The coco pinchard boxset.., p.47
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       The Coco Pinchard Boxset: 5 bestselling romantic comedies in one!, p.47

           Robert Bryndza
 

  At three o’clock there was a buzz at the door. I opened and Xavier was there with a younger, geekier version of himself.

  “Hi Coco, this is my brother, Sam. We’re here to get the washing machine,” he said.

  He was wearing a black vest and football shorts. His brown muscular thighs bulged under the thin fabric. He looked all pouty and hot.

  “Thank you,” I said.

  I took them through to the garden. They spent a moment inspecting the washing machine then picked it up and swiftly moved it up to the fence, which borders my garden and the road out front.

  “We’ve got the van ready on the other side,” said Xavier.

  Sam went off, and when we heard a whistle, Xavier grabbed the washing machine and single-handedly hoisted it up, balancing it on top of the fence. I couldn’t take my eyes off the back view of him, muscles straining. Sam’s hands appeared and they steadied the machine on top of the fence panel. Xavier then darted off and round to the other side where there was a lot of grunting and swearing as they heaved it down. I heard a clank as I presumed it was put into their van, and then the engine started up and they drove off. I rushed through to the bathroom to see how I looked. My hair, now long and a little lank, was parted and tucked behind my ears. I had on no makeup.

  I was in the middle of despairing into the mirror when Xavier appeared in the doorway. He was on his own and he had stripped off his vest to show an incredible torso. Sweat ran down between his smooth pectorals and he used the vest to dry himself off.

  “My brother’s gone to dump the machine,” he said. “Can I wash my hands?”

  “Sure,” I said. “Help yourself.”

  I left him to it, but then popped my head back round the door to ask if he’d like a drink. He was now turned away from me, washing his hands. On his back was a stunning tattoo of an eagle. Inked across his muscular shoulders were the wings, beautifully etched in a blue-black ink, which complimented his smooth brown skin. The body of the eagle continued between his shoulder blades and its talons ended at the base of his slim back. As he washed his hands, his powerful shoulders flexed, and the eagle rippled and flexed along with him.

  I must have been standing there for a while because he turned. I cleared my throat.

  “Would you like something to drink?”

  “Yeah. You got any more of that amazing ice coffee?” he said.

  He grinned and ran his wet hands through his hair. I watched his arm as water ran from his wet hand, down his forearm and across his large bicep. I swallowed.

  “Yes. I’ll get you some… one… well, I’ll make two, one for me and one for you. Oh look, I’m a poet.”

  “And you don’t know it!” he grinned.

  “Yeah,” I said, going red and realising I was in the danger zone with this guy. Rocco rolled over on the bathroom floor and regarded me with a judgmental little eye.

  I busied myself with making the ice coffee. He came out of the bathroom, still in only his shorts.

  “Where do you want me?” he said.

  “Um, I think outside is best,” I said.

  I didn’t tell him where I really wanted him. The chant in my head started up again: Adam, Adam, Adam, Adam…

  I put the coffee on a tray and made my way out to the garden. On the way out, I tripped on the edge of the fake grass and went flying. I hit the ground with an embarrassing thud. Xavier rushed over and helped me up. I hopped about a bit while he picked up the glasses and the tray. He shook the last of the coffee dregs off the glasses, and put them down on the table. I was leaning on the edge of the sofa, keeping the weight off my throbbing leg.

  “Let me see,” he said softly.

  He crouched down and ran his hand over my knee.

  “Does it hurt badly?”

  “No, well, yes,” I said.

  He massaged my knee.

  “I don’t think anything is broken,” he said.

  Men always say that, but how do they really know? Unless they’re a doctor? However, I just gritted my teeth gratefully. It hurt a lot.

  “You need to keep rubbing, to get the blood going, and it won’t hurt as much,” he said, still crouched by my leg.

