Link to Chapter 11.
As I mentioned a few days ago, I had discovered a chronological problem with chapter 12: an Oxford college choir singing a Nine Lessons and Carols service at a time when the students who made up the choir would all be home for the holidays! I’ve made a couple of slight changes to the last section of chapter 11 and the first part of chapter 12 to avoid this problem!
On the Sunday before Christmas the afternoon turned fine, cold and clear. Emma and I had stayed two nights at my parents’ home, and had left early on Sunday morning in order to attend our own little church. The gathering was even smaller than usual, as many of the students had gone down for the Christmas vacation.
After going home for lunch, we decided to spend as much time as possible walking; we put our coats and hats on, set off northward through Old Marston, then cut across on the footpath beside the Oxford Bypass to Cutteslowe Park. We wandered around there for a while, and then made our way through Cutteslowe and Upper Wolvercote to the Oxford Canal. We walked south on the towpath, enjoying the tranquility of the waterside and the colourful narrowboats moored here and there on the canal. Some of them were year round homes, and occasionally children would acknowledge our greeting as we passed by on the path. When we got to Summertown we turned east again, taking the Marston Ferry Road into New Marston and then turning south again, arriving home at about four-thirty. We had done five or six miles, and I could feel a delicious tiredness in my legs.
At home we both had hot showers and cups of tea. Emma had agreed to come to the Nine Lessons and Carols service with me, but she had a previous engagement in the evening with some of her friends from our church, so she had decided to skip the dinner afterwards. I had given some thought to how one ought to dress for Nine Lessons and Carols followed by a formal dinner. Eventually I decided to dress down rather than up; open-necked shirt, casual pants and tweed jacket would be comfortable without being too sloppy, I thought. When Emma and I met downstairs it was obvious to me that she had not worried about the dress issue at all; she was wearing jeans and a fleece top, and she looked at my jacket and said in her best imitation of an Oxford accent, “Very posh!”
“Thank you. Are you ready?”
We took a bus down into Oxford, got off on the High not far from St. Mary the Virgin church, and then cut through Magpie Lane to Merton College. The ancient buildings of Oriel College loomed high on our right; straight ahead of us was Merton Chapel with its high square tower. A few people were standing in a loose cluster around the chapel door in the north transept, and I recognised Wendy among them, bundled up in a grey duffel coat and scarf against the cool air. She waved and smiled when she saw us; “You’re just in time”, she said. “The pews are already starting to fill up in there, but Lisa’s saving places for us”.
She led us into the chapel; we stopped for a moment at the back of the nave, and as our eyes adjusted to the dim light I remembered that, as in most of the college chapels in Oxford, the pews here faced each other across the centre aisle, rather than the usual orientation toward the front of the church. We passed under the carved wooden screen; the ceiling above us was high and ornate, and on each side of us tall pointed windows were recessed into the plastered stone walls. The chapel that night was lit entirely by candlelight; some of the candles were set in candelabras between the pews, while others were held by the worshippers gathering for the service. As Wendy had said, the pews were already beginning to fill up, and there was a low buzz of conversation in the building.
Emma took my arm and whispered, “This place is enormous! Are you sure it’s just a college chapel?”
“You should see the one at Christ Church – it’s a cathedral as well!”
“How do they get the money to keep these places up?”
“They’re all paid for by rich dead people”.
She laughed out loud; “I see! It’s useful to have the dead on your side!”
Wendy led us toward a pew about half way up the length of the chapel. Sitting in the centre of a cluster of vacant places was a strikingly beautiful young woman with dark hair tied tightly behind her head; I could see that she was wearing a formal black dress, but in the cool air of the chapel she had kept her coat on for warmth. Glancing around at the other people gathering for the service, I began to suspect that Emma and I might have dressed a little too casually for the occasion.
“Tom and Emma, this is my daughter Lisa”, said Wendy. “Lisa, Mr. Masefield and his daughter Emma”.
The hand that took mine was confident, the smile dazzling. “I’ve heard quite a bit about you, Mr. Masefield”, she said in a refined Oxford voice. “It feels rather intimidating to actually meet you”.
“It’s fifty percent lies and exaggeration, Lisa”, Emma interjected with her down to earth smile. “I’m Emma; I’ll give you the real goods!”
