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Authors: Marcia Willett

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BOOK: The Way We Were
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Her voice carries a faint inflection of affectionate propriety, as if she has some sort of natural right to Pete and that his welfare is her concern, imposing this claim on Julia just as she had earlier imposed her presence, somehow making herself the centre of attention – and Tiggy glances quickly at Julia, already defensive on her behalf. Julia is still standing, her head slightly bent, smoking her cigarette with her right elbow cupped in her left hand.

‘Oh, yes,' she answers. ‘I've had letters. And he sends the children postcards. They've been on exercise off Île d'Or and then they went to Naples. They're finishing with a run ashore in Athens. They're having a great lime.'

‘I can believe that.'

Angela sounds amused: the implication being that she knows exactly what kind of good time Pete might be capable of, and that she thoroughly approves. There is a little silence. Liv, sensitive to atmosphere, lifts her head and, quick as lightning, Cat thrusts out her tongue at her before cramming three fingers of her hand into her mouth and gripping her mother with renewed energy. Liv looks affronted; she stares indignantly at Julia, hoping that she's noticed, and Tiggy intervenes again.

‘It's time for
Play School
,' she says. ‘Come on. I'll switch the television on for you. Coming, Andy?' Courtesy makes her smile at Cat. ‘Would you like to watch
Play School?'
she asks.

The child stares at her: the close-set squint of the eyes and the mouth stretched wide by having most of her hand thrust into it combine to give her a grotesque look that repels Tiggy. Surprised, and shocked at her depth of dislike, she gives a little smiling shrug and turns away with the twins.

‘Wouldn't you like to go, sweetie?' Angela is asking persuasively when Tiggy returns. ‘You like Big Ted and Jemima, don't you?'

Cat shakes her head, burrowing deeper, as if determined to resist any offer of anything pleasant, yet Tiggy notices that now the twins have gone she relaxes her grip and begins to look around her.

‘So how long are you staying?' asks Angela. She crushes her cigarette carefully into the ashtray and picks up her coffee. ‘Nice for Julia to have some company.'

‘It's wonderful,' agrees Julia before Tiggy can reply. ‘She's staying for some time yet. No plans.'

Angela raises her eyebrows. ‘How nice to be so free of responsibility.'

‘I'm between jobs,' Tiggy says – though she can hear the lack of conviction in her voice and she is conscious of the mesmeric quality of the narrow dark eyes studying her. It is an effort of will to remain calm, staring back at Angela so as not to lose face or to give herself away.

‘Very lucky for me,' Julia is saying. ‘The children can be exhausting and they adore Tiggy'

Angela begins to talk about the difficulties of raising children with a husband away at sea for so much of the time but somehow Tiggy can't concentrate. She is aware of the need to protect Julia from something, although she doesn't know what, and she frowns and drinks some coffee. Cat slips down from her mother's lap and is making her way around the table, her eyes fixed unwaveringly on Tiggy's face. Tiggy forces herself to smile but the unresponsive stare repulses her and she turns to Charlie, who is beginning to grizzle again. She lifts him out of his high chair and joggles him a little, picking up a toy to distract him, carrying him through to the sitting-room where Big Ted and Little Ted are singing a song. Tiggy sings too, dancing Charlie up and down while the twins laugh, yet all the while the sense of uneasiness persists and she goes back into the kitchen.

With a shock she sees that Cat has got hold of the little Merlin. Somehow she has managed to reach him down from the dresser though her hands are barely big enough or strong enough to hold the little bronze and she is examining him closely. Tiggy's reaction is instinctive and immediate.

‘Give me that,' she cries. ‘Give it to me at once.'

Cat stares at her with a bright, almost malicious look, and deliberately drops the Merlin. Julia and Angela rise to their feet as if on strings, both speaking at once, and the twins come running in from the sitting-room. Charlie begins to cry, frightened by the shouting, and Cat sets up a prolonged whistling scream over which nobody could hear anything else. Presently Angela and Cat leave; Cat still screaming and Angela looking amused as if the whole business is rather pathetic and utterly beyond her comprehension.

The Merlin is retrieved, made much of by the twins and placed on a high shelf safely out of reach of any of the children. Shaken by her own reaction to the episode – and to Angela and Cat – Tiggy keeps apologizing to Julia.

