The coco pinchard boxset.., p.69
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       The Coco Pinchard Boxset: 5 bestselling romantic comedies in one!, p.69

           Robert Bryndza
 

  ‘I wasn’t expecting you,’ she said.

  ‘Who were you expecting?’

  ‘Susan. Skinny old alcy in a denim skirt and spaghetti straps, although why she bothers I don’t know, she’s got very little tit to speak of.’

  ‘Maybe she’s gone somewhere else?’ I suggested.

  ‘Maybe she fell in the Thames…’

  We pondered that for a moment.

  ‘Well are you coming in?’ asked Sally. I came through the door. Adam was busy slicing open boxes of wine and re stocking the mirrored shelf behind the bar. A gorgeous young blonde girl was half-heartedly polishing the broad oak bar. She’d accessorised her dull work t-shirt by tying the bottom in a knot under her full breasts, showing off a taut little stomach with a belly button ring. She leaned her chest into Adam and muttered something, which I assume was a bit cheeky. Adam laughed, pulled out the tea towel he had tucked under his belt and went to whip her behind with it. He looked like he was having such a good time.

  ‘Becky, if you’re polishing, go and rub those tits up against the fruit machine, it’s covered in grubby fingermarks,’ said Sally. Becky started to protest.

  ‘Now,’ she said. ‘Coco, do you want a drink?’

  ‘No, thank you.’ I said. Sally vanished through her little door behind the bar. Adam looked surprised to see me.

  ‘What are you doing here?’ he asked.

  ‘What are you doing?’ I watched Becky sulking and putting out ashtrays. The sun shining through the window made her blond hair dazzle.

  ‘Re-stocking,’ he said

  ‘Is that what you call it?’

  ‘What?’ he said, frowning. It was quiet in the bar and I didn’t want to give Becky the satisfaction of me being a jealous cow.

  ‘I need to talk to you,’ I said.

  ‘What about?’

  ‘Stuff.’

  ‘You came all the way here to talk about stuff.’

  ‘The menu for when Nanette and Holly arrive.’

  ‘The menu is in a drawer in the kitchen. I presume we’re having takeaway?’

  ‘Adam, we don’t talk, I don’t see you…’

  ‘Coco, I’ve got these boxes, then another delivery to unload.’

  ‘When do you have lunch? I can come back.’

  He began to protest and saw my face. ‘I get half an hour at two o’clock.’

  I missed him so much. It felt like we didn’t have anything in common at the moment. He was absorbed in this job, and he looked really happy. He opened another box and pulled out two elegant brown beer bottles. They had bright labels imprinted with the image of a peacock feather.

  ’What beer is that?’ I said.

  ‘Coco. I need to get on. I’ll see you at two.’ I picked up my bag and left. I noticed Becky Jones’s impossibly pert bottom and I wanted to stab her.

  I hung about for two-and-a-half hours. I realised trying not to spend money in London is difficult. I went to the Apple store and had a play on the iPads, iPods, and phones. I found the biggest iMac and brought up the product page for Agent Fergie still sitting nicely at number one. I stood there and drank it in. It didn’t quench my thirst. I had thought everything would be wonderful when I had a number one book. That I’d feel like a proper writer, or at least that I’d have made it. I felt just the same.

  A very handsome young sales assistant approached me in his blue t- shirt. He grinned with a set of beautiful white teeth.

  ‘Hi how are we doing today?’ he asked. The only answer I could give was ‘Fine.’ I wasn’t about to launch into my pre-pregnancy symptoms (leaky breasts started this morning I hasten to add).

  ‘Do you need any help?’ he asked grinning at the screen.

  ‘No, thank you.’ I said. An old lady in a rain mac holding an AppleMac joined us and put her bag and computer down. She pulled out her glasses and minimised my screen.

  ’Right, young man, tell me all about apps!’ she said with zeal.

  ‘Would you mind excusing us,’ asked the smiley young man. ‘This is my genius appointment.’

  They both looked at me expectantly, waiting for me to leave. I waddled off feeling strangely rejected. I made my way across Covent Garden, past Charing Cross Station and down to Trafalgar Square. I drifted about, lost in my thoughts. I realised this was the first time in years I’d been in London with nothing to do. I perched on one of the fountains and started to people watch. I could easily pick out the tourists. They wander around unhurried with the excitement of discovery in their eyes. Then there are the Londoners. They are usually wearing black, and running late to something, moving hurriedly in straight lines, tutting at the tourists getting in their way.

