Elizabeth pushed open the doors and walked onto the terrace. She leaned against the rail, gazed towards the pool and relaxed in the sun. She closed her eyes and raised her face to the clear blue sky, sighing the tensions of international travel out of her system. It had been so long since she had been on this type of holiday that she had been concerned about whether or not it was the right decision, but on the evidence so far, it certainly was. The little villa was in a small complex of half a dozen buildings arranged in a horseshoe shape around the pool, each villa having its own terrace in addition to the paved area surrounding the water. She hadn't wanted to be in a hotel or large rabbit warren of studios and apartments where there was an early morning race to bag the best sun loungers, so this arrangement, on the face of it, was ideal.
"Mum! Which room's mine?"
Elizabeth turned to see the reason she'd chosen a villa emerge onto the terrace.
"You choose, Sam," she said.
If she'd had a girl, Elizabeth thought, they could perhaps have shared a room, but sharing with a 14 year old boy was not something she fancied, nor she suspected would he. She smiled at him as he hopped from foot to foot, his excitement at being on a "proper" holiday totally defeating his need to be cool. She had never been able to afford to bring him away on a holiday like this before; it was only because her father had given her a rather generous amount of money when one of his investments had matured that she had been able to bring him away.
"This looks great, Mum!" Sam said, beaming from ear to ear as he looked eagerly at the pool.
"Why don't you choose your room, unpack your things and get into your swimming togs? Then we can check out the pool?"
She had hardly finished her sentence before he was off, scampering through the living room, whooping as he hurdled the coffee table on the way to his room. She smiled and shook her head, tucking away in her special store of memories the image of him as still her bouncy little child, not the cool streetwise North London boy he had to be at home.
William carried what felt like a ton of bags from his car into the villa. He was hot, headachey and bad tempered. Why he had been persuaded to hire a car and drive from the airport he had no idea.
"What's in all these bags?" he sighed, dropping them on the floor. At least the villa was quiet and cool, making him want to kick off his shoes and feel the tiles under his bare feet.
"It's all stuff I need, Daddy."
He turned and once more was defeated by the winning smile of his 14 year old daughter. She had him wrapped round her little finger, she knew it, he knew it, and she knew he knew it. But like any 14 year old girl, she wasn't going to let a little knowledge spoil a game plan.
"If you say so, Alice. Take your gear in there and unpack while I get my things sorted out."
He pointed to one bedroom, and took his bags into the other. He wondered if he would be less surprised all the time if he had a son. While Alice was small she had been delightful and charming, but now, although she was still as delightful, she had become a puzzle to him. This was why women were a complete mystery to men, he thought, because at around 13 years old they suddenly went to live in a parallel universe where having 37 different nail varnishes was not merely desirable but absolutely crucial. He unpacked his clothes and arranged them neatly on hangers and shelves. He checked his watch to find that it was just after 4pm. Richard had said that he and his crew would be back from the beach by about 5, so there was time for a dip.
When Richard had persuaded his cousin to join him for a family holiday, the key issue from William's point of view had been that Richard's villa complex had seemed quite exclusive, half a dozen units clustered around a pool, slightly away from the centre of the resort, so it was peaceful but within a nice stroll of a decent restaurant for dinner. William couldn't bear the thought of fighting through hordes of sunburnt bodies and rowdy children to get a swim. He changed into his swimming shorts and called to Alice on his way to the bathroom to collect a towel.
"Alice, I'm going to the pool."
"OK," came the answer, with no hint of wanting to join him. She would be immersed in arranging lotions and potions in front of her mirror, he thought.
He opened the terrace doors, strode towards the pool, and froze.
There was a woman, a boy, and a large inflatable ring in the water, and from the amount of shrieking and giggling going on, they were clearly oblivious to the disturbance they were causing. William realised that he was staring at the woman as she climbed out of the pool, laughing and pushing her wet hair out of her eyes. Her one-piece swimsuit made it clear that she was a slender but curvy woman. William turned on his heel and returned to his villa, scowling. He did not want to share the pool right at that moment, and certainly not with a rowdy boy and his ridiculous mother. Worse, however, was the recognition sneaking insidiously into his unconscious that a split second after registering his annoyance his brain had gone "wow!".
Elizabeth scrambled out of the pool again, giggling. She was glad now that she had given in to Sam's insistence that he bring an enormous inflatable with him on holiday. She had intended lounging at the side of the pool and occasionally having a dip while Sam messed about, but he had persuaded her to play and suddenly she found herself being very silly and having great fun.
"Jump, Mum, jump!" Sam shouted, splashing water everywhere. Just before she launched herself towards the ring again, a movement caught Elizabeth's eye. A tall, dark haired man in swimming shorts was walking away from the pool. "Funny," she thought, "hadn't noticed anyone else here." She surprised herself with the thought that popped into her mind as she plunged under the water: "nice arse though."
By the time Richard arrived at the villa, William had cooled off with a shower rather than a swim, and was sitting on the terrace, enjoying the early evening air.
"So you got here!" called a cheery voice.
William looked up from his book.
"Richard! You're back!" He placed the book on the table, stood and shook hands with his cousin. "Yes, we had a good journey, thanks. Have you had a good day on the beach?"
"Lovely, thanks. Ellen's just dunking them all in the bath to rinse off the sand. Hi Alice! Are you going to come to the beach with us tomorrow?" he asked, as Alice came out to see what was happening.
"Hi Uncle Richard. Yeah, the beach sounds cool."
Richard grinned. He loved the idea of big happy families. Technically, he wasn't Alice's uncle but didn't mind being referred to as Uncle Richard.
"Great!" he said. "How about you come across to our place around 6 for a drink, then we can walk into town and get something to eat? We should have the whole crew washed, dressed and ship shape by then."
"OK," William agreed. "Your place at 6."
The sun had left the pool in shade by 5, but Elizabeth and Samuel were already in their villa by then. Elizabeth had gone in first for a shower, and was getting ready when Sam ran indoors, rinsed under the shower, dried and dressed.
"Mum, what are you doing? Aren't you ready yet? I'm starving!"
"Samuel Bennet the hollow legged boy!" Elizabeth laughed.
"You're always hungry, and I'm trying to make myself look half decent."
"Don't say that, you're more than half decent."
She looked at her sweet boy and smiled at his open, honest face.
"You're the prettiest Mum in our year at school," he blurted, then looked embarrassed.
"Starter and pudding for you if you're going to say that sort of thing!" Elizabeth said, deftly defusing his embarrassment. She quickly brushed her hair and picked up her bag.
"Right, let's go."
Richard and William walked slightly behind the whirling maelstrom that had Ellen and the buggy in the centre, ringed by children who ran and surrounded her with endless energy. Alice walked close to Ellen; Richard's oldest son Tom, aged 11, chased his brother Michael, 9, while Sophie who was 6 tried to keep up. Daniel aged 4 ambled in and out of the older ones in his own sweet way, whilst Emily at not quite 2 years old was oblivious in her buggy.
"Did you ever find out what's causing it?" William asked, grinning.
"What?" Richard asked, taking a moment to catch on, then noticing William's grin and glance at all the children.
"Oh! What's causing it is that I fall more and more in love with her every day, and I can't keep my hands off her," he laughed.
"That's probably more than I needed to know," William replied.
"You asked," Richard said smugly.
They reached the restaurant and Richard rushed forward to organise children. Ellen held Emily while Tom folded the buggy. Alice held Sophie's hand while Richard grabbed Michael and Daniel, the two most likely trouble makers. William was left standing, then realised that everyone else was standing still with their hands full. He held open the door of the restaurant and the party trooped in. Richard was a regular, and was warmly greeted by the owner who led them to the terrace, where they occupied about half the space available. A big jug of sangria and another of orange juice arrived at the table, and Richard poured drinks for everyone.
