If you're tempted to read more, it will be available to pre-order on Amazon for Kindle from 25 November for release on 2 December. It will also be out in paperback at Lulu.com from the beginning of December.
Abandoned and fostered as a babe-in-arms,
I've spent my life yearning to belong.
Pregnant at 16 by the boy I loved, I thought I'd found my happy place.
How wrong I was.
Becoming a grandmother at 34, I believed my daughter and granddaughter
were all I needed - along with the cats I cherish in my café.
Suddenly people from my past are crawling out of the woodwork
and hot men are coming along like buses.
Grab a coffee and a cake at
'CATNAPS & FLAPJACKS'
and snuggle up with one of my fur-babies
as my story unfolds.
* * * * *
‘So, after ogling his cute little buns for approximately two hours, five minutes and nineteen seconds - not that I was counting or anything - he finally came over and spoke to me.’
Ross was putting the finishing touches to our last batch of cupcakes and filling me in on his night at a newly opened gay bar he’d been so excited about visiting.
‘And …?’ I asked as I wiped down the surfaces and checked that we were on schedule for opening time.
‘Oh Ellie. I could have cried! In fact, little tears of pain did spring to my eyes! You could have stripped paint with his breath.’ He paused and wiped his hands on his frilly pinny, emblazoned with the sequinned words ‘Diva on Duty!’ As he shook his head with a huff, he continued, ‘You know what it reminded me of? Remember that time Rupert had his gammy tooth and it cost you a fortune at the vet? It was exactly the same rancid stench.’
Oh yes, I remembered it well and the smell, combined with the memory of the bill, almost brought tears to my eyes too.
‘Not your dream man, after all then?’ I stated obviously as I removed my dirty apron and replaced it with a clean one. ‘Still … plenty more fish in the sea, eh?’
‘In the sea? Pfft! I reckon he had a whole shoal of dead ones hiding under his tongue! Uggh. I could vom just thinking about it.’
Poor Ross had been looking for ‘lurve’ for as long as I’d known him. Not the type for endless one night stands, his dream was to settle down with Mr Reliable. He hankered for cosy nights in front of the TV, weekends in the country and the ideal of living with and being cherished by his soul mate.
‘I give up Ellie! I’m going to die a lonely old man surrounded by cats and stinking of pee and flea spray.’
‘Ross! Will you stop it? You’re thirty years of age - you’re not going to die lonely. And anyway, I wouldn’t let you.’
Smiling bravely, Ross sighed and said, ‘Well as lovely as that is, Elles, I think we need to remind ourselves that you don’t have the necessary qualifying equipment so you kind of fall at the first hurdle. And anyway, you’ll no doubt be married to the sensible Stefan by then - I don’t think he’d take too kindly to me muscling in on the act, do you?’
Opening my mouth to reply, I quickly closed it again as I realised it wasn’t the time to tell Ross about Stefan’s proposal the previous night or my lacklustre reaction and the confused feelings which seemed to have set up camp in my head, leaving me tossing and turning into the early hours.
No. I needed to come to terms with the whole idea before I discussed it with anyone - in particular my prickly and stubborn daughter, Poppy.
That was not a conversation I was looking forward to.
‘Well as long as you don’t expect me to call him Dad, it’s up to you what you do.’
Poppy was in her usual ‘shut-down mode’ as she handed cubes of cheese and cucumber to her good-natured three year old, who was happily flicking through a sticker book whilst chewing and humming.
‘Ria! Will you please just eat and stop messing about,’ my daughter reprimanded unnecessarily - and I found myself, not for the first time, wishing that she’d just lighten up a little.
Stroking my granddaughter’s head and winking at her, I soothed, ‘You’re a good girl, aren’t you Sweetheart? Eat up for MumsMum,’ I encouraged, using her pet name for me.
I was rewarded with the smile that never failed to melt my heart - a smile I couldn’t imagine life without.
And yet becoming a granny at the tender age of thirty-four had come as quite a shock - but what right did I have to judge? Poppy had simply followed in my foolish footsteps and fallen pregnant before she’d even hung up her school uniform. Yes, we’d both ‘got caught’ - as my headmistress had so delightfully put it - at the age of sixteen as a result of our first foray into the complicated world of sex.
That was where the similarities ended though. My ‘happy accident’ had actually been premeditated. I'd been in love, believed I was being loved in return and I'd planned to create a little being who would feel cherished and wanted - one who would become the centre of my universe.
Yes, I knew how Poppy had come to be and I also knew how close we’d been, how happy and carefree she’d been until the day she fell pregnant.
That was the day I lost her, when she pushed me away and refused to let me - or anyone else - in. Almost four years later, I was none the wiser about the father or the circumstances behind how it happened. It was a story she still wasn’t prepared to tell.
I’d lost count of the foster carers I’d stayed with by the time I was thirteen. They’d begun to morph into faceless, nameless blobs who offered me a bed, put a roof over my head and food in my stomach. They did their jobs well and I couldn’t fault them but, although they cared, they didn’t love.
