After-effects

Chapter 8

Alan managed to escape the house and wandered down onto the sandy beach without seeing anyone. He trudged slowly along the beach until he reached the bend that would take him out of sight of the house. Once out of view he tucked himself into one of the small caves that dotted the island and sat, staring silently out to sea while he contemplated the major bombshell that his father had just dropped on him.

~#~

Jeff remained in his office until Ruth pushed her way into the room with a tray of coffee. The old woman found him fast asleep, slumped on the floor against the wall behind his desk, with a framed picture of Lucille clasped loosely in his lap. She smiled softly at the picture and then shook her head sadly when she caught sight of the dried tear tracks on her son's face. "Oh, Jefferson, I wish you'd come and spoken to me rather than getting yourself all worked up in here. I know that talking has never been your strong point but…"

Ruth tutted quietly to herself. A frown crossed her brow and she looked around, realising that Jeff had come to the office to meet Alan who was nowhere to be seen. Shaking her head again, Ruth put the tray of coffee down on the desk and squatted in front of her sleeping son.

"Jeff," Ruth shook his shoulder gently. "Nap time's over, Jeff. It's time to wake up and talk to me."

Jeff frowned slightly in his sleep and blindly turned towards his mother's voice before he'd entirely woken up. "Luce?"

Ruth pursed her lips together and shook her head as she ran her hand through Jeff's hair. "How I wish I could say yes, Jeff, but I'm afraid it's just me. We need to talk about what's been going on today. About what's got you all out of sorts and what it's got to do with Alan, Gordon and the Kyranos."

Jeff slowly opened one eye, peered down into his lap and then clutched Lucille's picture tightly to his chest as he scrubbed both eyes with his free hand.

The scrub was disturbed by a sudden yawn and Jeff was forced to release his grip on the picture frame so as to smother cover his mouth. Ruth stood the fame on the floor between them and smiled sadly when Jeff searched it out as soon as he was able.

"Mother. Hi." Jeff looked blearily around. "I…um…what time is it?"

"It's time you got yourself up off the floor and into that chair there so we can have a proper talk. That's what time it is." Ruth said the words softly but Jeff was in no doubt that she expected the conversation to go ahead regardless.

Jeff glanced down at his watch and whistled softly. "You're right, as usual. Is that…do I smell coffee?"

Ruth smiled. "You do. I thought you and Alan might be in need of some but he doesn't seem to be in here any more."

Jeff shook his head. "He's not been here for some time, Mother. I'm afraid it got a little fraught earlier and we ended up having something of an altercation before he left. He was going to go for a walk to clear his head and have a think. I guess that he must have gone outside without you noticing."

"Not just me," Ruth added. "Neither Scott nor Virgil have seen him either. I spoke to them just before coming in here and it was generally assumed that the two of you were still holed up here together. I think the boys were worried that the pair of you would come to blows if you stayed in here much longer."

Jeff winced and lifted the hand that he had struck Alan with. "Not 'blows'," he murmured. "Just…just the one blow. I…Mother, I hit him."

Ruth's eyebrow climbed into her hairline. "Jefferson Tracy, I raised you better than that. Striking one of your boys; what were you thinking?"

"I wasn't thinking," Jeff admitted. "It was a momentary lapse of judgement for which I apologised immediately. We…we had cleared the air again before he left; he didn't go with angry words between us although I admit that he was a little shell-shocked and upset."

"I suppose he was," Ruth huffed. "The way you went off earlier. You sent him in here like he was a naughty school boy, not the fine young man that he's turning out to be."

Jeff looked down at Lucille's picture and traced a finger along the outline of her cheek. "That 'fine young man' has excelled himself this time, Mother. He…he…it looks very much like he's going to father the first of the next generation of Tracys. I always imagined that it'd be Scott, or possibly John but not Alan. Not in my wildest imaginations would it have been him."

Ruth folded her skirt carefully beneath herself and sat down on the carpet in front of her son. "What are you telling me, Jefferson? That Alan's gone and got a girl…Oh no, not just any girl, it's Tin-Tin, isn't it? That's why you've sent her away? What in God's name, Jefferson? If that's what you're telling me then they need to be together, not separated by umpteen thousand miles. What were you thinking?"

