‘A Time to Mend’ Chapter 37

Link back to Chapter 36

******

About a week after Will and Sally flew home, Emma and I had an unexpected meeting in the kitchen in the middle of the night. Neither of us had been sleeping particularly well since my father’s death; I had heard her a few times, moving quietly around the house, and I was sure she had heard me as well. But this was the first time we had actually bumped into each other; I went downstairs at about three in the morning to get a drink of water and there she was, seated at the kitchen table, sipping herbal tea out of a glass mug with a book open in front of her. She gave me a little smile as I went over to the sink to pour my water. “Couldn’t sleep?” she asked.

“I’ve been awake for about half an hour; how about you?”

“A little longer than that”.

“You’re going to be tired in the morning”.

She shrugged helplessly; “I don’t seem to be able to do anything about it, Dad. I guess it’s just something I have to work through”.

I took my glass of water over to the table and slipped into a chair beside her. Leaning over to kiss her on the top of her head, I said, “What are you reading?”

She showed me the book; “The Cost of Discipleship, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Do you know it?”

“Sure; your mum liked it a lot. Kind of heavy for three in the morning, though”.

“I know. Matthew gave it to me a while back, but I don’t seem to have a lot of time for general reading right now”.

“College is keeping you kind of busy”.

“Yeah”.

“Are you still liking the new placement?”

“It’s good; I like being on a community health care team”.

“Better than acute care?”

“Different. I didn’t think I’d find it as interesting, but it’s grown on me pretty quickly”. She grinned; “People keep asking me if I’m an American”.

“Brits can’t tell the difference between American and Canadian accents”.

“I’ve noticed that”.

We lapsed into silence for a minute, both of us occupied with our own thoughts. The house was quiet, and on our residential street late-night traffic was rare. I sipped at my water slowly, and she cupped her hands around her mug. “I’ve been trying to think of my earliest memory of Grandpa”, she said.

“Have you figured it out?”

She frowned. “I’ve got really vague memories from the first time we came. I don’t think I remember actual events or conversations; just pictures or impressions. I must have been really little; I remember the spiral staircase, and sitting on the bed in my room at their house with Auntie Becca. But I can’t make Grandpa come into focus”.

“We didn’t see much of him on that trip. It was the summer of 1990; you were four and a half”.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought. There’s a boat in there somewhere, too, out on the sea”.

“That was in Scotland; Becca took us on a holiday. Your mum loved the sea and wanted to go out, so we took a trip out from Aberdeen in a tourist boat”.

“Were Grandma and Grandpa with us?”

“No – they didn’t come. I never had any success getting my dad to go on holidays with us”.

“He was always working?”

“Mostly. Mum was able to pry him away for a week or two most summers, but it was never much more than that. So have you figured out what your earliest memory of him is?”

“We’re kneeling down together beside the Christmas tree; that was 1994, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah; that’s the only year we came over for Christmas. Your mum was freezing cold”.

She laughed softly; “I remember that! She was always wearing three or four layers, and she had these multi-coloured wool socks”.

“Dad took one look at her shivering and ordered an extra load of wood for the fireplace”.

“Did he? I didn’t know that”.

“He liked your mum. He never said that to her, of course; he told me a few months ago”.

“It’s sad that he didn’t tell her”.

“I know. He was in an adversarial rut. So was I, so I can’t judge him”.

She sat back in her chair, her eyes far away. “I really didn’t expect to come to love him”, she whispered.

“No?”

She shook her head. “I remember pretty clearly how he was the last time we were here with mom; how he got after Jake for capsizing the punt, and how he was always saying little things to get at you. I was always easy with Grandma – and Auntie Becca of course – but I was scared of Grandpa”.

“I didn’t know that”.

“I guess I never told you”.

“You hid it well. You didn’t say anything when we were talking about moving here”.

“I wanted to do the right thing, the thing Jesus would have wanted us to do. The thing Mom would have done”.

I smiled at her; “You’re so much like her, you know”.

“Thank you; I’ll take that as a compliment. If I can be half as good a person as she was…”

“I know. But don’t try to be a carbon copy, okay? She wouldn’t want that; she’d want you to be you, the person you were meant to be”.

“I understand, Dad. Anyway, I can’t be the kind of bubbly extrovert she was”.

“Yeah, you kind of got doomed by the Masefield genes there!”

She smiled at me again; “Nothing wrong with the Masefield genes”.

“Especially when they’re mixed with the Reimers’”.

She was quiet again for a minute, and then she looked at me. “Were you scared of Grandpa too?”

“When I was young I was really scared of him. He was hardly ever home, and when he was home he wasn’t pleasant to be around. I was always walking on eggshells, afraid of upsetting him”.

“What about when you got older?”

I nodded. “I told your mum once that I hated what the house in Northwood did to me when we visited; it was like I reverted back to being that fifteen year old boy who felt like he had to fight for his right to live the life he wanted to live, and study the things he wanted to study. Whenever we came here to visit I got that ‘Oh no, here we go again’ kind of feeling”.

“Did you feel that way this time too?”

“Not so much this time”.

“How come?”

“I’m older now, and your mum had a good effect on me. And I’ve learned to be comfortable in my own skin, or so Wendy tells me”.

“She thinks you’ve changed?”

“She thinks I’ve gotten a lot more confident in myself, and a lot more mellow”.

“Do you think she’s right?”

“Probably; what do you think?”

She gave me an awkward laugh; “I don’t know – you’ve always just been ‘Dad’ to me, and I’ve always liked you just fine, ever since I was little”.

I leaned over and kissed her again. “You’re a sweetheart, and you’ve never been hard to love”.

“I love you, Dad”.

“I love you too, Emma Dawn”.

“I like it when you call me ‘Emma Dawn’”.

“I know”.

She took a sip of her tea, cradling the mug in her hands. “I did love Grandpa in the end”, she whispered.

“I know”.

“It was like he got easier to love as he got weaker and more frail”.

“You made a big impression on him, too”.

“Did I?”

“He told me that; he told me he’d never met a young person who was more genuine and thoughtful than you. And he told me that he really regretted not being able to tell your mum how impressed he was with the daughter she’d raised”.

She stared at me, and I saw the tears spring to her eyes. “Did he really say that?” she whispered.

“He did. I got a little emotional about it, too”.

She moved over a little and laid her head on my shoulder. “I’m really missing him”.

“Me too; we had better conversations in the last year than we’d had in my entire life”.

“Yeah. He asked me about all kinds of things; about the music and books I liked, and what I thought about stuff in the world, and whether Matthew and I talked about his political ideas, and why I was still a Christian. When we first moved here he could be really harsh and dismissive sometimes – like he didn’t really want to listen – but as time went by he changed; he really started listening and asking genuine questions. And he told me about his life too, and when he was a kid and all that”.

“We talked about that”.

“His dad was away in the navy a lot in the Second World War”.

“I know”.

“I can’t imagine that – if you’d been away for two or three years, and I hadn’t known whether or not you were going to be killed in a battle. That must have been awful”.

“Yeah. Of course, plenty of people were going though that at the time”.

“I guess so”. She moved a little closer, and I put my arm around her. “Grandma’s going through a rough time”, she said softly.

“Has she been talking to you about it?”

“A little”.

“My daughter, the one who helps everyone”.

I felt her shrugging. “I just listen, that’s all. She doesn’t ask for my advice, but I think she likes talking to me”.

“She does”.

“Is she talking to you?”

“Yes”.

“Comparing notes?”

“Something like that”.

“I think she’s going to need you around for a while”.

“I think so too”.

******

A few days later we went out to Northwood on Friday and stayed overnight; Emma had the whole weekend off, and Rick and Alyson had made the rare decision to stay over as well. Eric had elected to stay home; Rick had told me that the two them were locked in conflict again over Eric’s future, and at the moment they were hardly talking to each other. “It’s more than a little discouraging, to tell you the truth”, he said to me as we were having a pint at the pub together earlier in the week. “I’m doing my best to remember all you told me, but we just can’t seem to get past this”.

“When you’re in a deep rut, it’s hard to get out”.

“That’s exactly right”.

Sarah had been working hard at her schoolwork and was now preparing to take the GCSEs she should have taken a year before. We had been having conversations lately about her English literature coursework; all of the set books were familiar to me, and I enjoyed hearing her talk about them. “Are you going to go on to an English Lit A1?” I asked her.

“That’s what I want”. She grinned at me; “Dad just smiles helplessly and tells me I’m turning into my Uncle Tom!”

After supper that night the children gravitated up to Emma’s room; Rick and I did the dishes together, and then the four of us sat at the kitchen table for a while, drinking a pot of tea and talking.

“So what about Emma?” Rick asked me at one point. “Has she decided to stay?”

“She’s not sure yet”.

“Surely it would be hard to leave Brookes after just one year and take up back home; the courses must be quite different”.

“She’s well aware of the complications, and she’s happy here too. The truth is, she’s torn”.

“You both are, I expect”, said Alyson quietly.

I shrugged; “I’ve got many years’ experience at the challenges of a transatlantic family situation, but this is really the first time she’s felt the full force of it”.

“And she’s got a boyfriend, too”, said Rick.

“Yeah, although I’m still not quite sure whether they’re using that word”.

He laughed softly; “They’ll be the last to know what’s obvious to everyone else!”

“It’s certainly obvious to Matthew’s mum and dad”.

“Right – you work with the mum, don’t you?”

“Kathy’s my Head of English, and Jim’s the pastor of our church, so we see quite a bit of them both”.

“Is Emma really considering going home?” my mother asked quietly.

“Yes, and she knows she’s got to make a decision soon. Part of the problem is that Kelly’s mum and dad are the same age as you, Mum”.

“I’m well aware of that”.

“And Kelly’s Auntie Millie has Parkinson’s, and we’re really close to them too”.

“Are you thinking about going back too?” asked Rick.

I shook my head. “I’ve already told Don Robinson I won’t be coming back to Meadowvale school. They’re going to advertise my old job, but I’m pretty sure the woman who’s been doing it for the past couple of years is going to apply; Don says she’s great and everyone likes her”. 

He gave me a sympathetic glance; “That must have been a hard decision for you to make”.

“Yes, but I’ve known for a while I was going to make it”.

He nodded slowly. “I can’t say I’m sorry, Bro, but I know you’re going to miss a lot of people”.

“Well, I’ll take a trip in the summer again. Em might come with me for a couple of weeks; she’ll have a summer placement but she should be able to get a couple of weeks off. And there are some people who want to come with us”.

“I hear that”.

“You’re okay with Sarah coming?”

“Absolutely; thanks for giving her the opportunity”.

“You’ll have a lot of teenagers on board”, Alyson added.

“The more the merrier. I might have to rent a big van when we go to Jasper, though”.

“Are all Wendy’s family going with you?” my mother asked.

“Looks like it. Lisa’s a bit worried about slowing us down when we’re hiking in the mountains; she’s putting in some extra walking times right now, to get into practice”.

My mother laughed softly; “I know how that feels!”

“You did well, that summer you came to us”.

“That’s because I doubled my daily walking distance for six months to get ready for it!”

******

Rick and Alyson went to bed around ten-thirty, but my mother and I were both wide awake, so we warmed up the kettle again and made ourselves some hot chocolate. “Do you want to go through to the living room?” I asked.

She shrugged; “I’m alright here for a bit. Somehow the kitchen feels comfortable tonight”. She put her hand on mine; “I’m grateful to you all for coming out to spend the night with me. Sometimes the place seems so big and empty”.

“We’re glad to come. I hope you’ll feel free to let us know when you just want to be alone, though; I know that can happen sometimes”.

She nodded, looking down at the mug on the table in front of her. “There are days…”

“I remember”. I moved my chair toward her a little and put my arm around her, and I felt her head come down on my shoulder. “Oh, Tom”, she whispered, “What am I going to do without him?”

“I know”.

“I walk around this house and I keep expecting to see him”.

“Of course you do; you’re so used to going into a room and seeing him there, and you just can’t get your head around the idea that he’s gone now”.

I felt her shaking her head against my shoulder; I kissed her forehead, and for a few minutes we said nothing. Eventually she moved away, wiping her eyes on a handkerchief. “Look at me”, she said; “this isn’t helping anyone, is it?”

“You don’t have to help anyone. This is about helping you, and if you need to have a good cry, then go ahead”.

“Thank you”. She picked up her mug, sipped at the hot chocolate for a moment, and then said, “I know it took you a long time to get over losing Kelly”.

“I’m not sure I’m over it yet”.

She gave me a sympathetic glance. “Sorry; that wasn’t a very sensitive thing for me to say”.

I shook my head. “I’m not sure I know what it means to be ‘over’ someone. I still miss her, and I think I always will. But I don’t very often find myself in tears with no warning, like I did for the first couple of years”.

“So that’s normal, is it?”

“It was for me, anyway; how about you?”

“I wake up crying in the night, and I don’t remember if it was a dream that started it, or what it was. I can be busy doing something in here, and suddenly without any warning I break down”.

“Yeah – that’s how it was for me, too”.

“So I’m not going crazy, then?”

I smiled and put my hand on her arm. “Of course you’re not going crazy; you’re one of the sanest people I know”.

“Well, that’s reassuring, anyway!”

We both laughed, and then I said, “But to get back to what you said, I know I still love Kelly, and I think I always will. I think what’s happened is that I’ve learned to live with her absence, and I’ve learned to be happy again, which at the beginning I couldn’t even imagine. And I think it was probably a couple of years before I began to realize those things were happening”.

“And now you’ve got Wendy”.

“Yes; that definitely helps. Curiously enough, it doesn’t seem to make a difference to the fact that I miss Kelly, though; it’s like they’re in two separate compartments in my brain. But I’m glad not to be lonely any more”.

“I’m glad for you, too. And I like Wendy a lot”.

“She’s kind of special, isn’t she?”

“She is”.

“Getting back to Dad – it was good to see you two happy together in the last few months”.

She nodded; “It was as if we went back to the beginning again, only without leaving behind anything that had happened in between. It seems almost cruel, now, though – to have had him back for such a short period of time”.

“I know”.

“Were you angry when Kelly died?”

“I was”.

“Who were you angry with?”

“God, mostly, for not giving her back to me”.

“But you got over that?”

“I did. After a while it just didn’t seem to make any sense going around the same unanswerable questions over and over again. Kelly’s death was hard to fit into my view of God, but the world made even less sense to me when I left God out of it altogether”. I smiled at her;“Dad and I actually talked about this stuff not long before he died, you know”.

“He told me about that”.

“It was an amazing conversation – totally unexpected. It was one of those nights when I was sitting up in his room – I think it might actually have been the first night, after you’d gone over to Becca’s flat, and Lisa and Wendy had left. He woke up about four o’clock in the morning, and we started talking. I’ve got no idea how we got onto life after death, and Kelly, and God, but we had quite a good talk actually”. I took a sip of my hot chocolate, glanced at her, and said, “I didn’t know he had been a believer when he was younger”.

“He rarely mentioned that part of his life, and he had already lost his faith when we first started seeing each other. He did tell me about it once or twice, but it already seemed such a minor thing to him. Later on, of course, being an atheist became such a big part of his view of things that it was easy to forget he hadn’t always felt that way. But I think he softened a bit in the end; that was your doing – yours and Emma’s”.

“That’s what he said to me – that we hadn’t made a believer out of him, but we’d succeeded in giving him doubts about his doubts. A few nights later he had a long talk with Emma about it, too”.

“So I heard”.

“Did you know ahead of time about those instructions he left for his funeral – the ones you gave me?”

“Yes”.

“I’ve wondered a few times what that meant”.

“It meant that you and Emma had impressed him with the genuineness of your faith, and that you’d opened his mind to the possibility there might be something in it”.

“You and Dad discussed that too?”

“Yes”.

“You did talk a lot in the last few months, didn’t you?”

“For hours and hours”. She looked away from me; “Some days we talked from the time he got up until his afternoon nap”, she whispered, “and then again until he was too tired to carry on in the evening”.

“What did you talk about?”

“Everything. You children, and the things you’d done and the struggles you’d had – our courting days, and the early years of our marriage, and the days when you and Rick were little boys when we were living in Summertown – our memories of childhood before the war, and how much the world has changed – our grandchildren and how proud we were of them. And we had some conversations about you and Wendy too”.

“Dad and I talked about Wendy”.

“He told me what you’d said”.

“No keeping secrets around this place, is there?”

“Not for the last few weeks, anyway – time was too short”. I saw her bottom lip beginning to quiver; “It was far too short”, she repeated, and I saw the tears in her eyes again. I put my arm around her, and this time as she turned and laid her head on my shoulder she whispered, “I miss him so much, Tom! God, how I miss him! I knew when Kelly died that it must be terrible for you, but I had absolutely no idea how terrible”.

I didn’t answer; instead, I held her a little more closely and kissed her gently. The house was quiet except for the sound of someone moving around upstairs in the old servants’ wing, and I guessed that one of the children was getting ready for bed.

Eventually she lifted her head from my shoulder, smiled at me through her tears, and wiped her eyes with her handkerchief. “Thank you”, she said softly.

“You’re welcome”.

She got to her feet slowly, moved over to the window and drew the curtains shut. “I think there might be some Scotch around here somewhere”, she said; “Would you like a snifter?”

“That would be fine; is it up in the usual cupboard?”

“I think so; can you reach up and get it down?”

I got up, went to the cupboard above the fridge, and opened it to reveal several bottles. “Dad’s got quite a stash up here”, I said. “There’s a Laphroaig, and a twelve-year Macallan. Oh, there’s also a very nice looking Connemara, if you’re interested in going Irish instead of Scotch?”

“Connemara sounds good”.

I took the bottle down from the cupboard. “You sit down again; I’ll pour”.

“Thank you”.

I took down two snifters, put ice in them from the fridge, and poured the amber liquid into each glass. “Shall we take it through to the living room? Somehow it seems like the appropriate venue for sipping whiskey; we could put our feet up and make ourselves comfy”.

“Let’s do that”, she agreed.

******

I went to bed just after midnight, but for some reason – probably the mixture of tea, hot chocolate and whiskey – I couldn’t sleep. I lay awake for a while, tossing and turning; eventually I sat up, turned on the bedside light, and read for a while. At about one o’clock I got up to use the bathroom and then slipped quietly down the stairs to the kitchen for a glass of cold water from the fridge. I was surprised to see a light under the kitchen door, and when I pushed it open I found Emma sitting at the table in her pyjamas and housecoat, a mug of hot chocolate at her elbow, reading a book.

“Couldn’t sleep either?” I asked.

“I slept for a while, but then I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep”.

“What are you reading tonight?”

She closed the book and lifted it up to show me the cover. “It’s yours, actually”, she replied; “The Collected Poems of Wendell Berry”.

“Ah”. I moved over to the sink, rinsed out a glass and then opened the fridge and poured myself some cold water; “What do you think?”

“I think he’s brilliant; I love his descriptions of nature”.

“Yeah, he’s very gifted that way. He’s a very visual poet, isn’t he?”

“Totally. I like the things that annoy him, too – I think he’s a curmudgeon of some kind, isn’t he?”

I sat down beside her at the table and took a sip of my water; “I think so. Do you have any particular favourites so far?”

We poured over the book together for a while; she read me the poems that had particularly touched her, and I shared some of the ones I liked best. Eventually she closed the book, smiled at me, and said, “I love talking poetry with you, Dad”.

“Yeah, it is kind of nice, isn’t it?”

“Did you and Grandma and Rick and Alyson have a nice visit earlier on?”

“We did. How about you and the kids?”

“It was good. Sarah and I sat up for a long time”.

“I thought you might”.

“I had a text from Colin. His dad’s been bugging him again”.

“Again? I knew he’d gotten an email a few days ago”.

“He got another one yesterday. I don’t know why his dad won’t leave him alone; he must know he’s not helping the situation”.

“Strange as it may seem, I think Mickey’s threatened by the fact that I get on well with Colin. Colin never seemed to mean that much to him when he had him to himself, but now…”

“Right”.

“I’ve told him that I’m not trying to be Colin’s dad, but he doesn’t seem to want to believe me”.

“I think Colin would be very happy for you to be his dad”.

I stared at her for a minute; “Did he say that?”

“Yes”.

“In what context?”

She shrugged; “We were just talking about parents – me and Lisa and Colin – it was a few weeks ago. Lisa’s really happy to have you as her dad even though she doesn’t always see eye to eye with you”.

I gave her a wry grin; “There is that!”

“It’s okay, though, Dad – she knows that’s not always how it works”.

“And Colin?”

“He said he found you really easy to talk to, and he liked how you were always encouraging him, and he liked that we took him walking with us and that sort of thing. And he told Lisa he was a little jealous of her, because you were her dad, and he’d like to have that too”.

“I remember months ago having a conversation a bit like that with him; it was before Wendy and I decided we were a couple. He said he wasn’t really sure where he was with us; Lisa was my daughter, and if Wendy and I were married, or at least together, I’d be a kind of step-dad to him. But of course I was moving pretty slowly on that at the time”.

She looked at me steadily for a moment, and then said, “Are you and Wendy going to get married?”

“We haven’t talked about that yet”.

“Are you going to?”

“You know how to ask ‘em, don’t you?”

She frowned; “Are you scared?”

“Yes”.

“What are you scared of?”

“All kinds of thing. I’m scared that I’m still too sad about your mom to really be able to give Wendy the sort of love she needs. I’m scared that what Wendy and I can achieve together won’t be as good as what I had with your mom. I’m scared that I’ll fall into the trap of comparing her with your mom, and not wanting to put her through all of that. Yeah – if you must know, I am quite scared”.

“But you love each other”.

“Yes”.

“Don’t be scared, Dad”, she whispered. “You’re a good man, and Wendy’s a great person. I think you should ask her”.

I shook my head; “I’m not ready yet, Em. Don’t push me on this, okay?”

Her eyes searched mine, and she gave a little frown. “Are you upset with me?”

“I’m not upset. I do love Wendy – I love her a lot. But it took me a while to get this far; it’s going to take me a while longer to move to the next stage”.

She nodded; “I understand, Dad”, she whispered.

 

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‘A Time to Mend’ Chapter 36

Link back to Chapter 35

******

A few nights later I was jarred from my sleep by the sound of the telephone. Reaching for the cordless receiver on my bedside table, I peered at the luminous hands of the clock; it was about one-thirty in the morning. In the darkness of the room I pulled myself up into a sitting position and put the phone to my ear; “Hello?”

“Tommy, it’s Becca. You need to come down to the hospital right away”.

“What’s happening?”

“He’s fading fast. I don’t think he’ll last the night”.

“Does Mum know?”

“As soon as you get here, I’m going to go and pick her up. Please be as quick as you can, alright?”

“Do you want me to stop by your place and pick her up?”

“I haven’t talked to her yet; I wanted to tell her in person. I don’t want Mike to be the one who tells her”.

