The Twin Otter came to a stop, after taxiing at Christchurch International, and all aboard let out an explosive sigh of relief. Sean Regan went forward to speak to the flight crew.
“Well done guys and thanks; but let’s not do that again huh?”
“You got that right brother,” said Dickie Peters, the pilot, “that was one rough ride. Don’t think we’ve ever had a rougher, do you Smithy?”
“Nope, and I’m not in a hurry to try one either.”
“We’ll say good bye to you Sean, and good luck fella. You got a big journey ahead of you, in more ways than one.”
Sean was through Customs and Immigration quickly. He had been the only passenger coming in from Antarctica. He knew he was being met, and was pleased to see his name being held up on a board by a young couple, who seemed to be in their early thirties.
“Welcome to Christchurch, Sean. I’m Andy Cartwright, and this is my wife, Stella.”
“Kind of you to meet me,” said Sean, “It’s great to talk to some different people after being on the base for nearly six months.”
“We’re at your disposal Sean, but let’s get you to your hotel, and we can talk on the way.
“Sean, I work for Mackenzie Carter, we’re an associate of RPA in York, and we’re handling your travel on their behalf,” said Andy. “You’re booked on an internal flight to Auckland on Thursday, to connect with the 787 Dreamliner for London, via Los Angeles. You’ve a full day tomorrow to relax; you’ve got a long time in an airplane after that."
“Sean,” said Stella gently, but clearly, “we know why you’re travelling and of the dreadful tragedy. We are truly sorry. If we can make your journey easier in any way, we shall do our best. You needed to know that we know, just so you don’t have to pussyfoot around anything. If you want to be by yourself, that’s fine. If you want company, and we hope you do, then we’re here.”
“Thanks guys, I really appreciate you saying that. After just having the crew at the base, I most definitely want company.”
At half past six in the evening Sean walked into the bar of the George Hotel, and saw Stella waving to him from an alcove table.
“Andy’s in Reception waiting for Sam Carter. He’s joining us for drinks before dinner.”
“Stella, what do Mackenzie Carter and this RPA actually do, and what is your role?”
“Me?” said Stella laughing. “I’m Andy’s wife. I’m actually the Practice Manager for a Medical Centre but I’ve taken a couple of days off to be your driver and guide. I’ll take you shopping tomorrow.”
“Thanks Stella, I suppose I could do with a fresh shirt.”
“Sean Regan,” said Stella with a grin that made a lie out of her stern voice, “there are two little girls looking forward to their uncle coming home. Are you seriously not thinking about taking them some presents?”
“I stand suitably chastised,” said Sean with a sheepish grin, “and also very grateful, thank you.”
“Here’s Andy with Sam,” said Stella looking over his shoulder.
Introductions were followed by general chat about Sean’s flight from the base and how grateful he was that so much effort had been made to get him on his way. The drinks arrived, and Stella kicked off the real conversation.
“Sean was asking what M&C does Sam, and what RPA does?”
“We’re industrial/commercial brokers of mergers, acquisitions, re-financing and re-structuring. The difference between us, and other companies, is that we seek to make better businesses not just ones which make more money for one party and a lot of misery for an awful lot of other people. We regard asset stripping as a capital crime. We’re Venture Capitalists with a mission to make things better. We look for the modern day equivalents of Robert Owen and Joseph Rowntree.
“Each associate, or partner company, subscribes to an alliance ethos, developed by Gordon Curzon of RPA International in York. We also offer each other mutual support beyond our commercial relationships. Two years ago, one of our people, Tony Richards, had a serious accident in London. No need to go into detail, but Gordon and his people made him one of their own. They also made his family their own and we, his colleagues, were so blessed by that.
“Back in July Gordon contacted me about your brother and you, and asked us to be on stand-by for whatever. Every single member of the team, there’s fourteen of us, said, ‘they looked after Tony and Wendy. What can we do for those two girls and Sean’?”
Sean was stunned and tears were in free flow.
“That’s how it was Sean,” said Andy quietly, “I heard the cheering this afternoon, when I called in to the office to say you had finally landed safely.”
“I just don’t know what I’m actually going to do when I get back,” said Sean. “Have I suddenly got to try and be a parent and bring up two girls? How do I carry on working?”
“I shouldn’t worry about that too much my friend,” said Sam. “I gather young Caitlin has everything very well planned and organised, and she’s recruited some real shakers and movers. You also have a certain Reverend Ros Whittaker to thank. You’ll get the full story when you get back. But your nieces are doing fine Sean.”
“It’s not been good, however great my colleagues have been, stuck at the base and not knowing what’s happening to them. I just hope I don’t totally crash for 72 hours when I get back, which is what usually happens, there’s obviously a huge amount I need to catch up with.”
