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‘How do I look?’ Ava twirls for Oliver one last time. The glam team did a great job; her leather dress tube dress fit like a glove, tapered in with the finest pleats with sheer side panels, the fur cropped jacket gives her just enough drama and warmth. Her hair is freshly washed and blow dried into a ponytail; the safest hairstyle for winter without having to worry about her fro. Make up is high octane with red lipstick glamour. She looks good.
‘You look beautiful mummy.’
‘Thank you my darling.’ Oliver will be spending the weekend with his grandparents, they insisted on having him longer than a night. ‘Remember what we talked about, be good for grandma and grandpa and no sweets before bedtime.
She hears the eye roll in his voice. Children.
‘Grandma says I can bring all my cars.’
‘Sweetheart can we settle for ten cars?’ She already packed twenty cars for him, her son is obsessed with cars.
Ava laughs, he has her wrapped around his little finger. ‘Okay.’
‘So? How do I look.’ River is dressed in the green velvet tuxedo suit and black trousers, picked out by a still sulking Wyn. She’d banished her brother and him out of her bedroom.
‘Good.’ She doesn’t even look up at him.
‘Wyn…’ River ventures further into the bedroom and sits on her bed. ‘Please look at me.’
Wyn sits up on her bed and does as her father said. ‘What?’
‘Don’t be mad at your brother-’
‘Why shouldn’t I be?’
‘Because, he is dealing with this the best way he knows how.’
‘Aren’t you mad at her?’
‘I was. Now, I’m indifferent because I cannot change the past. I don’t want you or your brother to hate your mother. Not at all. And if he wants to attend the christening, please don’t be mad at him for that. You don’t have to go, but you are all each other has besides me and your mother when it comes to family, and one day, we won’t be here, I’d hate to think you were not getting along and looking out for each other.’
Wyn laughs a little; she loves her brother; she may be mad at him but they love each other and are the best of friends. Both are protective of their father; it is why they did not tell him about their mother being pregnant. ‘We wouldn’t dare I know you’ll come back to haunt us.’
‘You bet I would.’ River pulls his daughter in for a hug.
‘Daddy I really don’t want to go.’
‘Then you don’t have to. I don’t want you to feel obligated to do what you don’t have to do. I love you and that is all that matters. Don’t be mad at Ralph for wanted to go it doesn’t make you love her any less or him anymore. Okay?
‘Okay. Thank you.’ Wyn hugs her father tightly. ‘You look really dapper. Clean up nice.’
‘Thank you. Now come see me off.’
‘Hubba, hubba. You look lovely.’ Ali says to his daughter just before she whizzes out the house after dropping Oliver off.
‘Thank you daddy.’
Miriam pops her head round from the kitchen, ‘where’s the jewellery?’
‘I forgot. Mummy I really must dash I am already late enough as it is.’
‘Wait two ticks, it won’t kill you.’ Miriam disappears to get a piece of jewellery for her daughter.
‘AJ catering tonight?’ Ali asks his daughter.
Ava rolls her eyes, ‘yep. And I saw him earlier, he is still alive.’
Ali laughs, ‘I am proud of you, you know. So proud of you.’ He gives his daughter a soft kiss on the head.
‘Thank you daddy.’ Ava wraps her arms around her father tightly, her parents have been her rock, showing up for her even when she didn’t ask but knows she needs it. They would move the earth for her and her brother.
‘Here we go.’ Miriam reappears with a red Cartier necklace box. ‘Turn around please.’
Ava does as her mother says, and she clasps a diamond choker around her neck. ‘There.’ Miriam steps back to look at her daughter. ‘That’ll do. You look divine my darling.’
‘Thank you. Thank you.’ Quick kisses before she dashes out. ‘Please no sweet for Oliver.’ Ava hurriedly says over her shoulder.
‘Uh huh.’ Ali and Miriam watch their daughter hurry into the waiting car, her instructions drifting in one ear out the other.
