WRITTEN BY JANE CORRY, OUR NEW “DIARY OF A MODERN GRAN” COLUMNIST
In the concluding chapter Sally’s grandson has gone missing, Hannah’s is struggling to breathe and Patty’s in the thick of it…
Everyone joined in the search for little Angus.
“I should have been at the bus stop to meet him,” Sally kept saying as they joined the police striding across the beach. “But I thought I had time to pick up Flora and Sophie from gym and then Tara from swimming.
“And, to cap it all, Johnnie and Sam had to stay late for an extra play rehearsal. I knew Angus was staying on for football so I thought I could just about do it although I was aware it was tight.
“But the traffic was terrible. So I was half an hour late.” The words streamed out, along with her tears and panic. “I’m not fit to be a grandmother.”
“Don’t be silly. You’re only human and like I’ve said, you do too much.” Duncan handed her a tissue. “Angus is nine. At that age, I walked five miles to school.”
Things are more dangerous now. And anyway, Angus is small for his age. He seems so vulnerable…
“Yes, but times have changed. Things are more dangerous now. And anyway, Angus is small for his age. He seems so vulnerable.”
“Maybe, like the police said, he’s stopped off at one of his friends.”
“I’ve rung them all.”
“We’ve allowed the kids to take advantage of us. The grown-up ones, that is. When we’ve found Angus…”
“If we find Angus…” wept Sally.
He reached for her hand.
“When we find him, I’m going to lay down a few new rules in our house.”
“Will that include not chatting up my friends?” sobbed Sally.
“Don’t be so silly.”
“Actually, I don’t care.” Dropping his hand, she began to run. “You can do what you want. Angus! Angus! Where are you?”
And where, too, were her friends? Sally had put out a Help text to the Grans’ group but two were conspicuously absent.
She could understand Patty not turning up – that woman was impossible! But where was Hannah – whom she’d known since their own children had been at playgroup – in her time of need?
“You did the right thing to bring him,” said the young doctor after she’d examined little Tom’s chest. “Any longer and this could have developed into something nasty.”
Hannah flashed Patty a “thank you” look. “It was my friend. We’re both babysitting for our children.”
The doctor smiled. “Wish my mum was around to do that. Now, I’d like to keep Tom in in view of his special needs.”
Instantly Hannah felt defensive.
“You mean because he’s Downs?”
“He’s only being careful,” whispered Patty. “Would you like me to ring your daughter-in-law for you?”
“You’ve done more than enough. Why don’t you take Arthur home and then help Sally? She must be out of her mind.”
So, too was Gudrun when Hannah arrived, breathless and flustered.
“My baby is all right? I know he has cough last night but I think it will pass. Perhaps I make mistake, yes?”
“It’s as much my fault as yours,” Hannah tried to reassure her. “I noticed him coughing yesterday too but thought it was a touch of the snuffles. The problem is that I’m out of practice. It’s a long time since I’ve been a young mother.”
“But you remember most things, yes?”
“Still, you are here for me. Not like my own mother who is far away.”
Whenever Hannah had tried to put her arms around her daughter-in-law before, she’d been pushed away. But this time, the girl leaned against her and cried and cried.
“I wish my baby is like the others.”
Hannah felt tears rising to her eyes too.
Tom’s a lovely little boy. He’s smiling already, even though he’s only two months old
“Tom is special, Gudrun. He’s a lovely little boy. He’s smiling already, even though he’s only two months old.”
But Gudrun cried even more.
It would do her good to let out all that pent-up emotion. Eventually Hannah tiptoed out, leaving mother and baby fast asleep in the hospital room.
Now it was “her” time. But was it too late to put things right?
Again and again, she’d tried to explain that the text message from Michael, her first husband, was merely friendly. But Simon had taken it the wrong way and the atmosphere was unbearably frosty.
That’s why she’d offered to take little Tom out – to get away from it all. Still, maybe there was one thing she could do.
When Hannah came back, after having made her phone calls, she was surprised to hear voices in Gudrun’s room. For a moment, she thought Patty had returned. Had Sally found her grandson?
Then she realised it was a woman with a happy, smiley little girl on her knee who had similar facial features to little Tom.
“Hi! I’m from the hospital Downs Support team.”
“She is here to tell me about a group I can join,” beamed Gudrun.
Hannah resisted the temptation to say that she had suggested this some time ago. There were times, she was beginning to learn, when a gran had to keep her mouth firmly closed.
Where was he? Sally felt she was going to go mad from fear. Her eldest daughter – Angus’ mum – was coming back from a work trip in the States tonight. What would she say when she found out that Sally had lost her son?
“Is there anywhere else that your grandson loved, apart from the beach?” asked one of the officers.
“Not really,” wept Sally. “It’s his favourite place.”
“Come on love, we’ll find him,” said Duncan, who had caught up with her.
“How do you know?”
“I just do.”
“What’s that over there?” Sally stopped dead and pointed a shaking hand.
