The following week was a school holiday for me; Emma and I went to Derbyshire to do some hill walking for a couple of days, and I was also able to spend an evening with Owen playing music. I talked to Wendy on the phone a couple of times; she told me that Lisa was continuing to stay at home, travelling in to Christ Church for classes each day but then coming out to Headington again for the night.
Emma and I were invited to the Howards’ on the Wednesday evening for Lisa’s twenty-first birthday. A number of her friends were present, some from Christ Church and some from her high school years. The bruising on her face was almost gone, and her cuts were healing, but her arm was still in a sling; she seemed rather quiet and subdued, and as I watched her and Emma in conversation at one point in the evening, it occurred to me that something strange was happening in their relationship: the older, more sophisticated Oxford girl was looking up to her younger, more straightforward prairie sister.
We went out to Northwood on the Friday evening, intending to come back home early Sunday morning so that we could go to our own church. My father was developing a nasty cough, but he seemed pleased to see us and was especially happy to spend time with Emma. Mike and Becca joined us for supper on Friday; once again, Mike drove back into town later in the evening, and I agreed to give Becca a ride back into Headington when we went home Sunday.
I drove back into town on Saturday morning to pick Lisa up and bring her out to Northwood for the day. We had talked for a long time after her party on Wednesday evening about the best way to handle this visit. Lisa was apprehensive about the meeting, but she was even more apprehensive about the idea of a full family gathering; she would prefer it, she said, if she could have her first meeting with my parents by herself, without her mother and her brother present. After all, she continued, they had already met my parents at Emma’s birthday party, and so they would have the advantage over her if all three of them came to the house together. Wendy resisted this line of reasoning for a long time, but it was clear that Lisa was not going to budge. Eventually a compromise was reached; I would take Lisa out to Northwood in the morning, and Wendy and Colin would join us later in the afternoon.
The weather had turned significantly warmer overnight, and the sky was clear and bright as I pulled my car up outside Wendy’s little house in Headington at about eleven-thirty in the morning. Lisa and Wendy emerged from the front door as I was getting out of the car; I greeted Lisa with a gentle hug, and Wendy and I exchanged kisses on the cheek. “How’s your dad?” she asked.
“About the same. He’s got a nasty cough; Becca’s a bit worried about it, because his resistance is pretty low”.
“Are you sure it’s a good time for me to come out?” Lisa asked.
I shrugged; “We can’t count on good times any more; If you wait for a good time, you might never come”.
“I suppose not”.
Wendy had been listening to us with her eyes down and her arms folded across her front. She looked up and said, “I was wondering; is there some sort of dress code for dinner tonight?”
“Come as you are; my Dad’s long past worrying about that sort of stuff”. I grinned at her; “Are you nervous?”
She smiled awkwardly; “Really nervous! I don’t know why”.
“Don’t worry; they’re already on your side”.
“Who’s there today?” Lisa asked.
“Just my Mum and Dad, and Emma and Becca”.
“And it’ll be just them tonight, will it?”
“Yes; Emma tells me Rick’s kids are very curious about you, but Mum hasn’t invited anyone extra tonight. I told her you were nervous about having a crowd there”.
“Well, I guess we’d better be moseying along”.
“Alright, then”, said Wendy; she gave Lisa a gentle hug, and then stepped back as the girl got into the car and pulled the door closed behind her.
I put my hand on Wendy’s arm. “Don’t worry”, I said; “It’ll be fine”.
She gave me a little smile. “Thanks, Tom”, she said softly; “I’ll see you tonight”.
As I pulled the car out of Wendy’s street onto Gipsy Lane I asked Lisa, “How are you feeling?”
“Pretty good, thanks”.
“Your face looks a lot better; how about the ribs and the collar bone?”
“Healing slowly, so Becca says”.
“Yes; I asked her if I could become one of her patients”.
“I didn’t know that”.
“I really like her, and I wasn’t too keen on my own doctor anyway, so I thought it was time for a change”.
We were quiet for a few minutes as I headed west through Headington on the London Road and then turned south on the Oxford by-pass. Eventually she asked, “Is there anything I need to know about your parents?”
“Not really. My Dad’s getting weaker; he’s very thin, and he generally sleeps late and then has a nap again after lunch. He’s having difficulty getting warm enough these days, too. He hates the idea of going into hospital; he wants to stay at home for as long as he can, and I’m supporting that idea”.
