Allie was sitting in the restaurant that she'd chosen to meet her dad in, since she'd been shown to the table she'd kept her eyes on the door but she became so caught up in worrying about what she was going to say to him that she didn't notice him walk in. She looked up and saw him standing right across from her, swallowing down the lump that had formed in her throat she stood up. He hadn't changed that much in the six years that had passed since she last saw him, he'd aged a little but he still looked exactly the same to her. Right then she wished Bea was with her but she'd wanted to do this on her own in case things went wrong. She thought about finding him more over the last couple of years but had never thought that she actually would be standing here looking at him. When she'd sent him that email she hadn't really expected a response believing that just because he hadn't moved wasn't a sign that he was actually hoping that maybe one day she'd find her way home, but now here they were both nervously looking at each other.
“I can't believe it's really you.” Her dad said in a low voice, “You look well…I have no idea what to say to you now I'm here.”
“Yeah…I…I know what you mean…are you going to sit down?” Allie stumbled a little over her words as her dad took a seat across the table from her.
“Where did you go Allie? Lucas went to all of your friends that he could think of and they all said they had no idea where you where.”
“You know how it was, I…I was messed up, I umm…I moved around a lot.” This was not the place to go into where she eventually found herself, not that she wanted to tell him the truth. “I eventually moved to Sydney, I was there for five years but when I met Bea again…let's say things got a little complicated before I had to move back to Melbourne because of my job.”
“I'm sorry Allie…for what I put you through, all three of you through, haven't touched a drop of alcohol in all these years, little consolation now I know and I still going to the meetings, but we aren't here to talk about me…I'm so glad you're here, you're happy?”
A waiter approached their table before she could answer, Allie was pretty sure that she wasn't hungry but she'd promised Bea that she would try to eat something and after not even looking at the menu she let her dad order for her. When the waiter disappeared Allie started to relax a little.
“Honestly, I don't think I could be any happier.”
“I'm glad…Bea…that's who you used to tell Lucas about all the time when you first came home right?”
“Yeah, I never…she didn't see me…never really dared hope that…”
“Hey, we don't need to talk about that, maybe in time if you want to. James called me this morning and told me I better not stuff this up, and Lucas gave me an earful as I was leaving the house, I'm sure that boys never going to leave home.”
Hearing her brothers names threw her few a few seconds, James had left home so soon after they returned home and she'd never heard from him, it was a surprise to hear he was now in contact with their dad again.
“I wasn't going to come…when I woke up this morning I thought about cancelling, I thought about nothing else until lunch time.”
“I wouldn't have blamed you if you had, but what changed your mind?”
“Bea…she reminded me that I really had nothing to lose by seeing you, that if things went badly I could walk away.” Allies face lit up the second she said her name and it didn't go unnoticed by her dad. “Sometimes I think she's too smart for her own good.”
“Do you have a picture of her?”
“I…umm, yeah.” Allie wasn't sure if she really wanted to show him but he did seem to be trying and he hadn't said or done anything that actually made her uncomfortable, reaching into her bag she found her phone and scrolled through the pictures until she found one that she really loved. Passing her phone over to him he studied the picture for a few moments.
“She's absolutely stunning, and that's Debbie?” He looked up before handing Allie her phone back.
“Yeah…she's 12, very smart just like her mum.”
“You've know her a long time kiddo, how long have have you been together?”
“Not that long, I was living with Franky but she finally met someone who she really cares about and I decided that I'd better move out, Bea asked me to move in with her and Debbie…What about you? Have you ever met anyone else?”
“No, I'm happy enough, I know it might sound stupid to you because of how things used to be but no one could ever live up to your mums memory, I made mistakes Allie, big mistakes and I can never take back the things I did and said to you, you have no idea how many times I've wished I wasn't such an idiot. I can never make it up to you, to any of you but if you'll let me I'd like to be there, be part of your life if you'll let me.”
Allie sat quietly, she remembered exactly how things were when he was drinking, nothing much ever got passed her no matter how young she was, but he was different now, there was no anger in his eyes only sincerity, maybe that was what she had seen before she walked away but she couldn't remember because she had chosen not to look or to care.
“I really hope I get to meet her.” Allie shook her head and looked at her dad.
