Dad offered to bring the car to the train station to pick us up, and although it was only a ten minute walk and neither had heavy or awkward bags, I said yes. I admit it — I wanted to see my daddy. I loved my mother, but Dad and I had always got on rather better. Probably because he didn’t try to interfere in my life and usually had something nice to say when life looked like shit. And, consequently, unlike my mother who was probably going to throw a conniption fit, Daddy was unlikely to be distressed by my newly single status. I imagined he’d probably be more upset over the fact that if I moved to Scotland I’d no longer be able to pop home on the weekend to watch the footy with him. Bless.
When Alex and I walked out of the Oxford station, Dad was standing next to the car with his hand shielding his eyes, chatting with the cabbie parked in front of him. When he spotted us, he broke off the conversation and waved. If Mum had been with him, she’d have smacked his arm down and whispered, embarrassed, that people would see. Mum had spent the better part of three decades working out the best way to get ahead without ever having to resort to being common. She’d perfected her accent until no one would ever have known she was from a small village in the north, which was stupid because no one cared. But you couldn’t tell her that. She’d just fuss and go off on a lecture about how the way one presented oneself was everything… And then there was Dad. Dad didn’t care much about what other people thought. He’d have gone for coffee in his dressing gown if he thought he could get away with it.
“Hi, Daddy,” I said, hugging him.
“Hello, muffin,” he said. “Let me look at you.” He studied my face for a moment, and then said, “You wouldn’t tip a scale. You getting enough to eat?”
“That’s what I keep asking,” Alex said. “Maybe you can convince her that she doesn’t need to lose weight.” Dad looked up and Alex offered his hand. “Nice to see you again, Mr Plaice.”
“Told you last time,” Dad said, shaking the proffered hand, “it’s Martin. Mr Plaice was my old man and I don’t like thinking I’ve got as old as him.” He frowned. “What are you doing here then, Alex? Not that you’re not welcome, of course.” He glanced at me. “Thought your mum invited you and Nate down. Nate busy again?”
“No, not exactly,” I said, and decided I’d rather Dad knew so at least he might be able to help protect me from Mum’s onslaught when we reached the house. He’d always been pretty useless when it came to relationships but the one thing he did have going for him was that I was always right and the boy, whoever he was, was wrong. Because I was his daughter. I loved my Dad. “We split up.”
Immediately Dad looked worried. “Do I need to threaten him?” he asked anxiously. “I’ve got a bit out of practice the last few years — Mark’s exes don’t need threatening. Are you hurt? Here…” He patted his pockets and pulled a half-eaten bar of Galaxy chocolate from the inner pocket of his jacket and handed it to me. “To make you feel better.”
I laughed and took the chocolate. “Thanks for the offer, but I think it was for the best. I’m not sure Nate would know what to do if you tried to threaten him. Does Mum know you’ve been eating chocolate?”
“No, and you’re not to tell her,” he said sternly. “She’ll tut and walk around for a week giving me disapproving looks and disturbing the football. I can do without.” He turned serious and said, “Muffin, are you okay? You look a bit peaky. Your mum said something about a few weeks ago about a diet — ”
“Nate’s been telling her she’s fat,” Alex said, sounding annoyed. “She’s been dieting.”
I glared at him. “Thanks,” I said. “Because my dad really needs to know that.”
He shrugged. “You don’t need to lose weight. Nate, on the other hand, could stand to drop about a stone.”
Dad took my bag from my shoulder and chucked it in the boot, saying, “That man didn’t know a good thing standing in front of him. I might be biased, but I reckon he’s pretty daft to let you go.”
“Thanks, Daddy,” I said.
“Now,” he continued, “your mum will feed you while you’re here, and I’ll sneak you contraband from my super-secret chocolate stash, and we’ll soon have you looking right as rain, yeah?”
“Thanks, Dad,” I said, sliding into the back seat and letting Alex have the front; only fair, considering his legs were that much longer than mine. “What’s for dinner?”
“Lamb, I think,” he said, rocketing out of the station and turning left up the Botley Road. Progress rapidly slowed, to the extent I reckoned we probably could have walked it faster. Finally he turned left up towards Walton Street and Jericho.