I stood alone in my old bedroom, staring into the mirror and wondering when the hell that spot had appeared at the end of my nose. The sophisticated, handsome look on me always needed some work, but it was being particularly uncooperative this morning. Of all the mornings to choose, I thought. My hair wouldn’t lie straight; there was a tuft on my crown that insisted on spiking up whenever I tried to slick it down. I’d nicked my chin shaving, and there was a small, dark scratch under my lip. And the left side of my collar didn’t lie comfortably on top of the bow tie and kept rolling up at the end, despite ironing it three times.
“Pat?” Mandy poked her head around the door. She was clutching a couple of towels and what looked like the plastic bucket from our garden shed. Her smile looked like a grimace. “How’s it going?” She rushed on before I could even start to answer. “Ellie wants a bath, she couldn’t get into the bathroom before now, and Paul can’t find his cuff links. The silver ones. And Uncle Ed rang ahead to say the car’s stuck in traffic and won’t be here for another hour. That’ll be cutting it really fine to meet the registrar at the hotel for midday. Oh, and the caterers say the salmon mousse is off, something about the hot weather. All they have to substitute is meatloaf, though they say it’s a very superior meatloaf, but Mum says if they can’t deliver what we ordered, they can shove it up their superior—”
I held up a hand to stop the tirade. “Mandy, it’s fine. Ellie can have the bathroom; I’m washed already. Paul’s cuff links are in the pot on the mantel; he left them there at Christmas when he last visited. It doesn’t matter about the car; we’ll be ready to go as soon as it arrives, and the hotel’s only a half-mile away. And I don’t give a rat’s arse about whether we have mousse or meatloaf.”
She wrinkled her nose sympathetically. “You haven’t had any breakfast today, have you?”
I gritted my teeth. The thought of food had that bubbling effect in my belly which I’d been trying to avoid. “No problem. I like dry toast, really I do. Is that bucket for me?”
She grinned and came over to stand by me. Her hand on my shoulder was a surprising comfort. “It’s just nerves. I was like this before I got married. During it as well, actually. Jon had to greet all the guests at the reception on his own; I was holed up in the restroom saying goodbye to breakfast and my ‘welcome’ champagne cocktail.”
“Too much information, big sis.” I smiled at her. Both of my sisters had inherited the good looks of the family, and Mandy looked great in her outfit, a pale blue skirt-suit, her hair glossy and newly styled. I sneaked a look at the top of her head. No, no tuft. Looked like I was the only one inherited that particular throwback.
“I’ll go and check on May. The baby got hold of some chocolate from the table favors—ate the whole damned lot—and she’s been sick twice, all down May’s dress.” She brandished the bucket. “This is my attempt to catch the worst of it, if the kid has a relapse. And her Danny won’t keep his smart jacket on. She’s tried alternately bribing him with the promise of extra TV and threatening him with cutting it off completely.” At my raised eyebrows, she laughed. “The TV, idiot. Nothing more aggressive than that. Though I’m not sure she’s not tempted.”
There was a tap at the door.
“The bathroom’s free; no need to check with me and Pat!” Mandy called. But it wasn’t cousin Ellie wanting her turn, nor my infant niece seeking somewhere new to vomit up her chocolate. When Mandy opened the door wide, Mum was standing there.
She looked beautiful. Her short, gray hair was flicked back behind her ears, pearl drop earrings gleaming in the overhead light. The trouser suit was a designer original and bought especially for the day, as were the high heels she usually scorned. I wasn’t used to seeing her so glamorous, and often forgot how well she could carry the look. The laughter lines at the side of her bright blue eyes were familiar and well-loved.
“Mum.” Mandy hugged her, and they both turned to look at me. “He looks good, right? I knew the bow tie was the right one to choose.”
I tugged at it a little sulkily. “Now I know who to blame. I feel way overdressed.”
Mandy pouted. “Jeez, it’s your special day. You want to go along there on the bike in your leathers?”
I caught the glint in her eye and smirked. “Of course not. Hell, it’d never occurred to me. But now you mention it….” I dodged as Mandy threw the towel at me. I was glad it wasn’t the bucket.
“Never thought…. You know.” Mum blushed. She looked a little uncomfortable. “Never thought you’d settle down, Pat. Not like this. It took some time.”
I smiled back a little ruefully. “It hasn’t been plain sailing, right?”
Mandy made a snorting noise. I ignored her; I had plenty of years’ practice. Instead I went over to hug my mother. “I’m sorry, Mum. Sorry for being a mess as a teenager, a wise-ass as a young man, and a pain in everyone’s butt with my love life. Thanks for everything you’ve done—everything you’ve been. I love you so much.”
She accepted the hug with one of those huffing noises she makes when she’s embarrassed. “Hey, you’ve been nothing but trouble. I say that every day,” she joked. “But I suppose I needed the challenge. It’d be no good if all my children were the same….” I felt her tense up in my arms.
“I know it was hard,” I said quickly. It wasn’t easy for me either, I wanted to say, but I didn’t. “It hasn’t been the best life for you, bringing us up on your own, two lively girls and a younger, troublesome son.”
“Pat, don’t be foolish. You’re an adult yourself now. And you were just like any other kid….”
“Not quite.” I’d been temporarily suspended from school a couple of times for fighting and done my fair share of drinking and smoking under age. There were other ways I was different from many of my peers, but I’d never discussed those with Mum over the Sunday roast dinner. “But that’s how you wanted me to be, wasn’t it? Do the things other sons do; follow the normal life plan. School, college, job, marriage, kids. Same choices as everyone else.”
“Pat.” Mandy’s tone was warning me not to stir things up. Not today.
Mum put a hand on Mandy’s arm to reassure her; her eyes never left mine. “That’s not fair, Pat. You were a restless child. I don’t always understand you; you don’t often tell me what’s going on in your head. Yes, it was hard—you weren’t always an easy boy to bring up. I only ever wanted a good life for you.”
“I know. And you did a good job.” I saw her eyes soften. “I am what I am, Mum. But you helped me see the rest of the world around me—to get some perspective. You celebrated the good times with me and kept me on the planet during the bad ones.”
“And now you’ve come through all that.” Her cheeks were flushed, and I wondered if she’d already had a drink, if only to steady her nerves with a house full of family and frenetic organization. “After all that confusion and rebellion, you’ve found the right way at last. Made the right choices. You’ve made us all proud of you. Haven’t you?”
I glanced over at Mandy. She was picking up the towel, not meeting my eyes for that second. “Yeah, Mum,” I said quietly. “I know the right thing to do.”
Mum kept staring at me. “What?” I looked between her and Mandy. “God, is it the spot on my nose?” No one laughed. Mum looked at Mandy, and she looked back. Enough with the meaningful gazes, I thought. My heart started to beat faster, but I wasn’t sure why.
“I came up to tell you Nicky’s at the door,” Mum said.
I stared, my brain not computing the information at first. “What door?”
Mum frowned a little. “Here. At the house.”
“Pat….” Mandy sounded worried.
“He’s here?” I didn’t seem able to make any more of a coherent sentence.
“He wants to see you.” Mum kept her voice deliberately calm, I could tell.
“He can’t!” Mandy blurted out. There was a look of panic in her eyes.
“I can’t see him,” I echoed, and they both stared at me. I turned back to the mirror, startled to see the disturbance in my eyes. “I can’t.”