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‘That looks terrible mummy.’ Ollie takes one look at the concoction his mother is whipping up for breakfast and makes a face.
‘Thanks sweetie.’ Children.
‘Can we not get some croissant and juice instead?’
‘No we cannot. I thought we made a deal, I cook one breakfast and one dinner in the week and we eat without complaint.’ Her cooking is Godawful the poor chap.
‘Mummy… Let’s get croissants just like we used in Paris.’
She’s been trying to play perfect mummy since the divorce, she started taking cooking lessons to give Ollie a sense of that home he grew up with; AJ cooked all their meals she never needed to lift a finger, never felt she had to. She never thought it would come to an end. When they lived in Paris he worked for a small restaurant on the Left Bank; Une Petit Table and what a star he was. The restaurant was always fully booked with a waiting list for months, and boy could he throw down a good meal. When AJ got his shit together, he was a master but it took her getting him into gear. He is talented but unambitious she got him the gig at the restaurant, and it took three tries to make it stick. AJ Beckerman last born son and as with every last born, he was indulged, private school, private clubs, sports cars, private jets, an apartment in Chelsea for his twenty-first birthday… the works. He struggled in school, scraped by with A-Levels; his parents had to pay his way right through to University but he only lasted mid way to second year; he jacked it mid semester to become some sort of it-boy, entertainment entrepreneur. But what he lacked in smarts he made up for by way of charm and looks; tall, too handsome for his own good, that heavenly body, and a cool kind of swagger. He got out of trouble by virtue of his good looks and pedigree and being incredibly spoilt. Where his parents left off Ava picked up; she was blinded by his charm, and it helped that they traipsed the same social circles. They met at a club in New York one night in the summer, flirted all night and he invited her back to his loft apartment in Tribeca for breakfast and she ended up spending the week; with him as her chef. Their romance was meant to last a life time. They dated for three years and got married in a most elaborate ceremony in London with the who is who of high society in attendance.
AJ and Ava were very much in love, a more darling couple you would be hard pressed to find. For a while she supported them whilst he got his act together but that was the thing about AJ he was always getting his act together until she had to step in and make decisions for him. She supported him, stroked his ego, nurtured him and in time he got his act together enough to cater to the parties for her friends and family. Her connections to fashion worked in his favour and eventually she fronted fifty percent of the restaurant start-up cost. In no time at all Ava John was a hit. She picked the décor and he handled the menu. They were a team; or she thought they were.
‘Huh.’ She’d gone off in a reverie again.
‘We’re going to be late.’
‘Oh I’m sorry darling.’ She tosses the pot of goo in the sink, it was meant to be porridge she wanted to give him a healthy balanced diet but who is she kidding? She needs to get a cook stat.
‘Sorry Headmistress we had-’
‘That’s okay you are just in time.’ Headmistress smiles kindly at Ava.
‘Come here baby boy.’ She squats to dust off the remnants of his croissant and straighten his little tie. ‘I love you this much.’ She pulls him in for a quick hug before hurrying him along.
Ollie hurries back down the stairs to give his mother a quick kiss and a hug. ‘I love you too mummy.’
‘Come on now young man.’ Headmistress cajoles him along.
‘Sorry.’ Ava mouths before entering the waiting car to work. She ought to do better.
‘Everyone has RSVP’d for Cartier. Are you still sure about the catering?’ Pamela, Buying Director for Jewellery and one of Ava’s trusted Lieutenants is having lunch after a marathon of a day. Ava did not stop for lunch, she’d been backed up in meetings all day dealing with this party that may be the death of her.
‘Yes. Don’t ask me again I just might change my mind.’
‘He doesn’t deserve the kindness.’
‘No, but tis the season and I don’t want Ollie in the crossfire.’
‘How are you doing with custody?’
‘Not good. We have a date in court, and I am shit scared of losing my baby boy.’
‘You won’t. Annabel will not let that happen. It will be awkward though.’
