Two-year-old Lily let go of her mother’s hand and threw herself around her father’s legs as soon as he opened the door.
“Oh, hi, ehm…” Martin stroked her black hair. He blinked and looked at Anthea, who stood outside his door with their daughter’s night bag over her shoulder. She had tired lines around her eyes, and her hair was in a messy knot.
“I’m sorry,” she mouthed.
Martin gave her a short, rueful smile, before turning it up to 100 % and bending down to lift up their daughter.
“What a surprise!” he said, grinning. He gave Lily a kiss on the cheek. “I was just wishing my little bumblebee would come here, and here you are!”
“I’m not a bumblebee,” Lily protested and giggled.
“You’re my bumblebee.”
“Mum’s and my little bumblebee.”
Lily giggled even more. “I’m a girl!”
“That too.” Martin gave her another kiss. He took the backpack Anthea handed him and stepped aside to let her in. She avoided looking at him, and pretended to not notice the invitation.
“I’m so sorry,” she mouthed again when she looked up.
“Just… come in, okay?”
She did. Martin put down first the backpack and then Lily. Lily disappeared in the direction of the sitting-room (where her toy box was located) before either of her parents had time to react.
“I’m sorry to show up like this,” said Anthea. “I saw that you didn’t have any flights for the rest of the week, and I—“
Martin pulled her into a hug. She leaned heavily against him until they heard Lily running back, and they broke apart.
“What have I said about running inside?” Anthea asked, and the girl stopped on the spot. Both Anthea and Martin smiled.
“Come daddy, I need to show you something,” Lily said, reaching for Martin’s hand, and he let himself get pulled away to the sitting room. He gave Anthea a look over his shoulder; she picked up the backpack and went to put it in the bedroom.
Forty minutes later, when Lily had shown both her parents (at different times) all the contents of the toy box, Martin pulled out crayons and paper and sat her down on the kitchen floor. That usually had her occupied for half an hour or so.
Anthea made them coffee, and they sat at the kitchen table keeping an eye on Lily and offering up small encouragements and random answers to questions not necessarily directed at them. A picture of the perfect nuclear family that they had never been. Never pretended to be. Tried, yes, for a while after Lily was born, but passionate meetings in hotel rooms and living together with an infant were two very different set of circumstances and it had been glaringly obvious that the latter didn’t work for them. What they had now, with rotating schedules, activity charts, and separate flats, did. Hopefully, it worked for Lily too.
“Refill?” Martin asked.
Anthea shook her head. “No, I should be going home.”
“No, I think you should stay the night,” said Martin, already on his way to get the coffee pot. “And before you protest: I have extra toothbrushes, and you can borrow a t-shirt.”
“I really need to—“
“Anthea.” He put some extra weight on her name, making her glare at him. He poured her more coffee and said quietly, “I know what happened today. I know what it means to you. Are you s—”
“Daddy, look!” Lily came bouncing up to them with a drawing in her hand.
“Oh, let me see that.” Martin put away the coffee to give their daughter the undivided attention she needed for two minutes as she talked about her drawing of Arthur riding a duck. He promised to give it to Arthur, and asked her to make one for Douglas as well. Happy with the mission, Lily skipped back, twirled once, and sat down to create another drawing.
“There’s no reason you can’t go to work from here tomorrow,” said Martin, picking up as if the conversation hadn’t been interrupted. “Though if I think it’s needed, I will call your office tomorrow and tell them that Lily has given you a stomach bug and you can’t possibly come in.”
Anthea smiled weakly. “I don’t have a choice, do I?”
“No. You can take the bed. I’ll take the sofa.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. At least let me take the sofa.”
“If that’s your condition for staying, sure.”
Anthea didn’t reply. She wrapped her hands around the refilled mug and looked down into the coffee until Lily came to show them how Douglas and Mycroft were fighting with pillows (and how Douglas won because it was his drawing, but she would make another one for Mycroft with him winning). It looked nothing like it, but they both assured her Douglas would love it.
It took three hours of mutual effort to get Lily to sleep that night after they finally got her to stop drawing things for every adult she had ever encountered. The first night after she switched homes was always difficult, though, so it wasn’t a surprise. When Martin came to the sitting room and declared that Lily had fallen asleep at last, Anthea had already made up the sofa. She hadn’t changed into Martin’s old Icarus Removal T-shirt yet, but sat curled up in the corner with pillow watching the news on mute with subtitles on.
“You know,” she said, almost absently, and without taking her eyes off the TV, “I keep wishing I did run the world the way you think I do, because then this wouldn’t have happened.”
Martin chuckled. “I lived with you for eight months, remember? I have no illusions left.”
“I liked it better when you were scared of me,” Anthea muttered, but she turned off the TV and looked at him with a smile. “Thank you for tonight. I don’t know what I’d— Thank you.”
“Of course. Always. You can always come here, you know that.”
“I shouldn’t just have shown up, I’m sorry.”
“It’s fine. I promise. I like having you here, both of you.”
“I still shouldn’t assume that you’ll have time to take her just because you don’t have any flights.”
“Would you believe me if I said the reason I don’t have any flights this week is because I asked for some days off and traded shifts with a couple of mates, just in case you’d need it?”
