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.
The dinner was a huge success. I had gone all out and booked a table at a manor house that had made a business out of romantic dinners and dances in the stately rooms. All girls, regardless of age, like to be treated like a princess and I made sure that's how Irene felt that night. The food was spectacular, the wines - and I certainly had more of it than the traffic code would have permitted, even if I was far from drunk - superb. The band was very good and I flatter myself that I am a good dancer. I have a dozen or so cups and medals from my teenage years to back up the claim; I only gave it up at a competitive level because I had to choose between dancing and swimming.
Irene was good too, if somewhat out of practise - both her previous men would have scoffed at the idea of dancing. But she held her own and I could lead her - especially during the slow dances where we were plastered to each other.
I was certain at the end of the evening that I had fallen in love, and so had Irene. Contrary to our expectations, completely against what we would 'usually do', and against all usual 'rules' for that kind of thing, I stayed the night. In fact I moved in and never left. Think us mad: First date. Invited in for night cap. Passionate love in bed. A recipe for disaster? No! A recipe for six happy years.
We were awakened by the kids. Lisa and Anne came first. They were both hungry, but they found the presence of a man in their mother's bed most interesting. And quite fun when it turned out that said man was good for playing. They jumped into the bed to play; hunger being temporarily forgotten.
The ruckus woke their older sister. When she came into the bedroom we were finally doing something about the fact that both the little ones were in need of nappy attention. My experience with babies and toddlers was limited, but I was able to remove Lisa's night nappy and wipe her dry while Irene changed Anne.
Camilla came in while we were doing that and she immediately seemed more than a little sceptical about the whole thing. Irene assured me that she was just shy and would warm to me soon enough, but it actually never happened. She remained reserved, aloof even, and when her two sisters tentatively referred to me as "Dad" or "New Dad", Camilla scornfully rejected the idea. I was NOT her dad, new or otherwise.
And for some reason, that I never understood, her hostility was most evident when I was taking care of her sisters' more intimate needs. She even made some comment about me changing her sisters that, had they been aired outside the house, could have landed me in trouble.
I suppose a psychological analysis would unveil factors like her absent father and John's subsequent base betrayal in her attitude towards men, and, by proxy, me. Anyway, although it wasn't all that nice, it didn't worry me too much. I loved and adored Irene and her children. If I was only loved and adored back by three out of four of them, it didn't ruin the balance.
Camilla pointed out that her younger sisters, unlike her, actually had a "real dad'' as she called it. John was definitely persona non grata and Irene was visibly upset that he was suddenly being called into Camilla's little games. It coincided with him actually - for the first time ever - taking an interest in his daughters. Tina the big-boobed-bimbo was out of the picture and John had met Hanne, a very nice quiet girl around my age. She encouraged John to own up to his responsibilities as a father and urged him to get a functioning and civil relationship with his ex-wife for the sake of their shared daughters.
John had obviously done some growing up and tried. Irene, however, was not ready for that, so - as frequently happens - the practicalities were initially handled by Hanne and me. The outcome was that a so-called "ten-four" arrangement was made for Lisa and Anne. During a two week period they would spend ten days with Irene and four with John; in practice every second weekend and one fixed day - in our case Wednesday - every week. Holidays and birthdays and what have you were handled according to an elaborate schedule. To us it seemed complex; to the authorities it was completely standard - there are thousands and thousands of families whose relations are sorted out that way.
And after a bit of adjustment it worked very well for us too. Crèches and kindergartens are used to it and most importantly Lisa and Anne reacted very positively to it too. They liked both their parents - and their parents' new partners, and when after a couple of years Hanne and John had a little boy they were thrilled.
I had - carefully - been broaching the subject of a similar idea with Irene. She was unwilling to contemplate it. Although we had a close, loving and trusting relationship she still feared that I might vanish one day - and she "didn't want to have four kids by three absent men". Nor was she willing to marry me; "I've had enough of that," she said. "Those promises are not binding anyway - I learnt that the hard way." I was slightly hurt by the implication, but I knew how badly she had been treated and frankly it didn't matter all that much.
