Thursday morning at 5 o’clock, as another sultry summer day began, the front door of the large, family house shut quietly and a tall, fair-haired young man, carrying a bulging, soft-sided holdall, strode down the few marble steps and along the pathway to the garage doors. He opened the electronic doors using the manual override and waited for the heavy metal doors to slide up and over to reveal the multiple-bay garage. He cringed at the grinding of the motors and glanced round nervously before he strode inside. A few minutes later a car crept slowly out through the doors and along the gravel drive towards the wrought iron gates.
They opened automatically on silent hinges, then closed behind it as the red Ferrari turned right and accelerated, disappearing from sight behind the high, brick walls.
By 7 o’clock there was the usual noisy commotion that announced the beginning of a day in the summer vacation, when the four children were all home from school. There was still a week to go before the family decamped for their annual holiday. This year they were going to spend some time on the yacht, cruising to their recently acquired private island in the Caribbean.
In the sunlit dining room, John Svenson was eating his breakfast and studying his newspaper, oblivious to the whoops and thundering footsteps upstairs which indicated that his two youngest children were up and dressed. As usual, his portable communicator was beside him on the table, flashing to alert him to text messages, missed calls and stock price information.
Peter, his second son, was seated on his left and was reading the sports pages as he munched toast from the silver rack set by his plate. Dressed in a white shirt and shorts, his feet in white tennis shoes, it was obvious where his destination lay and the presence of a collection of rackets by the front door merely served to confirm that deduction.
Sarah Svenson swept into the room. She was wearing a charming summer dress in pastel colours, with low-heeled sandals, and she was smiling. She was determined to be her usual cheerful self even if she acknowledged - to herself, at least - that the cheerfulness was somewhat forced these days.
When the children were away at school, she knew better than to try to get a conversation from John before he went to work, but now they were home and the family was together again, she felt it was their duty as parents to show an interest in whatever their offspring had planned. She had explained this concept to John the day before the children arrived and her husband, after giving the matter some thought for a moment or two, had turned his eyes back to the newspaper with a slight sigh, and said nothing.
She glanced around the table and on receiving a nod of acknowledgement from her husband and a muttered, ‘Hi, Mom’ from her son, sighed with the realisation that she wasn’t going to get any more from either of them. She could hear, only too clearly, the noise of her youngest children rushing about upstairs, and momentarily wondered where her other son was. It wasn’t like Adam to be late for breakfast, although he had been out and about a lot lately, coming home late and being more unforthcoming than usual about what he was doing. She hoped that if the cause of this reticence was a young woman, he had enough sense to be careful.
Not that he can take his father as a good example there… she thought, glancing at her husband with fond amusement.
Sighing, she helped herself to coffee and took her seat opposite John. Neither of the others spoke or even acknowledged her presence at the table. She refused to be cowed by their silence.
“Good morning,” she said brightly.
John looked up over the newspaper and nodded.
“’Morning, Mom,” Peter muttered, his mouth still full of toast.
Silence descended once more. The noise from upstairs faded slightly as the youngsters moved along the building.
Sarah had hoped that Peter might make an effort to say something more to her that just ‘good morning’, but since his return from boarding school he’d been taciturn in the extreme. This was somewhat out of the ordinary as Peter was always vocal in expressing his grievances and arguing his point. However, she knew he was worried about whether he’d got into Harvard, and concluded that this was the reason for his reticence. He was pinning his hopes on emulating his older brother and making the grade at sixteen years of age, but, although the doubt was unspoken, his parents’ expectation was that he would not get in this time. She knew he’d see that as a personal failure and wondered again how on earth to improve the relationship between her eldest sons.
Peter’s competitiveness was made all the more intense by the ease with which Adam seemed to achieve almost everything he attempted. They’d already heard that he’d gained first class honours in every subject he’d taken at Harvard and his proud father had presented him with a vintage classic Italian sports car as a graduation gift, and without the usual cantankerousness he so often exhibited towards his eldest son as well. Just seeing that desirable red trophy in the garage every day was bound to make Peter even more resentful.
This could be a long, uncomfortable summer, Sarah thought mournfully.
She’d barely started on her muesli when the door burst open and the two youngest Svensons tumbled into the room.
John slammed his newspaper down, a warning frown on his brows.
“Katherine! David! What’s all this uproar about?” he growled.
“Momma,” Kitty shrieked, ignoring her father. “Adam’s gone!”
“Gone? What are you talking about, Kitty? Have you been into Adam’s room again?” Sarah shook her head disapprovingly. “You shouldn’t go bursting into his room, especially not this early anyway - ” Goodness knows who you might find in there with him, she added to herself, then drew a breath and continued, “He’s asked you not to do it before now. Anyway, if he’s not there, he’s probably gone out for the day; there’s nothing unusual in that,” she said, although her heart sank as she looked at her daughter’s pale face and trembling bottom lip.
Kitty shook her fair head. “He’s gone – everything’s gone… ll his stuff…” she declaimed theatrically.
“Then he’d have needed a fleet of juggernauts,” Peter said sourly, “and we’d have noticed.”
