What's your recipe for happiness? Verity never thought she'd fall out of love with cooking...that is until her best friend passed away, taking their shared passion with her. And now it looks like Verity's career and love life might soon follow suit. Desperate to escape her problems, Verity jumps at the chance to help out a friend and establish a cooking school in a new town. Her only demand: she doesn't have to do the cooking! The new cookery school is the perfect place to hide until she's ready to put herself out there again...but starting a new business is far from easy, especially with new friendships and maybe even the chance of new romance. When tragedy strikes, Verity once again feels like she is losing everything. Can Verity find the magic ingredient to save the cookery school and fall in love with life again? *Published in the UK as The Plumberry School of Comfort Food * *** Readers are captivated by Cathy Bramley's heartwarming stories: 'Funny and sweet and as satisfying as a homemade apple pie' Milly Johnson 'As comforting as hot tea and toast made on the Aga!' Veronica Henry 'A delicious tale of friendship, family and baking... I loved its warmth and charm' Cathy Woodman 'Delightfully warm with plenty twists and turns' Trisha Ashley
Release date: March 21, 2019
Print pages: 391
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
The Village Cookery School
Even by my standards, that was a bit meagre.
There was more to making the ultimate fish finger sandwich than met the eye, I mused, prodding the fish to make sure it was cooked. To be proper comfort food, it had to meet my very stringent criteria. The bread had to be soft and white. I’d bought a new loaf from the corner shop this morning specially. The fish fingers must be good ones; life is simply too short for anything less. I keep a box of Captain Birds Eye’s best in the freezer at all times, alongside my stash of cottage pie, lasagne and tikka masala ready-meals.
I spaced the four golden strips of breadcrumbed cod evenly across the bottom slice of bread, taking care to leave a gap in the centre for easy slicing. Next the ketchup – Heinz, of course. I gave the bottle a firm shake and added a neat stripe to each of the fish fingers.
Rosie, my part-time housemate, steamed into the kitchen wearing a sports bra and shorts and turned the tap on full blast before fetching a glass.
‘Just in time to witness my pièce de résistance,’ I announced, sliding the plate away from the spray of water.
‘Please tell me that’s not your Sunday lunch?’ She waggled her eyebrows sternly. ‘Wait till I tell Nonna.’
Rosie’s Italian grandmother believes lunch on the Lord’s Day should consist of at least four courses, take the entire morning to prepare and the entire afternoon to clear up.
I sliced through the sandwich and sat down at the table.
‘Yep. Protein, carbs, vegetables … a perfectly balanced meal,’ I said. OK, vegetables was stretching it a bit, but the bottle did claim to be full of sun-ripened tomatoes … ‘And more importantly, it only took me twelve minutes. Sorry, Nonna.’
‘You should treat your body as if it belongs to someone you love,’ she said with a tut. She twisted the cap off a tub of seaweed extract and shook two tablets into her hand.
I watched her knock them straight back with a gulp of water. ‘Who do you love – Nemo?’
Rosie choked mid-swallow and spluttered with laughter. ‘Touché, Princess Prick and Ping, touché.’
I pretended to give her a dirty look.
She referred to me as that because of my over-reliance on the microwave, although she didn’t spend much time in the kitchen either. Nor anywhere else. Rosie was too busy to spend long doing anything. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her relax. Not completely. Even when she watched TV she had her phone in her hand, her iPad balanced on her knee and her laptop on the coffee table in front of her, each device tracking different social media campaigns for her clients. She was totally dedicated to her job and she’d been promoted twice since I’d known her.
She moved in when I realized that I needed a lodger to help pay the mortgage after splitting up with my fiancé. Not that she didn’t have a property of her own; she’d had several over the years. In her spare time she bought and renovated run-down houses, selling them on for a profit, which she squirrelled away. Her plan was to buy a big house for herself and be mortgage-free by the age of forty. I had no doubt that she’d do it.
