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Part Seven

All Ben could hear when he entered the apartment after closing the cafe was banging, or was it clunking? Following the sound, he froze when at the kitchen door. Laura, who he didn’t realise had returned home, was tossing cutlery over her shoulder grunting with anger as each piece flew to the floor.

                “Laura? What the hell?”

She didn’t even look over her shoulder, and Ben suddenly realised this was bad, and he silently cursed the fact that Alana had gone out for the evening. He was useless at things like this. Mentally he tried to remember all that she’d said the previous night. All he knew was her mother had begged her to come home, the fact that had never happened before had sparked warnings, and now she was wrecking the house.

                “LAURA!” He still didn’t have her attention.

She turned to him with a snarl, “EVERY bottle of wine these days has a screw top! The second I NEED a glass and it’s a bloody cork...and quelle surprise I can’t find the bottle opener anywhere! I am about to explode!”

Ben hid his laughter, instead reaching for her shoulders and forced her to the table and into a seat. The bottle of Spanish red sat in front of her, the firmly wedged cork a constant taunt, reminding her that as yet she’d failed to break into it.

                “Ben...” Her voice carried such a warning that again he hid his laughter; instead, he turned to the work surface and retrieved the corkscrew from a pot of utensils.

                “If you look in the right place...” he took the bottle and expertly opened it with a rewarding ‘pop’, then you find it with ease!”

She growled as she snatched the glass he’d filled and gulped at it, hoping for a hit that would take the pain and confusion from her brain.

Ben opened a bottle of beer and sat opposite her, “what’s up L?”

She sipped at the wine, a little more delicately this time, then shook her head, how did you verbalise all that was going on? She didn’t know how she felt, where there had been simple boundaries and obvious relationships, there was now a purple haze, blurring all the margins.

Her simple shrug would have been enough to satisfy most, and Ben usually would have given up, instead he sat there patiently waiting.

Where do you start? Everything she knew was wrong. She’d sat with her parents for a little while the previous night, but she knew they also needed to deal with things themselves, as a couple. It was always at times like this that she wished she had a brother or a sister, and ironically now she did. But she had no idea how that made her feel. She’d barely slept, tossing and turning, confusion replacing the serenity of sleep. When she woke early she found her parents still trying to talk. She wasn’t sure they’d been to bed...she’d forced breakfast down her throat, then left as soon as she could, needing the safety of her own world.

But the traffic had been horrendous, the world and his wife seemed to want to spend a sunny Saturday at the beach. So she sat fuming in the heat and stationary traffic wanting only to be home. Then it had been too hot and too early to turn to drink, but the surf was flat. So she’d walked and walked, maybe three hours, along the coastal path, her feet eating up the miles without any awareness of fatigue. Her mind rolled in circles and she couldn’t find any answers.

On her way back to the cafe, she’d picked up a bottle of her favourite red and was holding out hope that she got some respite from drinking it. ‘You shouldn’t drink for a reason, it’s a social pleasure’ or so Miss Timpson her house teacher had preached in school, but she intended to ignore that warning. That was until she couldn’t get into the bottle.

When she looked up, Ben was still smiling at her.

                “I’ve apparently got a brother!” When his mouth fell open in shock she added, “And I had to hear about my father’s sex life before he met my mother to boot...some things should never be said to a daughter.”

Ben slumped back in his seat, “well that was the last thing I expected to hear.”

She laughed dryly, “ditto. But there it is.”

Laura told him of the few details she knew, before she bolted. And then slumped opposite him in silence. He was as stunned as she was, “its wild mate, really wild. What you going to do?”

She shrugged, “I rarely see my folks, does it have to change anything?”

Ben was contemplative as he took another slug of his beer, then he half smiled, “I’d agree if you didn’t give a shit, but you are absolutely floored by this revelation. So pretending you don’t care won’t get you very far!”

She almost snarled at him indignantly, “I’m not ‘floored’ by it.” But she knew the denial was weak to her own ears, then with a deep sigh, she was reduced to whimpering into a hankie.

Ben scooted around the table and put an arm around her shoulder, “I wish Alana was here, she’d be good at knowing what to say...I’m way out of my depth.”

Laura looked up and gave him a watery smile, “You’re doing a grand job Ben, better than you think.”

After she’d calmed a little, refilled her drink, they talked. About everything. The conversation was rapid and diverse as they both settled into a sort of symbiosis, as they sat and drank. Initially they dropped the topic of her family, talking about the weather, the plans for the summer, the weather was predicted to be warm, not an obvious given in that part of the world, and the diary was getting fuller. They were already fully booked for the start of July, only a few weeks away, and that wasn’t the start of the holiday season.

                “I’m so glad you’re able to help out Laura, I’d never find someone as flexible and talented as you!”

She laughed, “the flip side is I live in your home!”

He grinned, “there aren’t many I’d allow to do that!”

                “Other than Alana...of course. She does qualify as the only woman you’ve dated more than ten times!”

