Two weeks with Jack at home all the time, and I’m climbing the walls. I’d got used to three hours of freedom a couple of times a week while he was at nursery, and this makes me even more apprehensive about how I will cope when the twins come. Maggie said she will help, and I’m grateful, but there’s only so much I can ask of her.
My due date is getting ever nearer, I need reinforcements – so this afternoon Jack and I are going out.
In other words, I’m braving the coffee morning posse again.
Today, though, it’s not a coffee morning but a pot luck lunch at Anita’s place. I’m going armed with a big plate of egg mayonnaise sandwiches and some Lays Salt and Vinegar, and with a bit of luck, Caroline and her devil child won’t be there. The lunch coincides with Patsy’s nursery school schedule. I can relax, and Jack can let off steam with other children and make a mess in someone else’s house.
If only it was Caroline’s house he was making a mess in.
* * *
I don’t know why I didn’t like these women before. They’re actually quite nice, once you get to know them and find you have things in common, like a love of American Idol and complete bewilderment at the rules of the game that Americans call football.
For total bonding, of course, there’s nothing like having a good bitch about an absent member of the coffee morning posse while leaning against the kitchen counters. The kitchen is always the best place for a cozy chat.
And it seemed I wasn’t the only one who wasn’t keen on Caroline or young Dominic.
“Isn’t it lovely and peaceful without them both?” Anita said. “Last time they came here, that child decided to cut open the beanbag in our basement. Polystyrene beads all over the place, sticking to everything. I had to empty the vacuum cleaner five times, and I’m still finding those sodding beads. So when it came to my turn to host again, I announced a pot luck lunch instead of coffee morning. While Dominic is at school, Caroline has serious me-me-me time, and the promise of chips and brownies won’t tempt her away from her weekly massage.”
“And she won’t do a thing to discipline Dominic,” Charlie said. “When we were at Julia’s house once, he clobbered Julia’s little girl, Sadie, with a Barbie doll. Really hard, too. Poor Sadie.”
“On Sadie’s head, mind. She had a big lump for quite a few days.” Julia, the tiger-mum who had given me a lift to my first coffee morning back in July, joined the conversation. I was surprised, having always assumed she and Caroline were friends. “And Caroline didn’t say anything to Dominic, apart from asking him if he thought he’d made a ‘good choice’.”
“That sounds familiar,” I said. “He picks on Jack at school, and it’s got to the stage where Jack won’t go any more. So I’m paying for his place, because Patsy Traynor has this rule about giving two months’ notice, and it’s a total waste of money.”
Julia and Charlie exchanged glances.
“And let me guess – Patsy Traynor is turning a blind eye because Caroline has given her a big backhander?” asked Julia.
I almost choked on my egg sandwich.
“How do you know? Does Patsy make a habit of this?”
“I couldn’t tell you about Patsy,” Anita said, “but Caroline thinks money will get her out of any situation. Dominic had a bad habit of biting at one time. Well, OK, a lot of kids do, but Dominic would draw blood. And instead of putting him in time out–”
“Or biting the little bugger back,” Charlie murmured.
“— on one occasion, when he did it to some poor child at playgroup, she offered the mum fifty dollars.”
“Why?” I asked, confounded.
Julia shrugged. “The only apology she knows how to make?”
Anita snorted. “That’s too charitable. It was hush money. Except that it didn’t stay hush. The mother made a real hullabaloo and told Caroline she didn’t care if she was the boss’s wife or not, it didn’t give her brat an excuse to take chunks out of other kids, and she could keep her stinking money, and she’d see Caroline in court.”
“And did she?”
“She might have done – she watched an awful lot of Judge Judy – but instead that woman and her husband and two kids were on the plane back to Milton Keynes two weeks later.”
I was silent.
“It could have been coincidence, of course,” Julia said, “but if so, it was a very convenient one. So, Libby. I don’t know what you’re intending to do – but let me suggest that whatever it is, you do it carefully. Unless you actually want Oliver to be a victim of the next round of redundancies, of course.”
I shuddered. “We can’t afford that,” I admitted. “Not with this on the way.” I patted my stomach.
“Do you know what it is yet?” Charlie asked. “Do you want a boy to keep Jack company, or a girl to even the numbers up?”
Oliver had been very good at keeping this news quiet, I thought. Or maybe men just didn’t talk about stuff like that at work. Perhaps the men he worked with didn’t know I was pregnant at all.
No matter. Time to drop the bombshell myself.
“It’s the best of both worlds, I suppose,” I said. “We’re having one of each. A Megan and a Sam.”
