Ambrose, Minnesota, December 2003
While skimming through a pile of newspaper clippings about his students’ performances at the Grand Prix Series, Malcolm Redgrave heard a knock at the door of his office.
Arching an eyebrow, he wondered briefly which of his young followers was having some crisis now. There was no shortage of possibilities. May might have eloped with her dubious boyfriend… Simon might still be suffering angst over a confrontation with his father at Trophee Lalique… Hiroshi might have hurt himself in some daft escapade… Hannah might be in one of her moods.
With a sigh, Malcolm straightened from his snowdrift of newsprint. "Come."
The door opened, and there protruded hesitantly around its edge a narrow, fox-like face which Malcolm had not seen in years. This was followed by the remainder of a wiry young man, brown-haired, brown-eyed and neatly dressed in a grey suit, who smiled as he stepped into Malcolm’s office. He spoke with a voice that was soft and chirping, and carried a subtle but distinct Irish accent.
"Hallo, Malcolm. It’s good to see you."
Malcolm started upright. "Caelan!"
Eric Lansing had not been Malcolm Redgrave’s first successful student. That distinction went to the man who stood before him now: Caelan O’Connor of Northern Ireland, who was twice British champion under Malcolm’s guidance. He had left Ambrose many years before to gain an education, and Malcolm had since heard very little about him. At last report, he had become bored with his studies and returned to the ice as a choreographer for a small European ice show.
"Caelan O’Connor. I am astonished." Malcolm stepped from behind his desk to clasp hands warmly with his former student. "It’s wonderful to see you. If only I’d known you were coming, I could have given you a much better welcome. Are you here to work in Ambrose?"
Taking a seat in the chair Malcolm motioned him to, Caelan gave an uncharacteristically timorous smile. "It all depends, I suppose. There’ve been some changes in my life recently. You see… my mother has passed away."
Malcolm’s face fell as he remembered Maureen O’Connor, a spirited Irishwoman whom he had known quite well for many years. "I’m sorry. She was a splendid woman—and an excellent coach in her own right. I had the chance to watch and admire her work for a long time. In fact, the assistant head of this rink was one of her… students." He hesitated on the final word.
Caelan responded with a crooked smile. "And her ex-husband. Oh yes, I know that. As a matter of fact, the reason I’ve come to America was to tell Mr. Chevalier about Mother… and quite a bit more. Can you tell me, is he here now? May I speak to him?"
Something in Caelan’s demeanor was far more serious than Malcolm had ever known it to be—but then, the intervening years might have changed Caelan a great deal from the happy-go-lucky young student he once was. His lips quirking in a mystified frown, Malcolm reached for his telephone and called Alex’s office over the intercom. Luck was with them, as Alex was at his desk instead of the rink, and a minute later he stepped into the office with his familiar cane and limping gait.
"Alex," Malcolm said by way of greeting, rising from his chair. "Alexander Chevalier, I’d like you to meet Caelan O’Connor, one of my earlier students and a young man who made me quite proud."
Alex smiled courteously as he shook hands with Caelan. "Of course… Maureen O’Connor’s son. I watched your career with a great deal of interest. Malcolm introduced me to your mother, you know. She was also my coach for a while, and—well, quite dear to me."
Another shy smile was Caelan’s response, but it faded swiftly. "I know that, sir. I know you were married to her. That’s why I’m very sorry to tell you that… my mother has died."
Alex dropped heavily into a chair which, by a fortunate chance, stood behind him. His cane dropped to the floor.
Still standing before his desk, Malcolm shifted his weight uncomfortably and stepped toward the door. "I think perhaps I’d better leave the two of you alone."
"No. Please." Caelan halted Malcolm with a hand on his arm. "You were my mother’s friend. I’d like you to stay, and hear the rest of what I came for."
Frowning, Malcolm returned to his desk and sat down, with a concerned glance at Alex.
"Maureen… gone." Alex blinked, with a pondering expression, then slowly glanced back at Caelan. "How did she die?"
"A heart attack, sir." Caelan lowered his gaze somberly. "It surprised all of us… but she didn’t suffer. She’d been living a very happy life back home in Coleraine, coaching children at a small rink of her own. I miss her very much… but I’m grateful for the life she had."
