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