Nothing had changed. I was his but he wasn’t mine.
I saw him first twenty years ago on the deck of that cruise ship but it was my younger sister, Charlotte he fell in love with. I was the third wheel. While he took her dancing and to the casino, I stayed in the cabin, reading Mills & Boon books, wishing that it was me with him instead of her.
I was the maid of honor at their wedding. I was the doting Auntie Caroline to Robert and Clive whom I wished with all my heart were mine and not Charlotte’s.
Five years ago when Charlotte died from a heart attack, I was sad but not grief-stricken. I became a mother to her children and the dutiful sister-in-law to her husband. I was there as often and as much as they needed me.
Nothing had changed. Twenty-five years later, I watch him fall in love with someone else. It was quite a shock for Robert when his father announced that he was getting married. One evening, he invited his fiancee, Margaret to dinner. She had the classic beauty of Princess Grace Kelly and it was obvious that she came from good stock. Still, I resented her. She was at least twenty years younger than Charles. She was very gracious and it wasn’t long before Robert and his wife, Sophie warmed up to her. I was cordial but my resentment remained.
That summer Clive came home after graduating from Harvard and I thought his reaction was a bit odd when his father introduced him to Margaret. I guess Charles thought so too because he asked, “Didn’t your Aunt Caroline telephone and tell you about Margaret?”
“Yes, she did” Clive managed to say. “I-I just didn’t expect her to be–“
“Yes, so beautiful, I know.”
I got the feeling that her beauty wasn’t what was on Clive’s mind. It was something else. To me, his reaction could be better described as traumatized rather than shocked but that didn’t make any sense. Something was amiss and I wanted to know what it was. From that moment, I decided to keep a close eye on Margaret and him.
One afternoon, I looked out of the window in the sun-room which faced the swimming pool. Clive was swimming and Margaret walked out, wearing a whole piece swimsuit, a hat and sunglasses. She settled down in one of the chaise lounge chairs which were in the shade. She leaned back and watched Clive as he did his laps.
When he climbed out of the pool a few minutes later and walked over to pick up his towel which was on the chair beside her, she reached out and caressed his arm as he leaned over. He shook her hand off, straightened up, said something to her, grabbed his towel and walked away. That evening I asked him about it when we were alone in the drawing-room. “It was nothing,” he muttered, blushing.
I didn’t get a chance to pursue the matter because Charles and Margaret came into the living-room but I noticed the way she looked at him. It was then that I realized that Margaret was in love with Clive. I couldn’t believe it. Charles’ wife was in love with my nephew. How could she have fallen in love with him so quickly? I wondered. He had only been at the manor for a week. Then, it occurred to me that they knew each other which explained his reaction when his father introduced them. It would be a shock to find out that your step-mother was someone you knew.
I didn’t confront Clive about this startling revelation but one morning when I was in the garden and came across Margaret who was sitting on the bench with a book, I decided that then was a good opportunity to confront her about what I suspected. She didn’t look too pleased to see me but she smiled graciously and closed her book. “It’s a lovely afternoon, isn’t it?” she remarked.
“Margaret, I will come straight to the point. I have known Charles for years now. He was married to my sister, Charlotte and he’s like a brother to me. I care very deeply for him and his sons, Robert and Clive. After Charlotte died, I was like a mother to them. The last thing I want is for any of them to be hurt.”
She looked at me, puzzled. “What do you mean?” she asked.
“Do you love Charles?”
She looked taken aback for a moment. “Of course, I love Charles. What are you implying?”
“I’m not implying anything. I asked you if you love Charles.”
“But it sounded as if you doubt that I do.”
“You’re right. I have my doubts.”
“But why? Why should you doubt that I love my husband?”
“I saw you with Clive last week Friday by the pool.”
Margaret’s face went pale. “I don’t know what you think you saw.”
“I saw the way you touched him and I’ve seen the way you look at him. It isn’t Charles you’re in love with, Margaret, it’s Clive.”
I watched the play of emotions on her face. I thought she was going to deny it but to my surprise she said, “All right, I admit that I’m in love with Clive.”
“Were you and he…?”
“Yes, we were lovers before I met Charles.”
“Why did you marry Charles when you didn’t love him?”
“He asked me to marry him.”
“But he was Clive’s father.”
“I didn’t know that. I didn’t know until he introduced us.”
“It all makes perfect sense now. Clive’s reaction when he saw you and the way you look at him when you think no one is noticing. Poor Charles. Poor Clive. How could you marry someone else when you’re supposed to be in love with him?”
“I didn’t think that there was any future for Clive and me. I’m older than him. He’s in university. He had his whole future ahead of him. I didn’t want to tie him down. It was always at the back of my mind that he would meet a girl and fall in love and that would be the end of us. When I met Charles, he was such a charming man. I became very fond of him and when he asked me to marry, accepting his proposal seemed like the natural thing to do.”
“And while you were seeing Charles, were you still seeing Clive?”
“And even when you got engaged to Charles, you were still involved with Clive?”
I shook my head in disgust. “Even if you didn’t know that they were father and son, the fact that you were seeing both of them at the same time is reprehensible. The decent thing would have been to end your relationship with Clive.”
“I know but I couldn’t. I loved him so desperately. The thought of not seeing him or being with him was unbearable.”
“After you married Charles, did you continue to see Clive?”
“No. After the wedding, the next time we saw each other was here when Charles introduced us.”
“I hope you are not entertaining the thought of having an affair with my nephew while you’re married to his father because if you are, I will expose you.”
“Please don’t tell Charles anything. It will devastate him.”
“Not to mention ruin his relationship with Clive.”
“Please keep my past relationship with Clive to yourself. I promise I won’t do anything to jeopardize my marriage. Just don’t say anything about what we have spoken about.”
“All right. I will keep my mouth shut but I’m not doing this for you. I’m doing it for Charles and Clive.”
I didn’t answer. I simply got up and walked away.
I watch Charles and her now, the picture perfect couple but I can’t betray Margaret’s secret because of the pain it would cause for the man I love dearly and for Clive’s sake.