It sounded like a phone ringing, he couldn't be certain as his brain wasn't fully awake although his body was fully conscious of the sound. He stirred as the noise persisted and forced his brain to engage. It was a phone, his mobile to be exact, wherever that was. Slowly, he let an arm fall to his side and clumsily felt for his trouser pocket, finally retrieving it. It bleated at him demandingly, slowly adjusting his eyes, he was able to make out the collar ID; "Mum calling" it said. Groaning, he debated for a short while whether or not to answer it then grimaced as he thought of the
repercussions if he didn't; Lady Tabitha St James wasn't known for her tactfulness. Slowly, his head still pounding slightly, he pressed the green button.
'Oh hello darling! Did I wake you?'
Mark St James winced at the sarcasm in her voice, 'No…No I was awake anyway.' She could hear I wasn't, why do I bother? He thought suddenly.
'Oh good! I just thought I'd phone you to let you know that we're having a soirée at our place tonight.'
Soirée? Not dinner or party, "soirée." He supressed the urge to roll his eyes, 'Right.'
'So I'll see you tonight at eight.'
'Yeah, sure. What is it? A business deal?'
Mark's father was an investor, he invested in thousands of well-known companies, all that had done well and it was something he hoped his son would take up. Mark had initially been dubious at following in his father's footsteps, but had decided that there was no harm in trying; besides it wasn't like speculating. It was a calculating job, one that required common sense and excellent judgment, qualities he had found, to his surprise, that he possessed. He dragged himself back to the present and found that his mother was still talking.
'Yes dear! And your father would love for you to be at his side, after all, it's all good experience isn't it?'
'Yes Mother! I suppose I'll have to bring someone then.'
'Oh no need! That's all sorted.'
He frowned, 'What do you mean it's all sorted?'
'Oh just wait and see dear.'
'Mother… You're not matchmaking again are you?'
'Wait and see!' His mother repeated patiently. 'Anyway, I must go, I have to help your Father, see you later.'
'Yes but…' It was too late though, his mother had gone. Mark shook his head as he placed his mobile on the bedside table; suddenly he heard stirring beside him and felt soft lips brush against his back, shoulder and finally neck.
'Hey! Who was that?'
He turned round to face his lover; Christine was forty-six and although she wasn't an "obvious beauty" so to speak she was the sort of person who was very attractive, especially the eyes, they were of a deep sea blue and Mark found he could just lose himself in them. He often wondered whether she was gifted with the skill of natural hypnosis, he had met her while partially drunk, intending her to be a one-night stand and they were still together two years later. Despite the twenty odd year age gap, she didn't look her age and Mark found that it was easy to forget, in other ways, she was a real treat. Being a lot older, she was very experienced in certain areas and he occasionally worried about her becoming fed up with this "casual agreement" and going off elsewhere but so far, she had never complained and seemed perfectly content.
Looking at her now, he slowly rolled onto his back and smiled as she nestled her head into his chest,
'Oh just her Ladyship.'
Christine smiled, 'Oh… Your Mother.'
'Yeah! She's at it again.'
'Yep!' He stroked her hair, 'I expect I shall go through the motions so to speak.'
She grinned and looked at him, 'Like last time?'
'Hey! I didn't do that deliberately! It's not my fault she fell for me, I was just being nice.'
'Yeah but even so, it was cruel to let her hope.'
'Oh god!' He groaned, 'Why does every woman think that just because a guy is nice to them that means that he fancies them??'
Christine laughed, 'Well, everyone has to have a dream.' She hesitated and looked at him, ' Still, give you a chance for some family time.'
'Yes…In the broadest sense I suppose…' He sighed, 'Look, why don't you come with me? I could do with some support.'
'Oh yes? How would that look? "Hi Mum! Oh by the way, do you know my girlfriend who's twenty years older than me?'
'Twenty… Four actually!' Mark corrected, laughing as she playfully hit him with the pillow.
'Oh you know what I mean!'
'Look.' He cupped her face, 'I swear, nothing like that will happen, why would I want anyone else?
Especially when you're so…. Experienced.' He grinned suggestively.
She grinned back seductively, 'I can take a hint.' With that, he laughed in surprise as she pushed him further onto his back and promptly begun to demonstrate just how experienced she was.
Mark drove to his parents in a relatively calm mood; he was used to their "dinners." Apparently, the guests were old friends; he'd never met them before. He slowed down as he approached the house, remembering their conversation earlier;
'So… Just remind me, who are these people?'
His mother had replied, 'Oh they're associates of your father dear.'
'I've never heard of them.'