“Staying with familiar surroundings?”
“Yes – and familiar people, too”.
“Will I have anything in common with them?”
“Yes – your love of classical music. Like I told you, my Mum’s a classically trained pianist, and my father’s actually quite interested in music as well; he sang in the chapel choir when he was up at Oriel, so he’ll probably know some of the choral music you like”.
“I don’t remember you saying anything about that before”.
“Actually, I’ve only just found out about it”.
“Really? You didn’t know?”
“That’s right. My Mum and I got talking, and for the first time she told me the story of how she and my Dad met. It turns out he came to a concert she was taking part in, and they struck up a conversation afterwards. Apparently in the early years of their marriage they attended classical music concerts together on a regular basis”.
“That’s a slightly different picture of your dad”.
“Well, I’m learning a few things myself; he and I are talking a lot more these days”.
She was quiet for a moment, and then asked, “So, what exactly is going to happen today?”
“Whatever you want, Lisa. Becca’s staying for the weekend, and Emma’s there too. Dad’s confined to the house, and as I said, he’ll probably have a nap after lunch. He and Mum would like the chance to get to know you a bit, but if you’d like to take a walk around the grounds or through the village during the afternoon, we can do that too”.
“The grounds are big, are they?”
“Well, they’re not quite in the stately home category, but they’re a bit bigger than my back yard, let’s put it that way. There’s a large lawn on two sides of the house, and when he was feeling better my Dad was an enthusiastic flower gardener, so the gardens are pretty well kept. Out the back there’s an apple orchard, and a wood with a small lake”.
“How old is the house?”
“It was originally built in the late eighteenth century, but there have been some additions and changes over the years. There’s a stable block on one side that’s been converted into garage space, and there are servants’ quarters upstairs that are now guest bedrooms”.
“Servants’ quarters? Were you brought up with servants?”
“No, and actually, some of the wealth still makes Emma and me very uncomfortable”.
“Because we believe in a form of Christianity that calls us to live a simple lifestyle and to care for the poor”.
I laughed softly; “Sorry; I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable, but you did ask, and I gave you an honest answer!”
“No, that’s fine; it’s just that the idea of faith in God is still hard for me to understand”.
“What about the idea of living a simple lifestyle and caring for the poor?”
“Yes, I can understand that”.
“That’s a good place to start, then. People come to faith in God through all kinds of doors”.
“Were you raised as a Christian, Tom?”
“No, I came to it in my twenties through Kelly’s family”.
“Was it hard for you to learn to believe in God?”
“Yes; I’ve very rarely been able to find easy answers to my questions. Sometimes I think I have more questions now than when I started. Faith seemed to come really naturally to Kelly, and to Emma too, but I’ve always had to work harder at it”.
“And yet you seem to be really strong in your faith”.
I laughed; “Either that, or I’m good at faking it!”
“I don’t think you’re faking it, Tom”.
I shook my head; “No – trying not to, anyway. But the way I see it, faith is about actions. When it’s hard for me to feel or believe, at least I can do my best to follow the teachings of Jesus. Sometimes when I do that, the feeling and believing gets easier”.
She was quiet for a few minutes, looking out of her window, her face turned away from me. We were out in the countryside now, the fields flashing past on either side of the road, separated by dark lines of bare trees. We passed a roadside pub with a couple of cars pulled up in the car park beside it; off to the left a tall steeple behind a stand of trees signaled the location of the village church.
Lisa turned back toward me. “So did you and Mum have your talk?”
I nodded; “We did”.
“Can I ask you about it?”
“So what did you discover?”
I thought for a moment about the conversation between Wendy and me in the car on the way to Chelmsford. Eventually I said, “Well, I think we’re agreed that we’re going to stop thinking of our night together as a ‘one-night stand’ ”.
“So what does that mean?”
“I can tell you what it means for me: I was starting to fall in love with your mum in the spring of 1982, but I never talked to her about it, partly because we both knew I was moving to Canada, and partly because of our little disagreement about friendship and love. But the truth is that yes, I would have liked our relationship to go further than it did, but I didn’t push the issue”.
“So you were in love with Mum?”
“Starting to be – I think that’s what I said”.
