiss her forehead. Her eyes are brimming with tears, but the twins pull her away from me and they dance in a ring on the fireside rug, like little girls filled with excitement and simply can't keep still and quiet any more.

At seeing all three girls' reactions, Polly's smile broadens, she turns to Freddie and leans in for a tender kiss. I am still not sure what the reasons were for their relationship but I am happy that they each have someone. Freddie shakes off his shock at what were clearly revelations and presses his lips against Polly's. It seems she hadn't told him, probably had never told anyone, but he was not put out by the news.

I look over at Agnes, who is watching the three girls embrace and dance in a ring. She looks up at me, her half-smile for the girls fading as she probably believes her position as the mother of my adopted twin daughters has been trumped by the hand of the mother of my natural daughter. But then, with me standing in the middle of the room and blocking her view, she probably hasn't seen Polly and Freddie enthusiastically swap saliva.

I hold out a hand to Agnes and she instantly propels herself out of the rocker and I pull her into my arms. Our lips meet and we kiss, lightly at first and then with more passion; our first proper kiss in more than five and a half years. I feel it is important that she knows, even if our relationship still remains ambiguous, that it was under no threat at all from Polly, bearing in mind our conversation in the car. At the end of our kiss I see that Polly and Freddie are still kissing passionately and the children are still holding hands, singing and spinning in a circle. I look deeply into Agnes' eyes as I hold her tight to me. I raise my eyebrows, questioning if we are on the same wavelength. She nods and smiles at me warmly. I see no reason to say anything to her at this minute, just absorb the moment just for a few seconds before calling for action.

"Right!" I say loudly enough to catch everyone's attention. "Polly, is there any reason why you would want to stay in this little house and put up with cleaning houses for this landlord in exchange for your rent?"

"No," she hesitates, still clinging to Freddie. He replies, speaking for her.

"Staff, she's told me that she hates living here, other than it being as near as she can get to the school. She has been working and living hand to mouth for years and, just in the last week or so, her landlord Farmer Pipson has been bleating about how the holiday cottage lets have dropped off during the coming winter, and the rent on this place either needs to go up or else she will be forced to provide him with other services if she wants to live here."

"OK, you are both moving in with us. How long will it take the both of you to pack up your stuff, Polly, Polly-Jo?"

"Ten minutes," Polly said, starting to rise from her seat, "it's furnished with just the basics, no room for much else, so it's just our clothes and stuff. Anyway, I want to be with PJ and Freddie, so where else would I want to go, Daniel?"

"Because of the twins' schooling," Agnes replies for me. "We have leased a lovely old Manor House just minutes from the school for the next ten years. We have six bedrooms and secure grounds, so we have plenty of space for both you and your daughter. And when the twins are not in school, we have a secluded place in the Caribbean which we have quickly come to regard as our permanent home. Freddie lives in with us there too, but there's plenty of room for extending or even building a separate house for you, PJ and Freddie." Agnes glances at me and I readily nod my head in agreement. "We will be home in the Caribbean for the Christmas holidays, so we can look at locations and draw up plans then. Does that appeal to you Polly?"

"Very much so." Polly smiles. "I'll get packed up then. It is only clothes, and we don't have much of those."

"I'll help you, Polly," Agnes says, "we have recently had a lot of practice packing."

"We'll go up and help PJ," chorus the twins, they catch onto things so quickly.

"When you're settled in, Polly," I hear Agnes say as they exit the room, "we must go on a shopping spree, as you will both need new wardrobes for the English winter and the Caribbean winter, Easter and summer holidays. No 'buts', Polly, I'm sure Danny will insist and he can be very forceful. Best you go with the flow, like we do."

Freddie and I are left alone in the room, and Freddie cleared his throat. "Staff, I know what you are thinking, that I have been disloyal to you, but I've really fallen in love with this woman. Once I found out her situation, and that Wrongturn was not the father and therefore out of the picture, and that she was no threat to us ... well, you were enjoying teaching PJ in school and building a rapport with her. And I swear I knew nothing of you being her father and I never let on to Poll exactly who you were. She thought at first that I was married to Agnes, which is what we wanted her to think, but she sensed there was no romantic love between Agnes and me and so she allowed her feelings for me to blossom as we corresponded and met up at weekends."

"And what are your feelings for Polly?"

He grinned, "I know she's a lot older than me, Staff, and she comes with the baggage of being a mother with a daughter, but she's such a lovely person as well as being so gorgeous. Well, I really love her to bits, Staff, and I want to ask her to marry me, if she'll have me."

"If you marry Polly, will you want out, make a life elsewhere?"

"No Staff, I owe you my life and I enjoy working with you. I mean, you, Agnes and the girls, you're all the family I have like, and I couldn't bear to be parted from you after all we have been through and the great life we now have. I enjoy being uncle to the twins and want to continue with their martial arts training. And I've seen a lot of Polly-Jo recently, as the twins often invite the girl over for tea with Agnes and me, and I think she's a lovely girl too. I would be proud to be her step-father, if my luck holds out."

"Oh, I'm sure it will. I've known Polly all my life and I love her like a sister. I've never seen her smitten with anyone before now."

"And you and Agnes, Staff ... you look better together. Me and the twins've been waiting for you to unbend and realise how much you've got going for you as a couple again."

"We are working through our differences and have a long way to go, Freddie, but at least we are working on them. We had a good talk in the car and I hope we have a framework now that we can build on. I think having Polly and Agnes together would be good for them both."

"Yes, Staff, Agnes is very lonely and she only relaxes her guard when she's with the twins ... and with me of course," he grins, infectiously. "But when she's with you it's like living beside a volcano ... she doesn't know when you are going to explode, but knows that it's coming some day."

"We will have to see, Freddie."

"So, what do we do about Wrongturn and Simon, Staff?" he asked, "don't you think it is time to bury the hatchet and the hate that goes with it?"

"Yeah, mate," I nod faintly, "wise words. I feel that so much water has gone under the bridge and we should be building now, not tearing things down."

PJ, we all now call her that, wants to travel with the girls and her new Dad in the SUV, so Freddie and Polly follow behind us. The twins beg for pizza, so Agnes rings ahead and orders, while I drive us home.

No sooner does she hang up from the pizza man, Agnes checks the internet on her mobile phone. Freddie must be coaching her in communications as well as trading the twins. She turns and leans over, her lips almost touching my ear, whispering, "first class flights available for all seven of us on Saturday afternoon, honey, with return flights available to spend the two weeks at home in the sun, shall I book?"

"For all of us?" I whisper back, although the noise the kids are making in the back we could have spoken normally.

"Of course, we're all family, remember? A crazy family, but still a family," she answers.

I nod. She starts clicking with those slim fingers of hers a blur. We fly first class so often with our favourite airline that we are fast tracked. One advantage of private schools is that mid-term breaks are often timed to avoid the start of state school breaks, so planes are not overbooked.

"All booked, we fly tomorrow afternoon," she says. "We can shop clothes for Polly and PJ on the way to the airport."

***

By the time we were settled in the pleasant warmth of an exotic island, I really started to feel at peace with the world. We took the yacht out to show my new family more of the small island where we lived, a place where English wasn't the first or even second language spoken. There were quiet coves and beaches to explore and relax in. PJ was made aware that where we lived was secret and she could only let her friends have the new PO Box addresses that Freddie arranged online for our two newcomers.

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