Doubling Up by Lydia Penn

Part 3 of the “Double” Trilogy

Audrey and Jason sat in a companionable silence, sipping their wine in the picturesque riverside country pub. They had sat there together often over the past year, but tonight, Audrey sensed, was going to be rather different. Jason was distinctly uneasy.

She looked at this man who had been her brother-in-law for over thirty years. From the beginning, there had been a thinly veiled hostility between them. But over the last year since her sister’s death, there had been a gradual but very noticeable change in Jason’s attitude towards her. At first, they had been drawn together by their common grief, but then Jason had come to seek her company more and more, and his manner towards her had become increasingly warmer.

Audrey’s own emotions were in turmoil. For some time she had realised, and been appalled by, the depth of her feeling for Jason. Did he feel the same, she wondered, or was he just lonely. Had she made her own passion for him too obvious?

To cover her confusion, she resorted to small talk, “What a beautiful sunset,” She exclaimed looking through the window across the river.

“Yes indeed,” agreed Jason. He raised his glass. “May our sunset years be as beautiful.”

As Audrey responded, she added. “I think you are a few hours older than I am, even though we were born on the same day.” She paused. “Were you told that a stork brought you?”

“Good heavens no.” Jason was appalled at the idea. “We were told the truth – that babies are a precious gift from God. None of that stork nonsense.”

Audrey smiled at his vehemence. Then she said with a twinkle in her eye, “well that is what I was told, and quite frankly, I don’t think my mother liked that stork that bought me, very much!”

Jason laughed. “Yes, I kind of got that impression the first time I came to your house with Anthea.”

Audrey became pensive; so much had happened since that first time they had met, when he had just become engaged to her sister. Now, while still only in their sixties, both had been widowed. It was two years since Audrey’s husband, Grant had died of a sudden heart attack.

Audrey had been devastated. Her twin sons, although very supportive, were married and had their own families to look after. So in her loneliness, Audrey had sold the Cambridge house where she had lived most of her marriage, and moved to South Devon to be near Anthea and Jason. A few months later Anthea had been diagnosed with inoperable cancer, and within the year she too was gone.

Audrey became aware that Jason was studying her. She looked up and met his eyes. He’s still handsome, she thought; his thick brown hair is turning grey, but he still has plenty; he has some wrinkles of course, but he still has that devastating smile and that very upright posture. She hoped he wasn’t reading her thoughts!

“Grant was a wonderful husband,” she said, almost defiantly. “He was so kind and concerned about my welfare, though I think I shocked him at times. He adored the boys too.” She recalled the succession of extremely unsuitable men she had dated in the months following Anthea’s engagement and shuddered.

“Just to think,” she went on, “that I nearly ended up with that creep, so-called actor, who was too mean to even buy an engagement ring. Grant was the first man to ever really love me and want to marry me.”

“No, Audrey, you’re wrong,” said Jason quickly. “Grant was not the first man.”

His meaning was unmistakable, and so was the expression in his earnest grey eyes.

Audrey blushed, but was spared the need to answer by the approach of the waiter to take their order. The moment had passed. The tension was eased.

“Let’s have shepherd’s pie,” she suggested. “They always do a good one here.”

Jason gave the order, and Audrey moved on to the safe topic of Anthea.

“We were close in age but certainly not in our relationship. Once we left home, we had nothing to do with each other. We were so different and she was everything that I was not – tall, slender with classic features, perfect skin and that glorious blond hair.”

“Yes she was beautiful,” Jason agreed.

“Like a delicate flower,” put in Audrey with an impish grin.

Jason stared at her.

“Oh, your sister told me at the funeral, that’s how you described her. “Audrey explained. “But I was not at all beautiful. My nose was too big, my hair was mousey, and I had the most awful pimples as a teenager. Anthea took after Mummy, but I didn’t seem to be like anyone.”

“Maybe Uncle Joe,” suggested Jason mischievously.

“Oh Jason!” Audrey was indignant. “He was old and had all that white hair. At least the hairdresser has done a good camouflage job on mine,” she laughed.

