‘Mummy!’ Oliver opens the door and jumps into his mother’s arms, hugging her as big as his little arms would allow.
Ava buries him in kisses, it felt like forever and not two nights away. ‘I missed you my sweet darling.’
‘I missed you too.’
‘Ready to go home?’
‘Daddy made pancakes for you. Aren’t you going to eat?’
Only then did she realise that her son is still in his pyjamas and house UGGs.
‘You made pancakes.’ Ava addresses AJ who’d been standing at the door looking not at Oliver and his mother but at the man in the town car waiting.
‘I did. We promised. Didn’t we Ollie.’
‘We did and you know daddy makes the best pancakes, he made your favourite salted caramel.’
‘I bet he did.’
AJ does not miss that tone, of his ex-wife’s.
‘Okay then, let me say goodbye to River and grab my suitcase from the car.’
Ava knows what her ex-husband is doing, and she has to keep it together because of Oliver. Idiot man.
‘Sorry, I have to leave you to Justin Beiber’s mercy Oliver wants us to stay for pancakes.’ Ava says to River who’d just gotten out of the car.
‘That’s a shame but pancakes sound amazing.’ He helps with her suitcase from the booth.
‘Hello River!’ Oliver is standing at the door waving to his friend, his father behind him, no shirt just joggers, risking a cold to make a point.
River waves at Oliver, but he is really looking at AJ; he wants to play. He wheels Ava’s suitcase for her to the front door. ‘Hi Ollie, how are you my man.’ He squats to shake his little friend’s hand and just like he did the first time, Oliver gives him a hug.
‘Fine thank you. How was Paris?’
‘It was lovely but not as lovely as I think it would have been with you. We met your aunt and uncle too.’ River says. He lifts himself up with Oliver in his arms, standing next to Ava; that look on AJ’s face says it all. He gets the message.
‘This is AJ, my ex-husband, AJ I don’t think you have met River Huxley, I work with him.’
‘I haven’t. Good to meet you.’ Nothing about the look or the handshake feels good, but everyone remains civil.
‘Good to meet you. And she doesn’t just work with me she now owns half of Huxley.’
‘Wow. Paris must’ve been something.’ AJ’s tone is tight.
‘Yeah it was.’ River’s cheek does not go amiss.
Ava stifles a smile; this is not her fight. ‘Okay little man, River needs to go home, he has a big day ahead.’ She scoops Oliver from River’s arms. ‘Thank you for a wonderful trip.’
‘My pleasure. Take care of yourself Ollie and have a wonderful Christmas.’ Just drive the point home, River gives Oliver a kiss on his head with one hand on the smalls of Ava’s back; it is such a casual but familiar and intimate thing to do. It is also a message sent to the other man observing this behaviour seemingly from the other side of the outside.
‘You too River. Merry Christmas.’ Darling Oliver gives him another hug.
They stand at the door to wave him off before heading inside the house.
‘So that’s River Huxley.’ AJ’s tone is insinuating. ‘Your partner.’
‘Yes that is River Huxley. My partner.’ Ava’s tone shuts down the dramatics before it begins. Paris was good and that kiss…