Chapter Twenty Four
Sophie’s eyes flitted from one to the other. They looked older; her father’s shaggy hair was much greyer, her mother’s face more wrinkled. She tried to work out when she’d last seen them, and struggled.
Her mother stood there expectantly, was she expecting a hug? She wasn’t getting one, Sophie knew that much. Whatever succeeded or failed in her life had nothing to do with them, that was for sure. They’d been the worst example of parents.
Sophie looked at her hands and the two sandwiches, then at Bill, “here you go.” After handing him a plate she glanced at her parents, “we’re just having brunch, you don’t mind if we eat these? There’s coffee if you want some?”
They both nodded, but seemed a little surprised at her distance. Slopping coffee into two mugs she placed them on the counter next to the milk. The irony that she didn’t know how they took their coffee.
Sighing she sank her teeth into the thick fresh bread and continued to eat. Bill excused himself, slipping out of the room with his food. Coward! She wanted to shout, but she envied him...and to be fair, he was dressed only in shorts!
Her parents at her invite, sat at the table, their coffees in front of them. Sophie’s appetite had all but disappeared, but she managed to eat the food and not choke on it. Slurping at her coffee she drained the mug then looked at her parents, still sat with the look of expectation on their faces.
“I’m just going to dress, and then you can tell me why you’re here!” With a sickly sweet smile she left the room.
But the bravado didn’t last as far as her bedroom, tears poured down her face as she found a pair of jeans and pulled them on, and she was just fastening her shirt when a gentle tap preceded the bedroom door opening. Bill peeped in, he was dressed in jeans and a t-shirt that hugged his body, she smiled appreciatively then fell into his open arms.
He kissed the top of her head then murmured, “Look, it’s your chance to deal with them, tell them how you feel. We don’t need our parents, not know we’ve got each other, but, life is too short to be full of conflict.” She nodded into his chest and he added, “Just be strong. Get your point across.”
Nodding again she looked up at him, “I just want to scream. They’re spoiling our weekend!”
It was his turn to shake his head, “nothing will spoil this weekend...and it’s only half over!” He waggled his eyebrow knowingly, “and will continue once they’ve gone, ok?”
Taking a deep breath she nodded, “how do I look?”
Drying her cheeks with his thumbs, he smiled, “beautiful. I’ll be there, but I won’t say a thing, ok?”
In the kitchen her parents were relaxed talking quietly; both looked up when she entered the room.
“So why are you here?” They didn’t need to know that Nick had already tipped her off that they were likely to return. She couldn’t begin to imagine how shocked she would have been to see them at her door without the forewarning.
Her mother gasped and her fatherN blurted out, “do we need a reason? You’re our daughter!”
She wanted to scoff, spray her coffee over them at the incredulous comment. “Am I? And yes father, you clearly do need a reason, you’ve never dropped in for an impromptu visit before!”
Her mother instantly looked upset and her father reached out to take her hand, “Sophie please. Don’t upset your mother; we’ve had a long day of travelling!”
“Don’t upset my mother? Oh you have such a cheek! I’m trying to think when I last saw you two, and I can’t! How disgraceful is that? Christmases, birthdays, graduations - you didn’t come to any of them! There was never any regard for how I’d feel!”
Her mother finally found her voice, “you were always resentful of our work!”
Sophie laughed, standing with her hands on her hips glaring, “resentful? Oh I’d put it a lot stronger than that! I hated your work!”
Her father gasped, “Sophie! We help people who have nothing! How can you say you hate it?”
She turned to her father, and Bill as the casual observer suddenly felt a little sympathy for the spineless older man, they deserved what was coming, after all they’d abandoned Sophie and Nick so readily and so often, but he’d never seen her so angry.
Her nostrils flared with fury, “You gave more to those people than you ever gave to me and Nick!”
“You had everything money could buy and a decent education - despite all the attempts to jeopardise it!” Her mother was the one who replied, only confirming to Bill that her father was as spineless as he appeared.
