Single mother Coralie Hartlett enters a radio competition to have her song featured on One Direction's new album... but the prize might be more than she ever expected.


9. Gossip


Tears slipped silently off her nose as she placed her things back into her suitcase. Coralie hadn’t been able to stop herself from slumping into a swirling mess of self-doubt and fear; fear she’d failed, because although the reaction to her song had been overall positive, and One Direction had loved Rory… there was that constant voice that gnawed at her confidence.

And, six hours after she’d said farewell to the boys and returned to the hotel for the final night of the week away, Coralie’s confidence was well and truly shaken. She hadn’t heard a word from the studio, the radio station, or the band themselves, aside from a ‘nice to meet you’ tweet earlier. She and Rory had spent the afternoon in the room- there was a full shopping bag of drawings that she’d desperately tried to keep him busy with- and there was glitter in the carpet that Coralie hadn’t quite managed to pick out.

It was getting close to ten at night and Rory had been asleep for three hours already. It was unfortunate, because while Coralie was distracted with taking care of him, she didn’t have time to think or worry about where she’d be if she bombed out of the contest. If she was honest… she’d been foolish and pinned all her hopes on winning. It was at the point now where going back to that coffee shop was looking more and more impossible.

She couldn’t go back to working nine til five for a pittance, couldn’t go back to missing the majority of six days with her son; Coralie was very aware that he wouldn’t be a toddler forever and already, she was seeing differences in him today that weren’t there yesterday. It scared her to think she might miss him growing up all for trying to keep food on the table. She couldn’t go back to leaving him with Jane on a Saturday and going to work with his pitiful cry of ‘mama!’ echoing in her head. She didn’t want to go back to skipping two or three meals a week when things were tight because the cupboards were bare and he needed the food more than she did. She didn’t want to go back to pinching burnt muffins at work because she hadn’t had breakfast, or dinner the night before, and didn’t get paid for another three days and there was just enough to feed Rory at home.

She loathed it. Hated it with a passion; whatever minimal help her parents gave her had long since been exhausted. Three thousand pounds to get out of their life, that was it, and by time Coralie had found herself a matchbox flat and made it just homely enough to not look like a showcase home, the money was gone.

A surge of anger rose within her and she stood up, flinging a shirt into her bag and feeling oddly satisfied when it all fell to the ground, spilling over the carpet. The satisfaction lasted all of three seconds before she realised she’d have to clean it up, and Coralie melted to her knees, sobbing off the edge of her bed like a broken-hearted teenager. She was twenty years old. She shouldn’t be throwing tantrums in a hotel room like a spoiled child who wasn’t getting her own way. She was a mother herself, for Christ’s sake.

It was only a quiet knock on the hotel door that had her snapping out of it, wiping her eyes on the first thing she grabbed and hurrying into the bathroom to make sure she didn’t look like she’d just been crying. The knocking came again and with a concerned glance at the clock, she hurried to open it, leaping over the couch as lightly as a deer.

“Darien?” Coralie whispered, honestly surprised. He smiled sheepishly at her.

“Sorry I’ve come so late. Can I come in?”

She stepped aside instantly, more confused than ever. She’d assumed she’d never see him again, a thought that had troubled her because she wanted to thank him for making her look prettier than she had in years. “Is everything okay?” she asked, fixing him a cup of tea as well as herself.

Darien perched on the crisp white sofa, picking up half a broken purple crayon that Coralie had missed. “As far as I know. I just came by to see how you’re doing.”

She froze with her back to him, gripping the bench so hard she thought her fingers might snap. “Fine,” she answered, carefully shielding the truth before turning around to smile. “Just packing, getting ready to go.”

“I see,” Darien mumbled, accepting his cup of tea as he handed her the broken crayon. Coralie smiled fondly at it, stowing it in her pocket for later. She wanted to keep that crayon. It was part of the reason she was here, after all. “You’re keen to get home, I take it?” he asked, not meeting her gaze.

Coralie was instantly on her guard, sensing he had something to tell her, but played along anyway. She sighed heavily, not sure she’d be able to lie convincingly about this. “Not really,” she admitted, smoothing a hand on her thigh to distract herself. She’d only known Darien a few days but she liked to think of herself as a good judge of character; he seemed trustworthy, and had been the only one who had really gone out of his way to help her.

“No? I know for a fact that Monique is. Apparently, Henry is cheating on her,” Darien explained; Coralie’s eyes widened and her smile turned wry, her eyebrows disappearing up her forehead.

“Did you come here to gossip, you wicked thing?”

Darien’s grin was anything but innocent as he shook his head, blinking his eyes as if butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth. “Oh alright, a little bit,” he confessed, still grinning. “So why don’t you wanna go home? Surely Rory’s dad is missing you two.” Coralie tensed and Darien seemed to realise his mistake, placing his tea down to turn to her properly. “Cora, I’m sorry, if that’s not something-“

“No,” she said coolly, figuring someone ought to know the truth before rumours started to circle. “His dad isn’t in the picture. He was five years older than me at the time, and married- which I didn’t know- and when I contacted him to tell him about Rory, he pretended he didn’t know anything about it. I’ve not bothered with him since.”

Darien was quiet for a moment, digesting the information, before he nodded. “Silly man doesn’t know he’s missed a great girl and fantastic little kid.”

Coralie could only shrug, pretending the memory didn’t sting as much as it really did. They were quiet for a moment, absorbed in their tea, before Coralie cleared her throat as the clock inched towards eleven. “I don’t mean to be rude, but… it’s late, and I’ve still got to pack Rory’s things…”

“Of course!” Darien shot up, taking their mugs to the sink before returning to sit beside her again. “Coralie, I wouldn’t get too prepared,” he said quietly, as if divulging a great secret. Her heart leapt to her mouth and she stared at him, wide-eyed, as he winked. “I overheard them talking earlier- naughty, aren’t I?- and they seem pretty keen on you. I imagine they’ll call in the morning.”

“They?” she echoed, hardly daring to believe it.

Darien petted her knee. “One Direction. They wanted to be the ones to deliver the good news… I’d say you ought to be ready for a knock on the door.”

“Oh my God,” was all Coralie could say, hope blooming so fast and so strong that she couldn’t stop herself from hugging Darien tightly, whispering a thank you into his collar as he petted her back and chuckled.  

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