“I shouldn’t worry about that Sean,” said Sam. “You will be feeling fresh as a daisy. Trust me! It’s important for you all to re-connect quickly, which is why you’re going with ANZ on a 787 via LA. Total flight time is about an hour shorter than Singapore London, but you get a two hour stop at Los Angeles just about half way. Your seat reservation might be a little bit better than you’re used to.”
“I don’t know how I begin to say thank you for all this?” said Sean.
“There’s one thing we would appreciate,” replied Sam.
Sean was waiting for Stella when she arrived at the George at ten the following morning.
“It’s about a twenty minute drive, relax,” said Stella. “Let me tell you about Tony and Wendy, I’m hoping they might be there. Gordon Curzon was their guardian angel.”
Andy Cartwright saw his wife’s car pull into the car park. “They’re here guys,” he shouted. Everyone, not actually on the phone at the time, stood up and went to the foyer. As Stella ushered Sean through the doors, into M&C’s offices, he was met with a gentle round of applause. Anahera Kahika stepped forward and placed a garland around Sean’s neck.
“Haere mai tai tuakana ” she said. “Welcome our special friend and brother.”
Sean leaned forward and rubbed noses in greeting – “Tena tatou katoa.”
“Oh very good,” said Anahera, “Stella coached you well.”
It was a wonderfully relaxed gathering, and Sean was warmed by the genuine sincerity, and the expressions of sorrow. It was also an odd feeling. It was three months since the accident, and it was almost as if the proper processes of grieving had been held in suspension. Everyone at the base had been wonderfully sympathetic and kind, but Sean knew he would be meeting many more people quite shortly, for whom it would be the first opportunity to express their feelings. The emotional roller coaster was only really about to begin.
“Sean, I’m Wendy Richards and I’m really happy to meet you. Gordon Curzon and his people just about saved my husband Tony’s life; certainly his sanity, and most of his physical capabilities. He wanted to come this morning, but he’s got a bit of a chest infection, so I made him stay at home. You’ll meet Gordon when you get back. We want you to take him our love and best wishes.”
“My head is spinning, but I’m really looking forward to meeting this man,” said Sean. “Stella, do you think we could go and see Tony? It would be good to be able to give Gordon a first hand account.”
“Sean, you’re a darling,” said Wendy.
“Before you go Sean,” said Sam Carter, “I just want to say, on behalf of everyone here, that it’s been our privilege to help you on your way. It’s not an easy journey you’re on with your nieces, but we’re with you all in spirit. You have friends here now, and we hope you’ll come and see us if you pass through Christchurch again. Keep in touch young man, let us know how things go.”
At dinner that evening, Sean talked to Andy and Stella about the delayed grieving process. He spoke of his hopes and fears for his reunion, with Caitlin and Niamh, and the many unknowns. They were three months on in their grieving and recovery. Was there a danger he would actually set them back?
The following morning Sam Carter himself drove Sean to the airport, as a client was arriving from Auckland on the plane that would take Sean.
“Go with the flow Sean, and enjoy the flight experience. Don’t try rehearsing for what lies at the other end, because you will get it wrong.”
The flight from Christchurch was a bit bumpy but, after the nine hour hell flight from the base, Sean was hardly aware of any turbulence. He spent the 80 minutes re-living that awful day when Conrad had called him into his room; just about the only place on the base with some real privacy. Jessie had been there too. Jessie was attempting to smile, but it wasn’t working, and Sean knew something was wrong.
“Sean,” said Conrad after a deep breath, “we have some very bad news for you. Your brother and his wife and her mother have been killed in a road accident.”
Jessie had taken his hand. He was stunned. Questions of how and why, spun through his mind, but for several moments he was unable to speak. Then an enormous fear arose, as he wondered if there was even more dreadful news to come.
“The girls?” he managed to gasp. “The children, Caitlin and Niamh? What about them?” Conrad and Jessie stared at each other.
“I’m sorry Sean,” said Conrad, “we haven’t any other information.”
It was nearly twenty hours before any more news could be obtained. It was only partially reassuring. They had not been in the car, but nobody in the confusion could say where they were now, and what was happening to them. For days he was something of a zombie. His colleagues had been wonderful, but they had felt the awkwardness.
Eventually Sean walked in to Conrad’s room and said simply, “Get me back working Con. Get me busy please.”
Life on the base resolved itself back to its routines. Sean put everything on hold. He had a mixture of a high, and a low, when he had a message from Caitlin. She said they were fine. She was looking after Niamh, who was being very brave. Ros, from church was staying with them, and everyone was being lovely. Please would he take care of himself. They were really looking forward to seeing him when the Winter finished. He wondered who this Ros actually was, and in his mind he pictured a ‘Miss Brodie’ like character dressed in a tweed suit.
Then three days ago the whole base was galvanised by the news.