'No, that's because they've been in Yorkshire for a few years but now they've moved back.'
'Oh! How come?'
'It was contracted work and the contract's finished, we receive a lump sum as your father invested in the business to help them out, that was how we met.'
Mark frowned, 'I don't remember that!'
'No, well…you were busy with your own work.'
'Anyway! They have a daughter about your age and…'
'Well, let's wait and see shall we mother?' He had replied, rolling his eyes as he heard the smile in her voice.
Christine drove to the house in utter silence. Every now and then, she put a hand to her chest, indigestion. She always suffered indigestion when she was nervous. Her sister had texted her to let her know that they would all meet at the St James'. When she had first heard of it, her mouth had gone dry and she felt panic grip her chest as she thought of how he would react, how were they supposed to act normally? What's more, she had never been given the chance to warn him that she was part of the party. Finally, she looked up and saw the house, feeling a stab of familiarity and her palms begun to sweat, he wouldn't be pleased at all.
'Wow! This house is amazing!' Siobhan looked up at it in amazement then turned and grinned at her aunt 'Isn't it Christine?'
Christine forced herself to smile, 'Yes! It's lovely.' She wasn't listening though, all the time she was playing the scenario in her head, but she had a feeling that it wouldn't be as she planned. He would be furious she knew, but that wasn't her fault! She knew that perhaps she should have told her family about their affair but she just couldn't bring herself to say; after all, they would only tease her about having a "toy-boy," at least, her brother-in-law would, her sister would just criticise. Just the thought of him being labelled as such a thing made the whole thing seem so degrading. She was well aware of who he was and she didn't want to humiliate him either, now they were in this mess.
'Do you know anything about them Auntie Christine?'
She shook herself and turned to her niece, 'Sorry what were you saying dear?'
Siobhan smiled, 'I was just wondering if you knew anything about them.'
'Only that your father has been working very closely with them for a while now.'
'I wonder if he is good looking…'
Despite herself, Christine couldn't help smiling, 'I thought you were intent on becoming a staunch feminist!'
Her niece shrugged, 'A girl can change her mind.'
Mark wondered into his room and sat down on the bed, he looked around, still the same; his mother had insisted on keeping things as they were for when he visited. He liked his room; it used to be just about the only place in the house where he could seek sanctuary, a bit of peace and quiet. Suddenly he heard the doorbell go and his mother call out, 'Mark! They're here!!' He forced himself off the bed and headed downstairs. He could hear talking and laughing and groaned to himself; no doubt his parents had given them the red carpet treatment. Slowly, he headed into the lounge; his mother turned to him and beamed.
'Oh there you are dear! Come in!'
As he did so, he suddenly found himself face to face with a very attractive girl who smiled at him with complete confidence, 'Hello!'
He smiled back, 'Hello!'
'Mark, allow me to introduce Siobhan Manners.'
'How do you do?'
'How do you do?'
'…And these are her parents of course!'
Mark smiled and shook their hands, 'How do you do?'
Siobhan's father smiled, 'We've heard a lot about you young man.' Mark just smiled politely as he continued, 'Oh! By the way, I hope you don't mind but we've brought my sister-in-law.'
Mrs Manners smiled, 'Oh yes! She didn't want to come but we thought…'
'Oh no! Of course! She's very welcome!'
Mark smiled, ready to greet the new arrival but, as soon as she stepped in front of him, he suddenly went numb and his head spun. Was this some sort of bad joke? She was standing in front of him, smiling apologetically. He continued to stare at her when he realised that his behaviour was starting to become a bit suspect. Forcing himself to smile, he held out a hand,
'Pleased to meet you.'
'You too.' She replied.
There was an awkward silence then his father spoke, 'Well, shall we all start with an aperitif?'
Christine stood outside, smoking. She appeared perfectly calm, but in reality she was tense and unsure.
'I thought you'd given up.'
She whipped round to see Mark approaching her, 'Jesus Mark!' She snapped.
'…Sorry…' She looked at him unsure, 'You just made me jump that's all.' There was a pause, Christine didn't like the atmosphere; she decided to try and lighten it a bit, 'So… This is a turn out for the books isn't it?'
Mark glared at her, 'You could've at least told me about your niece!'
'You never asked!'
Christine watched him pace angrily and bit her lip, '…Well, I suppose it was bound to happen sooner or later.'
He glared at her, 'Sorry… Have you just lost the thread of what's going on? They are trying to set me up with your niece!'
'Yes! I realise that!'
Mark slapped his head angrily, 'Why did you have to be so bloody cagey about your family eh?'
