Second Time Around

by Denham Forrest

Tags: Romance,

Desc: Romance Story: Have you ever had that feeling that someone or something is watching you? Well, our hero does in this story.

I thank my LadyCibelle, Techsan and SH for their patience, proof reading, editing skills in preparing this tale for posting. This is at least the third version (or revision) of this tale that has been posted on the Internet. Somewhere along the line, a paragraph or two had gone astray from the previous examples posted. Or maybe I've made some additions over the years. Can't quite recall now.

It was a strange feeling to get whilst sitting in an open-air nightclub in the mountains not far from Naples in Italy. Oh, you know the sort of place, all geared up for the tourists and all a little too plastic for my liking really. But the crowd I was with wanted to visit the place so I'd gone along for the ride.

Some old bird -- well, I don't suppose she was that old really, and she had some figure on her to be truthful, but if she'd been a stripper, then probably I would have been a lot happier -- was giving it the vocals on what I assume was supposed to be a traditional Italian folk song. Anyway I think the guys were just about getting the idea of why I'd suggested that this excursion was one that we could do without joining. I had done this same cruise more than once in the past.

I was on the cruise with a bunch of colleagues from the office. Some husbands and wives, some couples who were thinking about it and then a collection of waifs and strays – of both sexes who hadn't found anyone who could put up with us for very long. Yeah, you got it, mostly divorcees. Whether the committed ones thought that some of us might connect or not, I don't know; but when the trip was being planned we were sought out and invited to attend.

By more than coincidence, I'd done this particular cruise the year before, with a pal of mine. He'd got lucky and found himself a tasty widow from up north somewhere. They even got hitched after the holiday and were still going strong. He'd been accepted by Betty's children as a replacement daddy and was by all account was revelling in the job.

I'd hung around with Betty's sister, just to ... well, to give the lovers a little privacy. Yeah, I scored with Betty's sister, but there wasn't anything in the way of chemistry there, if you know what I mean. We more or less had a fifteen-day one-nightstand.

Anyway, having lost my best prowling buddy, I joined this party on the cruise this year hoping I might get lucky and find my dream girl like Mike had. Or, at least, score a few nights during the trip. Okay, I'd bedded Carol, one of the women from accounting, and Jean, a pretty young thing who was married to a guy from sales who got seasick on the first day. How the hell anyone can get seasick on one of these modern floating islands they call cruise ships I will never be able to understand; the things don't rock and roll at all - well, not in the Med anyway. But the bugger recovered and found his sea legs pretty quickly, bringing an end to that little game.

Whoops, now don't go getting the wrong idea about the Jean thing. Jean's old man was a pretty dense bugger, but he also had a wondering eye, and a short memory. Like, he had the habit of forgetting that he was married --when it suited him -- and he was just dense enough not to realise that Jean was on the verge of to nailing him to the ships mast by his balls; figuratively speaking, that is. When they got home from that little jaunt, Jean was intending to lay the divorce petition on him. The holiday already being planned and paid for, Jean thought she'd deny him the pleasure of taking his secretary along on the cruise with him. And get some pay back at the same time. Hey, you reap what you sow in this life.

Anyway that might go some way to explaining why I was sitting in an open-air nightclub that evening, but it didn't explain the odd sensation that had suddenly come over me.

I'm sure you will know the feeling; the blood flow to your ears suddenly – and inexplicably -- increases, and they begin to feel hot. Most folks say, that it's a sign that someone is talking about you, but, I'm pretty convinced that it's a kind of in built radar telling you that someone is watching you. Yeah, the blood flow to your ears increases because you are aware that you are being scrutinised.

I checked the likely candidates.

Jean's husband? Who might possibly have sussed that I'd banged his wife most of that first afternoon.

Nope! That silly bugger seemed to be enthralled with the warbler on the stage, or more than likely that front suspension of hers and the possibility that we all might get a little more than an eyeful.

Carol? Perhaps, she was hoping for a rematch this evening?

