Here we go, the next instalment of life… this is a little later than I would have liked to have posted by I guess you can say I’m a busy gal recently. I hope you all enjoy this, and as usual mega thanks goes to my beta and partner in crime , enchanteob - A, you’re amazing x
The walk to the park was quiet, she had visited it so often recently that she felt she could have made it there with her eyes closed. Seth had been extra quiet, clutching the paw of his tatty tiger, it’s tail in terrible need of stitches and one eye missing, Holly made a mental note to dig out her old suture kit when they got back home and repair it.
Seth had carried the tiger everywhere with him since he was old enough to walk, toddling about the house, you would be guaranteed to see him clutching the ragged toy, even at night when he curled up in bed, Holly having read a story to both the boy and his tiger who was always tucked up beside him. Holly had only mentioned a few months back that maybe they could consider throwing him away to replace him, or simply finally move away from the stuffed toy phase being that he was getting older, but Seth had only clung to it harder telling her that “nothing is perfect, but that doesn’t mean you stop loving it”.
Looking back Holly couldn’t help but think that it was as if he already knew, suspected and was preparing for the events that would unfurl in their lives, turning their world upside down and leaving Holly stumbling for purchase.
As they arrived at the park, the mixture of children’s laughter, screams and animated conversations began to get louder. Seth pulled lightly on her hand, as he always did when they walked among such noises or other people, and stopped in his tracks. She waited patiently as she heard him muttering under his breath, his eyes blinking rapidly as though blinded by a light. To anyone passing by, they were simply just scoping out the park, but Holly knew it was much more than that. He was counting and sorting, pretty much, well… everything. The amount of children in the park, the amount of adults, working out the child to adult ratio, calculating how many swings were there and how long he would get to play on them realistically if the other children decided they wanted a turn.
She gave his hand a gentle squeeze as soon as she heard his breathing become staggered, meaning that he was about to get worked up, and she lowered her gaze to his own as he shook his head rapidly.
“I can’t figure it out…” he admitted, frustration causing his brow to furrow and his lips to tighten in a fine line until his top one almost disappeared.
“Can’t figure what out sweetie… ”
“There’s just, there too many of them mommy, and they’re too fast today… it’s hurting my eyes and my brain just can’t do it today.” he blew out a shaky breath and kicked the toes of his bright blue wellies into the gravel path.
“Hey…” Holly whispered, coming down to his height and trying not to draw attention to them. She grabbed his free hand, applying light pressure to his palm, with her thumb and ducking her head until she caught and held his gaze “…if you don’t want to go in there, we don’t have to”.
“But we do,” he breathed out in a whine, closing his eyes and rocking back and forth on his heels “… you promised me we could try touch the clouds… you promised me I could try… and we promised Gail she could come too…” he rambled, glancing around the open space, his eyes wide in panic and nervousness “…I don’t see her mommy, do you?”.
Holly chewed on her bottom lip and glanced past the equipment, her eyes flittering past the jungle gym, the see-saw and slides, scanning the many faces for sight of those blue eyes that had filled her previous day with smiles and promises of more to come. She felt a dull ache in her stomach, shaking her head apologetically she wondered if this would be another time she would have to let Seth down. Another time she would be a disappointment to him.
The past few months had made her acutely aware of how easy it was to lose control of things and she mentally berated herself for not thinking this through hard enough. Bending down at the waist until she was crouched in front of him, she grabbed his waist gently, stilling him in his movements, squeezing softly, she forced a smile, hoping he wouldn’t notice her apprehension.
“How about you and Tatty go and get on the swings,“ she nodded to where they were situated, empty and still swaying slightly in the breeze as if waiting for him ”… and I’m sure she will come and say Hi when she gets here". It felt like a lie the moment it rolled off her tongue, heavy and full of fear. Still she hoped he wouldn’t noticed.
He thought for a moment, one hand clutching his tiger, he raised the other to push a handful of curls back behind his ear, turning to look over his shoulder to where a large group of children had gathered back around their parents and were now leaving the park.
“Okay…” he agreed, bunching the corner of his mouth and shrugging, before dragging himself slowly towards the swing set.
Holly watched him walk away, his shoulders slumped and his eyes cast downward, the dull ache throbbed harder in her stomach causing her to throw her arms around herself in an attempt to comfort herself.
“Hey Holly,” a voice filled her ears, not the voice she wanted to hear but a familiar one nevertheless. Glancing towards the sound, Holly’s gaze ran the length of a tall woman in her early thirties pushing a double stroller. It’s occupants two identical, smiling girls, their newly appearing teeth on show as they hammed it up for Holly, causing her to smile uncontrollably.
“Mara, ” she began, stepping closer and smiling “…, I almost didn’t recognised you for a second, new hair?” she tilted her head to the side as the woman stepped from behind the stroller and revealed her now very obviously protruding stomach. Holly bit down on her lip sheepishly as Mara giggled.
“And another 20lbs… I swear this is my last, Loka is desperate for a boy and so… lucky number four” she grimaced, waving her hand towards the play-set where a girl swung upside down from the monkey bars, her plaits swinging at either side of her head.
