Driving towards Covent Garden, Trevor planned to intercept Maggie and have it out with her, to put the question to her in plain terms. Seeking some kind of resolution, he wanted to demand that she choose between them. It would be Harwood or Doyle; she would have to make up her mind and either send him to heaven or send him to hell. Him or me, Trevor felt was the best way to ask. All that he needed were three words, and in his mind he saw that phrase as the headline in Monday’s News and Views, to begin a fine story about Trevor Harwood in a bitter shouting match with Ciaran Doyle’s current mistress. As for the story, he could write that one himself, titillating the readers with the suggestion that this lovely Yankee adulteress was actually enjoying the favors of two of Great Britain’s most popular leading men. Don’t believe what you read, his head told him, with Bea’s words replaying like a loop of audio tape. Don’t believe, he heard her shouting, and there at last was the key to solve the mental mystery.
Maggie was not married anymore, he was absolutely and unequivocally positive about that fact. Besides, he had seen her bed and only person had slept in it, and slept without moving from the side farthest from the door. Trevor stopped his car, deep in thought at an intersection. Drivers around him began to sound their horns, to wake him up and urge him to move on, and he shook his head to clear out the cobwebs. The night that he had called her and talked on the phone for over an hour, it was possible that Ciaran had done the same. Words kept flowing and a man felt relieved of his cares if he could share them with a woman like Maggie. She listened to people, really listened when they talked; he had noticed that about her straight away. Calm now, he realized that there was no point in driving around, for he would never find her in the crowded market. He was driving around in circles anyway, lost in the city he had once known so well. The ringing of his mobile phone startled him; he would answer in case it was Maggie, who was the only person he wanted to talk to just then.
“Yes, Nigel, I saw the papers,” he said as he turned around for home. “I brought her a gift this morning and her bed was not torn up. In fact, I would say that once she falls asleep she doesn’t move for the rest of the night.”
“Did you finally give her the gift of your little Woody?” Nigel snickered at his vulgar and suggestive bon mot.
“She was at church services, I missed her,” Trevor said, feeling positively stupid.
“Not to be negative, Trevor, but women are fond of a variety of positions, some of which may involve nothing more than bending over. Keeps the sheets dry and saves on the argument of who gets to sleep on the damp side,” Nigel warned of other possibilities, if only to save his friend from false hope.
“Would Bea lie to me, to help Maggie for some reason?” he asked, becoming confused as to the identity of his true friends.
“It’s possible, I suppose, with women and all this sisterhood nonsense. But realistically, if Maggie makes herself available to you, what do you care if she’s been with Ciaran already? I mean, when was the last time you had a woman in your bed?”
“It isn’t a fair comparison, Nigel, I’m fifty and Ciaran is still a young man. How can I enjoy it if all I think about is how well I’m doing compared to some twinkly-eyed stud with an overactive prick?”
“You’ve sampled his leavings before.”
“Who didn’t fuck that sewer pipe?”
“Granted, Mandy is an absolute slag. She nearly matches Ciaran shag for shag.”
“I don’t want to play compare and contrast with him again. I want her to myself, Nigel, I don’t want Ciaran telling me that Maggie gives great head. I want to find out for myself and be the only man in the room who knows.”
“Ring her up, have another one of those long chats. Ask questions; find out what she likes to do. Bea was forever trying to get me to talk about my feelings, maybe that’s what women like,” Nigel offered, not really knowing what women wanted from men. It was unfair, since women knew exactly what men wanted from them.
Sunday afternoon seemed to drag on in the Mayfair townhouse, where Trevor paced like a stir-crazed lion in a very small cage. He walked in his study or he wandered in the kitchen, staying close to the phone. Every time that the thing rang he would jump to answer it, always hoping that Maggie was calling, but he was not sure what he was expecting her to tell him. “I was so excited about seeing London after we had that long talk, but, since Ciaran asked first, well, the race is to the swift, old man,” he heard her in his sad thoughts. The first one to unhook that little strip of Lejaby would be the one to explore her soft curves, and the loser would go home and lick his wounds.
He was miserable company at dinner, barely saying two words to his children. Trevor was busy feeling sorry for himself while Callista cleared away the dishes after the meal, and Will quietly packed up his clean laundry to haul back to his flat. When the phone rang again, it was accompanied by the sound of flatware clattering to the floor as Trevor rushed to answer, his voice quivering with expectation as he said hello.
