“I’m going over to Dublin for a conference next week,” said Anthony Merrick at breakfast one morning. “Pat, do you want to come with me as co-driver?”
Patrick Merrick, proud possessor of a very new driving licence, went pink with pleasure. “I’d love to, thank you Dad!”
“Why you can’t fly like civilised people,” Helena Merrick grumbled. Patrick laughed. His mother’s dislike of ferries was as legendary as his father’s dislike of flying, to the extent that Continental holidays usually started with her flying to Paris, or wherever, while he and his father drove. But this would be the first time he would be able to be a co-driver.
“What will you do in Dublin while your father’s busy?” his mother asked.
“I’m sure there are plenty of museums and sights to keep me busy,” Patrick replied. “I want to look round Trinity College, too, in case I decide I want to go there.”
But a few days later, in the car with his father, Patrick said, diffidently, “Dad, do you suppose Ginty would meet me if I rang her up and asked? I know her stables aren’t far from Dublin, and I want to apologise to her. I think I was partly to blame for her going off the rails like that.”
“Must you?” asked his father. “Yes, I suppose you must. It wasn’t entirely your fault, of course; Ginty made some bad choices, too. Arguably more than you did. Yes, if she’ll see you, I think an apology would help both of you. But you aren’t going to get back together with her or anything like that, are you?”
“Absolutely not!” said Patrick, with conviction. “I don’t quite know what I thought I saw in her, but whatever it was, it’s not something I want to repeat.”
“You will when you meet the right person,” his father reassured him.
Patrick had still not managed to totally outgrow his shyness and it was not until the evening following his arrival in Dublin that he plucked up courage to find the telephone number for the stables and ring up to enquire for Ginty.
“Could we meet briefly for coffee somewhere? I think we have unfinished business, things we need to say to each other.”
Ginty hesitated. “I can’t get into Dublin very easily. Could you drive over to Delgany? There’s a wee café there would give us some lunch, and I can get away then. It’s about 45 minutes’ drive from Dublin – no, wait, do you drive? If not, there are buses.”
“Yes, I passed my test a couple of weeks ago. Tell me how to get to the café, and where I can park.”
They were both slightly early at the café, and the first few minutes were taken up with finding a table and placing their orders. “The soup’s grand here,” said Ginty, “but I’d not recommend much else. Soup and a roll will do me.”
But eventually the moment arrived when they ran out of small talk.
“So what did you come for?” asked Ginty, feeling that Patrick would probably never get to the point if she didn’t push him.
“To apologise,” said Patrick. “It looks as though I messed your life up, and I’m really sorry about that.”
“You, messed my life up? No, Patrick, surely if anybody messed anybody’s life up, I messed up yours. I was the proximate cause of your getting expelled from school, you remember?”
“But would you have run away from home if you hadn’t been unhappy after we broke up? And it’s not as if we didn’t have loose ends from that, too.”
“Nicola, you mean?” Ginty asked, perceptively. “I never realised until much later how awful we’d been to her.”
“Were we? In what way? You might as well know that she and I are – well, not exactly an item. It’s sort-of complicated. No, I was meaning I was cowardly, breaking up with you like that.”
“And you’d have done it to my face how, exactly? You know what you are.... always avoiding trouble. Like this whole Nicola thing; we just slipped into a habit of ignoring her, so she felt you and she were no longer friends, but as soon as I was out of the picture, you just expected her to take up where you’d left off.”
“Which she did....”
“Then more fool her, and so I shall tell her if I ever go home again.”
“But that’s really what I wanted to apologise for. I seem to have blundered so that you can’t go home now.”
“No, my choices were entirely my own. Yes, I was upset when we broke up, and because of that I made some really bad choices, and then I had a nervous breakdown, but I can’t blame you for any of that. At that, if I hadn’t been upset over a school friend’s being away all term, I wouldn’t have phoned you so often, and none of this would ever have happened. And you wouldn’t have been expelled.”
“I would, you know! The school knew I really wasn’t a good fit with them, and would have got rid of me after O Levels anyway. So I ended up at Broomhill, and on balance that was a Good Thing, I think.”
“You’re enjoying it, then?”
“I don’t know that enjoying is exactly the right word; but it’s definitely bearable, and I do rather like boarding, I must say. Everything done at exactly the same time each day, and a place for everything, and everything in its place. Not always easy, but it’s structured, and I find I like that.
“What about you, though. Are you enjoying your new life?”
“Loving it,” said Ginty, and that was so obviously true that Patrick was conscious of a deep sense of relief. He may or may not have been partly responsible for Ginty’s banishment from home and family, but if she was happy, that made all the difference.
“But don’t you miss Trennels and the family?”
“Not really. Ann writes every week, and she’s coming out to stay with me for a fortnight in the summer. Mum writes sometimes, and I expect I could go home if I wanted, but I don’t want. I gather there was such a massive row over Peter’s deciding to leave the Navy and do his A levels at Colebridge Grammar that my misdemeanours were rather forgotten about!”
“Seems odd that your family minded so much about Peter; it’s not as if he was the eldest son.”
“Which I think is part of the problem. If he wants to farm, where is he going to do it? Giles is the heir, and when he retires from the Navy he’ll probably want to take over at Trennels. Oh well, it’s not my problem, and frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn!”
Patrick was slightly shocked. Part of him had always known that Ginty was selfish, but this attitude seemed especially callous. He couldn’t resist a slightly spiteful dig: “So what about your education? Are you ever going to get any qualifications?”
“Not academic, I don’t think,” said Ginty, unfazed. “I’m training for my Assistant Instructorship – British Horse Society; everybody has that if they want to do anything with horses. It’s really hard work, though, but lots of practical stuff. Talking of which, I’d better be getting back; it won’t do to be late for the afternoon session.”
Patrick rose. “I’m glad we were able to talk. I’m also glad that what seemed like disaster at the time has turned out for the best for both of us. Good luck, in whatever you do.”
“You too,” said Ginty, and gave him a quick, horse-smelling hug before turning to open the door of the café. As she crossed the car park, his last sight of her was when she turned and gave him a small wave as she got into a rickety Mini and drove away.