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Title: Familiarity
Author: lost_spook
Story: Heroes of the Revolution (Divide & Rule)
Flavor(s): Prune #21 (the wisest mind has something yet to learn); Cookies & Cream #4 (smile).
Toppings/Extras: Whipped Cream
Rating: All ages
Word Count: 1038
Notes: c.1920; John Iveson, Elizabeth Long, Jack Iveson, Edward Iveson.
Summary: It’s time to stop avoiding the subject…

***

“You had better fetch Edward this time,” Elizabeth had said, and although John had protested, she had been adamant. “I can’t,” she had added reasonably. “After all, you should see your father before you leave. He isn’t getting any younger.”

“He’ll still outlast us all.”

Elizabeth had given him the look that answer had deserved. “It isn’t necessarily a safe trip, John. You don’t have to say anything or enact the return of the Prodigal Son, but if you can at least go there and talk to him civilly, it’ll be the better for the both of you, and you know it.”

Elizabeth was right, of course. Infuriating of her, John thought with wry amusement and, since he had agreed, he kept his focus on seeing his son again, rather than his father. He had objected on the first occasion to Edward staying with his grandfather, but Elizabeth had demanded to know if he was serious; if he was really going to deprive his father of his grandson, and his son his grandfather. And since young Ned seemed to think his grandfather was practically a figure out of a story, John had to admit defeat. He remembered something of that feeling himself and with it came an unwanted acknowledgement that he was perhaps unfair in some of his anger towards his father.

When John had been thirteen, his mother had died in a railway accident, and four years later, his older sister had died of TB. In both cases, his father’s only means of responding had been to clear the house of their things and refuse to talk of them while he threw himself into his business. He hadn’t shut his son out, but John hadn’t been able to accept that wall of silence and, of course, he had been away at school most of the time by that point. He could understand his father’s reaction now, but when he’d been younger, he’d simply decided that his father didn’t truly care for any of them – he was a wicked tyrant, a ruthless businessman – and it was a long time since he’d spent much more than an unwilling half an hour in his company.

“John,” said his father, greeting him in surprise in the hallway, even as Phipps, the maid, took John’s hat and coat. “You’ve come for Ned, I take it?”

John nodded. “Where is he?”

“Father,” said a voice and John turned to see Edward standing halfway down the stairs, before the boy leapt down the last few steps to reach him. John grinned back at him and put a hand to his shoulder first, then moving it to ruffle his hair, causing Edward to protest and laugh.

“Been behaving yourself, have you?”

Edward nodded. “Oh, yes. And we went to the zoo – and on a ship! A real one, with sails.”

It was absolutely typical of his father to know how to arrange trips to please Edward. John could remember a time when he had imagined his father could do anything or fix anything, if you could only persuade him. And so Mother’s death had been a double blow, for not only had she gone, but so had the Father who could solve any problem. He’d been revealed as being as fallible as the rest of the human race and John had never forgiven him for it.

“He’s still all in one piece,” said Father, a little defensively.

John turned his head, managing a brief smile. “Oh, yes, I can see that. Listen – I’m going away soon. Did Elizabeth tell you?”

“Yes, yes. You’ll take care out there?”

John didn’t try to avoid his father’s gaze for once. “I’ll write,” he said. “I know you’ll want to hear how things go – how things are out in East Africa, I mean.”

“I’d appreciate it,” said his father, and gave a sudden smile, shaking John’s hand in obvious pleasure. John returned the gesture. There was plenty of time to work out the rest; he had an ocean voyage and a good few months away to think all he wanted.

“Of course, you know I have a friend who –”

“I’ve made my own arrangements,” John said hastily. “But thank you.” He had spent so much of his life in trying not to be his father, to do business in a way that he thought would annoy the old man. It had never worked, he had come to realise. Father had only been pleased at his successes, and critical of his failures in the same practical way he would have been if John had followed him letter for letter. In fact, he probably wouldn’t have cared for that anyway.

John glanced down, distracted by a slight noise, as Edward was shifting about from foot to foot, impatient to be gone, not interested in adults talking about dull things. “Come on, then,” he said to Edward. “We’ve got a train to catch.” He turned towards the door but looked round again, to his father. “I hope Ned didn’t plague you too much.”

His father shook his head. “Of course not. Pleasure to have him – and, in any case, Phipps took care of any inconvenient details, so it’s hardly any trouble to me, is it? Besides,” he added, and then hesitated, his breath a little short. It was suddenly easy enough to see that he was old, heading towards ninety now – his hand trembling on his stick. He gave a small shrug. “I like to have him. And, you know, he is very like Elizabeth, of course –”

“Yes,” John agreed with a grin. “And her father, so the rest of them say. He’s been well dissected in all aspects, as you can imagine.”

His father frowned. “Yes, well. Yes, I’m sure. But sometimes – it’s the smile, perhaps –”

John knew exactly what his father meant. “Oh, yes,” he said. “Sometimes he’s uncannily like Nell.”

“Yes,” said his father, breathing out in relief at having it said. “Glad it’s not just me. Thought perhaps I was growing maudlin in my old age.”

John gave an unwilling smile at the thought. “Unlikely, I’d have said. Impossible, even.”

“I don’t know,” said his father with unexpected gravity. “I really don’t know these days.”

***

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
winebabe
Feb. 13th, 2017 10:00 pm (UTC)

Ooh, that was very good! I'm all about family dynamics these days (it seems) and that was an interesting read. :)

lost_spook
Feb. 14th, 2017 05:17 pm (UTC)
Thank you! :-)
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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