Carlos almost jumped out of his skin and pulled back the hand that was about to press the doorbell. He turned around and grabbed David by the collar. “Don’t ever do that again, Miller!” he hissed.
David threw back his head and laughed, “All right, old man!” and then patted Carlos on his back. Carlos looked at him for a moment before embracing him in a bear hug.
“How are you doing?” concern obvious in his tone.
“Never been better, my friend,” was David’s reply with a big grin. True, he was feeling so much better.
The door opened and there stood Urs with Grace hugging his leg and sucking a lollipop.
“Well, well, look who we got here…the senior Divo,” Urs announced and hugged his Spanish friend.
“What’s wrong with you guys, calling me old man and senior? Am I really that old?” Carlos looked wounded.
“Yes!” was the response from his two friends. Giving them a glare, he stomped into the house amid laughter from them.
Angel came running to him, “Uncle Carlos! Welcome to our home.”
“Now, this is what I call ‘Welcoming your best friend’” he said as he bent down to hug the little girl. He turned to hug little Gracie too, who offered him her lollipop. “No, thank you my dear. Uncle Carlos is too old for sweets,” then he turned and glared at the two adults who were snickering at that remark.
“I seem to recall you having three little ones. Did you sell one off because you couldn’t cope?” he raised an eyebrow questioningly at Urs.
“Tony spilled milk all over his shirt just now, so mommy is cleaning him up,” Angel explained.
Carlos stared at the girl with an amazed look on his face then turned to Urs, “Is she really just four?”
“Almost four,” replied the proud father.
“What did Sam feed her, Urs? She’s so intelligent. She knew what I was talking about.”
“Well, her parents aren’t dumbos, you know?” Urs answered a little cockily.
“Yeah, yeah, tell us about it,” came David’s sarcastic remark as he patted Urs on the back and sauntered into the house.
Little Anthony came skipping into the family room where the men were now chatting amicably. Carlos saw him and scooped him up in the air, “Do you remember me, Tony?”
“Uncle Carlos,” replied the little boy. Then touching Carlos’s cheek, “You have hair on your face.”
“Awww, he’s so polite. What he really meant was you’re OLD!” David joked.
Urs burst out laughing but before Carlos could respond to that teasing, Sam appeared and gave him a warm embrace.
“So good to see you again, Carlito.”
Carlos kissed both her cheeks and then told her, “Just tell them I’m NOT old.”
Sam looked at him sympathetically and offered, “I’ll help you shave in the morning.”
The scowl darkened as David and Urs doubled over in laughter.
They had a simple dinner that night; the atmosphere was warm and casual. The little ones made for some interesting entertainment at the dining table because Carlos had to constantly repeat what he said to the kids as they found it hard to understand him. He talked too fast.
After dinner, David took Carlos to the EC, or rather, the Healing Heart Hotel, and as Carlos unpacked his stuff, David sat on the bed and watched.
“You gonna just sit there and keep quiet?” Carlos asked.
“You have a problem with that, bro?”
“You have a question so why don’t you just ask it now?”
“Ok. So are you really going to divorce Joanne?”
“If I am I wouldn’t be here.”
“Right. So what’s the plan now?”
“If I knew, I wouldn’t be here.”
“Right again. So you want us to help?”
“If I didn’t want that, I wouldn’t be here.”
“So, you don’t want to divorce Joanne, but you don’t have a plan, and you want us to help you win her back and that’s why you’re here,” David said with a smug grin on his face.
“Okie-dokie. I’m off to bed now.”
Carlos watched perplexed and annoyed as his friend walked out of the room just like that. “And I thought we’re brothers!” he huffed under his breath, throwing his boxers into the drawer.
True to her words, Sam came knocking at Carlos’s door the next morning.
“Time for a shave, handsome,” she said cheerily.
“Woman, I need to sleep!”
“Tsk, tsk. It’s almost noon you know. Besides, we’re invited to the Izambards’ house for lunch. So, my handsome Spaniard, lets get moving.” And she dragged him out of the room and into the common bathroom in the middle of the upper floor, not bothered that he only had a pair of red silky boxers on him.
“Are you always so bossy, Sam?”
“Why? Missing Joanne already?”
“No, she’s worse.”
“Ah, but you love her still.”
Sighing, he sat down on the chair that Sam had just placed in the bathroom and let her shave his beard.
“You look like a grizzly bear. Your face and your body…too much hair,” Sam looked at his face wondering where to start. She had helped Urs shave before, but he never had so much facial hair for her to work on.
“You’re not going to shave my chest hair are you? My fans love it,” he stated proudly.
“Well, if you behave, I might just overlook that part of your body,” Sam winked and he chuckled. As Sam got down to task, they chatted about the kids. Then Carlos asked, “How’s David coping?”
“He’s doing fine. Well, at least that’s how I see it. Don’t know if he cries at night, but in the daytime he seems normal.”
“He was up till very late watching movies.”
“And he gets up early every morning. Guess sleep is a little hard to come by these days for him,” Sam remarked with concern in her voice.
“So where is he now?”
“Playing with the kids. He’s wonderful with them.”
“Yeah, he could’ve been a dad by now,” Carlos voiced the obvious, sadness softening his tone. Hearing a sniff by Sam, he apologized. “I’m sorry, Sam. Didn’t mean to make you sad.”
Sam nodded as she continued her task.
“So how’s Urs doing around the house?”
“Why is everybody so concerned about how he’s coping around here? He’s a normal kind of guy, you know?” Sam couldn’t understand why the guys, and sometimes even Ginny, thought that Urs was always shirking his family responsibility.
“Well, he doesn’t seem like a family man to me. I mean, he’s too cool for that baby stuff. I remember you were always carrying the babies and changing nappies, and all he did was carry the bag and pram. He almost looked like an idiot when he was with the babies.”
“That’s because I’m better at those stuff. Besides, after the twins were born, he learnt to take real good care of them. Well, he had to ‘cos I only have a pair of hands.”
“Joanne said you went for a little holiday?”
