Leaning her head against the locked bathroom door, Lucy spoke placatingly, “I’ll see you in September, come on Paul, don’t be daft, come and give me a hug and a kiss. I’m coming back I promise.” She sighed, feeling guilty, for leaving him, for wanting to leave him. Her grandparents were taking her away for the summer holidays, for the whole eight weeks and she was looking forward to it. This was the first time since her mother’s death that she had felt excited about anything, she bent down, speaking through the keyhole. “Come on baby. I’ll bring you a lovely present back from Italy.”
“You won’t come back. I know you won’t.” Paul put his hand over the keyhole not wanting to hear his sister’s words, he was angry with her for leaving him. “Why can’t I come with you? Uncle Thomas and aunt Evie took you on holiday with me, at Whitsun, and they’re not your real aunt and uncle. Why don’t your grandparents like me?”
“It’s not that they don’t like you, I can’t explain.”
“You’ll leave me, just like mummy left me.”
“Mummy didn’t leave you she died, it’s not the same thing. Don’t spoil this for me, please Paul.” Lucy loved her brother and stepfather, but she needed these ties to her blood father, she needed the connection, especially now that her mother was dead. She jumped as someone reached over her head and rapped sharply on the door.
“Open this door Paul,” Edward spoke impatiently, “do you hear me, open it at once. We have to get to the station. You don’t want Lucy to miss her train do you?”
“I’ll count to five Paul and if you’re not out of that bathroom, there’ll be trouble.”
Edward began to count slowly, trying to keep a grip on his temper as his countdown reached its potential without result. “Fine, stay there, I’ll deal with you when I get back from driving Lucy to the station!”
Paul hastily slid back the bolt matching his father’s angry gaze with a sulky scowl.
“Don’t be cross with him dad,” Lucy, as ever, tried to smooth things over, “he didn’t mean to be naughty. Anyway, you haven’t got time to be angry with him, we have to get to the station.”
“Bye-bye darling, have a wonderful time.” After placing her luggage on the train Edward embraced her, “don’t forget to write, and behave yourself. I don’t want any international incidents.”
Lucy grinned, “I’ll be good daddy, don’t worry. Tell Paul I love him.”
“Lucy, Lucy!” A small blonde figure hurtled down the platform.
“Looks like you can tell him yourself now he’s finally decided to get out of the car, awkward little wretch.”
“Promise you’ll come back Lu, promise.”
“I promise,” Lucy, her eyes suddenly wet hugged her brother tightly, “and promise me you’ll be good.”
Paul promised and then waved until the train was out of sight before heading disconsolately back towards the car park with his father.
Edward too felt a pang as the train disappeared from view, he would miss her. Her grandparents had wanted her to move in with them permanently after her mother’s death, but Lucy had declined. Edward had been relieved and pleased, not just because he relied on her for help with Paul, but because he truly looked on her as his daughter and it would have wounded him to the quick to have her go. He had entered her mother’s life when Lucy herself was barely five years old. They had hit it off from the beginning and it was she who asked if she could call him daddy when he married Barbara. In some ways he was closer to her than he was to his natural son, whom he found rather a trial at times, particularly since his beloved wife’s death. Buried deep in his subconscious there was a lingering and shameful resentment, a jealousy that Paul, not he, had been with Barbara when she died. He knew it was unreasonable and that was why he tried to disown it, to bury it and keep it well out of sight, a shabby guilty secret.
“Be a good boy.” Edward bent down to hug his son, trying not to let the relief he felt show in his face. The two days he’d spent alone in Paul’s company since Lucy’s departure had been long ones, and difficult. He was looking forward to immersing himself in work without worrying about what his son was up to. He knew that Thomas and Evie would take good care of him. “I’ll miss you.”
“No you won’t,” Paul pulled free of the embrace, “you’re glad to be going back to work.” He ran out into the garden to find Martin.
Evie looked at her brother in law sympathetically. Linking her arms through his, she said, “come and have a coffee with me. You look tired Edward and you’ve lost weight. You must look after yourself, for the children’s sake. Stay for dinner. I won’t take no for an answer. I want to be sure you get at least one good meal this summer. If I know you, you’ll live eat and sleep work over the coming weeks, and believe me it has no nutritional value whatsoever.”
Edward smiled at her, “always the mother hen Evie. I’d be pleased to stay for dinner, thank you, and thank you so much for having Paul.”