We all laughed, squeezing past the people who were already seated, and taking our places in the pews on either side of Lisa. Someone gave us candles to hold, and a couple of minutes later we all stood as the visiting choir entered the chapel from the back, dressed in red cassocks and white surplices, singing the opening carol as they processed toward their pews. Behind them came a robed clergyman, obviously the college chaplain, in black cassock, white surplice, and black preaching scarf. I was surprised to see how young he was; I had been expecting someone older than me, but he looked as if he was barely thirty, with a large fleshy face and thick glasses.
The service proceeded in what I assumed was its traditional form. I was surprised by how little singing the congregation was expected to do; the majority of the carols were performed by the choir, and many of them were unknown to me, although according to the program most of them were very old. The nine lessons were scripture readings telling the story of Christmas, beginning with the Old Testament prophecies of the coming of the Messiah and then leading on to the gospel stories of the birth of Jesus. I had been looking forward to hearing the chaplain preach, but to my surprise there was no sermon at all. Emma and I were seated on either side of Lisa, and I found myself wishing a few times that I could see my daughter’s face more clearly and get a better sense of how she was reacting to the service.
After the blessing had been given and the last carol sung, there was the traditional moment for silent prayer, and then the organ began to play an elaborate postlude. We got to our feet and began filing slowly out of the chapel. Wendy was talking with an elegant-looking woman of about our age who had been sitting close to us in the pews; standing beside her was a jovial looking man with curly grey hair and a thick beard. Catching my eye, Wendy said, “Tom, can I introduce you to some very good friends of mine? This is Bev Copeland; she teaches classical languages and literature here at Merton. She and I have known each other since we were undergrads together in London. This is her husband, David Wiseman; he’s an archeologist across the road at Oriel”.
Bev Copeland took my hand with a smile. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Tom”, she said; “Wendy’s told us quite a lot about you, of course”.
“Not that I know a lot about him!” Wendy added with an embarrassed look on her face; “Most of my knowledge of Tom comes to an end in 1982!”
I introduced Emma to Wendy’s friends, and we talked quietly as we waited our turn to shake the chaplain’s hand at the door. David Wiseman seemed to be an outgoing, genial man who readily answered Emma’s questions about his archeological work. For my part, chatting with Bev and Wendy, I discovered that the Wisemans were members of the Merton Chapel congregation, that they had no children, and that Bev and Wendy were in the habit of meeting for early morning coffee once a week at each other’s rooms here at Merton.
When we reached the door Wendy introduced us to the chaplain. “Stephen”, she said, “this is my old friend Tom Masefield and his daughter Emma. Tom and Emma, this is the Reverend Stephen Jeffreys, our college chaplain”.
“Ah, yes, the Mennonites!” the young chaplain exclaimed in his rather high-pitched voice. “Wendy’s told me about you; how fascinating! I expect this service was somewhat different from your usual more Spartan kind of fare, wasn’t it?”
I could see my daughter bristling; “A little”, she replied icily, and as she opened her mouth to continue I caught her eye and soundlessly formed the word ‘James’”. She grinned, gave me a nod, and said to the chaplain, “The music was really nice, though”.
“So glad you enjoyed it; are you coming up for dinner?”
“I’m afraid not; my Dad’s going to stay, but I’ve got another commitment”.
Emma and I moved out onto the darkened street; her friends were already waiting for her there, and as I gave her a hug and a kiss I said, “Well done”.
“You caught me in the nick of time, there, Dad!” she replied with a grin; “I think I might have said something that was less than helpful!”
“I fully understand. You have a good evening”.
“You too; be nice to that chaplain, now!”
The dinner was not held in the large hall, as I had been expecting, but in a smaller dining room seating about fifty people, which was about right for the size of the group that night. Like the chapel, the room was lit mainly by candlelight. As we entered the room, attendants in formal attire were waiting to take our coats; Wendy had not removed her duffel coat in the chapel, but as she handed it over now I saw that she was wearing a dark green evening dress. Lisa’s black dress appeared to be strapless, and her shoulders were covered by a matching wrap. “I feel a little under-dressed”, I said to Wendy.
“You’re a breath of fresh air, Tom”, she replied with a smile.
Two dining tables stretched the length of the room; the floor was polished wood, and the paneled walls seemed to be covered with paintings of people in formal poses, many of them obviously dating back centuries. The guests were gradually taking their places at the tables, and Wendy led us to seats close to the Wisemans and the chaplain, who was now wearing a black suit and a white clerical collar. When the assembled guests were all in their places Stephen Jeffreys said a Latin grace, and we all sat down. The waiters were already coming around with the appetizers, and others were pouring wine into people’s glasses.
Turning to Wendy’s daughter, who was sitting on my left, I said, “You’re looking very elegant tonight, Lisa”.