Nope! Carol was eyeing up the lump in one of the ship's entertainment coordinators' trousers, and he in turn appeared to be eyeing up her front suspension. I figured, that I'd not get another look in there, on this trip.

Everyone else at our table was watching those tits on the warbler rise and fall with bated breath as she sang. Well, she did have an impressive pair; almost as good as Carol's, but with a lot less retaining them, in that low cut dress.

So I looked around at the people sat at tables near to our own, twisting and turning as I did so, to survey them all. No, apparently there was no one close by looking my way. Everyone appeared to be staring at the stage trying to get some clue as to what the warbler was singing about; or maybe watching those tits, wondering exactly when they were going to fall out.

I turned back and tried to concentrate on them myself, doubting that they would actually make a showing; after all she probably wore the same dress every night. And if they hadn't fallen out since the previous year when I'd last been in that club, they were unlikely to put in a public appearance that evening. But ... I suppose there has to be a first time for everything!

Even though I tried, I couldn't even concentrate on that wish. I still had that damned strange feeling, and my ears were burning even hotter. I looked around again, standing up this time so that I could see the tables further off. But no eyes were cast in my direction.

"Was-up?" Ronny Fisher asked, as I sat down again. Ronny was my cabin partner on the trip.

"Dunno, Ronny. I got the feeling someone's watching me!"

"Ears burning, are they?" Carol asked. She must have noticed my fidgeting as well.

"Yeah, they are. Damned disconcerting it is too!" I replied to her.

"Probably some hot Latino woman who's hot for your body!" Carol joked.

"Well, It ain't going to be you tonight, that's for sure!" I whispered to her having leant close. "I've been watching you eyeing up that guy's equipment!"

Carol elbowed me in the ribs, and then acted as if she hadn't heard me and we retuned out attention to the warbler.

But I kept getting the feeling several more times during the rest of the evening. Especially when I slipped out to the gents. As I made my way back to our table, slowly, and after carefully surveying the whole crowded nightclub from the door. But no one appeared to be looking in my direction.

On the coach ride back to the ship, the uneasy feeling I'd had in the nightclub subsided. But I will point out that there were a good half a dozen or more coaches, with maybe three or four hundred people on them. Anyone could have been emanating the waves -- or whatever they were -- that I'd picked up on, in the club.

I found myself stopping on the ship's gangway whilst going back on board, because for an instant I got the feeling again. I looked around, but now there were hundreds of people behind us, all looking at me, wondering why I'd brought the cavalcade back on board to a halt.

"What gives with you?" Ronny asked when we got to one of the bars for a nightcap. I do believe that I was still scrutinising everyone who entered the bar.

"Dunno, Ronny! Must have been a disturbance in the force." I smiled at him, trying to make light of my behaviour.

"Do what?" Ronny asked looking at me as if I'd gone completely gaga.

"You remember 'The Force' ... in 'Star Wars'. Obi One said he felt a disturbance in the force. Well, in the nightclub ... I dunno ... It was like I felt a presence of some kind."

"Darth Vader!"

"What?"

"It was 'Darth Vader'; he said he felt a presence that he hadn't felt for many years," Ronny corrected me.

"Yeah, you could be right! I felt that there was someone in that club tonight that I knew, and it frightened the arse off me."

"Why did it frighten you?"

"Dunno really. Probably because I couldn't spot them."

"Or didn't recognise them. Probably one of your old conquests." Ronny suggested, with a grin.

"Shit, I hope not! Damn bad form, old boy ... to forget the face of a woman you've laid," I joked.

"Jesus, John, what you got? A bleeding Filofax or something, for a bleeding brain? Do you carry a bleeding photo album in your head? You're always on the bleeding prowl." Ronny grinned at me.

"Just because I'm on the prowl, Ronny ... don't mean I get that lucky all that often."

"Anyway quit worrying. There were a couple of coaches from some place else there tonight. Whoever made that disturbance you felt in the force, could have been on one of them."

"I don't think so somehow, Ron. I got the feeling again when we were coming back on board."

Ronny and I finished our drinks and decided to call it a night. But not before I'd taken another good scan of the bar.

