The coco pinchard boxset.., p.52
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       The Coco Pinchard Boxset: 5 bestselling romantic comedies in one!, p.52

           Robert Bryndza
 

  I did miss my son Rosencrantz this year. He’s been on holiday with his housemates in Ibiza. He hasn’t phoned, but he’s been very busy on Instagram, posting sun-soaked pictures of party mayhem – all with a 1970s tinge.

  Back here in London it’s been freezing. A row of icicles have been a permanent fixture on the bare branches of the pear tree in the garden, but we’ve been warm inside, cuddled up on the sofa with Rocco, our little dog, curled up on our feet. He is an excellent foot warmer with his fluffy white fur.

  Adam lugged in wood from the shed, built huge fires, and we watched them roar. We dined by candlelight, and spent hours watching snow fall past the French windows onto the terrace. Bliss.

  We’ve only left the house to walk Rocco. Marylebone looks beautiful in the snow. The posh houses all have Christmas trees twinkling in the bay windows, wreaths of holly on their shiny black front doors, and the whimsical little independent shops on the high street have Christmas displays.

  This morning Adam went out and bought us breakfast from the caff on Baker Street.

  ‘Is this to cheer me up, now Christmas is over?’ I asked when he came back with a pile of bacon sandwiches.

  ‘Yes, and we’re carbo-loading, we’re going on that run, remember?’

  After stuffing our faces, I scrambled around in the unpacked boxes to locate something I could wear for a run. It was slim pickings. We left the house and ran towards Regent’s Park. Adam looked hot and athletic in his fancy shiny Adidas trackies, and I plodded along behind in a baggy fleecy thing I should have chucked away years ago. (The only choice I’d had was this or a shell suit circa 1987).

  We were only a little way round Regent’s Park when I started to feel faint. I stopped outside my friend Chris’s house and sat down on the wall.

  ‘It looks so empty,’ I said, trying to catch my breath.

  ‘That’s because it is empty,’ said Adam jogging on the spot. The front windows stared back like two vacant eye sockets. I looked at my watch.

  ‘It’s three in the morning in Los Angeles. He’ll be asleep,’ I said.

  ‘Nah, he’ll be out partying,’ said Adam. ‘Here, you need to keep your fluids up.’ He offered me some of his sports drink but I suddenly felt like I was going to be sick. I pulled away and leaned over the wall of Chris’s garden where I threw up over some snowdrops just peeping through the soil. I sat back as a family jogged past, the parents in fancy running gear and their five year old too, but nausea rolled over me and I was sick again.

  ‘Eeeuw, Mummy, that lady is doing a puke!’ said the little boy stopping.

  ‘Keep away Eustace, she may be contagious,’ shrilled the woman. I heaved and chundered a third time.

  ‘Is it a woman? It might be a tramp, do come away Eustace!’ shouted the man in the direction of my bottom poking up in the air. I fumbled for a tissue, wiped my mouth and turned, ready to defend my honour, but they’d jogged off around the outer circle.

  ‘Are you okay?’ said Adam.

  ‘Yes, you could have told them I was a woman!’

  ‘That didn’t seem important… You were so sick.’

  ‘It’s more important. I don’t want to be mistaken for some fat-arsed man tramp! I told you this tracksuit looked horrible.’ I smoothed my hair and straightened my jacket.

  ‘You don’t look like a man-tramp, nor do you have a fat arse,’ he added quickly. ‘Are you okay? We didn’t drink much last night, did we?’

  ‘No, we were quite restrained… it must be something I ate.’

  ‘Do you think it was the bacon sandwiches? Do you think I’ll be sick too?’ asked Adam going into hypochondriac mode.

  ‘Do you feel sick?’

  ‘No.’

  ‘Then probably not.’

  When the nausea had eased, we walked home and had a shower. When I came down in my dressing gown, Adam had lit a fire. He stood bathed in the glow of the flames. He was wearing just a pair of briefs, and the flames played over the rest of his taut, muscled body. I slid my arms round his waist.

  ‘Hey you, feeling better?’ he said.

  ‘Yeah. It went as soon as it came…’

  He turned to me and we kissed. I ran my fingers down his tight abs, and his hands found their way inside my dressing gown.

  ‘Ow!’ I shrieked.

  ‘What?’ he said pulling his hand away.

  ‘I’ve suddenly got really sore boobs… It can’t be my time of the month?’

