No One To Blame But Marlee: Part 3
Marlee smoothed down the front of her black knitted skirt as her eyes scooted about the restaurant. It was thunderously loud, the clink of cutlery on china, china on stone and teeth on glass made her head ache. She could see the Maitre D’ not much concerned about his post at the entrance to the restaurant, chatting animatedly to one of the bar staff. The woman leaned over the bar and touched his shoulder as she flicked her hair in that coquettish way that women who knew they were attractive did. Marlee averted her eyes. She could still see them though, the rear wall was entirely covered in mirrors. There were no corners in which to hide here. How Marlee would have hated those mirrors back then. Today though, she tried flicking her hair at her reflection, aping the bar woman. She looked as though she was swatting a fly.
At last the Maitre D’ seemed to notice her. “Can I help you?”
“I’m meeting a friend for lunch. I think she’s reserved a table for two.” Marlee said.
The Maitre D’ studied the heavy book, pages wrinkled with nearly a year’s worth of bookings.
“Right this way.” He motioned for Marlee to follow, frowning as he noticed her pram. “You’ll need to leave the pram outside.”
Marlee flushed. She again wished they’d agreed to meet somewhere more casual, like a cafe. But she never met Clare somewhere casual. That wasn’t Clare’s style. Clare would want the good wine with a fancy, over priced salad, nothing but two bits of lettuce and a sliver of smoked salmon. Marlee, knowing that Clare would later insist on paying, would choose the cheapest thing on the menu and drink whatever Clare was drinking even though she hated drinking in the middle of the day.
The fulness of Clare’s perfume hit Marlee in the face as she sat at the table. Clare’s scent always preceded her, like a trumpet announcing the queen.
“Darling Marlee, how are you?” Clare swept Marlee into a warm hug, her clothes floating out around her arms like clouds; Marlee stiffened, she couldn’t help herself. “It’s been too, too long!”
“Hi, um, I brought Ethan, sorry. I couldn’t get a sitter.” Marlee stumbled over her words, still embarrassed that she’d achieved by accident something that Clare hadn’t after years of concerted effort.
“Of course, I’ve been dying to meet him.” Clare said, leaning towards the child perched on Marlee’s lap, running a finger down his cheek. Marlee saw a tide swell in Clare’s eyes. “Hello
Ethan, how old are you?”
Ethan turned his head and clutched at his mother’s sleeve.
“Go on,” Marlee urged. She didn’t like seeing the tentativeness she felt in Clare’s presence echoed on her son’s face.
“Two,” the was word so soft it could have been eclipsed by the beat of a hummingbird’s wings.
“His second birthday is next month,” Marlee said.
“Oh, that’s right. I remember we’d just got the house unpacked after moving into that dreadful rental in London when I got your message saying he’d arrived. I can’t believe I haven’t seen you in two years.”
“So… no luck then?” Marlee tread gently here.
“No. We gave up when we moved overseas.” She leaned closer to Marlee. “Jeremy and I were having some… problems. So we stopped trying. The IVF nearly sent us broke anyway. London was a new start for us. And haven’t we been the better for it. In fact, we’ve decided to adopt. Jeremy thinks we’re next on the list.” Clare’s voice lifted. There was something puzzling in Clare’s expression. Probably her pride. Marlee was sure that that poor child would always be a second prize to Clare.
“I’m glad to hear it, Clare. You and Jeremy deserve the best.”
Later, as Marlee made her way back from the bathroom, she paused to watch Clare talking with Ethan. The look of longing on Clare’s face was heart-breaking. Marlee looked on as Clare lifted Ethan on to her knee and nuzzled in his hair, breathing deeply. The two could be mother and son. Marlee jolted forward, eager to break the spell.
“Oh I almost forgot!” Clare said, “Jeremy wanted me to get a picture of the both of you. He has a real soft spot for you, you know, Marlee.”
Marlee hoisted Ethan from Clare’s lap back to her own. She clutched him tightly to her and smiled while Clare took the picture.
“He’s like a Botticelli angel with those big blue eyes.” Clare said. “Where did they come from anyway? Not you or Jack, that’s for sure.”
“They’re my grandmother’s eyes. Sometimes it skips a generation.”
Clare nodded and cocked her head to the side, studying Marlee’s little boy.
Image Source: Pixabay