"So," he asked William. "What do you think of the place so far?"
Elizabeth and Samuel had been amongst the first customers at the restaurant and had just finished their main course as Richard's party arrived. Tucked behind a pillar, Elizabeth was aware of an enormous family arriving but could not see them. The waiter arrived to collect their plates and handed Sam the dessert menu. He fell silent as he perused the possible combinations of ice cream available to him. Elizabeth didn't mean to earwig, but couldn't help but overhear a rather loud and haughty voice amongst the group behind her.
"Not bad, Richard," the snooty male voice said.
"Not bad? Is that all? What don't you like about it?" responded another male voice, just as upper class but perhaps not quite as haughty.
There was a pause.
"Well, I thought you said it was exclusive, you know, no rowdy types."
"Bloody hell, William, you've been here four hours, what's got up your nose already?"
"I wanted a peaceful swim when we arrived, only to find some bloody awful woman and her noisy son creating havoc in the pool with a stupid inflatable ring."
Elizabeth stiffened and pricked up her ears.
"Havoc?" the second man's voice replied, sounding startled.
"Yes, the boy was shouting and she was jumping into the water, making a show of herself. Really, Richard..."
"Come on Sam, let's go and pay."
"I haven't had pudding, Mum!" Sam protested.
"It's nice to walk on the sea front and choose somewhere just for pudding," Elizabeth said, standing up and making it clear that they were leaving. "They have bigger ice creams on the sea front."
That was enough for Sam, who shot off to the front of the restaurant. As she walked around the pillar Elizabeth glanced at the large party who had been sitting behind them, and from whence the voices had come. She accidentally caught the eye of a tall, dark haired grumpy looking man. He paused mid sentence as the shock of recognition caused a guilty look to wash across his face. Elizabeth turned away, sure that she had been the object of his derision, resisting the temptation to flick him a V. She told herself that such a repressed appearance on what was otherwise a handsome face probably meant he was constipated, and laughed to herself as she left the terrace.
Sam woke early next morning, looked out of his window to see clear blue sky, and wandered into the kitchen. He helped himself to a large glass of orange juice and switched the kettle on. He knew how much his mother needed her early morning coffee and busied himself with the supplies they had bought on the way back from the restaurant the previous night. While the water heated he gave himself a quick wash in the bathroom and changed into swimming shorts. When he returned to the kitchen, the kettle had boiled, so he made the coffee and took it to Elizabeth's room. She awoke to tapping at the door.
"Mum? Mum, are you awake?"
"Yes, Sam, are you OK?"
He pushed the door open.
"Made you some coffee. Can I go for a swim before breakfast?"
She glanced at the bedside clock. It was 8:30.
"OK, but don't make noise. People in the other villas might not be up yet."
He was as good as his word. While he swam, Elizabeth allowed herself a leisurely start to the day, drinking her coffee in bed then getting up for a shower before assembling breakfast on the table on their terrace. She looked around the small complex. There seemed to be activity in the largest of the villas, but the others were quiet. She waved to Sam, so he climbed out of the pool and dripped over for his breakfast.
"What would you like to do today?" she asked.
"Hang out here if you want. As long as you come in the pool sometimes," he mumbled as he hastily ate a croissant.
"Is that OK for you? You won't get bored?"
"No. Can I go back in the pool?"
"Let your breakfast go down first, Sam!"
"OK." He fidgeted for a while then wandered off towards his bedroom. Elizabeth cleared up and went inside to rinse the dishes. She remembered the haughty voice calling her rowdy and saying she was making a show of herself. She hadn't thought they had been making too much noise, although they had been laughing. She didn't want to have their holiday spoilt, but she did feel slightly upset.
William woke late the next morning, and laid in bed for a while luxuriating in the knowledge that he didn't have to get up and rush anywhere. He had been stung the previous evening when Richard had called him a snob. He'd had to admit that "bloody awful" had meant that he'd seen the woman jump into the pool once. As Richard had pointed out, playing with your children in the pool was what most people went on holiday for, and given the cost and location of the villas, it was unlikely that "undesirable elements" would be found there. There was no other noise in the villa so William assumed that Alice was still asleep. He got up, switched on the coffee machine and went out for a swim. This time the pool was empty, although some wet footprints were still visible. Someone else obviously liked an early swim, he noted as he dived in. He paused after a few lengths to speak to Richard who had wandered over for a chat, and agreed to meet later for a trip to the beach. He pulled himself out of the pool to go indoors for his coffee and to wake Alice.
Elizabeth heard a tap at the terrace door and walked over to answer it. A tallish man with an unruly mop of light brown hair stood before her.
"Hello," he said, holding out his hand. "Just thought I'd come over and welcome you."
"Hello," Elizabeth replied, hesitantly shaking the proffered hand, thinking that this was rather odd.
"Richard Fitzwilliam, and you are Mrs, um Miss Bennet?" he said, glancing at her left hand for a clue.
"Actually it's Dr. Bennet," Elizabeth said, puzzled as to how he could know her name.
"Dr. Bennet, excellent! You'll have found the information pack, well, there's a number in there for the site manager should you have any problems, but I'm just across the way so you could always just pop over."
Elizabeth couldn't decide whether this cheerily grinning man was chatting her up, being a typically English busybody, or just a straightforward lunatic.
"I think we'll just stick to the official way of doing things, thanks all the same," she said stiffly.
Richard noticed the mixture of reserve and puzzlement on her face, and gave a short laugh.
"Oh how stupid of me. I haven't introduced myself properly. Richard Fitzwilliam of Fitzwilliam Estates. I own the place. That's why I said to call over if there were any problems. You probably thought I was some kind of lunatic!"
Richard's chuckle covered Elizabeth's embarrassed laugh. "Well..."
"Anyway, we're in that one," Richard said, pointing to the largest villa. "You can't mistake us, we have more beach toys than most seaside toy shops. Anything you need, just let us know. Well, I'll let you get on." And with a cheery wave he was gone, leaving Elizabeth slightly dazed by his enthusiasm.
Having taken more organising than getting a cavalry charge together, the Fitzwilliams and the Darcys finally arranged themselves in Richard's people-carrier and William's rather smart hired car. Richard had Ellen, the girls, the picnic and huge quantities of equipment. William found that he had a car full of boys. He checked their seatbelts and set off, trying to keep up with Richard.
"This is a great car, Uncle William. Can I set the air conditioning?" Tom asked, fiddling simultaneously with the A/c and the radio, so that William was hit by a blast of cold air and loud music whilst trying to master a left hand drive.
"Shut up Michael, we're having this station, look Daniel, a donkey!" Tom kept up a constant stream of instructions and commentary for his brothers, leaving William with nothing to do but drive.
Elizabeth and Sam spent the day swimming and sunning themselves, glad to have the whole pool to themselves. Everyone else in the complex appeared to have gone out, although late in the afternoon a couple of women arrived with suitcases to take the villa next to Richard's. Elizabeth peered discretely at them over the top of her paperback. She'd indulged in a "3 for 2" at Borders in the N1 centre, although having read most of one of her novels in the coffee shop within the bookshop, she'd "just had to" go back down for the other three books she'd fancied. Sam had brought his well-worn copy of Lord of the Rings, his Gameboy, CD player and mobile phone, and had spent half his first day texting his friends. The two of them settled into an easy companionable rhythm, and once again Elizabeth felt relieved and pleased that she had such an easygoing son.
That night Elizabeth chose a different restaurant and was glad not to recognise anyone. William had gone along with Richard's suggestion of returning to the terraced restaurant and hadn't been able to stop himself glancing round to search for the woman who had seemed to occupy many of his thoughts during the day at the beach.
