Sunday, 05 April 2020

Love is...

Love is...

A short story for Mothering Sunday by author Julie Roberts, from Caversham

NINA LOUKAS dropped her silk wrap on the bed. Naked and bronzed, she picked up a jar of cream, scooped the expensive jelly on to her fingers and spread it over her belly. There were still a few stretch lines she’d like to erase.

She posed with her hands high above her head and looked at her reflection in the mirror. Pregnancy had not changed her; she was still beautiful, tall, dark haired and sensual – the mistress of Hektor Panos, one of Athens’ richest men.

Nina slipped the wrap back on. She was going to pamper herself today with a massage, a new hairstyle and, if she had time, a new dress from one of her favourite boutiques.

A cry from her son made her hurry through the connecting door into the nursery. She gently picked him up and laid him over her shoulder.

“There, there, my sweet. Mama is here.” Nina rocked her son until he settled. After she laid him down, she stroked her finger over his head, a frown creasing her forehead. The landing door opened and his day nurse came in shaking a bottle of formula milk.

“Eron’s still fretful, Maria,” said Nina. “I’ll be back by four, any problems phone me.”

“I will, Nina. Have a nice day.”

This cliché always irritated but the girl was a gem and she said nothing to upset her.

Thirty minutes later she drove out of the underground garage of her Chelsea apartment.

Nina relaxed as the masseur’s hands stroked her back. Lying face down after so many months was wonderful and she was enjoying every moment as his fingers circled and kneaded her shoulders.

“Fedor, I think a few more minutes and then a steam bath,” she said. “Will you ask Rosa to make sure she is free for my facial afterwards?”

“Of course, Miss Loukas. I will go as soon as we are finished. We’ve missed your visits over the last few months. May I ask how your little son is faring?”

“Eron is the most beautiful baby ever born and will grow to be the most handsome man in the whole of Europe. How can he be otherwise when he has two Grecian parents?”

She hadn’t seen Hektor for two weeks. He was in Geneva negotiating a deal with old Altair Kairis but he was back this afternoon. Everything she was doing today was for Hektor tonight.

She felt a little tap on her bottom.

“All finished, Miss Loukas. I would suggest at least three times next week, to get you toned back into shape.”

“You make it sound as if I’ve gone to flab, Fedor. My little Eron was not a large baby — my Mama was most disappointed.”

“Never,” said Fedor bowing, “you are a Greek goddess, Miss Loukas, forever.”

“Flattery will get you a large gratuity. Ask reception to add 20 per cent to my account.”

Nina wrapped a large white towel around her and clipped the opening with a butterfly clasp. Fedor opened the door and she walked down the corridor to the steam room.

Knightsbridge was teeming with tourists, all rushing to get their Harrods green bags, even if it only held a bar of chocolate. Nina turned into a narrow street and then through an unobtrusive varnished door. She went up the stairs to the first floor and into a salon adorned with pale silk wall hangings and matching velvet settees. Sitting behind a Georgian table was a petite woman, her dark hair coiffured in a smooth chignon; her blood red fingernails making a dramatic contrast against a black dress.

“Nina, ma chère, at last you are here for something other than the robe de grossesse.”

“Oh, Francine, yes, they are gone. I want something flimsy, feminine, low cut and rose pink. I am going to seduce Hektor tonight, all night. We will not sleep until the dawn,” Nina laughed.

“Shame on me, Madame, but I am Greek and you are French. We can admit all, yes?”

“Oui, Mademoiselle. Come and sit down, I will bring you the robe extraordinaire.”

Nina chose four gowns to try on. Each one was beautiful but the last was what she’d been dreaming about for the last six months.

“I’ll take this one with me now, Francine. Will you have a new wardrobe ready for me to view next week?”

“Of course, I will phone when it is ready. This season’s colours and styles are perfect for you.”

Nina nodded and said: “Thank you, au revoir.”

She hurried out into the street, feeling young again, refreshed in body and soul, yet all she wanted was to go home and hold her son.

The spring day had turned into a starlit evening. Nina closed the curtains and dimmed the lights. An orange glow from the fire reflected off the scallop shells decorating the walls, giving the room a touch of Grecian magic and warmth.

She straightened a napkin on the small round table, adjusted Hektor’s silver knife to match her own. Everything was perfect.

She turned and looked in the large scroll-framed mirror: the rose pink dress was a deception of beauty, its line hiding the little extra plumpness she still had around her hips. Tonight she’d left her girdle hidden away in the dressing room. There was to be nothing to hinder Hektor’s caresses when he arrived.

