Jackie stepped inside her new home, the place she hadn’t seen since the day she and Rob had put in the offer. She’d been ready to start planning the move until her boss called and told her work were sending her to the other side of the world for six months. ‘We’ll have to cancel the move,’ she’d said, blinking back the tears.
‘We don’t need to do that, darling,’ Rob had replied. ‘I can handle it.’
‘But we were going to sell our old stuff and buy brand new, make a completely fresh start.’
‘It’s fine, love.’ He’d flashed his most reassuring smile, she recalled. ‘I can do that. Just trust me.’
And now, half a year later, she stood on the threshold of her dream home and let her eyes wander. A thick beige carpet covered the hall floor, while coats were draped over an antique stand. A gold-rimmed mirror hung on the wall, and a deeply-varnished banister disappeared up the stairs. The kitchen was decked out in green tiles, while brand new white goods thrummed away, washing linen and crockery. Off the kitchen, in the dining room, a long oak table stood resplendently, decked out in a shop-fresh tablecloth and brand new shiny cutlery. The lounge, meanwhile, was cream and light brown, with a beautiful white leather sofa pointing at a flat-screen television that was, perhaps, bigger than the one she’d have picked out herself, but given the fantastic job Rob had made everywhere else, Jackie could let that go.
She sat down. The cushions yielded perfectly to her body shape. ‘Honey,’ she breathed. ‘This is wonderful. Thank you!’
‘You’re welcome, darling.’ They kissed.
‘But where are the kids?’
‘I’ll call them now,’ he said. ‘Kids! Mum is home!’
Footsteps tip-tapped lightly downstairs. That was odd. Sally and Joe normally thundered around like cattle at feeding time. The children entered the lounge.
‘Welcome home, mother,’ said the boy.
‘Welcome home, mother,’ said the girl.
These weren’t her children.
‘Rob,’ stammered Jackie. ‘Where are Sally and Joe? This isn’t Sally and Joe. I don’t know who these two are.’
The boy, about ten, looked at Jackie. His hair was dark, short and tidy. He wore a crisp, buttoned-up white shirt and his shoes were shiny enough to blind at ten paces. The girl, who was seven or eight, wore a pretty pink pinafore dress and had a pink bow in her yellow hair. Jackie’s kids could never be described as smart, tidy or pretty; even on their best days, with their wild blonde hair and scuffs all over their clothes, they looked as if they’d been fighting with a haystack and the haystack had won.
‘Would you like a drink, mother?’ said the children in unison.
‘Sorry, darling, I should have said. This is Sebastian.’ The boy nodded politely. ‘And this is Susie.’ The girl curtsied angelically. ‘Kids, get your mum a coffee, would you?’
‘Yes, father,’ intoned the children. They trod quietly out of the room.
‘Rob, where are Sally and Joe?!’
‘I sold them.’
‘Sell the old stuff and buy brand new. That’s what we agreed.’
Jackie blinked, processing this statement. ‘I didn’t mean the kids!’
‘What? Really? Oh. Right. Well, how was I to know?’
‘Get them back!’
‘I can’t. I mean, I don’t know where they are. Some bloke in the pub bought them from me. He gave me a lot of money. I used it, and a bit from our savings, to buy Sebastian and Susie online. Did you know there’s a huge market for quality children?’
Jackie had her head in her hands.
‘Look, just give the two of them a chance. Trust me, they’re much better than our old kids.’
As if on cue, Sebastian and Susie trotted back into the lounge. Susie handed Jackie a bone china mug. ‘Here you are, mother,’ she chirped, ever so sweetly.
Mind swirling, Jackie took a sip. It was… perfect. Just the right amount of milk and sugar, and not too hot. It was the best cup of coffee she’d ever had.
‘Did you… did you put the milk in before the water?’ she asked. Sally and Joe never did that, no matter how many times she asked.
‘Yes, mother,’ said Sebastian and Susie together.
‘Well done,’ she said, faintly.
Rob smiled at Jackie encouragingly.
‘Okay,’ she said. ‘We’ll give them a chance.’
That evening, the children read silently and then went to bed early. ‘See you in the morning, mother,’ they said, kissing Jackie on the cheek before going upstairs. ‘We love you.’
She couldn’t remember the last time Joe or Sally had gone to bed voluntarily, or kissed her on the cheek before they did. She sat on the sofa, cushions contouring perfectly around her body, Rob’s arm over her shoulders. Somehow, everything felt right. There was a sense of order in this house that she’d never realised she’d always wanted, and now she had it she wanted to keep it. A nagging voice in the back of her head told her she ought to feel guilty about Joe and Sally, yet she found herself ignoring it.
An old tabby cat sloped through the door, looked at Jackie, then jumped onto her lap. ‘Oh,’ she said. ‘Hi Max.’ She ran her fingers through his fur. ‘I thought it was everything brand new?’ she said to Rob.
‘Oh, well, not the cat,’ he said. ‘I’d hardly get rid of that daft old thing, would I? He’s part of the family.’
He chuckled. So did Jackie. Max purred loudly as she scratched beneath his chin.
The little voice became quiet.
David Cook‘s stories have been published in the National Flash Fiction Anthology, Spelk, Flash Fiction Magazine and Sick Lit Magazine, who nominated him for the Pushcart Prize. You can find more of his work at www.davewritesfiction.wordpress.com and you can say hi on Twitter @davidcook100. He lives in Bridgend, Wales, UK, with his wife and daughter, who he doesn’t plan to replace with a different child.
If you enjoyed Everything Brand New, leave a comment and let David know.
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