Back to Bristol Ch. 15byGaryAPB©
As I drove to Molly's on Bank Holiday Monday morning I had my day planned. I would take the boys out to Longleat Safari Park. And then, when I got back, I would ask Molly if we could talk. Maybe, I'd go out and get a Chinese or something for after the boys have gone to bed. Then we could have a serious talk about talks. About how we might structure some meetings where we could talk about all that's happened, and what we wanted in the future, sort of counselling sessions without a counsellor. I wouldn't commit to anything else, no romance, no sex, just serious talking. And I would make it clear that our best hope was that we could come out of it as friends, true friends. No more and no less.
I knocked on Molly's door as quietly as a could, I had no idea whether Peter was just the other side of the window. She answered it and she was looking good, better than I'd seen her for some time. She was just wearing a pretty cotton blouse and a pair of linen trousers, but she looked fresh and wholesome, and yes, sexy.
I looked sideways at the gym, she smiled, "It's OK. I think he's gone to Wales for the weekend. He's gone anyway."
"I haven't told them where you're taking them. But I'm sure they'll love it. The weather looks good for a day out...."
Just then, Jamie came out, and I said, "With help from your Mother, we reckon your other zoo was Longleat. I thought we could go there for the day. How does that sound?"
He looked at me, and then took an earpiece from his Ipod out and said "What?"
"You don't say: What? You say: I beg your pardon." And I repeated myself, by which time Ben had joined us.
Jamie looked pleased, but it was Ben who said, "Is Mummy coming?"
I looked at Molly, and I thought: Well why not? And I said, "Yes. Of course Mummy can come, if she wants to."
Molly's face lit up. "I'll just pick up my things." And she turned back into the house. The boys and I started to walk back to my car in the parking area, and we were almost at the car when Molly caught us up.
It was the ever-direct Ben who said, "If Mummy's coming, can we go in her car? It's better in the back than yours Dad."
I looked at her, "You'd have to drive. My insurance won't cover your car."
"Not a problem" she said and we headed towards the garages.
As she drove along, I wondered if I'd just done the right thing. Would I be able to get through the day without conceding to the meaningful, questioning looks, and the pregnant pauses that I suspected I was about to be subjected to? But with luck, two boys would keep us from having a proper conversation.
"I had dinner with Piers and Jeanette last night." I said, to make some neutral conversation.
"Oh Yes? How are they?"
"They're very fit and well, and they're grandparents."
"Ester's had her baby. What was it?"
"A little boy, called Edward."
"And are they pleased?"
I laughed, "Pleased isn't the word...." And we chatted happily about the McBaines, grand parenting, and even malt whisky.
Then I remembered, "Jeanette said you were to give her a call. She'd like to see you."
Molly's face fell, I could see that even as she drove along, looking straight ahead. "It's alright. I've told them everything. Or nearly everything. I kept it clean. But they know all about Peter and Susan's little games."
"What did they say about that?"
"Nothing actually. Now you come to mention it, they didn't really criticise either of them. But I don't think they approved."
I glanced into the back, from whence strange noises were coming. Jamie was totally absorbed with his Ipod, and there was a regular Pshoosh Pshoosh coming from his corner. Ben was playing some electronic hand held game, with occasional Pings and Dong-Dong-Dong-Dong noises. I think Molly and myself could have discussed anything we liked without being overheard, as long as it didn't include any sexual or swear words, for which little boys seem to have radar.
I decided to at least ask after Susan, "How do you feel about what she did?"
Molly's face clouded, "Who? I don't have a Mother, or not anymore."
I laughed, and she glanced sideways at me, "I mean it. I honestly don't think I want to know her. Even if she apologised, I don't think I could ever forgive her. I've thought about it a lot, I really think I'd be happier if I never see her, never have to talk to her, ever again. I don't know how I'm going to deal with her when she comes back to Bristol."
I thought about telling her that her parents were likely to get divorced, but decided that it was not my job. So all I said was, "Cross your bridges when you come to them."
"Yes. Maybe Ralph could just come to visit me and the boys without her."
I knew how deeply she felt about this, and I must say I wholeheartedly agreed with her, but it seemed so sad, and possibly damaging in the future.