“Wow, Is that… Hannah’s so big now…” Holly breathed, a sudden wave of sadness filling her as she remembered holding the tall girl in her arms when she was much smaller. Back when things were easier. Back when she was just another pregnant mom in the park, invited by Mara to meet the others prior to Seth being born. Back before… well, before her life began to fall apart.
“She really is. But it seems like once one gets to her feet another comes along, you know?” Holly nodded her head and smiled as Mara continued to talk, she felt the pounding of her heart fill her ears, a louder sound than her friend’s voice and although she stared straight ahead, nodding passively, she really wasn’t quite paying attention to the smiling woman in front of her. She sucked in a deep breath and blew it out slowly, silently willing her heart to quieten so that her friend’s words were allowed to enter loud and clear, “…I heard about Katie…I’m so sorry. The Monday mom’s have been asking about you. We all miss you”.
Pity… there it was, all wrapped up and disguised as friendship, and Holly would normally have missed it. She would have offered the woman a seat, occupied the space next to her and proceeded to pour her heart out to her, wiping her eyes as the secrets and fears she kept behind closed doors, began to roll down her face, staining her cheeks with temporary sadness, that felt permanent at the time. Holly knew better now, knew where Mara had stood a few months ago when all this started, when she wound up having no place to go, when she had to leave her home, her life, her… supposed family. Holly knew exactly where she stood, and it wasn’t at her side, she felt her stomach bottom out, her hands clammed up and her tongue tying itself in knots as a pained look found her face.
One thing she knew would happen, but hadn’t had to face until now was the real possibility of her friends talking about her and they had, clearly. Her friends had been talking about her.
People she had thought were her friends had been talking about her. People who she had met through Katie, so technically they were Katie’s friends, and so, naturally, they had been talking.
She remembered the first time she had met Mara, her husband worked alongside Katie in the same law firm, and when an office party had come around during the holiday season, Holly had charmed her way around the room, a vision in red, clinging lovingly to her girlfriends arm, laughing with deep red lips at all the right jokes.
She had kept up with the constant debate of current affairs, listened carefully and nodded politely as they discussed wins they really should have won, and losses they definitely shouldn’t have lost. After a good few hours of playing the doting girlfriend, Holly had slipped outside and headed for the garden of the swanky hotel they occupied. The winter air cloaking her, as she approached a woman hunched over on a bench, cell phone to her ear as she begged into the device for information. Holly had slid next to Mara on the bench and fallen into hearing about how she had reluctantly left her newborn at home with a sitter so she could come to the function.
By the time the party was over, stars had filled the sky alongside their words; Mara’s new mother wishes for her child to grow up happy, healthy and safe, and Holly’s out of the blue wish to be a mother.
Her admission of wanting nothing else had surprised her to no end, especially as she was in her final year of getting her PHD in Forensic Anthropology. She had left the function that night, with a head full of dreams, each one a wish she made on those bright stars every night afterwards.
When she had finally fallen pregnant, it was Mara she went to for advice, for tips on the age old debate of Moses basket vs instant crib, of bottle feeding vs breastfeeding and it was Mara who sat in the waiting room, a bouncing pre-toddler on her knee, when visiting hours arrived the day Seth was born. Holly sighed, thinking how people who we often think are an integral part of our lives eventually become just passing strangers we see occasionally. People we knew like the back of our hands become strangers, roads we’ve never ventured down.
She straightened herself a little, her shoulders still too heavy from the burden of worry she had carried for far too long, she smiled politely and then scanned the crowd for Seth. Chancing a glance past him once more, she wasn’t disappointed when she met bright blue eyes that instantly made the weight she carried a little lighter.
“Thanks…” she muttered half- heartedly, not breaking her gaze with the blonde who raised her hand to her chest and waved tightly from the wrist “… I um, I have to go I’m meeting someone” Holly excused herself, and without so much as a glance back, made her way across the park towards the someone who had managed to turn a grey sky into the perfect shade of blue.
“You came?” she asked as she finally reached her destination, stopping short of running into her and hugging the blonde softly, despite all of her senses screaming for her to do so.
“I said I would,” Gail smiled softly, her brows furrowing as she noticed the relief on Holly’s face “…something tells me you’re not used to people delivering on their word though, right?”
“More like I’m used to people not showing up in general” Holly admitted softly, her gaze falling to the floor, she smiled as she noticed the thick rubber wellies covering Gail’s feet. A silence lingered between them, the background noise of oil needing chains creaking as Seth took flight, and the whirring of an empty roundabout, still moving despite its occupants having left.
“Well I’m here and I’m ready for some swing action,” Gail spoke, breaking the silence and glancing around the park, “… Where is that adorable child of yours?”
Holly glanced up and lifted a hand towards the swing set, her fingers tickling the breeze as she curled them into her palm, her index finger outstretched to indicate the far swing where Seth rocked back and forth, alone.
“He’s already over there trying to touch the clouds.”
