“Are you sure I look alright? Not too desperate?” asked Spencer, panicking for what quite frankly felt like the millionth time.
“No, baby. You look great, the house looks great. We’ll be fine,” I reassured, doing a last minute check on everything.
The usual clutter was stored away and every precaution had been taken when it came to the matter of child safety. All electrical plugs had been actively covered up and not a single wire was in sight. Spencer had even suggested getting stair gates but I politely reminded him that even though Leila was his special baby, she had long surpassed the stage of needing supervision on the stairs.
“The social worker is going to take one look at this place and insist we have an active role in Leila’s upbringing,” I stated, straightening out his dress shirt.
Its crisp white colouring drew the emerald green straight from his gaze and although inappropriate, I was secretly hoping we would be assigned either a woman social worker or a man who preferred the company of other men. I was all for doing things the ‘proper’ way but if we were forced to resort to slight manipulation, so be it. Spencer looked sexy as fuck and a little flirtation couldn’t do any harm.
“They’re late, what time is it?” he asked, growing concerned.
“It’s ten to.”
“Christ, I’m so nervous,” he laughed, pulling on his collar. “Is this normal?”
“Probably,” I replied, smoothing out my own dress.
I’d gone for a rather daring yellow number with daisies; pairing it with open-toed sandals and a white cardigan. The outfit was as sickening as too much sugar but I’d read somewhere that yellow was symbolic of friendship and I wanted to seem at least semi-approachable today. Even if I did resemble the love child of Mary-fucking-Poppins and a bloody Teletubby.
“Should we call them?” he asked, cut short by the doorbell’s insistent chime.
We both froze in place, neither one of us making to move. The universe seemed to stop. We’d prepared ourselves for this exact moment, yet the reality of it all suddenly seemed too much.
“I’ll answer it. It’ll prove I can do simple tasks such as opening the door,” he stated, certainly covering all aspects.
I allowed him the control he so badly needed and watched as he turned his back on me, striding towards the front door.
“Spencer,” I called, halting him mid-step. “Ti amo, baby. You’ve got this.”
He turned in his stance and sent me a slightly misplaced smile, leaving me weak in the knee’s.
“Right back at you, sweetheart.”
In an instant, he masked his nerves with confidence. The door opened to reveal a rather plump woman in her early forties; all smiles. Her mouse-brown hair clung to her chubby cheeks in a dated bob but as far as I was concerned, the woman was as important as the queen of England and the Pope combined.
Leila made her presence known by letting slip a rather girlish squeal and barely waited two seconds before jumping into her dad’s arms, attacking his beautiful face with hundreds of kisses.
“Oh, piccolo mia! I’ve missed you,” he expressed, lifting her up with little to no effort. “I’ve missed you so much.”
“Me too, Papὰ!” she replied, burying her nose in his neck.
Her attempts were halted by his collar and as though repulsed, she quickly pulled away, giving his entire outfit the onceover.
“Daddy, what on earth are you wearing?” She giggled, pulling on his shirt.
“My Sunday best,” he insisted, bopping her nose. “I’m trying to impress the lady stood behind you,” he whispered, loud enough for everyone present to hear.
Thankfully, the social worker laughed and offered my man her outstretched hand.
“I’m Angela. The social worker.”
“Hi Angela, it’s a pleasure to meet you,” smiled Spencer, repositioning Leila so that he could clumsily shake her hand. “This is my girlfriend, Jessica,” he added, alerting Leila of my presence.
It seemed in all her excitement she failed to pick up on my being here and was now pleased in her discovery.
Her tiny legs kicked until Spencer set her free, allowing her the chance to come barrelling into me.
“Hi princess, how are you?” I asked, genuinely unable to wipe the smile from off my face.
I crouched down so that my face was level to hers and gave both her cheeks two sloppy kisses.
“I’m okay. Things have been pretty tough for me lately,” she shared, face solemn. “Kimmy is telling everyone I no longer have a dad and my favourite glitter pen ran out.”