"So am I." Alex heaved a long sigh and pressed his steepled fingers against his lips, glancing up gravely at Caelan. "I’m sorry. We were together for less than a year, but I cared about her very much."
"She felt the same way about you, sir." Caelan hesitated visibly. Then reaching beneath his suit jacket, he produced a prim little pale-blue notebook, with worn edges and yellowed pages. He stared reverently down at it for a long moment, then laid it gently on the corner of Malcolm’s desk.
"When I was sorting out my mother’s things… I found this. I think she would have wanted you to have it. Regardless, I do. Please, don’t read it yet," Caelan added, as Alex began to reach for the book. "I think you should wait… until you can give it some time."
Some instinct told Malcolm that this was an appropriate moment to intercede.
"Alex, I think you’ve had a bit of a shock," he said gently. "Go on; take the book and go home. Take a few days away if you need it. I can manage very well right now."
"Oh… I’m alright." Alex rose slowly, accepting with murmured thanks his cane which Caelan had retrieved. He picked up the notebook, stared down at it for a moment, then gave Caelan a long, uncertain gaze before quietly stepping out of the office.
When Alex was gone, Caelan glanced back at Malcolm, with a rueful and somewhat wondering expression. "He really did care for my mother."
"I could have told you that, many years ago." Malcolm steepled his fingertips, gazing up incisively at his former student. "Be honest with me, Caelan. You didn’t come all the way from Ireland just to give Alex a book of old love letters. Will he find what I suspect is really in that diary?"
Caelan’s cheeks colored. He lowered his eyes self-consciously, then glanced up at Malcolm with a nervous smile.
"How do you suppose he’s going to take it?"
At this, Malcolm Redgrave could only smile thoughtfully.
It was four o’clock in the morning, and Maureen O’Connor’s journal lay open on the kitchen table.
Alexander Chevalier leaned back in his chair, rubbing his face wearily as he stared down at that innocent little book. It had been hours ago that he excused himself when his family went to bed, saying he had some work to do, and sat down by the weak light above the kitchen stove to read the innermost thoughts of his late ex-wife.
He wasn’t sure he was the same man he had been when he kissed his girls good-night.
Movement in the hallway caught his eye, and his wife Roberta appeared, framed exquisitely in the doorway. Even ten minutes after waking, she was a picture of statuesque grace, her long red hair freshly brushed and tumbling loose over the shoulders of her dark blue satin robe. Leaning a hand on the doorjamb, she gave him a drowsy, inquisitive smile. "Are you still at it?"
Impulsively, Alex reached out and closed the journal. "Yes… I’m sorry, darling. I really didn’t mean to stay up all night."
Roberta’s smile became more feline and mischievous. Sauntering forward, she leaned down beside him, her fingers brushing lightly against his lame knee. "Well, I did miss you."
Alex loved that woman with every fiber of his being.
Feeling a pang of emotion, he glanced away, placing his hands over the journal. "Robbi. Please. I need to talk to you."
Her head tilting in puzzlement, she pulled out a chair close to him and sat down. "What’s wrong?"
"It’s Maureen." Alex slid the journal closer, then abruptly pushed it away. "She died, Robbi. Her son came to the rink today. He gave me her diary of the divorce… and what followed."
Roberta gave a slight start. "Her son?"
Alex closed his eyes. His fingers trembled slightly as they reached out, just barely touching the edge of the journal that had taught him more about himself than he’d learned in thirty years.
"Caelan is my son, Robbi."
He heard a soft, sharp intake of breath that cut him to the quick. Opening his eyes, he saw Roberta sitting rigidly, her eyes wide and her lips parted in a silent exclamation.
"I never knew." Alex’s voice caught slightly. "When I learned she had a son, I went to her, I asked… and she denied it. She was a proud woman—and I was a fool not to realize. Oh, believe me, Robbi, if I had known, I—"
"No… no." And suddenly Roberta was standing beside him, enfolding him in her arms, holding his head to her chest as she stroked his face.