  He carried on rubbing. His movements became slower and his fingers moved under the hem of my shorts and brushed my thigh. I felt a tingle of longing move up my leg. I looked down at him. A lock of his hair had fallen across his face. I pushed it back up over his forehead. I put my other hand on one of his powerful shoulders. He stood up to face me. I noticed he’s a little taller than I am. He smelt intoxicating, a mixture of sweat and soap. He gazed at me intensely and slowly curled his hand around my waist and pulled me toward him. Pressed against him I could feel him getting hard. I averted my eyes and looked at his chest. He put his hand under my chin and tilted my face to his. He licked his lips and leant in to kiss me…

  Suddenly there was a huge crash, followed instantly by a terrible sound from Rocco, a high-pitched squealing. I broke away and hobbled into the living room.

  The giant bookcase by the sofa had toppled over. It hadn’t fallen quite flat, and one corner was propped uneasily on the edge of the coffee table. The squealing was coming from under the bookcase.

  “Oh my God!” I cried. “Rocco! He’s underneath! Help me move it.”

  There was another clattering sound as someone tore downstairs from above. Then a quick knock on the front door as Shane burst in.

  “Shit, Coco! Are you okay?”

  “The bookcase, help, Rocco is underneath,” I said.

  He was still squealing like a banshee. It sounded like he was terribly hurt.

  Shane and Xavier grabbed either end of the bookcase and tried to heave it back up against the wall. It wouldn’t budge.

  “Shit! Man, it weighs a ton,” said Shane.

  They strained and heaved, managing to lift it a foot or more. I crawled under, pulling away at books and papers which had slid off the shelves, trying to get to Rocco who was now howling so much I thought his back was broken. I finally saw his furry feet; he was caught inside one of the shelf partitions. Just then the guys managed to raise the bookcase a little more and the wooden partition between me and Rocco lifted. He darted out and jumped into my arms. I shuffled back and clear of the bookcase. The guys couldn’t hold it any longer. They let go and it landed on the coffee table, which then collapsed and the whole lot crashed to the floor.

  I stood there with Rocco in my arms, shaking.

  “Jeez…” said Shane. “That could have been really nasty.”

  He noticed Xavier standing in just his shorts.

  “This is, uh…”

  “Hi mate, I’m Shane, I live upstairs…” he said.

  “I’m Xavier.”

  They shook hands.

  “Were you trying to move this?” asked Shane

  “No. We were um… outside,” I said. Xavier looked at me. “We suddenly heard it fall.”

  “How the hell did this thing fall?” said Shane.

  “I don’t know, we were … We weren’t in here and heard the crash.”

  “Had you moved it away from the wall?” Shane wanted to know.

  “No,” I said. “I haven’t touched it.”

  “Shit, that’s weird,” said Shane circling the mess. “It’s a bloody behemoth with a low centre of gravity, it shouldn’t have just toppled… I study engineering,” he said, by way of explanation for his interest.

  “Come on Shane, we need to get this upright and help Coco clear up,” said Xavier.

  They both went to grab the bookcase.

  “No. No, it’s okay,” I said. “Please can you … I’ve had a shock and I want to calm down Rocco and I don’t want to put it back up against the wall.”

  Rocco was still shivering in my arms and I was in shock in more ways than one.

  “Is everything all right?” he said, looking between Xavier and me.

  I said everything was fine. Shane said to let him know if I needed anything, and then went back upstairs, leaving
me with Xavier.

  “Can I do anything?” he asked.

  “No, thank you,” I said clutching Rocco.

  He came to stand beside me and rubbed my arm.

  “Xavier…”

  “I really like you, Coco,” he said. “You’re…”

  “I’m sorry. I think you should go,” I said.

  He regarded me for a minute.

  “I have a fiancé,” I said. “He’s called Adam, he’s in prison, and I’m waiting for him.”

  I thought of our wedding, still booked for the end of August. I tried to smile but tears came instead.

  “I’m sorry, but you need to leave,” I said.

  Xavier nodded sadly. He shucked his vest top over his head and opened the door, and he was gone.

