The next few weeks that go by are filled with laughter and music. Nick has been back to Coniston for a little while to finish writing the end of another book he’d had in the works and was setting up for the next season of holiday renters. Turns out the twin’s parents are keepers of Nick’s second home and look after it, and the tenants when Nick is in Paris. Small world. Lily texts Olivia every day, but Thierry doesn’t text as much. Apparently, it’s raining in the lake district, none stop where they live. They’d left just in time. Olivia has to explain that the weather isn’t much better in Manchester. There hasn’t been any rain yet, but there’s been cloud cover every day since they got back…another unusual forecast. Emily sends pictures twice every day of her and Loui, occasionally Ian will be in the background, not always with the friendliest look on his face. In fact, one picture that Olivia had received, she wasn’t certain Emily had spotted her father glaring at Loui from the kitchen with a knife sharpener in his hand.
The kitchen window in Olivia’s kitchen has been mended and everything looks as good as new. The evening is rolling in for the family. Claudia and Olivia are setting up some bits outside for a BBQ styled evening. They’re used to cooking things in the oven and bringing them out on paper plates, but Clive is quite handy in the kitchen and on the BBQ. He has decided to do things properly and is currently frying up some veggie burgers on a grill outside. It’s double date night, much to Olivia’s dismay. She’s not certain she’s ready for an evening of getting to know everybody and feels like they should all be wearing name tags. Nick isn’t there yet, he’s travelling straight from the lake house to Olivia’s house and isn’t due for another hour or so. They’re planning on eating without him and then serving snacks and alcohol later in the evening…because nothing goes better with alcohol than an only child’s first serious boyfriend being brought home. It feels weird to her to think of him like that. A boyfriend. It’s not a term that she has ever used in the past and is used to indulging in flings and conversations with boys that always end up a moot-point when they come out with something stupid or insulting. Nick is her first and when she had told him that, he’d insisted she use the phrase as often as possible to knock the taboo out of her head. So far, it feels awkward to stay, but comfortable when she is with him. That’s all that matters to her right now. Olivia walks outside with her mother, who is carrying a bowl full of salad. Olivia carries the plates and cutlery. It’s a little strange outside. There’s a chill in the air, but the clouds are heavy in the sky and a thick humid smog hangs all around. On the decking at the end of the garden a long wooden table is laid out with a fruit platter and muffins. Stacked next to the BBQ, at Clive’s insistence, is a pile of ready to cook burgers and up and down the table are bowls of crisps, a dish with crinkled chips in them and next to that a variety of sauces – brown, BBQ, ketchup and burger relish. There’s a large jug of water and in it, ice and lemons which bob around. It’s a little strange to be setting up a BBQ when the sun isn’t joining them, but this is normal British behaviour. They have grown so used to poor weather that they are never dissuaded to get outside when the nice weather turns south. Besides, the Monroe residence is well equipped with a coal pit in the middle of the decking and a makeshift fireplace at the end. The fire, whilst it plumes out smoke and makes one’s clothes smell like a chimney sweep, is warm and comforting. When you walk past, it makes you want to stay there and let the skin on your legs burn. Olivia sets the plates where Claudia instructs her, and they sit down on the chairs that they’ve dragged up from the centre of the garden. The benches are all laid out ready for smores later on in the evening and Olivia feels a sense of peace that in a short while, they’ll all be gathered around the coal pit, exchanging stories of past adventures and funny memories. Even though, Olivia isn’t looking forward to the company of Clive and Nick this evening, she is looking forward to them finding out more about the Monroe ladies. One of two things will happen, either they will realise how lucky they are to have her and her mother in their lives, or they’ll run for the hills when they realise how crazy they actually are.
An example of said craziness, takes us back to a time when Olivia is still a student in primary school. She had been bullied relentlessly for her freckles, by a little girl called Rachel White. One day, at play time, Rachel had kneed Olivia in the stomach so hard that she had thrown up. She’d ran crying to her teachers and the teachers had done sod all. So, that afternoon, when Claudia came to pick Olivia up from school, she had told her all about the poor ordeal and had demanded that her mother home school her. Of course, Claudia had said she just wasn’t able. She needed to teach her daughter to not let bullies get the better of her. They had come up with a cunning plan. They’d found some water balloons and filled them with paint, Claudia had instructed Olivia that the next time this bully tried to hit her, she was to throw the paint balloon over her head. It hadn’t quite worked out like that. Rachel had followed Olivia down the school path at the end of the day and shoved her to the ground. The teachers saw, Claudia saw, but the teachers didn’t do a thing. Claudia however had stormed up the school path and shoved the little girl to the ground. Olivia stood up and the balloon, that had been tucked away in her coat, had popped all over her front. So, Claudia, took the paint covered jacket off her daughters back and draped it over the Rachel’s head. Claudia had been scolded by the head teacher for setting a poor example and got into a blazing row with Rachel’s father. Claudia’s defence wasn’t to apologise, it was to chastise the girl’s parent for not raising their child better. At that, they had run off down the path and went out for pizza…Olivia still covered in paint.
