The coco pinchard boxset.., p.81
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       The Coco Pinchard Boxset: 5 bestselling romantic comedies in one!, p.81

           Robert Bryndza

  ‘You always treat me,’ he said lowering his voice.

  ‘Because I love you,’ I said, my heart sinking that the subject of money had arisen, again. I pulled out my pack of cigarettes and offered him one, but he shook his head and began rolling his own with the minuscule amount of tobacco he had left.

  We sat in silence looking out at the sea, Daniel sucking determinedly at his darning needle sized roll-up as it kept going out. Our breakfasts came soon after and he gobbled his down as the radio played Merry Christmas Everyone.

  ‘Slow down, we’ve got time,’ I said. Then I noticed him eyeing his guitar propped by the table.

  ‘I'm gonna go and busk for an hour or so, then I’m going to pay for both our breakfasts,’ said Daniel leaping up enthusiastically as soon as he’d finished his last mouthful.

  ‘Don’t… it’s freezing, and…’

  ‘And what? Not worth it for the few pence I get!’

  ‘You get more than that,’ I said but he’d grabbed his guitar and stalked out.

  ‘He’s a heartbreaker, that one,’ said Dai wistfully, appearing at the table and staring at Daniel’s angry wake. 'The bad boys always break your heart… Another cuppa love?'

  'Go on then,' I said. I sat and smoked a cigarette with a fresh cup of tea, looking out at the sea and the gorgeous Edwardian houses lining the promenade. I would kill to just stay here with Daniel for Christmas, walking on the beach, lying in bed, whiling away hours with a cuppa and a fag in Dai’s cosy little cafe. Daniel returned an hour later, thrilled.

  ‘Look Coco!’ he said. He tipped out the contents of his busking hat onto the table.

  ‘You made sixteen pounds!' I said counting it out.

  'I barely make a quid usually. Look, someone even gave me a fiver! A fiver for my playing! I can’t believe it.’ he said grinning broadly.

  ‘I can.’ I said. ‘You’re a brilliant musician.’

  When Daniel went to pay at the counter, however, Dai was having none of it.

  ‘It’s on the house loves,’ he said. ‘Merry Christmas!’

  ‘But I wanted to pay…’ said Daniel.

  ’Treat ‘er to somewhere nicer than this.’ said Dai.

  ‘No, I want to…’

  ‘Hush those sweet lips,’ grinned Dai putting his hand over Daniel’s indignant mouth. 'Now bugger off home for Christmas.'

  'Thanks, Dai, merry Christmas,’ I said giving him a huge hug.

  'Yeah, thanks, merry Christmas,’ said Daniel begrudgingly. We suddenly realised our train was about to leave so grabbed our luggage and ran for it. I looked back at the sea front as we rounded the corner to the station. Then the sun went in and we were on the train and moving off towards London.

  The journey was long and crowded. Daniel got into a row with the old man running the buffet car when he went to order us two cups of coffee (which were a rip-off at 49p each). He proudly went to pay with the five-pound note he’d earned, but the stupid old git refused to take it!

  'Ow do I know thas’ yours?’ he asked, squinting at it as if it was a block of gold stolen from Fort Knox.

  'Why wouldn’t it be mine?' said Daniel. The old man looked at him sceptically in his tatty brown leather jacket. 'This is the fashion,' said Daniel, hurt.

  ‘No, thas’ the fashion,’ said the old man, pointing at a boy standing behind us dressed in expensive Adam Ant gear.

  I quickly rummaged in my handbag for some change, but Daniel told the old man and the Adam Ant boy to sod it and stormed off. I glared at the old man and followed Daniel. He’d had to eke out his tiny grant throughout the term, and now, the one time he was flush, that stupid old fool embarrassed him. He locked himself in the train toilet. (Daniel, not the Old Man) and when I finally persuaded him to come out around Swindon, his eyes were red from crying.

  ‘You can buy me a coffee in London,’ I said but it only made things worse.

  It was dark when the train pulled into Euston. The station was dirty and smelly and everything seemed to be bathed in a dim fluorescent yellow. We fought our way through the crowds hand in hand and down to the northern line at Kings Cross. Then we had to say goodbye. We stood on the platform, trying to hear each other through the crowds of people surging past and the wind roaring along the tunnel.

  ‘I love you Coco,’ he shouted, wiping a tear from my cheek. ‘Don’t forget that, and it’s only two weeks.’