Once more next morning, Sam made coffee, woke Elizabeth and went for a swim. This time, William woke just that little bit earlier and found that he was not the only swimmer. He and the boy did lengths, passing each other without speaking until the boy climbed out of the pool. William noticed that he had responded to a signal, and as he himself went for his breakfast, noted that it was the awful mother who had waved to her rowdy son.
Elizabeth and Sam ambled down to the beach for the day. Richard, meanwhile, took delivery of a new piece of equipment.
"Hey, William, come and give us a hand with this!" he called later that morning, as William strolled out of his villa, and ambled over to the grassy area where Richard stood scratching his head.
"What have you got here?" William asked, looking at the heap of poles and other metal bits on the floor.
"I ordered a swing set for the kids, there's a bar, some rings, a swing-boat and an ordinary swing too. Give us a hand to assemble it?"
William's eyebrows disappeared up towards his hairline.
"You are kidding, right? You want to build this thing?"
"Oh don't be such a fusspot, William, get hold of this!"
Richard dropped the sheet of instructions that he was reading, grabbed a long pole and passed it to William, who stood nonplussed waiting for guidance.
Five hours later, the air was blue, the men were sweaty, and Ellen was in despair.
"Oh, I wish you'd got someone to set this up, Richard!" she groaned.
"No, no, it's OK, look, stick that bit in there and we're done!"
William jammed a bar into the hole Richard pointed to, and finally the basic structure was upright.
"See?" Richard said triumphantly.
Ellen just sighed and walked away to the pool, intent on soothing her fractured nerves with a dip. William and Richard meanwhile, stood back with hands on hips admiring the structure they had just erected.
"That's great," Richard said. "All we have to do now is hook up the swings."
By the time Elizabeth and Samuel got back from the beach, the swing set was up and the Fitzwilliam children were playing happily. Sam looked longingly towards the play area for a moment, but then remembered that he was supposed to be cool, and walked away.
"I'm going for a shower, is that OK, Mum?" he asked.
"Of course," Elizabeth replied, longing to rinse away the sand herself. She settled down on the couch to read her book, and was so engrossed that the knock on the door startled her.
"Ooh, you made me jump!" she said, laughing and looking slightly embarrassed.
"Sorry!" Richard answered. "We're having a barbecue tonight, would you like to come over? You and your boy?"
"Umm..," she hesitated.
"There's four villas occupied now, we thought it would be fun for everyone to get together," Richard said.
"Yes, OK! That would be lovely," Elizabeth said, taking a deep breath and deciding that she could fling herself into the throng. "What time?"
"Come over around 7," Richard said, grinning happily at the thought that his party was beginning to gather steam. "We'll look forward to it."
Just before 7, Elizabeth noticed clouds of smoke issuing from the terrace of Richard's villa.
"Come on, Sam, let's go!" she called. "And leave your Gameboy here."
He grumbled but did as he was told, and the two of them set off for the party. When they got there, they found that everything was much more organised than the smoke had suggested, and a table had been set up with drinks, salads, bread, plates and cutlery. Richard was carrying the last few things out of the house, and Elizabeth saw a very pretty woman sitting with a toddler on her knee.
"Hello!" Richard said. "Glad you could come over! Ellen, my wife ... and erm, Dr. ..."
"Oh, it's Elizabeth!" Elizabeth said, realising that she had been very formal on her previous meeting with Richard. "And this is my son, Samuel."
A football came flying out of the villa, narrowly missing Elizabeth, and Ellen turned to the two boys who followed it.
"How many times have I told you two not to play football in the house!"
"Sorry Mum," Tom said, then noticed Sam. "Want a game?"
"Yeah, OK," Sam said, and disappeared into the villa with Tom and Michael.
"Outside!" Ellen shouted, as the boys turned and ran over to the grassy play area. "Sorry! Nice to meet you, Elizabeth. What a way to greet you, nearly clobbered by one of my mad sons then me bellowing like a fish wife!"
Richard poured out three glasses of wine, and handed one to each of the women.
"No problem," Elizabeth said, smiling and already getting the feeling that she could like this woman. "Thanks Richard."
She sat down next to Ellen, and the two women began to chat as Richard fiddled with the barbecue.
"I think this is ready now," he said. "I'll start to cook."
"What it is about men and barbecues? Most of the time they wouldn't go near a kitchen, but just mention the word barbecue, and they're out there like a flash, burning meat," Ellen said, laughing. "Oh, we have more guests!"
Elizabeth looked round to see two women approaching the villa. Richard greeted them, and poured out more wine.
"Hi, I'm Charlotte, and this is Billie," the taller of the women said.
Elizabeth stared for a moment.
"Charlotte? Not Charlotte Lucas?"
"Yes it is! And you're Elizabeth Bennet! I don't believe it!"
"You two know each other?" Richard asked.
"You haven't changed a bit!" Elizabeth said, laughing. "Charlotte was two years ahead of me at Uni. Everyone knew Charlotte! Mainly cos they were terrified of her!"
"I wasn't that bad! Well, OK, I was somewhat notorious," Charlotte said.
"What on earth did you do?" Ellen asked, her curiosity aroused.
"Charlotte was President of a rather wild society, and the high spot of my first anatomy class was when they did a sit in to demand equal rights for skeletons," Elizabeth said, giggling so much she could hardly speak.
"Was this before or after you were President of GaySoc?" Billie laughed.
"That was GaySoc," Charlotte said, then realised that Richard was looking puzzled. "Gay and Lesbian Society."
"Oh!" he said, startled. "Ah, I see, and umm.... Why do skeletons need equal rights?"
Richard was blushing, and wished William would turn up as he felt rather overwhelmed at being the only man in the conversation. He excused himself from the group, and went into the villa to collect the food to cook.
"It was a male skeleton, and we decided that all the young medical students were being brainwashed," Charlotte explained to Ellen, laughing. "There should be a female skeleton too."
"When Charlotte was President of GaySoc, I was the Med student rep on a couple of Union committees," Elizabeth said. "Union politics, that's how we know each other."
As Elizabeth began to tell more stories about Charlotte's reputation, the four women collapsed in gales of laughter, so that this was all William could hear as he and Alice approached the villa. He groaned at the thought of having to make conversation with people he didn't know, and hoped that the male half of the couple he hadn't yet met would be reasonable. He spotted Richard emerging from the villa with a tray of food and walked over, as Alice ran to the swings.
"You're here at last," Richard said.
"Nothing, just your normal evening barbecue with a set of wild lesbians," Richard said, sounding flustered.
"What?" William said, glancing round alarmed. "All of them?"
"Well, Charlotte and Billie seem to be," Richard said, indicating which of the women he meant. At that moment, Elizabeth detached herself from the group and walked across to get refills for herself and Ellen.
"Ah, Elizabeth, this is my cousin, William."
"Hello," Elizabeth said, coolly, recognising him as the snooty man who had unknowingly insulted her. The chill in her voice made William wonder nervously whether she had overheard what he'd said about her in the restaurant on the first evening.
"Pleased to meet you," William said, in a formal detached voice that made it sound anything but a pleasure. Richard glanced from one to the other, sensing the temperature drop and wondering why.
"Everything OK, Elizabeth?" he asked. "Can I get you anything?"
"Ellen asked for a top up," she said, and Richard filled the wine glasses.
"Your son is doing a great job with my boys," he said, nodding to where Sam, Michael and Tom were playing football.
"It's nice for him to have someone to play with, instead of just being stuck with me," Elizabeth said. "Well, better get back with Ellen's wine."
William and Richard watched her go, and the same question was in both their minds.
"She can't be, she's got a child," Richard said.
"It's not impossible, Richard," William replied, remembering some of the more outlandish stories he'd heard, and wondering how on earth he and Richard were going to get through the evening in this appalling company.
