‘Hmm, I’m pretty sure you two had that guestlist sorted out a little while ago! Let me guess, this was another “revision” planning session?’
Matthew grinned at the two girls sat protesting on the sofa, before looking down to his son on the floor. ‘I know them too well, don’t I Trist? …Trist?’
The little boy was curled up on the floor, fast asleep. Chuckling, Matt gently scooped him up, resting his head on his shoulder.
‘I’ll get him settled. Looks like this one’s all tuckered out! It is quite late now!’
Cassie looked at the clock. ‘Blimey, Maria! It’s half an hour till your curfew! Looks like your driving lesson will just have to be you going home, today!’ Now that Maria was old enough for a licence, Cassie had been giving her lessons in Matt’s van.
‘Now then Maria, remember… Mirror, signal -‘
‘Manoeuvre, yes I know! Hey look, it’s Jon! Hey Jon!’
Maria beeped loudly on the horn and waved energetically at her friend who was walking home from work while Cassie grabbed the wheel to stop her mowing down the other pedestrians on the pavement. Maria’s main problem was focus – she had none at all! The slightest distraction always seemed to lead to the near deaths of thousands of innocent people, or so it seemed in Cassie’s fevered mind as she quickly corrected Maria’s mistakes!
Fortunately Cassie managed to guide Maria home in one piece, and arranged for her to come round after school in two days time for Tristan’s party. Her own house was in darkness by the time she got back; Matt had put the baby in his crib before crashing out himself. He really did work very hard!
Putting one of the sidelights on in the bedroom so she could see where she was going, Cassie tried her best to quietly tiptoe into bed. As she passed the cot, a sleepy voice called out.
‘Mumma… I waiteded for you…’
Looking over, Cassie saw Tristan, only just half awake, peeking out at her through the bars of his cot. Smiling, she went over and kissed him on the forehead, tucking him in.
‘Now now, sweetie, you need to get your rest! Thank you for waiting for me, but you’ve got a big day coming up in a couple of days and you’ll need to get lots of sleep beforehand!’
‘My… my birfday…’
Tristan yawned, and fell into a deep sleep with Cassie gently stroking his head; she pulled his blankets over him properly and moved his bedtime bear so it was within reach. It was Ivy’s old bear that Cassie had kept when they had taken her away. She liked the thought of Tristan having something of his big sister’s, something to connect the two separated siblings.
* * *
Matthew had the day of Tristan’s birthday off work, so he spent it lavishing attention on his pride and joy.
Cassie decided to let Matthew spend some quality time alone with his son. She got to spend more time with him on a daily basis, so she got on with some writing while father and son bonded. Matt took him down to the playpark Cassie used to take Maria to when she was a toddler; Cassie was glad of the free house as it gave her extra time to sort out Tristan’s nearly completed room in his absence. They spent the afternoon settled down by Mum at her desk to do some reading. While she tried to concentrate on her own book, Cassie couldn’t help stealing glimpses at the two main men in her life, both sat absorbed in the latest Jimmy Sprocket, Matt just as excited about the plot as Tristan was!
Before any of them had realised the time, Maria had bounded in through the door to set up the small party, closely followed by Eric, Sue, and a couple of Matt’s friends from work. Tristan’s party had begun!
Holding her little boy tight in her arms, wary of his fascination with the dancing flames of the candles, Cassie hardly wanted to let him go. The older he got, the more he would slip away from her, or so she feared, although she recognised the irrationality behind her worries. She’d already lost one child, she couldn’t bear the thought of losing another! Still, as she looked around the room of singing, smiling faces she knew that she would never be alone, even if Tristan ended up moving to the other side of the world. Gazing down at her excited child as he blew out his candles in two breaths, beaming back at her as he didn’t manage to get anything wrong, she felt the familiar rush of love. He wasn’t going anywhere!
When all the other guests had handed over their presents and said their goodbyes, Cassie, Matthew, Tristan and Maria were gathered around the small fire pit Matt had installed on the patio at the back of the house, toasting marshmallows and watching the sun set behind the hills in the distance.
‘Great party, don’t you think Matt?’
‘Yes Maria. Planned to perfection, you might say!’ Matthew winked at the girls, carefully turning his toasting fork in order to perfect the cooking marshmallow on the end of it. ‘Did you enjoy it, Trist?’
‘I did, Dad! I really did! I can’t believe all those people were there, just for me!’ Tristan had been a little quiet since the party finished, feeling a little overwhelmed with all the attention heaped on him. He wiped away a small tear from the corner of his eye, behind his glasses.
