Someone to Watch Over Me
Copyright© 2010 by Denham Forrest
Time passed as it inevitably does. At the end of that year of college, I gave up on the idea of becoming an architect. The reason I gave everyone was that my building work had taken off in a really big way; as in truth, it had!
I'm not sure where my reputation for quality workmanship actually came from, but apparently I had built one remarkably quickly.
In truth, Dee had signed up for a design course that I needed to take; I saw her name on the list when I went to register for that next year. Don't ask me how she talked her way into that course, but she did. I decided not to register!
In the following months I threw myself into my new, and expanding, business. Funny that I had started working for myself so that I could do my architect thing, because it gave me the opportunity to choose my own working hours to suit my studies. But suddenly I found myself one of the most respected small builders in town, and run off my feet with work.
After a while I didn't see much of Dee or Tish around town, if at all. Estelle would turn up at my house every so often. I think I should say that Estelle made it pretty plain that she thought she was in the running for becoming Dee's replacement in my heart.
Looking back, I think I did love Estelle, but as I would a sister, not as a prospective life partner. So eventually I told her that it could never happen.
At the time, I knew I liked the girl and felt a genuine affection for her, but if I had gotten emotionally involved with Estelle, I would be forever running into Dee. That would have made life too complicated and was something I wanted to avoid. As time went on, I saw less and less of Estelle.
It must have been nearly two years after I broke up with Dee, that I met up with Shirley. Again, she was an old friend from my schooldays. But whereas Dee and Tish had been a year behind me, in my brother's class, Shirley had been one of my peers. We'd gotten on well together in school and I suppose if that I hadn't gone off to my Uncle Harry's, we might have gotten together sooner.
Shirley was always a good laugh to be with ... well, she always had been. At school she did have a little bit of a reputation for putting out, but I had never gone after her on those grounds. Shirley was just fun to be with, especially at that time in my life.
Now I'm not claiming I felt the same way about Shirley as I had done about Dee. I know I quickly grew to love Shirley; but Dee had been my first real love. Many people have told me that your first love is something different, and I have cause to agree with them.
Anyway eight months after we got together, Shirley and I married in the local registry office. It wasn't the big affair that Dee's mother had planned for Dee and I, but it was what we wanted - well, needed actually. Time was always going to be a very important factor in Shirley and my relationship.
You see, it was shortly after we started going together that Shirley was diagnosed with cancer. It went into remission after she had her first batch of chemotherapy, right after the wedding. But it was the sword of Damocles' hanging over us.
The next five years of my life, I devoted to Shirley and building my business. Even in her condition, Shirley was always fun to be with, and she did me the honour of presenting me with two wonderful daughters. It was in our fifth year as man and wife, that Shirley's cancer returned with a vengeance.
Chemo did little this time except make Shirley feel pretty terrible. In the end she made the decision to refuse any further treatment, other than painkillers. We managed to spend another three years together before she finally took her leave of us.
Our two daughters took it in their stride; their mother had prepared them for that day from the moment they had been born. It was them who really supported me that cold January day of the funeral. It was also them who invited everyone back to the house for the wake. Six and seven year olds, taking charge of almost everything. Whilst their father wondered around in a daze, feeling sorry for himself. Shirley had done a really good job with them.
Over the years, my company had done a lot of renovation work for the church at a discount. Basically because it was Shirley's church and they had been very supportive of her.
Personally I'm not really into the religion thing. Whatever, we'd rebuilt the boundary wall after an old Yea tree had died and fallen on it. The tree had been there many hundreds of years. Its demise and removal had left a few new grave plots very near the churches main door.
I'd spoken to the vicar and reserved one of these newly available plots for Shirley. Shirley was a lively person, and I thought she would like having a plot near to where everything was going on. I thought she deserved that.
Well, whether I believe or don't believe, it was Shirley's Grave. Although, I suppose that one day, I'll be in there with her. Of course I'd never mentioned it to Shirley.
