This is a chapter I cut from Playing At Love for reasons of space. But I still love it and want to give it a home here. It would have been late in the book, after Conor has returned home to Dublin and while Felicity is visiting her ex-husband.
* * *
Knocking twice, Conor let himself into his parents’ home. It was the house he had grown up in, with the back garden where Rogue had made its first stabs at creating something meaningful as a band. Tidy and middle-class, the home had been well-maintained over the years. The improvements his parents had only recently, grudgingly allowed Conor to pay for included new furniture and a kitchen renovation, along with fresh paint and carpeting to bring the space into modernity. Despite the passage of time and the changes, he always felt a sense of relief and ease when he walked in the front door.
He heard the television coming from the living area and his mother and father bickering in their familiar, playful way about whose turn it was to make the next cup of tea.
“Your favorite son is here,” Conor called out.
In fact, he was their only child. After years of trying, his parents had given up hope of conceiving and he was a “surprise” to them in their late thirties. Now they were nearing their seventies but age hadn’t slowed them down.
“How do you like these, Ma?” Conor asked, holding up the bouquet of fragrant tuberose flowers he had brought with him. He had started years ago bringing his mother flowers whenever he visited. At first it was as an apology for not visiting often enough, then it became a habit.
“They’re lovely, sweetheart,” Meara Quinn said, accepting both the flowers and a kiss on her pillowy cheek.
“I’ll get a vase,” Gerard Quinn said, clicking off the TV. He pushed out of his easy chair with a spring in his step Conor knew was owed to his visit.
It was such a simple thing to make his parents happy. A quick visit or even a call. Every time he saw them he vowed to visit more often. But then he let life and his own interests take hold and before he knew it a month had gone by without seeing them.
“Sit with me,” Meara urged, and the two sat on the floral patterned sofa together. “So, how’s my boy?” Her smile was eager as she pushed her reading glasses into her mostly gray hair and examined him.
“Fine, good. Just back from the States.”
“Here we are,” Gerard said as he returned to the room with the vase. He handed it to his wife and then squeezed Conor’s shoulder warmly. “Nice of you to pop by, son.”
“I know I should stop in more often.”
“Ah, we understand, Conor. Lord knows you’ve got your obligations.”
“Oh yes, Felicity told us a bit about the tour plans,” Meara said. She busied herself with arranging the flowers she had dropped into the vase and placed on the coffee table before them.
“What do you mean? She came to see you?”
“Well now, at her mother’s funeral I asked her to come by anytime. You know, thinking she might need a motherly connection. But we didn’t hear anything from her until—when was it, Gerard?”
“Em, what? Two, maybe three weeks ago?” Gerard rubbed his jaw as he thought. He had the same features as his son, including dark hair that was now gray at the temples, bright blue eyes, and high cheekbones.
“She didn’t say anything to me,” Conor said softly.
“Lovely girl, isn’t she?” Meara said.
Gerard retook his seat in the easy chair. “That she is. We’ve always liked her. Shame about her marriage not working out.”
“Cuppa, sweetheart?” Meara rose to her feet and headed to the kitchen before Conor could even answer whether he wanted a cup of tea.
“And where’s Colette?” Gerard asked. “Bet she’s up to her elbows in wedding plans, yeah? Your mother is beside herself thinking she could be a grandmother soon.”
Conor smiled. “Maybe you can help lower expectations on that front. Kids are a ways away yet.”
“You’re not getting any younger, you know.”
“Thirty-two is hardly ancient. Anyway, we’ve got the tour and Colette has things she wants to do with modeling before kids. And keep in mind she’s eight years younger than me. She’s got time.”
“But we may not.”
“Da, you know I hate that talk.”
“Ah, it’s just the truth. But I’m not really wanting to be on you about this. I get it. You’ve got more of that rock and roll lifestyle you want to live before settling down.”
“Oh, but haven’t you gotten your fill yet?” Meara returned with a tray set with three bone china cups, a well worn pot with tea so hot it was steaming, and a small container each of milk and sugar.
“You two,” Conor said with a shake of his head. “I keep telling you, there’s nothing wild about my life.” He filled each of the cups with tea as images of years gone by filled his head. He had partied with the best of them in his early twenties, experimenting with drugs and groupies along the way. But he had never let either control him. Gradually, the temptation for the wild side of touring lost its allure—both because he got bored by its lack of depth and because he fell hard for Sophie. Her subtle judgement on how he conducted himself had pushed him to grow up a bit faster than he might have.
