Well, I suppose a liberal might interpret 8.35pm as ‘around eight or so’. Just a shame, for Harry’s sake, that his brother wasn’t feeling particularly liberal right now.
By the time Harry wheeled up, the bar had emptied a little, and Danny, Alan and Yolanda were conspicuous in the corner. He’d felt the evening chill descending as he’d walked the short distance from Tribunale to their rendezvous, and had briefly regretted leaving his coat at Alan’s flat. The bar seemed welcoming, and warm.
He nodded a greeting towards them, noticed their drinks were almost empty, and made to the bar. Danny thought he looked pre-occupied with something. For his part, Alan was wondering how Harry and Ana’s first meeting in five years might have gone. He noticed that Yolanda gave a good impression of disinterest but guessed (correctly) that it was an act. He knew she felt a certain loyalty and protectiveness to her sister, and that she, too, would want to know what had gone on.
In fact, as she watched him out of the corner of her eye, Yolanda’s thoughts were genuinely ambivalent. He was still attractive, she thought, in a messed-up sort of way. Why wasn’t he wearing a coat, she wondered? Didn’t anyone tell him it was February? She knew that, if she didn’t exactly hate Harry McFry for what he had done to her sister, then she suspected his motives for abandoning her. He was one of life’s deserters, at heart, she thought. It gave her a secret pleasure – a sense of superiority over her sister, perhaps – to know that, however Alan and her might fight, he had never given even the slightest impression that he wouldn’t be with her for the duration. In time, they might even reach an armistice. Whereas Harry had left Ana as a casualty: for all he had known, or wanted to know, she might even have been dead.
When Harry finally brought the drinks over - a tray of anis, of course – he pulled a stool across to their table and sat with them.
“Yolanda,” he said, nodding as he handed her drink across. That was Harry succinctly saying ‘Well, I was surprised to learn you’d hooked up with Alan!’
“So,” said Alan – almost as if he had been elected spokesperson for the group. “How was Ana?” Harry had anticipated the question (from one of them, at least), and his response was curt and to the point:
“You might have told me.”
Danny saw the mock surprise on Alan’s face. “So, I’m my brother’s keeper, all of a sudden?” Alan asked. “What good would it have done if you knew, Harry?” He ignored Danny’s evident discomfort. Harry wondered how much Alan had told Danny, about Ana.
“Tell me – would you have dropped everything and jumped on the next plane over here, if I had done?”
Harry knew, of course, that Alan was right. He’d left Ana, finally, because he didn’t have the confidence to be with her after the failure of his marriage. He remembered how he’d turned over in his mind (again and again) the question of whether he should – could – be with her. She’d told him how it didn’t matter that he was in debt: “It’s only money, Harry. Money doesn’t matter.”
But it hadn’t seemed that way to Harry. He couldn’t walk away from the financial mess he was in, and imagined it haunting him if he moved to live in Spain. He’d have to learn the language, be dependent on Ana for so much, until he found his feet. She didn’t deserve that. He had thought, at the time, he was giving her more of a life if he walked out of hers. He had loved her – and realized, tonight – that he still did. Maybe, after all, she had been right? He could have been, should have been, stronger.
Now, though, the terrain had changed. Ana was married – even if, he realized, her attitude to her marriage vows might be a little (what was the word?) ‘cavalier’.
Danny watched the ‘discussion’ between Harry and his brother with something more than interest. He was starting to think that Alan McFry might have been right: as an only child, maybe he had got the best deal. He was also starting to worry his Saturday night out in Madrid might not be the exciting introduction to the city he had been expecting.
“You know I wouldn’t have done that, Alan. You know why I left in the first place, too.” Harry hoped that would be the end of it. He was anxious that they moved on, both in subject and, perhaps, in location. Although he’d just arrived, he sensed the group dynamics were against him. A change of venue – something to eat, for goodness sake: he hadn’t eaten anything since the croissant Carrie had given him that morning, and he was ravenous – might improve matters.
But Alan’s uncanny knack of seeming to be able to read peoples’ minds meant that he had another card to play. Sitting back on his chair, he checked first to see how Yolanda seemed: she was relaxed, now, he was pleased to see.
“Oh yes, Harry. I forgot to mention – Carrie rang just before we left…”
Danny wondered who this Carrie was, but realized Alan had been talking to her when Yolanda came home. He saw the blood drain from his partner’s face and wondered, briefly, whether Easyjet had a Sunday service from Madrid to Liverpool. Whatever the ticket cost, it had got to be better than watching this circus of bizarre fraternity.