“It’s a little clichéd to quote the Beatles at this time mother, but Money can’t buy you love! And if we jeopardised it, then that’s because we felt abandoned! It’s no secret that bad behaviour gets attention, and any attention was good.”
Her mother scoffed, “we love you, you are our children!”
“Who you chose not to spend time with...EVER! Nick was the only constant in my life, but we grew up with an aunty who despised us, then at boarding schools that separated us, and there was no one to ever go home to at weekends...it was hell mother, absolute hell!”
“I never realised...” Bill thought the older woman looked genuinely shocked, but he couldn’t sympathise, all a child wanted was a parent’s devoted love and attention; she’d been deprived of that.
Sophie’s haughty laugh cut off her mother’s response, “well why would you know anything? You never call; never ask...you just turn up when you feel like it!”
“We’re here now,” her father offered.
For a moment Bill feared she’d start to cry, that she’d break down in front of her undeserving parents, he sighed with relief as she bit her lip, then sat in a chair across the table from them.
“Until you head to Sri Lanka, Nick told me you’re at a loose end between jobs, don’t make out you’re here to see me! It’s ironic really, last night was the greatest achievement of my life, and you weren’t there, but then you never are.”
Her mother stood up and leaned across the table, “we’ve had important work to do. We’ve spent our lives helping people to have better lives...”
“At the gross neglect of your own children! When you have a sainthood then I only hope it’s compensation enough for screwing up your own family.” Her mother floundered at that, “I was jealous as a child, jealous of starving kids in Africa, of survivors of earthquakes who’d lost everything...because they had the one thing I didn’t have, love of their own parents and family as well as the attention of MY parents...when the shit hits the fan people love their child, unconditionally. And you seem to think that money, the material things you provided were enough to replace that,” she laughed, “you spend your lives providing material things for people with nothing, and you think that’s all that matters. A wise person once told me children spell love T.I.M.E.! But what would you know. You should never have had children.”
Now the tears were flowing and it was Bill that she turned to, Bill she looked to for comfort. Taking her in his arms, he turned to her parents, “I think you should leave.”
They both stuttered as they walked out the door, and it was only then that she really broke down, sobbing and snotting all over him.
Eventually, curled in his lap on the sofa she calmed down, “thanks Bill.” She swiped at the mess on his t-shirt, “look at the mess I’ve made of you! I bet I look terrible.”
Bill merely laughed, “I’ve seen you worse! The day after Vincenza’s birthday two years ago comes to mind!” Sophie blushed at the memory of the hangover from hell, and he just kept laughing, “You are one formidable lady though, remind me not to cross you in the future.”
Smiling she reached for her phone, “I’d better warn Nick.”
Bill took the phone, “seeing as he’s so keen to talk to me, let me do it!”
An hour later, Sophie emerged from a hot bath to find Bill in the kitchen trying his best to make them a meal. He was a useless cook, but Sophie could tell that this was important to him. So she accepted the glass of wine he offered and sat at the table watching him.
“How you feeling?” he asked as Sophie cringed at his attempts to slice an onion in his awkward-looking left-handed manner with a bread knife.
Sipping her wine and looking at the ceiling, she thought for a moment, “I’m ok. I suppose I need to speak to them again, not that I want to. But it’s not fair on Nick, plus I said they could stay above Margo’s shop...”
He turned to her, brandishing the sharp knife elaborately as he spoke, “you don’t owe them anything, but I honestly think this is one of those situations when you have to do the right thing, To sleep at night you need to make the proper choice, even if you hate yourself for it.”
She nodded, smiling at his understanding, “now they know how I feel, it’s like a weight being lifted off my shoulders. They’re just not as important any more. But you’re right, I don’t want to ostracise them completely. Sara said something to me and Nick the other day - they’re the only grandparents that Callie and Ethan will have...and I suppose they’re the only parents I’ll ever have. I can choose what that means to me, hey?”
He nodded, “exactly.”