  Then I noticed the homeless, the slightly lunatic, the drifters with not much more to do than watch, like me. I walked over to Nelson’s column to have a look at the lions. I’ve always wanted to sit on one. I vowed to come back on a sunny day with Adam and sit on a lion.

  A wizened little man with a hooked nose, rosy tanned cheeks and dyed black hair parted greasily to one side appeared from round the corner. He had a whimsical manner.

  ‘Been busy?’

  ‘Me?’ I asked.

  ‘Yeah you.’

  ‘Well I’ve just been to the Apple Store and now I’m…’ my voice trailed off. He wasn’t really listening.

  ‘I’ve just been up the column,’ he said. He pointed up to the top of Nelson’s Column.

  ‘Have you?’

  He nodded pursing his lips theatrically. I stared at him. He kept nodding quickly.

  ‘Did you climb?’ I asked.

  He nodded harder.

  ‘Must be chilly up there,’ I said retreating. He kept nodding then he noticed my stomach.

  ‘Ooh, are you expecting?’ he cooed flashing a revolting row of yellow teeth.

  ‘Yes, I am,’ I said stepping back. He reached out and put a hand on my bump. He had fingerless gloves and long yellowing fingernails.

  ‘You’re going to have trouble with your son,’ he said dropping the whimsy. His eyes stared into mine.

  ‘What?’ I said.

  ‘Stick by him though, Coco. We all need someone to stick by us.’

  He gently lifted his hand off me.

  ‘How do you know my name?’ I asked. His voice changed and he became all whimsical again.

  ‘Did you know? I’ve been up Nelson’s column.’

  ‘Do I know you? What do you mean, trouble?’

  ‘Ooh, it was very windy… Lots of bird poo…’ He said screwing up his face in a grimace. Then he turned and walked away quickly ploughing though a flock of pigeons. They took flight, hundreds soaring into the air, it was frightening. All the more frightening because it was in the daylight.

  I was shaking. Then I noticed Chris walking through the crowds. He was one of the tsk tsk Londoners in a hurry. He was dressed in a very smart suit and carrying a briefcase. I’ve never seen him walk with such purpose. After the horrible little man it was a relief to see someone I knew from the real world. I shouted his name. He didn’t hear so I shouted again.

  ‘Coco?’ he said stopping and seeing me. He came over and we hugged.

  ‘Cokes, you’re blooming! What are you doing hanging about in Trafalgar Square?’ I didn’t have an answer. For us Londoners Trafalgar Square was for walking through, and occasionally, attending a protest.

  ‘Is there a protest?’ he asked, almost on cue.

  ’No,’ I said. Then I started to cry.

  ‘Hey come on,’ he said.

  ‘Could you spare time for a drink? I’ve just had a freaky experience.’

  He looked at his watch then my face.

  ‘Of course, hun. Let’s grab a cab, I’ll take you to Cathedral.’

  I always seem to end up going to Cathedral Members’ Club with Chris when I’m in a state. In fact every visit marks a personal crisis. Chris flashed his card at the doorman and we took the lift down into the bowels of Soho. The bar is designed like a miniature Cathedral, and the owner seems to h
ave upped the ante since I last visited. We sat in a confession box booth under the beautiful domed ceiling; candles cast a peaceful glow over the elegant marble walls. A waitress in a nun’s habit approached our booth and asked what we wanted to order.

  ‘I’ll have a portion of holy see salt fries, and a virgin Mary,’ I said.

  ‘Do you want stigmata ketchup with that?’ asked the nun. I said I did.

  ‘I’ll have a Virgin Mary and, let’s see, a green salad… the kale Mary,’ said Chris. The nun left.

  ‘You want to hear some gossip?’

  ‘What?’

  ‘Apparently Regina Battenberg is in hiding on Richard Branson’s private island,’ he said.

  ‘How do you know that?’

  ‘This guy I’m friends with on Grindr works in the Virgin Club Class lounge…’

  The nun returned with our drinks. Chris saw my face.

  ‘What is it, Cokes?’

  I told him everything: Adam’s job, money worries, the piece of condom wrapper, Adam’s ex-wife coming to stay, and the strange man who knew my name.’