“No, I am not gay,” he yelled angrily into the receiver after a long pause. Karl Hofmeier had seen the photos, picked up by the news wires for some Sunday filler in the back pages of the Chicago papers. The old man had read the entire story about the upcoming movie, its devilish supporting actor, and his newfound amour. The love affair that Karl wanted to ignite had not started burning in the proper heart, and he freely tore into Trevor, blaming him for botching the whole thing. “And I do not need your help in finding a lover, thank you very much. Take her back to Chicago; I would be free of this madness at last. I don’t care how Catholic she is, and I agree that she’s no saint.”
Harwood hung up the phone, fuming at the tirade from Karl Hofmeier, which had been liberally laced with obscenities and threats. He was an actor, not a male prostitute or an escort hired for sexual services, and the writer’s insinuations were more than degrading. If Maggie had been sent to London to be entertained by Trevor Harwood, as Hofmeier clearly stated, then the former soldier had picked the wrong man. Ciaran was willing, according to Karl, but apparently he was not good enough, not up to Hofmeier’s standards.
“Are you all right?” Callista asked, alarmed by her father’s rather apoplectic appearance.
“That was my good friend Mr. Hofmeier,” he began sarcastically. “Wanting to know if I am some kind of English queer because I haven’t balled his editor, as he so quaintly put it. The man is insane, stark raving mad, and he’s going to drag me to Bedlam with him.”
“You’re not, though, are you?” Will asked. The very suggestion, that he had crossed over to the other camp, was more fuel to Trevor’s raging fire.
“William,” Trevor thundered, accusing his own flesh and blood of treachery. “I loved your mother, and I love my children. I am not going to cast everyone aside to chase after some woman who happens to be attractive.”
“Don’t sit here brooding for our sakes,” Will shot back. He felt the sting of his father’s remark, as if he had been accused of creating the man’s solitude. “We’re adults now, on our own. I would rather see you chasing skirts than sitting home alone night after night. Do you think I worry about a wicked stepmother, going to throw me out of my father’s house? I worry about you Dad, with no one to talk to at night.”
“Will’s right,” Callista added. “We don’t need a new mother, we never did. It’s you who needs someone, Dad. You hate being alone, you know it and Will and I both know it, but we can’t be here with you each and every night. I’m engaged already, Dad, and I’ll be married soon and have children of my own. Will is going to have a wife and babies some day. What will you have, your memories? At least with Maggie you could have a companion and still keep your memories.”
“If this is in the Chicago papers, Dad, Maggie’s family might know about it. She already saw the pictures, why don’t you talk to her? What if she is upset about this story, don’t you think she might need someone to cheer her up?” Will suggested, speaking calmly as he tried to reason with his father.
He could not hide anything from his children, especially Callista. She had inherited her mother’s keen insight and she could read her old Dad’s features so easily. He was lonely, dismally lonely in his elegant townhouse. And Will had a point, Maggie was no doubt embarrassed by the story, with her face all over the papers back home and her neighbors gossiping about her behavior so soon after her divorce. Just as he needed someone to help him learn how to love again, surely she needed someone trustworthy to experience the very new world of dating after marriage. Taking a deep breath, he dialed the number of Strand House and waited for the clerk to answer, to put his call through to Mrs. Angiolini’s room. It was fairly early, a little past six; if she were busy he would leave a strong message, maybe even tell her he was on his way to see her.
“We have been asked to screen her calls, Mr. Harwood,” the desk clerk explained. “I will have to send a message up to her room. She refuses to speak to anyone.”
“She’ll want to speak to me, if you would ask her,” Trevor was fully confident of his star in her firmament.
“Actually, Mr. Harwood, she refuses to speak to anyone with a goddamned ‘f’-ing British accent,” he continued. “The press has been rather aggressive, as soon as they learned of her room number, and we did catch two reporters using false names to try to trick her into taking their call.”
“Slip a message under the door, then, if she hasn’t stopped up all the cracks,” Trevor said, trying not to laugh at the image of Maggie throwing a full-blown raging tantrum in her hotel room, with the tabloids going all out to uncover her identity. “If she won’t take my call, she shall simply have to call me. Could you ask her to respond to my invitation to Tuesday’s party?”
