The coco pinchard boxset.., p.78
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       The Coco Pinchard Boxset: 5 bestselling romantic comedies in one!, p.78
 

           Robert Bryndza

  ‘Hello,’ said Mr Warburton stopping to eye her up. ‘I’ll be your new neighbour.’

  ‘Hello, I’m Mrs Cohen,’ she said pocketing her duster and shaking his hand.

  ‘We’ll have to have you over, my wife Celia does a beautiful fondue pot.’

  ‘Oh. That would be lovely,’ giggled Mrs Cohen coquettishly.

  Adam squeezed my hand and indicated we should go inside. We said goodbye, but Mr Warburton was blind to us and only had eyes for the bony Mrs Cohen.

  Tuesday 9th July

  We have dusted off my credit cards to tide us over until we receive the money for the house. And Rosencrantz is coming out of rehab on Thursday…

  Wednesday 10th July

  I had my thirty-six-week appointment with midwife Justine today. It was very hot and all the windows were open at the surgery.

  Things were a little awkward; the last time we’d met was at Rosencrantz’s intervention/baby shower.

  ‘Have you decided which hospital you want to give birth in?’ she asked as she tested my urine sample with a little stick and measured my blood pressure.

  ‘I can choose?’

  ‘Yes, the NHS has ‘choose and book’. You can look at hospital statistics, mortality rates, what the food is like, if there’s free parking… You can even write a review!’

  ‘Sounds just like Amazon.’

  ‘But obviously the hospital can’t guarantee same-day delivery,’ she joked. ‘Some women spend days in labour!’

  ‘I’m going to go for University College Hospital. Can I have a Caesarian through choose and book?’

  ‘I don’t recommend it, if the mother doesn’t need it. It might be nice and quick like opening a tent flap, but there’s weeks of recovery, and you’re moving to a farm.’

  ‘I won’t be shovelling manure for a while,’ I said. She then explained how during a vaginal birth the baby is coated with some ‘rather marvellous bacteria’ that are crucial for the baby’s immunity… she then asked if I’d like a laxative before the birth so I don’t ‘mess myself’ during labour… I long to get this baby out of me, if only to stop these deeply embarrassing conversations.

  When I got home my Skype began to trill. It was Meryl. She was back in her living room! The geese were taking flight above her hair, and Tony was beside her, bouncing Wilfred on his knee.

  ‘Ooh, look at you Coco! About to pop!’ she said peering into the webcam.

  ‘Hi Meryl I’ve just had my thirty-six-week check-up,’ I said.

  ‘With the midwife whose father does tricks?’

  ‘Yes.’

  ‘It’s a pity he can’t magic your baby out,’ said Tony. ‘Meryl’s labour was epic! Hours and hours of pain…’

  ‘Yes, it was,’ said Meryl. ‘A hundred and twenty-six hours I was in labour, Coco! A hundred and twenty-six! I was only one hour off that film, ‘127 Hours. And I would rather have cut my own arm off, believe you me.’

  ‘Meryl…’ I said.

  ‘Apparently Coco, I had a very stubborn cervix. It refused to dilate. I went through six midwives; they all gave me a membrane sweep. Even the one with the false stick-on nails, after which, if I hadn’t been in terrible agony, I’d have asked to speak to her superior.’

  ‘Meryl please…’ I said.

  ‘You know what did it in the end? Tony offered to do a membrane sweep himself. He popped his fingers in and within ten minutes I was fully dilated… I think it’s because of all the woodwork he does, planing the coffins. His hands are much rougher which really helped disperse the cells in my vag…’

  ‘Meryl I don’t want to know!’ I said. She looked a bit hurt. Why do people think I want to hear this? It’s fine to talk about it when it’s not happening to you. But this is real and happening to me now, and I’m scared.

  ‘Yes. Point taken. I’m sorry dear,’ said Meryl. ‘Do you notice something?’ she added excitedly.

  ‘Yes… Of course, you and Tony are back together,’ I said.

  ‘What? Oh yes we are, no I wasn’t talking about that. Look, we’ve got new curtains!’

  Meryl angled the webcam round and proudly showed the new purple curtains she’d made with matching tie backs, and a ruched pelmet.

  ‘They’re very nice,’ I said. ‘But when did you two reconcile?’

