My father was the one who called me the following Friday to tell me that his cancer was spreading again. I could not remember the last time he had called me; phone calls from that house always came from my mother. So when our phone rang that evening as Emma and I were getting supper ready, I was astonished when I heard his voice: “Tom? It’s Dad”.
“Dad!” I exclaimed, and immediately Emma turned from the sink where she had been washing the lettuce. “Is that Grandpa?” she asked.
I mouthed the word “Yes” as he continued, “I wanted to let you know I saw the doctor this afternoon, and the cancer’s spreading again”.
I took a deep breath and said, “Well, you suspected as much, didn’t you?”
“I did. I must admit I’d been hoping for a different result, though”.
“I know”. Emma came over, and I held the phone between us so she could hear my father’s voice. “Em’s here too, Dad, and she’s listening in. So is there a plan yet?”
“I think we’re back to where we started from – regular chemotherapy and hope for the best”.
“What did the doctor actually say, Grandpa?” asked Emma.
“She said they’d discovered cancer in several new locations, in the lymph nodes and the bone marrow”.
“Are you okay?”
“I’m just tired, my dear. I was hoping for a different result, of course, but I think somehow I knew this time I wasn’t going to get it. And please don’t be unduly worried about me; no, it’s not good news, but I’m in no danger of dying in the immediate future”.
“Are you two still coming tomorrow?”
“We’ll be there in time for lunch”, I replied, “and we’ll stay overnight. Is there anything we can bring for you?”
He laughed softly; “Well, if you think you can spring for a nice fifteen-year Glen Moray, I’ll be glad to pay you for it when you get here!”
It was my turn to laugh; “I’ll go to the off-licence in the morning and see what I can find!”
“Do Rick and Becca know, Dad?”
“I’m going to ring them next”.
“I’d better get off and let you do that, then”.
“Before you go – Emma, did you see Sarah today?”
“Yeah – I drove her to physio this morning, and I spent the afternoon with her”.
“How is she?”
“She’s still finding the physio hard, but she’s mostly okay”.
“Thank you for looking after her”.
“It’s no trouble – I enjoy being with her”.
“I’m sure it’s mutual. Well, I’ll see you both tomorrow”.
“Goodnight, Grandpa”, said Emma.
“Goodnight, Dad”, I added.
I put the phone down on the kitchen table, turned to face Emma and put both my arms around her. She laid her head against my chest; “You knew, didn’t you?” she whispered.
“I had a hunch”.
“Are you okay, Dad?”
I leaned back a little and looked down at her. “I’m okay”, I replied, kissing her gently on the forehead. “We knew this was coming”.
She shook her head as the tears brimmed in her eyes; “It doesn’t make it any easier, though”.
“It’s not fair”, she said desolately.
“No, it’s not”.
“First Mom, and now Grandpa…”
“I hate cancer”.
“Me too. But let’s not forget what he said – it’s not good news, but he doesn’t seem to be in any immediate danger”.
“Do you think the two-year prediction still holds?”
“Hard to say; if it does, we’ve still got eight months to go”.
We held each other in silence for a few minutes, neither of us feeling the need to speak. Eventually she kissed me on the cheek, stepped back and looked up at me. “I should call Lisa; I was talking to her yesterday and I told her I’d let her know as soon as we heard something”.
“Okay; do you want me to finish getting that salad ready while you’re talking to her?”
“Sure – thanks”.
“If you reach her at home, can you let me talk to Wendy when you’re done?”
“Okay”. She took her phone out of her pocket; “I’ll go up to my room to make the call”.
I spent a few minutes putting the lettuce in a dish, chopping cucumber, tomatoes and celery, and adding some grated cheese and salad dressing. When I was done I put the bowl in the middle of the table and went back to the fridge for some cold meat slices.
I was just finishing up the supper preparations when Emma came downstairs again and handed me her phone; “It’s Wendy”.
“Thanks”. I took the phone from her and put it up to my ear; “Hi, Wendy”.
