“I’m sorry, but it’s been driving me bloody crazy. Have I met you somewhere before?”
It takes Weston a moment before he realizes that the woman is talking to him. Not recognizing her voice, he turns towards her to tell her that, no, she hasn’t, only to stop short. Slowly, he says, “I… don’t know. You look awfully familiar. What’s your name?”
“I’m Nancy. Nancy Yates? And yours? I’m sure it’ll help me remember,” the woman – Nancy – replies, holding out her hand.
Weston shakes it whilst answering, “Weston Moss. And Nancy…? Sorry, not ringing any bells.”
“Same here. But I’m sure that I’ve seen you before. Where did you go to secondary school?”
“Westchester. Bollocks. I take it you grew up there? Or did you perhaps move?” Nancy hopped from foot to foot, shivering and blowing on her ungloved hands to keep them warm.
“Born and raised, until I went to uni. Here, take these.” Weston pulls out a feminine pair of gloves and hands them to Nancy.
“Oh no, I couldn’t!” She says, even as she tentatively accepts them.
“Oh, don’t worry about it. My wife always forgets her gloves, so I’ve taken to carrying around an extra pair in each of my coats. It’s no bother, really.”
“I’m the same way,” Nancy replies with a laugh as she pulls the gloves on. “How long have you two been married?”
“Six years. Had our little Lucy right after.” Weston motions towards the front of the building where they’re standing, milling with other parents. “Seriously, what’s taking them so long? Class was supposed to be out twenty minutes ago, and it’s bloody freezing out here.”
“I think they were having some sort of arts and crafts, show and tell sort of thing today. It’s probably running late.” Nancy shrugs and shoves her now-gloved hands into her coat pockets.
Weston phone beeps, and he pulls it out to look at the screen. “Oh, good, my wife’s almost here. We’re going out for fish and chips after Lucy gets out.”
“Sounds fun. Y’know, fun little fact, my little boy doesn’t like chips.”
Weston grins. “Me neither! I always give mine to my wife or Lucy. Too oily.”
“Get out!” Nancy laughs. “He says the same thing!”
They laugh together companionably, before Weston has a thought. “You know, going back to my wife and our wedding… any chance you were there? God knows that my wife’s side of the family brought way too many plus-ones. Maybe you’re a friend of a friend… of a cousin’s cousin twice-removed’s roommate,” – Nancy laughs. Winking jokingly, he continues – “and we bumped into one another.”
Still snickering, Nancy shakes her head. “No, the only wedding I’ve been to in the last six years was my sister Margaret’s; which was a disaster. If you were there, you’d remember me – I was the one who fell into the punch bowl.”
Weston laughs while he shakes his head. “No, I definitely wasn’t there, although I wish that I was. Maybe it was at your wedding?”
Nancy’s lips twist in a sardonic smile. “That’s not possible, because I’m not married.”
Weston’s smile fades. “I’m sorry, I guess I…”
“Assumed? Because I’m standing outside of a primary school, waiting to pick up my son?”
“… Yes. I apologize.”
The fight abruptly leaves Nancy, and she smiles sheepishly. “No, I apologize. Sorry, I guess I might have a bit of a chip on my shoulder. I don’t get the best of reactions when people find out I’m a single mum.”
Weston shrugs. “My mum was single. She worked three jobs to provide for my two older sisters and me. I have nothing but respect for single mothers. If I’m not being too bold, what happened with the father?”
A strange look came over Nancy’s face. Before she could say anything, though, a voice called out, “Weston? There you are. Has the class still not let out?”
Weston turns and meets his wife with a kiss. He shakes his head and answers, “Not yet. Too much longer and I’m going in there to have some words with the teacher.” He turns towards Nancy. “Nancy, this is my wife, Laura. Laura, this is Nancy. We both recognize one another, but have no clue where from.”
“It’s great to meet you,” Laura says as she shakes Nancy’s hand. And was it just Weston’s imagination, or did Nancy look a bit pale? “But I don’t think I’ll be of any help. I’m sure that I’ve never seen you before in my life, sorry.”
“No problem,” Nancy whispers, voice choked, and now Weston is sure that something is off. But before he can enquire as to what is wrong, the doors open and the waiting parents are mobbed by their children.
“Mummy! Daddy!” Weston laughs as he scoops up his excited, chattering daughter, Lucy. “Guess what? I made a new friend today!”
“Really? And what’s her name?”
“Daddy! My friend’s a boy! His name’s Will. Hi, Will!”
“Hi, Lucy!” a child’s voice replies.
Weston turns to where his daughter is waving, and sees Nancy zipping up a young boy’s coat and straightening his scarf.
“Hello, Lucy’s daddy! I’m Will!” The little boy smiles a gap-toothed grin and waves his little mittened hand.
Weston freezes. Those eyes… they are the exact color of his mother’s. And Will’s hair… it has the same widow’s peak as Weston’s, even though it is the color of his sister’s. And those dimples… they’re the same ones that he’d passed on to Lucy.
Weston’s eyes shoot to Nancy’s, and he sees understanding, recognition, and fear in them. And Weston remembers.
He remembers meeting his future wife at Imperial College.
He remembers wanting to marry her as soon as he could, so he combined his graduation and bachelor’s party, so he could wed her the day after.
He remembers going to the Golden Lion’s pub, and drinking far, far too much.
He remembers meeting a freshman from King’s College London.
He remembers giving her a false name.
He remembers a drunken tryst in the back alley.
He remembers running back into the pub to worship the porcelain god, where his mates found him.
He remembers everything that he had allowed himself to forget.
He remembers her.
And from the shame and defiance on Nancy’s face, Weston can see that she remembers him, too.
Nancy stands up with her hand on Will’s shoulder. “Goodbye, Charles. Fancy meeting you again.” And with that, she turns and walks away, taking her son – their son – with her.
“Weston?” He barely hears his wife’s voice through the roaring in his ears. “Why did she call you by your middle name?”
“Because…” it’s the name I gave her, he doesn’t say. As he watches Nancy walk away, his wife’s glove on the hand that she has resting in his son’s hair, he thinks of his own mother.
He thinks of the countless hours that his mom worked, day in and day out. He thinks of the dream to create art she’d given up. Had Nancy, a pregnant college freshman, had to drop out? Had he cost her her dreams, as well? Should he go after her, apologize, try to make things right? Try to ease the burden he’d put on her shoulders?
But then Weston looks down at his oblivious, smiling daughter. He looks at the confused, beautiful face of his wife. He looks at the life he’s built, the life they’ve built together. He thinks of their family, and of the extra bedroom in their house they hoped to fill soon.
And Weston takes Laura’s hand, kisses Lucy’s chubby cheek, and smiles. “Let’s go out for some fish and chips.”
And he walks away.
The next day, Will isn’t in class. Nancy transferred him to another school. And even while his daughter mourns, all Weston can bring himself to feel… is relief.
Originally Published in Down in the Dirt.