“Just a bundle of rags,” said the policeman. “We’ve already investigated.”
“Angus is a bright lad,” added Duncan. “A free spirit too. He won’t come to any harm.”
Yet there was fear in his face. The cold dread around Sally’s heart kept tightening. The longer this went on, the worse the chances were of finding him.
That was the thing about being a grandmother. It wasn’t just the responsibility of looking after a child. It was also the responsibility of looking after your child’s child.
She’d thought she knew exactly what to do. But now she could see she was little wiser than a brand-new mum.
Patty was keeping her distance from Duncan. She’d done enough damage already, according to Hannah. In the hospital, her new friend had told her about Sally’s suspicions and Patty had been appalled.
I was trying to help. I’d never go off with a married man…
“If you really want to know, Duncan asked me for some advice about something and I was trying to help. I’d never go off with a married man,” she said indignantly.
“What kind of advice?”
“I can’t say. It’s a secret.”
Hannah had hesitated as if wondering whether to believe her.
“The problem is that seemingly innocent actions can be misinterpreted. Rather like you spreading gossip about me and my ex. We were only talking about our shared grandson. But now I’m in all sorts of trouble with my husband.”
“That’s not my fault.”
“No. But it doesn’t help that the rest of the group is talking about it too.”
That’s when Patty had come up with her idea to help Hannah sort it all out. Privately, she felt rather pleased with herself! Perhaps she should be an agony aunt. Or rather agony gran.
Meanwhile, the most important thing now was to find a small boy.
“Where do you think he is?” she asked the little bundle strapped to her chest in the baby sling Rosie had lent her. Arthur’s adorable blue eyes stared up at her.
Suddenly, he burst into tears. If a baby cried, it needed feeding, a nappy change, winding or a cuddle. She remembered that much! But this wasn’t the best place for either of the first two.
“Time to go home, I think,” she said. The best thing about being a grandparent was that you could give them back. But right now, Patty would give anything to help Sally get back Angus.
As she turned to go, the sun momentarily blinded her before lighting up the outline of a ship on the horizon. That’s when she had yet another idea…
“Do you want to know why Patty and I were spending so much time together?” asked Duncan as he caught up with Sally. They were making their way back along the cliffs now.
“No. I just want to find our grandson. What’s that over there?”
“Dog walkers.” Duncan was holding her hand, tightly. “I want to find him as much as you, but I also need to explain. I was planning a surprise for our anniversary this year. But I’m not great at looking things up on the internet so I asked Patty to help me.”
“You expect me to believe that?”
When Sally first brought Duncan home, her mother had taken her to one side.
“That man is honest. I can tell. He’ll make a decent husband and father. With time, God willing, he’ll be a good grandfather too.”
Never had Duncan done anything during their married life to make her doubt him – until Patty had entered their lives.
Was it possible, Sally wondered, that she was actually angry with herself? She’d always tried to be a good mother and a good wife. But maybe she’d taken her grandmother obligations a little too far…
“Thanks, Pats!” said Rosie’s partner Clive when she dropped off Arthur.
No-one ever called her that! Still, as Hannah had said, sometimes you had to grin and bear it when it came to sons and daughters-in-law.
“It’s a pleasure,” she said. “I just wish I knew how to stop him crying.”
I’ve missed you
“Mum, you’re back!” Her daughter flew down the stairs, looking more radiant and happy than she’d seen for a long time. “I’ve missed you.”
Patty thought Rosie was referring to Arthur. But then she gave them both a hug – and began to breastfeed her son, right there on the doorstep! She would never have done that. But then again, who was to say that the old rules were right?
Goodness me, she could almost imagine her husband saying. Is it possible that my Patty might be backing down?
Fred would have loved being a grandad. Still, no point in looking back over the past. That was another of his sayings. And maybe he was right.
“There’s some spare cottage pie going if you’d like some,” said Clive.
“Another time, perhaps,” she said. Rosie’s man was trying. She’d say that. It didn’t mean she approved, mind you. But judging from the way he was now burping little Arthur, face-down on his knees, he was doing his best.
“Actually,” she couldn’t help saying, “I did that with Rosie against my shoulder.”
“Really? We do it this way.”
Patty forced herself to smile brightly.
“And you’re doing a great job. May I pop round tomorrow?”
“Any time,” said her daughter.
Clive nodded. “Sure.”
It didn’t take her long to walk to the harbour. The sun was an apricot blob on the horizon. If they didn’t find Sally’s grandson soon, he’d be out in the cold all night. That is, as long as nothing had happened to him already.
Patty’s heart quickened as she made her way to the blue-sailed yacht at the far end. Was it? No. Maybe? Yes!
“Hi,” she said. “I don’t know if you remember me but…”
“The lady from the tea dance who put up my curtains!” A big, beefy man grinned down at her. “How could I forget? To what do I owe this unexpected pleasure?”