  ‘Throwback Thursday!’ grinned Tony bearing down on the webcam with a red face. ‘I won her back with the Throwback Thursday picture of us in ‘A Clockwork Orange’!’

  ‘He didn’t know anything about Throwback Thursday,’ said Meryl. ‘He just happened to post it on a Thursday…’

  ‘Yes! I didn’t know about it I just happened to post it on a Thursday!’ he repeated. ‘We’ve decided to call it quits.’

  ‘Yes, that Mai Ling wasn’t all that she cracked up to be. Chinese people can be very cruel,’ said Meryl. ‘She kicked the next door neighbour’s cat!’

  ‘And besides, if we split the proceeds of this house we’d have to downsize drastically,’ said Tony.

  ‘Which neither of us wants to do,’ added Meryl patting his knee.

  ‘Well, congratulations,’ I said. ‘Look I’ve got to go. I’ve got lots to do and Rosencrantz is coming home tomorrow.’

  ‘That’s why I called,’ said Meryl. ‘Do you want us there? I can whip up a flan and we can come down in the hearse, no problem…’

  ‘No, I think we’re just going to keep things low-key.’

  ‘Okay dear. Do keep in touch about the birth! And Tony is here if you need him!’

  Tony wiggled his fingers and raised his eyebrows. I quickly hung up, feeling nauseous.

  Thursday 11th July

  I had a phone call last night to say Rosencrantz would be leaving Pathways at seven in the morning. I got up very early and scoured the house for painkillers, and anything containing alcohol, including mouthwash and anti-bacterial hand gel.

  ‘I really don’t think Rosencrantz is going to drink anti-bacterial hand gel,’ said Adam as I bustled about with a bin-liner.

  ‘But you’re not an alcoholic, it might be quite nice with a mixer… Maybe I should sling out the mixers too,’ I said dragging the bin liner into the kitchen.

  When the house was clear, we drove over to West London. The clinic sat on a non-descript street of terraced houses. Shortly after six, Rosencrantz emerged wearing the same clothes he’d had on when he went in. His black eye had healed, his hair was longer and he had lost that thin haunted look. He bowled into me and we had a long hug.

  ‘I’m so sorry Adam,’ said Rosencrantz bursting into tears. Adam looked at him for a second and gave him a big hug too.

  ‘It’s all right mate,’ he said, his own voice choking up. We stood there a moment on the quiet street. The sun was up but it was still deliciously cool.

  ‘Did they give you a leaflet love? What to do next?’ I asked.

  ‘No leaflet, but basically I can never drink or do drugs again…’ We let this sink in for a moment.

  ‘You know what I do fancy that’s not been banned?’ he said.

  ‘What?’ I asked, nervously.

  ‘A Mc Donald’s breakfast.’

  ‘I think we can arrange that,’ said Adam. We drove around and found a little Mc Donald’s on Earl’s Court Road. We ordered three breakfasts, each with a towering latte.

  ‘Oh my God this is good,’ said Rosencrantz digging in. ‘The food in rehab was horrible.’

  ‘Thank you for your letter, love,’ I said. He grinned. He looked tired and worried, but his eyes had lost that haunted look.

  We told him all about selling the house, and moving, and the work going on at Strangeways Farm.

  ‘I don’t know how you’re fixed Rosencrantz,’ said Adam. ‘But I have to go away next week and project manage the house being redone. I wanted to know if you could look after your mum, be there to drive her to hospital if she goes into labour?’

  ‘You’d trust me to do that?’ said Rosencrantz.

  ‘Yeah, I would,’ said Adam. ‘She’ll also ke
ep you busy, she can’t pick up anything or tie her shoes!’

  ‘I’ve got the dead woman’s grabber though!’ and I told Rosencrantz the story of the short lady who drowned, and Kim Jong Lill, the Chinese kleptomaniac who actually stole the twelve pounds from Ethel’s handbag.

  ‘I’m so happy, not about the lady who drowned obviously, but that Nan knows I didn’t steal from her handbag,’ said Rosencrantz.

  Monday 15th July

  Rosencrantz is taking his role of designated driver very seriously. He has pinned a big map of London on the kitchen wall, and has drawn red lines from our house to University College Hospital. He has also stuck pins in at intervals along the route.

  ‘Why did you have to get such a huge map?’ I asked. ‘This goes down as far as Morden.’