She grinned across at me; “I’m glad”, she said.
“Well, look at it from my point of view. Until three weeks ago I thought I was the natural daughter of Mickey Kingsley, who, if there is a God, has got to be one of the biggest mistakes God ever made in the history of humanity. But then I found out that, no, Mickey wasn’t my natural father – which, as I said to you, came as a great relief to me, since I’ve been unable to make myself love him for a long time. However, I wasn’t wildly excited about the idea that my natural father was an old friend with whom my Mum had a one-night stand on the rebound from Mickey the first time she broke up with him. Don’t misunderstand me, Tom – I actually quite like you. But I have to admit that the whole ‘sex on the rebound’ thing was getting in the way a bit”.
“So – as I said, I’m rather glad to hear that there was more to it than that”.
We were quiet for a few minutes. We were getting close to Northwood now; the tree-lined banks of the Thames were flashing past on our right, and I could see the tower of the parish church on the horizon. Glancing across at her, I said, “There is one more thing I want to say about those old days”.
“If I’d have known about you, I would have come back”.
She turned away again. “I believe you”, she said in a voice that was so quiet I could barely hear it.
I said, “I really do wish that at some point in the past twenty-one years…”
“Yes, so do I. I suppose you’ll have to ask Mum why it never happened”.
“You’re angry with her about that, aren’t you?”
“Yes – wouldn’t you be?”
“Probably, but I think you need to try to see it from her point of view”.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw her turning in her seat to face me again. “All right – help me see it from her point of view”.
“Well, if there’s blame, there’s enough to go around for both your mum and me”.
“How do you mean?”
“Well, let’s start with me; I’d succeeded in persuading myself that I couldn’t stay in the same country as my dad, so I’d made arrangements secretly to leave England; your mum was in on that secret, and that made it difficult for her to think of having a long-term relationship with me. Think about that for a minute; I had no intention of staying in the UK, and yet I went ahead that night and had unprotected sex with your mum. Do you think I didn’t know how human reproductive biology works? I wasn’t being very wise or very loving, was I?”
“You’re not the first person to do something like that, Tom”.
“No, but if we’re dishing out blame here, some of it at least should be dished out to me”.
“Okay, I take your point”.
“Well, so I left for Canada, and a week or so later your mum found out she was pregnant. She was afraid to contact me because in the weeks since we spent that night together she’d effectively cut me off”.
“Because she knew that if we saw each other again in the same setting, the same thing would likely happen. She suspected I wanted the relationship to go further, and what she needed from me was friendship, not love and sex. So she put the brakes on. She knew I was hurt by that, and quite frankly, by the time I left for Canada things were very, very tense between us.
“So you see, when she found out she was pregnant, she had a very limited set of choices. She didn’t think I was an option, because she was afraid I was too upset with her to even consider it, and she didn’t think we’d ever really been a couple anyway. Abortion wasn’t an option for her, and looking at you sitting beside me right now, I have to say that I’m enormously grateful for that”.
“Me too”, she replied softly.
“So what was she going to do? She didn’t feel able to bring up a child alone; she felt she’d taken a different path in life from your grandparents and your Uncle Rees, and she wasn’t sure how they’d respond if she told them she was pregnant. There were really no ideal choices open to her; Mickey seemed like the best option available. Looking back now with twenty-twenty hindsight, it may be obvious that she made the wrong choice, but it wasn’t so clear at the time. I think she did the best she could”.
“But surely at some point she could have contacted you and told you about me”.
“Knowing Mickey as you do, how do you think he would have responded to that?”
“Good point”. Out of the corner of my eye I saw her frowning; “So you’re not angry with her?” she said.
“She’s doing a pretty good job of beating herself up about this; I don’t need to help her with it”.
“What do you mean?”
I was gearing down now, slowing the car as we approached the village. “Do you honestly think that, in the light of what’s happened, she sees her choice to go to Mickey as a wise one?”
“No – she’s told me many times that she knows she made a mistake”.
“You see? So what’s the point in me being angry with her? I’m sorry that I haven’t had the chance to know you for the past twenty-one years, but there’s no reason for me to take it out on your mum. She’s suffered enough”.
