About This Tale
Part Three of Seven. A single mother gathers her brood for school, while a charming stranger prepares to step into their lives….
Part Three: Happy Families
These kids will be the death of me.
I say it every morning, and every morning I believe it’s worse than the one before. How far we must have come! It was easier when Gabby was a toddler and Mason was starting school. Now they both need to be up and out, and chaos reigns. I push thoughts of Mason’s impending teenage years to the back of my mind, and hope his little sister watches every minute of them when they arrive. I hope she watches, and takes it all in, and decides when she hits thirteen that she isn’t going to be as much of a prick as her brother will surely have been. I live in hope.
At least she won’t have a younger sibling to annoy like he has. Or maybe… No. I push that to the back of my mind too. Too much to do. Sandwiches, P.E. kit, bluetooth headphones… The trappings of today’s school kids. It’s enough to think about, without going there.
I’ve pondered on it too long now, though, and my mind sticks. Sticks to him. Was it too soon? What is too soon? I don’t know anymore. Twenty-five years of marriage teaches you a lot about life and the world, and everything you think you’ll ever need to know about relationships – except how to navigate a brand new one when your partner is gone. So here I am, Peppa Pig lunchbox in hand, contemplating if my new found love is really just that. Or something else? I wasn’t the type of person to have a “something else” before and I don’t know if I am now.
The kids breeze around, no concept of the whirlwind they are leaving in their wake. I’m glad of it for a moment as, inevitably, any thought of romance just leads me back to him… The one true him any of the three of us have known. I’m proud of how far we have come in the past few years. Losing their father was the worst thing that could ever have happened to these two beautiful little creatures – but look how strong they are now. And look what they have turned me into.
I never expected to be a single mother, overnight. I doubt anyone ever does. Nothing could prepare you for that so I suppose the ‘overnight’ part is irrelevant. We just dealt with it. With love and passion and strength and togetherness… And a shitload of mothering from friends and family. We all needed it, and we all appreciated it, and it is why we are here now.
That support system brought us so far, and we picked up the baton and ran with it from there. This is why I worry. I wonder if they’ve become accustomed to it now – they’ve dug in and accepted that it’s us versus the world, and this is how we push on and on. It feels selfish of me to try to foist another man on to them – a new man, inescapably their new father figure, if never ever their new dad.
Of course that is all self-defence. It’s a wall I’ve put up. If I can convince myself that I’m doing them wrong by letting this guy into our lives, then I’ll be resolved to cut him off. That’s a perfect excuse to let him go, and tell myself that it is how it must be. But it’s all bluster. I’m terrified of letting him – or anyone – in now. I gave myself up, head and heart, to the man I wanted to be with forever… I don’t know if I have anything else left to give.
How do you lose a football boot? It can only be worn for one thing, it is only ever used twice in a week, and yet here he is, pulling apart my tidy cupboards for it yet again. Another Tuesday morning. The doorbell gives me a fright, just as I’m about to dish out a motherly berating. Lucky boy.
It’s only Noah. He’s anxious, as ever. In fact he’s worse than ever. He’s such a lovely little soul, but he worries and doesn’t listen, and worries some more. He has been an absolute angel in helping me get this business off the ground, and I can’t thank him enough. He accepts it with a smile and sometimes a blush, and a nod of the head. His accent always gets a rise out of me. For a long while I wasn’t sure if it was French or Italian, and he would clamber through sentences in English as if they were an assault course. But a super sweet and charming one.
He finally gave the game away last week, when he came round and asked if I’d do him the honour of making him a cake. He was full of blessings when I said of course I would – he was a fundamental reason why I was making any money out of the baking business, it was the least I could do. His eyes were alive that night, his speech stumbled and he uttered three tiny words which gave it all away.
“Merci beaucoup, mademoiselle Amanda,” he almost whispered. I honestly thought he might cry, and had to restrain myself from hugging the poor thing. I didn’t want to set him off. He’s such a sweetheart. But he does worry. And he never listens properly. Always shuffling around, uncomfortable in his own skin it seems.
