tagNovels and NovellasThe Touch Ch. 19

The Touch Ch. 19


WARNING TO READERS - This is a long, rambling, multi-part story and VERY British. The individual chapters will make more sense if read in sequence.

Chapter 19 Of fathers, feelings and friends.

I was up, showered, shaved and dressed early the next morning, the weather had turned mild again and it was a bright, sunny day and I wandered out into the garden with my coffee and was coming back in when Emma came down to the kitchen. She made herself a cup of tea and went back upstairs. When I heard her go into the bathroom and turn on the shower I knew that I had about ten minutes before she came back.

I poured out Mum's tea and took it up to her room. She was awake and, I suspected, a little bit hung over, I had found a second empty wine bottle from last night, in the kitchen. I sat on the edge of her bed and held out the cup. She sat up and sipped at her tea, handed me the cup back to put on her bedside table then took my hand.

"I'm sorry about last night," she said, "I have been really worried for the last two days about how you and Emma would take the divorce news, and I had quite a bit to drink and just got a bit sorry for myself and weepy, I suppose!"

"It's OK," I said, "There is nothing that you need to apologise to me for ......ever." I lightly brushed her cheek with the back of my fingers and she caught my hand and gently kissed the finger tips.

"We need to talk, you and I," she said quietly, looking deep into my eyes. "About what nearly happened between us last night ..... we were both in the wrong .....!" That was as far as she got, because at that point we heard Emma leaving the bathroom and coming along the hall.

"Morning, Mum!" She called cheerfully from the doorway, "Jay, can I ride into work with you this morning? My bike has a puncture...you will have to mend it for me later," she added.

"Yes, fine!" I called over my shoulder, "Hurry up and get yourself some breakfast because I want to leave shortly!"

I gave Mum's hand a squeeze. "We can tell Emma about the divorce after supper tonight, I'll have something nice for dinner ready when you get home, and then we can all sit down and talk." I told her. "Everything will be fine ....you'll see."

Emma followed me into the kitchen and made herself a bowl of cereal whilst I rummaged in the freezer and found a small fillet of pork which I put on a plate to defrost for our evening meal. By the time I had finished my coffee Emma was ready and I tossed her the keys and she went off to get into the car.

I was about to follow her when Mum came into the kitchen with her tea cup. "There is more tea in the pot if you want it," I told her. She was still just wearing her plain white cotton nightdress, and I could see the shadowy darkness of her nipples beneath the thin material. I noticed she had tied her hair back in a short pony tail since getting up. I could hear Emma tooting the horn out in the drive, "I'll see you later!" I said, and then quickly stepped up to her and took her face between my two hands and raised her lips to mine in a brief kiss. I felt the breath catch in her throat and her breasts push lightly against my shirt front with her quick intake of air. Our eyes met and locked for a couple of seconds and then I was sprinting out to the car, before Emma roused the whole neighbourhood with the car horn.

She was sitting in the driver seat and so I didn't argue, the L plates were on the car already I noticed, so I let her drive us in to work. I sat silently in the passenger seat, Emma's chattering washing over me, just thinking about those final few seconds in the kitchen with Mum; the touch of her lips and the press of her scantily clad body against me. I knew that I should walk away from what was happening, but I also knew that I wouldn't ....I couldn't.

The first thing that I did when we got in to the office was to check my diary. I had promised Mum that I would go up to London with her on Wednesday but had realised that I also had my Cities and Guilds written exam on Wednesday morning. Fortunately it was at nine o'clock and I figured that as Mum's appointment in London was not until 2pm I would be able to go to college and then get the train up to town and meet her at the solicitor's office in good time. We could then both come back later in her car.

Kitty was taking the same C&G examination as I was and we had arranged to meet at the garden centre and travel in to the college and back again together, I decided we could take the small van and then she could drop me off at Salisbury station on her way back.

When Maggie came in I poured us both coffees and suggested that we took them outside. The place was now starting to look truly good, less like a building site and more like a really high class garden centre. There was an area over by the main gate, in front of the customer car park, which we had decided to landscape; I had drawn up designs for Maggie's approval and Colin and Mikey were rolling out new turf over the prepared ground, whilst Kitty and the other student Neville were pegging out the shapes to be dug over for the new flower beds.

