Jessica didn’t want to come in from the balcony, where she was looking down between the rails at something.
“Come on darling, we’re all ready to go” said Robert irritably.
She continued to peer through the rails.
“It’s just…that daddy looks bit nicer.”
It was a gleaming modern hotel in Tenerife, extravagantly fitted out by an award-winning Spanish architect. Robert still found it somehow oppressive. He walked onto the balcony to take a look. Outside a ground floor room, a young dad was settling a small boy into his pushchair. He could see what his daughter meant: the man was good-looking, and had a friendly and patient look as he attended to his child.
Ouch. The ways of fatherhood had not come easily to Robert: he knew he wasn’t the most empathic or relaxed dad, and if possible he tended to leave most of the work to Helena. But he did his best, or thought he did, and this unsolicited piece of feedback was difficult to take. And “bit”…the affecting childish attempt to soften the blow only confirmed the sincerity of her comment.
Well, on we go, thought Robert, as the family headed for the crazy golf course. This at least was a chance for him to show off his pack leader credentials. Or it would have been, but Helena was enjoying a lucky streak. An elderly German couple watched indulgently as Jessica carefully took hold of the full size putter half way down the shaft and prepared to take her shot. They widened their eyes in delight and applauded when the ball hit the angled bend and rolled to within three inches of the hole. Then Jessica slumped to the ground.
* * * * * * *
Robert parked the car, paid the £7.80 parking charge and walked with Helena into the hospital. They held hands as they approached Jessica’s ward, but let go their grip before their daughter could see them. Jessica looked tiny in the bed, in her outsize hospital gown. Her wrist was attached to a drip. She sat up carefully and gave a small smile of welcome when her parents came in, and they gently hugged her.
“The doctor says they’re going to make me go to sleep, and when I wake up my heart will be better.”
“That’s right” said Helena.
“The girl in that bed over there says some people die when they have an operation. Is that true?”
Helena stroked a curl of blond hair from the girl’s forehead.
“It will all be fine, darling, I promise.”
Jessica considered this for a few seconds, then bit her lower lip and nodded slowly. Her mother squeezed her hand.
* * * * * * *
Three months later the family was in Cumbria. Robert found himself at last getting into the holiday mood, as they strolled round dramatic scenery in the spring sunshine. Lauren and Jessica scampered ahead exploring the rock formations, and Helena and Robert walked behind.
After a while they heard the scrunch of stones and a wail: Jessica had tripped and scraped her shin. She hopped back to her mum. Helena, ever ready with the first aid kit, cleaned and dressed the wound in no time.
Robert looked down at Jessica’s face, and saw how tired she was.
“Shall I carry you?”
She looked up and met his eyes, and nodded. She reached up her arms, and as he bent to pick her up, she put them around his neck.