September 20, 2023

In My Car (CH 11)

                           **  IN  MY  CAR **

🚦 Filling up her car after they'd filled up an idle hour at a cosy little restaurant, he watched her from the passenger seat, contemplating how to run a certain something past her.  In a nutshell, he didn't like her motor but knew she adored her 'four previous owners' little Fiat.  And that level of love was shown by the pristine condition she kept it in.  In light of her lax attitude towards tidiness in general, one would half expect to be kicking empty juice bottles aside whilst seating oneself, whereas the vehicle was spotless and smelled divine. However, every time he sat in that passenger side he couldn't help but let his eyes flit all around.  Her actual driving skills posed no problem with him - it was the structure of her cherished runaround he took exception to.  This silver accident-waiting-to-happen-and-you're-buggered-if-it-does had to go, and tonight would be the night to broach the subject.  But he was sure there would be hugs of delight. 
   Unlike the usual practice of just buying a motor and jingling the keys to a used car (as most parents do in exchange for a marked birthday or reward for hard work), he felt it best to voice it over with her.  In effect, he could quite easily buy her a car that he deemed perfect, all tied up in a huge bow with a surprise key hidden in a chocolate box, but felt that a step too far.  Apart from the fact that she was twenty-seven and passed her test yonks ago, she was well passed the 'grateful for anything' stage and he figured that she'd want to discuss style, size, make and colour. 
   Catching him staring at her from the kitchen area as she was doling out the Haagen Dazs ice cream bought at the garage, she dunked the scoops noisily into their sundae glasses and frowned at him;
   'Okay, Raptor, spit it out... what's on your mind? I know there's something stirring under that silver mop of yours!'
   'Ah - is it that obvious?'
   She quickly nabbed two teaspoons out the drawer, and carried their desserts over and bounced down beside him on the settee.  Having double the amount of scoops in her glass than he did, one wouldn't think she'd not long consumed a whole sea bass and fries. He watched part-mesmerised as she polished off a whole ball in just three mouthfuls. Shaking her greed off with his head, he continued on with his quest; 
   'Well', he said deliberately slowly, 'I was just thinking that maybe you could be doing with a different car.'
   'Oh. Why?' she asked, part-confused. 'She's running okay.'
   'Just thought you'd maybe like another one.'
   'If it ain't broke, it don't need fixing, though.'
   'Aye, I know, but it'd be— '
   'A waste of money, Dad. C'mon, don't be silly.  I appreciate the thought, I really do, but she's not at the knackered stage yet. Besides,  I know my car inside out, I'm well used to her.'
   'You'd have to get used to another someday anyhow.' Saskia tutted then sighed, not wanting to think of her bitty-little car's demise. 'It could break down any minute,' he added.
   'So could yours!' Strange. This wasn't going the way Neil imagined, he thought she'd jump at the offer of new wheels. Where was the wide-eyed reaction, the open mouth, the enthusiasm? Instead, it was taking some convincing.  'Anyway, ' she continued, 'the M.O.T. is good for another three months.'    
   Neil took a moment  before speaking again, having been focused on the speed of the scoops now travelling into her mouth, but he didn't click on that that was a sign she was beginning to feel rattled.  'You can't let anything like that  hold you back, and a Fiat? Sort of a little-old-lady type car!'  He pulled what she perceived as a somewhat disrespectful look on his face toward his déclassé of her car, and she dropped the spoon noisily into her now empty glass. The ice cream may have slid down easily, but it felt as if it was beginning to stick in her throat. 
   'Look,' he harped on, 'I thought it would be nice if this Sunday we visit some showrooms. You can pick any garish coloured car you like, wheel trims, added extra's - whatever takes your fancy.  We can even go shopping afterwards for new covers and cushions - and the best scented car fresheners around.  Don't worry about it being a petrol guzzler, I'll make sure you're always well tanked up—'
   'Oh, for Christ's sake!' Saskia stood, and marched off in a strop to the kitchen, dumping her sundae glass on the counter.  'Dad, I'm not getting rid of my car and I don't know what ever gave you the idea that I'd want to!'
   Neil was stunned, addled.  She'd never raised her voice to him before, and it seemed to set him rigid in his seat,
awkwardness well and truly slapping him in the chops.  'Saskia, darling— ' he said, his Scottish accent thickening with her obduracy.
   'Look, I'm planning on running her into the ground,  however long that takes and I'll probably want a funeral for her at the scrap yard. So, until then - my car's staying put!'  
   Neil sat forward and clasped his fingers, dismayed and at what he thought would be a good deed.  'Okay, okay... I was only.—' 
   'Only assuming that I would jump at the chance of zooming around in a motor I would never normally have been able to afford! ' she snipped him off indignantly.  'And how did you picture me then? Tearing along with open windows, music blasting,  sneering at people at bus stops when I pass by? Or holding my head hoity-toitily high when carrying my shopping from Tesco and into my needlessly-roomy boot!?'
   'No, Saskia... it's not like that.' 
   No matter how rich Neil was, she couldn't see herself floating around ostentatiously in a thousands-of-pounds present when there was no need.  Despite his wealth, it didn't feel right to her.  A misty film started to coat her eyes.  'Have you any idea how long it took me to save for that car?'
   Well, of course, he didn't.  He'd long forgotten the days where he used to work his fingers and feet to the bone for a profit now the money was pouring in from his workforce's efforts.  Shamed into silence, he hung his head. He'd never consciously considered it much before but realised he probably delves in with as much subtlety as a bulldozer when relating to money.  At this particular moment he couldn't answer her.
   'No,' she sighed, 'didn't think so.'  Suddenly and validly, she stomped off in an impetuous manner, the slamming of her bedroom door putting the quietus on the situation.
   Neil headed for the toilet to dispose of his ice cream.  He felt like shit and didn't quite know where to go from here.  This ardent plan of throwing joy upon her had bombed. Big time. On the other hand; what else did he expect from someone who gives their car a gender? He gave himself a few minutes before trying the old tap-on-the door, here-comes-the-apology bit.  He knew she would be expecting it, it was just a case of how it should be delivered. All he could do was tap and see.  Listening at the door there was nothing but silence. He rapped three times.
   'Hey, kiddo. I'm sorry.  Just me and my fancy ideas. I had no right to decide what was best for you and I promise not to call the shots again. I should have taken no for an answer there...'  Still no reaction.  'For the record, though, that car still won't see you to your  little-old-lady' stage. In saying that - neither will I... think you can forgive me?'
   Her door skimmed open an inch or two and a slice of her face peeked through - his humoristic age-jibe seemed to do the trick. 
   'Want to catch a film before bed? Joint decision, of course...'
   She slid out past him with a look of reproach, giving his shoulder a fun-shove in the process and took her place on the settee. He plunked himself right beside her and put an arm around her.  A fresh, unfamiliar wave, almost like tiny-but-pleasant pinpricks, washed all over her.  Must be her body and mind's way of reassuring her that all was forgiven.  

