Making your mind up, p.37

Making Your Mind Up, page 37

 

Making Your Mind Up
 



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  Liana had been to the hairdresser’s. Her rippling hair was newly and artfully highlighted in expensive shades of amber, nutmeg, and honey. She was wearing a dove-gray polo-neck sweater, size four—if that—gray wool trousers, and a chunky silver belt draped around her teeny tiny hips. God only knew what she must be thinking. And frankly, who could blame her? As Tyler’s girlfriend she had a right to be miffed. Tugging the hem of the robe over her bare legs and feeling horribly ashamed—not to mention big—Lottie levered herself into a sitting position.

  “Sorry, I didn’t mean to fall asleep. Barbara’s gone. Tyler’s taken her to the station to catch her train.”

  Liana frowned, still puzzled. “And you’re waiting for him to come back?”

  “No, no, nothing like that! Barbara and I went out in the boat to scatter Freddie’s ashes.” Lottie heard herself gabbling. “But the swans started to chase us and Barbara panicked and, well, you can guess the rest. The boat went over and we fell in. Tyler insisted we came back here—well, obviously Barbara had to, because she’s been living here—and we needed to shower and change into something dry. All my wet clothes are in a black trash bag in the kitchen. I’m taking them home now.” Rising hastily to her feet—her big, bare feet—Lottie discovered that her wet hair had left a huge damp patch on the green silk cushion she’d been resting against. “I really didn’t mean to fall asleep; it’s just that so much has happened in the last couple of weeks. I think everything just suddenly caught up with me.”

  “Oh, you poor thing.” Liana’s expression had changed to one of sympathy. “I’m so sorry; I knew I shouldn’t have doubted you. Of course you couldn’t help it. I know how it feels—I was exactly the same after Curtis died. You spend days not being able to sleep a wink, then all of a sudden it comes over you without warning and you can’t help yourself, you’re just completely out for the count.”

  Lottie nodded, hideously aware that in the moments before she’d dozed off, she’d been fantasizing about being kissed by—

  “Tyler,” said Liana. “He was the one who got me through it. He made me realize my life wasn’t over.” She smiled warmly at Lottie. “And you’ve got Seb to help you. We’re so lucky, aren’t we? Look, if you want to go upstairs and sleep a bit longer, that’s fine by me. I’ll tell Tyler when he gets back. He’ll understand.”

  “No, I’m fine. I’ll just shoot home and change, then get back to work. After all, that’s what I’m being paid for.” Lottie, hastening toward the door in Tyler’s robe, felt more ashamed of herself than ever. Was there anyone on the planet more forgiving and beautiful, more generous and guilt-inducing than Liana?

  Chapter 57

  Cressida was busy putting the finishing touches to an order for wedding invitations when—talk about a coincidence!—she happened to glance out of the window and saw her ex-husband’s car pulling up outside the house.

  Unusual, seeing as it was ten o’clock on a Wednesday morning. Even more unusually, Robert had Sacha with him. Sensing that something was up—oh, how marvelous if they’d booked a skiing vacation and had come to ask her if she’d have Jojo for a week before Christmas—Cressida put down her hot glue gun and hurried to the front door.

  Five minutes later and the happy squiggle of anticipation in her stomach had been replaced by the dull weight of dread.

  “You mean…you’re actually moving to Singapore?” Cressida wondered if she had somehow misunderstood them. “You’re all moving to Singapore?”

  “It’s the most marvelous opportunity! This is what all the urgent meetings have been about, flying off to Paris at short notice, having to keep everything hush-hush!” Sacha, her eyes bright with triumph, said, “Honestly, it was like being a secret agent! Being headhunted is such a cloak-and-dagger business, you have no idea. Well, of course you don’t have any idea, because I don’t suppose much headhunting goes on in the world of handmade greetings cards! You’ve got glitter down the front of your sweater, by the way.” Fanatically neat and tidy herself, she indicated the incriminating area on the yellow sweater so Cressida could brush it off.

  Cressida, her heart going like a punching bag in her chest, said, “But…what about Jojo?”