“Yes, we went last year. His mum and sis came and looked after the kids while we had a short break in the French countryside. It was heavenly,” Sam smiled as she remembered their five-day stay in a country house South of France. Urs was so loving and attentive and they had fun either just chilling out in the sun or riding the rented bike around the countryside, and a couple of times they made out in the wild. Before those memories invaded her mind, she quickly asked, “So what’s up between you and Joanne?”
“We quarrelled, I said something nasty, she threw me out of the house.” Carlos tried to play down the whole incident with an innocent look but Sam wasn’t sold on it.
“You’re always saying something nasty when you’re angry, Carlos. Out with it. What exactly did you say to her?” When she still did not get any answer from him after a few seconds, she continued, “If you want us to help you, you’ve got to let us in on what really happened between the two of you.”
“She thought I was cheating on her. I didn’t,” Carlos started off a little defensively.
“What gave her cause to suspect you?”
“Someone told her I was with a woman, but that was just a childhood friend. No big deal, right? But she went into a fit because that friend kept calling me and we had an argument and then she wanted a divorce.” Sam had to stop shaving since she could see him getting agitated and gesturing wildly. Oh maybe a little cut would wake him up? “She knew I only like to talk but I never ever take any action. I don’t know why she’s behaving like this suddenly.”
“Come on, Carlos. Joanne isn’t stupid nor is she the jealous type. Did you do anything with your woman friend?”
After a moment of quietness, Carlos sighed. “We were in her hotel room. She said she was leaving for some other country which I forgot which one, and wanted to catch up on old time. We did go a long way back, dating for awhile before we each went our separate ways to start a career. I didn’t think she wanted more than just to chat,” he shrugged.
“So what happened behind closed door?” Sam probed.
“Well, things got a little bit heated when she started touching me. I think the drink also made me not able to think clearly. Then…then we kissed.”
Sam could see a darker shade of red coming up from his neck to his face as he squirmed uncomfortably while she stared hard at him, hands on her hips.
“But that was all,” he quickly continued. “When she was kissing me, my phone rang and I was suddenly brought back to reality. So I told her I had to go but before I left, she said she had to go meet someone too. That was how we left the hotel together and were seen by Joanne’s friend.”
“I’m sorry, Carlos, but you’re really a scumbag. Did you realize that if your phone hadn’t rang at that precise moment you might have done something unforgivable? Now I can understand Joanne’s fury,” Sam opted not to sugar-coat her words; he deserved whatever was coming for him.
Carlos looked at her and wondered if he’d just heard the word ‘scumbag’ coming out of Sam’s mouth. Looking hurt and angry, he tried to defend himself, “But I didn’t do anything. I’m a hot-blooded man, and she’s a lovely lady, and with the drinks we had, things got out of hand…” he shrugged helplessly as Sam continued to glare at him, wondering if he was talking to a friend or foe. After what seemed like an eternity of silence, Sam spoke again.
“You behaved like a teenager with hormone rages. But you know what, Carlos? I think I believe you and trust that you didn’t do anything with that woman. So, let’s just talk about how Joanne might feel, from a woman’s standpoint. Have you thought about how she really feels seeing her husband flirt all the time, Carlos? She might have said she understands it’s part and parcel of your job and it’s in your blood too and doesn’t mind, but perhaps, somewhere in her heart she does feel a tinge of jealousy. Maybe this latest episode just triggered her hidden emotions and she felt she couldn’t take all that nonsense anymore, even though she might believe you didn’t do it?”
“We’ve been together for so many years now, and she never gets so upset over a woman before,” Carlos said slowly, as if trying to understand why his wife suddenly exploded, “Then suddenly she answered my call from Anna and she blew her top.”
“I don’t know, Carlos. I’m just guessing. If it was because she suspected you were cheating on her then maybe we can fix this. I mean, she may be hot-headed like you, but she’s a sensible woman.”
“I don’t know, Sam. In our heated argument, I said something terrible to her.”
“I’ve suggested to her before that we should start a family but she always said it’s not the time yet. So that day I got angry when she accused me of cheating on her, I asked if she was seeing someone behind my back…”
“Carlos Marin! How could you accuse your wife of being unfaithful?” Sam was aghast at what she just heard. She knew Joanne well and that was the worst accusation that her husband could levy on her.
“I didn’t accuse her, I was asking her.”
“Carlos, has she ever asked you if you’ve been seeing some other women while you were apart?”
“No, she knew I wasn’t seeing anyone even though she knew I liked to flirt with the ladies. It’s in my Latino blood, can’t help it,” he shrugged and immediately regretted it as the movement caused a cut on his chin.
“Stop moving if you don’t want to end up with plasters all over your face. On what grounds are you basing your suspicions?”
“What makes you suspect she’s seeing someone else?”
“So, you asked that question not because you thought she was seeing someone else, but because she accused you of being unfaithful and you were angry?”
“Not really. She was really spending too much time with the guy who produces the travel documentary. Even when they are not filming, they go out for drinks.”
“Carlos, they are colleagues. Do you really have so little faith in Joanne? As I recall, she couldn’t wait to marry you. If she hadn’t kept dropping hints, I think you’d still be single now.”
“I know, Sam. I really messed up this time,” he slumped further into the chair, resigned. Luckily this time Sam had finished her task.
“Ok, we’re done. Next up, your chest,” Sam announced.
Upon hearing the word ‘chest’, Carlos immediately covered his chest with both his hands. Sam laughed, “Just joking. Now, please hurry up and get ready. Come over to the house when you’re done.” With that, she kissed his cheek and said, “We’ll talk again later.”
David was busy swinging little Anthony on the swing that dangled on a sturdy branch of the tall oak tree at the back of the house when Sam walked towards them. She observed him for a moment and was satisfied to see that he was really having fun with the kids. David, upon realizing that he was being watched, turned and waved to her.
“Join us?” he asked.
“No, the kids need to get ready to go to Uncle Seb’s place.” Hearing that, Angel stopped playing on the slide and went over to hold her mother’s hand, ready to go and get changed. Little Gracie followed her sister. David stopped the swing and helped Tony off it.
“I’ll be in shortly,” he told Sam and walked in the direction of the lake. Sam observed his form for a while before heading back to the house with the children.