“It has gone!” she raged at her sceptical brother and turned to her younger brother for confirmation. “Hasn’t it, Davy?”
David nodded; his blue eyes were tear-filled and Sarah noticed for the first time that he was holding a large teddy bear dressed in a leather jacket that resembled that of an early air pilot, right down to the miniature goggles perched on top of its golden-brown head. It was ‘Lindbergh’, her oldest son’s most treasured possession, and Sarah knew David would never have dared take the bear from the room if his brother had been there.
“Davy?” She reached for him and drew him to her side, where he buried his head in her shoulder and reluctantly surrendered the teddy bear to her. “You know Adam doesn’t like you playing with Lindy. You should have left him in Adam’s room.”
“But Adam’s gone and he’s left Lindy here,” Davy sniffed against her shoulder. “I was only going to look after him, till he comes back.”
“He’ll be back tonight…” Sarah began reassuringly.
“No he won’t!” Kitty screamed. “Why doesn’t anyone ever listen to me? He’s gone – all his clothes and his personal stuff – all gone. He’s not coming back!”
She started to cry and threw herself against her mother.
Sarah’s other arm enveloped her daughter and David took the opportunity to reclaim the teddy bear. She looked questioningly at her husband over the children’s heads, a suspicion forming in her mind that maybe they were right. “John, would you go check, please?” she asked as steadily as she could.
She instinctively shied away from sending Peter, the antagonism between her two older boys meant that neither crossed the threshold of their respective rooms these days.
“I don’t have time for this tom-foolery,” her husband snorted, draining his coffee cup.
He knew instantly from her tone of voice that she was in deadly earnest and he glanced at her.
Sarah was an attractive woman and she had a seemingly limitless supply of energy, so you rarely saw her sitting still. Now she sat as rigid as a statue, her face a mask of concern and her grey eyes boring into his like gimlets. If this was true, he knew who she’d blame.
He threw down his napkin, pushed back his chair and strode to the door.
Kitty broke away from her mother and ran after her father, gabbling persistently that she was telling the truth. Sarah, with David holding tightly onto her with one hand and with Lindy clasped in his other, followed them. Peter watched them go with a thoughtful expression on his face.
He took another slice of toast.
The procession made its way up towards the back of the house, where Adam’s bedroom and study were located.
John knocked on the door and abruptly opened it, crossing the small, book-lined study to the bedroom door in a few quick strides, Kitty still at his heels.
That door was already open and as he stepped into the light, well-furnished room, some doubt began to form in his mind. He surveyed the room for a few moments, his daughter standing silently at his side, as if she was stricken again by the aura of emptiness. The surfaces were bare: no brushes, no cologne and none of the usual signs of habitation – apart from his son’s cell phone lying on the bedside table.
He heard Sarah’s step beside him and turned to see her fling open one of the wardrobes. There was nothing in it except the row of tuxedos and formalwear.
Galvanised into action again, Kitty opened a drawer and said triumphantly, “Look, no socks or underwear… I told you – he’s gone!”
John’s eyes met his wife’s in shock. He was speechless at the misery he saw in her face and took a step towards her, reaching out with one hand. She shied away from his touch.
Swallowing compulsively, he eventually managed to speak. “So – he’s gone somewhere. But why is that such a surprise, Sal?” he said in some bewilderment. “He disappears for days on end these days without so much as ‘by your leave’. Kitty’s over-reacting. I’ll call my parents; he’s probably gone there – he so often does,” he added, desperate to stave off acceptance of what he felt must be the truth of the case this time.
“He’d have said,” Sarah replied, a dull ache in her voice. “And he wouldn’t have taken everything.”
“Where’s he gone, Momma?” Davy asked urgently.
“I don’t know…”
She hugged him against her side, like a talisman. David was her ‘little Adam’: his fair good looks reminded her so much of her eldest son as he was growing up and she knew that, as a consequence, she spoilt him and mothered him far too much. Adam had always been too independently minded to allow much mothering – even as a child. There was an independent and stubborn streak in him that strongly echoed his father and contributed in no small part to making the relationship between them a turbulent one. David was far more biddable.
“I do,” Kitty said suddenly. “I bet he’s gone to fly planes with the W.A.S.…”
“Nonsense,” her father snapped. “He’s given up on that idea.”
“He hasn’t, you know,” his daughter retorted. “He’s given up telling you about it – that’s all.”
“Katherine!” John exclaimed angrily.
“It’s true! He was saying to Todd Carpenter the other day, when he was here, that he’d even resigned himself to getting his hair cut…”
“I told him he’d have to do that before he came to work in the company,” her father explained brusquely.
“That wasn’t why he was going to do it,” she answered insolently.
Before the argument could get any more heated, Peter appeared at the doorway, with a letter in his hand. He held it out towards his mother and, seeing the emotion on her face, his voice was genuinely compassionate as he said:
“Mom, Rosa’s just given me this - for you. She said Adam left it with her.”
Sarah took the envelope and realising that she couldn’t trust her legs to support her, sat on the edge of the bed to open it.