  “She’s coming with us, of course. Oh, she’ll settle down in no time. Singapore’s a wonderful place to live; it’s got everything a child could possibly want.”

  But what about me? What about what I want? Unable to speak, Cressida listened to the buzzing in her ears and wondered if she was about to faint. How could Sacha and Robert whisk Jojo away from her? How could they know that she’d settle down in a strange country? Jojo is pale and freckly… Her skin would burn… Oh please, this couldn’t be happening.

  “Well, we just thought we’d drop by and let you know the news.” Robert beamed, pleased with himself. “It’s all jolly exciting stuff, isn’t it? And the amount of money they’ll be paying us…well, you wouldn’t believe the package we’ve negotiated.” He gave Sacha a nudge as they both rose to leave. “Enough to make her eyes water, eh, love?”

  Sacha smoothed back her hair and said smugly to Cressida, “Just goes to show how much they wanted us.”

  Cressida wept unashamedly after they’d gone. Her heart felt as if it had been wrenched from her chest and stamped on. She was going to lose Jojo, and it hurt so much she didn’t know how she was going to bear it. Jojo was her surrogate child. This was like losing her own baby all over again.

  * * *

  The doorbell rang at four o’clock. Thinking it might be Jojo, Cressida took a deep breath and checked her face in the mirror before answering it.

  Jojo wasn’t on the doorstep. It was Robert and Sacha back again. The sense of anticlimax caused Cressida’s shoulders to sag. What did they want now?

  “Right, we’ll come straight to the point,” Robert announced. “One question. If Jojo wanted to stay in this country instead of coming with us to Singapore, would you be willing to become her legal guardian?”

  What? What? “I…er…I…” stammered Cressida.

  “Yes or no,” Sacha said bluntly. “That’s all we need to hear. And no pressure either. It’s entirely up to you.”

  Yes or no? They were actually giving her the choice? Hastily, before they could change their minds and withdraw the offer, Cressida blurted out, “Yes…yes…definitely YES!”

  Sacha smiled and gave a brisk nod of satisfaction. “Sure?”

  “Yes…my God…” Beginning to tremble, Cressida was so overwhelmed she could have hugged them. OK, maybe not. “I still can’t believe it. Thank you so much…”

  “That’s excellent then. All sorted.” Robert rubbed his hands, just as he always did when concluding a successful deal. “Now as you can imagine, we’re pretty much rushed off our feet right now, lots to get organized. It would help us out if you could have Jojo for the next few days while we make a start on the arrangements.”

  “Where is she?” Cressida couldn’t wait. “At home? Go get her now!”

  Robert and Sacha left. Less than twenty minutes later Sacha returned with Jojo in the car.

  “Aunt Cress!” Jojo scrambled out of the passenger seat as Cressida rushed down the front path in her slippers. “You said yes!”

  Cressida, her heart bursting with love, threw her arms around Jojo. “Oh, sweetheart, of course I said yes! I’m so happy I don’t know what to do with myself!”

  “Right, well, I’ll leave you to it.” Sacha’s tone indicated that while some people might have nothing more important to do than dance around outside in their slippers, others had vital business to be getting on with.

  “Bye, Mum. Thanks again.”

  “Bye, darling. And good luck with the school concert.” Sacha was already busily revving the engine. “What time does it start?”

  It started at seven thirty. Cressida had had it written up on her kitchen calendar for weeks. Startled by Sacha’s show of interest, she said
, “Will your mum be coming along to the concert?”

  Both arms clasped lovingly around Cressida’s waist, Jojo rolled her eyes. “What do you think? In eight years she’s never been to a single one of my school concerts. I can’t honestly see her starting now, can you?”

  Back inside the house Cressida discovered that, unbelievably, Sacha and Robert had broken the news of their move to Singapore to Jojo last night.

  “I went berserk.” Jojo related what had happened. “Well, not berserk—I’m not really the berserk type, am I?—but I told them I didn’t want to go. I mean, can you really see me in Singapore? While Mum and Dad are working all hours heading up this new company? I mean, I don’t mind flying out to see them during the school breaks, but I love living in England. All my friends are here. You’re here. Everything’s brilliant at school. I begged them to ask if I could stay with you, but they weren’t sure you’d say yes. I wanted to phone you last night but they wouldn’t let me. Mum said you were great as a babysitter, but actually having to take full responsibility for me might be too much to ask.”