“Tom – are you okay?”
“I am. I was kind of expecting this”.
‘Is there anything I can do?”
“I think we’re okay. Mind you, I fully expect that in a few minutes I’m going to start getting calls from my sister and brother. I think Becca will probably end up coming over, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Rick and I spent some time tonight talking about stuff as well”.
“Did you ring Owen?”
“Not yet. That’s probably a good idea; I should do that before everyone else starts calling”.
“He’ll want to know what’s happening”.
“Are you sure you’re okay? Do you want me to come over?”
“I would love to see you, but I think maybe tonight I need to keep the space open for Rick and Becca”.
“I understand. Can you make a tiny little space for Lisa for a minute?”
“Absolutely; what’s up?”
“She wants to ask you something”.
I heard the phone changing hands, and then Lisa’s voice: “Tom, I’m really sorry”.
“How did he sound when you were talking to him?”
“Well, like he said, this wasn’t the news he was hoping for, but I think on the whole he was sounding okay; he’s not expecting a big change in the next few months other than the fact that he’ll be starting chemo again”.
“Can I go out to see him?”
“When were you thinking?”
“Some time this weekend; Mum might come too. You’re going to be there, right?”
“Yes – we’re going tomorrow morning”.
“Do you think it would be okay if we came?”
“I think it’d be fine, but you should call first; you’ve got their number, right?”
“Your mum gave it to me”.
“So give them a call in the morning. Dad’s a private sort of person; he tends not to react too well when people show up unexpectedly”.
“Good to know – thanks”.
“No worries. What about you – are you okay?”
“To be honest, I’m a bit weepy. I don’t know why – I just met him, but I – well, I liked meeting him and talking with him”.
“I know he felt the same”.
“I’m going to go now; can I ring you tomorrow?”
“Sure – you can ring me any time”.
“Okay – thanks. Here’s Mum”.
My father seemed subdued when we arrived at the house just before lunch the next day, but still he accepted Emma’s hug with a smile, and when he and I shook hands he held on for a little longer than usual. My mother had prepared a light lunch for us, and as we ate we talked about my father’s news even though, as he said, there really wasn’t much more to say about it.
“One thing your mother and I are both agreed on”, he said to me at one point, “is that you absolutely must not allow this to change your summer plans”.
“I don’t see how that’s going to work”, I replied; “I can hardly take off to Meadowvale for five weeks while you’re going through chemo”.
“I went through chemo for months last year and nothing dramatic happened. You two are not going to wait around here all summer on the remote chance that I might take a major turn for the worst. I won’t allow it, Tom”.
“You’ve got family back in Meadowvale”, my mother added softly, “and we know how much you both miss them – and how much they miss you. You need to go back for a few weeks and spend some time with them. We’ll be fine here – we’ve got Rick and Alyson and the children, and Becca. We’ll be all right”.
Emma nodded; “I must admit I’m really looking forward to Jenna’s grad – and to being close to Beth when she has her baby”.
“Of course you are, darling”, my mother replied, “not to mention spending time with your other grandparents and Jake and Jenna, and going to the mountains, and riding the horses at Hugo and Millie’s…”
“That’s Dan and Cara’s now”, I reminded her.
She shook her head with a smile; “I’ll never get used to that!”
After lunch my father surprised me again; as we were clearing the table he glanced at me and said, “After I have a little rest, would you like to go down to the Kingfisher for an hour?”
“Sure; I didn’t realize you knew the way!”
“I’ve been there occasionally”, he said with a smile. He put his hand on Emma’s arm; “Do you mind if I steal your dad for a bit?”
“Of course not; you guys should go and have a good time!”
“We girls will be glad to have the place to ourselves for a while”, my mother added.
The Kingfisher was the oldest of the four pubs in Northwood, and on fine summer afternoons and evenings its riverside terrace was a popular place for meals or drinks. I had worked behind the bar there for a few summers in my student years; it had been a favourite hangout for Owen and me when we were home from university, and on our visits to Northwood Kelly had quickly come to love it as well. The bar room was laid out in the traditional style, with a bare wooden floor, dark circular tables, a large fireplace, and a low, beamed ceiling. The background music was always quiet, and so far the landlord had resisted the idea of installing big screen televisions.