‘I’m detoxing,’ she explained, rattling the bottle of vitamins under my nose, ‘because I love myself.’
‘And I,’ I said with my mouth full of sandwich, ‘love fish fingers.’
Actually, I agreed with her: food is about love. To cook for someone is to show them how much you care. My problem was that I’d lost that loving feeling. Or, more accurately, that loving someone.
‘How’s the project going?’ She sat down and read the document open on my laptop. ‘Need any help?’
Spending all day working might not be everyone’s ideal Sunday but it had provided the perfect distraction from the sadness of today’s date, which I wasn’t ready to tackle yet. Besides, tomorrow’s meeting was unusually important.
‘I think I’m there,’ I said proudly, removing the elastic band from my wavy brown hair. I ruffled my fingers through it, wishing for the umpteenth time it was as dark and glossy as hers. ‘I’ve got an amazing idea for improving customer loyalty: the One, Two, Three Plan. Instead of incentivizing purely new customers, this is about giving existing customers reasons to stay with us for a minimum of three years. I’ve come up with loads of benefits.’
‘Sounds great,’ Rosie said, stretching her face, a gesture I recognized as stifling a yawn.
‘It is, honestly,’ I protested. ‘Even Liam thought it was good. Better than his will be, he reckons.’
‘You’ve shown Liam?’ Her mouth gaped. ‘Have I taught you nothing about office tactics?’
I gave her my oh-ye-of-little-faith look. ‘Of course I have; I wanted his opinion.’
My boyfriend of six months, Liam, was also my colleague in the marketing department of Solomon Insurance in Nottingham. We shared an office, which had worked out just fine so far: not only did we manage to indulge in the occasional illicit snog at the far end of the office, but we helped each other out with problems and pooled our best ideas for the good of the company. Admittedly most of the ideas came from me, but he was good at other things like persuasion and flattery. And if you’d ever tried getting extra printer paper from our office manager you’d know just how important those skills are.
Rosie lowered her head to the table and groaned. ‘Oh, Verity.’
‘Look, I know you want me to fight tooth and nail for this job, but that’s just not me,’ I said with a laugh, laying my hand over hers.
A few weeks ago Solomon’s had been bought out by an American company which had sent in a man with a hatchet to trim the fat from our friendly little firm. His name was Rod Newman. He didn’t talk, he yelled. He didn’t listen, he yelled. And he had the attention span of a goldfish. So far three people from accounts, five from sales and two from personnel had been deemed to be ‘fat’ and had disappeared the very same day.
Tomorrow it was marketing’s turn to display our leanness. Liam and I had each been asked to present a plan to improve profits and we’d been warned that Ruthless Rod would give one of us the heave-ho based on our performance. And the other would be promoted.
I’d questioned Liam about his plan, but he’d scratched his head and said he was still working on it. He always did fly by the seat of his pants. I didn’t dare tell Rosie I’d offered to help him pull his pitch together. If I got the job, fine; if he got it, also fine. These days I just couldn’t get worked up about things; que sera, sera, as Doris Day would say.
She lifted her head and gazed at me fiercely. ‘You are the better candidate, Verity Bloom. Make it happen. Make that job yours.’
She sighed and strode into the living room and seconds later I heard her boinging about to her celebrity fitness DVD. I cleared away my plate and closed the laptop.
It was time for the bluebell walk with Gabe and Noah.
Five minutes later, I’d twisted my hair into a messy bun, added a smudge of eyeliner to my green eyes and shoved gifts of a bottle of real ale and a chocolate dinosaur in my bag. I said goodbye to a puffing and sweaty Rosie and was about to slam the front door when I remembered something I’d almost certainly need …
‘Tissues, tissues, tissues,’ I muttered under my breath as I bent down to rummage through my half of the bathroom cupboard, pushing aside bottles of conditioner and body lotion. ‘Oh gosh!’
I dropped to my knees and stared at a new, untouched box of tampons on the bottom shelf. I did a quick calculation and my mouth went dry. No doubt about it: my monthly visitor was well overdue.
