Authors: Fiona Gibson
So she really wants to do this. ‘Let’s see what happens. Maybe it’s best not to get too excited about it.’
‘Why not?’ she exclaims. ‘It
exciting, Mum! Why are you being so negative?’
‘I’m not, Rosie. We just need to think about what it might mean for you. And of course,’ I add, trying to sound as if it’s no big deal at all, ‘we’ll have to talk it over with Dad.’
We arrive home to find Ollie, who’s eleven, poring over his laptop at the kitchen table. ‘This is so cool, Mum,’ he announces without shifting his gaze from the screen.
hon. Had a good afternoon?’
‘You didn’t even look!’ I glance over his shoulder – he’s studying a rather professional-looking microscope, with numerous levers and knobs – then stash the bags containing Will’s presents out of sight in the cupboard under the stairs.
Ollie shares his dad’s passion for science and nature – triggered, I suspect, by the sweetly entitled ‘field trips’ Will used to take the kids on, from which they’d return all excited and mud-splattered and present me with larvae and bugs. Sometimes he’d take them off camping for a couple of days. While Ollie still ventures out with him occasionally, Rosie hasn’t pulled on her waders for several years now. Maybe, I reflect, Will feels redundant in more ways than one.
I wave at him through the kitchen window. He grins from our back garden – his arms are laden with bits of shrub – and motions that he won’t be a minute. ‘I’d love this for my birthday,’ Ollie muses, still peering at the screen.
‘We’ll see, love. But it’s not until December and Dad’s is tomorrow, okay? So it’s
more urgent. Hope you’ve remembered.’
‘Oh! Yeah, yeah,’ he says blithely as Will strides in, dispenses a quick kiss on my cheek and says, ‘I’ll just get cleaned up. Did you have a good time at the shops?’ Without waiting for an answer he bounds upstairs.
Rosie, who’d wandered off to see her rabbit, emerges from the utility room with him snuggled in her arms. Sixteen she may be, and the proud owner of a Babyliss hot brush, yet she still adores her pet. Guinness is getting on a bit now, and Rosie insisted we took him to the vet (I suspect she wanted an excuse to nosy about at the surgery) for a bunny MOT. Being unable to find anything wrong with him, the vet suggested that perhaps he shouldn’t spend all his time outdoors, for which he charged a £45 consultation fee. And so Guinness now ‘divides his time’ between a luxury hutch and adjoining run in the garden, and a large hay-filled box in our utility room.
‘Where’s Dad?’ Rosie asks, stroking back Guinness’s ears.
‘Having a shower,’ I reply. ‘He’s been gardening all day.’
‘Can’t wait to tell him!’ Her eyes are shining, her cheeks flushed with excitement.
‘Tell him what?’ Ollie mutters, zooming in for a closer look at the microscope.
‘I was scouted today.’
‘What?’ Ollie turns to face her. ‘By a model agency, you mean?’ Christ, even he is familiar with the term.
‘Yeah,’ Rosie says with a grin.
‘Like, they reckon you could be on the cover of magazines and stuff?’
, with your funny little sticky-up nose?’ He jumps up from his seat and mimics a supermodel strut across the kitchen. With a gasp of irritation, and with Guinness still clutched to her chest, Rosie stomps up to her room.
‘What’s up with her?’ Ollie asks.
‘Oh, she’s just excited and thinks you’re not taking it seriously.’
He pushes back choppy dark hair from his grey-blue eyes. ‘But Rosie’s not interested in modelling. It’s a crap job, Mum. They’re a load of bitchy anorexics—’
‘You can’t say that,’ I retort, still amazed that he has any awareness of the business at all. ‘You don’t know anything about it. Neither do I …’
‘Who’s a bitchy anorexic?’ Will strolls into the kitchen, all fresh and smelling delicious from his shower.
‘No one,’ I say quickly.
‘Dad, look at this,’ Ollie pipes up, beckoning him over to the laptop. Will peers at the microscope.
‘Yeah, that looks great. That’s pretty serious kit.’
‘… It’s got incident
transmitted illumination,’ Ollie explains, ‘and look how powerful that eyepiece is …’
I watch them, flipping from one image to the next, whilst attempting to communicate silently to Ollie that he mustn’t blurt out anything about Rosie being scouted today.
That modelling thing
, I urge him,
please do not speak of it until I can be sure that Dad’s in the right sort of mood.
