Peter stared at the man, in the few seconds before he glanced up at him and smiled, and almost stumbled with shock. Oliver looked dreadful, he’d lost loads of weight, not that he was hugely overweight, but he was a formidable presence in any room, now he was pale, feeble and looked a step away from death. Rosa said he was getting better, just how ill had he been?
"Peter!" even his voice was softer than normal. "Didn’t expect to see you! Great though! You look well."
Peter shook himself out of his shock, "I’m working in Australia for a while, can’t help but look well with the sun, the lifestyle...you know? I’m in London for a few days and was just passing; honestly, I didn’t know you’d been unwell."
Oliver gestured to the chair opposite, "well it’s always a tonic seeing you! If nothing else to remind me of times when I was a lot younger!”
“You’re hardly old now!”
“I feel it! Been a rough few months!”
Whilst he talked, his eyes showing the animation of old, even if the body wasn’t exactly willing! And Peter hated seeing this man so fragile. To him he was an icon, an inspiration, he could only try and imagine how hard this had hit the family as he watched Rosa fuss over hot drinks.
The phone rang and Rosa excused herself.
"Lex was here, she’s good in a crisis." Oliver threw randomly into conversation, his voice loud and clear in the suddenly quiet room.
Peter gulped, not able to discuss her with her father of all people, so he remained silent.
"God you have got it bad!" Oliver laughed, "look at you!"
Peter’s head snapped up, "I don’t know what you mean!"
Oliver laughed, "You can’t even talk about her. I know that you’ve always known she was special, and I suppose in my fallibility of being ill, I realised that I put both of you in a difficult situation."
Peter shook his head, "It was strange to see her again after all these years.”
Oliver laughed, “did you think about her a lot?”
Every day! How could he tell her father that? “Oliver she was a child, I was well into my twenties, you were right to tell me the relationship was inappropriate. I should not have let her get so close to me. That was my fault"
Oliver shook his head, “not really. Even back then she was more mature than most. I’m not saying it was right, that I’d have agreed....
Peter shook his head and waved a hand in his direction, “Right? Agreed? You said you’d call the police and have me on indecency charges if I as much as danced with her.”
Oliver’s eyes widened in shock, “What?”
Peter slumped into his chair, “on her birthday, I’d come to see you, explain I was going to take her to her party...but as I got to your office I could hear you, talking to Chris the Intern. The two of you...you were disgusted...you said you’d get me registered as a sex offender if I looked at her.”
Oliver turned paler than his resting shade of pasty white, “I...” He shook his head, “I don’t remember that Peter. Really?”
Peter nodded, “you’re not the type to issue idle threats, and it put the fear of god into me.”
The older man sighed, “I wouldn’t have done that, maybe I was just agreeing with Chris? He was always cocky and opinionated. I mean I couldn’t have approved of anything happening, not really. But I think I knew that there was something special between you both. That was why I was glad you met up more recently...”
Peter stared at him, “YOU organised that?”
Oliver shrugged, “I might have been a little frugal with the truth.”
“Does she know you did that?”
Pulling himself to his feet, he walked towards the mantelpiece, then stopped resting an elbow on it, “why do you think she went away? She thinks I told you to leave, on her birthday, and she thinks I orchestrated your meeting in Stockholm.”
Lifting his cup Peter let the silence of drinking coffee allow him some time with his own thoughts. She’d be furious, he could imagine that, and quite rightly. What gave Oliver the right to act like God?
“You might think I was wrong, both times, but I knew that I caused a rift years ago, and as I got older, as she got older I realised that maybe you were due another chance...I didn’t think either of you have forgotten the other. "
Peter knew that it was all way beyond him now, he’d been an idiot on numerous occasions, and no amount of misplaced matchmaking from this man would make things right. He sighed, "Ok Oliver, you can have your pound of flesh! I love your daughter, I can’t get her out of my head, but she hates me, and I can’t blame her. I had so many chances to sort things out with her, and I’ve blown it SO many times! I’m now up to my eyes with a conniving woman in Australia, she’s met someone else. I just have to move on. She has!"
Oliver chuckled, "you youngsters and your stubbornness. Tell her how you feel!"
Peter smiled ironically, "you think I haven’t done that?"
The light faded in Oliver’s eyes at that, and ultimately the older man started to get tired. And so the conversation started to wither. So he left the family, promising to call in again before he left London.
Back at the hotel, he sat staring into space, how typical that the moment he blows it with Alexis, Oliver lifts the veto on her! The very reason he’d avoided her, was the verbal ban that Oliver had put over her six years ago, and the threats he’d overheard, even in Stockholm he’d feared facing the man knowing how he felt about Alexis. Now he was doomed to live and die by the ham fisted way he’d tried to uphold those words in respect to the older man.
Later that evening he called his PA Hilda, a short stout German speaking Swiss woman in her fifties. She was his godsend, running his office, fielded his calls, organised his diary. She was stoical in her job and an asset he respected.
“Hi Hilda, is there any urgent news?”