“I can do it if you like”.

“Will you let me do it please, Tommy?”

“Okay; I’ll wake Emma up, and we’ll be down there as fast as we can”.

“Right; see you in a few minutes, then”.

“Okay”. Pressing the ‘end’ button, I turned on my bedside light, got out of bed, pulled on my dressing gown, and went across the landing to Emma’s bedroom. Knocking softly on the door, I called, “Em?”

“What is it?” she replied in a sleepy voice.

“We need to get down to the hospital”.

I heard the creaking of the bed, and after a moment the door opened; her hair was messy from sleep, and her eyes were screwed up against the hallway light. “Is it Grandpa?”

“Yes; Becca says he’s fading fast”.

She nodded; “I was thinking yesterday that it might be soon. Just give me five minutes to get dressed and brush my teeth”.

“Becca wants us to hurry so that she can leave the hospital to go get Grandma”.

“Right – I’ll be as fast as I can”.

******

Ten minutes later I was backing my car out of our parking spot; it had been raining for several hours, and the water was lying in puddles on the surface of the road. As I put the car into gear and pulled away, Emma took out her mobile phone; “Shall I call Wendy and the kids?”

“Sure – thank you”.

I heard her keying in the number, and a moment later she said, “Wendy – it’s Emma. Sorry to wake you up; Dad and I are in the car on the way down to the hospital and I thought we’d better call you… Yes, Becca called us a few minutes ago and told us he’s fading fast”.

She listened for a moment, and then said, “I can’t see why not”. Covering the phone with her hand, she said, “Is there any reason why Wendy and Lisa shouldn’t come down to the hospital?”

“None whatsoever; Dad and Mum would want that”.

Emma spoke into the phone again; “He says Grandpa and Grandma would want that… Right, we’ll see you down there”. Closing the flap on the phone, she said, “Lisa’s at Christ Church tonight, but Wendy’s going to call her and then go and get her; apparently they’ve already talked about what they would do in this situation”.

******

When we got to my father’s room we found a nurse standing beside the bedside talking quietly with Becca. My father was wearing an oxygen mask; his eyes were closed, and I could hear the sound of his laboured breathing as we entered the room. My sister greeted us both with hugs and said, “Right – I’ll go and get Mum”.

“Wait a minute, Becs”, I said; “What’s happening?”

“It’s the pneumonia; he’s never really shaken it”.

“He’s not in a coma, right?” asked Emma.

“No – he doesn’t appear to be conscious, but we assume…”

Emma nodded; “I remember”.

“Of course you do”. Becca reached out to give her another hug, and then asked, “Are you going to be all right?”

“I’ll be okay”.

“Becs, does Rick know?” I asked.

“He’s on his way; he should be here before I get back”.

“Wendy’s coming too”.

“Good – I was hoping you’d let her know. I’d better go, Tommy”.

“Okay”.

She turned and left the room, and we sat down in chairs on either side of my father’s bed, holding his hands, now and then talking quietly to him, not knowing whether or not he could hear us, but wanting to believe that he could.  From time to time I stole glances at Emma; her hair was tied back in a ponytail, her eyes were red from lack of sleep, and I could see the emotion clearly on her face as she watched my father’s tortured breathing.

Alyson and Rick joined us a few minutes later, slipping quietly into the room and moving over to stand beside Emma. When she saw Rick, she got up quickly; “You sit here, Uncle Rick”, she said.

“No, no”, he replied in a quiet voice, putting his hand on her shoulder; “I’ll take my turn in a minute, but for now you stay right where you are”. He glanced across at me; “Has Becca gone for Mum?”

“Yes; she should be back in fifteen minutes or so. Are any of your kids coming?”

“We woke them up and told them but Anna seemed a bit scared of the idea of coming, and Eric and Sarah said they’d stay with her. To be honest, I think they were all a bit scared”.

I nodded; “It’s only natural”.

“I’ll call them in the morning”, said Emma.

We lapsed into silence, Emma and I continuing to hold my father’s hands; my brother moved around the bed to stand at my side, and I saw Alyson put her hand on Emma’s shoulder. After a few minutes the nurse came back into the room, checked the monitors, glanced briefly at my father, and left as quietly as she had come. A couple of times Emma reached out and stroked my father’s emaciated face. “I love you, Grandpa”, she whispered.

Becca and Mike arrived a few minutes later with my mother. I could see the tiredness in her eyes, and as she came around the bed I got to my feet to give her a hug; “You look exhausted”.

“I didn’t sleep. I think somehow I knew this would be the night”.

I stepped back from the bed and she took her place beside my father on the chair I had been using. Taking his hand, she said, “I’m here, Frank, and the children are all here too”.

I put my hand on her shoulder; she glanced up at me and said, “Did you ring Wendy?”

“She’s on her way, but she had to go into town to get Lisa at Christ Church”.

“Good”.

Wendy and Lisa arrived a few minutes later, both of them showing evidence of hasty dressing. By then Rick had taken Emma’s place across the bed from my mother, and Emma and Lisa stepped back into the corner of the room, talking in low tones. Wendy came around the bed to where I was standing; I put my arm around her shoulders, and felt the comforting touch of her hand on my back. “Is Colin okay?” I asked her.

“He’s fine. I told him what was going on and asked him if he wanted to come, but I think he was a bit nervous about the idea of being here when your dad died”.

“I understand; not everyone’s comfortable with that kind of thing”.

We kept vigil at my father’s bedside for the rest of the night. Nurses came in to check the monitors at regular intervals, and a doctor in a white lab coat spent a few minutes in the room, taking my father’s vital signs and talking quietly with Becca. At some point Emma resumed her place at my father’s side, holding his hand, and now and then talking quietly to him.

At about four-thirty Wendy and I went out to the parking lot for a breath of fresh air. The rain had stopped, but the air was still cool and damp and I was glad I had put my coat on. We leaned against the back of a bench, our arms around each other’s shoulders. “How are you doing?” she asked.

“Okay; a bit sad, of course”.

“It’s alright to be sad”.

“I know”.

We stood there in silence for a few minutes, neither of us needing to say anything; I was enjoying the warmth of bodily contact, and it came to me that it had been a long time since I had experienced anything more than brief hugs from people. 

She spoke softly; “Your dad’s got his family around him”.

“Yes. I think he’d have preferred it to be at home, but we all knew that wasn’t going to be possible”. I gave a heavy sigh; “It was the same with Kelly. She spent the better part of the last three months of her life at University Hospital in Saskatoon”.

“Is that where she died?”

“Yes”.

“Was the family all there?”

I opened my mouth to answer, but suddenly she shook her head in annoyance at herself. “I’m sorry; that’s such an insensitive question for me to ask you on a night like this! Forgive me, Tom; I don’t know what I was thinking”.

“Don’t worry about it. And I will tell you about Kelly’s death soon; there was something really special and unusual that happened at the end”.

At that moment Lisa emerged from the doors of the hospital and walked slowly over towards us. “Am I intruding?” she asked.

“Not at all”, I replied. “Is everything pretty much the same in there?”

“His breathing’s getting a bit quieter”.

“Are you all right?” Wendy asked her.

Lisa nodded; “A bit tired, and a bit sad”.

“I’m glad you’re here”, I said.

“Thanks, Dad”. She shrugged helplessly; “It seems somehow unfair, doesn’t it?”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, I get a new grandfather, and then a year later I lose him”. She smiled at me; “I actually rather like him”.

“Yeah – he’s rather grown on me, too”. I straightened my back, stifled a yawn, and said, “Well, perhaps we’d better go back inside”.

******

My father died just after six o’clock in the morning. For the last hour of his life we could clearly hear his breathing getting shallower, and eventually it just seemed to fade away into silence and stillness. Emma and my mother were sitting on either side of the bed, holding his hands; Wendy and Lisa and I were standing behind my mother, with Becca and Mike beside us, and Rick and Alyson on the other side of the bed. A doctor had slipped into the room at around five forty-five, and it was he who finally checked my father’s vital signs, looked up at us, and said, “It’s over”.

Becca knelt down beside my mother and put her arms around her, and for a few minutes they held each other; I could hear the sound of my mother’s quiet weeping, and I could see the tears on Becca’s face, too. Emma had gotten to her feet, her face stricken; I moved around the bed and took her in my arms. I felt her body begin to shake and I held her close. “You were with him all night”, I whispered; “That was exactly what he would have wanted”.

I felt her nodding her head against my shoulder. “I wanted to do that for him” she sobbed; “I really wanted to stay with him to the end”.

“And you did”.

After a few minutes, I felt the shaking of her body subsiding; she stepped back, wiped the tears from her eyes with a Kleenex from her pocket, and said, “I need to go out and call the other kids”.

“Are you going to call Colin too?”

“Lisa’s going to do that”.

I felt Becca’s hand on my shoulder, and as I turned to face her she spoke to me in a low voice; “We need to give Mum a few minutes in here by herself”.

“Right. I expect there are some formalities that need to be looked after, aren’t there?”

“Nothing that can’t wait until later in the day”.

“Okay”.

******

Wendy invited us back to her house for breakfast, and while we were there Rick made the initial calls to the funeral director. My father had made most of the arrangements months before, and the staff already knew exactly what he wanted. “Mum and I are the executors”, Rick said to me, “but Jack Marlowe’s got the will. He’s the one who made it up for Dad”.

“I thought Jack was retired?”

“He is, but he’s still got an office and a filing cabinet at our place”. He gave me a wry grin; “He likes to come in and read there a couple of times a week, but he doesn’t interfere with stuff unless we ask for his help”.

“There are some additional instructions that the funeral home might not know about”, said my mother. “Frank wrote them down a couple of months ago. They’re at home in his study; I know exactly where to find them”.

“We’ve got a meeting at the funeral director’s first thing Monday morning”, said Rick. “We’ve got the 15th booked as a tentative date for the service, so that gives us lots of time to make sure all the arrangements are right. But today, the thing we all need is to get some rest”.

My mother looked at him quietly for a moment and then nodded, reaching up and kissing him on the cheek. “You’re right, of course”, she said quietly. “I know I can leave it in your hands”.

Rick glanced around at Becca and me. “Between the three of us, I think we can manage”.

******

Emma and I drove my mother home to Northwood in the middle of the afternoon; by now she was totally exhausted, and we managed to persuade her to go to bed for a while. Becca had gone into the clinic for a few hours, but she had told us she and Mike would come out in time to help us cook supper.

“Emma and I may as well stay at Mum’s tonight”, I said. “With tomorrow being Saturday, we’ll have the weekend to give her any help she needs”.

“We might do that too”, Becca replied.

Wendy had been standing quietly in the background, but now she stepped forward and put her hand on my arm. “If there’s anything I can do…”.

Becca nodded; “Mum will want you to be involved, Wendy. You and the kids are part of our family; we all know how Dad felt about that”.

I put my arm around Wendy and kissed her on the forehead. “I’ll call you later on; do you think you might come out over the weekend?”

“If that’s alright”.

“Absolutely”.

******

On Sunday morning Emma and I went to church in Northwood with Wendy and my mother. Emma and Lisa had decided that they would look after Sunday dinner; they had started working on it before church, and Lisa had stayed behind to continue the preparations with a little help from Colin. Rick and his family had told us they would not be out until later in the afternoon, but there were still nine of us sitting around the kitchen table for dinner, including Auntie Brenda who had come out to be with my mother.

We sat around the table for a long time afterwards, talking and reminiscing, and it was about two-thirty by the time we finally started clearing up and taking things back to the kitchen. My mother put the leftover food into containers to go into the fridge, and Becca and I were just starting to do the dishes when my mobile phone rang. I took it from my pocket and put it to my ear; “Hello?”

“Tom, it’s Will”.

“Will! This is a surprise! It must be pretty early there yet”.

“Eight thirty; we’ll be off to church in an hour or so. How are you? We got your email yesterday afternoon; I’m so sorry about your dad”.

“Thank you; it’s tough, but in some ways it’s a relief, too, you know?”

“I know. Do you guys have a date for the funeral yet?”

“February 15th. The date’s booked, but that’s all we know for sure right now; we’re meeting with the funeral home people tomorrow”.

“Listen, Tom – I’ve got a question for you, and if the answer’s ‘no’ then feel free to say so, okay?”

“Sure; what’s the question?”

“Would it be okay if Sally and I came?”

“Came to the funeral? That’s an expensive trip, Will”.

“You let us worry about that, okay? Is your mum there?”

“She’s right here in the kitchen with us; we’re just cleaning up after Sunday dinner”.

“Do me a favour and ask her right now – as long as it’s okay with you, that is”.

“Absolutely”. I put my hand over the phone. “It’s Will”, I said to my mother. “He wants to know if you’d be okay with him and Sally coming to the funeral”.

She stared at me; “I can’t begin to imagine how much that would cost them”.

“I think they really want to do it; he told me to ask you”.

“Can I talk to him?”

“Of course”. I handed her the phone, and she put it to her ear. “Will? It’s Irene. Just a minute while I take this phone where we can talk in private”. She smiled apologetically at me, and then turned and slipped out of the kitchen.

Becca had been listening as she ran the water in the sink; now she turned off the taps, dried her hands, and turned and kissed me on the cheek. “You’ve got the world’s best in-laws, you know”.

“I’ve always known that”.

“Were you expecting this?”

“No, but somehow I’m not surprised”.

“You’ve always been there for them, Tommy; you’ve been to lots of Reimer and Weins funerals over the years”.

“Well of course – I’m part of their family”.

“They obviously feel the same way about you”.

“I know”. I rolled up my sleeves; “Let’s get started on these dishes”.

My mother returned to the kitchen a minute later and held out the phone to me; “Here’s Will for you”, she said.

I quickly dried my hands and took the phone from her; “Hey, Will”.

“It’s all arranged; I’ll book a flight tomorrow. If you guys have room for us, that’s fine, and if not, we’ll look after ourselves. I know things can get kind of crazy at times like this, with relatives coming out of the woodwork and all that”.

“You’ll stay with Emma and me; we’ve got a spare room”.

“Are you sure? I’ve seen pictures of that house; it doesn’t look too awful big”.

I laughed softly; “Don’t you start on my house, Will Reimer!”

“It’ll be good to see you and Emma again, Tom”.

“Thank you, Will; I’m so glad you’re coming”.

“Hey – you’re our son; you know that”.

“I know, but thank you anyway”.

“You’re welcome. Now, I hear you’ve got dishes to wash, so you’d better get back to them. Give Emma a hug for us, okay?”

“I will”.

******

My father’s funeral took place on February 15th at the Oxford Crematorium. His brothers and sister and their spouses were all present, along with some of their children including my cousin Ann and her husband Mark. Auntie Brenda was there, of course, and a number of my father and mothers’ friends, including Pat Schuster and her daughter Jana. Rick sat at the front with his family, Alyson’s hand in his. Becca and Mike sat beside my mother, and Wendy, Colin and Lisa sat with Emma and me, and Will and Sally. Owen and Lorraine were a little further back in the chapel, and Owen’s father and mother were with them. Toward the back of the room I saw Jim and Kathy McFarlane with Matthew and Alanna; I had noticed Matthew spending quite a bit of time with Emma in the days since my father’s death, but she had not said anything about it to me, and I had not asked.

My mother had surprised me a couple of days after my father’s death by handing me a sheet of funeral instructions in his handwriting. As I had expected, he had not wanted a standard church ceremony, but in a short note addressed to me at the bottom of the page he had said, “Prayers and observances according to your Mennonite religious tradition may be added at your discretion, Tom”. We had asked Jack Marlowe to lead a short memorial service with stories and remembrances of my father’s life, and at the end Emma read a short passage from the Bible, and I led a simple prayer of thanksgiving. Afterwards there was a reception at Northwood; my mother had insisted on making the arrangements for it, and she had hired a catering company to provide a stand up lunch in the music room at the back of the house.

I made a point of talking to as many people as I could at the reception, but I especially enjoyed catching up with my old friend and honorary cousin, Jana Schuster; I introduced her to Lisa, and soon the two of them were chatting away in German. Over by the piano I could see Wendy sitting with Will and Sally; she had taken to them immediately, and they had gradually warmed to her, although I knew it had been a struggle at first for Sally. Wendy and I had talked about this on the phone a couple of nights after they arrived; “It’s perfectly understandable, Tom”, she said. “She can try to think her way through it as much as she likes, but in her heart I’m taking her daughter’s place, and that’s going to be hard for her to accept”.

“But you’ve been quite clear from day one that you’re not trying to take Kelly’s place”.

“I know that and you know it, but it’s taken you a year to accept it, hasn’t it?”

“I guess you’re right. You usually are”.

She laughed softly; “I think you’re confusing me with some other woman”.

“I don’t think so, Wendy”.

Toward the end of the reception Will and Sally came over to the corner of the room where I was standing talking to Owen and Lorraine. Will looked up at Owen and grinned; “I do believe you’re getting taller, Owen Foster!”

“I think you’re shrinking with old age, Will!”

“Oh, that’s been happening for quite a while!”

They both laughed, and Will glanced at the two of us and said, “It’s really good to see you two together again; it must have been great for you to be this close after all these years away from each other”.

“Actually Tom’s been rather busy”, Owen replied. “Especially in the last few months. I’m hoping I might see a bit more of him now”.

Sally glanced over at Wendy, who was standing by the piano talking with Emma and Colin. “Are we going to get a chance to hear ‘Lincoln Green’ before we go back?” she asked; “We’ve heard about you three for so many years”.

“Would you like to?” said Owen.

“We definitely would”.

“I’ll have to check with our lead singer; she’s got a mind of her own, you know!”

“I already checked with her”, Sally replied mischievously; “She said it was up to you!”

“Oh, well then, I expect we’ll make it happen!”

******

Late the next afternoon we went to the offices of Masefield and Marlowe in Oxford for the reading of my father’s will. My mother had insisted that I bring Wendy with me, which was why we were meeting late in the afternoon, after her last tutorial of the day. As we gathered in my brother’s luxurious office I saw that Becca had brought Mike as well; Jack Marlowe was sitting behind Rick’s desk, and the rest of us took our places on various chairs and sofas around the room.

The will was much as I had expected it to be. He left his share in the house to my mother, and he left educational bequests in the amount of £25,000 each to all of his grandchildren and to Colin, with an additional amount set aside for any grandchildren who might come along in the future. Various smaller bequests were listed, and then the remainder of the investment money was to be divided equally between Rick, Becca, and me. At this point Jack looked up from the document in his hand; “I haven’t got the exact figures yet”, he said.

“I don’t expect there’ll be much after the inheritance taxes”, said Becca.

“No, actually, your father was wealthier than you think”, Jack replied. He told her what my father had told me, about the money he had received from his father and had left in investments. “Inheritance tax doesn’t apply to what he’s left to your mother”, he continued; “bequests to spouses are exempt. For the money he’s left to you three and to the grandchildren, the first £325,000 is tax-free; after that it’s taxed at 40%. As I said, I haven’t got the exact figures, but I’m pretty sure that after taxes and the other bequests, the three of you will be dividing a sum of approximately £550,000 between you”.

There was a stunned silence in the room; from the expressions on the faces of my brother and sister I could tell that my father had not said anything to them beforehand. Becca’s face had gone white; she gripped Mike’s hand and whispered, “Oh my God! I had no idea…!”

“But what about you, Mum?” Rick asked.

“Your Dad and I have had joint bank accounts for years”, my mother replied; “There’s more than enough money in those accounts for me to live comfortably for the rest of my life. Don’t worry, Rick; your Dad and I talked this over very thoroughly before he died”.

Jack Marlowe folded the document in his hands and replaced it in its envelope. “These things take time to wind up”, he said, “so it’ll probably be a couple of months before we’re in a position to actually make any of this money available to you. Meanwhile, if I can be of any help to any of you, don’t hesitate to ask”.

******

Wendy suggested that I tell Lisa and Colin myself about my father’s bequests to them, and so I invited them to come up to our house after supper. Emma and I had a quiet supper with Will and Sally; I didn’t say anything to them about my father’s will, and they seemed to know instinctively that I didn’t want to talk about it. I mentioned to them that Wendy and the children were coming around later, and Emma said, “I’ll make some oatmeal cookies if you like?”

“That’d be fine”.

“Would you like us to make ourselves scarce for a while?” asked Will.

I shook my head; “There’s no need”.

“Are you sure?”

“I am”.

******

Wendy and the children arrived at about eight, just as Emma was taking the first batch of cookies out of the oven. Colin came into our living room, sniffed at the air, and observed, “Something smells very good in here!”

“Fresh oatmeal cookies!” Emma replied with a smile as she came into the living room from the kitchen.

I made a pot of coffee and we sat around the living room, talking quietly about the events of the last few days. Eventually Lisa said to me, “You and Mum haven’t mentioned anything about your meeting today”.

“No”, I replied; “We wanted to get you all together so that we could tell you about it”.

“Were there some surprises, then?”

“Not for me”, I replied, glancing at Wendy; “Dad had discussed it with me a while back. I could tell that it came as a surprise to almost everyone else there, though”.

“What did he do, Dad?” Emma asked softly.

“Well, he turned out to be a much wealthier man than I’d known. He’s left the house and all his money from his own business earnings to my mum, and apparently it’ll be quite adequate for her to live comfortably for the rest of her life. Nothing unusual about that, of course, but there’s more”.

I paused, took a sip of my coffee, and continued. “Apparently he received a pretty substantial inheritance from my grandfather when he died eighteen years ago, and he never touched that money; he simply invested it. Out of that money, he left bequests to all his grandchildren to help with their education. That includes all three of you; he’s left each of you £25,000”.

Lisa’s face went pale; “Oh my God!” she whispered.

“That will pay for your postgraduate degree, if you still want to do it”, Wendy said softly.

“I’d be an ungrateful idiot not to do it, wouldn’t I?”

“But why has he left me money?” asked Colin; “I’m not one of his grandchildren”.

“He wanted to include you”, I replied; “He mentioned that to me specifically”.

“Wow – I wasn’t expecting anything like that. It’ll certainly help with my apprenticeship costs”.

“There’s one more thing”, I said. “Dad’s investment money turned out to be a very large sum. Of course, there are going to be inheritance taxes to pay, but when all that’s been taken care of, he’s left the rest to Rick and Becca and me. It’ll be about £180,000 for each of us”.

There was a stunned silence in the room for a moment, and then Lisa said, “Mum, would you please marry this man, or something?”

Everyone laughed, and I saw Wendy’s face flush. “I’m not so desperate that I need to marry a man for his money!”

“No, but it does add to his many other attractions, doesn’t it?”

Wendy gave me a sympathetic glance. “Actually, I think this is going to be a struggle for you, isn’t it?”

I nodded slowly; “You know me well”.