Lisa was quiet as I drove into Northwood, turned at the church and drove south toward my parents’ home. As I turned the car into their driveway, she spoke slowly and quietly. “I haven’t thought about it like that before. I suppose I’ve been angry in a cathartic sort of way. I haven’t stopped to ask myself what good my anger is doing. I need to think that one over”.
I didn’t reply. After a moment she seemed to notice her surroundings; she took a deep breath, smiled brightly, and gestured toward my parents’ home. “Well, this is a rather grand looking house!” she said; “So this is where you grew up?”
“Where I spent my teenage years, anyway”. I pulled the car up in front of the house and turned off the engine. “I’m sure my mum and dad are waiting eagerly”, I said; “Shall we go in?”
“Alright”. She began to get out of the car, but then she stopped, turned back to me and said, “Tom, thank you for this talk. I’m really sorry if I seem a bit stubborn and hard to get along with sometimes; I’m not trying to be. I’m really glad I’ve been given the chance to get to know you”.
“Now I’m going to tell you something I feel really stupid about; I’m nervous about going into that house”.
“Do you know why?”
“It’s partly because I don’t know what they’re going to think of me; partly it’s because we’ve got this rather strange relationship – sort of getting to know each other, sort of friends, sort of father and daughter – and I’m not really sure where I’m supposed to fit into your parents’ lives”. She paused, looking down at her hands, then continued quietly; “And I’m not sure what expectations I’m going to meet in there today. I’m wary about having expectations placed on me that I’m not ready to live up to”.
“You mean expectations about you coming to think of me as your dad, and my parents as your grandparents?”
“Yes”. She looked across at me nervously; “Are you disappointed in me?”
“Of course not, and I don’t think it’s ‘stupid’ for you to feel that way, either. You take this at the pace you want to take it. If the day comes when you want to have a more ‘father and daughter’ sort of relationship with me, then I’ll be happy for that to happen. Meanwhile, I’m just glad to fill the role of a friend, if you’ll let me”.
She gave me a shy smile. “Thank you”, she said quietly. “I thought you’d understand, but I wasn’t sure”. She tilted her head a little in Wendy’s characteristic pose. “You really couldn’t be more different from Mickey, you know? It intrigues me that Mum could love you both, when you’re so different from each other”.
“You’re putting words into her mouth; she never told me that she loved me”.
“No”, she replied, a playful expression in her eyes, “but it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that she did”.
I opened the car door. “I think it’s time for us to go inside”, I said.
We got out of the car into the fresh spring air. Lisa stood still for a moment, taking deep breaths. “This is lovely”, she said; “Perhaps I will take a walk around this afternoon”.
My mother was waiting for us just inside the door, and Emma and Becca were with her. She seemed serene and elegant as usual, but I knew her well enough to be able to tell immediately that she was almost as nervous as Lisa. “Mum”, I said, “this is Lisa Howard. Lisa, this is my mother”.
Lisa hesitated, and then held out her hand, and my mother took it; “Welcome to our home, Lisa”, she said; “I’m very pleased to meet you”.
“Thank you, Mrs. Masefield”, Lisa replied with her old dazzling smile; “You’ve got a very lovely home”.
Emma and Becca greeted Lisa in their turn, and then my mother said, “Let me take your coat, my dear. My husband’s sitting in the drawing room. Tom, would you like to take her through?”
Lisa gave my mother her coat; underneath it, she was wearing black jeans and a loose shirt, and her left arm was still in a sling. It was Emma who took her other arm and guided her through the door into the drawing room. My father was sitting in his usual chair by the fire, with a blanket covering his legs; he looked up a with a smile we entered the room.
“Grandpa”, Emma said, “this is Lisa Howard. Lisa, this is my grandfather, Frank Masefield”.
My father took Lisa’s hand. “I’ve been really looking forward to meeting you”, he said. “Please sit down”.
“Thank you”, she replied.
“How are you feeling?” he asked as we took our seats with him around the hearth. “How much longer will you have to wear that sling?”
“About a month, so my doctor tells me”, Lisa replied, smiling across at Becca. My father followed her gaze and raised an eyebrow; “Becca’s your doctor?” he said.
“It’s a recent thing, Dad”, Becca said.
My father turned back to Lisa with a smile; “I’m just a doddering old fool, of course”, he said; “there’s no reason why anyone should tell me anything around here!”
