Authors: [The Crightons 09] Coming Home
'Not too good, I'm afraid, Joss,' Jenny Crighton admitted in response to her youngest child's question, looking past the tall, gangly shape of the seventeen-year-old to where her husband Jon was standing, frowning a little.
'Maddy managed to have a word with me in private after I'd been to see him,' Jenny told her husband. 'She's very concerned about the way he seems to be deteriorating. Despite the fact that medically both his hip operations have been a success, he still complains that he's in pain and that his joints ache. He's quite definitely losing weight and Maddy's worried that he isn't eating as well as he was. He's looking positively gaunt.'
'He is in his eighties, Jen,' Jon reminded her, but Jenny could see that he was still frowning and she knew he was troubled. Ben was his father after all and even though they all knew that Ben could not possibly receive better care than that given to him by Maddy, their daughter-in-law, the wife of their eldest son Max, Jenny also knew that Jon still felt that he should be the one to carry the main responsibility for Ben, just as he still felt guilty because...
'Aunt Ruth says that Ben is turning into a cur-mudgeonly old man,' Joss informed them both.
'She says he actually enjoys being grumpy.'
'Grumpy perhaps,' Jenny allowed, 'but no one enjoys being in constant physical pain, Joss,' she reminded him gently.
Joss had always preferred the company of Great-Aunt Ruth to that of his grandfather, and Jenny knew that she could hardy blame him. Ruth had been far more of a grandparent and a mentor to Joss than Ben had ever been.
Out of all his grandchildren, there was only one for whom Ben Crighton had ever shown any real liking and that was for Max. Not that such favouritism had had either her or Jon's backing.
Once there had been an acute degree of antagonism between Max and his parents, but thankfully that rift was now healed. Jenny only had to watch Max with his wife Maddy and their three children to feel overwhelmed not just with love and pride but with a humbling gratitude to whomever or whatever had drawn the master plan for her son's life.
To say that Max had completely changed virtually overnight from a human being even she as his mother had sometimes come close to loathing to one whom everyone who now knew him spoke of with respect, admiration and love sounded overly dramatic and theatrical, but it was no less than the truth. But in order to undergo such a transformation, Max had had to sail terrifyingly close to the fine, dark edge that separated life from death. Not willingly or voluntarily but through the trauma of a vicious physical attack that could have ended his life or left him permanently injured.
Mercifully, it had not, and Max had returned to them to begin a new life here in the small Cheshire town of Haslewich.
Families! Jenny gave a small sigh, but she wouldn't be without hers, not a single member of it, including her irascible father-in-law, Ben.
The Crighton family was a large one with several branches. But one thing that linked all of them together, one inheritance they all shared, was their fascination with the legal world, the world of lawyers, solicitors, barristers and judges.
It was an in-joke in the family that every Crighton child, just as soon as he or she was old enough to know what the words meant, when asked what they wanted for Christmas or birthdays, would respond eagerly, 'I want to be a QC.'
Queen's Counsel. It had been a goal to which Ben had strived unsuccessfully, the goal to which he had relentlessly tried to push his own son and then more recently his grandson Max.
There had been a time when Jenny knew that had Max attained that goal, she would have felt it was somehow tainted and wrong, but when, the previous year, Max had come over to tell them that he had heard on the grapevine that he was going to receive this accolade, Jenny had been filled with love and pride for him. So, too, had Jon, who had embraced Max with emotion as he congratulated him.
But, typically, when Ben Crighton had praised his favourite grandchild on his achievement at a family gathering, he hadn't been able to resist adding brusquely, 'It should have been my son David. It would have been David,' he had told them all fiercely, giving his granddaughter Olivia an angry glower, 'if it hadn't been for
Olivia hadn't responded, but Jenny had seen the look of pain in her eyes and the anger in her husband Caspar's and she had felt for her.
There had been no point in trying to console or comfort Olivia by reminding her that Ben Crighton gave as little value and love to her own daughters as he did to Olivia. Ben might have been born into the twentieth century, but he had never embraced its ethos to the extent of accepting that women were as professionally capable as men.
The achievements of the female members of his own family were something Ben either ignored or criticised as women taking jobs that should more rightfully belong to men.
'Is Gramps going to die?' Joss asked his mother now, the anxiety in his eyes reminding Jenny that despite her youngest son's growing maturity, the sensitive side of his nature, which had so marked him out as a child, could still hold him emotionally hostage to his fears.
'I don't know, Joss,' Jenny answered him honestly. 'According to the doctor, there is no physical reason why he should.' She paused, choosing her words carefully. 'But your grandfather has never been a man who has enjoyed life. He—'
'He still misses Uncle David, doesn't he?' Joss cut in.
Jenny and Jon exchanged speaking looks. Joss had accurately and swiftly highlighted the true cause of Ben's deep-seated malaise.
David Crighton, Jon's twin brother, had disappeared just a few weeks after their joint fiftieth birthday party, only a short time ahead of Jon's discovery that David had fraudulently plundered the bank account of an elderly widow whose business affairs he had been responsible for.
