Tom, Sophie and Lucy are all up, dressed and in the swing of a family breakfast when I shuffle into the kitchen.
Tea, mate? says Tom, toast in one hand, kettle in the other.
Yes please, mate. Morning Soph. Morning Luce.
Sophie, her hair pulled back in a glossy ponytail, smiles her reply and it looks genuine.
Sleep well, Pete?
Not too bad thanks, yeah.
She smiles some more, rubs my arm and then, pausing only to snatch up her glass of orange juice, she heads for the door, calling out to her daughter as she goes.
Hurry up please, Lucy. We’re leaving in ten minutes.
Lucy is sat at the breakfast bar, carefully perched atop a stool that she’ll have to jump, rather than step, down from. She is idly toying with a bowl of breakfast cereal, pushing clumps of it around with her spoon, fibrous islands in a milky sea.
We’re going shopping, she says.
That’ll be nice. What are you going to buy?
Mummy says I need new shoes. I like these shoes.
Lucy sticks out a leg and waggles her foot to show just how lovely the scuffed pink sandals are with their stitched on glittery stars.
They are lovely. But maybe your feet are getting too big for them.
That’s what Mummy says too.
Tom stands a mug of steaming tea down on the breakfast bar in front of me.
What about you, mate? Any messages from, er...?
No, not yet.
Right, he says, slowly.
There’s a small silence, during which Lucy stops playing with her cereal and watches her daddy and uncle-who-isn’t-really-an-uncle (not like Uncle Rob). Eventually, Tom continues.
Breaky then? We’ve got eggs, bacon, sausages, or there’s toast, cereal –
Not for me thanks, mate. I’ll drink this and then be off, got lots to do today.
I grab the mug for effect.
Oh yeah, busy day?
I stall by taking a swig of tea. It is scalding and feels like it has delaminated my tongue.
Something like that, yeah. Got a house to tidy, for one. Need to make some space, you know.
Just in case?
Just in case.
I want to change the subject, so return the question. Tom swallows the last of his toast, then swings his arms around his head. He smiles.
At 9.52 I shall be teeing off at Bourn with James from work.
Golf with the boss?
He’s not my boss, Pete. He’s a senior partner. And he plays off nine, so it should be a good game.
The smile is gone.
Well don’t beat him, I say. It doesn’t do to beat the, er, senior partner.
There is a scrape of spoon against bowl.
Luce! Eat your breakfast please, don’t play with it.
I’m full up Daddy.
Then just leave it! Go and clean your teeth. You heard your mother, we’re leaving in ten minutes.
Lucy jumps down from the stool, briefly hugs my leg, then scampers off. Our encounter in the hallway, if not forgotten, is not troubling her, at least.
I’ll get off too then, I say, standing my mostly-full mug down.
I didn’t mean it like –
No, you guys are busy and I’ve got a lot on, so...
Hang on then, I’ll just give Sophie a shout.
It’s okay, just say bye to the girls for me. I’ll see you later, mate.
And for once, I do the arm slap thing first.
Alright mate. Just... let me know how it goes. You know, with Jenny.
I nod, but I’ve already got my car keys out and am moving towards the door.