Chapter Two

Catherine's picture

Life had always been good to Greg, but if he should be really honest, he hadn't been particularly good when it came to living it. Most people would say he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth; and it was true. He had never felt hunger or missed out on anything. His father wanted his children to have what he never had so he worked hard and became very successful. The truth was that Greg had done neither.

His parents were Greek immigrants and arrived in England during the Second World War. His father, Antonio Kotsiopoulos, still used to tell stories about how hard his people suffered during the German and Italian occupation.

"My parents, like so many others, decided to find a better life for their family." He always started in the same way and Greg always knew what would come next.

"I was just a young boy. They brought me to the harbor in the middle of the night. There were Italian soldiers everywhere. We took the boat to the only free country we could think of at the time, that is why we came to England."

Greg had heard those stories so many times. When he was a kid, he fantasized about the adventure of escaping from the nasty Italian soldiers. When he was a teenager the stories made him bored, the feeling of adventure disappeared, and the soldiers were more an annoyance than a real threat. When he became a young adult, the stories were a burden, they stood for the Greek guilt trip his parents hung over his head to make him walk the straight and narrow. Greg didn't like it, and it increased the distance between him and his heritage.

But the stories weren’t the only thing that created a gap between Greg and his parents. His grandfather had started with nothing, and from there he built a small business. His father was destined to take over the business, but he did much more than that. In his father's skilled hands, the business grew to an international enterprise and Antonio acquired a very large fortune. Both his father and grandfather were hard-working men with a clear goal in front of them. Greg hadn't inherited the hard-working gene; he knew it was only his parents' money that kept him on the right side of the poverty line.

None of his three older sisters were expected to take over the company; it was not the Greek way of doing things. When he finally was born, the longed-for son, his destiny was sealed before he even had a say in it. The company was his legacy and for Greg that was the scariest thing in his life, a reality he didn't want to face. Greg had tried to break those seals his entire life; he had given his parents more heartaches than anyone in the family thought was possible.

Some people said he was a loser; others referred to him as a rich playboy, and his mother, Daphnis, sighed and said,

"God moves in mysterious ways and I have faith in the Lord that he knows what he is doing. Though I do not understand the path Gregarious must walk."

She always used his Greek name. He always used his English one. Just another way to break the burden of tradition, which lingered heavy over his head.

***

Perhaps Greg had accomplished more than he gave himself credit for. He eventually did graduate from a prestigious Oxford university with an honorary doctorate in economics. He knew it wasn't his scholarly merits that kept him there but his father's money and the university's need for a new library roof.

Greg had mixed feelings about his time at Oxford. On one hand, he was allowed to be himself, the British guy whom he wanted to be. On the other hand, he'd met some snobbish people there who looked down on him for being a Greek immigrant, though a very rich Greek immigrant which made him more tolerable. 

When Greg finally finished his education, he decided he needed a break. He wanted to see the world and travel. It was a long and heated discussion.

"You have spent nine years at Oxford," his father said. "Most of the time on a break. I do not understand why you need a break from a break,"

"I've been studying," Greg replied. You wouldn't understand, he thought. Greg had too much respect for his father to say it out loud. You never went to the university. You don't know what it's like. His father didn't respond, instead he wrinkled his nose when Greg used the word studying.

"It's not that uncommon actually to travel after you are finished with your degree," Greg continued.

Antonio still didn't say anything; he just observed his son and sighed.

It was Greg's mother who finally persuaded his father.

"Maybe this is a good idea after all," Daphnis said.

"Travel for a while, see the world. It is good to learn about other cultures when you are young. We did not have that opportunity when we were your age, everything was so different after the war."

Greg sighed. Here we go again, he thought to himself. Here we go again.

A few weeks later Greg went on his life's big journey with some of his friends. They started with the Mediterranean, then continued to Asia and the US. His father believed that he would settle down when he came back. The problem was that Greg didn't show any signs of that, eight years later he still needed a break so he continued to travel and his parents continued to pay his bills.

***

In an attempt to persuade him to settle down, his parents bought him a flat in central London, not far from their Knightsbridge home. Greg moved in, but he didn't spend much time there. It was more a place to load and unload luggage between his travels, though he continued to bring his laundry back to his parents’ house. 

Then his life took a strange turn, the one thing that shouldn't have happened - happened.

It started out as a nice Sunday morning with an unusually good weather. Greg avoided the phone and his mother’s phone call, she always tried to persuade him to come with them to church. They lived on opposite sides of Kensington Gardens, the church was on Greg's side. On a nice day like this, his parents usually took the Broad Walk to church, the main walkway through the park. This way Daphnis and her husband almost ended up on Greg's doorstep. So this Sunday Greg did what he always did when he was home on a sunny Sunday, played hide and seek with his parents.