“That’s awful, baby,” I stressed, sympathising with her ‘no-dad’ situation.
“I KNOW! It was the one that made me write really neatly. Now my handwriting is all scruffy,” she explained, making me laugh.
“Well, I’m sure we can get you another one,” I appeased, offering Angela my full attention by straightening up. “Can I get you a drink? Tea, coffee, juice?”
“Oh, a coffee would be nice. Milk, no sugar please,” she replied, cheerily so.
I smiled my acknowledgement and set about my new found mission; coffee prep! I was going to rock Angela’s world with my fancy Italian latte and if that didn’t win her over, I didn’t know what would.
Quickly, I set the dials to the correct setting and heard Leila document her life to a fiercely intrigued Spencer, catching him up on all he had missed this past few weeks. She was due back at school soon and was reluctant to go back with Kimmy being the way she was. How she found out about Leila’s situation was a matter of mystery but I could only assume her parents had been talking and little miss Kimmy-listens-a-lot had picked up the wrong end of the stick.
“Have you done all your homework? You had to write about Christmas, didn’t you?” enquired Spencer, launching full-force into daddy mode.
“Yes! I did mine on baby Jesus. Did you know he had a pet donkey called Fred?”
“Did he really?” asked Spencer, laughing along with an amused Angela.
“Well, he did in my story,” stressed Leila, shutting up when I entered with a tray full of treats.
Her wide eyes went straight to the assortment of biscuits and I purposely made her a strawberry milkshake, knowing it was her favourite. I may have been overcompensating but I didn’t care one bit. This little girl deserved nothing but the best and I was sure as hell going to give it to her.
“Can I have a biscuit, daddy?” she asked, already making her way towards the party rings.
“What do you say?” he replied, seated across from Angela.
Leila instantly knew of her mistakes and quickly fixed it by offering him a very heartfelt, “Pleaseeeee!”
“Go on then,” he smirked, feeling accomplished. “Can you bring me a custard cream?”
“What do you say?”
“Please,” he replied, well and truly put in his place.
Angela slowly sipped on her coffee and proceeded to sing my praises, much to my satisfaction. She then pulled out a rather complex-looking folder and took to writing a few notes, plunging everyone into a moment of silence, Spencer included.
“Try not to be alarmed. Its protocol for me to write things down as I go,” she explained, no doubt noticing our unease. “Think of it as a checklist. I can see you have a lovely, safe home and therefore, you get a tick.”
“Is there a box for amazing coffee making skills?” I joked, making the woman sat to my left smile.
“Unfortunately not but if there was, you’d get full marks.”
Spencer smiled at my attempts to remain light-hearted and allowed Leila the pleasure of crawling onto his lap, where she subjected her dad to an almighty cuddle.
“Can we listen to one of your audio books?” she asked, chewing on her iced biscuit.
Spencer proceeded to nod whilst chomping on his custard cream, unbeknown to the crumbs he was getting everywhere. It didn’t matter too much that they fell onto the carpet. Gatto would no doubt pick them up later, always acting as our secondary hoover.
“Of course, what should we listen to?” he asked, caressing Leila’s wild locks.
“The Gruffelo!” she yelled, bouncing up and down.
“Okay, sweetheart. Can you be my eyes?” he asked, manipulating the situation to his advantage.
He may not be able to see but he sure as hell wasn’t going to let that stop him from actively engaging. Leila simply nodded and took hold of Spencer’s hand, leading him to his intended location as he reeled off the whereabouts of his newly purchased Kindle. Upon seeing this, Angela smiled and scribbled down more notes, seemingly impressed. And she wasn’t the only one. My man never ceased to amaze me and the more he fought back, the more I fell in love with him. He never let things get on top of him or if he did, it was never for long. Everything he did was for those he loved and I couldn’t quite get over the fact that I now fell into that category.
Two months ago, we didn’t like each other, yet now I couldn’t imagine my life without him. Two months was nothing in the grand scheme of things but as I silently watched my wonderful boyfriend lovingly take care of his daughter, I knew without a shadow of doubt that this was the life I wanted. I wanted us to be a team and I wanted to help raise Leila. I was ready. Despite my past.
