Authors: Julia Llewellyn
Tags: #Chick-Lit, #Contemporary, #Fiction, #Humour, #Love Stories, #Marriage, #Romance, #Women's Fiction
An incontrovertible law of nature is that the later you go to bed, the earlier your child will wake the following morning. On this occasion, George excelled himself by crawling into their bed at half past five – a whole hour earlier than usual.
‘Georgie, it’s still the middle of the night.’
‘No, it isn’t, the sun’s shining outside.’
Jake groaned and scrambled around for the iPad. ‘Here, watch this for a bit.’
‘Really?’ George clapped his hands in triumph.
‘Oh, Jake, no. Now he’ll think that every time he gets up early, he can watch cartoons.’
‘Needs must. It’s either that or dying of sleep deprivation.’
‘Just don’t tell your brother,’ Rosie said, as George gazed raptly at the screen. She tried to go back to sleep, but she was wide awake, already worrying about Nanna and what she was going to say to the specialist. Would she listen to his advice? Or maybe she was right to ignore it? Why wouldn’t she let Rosie accompany her to the appointments? Oh God, how was she going to cope on so little sleep? She’d have to somehow get the
boys to nursery and then she’d go home and crawl into bed and snooze until pick-up time.
When she returned from drop-off, Dizzy was in the kitchen. The air was full of the noises of builders hammering and drilling, and radios playing as all the work on the house sped ahead.
‘Hey, have you seen this week’s
? There’s a photo of Jake looking really spoddy. “Geek of the Week” it’s called. Here.’
Dizzy handed over a copy of the magazine. There, indeed, was Jake, ringed in a close-up of a school photo. He was wearing huge glasses – not cool like his current pair but truly geeky. He was wearing a wing collar and a long coat, his hair was plastered greasily to his forehead and there was what looked like a boil on his nose.
‘Pretty bad, huh?’ Dizzy guffawed.
Rosie was torn between amusement at the unflattering picture and hurt that someone would have sold it to
. Who? Surely not Bosey. That was a paranoid thought. Jake’s school was huge; it could have been anyone. Still, it showed someone really didn’t like her husband very much. How horrible.
Her phone rang. Number withheld. ‘Hello?’ she asked nervously – withheld numbers always meant bad news, usually from the bank.
‘Hey, Mrs Geek of the Week. It’s your old friend, Patty. Remember me? Or are you too famous now?’
‘Don’t be daft. How are things?’
not great at the moment to be honest. Heidi’s only gone and got exhaustion or some such bollocks, not at all related to that dodgy boyfriend of hers, oh no. Anyway, the doctor’s signed her off sick and we’ve got this huge project coming up and we’d love you to come back for a few weeks and help us out or we’re totally screwed and the company will collapse and we’ll all lose our jobs and starve to death.’
Rosie laughed. ‘Are you being just the teensiest bit over-dramatic?’
‘Possibly. But we really need you back. For a bit. As soon as possible. Say yes, say yes, say yes, say yes.’
Rosie glowed. It was lovely to be wanted. But she knew what kind of deal this would be. ‘Will it be super-long hours?’
‘We … ell.’
‘Rosie was firm. We’d be talking eight-to-eight days as standard. Probably a bit more work to take home.’
That meant seven to nine, plus extra work all weekend. It was always that way when Tapper-Green was trying to impress a new client. It was one of the reasons Rosie had had to give up the job. All the same, she was tempted. She’d be back in the Disneyland that was work: tasty Pret lunches rather than cold fish fingers, unsticky surfaces, being able to drink a whole cup of tea rather than rediscovering it hours later, milk curdling on the surface. There’d be people who didn’t wear nappies and only cried in private in the toilets. Who talked about last
night’s telly, rather than baby showers. And Jake, well … Jake would have started the play so he’d be free until six most days, so he could do some childcare, with a bit of help from Dizzy. Not that he’d been thrilled to pick up the baton in the past, but now the boys were older he might be a bit more cooperative. Yolande could help out a bit, and they could stay for lunch at Wendy’s. It wouldn’t be forever. Before she knew it, she was actually starting to take the idea seriously.
‘I’ll have to run it by Jake, but … maybe.’