  From this, Cressida deduced that this morning’s visit from Sacha and Robert had been designed to deliberately upset her, giving her the rest of the day in which to realize how much she would miss Jojo when she was gone. That way, when they turned up again in the evening and made their take-it-or-leave-it offer, she would be that much more likely to say yes.

  Except they hadn’t needed to do that, because she would have agreed anyway. Cressida wondered if it was possible to feel happier than this. Stroking Jojo’s thin face, she said joyfully, “Oh, sweetheart, I’m glad you went berserk.”

  Jojo disappeared upstairs to shower off the mud from hockey earlier, and to text all her friends to let them know her big news. Cressida, congratulating herself on having caught up with her backlog of work, efficiently finished the last of the wedding invitations and wrapped them up, ready for mailing. In the kitchen, having checked the contents of the vegetable basket, she then set about making Jojo’s favorite: shepherd’s pie.

  Jojo came flying downstairs as she was peeling and slicing the carrots.

  “What are you doing?”

  “Juggling while riding a unicycle.” Cressida threw a carrot from one hand to the other, then curtsied. “What does it look like? I’m making a shepherd’s pie.”

  “Put the carrot down. We’re not eating here. I’ve decided,” Jojo pronounced with an air of importance and a flourish, “to take you out to dinner to celebrate you becoming my legal guardian. My treat. Although I don’t actually have my purse with me, so you’ll have to lend me the money and I’ll pay you back.” She shrugged. “Sorry about that, but it’s the thought that counts.”

  “Absolutely.” Cressida was touched by the thought. “That sounds wonderful. Where shall we go to celebrate?”

  “Burger King.”

  Ah.

  “Lovely.” Cressida said it with good grace. As long as she and Jojo were together, what did it matter where they ate? She’d certainly rather share a plate of fries with Jojo in Burger King any day than a table at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons with Robert and Sacha.

  “Go get changed then. No point hanging around.” Bossily Jojo whisked the carrot from her grasp. “I’m starving, aren’t you?”

  Cressida did as she was told and headed upstairs to change into her ball gown and tiara. OK, a clean blue fleece and jeans. She ran a brush through her hair, dabbed on some eye shadow and lipstick, and belatedly remembered to reapply her deodorant by maneuvering the roll-on stick up under her white T-shirt.

  “Ready?” Jojo called up the stairs. “Come on, let’s go.”

  Cressida looked at her watch. It was ten past five and they were heading out to dinner. At this rate they’d be home again by six.

  * * *

  “No, not this turn,” Jojo instructed as they headed into Cheltenham and Cressida indicated left. “There’s a new Burger King just opened. Carry straight on.”

  “A new one?” Cressida obediently canceled the indicator and stayed on the main road.

  “This is my surprise. It’s bigger,” Jojo proudly announced, “and better. Everyone says it’s brilliant.”

  Cressida smiled at her enthusiasm. “Can’t wait.”

  Several miles further on, Cressida said, “We’re coming up to the big roundabout. Which way now?”

  “Hang on, wait till we get closer.” Jojo squinted through the windshield as the enormous road sign loomed up at them out of the darkness. “You have to turn right.”

  “Sweetheart, that’s for the motorway. Do you mean straight on?”

  “No, definitely right. We just get on the motorway and off again at the next exit. Sorry.” Jojo was apologetic. “Didn’t I mention that? But it’ll be worth it, I promise. My friends all say it’s the best Burger King ever.”

  Just as well there was gas in the car. Taking a deep breath as she was overtaken by a huge articulated lorry, Cressida braced herself and turned onto the entrance ramp of the M5. She usually had to mentally gear herself up beforehand for motorway driving.

  Once they were installed on the motorway and doing a steady (if wimpish) sixty miles an hour, Jojo took a package of gummy bears out of her bag and offered one to Cressida. “By the way, I lied about turning off at the next junction.”

  “What?”