Having asked for a private moment with Spencer, Angela was now sat nursing her third latte whilst discussing next steps with regards to the investigation. I had taken Leila to her bedroom where we were currently having a tea party with every stuffed animal she owned, barbies included.
“Could you please pass me the sugar, Jess?” she enquired, poised in her request.
“Of course, madam!” I exaggerated, passing her the small pot.
“MADAM!?” she shrieked, truly insulted. “I thought I was a princess.”
“Oops, my mistake. Forgive me, princess. How about some Victoria sponge to soften the blow?”
“Oh, yes please!”
I pretended to cut the plastic cake and popped the small slice on her fake-china plate, gifting her it soon after.
“Has my daddy been okay?” she randomly questioned, no longer interested in the cake I was offering. “I’ve been worried about him.”
“He’s been fine, sweetheart,” I insisted, positioning the plate back down on the table. “He misses you a lot and is determined to prove he can look after you.”
“I’m worried when I’m not with him. I think he gets scared sometimes,” she expressed, honest to God capturing my heart. “I feel better knowing you’re here. Thank you for taking care of him.”
“The pleasure is all mine, princess. You Dad does a great job in taking care of me too,” I stated, reaching for her tiny hands. “I love him very much.”
“Do you love me too?” she asked, growing curious.
I had to appreciate her boldness.
“Of course I love you.”
I purposely kissed both her cheeks.
“I love you too, Jess,” she grinned, dead serious.
For a moment, she held my gaze and I swear she was no longer just six-years-old. She often surprised me with her level of maturity and I could only assume it had something to do with her upbringing so far. It saddened me to think Isy was trying to cut Spencer off all together when the pair had clearly done such a good job up until this point. Leila alone was proof of that and if Spencer’s ex-wife would only see the bigger picture, perhaps we wouldn’t need to fight tooth and nail for our rights.
“Shall we have some chocolate cake too?” enquired Leila, breaking through my thoughts.
“I think that’s a brilliant idea!”
I proceeded to fake-cut another slice and handed her the plate, confused when she accepted it with a question of her own. “How did you get that?”
She pointed at my hand before taking the cake.
I looked down in horror to where her finger pointed. A blinding bruise sat proudly around my wrist, courtesy of last night’s satisfying scene. I had been tied to Spencer’s bed as he flogged me from behind, thoroughly enjoying myself in the form of sexual pleasures. Not that I would ever tell Leila this.
“Oh, I banged my wrist at work.”
She seemed to accept my explanation and took to nodding her head, pleased to carry on with our afternoon tea.
“My Mummy has lots of them,” she revealed, casual in her doing so.
“Bruises?” I asked, needing complete confirmation before I jumped to incorrect conclusions.
“Yes. She’s forever walking into things. Alister says she’s very clumsy.”
She finished her deceleration off with a dramatic sip of her tea, making sure to lift her pinkie whilst doing so.
“What else does Alister say?” I questioned, sick to the stomach.
“Leila, baby! Grandma, Grandad and Scott are here!” hollered Spencer, gaining the little girl’s attention. “Rosalie too!”
“Coming, daddy!” she answered, placing her cup back down. “Jess, we’ll have to finish tea later,” she informed, quickly kissing my cheek whilst breezing past.
She just about left before I stopped her with my voice, needing to know of one thing before I could let her go.
“Is Alister good to you, Leila? Do you like him?”
She thought long and hard.
“Yes. I like him,” she smiled, settling my unease somewhat. “He lets me eat ice cream and tells me funny stories!”
“Leila?” yelled Spencer, once again.
Like a shot, she was gone and I was expected to slowly follow. Yet I couldn’t move, for I was too stunned by her revelation to even contemplate it. My gut told me something wasn’t right and if what her daughter was saying was true, there was a good chance Alister Branning was mistreating his fiancée. And maybe, just maybe that right there was the leverage we needed.