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.


3. Seven Days

“Rory! Are you ready to go to Jane’s?” Coralie called, pulling a fresh shirt over her head. Her hair was a mess and her jeans had porridge encrusted on them, something she only noticed when she caught sight of it in her peripheral. With a growl of frustration, she yanked them off as the sound of pattering feet alerted her to her son’s approach; the door was wide open, so she could always hear where he was, and he appeared in the frame.

“Don’ wanna,” he muttered, sitting down stubbornly as Coralie found a fresh pair of jeans. She smiled gently at him and sat on the floor to pull on her shoes. Rory crawled over, sitting as close as he could get.

She abandoned the effort of pulling on socks and cuddled him into her lap. “It’s only for a day,” she wheedled, resting his back against her propped knees. Rory’s pout deepened and tears appeared in the corner of his eyes. Coralie knew he hated to be left alone, especially at Jane’s- their elderly neighbour was a bit of a fusspot, a neat freak, and could be very dull, but she was safe and frankly Coralie couldn’t afford anyone else. The crèche at the mall where she worked wasn’t open on a Saturday, which forced her to leave Rory behind when she went to work. It broke her heart to hear him cry for her, the same routine every week. “I’m sorry, honey,” Coralie mumbled, hugging him tightly. His hands grabbed her hair and held on tight, making sure she wouldn’t let him go easily.

Somehow, juggling her son, Coralie managed to get her shoes on and stood up with more puffing and blowing than necessary. Rory, despite himself, giggled and clung to her as she grabbed her coat, handbag, and Rory’s Ben10 backpack, locking the flat behind her and heading down one flight of stairs to Jane’s peeling front door. She knocked, and Rory hid in her neck, whimpering softly. Coralie hummed to comfort him, hating herself for doing this to him time and time again.

But this was the only way they could get by.

Jane opened the door with a toothy smile, ushering them both inside. “And how is little Rory doing today?” she cooed, trying to pinch his cheek. Rory whined and hid his face, almost choking Coralie with the strength of his grip. Jane didn’t seem bothered, believing Rory was extremely shy; nothing could be further from the truth, Rory just didn’t like her.

“He’s a little tired,” Coralie replied, prising his arms off from around her neck and placing him on the couch. He instantly started to howl and, to save time, she picked him back up. “Thanks again, Jane. I should be home around four.”

“No problem, Cora dear. I’ve got some weeding to do and Rory can help me, can’t you?”

Coralie resisted the urge to point out that her son was two and would probably end up pulling out her petunias rather than her weeds, and placed the Ben10 backpack with Rory’s lunch and a change of clothes by the front door. Then, with less than half an hour to get to work- she’d make it if she ran and the tube wasn’t delayed- she returned Rory to the couch. “Be good for Mama, okay?” she whispered, holding his hands down so he couldn’t clutch at her.

Rory sniffled and nodded. He didn’t look convinced, but he also didn’t cry when Coralie stood up. “Have a nice day, dear,” Jane petted Coralie’s shoulder as she left, casting one last glance back at the door as Jane closed it behind her. Right on cue, there was a cry of ‘mama!’ and Coralie had to run down the stairs to resist going back and flinging her arms around her boy.

If she had any choice at all, she’d hole herself up somewhere with Rory and never leave, just be happy to be with him and raise him and not feel like shit every weekend because she had no choice but to leave him somewhere he hated. The sound of his crying broke her heart into tiny pieces, and she didn’t even try to discreetly wipe away tears, the desperation for a better life feeling like a physical ache in her chest.

God, she needed something to change. She couldn’t keep serving coffees forever, not if she ever wanted to give her son the life he deserved. But with the wage being pitiful, every last penny went on rent, bills and keeping food on the table. There was no room for frivolities like college education, or even an online course. All Coralie had was her ability to memorise a menu and get the milk/coffee ratio right eight out of ten times.

Luck was apparently on her side; the tube was right on time, and Coralie made it to her stop with ten minutes to spare. The mall was a five minute walk away and she sprinted for half of it, dodging the tourists and the black cabs as she darted across the road, hair and coat flying behind her. She probably looked like a madwoman as she finally barrelled into the shop, vaulting over the counter and dashing into the break room out the back.

“You’re late,” said Dan, the manager, with a warning look on his face. “Seriously, Coralie, you’re gonna have to do better than this.”

“It’s five minutes, Dan,” she replied defensively, tearing off her coat and shoving it into her locker, while her spare hand dragged a brush through her hair and her apron over her head. “I’m sorry, okay? Saturday mornings are difficult.”

Dan made a face; he knew her situation and had been forgiving about it so far, but the complaints from the other baristas made it hard for him to be lenient on Coralie without showing his favouritism. “I’m sorry, love, but I’m gonna have to strike you,” he said, holding out his hand for her employee card. Coralie presented it with a frustrated, inwardly furious stare, and snatched it back before stalking out onto the floor without a word. Anywhere else, she knew, that attitude wouldn’t fly but she couldn’t stand there in Dan’s pitying stare without feeling like a failure as an employee and as a mother. Her nerves were frayed as it was, she didn’t think she could handle standing there without bursting into tears.

She counted herself lucky that the customers seemed particularly forgiving that morning, even when she gave a man a caramel shot instead of mint. He didn’t even lower his tip, which she was grateful for. And when she accidentally dropped a stack of saucers, smashing seven of the ten, Dan didn’t shout as loud as he normally did and the room burst into applause; it actually made her feel better, as if the universe knew how fragile she was feeling and had decided to take it easy on her.

As the day wore on, Coralie’s mood improved, but it was increasingly difficult to muster a smile. All her hopes were pinned on that radio competition, which she’d sent in the entry for three nights ago. The competition ran for another week. Just seven more days; that’s all she had to hold on for. Seven more days before she’d know if she could finally start being the mother she thought Rory deserved.

She worked to the rhythm of that mantra; seven more days, just seven more days…

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