Caitlin was as good as her word making an effort to correspond with her friends though bemoaning the fact that none of them had their own phone. She had returned to Paris via New York having decided it was time that she saw her father.
The Park Avenue house looked subtly different Caitlin thought as she dumped her bag and called for Hughes to announce her arrival.
‘Miss Caitlin’, beamed the old man, trotting briskly across the hall to greet her and rescue her bag.
‘Hello’ returned Caitlin with a wide smile; she had known him since she was a toddler, ‘how are you? And how is Juan?’
‘We are both well thank you, Miss Caitlin. It is lovely to see you, if I may say so.’ Caitlin was always a little embarrassed by the formality of the relationship but was aware that Hughes preferred this mode of communication, she had overstepped the line once as a child and been politely rebuffed.
‘Is this your only bag Miss Caitlin?’ he asked with some surprise.
‘I travelled light’ Caitlin laughed, ‘I’ve been in England for my friend Penny’s wedding. I think I may have to do some shopping whilst I’m here. When do you expect Papa home?’
‘He’s usually in by 7.00 these days Miss Caitlin. Does he expect you?’
‘Oh yes, I left a message with his office this morning.’ She turned as footsteps minced towards them; breaking into a delighted smile she greeted Juan,
‘Juan, hello, it’s been a long time.’ Juan, who was openly gay, had none of the reservations of his partner in greeting Caitlin,
‘Miss Caitlin, you get more beautiful every day’ he lisped taking her hand, ‘Let me take a look at you’ he twirled Caitlin around to admire her, Caitlin obliging with an exaggerated pirouette; ‘So grown up and so French, bebe’ he pronounced with approval. Hughes cleared his throat, not approving of his gay partner’s familiarity with the boss’s daughter,
‘Perhaps, Juan, you may oblige us by taking Miss Caitlin’s bag up to her room?’ Juan pulled a face behind his partner’s back, trying to make Caitlin giggle.
‘The house looks different somehow’ Caitlin mused aloud. Hughes glanced around. ‘Would you like to wait for your father in the library Miss Caitlin? I usually lay out a tray of drinks around now; white wine for you?’ He smiled, remembering her preference.
‘Good idea’ Caitlin responded, wandering across to the library door, ‘A nice chilled glass of Sauterne would go down nicely thank you.’
Caitlin settled herself in a blissfully comfortable sofa upholstered in pale aqua linen. She kicked off her shoes and tucked her feet up neatly, leaning into the sofa back and took a long look around as she waited. This room is much lighter and fresher, in fact very much as I would have decorated it she thought to herself. As she mused she heard the front door bang and her father’s voice calling to Hughes,
‘Is she here yet? Has Caitlin arrived?’ Caitlin leapt to her feet and sped towards the door. Father and daughter met on the threshold, her father greeting her with a bear hug, easily swinging her small frame around. ‘It’s so good to see you sweetheart. You look well.’
‘So do you Papa’ she replied. It was true, her father looked altogether different from the last few times she’d seen him, when his face had been tired and harrowed with grief. He’d gained some of the weight that he’d lost and looked tanned and healthy as if he’d been spending time away from the office.
Hughes coughed discreetly as he crossed the room and laid out the drinks tray,
‘I’ll pour; thank you Hughes’ Frank dismissed him with a smile. He poured wine for Caitlin and a whisky sour for himself. Chinking glasses he repeated, ‘My, it is good to see my little girl!’
‘And you too, Papa’ she responded, ‘Tell me what’s new?’ Caitlin’s intuition was working overtime since she’d been home; she knew that there was a change in her father and in the house.
Frank paced across the room, wondering anew how to break his news to her. Finally he sat down next to Caitlin and reaching his hand out to take hers, he told all.
‘I’ve met someone Caitlin. She makes me very happy and we are planning to be married.’ He squeezed her hand gently, continuing, ‘I’ll always love and remember your mother and I will always love you sweetheart. I hope that you won’t mind too much?’ Caitlin felt a gamut of different emotions flood her, she realised that she had known there was another woman since she entered the house. Had she tried to ignore it, block it out? Maybe yes. Did she mind? Yes she did, but also she wanted to see her father happy again. Would she like this other woman? Would the woman like her? How would it affect her life? All these thoughts rushed through her mind. She realised above all that she must be brave and grown up. With an effort to appear composed, and really trying to mean it, she congratulated her father and lifting her chin with a determined smile she requested,
‘You must tell me all about her Papa, who is she, how you met, everything.’
Caitlin soon learned that her father had met Ariel at a dinner party at one of his business partners’ houses in the fall. Ariel was a model, born and raised in Texas. She had been scouted for modelling while studying at Brown for a degree in English Literature. She was 29 years old, only seven years older than Caitlin. She was beautiful and bright and they were in love.