She opened the nursery door and tiptoed across to Eron’s cradle. She had bathed and clothed him in a new white sleeping suit, the scent of his baby talc fresh and wholesome. He was so perfect. She had loved him from the moment of conception, through those difficult early months, and even when she walked like a waddling duck. She had thought her love could not grow any more but the moment he was placed in her arms her heart had found the extra space for him beside her Hektor forever.

Nina heard the front door open. Her lover was here.

She smiled, and whispered: “Sleep well and long, Eron, tonight is for your Mama and Papa.”

Hektor dropped his brief case on the floor and held out his arms. When he was away, their only contact was a few telephone calls. He never emailed, joking that secretarues’ eyes loved to pry given the opportunity.

She went to him looking like the woman he had met at that magazine launch three years ago. She had walked into that room and a magnetic, unrealistic desire had run through her. But she had held back. He was an icon, a celebrity, married, a father and a Catholic. She could only be his mistress, a hidden love. Yet, guilt had not stopped her. Now they had a son, a second sin, but so be it.

She went into his arms, stood close so he could feel her slimness. She circled her arms around his neck and touched his lips with hers. Words were not needed as he kissed her with a hunger she understood.

“Welcome home, darling,” she whispered.

Hektor held her even tighter. “Yes, home, my dearest.”

As they parted, he looked at her properly. “You are perfect again. And you are wearing my favourite colour.” He ran his finger along the neckline, stopped at the bottom point and slipped his finger down between her breasts.

“It’s just for you, Hektor. But you must need a drink — was everything a success?”

“Yes. Signed, sealed and settled. I’ll have a whisky after I’ve showered.”

Hektor went into their bedroom but did not close the door. She smiled and followed.

Nina sat in the elegant Georgian décor of the consultant’s waiting room. Over the past weeks it had become a place of heartache and fear. Her hands wouldn’t stop shaking as she hugged Eron tightly against her, while he, oblivious to all chanted, “Bear, bear” and bounced his teddy bear up and down.

The door opened. “Dr Milos will see you now, Miss Loukas.”

Hektor was away, yet again. This time she resented his absence. He should be here. Here to help her and his son face the man who might be going to pass a dreadful sentence on their child.

She stood up, Eron in her arms. Her legs didn’t want to move, her heart beat so hard it felt like a pain and her mouth was so dry.

Dr Milos stood behind his desk. He was the image of Savile Row in his dark suit over a white shirt, a perfectly knotted red tie. “Good morning, Miss Loukas. Please, sit down.”

Nina acknowledged with a nod, sitting in one of the green silk cushioned chairs. He didn’t speak and she wrapped her arms around Eron, wanting to protect him from the doctor’s grave expression.

Dr Milos walked round his desk and sat in the chair opposite her. He touched Eron’s hand with his finger.

“I do not have good news, I’m afraid,” he said.

She stared at him, taking in his words, but her mind was like treacle.

“Your son is now over a year old and the tests confirm our fears. I’ll not prolong my diagnosis, he has Achondroplasia, dwarfism of the arms and legs and…” he paused, “I am very sorry.”

Sorry! He was sorry! Her perfect baby was going to be deformed, ridiculed. She couldn’t think. Where was Hektor when she needed him most? Did money mean more to him than their son? In that moment she hated him. He had abandoned her. Had he suspected this result? Had he found out and left her to face this alone?

Eron wriggled and she looked down. She stroked his dark baby curls that she hadn’t cut yet. Maybe the tests were wrong? Maybe they had got muddled up and belonged to someone else? How could this be true? Hektor and she were so normal, so perfect to look at.

“This is not what any parent wants to hear but there is help and advice available,” said the doctor. “I have a package of information for you. But, of course, please ask me anything you wish to know.”

All Nina could think was why? Why my son?

“Is there a cure, any treatment? Money is not a problem. Please, I can take him anywhere, anywhere in the world.” Hektor could pay. He always paid.

“I won’t give you false hope, Miss Loukas. There is no cure. Money cannot buy it for him. I feel it best you understand this now.”

His professional manner softened. “Would you like to go with my secretary and have a moment to yourself? She will make you a cup of coffee. Nurse James will look after Eron.”

“Thank you. Yes. I need time… I need to think, speak to Eron’s father.”

She got up, lifting Eron on to her arm, conscious how small he was for his age. A lump filled her throat, she loved him so much. Had she loved him too much? Was this her punishment for conceiving him out of wedlock? Had God done this? Her whole body was a bag of trembling terror.

The door opened and his secretary came in. Nina let the woman guide her towards the door and Dr Milos’ voice followed her out: “I would like to see Eron next month; then we can decide on a way forward…” The door closed.

