THE DISGRACED DEBUTATNE
10 YEARS LATER
“No fuss, Bobby. I don’t need a sendoff,” Gray said to his colleague Detective Stanton.
“We heard you when you said it the first time, Gray. No need to reiterate.”
The man was big and bluff, and he and Gray had worked alongside each other for nine years now.
“I want to thank you for helping me when I first joined Scotland Yard, Gray. I was new and nervous, and you took me under your wing and helped.”
“You were intelligent, with a thirst to learn. It was a pleasure to help you, Bobby.”
He shook the hand his friend held out to him.
“Best wishes to you then, my friend. It’s my hope we see you around here from time to time.”
“I will return just to make sure you are all doing as you should,” Gray said with a smile.
When the door closed behind his friend, he looked around his office. The room that had once been cold and sterile, his wife’s words, was now anything but.
Pictures his children had drawn were on one wall. A painting of a mountain Ellen had told him was perfect to look at from his desk, hung opposite. Beside that was a mirror for him to check his appearance, as she said he needed to ensure he was not interrogating criminals with food between his teeth.
Gray snorted. Life had taken a vastly different direction than he’d ever envisioned. Once, he’d believed a solitary existence, child and wife free, would suit him. He’d been wrong.
He loved his family deeply. Ellen was the center of his world, and with the birth of each of his children, they added to that. He was loved.
Loud, messy, and demanding. His children were a combination of him, Ellen, and the rest of their families.
A tap on his door had it opening and there stood his wife. Like him, she had aged, but was still as beautiful as the day he’d married her. At her side was his eldest child.
“What is your name today, just so I don’t get it wrong?” he asked Olivia. Head strong, with a riot of blonde curls, she was natured like her Uncle’s Alex and Ram. Wild, unpredictable and openly affectionate. You knew the minute this child walked in the room what mood she was in because it was written all over her face.
“My name is Indigo,” his eight-year-old daughter said, wandering into his room. She had Ellen’s face, and nothing of him.
“Do you think she’ll ever be Olivia again?” He asked his wife, as she moved to where he now stood.
Gray wrapped an arm around her waist and kissed her cheek.
“I have no idea, but you are excellent at coping with the fact she has a daily name change. I get horribly confused.”
“And why is it you are here? I thought we were going to have a quiet meal at home this evening. No celebrations, remember?”
“I know what you said, Gray, as you have made it abundantly clear since you decided to retire,” Ellen said.
Gray had decided to retire while he was still young enough to enjoy a life with his family. His aunt and uncle’s money was growing every day since he’d started investing with Ellen’s family’s help. He had no doubt he would need to do something, but for now, he’d take some time to decide what his next step would be.
He was not one to sit about the place idle, but he would look forward to it for a while.
“This job has been your life for many years,” Ellen said, wandering around the room. “We thought you would have things to pack up, so, Oliv—Indigo and I thought we’d come and help you.”
Gray had brought two boxes to load his things into.
“I had morning tea with everyone who I have worked with over the years, if that makes you feel better?” He watched his lovely wife stop to study the painting.
She wore a dark lavender velvet pelisse today, over a lavender and rose-pink striped dress. Her bonnet was also dark lavender. She was lovely as she always was.
“Have you finished your day yet?” She looked at him over her shoulder and smiled.
“Yes, I just handed over my last case file to Detective Stanton.”
“Then surely there is no need to stay any longer. Come, we will pack your things and leave.”
“I’m all right, Ellen. I promise. This day has been coming for a while now. I am quite ready, I assure you.”
She gave him a watery smile that had him closing the distance between them. “It has been such a huge part of your life. You will miss it.”
“There are parts of it I will miss, and parts of it I won’t.” He ran a thumb under her eyes. “There really is no need to cry, my love.”
“Perhaps I’m weeping as now I will have you under my feet daily?” She forced her lips into a smile, but it trembled.
“I promise not to get under your feet, and you can send me into the garden if need be.” He kissed her softly.
“Daddy, can we get another dog?”
“No,” he said without looking at his daughter.
“Olivia, we have a dog and a cat already. Your aunt and uncle also have two dogs and a cat. We do not need to add to that.”
She exhaled loudly, as if the weight of the world was on her shoulders. Releasing his wife, he turned to get the first box.
“Now let’s get this done so we can go home and eat cake.”
“That was sneaky,” Ellen said to him as Olivia let out a loud whoop.
“My hope is that at least you have got me a cake?” He teased her.
Ellen rolled her eyes and turned to lift the painting off the wall, but not before he saw a look in her eyes that made him nervous. His wife definitely did not have a game face. She was up to something, he was sure of it.
“It has been an honor to work alongside you, Detective Fletcher.”
