Ten years later…….
It had been ten years since he had lost his wife, and eleven since their daughter, Alice, had been abducted from hospital on the night of her birth. During the intervening years, Alan had thrown himself into his work, and had been extraordinarily successful.
He had grown his business so much, that there were now offices in Scotland, Birmingham and London, as well as the first office in Durham, which now served as the headquarters of the company.
He regularly worked ten-hour days, and often more. Work had become his way of dealing with his wife’s death and had gradually become the one thing in his life that he devoted all his time to. He was financially secure, the business had become so successful, that he was a millionaire. The business was so successful that it had attracted offers from some major investment companies in Europe, as well as from one of their American rivals who sought a foothold in Europe. He’d so far rejected all their offers. He loved the company, and the people, and he wanted the company together, something he knew was unlikely to happen if he sold it.
He was very loyal to his employees, his best friend Richard, who had been with him from the start and had been a major reason for the company’s success. His programming skills were second to none as far as Alan was concerned. And as a reward for his input, and his friendship, he’d made him a partner a few years ago, and had given him ten percent of the company. But he wasn’t just his business partner, he was his best friend, and had been there for him in his personal life whenever he’d needed him.
Coping with life had got easier with the passage of time, the pain never left him, he just learned how to cope with it. With each anniversary, he promised Susan that he would never give up looking for their daughter, but, in truth, the trail had gone cold many years ago. After five years the police conducted a case review, over the years there had been possible sightings, but none of them had had any substance, or led to anything, so the case remained unsolved. At home, he had sold the family home soon after the funeral and now lived in a large five-bed detached house on the outskirts of Durham. He’d bought it mainly as an investment, but it was ideal for when his nieces came over to stay, which was the highlight of his life these days.
His wife’s sister, Linda had given birth to another daughter, a year after Susan’s death, he recalled the conversation that he’d had with her as she sat in her hospital bed minutes after giving birth. She had asked him if they could name their new baby after her sister, and his wife. He told them both that he would be honoured to have her remembered in such a way.
He of course agreed to be her Godfather, and over the years, he and Susan developed a special bond. It was no stronger than the bond he shared with her sister Becky, but there was something slightly different about their relationship. He treated them both equally, he loved them both equally of course, and this weekend was Susan’s tenth birthday.
He had bought her an i-pad, something that she had pestered her mother about for months, they had bought her a new bike for her main present, so he had agreed to buy it for her. Linda told him that he was spoiling her, which he did, all the time, he would spoil them both, but he knew, inside that Susan would approve of what he was doing. He loved them both very much, and they reciprocated, they loved staying over at his house which they did at least once a month. They would stay more often, but their mother knew that they would get away with a lot more with ‘Uncle Alan’, than they would when they stayed at home. They had even been allowed to decorate their own rooms at his house, something that they both threw themselves into with great enthusiasm.
Today was the day of the party. He left the house early, he had somewhere that he must go first. He picked up the flowers that he had ordered, a large bunch of yellow roses, and he headed for the cemetery.
He knelt before the headstone and chatted to his wife as he cleaned up the plot and wiped the headstone down, just as he always did. He would always tell her as much as he could remember, especially anything about their nieces. When he had finished, he stood up and gently slipped his fingers over the gold letters of her name on the smooth, cold, marble headstone.
“Well Susan, before I go, I have one more thing to tell you. Your sister, along with my work colleagues, have been pestering me for ages to take a holiday. Well, Richard and Debbie at work got impatient, so, they searched the internet and found a cruise around the Adriatic. When I told Linda and your mum, well you know how persuasive those two are, they never let it go, so, I booked it today. In two weeks, I leave for my cruise, ten days away from it all, imagine that!”
He brushed away the last of the dead leaves and grass cuttings that were turning brown around the base of the headstone and gathered the mess up to drop into the waste-bin. He finished by topping up the water in the flower container then he stood and looked down on onto the headstone and rested his hand on the top.
“I miss you every day love.”
He closed his eyes, he wasn’t religious, he didn’t pray, but he was sure that sometimes he could feel her close to him, so close that he could reach out and touch her, and today, this was one of those times. He paused for a few moments, then slowly turned away, ‘next stop, Susan’s party!’
When he pulled into the street, he noticed the increased number of cars parked along both sides of the street. He parked, and as he walked towards the house, he could hear music, the party was in the rear garden. He walked into the house and Becky was first to greet him. She was now fourteen and becoming quite the young lady, she was with her friend Amy, the only two teenagers in a house full of ten and eleven- years old girls.
He stood in the conservatory and looked out onto the garden and chatted with some of the parents who had stayed for a while after dropping off their children. He always felt a little uncomfortable in these situations. Linda had, over the years tried to set him up with a couple of the girls single mothers, but to be fair, she hadn’t tried that for a long time now.
