Sophie’s week flew by, her creative forces were still strong and she produced ream after ream of illustrations, even found time and energy to deviate from her commitment to paint a landscape, a watercolour version of the view from her bedroom. Primrose Hill in the bright autumn sun was the inspiration, and as she finished the details on the trees, the benches and the children playing, she added a blonde man, leaning against his bike, running a hand through his hair, on the bench beside him sat a dark petite girl, and a taller one, heads turned towards each other, the energy of their gossip almost lifting off the canvas.
Smiling at the finished product, she was pleased, the three of them being in the picture made it special, Bill would want to hang it in the lounge, but a lot of her material was for her, she’d neither share nor part with them. Later that day she sent her RSVP to Melody’s family, with an apology at the lateness of her reply, and the information that Sir William Swift would be her guest.
Bill hated being called Sir, but as the second son of an Earl, he took the lesser title of 2nd Baronet to his brothers Viscount. Henry would then step into the Earldom when their father passed away, thought the way he lorded around the world, he thought he was already an Earl. Bill on the other hand hated his title, never used it, and in fact despised people who used or referred to it. But on this occasion, where he was there purely as intelligent arm candy, he’d have to put up with it.
“Where is this wedding Saturday?”Bill asked as they strolled to the wine bar where they’d ‘accidently’ bump into Vin and Edward, though Bill was also in the dark over that. He was surprised that Sophie had dragged him to the bar on a Thursday evening, but he was a good time guy who both worked and played hard, and just assumed that it was her impulse for the moment.
Sophie had deliberately not told him where the wedding was as he’d hate it, she knew Hassington Hall was the premier wedding venue south of London, but for Bill it would remind only him of Henry’s twenty first birthday held at the same venue. It was the location of one of his famous family arguments.
“Don’t go mad, ok?” he groaned as she added the words, “Hassington Hall” rather quietly.
Silence greeted her words and they’d walked for a few moments before she slipped her hand in to his elbow and pulled him to a stop. “Is that a real problem?”
Bill shook his head, “I’m bigger than that Sophie, you know that. I’ll do this for you no worries.”
She nodded, encouraging him to walk further, “you never said what really happened that night."
Silence again. They were almost at the door to the bar when he turned and offered, “it was that night that I found out my mother had had an affair around the time I was conceived, and it wasn’t until the DNA technology existed in the early 90’s that ‘he’ found out I was his. That may explain why I was always the black sheep. The damage was done by then, though every now and again he does try to get me back on board! Either way I hate the old bastard for it and Henry for gloating!”
With that he stormed into the pub and ordered them a couple of beers.
Sophie tried to contemplate that information as Bill flipped to the charming Bill she knew and loved. It was very rare to see the morose or angry side of him, and even less of a chance of hearing stories like the one he’d laid on her. Men didn’t talk as much as women though, she knew that. He’d confide ALL his lady problems, even work, but never family. It was a closely guarded secret. And he’d never referred to his father as anything other than ‘him’. His paternal neglect must have been obvious as he was growing up; why else would his father’s sister leave her whole estate to him?
Sophie watched him across the room ordering drinks, a slender blonde woman hanging on his every word. He really was great company, intelligent, worldly, good looking, and he was a great listener, he made her feel as though she had his undivided attention, a potent aphrodisiac, and the perfect man...if he wasn’t Bill her best mate! The woman was ensnared already, hook, line and sinker, from the flirtatious hand on his chest to the fluttering of eyelashes, and as usual Bill seemed none the wiser, laughing and complimenting the other woman in a way that was as natural as breathing.
“I wish I had half his luck and charisma!” A voice whispered close to her, and Sophie spun around to see Vincenza next to her.
Hugging her she whispered back, “where’s this man?”
“At the bar,” she nodded her head in the direction of a tall man buying a bottle of wine.
“Very nice!” She approved, “very nice indeed.”
And he was very nice, the man was obviously really keen on Vincenza, he had a wistful way of looking at her when she wasn’t aware, and when she was, he was tentative, funny and encouraging. Sophie was more than happy with the choice, and Ed was chatting genially when a voice disturbed the calm of the three of them.
“Hey, when did you turn up squirt?” Bill stood there with two pints in his hands and a natural smile of surprise.
Vincenza snapped around to scowl at Bill, he rarely called her squirt, or referred to her smaller stature, unless they were fighting, it was another sore spot for her. “William!” She snapped knowing he hated his full name as much as he hated his title.
Bill merely laughed, “Who’s your friend Vin?” Before she could answer he’d extended an arm to him, “I’m Bill her friend!”
Edward nodded, “I’ve heard all about you! I’m Ed Crossley.”
