Kennedy stood hidden from view inside the shade of the open air kitchen, mug of fresh coffee held against his chest, watchingin wonderment at his family and Kieran as they chatted amiably around the breakfast table. Over the past few days, Reagan had rearranged her plans, had even booked them all into the St Regis for Sunday champagne brunch—much to his mother’s delight—and had taken Kieran and her kids to Universal Studios on Monday—the day a public holiday—while his mother and father played golf, allowing Kennedy time to catch up on work and make some urgent calls.
Just as well, too, because he’d heard from Karl how, just that morning, Milletto had once again requested a change of dates for the meeting, now in the middle of the last week of Kennedy’s holiday when he would be in Bali. More worryingly, Karl had an urgent meeting with their financial auditors that particular day, one he could not shrug off. At ten in the morning GMT, Kennedy got his team on a conference call to find out more, and ended by telling them he would most likely be dialling in for the meeting and to please use their main conference room. He had his reasons. Let’s see what Sloan’s next move would be. When he put the phone down, he checked his private email to see if Tim had sent him anything, but nothing had yet arrived. Determined not to let this development spoil his holiday, he finished his work and went for a punishing swim.
Now, Tuesday, their last morning together, Reagan had turned up alone for breakfast to see them off, having dropped the boys off to school. Four days into the holiday and Kieran had already proven his worth. Kennedy watched Kieran talking animatedly, envied his easy nature, the way he comfortably chatted to anyone. Reagan’s kids, who rarely engaged Kennedy, already referred to him as Uncle Kieran. What the hell was he supposed to do with that when all this was over?
Something in Kennedy had changed, too. He could feel as much deep down. Rarely had he enjoyed visiting his parents. Most other times he would have ended up arguing with his father about one thing or another—or with Patrick—and usually couldn’t wait to get the fuck gone. Maybe they had all mellowed with age, but seeing his sister laughing now reminded him how much he loved and missed her.
“Your friend. He very nice man,” came Matty’s voice, beside him. When Kennedy turned, Matty held a tray with toast, butter, and assorted pots of Maya’s homemade fruit jam. “He come this morning to thank me and my wife for everything, said she is very, very good wife and cook—and probably much too good for me.”
Matty’s laughter had Kennedy grinning, too. Yes, that sounded like Kieran.
“I tell him, sorry, she not understand English.”
Kennedy laughed along with Matty, which had Kieran and his sister looking over and smiling at them. Today they embarked on the next part of their journey and he wondered how Kieran would fare with his friends.
“Here, let me take that,” said Kennedy, putting his mug on a counter top and taking the tray. “I need to be the good son and rejoin them. I’ll come and say goodbye before we leave.”
As he approached the table, his mother singled him out.
“Your father’s offered to drive you to the port.”
Kennedy placed the tray in the middle of the table and gave his sister a quizzical look. All of them knew only too well not to arrange things for his father on Tuesdays, when he attended his old boy’s club—held sacrosanct in his retirement—the one day of the week he spent with his ex-consulate and other male buddies.
“There’s no need. We can call a taxi.”
“I’ll take you. No point wasting money,” said his father, turning a page of his newspaper.
“What about club day?”
“There’ll be plenty more of those. Family comes first.”
Kennedy sat down heavily. Had he shifted into another dimension overnight? When he looked at Reagan, she shrugged, also looking bewildered.
“In which case,” said Reagan, standing. “I need to go home, tidy up, and do some urgent chores.”
She came around the table, giving each of her parents a hug, before stopping at Kieran, he stood up from his seat and hugged her. Kennedy had no idea what she said, but she whispered something in his ear, which had him grinning broadly and nodding. When she reached Kennedy, she grabbed his arm and pulled him up.
“Come on. You can walk me to the car.”
In comfortable silence, arms linked, they strolled towards the car canopy and stopped to face each other at the front grille of her black SUV.
“Was great to see you and the boys, Reagan. Send my love to Bernie when he gets back. Tell him I’m sorry we missed him.”
When they hugged, she clung on tightly, not wanting to let go. When she did, an odd expression transformed her face, part affection, part sadness, as though she wanted to tell him something.
“What’s the matter?”
Instead, she looked away for a moment, collected herself, and then met his gaze with a more stoic expression.
“Bernie’s having an affair.”
“What? Are you sure?”
Finally, the undercurrent of sadness he had observed in her made sense.
“The night before he left for Cape Town, while he was in the shower, a couple of pretty explicit text messages popped up on his phone. From someone called Shirl. I think it’s his secretary in Melbourne, Shirlene.”
“Did you confront him?”
“Honestly, I was too stunned at the time. Didn’t know what to say.”