“Yeah, maybe…we should meet up again, I'm just…it's not that…”
“I get it, it's been a long time, you need to…make sure you can trust me, that I'm being honest with you, James was the same, I'm not under any illusions Allie, I know it's hard, that you need to know I really have changed. How about dinner again, in a couple of days, if Bea and Debbie would be ok with that, I'm not trying to monopolise your time I just want to get to know you properly.”
Allie smiled, “I think I'd like that, I'll call you, tomorrow, arrange something.” It was only then that Allie realised she hardly eaten a thing and her food had gone cold, not that it looked like her dad had eaten a great deal. Checking the time two hours had passed and she really wanted to get home, seeing him again had been draining and crawling into bed beside Bea was the only thing she wanted to do.
“I need to ask you something.” Allie said as she turned over to face Bea, “I want you to meet my dad, you and Debbie. He wanted me to ask you if you'll have dinner with us tonight, and if I'm honest I don't really want to go over to the house by myself.”
Bea didn't answer straight away she just looked at Allie, Bea wasn't sure that it was a great idea after all Allie had only just found him again but at the same time she knew she would do absolutely anything for Allie, she still had to tell her that they been invited over to her parents place and not just for dinner, for the whole weekend. She'd been making excuses for the last two weeks telling her mum every time she called that they were busy and she was sure that if they didn't go soon they would show up on her doorstep unannounced.
“You don't have to, there's no pressure he just thought that it was about time time he met you both, it seems you're all I talk about, at least that's what he keeps telling me.” Allie buried her face in Beas neck, “I've never had to do this before, it's kinda strange.” She mumbled.
Bea leaned her head back so she could look at her, “I've never had to do this either…I think it's a wonderful idea but only if you're sure. I'm sorry I didn't answer it's just the look on your face, you looked like a deer caught in the headlights, he's sure he wants to meet a 12 year old trouble maker?”
“It was his idea, he's completely up for it.”
“In that case so am I, but we better ask Deb what she thinks.” Bea wrapped her arms around Allie, “While we're talking about meeting our parents…how would you feel about spending the weekend with mine?”
“Double trouble.” Allie giggled, “When?”
“That's the only problem, I've been putting them off for the last two weeks, this weekend, well tomorrow then I guess.”
Allie nodded, “I guess, why didn't you tell me this sooner?”
“You've been spending a lot of time with your dad, I didn't want to give you anything else to worry about, mum just isn't giving up no matter what I tell her.”
“So, tonight at seven, after we ask Deb if she wants to come?”
“Sounds perfect, we need to get up you have a meeting all morning, and meetings on a Friday morning really do drag.” Bea laughed
“It's a pity we have to work today,” Allie said through a yawn.
“It's a shame we have to go to work ever.” Bea sighed, “I really don't feel like going in, I'd much rather stay here like this.”
“Me too but we can't, you go shower I'll make a start on breakfast, Deb will be up soon and I don't want her complaining that we never feed her.”
Bea flopped back on the bed, “I don't wanna…I know what's waiting for me on my desk.”
“And as you so nicely reminded me I have a meeting, come on, look at it like this the sooner we get to work the sooner we'll be done.”
“I guess, but that just means the weekend isn't ours.” Bea looked at Allie and knew she was right, “Fine, I'm getting up.” Dragging herself out of bed Bea stomped her way to the ensuite while Allie went to make a start on breakfast.
Debbie soon appeared in the kitchen grumbling that she was hungry. After sliding her breakfast across the table to her Allie disappeared upstairs to tell Bea that breakfast was ready. Walking into the bedroom she found Bea wrapped in towel.
“Why is it you always look so good at this time in the morning?”
“Charmer, you can say things like that as often as you like.” Bea smiled at her as she pulled out a clean shirt and threw it on the bed.
“I'm only telling the truth.” Allie watched on as she finished drying her hair, “Breakfasts ready when you are, Debs already downstairs.”
Bea pulled the towel that she was wrapped in off and tossed it in the laundry basket as she watched Allie. “Enjoying the view?” She asked knowing very well that she'd never enjoyed being anyone's view but Allie had changed that.
“Wild horses mean anything to you?”
“Plenty, but I have to get ready for work and so do you.”
Allie let out a groan at the mention of work and Bea getting dressed was also something she wasn't enjoying.
“Wouldn't be wise to walk into work naked would it?” Bea chuckled, “I doubt the director would approve…now scram I'll be down in a minute.”