“I did say it would be ready for lunchtime, Noah,” I smile at him. “I have the kids to sort in the mornings, it’s a madhouse as usual”. He smiles back, and mutters an apology.
“I just want to check how ah… the…. You have everything you need? I can bring things when I shop?” he asks as the kids finally rumble down the stairs, bags packed, coats on, ready to go.
“No, don’t worry,” I reassure him “I have everything prepped and ready to go. Would you like to see the design? I finished it last night?”
He nods and smiles again and I tell the kids to grab their shoes, we are leaving in less than a minute. I glance back and see his nervous shuffle around the kids, letting them get to their shoes with a breathless “sorry, sorry”. Bless him, he doesn’t know what the kids say about him. They are little darlings, I swear, but they can come out with some stuff!
I don’t know what it is that they just don’t get about him. Maybe they find his struggles with the language a little bit jarring – they haven’t been abroad before and they don’t really know anyone who even speaks another language, never mind has it as their native tongue. It makes me laugh how they misunderstand things he says, and look to me for answers.
It does give me pause for thought though. I’m over-analysing, most likely, but there’s a chance they just see this stranger – this nice, smiling, sweet little soul– as a man who makes their mum laugh and brings her flowers. He even brought jewellery once. I hadn’t the heart to tell him that it was too much – as much as I find him an adorable thing, he is most definitely not my type. Maybe I’m shallow, but looks are important to me, in some way, and I just don’t see him in that way at all.
I’m not entirely sure he saw it that way either, if I’m honest. Just as I can’t be sure that the kids are picking up that same vibe and maybe that is why they reject him. It makes me reluctant to tell them about any of the real stuff that is going on. If they react negatively to some perceived admirer, then what will they make of clandestine dates, and sleepovers that they don’t know about, with a man they have never met, but will have to one day. I mean, they can’t live at their grandparents’ house every weekend. At least I don’t think so….
I grab the sketches for the cake from the kitchen and return to the hallway by the front door. It’s cute that he has ordered it for his grandma, and as it’s the first mention of any family ties he has here, I’m glad that he came to me for it. This baking business has kept me busy and probably helped my sanity over the past few months. His help in promoting it with his online expertise has been invaluable.
“I hope you like it, I think I’ve managed to nail the style you said you wanted?” I say as I hand him my sketchbook. His face lights up with a beaming, gap-toothed smile.
“Parfait!” he says, and the kids do that dumb-looking-up-at-me thing again. I laugh and ignore them.
“You really like it? I have time to change it if you…?”
“No, no. It is… exactly. Exactly as I imagined,” he leans in and kisses my cheek in the most awkward way. “Lunchtime, I will see you,” he says and he turns to leave, ruffling the kids’ heads as he goes by – prompting another look from my now scruffier-looking children.
“I’ll be home in an hour or so and then straight to work on it. Can’t wait to get to it!” I tell him as he opens the door and lets himself out with another cute “Goodbye”. I urge the kids to say goodbye back, and give a little wave myself, and then he is gone.
“Mum! He is so weird,” Mason tells me before I can even think.
“Oh leave him alone, he is just different,” I tell him. “He’s more scared of you than you are of him.”
“That’s what you say about Mrs Bellingham’s dog…” Gab shoots back. She’s surely too young to be giving me backchat, but there’s just another fine example in a growing list.
“Both of you hush up and get over here. You need a brush through your hair before I let you leave this house,” I change the subject, back to business. Keep them moving along, just like we have been all these years.
As I run the brush through Gabby’s hair I stop for a second.
“What have you been doing with this hair, little miss?” I say, admonishing her.
“Nothing! Why? What have you done to it?” she admonishes right back.
“I’ve not done a thing… But look,” I grab the offending strands from the back and show them to her in the mirror. “It’s all shabby and uneven. Have you tried to cut this yourself?”
“No… I wouldn’t… What…” she starts to reply but I’ve got no time to get into it now.
Honestly, these kids. They’ll be the death of me.
to be continued