Part Thirty One
Adam watched the family laugh as they ran along the sand dipping in and out of the rolling surf. Oh to be happy, he thought as he sat on the veranda of his home, the beach house that had always been everything that he wanted. Tonight was his birthday, thirty three years old, and he'd give everything to go back a year, for the last six months never to have happened.
No he didn't mean that, he'd never regret meeting Laura, that was for sure, but he'd write off every moment since leaving her in the hotel two months earlier. Every day had been painful, and every day she became more and more distant to him.
He'd gone from the hotel practically straight to New York, catching the Marshalls before they left for France, immediately he'd looked at his father in a more critical way, he had no idea how the man would react to his suggestions, but he'd not expected him to throw him out of the room, manhandled like a cheap criminal.
"Stafford," he'd offered after the pleasantries, "this may seem like a really strange thing to say, but I really would like your approval to date Laura." He thought he'd asked a reasonable question in a reasonable manner, but it had been greeted by disgust and anger, then he'd been pushed out of the hotel. He hadn't tried to resist his father, though he could have quite easily. Instead he fell out into the hallway and Stafford's parting words were always in his thoughts.
"There's no way I'd let a man like you lay your hands on her!"
He'd tried to work out what a 'man like him' was, as he'd witnessed his father try to foist that chinless wonder Jonathan onto his daughter, so was he further down the ranks than that? The only thing he could honestly conclude was that he wasn't well bred enough...the irony of his never knowing his real father meant that he was brought up outside of the British aristocracy, and that meant that he wasn't good enough for his own father. It was all rather ironic as he'd not been good enough for the father who had brought him up all his life either. Add to that the snub from Laura, and he was at the lowest ebb he'd ever experienced. He wished that his mother had never mentioned Stafford Marshall's name. As much as Mike Purcell had been a bastard, a dreadful father, at least he'd been consistent at one thing. He'd never felt as low as he had the last few months.
And his mother, who'd recently had good test results, her cancer treatment was working, wanted to celebrate his birthday. Not only had he been roped into going but his mother had invited Kristi, his casual date for the past year or so. The fact that he hadn't seen her since he'd heard about his father, scratch that, since he's met Laura, seemed to mean nothing to anyone.
The sun was starting to set over the Pacific. It was warm, for a November evening, but then it was rarely really cold in California, in had been in the low seventies during the day, and it hadn't dropped much until the sun had started to droop over the ocean. He had an hour before he was due to pick up Kristi, and he was spending it downing beer. A bad move. Now he had to get a cab AND tolerate everything. He hoped he didn't get angry as he got drunk, but this was one birthday he didn't want to celebrate.
Laura looked at the 'SOLD' sign stapled across the door of the cafe and sighed. This was her last evening in town. Tomorrow she returned 'home', though it was a million miles from home in her heart. As soon as Ben put the cafe on the market she'd felt sad, but now that it was sold, that someone else was about to live in the apartment, sleep in her room. It all filled her with sadness. She glanced around. All the furniture and belongings had either been sold, or placed into storage. Ben placed little sentiment on anything, so he was happy to cut his losses, literally. Laura had found it harder.
But the previous day a man, in a large truck had taken box loads of belongings and items of furniture to a storage unit near Bristol. And she was left with an inflatable mattress and enough clean clothes to get her back to London the following day. Six years...all disappearing in front of her eyes.
Michaela was taking her out for one of Al's pies tonight; they couldn't bear the thought of a tearful goodbye, so instead they had food and a few pints to look forward to.
The lights of the pub were like an oasis on this gloomy night, a light drizzle washed over her as she made the fairly short trip to the pub. Michaela had called as she was leaving saying she was running late. So Laura had promised to get to the pub first and order for them both.
As she approached the building she saw the poster in the window, 'Saturday - karaoke'. The thought shook Laura to the core, the last time she'd sung had been that summer night in London, with Adam. Swallowing the lump in her throat, she made for the door desperate to be out of this gloomy weather. She couldn't think about Adam, she'd been lonelier the last couple of months than she ever had in the rest of her life, and it all started when that man deserted her.
The pub was quiet considering it was a Saturday, only Jim the local forestry ranger sat at the bar, there wasn't even a member of staff to serve her.
"Quiet tonight Jim!" When he nodded, he was a man of few words, she asked him, "who's working? And where are they?"
"Clearing up, function room!" He nodded towards the door that led to the small room that was often used for weddings, christenings or birthdays.
Nodding back, she made for the door, hoping to drag the wayward staff member back to their duty. The door swung open and the room was in complete darkness. With a groan and a shake of the head she was about to close the door when the lights burst on, and the room, suddenly illuminated was filled with familiar faces and the scream of "SURPRISE!"
Stood in the centre grinning like a Cheshire cat was Michaela. Laura hated being the centre of attention, but she could only imagine how much her friend had put into the evening. And on reflection skulking out of town in a quiet way would almost be a disservice to the friends she'd made there, so she hugged everyone as they approached to wish her luck, and accepted the beers that were forced into her hand.
It was a great night; Al had exceeded himself by making curry for everyone, a great spicy treat on a cold night. And there was dancing...
As she walked home for the final time Laura bit back the tears, she'd loved her time in Wales, but it was time to move on whether she liked it or not. Since Ben and Alana had left, and she'd argued with Adam, she felt alone, and for the first time ever lonely. That in a place she thought was her home forever. So it was with real mix fortunes that she left the house.