It was an hour's drive, but we were sitting in the queue to get to the ticket office when Molly turned to me, "Chris, you'll have to forgive me today if sometimes I seem a bit quiet. I've got used to living with moments of sadness in the last few years, when I felt guilt or sorrow at what happened. But this'll be the first time when I've been with you when I'm likely to get sad at something I did with Peter."
I gave her knee a squeeze, "It's OK. Just talk about it, and then leave it all behind."
She smiled weakly, "I can't leave it all behind until I've put it right."
Here we go! I thought, the start of the campaign for today. So, being a devout coward, I got out of the car to go and buy a ticket at the ticket office.
When I got back to the car she seemed brighter, and we had a really good trip through the animal enclosures. Jamie even took his Ipod out of his ears, so it must have been good. We didn't get many monkeys or apes climbing over the car, and not from lack of wishful thinking by the two boys. In the lion enclosure we did have a beautiful lioness decide she'd take a stroll down the road just in front of our car, which pleased our back seat passengers.
After we'd finished all the animal enclosures, we drove around to the car park where I had words with Jamie as to how he could leave his Ipod in the car whilst we had lunch and enjoy the afternoon. Having won that one, we went off to find somewhere to eat.
The boys were well ahead of us when Molly said, "I like it that you tell Jamie off when necessary. Peter was always scared to do so. It was always me that had to say No. He said that they were my children, and my responsibility. I think it was more about him not wanting to be disliked."
I just said, "He's my son, I care about him. And I care about us as a family."
"So where are you in your thinking about how to put it back into some sort of order?"
I watched the boys and judged our walk, I guessed we had five minutes before we got to the restaurant, "Well, I've been thinking about suggesting that we meet regularly, say two nights a week, to talk. Just talk. Well, maybe we could eat as well. But to talk about what happened, what we felt, what we want. Anything and everything, I guess. But semi-formal talking, across a table or facing each other in easy chairs."
I glanced at her, but she was just listening intently. "We could use my place. I'm sure Ralph could baby-sit for some of the time, and maybe you know of a suitable babysitter, I'd pay." Again I paused, but she still didn't react, so I added, "It's only an idea. What do you think?"
She looked at me, "No counselling?"
"No. I thought I'd made that clear. It doesn't appeal to me at all."
"Would you mind if I talked to a counsellor in parallel? It's just that I seem to be carrying such a lot of baggage, and I'm very tempted to talk to Heather."
"Not a problem. If you think it'll help, then go for it."
"OK. What do you think these talks would achieve? There is no point in doing anything if you don't know what you're trying to achieve."
"What I said before, that somewhere along the line we find a way of forgiving, of being friends, of being able to get on with our lives."
She stopped and turned towards me, "Then, No."
Now that was a surprise. I wasn't surprised about the idea of a counsellor and I could have lived with her wanting to change the frequency, or the location, or putting something out of limits. But not a simple No? "Why not?"
"Well, you've been very clear as to what you want. So, I'll be very clear. I'm not prepared to put in a lot of effort, accept what will probably be fairly painful in parts, for an objective that I don't want. I love you, I always have. I won't start something that doesn't give me the opportunity to win you back. You may be looking for friendship, I'll be looking for partnership and a lover. I want my husband back."
"You've got one of those at the moment." I said, and immediately regretted it. "I'm sorry, that was cheap." I glanced round, "Come on, we'd better catch up the boys."
There are times when you can do nothing right. In the restaurant, I was just explaining to Ben that he couldn't have a burger again, when Molly caught us up. She whispered to me, "Go on, let him. We're on a fun day out, and they are proper burgers made from proper beef. In fact I think I'll have one as well." At that point, Jamie chose burger as well, so we ended up with all of us having them. And they were very good.
At lunch, it was Ben who looked up and simply asked, "Have you said you're sorry yet Dad?"
I looked up, "No. But I am."
Molly just had to ask, "You're sorry for what?"
"The boys have a theory, that if I say sorry for whatever I did wrong that split us up, then you'd divorce Peter and let me come back to live with you all. Apparently it worked for Dingo Roberts's Dad."
Molly turned to the boys, "It isn't your Daddy who should say sorry, it's me. He did nothing wrong, I did. And I hope, one day, that he'll forgive me."