Patty whooped. ‘You are a fucking superstar. Tristan is going to be well made up. Let me know ASAP?’
‘I said maybe.’ The other line was going. ‘Thanks so much for asking, Patty.’
‘Hey, no worries. You must know you’ll always be our first choice.’
Rosie was smiling, but then she stopped, as if thumped in the stomach. Nanna said the caller ID.
‘Hi,’ she exclaimed, trying to sound breezy. ‘Do you have the results?’
‘Do you want the good news or the bad news?’
Ohnoohnoohnoohno. ‘The good!’
‘I haven’t got cancer.’
‘What?’ Rosie sat up straight. ‘That’s brilliant. Amazing.’ A tear of relief ran down her cheek, but then … ‘And the bad?’
‘Apparently, I’m in the early stages of sodding Parkinson’s.’
was waiting for Jake to return home like a runner, desperate to leave the starting blocks. As soon as he was through the door – just after seven, not too late for once, she cornered him. ‘Jake, I’ve had horrible news.’
‘Shit, that is horrible,’ he replied when she’d told him, but he didn’t sound particularly bothered and instead of hugging her headed to fridge, examining the contents, a disapproving look on his face.
‘I’ve been googling all afternoon. There’s loads they can do. It may take time for the disease to really kick in. So it’s not all bad. But of course it means we can’t move to LA now.’
‘Why?’ He picked up a pot of hummus. ‘What’s the sell-by date on this?’
‘Sorry, but I’m starving. I need to eat something before I can think straight. Why can’t we move to LA?’
‘Well, because of Nanna.’
‘You just said it won’t kick in for ages, and there’s masses we can do.’ The boys came whooping into the kitchen. ‘Hey, guys, how are you?’
‘Boys, go and watch telly.’
‘We’ve already watched loads,’ Toby said primly. ‘We don’t want to get square eyes.’
Jake laughed. ‘Brilliant, boys. Quite right too.’
‘It’s a Wednesday,’ Rosie tried. ‘Square eyes don’t happen on a Wednesday.’
‘Mummy, no! I don’t want square eyes.’
‘Nooo!’ George agreed gleefully.
Rosie snapped. ‘Then you give them their bath, Jake, and read them a story. Then we’ll talk.’
‘What? Me do bath?’
It had been ages, not since they’d moved in, Rosie realized. ‘Why not? I’ll fix us dinner.’
‘Daddy do bath!’
‘We’ll splash you, Daddy.’
‘Go on, then. Go up and get undressed.’
They headed up the stairs, yelling and punching each other. Rosie glared at her husband. ‘You know I don’t want to go to LA.’
‘It may not happen,’ Jake retorted. ‘But stop closing doors that haven’t even opened. Talking of which, I’ve been thinking. Maybe we should start going a bit easier on all the decorating.’
‘How do you mean?’
‘I think we should tell David and his team to give it a break for a few weeks. So we can decide what we really want.’
‘But they’re in the middle of installing that den you wanted and they’re putting in the fake grass you were so keen on tomorrow. Do you really want all that to stop?’
‘Just take a breather.’
He turned back to the fridge. ‘Is any of this gluten-free? Rolla says I need to start eating gluten-free.’
‘Of course, sodding lettuce and a pot of hummus is gluten-free. Why do I have to tell David to stop? It was you who wanted all this in the first place. If he downs
tools like that we’ll still have to pay him and the place’ll be chaos, worse than it is now.’
‘Tell him to take a few days’ break, while I think about what we really need.’
It wasn’t the moment, but Rosie, furious, decided to go there anyway. ‘Well, while we’re changing things, Patty from Tapper-Green called. They want me back at work for a few weeks to cover a big job. I thought I’d say yes. I mean …’ she faltered seeing Jake’s expression. ‘Just for a while.’
‘That’s absurd,’ he exploded. ‘I’m working every hour God sends. You can’t go back to Tapper-Green. What would we do with the boys? Put them in nursery full-time?’
‘We’d work something out. Dizzy would cover it, if it was short-term.’
‘You hated your job. I gave you the chance to leave it.’
‘I didn’t hate it. I hated things about it.’
