She was tempted to turn on the engine, kick out a bit of heat. It wasn’t so bad waiting in the summer, but once the nights drew in it got cold too quickly. And the rain just made everything more miserable.
Did Becca have her coat? Probably not—she’d be too warm after all that exercise, too busy gossipping with her friends. Maybe when she grew up a bit more she’d be more sensible.
A car swung in behind her, lights shining off the wet tarmac, and she wondered if the tennis courts were too slippery. There was something about these new all-weather surfaces being safe—she’d read up on it, didn’t want her little girl going somewhere she hadn’t checked out—but she couldn’t remember all the details.
It was worrying, how her memory was playing up now. She’d find herself rechecking she’d turned the stove off, or getting up in the middle of the night to check the door was locked. But that was good, wasn’t it? It showed she was careful.
That was important, with a young child to care for. Not that Becca was that young now. Still so young, but almost a woman. It would be time to start looking at colleges soon.
The car behind found a space, and the driver killed the engine. A man got out. Looked a bit like an older Steve, with his hair grown out, and the start of a paunch. But everyone grew old, didn’t they?
He passed her car, and she gave him a smile. He didn’t see, though—just carried on to the courts.
Maybe his daughter was new to the club. Becca might have mentioned a new girl, but it was so hard to keep up, even with her constantly changing friendships. And then, she’d mention someone, and Becca would roll her eyes, say she hadn’t seen them since junior school.
Steve would laugh at that, tell her to keep up. But he was as bad. Kept on complaining about his job, promised he’d look for something else, but how long had he been at that firm? He’d wanted out when Becca was born, so it must have been years.
Something else about the man from the car—he wore a suit under his raincoat. She’d only seen Steve in a suit on their wedding day.
The car windows were steaming up, and the air was stuffy. She opened the door, decided to meet Becca at the court. She’d probably moan, say she was old enough to meet her mum back at the car, but it was a mother’s duty to look after her little girl, wasn’t it?
The rain soaked her hair, and she brushed it to one side. There was a bandage on her hand. Probably cut it while cooking. She had vague recollections of lots of blood. There had been tears, and crying, and a rush to the hospital. Then there were the stares, all the accusatory glances, as if they thought she wasn’t fit to be…to be cooking by herself.
It was only an accident. Could’ve happened to anyone, right? Just an accident.
The other parents huddled outside the floodlit courts, a few hiding under umbrellas. The girls congregated round their coach. He high-fived them all as they headed to the gate.
Maybe this wasn’t Becca’s club, though—the girls all seemed older. But that was probably down to those smart club tops they wore. Becca always looked more grown up when she wasn’t in those baggy jumpers.
The man from the car was there, and he greeted a girl, gave her a hug. The girl smiled, hugged back. She seemed familiar—probably a friend of Becca’s. Her hair was plaited.
She remembered trying to style Becca’s hair like that, and her daughter twisting and pulling, loose ends sticking out so she looked like she’d been fighting a hedge. Not like the tight plaits this girl wore.
And then she realised—this was Becca!
The strange man rested his hand on her daughter’s shoulder, like some predator. But Becca didn’t move away, didn’t appear to mind.
She forced the hot anger and the terrible thoughts down as she walked on, drew closer. She smiled as Becca looked up.
“Hey, sweetie. Good session?” She held out a hand, purposely avoided looking at the man.
Becca stayed back, confusion on her face. And the man stepped forward, like he was shielding the girl.
“You shouldn’t be here.” His jaw was firm, his eyes filled with anger.
“What? I’m just picking up my little girl…”
He shook his head. “No. You agreed.”
He blinked, and she noticed how like Steve’s his eyes were, and how similar their voices were. Even though he sounded angry, there was…something else in his tone.
“Talk to Natalie”, Becca said. “We’ll…sort something out.” The girl turned to the man. “Right, Dad?”
He hesitated, then nodded. “Yeah. Natalie. I’ll give her a call.”
The woman’s name conjured up images of a friendly smile and a name-badge, cups of tea, pills in little plastic compartments, filling out forms on the kitchen table.
“But you can’t be here, Angie,” he said. “You need to stick to what they said.”
He gave Becca a push, and they hurried away, his arm around her shoulder. Neither looked back as they disappeared into the car park.
She didn’t feel the rain, or the chill. Her legs found the way back to her own car, and the key materialised in her hand. Condensation blurred as car lights shone in, and she wiped one sleeve over her side-window.
The lights grew, then faded. The car passed her. Becca looked in, her window down, and mouthed three words.
Then the car was gone, red lights fading into the distance.
Moisture ran down her face, salty where it touched her lips. She sniffed.
“I love you too,” she said, then gripped the wheel as she waited for the tears to stop.
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