Of those who came back to the house, I was surprised to find Dee's father Frank and Estelle amongst them. They both gave me their condolences personally; they also told me that Dee's mother was ill in hospital, or she would have been there with them. As a result of that conversation, a few days later I called into the hospital to see Mrs Clough.
She was actually in the same ward that Shirley had been in during her last days. I had been too preoccupied with my wife to notice her or anyone else who was in there. Luckily, Dee's mother was recovering from her illness, although I never did find out exactly what it had been.
Katherine -- as she now insisted I call her; whilst I'd been courting Dee I'd always called her mum or Mrs Clough -- asked me if I'd take my two girls to see her when she got home. Apparently she'd spoken to Shirley often in her last days and Shirley had talked about the children and me all the time. I don't suppose I'll ever know what those conversations between Shirley and Katherine were really about.
But I wasn't allowed to take the children into the hospital to see Katherine, because they were too young, and were not her direct relatives. What stupid rules these places have? Both girls had been in there almost everyday to see their mother.
Katherine informed me that Dee was not living at home anymore, so there would be no chance of us accidentally running into each other. That was the only time she mentioned Dee - or Mercedes as she always called her - to me.
So three weeks later, when Katherine was discharged from the hospital, I took my two girls to meet the people who were to become like grand parents to them. Not forgetting Estelle who became a kind of surrogate auntie. As a matter of fact, Estelle started turning up at my house all the time again; so often in fact, that my neighbours thought that there was something going on between us.
That is until her boyfriend Russell started turning up with her as well. He was a nice guy who was dying with impatience to marry Estelle, but for some reason she was keeping him hanging on, much like her sister did me. They were both very helpful to me when it came to looking after the girls. I had had some thoughts of hiring a nanny, but I was trying to get by without one if I could. These were my girls; I didn't want a stranger looking after them too much
Once Russell told me about how frustrated he was getting with Estelle not making her mind up about marrying him. I had a quiet word with her and told her to think very carefully about what had happened between Dee and myself.
I asked Estelle why she was not grabbing a really nice guy while she had the chance. Her answer was one that I couldn't understand. "You really don't know, do you?"
Well, I didn't have an answer for that question. But whatever, a couple of weeks later Estelle finally named the day. Russell, apparently convinced that I'd talked Estelle into accepting his proposal of marriage, asked me to be his best man, and I said yes.
Was that a mistake? I guess I'll never really know.
It stood to reason that Dee would be at the wedding and I wasn't too sure how either of us was going to handle that. It was a question I chose not to worry Estelle with.
The day of the wedding was a beautifully sunny June day. I was standing with Russell at the front of the church, as Mendelssohn's wedding march began to play. My two girls were Estelle's bridesmaids and were being shepherded by the maid of honour, Marion, another old school friend of ours.
Marion and I had been quite good friends at school; it crossed my mind that Estelle might have been trying to play matchmaker n the quiet.
Estelle went out of her way to give me a big smile as she approached Russell at the altar, then she turned her attention to her husband-to-be.
It was about halfway through the service that there was somewhat of a commotion at the back of the church. I cringed as I heard a loud American accent, which I recognised. They came clomping down the side aisle to take their seats amongst Estelle's family and friends.
I tried not to look, but you know what it's like; a quick glance confirmed that it was Porticia and George who had arrived late. I actually heard Estelle say "Shit!" The poor girl had forgotten that she was wearing a radio-microphone, so most of the people in the congregation must have heard her expletive as well. It's a shame that some of them didn't take the hint, and leave. I was curious as to why they'd been invited in the first place.
The disturbance over, the service carried on to its usual conclusion. As we began parading out of the church Katherine turned to me. "God, we never thought they would have the cheek to turn up, the insensitive buggers. We thought we were safe in sending them an invite because they live in America."
It was as we got near the back of the church, that I saw her sitting there, flanked by a couple of old school friends. Not only did Dee, not look very happy; her presence obviously surprised Katherine; because Kathy's step faltered for a moment. But Katherine quickly recovered her poise, and with a smile and little nod to Dee, she continued with the parade.