When we woke the next morning the ship was at sea, heading for Palma in Majorca. I was up very early, much before Ron made a move; he'd be snoring away for another couple of hours.

Dressed in my tracksuit as usual to ward off the sea breezes, I took my morning run on the track around the top deck. Probably not the five-mile run that I did every day back home; I just ran until I was bored of passing the same joggers again and again. Then I headed for one of the open-air pools and put in a few laps whilst it was still almost empty. There was a much larger pool below decks, intended for serious swimming, but I enjoy swimming in the open air.

After a shower, I joined Ronny and the rest of the gang for breakfast, before Ronny and I donned our swimming costumes and headed out on deck to catch some rays and watch the bikinis go by, near one of the open air pools. We hadn't been there long, before Carol and her cabin mate joined us.

Both women took a swim then Ronny and I applied sun block to their bodies and they did the same for us. It was while I was applying the sun block to Carol's back that I got that damned feeling again. Whether I faltered in my labour or I tensed up, I'm not sure. But Carol was aware that something had happened.

"You all right, John?" she asked.

"Yeah, it's just..." I began saying.

"The force again?" Ronny interrupted.

"Yeah," I replied, looking round.

"Blond, teenager, wearing a little yellow bikini," Ronny announced.

"What are you on about now, Ronny?" Carol asked.

Ronny who'd been lying on his back whilst Gloria, Carol's cabin mate, massaged sun block into his chest, looked across at Carol and me who were both staring at him.

"I just spotted her looking over that rail up there. She was definitely staring at you, John. I didn't think you were into the young-uns!"

"How old?" I asked.

"Oh, I'd say about sixteen or seventeen, but it's difficult to tell with these young ones, when they are in them tiny bikinis, isn't it. She could be anything from an older looking fourteen year old to a young looking twenty-something. No matter how old she is, she was checking you out, John. No doubt about it. Odd expression on her face as well!"

"Nah, you got it wrong. I don't mess with kids, never have!" I assured everyone; assuming that Ronny had to had got it wrong. After all, he wasn't wearing the glasses that normally adorned his nose in the office.

"Well, I could be wrong. But I'd swear she was staring at you my friend, and from what I heard I figure you felt that disturbance in the force about that time."

"The force?" Carol asked.

"Forget it, Carol, it's a kind of private Joke. Here, your back's done. Do you want me to do your front?" I asked.

"Oh, yeah, and we'd be thrown off the bleeding ship the moment it docks in Palma!" She grinned up at me.

It was later that morning. The four of us had got dressed and were thinking about grabbing some lunch. I can't remember why we took a turn around the top deck first, before going down to one of the restaurants, but we did.

"Look! There she is, just about to dive in the pool!" Ronny said as we came to the part of the deck that overlooked the deep pool I'd swum in earlier.

I watched the shapely young woman make a perfect dive off of the board.

"Do you know her?" Carol asked me.

"I don't think so," I replied. "She looks familiar, in a way. But Ronny and I have been studying the scenery since we got on board. I could have seen her on deck here anytime in the last four days."

"Yeah, all this naked flesh don't do us dirty old men's memories any good," Ronny chimed in.

Gloria said something to Ronny who turned a funny shade of red, until she put her arms around him and gave him a hug that he somewhat enthusiastically returned.

Ronny, much to my surprise, was turning into a bit of a ladies' man, not the forty something year old nerd he always appeared to be around the office. I'd noted that Gloria and he appeared to be getting along very nicely together.

Good luck to them, I thought. I knew that they were both single, although I wasn't sure whether Gloria was a widow or a divorcee. She had a few years on Ronny, who I don't think had ever been attached to any woman. But should Cupid decide to fire one of his little arrows in their direction, then good luck to the pair of them.

Carol and I looked at each other, her facial expression and a quick movement of her eyebrows telling me that she agreed with me.

"I think I'd better share your cabin tonight, John. Maybe we can push these two into making a move," she whispered to me.

"What about your Captain Birdseye?" I asked, remembering the way Carol had been eyeing that member of the crew in the nightclub the evening before.