“We shall miss you.”
The words kept coming from his colleagues as Gray made his goodbyes from a place that had been his work life for many years. They’d all come to his office to say goodbye, when word had spread he was about to leave for the last time.
While Gray smiled, and talked, Ellen gripped her daughter’s hand and tried not to fall about the place weeping.
“It’s all right, mummy,” Olivia said.
“I know, sweetheart. I’m just a bit emotional watching your father leave.”
Gray held out a hand as he continued to talk to those he passed on his way to the door. Ellen took it, and he squeezed it gently.
She nodded and smiled and kept it together until they stepped outside.
“Here.” He handed her a handkerchief. “Come along, Indigo. Let us walk ahead of your weeping mother and give her time to collect herself.”
She followed as Gray swung his daughter’s hand in his, while Olivia chattered, one of her favorite things to do.
When she climbed into the carriage, he gave her a gentle smile but did not speak as they rolled away from Scotland Yard. Instead, he kept his eyes on the building until he could no longer see it. Sniffing and exhaling, Ellen got herself together.
“Why is it we are going to Crabbett Close again?” Gray asked as the carriage rolled in that direction.
“I told you that the twins and Benjamin are there,” Ellen said, looking out the window and away from her husband’s all-seeing eyes.
The man had interrogated people for a living for years. With a single look, he could get their children to tell the truth if they were lying. Ellen was no different. If she needed to keep something from him, it was important to make no eye contact.
“Ellen, what are you not telling me?”
“You no longer have to be constantly suspicious of people, Gray. You’re not a detective anymore.”
She could feel his eyes on her.
Unlike her, Gray had yet to age. His hair was shot through with more silver than it had been, and he had a few more lines, but if anything, it made him more handsome. Distinguished, some would call it. She called it unfair. The man was like a fine wine and aging well.
He had changed beyond recognition since they’d married. No longer uptight, with a compulsive need to have things neat and ordered, he had learned to let go, at least at home. She had no doubt that he was still ruthlessly organized at work.
With the birth of his children, he’d learned to be a father, as she had a mother, and while they’d made mistakes, they had done so together. Gray was a wonderful father and his children loved him very much.
When he’d told her he was going to retire, she’d been surprised, as he loved his position of Scotland Yard. But she’d been secretly pleased. Ellen had often worried about Gray as he left the house at night.
“There is to be no party, Ellen. We discussed this, right?”
“Daddy, stop annoying mummy. You told us you don’t want a party.”
“I did, but I’m not sure she actually listened to me.”
“Of course she did. Mummy always listens,” her daughter said loyally.
Olivia was the best liar in their family, which is why Ellen had brought her along to Scotland Yard today. The twins, Gwen and Charlie were seven and hopeless, Gray could get anything out of them. Benjamin, at four, was no better.
“This family rarely does what I ask of you.”
“Oh, now that’s unfair,” Ellen protested. He raised a brow but did not comment further.
“Did you have a nice last day at Scotland Yard, Daddy?”
“I did actually. Mrs. Potts, who is the tea lady, brought in ice fruit buns, and you know how much I like them.”
“Oooh, I love those,” their daughter said.
Ellen thought perhaps Olivia would make a credible actress. The child was sitting still, watching her father with wide eyes while he went into detail about his day. Their eldest rarely sat still without speaking for that long, but Ellen had told her to divert her father’s attention if he asked questions about a party.
They rolled into Crabbett Close twenty minutes later, and Olivia’s eyes were starting to glaze over as Gray went into detail about handing over a particularly tricky case about a missing painting.
“Oh look, we are at Crabbett Close,” she exclaimed. “Has Mr. Greedy painted his house, do you think, Daddy?”
Gray’s eyes had been about to look at the park, but switched to the other side of the carriage. He peered out.
“I don’t think so.”
“Do you know that Mr. Alvin is nearly one hundred years old, Daddy? Mungo told me the reason he’s lived so long is because he never swears and walked around the Close five times each day. Plus, he always does what Mrs. Alvin told him to do when she was still alive.”
Gray made a choking sound, which was completely justified. Mr. Alvin could swear better than most, and rarely walked anywhere, plus he and his sister never listened to a word the other said.
The carriage rolled to a stop.
“Come along, Daddy,” Olivia said, opening the door.
“I’m not about to be ambushed, am I?” Gray asked, not looking quite so calm now.
“Honestly, Gray. You are a very untrusting man,” Ellen said, taking the hand he held out to her.
“And yet as you won’t look at me, my suspicion rises,” he muttered, following her up the path to 11 Crabbett Close.
Ellen was lying to him. He just wasn’t sure what she had up her sleeve. Olivia had been distracting him the entire way to Crabbett Close. He knew this, as she was never that interested in anything he said, and especially not about his work.