******

Will and Sally did a few days of touring by themselves before going home. They flew out of Heathrow on the Sunday afternoon a week and a half after my father’s funeral; I drove them to the airport, and after we got them checked in we sat in the café together and had a cup of coffee.

“So”, I said to them, “what did you think of England?”

Sally grinned; “I want to come back when it’s a little warmer!”

“Yeah – February’s not the nicest month”.

“It’s still very beautiful, though”, said Will, “and Oxford’s quite impressive. I’m glad I had the chance to see the place you grew up and the college you went to. And of course the main thing was seeing your mom again, and Becca”.

“Your mom’s amazing, Tom”, said Sally quietly; “I can’t believe how strong she is”.

“She’s not feeling quite so strong in herself. When she’s with the grandchildren she tries to be strong for them, although she doesn’t seem to worry about that with Emma”.

“And Emma’s found herself a boyfriend”, Will observed.

“I think so. She doesn’t say much, and I try not to pry”.

“Glad to see you’re following my good example”, he replied with a twinkle in his eye.

I laughed softly; “You’re my role model, Will!”

“Don’t forget to call and check on her when she’s not expecting it!”

“Oh, I plan to make a real nuisance of myself!”

“What are his plans?” Sally asked.

“Matthew? He wants to change the world, I think”.

“He and Em will be a good match, then”.

“Yeah, but their methodology’s not the same. Matthew’s doing a master’s degree in political science right now, and I think he still wants to get into politics in some form. Em’s more of a ‘change the world by following Jesus’ kind of girl”.

“He’s a Christian too, though, right?”

“Oh yeah, and he’s very thoughtful about it”.

“You like him, then?”

“I really do”.

“So is she going to stay here?” Sally asked quietly.

I shook my head; “I don’t think she knows, Sally. And she’s a smart girl; I think she knows it’s early days with Matthew yet. They haven’t even told me they’re dating, although I suspect they will before too long”.

“It’s obvious how much she loves her cousins”, said Will. “And her sister”.

“That’s been a beautiful thing to watch”, I replied. “Rick and Alyson are really happy about it”.

“You and Rick are getting along okay?”

“Rick and I are getting along very well. Dad and I were, too”.

“You’re going to miss him”.

“I am”, I replied. “For the last year or so, we’d really been enjoying each other’s company”.

“Kelly would have been very happy”, said Sally softly.

“Yes”.

We were quiet for a couple of minutes, sipping our coffee, each of us occupied with our own thoughts. Eventually I cleared my throat and said, “Can I ask you guys something?”

“For sure”, Will replied.

“I’m uneasy about Dad’s money”.

He nodded; “I thought you would be”.

“Wendy and I are the same that way; we’re not too interested in accumulating stuff. And while I can’t deny it would be useful to help with housing costs – not to mention trips back to Meadowvale – I still can’t help feeling awkward about it”.

“It doesn’t sit well with your Anabaptist conscience”, said Sally.

“That’s exactly right”.

“So if you chose not to keep it, what would you do with it?” asked Will.

I shrugged; “I don’t really have any developed thoughts on the matter. I guess that’s partially connected to the fact that I haven’t settled in my own mind what I’m going to do at the end of the school year, either”.

They exchanged glances, and Will said, “Are you sure about that?”

“What do you mean?”

He smiled; “This is me, Tom. You can be honest with me”.

“I’m not trying to be dishonest”.

“You and Wendy are in love with each other”.

I nodded; “We are”.

“And you’re a lucky man; she’s a wonderful woman and you’re well suited to each other”.

“I think so”.

“Are you going to ask her to marry you?”

I shook my head slowly; “You’re way ahead of us there. It took me the better part of a year to admit to myself that I was falling in love with her”.

“Because you weren’t over Kelly yet”.

“Because I didn’t even want to be over Kelly yet”.

He looked at me steadily for a moment, and then he said, “But you’re not going to want to leave Wendy and move back to Meadowvale, Tom”.

I shook my head. “No”, I whispered, “I don’t think so. I’m really sorry. It’s not just Wendy – it’s Lisa and Colin, and my mum, and Becca and Mike, and Rick and Alyson and the kids…”

“Your mom’s going to need some help”, Sally observed.

“Yes, she is”.

“It’s okay, Tom”, said Will, putting his hand on my arm. “We’ll miss you like crazy, but you have to do what you think you’re meant to be doing. And it’s pretty clear to me what you’re meant to be doing”.

“Me too”, said Sally, with tears in her eyes, “Although I hate the thought of you and Em being so far away”.

“We hate it too”, I whispered, feeling the emotion welling up inside; “You have to believe that”.

Will nodded; “We do”.

“You guys will always be a mother and father to me. Nothing’s ever going to change that”.

“We know”, he replied, “and because we’re a mother and father to you, we want our son to be happy. We don’t want him to be sad and lonely for the rest of his life”.

“Agreed”, Sally said, taking out a tissue to wipe her eyes.

“We’re always going to be coming to visit”, I said.

“We know that. And if we think you’re neglecting us, we’ll unleash our secret weapon”.

“What secret weapon is that?”

“Beth; she can be pretty persuasive”.

I laughed softly; “Yes she can”, I agreed.

******

Link to Chapter 37

‘A Time to Mend’ Chapter 35

Link to Chapter 34

******

For the next few days we spent every spare minute at the hospital. My mother was at my father’s bedside almost every waking moment, going to Becca and Mike’s flat each night around ten and returning the next morning as early as the hospital would let her in – usually around nine. Rick and Becca and I managed to persuade her to let us handle the night shifts; she seemed to feel better about leaving my father if one of us remained at the hospital with him, so we took it in turns. Once Emma joined me in my all-night vigil; I fell asleep, and when I woke up at around four in the morning I discovered she and my father talking quietly together. When I asked her later what they had been talking about, she replied, “A lot of things. You and Mom, me, Meadowvale, nursing, Christianity…”

Almost every night Wendy came back with us to the hospital after supper, accompanied either by Lisa or Colin; somehow, without it ever really being talked about, Wendy had taken it upon herself to provide a light supper for us at her house. The only one who raised any question about this was Rick; we were cleaning up the dishes one night before going back, and he protested that she mustn’t keep on putting herself to all this trouble and expense.

“Don’t be silly, Rick”, she replied quietly; “I’m the obvious person to look after it”.

“How’s that?”

“Well, I’m not as emotionally connected as the rest of the family, am I? I mean, I know you call us ‘the extended family’, and that’s really nice of you, but we’re not really in the same category as the rest of you, are we? And you’re all tied up with what’s going on at the hospital; you don’t want to be bothered with worrying about supper every night, and I’m happy to take care of it”.

“But you’ve got to work, and I’m sure you’re a big wheel over at Merton”.

She laughed; “I’m a lowly college tutor, that’s all! I give lectures, lead tutorials and produce paper – and with a little effort at rearranging things, most days I can get away a bit earlier”.

“Well, we appreciate it. And by the way, I don’t think we’re going to let you get away with that ‘not really in the same category as the rest of us’ line. Did my brother tell you that? Tom, did you tell her she wasn’t really in the same category as the rest of us?”

I had been bending to load the dishwasher; I straightened up, leaned on the kitchen counter, and said, “Not that I remember. Maybe it was Em; hey, Em”, I called, “did you tell Wendy she wasn’t really in the same category as the rest of us?”

Emma put her head around the door of the kitchen. “Not in the same category?” she replied with a frown; “So how come she’s doing all this cooking for us? And anyway, she’s Lisa’s mom, and Lisa’s my sister – sounds pretty connected to me!”

Wendy smiled at us; “You’re all very kind”, she said gently.

Rick shook his head; “The kindness is definitely working both ways. Thank you”.

******

Owen and I weren’t seeing much of each other, but he called me most nights to check on the situation. One night when we stayed particularly late at the hospital he left a message on my answering machine; it was just after ten-thirty when we got home, but I called him back right away to explain. “Dad was in quite a lot of pain”, I said, “and they were trying to adjust his meds. Mum wanted to stay to see if they could get the situation resolved”.

“Did they?”

“Not completely. There’s really not a lot they can do”.

“Is this from his femur?”

“Yes”.

“Is the tumour still growing?”

 “Yes, and he’s really not strong enough for them to do the targeted radiation any more”.

“Is he still communicative?”

“Oh yeah – there’s nothing wrong with his mind. He sleeps a lot, though; they’ve got him on a pretty high dose of pain meds”.

“How’s everybody else doing?”

“Mum’s exhausting herself. We’re trying to make sure she gets enough rest, but I don’t really have the heart to lay the law down about that. I remember what it’s like; you want to be there every minute you possibly can. And personally, I don’t think it’s going to go on much longer”.

“Are they saying anything about that?”

“Not really; it’s just a hunch”.

“Well, you’ve seen it before”.

“Yeah”.

“Are you finding that hard?”

“Yes, but there’s nothing I can do about that”.

“Well, let me know if you need a coffee break, alright? Any time of the day or night, I’ll make it work”.

“Thanks, mate”.

“And give my love to Emma – and Wendy”.

“I will”.

******

The next night Emma and I got home around ten; we hung up our coats in the hallway, and as we moved into the living room she said, “I’ll make the hot chocolate”.

“Okay”. I glanced at the answer phone; the message light was blinking steadily. “I’ll check for messages”, I said; “It’s probably Owen again”.

As Emma went out to the kitchen I pressed the button on the answer phone. The machine beeped, and I heard the voice of Mickey Kingsley. “Tom – Mickey here. I’m going to be in Oxford over the weekend; I’ve got a contract to take the photos for a story someone’s doing on one of the colleges. Ring me at home, please; I’d like to meet with you while I’m there”.

Emma walked slowly back into the living room. “He’s coming to Oxford?” she said.

“Apparently”.

“Are you going to call him back?”

“I’ll call him in the morning before I go to work; it’s a bit late now”.

“What are you going to say?”

“I really don’t know”.

******

Emma was meeting another student for an early coffee and study time the next morning, so she left the house just after seven. I went out for a walk, and when I returned I put some toast in the toaster, poured myself a cup of tea and sat down to call Mickey. I keyed in the number of his London flat; I heard the phone ring three times before it was picked up, and to my surprise a woman’s voice said, “Hello?”

“I’m sorry”, I said. “Perhaps I’ve got the wrong number; I was looking for Mickey Kingsley”.

“Mickey’s gone to work already; can I take a message?”

“I’m sorry – who am I speaking to?”

“This is Marina”.

I hesitated, and then said, “Are you related to Mickey?”

“Who wants to know?”

“This is Tom Masefield calling from Oxford. Mickey left me a message last night; I got in late, and I’m returning his call at the earliest opportunity”.

“Ah, yes, sorry – we’ve talked about you. I’m Mickey’s girlfriend”.

I was astonished; “Mickey’s girlfriend?”

“What’s the matter?” she asked icily; “Isn’t he allowed to have one?”

“Of course – I’m sorry, he just never mentioned to me…”

“Have you got his mobile number?”

“Yes”.

“Ring him on his mobile then”.

She hung up, and for a moment I sat there motionless with the phone in my hand. Then I shook my head, pressed the ‘end’ button, and put it down on the kitchen table. Getting to my feet I went over to the counter, took my toast from the toaster and spread peanut butter on it. Taking it back to the table I sat down again, picked up the phone, and called Wendy’s number.

“You’re up early this morning”, she observed.

“I’m always up early; I’m just not in the habit of making early phone calls”.

“Something wrong?”

“Did you know that Mickey has a girlfriend?”

“A girlfriend?”

“Apparently”.

“No, I didn’t know that. Well, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised; he’s a handsome devil and he’s never been able to go without sex for any length of time. How did you find out?”

“There was a message for me to ring him when we got home last night. I rang his house this morning, a couple of minutes ago, and a woman answered. When I asked who she was, she said she was Mickey’s girlfriend, Marina”.

“Marina? Interesting…”

“Do you know her?”

“Well, it’s not a common name, is it? A couple of years before we broke up he did some photographic work for the Spencer family – you know, the family Princess Diana comes from? Marina was a distant relative – sort of a ‘third cousin, once removed’, you know? I think she was a sort of fashion designer in London. If it’s the same Marina, he’s known her for a long time. Very posh”.

“I’m not sure – she didn’t say anything about herself”.

“What did Mickey want?”

“He wasn’t there – he’d already left for work, but I knew what he wanted; he’d told me in the message he left last night. He’s coming to Oxford this weekend and he wants to meet with me”.

“He’s coming to Oxford?” I heard the sudden chill in her voice.

“Apparently”.

“When, exactly?”

“I’m not sure; I haven’t spoken to him yet”.

She was silent for a moment, and then she said, “Could you do something for me, Tom?”

“Of course”.

“Could you find out exactly when he’s going to be here?”

“Are you going to go away for the weekend?”

“Yes; I’ll ring Rees and arrange to take Lisa and Colin down to Chelmsford. I’ll also ask Rees to ring Mickey and lay down the law”.

“Wendy, are you all right?”

“He’s never done this before”, she replied in a voice suddenly devoid of emotion; “He’s never come to Oxford since he got out of jail”.

“Is there anything I can do?”

“Just find out when he’s going to be here”.

“I will. I love you”.

“I love you too”.

******

I met Mickey for morning coffee on Saturday at the Randolph Hotel. I had stipulated that it be fairly early, as I had schoolwork to do and I also wanted to spend as much time as possible at the hospital with my father. Mickey had readily agreed; he had work to do and only a weekend to do it in, he said, so why didn’t we have breakfast together? I had been on the brink of agreeing when I suddenly found myself feeling very strange about the thought of Mickey, the man who had once broken the jaw of the woman I had come to love, treating me to breakfast at the Randolph. So I used Emma as an excuse; I enjoyed having breakfast with my daughter on weekends, I said, and I proposed coffee at 9.30 instead.

If Mickey had wanted to intimidate me by his success in his chosen profession, he could not have chosen a better location to do it. The drawing room at the Randolph had chandeliers hanging from a high ceiling, polished wood paneling on the walls, a large fireplace, and elegant tables covered with white tablecloths. It was already filling up, even at this early hour; the maître d’ directed me toward the far corner of the room, and as I approached the table I saw Mickey sitting there alone, a cup of coffee at his elbow, reading the newspaper.

I stopped for a moment, looking at the man who had loomed so large in the lives of Wendy and her children. He was still wearing his curly hair long, but it had gone almost completely grey, and he was wearing a pair of reading glasses as he studied the newspaper. There were lines around his eyes, but with his long patrician nose, high cheekbones, and cleft chin, he was wearing his years well. Wendy was right, I thought; he was still a handsome devil, and the clothes he was wearing – casual, yet obviously expensive – were carefully chosen to underline the youthfulness of his appearance.

He glanced up from his newspaper, saw me standing there, and got to his feet. “Welcome, Tom”, he said, holding out his hand with a bright smile.

I took his outstretched hand; “How are you feeling, Mickey?” I asked.

“Better, thanks. You’re looking well; the years have been good to you. Have a seat”.

“Thanks”.

“Coffee?”

“That would be great”.

He signalled for a waiter, ordered a second cup of coffee, and then turned to face me again. “So – still teaching, then?”

“Yes – I seem to have settled into it”.

“Bit of a difference between Canada and here, I should think?”

“Canada’s more laid back. Discipline’s a bit better here, but I don’t care for school uniforms any more – I’m used to a less formal approach”.

“Really? I seem to remember your father being a rather conservative lawyer or something like that”.

“Yes, but I didn’t pick up many of my habits from him”.

The waiter arrived with my coffee; he set it down on the table, and I thanked him as he turned to go. Mickey waited until I had taken a sip and then said, “So are you and Wendy a couple now?”

I cradled my coffee cup in my hand, eyed him for a moment, and said, “Tell me about Marina”.

“What do you want to know?”

“Well, maybe I’ve been misreading you, but over the past few months you’ve rung me a couple of times, and whenever you’ve talked about Wendy and asked about our relationship you’ve sounded rather jealous and possessive. If I’d been going by your tone, the last thing in the world I’d have expected would have been that you had a girlfriend”.

He avoided my gaze. “Wendy’s obviously moving on; why shouldn’t I?”

“No reason at all – except that when you talked to me you didn’t sound like a man who was moving on”.

“And what about you – are you two moving in together?”

“No”.

“Is her newfound religion making it difficult for you?”

For a moment I didn’t answer; I sipped at my coffee, looking at him steadily. Putting the cup down on the table, I said, “What do you know about my life after I went to Canada?”

“Nothing. I know you came back with a daughter; I’m assuming she has a mother somewhere in Canada”.

“She had a mother in Canada, yes. My wife Kelly died of cancer, four years ago this coming May”.

He stared at me for a moment, and then said, “Well, I put my foot in my mouth with that one, didn’t I? I’m very sorry; I didn’t know”.

“No, and there are a few other things you don’t know, either. Kelly and I met in my first year in Saskatchewan; her last name was Reimer, and she came from a Mennonite family. She’d moved away from her family faith as a young teenager, but was on her way back into it when we met. I was curious about that, too, and I ended up making that faith journey with her. We lived our married life as practicing Christians, and Emma and I have carried that on. So when you asked if Wendy’s newfound religion was getting in the way of something – well, you couldn’t have been more wrong about that, either”.

He smiled ruefully; “Shall we start again?”

“I think that would be a good idea”.

“Tell me what you’ve been up to since the last time we met”.

So I told him about my move to Meadowvale and how the community had adopted me, about Will and his family and my growing relationship with them, and about my marriage to Kelly. I told him about Emma’s birth and Kelly’s bouts with cancer, about our trips to England and Mexico, and about Kelly’s death and how Emma and I had dealt with it. Finally I told him about my father’s illness and our decision to come to England, and my surprise at finding Colin in my class and meeting Wendy again.

“Quite a story”, he said when I was finished.

“I don’t know – it seems pretty ordinary to me. What about you – what have you been up to?”

“No need to play ignorant with me, Tom; I’m sure Wendy’s given you the gory details”.

“To a certain extent, yes”.

“I lost my marriage, and I went to jail, but I’ve managed to crawl out of that hole and I’m actually doing quite well for myself at the moment”.

“I hear your career’s going well”.

“I’ve been lucky; I got some good contracts early on, and my name got around. I’ve developed a bit of a reputation for going to hot spots and taking photographs; I tend to be one of the first ones newsmagazines call on when they want pictures taken in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. You know – all the places you need to wear a flak jacket”.

“You were in Afghanistan too?”

“I was. Actually, I was there several times before the invasion. One of the American magazines did a feature on the Taliban and I did the photography for them. I’ve been in the Sudan a few times, too, and I was in Rwanda while the genocide was going on”.

“It sounds like an exciting life”.

“Well, this is the first time I’ve actually been injured in the pursuit of photographs, and I have to tell you, it’s caused me to think again about my exciting life. I don’t know if I want to go back”.

“I guess not”.

“Still, I’ve done well financially; I can afford to take it easy for a while”.

“Except that you’re not taking it easy this weekend – you’re working, and rather soon after your release from hospital, too”.

“Yes, well, I wouldn’t have taken the job if it hadn’t been in Oxford”.

“Oh?”

“It gave me an excuse to come up and see you”.

“So this whole work trip was just a pretext?”

“To a certain extent, yes”.

I put my coffee cup down on the table slowly. “I don’t like the feeling of being manipulated, Mickey”.

“I’m sorry you see it that way – I wasn’t trying to manipulate you”.

“When someone hides part of the truth from me in order to get me to do what they want, I call that manipulation”.

“Call it what you like”, he replied, his tone suddenly cold.

We looked at each other in silence for a moment, and then I saw him glance behind me. “Ah – Marina’s here”, he said.

“Marina?”

“Yes – she came for the weekend with me”. He stood up slowly, a smile spreading on his face, and I turned in my chair to see a woman coming toward the table. I guessed her to be in her late thirties; her brown hair hung loose behind her back, and she was wearing designer jeans and a white jacket, her face discreetly made up. I got to my feet as Mickey put his hand on her arm; “Tom Masefield, may I introduce Marina Spencer? Marina, this is Tom”.

She took my hand with a dazzling smile; “I’m delighted to meet you”, she said.

“Likewise; sorry we got off to a shaky start on the phone the other day”.

“I’m sorry, too”.

We sat down again, and Mickey signalled for a waiter. “Coffee?” he asked Marina.

“Yes, please”.

“How’s yours, Tom?”

“I’d enjoy another cup if you’re ordering, thanks”.

“Of course”.

He ordered fresh coffee for us all, and then turned to Marina and said, “Tom was just filling me in on everything that’s been happening since he went to Canada all those years ago – it’s a fascinating story. He’s been teaching in a small town for over twenty years”.

“I take it you enjoyed it?” she asked me.

“I did; the place became home”.

“Have you got a family?”

“One daughter. I’m a widower, actually”.

“Oh – I’m sorry”.

“What about you?” I asked.

“I’m a fashion designer of sorts. I own a little company in London. Never married, no children, but I’ve got lots of uncles and aunts and cousins and nieces and nephews and all that”.

“Are you from London originally?”

“Yes, I was born and raised there, but my family’s from Northamptonshire, and I’ve still got lots of relatives in the Midlands”.

“So you’re from the famous Spencer family, are you?”

She nodded; “I am”.

“And how long have you two been together?”

It was Mickey who replied. “We’ve known each other for quite a long time actually. I did some work for some of Marina’s relatives and they wanted some photographs taken on an estate of theirs in the Midlands – not Althorp, but another property. I was between jobs at the time, and they contacted me about it. I went up for the weekend, and that’s where I met Marina”.

“We kept in touch in London”, she continued, “and I moved in with Mickey about nine months ago”.

A waiter appeared silently at our table, a tray of coffee cups in his hand. We waited while he set the cups on the table; I thanked him, and he nodded and slipped away without a word.

“So how are you getting on with Lisa?” Mickey asked me.

“Fine; I’m enjoying her, actually”.

“She’s done well for herself at Oxford, I hear?”

“She’s very bright, yes”. I took a sip of my coffee, glanced at my watch, and said, “I can’t stay for too long, Mickey – was there something you specifically wanted to talk about with regard to Colin?”

He nodded; “He’s my son”, he said, “and I’m very sorry that I’m not allowed to see him”.

“He emails you, doesn’t he?”

“Occasionally. Usually I have to prod him a bit to get a reply”. He hesitated, gave a little frown, and then said, “Tom, you’re obviously quite fond of Wendy so I don’t want to cast aspersions or anything, but the fact is, she’s done a good job of turning Colin against me”.

I looked him in the eye; “I think you did a pretty good job of that yourself”.

“I’m not surprised she’s said the same sorts of things to you”.