She glared at him, 'I wasn't! You asked about them and I said I had a sister and a niece.'
'Yes but maybe if you'd told me their full names…'
'Oh? And their addresses and telephone numbers? What about credit card numbers and bank
statements?' She jumped in sarcastically.
'Well… What am I supposed to bloody do now?'
'I'll explain, I'll tell them everything.' She went up to him and slipped her arms around his neck,
'Maybe this is the chance we've been waiting for.'
A feeling of dread crept over him, 'What are you talking about?'
'Well… Maybe we should go public.'
He stared at her as if she'd just spoken another language, '…What?!'
'Well, we can say that we're together.'
'Yes! Great idea! That's what we'll do; we'll march in there and announce that we're a couple!'
'Have you a better idea then?'
He paused, he knew that his parents were expecting a lot from him, maybe this was how it was supposed to be, he turned to her, 'Well, I suppose it could be worse, at least your niece seems like a nice girl.'
'Yes well… She has youth on her side.' Christine muttered, feeling a stab of jealousy.
'Hey! Hey!' He smiled and went up to her, 'There's no need to be jealous; I'm just trying to think practically.'
She looked at him. Despite his youth, there were times when he seemed positively middle-aged,
'Alright! We'll do it your way.'
'Good! Come on!'
Mark had initially felt a bit uncertain about how to approach Siobhan but when he did, he found that it was easy to slip into conversation with her.
'I'm afraid I don't know much about our history; only that our parents work together.'
'Well, temporarily.' Mark smiled at her, 'You see; my father's job consists of investing in failing business and helping to build them back up again.'
'Really?' Her eyes shone with admiration.
'And so you saved my father's?'
'Well, hold on…' He laughed, 'It isn't as glamorous as you think.'
'Well, I think it's wonderful, after all it's a bit of a gamble isn't it?'
'Well, not if you know what you're doing.'
'Yes but even so…' She smiled, ' I just think it's great when a business helps out another, even if they do get something out of it.'
He laughed, 'What about you then? What do you do?'
'I work for the local hospice.'
That took him aback, 'Wow! Children?'
'Yes! It's hard work but so rewarding.'
'It must be.'
'Yeah I mean it's just priceless to see their faces when you play with them and make them feel better you know?'
He nodded eagerly.
While all this was going on, Christine was watching them with slight consternation. She was
watching their body language and realised that she had to intervene, she forced a smile, 'Sorry to interrupt but more wine dear?'
Siobhan smiled, 'Thanks! We were just talking about investing and the hospice.'
'Ah! Yes!' She smiled, 'Maybe Mark could invest in the hospice?'
Mark smiled, 'Well, I would help in any way I could.'
Siobhan smiled at him and sipped her wine.
'Thanks for a lovely evening.' Siobhan's parents' smiled at Mark's.
'Oh it was our pleasure.' Lady Tabitha smiled back then turned to Siobhan, 'And it was absolutely lovely meeting you my dear!'
Siobhan smiled then turned to Mark, 'This was lovely, maybe I'll see you around?'
He nodded and smiled warmly, 'Yes! Maybe you will.'
'If I need any advice about my investments.'
He laughed, 'Absolutely! Well… Good night!'
As they went out the door, he turned to his mother, 'I'm sorry to sound so anti-social Mother but I must get back, I have an early start to-morrow.'
'Of course dearest!' Lady Tabitha smiled, 'Good night.'
'Good night Dad.'
His father smiled, 'Good night!'
Lady Tabitha turned to Christine, 'And it was a pleasure meeting you, your niece does all of you credit.'
Christine forced herself to smile, 'Yes! We're all very proud of her.'
'I can imagine.'
'Well… Thank you for a lovely evening!'
'Oh it was a pleasure!'
As both of them turned away and walked down the steps, Lady Tabitha was suddenly struck with an idea and rushed down towards Siobhan, 'Siobhan! Wait a moment.'
'Well… That was interesting.' Christine added as they walked up the steps of Mark's apartment.
'Yes! I could have done without the ambush though.' Mark muttered.
She bit her lip, 'I'm sorry! If I'd have known…'
'I mean… I was just as surprised as…'
' Christine! It's fine.'
'Alright.' She smiled, 'Anyway…' Slowly, she slipped her arms around his neck in a seductive manner.
'Christine, I'm exhausted.'
'Yes, I hate these dinners, they're so conservative and emotionally draining besides I have an early start to-morrow.'
However, she didn't seem to be listening and leaned in to kiss him deeply.
Mark stiffened then melted into her embrace before breaking away, 'Someone might see.' He
'We'd better go inside then.'
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