Chapter 10

Vyvyan stood on the dock feeling much better than he had for at least a year. He had arrived back in California that morning, and almost as soon as he turned his BlackBerry back on at the airport, he got two very welcome voice-mail messages. One was from his daughter, saying that her mom was going to let them come to the little ceremony Vyvyan had planned, even though she and Josh would have to miss a school day for it. Of course, if he had his mum's ceremony in Britain, as Rick had argued she would want, the kids would have had to miss a lot more than just one day - and he was glad things weren't so bad that his wife wouldn't let the kids say goodbye to their grandma because the grandma happened to be his mum.

He called Brit back first and they discussed when she'd arrive at his apartment with Josh, what they should wear, and who else would be there. Then V. broke one of his rules, which was not to discuss Chel with the kids unless they brought her up.

"Is .. is your mum planning to be there?"

"I don't know ... should I ask?"

"No, no ... I'll just plan on her being there and if she isn't, well, she isn't. I don't want you to feel you've got to do something either way about this. We don't want you to be caught between us. This ... problem is your mum's and mine, not yours."

Did she understand? How did you tell your kid to stay out without being rude, or sounding like you were protesting too much? Besides, as far as Vyvyan could see, it did concern her. It was her business. But it wasn't her fault, and it wasn't her job to negotiate a peace between them. Damn, he hated words sometimes. So imprecise.

The second message was from the chief of surgery at the hospital, saying his job with the trauma center was safe and he should call as soon as possible to let her know when he would be back at work. By the time he got that message, she was gone for the day, so he called his AA.

"Well, I guess I'm coming back," he told her.

"Oh, yes," she said. "You missed the drama. A lot of the staff - medical, nonmedical, down to part-time janitors -- signed a petition saying the security here is pathetic, and that if you were fired for defending yourself, they would all quit. Management is finally going to review the matter. That's one of the reasons the chief wants to know when you'll be back so she can schedule a meeting on the subject."

Vyvyan ran his hand over his face. Not only did that make a point they'd all been trying to make for at least two years, it also put paid to the idea that the staff was so afraid of him they wanted him to leave. The chief of surgery was a good physician and a good person, but she hadn't been working overnights for far too long. She still pictured the overnight shift as it was fifteen years ago. He told his AA to let the chief know he would call her in the morning, around 10 or 11

"Any other news?"

"Mr Macintosh was killed in a brawl in the county jail," she said cheerfully.

"I hardly consider that good news," V said very sharply.

"Of course not," she said evenly. "I simply thought you should know."

He looked at his watch. Everyone else was there, but no Chel. He sighed. 11:30 p.m. was much too late to blame being late on traffic. If they were going to get where they were going by midnight, they needed to leave now. He turned to the captain of the boat he had hired and said, "I think we'd better go." He strolled up the gangplank --

"Vyvyan! Vyvyan! Wait!" called a voice, and he turned and saw a slight figure hurrying toward them.

"All right, wait," he told the captain, who helped Chel onto the gangplank. Vyvyan helped her off the plank into the boat, and her dark eyes met his, but he couldn't read their expression. He let her make her way to the children and turned to stand near the entrance to the raised bow.

The trip from Pier 24 was majestically slow, as much for the sake of ceremony as for safety in the dark. They circled Alcatraz Island, where Vyvyan had thought about spreading his mum's ashes before deciding against it, and turned west out toward sea. It sailed through the Golden Gate, under the beautiful bridge, and beyond, just out of earshot of the midnight traffic flow; the skipper cut the motor and dropped the anchor. Only then did Vyvyan turn to face the others aboard.

In the moonlight, he eyed the other passengers: Brittani, his daughter, ginger hair tied back in a serviceable ponytail; Josh, his son, looking both worried and fierce and somewhat Asian despite his red hair and freckles; Chel standing between them, her short hair blowing in the breeze and her face still unreadable; Diana in her vestments; his other half-sister, Clementina, another redhead, looking a little out of place; Rick, trying not to be seasick; Neil, hunched over and chewing on a knuckle; Mike, standing straight, hands behind his back. His eyes rested on a graceful dark shape on the deck. He picked it up – smooth, hard, glossy, unyielding – and turned to Diana.

