The coco pinchard boxset.., p.54
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       The Coco Pinchard Boxset: 5 bestselling romantic comedies in one!, p.54

           Robert Bryndza
 

  ‘You should join us,’ said Milan. ‘All the guys who work for me are running.’ Milan has very dark, handsome features and a cute little gap between his front teeth. He smiled and leant across to Marika. She thought he was going to kiss her, but instead he put two fingers on her neck and timed her pulse with his watch. She recovered quickly before he noticed.

  ‘You’re definitely in the fat burning zone,’ he said. ‘You want to keep going?’

  I looked at him and Adam, all jumpy and ready to run.

  ‘Maybe Marika could keep me company for a bit. Why don’t you two have a race?’ I suggested, like a mum who wants her kids to go on the swings.

  ‘You up for that?’ said Milan.

  ‘Yeah!’ said Adam. They synchronised their watches and went zooming off followed by Rocco. Marika sat down beside me.

  ‘So you dropped your mobile down the toilet?’ she said.

  ‘Yeah.’

  ‘And your landline too?’

  ‘Well, no. I’m sorry I haven’t had a chance to get back to you…’

  ‘What have you been doing so much of that you haven’t had the chance?’ she asked pointedly. I was dying to tell Marika everything. But for the first time ever I felt I couldn’t. I’ve known her for twenty years; she’s been a confidante for nineteen of them. Back when I was married to Daniel, things were always a bit ropey between us, so very little was sacred. With Adam, this was different. It wasn’t only my secret to tell.

  ‘Just, stuff,’ I said feeling super guilty. Marika regarded me for a minute then, noticing that the guys and Rocco were far across the field, pulled a lighter, a pack of slim cigarettes and a yellow washing-up glove from the pocket of her jacket. She pulled on the glove, lit two cigarettes, and put one in my mouth.

  ‘That’s better,’ she said exhaling. ‘I hate running.’

  ‘Why did you tell Milan you love it?’

  ‘Are you going to smoke that?’ she snapped. I put the cigarette to my lips and inhaled. The foul smoke surged into me, and I pictured the baby inside also inhaling. I exhaled feeling ten shades of guilt and bit my lip to stop myself from crying. Milan and Adam were now charging round the park competitively.

  ‘Why the hell do they bother?’ asked Marika. ‘Look at them… tearing around like prats. They want to beat each other. They want to win.’

  ‘That’s blokes for you.’

  ‘But it’s ridiculous,’ said Marika. ‘We don’t want to race each other.’

  ‘No, we don’t.’

  ‘We can deal with our emotions on a sensible level. We can be honest about our feelings.’

  There was an awkward pause.

  ‘Is it going well with Milan?’ I asked.

  ‘Yes. Amazing. Although he thinks I love running, and watching ‘Top Gear’ and ‘Match of the Day’, and I told him I’ve only slept with a couple of guys… He doesn’t know I smoke.’

  ‘Hence the rubber glove,’ I said. ‘Do you have to pretend you like washing up too?’

  ‘He happens to have a dishwasher in his big house, which he owns.’

  ‘He’s a man of means.’

  ‘Yes. And more importantly he’s a lovely, funny, sexy guy. He’s given me a whole drawer, half the wardrobe, and a shelf in the bathroom cabinet. Oh Cokes, I’m going to blow it.’

  ‘Maybe it doesn’t matter. Just tell him.’

  ‘Come on Coco. Wouldn’t it be lovely if it were that simple? No, I’ve lied and I’m going to have to live with it.’

  ‘So you’re going to keep running and wearing one oversized rubber glove?’

  Marika flicked the ash off her cigarette gloomily.

  ‘Why do they offer so many degrees in women’s studies at university?’ she said. ‘Women I get. I know the rules. It’s men’s studies they should offer.’

  ‘I’d pay those tuition fees,’ I said.

  ‘Coco are you sure you’re okay?’ I went to say something but the guys suddenly turned and came thundering towards us. Marika dropped her cigarette, whipped off her glove and wrestled an extra strong mint out of a tube in her pocket.

  ‘Do I smell of fags?’ she said sucking madly on the mint. I shook my head.

  Milan and Adam slowed and came to a stop in front of us, out of breath and covered in sweat. Rocco ran up too and barked happily

  ‘Adam narrowly beat me,’ grinned Milan. ‘How’s your disystolic heart rate mate?’