  ‘No. You’ve been pretty normal…’ his voice tailed off.

  ‘What do you mean, normal?’ I said gingerly doing up my dressing gown.

  ‘Not that you’re not normal all the time, but you can be quite… stressed, emotional around your time of the month.’

  My phone began to ring.

  ‘Saved by the bell,’ I said. I grabbed it off a packing box. ‘Ooh it’s Marika,’

  ‘What about?’ he asked.

  ‘That can wait for twenty minutes, she’s calling from Slovakia.’

  Adam sighed, adjusted his briefs and went to the kitchen.

  ‘Hello?’ shouted Marika on the other end of the line. ‘Hello, Coco?’

  ‘Where are you?’ I asked.

  ‘I’m on the balcony; it’s the only place I get reception in my mother’s bloody flat. There’s a huge blizzard! What are you up to?’

  ‘I was about to have sex with Adam.’

  ‘Oh I’m sorry, I’ll call back.’

  ‘No! No, don’t. People seem to have left us alone since the wedding.

  ‘Talk to me. How was Christmas with your mother?’ I asked.

  ‘Awful. My sister and her husband went to his parents, my step dad was in the pub, so I was alone with Mum. Well, not completely alone. There were twelve giant statues of Jesus dotted around the house,’ sighed Marika.

  ‘Did you tell her about Milan?’

  ‘Yes.’

  ‘What did she say?’

  ‘Nothing. She went to the kitchen cupboard, pulled out a scrap of paper, and wrote his name on it.’

  ‘That’s nice? So she doesn’t forget?’

  ‘No. It was to shame me, Coco. The piece of paper had the name of every boyfriend I’ve introduced to her. Fifteen names.’

  ‘Really?’

  ‘It’s loads, isn’t it? I can tell by your voice,’ she said.

  ‘No! No. Not loads, that’s what? One a year… For a girl who lives in London, that makes you lucky in love!’

  ‘Ha ha, Coco…’

  ‘Marika, Milan seems lovely, he’s sexy and kind. He’s Slovak, like you…’

  ‘Then my mother conned me into going to confession,’ interrupted Marika.

  ‘How?’

  ‘I was a bit tipsy after midnight mass. She steered me towards the confession box, which I thought was the way out.’

  ‘What did you confess?’

  ‘Nothing. I recognised the priest through the lattice. We were at school together. He and another boy used to snog each other behind the canteen. I told him he didn’t have any right to cast judgement, when he’d been up to all sorts during the lunch hour.’

  ‘What did your mother say?’

  ‘She was listening outside with her friend Hedwiga. They yanked me out of the confession box, told me I was wicked and haven’t spoken to me since… I’ve screwed up my life Coco.’

  (Last year Marika jacked in her job as a secondary school teacher, and is now a dog walker).

  Adam appeared in the doorway and waved a bottle of gin and a bottle of vodka. I put my thumbs up to the gin.

  ‘You haven’t screwed up your life Marika,’ I said, reassuring her.

  ‘I have I’m just going round in circles. I wish I was like you and Adam. Settled. Happy.’

  I heard Marika’s phone beep.

  ‘Oh that’s Milan on call waiting. I promised him a bit of Christmas phone sex.’

  ‘Well be careful out there on that balcony, you don’t want frost bite.’

  ‘Ha ha. I’ll be back in London in a c
ouple of days. I miss you Cokes, say hi to Adam.

  She rang off and Adam came in holding two gin and tonics and wearing only an apron.

  ‘What do you think?’ he asked turning round to show his lovely naked backside and footballer’s legs.

  ‘I think…’ I said but I didn’t get any further as I suddenly had to bolt to the toilet where I threw up again.

  ‘Hun, are you okay?’ asked Adam through the door. ‘What did I do?’

  ‘Nothing,’ I said. ‘I think it must be something I ate.’

  But we’ve both eaten the same things and Adam is fine.

  Tuesday 3rd January

  I was still feeling sick this morning, so Adam said he’d take Rocco for a walk. I hadn’t slept well, and woke up feeling bloated and old. We watched ‘The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button’ last night. When it got to the bit where the older Cate Blanchett sees the young Brad Pitt. Adam joked, ‘Ha! That’ll be us soon!’ I got VERY upset, but he couldn’t understand. ‘Cokes, it was just a joke,’ he kept saying.