It wouldn’t stay secret for long now. Want to spread news or a rumour in expat mum world? Dish the dirt at coffee morning. Or pot luck lunch.
The reaction was gratifying. Everyone gathered into the kitchen as Anita and Charlie shrieked the news, and women I’d never met before offered congratulations. Suddenly, there I was: a local celebrity, a major fish in our little paddling pool.
“If you need anything at all…” they all kept saying. “It’s tough, being far away from your family. You’ve only got to ask, if you need help. Just say the word. Just shout.”
Julia nodded. “Honestly, we mean it. We all pitch in and help when anyone here has a baby. You know – organise a meal delivery rota, that sort of thing. You’ll need more help than anyone has before. No one else has had twins over here.”
I felt quite teary. Hormones, no doubt – but I hadn’t expected this level of affection and camaraderie. I hugged Julie, feeling guilty that I’d disliked her so much when I first met her.
“Group hug? That isn’t usually on the pot luck menu.”
Caroline’s crystal tones cut across the estrogen-fuelled scene. Or whatever hormone was rampaging around me right now.
“The masseuse was ill, so I thought I’d come here for half an hour, and call in at the jeweler’s to have a look at the earrings Terry said he’d get me when the baby’s born. Only three weeks to go, girls! But what’s all the fuss about? What have I missed?”
Julia shot her a sideways smirk. “We’re celebrating. Libby’s just told us she’s having twins.”
Caroline had been spray-tanned quite recently. Very subtly, so as not to look like a Jersey Shore cast member, but perhaps it was a bit too subtle. It didn’t hide the way her face turned pale green at this piece of information.
“Twins?” she said, as if she’d heard the word before but couldn’t quite remember what it meant.
“Yes, twins.” Anita turned to me. “Isn’t it funny? Caroline thought she might be having twins at one time, but of course, she isn’t. And you are instead.”
“I suppose Terry won’t be coughing up for the big earrings anymore, will he?” Julia asked, with a huge false smile of sympathy.
I’d been watching them all talk, my head swiveling back and forth, not quite understanding what was going on – until Julia mentioned the earrings. Then I remembered the coffee morning back in July. The one-upmanship competition. Caroline had said her OB/GYN thought it might be twins, and in that case she, Caroline, was going to look for some four-carat rocks.
Caroline coughed. “Probably not. I expect Oscar will buy them for Libby instead.”
“Oliver,” I corrected. “But no. He won’t. He has this funny way of thinking that a baby or two is gift enough for both of us.”
Well, it might be what he thought.
“And he’s quite right.” Charlie put her arm round my shoulders. “You’ve got family, friends, love – why would you need anything else?”
Actually, I’d love a pair of earrings or something like that, but it wouldn’t occur to Oliver, and it seemed a bit shallow to suggest it to him. So for now I could take the high ground. And what was wrong with a nice bunch of flowers anyway?
Caroline had a bright smile sort of stapled to her face. “Well, Terry sees things a little differently, so I still have to pick something out at the jeweler’s. Call it a memento of the occasion.”
“Memento?” Anita echoed. “What the bloody hell do you need a memento for? You’ll have a nine pound boy – isn’t that and a few stitches reminder enough of your two days in hospital?”
Julia said, absentmindedly, “Libby’s having a boy and a girl. Sam and Megan. Pretty name, Megan, isn’t it?”
Caroline pressed her lips together and hoisted her Coach bag higher on her shoulder. “Must be off,” she said – and left.
Everyone was silent until the front door had banged shut.
“Bad Julia,” said Julia. “Bad, bad, bad. Stay behind after school and write five hundred times, I must not torture Caroline. She wanted a girl,” she explained to me. “She’s always wanted a girl. That’s why Dom’s hair is so long still. She treats him like a girl, poor child. I’m all for not imposing stereotypes, but really – buying him a Snow White costume for Halloween? She should be arrested for child abuse.”
“You look tired, Libs,” Charlie said. “Why don’t you go home and have a sleep, and one of us will drive Jack to you in a couple of hours?”
“I’ll do it,” Julia offered. “I’d be glad to, even if you hadn’t just made my day. I’ve been waiting for that woman to get taken down a couple of pegs ever since we arrived in Woodhaven.”
“Thank you,” I said. “I think I will. I’m really grateful, Julia.”
And don’t get me wrong – I was.
But I was also a little troubled. If I’d taken on one new role as expat mum celebrity, it seemed I’d also taken on another – that of human shield in the battle of the tiger-mums.
Yes – I was troubled, all right.
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