Ladies That Lunch
My Aunt is classically beautiful, and she reminds me so much of my mother than my stomach lurches when she walks into the restaurant. Her hair is still highlighted with streaks of blonde, cut in the same bob she’s had since I can remember. Her kind blue eyes peer at me over the rim of her glasses, which are perched on the end of her nose.
She’s dressed in a plethora of fabrics and colours, which always makes me smile.
‘Dress brightly and face the world with a smile, Jolie, and no one will know the difference.’ She used to say.
“Beautiful girl!” Aunt Lillian gasps, wrapping her warm arms around me. “Are you okay? You don’t look well.”
As blunt as ever.
“Hey, Lil,” I grin, as she examines me. “How are you?”
We sit down, our hands clasping over the table. She smiles widely at the handsome young waiter, ordering herself a sparkling water. I do the same, and he nods politely and hurries off.
“I’m lovely, babe. We’re in the middle of redecorating the lounge—I was grateful to escape!” Lillian laughs, her thumb rubbing circles on my hands. “You know what Andrew is like, a little Hitler when he gets going.”
Andrew is my uncle, and I adore him too. He’s the polar opposite of Lillian, and sometimes I wonder if she is talking about the same man I know and love.
“Ha, how is Uncle Andrew?”
A real smile lights up Lillian’s face, and she tilts her head to the right slightly.
“He’s wonderful, Jolie. But I know you didn’t ask me to meet you for dinner to talk about my boring life. What’s going on?”
I take a deep breath as the waiter drops our bottles of water off, taking forever to position them in front of us accordingly.
“Well…” I begin, realising I’m trembling. “I’m pregnant.”
My ears ring at my admission, my body reacting as though I’ve only just found out myself. It has that effect on me, still.
My aunt merely blinks, and tightens her grip on my hand.
“Oh, darling. That’s amazing news.”
Her eyes shine with tears, and she waves me away when I offer her a napkin, instead digging out a packet of Kleenex. Memories swim up to the surface at the image of her handing me packs of these as a child, telling me to never be without them.
“Yeah,” I say hollowly, biting my lip. “I’m just terrified.”
“Why? You’re strong and independent, Jolie. Any child would be proud to call you their mum.”
“I just don’t want—“ my breath hitches in my throat and I take a deep breath, listening to the hum of the restaurant around me. “I don’t want to fail them.”
Lillian leans forward then, taking my other hand into hers. Her eyes sparkle with the fierce love I’ve seen since I was young, and my own eyes fill up.
“You haven’t failed anyone, ever. You aren’t like her.”
I nod, tears streaming down my cheeks. I laugh through my nose when she presses a fresh packet of Kleenex into my hand, creating snot bubbles.
“Sorry,” I mumble, taking a tissue out and blowing my nose.
“Look at me, Jolie.”
I do, but before she can say anything I’m talking.
At an alarming speed.
“I had a one night stand. I didn’t even know his name. Then I kept banging into him, and he has a daughter—”
I stifle another sob, instead drinking the water in an attempt to stop my mouth from running away with itself. The chilled bubbles smooth my throat, and I take a deep breath.
“Sweetheart, I don’t care.”
There it is. The reason I love her so damn much.
“We used protection,” I say in a small voice, swirling my glass around in my hand.
“Jolie. You’re pregnant, so stop chewing over how you got to this point. That won’t help you now. I’m just relieved it’s not Bradley’s.”
She sits back in the chair with a sigh of relief, and I allow myself a smile.
“You know I loved that kid. But I don’t condone what he did to you,” she murmurs.
The waiter returns, this time to take our food order. I waste no time in ordering a stack of nachos for starters, and a lasagne and chips for the main.
“I know. He’s a nice guy…” I trail off, suddenly missing Brad once again. I loved the feeling of his arms around me, the way he made me feel safe…
“Tell me about the father, if you know anything,” Lillian guides the conversation away from Brad, and instead towards Jax.
So I do. I tell her how I met him in a bar, leaving out the part where I propositioned him. How I left the next day, then saw him at the car boot.
“How’s that going?” Lillian interrupts, as I nod.
“Great. It’s been a little slower lately because I have had such bad nausea. But luckily I can afford to slow down.”
She nods, allowing me to continue.
“Then he was at school when I picked a friend's child up.”
“That’s how I knew he had a daughter,” I almost cheer at the sight of my nachos making their way from the kitchen, and dive in as soon as they’re placed in front of me. “But he made it clear he didn’t want anything serious when I asked for his number.”
My Aunt cringes, tucking into her prawn cocktail. “Bit late for that, mate.”
I scoff, and shove more food into my mouth.
Cheesy nachos. I’ve died and gone to heaven.