I sipped at my coffee slowly, trying to gather my thoughts. Shifting a little in my chair, I said, “Here’s what I know. A couple of years after Lisa was born you started hitting Wendy, and you did it regularly for the next twelve years – sometimes when you were alone with her and sometimes in front of the children. Of course Wendy took the blame for a lot of this – abused women tend to do that – but she drew the line after twelve years of abuse when you attacked Lisa as well. Colin’s afraid of you, but not because of anything Wendy’s told him; it’s because of what he remembers about life at home with you. And Lisa hates you, plain and simple – in fact, when she found out I was even having a conversation with you it made things very difficult between us for a while”.

He shook his head; “I can see they’ve poisoned your mind, too”.

“I should think so!” Marina added hotly; “I’ve been living with him for nine months, and I’ve never seen any of this so-called abusive behaviour!”

I put my coffee cup down on the table. “Look – I don’t want to get into an argument with either of you. The facts about Wendy and Lisa’s injuries are a matter of medical record, Mickey, and you know that. Still, you tell me you’re trying to get your life together and you want to have some contact with your son in the future, and I think that’s good. But it’s not going to happen if you continue to deny responsibility for what’s happened between the two of you”.

“So you deny that she’s influenced Colin in any way?” asked Marina.

“Have you met Wendy?”

“Of course not – Mickey’s not allowed to have any contact with her”.

“Then I think you should reserve judgement”.

“What do you mean?”

“Exactly what I say: I think you should reserve judgement. You’re claiming I’ve only got Wendy’s word to back up the abuse stories. Actually that’s not true – I’ve heard them from Colin and Lisa too, and Rees Howard was the one who found Wendy and Lisa after Mickey assaulted them”. She opened her mouth to protest, but I held up my hand and said, “Hear me out. You’ve implied that I’ve only got Wendy’s word to go on, but the same is true for you: you’ve only got Mickey’s word to go on. And if you tell me that you love Mickey and you know he’d never lie to you, I’d respond that I love Wendy and I know she wouldn’t lie to me, either”.

“So she told you the truth about Lisa being your daughter immediately, did she?” asked Mickey sarcastically; “Right from day one?”

“That’s different. She concealed that from me because she was afraid of me getting angry if I found out the truth”.

“So you can’t say she’s always been truthful with you”.

“I think that’s in a different category”.

“Of course you do”, Marina replied; “It’s no surprise that you would take her side”.

I could feel myself getting annoyed with Marina’s presence, but I was determined not to lose the initiative in the conversation. “Let me ask you this”, I said to Mickey; “Do you deny the court record from your trial? Do you deny the truth of the medical records from that assault on Wendy and Lisa?”

“You know I can’t deny them”, he replied, avoiding my gaze; “All I’m saying is that they were more of an isolated incident than Wendy made out. She had a very good lawyer, and the courts are always biased against the husband in cases like this”.

“So we’re basically at an impasse. You insist that Wendy’s lying about the extent of the abuse; she maintains she’s not. Meanwhile, you want me to work for a reconciliation between you and Colin”.

He laughed grimly; “I’m not simple enough to believe that you would do that. All I’m asking is that you not get in the way”.

“How could I possibly get in the way? I’m not his dad and I have absolutely no authority or influence in his life”.

“Really? Are you sure?”

“What do you mean?”

“I think you actually have a growing influence in his life. In the few emails I’ve had from him in the last few months he’s spoken very highly of you. He really enjoys it when you and Emma take him out walking or canoeing; he loved that walking trip you made to the Peak District last year. He doesn’t say much about how he feels, but he doesn’t need to – it’s easy to read between the lines”.

“Still, if I tried to put any pressure on him to do something he didn’t want to do, I’d get nowhere – he knows his own mind”.

“All I’m asking is that you not try to influence him against me”.

“I think reconciliation between you and Colin would be a good thing, Mickey; I just don’t think it can happen unless you’re willing to admit the truth about the past – to him, and to yourself. I understand why you don’t want to do that. I know how hard it would be for you to have to admit the damage you’ve done in Wendy’s life, and the lives of her children”.

He smiled indulgently; “Well, as I said, I’m not surprised that you believe everything Wendy’s told you – and I can’t really blame you for it. Just keep an open mind, please, and remember – it’s not wrong for a man to want to see his son occasionally”.

“I’m sure it’s not”, I replied, draining my coffee cup and getting to my feet. “Look, I have to go; my Dad’s very weak, and I need to go to the hospital to spend some time with him”.

“Of course”, he replied, standing up and holding out his hand. “Thanks for coming out, Tom; I hope things go better for your father”.

“Thank you”. I shook his hand, then turned to Marina and said, “It was good to meet you”.

“And you”, she replied, but the expression on her face was cold.

“Keep in touch”, said Mickey.

“I can’t promise anything; my life is rather hectic at the moment”. I smiled at them both again, then turned and made my way out.

******

Link to Chapter 36

‘A Time to Mend’ Chapter 34

Link back to Chapter 33

******

Emma and I went out to Northwood on Friday January 16th and stayed until after lunch Saturday. We had planned to stay a little longer, but it became clear that my father was not up to it. He was in some pain from the cancer in his femur, which had begun to grow again; he was was very weak and thin, he could not get warm, and he was finding it hard to keep any food down.

“You should get him into hospital, Mum”, I said to her as we were leaving. “Do you want me to call an ambulance?”

She shook her head; “He doesn’t want to go – he’d rather stay at home”.

“And who wouldn’t, if they had the choice? But can you really look after him here?”

“At the moment I’m alright”.

“Do you want me to stay and help you, Grandma?” asked Emma. “I can skip classes for a few days if you want”.

“That would be the last thing your grandpa would want, darling; it means a lot to him that you’re doing you’re nursing training and that you’re enjoying it”.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to call an ambulance?” I asked.

“I’m very sure”.

“Well, you ring us if you need anything, alright? I’ll leave my cell on”.

“I have your number, and Becca’s too. I promise if I need help I’ll call one of you”.

******

I talked to her before church on Sunday morning; she said my father had been coughing a lot during the night and she was quite worried about him, but he still refused to let her call an ambulance. I asked if she wanted us to go back out, but she said no; it was better if the place was quiet for him. When I asked her if she was all right, she said “I’m a bit tired, Tom, but I’ll be fine”.

“Are you sure you don’t want one of us to come out?”

She hesitated, and then said “I’ll ring you later on in the afternoon, alright?”

“Of course; I’ll wait for your call”.

******

Rick called early in the afternoon to see what we were doing. “Alyson and I were thinking of getting some Indian food in”, he said, “and then it occurred to us that we’ve never actually had our three families together. I just got off the phone with Becca, and she and Mike are coming over. What about you and Emma and the extended family?”

“Today’s the first day of the new university term”, I replied, “and classes start tomorrow, so Wendy and Lisa are both horrendously busy. We’re trying our best to stay out of their way for a couple of days”.

“Oh, right. Well – do you and Emma want to come over?”

“Sure”.

******

We ate our supper on paper plates in the den. The young people sat in one corner, talking quietly; Emma had brought her guitar with her and she and Eric had already played a few songs together. Alyson and Rick were in the easy chairs by the fireplace, and Becca and Mike took one of the couches, sitting close to each other, leaning toward each other for the occasional kiss. Rick had opened a bottle of wine, Mike had brought some beer, and Alyson had brewed some coffee for those who were not interested in anything stronger.

We were just finishing up the last of the food when Becca’s mobile phone rang. She rummaged for it in her bag, put it to her ear, and said, “Becca Masefield…Oh hi Mum…yes, we’re all here…”. She was silent for a moment, and I saw the expression on her face change. “When was he admitted?” she asked.

The conversation in the room stopped, and everyone was suddenly watching Becca; Alyson had just brought a fresh pot of coffee into the room, and was standing beside me, holding it in her hand. Becca was listening intently, and after a couple of minutes she said, “Right – I’ll tell the others. I’ll be there in a few minutes, Mum”. She closed the phone, dropped it into her bag and got to her feet. “Dad’s been admitted to the JR; they took him in an ambulance this afternoon. He’s coughing a lot and he’s having trouble breathing; it sounds like pneumonia to me”.

“You’re going over?” I asked.

“I’m going right now”. She held out her hand to Mike; “Will you come?”

“Of course”, he replied, getting to his feet; “I’ll drive”.

“Should we all come?” asked Rick. “What do you think, Becca?”

“You and Tommy and I should be there anyway; we probably won’t be able to see Dad for a while, but at least we can sit with Mum”.

“I want to come too”, said Emma.

“Right”, I said, getting to my feet; “Let’s go”.

******

We found my mother in an almost empty waiting room, sitting in a corner with a cup of cold coffee in her hand. When she saw us she got to her feet, the relief plain on her face; we exchanged hugs with her, and Becca asked what was happening. When she heard that no one had been out to talk to my mother for a while she frowned and said, “I’m going to find out what’s going on here. I’ll be back soon”.

Rick and Emma and I sat in the corner with my mother for a few minutes; her face was grey with exhaustion, and there were dark circles under her eyes. “What happened?” I asked, putting my hand on hers.

“You were right”, she replied apologetically; “We should have called an ambulance last night, but he didn’t want to come back into hospital, so I let him persuade me not to. I should have called Becca, I know, but I didn’t. Anyway, he didn’t sleep much; he was coughing all night long, and of course he had to sit up to be able to breathe properly. But even this morning he wouldn’t let me call an ambulance; it wasn’t until this afternoon that he got so short of breath that he gave in”.

Rick and I sat on either side of her, holding her hands, until Becca emerged from the Intensive Care Unit. She came over and sat down across from us. “You can go through, Mum”, she said; “They’ve got him on oxygen and antibiotics”.

“What about the rest of us?” I asked.

“I’ll just take Mum for now; there’s only room for two visitors at a time”.

So while my mother went through with Becca to the ICU the rest of us sat in the waiting room, talking and sipping coffee from one of the vending machines. After a while Alyson and Sarah arrived; Alyson slipped into a chair beside Rick, put her hand on his and said, “Any news?”

“He’s on oxygen and antibiotics. Mum and Becca are with him right now, but there’s only room for two visitors at a time”.

“Right”.

Emma and Sarah had been talking quietly together; Emma glanced at me and said, “We’re just going to wander for a few minutes”.

“Okay – don’t go too far, though”.

“Don’t worry – we’ll stay close”.

******

After about an hour my mother and Becca came out to us again. “He’s breathing a little better”, Becca said as we gathered around, “and they’ve told us that one or two at a time can go through and sit with him, if we want to. But it is getting late and they really want him to rest, because he’s exhausted from lack of sleep last night, so they don’t want us to try to make him talk”.

“Are you going to go home, Mum?” asked Rick.

“No, I’ll stay here”, she replied, “but I’ve been with him for a while; I don’t mind sitting out here for a bit if a couple of you want to go in and see him”.

“Tommy and Rick should go”, Becca suggested; “I’ve already seen Dad tonight”.

I saw Rick take Alyson’s hand as he glanced across at me. “Actually, if you don’t mind I’d like to go in with Alyson. Why don’t you and Emma go in now, and then we’ll follow you a bit later?”

I nodded; “That’s fine with me”.

So Emma and I went into the Intensive Care Unit together. My father’s room was small, and the space was taken up almost entirely by the large bed he was lying on and the various monitors and bits of IV equipment. The light in the room was dim, but we could see that the head of the bed was raised slightly; he was wearing an oxygen line to his nostrils, and his eyes were closed.

As Emma moved a chair over to the bed his eyes opened slowly; he saw her and tried to smile. “Thank you for coming, my dear”, he whispered.

She put her hand on his; “I love you, Grandpa”, she said simply.

“I love you too”, he replied. He turned his head on the bed, focusing on me. “I’m sorry – I know this is when you do your lesson planning”.

“Don’t worry about that, Dad”, I replied, moving closer to the bed and putting my hand on his arm. “And don’t feel you have to stay awake for us either; they want you to sleep. We’ll just sit here with you; if you feel tired, just let yourself drift off. We won’t worry”.

“Thank you”, he said in a voice that was barely audible.

We sat on either side of his bed for about half an hour, holding his hands and saying very little. Around us the subdued noises of the Intensive Care Unit continued; the low hum of equipment, the quiet conversations out in the corridor, the occasional sound of someone being paged or a telephone ringing at the nursing station. Gradually my father drifted off to sleep, and eventually I nodded at Emma and we quietly got to our feet and slipped out of the room. I put my arm around her as we walked slowly back toward the waiting room; “Are you okay?” I asked.

She shook her head, and I saw that there were tears in her eyes. “He’s so frail”, she said in a voice choked with emotion.

I stopped, turned to her and put my arms around her. She laid her head on my shoulder and for a few minutes we just stood there, holding each other, with the people coming and going around us and an occasional nurse giving us a sympathetic glance as she went past. I could feel Emma’s body trembling a little in my arms as she cried.

Eventually she looked up and gave me a teary smile; “Thanks, Dad”, she whispered, digging in her pocket for a Kleenex.

“Are you okay to go out there?”

“I’ll be alright for now; what about you?”

“I’ll be all right for now too”.

When we got back to the waiting room I saw to my surprise that Wendy and Lisa were sitting with the rest of our family in the corner. Wendy looked up and saw us coming into the room; she got to her feet, held out her arms to us both and hugged us. “Are you okay?” she asked.

“We’re okay”, I replied; “How did you hear?”

“Becca rang me”.

Rick caught my eye; “How’s Dad?” he asked.

“Sleeping soundly. Go ahead if you want to go in, but I don’t think he’ll wake up”.

“I think we will go and sit with him for a bit”, he replied, taking Alyson’s hand in his. “See you all in a little while”.

I sat down beside Wendy, and she leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

I shrugged; “I’m worried, of course”.

“Is he still coughing?”

“He’s sleeping pretty soundly right now; I think they’ve got him on a pretty strong dosage of drugs. He coughs a bit from time to time, but it doesn’t seem to wake him up”.

“Is there anything I can do?”

“No, but I’m glad you’re here”.

Lisa and Emma had sat down across from me; I smiled at Lisa and said, “Sorry to mess up your last night before term”.

“Don’t even think about it; I’m all ready for the morning”.

“What about you?” I asked Wendy.

“I’m done. We were just sitting watching a DVD together, actually”.

“What was the DVD?”

She gave me a playful grin; “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”.

“Nice!”

******

At about ten o’clock a nurse of about my own age came looking for us. “I don’t think there’s going to be any change tonight”, she said; “Hopefully he’ll get a good sleep, and that’ll be the best thing for him. There’s no need for you all to stay here all night. Especially you, Mrs. Masefield; you look very tired, and I think you should go home and try to sleep”.

Becca was nodding her head; “You can stay at our flat, Mum; I’ll give them the number, and if anything happens, we can be here in five minutes”.

I saw my mother’s hesitation, and I took her hand; “You don’t have to go if you don’t want to, Mum”, I said gently, “But if you want to get some sleep, and if you’d feel better if one of us stayed here, I’d be happy to do that”.

“What about your work tomorrow?” she asked.

“I can call Kathy McFarlane and tell her I won’t be in in the morning. She’s my department head”.

“Are you sure that would be okay?”

“I told Kathy this morning that Dad wasn’t doing well; she won’t be surprised. Don’t worry about me, Mum; this kind of thing isn’t uncommon”.

“Well, if you’re sure you wouldn’t mind?”

“I’d be glad to stay with him”.

She nodded. “All right; I am actually feeling very tired”. Turning to Becca, she said, “Perhaps I’ll just go in one more time and see him before I go; do you think that would be all right?”

“What do you think?” Becca asked the nurse. “My brother and his wife are in there right now; would it be all right for Mum just to go in briefly before she comes home with me?”

“I’m sure we can bend the rules a bit”, the nurse replied. Putting her hand on my mother’s arm, she said, “Come with me, Mrs. Masefield; I’ll take you in”.

“Thank you”.

We watched as they went through the doors into the Intensive Care Unit. “That’s a relief”, Becca said to me; “I was hoping I could get her to go to bed at some point tonight”.

“Do we all have to leave?” asked Lisa; “I think I’d like to stay. I’d like to sit with him for a while, even if he is asleep”.

“By all means”, Becca replied gently; “If that’s what you want to do, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t do it”.

“I’ll wait out here for you”, Wendy said; “That way I can drive you home any time you like”.

“What about your work in the morning, Wendy?” Becca asked.

“Don’t worry; I’ll be fine.”.

******

Emma decided to go home and get some sleep, so we agreed that she would take our car. Rick took his family home, and Becca and Mike took my mother back to their place. “Ring me if anything happens, alright?” Becca said to me as they were leaving.

“Count on it. Go, and get some sleep. Mike, don’t let her stay up for half the night, alright?”

He nodded; “I’m on it”.

When everyone had left, I took Lisa through to my father’s room and sat there with her for a while. The lights in the room were all out now; the only illumination came from the door to the corridor, and the only sounds were my father’s laboured breathing and the ordinary background noises of the ICU.

Lisa and I were quiet for a long time, sitting across the bed from each other, but eventually she spoke in a voice that was only just above a whisper; “I’m really glad I’ve had a chance to meet him and get to know him”, she said.

“So am I”.

“Have you talked about the things you needed to talk about with him?”

“Yes; we’re good now”.

We lapsed into silence again, Lisa watching my father’s face, me glancing at her from time to time, trying to read her expression in the dim light from the corridor. Eventually she said, “I know this is going to sound a bit weird, but would you let me sit alone with him for a while?”

“Of course; it doesn’t sound weird at all”. I got to my feet slowly, stretched my stiff back, and said, “I’ll be out in the waiting room with your mum”.

“Alright; thank you”.

******

When I got back to the waiting room Wendy was sitting alone on the corner couch with her legs crossed and her glasses on, reading a small leather-bound book that looked to me like a Bible. She looked up and smiled as I walked over and sat down on the couch beside her. “Is everything all right?” she asked.

“Yes; she wanted to sit with him by herself for a while”.

“You don’t mind?”

“No, I don’t mind”. I glanced at the book in her hand; “Is that a Bible?” I asked.

“Yes; I was just reading the evening psalms”.

“From the Rule of St. Benedict?”

She grinned; “Good guess, but no – from the Book of Common Prayer. Do you remember the old Anglican Book of Common Prayer?”

“Yes, but more from my literature classes than the few times we went to church as kids. It’s written in Tudor English, isn’t it?”

“Yes – it dates back to 1549. Anyway, it divides the psalms up into daily portions, morning and evening, so that you read through the whole book once a month”.

“I didn’t know that. Do you like the psalms?”

“I really do. I love the fact that they’re not shy about expressing negative as well as positive emotions. They help me be real and honest when I pray, if you know what I mean?”

“I do”. I frowned; “Before Kelly died she and Pastor Ron had a really significant conversation about the psalms. She’d always enjoyed them, but for the last few months of her life she had a very close relationship with them”.

“Because of something he said?”

“Yeah. He was a widower, you see – he’d lost his wife to leukaemia – and he told Kelly about how the psalms had really saved his prayer life. He said when he couldn’t summon up the emotional energy to pray in his own words, he would just read the psalms until he found one that spoke for him, and then he would pray it and add his own specific twist to it. Kelly was really struggling with the whole issue of unanswered prayer at the time, to the point that she was finding it difficult to pray at all. That conversation made a big difference to her”.

“What about you?”

“I guess I’ve been fond of them ever since – for all kinds of different reasons. Of course they make me think of Kelly, but in a strange way they make me think of Jesus too. Pastor Ron preached a sermon about that once – about how the psalms were the prayers Jesus would have learned and used, and praying them was like joining our prayers to his. That stuck with me”.

She smiled at me; “A point of connection between us, then”.

“I guess so. They’re pretty important to Benedictines, right?”

“Really important – St. Benedict had a system of praying the whole book once a week”.

“Those monks had a lot more time for that sort of thing”.

“Yes – I tried to do that for a couple of weeks once, but I couldn’t make the time for it and it became more of a burden than anything else. But the monthly system of the prayer book – I can follow that”.

“Do all Anglicans follow that, then?”

She laughed softly; “I don’t think so! But my dad used to – he used to say Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer every day, and the psalms are part of that. It’s part of the prayer discipline Anglican priests follow”.

“Do you talk about that kind thing with him?”

She nodded. “I’ve had really good conversations with my dad since I came back to Christianity. He’s a really wise man; I look up to him a lot”

“How is he, by the way?”

“I think he’s okay; I’ve talked to him a couple of times a week since we got back, and I’ll go down again toward the end of the month. Mum’s feeling better now, too”.

“I’d love to go and visit them again, but with my dad’s health being so precarious right now…”

She put her hand on mine. “Don’t even think of it, Tom; they understand”.

“I like them, though, and I’d like to get to know them better”.

“They’d like that. They’re still very curious about you”.

“Oh yeah?”

“They have fond memories of last year when you and Emma came down with me. And since I told them that we’re definitely a couple now, they’d naturally love to get to know you better”.

“You know, it must have been great to have a dad who was so supportive of you when you were growing up. I never had that”.

“I’m sorry, Tom”.

I shook my head; “Don’t get me wrong – I’m not asking for sympathy, and I’m happy to be getting on well with my dad now. But I know I missed out on it when I was younger. I used to latch on to father-substitutes; I think I saw Owen’s dad in that way, and I definitely saw Will Reimer like that, too. I still do, to tell you the truth”.

“It’s only natural, with him being your father-in-law and you two getting on so well together”.

“Yes. I told him this summer that for years he had been the only real father I’d ever had. Of course, he was my teaching mentor too; I learned a huge amount from him”.

“Was there never any awkwardness between you because of him being your father-in-law?”

I laughed. “We got over it, but when Kelly and I first started dating, he was very protective of his little girl, even though she was in her mid-twenties by then”.

“In what way?”

I shifted a little on the couch, angling my body toward her. “Remember I told you about the time Kelly and I had what she called ‘the sex talk’?”

She smiled; “I do”.

“I think I told you it happened when she came back from Jasper for her cousin Corey’s funeral”.

“You did”.

“It was actually the day of the funeral; she came back to my place afterwards and we made some tea and cuddled on the couch for a while. I got the messages a bit mixed up and thought she might be interested in going further, but she straightened me out about that, and eventually we were both so tired from the week we’d had that we fell asleep on my couch and didn’t wake up until the phone rang at ten o’clock”. I grinned at her; “It was Will, looking for his daughter”.

She laughed softly; “Awkward!”

“Yeah. Anyway, Kelly convinced him that we hadn’t actually gotten up to anything, and it became a standing joke between Will and me for years after that. But that was what led to ‘the sex talk’; she wanted to have a conversation with me about boundaries, and what sex meant to her – the joining of lives, not just bodies. That was a significant conversation for us”.

“Oh yes?”

“Yes. She made it pretty clear to me that even though we were in love with each other, she wanted to wait. So the first time we slept together was our wedding night”. I grinned at her; “Pretty old fashioned, weren’t we?”

“To tell you the truth, Tom, her point of view makes a lot of sense to me. And I’d have thought you’d have learned from past experience that when sex comes into a relationship too soon it can do a lot of damage”.

