‘It’s so nice to finally meet you.’ He clasped my hand in his as he spoke, squeezing it hard. I tried not to wince.
‘Yes, well,’ he mumbled. He squinted his eyes slightly and his gaze dropped to my chest. He cleared his throat. ‘I knew your mother. Very well. I’m sorry to hear about her passing, Louise.’
I gulped down my grief, as I always did when someone mentioned my mum. Two months ago she was killed by a car, driven by a 21 year old drunk driver. The police said she wouldn’t have known it was coming, and she would have died instantly. A blessing, they said. For who, I asked.
‘You are very much like her, you know.’
‘Yes,’ I replied. He was still holding my hand; I wriggled it from his grasp.
‘Quite the beauty,’ he continued, dragging his eyes from the tip of my head to my toes. ‘Just like her. Just like Mary.’
I looked over his shoulder, trying to find a way to extricate herself from him. I was uncomfortable with his unctuous manner.
‘If you’ll excuse m—’
‘Not yet, my dear Louise,’ he interrupted. ‘If you could please give me your full attention. I don’t want you to see my grumpy side.’ At this, he chuckled but it sounded hollow, wholly devoid of mirth.
I looked into his eyes. In his pupils, I saw my mother staring back at me. How do you know this man, I implored silently. I felt her presence, her warmth, her love. It wrapped around me bringing me comfort and strength.
‘Is there anything you need? Anything,’ he said quietly. ‘Money, a home. Anything.’
‘Thank you,’ I replied. My skin crawled, as if an army of ants were marching over me. ‘I’m quite set up. It’s nice of you to offer, though.’
‘I promised myself I would look after Mary after we broke up. And any children of hers, of course.’
Broke up? Mum was with this guy? It occurred to me with a shocking clarity that I never truly knew her.
‘We were quite the couple back in the day,’ he continued. He grinned wide, yet without showing his teeth.
Jeez, this guy was on a roll now. I wondered how I was ever going to get away. ‘Wow, that’s interesting,’ I said, looking around the room again.
‘Louise!’ he snapped. ‘Pay attention! I have something to tell you.’
‘I’m sorry.’ He was right. I was being rude. ‘What is it that you’d like to tell me?’
‘As I said, I promised myself I would always look after Mary. She was the love of my life. She left me. Broke my heart. But instead of getting angry or hiding from the world, I channelled my hurt into action. I paid her mortgage after your father died. Your holidays to Europe? Courtesy of me.’
My mouth was gaping wide open.
‘You didn’t know, she never told you. That was one of my caveats. She had to take my help and pretend it was all her. Give no credit back to me.’ He paused. ‘And I want to look after you too,’ he went on. ‘In every way.’ His hand reached for my shoulder. I jerked back, horrified at his unspoken words.
‘Louise. Don’t be hasty. Think about it. I’m here for you.’ He pulled out his business card. ‘My details are on here. Call me. I know you will.’
I took his card, turned quickly and fled the room. Once outside I crumpled the business card and threw it in the bin.