High Street Musical

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Richie rang her to say Ash would be late. She was supposed to be arriving at 6pm; now it would be an hour later. Was that okay?

Fine, Lillian said. She'd heard this kind of thing before. Ex-wives who made life difficult for their former husbands, buggaring up their arrangements and changing things at the last minute. Especially if they thought a new girlfriend was involved.

Maybe this was something she had to get used to—all very grown-up and 'new situation'. Richie had rung off before she could ask him if that meant she should come around later. Probably? It gave her the chance to spend more time on her clothes and make-up.

Who knew what a prospective step-mother should look like? Mumsy she guessed, rummaging through her wardrobe to see if anything suitable leapt out. The tea-print dress worn with a cashmere cardigan was very 1950s, a look that said 'mother' to Lillian as it reminded her of the picture books she'd read as a child and their 2.4 nuclear families, mum a housewife, dad a pipe smoking, briefcase carrier.

'Mother' and a small girl's utterance of it. She closed her eyes and shook the word away. It didn't feel comfortable, echoing tinnily inside her head.

She asked the taxi driver to drop her at the end of Richie's street. He lived in a detached house on the south side of Glasgow, near to Bellahouston. You got a lot more for your money on the south side of the city and Richie had told her he'd got on the property ladder at 22, thanks to marrying so young.

She'd seen the house before, but only briefly and in the dark. The early evening summer sunshine highlighted blonde stone buildings and red tiles, leafy avenues and cul-de-sacs. Number 32 didn't stand out, but the garden drew the eye. The front lacked privacy, but her approach to the house from the right afforded her a view behind the house. The garden stretched back fifty metres or so, its lawn broken up by paths, flower beds and a patio furnished with a table and chairs and a hammock.

Lillian bet to herself Richie had a barbecue. And that at least twice every summer, he opened his home and garden to family and friends and fired it up. She saw them, mingling, chatting, drinks in hand. There she was, at the centre of the group, laughing as she handed one man a beer, asked another if he wanted a second burger.

Laughing, Lillian! Relaxed, Lillian!

Wind chimes dangled on the door porch, tinkling in the breeze as she leant forward and pushed the doorbell.

The door swung open seconds later, Richie's face creased and his mouth down-turned. He grabbed her to him, though, and pressed the back of her head to his face—the kiss deep and fast.

"Hey, sorry—bastard of a day. I'm glad you're here. Eh... Ash got here early after all. Brace yourself."

He gestured towards the room on the right. So far, Lillian had taken in neutral décor; the kind of wallpaper, paint and carpets estate agents recommended when you wanted to sell a house. The blandness disappointed her. John's voice sounded—we're not all artistic, Lillian! Give the guy a break.

He was right, of course.

Lillian pushed open the door to the living room and stepped inside, friendly smile plastered in place. "Hello Ashley! I'm Lillian and your dad's told me so many wonderful...

She didn't get a chance to say the words, the utterance of them stopped as soon as she saw Ash. When did you say he got divorced, are you sure Ash is six... the words flashed before her. How had she managed to get this so spectacularly wrong?

Slouched on the couch in front of her was a teenage girl—sixteen or seventeen at least. She hadn't looked up either; too focused on her mobile phone or at least pretending to be. Lillian took in dark hair and eyes, and a body that seemed to take over the sofa it lay on.

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