Cleo checked her watch as she left Ruby’s. It was after three. Hannah should be home soon. It was time. She drove across town to the old house the three young people were renting and parked where she would be able to see Hannah arrive home. The house looked empty. Both the boys would be at work, too.
She didn’t have long to wait. A cyclist appeared in the rearview mirror, then Hannah dismounted, removed her helmet and began to wheel her bike through the gate.
Her stomach churning, Cleo stepped out of the car and, hurrying across the road before she could change her mind, called, ‘Hannah!’
‘Mum! What are you doing here?’ Hannah reddened but didn’t immediately turn away.
Cleo took this to be a good sign. She drew in her breath. ‘I had to see you, Han. We need to talk. Please?’
Hannah stared at her for a few moments during which Cleo thought she was going to refuse, to reiterate what she’d said on the phone, then, head down, she muttered, ‘You’d better come in.’
Releasing the breath she’d been holding, Cleo followed her daughter up the path and into the house.
‘Okay, say what you came to say.’ Hannah stood in the middle of the kitchen, her arms crossed.
She reminded Cleo so much of the three-year-old Hannah who rebelled against wearing a new dress Cleo had bought her because it was the wrong colour, it was difficult not to smile. But that would have been a disaster. Instead, she said, ‘Can we at least sit down? And a cup of tea would be good.’
‘Hmph.’ But Hannah moved to fill the electric jug and took two cups and a packet of teabags from the cupboard.
Relieved, Cleo sat down.
After a few minutes of tense silence, Hannah plonked two mugs of peppermint tea on the table and joined her, folding her arms again.
This wasn’t going to be easy.
‘Han… I’m sorry you feel I let you down. I didn’t know Kerri-Ann would be at the meeting. She turned up at the café out of the blue. I intended to tell you. There hadn’t been time.’ Cleo paused. It wasn’t entirely true. She had been trying to work out how to tell Hannah about Kerri-Ann in a way that wouldn’t upset her. There probably hadn’t been one. She’d have been upset no matter how Cleo had sugarcoated it.
‘What’s she doing here?’
‘She wanted to meet you and to learn more about… Dad.’ Cleo avoided saying “her dad” but it was clear what she meant.
‘But…’ Hannah dropped her defensive pose and rubbed her eyes, her anger giving way to tears. ‘I don’t want her here. This isourhome. She doesn’t belong, Mum.’
‘I understand that, sweetheart, but…’
‘You don’t understand at all, not if you’re willing to accept her presence in Bellbird Bay, to talk to her. She…’
‘She is your dad’s daughter,’ Cleo said as gently as she could. ‘Don’t you think he’d want us to at least acknowledge her?’
‘No!’ Hannah put her hands over her ears. ‘I don’t want to hear any more about her. I want… I…’
Cleo moved to the other side of the table and put her arms around her daughter. ‘It’s okay, honey. It’s okay to be angry about it, to be sad about Dad. I miss him, too.’
Hannah sobbed in Cleo’s arms for a few minutes before pulling away and scrubbing her eyes with a tissue pulled from a box on the table. Then she picked up her tea and took a long gulp. ‘Nate says I need to get over it,’ she said with a shiver. ‘But how can I? Dad and I…’
‘I know,’ Cleo said, taking the seat next to Hannah. ‘You had a special relationship. Kerri-Ann can’t change that.’
‘But she looks so like me, Mum. It’s scary. I can’t… I can’t… I don’t want to meet her again.’
‘You don’t have to.’ Cleo wished she could change Hannah’s mind, but at leasttheywere talking again. That was something.
‘There’s something I need to tell you, Mum.’ Hannah looked at Cleo, the hint of a smile flitting across her face. ‘You were right about one thing.’
‘About Nate. He does like me… as more than just a mate. We… After he brought me home from the meeting, we talked… really talked. He’d been wanting us to…’ She blushed. ‘Anyway, we’re seeing each other.’
‘Oh, darling. I’m so glad.’ Cleo smiled for the first time since she’d entered the house. ‘He’s a nice boy.’