The River

byDenham_Forrest©

"You have a low opinion of the general public Carrie." I suggested.

"After hearing Bethany's story, I don't have much confidence in many people!" Carrie exclaimed.

"Bethany?" I asked Carrie had confused me by mentioning the name.

"Yes Bethany, the pregnant girl you pulled out of the river that day. Ben and I have got to know her well."

So the young woman's name was Bethany; I finally knew her name. And she definitely had been pregnant; I suppose that that explained a lot to me. I was somewhat elated to hear that Carrie and Ben knew more about what had happened to her.

"How is she, I wondered how she'd got on; the newspapers never did say very much about her. Did she lose the baby, do you know?"

"No, she's fine. Actually she's a very plump Bethany now, you'd have trouble pulling her out of the water with that great big baby inside her."

"I assume the baby was connected in some way to what she did that day."

"Oh yeah, you can say that again, poor girl didn't know which way to turn."

"A bit drastic though, wasn't it. You know, trying to drown herself just because she was pregnant." I suggested.

"Well, maybe you wouldn't think that way if you knew her and what she'd been through. Look Bill, Beth had a very sheltered life. You know, she went to one of those convent schools and was never allowed around boys. Her parents kept her on a very tight leash and she was unbelievably naïve for a girl of her age. Anyway, when she eventually went to work, she was easy prey for some slimeball in her office. From what we've learnt, he was an older man and he knew all the tricks. Poor Bethany had no idea what game he was playing, and from what she says, at first she looked at him as a kind father figure in the office; until he seduced her."

"Ah, one of them!"

"Yeah a complete ars... bastard. The bleeder was into her pants before poor Bethany really knew what was going on; I told you she was very naïve and had no idea how the buggers work. He'd given her all the old flannel, "you're such a beautiful young woman" and "my wife doesn't understand me." Do I have to spell it all out?"

"No not really, standard office wolf stuff. Most women see through it though!" I pointed out.

"Unfortunately not when they are as naïve as Bethany. You know, they didn't even have a TV set in the house at home. Bethany was completely lost in the real world."

"So I assume that eventually Bethany got pregnant by said office wolf."

Yes... sooner rather than later though. The poor girl was so naive that she had no idea about birth control or anything. When she told him that she thought she was pregnant, he called her a scheming little slut who was trying to trap him for his money and told her to get lost."

"Arseho..." I began to say, but then checked myself; I was talking to a young lady.

"My sentiments exactly." Carrie replied, and then she went on. "Well, Beth told us that she didn't know what to do. Look, she was that naive she didn't even know that she could have turned to the social services for help. She agonised over telling anyone else that she was pregnant for a long time, but eventually she had to tell her parents. And their cold hearted reaction was to call her even worse names than he had done, and order her out of their house."

"Oh my. Are there people out there who don't have any compassion at all, even for their own children?" I commented.

"Unfortunately it seems that there are Bill!" Carrie replied. "Poor Bethany wandered the streets all night and found herself up there on the bridge the following afternoon. Well, you know what she did then, she really had no idea what else she could do."

"And now; how is Bethany getting along now?"

"Oh fine, all things considered. Social services found her a little one room flat for the time being. It's a bit of a dump... well; you know what bedsits are like! But they say they'll move her to somewhere a little bigger when she's had the baby. My mum has really taken to Bethany and I wouldn't be surprised if she doesn't invite her to move into my room after Ben and I get married. Mum loves children; she can't wait for me to get pregnant."

"That's a relief to hear. I've always wondered what happened to the girl."

"Well Bill, what about my request?" Carrie suddenly asked.

"Sorry!" I said. Carrie had lost me for the minute by her sudden change of subject. But then I remembered. "Oh yeah, your wedding! Well, I'm extremely flattered by the request, but what will your family think of a complete stranger walking you down the isle?"

"The only person's opinion that I'm worried about is my mother and she's already said that it's my decision."

"But we haven't told her about us getting married yet!" Ben blustered.

"About the date of the wedding, no Ben, we haven't. But we've been together a long time and mum has been expecting you to ask me for some time now. To be honest, she drives me nuts sometimes; I think she's almost been wetting herself with anticipation. Anyway I told mum that when we set a date, if we set a date, then Mr Shaw was the man I wanted to give me away." Carrie explained to a very confused looking Ben.