One of Irene's objections against us marrying was financial. The break-up with John had been costly; they had been forced to sell their house at a substantial loss and she didn't want to saddle me with her 'sexually transmitted debt, ' as she called it. To me it made no odds; I made a tidy sum each month from my work and in my opinion money is only interesting if you don't have any. Having me sharing the rent and all other costs meant that we were 'comfortable', if no more than that. It also meant that Irene could start paying off on her debt - but it was sure going to take a long time.
The house Irene and the girls were living in when I met them was rented; she could not get credit approval to buy anything. But I could, and since the house was nice, big enough for all of us (even for that extra child I still hoped for), and since the girls thought of it as their home, I made an offer and after a bit of haggling, the owner agreed to sell. Being located outside the town it was substantially cheaper than what we would have paid for something similar in town itself, and yet the village had both a school and a local shop so it suited us fine.
A year later a distant uncle of mine died. He had been living alone not far from me so I had made sure to visit him frequently - at least four or five times a year. The old boy - he was close to 90 - was pathetically pleased and particularly delighted when I brought Lisa over one time. His apartment was dark and old-man-stuffy and he lived extremely frugally so I assumed Uncle Hother (yes! that is actually a name!) was no better off than most retirees who have lived so long they only have their public pension left.
Well, I was wrong. Uncle Hother had been rich - as in very rich, and he left it all to his "unselfish great nephew George whose unfailing kindness has been a constant source of joy in [his] declining years," as the will was worded. I must confess my eyes were moist when the old-fashioned solicitor read that to me. And completely floored when I learnt the value of the estate. A great uncle is not a close relative in inheritance terms, so the taxman ran off with 40%, but it was still a tidy bit. It enabled me to pay off Irene's entire debt, the bank loan I had taken out to finance the down-payment on the house and a substantial fraction of the main mortgage too. We were left with only a small residual mortgage on the house - the repayments on which were far less than we had been paying in rent on the house.
"Right woman!" I said when I had been so see my own solicitor and bank. "There is no more sexually transmittable debt to worry about and thus no more excuses. Please, will you finally marry me?"
She said yes. After four years she was finally ready to commit to being with me for the rest of her life.
We were married in the summer and to my delight, Irene went all out for it. No quick visit to the Town Hall register office; this was a huge affair in church with white wedding dress, three girls in matching bride's maids outfits, her father giving her away, me and my Best Man in morning coats and top hats. The works, in other words. And a gigantic party afterwards - at the very manor house where we had been on our first date, of course. Our extended families are not large, even when cousins and second cousins are roped in, but we had a substantial network of close friends in the local community and there were more than 100 people for the party.
There were songs and speeches and all the usual hall marks of a Danish wedding. The speeches were varied in quality (some toe-curlingly embarrassing, others quite good), but uniform in theme. They all said something akin to "third time lucky" which made Irene light up in a gorgeous smile, and they all talked about the girls, especially Camilla, "getting a dad". And on each occasion Camilla would hiss "He is not my dad." It was laughed off - which angered her, and it was a 'stone in the shoe', even if it couldn't ruin an otherwise wonderful day.
In August, Anne started school. She and Lisa were enrolled in another school than Camilla - a fairly expensive but very good private school in town. This was a compromise forged with John - and quite OK, all up, even though the village school was fine and most of their playmates were going to go there. But there was a complication: Anne's first day in school coincided with Camilla starting in a new school too. She was starting year 6 and since the village school only did K-5 she was transferring to a large state school in town. This school - which took in kids from the small district schools for year 6 every year - had observed that some of the kids from the smaller local communities found the transition difficult. To counter that they had decided that it worked better if the parents were involved from the start. All very positive, I'm sure, and well meaning.