“Let us have our ideas, son. It keeps things interesting for us,” Gerard said with a wink to his wife. In return, she slapped him gently on the bicep.
Conor had the familiar feeling of affectionate discomfort at watching them interact this way. They had always been openly flirtatious with each other. Sometimes it was endearing and other times it made him want to clear out of their way.
He toyed with his teacup and got lost for a moment, thinking of Felicity. She hadn’t called him upon landing in Toronto yesterday. He’d started to call or text her several times but forced himself to stop. Though he was desperate to know what was going on with her and her ex-husband, he knew she had been right when she said he had no claim on her.
“What is it, sweetheart?”
“Hmm?” he looked up and saw his mother watching him.
“Who are you thinking about?”
“Em, no one.” He thought it odd that she asked who he was thinking about rather than what he was thinking about. He added a splash of milk, watching as the liquid turned the right shade of tan.
“I know that look,” Gerard said. “I know it, because it’s like looking in a bloody mirror. That’s the moony look I still get for your Ma.”
Conor smiled. “How did you know you’d found the one with each other?”
Maera looked to her husband and they shared a smile that was intimate enough that Conor looked away from them. “What would you say, dear?”
“Oh, I dunno. If you really want to know, I’d say I knew she was the one for me when I had no desire to chase after anyone else. You know, I was done with the hunt for its own sake.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, now, I think you know perfectly well.” Gerard examined his son for a moment. “We’ve seen you pursuing all sorts of girls over the years, which is all well and good. But we’ve also always known you were mad for Sophie.”
Conor raised his eyebrows. “Excuse me?”
“Oh, sweetheart,” Maera said, “it’s okay. We were just sad that you kept yourself from really knowing happiness with anyone else.”
“Ma, please.” He could actually feel his cheeks go red.
“Conor, we always thought it was a way for you to prolong that excitement of the chase. If she could never really be yours, the game was always on, wasn’t it?” Gerard asked. “It’s thrilling having that challenge. But it’s also bloody exhausting.”
He was dumbfounded and sat silent.
"You and I are a lot alike, son. More so than you think. In fact, I was my own version of a rock star with the ladies at the school way back when." His eyes twinkled at memories only he could see.
Conor closed his own eyes at the image of his father being some sort of lothario in his younger days. He had been the principal of a public school that Conor was always thankful he had never had to attend. And even more thankful now that his father was generating images in his mind of his chasing after the mothers who did bring their children to his school.
“I think what your Da is getting at is that he came to a point when he met me that he knew he was done with games. We just fit. We didn’t require any of that nonsense. Right, dear?”
“Lovely,” Conor said.
“And so? Are you still thinking of Sophie these days?” Meara asked, gently touching her son’s forearm.
“No, no. She’s . . . no, Ma.” He took a deep breath and was glad to find that his answer had been honest. Sophie was no longer at the center of his world.
“Then who? Because you could have already said it was Colette and been done with it.”
Conor laughed softly. It was surreal to speak with his parents about his love life. He took a sip of his tea to buy some time. “You mentioned Felicity earlier. I was wondering why she came round.”
His parents exchanged a look that let him know they didn’t believe his answer. But he didn’t care. There was only so much he would get into with them.
“It really was just a social call. She was very excited about this job with you all. A bit nervous about doing it well, but mostly excited,” Gerard said.
“And she asked after us, wanting to know if we needed any sort of help with things.”
“Thoughtful girl,” Gerard said. “We really think highly of her.”
Conor met his father’s eyes for a long moment. He had never said anything like that about Colette. And neither was Colette the type of person to visit her future in-laws without an agenda or obligation as Felicity had.
“She and Sophie share a certain sensibility, don’t they?” Maera chimed in.
“Meaning?” Conor sensed his parents had planned this conversation, as it now appeared to have a specific goal.
Maera shrugged. “It’s just that Colette has never seemed very present with us. It’s as if she’s going through the motions of how she thinks she should be behaving. And both Sophie and Felicity have always been more genuine.”
“They’ve both also known you for years and years. Might account for their comfort level.”
His mother nodded. “That must be it, sweetheart.” But her eyes lingered on his, telling him all he needed to know about who she’d rather have as a daughter-in-law.
© Lara Ward Cosio