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.


5. London

The car pulled to a slow stop and Coralie jerked awake, snapping out of her daydream. She had only been to London a handful of times in the last three years, despite only living in Manchester, and was eager to see if it had changed at all. Despite the skeletal beginnings of what was apparently going to be called the Shard, it was the same as ever.

Rory, napping on the seat beside her, only stirred when he felt the car stop and the driver opened his door to help them with their bags. Coralie stared out the window at the hotel they’d be staying in for the next week, hardly able to contain her excitement. She slid out of the car and reached back in for Rory, who had spent an hour looking out the window before napping. She had purposefully not set him down at home, in the hopes that he’d sleep the trip away.

Luck was on her side and Rory, sleepy and a bit emotional, clung to her neck. The noise of the city only made him nestle closer, his little fist in her hair. The driver held their suitcases, leaving Coralie with her son and her handbag as she followed him to the door. They’d sure picked one of the fanciest hotels she’d ever been in, and Coralie, as a child, had stayed in quite a few. The lobby was bright and airy, and everything shone. It had been quite a while since she was surrounded by such luxury and it made her feel terribly out of place.

She was aware that her torn, faded jeans and wrinkled skirt didn’t exactly scream wealthy; nor did the battered suitcase and her old Finders Keepers schoolbag she’d had since she was seven. Keeping her head down, she stayed silent as the driver checked her in and handed her bags off to a concierge, before leaving with a small nod and smile.

“Thank you,” Coralie managed to say before he was gone, talking quickly into his earpiece. He looked like a very busy man, and again she sort of wished they hadn’t sent a car for her. She would have been fine to take the train in, to get herself to the hotel, but the competition had stipulated that the top three would be provided transportation. Inwardly, Coralie wondered if she could get them to lease a Porsche.

The concierge- Patrick- lead mother and son up to the eighth floor, which was quite lucky as eight happened to be Coralie’s favourite number. Perhaps it was a good omen, she thought. She and Rory had been given a king twin room, which, as the door opened, was three times the size of their flat at home. There was a wide open living space, fluffy white lounges, a kitchenette complete with oven and full-size fridge, and two doors leading off to the two bedrooms. Both had king single beds and Coralie made a note to make sure Rory didn’t fall out of bed.

“If you need anything, ma’am,” Patrick smiled, depositing their bags behind the lounge. “Please don’t hesitate to dial three for the main desk. Ask for me, I have been commissioned to take care of the lucky three on behalf of Friday Night Hits and One Direction.”

“That sounds slightly rehearsed,” Coralie pointed out with a smirk. Patrick pinched his fingers together, winked, and closed the door behind him. He looked in his forties, which was just as well, she assumed. Alone at last, Coralie made a beeline for the bedroom without balcony access, and made a nest in the blankets that would hopefully keep Rory sheltered.

He whimpered and mumbled as she put him down, but with a few short strokes of his hair, he was quietly drifting back off to sleep. His mouth hung open and he drooled a little; Coralie couldn’t resist taking a picture on her phone, instantly saving it to her favourites and leaning down to tuck him in safely and kiss his soft curls.

She left the door cracked so she’d hear if he woke, and made short work of exploring her own bedroom. The balcony was private, and had a little garden setting with a potted palm, the tropical theme looking slightly out of place against London’s overcast backdrop. Still, the view was quite remarkable- they were close to the Thames and the Tower Bridge both- and from eight stories up, the river looked incredible.

The kitchenette was next; she found a welcome package from the hotel on the bench, and another from Modest Management right beside it. There was complimentary tea and coffee on offer, and Coralie made short work of testing out the kettle before adjourning to the couch with her tea and both welcome packages. She always liked reading through them, as strange as it sounded.

The hotel’s one was basic; the room service number, emergency plans, what the safety features were, a map of the guest facilities which included a pool, gym and sauna. There was even a little playground with a swing and a sandpit outside the pool fence, which she made a note of taking Rory to. The package from Modest was more interesting; it congratulated her on placing in the top three, gave her a questionnaire to fill out which asked for things like her contact details and future plans in the music industry, and went through what the process of the next week would be.

They’d have the day of their arrival free, then the next they’d be individually whisked off to consult with stylists who would do their hair, clothes and makeup, before meeting with a vocal coach who would go over their entries and make any last-minute changes. The day after they’d have free again, to rehearse whatever changes they needed to, and the day after they’d go to Abbey Road. All three would record their song but only one would get on One Direction’s new album; that would be decided on the sixth day, and on the seventh, the unlucky two would go home while the winner was given another paid week in London to record the song and get to know the band.

Coralie took the schedule and found a book of lion stickers in Rory’s bag; she used these to stick the paper to the fridge, so she wouldn’t forget. With her favourite purple crayon, she scribbled down a few things she’d like to take Rory to see- namely the zoo and the Eye, since he wouldn’t get much entertainment out of climbing the Bridge or seeing Buckingham.

With her schedule sufficiently scribbled, she returned to the lounge and unzipped the larger of the two suitcases. Inside was her electric piano, sans stand, and the music she’d written for the contest song. She couldn’t bear to leave it behind and thought she might get the leg-up on practising, maybe alter a few lines here and there.

Guitarists had it easy, she thought, as she hunted down an outlet and sat cross-legged on a single sofa chair. Why had she chosen piano?

Plugging in her earphones, and leaving one dangling over her shoulder, Coralie set up her music and began to play, humming along with the melody. As her confidence grew, she added more to it, harmonising and throwing in a few scales and music breaks, having entirely too much fun with the song until it had been played in four different rhythms.

Shaking herself off, Coralie returned to the first notes again, intending to play it properly.

I remember

The first time

That I saw you smile…

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