Lost somewhere in the midst of blue, I took to cautiously eying the two baby grows in front of me, unsure as to which one I preferred. One was covered in adorable dinosaurs and the other–plain in pattern–had the words, ‘I’m sweet. Mum is hot. Dad is lucky’ written across the front. In all honesty, it was a no brainer but I was a sucker for cute, cartoon dinosaurs.
“Go with that one,” insisted Rosalie, pointing towards the more comical one out of the two.
She shot me a smirk.
“I think I’ll get both,” I replied.
Together, we walked down the rest of the aisle, approaching a display housing state of the art prams. I scoffed at their expense and recoiled at the thought of having to one day fork out for one.
“Christ! That’s a chunk of my monthly rent!” I cried, eyeing the extortionate accessories in disgust.
“I know. It’s a lot considering they’re not even in them that long,” she stressed, caressing the handle bars of one that sat in the far corner.
Its silver frame and bulky attachments looked awfully impractical with regards to getting it in and out of the car. I’d personally pick a smaller one. Then again, I wasn’t the one months away from giving birth. This was clearly Rosalie’s choice and not mine.
“Spencer spent the night at ours last night,” she randomly shared, eyeing me cautiously. “I’m okay to talk about him, aren’t I?”
I nodded. “Of course. How is he?”
She let slip a simple sigh, unwilling to burden me with the truth.
“You can be honest.”
“Sad,” she revealed. “He’s just…sad.”
She allowed her own features to embody the described emotion, plunging my own mood into darkness.
“I’ve done that to him,” I whispered.
Tears threatened their descent but I managed to keep them locked in place.
“You have done no such thing,” she insisted, firm and direct. “Those two and their absurd demands have made him sad. Don’t you dare lend blame to this.”
I couldn’t bring myself to explain. Of course I blamed myself, but self-pity wouldn’t win me this fight. Determination and strength would.
“We spent majority of last night talking about your future together,” she continued, letting slip a small smirk. “It seemed to cheer him up a little.”
It didn’t matter that she was spilling Spencer’s secrets, I needed more. “What kind of things has he been planning?” I asked, fruitless in my attempts to disguise my eagerness.
Rosalie suddenly blushed, offering me a small smile to accompany it.
“He wants to take you to Italy one day. Possibly on your honeymoon?”
I grinned. “He said that?”
Her retort was as stern as it was uplifting. It was hard keeping things from her but I reminded myself of the repercussions should I decide to do so. The less people who knew of our suspicions, the better. We stood a better chance if our opposition was kept in the dark and in order to do that, we needed to act cautiously. Besides, we weren’t completely sure Alister was guilty. Until we had solid proof, we could tell no one.
“I miss him,” I shared, pushing past the lump that had formed in my throat. “I didn’t think it would be this hard.”
“I imagine it extremely difficult,” she replied, gifting me a sympathetic glance. “I could pass on a message if you’d like? Something to let him know you’re thinking about him.”
“Just tell him I’m excited for our trip to Italy,” I offered, focusing my attention on a row of cots.
I followed the long line of wooden frames and settled my gaze on one in the far left corner, resembling that of a princess castle. It was pink and purple and my god, it was extravagant.
“Do you really think it’s a boy?” I asked, pointing towards her stomach.
Her and Scott had yet to find out about the sex and were apparently keeping it that way until he/ she made an appearance.
“I really do,” she grinned, gesturing towards my yet-to-purchase items, overflowing with the colour blue. “I’m assuming your bets are on blue too?”
“I’m all for equality.” I laughed, picking up a pink item. “Baby Michaels will look great in any colour.”
“That, they will,” agreed Rosalie, plucking another baby grow from the shelf.
Baby shopping proved the perfect distraction. Earlier, when Rosalie had called to see if I was busy, I had explained how my daily plans involved pretty much eating my entire body weight in chocolate. This had not gone down well and she insisted we meet up. Persistent and bossy, I had to admire her efforts. It was nice to know I had a friend like her to rely on when going through a difficult time. Focusing our attention on the soon-to-be arrival was nice and exciting, not to mention uplifting. Spencer was occupying most, if not all of my thoughts and I was forced with having to stop myself from contacting him on a daily basis. Of course, a simple text would likely be fine but it wasn’t worth the risk. For all we knew, Alister was hacking into our personal devices and anything linking Spencer and me together could potentially blow the whole plan to pieces. If he had spies– and I had reason to believe he did– we had to tread carefully. That meant no contact for the duration of the plan.
Six fucking months!
“Are you nervous?” I enquired, running my fingers along the smooth wood of an elaborate looking cot.
“A little. I keep thinking I’ll be a terrible mother.”
I recoiled. “Nonsense! You’ll be brilliant.”
She shook her head, unconvinced. “I know I’m being silly but I keep thinking I’ll mess up. Maybe I’ll button his clothes up wrong or I’ll put the nappy on backwards.”
“Rosalie, putting a babies nappy on backwards does not make you a terrible mother. Mistakes are bound to happen when you’re new,” I insisted, offering her a stern glance.
“I just want everything to be perfect for him.”
“And everything will be perfect,” I told her.
She shot me a gleaming smile in response, appreciative of my counter argument. Her need to worry was perfectly normal but not at all justifiable. If anyone was cut out for parenthood, it was her.
“Can I tell you a secret?” she asked, spouting sudden suspicion.
“I picked you,” she admitted, bumping her hip with mine.
“Back when Scott was looking to hire a temporary replacement, he brought a bunch of CV’s home. There were hundreds,” she explained, emphasising their sheer amount of workload. “I offered to help him sort through them and I picked you.”
