"Louisa?" The name trailed through the front hall, the slight British accent unmistakable. "Louisa?" Florence called again, her form entering the kitchen milliseconds before throwing her arms around her friend in an uncharacteristic show of emotion. "You really are back!" she cried, pulling back to look at her.
Louisa smiled and clasped her friend closer in another hug. "Oh, how I have missed you!" she exclaimed.
The two women laughed, wiping tears from their cheeks. Leo watched them silently from his spot at the table. Florence caught sight of him from the corner of her eye, her face going slack when she turned her full attention on him. "Oh my god," she said, the bag on her arm falling to the floor with a dull thud. "Oh my god, Louisa," she repeated, pulling her eyes away from the child to stare at Louisa in shock.
"Darling, could you run along and go find Baba?" she asked Leo, maneuvering around the table to draw him from his seat and give him a gentle nudge towards the door. He looked between his mother and the other woman with solemn eyes, one eyebrow raised, before rushing out the door, already calling his father.
".....Baba…" Florence repeated weakly, slumping into a chair.
Louisa bustled about, setting tea items on the table, more to give herself something to do with her nervous energy than anything.
"How did you…? When…?" Florence mumbled, then stopped. "At least I don't have to ask who," she said with her usual sarcastic wit, meeting Louisa's eye. She couldn't suppress a slight smile at the remark. "But why didn't you tell me?" Florence continued.
Louisa sank into a chair, covering Florence's hand with her own. "I can't begin to explain how much I wanted to. But please understand I couldn't. I could never find the words to write about him to Spiro." She gave Florence's hands a squeeze then pulled away and began to pour tea. "And I couldn't risk him finding out any other way but through me."
"You didn't think Spiro deserved to know that he had a son?"
Louisa stilled. "I must have missed the 'How to Tell Your Married Lover You Are Carrying His Child Whilst Living a Continent Away During War' section of the parenting magazine." Her words came out fiercer than she intended but she didn't apologize. Florence waited. She sighed and continued. "I did what I felt I had to at the time. It is in the past, we are here now and Spiro knows.” She looked away, then back to Florence. “I feel Theo didn’t completely agree with my decision either, but I don’t see what other option I had available.”
Louisa gave her a look. “Theo and his family took shelter in our house at times. He can be oblivious, but even he couldn’t miss an extra Durrell child running around. Especially…” she gestured with her hand and trailed off.
“One that looks like a carbon copy of a certain Corfiot taxi driver we all know you love?’ Florence finished for her, raising an eyebrow.
Louisa grudgingly smiled. “Something like that, yes,” she admitted.
“Well,” Florence said, settling her tea cup down after taking a sip. “Tell me all about him.”
The smile on Louisa’s face grew wider. “He’s one of the best things to ever happen to me," she began, recounting the depression she fell into upon returning to England, finding out she was carrying Spiro's child, and ending with her decision to come back to Corfu and her fears of how Spiros would react. She took a sip of her now cold tea.
Florence had listened intently while she spoke. When Louisa finished she let out a breath and reached across the table to squeeze her hand, letting her know she understood with no words. "And now that you've returned, things between you and Spiros are…." she raised her eyebrows, letting the question hang.
Louisa laughed. "Wonderful. He took to Leo immediately, and Leo already adores him."
Florence raised an eyebrow, silently prodding her.
"And that, too. We've picked up right where we left off. I was half afraid I'd spent the past five years forming this unrealistic image of him." She smiled at the thought, then turned sober. "Or that he would still be grieving Dimitra and his son…"
Florence cleared her throat and looked away.
"Tell me about it," Louisa implored. "Please."
"By all accounts they seemed to be happy. Happier than they had been….for years," she added, her gaze flickering away from Louisa's. "His son fell ill first, and his wife followed within days. There were so many sick and dying people," she shook her head. "It was all we could do to care for them, the ones who survived were left to deal with their grief." She hesitated. "Spiros changed…after. He withdrew. I haven't seen him truly happy since."
Louisa opened her mouth to respond but was interrupted by the creak of the door. Leo barreled through the opening, Spiros a few steps behind him. Leo immediately ran to Louisa's side and loudly regaled her with his newest findings.
"Leo, darling, I am right here you needn't yell."
Undeterred, he continued, "-and Baba taught me to throw and catch the ball! See?" He flung the ball across the room, catching an unsuspecting Spiros in the stomach.
