Charlie: Chapter 4
I woke the following morning with a bit of a thick head. Not surprising given the amount of wine I’d had, I decided, although after the shock of Grace’s news, I felt justified. As I lay in bed, I listened for the sound of noise coming from downstairs. I couldn’t remember getting home and so couldn’t be certain whether Grace and Louise had both made it home last night. I was about to get up to go and investigate when my bedroom door opened and in walked Rob carrying a tray of coffee and toast.
“Morning sleepy head. Thought you might need this.”
I sat up and he put the tray in front of me then parked himself at the end of my bed. I hadn’t been certain Rob had made it back last night either but one look at his hair told me all I needed to know. He leaned over to give me a kiss and I was greeted with a bad case of morning breath.
“You ought to think about leaving a toothbrush here, just in case,” I said.
He smiled and pretended to swoon. “Oh Charlie you old romantic, you say the sweetest things.”
“Just thought it would be better than your stinky breath!”
“Charming.” He pointed to the toast. “Eat. We’ve got work to do.”
“We have?” In all the excitement of yesterday I’d forgotten why I’d asked Rob to come over. “Oh, of course. My mother.”
“You said last night you needed me to drive you but you’re probably fine now.”
“Would you come anyway? She likes you more than me.”
“I doubt that very much. But okay, if you think it’ll help. Maybe Grace could come too?”
I couldn’t decide who I felt more sorry for: my mother at the prospect of having to deal with Grace’s potential bad mood or my offspring having to deal with my mother.
I shuddered. “Best not. Until we get this whole Mark thing sorted out, I’d prefer my mother know as little as possible.”
My relationship with my mother had always been a bit turbulent, too much alike my dad had always said, but since his death things had only gotten worse. I went to see her as infrequently as I could get away with and, in-between visits, was forced to deal with her via increasingly irate messages on my answering machine. The final nail in the coffin came with the breakdown in my marriage to Jonathan. Having had no sons of her own, my mum adored Jonathan, he could do no wrong in her eyes. She saw the none too small matter of his repeated infidelity as my fault for not having been a more attentive wife. She saw it as her duty to Jonathan to keep an eye on my daughters, despite the man himself being completely absent from their lives, having forgotten more of their birthdays than he’d remembered.
“What you thinking about?” Rob’s voice was gentle.
“Ah, just the usual. My mother. The kids. Same old, same old.”
He reached across the bed and brushed my hand with his huge thumb. “Come on, it’ll be okay. Besides, you’ll have me with you. What’s the worst that can happen?”
An hour later we found ourselves standing outside my mother’s house, willing her to hurry up and open the door. I hadn’t bothered telling her we were coming, she never went anywhere, but now I was forced to concede that this clearly wasn’t the case. Where was she?
“Want to try ringing her?” Rob suggested.
“Doesn’t seem much point. The phone’s in her house and she’s not in it.”
“Just thought maybe she hadn’t heard the door.”
My mother’s hearing was impeccable, except when asked a question she didn’t want to answer of course. I shook my head. “Nope, she’s not in.”
I felt a wave of disappointment. As much as I’d been dreading seeing her and asking her about France, having talked myself into it, I wanted to get it over with. This was just like my mother, always ruining everything. She spent half her life complaining that she didn’t see me enough and then, when I called round, she didn’t even have the decency to be home. Bloody typical!
Rob knew better than to argue with me when I was in this frame of mind. Instead, he followed me back to his car.
“Now what?” He asked.
I shrugged. “I suppose we could wait for a bit. She can’t be far.”
“How about we walk into town and get a coffee? We could leave the car here and try again when we get back?”
I smiled at Rob. “Sounds good, thanks Rob.” I knew I was hard work, that I could be a bit volatile, but I was at least aware of my faults and could appreciate Rob for his efforts with me.
As we walked, we chatted about everything except the one topic of conversation I knew we actually needed to address. It wasn’t until we were sat at a little corner table with drinks in front of us that Rob asked the question I’d been dreading.
“What do you think about Grace and Mark?”
I could feel myself pouting as I struggled to articulate what I was actually thinking. “She’s almost an adult so it doesn’t really matter what I think.”
“But?” Rob was smiling.
“But she’s worked too hard at school to throw it all away. Her place at uni is as good as guaranteed. There’s plenty of time for getting loved up after she’s got her qualifications.”
“And have you told her?”
I shook my head. “I don’t want to come across all heavy handed. She has to reach that conclusion on her own.”
“You don’t think a little gentle encouragement in the right direction might help?”
I didn’t say anything. I could feel myself getting wound up. What did Rob know about it? He didn’t even have kids.
“Charlie, if you don’t say anything, she might think you don’t care.” Rob spoke carefully. It was almost as if he knew I might explode at any second.
“Of course I care!”
He reached across and took my hand. “I know you do. I just think you need to find a way to talk to Grace about this. She’s still just a kid. She’d probably appreciate an adult perspective.”
“If you’re such the expert, maybe you should talk to her then!” I pushed the chair back with a scrape and stormed out of the cafe, leaving a stunned looking Rob sitting alone.