PART OF THE The Gift of Reading ISSUE
‘The room was suddenly charged with emotion, and I felt my lies pressing down on me like lead weights.’
Extract taken from The Nesting
By C. J. Cooke
Published by HarperCollins
The room was suddenly charged with emotion, and I felt my lies pressing down on me like lead weights. But just then, Coco reached out to me, both her hands open wide. Tom passed her to me and I took her, feeling the lovely warmth of her in my arms. I swear, I’ve never been remotely maternal or gooey over other people’s kids – quite the opposite, especially during the drool stage – but there was something different about Coco and Gaia. Or maybe I just related to their loss.
‘Shall I let you spend some time with the girls?’ Tom asked me. ‘Ellen can fill you in on their routines.’
The urge to run out of there screaming was starting to wane. I was on surer territory, now, especially since I felt so comfortable around Gaia and Coco. It almost felt like I’d known them much longer than three minutes.
Serendipity. That’s what it felt like.
Tom left me and Ellen to chat while Gaia and Coco Cooke played in the nursery. Ellen told me she’d worked for Tom for just two and a half months, but she was getting married and couldn’t go to Norway. I could see she’d been torn about this and it was clear she loved the girls.
‘So you didn’t know their mother?’ I said, calculating the length of time Ellen said she’d been in the post and the length of time it had been since Aurelia died.
Ellen shook her head. ‘No. It’s clear that they were devastated, though they’re so young that it takes a long time to process something like that, losing your mother . . .’ She paused briefly. ‘It was one of the reasons Tom wanted me to nanny for him, while he tried to keep his business going and get his head around it all. I’ve had child counselling training, you see.’ She glanced over at Gaia who was playing with an enormous dolls’ house. ‘They’re doing much, much better now, though Gaia still asks questions. Just so you know, if she asks what happened, the party line is: Mummy had an accident and is in heaven.’
I nodded, though the phrasing made me unsettled. ‘An accident?’ I said cautiously.
Ellen dropped her gaze to the floor. ‘Suicide,’ she said in a low voice. ‘Terrible, isn’t it? What would drive someone to do something like that?’
The scabs on my arms began to itch beneath my sleeves. ‘Yes,’ I said after a long pause. ‘Terrible.’
I left an hour later, both exhilarated and disgusted with myself. There was no way I could take the job, absolutely no freaking way. I’d be lying to a family who had been utterly devastated by an unthinkable tragedy.
But on the other hand, I wanted to be a part of their lives.
I wanted to go to Norway, yes, and I wanted a home and a chance to write my book and turn my life around. But Gaia and Coco were sweet, precious girls who had lost their mother to something I knew better than I knew myself, and beneath the usual thrumming cacophony of self-hatred in my head was a quiet but insistent whisper that maybe – just maybe – I could actually make a difference.
The Nesting by C. J. Cooke is published by HarperCollins, priced £12.99.
James Crawford is a writer and broadcaster, and the publisher at Historic Environment Scotland. Born in the Shetlands in 1978, he studied History and Philosophy of Law at the University of Edinburgh, winning the Lord President Cooper Memorial Prize. Ja …
Historic Environment Scotland Historic Environment Scotland is the lead public body for Scotland’s historic environment: a charity dedicated to the advancement of heritage, culture, education and environmental protection. Our books tell the stories of …