"I don't think I've seen you since my finals, you weren't around the Union as much as you usually were," Charlotte said when Elizabeth returned. "What happened that year? It wasn't your clinical year, was it?"
They were interrupted by a shout, and turned to see Sam running towards them.
"Mum, can I go and get my Gameboy to show Tom?"
"Yes, but don't play on it too long, Sam," Elizabeth said then turned to Charlotte. "He's what happened. Sam. He's 14."
"Wow! I never knew!" Charlotte said.
"You had Sam when you were at University?" Ellen asked.
"Yes, I was in my second year," Elizabeth said. "You'd think a medical student would know better, wouldn't you? I took a year out, came back after he was born. You'd left by then, Charlotte."
"And ...." Charlotte paused, wondering whether to raise the question.
"His Dad?" Elizabeth said, guessing what was in her mind. "Not around. Never was, really. Sam doesn't know him. He left before Sam arrived."
"Oh Elizabeth, that must have been dreadful for you!" Ellen said.
"Well, it wasn't much fun but at least I knew where I stood from the beginning. It would've been worse if he'd promised to stay, then left when I'd got used to him being around and helping with Sam. At least I always knew it was just the two of us."
The conversation faltered as Ellen, Charlotte and Billie wondered what to say, not wanting to be intrusive. In the silence, Richard called across to Ellen.
"Food's nearly ready!"
"Oh good, I'm really hungry!" Ellen said. "Ask Tom to round everyone up, would you?"
Elizabeth watched as Tom herded his small brothers into the villa to wash their hands. Sam went along with the boys. She noticed a pretty teenage girl following them, holding a smaller girl's hand.
"Your son is very good with the little ones," she said to Ellen.
"Tom? Yes, he is. That's Alice, by the way, she's not one of mine," Ellen answered, noticing the direction of Elizabeth's gaze. "Five is quite enough for me! Alice is William's daughter. He's on his own with her as well."
"He's got a daughter?" Elizabeth said, sounding stunned. For some reason she was quite taken aback by the news.
"Yes, she's 14, same age as Sam."
"How many of these are yours?" Charlotte asked Ellen, watching as the children lined up at the table and Richard dished out food.
"Most of them!" Ellen laughed, pointing out which children were which. "Go and get something to eat before they hoover it all up, the boys are gannets."
"Oh I'm glad I'm not the only one, Sam does nothing but eat!" Elizabeth said. "I don't know where he puts it all!"
The women went to help themselves to the barbecue and salad, Ellen and Elizabeth laughing and discussing the foibles of children's eating habits. Richard introduced William to Charlotte and Billie, and once again Elizabeth noticed that he seemed very cold and reserved. Perhaps it's not just me, she thought to herself, perhaps he's like that with all women. Then she had a sudden thought and stifled a giggle as she sat down to eat. The adults sat around the table while the children sat on a couple of blankets that Richard had set out for them. While everyone ate, he described some of the places worth visiting in the area, and advised Charlotte and Billie about hiring a car. Elizabeth couldn't help but compare and contrast the two men, Richard open, chatty and friendly, in fact the perfect host, while William was virtually taciturn and only joined in the conversation when directly addressed.
After the meal, Richard asked Tom to help clear up, so Sam volunteered to help too.
"Alice, give the boys a hand," William said.
"Me?" Alice asked, sounding appalled at being expected to clear plates.
"Tom's helping, as is this other young man, you can do your bit too."
"His name's Sam," Elizabeth said, speaking directly to William for the first time. William acknowledged her briefly, and then turned back to Alice. "You can't expect Sam and Tom to do everything, do as you are told."
Alice grumpily gathered plates from the smaller children, and stomped into the kitchen, making her feelings plain.
"She doesn't have to help if she doesn't want to, William," Ellen said.
"Yes she does," William said. "If the boys are being useful, so should she."
"I'm going to put Emily to bed," Ellen said, wondering why William seemed in a bad mood with Alice. "Danny, Sophie, time for a bath."
Daniel was sitting on the blanket looking so tired that it seemed as if he might keel over at any moment. Elizabeth smiled and held her arms out to him.
"Shall I carry you in?"
He nodded sleepily and allowed Elizabeth to pick him up. She and Ellen took the three smaller children into the villa.
"I think we'll pop you straight to bed," Ellen said to Daniel. "They've been in and out of the pool all day so I'm sure they won't be too grubby!"
Elizabeth laughed, following Ellen into a large bathroom where they wiped the children's hands and faces.
"Sam's a lovely boy," Ellen said. "He's a real credit to you."
"Thanks, yes he is good," Elizabeth said. "I don't think I could've managed on my own if he hadn't been such an easy baby. It must be hard for William, teenage girls can be terrors, I've seen the ones at Sam's school."
"She goes to boarding school," Ellen said. "I sometimes wonder if that's why he finds her difficult, when he has her with him for a big chunk of time."
"Difficult?" Elizabeth asked. "She seemed quite quiet and perfectly normal to me."
"Oh, I don't mean that she's a problem, I just wonder sometimes whether William ... oh I sound disloyal, but really, he gets so crabby and tonight he's been as grumpy as I've seen him. I know he's Richard's cousin but really," Ellen sighed. "I wish he'd make an effort sometimes to get on with people."
The thought that had made Elizabeth giggle before the meal returned to her, and she grinned at Ellen.
"I did wonder ..."
"What? What's funny?"
"Well, Richard had gone by the time I told you how Charlotte and I met, so he probably thinks that we were all in GaySoc together."
Ellen began to laugh as Elizabeth continued.
"Then William was rather funny when Richard introduced him to Charlotte and Billie, and I just wondered if he thinks all three of us are lesbians. Perhaps he can't handle the idea."
"Perhaps he's thinking what most men think about lesbians," Ellen chortled. "Can they watch?"
William walked past the door just as the two women burst out laughing, and although he hadn't heard what they said, he couldn't help but feel slightly self-conscious.
The children had finished helping Richard, so he gave the oldest three an ice cream each and sent them back outside. Michael was sent to get ready for a bath.
Tom climbed into the swing boat while Sam sat on the grass. Alice sat on the swing opposite him.
"Where's your Dad?" she asked.
"I haven't got one," Sam answered.
"Don't be stupid, you must have one, everyone's got a Dad," Alice said sharply.
"Where's your Mum?" Sam retorted.
Sam was too embarrassed to speak. He licked his ice cream and looked away, refusing to meet Alice's eye.
"It's OK, I can talk about it," Alice said. "She was killed in a car crash when I was six. But she'd already left my Dad by then. She was a model, and very beautiful. Everyone says I take after her."
Sam didn't know what to do or say. He felt sorry for Alice but at the same time thought she seemed rather stuck up, and he wasn't sure how much he liked her.
"Do you really not know your Dad?" Tom asked. "Or are you a test tube baby? I read about them in the paper."
"No I'm not a test tube baby," Sam said, grinning. "My Mum said that my Dad went away before I was born but she loves me enough for two."
"Yuck, if my Dad said he loved me I'd be sick," Alice said. "I hate all that sloppy stuff."
"I like it," Sam said, feeling as though he was sticking up for himself and Elizabeth, and conveniently forgetting having asked her when he was 9 not to kiss him when she picked him up from school.
"It's alright so long as they don't sing when your friends come round," Tom said. "My Dad sings in the car and he doesn't even know he's doing it!"
"Yeah, my Mum hums when she's driving," Sam said, as they settled into grumbling about the way their parents managed to embarrass them in front of their friends. Alice could only listen and feel slightly jealous of the boys as they shared stories about teatime, homework and friends calling round. She was curious about Sam, and thought he was quite nice looking. She had never had a boyfriend, being at an all-girls school, but had heard some of the older girls talking about holiday romances.
