Rachel and Des drove to a country pub for lunch.
“What’s up, Rachel?” he asked her after they’d ordered. He sensed an uneasiness in her, so unlike her usual cheerful self. “Something’s not right. Have I done something to upset you?”
Grasping his hand over the table, she smiled into his eyes.
“Of course not,” she said. “It’s just . . . I promised her I wouldn’t say anything.” She suddenly became angry. “But it’s not right. It’s not fair.” She took a deep breath. “Do you know your mother has made a complaint against Bethany?”
Des looked shocked.
“Bethany? But why on earth would she do that? Mum always says what a wonderful podiatrist Bethany is. She has gentle hands, she says. She’ll even wait for treatment so she can have an appointment with her.”
“Bethany told me not to say anything, but she’s convinced your mother made the complaint because she thinks you and Bethany are dating. It was some garbled thing about ‘personal involvement with clients’. Her supervisor’s told her not to worry but even so . . . It’s not nice. And it’s not fair. Bethany wanted me to know in case your mum starts any shenanigans against me.”
Des sighed and rolled his eyes.
“I don’t believe this. She’s done this once before, you know but I thought she’d learned her lesson after I read her the riot act then.” He shook his head. “I’ll have a word with her.”
“But I promised,” Rachel said. Then she was intrigued. “So what happened before?”
“At first it was Mum not passing on telephone messages that Babs left for me. Then Mum told her I’d gone away for the weekend with someone else. Which, technically, I had, but it was business with a colleague who was about thirty years older than me. Poor Babs just got fed up in the end.” He squeezed Rachel’s hand. “I promise I’ll set my mum straight. I don’t want to lose you, as well.”
* * * *
His mother was in her conservatory when Des got home, stitching away at some needlework. She looked up with a smile when he came in.
“Hello, darling. You’re home early!” she said brightly.
“I’ve just had lunch with Rachel,” he said.
“And who’s Rachel?” she asked.
“My girlfriend,” he said, and saw her astonishment at this fact.
“But I thought you were going out
with . . . er . . .” Her voice dried to a squeak.
“You thought I was going out with Bethany from the foot clinic, didn’t you? So you must have been listening in when I phoned her.”
She turned red with guilt.
“And you’ve made a complaint against her, haven’t you? A completely groundless complaint. Why do you do this, Mum?”
Mrs Latimer-Davies wrung her hands together, flustered.
“I just don’t want you to get mixed up with the wrong sort of girl.”
“The wrong sort of girl?” Des exploded. “Bethany is a perfectly nice, respectable girl. For goodness’ sake, Mother, I’m a grown man. I’m a solicitor. I think I’m a better judge of people than you are.”
“So, is Rachel . . .?” his mother began.
“She’s Bethany’s friend, and I’m not letting her within a mile of you until you stop all this interference in my love life. I thought you’d changed after last time.”
“Oh, son, I’m sorry. I promise I won’t interfere if you’re serious about this girl.”
“I am serious,” Des confirmed. “Rachel is special to me and I won’t let you ruin that. What’s more, you need to go to the clinic and withdraw your complaint against Bethany Douglas.”
“But Desmond . . .”
“I mean it, Mother. It isn’t fair to make a groundless complaint. You realise, of course, that Bethany could sue you for defamation of character?”
Mrs Latimer-Davies turned pale.
“I’ll go to the clinic first thing tomorrow, Desmond, I promise,” she said anxiously.
“I . . . I just wanted to protect you.”
Des sighed wearily. He sank down on to the cane sofa beside her and took her hand.
“Mum, I’m a grown man. I don’t need protecting not from Rachel, or Bethany, or anybody. I know you only do it because you care, but I hope this’ll be the last of it.”
She had been hanging her head, but now she straightened her shoulders and gave him a weak smile.
“It will, I promise.” She sniffed and gave a little laugh. “Your father would have given me a real talking to for interfering like this, and quite rightly, too. You’re just like him, you know, Desmond. I’m very proud of you.”
He lifted her hand to his lips and planted a kiss on the back of it.
“That’s the spirit, Mum.”