“You’re right, of course; I should have learned that from my experience with you, without Kelly having to lay the law down”. I shook my head; “‘Lay the law down’ isn’t the right way to describe it; she initiated a conversation, but she wanted to know what I thought, too. Still, she was pretty clear about where her boundaries were”.

“You weren’t upset about that?”

“I can’t say I wasn’t disappointed, but I loved her and I was willing to wait”.

She hesitated, looking away for a moment, and then she looked back and put her hand on mine again. “Do we need to have that sort of conversation?”

“What do you think?”

“Since you came back to England I’ve never felt you were putting any pressure on me in that way”.

“No. It’s a funny thing, but after Kelly died, it was like that part of me went to sleep”. I grinned at her mischievously; “It may be starting to wake up again though, so I’ll need to keep a close eye on it”.

“Is that going to be a problem?”

I looked at her steadily for a moment, and then I shook my head. “I don’t think so”.

“Are you sure?”

“I’m sure”.

“Tom, you have absolutely no idea how much of a relief it is for me to hear you say that!”

“How so?”

She shook her head slowly. “It’s all tied up with Mickey and the fact that we had a sexual relationship so young, and then later on of course he hit me a lot, and – well, his idea of sex was pretty self-centred and controlling toward the end”. She glanced around quickly, as if to reassure herself that no one was listening, and then continued; “It’s not that I’m permanently scarred on sex or anything like that; it’s just that I really don’t want to rush into anything, and – well, to tell you the truth, I’ve been worried that you might want to, and that you might be really upset if I said I didn’t want to”.

“I’m quite all right with going slow – I honestly am”.

She looked at me, her eyes questioning; “So, since Kelly died, you’ve never…?”

I shook my head. “Never had the opportunity, and to tell you the truth, never had the desire, either. Like I said, it’s as if that part of my psyche went to sleep”. I grinned at her; “Since we’re getting so personal, how about you?”

“No. Not that I haven’t had the opportunity. Jeremy Bayly was after me for a while…”

“The organist at St. Michael’s?”

“Yes; he’s got a weakness for the prospect of an attractive roll in the hay. I’ve had to help him crawl out of more than one disaster that way”.

“So he was after you, was he?” I said with a grin.

“Yes, but I told him in no uncertain terms to bugger off!”

We both laughed; “A fine turn of phrase, Dr. Howard!” I said.

“Thank you, kind sir; I didn’t earn that doctorate in English for nothing, you see!”

I shifted a little in my seat; “Do you want some coffee or something?”

“No thanks, but you get some if you like”.

“No, I’m alright”.

I was quiet for a moment, and she looked at me curiously. “Is something wrong?”

I frowned. “You just said something that made me think, but maybe you don’t want to go there, and if so, that’s fine with me”.

“Are you talking about Mickey and me?”

“Yes – about his idea of sex being very controlling toward the end. We don’t talk about Mickey very much, Wendy”.

She shook her head; “I don’t enjoy those conversations”.

“Okay – that’s fine”.

She looked at me steadily for a moment, and then squeezed my hand. “I’m sorry – that’s not a good plan is it? It’s not right for me to wall you out of that part of my life”.

“I’m not interested in causing you unnecessary pain. If and when you’re ready, we can talk, but if it’s too hard for you, I understand”.

She opened her mouth to respond, but at that moment Lisa came quietly into the room. She glanced at us, smiled awkwardly and said, “Is this a bad time?”

Wendy shook her head. “Not at all; are you okay?”

“Yes, but I think I’m ready to go home now”.

“Alright then”. Wendy glanced at me as she was getting to her feet; “What are you going to do?”

“I’ll go and sit in Dad’s room. I imagine I’ll probably snooze a bit in the chair, but at least I’ll be there if he wakes up or if he needs anything”.

“How are you going to get home in the morning?”

“It’s only a fifteen minute walk”.

“I could come over in the morning and take you home, if you want”.

“No, I’ll be fine; you’ll want to be down at Merton early, and I’m planning on taking the morning off, so I might stay here until someone else comes in to take over from me”.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes”.

I got to my feet and gave her a hug, then turned to Lisa. “Are you okay?” I asked.

“Yes”. She gave me a brief hug and a kiss on the cheek. “Thanks for letting me sit in there for a while”.

“I’m glad you had the chance to be with him. Are you going to come back again while he’s here?”

“Is that alright?”

“Of course; he’d want it, and so would my mum”.

“Thanks, Dad”. She gave me a brief smile before turning to Wendy; “Ready?”

“Yes”. She glanced at me; “Ring me tomorrow, alright”.

“Sure”.

******

After they left, I returned to my father’s room. He was sleeping on his back, his mouth slightly open; I could hear his breath rasping in his chest as I took my seat beside his bed. I watched him for a while, my mind wandering, and eventually I nodded off to sleep in the chair, my head resting on my shoulder.

I was jarred from sleep by the sound of coughing. As I opened my eyes I could see him in the dim light from the slightly open doorway, trying to push himself up on one elbow, his other hand clenched in a fist in front of his mouth. Ignoring the stiffness in my neck and back, I got to my feet, moved over to the bed, and slid my arm under his shoulders. “Here, Dad”, I said; “Let me help you sit up”.

He nodded, still coughing violently, as I slowly lifted him to a sitting position; I raised the bed a little, rearranged the pillows to support him, and then poured him a glass of water from the plastic jug on the table beside the bed. I held the glass to his lips, rubbing his back gently with my other hand as he took a few sips of the water.

Gradually his coughing eased, and he motioned for me to take the glass away. “Would you like anything else?” I asked.

“I think I’m all right, thank you”. He frowned; “Have you been sitting there all night?”

“Yes”.

“Is anyone else here?”

“No. Mum was really tired, and we persuaded her to go and get some sleep at Becca and Mike’s. Rick and his family were here, too, but they left at about the same time. Wendy and Lisa came for a while; Lisa sat with you for half an hour or so, but Wendy took her home just before midnight”.

“What time is it now?”

I looked at my watch; “Just after four o’clock”.

“You really don’t need to stay, Tom; you’ll be tired out at school in the morning”.

“I’m going to take a discretionary day”.

“You don’t need to do that”.

“I’m going to do it, though”.

At that moment a young nurse appeared in the doorway; “Is everything all right?” she asked.

“He woke himself up coughing”, I explained; “I gave him a little water, and things seem to be settling down now”.

She came into the room, glanced at the monitors and the level in the IV bags, and asked, “Is there anything I can bring you, Mr. Masefield? A cup of cocoa or something?”

“No, thank you”, he replied, settling back on his pillows, “but my son might appreciate something”.

“No – I’m fine”, I said.

“All right; don’t hesitate to ask if you need anything”.

She slipped quietly out of the room, and my father said, “I think I could have the bed down just a little, if you don’t mind, Tom”.

“Right”. I worked the buttons until he indicated that he was satisfied, and then I sat down again in the chair. “You seemed to be sleeping pretty well until you started to cough”, I said.

“I feel as if I did, anyway”. He shifted his body in the bed, angling himself toward me a little. “So Wendy and Lisa were here?”

“Yes; Becca rang them, and Lisa wanted to come over to be with you and Mum”.

“That was very thoughtful of her”. He hesitated for a moment, and then said, “Not that it’s any of my business, but how are things between you and Wendy?”

“We’re doing well”.

“Have you got any plans?”

“Are you talking about marriage?”

“Yes”.

“We haven’t talked about it. To be honest, I think we’ll probably take it slow”

“Do you mind me asking about it, Tom?”

“No”.

“Emma tells me she really likes Wendy”.

“Emma’s been amazing. I know how much she misses her mum”.

“I expect you still miss her too”.

I nodded; “I’d always thought that coming to love someone else might make me miss her less, but somehow the two things seem to be entirely unconnected”.

“But you and Wendy love each other?”

“We do”.

“I’m glad for you; you deserve a bit of happiness, after the sadness of the last three or four years”.

“Thanks, Dad”.

He turned a little on the bed so that he was lying on his back. For a moment we were quiet, and then he said, “You’re going to be able to be a special help to your mum in the days ahead. You’ll understand how she feels, more than anyone else in the family”.

“I know”.

He was quiet for a long time, to the point that I was beginning to think he had fallen asleep again. Eventually, however, he spoke in a voice so soft I could barely hear it. “Do you really think there is life after death?”

“If there isn’t, then Kelly’s life was a cruel joke, and I don’t believe that”.

“No”. He gave a heavy sigh, turning his body on the bed again so that he was facing me; “There are times when it’s easy to believe in cruel jokes, though”.

“Yes, there are”.

“Was your faith shaken by Kelly’s death?”

“Yes”.

“Did you stop believing in God?”

“I don’t think I’d put it as strongly as that. What I found difficult was to keep my faith in the goodness and love of God”.

“Ah yes, I see; it’s no comfort to believe in God if God turns out to be a monster”.

“No”.

“How did you get through it?”

I frowned, shifting a little in my chair to relieve my stiff back. “People helped me a lot. Not so much by giving me the answers, though – I didn’t respond well to that – but there were people who were willing to sit with me and listen to me, and not try to fix me. My pastors were especially good at that, but so were Kelly’s family, especially her Uncle Hugo”.

“Did you ever find an answer to the intellectual problem?”

“The problem of, ‘If God is good, why do bad things happen to good people?’ you mean?”

“Yes”.

“Not an entirely watertight answer, no, but you and I are different that way; you’re such a logical person, and you find your way through the intellect. I’m more intuitive, and my Mennonite friends also taught me that a life of obedience to Jesus is an important part of learning to understand the faith as well. In fact, that may well be the single most important thing Rob Neufeld said to me after Kelly died”.

“What was that?”

“I don’t remember when it happened, exactly, but it would have been a few months after she died. Rob and I were having coffee together one day, talking about the fact that I was still struggling to regain my faith in a loving God. He listened to me for a long time, and then he said something very simple. He said, ‘If you were able to completely regain your faith in a loving God, what effect would it have on your behaviour? What would you actually do?’ And I said something like, ‘Well, I suppose I’d love my neighbour as myself – doing things to care for the poor and needy and doing my best to put the teaching of Jesus into practice and all that’. And he said, ‘Why not do it anyway, and see if it doesn’t help you regain your faith?’ I went away and thought about that a lot, and I said to myself, ‘What have I got to lose?’ So I gave it a try”.

“Did it help?”

“It did; it helped a lot”.

He looked away again, and for a few minutes neither of us spoke; I was beginning to feel sleepy, but I was also very conscious that something significant was happening between the two of us, and I was anxious not to miss anything.

He cleared his throat. “I lost my faith in my first year of university, you know”.

I was astounded; “I had no idea that you’d ever had any faith to lose”.

“No, I’ve never talked with you about that part of my story. I’ve very rarely even talked about it with your mother”.

“Do you mind me asking about it?”

“No, I don’t mind”. He turned his head to face me again; “I’m not sure that I’d ever had any sort of really intelligent faith, but when I was young we had been churchgoers. I was confirmed when I was eleven, and I remember that I took a real interest in the confirmation classes. But then I started having doubts”.

“How so?”

“Well, ironically, it was the confirmation classes that prompted them. That was when I read the gospels seriously for the first time, and it seemed to me that the church I knew was nothing like the sort of thing Christ had in mind. My father, for instance, went to church every Sunday and wanted his children to be regular churchgoers, but in his personal life and his professional life I couldn’t really see the sort of thing Christ talked about – you know, turning the other cheek, and not storing up for yourself treasures on earth, and so on. And so I began to wonder – was it all just an act? Did anyone really believe it enough to practice it?”

He shifted his body a little, and I could see that he was trying to get comfortable in the bed. “When I went up to Oriel I attended chapel regularly and I still considered myself to be a believer, although my attendance had more to do with the fact that I enjoyed the music than with any real faith. I took some philosophy classes in my first year and my teachers were all agnostics or atheists with very strong arguments against the existence of God. They also taught me that you didn’t need Christianity to lead a decent and good life; there were all sorts of people living good lives without being Christians. Gradually what they were saying came to make more and more sense to me. I’d had a troubling sense of unreality about my faith for a long time, and in some ways it was a relief to abandon the pretence and adopt an outlook that seemed more honest and consistent with reality as I was experiencing it. I’d never seen a miracle and I’d certainly never met any Christians who didn’t lay up for themselves treasures on earth, so why carry on with the charade?

“Still, to a certain extent I did carry on with it. I knew my father would be very upset if he knew I’d abandoned Christianity, and anyway I still wanted to sing in the chapel choir. I didn’t actually stop churchgoing until after I left university, but I’d been saying the creed with my fingers crossed behind my back for years by then”.

He was quiet for a moment, but somehow I knew he was not finished. I could hear two nurses talking quietly out in the corridor, but in the darkened room the only sounds were the quiet hum of the various monitors and the rasping in my father’s chest.

He cleared his throat again. “When you mentioned what your pastor said about practicing the teachings of Christ, you reminded me of how I lost my faith. I think it would have made a real difference if I’d seen someone actually making an honest attempt to live out the things the gospels say. They wouldn’t even have had to do it perfectly; just an honest attempt would have got my attention, I think. But the truth is, Tom, that until you and Emma came back to England I’d never really known anyone who tried to do that”.

“I’m sorry, Dad”.

“You’ve got nothing to apologize for. As I said, you and Emma are the first people I’ve ever known who seem to be making an honest attempt to live by the teachings of Christ. And I’m not going to claim that you’ve succeeded in making a Christian out of me, but I will say this – you’ve succeeded in giving me doubts about my doubts”.

“That’s a real compliment”, I said softly. “Thank you – can I pass that on to Emma?”

“Yes. In fact, I might talk to her about it myself”.

“Do that, Dad; it would mean a lot to her”.

He nodded slowly. “Well, son, I think I’m going to try to sleep a little more. How about you?”

“Yes, I think that might be wise”.

“Don’t you think it might be easier if you stretched out on a couch in the waiting room or something?”

I grinned at him; “You really are trying to get rid of me, aren’t you?”

“No”, he replied; “In fact, I very much appreciate the fact that you’re here. But I’m not good at falling asleep when someone’s watching me”.

“Okay – that I can understand”. I got to my feet, leaned forward and put my hand on his arm. “Are you going to be all right? Is there anything I can get for you?”

“No thank you, son. Try to sleep yourself, all right?”

“I will”. I squeezed his arm, and then turned and slipped out of the room.

******

Link to Chapter 35

‘A Time to Mend’ Chapter 33

Link back to Chapter 32

******

On Christmas morning I woke up early as usual, in my bed at the house in Northwood. It was still dark in the room, but I squinted at the digital clock and saw that it was 6.55 a.m. Becca and I had sat up together by the Christmas tree until about 11.30, after which I had fallen asleep almost immediately.

I got out of bed and went over to the window, leaving the lights out in the room as I moved the curtain aside. It was still dark outside, of course, but the sky seemed to be clear. There was no snow on the ground, and Jenna, like many Canadians visiting England at Christmas, couldn’t get over this. “Don’t you get snow in winter, then?” she had asked Becca, and my sister had smiled and said, “When we do, the whole country comes to a standstill!”

I slipped on my clothes, went to the bathroom and then went quietly downstairs. There was a light on in the kitchen and I could hear my mother moving around, so I pushed the door open and saw her standing by one of the countertops, making stuffing for the turkey. “You’re up early this morning”, I said as I went over and kissed her.

“I was awake”, she replied, “so I decided to get started. Merry Christmas, Tom”.

“Merry Christmas. How was your night?”

“Quiet; your dad slept well, thankfully. What time did you and Becca go to bed?”

“Not too late; about 11.30, I think”.

“Did Mike know about your Christmas custom?”

I grinned at her; “I think Becs warned him”.

She gestured toward the tea pot; “I’m about to boil a kettle”.

“I’ll grab a cup when I get back”.

“It looks cold out there this morning”.

“No snow, though”.

“It’ll still feel cold; you wrap up, alright?”

I grinned at her; “Yes, Mother!”

“Go on with you!”

******

Outside the air was still and cold, and in the east the sky was starting to brighten. I put my gloves and tuque on and set off down the long driveway, with the darkened trees on the one side and a frost-covered field on the other. When I reached the road I turned left and began to walk briskly west toward the village.

As I walked I found myself remembering the previous Christmas, when my Masefield uncles and aunts had come for dinner. I knew that in the back of their minds had been the thought that my father might not live to see another Christmas, but now here we were, twelve months later, and he was still alive, although we all knew he was ailing fast. “But you gave us the time we needed, Lord”, I whispered. “I didn’t know if we’d be able to make peace with each other, but we have. Thank you for that”.

I thought about the conversations I had enjoyed with my father over the past few months; he had started telling me stories about his childhood and youth, and his memories of his parents and aunts and uncles. Hs father had served in the Royal Navy during the Second World War, and he had dug out a couple of old boxes of pictures and notes he had found among the old man’s things after he died. “I went through them a long time ago”, he had said to me; “I found them quite interesting. But I don’t need them any more; if you think you and Rick and Becca would like them, I’d be glad to pass them on”.

“I don’t know about Rick and Becca”, I said, “but I know I’d be interested. Emma’s asked me about the Masefields a few times over the past couple of years; she knows a lot about the Reimers and the Weins’, but practically nothing about our side of the family”.

“She likes that kind of thing, doesn’t she?”

“Yeah – especially since Kelly died”.

“And there’s Lisa too – perhaps she’ll be interested one day”.

“Maybe she will”.

Another time when we had been sitting together in his study, sharing a quiet glass of Scotch, he had asked me to tell him more about the Reimers and the Weins’ and their history. So I talked for a while about what Kelly’s grandparents had told us of the sufferings of the Mennonites in Russia in the early years of Communist rule, and of how so many had tried to escape. I described for him how Kelly’s grandparents and some of their brothers and sisters had arrived on the prairies in the early 1920’s, how they had cleared land and farmed with other Mennonites in the Spruce Creek area north of Meadowvale, how they had raised their family in the bush, speaking low German at home and high German at church, and how Kelly’s grandfather had been one of the first to learn English so that he could better relate to the non-Mennonite world around him. I talked about how Will had gone to university in Saskatoon, a Mennonite farm boy, and how he had somehow managed to do well at university while hanging on to the essentials of his faith. I talked about how he had taught in Rosthern before coming back to Meadowvale to teach, and had eventually become the principal of the school.

“We know so little of Mennonites in this country”, my father mused; “All we know is what we see in films, with people in plain clothes living in colonies separate from the world around them. Of course, I realized that was wrong the first time I met Kelly ”.

I smiled at him; “Were you expecting an old order girl in a long dress and a headscarf?”

“I don’t really know what I was expecting – certainly not someone with such a vivacious personality”.

I laughed softly; “That’s a good way of putting it”.

“I’m glad Jenna’s coming for Christmas with you”, he said; “I’ll look forward to seeing her again. How old would she have been the last time she was here? Ten? Eleven?”

“Her birthday’s in November, so she’d have been ten”.

“So she’s eighteen now?”

“Yes. Emma’s really looking forward to having her here”.

“I bet she is!”

******

I had reached the village now, and a few minutes later I turned south on the main road, walking through the village square, with the church on one side and the primary school on the other. We had gone to the Christmas Eve service the previous night, along with Jenna, and Mike and Becca; the old church had been full, and Claire had preached a thoughtful sermon that seemed to hold everyone’s attention. Sarah and Alyson had been there as well; Sarah had asked her mother to drive her out so that she could go to the Christmas Eve service with us. It was a very different service from what she had experienced at our Baptist church, but she seemed to enjoy it okay.

As we were walking back to the house afterwards Alyson fell into step beside me. “Do you know what’s going on, Tom?” she asked softly.

“With Sarah, you mean?”

“Yes. We’ve never been a churchgoing family. Not that I’m opposed to it, and if Sarah’s interested I’m quite happy for her to go with you and Emma. I’m just surprised, that’s all”.

“I was surprised too. She and Emma had been talking about faith for a while before Emma said anything to me about it”.

“Really?”

“Emma respects confidences. She told me Sarah asked her to keep it to herself; she didn’t want to talk about it with anyone else”.

“Oh, right”.

“Has she said anything to you about it?”

“Only in the most general terms – she and Emma have been talking about God, and she thinks she might like to go to church – that sort of thing. I wouldn’t mind talking about it with her, but I don’t want to be too pushy if she’d prefer to keep it to herself”.

“You two get along pretty well, though, don’t you?”

“We do, and we’ve got closer since her accident. But I don’t push the boundaries, if you know what I mean?”

“I do – that’s exactly how Emma and I are”.

“I thought you two talked about everything”.

“We probably do, but we’re patient with each other, too. I’ve learned to wait until she’s ready to talk about things, and I think she’s learned the same thing with me, too”.

“Interesting”.

“Alyson, talking about Sarah, is she okay?”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, Boxing Day it’ll be a year, won’t it – since the accident?”

“Ah”. She shook her head slowly. “She’s had some moody spells lately, to tell you the truth. Most of the time she’s alright, but now and again I see her staring off into space and I can tell something’s going on inside. She hasn’t said anything to me; has she talked to Emma?”

I shrugged; “Again, Em wouldn’t automatically tell me…”

“Of course”.

******

As I walked south toward the river I quickened my pace; I was feeling the chill in the air, and I didn’t want to be out too long on this Christmas morning. We were expecting Rick and the family to join us just before lunch, along with Auntie Brenda. None of my father’s siblings were coming this year; a couple of them had asked, but my mother had told them it would be better for them to come to visit him separately. “Having them all together at the house, along with our whole family, would just be overwhelming for him”, she had said.

The eastern sky was getting lighter now; I knew the sun would be rising at about eight fifteen, and I wanted to be back at the house a little before that. My mother had said she would have breakfast ready by eight-thirty, and I wanted to give Wendy a quick call before we ate.

Wendy and her children had gone down to Essex on the afternoon of the 22nd, and we had talked to each other a couple of times a day since then. I was surprised at how keenly I was missing her, even though ordinarily we wouldn’t see each other every day. I enjoyed the fact that she lived only a short walk from our house, and that she felt free to walk over for a cup of tea in the evening without calling first to tell me she was coming. She knew my habits well by now, and she knew which nights I would be busy with my schoolwork. I was happy to reciprocate, and our families – our ‘extended family’, as Emma called it with a grin – enjoyed getting together for meals and visits as well.

I thought about the conversation Emma and I had shared the previous afternoon while we were driving out to Northwood. We had been talking about Wendy and her parents – Wendy’s mother had been having another bout with the ‘flu – and then Emma had been quiet for a few minutes, looking out her window at the scenery flashing past. I could tell she had something on her mind, and eventually I said, “What’s up?”

She shrugged; “I was just wondering about you and Wendy”.

“Me and Wendy?”