“Thanks, Mr. Masefield. You look very comfortable, and I admire you for having the nerve to do it”.
“It wasn’t nerve at all, it was ignorance! I had absolutely no idea what was expected of me”.
“My Mum said she had a wonderful time with you and your other friend at Emma’s birthday party. She used to sing with my Dad when I was little, you know, but she hasn’t done anything like that for a long time now”.
“She hasn’t lost her amazing voice, though”, I replied. “When I first heard her sing I thought it was the most beautiful voice I’d ever heard in my life, and I still think it comes pretty close. How about you; are you a musician at all?”
“I don’t play an instrument, but I like to sing, and I like to listen, too”.
“What sort of music?”
“I like some of Mum’s stuff, but I’m mainly a classical music fan”.
“Are you surprised?”
“A little; I suppose I’d assumed you’d pick up your musical tastes from your Mum or your Dad”.
“Not from my Dad; I picked up as little from him as possible”.
I heard the note of resentment in her voice and I decided to steer clear of it. “So I know you’re at Christ Church”, I said, “and I know you’re reading Modern Languages, but I don’t know much more beyond that. Do you have definite plans?”
“Actually, I do; I want to be a translator. I’m not sure at the moment whether that would mean written work, or actual oral translation for governments or the UN or that sort of thing. But I do enjoy languages and I’ve always had an ear for them”.
“I expect good translators are always in demand, aren’t they?”
“It depends on the languages; I’m studying Russian and German because I like them both and also because they give me good opportunities to work in Eastern Europe. I’d actually like to go on and do a postgraduate degree, but I might feel differently after I’ve finished four years here”.
“So you’re in your third year now?”
“Yes. I spent eight months last year studying in Russia, at a place called Yaroslavl, north east of Moscow”.
“Was that on your own initiative, or is it part of the course?”
“All modern languages students have to do a year overseas, but beginners in Russian have to go specifically to Yaroslavl for their second year. I didn’t do Russian in high school, so that was the program I had to take”.
“That must have been quite an experience”.
“It was outstanding. I was able to do some travelling; I went to Moscow and St. Petersburg, I made some good friends, and I got a really good working knowledge of the Russian language and culture”.
“Her mother, of course, got a few more grey hairs!” Wendy added.
“What about Emma?” Lisa asked; “What are her plans?”
“She’s taking a gap year right now, volunteering at a nursing home not far from where we live. She wants to be a nurse and she’d like to specialize in geriatric nursing if she can. Her mother was a geriatric nurse, and Emma’s picked up the talent. She’s got her application in now to Oxford Brookes for the autumn term”.
“Rather her than me; I don’t think I’d have the patience for it”.
Lisa and I continued to talk quietly as we ate our first course and sipped at the wine. She spoke with assurance and poise, and listened intently when I was speaking, asking intelligent questions and making shrewd observations. After a while, realizing that I was teaching at her old high school, she asked me about some of the members of staff she remembered, and soon we were laughing at her anecdotes about her own time at the school.
At the end of the first course she excused herself momentarily; in her absence, I turned to Wendy and said, “Well, I’m impressed with Lisa”.
“I’m glad; of course, she’s turning on the charm for you right now”.
“You’re telling me there’s a non-charming side?”
She hesitated, and then said, “I shouldn’t really be talking about her. Things between us are – well, we don’t always have an easy relationship, let’s put it that way”.
“I’m sorry to hear that, Wendy”.
She shook her head; “Just normal parent-child issues, I expect. You must have your share of them with Emma, too”.
“Actually, I’ve been very, very lucky with Emma. Her Mom did a good job of passing on her basic stability and common sense to her”.
Wendy laughed; “I’m sure you had something to do with it as well”.
“I don’t know; I’ve gradually come to the conclusion that we Masefields are a pretty screwed up bunch. It took the Reimers to put my head back on straight”.
The formal meal had four courses, with plenty of time in between for drinks and conversation. For a while the young chaplain quizzed me about Mennonite Christianity, and I soon realized that although his mannerisms could seem arrogant and affected, there was no desire to be offensive underneath, but rather a genuine interest in the spiritual journeys of other people. I could see why Wendy got on well with him.
It was after ten o’clock by the time the meal came to its conclusion. When we emerged onto the quadrangle the darkened sky overhead seemed to be overcast, and I thought I caught a hint of snow in the frigid air. Lisa turned to her mother and said, “Well, I’ll see you later”.
“I’ll probably be in bed and asleep. Still, come in and let me know you’re home, alright?”