Allie reluctantly went back to the kitchen to wait for Bea, she was a little nervous about asking Debbie if she wanted to meet her dad. When Bea finally arrived at the table Debbie had already finished her breakfast and was asking Allie what they were doing over the weekend.
“We're all going to see grandma and grandad, staying over until Sunday…that alright Deb?” Bea answered as she sat down.
“Bout time it's been forever since we saw them…Allies coming too?”
“Of course, but before that we need to ask you something.” Bea looked at Allie as she took a sip of her coffee.
“Hmmm…yeah, my dad…well he's asked if you and your mum would like to go over for dinner tonight with me.”
Debbie looked at Bea and then back at Allie, “Sounds ok to me…will your brothers be there?”
Allie shrugged as she got up to put her dishes in the sink, “He didn't say they would so maybe not this time.”
Debbie nodded before leaving the table to get ready for school quickly followed by Allie who wasn't really looking forward to her morning.
Allies morning meeting ran straight through lunch, by the time she got back to her desk she was not only hungry but in a bad mood, she hadn't been able to let Bea know that she couldn't meet her for lunch and now she had a pile of reports that had been sitting on her desk all morning waiting for her attention. There was no way she was getting through more than two of them before it would be time to leave and she didn't care, if other people had to drag out a meeting by asking questions that if they had been paying attention they would have already heard the answers to then she couldn't be expected to get through everything.
She placed a quick call to Bea to find out if she was ready to leave arranging to meet her in the car park before Will appeared at her office door just as she was pulling on her jacket.
“I am, I've had a nightmare of a day.” She smiled, “Just got through looking over the bonus accruals and it's all looking good, Matt did a great job pulling everything together at such short notice and I've sent you the budget to actuals for the year to date and I've sent copies to Bea and the director, anything else will have to wait.”
“You're in a hurry?”
“A little…we're having dinner with my dad tonight and I'm a bit nervous, I'm betting Beas even more nervous.”
“Right…I err, Kaz wanted to know if you wanted to have dinner with us over the weekend.”
“This weekend?…Sorry we can't, if I think I'm nervous now I'm sure I'm going to be a wreck over the weekend we're going to stay with Beas parents and I'm not sure how that's going to go.”
“Not a problem, maybe next weekend, better let you get out of here.”
Crossing the car park Allie spotted Bea waiting by the car for her and almost wanted to run the rest of the distance that separated them but as Allie had once said to Bea when she'd suggested that she might like to join her and Franky one day when they actually found the time to head out to one of their favourite jogging paths her body was built for pleasure not running, something Bea at the time had taken great pleasure in teasing her about the next time she ate way more than she needed to. It seemed that ice cream was not only a magnet to Debbie but Allie as well and one evening she'd found the pair of them huddled together under a blanket on the sofa watching a movie with the biggest tub of chocolate ice cream Allie had been able to find when she'd nipped out to get snacks for the evening.
“I've missed you all day.” Allie said after a deep exhale.
“Funny thing that I've missed you too, especially at lunch time but I had Franky to keep me company.” Pulling her in closer Bea kissed her seemingly totally oblivious to their surroundings something that was happening a lot more lately.
“Oi you two how about you put each other down in public, these eyes are far too young to watch you getting it on in public.” Franky shouted as she strolled across the car park with a huge grin on her face.
“We were doing no such thing Franky.” Allie chuckled when they broke apart.
“Yeah, yeah…I'm just messin with ya, it's all good.”
“We better get going…dinner with my dad tonight.” Allie looked nervously at Franky as she came to a halt in front of them.
“Ya’ve seen him a lot the last couple of weeks Al it'll be fine, besides if he starts any shit he'll have Deb to deal with.” Franky laughed, “Ya’ve seen Red get angry trust me Deb is on a whole other level, don't envy him if he upsets ya. Anyway have fun, gotta run meeting a Gidge in two hours.”
Bea volunteered to drive them over to her dads after seeing how nervous Allie was getting as she got ready to leave, Debbie's endless chatter from the back seat about a school trip to an art gallery the next week took Allies mind off things a little but not enough to completely stop the thoughts in her head turning over and over.
“Everything will be fine.” Bea said as she glanced at Allie before entwining their fingers.
“I hope so, I'm just nervous.”
“That makes two of us, obviously the chatterbox in the back seat doesn't ever seem to get nervous about anything.”
Allie looked at Debbie who was still talking although not quite so enthusiastically anymore now that she'd changed the subject to her least favourite school subject, not surprising Allie in the slightest when she worked out that Debbie was about as keen on any physical activity as she was.
