Updated: Oct 7
The Meeting of the Mums
Scott stood with a straight spine, lifted chin, and his hands on his hips. He'd seen his dad pull the same pose in front of the mirror before jumping in the car.
The business-time pose.
Once his mum had inspected him, and turned around, he slumped and gave the back of her head an eye-roll.
She’d coerced him into wearing a shirt, but he fought against the tie.
This was his home.
He wasn’t going to walk around it with a tie on, even his dad removed his tie when he got in from work.
The tie was too much.
Scott looked down at his pressed trousers and tucked in shirt. It was all too much. He stiffened at fingers in his hair and glared as his mum tweezered at his strands.
“I wish you’d do something with it.”
“I have.” Scott moved out of his mum's reach and brushed it back in line with his fingers.
The swept-back look but with volume. That was his signature look. He'd heard girls gush about his hair in the corridors at school. So full of volume and shine. Scott was known for his good hair. “It’s how I like it.”
“When you were little, you had a side parting, and I used to brush your hair flat.”
“Yes. I looked like a mini-Hitler.”
His mum gasped and tapped his hand. “Don’t say that. You looked adorable, won’t you just—”
“Absolutely not,” Scott said, taking a step back from the line-up. He'd rather die than let her plaster his hair to his face.
Flick smirked at him and lifted a smug eyebrow. She stood for attention in a brand-new dress. Silver like John’s eyes. Scott had argued they were grey not silver, no one had silver eyes, but Flick had been adamant, snapping back at him that he was wrong, and she was right. The argument only ended when Scott picked her up and dangled her over the bin.
“How do I look, mum?” Flick reached for her black headband, arranging it just right. She pouted, bunching up her red cheeks, and fluttered her eyelashes in a way she thought looked sophisticated.
“Stupid,” Scott answered.
Her face screwed up tight, and she shoved Scott with both hands. "Not as stupid as you."
“Hey,” their mum intervened. “You be polite to your sister. Tell her she looks beautiful.”
Flick’s eyes sparkled. “Yeah, tell me, Scott.”
“Fine.” He took a deep breath. “You look beautiful.”
Scott put every ounce of sincerity into his expression, lowering Flick’s defences for the moment their mum turned her attention to Albie. For a split second, Scott felt bad. There was true hope brimming in Flick's eyes. A true glimmer of happiness Scott had put there.
“For a toad.” Scott finished.
“Mum!” Flick shouted, smacking her fist into his hip bone. It hurt, but he'd mastered the art of no pain and smiled through it. “Scott said I was a toad!”
They both jolted to attention at their mum’s shout. She scooped Albie off the floor and arranged him on her hip. Albie, being unable to dress himself had been given the works, shirt, trousers, tie, and braces. He resembled a mini gangster. His new habit of rocking his head from side to side completed the look perfectly. Scott would’ve laughed had it not been for the demon glowering at him.
“You need to be on your best behaviour. I don’t want Jane to think we’re uncivilised.” She took a step back, jiggling Albie in her arms. “Now, how do I look?”
Flick rocked onto her tiptoes and smiled sweetly. “Beautiful Mama.”
Scott bit back his answer of completely overdressed. Her black dress clung to her, dipping low over her chest where a teardrop diamond dangled from a chain. More diamonds sparkled in her ears, and the set of fake lashes she put on wafted air at Scott each time she blinked.
“Flick’s right,” Scott nodded at his mum’s appearance. “You look great.”
She eased out a long breath and smiled. A jovial laugh left her lips. “I’m nervous. I wonder what she’s like.”
“The same as she is on the phone, but you’ll get to see her face.”
The buzzer of the gate signalled their arrival. Their mum darted over, snatching the phone off the wall.
She hung up, and rocked back on her heels, taking deep breaths.
“Erm. Mum.” Scott ventured.
He ignored the added ‘darling’ and pointed at the buzzer. “You haven’t pressed the button.”
She blinked. “Oh, right. Silly me.”
Scott found his stomach squirming, but he couldn’t identify why. Flick tugged frantically at her bottom lip; gaze locked on the door. Scott shook his head. This was stupid. It was John and Alex. They’d been to the house lots of times before, yet his gut fizzled with nervous energy and it filtered through to his legs, making him step forwards and back in a weird sort of dance.
Flick glanced up at him, and he looked back. Her eyes were wide, and Scott reached for her shoulder and
gave her a reassuring squeeze.
They turned their focus on their mum, taking a deep breath, and mumbling,
“Here we go.”
She opened the door just as a shadow appeared in the stained-glass window.
