Coralie

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.

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4. The Call

The flat was silent when the phone began to ring.

Coralie’s jump was so violent, she spilt her mug of tea over the arm of the chair and on the floor. “Damn!” she shouted, louder than she should have, and froze in case Rory had been stirred by the noise. Nothing but the ring of the phone, which she hurried to answer. She purposefully didn’t look at the cupboards, which she knew were as bare as Mother Hubbard’s.

“Hello?” she asked, a little impatiently. This was her one Saturday off for the month; she’d hoped to spend it doing nothing but spending time with her son, and putting her feet up while he napped.

“Is this Coralie Hartlett?”

She nearly hung up, fearing a telemarketing call, but something told her to stay and stick it out. “Speaking.”

“Congratulations, Coralie. We’re from Friday Night Hits and we’re so pleased to announce that you and your song are in our top three entries!”

“Wait, what?!” Coralie cried, one hand springing to cover her mouth. Tears burned at her eyes and she sank to the ground, kneeling beneath the phone with her head against the cupboard under the sink. She’d never prayed so hard or so fast in all her life, and her heart felt like it was about to burst.

“You’re in the top three, Coralie! In just two weeks, you and your plus one will be in London for a final showdown and a week’s getaway, all expenses paid. Now, can you confirm your address, so we can send our representative around with the details?”

Coralie felt like she was gonna be sick with excitement. “Um,” she began, already sobbing without knowing quite when the tears had started to fall. “Oh my God, this… Manchester city,” she said quickly, rattling off her street address, laughing through her tears. “Thank you, so much. This… this is gonna change everything, you have no idea.”

The voice on the phone laughed, a kind sound. “Congratulations again, Coralie. Our representative should be able to visit at 10am this Tuesday, does that suit you?”

It didn’t, but Coralie was hardly going to tell them that. “Yes, of course! That’s perfect! Thank you!”

The conversation lasted another few minutes before the line went dead and she was listening to the beeps, trying to calm herself down. The flat was silent again and she had to pinch herself to make sure she hadn’t hallucinated the whole thing. Had she really won? Was this really happening?

It was only Rory calling for his mama that broke Coralie out of her trance, and she stood with pins-and-needles in her legs to hurry to his room. As she flung open the door, he waved at her, and she skipped across the room to scoop him out of his crib. “Everything’s changing now, baby,” she cried, laughing at the top her lungs. Rory couldn’t understand why she was excited, of course, but he knew she was in a good mood and her laughter was enough to make him giggle as she waltzed him around the room and dipped him, nuzzling his nose with hers.

“Park?” he prompted, eyes bright and shining.

Coralie considered a picnic for a minute before shaking her head, standing up straight now and spinning them around to make him shriek with laughter again. “Even better,” she whispered, thinking of the emergency fund she kept stashed in a shoebox in her closet. It was money she was supposed to save in case something broke, or she got sick, but she figured she could dip into a bit of it just once. “Pizza?”

Rory’s face lit up and he threw his arms up in the air. “Pizza!” he shouted. Coralie held him above her head and spun him again, before tossing him up and catching him safely. She hurried through dressing him, grabbing a clean shirt and a pair of denim coveralls, before smoothing his hair out and plonking him down with his Lego set in the lounge room. Satisfied that he was happy, Coralie checked the weather and decided to risk a knee-length dress with a short jacket. They were only going to the shops around the corner, after all.

“Ready?” she called. Rory dropped the brick he was holding and scrambled to get out the door as she opened it, letting him toddle ahead. He knew to stop at the top of the stairs and wait; Coralie scooped him up onto her shoulders with a grunt of effort. “You’re almost getting too big for this,” she panted, navigating the stairs carefully. Rory hooked his hands under her chin.

“Giddy!” he called, kicking his little heels into her shoulders. Coralie jumped a little, making him squeal, and both emerged onto the street laughing. He stayed on her shoulders until they reached the shops, where she let him down to grab a cart with a car underneath, which Rory scrambled into without hesitation. “Vroom!” he shouted as Coralie pushed, sliding along with the cart until they reached the fruit and vegetable section.

“Okay, what’s going on our pizzas?” she asked, leaning down to speak to Rory. He didn’t move from the car, but pointed at the pineapple wordlessly. It was his favourite, and was in the cart in an instant. “We need four more things,” Coralie called. “Which way?”

“That way!” Rory’s little hand and shouted directions lead them on a wild chase through the store; he could count to twenty out loud, and took great delight in reciting the numbers and pointing them out whenever they passed the end of an aisle. Coralie giggled and grabbed a few extra things while he wasn’t looking- a toy car, a shake-and-bake pancake mix, Nutella, marshmallows- to surprise him with. They were going to have a feast that night.

It took nearly two hours to go around the store, though the cart was only half full. All the while, they’d chatted and laughed, and finally made it up to a register. The girl smiled and greeted them in a monotone as Rory emerged from the car, tugging on Coralie’s dress. “Up!” he demanded, tacking on a “Please!” when Coralie’s eyebrows rose. She grabbed him, and he helped her load up their items before wriggling down to get back in the car.

Coralie was almost grateful he went back in when a pair of elderly women lined up behind her and took one look at the boy in the cart and at Coralie herself, their disgust written all over their lined faces. She made a point to smile brightly at them both, which only made them whisper to one another. “Disgrace,” Coralie heard, as her heart skipped. “Such a waste of life,” the other tutted.

That only sparked Coralie’s irritation, and she turned to smile at them both, fighting to keep her temper. “If anything’s a disgraceful waste of life, it’s standing in a grocery store and judging strangers, wouldn’t you agree, ladies?” There was a moment of silence in which Coralie stared them both down, aware that Rory was peering curiously out of his seat. The last thing she wanted was him to overhear something he shouldn’t.

“Forty-six eighty, please,” the cashier interjected, sounding a little anxious. Coralie gave her a gentle smile and paid her bill, loaded her groceries, and turned to face the two ladies again.

“Good day,” she said, and this time had to fight off a smile at their sullen expressions as she walked away, whistling. She was no stranger to the looks, the comments; she looked young, which everyone said she’d consider a blessing later in life. It was a curse at the moment, when everyone assumed she was still a teenager and judged her accordingly. Sure, Coralie hadn’t exactly planned to get pregnant, but she’d been legally an adult when it had happened and she had been fully sober and aware of just how she got herself in that kind of trouble. Her parents, however… they’d been less understanding, and steadfastly unforgiving. They’d supported her through the pregnancy, but had made it clear that she shouldn’t expect any charity from them to pay for her mistakes.

They hadn’t even come to the hospital the night Rory was born, and her father hadn’t come at all. Her mother did, just the once, and that was when she handed Coralie the bond money for the flat she was currently living in and told her that was the extent of their help. Living alone with a newborn had been hell, but somehow she pulled through. Friends had rallied for a few weeks, before their own lives took over and one by one, they left. Coralie had fought her way through the tough times and emerged moderately happy and with an unbreakable bond with her son; she didn’t think she’d change anything, despite how hard it had been.

Though she would like for Rory to have more family than just her. Brothers and sisters, grandparents… the latter was a stretch, but every Christmas, Coralie still sent a card, photograph and letter. She never got a response but she swore to keep trying. They had to forgive her someday, right?

Returning to the flat, Coralie helped Rory wash his hands and get up on a chair and rolled out the dough. He spread the sauce with his hands, painting the bread, and giggled all the way. Her heart swelled with love and she took a photograph of his sauce-covered hands and face, beaming up at her through the mess.

“Love you, kiddo,” she mumbled.

“Lub mama.”

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