At Lily’s school on Friday evening the hallways are packed; uniformed children with matching blazers, blue skirts and striped ties. They all look identical. Clones. Proud parents smile encouragingly, air kissing and shaking hands of their peers.
“Elly!” Lily waves and I push through the throng of people and she reaches up to kiss me.
“Your hair’s grown,” I say.
Her skinny arms bend around my neck. “I’ve used straighteners,” she whispers.
“Hi Charlie, you look smart in your blazer.” Her cheeks are flushed and rosy. “Have you got any new tattoos?” she asks.
Maria stands with her back to the wall. Her blond hair is recently trimmed, her neck is tanned and she wears a yellow and beige summer dress cut low, revealing a tempting cleavage. Her brown eyes betray deep anxiety.
“We’d better go and get ready.” Charlie nods at a group of kids moving into the hall.
“Sing loudly I want to be able to hear you,” Maria calls encouragingly as they disappear into a sea of blue uniforms.
“What is it about a school that makes you feel like you were only just out of uniform yourself?” I ask.
Maria cast a wry smile at a couple. The man’s grey hair is wild and unkempt. “Hello Maria, is this your sister?” he says.
There’s a much younger woman on his arm; peroxide blonde who chews gum and looks bored.
“A colleague.” She turns to me. “This is Charlie’s father and his friend Dawn.”
“We’re getting married,” He announces. “Where’s Michael tonight?”
“He’s in Dublin,” she mutters something about getting a seat in the hall and pulls on my arm.
“Relax,” I say, when we are alone. “What did you think I was going to say to him? That we were lovers?”
Her eyes flash me a warning. We sit on uncomfortable hard chairs. I cross my legs accidentally tapping Maria’s toe and she glares at me. “There’s more room on a charter flight,” I smile.
“You didn’t have to come.”
“At least Lily still enjoys my company.”
Maria’s lips are set in a tight line. She looks down at her hands. She is wearing her wedding ring.
The head teacher appears on stage, clears his throat and coughs. After a few words the concert begins and we sit through the first few songs. I spot Lily singing with her head tilted back and her mouth moving erratically. I glance at Maria, a smile on my lips, and our eyes meet but I don’t look away.
“Elly, don’t!” she whispers.
“Please don’t look at me like that.”
After the concert we wait by the front entrance. Lily comes sauntering along. “Could you hear me above everyone else?”
“Was that beautiful voice yours?” Maria says laughing.
“Charlie missed a wrong note and came in too late for the high bit at the end. Mrs Burrell was really angry but she knows Charlie’s parents are here with their new partners. Charlie’s mother thinks she’s having a baby!” Lily sticks out her tongue dramatically. “No-one likes her boyfriend.”
“I can understand that.” The words out of my mouth before I think.
“Do you know him?” Lily looks up.
“No but my mother had a good few boyfriends that I didn’t like. I don’t even like the one she has now.”
“Really?” Lily is enthralled. “What’s he like?”
“Come on, let's go home!” Maria ushers us toward the car park.
“Are you coming home with us?” Lily grabs my arm.
I imagine their house. His house. His garden. His books. His music. His furniture. His life. His daughter. His wife.
“Maybe another night.” I blow Lily a kiss goodbye but I don’t look at Maria.