"Have you been to Highbury?" Sam asked as the conversation shifted to football.
"No, I'm not allowed to go to matches on my own and Dad hasn't got round to taking me yet," Tom said.
"What's Highbury?" Alice asked.
"It's Arsenal's home ground," Sam replied. "We live near there."
"And we both support Arsenal," Tom said.
"I support Arsenal too," Alice said.
"No you don't, you don't even like football!" Tom said. "And how can you support them if you don't even know where they play?"
"I'm going in," Alice said crossly, and pushed the swing at Tom as she marched off. He ducked and avoided being hit on the head, then laughed and muttered something to Sam that Alice couldn't hear. Sam laughed, but as she walked away, he watched her. She alarmed him more than he was willing to admit, but then, he found all girls rather alarming. At school, girls sat on a wall and gossiped and laughed while he and his friends played football. No matter what he did, he always felt that they knew more than him, and thought that he and his friends were stupid. Some of the boys boasted about the things they'd done with girls after school discos, but Sam always avoided those conversations. He couldn't imagine asking any of the girls in his class for a kiss, even though he rather liked the shy girl who sat next to him in maths.
Alice went to sit with Ellen who by this time had got all the small children into bed and was back on the terrace, relaxing. Richard made sure everyone had enough to drink as the adults relaxed in the quiet warm evening. Charlotte and Elizabeth were catching up on news while Richard showed Billie a route for a good day of sight seeing as William looked on.
"Are you tired, sweetie?" Ellen asked.
"A bit," Alice answered. "And the boys are being horrible."
"Why, what are they doing?"
Elizabeth heard the remark and turned to hear the answer.
"They're talking about football matches, and school, and stuff like that."
"Oh, just boy talk," Ellen said, relieved. "They're not being mean to you."
Elizabeth was relieved that it was nothing more than Alice feeling slightly left out rather than Sam behaving badly.
"Daddy, I'm going to bed now," Alice announced.
"OK. I'll come across with you."
"I can go on my own." She kissed Ellen on the cheek, and then went across to William and Richard to give them a goodnight kiss.
"She's got so grown up this year, William," Ellen said once Alice had gone.
"Yes she has," William replied.
"I think girls grow up quicker than boys though, don't they?"
"Oh yes," Elizabeth said. "The girls at Sam's school look as though they should be at uni!"
"He goes to a mixed school?" William said. "Not many schools are mixed below sixth form."
"All the schools in our authority are mixed, apart from the Catholic schools," Elizabeth said.
"Oh! You send him to a state school?" William said, thinking that he must make sure this boy stayed away from his daughter.
"Well, yes, living on one salary in London and not having a Swiss bank account, he goes to the neighbourhood comprehensive," Elizabeth said, her answer coming out rather more sarcastically than she had intended. "It's a good school, and he's happy there."
"That's the main thing," Ellen said quickly, sensing the tension and diffusing the situation. "If he's happy and has nice friends, he'll be OK. Tom's happy at his school."
"Yes, but at least you know it's a decent place, Ellen," William said. "Schools in London are jungles, from what I've heard."
"Some of them are," Elizabeth said testily, her opinion of William sinking further with every snobbish remark he made. She could almost see him ranking Sam and herself several rungs down his ladder of acceptability. "But I wouldn't send Sam anywhere I didn't think would be good for him, and we both like his school. In fact, it used to be on my rota before I got my new job, so I knew what it was like."
"New job?" Charlotte asked, stepping in to give her friend what she thought was some necessary support. "Have you moved out of medicine?"
"No, I'm still a medic," Elizabeth answered. "But I just got a promotion to Registrar in Community Medicine so I don't do school medicals any more, or at least not very often."
"Congratulations!" chorused Charlotte and Ellen.
"What are we cheering for?" Richard asked, distracted from his map reading.
"Elizabeth got a promotion just before she came away on holiday," Ellen said. "Isn't that great?"
"Yes, well done!" Richard said. "What does it involve?"
As Elizabeth explained the details of her new job, William sat back and observed. He was disturbed by Elizabeth, partly because he was experiencing purely physical feelings of very strong attraction to her, and partly because she intrigued him. He had taken a dislike to the idea of her before he had even spoken to her, which he had had to retract almost immediately. Now it was becoming obvious that she was a clever and hard working woman, and willing to stand up to him when he had pointed out the error of her ways with the boy's schooling. He wasn't used to women arguing with him, and certainly not used to women sticking to their argument when he had suggested they were wrong. He had to acknowledge that she was attractive, although he was reluctant to admit it even to himself. She puzzled him.
He coughed, stood up and pushed back his chair.
"Well, if you'll excuse me, I think I'll go over and check on Alice, then get an early night. Thanks for the barbecue, Richard."
He left the terrace to a chorus of goodnights.
"We should go too," Elizabeth said. "Sam never sleeps in no matter how late he goes to bed, so if he doesn't go soon he'll have big shadows under his eyes tomorrow. It's been a lovely evening, thank you."
"You're welcome," Richard said, and called over to Sam and Tom. "Come on, boys, time for bed."
"Dad, can Sam come to the beach with us tomorrow?" Tom asked. "I said he could have a go on my body board."
"Yes, of course, if his Mum says it's OK. Why don't you both come with us?" Richard asked, turning to Elizabeth. "We go to a little cove along the coast, a bit more sheltered, great for the kids."
"Well, if it's no trouble," Elizabeth said.
"Not at all! The more the merrier!" Richard laughed. "I'll give you a shout in the morning to let you know when we're going."
"Great, see you in the morning," Elizabeth said. "Come on Sam."
"Thanks for the barbecue, Mr Fitzwilliam," Sam said politely.
"Call me Richard, everyone else does. Mr Fitzwilliam makes me feel old," Richard said, smiling at the boy. "And you're very welcome. We'll see you tomorrow."
Charlotte and Billie made their goodbyes and left as Elizabeth did.
"I think you've got a fan there," Charlotte said to Elizabeth.
"A fan? Whatever can you mean?"
"You probably didn't notice, but silent and deadly William couldn't take his eyes off you."
"Don't be ridiculous!" Elizabeth said, startled.
"It's always the quiet ones you have to watch out for!" Charlotte laughed as she took the path that led to her villa. "Sleep well!"
Elizabeth had slept reasonably well eventually, although it had taken her a while to get to sleep with Charlotte's last remark swirling around her head. She resisted acknowledging that she found William physically attractive. He was tall with dark wavy hair and deep brown eyes, and it seemed so long since she had a man in her life that she couldn't help but feel some stirrings of attraction. However, despite the fact that 'tall and dark' was just her type, she could not get past his rudeness and his smugly superior attitude. On top of that, she felt insulted on Sam's behalf as she felt sure that William regarded him as some kind of low life just because of the school he went to. At least Richard and Ellen seemed to be a lovely couple, she thought as she fell asleep, and so obviously tremendously in love.
William woke from a restless sleep, thoughts from the previous evening still raging around his head. He felt angry with himself for feeling almost uncontrollably attracted to a woman who so obviously was not his type. He grabbed his shorts and went out for a swim.
Sam was swimming steady lengths when he was disturbed by the wave resulting from William's dive into the pool. They swam and passed each other without speaking until they both ended up resting at the end of the pool at the same time.
"Hello," William said gruffly, feeling forced to at least acknowledge the boy's presence.
"Hi," Sam said cheerfully, happily oblivious to any undertones in William's greeting. "Oh, better go, my breakfast's ready." He climbed out of the pool and scampered across to his villa. William looked up to see Elizabeth smiling at the boy, and for a moment he saw what pure motherly love actually looked like.
