She hadn’t wanted to do this. It was too painful. Images flashed before her eyes as she neared the old café. Images of Colin in bed with her best friend, blurs of flesh seen through tears. Kori was hers; there was no disputing that. He could see her weekends, that was only fair, she knew he loved her too. He’d always been a devoted father; she couldn’t fault him in that.
The coffee shop bustled around her as she sought out his table, reassuring in its ambiguity. There he was, she could spot that smile anywhere, though today it was dimmed, without its normal sparkle. Kori burst into rapture.
“Daddy! Daddy,” she squealed fighting the restraining strap of her buggy. He rushed over to release her, clutching her in his arms, tears welling.
“Daddy where you been. I missed you.” The three year old lisped affection broke Lia’s heart. Why did he have to do this, reopen old wounds.
Setting Kori on his lap he looked steadfastly into her eyes.
“We need to talk Lisa.”
“I won’t stop you seeing her. She needs a father. You were always a good dad to her, just not much of a husband.” She sensed the spite on her tongue, the salt on a raw wound but she couldn’t help herself.
His eyes darted warningly at Kori, didn’t want her caught up in all this. Perhaps it had been a mistake to bring her, but what other option did she have; besides a part of her wanted this revenge, to see him suffer. She looked up rebelliously twisting the knife.
Tears welled over, the smile puckered. She felt cruel, vindictive. Why did it have to end this way?
“I told you I’m sorry. I’d do anything to undo what happened that day, anything to make it up to you. We were drunk, I told you…”
“I’ve heard it all before, Colin,” she snapped.
Kori looked up alerted by the catch in his voice. “Daddy, what’s wrong, why are you crying. Shall I sing you a happy song?”
“Nothing’s wrong darlin’ I just missed you and mummy.” He put on a brave smile.
“Hell! Of course “and mummy!” You think I don’t miss you? Every morning when I wake up alone, every time I make a lousy cup of coffee,” a little of his sparkle came back. Most of all I missed those first days when you looked at me with that doggie look, when I was your world … when you found time for me, before you got that God awful job.”
His arrow struck home. She was not entirely blameless. Home late every night too tired to talk, too tired to make love, work obsessed. Not any more, she’d had to quit her job, go part time to care for Kori. Would it have made a difference if she’d been there for him? “Probably not”, she told herself, but deep in her heart she knew. She’d driven him away. The fault was hers too.
Seeing her hesitation he grabbed her hand across the table.
“Lisa, please, I’m not asking you to forgive me, just please let’s try to get back together for Kori’s sake.”
“Kori’s fine with me.”
“You think so?” He glanced down at the anxious toddler, not understanding why her parents seemed so angry. Had she done something wrong?
“She would have been fine if she hadn’t seen you!”
Kori burst into tears. “No, I want to be with daddy. Daddy loves me!” The words sung like acid.
“She doesn’t mean that Lisa. She’s just upset. You love mummy too don’t you Kori? Tell mummy you love her Kori.” He prized her away from his shoulder looking in her eyes, but Kori was not to be placated.
“No, I hate her! She took me away from you! I hate her!” Colin looked up helplessly.
“Kori, listen to me. Daddy did something very bad, that’s why mummy took you away. It’s not mummy’s fault it’s daddy’s.” Eyes were watching over their coffee cups, a hush had fallen on the café. Lisa reddened, humiliated before all the world; their dirty laundry strewn for all to see. Why had she come? Why had she brought Kori?
“I’ve got to go!” she hissed grabbing a screaming Kori from her father’s neck.”
“No, don’t do this Lisa. You’ll regret it forever just like I regret what happened between me and Tansy. Some things you can’t undo.”
“Forgive me for butting in,” their heads swivelled, mouths open, as an elderly waitress set two cups of coffee on the table. “I couldn’t help but hear. It’s not true what you just said young man. Things can be undone. It ain’t easy, I’ll attest to that, but it can be done. Now why don’t you just sit right back down and give the poor mite back to her dad for a bit.” Nodding to a man behind the bar she pulled a chair from an adjoining table. Sitting she waved them to the other seats. Kori had stopped screaming, studying the old lined face. Lisa hesitated, then passed her back to Colin as he took a chair.
“Now you’s all can get back to your coffee, shows over for the day. Give these folks some space.” The waitress looked meaningfully around. Folks pretended to ignore them, resumed their conversations.
“My husband cheated on me once too, well more than once if truth be told.”
“What’s cheating?” a small voice interrupted.
“Why it’s when you play a game and someone doesn’t stick to the rules. You knows what cheating is child.”
“So daddy cheated and that’s why mummy’s mad at him?”
“You’s got it child.”
“But my friend cheats all the time and I forgive her.”
“Of course you do, of course you do, ‘cos she’s your friend right?” Kori nodded. “But some games are more important than others and you’re not supposed to cheat.”
“But daddy did.”
“Right child. Someone cheated on me too, honey and I’ll tell you I was angry just like your mamma, but I had to forgive him. See I didn’t have a job and I had five little ones not just one to take care of.”
“So you forgave him.”
“Yes, child I did. But you know what, that son of a bitch never cheated on me again and he dang well made it up to me. He was the best dam father and husband a mamma could ever want. He learnt his lesson and he was real sorry.” Her eyes shifted back to the man behind the counter and they smiled. There was something in that look that stirred doubt in Lisa’s heart. Could it be that she was wrong?
“See it were my pride that was hurting most. That he’d cheat on me and play games with someone else, that hurt.”
Kori nodded knowingly. “Best friends should always be best friends; they shouldn’t let other kids spoil their game.”
“That’s right honey, best friends are forever.” She turned to Lisa.
“Now I ain’t gonna say no more. Choices is yours to make. But I jus’ want you’ll to know it’s not impossible. It sure ain’t easy, but you got this little one to think of haven’t you.” She nodded at Kori and smiled. “Now don’t you go worrying your head little one. You ain’t done nothing wrong. Your mamma and papa they’s had a fight, but you’s had fights with your friends right?” Kori nodded. “And you’s worked it out, right?” She nodded again.
Colin picked up his cup of coffee and took a sip. “Not bad, but not as good as you make Lisa.” He looked up, “I want you back. I’ll make it up to you I swear.”
“You’re not gonna cheat again are you daddy?” the little face was serious.
“No sweetheart, I’ll never cheat again, daddy was an idiot, a stupid idiot, ‘cause I only really like to play with mama.” He looked into Lisa’s eyes and she felt her heart start to melt.
“I’ll think about it.”
“Good, well that’s a start.”
“And you can have Kori over anytime you want, she needs you.” A sneaking suspicion was forming in Lisa’s heart. She needed him too, needed to know it had been, as he said, a stupid one off thing fuelled by neglect and alcohol, needed to know he loved her the same way he loved Kori, not perfect, but love.
Colin raised his cup. “Here’s to the hope of some decent coffee in the near future.” He winked at the retiring waitress, “No offence, but no one makes it quite like Lisa.”
Hesitantly Lisa raised her own. Kori leant to clink them together spilling some on the table. No one cared, it was just a spill, between they could clean it up.