‘Aww, Tristy, don’t get all emotional on us!’ Maria ruffled his hair affectionately. ‘Happy birthday, little brother!’
Tristan pulled himself together, smiling a watery smile up at Maria. ‘Oh Ria, thank you so much!’
Grinning at her son and Maria, Cassie checked her watch. ‘Okay, Maria, I think it’s time you went home. You don’t want to be caught on the streets after curfew!’
Maria bid everyone a hasty goodbye before rushing to flag down a taxi, taking the time to give Tristan an extra hug. As the three waved her off, Cassie turned to her son.
‘Right, you! Bed time!’
Work on Tristan’s room had finished that very afternoon, just in time! He had picked out the design of the wallpaper himself, opting for dinosaurs, and Cassie had bought him matching pyjamas as a present. He’d also chosen his own bed, the choice of a ship-based model clashing slightly with the lack of nautical items anywhere else in the room! Still, Tristan absolutely loved having his own space at last, hungrily eyeing the costume chest in particular.
‘Wow, Mum! This room is amazing! It’s the best birthday present ever!!’
Laughing, Cassie tucked her son into bed and read him his first bedtime story in his new room. Tristan asked her to read her own book to him, wanting to know about what his Mother had been through. Reluctant at first, Cassie decided it would be best for him to hear it from her rather than for Tristan to hear snippets of playground rumours and build up a frighteningly inaccurate picture in his head. Pulling her book from the shelf, she resolved to skip over some of the parts that were unsuitable for him to hear at his age, but to answer any questions he had honestly.
‘So… Where is she, Mum? Where’s Ivy?’
Her heart sank a little. ‘I don’t know, honey. She’s out there, somewhere. We will find her, I can promise you that! It’s just… It’s complicated.’
Tristan nodded sleepily, and rested his head on his pillow. ‘Night, Mum. Love you.’
Heading back downstairs, Cassie went through the back door to where Matthew was making sure he’d put out the fire. The sky was awash with stars.
‘Did he get to sleep all right?’
‘Yeah. He asked me to read him my book.’
Matt paused as he folded up the metal chairs. ‘Did you?’
‘Yes, I did. Figured it would be best for him to hear it from me, you know?’
Matt nodded, leaning the chairs against the side of the house and coming forward to give his girlfriend a hug. ‘I know, Cass. I know.’
They stood there in silence for a while, listening to an owl hooting in the distance, just holding each other.
‘You know, Cass… I’m so, so proud of you.’
‘You are?’ Cassie looked up at her boyfriend, confused. What had she done?
‘Yeah, I am. You could’ve fallen apart when you came out of there, Cass. I mean, you been in there for two years despite the fact that you were innocent, you’d lost your baby, you’d had to deal with Alicia and Lexi… But you didn’t. You just got on with it. You rekindled your friendship with Sue, you’ve written a best seller, you’ve given me the most wonderful gift of a perfect little boy. That was all you, Cass.’
Cassie smiled contemplatively, she’d never thought about what she’d accomplished like that. ‘I couldn’t have done any of it without you, Matt. I can’t believe I nearly threw away what we had. What we have. I wasn’t thinking straight.’
‘Well, that is understandable. You’d been through so much.’
‘I don’t like to use that as an excuse, though!’
‘It’s not an excuse, Cassie! It’s facing up to the fact that you went through emotional hell and recognising that it did affect you!’
Cassie grimaced, burying her face in Matt’s chest. ‘I know,’ she replied in a small voice. ‘You’re right. I know. It’s just hard.’
‘I know, Cassie.’ Matthew kissed the top of her head, hugging her tighter.
‘Matt… Would you…’
‘Will you marry me, Matt?’
Matthew let out a huge, bellowing laugh, much to Cassie’s surprise and annoyance. ‘Hey! What’s so funny about that?!’
‘I just can’t believe that we both had the same idea!’ Reaching into his shirt pocket, he pulled out a glimmering diamond ring. ‘Cassie Rivers, I have loved you ever since the day we met, when I first saw you across the classroom back in Riverview High all those years ago. I cannot imagine my life without you, and judging from what you just asked me I’m hoping that you feel the same! Would you do me the great honour of becoming my wife?’
Cassie nodded excitedly, holding out her hand so that Matt could slot the ring gently onto her finger. ‘Yes! Of course I will! Oh my god, Matt! We’re engaged!!’
Standing up, Matthew kissed his new fiancée, stroking his finger over the engagement ring nestled on her left hand. ‘Our family will be almost perfect, now,’ he said, a hint of sadness in his voice. Cassie knew he was thinking of Ivy.
* * *