Authors: Julia Llewellyn
Tags: #Chick-Lit, #Contemporary, #Fiction, #Humour, #Love Stories, #Marriage, #Romance, #Women's Fiction
‘Right.’ Felicity looked like she’d ingested a pint of sour milk.
‘You can still do all that; you just don’t want the hassle of lugging around a lawn mower. Think about it. We’re not here to force anything; we’re here to make your home perfect. There’s some brochures I want to go through with you about home cinemas. You could definitely turn the den into a proper cinema – tip-up chairs, popcorn dispensers, you name it. It would be a big build, but we could turn the conservatory into a pool and the dining room into a gym – no one uses dining rooms any more, they’re totally over. You could
have a dance floor with flashing lights in the far end of your living room.’
‘We’d never leave home again,’ said Rosie, dazed.
‘Well, that’s kind of the point,’ he said. ‘Your husband’s famous now. And all my clients tell me again and again that when you’re famous you can’t go anywhere; it’s not worth the hassle. I mean, you can go to parties with other stars and whatever, but going to the pub? Forget it. Your place becomes a bit like a prison, so you have to at least try to make it a nice prison.’ He saw Rosie’s stricken face. ‘Sorry to sound negative, I don’t mean to be. Look on the bright side. You’re going to have a lot of fun spending hubby’s money.’
Suggestions from David Allen Robertson Interior Designers
We so enjoyed meeting you today and we’re drawing up a proper document for you and your husband to peruse at your leisure.
However, here are some suggestions for you to be mulling over. Links and a price list attached.
How about a walk-in pantry? Also, a temperature-controlled wine cellar? For the garden, a swimming pool with underwater speakers? A cinema room with popcorn dispenser and, despite your mentioning turning the ‘boudoir’ into a granny flat, we think its location and dimensions would make it ideal for a very masculine study.
Check out the images for some ideas of the amazing worlds we could create for you.
David and Felicity xx
Rosie stared at the email in disbelief. It was all nuts. No one needed their own cinema room with a popcorn dispenser, and what was with the ‘very masculine study’? That was going to be Nanna’s room.
She wanted to discuss it with Jake, but he was out late again, being wined and dined by another American agent. The boys were in bed, and she couldn’t be bothered to cook for herself, so she’d stood at the fridge door gnawing at an old chunk of Cheddar.
She was missing Jake’s presence around the house. He wasn’t even about in the mornings any more, because – as threatened – he’d started personal training sessions with Rolla, a Slovenian former Olympian, who looked like the love child of Diane Kruger and Eddie Redmayne. He left just after seven and came back sweaty and already exhausted at half past eight when Rosie was bundling the boys out the door.
Throughout their marriage there’d been periods like this – either Jake had been around continually, driving her up the wall, or away – doing a play or making a series. But in the new house she felt his absence more acutely than ever before. In the evenings she was downstairs, the boys were sleeping two floors up, and the
echoing rooms unnerved her. It was shameful and anti-feminist to admit, but she hated having to do all the little things that were normally Jake’s domain – taking out the bins, changing light bulbs, investigating creepy noises. It wasn’t that they were men’s jobs, they just weren’t her jobs – and it wasn’t as if he’d taken over the washing and cooking.
Most evenings when she found herself alone she’d watch either an old box set like
The West Wing
(she and Jake had been in the middle of
when rehearsal started, but she couldn’t watch it without him) or old episodes of
on cable. She adored
. It was a hugely classy drama set in the forties about an American family in meltdown, but it was very hard to imagine Ellie, who played the former virgin turned wild child with a secret heroin habit, in the role of Viola. But time would tell. If they had the cinema room, she’d be able to watch a giant Ellie emoting on a giant screen while she sat back in her giant leather tip-up seat, scoffing popcorn from the dispenser.
But tonight she wanted a change from telly. She sat at the kitchen table (again, tiny in this vast marble space) and set back to work on her photo collage which she wanted to frame and put in the downstairs loo, and yah boo sucks if David Allen Robertson declared it a taste crime.
Rosie had hoped to be able to do the collage with the boys but this dream had proven fruitless. They’d launched themselves at it screaming ‘Me! Me!’ and within about two seconds a photo of Toby as a newborn had been
ripped in two. So now it had become her new evening activity. She dipped into the box of photos she was trying to arrange tastefully and pulled out a tiny rectangle: a snap from a photo booth. Her and Christy’s heads together – one blonde, one mousy brown – both in the ugly maroon Brightman’s uniform. Rosie’s eyes were crossed; Christy was pulling the corners of her mouth out with her fingers. Why could only kids do that? When did faces lose their elasticity?
