Monday, 4 March 2019

The Forgotten Hollow Tinies: Interlude C - Mummy's Day Off

Shortly after the birth of Jules, Gregory Ridley came by to see me. Over the years, as my children had been growing up, he and I had formed a friendship: chatting as we passed in the street, often popping into each other's houses for drinks - just your run-of-the-mill neighbourly amicability.

























On this occasion, he came bearing gifts in a beautiful basket. He knocked politely, and as I answered, I fear that I came across as rather rude: groaning as the sun hit my strained eyes, and wincing as bolts of pain shot through my exhausted body. His concern was immediate.

























"Amelia? Are you all right?"

"What?" I answered sleepily, half-yawning. "Oh, hi, Gregory... yes, I'm fine. Just - you know - exhausted."

"The little ones zapping your energy?"

"Oh, you'd better believe it. I'm having trouble getting Jules to sleep - not to mention I've just found out I'm expecting again."

"Really?" Gregory said, surprised. "So soon?"

"Yeah." I replied casually. "Still, no rest for the wicked, I guess."

"You're hardly wicked."

"Tell that to Mrs. Casper."

"Oh, don't you mind that old windbag."

Looking down at the basket he was carrying, Gregory suddenly remembered the reason for his visit.

"Oh! I brought these for you," he said brightly, holding the present out to me. "Bath salts, candles... load of relaxing stuff. I saw them over in Bluewater Village, and thought of you."

Touched by his kindness, I took them from him, smiling.

"Thank you, Gregory. That's really kind of you."

As he grinned back, we paused for a moment in a heartwarming silence - disrupted suddenly and sharply by the wail of my youngest child in his cradle, causing me to wince.

"I'd best see to him," I said to Gregory, nodding towards the house. "Look, if you don't mind waiting for a while, would you like to come in for a drink? We can carry on our chat."

"Sounds good," Gregory answered. "I'd love a cup of tea."

"Oh," I gasped, embarrassed. "Well, I've not had chance to go to the shops this week, so I only have juice..."

With a soft chuckle, Gregory waved his hand dismissively.

"No problem. Juice would be great."

Sighing with relief, I led him inside.

____________________________















Once I'd got little Jules settled, I poured Gregory and myself a glass of orange juice, and sat down with him at the table - groaning again as my back made contact with the chair. Gregory reached out a hand instinctively, but I waved it away.

"I'm fine, Gregory, really - thank you. I'm used to it by now."

Once I was settled, I took a sip from my glass, and turned towards the gift basket.

"Thanks again for the present," I told my guest. "You didn't have to."

"Oh, it's my pleasure,"  Gregory replied. "I know the kids must keep you running ragged - I figured a nice bath would be perfect when you get some "me" time."

I spluttered with laughter.

"Chance would be a fine thing," I said light-heartedly. "It seems that every time one of my kids outgrows the cradle, there's another one ready to fill the gap. They keep me busy, all right."

As he took a gulp of juice, Gregory seemed pensive. I noticed his eyes widen as his sought-after brainwave struck, and he turned to me excitedly.

























"You know," he began, "there's a new spa open over in Windenburg. I saw it in the paper - people are saying good things. Maybe you could go over there for the day - get a bit of pampering? It would help you feel better."

As I imagined such a treat, I sighed weakly.

"That would be wonderful," I whispered. "But, no - I couldn't. I'm not sure I could even afford it."

"I'll pay," Gregory replied. "Consider it part two of my gift."

"Oh, Gregory, really," I protested. "I couldn't ask you to - "

"I want to. Please. You're my friend."






















"Look, I'm grateful, but... well, who'd take care of the kids? I don't know any sitters who'd be free for the whole day."

"Well, I'm free."

I turned to him.

"You are?"

"Yeah. In both senses of the word. I'll look after the kids - no charge. I've nothing else to do. You go out, enjoy yourself."

As I hesitated, he clasped my hand in his, and looked into my eyes.

"You've raised all of your children alone for so long," he said softly. "You deserve this - you've earned it."

As I sandwiched his hand between both of mine, I smiled at him.

"All right," I answered. "If you insist. Thank you so, so much."

Gregory said nothing - replying simply with a contended nod.

____________________________

As I travelled over to Windenburg and found myself standing outside of the new state-of-the-art spa building, my mind was abuzz with worries. Would Gregory be OK on his own with the kids? Would they behave? Would he hate me forever after today?

But then, as I stepped inside, donned a fluffy white robe and began my treatments, all of my fears and concerns were about to melt away. 























A long soak in a Jacuzzi bath filled with rose petals - accompanied by gentle melodies - soothed my soul, and made me feel at peace.















A hot stone massage relieved the pain in the back, the tension dropping away like a weight released from a balloon.
















A foot rub eased the swelling in my ankles, and the ache caused by chasing my children around all day, every day.

