  I took Rocco over to the kitchen, put him gently on the counter, and checked over every inch of him, gently squeezing his paws and running my hands along his back, stroking his head. He seemed fine, but very shaken. I gave him some treats and a little drink of water. I then went to the fridge and poured myself a huge ice-cold spritzer. I let him drink a little out of my glass and sat with him on the table beside me, trying to process everything.

  What if that bookcase hadn’t fallen? What if it had fallen a second earlier and crushed Rocco? I thought of the beautiful cat I had seen earlier. And Xavier, beautiful Xavier…

  I suddenly noticed the patch of exposed carpet under the bookshelf. It was a lovely pale blue against the grey of the rest of the carpet. On it was an old photo album. I got up and went over to it. It was very thin, no doubt squashed by the weight of the huge bookshelves, and made of padded velvet. It was tied shut with a greasy old ribbon in a flattened bow.

  I picked it up and came back to the kitchen counter. Rocco, who was still sitting there, sniffed it as I undid the ribbon. As I turned the thin cardboard pages they creaked with age. It was filled with a selection of 1950s photographs. Black and white pictures of ladies with dyed black hair and those Dame Edna glasses posing in front of their cars, back when cars where a luxury you took out on a Sunday afternoon for a drive. I found myself searching for the lady I saw in my dreams.

  I finally found her in the last photo. A slim, younger version in a twinset perched on the bonnet of an old Daimler. She was smiling into the camera. The picture was taken outside this flat.

  “Why am I dreaming about you?” I said.

  I eased the photo out from its little cardboard corners and turned it over, but all that was printed on the back was the Kodak Eastman symbol. I searched through the album a few more times, but there were only photos.

  I put the album on the table and poured another big drink. For the rest of the evening I sat with Rocco out in the garden, him on my lap, thinking.

  I’m not at all scared, but there is something very odd about this flat.

  Friday 29th July 21.14

  TO: submit@prisonlink.net

  To Prisoner AG26754 Adam Rickard

  We had a viewing party at Ethel’s yesterday afternoon. It was the premiere of Rosencrantz’s TV advert, during an episode of Midsomer Murder’s on ITV3. It was me, Ethel, Chris, Marika, Wayne, Oscar, and of course, Rosencrantz.

  Rosencrantz seems to be the matinee idol of The Aspidistra Sheltered Housing in Catford. The old ladies worship him. They attend all his performances. We all went to see him in The Don’t Drink Or Do Drugs Puppet Show a few weeks ago, and those who still have good use of their knees gave him a standing ovation.

  The episode itself caused a lot of excitement (it was the one where you see Orlando Bloom’s bare bottom). Then, just after an archery arrow to the chest killed him, the episode went to an advert break, and there was Rosencrantz!

  “Have you had an accident in the last five years?” came the voice-over and there he was, dancing away to some jazzy samba music before tragically slipping over. He also did a piece to camera where he said that Inter-claims helped him to sue his dance school for five thousand pounds on a no-win no-fee basis.

  At the end of the advert, everyone cheered and clapped. I was so proud of him, and Ethel got one of the wardens to open a couple of bottles of Asti Spumante and we all gave him a toast.

  “Speech!” yelled Ethel’s friend Irene. “Give us a speech!”

  Rosencrantz rose to his feet.

  “Thank you for organising this, Nan, I love you, and thanks to all my biggest fans here.”

  The old ladies chorused him with a sedate “Woo-hoo.”

  “Most importantly I want to thank you, Mum,” he said. I sat up in surprise. “You’ve always been there for me, always. When I was a kid and wanted to perform, you encouraged me. You paid for me to go to drama school. You even risked everything to rescue me from jail in America.”

  There was a collective gasp from Rosencrantz’s elderly fan club.

  “It was only class C drugs!” said Ethel chastising them all. “An’ it was a set up!”

  “Now you’re having a rough time, Mum, especially when you have to go and visit Adam. So, I got you a present.”

  He handed me a little box. I opened it, a little miffed. Inside was a car key. I looked up. The whole room was on the edge of their seats/high backed armchairs.

  “Look out of the window, Mum,” said Rosencrantz.

  I got up; the eyes of the television lounge followed.