‘I'm sorry' she says wretchedly. ‘I can't think what came over me. Honestly I'm so sorry … I can't think why I felt like that, especially about a child. I just instinctively disliked them both on sight.'

‘I thought it was just me.' says Julia. ‘Angela will go on about Pete with that smug smile all over her face, but I feel guilty about disliking Cat too. The trouble is that every time I make a real effort to be nice to her she does something really horrid. Look, let's have a drink,' and she opens a bottle of wine and they sit together at the kitchen table until their spirits begin to rise a little.

Charlie has fallen asleep on the sofa under the window, with the Turk curled beside him, and the twins go upstairs to act out their own version of
Play School
with Andy's teddy and Liv's rag doll. It is much later when they are all set to walk down to the post office in the village that, after much searching, they find the twins' pictures for their father. The two sheets have been torn again and again, screwed into tiny pieces and left in a pile beneath the table.

CHAPTER FIVE

2004

A few weeks later, early one evening, Julia telephoned Liv.

‘Someone phoned last night trying to track you down,' she said. ‘A man called Matt Greenaway. Does the name ring a bell?'

‘Yes,' said Liv. She had an instant menial image of a tall man with fair hair so pale it was almost silver and cut very short: a bony, pleasant face and a very disconcerting gaze. ‘Yes, it does. He runs a very successful little hotel in Truro and he owns a couple of restaurants upcountry Actually, I know his one-time partner better. I was at school with her. What does Matt want?'

‘I've no idea. I thought it best not to ask and I didn't know whether you'd want me to give him your number. He's left his number here. Got a pencil?'

‘Yes. No. Hang on. I might come over a bit later and make the call from there, Mum. Is that OK?'

‘Perfectly OK. Would you like some supper?'

‘That'd be great. See you later.'

‘She's coming over for supper,' Julia reported to Pete. ‘She's asked if she can make the call from here. He sounded rather nice. I wonder what he wants.'

‘He probably wants a receptionist or a chambermaid or a cook,' said Pete irritably, filling two glasses with wine. ‘Liv spends her life getting people out of problems with their staff.'

‘Well, please don't nag her about it,' pleaded Julia. ‘At least it might move her on from Penharrow.'

‘I never nag,' said Pete indignantly.

Frobisher opened an anxious eye. He was acutely aware of tension. Raised voices distressed him, and now he wagged his tail in an effort to distract attention. Julia bent to pat him.

‘It's OK,' she told him soothingly. ‘We're not arguing.'

Pete rolled his eyes impatiently. ‘Chance would be a fine thing. Ever since that wretched animal arrived I haven't been allowed to speak above a whisper. I just don't know why we can't have normal dogs, like other people do.'

‘Zack was saying much the same thing last lime he was home on leave,' said Julia. ‘Frobes is fine. He's very good for us. Any-way, this Matt might be nothing to do with work. He might be making a social call.'

‘Well, I have no doubt that you'll wheedle it out of her.'

‘I never wheedle.' protested Julia. ‘I'm very tactful.'

Pete snorted.
‘Tactful?
Are you serious? It's all right, Frobes. Nothing's wrong. Good grief! This dog should apply for a job with Relate.'

‘It's just that he can't cope with any kind of tension. He's settling in very well.'

‘Why do we always have such thick animals?' asked Pete. ‘We seem to finish up with other people's rejects.'

This was certainly true about Frobes, thought Julia rather guiltily. Kept as a stud dog by his breeder, he'd proved hope-less when he'd grown old enough for action to be demanded of him: bitches in season provoked nothing more in him than horrified alarm.

‘He's useless,' said his despairing owner. ‘He utterly hates it. Look, Julia, I know you've been thinking of having another dog …'

‘Honestly, Mum,' Liv had said. ‘You're such a sucker. First there was Bella, a field spaniel who threw a fit if anything went bang, and then we had Baggins, a sheepdog who fainted with terror at the sight of a lamb. But never mind, I think Frobes is an absolute poppet. And, after all, why should he have to perform to order, poor old doggie? Perhaps he's gay.'

Julia sat down on the sofa beneath the window and Frobisher climbed up beside her.