Dee avoided eye contact with me ... or did I avoid eye contact with her?
Whatever, it was obvious to me that something had happened in the family that I knew nothing about. I knew that they had never mentioned Dee to me since I'd been reunited with them, but I'd put that down to them being sensitive to my feelings. That, assumption, it appeared, was obviously not the case.
Outside the church, we had the obligatory photo-call and I noted that Dee was not in the line up. Then I saw Estelle motion for her to join the line a couple of times; but Dee didn't move. Eventually Estelle looked over at me, and gestured with her eyes and head.
She didn't have to say anything; I knew exactly what she wanted me to do. Slipping off to one-side, I circled around the watching crowd until I was behind Dee. Then taking her firmly by the arm, I marched her into the line up.
"Take that frown off your face woman, and smile. This is your sister's wedding!" I said to her, in the best form of commanding tone, as I could whisper.
"What have I got to smile about?" Dee replied.
"A damn-sight more than my wife has! That was her grave you were almost standing on, back there!"
Dee wasn't really, but I think that did the trick by reminding Dee that other people had worse problems than she could have.
"Oh, my god, I'm sorry, Roger," Dee blurted out.
"Well, don't be. Just remember you're alive, so you have got something to smile about."
One of the ushers -- who was on the ball -- threw me a small bouquet; the same as my girls were carrying and I pushed it into Dee's hands, before I regained my own position in the line.
I think Dee did manage a smile, but she didn't look like the happiest girl in the world.
The photo-call over, I lost track of everyone as I started herding people into the limousines that were taking them to the reception.
Oh, my two girls demanded a cuddle, and I had to tell them both how wonderful and clever they had been. As they got into their car, I noted that my girls no longer had their bouquets.
Dee had disappeared back into the crowd again after the photo-call, which was somewhat to my relief. I suppose one of the ushers must have found her a seat in one of the cars.
Porticia came up and said hello. I'm afraid I can't repeat what I said to her and that arsehole George. And no, I wasn't in the slightest interested in how they got back together again.
Before I left the church, I went over to Shirley's grave. There were three small bouquets of flowers lying there by then, along with the large bouquet I'd put there when I'd arrived. I had my usual quick word with her, as I always did when I was there.
Funny how we do that, isn't it. I've got no belief in the afterlife, but I will stand by Shirley's grave and talk to her as if she's actually there, and can hear me.
At the hotel where the reception was being held, it really became obvious that Dee's presence had not been expected. After Katherine had left the welcoming line, she was dashing around rearranging the seating on the top table to fit Dee in. I helped her, but I did not think it was the time to enquire what had occurred in the family.
Once the meal and the speeches were over, I thought I could relax a little. You know, when someone asks you to be his best man; you tend to say yes without thinking about everything that is involved. I know that I wasn't prepared for what Russell said about me in his speech. He announced to all and sundry that Estelle had had a crush on me for years and he thanked me for persuading her to marry him instead.
In my speech I had to tell everyone that I'd only know the guy a few months. But my daughters had assured me he was a suitable husband for Estelle. Both my girls liked Russell and Estelle a lot.
With all that formal stuff out of the way, the dancing started. Estelle and Russell first, followed by the parents. Then it was my turn with the bridesmaids. Marion was wonderful with them. We both picked up a girl each, and then we danced around in a foursome, my girls' thought that was great. Then Estelle and Russell joined us. I don't think there's ever been a waltz danced like that before.
I noted that Dee had chosen to sit with the girls she'd been in the church with, well away from the family table where her parents and I were sitting.
Later Estelle came up and asked me to dance with her. I took the opportunity to ask her what the story was, with Dee.
"Not now, Roger. I'll meet you in reception in about ten minutes and tell you all about it there. Someone might overhear us out here."
I somehow doubted it, but she was the boss on this one. After our dance, I watched as Estelle went over to Russell. They had a short conversation and then I saw him nodding his head in agreement with her as he glanced my way. Then Estelle made her way to the ladies' powder room. I knew that it had another door that lead out into the foyer, so I went out there to meet her.
