Caroline saw the cars as she pulled up at Bridgeport Academy, the private school where literally all the children in the Colony attend before heading off to boarding school or in some cases, Switzerland. The school gate is the ultimate battlefield, where the wars between the working mothers and the stay-at-home moms are fought. And you can often tell who is who. The working mothers are the ones who are constantly in a rush to drop off the children and dash off to the boardroom. The stay at homes are the ones who hold court by their cars or on the steps, never in a rush and with looks of disdain at the working mothers.
‘Morning you.’ Kelly saddles up beside Caroline, shepherding her brood along. Her children are in the same class as Xander and Olive and are friends. The children start to jabber about what grand plans are on their schedule for the day, whilst their mothers keep up the rear and catch up.
‘How are things with the MIL?’
Caroline rolls her eyes. ‘Don’t remind me.’
‘Still?’ Kelly sounds incredulous.
‘And what’s worse Xavier thinks I’m at fault because I confronted her about the shit she pulled with that bitch.’ Caroline drops her tone at the use of the profanity before word gets round the colony that she is, in addition to being an incompetent wife, an unfit mother.
‘Did he say that?’
‘Not in so many words but we are…I don’t know.’ Caroline shrugs. She and Xavier have not talked much about that frosty lunch or since. And she doesn’t like the atmosphere between them.
‘Speaking of bitches.’ Kelly motions to the top of the steps where Bernadette is holding court with her cohorts. Bernadette sees Caroline, she says something to the others and as one they turn to look at Caroline and Kelly, more at Caroline before saying something and giggling like the idiots they are.
Caroline shakes her head as they make their way past them into the school. ‘So juvenile.’
‘Okay you munchkins, be good.’ Kelly says to the children once they are in front of their homeroom.
‘We will.’ They chorus giving their parents hugs and kisses before making their way into class under the watchful eye of their teacher.
‘Are you alright?’ Kelly asks looking sideways at Caroline as they make their way out of the building.
‘I don’t know.’ She shrugs.
Kelly puts a comforting arm around her friend.
‘Mrs Darling, Mrs Mathews, might I have a word?’ The Head stops them just before they walk out of the main doors.
Caroline and Kelly exchange weary glances, thinking; what have we done now.
‘I shan’t keep you too long.’ The Head allays their worry with a warm smile. ‘I’ll walk with you.’ Together they walk out of the school. ‘I wondered if you would be up for chaperoning the field trip, we could use some more parents on board.’
‘Of course Caroline wouldn’t have heard about it considering she is too busy playing Executive.’ Bernadette who is unfortunately standing close by, quips.
‘It has only just been posted Mrs Darling so it is no trouble if you hadn’t heard.’ Something about the Head’s tone tells Caroline she too is not a fan of Madeleine. ‘Of course I understand if you’re too busy to make-‘
‘Oh no, no Mrs Emerson we will be happy to help out.’ Caroline will be damned if Bernadette gets the last laugh on this occasion. She will only relish the opportunity to point out what an absentee mother she is because God forbid she should have a career.
‘Oh that’s wonderful to hear.’ The Head is delighted, a little too.
‘As Head of the PTA Mrs Emerson, I have a say on who can chaperone what-‘
‘And as Head of this school Mrs George I have the final say period.’ Mrs Emerson’s tone is cold as ice and for once in her life Bernadette has no come back.
‘When is this field trip?’ Caroline asks.
‘You cannot possibly make it on such short notice. I know Xavier is always very busy on the weekend-‘
‘Considering I know my husband’s schedule I will speak for him.’ Caroline dealt Bernadette another slap in such a short space of time. ‘We will be there Mrs Emerson. All of us.’ Caroline looks at Kelly for affirmation.
‘Oh we will Mrs Emerson.’ Kelly has a cheeky smile on her face. She wouldn’t miss it for the world.
Both women walk away giggling like school girls. Whilst Bernadette looks murderously at them. She will not let Caroline muscle in on her territory in this way and as for that Head, she’ll let her know who really runs this school. She is not paying £25,000 per term for each of her three children and putting in the extra time on the PTA, to be so disregarded. If Mrs Emerson will not fall in line, she’ll be pushed out of it. As for Caroline…Bernadette dials from her phone.
‘The Alpine presentation has been moved.’ Alison, Caroline’s very feisty and hyper efficient assistant, kills her good mood with that information when she walks into her Mayfair office of Canterbury and Carter.
‘What and why?’
‘Dennison.’ Is all Alison needs to say.
‘Shit.’ Of course, her arch nemesis Henry Dennison who is hell bent on undermining Caroline’s work, besides being an anal retentive wanker, he also happens to be a chauvinistic pig. A real world class wanker who is unfortunately, very good at his job and like Caroline is a senior VP. ‘When is it?’
