Hush, I'm Still Here

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Chapter 3

Twenty years earlier

David needed a strong coffee after that meeting with Linnea. Maybe even several. He went back to the car and took off his suit jacket and tie. Work could wait for one morning. Today had already been exhausting and the last thing he needed was to be hassled by people whose problems meant nothing to him right at that moment.

“Oh for fuck’s sake!” David turned to see none other than Iris from the coffee shop, red-faced and puffing outside of her car. She held car key in one hand, the other hand struggling to pull on the handle of the car. David walked over to her.

“Would you like a hand?”

Iris looked at him and blinked before recognised him. She flushed with embarrassment.

“Oh, hi. Um, yeah, you can try. The sodding thing won’t open.” She gestured towards her vehicle.

David nodded and stepped forward to inspect the car. Immediately, he spotted in the front side window that the door lock was down. Had she even tried her car key?

“May I?” He held out his hand out for the car key. Although she was clearly puzzled, Iris handed them over. David put the key into the door and turned it. The car unlocked. He turned back to see Iris wide eyed with disbelief.

“Long day?”

“It must be if I can’t even remember to try out my own bloody car key.” She admitted, running a hand through her hair. “I’m sorry. I feel like a right muppet.”

“It happens to the best of us.” David replied humbly, handing the car key back to Iris. She nodded, looking at him thoughtfully.

“Long day for you too?”

David did not reply.

“I know a good coffee place…if you would like to join me?” She continued, shifting slightly on her feet.

Coffee. Coffee sounded appealing.

“Lead the way.” David said.

Iris smiled and locked the door of her car.

Cosy. Tucked out of the way. It was the perfect place for David to try and clear his head. Iris had taken him down an alleyway he had been dubious about initially, but was pleasantly surprised to find she had led him to a little haven of sorts.

It wasn’t entirely like a grotto, with its walls decorated like murals, and unique table condiments that one might have found after looking through a long forgotten attic. The style of the place reminded David of Rivendell in Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Did Iris know of the work by Tolkien? He hoped she did. It was the only non-awkward conversation starter that he could think of then.

“I can take us somewhere else if you’re not keen.” Iris suggested, though she looked like she was desperately hoping David liked it. He shook his head.

“It’s fine. Let’s grab a seat.”

They found a table near the back of the café and sat down. A young girl in her late teens soon wandered over and flashed a huge grin at Iris. Her name tag read ‘Shelly’.

“We were wondering if you’d come back anytime soon! Where have you been?” The girl exclaimed, her indignant tone a mockery. Iris smiled bashfully and ran a hand through her hair.

“Long week. Work, lots of it. You know how it is.”

“That I do,” Shelly winked at her and then immediately locked her sight on David, “So who’s this handsome devil you’ve picked up?”

David didn’t know what to say. He could feel his cheeks grow unnaturally warm. He looked to Iris for help and she smiled at him.

“This is David. He’s one of my regulars at work.”

Shelly grinned and laughed.

“Your regulars? I didn’t know you were even allowed those kinds of services, let alone offer them as well. Bryan will be pleased.”

Iris rolled her eyes, though they were mirroring the young waitress’s humour.

“Get on with you, you little minx. Make yourself useful.”

“Of course. Coffee?”

“Please. One latte with hazelnut and one chai latte.”

“On it. Catch ya later.” Shelly grinned again before skipping off with their order. Iris shook her head and looked at David.

“Looks like you have a new admirer.” She said ruefully.

“Bit old for her, aren’t I?” David raised an eyebrow as he saw Shelly laugh flirtatiously at another customer.

“That you may be, but it’s just the way she is. Can’t keep a boyfriend, mind. A loose cannon, if you will.” Iris ran her hand over the table to clear some stray granules of sugar. “She isn’t wrong about you, though.”

David looked at her, confused.


“Yes, you.”

“You think I’m handsome?”

“Yes, I do. I can’t surely be the first person to admit that to you, can I?”

To be sure she wasn’t pulling his leg, David looked Iris in the eye and sure enough, there was no ounce of humour in her manner. She genuinely thought he was a good looking man. Of course, she had not been the first to claim so. But equally, he did not hear Linnea, let alone any other woman, say it very often.

He cleared his throat.

“Well, I…thank you.”

Iris chuckled, her own cheeks looking slightly pink.

“No need to thank you, it’s just how I see things.”

“So if you find someone good looking or attractive, you tell them up front?”

“Not always. It depends how confident I’m feeling.”

Nodding, David looked back towards the main counter in the coffee shop and was relieved to see what looked like steaming cups of brew waiting for Shelly to bring to them. Soon enough, Shelly came and picked up the tray and brought it over to Iris and David.