"I think he prefers younger blood. John. Could be, you're stuck with me; unless that guy in the flash suit shows again."

Carol was referring to some guy who'd given her the eye the first night on board. But we hadn't laid eyes on him since. It was a big ship, more like a floating town actually. God alone knew how many thousand people were on board. Not really my style, but it was cheap as cruises go.

Thousands of people there might have been, but after Ronny pointed that girl out to me, I seemed to see her everywhere. When I was running on deck in the morning, in the cafeteria or restaurant we used for lunch - there were several. And in the à-la-carte restaurant we used for our evening meals, although a young man always seemed to be in attendance when we saw her eating. Mind you, it appeared to be a different young man at almost every meal; it looked like the young woman had a long string of would be suitors

After our stop in Palma, the ship passed through the straights of Gibraltar and headed out across the Atlantic for the Caribbean.

It was on our first evening in the Atlantic. Carol, Gloria, Ronny and I were ensconced in one of the nightclubs quite early. I think the rest of our party had gone to watch a show. We hadn't been there very long and Gloria and Ronny were dancing when medallion man suddenly made an appearance.

"Don't look now, sweetheart," I whispered to Carol, "but the man of your dreams has just walked in. I'll make myself scarce!"

I stood up and headed for the bar, taking my drink with me. Medallion man – probably an unfair description – got a drink from the same bar then surveyed the nightclub. It didn't take him long to spot Carol sitting alone and in an instant he was heading in her direction. When he got there he invited her to dance.

"Oh, well, lonely night in bed tonight." I thought to myself.

I thought it prudent to buy Gloria and Ronny another drink; then sort out different empty table not too far from the one that we had been sat at. When the music stopped they headed for our old table and then spotted me at the other one, franticly trying to attract their attention.

They got the message and joined me.

"What's up?" Ronny asked as they sat down.

"Carol's hooked her fish, I think," I told them.

Gloria looked around and saw Carol returning to the table with her catch. "I don't understand. I thought you and Carol were together," she said.

"No, Gloria; we were just giving you two love birds, some room to manoeuvre. And maybe push you into sharing your cabin with Ronny."

Gloria turned an interesting shade of pink and Ronny looked as if he didn't know where to look.

"Come on, kids, loosen up. You're having a good time together out here, aren't you?"

They both agreed that they were.

"Then bugger it. Carol and I felt you'd be able to keep each other company when you get home as well. Damn it, you two pussyfoot around each other in the office all the time."

Probably I shouldn't have said that, but after some discussion – that included some very plain English from me - they agreed that they were very attracted to each other. So much so, that Ronny bought Gloria an engagement ring in one of the jewellery shops on board, before the cruise was over. But that came later.

God knows where Carol slept for the rest of the cruise. Because just after they all got up to dance again, things took a very unexpected turn for me, and I lost track of her antics.

I think I was looking around, trying to decide if there was any spare totty, worth going after. Well, let's be honest here, if there were any women about who might want to dance with a forty year old has been. Oh, I kept myself fit and I don't suppose I looked too bad, but I'd never considered myself handsome.

Anyway completely without warning, she sat herself in the chair next to me. The young blond girl who I'd kept seeing for the previous couple of days. She had a very serious expression on her face, a look of determination -- that for some reason I thought I'd seen before somewhere – in her eye.

"Are you Jonathan Kingdom?" she demanded.

"That's me. But you have me at a disadvantage, young lady," I replied.

"Good, that's where I want you!" she snapped back at me. Damn it, if my fingers had been outstretched, I think she might have bitten them off.

"Well, what can I do for you, young lady?" I asked, thinking I would see what she wanted and then get rid of her as quickly as I could. There are laws against old men and young girls getting together, even at sea.

"Why?" she asked.

"Why what?" I replied.

A question with a question, that's always a good strategy especially when I had no idea what the girl was talking about.

But then she delivered the blind-sided blow that took the wind right out of my sails.

"Why don't you know who the hell I am, father?" she demanded.