“You know – about how things are going…”

“I told you how I felt”.

“Yeah – but have you told her?”

“Not in so many words, but I’m pretty sure she knows”.

She laughed softly. “I really can’t believe you just said that!”

“Why not?”

“We’ve had this conversation before, Dad – the one about being open and honest about your feelings. You’ve always believed that was the way to go”.

“Not always; there was a time…”

“Yeah, but it was a long time ago – right?”

“I suppose so”, I admitted.

She was quiet for a moment, and then she said, “Look, you can tell me to back off any time you want…”

I shook my head; “I don’t want you to back off”.

“Alright – so what’s holding you back?”

I sighed; “If I name it, then I’m committing myself”.

“And you don’t want that?”

“No – I do want that. But I’m scared”.

“Scared of what?”

“Scared that I’m not really over your mom. Scared of not being fair to Wendy, because of not being over your mom”.

She put her hand on mine. “Dad, she’s got baggage too, you know”.

“I know”.

“You’ve both got scars, and they’re going to be sore”.

I glanced at her with a smile. “You’re quite good at this, you know”.

“I learned from the best”.

I nodded; “Yes, you did”.

She squeezed my hand. “You love her, don’t you?”

“Yes, I do”.

“Tell her”.

“You think?”

“I do think”.

I nodded again. “Alright – I will”.

******

When I got back to the house Emma and Jenna were in the kitchen with my mother, helping her prepare vegetables. I smiled at them; “What’s this? A Reimer takeover?”

My mother laughed; “I tried to tell them I didn’t need any help, but they wouldn’t be put off!”

“Where’s your usual helper?”

“I think she and her fiancée might have overslept”.

“Well, they’re both busy people, so they probably need it”.

“Shall we wait a bit longer to eat, do you think?”

“Why don’t we put some cereals on the table and then let people come down and eat whenever they want?”

“You don’t want something a bit more substantial?”

“I’m fine. What about you girls?”

Emma nodded, and Jenna said, “Fine by me!”

I went over to my niece and put my arm around her. “Did I tell you already how nice it is to have you here for Christmas?”

She grinned up at me; “I think you might have mentioned it!”

My mother pointed to the tea pot, sitting under its cosy on the kitchen table. “Would you like a cup?” she asked me.

“Give me ten minutes, okay? There’s something I need to do first”.

******

I went upstairs, washed my face and ran a comb through my hair, then went to my room and changed into a clean shirt and sweater; somehow I knew we wouldn’t be worrying about dressing up for Christmas dinner this year. I sat down in the armchair in the corner of the room, took out my phone and dialled Wendy’s number.

“Merry Christmas, Tom Masefield”, she said.

“Merry Christmas, Wendy Howard. Were you waiting for my call?”

“I thought you might ring nice and early”.

“Are you alone?”

“I am, actually; Rees is getting ready for the Christmas morning service, but I’ve decided that since I went to the midnight last night, I’m going to stay home and be lazy this morning. To be honest, I’m sitting up in bed reading a book; my brother brought me a cup of tea about ten minutes ago”.

“Nice!”

“And you? Have you already been out for a walk?”

“I have, and when I got home the Reimer girls had taken over the kitchen”.

She laughed; “Giving your mum a hand whether she needed it or not?”

“Something like that”.

“Thanks for your lovely card; I opened it last night before I went to bed”.

“You’re welcome. Yours is still sitting in its envelope beside my bed; I’ll open it in a couple of minutes”.

“I miss you”.

“I miss you too. And there’s something I wanted to tell you”.

“What is it?”

“Well, I know it’s a little strange to be saying this on the phone instead of face to face, but I realized last night that there’s something I should have said to you a while ago, and I’ve been resisting it, because I’ve been afraid. But I’ve decided I don’t want to let fear hold me back any longer, and I don’t want to wait ’til you get back, either”.

She laughed softly; “I think I’m going to like this”.

“You’ve probably already guessed this, but I’m in love with you, Wendy”.

“I know. I’m in love with you too, Tom – a lot more than I can say”.

“I’m sorry I chose such a strange way to tell you”.

“Actually, I find it rather romantic!”

“Really?”

“Really. It feels a bit like those proposals of marriage in Jane Austen, with Robert Martin pouring out his love to Harriet Smith through the mail”.

I laughed; “Hopefully it won’t meet with the same sort of cold reception!”

“Far from it”, she said softly. “I knew you loved me, but I’ve been waiting for you to get up the courage to say it. Actually, would you mind just saying it again?”

“I love you”.

“I love you too”. She hesitated, and then said, “Tom?”

“Yes?”

“Are you okay?”

“I’m a bit scared still”.

“Scared of what, specifically?”

“Scared that I might let you down”.

“Let me down? Where’s that coming from?”

“Well, I still miss Kelly, and I’m afraid I might not be able to give you what you deserve from me, because of that”.

“Do you love me?”

“I do – I really do”.

“Then we’ll work it out. I’ve got my own stuff to work through, too, you know”.

“I know”. 

“Don’t forget what I said about Kelly; I’m not threatened by her, and I don’t want you to forget about her”.

I shook my head. “I still say you’re a remarkable woman”.

“And I still say I’m not”.

I grinned. “Tempting as it is to stay and argue this one out, I need to go join my mum and the Reimer girls for breakfast”.

“The rest of the family aren’t awake yet?”

“My dad’s exhausted, and Becca and I sat up late last night, so she appears to be unintentionally sleeping in”.

“Right. Ring me again later on, will you? Lisa will want to talk to you”.

“Is she okay?”

“Fine. I haven’t seen either of them yet, though”.

“Merry Christmas, Wendy”.

“Merry Christmas, my love. In case you’re wondering, you just made me a very happy girl”.

“I’m happy too”.

“Good. Now go and have breakfast with your family”.

“Right – ‘bye”.

******

There were thirteen of us sitting around the dining room table for Sunday dinner, and I smiled when I saw that we had all understood instinctively that dressing formally would not be a big priority this year. My father looked frail, his head now entirely hairless again and his skin almost transparent, but he seemed happy to be there with us. Rick and I were seated either side of him at the end of the table; Auntie Brenda was at the other end beside my mother, and the rest of the family were spread out in between.

Sarah and Emma were sitting together; the moment I had seen Sarah coming in I had known she was struggling with memories of last year and her accident. I bumped into her in the hallway a few minutes before dinner; I put my hand gently on her arm and said, “Can I give you a hug, Sarah Irene?”

“Oh, Uncle Tom!” she replied in a wretched voice, and immediately I put my arms around her and held her close. “I love you, you know”, I whispered. “I know this is going to be a tough few days for you, so if you need extra love and hugs, or just someone to sit with you and listen while you talk, you just ask, okay?”

She nodded against my shoulder. “I will”, she whispered, “and thank you. You and Emma – I don’t know how I’d ever have got through this year without you”.

I stepped back and looked down into her face; “You’re stronger than you think”.

“No – I’m not! I feel like a complete nervous wreck right now!”

“And you’re strong enough to say so. Being strong isn’t about pretending to feel strong; it’s about knowing when you need help, and not being afraid to ask for it”.

She looked at me in silence for a moment, and then she nodded. “Thanks; somehow you always know what to say to help me feel better”.

******

After dinner Rick and I found ourselves sitting together in the living room, sipping our coffee; my father had gone off to have a nap, Becca and Mike were helping my mother and Auntie Brenda with the clean up, and the young people had put their coats on and gone walking up through the orchard toward the lake.

“How are you doing?” I asked him quietly.

He shrugged. “I’m not having the flashbacks Sarah’s having, but I can’t help remembering”.

“I can imagine”.

“Thanks for being such a big help for her, by the way”.

“She’s a sweet girl, Rick; Emma and I both love her to bits”.

“I know. And what about Jenna – she’s certainly grown into a beautiful young woman, hasn’t she? She looks so much like her mother”.

“She does”.

He took a sip of his coffee and gave me a thoughtful look. “So what’s going on with Sarah and churchgoing, bro?”

“I hope you don’t mind?”

“Good grief, no! It’s not my cup of tea – no offence, but I find the idea of God far more confusing than I can cope with. But if she finds some comfort in it, I’d be the last person to stand in her way. I know it’s been a comfort to you”.

“Not always just a comfort. Sometimes it’s a challenge, too”.

“I get that. But did you know Sarah was interested?”

“Not until a few weeks ago when Emma mentioned she wanted to come to church with us. Apparently they’d been talking about this stuff for a while, but Sarah didn’t want Emma to tell anyone about it. She didn’t want to feel pressured to have discussions about it with anyone but Em”.

He stared at me for a moment. “Wow. I didn’t know that”.

“They’ve built up a lot of trust, I guess”.

“And maybe she was afraid I’d try to talk her out of it?”

“Why would she think that?”

He shrugged. “She’s heard some of Dad’s anti-religion rants in the past, and I’ve never contradicted him; I suppose she might have thought I agreed. And I can understand how she might want to avoid having that sort of conversation with me”.

“I’ve had a few of those chats with Dad”.

“Not lately though, I imagine? You and he seem to be doing better”.

“We’re doing a lot better”.

He smiled at me; “So you’ve succeeded, then?”

“In doing what?”

“Doing what you came to do – healing the breach, burying the hatchet and all that”.

“I guess I have”.

“Well done. I honestly didn’t think you’d get anywhere, but I’m glad to have been proved wrong”.

“Actually, I’ve done better than I thought I would in other ways, too”.

“How so?”

“Well, I wasn’t expecting to get my brother back, but I’m very grateful to have him”.

He nodded slowly; “It’s nice to be getting along with each other, isn’t it?”

“It is. And then there’s the small matter of my ‘extended family’”.

He laughed softly; “Are they all down in Essex for the holidays?”

“Yeah – I talked to Wendy this morning. I expect I’ll call again a bit later on; I haven’t talked to Lisa yet”.

He frowned thoughtfully; “When I saw you together last week, I’m almost sure I heard her call you ‘Dad’”.

“Yes – she’s started doing that now; prepare yourself to be called ‘Uncle Rick’”.

“I could do worse. Are you happy?”

“Very”.

“And you and Wendy, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“Wendy and I are a couple, but there are still lots of things to talk about”.

“I understand; I imagine it’s still a big struggle for you”.

“Yeah, but it’s better for Wendy and me to be together. I’m tired of being lonely, Rick”.

He nodded again. “Understood. And how does Emma feel?”

“Emma will miss her mum for the rest of her life, but she likes Wendy a lot. She warmed up to that idea sooner than I did, actually”.

“Somehow I’m not surprised to hear that”.

******

Wendy and her children came back from Essex in the middle of the following week; they left Chelmsford early in the morning and were back in Marston just after one o’clock. I was looking forward to seeing Lisa and Colin again, and introducing them to Jenna, but Wendy and I had agreed that we needed a couple of hours to ourselves first. So we decided to meet at two for a late lunch at our local café on Cherwell Drive. The afternoon was clear but cold, and I was glad of my winter jacket and tuque as I walked down Marston Road. As I got closer to the café I saw that Wendy was waiting for me outside, dressed warmly in a winter coat and beret. She smiled and waved at me; I returned her wave, but then I had to wait for a couple of minutes for a signal to cross the road, which was surprisingly busy for the time of day. I saw her stroll out from in front of the café until she was standing on the other side of the crosswalk; we smiled and laughed at each other until the walk signal came on, and then I crossed over to her side, took her in my arms and kissed her. “Hello there, Wendy Howard”, I said.

She grinned up at me; “Hello there, Tom Masefield!”

I took her face in my hands and kissed her on the lips, softly and slowly; there was a hint of peppermint on her breath as she opened her mouth slightly to mine, and I heard her give a little sigh.  After a moment we parted, and when I opened my eyes to look at her I saw that she was smiling at me again. “I love you”, she whispered.

“I love you too. And I like the taste of peppermint”.

She laughed; “I’m rather fond of peppermints!”

“Now that you mention it, I remember that”.

“Well, shall we go in?”

“Sure”.

Inside the café the lunch crowd had thinned out. We ordered coffees and soups and carried them over to a table by the window. We hung our coats on the backs of our chairs, took our seats and looked at each other again. Wendy inclined her head a little, her eyes teasing me, and I laughed and said, “I like your smile”.

“Why, thank you, kind sir! I’m rather attached to yours, too!”

“Are you hungry?”

“Starving, actually – we left Chelmsford early and I was in rather a hurry to get home, so we only made the briefest of stops at South Mimms. The kids had fun teasing me”.

“Oh yeah?”

“Yes; Lisa called me a ‘star-crossed lover’”.

“Funny how that phrase gets lifted out of its immediate context, isn’t it?”

She laughed and raised her coffee cup to me; “Cheers to you, my scholar of Shakespeare”, she said.

I lifted my cup in return. “And to you, my lover of George Eliot and John Clare”.

We sipped at our coffees for a moment, and then she said, “Well, I’m going to eat!”

“Go for it!”

The soup was a thick chicken vegetable and it was very hot; we ate a few spoonfuls in silence, still looking at each other, and then I reached across the table, took her hand in mine and said, “So tell me – how long have you been in love with me?” 

“Why, sir, I believe I must date it from when I first saw your beautiful grounds at Pemberley!”

We both laughed. “Seriously, now!” I said.

“Seriously? I think I fell in love with you for the first time in the spring of 1982”.

“Last time we talked about that you weren’t sure how you’d been feeling at the time”.

“I’m sure now. Mind you, I don’t think I realized at the time that I was in love with you. I’ve come to the conclusion that being in love might feel different, depending on the person you’re in love with”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, I fell madly in love with Mickey in my teens, but what I felt for you didn’t feel like that at all; it was quieter and deeper, somehow. I think that’s why I didn’t recognize it for what it was. I know now, though”.

I nodded slowly. “Now that you mention it, I think I agree. Being in love with you feels very different from being in love with Kelly, because you’re different”.

“Yes, that’s exactly right”.

“So what about since I’ve been back in England? How long have you been in love with me?”

 She frowned thoughtfully. “After we met at school for Colin’s parent-teacher interview, I don’t think it took me long to realize I still really liked you – even though you’ve changed quite a bit since our university days”.

“How so?”

“You’re a lot more sure of yourself, and a lot more comfortable in your own skin. You used to over-compensate for your own insecurity, you know”.

“I know. I had a lot of growing up to do”.

“We both did”.

“Yeah – I’m not the only one who’s changed”.

“You think I’ve changed too?”

“I do”. 

She cradled her mug in her hands and smiled at me; “What do you notice the most?”

“Well, for one thing, you’re a lot more mellow these days”.

“God, I hope so! I used to be a real brat!”

I grinned; “You were rather sure of yourself, let’s put it that way!”

“It was all a front, of course”, she said softly. “Inside, I was every bit as insecure as you were”.

“I know. I started to see the cracks the first night you came to my room”.

“You were so good to me; I don’t know how I would have got through those few months without you”.

“I treasured every moment, you know”.

“Thank you”, she whispered, her eyes shining at me.

For a moment neither of us said anything; we simply smiled at each other across the table. Eventually she took a sip of her coffee and said, “As for when liking turned to loving – well, I think it might have started way back in February when we went down to Essex; that was when you told me you’d been in love with me back in our Oxford days. But when you were away in Canada over the summer – well, I was really missing you, and that’s when I realized I was falling in love with you. And then I thought back to our Oxford days and I realized it wasn’t a new feeling”. She took a couple more spoonfuls of soup. “What about you?” she asked; “When did you realize you were in love with me?”

“I’ve been resisting it for a long time. I think it was probably in the summer too, when we were apart, and I realized how happy I was when you called or texted me. But when we got back at the end of August and you and I met here for coffee – that’s when I knew for sure. I remember hugging you and looking at you and realizing I was feeling something I hadn’t felt for a long time”.

She smiled at me again. “I remember that day”, she said softly; “I think that’s when I started to suspect you might be falling in love with me again”.

“And then of course we had our little talk the week before Remembrance Sunday”.

She nodded; “I knew you were in love with me then, but I understood why you couldn’t bring yourself to say it”.

“Did you?”

“Of course I did. I know it’s going to take you a long time to feel completely easy about loving someone else”.

“I’m going to get there, though, Wendy. I know that’s what Kelly would have wanted for me. She talked to Becca about that, you know?”

“Really?”

“It’s not that long ago that Becca told me about it, actually”. I told her the story Becca had recounted of her conversation with Kelly a few weeks before her death. When I was finished Wendy shook her head slowly; “That’s amazing”.

“I know”. I was quiet for a moment, and then I said, “You know, I really appreciate the way you’re happy for me to talk about Kelly; it’s a real help to me to know I don’t have to keep quiet about it on the days when I’m missing her. I just want you to know, though, that today’s not one of those days”.

She grinned; “No?”

“No; today’s the day I’ve been looking forward to for the past week – the day I actually get to look at you while I’m talking to you, and marvel about the fact that even though neither of us were expecting it, we somehow ended up in the same geographical space after all these years”.

She nodded slowly, her eyes on mine. “It almost feels like there’s a plan, doesn’t it?”

“A plan?”

“Yes”. She inclined her head thoughtfully. “You come back to Oxford, you start teaching at Colin’s school, and it turns out he’s in your tutor group. So you and I meet again, and as soon as we start really talking  to each other, we discover that since we last met we’ve both moved toward Christianity. Not only that, but in our own way each of us has had a heartache, and each of us is lonely, although neither of us talks about it very much. Don’t you get the feeling that we’ve been set up in some way?”

I smiled; “It does seem like that, doesn’t it? That might be a comforting thought”.

“It might”, she replied.

******

Link to Chapter 34

‘A Time to Mend’ Chapter 32

Link back to Chapter 31

******

The Radcliffe Singers’ Christmas concert was a selection of pieces from Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. It was not a work I was very familiar with, but as soon as Lisa told me about it I borrowed a copy from the library and listened to it all the way through.

“It’s a different sort of work for you, isn’t it?” I said to her one evening when she dropped over to our house for a cup of tea. “Baroque isn’t really your thing”.

She frowned thoughtfully; “You’re probably right”, she agreed. She gave me a grin; “I probably like the fact that it’s in German. There are only two or three of us in the choir that actually speak German”.

“I was thinking about that when I was listening to it. You do hear the odd Gaelic song in Celtic music, but most of us folkies aren’t used to the idea of listening to songs in a foreign language; the stories are too important to us. But it’s pretty common in classical music, isn’t it?”

She nodded; “Italian opera, Latin church music”.

“Right”.

“You would have understood the Christmas Oratorio pretty well, though, wouldn’t you?”

“My German’s not as good as yours, but I got most of it”.

******

The concert was the week after our conversation about Mickey and Colin, and I could see immediately that she was still thinking about that. Her greeting to me that night was friendly enough, but it was guarded, and she didn’t make much eye contact. Emma felt it right away; she put her hand on my arm, and as Lisa moved away to talk to someone else she whispered, “What’s with her?”

“She’s still upset about last Sunday afternoon”.

“Right”. She glanced up at me; “Are you okay?”

“Yeah – a little sad, but basically okay”.

The music, of course, was excellent; the Oxford Sinfonia was accompanying the Radcliffe Singers again, and the acoustics in St. Mary the Virgin Church were superb. Emma’s German was a lot more rudimentary than mine, but I could see she wasn’t worrying about it; she was simply sitting back, enjoying the music. Wendy was beside me, and at some point during the evening I felt her take my hand; we sat like that for the rest of the concert.

We went to the reception afterwards in the Old Library, and as we were standing around with wine glasses in our hands Wendy glanced over at Lisa, who was talking quietly with Emma and Alanna McFarlane. “A year ago at the Radcliffe Singers’ Christmas concert was when you met Lisa for the first time”, she said.

“I was thinking about that last night. It was later in the month, though, wasn’t it? The Sunday before Christmas”.

“Yes”. She smiled at me; “It’s been quite the year”.

“Yes it has”. I put my arm around her shoulders and kissed her on the forehead; “I’m pretty sure I feel younger than I did this time last year!”

She laughed, her eyes shining at me; “Looking pretty good there, Mr. Masefield!”

“Looking pretty good yourself, Miss Howard!”

Owen came up to us from behind, put his hand on my shoulder and said, “You two are looking ridiculously happy; do you think you could dial it down a bit?”

“It’s Christmas, Doctor Foster”, I replied, “and I’ve just spent two hours listening to Christmas music”.

“In German”.

“I understand German”.

“So you do”.

“What did you think of it?”

“They were very good. It’s not really my thing, but I could tell they were very good”. He nodded at Lisa; “Are you going to talk to her?”

“Do you think I should? My instinct is to let her come to me”.

He shrugged; “You could be right, I suppose”.

“On the other hand, it might not hurt to let her know that as far as I’m concerned, the door’s open”.

“That’s what I was thinking”.

At that moment Emma and Alanna moved off to talk to one of Alanna’s other friends in the choir. Lisa was standing by herself, looking around, and I grinned and said, “Looks like now might be a good time”.

Wendy spoke softly; “Don’t push her, Tom”. 

“I won’t”. I handed her my empty wine glass, walked over to Lisa with my hands in my pockets, and said, “Hey, you”.

She gave me an awkward glance; “Hey”.

“You guys were brilliant”.

“Thanks”.

“How did you feel about it?”

“Mostly good; I didn’t make any major mistakes”.

“It sounded pretty good to me”. I hesitated, and then said, “Are you okay?”

She was quiet for a moment, her arms crossed in front of her, and then she said, “I’m not trying to be difficult, Tom”.

“I know”.

“I like feeling safe”.

“I get that. There was a time in my life when I moved across an ocean and halfway across another continent so I could feel safe”.

She stared at me; “I suppose you did, didn’t you?”

“I did”.

She gave a heavy sigh; “Mark was here tonight”.

I was surprised; “He was?”

“He was sitting near the back. I didn’t notice him until close to the end”.

“Did you talk to him?”

“No – he didn’t come over for the reception. I think he left right after the concert”.

“Are you scared?”

“I don’t think so. I don’t think he’s angry”.

“Do you think he’ll try to meet you?”

She shrugged; “I really have no idea. I’ve had no contact with him at all since that night in my room, and I changed my email and mobile number right after that”.

“I remember”.

She looked down. “I don’t really know what I’d do if he got in touch with me; it’s been a long time since I’ve thought very much about him”.

“He got a fine and a community service order, didn’t he?’

“He did”. She gave me a sudden smile, and I knew she was ready to change the subject. “So”, she said with a cheerfulness that I knew she wasn’t feeling, “have you got plans for Christmas?”

“Well, Jenna Reimer’s arriving December 23rd”.

“Oh, right – Emma told me about that. She’s rather excited”.

“Yeah; we’d hoped there might be a few more Reimer relatives, but Sally’s still attached to the idea of Christmas at home, and Joe and Ellie feel they should stay to be with her and Will”.

“Emma told me she and Jenna want to do some looking around together”.