"Looks like you've got a lot to learn about women Ben, they kind-a run things really. Well the good one's do!" I said grinning at the young lad.

"Thanks Bill, I'll take that as a compliment." Carrie grinned back at me. "But you still haven't answered my question. God, I'll bet poor Mary was tearing her hair out half the time with you." Carrie grinned again.

"Carrie, you've got a way about you, maybe you remind of my wife in a way. Yeah all right, if you insist and providing no one else objects, then I'd be happy to give you away." I found myself replying.

Carrie grinned at Ben when he said. "She always seems to get her own way. She had her dad wrapped around her little finger most of the time!"

"I'll have you know my dad was very strict with me!" Carrie retorted.

Ben didn't reply he just gave me "the look!"

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So it was that on a Friday evening some six weeks later I found myself sitting in my car outside that same church that Mary and I had been married all those years before. I was late, I knew it, but it's easy to say you're going to do something; it's somewhat harder to go through with a promise and meet and mix with people when you've avoided such occasions as long as I had.

This particular occasion -- Carrie and Ben's wedding rehearsal - wouldn't be as bad as the actual event the following day, but I was still filled with apprehension over the whole thing.

"You Clown, what'd you agree to do it for?" That little voice said in the back of my brain somewhere. "Your trouble always has been that you're a sucker for a pretty face. But you've been avoiding them for years, how come you got trapped by this one?"

It was true, I'd always had been a mug where pretty young women were concerned. Since my Mary had gone, I'd avoided getting into conversation with them for years. I don't know, I suppose I had been afraid that one of them might have taken a shine to me and I could have ended up getting involved in some way. I just couldn't let any other woman replace Mary in my heart.

Eventually I plucked up the courage and got out of the car, then, pushing that same door Mary and I had walked through on our wedding day open, I entered the church.

"Bill! Oh boy, am I glad to see you. Carrie's throwing a wobbly down there; she thought you'd forgotten for a minute!" Ben who was waiting just inside said to me.

"Sorry, Ben, I ran a little late today." I replied.

"No worries mate, just please don't be late tomorrow. I'm counting on you to make sure she actually does turn up. I don't fancy looking like a complete lemon standing there at the altar for hours."

"You have my word young man; she'll be no more that the traditional five minutes late!" I grinned at him.

"Five minutes!" he said his eyes getting really large.

"That's how long my Mary kept me waiting!"

"Oh that's all right then. If you were willing to wait that long for Mary. Then I think I can wait as long for Carrie. Now you'd better come and meet Carrie's mum."

Ben led me down the nave to where Carrie and her mother were sitting. Carrie grinned at me over her mother's shoulders; that grin alerting her mother of our approach. Both women turned to face us.

"Josette... Mrs Mercer, may I introduce Mr William Shaw, he's the..." Ben began to say but Carrie's mother was on her feet before he finished speaking

"Introductions aren't really necessary Benjamin, I remember Billy Shaw from our school days, even if he doesn't remember me! I was a year behind you in school, Bill." She said, throwing her arms around me and kissing me on the cheek.

"Well I'll be, Josette Banner! Of course I remember you." I replied. "I guess you must have married Tony Mercer; you know, I never made the connection in my mind."

Josette had changed very little from the young woman I'd seen around school. Maybe she'd put on a few pounds, but they were obviously all in the right places.

"I'm surprised you do remember me, we all thought that the only girl you ever saw was Mary!" Josette said, with a big grin on her face.

"I've always appreciated a pretty face, Josette." I smiled back at her.

"Ah well that will make things easy then, because there's a young woman with a very pretty face around here somewhere who's really dying to meet you. And Bill I mean that was almost literately! Where has Bethany disappeared to, Carrie?"

"The ladies again, Mum!" Carrie replied.

"Oh yes of course. Beth's very near her time, Bill, and she has to keep running..."

"You don't have to explain, Josette, I went through it all with Mary."

"Oh yeah, so you did. Bill, we were all so sorry when we heard."

