Oh, thank the lord and all his angels. I am on my way back to England, after an extended stay with the Patricks.
How extended, exactly? Two weeks, two months, two years? Who knows?
Time expands to encompass the drama available.
Never have I wanted to be somewhere else so badly as on the evening that Tania Patrick appeared on Libby’s doorstep and refused to leave. She wanted to meet her big brother, come what may — and never mind the collateral damage to his family.
The awkwardness, the embarrassment, the toe-curling please-God-get-me-out-of-here-ness of that meeting. The sister seemed oblivious to our shuffling feet, the nervous coughs, and our collective intake of breath as we heard Oliver’s car pull onto the driveway.
“Oliver!” Tania Patrick cooed, as she elbowed Libby out of the way, opened the front door, and and leaned in to kiss him on the cheek.
While she’s not unattractive, she’s never going to feature in a Pirelli calendar either, and Oliver’s not the touchy-feely type without a good reason for being so.
“Do I know you?” he asked, leaning back to avoid her embrace.
Libby, meanwhile, watching the scene as intently as her husband would watch a penalty shootout between Arsenal and Spurs, couldn’t bear the suspense. It occurred to me afterwards that she could have exonerated herself by blaming the sister for tracking Oliver down, but, guileless as she is, she blurted out her version of the truth.
“Oliver, this is Tania. She’s your sister. We met online after I emailed her.”
I couldn’t help but cover my face with my hands, shaking my head. Libby would not only have shaken hands with her executioner but apologised for treading on his foot on the way across the scaffold.
Oliver sidled through the front door into the house, pressing himself against the walls so he didn’t have to touch the visitor.
“And you didn’t think to tell me at the time?” he asked Libby.
“Well…” She floundered. “I mean, I didn’t tell her where we lived or anything, so I didn’t think she’d come here.”
“Took a bit of detective work to find you!” Tania’s voice was raspy. A recently ex-smoker’s cough. “Dad never talks about you, but my grandma told me once I had a brother somewhere.”
“Did she.” Oliver’s question dropped at the end to become a statement. “I bet he doesn’t know you’re here now.”
For the first time, Tania seemed unsure of herself.
“He doesn’t, no.”
“Keep it that way,” he said, opening the front door wide, and indicating to his newly-discovered and quickly-abandoned sister that this particular game of Happy Families was over.
I wasn’t sure what happened between Libby and Oliver after that. They disappeared into their room with the twins, and every now and then I heard the sound of raised voices, followed by one of the twins’ wailing.
Jane and I put Jack to bed, and had a whispered conversation while his bath was running.
“It will blow over,” Jane said, sounding more certain than she looked. “It has to. She meant no harm.”
“Things will look better in the morning,” I said.
They didn’t, of course.
They looked worse.
And the morning after that, too. Every day was worse than the last.
Libby put on a brave face and bright smiles during the day — while Oliver was out — and for minutes at a time we would forget anything was wrong. The babies always knew something was wrong, though, and cried alternately with hunger and colic. On Day Three, Libby abandoned her principles and gave them formula milk.
When Oliver came home in the evenings, the atmosphere changed in the house. Jane and I would scurry for cover in the basement, pretending that we were keeping Jack entertained and out of the way.
Bad enough to bear were the frozen silences whenever Libby and Oliver were in the same room together. When Jane and I prepared dinner in the kitchen, we whispered, as if by whispering we could dissipate the cloud of anger and resentment that billowed forth from Oliver.
Worst of all, though were the nights. When everyone was in bed, we could hear — although we pretended not to — the increasing volume of Oliver’s voice, as the same argument was rehashed again and again.
“You had no right! None of your business!”
An inaudible murmur from Libby. More raging from Oliver.
“How would you like it if I invited a whole bunch of your long lost, naff relatives to barge into our life and turn it upside down? You wouldn’t, would you?”
Another murmur from Libby, this time louder so the quaver in her voice is detectable.
“I don’t care how good your intentions were. I’ve spent my entire life trying to forget that bastard ever existed, and now I have to deal with him and a TOWIE half-sister, thanks to your good intentions. If those are your good intentions, God help us all when you have bad ones.”
And so on. Every night. Libby looked shattered — a normal look for a mother with new twins, but this was exhaustion on a different plane.
Sunday arrived, and I had to leave. I wished I could take Libby as well.
She had refused to talk about what had happened. Perhaps she felt that ignoring the problem would make it go away.
“I’ll be all right,” she said, as she said goodbye to me. “Mum’s still here, at least.”
Jane had stepped up her game in the last few days. If she previously thought Libby was confident, and felt inadequate around her, this was no longer the case. A mother is always a mother, no matter how old her children are.
“You’ve got to talk to someone, Libs,” I said. “You can’t bottle it up like this.”
She shook her head. “Can’t,” she said, pressing her lips together in a thin line. “You have no idea what a Pandora’s Box I’ve opened.”
I had an idea. “Then write. Get it out of your system that way.”
She nodded slightly. “I’ll think about it.”
“I can’t do your blog next week,” I said. Actually, I could, but this would be good therapy for Libs.
“I’ll think about it,” she repeated. She sniffed, straightened up, and put her shoulders back. “You’d better go. The traffic will be awful if you leave it any later. The Red Sox are playing at home today.”
I sat in the car, put it in reverse, and backed out of the driveway. As I stopped at the end of Juniper Drive, I looked in the rearview mirror. Libby was standing by her mailbox, still waving.
Even from this distance, I could see she was crying.
Next: LIBBY’S LIFE #51 – On a cliff edge
Previous: LIBBY’S LIFE #49- An unwelcome blast from the past
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Img: Map of the World – Salvatore Vuono