The trip back to London...again, was slow. Laura had opted for the train as the roads on a Friday were likely to be horrendous, but once she arrived at Paddington she’d had to endure the tube and bus to get to her parents. These repeated trips were getting expensive; she couldn’t waste her money on a taxi.
Her mother was flustered when she opened the door, dressed elegantly in an off white dress that flowed from her body. She was flawless, but there were lines of tensions that marked her face in places that had been unadorned the previous week. Their hug was longer than normal and Laura felt she needed that moment with her mother more than any other time in her life. They both did.
Her mother nodded, “I’ve had a caterer in since lunchtime, your father is coming home for seven with...”
Laura nodded, neither of them knew how to refer to the man who was suddenly part of their lives from nowhere. “So I’ll go get changed...is he staying here?”
“No, apparently he is staying in a place in Fulham, I don’t know if it’s a hotel or apartment.”
Her mother seemed less nervous as she sat on Laura’s bed in her childhood room and watched her daughter tidy her hair and apply some make up. She described animatedly the meeting earlier in the week where she’d met the man, Laura didn’t even know his name, and that he seemed genuinely nice. Laura knew she’d be sceptical, she’d not been interested in finding her birth parents, she had all she needed here, but she couldn’t help but wonder if her father’s status and wealth had been an influence in all this. Would this mystery son have contacted Stafford Marshall if he had been unemployed or even a less senior worker? No, she had a sneaky suspicion that her father being CEO of one of the biggest manufacturing conglomerates in Europe made him a very attractive Daddy figure.
A small voice warned her that things were never that simple, and that not everyone had the same happy and comfortable life as she had, maybe this man had had a hard life, felt unloved.
She shook her head, no, she couldn’t believe that. He was older than her, presumably in his thirties, that wasn’t the age for a man looking for a father figure, a stable male influence or someone to love.
Male voices in the hallway alerted her to the fact that they’d arrived. Suddenly there was a pulsing in her throat; Laura found it difficult to swallow. She hoped he’d be some geek, lacking the social skills her education had given her or the natural charm that people always talked about. She wanted to shine in this stranger’s presence just so that her parents’ appreciated her, valued her. When had she become so self conscious?
Maggie Marshall clapped her hands trying to look enthusiastic, but the chinks in her armour were there for all to see, they were having dinner, at home, a quiet evening, but this stranger had precipitated caterers and dinner attire. Her mother had never gone to these lengths for parties when they’d hosted more than fifty people. This nervousness in her mother scared her, it hinted at a weakness in a marriage she’d almost mocked for being so stable. Everything she knew hung by a balance, all because of the emergence of one man.
“Whisky, beer or wine?”
Laura could hear her father in the lounge and had heart raced. Her mother reached out and took her hand, and suddenly appearing as a united front meant everything.
Her father was at the bar that took up one corner of the huge lounge, his head stooped as he poured whisky into two glasses, adding a couple of cubes of ice. Hearing them approach his head snapped up and he smiled at the two women.
For Laura she saw a transformation from the stunned and broken man of the previous weekend, and she didn’t realise until that moment how much she was dreading seeing him like that again. Her father was the strongest man she knew and the broken version and caused her real pain. Instead today he looked healthy, happy and there was pride in his eyes as he smiled at them.
“Girls! There you are!” He rushed over and gave her mother a quick kiss, then pulled Laura into his arms for a lengthy hug. It was just what she needed and she smiled at him as he released her. “Laura, this is my son Adam, Adam this is Laura, my daughter!”
Laura turned slowly to the right in the direction her father had gestured to see a man leaning casually against the door frame, he was tall, dark and traffic stoppingly handsome, but had an intolerance of dogs that irked her more than a lot of things, she knew that because she’d seen him before.
As he walked towards her she tried to process that information and took the hand he offered for a firm shake then murmured a subtle “pleased to meet you” in an American accent that Laura was unable to place more specifically.
Adam had watched her float into the room serenely, with the equally beautiful Maggie, and wondered desperately how the next few hours would pass. He’d intended to observe her from a distance when he visited her Welsh home the previous week, but she had seen him, that damn dog! She was studying him intently, but as her eyes met his and she shook his hand, he saw recognition then confusion. She had remembered him, his face had triggered a memory and she was trying to place his face into her life, working out how their paths had crossed. He could almost tell the moment when she did work it out, did know that he was the man from the beach. He braced himself for her wrath, for anger or recrimination. But there was none, she merely smiled, then retracted her hand. The one thing she hadn’t done was ‘out’ him straight away. He respected her for that.
He turned to the magnanimous Maggie. He’d never met a woman like her before and it pleased him that his father had created such a stable loving home and such a solid marriage. He had already guessed at how well rounded Laura was, and that was due to this great couple.
“Maggie, you look divine as always!”
Laura watched her mother blush and felt a twinge of anger, this man had been outside her home just the other day. Why? For what purpose? It didn’t make any sense. Now he was flirting with her mother. Instantly she had a great fear that he was about to destroy everything that was close to her...her parents. Over her dead body. As they all sipped drinks genially, she stole sly looks at this Adam, and started to plan how she’d stop his intentions at every turn. She’d never been overdramatic, but all she saw at the moment was him spying on her, infiltrating her life, then flirting obscenely with her mother. That to her spelt danger, and she had no intention of letting him rip this family apart. She’d already doubted his intentions at contacting her family thinking her father’s wealth may have been a large incentive. Now she had the fear that he was after some sort of revenge, and she had no idea what that intended or how far this man would go.
She managed to observe the group without really getting involved; her mind was far too active for small talk. But as her mother led Adam through to the dining room, her father came to stand beside her.
“You’ll like him Laura, just give him a chance, get to know him!”
