Chapter 001 The Surprise
EMMA DAWDLED ALONG the garden path, noting the summer flowers out or just emerging, the old garden seat apparently newly stained, the lawns mowed, edged and re-shaped to be more curving and less rectangular, the neat beds free of weeds unlike last year and the year before and the year before that. In fact she couldn’t recall when she’d last seen the garden looking so tidy though in an informal, tasteful, cottagey sort of way. Even the course of the path seemed to have been altered somewhat to a more meandering route through the long area at the front of the house, up to the front door and then round to the left past the house to the back door at the side. Oh dear, she thought, change afoot. Indeed already in progress. The open aspect beyond as she reached the side of the house was out of focus, a heat haze distorting the fields and trees and hedges, and she realised she was hot and bothered and sweating.
She’d been rather dreading coming home now that dad had a girlfriend. She couldn’t think of her as Grace. What a stupid name anyway. So old-fashioned. She could only think of her as that woman. It was barely six months since her mum had died and here was dad already shacked up with someone else. Of course it had been a long illness and so the actual death of her mother hadn’t come as anything of a shock. In fact something of a relief if Emma was honest. But still, it was her mum and she’d done as much as she could with Emma until she became really ill and hadn’t been able to even talk properly any more. Emma still thought she’d been a super mother and she loved her to bits.
So to have to come home from uni for her summer holiday at the end of her first year and to have to share it with a strange woman was just desperately uncomfortable at the very least. Her dad hadn’t said much about Grace. Without realising it actually Emma had discouraged much talk about her, immediately switching to another subject if her dad ever said anything about Grace during their telephone calls which were normally at least twice a week, but which she’d cut down since the woman had come on the scene.
Emma had even stopped off on the way home at a friend’s house for several days so as to put off the home-coming. But now, as she was due to start her holiday job on Monday, it couldn’t be delayed any longer. She rather wished she hadn’t caught the earlier train today and had waited for the later one but she’d wanted to make sure of catching the connection and as a result the next train she caught was the earlier one too. She was therefore well over an hour early and had decided to walk the twenty minutes or so from the station since dad wasn’t due to be there for another hour himself to pick her up.
She was almost at the back door now. Being such a hot day, the door was open. She could hear music playing, possibly the radio or a CD, so presumably someone was in the kitchen. There was nothing for it but to try to make as cheerful an entrance as she could and she put her rucksack down on the doorstep and peered in, smile at the ready.
However the sight that met her eyes wiped the smile instantly off her face and made her jaw drop. There was Dad with his arms round, presumably, the woman and they were in a tight embrace. The woman was slim and curvaceous from what Emma could see. Not the overweight quinquagenarian Emma had pictured. They were nearly sideways on to the back door though she could see more of her dad’s back and more of the woman’s face. The woman’s face! Her head was thrown back, her mouth was open and her eyes were tight shut apparently in the throes of ecstasy. Her father’s face Emma couldn’t see. It was buried somewhere to the right of the woman’s head; she could just see his head moving. Doing something to the woman’s ear. Or her neck maybe? The woman was standing on tiptoe and had her hands on her father’s buttocks, pressing him to her. As Emma watched, the woman raised her left leg and her foot wound itself round her father’s leg.
And they were both making noises.
Emma was transfixed. Horrified. Nauseated. Nothing like this happened between her and the few young men she’d been to bed with. They just went to bed and did it and sometimes it was quite nice and sometimes it wasn’t really. But it was important not to be a virgin still at the age of eighteen. The appalling thought struck her that if they got up to this sort of thing in the kitchen, then what might go on in the bedroom itself, separated from her own room by the bathroom thank heavens? She really felt like being sick. She’d only ever thought in terms of herself needing privacy if she brought a boyfriend back with her to stay any time. Never in her wildest dreams had she considered having to give space to her father for the same sorts of reasons.
She’d mentioned to the friend she’d been staying with and the friend’s parents that her father now had a woman living with him.
“Oh, a new love in his life then,” said the mother.
“Oh no,” Emma had said confidently. “I should think it’s more companionship. He’s nearly sixty and so is the woman I think.”
“Oh well, when slap comes to tickle, you’d be surprised!” said the father chuckling.
“What?” Emma had said.
The friend’s parents were considerably younger than her own. Emma had no brothers or sisters because her mum was already forty when she’d had Emma and no other children had come along. The friend’s father had smirked and had made some remark about getting a good tune out of an old fiddle. Emma hadn’t quite followed what he’d meant, or at least hadn’t wanted to. But it was sinking firmly in now as she watched this couple in her family kitchen getting more and more steamed up.
At that point, the woman’s eyes opened a fraction and saw Emma standing there. Then they opened wider just as Emma’s dad was saying breathily:
“Shall we go upstairs. There’s time left.”
Well at least they weren’t going to do it in the kitchen.
“Don!” the woman said and pulled away from him ever so slightly but he pulled her back against him and brought his face round to hers.
“Hmm?” he said. Then, oh God, to Emma’s horror he started to pull at the lips of the woman’s still open mouth with his own lips. Greedily. Then, oh no, his tongue came out! It was like something you saw on the TV after the nine o’ clock watershed.
