She watched the cars make their way up the driveway. She knew what they would say. How sorry they were about her parents. How they would do anything for her if she needed it. She would only have to call. She had heard all this years before at her grandparents funeral. Hollow promises, no one ever came back. No one rang, or stopped her in the street. They didn’t care. It was all crocodile tears.
She wondered where she would go now. There were no siblings to worry about. And of all these relatives there were none she wanted to spend time with, let alone those who would be the slightest bit interested. She was too different. A non conformer, the black sheep.
She wondered what would happen to the house, she couldn’t live in it on her own although the thought was appealing. It would no doubt be sold, the servants along with it. Pulling a face at that thought, she turned and went back to the house and up the old back staircase to her room.
The voices in the formal dining below carried and she could hear most of what they were saying.
“Where is she, she should be down here, the boys wanted to meet her…”
“Who will take her now, we looked at things, and can’t afford another person..”
“her parents would be ashamed of how she’s acting, how rude to not even greet us…”
The youngest of the help came up the stairs, her light foot steps barely making any noise.
“Did you want something to eat? I’ll leave it by the door for when you’re ready…”
The foot steps retreated and within minutes loud voices make her sit bolt upright from her bed.
“What do mean no one wants her? She is a capable young lady who needs love and care, one of you must be able to take her in…”
There were other slightly muted comments followed by a slammed door.
She looked out of the window in time to see an older man in a well cut suit walk across the driveway, and lean against a tree. She was intrigued. He walked with purpose, with confidence. There was an air about him that exuded a no nonsense approach to things. There was also something familiar about him. She knew she hadn’t met him before. Oh, you couldn’t forget that face in a hurry.
Panicking briefly at the sight of smoke before realising it was a cigarette, she wondered who he was. He hadn’t sounded like any of the relatives, but again, something in his voice was familiar. He could have been one of the older cousins, she hadn’t seen them for some time. But, no, that was not it, and none of them sounded that nice. Scanning the cars it was easy to pick which one could have been his. While the yard was full of prestige vehicles, it was a Jag that stood out, not least of all because it was definitely the newest.
The photos were a comfort. The funny portraits she’d taken of them all, the personal, private side of her parents. Sarah and James. A side that only ever came out when they were together as a family. They were her memories to treasure forever, no one else would ever get to see them.
Putting the book away she listened intently, there were only murmers and the clinking of cups and saucers. The tray was still outside her door, petite sandwiches and mini savouries. Her favourite. Although not hungry, she sat on the stairs and nibbled, listening to the conversation that drifted her way.
The man had come back in and she could hear his voice above the others, not from being raised, just the timbre of it. It was a nice voice, she could listen to it all day. The lilt of a long gone accent, the richness, it was soothing. That must be why she hadn’t recognised him, he travelled, or wasn’t from around here.
The talk had changed again, now it was about the kids and what amazing things they had done, places they were travelling to, boring stuff. Being rich had its downfalls sometimes. So much superficial shit. Can’t afford another mouth? no, it’s just your priorities don’t want to afford it.
A door opened and before she could move, the man had come round the corner and was standing at the bottom of the stairs. There was nowhere to go without making it obvious she was trying to get away. He smiled at her, and with a slight gesture asked her permission to come and sit with her. She nodded, not sure what to do otherwise. As he sat down, his long legs stretching past her own on the stairs, she felt a wave of reassurance. As though she had known him all her life. How could that happen, she had never seen him before, but she’d heard about it, how people had known as soon as they’d met someone they were meant to spend the rest of their life together. Maybe this was something like that, although he was old enough to be her father, how could she feel like that about him.
She looked over at him, he was watching her intently, a look on his face she couldn’t read, a curiosity, a knowing. “Hi, I’m Lee” and held out his hand. She smiled at his formality, and put her hand in his “I’m Carissa” His hand was warm, and his handshake firm. She respected that. Many of her father’s business associates had limp wrists, or soggy hands as she liked to say. She held on a second too long, but Lee didn’t seem to mind. Smiling, he pulled his hand as if to pull it away, and she loosened her grip just a bit. “Sorry, it’s just so nice to have someone want to talk to me. No one has said a word since the accident, apparently I’m invisible now”
His look said it all but he spoke anyway “really, now why would no one be talking to you. You’re a beautiful girl, inside and out. Sarah, your mother, often talked to me about you. I find your comment hard to believe”
Hiding her surprise at his words, she replied “mum didn’t know everything, or maybe she thought she would leave it be, and not bother me about it. After all I was not too worried. I enjoyed myself while I was at home, I had my music, and my camera”
They talked for another hour, of general interests, vaguely aware most of the others had left and true to form not bothered to say goodbye.
The large hall clock struck the hour, echoing in the now empty house. It was suddenly eerie, and Carissa felt an intense loneliness for the first time in weeks. And just as it hit her, she felt the tears well up and leaning on Lee, let the tears flow. His arms wrapped round her, naturally, holding her tight, letting her cry,
Wiping her tears, she sat back “sorry… oh look, I’ve made a mess on your jacket..” she fussed at his shoulder, but he grabbed her hand, gently placing it back in her lap. “Never mind, leave it”
Taking a deep breath, she looked him the eye, “tell, me, how do you know my mother, and why would she be talking to you about me?”
“You mean, she never told you, about your father?”
