George got an "instant family" - and lost it again almost in an instant. Well, not completely. But the one he was allowed to keep didn't want him. Still, a promise is a promise.
"You're not my dad!"
I must have heard Camilla say that so many times I've lost count. And it's true. I'm not her father. Only nearly. But no, I'm not her dad. Eventually, that turned out to be a good thing, but for many, many years her attitude pained me.
She was seven the first time she exclaimed that. In Danish you abbreviate "Fader", the word for "Father", to "Far" which is used just like "Dad". We have no equivalent of the childish "Daddy", so everyone from infants to octogenarians say "Far" - "Dad", unless you are either using very formal language, 'legalese' for instance, or you are reciting the Lord's Prayer. Camilla did neither.
I never knew then why she was so hostile to me. After all, I was the closest thing to a dad she ever had. I met her mother Irene when Camilla was around seven and her younger sisters Lisa and Anne three and one and a half respectively. Half-sisters I should say. Irene had shocking luck with men. Camilla's biological father had dropped Irene the moment he learned she was pregnant. He never had any contact with his daughter. He was an unemployable no-gooder and died from an overdose a few years later. Irene and Camilla struggled on.
Irene was a laboratory analyst in a pharmaceutical company when she had Camilla, but she worried about the health implications and didn't want to return to that kind of work. With the help of her parents she managed to complete an education as a doctor's secretary, a highly specialized profession. Things looked like they were on the up and up for her; she completed her education, got a good job and when Camilla was three she met John. She fell pregnant almost instantly with Lisa; they were married and Irene thought life was good.
But already before Lisa turned one, things started to look less bright. John seemed more interested in still going out with boys than being a father of two and took very little interest in bringing up the girls. In a misguided attempt at "patching things up" Irene quit the pill and was promptly pregnant again. John was unimpressed and while not in any way abusive, he was more and more absent. When Irene came home from the hospital after giving birth to Anne there was someone in the house. "Meet Tina," John said. "I'm moving in with her tonight."
He did and Irene's world collapsed around her. Her bosses - a group of doctors who had shared chambers in the provincial town Irene lived in - were supportive. They gave her extra maternity leave on full pay and one of them actually helped restrain Irene's father who was on the way to John's and Tina's place with a shotgun. The doctor pointed out that if Irene's dad shot the bastard - and he could well understand the impetus - then he would only end up in jail for sixteen years and there would be no-one to bleed for child support.
So Irene was a single mother of three kids by two different fathers. She returned to work when Anne was a few weeks shy of one. Irene was 36. Although still incredibly good looking, she had mentally decided that her love-life was over. Once bitten, twice shy they say. Twice bitten, and you just stop trying.
I knew nothing of this when at 26 I moved to the same town as Irene and her daughters. I had a varied background but had recently finished a degree in information technology and gotten a job at a high-tech firm with a number of defence contracts. I had an unblemished service record - I had even tried to become a Navy Seal, but failed to make the cut (98% of applicants fail), largely due to an asthmatic condition that is a no-no in that line of work. But I had passed all the other hurdles, had gotten a security clearance without problems and received my college degree while enlisted. And immediately after my honourable discharge I landed a plum job.
Only down-side was the location - I was a city boy; I grew up in the capital and so I thought a town of 40.000 was hardly a town at all and that we were totally out in the sticks. And a cloud on the horizon was my continued problems with getting the asthma under control. It had never bothered me before - even as an elite swimmer, but the extreme strain of the ultimately unsuccessful training as a "frogman", as Navy Seals are affectionately known over here, had made it very hard to control.
They say that every dark cloud has a silver lining, and my silver lining was Irene. It started innocently enough. I'd noticed the pictures of her daughters on her desk at the doctors' chambers and made some comment about "children having children". She laughed and told me her true age which stunned me - I honestly thought she was the same age as me or even younger - and while I never asked her directly, I got the impression that she was single. So I had no qualms about flirting a bit.
Neither had she - and we had plenty of opportunity. Unlikely many provincial doctors who will 'treat' asthma patients with high doses of old, inefficient and quite often poisonous drugs; Irene's bosses had a very different view. They wanted to find the right drug at the right low dose and in order to achieve that, I went through a lot of testing. That of course required a lot of appointments which in turn required a lot of interaction with Irene. And not just jostling calendars; while she was not a nurse and thus not permitted to do things like taking blood samples, she could operate the apparatus used to measure lung capacity. I noticed, with considerable pleasure, that she always wanted to book me on days when the nurse wasn't there so she had to do it - and preferably days where I had to be in shirt-and-tie at work and thus had to strip down to my naked torso to do the measurements.
One day I was distracted by something and still dressed when she came in to do the measurement. "You gotta get your shirt off," she said with a glint in the eye.
"Sorry," I said. And then added in a little boy voice. "Perhaps you'd like to help me?"
There was one of the those brief pauses - perhaps only lasting a few seconds - that felt like aeons because the whole atmosphere was so charged with sexual tension.
"Sure baby," she eventually said and proceeded to untie my tie and unbutton my shirt. By the time my torso was naked I had the mother of all boners and my breathing was ragged. I'm sure the measurements must have been quite unusual that day.
We didn't repeat the undressing at the doctors' chambers, but I would make sure I always had a reason to strip down when I was tested and we always touched each other in a flirty way. She in turn was quite open about studying the bulge in my pants but she never touched it.
I went out a bit but didn't find anyone special; random acquaintances at bars didn't interest me. I had volunteered as a trainer in the local swimming club, but I was training youngsters and they were of course untouchable - pretty to look at, sure, but completely out of bounds. And besides, everyone I saw I would compare to Irene - and they would fail.
Alas, eventually the doctors were successful. They found the right dose of a new class of asthma drugs and after a very interesting half year I was essentially 'cured' in as much as I didn't need to come round for testing any more. Again Irene was quite open about it. "I'll miss you," she said and she sounded sincere.
"You don't have to," I replied - having made up my mind for quite some time. "You could go out with me."
"Don't be daft George!" she said, although she sounded pleased. "I am old woman - ten years older than you and a mother of three to boot."
"You are better looking than anyone I know of my own age," I countered. "You are sweet and smart and considerate and competent. You turn me on, and you know it. And I think I could fall in love with you in a flash - if I haven't already."
"Whoa!" Irene exclaimed, but she was blushing prettily.
"Friday?" I carried on relentlessly.
"If I can find a babysitter," she started.
"Do!" I said, "Where do I pick you up?"
She gave me the address.
"Friday at seven," I said and left for work.
The week seemed endless, but finally Friday came. I arrived in a taxi at her house in a small village just outside of town on the dot of seven, dressed in my Sunday best and armed with a huge bunch of red roses. Irene was ready - quite a feat when having to handle three small children - and dressed to the nines herself. She was deeply touched by the roses which she put in a vase. I heard her give a few last minute instructions to the babysitter and then she followed me out to the waiting taxi. The taxi seemed to puzzle her, as she knew I had a car - a very presentable sports car even. "I never drive if I've had as much as a single glass of wine," I explained.
"Oh!" was all she said. She later told me that was the moment she decided I was worth considering as a partner, displaying the kind of responsibility she had craved but never found in any other man.
.... There is more of this story ...