David found the usual spot he always sat on every morning before everyone else woke up. Staring out at the calm water of the lake, he took stock of his situation. He had been going to bed in the early hours of the morning and getting up early. He knew it wasn’t good for his health. He needed to change this habit, a habit he acquired after Sandra’s departure.
Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to have all those sci-fi DVDs at the EC. No doubt Urs had included them in his collection of movies for his sake, but they were becoming a distraction to him, preventing him from falling asleep. He remembered staying up late to watch these movies with Sandra whenever they were home for holidays and having some quiet time together. As he watched Star Wars again the night before, he couldn’t help but feel that Sandra was snuggling up next to him. The feeling warmed him and he refused to go to bed even though his eyes had grown heavy.
“That’s it. No more late night movies. Gotta take care of your body and your voice.” With this new resolution, he squared up his shoulders and threw a stone into the water, watching the ripples as they faded away before walking back to the house.
At the Izambards massive mansion, they gathered in the spacious and brightly lit dining room for their lunch. The kids were allowed to eat at a small table set out on the wide veranda just outside the dining room, where the adults could keep an eye on them.
“Carlos, we’re thinking of doing a mini tour after the release of the album,” Urs started the discussion. “What do you think?”
“What do I think? I think it’s bad for me to be away from Joanne again for so long,” Carlos replied candidly.
Sebastien looked at his Latin friend, then at Urs and David, and said, “But it won’t be so soon that we’ll be touring. It’ll give you time to sort things out with Joanne.”
After mulling over the suggestions, Carlos sighed, “It’s not going to make any difference if I toured or not. She’s going to be away filming anyway, she won’t even notice if I’m home or not. Besides, she’s not even taking any of my calls now, I’m beginning to wonder if she’s still in Madrid.”
“Let’s take this time, before the release of the album, to get your lives back to normal again. We’ll be here if you need help,” Sebasiten suggested as he looked from Carlos to David.
David gave a smirk that said “easier said than done” but held his tongue as he knew his friends were all concerned for his well-being. Carlos turned to him and said with the raise of his left eyebrow, “If you help me with Joanne, I’ll help you with the next woman that comes into your life.” The others held their breath as they waited for the younger man’s response.
“What do you think I am? A love machine that can just turn itself on and off in front of a woman? Sandra’s just left…a year ago to be exact, and here you are talking about the next woman? How could you think it’s so easy to fall in love again?”
Sam could see that David was getting agitated. She squeezed his hand and leaned close to him to whisper, “David, please. We’re all just trying to help.” She gave an encouraging smile and it somehow settled the storm that was building up inside him.
With a heavy sigh, he apologized for his outburst. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be ungrateful or anything. I just need more time, that’s all.”
“We all understand, David. Sorry if it seems we’re being pushy or anything,” Sebastien replied apologetically on Carlos’s behalf. Carlos, feeling a little miffed that David had over-reacted to his teasing suggestion, went back to picking at his food. He wasn’t that hungry before and he certainly wasn’t now.
They went back to discussing the release of the album and whether to re-record some of the songs. It took a little prodding from Sebastien and Urs to get Carlos and David to join in the discussion. Both Sam and Ginny looked on with quiet concern but it was short-lived. Having spent so many years working together, the guys were used to having bust-ups. Soon they were all giving ideas and the talk became animated. It was as if they couldn’t wait to begin with the project.
They decided to give each other another three months of break before meeting back at the studio to re-look the album. Three months to get Joanne back into Carlos’s life; three months to mend David’s broken heart.
After lunch, Ginny and Sam took the children out to play in the garden where there was a little playground to allow the men to have more time to bond again. As the kids were playing happily, Ginny started the conversation.
“How’s our baby bear doing?”
Sam shrugged. “He’s good, most of the time. I can see he’s really trying very hard to get over the depression. You really have to hand it to him to do this without the aid of any medical interventions. He refused to talk to a shrink and wouldn’t touch a sleeping pill. He’s strong, I’m sure he’ll bounce back in no time at all.”
“He talks to you often, doesn’t he? You must be his shrink then. And Urs, too. It was so nice of him to fly over to the States to spend some time with David after the funeral. Seb would have gone too, except that he didn’t know how to console him.”
“It’s ok, Ginny. Besides, David would’ve felt smoldered with two grown men trying to shower him with love.” Sam smiled at the thought.
“What can we do for him and Carlos?”
“David would have to heal himself, I’m afraid. As for Carlos, I’ll try talking to Joanne but only if Carlos wants me too. Don’t want to stick my nose in where I’m not needed.”
“I’m sure he wants us to, else he wouldn’t have agreed to be here. Hey, let’s plan a girls’ night out like we did before our wedding. It’s been so long since we got together to do girly stuff.” Then, as if realizing she had made a big mistake, she added, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have mentioned that.”
“It’s ok, Ginny. Sandra may not be here to share another girly outing with us but she’ll be with us in spirit, I’m sure. Besides, I think it’s a good idea. We’ll get to see Joanne again. Maybe she’ll let us in on her secrets.”
With that decision made, they decided to break the news to the guys, but not before Sam contacted Joanne on her mobile phone. Joanne was enthusiastic about the plan especially since she was taking a break from her work and needed something to distract her from the current crisis she was facing in her marriage. She knew the girls would be sure to ask her about it but decided that it wouldn’t be so bad to have someone to talk to. The girls would definitely be able to understand her problems better.
So it was decided: Sam and Ginny would fly to Madrid the following week to spend five days there with Joanne while the guys would stay behind to babysit the kids. Carlos offered to move in with Sebastien to help with the kids and though Sebastien thought that he was more than capable of looking after his own children, he was happy to have his old friend around.
Before they left the Izambards’ household, Carlos took Sam to a corner and spoke to her. “Please Sam, please tell Joanne I’m sorry. Tell her to answer my calls.”
“I’ll try my best, Carlos.”
The next few days went by quickly. Urs and Sam, and Sebastien and Ginny tried to prepare their children for mommy’s disappearance for a few days with promises that mommy would come home bearing gifts for them.