I didn’t appreciate everything that was great about it, at least not nearly enough
. She knew really that she was being ridiculous, that she’d dreamed of staying at home. Most importantly there was Nanna. Whatever would she have done if she’d still been a wage slave at Tapper-Green when that bomb had started ticking? Still, these were details. She wanted to show she counted in some way, that she wasn’t only an appendage to Jake and his increasingly barmy whims. ‘But anyway … they need me. I’ve told you, it’s not a permanent thing, just while they have this crisis.’
about my crisis? What about the fact the play’s about to start?’
Oh fuck you and your play
‘I need to know you’re at home for me, that the boys are settled, and not have us both rushing about like loons all the time. I helped you stop working. I thought it was what you wanted. Now you’re throwing it back in my face.’
‘You never asked me what I wanted,’ Rosie said, turning on her heel. Anger was bubbling through her body. She hated him. She wished she’d never laid eyes on him.
‘I try. I just don’t get you, any more, Bean. I don’t know what you want. You say you don’t want to go to America because of your nanna, but then you want to leave the boys at home all day with a nanny.’
‘And you want to install swimming pools and then remove them. You’re insane.’
‘Are you getting divorced?’ George said conversationally from the doorway. They both jumped.
‘Why do you ask?’ Rosie snapped.
‘How do you know what divorce is?’ asked Jake.
‘Wendy talked about it at nursery. She said lots of parents did it and not to worry if it happened to ours.’
‘If you got divorced, you could get married again,’ Toby said thoughtfully, standing naked behind him. ‘You could be on
Marrying Mum and Dad
. Kids plan their mum and dads’ wedding. We could have one for you with Gary Guitar.’
Normally Rosie would have laughed, but she was too upset. She was also too angry to slap down divorce suggestions. ‘If we got divorced, we wouldn’t marry again,’ she said coldly. ‘Now go up. Get in the bath. Jake, go up with them. And don’t expect any dinner. I’m off to the baby shower.’
Jake had proposed at the hospital, just after they’d had the twelve-week scan, causing the sonographer to shed a small tear at the romance of it all. They married, when she was six months pregnant, at the Chelsea Physic Garden, a magical oasis tucked between the Thames and the King’s Road and, cheesily, Rosie really did consider the day the happiest of her life. Christy (who organized nearly everything) was bridesmaid, so was Sandrine.
Luckily Rosie didn’t find pregnancy hard, because it was a long commute to work. Tapper-Green had taken on a big project and she was starting early and finishing late. Meanwhile, Jake was unemployed. He went to audition after audition after audition, but nothing ever came of anything and much of his time was spent sitting in cafés in Soho with other rejected actors, complaining about how tough life was.
Time after time after dinner he’d implore Rosie not to bother with the washing up, to come to bed and ravish him, that he’d clear up in the morning. But she’d arrive home late, lugging Sainsbury’s shopping bags, to find the bed rumpled and last night’s dirty dishes in the sink.
or twice she’d hinted that she’d like him to do a bit more and he’d been abject, saying of course he would, that he was a lazy idiot, that he didn’t deserve her. He’d improve for a day or two, but then things would slip backwards.
But Rosie didn’t mind really. Jake was the most wonderful man in the world and she couldn’t believe she’d actually married him. At night, she’d lie beside him, one hand on her growing stomach as the baby wiggled and kicked, gazing at him sleeping, wondering like Maria in
The Sound of Music
what the ‘something good’ was that she must have done to have bagged him.
He was so handsome in his geeky way, he was funny, he was bright and he loved her. All right, he had no money at all, but she was earning enough for them to get by.
Right at the end of the pregnancy, when she was off work but too fat and exhausted to go anywhere, Jake began to pull his finger out. He would make her breakfast in bed and then snuggle up next to her and they’d spend all day watching box sets:
The West Wing
Sex and the City
Everyone warned them gloomily that once the baby arrived, they’d descend into hell. ‘You won’t know what’s hit you,’ Becki kept saying happily.
But the first six months of Toby’s life were some of the most precious of Rosie’s life. Yes, she was exhausted, as Becki had warned her; yes, her nipples were in agony; yes, she was confused about everything from routines
to how often to change a nappy and whether buggies were better than slings, but she had Jake at her side, jogging up and down the room with little Toby pressed to his chest, singing him silly songs, laughing at the baby’s excruciated expressions when he did a poo, sleeping with little Toby lying across his chest.