  ‘Oh hun, I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘Do you want to borrow some money?’

  ‘Thank you, but no. How would we pay it back?’

  ‘Well the offer is there… And I’ve never had Adam down as a cheater. And you’re a condom girl, right?’

  ‘The pill and contraceptive injection made me balloon to terrifying proportions.’

  ‘I remember. You looked like Judy Garland when she came off her uppers and downers.’

  Despite myself, I laughed. ‘I did not!’

  ‘Couldn’t it be one of yours, the condom wrapper?’

  ‘I suppose so. But you should have seen this girl Chris. She’s so hot. And I’m so not, right now.’

  ‘All men look, but not all men cheat,’ said Chris. ‘Gay men, straight men, bi men, we’re all window shopping all the time. But Adam has brand loyalty. He only wants to shop at the Coco shop.’

  ‘What about that old man, Chris? He said there was going to be trouble with my son. He knew my name. Coco isn’t a common name.’

  ‘You have a number one book love, it has your picture on the jacket. It’s in the front of every book shop… Isn’t there a Waterstone’s across from Trafalgar Square?’

  I hadn’t thought of that.

  ‘Cokes. We both know how many loons hang about In London. You stopped just long enough to indulge his madness. Your mistake, but don’t believe a word of it. Remember when that old crone on the pier in Brighton told me I was going to die at thirty? And I paid fifty quid to be told that. Clairvoyant my arse. I’m still here.’

  ‘But you spent the rest of your twenties living in terror,’ I said.

  ‘And I wish I hadn’t… And finally Adam’s wife. Firstly she’s a lesbian, right?’

  ‘Yes, right. But she’s so gorgeous…’

  ‘Then what the hell are you worried about? A lipstick lesbian is coming to stay. It’s Adam who should worry. She might try and jump you. All the lesbian couples I see are one skinny one and one shorter one with enormous bosoms!’ said Chris.

  I laughed.

  ‘See. I’ve made you smile twice in half an hour, pretty good going,’ said Chris squeezing my hand. The nun returned with our food.

  ‘I have to eat quick Cokes,’ he said diving into his kale Mary. ‘I’ve got a very tense meeting this afternoon about selling a big chunk of the Cheshire Estate.’

  ‘Why do you have to sell?’

  ‘I don’t have to. I’m doing it to help Rebecca out. This whole inheritance thing is so unfair. She’s had a great idea for starting an events company, and this will give her the capital.’

  ‘Is it part of the grounds of Cheshire hall?’

  ‘No. It’s land down the road. A house, a giant overgrown vineyard, and a deconsecrated church with a tree growing out of the roof.’

  ‘I didn’t know your family owned all of that?’

  ‘We barely notice it. But I’ve got my mother complaining that it will lower our social standing to sell. Some women want bigger tits to feel good about themselves. My mother wants bigger land!’

  We finished eating, and then Chris had to run for his train. I realised I’d forgotten about meeting Adam.

  ‘Just relax Coco, find the right time and have a sensible conversation with him,’ said Chris as we went our separate ways in taxis.

  It was almost three o’clock when I got back to The Hop & Grape. Adam was waiting outside, talking to a couple of guys in their fifties. One was completely bald with tortoiseshell glasses, and the other had his salt and pepper hair very fashionably shorn. They were dressed beautifully, and rather captivated by Adam. I stood there meekly as they said their goodbyes. Adam didn’t introduce me.

  ‘You’re so late,’ he said.

  ‘You seemed happy talking to your friends.’

  ‘They’re not my friends. They run a micro-brewery.’

  I looked blank.

  ‘The beer bottles you liked this morning were from their micro-brewery,’ he said.

  ‘Did you enjoy having a bit of male attention?’ I joked.

  ‘No I was interested in their business. They’ve invited me out to see their brewery.’

  ‘You drink Stella Adam.’

  ‘Jesus, Coco, it’s all about you.’

  ‘Is it? What’s this then?’ I asked. I pulled out the tiny piece of condom wrapper and brandished it in front of him.

  ‘I don’t know.’

  ‘I found it in your pocket, last week. Are you sleeping with that Becky girl?’

  ‘No!’

  ‘Then where did it come from?’

  ‘We’ve had a lot of sex Coco…’

  ‘Not anymore, now you’re spending your whole life at this bloody bar.’