I do believe at this point I sat there with my mouth agape. I know I had no idea what to say to the daughter that I had never seen; well, not close up anyway and for many years. But I also realised that there was no mistake about it; she was Katherine's daughter without a doubt. That's what had been so familiar about her.

After some struggle, trying to get my emotions back under control, I came out with the most stupid idiotic statement that anyone in my situation could make.

"You had a father! A damned good one by all accounts! What would you want to be involved with a guy like me for?" I said, trying my best to sound confident.

"He never was my father, you were! But you never, not once, came to see me. You never sent me one birthday or Christmas card. How could you do that?"

"Samantha!" I sputtered.

"It's Sam!" She replied angrily, "Everyone ... who knows me ... knows ... that I like to be called Sam. But you don't, you never even bothered to find out," she raved on.

I was pretty-well lost for words, and found myself stumbling about trying to think of something to say.

But things were just about to get a little more complicated. I could see that Gloria and Ronny were on their way back to the table. I was watching them coming, out of the corner of my eye, somehow hoping they were going to rescue me. But a few feet short of the table they stopped, their attention taken by something happening behind me, then I noticed Samantha look up as well.

"Don't you dare speak to your father like that, Sam!" Katherine's familiar voice commanded.

In a second, I was out of my seat and had turned to face her. "Hi, Kath, I didn't know you were on board," I spluttered for want of anything else to say.

Well, what do you say to the woman who had kicked you out of her life nearly twenty years before?

"Hi, John, long time no see!" she smiled back at me, disconcertingly. "I recognised you at the airport, but you didn't see us. You were too busy with your friends."

"That was very remiss of me, I'm sorry," I said, completely amazed that I hadn't spotted my one time wife.

"There were hundreds of people there John. And you were not expecting to see us. Christ, what is it, nearly nineteen years?"

"Eight years, Kathy. I used to stalk you sometimes until you moved to the US."

Quite obviously taken by surprise, Kathy smiled again.

"And you never knew that Sam and I moved back to the UK?"

"No, how would I know?"

"I would have thought your solicitor would have told you."

"Why? He just transfers the money from my account to yours. I don't think I've seen the bugger in years."

"May I ... we join you for a little while, John? I'll try to ensure that our daughter keeps a civil tongue in her head."

I introduced Katherine and Samantha to Ronny and Gloria and we all sat down. But Sam although in a more civil tone, was still asking awkward questions.

"I want to know why, you never came to visit me, father. What kind of man can sit ten feet from his ex-wife and daughter all evening, and not recognise either of them?" Samantha demanded again with real emphasis being placed on the word 'father'.

If the deck beneath me had opened up, and I'd been dragged down to hell, I would have cheered.

"Just a moment, please Samantha?" Ronny interrupted. "If you don't mind me pointing it out, but this is a night club, not the place for a discussion like I believe you three, are about to have. Please all of you, hold everything right there?"

Then Ronny was out of his seat and heading towards one of the stewards standing at the bar.

Both Gloria and I knew Ronny well. A nerd he might be, but he was an organiser in our place of employment, one of those people who comes into his own in a crisis! In a few moments he was back.

"There's a kind of conference room down the corridor. I've fixed it so you can talk in private in there. Follow me please all of you," Ronny said in his 'do it now' tone of voice that no one could mistake.

"Do you want us to be a party to this?" Gloria asked, when we got to the room.

"John might not feel outnumbered," Katherine suggested, surprising me and before I had a chance to speak.

I just shrugged; things were completely out of my control.

Gloria came in and took a seat beside me, but Ronny stationed himself outside the door, from where he could watch -- but not hear -- through a window in the door. He said, he'd keep our drinks topped up and went off to get a fresh load.

When we were all comfortably settled Samantha once again demanded, "Well, are you going to answer my question?"

I looked at Katherine, but she sat there, poker faced. So I took a deep breath.

"Samantha, when I got out of prison you were five years old. From what I saw, you were happy, and you were calling your mother's husband dad. I couldn't see any sense in confusing you and interfering with your mother's life, when she was so happy."