We sat on a bench in the sunshine and I cleared it with her to take the day off on Wednesday. Naturally she already knew about the solicitor's appointment as she had been with Mum when they saw the lawyer on Friday, but I cautioned her not to say anything to Emma until Mum and I had spoken to her later.

There was something that I had wanted to ask Maggie for the past three years and it never seemed the right time until now. "What is the real story about the bad feeling between Mum and Dad and the family?"

"Are you sure you really want to know?" she asked. I nodded, nothing that Mum could have done in the past would ever make me love her less and I was long resigned to Dad not being anything near perfect.

"Well," Maggie started, "Your Aunt Susan as you know, is almost ten years older than your Mum and I, by the time that we had left school she was already married to Andrew who was making a name for himself as a very skilled consultant mason and they considered themselves very upwardly mobile. Your mother was only eighteen when she met your father who was a lot older, in his late twenties. He was a dashing young Irishman, handsome as hell .... That is obviously where you get it from." She added in, laughing, "He was an officer in the Royal Engineers and stationed at Bovington Camp and your mother was a student nurse at the Royal Bournemouth hospital."

She sipped at her coffee and then went on, "I had already chosen to be a horticulturalist and was a first year student away at Essex University and the first that I knew about their affair was when your mum announced she was bringing Michael to a family gathering at our father's house in London, which was strange as being twins we were very close and called each other every few days, but she just hadn't told me about him. Later she told me she was so enthralled by him that everything else passed her by for a while."

"I was a day late getting there and by that time all hell had broken loose. They had announced that they were in love and getting married; but Susan already knew something of your father's reputation, he was well known to have had several rather public affairs with married women, and even then was deeply in debt. She and our mother decided to put an end to the relationship."

"Knowing Mum, I can guess what came next!" I put in.

"Your mother said that she was marrying Michael, regardless; they both stormed out and eloped to Ireland and got married. To cut a long and painful story short, your father was forced to resign his commission, it was just one scandal too many and after a year or so living in Ireland they returned to Salisbury. Your father had spent all the money that your mother had saved and your grandfather had to secretly buy them the first house they lived in without any of the family other than me, knowing.

The rest you know.... Your father was a very lovable rogue but he didn't really want to work for a living; couldn't keep a penny in his pocket and couldn't keep his dick in his trousers if there was a woman left alive on this earth! Your Grandmother and Susan completely cut your mother off from the family despite every effort that your Grandfather made to repair the damage."

"At least they seem to have made it up now, haven't they?" I asked.

"Well, more of a truce I think, but at least they are talking again!" she said.

"Do you think that Dad will ever come back, or even get in touch?" I asked her.

"I really don't know," she replied, "but I do know that she is doing the right thing now, the same as getting rid of Ben was the right thing for me." She hooked her arm through mine and hugged it tightly, "Gwen and I are just fine," she said smiling up at me. "We are both happy with what we have, and we've got you to look after us."

She smiled at me sweetly and then laughed, "At least until you elope with one of your dolly birds, eh! Maybe Kristen Olsen, eh?" I started to protest until I realised that she was just teasing me. "Don't think that I am not aware the impact that you have been having on the female population," she chuckled, the added seriously, "just don't become like your father, Michael was a terribly nice guy but he would screw any girl that stepped into his path, and they were all falling over themselves to be there! He ended up hurting your mother terribly."

It did make me think though; maybe Dad had also had 'The Touch', maybe it was hereditary, maybe it had started when he was my age and he was just having fun, the way that I was now. I loved all my women, both girl friends and family, and I didn't want to hurt any of them!

We talked about the work plans for the next couple of days and then Maggie took the cups back to our office and I went to the newly refurbished staff room to change into my working gear. I spent most of the day working with the guys, laying turf and digging over the flower beds.