“I don't want to suff this up, I have no idea what I'm doing, I try to tell myself that everything is going to be fine but then I remind myself that I really have no idea what I'm doing…does any of this even make any sense?”
“I'm sure everything will work out fine, parents don't come with instruction manuals you know, I'm just as nervous as you are.”
“I though it was kids that don't come with instruction manuals?” Allie giggled.
“They don't, but sometimes we could use one to work our parents out, I know I could right now, I've had some strange conversations with mum recently.”
Pulling up outside the house Debbie as usual was the first one out of the car waiting for Bea and Allie as she looked at the house in front of her. Allie took Beas hand in hers as they walked towards the door that flew open before they even reached it. Allies dad stood there smiling at them.
“I'm so glad you made it, I actually though earlier that asking you over after work might not have been the best idea I've ever had.”
“No, no…its was a great idea, means neither of us has to cook.” Allie smiled back as she tried to hide her nerves.
Walking into the house the smell of home cooking hit them straight away taking Allie a little by surprise, from what she could remember he was never the best cook in the world, he tried but his disasters usually outweighed his successes when she was younger and generally ended in a takeaway being ordered.
“You finally learnt to cook?” Allie asked with a hint of amusement in her tone.
“I had to, well it was either that or starve, Lucas was never a typical teenager, pizza soon became tiresome to him.”
After the uneasy introductions, uneasy because Allie was still so unsure that she was doing the right thing and Debbie's apprehension was very apparent to her, they followed her dad through to the kitchen when her dad said that dinner was almost ready.
“Sit yourselves down while I finish this up.”
Allie sat across from Bea leaving Debbie to sit next to her, it was the first time Allie had actually seen Debbie stop talking for more than a couple of minutes when she was around and even though she had smiled over at Allie a couple of times she still felt like the worst person in the world for putting Debbie through something that clearly made her uncomfortable. Turning back to the table Allies dad started talking to Bea and Debbie shocking her slightly because what she remembered of her dad was that around other people other than family he was always generally quiet, her mum was the talker something Allie guessed she'd got that from her, listening to her dad telling Debbie about one particularly embarrassing thing a very young Allie had done made her groan. Not that Allie could remember the time, as his story went when Allie was around four they had gone out for a meal and Allie had insisted that she wanted soup for a starter, she was always way more grown up than her years, and nothing could persuade her to change her mind. She'd hardy eaten any of hers when she'd noticed that everyone else at the table had already finished, putting down her spoon she'd picked up the dish and drunk the remainder of her soup because just like Debbie she was always impatient when it came down to food. Allie looked away and shook her head when Debbie started laughing, although she had to admit it was quite an amusing story and certainly one she'd never heard told before.
Once they were all seated at the table eating Allie was surprised when her dad kept talking.
“You know,” he looked straight at Debbie, “when Allie was born we were going to call her Debbie.”
Allie turned her head to look at him, “Why is this the first time I'm hearing this?”
“I guess it just never came up, hardly surprising given my track record of never talking and just running my mouth.” He sighed and turned to look at Bea, “Alison, Allies mum, really wanted her to be called after her so I left the final decision to her, good thing I did or there might just be two Debbie's sitting here.”
Allie sat there watching as her dad sat so comfortably telling them both a few more stories about when Allie was young, it seemed more than a little strange, even stranger still was him mentioning her mum, after she died he'd never talked about her not to Allie or to her brothers. She'd been certain that he'd never speak about her again but here he was telling them, talking to them like he'd known them both for years.
When they finished dinner Allie had insisted that she helped with the dishes, nothing her dad could say would change her mind and after leaving Bea and Debbie in the living room she returned to the kitchen.
“Dad…I'm glad you told them about mum.”
“Yeah, me too…it felt good to tell them…she's very special to you.”
“She'll always be special to you, she was your mum and she loved all three of you more than life itself but that wasn't what I meant exactly.” He passed Allie a plate to dry, “I meant Bea, Debbie as well but in a different way, I like her…a lot! You're just head over heels, it's hard to miss that look you get every time you look at her.”
“I've never looked at her any other way…and just so you know, it was nice to hear you talk about mum.”
“It felt good…for so long I never really knew how to approach the subject, I never wanted to upset you, I guess it upset you more that I wouldn't talk about her…look on the bright side, we made it through without any tears, now go be with your girls I've got this covered…hop it.”