Wonderland is the theme and Ava and her team delivered to the letter of the assignment. London swirls around them ever so majestically, guests gawk in awe at the exhibition of the very finest diamond jewels in ice sculptures. They cannot get enough of it.
‘This is bananas.’ Pamela comes up behind her with a shot glass of vodka.
‘The ice sculpture is still holding thank God. Have their been any purchases?’
‘Fifty percent.’ Pamela says with a straight face.
‘Come take a look.’ She leads Ava to the exhibition and on close inspection there are several little tags of sold on various pieces. ‘Have I told you you’re genius?’
‘Wow. I didn’t think they’d buy.’
‘Everyone is looking to splurge, the pandemic changed things, we are back in the golden era.’
‘Cheers to us.’ They clink ice shot glasses and throw back the vodka, a waiter, as if by magic appears with mugs of piping hot chocolate and marshmallows, they drop each ice vodka shot glass in two mugs and enjoy a glorious sip. ‘That is good.’
‘Mmm.’ Pamela is in heaven. ‘So good.’
Both women giggle like naughty school girls.
‘How are you?’ Pamela asks Ava, AJ being here tonight will not be easy for her to deal with.
‘I’m good.’ Wendy is nowhere to be seen thank goodness. She cannot be off her game tonight. This is her party as much as it is Huxley’s as the Head of Buying, she is the face of all this. ‘Thank you for asking.’
‘I’ve got your back. Know that.’
‘I know. Thank you.’ She hugs her friend, before heading in opposite directions, both women to work their room.
AJ watches Ava work the room like a pro; she always was one. Smooth and slick and easily the most beautiful woman here tonight. Dressed to kill in a leather tube dress capped off with a fur jacket and heels so high she might as well be floating. She is beautiful. He expected she would cancel this gig on him, he’d given her reason to, but he also knows that is not her style. Much as she hates him, he is still the father of her child and that is a bond they will always have. He fucked up filing for custody he should never have done that. But looking at her tonight she shines brightest, people revere her, vying for her attention. That conversation is not a five-minute conversation.
‘Ladies and gentlemen, dinner is served.’ A rather formal booming voice announces over the speaker system. Like clockwork two butlers appear at the different ends of the walk way to guide guests to the dining table with two wait staff on hand to show them to their seats on the chart.
Ava catches sight of River Huxley who is say next to Amber Marigold the Hollywood A-Lister dressed to the nines in her floor length evening gown, and David Maxwell, the investment magnate. River offers Ava a smile; they haven’t had a chance to talk, not even briefly. She returns it and notices that jealous pang of him sitting next to an actress at the very top of the Hollywood crowd. Was she wise in inviting her tonight? Why is she thinking these things?
Ava takes her seat next to Rania Tan on her right and Arun Gorschel on her left, celebrated Art collector and curator.
‘Thank you for the invitation.’ Rania says just as the first course is served.
‘Thank you for coming. It’s so good to see you.’ Of course she is still trying to get her on side but she genuinely likes Rania, and Amber’s gown is familiar because she dressed her tonight.
The waiters approach the table and like a team of synchronised swimmers, serve the guests their starters. Working with speed and alacrity, conversation unfolds around the table, happy noises at the first forkfuls of starters; duck salad with a signature sauce and fig. This is her favourite salad ever, one she missed AJ making for her. It was the first meal he made for her those many years ago in New York. All these years and it is still so damn good and brings back a lot of memories. They were young and care free and so in love and she could have sworn that was their forever.
‘The exhibition is stunning Madame.’ Arun says to her left.
‘Thank you so much. I’m so glad you could make it.’ small talk, she was never good at it, she suffered through the many dinners her mother hosted as a child, her brother was the better one at socialising.
Pamela rescues her from Arun, she is seated on the other side of him.
‘I was thinking,’ Rania starts, ‘I would like to have a trial run in the summer for three months and we’ll see how it goes?’
Ava’s eyes widen a little, ‘are you sure?’