  ‘Mum, stop moaning, this is serious. Now the route is fairly straightforward…’

  ‘What are these pins for?’

  ‘They are places where I can buy isotonic energy drinks and wet wipes, in case there’s a traffic jam. I also got these.’

  He pulled out a huge plastic bag full of change.

  ‘You can only park outside the hospital on a meter,’ he said.

  I was quite horrified with the sheer amount of coins in the clear plastic bag. All that money represented time on the meter, time that I could be in labour.

  Thursday 18th July

  The delivery of the new windows for the farmhouse is delayed until tomorrow afternoon, so Adam came back for the night. At eight in the morning we practised the route, driving from outside the house to the front of the hospital. It’s less than two miles, but the traffic was horrendous, and it took an hour.

  ‘The route planner said twelve minutes,’ said Rosencrantz looking in dismay at the stopwatch on his phone.

  ‘It’s rush hour. It’ll be much quieter after ten.’

  ‘But the baby doesn’t know that. What do we do if you go into labour during rush hour?’

  ‘It’s okay. Babies never come as quickly as they do in TV and films.’

  Rosencrantz and Adam exchanged scandalised glances. I persuaded Adam to let us come and see what’s happening at Strangeways Farm.

  ‘Cokes, it’s all up in the air, things are waiting to be put in…’

  I said I wanted to see it, and that Rosencrantz could drive me back in the car, so we’d have transport while he was away.

  After lunch we drove down to Kent. Adam has removed the old orange sign at the bottom of the drive, and it’s been replaced with another reading “STRANGEWAYS WORKS ACCESS”

  There was heavy rain over the past few days. The back wheels of the Ka sank into the driveway and got stuck, whirring round and spraying mud up the back windows. We had to call Chris, who came to pull us out. He stepped down from the Landrover wearing a flat cap, long green wellies and a wax jacket, looking every inch the lord of the manor.

  ‘You shouldn’t be here Cokes. What if you go into labour?’ he asked.

  ‘Then we’ll drive home,’ I said through the car window. Chris didn’t look happy about this. ‘From when the waters break to when you actually give birth takes hours,’ I added.

  ‘Coco. There’s a whole article in this week’s Take a Break about women who gave birth quickly. One woman did it in four minutes, she sat on the loo, and it just popped out!’

  ‘Well however long my labour takes, I’m here now and I want to see the house,’ I said.

  Chris rolled his eyes, squelched over to the front of the car and hooked on a rope. He attached it to the back of his land rover and pulled us out and along to the house.

  ‘I didn’t want you to see it like this,’ said Adam when we were standing in the front garden that had been churned up by endless vans. The first thing I noticed were the new doors and double-glazed windows.

  ‘This is perfect,’ I said opening the solid front door. It was blond oak with a gold letterbox. We went inside and the house had a delicious wood smell. Blond oak double-glazed windows had been fitted in every room. The rustic farmhouse-style kitchen I picked out online had been fitted, with granite work surfaces and a stone sink under the window, looking out onto the deer park.

  ‘Oh my god,’ I said putting my hand to my mouth.

  ‘It’s your waters? Shit. You’re not having a Take a Break moment are you?’ asked Chris.

  ‘No! It’s just all the more real. I want to be here now, with this view.’ I said.

  ‘Maybe I should have shown you upstairs first,’ said Adam.

  ‘Let’s not see it, the bathroom is just an empty shell,’ said Chris, still convinced I could have a Take a Break birth and there was no toilet to catch it in. After one last look at the view, we said goodbye to Adam and Chris, and Rosencrantz drove us home. Although home is suddenly feeling like Strangeways Farm. I can’t wait to move.

  Sunday 22nd July

  The weather is beautiful at the moment. We’re spending all our time sitting in the garden under the shade of the pear tree, drinking iced tea. Daniel surprised me with a phone call saying he wanted to come and visit with Jennifer, to see the house for the last time.

  I was prepared for an awkward afternoon of Daniel lamenting his lost home and what is owed him, but it was rather surprising. First they announced that Jennifer is pregnant.

  ‘Pregnant? Congratulations!’ I said.

  ‘You seem to have set the trend for old mothers!’ Jennifer grinned. ‘Well mature, um sorry.’

  ‘It’s okay,’ I said. ‘I’m just surprised.’

