Your bairn always came first, right? In fifteen or so years of proper adulthood, Richie hadn't picked many friends' brains—you didn't when you were a bloke—but this rule seemed a surety his pals would agree with. Divorce, fine. Split from the mother of your weans also acceptable and part of modern life.
Weans first, though.
The first inkling of trouble came on the Saturday morning. Aileen texted him. She kept her contact with him to a minimum so that struck alarm bells immediately.
X-factor said no.
His heart flipped over, the pity of it remembering what your teens were like. The tiniest things so important, so crucial to your happiness. Moody, bitchy, angry Ash—was it possible for her fragile ego to handle this blow? He remembered the casual way he'd dealt with it in his mind weeks earlier—Ash, these programmes choose people to fit into categories, the girl with the sad back story, the boy who's spent his whole life trying to break into the music business. If you don't fit, you don't get in, doesnae matter how 'good' you are.
Nevertheless, he tried. He phoned her and told her all this. Everything he said was disagreed with and discounted. No, it was just that she, Ash, was shite. Useless, rubbish, a laughing stock. At that she wailed, what was she going to tell her friends, the ones she'd boasted to about going to the auditions? They'd laugh at her, behind her back if she was lucky or to her face.
This was the worst thing that had ever happened. Like, ever Dad.
And yes, something like this got you out of meeting your dad's new partner, right?
Richie put his foot down. Ash must meet Lillian. He'd told Lillian all about Ash. And Lillian was amazing—funny, bright, amusing and the owner of her own business. Maybe, even maybe Lillian could talk to his daughter about setting up your own business. Creative fulfilment didn't need TV endorsement or the yay or nay of people as dull and stupid as Simon Cowell and Sharon Osbourne after all.
The phone calls went back and forth all day. Ash tried bribery again. The Mac was in place—what about her own LCD TV for her room. This time, Richie refused. Weeping daughter aside, the foot had to go down at some point. Ash was coming to his house. She would meet his girlfriend. Before finally hanging up after she'd eventually said yes, Ash said she'd be an hour later. Her face needed fixing.
He found himself unable to settle down as they waited for Lillian. He hadn't told her to come later and now wished he'd said "Pop round when you said you would anyway. We can have a drink or something." Ash stomped into his living room and sprawled over his sofa. She refused a hug and told Richie he'd better have nice food for her.
And what about a drink, Dad? I deserve it.
Richie poured her a small vodka and coke and hoped it might mellow her. As Ash didn't follow him through to the kitchen to get it from him, he gave her a tiny measure. Just as well as she drank the first in a few gulps and demanded another.
Silence reigned as they waited. Richie attempted conversation, but Ash managed to swing any topic around to the X-Factor failure before telling him to shut up. He took her at his word, plumping up cushions and shuffling around pictures instead.
Still. Even the worst of expectations didn't prepare him for what happened. He flicked back over the conversations he'd had with Lillian, wondering where on earth she'd got the idea Ash was a six-year-old from. Sure, they hadn't talked about her much—and he was as guilty as Lillian for that—too caught up in lust and passion to care much about anything else, but still it seemed daft.
He remembered a brief conversation with Kippy when they were at the awards night. The moment shimmered before him. They were sat at the table. Kippy resumed his 'father-of-the-girl' style questions. So, Richie was divorced. Did he have any kids? Richie nodded, slowly, wondering if this was the bit where you took the photo out of your wallet and wafted it around as proof.
No, probably not. "Aye, a daughter. She's sixteen."
And then Lillian, walking back towards them, triumph in her eyes thanks to the award. Behind her came the Rock 'n' Roll chef, his eyes lit with malice instead.
"Six..." the word cut off, "teen."
Now what to do? First, there was Ash. He took the stairs two at a time, suddenly incensed with her. In cliched teenage style, the door to her room was closed. He rattled knuckles on it hard. "Ash, open up!"
He ignored it. Ahs must have worked out he'd do something like this, as the door only opened an inch, pushing against something hard, likely a chair wedged under the handle.
Fury got the better of him. "Open this fucking door at once you little bitch!" Bellowed, the force of it shocked him. The anger made him one of those men, guys he'd always despised who used their superior size and strength on weaker targets.
Nevertheless, the door swung open.
"Daaadddd." Fury evaporated. Before him stood a pitiful mess, her eyes red-rimmed, her nose snotty and her mascara streaking down her cheeks. "I'm sorry, but it just hurts. It hurts."
And I can't take it away. It struck him that. You make the promise when the tiny wee thing was placed in your arms—a "I'm in charge of this, oh shite!" moment. Protecting your wee bairn from dangers around the house, cars and others—easy enough.
Teenagers and the knocks they got as they felt their way out of the nest? Not so easy.
He hugged her to him. "Aye, alright. You know that Simon Cowell has people whose only job it is carry mirrors around after him and tell him fantastic he is.
Gratified, he heard giggles. "That's right," he went on, "fact is some poor sucker spends his whole day brown-nosing Simon. 'Simon's you're so amazing! What did you just say, Simon? That's brilliant.!'"
The giggles started to out-do the sobs. "Daaaadddd! That's stupid, like, totally not true. Do you think Sharon has someone to do it for her too?"
"Absolutely," he kissed the top of her head, watching the light from the hall window bounce off the shiny halo of teenage hair. "Sharon snaps her fingers when the poor sucker's finished. Points at her face and yells, 'Me next!' Tell me I'm the most beautiful, least face-lifted woman in the room!'"
He pushed her back, hands on her shoulder. "That wasn't nice, Ash."
Ash blinked, then looked down. He supposed it was an apology.
"Dad, can we watch a movie?" she said now, taking hold of his hand. "And get a takeaway? Please?"
Penitence didn't come naturally to Ash. It must take the form of spending an evening with her dad, the two of them watching a film and passing comment on it, eating food from Glasgow's best Chinese, a place that specialised in feather-light pork dumplings.
He retrieved his mobile from his pocket and signalled that she head downstairs. Lillian would have to wait.
What now? As a teenager, Richie and his friends always talked about balls in court, as in where the seat of power in a relationship lay. One, his daughter is rude to his girlfriend. Ball in his court. Two, Lillian storms out and doesn't contact him. Ball in her court.
The phone sat in front of him at work, mocking him with its silence. He found himself doing that thing where he checked it repeatedly. Had she really called or texted him and he hadn't noticed? No. Could he text or call her? A simple message, Hey, sorry about Saturday. Can we talk?
The ball hovered in the skies. It skittered between two clouds, the one that had convinced him to shout to the skies that he loved Lillian (ha! More fool you) and the other that wavered protectively over his daughter.
Your bairn always comes first.
That's it. No balls needed.
YOU ARE READING
The Artist's History (18+) #WATTYS2018 LONGLISTRomance
Love. It's never as easy as the books and films make out, right? Lillian and Richie are about to embark on their first weekend together. She's always found relationships difficult, and he has a troubled past. Sex, getting to know each other and shar...