Patty was beginning to feel a bit silly.
“One of my granny friends has lost her nine-year-old grandson. He loves the sea and boats so I wondered if you’d seen him. He’s called Angus…”
“What?” The burly man stared at her. “Sally’s boy?”
“You know her?”
“She’s my daughter! ANGUS!”
A small boy scampered up.
“You said your grandmother knew where you were.”
The boy looked sheepish.
I came here to meet you. I thought she’d guess
“When she wasn’t at the bus stop, I came here. I thought she’d guess.”
“How could she? I told her I was going away this week. I’d be in the Canaries by now if it wasn’t for this flipping rudder. Maybe I should have rung her. It’s just that time goes fast when you’re on the boat.”
Patty broke in.
“The police have been combing the beach all afternoon.”
“Strike me. That girl does too much. I’m always telling her. Come on, young man. We’d better find your gran before she worries any more. Do us a favour, Patty, and come too, will you? You might stop our Sal from telling us off.”
Of course, Hannah told herself as she busied herself with cheese sauce for the fish pie, it was a huge relief that Sally’s grandson had been found safe. But now she was taking a big gamble to put things right in her own life.
Simon looked up from the paper at the sound of the doorbell.
Amazingly, Tom was a lot better. Babies could be so up and down! To celebrate, they were all coming for lunch.
“Would you mind getting it?”
Holding her breath, she listened.
“We were just passing and I wanted to give you this for the little one.”
Simon came back into the kitchen, looking slightly confused.
“There’s a woman at the door who says she’s Michael’s partner. She’s given us a present for the baby.”
Hannah smoothed her apron. So her ex had done what she’d asked! Sent his girlfriend round as a sign he’d moved on.
“Should we ask them in?” asked Simon hesitantly. “She’s still on the doorstep and Michael is at the gate.”
“It’s up to you,” said Hannah.
“I… well… I suppose it would look rude if we don’t.”
Hannah needed no further bidding. “Come on in. Lisa, isn’t it? Michael, this is Simon. Simon, Michael.”
For a minute they stood awkwardly looking at each other. Then came the sound of more voices at the door.
“Hi, Mum! Can anyone take Tom while we unload the car?”
“I’ll do it,” said a chorus of voices.
“After you,” added Simon. “He’s your grandson. I don’t want to take over.”
“Maybe we can all share.” Lisa’s voice was decidedly broody. “You’re so lucky, Hannah. I wish my children would hurry up and have kids.”
It wasn’t easy watching a possible future step-gran holding her Tom. But this was the way of extended families, Hannah told herself.
“Seemed to go quite well, didn’t it?” Simon said after they’d all gone.
“It did.” Standing on tiptoes, she reached up to give him a kiss. “I love you, Grandad.”
Anyone told you that you’re the best-looking granny in town?
“And I love you too,” he said, taking her in his arms. “Anyone told you that you’re the best-looking granny in town?”
Three months later…
“I heard you’ve bought your own place, Patty,” said one of the new members at Grans’ group. “On the harbour, too. Very nice!”
She flushed. “It’s near my grandson. I’ve always liked boats…”
“And sailors,” put in someone else.
The old Patty would have taken offence. But the new Patty was up for adventures. Including a little trip to the Canaries. Not for long, mind you. She’d be back to look after little Arthur while Rosie and Clive were on honeymoon.
Wouldn’t it be funny if she ended up as Sally’s stepmother? Still, stranger things had happened…
“Will you come in with me?” asked Simon.
“I’d like to,” said Hannah, through the car window. “But I think you need to do this on your own. I’ll be here waiting.”
It had taken a while to track down Simon’s brother. To their relief, he was in a home that had a good reputation. Now it was time for that first meeting. Who knew how it would go? But with any luck, it might lay a few ghosts – and guilt – to rest.
Afterwards, they’d arranged – at Simon’s suggestion – to pop in to see little Tom. As Hannah watched Simon make his way to the ivy-covered home, she knew it wouldn’t be an easy journey.
But little Tom is lucky, she told herself. Most people have four grandparents. He has six.
“This is beautiful,” said Sally.
They were standing on deck, glasses in hand. Duncan had gone to such a lot of trouble. She had to admit that she’d never been that keen on a cruise. Too far away from the family. But then…
“Happy anniversary, Gran!”
“I want to cuddle her first.”
“Actually, kids,” said Duncan, “I think that pleasure is mine.”
“Ugh, Grandad! You’re too old to kiss!”
“Thanks, Angus. When you’re my age, you’ll know different. And keep away from the side of the boat!”
When Duncan had compromised by borrowing one of Dad’s friend’s luxury yachts for an “intimate supper”, she should have guessed.
“I thought you’d prefer this,” he said, watching her face as she hugged one grandchild after another.
“You know me all too well!”
“Oh, and by the way, I’ve invited the Gran group too.” He waved towards the quay. “They’re just arriving. Seems like they’ve brought a few buggies…”