By Meg Sorick. Find other parts of the story and a family tree, here.
He shouldn’t have kissed her. David knew it the moment his lips touched hers. Meredith had stiffened and drawn a sharp breath. When he pulled back he saw the wide-eyed look of panic on her face. Foolish of him, acting on impulse that way. What the hell was he thinking? Smile, he thought. If he didn’t make a big deal of it, neither would she.
“Come on, then,” he said, brightly, reassuringly. “I hope the food at the pub is good. I’m hungry again, believe it or not. Despite Miss Woodbridge pushing an additional cookie on me.”
He was babbling, but it seemed to be working. She took his arm again as they resumed their walk. Thankfully, he didn’t have to look her in the eyes.
The pub was pleasantly crowded when they stepped in out of the wind. The publican smiled and waved them to an open spot at the end of the bar. David helped Meredith shrug out of her coat and pulled the barstool out for her before settling beside her.
“Well, you made it back in one piece,” the bartender said. “Was a bit of a wild day out there. I hope you didn’t venture out to the cliffs. Might’ve got blown out to sea.” He set coasters in front of them and asked, “Will you be wanting supper, then? The menu’s just there on the board. I can vouch for the seafood chowder. Had that for my own supper, I did. And Lottie’s bread came out just perfect today.”
“That sounds grand,” Meredith said. “And I’ll have a glass of Carlsberg.”
“Same for me,” said David. “But make it a pint.”
“Perfect. I’ll fetch your drinks, then,” their host said and wandered off.
“So,” David began. “What are you thinking?”
Meredith flushed, and David internally chided himself, knowing he’d said just the wrong thing. He quickly went on, “I thought maybe you’d come up with a likely scenario. You know, the most obvious answer is usually the right one.”
She gave a nervous laugh. “Oh, right. Of course.” She waited while her glass was set in front of her. “Well… If we assume that Marion is correct and Gladys was claimed by her biological father, then perhaps he didn’t find out about her until later on. Perhaps Ada made a deathbed confession or something. Or if he did know about the baby, something or someone prevented him from taking action. If it were just a few years later, the war could have interfered, but the timing is all wrong for that.” She paused and took a sip from her glass. “I have to admit, my mind always conjures the worst case scenarios. Too much time with Greek tragedy, I imagine.”
David raised an eyebrow. “Worst case scenarios? Like what?”
“What if the child was the result of someone, um…” She winced. “… forcing himself on Ada.”
“Oh. A rape, you mean. That would explain the ‘unknown’ father part. However, that takes us back to square one as to what became of her afterward.”
“Right,” she sighed. “So I guess there’s no use speculating until we have more information.”
“Yes, I suppose.”
The bartender set bowls of steaming chowder in front of them along with a basket of warm, brown bread and a small pot of butter.
“Tell me about teaching,” David said, breaking off a chunk of bread and buttering it. “What’s your ‘thing’ —your favorite subject matter?”
His change of subject and line of questioning had the desired effect —Meredith visibly relaxed as she warmed to her topic. He had just enough knowledge to ask pertinent questions and keep her talking through their dinner. Her enthusiasm was infectious, and David found himself swept away by the tales of the gods and their petty feuds, their constant meddling in human affairs, their torrid and unnatural passions for the daughters of men. He found himself smiling as her hands pantomimed the words as she spoke them. She was so brilliant, so beautiful, he thought. No god of any pantheon would be able to resist her. And yet… Meredith had wasted her love on a man who didn’t value her —either for her beauty or her marvelous mind.
As the evening wore on and the pub filled up, the volume of the voices rose loud enough to render conversation difficult. When Meredith tried and failed to stifle a yawn, David signaled for their bill, settled their tab and gestured to her that they make their exit. They said goodnight outside their rooms with a promise to meet up for breakfast around eight.
David took a long shower, hoping the hot water after the food and drink would help him settle down to sleep. Since coming to England, his nights had been so dream-filled that upon rising in the morning, he felt like he’d been busy all night and hadn’t rested at all. He supposed it was no surprise —he was in a different country, different time zone, chasing a family secret and getting to know a cousin he had no idea existed up till a few months prior to this.
He closed his eyes and let the heat and steam wash over him. A cousin. A beautiful, intelligent, kind and generous cousin. A woman he had felt an instant attraction to —a connection with— on that fortuitous day in April last year. He squeezed his eyes shut and let the water pelt his face. Whatever he was thinking, whatever he was feeling —and the truth was, he wasn’t really sure himself— this would not be the time for him to act on it.
He dried off and slipped into a t-shirt and boxers before crawling into bed with his laptop. After checking his work email and responding to a few important messages, he powered it down and turned out the light. It took just a few moments for him to drift off and to return to that familiar place of his dreams: the world just before the War To End All Wars.
Image courtesy telegraph.uk