Had it not been for the fact that Jon's aunt Ruth had stepped in and offered to repay every penny of the money David had 'borrowed', the resultant scandal would have damaged not just the guilty but the innocent, as well. David could have put into disrepute the family's legal firm in which he was the senior partner although, in truth, it had been run by his quieter and less flamboyant brother, Jon.
Even so, Jon had argued passionately against Ruth's decision, insisting that the interests of truth and honesty must be put before those of the family and himself.
In the end, though, Ruth had prevailed upon him to listen to what she was saying because, as she had insisted at the time, since David had disappeared, none of them had any means of knowing if David himself had intended to repay the money or indeed if the now deceased widow had actually loaned or given it to him.
Initially, only Jon, Olivia and Ruth knew the truth, but after an emotional discussion it had been decided that they would tell their 'nearest and dearest' because, as Ruth had put it, secrecy between couples and close family members could be very hurtful and damaging. But the truth had been kept hidden from Ben for the most altruistic of reasons.
Since his disappearance, nothing had been heard of David despite Jon's attempts to discover his whereabouts.
The last contact they had had from David had been from Jamaica, but when Max had flown out there to look for him, no trace could be found.
All Max had got for his pains was a vicious knife attack on one of the local Jamaican beaches.
After David's disappearance, his wife Tania had returned to her parents' home on the south coast. The marriage was well and truly over and Jon and Jenny had brought up Jack, David and Tania's son, alongside their own.
There were only a couple of years between Jack and Joss. They had always got on well together and were as close as brothers.
Right now, though, Jenny's concern was not for the younger contingent of the Crighton family, but for its oldest member, Ben, who was visibly getting frailer with each month that passed.
'He called me David last week,' Joss told his mother sadly.
Jenny frowned. There was no way Joss looked anything like his uncle.
'Do you think Uncle David will ever come back?' the boy asked.
Jenny looked helplessly at her husband.
'I doubt it, Joss,' Jon told him gently. 'David was...is...' He stopped and shook his head, not wanting to tell his son that David had not just been a braggart and as careless with other people's feelings as he had been with their money, but that he had been a coward, as well. Thanks to their father, David had grown up believing he could do no wrong. Ben had shielded David from the harsh consequences of his behaviour all through his life, often at Jon's own expense. David was the favoured child, the blue-eyed boy, and Ben had set him upon a pedestal, which, it seemed now to Jon, was so high, it was inevitable that sooner or later he would have had to fall.
Despite the cruel comparisons his father had made over the years, Jon had always loved David—did still love him—but no longer with the blind love that his father had compelled him to give his sibling, no longer in a way that meant he had to subjugate his own needs and feelings to those of his brother.
Without David's presence casting its dark shadow over his life, Jon's personality had flour-ished and blossomed, but that did not mean that he had stopped loving his twin—not for a moment.
'I don't think he would ever
to come back,' Jon offered quietly.
'Not even if he knew how much Gramps wants to see him?' Joss asked.
Helplessly, Jon looked at Jenny.
'It isn't quite as easy as that, Joss,' Jenny told him. 'There are problems...and—'
'Because of the money,' Joss interrupted her.
'But he could
come back. He could
see Gramps. Surely if he knew how much Gramps wants him...'
did,' Jenny agreed. Privately, she didn't think it would make the least difference.
David had always been self-absorbed and selfish; a vain, weak man who had never put another person's feelings or needs before his own in the whole of his life. 'But since we have no idea where he is nor any way of contacting him—'
'But he and Dad are twins,' Joss interrupted,'
startling them both by adding not entirely jokingly, 'There's supposed to be a bond between twins that means they are telepathically linked.'
When neither of his parents responded, he reminded them urgently, 'Katie and Louise have it.'
Jenny sighed. It was true their twin daughters
have that special bond that twins
sometimes experience, that ability to know when the other was in need or in pain despite the miles separating them.
'Joss, I don't think...' she started to respond, then stopped, turning to look at Jon.
'David and I were never close in that kind of way,' Jon told Joss gruffly.
'But you could
,' the boy persisted. 'For Gramps's sake.'
Uneasily, Jenny studied his set face. Something
bothering him, something that he wasn't saying.
'Joss—' she began gently, but as though he had read her mind, Joss continued quickly.
'When Gramps mistook me for David, he...'
He hesitated and then told her chokily, 'He started to cry...he said that he had missed me...and that life hadn't been worth living without me. I never really had much to do with Uncle David and I know what you all think about him. Even Jack says he wishes that
were his father, Dad, but Gramps...'
Wordlessly, Jon reached out and put his arm around his son. Tall as he was, just that little bit taller than Jon himself now, his body, his bones, still had that terrifyingly vulnerable feeling of youth.
As he hugged him fiercely and ruffled his hair, Jon knew that the tears he could see gleaming in his son's eyes were mirrored in his own.
'We've tried to find him, son,' he told him huskily. 'But sometimes people just don't
to be found. He could be anywhere,' he added gently.
'But what about Gramps? Doesn't he care that Gramps is missing him and that he's getting older?'