“Welcome…” she paused, and Scott shifted, wondering the reason for such a stilted hello. “Come in, come in.”
She stepped aside, and there was Jane, John, and Alex. John had hold of Alex, and the three of them all wore shell-shocked expressions. Scott wished the floor would open up and swallow him. He stamped it just in case there happened to be a sinkhole listening.
“I thought this was a casual lunch,” Jane said. She pinched her vest with a disgusted expression. If anything, Scott thought Jane looked like the normal one. Blue jeans, a white vest top, and her black hair up in a ponytail. It whipped her cheek when she turned to face John. “I would’ve dressed for the occasion.”
“It’s my fault.” Scott heard his mum say. “I went a bit over the top.”
Scott scrambled to untuck his shirt. Flick yanked her headband free and held it behind her back. They gazed at each other then away again. John slipped out of his trainers and stumbled closer. He wore Scott’s oversized grey hoodie, black jeans and a face of utter bewilderment. A slight blush stained his cheeks. Scott was pretty sure his face was on fire.
When John stopped in front of Scott and Flick, his gaze snapped down to their feet.
“Why are you wearing shoes? We’re not going somewhere, are we?”
Scott shared another look with his sister, then shook his head. “It doesn’t matter.”
He slipped out of them.
"Do you dress like this every lunchtime?"
Flick laughed. "No. Only for special ones."
"This...this is a special lunch?"
Scott grimaced. " It’s special in some ways. E-specially awkward."
Alex sucked on his fingers while staring over John’s shoulder. He only had eyes for the other baby, tilting his head side to side and eyeballing him across the entrance hall.
"Why's Albert look like a mafia boss?" John asked.
Scott burst out laughing and picked open the top two buttons of his shirt.
“Apparently he looks cute.” Scott looked over to his mum frantically waving her hand.
“Will you take our guests into the dining room?”
The dining room.
"No," Scott murmured, turning on his heels and leading the way.
The awkwardness kept on coming. Scott cringed as he was forced to lead Jane, John, and Alex into the dining room. It was set up for a three coursed lunch, one being cooked by a chef hired for the occasion.
He grimaced at the placenames, and hurried around the table, gathering them before anyone noticed. Of course, John did and set his eyebrow aloft.
The silver cutlery sparkled on the silk tablecloth.
Scott’s mum had insisted they use their best dining set, placemats, and candlesticks.
“Wow,” Jane said. “It looks amazing.”
“It’s nothing really.”
Scott glowered at his mum. That nothing had cost him thirty minutes of his life to set up. Flick slipped past him, wordlessly grabbed her violin and music stand then hurried out of the room without making eye contact.
Jane sighed. “It makes my home look like a dump.”
Scott winced at his mum's high-pitched, and overly fake laugh. “I’m sure that’s not the case.”
He looked at her and noticed her diamond earrings had vanished. Scott's next glance in her direction and her eyelashes were gone too.
"Take a seat," she said.
Jane shimmied around the table before taking her place opposite John. Scott slammed himself down on the seat beside him before Flick could claim it, forcing his sister to sit between him and Jane.
"The starter will be ready any minute, watercress soup with a freshly baked sourdough."
Scott glanced at John and mouthed 'sorry'.
John shrugged in reply and ran his fingers across all the cutlery on the table.
"You use the ones on the outside first, and work your way in." Scott said, "And the napkins for your lap."
"Oh. I thought I put it on my head?"
Scott blinked. John's expression stayed stoic as ever all until an involuntary umm left Scott's mouth, then he flashed a small smile.
"You were joking." Scott laughed.
"Yes. I was joking."
Flick returned and took her seat with a glare at Scott, and lunch began with his mum dinging a bell and the waiting staff strutting into the room.
Scott inwardly curled up and shuddered. He'd always known it wasn't normal having a chef and waiting staff on speed dial, but Jane's eyes bugging from her head, and John stiffening at the suited men and women hovering behind them left him floundering.
"We don’t usually do this." Scott blurted as the waiting staff lowered their dishes in unison.
Jane pressed her palm to her heart. "I appreciate the gesture. It's nice to be spoilt now and again."
Scott left his mum to do all the small talk, and Jane chatted back, undeterred by the millionaire vibes emitting from every sparkling piece of the tableware.
Scott stretched his neck in John's direction. "I'm sorry."
"You've got nothing to be sorry for."
Scott got on with his soup, barely sharing a word with John. Albie and Alex filled any uncomfortable silences with a groan or shrill yell, and they were soon halfway through the main course.
Halfway done Scott told himself.
