Lunch with Dad was exactly what the doctor ordered. Endless stories about him and his pals kept me entertained enough to forget about the looming situation we had on our hands with Isy. Roger was currently doing his best to hack into Alister’s emails–following his chat with Spencer–giving us both nothing to do but wait.
“How are you, petal? How are things shaping up with this ex-wife nonsense?” asked Dad, dipping a chip into his pot of tomato sauce.
I sighed. “Things are okay, I suppose.”
I had nothing more to say on the matter.
“And little Leila? How’s she holding up?”
He was making more of an effort to include Leila in our conversations since I moved in with Spencer and I loved that he was. It was nice that he wanted to know more about her for my sake. As I said to Isy only a few days ago, I’d never replace her mother but that didn’t mean I didn’t love her like a daughter. She saw me as a step-mum, therefore Dad saw himself as her step-granddad and was certainly making the effort to act like one.
“Happy as ever. Spencer is taking her to see Sophia today. She’s stopping over tonight and has a play date with two of her friends tomorrow. We’re taking them all swimming.”
“That sounds like a handful. I’m sure you’ll all have fun.”
He smiled and I shot him one right back, feeling the need to portray my utmost happiness when it came to those two. Spencer and Leila were a breath of fresh air and after his revelation the other night about questioning his abilities, I couldn’t wait to see the pair back in action. Spencer had many doubts but they all obliterated the second he got his daughter back.
“How’s Karen? I’ve not seen her in a while,” I asked, finishing my last forkful and wiping my mouth on the napkin provided.
Dad copied my actions, though did so less gracefully. “Great. She’s away visiting family at the moment.”
“That explains why you’ve been at the pub every night then,” I teased, reaching for my lemonade.
I took a sip and in doing so, began to laugh. Dad look mortified at my suggestion but couldn’t very well deny it.
“Christ, you’re right. Is this what my life has come to? Resorting to a night at the Dog Bull whenever my girlfriend is not around to give me her full attention.”
“Pathetic, isn’t it?” I smirked. “Then again, I’m not one to talk. Spencer’s going to Italy next week. I’m dreading it.”
“You not going with him?” he asked, confused.
“No, I’m staying behind. Someone needs to run things from our end. Scott will still be on paternity leave.
Dad smiled in an instant, raising his pint to meet his lips.
“You’ve fit right in there, haven’t you? Working for those two,” he stated, refusing my efforts to pay. “This one’s on me, petal.”
I smiled. “Thanks.”
Within minutes, our meal was paid for, leaving us with nothing to do but sit in silence as we waited for our complimentary mints. This was by far one of the nicest restaurants we’d frequented in and to be honest, it showed. We looked out of place in our casual jeans and simple T-shirts but no one seemed to mind.
Lucky for us.
“This was nice. We should come here more often,” he suggested, patting his stomach as though thoroughly satisfied.
I laughed at his display. “Glad you’re a fan. The food was nice though, wasn’t it?”
Wow–my old man really was impressed.
“We’ll definitely come back again soon,” I promised.
He threw me a knowing smirk, alongside his suggestion to get going. “Shall we?”
We set about a leisurely stroll through Hyde Park, taking in the glorious sights of early spring whilst talking nonsense. It was nice. I enjoyed Dad’s company because I could be myself around him and not worry about keeping up appearances. With Spencer, I attempted to remain brave and optimistic and to be honest, it was sometimes tiring. I kept my apprehensions bottled up for his sake and in doing so, suffered tremendously. Talking to Dad was my only chance to offer up my true thoughts and I certainly didn’t want to miss my opportunity.
“Do you think bad things happen to bad people?” I asked, watching the many leaves that had yet to turn green pass by at my feet.
“I like to think they do,” he replied, keeping up with my pace. “Why do you ask?”
“Alister deserves repercussions for what he’s doing.”
“And he’ll get them,” he ensured me, pulling on my wrist as to stop me from walking any further. “They won’t win this.”
I desperately wanted to believe him.
“I try to remain optimistic but sometimes I imagine what will happen if he succeeds. What will happen if Alister takes Leila away from us all?”
“Has something happened?” he asked, certainly catching on to my wary tone.
Hiding things from him had never been easy. The man had an eagle eye and far too much suspicion.
“He’s abusing Isy.”
Spencer and I had sworn to keep that secret but I couldn’t not tell my dad. I was suffocating in my own knowledge and found I needed his guidance more so than ever.
“That’s why you asked Karen?” he whispered, finally slotting together the missing puzzle pieces.
He looked sick with shock. I nodded.
“Have you told the police?”