My heart thumped and a hand flew to my stomach automatically.
I couldn’t believe it hadn’t occurred to me before now; it was so unlike me not to be on top of this sort of thing. I gave myself a shake and told myself not to jump to conclusions; sure, the time of the month had been and gone, but more than likely it was just a bit late. Perhaps deep down, I was more bothered about the threat of redundancy than I realized? That would be it – stress. Very common. A baby, though … A thrill shivered through me and my mind whirled with the implications.
I focused on taking deep breaths as I let myself out of my little townhouse and into the golden sunshine. I jumped into my car, started the engine and set off in the direction of the Trent Canal.
The thirty-minute journey was the perfect length to examine my potential pregnancy from every angle. My conclusion was this: practically speaking, I probably wasn’t having a baby, but if I was, I’d cope. Like always. This wasn’t the first time something unexpectedly life-changing had happened to me and I doubted it would be the last. As to how I actually felt about becoming a mother of my own baby … I wasn’t ready to let those thoughts in quite yet.
As I parked in the lane by the canal I made a deal with myself. I’d buy a pregnancy test on the way home so that I could stop all this speculation. But in the meantime, I was putting this new development on hold and concentrating on what really counted, today, this minute, which was being here on this special day with the Green men. (That’s Gabe and Noah’s surname, by the way, not their skin tone.)
I crossed the grassy bank and started along the towpath. It was bliss to be outside in the warm early-evening air and I felt the tension in my shoulders melting away with every step. A row of pretty barges decorated with hand-painted signs and cheerful flowerpots stretched along the water’s edge and as I got closer, I spotted The Neptune.
‘Daddy, she’s here, she’s here!’ I heard Noah squeal.
My three-year-old godson, dwarfed by a bright yellow life-jacket, was bouncing up and down on the deck of their blue and silver boat. Gabe scooped him up into his arms and the two of them waved like mad.
I felt my heart swell with love for them both. Gabe with his tousled curls, baggy jumper and shorts and Noah, a miniature replica of his father. And all I could think was how incredibly sad it was that Mimi was missing from the picture. Suddenly, the feelings of grief that I’d been holding back all day rushed to the surface and my eyes began to burn.
Today was the anniversary of the death of my best friend, Mimi.
Two years ago Gabe had found his wife dead on the bathroom floor. Sudden Death Syndrome at only thirty years old. Gabe lost his childhood sweetheart, Baby Noah would never remember his mum and the sunshine had disappeared from my life in a flash. No warning, no explanation and no time for goodbyes …
I blinked furiously, plastered on a smile and raised my hand high.
‘Hello!’ I sped up to meet them.
Gabe lowered Noah to the deck and held out a hand to help me climb on to the boat and I sent a mental message to my lovely girl.
Oh Mimi, I miss you so much. I’m here with your family and you’re gone and that makes me feel terribly guilty. The irony is that you’d love this: all of us getting together for a walk in the woods …
‘Welcome aboard The Neptune, landlubber,’ Gabe said with a lopsided smile. He stooped to wrap his arms round me.
‘Thank you, Captain.’ I hugged him, feeling the rough wool of his jumper against my cheek.
‘How’re you doing?’ I murmured, looking into his soft grey eyes.
He shrugged and laughed softly. ‘Noah gets me through. As ever.’
Noah tugged on my jacket. ‘Auntie Vetty, did you know chocolate is in your bag?’
‘Noah Green,’ I said, holding his hands and standing back to examine him, ‘I think you’ve grown even taller since I last saw you. And yes, I do know that.’
His eyes grew wide when I gave him his chocolate dinosaur.
‘You’re not too big for a cuddle, are you?’
He launched himself at me and I picked him up, squeezed him as tightly as I dared and buried my face in his baby curls. He was such a precious boy.
‘I do love you, little man. You know that, don’t you?’ I laughed as he wriggled free.
