My Dinner with Andrew

I stood in the doorway of the hotel dining room and scanned the crowded space for my son. He had said twelve-thirty, and I was no more than one or two minutes late. Had I beaten him here? I was about to return to the lobby to wait when I spotted Andrew, half-risen out of his chair and waving to me. I nodded acknowledgement and threaded my way through the sea of tables.

"Dad!" Andrew Foyle looked genuinely pleased to see me. "You're looking well!"

"And you." I shook hands with him before taking the opposite seat at the table. "Life in the business world must agree with you then."

Andrew grimaced and shrugged. "It's all right."

I hid a smile. My son had entered the world of work and was now confronting cold reality, that cruel realization that retirement and a life of ease was a very long way off.

"Not as exciting as the RAF, I'm sure. You could have gone back to Oxford, you know. Delayed the inevitable."

"Not a chance. It was time to settle down and work for a living like everyone else. Besides, I've seen too much over the past few years to resume the carefree life of a student."

I toyed with the idea of saying that I wished Andrew's short time at Oxford hadn't been quite so carefree, then discarded it. Andrew had matured significantly over the course of the war, and for that I was grateful.

"I understand," I said, removing my napkin from beneath the silverware and spreading it across my lap.

"What about you, Dad? In your letter, you mentioned that you were going to be working for the government. Doing what, exactly?"

I shrugged. "Not allowed to say. Let's just say that it has to do with economic recovery and leave it at that."

Andrew toyed with the edge of his menu. "Secrets still? I thought that would all end with the war."

"If you think that political maneuvering ended with the surrender, think again. Not all countries are satisfied to sit back and nurse their wounds."

"Germany? Surely not, there's barely anything left of it. Russia?"

I arched a meaningful eyebrow at my son as I sipped from my glass of water.

"I see," Andrew mused. "Well, at least it'll be a different sort of villain for you, won't it? No more dreary Hastings murders."

"No."

"So you found this place without any problems."

"I have been to London before, you know."

"Of course. Sam drive you here?"

"I've managed to drive myself as of late, actually."

"I heard. That's terrific, Dad. Good for you. Never too late to begin again, eh?"

"Hmm," I murmured noncommittally, thinking how Andrew had unwittingly hit the nail on the head. 'Never too late to begin again' was the primary reason I was here, but I didn't want to plunge into that admission just yet. I picked up my menu and began to scan the offerings. "It's a while since I've been here. What do you recommend?"

"Oh, everything's good. I haven't had a bad meal yet."

"Your position must pay quite well if you can afford to eat here that often."

"Well, to be honest, I don't eat here that often." Andrew grinned sheepishly. "Twice, and once the boss was paying."

"I see."

"But the beef was decent. Not too under-seasoned. I hear the pork is reliably good…" Andrew continued on, offering a few more suggestions.

I only half listened to him. I was more concerned with what I was about to say than about what I would eat, and finally closed my menu and placed it back on the table. "So how are your new digs? All settled in?"

"Yes, it's great! I'm sharing with two other blokes. We're not the best housekeepers, though. The place is usually a bit of a mess."

"Can't say I'm surprised."

"No, but at least the messes aren't all mine. Anyway, it's boatloads of fun. And there's privacy when you need it."

"Oh?" I knew exactly what my son was driving at, but asked anyway.

Andrew's eyes lit up, and I wondered just how many girls were involved this time. I was grateful that there were even a few women who had expressed an interest in me. The revolving door that was my son's love life never ceased to amaze.

"What's her name?" I asked. "Or should I say 'their names'?"

"Dad!" Andrew protested. "There's only one right now. Helen."

"Helen, hmm? Are you serious about her?"

"Could be," Andrew admitted coyly, "although that remains to be seen. How about you, Dad? Any longing widows got their claws into you yet?"

My first instinct was to berate my son for using the image of grieving war widows so callously. Then I remembered that Andrew had always possessed a talent for veering across the line of propriety. Besides, my news would be unsettling enough without starting off with a confrontation.

"I have begun seeing someone," I said carefully.

"Really?" Andrew's face split into a wide grin. "I don't believe it. Finally! After all these years! Wow, Dad, that's great! Who is it? Someone from the new job?"

"No. It's someone you know."

"Oh?" He looked baffled.

This was it, the last moment of innocence. I felt a vague pang of regret for upsetting Andrew's view of life and the Way Things Should Be. I took a deep breath.

"It's Sam."

"Sam? My Sam?" The grin wavered.

"If by 'my Sam' you mean Samantha Stewart, then yes, although she hasn't been 'your Sam' for quite a long time now," I retorted, annoyed at being immediately put on the defensive.

Andrew stared at me for a long moment, the grin trying desperately to hang on to the corners of his mouth. "You're joking, right?"