                *                *                *                 *                *                *               *                *                *                *

   From her room, much later on once she was sure he was asleep, she called her mother, hoping she was still awake.
   'Mum? Sorry it's late but I need to let you know.'
   'What's up, baby?'
   'I don't think I can do this anymore...'
   'What do you mean?'
   'I had a bit of a row with him tonight.'
   Beverly gave an impassive sigh.  'Father's and daughter's do that, don't worry about it.'
   'I didn't like it though, it didn't seem right.'
   'To be honest I'd thought you'd have your first one a lot sooner, and I wouldn't be surprised if he feels the same.'
   'I dunno, Mum.'
   'Saskia, you know how things are right now.  You've got along okay, this far, haven't you?'
   'I felt like swearing at him, then felt like crap for thinking like that.'
   'Trust me, Saskia,' she laughed a little, 'I'm sure he'd simply think; like mother, like daughter.'  Have you made up now?'
   'Well, then... look, love, I'm in bed now.  I'll see you in the morning, okay?  Nighty night.'  And with that blunt goodbye, she ended the call.
   Saskia stared at her phone screen. 'Well thanks for asking what it was about, Mum!' she mocked, and threw her phone by her feet,  head back on her pillows.  So it was fairly late, and her mum was a bundle of worriment these days, but sometimes things needed a mother's reassurance - whatever the time of day. 
she stood fixing her jeans in a way that makes it hard not to watch... especially when she added a 'hup' to the jumping action...

                            end  of  IN  MY  CAR

August 27, 2023

Sleepover (CH 9)

            start of  **SLEEPOVER**  

🌆 Saskia had now started spending those overnight's with Neil; one mid week and most weekends - where they usually spent their time out and about. But she was dubbed by him as being Wednesday's treasure, where he delighted in evincing his cooking passion for her. To cater for that passion, his working day ended at 5pm sharp, giving him time to take on the rush hour traffic and to ensure he was home early enough to tackle any complex recipe's. So straight after their working Wednesdays she takes the forty minute train journey, where he picks her up from the station. Beverly didn't mind chopping an hour and a half off her daughter's shift to accommodate this, finding it necessitous to a cause. Saskia felt right at home very quickly. It was as if the apartment had been waiting on her, shouting out for her feminine feel and feminine voice to reverberate off it's walls.

They were corollary growing closer and had started to pick up on each other's mannerisms; untidiness being her only shortcoming. Usually, she kept herself pristine in appearance - hair, makeup, clothes. Some would say a reflection of such neatness would follow on in one's home life. In reality; crisp packets would lie around and she'd quite happily flick crumbs from her cleavage onto those McQueen Persian rugs; she'd march inside, forgetting to remove her shoes first (despite the shoe rack directly at the side of the front door); after coffees or teas she'd dump the mug straight into the dishwasher without first pouring out the excess, and so the list went on on top of the general clutter and coat-dumping. He didn't even want to envision the state her room would be in after she leaves. He was always reminding her or telling her off for such slackness. Heaven knows who she got this messy nature from. Her mother as he could still recall, was as much of a neat-freak as he was. Returning from anywhere and his house had to be tidy, whereas Saskia had a sod the house, fun comes first attitude. To her, mess was glorious evidence of the good times we have. Yet, as even most children know, there comes a time to tidy those toys away; to grown-up Saskia, such things were done in her own adult time. This irked him more than he cared to admit, but he somehow managed to put up with it. She was basically a queen cat marking her newly found territory; a reminder when she wasn't there. A small price to pay really, for having her around. And if things got too bad for him there was always his faithful cleaner, Valerie.  An extra shift or two - cash in hand - wouldn't go amiss. God help the day and the flat that ever houses her on her own! But it was very safe to say that her hair and her  DNA were settling themselves in nicely. Besides, he could hardly set boundaries 26 years past their sell-by date, could he? 
   Under his getting-to-know-you scrutiny, he was pretty much on her vintage gold list (that she had to explain was a term for a cool old dear!) Not really any traits that she disliked - although she soon began teasing him every time he checked his nails (which he did obsessively everywhere they went) as he simply could not tolerate the thought of dirt living under them for anyone to see. Out came this little file with a jagged end to scrape the minutest of build up away! His father ingrained this habit into him as appearance was considered vital for the kind of work they were carrying out. And those intolerant words were very much still ringing n his ears;  "Dirty nails NEVER accompany a tie."  Any strange quirkiness of the other hadn't rocked this newfound unity. So far.
   But amidst all this luxury she stayed very much herself in his penthouse flat; floating about in such manic delight. From late raids of the fridge, to what they watched on TV, to where they would sit. 
Sometimes, when he was tidying up some work business before bed, (sometimes with a coffee in front of him) she'd jump over the back of the settee landing right next to him, wobbling and almost knocking his laptop off his knee, and demand to know what he was 'up to'.  But he always had a smile at the back of any near-misses. He was just grateful that she never conducted herself in public with such ruthless energy; she was mostly a good girl then, although her capers on the balcony could be somewhat loud. Her latest whimsical ideation was to fly a paper aeroplane off it before darkness descended, and to try and keep it in sight.  His theorem that she was bonkers was formed basically from the outset, and he reckoned after just this short while he'd feel lost not having her and her risibility around - even if the amount of flesh she flashed at times made him feel uneasy. It didn't bother her one scintilla. For all he knew he was maybe just an old fuddy-duddy?  Wasn't that something that progressed with fatherhood? Although words formed in his head about it, he said nothing. If she was comfortable with it, then maybe he should be too. 
 Of her visits, Saskia hoped she would never allude (for fear of offending) her partiality for bedtime and that end-of-the-night feeling that she was about to sleep in an unfamiliar bed: fresh and clean duvet cover with that creasy-crinkly sound when she moved: the different lighting and getting to know the unfamiliar shadows around. But here that touch of tartan and Scotland in her room was sweet and homely to her. There was no reason why, really, but she felt a strange, unequivocal belonging, though she'd never set a foot in the country in her life, and it was as if she was being egged on by her surroundings to venture there sometime.
    But unbeknown to her, it had been a consideration of his to take her there. His daughter should be introduced to half her roots, shouldn't she? And although he virtually had no family left there (that old aunt must be dead now, surely?)) to have drawn him back sooner, it would be interesting to know what she'd make of Scotland. Of slang vernacular streets, where she'd acutely have to ask him to repeat what on earth people were saying. To rotten weather, and daylight that hung around longer. If she'd eat  sheep's pluck haggis if she knew what was in it, or if she find fish supper's more tasty, or if she'd even sip a vintage malt whisky if she got a whiff of it. She might find the tourist side a bit boring; too many hills and castles - but plenty of soft rock to appease. But she'd be breathing in fresh air and would taste and bathe in pure water. After conjuring up some simple clichéd curiosities of Scotland, he again venerated at how he'd  actually lasted so long in London; now he had a reason to take a journey north. All he needed was a space in his diary, a willing companion, and the nerve to ask her. 
   Already this windowless room felt safe and subdued, warm and cocooning. But she did feel a tad envious that he fell asleep every night without closing curtains. The freedom of being so high up made it near impossible for another's eye to intrude (lest there be some dude at a window with some mega-ranged binoculars!). And the sound of city life wasn't intrusive - it just fell before you on mute here. She'd loved to live the sensation of what late-night London must feel like from his bed..... 