“It’ll probably be very late, Mum”.
“I don’t mind – I’d rather know that you’re home”.
The girl smiled indulgently; “If you insist”, she said, leaning forward and kissing her mother on the cheek. “It was lovely to meet you, Mr. Masefield”, she said to me; “I hope we see you again soon”.
“Nice to meet you, too, Lisa”, I replied. She flashed me a brilliant smile, then turned and slipped out of the main gate.
“She’s got another engagement this evening, I take it?” I asked.
“Out with her boyfriend”, Wendy replied. “He seems like a very nice young man, but something about him worries me, and I’m not really sure what it is”. She smiled at me and said, “I’m probably just being a typical paranoid mother. How about Emma; what’s she doing tonight?”
“She’ll be home in an hour or so; she went out for a movie night with some friends from our church”.
Wendy laughed; “Have you got any idea how lucky you are?”
“Yeah, I know. Well, I’d better go; Emma and I have a standing agreement that the last one home makes the hot chocolate”. I leaned forward, kissed her on the cheek, and said “Thanks for inviting me, Wendy; I enjoyed myself”.
“It wasn’t too traditional for you?”
“Not at all. Listen, I’ll give you a phone call in a week or so. We’re going out to Northwood tomorrow night to spend Christmas with my parents, and we won’t be back for a few days”.
“I’ll look forward to hearing from you. Good night, Tom; thanks for coming”.
I arrived home about half an hour before Emma; it was almost eleven-thirty when she came through the door. After shedding her coat she went out to the kitchen to make hot chocolate, and a few minutes later the two of us were sitting on either side of the gas fire, our mugs in our hands. She told me about her evening with her friends, and I told her about the dinner and conversation at Merton, especially the things Lisa and I had talked about. “She seems very self-assured for someone who’s only twenty”, I said.
“She’s actually turning twenty-one soon”, Emma replied; “Her birthday’s in February”.
“February? No, that can’t be right. How do you know about her birthday?”
“Colin told me, on the night of my party. We were talking about eighteenth birthday parties, and he told me about some of the things that happened at Lisa’s. He was quite clear that it was in February of 2001; I remember specifically him saying that it would only be a couple of months to her twenty-first”.
I opened my mouth and then closed it again, my mind suddenly spinning. Wendy had told me that she had gone to live with Mickey in London in the summer of 1982, and that Lisa had been born about a year later. But if Colin was telling the truth, and Lisa had been born in February, that would mean that the girl had been conceived the previous May – at least two months before Mickey and Wendy got back together. It would also mean that Wendy had been intentionally lying to me.
“What’s wrong, Dad?” Emma asked.
I shook my head; I knew I couldn’t let her guess what was going on in my mind, at least, not yet. “Nothing”, I replied; “I must have misunderstood what Wendy said. It’s no big deal; what did you think of the Nine Lessons and Carols service?”
We went to bed around midnight, but it would be a long time before I went to sleep. I tossed and turned in the darkened bedroom, my mind going over the events of those spring days back in 1982.
After the first night when she had come to my bed-sitter, Wendy and I had gradually started to spend more time together. Mickey was not taking his dismissal from her life lying down, and he began to come to her room in the evenings, knocking on her door and refusing to go away unless she let him in. In order to avoid him, Wendy began to come over to my flat to study; from time to time we would go out to see a movie, or to share a late drink in a pub. Owen, Wendy and I were still playing music together occasionally, but as our final exams drew closer we found it more and more difficult to make time for it.
A number of people assumed that Wendy and I had begun to date; Owen in his straightforward way once asked me about it directly. We were out walking together on a fine Saturday morning in late April, and he said, “Sorry if I’m prying, but are you and Wendy a couple now?”
“No, we’re just friends”, I replied. “She seems to be turning to me to help her get over Mickey, but I’m not about to fall into one of those rebound love affairs. Anyway, she knows about my plans for Canada”.
“Have you told your Mum and Dad yet?”
“No – I’d rather leave it as late as possible, to cut down on the amount of time I have to listen to my father doing his volcano act”.
“Well, it’s up to you, but I think that the longer you leave it, the more violent the eruption’s going to be”.
I had told Owen the truth about my relationship with Wendy; we were not dating, and we were certainly not sharing a sexual relationship. There had been times, when she was feeling particularly low, when she asked me to hold her as I had done on that first night, but that was as far as it had gone.