It was a warm afternoon, and if I had been by myself I would have enjoyed the walk, but I knew my father would not be able to make it that far, so I drove him down to the Kingfisher in his car. I was quite warm enough in jeans and shirt, but he had put a cardigan on, and when we walked into the pub he was using his cane for support. There were two or three people seated at the bar, and a few others scattered around the tables, but it wasn’t hard for us to find a seat close to the empty fireplace. “You sit down, Dad”, I said; “I’ll buy”.
“Are you sure?” he replied, lowering himself carefully into an old wooden armchair.
“Absolutely; what would you like?”
“I think I’ll have whatever you’re having”.
“I usually have the local bitter”.
“Then I’ll have that too”.
“Okay; I’ll just be a minute”.
A few moments later I returned with our drinks. “Are you warm enough?” I asked as I sat down across from him and put the glasses on the table between us.
“I’m a bit chilly, but that’s just par for the course”. He picked up one of the pint glasses and raised it to me; “Cheers”.
“Cheers”, I replied, lifting my glass in return. We both sipped at our beer, and then I said, “I don’t remember if we’ve ever done this before”.
“I’m fairly sure we haven’t”. He frowned thoughtfully; “I was thinking the other day that it’ll be twenty years this summer since the first time you brought Kelly to meet us”.
“That’s right, isn’t it? This coming October would have been our twentieth anniversary. I guess that means Rick and Alyson will celebrate theirs on August 4th”.
He nodded. “I remember you and Kelly arriving a couple of days ahead of time, and then the next day we flew up to Edinburgh and had dinner with Alyson’s family”.
“That was quite the dinner”.
He smiled at me; “Kelly made a big impression that night, if I remember correctly”.
“To tell you the truth, we were both taken by surprise by the kind of wealth Alyson’s parents had; we weren’t expecting anything like that. Kelly was totally intimidated by it”.
“Really? I’m surprised to hear that; she certainly didn’t show it.”
“She had a bit of a meltdown before dinner, but Mum talked to her, and after that she was okay. I’d actually never seen her like that before; normally, you know, she just took everything in her stride”.
“Including a rather difficult future father-in-law”.
I shrugged and took a sip of my beer; “I think that night it was more to do with the obvious difference between her situation and Alyson’s. She told me she was really getting an eye-opener about how you and mum must see her; she felt like she wasn’t much of a catch for your oldest son, compared to all the Mackenzie wealth’”.
He looked down at the table; “In my case she was probably right, although now I’m ashamed to admit it. Of course your mum saw from the start what an outstanding person she was, but I was too taken up with other things. Alyson’s father tried to set me straight, you know”.
“I don’t think I knew that”.
“No, I’m sure I never told you. Do you remember at the dinner when he asked her about her family, and she spoke about her admiration for her grandparents and how they’d left Russia and started all over again in Canada? Douglas made a point of telling me afterwards how impressed he was with her, but I was too blind to see it”.
“What’s got you thinking about this, Dad?”
“I think about it all the time when I’m with Emma; I don’t think I’ve ever met a young person so thoughtful and kind and – well, so genuine. All I can think of is the outstanding job that you and Kelly did as her parents”.
“Thanks”, I said quietly; “She’s kind of special, isn’t she?”
“She is. And I know she’s made enormous sacrifices to come and spend time with me – she’s left her friends and family, her home, her plans for going to university with her cousins – and she’s done it cheerfully and without complaint, at least as far as I can see”.
“Yes she has, although I’d be lying if I said she had no regrets”.
“Of course”. He looked at me for a moment, and then he said, “Do you know what I regret?”
“I regret that I’ll never be able to tell Kelly how highly I think of the daughter she raised”.