Driving back to London in her rather vibrant camper van was another challenge, the thirty year old vehicle protested at the length of the journey, and Laura had the great idea of diverting to her parent's country home. She could hardly leave the van on the streets of London. Instead, she locked it in the garage, full of her essential belongings, then caught a train back to the City with her rucksack.
Her parents were out, they were rarely in, and she half wished she'd stayed out in the country with Mr and Mrs Edmunds. That would have been a more relaxing prospect. Instead she had the evening alone to think about the fact that at almost thirty she was back living with her parents with no job, no prospects, and no obvious future.
When did things get so bad? Sat in the kitchen, she tried to ignore the memories of her and Adam against that work surface, and concentrate. With some cold pizza and a glass of apple juice, she opened her laptop then brought up her recent attempt at a CV. It was pitiful. Who the hell would employ someone who'd had no formal work since leaving college six years earlier?
It was hopeless, giving up on the pizza she crossed back to the fridge and found a jar of peanut butter. Scandalous as spooning it into her mouth was, she was uncaring. The last few months she'd lost weight, and the calories of this treat wouldn't kill her. Laura couldn't remember the last time she'd had a proper meal. She'd lived on noodles and crisps the last month, it wasn't the best. Her skin and hair reflected her bad habits. She glanced at the peanut butter - that would hardly help!
So she made her avocado hair mask, slapped on a facial mud pack, then made some miso soup. If she wanted to be employed, she had to start looking better.
Laura was in bed before there was any sign of her parents, and she intended to be out before they woke the next day.
She'd trawled across the city looking for inspiration. She had no idea what she wanted to do, what she was able to do. All she knew was that she had loved working in the cafe, already missed surfing, and was good with sales. It covered a lot of bases, but she had no experience in anything other than the EarlyBird.
Stopping mid morning in a cafe, she pulled out her iPad and logged into the network. She had an email from Ben, which was a relief, she'd emailed him a couple of days earlier asking him to provide a more than glowing reference as well as a slightly embellished job description of her post at the cafe, anything that would make her more employable. It wasn't exactly cheating, she was more than an assistant in both jobs, she just needed him to tailor her best assets into something a little more desirable than she had already.
After lunch she built up the courage to wander into a couple of the shops in a quiet-ish street a few miles from her parents. The shops near them were boutiques, designer, the high end of the market. That didn't appeal to her, she fancied herself in a more casual environment, plus she thought she had more chance of that too.
After eight rejections without even asking to see her CV, she was demoralised and embarrassed. How could she go home to her parents and explain she was unable to support herself?
Maggie Marshall was lying on the floor, one leg aloft at an obscene angle, the shoulder of Bruce, her camp personal trainer holding it there.
"Great Mrs M! You are sooooo loose!"
Her mother giggled in the way Bruce expected, then groaned as he released the leg. She'd had the same trainer for more than ten years. Three times a week he'd arrive in a Lycra suit that always coordinated with her mother's and push her mother through her paces. It meant that Maggie could eat and drink anything she like and still have a figure that a woman half her age would die for.
Glancing to the door Maggie's eyes lit up and she beamed a smile, not caring that she was lying on the floor, in such close proximity to a man who wasn't her husband, she blew a kiss theatrically.
"Darling! How are you? I thought you'd be here when I woke!"
Laura made for the kitchen after smiling back, "been looking for work. You know?"
Maggie nodded then turned back to Bruce.
Laura was surprised when she entered the kitchen a few seconds later.
"You ok darling?"
Laura shrugged, "where's Bruce?"
"Finished darling! You sounded quite positive to come back to London. Aren't you?"
Sighing Laura pulled herself up onto the counter and faced her mother, "for six years I've worked hard, and I've always had faith in what I did, confidence that it was the right thing, but my friend, boss, partner in lots of ways has sold up, moved on and now it's like the last six years never happened...It's hard."
Her mother placed a hand in her shoulder, "it must be difficult!"
Laura almost laughed, what would her mother know? She'd been a model until the age of twenty one when she became Mrs Marshall. Since then she'd wanted for nothing, least of all a career! She didn't have the fierce independence of her daughter, in fact they were chalk and cheese. They had little in common across all walks of life, but then there was always the nature/nurture debate. Laura had known she was adopted all her life, but it was only the last few months that she'd ever felt vulnerable to that.
Since Adam had left her in the hotel, the morning after that amazing night, she'd thought long and hard about all that had happened. Her insistence that her father came first was defensive. She could see that now. She couldn't cope with her father, their father taking his side, she couldn't cope with that abandonment, she was already feeling vulnerable after losing Ben and Alana, the thought of destroying the relationship with her father pained her beyond belief. But she also realised that the pain without Adam was equally as difficult.
She'd thought about calling him so many times, but he hadn't as much as emailed since he'd walked out of that hotel room. And whilst she was devastated, she also had ridiculous pride, and it had always been her downfall.
By seven that evening she'd registered with fifteen agencies and applied for more than two dozen jobs. It was labour intensive work, and she was glad to open a bottle of wine when the last one had been emailed.
She was just filling a glass with a reserve rioja when she heard voices behind her. Laura turned just as her father strolled into the adjacent lounge. Tossing his briefcase onto the sofa he marched towards her.
"Laura!" The kiss was perfunctory and lacked any real charm. "How are you?"
Struggling to fathom out his unusual greeting, she shrugged, "yes, good thanks! Nice to be home!" She almost choked on the words, but then she knew that they were words he'd love to hear.
His eyes widened slightly, then he nodded, "very good." Then he disappeared.
Something was up, and as usual she was the last to know.