“Sean!” called Conrad. “Get your gear together! They’re going to try and get a plane in for you tomorrow.”
Everyone had been surprised. The first flights were not expected for another two weeks, at least. Where had the BAS suddenly found the budget for a special?
Sean looked at the huge Boeing 787-9 in its awesome black livery. In a dreamlike state he was ushered into the Premier Business Class accommodation. He couldn’t use the word cabin. This was something he had never imagined, let alone experienced. He looked around at his fellow travellers; most seemed familiar with the furniture and the electronics.
“I remember my first time in this plane,” said a woman’s voice.
Sean turned to see his neighbour. She was an attractive woman, perhaps a few years younger than him, and she was smiling broadly.
“The girls will be along and will settle you in and when you need your bed laying out they’ll help.”
“A bed?” asked Sean incredulously.
“Best sleep in the sky, that’s what they say about this plane.”
“Ha!” laughed Sean. “They told me I would arrive fresh, instead of having to crash for 72 hours, now I see why.”
“Are you going through to Heathrow, or stopping at LA?” the woman asked.
“Heathrow – and you?”
“Same. I’m Katherine, Katherine Dent.”
“Sean Regan,” he replied as they shook hands.
Once the seat belt lights were out, Sean began to explore his environment. He marvelled at the features of the amazing seat, and the cocoon around him. Katherine helped him work them all out.
“What took you down to New Zealand then Katherine? Holiday?”
“I visit my late husband’s family a couple of times a year, if I can.”
“Oh! I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to intrude,” said Sean, suddenly realising that the question was going to be asked of him.
“Don’t worry Sean. Peter died two years ago. He was very sweet, but it wasn’t a match made in heaven. I love his mum and sisters though, so I keep in touch. He left me some property and it’s the rents which pay my fare. It’s a huge extravagance, but I love it.”
“How about you? What took you down to Kiwi land?”
“I was just passing through,” replied Sean, wondering if he should try and divert the conversation. He wanted to talk though, and he felt he really wanted to talk to this woman.
“Where’s home in the UK for you Katherine?” asked Sean thinking that this would steer them clear of painful territory.
“Harrogate,” said Katherine. “My sister should be meeting me at Heathrow, then I’m having a couple of days with her in Hampstead, before heading north.
“How come you were just ‘passing through’? Where had you been that puts Auckland on the route to anywhere? Tonga, Fiji?”
Sean smiled, “No, I work for the British Antarctic Survey. I’m on my way home from spending winter there.”
“Oh my goodness, how exciting! I would love to hear more about that,” said Katherine. She had moved, with her wine, to sit on the footstool on the other side of his table, so she could face him more easily. “So, you’ll be home for a great big family Christmas then?”
Christmas! He hadn’t thought of Christmas at all. Katherine watched his face fall, but after a moment he breathed deeply and smiled again.
“I’m sorry Sean, I think I touched a raw nerve?”
“No, don’t worry about it.” He paused and came to a decision. “We have 24 more hours in here, plus stop over, so I hope you don’t mind me sharing something with you.”
Katherine watched as he took a few deep breaths.
“On July 11th my brother, his wife and her mother, were killed in a road accident. My two nieces; Caitlin aged 15 and Niamh aged 8 were not in the car at the time. They have been orphaned, and I don’t really know what’s happening with them, but I have been assured that all is well. Obviously, I couldn’t get to the funerals, and only now am I on my way home. The girls have discovered some very kind and generous people. They have moved icebergs to get me out early, and this flight is on them. They want me to arrive back fresh. I just don’t know what to expect when I get there.”
Katherine was stunned.
“Sean! What a dreadful tragedy. I am so, so very sorry. You’ve been trapped and isolated on the other side of the globe unable to be a part of things. Thank you for sharing all that with me.”
She stood and stepped around the table to give him a hug. Sean put his arm around her, and squeezed her for a moment; it felt good. It felt good, just as hugging Stella and Wendy had felt good. It was the warmth of human contact.
“Thank you Katherine. Yes, the helplessness has nearly driven me crazy at times. They’re coming to meet me at Heathrow, and I’m really looking forward to that, but I just hope I can hold it together when I actually see them.”
“I’m sure you’ll be fine Sean, but what does it matter if you lose it? Don’t go trying to act tough for the girls, they’re ahead of the game on this. Why don’t we change the subject for a bit, I can see menus coming round. Tell me about working in Antarctica.
Sean relaxed into the ambience of the Dreamliner, and enjoyed the space and freedom. “It’s less crowded than the base,” he told Katherine. The food was superb, and there was plenty of wine. Sean declined anything stronger; “After all that time on base food and drink, I’ll keep off the good stuff for the moment.”
“Well, I’m having a bedtime brandy,” said Katherine.
“Bedtime?” queried Sean.