So we were invited to come for morning coffee on the first day. Irene was adamant she wanted to be there for Anne's first day at the private school, so I offered to take Camilla. That didn't go down well! In fact, it was a nightmare of a day. She was petulant and outright rude and would loudly declare that "he is not my dad!" when given half a chance or even none.
By the time the kids went to their classrooms and the parents were left to talk, the only thing anyone knew about Camilla was that I was not her dad. "Is she very close to her biological father?" some interfering busybody asked me.
"No," I replied tersely. "The bloke OD'ed over ten years ago, but he dumped Camilla's mother long before Camilla was born. She has never known him."
The woman looked shocked. She shut up, or at least I thought she did. But only in front of me. In next to no time other parents knew, then their kids knew and by Camilla's third day in school someone teased her with it, which caused an explosion. I must say to Camilla's teacher's praise that he came down like a ton of bricks on the brat. It was made clear that continued attendance at this school was on condition that she (the offender) kept her greasy paws out of other people's private lives.
But it didn't help; the damage was done. Teenage starts at ten, they say, and these kids were twelve. Camilla was yelling and screaming at me that night. "Thanks for ruining my LIFE!" she yelled. I apologized for having told the "stupid interfering bitch of a woman" about Camilla's biological father, after which she yelled even louder that I "shouldn't diss her friends' parents." She then stormed off and slammed the door to her room so hard it came off its hinges.
I refused to fix them until she had calmed down. I actually couldn't then and there anyway; some plastic bits were broken and I was not driving out to the hardware shop to buy materials. It was a lovely evening I don't think. "We're in for an interesting puberty," Irene observed when she had explained to Camilla that she was going to have an open door until new hinges could be purchased - from her pocket money.
The - sensible - initiatives to get the town and village kids to integrate also included a party and parents were asked to volunteer as stewards. To Camilla's chagrin her mother did so - and then Irene got ill with a splitting migraine on the night. The younger girls were with John and Hanne, so I could go instead. The atmosphere in the car was frosty. Camilla ordered me to "stay out of sight and say nothing." I naturally didn't but rather put in a lot of effort to make the party a success. It was - for all but Camilla. She was incensed, especially because practically all her new class mates were raving about her 'cool step-dad.' (They all knew I was not her dad!)
For subsequent parties from then on it was almost a requirement I was there. The kids all knew and liked me and could trust me to handle minor issues and not to tell tales. Well, all except Camilla of course. But her class mates ignored her. Not that she was unpopular or excluded from anything or generally ignored, but on that one point they did. "Not liking George is just too weird," as one of the boys was overheard saying.
I was well-known in the community from the swimming club too, and we couldn't go shopping without running into a lot of 'my' swimming kids or their parents. It always enraged Camilla.
I didn't give up. I made sure I went with Irene when there were parents/teachers conferences (which in Denmark frequently involved the kids too, at least for part of the session). Camilla, for her part, made sure all her teachers knew I was not her dad. But apart from that, I enjoyed participating. I cared for her and hoped that once she was through puberty she would come to accept me. I was her mother's husband, after all, and it was not like I had supplanted her real dad in an acrimonious divorce.
She made friends easily and despite us living a bit out of town, there were often friends home. I would - naturally - talk to them if I got home before they'd gone. And Camilla would scowl, but at least she avoided open hostility after one episode where Irene, who unbeknownst to Camilla was home with a migraine, overheard her and - in the presence of the embarrassed friends - said there had been guests home for the last time if Camilla repeated such behaviour.
Apart from Camilla's antics - and Irene's rather too frequent migraines, the first year as a married couple passed peacefully. What with the lavish wedding the previous summer we hadn't done anything in terms of a honeymoon, but when summer came again we all went to the Canary Islands to one of those huge holiday resorts where half the guests are Danes. It meant that there were tons of activities for the kids in Danish so Irene and I could have time alone too.
