An empty house. That's a rare thing these days. But now Alice is over a month old she gets to go out on visits to grandparents and cafes and, church. Suddenly mummy is a regular church goer. Just to show Daddy how important it is. Daddy just enjoys the quiet house while he gets it for a few hours. Lying-in like the good old days. But not today. Normal work day, with a quick lad's dash home for lunch and planning.
The house is empty no longer, as the lads bash through the door, a slight panic in every movement. "Jake-gob, you're saving my life, here. Oh, post." Not post. Not now. There's no time. "Ooh, someone's got a valentine's card. And she posted it. That's effort. And a waste. Why didn't she just hand it to you this morning? Oh. I left the bag in the car. Hold on."
Good. Time to think. Time to open this thing quick and get rid of it before Henry notices anything suspicious. As if he would; but just in case. Angie did just hand a card at breakfast this morning. This is not from Angie. It's not from any girl. It's to a girl. She even kept this, all these years. The stupid drawing of a pirate ship on blue card. There's extra thought in a handmade card. Extra care. Extra attention. Extra love. Even if it is just a stupid scribble on cheap card bought in haste the day before. But she loved it. Far better than any shop bought one. This was special. This was them.
This is not the time. Shoved in the top drawer underneath the car magazines with the rest of those thoughts, just as the strangely silent Henry meanders in. "What's up with you? Look like you've seen a ghost."
"No. Nothing. I didn't." Seems like he actually did. "So, I know we said not too cheesy, but then I thought, Angie's just had a kid. Now's the time for mushy, cuddly stuff. And if she doesn't like it, you can give it to Alice. So here's what I got." Tipping the two carrier bags out onto the table, to reveal a bunch of various cuddly toys. Each with some kind of heart or 'love' message. Definitely more suited to Alice. Although Angie would probably be very pleased to receive one. Suppose it's the done thing. It's expected. "So you take a few and I'll take a few. Just, let me give that one to Janice. I saw her looking at it the other day."
"She is a cat lady." And that's fine, because this cat has got creepy eyes that follow you about.
"Not usually. Has to be the right one. Anyway. What have we planned for dinner? This better be good." Good is anything edible, right Henry?
"Grilled salmon, new potatoes and vegetables with a lemon vinaigrette." It is actually tasty, Henry. "Come on. Girls love fish. Something about omegas they have to have. And salmon is the least fishy tasting fish. Plus this will be easy, and quick to cook. Just put it all in to grill. Except the potatoes, boil them."
"Ah, Jake. Couldn't we have steak instead?" Dropping the bag of ingredients in front of him kills that wish. "At least tell me there's a desert."
"Chocolate cake and cream. See, with the fish, they won't be complaining about too many calories to spoil pudding."
"There's method in the madness." Isn't there always? You gotta learn how to play the women. And then watch it fail, because they always make sure of that. "I got the invite to Alice's christening." So, she did it. "You still not going?" Nope. "She's pushing it with the date in March, isn't she? End of March? Alice will be about three months by then, won't she? Is that normal?"
"It's something about one of Angie's aunts. Can't make it 'til then. And apparently you can't do it without the whole family."
"What about your side? Angie said she invited them." The pressure is not just from Angie.
"Yeah, I don't know. When did you talk to Angie?"
"She came round with the invitation last Sunday. Think she wanted me to make you go, but I just left her with Janice and played on the Xbox." Nicely avoided. "She asked me about a university prospectus. Said it was the second one to come for me, but I'd written the wrong name this time. You know what she was talking about?"
Do it. Just do it. Tell him. "Yeah man. A while back we got a prospectus from Surrey for their hospitality, travel and tourism courses."
"Seriously? Well, I didn't order it. And another one came recently?"
"The other week, yeah. To be honest, I ordered the first one, just to see what the courses were like."
"Hospitality? Like hotels? You want to work in a hotel? Why don't you just get a receptionist job? Or a cleaning job and work your way up to receptionist?"
"Because I want to run one. Or go into management. But I don't have the qualifications."
"You have a degree. Better one than me."
"Yeah, but it's in politics. At least if it was business I'd have something useful. Anyway, Angie made it clear that it's a stupid idea."
"When did you think of this? Hotel management. You've always had sales jobs since uni."
"Actually Tanya suggested it once." That got a reaction. Has Henry stopped breathing? It's like he's just seen that ghost again. "It kinda stuck. I like the idea. Always have." Henry starts to recover by taking some static breaths and working with his mouth to get the saliva flowing again.
"I did not expect to hear that name. You banned it from this house. It was a forbidden name to everyone who knew you. They just knew not to say it. I thought maybe you'd forgotten her."
"Nah, man." You don't forget. Not even when you think you have.