“what about my father, he was a good man” she immediately thought he meant the worst and was ready to defend him.
He placed his head in his hands, shaking it, and muttering. Looking up he said, “there is something you should know, and your mother said you were ready to be told. Although, I told her you were ready at 5, but she insisted on waiting. I gather she was ashamed of herself….”
“How could she be ashamed…what would she have done…oh” Carissa covered her mouth with her hand as the realisation hit. “You mean she had an affair, dad isn’t my real father…oh no, does, did, dad know?”
“Well” Lee started, not sure how he should broach it “yes and no”Carissa said nothing.
“James knew. And no, she didn’t have an affair” Still Carissa said nothing. All of a sudden she was at a loss for words. The father she knew and loved was not her real father. Well, not by blood anyway. Little things came to mind, they were more like good friends than parent and child. There was almost nothing in common, the idiosyncrancies that drove her nuts, and everything she did, her mother had done before her.
Their eyes met, and in that instant she knew. Why his walk was familiar, his stance, why she felt comfortable with a complete stranger.
“I.. mum.. why…” she stammered over the words and standing up stumbled into her room “I have to find something…”
He let her go, sitting for a moment longer. In her room Carissa was going through her dresser, tossing letters, and cards on the floor, obviously looking for something. “Where is it, where did I put it…” she mumbled to herself, Lee stood in the doorway watching her. She was just like her mother, passionate, feisty and that beautiful thick hair. Sarah’s daughter in more than one way.
“A-ha, got it” Carissa’s voice brought him back to the present and Lee looked up to see her barely two feet away, a sadness in her eyes, an envelope, unopened in her hands. The letter she had been given a week before the accident, but had not opened, even though her mother had insisted, it was important. Thinking back she remembered her mother’s words “Please Carissa, this is important, read it and then when you’re ready, come and talk to me…” Despite thinking it was weird she had not bothered, putting it away for another day.
Sitting on the bed, Carissa fiddled with the envelope, finally releasing the papers from within. “You read it. I can’t”, she said waving it at Lee.
Pushing her hand back, he declined “No, you need to read it, it’s important that you do it” his voice was firm but gentle, and Carissa knew not to push it.
Unfolding the letter, Carissa recognised her mother’s favourite scented writing paper, she liked to hand write letters, and always on pretty paper. No note pads or emails for her mother. Just one more thing she was going to miss.
Her hands shook as she read the pages, choking back the lump in her throat, a tear dropping onto the paper. They fluttered to the floor as Carissa fell back onto the bed and sobbed. Lee bent and picked them up, inhaling the scent still on the paper, oh how he would miss their conversations, her laughter, but above all her friendship. Sarah was the real thing, genuine with no pretenses, regardless of her wealth. How he had longed to be with her for longer.
“Please read it, to me. I want to hear it again..” Carissa said between sobs.
Lee cleared his throat and started. Carissa immediately heard a mix of her mother’s soft voice and his, a beautiful mix if ever there was one. It was perfect.
My dearest Carissa,
My beautiful daughter. How I love you so much. I feel so ashamed of not being able to tell you before this. I know we can talk about anything, but this was my secret shame, I thought that if it was not spoken it would go away. I didn’t want to cause you any shame. I knew I had to tell you, but I never knew how to broach the subject. How do you tell something like I am about to.
I know school life is not fun for you, and you are so much better than this life we have here, but please be patient, Your time will come.
Your father and I love you more than you can ever imagine but there is another man you need to know about. James knows him, and is forever in his debt.
I was young, and somewhat stupid at times, when I met James. The fateful day before I met him I had slept with a long time friend, whom I’d been on several dates with. I became pregnant that day, with you. By the time I realised this we had fallen in love and there was no going back. Your father, the man I married is a wonderful, funny, caring man and loves you like his own. But he was impotent, not something talked about in those days, so we married quickly and the baby, you, was ours.
It was all very simple but complicated at the same time. While he could have just as easily paid him off to never have any contact, and not know you at all, he didn’t. He insisted we remain friends, to keep tabs and so your father could get to know you, if only from afar. He needed to know who he was, to relieve himself of the shame he felt. To know the man who gave him the child he had always wanted but couldn’t have himself.
There were conditions to this. No affairs between us and you two were not to meet, or you would know he was your father. You are so much more like him now than I could ever have imagined. Please know, I did not have an affair while married, I was always faithful to him. I stood by our agreement, I loved your father, I loved my husband and will continue to do so.
My sweet sweet Carissa, please don’t hate me for this, I have waited so long to get this off my chest, and although James was happy for me to tell you, I never felt the timing was right. And before you ask, what was to be gained by telling you now, and not earlier. You are now old enough to understand the implications it could have on our family, and your father, James, the one who raised you, is extremely sick and wont be getting better. How many colds has he had over the last year that have lingered far too long.
Once you have read this we can arrange to meet your father, Lee.
Please, be the mature young lady I know you to be, for me, for us.
Forever and always, Mum.
Lee looked up from the pages and saw the confusion and understanding in her eyes. The very same eyes that stared back at him from the bathroom mirror every morning.
As she fought back more tears, Carissa was unsure of what her life was before and what lay in store for her future.
This has been a lwork in progress over the last few weeks and I have to thank Amy (of Amy Reese Writes fame) and my friend Kelly for help in getting things moving again. I hope you enjoyed it, it turned out longer than expected.