‘Who’s excited for the park today?!’ Ethan joyfully picked up his son and tickled him, laughing along as Dylan burst out into giggles.
‘M-m-m-me, Dada! Me am! And Puzzle!’ he laughed, squirming and wriggling in Ethan’s arms.
‘Oh of course, can’t forget Puzzle now, can we?’ said Ethan jovially as he winked at Ivy, who was packing a picnic in the kitchen. The doll didn’t give him the jitters in the same way it did his wife; all Ethan cared about was his son’s happiness. Which Ivy did too, of course. She just hated that doll!
After a quick trip on the underground, much to Dylan’s delight, the foursome finally reached Bridgeport Acres, the park where Ivy and Ethan held their wedding ceremony. While the back had been converted for parties and weddings, the front was still a community lot for anyone to visit, with a play park and benches, and a small gazebo with a stage for people to play music on. Ethan had looked up wistfully as they’d passed it; when El Tigre were first starting out they had played on there a number of times, hoping that one day a band manager would walk past and be impressed, signing them up on the spot. It hadn’t happened like that, naturally, they’d simply worked their up through the music industry, grafting hard for their success. But that gazebo still represented the hopes and dreams he’d once had, had achieved, and had now lost.
Ivy slipped her hand into his and squeezed it. ‘Shall we set up over there?’ she nodded over at a sunny spot by the playground.
Perched on the checked rug, Ivy dished out the food and the family sat in silence for a few moments as they tucked in. Dylan had carefully torn his burger in half, responsible for feeding Puzzle as Ivy had ‘forgotten’ to make him his own, and after quickly guzzling down his own piece was feeding his crazy companion his own.
‘He really dotes on that thing, doesn’t he?’ Ethan commented, applying a little extra mustard to his burger. Ivy nodded, waiting to use the condiment herself.
‘I know. I hope he’s not too attached to it, though. He might struggle a little when he starts school, when he has to leave him at home,’ she said anxiously.
‘Dere y’are Puzzlemonster! All gone,’ Dylan said proudly. Ivy and Ethan looked at the twosome in confusion.
‘Um… Dylan… Did you eat that piece of burger yourself, sweetie?’ Ivy asked. The second half of the burger had vanished. It wasn’t under the blanket, it wasn’t behind the basket, it wasn’t stuffed into one of Puzzle’s pockets…
‘Puzzle eated it!’ Dylan beamed, carefully wiping the doll’s face with a serviette. ‘He liked it lots!’
Ethan and Ivy looked at each other, frowning. Surely there was some explanation?
Ivy put down her plate decisively. ‘Right, Dylan. Do you want to go on the pirate ship?’
‘Yeah! Come on, Puzzle!’
‘Oh no poppet, Puzzle can’t go on. It’s for one person only to play,’ Ivy said hopefully. Dylan frowned a little.
‘I know, Mumma. But he can watch.’ Picking up Puzzle by the hand, he toddled over to the pirate ship across the path and plonked him down so that he was sitting. ‘Come on, Mumma!’
Carefully placing her son on the ship, Ivy flicked the switch and the ride sprang into life. Ethan grinned and giggled as the boat rocked back and forth. ‘Pirate Dylan! Pirate Dylan! Look, Pirate Puzzle! Pirate Dylan is on a ship!’ he laughed. Ivy sighed to herself. Not even on his favourite ride could Dylan forget about that doll!
As the ride gently came to a halt, Dylan slid off it. ‘Dat was good, Mumma! Can Puzzle go on it now?’
Rolling her eyes, Ivy spotted a building across the street from the park. The school. Wincing, she picked up Puzzle and made him look at Dylan. ‘In a minute, sweetie. Puzzle wants to say something to you.’
Putting on a silly voice, ‘Puzzle’ began talking to the attentive Dylan. ‘Hey, Dylan! Do you see that blue building over the road, right there? That’s the school! And one day soon you’ll be going there every day, apart from the weekends, to learn about things. But I won’t be able to go with you, Dylan. I’ll have to stay home, apart from special days. I’m not allowed in school, you see. It’s against the rules. Do you understand what I’m saying, Dylan?’ Ivy peered hopefully over the doll’s head, praying that he wouldn’t burst into tears. To her surprise, Dylan didn’t look sad at all; on the contrary he was positively bursting with laughter.
‘Oh, Puzzle!’ he chuckled, rocking back and forth. ‘Why are you speaking with such a silly voice? That’s not how you talk! Don’t be silly, Puzzlemonster!’