It was the first and only time Christy had come to the flat for what would now be called a play date. They were in year seven and had just started at Brightman’s. Christy was no longer fat, though neither was she the skinny minny she would become. Sandra sent her to school with packed lunches of Ryvita and lettuce leaves, which she ate uncomplainingly, unbothered by Rosie scoffing school-dinner chips. ‘You have a high metabolism, I don’t,’ she said philosophically.
Sandra had always made excuses for Christy not to come and play – she had homework to do and riding, ballet, tennis, violin lessons, though of course it was fine if
every now and then
Rosie visited them.
But Sandra was attending a conference in Glasgow and jolly Nick had been absolutely fine when Christy had put the plan to him. He’d be working until late, but Christy suggested that Barron come to collect her at six and escort her home on the bus.
‘Isn’t Barron at school?’ Rosie asked, as they waited at the bus stop outside Brightman’s. They hardly ever
mentioned Barron. Ever since Christy’s party when he’d cried and Belinda Crighton had laughed, it had been as if he didn’t exist, but Rosie somehow knew that Christy was secretly worrying about him.
Sure enough, the question made Christy’s face scrunch up with concern. ‘His school’s always on holiday. Mum complains about it all the time, how she pays so much in fees and they’re never there. But she can’t do anything about it. Barron didn’t want to go in the first place. She made him.’
‘Do you miss him?’
‘When Barron’s back he annoys me, but when he’s away I miss him. My house is always so quiet. Unless Mum and Dad are fighting.’
Rosie was curious. ‘What do they fight about?’
‘Mainly about Barron.’
On the way from the bus stop, they made a detour to Woolworth’s and flicked through the CD singles, discussing the music they loved. Rosie wanted to buy ‘So Emotional’ by Whitney Houston, but she couldn’t afford it. Christy had some money – she always had some money, Rosie was beginning to realize – so she bought herself ‘What Have I Done to Deserve This?’ by the Pet Shop Boys.
‘Shall we?’ Christy asked, nodding at the photo booth in the corner.
‘For fun. I’ll pay.’
they’d squeezed into the booth, giggling as they swirled the plastic seat up and down and eventually fed Christy’s coins into the slot.
‘Different pose for each one,’ Christy yelled. ‘Silly!’
They thumbed their noses. The flash exploded.
‘Best friends forever.’
Heads together smiling cheesily. After a long wait, the machine regurgitated the photos.
‘I’ll have sweet and silly,’ Rosie decided as they laughed at them, walking home. ‘You have angry and happy.’
Nanna was waiting nervously at the door, wearing an apron – a clean apron too. This was odd.
‘Why are you in a pinny, Nanna?’
‘Where’ve you been? I was getting worried.’
‘Relax.’ Rosie didn’t usually speak so cheekily, she was showing off. ‘We just stopped off on some business.’
Nanna had also gone to the trouble of laying an oilcloth on the table. There were Mr Kipling French Fancies instead of the usual slice of bread and Iceland cola instead of highly diluted orange squash. She hovered over them as they ate, clearly dying for a cigarette but not daring to light up.
‘This is brilliant,’ Christy had said. ‘Mummy never
lets me eat food like this. Mrs Prest, did Rosie tell you what Mrs Washington said today?’
Christy rattled on about the events of the day – what the chemistry teacher was wearing, what they’d said to each other in the changing rooms before netball, until Nanna, clearly flagging, asked if they’d like to watch
‘I’m not allowed to watch
,’ Christy apologized.
So Christy and Rosie spent the afternoon drawing. Rosie was hopeless but Christy had some talent. With Rosie’s old felt tips – many of which were missing lids, she noticed to her shame – Christy quickly sketched the head of a girl with mousy brown hair and a wide, guileless smile.
‘That’s me!’ Rosie exclaimed.
‘Yup. Now. What would you like to be wearing?’ She looked Rosie up and down in her maroon Brightman’s uniform. ‘Not that, I take it?’
‘Nooo.’ Rosie was dubious about this. She liked the uniform, it made her feel she belonged at Brightman’s, where some of the girls had ponies and Belinda Crighton even claimed to have a swimming pool.
‘How about this?’ Christy sketched a stone-washed denim jacket and added a psychedelic design. Matching jeans. Pink Doc Martens.
‘What do you think? Trendy Rosie.’
‘Oh, yeah. Brilliant.’ Actually, Rosie thought she looked ridiculous, but she was grateful to Christy for trying to
transform her. Christy drew Nanna with pearls round her neck and in a pinstriped dress with a sailor collar.
‘Look at me,’ Nanna smiled, emerging from the bedroom where she and Mum had been conversing in low voices.
‘I saw that dress in Mummy’s
. It suits you,’ Christy said firmly. ‘You should get one like it.’
Nanna laughed. ‘I’ll save up for it.’