The activities for kids were divided according to age-groups. Lisa and Anne were together in 'Junior Club" - the second-youngest group - and had a ball. Unfortunately Camilla was just too young to participate in the teenage activities and instead had to go with in the 'tween' group. That didn't go down well, and she somehow managed to present it as my fault that the cut-off age for the 'Teen Club' was fourteen. She believed that I should just have lied about her age. The fact that she not only physically resembled the other ten to thirteen year olds but that her date of birth was on the travel documents and she had been given a 'Tween Club"' card already was irrelevant. Bad vibes? Yes. But it got worse; much worse.
One morning the kids were being looked after in their 'clubs' so Irene and I could go and see some culture and then have an intimate lunch for two. We got back a bit late and Irene rather urgently needed to get to our holiday apartment, so I went to collect the girls. I passed the 'Tween Club' first and decided to get Camilla so she could help me with her sisters. The 'tween-aged' boys were playing in the pool, but practically all the girls were tanning or chatting in poolside deck chairs and the bored minders - consisting of two young women and a surfer type bloke, all in their early twenties - were in a corner. OK, one of the young women was occasionally checking on the boys in the water, but the other young woman and the bloke were busy licking each other's tonsils and blatantly fondling each other. They ignored me completely when I entered.
"Camilla," I called. Two girls looked up, but not 'my' Camilla (it is a very common name). I smiled, shook my head and got friendly smiles back from the other two Camillas. I tried again, but Camilla didn't react, pretending to be asleep in her chair, so I walked over to her and gently shook her arm.
"What do you want," she said angrily, like she didn't know me.
"Mum asked me to come and get you," I replied quietly, keen not to make a scene.
"Go away," she yelled - she obviously was keen to make a scene.
"Camilla, please," I started.
"Is this man bothering you?" It was the amorous female minder who had done up her bikini top again and come over.
"Yes," Camilla said petulantly. "He wants me to go with him."
"Stop this nonsense," I said. "Mum's waiting."
"He's not my dad!" Camilla exclaimed, as per usual.
"That's enough!" I said and reached for her.
That's the last I remember; the next moment everything went black.
When I came to, I was lying face down. I had an intense pain in my neck, a heavy uncomfortable feeling in my back and the taste of blood in my mouth. The feeling in my back was the surfer's knee - he was weighing me down that way. The pain in my neck and the taste of blood was caused by the karate chop he had used on me.
"Call the police," I said.
"You'd like that, would you?" the girl said unpleasantly.
"Listen very carefully," I said. "I used to train to become a Navy Seal. Unless your retard boyfriend lets go of me in less than thirty seconds, I will hurt him."
"Ha! You want us the believe that?" she asked scornfully.
"I don't care what you believe. You now have twenty seconds," I said, counting down in my head and readying myself for action. "And you've better get hold of the police now."
"Only to have them take you away you pervert," the bloke blustered.
"Ten," I said.
Ten seconds later the roles had reversed. An ancient patent movement brought the bloke out of balance, another rolled him around and a third - applying pressure to both sides of his neck - rendered him unconscious. "If I keep pressing here for another few seconds, his last remaining brain cells will cease functioning and he will be dead," I said conversationally. "Now miss, would you kindly call the police?"
She hastily flipped open her cell phone and I let go of the moron. While she was frantically calling the police in broken Spanish, I placed the bloke in recovery position and waited for him to come to. He did within a minute, as expected, and looked around wildly. "Lie still," I said, "and I won't hurt you. Move - and I will finish you off. Do you get me?" He nodded.
The police arrived and the mayhem widened. None of the minders had good Spanish and even their English was pretty poor. I, on the other hand, spoke both languages fluently. The minders claimed they had been in good faith thinking I was a child molester (although they found it difficult to justify the excessive force used on me - I had a welt in my neck, visible to the police officers). I was obviously outnumbered three to one in the explanations stakes. Until Irene arrived. She had worried that I hadn't returned; mercifully she had gone to pick up Anne and Lisa, and arrived in the middle of the discussion which now also involved the 'entertainment manager' - a pooh-faced woman in her late twenties.