As promised, Richard gave Elizabeth a warning that they were nearly ready to set off for the beach, so she and Sam were waiting at the front of the complex with their bags when the Fitzwilliam crowd appeared.
"Do you want to travel with us?" Richard asked her. "William seems to get our boys."
"Yeah, Sam, come in Uncle William's car," Tom said. "I found a really good radio station."
"Wait until we've actually asked your Uncle William," Richard said.
"Asked Uncle William what?" William said cheerfully as he walked round the corner, then froze on the spot as he saw who was there.
"I invited Elizabeth and Sam to the beach for the day," Richard said casually as he loaded his car, oblivious to the effort William was making to keep his feelings steady and his face blank.
"Yeah, and Sam can come with us, can't he?" Tom asked eagerly.
William felt helpless and had no choice but to acquiesce as Alice scrambled into the back of Richard's vehicle. Once more he ended up with a car full of boys while Elizabeth jammed her beach bags in with everything else in the back of Richard's car, and then climbed aboard. Thankfully the journey to the beach didn't take too long, although William was rather too preoccupied to take much notice of the boys. He was facing an entire day in the company of a woman who despite his better efforts intrigued and attracted him, and he had no idea how he was going to cope.
Richard parked his vehicle behind William and began to unload toys, beach mats, and all the other paraphernalia of a beach trip. The boys tumbled out of William's car and hopped about excitedly, desperate to get to the sea.
"Sam, carry these," Elizabeth said, passing an armful of beach mats to him while Tom was laden down with toys.
"Can we go now?" Sam asked, hardly able to keep still.
"Yes, OK," Elizabeth said.
"Woo hoo!" he shouted. "Once more onto the beach, dear friends!"
"What did he say?" William asked.
"Once more onto the beach, it's Shakespeare," Sam said, turning to speak to William. "Well, not exactly. He says breach, not beach."
"You know Shakespeare?"
"Yeah, we did Henry at school last year, it's great, battles and everything," Sam said, grinning as he turned back to Richard's children. "I was King Henry and I had a sword! On, on, you noble English!" he shouted, and ran across the sand, followed by the boys and Sophie. Alice longed to follow, but couldn't quite bring herself to do it. William watched them go, and was forced to reassess his impression of the boy. He had been well behaved in the car, didn't appear to be a street lout, and seemed reasonably well educated and well spoken. The more he found out about this boy and his mother, the more William became uncomfortable with his initial assumptions and now the turmoil of his feelings. He picked up the picnic box and followed Richard down the beach.
Elizabeth felt as if she had spent the whole day laughing. Richard spent much of the day making sand castles and damming the stream that ran across the beach, ably assisted by Sam, Tom and Michael, while Daniel sat on several castles. Alice sunbathed, although Ellen had noticed the sly looks she was giving the boys. But however much encouragement Ellen gave her, Alice wouldn't go and play. William had taken the little ones paddling, and Elizabeth was almost tempted to change her mind about him as he seemed so engrossed in helping them to catch shrimps and jump waves. After lunch, Richard had organised a game of cricket, which resulted in everyone chasing him into the sea to fetch the ball, when he insisted that he had hit a six.
"It's only a six if it lands on the sand!" Tom shouted. "Tell him, Uncle William!"
"Richard, you're cheating," William said sternly, making Ellen and Elizabeth burst into giggles. "What's the matter with you two?"
"My goodness, William, you can be fierce when you try," Ellen said, making William laugh and Elizabeth stare as for the first time she saw his face break into a warm expression.
"It's funny, isn't it?" Ellen said as she and Elizabeth packed up their things at the end of the day. "Girls stop playing before boys do, but I'm sure they wish they could still play."
"Sam's a big daft boy really," Elizabeth said. "He's not half as grown up as some of the boys in his year but to be honest, I'm glad. The longer he stays sweet and innocent the better."
"Oh, you're so right," Ellen said. "I'm dreading the whole boyfriend-girlfriend thing."
"Me too!" Elizabeth said. "Sam doesn't seem interested at the moment, he's more into football than girls. Your lot are good at cricket, perhaps that will keep them occupied!"
"They have plenty of practice, that's all we do all summer. All the boys are obsessed, and when I say boys I mean my husband too!"
"What about your husband?" Richard said, smiling as he walked over to collect as much beach gear as he could carry. "I hope you're saying something nice."
"Of course, darling," Ellen said, kissing him. "Why wouldn't I say something nice?"
Daniel began to whine as the older children set off and left him behind. To Elizabeth's surprise, William picked him up.
"Come on, Danny, no grumbling," he said kindly. "Want a shoulder ride?"
As Daniel nodded, William swung him up onto his shoulders.
"Suits you, William," Ellen smiled.
William blushed and grinned. "I think your children are used to me by now, Ellen," he said. "We don't scare each other any more."
Elizabeth was left to ponder the curious and revealing statement as William's long legs carried him up the path ahead of her. He had seemed much more relaxed and really quite pleasant on the beach, surrounded mainly by people he knew. She remembered Ellen saying that he didn't make an effort to get on with people, but perhaps he was just one of those men who took a long time to open up. She still hadn't really forgiven him for his rudeness the first night, but perhaps could begin to understand what had appeared to be coldness the night before.
"Thanks for a great day," Elizabeth said to Ellen as they arrived back at the villas.
"You're welcome, it's been lovely," Ellen replied. She and Elizabeth had become firm friends very quickly, each of them enjoying having the company of another woman on holiday.
"We'll have to go again to that beach, all of us," Richard said.
"Yes, that would be nice. Come on Sam, let's go and get washed. I think we'll go out for pizza tonight."
"Yeah, pizza, brilliant!" Sam said, making Ellen laugh as he quickly hugged his Mum then ran off to get changed.
"The day he doesn't run everywhere is the day I'll know something's wrong with him," Elizabeth said, laughing and following him.
Everyone seemed to be late getting started the next morning, apart from Charlotte and Billie. They had gone off to follow one of Richard's sight-seeing routes, but everyone else ended up lazing round the pool. The adults drank coffee and chatted while reading the papers that William had brought back from his morning stroll into the town. The children played and swam, all seven of them getting on well with each other. The day at the beach had broken any remaining ice, and even Alice joined in with a game of volleyball in the pool.
After lunch, Ellen rounded her children up as she and Richard needed to go shopping. Elizabeth went indoors to have a break from the strong sun, and William sat on his terrace, reading. Alice flopped onto a lounger, watching Sam dive into the pool. He surfaced and shook his head, making droplets of water fly off his hair, grinning at Alice as she squealed at being splashed.
"Will you teach me to dive?" she asked him. "I saw you teaching Tom."
"Yeah, if you want," Sam said. "Watch."
He climbed out of the pool and stood on the edge, crouched down and dived.
"Now you do it."
Alice curled her toes over the edge of the pool, bent down and looked at Sam still in the water. "Like this?"
"No, stretch your arms out more," Sam said, and pulled himself up out of the water so that he was sitting beside her. He got hold of her hand and pulled her arms in front of her, into the right position. "Like that. Now just push off with your feet."
She tried to dive but hadn't quite got the position right, and belly flopped into the water then went right under. Sam jumped in quickly and grabbed her as she floundered. She stood upright, laughing and spluttering with her arm around him. They were both startled out of their giggles by a ferocious roar.
"What do you think you are doing? Get your hands off my daughter!"
William had seen Sam holding Alice's hand before she dived, and getting up to investigate only to find them in the water with their arms around each other provoked him into a fury.
"Out of the pool, now!"
"Daddy, we were just ..."
"I wasn't ..." "Alice, inside now, and don't you answer back to me, boy!"
Sam climbed out of the pool and ran indoors, startling Elizabeth who was making coffee in the kitchen.
"Sam? What's the matter?" she said as she followed him to his room where he had flung himself onto the bed.
