The Ties That Bind – Episode 9

The main characters from the serial, including Evelyn, Phil and their children Dan and Janie in the garden.

“This is lovely, Mum,” Janie said. “One thing I do miss about being away at uni is home-cooked meals.”

“How many of you share that flat? Four? Are you telling me none of you can cook?” Phil looked at Evelyn, shaking his head in mock despair.

“I despair of the younger generation, don’t you?”

“I think the local takeaways will go bust when she and her pals graduate,” Dan said.

“It’s all right for you, still living at home,” Janie retorted.

“You’ll see what it’s like – if you ever manage to get another job and have to move out.”

Dan glanced at Evelyn, and for a second, she thought he was about to tell them something . . .

“I’m making the most of it – while I’m still here,” he said, helping himself to another roast potato.

It was a sunny afternoon, so all four of them adjourned to the back garden with their ice-cream.

Phil and Janie sat together on the old bench, Evelyn on a folding chair and Dan on the back step.

“This poor old bench has seen better days, hasn’t it?” Janie remarked.

“Yes, it’s looking a bit sorry,” Evelyn agreed.

“All it needs is a lick of paint to smarten it up,” Phil said. “I’d be happy to –”

“Thanks, Phil, but I can do it,” Evelyn cut in quickly.

“I’ve already bought the paint – I just haven’t got round to it yet.”

It hadn’t escaped her that Phil’s eyes kept darting here and there. He’d always loved the garden and she could tell he was itching to get on with the neglected jobs.

The borders and patio were abundant with weeds and the path had overhanging branches of various unpruned shrubs.

Dan was teasing bits of grass from between the paving slabs in front of him.

“It’s compulsive once you start, isn’t it?” Phil said.

“I find it quite therapeutic,” Dan said.

“That’s been proven,” Janie said. “My mate Gill’s studying horticulture and she’s always saying how much it can help ease stress and stuff like that.”

“I could do with a bit of that,” Phil admitted.

“Shall we put it to the test?” Dan suggested. “We’ll all work out here for an hour and see who feels less stressed afterwards.”

“It depends how stressed you are in the first place,” Janie pointed out.

“True, but there’s the added bonus that if four of us do an hour’s work, that’s the equivalent of four hours’ work,” Dan said, “and that’ll stop Dad twitching about the weeds and long grass.”

“You know me so well, son.” Phil gave a good-natured laugh. “But you don’t know your mother.”

He turned to Evelyn, a teasing look on his face.

“You won’t be working in the garden, will you?”

Evelyn couldn’t help smiling.

“When I have three willing volunteers? I’ll put my feet up.”

Phil smiled.

“Just like old times.”

“Look, Dan – buy two bags and get a third half price!” Phil said jubilantly.

“Cool,” Dan murmured. “Does Mum need three bags, though?”

“Maybe not right away, but we might as well get them while they’re on offer.This is brilliant.”

Dan laughed at his father’s delighted face.

“Dad, how can you get so excited about compost?”

Phil chuckled as he handed over his card at the garden centre checkout.

“It’s just that I usually turn up the day after an offer like this ends.”

“OK, but still . . . it’s still just compost.”

“It’s not just about buying compost,” Phil said. “It’s about everything. It’s been great, hasn’t it?”

“Huh? What has?” Dan was preparing to push the cumbersome flat trolley with its precious load.

“Today. All of us together,” Phil persisted, running his hand through his hair restlessly. “It has been great, hasn’t it, Dan?”

“Dad, are you OK?”

“What do you mean? Of course I’m OK.” Phil’s smile was broader than necessary.

“We’ve had lunch, a lovely afternoon together, the garden’s all done. It’s been great. I’m fine.”

Dan looked at him warily.

“You seem a bit . . .”

Phil’s smile faded.

“I said I’m fine, Dan. Now let’s phone a taxi and get this lot home.”

In the taxi, Phil’s good humour returned.

“So, anything on the job front?” he asked.

“Well,” Dan said, “I was going to mention that I did find one –”

“Whatever you do, make sure you enjoy it,” his father interrupted.

“Well, that’s what I’m hoping to do. It’s –”

“Like your mum – she’s happy now that she’s back nursing, isn’t she?”

“She seems to be, yeah. Dad –”

“And Janie’s enjoying her course. She seems to know where she’s going.”

“Uh-huh. Think she always did.”

“It’s important, that. Knowing where you’re going, what you’re doing with your life. It makes all the difference.” Phil patted Dan’s knee firmly.

“Just make sure you choose the right path, son.”

“I’ll try to, Dad.” Dan didn’t try to say any more.

“Say, how about you coming round to my place one evening?” Phil said.

“We can order a takeaway and watch a film or something.”

“Sure, sounds good.”

Dan sat silently for the rest of the journey, watching his father tapping his feet, humming along to the radio and drumming his fingers on the arm rest.

Maybe Dad had drunk a bit more wine than they’d thought, he mused.

To be continued…

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