‘I would like you to meet tomorrow and very much hope that you will like each other’ Frank told Caitlin, both father and daughter still slightly uncomfortable with the situation and its impact on their own relationship, ‘but before you meet I want to talk to you about financial matters.’ Caitlin made as though to change the subject, protesting softly, but her father waived away her objection, ‘It’s important that you know where you stand, and also that Ariel and I have a fresh start.’ Her father explained.
‘Your mother left everything to me in my lifetime which would then revert to you on my death, as is usual between husband and wife. The London house was in your mother’s name and many other investments.’ He paused and smiled at Caitlin, ‘What I’m proposing to do is transfer all your mother’s investments into your name and also to transfer the Pelham Crescent property to you. This will make you an independently wealthy young woman.’ He held his hand up to deflect any response, ‘I want you to think about it and I believe it’s for the best. If Ariel and I have children together, which we would like to do, this arrangement will be best for everyone.’
Caitlin, Frank could see, was very tired after her journey and, obviously, had a lot to think about. He suggested that she they should have a light supper together and then she should get an early night.
‘Why don’t you go and freshen up and I’ll arrange a snack for us,’ he kissed her lightly on the forehead as she passed to go upstairs. Caitlin drew a bath in her en-suite, adding some Chanel 19 bath oil. She stripped off her clothes and slipped into the silk robe from the back of her bedroom door. She rifled through the rails of her walk-in closet for something suitable to wear. Her father hated her wearing jeans so she chose a simple Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress. A search for footwear turned up the aqua sandals she had bought with her mother in Capri four years ago. Caitlin felt her heart jerk and tears sprang to her eyes.
She lay and soaked in the bath feeling the tension seep from her body even while her mind raced. She understood her father’s need to move on from his grief. She loved her father and it had hurt her to see and feel his pain. She must put a brave face on the situation and do her best to like this Ariel who was usurping her mother’s place. She grimaced to herself for being melodramatic at the same time as thinking, Ariel, what a stupid name. After half an hour in the tub she had made peace with the situation. Her father was being very generous to her she appreciated. With a mental shake she climbed out of the tub and towelled herself dry. In five minutes she was ready to spend the evening with her father, prepared to be her usual convivial self.
The evening passed easily between them as they exchanged all the news that they thought the other would like to hear. Caitlin was full of Penny’s recent wedding and the wonderful time she’d had with her friends. Her father expressed a lively interest as he had met them all and heard much about them over the years.
Frank concentrated his conversation around family friends who Caitlin had lost touch with, giving her tasty snippets of news about the social scene in Manhattan and Easthampton. Caitlin avoided mention of the Sorbonne as she had barely been there in the last year. Frank avoided talk of Ariel; tomorrow would be soon enough, when he intended that they should meet.
The next evening Frank had arranged for Ariel to be at the house for drinks before all three went out for dinner. Caitlin dressed herself carefully. Aiming for youthful elegance she wore a chic Halston silk shift dress accessorised with a beaded clutch in sapphire blue and sling-backs to match. Caitlin brushed her hair so it fell loose around her shoulders; she checked her appearance in the mirror. She looked young but not childlike. Taking a deep breath she went down to the library fixing a smile to her face as she entered.
Frank stepped forward to kiss his daughter on both cheeks, ‘Caitlin, may I present my fiancé, Ariel. Ariel meet my daughter, Caitlin’ he introduced in the old fashioned way. Nothing could have prepared Caitlin for Ariel. She was an Amazon, at least six feet tall, with a mane of blonde hair swept to one side. Her beauty was astonishing. She was dressed in a striking red low cut halter necked jump suit. The outfit skimmed her slender model body. Caitlin immediately registered the designer as Halston.
Ariel held out her hand to Caitlin saying in her Texan drawl,
‘Hi Caitlin, I’m pleased to meet you at last. Your father has told me so much about you. I hope that we will be friends.’ For the first time Caitlin thought how nervous Ariel must be, she appeared calm but there was a look in her eye that almost pleaded with Caitlin to like her. Caitlin responded by exhibiting her well-known charm,
‘Well if our taste is anything to go by we should be friends in no time, I love your outfit, and the way you’ve redesigned this room, and obviously we both love the same man,’ she laughing dimpling at her father. Frank smiled back at her, pleased and proud that she was reacting so positively. Caitlin was pleased that he was pleased. Frank poured wine for the women and whisky for himself and they made small talk.
Caitlin watched Ariel carefully observing how she reacted around her father; he was obviously besotted and hardly took his eyes off her. As they chatted, all trying to keep the momentum going equally, she saw that her father’s feelings were reciprocated fully. Ariel’s face softened as she eyed him and there was no pretence in the way that she invoked his approval as she talked about the decorations that they had had done to the house and some minor alterations in the Easthampton house. Ariel looked Caitlin squarely in the face and explained,
‘I don’t want you to think that I’ve tried to remove your mother from here. There were things that needed doing that’s all. I’m going to be his new wife not a replacement for his first one. Things will be different but I don’t want to come between you and your father in any way.’
Caitlin liked Ariel for her simple honesty and the seeds of a good relationship were planted between them.