They say no good deed goes unpunished, I cannot be too sure of that, but I do know the past can come back to haunt you.
You can call me Paul, it's not my real name for obvious reasons as some of what I'm about to relate would have me arrested and probably imprisoned, though I've no regrets.
I run my own company. It's a small but successful engineering firm, employing ten people and has some pretty advanced 3D milling and cutting machines, most of which I paid for from what was to me a very lucky lottery win. They say on the ads, 'it could be you!'. Well, in this case it was me and I was making money hand over fist as I didn't have to factor in the machine costs into my bottom line. I am 35, in good health and a single guy, though not by choice. I just seem to have a complete knack for screwing up relationships by my work ethic. I'm never home and no matter the luxuries I can afford, I'm not about to spend them on someone with whom I never spend any time. Yes, I know this makes me appear selfish, but I believe in love and I never spend long enough with a woman so far to actually get to know them, never mind love them and yes, I realise I only have myself to blame for this. Not that I'm a virgin by any means, just that most of my relationships are transient, short term and although I've never had to pay for sex, it kind of feels similar in the methods I employ of food and drink. Ok, ok, I admit it, I'm lonely, or was...
I'd finished work and driven home to my house which was in a small village on the outskirts of the Medway area of Kent. It was the height of winter and the sort of night which was giving global warming a very bad name with sleet and snow falling and the roads, though gritted, were quite treacherous. Still my Landrover, which was my pride and joy, had managed as well as ever and I parked up, I let myself in to a cool dark house and started to prepare the usual microwave rubbish that passed for my diet these days, only to be interrupted by a knock at the door.
Opening the door I was faced with a young girl whom I didn't recognise.
"Hi... ," she said.
"Er ... Hello," I replied.
"Um ... I don't know how to put this, but I think you're my father... ," she trailed off.
I took a closer look at her in the gloom and realised she was almost blue with cold and shivering, wearing only what appeared to be a T-shirt under a thin jacket and torn and faded jeans with canvas shoes.
"Um, you'd better come in," I said and turned up the heating as I led her to the living room. Once there I turned on the seldom used gas fire and asked if she wanted a hot drink.
"Yes please," she stuttered, her teeth chattering with both cold and stress I thought.
I swiftly boiled a kettle and made her some hot sweet tea also refilling the kettle and seeking out an old hot water bottle that a previous girlfriend had used before she tired of my absences. Taking them through I noticed that the girl had fallen asleep though I was not fooled. I recognised the signs of hypothermia from a first aid course I'd taken many years ago. The treatment was easy enough, though I did have qualms about removing her wet clothing. Still leaving her pitifully thin body in her underwear, I covered her with warm blankets from my airing cupboard and laid the hot water bottle between them so as not to cause her blood vessels in her arms and legs to dilate too rapidly and drop her core temperature even lower. It took a little while but her eyes fluttered open and she moaned gently.
"Hi," I said.
"Hi," she croaked.
"Daft question, but can you cough?" I asked.
She did so and I handed her the sweet tea knowing she could swallow normally.
"I'll get you some energy bars and some chocolate," I said. "Don't try to move, though if you need the loo it's upstairs at the top of the stairs. Stay wrapped up though; you have mild hypothermia."
"OK," she croaked as I went hunting through my cupboards for the items.
I soon found what I was looking for and handed them over. Back in the kitchen I decided to oven cook a warm meal rather than a microwave, as I now realised the girl would be here for at least the night.
Wandering back into the room I was faced with a cold stare.
"Did you undress me?" she stated.
"Er, yes. You can't leave someone with hypothermia in wet cold clothing," I replied. "I did leave your underwear on and I'll wash and dry your outer clothing later."
The stare went on for about a minute before I got a quiet, "Thank you."
"Sorry, I know how it looks, but it had to be done," I said. "When you're ready to talk, we will, but you can stop the night at least. I have a guest room."
"Thank you," she said with a hint of a tear in her eyes.