  Do men know nothing about women? Adam is only six years younger than me, but men age so much better. Sean Connery is still thought of as sexy, but what about all his Bond girls?

  When Adam had gone, I stood on the back of the sofa, slipped off my long sleeping t-shirt, and took stock of my naked body in the huge mirror above the fireplace.

  My tummy was quite flat, bottom a bit big, but fairly smooth. My boobs were, well, quite wonderful… Sore but big and pert. Most unusual. I was about to start working out when my period was due, when I heard the front door close softly. There was a rustling noise of someone in the hallway. I thought it was Adam, but Rocco normally runs round the house when he comes back from a walk. I heard some quiet creaks moving away towards the kitchen and I immediately thought – it’s a burglar, and he’s after our Christmas presents!

  I pulled my t-shirt back on and slowly inched along the back of the sofa to the door. On the way out of the living room I pulled a rolling pin from one of the boxes.

  I peered round the door into the hall. The kitchen door was closed. It had been open before, I’m sure. I walked slowly towards it, took a deep breath and burst in brandishing the rolling pin shouting, ‘We’re Jehovah’s Witnesses, we don’t give gifts!’

  Ethel’s head appeared above one of the cupboard doors. A clear plastic rain hood was tied tightly under her chin. We both screamed.

  ‘Gawd,’ she said clutching at her rain mac. ‘You nearly gave me ’art attack!’

  ‘What are you doing here?’ I shrilled.

  ‘Since when are you a Jehovah's Witness?’ she said.

  ‘I’m not, I thought you were a burglar. I said that to scare him…’

  ‘I’d ’ave said I ’ad a gun,’ said Ethel rolling her eyes.

  ‘How did you get in?’

  ‘Wiv me key,’ she said.

  ‘What key?’

  ‘Me key!’ she was holding a dusty old packet of coffee machine filters from the open cupboard. ‘Don’t look at me like that Coco, you gave me a key!’

  ‘When?’

  ‘Oh gawd, I can’t remember back that far… nineteen ninety, was it? Ninety-one? When was Thatcher booted out?’

  ‘Ethel…you can’t just barge in. Adam and I have only just moved back.’

  ‘You gave me a key!’

  ‘Well, a lot has happened since then. You had a key because I was married to your son. I’m not anymore!’

  ‘And ’oose fault is that, eh?’

  ‘His, actually Ethel.’ She pulled a face. ‘Now, let it go, I’m not having this conversation again.’

  ‘Talking of letting things go, you’ve only been married to that Adam for five minutes,’ she said pointing the bag of filters at me.

  ‘I’m not dressed yet,’ I said pulling the t-shirt over my bottom.

  ‘Is that your way of letting the dog see the rabbit?’

  I ignored that.

  ‘You haven’t answered my question. What are you doing here?’

  ‘Mince pies,’ said Ethel.

  ‘Mince pies?’

  ‘I’ve started a book club,’ she said importantly. ‘’An’ I wanted to offer me book clubbers some sherry and mince pies, but no one’s got ’em. I’ve bin up the big Marks on Oxford Street but they’ve only got Easter Eggs. Easter Eggs in January!’

  ‘I haven’t got any mince pies,’ I said putting my hand over hers as she went to open another cupboard.

  ‘Ate ’em all ’ave ya?’

  ‘Yes.’ I said pulling my t-shirt down further.

  ‘Well ’ave you got any nice coffee?’

  I rummaged around and found her a packet. Ethel squinted at the label.

  ‘Bump n’ grind blend?’

  ‘Chris sent me a Christmas hamper from West Hollywood,’ I said.

  ‘Ooh no love. I can’t give my lady book clubbers gay coffee…’

  ‘It’s not gay coffee.’

  ‘Well it don’t sound straight! ’Ere, that Italian chap what rented yer house last year ’ad lovely cappuccino’

  ‘How do you know he had lovely cappuccino?’

  Ethel paused.

  ‘Well ’e was Italian, they don’t drink Mellow Birds over there, do they?’

  ‘Ethel? Did you break in when he lived here?’

  ‘Iss not breaking in when you’ve got a key,’ she said.

  ‘Come on you. Out!’ I said prodding her towards the kitchen door.

  ‘I think ’e was a bit of a playboy. There was always a different bra on the carpet, and often not the bedroom carpet!’ she said.

  ‘Out!’

  ‘You’re looking very peaky,’ she said as I shooed her to the front door.