The coffee was hot and strong. Nina wrapped her cold hands round the fine china mug and hugged it until her mind cleared. The family life she had imagined with Hektor and Eron would now take an alternative path yet with the same outcome. Eron would achieve his goals and take his place in society, maybe with a stronger personality than any man standing beside him. She looked across at the young nurse playing with him and his teddy bear. Tears slipped down her cheeks. All she could do was teach him how to live.

“Thank you for the coffee, Mrs Wilson. I want to go home now, Eron needs his lunch.”

In the taxi home each time she thought of Hektor her anger grew. She had no idea where he was — his call last week was from Dubai. She would have to phone the hotel there and see if they knew where he was going on to. He would be furious if she contacted his London office, but she had to speak to him, now!

Hektor came to the apartment two days later. They sat on the settee facing each other. Nina gazed at his perfect body, long limbs and the dark wavy hair. His handsome face was tanned and those grey eyes that could show such love for her were full of tears.

“Oh, darling, I should have been with you but life has been very arduous. I have lost so much money; the financial situation is still very precarious. I am holding things together but…” he paused, “there is not a bottomless pit of cash anymore.”

“What do you mean?”

“Eron will need a lot of care, special equipment. There must be special schooling. I… I might have to reduce your allowance. There is my wife and my children to consider.”

Nina lifted her head, seeing his face colour.

“I see. I am the mistress who must come second when things go wrong. Your duty remains firstly to your wife.”

“No. I did not mean that but, Nina, a dwarf child? Fathered by me?”

“Are you accusing me of being unfaithful?”

“I will not belittle myself with an answer.” Hektor’s face flushed crimson.

She stood up and went into the nursery and lifted Eron from his cot and took him back into the sitting room.

Hektor said: “Where is Maria? I should not like her listening…”

Nina raised her hand, stopping him in mid-sentence.

“She is not here; I gave her the day off. Do you think me that stupid? Tell me this is not your son. Look at him closely, while he is still a baby, before he changes too much.”

Hektor got up and embraced them together. “I’m sorry, Nina. I don’t know what I was thinking. Of course Eron is mine. But I won’t be around much from now on. I have a lot of travelling to do, deals to set up and complete. But I’ll try and make sure your allowance stays the same.”

Nina knew this was the beginning of the end.

“Thank you. I think you should now leave your key on the hall table.” She felt him stiffen, then kiss her temple, his tears on her cheek. But the reality remained. He was leaving. A moment later the front door closed.

Nina couldn’t believe Hektor had ended their relationship as though he were withdrawing from a business deal gone bad. Did he see Eron as a never-
ending burden, a threat to his family? She could have pleaded with him, but a rift had already grown between them and would widen. She had put Hektor on a pedestal like a Greek God but he was afraid, a turncoat to his son who had his genes, regardless of how they had developed.

She sat down and Eron snuggled close, his little hands clinging to her. When would he become aware that he was different? She sat up straight; her love for Eron would never falter. She would protect him always for he had been conceived in love by a man she would never forget.

Nina tucked her legs up on the settee and cuddled Eron until he fell asleep. Standing up, she carried him into the nursery and laid him in his cot. There were decisions to be made. She and Hektor had never talked about an end to their affair. She loved him, she trusted him. There was no signed contract for a single penny — he could stop it anytime. Hektor had paid for everything: the apartment, her designer clothes, the spa appointments, the Porsche, plus a very generous allowance. Now, there would only be the allowance. She could go back to modelling, but she hadn’t lost those extra inches needed to get her back on the glossy covers of fashion magazines.

She wandered into their bedroom — her bedroom now — it was all so painful. His presence was there, in the bed, the lover, the man she had thrown everything away to be with. She opened her wardrobe and took out the flowing rose-pink dress.

The silent apartment was like a cloak keeping in the fear that was slowly filling her. What was she going to do? Where could she go? There was only one place where she could plan her and Eron’s future. She would go home to Corfu, to her Greek roots — to her mother — to the villa hidden amongst the cypress trees in the hills. Eron would love the clear sea water, the tortoises that lived in the sand dunes.

Nina held the dress against her and gazed at her reflection in the mirror. She was pale now, a very different woman than what she had been a year ago. When she had worn this dress on that magical night she had been radiant with her hair swept high and held in place with an emerald clip, the colour of her eyes.

Hektor was Eron’s father and he had been her husband in all the duties required of him. She needed no marriage certificate. She loved Hektor and would have been faithful to him until the day she died.

Her gaze burned into her image and the base animal instinct of a lioness surged through her and she whispered: “I will love and protect you, Eron, always.”

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