“The pleasure is ours Edward, we’re all looking forward to having him around; we always do.”
“Don’t speak too soon Eve,” Edward smiled weakly. “Having him for eight weeks straight is a bit different to taking him on holiday for a week, or having him for the odd weekend. He can be a handful and since Barbara died he’s been even worse, certainly with me.”
“Tom and I can handle him. Martin is no angel I can tell you, he may look like one, but believe me looks can be deceptive. Let me tell you what he and madam Laura did last weekend…”
“Right, I’m going, for real this time.” Edward embraced his sister in law, “dinner was wonderful Evie. I enjoyed it.” He hugged Paul next telling him, in that ubiquitous way that parents have, to be good.
Paul had been pleased when his father had stayed longer than he had originally intended. When uncle Thomas had come home from work, Martin had asked him to play cricket in the garden, and his own father had actually joined in. Paul couldn’t remember the last time his father had played like that with him. He waved until the car disappeared around the corner and then went back in the house feeling strangely flat and lonely. There had been too many goodbyes for him to cope with lately and he felt suddenly angry, subconsciously looking out for a situation to present itself that would allow him to vent. It soon presented later that evening when he wanted to watch television, something he did all too often at home. “Why haven’t you got a television uncle Thomas?”
“If I answered that question I’d only be repeating something I’ve said on numerous other occasions, so I’m not going to bother.” Thomas kept his eyes on the Times crossword he was busy with.
“Why can’t I call for Laura?”
“It’s too late now, it’s almost bedtime.”
“But it’s only half past seven.”
“Bedtime is eight o clock Paul, as you very well know, so it’s too late to call for Laura.”
“I don’t go to bed until ten o clock at home.” Paul stamped his foot crossly.
“This is your home for the next eight weeks and in this house bedtime is when your aunt and I say it is.” Thomas folded his newspaper up, “in your case, it’s right now, goodnight.”
Martin grinned. He had seen that one coming a mile off.
Paul would have liked to argue with his uncle, but knew from experience it was fruitless, possibly even dangerous, to argue with Thomas Mitchell.
Evie looked critically at her nephew as she accompanied him upstairs to oversee his bedtime preparations. “You obviously haven’t been getting enough sleep Paul. You’ve got dark circles under your eyes. No wonder you’re so grumpy.” She caught his hand as he made to open the guest room door where he usually slept. “We thought you might like to share with Martin, seeing as you’re staying for much longer than usual. We got you a bed all of your own.” She ruffled his hair as he flung his arms around her. “I thought that would please you. After all, you’re not really a guest, you’re part of the family.”
Thomas aimed the admonitory digit at his son who suspiciously had volunteered to go to bed without a gun being held to his head, “no giggling, talking to all hours, or generally being a pair of pests.” He exchanged an amused glance with his wife, as Martin trotted out of the sitting room. “I think your idea has definitely found favour.”
Evie smiled, pleased, “I didn’t think Paul would sleep well, rattling around in that double bed all alone. Edward said he keeps creeping in with Lucy since his mother died. I think he’ll be better with some company, bless him.”
As soon as he was sure his mother had gone back downstairs, Martin got up and drew the curtains back. It was still light outside. Some neighbour was having a garden party, evident from the voices and laughter that floated through the open window. Martin opened the window further, kneeling on the sill and leaning out to try and see what was going on. It was no use; the high walls and trees effectively shielded his view. “I wish we were having a party in the garden instead of being stuck in boring bed.” He turned to his cousin, “what have you got there?”
Paul quickly shoved the object under his pillow, “nothing.”
Martin pulled a face, “I only asked. Do you like sharing my room with me; it’s better than being stuck in different rooms?”
“It’s okay,” said Paul in a non-committal way.
Martin suddenly caught a movement from the corner of his eye. Slipping quickly from the windowsill he pulled the curtains back across. “Mummy and daddy are sitting in the garden, don’t want them spotting me.”
“It’s not fair,” Paul got out of bed, padding across to join Martin at the window and peeping out. “They get to stay out, why shouldn’t we when it’s still bright?”
“I know,” sighed Martin, “mummy and daddy are very strict about bedtime. Come on,” he motioned Paul forward, “let’s go in the playroom and have a game of soldiers while they’re in the garden. They won’t be able to hear us out there.”