That threw it back into my court. "And I want you two to realise that I really do hope that one day I can forgive your Mummy. But just because I get to forgive her, doesn't mean that we can all live together for ever and ever. But, both of us love both of you very much, and we will try to make sure that whatever happens you are loved and safe and see a lot of both of us."
Ben looked up, "I don't really remember you being at home, Dad. So it's not really a problem."
"I remember. It was before Mummy married Peter. And it was better, a lot better. And Mummy is divorcing Peter now....." Jamie suddenly looked at me, he was pleading with me with his eyes. But I don't know what he read in mine, but he tailed off, ".....Whatever..."
God! I felt lousy!
Of course, as soon as we'd finished eating the boys wanted to be off. So, I suggested to Molly that we find a seat in the sunshine, and let the boys run around on the grass for a while.
Once we were seated, I said, "OK. I don't think my idea closed off any opportunity for you, in fact I would have thought it would have given you opportunity. But let's put some more structure on it. Now, none of this is in tablets of stone, it is only an idea, but how about we meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays say at my place. That leaves the weekends free for me to see the boys, maybe sometimes that's family time and sometimes it just me and them, we could play that by ear. And it would mean that if we really wanted to get together as a couple, well the traditional Friday and Saturday nights would still be there."
"If you're not out enjoying yourself with no commitments. Or Myra doesn't need a dinner bought for her." Molly still sounded bitter.
"Leave Myra out of it. She is a friend and nothing more. I've told you that, and if you can't accept it, then why are we bothering?"
"Sorry." She said, urgently retracting.
"And as for the other bit, well I'll commit to you and this process, therefore excluding the other, until we get to some point where we both agree it's beyond hope."
She grimaced, "I suspect it's going to seem beyond hope so often. It isn't going to be easy."
"No. OK. Well, why don't we both promise that however rough it gets, and however the evening ends, we'll be there the next time come what may. Even if you storm out in tears, or I show you the door, come the next Tuesday or Thursday, we're back. Until we both agree that it isn't working, and we have to consider the alternative."
I paused, expecting a response, there wasn't one, "Look, just think about it. And you can see this Heather woman at the same time."
I sat and looked at her, she just looked back, searching my face for I don't know what. After a pause, I stood up and said, "Come on, lets go and see some of the other things while you think about it. I suggest that we do the house as the sort of last thing, the wind down. I believe there's a restaurant in there, in the cellars, that does cream teas. That should get the boys in."
I looked round, Ben and Jamie were heading dangerously towards the edge of the lake, "Come on you two, let's go and see something else. Who wants to get lost in the maze?"
The boys started heading back towards me, and I looked round for Molly. She was still sitting on the bench. I suddenly realised something was wrong and I ran back the short distance. She was sitting there, as I'd left her, but with tears pouring down her face, and shaking with huge sobs.
"Hey, what's the matter?" I sat down next to her and she sort of curled into me as I put an arm around her. The boys came up and just stood and watched, staring at their mother.
I felt inside my pocket and found some coins, "Here, go and get yourselves an ice cream each." And I gave Jamie the money.
I just held her, "Come on, tell me. What's the matter? I just suggested a way forward, I thought it was what you wanted. Alter it, leave it a bit and think about it, and then change it. It really was only an idea."
She just went on crying, and I went on holding her. Eventually, I felt the sobs subside. And in a little voice, she said, "There was an advert on the telly recently. It was a woman crying her heart out in her husband's arms. Sitting on a seat like this. And there was a voice over talking about how devastating the news of having cancer was, having to say goodbye to your children, your loved ones. It was an appeal for research funds by one of the cancer charities. Only at the end do you realise that she is crying with happiness, that she's been given the all clear and she's in remission, that the threat has been lifted. That's how I feel, that maybe, just maybe, I can get my life back. That I have a chance."
I saw the boys coming back with there ice creams. "Come on. Blow your nose and put on a smile, we're meant to be enjoying ourselves."
She ignored me, but urgently asked, "You did mean it, didn't you? That we'll meet twice a week, just you and me, and that we can talk about anything? And that we'll keep doing it for as long as it takes? And that we can have some more family days like this? You meant it didn't you?"
"Yes. I meant it. Promise."