‘Liv thinks Frobes is gay' she said, smoothing his soft flank and dropping a kiss on his noble brow. ‘If so, I couldn't approve more. He's the least troublesome dog we've ever had …'

‘As long as nobody ever raises his voice above a whisper or makes an unexpected noise,' finished Pete. ‘He's not gay. He's a wimp.'

‘But he's so handsome,' said Julia. ‘He has a kind of regal look, doesn't he?'

‘Oh, yes,' agreed Pete bitterly. ‘Frobes is a true aristocrat: beautiful, elegant, and thick as two short planks.'

‘Is that a car?' asked Julia, suddenly alert. ‘Is it Liv?'

Pete looked out of the window. ‘Yes, it is.'

He strolled out to greet his daughter and they came in together, Liv's arm linked in Pete's. Julia's heart lifted just at the sight of her, and Frobisher's tail beat a welcome. Liv bent to kiss Julia's cheek and stretched a hand to Frobisher.

‘Hi, Mum,' she said. ‘Hello, old doggie.'

Julia smiled at her, determined not to be betrayed into questioning Liv, though she longed to know who Matt Greenaway was and what he might want.

‘How are Val and Chris?' she asked. ‘Goodness, Penharrow must be such a change from London. Do they wonder what's hit them? You must bring them over for supper one evening, Liv. Are you hungry?'

‘Well, I'd rather get the phone call over first, if that's OK,' Liv said. ‘Then we can relax.'

‘The number's on the pad on the dresser there,' Julia said. ‘See it? It's a Truro exchange.'

‘Got it,' said Liv. ‘Thanks. Shan't be long.'

She picked up the telephone and went out, closing the door behind her. Pete grinned at Julia's expression as she watched her daughter disappear into the hall.

‘ “Everything comes to he who waits”,' he quoted softly.

‘Matt Greenaway?' Liv was querying. ‘Oh, hi. It's Liv Bodrugan here. You spoke to my mother and gave her this number.'

‘Liv.' He sounded pleased. ‘Yes. How are you? It's ages since we saw each other.'

‘I'm fine. And you're doing well, from what I hear.'

He laughed. ‘It's nice to hear it confirmed. And so are you. I can't tell you how many people have told me that you're just the person I need for a new project.'

‘Really?' Liv felt a little flutter of pleasure.

‘Mm. Actually, I was hoping we might have this conversation face to face but I'd like to gel your reaction to my plans. I think you know the wine bar in Truro called The Place, up by the cathedral?'

‘Yes. Yes, I know The Place. I haven't been in for a while, though.'

‘Well, it's up for sale.'

‘Is
it?' Liv was surprised. ‘But it was doing so well. Liam, isn't it, the chap who runs it? He seemed so, well, so good at it. It was terrifically popular.'

‘Did you know his marriage broke up?'

‘Yes, I heard about that. I don't think anyone was surprised, were they? His reputation was pretty well known. But that was a couple of years ago, wasn't it?'

‘Yes, it was. The latest gossip is that he's been playing around with someone's wife. Her husband took it badly and made a few public scenes. It got a bit tricky. Some of the staff have left and the magic's a bit tarnished, if you understand what I mean.'

‘I can see that,' said Liv thoughtfully. ‘A great deal of its charm was Liam himself. What a pity. What was the other fellow called? The chap who did all the hard work. Jim?'

‘Joe, and he's prepared to stay on as bar manager, which is good news.'

‘He'll be very valuable, I have no doubt. Why are you telling me about it?'

‘I've got plans for The Place,' said Malt. ‘The building's on three floors, though the lop floors have only been used as storerooms and offices and lavatories. My idea is to turn the first floor into a kind of club. Open it up and use it for exhibitions, literary events, that kind of thing. Have a big open fire at one end, comfortable sofas. I want someone fronting it so that everyone who comes in has a great welcome. Sorry, I'm just talking off the lop of my head at the moment but you gel the idea. I want to create the atmosphere of going into someone's home, whether it's to look at paintings or listen to a poetry reading or have a party. I think you'd be great at creating that feeling, Liv, and so do a dozen other people who should know.' A pause. ‘Am I pressing any of the right buttons?'

BOOK: The Way We Were
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ads

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