To be fair, most of them weren’t given the chance to even start to love me, as the authorities seemed to think that it was perfectly acceptable to move me from pillar to post at the drop of a hat. By the time I’d reached ten, I was an old hand - after all, I’d been offloaded since I was a few months old - and so I developed the knack of living out of a suitcase - what was the point of unpacking only to move on again?
There were always reasons for my upheaval - some that I could understand and others that made no sense to a young, vulnerable girl in desperate need of stability and a family to call her own - but I learnt to spot the signs. My social worker Pat would arrive with her briefcase and folders, there would be muffled chat in another room and then she'd join me for ‘The Pat Chat’.
Over the years I’d heard it all - foster mum was going into hospital, foster dad had changed his mind, foster mum was pregnant, foster parents had decided to adopt a baby and wanted to devote all of their time to their new child. It seemed that nobody wanted me ‘for keeps’ and that hurt.
But at thirteen, everything changed - at least that’s what I’d thought at the time.
Arriving at 21 Flaxton Avenue on that bitterly cold December afternoon had felt different - I had no idea how but it just had. Despite the sprinkling of snow on the pavements and the black ice on the roads, I’d felt warm and cosy for the first time in my life and I liked it.
Eric and Eileen had welcomed me with open arms and I’d stood in awe, gaping at their gaudily dressed Christmas tree, which was surrounded by enticing looking parcels and boxes.
‘Father Christmas came early this year, my love,’ Eileen told me with an easy grin. ‘Lots of goodies under there for you - and not too long to wait now!’
She’d then taken my hand in hers, ordered Eric to get the hot chocolate ready and told me she’d show me to my room and help me to unpack.
For once, I didn’t question the logic in taking all of my things from their cases and placing them in beautifully scented, lined drawers as I looked at the comfy duvet on my pretty bed.
I was staying. I was home.
In their mid-sixties, my new foster parents had devoted their lives to caring for children. Their flock-papered walls proudly displayed photographs of all the lives that had come into theirs - some for short stays, the majority until they were old enough to leave and care for themselves. Most of them were still in contact with Eric and Eileen - one big happy family.
To name just a few, there was Adrian who lived just around the corner with his wife and son, Maggie who had moved to Ireland but often came back for visits and Lillian who popped in every day on her way home from work.
Sometimes I could be found engrossed by their little ‘Rogues Gallery’ as Eileen affectionately referred to it, and Eric would come in and tell me stories about them that made me laugh. I loved to hear about each child and the funny or naughty things they’d got up to and Eric was a great raconteur - although Eileen would often chuckle and give him a telling off with, ‘Oh Eric! That’s not how it happened at all. You do exaggerate so.’
In short, I’d never been happier and the icing on the cake was when I started at Newton High School and met Lauren.
It had been a happy coincidence that we both started attending the school in the January term - two lost souls, nervous and terrified, we’d taken comfort in one another and instantly hit it off.
By the end of that first term we were inseparable. Weekends, holidays and after school would see us at one another’s houses - chatting, studying, practicing our make up skills, confiding our secret crushes or listening to music.
But the thing that really sealed the deal on our friendship was our mutual passion for cats. As much as I grew to love Eric and Eileen and felt comfortable taking Lauren home, the time I spent at her house was treasured because there were always cuddles of the furry variety.
Major Tom - the fat tabby - and Madonna - the slinky tortoiseshell - gave their love unconditionally and I soon became besotted. When we found out that Madonna was expecting kittens I could think of nothing else. I had to have one.
Of course, after two years of living with Eric and Eileen I knew that they were pushovers. If something made me happy and it was within their power to make it happen, then they would allow it.
When I got the call from Lauren at just gone three o’clock one morning, Eric dragged himself from his bed and drove me bleary-eyed, in his tartan pyjamas, to see the tiny mewing scraps just after Madonna had delivered them.
I knew the minute I set eyes on Pebble that he was the cat for me and Eric nodded in agreement, dabbing at his eyes with his sleeve like the big softie I’d grown to love.
‘He’s a fine cat,’ he declared with a nod. ‘Yes. He’ll have a happy home with us.’
I couldn’t possibly have known that within a year, Pebble would be back living with Lauren and that I would, once again, be without love.
Eric and Eileen were killed instantly in the motorway accident that was to change my life forever. Two days after my sixteenth birthday, when I was riding on the crest of a wave and had well and truly shaken off my insecurities, they’d set off to visit Eileen’s elderly aunt and never returned.
The authorities swung into action again and, being considered a ‘difficult age’, I was allowed to stay with Lauren and her parents for a while before I was moved on to interim care.
And so I went back to living out of a suitcase - no one really wanted a sixteen year old and I just had to accept that while dealing with the grieving process at the same time. Having Eric, Eileen and Pebble in my life I’d learnt how to love and be loved, and suddenly nothing made sense any more.
Maybe I didn’t deserve that privilege. After all, my birth parents had abandoned me hadn’t they? I began to believe that it was all my fault that I'd be alone and unloved forever.
Then I met Robert.
* * * * *