The digital clock on my bedside table showed 1.15 a.m.; tired of lying there sleepless, I got out of bed quietly, slipped out of my room and made my way as noiselessly as I could down to the kitchen. I boiled the kettle, made myself a cup of herbal tea and went to sit in the darkened living room. The mantelpiece above the hearth was full of Christmas cards from Canada, and our tiny Christmas tree stood in the corner of the room by the front window, a few gifts clustered underneath it, waiting to be taken out to Northwood for the holidays. I was looking but not seeing, while my mind was reliving the vivid memories of twenty years ago.
One night in late May Wendy appeared at my door as usual after supper. “Hello there”, I said; “I just made the tea”.
“Getting predictable, aren’t I?” She followed me into the room, dropped her canvas backpack on the floor, and started to take out her books. “Have you had a busy day?” she asked.
“Yes, but a good one”.
“Were you in a classroom again?”
“Yes, and it went well”.
I gave her a mug of tea, and we sat at my table in near silence for a couple of hours, both of us studying our respective books and notes. From time to time we would make comments about what we were reading, and occasionally those comments led to longer discussions. At around nine o’clock I made a fresh pot of tea and put some quiet music on my record player. At this point I moved over to the couch; a few minutes later she joined me there, her back against the other arm of the couch and her feet tucked under my left leg. We sipped our tea for a few minutes without saying anything, listening to the music and easy in each other’s company.
Eventually she drained her cup, put it down on the coffee table, and said, “Mickey was around again late last night”.
“Did he give you trouble?”
“No, but he was persistent. I had to ask him to leave a couple of times”.
“You really should complain about him to the college”, I said.
“We’ve had this discussion before, Tom; I’m not going to shut him out”.
“You can’t seriously still be in love with him?”
She considered my question; in the two months since she had first come to my room, she had become more and more open with me about what was going on between her and Mickey and how she was feeling about it.
“Probably a bit”, she admitted, “but nowhere near as much as a couple of months ago. You’ve been a big help, you know”.
I shrugged; “All I’ve done is given you a chair at my table for studying”.
“No, you’ve done more than that, and you know it”. She shifted around beside me on the couch, laying her head on my left shoulder, her face against my neck. I put my arm around her, drawing her a little closer, and we sat there in silence for a few minutes. I was breathing the intoxicating fragrance of her hair, and I could feel my body beginning to stir in response to her proximity.
“Do you mind me cuddling with you like this?” she whispered.
“Of course not”.
“Thanks. I know I’m not really being fair to you, but…”
“Hush, Wendy; you say that every time”.
We lapsed into silence again, listening to the music in the background, our senses full of each other. Time in the room seemed to be standing still. Eventually I touched her cheek with the fingers of my right hand, prompting her to turn a little on the chesterfield and lift her face to mine. Our lips were only inches apart. I hesitated, and then slowly crossed the distance, leaning forward and kissing her, tentatively at first, but then with greater confidence as I felt her lips open to mine.
When we drew back, I searched her eyes and asked, “Do you mind me kissing you like this?”
“I don’t think so”, she replied in a barely audible voice.
“Do you mind if I do it again?”
“I want you to do it again”.
I had finished my cup of herbal tea, but my body felt no closer to sleep. I was surprised at the vividness of my memories of that night. Part of me – the part that still felt like a married man – even felt a little guilty as I remembered the warmth of Wendy’s body as we made love together on the bed in my flat. I got up from the chair and walked around the room for a few minutes, trying to get warm. It was after two o’clock now, and even the street outside was silent and still.
Wendy and I woke when my alarm went off at seven o’clock. It had not been a very good night as far as sleep was concerned; my bed was not really big enough for two people, and we were forced into continual contact with each other’s bodies. In the first part of the night, when our hunger was strong, this had just led to more sex, but later, when we were exhausted and sated with each other, it had simply become uncomfortable. At about four o’clock I had moved over to the couch, where I was curled uncomfortably when the unwelcome morning came.
I got up painfully from the chesterfield, shut off the alarm, and looked at Wendy lying on my bed with the blankets and sheets wrapped crazily around her. Her long dark hair was messy and her eyes were red from lack of sleep. I crouched beside the bed and put my hand on her shoulder. “Would you like some tea?” I asked.
“Yeah”, she replied with a yawn, “and then I’d better get out of here”.
“I could make you some toast if you want”.
She pulled herself into an upright position, the sheets and blankets falling away from her naked body, and pushed her hair out of her face. “I don’t think so”, she said. “I’d better get back to Manor Place before things get too busy”.