‘This afternoon. I’ve cleared your schedule so we can go through everything.’
‘Thank you. Order us lunch please and I’ll see you in ten.’
The Alpine project is a family owned fund set up by the Alpine Family, a very wealthy Canadian family who wanted Canterbury and Carter to manage the fund. Caroline and Henry Dennison are the two on the short list for the project and their proposals have been fodder for much talk around the office. The presentation was not meant to be for another day but Dennison has obviously done something to sweeten Marc Sanderson, their boss.
‘I have your husband on line one for you.’ Alison says over the speaker phone.
Surprised, Caroline answers. ‘Hi darling.’
‘What do you mean by signing us up for the field trip this weekend without asking me first?’ Xavier does not bother with the niceties. He’d had a bitch of a morning at a site.
‘I beg your pardon?’
‘The field trip-‘
‘Let me guess, Bernadette called you.’
‘That’s not the issue Caroline you should have spoken to me before-‘
‘Spoken to you? About what? Being a part of our children’s lives? I didn’t know that was a part time position Xavier.’ Caroline snipes back. ‘You may do as you please its up to you. I have work to do.’ With that she hangs up the phone. Now in a very bad mood.
After a long and tedious day at work, a very irritable Caroline is grateful for the peace of home when she drives through the gates. But that peace is killed by the sight of Penelope when she walks through the door. Shit. She’d forgotten to arrange for her step-daughter to be picked up. Amelia is staying with them for the week because Penelope has to travel. By that smug look on her face, she is about to lay one on Caroline.
‘Hello Penelope.’ Caroline knew she messed up so she’ll have to suck this up and take whatever Penelope has for her.
‘I knew you’d forget.’ Penelope seizes Caroline up with such contempt.
‘It’s a good thing you didn’t.’ Caroline snaps before checking herself. ‘I’m sorry. I’ve been very busy-‘
‘We all are Caroline I don’t know why I have to be the only one to remember these things.’
‘Considering she is your child I would expect nothing less. Either way, I am sorry.’
‘Xavier is her father.’ Penelope is venomous, ‘she is his first child and I will not let you push her out of his life.’
Such sentiments shock Caroline. ‘You think I’m trying to push her out of his life?’
‘I know you don’t like her. I see the way you look at her and at me-‘
‘I don’t care much for you Penelope, let’s just get that out there but Amelia is Xavier’s daughter, my step-daughter and I do care for her. Regardless of what you may think, I do.’ And with that, Caroline walks upstairs to check on her children. If she stayed there a minute longer Penelope would’ve been sorry.
On the way out Penelope bumps into Xavier.
‘Hey what’s the matter?’ Xavier saw that look on her face.
‘Your wife just threw the fact that Amelia is just her step-daughter and not her concern, in my face because she forgot to arrange for her to be picked up. And that she doesn’t much care for her.’
‘Caroline wouldn’t say that.’
‘Are you calling me a liar?’
‘I’m saying you must have misunderstood. She loves Amelia.’
‘No she doesn’t and she as much as said that. Look, if its too much trouble for you to have her I can make other arrangements-‘
‘Hold on a second, I never said anything of the sort. Amelia is my daughter and Caroline loves her. Sorry we forgot to arrange for her to be picked up that was both our faults. I’ll talk to her.’
‘What do you even see in her?’ Penelope does not bother hiding her disdain.
Xavier is unappreciative of her tone. ‘Penelope, Caroline is my wife, the mother of two of my children you will respect her and you will not speak of her in that way when I’m around or not.’ He walks off. What a clusterfuck of a week he is having. First his mother, now Penelope. ‘What happened with Penelope?’ Xavier asks Caroline when he walks into their bedroom to see her.
‘Well good evening to you too.’
‘Caroline, don’t get cute.’
‘I beg your pardon.’ There is a warning in Caroline’s tone that Xavier would’ve been wise to heed.
‘She accused me of not loving her daughter because I forgot to arrange for her to be picked up which quite frankly, should not be my responsibility-‘
‘She is my daughter Caroline.’
‘She is her mother Xavier. And we’ve both been busy so why do I have to bear the brunt of it.’ Caroline takes off her shoes.
‘What else did you say?’
‘What did she say I said?’
‘That you implied that you didn’t love her.’
‘And you believe her?’
‘I’m asking you.’ Xavier folds his hands.
‘My point exactly. Don’t push me Xavier, I keep telling you that.’
‘And what exactly does that mean?’
‘You want to take your mother’s side, fine but I draw the line at Penelope. And don’t think I’ve forgotten about the bullshit you pulled today. Or are we not going to talk about that? Do not push me Xavier.’ Caroline walks into her wardrobe, leaving her bewildered husband in their matrimonial bedroom.