About four o'clock Jack came over and ran his fingers knowingly through the soil, "You need to get a couple of barrels of that horse shit dug into these beds," he instructed, "if you get that done tomorrow, then I'll bring down my rose bushes and get 'em bedded in!"

"You're the boss," I laughed.

"No, you are!" he replied with a smile, "I'm just the old fart who knows it all and has to keep an eye on you lot to stop you cocking up every few minutes." He started to walk back to his greenhouses chuckling then stopped and turned back, "You got your exams on Wednesday, haven't you? If there's anything you want to talk through, you know where I am." If I got through my examination much of my success would be down to Jack's help and coaching.

Maggie offered to close up for me as she would be working late, and I wanted to get home in time to have dinner cooked for Mum, she was on middle shift and would get in around seven-thirty. Emma was waiting by the car, I was keeping Maggie's VW Polo at home now, I had finally persuaded her that in exchange for the continued use of it, I should pay the cost of the yearly MOT and service and I felt less as though I was sponging from her.

We swept by the supermarket on the way home and I picked up some onions, parsley and celery and a big tub of fresh cream. I had decided to make Normandy Pork with the sliced fillet, it was fairly quick to prepare and would be ready for us to eat about eight, more importantly it was one of Emma's favourites and I wanted her in a good mood that evening. By the time Mum got in it was giving off a mouth-watering aroma and I must admit that I was very proud of how the sauce was turning out. I liked to use a recipe that Mum and I had developed and involved quite a large good portion of cider and a small glass of calvados, with the celery, onion and cream and so served it simply with some baby potatoes, chestnut mushrooms, and the remaining half of the bottle of cider.

The meal had the desired effect. Emma was in a really good mood and insisted on washing up the dishes. I put the garden lights on and Mum and I took a walk around the lawn whilst we smoked a cigarette, arm in arm the way that Maggie liked to walk with me.

"She's so cheerful it seems a shame to burst her bubble," Mum said.

"I know, but it would best if we got it over with," I answered. We went back into the house and helped Emma dry the dishes and put them away then I poured coffee for myself and Mum and made a mug of tea for Emma and we all went through to the sitting room.

There wasn't really any way to dress it up nicely and so Mum sat beside her on the settee, held her hand and just told her as gently as possible.

I'm not sure how I expected Emma to re-act but in the end she just turned to Mum and said simply, "OK." She just sat there for a while saying and doing nothing, but I could see from across the room that tears were running slowly down her face. Finally she stood up and just looked straight at me.

"Did you know about this?" she asked in a flat voice. I nodded silently.

"Only since last night," Mum put in defensively, "I only finally decided, last night."

Emma stared at me for a moment longer and then suddenly burst into floods of tears and rushed out of the room sobbing. I heard her thundering up the stairs and her bedroom door bang.

Mum looked like shit; her face was pale and her eyes moist. "God that was bloody awful!" she murmured. I stepped over and pulled her into my arms and held her close just comforting her. After a couple of minutes we eased apart and sat down again. I lit a couple of cigarettes and passed one to her and we just sat quietly side by side.

"Will you go and talk to her?" Mum asked eventually, "She might listen to you; I don't think I am her favourite person tonight." I left Mum sitting there and went upstairs. What I really wanted to do, was to stay with her, hold her close and comfort her, make love to her and make everything right again. I also knew that Emma was probably feeling hurt and maybe a bit isolated and lonely, especially with the twins going away as well.

Emma's door was closed and so I tapped gently and called out to her. "Emma, can I come in?" There was no response, "Come on, Emms, I need you to talk to me, please open the door!" I could hear her moving about in the room, "Emms, please talk to me, he is my Dad as well remember!" I pleaded. A few more seconds passed.

"It's not locked!" Emma called.

I opened the door and went in. She was just standing in the middle of the room. I could not remember the last time that I had been in Emma's bedroom, I can remember that it had been a total pig-sty, clothes, magazines, record sleeves everywhere, the bed unmade. Now, it was neat and tidy, things were put away in their places there was only the normal clutter that any teenager has in their room, it spoke volumes about her change of attitude.