                                 *               SLEEPOVER: PART TWO                            *                                                                                   

   While helping him put the dried tureen and flatware away, he quite out of the blue asked if she would like to accompany him on a dinner invite this Sunday. Since Magrette's departure, his old friend and workmate, Brian and his wife, had him over every last Sunday of the month, and he hadn't been since Saskia appeared on the scene - which left him feeling rather bad. They had been there for him in times of absolute anguish, and that invite still invoked ten years down the line. How she would feel about being in others' company, he wasn't sure but he felt ready to be showing her off now that the story of her unexpected existence was gradually being fed to those around him. As much as he was loving her company, he didn't want be forever shutting her away in a box. He was proud enough letting Joe Public know she was his beautiful daughter on their outings, but felt it was time to include her into her circle of friends as long as she didn't find that too intimidating.
   'We don't have to if you feel it's too soon,' Neil quite genuinely said, 'I'd understand.'
   There was a pregnant pause before Saskia spoke, 'Tell you what ... how about we compromise?'
   Neil felt a sudden urge to brace himself . 'Like ... what?' he asked warily.
   'How about you meet some of my friends, too?'
   'Oh! When and how?' He felt a bit anxious of what was about to be proposed - he could clearly see uncertainty in her wide eyes.
   'I've been invited to a gig next weekend, it's a friend's band that's playing. We're not in touch as much these days, but we make the effort for the odd meet up. How about you come along, say hello to them?'  
   'Aw, kiddo, don't you think I'm bit too antiquated for that kind of thing?'
   'No! Some of their parents will be there, too, they always are, besides, I'm dying to show my recently-discovered, mega-rich father off!' 
   'Really?' Neil scoffed - she was nothing if not blunt.
   'Ah, c'mon? You don't have to stay long ... fair's fair?'
   He threw the towel from over his shoulder down. 'I'll think about it and that's as far as it's going for now! Right ... last coffee before bed? I'm getting tired ... you still staying up?'
   'Nah - I'm pooped, too. Put extra cream in mine?' she said, and headed for the toilet.
   He watched her as she moseyed off barefoot dressed only in an oversized fluffy jumper whose sleeve was often trailed under her nose. 'Looks like I'm making your latte, then!' he said out of earshot. 'Gig? Ah, fuck...'
   As unappealing as it sounded to him right now, he knew she would more than likely get her way. As daunting as her existence could be, he was forever finding bolts of whatever firing up from somewhere - even at her crazy suggestions - and guessed this must be that fathers and daughters intergrading thing.  And maybe this gig wouldn't sound so ridiculous by the morning.

               end of **SLEEPOVER**

August 19, 2023

Castle (CH 8)


🏰 On the journey she was awash with a strange excitement. Invited to his home for the first time, she was about to see the building that had been his been his most successful design before he stepped down from architecture. Neil was cooking for her tonight. He never needed an occasion to use his culinary skills, nor did he bother about how time-consuming and complex the menu. A typical night was gourmet-then-bed. 
   As they pulled up outside his apartment block, Saskia was astounded by the size of it.  It didn't quite grok with her that she was on the outskirts of London now, as no other such grand a building was neighbouring it for miles. It was three sided - triangular but with curved balconies at each edge point where the sides meet. With sparkling glass windows mirroring the sky, she had visions of poor birds flying straight into them!  
   Feeling somewhat ladylike as Neil opened the car door for her, she carefully swung those heels round and onto the ground without chipping the car.  Her view ran smoothly up the building as she stepped out. 'Wow!' she said, impressed at the sight; the view from the top floor must be breathtaking. 
   The ground around her was vast and open, with each side of the triangle having its own square of grass with benches, all surrounded by flowers no higher than a foot. A fountain built in at the point of each triangular peak and spat water fifteen feet into the air in a straight flow. Neat trees either side of the entrance curved and joined to form a dappled canopy overhead. The whole design gave the busy London skies quite spectacular aerial imagery - intricate looking and worked to planned perfection. 
   'And you did all this, Dad?' He simply smiled and gestured for her to follow him.
   Swiping his security card to pass through the first double doors of Balfour Complex, concierge (Martin, today) waited at the next set of glass doors a few feet away with a personal greeting; Neil's well familiar face required no ID, and he wasn't insulted by being asked anything of Saskia. In fact, he was rather amused at wondering what young Martin made of him walking in with a tidy piece of skirt. Not that he viewed his daughter in such terms, but he knew what young minds were like.  
   Her heeled boots clacked off the marble flooring as she followed him to the escalator, her steps resonating too loudly for her liking, striking up memories of high school where she'd be given a tongue-lashing for wearing high heels along the administration corridor if she were caught. She also didn't know if he was fooling her or not when he said he rarely used the lift, but she and her shoes were grateful to be not taking the stairs. It was while waiting on lift descending, that she noticed the sign on the wall to the left:        

                                           Residents are reminded to check
                                            both in AND out at reception
                                          when using the pool and/or the gym. 
                                                          Thank You
                                        ALCOHOL  NOT  PERMITTED