‘Talk about.’ Ava buries her head in her hands, shuddering at the thought. She should have changed the caterers and taken the hit, but getting a caterer now would be a mission and who knows how this would affect her in court.
Her desk phone rings, Lydia is patching a call through.
‘I have Oliver’s school on the line.’
‘Okay.’ She waits a second for the Headmistress; it can only be her contacting.
‘Headmistress good afternoon. Is everything okay?’
‘Yes, everything’s fine, but we have a situation.’
‘Is Ollie okay?’ Ava is immediately on alert.
‘Yes he is, but your husband did not show up to pick him up. Someone else did.’
‘Who?’ The second Ava asks that questions it answers itself. ‘Do not release my son to that woman.’
‘That’s always been our policy.’
‘I’ll be there shortly.’ Ava hangs up the phone, reaches for her bag and coat, all at once.
‘What’s going on?’
‘He sent her to collect my son from school. His turn to be with him and he sends his bitch on the side? I am going to kill him.’
‘Ava, please calm down, you do not need this stress. Go with a level head and do not do anything to jeopardise this.’ Pamela knows her friend, Wendy will get fucked up on sight.
Ava heads out, not heeding the wise words her friends imparted on her. ‘Tell Marcus to meet me out front please.’
‘He’s out front already.’ Lydia did not need telling twice.
All through the drive to Oliver’s school Ava is agitated, Marcus must have sensed it, because he arrives at Oliver’s school in less than twenty minutes. A journey that should be at least fifteen minutes longer.
Ava jumps out of the car before it rolls to a stop. Headmistress is waiting on her at the top of the steps, that calm smile on her face at the ready.
‘He is fine. She is in my office, and he is in the playroom. Be calm please.’
Ava wants to punch someone, she cannot possibly be calm.
Headmistress leads them to her office where Wendy the sous chef is waiting.
‘What are you doing here?’ Her voice is menacing.
‘AJ sent me to collect Oliver.’
‘AJ should be collecting Oliver.’
‘He got held up at the market-’
‘I don’t care what happened he should be collecting his son not you. Whatever the hell you are to him.’
‘Mrs Beckerman or better still Ms Sinclair. Don’t address me by anything else. Oliver is my son and AJ is his father if he cannot be bothered to be here, he calls me I will make arrangements myself. He does not send anyone else. Not you, not any body else.’
‘I’m in his father’s life-’
‘Good for you. Don’t you ever come near my son again.’ Ava walks out of the office to collect Oliver in the playroom.
Wendy stands rooted to the spot aptly chastened by that verbal beat down.
‘Oliver, I need to go into a meeting now, but Lydia is going to play with you, and she’ll give you anything you want.’
‘Chocolate cake?’ Oliver knows how to work his mother with a smile she can never resist.
‘Anything you want just be good for her.’
‘Okay mummy. Have a good meeting.’
‘Anytime. How could I resist my favourite little man?’
Ava hurries off to her meeting with the rest of the buyers with River Huxley. She hasn’t seen him since that tiff between them in his office. She has to be on her A-game. She has to get her house in order, she cannot afford her personal life to affect her work life, but she has to be a better mother to her son. And she will set AJ straight. Frist things first, this meeting…
Pamela saved her a seat next to her at the table. River Huxley sits at the edge of the round table, that cold demeanour in residence, his CFO takes front and centre this is a budget meeting afterall.
‘So far the P&L is looking good, but the upcoming holiday party makes me nervous.’ When is Gabriel Sharn never nervous; a new coffee machine makes him nervous, a different set of paper cups makes him lose his mind and he doesn’t miss a thing.
Pamela grabs Ava’s hand beneath the table in a bid not to laugh, there are a few stifled giggles around the table.
‘I hate to be a scrooge, but do we need to have this party?’ He looks at River who smiles lopsidedly and Gabriel throws up his hands in defeat. ‘Fine I give. Let’s just… be careful.’