We sat down in a corner and she began.
"When you and Dee broke up, mum and dad went mad at her. You know they were always worried about Dee's relationship with Porticia. No, they never thought it was anything sexual or anything like that, if that's what you're thinking. But they had never liked the influence Porticia seemed to have over Dee. Then you came along and ... well, they were over the moon."
"Hang on Estelle? Your father was never too keen on me!"
"Don't you kid yourself mate. Dad thought you were the greatest thing since sliced bread. He just enjoyed playing the proud father part. And he thought that, if he was too enthusiastic, he might scare you off.
"Who do you think was telling everyone that you were the greatest builder in the world. Oh, he still does that every chance he gets, by the way.
"Anyway when Dee started messing you around ... you know, putting the wedding date back and the like, dad ... well, all of us really, kept on warning Dee that she was going to lose you if she wasn't careful.
"Well, it happened, didn't it! You got fed up with waiting and called the whole thing off!"
"There were only two people to blame, and that was Dee and Porticia. Oh, Porticia was always telling Dee she could do better than you. And to make you wait until Dee was ready. Of course it wasn't Dee who was going to have to be ready; it was until Porticia didn't need her anymore; we could see that, but Dee never could see how that bitch Porticia, was using her."
"Hang on, Estelle. You invited Porticia to your wedding."
"We didn't have much choice really; Porticia's father is a business partner of daddy's. But we didn't think she and that ignorant pig she's married to, would actually have the front to turn up."
"So what happened between the family and Dee?"
"Ah, that's a really sore point. About a year or so after you broke up with Dee -- I think it was just after you married Shirley -- George turned up again and asked Porticia to marry him. I don't know what happened with that other tart of his; perhaps she realised what kind of a person he is. Of course, Porticia jumped at the chance and before anyone knew what was happening, they were married and living in the States.
"Poor old Dee was dumped, just like she was when Porticia went off on that break year. I think it was then that she realised how Porticia used her. She'd lost the only man she ever loved because she hadn't wanted to desert her friend who repaid her by dropping Dee like a stone when she found herself a man.
"I'm afraid Dee went a bit weird after that happened. You know she had a breakdown, don't you? Oh, you didn't! Porticia dumping her right after you married Shirley was too much for Dee to take. You know that Porticia had Dee convinced that you'd come crawling back to her when she decided she wanted to go ahead with the wedding. Well, your marriage to Shirley had sure burst that little bubble.
"Poor Dee needed someone to blame, so she blamed the family. Of course that didn't make any sense, but she blamed us anyway. Just like she did when Samantha went."
"Sorry, Estelle, you've lost me there. Who the hell is Samantha, when she's at home?"
A somewhat surprised (or even shocked) expression came over Estelle's face.
"Oh God, hasn't anyone ever told you about Sam. She was Dee's twin. Oh hell, I didn't know you didn't know about her.
"Sam and Dee were identical twins; Sam died from meningitis when they were eight. Dee took it very bad really. They were inseparable; honestly you couldn't tell them apart. Dee went very funny for a year or so after Sam passed away.
"Then Dee took up with Porticia. We all thought them being together was great for a long time because we had the old Dee back. Well, that was until mum and dad realised that Tish was using Dee. Dee seemed to be at Tish's beck and call. Look, I was quite young when Sam died. Mother should be the one to tell you about Sam.
"Anyway after Tish went off, Dad had to put Dee into a clinic for a while. They straightened her out pretty quickly really. But, she felt very guilty about the way she had behaved towards us, in blaming us for her own mistakes, and she never could bring herself to face us again. She felt so guilty about it and she moved away, up to London.
"Mind you, I've got to tell you that feeling she couldn't face us, was not the only reason she moved away. It was also so that she wouldn't risk running into you and Shirley around town. I'm sorry, but that's why we cut you off as well. If we didn't know how things were going with you, we couldn't slip up and say the wrong thing when we did see Dee. The trouble was, we rarely do see her.
