After the usual greetings, while Barbara studied Steve, trying to make up her mind about him, they all settled into the cushioned rattan chairs.
“So,” Barbara asked, “How is ‘getting to know you’ getting on?”
Cathy’s chair was next to Steve’s. They looked at each other, smiling, and she took his hand in hers before she asked, “Me first or you?”
“Better you,” he answered and laughed.
Cathy turned to Barbara, “We’re doing fine. We were at the dance last Tuesday. Everybody knows about us there now. Steve and I spoke on the ‘phone on Wednesday night after we’d brought you, Paul and Peter into the picture properly.
We spoke again on the ‘phone on Thursday night. Steve had had a brainwave and suggested that we go shopping together on Friday night because we were going to spend some time at his house on Saturday. I agreed and we filled a trolley together at Aldi. That was an enjoyable learning experience for both of us. So, Saturday we had lunch and our evening meal at Steve’s.
We shared the food-prep, cooking and washing up. By the end of Saturday, I knew Steve’s place nearly as well as this. Then we had lunch together at the Fir Tree today. And now we’re here. What do you think? We’re still talking and laughing together after a whole week.”
Barbara turned to Steve, “Your turn,” she said, “No pulling his strings, Mum.”
Steve said, “I don’t have much to add. I love your Mum more than ever. We’ve talked exhaustively. We drew up lists of ‘red lines’ we’d be watching for in each other – and of things we’d need to work out. That’s going to take time. Paul asked Cathy some interesting questions that we’d not got round to thinking about – and they’re the hardest questions of all.”
“Paul?” asked Barbara, “ he’s not usually one for deep insights.”
“Well he asked some crackers like how much time we’re giving it,” Steve said, “what criteria will need to be satisfied, and what outcomes have we thought through.”
“Well done Paul,” said Barbara.
“We started with the last one – outcomes,” Steve continued, “definitely the hardest of all the things we need to sort out are in that category. It’s just too early yet to make our minds up about some of the issues. We’ll take our time and we’ll consult you, Paul and Peter as necessary as we go along. We’re going to have to do some research and a thorough risk-assessment if, as we hope, we’ll be reaching an ‘all green lights’ situation in every other way.”
“You’re making it sound more like a business merger than an engagement activities plan,” Barbara said.
“Okay, consider this then. The biggie,” said Cathy, ”is where would we live? That would be an irreversible one really. That decision is the cliff-edge one.”
“Wow!” said Barbara, “I hadn’t thought of that. Good luck with that one.”
“It really hit me yesterday, love” Cathy said, “Steve had encouraged me to poke round his house – free rein. I got frightened about what we were doing. We had a good talk about it and recognised that we faced all kinds of risks in any case as we get older . We can’t insure against them all. We’re still plodding on happily and, as Steve says, we’ll face that when we have to – as we hopefully shall.”
“That must be an awfully big decision to take,” said Barbara. It’s not like when Dave and I got married. We were just leaving our parents’ home to set up our own. We had nothing to lose. You too have everything to lose.”
“Yes,” said Cathy, “But everything to gain. When you get down to it, where we choose to live is ‘just geography,’ as someone said in a film I watched a bit back. What we have to think about that’s really different, is you, Paul and Peter.”
“How do you mean?” asked Barbara.
“Do you want to take over again, Steve,” Cathy asked.
“Okay,” he said, “ Suppose your Mum and I decide to get married – and that’s not an easy one, as we’ll explain. The easy option would be for one of us to go and live in the house of the other. Let’s again, assume the option A, that I sell my house, move in here and this house stays in your Mum’s name.”
“What if your Mum dies before I do? Her will would almost certainly pass this house to you and Paul, but I would have sold my house and furniture, and perhaps, put the proceeds partly into any refurbishment or maintenance needed for the house – and the remainder into a joint account of some sort. Half of the money in that account would also have to go to you two – and I would be homeless unless you both decided that I could stay on, say, on a rental basis. But I would no longer have any real security and you would have a sitting-tenant if you wanted to sell the house at some point. Also where would Peter’s share of my assets have gone? Do you see the problem – because that’s the easy option.”
Barbara said, “If that’s the easy option, what’s the worst one?
Steve continued, “Suppose that we both sell up, and use the proceeds partly to buy a new house of our own – a proper fresh start. We’d probably need a chunk of any remainder to make any changes we wanted. Now, a new house, in our joint names is a different animal altogether. Suppose again that your Mum dies first. Wills don’t come into it. Legally I would inherit the house as joint tenant and the whole of any joint account. When I subsequently died, unless my will said otherwise, it would all go to Peter and you’d get nothing.”
“Shit, Mum,” that wouldn’t be fair, “Barbara exclaimed.
“Of course, it wouldn’t,” said Steve. “Your Mum and I would need to seek legal advice together, to work out how to make whatever we decide result in a fair outcome. You should also bear in mind that this house is worth quite a bit more than mine is.”
“Listen, Steve,” Barbara said, “thank you for explaining that so clearly and fairly. Will you promise to keep us all in the picture about what you decide when you’ve had that advice.”
The conversation continued amicably, but shortly after that, Steve left Cathy, Barbara and Emily to talk privately.
“Barbara’s main contribution was, “I just hope you know what you’re doing, Mum.”
Cathy and Steve are opening up to Barbara about the issues they are trying to work out in their developing relationship, so, I’ve opened this episode with a photo of a poppy which is starting to open up in my garden last May. As a featured photo, I’ve chosen another garden theme from last May – a dwarf lilac bush.
For this shot I used my Pentax 36 MP K-1 full-frame camera and a Pentax 24-70 mm f/2.8 lens.
EXIF data were: 1/2000 secs @ f/2.8 and 23 mm. ISO was 100.