"Oof," Spiros exhaled.
Leo had the grace to look sheepish. "Sorry, Baba."
"Please, not in the house, Darling!"
Leo scrambled to pick up the fallen ball then stood beside Spiros, pulling his hat over his eyes in embarrassment.
"Hello, Spiros," Florence greeted him.
"Florence," Spiros nodded.
"I hear congratulations are in order."
Spiros placed a hand on Leo's shoulder, face lighting up in pride. "Thank you." He pushed the hat back to see Leo's face. "We'll leave you ladies to catch up." He tipped his head to them and steered Leo back out the door.
Louisa watched them go, a wistful smile playing on her lips. Florence studied her, meeting her eyes when she turned her attention back to her. “Well, I stand corrected,” she said, tipping her head in the direction Spiros and Leo went. After a pause she asked, “And where is Spiros’ other son?”
Louisa sighed. “He is in Athens, with his mother’s family.”
“Ah,” Florence let it drop, immediately arousing Louisa’s suspicion.
“What are you not telling me?” she asked.
“I do not know him well, understand,” she began, leaning forward. “But I have heard that he is…” she struggled to find the right word. “Troubled.”
Louisa blinked. “Of course he is troubled. He’s lost his mother and brother and his world has been turned upside down. Who wouldn’t be troubled?”
Florence shrugged. “That’s all I know.”
“Do you remember the state of my children when we first moved here?”
Florence took a sip of her tea, hiding her smirk.
“Troubled would have been a generous way to describe them.” She pursed her lips together, looking away.
“If ever a woman was up to the challenge of a troublesome teenager, it would be you,” Florence acquiesced.
“Speaking of,” Louisa said. “How is your Adonis?”
“Oh, well,” Florence pushed aside her now empty cup. “Every stage I think it must surely get easier, and every stage I am mistaken.” She smiled. “He is great. Smart, rotten, and growing like a weed.”
“They do do that,” Louisa agreed.
“It is hard enough with one, I am not sure how you manage with four.” She stopped. “Five,” she corrected herself.
Louisa laughed. “I don’t exactly make a habit of lining them up and counting them to remind myself of how horribly outnumbered I am. Plus, the older four are all adults now. More or less.”
“And how is that going?”
She let out a deep breath. “Bigger people, bigger problems.”
“Are you telling me it never gets easier?”
“Hasn’t happened yet for me.”
“And how old is Larry?” she shook her head. “Wait...don’t answer that.”
With a knowing smile, Louisa stood, gathering the teacups to place in the sink. Florence helped, handing her the teapot and sugar bowl.
Out the window they could see Spiros and Leo playing catch in the garden. A worried expression crossed Louisa’s face. “Will the Corfiots accept him?” she asked.
Florence stood beside her, watching. She was quiet for long enough that Louisa cast a concerned glance in her direction. Her friend sighed. “I think so, yes. In time,” she answered honestly.
Her words, though ringing in truth, lacked the reassurance she was craving. Forcing a smile, she turned from the window.
Florence patted her arm in sympathy. “I must be going,” she said, swinging the strap of her bag over her shoulder. “It was so good to see you again. Don’t be a stranger. You can’t hide here forever.”
“Are you sure?” Louisa answered, only half joking. She followed Florence out the door.
Spiro looked over at them. “Do you need a ride back to town?” he asked.
Florence considered, then nodded. “That would be lovely, Spiros, thank you.”
She knelt down to look at Leo. “I have a little boy about your age. You are welcome to come and play with him any time.”
Leo nodded eagerly. “Can I? Now?” he asked Louisa, bouncing on his toes in excitement.
“Not today, but soon.”
The answer dimmed his enthusiasm and he watched with longing as his father started his car and drove away, shoulders slumping when he was out of sight. Louisa walked over to him and laid a hand on his shoulder. He looked up at her and sighed. “I wanted to go, too.”
“I know,” she murmured, taking his hand. She hurt for him, but also wasn’t ready to deal with the villagers’ prying eyes, questions, and judgements.
“You can’t hide here forever.” She turned the words over in her mind. Louisa was no shrinking violet, usually preferring to plow headlong into adversity, but she was also fiercely protective of her children and she was loath to allow anyone to hurt her youngest, even if unintentionally.