* * *
Later that evening Ivy was due to meet Maria at Sports Zone, a bar on the far side of town that usually screened sports games. She knew it would be quiet tonight as there were no games on whatsoever, plus the prices were reasonable. Stepping out of the lift, she scanned the room and, not seeing Maria there, started to head for the bar.
‘Ivy! Over here!’ Starting, Ivy noticed a woman waving and smiling at her. Maria?!
‘You didn’t recognise me, did you? I went to the salon and got a bit of a make over. Decided to leave the old Maria behind a bit, start again. Makes sense, really!’ she beamed, brushing her long hair from her face. The old fringe and ponytail were gone, replaced with a long, flowing style and clothes that flattered her age while still looking good. She looked amazing!
‘Wow, Maria! Bridgeport’s obviously treating you well! Have you found anywhere to live yet?’ Ivy asked. Maria had been living in the hotel she’d booked into when she first arrived to look for Ivy.
Maria shook her head. ‘Nope, still in the hotel. It’s fine, I like it – I get my laundry done for me, my room tidied, mints left on my pillow – it’s paradise!’
‘I can’t believe you’re moving here. First Tristan, now you – all my favourites, flocking to the big city!’ Ivy excitedly bobbed from one foot to the other. ‘I’m such a trend setter!’
Maria grinned, taking a sip of her drink. ‘Ivy… I’ve got something to tell you. I’ve been seeing Leon.’
‘I kind of guessed you would,’ Ivy shrugged, feeling a little awkward. She’d hoped this wouldn’t come up. ‘You were getting on with him so well at the wedding. Well, until… Well.’
Maria nodded seriously. ‘I know. I can’t believe that all came out on your special day, Ivy.’
‘But why?’ The question burst from Ivy’s lips. ‘Why would you date someone who’s previous relationship was with his best friend’s girlfriend, while they were still together?!’
‘I knew you’d ask that,’ Maria said. ‘I did speak to him about it. A few days after the wedding Leon came to the hotel for a chat. I don’t think he had anyone else to go to, really.’
Maria nodded, a little sadly. ‘He talked through what had happened. To be honest, it sounds like Amelia did all the chasing. One week when Andy was out of town, she turned up out of the blue at his place with two bottles of wine. Leon figured that she was just lonely, and let her in, but after a few glasses she started telling him how unhappy she was with Andy, how desperate she was for some ‘real’ affection, how she’d always felt close to Leon as he’d always been so kind and nice to her… Through the wine haze, one thing led to another. I know Leon comes across as a tough guy, but he’s really not. He’s a bit of a hopeless romantic, but don’t tell him I said that! He needs to be needed, and Amelia let him think that she needed him. I think she just liked the thought of playing two friends off one another. She really played him, Ivy, and he feels like an abolute idiot now. He really needs Andy and Ethan. He knows he screwed up, and he’s not expecting them to ever talk to him again. But I can tell… He really needs them. They need to hear his side of the story.’
Ivy nodded slowly. ‘You know, I’m still furious with him. I caught him kissing Amelia, and he fed me a load of lies,’ she admitted. ‘But they do need to talk, at least. Not doing so is stupid. They’ve been best friends forever, practically brothers.’
‘Any chance of Ethan and Andy seeing him, do you think?’
‘I don’t know,’ Ivy frowned, thinking. ‘Ethan might. But Andy’s really upset still.’
‘I’ll need to talk to Ethan. But then we need a plan… Ooo, I know!’
Grabbing Maria, Ivy whispered in her ear. The two friends burst out giggling.
‘Oh, you’re good Ivy Rivers!’
* * *
‘Well? What do you think?!’
Ethan looked at Ivy with an eyebrow raised. Convincing him that he needed to talk with Leon hadn’t been the hard part; Ethan and Leon had been friends since primary school, and not seeing him too odd for Ethan to handle, no matter what he’d done. He was prepared to listen, if not forgive and forget. The tricky part was getting Ethan to trick Andy into doing the same.
‘To be honest, Ivy, it sounds like the plot of a really tacky film. Invite each of them to a fake birthday party, saying that the other wasn’t coming? Are you serious?’
Ivy nodded enthusiastically. ‘Don’t you see?! It’s so unlikely, they won’t suspect a thing!’
Ethan sighed, shaking his head. ‘Well, it’s worth a try I suppose. It’s a good job I love you, you know!’ He kissed Ivy, placing his forehead against hers. ‘What have we got to lose?’