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OUTING FOR THE family turned out to be fun after all, just like Mom had said it would. Not even the downpour earlier in the day could dampen the mood of everyone.

The choice of a quiet yet prestigious, ‘family-type’ restaurant was made by Mom, who was very picky and fussy about such things. Thankfully, the food was quite tasty, as were the drinks. Mom and Dad had wine while the kids drank flavored yoghurt and ice-cream. They talked a lot, laughed happily and held hands casually a couple of times.

As Alan observed, it had been a good idea for he and his younger siblings to have come along. Otherwise, the conversation might have been stiffly boring and the laughter tamed. That was because one way or another there was less friction around the table due to the carefree nature of the children present. The kids brought in the fun while the parents brought in everything else.

Dad was indeed rusty at such romantic outings, which was a surprise to Mom. He seemed to have forgotten the basic steps of pleasing a woman; how to chat freely without inhibitions and how to be well comported when out on a date.

He however cracked when Rachel wanted to feed him a scoop of ice-cream and it dripped off the spoon, fell and slipped downed his beard onto the table. Even Mom had to laugh at him then. Overall, Dad behaved himself soberly. He was very conscious of his alcohol intake, having decided to turn a new leaf, and drank more water than he did wine.

“Com’on,” Mom teased him lightly. “Have some more wine?”

“I have to drive us back home, remember?” he told her, smiling slyly and pulling back when she held the glass to his lips. The kids giggled, looking at their parents.

She laughed. “Not even a sip? I could drive us instead.”

“Yeah, right,” Dad smirked. “You’ve had a little too much, I’m afraid.”

They both laughed, while she sipped the wine, eyeing him above the rim of the glass.

“You can both drink all you want,” said Alan, with a smile. “I’ll drive us back home.”

“You?!” said Dad, raising his eyebrows.

“Really, Dad, I can drive.”

Mom looked at him curiously. “Since when do you drive, Alan?”

Alan grinned, and his gaze drifted to his little siblings playing pranks with their meal. Timothy was holding up the claws of the lobster he was devouring, attempting to poke Rachel with it while she was ‘fighting’ back with a piece of drumstick.

“Hey, stop playing with your food,” Dad told them reproachfully.

Mom looked at Alan. “So how’s that girlfriend of yours?” she asked him slyly.

“Mom!” replied Alan, who hadn’t expected the question. He threw his head back and laughed shyly.

“What?” Dad said, staring askance at both of them. “Alan has a girlfriend?”

“Of course, he has a girlfriend,” answered Mom plainly. “Shouldn’t he?”

“He’s just 14,” retorted Dad, feeling like an alien at the table.

“So? You had a girlfriend at his age, didn’t you, Jonathan?”

He shrugged, beaten, and turned away just as a modest looking couple came through the door of the restaurant. They paused in the middle of the floor, scanning around for an empty table.

The man, looking dap in a neatly starched stripped shirt over a pair of blue pants, spotted Alan’s family at the corner and walked towards them with his partner in tow and a plastic grin on his face. Alan thought it must be one of Dad’s friends.

“Hi,” the man beamed when he got to the table, fixing his gaze squarely on Mom. “What a pleasant surprise?”

She turned, surprised, and then flashed a broad smile. “Oh, hello, Mr. Thomas, good evening.”

The man kept smiling. His gaze fluttered across the table. “Your family, I presume.”

Alan’s Mom nodded. “This is my husband,” she raised her hand lightly, doing the introduction. “And my kids, Alan, Timothy and Rachel.”

Mr. Thomas smiled superficially at everyone. He was a thickset, beefy man with some grey hairs around his temple and beard, and he seemed amiable enough. “Good to meet you, Mr. Prince,” he said. “How do you do?”

Dad muttered his response with a wry smile, staring at the man keenly.

“We, my wife and I,” said Thomas, “thought we should take advantage of the cozy weather and hang out for dinner. This happens to be our favorite spot in town,” he added, smirking proudly as though he owned the place.

Dad said nothing, kept looking at the man.

“Hi, Tonia,” Mom said, addressing Mr. Thomas’ wife. “How are you?”

The woman smiled, nodding. “I’m fine, Mrs. Prince.”

Mr. Thomas hesitated for a while. Then he said, “Enjoy the rest of the evening,” bowed curtly, and politely excused himself, following one of the waiters to a table at the other side of the restaurant.

Dad’s eyes stayed on him discretely while Mom was busy cleaning up a spot of soup stain on Rachel’s dress, not looking up to notice the cold look in Dad’s eyes.

Alan noticed, though. And he didn’t like what he saw in his father’s eyes.

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