“Then I text him, and tell him I’m pregnant.”
My Aunt gawks at me, paling slightly.
“You told him via text?!”
I shuffle in my seat, crossing my legs over. “Yeah. Is that really bad?”
“No worse than saying he doesn’t want anything serious, I suppose,” Lillian ponders aloud, taking a sip of her water.
“So he asks how I know if it’s his,” I admit, keeping my voice low.
My aunt grimaces, rolling her eyes as she continues eating.
“I mean, can you believe his audacity?” I exclaim, ramming more food into my mouth.
“Yes, I can, he doesn’t know you, Jolie.”
I chew on my food thoughtfully, shrugging as I do.
“I think it’s an entirely appropriate question to ask, babe.”
“Well. Anyway, then he comes to see me—”
“Good. I like him already.”
“Ha. He said if I need anything, to just ask. I told him I don’t need anything, but he insisted on telling me he will be there regardless. I guess he’s a good guy, if he sticks to his words, that is.”
“I think he sounds great, Jolie. Maybe drunken Jolie knows how to pick ‘em.”
We laugh, and push away our finished food.
“You’re not alone, you’ve got us. You’ve always had us. You know this, right? We adore you, like you’re our own.”
I look up to see the raw emotion in my Aunts eyes. She didn’t have children, and it seemed cruel that my mother was the one that had me when I was much more like Lillian.
As a child, I’d wished she was my mother. Instead of the state my mum would be in most of the time, I’d dream of my Aunt adopting me so I could be like my friends. I wanted my mum to hold her arms out to me at the end of a school day, smelling of laundry detergent and sweet perfume, instead of barely being able to stand up.
If she came at all.
The amount of times I’d sit in reception at school, twiddling my bag strap around my fingers, my face burning with humiliation and anger as school called my mother, my aunt, and then social services.
“Jolie? I’ve lost you to the past, haven’t I?”
I blink, pushing away the painful memories.
“Remember the good ones, babe. There’s lots of those.”
There are. But not until I was older.
“Sorry,” I sigh, rubbing my eyes. “Have you heard from her?”
“Not really,” Lillian shrugs. “The last I heard she was in Blackpool. God knows why.”
I shudder at the thought of my mother, and I’m relieved to see the lasagna winging its way over to me.
“So how far are you?”
I’m grateful for the change of subject.
“I’ve got a scan on Friday,” I say slowly, blowing on my food before spooning it into my mouth.
“Ooh! Friday, let me check my calendar.”
“Jax is coming,” I blurt out, and my Aunt grins widely.
“Jax? That’s a nice name.”
“Yeah, I got it, eventually. His name,” I laugh, and she grins.
“I’m glad he’s coming with you. If he doesn’t show up, ring me. I’ll be there in a flash. Friday is clear for me, don’t hesitate to ring okay?”
We continue our conversation over even more food, and as we pore over the dessert menu I hear a familiar voice ordering a take out.
I look up to see Chris, my neighbour, standing at the counter. My Aunt follows my gaze, letting out a low whistle.
“Okay, who’s he?”
“His name is Chris. He’s my new neighbour.”
“I’m moving in with you,” Lillian jokes, and we giggle.
Chris looks over, a flicker of recognition on his face as he slowly raises a hand to me. Before I know it, I’m waving back, and he’s walking over.
His voice is sexy and deep, and his eyes skim over me appreciatively before he glances at my Aunt with a lazy grin.
“Lillian, this is Chris. Chris, meet my Aunt Lillian.”
“Hey there,” Chris drawls, as my Aunt melts before me. “Ladies that lunch, huh?”
“We’re just about to order dessert,” I say, shifting in my seat beneath his stare.
But I’d rather just have you.
“Let me guess, something rich and chocolatey?”
“Not for me, I’m on a diet,” my Aunt sighs.
“Yes. I’m going for the triple chocolate brownie and ice cream,” I announce, grinning up at him.
“My favourite. I’ll leave you girls to it, good to see you again..”
“Jolie,” I offer, and he smiles, seeing off the warmth between my legs again.
“Beautiful name,” he murmurs, and my Aunt makes a face at me as I colour beneath his gaze. “Have a good day.”
He smiles at my Aunt before walking away, his broad shoulders commanding my attention.
“You could start a fire with that chemistry,” Lillian chuckles, turning to watch him walk away.
“I’m pregnant,” I gasp, laughing at her reaction.
“Hmm, but you’re not dead. He’s yummy.”
“He is,” I agree, trying not to stare as he checks his phone, leaning against the wall as he does.
“Hormones, hey?” Lillian murmurs, as the water reappears to take my order.
“What would you like?” He asks.
Chris looks up, and our eyes meet.
“The brownie with ice cream, please.”