She pulled on her clothes, washed her face and brushed her teeth in my sink, tried to bring some order to her hair, and then accepted a cup of tea from me gratefully. As we stood there, drinking our tea and looking at each other, she said, “Tom…”
“It’s not that I don’t care for you…”
I raised my hand and touched her lips; her hand came up and held my fingers to her cheek. “You’re such a good friend…” she whispered.
“…but friends and lovers are not the same”, I completed her thought.
“You understand”; the relief was plain in her voice.
“I understand what you think about the subject”, I replied softly. “I might not agree, but I know you feel strongly about it”.
“Thanks. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy myself last night…”
“I think it was this morning, actually!”
We both laughed awkwardly, standing there facing each other, our tea mugs in our hands, knowing instinctively that no matter how much we tried to minimize its impact, what we had done could not be undone, and it had changed everything between us. A few moments later she left my room, her backpack slung over her shoulder.
I climbed the stairs back up to my solitary room at around two thirty. I was not hopeful that I would fall asleep any time soon, but at least I could lie down and rest my weary body. Suddenly, as I sat on my bed, I felt an overwhelming sense of desolation. My mind was moving to the conclusion of the story of me and Wendy, but at a different level my heart and my body were aching for Kelly. It was always at these times of sleeplessness that my bed seemed far too big and empty without her. I shook my head and offered a silent prayer for a sense of God’s companionship. Then I lay down on my side and pulled the blankets up around my neck.
That night was the only time Wendy and I ever had sex with each other. I knew in my heart that I would have been happy for our relationship to continue to grow, but Wendy’s views about mixing friendship and love were firmly and stubbornly held. And in a sense, it turned out that she was right. After that night, she never came around to my room again. It was as if she knew instinctively that I would want to make love with her again, while what she needed most from our relationship was my friendship and support. We met a few times to study in cafés and pubs, but our conversation was awkward; our night together loomed too large in our thoughts, but we knew we couldn’t talk about it without risking our friendship even further.
The only person I told about it at the time was Owen. The evening after one of my exams in early July, he and I went out to the ‘Plough and Lantern’ for a quiet drink. The pub was only half full that night, and we found a secluded table in a corner and chatted quietly about our future; my move to Canada was only two weeks away, and for both of us it was casting a dark shadow over everything. After a while my friend fixed me with his gaze and said, “I notice that you and Wendy aren’t spending so much time together. Everything all right?”
I had thought long and hard about whether or not I would tell Owen what had happened, but now that the opportunity had arisen it seemed very natural to talk about it. “Well, we spoilt our platonic relationship”, I replied. “We spent a night together at the end of May”.
“I had a hunch that might happen sooner or later”.
“You don’t approve, of course”.
“The more important issue is, do you approve? Has it been good for your relationship with her?”
I shook my head. “She’s so stubborn about not combining friendship and love”, I replied. “If I wasn’t leaving for Canada, I think I’d have a stab at changing her mind, but I think it would be really selfish of me to try to force the issue, given the circumstances”.
“So all in all it hasn’t been a good thing?”
“No; in fact, we’ve probably spoiled our friendship without gaining anything to take its place”.
“I’m sorry to hear that; I thought you two were pretty good friends”.
“We were, but now I don’t know where we stand”.
I got up at eight-thirty, my head throbbing with lack of sleep. I took a hot shower, drank a cup of strong coffee, left a note for Emma and drove over to the school. I knew I could have accessed the information I wanted from my home computer via the Internet, but I did not want to risk being interrupted by Emma. I made my way through the silent corridors, let myself into my classroom, sat down at my computer and turned it on. Once it had booted up, I used my password to access the school’s central filing system. I typed in the name ‘Lisa Kingsley’, and the search came up blank. Trying again, I typed ‘Lisa Howard’. The machine stirred, and the information appeared on the screen in front of me: Lisa Elizabeth Howard, date of birth February 25th 1983, Acton, London.
So Wendy had lied to me, wanting to continue to hide the truth about her daughter’s parentage. Lisa had been conceived at the end of May 1982; I knew beyond a shadow of doubt that Mickey and Wendy had not been sharing a sexual relationship at that time, and it was inconceivable that Wendy could have been sleeping with anyone else. The truth was staring me in the face on my computer screen: Lisa was my daughter.