  ‘I dunno,’ said Adam.

  ‘I can tell you. I’ve got a blood pressure monitor here,’ said Milan pulling a little box out of his jacket. He and Adam spent the next ten minutes bonding over their blood pressure, then the blood pressure monitor. Milan invited us for dinner at his place next week and Adam instantly said yes.

  ‘Cool, we’ll look forward to it,’ said Milan. ‘Shall we go Marika, we’ve still got seven miles to go.’

  ‘Call me, Cokes,’ said Marika, still not convinced I was okay. I promised I would and they ran off towards the Sports Hub.

  ‘Milan is a vast improvement on the last few,’ I said when we were walking back with Rocco.

  ‘He is really cool,’ said Adam. ‘He runs his own boat-building business and everything…’

  I was quiet.

  ‘Did you tell Marika?’ he asked.

  ‘No.’

  ‘I’ll know if you did.’

  ‘So what if I did? But I didn’t, I’m living with this misery alone, as you wanted.’

  Adam looked at me and all the happiness drained from his face. We walked the rest of the way home in silence.

  Monday 16th January

  The rest of the weekend was spent rowing with Adam. Terrible arguments about keeping the baby and not keeping the baby.

  ‘You’re just selfish. A selfish woman!’ he shouted.

  ‘Are you pregnant Adam? No. You have no idea.’

  ‘Bullshit. Just because you’ve done the middle-class thing, signed a few pro-choice petitions on the street, and been given a little sticker doesn’t mean you’re an expert,’ he shouted back.

  ‘Pro-choice works both ways!’

  ‘Yes. It means including the father too! You opened your legs and let me in, now you have to share the consequences. But sharing isn’t your thing. You’re selfish.’

  ‘Why would I want a child with you? You’re a loser just like my other husband.’

  ‘I’d rather be a loser than a murdering bitch…’

  We stared at each other. I was shocked at what Adam had just said, and I think he was too. He turned, left the room, then the front door slammed.

  A couple of hours later, I was sobbing and throwing up in the bathroom when I heard the front door close. I curled up by the bath, dreading that Adam was back. I got a shock when Ethel poked her head round the bathroom door.

  ‘Gawd, you alright love?’ she asked.

  ‘Yeah. I’ve just got a cold,’ I said.

  ‘You don’t sound bunged up…’ She tottered over to the sink and filled a glass.

  ‘’Ere,’ she said handing it to me. I took a tiny sip. Ethel regarded me quizzically. I took another sip.

  ‘Ugh. Even water tastes disgusting,’ I said screwing up my face.

  ‘What do you think of me new perfume?’ she said holding up her wrist. ‘Iss Ma Griffe.’

  The smell was overwhelmingly awful. I gave a dry heave and shrank away.

  ‘’Ow far gone are ya?’ she asked.

  ‘What? No. Don’t be silly. No… I’m nowhere.’

  ‘’Ow far?’ Ethel perched gingerly on the bidet. I snorted a bit and blew my nose and eventually admitted I was about eleven weeks.

  ‘Does Adam know?’

  ‘Yes.’

  ‘Is it, ’is?’

  ‘Of course it’s his!’

  ‘An’ you don’t want to keep it?’

  I looked at her. ‘You don’t know me,’ I finally said.

  ‘I don’t know yer. Ha! Pull the other one. I’ve known yer since you was eighteen Coco. I remember the malarkey when you f
ell with Rosencrantz.’

  ‘It’s different now, things are more complicated,’ I said.

  ‘No, I think it was more complicated the first time round love.’

  I bit my lip as fresh tears began to flow. ‘I’m scared.’ I finally said.

  ‘Course you are love, but a thing ain’t worth doing unless it makes you crap yerself a little bit.’

  ‘Is this your pep talk?’ I snapped.

  ‘I’ll tell you something Coco, an’ I tell it with love. Yer spoilt. You’ve got a lovely ’usband, a super career, a big ’ouse what you own. Don’t you think a baby would be the icing on the cake?’

  ‘But... I want to go on nice holidays…’ As soon as I said it I realised how selfish it was.

  ‘’Olidays eh? Well I’ll come back in ten years’ time, when you and Adam ’ave bin on every ’oliday going, full of randy old middle-aged people drinking Cinzano and ’avin orgies… orgies in prescription glasses, mind. Iss a risk to have things coming at you and not knowing what they are until the last minute…’

  I was intrigued but she didn’t elaborate.