"If you’d known," she whispered, her voice taut with emotion. "If you’d known, you would have been hers, and you never would have been mine."
The thought of not having Roberta in his life was too terrible to contemplate. Whispering her name, he raised his head and kissed her, deeply, needfully. When he drew back at last, he raised a hand to his face and drew a slow breath, collecting himself.
"What are we going to do, Robbi?"
Roberta smiled ruefully. She knelt beside his chair, his hand clasped in both of hers, and gazed up at him with blue eyes full of love and sympathy.
"My poor darling. You gave my girls a father." She squeezed his hand. "All these years, you were with us instead of your son. It’s his turn now."
Emotion swelled in Alex’s heart as he smiled sadly and kissed the palm of Roberta’s hand. "And the girls—?"
"—Will utterly adore him, if he’s anything like you." Roberta rose to reclaim her chair, without taking her hands from his. "I promise, Alex. It’ll be alright. Sandra and Denise love Jean—and they’re going to love…"
"Caelan," Alex replied softly, letting the name fall thoughtfully from his lips.
"Caelan," his wife repeated. "It’s a lovely name. He must be a wonderful man."
"I think he is. I know he is. He was Malcolm Redgrave’s protégé." Alex laughed nervously. "Poor Mal is going to feel he’s in the thick of it. He introduced me to Maureen, and years later he coached our son to two British championships—and none of us ever even knew."
His eyes widened slightly as a realization dawned. "My son… a British champion."
"Then he must take after his father," Roberta replied softly, and leaned forward for a kiss.
When Alex arrived at the rink that morning, he found Malcolm waiting for him in the foyer. Neither needed to say a word as Malcolm fell in with Alex’s slow and awkward step.
"Caelan is in my office," the older man said matter-of-factly.
Alex paused in his stride, turning to his old friend, with more emotion in his eyes than he would have cared to admit to. "Thank you, Malcolm. For everything you did for him."
Smiling ruefully, Malcolm shook his head. "I did no more or less than for any other student. You know that. Caelan made good for himself."
They had reached the door of Malcolm’s office. He gave Alex a confident smile and continued on, toward the rink. Alex stood staring at the doorknob for a long moment, then slowly reached out and turned it, stepping into the room.
Caelan appeared to have started up from a perch on the edge of the desk. His eyes were wide as he stood face to face with his father.
Maureen’s height, Alex thought with sad amusement, noting how much taller Caelan was than he. Yet now that he knew, he recognized with a sense of wonder something of himself in the young man. The expressive brown eyes, most of all, were his own.
He wondered if Caelan saw the same in him.
Not knowing where to begin, Alex stumbled forward into explanation and apology. "Caelan… I never knew. You have to understand that. You read your mother’s journal. She denied you to me."
"She… was very proud," Caelan murmured, sinking down onto the corner of the desk. "I think she wanted me to be hers—only hers. I’m sorry for that… but I don’t blame her for it. She loved me."
Alex hesitated. "She remarried after me."
"Oh yes, when I was very young. I thought Patrick was my father, until I read that diary. They were separated too, when I was fourteen, but he always took care of me. I’ve spoken to him, and he understood why I wanted to see you." Caelan sighed and glanced up at Alex. "I didn’t come to gain anything from you, sir… I only wanted to know you."
Feeling a pang in his heart, Alex stepped closer. "I can’t make up for the last thirty years, but if you’ll let me… I’d like to try. I’d like you to be a part of my family." He smiled. "It’s a large family, Caelan—and they want to know you, too."
Caelan’s eyes lit with wonder. "A large family. I’ve only ever had Mum and Patrick." He blushed. "I used to ask them for a sister."
"You have three of them now," Alex replied with a slight laugh. "A half-sister and two stepsisters."
"It almost makes me glad things happened the way they did." Caelan stood up, his expression becoming briefly anxious. "But I don’t want to be an upset or a nuisance."
"You won’t be. Believe me, I’ve doted on the girls for so long, they’ll be thrilled if I have someone else to fuss over for a while." Alex extended his hand. "We want you, Caelan. Believe that."
Smiling slowly, Caelan took his father’s hand.
© 2003 Jordanna Morgan