“We were cleaning it all up and we kept saying to each other, ‘When they get older, it’ll get easier.’ Remember?”
“I do.” Dad looks fondly at her.
“Well, bring back the poo.” Mum begins to laugh, a bit hysterically. “I would do anything for a bit of poo right now.”
“I dream of poo,” says Dad firmly, and Mum laughs even more, till she’s wiping tears from her eyes.
And I back away, without making a sound. I’ll get my hot chocolate later.
And so the only piece left in the jigsaw is Linus. But it’s a big piece.
Frank just showed me the footage of Mum laying into Linus in the sitting room and I stared in total disbelief. First, I couldn’t believe Mum could blame Linus for anything, Second, I couldn’t believe he’d only just got my text. Third, I couldn’t believe he’d come over to see me.
So he hadn’t given up on me. He didn’t hate me. I hadn’t spoiled everything. I’d been wrong on pretty much everything. As I watched it for the second time I felt pretty sheepish, and I could tell Mum felt even worse.
“I don’t sound like that,” she kept saying in horror. “I didn’t say that. Did I?”
“You totally sound like that,” said Frank. “You sound worse, actually. The camera was flattering.”
He was rubbing it in. She doesn’t sound quite as shrill as that in real life.
“So, I need to apologise to Linus.” She sighs.
“So do I,” I say quickly.
“So do I,” says Frank glumly.
“What?” Mum and I swivel to look at him.
“We had a fight. About LOC. He was talking about the tournament and I got…well, jealous, I suppose.”
Frank looks like an overgrown schoolboy. He’s got ink on his hands and is staring miserably at his knees. He doesn’t know about the laptop yet, and I would love to whisper it in his ear to cheer him up, but I’ve had enough of going behind my parents’ backs. For now.
“So.” Mum is back into her brisk mode again. “We all need to apologise to Linus.”
“Mum, that’s all very well,” I say in a flat tone. “But it’s too late. Linus’s parents are emigrating. He’s at the airport right now. We’ve missed our chance.”
“What?” Mum looks up as though scalded.
“We could make the airport.” Dad looks alertly at his watch. “Which airport? Anne, we’ll take your car.”
“Which flight?” demands Mum. “Audrey, which flight?”
What are my parents like? They’ve watched too many Richard Curtis films, that’s their trouble. They’ve gone soft in the head.
“He’s not at the bloody airport!” I expostulate. “I said that as a joke. Don’t you think you’d know if Linus was emigrating?”
“Oh.” Mum subsides, looking highly embarrassed. “OK. I just got carried away for a moment. What shall we do, then?”
“Invite him to Starbucks,” I say after a moment’s thought. “It needs to be at Starbucks. Frank, you text him.”
It’s actually pretty funny. When Linus arrives at Starbucks, we’re all sitting there at one big table, the whole family, waiting for him. He looks totally unnerved, and for a moment I think he’s going to run away, but you know, Linus isn’t a runner-awayer. After about five seconds he comes forward resolutely and looks at us all in turn, especially Mum. And last of all me.
It takes him about thirty seconds to realize.
“I know.” I can’t help beaming.
“Dunno. They just fell off. And…here I am.”
“So, Linus,” says Mum. “We would all like to apologise to you. Frank?”
“Sorry I got ratty, mate,” says Frank, turning red.
“Oh.” Linus seems embarrassed. “Er…that’s OK.”
They bang fists together then Frank turns to Mum.
“Mum, your turn.”
“OK.” Mum clears her throat. “Linus, I’m very sorry I took my worries and fears out on you. I got completely the wrong end of the stick. I know how good you’ve been for Audrey and I can only apologise.”
“Right. Um.” Linus looks even more embarrassed. “Listen, you don’t have to do this,” he says, looking around the family. “I know you were all stressed.”
“We want to.” Mum’s voice gives a sudden waver. “Linus, we’re all very fond of you. And I should not have shouted at you. It was a bad time, and I really am sorry.”