I sat there in shock, my heart pounding as I tried to absorb this fundamental shift in the universe. Emma was not my only child. For nearly twenty-one years I had been the father of another daughter, and the secret had been kept from me. I felt my anger rising, and I reached for the telephone. Halfway through punching in Wendy’s number I stopped, thought for a minute, and then replaced the receiver; it was probably not a good idea to talk to Wendy while I was still reeling from the shock of discovery. I picked up the phone again, and this time I punched in the number of Owen’s clinic. When his receptionist answered I said, “Hi, Janice, it’s Tom Masefield here. Could you ask Dr. Foster to call me at the school when he has a free minute?”
“I think he’s free right now, Mr. Masefield; shall I put him on the line?”
A moment later I heard Owen’s voice. “Tom – what’s up?”
“I need to talk to you urgently, preferably face to face. When are you free?”
“Actually, I’m free now; I just came in to check a few things”.
“I really need to bend your ear; can you give me a bit of time this morning?”
“Of course; would a coffee shop be okay, or do you want to come in here and have me charge it to the National Health Service?”
I chuckled; “No, let’s meet at that café round the corner from the clinic. I don’t want Becca to know we’ve talked”.
“Wow – must be important. See you there in fifteen?”
We sat in the corner of the dimly lit café, sipping Americanos while I tried to get my thoughts into order. Owen was dressed formally in suit and tie, but he had loosened his tie and undone the top button of his shirt. “So”, he said, “what’s this about?”
“It’s about Wendy’s daughter Lisa. Tell me if I’m remembering this correctly: on the night of Emma’s party, Wendy told us that she moved to London in the summer of 1982 and moved in with Mickey, and that Lisa was born about a year later”.
“Yes, that’s how I remember it. Why?”
“She was lying to us. I went into school this morning and checked the files, and the dates don’t match. Lisa isn’t Mickey’s daughter at all; she’s mine”.
He choked on his coffee, and for a moment he coughed and spluttered, covering his mouth and nose with his handkerchief. “You can’t be serious!” he exclaimed.
“I’m very serious”.
He put his cup down on its saucer, his eyes searching my face. “And how are you doing with this piece of information?”
I shook my head; “I hardly know how to answer that”.
“Royally pissed off with Wendy?”
“You can say that again! How could she do this to me? How could she keep this from me for over twenty years? What sort of act of friendship is that?”
“I suspect there’s only one person who can answer that question, and I strongly advise you not to ask her about it yet. How did you begin to suspect?”
I told him about Emma’s conversation with Eric. “So as I said, I went into school this morning and checked the records, and it’s there in black and white: Lisa Elizabeth Howard, born February 25th 1983”.
“Damn”, he swore softly. “Then there’s no question about it”.
“None at all”.
We drank our coffee in silence for a few minutes. Eventually he looked up at me and said, “You’re worried about Emma, aren’t you?”
“Absolutely! I mean, she’s an only child, Owen, and since her mother died we’ve been even closer to each other. This has got to break her heart”.
He shook his head; “I don’t think so, Tom”.
“How do you arrive at that conclusion?”
“You and Kelly have done a great job of raising that girl; she’s an unusually secure teenager. Yes, she’s going to be shaken, but I think she’ll work her way through it, and she’ll be fine”.
“You think so?”
“I do. She’ll probably have a quiet talk with Becca about it, but that’s nothing new, is it? And it surely won’t come as a surprise to her that you had relationships with other women before you met her mother?”
“The conception of a child puts this in rather a different category than just a ‘previous relationship’, I think!”
“I grant you that”.
“The problem is, Owen, that when Emma first met Wendy I could see she was curious, so I told her that Wendy and I had never had any kind of romantic relationship; we had just been good friends, that was all. Now when she finds out about this, she’s going to think I lied to her”.
“Well, you weren’t entirely truthful with her, were you?”
“No, I wasn’t; I wasn’t about to admit to my daughter that I’d had a one-night stand with Wendy six weeks before I left England”.
He sat back and looked me in the eye; “I wasn’t only thinking about that one night stand”.
“What do you mean?”
“You yourself admitted to me years ago that you would have liked your relationship with Wendy to go further. I think that in those months before you left, you were starting to fall in love with her”.
I shook my head vehemently; “That’s far too strong a word to use; it was…”
He leaned forward and put his hand on my arm. “Tom, this isn’t about loyalty to Kelly”, he said quietly. “Kelly wasn’t anywhere on your radar screen at the time. This is about honesty about the past. Let’s tell the truth to each other here. Wendy was fundamentally wrong about friendship and love, and you know it. In 1982, your friendship with Wendy was beginning to turn into love, whether or not either of you wanted to admit it. So I’m not entirely sure it does you any good to describe that event as a ‘one night stand’. You weren’t strangers; you had been talking with each other at a deeper and deeper level for some time. Undoubtedly the sexual element came into your relationship too soon, but I know you pretty well, and I’m sure in my own mind that the night you spent together wasn’t only about sex. Tell me; am I wrong?”
