Caroline woke up early this morning, earlier than normal for a Saturday. A day when she likes to sleep in. But that was when her husband was still living at home. Xavier will be over later this morning to pick up the kids for swimming and drop off Amelia. That’s the hard part for Caroline, a day alone with her step-daughter. She spent the last two days doing up her room to what she suspected was her taste. She hasn’t spent much time with her to pin down her taste but she’s a teenager, between boy bands and pink walls, it isn’t a far stretch. Caroline sips her cup of coffee whilst flicking through the financial time, not really concentrating on any of what she is reading. She’d heard it or read it before it hit the newsstands.
‘Mama. Good morning.’ Olive walks into the kitchen, rubbing her eyes sleepily. She crawls onto her mother’s lap and rests her head on her chest.
‘Morning sweetheart, did you have a bad dream?’
‘No. I got tired of sleeping.’ Olive says and that makes Caroline laugh. ‘Can we go to Harvey Nichols today?’
‘Not today sweetheart. Remember you and daddy and Xander are going swimming.’
‘Are you coming?’
‘I can’t. I get to spend the day with Amelia. How do you feel about her coming to live here?’
Olive is thoughtful for a moment, and nods her head. ‘I like Amelia. She always braids my hair and lets me play with her crayons.’
‘Good. And Xander? Does he like her?’
‘Yes.’ Olive says, yawning a little.
Caroline kisses her daughter’s head gently, this moment is so precious to her, they are growing up so fast, her children, and she doesn’t want to miss these moments. ‘Would you like some breakfast?’
‘Yes please, scrambled eggs and toast with fish fingers. Can I help you make it?’
‘Of course. Go get your apron and we’ll make a meal of it.’
Breakfast went on a little longer than planned, Caroline and Olive made a full English breakfast. Xander joined in, and Xavier arrived with Amelia so they all mucked in together.
Sitting down together for a meal, like a family and the irony is not lost on Caroline.
‘So Amelia how is school?’ Caroline asks when they are all settled.
‘Its fine.’ Amelia answers.
‘How are you doing in math?’
‘Good. Better. I got a B in my last test.’
‘That’s good. We can go over it later if you want.’
‘I’d like that.’ Amelia says timidly.
Caroline knows Xavier already talked to her about the situation, but she will have her talk with her.
After breakfast Xavier clears the table and does the dishes whilst Caroline gets the children ready for the day with their father. All in all the morning passes without any tension.
‘Can we go on the slides daddy?’ Olive asks as they make their way out the door.
‘No, not the adult slide sweetheart.’ Caroline says in answer to Olive’s question. ‘Xander are you going to have fun?’ Xander has been mostly quiet this morning.
‘Mm hm.’ Xander answers noncommittally. Caroline and Xavier exchange a glance.
‘Hey look at mommy when she’s talking to you.’
Xander does as his father says.
‘Hey buddy, is everything okay?’ Caroline asks her son, kneeling to talk to him.
‘Why can’t you come swimming with us?’ Xander asks.
‘Because I have to spend the day with Amelia. We already talked about this.’
‘So why isn’t daddy staying at home? Tyler said his mommy said her sister saw daddy staying at a hotel and that you and daddy are getting a divorce. What’s a divorce?’
‘Xander, we are not getting a divorce.’ Xavier says to his son. ‘Come on, lets go swim and see your grandparents.’
With the kids safely in the car, Xavier and Caroline have an awkward moment where nothing is said but saying so much in the process.
‘I’ll see you.’ Caroline says with her back turned to Xavier.
As if the moment with Xander was not weird enough, she has to deal with Amelia who has disappeared into her room. Bracing herself Caroline knocks on her door.
A moment. Amelia, nervous and a little afraid, answers the door.
‘May I come in?’
‘Yes.’ She stands aside for Caroline to walk in.
‘Do you like your room?’
‘Yes. Thank you.’ Amelia answers looking down at her feet.
‘We have to talk Amelia.’ Caroline says, taking a seat on her bed. ‘Come over here.’
Amelia does as she is told, still looking down at her feet. ‘I’m sorry.’ She says quietly. ‘I’m sorry that I lied and for being horrible and rude to you.’
‘Why did you do that?’ Caroline asks, in a gentle tone.
‘Because mom said you don’t like me and I had to do everything to make sure you didn’t threaten my relationship with dad because you wanted me out of his life.’
‘Amelia…’ Caroline pulls her closer, ‘your dad loves you very much, he would never, ever let anything like that happen. You have to know that.’
‘Do you love me?’ For the first time, Amelia looks up at her step-mother.
‘Of course I do.’ Caroline answers without hesitation. ‘I love you very much.’
‘Despite everything I’ve done?’
‘It wasn’t all your fault. Although I wish you’d talked to me about things first before you ran away but I love you Amelia. If you believe anything you have to believe that.’
‘I’m so sorry.’ Amelia burst into tears.
It takes a while to calm Amelia down from her fits of tears but Caroline was able to. They spend the afternoon going over her maths homework and mending some bridges.
Later on in the day, Amelia joins Caroline in the parlour to watch TV.
‘Come over here.’ Caroline makes space for Amelia on the couch and between them they eat popcorn and enjoy The Princess and The Frog.
At 7pm, Xavier and the children return home with takeout for dinner.
‘How was swimming at your grandparents’?
‘Fun! Daddy took me to the deep end mommy.’ Xander says, he is much better spirits.
‘And we brought Thai from your favourite place for dinner.’ Olive says already unloading the dinner. ‘Can we eat here?’
‘Sure. What movie do you guys want to watch?’
‘The Lion King!’ Olive and Xander exclaim together.
‘Can daddy stay for dinner mommy?’ Xander asks. Olive is already chatting away with Amelia.
Xavier shrugs, exchanging a helpless look with Caroline. Dinner is not as painful as it could have been, rather, it was fun with all the family. Her family, Caroline realises. This is her lot in life now.
‘How was it with Amelia?’ Xavier asks when Caroline walks him to the car. Olive, Xander and Amelia are sound asleep.
‘It was good. We covered good ground. I think we’ll be good.’
‘She’s your daughter Xavier, there is nothing to thank me for.’
Xavier leans against the car, head corked to the side a little, looking at his wife. ‘I miss you.’
‘Caroline, I miss you. I love you. I want to come home. Please.’
‘What do I need to do? Tell me and I’ll do it. I don’t want to lose you. I miss you.’
‘I miss you too.’
Xavier breaths a sigh of relief, hearing those words from his wife. ‘Let’s go away together. Just me and you, no kids, no work, just us.’ And because he knows Caroline was about to raise a series of objections he says, ‘we’ll leave the kids with your parents or my parents or our friends. They’ll be fine. I just want to spend time with you my darling.’
Caroline rolls her eyes, ‘fine.’
‘I’ll pick you up on Friday.’ Emboldened Xavier pulls her in for a kiss, lingering just a little bit longer.
Inside, Caroline jumps for joy.