  ‘I’m going to miss you so much, I already miss you and you’re here…’ I shouted as his train clattered and roared up beside us.

  ‘We’re going to meet up and I’m going to take you to the cinema and for pie and mash… and let’s phone each other every day,’ he shouted leaning closer.

  He pulled out a strip of photos we’d had taken at an instant photo booth in Boots a few days ago. He carefully tore the four pictures across the middle so that we had two each, and wrote his phone number on the back of his. I did the same and we swapped. Then his train was about to leave. He kissed me and jumped inside just as the doors closed. He looked at me through the door as the train slowly moved off. I stayed and watched until the back of it had vanished into the darkness of the tunnel, then I took the stairs up to the circle line and found a train to Baker Street.

  It was so embarrassing to cry on the tube. It wasn’t very busy. Sitting across from me was a girl with black lipstick and bright red hair in a huge spike three feet high. I thought she must use more hairspray than Tania, Tanya and Claire combined. She was sitting with a boy who was dressed like Boy George – he was even wearing eye shadow! They both had Christmas baubles on their ears and tinsel strung around their necks.

  ‘You alright?’ said the girl. She smiled and her black lipstick stretched and cracked showing pale lips underneath. She leaned across pressing a green paper towel into my hand that she must have got from a public toilet.

  ‘Thanks.’ I said dabbing my eyes politely with it.

  ‘You got any fags?’ demanded the boy sharply.

  ‘Oh, um, yes…’ I said. He stared at me, white eyes surrounded by black smudged eyeliner. I opened my handbag, pulled out my packet of cigarettes and offered him one.

  ‘What about me?’ said the girl, her voice hardening. ‘I was just nice to you. I gave you a hanky…’

  I felt like telling her that free bog paper was not a hanky but they’d both turned menacing.

  ‘She’s got a load of pound notes in her handbag too,’ said the boy. Looking round I could see the train was pretty empty. My end of the carriage was sparse. A group of bored-looking commuters were sitting up the other end, engrossed in their broadsheets. I started to feel panicky.

  ‘She thinks she’s better than us, don’t you think Mike?’ said the girl licking the corner of her black-lipsticked mouth. Her tongue was fat and ripe and covered in white fur.

  ‘Yeah. She could afford to give us the rest of her fags, she could just buy more…’ said Mike.

  Suddenly the train pulled into a station. I grabbed my suitcase, got up and ran off the train. I found myself on the platform under the fluorescent lights and kept running until I reached the stairs. I glanced back and saw that the train was now moving away and the platform was empty. I stopped, panting, and with a jolt of horror realised I’d left my handbag on the seat of the train. It had my cigarettes, ten pounds, and the photos of me and Daniel, with his phone number written on the back. In tears, I waited for the next train as it got colder and a thin fog began to fill the air.

  When I arrived at Baker Street Station it was busy and warm. Christmas lights hung above the escalator and people were flooding past me in the opposite direction laughing and laden down with Christmas shopping. Office workers wore tinsel in their hair and at the top of the stairs a long-haired busker was playing an upbeat punk version of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen on his guitar. He made me think of Daniel.

  Dad was waiting for me in his hat and coat by a cobbler’s booth with droopy Christmas decorations hanging off the sign.

  ‘Hello darling,’ he said
. ‘I’ve missed you.’ He gave me a big hug and I pressed my face against the scratchy material of his winter coat, still a little cold from outside. I suddenly felt like a child again and embarrassed. Could he tell I was no longer a virgin? Only a few hours ago my head had been lying against Daniel’s naked chest… I blushed.

  ‘Where’s Mum?’ I asked, changing the subject.

  ‘She’s getting ready for Christmas. We’ve got Yvonne and Adrian Rosebury coming over with Kenneth on Christmas Day.’ I rolled my eyes. ‘Now come on Karen,’ he said.

  It was so strange to be called Karen again. It felt like I had been Coco forever…I realised Dad was still rabbiting on.

  'I’m sure they’re keen to hear all about your time at university… and Kenneth is studying French at Keele so you’ll have lots to talk about.’

  ‘Will I? I’m studying English at the other end of the country.’

  Dad let that slide as we continued walking, past the Clarence Gate entrance to Regent’s Park. I could see the edge of the lake where it was frozen and a man in a threadbare suit was shivering next to a vat of roasting chestnuts.