There was no doubt now that she was purely American, born and bred in the City of the Big Shoulders. She was not going to surrender to the press or anyone else for that matter; Maggie was not about to give in. It reminded him of an argument he had with a consultant on a movie set, back when he played a Loyalist merchant from Boston, circa 1779. How could any woman react so strongly, he insisted, even today let alone during the American War? And here was Maggie, fighting for her dignity, her privacy, and her good name. If he went to Strand House right now he would not be at all surprised to see her march through the front door with six-shooters blazing, blowing away the photographers who made the mistake of looking at her the wrong way. Trevor Harwood puffed up with pride, because he could fight too, like a gentleman to be sure, but he was not going to lie down and let Ciaran Doyle march over his prone body.
“Hi Trevor, it’s Maggie. I can’t talk now, this story is all over the paper back home and Joey is upset and I am so damned pissed off I can’t think straight, and yes, I’ll be there on Tuesday, and I’m going to get so drunk that I’ll pass out and the goddamned English papers can get a picture of me crawling out of your house on my hands and knees at three in the morning if they want to create another fairy tale for their idiotic readers,” Maggie ran on and on, never stopping to let Trevor talk, and then just as abruptly hanging up.
“Well?” Callista asked, standing in the kitchen with her coat on. She was ready to drop Will back at his flat and get home herself, but her father had a rather peculiar look on his face. And then there was the curious fact that he had not said one word into the phone.
Trevor was smiling, the happy smile of a man who had been given another chance at glory. “She’s quite angry; it seems that her son found out and he’s very upset, and, well, she’s like a lioness protecting her cub.”
“And the lion of England has new life,” Will remarked quietly to his sister. If Trevor needed a reason to call Maggie again, to actually have a dialogue, Will had a handy recommendation. “You really ought to ring her again later, Dad, and maybe explain about the tabloid journalists here. You’d do her a great service if you could take the time.”
Maggie was on the phone half the night, with calls flying back and forth across the Atlantic. Joey had seen the picture when he was looking through the movie listings early on Sunday morning, noticing a smallish sized photo of his mother kissing some actor. The story that went with the picture implied that she was this man’s new girlfriend. He did not think much about it, even with Aunt Kay whispering into the phone and talking to Grandma Angie like it was a big deal. Later on, two girls from school called him, and they started blabbering about his mother making out with that hunky English actor, and was Joey going to move to England now. What really got the boy worked up was the next call, from a girl he did not know very well, one of Cullen’s neighbors, and she was practically fainting with excitement, asking if she could come over to meet Ciaran Doyle when he came to move the Angiolini family to London. It was totally irrational, but Joey concluded that either he was going to be abandoned to Aunt Kay and Fabrizio, or his mother was going to uproot him and drag him away from his school and his friends.
“No, Joey, we are not moving anywhere. He’s only a friend, can’t I have male friends without you going off the deep end?” she said, impatient with her son’s attitude.
“Jeez, Mom, can’t you find a boyfriend in River Oaks? I’m happy that you have a guy to take you to dinner while you’re away, but if you kiss a man,” he stammered, not saying anything clearly as if he did not know what he meant to say.
“I’ve kissed lots of guys in my lifetime, Joey, and it doesn’t mean we have to get married. I like Ciaran, he’s a lot of fun and he makes me laugh like your father used to. I’m coming home when I said I would, so stop panicking.”
Finally, Joey began to calm down, and Maggie called Ciaran. She gave him her home phone number and insisted that he call her son to tell Joey personally that they were not getting married. Maggie’s tone surprised him, in the way that she was so headstrong and determined to appease her son, no matter what anyone else had to do. In the back of Ciaran’s mind, he thought about how he had felt a few days ago, when he was excited at the idea of marrying into an instant family. He was longing to meet Joey, even willing to be like a father to a boy who had no father to guide him to manhood. Now he had to call Joey and talk to him, but it was to reassure him that Ciaran Doyle and Maggie Angiolini were not about to stand at the altar, even though that was what Ciaran had wanted to do.
“Don’t be upset by some pictures, Joe,” Ciaran said as they chatted, very comfortable and open. “Of course I kissed your mum, she’s a pretty lady and she’s been a good mate to me. I wish that she would marry me, though, to tell you the truth, and I would be honored to call you my son.”
“Listen, Mr. Doyle, if my mom is interested in getting married again, well, I just don’t want to move away in the middle of the school year. The basketball team is fifteen and one, and the championship tournament starts at the end of February; we could win our conference.”