  ‘What I meant to say is that you’ve proved it’s never too late to move on and do all the things you dreamed of. I always wanted a baby,’ said Jennifer.

  ‘Was it a surprise, Dad?’ asked Rosencrantz.

  ‘Well, at first, yes. I’m very happy,’ he said grabbing Jennifer’s hand and kissing her.

  ‘Why don’t you show me round the house?’ said Jennifer to Rosencrantz. I could sense she was deliberately leaving me alone with Daniel.

  ‘Sure,’ said Rosencrantz, and they went off inside. Daniel pulled a pack of cigarettes out of his jeans.

  ‘Do you mind Cokes?’

  ‘No. Go on,’ I said.

  He lit up and filled up my glass from the jug on the table. He grinned at me.

  ‘What?’ I asked.

  ‘Do you remember the first time I came to this house?’

  ‘Yes. It was Christmas and you pretended to be a carol singer so you could see me.’

  ‘Your mother wouldn’t have opened the door otherwise,’ said Daniel taking a drag of his cigarette.

  ‘Would you do the same for Jennifer?’

  ‘What?’

  ‘If you couldn’t see her. Would you traipse across London in the cold and refuse to take no for an answer?’

  ‘Yeah. I would,’ he grinned. Then he looked serious. ‘Cokes. Do you ever think about what would have happened if I hadn’t…’

  ‘If you hadn’t met me?’

  ‘No. If I, if you hadn’t… caught me shagging Snow White in our bed.’ He seemed serious.

  ‘I used to Daniel, all the time. But not much now.’

  Daniel turned to check that Jennifer was still inside with Rosencrantz. He took my hand.

  ‘I think about it a lot, and I regret it even more.’

  ‘Come on, there’s no need. You’re having a baby. Jennifer is lovely.’

  ‘I’m happy Coco, really. But a part of me thinks, what if? What if we were still together?’

  ‘Do you think we’d be happy?’ I asked.

  ‘I probably would be… Do you hate me Coco?’

  ‘No. I don’t.’

  ‘I still hate myself.’

  ‘Well you shouldn’t. It’s been and gone, and done and dusted. And it’s resulted in two new babies. Who knows what they’ll go on to do in life? My baby might find a cure for some disease. Your baby could finally end poverty!’

  ‘So you’re saying that because I shagged Snow White, I could actually contribute towards the end of world hunger?


  ‘No. It’s what I was forced to do afterwards that made the difference… I had to move on.’

  Daniel nodded sagely. ‘Cokes, can we be friends?’ he asked.

  ‘We are.’

  ‘No properly. Proper friends. I’m truly sorry I hurt you. I was the fool who spent twenty years with you and didn’t realise what a good thing I was on to… Friends?’

  ‘Yes, friends,’ I said reaching out and holding his hand, and I meant it. We were both smiling when Rosencrantz came back with Jennifer.

  ‘Did Daniel tell you his news?’ said Jennifer.

  ‘There’s more news?’

  ‘He’s just got funding to write and workshop a new opera.’

  ‘Well it was Jennifer’s pal who knew someone at Opera North,’ said Daniel sheepishly.

  ‘But it was your demo which got you the job. I made him a demo on my computer,’ said Jennifer.

  ‘I think we’ve got loads to toast,’ said Rosencrantz. ‘To the babies and the opera.’

  We all clinked our glasses. They stayed for a couple of hours, and then went off for supper in town. An incredible feeling of calm washed over me. For the first time in years I felt at peace with what had happened with Daniel and me. I hoped he could finally get his life on track and be happy.

  Monday 23rd July

  I had a nightmare-free night and woke up so excited about everything – the future, moving house, meeting my new son. Then Daniel phoned and the world turned upside down.

  ‘Coco,’ he said through tears. ‘Coco, Mum’s dead.’

  I had just settled down with a book in the garden.

  ‘What?’ I said.

  ‘Mum, she went shopping this morning, I don’t know what for. Something at the pound shop in Catford I think… She was crossing the road and a car hit her. She’s dead Coco.’ He began sobbing uncontrollably.

  ‘Are you sure?’

  ‘Course I’m bloody sure. I’m at Lewisham Hospital. I’ve just had to identify her body. Oh God Coco, it was terrible. They hit her so hard… Can you come? Or can Rosencrantz?’

 
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