  ‘Coco, just think about it fer a minute… Now my Danny. I love ’im, but ’e was a fool to ’ave it off with that slag in your bed… Then ’e divorced you in yer twilight years, when yer looks were goin’… Left you on the scrap ’eap… Then Adam came along. Young, gorgeous, divorced. ’E could ’ave ’ad ’is pick of any woman, but ’e chose you.’

  ‘Where are you going with this? You’re telling me to have this baby?’

  ‘I’m not telling yer nothin’ love… But I think the good Lord likes you Coco. ’E’s blessed you. Just imagine what life would ’ave been like if you ’adn’t ’ad Rosencrantz.’

  She patted me on the head and tottered off downstairs.

  ‘’Ere, I ’ope you don’t mind,’ she shouted up. ‘I’ve nicked a packet of Jammy Dodgers for me book club. We’re reading The ’unger Games, an’ they’ll be nice with a cuppa if it makes us peckish.’

  A moment later the front door closed and there was silence.

  Sunday 22nd January

  Forgetting your pregnancy symptoms must be genetically programmed into us so we have more than one child. When I think back to Rosencrantz all I can remember is craving fish fingers, and wearing a big floaty dress.

  I’m sweating constantly. My stomach and abdomen are woefully tender and seem to be filled to capacity with no chance of an evacuation to ease the pain. Nausea is my constant companion. Being sick is bearable; it’s the thought that I’m going to be sick at any moment, which incapacitates. The only thing I can keep down for any length of time are ginger biscuits. Although they have to be loose on a plate. If I see the packet with ‘ginger nuts’ written on it, I think of things anatomical and it makes me heave even more. Every hair follicle hurts, so when I push my hair back from my face, or rest the back of my head against the cool wall of the bathroom, it’s as if tiny hands are yanking at the roots.

  We haven’t mentioned the row we had. Neither of us has apologised, but neither of us is being more than civil.

  And Mother Nature is such a cow. My breasts look incredible. Even in the state I’m in, I can acknowledge how fabulous they look. I almost have the full breasts of a twenty year old. The kind that can literally open doors for me and make men my captive slaves; but they are on fire. The shift of fabric brushing against them is agony. Soon they’ll balloon to terrifying proportions with veins like an aerial map of the M25. Then a hungry little mouth will clamp down on them until they’re sore and cracked, and when it has drained me dry, they’ll shrink and shrivel and I’ll be able to toss them over my shoulder like an old African woman.

  I had forgotten we agreed to go to dinner with Marika at Milan’s house. Adam kept saying we could cancel, but to spite him, I said we were going. He offered to call a cab, but I opted for the tube. I could cope with throwing up on the tube more than I could in a taxi. In the event I didn’t throw up, but I managed some rather theatrical dry heaving which caused panic amongst the tube-goers. The tube was a smorgasbord of vile aromas, all the food consumed and perfume ever sprayed assaulted my senses, along with the stench of pee in the clanking lifts on the way up from the depths of the platform at Kennington.

  Milan lives in Stockwell, and owns a tall, thin, white-stuccoed terraced house in a beautiful Victorian square. Adam rang the doorbell and Marika opened the door. She was dressed in an apron (most unusual) and was sparkling with happiness. Milan came up behind her grinning his gap-toothed smile. I could see past them into a long cosy candlelit hallway. The sandblasted oak floor glowing gold. We went to cross the threshold, but a smell hit me; it was like running full pelt into a brick wall. I normally love it when Marika makes Bryndzove Halušky, which is special pasta served with sheep’s cheese and bacon. But that night the aroma of it was so vile to my pregnancy-addled brain that my stomach contracted, and I puked up a little lumpy mouthful of ginger biscuits, which splattered on the doorstep. I pulled out some tissues, which were whipped out of my hand by the wind and blown into the green in the centre of the square. I managed to keep hold of one, wiping my mouth, as I fled from the scene leaving Adam to explain to a very confused Marika and Milan. He caught up with me a few minutes later. I was bent double, in tears by a phone box outside an off license, trying to get the goaty tang of cheese and bacon out of my nose. He went into the shop and emerged with a bottle of water, tissues, and ginger biscuits.

  I took a sip of the water gratefully.