“Here ya go. A hazelnut latte and a chai latte.” She placed the cups from the tray onto the table. “Is there anything else I can get you?”

“No thank you, my dear, we’re fine.” Iris replied.

“Alright, well, let me know if you need refills.” Shelly said to both of them, though her attention seemed mostly focused on David. She gave a little wave and sauntered off once more, protesting and giggling as a male her age reached over to tap her backside.

“Well…cheers. To a much-needed coffee break.” Iris raised her cup and then greedily took a sip from it. David followed suit, the aroma of hazelnut instantly relaxing him before he took a gulp. As he put his cup back down, he noticed Iris staring from over the rim of her own cup.

“Um…is there…something wrong?” He asked, gently putting a hand into her line of vision. Iris came to and shook her head.

“Sorry. Just thinking of what to do today before I go back to work tomorrow.”


“Well, I - I work usually for six days a week at the coffee shop, so whenever I have a day off, I wonder what I could do that would be exciting or different. Something I’ve maybe never done before.”

“Does meeting strange men and taking them out for coffee not count?”

Iris smiled.

“I can’t say that’s something I’ve been stranger to before.”


“The last time I did, I ended up in a particularly fractious relationship. I suppose the only difference today that makes this interesting is I seemed to have picked up a man who’s not hiding a psychopath underneath his suit. At least not that I know of for now.”

This time David smiled and chuckled.

“I hope I pass muster.”

“You definitely do.” Iris took another sip of her latte and looked at David teasingly. “So, give me an idea. What shall I do today, other than meet strange men for coffee?”

“I’m afraid I’m not much help when it comes to leisure.” David sheepishly admitted. When he thought about it, he was never much fun. Perhaps that’s one reason why Linnea didn’t want him anymore.

“A workaholic, huh?” Iris clicked her tongue, her eyes going vacant again as she went into her thoughts. “Ok, then let’s make this one simple: I show you what I like to do for fun. You look like you need to relax.”

“Am I really looking that haggard?”

“Yes, you do.” Iris drummed slightly on the table. “So what do you say? Are you feeling brave today to let this strange little lady take you away on an adventure?”

David snorted into his coffee. “An adventure? Like out of ‘The Hobbit?’”

Iris’ mouth dropped open in amazement. “You’ve read ‘The Hobbit?’”

“I have indeed read it.”

“You do realise we’re sat in a Middle Earth themed café and you have not said one word about being a fan?”

David stopped drinking coffee and pointed to the mural behind him. “Rivendell?”

“Yes! Oh my lord, I have found a fellow nerd, this is incredible.” Iris’ eyes sparkled with excitement as she dug into her bag and pulled out a battered looking leaflet. “So if you’re a Tolkien fan and you appear to have a day off, maybe you’d like to come with me to this?”

She slapped the leaflet on the table for David to look at. In big bright letters, the leaflet titled ’Drawings for ‘The Hobbit’ by J. R. R. Tolkien’, an exhibition featuring at the Weston Library in Oxford University, dating 24th February to 23rd May. David checked his watch: 22nd May.

“The second to last day.” He murmured.

Iris bit her lip. “I literally have no friends interested enough to go and I just simply can’t enjoy this gorgeous exhibition without someone else who will appreciate it with me. So if you want a break from your workaholic lifestyle…I guess today would be a good a day as any.”

David thought for a moment. How he wanted to say yes! But he couldn’t just drop work, his oh so sensible, logical brain told him. He needed to work to upkeep his girls and missing work would not achieve that. Reluctantly pushing the leaflet back towards Iris, he shook his head.

“I’m really sorry, I…work, you know how it is. Can’t put food on the table, can’t pay the bills -”

“It’s fine.” Iris said, her tone still cheerful as she took the leaflet back. “It’s a big ask from a stranger. I just got really excited to find another Tolkien fan is all. Otherwise I have to keep coming here to find any semblance of interest and that’s neither often, nor do many people stop by.”

Although David was determined to tell himself this was the correct and best decision, he didn’t miss the flicker of disappointment in her once bright eyes. She had really wanted to share this experience with someone and he couldn’t fulfil that. He felt terrible.

“What will you do now?”

“Go and muddle I guess.” Iris finished her coffee, a small smile on her lips. “The day is still young and I got to have a coffee with nice looking, well-mannered man who happens to like The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. It’s not a bad start to the day at all.”

“Even though the nice looking, well-mannered man couldn’t oblige a delightful, colourful young lady in accompanying her to a truly great exhibition?”

“Absolutely.” Gathering her bag, Iris stood up from the table and began to walk away. “Take care for today though, you do look like you could use a break.”

After a few moments stressing over his guilt, David suddenly got up from the table and followed Iris out of the café.