“Look around you and learn,” said Katherine. “If you can get four or five hours now on this leg, then you’ll have an hour or so before we land in LA to come round and have breakfast. We’ll do a similar thing on the next leg to Heathrow. The girls and boys will help us get our beds set up, but there’s one essential you need that they can’t do.”
“What’s that?” asked Sean.
“A night night kiss,” replied Katherine smiling.
At Los Angeles they had to de-plane. It was also an opportunity for exercise, with some brisk walking the length of the terminal concourse. They did some window shopping. When they returned to their lounge, a waitress brought drinks and snacks.
“It wasn’t a marriage made in heaven. I loved Peter at first, and I think he tried to love me. We met when we were in Oxford; we were both at Kings. Then we were both working in London, and decided to share a flat. We went out to visit his family and, as far as his mum Juliette was concerned, he had found her the perfect daughter in law to be. I think he got married to please Juliette, but I would never say anything like that to her; she’s a wonderful woman. But his sisters knew more than they let on. Eventually he confessed he was in another relationship, and had been since soon after we married. It was with a man. His name was Andrew.”
“Oh my God!” said Sean. “You must have felt terrible?”
“Strangely enough, I didn’t. Things seemed to click into place, and I realised that it wasn’t my not being up to the mark that was the problem. We cuddled for a long time, and just fell asleep. We carried on and to the world we were a happily married couple. Indeed, we were happy, but regular sex dropped out of our lives. Now that he could be more open we were very happy. We were really good friends. I asked Peter to invite Andrew round for dinner, so I could meet him.”
“Hemlock soufle for starters?”
“No, it was a very pleasant evening in fact. I liked him, and he was clearly devoted to Peter. It wasn’t as surreal as it might sound, and in my presence there wasn’t any overt physical affection, on that occasion. We obviously had some interesting conversations, but I didn’t want a divorce. For one thing, it would have cut me off from Juliette and the girls. When we had a trip down to see them three Christmases ago, it was the last time they were to see him, but we didn’t know that then. They all said that they had never seen Peter so relaxed and happy, and that it had to be down to me. Well, in a way it was I suppose, I gave him the freedom to be more of himself.
“Anyway, all went well for nearly a year. Then out of the blue, Peter had his stroke. I called Andrew and he sat with me at the bedside and he was there at the end. We both cried and hugged. It was the one time that he could show his grief in public. I made him come round to the house a few days later, so he could have some space to cry.
“Juliette and his sisters came over for the funeral, and they stayed in our house. A couple of days after the funeral Juliette went out for dinner with my parents while Mandy and Clare stayed home with me. I invited Andrew round to join us for a drink. I introduced him and said, “Andrew is a big part of the reason why Peter was so very happy”. They understood and everyone cried. They both hugged Andrew. “We can never tell Juliette,” said Clare, “but we’re so happy to have met you Andrew.
“Sean, you’re the first person I’ve told all that too. Thank you for listening, but I think I need to change the subject now, before I start getting a bit too emotional.”
“Thank you for sharing it with me Katherine,” said Sean. He took her hand and leaned over to kiss her.
“Are you always Katherine?”
“Often Kathy, and sometimes Kat to a lot of my friends.”
Three hours into the second leg of their flight, Katherine suggested they try to get more sleep.
“We’re landing at just after ten thirty local time,” she said. “If we grab four hours, or so now, we’re going to be fairly refreshed when we disembark.”
“Do I get another kiss to send me to sleep?” asked Sean.
Sean settled down to sleep, thinking that he might just have finally found a woman to share his life with. He did have another three months he needed at the base, to complete his research, but this would be before the winter returned. After that he, could complete his work in the UK.
Katherine was having a very similar train of thought, but she understood that his priorities would be with his nieces for some time. Still, it would be nice to think of having a man who didn’t have a boyfriend.
Sean woke and looked at his watch. He had set it to London time when they left LA and it read six thirty. As he sat up one of the flight attendants stopped, and asked if there was anything she could get him, and he asked for tea. Looking across at Katherine, he saw that she was still asleep. For a moment he toyed with the idea of waking her with a kiss, but decided to wait for signs of her coming round naturally first. He didn’t have long to wait.
“Good morning sleepy head,” he said softly as he leaned down to bestow a gentle peck on her lips.
“It’s been a long time since I got woken with a kiss,” she said smiling.
* * *
At that same moment, more than two thousand miles away, Caitlin and Ros were sitting in the kitchen finishing a cup of tea. Niamh was in the front room watching out for the car, and bouncing up and down holding on to the window sill. She was high at the prospect of Uncle Sean coming, and just as excited at the prospect of going to the airport to meet him.
“It’s here! It’s here!” she squealed as the big red Peugeot 807 pulled up at the end of the drive.
“Well done darling,” said Caitlin, “Now just go to the bathroom again, and then put your jacket on.”