“This is how things are, now, Joe; your mum is the smartest and cleverest lady I know, and I know a lot of ladies. We talked for a long time Saturday night, because it took that long for me to get my thinking straight. She doesn’t want to marry me, and she has good reasons, but that’s between your mum and me. We’re going to be friends, though, and you and I can be mates, if you ever come to London. Take it from an English boy, living in London is not so bad, and the schools are always looking for good basketball players. The sport’s getting popular here as well.”
After that conversation, Joey was able to phone his mother back and speak coherently. The main problem had been a fear of moving to a foreign country in the middle of the school year, to start a new life before February had ended. Relieved that his life was not about to be shredded, he took great delight in telling her about all the girls from school who had called, gushing like idiots about Joey’s great luck at having Ciaran Doyle for a stepfather. “He sounds like a nice guy, Mom, and if you change your mind and you want to marry him, can you at least wait until I graduate from St. Rita’s?” he asked.
As she listened to his long-winded saga, she felt a little pang of sorrow because her baby was rather naïve. He did not understand why Mrs. Burns and Mrs. Reardon had gone nutty and were acting so weird because his mother had been with this Doyle character half the night, as if they never stayed out that late with their husbands. Why they were making such a big deal over this actor was a mystery to Joey. The girls at school thought the guy was gorgeous, but it was incomprehensible to a thirteen-year-old boy that someone as old as his mother would think in those terms.
Greta laughed about her weary finger, worn out from dialing the phone before she finally gave the handset to Peggy when her fingers got tired from pushing the redial button. Push and push and push again, Greta kept at it until she finally got through, to congratulate Maggie on her incredible luck. “Is he as well-endowed as the rumors, Maggie?” Greta sighed, enraptured by her own imagining. “And was it good, I mean like making the earth move fantastic?”
“Jesus Christ, Greta, I never touched him below the waist,” Maggie huffed. “He is attractive, he is lovable, but I can’t give him what he wants in life.”
“Not even for one night? What did you two do all night, anyway?” Peggy probed. She had the other phone pressed to her ear in the family room while Greta had her cordless in the kitchen, turning the whole thing into a conference call, and a very steamy discussion at that.
“We talked, that is absolutely it,” Maggie swore that she was telling the truth. “Oh, girls, he is so easy to talk to. I wanted to do it, too, really, really wanted it bad, but I couldn’t go through with it. One or two nights, I couldn’t end it like that, you know, to give it up again. Well, he fell asleep and it was late. I know that one day I’ll regret it, but I think I made the right choice. Oh, dear God, his eyes, his eyes are so much more beautiful in real life than in the movies.”
Maggie talked things over with Kay, about giving up a man who had all the qualities that she had come to love in Franco. Kay did agree that Maggie had to be honest with him; any man was entitled to the truth if he was asking for marriage, and not having children was pretty serious for a man who did not have a family already. Talking to Kay released some of Maggie’s deepest feelings and suppressed memories; she had to cut the call short because she could not stop crying.
It was nearly one in the morning when she called Trevor again, hoping that he would talk to her like he had a few days ago, when he had made her laugh. His machine picked up, and she left a message in a quiet voice, as if her normal tone would be too loud and wake him. He had given her a simple gift for Valentine’s Day, something that told her that he noticed her, even if he could not say it out loud. That one flower meant more to her than the expensive porcelain that Ciaran had given, because Trevor’s flower spoke louder than any words he could have found.
“Hi, it’s Maggie again. I don’t remember if I thanked you for the peony, it’s a variety called ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ and I wanted to ask if you picked that one on purpose, because of the actress and you’re in the theatre, or did you just like the color? But if I did thank you, well, thank you again. Everything is fine now, at home, and Ciaran talked to Joey, that’s my son, and there’s no problem anymore. I’ve been on this phone all night to get it taken care of, but there it is. Really, Trevor, I, it was so nice of you to think of me. If I would read the gossip columns I wouldn’t be so naïve, I guess, I really brought this on myself and it was only a joke but people believe what they want to believe. Did I tell you I would be there on Tuesday? It’s late, I’m sorry I called so late. Peonies mean bashfulness, did you know that? Gardenias mean secret love, jonquil means desire.”As much as she wished that he would pick up, no one responded to her monologue on the language of flowers. On the verge of describing the flower garden in her backyard, she caught sight of the alarm clock. “It’s late,” she said. Pausing for a second, praying that the next sound would be the click of a handset being picked up, she decided there was no point in rambling on. He was not answering the phone. “Good night, Trevor, and thank you.”
Technorati tag: literary fiction