  I opened my mouth to say that I wanted to buy some chestnuts, but then remembered I’d lost my handbag.

  I felt suffocated as we came through the front door. The central heating was on full blast, there was a strong smell of furniture polish and everything had a dull gleam to it. Mum was standing by the hall table, with the phone to her ear and adjusting her jet-black curls in the mirror. She looked ready to go into battle with Christmas, in an expensive red nylon blouse with huge shoulder pads, a tight black pencil skirt, and perilously high black stilettos. She mouthed dramatically that she was on the phone, and switched the receiver to the other ear so I could lean in for a hug.

  Dad brought my case in behind him and she jabbed her finger at our feet and mouthed SHOES.

  ‘What about her shoes?’ I muttered but Dad grinned at me so we complied.

  ‘Yes Yvonne, do bring your electric carving knife… we’re so looking forward to seeing you and Adrian, and Karen hasn’t stopped talking about how excited she is to see Kenneth.’

  ‘When did I say that?’ I muttered to Dad. Mum shot me daggers and lurched down the hall with the phone, the long wire following obediently into the living room as she pulled the door shut behind her.

  ‘What a nice welcome,’ I said.

  ‘She means well, it’s a lot to organise… Christmas. And it’s the busiest time at the shop,’ said Dad taking off his hat and hanging it up. ‘You can still help out on Christmas Eve with all the Turkey orders?’

  ‘Of course,’ I said.

  ‘We’ve missed you around here,’ he said, kissing me on the forehead. Mum came out of the living room with the telephone and replaced it on the hall table.

  ‘Yvonne and Adrian say hello, and Kenneth sent a special hello to you,’ said Mum all twinkly-eyed. I pulled my face into a grin.

  ‘How is he?’ I said.

  ‘Oh, he’s doing wonderfully at Keele. Top of his class of course, and top of the athletics club.’

  ‘Is he still as boring as hell?’

  ‘You could do far worse than Kenneth Rosebury,’ said Mum, giving me the once over. ‘Oh Karen…’ She patted me on the rump. ‘What have you been eating? Your grandmother’s big bottom seems to have skipped a generation.’

  I shot an indignant look at Dad, but Mum carried on breezily saying,

  ‘We’ve had the whole house redecorated. It’s all Laura Ashley.’

  The decor was far too much, the floral patterns looming until they seemed to crush me. I took my coat off and hung it beside Dad’s and we went through to the living room. It looked beautiful with a huge Christmas tree by the bay window, decorated with tinsel and baubles. A fire was burning and hung above the fireplace were sprigs of holly and our three Christmas stockings.

  ‘It’s much nicer in here,’ I said.

  ‘Well we haven’t done this room yet,’ said Mum. She went to the record player, clicked on the turntable and placed the needle on a record. There was a crackle and the hushed warm harmony of Silent Night filled the room.

  ‘Oh. Now isn’t this elegant… Let’s have a sherry, Bill,’ she said. On cue Dad went to the sideboard and there was a soft chink as he pulled out three sherry glasses. ‘I think you’re grown up enough now for a little Emva Cream,’ said Mum. I longed for a pint of lager with Daniel and suddenly had an image of him pressed against me whilst a storm raged outside my little attic room.

  ‘Are you too warm darling?’ asked Mum sitting on the sofa. ‘I didn’t realise you’d come back to us… so well insulated. I wouldn’t have lit the fire.’

  ‘No I’m fine,’ I said gritting my teeth.

  ‘So tell us all about Aberystwyth…’

  I felt a screaming inside me. I wished I could tell them the truth, that I’ve got drunk and been skinny dipping in the freezing sea at night, that I know what a man looks like naked, and I’ve ignored Mum and won’t be a virgin on my wedding night…

  ‘What’s Wales like?’ she asked. ‘We don’t seem to get much time on the phone with you.’ I bit my lip. I wanted to at least tell them about Daniel.

  ‘I’ve made some good friends,’ I said. ‘Tania, Tanya and Claire…’

  ‘Yes, and they’re from London?’ said Mum.

  ‘Tania is from Highgate, Tanya from Chelsea and Claire is Scottish, from Fife.’

  ‘Well… two out of free aint bad,’ said Mum doing a terrible cockney accent then laughing at her own joke. ‘Well, it’s good they’re local. I worried that you’d want lots of Welsh people over to stay,’ she added in a relieved tone.