“How are you feeling, Cattie?” asked Ros.
“Just as excited as my little darling, but a bit nervous too. I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night. Niamh crept in to my bed as usual. I’m thinking of getting us both bigger beds.”
“I’m Bob,” said the driver of the big Peugeot, “all aboard for Heathrow please.”
Ros climbed into the front, while Caitlin settled Niamh in the back of the seven seater and then sat next to her. She had brought a variety of things to keep her little sister occupied on the journey, but Niamh was too excited looking out of the window at everything as they travelled.
* * *
Back on the Dreamliner Sean and Katherine were finishing their breakfast, and talking about the future.
“Kathy, I don’t know what your plans are, but I hope we can get back together very soon. I have no idea how things are going to pan out with the girls, and just what I have to do, but I hope we might become the ‘item’, that everyone around us on the plane thinks we already are.”
Katherine raised her hands up to his face and drew him in for a kiss. It was soft and sensual, rather than urgent and passionate.
“Does that answer your question?” she asked, when she let him go thirty seconds later.
“As to my plans, I’m staying with Angela and her husband for the next three days, then it’s back to Harrogate. Andrew will want to take me to dinner, bless him, but he won’t mind waiting. Especially if I tell him I’ve met a fella. I want to meet the girls and I want you to keep me in touch with what’s going on. You have to have time with them.”
* * *
Niamh was hanging on to Caitlin, as if her life depended on it. She was in awe of the huge number of people in all sorts of dress, and she was fascinated by hearing so many different languages being spoken. Ros guided them to an information desk and asked for the Rev'd Lucy Mahlangu to be paged.
“Where can we see the planes from?” asked Niamh.
“I’m sorry sweetie,” said Ros. There’s nowhere to watch planes from the Arrivals area. You see all those names and numbers on the screens? They’re the flight numbers of the planes coming in. You are looking for ANZ406 from Los Angeles, that’s the one your uncle is on. See? It’s shown as landed.”
“I’ll wait for you all here,” said Bob.
Sean and Kathy were among the first to exit the aircraft and they walked hand in hand, to Baggage Reclaim. Once they had their bags they moved toward Customs, but before they got there they saw a smiling woman, wearing a dog collar and holding up a notice for ‘Sean Regan’. They went across.
“I’m Sean Regan,” he said, “and this is my friend Kathy Dent.
“Welcome Sean, and welcome Kathy. I’m Lucy Mahlangu, a member of the Heathrow Chaplaincy team. I’m happy to meet you both. Sean, we have arranged a private room for you to meet your nieces in. Are you coming as well Kathy?”
“No, Sean off you go and good luck. Get in touch with me, as soon as you can, to let me know how it’s going. Text or call whenever you can, please, especially if I can help. I want to meet your little princesses. Come here, and let me give you a kiss.”
Kathy watched Sean and Lucy go through a side door, and with something of a lump in her throat she made her way out.
“How are they?” Sean asked Lucy.
“Excited about seeing you. The little one is literally bouncing up and down, and Caitlin is attempting to be cool and calm.”
His eyes were already swimming in tears, as he walked into the room. He dropped his bags and opened his arms. Niamh just ran in for a hug squealing ‘Uncle Sean.’ Caitlin came in from the side and put her arms around them both. For a few minutes Sean managed to avoid breaking down, by not trying to say anything other than repeating, ‘Oh my darlings’ over and again as he held them tight.
Ros and Lucy stood aside while the tearful reunion took place.
“Thank you Lucy, he needed this space.”
“It’s my pleasure. We can’t imagine what it must have been like, to be so isolated for all this time, and not be able to be a part of everything. He’s at least flown back with a friend. He was holding hands with a very pretty lady as they came into the Customs Hall.”
“Oh really?” said Ros. “Has another person entered the equation I wonder?”
After a quarter of an hour Sean and the girls were smiling, and much more composed.
“Uncle Sean, this is Ros. She’s been sort of living with us. I don’t know how we would have got ourselves sorted, without her,” said Caitlin.
“And we love her to pieces,” said Niamh going over to the smiling woman to give her a hug.
“Welcome home Sean,” said Ros stepping forward to shake his hand. “You can probably guess just how relieved, and happy, we are to see you.”
“Thank you Ros. I owe you so much. Sam Carter has told me something about you, from his conversations with Gordon Curzon. It is just so good to get back. I’m so glad you could all get down to meet me. You’ve no idea how much this means, after being trapped at the base.”
“I’ll leave you all to it,” said Lucy. “God bless you all, and especially you today Sean.”
Outside they met Bob, and further introductions were made.
“Good to meet you Sean,” said Bob. “I’ll take your bags. I think you need your arms for these two young ladies.”