Needless to say the balance shifted. The police officers - now satisfied that a spoiled brat of a misbehaving child was the root cause of all this, slammed the handcuffs on the male minder but also requested that I came along for questioning. At the station they did get hold of the police doctor to take a look at my neck and he provided me with a cool-pack which helped instantly.
I slowly and carefully explained the situation, also making much of the female minder's initial refusal to call the police - and outlining the highly inappropriate conduct she and the offender, as I consistently called him, had engaged in - in front of young children. The latter was mainly for the benefit of the 'entertainment manager' who had insisted on coming along too. Regardless of the outcome of the police's deliberations, the girl and the bloke would be unemployed by nightfall.
I was allowed to go - I got sympathy and handshakes and assurances that I could keep the still beneficial cool pack until the following day; they even offered to drive me back to the hotel, but I countered that a taxi would be just fine and that I didn't want to impose on their friendliness and thus diminish their capacity to ensure a safe environment for law-abiding citizens and tourists. They ate that raw; the pooh-faced woman looked even worse - well aware that she had a PR disaster on her hands. I shan't bore you with the details, but the final outcome was that the entire trip was free - in exchange for us not going on national TV to tell about "Father Of Three Knocked To The Ground By Fornicating Child-Minder On Steroids In Family Resort" - something that would hardly have sold holidays in large numbers.
So, yes, she had to do real work for her money that week, rearranging her suddenly diminished young staff and beating them into submission in the behaviour stakes. She told me that in the taxi home that we shared, and I ended up feeling sorry for her.
Not that the situation in our little family was any better when I got to the apartment. Camilla was still defiant, but it was obvious she had been crying. Irene looked at her in a significant way when I had walked in and said "Well?" Camilla sulkily looked away, and Irene exploded. "Right young lady, you've had your chance. You were to apologize when poor George got back, and you didn't. Go to your room!"
"I'm sorry, OK?" she yelled.
"No, not OK," her mother replied at approximately the same volume. "You are grounded for the rest of the trip. You will not leave your room until we drive to the airport."
I was between a rock and a hard place as the saying goes. The punishment metered out to Camilla by her mother was perfectly justified, but it would do nothing to improve our relationship. I decided to be conciliatory. "I think that is a bit harsh love," I said quietly. "It wasn't Camilla who bashed me up - she couldn't know that the psychopath would do that."
"No, but she should just have gone with you when you came for her!" Irene said.
"Sure, and she knows that now," I started.
"Well, we can't let this pass unpunished!" Irene blustered.
"It won't," I said. "I've been told the 'Club Tween' is shut down for the rest of the week - they can't get other staff in with this short notice - so Camilla will have to be with her sisters in 'Junior Club' for the rest of the holidays."
"I'd rather be in my room then!" Camilla yelled and stormed off in a huff.
So much for conciliation! But Camilla did end up going with her sisters. Although thirteen, she was still looking like a small girl. Puberty hadn't hit yet. "At least not the physical signs," as Irene said when we were in bed later that evening. "When it comes to behaviour she has been in full-blown puberty for years!"
I wasn't inclined to disagree. And speaking about 'full-blown', a few moments later I had forgotten all about spoiled children. Irene was an unsurpassable master at blow-jobs. There are bad blow-jobs. There are so-so blow-jobs. There are good blow-jobs. There are fantastic blow-jobs. And then there were Irene's blow-jobs. She could get a rise out of an ancient Pope and make him forego the Kingdom of Heaven for her blow-jobs. Except I was the lucky devil being exclusively serviced by the best oral sex the world has seen.
Unfortunately the oral sex, or indeed any sex, was getting rare. Not from lack of enthusiasm or desire, but because Irene's headaches got worse and more frequent. She also started having problems with her eyesight. Being in her early forties it wasn't unusual that she should need glasses, but they only helped partially - and the headaches got progressively worse. I don't know what it is with doctors, nurses and other medical staff. They seem hopeless at looking after their own health and we had reached October before Irene finally went to see a doctor. (Like duh! She worked for four of them!) She was immediately referred to a specialist who found the symptoms so alarming that he sent her to be scanned at the University Hospital in Copenhagen at once.