“Don!” the woman said more loudly and pulled away, firmly this time. Her father’s eyes turned to look in Emma’s direction with a dazed expression. It took him a few seconds to collect himself.
“Darling,” he said. Emma wasn’t sure if this endearment was directed at her or at the woman. He stood back then, looking uncomfortable, and sighed.
“Oh well. You’re back then. Welcome home.” He was smiling now while pulling a wry face at the woman who was herself composing her face into a smile as well. Emma knew if she just walked out that it would be awfully childish. She’d been trying to tell herself this last couple of months that she wasn’t going to resent the woman on principle. But she was dreadfully embarrassed now and found she could only mumble “Hello” and, shouldering her rucksack, she walked through the kitchen and up to her room where she collapsed on the already made bed (made up no doubt by the woman) and heaved a sigh of relief.
EMMA FELT A LITTLE irritated later when her father knocked on her door and came straight in. Like she was going to be able to just burst straight into her father’s bedroom any longer. God forbid she interrupted any more over-archingly amorous scenes.
He made some general chit-chat at first about her course, the stay with her friend, the holiday restaurant job she was due to go back to on Monday for the rest of the summer. He said the restaurant had phoned earlier to see if she could start tomorrow, Sunday lunchtime, instead of on Monday as they were short staffed. Good, thought Emma. It’ll get me out of the house at least.
At length he said: “Well, do you want to come downstairs and meet Grace properly?”
Emma rolled her eyes at that and her dad laughed, but Emma looked away quickly and her father’s jollity seemed to collapse.
“Come on then,” he said.
“Actually I’m all right here for the moment. I’m a bit tired. I think I’ll just have a rest and call the restaurant on my mobile.”
“It’ll only take a couple of minutes to say hello. You know. It’d be polite.”
“Polite!” Like it was polite to act out enthusiastic foreplay in the kitchen with another woman barely six months after your wife had died when your daughter might walk in at any moment!
“What’s that supposed to mean? If you’re talking about what happened when you arrived, well I can’t help that. We weren’t expecting you. I was expecting to have to go to the station and collect you later. You didn’t ring.”
“Oh. So I’m going to have to ring now first am I before I can come to my own home!”
“Of course not. But…” Her father paused, apparently considering what to say. He continued: “Emma. Grace and I have become…very attached to each other. We’re happy. She’s here with me. That’s not going to go away. I hope you’ll be able to accept that and in time come to be happy about it too.”
But Emma turned away.
“Dad,” she said, “please don’t force me to do things just because you’ve got some woman living with you now. I’m an adult you know. Please try to treat me like one. I’ll come down when I’m ready.”
“Grace is not just ‘some woman’,” said Don. He looked and sounded angry to Emma. Very unusual for her father. But he appeared to be fighting it off and at length he said quietly:
“Emma, I still love your mother and I always will. But she isn’t here any more. I love Grace as well now. I hope you’ll come to like her a lot too eventually.” And he left the room.
Emma’s anger dissolved and she burst into tears.
DON PLODDED OFF downstairs. He’d been unprepared for this reaction and they had been some sentences into the conversation before he’d realised how serious she was. He’d wanted to tell her that he needed Grace’s love and affection, that he’d spent years nursing her mother which he didn’t at all resent and would have carried on doing so to the end of his days if necessary, but he wouldn’t live forever and now that it was over, he wanted to have some fun. And that what she had witnessed was only what men and women were supposed to do together. But it didn’t appear he was going to be able to have that sort of grown up discussion with his daughter just yet.
He’d had to shut up after Emma had rolled her eyes and he’d suddenly realised that her expression hadn’t been meant as a sardonic stab at conspiratorial humour between them, but was born out of real disgust.
His daughter’s face had closed down. He’d had to work hard to quell his anger at hearing Grace described as ‘some woman’. He’d felt like saying that if she wanted to be treated like an adult then she should behave like one, but he so hadn’t wanted to have an argument with her about Grace or indeed anything else so soon. Not that they normally argued at all. He’d thought they were so close.
But if Emma had been minded to behave like an adult, on seeing him and Grace together, she might have tactfully withdrawn unnoticed and gone off for a walk for half an hour or so. Or she might at least have laughed it off instead of gawping at them and then bolting to her room and sulking. He reflected that all the effort and attention focused on the slowly dying Carol for so many years must have got in the way of giving Emma a rounded version of family life and coupledom.
He hadn’t actually ever, now he thought about it, said anything to her about the facts of life at all, and Carol wouldn’t have been able to, though whether that would have made any difference he wasn’t actually sure. It would be a brave parent who went further than the mechanics of sex and lectured their offspring on the pleasures of the flesh. An old Harry Enfield sketch popped into his mind in which Kevin sits cringing while his father starts to have The Talk with him and Kevin soon disappears.
He walked towards the kitchen where Grace would probably be making a start on their evening meal. Together they would have to decide how to treat this unexpected turn of events and how to proceed henceforth.