‘You can’t go out dressed like that.’
Scott switched Katie to his other arm as he carried her down the stairs. Margaret, Katie’s grandmother, was stood in the hallway with a characteristically disapproving expression on her face. That used to bother him, because it bothered Sue, and that was always infuriating. These days he knew better.
‘I look fine,’ he said. ‘I wore this last week.’
‘Exactly.’ Margaret took Katie from him as he walked across to her. She cooed at the toddler and then put her down into her playpen. ‘You cannot go out on a date in jeans and a t-shirt!’
‘Oh, come on.’ Scott wandered towards the kitchen. ‘I’ve known Diane for years.’
‘It’s still a date.’ She followed him into the kitchen. ‘How long is it since you were on a first date?’
He shrugged as he turned on the coffee machine. ‘Well, before I married Sue,’ he admitted. ‘But this isn’t a blind date or something.’
‘If you say it’s “just Diane” I will pour that coffee over your head,’ she threatened.
Scott put his hands down on the kitchen counter. He was quiet for a few seconds. ‘This isn’t… Margaret, I’m not gonna have some whirlwind romance with Diane, or anyone. There’s no marriage in the future. No stepmom for Katie. That’s not what this is.’
‘Okay,’ Margaret said. ‘What is it?’
‘I don’t have a label for it. But we’ve discussed it. Diane is on the same page. Her focus is her career. My focus is Katie.’ Scott ran his fingers through his hair. ‘Neither of us has the time or the… emotional energy to devote to some big romance.’
Margaret clasped her hands together. ‘I could visit more often.’
Scott turned to make the coffee. ‘It’s not about that. I mean… I’d love for you to be able to see Katie more, but we both know all the travelling isn’t good for you, not to mention the exhaustion of looking after her. And that’s not what I’m saying. It’s not a question of childcare. This is about where I am in myself and where Diane is in herself.’
‘A part-time relationship?’ Margaret said doubtfully.
He shrugged. ‘Sure, I guess. We’ll see. It’s our first date. Maybe it’ll be a disaster!’
Her laugh was dry but affectionate. ‘Nothing like looking on the bright side!’
He made a chopping gesture with his hand. ‘The bright side doesn’t much look at me. I gotta be realistic, Margaret.’
She sighed. ‘You’re very young to have given up on the idea of a real relationship.’
‘I had that,’ he said. ‘I had Sue. She’s gone. I have to work with what I’ve got.’ He kissed Margaret on the cheek.
‘Which is exactly why you cannot go out with Diane in a t-shirt and jeans,’ Margaret said. ‘At the very least put on a shirt and slacks.’
There were pictures of Sue on the wall opposite Katie’s cot. Scott saw them every day. He saw them everyday and each time he saw a little less. Now, as he read to his daughter, he noticed the little dimple in Sue’s cheek, the soft flush in her cheeks, and the nervous way she bit her lower lip.
He hadn’t looked at her photographs, really looked at them, in days. Maybe longer. There was a time when he looked at every them every day. He obsessed over them. Listened over and over to her voice mails. Scrabbled after every scrap of her that remained.
He hadn’t even thought about how that had changed. He had always thought of grief as an intense sadness, not the cocktail of misery, confusion, and disassociation. Yet as overwhelming as his grief had been, the easing of it had been so gradual that he had hardly noticed.
His feelings for Diane had been as gradual. She was nothing like Sue. She challenged Scott at every turn, something that he had once found irritating at best and exhausting at worse. Now he found himself fighting to come up to her level.
Diane let herself in as Scott was putting Katie to bed. As he came downstairs, he heard Margaret and Diane chatting.
‘Are you wearing a tie?’ Diane asked. ‘I thought that you’d forgotten how they worked.’
‘Your rampant envy is showing,’ Scott said.
‘You think I want to wear a tie?’
‘I think you would love to spend the day in t-shirts and jeans,’ he said, kissing her cheek.
Diane smiled as he poured them both a drink. ‘I could if I wanted.’
‘Not very professional,’ he suggested. ‘You wouldn’t sell many houses.’
‘I might sell more. I’d stand out from the opposition.’ She couldn’t quite manage to keep a straight face, and his smirk pushed her into outright laughter. ‘Okay, okay, fine. I’m envious that you don’t have to wear a skirt and high heels.’
Scott shuddered. ‘There’s a horrific image.’
Diane downed her drink. ‘So, what are you taking me to see? It better not be a sports movie.’
He clasped his hand to his chest. ‘Would I do that?’
‘You might try,’ she said. ‘But you will not succeed.’
Diane’s hand felt very different from Sue’s. Sue’s hand was small, square, and just a little cuddly. Diane’s hand was slim, long, and noticeably cool. They had only begun dating. He didn’t know what she looked like under her tailored suits, but he suspected she had a more athletic build than other women he had dated. Not for the first time he felt a stab of guilt at the thought. Would Sue have ever condoned him thinking about another woman that way, even after she was gone?
‘You’re quiet,’ Diane observed, as they walked to her house. ‘Didn’t you like the movie?’
‘Oh yeah,’ he said. ‘It’s probably going to be the movie I get to see in the theatre for months so I’m gonna love it or die trying.’
She laughed. ‘I guess I’m just not used to you being lost for words.’
Scott opened her gate. ‘Hey, I stayed awake the whole evening. I only have so much energy to go around.’
Diane moved the strap of her purse up her shoulder. ‘Is that you graciously declining to come inside?’
He raised his eyebrows. ‘One, you haven’t asked me to come inside, and two, when have you known me to do anything graciously?’
She nodded. ‘Fair point. Would you like to come in?’
There was a streetlamp behind her, casting a soft glow over them both. Scott pushed aside the image of Sue, the first time she had asked him in.
‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘I would.’