They settled in the car. This time Bob was by himself in the front with Sean and Ros in the seats behind, while Caitlin and Niamh were again at the back. For a time Niamh was full of questions, and Sean was happy to describe the plane and the journey.
“Did you make friends with the other people on the plane?” asked Niamh.
“Yes, they were very nice people, but I made one special friend. She lives in Harrogate, and I hope she might come over and see us,” replied Sean smiling. He saw Ros grin.
“What’s her name?” asked Niamh.
“Katherine, but she’s also called Kathy. Sometimes she’s called Kat, so we might get her confused with your sister if we’re not careful.”
“If she comes to see us Uncle Sean, I’ll cook us all a nice meal. Mrs. Singleton is teaching me to cook,” said Caitlin.
“And a very good cook she is too,” said Ros. “You’re in for a treat Sean. She smiled at him, feeling relieved that this bit of the jig saw had been acknowledged. ”
After a while Niamh’s chattering began to slow down, and she was content to watch the world as they drove past it, at whatever speed the M25 allowed. Ros turned round to see that Caitlin had placed an inflatable neck cushion around both their necks, and that Niamh was asleep.
“Cattie,” she asked, “shall I begin bringing Uncle Sean up to date?”
“Uncle Sean, there’s so much to tell you and ask you. Ros and I have had some long chats about it, and we’ve planned a sort of programme for the next three or four days. I know what she’s going to say. I think I’ll get some sleep, while my little darling is fast off, if you don’t mind?”
“Go on love,” said Ros. We’ll stop at services at some point, and I’ll wake you both then, if you’re still asleep.”
Ros and Sean sat quietly for a few minutes, and they could see that the two girls were both asleep. Sean realised the deep sense of trust, and security, his nieces had in those around them.
“Normally when I get back to the UK after a trip like that I crash like them, for 72 hours.”
“You have Gordon to thank,” said Ros. “We both realised how important it would be for them, and for you, to be fresh; hence the Dreamliner treatment.”
“I must go and see him Ros, how do I contact him? How do I begin to catch up with everything? What have I got to be doing?”
“Sean can you be patient? We’re not going to try and tell you everything all at once. You probably want it all, but you will see the sense if we do things in a particular order. I am going to tell you a bit of the sequence now, so that you understand what’s been arranged for the next few days.”
“The rest of today, and the whole of tomorrow, you just let the girls fuss you. Monday, when they’ve gone to school, you me and Mark; he’s our vicar and I suppose you could call him my boss, will give you more about what happened in the accident and what it led to. We’re going to explain how Caitlin roped in Gordon Curzon, Mary Barrington and others. Caitlin has been amazing, but she’s in danger of burning herself out. ”
“On Tuesday morning, we are both going to see Mary Barrington, the solicitor. She, is going to explain the various options and decisions you need to make. In practice it’s very simple, and I hope you will be happy with the proposed course of action. Then on Wednesday you are meeting Gordon Curzon and RPA.”
“Why’s he doing so much Ros? It can’t just be some sort of corporate guilty conscience?”
“No it’s not, and you’ll come to understand more once you get to know the new Caitlin. ust go with it Sean, don’t fight it. Above all, don’t even try to think you should start trying to replace Michael and Siobhan’s roles. You will understand better by tomorrow morning, I think.”
“Have you heard of the term ‘guardian ad litem’?”
“No. The word ‘guardian’ gives a bit of a clue but not enough.”
“The will your brother and his wife had drawn up was a pretty poor piece of work, and the solicitor was described by Caitlin as a ‘chocolate fireguard. The will names you as executor, but made no mention of the future care of the children, should anything happen to both of them, which of course it did. With you being stuck in Antarctica, the children had no actual carer. You’ve no other family around. Somehow, Social Services got wind of this and one officious lady who wanted to tick boxes, was talking about them being taken into care, or being fostered.”
Sean stared at Ros in horror, but she smiled and squeezed his hand.
“That’s when Caitlin decided to really take charge. The church has been right behind her. Anyway, when Chloe, Gordon’s PA, telephoned and told Caitlin that Gordon would like to meet her if she was willing, she shrieked for joy. She picked little Niamh up, and danced her round the house.
“She not only fixed up the time for us to go and see Gordon, but she asked him if he could have someone there to give them a bit of legal advice, about her status as a minor and their house. I’ll tell you more about the meeting on Monday. I would like Mark to be there for that part, and you will understand why, then.
“The result of the meeting was that things got moving very fast. Gordon unblocked the bank, and when Caitlin walks in the staff jump; she’s won over all their hearts. Mary saw off Social Services, as well as the Chocolate Fireguard. The Court has appointed me ‘Guardian ad litem’ on a temporary basis, pending your return, and an amendment by the court. So I am their legal guardian for the time being, but if you wish to assume that role, then we can apply to the court for a variation.”