"Why would I joke about that?"

There was a pregnant pause as Andrew stared at me in horror. "What on earth are you playing at, Dad? Why would Sam even want —"

"—an old man like me?" I finished for him.

Andrew reddened. "That's not what I meant!"

"Of course it's what you meant. And if you think I have an answer to your question, I don't."

"So… Sam feels something for you, and you feel something for her? Well, that's ridiculous, of course you do. What man in his right mind wouldn't?" Andrew raked a nervous hand through his hair. "But I thought she was engaged. You told me that she was getting married."

"She was engaged, yes. She broke it off just before I returned from America."

"What do her parents have to say?"

"I'll be going to see them over Christmas. I've met her father and uncle previously, but never her mother. From what Sam says, I rather think they're resigned to seeing what happens."

"Oh, I'm sure they're thrilled," Andrew muttered.

"Am I to assume from that that you don't approve?"

"Approve? Dad, it's ridiculous," Andrew burst out. "A man of your age and a young girl —"

"Sam is no more a young girl than you are a boy," I retorted. "The war has made old souls of us all."

"That's what this is about, isn't it? The war and that sense of impending doom that makes you want to grab every good thing that you can."

I sighed wearily.

"Andrew, you're making much more of this than is necessary. The simple truth is that for reasons I can't begin to fathom, Sam thinks I am everything she has ever wanted."

"And it's a boost to your ego, I'm sure."

I folded up my napkin, placed it precisely in my plate, and stood. "If that is what you think, then this conversation is over."

Andrew looked mildly panicked. "Dad, no. Sit down, please! Look, I'm sorry. That was – was –"

"Unspeakably rude? Yes," I snapped, but sat anyway. "Do you really believe that I'm such a miserably lonely old man that I would take advantage of Sam Stewart?"

"No, of course not!" Andrew leaned over the table, spoke in a low, urgent voice. "I just don't want you to make a fool of yourself."

"That's rich coming from you, the man who's had – I don't know, how many girlfriends is it now? I can count the number of serious relationships I've ever had on the fingers of one hand. Do you really think I feel any remorse over this?"

Andrew opened and closed his mouth several times, apparently hunting desperately for the right words.

"Are you going to marry her?" he managed.

"That would be my intention if things continue to progress," I said coldly. "I don't do silly little dalliances." Like some people.

Andrew had the good grace to blush. "So," he said, scowling, "how long have you had feelings for Sam? Is this a new development, or did you fancy her even when she and I were together?"

I heard the faint note of accusation, but let it pass. "I have always felt something toward Sam, but I never allowed myself to dwell on any possibilities as I didn't believe that there were any. Frankly, I was as shocked as you when she told me."

Andrew was still looking at me as though I had announced my intention to swim naked across the Channel with the Union Jack clutched in my teeth. But before he had a chance to continue his protests, the waiter arrived at our table. I ordered, even though my appetite was long gone. My thoughts rambled while Andrew placed his order. Was this merely the end of Round One, or would my son ever give me credit for having a small shred of sanity left?

The waiter moved off. Andrew took a drink of water, smoothed his napkin, and glanced briefly around at the other patrons in a blatant delaying tactic. I said nothing, determined to wait him out.

"Look, Dad…" Andrew began finally. "I'd like to talk to Sam about all this. I just can't picture her…" His voice trailed off.

Settling for me, I finished silently. "She wanted to come along today, but I felt that I should talk to you privately first. I'm sure that you'll be seeing her soon, but I should warn you that she has a lot to say on the subject."

"She always has a lot to say," Andrew snorted.

"Andrew!" I snapped.

Andrew put his elbows on the table – his mother would have had a fit – and buried his face in his hands.

"I'm sorry, Dad," he muttered. "But look, you have to admit, this is just – just odd. Unorthodox. Very unlike you."

"Yes, it is. And maybe that's not such a bad thing. I'm sorry this disturbs you so much, Andrew. It's not my intent to embarrass you or cause you any grief. But as I said, while I cannot begin to understand why this has happened, I won't abandon the wonderful gift that has dropped into my lap. I didn't ask for it, but here it is. And if you refuse to discuss this in a civil fashion, then I will happily pay for my share of the lunch and be on my way."

For a moment I was sure that Andrew would say, "Fine" and hold out his hand for me to dole out the money. Instead, he shook his head, defeated.

"Dad, I – I really don't know what to say."

"Then say nothing. Give it some time, Andrew. I would hope that eventually you will be happy for me. And Sam."

My son nodded mutely. It occurred to me then: perhaps this was less about me, and more about regrets. Regrets that for a brief while, Andrew had been in my position, and Samantha Stewart had been his.