The lunch couldn’t possibly get any worse, then Flick, high on orange squash from a wine glass, twisted to give Jane her full attention.
Scott's heart drummed as even Albie and Alex fell silent, waiting for Flick to say something.
She peered at Jane and hummed. “You don’t have silver eyes.”
“Does anyone have silver eyes?”
“Yes.” Flick stabbed the butt of her knife to the table. “John does.”
Scott sighed. “They’re not silver, they’re grey.”
“Grey is just a non-shiny silver.”
“Silver.” Flick growled.
Scott looked over to John, hoping to share an eye roll, but he recoiled at John’s blushing cheeks. It spread up his face like a rash, infecting the top of his ears. He burrowed his hands inside the hoodie and squirmed into his chair.
“Your mum doesn’t have silver eyes,” Flick said. “They must come from your dad.”
Jane froze, fork halfway between her plate and her mouth. She glanced at John, he gazed back and nodded.
“Yes,” Jane said. “John has eyes like his father.”
“But hair from you, although….” Flick leaned closer to Jane and studied the side of her face. “You’ve dyed it.”
“I can see where you’ve stained the skin around your ear.”
Scott prayed for a meteorite to hurtle through the wall and take them all out.
“Felicity!” Scott glanced at his glowering mum, for once he wasn’t the cause of her demon glare. “That’s rude. Apologise.”
“That’s alright.” Jane laughed. “When you get to my age you need a little help from a box.”
“My mum doesn’t have any grey hairs.”
“Oh, I do, and I need help from a packet also.”
Jane laughed, and Scott startled when his mum joined in, completely over the top and fake as hell, but at least they were bonding over grey hairs. At least they had that in common.
Scott frowned at his plate, decorated in edible flowers with a potato foam with saffron spice. It tasted bitter to him.
“Where is your dad?” Flick asked, staring straight at John.
Scott waited for his mum to scowl her, but she leaned forward, flicking her gaze between John and Jane just as intrigued as Flick.
“He left us,” Jane said. “Soon after Alex was born. Leaving us with no home and a lot of debt. Which is why I need the two jobs to keep us going. John is…a godsend.”
She smiled at him, but he didn’t smile back, instead, he prodded his spoon at the mound of caviar on his plate.
Scott shuddered. All of his friends had money, lots of it, but not John, and a shame prickled Scott’s skin at the confused expression when John fumbled with which fork and knife, he was supposed to use.
“That’s sad,” Felicity said with zero empathy. “I’d hate for dad to leave.”
“The thing about John and Alex’s dad is…” Jane started, then stopped and rearranged her napkin on her lap. “He isn’t a particularly nice man and we’re happier without him.”
Scott hadn’t broached the subject of John’s dad, and now he knew not to. John pushed at his caviar hard enough to send some rolling off his plate.
“I’m sorry,” John whispered for Scott’s ears only.
Scott grabbed his napkin and wiped up the mess. “Don’t be, it’s disgusting.”
“Did he hit John?”
A chill penetrated the room. John’s spoon slipped from his hand and clattered to his plate. He glanced at each of them in turn before his eyes settled on his mum sitting opposite.
She pulled a pained smile. “He…hurt John.”
He’d thought as much, but the confirmation froze him to the spot. John tilted his body towards him, half hiding as Scott continued to lean over the table to clean the mess. He heard John exhale shakily and stayed where he was, shielding him as much as he could.
“So that’s why he hates being touched?” Flick said.
Scott snapped into action, dropping his napkin, and sinking lower in his chair. He swung his leg out at Flick’s knees.
Scott straightened in his chair and fixed the most innocent expression on his face. He grinned at Jane. “I’d love it if John could come with me to the FA cup final.”
“It’s for my birthday, I mean, my birthday isn’t until September, but there’s no FA cup final then.”
“When is it?”
“Next Saturday. May fifteenth.”
Jane winced. “Oh, I’m sorry, I’m working that day. There are already too many people off. I need John to stay home and take care of Alex.”
Scott’s heart stuttered. He glanced at his mum, pleading with her across the table.
She cleared her throat. “I could look after Alex.”
“I’ll be back late. I usually get the neighbour to pop in on John and Alex—”
“If you write down Alex’s routine, he and John could stay the night.”
Jane scrunched up her face and eased her chair away from the table. “I’m not sure.”
“Albert is near enough the same age. I’ve seen Alex quite a bit. He should be fine.”
“Still, I don’t think—"
“Please, mum,” John whispered. “I really want to go, and I’m always looking after Alex. I never get to do anything on my own.”
“I know, baby, I know.” Jane squeezed her eyes shut. “Okay. If Sally doesn’t mind.”