Bill shook the hand enthusiastically, “any mate of Vin’s is a mate of mine...though I’m sure you’ve not heard about all the skeletons in her closet yet! I am that man!”
Ed laughed, “Tell me more!”
The two women groaned at the male bonding and bravado, but Sophie knew that Bill would do nothing that would jeopardise Vincenza’s happiness. He was assessing the man in the same way she had. He wouldn’t want to see anyone hurt Vin.
The four of them talked for a while, the night was only disturbed when Bill’s blonde started to hang around, she’d obviously missed him. He very discreetly disappeared off and Sophie ended up walking home alone, she had no intention of accompanying the lovebirds.
The next morning Sophie was up early brewing coffee and baking cakes. Cooking was becoming the therapy that she’d lost through the change in the role of her art. Vin groaned she wasn’t a morning person, but work dictated she had to be! Whereas the person with no time dictations in her life - Sophie woke early and with ease.
Vin groaned again, she hadn’t got home much later than Sophie but obviously she’d struggled to sleep after the fifteen minutes spent on the door step with Edward!
As Sophie filled a mug, the front door opened and a rather windswept Bill emerged still wearing yesterday’s clothes with a smile. Morning ladies!” Then he turned to Sophie, “Are you baking?”
Sophie nodded, neither surprised nor judgemental that he’d spent another night with another lady. He was careful, and never brought women to his house, and it was his own business! “It’s therapeutic. I’m up to date with my work, and trying not to think about the wedding in four days time!”
After the two had left for work, Sophie had an empty day to dwell on things. That wasn’t good. So she went for a walk. Camden was buzzing every day of the week, but weekends were too hectic, the markets filled with tourists. Today she could stroll around the canal side shops and studios. She knew several artists from her trips down here over the years, but there were a few new dealers that she recognised from her college years.
Margo Paternoster’s shop was quiet, but then it was never really busy, as she opened the door Sophie smiled at the tinkle of the small bell, a primitive alarm system to alert the woman to someone entering.
“Well if isn’t my favourite artist!” A soft voice spoke from within the shop and Sophie looked up with a smile. Margo had been the guest lecturer at the University where she’d got her Fine Arts degree five years earlier. She’d been in her seventies then, but the octogenarian was so devoted to her small supply shop that she refused to retire. Not that either of her middle aged sons were keen to take it on for her. So instead she made a small turnover in a shop that was a part of her. “You look frustrated!”
Sophie laughed, “Does everyone know how to read me Margo?”
The older woman smiled, “you wear your emotions so blatantly, it’s one of the things I like about you!”
Margo had been her most loyal supporter over the years, since the day they had met they’d been firm friends. Margo gave her a maternal stability that she had missed out on, and with three sons and several grandchildren who were always ‘too busy’, she supposed that to Margo she was the daughter she’d never had. It was always interesting being with her. A daughter of a Nazi officer, she’d fled Germany early on in the war and never been welcomed back by her family, the love of her life Stanley had been a bomb disposal expert. They’d met in Belgium in 1945 during the clean up. Margo had been a staunch member of the Resistance in the flat nations, and apparently it had been love at first sight. He’d passed away almost fifteen years ago, but told Sophie repeatedly that there wasn’t a day that passed when she didn’t talk to him.
“I’m going to a wedding on Saturday...” She briefly filled her in on the details of the upcoming weekend, and her quandaries as she made them both a cup of tea. Margo used loose leaf tea, straining it into china cups. Sophie imagined that it was something quintessentially British and could only surmise that Margo had started this practice when she was new to the country, a way of feeling at home. When others had changed to the convenience of tea bags, she’d maintained the tradition almost in a stalwart manner!
Margo nodded knowingly, “he’s a good man your Bill, and just what you need.” She stared at her cup for a moment. “But you are hoping for some time with this Miles?”
Sophie honestly hadn’t thought that far ahead, there was a lot of water that had passed under their bridges; did she want more than the opportunity to look good in front of her old acquaintances? Or was she holding out for more with Miles?
As usual, Sophie left Margo’s with more special offer paint, and food for thought. Margo had the habit of doing that to her, and it was subconsciously a huge part of the reason that she visited so often. With her parents constantly abandoning her, she craved the familiarity and the maternal protection that the older woman offered her. It was a sunny day, so she kicked home via Primrose Hill, stopping to sketch groups of people, children playing, five elderly women performing what looked like Tai Chi, then ate an ice cream from a van that played music as it picked its way across the path.
When she finally reached the house and started on dinner for the family, she was still unable to answer the question as to what she wanted from the coming weekend. All she knew is that she had to do it!