   'Told you,'  Neil smiled, nodding towards the words - her face a picture of wowed disbelief. 
   'That's nuts...' she whispered, 'a pool and a gym? I'd never make into work!'  
   All this had the feel of a high class hotel than a block of residential flats. But the splendour didn't end there; she hadn't reached his Heavenly abode yet.
Opening the door for her to slip in past him, she only took three steps before being rooted to the spot, the only thing moving being her head. Her eyes took in the wonderment of the open plan apartment. It looked somewhat strange but fascinating seeing four rooms in one stretch of the eye. To her right was his kitchen, not great in size but cleverly designed with space-saving units and just-for-one mod cons and gadgets on spanking, granite counters. Apart from a guest room and a separate bathroom, all other rooms were there before you, but without any walls.
   The biggest feature of the sitting area consisted of a large, grey mega-soft sofa with matching chairs positioned squarely in front of a long, chrome-framed fire place that sunk into the wall, the flicker of false flames dancing up from large oval pebbles behind cool-touch protective glass. A very low greyed pine table sat in the middle of the suite. In matching pine again, a bureau and a couple of sideboards sat against walls as you walked your way in, and any decorative ornaments and bowls were positioned dead centre and in perfect symmetry. Overhead lighting consisted of thin chrome bars bursting like fireworks. The whole decor ran itself radiantly in serene greys and whites with the occasional toss of black for good measure,  while the decor got gradiently darker until black dominated the open plan as it made its way to the windows.     
   It was the bed in the farthest-away part of the floor that fascinated her the most. A king-sized beast of a thing where ten little ones could easily roll over without falling out! It sat close to huge ceiling-to-floor sliding windows - a full wall's worth of a view of distant London while still under covers. Her mother would take a fit if she saw this - she'd never have wished any ex this well...
   'Can I get you a drink, Saskia?'      
   'Hmm?' she mumbled, releasing the breath she didn't realise she was holding. 'Ah...yes. Start with a coffee if that's okay?'
   'Sure. Any preference?'
   Not answering right away, she made her way towards those huge windows, slinging her bag and jacket onto and over an arm chair in passing.  'Ah ... whatever you're having.'
   'Okay, just... make yourself at home,' he was reluctant to say, before picking up the abandoned denim jacket (that looked  raggedly sorry for itself) with a hint of rebuke, and placing it neatly in the closet. He had this notion that tidiness may not be part of her daily regime.  'Home it is, then,' he whispered to himself. 
   By the time he had the coffee's out, she was by the windows, transfixed on the view. Neil smiled, feeling rather good at the way she'd been absorbing her surroundings. Creeping up on her, she jumped at his voice. 'Coffee.' 
   'Jeez, Dad, never heard you there, and I can't hear a single thing from outside, it's like you've pressed a mute button or something!' 
   'Here,' he handed her her drink, 'I'll sort that out right now.'  Sliding one of the doors open, he invited her on to the veranda, where a gentle bustle of outside then said hello. 'Drink these out here before I start cooking.'
 All balconies were a good fifteen foot up from the flat below's one, sweeping round in half oval which joined the three-sided building -like that of the curved end of snooker triangle (though more apparent from above.) Decked out in fancy navy, grey and blue shades, a two-man table and chair set sat at the best viewing point, while a cluster of pots with plants and coloured flowers sitting each side of the doors. Saskia had to feel the petals, convinced they must be fake as he didn't come across as one who would potter about with soil given his nail-checking obsession. But they were indeed real. A canopy and patio heaters took care of sudden weather changes.
   Standing at the railings together, sipping from teeny coffee cups, he felt relaxed at the way she was relaxing. But it helped to be in his company beyond the constraints of a stuffy suit. He looked a different man in mufti; jeans, cable sweater, and canvas shoes, gave him an altogether, softer, easy-going look.
   'God, the view's amazing,' Saskia said, 'I initially pictured you more at home in a converted house in Knightsbridge!'
   Giving a little smile, his memory raced back to his previous home with Magrette, and she was close to the mark on that guess. But he thought it pointless to comment on that; where he lived now was his new start after their split. 'It's nighttime that brings the magic with it. You get a clearer view of the landmarks once they're lit up - quite far off mind you but you can still make them out. Anyhow, I'll leave you to finish your coffee out here, best make a start to our tea.'
   'Tea?' she frowned, 'I was hoping for a glass of wine next... '                          
   He tucked in his top lip to stifle a giggle. 'Sorry ... some daft little habits never leave you. It's what it's called in Scotland - eating a meal around this time.'
   'Ah, I see... '
   During their car journey he made it quite clear that he manned the kitchen all by himself - that his cooking involved him alone - and not to feel offended. But being perfectly honest, she told him that cooking was her disaster point; she'd most likely do more harm than good anyhow. It was a simple dish really, (her request!) but her last attempt at quiche ended up as an omelette as she thought double cream was only used in puddings. No. She was happy with him going solo.
   Washing away the last of her meal with a mouthful of red Bordeaux, she clattered her cutlery down  in joyous gluttony having cleared the plate.
   'I'm not just saying this to big you up, Dad, but that really was delicious. How'd you get the pastry so buttery?'
   He shrugged. 'Practice, I guess.'
   'Right!' Saskia announced, standing immediately. 'I'm gonna have another glass of wine, then wash all those dishes ... least I can do.'
   'No need, the dishwasher will see to that. I'll grab that last bottle of wine from the fridge and we'll head to the sofa, let our food digest for a bit.'
   Now sitting with a stemmed glass of red in her hand, she made extra sure that the drink was hitting both her mouth and being placed back to the table steadily. Despite her head beginning to grow more woolly, she'd die if a splosh of uninvited red landed on the sofa.
   For a short time, while waiting for night to descend, they peppered each other with random questions - something like those meme's on websites - mostly about their likes and dislikes. More importantly, both seemed to be making the other laugh in equal measures, so they had good senses of humour on the plus side. On a lesser but still amusing side, she noted that his nail-checking habit followed him around indoors too, but didn't want to highlight the fact.  At their first meeting in the park, she thought it could be out of shyness, or awkwardness, but she reckoned now, having had quite a few public meet-ups, that the man had a recurrent compulsion. Her red wine train of thought concluded that it was better than picking his nose!