"It all happened a long time ago, Josette, I prefer not to talk about it."

"I understand, Bill, but it was only when I could talk about Tony going, that I started to get over losing him."

"Could we begin now please? I have another rehearsal in half an hour!" The vicar who'd been patiently waiting by the altar interrupted us.

The rehearsal didn't take long really. The vicar just ran quickly through the service and run us through our lines. Mine being "I do!" when he asked, "Who gives this woman?" Then I had to retreat and sit out the rest of the service. I should think that most of the older dads reading this will have been through the rigmarole at least once. Although after Mary went, I'd never thought I'd have the honour.

Bethany returned, smiled at me and then sat on the other side of Josette, so I didn't get to meet her until after the rehearsal was over and we'd rehearsed the parade out of the church.

Then without a by-your-leave she walked over to me, took me in her arms -- pushing her very large protrusion into my stomach - and planted a kiss on my lips that would have made Rudolf Valentino go weak at the knees.

"Oh my young lady. Such a show of undeserved affection!" I said when she let me breath again.

Yeah well, what the hell would you have said in the circumstances?

"Thoroughly deserved you mean. You gave me my life back, Mr Shaw."

"I did no more than many other people would have done, Bethany; take my word for it." I replied.

"Bill, shall we take this over the road? Josette interrupted. "We are all going to a meal in the Kings Arms. I hope you are going to join us?"

I nodded and we set off across the road; Bethany firmly attached to my right arm. In the King's Arms restaurant I found myself sitting between Josette and Bethany, who was still hanging on to my right arm as if her life depended on it. Luckily I drink with my left arm!

Bethany had a lot to say for herself; well I spent the rest of the evening getting direct from the horse's mouth what Carrie and Ben had roughly told me in outline. That is until she started telling me about when she'd been under the water.

"I knew I was dying and I suddenly realised that I didn't want to; but I could do nothing about it. I was all but gone, Bill. And then there were your eyes looking back at me through the water! I was trying to beg you to help me. They were all I remember until suddenly your eyes were inches away from mine and you were smiling down at me. You know I'm convinced that when I was unconscious I could feel your lips on mine. Oh my nose was all bruised from where you were holding it closed." She grinned.

"Sorry, but I had to make sure the air went into your lungs."

"Hey, I'm not complaining. Ben broke, well he cracked four of my ribs; but I didn't care, between you, you gave me my life back."

"Well next time you find yourself between a rock and a hard place, ask someone for help before you do anything drastic will you. Made a real mess of the suit I was wearing, I had to throw it away in the end."

"Oh, I'm terribly sorry! I'll buy you another one when I can afford it; I promise you." Bethany said with a forlorn expression n her face.

"Bethany, Bill's funning you! I have it on good authority that Bill was wearing jeans that day." Josette said from the other side of me.

I smiled at Beth, and she - releasing my arm for a second - gave it a friendly punch. Before she grabbed hold of it again and kissed me once on the cheek.

"I wish my father had been like you Bill!" Bethany said.

I got yet another kiss on the cheek when I drove Bethany back to her bedsit in a very iffy part of town late that evening. Waiting outside until I saw the light come on in her window. She gave me a wave to show that all was well, before I drove away.

I was getting quite used to those kisses on the cheek by then, Carrie had got into the habit of doing it when we met and parted; but somehow when Bethany did it, it meant so much more.

Yes, I believe that I did begin to wonder; but I immediately pushed the thought out of my mind, as being impossible as much at it was impractical. Christ, I was almost twice the girl's age!

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Carrie and Ben's wedding itself went off like clockwork. Except for the fact that I got some very strange looks from some of the other guests. They obviously had no idea who Bethany and I were, Josette, Carrie and Ben having kept mum about us, to save Bethany any embarrassment; Ben had not even told his parents who we were.

I think most people were turning their noses up at the sight of a forty-year-old man who appeared to have a very pregnant and very young looking twenty-year-old woman hanging tightly onto his arm all night. And -- I might add - who danced with him in a very familiar manner to say the least; large bump or no large bump!