The room was silent as she read:
Forgive me for taking the coward’s way out and just leaving a note. I was trying to tell you what I was planning to do the other night, after dinner, but somehow it just descended into another argument with Dad about working for SvenCorp and after that, I simply couldn’t face yet another one. Coupled with all the fuss my going away would have created, I thought this was the better way. I’d made my mind up that I had to leave and I knew delaying things would only make it harder for me and things were already tough enough as it was.
You’ve probably guessed that I’m going to a WAS training camp - a place in Wisconsin. I’ll let you know when I get there. I’m deliberately not taking my cell phone – maybe one of the kids could use it? – or you can give it away – I’ve cleared all the personal data off it. I’ll get a new one, and, in a little while, I’ll try and call you. In the meantime, I guess you can reach me through their office at Atlantic Airport, if you want to. You don’t have to speak to me if you’d rather not – I’ll understand.
I hope you can understand why I’m doing this, Mom. I guess we all have a choice of which path we take in our lives, and I couldn’t face the idea that I might live my life knowing I hadn’t taken what I truly believe is the right path for me. You’ve taught me to be honest with myself and to take responsibility for my actions, so I’m only sorry to be so selfish as to hurt those I love by leaving like this. I don’t regret going.
Whatever you do, please don’t worry about me – I’ll be fine. This is what I’ve always wanted to do and I can’t let the chance pass by without giving it my best shot. If I pass the WAS assessment training well enough I’ll get to be a test-pilot and then maybe you can be proud of me again.
I’m sorry for the uproar this is going to cause, but I’m sure it’ll be less painful than if I’d actually told you what I intended to do – r I wouldn’t have done it this way. Please try to make Dad understand that I’d be no good for the company and tell him – tell him, I am truly sorry.
I will miss everyone.
All my love, dearest Mom,
P.S. Try and keep Davy away from Lindy … I can’t take him with me, but I would like him to be in one piece when I come back! If you’ll have me back, that is?
As she read the final words of the letter, she felt as if her world had constricted to no more than this small room. Her heart was hammering against her ribs and she almost had to remind herself to breathe.
“Momma?” Davy’s quavered appeal brought her to her senses.
Speechless, she handed her husband the letter and, forcing herself to remain calm for the sake of the youngsters, she gently took the teddy bear from David’s hands and gave him what she hoped was a reassuring smile.
Hugging Lindy to her heart, she walked to the window and sat him in his usual place, pausing to stare out across the garden towards the tall iron gates her son had left by, just a few short hours ago. Then, aware of the concerned eyes following her every move, she went over to her husband and took the letter back.
Their eyes met and, as was so often the case, his fell.
“Everyone out of here,” Sarah ordered briskly. “This room is out of bounds as of now, until Adam gets back.”
“It shows no sign that he ever intends to come back,” Peter said, almost successful at masking his delight beneath a grave expression.
“He’ll be back,” his mother said firmly, as she ushered the younger children out. “When he’s good and ready.”
Peter glanced at his father’s face, trying to gauge his reaction to this not entirely unexpected bombshell. He was well aware of the strife between his brother and his father, and often tried to turn it to his own advantage.
John caught his son’s eye and stared back at him.
“He must’ve packed one hell of a suitcase,” Peter said sardonically, and turned to follow his mother.
Pausing in the doorway John stared back into the empty room, already acquiring a sobering air of abandonment.
“You may’ve won this time, Adam, but it isn’t over yet, not by a long way,” he muttered. “One day, you'll come to your senses. You will come back. And then you’ll stand at my side, just as I stood at my father’s and he did with his; just as I’ve always intended you should – and just as you were born to do! It seems I need to give you a little more time..."
Turning on his heel, he slammed the door closed behind him and, taking a deep breath, went to face what he knew would be the furious condemnation of his wife.
In a rest area overlooking Lake Erie, a young man sat in a dusty, red Ferrari munching on a burger and fries. The sun was slipping down towards the horizon and the shadows were lengthening and he was debating whether to drive on to the next town, or look for a motel here: one more day’s driving should get him to his destination.
He screwed up the food wrappers and walked over to a trash can to dispose of them. It was good to be mobile, so he locked the car and took a stroll by the lake. By the time he got back it was too late to drive on, so he drove around the small town until he found a motel and checked in.
Lying on the narrow bed, he sipped a can of soda and channel hopped. On a local network something caught his attention. A voice he recognised, reciting familiar words. He spoke aloud, along with the poet:
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
“Yeah,” said Adam Svenson, as he switched channels. “That’s just how I hope it’ll be for me too.”
Quote taken from ‘The Road Not Taken’, by Robert Frost. Inspiration taken from ‘She’s Leaving Home’ by Lennon and McCartney and ‘Only a Dream’ by Mary Chapin Carpenter.
Another ‘Captain Blue’ back-story; one I wrote many years ago and forgot about until last year when I dug it out, revised it and tried to give it a suitable title. I hope you enjoyed reading it enough not to think I’d have been better forgetting about it altogether…
Thanks, as ever, to Hazel Köhler, beta-reader par excellence, friend and fellow ‘Scarletini’ and to Chris Bishop, without whom we wouldn’t have such a wealth of Scarlet fact and fiction at our fingertips and who I am fortunate to also call my friend.
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