The six dogs were all excited after the run to catch Marco, so it took Laura a little time to get them back to her van, all the time she was emanating hatred for the unforgiving man on the beach. There had been a split second when she’d realised that there was a tall, tanned and muscular stranger on her beach and a large part of her pricked up in interest, there was a noticeable lack of good looking men around, but his poor tolerance of Marco - he was a bloody poodle for god’s sake, had quashed that. Sorry, but Dan Martin was STILL the only MOI (Man of Interest) around. And he was away for another ten days.
Back for the late afternoon shift at the cafe, she was making five lattes for a group of pensioners when the door opened and Michaela came in.
“So how were the olds?”
Michaela was the only one who knew how her parents had changed. She’d had a carefree upbringing until a few years ago. Suddenly there was an agenda, an undercurrent, and since then her trips home had become fewer and further apart. She missed the closeness she’d always had with her mother, when she wasn’t trying to mould her in to a rather unlikely mini-me, and she missed the great defender that her father had always been. It had all become awkward a few months earlier when they’d announced it was time for her to ‘grow up’. She’d seen red at that and they’d had an almighty row where Laura challenged her father to come and see exactly what she did, to sample her life...but he was too busy, too in demand. In her eyes she asked them for nothing, she was self sufficient, and enjoying her life. She couldn’t see their point of view, and had to reason to change anything.
There was less anger and animosity these days, but it had changed Laura, no longer did she have their unrelenting support, suddenly she was in a vulnerable position when she stepped into their domain.
“They’d lined up some chinless suit to be my dinner date, my father’s latest prodigy!”
Michaela laughed, “I can’t imagine what my father would pick out for me! Dread to think. At least you don’t have to travel back for a while now!”
Laura nodded, “you’re right, my duty is done, they can adopt Jonathan Lander and he can take on the family name. I’m sure he’ll marry well and produce the chosen number of heirs!”
Michaela patted her on the back, “you don’t mean that! You’ve got the benefit of distance. When they haven’t seen you in a few months they’ll forgive you everything.”
Laura had a few mornings of great surf that week, and by the time Friday rolled around, she had almost forgotten her trip to London. Mid June and the diary was picking up, there were quite a few lessons booked for the coming few days, they’d be flat out, what with the cafe and shop too.
She’d gone to bed early, the tide was going to be perfect at six the following day, and she was planning to get out in time for it. It was Alana’s turn to open up the cafe.
She had barely fallen asleep when she was woken by Ben calling her. Climbing sleepily out of her bed when she realised he wasn’t going away, she lumbered into the lounge. Alana was stretched out on the sofa, her bare feet resting on Ben’s lap, his free hand massaging them tenderly, his other hand holding out the phone to her.
“It’s your mother!”
Her father had taken to emailing her, her mother never phoned her, this was unchartered territory.
Taking the handset she smiled a thank you then headed into the kitchen.
“Mum? What’s up?”
She reached into the fridge for the carton of orange juice and was pouring a glass when her mother answered.
“Laura? Oh thank god I found you!”
The desperation in her mother’s voice made her panic, “what’s wrong Mum? Is Dad ok? Are you ok?” Suddenly there was a pulsing in her ears that made it difficult to hear.
“We’re all well darling, honestly, it’s just...well I need you to come home. Now.”
“What? I was only there last week and it’s ten o’clock on a Friday night! I’m a three hour drive away. What’s happened?”
Her mother hushed to a whisper, “I can’t tell you on the phone, but I need you here, you NEED to be here. As soon as you can.”
Laura took a deep breath, they were approaching the busiest few weeks of the year, the weather and sea were all set to behave and be perfect for tourists this weekend. They would be rushed off their feet. It was more than an inconvenience to think of making the four hour trip to London.
“Mum! I’m so busy...”
Her mother sighed, “I’ve never asked this of you before darling. It’s really important.”
Laura closed her eyes for a moment and took several deep breaths, “I’ll be as quick as I can.”
“Thank you darling.”
An hour later she was on the M4. Ben had sensed her anxiety after the phone call, and he was as aware as Laura that her mother never called her.
“Take my car,” he’d insisted, “you can’t think about driving that hunk of junk you call a van. I don’t need the car this weekend; I’ve got lessons all day tomorrow!”