In fact, I’m pretty certain he’ll view modelling as completely wrong and ridiculous for his beloved Rosie. Whenever I explain to anyone that Will isn’t her biological dad – she was eighteen months old when we met – I quickly point out that he is her dad in every other possible way. He’s been a brilliant father to her. Some women go for charm or money or incredible prowess in bed. I realised I’d fallen madly in love with Will Bristow when he appeared at my flat with the wooden toy garage he’d built for Rosie, complete with an actual working lift, for her collection of toy cars.
‘I know she’s not old enough for it really,’ he said apologetically, ‘but I had some wood kicking about and got a bit carried away …’ Sure, my heart had already been flipped by his wide, bright smile, his deep blue eyes and lean, delicious body. But it was that
, that you wound up and down with a tiny handle, which made me realise that this kind, rather shy man, who cared about plants and the dwindling red squirrel population, could quite possibly be the love of my life.
Will glances up from the laptop. ‘What were you saying about bitchy anorexics?’
‘Oh, nothing, hon. We’ll talk about it later.’ I throw Ollie a
look, then delve into a carrier bag and thrust him a present – the mini silver Maglite torch he’s been after.
‘Aw, great! Thanks, Mum!’
I smile, watching him admire its powerful beam. He is less enthusiastic about his other gift, and merely flings it over a chair. ‘Ollie,’ I prompt him, ‘could you
your new sweatshirt, please? It’s for school. You said you needed one and I actually went into Hollister for that, because Maria said they do the nicest ones for boys and you complained that the last ones were thin and cheap-looking.’ I blink at him, awaiting gratitude. ‘I could have just gone to BHS,’ I add.
‘Uh-huh,’ he mutters.
‘D’you realise it’s completely dark in Hollister?’ I continue. ‘It’s like venturing down towards the earth’s core. They should issue miners’ helmets with lamps on for us ordinary people who don’t have special night vision …’
Ollie smirks. ‘It’s
to be dark, Mum.’
‘Yes, I realise that. If I’d bought your torch before I went in, then I wouldn’t have been stumbling about, treading on people’s feet. Also, I can’t believe the looks policy they have in there. I mean, all the staff look like models …’ Damn, the M-word pops out before I can stop it.
Ollie turns to Will. ‘Guess what, Dad …’
Please, do not speak of it …
‘What?’ Will asks.
‘Rosie’s gonna be a model!’
Oh, bloody hell …
Will frowns at me. ‘Huh? What’s going on?’
I grab his hand and smile broadly. ‘Nothing, darling. Nothing’s going on. Well, not much. Come and show me what you’ve been doing in the garden and I’ll tell you all about it.’
It worries me, as we step out into the warm July afternoon, this occasional tendency I have of addressing Will as if he were about eight years old. It started after his redundancy, and I’m only trying to be supportive and kind. However, I fear it can come out sounding as if I might try to check his hair for a nit infestation, or arrange his pizza toppings to make a face.
Will seems more relaxed as we sit side by side on our worn wooden bench in the late afternoon sunshine. We bought this place – a redbrick terrace in dire need of an upgrade – when Ollie was a toddler, figuring that two children with limitless energy really needed a lawn to run about on. What we’d failed to realise was that if you own a garden, you actually have to
it. But we’d had our hands full with the children and our jobs, and the previous owners’ immaculate borders soon ran amok, much to the consternation of Gerald and Tricia next door.
‘It’s fine,’ I’d say, whenever one of them peered over the fence and asked what our ‘plans’ for it were. ‘You don’t want precious plants with kids running about. We far prefer it like this.’ I talked as if it were an actual lifestyle choice, and not sheer neglect, that had made our garden that way. It grew even more jungly – with Tricia making the occasional barbed comment that we might ‘get someone in to, you know,
give you a hand
’ – until Will found himself with acres of time to tackle it. And when he’s not gardening, he’s out on his bike, foraging for wild food in the leafy pockets of East London; we’ve had elderflower, sorrel and armfuls of watercress. He’s turned into quite the hunter-gatherer, and it suits him. He looks like the kind of man who, should you find yourself trapped on a mountain in a freak storm, would be capable of knocking up a sturdy shelter from a couple of sticks and a bread wrapper and cook a hearty meal out of some lichen.
‘So,’ Will says now, shielding his eyes from the sun, ‘what’s this about modelling?’