‘Being here tonight, seeing the care and attention given here, most of which I know is your work, I would be a fool not to at least consider it. This is a wonderful event Ms Sinclair.’
‘Please call me Ava, and I’m so pleased you want to give us a chance. I won’t let you down I promise.’
The main course is a fall of the bone ox tail roast with gratin dauphinoise, herbs in garlic sauce, a side of broccoli dipped in gravy. It tastes exactly how Ava remembers it from their wedding, only better; exactly how AJ makes it. He’d put together the menu for the wedding and then the day after the got married, on their honeymoon, he made her the same meal because she’d been so obsessed with it, it was the ox tail that did her in, no one can make it like AJ does, and she should know she has eaten many. Sitting here, eating this meal now, it brings back too many memories.
‘Excuse me a minute.’ Ava pushes her chair back quietly, excusing herself from the table. Guests are chatting happily with each other, her inner turmoil unbeknownst to them. She makes her way to the kitchen where she sees her ex-husband hard at work, in his element. Apron around his waist, cap on his head, sleeves rolled up and working on her favourite dessert; sticky toffee pudding and vanilla bean ice cream.
‘What the fuck do you think you’re doing?’
AJ jumped almost at the sound of her voice. ‘Something wrong with the food?’
‘You’re serving up my favourites.’
AJ smiles, it was on purpose. ‘I just wanted to give you a good night Ava.’
‘AJ…’ She folds her arms, ‘is this what you wanted to talk to me about earlier?’
‘Not entirely.’ He wipe his hands on the napkin and leads her away from the staff, ‘tonight is your night, I simply wanted you to shine because I know how busy you have been lately and how much this night means to you. I thought in a room of seventy-five people, I have at least one palette who will love it.’
‘Every body loves the food AJ.’
‘Well then mission accomplished.’ His smile was lopsided and a little too familiar.
‘It’s not funny.’
‘I’m sorry if I made you mad.’ He doesn’t even look it.
‘Where is your sous chef?’ That question has the desired effect. Ava walks out of the kitchen resolved to hating the rest of the meal but who is she kidding, he knows her so well. She enjoyed every single bite as did everyone at the table.
After dinner, the mill about gives her room to be distracted from whatever AJ has going on in his head. From the food to the iconic setting, guests cannot get enough of the evening. Every single piece of diamond sold, and then some.
‘Here you go.’ River Huxley walks up to Ava handing her one of the two glasses of champagne, he’d watched her all night, and what a stunner she is. Everything about tonight is down her, her vision and careful execution.
‘Congratulations. Tonight, is a success.’
‘Congrats to you too, this is you as much as me.’ Ava accepts the glass of champagne gratefully.
‘No, and we all know that. I talk in tech, everything else is up to you, thank you, to you and the team. This is spectacular.’
It is. Ava feels proud of herself, taking it all in, she’d worked closely with the PR team carefully curating the night, from the guest list to the menu… it is unusual that she take such a vested interest but this night is too important to her. Important to River… oh God I need to stop.
A waiter stops before them with a tray of after dinner mini bites, her favourite mini ox tail burgers; soft, soft meat infused with marrow, grilled with onions and seasoned to perfection. AJ made this for her on the weekends sometimes and it was heaven. She takes a bite, still heavenly. Damn that man.
‘Where’s Oliver tonight?’
‘With my parents. I put him to bed an hour ago over FaceTime. We had to read his favourite animal story ten times before he’d turn in.’
River laughs a little, ‘I remember that stage with my children.’
‘What were yours into?’
‘The tiger who came to tea and the Gruffalo.’
‘I am in the Gruffalo stage.’
‘It gets worse before it gets better.’
‘Thanks.’ Ava raises a glass to River.
AJ watched Ava and River Huxley and it is hard not to get jealous at seeing both flirt with each other, it isn’t overt but he knows a good flirtation when he sees one. He is right there and he might as well not be, to top it off she is eating the burgers he made for her specially, and she is drinking champagne with another man.