“Don’t get agitated about it, Dad”, Becca replied dryly; “I take on new patients all the time, and I’m so used to keeping confidentiality about who they are that it’s become second nature to me, I’m afraid”.
“So I can’t expect regular updates about the health of this particular patient of yours?”
“Not from me, anyway, but do your best to make a good impression on her and she might keep you informed herself!”
We all laughed, and my father said, “What’s the good of having a doctor in the family, I’d like to know?” He turned back to Lisa with a mischievous grin; “I expect Tom’s told you some horror stories about me?” he asked.
She opened her mouth to reply, then closed it again and looked at me with confusion on her face.
“This is my dad’s idea of humour, Lisa”, I explained.
My father laughed, and then he was suddenly seized with a fit of coughing. After a moment Becca came up behind him, put one hand on his shoulder and rubbed his back gently with her other hand. Eventually his coughing eased; Emma brought him a glass of water, and he took a few sips. “Thank you, my dear”, he said. “I’m sorry, Lisa; I’m afraid you’re not seeing me on one of my better days”.
“Are you all right, Dad?” Becca asked quietly.
“I’ll manage, thank you”.
“I’ve got my bag here, you know; I can listen to your chest any time you want”.
“And tell me what? That I’ve got a congested chest? I already know that!”
My father turned and gave Becca an apologetic look. “I’m sorry, Becca”, he said softly; “I know you’re probably right. This evening, perhaps?”
“As you wish”.
At that moment my mother came into the room; “Lunch is ready in the dining room”, she announced; “Let’s go in and eat while the soup’s hot”.
My mother had prepared a light lunch of soup and sandwiches, followed by coffee and cake. My father ate very little, but throughout the meal he kept up a steady conversation with Lisa, who was sitting on his right, and with a little encouragement she told him about her interest in languages and about her time in Russia and the things she had seen and done there. After a while she asked him about his time as a student in the Oriel chapel choir, and he told her about the music he had enjoyed and some of his other memories. Eventually my mother got in on the conversation too, as she and my father told stories about the concerts they had attended when they were younger, and some of the well-known performers they had seen. I could see Lisa relaxing as the meal progressed, and by the time the dishes were being cleared she was asking my father and mother questions about their families and the places where they had grown up.
Eventually my father, who had been coughing regularly during the meal, said “Well, I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you all to excuse me for a while; I need to lie down and have a rest”.
Emma and Becca helped him get to his feet, and as they left the room my mother said, “I’m going to clear the table and get a few things ready for supper. Why don’t you two go out for a walk or something while I’m doing that?”
“We can help, Mum”, I replied.
“No, no – when Becca comes down, she’ll help me”.
“I’d like to help, if I may”, Lisa said quietly. “I know I’ve only got one good hand, but at least I can carry things with it”.
My mother gave her a sympathetic smile. “Well, my dear, why don’t you come out and keep me company then, and if I think of something you can do while we’re out there, then I’ll certainly ask you to do it. Tom, do you mind if I steal her away from you for a little while?”
“Not at all; are you sure you don’t want me to come too?”
“Oh yes – there’s really not a lot left to do”.
“I do still want to go for a walk around the grounds at some point this afternoon”, Lisa said to me; “Is that all right?”
My mother’s conversation with Lisa lasted quite a bit longer than either of them had expected; in fact, it was nearly three o’clock before they emerged from the kitchen. We then took Lisa on a tour of the house, lingering for a few minutes in the large room at the back so that my mother could play her a couple of pieces on the upright piano. When the tour was finished Lisa and I slipped our coats on and went outside for a while. I showed her through the old stable block and gave her a tour of my father’s gardens; we then continued on through the apple orchard into the wood behind the house, emerging eventually beside the small lake that lay nestled among the trees. The punt was still pulled up on the shore for the winter, but we walked out onto the small wooden jetty and stood in silence for a few minutes, enjoying the peace and solitude. Eventually Lisa asked, “How deep is it?”
“Not very deep. You can stand up in the middle and still have your head and shoulders above water”.
“I bet this was a special place for you when you were a boy”.
“I was never a little boy here; we moved here when I was eleven. But you’re right; when I was a teenager I used to steal away here quite regularly when I needed some space”.
“On that bench over there?” She pointed to a wooden bench in front of the trees a short distance around the shore to our right.