  ‘I’ve been sick the last couple of mornings,’ I said. ‘I thought it was my time of the month, but… anyway.’

  ‘I’d get yerself down the doctor’s love,’ she said as I opened the door. ‘Sounds like you’re on the verge of the change.’

  ‘I am not having the change!’ I said with horror.

  ‘When did you last ’ave one of yer monthlies?’ she asked stepping out onto the front step.

  ‘None of your business.’

  Then I realised that my last period had been back in… well, November?

  ‘Menopause love,’ she nodded sagely. ‘’Appens to us all in the end.’

  ‘Can I have the key please Ethel?’ She reluctantly placed it in my outstretched palm and stomped off to the front gate. ‘And I’m not menopausal,’ I called after her.

  ‘Well congratulations love,’ she said rolling her eyes. ‘You must be pregnant!’ she slammed the gate and stalked off down the street.

  I came back inside and tried to unpack some boxes, but I kept hearing Ethel’s voice:

  Well congratulations love, you must be pregnant.

  Seized with fear, I grabbed my coat, walked round to the Boots at Marylebone Station, and bought a pregnancy testing kit. I felt a fool, really. What business have I got buying a pregnancy testing kit? I’m forty-four years old with a son in his twenties.

  It must be the menopause, I thought as I queued up at the till, but that little chink of pride in me was hoping I was still fertile, fertile enough at least to have a near-miss.

  I studied the girl behind the till as she put the Blue Pulse Pregnancy Test through and swiped my credit card. What was she thinking? Is she buying it for herself or her teenage daughter? I realised that either way I was a middle-aged mother, or a grandmother.

  ‘I work with troubled teens,’ I said trying to throw her off the scent, but she merely looked bored and bagged up the pregnancy test.

  When I got home I hurriedly tore the box open and, balancing awkwardly, peed on the stick. Technology has moved on so much that I nearly fell off the toilet when it wasn’t a blue line that swam into view, but the words: PREGNANT 9 WEEKS

  A chill swept through me. Shaking my head, I tore the rest of the cardboard off the second test in the packet and went to pee on it, but I had nothing l
eft to pee. I looked for the toothpaste glass but it still wasn’t unpacked. Cursing, I pulled up my jeans, ran downstairs and filled up a pint glass downing it quickly, water dribbling down the corners of my mouth and onto my t-shirt.

  The front door slammed and Rocco came bounding in, followed by Adam.

  ‘Hey sexy,’ he said. He pulled the newspapers out of a carrier bag and put them on the kitchen island. Rocco had a drink from his bowl then ran out of the kitchen.

  ‘Has it been a fertile morning?’ said Adam.

  ‘What?’

  ‘You said you might unpack a bit?’ he added, looking round at the cardboard boxes.

  ‘Oh, yes, yes…’ I nodded. I straightened my hair and tried to look normal.

  ‘Hey hey!’ he grinned holding up the page three girl in the Sun. She was pouting, her pert nipples straining from a see-through wet t-shirt. I looked down and saw my own t-shirt had gone transparent.

  ‘That’s disgusting!’ I snapped crossing my arms over my breasts.

  ‘You are so much hotter than she is,’ grinned Adam. ‘How do you fancy being bent over the kitchen island?’

  ‘Maybe later…’

  Adam opened the fridge and put a new carton of milk in the door. He felt the inside.

  ‘You know, you being sick could be this fridge. It feels a bit warm… maybe it’s not keeping the food fresh. I don’t eat hummus. You do. Maybe you’ve been eating off hummus?’

  ‘Maybe…’ I said. On that cue, Rocco appeared in the doorway wagging his tail with the pregnancy test between his teeth. He gave a cheeky little wuff of excitement, thinking a game of chase was about to be played, then darted off. I dashed after him into the living room, and he jumped up and stood on the back of the sofa.

  ‘Rocco, come here, NOW!’ I hissed.

  ‘Or do you want to be bent over the sofa?’ asked Adam coming into the living room unbuttoning his shirt. ‘What’s Rocco got in his mouth?’ he added. Rocco spat out the pregnancy test on the sofa cushion.

  ‘Ooh there’s my iPod,’ I said grabbing it.

  ‘Isn’t your iPod green?’

  I put the test behind my back. I bit my lip.

  ‘Coco, what is it?’ he asked. I took a deep breath and showed him. I saw the penny slowly drop. He looked between the pregnancy test and me. Rocco barked again.

 
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