David visited some friends living in London. On days when he had nothing to do, he would take a book and sit by the lake to read. He still had trouble sleeping but had stayed away from watching movies on DVD. He seemed to cope better when he was around people but when he was alone in his room, it seemed to close in on him, so much so that he felt he couldn’t breathe.
To solve that problem, he had taken to going to the pub with Carlos but it lasted for only two nights. He thought he could just drink enough to make him feel sleepy. He didn’t want to do it at the EC lest the children should see him drinking; he didn’t want to be a bad influence to them. But he soon found it wasn’t such a good idea because women would wander up to them and gushed at how good-looking they were in person and asked to have pictures taken with them. One woman was particularly annoying because she kept touching his butt even when he told her not to.
Carlos on the other hand, took it all in his stride, but of course he knew the limit and drew a boundary that the women weren’t able to cross. He was like a night owl, staying up late and sleeping through the day.
However, he never forgot to call Joanne or text her. Sometimes he would arrange for flowers to be sent to her but still, none of the things he did received any response from her at all. He got so frustrated that he decided to take David’s advice to start behaving like a married man and stop flirting. No more pub hopping for him after tonight, he told himself.
“Are you feeling lonely tonight, David?” said the sexy blonde in a tight mini dress who sat on the stool beside him. Her hands travelled the length of his back, over his shoulder, down his arm and then rested on his thigh. David gently removed the trespassing limb and placed it on the table instead. After having his butt violated by the other woman, his patience was running thin.
“Nope. I’m not lonely, but thanks for your concern,” he gave a forced smile and looked away.
“I’m Suzie Kramer. If you need someone to talk to, I’m all ears,” she whispered in his ears.
He whispered back, “If I need a listening ear, you’d be the last person I’d talk to.” With that, he paid for his drinks and left the pub. Carlos saw him leave and saying a hasty farewell to the three women sitting around him, he went after his friend.
“Are you ok, David?”
“Yeah, just that this is a bad idea. I’m never gonna find anyone in there that’ll be my happy ever after.”
“Didn’t know you’re looking for that in there. Of course you won’t find her there, it’s a place to relax and have a drink. Surely you know that by now.”
Raking his hand through his hair, David explained, “Yeah, I do know that, but you guys have been telling me to go out and meet people so I thought I’d try. Maybe I should try the library next. Don’t think the women there would be grabbing my butt or touching me all over.”
They walked a short distance to the SUV that David borrowed from Urs. As they passed by a dance club, they could see a woman struggling with a man who was apparently drunk.
“Let go of me, you big oaf!” the woman shouted as she swatted the man with her handbag, trying to make him let go of her hand. “Help! Somebody get him off me!”
David walked up to them and in one smooth action, pulled the man way from the woman and delivered a left hand punch to his face. The man crashed to the ground unconscious. Turning back to the woman, David found a very young lady staring up at him with her big blue eyes. She was still panting very hard from her exertions.
“You alright?” he asked. When she nodded her head, he turned to leave.
Carlos looked at her and asked, “Are you alone here?”
Finally finding her voice, she replied, “I was with some friends but they just left for the pub. Thank you for helping me.”
“Where are you heading? Maybe we could give you a lift,” Carlos offered.
Looking suspiciously at the two men in front of her, the woman decided she’d have a better chance of fending off a drunkard than two fit and gorgeous looking hunks.
“Umm, thanks, but I think I should just get a cab.”
“Come on, Carlos, let’s go. I want to sleep,” David pulled Carlos away by the arm.
The woman looked at the two men with great interest as they walked away. She wondered if they were even interested in women at all.
The day soon came for Sam and Ginny to depart for Spain.
“Please call once you’ve touched down,” Urs gently reminded as he hugged Sam at the airport. Looking into the lovely almond shaped eyes of her husband, Sam smiled and they shared a tender kiss.
“It’s only five days, Urs, stop worrying about me. I’ll call you everyday like I promise.” Turning to her children, she hugged and kissed each one of them and reminded them, “Listen to daddy while mommy’s away, ok?” They nodded and little Gracie began to wail.
“Come now, sweetie. Mommy will be back very soon,” Urs held up the little one in his arms and patted her back while she sobbed into his shoulder.
“Mommy, take care,” Angel gave a brave smile even as her eyes watered and little Anthony sniffled.
“Oh, how am I going to leave you lot like this,” a visibly distressed Sam exclaimed. She hugged them one last time, kissed her husband again and said “I love you all” before turning to head towards the departure gate.
Ginny had much the same scenario played out nearby as Lily hung on to her mother like she would never let go. Little Nick hugged and pleaded, “Mommy, please don’t go.”
“Now, Nick, Mommy’s going away for a little holiday and she’ll be back soon. Kiss Mommy goodbye now,” Sebastien said as he tried to pry both kids away from their mother. Giving his wife a passionate kiss, he said with longing in his eyes, “Have fun, but don’t forget to call.”
Ginny waved to her family before turning to join Sam at the departure gate. Before the girls entered the gate, they turned back one last time to wave at their little farewell party, and to David and Carlos who stood behind their families.
“Don’t forget my present,” David called out cheekily.
“I’ll make sure she’s all dressed up in a nice little black dress,” was Sam’s reply. He laughed.
Carlos turned to David and asked, “How come Sam can joke about getting you a woman and I can’t?”
Shrugging, David replied, “Maybe it’s because you don’t wear dresses.”
Definitely on the mend, Urs thought as he observed the youngest member of the band. Being around people, especially the little ones, sure helped him forget about the loneliness.
While Urs and Sebastien tried to get the kids settled down without the help of their wives, the girls were already having a fun time. Joanne had met them at the airport and after leaving their luggage at her condo apartment where they would be staying, they left immediately for a spa and massage that the hostess had arranged.
Each of them had already chalked up two big bags laden with clothes and shoes by dinner time. When the waiter came by to take their orders and left, they started chatting about how each one of them were doing. Joanne was most impressed with Sam who had totally given up her job with the police force to devote her time to her family. Ginny was still modeling, but less often.
“But I’ve worked so hard to get where I am today, giving up right now seems like a stupid thing to do,” she tried to explain why she wouldn’t start a family yet.
