Maximus Zavros had seated Theo in the chair on the left of his own at the head of the table. Sophie ushered Tina’s mother to the chair next to Theo’s and to the right of her own chair at the foot of the table. Ari guided Tina to the chair opposite Theo’s, putting her next to his father before sitting beside her.
As soon as they were all seated a man-servant appeared, bringing two platters of hors d’oeuvres. Another followed, bringing jugs of iced water and orange juice.
Ari’s father turned to her, pleasantly asking, ‘Can I persuade you to try one of our local wines?’
She shook her head. ‘No, thank you. I prefer water.’
He looked at her mother. ‘Helen?’
‘I’m happy to try whatever you suggest, Maximus. I’ve tasted two of the wines that were sent to my room and they were quite splendid.’
‘Ah, I’m glad they pleased your palate.’ He signalled to the servant to pour the chosen wine into glasses while he himself filled Tina’s glass with water and Theo’s with orange juice. He beamed a smile at his grandson. ‘Ari tells me you can swim like a fish.’
‘I love swimming,’ was his enthusiastic reply.
‘Did your Mama teach you?’
Theo looked at Tina, unsure of the answer. ‘Did you, Mama?’
‘No. I took you to tadpole classes when you were only nine months old. You’ve always loved being in water and you learnt to swim very young.’ She turned to Maximus. ‘It’s important for any child to be able to swim in Australia. There are so many backyard pools and every year there are cases of young children drowning. Also, we live near Bondi Beach, so I particularly wanted Theo to be safe in the water.’
‘Very sensible,’ Maximus approved, nodding to the pool beyond the pergola. ‘There will be no danger for him here, either.’
That was just the start of many subtle and not so subtle points made to her throughout the evening, by both of Ari’s parents. They were clearly intent on welcoming their grandson into their life, assuring her he would be well taken care of and greatly loved. And not once was there any hint of criticism of her for keeping them in ignorance of him until now.
She fielded a few testing questions from Maximus about her own life, but for the most part Ari’s parents set out to charm and Tina noticed her mother having a lovely time with Sophie, discussing the forthcoming wedding and marriage in general.
After the hors d’oeuvres, they were served souvlaki and salad which Theo had informed Ari on the boat was his favourite meal. Then came the birthday cake and Ari reminded Theo to make a wish as he blew out the candles—all five of them in one big burst. Everyone clapped and cheered at his success.
The cake was cut and slices of it were served around the table. It was a rich, many layered chocolate cake, moist and delicious, and Theo gobbled his piece up, the first to finish.
‘Will I get my wish?’ he asked Ari.
‘I hope so, Theo. Although if you were wishing for a horse like Maximus, that might be asking for too much.’
‘Is wishing for a Papa too much?’
Tina’s hands clenched in her lap. Her lungs seized up. The silence around the table felt loaded with emotional dynamite.
‘No, that’s not asking for too much,’ Ari answered decisively.
Her mother leaned over and pulled Theo onto her lap, giving him a cuddle. ‘You miss your Papou, don’t you, darling?’ She gave Sophie a rueful smile. ‘My husband died a year ago. He adored Theo. We didn’t have sons, you see, and having a grandson was like a beautiful gift.’
‘Yes. A very beautiful gift,’ Sophie repeated huskily, her gaze lingering on Theo for a moment before shooting a look of heart-tugging appeal at Tina.
‘I think with Ari giving him such a wonderful time today.’ her mother rattled on.
‘Ari is very good with children,’ Sophie broke in. ‘His nephews love being with him. He will make a wonderful father.’
Ostensibly she was speaking to her mother but Tina knew the words were for her. Maybe they were true. He might very well be a wonderful father, but being a wonderful husband was something else.
‘Maximus and I very much want to see him settled down with his own family,’ Sophie carried on.
‘Mama, don’t push,’ Ari gently chided.
She heaved a sigh which drew Tina’s mother into a string of sympathetic comments about young people taking their time about getting married these days.
Tina sat in frozen silence until Ari’s father leaned towards her and asked, ‘Who is managing your family restaurant while you are away, Christina?’
She had to swallow hard to moisten her throat before answering, ‘The head chef and the head waiter.’
‘You trust them to do it well?’
‘Yes. My father set it up before he died that both men get a percentage of the profits. It’s in their best interests to keep it running successfully.’
‘Ah! A man of foresight, your father,’ he said with satisfaction.
Tina knew he was thinking the restaurant could keep running successfully without her. ‘It needs an overall manager and my father entrusted me with that job,’ she said with defiant pride.
‘Which is a measure of his respect for your abilities, Christina. But as a Greek father myself, I know it was not what he wanted for you.’
His amber eyes burned that certain knowledge into her heart. There was no denying it. Her father had not been against his daughters having a career of their choice but he had believed a woman was only truly fulfilled with the love of a good husband and the love of their children.
It hurt, being reminded of her failure to live up to his expectations of her, but the big word in her father’s beliefs was love, and Ari did not love her. She faced his father with her own burning determination. ‘I have the right to choose what I do with my life. My father respected that, as well.’
‘I don’t think the choice is so unequivocal when you are a mother, Christina,’ he shot back at her. ‘The rights of your child have to be considered.’
‘Papa …’ Ari said in a low warning voice.
‘She must understand this, Ari,’ was the quick riposte.
‘I do,’ Tina told him flatly. ‘And I am considering them.’ She lowered her voice so as not to be overheard at the other end of the table as she fiercely added, ‘I hope you do, too, because I am Theo’s mother and I always will be.’
She would not allow them to take over her son. She would concede visits but knew she would hate every minute Theo was away from her. Not all their wealth and caring would make any difference to the hole that would leave in her life until he returned to her. Tears pricked her eyes. Her head was swimming with all the difficulties that lay ahead.