“Yes. I had a gut feeling.”
“I suppose I should be thanking you then,” I laughed, nudging her lightly with my arm.
“I don’t know if I believe in fate but I think you came into our life for a reason. You’ve done so much for Scott and the business and Spencer is the happiest I’ve ever seen him.” She paused. “Well, he will be when you two get back together.”
I cracked a smile. “Right.”
“And you’ve been an amazing friend to me. Before I met you, I was lonely,” she expressed, momentarily losing her smile. “Scott’s great and I love him more than anything. But being with him didn’t come without its sacrifices. I lost all of my friends.”
“Why?” I asked, burdened by her shame.
I hated seeing her like this.
“It’s a long story really,” she said, dismissing my concern. “A lot of it boiled down to jealousy. My dad’s business was booming at the time.”
I knew Craig through work and liked him. He held true to himself and was a genuinely nice person.
“He owned a chain of bed and breakfast hotels around the UK.”
“Competition?” I assumed, guessing where this was heading.
“Yes. I didn’t know who Scott was when I first met him. I had no idea he was my dad’s number one enemy.”
I couldn’t help but comment. “You’re like Romero and Juliet.”
She rolled her eyes at my comparison but proceeded to laugh. “My best friend at the time– Harriet– didn’t approve. She thought Scott was too good for me and turned all my other friends against me.”
“What the hell?” I asked, completely shocked. “Some friend, she was!”
“Her family were aristocrats. She thought herself better than everyone else.”
I huffed my reply. “She wanted Scott for herself.”
“When I found out who he was, I tried to call it off but by this point, I was already in love with him. We carried on seeing each other in secret.”
“Let me guess. Harriet found out...”
She nodded. “Told my dad straight away. He was furious.”
“But he’s an investor now?” I questioned, wondering how on earth Scott and Craig went from being major competitors to business partners.
“Yes, well…we’ve come a long way since then,” she smiled, walking towards the bottles and sterilisers. “Spencer was the one who sorted the whole thing out. He sat them both down and propositioned them on a business deal.”
“This was before his brain tumour?”
“Hmm.” She paused. “He’s the reason Scott and I are together. I have a lot to thank him for.”
I nodded, finally slotting the missing pieces together. Spencer and Rosalie had always been close and this explained it.
“Well, I for one am pleased this Harriet is no longer a part of your life. You don’t want to surround yourself with people like her.”
“Exactly,” she agreed. “But it was lonely at first. Catherine was my only friend.” She shook her head as if shocked by her own declaration. “Not that I don’t appreciate her friendship. I love her to bits but I craved company with people my own age, you know?”
“I get it.”
“Then I fell pregnant. It was…a happy accident.”
I smiled, enjoying her choice of words.
“Life has a habit of throwing us in at the deep end,” I stressed, offering her my understanding.
She nodded in agreement.
“I’m glad I met you, Jessica. You’re a great friend.”
“Erm, I believe my proper title is best friend,” I scorned, lightening the mood.
She simply laughed. “Of course.”
I pulled her towards the highchairs and viewed the many options with careful attention. Various ones caught my focus but the one I had my eye on was covered in crocodiles. I glanced to Rosalie who was watching me closely, blinking rapidly as I went.
“I want it.”
“You’re not even pregnant!” she laughed, joining me in my ogling.
“I want it for you,” I clarified, attempting persuasion. “Imagine how cute your baby will look in it.”
She shook her head, no doubt amused by my behaviour. Truth be told, I never got to do this for myself. I never had the pleasure of shopping for my baby because why the hell would I? To put myself through all that pain, only to have Charlotte live with other people. Yes, it had been the right decision for me back then but that didn’t make it any easier to get over. The only thing I bought her in the end was a tiny, pink teddy bear. It cost less than a fiver but I loved it. I gave it to her adoptive parents the day after she was born and they promised to place it in her cot. I never did find out if they held true to that promise but I liked to think they did. I liked to imagine it was close by when she fell asleep that fateful night because in a strange way, it made her loss much more bearable. I wasn’t able to protect her against her inevitable death. No one was. That was the painful thing about it. There wasn’t a damn thing anyone could’ve done to prevent it and that feeling of helplessness was crippling at times. Suffocating even.
No one was perfect and a person’s insecurities were bound to set in. Rosalie was already fussing over the small things but little did she know, she was already a fantastic mother. They were going to be great parents and I didn’t doubt that for a single second. This baby of theirs was already loved by so many and would no doubt capture the hearts of many more. He was months away from being born into a loving family and I, myself, couldn’t wait to meet him. In a way, he was a ray of sunshine to our dark, winter months. We required some uplifting news and what was more uplifting than welcoming a new life into this world?
Spencer and I were not technically together but that didn’t stop the universe from carrying on. Those close to us were experiencing great things and those things deserved recognition and celebration. Even if we didn’t always feel up to it. Optimism was key. As was determination and skill. If I’d learned anything from my past, it was that life was unpredictable. Our plan to give Alister and Isy the impression that we were no longer together was all fine and well but I was certainly not about to sit back and wait. Spencer had asked me to dig into his life and in all honesty, I’d been putting it off due to my moping. That stopped right now. If Alister could find dirt on me, I was sure the gesture could be returned. All I needed was to find something on him and perhaps Spencer and I could do a little blackmailing of our own. Maybe we could give Alister a taste of his own medicine. What was that saying? Revenge is sweet.
Indeed it was.