See­ing Fire­works

Martin’s slow burn af­fec­tion has brought Stella to a flash­point – best to stand back…

My Weekly - - Contents - By Gill McKin­lay

A Bon­fire Night ro­mance

Martin, Stella’s new neigh­bour – a dead ringer for Peter An­dre – was in love with Stella, and her daugh­ters, Rosie and Jas­mine, adored him.

“I don’t need a man, though,” Stella mut­tered. “I was mar­ried for eleven years and where did that get me? Dumped for a younger model, that’s where. No, me and the girls are fine on our own.” The girls had other ideas, though. “Can we go bowl­ing with Martin at the week­end?” Jas­mine asked

Stella sighed. Of­fer­ing to take the girls bowl­ing was an­other at­tempt at win­ning her round. He’d ex­pect her to go too, pretend they were a proper fam­ily. He was try­ing to show her what a good dad he’d be, if only she’d give him the chance.

He’d been try­ing to con­vince Stella he was dad ma­te­rial ever since he’d spot­ted her and the girls in the park try­ing to fly a kite. They’d strug­gled to get the kite off the ground all af­ter­noon, but he had it fly­ing in­stantly.

Af­ter that, Martin sug­gested a day at the sea­side fol­lowed by an evening at the fair. Next, was tick­ets for a Dis­ney block­buster, swim­ming, roller-skat­ing, and the an­nual fire­work party on the com­mon.

“I’m flat­tered,” Stella told him. “But I don’t want a re­la­tion­ship.” “Why not?” Martin asked. “Be­cause I don’t need a bloke to put out the rub­bish bags. I can man­age on my own.”

“Wow, glad to hear it,” Martin said. “What do you do for hugs, though?” “I’ve got the girls for that.” “Yes, but some­times a woman needs a proper hug,” he said, edg­ing a bit closer. “From a guy.” “Are you vol­un­teer­ing?” “Of course, I am,” Martin said. “You know I am…”

Just then, Jas­mine and Rosie came charg­ing down the stairs, shriek­ing with de­light at see­ing him.

Stella fumed. The girls were never that pleased to see her. Usu­ally, she was greeted with re­quests for money or de­mands for food. Or they pre­sented her with a for­got­ten note from their school about fancy dress, of­ten needed for the fol­low­ing day.

Martin never saw any of that. He just fo­cused on the good stuff. With no kids of his own, he had no idea how de­mand­ing chil­dren could be.

Af­ter tea, the girls went over to Martin’s. He helped them build a cas­tle from Lego, a con­struc­tion project for their science home­work. Then they went to the park and fed the ducks. Jas­mine and Rosie picked wild flow­ers for Stella, posies that con­sisted of dan­de­lions and a few stalks of grass.

“They’re beau­ti­ful,” Stella huffed as she ar­ranged them in a vase. She felt left out and lonely – even though she’d man­aged to fin­ish the iron­ing while the girls were out.

When Martin men­tioned the fire­work do on the com­mon, Stella couldn’t be­lieve a year had passed since the last one. “Let’s go to­gether,” he said. There were posters all over town. The girls had seen them, too.

“It was bril­liant last year,” Jas­mine said. “The fire­works were amaz­ing.”

Stella re­mem­bered the event. It hadn’t started un­til late, and they’d stood around in the muddy field for ages. Her feet and fin­gers were numb, her ears cold de­spite her beanie hat. The driz­zle hadn’t helped, ei­ther.

Stella looked at her girls. Martin caught her eye and winked. She turned away.

Who did he think he was? She was sick of him hi­jack­ing her daugh­ters, even though they loved be­ing with him. He mus­cled in on the nice stuff, yet he never came over and sorted out the rows.

But why should he? The girls were her re­spon­si­bil­ity and she’d told him she didn’t want a man. The last one was bad enough. She was bet­ter off with­out a bloke in her life.

But are the girls bet­ter off with­out a dad? nagged a voice in her head.

She’d read some­where that

men were only good for putting out rub­bish bags and open­ing nail var­nish bot­tles, and that was cer­tainly true of her ex. But some­times, it’d be nice to have some help with the rub­bish bags, and there was no deny­ing that the lids on nail var­nish bot­tles could be dif­fi­cult to shift… Dan­ger­ous thoughts! “We aren’t go­ing to the fire­work do,” Stella said, im­pul­sively. “We’ll have a bar­be­cue and a few fire­works here.”

“A bar­be­cue?” Jas­mine looked puz­zled. “We haven’t got a bar­be­cue.”