‘It’s a party for one of our most important brand partners Gabe.’ River says, relaxing into his chair. ‘Ms Sinclair has it in hand.’ He looks over at Ava, since their encounter in her office they have not seen each other. A moment of weakness. It had taken him months to tell his friends about the issues in his marriage, but it took him ten minutes of being in her company to tell her about his divorce; a moment he never wants to re-live.
Ava wants to wipe that smile off her face. ‘Yes Mr Huxley we do, and don’t worry Mr Sharn whatever excess has been accrued for.’
‘Thank you Ms Sinclair. I rest my case.’ Gabriel takes his seat so the the rest of the meeting can contribute to his silent agony. Left to him there would be no parties. Scrooge.
When Ava returns to her office Ollie is colouring on the couch with the door to her office open so Lydia could keep an eye on him.
‘Hey sweetheart, what are you doing?’
‘Colouring a picture for you.’
‘Oh, thank you my darling. That’s really lovely.’ She massaged his thick fro; he needs a hair cut, another thing she is failing him at. ‘I have two more things to do and then we’ll get out of here. Uncle Mo has invited for dinner. You excited about that?’
‘Uh Huh.’ He nods his brown eyes twinkling.
There is a knock on her door; River Huxley is standing by the doorway of her office.
‘Sorry hope I am not interrupting.’
‘Not all Mr Huxley do come in.’
He takes tentative steps into the office. ‘Hello?’ River says to Oliver.
‘This is Oliver, my son. Oliver say hello to River Huxley. I work for him.’
‘Hello.’ Her son says shyly.
‘Hello Oliver it is nice to meet you I’m River.’
‘Like the water?’
River giggles, ‘exactly like that.’
‘That’s a weird name.’
‘Oliver! That’s cheeky.’
‘No, it’s not cheeky,’ River says with a smile, ‘my parents were a little weird I suppose.’
Oliver laughs, ‘you’re funny.’
‘Thank you.’ River sits beside Oliver, ‘what have you got there?’
‘Colouring a picture for mummy. Do you want to colour?’
‘I would love to.’
Ava observes River with keen interest; he’s a dab hand with children. He has two of his own but who would have thought; the way to break down that icy demeanour was a child.
Her son and her boss who’d never so much as spent a casual time in her office, sit on the couch painting from his colouring book whilst she works.
‘Mummy can Mr. River come with us to Uncle Mo’s?’
‘Not tonight sweetie he has to go home to his family. Maybe next time?’
‘Thank you, I would love that.’
‘Do you have children?’
‘Yes I do. Two. Boy and a girl. Thirteen and fourteen.’
‘Wow. They are really big.’
River laughs a little, and Ava realised it was the first time she’d heard him laugh. Ever. ‘They are, big and know it all.’
‘Mummy says I know it all too.’
‘All children know it all.’ River says reaching over to pick fluff from Oliver’s head.
‘Ollie do you mind going with Lydia she’s going to take you to get some ice cream. I think Mr Huxley wants to talk to me.’
‘Okay mummy.’ Oliver looks up at River as if waiting for him to confirm what his mother said and River, immediately understanding, nods his head to confirm. It is the damndest thing.
‘Here you go.’ River helps Oliver into his coat and scarf.
‘Thank you. It was nice to meet you Mr Huxley.’
‘You can call me River.’
‘May I mummy?’
‘Yes you may if Mr Huxley has agreed.’
‘I like your name.’
‘I like yours too. See you next time you’re around?’
‘Yes.’ And Oliver being the child he is goes in to hug River before scooting out to meet a waiting Lydia.
‘Sorry. I had some childcare issues, so I had to bring him in.’
‘You don’t have to explain yourself to me. I completely understand.’ River stands to address her. ‘Matter of fact, I came here to apologise for the other day. I said some not so nice things to you, and I am sorry. Having been through a divorce I know how hard these things can be.’
Ava sees a flash of hurt behind those steely cool grey eyes of his. Behind the chisel and suave is someone who is hurting from something that affects him still. She knows of the hurt he talks about.