I was looking Samantha right in the eye, but I couldn't help but hear Katherine take a sudden deep breath when I mentioned the word 'happy'. I glanced around to look at her, but Kath was wearing that same poker-faced expression that she'd worn all through the divorce, my trial, and for several months leading up to both.

"All I would have done by sticking my nose in was upset the apple cart again. I'd made a big enough mess of things before the divorce, and I figured there was just no sense in causing any more agro in your lives.

"But please don't think I didn't care for you, or about you? I used to sneak up and watch you at school, where no one knew who I was."

There was the sound of another intake of breath from Katherine's direction.

"And I arranged for my solicitor to send your mother enough money - once I could earn it again – that you should have a tidy sum stashed away by now."

I looked at Katherine to confirm my statement about the money.

"Sam knows about the cash, John. It's all in a trust that she can't access until she is twenty-one," Katherine confirmed.

"Why were you in prison, father?"

"That's a long story, Samantha. I don't think we need to go into all that," I replied trying to dodge the issue.

"I think we do, John," Katherine said quite sternly.

I looked at her again, taken by in surprise by her statement.

"Go on. She's never heard the full story. I didn't think it was right to tell her from my point of view. Although Frank stuck his oar in when Sam asked him, of course. We had a big fight over that, didn't we, Sam?"

I looked back to my daughter who suddenly looked very sheepish.

"Well, you wouldn't tell me. So I had to ask Frank!"

"I told you, at the time that I only saw one side of the picture, I saw what I thought was true. Even your father didn't know what had really happened at the time, and I got very angry. But then your father nearly killed that man, and I began to think that I might have been wrong."

"But why didn't you go back to my father then?"

"Because it was too late. In my blind anger I'd married Frank and John had ... well, he was in prison. Besides ... I didn't fully realise what had really happened until you started asking questions about who your father was. When I thought about it properly, all the pieces fell into place, but my bridges had been burnt by then. All I could do, was wait until John came looking for us when he got out of prison." She turned her head from Samantha and looked into my eyes. "But he never came!"

"Please start from the beginning, John. Tell Sam what happened. She needs to know and she deserves to hear it from you. I made mistakes, and I've always feared that I might not explain it fairly."

"You didn't make any mistakes, Kathy."

"Oh, but I did, John. I didn't trust you when I should have done. I didn't listen to your excuses; I went racing off to the nearest solicitor and divorced you. Not for a second did I think to give you a second chance, or wait until you could find out what had really happened, yourself.

"Then after the divorce when Frank came sniffing round, I married him when I was on the rebound. I never loved him and he never really loved me; I was his trophy wife, until he found a younger model. Oh, yeah, John, I made a damned sight more mistakes that you ever did, believe me. I didn't even have the decency to bring your daughter to visit you in prison, just because Frank objected to the idea."

"Now please explain what happened to Samantha?"

"Okay, I'll tell it as best I can. Samantha, your mother and I had been married a couple of years..." I began.

"No, John, right from the beginning, from when we first met!" Kathy interrupted.

"But you've told me about when you and he met," Samantha commented.

"I've told you how I remembered it, Sam. Your father might have seen some things differently than me. And besides I doubt Gloria here has heard the story."

"I'm just here as an impartial witness, to keep things even," Gloria said with a horrified expression on her face.

"All right, if you insist, but I can't see what difference starting the story from the beginning will make.

"Samantha, I first met your mother when her family moved into a house down the road from my parents' place when I was about ten."

"You were eleven and I was ten!" Kathy corrected me. I could see this was going to be like things had been back when we were together. "You tell the story, John, and I'll correct you, when I remember things differently."

"Okay, I was eleven and your mother was ten. All the children in the street hung around together and played silly games. Kathy was quite a tomboy back then."

"Only because I needed to be, to stay close to someone," Kathy interrupted again.

"Kathy?" I said. "Who's telling this damned story?" She got

A coy expression came over Kathy's her face and she sat back in her chair.

