Surprise for Captain Peacock
It was a typical Thursday evening. Stephanie and Katherine poked through the pile of what-nots their father retrieved from his pockets for them. Stephen playfully cuddled and wrestled with Margaret as her sisters surveyed their treasure. He kissed her little fingers as she tugged on his moustache. Betty prepared their tea in the kitchen. The heavenly aroma of beef and potato pie wafted into the lounge.
"Mmmm," Stephen smiled, "Mummy's cooking one of my favorites!"
Margaret blew a raspberry and Stephen kissed her forehead.
A hesitant knock sounded at the front door. Hefting Margaret onto his hip, Stephen strode over to answer it. He snapped on the light. Before him stood a man about thirty-three years old, piercing grey eyes, cleft chin, lean build, about Stephen's height. He was handsome, smartly dressed in a dark overcoat and hat.
"May I help you?" Stephen greeted, eyeing the man.
"Yes. I'm looking for Stephen Peacock. I was told I could find him here," the man greeted.
"I'm Stephen Peacock. What's this about?" Stephen asked, confused.
"Allow me to introduce myself," he said extending his hand, "My name is Robert Simmons. I'm American. My mother was Lorraine Simmons. Perhaps you remember her?"
Stephanie and Katherine joined their father at the front door, hiding behind and peeking around his long legs. Margaret squirmed in his arms and he set her down. Stephanie reached for Margaret's hand and drew her behind Stephen.
All at once, like a flipbook going in reverse, Stephen's life flashed before him backwards. His wedding day with Betty. His 20year anniversary at Grace Brothers. His wedding day with Vivienne. It all came rushing like a zoetrope. Then the images stopped…at Lorraine.
"Yes. I remember Lorraine," he nodded, "She was an American WAC officer. She and several others were assigned to our regiment to train us how to use the communications equipment and proper radio procedures. What does that have to do with you?"
"Lorraine was my mother. She died three years ago. I never knew my father…"
Stephen's stomach tightened and a lump formed in his throat as he eyed the man who came into focus- the mirror image of himself.
"Well, sir," Robert hesitated, "I found my birth certificate among her things…"
He unfolded and handed the document to Stephen. Stephen removed his glasses from his inside jacket pocket, flipped them open, and put them on.
Certificate of live birth. Des Moines, Iowa. Name- Robert Simmons. Date of Birth 6 June 1944. Sex- Male. Weight- seven pounds six ounces (just like Steffie!) he thought. He continued reading Mother- Lorraine Simmons. Father- Stephen Peacock- Captain, RASC.
Stephen's face blanched, his stomach wrenched, and he swallowed hard. He scratched his chin nervously as Betty entered the lounge.
"Stephen, what is it; you've gone quite pale?" she asked, concern entering her voice.
"Come in, Mr. Simmons," Stephen invited, "Betty, this is Mr. Simmons," he handed Betty the paper. Her eyes scanned the paper.
Father- Stephen Peacock- Captain, RASC.
"Oh, my!" she gasped, turning to face her husband.
"I'm not here to cause you trouble," Mr. Simmons explained, "It's just that I always wondered…you know?"
Stephen nodded slowly, still reeling in shock.
"Please. Sit down. I'll bring the tea," Betty said finally, "Girls! Please come help with the tea!"
Stephanie and Katherine scampered to the kitchen after their mother. Margaret wandered to where Stephen and Mr. Simmons were sitting. She lay her little head on Stephen's leg.
"Your grandchildren?" Mr. Simmons asked, motioning to the girls.
"My children," Stephen stated proudly.
"Oh! I'm sorry, I guess I just assumed…" he shyly smiled and scratched his chin.
"That's quite alright, I'm getting used to it!" Stephen chuckled nervously, "We got off to a rather late start."
Mr. Simmons smiled and looked round the lounge and settled on studying Stephen's face, "She used to say I looked just like you!" he smiled.
"Why didn't she try to contact me? I had a right to know I had a son!" Stephen mused.
"She said she tried to write you. The last known address was Pelham Range. She said the letters came back unopened, unknown addressee."
"I see," Stephen said quietly, "After the war Pelham Range was razed and the land returned to the city. I was demobbed in 1947."
"She wasn't going to come back to England; she couldn't afford to. She didn't expect you to leave England. With no known address, she just gave up. I guess that settled it," he shrugged.
"Who is that, Mummy?" Stephanie asked, pointing.
"A man visiting Daddy. Shh," she looked at the girls, "Let's bring the tea now."