He followed the lovely sway of his wife’s skirts up the steps and in through the open door Olivia had just sprinted through.
Bracing himself for people to appear and yell surprise or to find a gathering in one of the living rooms, he entered cautiously. The hallway was empty and there was no hum of voices.
“Bud says that Benjamin, Gwen and Charlie are in the park, mummy. Can I go there?” Olivia said, reappearing. “Uncle Leo is there too.”
“Will you come with me, Daddy? We could fly Uncle Leo’s kite.”
Perhaps he had been wrong, and there wasn’t a party, Gray thought, letting his shoulders lower. But he’d been certain something was suspicious in the carriage.
He let Olivia lead him out of the house and across the street. It was as he rounded the row of bushes he saw all the people gathered in the middle on the green. Tables, banners, and people.
“You promised me.” He growled the words.
“I had absolutely nothing to do with this,” Ellen said, moving to his side. “I’m as surprised as you are, my love.”
“Ellen,” he warned.
“Daddy!” The shriek came from their other three children, who were all now running his way. He bent to catch them as they threw themselves at him. Their little arms went around his neck, and they covered his cheeks in kisses.
This was his greeting everyday he arrived home from work, and Gray would never tire of it. He’d not believed himself capable of loving this much, but he’d been wrong. His family was his world.
“We’re having a party for you!” Gwen cried.
“With cake,” Charlie added.
“Cake,” the last of their progeny, Benjamin said, reaching him.
“I can see that. Mummy clearly did not believe me when I said I wanted no party.”
“Don’t blame her,” Ramsey said, heading his way. “We all had a hand in it.”
Gray shook his cousin’s hand.
“It’s about time you got here. I’ve had the devil's time keeping them all away from the food. The band are due to start any time now, and then the dancing will commence. But for now, come and open all your presents.”
“I hate you,” Gray said.
“Hate is not a very nice word, Daddy,” Gwen said.
“A hurtful word,” Ram said, attempting to look sad and not pulling it off.
“You’ll keep,” Gray muttered. “And you,” he added, looking at his smiling wife.
They were all there. The residents of Crabbett Close, Ellen’s family, and his mother and Henry.
His father had yet to forgive him for becoming a detective, but it was his loss he did not get to have Ellen as a daughter-in-law, and meet his four amazing grandchildren.
His mother, however, had finally stood up to her husband, and said she wanted them in her life, as did Henry, and for that he would forever be humble and grateful. Gray knew it was not easy to stand up to the bully his father could be.
Looking at the faces smiling at him, he also saw several of his colleagues, which, if he was honest, was humbling.
“And here he is, the unemployed detective,” Leo said.
“I suspect he will get fat now, and lie about the house all day,” Alex added.
“Many thanks to you from all of us, Gray, for your service, and congratulations on the retirement,” Bram said.
“And that,” Alex said, waving about an eclair.
Gray was dragged to a table by his children next, and forced to open presents. The first was a complete set of the Adventures of Captain Broadbent and Lady Nauticus books.
“I thought you’d have time to read those now,” Ramsey said.
“I will, of course, treasure them,” Gray drawled.
Leo brought him a pipe, as apparently that’s what old men did. Alex’s gift was a knee blanket. His children gave him slippers.
He laughed, and ate, and thought that perhaps a party was not such a bad idea after all.
“Speech!” someone roared as the sun sank in the sky. He suspected it was Ram.
He rose with Benjamin in his arms. His youngest was weary and happy to be draped over Gray’s shoulder, close to slumber.
“Hand him to me,” Alex said, taking the little boy.
“Contrary to popular opinion, public speaking is not a forte of mine,” Gray said. There were plenty of voices who disagreed with that. “I chose to join Scotland Yard because I believed I could make a difference. Believed that law and order was a fit for me considering my need to conform and regimentation. I have never regretted a day of my life as a detective. There have been moments I’ve questioned it, but no regrets.” This produced a few laughs.
“But the one true achievement in my life is finding and marrying my wife. Before her, I believed my life was exactly where I wanted it to be. I was wrong.”
He watched Leo hand Ellen a handkerchief. Her oldest brother then put an arm around her shoulder.
“She is quite simply the best part of me, and the center of our family who we love very much.”
A pair of arms wrapped around his legs and he looked down to find Charlie there. The gentlest of his children. Lifting him into his arms, he continued.
“Thank you to everyone for being here to help me celebrate this moment. Thank you to our family, all of you,” he looked from Bram to his mother. “I believe now it is time to eat cake.”
With his children and wife at his side, he then sat on a blanket and thought that, so far, retirement was going exceedingly well.