"Anyway ... we all went to the same schools and just grew up together. There was a problem though. I fell for your mother when we were both very young really. I couldn't tell her because ... well, she was one of the boys and you don't get soppy with your mates. Well, we didn't back then.

"Anyway I wasn't what you call a great scholar, but your mother was. So I left school at sixteen and found a job in the office at Westlake's where I still work now. Your mother was clever and went on to sixth-form college as they called it back then."

"Didn't get me very far though, did it?" Kathy interjected.

"You got your A levels; that's a damned sight more than I got, girl! Anyway whilst she was at college Kathy took up with Frank..."

"We just went out a few times."

"Kathy!"

"Well, just a few times, that's all!" Kathy insisted on saying.

Personally I thought it was many more than could be described as a few. They were together for nearly two years off and on. Whatever, I didn't push the point.

"Then when we were eighteen, we ran into each other at a Christmas party."

"Some run into. I had to insist that Frank take me there!"

"Whatever, you were there with Frank and I was there with..." I couldn't recall the name of the girl I was with.

"Beverley Roundhouse!" Kathy said with a triumphant tone to her voice.

"Yeah, Beverley!" I agreed.

"With the big knockers!" Kathy added.

"I never noticed," I lied. "Anyway how-come you remember her name? You didn't even know her."

"There are some people's names that a woman never forgets, John. Am I not right, Gloria?"

Gloria agreed with Kathy, and for an instant I thought that something else passed between the two women that I didn't grasp. It could be that Samantha understood it as well, because all three women were smiling.

At that time Ronny came in with a tray of drinks for everyone. He smiled, kissed Gloria on the cheek and then left the room again. I think I wished he'd stayed; I was feeling outnumbered by women by then.

"The party, dad!" Samantha prompted me.

It didn't strike me at the time, but Sam had called me "dad" for the first time. If it had, I might have understood the whole point of this charade.

"Oh, yeah, well, it was Christmas and someone had put up the mistletoe like they always do. I was coming back from the little boy's room, and just by chance..."

I heard a distinct snigger off to my right, where Kathy was sitting.

" ... I ran into Kath right under the mistletoe in the doorway. Well, I'd never kissed your mother at the time, so I asked her."

"You asked me!" Kath interjected, with a surprised tone to her voice.

"Yeah! Didn't I?"

"No you didn't! I had to ask you. Twice!"

"Well, I'd imbibed a few that night. Well, whoever asked who, we kissed each other under the mistletoe."

"Some kiss! The girls told me later that we were at it for nine minutes. Until everyone started cheering and shouting," Kathy said excitedly.

"Yeah well ... then Beverley stomped out of the party, and Frank invited me outside for a little chat."

"Well, you bested him, didn't you?" Kathy grinned.

"Yeah, but I got a couple of bruises myself in the process."

"And I kissed them all better for you."

"Yeah, you did that as well. I never felt a one of them ... until the next day. I couldn't see properly out of my right eye for weeks!"

"Anyway, Sam, to cut a long story short, I discovered that night that your mother felt the same way about me, as I felt about her. Well, I thought she did anyway!"

"What's that supposed to mean? I was crazy about you. I always had been!" Kathy blurted out.

"And Frank?" I asked.

"Oh, Frank was supposed to make you jealous and come chasing after me. But that never worked, so I went for the direct approach."

"So you never had any feelings for Frank?" I asked.

Kathy thought for a moment.

"Oh, yeah, I liked Frank a lot. But I had no illusions; Frank thought of me as ... what do they call it? Arm-candy?

"Frank was always shooting his mouth off; he had to have the best of everything, and ... well, I was one of the best looking girls around at the time; you've got to admit that? I could have been as thick as a brick and Frank would still have wanted to be seen with me on his arm."

"And if I hadn't kissed you under the mistletoe that night, you would have married Frank a lot sooner that you did!" I suggested.

"No John! I probably wouldn't have married him at all. I was pretty determined to get you some way or the other. I'm sure I would have dumped Frank before too long longer and then sneaked up on you some other way."

"But you would have still married him after the divorce!"

