The reality of parenting is not just a fear of failure but also a fear of projection. In her own childhood, Nicola had dreamed about the relics and dinosaur bones of the British Museum, the cool rarefied glamour had underpinned her planning for this trip.
The kids though were less than enthused. Cain said that it would make a cool multiplayer map for CoD. Jenny kept alternating between wanting to pee and screeching herself red to visit M & M World.
This was her first trip without Paul. The longest and most expensive and, in the planning, the most terrifying and difficult.
Since the accident.
The plane trip had been exciting and surreal, Jenny dealing with the pressure by crying for her mother and Cain sneering at everything. However, London had stunned them both into reverent silence.
Only for three minutes. But it was impressive.
So Nicola had been wandering around, fighting back tears at how something so wanted felt so unnecessary. They were drawing stares and she was struggling not to scream louder than Jenny when a warm gentle voice made her skin tingle.
‘Well we appear to have an upset young lady here.’
She turned on a dime, ready to hiss with defensive fury.
Then found herself looking into amused, brown eyes and tanned skin made ruddy with the warmth of the day and all the bodies wandering around. Wide and generous features, clean shaven with a small nick on his cleft chin.
He had on a crisp white shirt, unbuttoned at the collar and sleeves rolled into flat doughnuts above the elbow. Black trousers that clung to his thick thighs.
‘Would you be interested in seeing some magic?’
Cain sniggered and the man rolled his eyes as he held up a black scuffed wallet in Cains eye line.
The man read the spasm of adolescent anguish perfectly and handed it back to him.
‘That’s important to you. However that’s not my trick, sir.’
He let go of the wallet to Cain’s grasp, then splayed his fingers. His earnest amusement beguiled her and he reached, plucking an oversize gold coin from her left ear and then holding it in the centre of his palm. Jenny snatched for it but he closed his hand, made it vanish. Jenny giggled and Nicola was awash with affection and gratitude. With his other hand, he gifted her with the coin and she began to unwrap it, her ill mood gone entirely. She was about to ask his name when someone walked in front of her. She looked back up once they were gone.
But so was he.
His presence, unnamed and brief, marked a change in the dynamic between them all. Nicola found herself, in defiance of probability, hoping to see him again.
Later, she found the note in her purse. An email address, then a conversation when she laid awake, adjusting to the time difference. Wondering what the strange sound was, and realising that it was her, laughing.
Jonathan. He had come from a talk that he had given, had seen her and then her children. Thought he would see if he could help out. She teared up a little at that.
They met the next day. He kept his distance, but his eyes held a promise that helped her grow new nerves again. New skin, tender against the old. Then he waved them off at the airport, a first kiss when the children were occupied. Achingly sweet for the brevity.
Her work offered her an opportunity. Six months in England. When it was offered to her, she refused to believe it. The head of her department insisted that he understood if she couldn’t accept it.
She did not explain. The kids were surprisingly okay with it. Cain was well into the obscure English band phase of his adolescence, downloading all the ‘grime’ that he could find and Jenny was excited to the point of being sick.
The night before, they spoke on the phone.
‘I’m not sure I can sleep on the plane over.’
He chuckled as he sighed. He would get up ridiculously early to talk to her, and she had promised him as many lay ins as she could manage.
‘Don’t. Remember that you’ve been here before.’
She closed the lid on the suitcase, sat on the edge of the bed, scared and excited.
Then what am I going to do?
She shut her eyes, it was in truth, not a complete reunion. She had been firing parts of herself to him via emails and webcam chats, a bridge of photographs that stretched across the Atlantic.
Tomorrow, a new life in a new country. Although he had been right.
She had been there before.