Anthea stared at him. Martin moved to sit down at the other end of the sofa.
“Are you doing okay?” he asked. “I don’t think I’ve never seen you quite so…”
“Not at the top of my list of words, but yes. I don’t ever think I’ve seen you give up and admit defeat.”
Anthea huffed out a laugh. Or perhaps a sob. “The last illusion.”
“You haven’t answered the question yet.”
“I know.” Anthea sighed. “And I don’t know.”
“You don’t… think this is your fault, do you?”
She shook her head. “No.”
“Are you sure?”
“Absolutely,” she said quietly, picking at her nails. “Because I think it’s Lily’s. That’s why I wanted to drop her off tonight. I can barely look at her without feeling angry or guilty. Or both!”
Martin hushed her. “She just fell asleep.”
“We had Lily and I stepped down from all of it,” Anthea said, sighing, but she kept her voice down. “Then there was the referendum and I couldn’t stop it because I wasn’t there and everything fell apart. Because I had a child. And couldn’t fix it. Not even from inside the Treasury. And now Lily has to grow up in a world where everything’s ruined… If I’d had an abortion, this wouldn’t have happened and she wouldn’t have to grow up in a country closing itself off from the world!”
Martin took her hand half-way through the rambling. He squeezed it tightly.
Anthea shook her head, refusing to look at him. “Who resents their child for the idiocy of a whole country?”
“I know you don’t really do that, and if you did… remember whose fault it is that you got pregnant in the first place, and blame the fall of modern civilisation as we know it on me. God knows, it sounds like something I could be responsible for. Ask Douglas, if you don’t believe me.”
Anthea sobbed, or maybe it was a laugh, and she tried to wipe her tears without much luck.
“Come here,” said Martin, letting go of her hand so that he could wrap his arms around her instead. “It’s not your fault, and it’s not Lily’s. You couldn’t have stopped this – no matter where you worked – you’re not that good.”
This time Anthea definitely laughed. “Thanks.”
“I mean it, you can’t stop all the idiots.”
Anthea sighed. “I know, I just… I don’t know.”
“It’s okay to grieve.”
“It’s— it’s not that. Don’t laugh… but I think I’m scared. I can’t remember how it was before, and I can’t imagine how it will be. It’s all just upside-down.”
“Luckily, if I’ve understood the news correctly, nothing will happen overnight.”
Anthea pushed away from him. “I’m serious. How are we going to give Lily the best opportunities growing up, when I don’t know the rules of the game anymore? Forget the travelling or studying abroad, that’s easy, I’ll fix that if that’s what she wants, no matter.”
“But take the economy,” Anthea went on. “How will trade agreements work? We’re an island. We live on trade – except when we steal things, but I’m pretty sure we can’t get away with that anymore. How will the domestic market cope? For that matter, how will the rest of Europe? The EU can’t expect to keep the same budget without our 15 %. That would ruin more countries than Greece. And speaking of Greece: the loans? How will that work?”
“And France and Germany haven’t held their elections yet. What if more countries leave and there is nothing left? We got the Nobel Peace Prize. Honestly. We left a union that got the Peace Prize. It’s like saying we want a third world war. That’s what the historians are going to say.”
“Anthea. Stop it.”
Anthea blinked. She demonstratively pressed her lips together.
“You can’t go from Lily’s gap year to World War III without taking at least one breath,” said Martin, half-smiling. “We got two years. You’ll figure it out. In the meantime, you’ll have so many treaties and so much legislation to negotiate and figure out that not only won’t you have time to think too much, but by the end of it you’ll have saved the entire country from the ruin you’re imagining right now.”
“I thought you said I weren’t that good,” Anthea muttered, but she leaned back against him. Martin chuckled. After a moment Anthea said, “I can’t believe you took time off for this.”
“I know you.”
Anthea just hummed in agreement. She twined her fingers with his, and they stayed like that – Anthea resting against Martin’s chest, Martin absently playing with a lock of her hair. It was familiar, even though it was ages since they’d been this close. A hug, a quick kiss on the cheek when dropping off Lily… that was what their physical relationship had turned into. Perhaps not from lack of want, but from lack of time. Still, it felt familiar, it felt safe.
They stayed like that until they were both almost drifting off to sleep before they untangled, stretching and yawning.
“You know,” said Anthea, as Martin stood up, “I don’t think we’d have Lily without the EU.”
Martin frowned. “I thought it was because of a grumpy Icelandic volcano.”
“Well, that too.”
Martin smirked, briefly. He took her hand. “You’ll be okay?”
“I will.” She nodded once. Then again and said with more determination, “I have to.”
He smiled. “Good. Coffee’s at 6:30 tomorrow.”
“Amazing breakfast menu at this establishment.”
“As I said, I know you.” Martin squeezed her hand. “Sleep tight.”
When she was alone, Anthea reached for the remote. Martin heard the soft murmur of the TV as he went to close the bedroom door – not loud enough to hear what it said, but he didn’t have to. He hesitated, but did not go back to her. Nor did he close his door completely.
The news still showed the same clips about the events of the day, interspersed with reruns of discussions about the same. Anthea held Martin’s t-shirt to her chest like a safety blanket and didn’t put it on. She’d be okay. She had to.
It’d be okay. It had to.