“No, Isy doesn’t want that. He’s manipulative, Dad. We need to be just as cunning if we want to prove he’s guilty.”
“And how do you plan on doing that?” he enquired, spotting a park bench up front and pulling me towards it.
Again, I hadn’t wanted to bring Roger’s name up to anyone other than Spencer but I knew I could trust him. He wouldn’t breath a word of this to anyone.
“You remember Roger, right?”
We both sat down and immediately faced each other, ignoring the hustle and bustle of park life.
“Jack’s friend, Roger?”
Another nod. “That’s the one. He works for a private investigator. We’ve got him on the job.”
“Christ, petal! How much is that costing you?”
“Nothing. Roger insists. Although, I did send him a gift basket.”
Dad took on an expression of worry and made a grab for my hand, holding it tightly in his own. “And Leila? Is she-”
“She’s fine. The only reason Spencer hasn’t taken immediate action is because Alister has been away this last month. He’s due back in a week or so.”
Never before had I seen him so angry. His bright blue eyes turned slate grey and right where a smile usually sat was now a straight line, resembling that of a scowl.
“I’d kill that bastard myself if he’s hurt that little girl.”
My heart swelled at the amount of protection he was displaying but I held my emotions together and shook my head, keen to ease his worries. “He hasn’t touched her. Isy swears it and we believe her.”
“But I’m scared, Dad. Seeing him so helpless breaks my heart.”
He offered up a simple sigh, nostrils flared. “I know that feeling well, Jessica. I watched your mother slowly slip away from me for years and couldn’t do a damn thing about it.”
Against my will, tears slid down my cheeks, overwhelming in their arrival.
“But do you know what helped?” he asked, nudging my side. “You and your brother. I kept myself going for you two and as long as Spencer has you and Leila, he’ll do the same. I can guarantee it.”
I sniffed back my need to weep and looked out into the distance. “Life can be so cruel.”
“The people in it aren’t much better but good always outweighs the bad,” he offered, kissing my knuckles, one by one. “Hang in there. Both of you.”
“Thanks, Dad. I’m sure you’re right.”
He wrinkled his nose, slightly displeased by my declaration. “Of course I’m right. I’m always right.”
“She would’ve been proud,” he expressed, looking towards the sky.
I followed his gaze and found the afternoon sun emerging from behind a cloud, making itself known by shining its warming rays down on us.
“Do you think she’s looking after Charlotte for us?” I asked, squinting against its intense brightness.
I sunk lower in my seat and shook my head, suddenly embarrassed by my question.
He smiled. “Absolutely.”
We both settled into the silence and took in the wonderful view before us. People from all walks of life were currently making their way through one of London’s busiest parks and not one of them seemed to carry their problems. Parents brought their children to play in a bid to enjoy their weekend off, having earned such a pleasure from working all week long. Teens gathered under the trees to play their music, gifting us other park-goers the delightful sounds of whoever was currently belting lyrics out as though their life depended on it. Everyone had their own reason to be here and seeing such casualness made the fight in me grow to extreme lengths. I wanted to do these things with Leila and perhaps any future children Spencer and I had together. I wanted to come here on my Saturday off and have the opportunity to play with a Frisbee. I wanted Leila to grow into the type of teenager who came to the park to spend time with friends. I wanted Isy to find love with a decent man because whilst what she did to Spencer when they were married was wrong, she was a good person and deserved to be happy.
“Jess?” Dad hadn’t called me that in years and his need to do so now certainly caught my attention. “Talk to Spencer. Tell him you’re scared.”
“You think it will help?” I asked, resting my head against his shoulder.
“Listen to your old man. He knows what he’s talking about.”
I laughed, feeling a little lighter. “I like it when you call me Jess.”
“Yeah, I think it’s time I lifted the ban,” I mocked, taking a huge step in the right direction.
Years ago, I had denied the use of that shortened version of my name. Mum used to call me Jess and when her illness deteriorated, it became too painful to hear anyone else use it.
“Good for you,” he praised, pulling me closer to his side.
I kept my head on his shoulder and smiled, enjoying the feel of his hand squeezing my arm. The moment was nice but like everything, it didn’t come without interruptions. My phone’s ringtone sang through the air, demanding my attention and although I missed Scott’s call by mere seconds, it did bring my attention to the string of text messages I had waiting for me.
SCOTT: Come to the office ASAP!
SCOTT: It’s Urgent!!!
SPENCER: Baby, we have a problem…
SCOTT: Why do you even have a phone if you won’t answer it?!!!!
ROSALIE: Are you okay? xx
SAM: Jessie, call me as soon as you get a chance.
ISY: I’m sorry. I couldn’t stop him.