"Then Mother met Shirley in the hospital ... We were all devastated when we heard the news. You know Mother used to talk to Shirley a lot in there, don't you? Ah, well, you do now! Shirley knew who Mother was, you know. She asked Mother to look after you and the girls."
"Hold on, hold on. You're supposed to be telling me why your mother was so surprised that Dee turned up here today. It was obvious to me that she didn't think Dee was coming."
"Well, some of our old girlfriends talked Dee into coming down the other day for my hen night. She looked better than she has for years that night and we were getting on quite well together. But then one of the girls mentioned you were Russell's best man ... and well, Dee kind-of lost it!
"She almost went into hysterics and said she couldn't be here today, if you were going to be here also. So we assumed she wasn't coming, she was really adamant the other night. Mother changed the seating around so the empty chair wouldn't advertise Dee's absence."
"But you only had to say and I would have bowed out..."
"We know, we know! You're a wonderful person, Roger. But we felt we couldn't disappoint the girls. They were so looking forward to being my bridesmaids. Weren't they wonderful?"
"Yes, I was very proud of them. Their mother would have been proud if she could have seen them."
"I'm sure she would have. I wish I could have known her. From what Mother says, she was a wonderfully brave woman and she was lucky to have had you as her husband.
"Anyway the girls must have managed to talk Mercedes around. I know they worked on her all yesterday. And now I'm going to ask a favour of you. You can say no if you like."
"On your wedding day? You know I can't refuse you anything."
"You've just made a mistake, that I hope you'll not regret, and I'm going to hold you to your promise. I want you to dance with Dee for me. Russell has danced with her a couple of times but she won't join the family on our table. I think partly because you and the girls are sitting there. But I know that she will not be able to refuse you anything. That's why I asked you to get her to join us for the photos. Thanks for doing that for me, by the way."
"You know, I'll do anything for you today, kiddo. But I don't know Estelle. Supposing Dee won't dance with me. Or she throws a wobbly or something."
"No, I think Russell and I have it all planned. When he sees us go back in, he's going to ask Dee to dance again. You will dance with me. Between us we should be able to collide with each other on the dance floor and then we will change partners. It'll be coup d'état, or whatever they call it. Dee will not know what's happening until it's all over. I'm sure Dee won't refuse to dance with you once you've got your arms around her.
"Then when the song finishes you take her over and sit her by Mother and Father. I'm sure once she's there at our table, she won't walk away from it again."
"Are you sure this is a good idea, Estelle?"
"To be honest, Roger, I don't know. But Dee needs to realise that we ... the family, don't hold a grudge against her and hopefully you don't either. I thought things were going on so well the other night at my hen party, but the mention of you kind of undid things a little. Well, I'm hoping the Roger effect will work both ways."
"Go on then, lead the way. Lead the lamb to the slaughter." I grinned at her.
"Oh, Roger, don't be like that!"
"Go on, girl. I'm only funning you."
"Oh, Roger, something else I've got to tell you, Mother's coming to see you in the morning as well, she's got something for you. You will be in, won't you?"
"Yes, I should imagine so. The girls are so worked up they will probably be awake all night."
Estelle took my arm and I led her back into the main hall. As if on cue, the band started playing a waltz and we mingled with the other dancers. Very quickly, I saw that Russell had got Dee up on the floor and he was guiding her inexorably in our direction.
The slight bump and swift change over of partners did indeed take Dee completely by surprise. For a moment, I believe she didn't realise what had happened, then she went very stiff, as she became aware of my presence.
"Come on, Dee, you can dance better than that. Just relax and let go."
Relax she did. For one horrible moment I thought she was going to faint. But she regained herself and maybe snuggled in a little too close. I realised she was leaning against me and wasn't too steady on her feet. As the waltz ended, I led -- well, half carried; it was like she was drunk -- her to the chair beside her mother. Frank came over and sat the other side of her.
I withdrew and sat myself by my daughters -- at the same table -- who demanded to know where I'd been.