“That one’s only about ten years old, but there was an older one there in my time that I used. Shall we go and sit down?”
“How are you feeling; do you still get sore when you walk?”
“A bit. Becca’s given me some pain killers, but I try not to take them if I don’t have to”.
We walked slowly around the shore of the lake until we came to the bench; we sat down together, and Lisa said, “I had a good chat with your mum; I really like her”.
“You found a lot to talk about?”
“Yes; sorry we took so long. I was asking her questions about you and Rick and Becca, and eventually she made us instant coffee and we just sat at the kitchen table and talked for a long time about your family. Then she wanted to know more about Mum and Colin and me, so it was my turn to fill in the details for her”.
“Were you okay with this?”
“She wasn’t pushy; she couldn’t have been more gracious, in fact”.
“That sounds like my Mum”.
“Speaking of mothers, you never told me my mum came to visit here when she was a student”.
“I suppose I didn’t; sorry, it just didn’t occur to me. Yes, when ‘Lincoln Green’ was still going strong she sometimes came out to Northwood with Owen and me. Usually we went to Owen’s mum and dad’s place, but a couple of times we came here”.
“To stay overnight?”
“No – usually just for an afternoon. Well, once we stayed overnight, but I think your mum stayed at Owen’s. That was the time we did a concert for the Northwood Music Society”.
“You mentioned that; it sounds rather grand!”
“It wasn’t; it was just a little group of twenty or thirty people who used to get together every couple of months for concerts with any musicians they managed to entice out here from Oxford. They were really a classical group, but my mum was one of the leaders, and she managed to persuade them that a traditional folk music event wouldn’t be so bad. We did the show in the village hall; I think we had about fifty people out to it. Of course, some of our friends came out to support us. It was a lot of fun; Owen’s parents came, and afterwards we all went over to their house for tea and goodies. My mum was there, but my dad didn’t come”.
“Things weren’t good between you and your dad at that time?”
“No, not good at all”.
“He seems very different now”.
“Well, he can still be crusty and obnoxious, but we’re trying to get along better with each other; I don’t think we’re doing too badly”.
“He’s got a nasty cough, hasn’t he?”
“He has; Becca told me that she’s afraid he’s getting pneumonia”.
“That would be serious for him, would it?”
“Yes; his resistance is very low because of the chemo. But he’s been looking forward to having you and the family out here today, and he’s determined not to let Becca listen to his chest until after the evening’s over”.
We were quiet for a few minutes, each alone with our thoughts. I was remembering the first time I had met her, on the Sunday evening before Christmas at Merton, and how poised and confident she had seemed. Somehow over the past couple of weeks she had completely dropped that front with me, although I had noticed her reverting to it a little with other people.
“Your mum and I talked about your wife for a bit”, she said.
“I asked about her, actually; I hope that was alright with you?”
“Of course it was”.
“She told me about the time Becca went out to Canada to visit with you, and how much your wife helped her”.
“Kelly and Becca were very close”.
“How did that happen?”
I told her about that summer; about our trips to the mountains, our times of camping together, and the late nights at home when Becca and Kelly had sat out on our deck and talked until the small hours of the morning. Lisa listened quietly as I talked, without interrupting. When I was finished, she was silent for a few minutes. When she eventually spoke, her voice was so quiet that I could barely hear it.
“I really loved Mark, you know”.
“I’m sure you did”.
“He was so nice to me; he took me on enjoyable dates and we talked about anything and everything. He was gentle and polite, and most of the time, it seemed so right. But when he lost his temper, he seemed to become a completely different person”.
I sat quietly beside her, sensing the fragile nature of this moment and not wanting to jeopardize it by any sort of inappropriate response. After a minute she continued; “He’s going to trial next month. We haven’t talked at all since he left my room that afternoon; I’d like to talk to him and find out how he is, but I know that would be a really stupid thing to do”. She glanced across at me, and I saw the sadness in her eyes. “Like you said, I’ve been so angry at Mum for giving Mickey so many second chances over the years. I know Mark needs help, and it would be a really bad idea to initiate any sort of contact with him until he’s had that help. But I still can’t help wishing…”
Out of the corner of my eye I saw a tear running down her cheek. I hesitated, then reached out and took her hand; after a moment, I felt her fingers close around mine.