Later that night, Sophie stretched out against the crisp sheets of Bill’s bed. She’d been thoroughly loved in so many ways, glancing at Bill, he lay with an arm tossed across his eyes. Her heart swelled at that moment, she loved Bill so much it hurt. He’d gone so far out of his way to help make her forget the trauma of the day.
She was about to tell him just how she felt when she heard the front door open and voices downstairs.
“Sophie, you here?” It was Vincenza, and the deep voice accompanying it meant Ed was with her.
Sophie was about to get up, pull on a robe, when the door burst open.
“Are you decent?” Vin stood there with a hand over her eyes.
“Of course we are!” Sophie pulled the duvet over her and Bill who merely grunted, his face still covered.
Vincenza uncovered her eyes, then groaned, “so wrong!” She muttered, then tried to smile, “I wanted you to be the first to know! Ed...He’s asked me to marry him...I’m moving in as soon as I can...if that’s ok!”
Sophie squealed, sitting up to hug her friend, then the whole awkwardness of the situation became apparent.
“Will you join us for champagne? Downstairs?”
“NO!” grunted Bill, trying to roll away from the noise.
Sophie slapped his backside through the duvet, “of course we will. Give us five minutes to get dressed?”
Vin nodded backing out of the room, “so wrong!”
Sophie chuckled as she slid her arms around Bill’s waist, “come on Grouch!” When he gave another groan, she laughed again, “you’ve not thought this through Mr Swift...you know what happens, if Vin gets engaged, and moves out.” She lowered her head to nibble at his neck, “what happened in the kitchen earlier...well we could do that in every room, every day!”
Before she could manage to say anything else, he’d spun around and pinned her to the pillows, “NOW you’re talking!”
The next couple of weeks were chaos, Sophie was helping Margo to tie up loose ends at the shop. Sophie making it big, the exhibition, Margo finally felt her work was done and she was happy, content to walk away from the shop. So they had lawyer appointments to transfer ownership, and of course there was the emptying of personal possessions. Sophie could see that for Margo it was a trip down memory lane, and an essential path for her, she needed to build up to closing that door.
Bill was deep in conversation with an agent, and the representatives of two different teams, Vincenza was packing her things, slowly, crying every night as she collected her belongings from around the house.
Sophie felt she was on an emotional rollercoaster, constantly having to predict the euphoria, excitement, fear, sadness or anxiety of the special people in her life. But every night, she curled up next to Bill, safe in his arms, basking in his love and attention, and knew it was all worthwhile.
Then the fateful Saturday night arrived - the turning point in all their lives, everything coming to a head. Vincenza taking a huge step with Ed, Bill signing a new contract and Sophie an artist who’d exhibited in a famous gallery, was taking control of her dream - a quirky art shop. The three would no longer live together as friends, so the happiness at each other’s good fortune was tinged with sadness for all that they were losing. Nevertheless a monumental event it was, and as usual Sophie wanted to mark the occasion by cooking! A dinner party for Bill, Vin and Ed, Margo, and her brother and Sara, three courses of full on extravagance. And afterwards their lives would take a huge change, all moving on to pastures new. If she thought about it too hard she filled up with tears, there were so many good things that were coming their way, but change was never easy.
“Are you sure you don’t want to speak to your parents again?” Bill asked as he laid the dining table. “You can’t ignore them forever!”
Since the original visit she hadn’t seen her parents again. She’d never understand them, but despite that, she couldn’t see them living in a hotel, so she’d agreed via Nick that they could move into the flat above ARTistic once the legal jargon was sorted. She’d see them then, it was inevitable, but she had no intention of meeting them in an organised way. And she knew that Bill didn’t agree with her choice, he was all for dealing with it all out of the way. But he didn’t understand.
Sliding her hands around her waist, she held him close, “Bill, it’s all changed for me, you have to believe me, before this...before you, I spent my life searching for approval, for people...my parents to love me...” She smiled, “but now that you do...” She reached up to kiss him gently, “that’s enough for me...for the rest of my life. I don’t need anyone else!”
And how could you argue with that?