Suddenly, and quite surprisingly, some of Ben’s insecurities snuck out, and Laura was amazed to hear his anxieties over Alana, he had this ingrained fear that he wasn’t good enough for her, yet she followed him across half the globe to live with him in this often cold and wet environment. He didn’t seem to realise that that was a testimony of her love for him, more he saw it that she had somewhere far better to return to when...not if things turned out.

                “Why don’t you marry her then?” Laura pushed him a little, knowing that Alana wanted that more than anything. “If she says no then at least you know where you stand. Otherwise you live in this place where you don’t know how she feels. Force the situation.”

He looked at her his eyes filled with emotions she could barely describe, “what if she leaves?”

Laura knew that Alana was devoted to Ben, but it seemed they were both making that classic mistake of not talking to each other. But you couldn’t force that, all she could do was drop rather large hints at where he should go, what he should do.

They’d exhausted wine and beer supplies and were now reduced to shots of neat gin left over from a recent attempt to be sophisticated, and for both Ben and Laura drinking gin had seemed to epitomise that. Now they merely glugged shots grimacing after each one.

Giving a shudder as the overwhelming taste hit her taste buds, she took a second to regain what left of her composure, “Ben, it is better to know, and to move on, that to live your life in limbo, isn’t it?”

He shrugged, “does that mean you’re going to go meet your new family member next weekend?”

Laura groaned, he’d caught her out there, “no. That’s different. I don’t care about him, you care about Alana.”

                “But this is your family...”

Laura felt the tears she’d fought all day threaten to cascade down her cheeks, “but it isn’t is it? He’s blood to my father, I’m not.”

Ben shrugged, “as if that matters to anyone, your parents are devoted to you! Your father has been trying to bribe you to get involved with his business for years, because he wants you, his daughter, to take it all on.”

                “That’s before he knew he had a biological child Ben. He loves my mother, he picked her when he could have had anyone else in the world, but not me. I was all that he could get when it came to children. What if he doesn’t love me anymore?”

Ben looked at her with his jaw hanging open, and Laura would have laughed if she hadn’t suddenly realised why she felt so bad. This was her real fear, this is what she’d been hiding from all day, this is the bad place sleep was taking her all last night. Without the family she’d pushed away all evening, without her father, her mother, she was nothing. She’s snubbed any attempt to find her birth parents, and they’d never tried to find her, as far as she was concerned her family were Stafford and Maggie Marshall. But now what did all this mean? And who was she? Nothing was simple anymore.

The pain of her life was only trebled by the addition of the hangover from hell. Sunday morning and she was stuck with a five am start watching the world, or so it seemed. Everyone was surfing, the early morning sun providing a stunning back drop for the waves. And the cafe was busy, which meant that she didn’t have time to nurse her head pain.

By nine am most of the patrons had headed home to sleep or get breakfast, and the tide had turned and was revealing miles of fresh sand as it withdrew. Alana had looked amazing on her board earlier, Laura would love to be half as good as her, she’d given up the opportunity of trying to compete on the amateur circuit in Hawaii to follow Ben to Wales. But she could easily compete, in fact she’d entered the inaugural Surf Competition that was to be  a huge part of the First West Beach Summer Festival. It was looking like being their busiest weekend to long as the weather lived up to the billing.

Posters for the event adorned every wall of every building up and down the coast, and as usual it was the topic of many conversations that morning.

                “So I hear you have a new family member?” Alana offered grabbing a mug and filling it with coffee before sliding into a seat opposite Laura. A huge plate of toast sat between them, and Ben turned his chair back to front before joining them.

                “Sorry Laura, she wanted to know why I was so pissed when she came home last night.”

Laura smiled, she was a safer topic that his concerns over Alana, and it wasn’t a subject she would keep a secret. “I was going to tell Alana anyway, don’t worry!” She filled the other woman in briefly, and then added her more recent concerns that she felt threatened.

                “In the cold light of day it does sound a little more stupid!”

Alana smiled, “not stupid Laura, I think it must be hell as an only child to suddenly be usurped by an older sibling.”

                “Especially when your father has recently been more than a little disproving of your life.” Ben added.

Nodding, Laura reached for a piece of toast, “and then there’s the fact that I’m not really his daughter...”

Alana immediately laid a hand over hers and responded quickly, “your father doesn’t think less of you because you’re not biologically his child! Since you came into his life he and your mother have loved you. And that won’t change now. He has no link or connection to this man, and it’ll take time for that to develop, and it definitely won’t be at the expense of his love for you. Just remember that.”

Laura wanted to believe that so badly, her father had always been devoted to her, spoiling her repeatedly. But she also knew that a huge part of her running away, leaving her family so quickly after the revelation was purely self protection. She needed the cocoon of her friends and her life away from London. In the past her rebellion, living here, her life, had been about what she wanted,  about freedom and her own pleasure. But suddenly the distance seemed like a ravine. Such a large part of her self confidence had been the knowledge that her parents loved her, and whilst they may not approve, they supported her. Now, now it all felt different, suddenly nothing was straight forward, and nothing was as she knew.

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