The Way We Lied

“Any more for a thirsty man?” he was soon saying, turning to the blushing tea lady with a beaming smile. She was at his side in seconds, pouring more of the dark treacle and giggling like a woman sixty years younger as he heaped praise upon her bitter stewed brew.
Surely he could not really be enjoying this ghastly tea, Caroline thought, as he was offered hard flapjacks and dry rock cakes, all of which he sampled with equal enthusiasm. “Delicious!” he declared. “Haven’t tasted any as good as that since I was a boy! What marvellous cooks all of you, aren’t they Caro?” She nodded and smiled in agreement, thinking that as a boy his mother had abandoned him to the care of schools and au pairs and that he had rarely tasted wholesome home cooking until he had met her.
Good food had been her entree into the social whirl of Fulham. Every young couple, every group of flatmates was giving supper parties when they weren’t out at bistros and wine bars in the late seventies. Caroline’s speciality of Beef Wellington when she could afford it and a creamy fish pie when times were hard, endeared her to her friends, especially the flatmates who lacked culinary skills. A succession of hungry and appreciative eligible young men had been lured to their flat by the promise of a well cooked meal and David had been one of them. His commitment to the Party was evident even then and she had been impressed by his ambition and idealism. Her friends thought she was smitten by his inheritance, but that came later when she saw his parents’ house in the country. When David’s mother died and his father remarried then proceeded to spend his wealth, eventually selling the family home as well, Caroline had to admit to herself that she had, rather like Elizabeth Bennett, fallen in love with the house before the man.
“Caro, darling, where’s Sam got to?” David’s sudden question roused her and she looked round the hall, expecting to see her son’s shiny blonde hair in some corner or other.
“He was here a minute or two ago, I’m sure. I expect he’s wandered off again to spend his pocket money. He liked the look of the cake stall, but I don’t think I can see him there.”
“You should have brought Lisa and Ben along. They’d have been useful keeping an eye on him,” David said. “Good for them to join in sometimes too.”
“I know,” Caroline sighed. “But Ben wanted to do his football and Lisa was invited to go to the cinema with the Pearces.”
She stood up, collecting her purchases before leaving the table. “I’ll have a wander round. He can’t have gone very far.”
And then the magnificent Deirdre Beckforth, who had been listening to their conversation, suddenly said, “Isn’t that your little boy, Mrs Harper? Over there, in the doorway?”
They both looked across the hall to the entrance, where a tall dark haired woman in a light blue coat was standing, holding the hand of a little blonde haired boy, who appeared to have been crying. He pointed out his parents and she patted his shoulder then shooed him in their direction. As he ran towards them, Caroline continued to watch Mary. She glanced around the hall, serene and aloof, then turned and walked away.
“Hey Sammy Sam,” teased David, bending down and swooping his son up into his arms. “We thought we’d lost you, old man. Where have you been?”
Sam nuzzled his face into his father’s shoulder, silent for a moment. Then he peered round at his mother with tear-filled eyes and quietly said, “I wanted to do skateboarding. I can do it really. But I fell.”
“What did I tell you?” Caroline snapped. “You were meant to stay here, not go wandering off on your own. Come here and let me look at you.”
Sam left the safety of his father’s arms, then Caroline crouched down and brushed away the mud on his jacket. His trousers were torn at the knee and his hands were gritty and grazed. She kissed him, then said, “Did that lady find you? The lady who came into the hall with you?”
“Yes,” he snuffled. “She told the boys to stop laughing at me and then she helped me up. Then she asked where you were and said she would make sure I found you alright.” He buried his face in his mother’s arms and she held him tight.
“She did find us, didn’t she,” Caroline murmured, holding his damp head close to her cheek and kissing his hair.


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