“I’ll buy one to­mor­row,” she said. “You can in­vite all your friends. We’ll have a great time.”

“But they’ll all be go­ing to watch the fire­works on the com­mon,” Rosie whined. “They won’t want to come here.”

“Yes, they will,” Stella said firmly. “And they can do both.”

“Hey,” said Martin. “That sounds re­ally cool Do you want me to…?”

“No, thanks,” Stella snapped. “I don’t want you to do any­thing. We can man­age.”

“OK, fine.” Martin held up his hands and backed away. “I’ll go and watch the fire­works with some­body else.”

His re­mark rat­tled Stella, although she couldn’t say why.

De­lighted at host­ing a party, the girls made plans. An hour later, they seemed to have in­vited ev­ery child within a ten-mile ra­dius.

Rosie pro­duced a colour-coded spread­sheet on the com­puter – where had she learned to do that? “Martin showed us,” said Jas­mine. As Novem­ber the fifth ap­proached, Stella re­alised she’d un­der­es­ti­mated the amount of time and ef­fort in­volved in host­ing a party, not to men­tion the cost. She had no idea how many burg­ers and chicken legs to buy, or how many bot­tles of cola and le­mon­ade the young­sters would get through. And what about the fire­works? They looked scary and com­pli­cated.

Martin would know the best ones to buy – but Stella was more de­ter­mined than ever to go it alone…

“I’ve just seen Martin head­ing to­wards the com­mon,” Jas­mine an­nounced on the big day. “He had a girl with him.” “A girl?” Stella asked. “Yes,” Rosie agreed. “She looked a lot like a Bar­bie doll.”

Stella tried to ig­nore the im­agery her brain was con­jur­ing up. She’d told Martin to sling his hook, so what did she ex­pect? He was hardly monk ma­te­rial, af­ter all.

Keep­ing her thoughts at bay, Stella was soon el­bow-deep in onions and rolls, rel­ish and ketchup. The kids ar­rived. Pan­de­mo­nium fol­lowed. Par­ents trooped in and out mut­ter­ing “rather you than me” and a cou­ple of dads roped off an area for the fire­works.

“We’ll come back and give you a hand to light them,” they said.

Stella lit the bar­be­cue. She chucked burg­ers and chicken on to the rack, poked, prod­ded and flipped un­til the meat looked done.

“Who needs a man?” she mut­tered as she filled buns and handed them round. Jas­mine and Rosie were en­joy­ing the party and she’d man­aged it all on her own…

“Urgh!” shrieked a girl as she spat out a mouth­ful of food. “This burger is still frozen in the mid­dle.”

“So is mine,” echoed what sounded like a hun­dred other voices.

Stella’s heart sank. How could she have been so stupid? Why hadn’t she thawed the burg­ers first?

“Let’s go and watch telly.” Rosie chucked her burger in the bin, stuck out her tongue at Stella, and led the troops in­doors.

“How about an ice-cream?” Martin, ap­pear­ing from nowhere, handed Rosie an in­dus­trial-sized box of cor­nets as she headed for the lounge. “I’ve got some sparklers, too,” he said. “We can write our names in the sky with them later.”

“What are you do­ing here?” Stella sur­veyed the charred burg­ers. They were like her, she re­alised. Burned on the out­side yet just be­gin­ning to thaw in the mid­dle. And although she hated to ad­mit it, she thawed a lit­tle more each time she saw Martin. “I thought you were out with Bar­bie…”

“I was go­ing to bring her over later, but her boyfriend phoned. They’d had a row, but he apol­o­gised so Bar­bie – my sis­ter – rushed back to him.

“So, I thought I’d pop over and see how the party was go­ing, treat the kids to an ice cream. And I thought you might need a hug af­ter all this en­ter­tain­ing. It must have taken ages to pre­pare all this.” He eyed the plates of salad, the sauces, and rolls. “It looks lovely. You’ve done a good job.”

“It’s a disas­ter,” Stella wailed. “I’ve ru­ined the burg­ers.”

“True,” Martin said. “But the chicken looks great.” He picked up a drum­stick and bit into it. “Per­fect,” he said. “Just like you.” Stella looked at him and re­alised he was per­fect, too. Then she re­mem­bered the kids.

“Can we put off the hug till later?” she asked qui­etly. “You mean…” “Yes,” said Stella. “I need a hug. And I need some help.” Martin raised an eye­brow. “You need a man?” “Yes.” Stella grinned. “There are a lot of rub­bish bags to go out …”

“Urgh!” SHRIEKED a girl as she SPAT OUT a mouth­ful of still-frozen BURGER

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