Laura raised her eyebrows, “really? Have you checked he’s definitely your son? I mean DNA and all that? He could quite easily be an imposter, a con artist!”
She hated how childish she sounded, but she really was concerned that this man was not all that he seemed, her logic could only come to that conclusion and she was the only one actually thinking it all through! Her parents usually so suspicious had been duped. Instead of concern her father laughed.
“I thought you’d outgrown the jealous child thing!”
Laura fought her anger at those words, she was being forced to accept a stranger as family, this wasn’t her being paranoid of childish, this was her being realistic, instead she rolled her eyes, “as if! He’s come from nowhere and you’re just accepting all he’s saying?”
Stafford Marshall nodded, “yes, frankly. Because he is what he says he is darling. You’ll see!”
With that he left her to enter the dining room. Laura needed a moment to compose herself, this was her idea of purgatory, she was unable to hide her anger and disgust at this man, the man her parents wanted to open her arms to. A week ago no one even knew he existed, now she was supposed to welcome him and like him as though she’d known him all her life. She wasn’t naturally suspicious, but she was ill at ease with the whole situation.
The huge dining table sat twelve, but there were only four places laid tonight, her parents sat next to each other at the centre of the table, and Adam sat opposite her father, it left the only place next to him, facing her mother. She tried in vain not to appear like a sulking child, but she wasn’t happy and was unable to hide that fact. As she sat in the seat left for her she made a valiant attempt to hide her scowl, but as soon as Adam turned to her and grinned at her discomfort, she dropped the charade and let her face contort with the anger she felt.
He chuckled then turned back to her father.
“So golf is at twelve tomorrow? I am so looking forward to meeting your golf buddies!”
Her father beamed, “we’ll play fours with my good friend and his son, you’ll love it!”
“I’m just glad I came here in the summer, I think it’d be a different kind of trip if I was here in December!”
Her mother laughed that little tinkle that Laura usually loved. But now it was all a sign that he was winning them over.
“Do you normally come to the UK much?” Maggie watched him intently as he chewed some bread that accompanied the scallops being served as a starter.
“There’s a company apartment in Fulham, I come over occasionally. Generally when I’m not at work I descend on the beach. I live real close to the coast, have you ever been to California Maggie?”
Her mother nodded, “I spent a couple of summers there when I started to model in my late teens, and didn’t we take Laura to Los Angeles when she was what five Staff?”
Her father nodded, “we sure did, I was there on business but we managed to skip our little Princess down to Disney, didn’t we?”
Laura met his eyes and shook her head pitifully, he’d never called her a little Princess before, but then it seemed that the arrival of this man had set off bizarre behaviour in both her parents. Despite that the food was good, and as conversations about golf courses in Britain compared to the US, morphed into her mother’s early modelling career and Adam’s education, Laura devoured her three course meal.
“So what about you?” a voice to her left caused her to pause from her raspberry pavlova and glance at Adam. She had no idea what the conversation was about, she was more concerned with getting out of the room as soon as she could.
She looked at Adam and he was smiling at her, overly confident, he knew she wasn’t listening. “What about me?” She snapped defensively, and that was rewarded with a chuckle from this annoying man.
“Work! I asked what you do.”
She sighed, “I have my own business, and I help my friend run his business.” It was the vague answer she gave to everyone, and her parents had never questioned further. But as Adam kept his eyes on her, she knew that he wouldn’t settle for vague. So before he could ask anything else, force her to expand, she smiled at him, “but I’m no jet setting golfer, Idon’t really matter.” Smiling at her father she asked, “who are you golfing with tomorrow?”
Stafford beamed not sensing her pain at all, and started to answer her and Adam slumped back in his seat, she was good, very good. Playing her parents like this. He was trying to force her to admit she’d met him, push her to see how far he could, but she wasn’t having any of it. He had struggled to work out where the daughter of a multimillion pound business man became a hobo like her. Yes her dog business seemed busy, she paid her bills, but one call to Daddy would probably eliminate the need for any work. Then there was her education, her college grades had been tantamount to perfect, she’d aced every paper. He’d seen that evidence in black and white. Yet there she was living as she did, never challenging that intelligent mind.
Adam glanced at her again, there was a smugness to her that he found unsettling, he wasn’t used to getting played at his own game, but that was exactly what she was doing. He knew nothing more about her now than when he’d walked into the apartment a couple of hours earlier, that he already knew a lot about her was incidental, there was only so much a search or PI could dig up on her, he knew nothing about the person outside that. And it irked him.
Laura’s mother left to get the coffee, and in typical chivalrous fashion her father accompanied her, he always carried the coffee tray, and it left the two alone for the first time.
“So why didn’t you tell them?”
When Laura looked at him he was lounging back in his chair studying her intently. His eyes were expressive as he studied her, she’d thought him good looking back on the beach where he’d been sat bare-chested. And what a chest that had been. It had detracted from his face, but now he was close, she could see him in the bright lights of the dining room. He’d looked a little too well groomed to be one of the beach bums that hung out at the cafe, she’d known that instantly, but other than that she’d not thought much about him. Here in an expensive suit, his dark hair well groomed, his chiselled jaw clean shaven he was a million miles from the man she’d first seen. But what had been a mild interest in a new handsome face, was now fear, anger and animosity for a man who threatened her family.
“Why haven’t I told my parents that you were stalking me last week? Because Adam, if that’s even your name, I’ve got your number, and there are some things that I feel will work in my favour when I out you for the fraud you are!” She stood, and stared down at him. “If there’s one thing I am, it’s patient. I have every belief that you are nothing but damaging to my family, and I will fight that with every ounce of my body. So be prepared ‘brother’ dearest...be prepared!”
Then she turned and left the room.