By the time I returned to the lounge with drinks, Richard had retired. Splendid. Not that I expected Delcie to fall into my arms, but I hoped to open up a new chapter in our lives.
She had other ideas, though. After swigging back her drink and pointing an empty glass at me, she gave me a blast of acid.
‘If you think I believe all your bullshit about coming home to your family, you’re wrong. More likely Hannah gave you the old heave-ho for being a dirty old man.’
‘Delcie, I never—‘
‘Yes you did, so stop trying to wriggle out of it.’
I kept quiet, hoping the storm would pass, but my silence only irritated her, and she kept sniping at me.
‘Well, am I right? Got dumped, did you? Wasn’t up to it, then?’
I stood up from the dining room table, leaving my untouched drink and cards strewed across the top like fallen soldiers. No aces to play, only words.
‘Delcie, I meant what I said. I am happy to be back, despite what I did to hurt you. I’m sorry.’
Her turn not to speak. I felt like a specimen under a microscope as she gazed at me. I lowered my eyes and turned to leave, hoping she’d call me back, but it never came, and I trudged alone up to my bedroom.
Even so, I half-expected her to knock on my door later — but those thoughts fizzled out like flat champagne. I spent most of the night tossing and turning, until I fell into an uneasy sleep without forming any plan for the following day.
I still had no plan when I awoke to gulls screeching and a shaft of sunlight that filtered through the gap in my curtains.
New dawn, new day. Except the morning had almost passed me by. A quick sluice in the shower, a change of outfit more becoming to an officer and gentleman, and a steely resolve to charm Delcie became my aim.
I joined her and Richard at lunchtime for a late breakfast, which consisted of a cup of tea and toast. But not small talk. Not that day.
Delcie played humble housemaid while Richard ignored my presence and doodled with the butter-knife. I sensed that I was going to be the subject matter when he plucked up enough courage to engage me. I gulped my tea, munched on a crust, and waited.
‘Oh, for god’s sake,’ said Delcie. ‘Tell him, Richard.’
Richard sighed, pushed his plate aside. ‘We have a problem,’ he said, raising his eyes and looking at me. His gaze was steady.
My intuition seemed spot-on. ‘And I suppose you’re going to tell me, I’m the problem,’ I said.
‘It might not come to that,’ he said.
I could have been sarcastic, said I was all ears, but I didn’t. Instead I smiled. ‘Let’s hear it, then.’
Delcie picked up the plate of toast and proffered it. A few pieces were burnt around the edges. ‘That’s why there’s a problem. No housekeeper, since your dirty little episode.’
Still harping on?
‘And that’s not all,’ said Richard. ‘My Eko won’t set foot in this house while you’re still here. His encounter with your cricket bat, remember?’
Yes, that as well.
‘Ah,’ I said. ‘It’s all my fault, then?’
They both looked at me. Their expressions similar. I sighed. ‘I suppose you want me to pack my bags.’
‘Yes,’ said Delcie.
‘Ah,’ I said.
‘Wait a minute,’ said Richard. ‘Let’s not be too hasty.’
Delcie glared at him. ‘I thought you said—’
Richard held up a hand. ‘Hear me out. Like it or not, Charles pays his way. Our finances are stretched as it is. If he leaves us, how are we going to afford Eko, let alone if we have to subsidise Junior for goodness knows how long?’
I chipped in. ‘And don’t forget the paternity issue.’
The lounge clock chimed once. An omen, perhaps?
‘Goodness me,’ said Delcie. ‘Is that the time?’ I must get to the hospital to see Mary.’ She stood up, waved a finger at us. ‘You boys sort it out, but I’m not cooking breakfast again, you hear me?’
I stifled a smile. Toast and tea might have been good enough for paupers and beggars, but her position as Lady of the Manor demanded a proper cuisine. And a proper cook.
With Delcie gone, Richard reiterated his dilemma, and his wish to see Eko ensconced at the House. For reasons that were purely platonic, and because Eko helped him come to terms with losing Angelique. He didn’t want to lose that spiritual connection. Ever.
I drummed my fingers on the table.
What would an officer and gentleman do in my position?
‘Richard,’ I said. ‘It’s my duty to set the record straight, apologise to Eko, and welcome him here. Hell, I’ll even teach him to play cricket. You and I, we’ll go to Sabang together — but first, we need to sort out what’s happening with Mary and Jane’s funeral.’
He nodded. ‘And if it doesn’t work, what then?’
‘There’s always a plan B,’ I said.