“You don’t have to give up your career, you know, Joanne?” Sam tried some reasoning. “I’m sure Carlos wasn’t expecting you to give it up totally. You could hire a nanny to help with the baby, or get your parents or his parents to help if you have to go for a shoot.”
“Yes, I’ve thought of that. The problem is that I want to be able to take care of my children myself if I want to start a family, not hand them over to a nanny. Besides, I was thinking maybe wait another two more years and I’ll be ready to give up my career.”
“Have you told Carlos about your plan and your thoughts about taking care of your own kids?” Ginny asked.
“No, because before I could sit down and discuss it with him, that stupid man accused me of cheating on him,” Joanne replied with a flare of her trademark fiery temper. Before the other girls could probe further, the food was served and they tucked in quietly, all of them mulling over the Marins’ problem.
“Nick, come here and take your bath,” Sebastien shouted to his little boy. Instead of obeying, Nick ran out of the room stark naked, shouting and crying, “No, no! I want Mommy!”
Throwing the bathing sponge into the tub, Sebastien ran out and caught his son just before he ran down the stairs. Struggling in his daddy’s arms, little Nick cried louder as they approached the bathroom. Gently placing the kicking child into the bath water, Sebastien began to sing a children’s song in French, one which his mother always sang to him. It soothed the little boy somewhat and he settled down and played with his toys.
Later, when Ginny called, this was his report, “Oh, don’t worry honey. I’ve got everything under control. The kids are behaving and we’re having a nice dinner right now with Uncle Carlos.” The truth was that they were having pizzas and everything wasn’t as ok as he had said; Lily managed to break a photo frame while playing skipping in the family room, and Nick was constantly playing hide and seek with his dad, refusing to obey him and always crying out for mommy. Carlos chuckled quietly when Sebastien stuck out his tongue at the white lies he just told.
Before he hung up the phone, he asked how Joanne was doing after much hand-signalling from Carlos to find out something about his wife.
“So she’s enjoying herself with you girls, and she doesn’t want to talk about that man? Ok, I got it,” Sebastien gave Carlos a sideways glance as he said those words and saw that his friend was crestfallen. When he finally hung up the phone, he walked over to Carlos and put a hand on his shoulder, “I’m sorry, Carlos, your wife is still angry…but the good news is, she’s open for discussion with the girls about your problems.”
“I thought you said she didn’t even want to talk about me?” Carlos looked back at his friend in confusion.
“I was just pulling your leg,” Sebastien grinned cheekily.
Back in Buhler’s residence, Urs had his kids behaving like little scouts literally. He decided that it was a good weather to camp out for the night and set up the big tent that they usually use for their camping trip in the countryside. Another smaller one for David was set up next to it. The camp was set behind the house, near the lake. He carefully set up a fire in front of the tent and made the children sit quietly around the fire, telling them stories out of a children’s book. David sat with them and toasted marshmallows over the fire for the kids as they listened attentively to Daddy’s lilting voice and drinking their milk.
After the stories, they sang some songs together. Angel did a solo piece which she learnt from her music lesson and David was impressed.
“Urs, you do know you have a real talent in her, do you?”
Urs nodded as he took a drink of his coffee.
“So, what are you going to do about it?”
“Let’s see what the teacher can do for her at this stage. She’s still barely four. The teacher is now just teaching her to read notes and play the keyboard.”
“But you could’ve done that yourself.”
“Yes, but she likes the idea of going to school. There are two more girls in her group, slightly older, and she enjoys the interactions with them. Anyway, it’s just once a week. Besides, her teacher has extensive experience teaching young children like her. So what are you going to do now before we start our work?”
Shrugging, David replied, “I don’t know, Urs. I’m finding peace within myself here, and I have you and Sam and your kids to thank for that. Maybe I’ll move here. Going back to the States seems less exciting than it used to be.”
“I know what you mean. Have you decided what to do with Sandra’s stuff in the apartment?”
“I’ve arrange for her family to come over and see if they would like to keep some of her stuff. I’ve packed most of the stuff that I want to keep, but I don’t know what to do with her wardrobe and her collections. Maybe I’ll donate them to the Salvation Army. They could sell off the stuff and put the money to good use.”
Knowing that it wasn’t easy for David to talk about Sandra, Urs was heartened by his willingness to talk. Patting his younger friend on the shoulder and looking into his eyes, he said, “If you need help in anything at all, you know who to turn to.”
“Thanks, Urs. You and Sam have done so much for me since the accident. I’m sorry for taking so long to come to terms with the loss. I know you’re all really worried about me, you, Carlos, Sebastien and the girls, but I guess deep inside me there is this regret that I didn’t marry Sandra sooner. That’s probably why I’m finding it hard to accept that she’s really gone from my life,” David let out a sigh as he looked into space.
The regret had been plaguing his mind for the longest time and he kept wondering about what if they had been married earlier. Perhaps things would have been different? Perhaps Sandra would not have been going to the wedding photo shoot on that fateful day? She could have been with him instead. The remorse was eating him alive, especially during those early days of her departure. If it wasn’t for the support of family members and friends like Sam and Urs, he would have plunged into a deeper depression. He thought he had it all under control a few months after the funeral only for the feelings of loss and guilt to come back during her death anniversary.
Urs knew David had just revealed his deepest feelings to him and understood better what his friend was really going through. Gently shaking David’s shoulders, he said, “If Sandra could see you right now, she would be very worried about you, David. She was such a jovial and caring girl, she would hate to see you feeling so down and out. Time to move on, buddy.”
Nodding his head, David gave a wry smile, “Yeah, if only it’s that easy. But I’ll try.”
“Daddy, I want Mommy,” Gracie walked to her father and hugged him.
“Awww, little Gracie wants her Mommy,” David teased and it caused the little girl to wail. Urs scowled at his friend who looked at him apologetically. Carrying the little child into the tent, he tried to lull her to sleep with a song and her favourite teddy bear. Soon, they were joined by Anthony who couldn’t keep his eyes open. Both twins lay in sleeping bags spread over a thick blanket and slowly drifted of to sleep as their daddy softly sang them a lullaby. Angel decided to stay and keep Uncle David company.