Darkness had settled itself by almost an hour without them even realising. Time flies without the decency of slowing down when you're unaware of its status, so when Saskia queried the time she was sad to mention she would have to be leaving shortly as it would take a taxi at least 50 minutes to have her home. But before the goodbye's, Neil invited her back onto the balcony for that promised night-lights captivation - and she was staggered into stone. What a sight. Had she been bowled over any harder she'd be over that balcony! Once more they took their afternoon coffee stance - now replaced with a nightcap bourbon - capturing the wondrous sounds and visions cutting the night.
   'Who needs Wonderland with all this in front of them?' she cooed. 'And all the stars out, too.'
   'Can you see the Eye?' 
   Her eyes scanned the mass of twinkles and window squares. 'Oh, yeah, I see it now.'  She pointed over to it then spun quickly around, her back to the barrier. 'Dad ... can I ask you a personal sort of question?' But before he got the chance to agree or not, she asked anyway. 'Why did you choose to live here? I mean, I know you designed it, but I thought you'd prefer something more secluded.'
   'Secluded?' he asked, not really following her. 'I'm pretty much on my own up here! '
   'Yes, I know, but I kind of pictured you either in a house with three floors and loads of squared windows, or one with a looong driveway, back and front garden— '
   '—and electronic gates, huuuge stone lions at the entrance, red telephone box outside,' he teased.
   She tutted at his joshing. 'Maybe not to that such a degree ... ' She knew him well enough now to know that wouldn't quite be him (as much as it appealed to her) '... but I thought you'd have preferred somewhere more central.'
   'Nah. The heart of London wasn't for me anymore after my divorce. I'm used to my own company now anyhow and it feels safer. Can get a bit noisier out on the balconies during summer though, but the soundproofing makes indoors peaceful enough.' 
   'Don't you think Magrette would come running back if she saw this view?' The tipsy-induced thought slipped out from her too quickly.
   'I don't think her husband would be too happy about that!'
   Saskia noticeably cringed and she flushed in earnest, not sure what to say.
   'Ah, sorry, Dad, me and my big—'
   Neil reached out and pulled her into a hug, laughing at the look of abashment at her blunder. 'That's okay, kiddo, (a nickname he'd started using for her on occasion) 'you weren't to know.'  He released her from his fatherly crush a few long moments later, her red face started to lose its luster.  'Anyhow, we best be getting you home. I'll give Marcus a call and he'll come pick you up.'
   'Who?' Saskia felt a bit concerned at first, not having heard the name before.
   'He'sa driver for our company - my one, usually.'
   'But it's half eight.'
   'He gets paid for the inconvenience, plus he lives just five minutes away. He'll see you home safely.'
   'Wow ... taken home by a chauffeur? What will the neighbours say!' she playfully quipped.
   'Don't fret, he'll have normal clothes on.' 
   'Okay then, Dad, cheers ... best nip to the loo first.' 
   Heading back to the balcony after her loo visit, she stopped quietly by the open doors, arms crossed and leaning on the door frame. She stared at him holding on to the balcony, arms outstretched. The spotlights in the decking threw up a hazy brightness, causing a misty aura to his outline in the cooling night air. Saskia smile. She could see for herself why he had satisfaction from the highest floor - he was lording it over everyone else, wasn't he?  King of the castle, jewel in the crown. Sensing her presence, he turned and followed her back inside to call his driver. 
Standing ready to leave, jacket on, Saskia thanked him for such a pleasant evening, stating that it was a shame the night ended so soon, but sleep beckons earlier bedtimes for working hours. His excitement and joy had fortified and heightened each time he saw her. Tonight had been more private, the first time away from the distraction of others. Fatherhood was kicking in at an enormous rate and he was yearning for more. 
   'Listen, Saskia, let me know if you think I'm overstepping the mark here, but ...' His nerve slipped a little and he bottled it, '... och, it doesn't matter.'
   'No, go on. What were you about to say?'
   'Well, there's actually a spare room tucked away here,' he nodded to the door in particular, 'and well, maybe sometime in the future you could use it? Obviously with certain arrangements to suit work and your mum and things. It would be nice to know you didn't have to rush off.'
   'Um ...' she was taking her time to considering this.
   'Sorry, sweetheart, of course it's too soon. I didn't mean to put pressure on you.'
   She smiled broadly, and grabbed him into an unexpected hold. 'Of course, I could. You are me old dad after all!' 
   Neil gripped her back to near crushing point, eyes closed, relieved he hadn't botched the evening with his impatience. 'I've loved having you here tonight.'
   Pulling herself free from him, she fixed him in an affectionate stare. 'We've twenty seven years of catching up to do, so I think I can manage one or two nights a week!' she assured him. 'Leave it with me.' He nodded, happy with that.
   'Right, then... do I have time to check out this room before I'm chauuuffeeered,' she said in a  deliberately lengthy tone,  'home, tonight?'
   'Yeah, sure.'  
   As he was leading her to her new sleeping quarters, she said in a faux, posh voice 'Ooooh! I do hope the neighbours will still be up.'
   She expected the room to be drab or in pastels as most are, but the hit of colour - mainly red - startled her. Tartan bed sets and curtains welcomed guests, while large, commissioned paintings by Steven Brown, mainly stags and highland cows in vibrant colours adorned the walls. On another wall was a hung a lonesome Scottish calendar that an old friend never forgets to post every Christmas.  The carpet was red and a set of pine double wardrobes with matching dresser, stood solidly in place. Bedside tables with lamps finished off the room. She loved this little splash of native eccentricity in his otherwise neat world.  To most, it probably conformed more towards the feel a of a cheap highland bedsit or But and Ben, but to her it shouted I still miss Scotland.   
   'As you can probably guess it doesn't get used much,  I think the cleaner's maybe had a kip in it before!'
   'You have a CLEANER?' She gawped wide-eyed at him.
   'Here as well, yes. Just on Thursdays, and ah, sometimes Mondays, look ... ' he brushed off the luxury that was tantamount to Saskia as good as having his arse wiped for him, and continued with his thought, 'we can change the decor, make it more to your liking.'
   'What? No!' she protested. 'The room's fine as it is, really. Besides, I'm half-Scottish now, am I not!'
   'Yes,' Neil smiled at the pleasant reminder and ran a finger down her soft, warm cheek, 'so you are!'
   A loud buzzer went off somewhere in the sitting room, indicating that her car was ready to see her home. He accompanied her and introduced her to Marcus, and soon waved her off.  It had been a successful enough evening, one of many aspired ones to come. Because of his millions, and with his standard of living and level of comfort around him, he hoped he hadn't come across as too much of a pretentious git. But if anything, she had truly helped strip away that businesslike, city-hungry veneer that cocoons him throughout the day.                                                 

