Caitlin – August 1985
Everything was prepared for the Sunday lunch party and Caitlin looked forward to it with some trepidation. Michael’s behaviour was not only up for judgment by her family and friends but also from herself. The adult party would consist of her father and Ariel, Michael, Jack, Rebecca and herself. Unfortunately Suzanne couldn’t be there as she had been persuaded by Penny to stay a few more days in Yorkshire; quite how unfortunate Caitlin was not to know until later. The children constituted Ariel’s two, Charlotte and Rebecca’s two.
Charlie was hyper excited about the lunch party because she hadn’t seen her best friends Ty and Roo for nearly three weeks. Caitlin had introduced the subject of Michael to her in a snatched moment alone. Everything seemed to be bedlam with the house full of children all the time. Perhaps it just seemed that way after the quiet emptiness of the place that she had found quite depressing when Charlotte had been in the States. Caitlin was tucking Charlie in to bed conscious of the imminent arrival of Emily and Sebastian.
‘Mama’s invited Michael to lunch tomorrow for you to meet’ she informed Charlie. Charlotte was still distracted with her own plans for the morrow, ‘He’s my new boyfriend’ Caitlin added looking askance at Charlotte.
‘Boyfriend?’ Charlie asked all of a sudden alert, ‘like Ben is mine?’ she asked innocently, which was news to her mother.
‘Sort of’ answered Caitlin, nonplussed, ‘I didn’t know Ben was your boyfriend darling; since when was that?’
‘We swore eternal love and hope to die and swapped blood’ responded Charlie airily, ‘did you do that with Michael?’ Caitlin despaired of having a sensible conversation with Charlie as Emily cantered into the bedroom fresh from the bath demanding a bedtime story from ‘Auntie’ Caiti despite the fact that Caitlin was actually her half-sister.
The next day Rebecca, Jack, Ty and Ben (Reuben had decided that Roo was babyish) arrived five minutes early. Embracing Caitlin on the doorstep Rebecca apologised and explained that she couldn’t delay their arrival any longer, as the boys were so excited.
‘No need to apologise, Charlie’s been the same’ Caitlin responded, watching with Rebecca the clamour and pandemonium of the children’s reunion. ‘Did you know that she and Ben have an understanding?’ Caitlin asked Rebecca archly, grinning at the picture conjured, ‘an oath sworn on exchange of bodily fluids. Blood that is!’ Rebecca guffawed loudly,
‘Yes I did. But did you know that she’s hedged her bets? She has the same understanding with Ty!’
‘Oh dear, I can only apologise for the flighty nature of my daughter’ Caitlin dead panned, ‘she must get it from her father.’ Rebecca rolled her eyes,
‘Actually I think they’re a bit confused about the words. The whole enterprise seems more blood brothers and sister obviously, than boyfriend. Unless she has an early taste for ménage a trios; anything like that in your pedigree?’ Rebecca teased. Caitlin administered a smack to Rebecca’s arm,
‘Certainly not! What do you take me for?’ The two friends drifted through for Rebecca to greet Frank and Ariel and to introduce Jack to the American contingent.
Caitlin was conscious of butterflies as she prepared for Michael’s arrival. Was it anticipation for seeing him herself or just nervousness about the family dynamic she wondered? Her expectation was soon answered. Caitlin apologised and swiftly left the party gathered on the terrace, to answer the doorbell. Michael looked suave and handsome in a light linen suit. He took her hands in his and pulled her towards him to kiss her on both cheeks smiling widely, ‘Caiti, it’s so good to see you. I’ve missed you.’ His voice dropped to a throaty whisper. ‘You look great’ he said truthfully and mindful of being on his best behaviour didn’t add the ‘good enough to eat’ that was in his mind. ‘Just a moment’ he retraced his footsteps to collect a huge bouquet and a couple of bottles of chilled Dom Perignon from his black Porsche.
‘Mm lovely thank you’ Caitlin placed the bouquet on the hall table, flushing slightly in recollection of his first visit to her home. ‘Come through and meet my family.’ Caitlin made the introductions and was relieved that Michael’s behaviour was more than acceptable. He was charming and friendly engaging in general conversation with everyone all the time looking at his ease.
The caterers that Caitlin often used were perfect for this small informal type of entertaining. You hardly knew they were there. Drinks were topped up and tempting tit-bits of food appeared at regular intervals but totally unobtrusively. The children had been provided with more robust fare and mostly remained in Charlie’s domain except for Emily who had joined the adults feeling somewhat displaced in Charlie’s pecking order.
It wasn’t until later in the afternoon that Charlotte herself appeared downstairs. She had tired of being out-numbered by the boys. By this time the adults had settled into two groups, the women discussing Palmerstone and fashion in general, the men talking high finance. Charlie plonked herself down on Caitlin’s lap and snuggled up for a cuddle and butterfly kisses, Caitlin obligingly tickling Charlie’s face with her eyelashes making her child giggle delightedly. Caitlin with her head bent over Charlie missed the look that Michael levelled at the child before the bland smile suffused his features.
‘Hello young lady, you must be Charlotte.’ He moved towards her and held out his hand to greet her rather formally. Charlie put her hands behind her back, looked coolly at Michael and answered monosyllabically,
‘Yep!’ Caitlin was unused to Charlotte being rude and surprise inhibited her from reprimanding her daughter. Her father however stepped into the breach,
‘Don’t be rude to Michael, Charlotte. He’s a friend of your mama’s and a guest in your house.’ Charlotte was completely unused to being told off. Her eyes welled with tears. Frank hadn’t finished with her yet; ‘Apologise to Michael please, Charlotte.’
‘I’m s…sorry’ her voice waivered. Caitlin wanted to comfort Charlie but her father was looking so stern she felt equally culpable. Frank turned back to his conversation with Michael saying,
‘She could do with a man about the house. Her mother spoils her.’ Which Caitlin thought unfair but she was conscious of the ensuing brittle atmosphere and her role as the hostess. She switched the topic of conversation back to fashion with consummate skill. When Jack left the men to join their circle the conversation morphed to Rebecca’s business. Caitlin used the distraction of moving chairs to whisper to Charlie not to worry and to join the others upstairs.
On balance Caitlin thought that the day had gone very well. Michael and her father had gotten along like a house on fire. The setback with Charlie was nothing serious, rather blown out of proportion by Frank’s interference. Was he right Caitlin wondered? Had she spoiled Charlotte? Did she really need a man about the place, and if so was Michael the man? Caitlin went to sleep that night still pondering all the variables. What was she going to do?
Caitlin – August 1985