That had to be one of the best moments in Claudia Monroe’s parenting career. A true achievement and proof that people never do grow up, even when they have children of their own, humans are all just kids playing dress up in their parents’ clothes.
Poppy comes racing across the lawn. Olivia sweeps her up excitedly. Shortly after, Nick comes through the back door with Clive. Olivia sets down the excited dog and runs to her boyfriend, who sweeps her up and spins her around as he hugs her. “God has it only been two weeks?” Nick mumbles into her hair. “Yep, two weeks.” Clive pats him on the back and chuckles deeply. Nick sets Olivia down and she looks up at him through her lashes, wanting to kiss him but not quite having the comfort to do so in front of her mother and Clive. He winks at her instead and she smiles shyly, like a schoolgirl with a crush on her teacher. They stroll over to the decking and sit down beside the table. Nick holds her hand at their side. “How was the journey back?” Claudia asks Nick.
“It was fine, thank you.” They sit in silence for a moment. Clive laughs.
“I think we all need to relax because this evening is going to be just as uncomfortable for me as it is for you, mate.” He laughs deeply again and passes over a can of beer to Nick, who gratefully opens it and chuckles. “That’s fair.” He replies. “I can’t say I’d want to convince this one that anyone is good enough for her mother.”
“And I can’t imagine this one agreeing that anyone is good enough for her daughter.”
“So, we’re agreed that this is terrifying.”
“We’re agreed.” Oh, good. Olivia thinks. They’re bonding. That’s a good thing, right? It is until the men start talking about the girls snoring. Neither Olivia, nor Claudia, can imagine it being a positive note that each of them now have the image in their heads of such intimate circumstances. “Come on, guys.” Claudia laughs. “Let’s not open up that can of worms. Be smarter.” She sips at her own drink and leans across the table to murmur to Olivia. “Why did we have to pick men that are balsy enough to mock us? Is that a hereditary mistake, because I’m sorry if it is.” She leans back and glares at both them both. Clive sees his cue and struts over to the BBQ. He starts dishing up the veggie burgers onto oven top muffins and dishes them out to the table. Olivia digs in and asks, with a mouth full of food, “I don’t actually think I asked how you two met.” She says to Clive. He grins.
“That’s actually a great story.” Claudia blushes.
“It’s not an appropriate story.”
“It’s a funny story!” He corrects her. “So, I deliver food to the hospital, that’s my job. I’d seen your mother in passing before and I’d thought her to be very beautiful, how could I not? I’d never actually had the guts to talk to her before though. Then one day, she was passing by chance and I’d dropped a box of crackers on the floor. Your dear mother, being the sweetheart, she is, leant forward to pick up the box, and I kid you not, the seam in her pants, right along her butt, tore right open!”
“Oh my god.” Nick laughs and puts his hand over his mouth to stifle his giggle.
“Bet you didn’t know your mum liked thongs?” Clive asks. Olivia slaps her hand over her face.
“Oh my God!” She gasps. Claudia is beetroot red, but Clive continues his assault.
“Now, I consider myself to be a gentleman, as I am, so I made a makeshift skirt out of an empty box and slipped it over her head. Then I said to her, okay that’ll be £5 pounds please for the box…she thought I was kidding, but I kept my face deadpan till she realised I wasn’t going to let her go. Then she says, “Oh I don’t have any money.” So, I said, “Your number will have to do then.”” He burst out laughing, Nick nods his head in approval.
“Nice.” He laughs.
“I mean it worked!” Claudia laughs. “I fancied the pants off him anyway.”
“Pun intended?” Olivia asks. Claudia nods her head.
“Yeah!” The tension broken the rest of the evening goes on peacefully and laughter is the music of the night.
Then the real music starts. Someone whips out a speaker and connects their phone. Clive goes through his song list and lands on a piece of spicy Spanish music. Olivia doesn’t know the name or the singer, she’s never heard it before, but it moves her. Clive holds out his hand to her and she accepts. He moves his hips rhythmically and swings her around in spins and circles. Clive can dance. Claudia is laughing and clapping her hands excitedly. She taps a foot as they twirl around the decking. Nick stands and offers his hand to Claudia. “Come on then, let’s show them how it’s done.” Claudia accepts and Nick tries his best to keep up with Clive’s moves. Clive is by far the more superior but there is a great deal of humour and fun in Nick’s attempts. Claudia takes the lead. “Watch my feet.” She laughs. Nick looks down and mimics her steps. “That’s it, now move those hips!” She cries. Nick tries but looks more like he is trying to spin an invisible hula hoop. Claudia laughs. “Oh here.” She pushes him to Olivia and Clive takes Claudia’s hands. They move around the decking like pros. Olivia is gobsmacked that her mother had this secret ability to be so sexy. They spin around and wiggle and dip and jump and they all but lose their minds when Clive flips her over his shoulder. “What?!” Olivia yells. Nick grabs her by the waist. The same dress she had worn when they first met, sways around her ankles. She chuckles as he pulls her closer.