“So I will see you tomorrow at work?”

Iris turned to look at him and cocked her head to one side, a bemused expression on her face. “If you’re there, I suppose.”

“I will be, I just...look, I’m really sorry about not being able to join you today for the exhibition. I would love to and I feel really terrible for saying no, especially as you treated me to a nice coffee and pleasant chat…”

Shaking her head and looking almost amused, Iris scuffed the ground. “You know, I kinda get it now.”

“What do you get?” David was confused.

“You’re trying to please everybody. As I said, it was a big ask of a stranger and I really don’t mind that you said no. You have your own life to get to.” Iris pulled out a pack of mints from her handbag. “Have you got a hard day ahead of you?”

Surprised, grateful, yet still utterly curious at the change in subject, David checked his watch. “You could say that.”

“I won’t keep you for much longer then.” Iris popped two mints into her mouth and then put the packet back in her handbag. “I’ll see you tomorrow, then.”

“Yes, tomorrow. Absolutely.” David replied. Iris smiled and walked away, her breath and her hair billowing out in as they hit the cool January morning.

Guilt is heavy. The memories were beginning to keep David up at night and the tiredness that followed was becoming like a natural part of his routine, he realised as he walked towards Azalea’s home. Every movement felt like a great effort. Perhaps it was his age, he tried to tell himself. As the front door of Azalea’s home came into his view, however, al certainty vanished. He knew that Seamus and Rosie would be pleased to see him, they always were. But Azalea was a different story. Ever since David and Linnea separated all those years ago, the rift between father and daughter had never quite been healed, nor had it ever been spoken about.

Using his cane to support himself, David reached for the doorbell and rang it. He only waited a few moments before hearing a patter of small feet and he smiled.

“Grandpa!” Rosie squealed as she opened the door and then leapt into open arms.

“Hello my little rosebud.” David chuckled softly as he hugged his granddaughter tightly and placed a kiss on her sweet smelling hair. She’d grown again since he had last seen her.

“Rosie, let your poor Grandpa in first, he must be dying for a cuppa tea and a sit down.” Seamus finally appeared moments later, a rueful smile on his face. “You should have said you were walking, Dad, I could have picked you up.”

“It’s quite alright, the fresh air does me good.” David replied as he placed Rosie back down on the ground. She raced in doors laughing to herself, picking up a stray dolly that lay in the hallway.

“Maybe a lift later, then?” Seamus offered.

“If you can spare the time.”

The younger man helped the elder through the door and then towards the living area. Rosie was already there playing happily with her toys. Hopefully she would be able to share them soon, David thought. He definitely wouldn’t mind another grandchild, if of course Azalea and Seamus were thinking about it.

“Would you like you like a tea, Dad?” Seamus asked David as he pulled up an armchair.

“A little milk and two sugars would be lovely please, son, thank you. Where is Azalea? Will she be along in a moment?”

Seamus paused a moment, looking around the room and corridors first before leaning in to whisper, “She’s been a mess since Mum passed, crying most days. I don’t know what to do to help her, to be honest.”

David felt a distant clench in his heart. He hated hearing if either of his girls were in trouble or distress. Poor, poor Azalea. But he was also grateful, as he had been since day one, for Seamus being around. He was a good lad, a brilliant family man. Despite the state she was in now, David knew she would be ok with a good husband as Seamus to look after her during these difficult circumstances.

“Where is she now?”

“In the garden. She does that a lot nowadays, looking for things to do. Keeps her busy.”

Nodding, David let Seamus go to the kitchen and he himself went to the back doors. He looked through them and saw his daughter sitting near the fish pond. She was playing with a ringlet of hair with one hand, the other was picking at some daisies on the ground. He opened the door and let himself out. As he approached, Azalea turned her head.

“Hi Dad.” She rasped, trying to conceal her red rimmed eyes.

With great effort, David stopped next her and bent down to take her in his arms.

“There, there my little flower, I’m right here, I’m right here.” He murmured, resisting his own tears as hers soaked his jacket sleeves.

“She was going to get better, I thought. She looked so well not long ago and I really hoped…”

“I did too.”

“Did you though, Dad?” Azalea pulled away from him. In that moment, she looked ten years old again, upset and terrified of what was happening to her. Then she sighed and rubbed her eyes. “I’m sorry, that just came out. I didn’t mean it.”

“I think you did, my love, and I can’t say I blame you.” David pushed Azalea’s hair away from her face as he took her face in his hands. “We may not have stayed together, but I loved your mother until the day she died. She gave me two beautiful girls. It’s a just a shame that she couldn’t be around to see our little grandchild grow up.”

“Grandchildren.” Azalea murmured, not quite looking at her father directly. David felt his heart both leap and sink at the same time, realising why Linnea’s death was even more bittersweet.

