“Don’t you think you are going a bit over the top, Sophie? I mean that whole cheese portions thing was just a misunderstanding.” Jonathan braced himself.
“A misunderstanding! She kidnapped me and incarcerated me in her smelly storeroom for over an hour until you came to get me out, and you call it a misunderstanding. You should have sued her. But, oh no, you’d rather seduce her with a box of popcorn and a pizza.” Sophie seemed to spit a little as she said the last two words beginning with p.
“Actually, she asked me out, so there!” Jonathan thought he had gained the upper hand for a second or two, but then it dawned on him that he had handed his daughter a gift in her current mood. He had failed to remember the old business adage that the worst time to think of the best thing to say is when the words are coming out of your mouth.
“What?’ said Sophie in exasperation. “She asked you out on a date. What a conniving old dragon. Are you mad? Can’t you see what she’s up to? She wants to get her claws into you and then trap you into a relationship so that she can move in here. There she is all divorced, cocky and available and there you are abandoned, redundant and available. There’s just one snag, a little snag called Sophie. Wait a minute, is that why you’ve been trying to get me out of here? Are you two plotting against me? I don’t believe any of this. I cannot get my head round my own father in cahoots with the deli devil woman. I’m going out for a walk.”
Jonathan tried to stop her but Sophie brushed past him and slammed the door behind her. She had looked close to tears. What a mess.
Sophie walked to the park and sat on a bench. She watched a squirrel scampering along the grass, then up a tree, across a long branch, before disappearing into the foliage. Just then Matt approached her. Matt was one of the students who lived across the hall from her at Maple Court.
“Hi, it’s Sophie, isn’t it?” he asked.
“Yes, and you’re Matt. It seems daft that we only met once on the landing on New Year’s Eve and we haven’t crossed paths for months. How are you?”
Matt sat down on the bench. “I’m fine. I’ve just finished at Uni and was on my way to the pub for a quick one. Do you want to come along? I’m meeting the girls.”
“I’d love to,” said Sophie.
The Royal Artichoke was near Maple Court. Matt reintroduced Sophie to Maxine and Cass, the other students from the third floor flat, and then went to buy a round. After a couple of hours and several rounds, the group decided to go for a curry. The conversation covered all sorts of topics, and with tongues loosened by alcoholic persuasion, Sophie had off-loaded the story of her father and Dot and her feeling that her days were numbered at Maple Court. Cass let slip that she found the woman in the deli a bit creepy.
“What do you mean, creepy?” asked Sophie, interested in any negative angle of that woman.
“Well, I was coming home late one night, or early morning I should say and, yet again, the lift was out of order, so I started climbing the stairs. I had just turned the corner on the second floor and there she was sitting on the stairs just staring. I jumped a bit but she didn’t move. I said hello but she said nothing. It was as if I wasn’t there. It gave me the willies. But the next afternoon I was in the deli buying some salami and olives and she didn’t bat an eyelid. She was jolly and nice to all the customers. I think she’s a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde, if you ask me.”
“Yeah, Cass was trembling when she came into the flat,” said Maxine, “we had to calm her down.”
“Anyway, Max thinks you’re Dad is hot,” butted in Matt to lighten the mood.
“Shut up, Matt,” said an affronted Maxine. “Now if that was true, that would be creepy. He’s old enough to be my……well, you know.”
“It’s quite a compliment that people find him attractive, but I don’t really want that old crone nabbing him. He’s a bit vulnerable what with my Mum leaving and his redundancy and I want to protect him a bit.” Sophie sighed.
“We need to buy some groceries before the shop closes,” said Cass, “especially toilet rolls, Matt. You seem to go through sheets and sheets of that, big bum.”
“It’s not what you might think. Anyway, I can never understand why toilet roll manufacturers perforate the sheets into little squares. Who do you know only uses one square at a time?” Matt reddened a little.
“We don’t monitor other people’s lavatory habits, Matthew. Are you doing a thesis on it?” Maxine, Cass and Sophie cackled, and Sophie realized that she had not had a good belly-laugh since the Cow left. It felt good.
Back at the flat, she tip-toed past her father who was asleep on the sofa, with Jim Rockford on the TV getting beaten up by two gangsters. She blew him a kiss and went to bed. Jonathan opened one eye and smiled, knowing two things. His daughter loved him dearly and, despite his reciprocal adoration of her, he had a plan, cruel to be kind, to sort both their lives out once and for all.