I stared at him for a moment, finding myself suddenly unable to speak. After a minute he said, “I’m sorry – I didn’t mean to upset you”.
I shook my head; “No need to apologize; I just didn’t think I’d ever hear you say anything like that”.
“I should have said it a long time ago”. He took a sip of his drink and then put it down on the table again, his eyes far away. “I was very rude to Kelly during that first visit. She came to me in the living room one night and asked me if I was going to be coming to your wedding. I can’t remember exactly what I said to her, but it was words to the effect that I thought you’d made a mistake in moving to Meadowvale, and I’d always hoped you would come to your senses and come back to England, and I wasn’t happy about the fact that you were marrying into the community and strengthening your ties there”.
He shook his head slowly and looked at me. “I really don’t know what I was trying to accomplish. I know what I did, though; I made it much harder for her to have any sort of positive relationship with me. I expect she told you about that?”
“Was she very upset?”
“Yes she was”.
“I expect you were angry, too”.
“Yes, but she talked me down”.
“Did she?” He shook his head again; “I shouldn’t really be surprised, should I?”
“She was always trying to bring people together; that was one of the major values of her life”.
“That would have come from her faith background, I suppose?”
“Yes, although it wasn’t just her upbringing; she and I read the gospels together a lot, and she really took those teachings to heart”.
“I remember you mentioning making choices about the sort of life you wanted to live”.
“Yeah”. I frowned; “She got on my case sometimes, you know, and I’ll tell you this: it really bothered her that you and I were estranged from each other. Almost to her dying day, she was encouraging me to do what I could to mend our relationship. To be honest with you, it’s something I’ve felt guilty about since she died – the fact that she never lived to see it fixed”.
He shook his head. “You can’t take the entire responsibility for that”.
“I know, but there are always two sides to a story”.
We were quiet for a few moments; he was staring off into space, his mind obviously far away, his glass of beer forgotten for the moment. The bar was filling up now; an older couple who I recognized from the village church came wandering in as we were sitting there, nodding a greeting to people they knew, and on the other side of the fireplace from us a group of four or five young adults were talking and laughing together.
Eventually my father spoke again. “I’m sorry, Tom”, he said softly.
“It’s okay, Dad”.
He shook his head, his eyes still far away; “No, it’s not. It’s one gigantic missed opportunity, something I could have made right years ago but chose not to, because I was so stubborn”. He looked up, and his eyes met mine. “You chose well”, he said; “You chose a wonderful girl, and you had a very happy life with her. And she did you a lot of good; I can see that now. You’ve grown up, and you’ve moved ahead, and you’ve become very sure of yourself and who you are, and at the same time you’ve learned a genuine concern for others. All I have to do is look at the way you and Emma have stepped up and done all you could to help since Rick and Sarah had their accident. No one could ever have expected the two of you to do as much as you have, but you’ve done it gladly and without complaint”.
“It’s not a big deal, Dad; they’re family, and that’s what family does”.
“Especially the Reimer family, I think”.
“Well, yes, they do tend to be good at that kind of thing”.
“I know that now. And to get back to what I was saying – I am really sorry, Tom. I know my refusal to be part of your life over the years must have been very hurtful to you and Kelly, and I see now that I’m the one who lost out the most from it. And there’s something else I want you to know”.
“I liked her. I tried to hide the fact, because I was so stubborn about my disapproval of you, but I want you to know that I liked her very much, despite myself. She was so positive and friendly and outgoing, and so determined to see the best in people”. He shook his head, looking away again. “I wish I could have summoned up the decency to tell her that before she died”.
Once again I found myself staring at him, unable to speak. He shook his head; “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bring you out here this afternoon to upset you”.
“I’m not upset”.
“You must miss Kelly a great deal”, he said quietly.
“Emma and I talk about her sometimes; perhaps she’s told you about that?”
“Actually, Emma doesn’t usually fill me in on private conversations she has with other people”.
“No, of course not. Well, a couple of weeks ago when she was here we got into a conversation about her mother. She told me that she still finds it very difficult”.