“I was going to help you!” She had protested.
But Ben was insistent, “something is obviously wrong. You HAVE to go. We’ll survive without you.”
She’d contemplated waiting until early morning to travel, but if truth be known her curiosity had got the better of her. She was desperate to know why her mother needed her home. And at eleven pm at night, there was no traffic on the motorway.
And there was no answer at her parents’ home either. Laura glanced at her watch. Admittedly it was after two in the morning, but quite frankly her mother had asked her to come home as soon as possible. And that was what she had done. With a groan she took out her phone and rang the apartment. Eventually her mother answered the phone, sleepily.
Laura raised her eyes to the sky, this was typical of her mother, she lived in a parallel universe most of the time, she could swear. “Mum, it’s me, I’m outside!”
Her mother gasped, “oh darling! I didn’t think you’d come tonight!”
She groaned again, she didn’t remind her mother that she’d begged her to come as soon as she could. She was hardly able to wait until the following day, was she?
Climbing the stairs, she hated the lift at the best of times; she found the door open when she got to the top. Her mother was pale, sat on the sofa in the lounge, looking forlorn and sad. Laura felt bad for cursing her earlier, and rushed to her side.
“What is it Mum? I’ve never seen you like this!”
“That would be my fault!” Both women’s heads snapped around to see Stafford Marshall, her father stood in the doorway.
“Staff...where have you been? You took a phone call, turned white, then disappeared; I thought you had left me, that you’d met someone else.”
Laura looked between the two with shock, they had the strongest relationship she knew, only the previous weekend they’d been like love sick horny teenagers.
“Dad! What’s going on?” Her mother wasn’t used to being abandoned, since she’d met her father she had occupied an almost Princess like role in the family, and her obvious bewilderment was indictment to that fact.
Her father ran his fingers through his hair, and sighed, “you both need to sit down.” His voice was grim, and she feared the worst.
Nothing in his demeanour was making any of this appear easier for Laura. She was twenty eight, she was hardly dependent on her parents, she hadn’t lived with them for ten years...but the thought of something happening to them, or their relationship scared her.
Her father sat opposite them and sighed, “I had a phone call at around half past four; we were supposed to be flying to Paris at eight, but what I heard meant I had to return to work.” He smiled affectionately at her mother. “And I haven’t called since, sorry Maggie! That was so wrong, but I‘ve been kind of tied up!”
Laura wanted to shake him and shout spit it out, but she bit her tongue and waited patiently.
“Toby my solicitor called me, he’d been contacted by someone...” he bowed his head and shook it for a moment. When he looked up his face was taught and he looked a lot older than he had before, his eyes were haunted and his brow wrinkled. “Before I met you Maggie, I had a life...” he laughed, “well so did you...a man has turned up and claimed I’m his father!” He blurted it out and looked at them both earnestly.
Both women sat with slack jaws staring at the man who’d been the dominating influence in both their lives.
Laura tried to moisten her dry mouth, then asked, “is he your son?”
Her father shrugged, “thirty something years ago, well before I met your mother I remember the situation that he has referred too. I was flying to Chicago, and...well I became more than friendly with an air stewardess.” He looked at Laura, “this is hard to say in front of you...but I spent time with her, then she told me she was married, and I never saw her again. Apparently that was his mother, and he is the product of that evening.”
Laura wanted to retch, her father...there were things a daughter didn’t need to know about, and then there was the fact that he had a child other than her...that scared her. She had no idea how to react, but when she saw her mother pale beside her, she realised that her concerns were the same as her own.
It was before her time, before both of their times, so neither could feel hard done by, nor put out, but then life wasn’t that straight forward. Laura knew she had to make a gesture here, so she stood and moved towards her father and gave him a hug. He buried his face in her neck for a moment, and when they pulled apart her shoulder was wet from his tears.
“I’m so sorry; I really hope you don’t hate me for it.”
Laura smiled, “of course not, Mum could never hate you, and neither can I, we both love you and this changes nothing.”
Her mother nodded, suddenly pulling herself out of the stunned silence. “Of course she’s right Staff, we love you regardless.”
The man pulled them both tight knowing that this wasn’t going to be easy, but he had a son, and he had to meet him, make things right.