"I wasn't doing anything, I didn't, I was only helping her to dive, and he shouted at me!"
"Sam, slow down, who shouted? What happened?"
She looked at him as he huddled in the corner of his bed, clearly upset. William had scared him but he was determined not to cry. She sat down next to him.
"Alice.." he said, gulping.
"What about Alice?"
"She asked me to teach her to dive, so I showed her what to do. But when she did it, she bellyflopped and went right under so I jumped in and pulled her up. And then her Dad yelled at us and made her go inside."
"He yelled at you?" Elizabeth asked, beginning to feel very angry that William had so clearly frightened Sam. "Why?"
"He said 'get your hands off my daughter' but I wasn't doing anything wrong, I was just helping her! And she had her arm round me but it wasn't like that, Mum!"
Elizabeth was furious. Even if Sam had done something wrong, it was up to her to discipline him, not someone he hardly knew.
"Right, I'm going to speak to him!" she said angrily.
"No, don't," Sam pleaded. "He might shout again, I don't want you to do anything."
"Tell me again exactly what happened, Sam, and tell me the truth."
"I am telling the truth!" he said, and once again told Elizabeth precisely what had happened. From the sound of it, Elizabeth thought, both children had been playing innocently and William had jumped to conclusions and over-reacted dramatically. She knew that Sam was right, that if she confronted William it would result in a terrible scene.
"Get yourself dry and dressed," she said. "Let's go for a walk and get an ice cream."
"But it wasn't fair, Mum!"
"No, I know. I think Alice's Dad was wrong, but right now I think we need to calm down. I'll sort it out later."
In the other villa, a terse William was facing his tearful daughter.
"I don't want you letting boys like him mess about with you," he said. "Fooling about in the water, what did you think you were doing? Making a show of yourself!"
"Daddy, I wasn't," Alice sobbed. "We weren't doing anything naughty."
"He had his arms around you!"
"He was holding me up," she cried, and sniffed.
"I saw what he was doing, Alice, and you are not letting him do it again."
"I only asked him to teach me to dive! He didn't do anything wrong! I went right under, and he pulled me out of the water, I swallowed loads of it."
William had begun to calm down, and was also beginning to regret having shouted. Alice's face was blotchy and her eyes were red, and he hated to see her upset. A tiny thought began to nag at the corner of his mind that perhaps he had been too hasty.
"Go and wipe your face, then tell me exactly what you and that boy were doing," he said.
"He's called Samuel, Daddy, not 'that boy'," Alice said, realising that her father was having second thoughts and attempting to regain her usual position of being able to get her own way. She turned and flounced into the bathroom, leaving William wondering whether he was going to regret his impulsive reaction.
The decision to get away from the villas and walk down to the sea front for an ice cream proved to be a good one. Sam grumbled for a while about how life was unfair, and how everyone was mean to him, while Elizabeth teased him gently by reminding him of all the occasions on which his various aunts and uncles had indulged him, until eventually they were both giggling about funny family stories. He couldn't stay moody for long, and certainly not when faced with having to choose which three flavours he wanted in his ice cream cone.
"I don't know how you can eat that," Elizabeth said. "Butterscotch, liquorice and mint choc chip, what must your poor tum be thinking now?"
"It's yummy, Mum," Sam said and burst out laughing. "Yummy mummy! You're a yummy mummy!"
"Oh don't be daft, Sam!" Elizabeth said, blushing and giggling. As they sat on the wall overlooking the beach, a very different scene was taking place at the villas.
William had insisted that Alice tell him the whole story of the afternoon's activities, twice, and had been forced to accept that he had been wrong. Inwardly he cursed his impulsiveness. He had just about allowed himself to accept that Elizabeth was someone he would like to get to know, that she was a woman who had reminded him what it was like to feel intrigued and stirred up dormant longings deep within him. And now he was going to have to apologise to her, just when he would rather have been asking her out for dinner. He sat brooding in the lounge while Alice went off to play with Richard's children, who had returned from their shopping expedition. He thought about speaking to Richard, asking his advice, but then decided not. If he apologised then asked Elizabeth out for dinner to make up for his error, that would do, he thought. She would be pleased to be asked out, he felt sure. He had heard Ellen say something to Richard about Elizabeth not having had a boyfriend for a long time, so she obviously wasn't one of the lesbians, and probably would welcome an invitation. If he asked Ellen to keep an eye on the children so that he could ask Elizabeth out, Ellen was sure to go along with it. "Good plan," he muttered to himself, and headed for the bathroom to shave and shower.
Sam was in his room with his CD player plugged into his ears when William knocked at the terrace door later that evening. Elizabeth answered the door and was at first rendered speechless by William's presence on the terrace.
"Hi," he said, feeling awkward. She did not appear pleased to see him. "I just wanted to see how your boy, I mean Samuel, was. I owe him an apology."
"Yes I think you do," Elizabeth said. "And you owe me. If you have a problem with my child, you speak to me, not shout at him."
"I'm sorry," William said. "Alice told me what happened. I jumped to conclusions. My mistake."
Elizabeth held his gaze and did not respond. She was surprised at his admission, and wasn't sure what to say. William's next mistake was in stepping into the silence.
"I mean, I know I thought that his type would be up to no good, and Alice is rather sheltered, she goes to a very good girls' school, she's not used to boys like Samuel, but it seems that he meant no harm, they were just having fun."
"Boys like him?" Elizabeth murmured half to herself, amazed that William seemed to be able to slur her son without even knowing what he was doing. William hadn't heard her, and carried on speaking.
"So, I know we perhaps got off on the wrong foot over schools, and I am sorry if I upset Sam, but I wondered if I could take you out for dinner? To make up? Ellen will look after the kids."
"You want to apologise to Sam by taking me out for dinner?" Elizabeth asked, amazed.
"You must be joking."
"Sorry?" Now it was William's turn to be startled.
"You upset my son by accusing him of doing things that probably hadn't even entered his head, you make out that he's some kind of street urchin! Have you asked Ellen to look after him?"
"I'm sure she'd be happy to."
"So you just assumed that I would say yes?"
"I thought you'd be pleased."
"So you no longer think I'm a bloody awful woman although you're still unsure about my rowdy son? I heard what you said in the restaurant," Elizabeth said as a look of shock crept over William's face. "It was us, wasn't it?"
William couldn't bring himself to answer. She had completely wrong footed him, and he realised that his plan was rather foolish. He had presumed too much.
"I'm sorry," he said stiffly. "I've obviously offended you, although I was trying to be pleasant. I won't trouble you again." He turned and walked away, leaving Elizabeth stunned and silent. She went into the villa, poured herself a large glass of wine and crashed out on the couch.
William took Alice out for a pizza that night, while Richard and Ellen stayed in with the children. They were surprised to hear a tap on the door quite late, once the children were in bed.
"William, hi, come in," Richard said. "We're just having a night cap, will you join us?"
"Yes thanks," William said, gratefully accepting a whisky.
"Are you alright?" Ellen asked.
"No, actually, I'm not," William admitted. "I've made a frightful mistake and I don't know what to do about it." He explained the incident in the pool, his misunderstanding of the situation, and how he had shouted at the children.
"Oh dear," Ellen said. "Have you said anything to Elizabeth?"
"Well," William said slowly. "Yes, I have, and I think I've made things worse." Again he explained, and sank back into the chair once he'd finished speaking.
"I'm not surprised she was angry, William, especially if you asked her out in the way you said you did. You made it sound as if you were doing her a favour!" Ellen said sharply.
"Why did you ask Elizabeth out if you'd upset Sam?" Richard asked.
"I wanted to ask her out anyway. I was going to ask you if you'd baby-sit," William admitted as Richard began to chuckle.
"You fancy her!"