Tears threatened again as I remembered how much Mimi had longed for a baby, and how devastated she’d been when she’d discovered she was infertile. I’d been there every step of the way with her, determined to help her get her wish, whatever the cost. Gabe, too, of course. Team Baby Green we’d called ourselves. We’d stuck together through the disappointments and the tests and the drugs. Our collective joy knew no bounds when Noah was born and Mimi had so loved being a mum to the tiny bundle of boyhood. Only to have her life wrenched away from her a year later. Tragic didn’t begin to cover it …
And now I had to love her son especially hard to make up for the loss that he didn’t yet fully understand.
I met Gabe’s gaze and we shared a sad smile. Life could be very cruel sometimes.
‘I hadn’t even had the chance to say I loved her that day,’ Gabe murmured, rubbing a hand across his face.
‘But she knew,’ I whispered, squeezing his hand. ‘We all knew that.’
‘Next time I’m in a relationship, I’ll tell her I love her every day.’
My ears pricked up; this was new.
‘So there’ll be a next time, then?’ I asked.
He shrugged casually enough but I noticed a flush to his face. ‘One day, yeah. I hope so.’
‘Well … good,’ I said brightly, looking down at my shoes.
Gabe had never been able to contemplate another woman in his life. It looked like he might be ready to move on and, truthfully, I wasn’t sure how I felt about that.
A few minutes later, I’d kissed Noah’s entire collection of soft toys, marvelled at the no-sew curtains Gabe had made for the living area of the houseboat and the three of us had gone back on dry land to begin our expedition to the woods.
Gabe and I each held one of Noah’s hands as we ambled along the towpath, both of us content to listen to his cheerful chatter.
The sun’s rays sparkled across the surface of the water and the boats strained gently against their moorings. Birds tweeted merrily in the cluster of hawthorn trees that lined the path as they settled themselves in for the evening. Many of the boating people were out on deck, some sipping beers, a few cooking food on barbecues and calling to one another from boat to boat. There was almost a holiday atmosphere along the canal and I felt my happiness gradually returning.
This is heavenly, I thought, which was apt considering the spiritual nature of our excursion.
A month after Mimi died, Gabe and I had trodden this path with Gloria, Mimi’s mum. Noah had been too little to walk. Our solemn little group had scattered Mimi’s ashes in her favourite place – a clearing in the woodland where the bluebells bloomed – and we’d each spent a few moments alone with our thoughts.
Shortly after that, Gabe had sold up the family home, abandoned his law career and moved himself and his baby son on to the canal and into a narrowboat just a stone’s throw from Mimi’s woods. He’d retrained as a French polisher and now he restored furniture for a living. He also made extra money taking stressed-out city-types for weekends on the waterways, leaving Noah in the capable hands of his paternal grandparents, which was a treat for all concerned.
Our bluebell walk had become an annual thing and a lovely way for us all to gather and remember happy times.
‘Shame Gloria couldn’t be here,’ I said, during a lull in Noah’s running commentary.
‘Hmm.’ Gabe frowned. ‘I’ve hardly heard from her since her plans to open a cookery school took off.’
At the age of sixty-five, Mimi’s mum, a former food stylist, had decided to open a cookery school in the Yorkshire village of Plumberry, half an hour outside York, where she was originally from. It was from her mum that Mimi inherited her love of cooking and I guess it had rubbed off on me too. Not that I cooked any more. Not since Mimi died.
‘You don’t approve?’ I looked at him sharply.
He wrinkled his nose. ‘I think she’s taking on too much at her age.’
‘I hope you haven’t told Gloria that?’ I grinned.
Mimi’s mum was one of the most independent women I knew; I couldn’t see her taking kindly to that sort of comment.
He lifted a shoulder. ‘No. But she’s too busy to see us these days, too busy even to make it here this evening because the fitters are late putting the ovens in or something. And the building she’s taken on … it’s an old mill; well, half one. That’s some responsibility.’