  Wayne had slipped out at some point and was standing at the kerb beside a midnight blue Smart Car. He leant in the driver’s side, beeped the horn, and waved. I looked back at Rosencrantz with my mouth open.

  “I bought you a car, Mum,” he said. “It’s second-hand, but it looks sweet.”

  The old ladies cooed like pigeons. I grabbed him in a bear hug.

  “He looks like a young Tyrone Powell,” I heard one of them say. We all went down in the lift, and out to the car.

  “How much did this cost?” I said, stroking the deep blue paintwork.

  “Not important,” he said.

  “How did you get it?” I said suspiciously

  “Relax, it’s kosher. I used some of my insurance advert money.”

  “It’s true,” said Wayne. “I went with him to choose it.”

  “And look, I got a doggy seat belt for Rocco so he can ride with you.”

  Chris, Marika, and Oscar all grinned as I eased myself into the black velvety driver’s seat.

  “They’re cheap to run. The man in the garage said you could probably get to Norfolk and back for fifteen quid. You also don’t pay any congestion charge,” said Rosencrantz.

  I looked at the shiny new car and I was so taken aback.

  I drove Chris, Rosencrantz, and Marika back to my place, which was a big squash as there was only room for one passenger. I parked the car outside the flat and it felt so wonderful to be mobile again, so exciting to have a car.

  They came inside and I made us all spritzers. The shelf was still looming large and toppled in the living room, so we came outside and sat on the champagne sofas.

  I had told them all about the photo album and we’d chewed it over for a few hours, coming up with nothing. Chris had started talking about something else when Marika gave a yell.

  “What is it?” I cried.

  “Look! Someone’s split the edge of the lining and made a compartment. There’s something in here,” she said.

  She carefully pulled out a sheaf of old newspaper cuttings and put them on the table. We sifted through them.

  “It’s all crap,” said Chris with disappointment in his voice. “Local newspaper crap.”

  Rosencrantz was sitting opposite, and started to look through them again. He unfolded one of them, a full-page article about a street fair, which was on in 2010. I noticed an article on the back and choked on my drink.

  It was a photo of Sabrina Jones.

  I screamed and grabbed it. The photo was taken outside the Magistrate’s Court in Camberwell. Sabrina was reaching out to try to prevent a photographer from taking her photo. Underneath was written:

  Suspended sentence
for £40,000 benefit thief

  A 27-year-old South London woman has been given a suspended jail sentence after pleading guilty to five charges of benefit fraud amounting to almost £40,000.

  Sabrina Colter of Woolwich, London, was sentenced to six months in prison, suspended for two years, at Woolwich Magistrates’ Court on Thursday, 14 May 2010.

  Colter pleaded guilty to five offences of dishonesty, making false statements, and creating false documents to obtain benefits amounting to £39,568 at an earlier hearing on Wednesday 22 April. She was also ordered to return the money she took and pay £500 costs.

  Colter had previously been given a conditional discharge in 2008 for not declaring that her mother was her landlady, but continued to falsely claim Housing and Council Tax benefit using four separate identities.

  “This is her!” I said.

  “I thought she was called Sabrina Jones?” said Chris. “This article says she’s Sabrina Colter.”

  “She must have changed her surname!” I said.

  I looked at the paper again. It was her, the fine wrists, and the long blonde hair. Her face was twisted into the same angry snarl I saw when she was on the phone by the Thames during the trial.

  “Surely this means something?” said Rosencrantz.

  “It means everything!” said Marika. “If they didn’t know about her criminal record for fraud, it casts doubt on her reliability as a witness.”

  “And if they didn’t know about it, it’s new information to present in an appeal!” I shrilled.

  I jumped up and phoned Natasha, but just when I need her, she has left for her two-week summer holiday in The Maldives. Her secretary said she’s on a plane for the next twelve hours and unreachable.

  I then grabbed my things and said I was going to go round and have it out with Sabrina.

  “Mum, that’s the stupidest thing I’ve heard,” said Rosencrantz. “She doesn’t know you know. Isn’t that your trump card?”

 

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