I looked at his expression, and sighed.
“Bethy, Larinda’s in the kitchen sorting some food, so…”
“Yeah, yeah, let the olds talk”
As soon as she was gone, and the door shut, I turned to my brother.
“What the hell is this? I mean, I don’t mind you here, like, it’s something we should have sorted ages back, but…why now?”
He looked embarrassed, and I realised Larinda and Bethany were back in the room as I sat him down. He reached out for his daughter’s hand.
“I don’t know how best to say this, aye? But I learned one thing the other weekend, and it’s a hard lesson for me”
His voice trailed off, and Bethy sighed. “I found this, like, song for him, yeah, and I made him listen”
Larinda raised an eyebrow. “You MADE him listen?”
Bethany blushed. “Yeah, I did. Dad’s a bit, like, stuffed up, messed up, yeah, and it’s hard, shut up, Dad, my turn, you are crap at this, yeah, so let me. You got a coke, Aunty Jill?”
Larinda nodded. “Tea for you two?”
Ian grunted. “Bears and woods?” and Bethy continued.
“Dad’s always like been the big man, always been the success, yeah?”
Yes indeed. Always wanting to match, to beat, his own father. And me, of course.
“Was never wrong, even when he was, and when things like turned to ratshit—sorry—it was always someone else’s fault. Mum couldn’t be a cow—yeah, Dad, my turn, OK? Because, yeah, HE had picked her, yeah, so how could she be, cos he don’t make mistakes”
She looked up at Larinda, and cocked her head. “Look, I don’t, like HATE Mum, but just cause she is Mum don’t mean I have to LIKE her, does it? So we’re at home, and I’m listening to my sounds…Aunty Jill, what you listen to? Like, music, yeah?”
Ian grunted again. “He…she, sorry, was always into space rock and shit. Jill, this one’s gone all folkie, aye? Me with the metal, and how the hell…”
Bethany sniffed. “Better than Hays’s musicals”
I grinned with a sudden memory. “Your grandfather was into opera, lass”
Ian snorted out a laugh. “Aye, I remember. Trying to sing bloody Puccini all the time!”
Larinda held up a hand. “Very nice, yeah, but two things here. First, I am trying to educate this one’s tastes, and second, we have a woman asleep upstairs who needs to know what the hell is going on. So, Bethy?”
“Yeah, OK. I am not some folkie, yeah, I like singer-songwriters, cos they have to, like, be able to sing and write both, and Mum, she’s into poxy Westlife and shi—crap like that, and the thing about singers like mine is that they have something to like SAY, yeah?”
I tried, I really did. “Like Alanna Morisette?”
“Alanis, yeah, and she’s just, like BOGUS”
Larinda laughed. “I like your style, Bethy, but cut to the chase?”
“Cheryl Wheeler, yeah? ‘Frequently wrong but never in doubt’, and that’s Dad, always, but he’s learning, yeah? Trouble is, he don’t learn quick enough, and look at this, right now. Why are we here, Dad?”
“Because I stuffed up, pet”
“No, Dad, because you stuffed up loadsa times! You rang Von straight off, then you hung up, then you crapped yourself that it was all wrong after what you said at the wedding, and then you jump in the car and, like, roar over here at STUPID speed, yeah, and, like, if we don’t have no tickets from no cameras, I’ll be WELL shocked”
She looked at him, tears on the edge of falling. “Frequently, yeah, but never, and now, like, you see yourself as wrong too often, and you try too hard to put it right…”
He looked at her, his own eyes brimming. "So why are you here now, pet?”
“Cos you like told me to come… and cos I love you, Dad”
He couldn’t cry, not in front of three women, so he went to the toilet for a leak. Bethy sighed again, once he was out of the room.
“It like ate him up, Aunty Jill, seeing her. It was how she was with her boy, yeah, and our Hays, and the way Mum treated her, and I think he suddenly saw it all as a like waste”
My lover held an arm out, and Bethy settled into an embrace. “And how could that be, girl? When it brought him you? Now, how do we get him to think before he jumps?”