I nodded sympathetically but I could see both sides. Gloria had felt so bereft after losing her only daughter that she couldn’t bear not to be busy. She’d been involved with food her whole career and when I’d spoken to her at Christmas, she said opening a cookery school would be a new way to use her skills and spread her passion for cooking.
Funny how grief affects us all differently. Mimi and I used to post videos on YouTube of ourselves making stuff in the kitchen. It was just a bit of fun – neither of us was professionally trained – but we had a laugh doing it. But as soon as she died, I closed the channel down and deleted the videos. My passion for cooking died with Mimi; there was simply no pleasure in it without her.
We turned off the towpath, crossed the wibbly-wobbly bridge where Noah insisted we threw sticks into the water and then waded through long grass to the edge of Mimi’s woods.
Spring has definitely sprung, I thought, as we delved under the canopy of the woodland. The trees were covered in a froth of pink and white blossom and now and then petals floated down through the shafts of sunlight, giving a magical illusion of snowflakes in springtime. The path was lined with tall stems of frilly white cow parsley and zingy lime ferns and I let my fingers brush gently against their feathery fronds as I walked.
Noah raced around, zigzagging in front of us, pretending to be a racing car, and Gabe fell into step beside me, resting his arm casually on my shoulder. The ground was dry thanks to several days of unbroken sunshine and the air was filled with the pungent smell of wild garlic and an earthiness which, in that random way that one thought can lead to another, somehow made me think of fertility, which in turn sent a shiver of something along my spine.
It was hope, I acknowledged. My internal debate during my drive over here had centred around the practicalities of being pregnant and what Liam was going to think about it and what to do about work. But deep down, I knew that if I was expecting a baby, it would make me happier than I had been for years; probably since I’d heard that Mimi’s IVF had worked and that one of the eggs we’d all got our hopes pinned on had been fertilized.
‘Toad!’ yelled Noah with glee.
‘Where?’ I stopped in my tracks.
Gabe squatted down for a closer inspection but courtesy of a poke with a stick from Noah, the creature crawled off into the undergrowth.
‘How do you know it’s a toad and not a frog?’ I asked, impressed.
Three-year-old Noah gave me a look layered with sympathy and triumph.
‘Aunty Vetty,’ he sighed, dropping his stick and sliding his pudgy little hand into mine. I felt my throat tighten; I hoped he’d never grow out of doing that. ‘His back was all lumpy. Frogs are smooth. Everyone knows that.’
‘Silly me,’ I said with a giggle, and lifted his hand to my lips for a kiss. ‘It’s a good job I’ve got you to teach me these things.’
‘Look, Verity.’ Gabe pointed through the trees to where a ray of golden sun picked out the nodding heads of bluebells in the clearing. ‘Thousands of them; I’m sure there are even more than last year.’
He was right and the beautiful sight took my breath away.
‘Mummy’s favourite flowers were bluebells,’ I said to Noah, swallowing the lump in my throat.
He nodded, retrieved a torch from his pocket and wriggled away from me to shine its beam under logs, looking for more toads. ‘Cos they are blue like her eyes.’
‘That’s right, dude.’ Gabe ruffled his son’s hair. ‘And Mummy had the prettiest, bluest eyes in the world.’
Noah stuck the torch back in his pocket and crouched down to examine the underside of a fallen log.
‘Turn the torch off, Noah, or the batteries will run out,’ I reminded him.
The little boy straightened up immediately and switched it off. ‘Like Mummy’s.’
‘What do you mean?’ I asked.
‘My mummy’s batteries ran out,’ he explained, blinking up at me with those green eyes that tugged at my very soul.
Oh my God. That boy.
My heart might explode. I heard Gabe clear his throat and I couldn’t bring myself to look at him.
‘Come on,’ I said gruffly, giving my godson’s hand a squeeze. ‘Why don’t we pick some flowers to take back to the boat?’
Noah and I busied ourselves collecting bluebells while Gabe lowered himself on to a tree stump and disappeared into the memories of his happy marriage for a few minutes.