“But you do have his twinkling blue eyes,” said Jason, as their meal arrived.

“Dear Uncle Joe,” said Audrey. “We’d always been told that he was the black sheep of the family, who ran off to South America and was never heard of again. I’m so glad that he came back and we had those two years with him. I don’t think he was bad at all. He just wanted to get away from that stuffy Victorian family and have some adventure. Although he was in his eighties he was still great fun. I loved him.”

She was aware that she was talking too much but couldn’t stop herself. “I had no idea he had all that money,” she went on. “I thought he was absolutely penniless, and when I took him out he let me pay for everything, even all his whisky, I just enjoyed being with him and hearing all his stories. To think he was so wealthy and left it all to me!”

“He was a wily old bird,” said Jason sagely. “He was just testing you. He wanted to be loved for himself, not his money. You really were kindred spirits you know”.

Audrey took a mouthful of shepherds pie. Then she went on. “Handy for him that Daddy was a solicitor. He got him to draw up his will and swore Daddy to secrecy, you know”.

“He had to be smart to make so much money starting from nothing,” Jason rationalised. “What was it, mines or something, and all carefully invested. He knew a lot about plants too.”

He smiled. “As a botanist, I was amazed at all he knew about South American plants. But unfortunately, we didn’t see much of him, as Anthea didn’t like him at all – she thought he was uncouth.”

They both laughed.

“Did you know,” said Audrey, “that at your wedding Aunt Beatrice asked him to go and stay with her and fussed over him like an old hen. She thought he had money as she said his clothes were expensive. But he saw right through her, and when he caught her going through his things, that was it! He came back to us quickly. But I never ever knew his clothes were expensive.”

“I can imagine,” laughed Jason. “You were a hot head. Never still, and no one knew what you would do next. Clothes didn’t worry you.”

Audrey read the intense expression in his eyes again and hastened to go on. “After that sleazy would be actor, I began to realise I was mixing with all the wrong people. So I joined a debating society, went to concerts, started going to church again, and of course, I joined the local hockey team. Cambridge is full of really nice people and I loved teaching there.”

“And then you met Grant.”

“Yes,” said Audrey. “Funny how that happened. After Uncle Joe, I found I really enjoyed old people, and that’s why I put most of the money into facilities for them. I had to use an accountant – and that was Grant!”

They finished their shepherd’s pie in silence as the pub began to fill with people, and the background noise made conversation difficult.

“Let’s get out of here,” suggested Jason. “How about coffee at your house.”

Audrey agreed, and a ten-minute drive brought them to her small cosy cottage, where she made coffee, while Jason settled comfortably in one of the chintz-covered armchairs by the fireplace.

The atmosphere became charged once more as they looked at each other. Both realised there could be no more pretence or evasions. They both knew!

They were deeply and desperately in love!

Jason broke the silence. “What about drawing the curtains. It’s getting dark, and the neighbours –.”

It was not what Audrey had expected him to say and she laughed a little nervously. “What at our age! Don’t be such a prude, Jason–“

She stopped and put her hand to her mouth as the colour flooded her face.

“I’ve said that before haven’t I,” she said in some embarrassment,” – the bathroom!”

It was Jason’s turn to be embarrassed. He nodded, How could he ever forget!

“Was it then you –” Audrey voiced trailed off.

“Heavens no,” said Jason firmly. “It was long before that, perhaps even the first time I saw you. But I didn’t see much of you after that, and I managed to kid myself it was nothing. But that day, every bit of the protective wall I had built around myself collapsed. I was devastated.”

Both were silent again, thinking of that hot summer afternoon in the school holiday so long ago. After driving down to Devon from Cambridge, Audrey had arrived hot and tired, to spend the weekend. As usual, she had parked her car in the big double garage and gone into the house by the kitchen door. Anthea had left a note on the table, to say they were at the beach and would be home at 5 pm. Audrey had arrived earlier than expected and as it was only 3.30pm had decided to take a long refreshing bath.