“Shit, Reagan. Why didn’t you call me? What are you going to do?”
At that, a small, sad smile crept onto her face.
“I know I’m a Bennett now—by marriage—but I’m also still a Grey at heart. And we don’t take things lying down. So I’m not going to ignore this. But I also have the boys to think about. Fortunately, I had the sense to snap a photo of the display on my phone, in case he tries to deny anything. He’s due back Friday, so I’ve asked mum to take the boys that night so Bernie and I can go out to dinner together. Haven’t told her anything else. But anyway, I’ll confront him then.”
“If there’s anything you need from me, I mean anything, let me know.”
“I don’t like to worry you—”
“But you must, Reagan. Something that’s hit home for me this visit, is that I’ve been absent from your lives for too long. And that’s not healthy for any of us. Of course, I can’t be physically here to baby-sit for you or hold your hand, but I can offer both emotional and financial support, if that’s what you need. I’m your brother. I promise I’ll be there for you, okay?”
“Okay, thank you,” she said, grinning broadly. “Hey, Kieran’s a catch. You fell on your feet with that one. Do you think you’ve finally found a keeper?”
“We’ll see,” said Kennedy, thrown off guard by the change of subject, and looking away.
“Come on, Kennedy, he’s nice,” she said, before tugging on his sleeve and getting his full attention. “What’s wrong with him?”
Kennedy sighed and shook his head. How the hell did he explain to his sister that Kieran was nothing more than paid help, straight help, come to that?
“Nothing’s wrong with him, I just—”
“You think you’re not good enough, think he’ll leave you, too, don’t you?”
“That bastard ex well and truly fucked you up, didn’t he? If I ever run into him, so help me, I’ll—”
Kennedy started laughing, then, stopping his sister in her tracks.
“You remember what dad always told us? One battle at a time. Take on too many, you dilute your attention, and are more likely to lose them all. Sort your own shit out first.”
They laughed together then, his sister finally pulling him into a final hug.
“Talking of which, are you going to say anything to them, mum and dad?” he asked.
“Let’s see what happens first. I’ll keep you posted, too. Enjoy the rest of your holiday. I know you don’t do social media, but email or text me some photos.”
After she had driven away, he and Kieran spent the rest of their morning packing and readying themselves for the next leg of the vacation. Bang on ten, Matty arrived at his bedroom door, insisting once again to take his bags down to the car. After his mother bid them both a teary farewell, they drove out to the port, where The Diamond Princess towered over every other vessel.
Impressive did not even begin to describe the sheer size and structure of the cruise liner. Seven stories of cabin balconies sat between other floors of restaurant or cafes or gyms—difficult to discern from the exterior. Kennedy had almost become immune to the sight, had done cruises so many times, but in the rear view mirror, he could see Kieran sitting open mouthed and enchanted.
“Good heavens,” said Jeff, pulling up at the drop off point. “Looks like a floating city.”
“She pretty much is,” said Kennedy. “Built to accommodate up to around four thousand passengers not including crew.”
“And they’re all—you know—like you? The passengers?”
“More or less, yes,” said Kennedy. He decided not to try to explain that the organisers aimed the cruise at the full range of LGBTQ, as well welcoming older guests, thin or more full bodied, and all races. Which made for a far more friendly crowd. One of the other cruises had been more exclusive, just for men, and if you weren’t ripped, in your twenties, and hot, you were essentially invisible.
Without too much ceremony, Jeff helped them get their bags out of the trunk. This time around, however, instead of the formal handshake, he pulled Kieran into a hug and, just like his sister had, said something to him that Kennedy couldn’t hear. Finally he turned his attention to Kennedy.
“Come and see us again soon, son. Your mother and I aren’t getting any younger.”
“You know, you can always jump on a plane and come see me.”
“With your work schedule? Would we ever get to see you?”
“Fair point. But I’d make the time.”
“Let me talk to your mother. You know how she feels about travelling and especially about cold weather. But it might be nice to spend Christmas in England.”
Kennedy fully expected his father to shake his hand in farewell, and was surprised when his father almost pulled him off his feet into a fierce hug.
“Look, son,” he said, still holding tight. “I know we don’t always see eye to eye, but I want you to know how immensely proud I am of you, of everything you’ve accomplished. I see now that you’ve done everything single-handedly, which can be very hard on a person. So take time out for yourself every now and then. And take care of that lovely boy. He’s—he’s very special. I’d be honoured to have him part of our family.”
When his father finally let them go, turning quickly and getting in the car so Kennedy could not see his face, he realised his own eyes had misted over. Something that hadn’t happened for years.
Yes, he thought, things had definitely changed.
Thanks for reading.
Next up, cruising on the high seas.
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