“Where’s Maddie, Uncle Ricky? She said she’d be here.”
Richie looked down at Tamara and didn’t know what to answer to the four-year-old. When they’d left the takeaways restaurant the night before Maddie had said she’d see them at 10am at the entrance of the zoo. It was now 10:13 and no sign of Maddie. He was about to tell Tamara that sometime things come up and grown ups can’t make it when he heard his text alert. He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw it was Maddie.
“Sorry, couldn’t find a park anywhere! Now I have to walk about 500 miles to the entrance! See you soon x”
“TamTam, that was Maddie. She just parked her car so she should be here soon. Do you want to have a look in the shop while we wait? I bet they have lots of elephants in there.”
Having sufficiently piqued the little girl’s interest Richie lead them into the gift shop where they went on a hunt to find every elephant they could. Richie took a photo of Tamara with each elephant she found, so she could have a look later and decide which one was her absolute favourite to take home.
He got a text from Maddie saying she’d arrived and they met her outside the shop. Tamara ran into her arms, much to Maddie’s glee.
“I told you I would be. I didn’t think so many people would be here today so it took me ages to find somewhere to park and then ages to walk back to the zoo. I hope I haven’t missed the giraffe feeding!”
Richie didn’t need to look at the map Tamara always insisted they got before he answered. As it was, Tamara beat him to it.
“Giraffe feeding is at 11:15 so we can go see the elephants first.”
Maddie looked at Richie who shrugged. “We come here a lot,” he said, showing her the Friends of the Zoo annual pass on a lanyard around his neck. “The zoo was always TamTam’s favourite place so when they moved back we got some annual passes. Way cheaper that way. I think this is the tenth time in three weeks.”
“Maddie, where’s your friend pass?” Tamara asked and Maddie looked down at her then at the ticket counters.
“I need go to buy a ticket, sweetie. Would you believe that I’ve never been here before?”
Richie had never seen his niece speechless and it made him laugh. “It’s ok, TamTam, I’m sure you can show Maddie everything after she gets her ticket.”
He watched, amused, as Tamara grabbed Madison’s hand and pretty much dragged her to the ticket counters to get her sorted. Once the girls were back, the trio moved past the ticket checkers and into the zoo proper. Tamara ran to the giant corrugated iron elephant that was guarding the entrance to the Pridelands and demanded Maddie get in the picture with her. Maddie obliged and Richie took a few photos of them being silly around the elephant’s legs.
They headed down the wooden path through the Pridelands, past the giraffes and the meerkats, both the adults holding hands with Tamara, who never stopped talking, reciting fact after fact about all the animals they saw.
Richie admired Maddie’s endurance, she never stopped looking very interested by every tidbit of information pouring out of the four-year-old like a broken dam. When they got to the elephants enclosure Richie suggested he get a coffee for the grown ups and a hot chocolate with a marshmallow for Tamara while the ladies found them a table. It was a beautiful autumn day and it felt nice to be out in the sun.
He felt a pang of longing when he observed Maddie interacting with his niece as he waited in line for their drinks. His dreams of having kids with the woman he loved had been shattered a whole year ago but his heart was taking its own sweet time to come to terms with that. Maddie had told him that Emily had finally read the emails he’d sent and he wasn’t sure how to feel about that. He was grateful Maddie had found the words to answer Tamara’s questions about Emily in simple terms the four-year-old could understand and he wished he could share her belief that Emily would reach out. It had taken him a year but he’d finally stopped hoping that she would, and after seeing her the week before, noticing how upset it had made her, he’d decided it was better to just close that door and leave it closed. And now Maddie seemed to think…
No, that road lead to badness.
Richie got the drinks and joined Maddie and Tamara who were having a serious looking conversation about elephants. He sat on the other side of the table and let himself enjoy his coffee, the company, and the sunshine.
“I heard you tell Mum that Eve dumpted you and Maddie said her friend doesn’t want to say sorry, so can Maddie be your new girlfriend? I like her a lot.”
Maddie choked on her coffee and Richie stared at Tamara.
“TamTam…” He stopped to think about what to say. “Maddie and I are just friends.”
“And you know what else?” Maddie added, getting Tamara’s attention and smiling at her to stop the lip wobble that Richie knew announced tears. “I’m already someone’s girlfriend. But I like you a lot too. Maybe Uncle Ricky can bring you to my house one day, and you can meet my girlfriend. Her name is Harriet but everyone calls her Harry.”
“That’s a boy name.”
“You’re right, and it makes a lot of people very confused when I talk about her, because they expect to see a man and well, she’s really not.”
“My Auntie Kay has a boyfriend and a girlfriend. I like going to see them, they give me lollies. They live in Sidney and they have a little dog called Sparkle.”
“Oooh that sounds nice,” Maddie said, before looking up at Richie.
“James’s little sister. Their parents took some time to get used to the polyamory aspect of their only daughter’s life but they warmed up to Tom and Georgia after a bit,” he explained, before checking the time on his phone. “TamTam, it’s almost time for the giraffes.”
Tamara was up in a flash, urging them to hurry up or they would miss it. Richie and Maddie picked up their coffee cups and followed the eager little girl, trying to keep up.
Much later, after they’d seen all the animals and eaten lunch by the playground, a very tired Tamara had fallen asleep in her uncle’s arms and finally Richie felt like he could talk to Maddie.
“Mads?” he started, and she looked over at him from her seat next to him on the wooden bench. He sighed, unsure how to broach the subject or even what to ask so Maddie took him out of his misery.
“I went to see her last night. She’s a mess. I told her to stop moping around and talk to you.”
“I kept hoping she would, you know, kept hoping she’d come home, or ring and talk to me, but weeks went by, then months and well, there comes a point when hope just… dies. It’s been over a year and if she wanted to reach out, she would have by now. Instead she made it very clear that she didn’t want to talk to me.”
“You know Emily, she can be very stubborn. But I know she realises now that she owes you an explanation, at the very least, but hopefully it goes beyond that and you two can get back on track. I’m gonna make sure of that.”
Richie shook his head, careful of the child in his arms. “Maddie, she never really opened up to me in the four years we were together, you really think she is going to now? She dumped me in a flash a year ago, I don’t think a handful of emails about my stupid feelings are going to make her change her mind.” He heard the bitterness in his tone but he didn’t care.
Maddie looked at him with a sad smile. “I know it seems unfair to ask you to give her some time, after what’s happened already, but I promise you that you won’t regret it if you do. I read your email, remember, the one telling her you got dumped because you still had feelings for her?”