Aidan Flynn met his father for the first time on his 16th birthday.
In what Aidan was to discover was true Jerry style, he turned up completely unannounced at the front door just after breakfast, having only made the decision to visit the night before. Unlike Holly, Aidan had always known who his father was and, thanks to a faded photograph his mum had left behind when she moved to Greece, he also had a vague idea of what Jerry looked like. When he approached the frosted glass of the front door that morning and saw the blurred outline of someone very tall and very dark, Aidan felt his heart take a distinct leap, almost as if he knew exactly who it was on the other side.
All he knew about Jerry was what his mum and nan had told him, and over the years Aidan had pieced together an image of his father as a passionate but irresponsible man. What his mother described as ‘untameable’, his nan dismissed as ‘immature’, but to Aidan he remained a stranger. Eventually, though, he had stopped asking questions. It upset his nan, so why bother? Jerry had never been a part of his life, and so there was nobody for him to miss.
So, when Aidan sat down on the old sofa in his nan’s front room and looked his father in the eye for the first time, all he really felt was intrigued. The love was to come later, but for now all Aidan had were questions. And, as it turned out, Jerry was more than willing to tell his son anything he wanted to know.
They started at the very beginning.
‘Did you know your mum was only 18 when she got pregnant with you?’ Jerry asked Aidan, his foot tapping restlessly against the pink rug on the lounge floor.
Aidan nodded slowly.
‘It happened during our first year at art college,’ he recounted. ‘We met at a party, and she just blew me away, you know? She had this amazing hair, the colour of cinnamon, and I watched her for ages from across the room. She seemed to me to be like a bird that had been caged all her life, and now she was flying free.’
Jerry paused as he saw the expression on Aidan’s face.
‘Sorry,’ he said, braving a smile. ‘I should have mentioned that I’m a poet in my spare time.’
Aidan ran his eyes over his father’s unkempt curly hair, his battered leather jacket and the numerous holes in his socks. The boots he’d left out in the hallway had jangled with buckles as he crossed the threshold. It was obvious to anyone that Jerry Flynn didn’t work in an office, or any place where a man was expected to look clean cut.
‘Savannah told me that she’d been kept under virtual lock and key while she was growing up.’ He grinned sheepishly at Aidan’s nan, who had just shuffled in with a tray of tea and biscuits.
‘I think perhaps that was why she let an eejit like me chat her up,’ he continued. ‘She was intent on making up for lost time, so she told me. She wanted to party.’
Aidan looked across at his nan in time to see her flinch slightly at Jerry’s words. She was taking an awfully long time to pour the tea.
‘I was a bit less naïve than your mother,’ Jerry went on, his eyes finding a spot on the wall just behind Aidan’s ear. ‘At that time, everyone was in and out of each other’s beds – me included. But with Savannah it was different. It was…’
‘What?’ Aidan was quick to ask, earning himself a stern look from his nan. She’d finished dealing with their tea and was now settled in her chair by the window.
Jerry smiled nervously at each of them in turn before he continued.
‘I spent my days back then reading poetry and painting flowers,’ Jerry shrugged. ‘Of course I thought I was madly in love, and things between us were intense right from the start. She used to say that she loved the way I looked at her, as if she was the most wonderful and beautiful thing I'd ever seen.’
Aidan blushed. There were a few girls at school that he fancied – a few had even let him kiss them – but he’d never experienced anything like love before. He tried to picture his mother as Jerry described, so free and wild and incandescent with love, but it was hard to fathom.
‘I admit, we weren’t careful all of the time,’ Jerry added, causing Aidan’s nan to cough into her mug of tea. ‘That was foolish of us, but we felt as if we were untouchable. It’s like that when you’re young and in love, I suppose.’ He looked to Aidan for confirmation, but only got a shrug in return.
‘When Savannah told me she was pregnant, I’m ashamed to say that all I felt at first was anger. The way I saw it, all my hopes, dreams and ambitions had been ripped away from me.’
He looked so shamefaced as he admitted this that Aidan felt compelled to reassure him. ‘You were only 18,’ he reminded Jerry.
His dad nodded, grateful, lifting his tea up to his mouth but failing to take a sip.
‘Savannah was distraught. She said her parents would murder the both of us,’ Jerry continued, shaking his head. ‘I wasn’t too sure how mine would react, either. As far as they were concerned, I was on the path to becoming a famous artist – I had it all planned. I'd had it all planned for years. You weren’t part of the plan,’ he said simply, raising his shoulders in an honest shrug.
Aidan said nothing, just tried his best to imagine what it would feel like to be expecting a baby with someone, another life that depended on you so entirely. It was a frightening concept.
‘There was no question of Savannah not having you,’ Jerry assured him. ‘But there was no way she could stay at art college, not once she’d confessed what had happened.’
Again Aidan glanced in trepidation at his nan, but she didn’t look angry. On the contrary, she actually seemed riveted by Jerry’s version of events.
‘We tried to make it work,’ he continued, ‘sneaking phone calls to one another in the middle of the night and writing letters. One weekend, I even took a train out here, but I wasn’t allowed into the house.’
There was a distinct bitterness in his delivery, and Aidan squirmed with discomfort.
‘I was very angry about that at the time,’ Jerry went on, addressing Aidan’s nan this time. ‘In yours and Larry’s minds, I was the man who'd led your precious daughter astray and therefore I wasn't fit to be a father. It was made clear to me that you would raise the child yourselves, as a family – and that I wasn't welcome.’
An awkward silence settled across the room as this truth took root in Aidan. He felt a mixture of emotions: anger at his nan for standing in the way of his relationship with his father, dismay at his father for not fighting harder, and a surprising stab of pity for his mother, who he suddenly wished was here with them.
‘Don’t blame your grandparents,’ Jerry hastened, looking straight at Aidan. ‘I thought that nothing could stand in the way of your mother and me, but in the end I think I was relieved to have been pushed out. I wasn’t ready to be a dad or a husband; I let you both down.’
‘Savannah wasn’t ready to be a mum, either,’ Aidan’s nan said then, her voice small as she turned towards him. ‘She did her best, but the maternal bond was never there in the way she wanted it to be. I could see what was happening, but I tried to ignore it.’
She sighed heavily now as the memories dragged themselves up from whatever part of her mind she’d buried them in. Aidan was aware of tears prickling in the corner of his eyes, and took a very deep breath.
‘She seemed to be numb most of the time. It was so strange, like she was there holding you or feeding you, but the real Savannah wasn’t even in the room. There was nothing behind her eyes. She’d stick you in your playpen and leave you wailing away as she painted up in the attic. I would come home from work and find you all alone. It was heartbreaking.’