Then they listened to Marianne’s old records in Rosie’s bedroom – she had a huge collection of LPs from all those eighties bands like Madness and The Specials and The Jam and Elvis Costello. Rosie had a bit of a thing about Elvis, even though he was skinny and nerdy with huge glasses. It might not entirely be coincidence that she’d ended up with a man who looked very similar. He sang a song that they both loved, called ‘(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea’.
‘Where’s Chelsea?’ Rosie asked.
‘It’s in London,’ Christy said. ‘It has a big street running through it called the King’s Road. Mummy says it’s brilliant for shopping. Mummy loves shopping.’ She paused for a moment and then said: ‘I want to live there one day.’
‘We could both live there,’ said Rosie a little bit shyly. ‘We could share a flat.’ She’d read somewhere that this was what friends did.
‘Yeah! A little flat in Chelsea.’ They giggled. ‘We’ll do that. We’ll go shopping on the King’s Road.’
‘I’d love to live somewhere nicer than this,’ Rosie
said yearningly. ‘It’s so scruffy. All the furniture’s falling apart. Nanna can’t afford new stuff. I’d love more space. Big high windows. A garden.’
‘One day you’ll have all those things,’ Christy said firmly.
‘I don’t see how. Unless I marry Prince William.’
‘You’ll do it yourself. Or I will. We’ll make money to do it. I’ll see to it.’
Rosie laughed. She admired Christy’s determination so much. It wouldn’t happen, of course it wouldn’t; you couldn’t move from St Pauls to a flat in Chelsea. A flat in a nicer part of Bristol would be enough in all honesty.
There was loud banging at the door.
‘Barron!’ Christy said.
They emerged from the bedroom to see Nanna opening the door. Rosie’s stomach twisted. She remembered the huge clumsy figure knocking over Billy at the party, then crying when Sandra bawled him out. He’d made her nervous then and she felt nervous now three years later.
‘Hello.’ He had a deep voice but with an odd lisp. He was even taller than Rosie remembered and even fatter, his hair long, black and straight brushed his shoulders. His chin was stubbly.
‘I’m Barron. I’ve come to get Christy.’
‘Come in, come in. Would you like a … cola, er, Barron?’
‘Better not. Need to get my sister back. Come on, Chris.’
Barron!’ Christy wailed.
‘Come on. You know Mummy doesn’t want you to be here.’
‘Doesn’t she?’ Nanna folded her arms indignantly across her bosom.
‘Sorry, I didn’t mean it like that. It’s just … it’s St Pauls and it could be dangerous travelling at night. But sorry, Mrs … I don’t know your name.’
‘Mrs Prest,’ sniffed Nanna, somewhat appeased. ‘But you can call me Maureen.’
‘What a lovely cosy room,’ Barron said.
‘Thank you.’ Nanna touched her hair. ‘So you … er, Barron, you’re at boarding school, Rosie tells me.’
‘Yes. I go to a place called Crewkerne. I don’t really like it, though.’
‘It’s all boys. Mummy thought it would toughen me up.’ The childish word was so incongruous coming from this bulky man’s mouth.
‘Did it?’ Nanna asked. ‘Are you sure you don’t want a drink?’
‘No, thank you. Really, you’re very kind, though. No. It didn’t sadly. Not yet anyway. But I can leave after my GCSEs.’
‘What will you do?’
Barron shrugged. ‘Expire with relief, probably. Come on, Christy, we must get going.’
Later on Rosie heard that Sandra had found out about the play date, and there was a huge row at the
Papadopolouses with Sandra not talking to Nick for a week and then blaming it all on Barron for doing his father’s bidding.
‘Mum blames everything on Barron,’ Christy said.
‘I don’t know. She says he cried all the time when he was a baby, that he never did what he was told. She says he’s impossible. That she’s given him every chance.’
‘He didn’t seem impossible.’ Nanna had adored him, and kept going on about what a polite young man he was.
‘He isn’t impossible.’ Christy started sharpening a pencil. ‘It’s just Mum that thinks that.’
Christy never came to play at her house again. But that was fine. It was nicer at Christy’s anyway, even though they were only allowed raw carrots and water for their snack. She used to enjoy reading Sandra’s old
. They gave Rosie ideas about a world outside Bristol, about … Rosie’s eyelids grew heavy, she was dreaming about Sandra Papapdopolous pointing and jeering at her, when suddenly the house fell down.
‘Hiya, what’s the news?’ In the dark Jake bent down and kissed her. ‘Urgh, have you put on that really stinky face cream? It tasted rank!’
‘You bought it for me,’ Rosie retorted sleepily. ‘Christy told you to; it’s the best for slaying wrinkles.’ She sat up suddenly, wide awake.