“I know she does”. I sighed; “Like me, she’s learned to live with it, but that doesn’t mean the pain goes away”.
“No”. He hesitated, and then said, “And what about Wendy and Lisa and Colin? I know you’ve told me that you and Wendy aren’t dating, but it must seem almost as if you’ve found another family”.
“Yeah, in some ways it does”.
“Do you think Lisa will ever come to see you as her father?”
“I think she will in time, but I’m not trying to rush her. She’ll get there on her own eventually”.
“My newly patient son”.
I shrugged; “Sometimes that’s the best way”.
“I’m sure. And you and Wendy are still just good friends?”
“Yes. We’re both happy with that. I like her a lot and we get on well with each other, but we’re not looking for anything more than friendship”.
“Well, a good friend is a great gift”.
I nodded; “I can certainly agree with that one”.
“Lisa rang me this morning, you know”.
“I thought she might do that; we were talking last night”.
“She told me that. I think she might come over tomorrow, with her mum and her brother”.
“I think there might be a few people here tomorrow”.
“That’s what I understand”.
On Sunday morning Emma and I went to the parish church for the nine o’clock service. When we got back to my parents’ place we worked with my mother to prepare Sunday dinner; Becca and Mike arrived at about eleven-thirty, and Rick and his family soon afterwards. Wendy and her children arrived just before dinner; it was the first time Wendy had met my brother and his family, and as she and Rick shook hands he smiled and said “I’ve heard a lot about you”.
“Likewise; how’s your leg?”
He shrugged; “Mostly all right. It gives me a bit of pain every now and again, but it’s fairly minor compared to what my daughter’s still dealing with”.
Emma introduced Lisa to Sarah; I could tell immediately that Sarah was a little intimidated by this sophisticated looking cousin who she was meeting for the first time. “It is true you speak Russian and German?” she asked.
“Da, eto pravda”, Lisa replied with a smile.
“What does that mean?”
“It’s Russian for ‘Yes, it’s true’. And is it true your left leg is made of steel?”
Sarah laughed; “Titanium, actually – there’s an intramedullary nail in there”.
Lisa gave her a mock frown; “What language is that?”
“I know – I’ve had to learn lots of weird words and phrases over the past few months! I don’t know why they call it a ‘nail’ – it’s actually a titanium rod”.
“Is it attached to your bone?”
“It’s in the marrow canal of my femur; they put it in there because the bone fractures were so complicated”.
Lisa shuddered; “That sounds horrible; does it hurt?”
“It still aches quite a bit, but that’s not especially the rod; it takes a long time for a leg to fully recover from that kind of injury”.
“Emma says you’re still having physiotherapy?”
“I go almost every day; I’ll be doing that for a while yet”.
My mother served us all coffee; Lisa sat down beside my father, and I heard her speaking to him quietly. “How are you feeling, Mr. Masefield?”
“Oh, not too bad. I’m not in a lot of pain, my dear; it’s mainly that I’m tired a lot”. He frowned; “You know, there’s been something I’ve been meaning to ask you”.
“What is it?” she said, accepting a cup of coffee from Becca with a smile.
“Well, I understand that you and Tom need to take your time to work out what sort of relationship you’re going to have, and I know it’s complicated. But the thing is, time is one thing I don’t have an unlimited supply of, you see? So, could I possibly persuade you to call me ‘Grandpa’ instead of ‘Mr. Masefield’?”
She gave him a slow smile; “I could do that”, she replied.
While we were clearing up from dinner my mother looked around the room with a smile and said “I should have arranged for a photographer, shouldn’t I?”
“My mother”, Rick said with a grin; “Always wanting to record things for posterity!”
“But this is a special occasion!” she replied. “This is the first time we’ve had Becca and Mike, and Tom’s extended family…”
Colin laughed; “I suppose we are a sort of extended family, aren’t we? I think I’m probably at the far end of the extension!”