"I guess we can start now," he said. Diana stepped to the center of the deck.

"Let us pray," she began.

Vyvyan didn't hear her prayer, or any of the remarks she made afterward. He was thinking: I know you didn't want a service. Well, too bad. This is for us, not for you.

He went over the remarks he'd prepared on the flight over from London. He didn't like what he'd outlined. Total bollocks. This crowd didn't need to hear about grabbing life with both hands and drinking the cream from the top of the bottle and all that bollocks, which is what people usually said about her.

"Dad?" said Josh.

"Oh, is it my turn?" he asked softly. So he'd decided he wasn't going to say what he'd prepared. What would he say, then?

He picked up the heavy urn with his mum's ashes inside and climbed onto the bow. For a moment he thought about just disposing of them without saying anything at all. But as he considered that, he began talking to her.

"Well, Mum, here we are. I finally got you to come to America. See what you missed?"

From here he could see the lights of San Francisco's western side, which he seldom saw, and he paused just to take it all in.

"I think you would have liked San Francisco. I certainly think you would have liked the weather better than London – always complaining about the bloody rain you were."

He paused, frowning. Now what? He turned to look over the bow out to sea. "Mum, I found the things you'd written for me ... and I found things you didn't want anyone else to see. I only skimmed those, your journals. I haven't even told anyone about them yet. I think you meant to burn them. I may well do that, or I may not. But I'm going to read them all first. Every last word.

"I know now ... I know you had a hard life, a difficult life. You were ... so bright, so ambitious, and you couldn't do anything about it. At fifteen you were working for a new doctor, filing things and stuff, trying to make a little extra money for your family, and you wanted to be a nurse. One thing led to another, and that led to me when you were only sixteen.

"I'm not going to lie, Mum. The first ten years of my life were horrible. I won't go into all that, but you know what happened. Some of it you did directly. Some of it you allowed. But some of it you tried to stop, even though it could have cost you your life.

"Then you gave me up. Then I ran into you by accident and you stole everything of value you could from me. Every conversation turned into an argument. Even our last one."

His voice caught; when he continued, it was shaking and hoarse. "I wish it had been different, Mum. I really do. Because I loved you, and you loved me, although you had a funny way of showing it sometimes.

"When you gave me up, that showed it. You could have told my, my, my father, that you were going to keep me. That would have been the easy thing to do. Easy on your ego, anyway. It's hard to raise a kid, but it's harder to know you failed – or did you? Pushing him out of the nest a little early because you knew he'd have a better chance?

"I don't know, mum, I can't imagine walking away from my kids. I hated you for it. Now I see you had a crap hand and you played it well, maybe even brilliantly, at least for my sake. What would I have been had you kept me? In prison, probably, or dead, or passing poverty, ignorance and abuse on to another generation.

"I never figured it out until it was too late to thank you, to really start again with our relationship. But I can ... forgive you, can't I? For what you did to me knowingly, and unknowingly ... or what I thought you did ... and hope you forgive me, wherever you are, if you can."

He swallowed. "And ... I can start over with other relationships. I can do better. I don't know how, but ... I'll find out. It'll never replace what we should have had, Mum, but ..."

He heard, or imagined, her voice as clearly as if she were standing behind him. Oh Vyvyan, don't talk such nonsense. Your brain's overcooked. Just get it over with already.

Smiling wryly, he hefted the sealed metal urn, designed to sink to the bottom of a given body of water and stay there, onto the rail. "Well, anyway, Mum. Over you go."

It splashed into the water, tilted, then went straight down without a trace. That was what it was supposed to do so it would embed itself in the bottom – but he wished it hadn't gone so quickly.

He clambered back to the main deck. Everyone looked like they'd shed a few tears, but Chel was shaking and trying to hold back. He held his arms out to her and then he was holding her tight, stroking her dark hair. He was glad she was sobbing so loudly, so he could weep himself without being too obvious about it.