There was a DJ, and he was running the show out in the garden, and he was working them well. They were all out there dancing and having a great time, as far as he could tell. He made his way into the kitchen where he found Linda with her mum and dad, he hugged them all.
“Where’s the birthday girl then?”
They looked outside, Linda pointed.
“There, beside the apple tree. She is with her three co-conspirators, those four are inseparable.”
He smiled, she looked so happy, she was clearly having a great time, he always felt something different whenever he saw her, he could never put his finger on it, but he thought it might be something to do with her eyes, they reminded him so much of his wife. He lifted his hand and showed the wrapped gift.
“Shall I put this with the other gifts?”
“Oh no Alan, she has no idea what you have got her. I want to see her face when she opens it. I’ll go and get her.”
She left him with her parents as she went to bring her daughter. He had remained close to them both after Susan had died, in fact, they grew closer than they had ever been when she was alive. He turned his head at the sound of his excited niece’s footsteps as she ran into the kitchen and over to him, hugging him tight.
“You came uncle!”
He hugged her back.
“Of course, I came, I wouldn’t miss out on one of my niece’s birthday parties, now would I? Happy birthday Susan.”
He handed her the neatly wrapped present, she took it and stared at it, she looked at her mum and asked if she could open it now or did she have to wait for the others? Her mum nodded and put it on the kitchen table and began to carefully remover the wrapping paper.
Tom had followed them into the kitchen and stood with his wife as everyone watched the birthday girl open her first gift. Becky, her sister would have just ripped the paper off the present. Susan was different, she said that she liked the paper, she was into crafting and he knew that she would re-use that paper later. So, she took her time as her increasingly frustrated mother quietly urged her daughter to ‘get on with it’
Slowly the box revealed itself and she realised what it contained, she turned to her mother, the look on her face said it all.
“Mum, mum! It’s an i-pad!”
Her face beamed, she was red-faced from the running about and dancing and so excited, she once again grabbed Alan and hugged him, thanking him profusely. Her three friends were stood at the door.
“Look what my uncle has bought me!”
The girls came in and stood around her as they all looked at the box. Linda walked over to them and took the box from her.
“Okay girls, now you have seen it, go outside and enjoy the party, you can set it up later Susan, maybe Becky can help you.”
The girls left and soon the music seemed to be turned up a little louder as the sounds of the latest Katie Perry tracks boomed from the speakers.
The other mothers left, Alan stayed, he helped where he could, there was a lot of dancing, three hours of virtually non-stop action, interspersed with quiet periods of food eating, birthday-song singing, then as the end of the party approached the presents were opened, and like the polite girl she was, she thanked everyone as she opened their gift.
As the end of the party approached, parents began to return to pick up their children, the house slowly began to quieten down and eventually all her friends were gone. As the grown-ups started to clean up Susan picked up the i-pad box and sat in the lounge, she was looking at the box when Becky walked in after seeing her friend off, she sat down beside her sister. Like all sisters, they had their moments, but overall, they got along well, and they classed each other as friends.
She offered to help to set up her sister’s i-pad and they moved into the dining room and started to unpack the box. With the girls working together, Alan joined the other adults, Tom, Linda and her parents in the kitchen where he told them about his cruise.
“Susan wouldn’t want you to spend the rest of your life on your own Alan, you do know that.”
“I’m going on holiday sis, to have a break, nothing more.”
He would often call her sis, something that had developed in the years after his wife’s death when they had grown increasingly close, and, he knew that she wanted nothing more than to see him find a new partner.
“I saw you talking with Carly’s mother earlier.”
He gave her one of his, ‘don’t you ever give up’ looks, she just smiled back at him.
“What? she thinks you are cute!”
Tom looked at her, “cute? What, is she sixteen?”
Alan joined in, “Besides Linda, I don’t think I am ready.”
She looked into his eyes, she could hold his gaze just as her sister could,
“Alan, it’s been ten years, you’re more than ready.”
He shrugged, “Maybe, but that’s not why I’m taking this holiday.”
When it was time for him to leave, the girls came to see him. He hugged the birthday girl once more, and as he hugged Becky, he handed her a small bag. It was her little gift, his little ritual. Becky smiled as she looked inside, although a teenager, and growing into a beautiful young lady, she was never embarrassed about showing her affection for him. After opening her present she kissed him.
“Thanks for the bracelet uncle.”
He smiled, it was only a little thing, but she really did show her gratitude, He turned to his sister-in-law who rolled her eyes at him.
“You spoil my kids Alan.”
“So, sue me.” They hugged, then he left.