“Don’t you want to sleep, Angel?”
Shaking her head, she sat nearer to David, “Uncle David, do you miss Auntie Sandra?” She had heard her daddy and David discuss about Sandra and decided it was safe to mention her name. She had wanted to ask about Sandra from the first day David came to stay with them. Sandra always took her out shopping whenever they got together and she missed her so.
Touched by her concern, David smiled at her. “Yes, Angel, I miss her a lot,” David said with a faraway look.
“I miss her too. But Mommy said she’s in heaven now and she’s looking after us, making sure we are all happy. Are you happy, Uncle David?”
Looking back at the little girl, David ruffled her hair and replied, “Yes, I’ve been very happy since I got here. Thank you, Angel.” He hugged her and kissed her forehead.
Urs heard the conversation from inside the tent and smiled; trust his little Angel to brighten up someone’s life, he thought proudly to himself.
As Angel talked to David about what Sandra bought for her during their last meeting, Urs lay down beside his little sleeping princess and texted a message on his mobile phone: “I miss you”.
“There’s no way I would forgive that idiotic husband of mine!” Joanne fumed as the girls continued their girly talk after dinner. They were now back in Joanne’s luxurious apartment.
“He’s just jealous, and being jealous means he loves you,” Ginny stated matter-of-factly.
“All these years while he flirted with other women, I’ve never accused him of being unfaithful. What gives him the right to accuse me? Besides, what about that woman he went to meet in the hotel room? Did you know she was his old flame?”
“But did you do anything to give him cause to suspect you, Joanne?” Sam asked tentatively.
“Of course not! I only went out for drinks with Felix because we had important things to discuss. The shoot will start in a couple of months’ time and we still have lots of things to work on.”
Sam sat on the edge of Joanne’s bed and observed her fiery friend. She had never doubted Joanne’s faithfulness but it still felt good to hear it from her. The fact that Joanne was still so worked up over Carlos’s mistakes showed that she still hadn’t given up on him. Sam felt encouraged by it and thought that Joanne was just trying to show her husband how to respect her; she didn’t really want a divorce.
“They’re planning a mini-tour after the release of the new album, Joanne. Maybe both of you should take this time, before you start filming for that documentary in Asia and he starts touring in Europe and perhaps the US, to set things right. Have a heart-to-heart talk with him instead of avoiding him,” Sam advised.
“Talk? How can I talk with a man who doesn’t even trust me? There’s nothing to talk about! He’s wrong to see that woman, and he’s wrong to accuse me of straying!” Joanne paced the room and gesticulated wildly as her temper flared.
“So you’re ready to just give up your marriage after all that you’ve put into this relationship?” Sam asked quietly.
Turning to face Sam, Joanne stopped momentarily, words stuck in her throat. Sam could see her struggling to say something but each time she opened her mouth, she closed it again. Finally she shook her head.
“No, I don’t want to give up, but I can’t help feeling hurt over the accusation. I want him to be able to trust me like I trust him.” At that last sentence, Sam and Ginny looked up at her with raised eyebrow. “Oh, alright, maybe I didn’t trust him enough. But what’s a woman supposed to do when her husband is constantly flirting with other women? Did you know that the woman sent him sexy text messages and called him many times? When I answered one of the calls, she told me he was still sweet on her. What kind of woman am I if I’m not disturbed by that?”
“But do you think he did it with her?” Sam asked shrewdly.
“Yes…no…I’m not sure,” Joanne sighed, plopping onto her bed. “I’m so tired. I have the travel documentary coming up and it’s going to last for at least six month, and then I have to deal with this.” Her eyes glimmered with tears that threatened to fall as she continued, “You have no idea what I’ve been through ever since he left.”
Ginny walked over and hugged her. Sam joined in too. The three women hugged together and while Joanne sniffled and choked on her own tears, the other two ladies tried their best to comfort her.
Finally when Joanne had collected herself enough to smile, she warned them, “Don’t you dare tell him what I’ve just said. I don’t want him to think it’s so easy to get me back after what he said and did. Hopefully the separation will make him miss me so much that he will realize that he doesn’t need other women.”
“In other words, you’re going to play hard-to-catch,” Ginny grinned.
Joanne nodded and Ginny said wisely, “Take heart, Joanne. When this is all over, the kiss-and-make-up part will be the sweetest thing that ever happened in your relationship. You will have a new understanding about each other. But you must not overdo it. Take his call once in a while to let him know you’re still here and you care.”
Joanne smiled through teary eyes as she teased, “You must have had some pretty awesome kiss-and-make-up before, Ginny. What did Seb do?”
Ginny blushed, and then laughed along with her friends. “Thankfully, they were for less serious matters than what’s happening between you and Carlos.”
After more discussions on each of their family lives and girly secrets, Joanne mentioned that she missed Sandra. This set the girls into a quiet mood for a while until Sam spoke up, raising her glass of champagne, “Lets drink a toast to our sister in heaven. If you’re with us, Sandra, know that we love you and miss you. We know you’ll be looking out for us, keeping us safe and sound, so please do your best to help David along. Cheers!”
“Cheers” the other two girls joined in.
The next few days went by in a flurry of activities for the girls. Shopping, pampering, visiting, sight-seeing, sun-bathing, dining…basically everything that they’d wanted to do, they did. Joanne was an excellent host and Sam and Ginny both felt like they were in paradise. No need to worry about children or husband, just being themselves and being away from the real world for a few days.
Of course the two mothers did not forget to call and check on their children every day, and their husbands never failed to call and check in on them when they did not call at the usual time. Both girls had to laugh at their anxious husbands and more often than not roll their eyes when the men began dispensing words like “Please be careful” or “Please don’t worry about us”. The truth was, the girls were more than capable of taking care of themselves and they knew their children were in good hands, well, at least Sam knew Urs to be capable of keeping their kids out of trouble. Ginny just didn’t bother about what the kids did to their father because she thought he had it coming by spoiling them rotten. But she pitied the housekeeper who would turn up twice a week to clean up the house. She wondered how many things had been broken by now and if the house still looked anything like when she had left it.