For a long time I didn’t answer; I avoided his eyes, drinking my coffee and staring out of the window. Eventually I shook my head slowly and admitted, “No, I don’t think you’re wrong”.
He finished his coffee and set the cup down on the saucer. Pointing at my own empty cup, he said, “Want a refill?”
“Why not?” I signaled to the waitress; she took our cups, and a moment later returned, having refilled them both with thick black Americano.
“What do you want to do about this with Lisa?” he asked.
“How do you mean?”
“I mean, where do you want to go with your relationship with her?”
I shook my head in confusion. “My mind’s spinning off in a million directions; I haven’t even thought about it. Well, of course, I want her to know that I’m her father…”
It was his turn to shake his head. “Don’t rush in without thinking this thing through carefully. If it’s going to be broken to her, it’s got to be done carefully, and at the right time, and only if and when her Mum agrees”.
“But surely I’ve got the right…”
He raised his hand; “Don’t even go there! You’ve got to think about what’s best for her, not what you’ve got a right to”,
I considered this for a moment, cradling my coffee cup in my hands. “So you think I should take a slower approach?”
“I do. Are you and Wendy going to see each other again soon?”
“I told her I’d call her after Christmas. I told her I was going out to Northwood today and I wouldn’t be back for a while”.
“So while you’re in Northwood, go for some long walks by yourself and try to think this thing through. We’ll probably be out to see my Dad and Mum the day after Christmas, and you and I can go for a walk and a talk if you want”.
“That would be very helpful”.
“Meanwhile I’ll keep it to myself”.
“I would appreciate that”.
“Are you going to talk to Becca about it?”
“Probably not immediately”, I said. “Not until after I talk to Wendy, and Emma”.
“When you talk to Wendy, be gentle with her, okay?”
“What do you mean?”
He frowned; “I’m trying to work out in my mind how she might have arrived at the decision not to tell you about Lisa. She must have been really torn in both directions. She must have at least weighed in her mind the possibility of telling you what was happening and asking you to stay in England and help. After all, you and she had become really good friends – were becoming more than friends, in fact, as you’ve admitted. Now, granted, you were really not in a good space with your own family, but still, she knew you were basically a good guy and you’d given her a lot of support lately. So she’s got to have thought about asking you to change your plans”. He paused, thought for a minute, and then went on, “But then, maybe you were already in Canada when she found out that she was pregnant, and she also knew that the two of you had moved into a sexual relationship prematurely, without really being sure that you wanted to be a couple, even though she probably knew deep down that you were moving in that direction. With you being already in Canada, she probably didn’t want to put any pressure on you to come back to England and marry her just because she was pregnant”.
“No, let me finish. It probably didn’t take her long to realize that she had another option; she knew Mickey was in London, gainfully employed, and she was still at least a little bit in love with him. She also knew that in London, she could go to university and work on her doctorate. Yes, it’s all coming clear to me now. And I understand now why she cut me out of her life so decisively. Having made the decision to conceal the child from you, she couldn’t risk any contact with me, because she knew that once I knew about it I would figure out the dates, and she knew that I couldn’t possibly conceal such a thing from you. But she’s got to have paid a price, Tom”.
“How do you mean?”
“Well, you know what Mickey was like, even when we knew him! What do you think his reaction would have been when she went to him in London and said, “Mickey, I’m pregnant, Tom’s the father, and he’s gone to Canada without knowing about it. Will you please take me back, help me raise Tom’s child, and support me through my doctoral study?”
I shook my head slowly; “He must have gone ballistic”.
“Right. So that’s why I’m saying, be gentle with her. Think about what came of this decision she made. She married Mickey – a marriage so abusive that eventually she charged him with assault and he went to prison. If she hadn’t done that – if she’d called you in Canada and told you she was pregnant – you might well have come back and married her. I mean, Wendy’s a great person, Tom, but I don’t think you seriously want not to have been married to Kelly, do you?”
“No”, I agreed, “Kelly was the best thing that ever happened to me”.
“Right. So, Wendy did you a good turn twenty years ago, but she didn’t do herself any favours at all”.
“I see what you mean”.
“So – when you talk with her, be gentle, all right?”
“I’ll do my best to be gentle”, I agreed.
Link to Chapter 13