“Jenna loves her history”.

“And we’ve got lots of it!”

“Yeah, we do. They’re making plans for a couple of days in London. What about you? Are you going down to Essex with your mum and Colin?”

She nodded; “We’re leaving on the 22nd, but you probably already know that”.

“Going for a week, right?”

“Yes. I’m actually looking forward to it this year”.

“Good”.

“I hear Mum’s going to church with you again this Sunday”.

“That’s what I hear, too”.

“Are you making a Baptist out of her?”

I laughed softly; “I doubt that very much. But listen – why don’t you and Colin come and join us at our place afterwards for lunch?”

She grinned; “Not a Sunday dinner?”

I smiled awkwardly. “Don’t tell anyone, but I got so used to having my main meal in the evening when I lived in Canada that I find Sunday dinners hard to take”.

She laughed softly; “Have you told your mum?”

“Oh no – it means a lot to her!”

“Yeah, I could tell”.

“So what do you think?”

“I’ll talk to Colin; I think he’ll probably say yes”.

“Sounds good. Oh – Sarah might be there too”.

“Your niece Sarah?”

“Yes; she’s joining us for church”.

“I didn’t know she went to church?”

“She doesn’t, or at least she hasn’t up til now. But she and Emma have been talking”.

“Ah”. She gave me a thoughtful look; “Is your dad okay? I thought I might see him tonight”.

“He really wanted to come, but he wore himself out last weekend, and he’s been struggling all week. He’s getting more and more frail every day. He’d be glad to see you, though”.

She nodded; “I’ll come out to visit him before we go to Essex”.

“Thanks”.

She glanced over to where Wendy and Owen were still standing, talking quietly together. “Can I ask you a really personal question?”

“Ask anything you want; I’ll tell you if I don’t want to answer”.

“Are you and Mum in love?”

“We haven’t used that word yet”.

She was still watching Owen and Wendy. “She’s happy with you, Tom”, she said quietly.

“I’m happy with her, too”.

******

Emma had mentioned to me a couple of days before that Sarah was interested in coming to church with us. I raised an eyebrow; “This obviously hasn’t come out of the blue for you?”

“No – we’ve been talking about it for a while”.

“About church?”

“More about God, and Jesus, and why I’m a Christian and stuff”.

“You didn’t tell me about that”.

“She asked me not to”.

“Oh? How come?”

“She only wanted to talk about it with me”.

I nodded slowly; “Good for you”.

“I don’t think she’s there yet, but she’s curious”.

“I wonder what the rest of her family will think?”

“She hasn’t mentioned it to them yet, either”.

******

Our church was not as full as usual that Sunday, since the university term was over and a lot of the students had gone home for the Christmas vacation. The hymns that day were mainly traditional Christmas carols, and I was surprised to see Alanna at the front of the church, playing the piano. “Audrey’s home with the ‘flu”, Kathy McFarlane explained to me, “and Patrick’s gone home for the holidays, so Alanna stepped in at the last minute”.

“I didn’t know she did this kind of thing”.

“She doesn’t very often, but she doesn’t mind”.

We had a guest preacher that day, a young faculty member from Regent’s Park College who was a regular member of our church; she had a very different style from Jim, but I enjoyed her sermon on one of the gospel passages about John the Baptist. She surprised me by preaching a shorter sermon and having a question and answer section at the end of it; for a moment there was silence in the church, but then the questions and comments started coming thick and fast, and after about ten minutes she glanced at her watch, smiled at us apologetically and said, “Well, we’ll have to leave it there, or some of you will be going home to a cold dinner!”

“I liked that”, Wendy whispered to me as we got to our feet for the closing hymn; “I’ve never seen that done in a church service before”.

“Rob used to do it now and again in Meadowvale”, I replied. “Apparently in the early years of the Anabaptist moment it was a lot more common. Mind you, sermons were more participatory in those days, too”.

“Some of those questions were really good”.

“Yes, they were”.

******

When we got back to our place Lisa and Colin were already there. The young people volunteered to put lunch on the table, and I glanced at Wendy and said, “Do you mind if we step out back for a minute?”

“That would be fine”.

“Anything you need us to do?” I asked Emma.

“No, but this won’t take long – ten minutes at the most”.

“Ten minutes will be all we need”.

It was cold outside, but Wendy and I were both wearing thick sweaters, and we walked slowly toward the back of the yard with our hands in our pockets. “What’s up?” she asked.

“Mickey called me again last night; he was anxious to know whether I’d thought any more about his request”.

“Going to London to talk to him?”

“Yes”.

“What did you say?”

“I reminded him that I’d asked him not to call me. He got a bit defensive at that point; he said he’d assumed I was putting him off because he hadn’t heard from me”.

“What did you say?”

“I told him again that my dad’s dying and my time’s rather taken up with that. He wasn’t very satisfied with that answer”.

“So what are you thinking?”

I shrugged; “I suspect he’s going to keep pestering me unless I go, but I’m really not happy with the idea. I honestly can’t see the point of it”.

“That was going to be my next question”.

“He says he wants to talk to me about Colin, ‘man to man’, but I already told him I don’t like that way of doing things. I told him I thought it was wrong to exclude women when women are involved in the situation”.

“Thank you”. She took my arm; “So what are you going to do?”

“Well, I don’t think I’m going to go, but I haven’t told him that yet – or at least, not definitely. I told him not to expect to hear from me until after Christmas. He wasn’t very happy with that”.

“I’m really sorry he’s pestering you like this”.

I shook my head. “If you and I are going to have any sort of relationship with each other, I’m obviously going to have to have some contact with him, since he’s still involved in Colin’s life. And I really don’t mind talking to him, but I’m going to do it on my terms”.

“Be careful, okay? He can be angry and violent”.

“I’ll be fine, Wendy. I won’t do anything stupid, and I’ll always talk to you after he’s talked to me. I told him that last night; I told him he should assume that everything he said to me would be repeated to you”.

“Thank you”. She stopped and turned to face me. “Do you think you could tell Lisa that, too?”

“Do you think I should?”

“She needs to know you’re with her, Tom. She really likes you and she feels safe with you, but you gave her a big shock the other week. She knew you believed in nonviolence and loving enemies, but I don’t think it had ever occurred to her that you wouldn’t pick sides between her and Mickey”.

I shook my head. “I am definitely picking sides between her and Mickey, but I’m not going to be needlessly confrontational with him”. 

“I get that, but the subtleties of that approach might be somewhat lost on her. Her reaction to him is completely visceral”.

“I understand. Sure – I’ll talk to her”.

******

The conversation with Lisa didn’t start well.

I asked her if she would step upstairs with me to my office for a minute. She looked at me quizzically, but I smiled and said, “I’ll tell you up there, okay?”

“Alright”.

I led her up the stairs and into the office. She glanced at the packed bookshelves as I closed the door and sat down on the swivel chair by the desk. “Nice collection!” she said.

“Thanks”.

She took her seat in the easy chair; “What’s up?”

“I wanted to tell you that Mickey called me last night”.

She gave me a withering glance; “You’ve been talking to Mickey?”

“Actually, I’ve been trying not to talk to Mickey”.

“How do you mean?”

“Well, he called me on Thursday after the court denied his petition; he was a little pissed off and he wanted to vent”.

“Are you buddies now, that he rings you to vent?”

“No – far from it”.

“So what else did he want?”

“He’s rather concerned that your mum and I might conspire together to keep him away from Colin”.

“I hope you told him that’s exactly what you were doing?”

“No, I didn’t say that”.

“Why not?”

“Because it’s not my style to be pointlessly confrontational”.

“So what did you tell him?”

“Well first, let me give you a fuller report of what he said to me”.

“Okay”.

“He was calling from the hospital – his wounds are still healing. He asked me if I had been the one who persuaded Wendy to deny his petition. I told him that at first I’d been in favour of the petition being allowed, but when I saw that it was pointless – Colin wasn’t going to go – and that you were terrified at the prospect, I changed my mind and told your mum I thought she should oppose it. He got quite agitated when I told him that, but I calmed him down a bit.

“Then he said he knew at the moment he wasn’t allowed to see Colin, and he was prepared to admit that to a certain extent that was his fault…”

“‘To a certain extent!’ That was big of him!”

“I understand, Lisa. Can you let me finish, please?”

“Sorry – I just…”

“I know”.

She looked away for a moment, and I could see she was struggling to control her emotions. I waited, and eventually she looked up again. “I’m sorry – go on”.

“He said he’d always hoped that his separation from Colin wouldn’t last forever, and that when Colin got a bit older the two of them would be able to have some sort of relationship again. I…”

“That is never going to happen! Colin’s scared of him – surely you can see that? I hope you told him to keep his fucking arse as far away from Colin as possible?”

I looked at her steadily. “Hi – this is me, Tom Masefield. I love you and I am not your enemy. I’m saying that because for a moment there I thought you’d mistaken me for someone else”.

She stared at me in silence for a moment, and then sighed and shook her head. “I’m behaving like an idiot, aren’t I?”

I reached across then and put my hand on hers. “You’re behaving like a person who’s been badly hurt, and I understand that. I just don’t think Mickey and me having a shouting match every time we talk is going to accomplish anything”.

“I’d rather you didn’t talk to him at all, actually”.

“I know that, but short of me changing my phone number at least once a month, that’s probably not going to happen”.

She nodded slowly; “Right”.

“Can I go on?”

“Yes; I promise not to interrupt you any more”.

“Thank you. Well, he asked me if he and I could get together and talk about these things ‘man to man’; I told him that was a rather dated way of thinking and I wasn’t prepared to exclude women from the conversation if they were involved. He got a little agitated about that, and the long and the short of it is that he’s still trying to persuade me to come down to London and have a talk with him”.

“And are you going to go?”

“I don’t think so, but I haven’t told him definitely yet. I did tell him I was rather busy with a dying father, and the chances of me getting away to London were very slim, but he wouldn’t let me off the phone until I’d at least promised to think about it and get back to him. He called me again last night to find out how my thinking was going”.

“What did you tell him?”

“I reminded him that the last thing I’d told him on the phone on Thursday was that he shouldn’t call me – I would call him. But of course, he was getting a little impatient with me”.

She snorted; “Big surprise! Two days is a very long time for Mickey to wait when he wants something!”

“I know. Anyway, I told him not to bug me until after Christmas – that I’d get back to him after the holidays. I don’t think he was happy with that answer, but I wasn’t giving any more ground, and so eventually he agreed”.

“And?”

“And – that’s it”.

“So why are you telling me this?”

“Because I promised your mum I’d tell her every time Mickey talked to me. Actually, I told him that, too – I told him he should assume every word he said to me would be repeated to her”.

“I bet he wasn’t pleased with that!”

“Not exactly, but that’s okay. Anyway, your mum suggested I should bring you into the loop, so I have”.

“Thank you – I appreciate that”.

“She also suggested there might be some doubt as to whose side I’m on here”.

“Doubt on my part, you mean?”

“Yes, and I want to be absolutely clear about that. I have a conviction about nonviolence and reconciliation, but that doesn’t mean I’m impartial here; I’m not. I know you’re not entirely clear about how you see me, but I’m not ambivalent about that at all – I see you as my daughter, and I’ve got your back. Whenever you need me, I’ll be there for you. That’s a promise”.

She nodded, and I saw the emotion on her face. “Thank you”, she whispered.

“Not at all”.

She frowned thoughtfully; “I don’t mean to send ungrateful – believe me, I’m not – but can I ask you exactly what this conviction about nonviolence and reconciliation means?”

“You’re asking me if I would use lethal violence to stop Mickey from hurting you, aren’t you?”

“I suppose I am”.

“Well, that’s a tough one”.

“It didn’t sound tough to me; it sounded as if you were completely opposed to it, which is why I was a bit confused when you told me you’d got my back”. She smiled at me sheepishly; “I’m not trying to be difficult…”

“No, it’s a fair question, and it’s one we’ve often discussed over the years in study groups at our church. And Mennonites have had to struggle with it in some pretty lethal situations, too”.

“I suppose; that’s why your relatives left Russia, wasn’t it?”

“Yes. Personally, I’m not opposed to using restraining force on people in dangerous situations, but I am opposed to using lethal force. And I hope that if push came to shove, I’d be willing to put my body where my mouth is and stand in the way”.

“But what would that achieve, Tom?”

“The question is, what has the alternative achieved? Violence has always led to violence; it’s never brought an end to violence”.

She looked at me steadily for a moment, and then she nodded. “Okay – thank you; I think I’ve got a better idea now of what you meant”.

“I don’t think I’m quite finished yet, though”.

“Oh?”

“In any dealings I have with Mickey, there are going to be two things I’m going to keep in mind. The first is that you and Colin and your mum need to be safe from him. That’s my bottom line. I’ll never say or do anything that would compromise that. I promise you that”.

“Thank you. What’s the second thing?”

“That all other things being equal, if it’s possible to have a peaceful relationship with him rather than a belligerent one, I’ll take that option”.

“Right”.

I sat back in my chair and stretched my legs out. “So – are we good?”

She grinned at me; “You and Emma keep coming out with these lovely Canadian expressions! Sometimes I don’t know what they mean, but I love hearing them, anyway!”

I laughed softly. “‘Are we good?’ means ‘Is everything okay between us?’”

“That’s what I thought”. She got to her feet and stretched out her hand to me. “We’re good”, she said as I took it. “I’m sure I’ll still get emotional at times, and say inappropriate things, but I’ll try not to treat you as my enemy. I know you’re not my enemy, Tom”.

I got to my feet; “Can I give you a hug?” I asked.

“I love getting hugs from you”.

I put my arm around her and held her close. After a moment she whispered in my ear. “You know what you were saying about me not being clear about how I see you?” 

“Yes”.

“Well, that’s not true any more. Actually, it hasn’t been true for a while”.

I stepped back and looked into her face. “Oh?”

“I see you as my father. Is that alright with you?”

I nodded and pulled her close again. “More than alright”, I whispered.

******

Link to Chapter 33

‘A Time to Mend’ Chapter 31

Link back to Chapter 30

******

‘Lincoln Green’ played its first full gig in twenty-two years on Saturday December 4th at the ‘Plough and Lantern’. We had been practicing once a week for three months, going over our older songs and learning newer material, including a good number of Christmas pieces. I knew most of the Christmas songs well and had been playing them for years, but Owen and Wendy had never played them before, so we worked hard to polish our performance. 

When my father heard about the gig he decided immediately that he wanted to be there. Becca was worried that he would find it too tiring and she tried to dissuade him, but I saw immediately that he was not going to be swayed by her reasoning. “I might not get another chance to see you play a concert”, he explained to me, “So if it’s at all possible, I’d like to be there”.

“I appreciate that, Dad”, I replied, “but I don’t want you to wear yourself out”.

He gave me a mischievous grin. “You let me worry about that; you just concentrate on making it worth the effort!”

I laughed; “I’ll do my best!”

******

When the night came he and my mother were seated at the back of the room near the fireplace, with Emma, Lisa and Colin at the table with them. Rick and Alyson were there too, along with Eric and Sarah; Sarah had been working hard all Fall at school, and although she had not yet made up the time she had lost, she was a lot further ahead than anyone had expected her to be. As for Eric and his father, the atmosphere between them seemed a little less tense to me, although I knew that Rick was still very worried about his son. “I’m trying to follow your advice”, he said to me, “but I’m not noticing any change of heart yet”.

“Patience”, I replied; “It’s best to concentrate on the things that are within your control, not the things that aren’t”.

“I’m not entirely sure that any of this is within my control!”

“It took you and Eric a few years to build that strained relationship; it’s not going to be fixed in a couple of months”.

He nodded; “You’re right of course, but as you know, patience isn’t my strong suite”.

“Don’t sell yourself short; I think you’re doing quite well in that department”.

******

The McFarlane family came out to the gig, even Jim who didn’t usually allow himself the luxury of Saturday night outings when he was going to be leading the services and preaching the following morning. Once again, I noticed before the gig that Emma and Matthew spent a few minutes in private conversation, sitting off in the corner of the room by themselves. I had mentioned this to Becca a couple of days before, and she had smiled knowingly at me; “Took you a while to notice, didn’t it?”

“You mean…?”

“No, she hasn’t said anything to me. Actually, I’ll be surprised if she’s said anything to Matthew, either”.

“Oh yeah?”

“Yes; it doesn’t feel like an acknowledged thing between them to me – at least, not yet. If you’re concerned, why don’t you ask her?”

“I’m not really concerned; I actually really like Matthew. I just don’t want to go barging in where I might not be welcome”.

“Emma’s not going to shut you out, Tommy”.

I shrugged; “She’s going to be nineteen in a week. Things are going to change”.

She looked at me steadily for a minute, and then leaned forward and kissed me on the cheek. “Ask her”, she said. “She won’t be offended”.

“I’ll think about it”.

******

Just before eight o’clock Bill Prentiss got up on the stage, smiled at the three of us as we sat on our high stools behind the microphones, and said, “Ready then?”

“Go for it”, I replied.

The room was nearly full; most of the faces were known to us, but there were some I didn’t recognize. Bill turned to face them, put his hands in his pockets, and said “Welcome to Saturday nights at the ‘Plough and Lantern’. Tonight we’ve got a real treat for you: three old friends who played a lot of music together when they were in university, and then went their separate ways and didn’t play again as a group for over twenty years. Ladies and gentleman, please give a very warm welcome to Owen Foster, Wendy Howard and Tom Masefield – otherwise known as ‘Lincoln Green!’”

He stepped down from the stage as the people applauded. Wendy and I looked at Owen expectantly; he nodded and counted us in, and we began to sing the first verse of ‘Johnny Cope’ unaccompanied, in three-part harmony, in our best possible imitation of Scots brogue:

“Hey Johnny Cope, are ye a waukin’ yet?
Or are your drums a-beating yet?
If ye were waukin’ I wad wait,
Tae gang tae the coals in the morning”.

******

Wendy had been nervous, despite all our hours of practising, but as the evening wore on I could see her relaxing and allowing herself to be captivated by the music. Owen and I had asked her to do a couple of solo a cappella songs: the old north country song ‘She Moved through the Fair’ and a traditional carol, ‘The Truth from Above’. She sang them back to back at the end of the first set, and I could see that by then she was thoroughly enjoying herself. As for Owen, he  had brought along his cittern and bouzouki to add some Celtic flavour to the evening; he was a very proficient solo player and occasionally I saw Wendy shaking her head in admiration as he filled in some lead part he had created for one of our old songs. Once, at the conclusion of a particularly lively Irish song, she grinned at the audience and said, “Did you see those fingers flying? Owen Foster, ladies and gentleman – probably the fastest bouzouki player in Oxford!”

During the break I went over to the back of the room and sat down beside my father; he was looking pale and drawn, but he smiled and held out his hand to me. “Well done!” he said.

“We’re making it worth your while, are we?”

He laughed; “So far, so good – I’ll let you know after the second set!”

“Fair enough. Are you sure you’re feeling up to staying?”

He nodded, his face suddenly serious. “I wouldn’t miss it; I’m only sorry I didn’t do this years ago. I can see how much you’re enjoying yourself”.

“I’ve loved this music for years”.

“I know”.

******

At the end of the evening Owen bought us another round of drinks, and we sat around a table at the back of the room with the young people, along with Becca and Mike. “Not bad at all”, Becca said to us with a grin.

“We’ll do, will we?” Owen asked her.

“Oh yes, but I’m still waiting for you to play me those Smiths songs you promised me years ago!”

“Oh well – one of these days!”

“Your dad did well”, Lorraine said to me.

“He did, but he was exhausted by the time we were done. I’m glad he and Mum didn’t hang around afterwards”.

“It was really good”, said Lisa with a smile. “It was nice to hear those Christmas songs arranged like that; I’ve never heard them sung as folk songs before – which is a bit weird, because some of them really are folk songs, aren’t they?”

“When’s your choir concert, then?” Owen asked her.

“Next Friday. There are tickets left; do you want to come?”

“Where is it again?”

“St. Mary the Virgin”.

“Posh!” He glanced at Lorraine; “What do you think?”

“I wouldn’t mind, actually”.

“Have you got tickets with you?” he asked Lisa.

“As it happens, I have!”

******

Later that night, as Emma and I were sitting on either side of the hearth sipping our hot chocolate, I took a deep breath and then said, “You and Matthew seem to be getting on rather well these days”.

She nodded slowly; “I was wondering when you were going to ask me about that”.

“If it’s none of my business…”

“No – I don’t mind you asking”. She looked away for a moment. “It’s been coming on kinda slowly”, she said softly; “I almost didn’t know it was there”.

“So you guys are a couple, then?”

She shrugged. “Maybe; nothing’s been said yet. I really like him, though”.

“Sounds like it might be a little more than just a ‘like’?”

“It might be”.

She was quiet for a moment, staring at the floor; I waited, knowing she wasn’t finished yet, and eventually she sighed, looked up at me and said, “To be honest, I’m a little nervous”.

“Nervous?”

“Maybe even scared”.

“How come?”

She shrugged; “Russell and I started out as friends, and then we started dating, and it was good for a while. But then he lost interest and he broke up with me, and I didn’t just lose a boyfriend – I lost a good friend too. That really hurt”.

“I guess something like that happened with Wendy and me too”.

“I’ve been thinking about that”.

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah. Like you said, there are similarities”. 

“That’s one of the reasons I’m still nervous about Wendy and me”.

“Oh?”

“Yeah. Last time I tried to make our relationship more than a friendship, I succeeded in wrecking it for twenty years”.

“I don’t think you can take all the blame for that, Dad – at least, not according to what you’ve told me”.

“No, I guess not. Fear isn’t always rational, I suppose”.

“We’re quite the pair, aren’t we?”

I laughed softly; “Like father, like daughter”.

“I like Wendy a lot, Dad”.

“I like Matthew too”.

“There’s another issue, though, isn’t there?”

“Yes”.

“What happens after Grandpa’s gone?”

I nodded; “Are we going home, or not?”

“I feel really torn about that”.

“Me too”.

“Grandma’s going to need some help – and I’ve really gotten close to Eric and Sarah, and Lisa too…”

“Yeah. But Grandma and Grandpa Reimer aren’t getting any younger, and you miss Jake and Jenna and the others…”

“And Beth and Claire”.

“It’s what your Grandpa Reimer called ‘the down side of a transatlantic marriage”.

She gave me a wry grin. “Was he the one that came up with that? I’ve heard you use it a few times”.

“That’s because it’s so true”.

She nodded; “Yes, it is”.

******

The next morning I went along with Wendy to the service at St. Michael and All Angels church. I had been meaning to do this since she had attended Banbury Road Baptist with us three weeks before. However, the weekend after Remembrance Sunday she and Colin had gone down to Essex, and then on the last Sunday of November Emma and I had spent most of the weekend out in Northwood.