Betty and the girls entered the lounge. She set the tray on the coffee table and sat down next to Stephen. Stephanie and Katherine gawked at the man who was the spitting image of their father, minus the moustache.
"Girls, please go up to your room and read a story to Maggie," Betty said firmly, trying to avoid the girls from asking questions.
"Yes, Mummy!" Katherine replied, taking Margaret by the hand, and the three girls departed the lounge. They glanced back before scurrying up the stairs.
Betty looked Mr. Simmons over, noting the striking resemblance to Stephen. It was as if she were looking at a 25-year younger version of her husband.
"How old are they?" he questioned.
"The oldest is Stephanie, she's five. Katherine is four and little Margaret is eighteen months," Stephen explained, "Do you have any children?"
"No," he shook his head.
"What brings you to England?" she asked suspiciously.
"As I told Mr. Peacock…" he began.
"Captain Peacock," Stephen corrected.
"I'm sorry," he shrugged, "As I told Captain Peacock, my mother died three years ago. She had boxes full of papers: photographs; newspaper articles; all of my report cards from school; Christmas cards; recipes; her official papers from the Army, all jumbled. There had to be 10 boxes at least. I found my birth certificate among the paperwork. I found the returned letters…"
"Your mother died rather young," Stephen stated.
"Breast cancer. But she was a fighter!" he smiled lovingly.
"I'm sorry," Stephen murmured, "And your father?"
"Mom never married," Mr. Simmons said quietly.
"Oh, I am sorry," Stephen looked down.
"So how did I come to be? Was I a one-night stand? A drunken one-off?" he looked apprehensively at the older man. Betty cringed at his choice of words.
"I'm sorry, Ma'am," he apologized when he saw her discomfiture at his words.
"Not exactly," Stephen shook his head, "We had a two week whirlwind romance of sorts. Those of us in communications spent a lot of time with our instructors. We only had two weeks to learn everything; it was a crash course. She coached me with my Royal Signals voice. We became rather close."
"I see," he said sadly.
"I was shipping out the next morning," Stephen said defensively, "I was scared; I was a 22-year-old Captain, second in charge. I was barely in charge of myself. I didn't know if my men were going to be killed. We had a four-hour furlough…"
Stephen shrugged, a little embarrassed to be talking about this with a complete stranger. However, he also felt Mr. Simmons had a right to know.
"It wasn't like we had it off for four hours," Stephen explained, "We walked round the billets area; we ate sandwiches and drank tea. We listened to music and we talked. Like I said, we didn't know if we were going to come back alive. How did you find me?" he asked.
"I work for a book publisher in Baltimore. We have connections to the office here in London. I called and asked for a favor. I'm sorry to intrude," Mr. Simmons said.
"Look. What's say we kip down to the pub and you can ask me all the questions you want?" Stephen suggested.
Mr. Simmons smiled and nodded.
"Betty, do you mind?" Stephen raised his eyebrows in anticipation.
"No. You two go on ahead. I'm going to get the girls their dinner and into bed. It was nice to meet you, Mr. Simmons," Betty said.
"It's Robert," he said, extending his hand, "And it was nice to meet you, too."
He and Stephen stood and left.
Two hours later, they departed the pub, father and son, separated by thirty-three years and a world away. Mr. Simmons and Stephen hugged, exchanged addresses and phone numbers, and parted ways. Mr. Simmons hailed a cab and headed to his hotel - mission accomplished.
Stephen returned home; Betty waited for him on the settee. He closed the door quietly and sat down next to her.
"Did he leave?" Betty asked.
"Yes. His plane leaves first thing in the morning and he was headed back to his hotel."
"How'd it go?" she asked, resting her hand on his forearm.
"It went well. He had many questions. I didn't have a whole lot of answers, I'm afraid," he sighed, "I'm sorry, Betty."
"For what?" she smiled.
"I feel like I've been unfaithful," he said looking down at his feet.
Scooting closer to him, Betty took him in her arms and gently rubbed his back, "You're a good man, Stephen," she said gently, "You didn't do anything wrong. It was thirty-three years ago. There was a war going on. It's not like a woman with a two year old child came to our door this evening and announced you were the father!"
"I know. But I have this feeling in the pit of my stomach that I've never had before. I feel like I've been gypped. I guess she had no intention of actually finding me as his last name is Simmons and not Peacock."
"Well, it was different times then. An unmarried woman with a child who has a different surname than her own raises suspicions and scrutiny. She was probably trying to protect him as well as herself."
"I suppose you're right," he sighed and kissed her cheek.
Silently Betty held him for a long time.