“How long?” He asked, trying to stop his hands trembling with excitement. Finally, Azalea smiled a little.

“A few weeks. I was going to tell her as soon as it happened, but then I wanted to be she sure. And then she passed…”

Nodding and suddenly feeling the tears drop from his eyes, David hugged his daughter to him. “She would be so proud, my love, so proud.”

“That’s why it’s so hard.” Azalea sniffed, allowing herself to settle in her father’s arms. “I miss her so much already. I haven’t even told Seamus yet because it’s all been such a mess recently.”

David then pulled Azalea to sitting up and wiped her eyes gently with his weathered hands. “You should tell him soon, flower. Give each other some little joy in this sadness, if not from remembering what happy times you had with Mum.”

Azalea nodded, wiping her eyes again and casting a wary glance back towards the house. She was relieved to see that Rosie was still playing and that Seamus had joined her.

“You know for a while, and I realise how spiteful this was of me, I was glad Iris had passed before Mum.”

David looked to Azalea, his heart slowing at the mention of his beloved.

“I’m sorry you two never quite saw eye to eye.” He said carefully.

“I’m sorry I was so nasty to her at times over the years. Even though I was, she was always kind to me and Jasmine.” Azalea adjusted herself in her seat onto her knees. “It wasn’t until I had Rosie that I understood how difficult it had been for you, Mum and Iris. And even after that, it’s taken me a good long while to admit that to myself, let alone now.”

Touched by her words, David laid a hand on Azalea’s where it rested on her lap.

“I wouldn’t have expected it sooner, hearing. You are your mother’s daughter, after all.” He smiled ruefully, despite the sadness between them.

“She was worse than me, she was a stubborn cow at best. You would never have heard it from her.” Azalea snorted, before biting her lip to hide a smile.

It was true, Linnea right up until her death bed had been a silent force of a woman. David remembered the times when they were married: if a job needed doing, Linnea was always on task, and it was her way or the high way. She also had a phenomenally ferocious loyalty to her family. That kind of spirit was now showing in Rosie, even at so very young, and David was glad to see glimmers of the woman he had once loved long ago.

“Thank you for coming today, Dad. It’s good to see.” Azalea then uttered softly, squeezing his hand in her own.

“Always for my girls.” David took her hand and laid a gentle kiss on it.

The rift was still there, but now that David had helped Azalea at one of her most vulnerable moments, both father and daughter were hopeful that things would get better from now.

“Mummy! Barbie has had a fashion disaster! Help!”

Father and daughter both turned to see Rosie almost pounding on the back doors, her curls bouncing around her shoulders as she jumped up and down.

“I think you are in demand, Mummy.” David teased, then wincing as he tried to rise to his feet. Azalea immediately rose to help, taking one of his arms and picking up his cane with the other.

“Careful, Grandpa, otherwise I might leave you to be badgered all day.” Azalea teased back, walking the both of them slowly to the back doors. As they entered, Rosie bombarded them with demands.

“Grandpa! Mummy! I need you to help me dress Barbie and Shelly! We haven’t got long!”

“Time for what, sweetheart?” Azalea asked, her eyes twinkling with laughter as she caught David’s eye.

“For the fashion show, of course!” Rosie retorted, rolling her eyes and sighing.

David sat himself down in the armchair nearest to Rosie and looked over at the array of dolls on the floor.

“Why don’t you show Grandpa how everything works while Mummy goes to speak to Daddy?” He suggested, taking the pretty blonde Barbie doll from Rosie’s hands first, then looking at Azalea meaningfully. Looking relieved that she could speak to Seamus in peace now, Azalea mouthed a thank you and quickly rushed over to where Seamus was walking through towards the living room.

While Rosie was content that she had her Grandpa’s full attention, David looked over every so often to where Azalea and Seamus were talking, observing how…together they looked in that moment. Then Seamus suddenly gave a merry whoop and took Azalea in his arms, twirling her around off the ground. Azalea let out a little laugh and then tried to shush him, pointing at Rosie, who was completely oblivious to everything and everyone around her as she concentrated on dressing her dollies.

As the couple walked over arm in arm towards grandfather and granddaughter, David smiled at them both. Rosie then protested that he wasn’t paying attention to her instructions for the fashion show and he quickly looked back at her, listening diligently to what she had to say.

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Guilt is heavy. Azalea felt guilty for not telling her mother of the most precious gift she could have ever received. Perhaps she would feel that for the rest of her life. David hoped she didn’t. She wasn’t to know what had been around the corner and he knew what it was like to live life without being able to letgo. But for a short while, the guilt was alleviated as he watched his daughter, managing to smile despite the loss she had suffered.

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