  ‘What’s wrong with Welsh people?’ I said.

  ‘Nothing, if they stay in Wales,’ said Mum.

  ‘Evelyn,’ warned Dad.

  ‘Well, I don’t know why you decided to be so far away,’ said Mum.

  I bit my lip again, shouldn’t it be obvious, you silly cow? To get away from you!

  ‘Well, I’m glad you’re having a lovely time,’ said Mum. ‘Now. We’ve lots to organise over the next couple of days. I missed you helping me with the tree.’ She got up and crossed to the sideboard, pulling out a hand-painted glass bauble with Karen written across it in gold paint.

  ‘I saved this for you, and the Fairy,’ she said. I took it and went to the tree. As I reached up to hang it, the word Karen caught in the light.

  ‘I need to discuss something with you both,’ I said pulling the bauble away from the branch I’d chosen. They looked at me, confused, as if I’d deviated from the script that we’ve acted out every year since I was little.

  ‘People at university… (why couldn’t I just say Daniel!)… have given me a nickname,’ I told them. ‘They call me Coco and I like it, so I wondered if you’d call me Coco too.’

  ‘What?’ said Mum, ignoring her cardinal rule that you should always say pardon.

  ‘At university,’ I repeated carefully, ‘people have given me the nickname Coco and I like it, a lot.’

  This was crazy. I felt as though I was telling them I was a lesbian or something. Dad was looking to Mum for his next cue in this new script. Mum, who is rather good at improvisation when it involves being a bitch, responded.

  ‘Coco? What a horrible nickname. No, no, no, I don’t think so.’

  ‘I’m an adult and it’s important to me!’ I could hear my voice rising in pitch and volume. I really wanted to tell them about Daniel but my courage was draining away.

  ‘What? Important to you to sound like a French prostitute!’ Mum stood up. I looked at Dad but he was making a move to go, draining the last of his glass.

  ‘I’d better get to the shop and sort out some turkeys,’ he muttered.

  ‘Now look what you’ve done, Karen! You’ve ruined our Christmas tradition.’

  ‘It’s Coco!’ I shouted. I was now furious, as much with myself as my mother. She stalked across the room, grabbed the fairy and impaled the poor thing on the top of the tre

  ‘There, happy now?’ she snapped.

  ‘What’s your problem?’ I said.

  ‘You are. What’s wrong with being Karen? It’s a beautiful name. You know you’re named after Karen Carpenter, although I wish you’d take a leaf out of her book and watch what you eat…’

  ‘You’re horrible!’ I shouted.

  ’I’m only saying it because I care! You’ve come back a different person. I hope you’re going to pull yourself together when the Rosebury’s are here for Christmas lunch.’

  ‘My name is now Coco,’ I repeated.

  ‘Oh no it’s not,’

  ‘I’m eighteen now, you can’t stop me!’ I shouted.

  ‘But I can stop your allowance… and there won’t be any more swanning around Wales like a French prostitute!’ she shouted back.

  ‘AAGH!’ I shouted and stormed out slamming the living room door. I grabbed my suitcase and dragged it up the stairs two at a time and once in my room I slammed that door too.

  Sunday 22nd December

  10.00 am My mother has sent me to Coventry. Well not literally, although I’d quite like to spend Christmas away from HER. No, I overheard her telling Dad after breakfast that she is sending me to Coventry for a couple of days. She won’t be talking to me. How bloody Famous Five can you get? I swear they were the only books that ignorant woman ever read out loud with me at bedtime. Oh, and that Joan Collins book on how to turn yourself into Joan Collins.

  I wish I hadn’t left my handbag on that stupid train, then I’d have money and I could go somewhere. Coventry, maybe. And of course I’d have photos of Daniel to look at and his phone number. I swear I’m starting to forget what he looks like – and he hasn’t phoned. Mum won’t keep the phone book or the yellow pages in the hall because she thinks it looks common. Oh! The phone is ringing, it might be Daniel!

  10.30 am It was Tania and Tanya from a phone box in Highgate. They just met up for coffee and are delighted because they’ve both been told they can have nose jobs from Father Christmas. I made a joke, asking how Father Christmas can fit a nose job down the chimney but the line was bad and they misunderstood and thought I was saying their noses were too huge to fit down the chimney. They hung up on me and then didn’t pick up when I called back. So now my new friends hate me too.

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