  ‘Coco, I keep saying. I’m doing this for you, for us.’

  ‘Don’t give me that bullshit. You’re doing bloody minimum wage bar work!’

  ‘Yeah well it’s more fun than being stuck in all day with the most self-obsessed person I know,’ he said.

  ‘Me?’

  ‘What other word do you know?’

  ‘That’s not fair.’

  ‘Life isn’t fair Coco, and to prove it I have to go. I’ve had no lunch.’

  He vanished inside the bar. So much for having a sensible conversation.

  Saturday 5th May

  I took Rocco for a walk and then made up the spare room for Nanette and pulled out the sofa bed in my office for Holly. There is something horrible about not sorting out a problem before people are coming to stay, and Adam was at work – again – so that he could take a few days off.

  They were due at six, and I spent most of the day trying to make myself look good. My Rosencrantz-styled ‘This Morning’ outfit is now too small. So I had to opt for dungarees… Dungarees to meet my husband’s lipstick-lesbian ex-wife! Would she think I was being satirical?

  They arrived just before six. Nanette is tiny, beautiful and Irish with that creamy skin and top-a-tha-mornin’ accent which is so friendly. She looked all tousled and sexy in Ugg boots, skinny jeans and a black t-shirt. Her blond hair was piled on her head.

  ‘Hi Coco!’ She grinned and gave me a huge hug.

  Adam’s daughter Holly towered above her, gorgeous and model thin with her flawless cappuccino skin, looking catwalk-ready in a red dress.

  ‘Hi Coco,’ she said. She felt as if she would snap as we embraced.

  Rocco leapt about. Then Adam came in just behind them so there was another round of hellos before we all went into the kitchen.

  ‘Let me look at yer,’ said Nanette as we were all round the kitchen table. ‘Coco, having a bairn suits you, you’re blooming.’

  ‘Thank you,’ I said adjusting my dungarees over my bump.

  ‘I’ve been reading your book on the train.’ Nanette pulled her Kindle out of her bag. ‘It’s so so good.’

  Holly came and took me by the hands.

  ‘Coco, I haven’t read any of
your books, but I just want to say that I’m so thrilled I’m going to have a little nephew.’

  ‘Thanks,’ I said. ‘But he’ll be your half-brother.’

  Holly wrinkled her smooth forehead, confused.

  ‘Holly, I’m you father, and I’ll also be the father of this baby,’ said Adam. There was a pause.

  ‘Oh, I thought I was going to be an aunt?’ said Holly disappointed. ‘So many of my friends are now aunts and do cool aunt stuff, like buy baby things, and walk the pram along holding a latte.’

  ‘That’s because their brother or sister has had a baby, love,’ said Nanette.

  ‘I’m sure you’ll be a great aunt when the time comes,’ said Adam.

  ‘A great-aunt? Aren’t they really old?’ said Holly.

  ‘Not a great- aunt. A great. Aunt,’ I said.

  ‘Oh,’ she grinned. ‘Oh yes, I can be an aunt when he has a baby.’

  We all smiled and nodded. I’ve never felt comfortable about broaching the subject of Holly and what a plank she can be. Nanette and Adam just grinned patiently.

  ‘I suppose now I’m not his aunt, he won’t be my uncle?’ asked Holly.

  ‘No love… Here go get the present!’ said Nanette changing the subject. Holly went out to the hall and came back with a huge bag.

  ‘I just hope you haven’t got one already,’ said Nanette.

  ‘We’ve got nothing so far,’ said Adam.

  It took both of us to pull the box out of the bag. We tore off the paper and saw that it was a travel system. Which in old-fashioned language is a buggy that comes apart and can be fitted into a car.

  ‘Wow, thank you. It’s lovely’ I said. It was sleek black, with a turn down cover and lining of leopard print. I was genuinely touched. I looked at Adam but he refused to make eye contact with me. I realised we were in serious trouble. This should be the time where we feel so close and happy, but we were strangers in that kitchen.

  I pulled out the take-away menu which was a welcome distraction, and then I phoned in our order. Adam pulled some bottles of beer out of his rucksack.

  ‘I want you all to try this,’ he said. ‘It’s called Pickled Peacock.’ It was the bottles with the peacock feather I’d had seen earlier at the bar.

 
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