The house felt very warm to me as I prepared a meal for us, but I didn't dare turn the temperature down. I did nip upstairs to dig through my wardrobe to find some thick tracksuit bottoms, a warm shirt and a fleece lined sweatshirt, all miles too big for her, but enough to cover her modesty for when she wanted to move around. I finally brought the two meals through and dropped the clothing next to her and we ate in silence, well I ate, she tackled her food like there was no tomorrow and cleaned her plate off in half the time I did.
"Sorry, haven't eaten for days," she said.
"Well, take it slow; your body won't be used to it," I said.
She nodded and asked if she could have some more tea. I brought it for her and she sat back with a sigh.
"I suppose you want to know why I think you're my father," She asked.
At my nod, she reached down into her small backpack and retrieved a purse and upon opening it she handed me a strip of photos from one of those booths you see around and an old business card.
"I'm Ruth, these were my mum's. They're all I have when my dad kicked me out after she died," she said with tears in her eyes.
I looked at the photo and recognised myself from fifteen or so years ago and I also remembered the woman...
We'd travelled up to Newcastle to celebrate the twenty first birthday of a friend and we'd fallen in with a merry group of girls enjoying a hen night. I'd connected with one straight away and we had a great laugh and eventually ended up in Newcastle's Central station in a photo booth having the pictures taken.
"Her name was Alison? No, Ali," I said to the girl who simply nodded.
The party had become separated and we'd ended up at my hotel room and had made love. I had no condoms, but promised to pull out before I came. As it was she didn't let me and had clamped her legs over my buttocks when I tried to withdraw. We'd made love several times after that and as she left to catch a taxi I gave her the card with a scribbled phone number on and asked her to keep in touch. She hadn't, but yes, I remembered Ali. I turned over the card and my old number was still there...
"It wasn't her hen night, though she was getting married a couple of weeks later. She told me her mum and dad pressured her into it when she wanted to call it off and call you. I guess the guy she married thought she had an early pregnancy and at first he was OK until my brother and sister came along and looked nothing like me. Still, my mum loved me and he respected that, loved her too, I think. After a while though he became more and more cold to me, though wouldn't say why and then mum got cancer. It was horrible and nothing they did worked and she died, just a year after my grandparents died in a car accident. I wasn't even allowed to go to the funeral and a week ago my dad handed me this..."
Ruth handed me a slip of paper from one of those paternity testing clinics, seemed Ruth was not her dad's kid.
"He kicked me out! I loved him but he threatened to cut my throat rather than have a bastard's spawn living under his roof," she sobbed. "His mum and dad shut the door in my face and I didn't know what to do, though he did give me the pictures and card, told me to find my real dad."
"Oh my," I said. "I'm so sorry. You're more than welcome to stay, but how did you find me?" I asked.
"Well, the number's out of date but the company still exists. I phoned them but they wouldn't give me any details. I hitchhiked down to ask them in person and one of the secretaries there took pity on me and slipped me a note with a forwarding address and I went there. There was no one in, but a neighbour told me where you lived and I hitchhiked here."
"That must have been my mum's. She holidays in Spain at this time of year," I said. "Well, Ruth, you're welcome to stay for as long as you want, but first things, first I'm going to have to get a paternity test done."
"You don't believe me?" she asked, looking stricken with worry.
"I do, but, if I'm going to get you settled down here, I'm going to need proof that the fourteen-year-old girl living with me is actually my daughter," I replied. "Otherwise we might have no end of trouble from the authorities if they stick their noses in."
"OK," she nodded.
"Second, we're going to have to take you shopping tomorrow as you can't just go around in what you have," I said.
After that I got Ruth settled down for the night in the guest room and went downstairs to make a few phone calls of my own. One was to my company's solicitor, who was happy to help me with what might be the legal ramifications of Ruth. The other was to my mum, who, it turned out, was delighted to have gained a granddaughter. I also contacted a paternity testing centre online and requested a DNA kit for myself and Ruth. After that I poured myself a glass of wine and reminisced for a while before putting the dishes in the dishwasher and going to bed.
.... There is more of this story ...