Josette almost had to prise Bethany off of me, so that we could dance together a couple of times. Not that I really minded, hero worship is very good for the old ego, and by that time in my life, my ego needed a boost. Bethany had stepped back respectfully the few times Carrie had indicated that she'd like to dance with me. Usually grabbing hold of Ben in my place.

"Yeah well, I suppose it's better that the hero worship is directed at you rather than Ben." That little voice said. If she'd clamped on to Ben like she appears to have you, then Carrie's nose would get put out of joint."

I received yet another kiss and a very long longing look from Bethany when I dropped her home that evening and once again she waved goodnight from the window. I'll be honest I didn't feel comfortable leaving her in the part of town she lived.

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It was two in the morning when I was roused from my sleep by the insistent ringing of the telephone.

"Bill, it's Josette! Beth's waters just broke, we have to get her to the hospital right away, can you please drive us?"

"On my way, Josie. I'll be there in five minutes!" I replied. But then I had a thought. "Er, Josie, where are you?"

"At Beth's bedsit, she rang me earlier and told me she didn't feel right."

"Be there in ten!" I said slamming the phone down.

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Odd, I thought as I drove over to the bedsit. Why does Josette need me to drive them to the hospital, she must have driven to Bethany's place?

I was to learn later that Josette doesn't drive; fifteen failed driving tests and she'd given it up as a bad job. Yes, there are some people who just don't have the coordination. Josette claims that she gave up because she feared that even if she had eventually passed the driving test, she'd probably have killed someone, or even herself eventually.

-------------------------------------------------

Josette and I sat in the maternity suite waiting room for several hours before a nurse came out and announced that Bethany had had a daughter. Bethany had been one of those mothers who didn't want to know the baby's sex until it was born.

"What are you going to call her?" Josette asked, when we were finally conducted into the room where Bethany sat up in bed, cuddling her newborn.

"Well, if she had been a boy, I was intending to call him William Benjamin. But she's a beautiful little girl, so, if I may Bill, I'd like to call her Loretta Mary Carrie; would you mind?" Bethany asked looking at me with a plaintive expression on her face.

What could I say; Bethany had taken me completely by surprise?

"I think I'd like that!" Was the best I could come up with.

I suddenly realised that my right arm was restricted again. Looking down I saw that Josette was clinging on to it, as Bethany had got into the habit of doing.

"I think Loretta is a beautiful name, Beth, and Carrie will be so proud that you given your baby her name as well."

Ten fingers, ten toes, two eyes, a nose and a mouth that a cry came out of that Josette and I had heard from the waiting room, kind-a told us that the baby was in fine health. So after a while Josette and I retired to the hospital's cafeteria for breakfast. Beth I believe, after feeding Loretta snatched an hour or so's sleep.

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"I really don't like the idea of Beth taking that baby back to that horrible bedsit." Josette said as we ate.

"Um, well I thought... well Carrie sort of thought, that you might invite Bethany to move in with you." I said, rather hesitantly. Not really being sure whether I'd said too much.

"I wish I could, but Carrie and Ben have got to stay with me now; they got gazumped on that flat they were after."

"Oh my, they didn't? I thought it was all cut and dried!"

"So did they, the estate agent called last Thursday. They never told anyone before the wedding because they didn't want to put a damper on things. The trouble is, they can't afford any of the others they've looked at; they'll have to wait a while until they can get a bigger mortgage. She can come to my place for a week or so, until the kids get back from their honeymoon. But then it's down to what the council can dig up for her, none of the ones we've seen so far are really suitable; I've been going to look at them with her. You know all in that same area!"

A solution had formed in my mind, to be honest more than one solution; but I was a little reticent about putting them forward. In the end, I plumped for what I considered the safer option.

"Look Josette, how about Carrie and Ben come and stay at my place until they can afford somewhere of their own."

Good idea, Bill, but for one thing. Carrie and Ben are two young newly-weds and they were... Um well they are noisy enough at the best of times. Now they are going to want to throw parties for their friends and all that sort of thing."

"So!" I said, not understanding the problem.

"Bill, you've been living in the house on your own for... what ten, maybe fifteen years now. And you're not really the party type, are you? Don't say anything; I happen to know that you never have been. Remember that I remember you from way back when you were young. Mary and you were into quiet walks and all that kind of thing."

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