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Part Five

Chapter Five

                “So do you work?”

After the interminable effort that was entrees, Laura wasn’t happy to hear ‘her date’ finally try to initiate conversation. Laura had been to the best schools where deportment and dinner table conversation skills were still on the curriculum, she was well versed in socialising and aware of current affairs, so she’d taken the immediate opportunity to engage her parents’ friends in conversation. Sylvie, a gentle person who had always had a soft spot for her, loved the banter about Paris versus London and the two women had been giggling since Laura had sat down.

But now Jonathan was making his move. Laura smiled genially as she turned to him, “I run my own business!”

She fought a smile as she heard her father cough in surprise, neither parent had any real idea what Laura did, and whilst that suited her she was more than happy to play them at their own game...for a moment. Jonathan was looking at her with interest, “really?”

She nodded, purposely avoiding details of the nature of her work, “yes, I’m quite the entrepreneur; you know see a gap in the market create the service to fill it! And the best thing is it leaves me with lots of time to surf.”

                “You surf?” His eyes widened with enthusiasm and again Laura fought the laughter escaping her lips at his obvious shared passion, and the reaction of her father to her right. He’s obviously not researched his potential suitor well enough.

                “Part of my working week is to help run a surf school in West Wales, obviously around my other commitments, but living close to the beach is a luxury that I love. You surf too?”

The conversation paused as a liveried attendant starting to provide their main courses, and etiquette made them all silent for a moment.

                “I spent a few summers in Sydney surfing when I was at college. They were great days.”

Who’d have thought she’d almost form an allegiance with this man? Her father was looking more than uncomfortable, but that was a perverse pleasure for Laura.

Sylvie started to ask questions about where Laura was living, and she was able to wax lyrical over the place she loved so much. Her home represented freedom and independence from a powerful family name and the trappings of the luxury lifestyle that came with it. She didn’t miss any of it. The fact that the medallions of beef on her plate cost over fifty pounds made her feel sick. Her food bill at home for a week was half of that.

She tucked into the food, there was no way she was wasting it, but her more simple look on life did make her view things so differently. From the opulence of their surroundings to the limousine that had brought them to the restaurant, she felt uncomfortable with it all. She longed to feel sand between her toes and hear the rumble of the sea. If there was ever a doubt that she was living the wrong life, it was expelled at that moment.

                “So will you come to visit me? Us? In Paris?”

Laura realised that Sylvie was talking to her, and she’d been dreaming, they were on dessert now, wonderful geometric concoctions that were more suited to engineers than sous chef.

                “Sorry Sylvie, I was dreaming then.”

The older woman laughed and looked down at the strawberry mousse in front of her, “who can blame you with these divine creations? I was hoping you’d come and visit Michel and me in Paris? It would be so fun to have a young person to entertain! We’re so old and out of the loop these days!”

Laura smiled, “brilliant, I’d love to.” They exchanged email addresses as the meal came to an end and then they all moved into the adjacent lounge for champagne. Maggie was radiant in company, and Laura enjoyed watching her entertain, it was a long time since she’d attended any of her mother’s functions, and she had forgotten how much she lived for these moments.  

And her father was so proud, stood beside her, beaming at his wonderful wife. Laura had always known, despite what people thought, that her mother loved her father as much as he loved her. They had a huge age gap, and came from such different lives, but they had found some common ground together, and their love was as strong now after almost thirty years of marriage as it was after one year.

Sighing she took in the sight, wondering if she’d ever know love like that. Laura didn’t think so. Until now all her relationships had been very casual, and she had no immediate desire to change that. Feeling eyes on her, she shook herself back to reality, and glancing around saw that Jonathan was studying her from his position at her father’s shoulder. He wasn’t as bad as previous subtle suggestions from her father, but the way that he was brown nosing her father spoke volumes, he was seeing her as a way to get closer to her father, not for what she was. A double whammy!

Suddenly Laura wanted to be anywhere else but there, and she slumped into her seat with a groan.