My mother coloured slightly. “I’m sorry if I said the wrong thing; I didn’t mean…”
Wendy shook her head; “Don’t worry about it, Mrs. Masefield”. She glanced at me; “It’s a bit untidy, but ‘extended family’ isn’t a bad way of describing it”.
Emma was sitting beside Wendy; she smiled at her and said, “Lisa’s my sister and you’re her mom, and you’re Colin’s mom too – sure feels like a family to me!”
Rick grinned at Lisa; “So what’s it like to discover a sister you never knew you had?”
She shrugged; “A bit weird at first! But it didn’t take long for me to get used to it, especially as she’s such a great person”. She frowned thoughtfully; “I must admit – I had wondered sometimes what it would be like to have a sister”.
“Me too”, said Emma. “Jake and Jenna often feel like my brother and sister, but this is different somehow”.
Lisa nodded; “Yeah, it really is. We’re still working it out, of course”.
Rick looked across the table at Wendy and me. “And what about you two; are you still working it out?”
Wendy glanced quickly at me; “Tom and I are just friends, Rick”, she said.
“Very happy to be friends, though”, I added.
“Yes, we are”, she agreed.
After dinner Colin and I walked together through the orchard to the lake. It was a warm afternoon and we were both in tee-shirts and sandals.
“When are you going to Canada?” he asked me.
“We haven’t booked the tickets yet, but it’ll probably be a day or two after school finishes. Emma’s going earlier; her cousin Jenna graduates at the end of June and she wants to be there”.
“She told me she wants to stay ’til the end of August”.
“She told you about Beth’s baby being due in the middle of the month?”
“What about you?”
He shrugged. “Mum and I usually go to Wales for a couple of weeks; she likes to rent a place by the sea”.
“Anywhere in particular?”
“Usually on the south coast – somewhere we can swim, and lie on the beach”.
“If it doesn’t rain?”
He laughed; “Yeah – it does a lot of that too!”
“You’re still planning on vocational college in September?”
“Yes – I’ve applied at four different colleges”.
“You told me about Oxford and Cherwell”.
“That’s the one Mum wants me to go to”.
“She’d like to have you close at hand, I guess”.
“I know. There’s one in London, but I think she’d rather I didn’t go there”.
“Because it’s close to your dad?”
“Yeah. I don’t mind, though – he’s out of the country so much. But I don’t know if I really want that one anyway. There’s a good one in Southend that I like; they offer a basic carpentry and joinery diploma. I’d start out already knowing quite a lot of what they teach, but it’s always good to have a paper qualification, isn’t it?”
“I think so. Hopefully you wouldn’t get too bored”.
He shook his head; “I never get bored when I’m working with wood”.
“You’re a talented carpenter, Colin”.
He smiled awkwardly; “Thanks”.
We were quiet for a moment as we made our way up through the apple trees and came out into the clearing beside the lake. There was a slight breeze rippling the surface of the water, and on the far side a couple of mallards were floating lazily among the reeds.
“Dad emailed me last week to ask me about college”, he said.
He shook his head; “I wish he would just leave me alone”.
“You don’t enjoy hearing from him?”
He shook his head; “It just brings it all back”.
“Do you want to walk around the lake?”
We followed the footpath around to the bench on the far side; we took our seats, and after a moment he said, “Were you close to your grandparents?”
I nodded slowly; “I was close to my mum’s parents. My dad’s – not so much. They lived in Oxford, but they weren’t really part of our lives. Grandpa Masefield worked long hours – he was one of the founding partners of what became Masefield and Marlowe, and it was very important to him”.
“What was his name?”
“Robert – Robert Masefield. My grandma’s name was Penny”.
“When did they die?”
“They actually died within six months of each other, in 1986; I was living in Canada by then, and I didn’t come home for their funerals. The last time I saw them was in the summer of 1984, a couple of months before Kelly and I got married”.
“You came back to visit?”
“Yes – it was my first time back after my move”.
“What about your mum’s parents? You said you were close to them?”
