‘What about this one?’
‘It’s too high you’ll fall over.’ River is out shopping with Wyn. It’s the school dance next weekend and he’d survived the nightmare of dress shopping now they are in the shoe department. Heaven help him. But this is the last torture before he is off to Paris with Ava Sinclair, a trip he is really looking forward to actually. What a comforting thought.
‘Daddy it’s not high and they are Giuseppes.’
River rolls his eyes, at least they are not as offensive as the pair of Louboutins she’d tried on earlier. His baby girl is growing up way too fast. When did that happen? Wyn is the carbon copy of her mother, right down to the overbite. At fourteen she is tall for her age at 5ft 10″, intuitive, and smart. Ralph takes after him, but they are both good children. Credit to their upbringing.
‘Can I try it on?’
She hands the shoe to the assistant assigned to them before taking a seat beside her father. Shoe shopping in Harvey Nichols on a Saturday is not his ideal way to spend the day but she is enjoying it.
‘Have you made up with your brother?’ River asks.
‘Wyn he’s your brother.’
‘And you’re his father.’
‘I can fight my own battles I don’t need you fighting them for me.’
‘I’m not doing that. But here’s the thing she hurt us too and try as you might to protect us from the fall out, we are still hurt by what she did. We took a decision not to tell you that she was pregnant because we knew it would hurt you. Look,’ Wyn faces her father, her expression stern, ‘we understand what happened, mummy, Uncle Raymond, everything. We do know and for the most part we are mad at her, but the only reason we did not take sides is because that is not what you would want us to do.’
‘I don’t. she’s your mother and whatever happened she loves you. Sweetheart a marriage works both ways, I could’ve been a better husband and I wasn’t.’
‘Daddy stop. I don’t know how a marriage works, but I do know that you didn’t cheat on mummy and leave us.’
‘I wouldn’t let her take you. I fought and won custody of both of you.’
‘We know. But you know what I mean. I know how Ralph is, he feels inclined to be the peace maker, and for the most part I have let him be that but going to the christening was a step too far for me. Sorry we didn’t tell you, but we didn’t want to feel hurt by it, and we thought she might be the one to tell you not grandma.’
‘Your mother and I don’t have the best of relationships. I don’t give her room to say anything to me so she mightn’t have felt comfortable telling me. I don’t blame her.’
‘Are you okay?’
‘I should be the one asking you that question.’
‘We are okay daddy. Are you?’
‘I’m fine.’ He doesn’t know how to answer that, but he hates that his children feel the need to protect him. He pulls her close and kisses her wild mane.
‘Daddy!’ Wyn laughs, leaning into her father.
‘Mummy look. Its Mr River.’
Ava and Ollie wander into the shoe department of Harvey Nichols surprised to see River and someone she assumes is his daughter, sat on one of the chairs.
‘Hello Mr River.’ Oliver ambles over to River, his friend and gives him a big hug.
‘Hello Oliver how are you?’
‘You can call me Ollie all my friends do.’
‘I’m honoured. It’s good to see you.’ He stands to greet Ava. ‘Hi.’
‘This is my daughter, Wyn, Wyn this is Ava Sinclair. She works with me, and this is her son Oliver.’
Wyn stands to greet the two of them. ‘Hi Oliver, it’s nice to meet you.’
‘Nice to meet you too. And you can call me Ollie.’
‘Thank you.’ Wyn shakes Oliver’s hand offering a bright smile. She looks between her father and Ava and cannot help but twinkle. ‘Nice to meet you Ms Sinclair. Your mum is the soprano right?’
‘She is.’ Ava did not expect a teenager to be a fan of her mother’s.
‘I take classical music and we just did an exam on a piece of hers and I saw her in Lucca over the summer. She is sublime.’
‘Thank you I’ll be sure to tell her. Shoe shopping on the weekend?’
‘Yes. It’s the school dance and he wants me to wear clogs.’ Wyn rolls her eyes.
‘No I do not.’ River says.
‘Could you please save me?’ Wyn pleads, faux desperately.
