‘Mummy where are we going?’
‘Out to do something we should have already done. Arms up please.’
Oliver raises his hand so his mother can clip his seat belt in. She gives him a kiss on the head before heading to the driver side.
Oliver nods. ‘Are we going to get the Christmas tree?’
‘Yes we are! Sorry it’s so late this year and sorry I have been working so hard I almost forgot how late it was.’
‘It’s okay mummy.’
‘Daddy told me what Jonathan said to you, that was not very nice.’
‘He is not my friend any more.’
Ava pulls out of the driveway onto the road where traffic is slowly starting to build up. Christmas really is all around, Oliver’s favourite time of the year and by extension theirs as a family; she was the one who set up a month long set of traditions for them to do as a family from picking a tree to decorating it, to movie nights, to dinners and drinks and playdates; she set everything in motion and brought their community of friends and family together. Her home was the Christmas hub and she loved it. This year, not so much, understandable sure, but she needs to do right by her son.
Thirty minutes later, Ava pulls into Ollie’s favourite Christmas tree market in an abandoned warehouse in Chelsea; children and their unimpressed looking parents are out and about.
‘Mummy look! It’s Uncle Mo.’ Ollie is excited to see his much loved Uncle, aunt and cousins.
‘It is.’ Ava pulls the car in the spot beside her brother’s, she let an impatient Oliver out of the car and he is immediately engulfed by his uncle.
‘Hello you.’ Antoinette “Toni” Sinclair, the best sister-in-law anyone could ask for, utter sweetheart and smart as a whip, engulfs her sister-in law in a hug the second she steps out of the SUV.
Mo and Toni are among her favourite people, they’d been there for her no question, especially with the divorce and pitching in with Oliver. In her darkest days, they showed up with all the love and light. Her people.
‘It’s so good to see you.’ Toni squeezes Ava a little tighter. ‘Thank you for organising this mess.’
Ava laughs, it’s no secret that Toni does not enjoy Christmas tree shopping because the children were always a raucous.
‘Hey sis. How are you?’ Maurice Sinclair, big brother extraordinaire and all round awesome person embraces his sister in that one bear hug he reserved for her. He loves her something awful. Legend, by way of their mother, had it when Ava was brought home from the hospital, Mo would not leave her side, when she cried he was not having any of it; he often got so mad at his parents for baby Ava crying. He was her hero through school, through the years and they remained so close. Ava had to talk him down from going after AJ when he filed for divorce.
‘Good. You look well.’
‘Ready to do this thing?’
Ava looks at Toni, ‘ready babe?’
‘No. Let’s go.’ Toni rolls her eyes, ‘you lot owe me a vat of gin and tonic after this.’
Oliver and his cousins play around the market with other children and Mo on child minding duties, whilst Toni and Ava lag in the rear catching up.
‘So, anyone I should know about?’ Toni asks her sister-in-law linking arms with her.
‘No one.’ Ava giggles.
‘Shut up I know that giggle, there is someone.’
‘No, there’s no one. Not like that?’
‘How like then?’
‘Ava, tell me before I tell on you to your brother and he gets all Maurice, brother of Ava Sinclair, Sinclair on you.’
Ava cannot help but laugh out loud at that, it is so typically her too.
‘I think I like someone I work with?’
‘River Huxley.’ Ava whispers, refusing to say it out loud for fear that it might just be true, it might just be more than butterflies.
‘Aww… Ava does he heart you too?’
‘I don’t know, it’s like we are in a thing but not in a thing. It’s this cute tension, if cute’s the right word.’
‘Cute is the right word because you are totally blushing.’
‘It’s not too soon for you to be happy again.’ Toni knows what is holding Ava back, if indeed this cute tension with River will blossom into something sexier. ‘And Oliver will love him.’
‘Oliver does, he met him when I had to collect him from school after that Wendy thing. They spent an afternoon on my couch colouring, and Oliver asks about him and sends him his love most everyday.’
‘So? What’s the problem?’
‘I came down like a tonne of bricks on AJ for daring to entertain Wendy being in Oliver’s life when I know that’ll be a given, I don’t want to be a hypocrite.’
‘Ava, that’s not on you.He filed for divorce, not you and he left to be with another woman and left you to pick up the pieces. What are you supposed to live in this state your entire life?’
‘No, I just…’
‘Just nothing. Whatever it is or isn’t with River Huxley let it be.’
‘Its nothing like that.’
‘But it’s not not nothing like that so let it be.’
‘You’re probably right but it’s probably nothing.’
‘I hope it’s something.’ Toni sticks out her tongue playfully
‘Mummy we found the tree!’
‘Bloody hell with this tree.’ Toni mutters. ‘coming darling.’
‘Margaret right?’ Ava waits until Oliver is through the door before making a beeline for the woman who felt it okay to speak her name with disrespect. Seeing her brother and his family over the weekend and spending much needed time with them is just what the doctor ordered. The new cook starts next week and she is starting to feel a shift and a lift of the fog she’s been buried under. And today feels like a good day to have that word with the mother of the boy who is terrorising her son on the playground. Margaret Gillespie.
‘Yes. You are Ava Sinclair mother of Oliver.’
‘I am. Do you have a minute, I’d like a word,’ Ava notices the other mothers interest pique, ‘in private.’
‘We can talk here.’ That look on Margaret’s face dares Ava almost, as if she expected this conversation from her. In front of the other mothers.
‘If you’re sure.’
Ava spares her a smile, Margaret Gillespie is a hair do at best, the kind of mother whose entire relevance is dependent on her position on the PTA. ‘Okay. Stop talking about me at home. Your son comes to school and talks shit to my son, and I do not appreciate it.’
Now they have an audience, the other parents are not even pretending not to listen.
‘I beg your pardon.’
‘You may beg for it all you want, but you are not deserving of it. Stop telling lies about me to your son.’
‘I’ve done no such thing.’
‘I have it on good authority that you told your son, my ex-husband, his father does not love Oliver anymore which is why he filed for divorce.’
‘And on whose authority would that be.’ Margaret is looking daggers, if she were any paler she’d disappear.
‘My son’s authority and he’s not a liar so you’d better watch your next words.’
‘Well, it is not my fault that your husband has left you for a hussie I just call it how I see it.’
‘And I’m telling you, one more word from your son to my son and you will be sorry.’ Ava’s tone has the desired effect as she gets into Margaret’s space. The woman looks terrified. Good.
‘Come on, we’re late for coffee.’ Adelaide, out of nowhere, steps in before things escalate and the local facebook group sets the rumour mill alight.
Ava seizes Madeleine up, before walking away with Adelaide, that parting look enough to whittle her down.
‘Thank you for stepping in, I might have punched her botoxed face.’
‘I would have paid to see that but she’s not worth it.’ Adelaide laughs, snorting into her hand, setting Ava off into fits of giggles.
Thankful for a friend.