‘Oh, a woman from an agency spotted Rosie in Forever 21 and said she has potential. It’s not a big deal …’
‘Forever 21?’ Such places don’t feature on Will’s radar.
‘Clothes shop the size of Belgium. I wouldn’t recommend going in without a ration pack and some kind of paper trail to help you find your way back out …’
‘Well,’ he says, ‘I hope you told her where to get off.’
I look at him, momentarily lost for words. ‘Of course I didn’t. D’you honestly think I’d speak to anyone like that?’
Will shrugs. ‘What did you tell her then?’
‘I didn’t tell her
. It’s not as if she was offering Rosie an actual job or a contract or however they do it. I mean, she wasn’t about to drag her off by her hair and throw her onto a catwalk …’ He flares his nostrils, a relatively new habit of his. ‘Anyway,’ I add, ‘I said we’d think it over.’
‘What is there to think about?’ Will asks. ‘You know what the modelling world’s like …’
‘No, I don’t,’ I say firmly, ‘and neither do you.’
He turns to me, eyes guarded. ‘Well, I can imagine. Half a tomato a day, hoovering up a ton of coke—’
‘What?’ I splutter. ‘That’s a bit of a leap, isn’t it?’
‘I don’t think so. And what about photographers preying on young girls?’
Deep breath. Keep calm. Focus on the blue haze of cornflowers. ‘Well, yes, I s’pose that does happen occasionally …’
‘And you’d be okay with that, would you?’
‘Of course I wouldn’t. God. What a thing to say, Will!’ I glare at him, knowing he’s only acting this way because he’s concerned, and wants the best for Rosie. However, he wasn’t snippy like this when he had barely a moment to himself, often working evenings and weekends if Greenspace required it. And, whilst I’m hugely impressed that he’s learnt how to make food shoot up from the earth, I also worry that he’s become a little …
‘Face is a proper agency,’ I add huffily. ‘The woman gave me her card.’
‘Oh, her card! She couldn’t have faked that then.’
‘You’re suggesting she prints up bogus cards to lure girls to her office?’
Will shrugs again. ‘Maybe.’
I clamp my back teeth together and fix my gaze on our unlovely shed which is huddled, slowly sagging and rotting, at the bottom of the garden. ‘Look,’ I say carefully, ‘this obviously means a lot to Rosie. You should have seen her – she was thrilled to bits. I’m not madly keen on the idea either, but I think it’s only fair to let her visit the agency so we can find out what it’s all about.’ Will slides his gaze towards me. ‘It’s just a
,’ I add. ‘I know you’re being protective, but surely you realise I’d never say yes if I thought she was going to be exploited in any way …’
Will digs a trainer toe into the gravel path. ‘Sorry. You’re right. I’m just being a jerk.’
I link my arm through his. His arms are lightly tanned, his skin warm to the touch. ‘No, you’re not. You’re her dad and you love her and just want to keep her safe.’
He musters a smile. ‘Wonder what Mum’ll have to say?’
‘God, yes, I hadn’t thought of that.’ Gloria, my mother-in-law, was a beauty queen in the 70s and she’s coming round later for dinner. I can’t decide whether her input will be helpful; she’s never seemed especially keen to discuss her glamorous past. But maybe, as it concerns Rosie, she’ll be happy to offer advice.
Then it hits me: my friend Liza’s daughter, Scarlett, appeared in a couple of catalogues before going to university. Liza will have a more up-to-date view of modelling than Gloria does and, more importantly, she’s brilliant company and gets along with everyone. I call her to invite her to dinner and, thankfully, she sounds delighted to come. Diluting the mother-in-law effect, I think it’s called.
Gloria’s golden hair – it’s actually
, rather than merely blonde – is set in stiff waves, as if piped on top of her head. She has a neat, narrow nose and large, carefully made-up pale blue eyes, involving several toning shades of iridescent shadow. The overall effect is of refined beauty, although, if small children were around, you’d be worried that they might cut themselves on her cheekbones. ‘Hello, Gloria,’ I say, kissing her powdered cheek. ‘You look lovely.’
‘You too,’ she says briskly. ‘That’s a very pretty dress.’ Reed thin and wearing a peach blouse and immaculate navy blue trouser suit, she eyes my pistachio Ghost dress. I still love it, despite it being of a similar vintage to Guinness, who’s reappeared, still being cradled by Rosie as she greets her grandma. I reassure myself that a girl who still adores her bunny is unlikely to have her head turned by a load of coke-hoovering fashion types.