“Well, of course I’ll do whatever needs to be done.”
“That’s good Sean, I know that, and so do the girls. What we must be sure of, is just what that needs to be. We don’t want you making a decision just because it looks as if it’s the thing you ought to do. In a minute, I’m going to paint you a picture. It has to be right for you, as well as them. There’s just one thing we need to know from you now. Are you going to be OK with moving in with them at Richmond Road, for the time being?”
“Certainly, but I need to understand what all the issues are Ros. Have you been living with them since the accident?”
“It’s mostly been me. Lately it’s been Mrs. Singleton quite a lot, and that seems to be working very well, and we hope it might be the longer term solution. You will meet her tomorrow.”
“Ros, I really don’t know how to thank you for all you’ve been doing.”
“Sean, after the first horridness of everything it’s been great fun. Get them to tell you about Niamh’s birthday party, and what we did for Caitlin’s birthday. I can’t deny it’s going to be good to be living at home again full time. To put it bluntly,” said Ros with a big smile, “we want our sex life back. I also need to get back to my training.”
Sean grinned. “Paint your picture Ros, paint your picture; keep the details about sex fuzzy though.”
“You probably know that your brother built an extension on to the side of the house for Siobhan’s mother, a granny flat. The plan is that Mrs. Singleton will move in, so that they have an adult in the house, which will keep the social services at bay. Her own house is further up the road. It’s much bigger than she needs, since her husband died three years ago. It would also mean she wouldn’t have to cope with stairs. The children have known her all their lives, and they adore her.”
“It is seen as a medium to long term arrangement. Caitlin intends to bring Niamh up, and be her carer. In two years she wants to be appointed as legal guardian, and there is no reason that she should not be. From Mary Singleton’s view, she is no longer living on her own, and has a whole new purpose in life. She regards Niamh as a granddaughter and Caitlin as the daughter she would have loved to have had. She is teaching Caitlin to cook, though I think the student may already have overtaken the teacher. She is also teaching her needlework. Caitlin is going to be mistress of the household, though she wouldn’t use those words herself.”
“It all sounds good Ros but you were worried before about her burning herself out. How do we stop that?”
“We try and make sure she keeps everything in balance, and doesn’t try to do everything herself. We also need to try and get her to go out with some of her friends. I think once the domestic situation is properly sorted, she will feel happier leaving Niamh at home, with Mrs. Singleton babysitting.”
“I’ll be guided by you Ros.”
“Thank you Sean. Mary Barrington will lay out all the legal bits and, now that you’re back, she can finish off getting grant of probate for the estate. She’s well on with the insurance settlement.”
It was nearly six o’clock when Bob pulled the car onto the drive. It was a moment of very mixed emotions for Sean. He knew the house so well, except the granny flat only had its foundations laid, when he last saw it. Niamh was bouncing with excitement, as she pulled him forward. The last time he had been here, the house had echoed with laughter; it had been a surprise birthday party for Siobhan.
“The garden’s looking immaculate,” he said. “Someone keeps busy.”
“It’s Roy Peters,” said Caitlin, “he’s lovely. You will meet him when you go to RPA – he’s the Commissionaire. It looks as if he’s been today.”
“Uncle Sean, I’ve got the big room ready for you, so you’ve got the en suite. There’s still some of Mummy and Daddy’s things in wardrobes, but there’s plenty of space. I’ve got a casserole going in the slow cooker, and I’m going to do some rice to go with it, when we’re ready. I’m making a pot of tea for now. Niamh sweetie, would you like to go and get changed then go and have a play on your trampoline?”
“Can I take my bike out?”
“Whre are you going to ride?”
“Just up to Mrs. Singleton’s.”
“That’s fine darling, but don’t stay more than ten minutes, otherwise it will be getting dark before you’re back.”
“My husband’s coming round for me Sean, but he won’t take much persuading to stop for a drink, then I’ll drive us home,” said Ros.
“Yes, Uncle Sean! You know where the drinks are, and I got Ros to get some extra in for you, and visitors.”
“Caitlin, may I use your phone please?” asked Sean. “I want to phone Kathy.”
“Of course, use the one in the lounge. Tell her we’re looking forward to meeting her.”
Caitlin checked her casserole, while Ros laid the table and put plates to warm.
“Hi, It’s Sean Regan here. May I speak to Katherine please?”
Ten minutes later Sean walked back into the kitchen. He was looking as if he had come from auditioning for the part of the Cheshire Cat. Ros and Caitlin grinned at each other.
“Look forward to the day, when you put a smile like that on a man, Cattie,” said Ros.
Sean laughed, “Kathy sends her best wishes to everyone and she’s looking forward to coming over to see us. I said I would have to ask you when, as you had a programme of things lined up for me, but I would get back to her as soon as I could. She comes back from Hampstead on Tuesday.”