The outcome was catastrophic; there was a large growth in Irene's brain and the diagnosis was dire - the tumour was malignant and fast growing. Over the span of just weeks, her vision deteriorated to the point where driving was unsafe and her speech also started to be affected. The prognosis was heart-breaking: If nothing was done she would be dead in two to three months. Max. If an operation was attempted, and even a layman could understand how risky that would be, there was only a 20% chance that she would even wake up from the anaesthetics at all - and there was a high risk of at least some permanent brain damage.
Irene was a fighter and she had a lot to live for. So she decided to take the one chance offered and the operation was scheduled. Just before she was wheeled away to theatre, we talked for the last time. Her speech was slurred and she could only control one eye, but she looked at me and said "George, if this fails the little ones will still have their father. But Camilla has no-one. I know she hates your guts, even if I don't know why. But promise me you'll take care of her. Promise."
With tears in my eyes I promised. It was the last time I saw Irene alive. The surgery was unsuccessful - she died on the operating table; she haemorrhaged massively, destroying both the brain and the brain stem. At 32 my "instant family" was taken from me again in an instant. I had loved all four of them; the three that loved me back were gone. Lisa and Anne naturally got to stay with their father, his new wife and their little brother permanently. Call me a chicken, but I left it to John and (mainly, I suspect) Hanne to explain to them that their mother was gone. John and Hanne promised that I would still play a role in the girls' lives, but it never happened. I sent presents and cards and so on, but visits just didn't seem to happen. I became, at most, a distant 'uncle' who picked up their sultry big sister after her rare visits, and in time they forgot what I'd been to them.
Camilla was, naturally, completely distraught. As Irene had pointed out, she had no-one else but me now. Camilla's father was long dead and her maternal grandparents elderly and frail. Although Irene and I had been married, I had never adopted Camilla, but since her biological father was dead the municipal authorities simply assumed that Camilla and I both would be fine with me having full custody as her guardian and the paperwork was duly issued without any questions being asked. What would have happened if they had asked her, I don't know. She so didn't want me. Possibly she would have been put in foster care. But I had made my promise. It was Irene's dying wish that I should look after Camilla, and I am not one to go back on a promise. Ever.
Just to make a damned situation worse, physical puberty hit Camilla big time. As in she literally got her first period the very day we buried her mother. I'm told that the later puberty sets in, the worse it is. I don't know if that is true, but for Camilla - a late bloomer - the next many months were hell, and I was at a complete loss of what to do to help her, even with those things I could help her with. The hormones not only brought additional emotional upheaval and screaming-agony irregular periods, they also brought rapid and very painful breast growth. She'd had aa-cup trainer bras for a long time (the kinds that are essentially padding only); now it was obvious she needed real bras. I braced myself for the task and one Thursday afternoon I picked her up at school.
"What do you want," she asked unpleasantly - giving me flash backs to the Canary Island experience.
"We're going clothes-shopping," I said. "You've grown out of lots of things." That was true - she had also added several inches in height.
"OK," she said. At least she was enough of a teenaged girl to appreciate shopping, even if her shopping companion was not to her liking.
I drove to a shopping centre in town and steered us towards a large H&M; a safe choice since I knew she liked their stuff. I was aware I could be in for a major scene if I mishandled this in any way, and I was so preoccupied that I walked into someone. "Hullo George," a youthful voice said.
I looked up into a pair of humorous blue eyes set in a friendly - and quite beautiful - face. "Emma!" I exclaimed. She was one of my 'swimming girls' and she was wearing an H&M staff badge. Salvation seemed near. "I am so happy I should bump into you," I gushed.
"Literally," she giggled, and we both laughed. "What can I do for you?" she asked.
"Camilla here needs a lot of stuff and I want you to help her," I replied.