Here you go… So in the last instalment, Maddie found Emily feeling very sorry for herself and tried to give her a push in the right direction…
Two days later on the Monday Madison was sitting on a tiny chair, making playdough animals with a group of children, still thinking of the emails and the mess her best friend was in when a little girl who looked around three touched her arm.
“Hi there,” Maddie replied with a smile. “What’s your name, sweetie?” She had seen her around in the past week and a bit but had no idea what her name was.
“I’m Tamara. It was my birthday on Tuesday. I’m four now.”
“Hi Tamara. Happy birthday. I’m Maddie. What’s your favourite animal?”
Maddie picked up a handful of playdough which she rolled into a ball before she started modelling elephant ears. Tamara let out an excited squeal when she spotted the big ears and then the trunk. When Maddie handed the little girl the playdough elephant she found herself squeezed tight by little arms in a very long hug.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you! Can I keep it? I’m going to the zoo tomorrow to see the elephants with my uncle Ricky and I’m so essited!!”
“I’m sorry, sweetie, but the playdough has to stay at preschool,” Maddie said, and she saw Tamara was biting her lip and looking really sad so she added, “but tell you what, you can play with it until your mum picks you up this afternoon. He’s going to need a name though. Any ideas?”
Tamara smiled and nodded profusely. “Elmer! Like in the book!”
Maddie knew which book she was talking about, it was a favourite with a lot of the kids at the centre and it gave her an idea for the drawing activity planned that afternoon.
The rest of the day went quickly and Maddie’s Elmer colouring activity was a hit with all the children, none more so than Tamara. She sat at the table the longest, taking extra care to not go over the lines as she colouring in the different colour squares that made up the elephant, her playdough friend on the table next to her.
Parents arrived to pick up their children and Tamara was the last one left at the table adding the finishing touches to her drawing when Maddie heard the door open again. She looked up to see who it was, so she could tell the corresponding child their parent was there and was shocked to recognise the man who had just entered the room.
“Oh my god! Richie?” she exclaimed, making a beeline for him.
“Maddie? What are you doing here?” Richie said, a very surprised look on his gorgeous face.
“I work here.” Maddie smiled then wrapped her arms around him and after a second he wrapped his arms around her too. The hug was interrupted by a little voice.
“Uncle Ricky, why are you hugging Maddie? Do you know her?”
Maddie watched on as Richie picked up the little girl and gave her a hug of her own before he answered her pertinent question.
“Maddie is an old friend, TamTam. I haven’t seen her in about a year and I’m happy to see her.” Maddie heard the catch in his voice. She was happy to see him too. She decided that no matter what happened when Emily finally made contact, she herself would keep in touch with Richie.
“If she is a friend, why haven’t you seen her for so long?”
“Umm…” Richie looked at Maddie, clearly not sure how much to say. Maddie put her hand on Tamara’s arm to get her attention.
“Your uncle Ricky used to be very good friends with my friend Emily. And Emily was terribly mean to him last year and she refused to say sorry so Uncle Ricky stayed away. And you know what? I have missed him a lot and I am very happy I get to see him again.” She looked at Richie. “I mean that.”
“What time do you finish here? We’re going to McDonald’s for afternoon tea, you could come with us.”
Maddie looked at the clock on the wall. She didn’t have plans after work and spending time with an old friend and his cute four-year-old niece sounded great.
An hour later Maddie was sitting at a table in the playground at McDonald’s, sipping on a delicious chai latte and watching Tamara running around with a grin on her face. She nibbled on some of the fries they’d shared before they got so cold only birds would eat them. Tamara was wearing a different outfit than the one she’d been wearing at preschool that day so clearly the two had gone shopping while she was doing her last hour at work.
“How long have James and Rebecca been back from Australia?” After Richie and Tamara had left, Maddie had remembered him telling her and Emily about his sister having a baby girl. Rebecca lived in Melbourne and Richie’s mum had flown over for the birth three years ago.
“A couple of weeks. Bec found out at Christmas that she’s pregnant again, and more homesick than the last time so they decided it was time to come home. James started looking for a job on this side of the Tasman back in January and he hit the jackpot mid March. They flew him over for an interview, offered him a job and paid expenses for the move. So he went back to Melbourne, they packed up the house, put it on the market and came home. They’re staying with me until their house sells to save on rent money.”
“Good idea. Are they looking at buying here?”
“Yeah, they’ve been looking at semi-rural properties, they want the kids to have room to run around, trees to climb, a pet lamb, chooks, the whole kiwi experience.”
“Nice. I hope they find one. Whereabouts is that new house of yours?” As soon as she’d asked Maddie felt the mood between them change. She knew he had moved because she’d read the emails he’d sent to Emily. She felt like a bad friend to him; she’d been so focused on helping Emily that it had made her forget she’d been Richie’s friend too, once upon a time. “I’m sorry. I’ve been such a bad friend to you.”
“Don’t worry about it, Maddie. I get it.”
“I know you do, but that doesn’t make it ok. I was your friend too and–”
Richie shook his head. “Don’t. There’s no point rehashing the past, Maddie. It’s over. I’m sure she told you I followed her home after the book launch. I’m not proud of that. I thought we could talk about what happened. It was a mistake I won’t make again.”
Maddie reached over and squeezed his hand in hers. “I’m sorry… I know how much she hurt you and I know how much you’re still hurting.”
“What? No…I…” He sighed. “Maddie…”
“I read the emails.” He looked at her in surprise and she couldn’t find it in herself to be sorry she spilled the beans because her heart hurt for him and she couldn’t not tell him. “She missed coffee on Saturday so I went over to her house and well…it took her a whole year but she’d read your emails. Then she made me read them. She also said she realised she’d been a horrible asshole.”
Maddie heard a gasp and before Richie could reply, Tamara piped up.
“Maddie! You said a naughty word!”
“I did, and I am sorry, Tamara. I just got a bit carried away.”
“Are you talking to Uncle Ricky about your friend who was mean to him?”
“Is she going to say sorry?” Tamara asked with the innocence of children and Maddie smiled at her.
“You know what, sweetie, I think she is finally thinking about it.”
“Right.” Richie snorted and Tamara looked at him.
“You don’t think she will say sorry, Uncle Ricky?”
“No, TamTam, I don’t, because she doesn’t think she did anything wrong. But it doesn’t matter. Now, I think we should talk about what you and me are going to have for tea tonight, since Mummy and Daddy aren’t home.”
“FISH AND CHIPS!!” Tamara squealed, jumping up and down on the spot.
Her enthusiasm made Maddie laugh. “I heard you guys were going to the zoo tomorrow,” she said to Tamara who nodded.
“Yes, I want to see the elephants and the tostosses and I want to feed the giraffes.”
“Ooooh, I didn’t know you could do that at the zoo! Wouldn’t that be a bit scary?”
“Oh no, I’ve done it lots of times. Did you know giraffes have purple tongues?”
“They do? That is amazing!”
“Maybe you should come with us,” Richie suggested, much to Tamara’s delight.
“Oh yes, yes, yes!” The little girl was jumping up and down again then she stopped. “Wait. Do you have to be at preschool tomorrow?”
“No, sweetie, it’s ANZAC Day tomorrow, preschool is closed. I’d love to come to the zoo with you. I’ve never fed giraffes, so maybe you could show me.”
Tamara started telling Maddie all about it and Maddie looked over at Richie who mouthed ‘thank you’ at her. She squeezed his hand again and smiled. She would have loved to promise him that everything would be ok in the end but she could only hope that it would.