Disclaimer: Still not mine, which you all know because if they were mine, I wouldn't have shut up about it yet.
A/N: The idea for this little story jumped into my head a while back and while looking through my fic folder on my flash drive, I realized that this one was almost done. Given that it's r4ven3's birthday today, I decided that was my incentive to finish this one off. Happy Birthday to my friend, fellow writer, and occasional partner in crime. :-)
"Hi. You must be Graham," Ruth said as she approached the young man sitting in Catherine's back garden.
He looked at her suspiciously. "And you're the woman foolish enough to consider marrying my father."
Ruth smiled, not bothered by his comment. "I'm Ruth. Do you mind if I sit here next to you?"
Graham's response was a cross between a shrug of his shoulders and a wave of his hand that clearly indicated he didn't much care.
"Catherine tells me you just started a new job at an auto repair shop. Congratulations," she added.
"Umm, thanks. He won't be impressed but I enjoy the work and it's something I'm good at."
"Don't underestimate the value people place on finding a good mechanic they can trust. I know very little about car engines so I'm at the mercy of people in your profession to be honest with me. The next time I need advice about my car may I call you?"
Graham narrowed his eyes at her. "You don't even know me."
"You say you enjoy your job which you're good at and Catherine told me about how you fixed her car. That means I know you better than any other mechanic. So may I call you?"
Graham still looked sceptical about the situation but eventually nodded his head.
Ruth smiled in response. "Thank you. I'll get your details before I leave."
"And if not, I'm sure my father can have someone down at spooksland look it up for you," Graham remarked.
Ruth nodded. "Yes he could but I'd prefer to get it from you," she said. Conversation died momentarily as both looked around the small but neat garden. The weather was slightly cool so most people at the party chose to stay indoors but a few windows were open, allowing the sounds of celebration to escape.
"Do you know Simon well?" Ruth asked.
"I guess," Graham responded. "He's joined Catey and me for dinner a number of times. They had tickets for a football match a few months back but Catey wasn't feeling well that day so he asked me to join him. We had a good time. He told me then he was planning to propose so I'm glad it's over. I didn't want to ruin the surprise for her," he said.
Ruth noticed that his face softened when he spoke of his sister and she was glad the two of them were close. "You must have done well because from what she said, she hadn't a clue this was coming. I'm happy for them; they seem very well suited for one another."
Graham nodded in agreement. "Speaking of engagements, how long have you been engaged?"
"About two months. It wasn't a planned event like what Simon did, but it was lovely all the same. Your father was nervous, though I can't blame him given that the first time he asked I said no."
Graham did a double take at that. "Really? You shot him down once before and he stuck around?"
Ruth laughed gently at the comment. "Your father and I have a long and somewhat strange history, but yes, he asked me about two years ago and I said no. There were times I regretted saying no in the weeks and months after that but it was the right decision at the time."
"What changed?" Graham asked.
Ruth looked at Graham and could see that it was a serious question; he wasn't just engaging in polite conversation. "Many things. Our relationship, whatever it was when he proposed, went downhill in the months afterwards. It wasn't until I thought he was going to be killed by one of his officers that I understood that I really did want to be with him."
"Ah, so you're a spook as well."
Ruth smiled. "I was for many years. Anyway, following that incident your father was suspended and we weren't allowed to have contact, so we wrote letters to each other and Catherine was our messenger."
Graham grunted and Ruth stopped speaking. In response to her unasked question he added, "I'm not surprised he used his daughter to circumvent the rules when he was suspended."
"Catherine was not in any danger and your father would never willingly do anything to put her or you at risk."
His expression seemed to indicate he didn't quite believe her.
"The messages were coded within books of classic literature. Were Catherine to have been searched before or after meeting with either of us they never would have found a written letter, just books. If we thought that she was at risk we would have stopped immediately." Ruth paused for a moment to breathe. "It turned out to be a good thing because your father and I both had difficulty discussing our feelings when we were face to face but writing letters allowed us to work through many of the issues we had. Once we were allowed to see one another again, things improved briefly until an issue at work blindsided us. I took a position with the Home Secretary's office and shortly thereafter the proverbial shit hit the fan. A young man intent on revenge tried to kill your father but nearly killed me instead."
That revelation surprised Graham. "Seriously? Are you okay?" His eyes raked up and down her body looking for any sign of injury or disability.
"I am serious and so was the situation. It was touch and go for several days as to whether I would survive. Once I was out of the woods your father retired. I'd been in the process of buying a cottage in Suffolk so I recuperated in London at your father's home initially and when the sale of the cottage was final we moved there. I'm fine now, fully recovered, but it took several months. We used to walk along the coast to help me build my endurance and when I was recovered we kept walking. It's been good for your father's health as well."
Graham didn't have a response and Ruth decided to let him direct the conversation. She knew that he and Harry hadn't spoken for quite a long time before today and she hoped this could be the start towards a new chapter in their relationship.
"So when are you getting married?"
Ruth didn't let the surprise show on her face at the question. "We haven't decided, and now that Catherine and Simon are engaged, we'll have to see what their plans are. I don't want to do anything that would conflict or interfere with their wedding. We'll probably do something small with just a few friends and family." She paused for a moment before voicing the idea that came to her. "Will you come?"
"Will you come to our wedding?"
"Why do you want me there?"
"You're family. Your father has talked about his lack of relationship with you." She anticipated Graham's interruption and held up her hand. "Please, let me finish. I'm not here to try and magically fix anything. I love your father without reservation but that doesn't mean I think he's perfect. While we've not worked out any details about the wedding, I know it would mean a lot to him to have you and Catherine at the ceremony. I'm sorry, I know I've dropped this on you, but will you at least consider it? If not for him, then for me, your soon to be wicked step-mother?" she added with a smile.