William wouldn't answer, but just stared at the ceiling and sipped his whisky.
"Oh dear, he's got it bad," Richard teased. "You really shot yourself in the foot there, mate, yelling at her kid. How would you feel if someone yelled at Alice?"
"I came across here for a bit of sympathy," William said, feeling slightly aggrieved that they seemed to be against him.
"Sorry," Richard said. "But you have to admit that you were a bit hasty."
"I've already admitted that I was wrong, several times. What I need to know now is how to put it right. Either that, or Alice and I should go home tomorrow otherwise it will just be too embarrassing to see them around the place."
"No, don't rush off," Ellen said. "Maybe in the morning when everyone is a little bit calmer, you could say something to Sam when Elizabeth is there, clear the air. Are you going to let Alice speak to him?"
"Oh G*d," William said, putting his head in his hands. "I don't know how to talk to teenage boys, I can't even manage to talk to my own daughter."
"Think of them as human beings, William, not another species," Richard said. "Sam seems like a nice kid, Tom adores him. Just be very straight with him, and with Alice."
"I'll talk to Alice, if you like," Ellen said. "Maybe it would be nice for her to have a woman to confide in."
"Would you?" William said. "I'd really appreciate it. OK, better get back, she's alone in the villa. Thanks for the whisky." He drained his glass and stood up. "Oh and thanks for the pep talk too."
Elizabeth and Sam were up early the next day to head into town. When buying ice cream the previous afternoon, they had seen a sign advertising trips to a water fun park along the coast, and had bought tickets. Elizabeth thought it would be a good idea to avoid William for as long as possible, and Sam thought it would be a good idea to spend the day on rides.
The Fitzwilliams and Darcys spent the day at the beach, returning late in the afternoon. William had looked for Elizabeth before he and the rest of the crew had departed for the day, but had found the villa empty. He wasn't sure whether he was relieved or not that she wasn't there - part of him was glad not to have to confront the consequences of his previous stupidity, because although he knew he must apologise to Sam, he wasn't looking forward to it, but the other part wanted to get on good terms with Elizabeth as soon as possible. He spent the day at the beach trying his best to be good tempered, but not doing very well. He wasn't cross with the children, just with himself.
Back at the villas that evening, Ellen and Richard sat on their terrace having a drink and watching the children play on the swings, while William had his shower and dressed to go out for dinner later. Ellen saw Elizabeth come out onto her terrace, and called over.
"Hi Elizabeth! Had a good day?"
"Yes thanks," Elizabeth replied, walking over. "We went on an excursion to the water park, Sam went on just about every ride I think."
"Richard, just nip inside and get a glass so Elizabeth can have some wine," Ellen said, hoping that he would take the hint, which he did.
"We heard about yesterday," Ellen said quickly. "I know you feel angry, and fair enough, but William feels dreadful. He came over to talk to us last night, and he was in a bit of a state."
"Has he asked you to say this?" Elizabeth asked suspiciously.
"No, and he'd probably be annoyed with me if he knew," Ellen said. "But I can't bear to think that there are arguments going on. Elizabeth, we've only known each other a couple of days but I do hope that you and I will stay friends."
"Of course," Elizabeth answered, taking in the hopeful look on Ellen's face.
"He wants to apologise to Sam."
Elizabeth wasn't sure what to say. She couldn't imagine a man like William apologising to a teenage boy, but she knew the situation needed resolving otherwise the rest of the holiday would be unbearable.
"Look, I know sometimes he can seem insufferable," Ellen said. "But I think he really regrets what happened. We gave him a bit of a talking to, to be honest."
Elizabeth half wished she had been there to see it. "OK," she conceded. "I'll see what he has to say. And I won't cause a fight. I was angry, but I'd rather just forget it."
"Oh good," Ellen sighed with relief, as Richard came back after his tactfully slow search for a wine glass, and Sam jogged across to join them.
"Wondered where you'd gone, Mum."
She felt him freeze next to her, and glanced up to see William approaching. She felt like holding Sam's hand to reassure him, but thought he would probably feel embarrassed if she did so. William noticed who was on the terrace and suddenly felt rather nervous. The moment he'd been dreading had arrived. His stomach was churning in a way that it hadn't for years, and he took a deep breath.
"Hello," he said as calmly as he could manage.
"Hello," Elizabeth said coolly. Sam was silent.
"About yesterday," William said, feeling very uncomfortable as he looked at Elizabeth. "I was out of order. I hope you can accept my apology and we can put it behind us."
"As long as nothing like it happens again," Elizabeth said, quite enjoying the fact that William was so evidently feeling extremely awkward. Serves him right, she thought.
"It won't." He held her gaze for a moment, and thought he saw a little glint of amusement behind her steely glare. He realised that her reply to him could be taken two ways, either that there should be no repeat of the incident with the children, or that no more dinner invitations should be issued. He was determined that the first of those would not re-occur, but felt an ache of disappointment at having possibly agreed not to ask her out again. In the midst of his confusion, there was one more task he had to complete. He turned to Sam.
"Didn't see you in the pool this morning, Sam," William said, trying to engage his attention. "You're a good swimmer."
"Thanks," Sam mumbled, feeling awkward.
"And if you want to do any more diving lessons, that would be OK," William continued. "I made a mistake yesterday. Stupid Dad, and all that."
William gave a little strained laugh as he waited anxiously to see whether he was going to be forgiven.
"Well, we'll see," Elizabeth said, stepping in, knowing that Sam felt uncomfortable with the situation. She guessed that it had been difficult for William to make this apology of sorts to Sam, and also felt she should accept it for the sake of everyone's holiday. Ellen and Richard were watching with a mixture of relief and amazement on their faces but all were saved from further embarrassment when a cheery shout broke the tension.
"Hi, everyone!" Charlotte called. "Hi," Billie added. "Oh, Richard, we have to thank you for the routes you planned for us, we've seen some gorgeous scenery today!"
She described the drive they had taken into the mountains, and the churches and small museums that they had visited. The next day they planned to visit a rather impressive cathedral in a city about thirty miles inland.
"Oh, that sounds wonderful!" Elizabeth said. Much as she was enjoying her holiday as it was, she longed for a little bit of culture and scenery.
"Come with us then," Charlotte said. "We can fit you both in."
Sam was trying very hard not to pull a face at the thought of spending a day stuck in a car and traipsing round old buildings. Richard laughed.
"I don't think Sam fancies that, do you? He could stay here with us if that's OK with you, Elizabeth. We'll just hang out by the pool all day."
"What do you think, Sam?" Elizabeth asked, wondering if he felt awkward at the thought of being around William for a day when she wasn't there.
"Well, I'd rather swim than do museums and stuff, if you don't mind," he said. "Cos it is our next to last day tomorrow."
"How long are you here for?" Charlotte asked.
"Just the week," Elizabeth said. "We fly back on Sunday morning, so he's only got tomorrow and Saturday to swim. Well, if you're sure, Sam, and if it's OK with you," she said, turning to Ellen.
"It's fine with me," Ellen said. "One more is no problem at all."
"That's settled then," Charlotte said cheerfully. "Right we're off into town for dinner, see you tomorrow!"
"Yes, we must get moving," Richard said. "What are you doing for dinner, Elizabeth? Would you like to join us?"
"Thanks, that's very kind, but we bought some food on the way back up. We're having a lazy night tonight."
"See you in the morning then," he said. "Have a nice evening."
William watched in silence as Elizabeth and Sam strolled back to their villa. He wasn't sure if he was disappointed or relieved that she would be leaving in two days' time. He wished he had more time to get to know her, but he had so clearly blown his chances that he decided it was probably a good thing that she was going. Perhaps once she had left, he would be able to rid his mind of her almost constant presence there.
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