They succeeded at keeping Yolande pretty well at bay. The flat was too small for her to stay the night as she would have loved to, and Rosie became expert at turning a deaf ear to her advice on breastfeeding (‘Waste of time, I never bothered.’), car seats (‘We didn’t have them and all our kids survived.’) and crying (‘Just leave them to it.’).
She and Jake went for long walks with Toby in the sling or the buggy, exploring hidden corners of London. They attended mum and baby screenings, taking turns to jiggle him on their lap, while
Gone with the Wind
played out on the big screen. They marvelled over each stage in his development – smiling, laughing, the moment when he no longer needed burping. He was four months old when Rosie decided to broach the subject that had been preying at the back of her mind.
In hindsight she could have chosen a better venue. They were staying at Yolande and Rupert’s for the weekend, and Becki, Dave and their four children were also there and running amok.
‘I’m going to have to go back to work quite soon; I’m already only on half pay,’ she said to Jake in a sudden quiet moment in the cluttered but cosy living room.
a shame. Yes, who’s a beautiful little boy? You are. You are!’ He blew a raspberry on a delighted Toby’s tummy.
‘So I was thinking. What will we do about childcare? I’d been wondering about nursery, but you’re having such a great time with Toby, I thought …’
‘You thought what?’ Something in Jake’s tone changed.
‘I thought you could look after him.’
‘Be a nanny?’
‘No, not a nanny. Be his dad.’
‘You must be joking!’ Jake looked horrified.
Rosie was baffled. ‘Why would I be joking? You’re so brilliant with him.’
‘I can’t be a stay-at-home-dad. A SAHD. A sad. What about work?’
‘But there isn’t any work. At the moment. Obviously if there were we’d think again.’
‘I need to be available at the drop of a hat for auditions. I can’t be looking after a baby. And I need to be doing workshops: comedy, the Alexander technique. I was planning to brush up on my riding, always useful for costume dramas …’
‘Oh.’ Already Rosie knew she was going to lose this argument. ‘OK. So Toby will have to go to nursery?’ Even though her heart was breaking, she struggled to keep her tone unemotional.
‘You always said that was the plan.’
‘That was before I realized how expensive it is. When we take away the fees from my salary there’s going to be
hardly anything left. We’d just about cover the bills, but there’d be no fun money.’
‘I’ll get a break soon,’ Jake said breezily.
‘Really?’ Rosie felt sick. She should have thought all this through before she’d fallen pregnant. She was an idiot.
‘Of course I will!’ Jake’s voice was so loud it frightened Toby and he started to cry.
Yolande was not at all impressed at the idea of her precious grandson going into a nursery. ‘Won’t he catch all sorts of bugs there?’ she demanded when the subject came up over dinner of over-boiled potatoes and pork chops. ‘And the girls that work in those places – they’re all sixteen, not a brain cell in their heads. They all leave them to cry while they’re on the phone to their boyfriends.’
‘Oh, that’s good to know.’ Rosie failed to keep the sarcasm out of her voice. Could this become any more stressful?
‘All the studies show babies are better off with one primary carer,’ said Becki firmly. ‘I was lucky Dave was so supportive and I could take all that time off work, wasn’t I, darling?’
‘Mum, you’re not seriously suggesting I become a nanny?’ Jake had snapped.
‘Of course not, darling. You’re an actor.’
‘But he isn’t working right now,’ Rupert, who had been silent until now, pointed out politely. ‘Rosie is the breadwinner.’
that’s the way it is for all actors. His luck will change. But it’s not going to help if he can’t make the right contacts because he’s pushing a buggy round the place, changing nappies.’ Yolande turned to Rosie. ‘I feel for you, darling. I loved those baby years. I was very lucky not to have to work, to stay at home and supervise my babies’ development. Let’s face it, nothing else is as important.’