The boys arrived, and Jamie asked, "Are you alright, Mum?"
She looked at him, "Yes. I'm very alright. Your Daddy has said that he'll talk to me, and give me a chance to get him to forgive me."
"You'll have to say you're very, very sorry." Suggested Ben.
"Oh, he already knows that. But I was very, very naughty, and I hurt your Daddy very much. And he's very angry with me, but I promise you, I'll try to make him believe how sorry I am, and try to make him come home to us."
Damn! Now I'll be the bad guy when they don't get the fairytale ending. If she'd seen the look in Jamie's eyes at lunchtime, she would never have said that. She shouldn't have raised their expectations so much.
"He doesn't look very angry." Ben argued.
"No he doesn't. But I hurt your Daddy very, very badly, deep down inside. And it will take me a long time to convince him that I am really sorry, and that it is safe for him to come home to us. But I will, I promise you I will. And I don't want you to nag him, because it will take weeks and weeks to make it all better." She looked at me, "I promise you I will make it safe for you to come home, I will. I've got to."
I wasn't going to argue in front of the boys, "We'll talk and we'll see."
For the rest of the afternoon we did the rest of the attractions. For the maze we split into two pairs, Molly with Jamie and Ben with me. Jamie and Molly got to the centre first, and then got out first. Jamie swore that he knew the secret, so we had to do it again, only this time it was the boys versus the parents. And, sadly, it was the boys that won. Jamie had a most complicated theory, which seemed to have more to do with Harry Potter than logic, and certainly had nothing to do with Luck, which was my theory.
For the whole afternoon, being with Molly was like being with a besotted teenager. She couldn't stop smiling, and I don't think she took her eyes off me once. And when we walked side-by-side her hand dangled so conveniently, just in case I needed to hold it.
By the time we went into Longleat House, I had to say something. "I feel like a pop star who's got a personal groupie. Ease up or I'll get embarrassed and run away."
I obviously couldn't say anything to upset her. She smiled, "Oh, it's just that I feel so excited, so frustrated. I want to grab you and kiss you and hug you, and I can't. I want to pop bottles of champagne and drink to our health and happiness."
"Well I never object to drinking champagne. But all we've agreed to do is start a process that will probably be the hardest, most uncomfortable thing we've ever done. And neither of us has any idea how it will end. You shouldn't be so hopeful with the boys. I'm sure they would love us to get back together, and I still don't think that's very likely."
She smiled, "It's guaranteed."
There was no arguing with her. So I didn't bother to try.
When we got back to their house, Molly and myself were in the kitchen whilst she got the boys something to eat, and generally chatting about our day, when there was a knock at the kitchen door.
Molly opened it, and there was Peter. He came in and immediately saw me.
"Oh. It's you." He said, obviously disappointed.
There was an instant bad atmosphere, and Molly spoke first, "What do you want, Peter?"
He looked at her, "I was hoping that we could have that talk this evening." He glanced at me, "Before it's too late."
"There's no point."
"What's he doing here anyway? This is still my house and I don't want him here."
I thought it was time for me to at least say something. "We've just come back from a day out. I'm allowed to see my sons, even if they live in Molly's and your house."
"We all went to Longleat. Do you remember when we went before? When you 'won' a ticket in a raffle?" She asked.
I thought she made the word 'won' ring out around the room, and maybe, just momentarily, there was doubt in his eyes, but he just replied, "Yes. I remember. It was all those good times, all those good memories that we have that I wanted to talk to you about."
I wondered if Molly was going to let loose with his lies about the Longleat tickets and whatever else, but she just quietly said, "I told you, there is no point. I'm getting the boys something to eat right now. And Chris is here. I told you, I'd think about finding time for you to have your say sometime, but it is not right now."
"Later this evening, then? I'm sure he won't be staying long."
"Maybe I owe you your chance to say whatever it is that you want to say, but it won't make any difference. And it certainly isn't urgent. Now, please Peter. Just go."
"You're my wife. I love you. I won't be sent out of my own kitchen like this."
I was in two minds as to whether to say anything, but I did, "Molly has asked you leave. Perhaps it's best if you do. I'm sure you'll get your chance to say whatever it is that you want to say, but please leave it for now."