‘I’d love to if it’s not an imposition.’ Ava laughs a little. Wyn is all limbs and hair, with a resemblance to her mother, Ava assumes, but she has that River smile; warm and welcoming, when he deigns to use it. A smile he has on now, upon seeing her and her son.
‘Not at all. You’d be saving me too.’ River offers her his chair before taking the one next to Oliver. ‘Shoe shopping on a Saturday as well?’
‘Mummy took us to get ornaments for the tree and then we went to Harrods for ice cream, because I lost a tooth.’ Ollie says, he leans closer and whispers in River’s ears, ‘she thinks I don’t know the tooth fairy is not real.’
‘Hey, I don’t want you growing up so fast.’ She tickles him and he giggles infectiously.
The assistant comes out with the shoe selection for Wyn and lines them up.
‘Okay, I need your honest opinion and daddy you can sit this one out.’
‘Sure.’ River raises his hands in defeat.
‘I’ll be the perfect adjudicator.’ Ava says.
‘Tell me what you think?’ one by one Wyn tries on the shoes for Ava.
‘The Giuseppes are lovely but so are the Pradas.’
‘They have a chunkier and more rugged heel.’
‘Try it on with the dress. Do you have it with you?’
‘That’s a great idea.’
Together Ava and Wyn head into the changing room to try on her dress with said shoes.
‘What do you think?’ Wyn asks looking herself in the mirror her face breaks into a smile.
‘I think you look beautiful. What do you think?’
‘I would never have thought it’d work. My dad would probably not want me to wear it because he feels the heels are too high.’
‘It’s a three-inch heel which is perfectly acceptable. The shoes do look incredible with the dress. Can you walk in them?’
‘Yes. They are very comfortable. Let’s go show him.’
Ava leads the way.
River looks up seeing his daughter and Ava coming out of the fitting room and his heart stops, his baby girl is all grown up.
‘What do you think daddy?’ Wyn twirls for him. Several people stop to admire her outfit.
‘You look beautiful.’
‘Do you approve of the shoes?’
‘I do. They look really cool with the dress.’
‘Ms Sinclair gets all the credit I would never have thought to put them together.’
‘I’m sure you would have. You look gorgeous.’ Ava says.
‘Thank you. So daddy? Yes?’ She is hopeful.
‘Yay!’ Wyn hugs her father tightly, giving him a kiss on the cheek. ‘Thank you!’
‘Thank you so much Ms Sinclair.’
‘Not a problem and please call me Ava.’
She skips to the fitting room to get changed whilst River pays for the shoes.
‘She’s lovely.’ Ava says, of Wyn, what an adorable duo they make.
‘Ready to go home little man?’ Oliver sat beside River, engrossed in a game on River’s phone which kept him busy.
‘Aren’t you getting any shoes?’ River asks, he is enjoying her company immensely. The nightmare of shoe shopping on a Saturday with his daughter was suddenly looking up.
‘Not today. It’s all about this one and his tooth and the money from the tooth fairy.’ Ava runs a hand through her son’s afro. ‘And decorating the tree.’
Wyn is now dressed in her jeans and jumper, the cloth bag hanging behind her. ‘Thank you so much for your help.’
‘Would you like to join us for lunch? I made a reservation at the restaurant on the 5th floor.’ Wyn offers her dad that cheeky smile of hers, he knows what she is doing.
‘We… wouldn’t want to impose-’
‘Oh it’s not an imposition, you saved him his sanity, I think the least he can do is buy you lunch.’
‘Please it really is.’ River says, ‘what’d you said Oliver?’
‘We’d love to.’ Oliver smiles looking up at his mum.
‘I guess it’s all settled.’
The four of them head upstairs to the fifth-floor restaurant where Wyn hastily made a reservation for four. She likes Ava Sinclair for her father, they look good together and he deserves to be happy. He wouldn’t like to know that she and Ralph know how he took the divorce. He put his life on hold just to be there for them and he is the best father in every way; he deserves to be happy. Ava Sinclair looks like the woman who could lift that fog from her father, that coldness that enveloped him since the divorce. He works hard, way too hard to build the business, sends them to the best private school. She and Ralph never lack for anything at all because of him. Whilst she will always love their mother, a part of her may never forgive her for what she put them through.