Back indoors, he picked up her wine glass from the sitting room table, twisting it by the stem and examined all the fine and crooked lines the stain her lip gloss had left. It still felt surreal that he had a daughter. Tonight had meant the world to him.
   Usually the dish washer was loaded minutes after the meal, as a dirty pile bugged him. Tonight he hardly noticed it. Although starting to feel tired, he didn't quite like the thought of waking up to mess in the morning, yet he survived the tableware stewing in their own congealment these past few hours.
   'Pat yourself on the back, mate'. He said to himself. 

               end of ***Castle***

August 12, 2023

The Most Beautiful Thing In My Life (CH 7)


 🌞 Frankton Park was relatively quiet for a Friday afternoon.  Although the vast coloured flower beds were singing summer, for May it was bright but particularly cold. Neil felt it wise to put on a long winter coat.  He didn't mind meeting outdoors at a coffee bar - whatever surroundings she felt were congenial.
   Enthusiasts brought a  mass of remote controlled sailing ships to the lake, each one a vessel of calm and this helped to hold his interest during the wait. His head kept flitting to every movement that caught his eye, and he still could hardly believe exactly who he was waiting on. Now ten minutes late, he was starting to consider a possible change of mind on her part. Punctuality was rather an obsession with him, and in his line of work he hated being the one kept waiting. But this was bigger than any contract or business deal. Nothing to sign here, just hope that all goes well. 
   Then she appeared, descending from the steps close by.  A picture of pure delight; dressed in a little black cropped woollen coat with a red tartan skirt peeking an inch or two from under it, thick black tights to fend of the unexpected chill of the day, and red ankle boots with funky little key rings hanging from a metal loops at the back, finished off her outfit. She permitted her recklessly-dyed blond hair to go wherever the weather took it. Neil waited until she reached the bottom step before rising from his seat at the coffee bar to greet her.  A huge smile spread across each face the second they saw each other.
   'Hi, Dad!, she said, moving round closer to wrap him a hug - that took care of the concern (handshake, kissed cheek, distanced hello?) as to how he should welcome her!
   'Hi. How are you?'
   'Good, thanks.' 
   'Get parked okay?'  
   'Just round the corner.'
   'Good, good,' he answered, feeling a little stumped; the dialogue and questions in his head as to how the conversation may flow seemed to have taken off with the ducks. After a brief silence and some looking around till their eyes met each others again, Neil started wriggling free from the table and chairs.  'I'll, ah, get us a coffee, then ... any preferences?'
   'No, not really,' she replied, 'I drink any that ends in a vowel!'
   This made Neil's grin wider. 'A safe cappuccino, then?'
   'Safe cappuccino,' she nodded.
   The skittish smile remained on his face as he ordered their drinks, all the while telling himself that she was a strikingly beautiful girl and seemed to have a remarkably sunny nature, but it was expected at some point that circumstance would prioritize conversing and he was unsure as to how where it may lead. Naturally, he knew they both would have questions for this coming together for the first time. He laid down her drink in front of her along with some sugar sachets and plastic stirrer, not really sure where to start. But Saskia's directness dealt with that. 
   'I really was delighted you wanted us to meet. What changed your mind?'
   He took a careful sip of his coffee, rubbing away any possible froth with his bottom lip, and leaned back further in the metal seat. 'Time to think really. Took a bit of courage to look through the album you gave me. As you can imagine, the news came as a bit of a shock ... but I'm glad you left that contact number in the back page - bit of a clever touch that was!'
   'As long as you didn't find it too cheeky?' 
   'No, not at all ... and as for that Jack Daniels bit?  Spot on! A good guess?' 
   'Had a feeling it might be, I honestly did, but I asked mum if  I was right.'
   'Ah,' he said,'  'I'm surprised she still remembered my preferred tipple!' 
   'Trust me - her memory was always as sharp as a tack. I could hardly get one over on her as a kid! Of course, she's slowed down a lot at the moment - sleeping a lot. '
   His smile dropped slowly and he briefly glanced away.  'I'm really sorry about your mum,' he felt obliged to say now she'd mentioned her, she was the catalyst for them being right here, right now.
   A brief gaze landed on her polystyrene cup, then straight into his eyes as she nodded her gratitude. 'Still not fully sunk in.  You get a few brief moments after waking and then it hits you again. It was so unexpected, out of the blue. Two weeks prior to finding out for sure we were still going swimming. Mum's pretty fit for her age, but I knew something was up. She did her best to hide it. It's  taken a lot out of her, but,' she gave a little drum roll with her forefingers on the table's edge in defiance, 'we're determined to soldier on, keep daily life as normal as possible.'
   'I admire that ... still, must be tough on you too?'
   'Oh, I don't mind the physical stuff. Mum's too knackered to function at times and that can be hard to witness - it's the uncertainty that's worse. Even with the nurses and hospital clinics being really supportive and positive, I know there's a chance she might not beat it. Fear drove her to tell me about you, she was so nervous. I've never seen her cry and shake so much, begging forgiveness, and I was still a right cow to her ... '
   'Saskia,' he interrupted her before she went any further, feeling bad for asking, but it was genuine concern. 'There's no need to go over this. Really. Your mum explained it all to me. I've been a bit of a prat in trying to ignore things, myself.'
   'Dad, you don't have to apologise or anything.'
   'Yes, I do, I handled our first encounter rather harshly. It was all so staggering, I mean - becoming a dad at fifty six?' He whistled and rolled his eyes, making her laugh. 
   'Make any man run a mile!' she concluded. Those dimpled cheeks when she smiled were fetching, making her fleetingly appear younger than her twenty-seven years. 'Want to finish these coffee's and take a little walk? I love this park.'
   'Aye, then you can let me know more about you.'
   'You too!' She threw the suggestion straight back, pointing a finger at him. 'Don't think you're getting off with that, either!'
   'Sure ... if you want to be completely bored out of your nut!'
   'I was thinking that myself!' she said, and it was no sooner out than she realised it may have sounded as if she agreed with him. Rapidly, she flushed a panicky shade of red that almost matched her neck scarf!  'Oh, God, Dad, I didn't mean you, I meant me doing that to you - the same ... the boring bit, ah, thing...'
   A bemused smile crossed Neil's face, delighting in her bit embarrassment. 'I know what you meant.  Guess we're both a bit clueless at the moment.'
   'Yeah, but it's not the best of starts with my newly-found father, is it..? She gave him a fluttering glance to accompany those rosy cheeks, and he found the unintentional blunder a touching benchmark to the start of a possible new phase in his life.  'C'mon, let's see if we can do a lap of the lake without me putting my foot in it... '
Their stroll was taken at a very slow pace, walking side by side with a respectful gap between them. By his judgement, they seemed to be clicking. Just a few minutes in and she had him hooked by her jocular banter. 
   She used this time also to overtly-but-surreptitiously look him over, scanning certain bits of him at a time, concluding that he was not an overly handsome man. When he smiled, skin crinkled around his softly-clouding, greenish-blue eyes, and two little sickle-shaped dimples bracketed his mouth when he smiled, but that was what redeemed the rest of his ageing features that were perhaps making an appearance too soon - a consequence of hard work, no doubt.  Face; long and thin, with the beginnings of dripping jowls and his nose long and slightly squint - though you had to stare to see it - with its slight bump only showing in profile.  What captivated Saskia most was his hair still being luxuriously thick, though largely grey, with bits of black sneaking an occasional peek through unpredictable waves. This seemed to be the only unruly feature about him. 
   As they walked, he could see she certainly did had a definitive resemblance to her mother at that age. Her big green eyes sitting over parallel-line cheekbones, and the dyed blonde hair perhaps took her looks up a scale, if she naturally shared the same hair tones as her mother. Like Beverly, yes, but nowhere near as fetching. 
  During their walk, he got a thrill every time she referred to him as Dad (something she did without okaying it with him first), hoping persons passing heard. Inside he was screaming look at me, I've a daughter!  He was receptively discerning, knocked for six at the speed of this importance. Maybe there was such a thing as instant fatherly devotion. And for Saskia, the biggest relief was her unexpected aptitude in grasping his rich Scottish accent (which he used in properly pronounced words and not some unintelligible Scottish slang) as she feared she may have to pardon herself repeatedly if not.
   'So, what is it you do?'
   'Gee, where do I start?' he said, knowing he would have to use layman's terms as he didn't want to sound as if he was a pretentious (and rich) git. 
   'Property mainly. Buying, building and selling, renting out apartments, houses, offices. We also import and export building materials abroad. I also own a small advertising agency on another floor where I work. It's my mate who runs it mostly, I'm just one of the directors.' What was that he just said about pretentious gits? 'All perfectly boring.' He decided to stop there. 
   'Ooooh - you're a Jock of all trades, then?'***
   'Och,' (now that sounded very Scottish) he gave her a good-natured, chiding expression at her dig at his birthplace and resisted reminding her that she was actually half Scottish herself now.!' 
   'Just joking, Dad... couldn't resist. Sounds not that bad at all, you've not heard what I do in my spare time - it's become quite a passion, actually!'
   He frowned, intrigued. 'Go on.'
   'I take night classes ...  in woodwork.'
   'Seriously?' He didn't look convinced, and it showed with such a bushy-brow frown.
   Saskia couldn't help but laugh, it was the reaction she was used to.  'I'm serious! I couldn't quite build a shed or anything, but I love carving wood. I'm a dab hand with a rotary burr set!'   
   'I must say, I never expected to hear that!' he said slowly. 'What made you interested in such a ... blokey thing?'
   Well,' she said, with a nod of the head.  'I chose it in my last year at high school for a couple of reasons. One was because I used to get teased because of my name.'
   'Your name?'
   'Yeah. The "kia" bit of my name got me labelled  Ikea - you know, the famous Swedish wood company,' she said, rolling her eyes, 'so I thought, sod it, I'd be as well living up to my nickname somehow just to piss them off, but mostly it was because I really fancied the teacher, Mr Bruce - as did most of my friends. It was supposed to be a giggle, but I got right into it after making an egg rack! Mr. Bruce, however, lost his appeal when rumours went round that he was shagging the head of the drama department.'
   'Ah, so there was a rival in with a higher chance, then?'
   'Not really ... Mr. Kendall was head of drama - but it made us feel good that we weren't in with a shout to start with!' This made Neil laugh out loud.  'Anyway, the local council opened up free night classes every Monday and Thursday at college, so I signed up for a term. I'll only be making menial things, mind you. I've already made a jewellery box, some kitchen utensils, and this God-awful mug tree that looks more like a weapon, but, hey ... I've advanced to "things for the hall" now. Not quite sure what to choose next, it's a toss up between an umbrella stand and a shoe rack!  I get a certificate at the end, but sadly,' she feigned a huge sigh, 'there's not the remotest possibility of a romance on offer.'
   'I'm surprised, you're such a pretty girl,' he risked a compliment, and she glanced away with what looked like the beginnings of another little flush.
   So, what about you?' she asked, to ward off any awkward reaction stirring up. 'What do you like doing? 
   'Well, surprise, surprise - I play golf.' 
   'Golf? Saskia scrunched up her face and replied in single syllable segments. 'I had a fee-ling you might say that!'
   'I know, I know, the dreary typical dad thing!  But I do find it relaxing ... and I cook for myself every night.'
   'Every night?'                                                  
  'Every night I'm able.'
   'You're keen! I get sick at the sight of cream cakes and sandwiches at the tearoom, and it's usually just microwaved whatever at home!' 
   'You or your mum not into cooking then?'
   'Not so much these days. I sometimes feel bad if I hear her vomiting after meals as I don't know if it's an aftereffect of treatment or if she shuffles it down hoping it stays there, not to worry me.'
   A short silence befell them, and he didn't quite know how to react to this which she picked up on right away. 'God, Dad, I'm sorry. I promised myself I wouldn't bang on about Mum too much, don't want to make you feel awkward.'
   'No, it's me who should be apologising, it was an insensitive thing to ask, I just wasn't thinking...'
   'But, still... you shouldn't need to hear any gruesome bits.'
   He waved a hand in front of him, flicking away her words. 'Don't be daft, I don't mind. She's your mum.'
   'Yeah, I know, but she made me promise I'd give myself a break as well, focus on me for a while. That's why I'm glad to be here - even if it's only just this once.'
   A huge rush of pity and affection for her washed over him as she stood dewy-eyed, stemming tears and he wrapped his arm round her shoulder; a first time experience. He'd just been drawn into the scope of fatherly protection and didn't quite know it. They continued to walk in silence a short while, till he said, 'Shall we grab another coffee?'
   The sun appeared from behind the clouds at that precise moment, as if indicating that she was okay.       'Yeah, c'mon.' 
   He withdrew his arm as they headed back to the coffee bar, as he had this sudden fear she may find him overfamiliar too soon. 