It was then that she looked around the room, needing to escape. In any way she could. But tonight she had no fairy godmother whisking her away. Instead she had the devoted Sylvie who needed little encouragement to gossip about all things Parisian.  She’d never been more relieved to see her mother tire and look to her father to leave. Ignoring the pointed glances of Jonathan, dreading the invitation to ‘go on somewhere’, she stuck to her mother’s side and waved her goodbyes.

The apartment her parents spent a lot of their time in was a stark contrast to the country home that was becoming less and less popular for the aging couple. It was modern, classy, but still had the elegance that comes with age, high ceilings, wrought iron balconies and huge open hearths. She’d loved the place as a child, but now as Laura set about making herself breakfast, she realised that she had no real link to it anymore. With a bowl of muesli and a life saving coffee, she sat at the breakfast bar opposite the huge stainless steel range that looked as though it had never been used. She’d turned the TV in the corner of the room to twenty four hour news, and she was watching coverage of a building collapse in the US, the death toll rising by the minute as the reporters struggled to provide any more information than the images that were painful to watch.

                “What’s happening?” Laura’s mother wafted into the kitchen, and smiled to see the coffee pot filled. “Ah, it’s great to have an early riser here!”

                “Early? It’s after nine!”

Maggie’s laugh was a purr as she filled two mugs, “your father is up early every day, Sunday is his sin day, lie in, bad food and no gym!” With that she waggled her eyebrows and Laura didn’t want to think what that meant.

                “That truly is too much information mother!”

Her mother chuckled as she disappeared back to her bedroom.

Laura headed out to the local shop as there was no sign of movement in the house and bought some Sunday papers, then she sat on a small metal chair on the pavement outside a cafe and read them in the bright morning sunshine. She loved people watching, and this was a perfect place to watch London come to life. It was such a great city to observe, a melting pot of so many cultures, nationalities and jobs. Three men were trying to erect a market stall, badly, despite the fact that they probably did this every day. Another man was already setting up his fruit stall, and people were descending on him before he’d even opened his boxes. For a moment she saw the part of London she enjoyed, dynamic, unassuming, and the polar opposite to the beautiful elegant Ritz. Was it wrong that she loved this side of the City more?

Three hours later her parents finally emerged, and to Laura it was endearing to see their love for each other still so evident, but the giggles, sneaky kisses and hints at recent displays of love were all  too detailed for a daughter.

                “What time is your train back?” Her father asked, lowering himself to the sofa beside her. “Can I give you a lift? Maybe some lunch too?”

The thought of going out to lunch with just her Dad took her back to her school days, he’d often pick her up, buy her treats, take her for a sandwich in a greasy cafe on a back street somewhere. Those were special memories, but today she feared the hard talk that so far hadn’t happened.

Nodding she hoped she was worrying about nothing.

He drove a Bentley, a regal car, and not one that was likely to be parked outside the greasy cafes of her youth, and she wasn’t about to have a drive-thru McDonalds either.  Sitting in the passenger seat she almost felt as though she was being chauffeured, the car was amazing.

                “How long have you had this car Dad?”

He glanced at her with a smile, “three years!! You just never visit anymore!”

She sighed, “I know, but I’m happy where I am...”

                “We just want to see more of you...” he looked at her again, “we both know I don’t like how things are, but more than anything we miss seeing you.”

Laura felt tears well in her eyes, her father wasn’t a man for showing emotions, this was a huge display of affection from him, “it’s a long way, and often the weekends are busy.” She tactfully avoided mentioning the specifics of her job; she knew that if she dared to mention surfing, dog walking....he was likely to get angry. And she was liking the amenable version of the austere Stafford Marshall. “You could come visit?”

The comment was met with a laugh, and he was right, the thought of her father in that sleepy town, well it was not even slightly imaginable, and their laughter escalated and soon he had to pull over to control his mirth. This was the father she loved. Lunch was amazing, and they shared a meaningful hug at the station. 

                “You’re worth more than this Laura.” Was his only concession to the way he truly felt?