The band was quite loud and I couldn't hear what Dee and her parents were saying to each other, but it was nice to see Dee talking to her parents.
Around eleven, I thought I'd better take my girls' home. It was way past their normal bedtime and they'd had a long busy day. As we said my goodnights, Estelle and her mother touched cheeks with me and kissed the girls. My girls also kissed Dee goodnight along with the others, but I don't think they had any idea who she was.
As I had guessed it would be, it was a long night. Tired as my girls were that evening, they were more hyped up than I'd ever seen them in the past, and they had a lot of trouble getting to sleep.
The following morning, the girls and I got up pretty late. Well, let's be honest here; the girls were up way before me. It was a bright sunny day and they drove me nuts to get out of bed so they could get into the swimming pool. They were good kids; they wouldn't go into the back garden where the pool was if an adult wasn't present. Something else Shirley had instilled into their psyche.
Just before noon Katherine and Frank came walking around the side of the house; the girls and I got out of the pool to greet them. It was strange how the girls had taken to Katherine and Frank. I think I told you that there was a rift in my family; my parents doted on my brother's children, but hardly wanted to know mine. Shirley's folks had retired to the south coast before her problem was diagnosed. We visited with them quite often, but the children had never bonded with them, like they appeared to have bonded with the Cloughs'.
After the children settled down and I'd supplied everyone with cold drinks, Katherine asked me if we could have a word in private. She said Frank would look after the girls. Actually by the time I'd come out with the cold drinks Frank was already in the pool with them. He must have been wearing his swimsuit under his sports trousers when he arrived.
I led Katherine into the lounge from where we could still see the children and Frank playing with them. Once we'd seated ourselves, Katherine opened the bag she was carrying and produced and envelop from it.
"Shirley asked me to wait six months after she ... anyway, she asked me to give it to you. She wrote a lot of it herself before ... Well ... she was very bad towards the end as you well know and she found writing difficult. So she dictated some of it to me."
Katherine held out the envelope, which I took from her and began to open.
"I'll go outside with the others whilst you read it. If you want to talk about anything you know I'm here for you."
I unfolded the pages of the letter, some of which were covered with Shirley's gradually deteriorating scrawl, and others apparently in Katherine's neat hand.
Hi, lover boy,
How are you and our girls getting on without me? I know that when you read this I'll have been gone for six months. Well, that's how long I have asked Kathy to hang on to it before she gives it to you.
This is very hard for me to write; I'm not sure I even know what I want to say to you, or how to say it. Please forgive me if it doesn't sound right.
Roger, I feel guilty not only for leaving you, but also for marrying you in the first place, and bringing all my problems into your life. We'd only been dating a couple of weeks when the doctor gave me the news. It took me sometime to decide whether to tell you about it or not. I was frightened you'd stick by me because of some twisted sense of duty. You know you are that kind of man!
But I must tell you I loved you and I know you loved me for myself. When you encouraged me to have the girls, although you knew you were most likely going to have the job of raising them alone, I knew that it wasn't pity you felt for me but real love. I'm sorry I can never repay you for all that love that you have showed to me.
Roger, I have loved you more than any man I have ever known. I know that you do not believe there is an afterlife; but I hope one day you are proved wrong and we shall meet again.
There, that's the worst part over with. Now I must ask you to think of the rest of your life and my our girls' lives. I'm going to ask you to do me a big favour. I'm going to ask you to find another mother for our girls. They are going to need a mother around when they get older and you are going to need a companion for yourself.
Having met Katherine, I think I even know who the best candidate probably is and I think that in your heart, you know as well. Katherine has told me a lot about Mercedes and you and what happened between the two of you back then. From what Kathy has told me, I'm sure that Mercedes did and still does love you, but she was under that horrible girl's influence. I know it's not a nice thing to say, but in fact that did work out in my favour, even though I know it upset you at the time. They say that the Lord moves in strange ways.
Please think about finding Mercedes again. Show her the compassion and love that you've showed me in the last few years and hopefully she will love you and my girls as much as I do. Roger, I know that she loves you.