“It would be my pleasure.”
Scott shared a quick smile with his mum.
Dessert interrupted the moment. As much as he hated the posh food, he loved crème Brulee, and by the soft smile on John’s lips after his first taste, Scott would’ve bet he loved it too. Even Alex and Albert stopped grizzling to eat dessert but revved up their lungs once it ran out.
Scott covered his ears. “Is it okay if me and John leave the table?”
His mum nodded, and Scott shot out of his chair. He remembered to fold up his napkin and tuck in his chair. John blinked at him before following his lead and doing the same.
“That was super awkward,” Scott said, shaking his head.
“I think they’re getting on okay.”
“Yeah, but.” Scott scrunched up his face. “The whole meal. It was completely over the top. I kept telling mum it was only lunch, but she insisted on making it a spectacle.”
“It’s fine. I like the cream brully.”
Scott pressed his lips together not to laugh. “Crème Brulee.”
“That’s what I said.”
“No, you didn’t. Come on, it’s warm outside, we can go sit in the sun.”
Scott pulled open the sliding door and led John out onto the patio. He bypassed the swimming pool, pointedly not looking toward it.
John had seen it through the window, but it was the first time the smell of chlorine hit his nose. He eyed it before hurrying to catch up with Scott.
They were far enough away that Scott could apologise properly. “I’m sorry about what Flick said.”
John slowed his stride. His blank face took no prisoners.
Scott averted his eyes as he sank to the grass.
“She shouldn’t have asked about your dad.”
He picked at the blades of grass and waited, and waited, but John didn’t swoop down and sit on the grass. Scott bit his lip and crawled his gaze higher until he got to John’s face. He stood in front of the sun, leaving his face in shadow, but his eyes still shone, a distant grey that made John seem as if he was miles away. Blank, still, but with a haunting aura. Scott didn’t want to think about how John’s dad had hurt him, but with him unresponsive, his mind spiralled into uncomfortable thoughts.
Scott took hold of the grass and twisted. “I won’t…” he shook his head. “I’m not going to hurt you, John.”
John continued to stand like a statue, somehow growing colder in the face, more distant. Scott cursed himself. No doubt the very mention of John’s dad had hurt him.
“Sit,” Scott said, patting the grass.
John dropped down to his knees, still keeping his haunted eyes firmly on Scott.
Scott fidgeted. “Sorry.”
“Can we never talk about him again?”
“Yeah, sure, I’m sor—"
“You’ve got nothing to be sorry for.”
“Dad’s home!” Felicity shouted from the doorway.
Scott flinched, but John didn’t. He sat tugging on the grass.
“I’m fine, Scott.”
“I better go and say hi, you good here?”
Scott unlocked his phone and handed it over. “Find some music.”
“Okay,” John whispered, applying all his stoic focus to the phone. Scott almost patted him on the shoulder as he stood up but managed to catch himself.
“I’ll be right back.”
Scott ran over to the door, planning on saying a quick hello to his dad before returning to John. He skidded to a stop at the hushed whispers in the entrance hall. Flick was chatting away to their mum in the living room, and by the sharp whine, Scott suspected Albie was with them.
He inched closer to the door, following the whispers, getting sharper, and louder.
Jane and his father were locked in a hissing battle. His eyebrows were bunched up, almost touching in his anger, and her face was set in a snarl, skin wrinkled around her nose.
Scott couldn't decipher the words, but they spoke their hatred with their expressions.
Scott swallowed at the sight of his dad's hand, tightly grasping Jane’s forearm in a hold that must’ve hurt, pulling her and Alex on her hip in the direction of the door.
He didn’t make a sound, but his father knew he was stood there and glanced over. His hand dropped to his side, and the anger cleared into a friendly smile. Jane twisted around to find the source of his dad's change and beamed at Scott. They both laughed breathlessly, and his dad forced humour into his voice when he spoke.
“You startled us.”
Jane gasped and pressed her palm to her chest. “Nearly gave me a heart attack.”
“He has a habit of doing that. Sneaking up on you when you least expect it.”
“John’s the same.”
“Maybe it’s a teenage boy thing.”
Jane cooed at Alex. "Are you going to be just like them?"
Alex whined and pushed his mums face away.
Scott looked back and forth between his dad and Jane. Their act didn’t quell his unease, it made it multiply until he retreated out of the room.
His dad barked his name, but he kept going until he was outside, lying on the grass, clawing his fingers against the blades, and tracking the movement of the clouds in the sky.
“You okay?” John asked.
Scott didn’t answer.