She looked up at him questioningly, “I’m happy, I’m independent and I don’t ask for anything off anyone else. That’s more important to me.”

Sighing unable to agree, he watched her go.

It was almost eight o’clock when the rattling local train finally pulled in at her station. What with missed connections, a flock of sheep on the line, and there being standing room only for a large part of the trip, she was never more grateful to stroll down the road seeing the beachside cafe on the horizon. Home! And she’d survived another trip to London relatively unscathed!

                “Buster! You really are a menace! Come on!” Clipping his lead to the collar around his neck, Laura dragged the large Boxer away from the stream and after the five other dogs who meandered around her in a far more leisurely manner. “Right guys, call ALL of you behave?” She looked between the faces of the six animals and laughed at their expressions of confusion. “Ok! You win! We’ll all have a splash in the sea, ok?” Leading them down onto the sand, she kicked off her flip-flops and started to run for the sea.

All six loved a dip, and as soon as they realised that Laura was racing for the water’s edge, they all broke into various speed sprints as they beat her to it. As she ran in to the water, up as deep as her knees, she laughed at Marco, a tall standard poodle; he loved the idea of the sea, but hated the cold water and was backpedalling as soon as his claws touched the sea. Buster was still lolloping behind, since she’d been walking both him and Chardonnay, the overweight Golden Retriever had started to lose weight. They were never going to be as fast as Diego, the greyhound, but then running was his thing, or had been. He’d been rescued when a foot injury and meant he could no longer race for his owner, prior to the rescue Diego Goes! had been a Champion of the short sprint distances at many a dog track.

She laughed as Diego bounded past Peachy and Ozzie the two mongrels, they were both so nervous of the waves, but not so nervous that they didn’t try to follow the others. Laura kicked at the surf splashing the animals and they all bounded around her yapping. Chuckling she jogged through the water, following the coastline, splashing Marco who trailed them from the shore.

                “Come on Marco!” She bent down and patted her knees trying to entice the animal to join them, but he was too scared. After a few minutes she led the dogs back to the beach, dropping down to sit on the hard packed sand. The dogs, after shaking themselves all settled beside her, stretching out in the warm June sunshine.

Once her legs were dry, she stood and the dogs all uncurled themselves and made for the car.

Adam was sat a little further the sand watching the woman enjoy herself immensely, and it was intoxicating, he almost felt like a voyeur. He knew she was brought up in London, but as she cavorted carefree in the surf, he could see that she loved where she was, and she was so happy in her own skin. That was such a reflection on a happy childhood. He was so tempted to walk over to her, to be a part of her excitement, but he couldn’t do that. He’d meet her soon enough, but now wasn’t the time.

He was due in London, the shit was about to hit the fan and he needed desperately to be there when that happened. There’d be time to deal with Miss Marshall later, and he would deal with her. It was part of the plan; it was really inevitable that their paths would cross again.

His daydreaming and longing meant he’d not processed fully the scene in front of him, he’d wandered onto the beach to catch a few waves, but within moments the surf flattened, so now he was sat half out of his wetsuit, next to his board eating a sandwich...and it was that sandwich that had attracted one of her many mutts.  A poodle of all things was bounding in his direction with a hungry look on its face. Behind it came ‘her’, Laura, her long blonde hair flapping behind her as she ran, her long bare legs under ridiculously short denim shorts were athletic and expert over the uneven sand.

                “Marco! NO! Marco! STOP NOW!” Something she said worked because the animal that would tower over Adam’s seated form skidded to a comedic halt just a few metres from him. Adam’s heart was pounding, from the surprise of the attack he told himself and nothing to do with the breathless, flushed woman running towards him at a rate of knots.

                “I’m so sorry!” she breathed swatting at the dog playfully, “he’s normally so good...are you ok?”

Adam nodded, muttering “I’m fine”, then climbed to his feet. With his board under his arm he left the beach.

Rude bastard! She thought, as she watched the man disappear along the sand, and scratched Marco’s ear.

                 “I know it was an accident sweetheart, ignore the horrible man. Ok?” 

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