"That's the second time you've asked me that in less than ten minutes," Jeff replied with a dry chuckle. "…and I can't answer you any better this time than I could the last. The separation is more for Kyrano's benefit than Tin-Tin's. She didn't want to go at all, all she wanted was Alan but she had no choice. Kyrano needed time away from the island and Tin-Tin needs a thorough checkup from a doctor who is properly trained in…that sort of thing."

Ruth nodded. "I suppose she does. Do we know how far along she is or...well…anything else?"

Jeff shrugged. "Not yet. All I got out of Alan was that 'it was just the once' but as I said, things were a bit fraught and I was mainly trying to get him to own up to what he'd done. Further details weren't that forthcoming but was probably my fault just as much as his."

"Judging by the fact that Lucille's down here rather than in her usual spot on the shelf…" Ruth patted the photo frame fondly. "…and the fact that you were fast asleep in an untidy heap on the floor, I'd guess that you both got rather upset and cut the conversation shorter than it might have otherwise been."

Jeff picked up the frame, sat it in his lap and looked at it tenderly. "We had some talking to do," he whispered. "Mother…Tin-Tin…what if…I wouldn't wish that on anyone. Not my own worst enemy and certainly not one of the boys."

Ruth reached out and rested a hand on Jeff's shoulder. "You can't think like that. What happened to Lucille was one in a...huge, huge number's chance. You know that. It wasn't normal, in any sense of the word. It was a horrible, horrible thing that happened but Jeff, you're going to have to let go of the fear that it'll happen again. Lucille had three completely healthy pregnancies before Gordon's and apart from the speed of his arrival there wasn't anything untoward about that one either. If you'd stopped there then you wouldn't have any of the worry and fears that you have now but, Jeff, you wouldn't have Alan, your life here on the island and…you wouldn't have a new little grandchild on the way."

Jeff let out a long, slow, breathy sigh. "I know," he admitted. "I love all of the boys, you know that. Sometimes though, I just wonder…" He shook his head and looked apologetically at his mother. "I'm sorry, I'm just thinking aloud. Given the opportunity, I wouldn't swap what we have now, I would possibly trade a little of my soul for the chance to say a proper goodbye though. The fact that I never got to…"

"Makes it all the harder." Ruth swallowed deeply as she squeezed Jeff's arm. "I understand that, Jeff. We've had this talk before; about how you weren't to know that Lucille was in more danger than Alan. No one knew, Jeff, you know that. As far as anyone realised it was life and death for the baby but not for Lucille. No-one could have guessed what was going to happen. No one, Jeff."

Jeff covered Ruth's hand with his own and returned the squeeze. "Doesn't stop me wishing though…"

"No, it doesn't. My point, though, is that you can't dwell on what happened and you can't say anything to the little ones. You'll scare them and that's the last thing either of them need. Tin-Tin will be able to have the best care that money can buy, she'll be as safe as it's humanly possible to make her and you…you…" Ruth threw her arms in the air and huffed when she found that she couldn't put what she was trying to say into words.

Jeff grimaced. "I'll probably break down at least another couple of times before the baby arrives. Is that what you're trying not to say?"

"Hopefully not but…yes." Ruth patted his arm and then clambered to her feet and held her hand out to him. "If we don't move soon then the coffee's going to get cold and I think it's time for Lucille to go back on her shelf, don't you?"

Jeff gazed sadly at the picture in his lap and then gently lifted it and placed it into Ruth's outstretched hand. Ruth smiled at her son and stepped around him in order to place Lucille back in her spot on the shelf behind Jeff's desk. She then stepped back around and helped Jeff to his feet before pushing him gently into his chair and pouring them both a drink.

The pair drunk their fill and then remained in the office in a state of companionable silence. Ruth was content to allow Jeff to mull through his thoughts without disturbance but eventually looked at her watch and announced that she needed to go and make a start on lunch. Jeff stood up, hugged his mother and followed her from the office. The old woman headed for the kitchen while her son disappeared downstairs into one of the silos where he remained until Scott pinged his watch to let him know that his presence was requested at the dinner table.

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