Three young, preschool boys headed their way, all clutching dinosaur figures and imitating their loud growls, and nearly ran into them; their mother scolding the little rascals for not looking where they going.
   'So sorry,' she said in passing, 'boys and their toys, eh?'
   'Oh, I don't know, ' Saskia replied,  'I loved a good T-Rex myself when I was little!'
   'Really?' Neil said with a huge grin, forming those cheek-sickles again. He reckoned with someone so dainty it would have been rainbows and kittens all the way during her childhood. 'I was dinosaur mad myself as a boy, well until I started high school at least.' This daft insight, this past connection in common thrilled them. So, his little lost girl was into a similar liking as a child.
   'Me too! I remember mum shopping with me for tee shirts and suchlike in the boys department and pretending they were for my non-existant brother.  I had the full works, bedroom was covered with them: duvets, curtains, posters. nightlight - I sort of went from Cartoon Network to the Discovery channel overnight. Mum tried to discourage me, said I had too  sweet a face for a tomboy, but her boyfriend at the time was on my side. No way was I backing down - she had to get used to it.' 
   'Obsession is obsession, I suppose! Okay, then ... favourite?' he challenged her, raising his rather unruly brows.
   'That's easy! The Charonosaurus, they looked really graceful. I loved the crown on their heads, the way it swooped right back.'
   He was impressed. Those fellows were not very typically talked about in documentaries and books.  'Oh, yes, I remember those. So there was a hint of girliness still lingering back then?'
   Saskia playfully slapped his shoulder. 'Shh - you'll ruin my childhood street cred!' 
   They exchanged ludicrous grins, both feeling a bit giddy by their absurdity. It felt like a guilty pleasure they never wanted to expose yet having, at last, a valid chance to do so. It was fun, so they kept on.
   'Okay, then, Raptor,' she jokingly used instead of calling him Dad - since they were on the subject. 'What was your favourite?'
   'Ah, now,  I was fascinated by the Ankylosaurus.  Beauty of a beast that was, and fabulous in battle!'
   She went on to impress him even more. 'Weren't they kind of spiky, with a ... a ... ' she was gesticulating a tail coming from behind her while trying to recall them, and he found it highly amusing to imagine what it must look like to others, '... like a cannon ball on the end of its tail for whomping the enemy?'
   'That's the guy!'  
   To think one of his main worries for today was the inability to bond, and never in a million Triassic years reckoned dinosaur-talk would have a strong pulling bind. Any fear at not being able to think up cherry small talk was quelled five minutes after meeting. Words were no problem for her, she swam through them effortlessly, and he was lapping up every minute of their balmy ramblings.  
In the sky, the wind was bullying a few clouds around, while a bitterness snapped at their faces as they walked. The smell of his strong cologne, one that she couldn't place (as it was too expensive for her nose to have previously sniffed), helped to mask the smell of damp wood chips enclosing the seating area.
   Sitting back down at their previous table, replenished with welcoming hot coffees, (which she insisted she paid for - rich dad or not) time neared for her to go: it had zoomed by by way of success.
   'Dad, can I ask you something? I know it was a while ago, but I'm curious.' 
   'Ask away.'
   'Did you love Mum?'
   'Yes. I loved your mum very much at one time. We were pretty serious, it just wasn't meant to be.
   'Do you think you'd still be with her if she'd told you about me?' It was at this point that Saskia realised he had a habit of checking his nails a lot - particularly at more awkward moments.
   He gave a long, reflective look at the yachts over the lake again. 'I don't think your mum or I could answer that for sure now.'  Had that been the case, he'd never have met Magrette, who'd been the only  women he'd ever loved, and still carried a photograph of her on him. But, as work was the biggest issue before losing her, work would most probably have destroyed him and Beverly, too. He could understand however, Saskia's desire to have a sense of belonging. Especially now. 'I would have taken care of you, though, had I known.'
   She nodded and gave him a reassuring look, although she wondered if that would mainly have been a monetary matter. 'I know you missed out on a lot, Dad, I have too, and it's something we'll never recapture, and I guess we've only got the future that could help heal that sort of wound.'
   Neil couldn't answer right away, he was stunned by her words and took a deep, made-up-his-mind breath. 'Then let's see how things go from here. Would you like to do this again?'
   'Yes', she said, her smile broad and quick about it. 'Maybe go for a wine or something?' 
   'Sure. Any part of your weekend free?'
   'Got to work full days Saturday now ... could make it at night, though?' 
   'As long as it's not interfering with plans, or friends or ... anything?'
   'Dad,' she said, with wide eyes and high brows. 'I'm sure they'll survive a night without me. Mum's friend usually spends Saturday's with her to give me a bit of a break. It'll be fine.'
   'Okay then, we can confirm where and when nearer hand the time?'
   'I'd like that - let's go for it! You can maybe let me taste your cooking sometime too.'
   So with that inked a stamp of approval of the other.  

After walking her back to her car, she hugged him extra tightly, and he felt a 'thank you' within it, as well as a frisson of something totally new betiding in exchange. Happy with the sentience that she'd be smelling that fragrance again, (next time she'd ask him what it is) she kissed his cheek, then set off, flicking him a last wave at the exit, carrying the vision of his demilune dimples on her journey home. 
   He watched as her car took to the busy street, to be sucked away into the flow of traffic. Slowly his hand moved from wave position to touching the feel of her lips on his face, savoring the tingle. Who knew the girl would hold such pleasure. For now, though, she was still Jacqueline's prized secret.  At least he had one person to share his first moments of pride with. He might even go through the photo album with her. Then the discernment that they may never have got in touch at all if not for that album, suddenly scared him.

Peeking through a slither in the door, Saskia saw her mother laying on the sofa, PJ's on in front of the telly. 
   'How did it go?' Beverly called to her as she hung up her coat. 'You were gone a lot longer than expected, I was getting worried.'
   'Went well, actually.'
   'Does he want to see you again?'
   'Of course he does.'
   Beverly gave a slight giggle.  'How could he not, eh? Are you sure you're gonna be okay with it?'
   'Why wouldn't I be? Today went fine - stop panicking mum!'
   'Well, that's good. Can you put the kettle on, love, I'm parched ... that film will be on in a minute.'
   So that was it? That was all she was gonna ask? Saskia sighed at her lack of interest. She knew her mum had been to hell and back these past months, but she'd been there with her and she was doing her best to appease her. Life would continue to throw bad blows around relentlessly, while presenting nothing but pitfalls. Saskia knew a future relationship with Neil, a man she'd never heard of until recently, was a huge gamble. But it really wouldn't have taken her mum that much energy to muster up a bit of returned interest. 