‘But I like work,’ said Rosie. And she did. A little part of her was looking forward to returning to the office, to being in control again. But that little part was blotted out by the dark cloud of leaving Toby with strangers. Plus, she’d been unnerved by Jake. For the first time she’d spotted another side to him, a side that was fiercely, ruthlessly ambitious, that didn’t care about how his choices might affect his loved ones.
So she went back to work but it was far tougher than she’d anticipated. After the nursery fees they had no spare income at all. Jake did actually contribute a bit, picking up Toby most days, but nonetheless it was galling hearing how he’d spent the afternoon having a pint with the boys when Rosie had been strap-hanging on the Bakerloo line, heart thudding like a woodpecker in anticipation of being reunited with her little boy. She tried to talk to Christy about it, but for the first time in their friendship, it was clear her loyalties lay elsewhere.
‘Jake’s right, he has to be available!’
‘But he wanted this baby.’
course, but he still has to work.’
Rosie gave up. Christy couldn’t be less interested in Toby, that had been clear from the start. Rosie understood the risks of becoming a baby bore, but all the same, just a question here or there about how she was finding motherhood, how Toby was developing, would have been kind. Christy simply didn’t get it: had no idea of the earthquake-like fault that had turned her life inside-out.
‘So, no offence, but have you set a timescale for this?’ Patty asked, after one incident when Jake was an hour late to pick up the boys because a ‘networking’ meeting with a producer overran.
‘Timescale for what?’ Rosie asked snappily, eyes on her monitor.
‘For Jake actually making it? I mean, at some point is he going to accept it just isn’t going to happen?’
‘It will happen,’ Rosie had responded loftily, annoyed because Patty was only voicing her fears. ‘Jake’s very talented. Cream rises to the top.’
‘I bloody well hope so, because otherwise you’re going to end up in an early grave.’
The first pregnancy had been an accident but the second one was planned minutely, though she didn’t tell Jake that. She needed a break, she needed time off work and another baby was the only way she could engineer that.
She’d never forget that night when she returned from work early with the pregnancy test in her bag. Jake was
in the tiny kitchen, spooning a jar into Toby’s mouth – initially Rosie had been determined to go down the Annabel Karmel puree road like Becki, but when would she ever find the time to source, boil and mash an organic swede?
As soon as she entered the room, he turned, face glowing. ‘Christy’s got me an amazing audition. It’s for a new sitcom on the BBC. I’d be playing this gay vicar.’
‘That’s fantastic!’ But all Rosie wanted to do was run into the loo and pee on the magic stick that was burning a hole in her bag.
‘I really think I have a chance. Christy says I do.’
‘Of course you do. You’re so talented.’
‘I knew it, Bean.’ He planted a sloppy kiss on her cheek. ‘The tide’s turning.’ He opened the fridge and removed a bottle of champagne. ‘Look what Christy sent us. To wish us luck.’
‘Oh! How sweet.’
‘We’ll drink it tonight and then we’ll go to bed and I’ll do very bad things to you.’
‘I don’t know if I can drink it!’ Rosie had yelped.
‘Because I think I’m pregnant.’
‘No!’ For a second, Rosie felt as if she were on the operating table in
, and a team of doctors had just defibrillated her chest. Jake sounded horrified. He didn’t want another baby. Well, too bad.
‘No! That’s brilliant.’ Jake grabbed Toby out of his high chair and swung him in the air. Toby squawked in
delight. ‘Boyo, you’re going to be a big brother. How about that, eh?’
‘I’m bloody ecstatic. Oh my God. Maybe it’ll be a little girl who looks just like you!’
‘Um, I haven’t actually done the test yet.’
‘I haven’t done the test. I was going to do it now. But I’m sure I’m pregnant. I can feel it: my boobs are tender and bigger and—’
‘Oh goodie,’ Jake said with his best Leslie Phillips leer.
‘I’m going to go into the loo now and pee on the tester and we’ll know in five minutes.’
She was pregnant. They both stared at the stick, delighted.
‘It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to us,’ Jake crowed. ‘I want loads of babies with you. We can afford them now. I’m going to get this part and I’m going to be famous.’
, thought Rosie. Although she’d badly wanted another child, now the reality was here, she felt very nervous. Patty was right: Jake’s ambitions were a pipe dream. He wouldn’t get this part and life would be even tougher.