I reached for a tissue and dabbed my eyes.
Gabe’s doing a great job, Mimi. He is the best dad ever and I know I’m biased, but seriously, Noah is a child genius! I didn’t know the difference between frogs and toads and I’m thirty-two.
The novelty of flower-picking wore off as soon as Noah had a plump handful. I looked at Gabe; he had a bunch in his hands too.
‘We’d better get those in water,’ I said softly, touching his shoulder.
Gabe stood and nodded and the three of us headed back towards the bridge.
‘Are you coming to ours for tea?’ Noah asked. ‘Beef stew will be there. And sweetcorn,’ he added, hopefully.
‘Yes, please come, Bloomers,’ Gabe added.
I gave him a hard stare for using my teenage nickname.
‘Sorry, couldn’t resist,’ he said with a grin. ‘Seriously, some conversation not about the comparative size of dinosaurs would be hugely appreciated. And I’ll share that bottle of beer with you?’
‘I’d love to,’ I shook my head apologetically, ‘but I’ve got to get home, I’m afraid, boys.’
‘Oh,’ Noah whined.
Gabe’s face fell too and my heart twisted with guilt.
‘Wise move,’ he said stoically, gesturing for me to go across the bridge in front of him. ‘My cooking’s not a patch on Mimi’s.’
The guilt deepened then; poor Gabe, he was getting better in the kitchen, but before Mimi died he barely knew how to turn the oven on.
‘Sorry, but I’ve got a big day tomorrow, I need an early night.’ And I’m not drinking beer before doing a pregnancy test, I added to myself. ‘But I’ll come back soon. Promise.’
‘Good, because I need lessons with a needle.’ He grinned. ‘Noah asked me to sew up a hole in his pyjamas the other day. I sat down on his bed and ended up sewing them on to his duvet by accident.’
As we walked back along the towpath towards The Neptune, I wrapped an arm around Gabe’s waist.
‘I’m so proud of you, Gabe; Noah is a credit to you.’
‘Thanks.’ His step faltered and he took a deep breath. ‘Verity?’
I turned to face him. ‘Yes?’
He swallowed before murmuring, ‘He needs his mum.’
My heart heaved in my chest and I was the first to look away.
I could so easily climb into Mimi’s life like a pair of jeans that fit perfectly. I loved Gabe dearly and between us we’d do a fantastic, if slightly unconventional, job of bringing up that little boy who meant so much to us both. But deep down, I knew it wasn’t the right thing to do; Noah might need a mum, but Gabe and I could never be more than just friends.
I tightened my arm around him. ‘I’ll be the best godmother I can be, Gabe, I promise. But I can never replace Mimi.’
I hugged and kissed them both warmly before they climbed back on board their boat and I made my way back to the car, wishing there was more I could do to help out that darling, lonely man.
‘What’s in the bag? Chocolate?’ Rosie grabbed the plastic carrier bag from me as soon as I came in the door.
So much for the detox.
‘Er …’ I looked at her shiftily as she pulled my ninety-nine per cent accurate pregnancy test from the bag.
‘Holy cannelloni!’ Her dark eyes stared, saucer-like, in the gloom of the hallway.
‘Probably a false alarm, but yeah, I might be having a bambino,’ I said, going pink. ‘And seeing Noah tonight has made me realize that I hope I am.’
Rosie gave me a huge hug. ‘If that’s what you want, then I hope so too.’
I hugged her back. That’s what I loved about Rosie; she was completely non-judgemental. She knew my job was precarious and I had a sneaking suspicion that she wasn’t that keen on Liam, but despite that I knew she’d always be my cheerleader.
‘Thanks, Rosie. Liam said he might come over after the party tonight, so we can do the test together.’
One of the remaining women in personnel at Solomon’s was having a fortieth birthday party in town. Everyone from work was going, even Ruthless Rod, but I’d promised to see Gabe and Noah so I’d declined the invitation. I’d stay awake until he arrived and then tell him the news. We were in this together, after all.