July 28, 2023

Love Comes ( CH 6 )

                 **LOVE  COMES ** 
💞 Friday at last. This week had been a time-consuming-perpetual-meetings one and despite staff overtime there were still ends to tie up. As golf was expected to be wiling away his whole weekend, he needed everything - especially paperwork - out of the way.  Not wanting the latest contract to be decided without his stamp of approval, he had no choice but to burden himself with patience and takeaway food. By eight o'clock, he was already three drinks affiliated.
   Popping over to his vast book shelf, incessantly searching  for a certain one, he sighed in despair at a fair quantity of them being higgledy-piggledy and out of sequence. His rich Scottish accent always seemed to thicken when no ears were around to hear him curse, but he was in a native-lingo rant when the glass door swung open and almost caught his elbow.
   'Oh, I'm sorry, sir, didn't know you were still here!'  Valerie, his cleaner of ten years for both office and home was keen for the off, hoping he wouldn't ask her to hang around longer.  'Like me to do anything else before I get to you?'
   'No, it's fine Val, be as well calling it a night, I might be some time yet. Have a good weekend.'
   'You, too, sir.' The perpetually pleasant cleaner, skedaddled forty-five minutes earlier than usual, giving her the chance to make even more paper posies for the church fete tomorrow
   After locating the book, he topped up glass number four and sat back down again to finalise his desk work - that last full stop would make him feel gloriously free. Tapping the A4's  into neat structure, all it needed was a quick staple and he was outta there!  But the gun wasn't in its usual place, setting off  another annoyance. 'C'mon, c'mon... ' 
   Swiping drawers open and shut, faster and louder with each wrong guess, it had to be in the last damn lateral drawer to his left. With mighty quick movement, the drawer opened, sliding the stapler and the photo album Saskia handed to him those few weeks back to the front, stopping it dead.
   Neil, stared at it. It hadn't entirely been a case of, out of sight , out of mind, with the purple leathery thing, for it it caused a seed of disquiet to germinate inside him from the day he accepted it, but he never got quite to the point of wanting to take it home.  He grabbed the staple gun, used it, put it back in its particular place, and just as he was about to close the drawer, impulse decided to put its neb in.
   It felt weird in his hand, knowing what content lay inside. Jacqueline was the only other person who knew about it, and he trusted her implicitly to keep schtum. As much as she wanted to though, she never pushed for him to act upon it. The promise he made to the girl was that he would not throw it away. Let it gather dust (fat chance) if it must and even if it's never opened, she said she shall at least settle knowing that she tried. Wouldn't necessarily matter then if he had a look or not, she would never know anyway. 
   Under the rays of his desk lamp, now that evening had come calling, he flapped it open to the first plastic coated photo; one of her as a baby asleep in a cot and she'd put a paper tag in beside the snap letting him know that she was one year old. Despite knowing perfectly well what the album contained, that first glimpse still caught him unawares. As he flicked over each laminated sleeve, he saw that she'd arranged the photos in chronological order of age, and he gave a smile - knowing that's how he'd have organised it too. Something in common then?  She made the journey more interesting by adding in days of significance - Christmases, Easters, Halloweens, birthdays - and he found himself taking longer over each new photo revealed.  
   A succession of warmth, sadness, loss, pride and joy, streamed through him like coloured wiring all wrapped in one wax coating and switched on. The very last sleeve held a snap of her and her partner at her high school leaving prom. What an amazingly beautiful, young woman. The joy in her tuxedo-beau's face said it all.  Her looks certainly did come more from her mother's side, but in the close up's he noted an eye imbuement much similar to his own. All in all, he concluded from the snaps that Beverly had done a ruddy good job of raising her.  
   Flipping over to the very last page, Neil found no photo there, but an unexpected hand-written message from Saskia:

        'Well ... you made it to the last page!  By this point I'm guessing you're roughly on your third or fourth Jack Daniels?!  If not I hope you might still feel brave enough (or mad enough ) to give me a call.  I'll keep my fingers crossed and my hopes high. xxx.  Here's my number, just in case: 

   So - she seemed to have a good sense of humour, and she was uncannily right about the Jack Daniels.  That was either a really good guess or her mother had a good memory! The message kind of threw him by way of her making the extra effort.  All she asked for was a bit of contact - was that really so awful?  He just watched the growing up of his child in a matter of minutes, and asked himself if he was he happy to let any more years pass regardlessly by?  Logic told him that calling her may not be a good idea; she had been a snag in his head slowing down his mundane life by interfering with his thoughts, but would it really be that bad in her presence?  From the moment he unexpectedly met her, he carried a feeling of having nothing to offer her as a father (he wouldn't know where to start!) and he was certainly no substitute for her mum. If still married to Magrette, he knew she would encourage him to do the decent thing (under the circumstances) and at least call the girl. Ignoring her existence would not eradicate her from this world or from his head.

The nib of his pen was tapping off the desk in a rapid 'will I, won't I'  manner.  After one extra large slug of Jack Daniels he lifted up his phone, carefully punching out the numbers that may change the course of the rest of his life. 
   Ringing. One beep to two of his heart beats. A sudden disquietude swept over him, making him nervous enough to be digging his nails into the palm of the phone-free hand. Nothing yet. He would give it just a few more rings, then stop; he wasn't prepared for leaving a voicemail. Then he heard a bright hello. 
   'Uh, hi ... is this Saskia?'
   There was crowd noise in the background, so he hoped she'd hear okay. This call might potentially never take place again if not. 
   'It's ah ... Neil, here. Neil Balfour?' 
   'Oh!,' she sounded surprised. 'Wow!'
   'I've been thinking that I would like us to meet up some time ... can that be... '
   Before he got the chance to finish, a rather elated sounding Saskia cut him off.  'Really? Oh my God - that's ... brilliant!'
   The raucousness in the background was getting louder and before Neil got the chance to talk arrangements she rather loudly had to tell him: 'Oh, I'm really sorry, but that's the doors opening and we need to get to the front. Been here for hours! Can I get back to you on this number later ... tomorrow?'
   'Yes, yes, of course.'
   'This is rotten timing. I really am sorry, but I've gotta go...'
   'Um, okay. Bye then,' he said, but before he pressed end call, he caught her shouting to him:
   'I'm glad you called, Dad! Bye!' 
   He sat back in his chair, swiveled from side to side as far as his feet would allow. There. Two mad-rush minutes was all it took, and it felt sound and redeeming. Her call would most-likely come when he was on the green, but for now he at least had time to think about a meeting place. Pity he caught her while she was out with friends. To see some atrocious band, no doubt. Hark at himself.  Two minutes a father and he deemed himself ready-equipped to critique the young! 
   He grabbed the album and tucked it in his inside jacket pocket. It was going home with him this time. Whatever would become of tomorrow's call, she felt comfortable enough to already be calling him Dad. And with that in mind, instead of going straight home, he thought he'd pop in somewhere (albeit by himself ) to wet the baby's head.