“They were really involved in our lives. My mum’s maiden name was Campion; her dad was a university organ scholar and teacher, as well as being organist and choirmaster at St. Giles’ Church. He died in 1981, the year before I went to Canada, but my Grandma Campion didn’t die until 1989”.
“I’m a bit like you, I suppose. We’ve been really close to my mum’s parents, but not my dad’s”.
“What are they like?”
“They live in this big country house just outside of Halstead; Mum told me they bought it when my dad was about ten or twelve. Grandpa had been a businessman and he made a lot of money; Mum says he wanted to move out to the country and live like the lord of the manor or something like that. All that stuff’s really important to him”.
“Your dad never told me anything about his parents”.
“I don’t think he and grandpa are very close. Well they wouldn’t be, would they? Grandpa’s always wearing suits and ties and he likes being respectable”.
“Not like your dad”.
“No – dad likes motor bikes and leather jackets and flying to war zones and all that”.
“Why did you ask me about my grandparents?”
He thought for a moment, and then said, “I’ve been thinking that I’m the only grandchild my Kingsley grandparents have. Dad has one sister, Auntie Donna, but she’s never had any children. And Lisa hates Dad so much, and when she found out he wasn’t her real dad, she sort of cut herself off from the Kingsleys altogether”.
“What about you?”
He shrugged; “I haven’t thought about it much. When I was little I didn’t really like going to visit them, and I still find it a bit uncomfortable, but I sometimes feel sorry for them too. They’re getting older now – I think they’re in their mid-seventies – and Grandpa’s not been well. They seem a bit lonely to me”.
“It’s good that you care. It must be more than a little complicated for you”.
“Yeah. I really don’t want to have anything to do with my dad, but I don’t feel like cutting my grandparents off. Sometimes I try talking to Lisa about it, but she’s so angry at Dad, and she gets emotional really quickly, so I usually avoid the subject altogether”.
“Do you talk to your mum about it?”
“Sometimes. She’s pretty good about it, actually”.
“What’s got you thinking about them this afternoon?”
“Just what your mum was saying earlier on about us being like your extended family. I feel like we’re making all these new connections, and mostly I like it, but it’s a bit weird trying to put it all together”.
“How the new family fits in with the old one, you mean?”
“Yeah. And even how I fit in with it”.
“How do you mean?”
“Well, I know Lisa doesn’t call you ‘Dad’, but you are her dad. And you and mum were once – well, you know what I mean?”
“Lovers, for a very short time”.
He gave me an awkward glance; “I wasn’t sure what word you’d want me to use”.
“‘Lovers’ will do fine”.
“But now you’re not really together, and you and I aren’t related at all”.
“So what you’re saying is, if your mum and I were a couple again – if we got married, let’s say – then I’d be your stepfather, and you’d have some sense of how we were connected. But it’s not like that – it’s all a bit loose and undefined – and you’re wondering where we go from here, you and me”.
He shrugged again; “I suppose I am, really”.
“Where would you like us to go?”
“Well, I like you and Emma”.
“Thanks – we like you, too”.
“Lisa’s not really into sports and outdoor things”.
“But you are”.
“Emma and I aren’t really into competitive sports like you – she’s never been on a sports team, for instance”.
“No, but she likes canoeing and camping and horseback riding, and climbing and hiking and that sort of thing”.
“What about you?”
“I wouldn’t mind being involved in that sometimes; I haven’t done much of it, but it sounds like fun”.
“We haven’t had much time for it either, not since we came back to Oxford. We’ve been kind of occupied with my dad and the rest of my family. We did some canoeing last summer and fall, though, and when we’re in Canada this summer we’ll probably do some more. And we’ll be hiking in the mountains, too, I imagine”.
“Well, if you do stuff like that here, would you mind if I came along sometimes?”
“Of course not”.
“No problem”. I glanced at my watch; “Well, Emma and I need to be going soon…”
“Right – I think Mum wants to get back to town, too”.
“Shall we head back to the house, then?”