Finally, I wound up my treat day by trying a pregnancy yoga class.

I was so busy enjoying myself that I lost all track of time. When I finally found myself walking up the grave-strewn path to my house, evening had already started to fall. There on the lawn, checking the leaves of one of my drooping pot plants, was Gregory.



















"You need bug spray on this," he remarked. "I'll bring some around for you tomorrow."

"Sorry I stayed out so long," I said sheepishly.

"No problem - I wanted you to make the most of it. Did you have a nice time?"

"Oh, it was bliss - thank you. I hope the kids weren't too much trouble?"

"None at all," he answered assuredly. "They're a great bunch of munchkins. If you need a sitter again, call me anytime."
















As he smiled at me, I swore I could feel butterflies fluttering in my stomach. It was bizarre: none of my other gentleman friends had ever made me feel like that.

"You be careful with that one, Ridley!" hissed a acid-filled voice from the roadside. "She's a good-for-nothing slut!"





















Annoyed, I turned my head sharply to glare at her.

"Walk on, Mrs. Casper," I snapped. "No-one here is talking to you."

























"I don't need permission to speak from a harlot," came the blistering response. "I'm telling you, Ridley - keep your distance. She's eyeing you up for her next child benefit cheque."

I could feel the flames of fury breaking out across my face. I was about to give that old witch a piece of my mind, when Gregory suddenly approached her, incredibly calmly, and stared her down.














"Ms. Livingstone is a friend," he said matter-of-factly, "and I don't appreciate you talking to my friend like that. Her children are well-cared for, so however many she chooses to have is not your concern. I'd bet good money that you're just jealous of her since you haven't any family of your own to love you, you miserable hag."

Mrs. Casper choked on her own bile.

























"How dare you speak to me like that!" she roared, outraged. "I refuse to stay here and be insulted!"

She turned on her heel dramatically, marching away. As he watched her performance, Gregory smirked proudly, and waved her off.






















"Goodnight, Agatha," he called. "Try not to be a bitch to anyone else before you get home!"

I stifled a giggle desperately. Once the coast was clear, Gregory turned back to me, and I felt my heart skip a beat.



"Thank you," I whispered. "For sticking up for me."

"You're welcome," he replied. "Don't you listen to that cow - her dried-up heart hasn't got any love left in it. Besides... what are friends for?"

Incredibly grateful, I rushed towards him, embracing him tightly.






















At first, Gregory was taken aback by this. But soon, he relaxed into my arms - wrapping his own around my body tenderly as he returned the gesture.





















"I should check on the kids," I said, pulling away - more than a little reluctantly.  "Thank you again for everything."

"It's no trouble - really. I'll bring over that bug spray first thing tomorrow morning."

"OK... I'll see you then. Goodnight."

"Goodnight."

After I'd watched him walk out of the front gate, I entered the house. Henry, Gabriel and Freyja were all gathered in the front room, quietly playing a game together. As I closed the door behind me, they looked up happily.

"Mama!" cried Henry.

"Hi, Mum," Freyja said chirpily. "How was your day?"

"Wonderful. How about yours? Did Mr. Ridley look after you all OK?"

"He was great!" Gabriel replied eagerly. "He played with Henry all morning. He even read him a book before naptime."

The toddler giggled, clapping his hands enthusiastically at the memory.






























 



















"Then," Gabriel continued, "when Freyja and I came home from school, he helped us out with our homework."














"That's great to hear," I said, relieved that everything had gone so well. "I guess I'd best go and check on Ianto and Jules."

"No need, Mum," Freyja said quickly. "Gregory took care of everything. They've been fed, had their nappies changed, and have been tucked up in their cradles. He said he didn't want you to worry about anything tonight."

My goodness... it seemed Gregory really did care about me. About us. Me and my children.





















Happy and relaxed, I scooped Henry up into my arms. 

"I think it's bedtime for this little man, too," I said. "Gabriel, one more hour, then it's your bedtime. Freyja, don't you stay up too late either - I want to be the last one in bed tonight, understand?"

"Yes, Mum."

"Good. You've made me very proud today."

____________________________














I kept my composure all the way to my front door. There was no way I was going to let that woman see me as weak... as vulnerable. 

I didn't want her pity, her sympathy - neither hers, nor that of her latest love slave Ridley. The poor deluded fool: she was bound to use him for a baby and then throw him away, just as she had with all the others. It was deplorable.

It was only later, once I was safely locked away in the privacy of my own front room, that I finally let the tears flow.

























I refused to let Ridley think his petty words had hurt me. I wouldn't give him the pleasure. Besides, they were nothing compared to the pain I had long carried so secretly in my heart. 

I didn't want to hate the girl. Truly, I didn't. But whenever I saw her, surrounded by her ever-growing brood, the sound of children's laughter floating through the air like music, her young, delicate hands gently caressing yet another baby bump...

... the memories were more than I could bear.

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