فصل 07

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فصل 07

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Chapter seven

Meeting Mark

The Easter holidays were just beginning when Ellie came to live with Fanella.

‘You’ll have to go to school after the holidays, you know,’ Fanella told Ellie.

Ellie looked at her and frowned. ‘I hate school,’ she said.

‘Well, we’re going to find you a new school, so perhaps you’ll like that one,’ Fanella said.

The local school was full and, anyway, Fanella had doubts about how well Ellie would fit in there. It was a large school with a lot of children in each class, and although Ellie was capable of standing up to them, Fanella felt sure she would be happier in a smaller class.

‘Have you thought about Timothy’s school?’ Teresa asked her on the phone one morning. ‘She could even go into Timothy’s class. Rod is so good with problem children.’

Fanella was not sure how she should react to this comment. She did not consider Ellie a ‘problem’ child and felt upset that Teresa did.

On the other hand, she had a feeling that Rod, who she had seen teach and whose teaching style she admired, would get on very well with Ellie. Also, since there was no man in Ellie’s life at home, it would be good for her to have a man teacher at school: it would provide some balance. The idea was not a bad one, and Fanella decided to phone the school later that day.

‘By the way,’ Teresa continued, ‘I was wondering if you’d like to come to a dinner party next Saturday. You can bring Ellie. She and Timothy can watch a video in his room while we eat.’

Fanella smiled. It was typical of Teresa to think of everything. It was a long time since Fanella had been out in the evening. It would be good to spend time in adult company, knowing Ellie was safe nearby.

‘I’d love to. Thanks, Teresa,’ said Fanella.

‘Timothy seems to like Ellie very much,’ Teresa went on. ‘He’s always asking if she can come and play.’

‘Ellie likes Timothy, too,’ Fanella said. ‘She’ll really look forward to next Saturday.’

As she put the phone down, Fanella felt glad at the realisation that, no matter what Teresa said about Ellie, she was still a very good friend.

Fanella and Ellie cycled over to Teresa’s house the next Saturday evening. Fanella had bought Ellie a second-hand bike and a bike helmet, and she was a good cyclist. Ellie was so pleased about the bicycle that she had been on her best behaviour ever since. Also, now she had got to know Timothy better, they had become good friends. When the door to Teresa’s house opened, Timothy and Ellie ran straight upstairs together.

‘This is Mark, a colleague of Paulo’s,’ Teresa said as Fanella entered the sitting room and Paulo put a glass of wine in her hand. ‘And I think you know Mary and Simon. They’ve got a boy in Rod’s class at the school.’

‘Hello,’ said Fanella, shyly. Mark was tall, blond and very good-looking. Fanella wondered whether he was married or had a partner. It was not often she met a good-looking single man these days. She felt self-conscious in front of him and turned instead to Mary and Simon, and asked them about the school.

‘Oh, we highly recommend Rod as a teacher,’ Mary said to Fanella, when she explained that Ellie would be going to the school. ‘He’s wonderful with the children. Billy loves him, and he’s learnt such a lot since he’s been in his class. He’s rather attractive, too,’ she said, smiling at her husband.

‘Yes,’ her husband replied. ‘All the mothers are in love with their children’s teacher, but he’s married to a blonde beauty so we men feel quite safe.’

Mark was quiet. The conversation obviously didn’t interest him and Fanella guessed he didn’t have children. What she did not notice, however, when they sat down to eat, was that he was watching and admiring her. Mark liked strong women and he had decided that Fanella must be very brave to adopt a child on her own.

Later on, as they had coffee, Mark came and sat next to Fanella. ‘It sounds as if you can’t go out in the evenings now you’ve got a child,’ he said, ‘but perhaps we could have lunch together one day, when she’s started school.’

Fanella was surprised. This was the first time a man had asked her on a date for years! ‘Thank you, I’d enjoy that,’ she said, feeling pleased and excited.

By the time she and Ellie left, she had arranged to meet Mark for lunch two weeks later at a restaurant overlooking the river. By then Ellie would have started school, and she would be back at work.

‘So, what did you think?’ asked Teresa on the phone on Sunday morning, wanting to know whether Fanella was interested in Mark or not.