I chose my words carefully. “I can’t really imagine what you’re going through”, I said softly, “but I think it must feel a lot like grief, and I do know what that feels like”.
She nodded; “Thank you”, she said.
We sat there quietly for a few minutes, her hand in mine. A slight breeze had begun to move the tops of the trees, and the ripples were moving across the surface of the lake. Off to the south I could see a raven circling.
Eventually Lisa released my hand, took out a handkerchief and blew her nose. “I’m sorry”, she said; “I wasn’t expecting that”.
“No need to apologize”.
“Can I ask you another personal question?”
“Do you still feel that grief?”
I considered for a moment, and then said, “I still miss Kelly, and I think I always will. I don’t find myself debilitated by grief any more, though. After she died, there were often times when I would find myself suddenly breaking down without any warning. That doesn’t happen very often any more”.
“Are you lonely?”
She looked down at the handkerchief in her hand. “It’s probably not my place to ask this, but do you think you’ll ever come to love someone again?”
I thought for a moment, choosing my words carefully again. “Well, let me put it this way”, I replied; “If that day comes, after I’ve told the person concerned, you’ll be one of the first to know”.
She smiled and opened her mouth to say something, but at that moment we heard Emma’s voice calling us. We looked up and saw Emma, Wendy and Colin coming around the edge of the lake to meet us. “Looks like your mum and Colin got here”, I observed.
She nodded, and then reached for my hand again. “Thank you”, she said.
“You’re quite welcome”.
“You’re such a good listener, Tom; I think I could get used to this”.
We got to our feet and went to meet the others. Emma smiled at me and said, “The company arrived, so I decided to show them around the grounds. I thought you might be here”. She put her hand on Lisa’s arm; “Are you okay?” she asked.
Lisa nodded; “I’m fine, thanks”.
“What do you think of the lake?”
I greeted Colin and Wendy; “Did you go inside?” I asked.
“Briefly”, Wendy replied.
“What do you think of the old place?” I asked Colin.
“Very nice. I like this lake; is that a punt over there?”
“Yes; we had it in the water last summer, but it needs a few repairs”.
Wendy was looking at Lisa’s teary eyes; “Are you all right?” she asked.
Lisa nodded; “Tom and I were having a heart to heart”, she replied. “I’m afraid I got a bit emotional. Don’t worry; I’m fine”.
Wendy kissed her, and then turned to me and said, “Your mum’s making a pot of tea; shall we go back in?”
Emma led the way back along the winding path through the wood, with Lisa and Colin close behind her; Wendy and I followed them, but we were walking slowly, and they soon drew away from us. My hands were in my pockets, and Wendy’s arms were folded across her front.
“No difficulty finding the place?” I asked.
“No; it wasn’t hard”. I felt her take my arm as we walked on slowly. “Tom, did something go wrong between you and Lisa?” she asked.
“Far from it; it wasn’t that sort of heart to heart”.
“It would be so good for her to have a positive relationship with you”, she said quietly; “She’s never really experienced what a good father might be like”.
“I’m not putting any pressure on her to think of me in that way”, I replied; “I’m coming into the picture a little late in the day for that”.
For a few minutes she said nothing; we were following the path through the apple orchard now, and eventually we came to the brick wall of the stable block. I moved toward the gate, but I felt her holding me back, and I stopped and turned to face her. Her eyes searched my face anxiously; “I’m really sorry, Tom”, she said quietly.
“About the fact that you’re coming into the picture with Lisa so late; it’s my fault, isn’t it?”
I shook my head; “Wendy, let’s not waste time on this, okay? I don’t blame you; I’m just happy I’ve been given the chance to know her now, and I’m really happy that you and I can be friends again too”.
“So am I”. For a long moment she looked up at me, and as I returned her gaze I felt something stirring inside, something I had not felt for a long time. I leaned forward, kissed her softly on the forehead, and said, “Well, perhaps we’d better go in before my mum sends out a search party”.
She laughed softly; “I’m sure Lisa and Colin would never let me hear the end of that!”
She took my arm again, and we slipped through the gate into the stable block. Just before we reached the back door of the house, I stopped again and turned to face her. “Are you busy next Sunday night?” I asked.
“I don’t think so; why?”