St. Michael’s was an easy walk for both Wendy and me, so we decided to meet outside the building at about ten to ten. The morning was clear but cold, with a brisk north wind blowing, and I was glad of my winter jacket and tuque as I walked down Marston Road toward the church. Wendy was leaning against the low brick wall around the churchyard, chatting with an older man in a tweed cap and duffle coat; she smiled when she saw me coming, kissed me on the cheek and introduced me to him. “This is Alan Cameron”, she said to me; “He’s been a member of this church since it was built”.

“When was that, then?” I asked him as we shook hands.

“1955”, he replied; “Fifty years next year”.

“So you’ll be celebrating an anniversary, then?”

“I expect we probably will”.

Inside, there was a pleasant buzz of conversation. Wendy introduced me to a couple of other people, and I was pleased to see a good representation of different age groups, including families with small children, people my own age, and elderly folk.

By the time the service started at ten o’clock there were about fifty people present. I thought Elaine, the vicar, might have been a couple of years older than me; she was dressed in colourful vestments and was preceded to the front of the church by a robed choir. At the beginning of the service there was a candle lighting ceremony led by the children, which Elaine explained was a way of observing the season of Advent in preparation for Christmas. Later on there were several Bible readings read by members of the congregation, a fairly short but quite enjoyable sermon by a lay person who was also wearing robes (“She’s one of our Readers”, Wendy explained to me), plenty of formal liturgical prayers, and a time of sharing communion. The people walked to the front and knelt at the altar rail to receive the bread and wine rather than waiting for it to be brought to them in their seats as was our custom.

After the service there was a coffee hour, and I met some more members of the parish, including the organist, Jeremy Bailey, who chatted with us for a few minutes as we stood around with cups in our hands, sipping our hot drinks and nibbling on cookies. After a few minutes the vicar came over and greeted me with a friendly smile; “You must be Tom”, she said as we shook hands; “I’ve heard a lot about you. How did you find the service?”

“It was fine – different from what I’m used to, of course, but I go to the village church in Northwood from time to time so it wasn’t completely unfamiliar to me”.

“Your mum and dad live there, don’t they?”

“They do”.

“Are they churchgoers?”

“No. My mum was raised in it, but dad’s been an atheist for most of his life, so I wasn’t brought up as a churchgoer”.

“And now you’re a Mennonite – that must be a fascinating story!”

“Well, the people who helped me find my way to God were all Mennonites, so I guess it wasn’t surprising that I ended up in their church – that and the fact that I married a Mennonite girl”.

“I was sorry to hear about your wife”.

“Thank you”.

Wendy gave me an embarrassed look; “I appear to have told Elaine quite a lot about you, actually!”

“Don’t worry about it”.

“You two must be having some fascinating conversations about faith”, said Elaine.

“It’s interesting”, Wendy replied, “although we dance around it a bit at times”.

“How so?”

I glanced at Wendy, and then grinned and said, “We have an old history of vigorous argument, and neither of us really want to go there any more, so we tend not to get too close to potentially controversial subjects”.

“And I think the similarities are more important”, Wendy added. “We’ve both made adult faith journeys and we made them because we were hungry for God. My faith involves a bit more silence and contemplative prayer; Tom’s is a lot more to do with putting the teaching of Jesus into practice in daily life, and I actually find that quite admirable”.

“I’m interested in the contemplative prayer thing, too”, I said.

“I’d love to hear more about your Mennonite beliefs”, said Elaine. “Perhaps the three of us could get together for a cup of tea in the not-too-distant future?”

“That would be fine”, I replied, “but probably not ’til after Christmas”.

“Agreed!” she said with a grin; “It’s a rather busy time on my calendar too!”

******

Emma and I were planning on running out to Northwood for Sunday dinner; so after a few minutes I made my excuses, exchanged kisses with Wendy and walked home. Mike and Becca had other plans, but Rick and his family joined us for our one o’clock meal; my mother had prepared a lighter dinner than usual, and I could see that my father was still tired after his late night. “It was a very good evening, though”, he said to me with a smile; “I’m glad I went”.

“Not bad at all, bro!” my brother agreed; “Most impressive!”

“You were pretty awesome!” said Eric; “I really like those old folk songs, and Owen’s amazing on those two instruments he plays – bouzouki and…”

“Cittern”, I replied. “He’s learned them both since our university days; when we were young we were both strictly guitar players”.

******

We got home at about four in the afternoon. Emma had some studying to do, and I needed to get going on schoolwork, so I made a fresh pot of coffee and then the two of us went our separate ways. At about six-thirty I threw together some sandwiches, and we were just clearing up when the phone rang. I picked it up from the kitchen table; “Tom and Emma’s”, I said.

“It’s Wendy; how’s your schoolwork going?”

“Alright; I’ve probably got another hour or so left”.

“I’m really sorry, but could we possibly get together for half an hour? Something’s come up”.

“Is this about Mickey?”

“Yes”.

“Sure. Do you want to meet at the Red Lion?”

“What time?”

“Just a minute”. I covered the phone with my hand and glanced at Emma; “Are you okay if I pop out to the pub with Wendy for half an hour?”

“Sure; I’ve still got a lot to finish tonight. Is everything okay?”

“Something to do with Mickey”.

She frowned; “If you end up being out for longer, call me and let me know what’s going on, okay?”

“Sure”.

******

The Red Lion was fairly quiet on that chilly Sunday night, with a couple of people leaning on the bar and a few others scattered around the tables and couches. I picked up a pint of bitter for myself and a cider for Wendy and we sat down in a window seat with a bit of privacy. “So what’s up?” I asked.

“I had a phone call from Rees an hour ago; Mickey rang him this afternoon”.

“Is he back in England, then?”

“Yes; he’s in hospital in London. They kept him at the British base in Basra for a couple of weeks until they thought he was well enough for the trip home”.

“Sounds as if it was quite serious”.

“I think one of the wounds might have got infected. Anyway, he told Rees he intends to put in a formal request to see Colin”.

“A formal request?”

“Yes. Apparently he and his lawyer talked on Friday afternoon, and he plans to file a petition tomorrow asking for a relaxation of the terms of the court order while he’s recovering from his injuries. His lawyer thinks the court will move quickly on it; he expects it will be heard next week some time”.

“Down in London?”

“Yes”.

“How do you feel about it?”

She shrugged, and I saw the emotion on her face. “At the moment I’m just angry at him. It feels like he’s reaching out to control my life again, just like he did when we were married. I think I’m over all that, but then something like this happens, and I realize that deep down inside I’m still afraid of him. Still, this isn’t about me, is it? It’s about Colin and his Dad”.

“How does Colin feel about it?”

“That’s the other thing. I told them both about Mickey’s injury three weeks ago, when I first heard about it, and later on when Colin and I were alone together I mentioned the possibility that his dad might want to see him. He didn’t say much, but I could tell he didn’t like the idea. I know he’d really rather not have anything to do with Mickey”.

“That could be difficult”.

“Yes; I’m not going to put any pressure on him one way or the other, but I know if he refuses to go, I’ll get blamed for it”.

“Have you talked to him about it today?”

“No. I’m dreading the thought, actually; I’d hate him to think I was putting any pressure on him to do something he doesn’t want to do”. She stared off into space for a moment. “In all the years we were together, Mickey never hit Colin, but he often shouted at him and ridiculed him, and of course Colin knew what Mickey did to me. Occasionally he saw it happen. I know he’s afraid of his Dad”.

“Would you like me to talk to him with you?”

“Perhaps. Be with me when I talk to him, if you want”.

“Would you like to do it tonight?”

“You’re not in a rush to get back to your schoolwork?”

“I’ve got a bit of time yet”. I frowned and put my hand on hers; “So how are you thinking of responding to Mickey’s request”.

“I’m thinking of telling my lawyers not to contest it”.

“Are you sure?”

She gave a heavy sigh. “Not really”, she said, “but as I said before, he’s been injured and I’m sure he’s feeling his own mortality. I don’t want to be cruel and vindictive; I want to do the right thing”.

“Right”. I took out my mobile phone; “Excuse me for a minute while I call Emma”.

******

When we got to Wendy’s house we found Lisa sitting in an easy chair in the living room, reading a book; she looked up with a warm smile as we entered the room. “Hello there”, she said; “How was your drink?”

“It was fine, thanks”, Wendy replied. “Where’s Colin?”

“Up in his room doing something; he didn’t say what. Do you want me to make some tea?”

“Not for me, thanks; Tom?”

I shook my head; “I’m fine”.

“Are you two going to sit down, or are you en route somewhere?”

“I’m going to go up and talk to Colin for a minute”, Wendy replied; she glanced at me and said, “I’ll ask him to come down”.

“Okay”.

Wendy slipped out of the room. Lisa looked up at me and frowned; “Is something going on?”

I sat down on the couch. “Your mum’s heard from Mickey; apparently he plans to put in a formal request to see Colin”.

I saw her eyes narrowing; “Can he do that, legally?”

“I guess we’ll see. Apparently his lawyer plans to file a petition tomorrow to have the terms of the court order relaxed while he’s recovering from his injuries”.

She gave me a scornful look. “While he’s recovering from his injuries! The court order’s there because of the injuries he inflicted on other people!”

“You and your mum, you mean?”

“Yes. Has she ever told you about those injuries?”

“Not in any detail”.

“He broke her jaw, you know!”

“No, I didn’t know that”, I replied quietly. “All she told me was that she had broken bones”.

“It took a long time for her to heal”.

“What about you?”

“I didn’t have anything broken, but I had a lot of bruising and a minor concussion”.

“I’m very sorry, Lisa”.

“Yes, well, I hope you can understand why I don’t find it very easy to muster up a great deal of sympathy for Mickey Kingsley. I assume Mum’s told him in no uncertain terms to back off?”

“Well, actually…”

I saw the anger flaring in her eyes. “You’ve got to be kidding! Please don’t tell me she’s going all ‘turn the other cheek’ on us!”

“I think maybe you need to talk with her…”.

“I’m talking to you at the moment! I’m assuming you and Mum are agreed on this?”

“Agreed on what?” Wendy asked, reappearing at the living room door.

“This idea of letting Colin go and see Mickey in hospital! Please don’t tell me you’re actually going to let this happen!”

Wendy came into the room, sat down on the couch beside me, and crossed her legs. “I’m going to tell my lawyer not to oppose it”.

“I don’t believe this! Have you forgotten what he did to us?”

“I think you can assume I haven’t forgotten it”.

“Then why are you putting Colin in danger?”

“It’s hard for me to imagine Mickey being able to do anything to Colin while he’s in a hospital bed recovering from shrapnel injuries”.

“But it won’t stop there! You know as well as I do that this will just be the thin end of the wedge! Once he wins this concession, he won’t rest until he has full access to us again!”

“Well, he may well decide he wants to fight that battle, but if he does, I’ll oppose it”.

“That’ll be too late; you need to draw a line now, before it goes any further”.

“Lisa, I’m sure he’s feeling his own mortality right now, and it makes sense to me that a man would want to see his son at a time like this”.

“So you’re actually taking his side?”

Wendy pursed her lips, and for a moment I saw the emotion in her face. “Lisa, my love, I’m not taking his side. Please don’t treat me as if I’m the enemy; I’m not”.

“But Mickey is the enemy; can’t you see that? Please don’t give in to him, Mum! Please don’t forget what he did to us!”

“I’m not likely to forget it”.

Lisa turned to me. “What about you, Tom? What do you think about this?”

I frowned, choosing my words carefully. “Well, of course, I don’t know Mickey anything like as well as you two. Still, when I knew him in our university days I was always a bit wary of him. Owen and I had our doubts about him from the beginning”.

Wendy nodded; “They did, but I was foolish enough to ignore them”.

“All that being said”, I continued, “I don’t think it can do any lasting harm for Colin to see Mickey while he’s in hospital – that is, if he wants to. We’re assuming Colin will want to see him, but personally I’m not convinced that’s a done deal”.

“He’s just seventeen!” Lisa replied. “You’re asking him to make a choice that’s far too big for his years; it’s not fair on him!”

At that moment Colin appeared at the door, dressed in jeans and a sweater, his hair a little messy. “Are you talking about me?” he asked Lisa.

“Yes; has Mum told you about this outrageous idea your dad has come up with?”

Colin took his seat in the easy chair across from his sister and looked at Wendy; “What idea?”

“You know your dad was rather seriously injured in Iraq”, she said; “He’s sent a message saying he would like you to visit him in hospital”.

He frowned; “I thought that wasn’t allowed?”

“It’s not, so tomorrow he’s going to file a petition to have the terms of the court order relaxed while he’s recovering from his injuries. I’m inclined not to oppose that request, but I’m not going to force you into doing something you don’t want to do, either. It’s up to you”.

“Can the court force me to see him?”

“No; you’re over sixteen, so you’ve got the right to decide for yourself. All the court can do is remove the legal restrictions, and he hasn’t asked them to do it permanently – just while he’s recovering from his injuries”.

Colin looked down; “I don’t want to go and see him”, he whispered.

Lisa leaned forward and put her hand on her brother’s arm. “Well done! That’s the first sensible thing I’ve heard on the subject”.

“Lisa, you’re not helping matters”, Wendy said, and I heard a hint of annoyance in her voice.

I’m not helping matters! Mum, are you out of your fucking mind? This is Mickey Kingsley we’re talking about here! He’s a monster!”

“Please don’t swear at me”, Wendy replied; “I wish you would try to understand how difficult this is for me”.

Lisa shook her head violently; “I’m sorry, but the only thing I can understand is that you should be protecting Colin, not exposing him to more danger from that bastard”.

“There’s no need to get upset about it, Lise”, Colin replied; “The only way I’d be in danger is if I actually went to see him, and I’m not going”.

“But you don’t understand – the only thing protecting you from him is that court order, and if Mum agrees for it to be relaxed, it’ll just be the thin end of the wedge. He’ll be back in our lives, and none of us will ever be safe again”. She got to her feet, and I saw the tears springing to her eyes. “I’m sorry”, she said, her voice barely under control, “I just can’t sit here and listen to this; I can’t even begin to think about this happening. Please, Mum, don’t let this happen”. She wiped her eyes angrily with the back of her hand, and then turned and left the room.

The three of us sat in silence for a moment, and then Colin said, “I’m sorry, Mum”.

“About what?”

“About you and Lisa having a fight about me”.

“It’s not your fault”. She hesitated, and then said, “Are you sure you don’t want to go and visit your dad?”

“Do you think I should go?”

She frowned. “We all know the sort of thing your Dad did to us in the past, and I can’t sit here and pretend I’m not afraid of him, even now. But at the same time, I’m sorry he’s been injured and I understand why he might want to see you at this time. It’s always possible that what he’s been through might have worked some sort of change in him. I’m skeptical about that, but I’m trying my best to give him the benefit of the doubt. Still, the last thing I want to do is put any pressure on you to do something you don’t want to do. If you thought you wanted to see him, I wouldn’t put an obstacle in your way. If you feel you’d rather not, I’ll support you in that as well”.

“I really don’t want to go, Mum”.

“Fair enough; I can understand that”.

He got to his feet; “I’m going to go and talk to Lisa”.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes”.

“Alright”.

He slipped out of the living room and closed the door behind him. Wendy turned to look at me, and I saw the distress in her eyes. “Tom, what in God’s name am I supposed to do?”

I turned toward her on the couch. “Okay, for what it’s worth, here’s what I think. The court order’s in place to protect you and the kids. Both the kids obviously feel they still need it. Lisa’s terrified of the thought of it being relaxed, and Colin’s got no interest at all in going to see his Dad – presumably because he’s afraid of him. And you’re afraid of him too, aren’t you?”

She nodded; “I am”.

“Then I think you need to tell your lawyer that you want to oppose the petition”.

“You’ve changed your mind?”

“I have”.

“But is it the Christian thing for me to say ‘no’ to him?”

“Wisdom is a Christian virtue too. Don’t get me wrong – I’m a convinced pacifist and I believe in non-violence and loving your enemies, but there’s no virtue in deliberately putting yourself in the path of violence. Mickey’s given plenty of evidence over the years that he’s a violent man, and his recent communications don’t indicate any change”. I put my arm around her shoulders; “Someone may be called to help him” I said softly, “but I don’t think it’s you. For you and the kids, safety comes first; that’s just the way it has to be”.

She looked at me in silence for a moment, then nodded slowly and laid her head against my shoulder. “Thanks, Tom”, she whispered. “I think I needed to hear that”.

“Rees will say the same thing, I’m sure”.

“I know he will”. I felt her nodding her head against my shoulder. “All right; that’s what I’ll do”.

******

Mickey called me on Thursday night, two days after Emma’s birthday; Emma was working an evening shift at the J.R.. I had done my marking and classroom prep, and I was sitting in the living room playing some guitar instrumentals when the phone rang. Leaning my guitar against the side of the couch, I picked up the phone; “Tom and Emma’s”.

“Tom; Mickey Kingsley here”.

“Mickey – are you home?”

“No, I’m still in hospital; I’ll be here for a few more days yet. But of course, you probably already know that”.

“How are you feeling?”

“My wounds are healing slowly, but I’m rather pissed off right now about this petition of mine being denied. No doubt you’ve heard about that”.

“I have”.

“Was it Wendy’s idea, or yours?”

I leaned back on the couch. “Actually, Wendy was ready to let Colin go down and see you; he was the one who didn’t want to go. Until he told her how he felt, she was all ready to allow your petition”.

I heard him snort on the other end of the line; “You really expect me to believe that?”

“You’ll have to decide for yourself what you want to believe. I can only tell you what I saw. I was with Wendy and the children when the decision was made; Wendy had made up her mind not to oppose the petition, and I supported her in that. It wasn’t until she realized that Colin really didn’t want to visit you – and she saw how terrified Lisa was – that she changed her mind”.

“Lisa – I might have known she’d have something to do with it; that daughter of yours has always been prejudiced against me!”

“A concussion can have that effect on a person”.

“She’s told you all about that in detail, I suppose?”

“Actually, no; neither she nor Wendy have said much about it. Wendy’s never gone into the specifics and Lisa only mentioned the word ‘concussion’ when she found out about your petition”.

“You were there when they were discussing this, were you?”

“I was”.

“Are you and Wendy dating or something?”

“That’s our business, Mickey”.

“Defensive again, aren’t we?”

“Was there something you wanted to say to me specifically tonight, or did you just call me up so that you could vent your spleen at me?”

There was a short silence on the other end of the line; again, I could hear his breathing, and eventually, to my surprise, he said, “Sorry, I’m a bit frustrated today, that’s all, and it’s not been much fun having shrapnel dug out of my body. For that matter, it wasn’t much fun having it put in there in the first place”.

“I can imagine. Wendy said she thought you’d had an infection of some kind?”

“Yes – one of the wounds got infected, and I got a fever that I found a bit hard to shake. Things are pretty basic at Basra, too; I was mightily relieved when I finally got back to London and a decent hospital”.

“I can imagine”.

“I don’t think you can, Tom; Iraq’s a fucking hell-hole right now, and if you haven’t been there, you’ve got absolutely no idea how God-awful it is. Blair had no business getting our troops into that quagmire”.

“No argument from me on that one”.

“Anyway”; he paused for a moment, and then continued, “can we talk about Colin for a minute?”

“What about him, specifically?”

“Well, you don’t seem to want to talk about it, but I can read between the lines and it seems obvious to me that you and Wendy are having some sort of relationship. I’m a bit concerned about the effect you might have on Colin”.

“How so?”

“Well, I know at the moment I’m not allowed to see him, and I’m prepared to admit that to a certain extent that’s my fault. But I’ve always hoped that situation wouldn’t last forever; I’d hoped that when he got a bit older, one day he and I might be able to have some sort of relationship again”.

“Go on”.

“Well, I’m quite worried that if you and Wendy end up as a couple the two of you are going to work together to keep him away from me. I don’t want that to happen, and of course I can’t talk to Wendy about it because of the court order”.

I frowned. “Mickey, let’s assume for the sake of argument that Wendy and I are going to be a couple. What exactly is it you’re asking of me?”

“Well, I know it’s too much to hope that you might actually encourage Colin to think kindly of me, but I’d hope at least that you wouldn’t oppose any moves I made to bring us closer together”.

“You’re asking me to do something I’ve already done. I was in favour of him coming to visit you, and that’s what I said to them. It wasn’t ’til I saw how reluctant Colin was – and how scared Lisa was – that I realized it might not be such a good idea after all”.

“So you did persuade Wendy to contest my petition?”

“Mickey, your petition was going to have absolutely no effect; whatever the legal situation, Colin wasn’t going to come to visit you. He was absolutely clear about that. And given the way he felt, and the fact that Lisa was terrified of the thought of the court order being even the slightest bit relaxed – well, when Wendy asked me what I thought, I told her I’d changed my mind and I thought she should oppose your petition”.

“You told her you’d changed your mind?”

“I did”.

“Who the fuck do you think you are, for Christ’s sake? What gives you the right to push your way into this?”

“Do you want to stop talking now, or shall I hang up?”

“I’ll save you the trouble!” I heard the click of the phone being hung up; I listened to the dial tone for a moment, and then shook my head and pressed the ‘end’ button. Replacing the cordless phone in its charger, I got to my feet, stretched, and went out to the kitchen. I boiled a cup of water, made myself a cup of herbal tea, and was just about to go upstairs when I heard the phone ringing again. Going back into the living room, I picked it up and said, “Tom and Emma’s”.

“Sorry I lost my temper, Tom”.

I shook my head slowly; “Hello again, Mickey”.

“Listen, to get back to Colin…”

“Mickey, if you can’t even keep your temper on the telephone with me, do you seriously expect me to advise Colin to give you the benefit of the doubt?”

Again there was silence on the line; I sat down on the couch and waited for him to respond. After a moment he said, “Can we get together and talk about this?”

I laughed; “You want me to come and visit you?”

“Surely you must make trips to London from time to time?”

“Well, Mickey, believe it or not, my free time is kind of taken up with a dying father right now. I don’t have a great deal of leisure time”.

“I’d just really like to have a face to face discussion about this with you – man to man, you know?”

“Man to man?”

“Yes”.

I laughed again; “Isn’t that phrase a bit old-fashioned? These days if women are part of the situation we tend to include them in the conversation, you know”.

“Look, just think about it, alright? How could it possibly hurt?”

I gave a heavy sigh. “All right – I will think about it”.

“Have you got my phone number?”

“No”.

“I’ll give you my mobile number as well, alright?”

“Alright”. I found pen and paper and wrote down the numbers he gave me. “I’ll call you back in a few days”, I said. “Please don’t rush me on this; when I’ve made a decision, I’ll be the one to make the phone call”.

“Fair enough. I’ll say good night, then”.

“Good night, Mickey; I hope you’re feeling better soon”.

******

Link to Chapter 32