Joanne, on the other hand, kept ignoring the countless phone calls and text messages she received from Carlos, even though the other girls kept urging her to take his calls, or at least send a text to let him know she was fine. Though she was dying to hear his voice again, pride, hurt and anger prevented her from giving in. In the end the girls decided to let her be. The time would come when she would feel lonely enough to want him back, Sam thought, knowing that she still loved him very much.
David was just getting ready to go for a walk by the lake when his phone rang. It was his sister, wanting to know where he was and what he was doing. He gave her a quick update, preferring not to go into details about how he was doing. He told her not to worry about him and that he was enjoying his stay in the countryside. With an instruction to his sister to let their parents know about his whereabouts, he hung up. Had it really been three weeks since his arrival here, he asked himself. Shaking his head at how fast time flew by, he left the EC.
Strolling along the lake and finally taking a seat on his favourite spot, he looked out at the clear, calm water and thought, ‘Is it going to be like this for the rest of my life? Am I going to be alone and missing Sandra whenever I’m not with the guys or their families?’ His heart ached badly but his mind refused to cave in to his feelings. Urs’s words ‘Time to move on’ came to his mind. Finally, he stood up and left the peaceful setting for the lively chatter of a house filled with three lovely angels. They were going to have pancakes for breakfast.
“Uncle David, look what I made!” Angel held up a plate and showed it to him.
“You made those pancakes?”
“Well, not really. Daddy lets me mix the floor and milk and egg. Look, they’re really nice and round, aren’t they? I think they taste just as nice as those that Mommy makes. Right, Daddy?”
“Sure, sweetheart. Now, go tell your brother and sister to wash their hands and come in here for breakfast,” Daddy Urs instructed his little helper.
“You’re quite something, aren’t you?” David said admirably. “You train them up real well. How did you do it?”
“I’m not alone in this, David. Sam and I decided long ago that we should be consistent with what we say or do. If one of us feels that the kids need disciplining, the other will not interfere. And whatever promises we make to the kids, we make sure we keep them. That includes promises of a punishment if they misbehave. Three counts and that’s it: the punishment kicks in.”
David pondered on that little information as he set the kitchen table for breakfast. If only Sebastien had taken a leaf from the Buhlers’ book, he wouldn’t have to run around the house chasing after his son. The last time David called to talk to Carlos, that was exactly what Sebastien was doing. Little Nick refused to sit down for dinner, screaming loudly that he wanted ice-cream and mommy instead. In the end, Sebastien had to come to a compromise with the child: dinner first, then ice-cream, then call mommy.
After breakfast, David decided to go into town for a little bit of shopping, and asked if Urs needed anything. Urs decided he had quite a lot of stuff he needed to get and suggested a day in town with the kids instead. So the two Divos and three kids bundled into the SUV and drove off.
While they were shopping in the supermarket, David was looking at some toiletries when Angel joined him. They walked along the aisle hand in hand, with Angel asking “What’s this for?” or “Why do you need this?” David tried to satisfy her curiosity as best as he could but some questions were simply beyond him and he just replied, “Maybe Daddy would know better.”
They rounded the corner when they came to the end of the aisle and bumped into a woman.
“Oops! I’m so sorry,” David apologized and began helping her to pick up the stuff she dropped. Angel chipped in to help too.
“It’s ok…” the woman started and then stopped when she realised she was staring at a very tall and familiar guy. “Oh my God…David! How nice to see you here!”
David smiled a little and replied, “Nice meeting you. If you’ll excuse us, we have some shopping to do.” And taking Angel’s hand, they walked away, but not before the woman caught his arm.
“Don’t you remember me, David? I’m Suzie Kramer, we met at the pub the other day,” the tall blonde woman smiled.
“Suzie? Oh yes, now I remember,” he smiled ruefully and extended a hand for a handshake. “Nice meeting you again, Suzie.”
“I’m sorry about the previous night. I must have had too much drink,” she replied looking slightly embarrassed, taking his hand in hers. David smiled politely and wondered where the conversation would lead to. The fact that she was still holding his hand and was looking at him with so much longing wasn’t lost on him but being the gentleman that he was, he discreetly extricated his hand from hers.
“Don’t worry about it,” he simply said.
“Oh, what a lovely child this is. She couldn’t be yours, could she? I mean, there was no news about you having any kids,” and she bent down and pinched Angel’s pink cheek.
“Uncle David, shall we go? Daddy is almost done, I think,” Angel pulled at David’s hand and looked hopefully up at him.
“Sure, sweetie,” he said as he turned to Suzie, “Well, it’s nice seeing you again, Suzie, but we have to go. Goodbye.”
“David, please, could we maybe meet up for a drink? I’ll be in town the whole of this week and next,” Suzie looked at him earnestly, her hand lightly squeezing his arm. Before David could reply, Urs turned up with Gracie tagging on to his trouser leg and Tony sitting in a trolley full of groceries.
“We’re ready to go, David. Are you done yet?”
“Hi, Urs. My name is Suzie Kramer,” Suzie introduced herself enthusiastically, stretching out her hand to Urs. Urs shook her hand and greeted her, then looked at David for an explanation.
“We met at the pub. Angel and I were about to go look for you.” Then turning back to Suzie, he bid her goodbye.
“But what about that drink? Can we meet up tomorrow night?”
“Mommy’s coming home tomorrow so Uncle David cannot meet you, Miss Kramer,” Angel offered a reply. With that, she pulled David away from the gawking woman. Urs smiled apologetically at her before pushing the trolley towards the cashier counter where Angel and David were already headed.
After loading the groceries into the boot of the car, Urs suggested having ice-cream at the ice-cream parlor nearby to the delight of the kids. As the little ones tucked into their shared banana-split ice-cream, the adults had brownie hot fudge sundae each. Over the delicious dessert, Urs asked the question that David dreaded.
“So, what’s with this Suzie Kramer that you couldn’t wait to get away from?”
“She’s rude, she pinched my cheek!” Angel complained.
“I’m talking to Uncle David, Angel. Besides, I don’t think she meant to be rude.”
Angel pouted but decided her ice-cream was more important than the woman. David smiled and winked at her, making her giggle.