“Alright, let’s try this thing again.” He laughs. He spins her around and they essentially are dancing the way teenagers do at prom. It’s good enough for Olivia. They sway from side to side and when she sees her mother is distracted by Clive’s impressive dance moves, she steals a kiss from him. Nick leans into it then he covers it up by dipping her back like the perfect scene from a romance film. Olivia is the girl who removes her glasses and is suddenly sexy and Nick is the experienced dancer (though not based on the moves he’s providing right now.) The group stop, out of breath and laughing as the music changes to something more peaceful and they head back to the food on the table to pick at fruit and sip on cider and coolers.
As the night plods on the table is abandoned, and the foursome sit around the coal pit. Clive has provided marshmallows and dark chocolate pieces. They roast the marshmallows over the coal fire and stick them together with biscuits and chocolate. Sickly as it may be, it was the taste of summer nights with her mother and nostalgia is a wonderful human feeling. Olivia wipes a bit of chocolate off Nick’s chin and turns to see her mother watching them peacefully. “Alright…” She says, “I like you…there, I said it.” She says to Nick. He bows his head by way of thanks. Then Olivia sighs and turns to Clive. “And you, sir…are a wonderful person and I’m happy to welcome you into our family.” Clive nods and Olivia thinks she can see his bottom lip wobble. Claudia slips her arm around his and hugs him sideways. Nick clears his throat. “Erm, Liv, can I just steal you away for a second?” She looks up at him. He looks happy but he’s holding back a secret. He wants to blurt it out but can’t seem to find the words. “Okay.” Olivia says. She stands and Claudia lifts up her hand and beckons them to sit back down. “Wait, wait. What’s this? Where are you running off to?”
“I just need to ask Olivia something.” Nick explains. Claudia’s eyed widen.
“No, no, no. I mean I like you a lot. A lot! Really, but it’s way too soon to get married!”
“What?! No, no!” Olivia had never seen anybody step back as fast. Literally. Nick takes a gigantic step back and nearly falls over the log. “Hey, hey!” Olivia grabs him. “Careful.” She laughs. Nick stands up straight.
“Then what can’t you talk about here.”
“Mum.” Olivia says pointedly. “Let that man talk to me.” Claudia leans forward expectantly. Nick sits back down, and Olivia follows. “Nick?” She asks.
“I suppose this is something you’d talk to your mum about anyway…I just wanted to tell you privately first.” Olivia nods.
“What? Tell me what?” He gathers his thoughts and tries to put the news together.
“Isabelle called me yesterday…She showed your self-tape to her partner in LA and, they love you Olivia. They really love you. She told me first because she thought I’d want to tell you.”
“Wait…they want me to play Lucinda?” He nods.
“They do. Nothing is set in stone, yet. They’re still going to audition other people and they could change their minds any second, but right now, yeah…they like you. Now, the great, but not so great part is that they’ve invited me to the states for, for what they call, the fall. They want me to be an active part of the process and they’d want me over there for the next few months.”
Olivia’s heart falls and she can see Claudia and Clive shift uneasily. “You’ll be gone for three months?” She asks. He nods.
“Except, they really want to meet you again. Try out some screen tests and introduce you to some people. It’s a really long process you see and, I really want you to have the best shot of taking home this role…so…”
“So?” Olivia pushes him. “So, what?” He looks at Claudia, who has suddenly understood the meaning of the conversation. She looks at her daughter, then Clive who nods at her. She looks
back to Nick and gives him a nod of encouragement. He smiles with her blessing and turns to Olivia. “So, I want you to come with me to America.” Olivia’s heart stops for a second. Yes. The word that comes into her mind is: Yes. How could she not? The idea is a dream. She looks to her mother who smiles for her to go on, the way a bird would push its chick out of the nest. She wants this for her. “When would we leave?” She asks. Nick chuckles as he knows his answer sounds rushed an absurd.
“September first.” As the words leave his mouth a loud rumble of thunder races across the sky. Olivia can feel it in her chest. They hear the sound of pitter patter rolling in from the distance and just as they all turn to look out from the canopy, they’re under, rain pounds down from the sky in a torrential down pour. The first rain this town has seen since the beginning of June. They all stand in silence leaving the question of America in the air and watching the heavens give their blessings to the parched land. Olivia exhales, a funny noise sticks in her throat as a pressure, unknown to her, until this very moment, lifts its sickly weight off her shoulders. The drought is over.