“She could come over on Wednesday, if you like Uncle Sean, but how about inviting her for the weekend as well? I promised I would cook you both a nice meal, but it’s a school day so I won’t have much time mid-week.”
“That’s a wonderful idea Caitlin, thank you. I’ll phone her back now.” A few minutes later he came back with the handset to his ear.
“Kathy’s coming over on Wednesday afternoon and has suggested we go to a pub for a meal. She wants to know what time you get back from school?”
“About a quarter to five – here, give me the phone,” said Caitlin, lifting it from him.
“Hello Kathy, it’s Caitlin. I’m looking forward to meeting you. Just arrive whenever you like on Wednesday.”
Niamh arrived home, just as Alan Whittaker was arriving to collect Ros. Caitlin made the introductions.
“Uncle Sean, will you get Alan and yourself a drink please? There’s whiskey and gin and stuff in the cabinet or beer in the pantry.”
“It’s real ale Sean,” said Ros. “I got Alan to choose it.”
“Lead me to it!” declared Sean, “I’ve been dreaming about this for months. Beer for you Alan?”
“Cattie,” said Niamh, “Mrs. Singleton says she coming round tomorrow about 10.30, while we’re at church. If you want to leave her a note for turning the oven on, or something, then she’s happy to help.”
“Oh, that’s sweet of her; yes that will be useful. Now, if you’d wash your hands then set the table for me that would be lovely.”
Sean and Alan sat in the big lounge with their beers. They were very comfortable in each other’s company.
“Sean, Ros and I are going to disappear soon; I’ve got a bit of a surprise waiting for her at home. Are you joining us at church in the morning? Ros and I are joining you all for lunch afterwards.”
“I want to visit the grave mate, but I’m not sure I want lots of people around me when I do. It’s been a very strange, and remote, sort of grieving. I feel there’s bits I’ve still got to do, but I don’t want to set the girls back. They’re coping brilliantly.”
“Caitlin’s just amazing Sean. She just inspires people, and Niamh worships her. Listen, how about me meeting you at the Lych-gate at quarter to ten. Cattie and Niamh will be ahead of you anyway; they’ll be helping to set up Young Pilgrims from half nine. We can go to the graves together, and then go into church during the first hymn. Then perhaps, while Cattie struts her stuff in the kitchen, you and I could wander down to the Charlie 12 for a pint.”
“Now that, my friend, is a plan,” replied Sean.
When Ros and Alan left for home the house seemed oddly quiet for a few minutes.
“Cattie, I’m going to have to call at my flat sometime in the next few days. I’ll need to pick up mail and get some more clothes.”
“I left all Daddy’s things Uncle Sean, for you to see if they fit you at all, rather than just bag them up for the charity shop. If you can manage until Tuesday, then Ros might take her car into town when you go and see Mary Barrington. That will make getting stuff back here easier.”
“Ros told me I had to ask about your birthday party Niamh,” said Sean as they were enjoying their chicken and bacon casserole.
“Cattie! Can I put my costume on after dinner to show Uncle Sean?”
“Of course you can sweetie. I’ll help you dress up, but none of the face paints tonight.”
“We had a storyteller Uncle Sean, and he’d written a story just for my birthday, and we all acted it. I was Princess Niamh, of the Findhorn Forest, and I saved the Crystal Crown from the evil witch.”
“How did you manage to arrange that?”
“I was in RPA and chatting to Sally. I was asking her if she could think of something I could do. Sally took me up to see a lovely lady called Carrie Nicholson in their IT Department. Her fiancé is an author, and storyteller. His name is Cameron Taylor, and they organised it from there. All I had to do was let them have the names of the children who would be there. Carrie arrived dressed as the Wicked Witch, and Cameron brought costumes for everyone. It was amazing. Holly Gibb’s Mum made a video, which we must show you.”
After Niamh had performed a one person version of her story, in her bright green tunic, with shield and spear, to Sean’s huge delight, Caitlin announced bath time.
“Go and get ready darling, I’ll be up to you in a minute.”
Sean poured himself a whiskey. He could hear happy sounds coming from the bathroom, but the soft smile on his face was betrayed by tears forming. Looking at the photograph on the side, of Michael and Siobhan, he raised his glass in a pledge.
“I’ll watch out for them, I promise you,” he said aloud.
Ten minutes later Niamh, bounced down the stairs in her pyjamas, followed by Caitlin, who was herself in a dressing gown.
“Night night, Uncle Sean,” said Niamh as she gave him a hug and a kiss.
“Goodnight sweetheart, sweet dreams,” replied Sean.
“I’ll be back down in a few minutes Uncle Sean,” said Caitlin.
Sean relaxed and reflected upon the day. “Yes,” he thought, “all things considered, it has all gone very well.”