"No, I don't think that would have happened either, John!

"Frank never forgave you for making a fool out of him that night at the party. I don't think he forgave me either! The moment he heard that we'd separated, he was around the house like a shot, being all helpful and supportive. You know how upset and angry I was at the time, and he made damned sure that I didn't forgive you.

"Looking back on it, he virtually railroaded me down the aisle the moment the divorce was final."

Kathy went silent for a few seconds, and a pensive expression came over her face.

"Then that damned court case came up, and I realised that we'd both been tricked. I saw the way you looked at me in that courtroom, John ... and I knew that you'd never forgive me for marrying Frank. What could I do, but try to make the best of a bad job?"

"I appreciated you being there, Kathy. Well, to be honest, I didn't at the time; I thought you were gloating. But I understand now."

"Oh, god, no, I gathered from the newspapers what had happened. But, if we are being honest, they said that you nearly killed that man. I thought that I'd made you like that. Maybe I did, but when your defence barrister laid the story of that trip out in court, it was then I realised what a fool I'd been. And, you were looking at me as if you wanted to kill me, as well."

"Look, I'm sorry, parents! But this mutual recrimination isn't explaining to me, how you came to divorce in the first place, is it, Gloria?" Samantha interrupted us.

Gloria didn't actually reply. I do believe that Gloria was wishing that she was somewhere else.

"Sorry. Go ahead, John. Tell her!" Kathy said.

"Right, I was working for Westlake's and at the time they were in partnership with a Japanese company setting up a plant in Korea. Your mother and I had been married for ... what ... two and half years?"

"Two years seven months, the day you flew out there," Kathy said with confidence.

"I was twenty-two and had worked for the company since the day I left school. You could say I grew up in the firm. Old-man-Westlake was alive back then and he ran the place like a big family. But it was outgrowing him and his attitudes.

"I'd better explain; Westlake was a lay preacher at the Methodist chapel. He had very ... er, a very narrow minded approach to morality ... and he couldn't abide alcohol.

"We played a little game in the office. No one ever admitted that they drank and there was never any hint of anything like affairs or anything among the married staff. Jesus, even the unmarried staff, if they did go out together, wouldn't dare hint that they slept with each other, no matter how old they were.

"Yeah, I can remember what it was like. Mr Westlake was still around when I joined the firm," Gloria suddenly entered the conversation.

"Yeah, well, I didn't know at the time, but some of the guys seemed to think I was a goody two shoes. And old man Westlake's favourite.

"Of course I got on well with the bugger; I'd known him twice as long as any of the others in the department. Even if I was one of the youngest."

"Anyway six of us had to go out to Korea to help sort the bloody new plant out. We were with this group of Japs most of the time, and they worked damned hard and played even harder. That damn sake of theirs has a kick on it like a bleeding horse.

"One of the guys in our team ... well, I don't know, perhaps he was jealous of me because Westlake was always seeking me out to talk to back at the office.

"Near the end of the trip we all went out one night with the Japs to this karaoke bar place ... and well ... we got completely plastered.

"To cut a long story short, I woke up in a Korean brothel in the morning. I had no idea how I'd got there, or what I did. But I brought your mother home a little present from Korea that neither of us expected. To cap it off, Kathy had become pregnant with you at the time, and they had all kinds of problems dealing with it."

"How could you do such a thing? Now wonder you divorced him. I don't blame you one bit!" Samantha exclaimed, and began to rise out of her chair. The look she was giving me, told me that as far as she was concerned the meeting was over.

"Sit down, Sam!" Kathy ordered in a tone I'd never heard her use before.

Well, maybe when she first discovered she had a sexually transmitted disease, she might have. But I was in a kind of never-never land at that time myself and sort of lost track of things.

"Tell her the rest of the story, John? The bit we never knew about, until it was too late to go back," Kathy ordered.

"Is it necessary, Kathy? Samantha knows why we divorced now."

"But she doesn't know why we should not have been, does she?" Kathy said, still in that hard commanding tone.

"All right, if you insist. But it doesn't change anything."

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