Graham laughed at the last sentence before nodding. "For you, I will think about it."
Ruth laughed as well before rising from the chair. "I'm going to grab my phone so we can exchange contact information. I'll be right back," she said before disappearing into the house.
A minute later Harry caught her as she was about to step into the back garden. "Where have you been hiding?" he asked before kissing her.
"I've been out back chatting with Graham. I asked him to consider coming to our wedding," she added.
"And what was his response?" Ruth heard the doubt in Harry's voice and knew he was expecting something negative.
"He's going to consider it," she said with a smile.
"He does know I'll be there, right?"
Ruth laughed and reached up for another kiss. "I knew I forgot to tell him something."
Harry laughed in return and kissed her again.
"Will you come out and join us?" she asked.
Harry paused. "In a bit; Catherine and Simon are already talking wedding details and Jane has shared her ideas for a huge wedding. I know that's not what Catherine wants and she can speak for herself but I want to stick close for moral support. I'll come out later if that's okay."
Ruth squeezed his hand. "I'll see you in a while. I love you," she added before giving him another kiss.
She returned to her seat next to Graham all the while trying to get to the correct screen to add in his contact information.
"He doesn't want to join us?" he asked casually.
"He will soon. Apparently your mother is sharing her thoughts on the virtues of a big wedding so he's providing Catherine some moral support at the moment," she explained.
"I wouldn't be too worried for Catey; she'll set Mum straight and if Mum doesn't listen, Catey will threaten to get married somewhere like Palestine, where she knows our Mum would never go," Graham explained.
"Ah, well I hope it doesn't come to that."
"It won't. Catey's perfected the art of letting Mum speak her mind and then doing whatever she wants anyway," he said with a smile.
Ruth nodded in understanding. "Can I ask you something personal? If you don't want to answer I'll understand and if you do wish to answer I hope you'll be honest."
Graham locked eyes with her and after a few moments nodded his assent.
Ruth took a deep breath before speaking. "Are you interested or willing to establish a relationship with your father? Before you say anything, he has no idea I'm doing this. I know I'm not asking an easy question and I'm not suggesting that the lack of a relationship is your fault. Your dad has told me that he wants to try and I'd like to know if he should try. If you have no interest in doing so, please let him or even me know so he doesn't bother you with something you don't want. He'll be disappointed but I believe he will respect your wishes on this."
Graham raised his eyebrows and smirked. "That was a mouthful."
"Yes well sometimes I get on a roll and don't know when to quit. I know it's a lot to ask and if you need time to think about it, I understand. You can call or even text me an answer," Ruth noted.
Graham nodded his head in response and Ruth decided it was a victory that he hadn't immediately told her to sod off at the idea.
Nothing was said for a few minutes until the noise level from inside the house increased briefly. Both Ruth and Graham looked over to see Harry stepping outside to join them.
"Hello. May I join you?" he asked, waiting for a response before moving towards a seat. All three of them knew the question was for Graham even though not directly addressed to him.
"Sure," Graham said, his voice even.
Harry pulled the seat to Ruth's left slightly closer to hers before sitting. "Thank you," he replied before reaching over and squeezing his fiancée's hand.
"Do Catherine and Simon have their wedding planned or will they be running off to Bora Bora for a beach wedding?" Ruth inquired.
Harry smiled. "No, I think the plan is still to have the ceremony here in Britain. Jane shared some of her ideas for the wedding but Catherine was very diplomatic in letting her mother know what she did or didn't want and Jane seems to have accepted that, which is good." He watched as Ruth and Graham exchanged a knowing look.
"Care to enlighten me?" Harry asked, keeping his tone light. He was surprised when it was Graham that spoke.
"I told Ruth earlier that Catey would do just fine standing up to Mum about wedding ideas," he stated.
Discussing the wedding helped ease the trio into a light conversation. About 15 minutes later the wind picked up and not long after that the rain started at which point they decided to decamp and move into the house. Graham disappeared to the front of the house to say goodbye to his mother and step-father while Harry and Ruth hung back in the kitchen. A few minutes later he popped his head in.
"Hey, I'm on the early shift tomorrow so I'm going to take off. Ruth, it was good to meet you and I'll text you about that thing we discussed. Dad, nice to see you again. Take care of Ruth, she's a good one," he said.
Ruth smiled at his comment. "It was good to finally meet you, Graham. I'm sure I'll be speaking with you soon," she added.
Harry glanced at his fiancée with a curious look but didn't say anything, instead choosing to smile at his son's kind words. "Nice to see you as well, Graham, and thank you. Take care," he added, not wanting to push his luck with his son.
They heard Graham exchanging goodbyes with Catherine and Simon before the door closed firmly.
"Care to tell me what the cryptic talk between you and Graham was about?" Harry asked. Ruth knew the light tone of voice was a mask for the seriousness of the question.
"Just taking the opportunity to get to know my future step-son better," she replied as she wrapped her arms around Harry's waist and embraced him.
Harry mimicked her gesture and pulled her close. "Have I told you lately how much I love you?" he whispered into her ear.
She pulled back slightly and kissed his cheek in response as Catherine and Simon entered the kitchen.
"Can you love birds keep your hands off one another long enough to discuss weddings and timing and who wants to do what when?" Catherine asked as her father and Ruth separated from one another.
Harry glanced at Ruth who nodded in agreement. "We can stay," Harry responded as Catherine steered Ruth into the sitting room for more wedding talk. Harry and Simon exchanged a look of resignation as their respective partners chatted excitedly ahead of them.