Allie flopped on the sofa beside Bea, happy that Debbie had started to relax as soon as her dad had started with the embarrassing stories if that was all it took Debbie to feel a little more at ease then Allie was quite happy to suffer through the embarrassment, she'd never imagined a few months ago that she would ever be sitting back in the house that she grew up in, much less ever imagined that she'd be sitting there with Bea and Debbie.
“What do I call your dad?” Debbie asked as a serious expression settled on her face.
“Well I guess you could just call him Max, but if he gets on your nerves he hates being called his full name…pretty sure I would too if I were called Maxwell.”
“I heard that…” Her dad said as he reappeared from the kitchen, “You can call me Max, take no notice of Allie pretend she never told you that and we'll get along fine.”
The four of them sat together talking for a while longer, Debbie inevitably asked more questions about what Allie was like when she was younger. It felt so natural to Allie being back there, like it was just something they had done for years. It was new yet somehow familiar and slightly scary at the same time but it started to feel more like home somehow again and Allie couldn't be happier, even when her dad told Debbie about one time when she was three her mum had taken her for a check up and the nurse she had to see was asking her to do all the standard coordination type things, touch your nose, jump and being an extremely healthy energetic little girl she was doing everything that was expected of her until the nurse asked her to stand on one foot. Allie didn't think she was going to want to know what she had done but didn't say anything.
“I nearly died laughing when her mum told me what she did…she looked at the nurse and then hesitated for a few seconds before she walked over to the nurse and stood on one of her feet.”
Allie groaned as Debbie just sat laughing. A while later they all said goodnight and headed home after Allie promised to call him after the weekend and Bea said they would invite him over for dinner.
Debbie disappeared off to bed almost as soon as they arrived home leaving Bea and Allie sitting on the sofa. Bea nudged Allies shoulder, “Are you ok?”
Allie curled further into Beas side trying to find the words to say what was on her mind. “Yes…I guess…no not really…I never expected him to even mention mum, he would never talk about her so we never mentioned her when he was around…we knew what his temper was like, I mean I know it was bad when he used to drink and it's so obvious how much he has changed.” She felt her tears threatening to betray her composure as she closed her eyes.
“Allie…” Bea pulled her tighter against her side, “its obvious just how much he loves you, I know things were hard when you were growing up but he made a change for the better, obviously not just for himself.” Beas voice was warm and reassuring as Allie thumbed a tear away that escaped her eye as she looked up at Bea.
“I don't want to cry, there's nothing that can change what happened in the past, and that's where it belongs…in the past.” A tissue appeared right in front of her. “I always have some handy…and your emotions have looked like they were going ten rounds with Mike Tyson all evening and taking a severe beating but you kept it together so I knew we were going to be in for a rough night.”
Allie lifted her head and just looked at Bea in wonder, “I'm glad you were there, that you heard everything he said because I doubt I could have repeated it.”
“I wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere else, and Debbie seems to like him…you know that's unusual.”
Allie nodded and leaned her head back against Beas shoulder. “You might fool a lot of people with that stone cold demeanour at work but anyone who ever pays enough attention to you can see that's not who you are, and I for one greatly enjoy paying attention to you, I see you and that heart of gold you keep hidden from most people.”
“I'm a wreck…that's enough to change anyone's mind about wanting to be with me.” Allie sniffed.
“You know I'm fairly confident that my feelings aren't going to change just because you get a little upset about things, you aren't the only one who that happens to.”
“You still might change your mind about us once you realise just how really fucked up I am.”
“No I won't…trust me if you want fucked up you should come stay at my parents over Christmas, that is one family dinner that drives me crazy. My dad and his sister have absolutely nothing in common other than they have the same parents. They argue over everything, it still amazes me that they still want to spend Christmas Day under the same roof. My aunts view on everything is the complete opposite of my dads, honestly family dinners always feel like you're sitting around a huge iceberg after the first five minutes.”
“Ok, but I'm not sure that I get what your getting at.”
“I'm just pointing out that every family has problems, that we're all a little fucked up, some more than others if my aunt is anything to go by…now what do you say we just go to bed? You do have to face my mum and dad tomorrow and I think I have some things that I need to tell them, pretty certain I should have already handled that but it's a little too late now to change what I haven't done.”
“I'll be right there with you, I'm not going anywhere, I'm never going anywhere.”