My niece laughed. “And what’s next week’s Lotto numbers, yeah?”
I settled back with my woman’s hand as she held my other girl. “What’s the plan, pet?”
“Don’t think he had one, yeah? Just like drop in here and it’s all sorted, just takes Superdad’s presence, yeah? Look, he thought he’d shat on her, shamed her, so it had to be cleared up, right here and now. Don’t know when we were like going home”
Larinda turned to me. “Was he always like this?”
“No, love, he usually made a decision and stuck to it. This is new. I think he’s sort of discovered, well, doubt. What to do?”
She thought awhile. “It’s Thursday, yeah? Can you get tomorrow off?”
“Office day, like, so, well, aye”
“I can get tomorrow off with a bit of delegation, so… Bethy, fancy a shopping trip? Up town? We got a bloke to carry the bags”
I must have shown my confusion, and she grinned again, the old mischief dancing in her smile. “I give Alec a ring, yeah, and see what they do, and we go to the Imperial War Museum, and he gets to do the bloke thing and, afters, we gets to do girly things, and in between he gets to do big soldier boy with Von, and her Dad was Navy, weren’t he, so? Von gets one spare bed, Bethy the other, and he gets settee duty. Hang on, He’s coming”
He was indeed, and he wasn’t alone, as a tearful Von preceded him into the sitting room. I looked at Bethy, and she was off to sort a cuppa for her.
“I woke up, and wanted the loo, and, well, he was there, aye? And I sort of said sorry, and…”
Ian shook himself. “No apologies, told you that. Both of us have been a bit daft, like, so let’s wipe the tape. Jill, you’ve been plotting, I know that look”
“Not me, Bro, them”
Larinda mock-whistled, then grinned. “You fancy some military shit, Ian? Show off a bit, then the blokes treat us to tea at Liberty’s?”
That was a moment that lived with me, a moment that will always warm my heart. Ian looked around the room, smiled at me, and said “What blokes? Only me here, aye? Me and four bloody women!”
Larinda nodded. “Fair point, and duly noted and anticipated. Get Alec and John along and that’s three blokes, more bag-carrying capacity!”
He leant forward. “Oh, aye? Who exactly is this little trip supposed to be for?”
Bethany leant forward, the back of one hand against her forehead. “Oh, Daddy, don’t you like want me to be HAPPY?”
Von started to laugh, and then the laughter turned to tears, and sobs, and I held her as it became one long and incoherent apology. Eventually, she ran down, and as her breathing came back to normal Ian spoke, softly.
“I was wrong. Sorry”
Bethy smiled. “Gotcha”
“Not now, lass. Von, I didn’t think, I just reacted, aye? Putting the phone down, racing over here. I mean, even ringing you straight off, aye? That was me not thinking. I’m sorry, right?”
She lifted her head. “But you’re here now, innit?”
“That doesn’t mean…”
She held a hand up. “Don’t say it doesn’t mean anything, because it does, aye? I don’t mean, mad passion and stuff, aye, but you put yourself out to see me right. Thank you”
She started to laugh then “That’s me stuffed, innit? Seen me at my best and now at my worst, aye? Bloody air of seductive mystery woman gone now, no surprises left!”
I remembered a few intimate moments we had shared and thought that she was perhaps not quite shorn of all surprises, but I took her point.
“Look, people…Ian, Von, what are you up to tomorrow?”
Von smiled. “Day off, innit?”
Ian looked at her, and sighed. “Baggage mule it is then”
Von murmured something to Larinda, who laughed, and shook her head, and so we ordered a curry to be delivered, and left the wine alone, and finally saw everyone off to their beds with smiles rather than tears. Once more, I lay in my proper place, beside my lover, and I had to ask.
“She said ‘Hope he ain’t no bloody mule, aye? Want a man that works”
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