“So, what does she look like?” I scan the carpark in a blind pretence that I won’t recognise her when she eventually arrives. However, Doug probably knows that I googled her straight after our first date, and have repeated this exercise on a semi-regular basis ever since.
“Oh, she’s hot,” he replies. This is true, and with joint custody of his daughter, she will never be out of his life. A nice comforting white lie would have been nice, but I should know better. A cruel smirk momentarily mars his beauty, and I glance down at my feet and spot a crop of daisies. This, along with the general ramshackle appearance of the picnic bench, shows that it has been a while since anyone sat here. However, we’ve been sitting here for almost an hour waiting for Doug’s ex-wife to drop off his little girl.
“Hot, but not punctual,” I say.
He checks his watch and rolls his eyes. “What can you expect from an artist?”
He is indulgent, almost proud of her inability to conform to polite, adult society.
“By the time we get home, it’ll be Olivia’s bedtime? I don’t suppose she’ll have fed her?” I wish I could shut up.
“Stop trying to run Olivia and I like one of your projects.”
Another conversational blow that leaves me winded due to his attack on both my profession and my position in our fledgeling little family. He takes his straw fedora off, fans his face with it and then replaces it tilted upwards towards the back of his head. By rights, he should look ridiculous in this hat, and I long to feel disdain for his pretentious affectation. But, my eyes are drawn to him with an admiration that makes me ashamed. He stares up at the sky, but he knows I am watching him.
“Take it easy,” he sings, and his style adds a certain swagger to the old Eagles tune. He looks at me and points. “Lighten up while you still can.”
“Show off,” I say, but I laugh. Somehow, I’m dating the cool guy who is the singer in a band, and the awkward, adolescent girl who lurks in the depths of my brain can’t believe her luck.
Following some careful consideration, I decide to be spontaneous and duck down to pick some flowers.
“What are you up to Clare Bear?” You can be sure he never likened his skinny ex-wife to a bear, but at least he is showing an interest.
“I’m going to make a daisy chain.” I put two daisies down on the scarred old table, and they point at him like a pair of little eyes while he processes this information. For an instant, I am back at school, sick with apprehension, waiting on the judgment of the cool kids. To ease my tension, I keep talking, “For Olivia,”
“Ah. Nice one,” he says as he pulls out his vibrating phone and reads the screen.
“Mike has got us a gig at the dog and duck.” He looks at me seeking approval because he is booked to sing cover songs in the local pub.
I glance down at the daisy eyes on the bench and imagine they are judging him harshly.
“Sounds great,” I reply, embarrassed for him. Even the cool kids should grow up at some point, but it feels like I am in a relationship with a teenager. I pick more flowers and make a daisy chain while Doug announces his latest gig to his meagre band of social media fans. Just as I complete the last link, a small yellow fiat pulls up, and flustered, Doug’s ex appears from one door, and Olivia from the other.
“Sorry, sorry,” says the ex-wife.
“Hi Clare,” shouts Olivia and runs into my arms. Although she’s only been gone two days, I have missed her like crazy. I hug her small, compact little body close to mine and she plants a wet and loud kiss on my cheek.
“Hey little Livvie, I’ve made you a daisy chain,” I say.
She smiles with delight as I place it around her neck. Now, being with Doug doesn’t seem so bad.