Daniel deftly opened the champagne and filled the glasses. As he put the bottle down, Harry picked it up. He whistled, "What's this, a hundred quid a bottle?"
"For those who have no option but to pay, probably." said Daniel.
"What's the occasion?" said Harry.
Daniel paid very close attention to the view from the window. Rome was as lovely as ever, but he barely saw it. For so long, this day had been the hardest of the year, the anniversary of Kate's death and his son's birth, but now there was something worth celebrating. His boy had survived to twenty-one. There was little sign now of the rapscallion he had found picking pockets in London, though the fingers were as nimble and there was still a fire in the eyes when Harry got angry, but this assured young man didn't cry himself to sleep. He was, as far as Daniel could tell, happy.
"Daniel?" said Harry. He stood and came over to the window. "Come on, you sly old dog! What are we celebrating? It must be big. 'Meet me in Rome!' you say, so here I am, and here's some excellent champagne and the kind of food I normally have to charm nobility for and you can't tell me why?"
Daniel smiled. "You really are amazing, Harry. When I found you, you were ... "
"Don't remind me!" said Harry, "God, I was a venomous little bastard."
"No, just a scared kid with not much idea of where he was going." said Daniel, "And look at you now! I'd say your achievements deserve some celebration, wouldn't you?"
Harry laughed. "All this is for me?"
"Why not?" said Daniel, "I'm sorry if I made you give up a better offer."
"You know I love any chance to catch up with you. We've been friends a long time, Daniel."
"We have." said Daniel.
Harry ate some caviar. "I used to live on discarded fish and chips. I'd never have eaten caviar if I hadn't met you."
"And I'd never have seen so many terrible movies if I'd never met you." said Daniel.
"Hey, they were all great." said Harry, raising an admonishing finger.
"You certainly broadened my cultural horizons." said Daniel. He looked into his son's eyes. "Things have worked out well, haven't they?"
"Well? Daniel, look at me! I used to have shoes with holes in them. I slept under bridges. Now I'm in a luxury hotel, dressed like Cary Grant."
"Your wardrobe has definitely improved." said Daniel.
"I'll never understand why you did what you did. I picked your pocket!"
"Very well, as I recall."
"Not well enough. You caught me. Seven years, Daniel, and I wasn't exactly easy to live with."
"Well, neither was I. I was unaccustomed to looking after teenagers."
Harry grinned. "Estelle always said you should send me to school."
"Do you wish I had?" said Daniel.
"No, what Eton could have taught me, I learnt from Charles."
"I know it hasn't been easy, Harry and maybe I wasn't the best person to teach you, but you've done well and now you can do anything you want and be anyone you want to be. Just keep in touch and remember, anytime you need a friend, you have one."
"Same here. Wherever I am, whatever I'm doing, if you need me, let me know. You know, if you'd said, 'Meet me in London.' I'd have been there."
Daniel smiled, knowing it was true. "Well, I like Rome. Good restaurants, excellent hotels ..."
"Sophisticated women." said Harry.
"Loren had a lasting effect on you, didn't she?" said Daniel.
"I know you, Daniel, I bet you have some gorgeous lady in your sights tonight."
"Be glad you had no money on that." said Daniel, "No female company for me, this evening." It was hard for him to think of other women when Harry's mother was so much on his mind. He sipped his champagne and said, "So, how about you? Is there a woman in your life?"
"Usually." he said, "I don't like dining or sleeping alone."
"I keep hoping things are better for you now." said Daniel.
"They are." said Harry, "But I get lonely. It's not as bad as it used to be. I just like someone to hold in the night."
"If you ever get too lonely, you can always come home." said Daniel.
"I know. That's why it never gets too bad. It's a good feeling, knowing there's somewhere I can just turn up, at any time and in any condition and be welcome."
"And I can always find something for you to do." said Daniel, "Sometimes I miss having a partner who knows what he's doing and doesn't need too much explanation to understand the situation. You are, without doubt, the best I ever worked with."
"Really?" said Harry. He smiled awkwardly. Despite Daniel's best efforts to accustom him to praise, he still found it hard to accept any without question.
"We'll work together again, I know. Any time our paths collide, we'll assist in each other's schemes. But don't feel obliged to spend time on mine if there are things you want to be doing. I never want to hold you back. I taught you to take what you want from the world, I have no intention of impeding you."
"You were a good teacher. You taught me a lot."
Daniel chuckled. "I've often wondered, when you were younger, when I asked if you knew the facts of life and you assured me you did, did you?"
Harry grinned. "I had no idea what you were talking about."
"It should have occurred to me that you might not have heard the phrase. To be honest, I was so relieved when you said yes, that I didn't ask any questions." said Daniel.
"Well, no harm done. With help from the movies and magazines and Linda Pietri, I got it figured out in the end. You know, you actually taught me a lot about women. I watched you and I listened to you and I managed to formulate the simple rules that have kept my bed warm the past few years."
"What rules are those?" said Daniel.
"One thing I noticed early, you treat every woman the same, duchess or commoner, prostitute or debutante, you always treat them with deference and respect. You flirt widely, whether or not the lady in question is one you want to sleep with. You charm, you flatter, you make them laugh ... "
"The dullest of ladies may have a charming sister and it never hurts to be thought of as 'that charming man.'" said Daniel.
"You told me the secret of being a good lover was putting her pleasure first. I do that, and they love me for it. You told me to listen. I always saw how you listened to women. I never realised until you said it that a lot of men just don't, and they're crazy, because not only do you learn a lot that way, but it makes you seem interesting and intelligent."
"Yes, everyone instantly judges as intelligent anyone who hangs on their every word."
"You told me never to break a heart, never to be selfish or cruel. You said you would be ashamed of me if any woman felt I had betrayed her. I try very hard never to hurt anyone. My success, I think, can be judged by how many of my former lovers would take me back tomorrow."
"Be careful of going back. Try not to fall in love." said Daniel, remembering the jagged wound in his own heart, the searing grief of losing Kate.
"Relax, Daniel. Men like us don't fall in love." Harry smiled. "Though there are times, in the golden glow of the morning, when I can pretend to be in love with whichever dewy-eyed angel is lying in my bed."
"The pretence of love is safe enough." said Daniel, "But don't make it so good that the pretence becomes an outright lie, and never convince yourself of it."
Harry laughed, smiling with Kate's smile, Kate's blue eyes shining in a face so like hers that Daniel could hardly bear to look at it. He had survived and something of her had survived in him and Daniel knew she would have loved her son and would have been proud of the man he had become - not of the ways in which he resembled and behaved like his reprobate father, but of the warm heart and the ready wit and the deep thoughts behind those Kate-blue, slate-blue eyes.
There should have been a big party, a table full of gifts, Harry's parents and friends celebrating his coming of age. All that was impossible of course. He couldn't even tell the boy his birthday. It hurt. It grieved him to his heart. The cruel past could not be changed. He had failed his son at the beginning. But he had been granted a chance to put things right. He had found Harry and his failure as a father had been compensated for by his success as a mentor and friend. When he saw his son laughing, his heart leapt, because he could see that resilience that had brought him to this milestone of which he knew nothing.
It wasn't much of a 21st birthday party and he wasn't much of a father, but as he raised his glass and said, "To your astounding and unpredictable future, my boy!" he knew that he was toasting a man with the world at his feet and he was proud.