‘No, no, no. Listen to me.’ Rosie took a step back and prodded my shoulder in time with her words. ‘You. Say. Nothing.’
I began to protest. ‘But Liam has a right—’
‘Agreed,’ she said, folding her arms. ‘Tell him after the presentations tomorrow. I know you. If you’re pregnant, he’ll persuade you to let him get the job, on the basis that you’ll be leaving soon anyway. You’re too generous for your own good. And if you are expecting a baby, it will be a damn sight more difficult to get another job before it arrives than to keep the one you’re in.’
‘OK, OK,’ I agreed.
Anything for a quiet life. But I didn’t mean it. I absolutely could not wait to pee on that stick …
I woke the next morning to the cheerful sound of birds chirping outside my window and bright sunlight seeping through the curtains. Not a bad start to a Monday. I lay still for a few moments, with the duvet pulled up to my chin, aware of my steady heartbeat. I was all alone: Liam hadn’t arrived after all. I must have fallen asleep around eleven without taking the pregnancy test. Perhaps Rosie was right, I decided, flinging back the covers and going to make tea; if he had come over on the way back from the party, slightly worse for wear, watching his girlfriend pee on a stick might not have been the ideal end to his evening.
I laid my hand gently on my stomach while I waited for the kettle to boil. Weird really: until yesterday afternoon, becoming a mother wasn’t on my agenda at all. Now it was all I could think about. The timing wasn’t perfect. Liam and I hadn’t even discussed moving in together, let alone starting a family. And if I was being completely honest with myself, did I truly love him with all my heart? Enough to make a go of it with him? We’d been together such a short time, I supposed it was impossible to tell. Anyway, one thing was certain: I’d be keeping this baby, whether Liam wanted it or not.
Rosie was always out of the house for seven – she called in to check on the builders before work – so I had the house to myself. I took my tea to the bathroom and turned the shower on full blast.
Perhaps I should send Liam a quick text now, or Face-Time him? I could do the test and we could share it.
I caught a glimpse of my morning face in the mirror. Maybe not. Besides, he was probably rushing to get ready for the big pow-wow with Rod. Talking of which, I should be doing the same.
Within forty-five minutes, I was ready for anything in a smart black dress and heels. My laptop was packed and I’d even managed to eat some toast. I bent down in the hall to tuck the pregnancy test into the side pocket of my laptop bag – I would find a quiet moment to do it at work – when the landline rang.
‘Morning, Verity. Oh excuse me.’ Mum yawned down the phone at me. ‘I’m so tired.’
‘Goodness! I’m not surprised; it must be three in the morning in Canada!’
‘Wanted to wish you good luck for today. So I set my alarm.’
My hand tightened around the rectangular box. How did she know? How?
‘You’ll be lost without the job,’ she continued.
Oh, she meant the meeting with Rod. I smiled at myself in the hall mirror. Of course she did.
‘Thanks, Mum, good of you to remember.’ I felt my face soften. It was good to know that even though we lived miles apart she hadn’t forgotten me.
‘Although, I suppose it’s worse for men to be made redundant, isn’t it? Thinking about it, perhaps you should let Liam get the job and drop hints about settling down together. Perhaps find a little part-time job instead.’
‘I think I should give it my all and let the best man or woman win, Mum,’ I replied, through slightly gritted teeth.
‘That’s what your father said.’
My heart squeezed; good old Dad.
‘But I can’t help hearing that old tick-tock, love,’ she went on with a sigh.
Mum worried about me, she thought that at thirty-two I was leaving family life too late. Dad was laissez-faire in his parenting style and kept his opinions to himself. Mum was much more vocal, even though she didn’t need to be; I was painfully aware of the fickle nature of women’s fertility, having been through it all with Mimi.
She means well, I reminded myself, as I thanked her, promised to keep her posted and rang off. I bet she wou
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