“We met at the pub” David started.
“So?” Urs probed.
Looking at Angel, David whispered, “She gave me the look and touched me all over.”
Urs’s brows rose to the top of his forehead as he realised what his friend was trying to tell him.
“Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to run away from every woman that comes along, but that’s coming on too strongly for my liking,” he continued in his whisper mode. Urs decided he had a point and left it at that. They had a pleasant trip home as the adults and kids sang a few children’s songs together in the car.
Carlos flipped his mobile phone shut when he got no answer. Ever since he moved out of his apartment, he had been trying to call Joanne, but each time his calls went unanswered and text messages ignored. The few times he managed to get her at home, all she said was ‘Hello’ and ‘Goodbye, Carlos’. He was getting desperate. Sebastien walked into the family room to see his friend scowling darkly at his mobile.
“That won’t make the phone ring, you know,” Sebastien smiled at the charming but thunderous looking Spaniard.
“Why can’t she just pick up the phone and scream at me. At least then I’d know she’s still alive.”
“You know she’s alive. She’s with Ginny and Sam. Give her time to cool off,” Sebastien advised. Carlos had told all the guys how his problem started while they were having dinner the other day, and David more than once looked at him disapprovingly. Sebastien was thankful that the young American decided to hold his tongue; otherwise they might need Sam’s policewoman skill to break up the fight.
“Give her time to cool off? It’s been two months now. How long more do I have to wait? For all I know, she could be having drinks with the producer right now,” Carlos stated angrily.
“Now, Carlos, don’t you start accusing Joanne without any basis. It would only make things worse for you. At least the guy didn’t send her any mushy text messages, or did he?”
Raking his hair with his hand, Carlos shrugged. Smiling understandingly, Sebastien put his arm around Carlos’s shoulder and propelled him towards the stairs, “It’s late now. Get some sleep. Or do you want me to tuck you in and sing you a lullaby?”
Carlos laughed and pushed his Latin cousin away, shaking his head as he made his way up the stairs and into his room. The few days without Ginny had been quite a challenge for Sebastien but he took it all in his stride. No matter how disobedient his kids were, he was always so patient with them, hardly ever losing his temper at all. Carlos thought for sure he would be having plenty of grey hair before he turned fifty if those were his own kids.
Before he got ready for bed, he sent a message to Joanne, “I miss you.” When he got out of the bathroom and checked his phone, there was no surprise. Letting out a frustrated sigh, he turned down the cover and got into bed.
Sam and Ginny had about filled two luggage full of gifts each by the last day of their visit. Joanne was sad to see them leave as they had a great time chilling out together, and she felt a weight off her shoulders when she confided in them. Both of them were sensitive enough not to push her into forgiving her husband and only dispensed advice when she asked for it. At the airport, all three girls shared a hug.
“You must come and join us in London before you start filming,” Ginny told her.
“I’ll try,” Joanne replied, “but I won’t be staying under the same roof with him. He’ll just make me lose my senses.”
“I’m sure that will solve everything,” Sam said with a cheeky grin that made Joanne and Ginny laugh. “The kids would love to see you again, and maybe you can help cheer David up a little,” Sam suggested. She had spoken to David on two occasions; both times she called to check how he was doing. He sounded cheerful enough but she had to see it herself to believe it. “If you won’t stay with Carlos at the Izambards’, you can stay with us, though I would advise against it. You’ve been too long apart and that’s not good for you both.”
“I know, but I just can’t bring myself to call him and tell him I forgive him. I mean, I spent the last few years sticking by him despite all his flirting and the countless calls from unknown women late into the night. It’s hard to swallow when he turned around and accuse me of cheating on him.”
Sam nodded understandingly, though she wished Joanne would just look deep into her heart to find the strength to forgive and forget. Soon, it was time for Sam and Ginny to board their plane. Joanne gave them another teary hug and promised to call often. Waving till they were out of sight, she made her way out of the airport and into her car. Driving home, she turned to look at her mobile phone lying on the passenger seat and wished that he would call. He didn’t. She had read last night’s message. She missed him too.
When she got into her apartment, she played back her answering machine. There he was, five times in a row, asking her to call him, begging for forgiveness, telling her he loved her and saying how he missed her so. Joanne gave a little smile. ‘Serves you right’, she thought.
Then suddenly a thought struck her: what did she want out of this little charade? On the one hand, she was really hurt and angry with him and she couldn’t bring herself to forgive him so easily. On the other hand, she wondered if she had taken it too far by ignoring him for so long. Now she wasn’t sure she could hold out any longer because she was really missing him badly. She thought how pathetic she was to feel this way about a man who, after so many years of sticking by him, had hurt her the way he did. It must be his charm that was wrecking havoc with her heart, she decided.
Picking up the phone, her fingers poised to press his number. ‘What would I say to him? I miss you? Please come back? I forgive you?’ She couldn’t decide, so she hung up the phone and went about her daily chores in the house, all the while thinking of ways to solve her problems.
Back in London, while waiting for Lily to finish her school lesson, Carlos sat in a café opposite the school and drank coffee as he did some people-watching from his window seat. He wasn’t really watching or paying attention to his surrounding. Instead, his mind was replaying his final argument with Joanne before she threw him out of the apartment they shared. Had it really been two months since he moved out of there? It seemed more like two years. Each day passed by so slowly, sometimes he wished he could just pack up and head home, but knowing Joanne’s temperament, she’d most probably throw out his luggage again.
With a heavy sigh, he looked at his watch and decided it was almost time to pick up Lily. Finishing off his coffee and paying for it, he left the café. Opening the door and stepping out, he almost bumped into a woman who was just turning into the café.
“I’m so sorry,” he apologized.
“It’s alright. No harm done,” came the soft reply.
Carlos looked down and saw a pair of beautiful blue eyes smiling up at him. He smiled back and moved to the side so the lady could enter the café. She gave a little nod as thanks and entered. He turned to observe her as she walked into the establishment. ‘What do you think you’re doing, Carlos?’ he mumbled to himself. Then shaking his head he started towards Lily’s school. ‘I must really be missing Joanne badly. She looks like her,’ he mused.