“Owen and I are playing a gig at the Plough with his band; I wondered if you’d like to have supper with me there, and then stay and listen”.
I watched as a slow smile spread across her face; “Are you asking me out on a date, Tom Masefield?”
“I guess I am”.
She inclined her head a little and held my gaze for a moment, her eyes shining; “I would really like that”, she said.
“Good. Of course, you’d need to be prepared”.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, the last time you went to listen to us at the Plough, you ended up being invited onto the stage with us”.
We both laughed, and she wagged her finger disapprovingly at me; “That will not happen this time, all right? I need a lot more practice before I’m ready to get up on a stage with you two again!”
“Well, I can promise not to embarrass you, but of course I can’t speak for Owen; you know what he’s like!”
Supper went well that night; Lisa was relaxed in my parents’ company by now, and Emma was able to draw Colin into the flow of the conversation from time to time. Wendy and I were sitting across the table from each other, on either side of my mother, and I found myself stealing glances at her, noticing the way her hair fell on her shoulders, the delicate curve of her cheek, the way she inclined her head when she was listening to someone talking, and the light in her eyes as she occasionally met my fleeting looks with subtle smiles of her own.
Wendy and her children left at about nine o’clock. Emma and I went outside with them; the night air was cooler now, and there was a hint of rain on the wind. We all exchanged hugs, and I put my arm around Emma’s shoulders as we watched the Volvo move off down the driveway.
“Do you want to walk around the garden for a few minutes?” I asked.
“Sure; just let me get my jacket, okay?”
“I’ll get mine, too”.
We walked around the edge of the lawn together; it was dark now, of course, and off to our left the wind was rustling through the trees in the orchard. Emma had tied her hair back in a pony tail, and she was walking with her hands in her pockets and her face down. After a moment I said, “Are you all right?”
“Yeah – just a little tired, that’s all”.
“I wanted to tell you that I’ve asked Wendy out on a date”.
She glanced across at me; “Oh yeah?”
“I wanted to make absolutely sure that you were okay with this”.
She was silent for a few minutes, and I waited, knowing that there was no point in trying to rush her. Eventually she stopped, turned to face me, and said, “I am okay with it, Dad; like I’ve already said, I like Wendy, and I want you to be happy, too”.
She shook her head slowly, and in the darkness I could just make out the line of a tear running down her cheek. “Dad, we aren’t going to forget Mom completely, are we?”
I felt a sudden lump in my throat; I shook my head, not trusting myself to speak, and held out my arms to her. For a few moments we held each other in silence; I heard a car driving past on the road at the bottom of the driveway, and somewhere in the distance an owl hooted.
Eventually Emma stepped back, smiled at me through her tears, and said, “I’m sorry; I don’t know what brought that on”.
I kissed her gently on the forehead. “Thank you for being so positive and supportive about my friendship with Wendy, but you don’t have to pretend you don’t have any regrets. I have regrets myself”.
“Of course. But it’s not a matter of choosing between your mom and Wendy, you know; I can’t have your mom any more, and I need to accept that”.
“I know, Dad”.
“But that doesn’t mean I can’t still treasure her memory. So no, we aren’t going to forget about your mom”. I grinned at her; “How can I forget her, when looking at you is like seeing her standing right in front of me again!”
She nodded, a smile spreading slowly across her face again. “I guess that’s true”. She hesitated, gave a little frown, and said, “Can I ask you something personal?”
I laughed; “People have been asking me that all day!”
“You guys had a good talk?”
“We did”. I held out my hand to her, and she took it. “Let’s walk a little further”, I said.
“What was your question?”
She hesitated, and then asked, “Are you in love with Wendy?”
“I think it may come to that”, I replied, “but I’m not sure if it’s there yet. I do know that I really like her and that I want to spend time with her”.
“Lisa and I are going to get together this week”.
“Good; what’s the plan?”
“No plan yet; I’m going to call her Monday”.
“Would you like to drive over to Aylesbury to see Sarah tomorrow?”
“I was going to ask you if I could have the car; do you have time to come?”
“I’m all caught up on my schoolwork, and I haven’t seen Sarah for a while. It’s time, I think”.
“Thanks, Dad”, she said quietly; “It’ll be nice to have the drive together”.
“It will”, I agreed.