  “The next junction,” Jojo repeated patiently. “We won’t be turning off there.”

  Cressida was bewildered. “We’re not going to Burger King?”

  “Oh yes. The thing is, we’re going to the one in Chesterfield.”

  “What? But that’s—”

  “Halfway between Newcastle and here,” Jojo said cheerfully. “Exactly halfway, in fact. That’s where we’re meeting Tom and Donny.”

  Chapter 58

  By some miracle Cressida didn’t jam her foot on the brake. Dazedly she said, “No we aren’t.”

  Jojo beamed. “Oh yes we are, as they say in all the best pantomimes. It’s all arranged.”

  Cressida really wished Jojo hadn’t chosen to break this news to her as they were driving along the M5. “But it can’t be arranged. You’ve got school tomorrow. You can’t miss school!”

  “Oh, Aunt Cress, of course I can. It’s called playing hooky. Pulling a sickie. All you have to do is phone in tomorrow morning and tell them I’ve come down with the flu again. It’s Thursday. I’ll miss the concert tomorrow night—well, hooray, who cares about a stupid concert anyway? And then on Friday we break up for Christmas, so nobody will be doing any work anyway. And after that it’s the holidays, so really it couldn’t work out better.”

  Feeling winded and utterly stunned by this glib explanation, Cressida said, “When did you decide this?”

  “Ooh, about an hour ago. As soon as Mum and Dad left your place. It’s a surprise,” Jojo said eagerly, “to celebrate everything that’s happened today. I thought you’d love it, after all the times we’ve made plans to meet Tom and Donny and it’s all fallen through. It’s like in my Phew! magazine, they said we have to take control of our lives and make things happen. So that’s what I decided to do. Now, are you going to have a gummy bear or not?”

  “I don’t know.” Faintly Cressida said, “Does Phew! say I should have one?”

  “Phew! says you should definitely have one.” Jojo smiled and passed her a red gummy bear.

  “Does Tom know about this?”

  “Of course he knows! Otherwise we’d get to Chesterfield and there wouldn’t be anyone there to meet us, would there?”

  Cressida’s heart broke into a gallop at the prospect of actually…finally…unbelievably seeing Tom again. In Chesterfield, wherever that might be. “But how…how did you…?”

  “I rang Donny. We text and email each other all the time. I told him the plan and we decided to go for it,” Jojo said easily. “He told his dad that we
were already on our way, so he had to set off straight away to meet up with us. Donny’s going to have tonsillitis tomorrow, we decided. I don’t know what Tom’s going to have. Maybe food poisoning.”

  This was too much to take in. “They’re taking the day off as well?”

  “Duh, they kind of have to. But it doesn’t matter, because we’re making things happen and sometimes it’s actually a good thing to just be spontaneous and take a couple days off work.”

  Was that something else Phew! recommended?

  “So where are we staying?” said Cressida.

  “Oh, we’ll find a hotel in Chesterfield for tonight. Then tomorrow we’ll go up to Newcastle.” Jojo was confident. “I thought we could stay for a week.”

  She was also thirteen.

  “I have no clothes.” As she pointed this out, Cressida experienced the first stirrings of panic. “No spare underwear, no toothbrush, nothing. And neither do you.”

  “That’s why it’s going to be an adventure!”

  “And I have a business to run…”

  “You’re up to date with your orders. Anyway, you deserve a rest.”

  Oh Lord. “But I haven’t even sent off the invites I finished this afternoon. I was going to take them to the post office first thing tomorrow.”

  “Lottie’s got a spare key. Ask her to do it for you.” Jojo paused. “Or we can go home now if that’s what you want. I thought you’d be pleased that I’d done this, but if you don’t want to see Tom and Donny again—”

  “Oh, sweetheart, it’s not that!” Realizing she was hurting Jojo’s feelings—tonight of all nights—Cressida cried, “I am pleased! If I’m honest, I’m panicking because I do want to see them again.” Another truck overtook them as she reached for Jojo’s hand and gave it a grateful squeeze. “I’m just making silly excuses because I’m nervous. And I bet if we stop at the next gas station they’ll sell toothbrushes and…stuff.”

 

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