‘He seems really nice,’ said Fanella.

‘I think he liked you, too.’

‘Well, he asked me out to lunch, once Ellie’s started school,’ said Fanella.

‘Oh good!’ said Teresa. ‘This could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.’

Fanella wasn’t so sure. It would be fun to go out with a man for a change, but a relationship would be a lot to take on at the moment, while she was still getting to know Ellie and her ways. It dawned on her that this had been a set-up: that Teresa had asked her on purpose, to introduce her to Mark. She didn’t really mind as she knew that Teresa only wanted to help and only interfered in people’s lives when she saw an opportunity to make them happier.

It was very strange approaching the school on Ellie’s first morning. All the other mothers and fathers seemed to have been doing it for years. As it was her first day, Fanella wanted to take Ellie right into the classroom and make sure she settled in.

Rod was there, and she hoped to speak to him, to explain that Ellie was worried about getting lost and not knowing what to do. But he was deep in some kind of conversation - or was it an argument? - with another mother.

Fanella waited a while, finding that Rod’s presence still caused her heart to race. She remembered what had been said at the dinner party, however, about how all the mothers were in love with Rod, and tried to pull herself together. At last he freed himself from the woman who had been shouting at him about something, and came over to Fanella, wiping his forehead.

‘Hi, Ellie,’ he said, speaking to the child first, which Fanella was grateful for.

Ellie smiled up shyly at him.

‘Would you like to go and choose a reading book?’ he asked her. ‘Timothy will be here soon, and I think you already know him.’

Ellie did exactly as Rod asked her to do, and Fanella was able to explain some of her concerns to Rod out of the child’s hearing. ‘She’s quite unpredictable sometimes,’ she said to Rod, ‘but it’s because she’s worried about doing the wrong thing. She doesn’t mean to be badly-behaved.’

Rod smiled.

‘It’s just…’ Fanella went on nervously, finding it difficult to explain the child’s character in a few sentences. ‘If she isn’t sure where she’s meant to be, or what she’s meant to be doing, she refuses to do anything. It can seem as if she’s being moody. But if everything’s made clear to her, she’s very well-behaved.’

‘Hey,’ said Rod, squeezing Fanella’s arm. ‘Don’t worry so much. I’m used to all sorts of children in here. I’m sure she’ll be fine.’ And he smiled at her in such a friendly way, her stomach did several turns. ‘Come and see me at the end of the day,’ he added, ‘and I’ll tell you how she got on.’

Fanella left feeling relieved and very lucky to have such a nice teacher for Ellie. She got to work feeling happier than she had done in ages. It was as if some of the anxiety over Ellie had been lifted a little, now she had shared it with someone.

She tried not to think it was also because she’d seen Rod again and would see him every day now while Ellie was in his class. The thought of having lunch with Mark later on also made her cheerful, and she sang to herself throughout the morning. Several of her colleagues commented on her good mood.

‘It certainly suits you being a mother,’ one of them said. ‘I haven’t seen you look so well for ages!’

She was a little late arriving for her lunch date with Mark, and it was clear he was quite nervous. He must have thought that perhaps she wasn’t going to come. He ordered drinks and they sat looking at each other across the table.

Fanella discovered it was very easy to talk to him. She told him all about Steven, and about Ellie, and about how hard it sometimes was being a single mother. Not just a single mother, but the mother of an adopted child. Mark listened and nodded, and Fanella found herself pouring out all her troubles to him.

He didn’t tell her much about himself, apart from the fact he had worked with Paulo’s company for several years, but had only recently moved to Cambridge and didn’t know it very well.

By the end of the lunch, Fanella realised she would like to see him again. She wasn’t sure if he would accept, but she took a deep breath and invited him over for dinner on Saturday night.

‘I’ll cook for you,’ she said, feeling pleased to think it would be worth making an effort for a change. She had got into quite a boring routine lately, making simple meals for Ellie and eating the same food herself. It would be nice to cook something special, she thought.

Mark smiled at her. ‘I’ll look forward to that,’ he said. Fanella, dizzy from drinking wine at lunchtime and excited at the thought of seeing Mark again, cycled back to work, smiling to herself all the way.

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