  ‘You should keep out of the cold, even if you are boiling hot,’ he said. He opened the phone box but it was disgusting inside. ‘Can you walk?’

  ‘In a minute…’ I said. We moved over to a long low wall surrounding some council flats and sat down.

  ‘Coco. We can have… you can… You don’t have to have this baby,’ said Adam. ‘I’ll support you whatever you want to do.’

  We sat on the wall for a long time in silence, cars swooshing past.

  ‘What did you say to Marika and Milan?’

  ‘I told them you had food poisoning.’

  ‘And they believed you?’

  ‘Why wouldn’t they?’ he said. We looked at each other for a long moment.

  ‘There is one thing I’d like to ask,’ he said.

  ‘What?’

  ‘Can I take a picture of your tits on my phone? They look incredible…’

  For the first time in ages, we laughed.

  When I had my breath back, we hailed a taxi and it was thankfully an uneventful journey home. I brushed my teeth, had a long warm shower, before pulling on a pair of Adam’s pyjamas and joining him on our improvised bed on the sofa.

  ’Do you want me to phone up tomorrow?’ he asked. ‘What do you do? Just ask for a…’

  ‘It’s an abortion. I’ll book the abortion,’ I said. Rocco jumped up and curled himself up in between our legs. He rested his warm muzzle on my foot and gave a snort of contentment.

  For the first night in ages I fell into a deep sleep.

  Monday 23rd January

  It was getting light through the window when I was woken by the whistling noise of my phone. A text had come through. I unhooked Adam’s arm from around my waist and reached up on the armrest of the sofa. It was from the NHS to say I was booked in for my scan at 9.30am at University College Hospital. I saw Rocco had woken up, and was sitting to attention, staring at me intently. Adam was still asleep. Rocco gave a quiet and considerate little wuff, so I quietly got up and took him out for a walk.

  Regent’s Park was almost empty, and very grey, but I was calm. I’d made a choice. I didn’t know if it was the right choice, but I’d made it. I pulled my phone out to cancel the scan but it rang in my hand. It was Chris.

  ‘Hi Cokes! Did I wake you?’ he asked.

  ‘No I’m up. Are you okay?’

  ‘Yes… No,’ he said. ‘I’m lying in my beautiful apartment, looking out of a glass wall at miles of Los Angeles, lit up in the darkness. The entertainment world
is literally at my feet, and I have no one to share it with.’

  ‘I thought you were loving it there?’ I said.

  ‘I’m lonely Coco. I’ve got all this bloody money, but it can’t seem to buy me out of loneliness.’

  ‘I thought you’d made some friends?’

  ‘I did, but they disconnected me.’

  ‘What?’

  ‘I didn’t know they were Scientologists, and I might have mentioned, as a joke, that I thought it was a lot of mumbo jumbo.’

  ‘Oh. Sorry. Have you seen any famous people?’

  ‘Ooh! Yes. I did see someone we both like,’ he said excitedly.

  ‘Was it Jennifer Lawrence?’

  ‘No.’

  ‘Cameron Diaz?’

  ‘No.’

  ‘Kirstie Alley?’

  ‘No. No, it was that girl, the one who was down the well in ‘The Silence of the Lambs’.’

  ‘Who?’

  ‘You know in ‘The Silence of the Lambs’… The Senator’s daughter, captured by Buffalo Bill… She coaxes the little Bichon Frise down the well with a chicken bone? I saw her in the supermarket. She was buying kale.’

  ‘Since when do I like her?’

  ‘You like ‘The Silence of the Lambs’…’

  I realised I had to get off the phone and ring the hospital.

  ‘You’re right Cokes. She was a crap spot,’ said Chris.

  ‘I didn’t say that.’

  ‘You didn’t have to say it,’ he sighed. ‘I’ve had so much time to think since I moved out here. What will be my legacy? I have to make this career work as a film director, because I have nothing else. I’m hideously old.’

  ‘You’re only forty-five.’

  ‘Exactly. In gay years that’s geriatric… And you aren’t getting any younger Cokes.’

  ‘Thanks.’

  ‘No you look great, but you were always my Plan B. The one I thought I could have a baby with and now, well, no offence. I doubt a miracle could happen – you’ll soon be forty-five.’

  He took me off guard. I forced out a little laugh. He went on,

  ‘And Marika’s womb is spoken for. She sounds very serious about this Milan guy.’

 
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