He heard her tut and smiled to himself, “Herr Marlow, you have not checked your emails for four days! I have tried my best to fend off the director from Charterol. You promised him something three weeks ago?”
He sighed, “Sorry Hilda, I have had jetlag and this conference is more than hectic! I’ll get onto my emails right away. Anything else?”
"Not really, Marco called about some conference in Nice. You apparently are aware of it, and he’s emailing you the details. Your mother phoned and asked if you can pass her your new mobile phone number, the one you’re using in Australia, as she keeps getting a woman replying? That is probably the most urgent! Oh and there was a call but no message from a woman looking for you last Thursday.
"Yes,” Hilda replied, “...sorry she wouldn’t leave a message."
He bit his lip. "Was she English?"
"Yes, a very well spoken voice!"
Peter knew he was jumping to conclusions thinking it was Alexis, hell it could literally be anyone, but a part of him hoped upon hope. "Thank you Hilda, I’ll check my inbox now and call you tomorrow.”
Despite his thoughts racing, the following day he travelled back to Australia, as was planned, wondering if ignoring this was the right thing.
Alexis was beginning to find the heat exhausting. She had been in Rio for almost six months, and for all that time the temperature had barely dropped below twenty five degrees, and she was fed up with sweating. She was also lonely, but that was what happened when love broke down, especially when it was with one of the group you’d latched on to. She’d managed to organise a few meals and drinks with some of the clinic staff, and that was fun, she’d recently been told of a British ex pat community, people living and working in the city, and she was determined to catch up with them. But she was just so beaten by the heat.
The phone rang several times before she woke from her slumber on the sofa, with a tired sounding voice she answered, "hello?"
"Alexis?" The voice made her instant alert, eyes open, sat bolt upright, but she was unable to speak, stunned into silence. "Lex, I need to speak to you."
She took several deep breaths, then finally managed, “What do you want Peter?"
"Did you phone me? My PA said...well, was it you?" The silence was all the answer he needed. "I saw your Dad last week; I didn’t know he’d been ill."
Lex stood, phone pinned to her ear and started to pace, “It was a shock."
He sighed, "are you ok?"
Sighing she stood with her forehead against the window, looking out to the Atlantic Ocean, "Yeah, it’s been stressful, and a lot of travelling. But he’s doing well. I’m glad I was there."
The conversation was stilted and she knew he could tell that.
"God Lex, when did things get this hard between us? Can’t we even be friends?"
“We were never going to be friends Peter, you know that.” Then she sighed again, “
“We can try!”
Lex was finding this so hard, "Did my Dad warn you off me?"
It was time for his silence to speak volumes, eventually he managed, "He did remind me that you were a lot younger than me, and you may be easily led."
"That’s why you disappeared? Before my birthday?"
He hesitated, this was neither the time nor the place to get into this, "we can’t discuss this on the phone Alexis, we need to be together to sort this out." He sighed, "We’re not the best discussing things when we are together, on the phone it’s even worse. That’s why we’re in this situation. I’m not prepared for there to be any more mistakes between us."
“I don’t think that’s a good idea. We have to just get on with things.”
Peter laughed, “I need you in my life in ANY context Alexis, I keep making wrong decisions without you, and about you. I need you to help me do the right thing, because since Stockholm I’ve become someone I don’t recognise.”
She chuckled. Touché! Instead she sat at the dining table and smiled, “what have you done now Peter?”
Peter was sat on the veranda of the beachfront house, it was a beautiful September morning, the sun was low across the sea, and already surfers were dotted along the coast. He thought of Megan who he’d not seen since he got back, but he was scared of. He knew he had to act on that, sort it out.
“I’m in Australia.” He offered.
“Really? That’s cool.”
He laughed, “been teaching at the Uni here for a few months, which in itself is not a problem. But I’m staying with another lecturer, Megan.”
“You’re seeing each other?” He could hear the hurt that she’d deny was in her voice and it pained him.
“Sort of, it was never meant to be more than a fling.” When she laughed the pain got worse, “now I feel even worse. We literally slept together, there was nothing more to it, and it was what she wanted too.” Again she laughed, sarcastically. “Alexis, I wanted more than that with you, I wanted to take you to Paris, swim on the most exotic beaches, make love in the snow. Megan was good company...shit! I’m not making this sound any better, am I?”
“What’s gone wrong?” she asked, ending his misery by wanting to talk, by not judging him anymore.
He sighed with relief, “I overheard her talking on the phone. She thinks I’m wealthy, and she wants to get pregnant or maybe pretend, to rip me off.”
“Shit! That’s full on devious!”
Peter closed his eyes, “we share a college house, we work near each other. It’s awkward!”
“Not as awkward as a baby...and a debt!”
He laughed, “Just like you, infinitely practical”
She was on a roll, “you have no obligation to her, she’s hardly going to stalk you or murder you if you escape her clutches. Move! Blame it on the environment...distance from college? Anything!”
He laughed, “why didn’t I think of that?”
“Because men, in the whole are dumb!”