Unaware that she had arrived, Jason had returned to the house to pick up more bottles of lemonade. Preoccupied with his thoughts, he had walked into the very large bathroom, thinking he was alone until he heard a slight splash of water.

He looked around and saw Audrey sitting up in the bath staring at him from across the room. Covered with confusion and embarrassment, Jason had quickly turned his back and fled, while Audrey called mockingly after him, “Don’t be such a prude, Jason it doesn’t bother me.”

Maybe not, but it certainly did me, he reflected, remembering how he had slammed the door.

Audrey broke into his thoughts. “You were so beastly to me after that, ignoring me and snapping at me all the time. And it wasn’t my fault, I was glad to leave.”

“Yes it was,” argued Jason. “You should have locked the door.”

“What! In an empty house,” expostulated Audrey.

“Yes, I guess I was pretty boorish,” admitted Jason. “But I was so angry with you and myself. I didn’t know how to handle it.”

“I understood after,” said Audrey. “But at the time I couldn’t understand you at all. I was still very naive I guess. Maybe all that teaching about storks.” She got up and draw the curtains.

Jason rose too. “We are still playing games,” he said hoarsely. “I can’t pretend anymore! Come here, Audrey.”

As Audrey came into his arms all the pent-up longing of so many years engulfed Jason and he held her tightly to him. They clung together in one long wordless embrace for some time; again and again, Jason kissed her passionately as they moved apart.

“Beats all those perfunctory pecks at family gatherings,” he said as once more he pulled her to him.

The coffee long forgotten, by unspoken agreement, they moved to the large settee under the window, where they sat close together with Jason’s arm tightly around Audrey. It was as if they had just discovered each other.

“But I thought you really disliked me,” said Audrey. “When I began dreaming about you and thinking of you a lot, I was so cross with myself; I felt you would never even like me. So I certainly wasn’t going to be nice to you!”

“I think I loved you the first day I saw you,” admitted Jason. “You looked such a waif standing at the door, that weekend of your father’s 60th birthday party. But what could I do? I had just got engaged to Anthea, and you didn’t even know I existed.”

“I remember,” said Audrey. “I was licking my wounds over being jilted by that jerk of an archaeologist and I spent most of the weekend crying in my room.”

“It was just as well that you and Anthea didn’t get on,” said Jason. “So we didn’t have to meet very often – till you discovered that you liked playing with our children. By the way,” he added with a sheepish smile, “that night of the bathroom incident, Anthea got pregnant again.

Audrey hooted with laughter. “I’m sure Anthea didn’t mind. She loved having babies.”

“Yes and she was a good wife and mother,” agreed Jason. “And I was determined that our children should grow up in the same happy home environment that I had as a child. There were five of us too.”

“Maybe all those others guys I dated were all substitutes,” Audrey admitted. “I was crazy about you, Jason, and I didn’t realise it. Then I met Grant, and I really loved him – we were very happy together. But oh Jason, it wasn’t the same, I know now. But we were so wrapped up in our children too.”

She got up. “I’ll make some more coffee. I could certainly do with a cup.” Jason followed her into the kitchen and once more pulled her into his arms, kissing her tenderly again and again.

“You know,” said Audrey as she sipped her coffee, “maybe we weren’t ready for each other all those years ago. What we are today is the result of our lives up until now.”

Jason agreed. “I think,” he observed “that there is love and there is love with a spark. We have always had that spark I guess. We must get married as soon as possible, and maybe God will grant us many happy years together. After all, we are only in our sixties and I won’t wait any longer.”

“A registry office and a lunch after with the kids,” said Audrey. “Oh, whatever will they all think? What shall we tell them?”

“They’ll be delighted,” affirmed Jason. “We don’t have to tell them about the past. We’ll just say we are doubling up to save electricity bills.”

They both laughed as Jason got up to go and again pulled Audrey close to him. “See you in the morning, darling” he whispered.

It was after midnight when he left and each knew it was the dawn of a new day for them both.


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