"Why didn't you tell me, Jay?" she asked, tetchily. I could usually read Emma like a book, but I really did not know if she was hurt, angry or just being plain cantankerous.

"I couldn't, Emms," I said quietly, trying hard not to sound apologetic. "It wasn't for me to do, Mum wanted to tell you herself, and for the record I agree with her. I also think that she has made the right decision, not just for herself but for all of us. Dad is gone.....he is not coming back .... "

"I know that!" she interrupted. "It's just ...well ...you know ... a divorce seems so final."

She walked over to the shelf that held her collection of dolls and soft toys and picked up a small bear, "Do you remember him?" She asked, kissing the toy and holding it up. I nodded. "You won him for me at the fair in Salisbury when I was eight and you were nine." She picked up another one, a fluffy rabbit, "You, gave me this one, the first Easter after Dad left ... I know that you used all your pocket money to buy it when you realised that he wasn't going to be home!" She was beginning to cry again. She started pointing to each of the toys in turn, "This was from you.....this was from Mum.....you gave me this one!"

"It's all right, Emms," I said comfortingly and reached out to hug her. She spun away from me.

"No, it's not bloody all right!" she sobbed, "Look around you, it's all from you or Mum, not a bloody thing from Dad ... and don't tell me that you have anything either because I know bloody different! He was never there when we needed him, but by going he forced you to be my father, I don't want you to be my father! That's not what I want from you...."

I was beginning to see where this was going and I definitely didn't want to go there, but I wasn't sure how to extricate myself. I reached for her again, she pulled away but this time I took hold of her arms and pulled her in to me forcibly, wrapping my arms around her and holding her tight, until her sobs subsided and we were just standing there rocking gently. She seemed a lot calmer and so I released her from my bear hug and dug a handkerchief out of my pocket to dab her wet face.

"I'm sorry, Jay," she mumbled, "Everything has been so good this last couple of months and I just don't want it to all fall apart again."

"It won't, I promise," I said. "Now you need to go downstairs and give Mum a hug so that she knows we both support her, this is really hard for her too, you know."

I followed her down and when I looked into the sitting room she was sitting with Mum, and they were talking quietly and calmly. I took my fleece jacket and a bottle of lager and walked down the garden to my shed and sat in my old wooden armchair in the dark and smoked, and thought about Mum and Emma and Maggie. Emma was right, since Dad went Mum and I had developed a sort of partnership, a special closeness, we had never excluded Emma but the social structure of our little trio had subtly changed.

From the shed I could see the back of the house and watched the bathroom light go on and then off again and the light in the sitting room go out. I guessed that Mum and Emma had both gone to bed. About eleven o'clock I went back to the house locked up and went upstairs.

There was a light on in Mum's room and the door was slightly ajar; I peeked in thinking to say goodnight, but Mum was already in bed asleep, but not alone. Emma was curled up on the other side of the big double bed the way that she used to do when she was small and got into bed with Mum for comfort and security. Another mini-crisis seemed to be over for now.

The next day, Tuesday, I had planned to spend cramming for my exam on Wednesday, it was more Maggie's idea than mine, but it did seem sensible. Never-the-less I was up early as usual made breakfasts and then drove Emma in to work, picked up some books that I had left in the office and then went home again. By the time that I got back to the house, Mum had left for the hospital; it was bright and sunny and very mild and so I dragged the garden table and chairs from the summer house, washed them down and then got my study material and a coffee and sat outside working. I always felt that I could think more clearly in the open air.

By mid-morning I felt that any further study would be pointless, anything that I did not know now... I would never know, and I was getting bored. I tossed my books and papers back into my briefcase and went and got Emma's bicycle from the garage, ran a bowl of water and found and repaired her puncture.

I had just decided that I would go into work after all, when I found the job sheet that I had taken to call and see Becca Hill, still stuffed into my jacket pocket. I hadn't forgotten about it totally, it was just one of those jobs that I had not got around to but didn't want to hand off to anybody else. Becca's house was only five minutes away and virtually on route to the garden centre and so I decided to call in on the way, there may not have been anybody at home at that time of the day, but I could still look at the fallen tree.

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