That morning the porter buzzed and Greg almost cursed before he hit the button. It wasn't his parents though, a young woman was looking for him. According to the porter, the woman had been there a few times. She was insistent that she knew him, after some hesitation Greg let her up to the apartment.

Greg opened the door before she knocked. He didn't want to let her into his home. She was small and had bleached hair and heavy make-up. She looked like most of the women he'd met, and he vaguely remembered her.

"I'm Stella," she said. "Don't you remember me?"

"Of course I do, Stella," he answered and put on his charming smile. Stella, Stella, he thought. Who the hell is Stella?

Somewhere among his dizzy memories he remembered having a small fling with her some months ago.

"Can I come in?" she asked. "You're standing in the doorway as if I'm a complete stranger to you."

Greg didn't want to let her in, this was his sanctuary. He never brought women into his apartment. He still didn't know why she stood at his doorstep, but he regarded himself a gentleman, so he took a step to the side and let her in.

"Nice place you have," she said and looked around.

"I thought it would be larger though," she added.

Greg shook his head.

"No need, I don't spend that much time here. Do you want something to drink."

"No, thank you." Stella walked through his hallway and into the living room.

Greg didn't really know what to do, and he usually solved situations like that with a drink, so he headed for the table.

"Hope you don't mind me taking one," he said, pouring himself a whiskey. He turned around, leaned against the table and gazed at the young woman who sat on his couch.

"And what can I do for you, Stella?"

"Well." The young woman glared at her hands.

"I guess there's no easy way to say this." She sighed. "I'm pregnant."

Greg didn't understand her at first.

"And why are you here?" he asked.

Stella looked up at him.

"I mean I'm pregnant with your child."

In that moment Greg's world stopped. She said what? He had to repeat the words one more time in his head. She is pregnant? Greg froze, squeezing the glass of whiskey in his hand. He couldn't think straight. He couldn't find anything to say. He just repeated one word over and over again in his head. Pregnant?

Stella stared at him as if she expected him to speak, but Greg was too occupied to notice her. Eventually, she couldn't stand it.

"Say something," she whispered.

Greg still didn't answer; he drank the whiskey and reached for the bottle. After the second tumblerful, Greg finally spoke.

"Are you sure it's mine?"

Stella didn't answer him; she just nodded.

"How can you be sure?" Greg's said it way too quickly. Stella started to cry.

"Of course I'm sure," she said. "What do you think of me? I love you, you know."

Love me? Greg thought. How the hell can you believe that? I don't even know you, so how can you love me? Who are you?

Greg didn't answer her.

"You took care of me."  Stella sobbed. "I thought you loved me too; I wouldn't have slept with you if I hadn't believed that."

Maybe it was the shock, maybe it was the whiskey, but Greg couldn't help it; he grinned.

"I don't even remember you," he said. "And I'm definitely not interested in a baby."

Stella's crying increased.

"We didn't have anything," he continued. "It was a small amusement, nothing more. I'm not your meal ticket."

"You don't have to be cruel," Stella yelled at him, still sobbing. "Do you think I want to be pregnant? If you think this is about money, then screw you"

"Well then that's settled, I suggest you leave now." Greg's voice was sharp and Stella's tears became even more intense. The young woman rushed up from the couch and to the front door. Greg saw the world in a strange haze.

What just happened? Greg's eyes followed her when she flung the door open and rushed through it. She didn't close it behind her. She can't be serious about this, can she? This must be a set-up. Was it Delvin who played him a joke? Stella's tears seemed too real for that.

She must be a very good actress, or? He stopped. Greg didn't comprehend what had been said; he needed time to think, to understand.

That was cruel. He could hear his mother’s voice in his head. She used to say it when he was a kid and chased his sister's with his squirt gun. This wasn't the same but Daphnis had left an imprint in her son; never be cruel to women. I know, I know. He knew it wasn't the right thing to do and without thinking his upbringing and manners took over, and he followed Stella out into the hallway.

"Wait," he said and stopped her as she reached the elevator. "Are you sure about this, I mean that it's mine?"

Stella didn't answer him, just nodded. Greg needed to think, and he knew they needed to talk.

"How can I get in touch with you?" he asked. Stella’s eyes widened and her tears started to fall again.

"But you have my number," she said. "You put it into your phone."

"Wait here"

Greg went back into his apartment. He had his private mobile, the one his family and closest friends used, and then he used different disposable ones with women. Things were easier that way, less attachments. Since this was a few months ago Greg knew he had changed numbers since then, so he grabbed a pen and paper from the table and went back to the elevator.

"Write it down here." He gave her the pen and paper. "Your name and were I can get in touch with you."

Stella quickly scribbled her number and address.

"You promise you will call?" she asked and looked up at him just as the elevator's doors opened.

"No," he said. "But someone will, probably my lawyer."

Before she had the chance to say anything else, Greg pushed her into the elevator and hit the button.

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