Gail watched the boy swinging, slow and low, more of a comforting rock than a full forced attempt of catapulting himself into outer space. He stared at the ground where his feet rubbed against the ground as he moved, heel to toe, a rather worn looking tiger plush tucked into the opening of his boot. She couldn’t help but think of how small he looked, how lost he looked. She felt something inside her stomach, something she hadn’t felt in a long while, she didn’t have much time for friendships, but she felt the slow warmth of one building, the moment she caught his eye and waved at him.
“Who’s he trying to kid? Hey Captain Awesome!..” she shouted, crossing the playground with Holly in tow, she neared the swing-set and watched as he hooked his heels downward, letting them scrape against the floor and bringing himself to a stop.
“Gail!!!” he exclaimed, jumping from the swing, pausing to slip the keepsake from his boot and crossing the short distance between them, throwing himself at her waist. He hugged her tight, his face pressed into her stomach and for a moment she felt the breath she was going to use to greet him properly getting caught in her throat. She wrapped her arms around him gently, not squeezing but applying the lightest of pressure in the hopes that it was okay. When he let go of her and took a step back she lowered herself onto one knee and held out the fabric she had tucked away in her pocket.
“I saw you swinging, I have to say, it’s going to take a lot of hard work to reach those clouds,” she stated, glancing up at the burdening sky “… they’re pretty far away today. Here, try this on, I have a feeling it may help” his hand reached out tentatively, his small fingers slipping over the soft fabric, and palm lying flat as he pulled it towards him. She watched with her lip caught between her teeth as he unfurled the fabric. His jaw dropped in surprise.
“Wow, a cape! A cape!,” he giggled, happily, bouncing from foot to foot “… could you hold Tatty for me, please?” he asked, handing over his beloved toy before swinging the material around his shoulders and began to fasten the ties “…look mommy, my very own cape.”
Holly smiled, shaking her head softly at the woman in front of her still kneeling, and clutching protectively, the small piece of himself he never gave away willingly. The blonde completely entranced with the vision of Seth spinning in circles and the cape lifting and spreading in the breeze “It looks great sweetie.”
“Are you kidding, it’s the BEST CAPE EVER!!” Seth exclaimed excitedly, before taking off in the direction of the swings without hesitation. Sitting down and pushing with force he began to stretch and tuck his legs with determination, the swing climbing higher and higher causing his cape to flap behind him.
“You didn’t have to do that.” she whispered, watching as the blonde got to her feet and brushed a hands over her jeans. Still clutching his toy tiger, Gail pulled her jacket around her and shoved her hand in her pocket, moving slowly closer to the swing set, smiling as Seth giggled with each forceful thrust he gave.
“Yet you bought it anyway” Holly sighed in gratitude, she hated accepting anything. She didn’t really have the means to pay Gail back for this gift, and she wasn’t entirely sure how she felt about that…other than a little embarrassed and uncomfortable. She brought her hand to her mouth to chew at the skin around her thumb nervously.
“Hey,” Gail smiled, turning to face Holly, sensing a shift in the dark-haired woman’s tone Gail decided to lighten the mood, she removed her hand from her pocket and placed it on her hip “… I made that…See? War wounds and everything” she said, holding up her hand to Holly whose jaw dropped when she noticed for the first time, the dotting of bright blue band-aids wrapped around three of her fingers.
“You made it?!”
“That’s what I said…” Gail smiled and looked back at the boy swinging happily in front of them. She went to tuck her hand back in her pocket when she felt a warmth find her fingers. Glancing down she noticed Holly’s hand had found her own, her fingers wrapping around her hand and giving her a gentle squeeze.
“Thank you” Holly said, nodding lightly, her hair falling over her face obscuring her view a little but she saw Gail shrug and a light rose hue flush fill her pallid cheeks.
“You’re both welcome,” Gail smiled, tugging gently at their tangled hands, urging Holly to walk with her “…come on those swings aren’t gonna swing themselves”. They approached the swing-set and Gail gestured for Holly to take the seat next to Seth. Moving around to the back, she gripped the chains on either side of Holly and pulled back towards her until Holly’s back pressed into her chest, Gail moved her mouth towards Holly’s ear and whispered “…hold on tight.”
In that moment, as she felt the swing fall from her hands, she felt her stomach rise and fall in the hopes that it would return. That it would come back to her, that something would come back to her, what that was exactly she couldn’t know. All Gail knew, was that when Holly swung back to her, she would have her hands outstretched, ready to steady her, and to continue to support her as she moved back and forth in the uncertainty.
Holly gripped the swing tight, and closed her eyes as she felt it move forward. She sucked in a deep breath and held it in her chest, alongside her secrets and fears, until the moment she felt the swing move back, the reassuring hands of the blonde finding her sides and propelling her forward, again and again. She released the breath, and it fell from her lips in the form of a laughter. As she glanced to the side, she saw her son flying high enough to reach out and touch the clouds he dreamed of, in that moment Holly knew that dreams didn’t just happen when you were asleep, they could be found in the waking hours too, if one only dared to look.
I hope this was worth the wait, the next chapter shouldn’t be too far behind it. Life’s been a little hectic recently and so thank you for your patience.